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The Holy Spirit Our Advocate

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​11/8/12
“The Holy Spirit Our Advocate”
John 16:1-15

Dear Friends,
This morning my daughter and I stepped out of the front door of our home and exclaimed, almost at the same time, “Whoa!” A mist hung in the air and was visible even up to the porch. She marveled that she could barely see her way to the bus stop. We were caught unaware. Hadn’t we ever seen a misty morning before? Yes, but it still excites the imagination. Autumn is my favorite time of year, but when it is cold and wet, I confess I would much rather be indoors.
I confess that I have much to learn about many things. I want to speak to you today about things I barely know about myself. Living by faith is full of mystery. Not the kind of mystery where you have to figure out “who dunnit” but more the kind where you seek to follow the hand of God with only three feet on the path in the mist before you and only enough provision for today.
In the Gospel of John, Chapter 16, Jesus sits at his last meal with his disciples and begins to reveal the end and the beginning of the divine plan to them. They had been following him down all the dusty roads of Palestine, through fields and onto hills, and even on dangerous roads. They’d heard and seen unbelievable things. My friend Bob often says, “I think I stick around this place because I never quite know what is coming next,” and I’m sure the disciples felt a bit like that too.
“What kind of crazy adventure will today bring? What leper is going to wander up to us? What blind man will start yelling Jesus’ name and not stop? Are we going to have to fight the children off of Jesus? Will he disappear overnight and then come out walking on the water and scare us half to death? Where to next, Lord?” But in our text today Jesus says he is going away to the Father who sent Him, to a place they cannot come, and yet that this will be a good thing.

“All this I have told you so that you will not fall away.2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. 3 They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. 4 I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, 5 but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. 7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me;10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.
12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (Jn. 16:1-15, NIV)

Jesus says that after he leaves the Holy Spirit will come to lead them into all truth. He calls the Spirit the Paraclete, which means Comforter, and Advocate. Today, as I think about that word Advocate it brings many things to my mind. We might think of people like lawyers, doctors, social workers, activists, politicians or preachers as advocates. In this role they represent a person or a cause before the involved powers that be and try to get them access to services or benefits. A lawyer might advocate for leniency before a judge, a social worker for shelter for a homeless client, and a preacher might advocate for better work and fair wages.
The kind of comfort and advocacy Jesus says the Holy Spirit will bring, however, sustains the disciples in the midst of a hostile world that is very content with sin, unrighteousness, and self-love. The Apostle Paul said, “We know that the whole creation has been moaning together in the pains of labor until now.” (Romans 8:22, NIV) This is not just a dark and wicked world, it is a world loved by God. The Holy Spirit never gives up his loving work in the People of God. Every day that Jesus does not “drop the curtain” and bring all things to an end and a new beginning is a new day in which the people of God are used by Jesus to accomplish His work.
I’d like to take a close look at John 16:8-11. In his role as our advocate, the Holy Spirit defends us “in court”, as it were, before the world. The world is wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment. We had been told previously that we could expect persecution from religious and nonreligious people alike. Without the Holy Spirit there is no way we could endure the onslaught from the world. On our own we’d come to think ourselves crazy, alone, abandoned by Christ, and overcome by the devil’s power.
These verses tell us that the Spirit will show the world that it is sinful, bent on its own way instead of Christ’s. Here in the 21st century, there is not a lot of talk about sin. We hear about terrible things happening every day, but not that these are a result of sin. This morning for example, a prominent senator exclaimed that something must be done about climate change. When fourteen foot walls of water overtake the east coast of our nation, we must take it seriously! But as I listened to his sound bite on the radio I thought, “How many times have I heard this before?”
Climate change is man-made and it is sin! We are using this world up like toilet paper and remain in denial about whether or not that should change. We say, “Somebody should change, but not me.” Americans worry about India and China being overpopulated and polluting the planet, because they want to keep their own standard of living, and consuming in excess. That’s just crazy! More than that, it is sinful! God wants us to bless the earth he created by honoring it with our presence. We honor it by growing our own food, using biofuels, consuming less, and showing our elected officials that less is more!
This is just one example of sin in this world. The Holy Spirit guides us into representing the righteousness of the Kingdom of God in this sinful world. The world thinks it knows what is right, but Jesus, who has gone to the Father, demonstrated its righteousness was a sham. Self-righteousness is the worst kind of delusion. It calls wrong right, and turns virtue into sin. Being self-righteous is like believing in a 36 hour day. You can set yourself a 36 hour schedule, but you’ll find yourself at odds with the universe. Time and space will be your enemies.
The world is wrong about righteousness. Jesus is the righteous one, the Holy One of God. The world’s standards of justice are very short sighted. There is no universally accepted picture of what it means to live gently with one another, especially when the universal vision of the modern world is to extract, commodify, own, defend, consume, and make obsolete. The Holy Spirit directs us to Jesus Christ, the righteous lamb of God, who demonstrates his victorious power through submission. Being God, he humbled himself. There is no way to be humble and self-righteous at the same time. A truly humble person is willing to be found righteous later and yet humiliated and thought unrighteous in the present. The only way to be truly humble is through the righteous one, Jesus Christ.
Finally, the world is wrong about its judgment. The world condemned Jesus Christ. The Apostle Peter preached these words: “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go” (Acts 3:13, NIV). Where the world had condemned Jesus, Jesus said, “The prince of this world stands condemned.” The devil, the accuser, tempter, and deceiver, is the great loser. He was defeated on the cross and all his works have been revealed for what they are. The devil can’t really build anything good, and those who believe him can only keep up the deception for so long. Jesus Christ is Victor! Hallelujah!
What I hear Jesus saying about the great Advocate here is that where I feel alone, utterly sinful, misunderstood, inadequate, and incompetent, the Holy Spirit will lead me back to the truth of who Jesus is. If I want to be a good advocate for other people, say for instance, in directing poor and homeless people toward places, people, and services that offer temporary and long term assistance, I will remember that Jesus Christ is really what every disoriented, homeless, lonely soul needs.
I have met so many individuals who can’t be at home anywhere because they can’t find rest in Jesus. I can give all of my time and effort to persuade people to do the next right thing, but if I am not led by the Holy Spirit, I have done them no favors at all. Sometimes, because I point people to Jesus, they won’t bother to come around me at all, because they know I care about them body and soul and they don’t want to hear me tell them the truth. No one belongs on the corner with crack in their hands. No one belongs huddled in a doorway in the rain intoxicated with an empty stomach. Because of sin this way of life that doesn’t work, is the only life many people think they want.
I cannot advocate for anyone who will not advocate for themselves. I can want the best things in the world for you, a clean home, warm clothes, a loving family, good supportive friends, a good job that pays enough for you to live off of and then give to others in need. I can want you to grow in the Lord within a local church where you learn to serve Jesus and lead others to Christ. But if that is not what you know want, then what I want for you would only be misery.
Many people want some of these things. They want a house and money, but they also want the kind of friends around that will destroy the house, spend all the money and leave them feeling angry and hurt. Others want a good job where they can work all the time and afford anything, but they don’t know what to do with themselves in their off hours.
My work as a minister means preaching a revolution of the heart. You are not the sum of what you eat, buy, and watch. You are a person who can bless the world around you with gratitude, affirm the goodness of God’s creation, and share the presence of Christ in you with every other person you relate to. These gifts are powerful because they come from and lead to a powerful God!
Thomas Merton said,

