What a Waste of Time

Thoughts on Worship and the Sabbath and wondering why in the world we have such a hard time with these concepts.  This message was preached on October 26, 2014 at the Crafton Heights church and was rooted in Deuteronomy 5:12-15 and Mark 2:23 – 3:6.  

Bill_Gates_III_20080123_068William Henry “Bill” Gates is a rich man. His estimated wealth, some $82  billion, equals the annual GDP of Ecuador, and maybe twice as much as that of Croatia. By this rather unique measuring stick, the founder of Microsoft is worth two Latvias, a Cyprus and four or five Malawis. Not bad for a college dropout.

But not only is he rich, he is generous, and you may have heard about the fact that he is on a mission to give away his money before he dies. He better get cracking, though, because even though he’s given away about $35 billion, he keeps getting richer.

I was thinking about Bill Gates as I prepared for this morning’s message because of something he once said that really jolted me: “Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”[1]

There it is, church. The man who has more dollar bills in the history of dollar bills has called you out, and said that you’re wasting your time here this morning.

And I’m here to tell you that I agree with him 100%. Worship is a total waste of time, and one of the most inefficient things you could ever do with yourself.

And I’m glad to be doing that with you, beloved.

What are we doing here? What’s the point of all this, anyway? We’re here to worship, I know. But what does that mean?

Worship comes from an Old English word ‘weorthscipe’, which to be honest I’m not really sure how to pronounce because it has a couple of letters in it that no longer exist. That word means ‘condition of being worthy, dignity, glory, distinction, honor, renown’, and came to be understood as a ‘sense of reverence paid to a supernatural or divine being’ about 800 years ago.[2]

We have come to this point in time at this place on the globe in order to testify to the worthiness, dignity, glory, and honor of God. And maybe you know that when we come to worship, the world itself changes (or at least it should).

Here’s what I’m getting at: a few minutes ago, the beautiful Lindsay Frick stood in front of you and led you in a “call to worship”. In that formal language, Lindsay invited you to leave your work and your hobbies behind. She gave you permission – nay, she commanded you – to forget your laundry, your shopping list, the grubs that are destroying your grass. If we are doing it right, I think that means that we’ve turned off our cell phones and put away our watches.

We’ve entered into a different space: a ‘sanctuary’. Here, the seats are designed, not for comfort, but to focus your attention on the center and the front of the room, while being curved so that you can keep an eye on each other, too. There are windows to provide light and ventilation, but they are tinted so as to reduce the distraction that whatever lies on the other side might bring.

We have entered into a different time: it is the ‘service of worship’. We use a different calendar in here than we do outside: look at your bulletin, and you’ll see that we are in the 30th week of “ordinary time”, which started, not on January 1, but on the first Sunday of Advent. Advent, of course, is the season of the year in which the church remembers the intrusion of the Creator into the Creation.

Likewise, our very understanding of ourselves has changed. We are no longer primarily neighbors, teachers, students, retirees, employees, or gardeners. You, together, have been constituted as a congregation. That is to say that you are pilgrims. People who are on the way from where they used to be and heading to where they ought to be; people who are growing from what was into who they were created to be.

Lindsay spoke a call to worship, and if we do it right, then time, space, and your understanding of self has changed. We are different people in a new time and a sacred space. Well done, Lindsay! You didn’t know you had that kind of authority, did you?

Think about it. In Genesis, we learn that we are creatures. There was God, and God alone. And then God made. We dare not confuse the Creator with the creature.

And we are not merely creatures, but creatures who have been placed in time. Do you remember how the story of creation is told? In DAYS. Seven of them, to be exact. Our lives are measured in hours and days and months and years.

And we are not only creatures of time, but creatures who have been given space. Where does the story begin? In a garden. A specific place that is ours.

So when we, the creatures of time and space, set out to recognize the worthiness, dignity, glory, and honor that characterizes God, we do so by entering into this new and different time and space.

I bring this up because this is one of the biggest problems I have with the people who say, “You know, Pastor, I don’t have to come to church to worship. I can worship God on the golf course, or at the lake, or as I run.” No, you can’t.

