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Jan 22 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

For Times Like This 01/22/2023



Welcome and Payer: Nancy Lopez

Welcome!     Happy Lunar New Year, if you celebrate that!            May the Lord be with you!

Last week Chuck mentioned his meditation from the Lectio Divina the previous week.  He gave us a definition of righteousness.   This was so helpful.

I understood that we’ve interpreted righteousness according to our Western presumptions, but it actually refers to a relational rightness, demanding faithfulness to the relationship that manifests as kindness, compassion, etc., and it embraces the whole of life, in every type of mutual relationship, not just an inner or ethical purity.  Is that “right,” Jim (no pun intended)?

The passage in 1 John that Chuck referred to was important for me, too.  My word was “Practice,” (that passage refers to the practice of sinfulness or the practice of righteousness.)  With my word of “Practice,” in our reflective time, I heard something in me ask, “Practice, practice, practice—when will you ever get it right?”  So, I started down the road that Chuck was talking about that leads us to attempting to master something.  In my Spirit, I heard “The practice is the thing – you’re not trying to achieve as much as living the practice, even enjoying the practice.”  Enjoy the Practice.  Now, at first, I was thinking of my spiritual disciplines, like my meditation practice or prayer; then I realized that I needed to consider this in all my relationships.  I mess up; I lose my intention; I lose my cool—”just return to the practice.”

I think I see that my practices, like yours, can encompass many ways of being more fully human; and whatever these practices are, they are not meant for achieving or performing; they are meant for living, for enjoying. 

After our Lectio time that week, Sue Duggan sent us all a recommendation to search for “What’s your practice?” on YouTube.  You’ll find it if you search “What’s your practice” and, boy, this kid is great.  He asks us that question, “What’s Your Practice?” and proceeds with “Do you practice joy?” “Do you practice peace?”  or “Do you practice complaining?”  “If you practice complaining”, he says, “you will get very, very good at it and find fault with everything!”  “Do you practice worrying?”  “If you practice worrying,” he says, “you will become an expert in it.”  Whatever you practice, you become really, really, good at.  So, practice is important; it might do us good to become aware of what we already practice, and decide to practice righteousness—in the best sense.

Let’s pray:

Jesus, you said that we should put into practice all we learned and received from You—everything we heard from You and saw You doing. You said that then the God of peace will be with us.  And so, we practice, using You as our example.  Establish peace in our hearts; establish righteousness.  Amen

Morning Talk: Jim Calhoun

We live in an anxious age. I think I begin most of my talks with this observation. But we need to remind ourselves that today has its own flavor. That today isn’t just like yesterday. We haven’t been here before.

We continue to observe a decline in civility, of decency. We continue to observe increasing aggression in words, in deeds. On the road, at the market, between friends and acquaintances. Our culture, our society is changing and it is creating pressure on people and groups. Some are leaning into the changes asking for more while others are pushing back disheartened or dislocated by the come differences.

Of course our politics are full of this, but that is only one source of troubles. What is needed is some people, communities of people who can help tamp down the restlessness and rage we see. We need folk who can help us make peace. Who can help us come to terms with our differences, refresh our sense of common ground, and rebuild our Union.

I have been a mediator and consultant in conflict resolution for two decades. I don’t think it is the professional who can make this happen, though they will be helpful along the way. I don’t believe a great leader will come and make it happen either. Though a strong leader committed to building instead of tearing down will be welcomed. The difficulty is that lots and lots of folk are committed to fighting it out. They are committed to dominating and are willing to use contempt, shame, manipulation, deception and rage to getting things done.

This is a very powerful approach. They will feel gratified in expressing their anger and they will have many success. But their success will be limited. It will become trench warfare. There will only be a victor when one side or group is destroyed. That is an enormously high price to pay. We are called to another path. We are called to neighborliness. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.

I believe neighborliness is more important and more transformative than politics and that the greatest contribution we can make to society is to become a person proficient at welcoming and loving the people we know and meet.

In addition to working in conflict resolution, for the past dozen years or so, I have been facilitating groups and meeting with individuals in what can best be described as spiritual direction. In this time, I have become convinced of the notion that it is what comes from the inside of a person that matters.

Jesus in Mark says, “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.”

I believe neighborliness requires great spiritual depth, practice and ongoing formation and that the habits of conflict reveal spiritual character.

The greatest challenge to becoming makers of peace is our own unresolved souls. Our disordered loves, our fears, our inclination to self-protection are the beginnings of the conflicts that surround us and that we find ourselves mired in. Simple conflict resolution techniques of protocols will not resolve this. They are good at resolving this dispute then that dispute, but they don’t seem to have a culminative effect. As important as they are, we need to go deeper. We need healing, restoration. We need to be made whole. We need shalom.

Loving our neighbor is no easy thing. It will, when we are transparent and honest with ourselves, show all of the things in our soul that are ‘unclean.’ To stay on the path will take a commitment and courage and a certain kind of grit.