“We make ourselves real by telling the truth. Man can hardly forget that he needs to know the truth, for the instinct to know is too strong in us to be destroyed. But he can forget how badly he also needs to tell the truth. We cannot know truth unless we ourselves are conformed to it. We must be true inside, true to ourselves, before we can know a truth that is outside us. But we make ourselves true inside by manifesting the truth as we see it.” (No Man Is An Island, pg. 198)

I began by telling you that living by faith is a life full of mystery. The longer I live the more I’m conscious that I have much to learn. I know that Jesus Christ is righteous and that God alone is true. I also know my own propensity to dishonesty. My heart often strays from God. If you believe these things to be true for yourself, I ask that you pray with me:
“Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Chris Rice

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Finding the Sacred in the Middle of the Profane

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Dear Friends,

All of you are welcome here. This is a sacred assembly. We are here to pray, to worship God, and to learn to see the sacred in the middle of the profane stuff of life. We want to learn to encounter the love of God and share it where it is most needed.
The Apostle Peter says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Dear Lord,
We come to you seeking light. We come asking to be able to experience your love right here, where we are, in a world that seems so dark, so profane, right where we become convinced that all we will know is great suffering. Show us your Self. Bring your holy Word to life before our very eyes. Do in us what we cannot do for ourselves.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

I don’t know about you, but I often get very uncomfortable with titles. People call me mister, sir, chief, boss, captain, pastor or even Reverend. I’d rather just be known by my first name. That’s not because I’m especially humble, but maybe rather because like a lot of you, I know that a title carries responsibility. I don’t want people to look over at me and say, “Ask him, he’s the guy. He knows what’s going on.” But some titles are really important, like Dad, for instance. I don’t want my kids calling me Chris, because we have an important relationship. I want them to know that I’m their only dad, and that their mother and I love them and are interested in everything they’re into.
One title that is very important to me as a Christian is that word, “Holy.” Because of Jesus Christ I belong to God and am called holy. I’m not any holier than you, I am holy together with you, and all others across time who are the Body of Christ. Now if you come up to me and yell out, “Hey, Holy Man of God!” I might just jump out of my skin. I am that, but I don’t often think of myself with that title.
You are sons and daughters of God. You were bought with the ultimate price, that God paid Himself because He loves you. That being the case, our speech, our conduct, and what we regard affectionately must all reflect the greatness of this gift God has given us.
The words sacred, or holy have many different meanings these days. What the Bible means with these words is simply that something or someone is set apart for the Lord’s use. The first of the Ten Commandments is “you shall have no other gods before me.” To be holy is to be devoted exclusively to one Lord.
We may not think that polytheism is really an issue to us, but in truth, this age is full of many little gods that vie for our affections. To be holy means to acknowledge only one Lord and to serve only one Lord. And there is only one way to serve the Lord: the way He says. God doesn’t bargain or negotiate. Either our sins have been washed clean by the blood of Jesus Christ or they have not.
So that is the sacred, what does profane mean? Profane things are unclean, unholy. In the case of worshiping God for instance, you just wouldn’t come in drunk and use a lot of cuss words to describe how much you love Jesus. That would be profane. It would not lead anyone else to respect you, the Lord, or the place of worship.
It seems like its getting harder to live a holy life in Christ these days. This world is full of a thousand and one things that cause us to question God or forget him. But the world was not a much more innocent or godly place when it crucified Jesus. The same words that were given to his first disciples, “if they persecute me they will persecute you also”, and “Be of courage, I have overcome the world” are meant for us today. We must not imagine that we are in any more control than they were. We must not expect any better reception for doing God’s will.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “We read Scripture in order that our hearts may be moved. It will lead us into prayer for the church, for brothers and sister in the faith, for our work, and for our own soul. Prayer leads us into the world in which we must keep the faith. Where Scripture, prayer, and keeping the faith exist, temptation will always find its way in. Temptation is the sign that our hearing, prayer, and faith have touched down in reality. There is no escape from temptation except by giving ourselves to renewed reading and meditation. So the circle is complete. We will not often be permitted to see the fruits of our labors; but through the joy of community with brothers and sisters who off us spiritual care, we become certain of the proclamation and the ministry.” (Spiritual Care, pg. 69.)
One of the things we might misunderstand about holiness is to think that in our service of God somehow we can keep ourselves sheltered from the temptation, suffering, and profane things of this world. To live in this world is to cry out to God in the midst of its real state, not to try to climb to some higher plane on which to hope God is looking. The Love of God places us right where it is needed the most.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “Today God loves the world so much that He gives you, He gives me, to love the world, to be His love, His compassion. It is such a beautiful thought for us—and a conviction—that you and I can be that love and compassion.
Do we know who our own poor are? Do we know our neighbor, the poor of our own area? It is so easy for us to talk and talk about the poor of other places. Very often we have the suffering, we have the lonely, we have the people—old, unwanted, feeling miserable—and they are near us and we don’t even know them. We have no time even to smile at them.
Tuberculosis and cancer are not the great diseases. I think a much greater disease is to be unwanted, unloved. The pain that these people suffer is very difficult to understand, to penetrate. I think this is what our people all over the world are going through, in every family, in every home.
This suffering is being repeated in every man, woman and child. I think Christ is undergoing his Passion again. And it is for you and for me to help them—to be Veronica, to be Simon to them.
Our poor people are great people, a very lovable people. They don’t need our pity and sympathy. They need our understanding love and they need our respect. We need to tell the poor that they are somebody to us, that they, too, have been created, by the same loving hand of God, to love and be loved.” (Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta”, pg. 296)
Here at New Life Evangelistic Center we share our resources, our time, our energy, our faith with thousands of other people on a monthly basis. Depending on your vantage point that is a very profane, even dangerous thing, or it is a very sacred thing that continues only by the grace of God.
Remember that NLEC’s theme verse comes from Paul’s words “And He died for all, so that all those who live might live no longer to and for themselves, but to and for Him Who died and was raised again for their sake. Consequently, from now on we estimate and regard no one from a [purely] human point of view [in terms of natural standards of value]. [No] even though we once did estimate Christ from a human viewpoint and as a man, yet now [we have such knowledge of Him that] we know Him no longer [in terms of the flesh]. Therefore if any person is [ingrafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:15-17, Amp.)
