Plastic Bags

Plastic Bagsplastic bags

Walking our dog after the rain had swept through I noticed, caught in the shrubs along the drainage ditch plastic shopping bags caught in their branches.  Looking more closely I realized that most of them had been there for some time, dirty, tattered, deteriorating from sun, mud, wind and rain.  They have no value.

Later in the day after paying for my purchase the sales clerk placed in another plastic bag not unlike those along the ditch back. That bag placed on the seat of my car continued to serve a purpose.  That bag contained something important and was needed until the contents were safely home.

With a new year has come the ever renewed resolution to take better care of our bodies.  In some ways our bodies are like those plastic bags.  Their real value is not in the bag but in what they contain.  Our bodies are NOT us.  Our bodies DO serve the purpose of containing “us”, holding us, keeping us alive in this world and able to do what we were put here to do.

Sooner or later, these bodies fulfill their responsibility and are set aside.  We call this death, passing away, or just “passing”.  We may spend a moment looking at them but then they begin the same journey as those abandoned bags along the bank.

Resolutions to work on our bodies are important.  But infinitely more important is the care of our souls, the contents of “the bag”.  Feed the body.  Feed the soul.

Drug Resistant Diseases and Hardness of Heart

Drug Resistant Diseases and Hardness of Heart

When I go to the hospital, that place built for healing, I am always particularly careful to wash my hands and use those hand cleaning wall dispensers that are everywhere. I do this because we know that some of the most lethal and drug resistant diseases can be caught in the hospital. This happens because they have been “almost cured” but because they were not completely killed they have developed resistance to the drugs meant to kill them.

Over the years I have observed in the church that in many cases those least likely to respond to the “Good News”, or least likely to respond to a new way of thinking or acting or understanding of Scripture are those who have been a member of the church the greatest number of years.

The correlation here is this. If we are in the church and are hearing God’s Truth through pastors, teachers, endless devotionals and Sunday School lessons but we do not respond to those teachings by surrendering our will or by allowing the Spirit of God to search our heart, try us and prove us or as Psalm 139:23-24 puts it, “Investigate my life, O God, find out everything ab out me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong – then guide me on the road to eternal life” (The Message) the same thing happens to us.

We can be exposed to enough Truth from God to bring us to a place of conviction about what we must do or stop doing. But if we resist that ‘nudge’ by the Spirit within us, we become a little more ‘Truth resistant”. Little by little, year by year our hearts can get to the place where we are no longer able to be convicted by the Spirit of God.

Then what can happen is that when some young and teachable person comes alongside those whose hearts have become hardened, those subtle ways of resisting God’s movement in our hearts may be learned, even without realizing it. After a few years, we become immersed in the ‘culture’ of such a church, becoming ever more resistant.

These churches, like the hospital is meant for physical healing, are meant to be a place where we find forgiveness, healing for our damaged emotions, a vibrant relationship with God and others. But those very places meant for healing may be transformed to a place where someone is least likely to know God or be reconciled with others. This is perhaps the greatest of all tragedies.

But this does not need to be the case. I read today in Mark’s gospel where Jesus cast out those well meaning, misguided busybodies and raised a little girl from death! Today, in many of our places built for spiritual healing, no less miracle is needed!

An Old Crumpled Map

An Old Crumpled Map

I remember the ‘good old days’ of crumpled maps and highlighters guiding us along the highway toward our desired destination.
One Sunday morning, my very first Sunday serving a new appointment in a rural church, I found myself lost on my way to my first sermon at the first of three churches and three sermons that day. My confusion arose from the fact that I could not find my current location on the crumpled map in my hands. Though I had been to the church I was following a different route I was assured was faster and better. However, with each passing moment my anxiety grew as the appointed time approached! Joyfully, a member of the church, recalling that their directions were inaccurate and concerned that my following them would never bring me there arrived and led me from there to the church just in time!
Reading Scripture this morning and thinking of the spiritual condition of our modern ailing church I wonder why a similar sense of alarm at being lost does not resound resulting in heartfelt pleas for direction and guidance.
Thinking back to that time of being lost, my anxiety was driven by the fact that I knew what the area around the church should look like and what I was seeing was nothing like it at all!
Rather than take an honest gaze at where we are as a church or as individuals we would rather have a ‘virtual’ picture of our own creation. In this fantasized view of who we are and where we are we are able to add and subtract our own impressions of our spiritual ‘location’ so that we no longer feel ‘lost’? The result of this is that no matter what our actual spiritual ‘location’ is we can feel that we are not lost at all! This is indeed the worst of all positions. Had I not known I was lost, I would have been unwilling to follow someone who understood where we were and where we needed to be. In humility I focused on the back of her car and determined not to turn or stop until she did. The result was that my anxious thoughts were replaced with true joy and peace as I saw the church and knew we had arrived.
Today we have abandoned the ‘roadmap’ of Scripture. Today we have replaced the images of what our spiritual ‘location’ should resemble; the lives of Jesus, the Apostles, intrepid pilgrims before us in favor of more ‘modern’ models. Our current mental portraits of what our spiritual location should look like are shaped by money, things, budgets, popularity, in short… our culture.
Because we are gazing at the wrong picture and we are following the wrong map we no longer feel lost. On that Sunday morning so long ago, no amount of fantasizing or wishing could have changed my lostness. Only with an understanding of the reality of my lostness and humbly following someone who knew more than I would bring me to my desired destination.
Lord help us to become honest. Grant us humility to admit that we are wrong. Grant us a willingness to lay down our crumpled cultural maps and pick up Your Divinely inspired Map. As we read of our lostness grant to us a willing mind and heart to abandon our own misguided sense of direction and follow Your Spirit whom You have sent to safely guide us home from whatever corner of this fallen world we have hung our hope. Amen.