But the second reason was that my father and stepmother were visiting from North Carolina, and I know they don’t like long-winded preaching. We’d had a conversation in our living room the night before in which they went on in some detail about how it seems to them that preachers are preaching longer and longer these days — too long — and how they seem to be in love with the sound of their own voices, and though they assured me they weren’t talking about me, nonetheless, I was feeling pretty self-conscious as the only actual preacher in the room. I know that I have indeed been at times long-winded, and that yes, sometimes, I am guilty of “falling in love with the sound of my own voice.”
So I got quiet for a while, and let my wife carry the conversation, but it got me to thinking regarding what exactly it is I am trying to do here on Sunday mornings as I preach and lead worship, which was a good thing to think about.
And after a while I was able formulate an answer and put it into words, and I felt really good about that.
This is what I came up with. There are two things I’m trying to let happen on Sunday morning.
First, I am trying to create an atmosphere where together we can acknowledge the simple truth that, “It’s not easy being a human being.” One of the things I love about the Bible is the way it is so honest about this fact that there is something inside us that is constantly inclined towards fear and discontent. We are those Israelites so quick to panic when we enter the wilderness, so quick to grumble and complain, getting nostalgic about the good old days back in Egypt when we were Pharaoh’s slaves. We are those laborers in the vineyard in Jesus’ parable who can’t help but compare ourselves with others, and in those comparisons make ourselves miserable.
The truth is, I think, that we all go around in this life with a good measure of fear. If that fear isn’t at the center of our life, it is nonetheless on the edges, waiting for something like the notion that we’re lost in the desert with no food or water, or that the economy is collapsing, to draw that fear into the center.
The fear can take all kinds of forms: fear of death, fear of bad things happening to us or to our loved ones. Or it can be more subtle: the fear that we will be judged incompetent, inadequate, unfit to hold our station in life.
It can be a fear which is mixed up with guilt, an underlying feeling that we’ve failed in our primary task in life which is to love, and maybe in truth we often have. And all this fear blends in with anger, and sometimes it comes out as complaining and griping, leading us to lash out and hurt others.
But most of the time, like everybody except the kid in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, we go around pretending that we do in fact have it all together, more or less.
And so when we come to church on Sunday morning, I want this to be a place where, unlike most everywhere else we might go, we don’t have to pretend anymore, that we can acknowledge the truth that it isn’t easy being a human being. That’s the first thing.
The second thing I’m trying to allow to happen on Sunday morning’s is this: The celebration of the good news that in spite of the fact that life is difficult, scary and we often feel like a failure, there really is a God who created us because this God loves us, delights in us.. that this God is revealed in Jesus as the merciful and compassionate one who longs to release us from the burden of our sin and guilt… that even if we have spent our life to a large degree being idle in the marketplace (which in fact we all have been if the measure of our life is how well we’ve loved) the vineyard owner is nonetheless gracious, knowing what we need.
And that it really is possible to begin to learn how to trust this God, to live day by day, receiving our daily bread, our daily denarius, the daily manna from heaven that provides for us what we truly need, if not what we might want.
And that whether we live or whether we die, we really are safe the hands of God. That’s how the Apostle Paul put it late in his life. Mostly likely we haven’t yet reached the state of grace in which Paul dwelt when he wrote these words. But it makes a difference to have people to look to whose presence encourages us to believe that yes, over time, we just might be able to live with more trust, more contentment, and without so much fear, anger or guilt. That we might learn how to love more easily, more graciously.
People older than myself have jokingly told me on occasion, “Don’t get old,” referring to the hardships that are endured over time as the body wears down. And I believe it when they say that this is a hard thing to deal with.
But the one good thing about living into old age is that it might become a time in which a person learns how to trust God, loving more fully and easily. To live more contentedly, day by day. Aging can be the process in which we begin to learn how to live life without clutching so tightly.
God gives us people like Lois to remind us of this possibility as we go through life. I’ve known Lois 19 years. I’ve witnessed her survive the heartache of her husband Jack’s sudden death, and then her mother’s slow death, and then a hip replacement, an attempt by con people to try and scam her (unsuccessfully, because greed isn’t a part of her makeup), as well as a recent purse snatching, and through it all she has amazed me.
She shines the light of Jesus, and she does this without any fake pretense of being perfect. She is a very human saint.
Hwa called me to tell me how when she was in the Mayo Clinic to receive her liver transplant, Lois would send her a card or letter every day, which Hwa would put up on the wall of her room, eventually covering the whole wall. Little reminders, day by day, to trust God.
Thank you Lois. Thank you God for all those signs you provide of your daily care.