At one time Saul of Tarsus (later known as Paul) could not understand how Jesus of Nazareth was anything more than a blasphemous teacher who got what he deserved, whose followers were a dangerous, profane, unholy threat to the true worship of God. He believed that hunting them down and killing them was what he was called to do. He only knew Jesus by this world’s values. But then he got to know the resurrected Jesus and everything changed!
What Paul is saying is that every person we encounter has this same opportunity to get to know the resurrected Jesus, and that we can’t judge anyone by this world’s values. All people are worthy of the same attention that we received in leading us to the grace of God. In short, the Holy Spirit does not lead us to discard, hurt, write off, or call anyone fool or enemy who can be made into a new creation in Christ.
For the last several years developers in downtown St. Louis have been talking about our headquarters building at 1411 Locust Street. NLEC has owned its headquarters since 1975 and many changes have taken place in downtown since that time. The city’s parks have never moved. The city’s main branch of the library has been here all that time. The social security office branch has always been here. But in the last two years there’s been an increase in the number of people seeking shelter and basic services who cannot find them elsewhere in the region.
There are more homeless travelers, more people released from prison, more people unable to pay medical bills released from hospitals. The police move people from the parks and other areas of downtown after dark and they position them down the street right outside our building. There is one portable toilet available for them three blocks away. City hall does not allow us to keep portable toilets around our building. At one time we placed them there anyway until the city began telling the companies they would remove them as rubbish.
As you can imagine, with so many people using the same two block area to sleep in, it starts looking like images of the third world. On different mornings I’ll hear a man singing Sam Cooke’s version of “A Change is Gonna Come” on the front porch.
“It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die/ cuz I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky/it’s been a long, a long time coming/ but I know a change is gonna come/ oh yes it will.”
I know exactly what he’s singing about. Every morning that I come to work and I see a crowd of men, women, and children huddled under blankets on the concrete it wounds me. City hall says that it is our fault that these people lay here. They say first that we allow too many people to stay in our shelter, and then they say that we should not allow these people to congregate outside our shelter.
They know that when people call the Housing Resource Center they are told that no beds are available. We are wrong for the way we run our shelter. We are badly located, they say. It’s a “quality of life issue”.
The answer to all of downtown’s problems with the homeless is simple to the powers that be. Provide housing for those who can be easily placed, through the state department of mental health, or federal funds available through special programs. But for those who don’t qualify for a variety of reasons, well, don’t feed them, don’t give them bathrooms, don’t give them blankets, get them to move along.
This reasoning says, “Be grateful for all the people who do qualify for programs, but it’s got to be cut off somewhere. If we show too much hospitality then we’re enabling homelessness and encouraging vagrancy.”
It is amazing to me how reasonable this sounds to people who do not do any advocacy or casework with the homeless. It even seems reasonable to some people who work only with those who qualify for certain programs. But someone has to ask, “How bad does it need to get before our community actually opens more shelter and direct services (transportation, access to bathrooms, shower and laundry, hygiene products)?” Why is there never enough?
How can we be holy followers of Jesus in the midst of such a profane situation? People come to us desperate, tired, angry, suicidal, and in denial about the true extent of their problems. How can living a holy life make any difference?
Jesus spoke of a poverty of spirit in his Sermon on the Mount. Now if you work with poor people everyday you know that not everyone without money is what Jesus would describe as “poor in spirit”. Jesus was describing a humble person whose posture is not toward what they can get, but longs for their significance in the new kingdom.
The nine “Blesseds” of Matthew 5:3-12 all refer to sacred states that make no rational sense in a world without God. The poor, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, purity of heart, peacemaking, and righteous persecution all point to a status before God that is not assumed by the individual.
Jesus called his disciples “blessed” for being a people whose real worth was not determined by the figure in their bank accounts. It was not determined by how long the funeral procession would be to remember them. Neither was their state as truly blessed determined by how well they would be liked and praised for their good deeds. With them our true state of blessedness is in our long obedience to God in the same direction.
It is important to recognize that any attempt to appear holy without true communion with Christ is actually hypocrisy. Doing good things for people without real love from Jesus might look holy, but does not win us favor. The only way to BE holy is to be IN Christ.
Romans 14:7-12 says, “None of us lives to himself [but to the Lord], and none of us dies to himself [but to the Lord, for] If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or we die, we belong to the Lord. For Christ died and lived again for this very purpose, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Why do you criticize and pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you look down upon or despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God [acknowledge Him to His honor and to His praise]. And so each of us shall give an account of himself [give an answer in reference to judgment] to God.”(Amplified Bible)
Doing the works of mercy shows us what we are really made of. Sometimes being a helper feels really good, but often it feels really exhausting, emotionally, physically, mentally. Genuine care is met with dishonesty, deceit, profanity, accusations, and resentment. This is where the sacred and profane meet. Can I overcome evil with good?
Thomas a Kempis offers this wisdom: “If all men were perfect, we should meet with nothing in the conduct of others to suffer for the sake of God. But in the present fallen state of human nature, it is his blessed will, that we should learn to “bear one another’s burdens:” and as no man is free from some burden of sin or sorrow; as none has strength and wisdom sufficient for all the purposes of life and duty, the necessity of mutual forbearance, mutual consolation, mutual support, instruction, and advice is founded upon our mutual imperfections, troubles, and wants. Besides, by outward occasions of suffering from the conduct of others, the nature and degree of every man’s inward strength is more plainly discovered; for outward occasions do not make him frail, but only show him what he is in himself.” (Thomas a’ Kempis, The Imitation of Christ)
To conclude, to find the holy in the midst of the profane is to agree with God that this world is worth loving. It is to find the image of God in all people. It is to have eyes open for beautiful spaces not as they could be if they were changed with money and labor, but as they are in the present. Redeemed lives are messy lives, because we are drawn back into the suffering spaces where God is about his work of redemption.
Let’s pray the Lord’s Prayer together now:
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

