Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Enough Is Enough

homily preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler
September 24, 2014

When my daughter Sarah was three years old, we took her trick-or-treating for the first time. Dressed up as a fairy princess, she took in the Halloween scene with wonder. We emptied a plastic bucket of blocks, and she carried it from door to door, dutifully collecting lots of yummy-looking candy.

After just two or three blocks, Sarah’s bucket was about three-quarters full, and I saw that it was getting heavy for her. I decided I would offer to carry it for a while. I said, “Wow, Sarah—you sure have lots of candy.”

Before I could make my offer, though, Sarah looked at the bucket, looked back at me, and said, “I have enough now. Let’s go home.”

Enoughness—this isn’t a real word, but it should be. I believe that, because we have so much, “enoughness” is the unique challenge for the United States in the 21st century. Did you know that we use 25 times our share of the earth’s resources? So if we were to bring the whole world up to our level of consumption, we would need 25 Planet Earths. How many different kinds of breakfast cereal are representative of a well-stocked grocery store? How fast does your internet connection need to be? How big your hard drive? How many bells and whistles on your phone? How big a salary is enough of a salary? How big a house? How much savings will be enough for retirement? How do you know when you’ve “got it made”?

On an episode of the children’s TV show Veggie Tales, Larry the Cucumber is bragging about all the toys he’s been collecting and how many more he wants. Bob the Tomato asks him, “Larry, how much stuff do you need to make you happy?”

Larry stops, thinks, and replies, “I don’t know, Bob. How much stuff is there?”

And so we hear from the Book of Proverbs today: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full, and deny you, and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God.”

Once we have enough that we don’t need to steal in order to survive, how much more can we want? Perhaps an infinite amount. But how much more do we really need?

Jesus sends out the disciples, saying, “Take nothing for your journey.” In other words, he says, “You have everything you need.” God goes with you. What more could we need? But how much can we trust this to be the case? To what extent do we trust God to provide? And what do we make of the situations in which many don’t seem to have been provided even with that much? Is that due to human fault rather than God’s?

The psalmist asks who is fit to stand in the LORD’s holy place. The answer: “Those who have clean hands and pure hearts.” This doesn’t mean that only the sinless have God’s love and attention, but rather, those “who do not lift up their souls to what is false.” It’s a matter of allegiance. When we trust that God is with us, God will be with us. When we trust ourselves over God, we find that what we have is never enough, and we begin to feel that we must continue always to shore up defenses around us.

I flew out to Bellingham ahead of my family in May to find us a house, so Christy and Sarah had not seen it when we all arrived in July. My biggest worry—and it really did keep me up at night—was that the master bedroom would be too small. Certainly it’s the smallest one we’ve ever had. And, lo and behold, we can fit a bed and two dressers and a bookshelf, and the closet is plentifully large. What more do we need? It is enough. Amen.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hildegard of Bingen

Our saint for today, Hildegard, was born in 1098 in present-day Germany, in the Rhineland Valley. Also known as the “Sybil of the Rhine,” Hildegard was a writer, composer, philosopher, mystic, abbess, visionary, doctor, scientist, and … polymath. She was a Renaissance woman well before the Renaissance!

Hildegard was her parents’ tenth child, so naturally, they tithed her to the Church (!). A lifelong monastic, she served in a Benedictine monastery as a child, went on to a convent, became the abbess, and later founded two other convents. She lived only among women, and with no men around, she found that her efforts to learn and to express herself were unhampered. So Hildegard was a real rarity of the 11th century in her opportunities for artistic expression.

From the age of three, Hildegard was subject to divine visions that she only began to write down at the age of 43. She described the source of her visions as “The Shade of the Living Light.”

Here is a sample of Hildegard’s writing:

She is Divine Wisdom. She watches over all people and all things in heaven and on earth, being of such radiance and brightness that, for the measureless splendor that shines in Her, you cannot gaze on Her face or on the garments She wears. For She is awesome in terror as the Thunderer's lightning, and gentle in goodness as the sunshine. Hence, in Her terror and Her gentleness, She is incomprehensible to mortals, because of the dread radiance of divinity in Her face and the brightness that dwells in Her as the robe of Her beauty. She is like the Sun, which none can contemplate in its blazing face or in the glorious garment of its rays. For She is with all and in all, and of beauty so great in Her mystery that no one could know how sweetly She bears with people, and with what unfathomable mercy She spares them.