Sunrise at Raystown Lake, PA

Sunrise at Raystown Lake, PA

Look. If you know anything about me at all, you will understand that I have experienced the presence, majesty, beauty and power of God in the solitude of a mountain lake, laying awake at night on the Sahara Desert, watching the flight of a lilac-breasted roller, or bringing in an incredible trout. I get it. I have known God there.

But I have not worshipped God there.

Consider this: I have experienced great joy in my relationship with Sharon McCoy Carver since we were in the 9th grade together at Hanby Jr. High. We have been in many places and celebrated our love together in lots of ways.

But I only got married at 2:30 pm on Sunday May 30, 1982 at Trinity Presbyterian Church, 1120 Darley Road Wilmington DE 19703. We do not confuse the reality of being married with the act of becoming married. We do not confuse appreciation of or closeness to God with the communal worship of God.

Our worship is an intentional act by the community – never alone – in a specific place while engaged in specific actions. I do not think that a human being can worship alone – we need the community for that. Worship is a part of the rhythm of creation and the order for which we were born, and we can only do it together.

Unfortunately, we are not very good at understanding this rhythm. We find it easy to forget the intentions for which we are born. One way that I know this is true is because we have neglected the idea of Sabbath.

That’s an old word, of course, and incredibly churchy. Feel free to roll your eyes now if you’d like.

Noon - Rest From Work, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

Noon – Rest From Work, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890

You heard it in Deuteronomy, where we were commanded to observe, remember, and keep one day in seven. No work for your or your servants. No commerce. No production.

Yeah, we’re not very good at remembering, keeping, or observing that kind of stuff, are we?

And I know a lot of you, like me, often hear a lot of talk by people who wish that we’d “get back to basics” and pay more attention to the Ten Commandments. “All this country needs is to get back to the Ten Commandments,” they say. Well, it seems to me that they’re really talking about six or seven of them – many of the folks I hear talking about that are really concerned about who their neighbor is sleeping around with or which political party is lying to us than they are about actually keeping the Sabbath or avoiding covetousness. Christians in America today steamroll the fourth commandment flatter than a pancake at Pamela’s restaurant, and we feel proud about doing so.

We do not stop. We do not rest. We go and go and go.

Why? Because we are good and decent people. We’re not lazy. We are recognizing the truth of what Bill Gates has told us – that rest is not efficient and a total waste of time. And time is money. And we want more money. And so we cannot rest. We have to do more. We have to be more.

Hey, hey, hey, Pastor. That’s not fair! I’m not greedy! It’s not about money! I have a lot to do. Important stuff to do. People are counting on me to get it done. Do you know what would happen if I stopped ________? I mean, I get it, Dave. It must be nice to be you, in control of your own time, managing your own calendar, going fishing whenever you feel like it, but my life isn’t like that. I have to ___________.

Look, it’s not my commandment. I am not giving it to you; I am with you in sitting under it. And from where I sit, it seems as though the command to keep, observe, and remember the Sabbath and to worship is all about trust. We come into this special place and enter this special time and we stop doing anything important. We stop and we rest, and we dare to believe that the world will continue to turn without us. We rest, and in so doing proclaim that God, not us, is in control. We keep Sabbath because we are creatures, not the Creator.

But HOW? What does that look like in 2014?

I’m not entirely sure. And let me clear about the fact that I’m not pointing fingers at anyone. I’m having a hard enough time speaking for me right now to presume to speak for you. But this is what I know: if you flinch when you hear me say that Sunday ought to be set aside for worship and rest, then you should probably be asking God, “Lord, what needs to change in my life? And how can I change it?”

People who keep Sabbath well are people who are able to do their homework on Friday or Saturday. People who choose to shop on Tuesday or Friday. People who can turn off their email and resist the temptation to buy or sell on the Lord’s Day. We all have the same 168 hours this week. The 4th commandment reminds us that God seems to care about how we use them. You heard that commandment a few moments ago that talked about your manservant and your maidservant, and you thought, “Hey, that’s not me! I don’t have any servants.” Really? What do you call the people who will bring you your food at the Olive Garden today, or the folks who check you out at the Giant Eagle? They are your servants.