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You Bet Your Life

​10/27/11

Dear Friends,

Many people are upset because they are living a PLAN B. They’re upset because what they really wanted in life was not what they got. They had certain expectations, but now they’re living with something different from the plan they thought they were living. Duke Divinity School professor Stanley Hauerwas likes to ask the following question, “Who told you the story that you should have no story except the story you choose when you have no story?” Now you might be thinking “What does that mean?” Let’s break it down. First, the great minds of our age say that your life is a blank slate. You can be whatever you want to be if you dream big. You get to write your own story. There is no grand narrative in life except the one that you write for yourself. Because there is no reference point, no grand narrative, any story you write with your life will have the most meaning to you. You are an individual (just like everyone else). Secondly, question anyone who would question your freedom as an individual. Your ability to choose is the most important ability you have. Don’t ask “to choose what?” just keep choosing.

Herein lies the problem, you and I didn’t ask to be born. We were born in interesting times. Is life a gift or a curse? And what if I don’t want to choose to answer that question? One alternative to this situation is to simply ignore it. Become a sheep and do what you see everyone else doing. Trust in society’s collective consciousness. Base your existence on the Consumer Confidence Index. Buy what everyone is buying. Start out in your youth. Find the kid every kid likes and listen to him. Do whatever he tells you and always be on the winning side. If you are a teenager, do anything to keep from being like your parents. They’re locked into one thing, go out and experiment with everything. Later as a young adult in prison. . . . promise your P.O. that you’ll do anything to stay out, but then go back to the same neighborhood to look up the kid everybody liked. I won’t tell you how that story ends, but I’ve met a lot of people who are living out stories like that today.

For many people PLAN A, aka, “I have no story except the story I choose when I have no story” has all but played out. Now they’re living with a PLAN B. They’re not sure exactly what PLAN B is, but they’re doing their best to make it up as they go along. Just last week a man came to me and asked to join our two year leadership training program. He signed all the paperwork and then had a change of heart. Maybe he’d never made up his mind to begin with, but he had no trouble with the paperwork. But all this week we’ve been discussing the next stage with him, the one where he travels to a new place where he’s never been before. He just wants the assurance that he’ll get to come back within a short time. He’s given no such assurance, so he sits stewing over it in his mind day after day. The decision gets no easier. Can he really trust us? His mind is focused on one thing, his situation. He doesn’t see the many people who are still here after many years, who trust this place and have dedicated themselves to their story here. All he knows is that he won’t be in control of his story as it is anymore if he goes out of town for an indefinite period of time.

I don’t mean to pick on this guy. I share his story because I believe we are all in the same boat in one way or another. Who or what can we trust in, really? I don’t know about you, but for myself, I regularly struggle with a crisis of confidence. Yes, I’m a minister, but I struggle too. I work at a job where I’m regularly encouraging people to do what seems impossible: serve people who will more often then not seem less than appreciative. I tell my fellow staff members to be encouraged and not lose confidence. But last week I was standing in the woods asking God, “What’s wrong with me? Why am I so anxious and irritated and tired? Why do I feel so used up?”

I could tell you about some of my problems. My family has had three cycles of some kind of flu in the house in the last month. At work here in downtown we have a passive-aggressive property owner in the area who wanders around outside our building with a camera taking video and photos of the homeless and their belongings to regularly send to city hall. Trying to reason with this person only seems to make it worse. I’m partly responsible for two old houses that take a lot of maintenance and some old cars that break down more times than I can remember. And my dog has fleas. Oh yes, it all comes down to that doesn’t it? The final straw. My dog loves me, won’t stay away from me, and she has fleas. Isn’t that reason enough to crack up? It’s always the small things that send us over the edge isn’t it?

So as I wandered out in the woods crying out to God, and then got quiet, I heard Him say, “Cast not away your confidence.” So I went and looked that phrase up in the Bible.
“Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul. Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Heb 10:35-11:1 KJV

So what was the Lord telling me? First, that I had a confidence that I can’t cast away, and that this confidence would be rewarded. Second, that I needed patience in doing the Will of God so that I will receive the promise. Third that Jesus is returning and is not late. Fourth, that I am just and must live by faith. I am, together with you who believe, not among those who draw back, but am of those who will be saved. Finally, that faith that I have bet my life on, and that you believers have bet your life on, is a substance, is an evidence of what we can’t see but know is coming.