This is a big topic with many elements that deserve our consideration. Today we will just get a start. But it will be a good start, meaningful, joyous and transforming.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays we have been going through I John. The passage today is the passage we worked on last week.

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 1 John 3:11-15

I. Love is the path

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

Please don’t let yourself grow tired of this concept. This is not, “Love another yada , yada, yada. Now let’s get to the good stuff.” My friends this is the good stuff.

I know we have become sensitive to the word should. On one hand we have had others, parents, teachers, pastors and other church people, friends and everyone else try to shame us and control us for their own benefit with shoulds. There are trivial examples like you shouldn’t wear white after summer or you shouldn’t wear black and brown together. When someone tells you this you are on notice that you have broken social conventions and depending on the circumstance you may be embarrassed, shamed, and then make sure you never breach that bit of etiquette again.

Each of us likely have more serious examples that still cause us pain and maybe humiliation as we remember the incident. It is often effective, and draining. Worse, we often incorporate this sort of shaming when we deal with ourselves. We internalize the weapons that others use against us and use them on ourselves. And we may not even notice.

Make note: this is an important part of our talk today. The “should” in our passage is different. This should, and the next one, are expressions of the natural order of things. They express normal outcomes and normal expectations. For example, when I flip the light switch, the light should turn on. That’s the normal way. It is the natural expectation. If it doesn’t go that way then something is up. There is a problem. An electrician will be called to make repairs.

That we should love one another is the natural outcome of our life in Christ. It isn’t to be viewed as a moral category that is imposed upon us from the outside or something we have to gin ourselves up for. It is a natural response. If it isn’t happening, we need to attend to it, like the lights that won’t turn on. Remember the arc of Christian spiritual experience: God loves us. We learn to receive that love and it begins it’s healing and nurturing work. We return God’s love full of gratitude and reverence. We worship. We grow to love the things God loves. Our worship move beyond the sanctuary into our every moment and into our bodies. We begin to love our brothers and sisters in faith, our neighbors, those we have never met or known and eventually even our enemies.

This is not easy. Often it is ugly. But it is our path. This is how we become whole. We need the Holy Spirit abiding within us. We need our brothers and sister in faith to support us and guide us on the way. We need ways, habits, exercises to keep this fresh, alive and compelling. If we are in Christ, then naturally we will love one another.

II. Cain and false teachers

We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother.

Likewise, if we are in Christ, we will not be like Cain. It just follows.

The story of Cain and Abel is in Genesis 4. It is interesting. Cain and Abel both make an offering to God. God approves Abel and God corrects Cain. We want to know why Cain was corrected, but we don’t. All we know is God told Cain if he made the necessary correction his offering would be accepted.

But Cain was unclean from the inside. Cain knew God. He had everything he needed to get it right. But he chose another path. He chose to close his heart toward Abel, and to resolve remedy the situation and resolve his feelings by taking his brother’s life. If we are in Christ, it is just natural that we will not be like Cain.

This passage, maybe “surprisingly,” fits right in the middle of the New Testament tradition about false teachers. We know for sure from verse 7 where the author says with marked gentleness, “Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.” It isn’t what you say that matters, what what and how you do that matters. We are easily deceived by words, but when we watch we will know.

All through the New Testament there are warnings about false teachers. It was a problem and it continues to be so. Jesus confronted the false religion of the Pharisees reminding them to clean the inside of the cup so the outside could be clean as well. They had replaced a spiritual life of living their neighbor and living in righteousness, right relationships with an intense, complicated, endlessly demanding system of appeasing God. This religion did nothing to clean the inside of the cup. It did nothing to clean their hearts.

Jesus sought to return the people to the path of righteousness, right relationship, and away from the false teaching of religion which is to appease God. There is no end to appeasing a god. It just makes you insecure. Maybe a little crazy in the head. You try to justify every move, every thought. You try to control the thoughts and actions of others. You know you are never good enough, pure enough, because you can’t always control the mess inside of you.

During the early church when most of the New Testament was being written, the great bulk of false teaching was from those we now call the Judaizers. They insisted that gentiles be circumcised to be accepted in the family of God. Jude tells us that false teachers walk in the way of Cain meaning they live from their unclean passions, from a dirty cup.

I’m trying to get to this point:
False teachers substitute religion for spirituality.
False teachers make us anxious about our lives.
False teachers give us a rule to follow that diminishes our call, our desire to love one another.
False teachers can be people in podiums. They can “should” us right out of God’s absolute love for us.
False teachers can be family, friends, teachers.

We can be our own false teachers. We can “should” ourselves right out of God’s absolute love for us and that is what is most important for me to communicate to you today.

III. Abel and innocence

And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.

Abel is referenced in the New Testament as an example of the innocent treated unjustly. There was no justification for Cain’s attack.

We need to make note that when we go forward. Seeking to craft and live in right relationships we may be misunderstood, rejected and attacked. I’m sorry for this and can attest that it is a terrible experience that can linger for years. It hurts and gnaws. It allows me to practice forgiveness, though, so it doesn’t eat a hole in my faith.