But what about work? What if you have to work on Sunday? I think the first question would be, “Why?” Why do you have to work on Sunday?   I know some people who have to work weekends because it’s a second job for them and the family. They need that money to put food on the table. They need that money to educate their children. Or maybe they’ve got jobs that require them to work on Sundays. If that’s the case, then that’s the case.

But I know a whole lot more people who choose to work on Sunday because they’ve got a credit card payment due. People who need to work on Sunday because their cable bill is too high, or their third car needs a new set of tires. And if I am neglecting the Lord on this Sabbath in order to keep my satellite dish payments current, then maybe my priorities are a little out of whack.

Look, I could talk all day about this, but if I did, that would probably be ruining any idea of Sabbath for all of us. Do I have it all figured out? Not by a long shot. But this much I know: the fourth commandment is given to us because God loves us and desires that we might know life in all of its fullness. And we are prone to accepting less than God’s best because we are seduced by a world that wants to tell us that nothing makes us complete and that we are still enslaved in the “kingdom of thingdom.”

The way to get out of this is to waste what the world treasures. In a few weeks, we’ll be talking about money, and how the only way to control its power in our lives is to give it away – to do something utterly wasteful with it like giving it to the church. But that’s a few weeks. Today, I want to encourage you to waste time. To stop producing and enjoy who God is, and how God is, and who and how God is for you.

The Man With the Withered Hand, James Tissot, 1896

The Man With the Withered Hand, James Tissot, 1896

The Gospel lesson reminds us that Jesus used the Sabbath to restore and to feed.

What if he still does that? I mean, what if by showing up here we are putting ourselves in a place and time where what is withered in our own lives might be revitalized? What if in rest, trust, and obedience the muscles that we thought were long-dead, or the faith that we’ve set aside, or the power in which we’ve become afraid to believe – what if those things could be reactivated, much as the man’s arm was in the story you heard a few moments ago?

Bill Gates is right. There are a thousand ways to use this hour more efficiently. But Jesus is righter: it’s not about efficiency. It’s about knowing who we are, and whose we are. Observe. Remember. Keep this day as your time to join with the other pilgrims in pointing to God’s glory. And as you do so, know that you are observed, remembered, and kept eternally. Thanks be to God! Amen.


[2] http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=worship

It’s About the Walk

As the Autumn begins, the gathered community in Crafton Heights is focusing on Micah 6:8 –

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.”

On October 19, as our congregation observed “Preschool Sunday”, we considered the command to “Walk Humbly with God”.  The scriptures that helped us engage this topic were Psalm 131 and Mark 10:13-16

For the last several weeks, we’ve been looking at one of the key texts in the Old Testament. The people have left God’s best for them and are now faced with the threat of war, exile, and even the extinction of their nation. They turn to Micah, God’s spokesman, and say, “Well what can we do? How are we supposed to stay alive?” And the response, which you’ve already heard this morning, is clear: “He has shown you what is good – and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God?”

That’s how we stay alive. Do justice: that is, when you are in a position to assist one who has been wronged or to lift up someone who has been stepped on, do it.

And love kindness: that is, growing into a pattern of living where those acts of justice come, not as a response to a command, but out of the depths of your heart.

And walk humbly: that is, shape your daily behavior in such a way so that God’s power and presence in the world is more visible to the people who are around you. When the prophet, or God, or you and I, use the word “walk” in this way we are referring to a way of life.

I find it interesting (and refreshing) to see that this last condition on how we are to make it out of here alive does not hinge on our theological dexterity. It is not based on our intelligence, nor does it rely on us having the correct position on current political issues. The prophet asks us about the way that we live.

In that way, of course, he reminds us of Jesus, who wasn’t particularly big on inviting people to sit around and make sure that everybody agreed on a particular set of ideas. Jesus didn’t come with a slate of answers or a political agenda to which he required everyone to adhere.

