Sunday, May 28, 2017

Exile

Our text for today comes from Jeremiah 29.
Starting in verse 4 This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare."  

Skipping down to verse 10 This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised and I will bring you home again.  
Let us pray.

Eugene Peterson describes exile this way "The essential meaning of exile is that we are where we don't want to be. We are separated from home ... It is an experience of dislocation - everything is out of joint; nothing fits together.”

I just read a delightful book entitled Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrick Backman. In this book, Britt-Marie, a woman in her sixties, is looking for a job for the first time in decades because her marriage has ended and she is frankly a little lost. On the back of the book she is described as a "socially awkward, fussy busybody."

She gets a job as the caretaker of a soon to be closed recreation center in Borg, a run-down forgotten town. The book overview continues: “The fastidious Britt-Marie soon finds herself being drawn into the daily doings of her fellow citizens, an odd assortment of miscreants, drunkards, layabouts. In this small town of misfits, can Britt-Marie find a place where she truly belongs?”

The skills she had perfected in her marriage were hosting dinner parties, taking care of her plants and her husband’s children and cleaning. She also is supremely good at making and following lists - So when she finds herself in this new place, she does what she knows how to do.

And somehow, through it all, she endears herself to this little broken down town and they are all the better for it.  From the book, Britt-Marie “wonders how much space a person has left in her soul to change herself, once she gets older. What people does she still have to meet, what will they see in her and what will they make her see in herself?”

I am telling you this story in the context of exile, because I think her story gives us some great guidelines for the life of an exile - which is what we all are if we are Christians - aliens and strangers in the world. And I also think it echoes back to the message God gave through Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon.

The first lesson of Jeremiah 29 is found in verse 4 "Build houses. Plan to stay." Make yourselves at home. Settle in.

At the beginning of the book, Britt-Marie is scared and lost and so so sad. Stripped of everything she knows and living alone in a room in a hostel - a place that “has an address, but it’s certainly not a place to live nor a home.”

It is devastating to find yourself in exile. Exile has many forms: a physical limitation, a difficult relationship, a tense work environment, a lost romance, having to move to an unknown place, dreams failing to come true.

Have you been there?  Are you there?  When you find yourself in exile somewhere in your life, what is your tendency?  Do you run away? escape into fantasies? numb with food or other substances?   Do you try to find someone to blame?  take it out on others?  Do you try to hurt someone so you won’t be hurting alone?

Eventually after getting the job at the rec center and settling in a bit, Britt-Marie finds a place to live.  She moves from being a visitor, an outsider, to being a resident, a part of the community.
Here you are. Far from where you thought you’d be. Build a house here. In your brokenness and your isolation. In the unfamiliar territory. Plant a garden. The only way through is through.

You didn't even know how much you needed God until you got here. Going along in your everyday routines and the busy-ness of life, you hardly noticed how much you were crowding out God's presence. Suddenly, seemingly without warning, you find yourself in exile. And it's a grace. Kathleen Norris explains this grace: “For grace to be grace, it must give us things we didn't know we needed and take us places where we didn't know we didn't want to go. As we stumble through the crazily altered landscape of our lives, we find that God is enjoying our attention as never before. ”

God has our attention. now what?

The second lesson of Jeremiah 29 is found in verse 7: "work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you" roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Britt-Marie and her "unrivaled knowledge of cleaning products" gets to work. She cleans and cleans and runs the pizzeria slash grocery slash post office slash car repair workshop when the owner is hung-over or asleep or both. She washes soccer jerseys and cuts hair. She does whatever comes her way. She uses what she knows and applies it to her new circumstances.

She does the next right thing.

All through the books of the Law, God gave the Israelites specific instructions on how to live. From the clothes they wore to the way they prepared their food, God wanted to be present to His people. His instructions about how to care for the poor, the widow, the foreigner and the 7 year cycles of economic restoration showed them how to be good neighbors, filled with compassion and justice.  It can be summed up with this simple blueprint for living: "do what is right, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God."

In exile, the Israelites are expected to live this way in the midst of their captors so that they can bring about peace and prosperity to their enemies. Jesus echoes this in His sermon on the mount: "love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven."

Your exile might be intensifying your attentiveness to God – bringing about your salvation in a deeper way – but your salvation is not for you alone. It is for the welfare of the city – the peace and prosperity of the place in which you find yourself.

Through her care for her fellow residents and her attentiveness to their needs, Britt-Marie causes this small neglected community to dare to hope again.

Jesus tells us: "You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father."