- From "The Holy Spirit as Wisdom: Scientia Dei (Knowledge of God)," St. Hildegard von Bingen, trans. B. Newman (mod.)

Hildegard was famous in her own time as a counselor for royalty and church officials. She was a traveling preacher and evangelist and also a doctor who focused on women’s needs. Even as a woman outside the convent, Hildegard was able to exert great influence on the culture around her.

Most recently, we have known Hildegard as a composer who pushed the 12th-century musical envelope. One claim to fame is that she composed what is certainly the oldest surviving morality play, Ordo Virtutum (“The Soul’s Journey”). I listened to it online this week: it is an hour-long musical drama, all in Latin, about a soul being wrestled over by the Virtues and the Devil. My favorite feature of this piece is the fact that the character of Satan never sings—he only speaks, for as Hildegard herself wrote, Satan is unable to participate in the divine harmony.

The rediscovery of Hildegard’s music took place too late for her to earn a place in our 1982 Hymnal. But I did find a copy of one of her pieces in Voices Found, a hymnal that specifically celebrates the contributions of women in church music. If you dare, please sing with me #105, “Laus trinitati,” in its original Latin.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Jesus Is for Losers

sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler

Today Paul writes, “Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.” Hmmm. Sorry, vegetarians—the Bible isn’t being kind to you this morning! There is a story behind this, though, that you may find helpful, and I hope the handful of you who were present for Thursday morning Eucharist won't mind hearing the explanation again.

Passarotti, The Butcher's Shop
It was a regular part of Greco-Roman worship to offer meat in sacrifice to their gods, and then to sell such meat in the marketplaces. It was understood that to consume such meat was to participate in the worship of these gods. Furthermore, there was often no way to tell whether the meat you were buying had at some point been sacrificed to an idol. Those whom Paul calls “strong” Christians trusted that God, the creator of the universe, would understand this situation and would not hold it against them for eating such meat. But for Paul’s “weak” Christians, the thought of participating in idol worship, even by accident, opened them up to all sorts of spiritual danger, so they thought it best to become vegetarians and avoid the whole mess completely. When the two groups met together, you can imagine that all sorts of wrangling occurred, with the "weak" Christians trying to protect their piety, and the "strong" Christians wondering how these others could be so superstitious.

Paul's characterization of the two groups as “weak” and “strong” may sound judgmental to our ears, but I think his main point is that there are no second-class Christians. Our political differences, our liturgical and musical preferences, the way we understand the Bible, our decision to stand or to kneel, our feelings about the high altar and the priest’s position in relation to it … none of these things gives us license to judge one another’s standing with God. Christianity is not, nor has it ever been, a holiness competition. If anything, the Good News of Jesus makes the most sense among those who are not winners. The “weak” Christians inspire a special kind of divine love, a love that we can participate in by practicing patience and not needing to be right all the time. Never look down on someone for using a ladder that you yourself have kicked away. If you do, you're in danger of becoming one of the "weak" ones yourself.

The issue of forgiveness throws the matter of "strong" and "weak" into full relief. What is forgiveness? Does forgiveness make us appear weak? Does it open us up to being victims of those who try to make themselves look strong?

Look at the way Jesus treated those around him. He refused to be a winner. He counseled people to "turn the other cheek," and to give without expecting anything back--not exactly a conventional image of strength. People expected Jesus to come storming into Jerusalem on horseback and reclaim the city and the nation from the Romans. Instead, he rode into Jerusalem on a humble donkey, and within a week, the people decided he was a fraud. When a charismatic leader appears weak, crucifixion is a common result.

So Jesus died. By all eyewitness accounts, Jesus failed completely. Jesus was a loser. And when Jesus became a loser, he not only saved everybody, but he also established a wonderful paradox: To be rid of the burden of winning is to win. And that is why Christ reigns victorious from the cross. Because Jesus is for losers.

Visit for more!
A friend of mine once found herself in a verbally abusive relationship. She and her boyfriend fought constantly, but she insisted on being the bigger person, so she kept forgiving him. Over time, though, this just made her feel more and more like a weak loser. Then, one day, she asked him, “When we have a fight, what is your ultimate goal?”

Without a second thought, he shot back: “To win!”

