God’s Sustaining Presence
SLIDE 3: LONG WAY TO FIND SOMETHING TO DRINK
Poor Moses, once again the people he was trying to lead were complaining. This time the problem was water and having driven through the Sinai I know you can go a long way to find something to drink. The people were thirsty and they complained to their leader. In frustration Moses turned and complained to God sort of like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. “God what should I do with these people, they are going to stone me?”
SLIDE 4: SPLIT ROCK
God told Moses to use his staff to strike a rock. Some scholars point out that in the desert there can be hollow rock formations where water can collect, and protected from the sun it does not evaporate. So Moses followed God’s lead and struck the rock and behold water flowed at least enough for everyone to get something to drink.
In his frustration Moses struck the rock twice, when apparently once would have been enough, and for that reason God did not allow Moses to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Hardly seems fair. But then leaders often must serve and never quite arrive, because different leadership is needed at the destination than on the journey. There is in the Sinai a “split rock” that according to legend was the rock from which the water flowed.
SLIDE 5: LIFE IS DIFFICULT
The point of our story is that for those who journey in faith, even those who have their doubts and those who complain God’s sustaining presence goes with them. The journey of faith is not easy. Life is not easy. Life is difficult, and in the words of Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled, “This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult — once we truly understand and accept it — then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
SLIDE 6: LIVING WATER
I would go a step further than Scott Peck, for those who journey in faith, even when life is difficult God’s sustaining presence will bring us through. God’s sustaining presence is like water in the desert. In the Gospel of John Jesus promises that those who follow him on the journey of faith will receive living water.
SLIDE 7: CISTERN WATER
What is living water? Living water as opposed to dead or stagnant water is flowing water full of life giving oxygen cleansed and filtered by the process of moving and aerating. Much of the water in the hot dry climate of the Middle East comes from cisterns. Water that has collected and then been stored away from sun light to prevent evaporation, but also water that is stagnant, tends to lose some of its oxygen content. Cistern water will do when fresh water is unavailable, but living water is full of life.
SLIDE 8: CAESAREA PHILIPPI – LIVING WATER
When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” he took them to Caesarea Philippi, the most important source of living water in all of Israel. Here the snow melt from Mt. Hermon the highest mountain in the region bubbles up out of the ground in several locations forming the Springs that come together to form the Jordan River the life blood of Israel — God’s sustaining presence in the life of the Promised Land. John the Baptist called his followers to prepare for the coming of the Anointed One by being baptized in the waters of the Jordan. When Jesus came up out of the water of the Jordan he received his commission as Messiah from the Holy Spirit. And Jesus promises us if we follow the way of life and love, like Moses and the Children of Israel God will sustain us on the journey of faith.
SLIDE 9: FAITH IS A JOURNEY NOT A DESTINATION
Faith is a journey and not a destination. Too often the church has treated belief in creeds and formularies as the object of faith a final destination. Just subscribe to this statement of beliefs and you will be saved. And by the way if you don’t subscribe to this doctrinal formula we will exclude you and persecute you – torture you if necessary until you agree to worship and believe the way we do.
SLIDE 10: PASTOR JOHN ROBINSON
Traditional dogma is the opposite of freedom. That is why at United Church we affirm Pastor John Robinson’s exhortation to the Pilgrim congregation as they left for the new world:
“I charge you before God and his blessed angels that you follow me no further than you have seen me follow Christ. If God reveal anything to you by any other instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as you were to receive any truth from my ministry, for I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth from His holy word.
“The Lutherans” he went on to comment, “cannot be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw. Whatever part of His will our God has revealed to Calvin, they (the Lutherans) will rather die than embrace it; and the Calvinists, you see, stick fast where they were left by that great man of God, who yet saw not all things. This is a misery much to be lamented.”
SLIDE 11: GOD IS STILL SPEAKING
The Lord hath yet more truth and light to break forth from his word is the basis of our United Church of Christ Still Speaking Campaign. We must keep open minds and open hearts in order to invite everyone to the Sharing Table of Jesus. We are not chained to a literal reading of the words of scripture. We are not confined by the boundaries of dogmas formulated hundreds of years ago. Our tradition is fluid, flexible, even expansive opening up to include as many people who want to come.