The third lesson of Jeremiah 29 is also found in verse 7: "its welfare will determine your welfare" if the city thrives, you will thrive. In its peace, you will have peace.

This reminds me of what Jesus says about the sheep and the goats. You saw Me naked, lonely, hungry and you met My needs. When did we see You hungry, when did we visit You? they ask Him. They didn't know. They didn't do it because they thought it was Jesus. They didn't have a checklist of righteousness – they sought the welfare of those around them. Their faith and compassion in action reflected the condition of their hearts.

This is what happens when you choose to do the next right thing. You plant your tiny seed of faith that becomes branches where birds can nest. Work your little bit of yeast in the dough. Plant seeds in good soil. You bring the kingdom to earth.

The title of the book is Britt-Marie Was Here and – this isn't really a spoiler – the last sentence in the book is "Everyone will know that Britt-Marie was here." By being present, working for the prosperity of the place in which she was exiled, she makes a lasting impact.

The fourth and final lesson of Jeremiah 29 is found in verse 10: "I will bring you home again."  restoration. homecoming.

The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world."

C.S. Lewis describes our homecoming this way: "No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are in the airing cupboard."

I am not going to tell you how the book ends for Britt-Marie. I will say this: restoration comes in a different form after exile. There are things you thought you needed that you no longer need. There are things you wouldn't have even dreamt to hope for. Near the end of the book, Britt-Marie comes to the conclusion:  "At a certain age almost all the questions a person asks him or herself are really just about one thing: how should you live your life?”

Jesus assures us, "If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it." Eugene Peterson says in his book Run With the Horses “The aim of the person of faith is not to be as comfortable as possible, but to live as deeply and thoroughly as possible—to deal with the reality of life, to discover truth, to create beauty, to act out of love”

I think some of you know what comes next in Jeremiah 29. Even if you didn't know it was the next verse, I think it will sound familiar to a lot of you.
Jeremiah 29:11 says: "For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope; and then verses 12-13: In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you."

The "those days" that the Lord is referring to is the days of exile. While you are in exile, you will find what you are looking for.

Britt-Marie found restoration in soccer balls and window cleaner, whiskey and cutlery drawers, rats and snickers, prison and hospital waiting rooms, pizzerias and parking lots.

God is in the least of those around us, in the whirlwind and in the whisper. In the midst of your pain, in the midst of the wreckage, in the midst of the dislocation and isolation, if you look for God wholeheartedly, you will find Him. He will be found by you.

Benediction
a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke:
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
"You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody Me.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going.
No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose Me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give Me your hand."

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Playing it Safe?



The text is Matthew 21:28-33 the Parable of the Two Sons: “But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go. “Which of the two obeyed his father?” Which of the two obeyed his father?” They replied, “The first.” "Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do.  For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins."

Let us pray.

no with your mouth and yes with your heart. or yes with your mouth and no with your heart.

What would cause someone to say yes with their mouth and no with their heart? I really like being the "yes" person. It feels good to tell people yes. They smile and look relieved and you get to be the hero of the moment. But the saying yes can be a cover up – Sometimes we say yes because we want to get someone off our back, or we want them to like us or we feel like we can't say no.

What does it say about the relationship between the two parties?  ‘Yes, sir, I will,’ but you have no intention of following through. It’s a “get off my back” kind of answer. An “if I answer you, will you leave me alone?” kind of answer. And worst of all, it’s a “I know better than you” kind of answer because you said yes but then you decided that it wasn’t important or that it didn’t really need doing and you didn’t even think it was worth arguing about. The attitude behind this betrays a broken relationship and disrespect for the authority of the asker.

What about the other son? What makes you say no with your mouth and yes with your heart? This happened to me last year around this time.  David was writing his licensing paper for the Covenant. He asked me if I would read over his answers to make sure they sounded ok (most of you know this, but English is not his first language and he sometimes words things or spells things incorrectly - like the word double - he thought it was spelled d-o-p-p-l-e for a long time) and I was so tired and didn’t want to read through them and so I whined a little and said “please don’t make me do that” and he said ok I guess they’ll just have to be good enough. And he didn’t pout or ask me again but as the evening wore on, I thought about how he never complains when I do things like spend time with friends or work on Saturdays and how he does the laundry and how he rarely asks for help and how insecure he feels about writing things and I couldn’t take it anymore - I said “OK, I WILL read it!”

I couldn’t bear to not do it. I was compelled by his love for me and mine for him and I couldn’t sit with the “no” any longer. He’s my best friend. You don’t say no to your friends.

Jesus wants to be your friend. In John 15:15 He says "I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me."

