Saturday, August 16, 2014

Carpe Diem!

Of all the Robin Williams quotes being bounced around, my favorite (that doesn't involve sexual organs) comes from Dead Poets Society. William's character inspires his students to "seize the day" by saying: "No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world." Its funny, today we almost take such a statement for granted, its a bit of a cliche. Well... duh. The ideas that come from the heart need to be shared and maybe, just maybe, what we communicate can impact others. Suddenly a chain begins, and if there is truth to be found in those words and ideas the entire course of history can change forever.

For most of human history, Robin Williams' statement about the power of words has not been embraced. Instead, people have mostly sought to do what they were told and out of fear, keep their innovative thoughts to themselves. This was the reality Jesus encountered when he pushed the boundaries of faith and challenged people to see things in a whole new way. Jesus often taught others that genuine faith would produce actions that were actually the opposite of what they expected.

For instance, generations of people had been taught to obey God by obeying God's law. Over time that law became a list of many different rules and regulations to be obeyed at all costs. More then just the Ten Commandments, they were rules about where you could go and what you could eat... they were rules about people who were clean and unclean and processes were created to get yourself clean. They were rules that began to oppress the people and cloud the truth about what God expected from us. Jesus cleared the air about God's love for us and revealed that God desires our hearts. Hearts centered on God will be hearts that reflect his love and compassion.

Therefore, Jesus teaches us that unclean food doesn't defile, nor do messy fingers. Words are what can defile because words will reveal what's truly in the heart. If one's words are poison, so too would you find a heart that was polluted.  If one's words were contemptuous, so too would you find a heart shackled in selfish fear without the liberating air of faith.  Oh yes, words will change the world and Jesus' words continue to change the world as disciples build the Kingdom through hearts and words that express radical love, forgiveness and hope.

Matthew then does something really cool in this chapter. Immediately, this teaching of Jesus is followed by a fascinating story about Jesus' encounter with a foreign, gentile, unclean, Canaanite woman. Coming to Jesus with a request of healing for her daughter, Jesus' words do not reflect a heart of compassion at all. "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." It is sarcastic. It is dividing. It is closed minded and our understanding of what Christ teaches us needs to call it unchristian.

I could go all day unpacking those words and interpreting their purpose. But instead I want to look and focus on the words, actions and heart of the Canaanite woman. There is power in her faith-filled words... and they do change the world. "Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Her words come from a heart of faith. They are free of poison. They are un-defiled words. She is clean after all. She is an example, for all time.

God desires for us and all people to live in the joy and freedom that comes from possessing clean hearts. Through baptism your hearts have been cleansed and through the Holy Spirit you are able to live your life in such a way that your actions and words and deeds become a reflection of what God has done for you. Life in Christ is not about following rules that chain us to misery, but following Our Lord who allows to live with love and compassion as our defining traits.

Like so many, I'm saddened when I think about how many times Robin Williams made me laugh and how in the end he was chained to the dark shadows that seek to cloud the bright lights of hope. His work and words to endure. Many of those words I cannot share with you. But some... some do point to what Jesus has revealed to us about the Kingdom. Words... your words... will change the world.  May all of your words and your actions reflect that divine love God has given to you through Jesus, his sacrifice and his enduring hope.

Carpe Diem! Seize the day. Make your lives and words extraordinary.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

From Everlasting to Everlasting

Lord, you have been our help, generation after generation. Before the mountains were born, before you birthed the earth and the inhabited world - from forever in the past to forever in the future, you are God. (Psalm 90:1-2)

Time, like an ever rolling stream, bears all its sons away;
They fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day. 
(Isaac Watts, from "Our God, Our Help in Ages Past")

The movie director Richard Linklater has done some amazing things connecting film, the human experience and time. His Before Sunset trilogy, which looks at the lives of two people, are each made a decade apart. The movies follow small slivers of their lives as they age, make mistakes, and search for meaning. These are characters who just happen to be exactly my age. In the lines of their faces and the gray touches in their hair and his goatee I cannot help by see myself.

Linklater has gone another step melding time and the human experience with his latest film Boyhood. In one picture he has followed the life of an American family, filming over the course of thirteen years. Together, we follow the "boy" as he moves from six to eighteen and witness his physical changes as his soul matures.  We see the parents age and can relate... because time has moved us down that ever rolling stream as well.

Scripture reminds us that as time marches on, God remains constant. Psalm 90 poetically paints the picture for us. Speaking toward God, the author observes: because in your perspective a thousand years are like yesterday past, like a short period during the night watch (v.4). We get so caught up in the drama of our day or week we forget how we play just a small part of a much bigger story. For some, a little perspective can weigh us down. I'm sure that many come out of Linklater's movies asking what's its all about and why does anything matter?

Faith's perspective, however, is liberating and not a weight upon us. Knowing the infinite God who has been revealed to us in Christ, frees us from the minutia of the tick-tock-constant worries and dreads of life and opens our eyes to the Kingdom of God which is at hand. Our walk in faith, our spiritual exercises of worship and prayer, generosity and compassion, give us wisdom that allows all of our moments to matter.

Teach us to number our days so we can have a wise heart. (Psalm 90:12)

As we move into the busyness of fall, don't drown in the ever rolling stream. Christ has given us the life-raft of faith. Upon this sailing vessel we can rest assured and wisely live as the people God created us to be.