SLIDE 12: BLESSED TO BE A BLESSING
Our stewardship theme this fall is “Blessed to Be a Blessing.” On October 12th we will celebrate United Church, because as a progressive congregation of the United Church of Christ we have been a blessing of tolerance, acceptance and diversity in the Tennessee Valley. God has called us to be living water for the spirit of Huntsville.
SLIDE 13: DISCOURAGEMENT
Even though we are called to be a blessing, sometimes we become discouraged. I become discouraged. If only I was a better preacher or more charismatic, or more extroverted maybe then the church might grow. So I am reminded of a peanuts cartoon.
“Discouraged again, eh, Charlie Brown? You know what your trouble is? The whole trouble with you is that you’re YOU!”
“Well, what in the world can I do about that?”
“I don’t pretend to be able to give advice. . . . I merely point out the trouble.”
SLIDE 14: IF WE WERE ALL THE SAME THERE WOULD BE NO NEED FOR YOU
It is discouraging, because like it or not we are ourselves. Or as Bill Tucker likes to point out, “If we were all the same, there would be no need for you.” That is why we have to go to such great lengths to welcome everyone to the Sharing Table, accept everyone, love everyone. Despite the difficulty of accommodating a wide diversity of personalities, personal beliefs, races, sexual orientations, social classes and opinions from a multitude of perspectives, we need to learn to love each other. We don’t have to like one another, but we have to love and respect each other. You must be free to be you, and I? Well I am who I am whether Lucy or anyone else likes me or not.
SLIDE 15: GOD’S SUSTAINING PRESENCE GOES WITH US
So this morning allow me to reiterate the great truth that God’s sustaining presence will go with us even into the wilderness of the future. I know people become anxious. The sky is falling! How will the church survive? We are not called to survive. We are called to thrive. We are called by God to be a source of living water in the Tennessee Valley, a progressive Open and Affirming congregation in the South. If we are faithful to our calling God will make us a source of living water.
SLIDE 16: NOTHING CAN SEPARATE US FROM THE LOVE OF GOD
On a personal level I also believe that God’s sustaining presence goes with us always. I don’t know what all that means, but I am called to trust like the Children of Israel in the wilderness that God will not abandon us even in death. Or as the Apostle Paul affirms not death, nor life, nor angels, nor the past or the future, nor principalities, not even the Roman Empire will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
SLIDE 17: TARGETING
The other day I was marveling that in June I will observe the 40th anniversary of my ordination. In a culture in which 80% of a seminary’s graduating class is no longer in parish ministry after the first 5 years, maybe 40 years represents an accomplishment. And believe me, some of those 40 years have been difficult. I have noted that in college football there is a new penalty for an infraction they are calling “targeting.” That is when an opposing player hits a defenseless player, meaning from the blind side, in the head or neck. There have been times in my ministry, when I wish there had been a referee, who could throw a penalty flag for targeting the pastor. But through 40 years of parish ministry God has not abandoned me yet. And so I think if God has brought me safe thus far, do I really think God will abandon me in death? I think not. God’s sustaining presence is with us always.
SLIDE 18: FOR ALL I KNOW THIS IS THE ROAD HOMEWARD
And so I come back to a poem I wrote a long time ago, when I could not possibly understand the deep wisdom that was revealed to me in that inspiration.
“The hair runs grey now time has streaked
With winter white,
The brow relaxed from tempest,
And storm subsides all energy released—for nothing.
The world turns ever; the grasses sway
For breeze of tempest lost.
The sun wanes and rises, wanes again
No rage can halt the revolution of the light.
No waters can wash the soil of age.
But nothing never ceases; fear of loss
Is child’s embrace, that wrinkles ease
And years decrease.
Steps bring journey always closer to the end.
A path I do not fear, for all I know
This is the road—homeward.”
Tensions in the Wilderness
SLIDE 3: WE LIKE TO COMPLAIN ABOUT LEADERSHIP
People are always complaining. And they like to complain most about leadership. Whatever is happening something isn’t right or the way they want it and it is the fault of leadership. Save people from slavery and bondage and they complain of hunger and thirst, never trusting that God will provide enough. I don’t know if the Exodus narrative is absolutely factual, but it is certainly true. “Moses, we don’t have enough to eat. Moses, we don’t have enough to drink. Moses this freedom thing is just too hard.”