DustNo, when Jesus wanted to get inside of your head or your heart, what did he say? “Follow me.” “Walk like I do.” The way that you live, and the one that you follow, says a lot about what you believe. The Jews have recognized this when they refer to the collective body of written commandments as wisdom as halakha – that is, “the way to walk”. Neither Micah nor Jesus talks about ideas in the abstract; instead, they invite us to join with the Lord in a way of living.

And how does Micah invite us to walk? We have a very rare Hebrew word here, which is usually translated as “humbly.” As I look at that word, and at the ways in which it is used in other places, I think that I will agree with those scholars who suggest that a more faithful translation would be “wisely” or “carefully”. We are to engage the world (that is, to live) each day knowing who we are and who God is, and acting as if that matters.

The scriptures you’ve heard this morning talk about that kind of awareness and lifestyle. And, not suprisingly on Preschool Sunday, each of the verses point us in the direction of children.

The 131st Psalm is very useful to us in our daily devotion because it reminds us to be alert to two dangers in the Christian life. On the one hand, we are to be alert to the evil of pride. A modern translation of this passage gets it right: “God, I’m not trying to rule the roost, I don’t want to be king of the mountain. I haven’t meddled where I have no business or fantasized grandiose plans.” (The Message)

If we are to walk wisely, we must remember that we live in relationship with God. We are not in charge, we are not in control – we have a place in the universe that is less than primary.

That idea, even though it sounds terribly obvious when I stand up here and say it out loud, runs counter to the experience that most of us have every day. Our culture tells us that we are supposed to be on top of the heap and exercise our own power and strength. When Eugene Peterson writes about this verse, he says,

It is difficult to recognize pride as a sin when it is held up on every side as a virtue, urged as profitable and rewarded as an achievement. What is described in Scripture as the basic sin, the sin of taking things into your own hands, being your own god, grabbing what is there while you can get it, is now described as basic wisdom: improve yourself by whatever means you are able, get ahead regardless of the price, take care of me first. For a limited time it works. But at the end the devil has his due There is damnation.[1]

An essential, if seemingly-obvious, aspect of the faithful walk is recognizing that at the end of the day, God is in charge and I am not. Pride is my enemy.

But the Psalm does not only warn us against the evil of arrogance. The next passage cautions us against the resignation that can come from a clingy dependency and a refusal to grow up into being our own person in God’s sight.

Dave with Caitlin & MackenzieOne of the great blessings of being me – and there are many – is that I have known a lot of babies. Not only that, but people seem to trust me with their children, and will willingly hand me the little angels when they are only a few hours old. And here is something I have noticed about every infant I’ve ever held: sooner or later, that baby will get fussy and start to scream at me for something that I will never, in a million years, be able to provide. You know what I’m talking about – there I am holding that baby, smiling for the photos, and what starts out as a nuzzle before too long turns into a situation where that child is rooting around expecting old Pastor Dave to come up with some milk. Sooner or later, every infant cries – not for a relationship, not for affirmation – but for a meal. If you have ever been a mother, you know what it is like to be yelled at, not for who you are, but for what you provide. You are a meal ticket.Dave with Caitlin & Mackenzie

But the Psalmist compares himself to a weaned child resting at its mother’s breast. A weaned child is not looking at mom as a commodity. A weaned child is there because that child has learned that mom’s lap is a delightful place to be in and of itself.

Many of you know that I was away for much of 2010. I traveled the world and saw some amazing things, and I am hard pressed to say which of the experiences I was blessed with was the most memorable. For four months, I was living in a dream.

But this is one thing I hope I never forget about that trip: In September of 2010 I arrived home from the airport. As I carried my bags up the steps on Cumberland Street, I heard a small voice coming from next door: “Hey! Pastor Dave is home! Pastor Dave is home!” And before I could reach my front porch, I was bowled over by my next-door neighbor and covered with kisses.

Samaiya was only about two and a half years old at the time, and she didn’t need me for anything. She wasn’t expecting a gift, and she didn’t think I had snacks. She just wanted me. That is what Psalm 131 looks like – rushing to embrace God because he is there, and he is good, and he loves you, and because you love God.