What was that I said about betting your life? I bet my life on following Jesus Christ. I’m not living on a PLAN B because there really is no PLAN B. I have a different PLAN A. My story is not the story I chose because I learned there was no story. My story is that Jesus Christ has conquered death and hell and died on the cross to reconcile all things to God. He died for all my sins, he died for your sins. Jesus is returning and he’s not late. He will be right on time. My confidence is not in my abilities. I’m a jack of a lot of trades, but the one thing I can really do right is confide in Jesus. So if I’m getting frustrated and angry, you remind me of that will you? The ONE thing I’m really called to do is confide in Jesus.

I’m just getting started. We ARE having church today. Jesus is here today with power to save. That word for confidence in that verse is translated from a koine Greek word, parrhesia, that is loaded with history and meaning. The philosopher Michel Foucault wrote an entire book about the word. It is usually used in reference to speaking openly, holding nothing back. The Greeks loved their freedom of speech in the polis, and this word is not just a word, but it refers to the right of free citizens to speak their mind, especially when they were threatened by an intolerant ruler. That should stick in your mind because we find the word used throughout the New Testament in a way that says, “you will face opposition, but you better not back down”. Acts 4:13-14 gives an example:
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. (NIV)
Here the word for parrhesia is translated as courage. In John 18:20, when the Pharisees asked Jesus about his teaching and doctrine, he replies using parrhesia, saying that he spoke openly to the world.

Jesus promised his disciples that they would be hauled in before the authorities in Matt 10:18-20:
“On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (NIV)

So what’s really different about this word courage in the New Testament is that it is a courage not based on a citizen’s position as free or slave, or on one’s great oratory skills. It is a courage given by the Spirit of the living God, specifically for doing the will of God. God knows my heart. He knows that I’m a coward when it comes down to it. I’ll run away before I’ll defend myself every time. But he took a coward like me and called me to tell sinners everywhere that if he can turn someone like me into a witness, he can save anyone.

I know a lot of you sitting in this room today. I saw some of you when you first joined this ministry last year. Confident is not a word I would use to describe you that day. Some of you were crying. Others were scared to trust anybody. But I’ve been here for a little over a year now and I see God doing in you what you could not have done for yourself. You never thought you’d be setting people back on a straight path. You never thought God would use you to save someone’s life—but he has, and he is. Not because of your great abilities, but because of Jesus’ power over sin and death that is real in you. I’m so grateful to be a witness to that.

Before I came back to this city I was on the run from doing anything like this. My secret fantasy as a young man was to stick out my thumb and hit the highway to anywhere else where no one would know me. Anyone here ever done that? Well I met a few folks who had done that and it didn’t play out for them well, so I thought better of it. Anyway, I was scared to death at first of doing what God wanted me to do. So for a while I wouldn’t tell my wife that God had put moving back to St. Louis on my heart. But God kept pushing me. Then I grew more and more dissatisfied with my work because I knew God was calling me elsewhere. Then I went to my pastors in Chicago, hoping they would tell me that God hadn’t really said that. But they did no such thing. Finally, I gave in and told my wife about it.

Now I’m sorry for running from God. I’m sorry because it is the supreme joy of my life to see what God is doing in all of you. God is doing miracles everyday here one person at a time. And I believe that for someone in this room today or listening to me at home, you want to know that there is a PLAN A. You want to know more than anything else that, sick as you are with sin, God has a life for you. I can say with all confidence that He does. Here is what you need to do:

Learn the Will of God. What is God’s will for you? Believe in the One he sent. (Jn. 6:29)Jesus Christ. What do I mean by believe? Place your trust in, cling to, forsake all else, and bet your life on the fact that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross sealed for all time your future. You can know for certain that God’s will is not for you to be selfish, but to love Him with all your heart, your soul, your mind and strength. God’s will is for you to love your neighbor (that person you notice because you despise them) as much as you love yourself. That’s a start.

Abide in the Word of God. “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” John 15:7 (KJV) Jesus Christ is the Logos of God. Your confidence in him is a confidence in the PLAN A he has given you. This Word is not for you alone but is also for all the other children of God he has surrounded you with. They may not be people you would choose. But abiding in Christ means loving them and being loved by them. It means living by the Scriptures together come what may. It means humbling yourself daily. (For me it meant getting up at 5:00AM to take a woman and her daughter to the train station so that my sister in Christ wouldn’t have to.)

Know the Truth, That Truth will set you free. John 8:31-35 says,
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. (NKJV)
You may or may not feel like a slave on any given day. You may feel quite comfortable, actually. You live in America, land of the free, home of the brave. But your social and political freedom can’t free you from your sins. Nothing you do can free you from sin. Pretending they’re not there doesn’t work. You need Jesus, the way the truth and the life. Knowing Jesus is true freedom.

Without Christ there is no way to stand against the powerful social, political, spiritual and personal forces that oppose us in this world. But just where we are weakest, God is determined to have His way in us. In the end our story is not about our ability or inability. It is about God’s plan.

Romans 8:31-39 says,
“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect?
It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NRSV)

Life is struggle. Martin Luther said, “To have no temptation is the worst temptation.” May God save us from imagining the spiritual life as a comfy bed of roses. As long as we desire God’s will rest assured we will need courage and holy boldness. The way of Jesus leads us into confrontation. We don’t have to pick fights, God’s eye for the poor ensures that the powers that be will come looking for us. God’s love is controversial because it insists that money and things are temporary and relative to time. God is patient. His love is eternal. He cares deeply and does not lie. This kind of truth exposes many persons for what they have become as paid liars. If you imitate God rest assured life will be an adventure and you’ll turn your body in well worn from intense grief as well as real joy.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Chris Rice

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Sojourners not Vagabonds

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Title: We are Sojourners Not Vagabonds

Dear Friends,

“Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11, English Revised Version) This is not our home. We live in a world where people are constantly on the go. They feel that time is their enemy. They hustle to make money and then can’t remember where they spent it or when. But we are homemaking sojourners. Life is difficult and too short. Everything is constantly changing and it’s very hard to adapt. We wonder if we have what it takes just to survive, let alone live life to its full.

