OUR LIFE’S PATH WITH GOD
IS NOT A LITERAL ROAD – or pathway. It is an image of the way we walk through our lives with God, as God both leads and supports us through every challenge or joy. The famous poem “Footprints” may be of some help here. I like the image of the footprints in the sand. It helps me see the character of the path we each have. A beach has no pre-determined way of walking it, as opposed to a trail through the woods. Our life’s path is similar to the beach. It is determined by the choices we make. In our imagination, we may be able to look back and see where our choices have taken us. We can pray for the guidance and support we will need to move forward in our lives. We may be shown in a dream or vision or through our imagination some new challenge or mission God is giving us as our next step on our virtual path. Whatever choice we make next, we are assured that God is with us.
Having said that, I want to praise and thank our gracious God for the results of faithfulness my dear friend and sister in Christ received this morning. She left a job last spring, where she had been subjected to indescribable emotional torture and was still owed a great deal of money. Worse still, she was number 51 in a long list of black women, who had also gone, ultimately because of total disrespect for them as persons. This was all from an organization that billed themselves as faith-based. Meanwhile, the CEO changed and things have been moving within this non-profit to transform how they do things. Today she received an apology [ worth as much to her as the money] and the beginning of the process to pay her back everything she is owed. While she and her support had remained faithful to God, the Lord had also been working in the hearts of those in the non-profit. I was privileged to listen in on the conference call and hear the results of God’s work in the hearts of others. I am so grateful for those who have seen the path God has shown them and see the results of their resolve to honor God by walking that path. This has been a lot messier than anyone would wish. It seems to have been a culling process that stripped away those who decided not to remain faithful. We have so much to convince us of the results – the transformations that happen when we are faithful. So how can we see our own path? Here is one way, in John 12 – “44 Jesus shouted to the crowds, “If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. 45 For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. 46 I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” Embrace the light Christ offers us and our road will become visible. Gracious and ever-loving God, we are grateful that in the midst of extreme pain and loss you are steadfast in your care and support of us. As your children, we are blessed beyond imagining. We thank you for the love, mercy and comfort that remains present and available to us, always. Help us see the love being lighted by the sacrifice Christ made. Light our paths and show us the gifts and tools we are given to be and remain faithful to the work of love you give us to do. Amen. PEACE
OUR PATH WITH GOD
IS DEFINITELY MYSTERIOUS – and each step is evidence of our faith. At the beginning of Hebrews 11, this statement is made. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Then there follows a long list of people in biblical history who trusted God’s plan and did something significant, without knowing the outcome. We are able to put our trust in God because of what we know of God. In Jeremiah 29 God gave reassurance to the people of Israel. “11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.” And in chapter 31 God renews the covenant with them. “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people.”
Each step on our walk with God is a measure of our trust that God will continue to love and guide us in whatever we are about to face – each day, each hour and every minute. We have some assurance because we have testimony from the Bible stories, of many who went before us, receiving that same love and guidance that we seek. The words that come to my mind most often are “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” These words make me smile, because they were proven many times to the people of God, and they have been my experience more times than I can count. They fill me with joy since I know the truth of them, and because of that, I extend my trust in God much further than I might have otherwise. It is true that the longer we are on our path with God, the easier it becomes to stay on the pathway. This is because we are trusting the Holy Spirit, and so we learn to discern when God is directing us and we are able to reject the distractions the world puts in our way. We stop questioning whether it is really God speaking to us and become assured that we are following the voice we hear. This pathway is our relationship with God, and like a garden, needs regular cultivation and nourishment through prayer. Each time we pray, we strengthen our relationship and know God more fully. Mysterious God, we ask for your guidance along the path you have given each of us. As we pray, may your gracious love give encouragement and hope, so that we stay on our pathway. Thank you for the reassurance of good intentions and plans for our future, that we may always walk in your gracious love. Amen. PEACE
WE GROW WITH GOD’S HELP
ON A WONDERFUL JOURNEY – of many steps, which move us toward God and the person God created us to be. Romans 5 lays out for us, in both a thrilling and measured way, what the growth process with God is like. “2 Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. 3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because we have been given the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with God’s love.” Throughout this growth process, every day we will be lifted up when we stumble, be given confidence when we are uncertain and know the hope that gives us strength when we fear there is no way forward. Nothing is impossible if God wants it to happen.