At that moment, she knew their relationship was over, and she got out of it as fast as she could. She lost, and that was what saved her. It turned out that all her little forgivenesses for individual slights weren’t forgiveness at all: they were repeated attempts to change him, to win him over to her side. By trying to win, she made herself weak. So instead, she lost once and never had to go through it again. Only then could she work on forgiving him for real.

When winning becomes more important than forgiveness, there’s no point in going on. Today, Jesus tells us to keep forgiving time and time again … 77 times if necessary, and that means forever! Unfortunately, Christians throughout history have used this memorable aphorism to suggest, among other things, that wives should never leave abusive husbands. But these people aren’t reading far enough. To understand, we need to link Jesus’ “77 times” statement to the gripping parable that follows it.

A king wants to settle his accounts. One of his servants owes him a lot of money. To help us keep the characters straight, let’s call the servant Joe. How much money does Joe owe the king, exactly? For argument’s sake, let’s say the servant makes today’s minimum wage in the state of Washington. In that case, he owes his master 2.2 billion dollars! (No, really. I’ve done the math.) The king wants his money back now. Joe says, “I can’t pay now, but I promise I will pay you back someday.” This isn’t true, of course. But, out of pity for him, the king not only releases Joe but cancels the entire debt.

These are $100 bills. Joe owes the king 2.2 of these.
I imagine Joe is somewhat rattled by this experience, and maybe he’s also struck by the injustice of the situation. He’s just been given what must be the most significant act of debt forgiveness in the history of the world. How would you receive such a gift? Maybe Joe feels humiliated. Setting aside for a moment the question of how any average Joe could owe a king 2.2 billion dollars, let’s assume that Joe is a good, honest man, and he doesn’t want to be the ultimate charity case. What will his neighbors think? Or maybe Joe doesn’t take the king at his word—how could he? With a loss like that, surely the king will come to his senses and demand repayment sooner or later.

So Joe figures he’d better start scraping together as much money as he can. The first thing Joe does is find some poor schlub—we’ll call him Harry—who owes Joe $5000. Now, when you’re only making minimum wage, that’s still a lot of money! Like the king, Joe demands immediate payment. But Harry doesn’t have $5000, so Joe has Harry thrown in jail.

Now, let’s be clear: Joe hasn’t done anything illegal. Harry owed him $5000, and Harry couldn’t pay, so Harry went to jail. But when the king finds out, he calls Joe on the carpet to explain himself. What is Joe’s crime? Simply this: his failure to believe that he is actually forgiven, and his failure to become more forgiving in turn. The whole system of debt—the system the king has thrown out the window—still has a hold on Joe, so the king says, “Fine! If those are the rules you’d rather live by.” Now Joe will be tortured until the debt is paid. And really, now: how is torture going to help Joe pay off a two-billion-dollar debt? Torture can’t even get accurate information out of people, let alone money. But maybe Joe prefers the torture of debt to the torture of being forgiven.

What a loser! But I know his kind. I’ve been his kind. The world is full of Christians who are ashamed of things they’ve done and just can’t believe in God’s forgiveness. The world is full of people who would rather nurse a grudge than swallow their pride. Despite 2,000 years of the Good News that Jesus has forgiven our sins, somehow, we keep trying to earn God’s favor. But salvation can’t be earned by repaying our debt to God; it is God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom! To accept the help that is offered—and then to offer similar help to others—is to become a stronger Christian.

Will we admit before God that we can’t win? That no matter how hard we work, we’ll never truly be able to say, “This is the life I always dreamed of”? God doesn’t want us to have a comfortable life. God wants us to have abundant life, and that has nothing to do with money or power or security or victory or competence or even continuing to breathe! We can’t keep any of these things, so none of them can lead us to some ultimate victory.

Today, come lay down the burden of winning. Lay it down. Come give your body and heart and soul to the God who made them, and don’t expect to get them back the way you left them! Bring your anxiety over your job or your family. Bring that neurosis from childhood that you still haven’t gotten over. Place them on this altar. Bring the fight you had on the playground with your best friend. Bring that grudge you’ve been nursing for years—you know the one! Place it on the altar. Bring your salary and your schedule and your possessions and your retirement savings and your homework and your commute and hand them over to God, who actually owns them all anyway. Don’t try so hard to win! Today, in this place, you can sacrifice that charade on this altar. And God will transform it into something you don’t recognize, something that’s far better than you ever could have imagined. Take that forgiveness, that unconditional love, that source of fundamental human dignity, into your very body here today.