SLIDE 4: FREE BUT LOST ON THE WAY
As Bill Tucker likes to say, “Establishing blame is the first criteria for working on a problem. It’s your fault!” In so many ways the followers of Jesus are like the children of Israel trudging through the wilderness. In the words of the prayer of confession this morning: We are driven by dreams, hungry for faith, lonely with doubt, a mingling of saint and sinner, free but lost on the way. Like the Israelites in the wilderness we are free, but lost on the way.
SLIDE 5: STRUGGLING FOR A VISION OF THE FUTURE
We are struggling for a vision of the future, and we cannot see the way forward clearly. In all directions we see wilderness and we are afraid we do not have the resources to survive. In our desperation we want to blame one another. How did we get here? Life was good back then and over there, but we cannot go back to the past. We cannot go back to Egypt.
SLIDE 6: YOUR PROMISED LAND MIGHT NOT BE MY PROMISED LAND
So here we are like it or not in the present moment seeking a way through the wilderness of uncertainty, in what seems like an alien and changing culture, and I believe the example of Moses and the children of Israel in the their wandering in the desert can give us some clues how to find a way forward. First, let us be honest and acknowledge that there are tensions, when a group tries to find its way forward in uncertain times. If we were only responsible for ourselves, and all we need do is choose a direction and go that way, we would eventually arrive somewhere. But when we are traveling in community, inevitably there is more than one opinion about the way we should go, and we may not have agreement about where we ought to end up. Your promised land may not be my promised land.
SLIDE 7: WE MIGHT NOT AGREE ON THE ROUTE
Even if we could agree on the final destination, we might not concur upon the route. You might want a more expeditious road, while I prefer a more scenic path, or your appetite for risk may go way beyond my threshold for caution. Also the more people we include in the caravan the more differing needs and opinions will become factored into planning our itinerary. A dozen people all pointing in different directions is likely to lead to paralysis.
SLIDE 8: EMPOWER LEADERSHIP OR STAND STILL
Empowering leadership is important in order to avoid standing still. Followership is every bit as important as leadership. If we follow an “every person for him or herself” strategy, then the group will not survive. One of the great challenges of diversity and freedom is whether or not a truly diverse and autonomous collection of people can even become a community.
SLIDE 9: GIVING UP AUTONOMY TO INVEST IN COMMUNITY
So the first tension we must resolve in the wilderness is whether or not we can find enough people willing to give up some of their autonomy to invest in community. The people of Israel took forty years of wandering in the wilderness to resolve that issue. In the desert, the cowards never started and the weak died along the way. In seeking to become the people of God the egotistical never start and the self-centered die off on the journey to community. The Body of Christ is an investment of self in order to follow the way of Jesus, unless we lose ourselves we will never become the community of faith.
SLIDE 10: GUIDED BY PRAYER
The second tension in finding our way through the wilderness is we must allow ourselves to be guided by prayer. The more we trust our own wisdom. The more we assume we are the smartest people on the planet, the more we will become lost in the wilderness. God knows the way. Prayer can open our eyes to see God’s way, when there seems to be no way.
As a community of faith we must devote ourselves to prayer. How often? Every day. How long? At least thirty minutes. Only when we take time out of our busy schedules and open ourselves to our connection with the divine can we be led by a wisdom beyond ourselves. We also need to pray in community in worship, and also before every meeting and event. We need to constantly remind ourselves that God is God and we are not. Our way forward will come from divine inspiration.
SLIDE 11: TRUST GOD FOR THE RESOURCES
Our third tension in our journey through the wilderness is learning to trust God for guidance and resources. Suppose we pray and don’t immediately receive any insight? We have to be willing to trust that if we continue in prayer the inspiration will come. We also have to trust God for the resources we need to accomplish our mission.