7 times
7 time 77 times
7 times 7 times 77 times
7 times 7 times 77 times to the 77th power. (Maybe—I’ll let you know.)

Hurt and betrayal and abandonment will happen on the road of righteousness. It just will. It is strange to say that sometimes we play both of these roles. Some time we are Cain to our Abel. We shame ourselves, attack ourselves, abandon ourselves and even betray ourselves. The world inside of us still has us in its sites.

IV. What we know: We know love

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.

The first thing we know is our life in Christ is vibrant because we love each other. At it’s most basic it is like a math formula that can be read from rather direction. 3×4=12 And 12=4×3 So “we have passed out of death into life” equals “we love our brothers,” and we love our brothers because we have passed out of death into life.

Both parts of the equation have equal weight.
Because this, that;
and because that, this.
And this is where we started with the biblical “should.”
Natural outcomes.

The Writers of the New Testament seemed to have a real concern for realism and practicality. Even when they were discussing difficult and abstract concepts, they eventually turn to the deeply practical.

First there is the quality of the love we are talking about. The love we are talking about isn’t just air kisses.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

So we know love by sacrifice. Or, at least the love talked about here and in other portions of the New Testament, necessitate sacrifice. Not every moment or encounter requires sacrifice, but it seems clear that we don’t want to avoid that possibility when it calls.

There is an “ought” here. We tend to use “should” and “ought” as interchangeable in English. In this passage they are two different words with some what different meanings. Ought in this case means something like owe, but not like a debt and not like an external obligation placed upon us. It means loving others sacrificially is the goodwill due our given situation. It is “freely you have received, now freely give.” Given all that I have received from God, it is only right that I would give just as freely.

This will be hard to understand, hard to feel, if God’s great love doesn’t resonate in you. And it may not for any number of reasons. You may have been shamed. You may have been wounded. We want to hold this tenderly as we go forward.

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?

This echoes back to Cain. The closing of the heart.

How does God’s love abide? This question feels so hard right? We are so given to black and white answers. We are so given to condemn ourselves. The answer is this: God’s love abides incompletely. It abides without its fullness.

This is an opportunity for us. When we see that we change course. The natural sequence of events has fallen apart. We aren’t loving as intended, as is natural given our situation. It is an indicator. It is a red light on your dash board. We may not be experiencing the fullness of God’s love.

We know what is true Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.

Sometimes we are our own false teachers. We tell ourselves that God’s love is for other people but not ourselves. Lies. When we tell ourselves that God’s love is limited for us we tell lies. It isn’t true. For our sake and for the sake of others and for the whole wide world we need to learn to stop this and embrace the truth of God’s great love.

An Exercise In Receiving God’s Love:

Relax, close your eyes, take a couple of deep breaths. Let’s reassure our hearts and know that God loves us more and more assuredly than our hearts can condemn us.

We sit together safe on the edge of infinity.
We sit together in the presence of God’s great love.
This love surrounds each of us, enveloping us in comfort and affection.
There is no condemnation for those with Jesus.

God’s love for you is absolute.
It isn’t earned and it can’t be lost.
It is secure.
It is permanent.
Let that soak in for a moment.

Perhaps you are experiencing objections now to this understanding of God’s love.
Feelings of shame
Old memories
The hard words of others
Mistakes and flaws and failures.
Maybe these leaked out.
Maybe they came in a flood.
However, take a couple of deep breaths and remember we are safe in God’s loving presence.

Return then to this as we sit with God together
God’s love for you is absolute.
It isn’t earned and it can’t be lost.
It is secure.
It is permanent.

Now ask God to clear away every false idea, every false teacher, every perspective that try’s to keep you from God’s perfect love.

Take a couple of deep breaths
God’s love for you is absolute.
It isn’t earned and it can’t be lost.
It is secure. It is permanent.

Know this: every thought that tells you that God’s love is limited for you is a place that God wants to bring healing.

I say that again: every thought that tells you that God’s love is limited for you is a place that God wants to bring healing.
Maybe it is an old memory of shame, God wants to bring healing to that.
Maybe it is a current flaw that you are acting out, God wants to bring healing to that.
Maybe it indicates a needed correction, that is God’s intervention for healing.
Every thought that tells you that God’s love is limited for you is a place that God wants to bring healing.

Take a couple of deep breaths God’s love for you is absolute.
It isn’t earned and it can’t be lost.
It is secure.
It is permanent.

Say a prayer of thanks for this love and let it surround you.

This exercise isn’t about feeling something, though you may feel loved, freedom, peace, release or something else. You may feel nothing. You may feel disoriented or a little off. This is okay. It isn’t about building your self-esteem. It isn’t a replacement for mental health care.

The hope of this exercise is that we learn to accept the love of God as given. We stop fighting it. We embrace it so God’s great love can further its transformation on us. Heal us. Make us lovers. Make us whole.

Neighborliness starts here I think. At least being the type of neighbor Jesus spoke of. And I think, the great need of our day, making peace, begins here too. It isn’t the whole of it, but it is a beginning.

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