So how do we get ourselves into this process of growth, with this unfailing support of the Holy Spirit? We ask God in prayer. We answer the call from God that has already been in us. We are God’s child, and God calls to us to be closer and come into a relationship in the Holy Spirit. God calls all of us. If we fear we have been left out, that is not true. God speaks to each of us, in a unique way for each of us to respond. It may be in comfort when we are facing a great problem. Or it might be a huge creative wave that stimulates a productive time for us. It can be positive or reactive to something we are facing. However God encounters us, there is always a way God is within us, reaching into our inner being, touching our deepest emotions, and giving us love. We are privileged and we are blessed. The sooner we are ready to see and feel it, the sooner we will step onto the path God gives us. That path will be filled with love like a thick carpet of flowers, beautiful and with a sweet-scented smell. Or it may be in a different way that we will be drawn in. God is in us and is calling us forward. Gracious and loving creator, we are your child. We need help to find all the ways we are called into a life of love. Guide us to the path we need to walk, and set us on it, to love and serve you. Amen. PEACE
GOD WILL FILL THE SPACE
WITHIN US – with unconditional love. Since we are created by God, we have been intended to live and work with God our whole lives. That is what God wants for us, a life filled with the unconditional love God offers us all, so that we might become the person we were created to be. God has planned it, and given us gifts and abilities for us to use, so we might be happy and fulfilled, knowing what it is like to be lifted up above the world’s fears and fighting. Even through all the bad experiences from others we are loved and supported by God. Whether we know this in our lives is a choice we make of what voices we will listen for. Psalm 119 helps here even though much of this psalm is too much of an Old Testament point of view. “133 Guide my steps by your word, so I will not be overcome by evil.” In Micah, we get a little closer to the relationship of love and grace, later made possible by our Lord, Jesus. “What does the Lord require of us but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God?” Lest we forget, this is a reminder that when we seek God, we also seek to do what God needs from us. God has a plan that we are a part of. We are free to choose to become part of that great enterprise and gain the benefits, the blessings that help us continue to work with God every day.
But what happens to those who have not chosen to walk with God? Jesus gave us a compelling image in John 8, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” There is much we can do for those we know or don’t know who walk in the darkness because they are not able to see the light of God in the world. We can begin by praying for those who need God, but cannot see. Another important step is to communicate what God has done in our lives. These gifts were not given as a secret to be kept. God expects us to share the love and grace we receive. In Matthew 5 Jesus says plainly how we are expected to share the gifts and understanding we have been given. “15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Jesus does not say, “if you feel like it today, share your light.” Jesus calls us to share all we have been given, even at risk to us. Fear or uncertainty of what will happen is no reason not to follow this call. God is always within us in whatever we do and will always help us accomplish what we need to do, when we allow it. Gracious God, we need to help others find the light. Give us what we need to overcome whatever stands in the way of us giving our light to others we encounter. May we find ways to let the light shine, through a smile, a kindness or a word. Then lead us to do more to let the light of your love touch others, and fill their lives too. Amen. PEACE
GOD WILL FILL US UP
AND SUPPLY ALL OUR NEEDS – through the greatest gifts we have been given. Jesus is one of our greatest gifts. The other gift is God’s own grace that we were given even before we were created because we are a part of God. So the coming of Jesus was a way to show us how close a connection God wants and has designed and the lengths God would go to, to fill our needs. God has foreseen our problems of beginning and living in a relationship with God. There is a lot of history in the Bible of the struggle among God’s people, who kept choosing other ways to live, rather than trust the love and grace God offers. So we were given many gifts of guidance through the prophets and then our redemption was assured with the gift of Jesus.
Through the example in Jesus life, we were given a blueprint of how to live with each other. Then with the sacrifice of his life, Jesus gave of himself completely so that we could come to God and know there is nothing that will be a barrier. Because of grace God always loves us and wants the best of everything for us including the gift of the Holy Spirit. JOHN 14 helps us see part of the plan for us to come closer to God, with the help from this: “26 the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ ” When we pray over this passage, the Holy Spirit will help us understand and as we allow the Spirit to work in us, we will find it has become a part of us, allowing us to live a better life. Let this be our prayer. O Holy Spirit, help us let go of fear, when we realize you are living within us, casting out fear and leaving love and understanding in its place. Show us how this will lead us closer to you who created us and wants us to be in relationship. Guide us as we choose, to make more choices toward you God and loving others. Help us know we are loved and not alone, bringing us closer to you. In the name of the one who broke all the barriers and gave us peace, we pray. Amen. PEACE
ASK WITH YOUR NEED IN MIND
AND YOUR CUP WILL OVERFLOW – with joy from the Holy Spirit. Getting through a work week may be hard for a lot of reasons. It may be difficult for us to change our focus from family and weekend activities, to re-focus on job activities and pick up the pieces from where they landed the last time we worked on them. And because our lives may be very different during the work week, we will need to re-focus our spiritual life too. Our spiritual needs are going to be different, depending on what is required of us mentally and emotionally. We will need to be aware of all this, so that we can more clearly understand what the Holy Spirit needs us to respond to with those around us. For our own protection, we are not expected to get into all the drama around us. The Holy Spirit will show us where love may best be given and in what ways. We will then be given what we need in the way of spiritual support and direction. This will all add to our well being and effectiveness in work and family life and in our communities.