SLIDE 12: GETTING ALONG ON GOD’S ENOUGH
Over and over again I hear people say, “We have to run the church like a business.” But the community of faith is not our business, it is God’s enterprise. And we have to learn to trust that if God is in it, God will provide. Like the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness who were given quail and manna, we have to trust that God will provide for our needs. Of course that means we have to adjust our expectations to learn to get along with God’s enough. We pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” But we assume that is not enough and we want tomorrow’s bread, and next week’s bread, and next year’s bread in reserve. We want money in the bank and a cushion besides, while Jesus is saying to us: “Consider the birds, how God feeds them, or the lilies of the field, how God robes them in splendor, and who among us can add even a cubit to our span of life by worrying?”
If we are about the mission God has given us, to be a blessing to all the earth, then the resources to make that happen will be provided. Again, like manna no more than we need. Remember from our scripture: “Gather the manna, every one of you, as much as you can eat; you shall take an omer apiece, according to the number of the persons whom each of you has in your tent. And the people of Israel did so; they gathered, some more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, the person who gathered much had nothing over, and the one who gathered little had no lack.” Trust God to provide enough and learn to be content with God’s “enough.”
SLIDE 13: THE ONE WHO DIES WITH THE MOST STUFF
The truth is most of us need a little less “enough.” We eat too much and we have too much stuff. I am reminded of the picture of the treasures of King Tut’s tomb with the caption: “The one who dies with the most stuff wins.” Once we are dead, stuff doesn’t mean very much. Sort of like the wisdom Rabbi Ballon imparted to me before he died. “When I was young, I had more time than money. Now I have more money than time.”
SLIDE 14: TWO ROADS DIVERGED IN A YELLOW WOOD
That brings me to the fourth tension on the journey through the wilderness, considering the road less traveled in Robert Frost’s poem:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
SLIDE 15: WAY OF FAITH TENDS TO BE THE LESS TRAVELED BY
Frost wisely leaves it up to our imaginations the meaning of the two roads and what difference the choice has made. I believe the message for congregations is that our life as a faith community is made up of thousands of choices people make individually and corporately. Sometimes we are not even aware of making choices. The way of faith tends to be less traveled by. As a diverse collection of people we are challenged to make the decision give up some of our autonomy to invest in community. The path less traveled by is not the road back to Egypt, but the way through the wilderness. The way of tension living on the edge of enough — praying, gathering manna and moving forward even when we cannot fully see the way ahead. For God has called us to be a blessing here in the Tennessee Valley a progressive congregation sharing the vision of diversity, where everyone is welcome at the Sharing Table of Jesus.
Road to Freedom
SLIDE 3: ROAD TO FREEDOM
The Road to Freedom is often a perilous and twisting trail. God asked Moses, “why are you crying to me?” as if the way forward was obvious. Maybe it was. Maybe the east wind had opened a soggy but passable way through the marsh, and all the people and their leader needed was a little courage to move forward. Often churches are like that, all we need is a little courage and faith to move forward. If we are looking for a red carpet to show us the way forward, we may be very disappointed.
SLIDE 4: COURAGE TO CHANGE
Courage is so often in short supply – especially courage to change. We often remain stuck, because we are afraid to venture out to take the risks of something new. As much as we may hate our situation, our slavery, at least, is familiar. So we often settle for chains rather than wings.
SLIDE 5: RAMESSES IN THE CAIRO MUSEUM
The Israelites were forever trying to shake off Egyptian rule. Even fleeing across the Red Sea, leaving Egypt did not guarantee they would throw off the rule of Pharaoh. When I made the journey to Egypt and Israel with Rabbi Ballon, I suddenly realized the extent to which the Promised Land had been occupied by Egypt. When we visited the garden of the Cairo Museum I took this picture of a statue of Ramesses the Great.
SLIDE 6: RAMESSES IN BEIT SHEAN
Then when we our group visited Beit Shean the ancient City that dominated the intersection of the Jezreel Valley and the Jordan River Valley I found another statue of Ramesses the Great in the remains of the house of the Egyptian Governor. Sometimes in the history of Israel going down to Egypt simply meant making the journey from the mountain tops down into the valleys.