I meet new people all the time who have stories about where they’ve come from, what happened, and how they plan to survive. But most of the stories lack any orientation. Orientation is a function of the mind involving time, place, and personhood. This world’s sense of orientation is based on personal wealth, ego, and isolation. Because their orientation is in Christ, Sojourners make different kinds of homes.

Brian Walsh and Stephen Bouma-Prediger describe the mind of our age in terms of a vagabond: “The vagabond is a pilgrim without a destination; a nomad without an itinerary. The vagabond journeys through an unstructured space; like a wanderer in the desert, who knows only of such trails as are marked with his own footprints, and blown off again by the wind the moment he passes, the vagabond structures the site he happens to occupy at the moment, only to dismantle the structure again as he leaves. Each successive spacing is local and temporary—episodic.” (Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, pg. 252) A vagabond has lost their orientation. There is no particular destination, and no need to arrive on time.

When the Apostle Peter said “abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” we can be sure he wasn’t just talking about sexual lust. All lusts begin with desire, and our desires are interwoven with our imaginations. The things we long for in our waking dreams. Imagination is a powerful thing. It can be filled with fear and hate or with love and empathy. Walter Brueggeman said, “The key pathology of our time, which seduces us all, is the reduction of the imagination so that we are too numbed, satiated and co-opted to do serious imaginative work.” (Beyond Homelessness, pg. 315-316) When we stop praying for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done we start working to build our own kingdoms and do our own thing.

Sojourners are People of the Book. Our orientation, our worldview, the operating manual, however you want to say it, comes from what God says we are in the Bible. And here’s the thing about God’s Word, it’s not just a bunch of facts or information that we memorize. Being God’s people means attending to the things Jesus taught us. What we think about, what we say, how we love, and who we belong to all matter in the long run. How long is this gonna take? The duration of our lives.

As People of the Book we develop memories that sin had robbed from us in the past. It does not matter how many good things happened to us in life when we were vagabonds, because we lacked orientation. If we found fifty bucks on the street it would be gone by sundown, spent on the riverboat or on lotto tickets. But as sojourners we remember everyday where God has brought us from, and where He has promised we are going.

Sojourners don’t travel alone. In one sense we all stand alone before God. We can’t repent of anyone else’s sins, and we can’t carry the weight of another’s soul. But God has us traveling and living in the real fellowship of our brothers and sisters in Christ. As vagabonds, there was some occasional fellowship as it helped us get what we wanted. Free love, free food, free room and board occasionally and free opinions, but in the end we really didn’t mean to be committed to each other. Love was always too strong of a word. Love involves trust and vulnerability, and vulnerability brought up pain. But as a sojourner, we live out a type of commitment that is truly impossible without the Spirit of God. We learn the price of mutual regard and become willing to pay it (like the sign says out in the lobby). It costs a lot to live like this. It cost Jesus Christ his life. And when Jesus said to follow by denying ourselves and taking up the cross, we can be sure that knowing Him involves commitment.

The third mark of a sojourner is in hospitality. As a vagabond attempting to survive, we were taught that protecting our possessions and hiding them away was the only way to keep them. We learned as consumers that enough was never enough. New toys grow old by the next year, and real security was in grabbing as much material and space as possible as a way of gaining leverage for future purchasing. We picked our guests very carefully and spread our influence and reputation wisely. Sojourners think of their possessions very differently. They begin with a confidence that God has provided just what was needed in the past, is providing what they have now, and will provide as needed in the future. For this reason, what they have has been freely given and so they freely give it away. They work hard and instead of marking time in terms of money, they are grateful for each day they have to be able to serve.

Hebrews 13:2-3 says: “Do not forget or neglect or refuse to extend hospitality to strangers [in the brotherhood–being friendly, cordial, and gracious, sharing the comforts of your home and doing your part generously], for through it some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison as if you were their fellow prisoner, and those who are ill-treated, since you also are liable to bodily sufferings.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly thought to myself “there certainly aren’t any angels around here.” But such an attitude lacks all imagination. The text is not telling us to be on the look out for people with hidden wings or halos under their hat, but to never overlook the stranger in need. We should be reminded of Lot in the book of Genesis. The Lord’s messenger came to him when he lived in the wicked city of Sodom and brought him the warning that would save his family. I find that when my heart is not cold, the Lord regularly uses complete strangers to bless me with kindness and gratitude.

More important than angels, we can’t forget Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:35-36 that he comes to us as the least of these hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison. Hebrews 13:3 calls us to true empathy. We don’t just feel bad for prisoners, we remember them as fellow prisoners. When we encounter injustice, and there is plenty to go around, we remember that we ourselves suffer easily. Sojourners care about justice: housing for the homeless and low income, fair wages that come not just at the employer’s convenience, and care for Creation instead of exploitation.

Wendell Berry reminds us that, “The health of nature is the primary ground of hope—if we can find the humility and wisdom to accept nature as our teacher.” (Beyond Homelessness, pg. 319) With new eyes to see we can look around at the good earth God has created and realize that for all we may have done to harm her, she is still here to sustain and teach us.

God calls us by name in His Son Jesus Christ, and with this call to be His people we know who we are. The God who created this world has not abandoned us. He calls us to be a People of Imagination who do not succumb to this world’s disorientation; to the life of a short minded vagabond. We are meant for love and community, not simply survival.

Yours in Christ,

Rev. Chris Rice

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From Shame and Resentment to Gratitude and Service

From Shame and Resentment to Gratitude and Service

Rev. Chris Rice, Sermon 1/4/11

Dear Friends,

How can we move from the ever present shame and resentment that stalk us on a regular basis into a place of gratitude and service that allows God to really have his way in our lives? Jesus Christ has come to set the captives free and the Word of God shows us how.

Some of you may not like to hear this message today. I’m going to talk about being wronged, specifically, how to handle it when you’re dealt with unjustly. Maybe you feel like your anger is the last defense. The very last thing you still have. And that with your anger is bound your dignity as a person. I understand that feeling.

