Lectionary for Sunday, July 31, 2016

sedonaLectionary (Year C): Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 107:1-9, 43; Ecclesiates 1:2, 12-14, 2:18-21; Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21

Theme: Things Too Heavy to Move

Call to Worship (scripture jam, based on Colossians 3:1-11, The Message)

Reader One: A new resurrection life?

Reader Two: Yes, new life!

Reader One: Are you serious?

Reader Two: Completely serious.

Reader One: What does that look like?

Reader Two: It starts like this – pursue the things over which Christ presides.

Reader One: I don’t know… (reader shuffles his feet, eyes to the ground); I don’t even know what that means.

Reader Two: Listen up: look up, be alert to what is going on around Christ. That’s where the action is! See things from his perspective!

Reader One: But I kind of like my perspective…

Reader Two: Your old life is dead, so act like it. Your new life, your real life is with Christ in God.

Reader One: Wait a minute—my life hasn’t been real?

Reader Two: Only partly—the good stuff is just beginning! Christ is your life, and when Christ shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too, the real you, the glorious you.

Reader One: And in the meantime?

Reader Two: Be content with obscurity, like Christ.

Reader One: What does that mean? Hide in the house? Keep a low profile?

Reader Two: It means killing off things like sexual promiscuity, impurity, and lust.

Reader One: In other words, doing what I want whenever I feel like it?

Reader Two: Exactly. That’s a life shaped by things and by feelings.

Reader One: And mine will be a life shaped by God!

Reader Two: Now you’re getting it! In your old life you did all this stuff because you didn’t know any better.

Reader One: Well, I kind of knew better….

Reader Two: That doesn’t matter. You for sure know better now, so make sure it’s all gone for good.

Reader One: Is there anything else I need to leave behind?

Reader Two: Bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk, lies.

Reader One: You’re making me feel like I need a shower and a change of clothes!

Reader Two: Exactly! That old life is like a filthy set of clothes that never really fit, and now you’ve taken them off and burned them. Now you have a new, custom-made wardrobe, with God’s label in the collar. That old stuff is completely out of style.

Reader One: I’m liking this! What else?

Reader Two: We need to stop using words that label people, words like Jewish or non-Jewish, religious or not religious, insider or outsider, slave and free—all of these mean nothing now.

Reader One: By how will I know who’s who?

Reader Two: It doesn’t matter. Everyone is defined in Christ, included in Christ.

Reader One: Even me.

Reader Two: Yes, even you.

Message:  What will you gain when you lose?

In and around Sedona, Arizona are many native American ruins, remains of lifestyles we can only imagine. Complex communities, with common spaces for worship and recreation, individual family dwellings for cooking and sleeping. Communities that lasted for decades, then were abandoned. “We don’t really know why they left” is repeated by one guide after another. These were a people intimately tied to the earth, so perhaps the earth was simply calling them to a new location, a new way of living and being. Very little was left behind, so there just aren’t many clues. But as you go from ruin to ruin, you will see just a few things left lying in the sun—large, rather flat stones, some with scooped out centers, some with flat surfaces, stones used for the grinding of corn and other grains. These tools were nearly always left behind simply because they were too heavy to carry. A new one, perhaps a better one, could be created for their new home.

I experienced something similar several years ago, although not nearly as romantic: in the basement of my new home I found a moldy, upright piano that had been left behind, clearly too heavy to bother moving up the steps. House-hunting shows on HGTV feature home sellers all too happy to leave things like pool tables behind. Perhaps people replace these large, heavy items in their next home, perhaps not. Perhaps they realize that not only is that thing too heavy to move, it also belongs to a part of their life that no longer exists. The piano parents had hoped the kids would learn to play, but getting them to practice wasn’t worth the effort. A pool table that was the centerpiece of a bachelor lifestyle before marriage and family changed the priorities, and soccer balls replaced eight balls; cue sticks traded for pick-up-sticks.

Things too heavy to carry often should be left behind. Perhaps this is what Paul was hoping to make the people of Colossae understand, that their old life was dead, that in order to pursue a life with Christ, they had to get rid of things like sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever they felt like. They needed to leave behind things like bad temper, irritability, meanness, and profanity (Colossians 3:8). Heavy things, indeed. Things of a former life must be given up to make space for a new way of living. They needed to start over, to purify themselves, to purge the stuff that was holding them back from a new life.