Buoninsegna's Last Supper
Some say, “Eat or be eaten.” That’s the motto of the winner, right? But to that, Jesus says, “OK, I’ll be eaten. Then I can nourish you.” Jesus is for losers, and that is the best news! Jesus has saved all of us losers. And the minute we admit that, to God and to ourselves, the labels "strong" and "weak," "winner" and "loser," can quietly fall away in the face of the words, "You are forgiven." Amen.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Weak and the Strong

homily preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler
September 11, 2014

I want to tell you a story that has not, to my knowledge, ever actually happened. Let’s imagine for a moment that your neighbor turned on a sprinkler, invited all the local kids to play in it, and then informed the kids’ parents that their children had now been baptized into this neighbor’s personal religion. Did a baptism occur just because this person said so? Of course not.

Well, at least it's not burning them ...
Yet there might be people who, rather than just writing off this event as spiritual kookery, would worry that something supernatural had actually occurred against their will and that of their children. Will God be angry with them for allowing such a thing to happen? Does some other supernatural being now have a claim on their children? And if so, how will they be able to undo the effects? These anxious parents are the people Paul would characterize as “weak in faith”—that is, they feel that it’s up to them to make sure that they and their children stay in God’s good graces, rather than just trusting in God’s good graces.

The issue in Paul’s time was not neighborhood sprinklers, but meat sacrificed to idols. It was a regular part of Greco-Roman worship to offer meat in sacrifice to their gods, and then to sell such meat in the marketplaces. It was understood that to consume such meat was to participate in the worship of these gods. Furthermore, there was often no way to tell whether the meat you were buying had at some point been sacrificed to an idol. Those whom Paul calls “strong” Christians trusted that God, the creator of the universe, would understand this situation and would not hold it against Christians for eating such meat. But for Paul’s “weak” Christians, the thought of participating in idol worship, even by accident, opened them up to all sorts of spiritual danger, so they thought it best to become vegetarians and avoid the whole mess completely.

Don't get snippy ... be patient ...
It got tricky when these two groups of Christians met. Those who were more educated, more philosophically astute, perhaps, knew perfectly well that no idol actually exists. Even if there are spiritual forces out there other than God, they are subordinate to and subject to the God who created all things. To worship them is wrong, yes. But one cannot accidentally worship a false god, any more than one can accidentally be baptized.

The other group, however, is not wrong to be afraid of such things. If their conscience tells them to be very careful of supernatural beings that might divert them from their devotion to the one God, should they be told that their conscience is wrong? This group would rather play it safe. The “weak” Christians are not in essence weak people, even if they have much to learn from the “strong” Christians. What’s important to Paul is that the “strong” Christians also have something to learn from the “weak” ones—something to learn about how to love others. The answer is not to get impatient and snippy with them, but simply to love them and to be considerate of their doubts and fears.

It’s hard to characterize these two groups impartially, because even the terms Paul uses, “strong” and “weak,” sound laden with judgment to our ears. One senses that Paul was writing primarily to the “strong” group because he didn’t seem to worry about offending anyone. And it’s to the “strong” Christians that he directs his primary message: don’t be a stumbling block to people who know less than you do. Would you tell a young child, “Oh, don’t bother with that Santa Claus nonsense”? Would you tell a teenager in love, “You’re just going to break up in a couple months anyway”? Would you laugh with condescension, “Oh, how silly of me! I forgot that you don’t speak Greek.” When faith in God is involved, the stakes are even higher, because the things we say and do have a real effect on what people believe God is like.

A few years ago, some person who probably thought he was pretty clever put a photo online of our presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and added the caption, “Don’t believe in that crap? Neither do we. The Episcopal Church welcomes you.” I think it was an attempt to help non-Christians understand that we’re not fundamentalists. But I thought it was very badly done, giving off the impression that we really don’t believe much of anything. The problem with beginning from the negative, explaining what we are not, is that there may not be any room left for the positive. The problem with being snarky is that it’s very easy, and it’s lots of fun, and it’s not very thoughtful. So if one of the Christians in Corinth were to say, “Oh, it’s no big deal! Here—have some of this meat,” Paul says that would be a terrible sin.

It takes an expansive person to think not only about our own spiritual health, but also that of others. It’s the same kind of expansiveness that comes into play when it comes to loving our enemies. Loving our enemies does not come from a position of weakness, from a place of merely needing to survive. It comes from an inner dignity that understands that God is preserving us at every moment, and that our enemies ultimately have no power over our lives or our souls.

