Proverbs 4; Romans 12
"Here's what I want you to do, God helping you. Take your everyday ordinary lives, your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking-around life-- and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for God."
These words were penned by a man who knew what it was to pick up his entire life and travel around telling people about Jesus. These are words from Paul-- a man who not only preached about living in the way of Christ, he lived it out day by day.
Sometimes people will tell me that they wish that Jesus was still walking on this earth today so they would know what to do-- it seems obvious if we literally follow him around that we are doing the right thing. But I our daily lives, it can often seem complicated, confusing, even secondary to the other things we are doing.
Both Paul and the writer of Proverbs knew that it is easy to get distracted-- to get caught up in what we need to do on a daily basis and forget what this life is really about. So Paul tries to remind the Romans to take their everyday lives-- no matter who they are or what they are doing-- to take your daily life and offer it up to God.
It's one of the reasons I challenged you all last week to pray each day at 11:07. When we begin incorporating our relationship with God into everything we're doing-- stopping each day in the middle of whatever it might be in order to pray rather than setting aside time all by itself-- it stops us in our tracks. To be interrupted by God is a different kind of thing than planning for time with God. It reminds us that we are God’s, and that heart-knowledge changes how we do things and how we see the world.
Paul goes on in his letter to tell us not to let the world's immaturity get us down-- and every time I read this I think to myself, "how did he know?" How could he have possibly known what would be going on in our world-- that there would be so much to drag us down? Every generation thinks that theirs is the most difﬁcult-- Martin Luther once wrote that he thought being a Christian in the 16th Century was by far the hardest of all the generations before him. And here we are. Trying once again, as people of faith, to ﬁgure out what it means to follow Jesus in our daily lives.
Rachel Naomi Remen, in her book, My Grandfather's Blessings, tells the story of a man named Jon who was sent to see her. Remen was a physician and Jon was a resident with an attitude problem. When he showed up, he said that they had given him no choice but to come see her so she began by asking him how he wanted to spend his time. He began to talk about his work and it became clear that he was frustrated by some of his colleagues who he perceived as apathetic; by the program itself that gave him no time to rest or reﬂect on his work; by some of the policies of the hospital itself. Each time he went to see her he would tell her story after story of frustration. She said it was like being in a ﬁre storm. And then one day it changed. He was talking about another resident who had not returned a parent's phone call for two days. And then his voice cracked. "Why is all this suffering happening?" He asked. "Why are children suffering?" A single tear ran down his cheek and he walked out of the room. Remen didn't know if she would see Jon again. She knew that he had shown her more vulnerability than he cared
to. At their next appointment spot Jon showed, but told her that he just came to say he wouldn't be seeing her again. Remen noted that their time was already paid for, and invited him to sit down anyway. She asked him if he would be willing to try some image work in their time. Very reluctantly Jon agreed. After a few moments of sitting in silence, Remen invited Jon to picture an image of his work as a pediatrician. He saw an image immediately. "It's a man in white," he said. At ﬁrst she thought he meant in a hospital coat, but he said, "he's wearing a long white robe and... And sandals. This guy is soft." Jon told her that he was embarrassed, that he was going to open his eyes, but Remen encouraged him to stick with the image. "What's he doing?" She asked. "Nothing. He's just standing there with his arms open. He's so stupid. He looks like he could just stand there forever and ever. " And then Jon began to cry uncontrollably. When he was able to breathe again, he said, "A bird has come and is sitting in his palm. He is safe." And that's when they realized that the man was St. Francis. As they reﬂected later on why St. Francis was the image that came to him, Jon said that he had gone into pediatrics in order to become a friend to innocent life. Sometimes, Remen noted in her book, “…[we] need to abandon [our] resentment of the way things are in order to begin repairing the world." (p.187)
Rather than getting dragged down by the immaturity, the suffering, the injustice of this world, sometimes we have to abandon our resentment of these things in order to move forward. Sometimes we have to let go of how we think we should be in order to fully love ourselves. Sometimes we need to let go of our resentment of how we think our neighbor should be in order to truly love our neighbor.
And Paul, too, seems to realize this. He begins to create a list of do's-- things to start with, things to try, actions to pursue in this life in order to follow Jesus. He writes, "Love from the center of who you are. Run from evil, hold fast to what is good." And then he goes on and on, giving us practical ways to live out God's love-- be inventive in hospitality, pray hard in difﬁcult times; bless your enemies; get along with everyone if you can; be generous with all that you have. These are the ways that we are to love God. Love our neighbor as ourself-- which means loving ourself as well as our neighbor. And, I think, part of the wisdom of it all, is to see ourselves as part of the greater whole-- to see ourselves as part of the body of Christ; and yet to leave the results up to God. Paul says it's not up to us to do the judging. There isn't some cosmic scale that we get to see when good is doing better than evil in the race. Loving your self and loving your neighbor isn't a dichotomy in which you count how much you love yourself to make sure it's equal to your neighbor or vice verse in order to make them balance at the end of the day. God invites us to give all of who we are to God-- and let God worry about the balance of it all.
So I picked out some images of balance to leave you with today. The ﬁrst one is what I think it looks like when we try to do it all ourselves:
Here is a man trying to balance all of the bowls on the top of his head— trying to balance everything in his life all by himself. When we do that, we often know that we’re not really keeping it all together, and so we can end up feeling like this:
We get hit from the side and we know we’re going down— life throws too much at us, and we can’t keep going like we thought we could.
What God is inviting us to, I think looks more like this:
I think God is instead inviting us to balance our lives like this— where we have practiced placing our trust with God enough to be able to relax into the balance; we gain strength by practicing time and again what it means to focus on God— to love ourselves and our neighbors, and in doing so, to learn to love God as well. When we do that, when we place our trust in God and God alone, God becomes the way that we are able to do everything else. God becomes the rock we balance on, like this:
But before you get worried about not being able to do these things— before you get intimidated by these poses, I want to offer you a picture of pure joy. Placing our lives before God is also joy.
I think this is also what it looks like to love God fully-- to put our everyday ordinary lives in God's hands. One wheel of the bike is loving ourself. The other wheel is loving our neighbor. And the frame that holds them all together and keeps us from falling is God's love.
This world can get us down sometimes. But always remember that the Holy Spirit is longing to give us wisdom when we seek it. And that our God is a God who wants us not to fake it, but to use the gifts God has given us to love this world as God loves this world. "For God so loved this world that God sent Jesus-- not to condemn the world, but to save it." (John 3:17) May we follow suit-- not condemning but loving the people of this world-- including our neighbors, our enemies, and ourselves.