Before you say “yes! Of course! I want to Jesus to be my friend!” let’s look at what was happening when Jesus said this. In order to be friends, you have to trust each other so He’s letting them in on the plan. It’s the huddle before the big play. Dave Coleman preached on this last year, he paraphrased Jesus like this, “ok, you’re all gonna fail hard, Judas already did and Peter is going to mess up super bad, also, I’m going to die. trust Me.”

This is a huge test of trust. a test of friendship. Now all of a sudden it doesn’t seem like such a great idea to be Jesus’ friend. When we can’t see what God is doing or if it looks like things are getting darker, it is hard to trust. it is hard to believe that God is doing anything good. 

The disciples had just enough information to make them terrified. And then what happens next? Jesus is taken into custody, put on trial and killed.
Let’s sit there for a minute. In that moment. Those few days. What would that have felt like?

We get a glimpse from the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 - listen to what they say in the Message paraphrase “Jesus the Nazarene...He was a man of God, a prophet, dynamic in work and word, blessed by both God and all the people. Then our high priests and leaders betrayed him, got him sentenced to death, and crucified him. And we had our hopes up that he was the One, the One about to deliver Israel. And it is now the third day since it happened. But now some of our women have completely confused us. Early this morning they were at the tomb and couldn’t find his body. They came back with the story that they had seen a vision of angels who said he was alive. Some of our friends went off to the tomb to check and found it empty just as the women said, but they didn’t see Jesus.”

We had our hopes up. You see, this disappointment with God, this “I don’t understand what has happened, how could things have gotten so bad” moment is so painful. So painful that we don’t know what to do with it. My God, why have you forsaken me?
Joshua Dusk Peebles described it this way, “We have lost something that we think we need from God. We need an answer. We need information. We need to know how it is and He won’t give it to us or can’t give it to us or we can’t understand it and so we say Fine! Fine, God. I’m not rejecting You - I will do what You tell me to do. I’ll do it. I’ll go through the motions, but I’m going to keep you over here…” Yes with our mouth but no with our heart.

The truth is we don’t trust God. not really. as soon as there is a real price to pay or an unanswered question or a deep wound, we feel like God has betrayed us. and so we go through the motions. play by the rules. toe the line. all the while gritting our teeth and bearing it.

God came and lived here. as a human. a man. a baby first, then a man. And he showed us how to live. He isn’t the big general sitting in the air conditioned office sending the soldiers off to fight. He sent Himself to the front lines. And it was not safe. and people hated him. and even His closest friends turned their backs on Him when it really got bad. this reality is frightening to us. we’re not sure if we’re all in.

I think these two sons boil down to two attitudes: play it safe vs. go for broke! And let’s face it, prostitutes and tax collectors have a go for broke attitude in life. They’ve got nothing to lose - and they have no pretense left! They are what they are. Desperate. Graspers. misdirected, yes. but definitely going for broke.

Willing to sell out their neighbors or sell their bodies to get what they want or need. They've lost everything or lost enough to think that they've got nothing left to lose. They aren't caught up in what anyone thinks of them or what society's rules are – they are moral, religious, and cultural outsiders

They are definitely not playing it safe.

We can’t afford to either.

We have to stop playing it safe. Safety is the god of this age.  Just last Sunday, as I was getting ready for church, I prayed that God would bring David and Nolan home safe from their camp-out. That felt selfish, so then I asked that all the boy scouts would be safe. Why stop there, I thought and I laughed at myself a little. I thought of all the safety prayers God hears and that made me pause.

What if they don't come home safe? What am I asking God for? Do I think if I pray the right way or live the right way or ask enough times that God will do what I ask Him to do? This is how the Pharisees operated. Their legalistic way of living made them think that they had God figured out. That they had Him in their corner.  or maybe even in their pocket. But as Brennan Manning points out, "The tendency in legalistic religion is to mistrust God, to mistrust others, and consequently, to mistrust ourselves."

Taking a moment in silence, I realized that safety wasn't and isn't my strongest desire. I took a deep breath and prayed instead, "Whatever happens, help me to be faithful."

because sometimes people don’t make it home safe. sometimes the diagnosis is terminal. sometimes horrible unspeakable things happen to us or someone we love. sometimes the world around us is devastating and hopeless and terrifying.

Jesus isn’t promising us an easy life. He is just promising to be with us. “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in Me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Let’s stand under the cross one more time. This time let’s stand there with Mary, the mother of Jesus. The redemption of the world is about to be accomplished but it will cost Mary the life of her son. God so loved the world that He gave His son – but He asked Mary to give her son, too.