It is better to be loving than to be right. It is a blessed thing to sacrifice one’s own liberties for the sake of letting others find their way at their own pace. This is a vital feature of Christian discipleship. Where are the places in your life where you have insisted on being right at the expense of being loving? And how might that begin to change today? Amen.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Charlie Bucket, the Redeemed Sinner

Yesterday my daughter and I watched the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I had shown it to her several years ago, when she was too young to watch it happily without being scared out of her wits. (Oops -- parenting error.) This time we enjoyed it together. And while the movie is quite different from the book in some respects, I still consider it canonical, because Roald Dahl himself, the author of the book, also wrote the screenplay. Read on if you have read the book or seen the film; otherwise this entry, full of spoilers, probably won't make much sense to you.

"I've got a golden ticket!"
First, remember that before the children enter the chocolate factory, each of them is approached by the scary-looking Slugworth, a competitor of Willy Wonka's, who attempts to bribe them into sneaking out one Everlasting Gobstopper so that he can steal the formula of this groundbreaking candy. Indeed, at one point in the tour, Wonka happily gives each child an Everlasting Gobstopper, making them solemnly swear that they will never share its existence with anybody else as long as they live. (Veruca Salt at least has the decency to cross her fingers at this point.)

Now, one scene in the movie that is not in the book has Charlie and his Grandpa Joe sneaking away from the tour of the chocolate factory to try Wonka's "fizzy lifting drinks," after Wonka has explicitly warned them not to do so.

It's not completely in character for these two to break the rules so readily, especially since Augustus Gloop has already gone up the chocolate tube, and Violet Beauregarde has already turned into a blueberry. But leaving that aside, we find that Charlie and Grandpa Joe get caught up in the consequences of their actions, floating helplessly toward a scary-looking ceiling fan that threatens to suck them in and chop them to bits. At the last second, they realize that belching loudly will release the "fizzies" from their system and allow them to float safely back to the ground. This done, they rejoin the tour and behave much better from then on.

The very first of this meme to pop up
in a Google image search ...
However, at the end of the film, after Veruca Salt has gone down the garbage chute and Mike Teavee has been shrunken small enough to fit into his mother's purse, Willy Wonka suddenly turns cold to Charlie and Grandpa Joe. He invites them to show themselves out without mention of the grand prize, a lifetime supply of chocolate. Grandpa Joe confronts Wonka about this, at which Wonka explodes: "You signed a contract stating that if you broke the rules, our agreement was null and void! You lose! Good day, gentlemen!"

Sure enough, Charlie had signed a gigantic contract that was too long and tiny to read. But Grandpa Joe leads Charlie out, mumbling about what a horrible man Wonka is, and that if Slugworth wants a Gobstopper, he'll get one.

Charlie, however, lets go of Grandpa Joe's hand, returns to Wonka's desk, and sets down the Everlasting Gobstopper that Wonka had given him.

This act of contrition changes everything. Wonka welcomes Charlie back with open arms, informing him that not only has he won the lifetime supply of chocolate, but that he will now become Wonka's apprentice and inherit the entire chocolate factory!

Not to be judgy, but ...
Now, being me, I can't help but see this as a potential metaphor for God's grace. How is Charlie Bucket any different from any of the other children? All five of them break the rules by acting on feelings of entitlement in areas where they have no right to meddle. The tour of the chocolate factory is an unearned gift -- the result of random chance in handing a Golden Ticket to just five children out of everybody in the world. They don't have a right to any of it.

Yet Augustus Gloop gorges himself in the chocolate river ... Violet Beauregarde chews the gum she's been warned not to ... Veruca Salt wants her own golden goose so badly that she becomes a victim of the egg-judging machine ... Mike Teavee wants the fame of being the first human to be turned into a television signal ... and Charlie Bucket just can't resist the urge to take the fizzy lifting drink and fly.

"For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."

So, again, how is Charlie Bucket any different? It's not about whether he does something wrong. It's about what he does afterward.

It's not a perfect metaphor. We might still wonder about the God who makes us sign a giant contract we have no hope of reading. When did we agree not to break certain rules? I don't remember doing so. How can I be held accountable?

Yet life is, indeed, like a giant chocolate factory of wonders. Do we want to share the experience with others, or hoard as much of it for ourselves as we can?

