First Presbyterian Church

PSALMS FOR TODAY: Spiritual And Not Religious (Sermon from Sept. 16)

I must confess that I hit the wall this week. The combination of lots of things began to weigh in at the same time. Several times I asked myself, “What’s wrong with you?” and my answer to myself was, “I’m tired” to which I responded, “Well you just had a vacation (if you can call two weeks of driving around a city you’ve never been to for 10 hours a day trudging through dirty apartments followed by a week of packing, and moving your daughter 4 states away (if you can call that a vacation then I hope you never work for a travel company). No my “tiredness” ran much deeper than needing a vacation on some tropical beach or some mountainous cabin somewhere. This week I realized that I was just tired. Tired of being lonely – of coming to a nice two BR rental but one without TV or internet – w/o human conversation or interaction, of coming on Sunday and leaving on Wednesday without any occasion to even sit down over a meal with someone else. Most of you have family down the street or across town or family that you see fairly regularly as opposed to the life of a minister whose family is often several hundred miles away. The life of a minister is a very lonely life that I’m not sure his/her congregation fully understands or recognizes that and that in some ways the church family is supposed to replace the minister’s own family. I’m not saying that you agree to take the minister to raise but you are open to sharing your life or home with the minister and his/her family. I realized this week that I am tired of being away from my wife 4 out of 7 days a week, every week. As I said before, “This week was the combination of a lot of things and one of those was that I remembered that it sucks to be in pain and while it is better and while you may remember that several weeks ago I told you not to perseverate or to focus on only what’s wrong, this week I realized that often when you feel bad, you also feel worse. Sometimes the life of a minister isn’t very fun because the minister has no minister of his own…no one he can go to and say the things you can say to your minister (or I hope you feel you can say those things to your minister). This week I realized that I was tired and that it wasn’t even helped by going home to Bloomington for 2-3 days because I don’t know anyone there either and my wife is hyper busy traveling to Jennings Co. one of the two days I’m home and prepping for her oral exams in a few weeks. I’m tired of being lonely and tired of being in pain because I realize that it has changed me as a person and I don’t like some of the changes that I’m seeing.
But then I realize…you’re tired too! You like me are tired of being tired, of life at work dictated by state legislators who create new legislation based only on a bottom line rather than on the lives of people that matter to you. I realize that you are tired as well of being in pain…of not having enough money…and of seeing decline in a community that you grew up in and raised a family in and have invested your life and career in.
This month we’re looking for some good news around the Psalms. Do you think there is any chance that we could find any that would address the overwhelming and incredibly depressing tiredness that most of us feel? Today’s Psalm in from the 19th and it begins by talking about the heavens, day and night and the earth. Forgive me but I’m not sure my tiredness or yours is going to be remotely affected by describing the firmament. The sun will rise and set tomorrow without taking notice that Mitch or any of the rest of us are not faring too well from day to day. But keep reading and maybe there is something in those later verses. V. 7 and following go deeper. It talks about the law, the decrees, the precepts and the commandments. What is that and what does it have to do with my fatigue, my loneliness? It means that God has spoken and that what he has said matters. When he says, “nothing shall separate me (or you) from God’s love,” “my peace I leave with you”, “don’t let your heart be troubled, don’t let it be afraid”, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly”, and also, “God’s Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we have no idea how to pray as we should.” These are a few of the laws, the precepts, the commandments of God that speak to us at our deepest struggle. Unfortunately all some see when they read “laws, ordinances, precepts and commandments” are the “Thou shalt not…” legislation. Thou shalt not kill or steal or murder or look at another’s husband or wife or want his/her house…” But those things really don’t speak to my loneliness or have much to do with my pain.” They’re just things we know are there – we read them in SS or in VBS long, long ago but they don’t much affect the grown-up, rough and tumble world in which we live and struggle. You see the laws are our religion. It’s there to take out and dust off and claim once in a while, “Yeah, I’m a church goer (have been all my life) but what happens on Sunday doesn’t have much relevance for what I deal with in my kitchen on Thursday or in my office on Monday morning. Those 300 year old hymns are a lot like those laws and precepts, it’s OK they are there but face it, what I sing/say on Sunday won’t really come up again until next Sunday (unless I’m off at a reunion or a birthday party or just too tired to get out of bed). Religion is a good thing if you want to be considered an upstanding member of the community but it doesn’t really affect where the rubber hits the road in my life.
And then there is this passage from Mark which fleshes out in full-form what the Psalmist put down about laws and commandments. Jesus and the disciples were having one of their afternoon lessons when Jesus popped the question, “Hey what are people saying about me? Who do they think that I am? In fact, who do you think I am?” In other words, how does what you believe affect your day to day? And they answered with a perfect “religious” answer – oh, you’re Elijah or John the Baptist (some historical character.) But what about you? How does who I am matter to you?
And that would be his question to us? Who am I to you? You can leave me in the words the preacher says on Sunday or in those weird hymns that no one understands but how does who I am affect what you went through last week when you hit the wall – when you’re struggling with loneliness and when you’re sick to death of living in pain? Is who I am at all related to what you deal with at your worst moments?
Maybe Jesus didn’t help much (or maybe he did with his final answer) He talked about denying myself, taking up a cross and following him and losing my life and all. Isn’t that what I’m carrying with all this pain and loneliness? Isn’t a cross what you’re struggling with when legislators feel they know more about education than folks with a masters in education? Where is the help for those issues? “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow (trust) me, for when you want to save your life, lose it and lose it for my sake. And in turn you’ll get it back, you’ll find it. How can he say that? How does he know? Because he lost his life. He understands and he, simply is inviting us into a relationship with him. It goes deeper than laws and commandments. It is more relational that my words on Sunday or the hymns you sing there. I was talking to a Quaker minister in NC about my pain, my loneliness, about how tired I felt over the grind of driving and hurting and being away from people you love – and he said, “Bring your weakness, your struggle, your feeling as if you are in some wilderness somewhere that feels like there’s no way out – and bring it to Him. Lose the mess you feel that your life is in – the struggle you are tired of carrying (the cross) and bring it to Him and see what happens. It’s deeper than religion. It’s more relational than what happens on Sunday morning. It invites you deeper into a relationship with Him and with each other. I have a hunch that if I feel lonely – then some of you do as well. And if I’m sick of feeling isolated from people who matter to me, that some of you have felt that way too. Isn’t what is to be different about the Christian life is that what we are to create here a little slice of heaven on earth? It means that we establish deeper relationships with God and with one another. That we are together more than just for an hour or two on Sunday morning – that we act like we like each other enough to want to spend time together. God wants so much more for us but the most basic is a deeper relationship than some of us have previously allowed. You have kept God at bay – have relegated him to Sunday mornings but he wants to break into your Mondays and your Fridays and Saturdays as well. He wants a piece of your checkbook – of your dinner table and your private thoughts (not so he can condemn and judge those things but so that he can be influential when you hit the wall like I did last week.) Spiritual has a new focus and it’s deeper than religion. How would you like to try it for yourself!!??