James 3: 1-12
Steve Garnaas Holmes, www.unfoldinglight.net … [What} St. Paul calls “the flesh”…. doesn't mean our body; he means something even smaller, contained within our body, limited by our fears and appetites. But we aren't such little “selves.” We are part of something infinite. By the life of Holy Spirit in us we are members of the infinite Body of God, who dwells in us and we in God. ……..To “deny ourselves” is to deny whatever fears keep us from loving fully. It is let go of our self-centeredness, to say no the illusion, to transcend our ego, to abandon our little skull-caged, death-leashed bit of fear and desire and instead become the infinitely alive and loving children of God we truly are. As those who embody God's love we give of our lives for love; we are not afraid even of death, because we trust that with love and grace God overabundantly renews life in us. So we follow Jesus out of our selves and into infinite life: without fear we take up our cross, practice compassionate self-giving and join Jesus in loving the world into its newness.
Its not surprising that my “self” so often feels very small.
Our lives are ever more broken down into little bits. Maybe it’s the natural outgrowth of the industrial revolution. When every second counts, for efficiency’s sake, and measurements can now be taken in angstroms, 10 miliion ties smaller tha a millimeter.
We record our lives in little bits- pixels and code.
The new version of the i-phone 6 previewed this week, to great excitement, will snap images in 12 megapixels. I can remember being thrilled with my new camera that snapped shots at 4 megapixels.
Small has never been so big!
Digitally preserved moments
But what does it all mean?
Little bits, images and texts, of our lives are floating somehow in a cloud, that’s not a cloud. It empowers us and also makes us vulnerable, as we saw across Central Maine this week with intimate selfies being hijacked and displayed on a hackers webpage. Or the recent exposure of an extensive on line network designed for cheating on one’s partner.
Its tempting to have just one more little ….
Cup of caffeine
page of porn,
shopping trip….. whatever my addiction is. What ever creates a buffer that feels like it protects my little self.
A little can go a long way.
A little yes
A little no.
What does it all mean?
I think it means that the horizon has never been so important.
Did you ever spend a summer day as a child, or with a child, carefully constructing a little paper boat, or maybe it was leaves and sticks, to float on your neighborhood pond? Its possible to loose track of time completely as you puff a little wind into the sales, sending the boat on a meandering course. There was always one in the group, though, who knew where they wanted their boat to go, who found a point on the horizon and did their best to marshal their craft, puffing purposefully, sometimes resorting to a stick.
When we lose track of the horizon in daily interaction with other people,
our words sometimes fly like random shrapnel.
One of my friends, a writer, librarian, and linguist's daughter, once told a group of teens who were becoming careless about what words they dropped and where, about her best remembered lesson in language. She had reached that age, around 11 or 12, when our sense of self stretches to try to fit the world we are discovering around us. One day, picking up a phone call from a friend, she stretched the cord (remember those?) around the corner in search of the privacy a tween must have when talking on the phone to a friend. Her father, reading in his rocking chair in the kitchen, could hear every word. But she was under an illusion of privacy. Midway through the conversation, she decided to drop the “f-bomb” to demonstrate her sophistication and social maturity. After she hung up, and came back around the corner, her father gently invited her to sit down. Every little cell in her body went on high alert. She knew she was busted.
For the next half hour, Dad proceeded to give her a detailed etymological lesson in the history of the word she had used, working chronologically back to its origins in early English, when it described particularly violent acts against women. When he was done he leaned forward and asked her, “now, was that what you meant to say?”
When we have our eyes on the right horizon, certain little bits rise in importance while others diminish. A parent’s love and regard becomes more important than impressing a classmate. Taking care of our minds, bodies, and spirit becomes more important than what ever it is we are craving at this point in time.
Yesterday at the Topsham Waste Management Facility, (what I call the Transfer Station, what some of you may call "the Dump,") which is one of my favorite places to go though I admit I don't enjoy the smell in my car on the way there, I watched one of the staff, a great tall man in his orange safety vest finishing a long day of hard work, take the time to bend done next to a young girl and try to help her figure out how a bicycle, leaning against the wall of the “take away” section, might work for her. He didn’t have to do that. That he did was an act of grace. He might or might not have called it that himself, I don’t now. But he made my community a better place when he could have just been marking time to the end of the work day. She didn't appear to be a child who had many other options in obtaining a bicycle. His choice gave his work meaning far beyond his paycheck. He was keeping his eye on the horizon.
Germany this week made the staggering decision to absorb up to 800,000 Syrian immigrants into their cities, villages, and country sides. My word! What an immense and difficult decision. Their leadership has their eye on a horizon that they have learned the hard way, from history, is absolutely essential.
In that intimidating mass of 800,000 are little bits of individuality who are people, just like you and me. Have you stopped to think where you would go? If your world was torn apart and your home was no longer safe, where would you go? Who would help?
What little things might start to matter. What does a mobile phone mean to someone who now owns only what they can carry?
-connection to family?
-tool for moving into a better future?
-information about where food and water are available?
-Where the greatest danger is?
In 2005, the Katrina/ Rita double whammy displaced 1 million in the US. It began with Meteorological left-overs, an interaction of a tropical wave and the remains of a tropical depression, small droplets of moist warm air being drawn up into the air by wind.
9-11 inspired more individuals, little individual bits of humanity, to make heroic decisions than perhaps any other event in my generation’s living memory. In the air that day, and on the ground in the days after, people stopped what we were doing and made decisions about what gives our lives significance. We made choices about how we want to spend the finite days we have on this earth. Many began to measure our lives differently. Our horizon shifted.
Last Sunday, as we were returning from Waldoboro, Jeff and I watched the end of the Brunswick Air Show right there before us in in the sky, on I295. Spectacular demonstrations of skill unfolding before us. I’m glad he was driving! A couple of days later the Times Record ran a letter about havoc created by guests on their hosts lawns: fencing sections toppled over, piles of trash left behind, rude responses to requests to respect the property.
My automatic pilot kicked in. “Tsk, tsk, tsk- those people…”
And then, perhaps it was this study of James that we are undertaking together, my horizon shifted. And I started to wonder what would happen if for the next show,
in 2017, some of us from this church grabbed a bunch of trash bags and went out and offered to collect “those people’s” trash, and maybe hand out some bottles of water on a hot day. I don’t know if it would make a difference to them. I know it would make a difference to me.
About 10 years ago you helped set the horizon for a fantastic group of young people, one by one, as they were baptized. The little things you do this year to support them in the important phase of their faith journey that we call confirmation, will go a long way to keeping them on course to live God shaped lives.
In the biblical world that pokes, prods, and caresses us toward a God’s eye view, each “Self” is unique and united toward a sacred horizon. Navigating toward that shared horizon begins with such small things, the lifting of an anchor, the turn of a rudder into the wind, an invitation to join the crew, raising a sail to let the Sprit breathe us toward grace.
Memory verse: Consider ships: They are so large that strong winds are needed to drive them. But pilots direct their ships wherever they want with a little rudder. – James 3: 4
St. Francis-When you are proclaiming peace with your lips be careful to have it even more in your heart.
Karen L Munson
United Methodist Pastor & Liturgical Artist