There is no resurrection without death.

“The Son of Man must suffer many terrible things,” Jesus said. “He will be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He will be killed, but on the third day he will be raised from the dead.” Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it."

Frederick Buechner says "…the life you clutch, hoard, guard, and play safe with is in the end a life worth little to anybody, including yourself; and only a life given away for love’s sake is a life worth living. To bring this point home, God shows us a Man who gave His life away to the extent of dying a national disgrace without a penny in the bank or a friend to His name. In terms of men’s wisdom, He was a perfect fool, and anybody who thinks he can follow Him without making something like the same kind of fool of himself is laboring not under a cross, but a delusion."

Mary was just an ordinary person willing to be used by God. And when God asked her, she said, “Yes”

What about you? What are you saying to God today?

I encourage you to go for broke! Say yes with your mouth AND with your heart.


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Blessed are the pure in heart...

The text this morning is Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
Let’s pray and look at this Beatitude together.

God who lives in pure light, shine Your light in our hearts and help us to see You this morning. Amen

I have been reading Mere Christianity aloud to my students over the past few months and as I was preparing for this sermon, it seemed like C.S. Lewis and I were preparing for the sermon together. There were so many examples and quotes that seemed to dovetail with my thoughts. So I hope you don't mind if Jack, as his friends and family called him, joins us this morning and helps me as we look at this verse together.

I think that if we are honest with ourselves, we don’t really want to be pure nor do we really want to see God. Harsh, I know, but I think it’s the reality of the human condition. I’ll come back to this thought, but first let’s look at the verse in more detail. 

The word purity is so often used in the context of sexual purity that it is hard to hear the word without bringing on that connotation. So instead of the word pure, I want to look at the Greek word that is used here instead: katharos. Katharos is used 28 times in the New Testament, mostly being translated pure but also clean. The lexicon describes the word as physically clean as in the phrase "purified by fire" also in the sense of a vine cleansed by pruning and so prepared to bear fruit. The word is also used in a Levitical sense, ceremonially clean – we see it in Matthew when Jesus tells the Pharisees, “First clean (katharizo) the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean (katharos).” The word katharos can also imply ethical purity or cleanness, as in free from corrupt desire, from sin and guilt. Synonyms include sincere, genuine, blameless, innocent.

It is where we get the English word, catharsis - one of the Webster definitions of which being “a purification that brings about spiritual renewal.” To rephrase our beatitude with this Greek word in mind, "blessed are the blameless hearts which are cleansed and ready to bear fruit."

There are three main methods that are mentioned in the Bible for this type of cleansing or purification.

In Psalm 119:9, the question is asked “how can a young person keep their way pure?” and the answer is “by obeying God’s Word - by living according to and conforming their life to God’s Word.” God’s very Word purifies us. Of course, only if we live by it. We see this again in 1 Peter 1:22 “by your obedience to the Truth through the [Holy] Spirit you have purified your hearts.” In 1 John 3, we read that “when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  All who have this hope in Him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” The more we spend time with God and in His Word, the more we will become who we are truly meant to be - the purest version of ourselves. C.S. Lewis says that it is the first job each morning to spend time “listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.” We get our marching orders, so to speak. Check in with our coach for our daily routine - run the race to get the prize - singularity or purity of purpose. The writer of Hebrews extends this metaphor, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”

Another way that we can become pure is confession. I think that this can often come out of spending time with God and His Word. Is there anyone one of us who can read God’s Word and not see in our own life places where we need light and forgiveness and change? As Mark Twain said, “It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” We read in I John 1, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify (katharizo) us from all unrighteousness.” This recognition of how and where we are missing God’s perfect mark brings us to confess or admit our wrong and lets God work at the right part of us. This cleanness of heart is what David asks for after he confesses his sin of murder and adultery, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” We agree with God that there is some dirt there that needs to be cleaned. It’s a great feeling! Coming clean, repenting, getting things out in the open – these take sin’s power away and we begin to heal and make things right.

The other type of purifying that is mentioned in the Bible is purification by trials. The clearest example of this is in 1 Peter 1, “for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the tested and proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” When talking about trials in this sense, let’s think of some everyday type of trials, like dealing with a difficult situation or being interrupted - these types of trials are a gift to us in that they show the quality of our hearts.

C.S. Lewis explains, “Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly.  But the suddenness does not create the rats:  it only prevents them from hiding.” These small trials are gifts in the sense that they help to purify us - to show us who we are so that we can change. We need to be students of our own lives - examine them.

