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Resolutions of a Spiritual Life

05 Jan

resolutions(a sermon for  January 5, 2014, the 2nd Sunday after Christmas and the first Sunday of the New Year; based on Joshua 24:14-18)

In case you haven’t yet decided on a New Year’s resolution for 2014, I am pleased to tell you this morning that I can provide several excellent suggestions, courtesy of a Christian blogger by the name of Chris Lutes.   I hasten to add, however, that these are not your run of the mill resolutions; take this one, for instance:  this year “I will sing in the shower.”  And while that’s wonderful (we can all use a little more music in our lives!), couple that resolution with this one: “I will belt out opera tunes [wherever I happen to be], and when somebody asks me what I’m doing, I’ll say: ‘Rehearsing, what does it sound like I’m doing?’”  So now you get the tone and substance of this particular batch of New Year’s resolutions!

But they’re great, and here’s another: this year “I will look in a mirror and make goofy faces until my face hurts from laughing at myself.”

“I will wear socks that don’t match.”

“I will show up at a party with a gallon of ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate syrup and springs, and announce, ‘Sundaes for everybody!’”

“I will buy a 1,000-piece puzzle, remove one piece and give the puzzle to someone who absolutely loves puzzles (and hates missing pieces).  I will later ‘fess up – and give them the missing piece.”

And finally, “I will smile for no real good reason at all – except that it just makes me feel good.”

Now tell me the truth; don’t those resolutions sound a whole lot more fun than diet and exercise?  Granted, those things are important; but I dare say that these other resolutions, while slightly silly, might be just as healthy in the long run: certainly emotionally, but also spiritually and by extension, even physically.  So I say, “Be it Resolved!”

The fact is, I believe in making New Year’s resolutions; and even though like everybody else, I have a hard time sticking to them, I do think they’re worth making.  To make a resolution, you see, is to affirm the need for change in one’s life; which is difficult and yet liberating at the same time.  Actually, when you think about it, a resolution is a confession – to ourselves, to others, to God – in which we own up to our own shortcomings and then take the first steps on a better pathway.  And while that might involve the big things in our lives – taking better care of our bodies, or getting a handle on some self-destructive behaviors – it also can be as simple but as important as pledging to speak with more compassion, or better yet, to listen with more attention.  The point is that in this life we all fall short of who and what we should be; and for the person who is determined to learn from that, a new year’s resolution serves as a good “mid-course correction” for the coming year.

So it seems like now is a good time to ask ourselves some important questions; like, for instance, how did last year go?  Did we end up where we expected or wanted to be?  What would we have done differently if we now had the chance?  Were there times that we sold ourselves short; moments in which we let our family, or friends, or our faith fall by the wayside for the sake of whatever choices we made along the way, and would we change that if we could?

On what did we most fully rely during this year just past; was it gut instinct that guided us? Was it money?  On the opinions of the people closest to us, or for that matter, that of people we don’t even know?  Or was it God?  That’s the crux of the matter, friends; and I believe, the central question before us as we begin this year 2014:  who do we trust?  Actually, it’s a question as old as our faith:  Who or what will I choose this day to serve?

Ultimately, you see, resolutions come down to what it is we truly believe about life and living; it’s all about the choices we make in this or any new year; specifically for us as people of faith, it’s the choice that is ours to love and serve God before any of the other “gods” of human life. It’s the choice that lay at the heart of our reading this morning from the Old Testament book of Joshua:  “Choose this day whom you will serve… but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

Now, historically, these words come from a sacred gathering of the various tribes of Israel that took place in the city of Shechem, the purpose of which was to recommit themselves to their shared covenant with God; to pledge themselves to obedience to God and to reject the worship of various local idols and “gods.”  The interesting thing, though, is that this had to be more than mere ritual; the people of Israel needed to actually make a choice about this; they had to resolve to “serve the LORD,” with their whole hearts and lives, a choice, yes or no, that held clear consequences for them either way, as clear and distinct as life and death.  So when Joshua says to them, “Choose this day who will serve,” he’s calling them to make a firm resolution to a truly spiritual life: “to serve the LORD, for he is our God.”