Jesus talked about many of these things, as he had his last conversations with the disciples and his followers. Many of us don’t believe we should be asking God for anything, because we haven’t earned the right. We haven’t lived lives that are good enough, and worthy of even being noticed by God. This is not God’s intention and the very reason for God’s grace. We are all sinners, and have all fallen short of what we are able to achieve, but only when we let the Holy Spirit work in and through us will we be blessed. God has greater things in mind for us. And because we are God’s children, we are loved unconditionally. Because we are created by God, we are made to work with God. So of course, we don’t do very well on our own. It was for this reason that Jesus taught his followers to rely on God for guidance and support. Near the end of the time he had with them he said, “Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Parent in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.” Praying with our need in our minds is not specifically asking for a particular thing. Instead, we ask for whatever will help us do what needs to be done in the situation. By asking, we are demonstrating our willingness to do God’s work with others. In this process, we will encounter great joy. Gracious God, we know how great is the work you have asked us to do. Help us dispel fear and pride that would keep us trying to do it on our own. You have created us as a part of you, an offspring, to respond to what you call us to do. Help us gratefully receive all the blessings you have for us, and to share them with our brothers and sisters. Amen. PEACE From John 16
GOD IS ALREADY IN US
AND WORKING WITHIN US – to bring us closer to the work we are called to do. Many of us watch and are encouraged by the work of the current Pope, and there is a lot to give us hope for the future. Francis is allowing himself to be a faithful servant of God, and carry out ministry, especially to the poor. After addressing Congress, he declined a planned luncheon with the powerful, to instead serve lunch in a local soup kitchen. He reminds me of the Good Samaritan, who did the right thing in a situation where others of authority had turned aside and failed to show mercy. Some of us may think he risks too much at times. He is said to give his security people a hard time because of what he does to reach out to others. He rides a commercial airline carrier when he travels, instead of a private jet. He considers the monetary impact and seems to consider the poor, and those who need mercy as he carries out his vocation. His way of going about his life also puts him in the community instead of being separated from people.
When we lay out the course for each day, what do we consider? When the Good Samaritan saw the injured man beside the road, he was willing to put his traveling schedule on hold until he had shown mercy and met the man’s physical needs. Besides this story, Jesus also challenged the disciples, in Matthew 25, to minister to the least powerful, ” ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’ ” and made it clear that feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and visiting the prisoners were a priority and work that should be part of the ministry we would do in Christ’s name. Pope Francis makes it an important part of his ministry, and by example, reminds us all just how much we are all called to do for those in need, and we can start with prayers for them. Loving God, we are grateful for the ways we are cared for and nurtured, in your love. Help us return that love to you by giving it to others we encounter, especially those in need. Through our gracious and loving savior, we pray. Amen. PEACE
DEEDS OF LOVE
ARE INITIATED AND SUPPORTED IN US – by the work of God’s grace. When we give ourselves to the power of grace, the unconditional love from God, then we become new and different because God is beginning our transformation. When we follow the light, everything will start to look different to us, and we will see people around us in a different way. We will be given eyes to see those we should work with and be around because they too are on a path of light. I find myself ever on the alert to see where those who are following God’s way have gone before. But it is not me doing this, because we are given new eyes through the Holy Spirit, to discern what has been done in love and not for others reasons. In another context, Paul says in Romans 5 “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” This also applies here. When we consider something like this happening within us, because we have been redeemed by Christ, it is no wonder that we see the world and people with different eyes. Then it is our choice each day, through renewed commitment, to continue to see in this way or let it go through neglect. It is not an easy thing to maintain this new sight unless we are living in a relationship with our creator, redeemer and advocate.