A few hundred years later, Jesus holds out the children in his community as special. He doesn’t think that they are pure or perfect. He commends them because they are willing to be blessed, eager to be loved, and wanting to be taught.

A weaned child is content with the relationship for its own sake. That child doesn’t see her mother as a means towards satisfying herself, but rather as a good and loving presence that is to be treasured and received. Again, I would imagine that the parents in this room know the difference between a weaned and an unweaned child.

But here’s the deal: weaning is hard work for both the wean-ee and the wean-er. It’s confusing and painful and noisy. But it needs to happen eventually if the child has any hope at a real and somewhat normal life.

In your spiritual life, are you weaned?

The reason I ask that is that from time to time, someone will come into my study and say, “I don’t know, Pastor, it’s just different. I’m not feeling it any more – not like I was. When I first followed Jesus, I knew that God had my back. I mean, I can’t tell you how many times I cried out for something and there was a miraculous answer right then and there. When I needed God, he was right there. But now, when I pray, it seems different. I cry out, and I’m not sure that God even hears me. Does God still love me?”

Of course God loves you. God couldn’t love you any more. But maybe God is weaning you from an infantile dependence on the emotional lift you think you need in order to get through the day so that you might grow up into a discipleship that is healthy and vigorous. Maybe God is teaching you how to discern and act for yourself, building on the lessons you’ve already learned, so that you can walk wisely in this world.

I just spent twenty-four hours with my daughter and her husband and my eleven-month old granddaughter. It was wonderful. I had not seen them since September 1.

But things are changing. Do you know that the last time I was there, Ariel carried Lucia everywhere. It seemed as if that child could not move on her own – the only way she got from the living room to the kitchen to the car was if some big strong grown up came along and scooped her from one place to another.

But yesterday, I put that baby down in the living room and when I went to the kitchen to get some coffee, I turned around and she was there! I set her by the table, and in ten seconds she was climbing towards the sofa.

And you say, “Of course, you idiot. That’s what’s supposed to happen. Lucia is learning to walk. Watch out – once she’s mobile…boom!”

Of course she has to learn to walk. Like she will learn to feed herself, and dress herself, and think for herself. We would not have it any other way.

In the same way, those of us who are made in the image of God are called to learn to walk on our own, and freely, in the direction that God has set out for us.

Sooner or later, we all get to the questions that Micah’s audience had in the 6th century BC: what does God want from me? How am I supposed to live, anyway?

The answer provided here and demonstrated by Jesus is clear and natural: a step by step living with and walking with God, living for others; a life where we advocate for the powerless and care for those who are hurting and help those whom are are able.[2]

We come together each week to remind us that this walk is for us, and for our children, and for those whom God loves in our community – which is to say, it is a walk to which each of us is called.

I don’t know what scares you or thrills you or bores you or excites you about your life today. Are you concerned about Ebola, or worried about your property values? Are you afraid you might be pregnant? Or concerned that you never will be? Is it your job, your marriage, or your lack of one of those conditions? I don’t know.

But I do know that God has put you in a place where you can learn to walk towards his best. You may cry out and sense an immediate rescue. And you may find a season of confusion and discomfort. You may find, in the struggle, that you have resources or abilities you did not realize were yours. You are still you. And God is still God. Our calling to so live as if those things are both always true. Thanks be to God, they are. Amen.

[1] A Long Obedience in the Same Direction (InterVarsity, 2000), p. 152.

[2] Adapted from James Limburg’s commentary on Micah 6:8 in the Interpretation series (John Knox, 1988, p. 193).

Do You Love Love?

As the Autumn begins, the gathered community in Crafton Heights is focusing on Micah 6:8 –

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.”

