Lent 1 Sermon Feb 22, 2015
Luke 9:57 ff & Amos 5:21-24
Columbus Day October 10th 2006 did not start out well for me. I was stuck spiritually. I was exhausted burnt out and my prayer life just wasn’t working for me. Stuck in the rut of habit and tradition, oughts and shoulds and expectations. My spiritual life was not taking me above the ordinary.
But on that day I happened to buy and begin to read a book. A book that would prove to have more impact than I imagined. Called The Leader’s Journey it was a book that pulled me ever so slowly out of the muddy spiritual malaise I was stuck in. It was challenging and hard, it made me feel uncomfortable and invited (actually forced me, if I’m honest) me to take responsibility for things I was unwilling to before. It showed me my habits, my patterns, my autopilot – the way that I was stuck, the reasons why I wanted to remain stuck, and the red flags that I missed for being stuck. It showed me myself as I actually truly was.
It was a book that reminded me of the prophets Micah Amos and Isaiah calling out idleness in the darkness and the luke-warmness of valuing what God values.
Amos thunders, “I hate I despise your festivals your songs your worship your traditions your religion the way you prop up your spirituality the way you make yourself look good rest on your money and your reputation.”
I’ve heard it said that true prophets afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. This book and its authors began to afflict me and my comfort.
Make no mistake about it, we are all created, called, and challenged to be free. Paul’s letter to the Romans states, and restates how we are free from Sin, and slavery and being stuck. We can have new life in Christ. We can be free from the chains that bind us. We can have an abundant life filled with justice joy and peace.
THERE ARE TWO TYPES OF BEING STUCK
TYPE 1: Stuck in a conscious crisis that could be either external or internal. You’re stuck, and you know it. Perhaps you don’t know how to find freedom. But you know you want it.
Pop Culture loves this kind of scenario, and tells it over and over again to wild success. Prison movies like Shawshenk Redemption, all apocalyptic and dystopian films Hunger Games and The Maze Runner, nearly every horror films or submarine films, deserted island stories like Cast Away, space movies like Gravity and Apollo 13, Murder mystieries in a secluded house, and moral history like BrokeBack Mountain, Milk or Selma. And one of the most harrowing stories, Dead Poets Society where one of the young students is stiuck, literally caught in the external expectations of his parents that suffocates him so profoundly that death by suicide is the only escape he can fathom.
The 2010 film FROZEN is a great example. It portrays 3 young people stuck on a ski lift after a winter storm hits and the resort is forced to close the mountain. They’re stuck between a rock (staying put and freezing) and a hard place (jumping, wolves, etc….).
While pop culture focuses here, the Bible also illustrates this kind of being stuck: the kind of crisis you are very much aware of and are desperate to be freed from.
The Egyption slavery, Babylonian Exile, Paul stuck in prison, Jesus stuck in mortal tension with empire, Abraham stuck in trying to save himself and his wife. Zacchaeus, the woman caught in adultery, Geresene Demoniac.
Here’s the basic plot of all these stories (pop culture and our own): someone’s stuck, and struggles to find freedom. Ingenuitity, desperation, luck and usually some help are all needed to free us.
For people who are stuck in the circumstances of life God comes to us as Savior, Liberator, the one who frees us and comforts us in our affliction. “We cried to the Lord and he heard our cries.” “Come to me, all you who are weary and in need of rest, and I will give you what you need.”
For those who are stuck and know they are stuck – by debt, loneliness, health, pornography, shame, the wrong job – the lies and struggles of family – God comes to us as pastor, gentle and kind. Here the invitation is to cry out to God so that you may be heard. “Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”
TYPE 2 CRISIS:
There is also a second, perhaps more dangerous, way of being stuck: when we’re unconsciously stuck. It’s being stuck and not even realizing it. It’s problematic, as you can see, because we have a problem we’re not trying to solve! We’ve cancer of the soul or a relational infection that attacks us, without diagnosis and with no search for treatment.
Pop culture also illustrates this colorfully. The Matrix, Truman Show, PleasantVille, The Village, Jupiter Ascending… are all films which wrestle with being unconsciously stuck.