The Road to Freedom is always more difficult that we first think. In subsequent weeks we will consider the stories of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness and their complaining that freedom was too hard. “Oh Moses, we don’t have enough to drink. Moses we don’t have enough to eat. Moses this freedom thing is just too hard.” Sort of like kids who declare their independence and then realize how hard it is to go to a job day after day and maintain their own living space.
SLIDE 7: DON’T MISS THE MIRACLE
And somewhere on the Road to Freedom, if we are not careful we will miss the miracle of God’s presence. There is a story of two Israelites who walked through the midst of the Red Sea looking down at their feet complaining they were getting their feet muddy. Surely someone could have found a better path. Their sandals were being ruined by all of that mud, and they never noticed the miracle of their escape, because they were so focused on the difficulty of the path.
How many times do we complain, “Oh God, why is life so difficult!” and we are missing the miracle of life itself. If we expect that life should be easy, we will miss the miracle of God’s sustaining love.
SLIDE 8: THE EGYPTIANS ARE MY CHILDREN TOO
There is also an old Midrash that describes the scene in heaven, when the last Israelite finally reached the opposite shore and then the waters returned covering the Egyptian chariots stuck in the mud drowning the horses and their drivers weighed down by their armor. One of the angels asked God, if the heavenly trumpeters should blow a fanfare of victory. And God replied, “No, no celebration today, for now I must mourn for my children the Egyptians. They are my children too.”
SLIDE 9: COURAGE IN THE MAKING OF MIRACLES
There is another Midrash that speaks of the necessity of our courage in the making of miracles. When Moses stretched forth his hands to part the waters, at first nothing happened. The people murmured and held back for fear of being drowned. Then a member of the tribe of Judah named Hur stepped into the water and waded up to his knees, but nothing happened. Then he proceeded up to his waist, but still the waters swirled around him. When the water reached up to his neck the people on shore were afraid he would drown. And it wasn’t until the water reached poor Hur’s nose the sea parted making a path for the Israelites to pass through to the other side. So, our courage and faith in addition to God’s action make the miracle happen.
SLIDE 10: LONG ROAD TO FREEDOM
The story of the Passover and the Exodus is the saga of the long road to freedom for humankind. Something happened to us, when we began the practice of agriculture. Pretty soon we had developed the notion of property and ownership, and the accumulation of goods and wealth. And then we discovered power, the power to take the property, the goods and wealth of others. The power to hold on to property, and goods and wealth and power itself. And within a few thousand years we had invented Empire – the power to consolidate and control vast amounts of land and people to exploit for the benefit of a relative few. The enslavement of a majority of people for the benefit of the elite. The demotion of women to the status of property. The use of power and intimidation to control others. We humans have been on a long road to freedom.
SLIDE 11: MIRACULOUS STRIDES ON THE ROAD TO FREEDOM
In the late 20th century and early 21st century we have witnessed almost miraculous strides on the road to freedom. The Civil Rights movement in the United States sought to end second class citizenship and exploitation on the basis of race. The Feminist Movement has sought to end discrimination on the basis of sex, empowering women to seek their own destinies and change the world. Who would have dreamed the Soviet Empire would fall apart, or that apartheid in South Africa would end without a blood bath. And now almost overnight it seems the GLBT community is overcoming the barriers of discrimination.
SLIDE 12: SET BACKS
Sometimes it seems like for every step forward, however, we suffer setbacks. A resurgent Russia seems to be trying to pull together the remnants of Empire. Islamic Fundamentalism is threatening the peace of the whole world. Even despite the passage of Civil Rights legislation, school desegregation in much of the nation is still stalled and African America teenagers are at ever greater risk. Income inequalities are growing throughout the world and even in our own country the wealth gap is growing. And with money playing an ever greater role in our political system the strength of our democracy is undermined. The road to freedom is long and difficult.
SLIDE 13: LOVE WINS EVEN OVER DEATH
The story of the Passover is the reminder that God does not abandon us to oppression. God remembers the people calls and sends leaders to bring them to freedom. Jesus incorporated the theme of the Exodus in his Last Supper with his disciples. When you gather at the Sharing Table in the future, remember me, and I will give you the courage, the faith the spiritual energy to change the world. When you break the bread and remember me you will know that love wins. Love wins even over death.
