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Resolutions

(a meditation for December 31, 2017, the First Sunday after Christmas and New Year’s Eve, based on Ephesians 3:14-21)

“I’ve made my New Year’s resolution this year.” Or so said the man on the radio as I was driving down the road one day about this time of year; and he went on to say, “And it’s the same one I make every year: not to make any New Year’s resolutions!”

Now that’s noble, I remember thinking.  What better way to avoid not keeping a resolution for the coming year than not to make one in the first place!   Kind of misses the whole point of the thing, but even then I had to admit I did understand his thinking!  I mean, how many of us have made all these grand commitments to self-improvement on January 1st only to find our firm resolve slipping away long before the month has passed!  At least this way you’re guaranteed success; because if you promise nothing then you’re responsible to nothing!

Of course, if you think about it for very long you discover that idea doesn’t really hold water, either.  The truth is that we’re all responsible to something or someone: our families, our friends, the people with whom and for whom we labor; and certainly, as Christians, we’re responsible to God!   Bottom line is that we have obligations of one sort or another that extend to just about every facet of our lives; and every decision we make on a day to day basis (even something as seemingly but deceptively simple as how we eat or exercise) ends up saying something not only about ourselves and our own lives, but also about how we value and relate to those around us.  So we can avoid making resolutions; but the responsibilities and the relationships that inspired those resolutions will always be there!

So what are we to do about this resolution conundrum, especially today as we literally come to the brink of a brand new year?   Maybe the answer comes in changing how we think of this idea of making resolutions.  Rather than making promises we’re not at all sure we can or that we’re even willing (!) to keep, maybe on this last day of 2017 we should be seizing the opportunity for honest assessment of where we actually are in our lives, so that we might make a “mid-course correction” for the journey that awaits us in 2018.  In other words, we need to ask ourselves, how did it go last year, anyway?  Were there things we should have done differently?  How far off track did we find ourselves wandering from where we wanted to be and where we are right now; and how do we keep that from happening in the year to come?  Because it’s one thing, friends, for us to make a list of resolutions for a new year; but it’s quite another to be purposeful in finding ways that’ll make those resolutions a reality in our lives.

I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot as of late; and perhaps it’s because it’s been such a tumultuous year in the world around us that we’ve felt a bit “blown off course,” so to speak, or maybe it’s because even as I’m getting older, I feel like I’m heading in a direction that inevitably becomes busier and busier (which is not really the direction I was expecting to go!), but it seems to me that this kind of “mid-course correction” would be most appropriate for any of us as enter into a new year!  In fact, as I’ve been thinking on this I realize I’ve come up with three “resolutions” that might just help in getting us “back on course,” not only in the walk of life but the walk of faith as well.  So in lieu of a real sermon today, I’d like to take a couple moments to share those resolutions with you.

The first resolution I want to make for 2018 is to GIVE MORE.   You know, not only in having had not one, but two hip replacements this past year and my wife Lisa having to deal with surgeries and illness of her own, but also in walking with many of you in the challenges, struggles and unwelcome transitions of life, I was reminded once again of the truth that there is so much in this life that is completely out of our control.  Though we might, in our weaker moments, fear otherwise,  I’m here to remind  us all of the truth that none of what happens to us is contingent on how “good” or “bad” we are; the bottom line, folks, is, as Christ himself said, it rains on the just and the unjust.  But… by the same token there is no way that any of us could possibly earn or be deserving of the blessings of love, joy and insight we’ve received at the hand of God and in the care of God’s people; as much as we may try, there is no way we can even begin to live up to what we’ve been given in such abundance.  In the end, all any of us really can do is to try to live our lives faithfully in the midst of all of its myriad joys and struggles.

So be it resolve that we give more of ourselves to God’s movement and purpose as life, with all its unpredictability, unfolds before us; to be more “in the moment” where faith is concerned; to be intentional in recognizing that in every happenstance and casual conversation God’s Spirit might well be moving and we would best pay attention!  Also, we need to listen better and talk a whole lot less; and to be more aware of the opportunities that will arise to show God’s love and care in what we say and in what we do. Let us resolve in 2018 to give more of ourselves to God.

The second resolution I want to make is sort of the flip side of this; for not only do I resolve to give more, I also resolve to COMPLAIN LESS.  That’s right… I said it!  Actually, I’m reminded here of the old joke you’ve probably heard me tell:  how many Congregationals does it take to change a light bulb?   And the answer is, CHANGE?   We can’t change that light bulb?  My grandfather gave that light bulb?  And besides, the old light bulb was just fine… we don’t need any new light bulbs in this church!

That’s a joke that applies in more ways than one!  I’ll make a confession here and now; sometimes change comes hard for me.  In the words of Paul Simon, “I seem to lean on old familiar ways.”   I like what’s comfortable and easy, and I don’t always want to see things move away from that; but you see, the problem with that kind of thinking is that life does not always flow in a way that’s comfortable and easy!  Life is always moving, always changing, always shifting, always creating a new landscape and offering up new challenges.   And truly, that’s now it should be; for that’s how the living God moves and works for the good.  Life is change, and in the end, we have a choice:  we can either be reluctant about change and grouse about it to the extent that we’ll miss its excitement and joy, or we can resolve to trust God’s leading us through the changes of our lives, and view it as the next good step of the adventure that the Lord is setting before us.  So be it resolved that we quit complaining about all the changes going on and… and let God lead us forward.  Let us rejoice that God is alive and moving, and has something wonderful in store for us as this new year unfolds!

And in that regard, finally, the third resolution I would make this year would be to PRAISE GOD ALWAYS.  There’s an old saying – I think it might have been C.S. Lewis who said it, I’m not sure – that “none are so unholy as those whose hands are cauterized with holy things; sacred things may become profane by becoming matters of the job.”   That quote has always hit close to home for me, because even as a minister, it’s very easy to lose sight of what it is I’m supposed to be doing; easy to become so consumed with the work of ministry that I get momentarily misplace, shall we say, my ultimate calling, which is to love and serve Jesus Christ our Lord as a pastor, as a husband and father, and as a man with all-too-human and occasionally quirky tendencies!

And unless I miss my guess, most of you can probably say the same thing!  Let me just say this outright:  in this year to come, we cannot let ourselves become so busy, so overwhelmed with all the minutiae of our lives that we I forget to praise God, and to do so with our words, our deeds and our very lives!  No matter what it is we say or do; no matter whether we succeed or fail in it; no matter how much we give of ourselves or how much less we complain about it, in all things the Lord needs to be acknowledged, or else it means… nothing.  Without praise and thanksgiving unto God, it’s just a job; it’s just a chore; it’s just another day.

So be it resolved that we praise God always; and in all ways!  At this time of the year more than any other, you and I must never forget that we are children of light, and that light needs to illumine everything we set out to do or to be as persons, as a people and might I add, most especially as the church.   Actually this resolution ends up the key to fulfilling the other two; for as you and I praise God with our whole hearts in the year ahead we will be moved to give more and what’s more, to complain less as we do; in the process we’ll discovering the true wisdom of life and living:  which is, as we’ve heard proclaimed this morning, “the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

I really can’t think of what would make for a happier or more blessed new year… but I dare say it begins with our resolve to make it happen!

So let us pray for each other in making and keeping these resolutions and others as well, as we embark on the next part of our shared journey of life and faith.

Happy New Year, dear friends; and may our thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Resolutions of a Spiritual Life

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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