So when we choose to live in relationship, every day we will be inspired to live a life that makes a difference to others around us. Have we seen results of someone else who has left a mark on the world that comes from the pure love of God? There are many stories of someone who gives and then inspires others to do so also, without the need for recognition. There is one I found on Facebook that has touched my heart. “The Buddy Bench – Walking through my son’s school yard, I noticed a bench on the pavement with bright paint around it. I asked my son, “Is that the only place to sit around here? And he said, “No that’s the buddy bench! When someone feels lonely or they have nobody to play with, they sit there and people ask them to play.” I told him how awesome that was and asked if he has ever used it? He said, “Yeah, when I was new I sat there and someone came to me and asked me to play. I felt happy. And now when I see kids on it, I ask them to play with me. We all do.” What a fabulous idea for a school yard.” Someone in that school has been led with love, and it continues in the kindness it engenders. It also helps to block the forces that would encourage bullying, in a very creative way. Such is the effect of God’s grace being unleashed in the world. Will we choose to be a part of this transformation for the world? God of light and love, we thank you for the grace that helps us create new ways to show your love to others. May we continue to be inspired to pass it through us, and so be part of the transformation for the world. Amen. PEACE
HOW DO WE STOP SINNING
AND LIVE A LIFE WITHOUT SINS? We are not in a relationship with God, if we are asking this question. We are in the majority if we ask it though. For far too long, from the time of the Old Testament, we have been asking this question. Sin in the broadest sense is the separation from God. When we ignore or deny God, we sin. When we are determined to live a life on our own, without the grace God offers us, we are sinning. It is a matter of commitment and focus. Some of us have blocked a relationship with our creator because we want to independently face life’s challenges and do it all ourselves. Many of us may feel we have no right to ask God for anything because of the mistakes we have made. Regardless of what choices we have made or continue to make our creator always loves us unconditionally. So if we commit ourselves to love God and others, we will begin to change our focus, from self to God and loving others. Our behavior will change because we have opened ourselves to God and our intentions begin to change direction because God is supporting it. It is a process of learning from God how to love. We have let down the barrier between us and God, and God has begun to change us. When we are on the road to being transformed by God, sin is no longer a threat. A light has entered us, and it will not be extinguished once it is there. Jesus reminds us in John 8 “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Once we have entered the light, the Holy Spirit will help to keep us on the path God offers us.
We will not be perfect, when we intend to do each day what God wants, the focus of our lives will change. Doing wrong will not be attractive to us and love will fill us. As we walk in God’s way we will learn to stay on that path and trust God to do what God does. When we pray, God will give us guidance so we are able to make better choices. Our focus will be on learning from God and there will be no separation between us and God. God understands us, since we are God’s creation and when we focus on God, by definition sin is left behind. We acknowledge our creator within us and we are one with God. Jesus has made that bond possible, by redemption for each of us. We may face the temptation to ignore God at times, and yet God is still within us. So we can pray and the Holy Spirit will be our support and protection. Transformational God, we thank you for the grace you offer us. Help us make the commitment to follow the light, and change our focus from sin to love. Wipe away the old ideas of ever-present sin, and replace them with the new focus of our relationship with you. Amen. PEACE
BE LED BY GOD’S GRACE
AND DO NOT WORRY ABOUT SIN – and so live the kind of life that will fill us up with love. As humans, we dwell far too much on sin instead of love. We have gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick, and don’t want to let it go. For centuries, the church has made far too much of controlling sins in ourselves, rather than focusing on living in God’s grace. It goes back to a time when the church was the civil authority over everyone and chose to use the fear of sins as a way of controlling the people. If the authorities had chosen to focus on love, the world would be a much different place. We can choose now to focus on love, and change our own lives, and in doing that affect all that we touch.
It is not just the last few centuries where we have been consumed by sin and trying to fight against it. There is far too much emphasis on it in the Old Testament, and the authorities in Jesus day even confronted him with a woman who had sinned in their eyes. So they tested him to see what approach he would take to deal with her. The story of what happened is in John chapter 8. “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” I am sure they did not expect this challenge because they thought it was righteous to condemn her. Their eyes were clearly fixed on the Law and had missed the message of love. So Jesus goes even farther to turn their ideas around. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” Her accusers had quietly slipped away, and there was no one who would bring judgment against her. There is still the question of her sin here, and his next statement gives us the beginning of how she might deal with it and we might too. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Gracious God, we are thankful for the direction you give us, which always leads us to love. May we learn how to live in this way, and share it with all we encounter. In the name of the one who is light, we pray. Amen. PEACE