And when we find that we have trespassed -- that is, gone somewhere we had no right to go -- even if we didn't know it at the time -- even if we may still personally believe we had every right to go there -- what do we do then? Do we wrap ourselves up in entitlement and vow vengeance? Or do we humbly submit ourselves to someone else's judgment?

The former reaction will never help us or anybody else. The latter reaction just might change everything. In giving back the Everlasting Gobstopper, Charlie Bucket becomes a redeemed sinner.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Of Flesh and Spirit

homily preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Bellingham, WA
by the Rev. Josh Hosler
September 3, 2014

Is it really like this? Or is this graphic too simplistic?
Based on these readings: 1 Cor. 3:1-9; Psalm 62; Luke 4:38-44

Flesh and spirit. Are they polar opposites? Or can they work together for good?

When Paul differentiates the flesh from the spirit, he doesn’t mean that the body is bad and the spirit is good. For him, it’s a matter of focus. The body will always demand certain things, and it is right to do so. For instance, we cannot stay alive without eating and drinking. But when we limit our focus to these things—to mere survival, or to satisfying the present, immediate need—we are remaining “of the flesh.” This can be selfish, such as when we say, “Well, I’ve got mine, so that’s all that matters.” But it doesn’t have to be evil. When I’m at the center of attention and enjoying it, or when I take pride in a personal accomplishment, this is a perfectly appropriate matter “of the flesh.”

Maslow's hierarchy of needs
To become “of the spirit” means to set a higher standard for ourselves that is beyond our instant gratification. Some people aren’t able to do this, because they’ve never felt secure enough “in the flesh” to go beyond it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being “of the flesh,” just like there’s nothing inherently wrong with being a child. It is a phase of the journey, and it is leading somewhere, all in good time. This reminds me of Maslow’s hierarchy, a psychological model that shows how we cannot aspire to higher things until our most basic needs have been provided for.

Furthermore, we are never fully “of the spirit,” but we are also always attending to the needs “of the flesh.” When we say, “If I don’t take care of myself, I won’t have any energy to give to others,” we are setting healthy boundaries, and this is a matter “of the flesh.” But this taking care of ourselves actually aims to serve the parts of our lives that are “of the spirit.”

One of the ways we can remain “of the flesh” is to place too much faith in authoritative human leadership, and it was to this urge that Paul addressed the Corinthian church in today’s reading. If we can find a person whose vision we can buy into wholesale, that frees us form the burden of thinking for ourselves.

Now, in the short term, there’s nothing wrong with this. Because none of us can possibly know everything, we should be able to trust our leaders to present us with a vision we can follow. But to be “of the spirit” means that we bear in mind that these leaders are simply servants who have been helpful to us. It’s not sinful to disagree or to part ways with them.

Those of us who serve as leaders in any capacity also do well to remember this distinction. We must always be prepared to set our own vision aside for the sake of a larger vision. I am an employee of the church, but my ultimate inclination is to serve God, and I will do so even when the church tries to limit God’s vision. But we also need to remain humble, so that we can never confuse our own vision with God’s vision. I have learned that it must never be a perfectly comfortable fit. If I’m not stretching and growing, I’m probably not listening very closely for God’s voice.

And that’s where silence comes in, as in our psalm: “For God alone my soul in silence waits.” Or as somebody said once, "Silence is God's first language; all else is a poor translation." When I’m feeling flustered, as if everything I’m doing in life is a random flailing about, that’s when I know I’m overdue for some silent time with God. Lately I’ve been training myself to notice these times and to react accordingly: to go someplace all alone where I cannot be interrupted, and to sit before God and just BE. Even if I don’t notice at the time how helpful this is, I have found that if I take enough time to do this at least several times a week, everything flows much better. God’s grace is given room to act.

And so God gives the growth. God is active in your life at this very moment, holding your soul in life, speaking to you, calming your fears, feeding you with strength. God is healing you with love, patience and forgiveness, just like Jesus healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, and the best response to being healed is to serve. But notice that Jesus, after serving as a healer all day, went into a deserted place. Even the Son of God needed time alone with God to recharge and replenish. Jesus set healthy boundaries, and then the time came for him to move on and serve elsewhere.

Along with Jesus, we in this room are God’s servants, serving together in the field of human experience. Let’s take just a couple moments of silence to spend with God before we continue our worship.

… Amen.