We hear a lot these days about ways to get rid of the toxins in our bodies, things to eat (but mostly things to not eat) to clear out our physical systems, to purify ourselves and let us, in a sense, start over. When I read of these things—although I must admit I have never attempted this at home—I’m reminded of the fasting rituals so common in ancient times, common enough for Jesus to speak very matter-of-factly of this practice: “When you fast…” (Matthew 6:6). But these fasts were undertaken for very different reasons, for spiritual purposes.  Fasting was—and is—a worship practice. In his classic Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster says this: “More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.” “We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface.”

My words today are not to convince anyone that fasting is a required discipline, but rather to point out the need to identify the things in our own lives that need to be left behind to make room for Christ. The heavy things. But the key here is not to focus on what we are leaving behind, but rather on what we have to look forward to. This can be harder than you might think. Change of any kind, even a positive change, includes some degree of loss: loss of a lifestyle to which we have become comfortably accustomed, even if it’s harmful; loss of friends with whom we share this lifestyle; even a change in the way we speak to one another.

The difficulty of these kinds of lifestyle changes is often cited as one of the reasons young people have so much trouble getting out of dangerous relationships with gangs; why those trapped in addictive behaviors can’t seem to break those bonds. “Who will I hang out with? This is the only thing I know. Who will be there to support me, to be my friend, to be my family?” Heavy things, indeed.

As Christ followers, we have a responsibility to offer something better to those who are willing to try to leave some of their heavy load behind. But as they look to us as examples of a new way of living, do they see a lifestyle they can imagine for themselves, one they would want to be a part of? Do they look at us and say, “I want what they have!”? Or do they see just a different version of greed, of anger, of malicious talk? It’s been said that new church members often leave within their first year of participation because their disappointment is so great—they thought that of all places they would not find these heavy things in the church.

Whatever the heaviest load you are carrying might be, put it down. Leave it behind. In his book What Jesus Meant: The Beatitudes and a Meaningful Life, author Erik Kilbell talks about purity of heart in this way: “Purity of heart means lightening our psychological and emotional loads.” “…Whatever it is that burdens your heart, that corrupts its purity, put it down.”  Only after we have lightened our own loads can we help others lay their burdens down.

You may have seen the Special K commercial with the tagline, “What will you gain when you lose?” What will you gain when you learn to leave behind the heavy things? Peace, perhaps. A new way of thinking, a new way of living, a new way of being. Christ’s way.

Every time those ancient Native Americans moved, they left the heavy stuff behind. They got to start over, to recreate the things worth recreating, to find a new way of life in a new land. May it be so with us each day, defining ourselves by Christ; welcoming everyone, in Christ. Amen.

Music: “New earth, heavens new” words and music by Harris J. Loewen, 1982, Assembly Songs, 1983.

Opening Prayer

God of grace, we come to you with our daily burdens, asking for rest. We pray for the peace that only comes when we are willing to step away from the heaviness of our lives and seek the true life you have in mind for us.

God of all of us, God of each of us, we pray for your presence here in this place, and in all places. Open our hearts and minds to your teachings, that we might share your peace with all those in need. Amen.

Intercessory Prayer

Creator God, the needs of the world you created are many. We have fallen so short of the hopes you have for us, and we pray for your grace and your help to let us see how we might come closer to bringing your kingdom here to earth.

We pray for those around us, for brokenness spoken, and hurts held inside, too painful to speak.

We pray for those in our communities, people who, like us, have made both good and bad choices. We pray that they might see your light and life in us, and turn to you for transformation, to shed the clothing of despair and pain and wickedness so that the glorious clothing of your glory might become everyone’s fashion choice.

Lord, we pray for our sisters and brothers across our country and around the world. Many of their burdens are unimaginable to us, living lives seemingly without hope, unable to trust anyone. Help us help them learn to trust in you, to see that this is not their real life, and to live with that hope to guide their ways. Amen.

Benediction

What will we gain when we lose? Jesus tells us that his yoke is easy and his burden light, yet we continue to fill our backpacks with the rocks of brokenness. Today pick one thing, even one small thing, and lose it. Leave it behind. Free yourself to explore something new, something of God’s kingdom. You’ll be surprised to see how heavy it really was. Amen.

Donna Kline is the director of Deacon Ministries for the Church of the Brethren and editor of Basin & Towel.

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