As I said before, it’s a question, a call, as old as faith itself; but it’s the very same one that’s before us and our households even now.  How will we choose, beloved? In the same manner as who have come before us, will we make that firm resolution for a truly spiritual life?

Admittedly, when put in such biblical terms it can all seem more than a little daunting!  It’s like the person who wakes up on New Year’s morning having decided that they’re going to start running ten miles a day every day that’s to come and run the Boston Marathon come April; which is fine, except that up till that morning, they’ve not even run down to the corner and back without huffing and puffing! I think it goes without saying that to choose to serve the Lord requires that kind of commitment and more; but it’s also a discipline that starts from the ground up.  So maybe for us it begins with a series of, shall we say, smaller resolutions: the fundamentals, if you will, of choosing to serve the Lord in all things.

So in that regard, let me suggest three resolutions this morning:  first, be it resolved that this year we will read our Bibles.

It is an amazing thing to me that the sourcebook of our Judeo-Christian faith, God’s own word unto you and me and all of humanity is for a great many of us that which we least understand and worse, a place we spend as little time as possible.  Our nourishment and edification in faith and life comes to us through the ancient verses of Holy Scripture; the pages of the Bible are a literal treasure trove of wisdom and history and wonder and inspiration for our time and place, and we need to intentionally and carefully study what it has to say.

There are many ways to do that.  For instance, in your bulletin this morning, there’s a list of “Fifty Great Passages of the Bible” that are representative of the richness and meaning of our Christian faith; an excellent place to begin a study of the basics of what we believe.  For that matter, you can just dive in and start reading; a chapter a day from the Old and New Testaments, which takes you through the Bible in about a year.  Now admittedly, there’s some rough going there, especially as you wade through the convoluted history and “begats” that’s found particularly within the Old Testament; but I will tell you something.  As you read through this massive story of God’s history and relationship with his people, I guarantee that you’ll begin to see yourself and your relationship to God in the narrative; and if you let it, it’ll bring you closer to that spiritual life we’re talking about.

Second, be it resolved that this year we will take the time and seize the moments we have to worship and pray!

And yes, folks, that means coming to church regularly and in the proper spirit, because we are called to worship and pray as a community of faith!  And yet, even as it is essential that we be attentive to our corporate worship, it is equally important that we attend to our own personal prayer and reflection before God; we must make the time to go into the quiet to speak with and, more importantly, listen for what God has to say to us – it is as healthful to us as diet and exercise, for in times of prayer we find and renew our strength in the Lord for the times of joy and of sorrow that we will have to face.  In an era when all the “tin gods” of the world around us clamor for our attention, this becomes all the more crucial.

And finally, be it resolved that this year we personally live out of the ethos of our Christian faith; or to put it more simply, this year let us practice what we preach!

Let me make an observation here, and not to oversimplify it, but it seems to me that if each one of us spent as much time and energy throughout the year exemplifying the importance and power of our Christian faith by our behavior as we do lamenting how much life has moved away from it, what a world this would be!   Friends, for us to claim the name of Christian has never meant that we should let our faith remain merely a personal and private conviction; it has always been intended to be proclaimed in how we live. In other words, what we believe needs to be seen; we are each and all ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we are being called in these times to be bold in our conviction, but even more so in our action.

Of course, all this having been said, understand that none of these “smaller” resolutions come easy; and following through only comes about with the graceful help of God.  It is said that Jonathan Edwards, the great 18th century revivalist from New England, sat down at the age of 17 and wrote down twenty-one resolutions by which he would live his life; in fact, throughout his lifetime, Edwards added to that list until he had accumulated some seventy resolutions for his spiritual life; in fact, he would regularly do a “self-check” of sorts to sum up how he was doing in fulfilling the obligations he had made before the Lord.

What’s interesting is the very first of his resolutions.  He wrote, “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat Him by His grace to enable me to keep these resolutions.”  We can’t do it alone, you see.  Without God, we cannot hope to live the life to which we are called.

So, “choose this day whom you will serve…” and be it resolved on this first week of the new year, we will depend upon God to help hold true to the choice that we have made“to serve the LORD, for he is our God.”

Something to reflect upon this as we come to the Lord’s table this morning.

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN.

c. 2014  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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