Paul encourages the church in Corinth to “Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups.” If we do this work in the small trials, when the life-crushing trials and tribulations come (and they will come) we will have faith that has been tested and purified. In Jeremiah 12, God asks, “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?”

Which brings me back to the beginning of my sermon. We don’t really want pure hearts. We want to hold on to our pet sins, nurse our wounds. And besides, we are trying really hard. Aren’t we good enough?  Really God, what do you want? Perfection? Well… yes, that is what He wants. This seems like bad news, but really it’s the best news. The quicker we see our own imperfection and admit it, the quicker we can turn to God and begin the process of becoming perfect. What He requires, He also provides. Like the old hymn says “All the fitness He requireth is to feel your need of Him.”

We don’t really want to see God, either. We talk about God so much that we lose sight of how big and powerful He is. Hebrews 10:31 says “It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” In Malachi 3, “who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?” Being in the presence of God is like walking on water, being surrounded by flames in the furnace, standing next to a whirlwind.

But I think the most prevalent reason that we keep God at arm's length is something different. C.S. Lewis has a great analogy to describe it: “When I was a child I often had toothache, and I knew that if I went to my mother she would give me something which would deaden the pain for that night and let me get to sleep. But I did not go to my mother—at least, not till the pain became very bad. And the reason I did not go was this. I did not doubt she would give me the aspirin; but I knew she would also do something else. I knew she would take me to the dentist next morning. I could not get what I wanted out of her without getting something more, which I did not want. I wanted immediate relief from pain: but I could not get it without having my teeth set permanently right. And I knew those dentists: I knew they started fiddling about with all sorts of other teeth which had not yet begun to ache. They would not let sleeping dogs lie, if you gave them an inch they took an ell.” [when God says], ‘Be ye perfect’…. I think He meant ‘The only help I will give is help to become perfect. You may want something less: but I will give you nothing less.’

This Beatitude has a cyclical nature to it. When you see God you are purified, when you have a pure heart, you will see God. This is exactly the kind of loop that God wants us to get caught up in. Paul describes this cycle in Romans 7 & 8 - at the end of Romans 7, Paul talks about how he wants to do right but doesn’t seem able to do it - in desperation he asks “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” but immediately he answers the question: God will! God stands ready to rescue - there is no condemnation for those whose lives are hidden in Jesus - all we have to do is stay in Him.

God himself said to Abraham, “No one can see me and live.” and that’s the point! Spending time in the presence of the living God helps us to die to ourselves. Colossians 3:3 says “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” and again in Romans 6:11 “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

We are meant to live our lives as living sacrifices, taking up our crosses daily and following our Perfect Example, Jesus. C.S. Lewis says it like this, “Give me all of you!!! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want YOU!!!  ALL OF YOU!! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self---in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.”

The last thing I would want anyone to come away with this morning is a feeling of guilt or inadequacy. God is the one doing the work. God is the one showing us gently where we need to grow and change. He does this little by little – He is preparing us to live with him and each other forever. In order to partner with Him in this good work, we need pure hearts. C.S. Lewis has this analogy for this partnership: "[God] shows much more of Himself to some people than to others—not because He has favourites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition. Just as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as in a clean one… the instrument through which you see God is your whole self. And if a man’s self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred—like the Moon seen through a dirty telescope."

Jesus said it this way, "Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness.  If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light."

I know I mixed a lot of metaphors this morning: Running a race as an athlete, going to the dentist, rats in the cellar, being a mirror or telescope. It all boils down to this: to quote one of C.S. Lewis's favorites, G.K. Chesterton "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” To this I will add, but don't keep doing it badly! Be a little more patient next time, a little kinder, a little more forgiving. Work with God and not against Him and start where you know you need to.

Lewis gets the last word this morning. A young woman named Mary Neylan, a student of C.S. Lewis had an ongoing correspondence with him, starting in 1931. According to Richard James of Taylor University, "Thirty-seven letters from Lewis to Mary, her husband Daniel, and her oldest daughter, Sarah, have been published. They span over a period of thirty years touching on many personal, religious and literary themes, including marriage, confirmation, Narnia and family illnesses." On January 20, 1942, Jack is writing to Mary about chronic temptations – a topic on which she had asked his advice. In his letter he says, "“Sorry you’re in a trough. I’m just emerging (at least I hope I am) from a long one myself.” I think we can all identify. In a rut. Stuck. Discouraged by our own sinfulness. Listen to what he says to her and if you remember nothing else from this morning remember this:

"No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present to us: it is the very sign of his presence."