Our recollection of our memories, and our ability to tell our story is central to our dignity. If we can prove we’re right when we’re wronged, we can prove to ourselves the truthfulness of our daily claims. We can say, “Yes, I’ve still got it. I’m not crazy. I’m still trustworthy.” But life is full of incidents that test our decisions, and cause us to question our way of seeing things. There’s not just one way to see an event. There may be three or four. And very often, to get along we’ve got to compromise.

I love stories about redemption. Where someone wrongly accused, someone society has long lost behind bars, is set free and the story is set straight. Cornelius Dupree, Jr. was accused in 1979 of rape, robbery, and abduction. He was picked up two miles from the scene of a crime, paraded through a witness lineup, and locked up for 30 years before being paroled. But something else was going on. In Dallas Texas they were keeping their DNA samples. Through the work of the Innocence Project in New York this man’s case was reopened long after sentencing and DNA testing revealed his innocence. Dupree was not the only man accused in the case. Anthony Massingil was also found innocent but is still serving time for a different offense.
Jennifer Emily of the Dallas Morning News writes:

“Dupree was paroled in July – two weeks before preliminary tests came back clearing the men. A second DNA test confirmed the results of the first test in December.

The day after Dupree’s release, he married a woman he met 20 years earlier while in prison. He and Selma Perkins Dupree held hands as he spoke to reporters after the hearing. His brother, Steven Dupree, who was 8 when his brother went to prison, stood behind them.
“I’m kind of having mixed emotions. I feel that words won’t make up for what I lost,” Cornelius Dupree said, adding that both his parents have died. “It was only by the grace of God that I was able to sustain the long wait.””

Here is a man who claimed his innocence from the very beginning. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time. A young black man headed to a party. He spent three decades behind bars. His younger brother was a child when he was locked up and now he stands behind him a grown man. If anyone has the right to be crippled by hate it is Cornelius Dupree. But he says somehow God’s grace sustained him through the waiting process. There was something more important than getting back at those who wrongly accused him. It was living life as a free man.

Perhaps the most difficult lesson to learn in life is that it really doesn’t matter what other people say about you. What really matters is what you know about yourself. If you are your own best defense then you can see where you’re going. If you are your own worst enemy then it doesn’t matter what you do, you are out to destroy yourself one way or the other. How can a person be their own worst enemy? By poisoning every hour of their day with resentment toward other people. By acting out of the shame they feel toward themselves. Some people have been so abused throughout their lives that they see any gift given to them as another con. When they hear tell of the grace of God in Christ they think they know what that means. That means listen to a lot of pleasant words and then get ready to give your money or your time.

Real spiritual conversion happens first with the admission of complete powerlessness, the belief in a God greater than myself, and my decision to turn my will over to God with complete abandon. There is no easier softer way. Admitting that I really don’t know what’s best for me runs contrary to every pore of my being, but that’s only the beginning. The real stuff of life involves navigating the 1001 reminders that I am not in control. Cars that don’t start. Broken door handles. Drafty windows. Dog poop on the shoe. Whiney children. Bad breath. Bubbly personalities. This is real life! It’s downright irritating and exhausting.

Life on the advertisements promises sunny landscapes with beautiful people and products that fix everything from spots on the clothing to incontinence to a beer that will make the work week worthwhile. There’s something downright appealing about the idea that a pill or a drink can make all my problems go away, beginning with the fact that I really don’t have to do much to receive it. I would dare to proffer that following Jesus means staring down the fact that there is no easy way out of life’s everyday problems. Jesus calls us from our shame and resentment out into the light of gratitude and service.

The Bible has strong words regarding resentment. “Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple.” (Job 5:2) “The godless in heart harbor resentment; even when he fetters them, they do not cry for help.” (Job 36:13) “Mockers resent correction, so they avoid the wise.” (Proverbs 15:12) In serving the Lord there is no place for resentment. Paul reminded Timothy, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” (2 Tim. 2:24, NIV)

In my own experience, resentment and shame go hand in hand. When I feel slighted or wronged by another person’s actions it usually goes hand in hand with fear and shame. If I’m in a new place and I feel dependent on others, I feel at their mercy because I don’t really know what’s going on. I go inside my head with resentment and shame in order to find a safe place where I’m in control. Then things spiral downward from there.

Resentment keeps me in my head, trapped in fantasy that believes wrongly in God’s inability to protect me. In my resentment I became convinced anew that I’ve been wronged, dishonored, abused, and that nothing will keep this from happening again in the future. I feel self-righteous, vindicated, noticed, justified in my anger. My recourse is to imagine what I’ll do next time, how I’ll violently react and be justified.

Resentment keeps me from the truth in the present moment. God changes people and he sees them as they really are, not as I imagine them to be. Resentment blinds me from seeing God’s good work in people and believing the best about them. In resentment I lose the gift of forgiveness. I need forgiveness everyday. I need to give it to receive it. Resentment blocks that.

Resentment keeps me from prayer. Instead of praying for the person who wronged me, I’m once again caught in justification and revenge. He needs my prayers as I need his. Our proximity is no simple accident. I have much to learn about patience and forgiveness. I need it from others and I need to give it. God help me.

Resentment keeps me from God. Where God wants to use me in peace, hope, faith, love, resentment isolates me from all others (masks itself as humble and peaceful) and makes me a slave to fear. God’s perfect love casts out all fear. So really I’m a slave to self, shame and pain. All God wants is for me to be free and allow Him to have His way.

Even just a little resentment is toxic to me. I can’t handle a taste. I want to imagine more and then I’m gone in a rage fantasy where I assume I’m the overlooked entity of real value or I’m the despised one who could’ve have saved the show. Either way it’s all about me.
Now I know, this is just my own experience. If you can relate even just a little bit then bear with me. The Bible doesn’t just give us cute little warnings to stop resenting. It gives us powerful redemption stories, where given the opportunity to do great wrong, men and women of God love in return. In the book of Genesis Joseph is one example.