But while Pop Culture focuses on the first type (when we are fully aware of our bondage), the Bible focuses at least as much on this unconscious crisis. The rich young man imprisoned by wealth, the Prodigal Sons by privilege, the Geresene Demoniac’s community locked into social hierarchy, disciples stuck in a false mental model of what would happen when the Messiah came, David’s adultery, the church at Laodicea who was “lukewarm,” Martha.
The 3 stories from Luke 9 all portray folks stuck in lifestyles that prohibit faithfulness. They don’t want to see clearly! They want their cake and to be able to eat it too.
They’re just like us. We think we want more of God, we think we want to be faithful, we think we’re filling to go wherever God leads us… but our spirit or lifestyle betrays us. Our habits, our traditions block us.
More often than not God doesn’t comfort us when we’re unconsciously stuck. He challenges us, confronts us, calls us. God becomes like all prophets the afflictor of the comfortable. She’s an agitator, and activist. He’s the stern one who forces “an Intervention” to raise our awareness.
‘But woe to you who are rich…
‘Woe to you who are full now…
‘Woe to you who are laughing now…
‘Woe to you when all speak well of you…
No matter what kind of stuck you find yourself in, whether today or sometime soon, whether conscious or unconscious, God longs for you to be free, abundantly free. “And when Christ makes you free you are free indeed.”
We don’t need to be afraid to begin again… or again… or again. Christ’s empty tomb proves that beginning again is not only desirable, it’s possible.
We are overcomers and the power of Christ is in us. We can leave behind our negativity and embrace the future. “Picture yourself in this way, we are dead to Sin and able to live for the glory of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11).”
Getting unstuck often demands an intentional openness to feeling whatever it is our heart is trying to teach us. We know what we know, but we’re stuck because we refuse (perhaps out of fear, or tradition, or busyness) to feel our anxiety or anger and consciously intentionally bring it into God’s presence.
Lent is a season of the Christian year where we’re encouraged to do just that: bring our full selves into God’s safe presence where like a Parent we are comforted and like Journalist we see reality as it truly is.
Lent – and all spiritual practices – invite us to practice the presence of God, where:
- Worship is not just singing
- Tithes are more than charity
- Prayer is not just talking
- Silence is more than idleness
- Communion is not just a snack
- Baptism is more than a bath.
- Sunday’s are not just recreation, but are set aside for re-creation
- And the bible is not just a story, but our story mixed into God’s.
God calls us to move from our head to our heart. From going through the motions to conscious awareness that Jesus is leading us, wherever he wants to take us.
PREPARE YOURSELF THIS LENT:
This Lent, worship, pray, be intentional, invite God to tell you where you are stuck. And then risk the terrifying to begin, again.
In August of 2012 I was invited on a retreat here in Houston for pastors. It was a retreat called Faith Walking. Which is a process of personal growth and faith formation (which necessarily means HUMAN formation) that shows us our current reality through the lens of God’s gospel. On the last day of this 3 day retreat I sat down next to a man named Jim Herrington who had invited me to the retreat. Jim, whom many of you know, had become in the previous three years my dear friend, mentor, my spiritual guide and my biggest fan here in Houston. He is the champion of my ministry and a limitless supporter of my writing. He prays for my ministry and for my family. And he had directly and indirectly inspired me to begin again, and again, and again.
Under Jims chair was my book – The Leaders Journey. I turned to Jim and told him how much that book meant to me the fall of 2006 when I found myself stuck, confused, and not sure where to go. I told him how for days and weeks on end I journaled my way through that book, meditating, praying, and struggling through it like Frodo in Lord of the Rings (putting one step before the other). Trudging like the pilgrims progress through the sloth of despair. And how that book had been my guide and push and catalyst in the seed planted for health and life and renewal.
He handed me the book, and on the front cover I noticed something that I hadn’t noticed before. I noticed the name of the author. Jim Herrington. The same man who gave me hope in 2006 had unknowingly became an integral and intimate part of my spiritual life here in Houston.
I may find myself stuck again from time to time in my spiritual life. But what I’ve learned in life, is to not be afraid to begin again. And on that day Columbus Day 2006 I began again.
I hope you too have the hope and courage to begin again.