SLIDE 14: LITTLE PEOPLE CAN MAKE GREAT DIFFERENCES
Jesus calls us to make a difference in the world to push on down that freedom road. And don’t worry that God hasn’t called you to be a Moses, or a Gandhi, or a Martin Luther King, or a Nelson Mandela. God doesn’t always work through obvious leaders. Who would have chosen a bunch of Galilean fishermen to start a revolution? A poor peasant girl, Joan of Arc changed the face of Europe. An obscure monk in Wittenberg just wanted to discuss his ideas and ended up challenging an all powerful church. A poor seamstress, Rosa Parks, sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, because she was just tired. Little people like us can make great differences if we have a little faith and courage.
SLIDE 15: PERSEVERENCE IN THE FACE OF DISCOURAGMENT
On the Road to Freedom we also need perseverance in the face of discouragement. A number people have mentioned to me recently their sense of discouragement, because of what they perceive as a lack of progress and growth in the life of the church. Indeed, I experience discouragement. But think of Nelson Mandela 27 years in prison. Talk about discouragement. Or consider Martin Luther King or Gandhi both assassinated right when they were nearing success. God does not guarantee that any of us will arrive in the Promised Land. Like Moses and Martin Luther King we may have to be content with the view from the Mountain Top.
SLIDE 16: COMPLAINING IS ONLY A WASTE OF STRENGTH
Dr. Albert Schweitzer addressed this problem of courage and perseverance in the face of adversity. “Anyone who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll stones out of his way, but must accept his lot calmly if they even roll a few more upon it. A strength which becomes clearer and stronger through its experience of such obstacles is the only strength that can conquer them. Complaining is only a waste of strength. Not one of us knows what effect his life produces, and what he gives to others; that is hidden from us and must remain so, though we are often allowed to see some little fraction of it, so that we may not lose courage.”
So if we become discouraged on the Road to Freedom remember to take heart. None of us has had to endure prison for 27 years, nor have any of us sitting here today suffered assassination. And none of us knows the full affect our contributions have made. Complaining is only a waste of strength.
SLIDE 17: SOME SMALL PART TO PLAY
Each of us has some small part to play on the Road to Freedom. The way of Jesus is not marked by a red carpet. Rather we follow Jesus by taking one small step at a time in caring for others. So allow me to close with this admonition from Paul’s letter to the Colossians:
We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul — not the grim determination of gritting your teeth but the glory-filled power God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking God who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful God has for us.
How Many Times Do I Have to Forgive?
SLIDE 3: HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO FORGIVE?
Last Sunday we explored Paul’s admonition not to seek revenge but to love instead. Return no one evil for evil. This morning we examine Peter’s question of Jesus, “How many times do I have to forgive, as many as seven times?”
In order to appreciate Peter’s question we need to understand that several of the rabbis in the First Century had worked out a consensus about the question of forgiveness. They claimed a good Jew was obligated to forgive their neighbor three times for any particular wrong doing. First time, maybe they weren’t aware of what they had done. Second time, they forgot or were careless. Third time was going the extra mile, but after three times for the same offense there was no obligation to forgive. So when Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Is seven times enough?” He was more than doubling the consensus of the rabbis.
SLIDE 4: LOVE KEEPS NO RECORD OF WRONGS
I suspect the meaning of Jesus’ answer was that love does not keep count of the trespasses. This past week Beth and I celebrated our thirty-seventh wedding anniversary, and I am reminded of a comment of a colleague of mine, that any couple who has been married for a whole year has grounds for divorce. Long term relationships, whether friendships or marriages, work relationships or membership in a community cannot be sustained without forgiveness. We make too many blunders, too many errors in judgment, too many mistakes of commission and omission. We are human.
SLIDE 5: HEALTHY BOUNDARIES
Now at the same time we talk about forgiving one another, when we mess up, Jesus does not want us to serve as anyone else’s door mat, or punching bag, or enabler. Jesus asks us to forgive one another, and he also encourages us to establish healthy boundaries in our relationships.