Sold by his brothers into slavery, then wrongly accused of trying to sexually abuse his master’s wife, Joseph gets placed by God into one of the most powerful positions in all of Egypt. Though he’d been mistreated by the Egyptian system, he accepted God’s call to save this pagan land and all the surrounding areas from famine. Given the opportunity to get back at his brothers because of his position and their need for help, Joseph tests them and then finally reveals who he is. After their reconciliation he receives the blessing of their father before he passes away. They have a huge beautiful funeral and then the brothers once again get scared. They think their brother now has the power to get back at them and so they send a message saying that their father sent word before he died that he wanted Joseph to forgive them all for all the wrongs they’d done to him. Then they finish with, “We are your slaves.” Joseph’s response was to weep before them all. What he says next is so powerful.

“’Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.’” (Gen. 50:19-21, NIV)

Given the opportunity to exact justice for himself, Joseph demonstrated mercy. Why? Because Joseph was living his life as a man for others. He saw himself as simply a steward of God’s will, and his many gifts as tools for responsible service. God uses sinful broken people to accomplish his work in the world. Everyone here in this room is full of God given potential. Maybe you’ve seen him use you today to help someone else. Don’t take that for granted. Take stock of where you’ve come from and know that God loves you and has not left you alone.

Your story matters. Everything that has happened to you in life can be used by God to share his faithfulness with someone else. God is not done with you yet. But what he is doing in you is not for you alone. You may feel that like Joseph you are in a strange new place. You didn’t ask to be here. And you’re just trying to make sense of what’s going on. God knows. If you’re willing to let go God will use you to help someone else. It often happens in places where you least expect it. Let me share a secret. Unexpected gifts are everywhere when we have grateful hearts.

Now here’s another story, and this is more of a cautionary tale. In Luke 15:11-32 Jesus tells a story of two lost sons and their father. You may remember the first son. He says to his father, “Give me my share of the estate” and then he gathers his stuff together and leaves for a far off country where he squanders the money in wild living. Then a famine strikes the land and he’s forced to hire himself out feeding pigs. He was so hungry that all he wanted was what the pigs had to eat, but no one gave him anything. You may remember that it says he came to his senses and then had a plan to go back and divest himself of all his rights as a son and simply become his father’s slave.

He thought this would be just. He believed he had given up any right to his father’s respect because of the way he treated the household. This was his plan just to stay alive. But what happens in the story?
“So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:20-24, NIV)

The son does not get to finish his prepared statement. His divestment is interrupted by the father’s command for the party to begin. Instead of getting the dung scooping duty he gets the royal treatment. And this is completely unexpected. You’ll remember this is the story of two lost sons. There is an older brother who is none to excited about this son’s return. We all love this story of the young prodigal returning. We can obviously see that we’ve all done bad things to run away from God. But we need to see ourselves in the older brother as well.
The older brother, returning from the fields, hears the music from the party and asks what is going on. He hears that his brother has returned and that his father has honored him like a royal guest. He gets so angry that he won’t even go in to the party. So the father comes out to him to plead with him.

Henri Nouwen writes,
“The more I reflect on the elder son in me, the more I realize how deeply rooted this form of lostness really is and how hard it is to return home from there. Returning home from a lustful escapade seems so much easier than returning home from a cold anger that has rooted itself in the deepest corners of my being. My resentment is not something that can be easily distinguished and dealt with rationally.
It is far more pernicious: something that has attached itself to the underside of my virtue. Isn’t it good to be obedient, dutiful, law-abiding, hardworking, and self-sacrificing? And still it seems that my resentments and complaints are mysteriously tied to such praiseworthy attitudes.

This connection often makes me despair. At the very moment I want to speak or act out of my most generous self, I get caught in anger or resentment. And it seems that just as I want to be most selfless, I find myself obsessed about being loved. Just when I do my utmost to accomplish a task well, I find myself questioning why others do not give themselves as I do. Just when I think I am capable of overcoming my temptations, I feel envy toward those who give in to theirs. It seems that wherever my virtuous self is, there also is the resentful complainer.” (The Return of the Prodigal Son, pgs. 75-76)

Where do we find our freedom from this resentment? In the father’s love. The father’s final words to his elder son in the story are, “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:31-32, NIV) The father’s love and his house is largest enough for both wayward sons and resentful ones.

In my own life how do I get unstuck from resentment? When I notice particularly nasty thoughts and possibilities of thoughts coming in my head I will stop, surrender before God, pray for the grace to forgive, use the Lord’s prayer or the serenity prayer and then reach out with a phone call or by speaking to someone else.

Getting unstuck involves first being vigilant, taking resentment as seriously as lust, and second, reversing course to seek help. My thoughts are not just thoughts, they are potential actions revealing my heart and my need for God.

I have often thought that I played a good game by being so introverted. I enjoyed my thoughts and feelings more than being with others. I thought I possessed all I needed and I grew to like all my thoughts to myself. Now I’ve come to see the dark cave of resentment as a special kind of hell. I look around and see that my lack of desire to interact with others has affected us all. Others go on without me. They learn by my isolation to count me out.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Henri Nouwen says,

“Resentment and gratitude cannot coexist, since resentment blocks the perception and experience of life as a gift.”

Gratitude is a conscious choice. Some of the most helpful advice I’ve ever received involved simply sitting down and writing out two lists on a piece of paper. On one side I was instructed to write down everything I was afraid of. On the other side everything I had to be grateful for. I have done this many times and it has never failed to help set my thinking straight. In a very short time I come to remember that most of the things I’m afraid of are not matters I can control anyway, and everything I’m grateful for is because of the grace of God! Since I’m not in control, and all of life is gift what have I to get resentful for?!!

If we really want God to change us we have to let the Word of God renew our minds and change us.
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:30-32, KJV)

Let’s pray together now:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen (Prayer attributed to St. Francis)

Benediction:
Peace be to you all and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph. 6:23)

Yours in His Service,

Chris Rice

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Filed under Bible, love, NLEC, Personal