SLIDE 6: MENDING WALL
As I think about establishing limits in relationship I am reminded of Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall,” published 100 years ago:
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
SLIDE 7: BARRIERS TO RELATIONSHIP
In part the poem laments barriers to relationship. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. . . There where it is we do not need the wall: He is all pine and I am apple orchard. My apple trees will never get across and eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. He only says, “God fences make good neighbors.”
SLIDE 8: INTROVERTS NEED MORE SPACE
As an introvert I am aware that I have missed opportunities for friendship, because my barriers to relationship have probably been too high. But I have to be who I am and honor my needs for alone time – or as our granddaughter calls it “Sophie time.” In order to be the people God created us to be we need to be able to establish healthy limits in relationships. So let’s take a few minutes and talk about healthy boundaries.
SLIDE 9: LOVE AND RESPECT YOURSELF
First, let us recognize that healthy boundaries are a form of self-care. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And in order to love ourselves we have to respect and take care of ourselves. We cannot love anyone else if we do not nurture ourselves. Now let me make a confession. I have been a people pleaser all of my life. I want people to like me and appreciate me. But that has always left me open to being taken advantage. Other people want to define who you should be and how you should serve them. Their needs should come first all the time. And in the flurry of activity to take care of everyone else I often lose track of who I am and my needs.
SLIDE 10: RELATIONSHIPS BASED UPON EXPLOITATION OR MANIPULATION ARE NOT WORTH HAVING
That is one set of boundaries, being able to say no, and appropriately taking care of self. Unhealthy people in our lives will try to make us feel guilty for taking care of ourselves rather than their every need. They may threaten not to like us or go away mad or withhold approval. If we give in to those kinds of threats, we will only become miserable and resentful, and once resentment grows the relationship soon becomes worthless. Relationships based upon exploitation or manipulation are not worth having.
SLIDE 11: KNOWING OUR LIMITS
So how do we set healthy boundaries? First, we can think about and establish in our own minds what are our limits. As much as possible we can identify our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits. That way we don’t get run over by a truck and then cluelessly wonder what happened.
SLIDE 12: PAY ATTENTION TO FEELINGS
Second, we can pay attention to our feelings. When something doesn’t feel right in a meeting, a relationship, an encounter, ask, “What’s going on here that I don’t feel O.K. about?” We can trust our gut enough to at least question what is going on. Maybe it is nothing. Maybe the problem is us. Maybe we need to talk it over with a good spiritual friend to get perspective. But like the old saying says, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.”
SLIDE 13: DIRECT AND CLEAR ABOUT LIMITS
Third, we can be direct and clear cut with other people about our limits. If we can communicate boundaries in advance we have a better chance of avoiding anger that may cloud the issues. We don’t want to end up in an argument about whether or not our needs are valid.
When someone crosses the line we can communicate clearly assertively in the present moment that we object to what they have done. If we wait three months and only communicate after they have crossed the line ten times, well closing the barn door after the horse is out is not every effective. Pre-emptive communication is better than damage control.
SLIDE 14: AGGRESSIVE OR ASSERTIVE?
Of course there can be a fine line between assertive and aggressive. When we were staying in a motel on St. George’s Island there were notes all over the room, and as Beth noted, every single note was a negative, not a positive one in the bunch. Not even a have a nice day. I mean who would want to book a return to a place like that. It reminds me of some other notes and notices I have seen.
SLIDE 15: JESUS IS WATCHING
SLIDE 16: AGGRESSIVE RATHER THAN ASSERTIVE
SLIDE 17: SETTING BOUNDARIES IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY
Healthy boundaries make good neighbors. Setting boundaries is our responsibility, we cannot expect other people to intuit our limits. But once we have established limits, if someone continually oversteps the bounds, we may have to limit relationship. In some cases sad though it is we may have to walk away. Walking away from toxic relationships, however, does not prevent forgiveness. How many times must we forgive?
SLIDE 18: WE FORGIVE SO WE MIGHT EXPERIENCE PEACE AND HEALING
Well, we don’t forgive for the sake of the other person. We forgive for our own spiritual welfare. We do not forgive because someone deserves our forgiveness, but so that we might have peace and healing.
SLIDE 10: GOOD BOUNDARIES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. . .
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”