On October 5, World Communion Sunday, we considered the command to “Love Kindness”.  The scriptures that helped us engage this topic were Psalm 136 and Colossians 3:1-14

Angry Sports ParentIs there anything more frustrating, or perhaps more pathetic, than watching a parent try to manipulate, pressure, or bully a child into an activity that the child clearly does not enjoy, but from which the parent derives a great deal of pleasure or affirmation? Do you know what I mean? The classic case, I suppose, is the dad who signs up to coach the Little League team and then spends all of his time molding Junior into the second baseman he’s sure he could’ve been if only he hadn’t broken his leg in the 10th grade. You’ve seen him – yelling at the poor kid, drilling it into him, pushing him again and again and again – all so he can get out there and have fun…

Or maybe you’re more familiar with the mother who is so afraid of the fact that her youth may be fading that she enters her four year old into all the beauty contests and dresses her little princess like a starlet, teaching her to move and look at the camera in a way that is not natural for a pre-pubescent child.

Don’t get me wrong: we want our kids to enjoy themselves, and it’s natural for us to desire that they love the same things that we love. But sometimes, they are simply not wired that way. A long time ago, I was thinking about the fact that my daughter was entering her teen years and I was afraid I was going to “lose” her. I happened to be fishing with Adam when we encountered a man and his twelve-year old daughter, complete with matching hip waders and fishing vests. I gestured to the pair, and said, “Some day, Adam…Some day, that could be me.”

He looked at the pair, and then back to me, and said, “Have you met your daughter? If you are looking for some quality bonding time around a shared interest, you better call down to the Joy School of Dance and see if they’ve got a size 36 tutu for you to wear, because that child is not coming to Lake Erie with you in November.”

Little+Mermaid+TritonAnd he was right. While Ariel and I share a lot, it is not in her nature to engage in some of the sporting activities that I so enjoy.

How about when you invite a friend to dinner, and you make your absolute favorite dish? I mean, you knock one out of the park! You take the first bite, and you know – you know! – that it is as it should be. And you look at your friend, who says, “Well, um, I guess it’s interesting.” Seriously?!?! That’s it? Don’t you love it! Come on, try it again. Eat some more.

Or you bring a boy home to meet your parents, and you are so excited because he is it! I mean, he’s a dream come true. You introduce him to the folks, and they don’t like him.

How do you get someone to love what you love? Is that even possible?

micah-6-8This month, we’ve been looking at Micah 6:8, which contains God’s expectations for those of us who follow him and who bear his name. Do you remember that verse? “What does the Lord require of you?” Require. What’s the bottom line?

The last time I was with you, we talked about God’s call to do justice. OK, I can live with that language. To be frank, it’s about what we might expect from a Supreme Being. Do this. Don’t do that. There’s nothing here about trying, or wishing, or hoping. Do it. We can talk about what justice is or is not, and how it looks in the neighborhood where you live, but the command is a simple one. Do justice.

But look at the next requirement: we are to “love kindness”.

Seriously? I not only have to be kind, but I’m supposed to love kindness? How is that supposed to work? Is God like a pushy parent down at the dance class – working out his own issues through us? “Love this…and that’s an order…”

Let’s look at the word in question. We are told that we are to love “kindness”. The Hebrew word, hesed, is one for which there is not a precise English translation. Some places we see that it means “kindness”, while other times it carries the meaning of “mercy” or “faithfulness” or “loyalty” or “love”. It is a beautiful word.

hesedAnd you know that word. You may remember it from Lamentations 3: “The hesed of the Lord never ceases and his mercies never come to an end”. Maybe you prayed it at the last funeral you attended, when the preacher led you in the 23rd Psalm: “Surely goodness and hesed will follow me all the days of my life and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.”

Hesed describes what is supposed to happen in a relationship – whether it’s a human or a divine relationship. Hesed is not a set of warm emotional feelings (although there’s nothing wrong at all with warm emotional feelings). Hesed describes the way that we are treated by God and the manner in which we are to deal with our neighbors. It’s an action, not a feeling.

When God wants to describe himself, he uses that word in Exodus, saying that he is “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in hesed and faithfulness, keeping hesed for thousands…”(34:6-7). Hesed is, in fact, God’s very nature. One of the most prominent places where we find that kind of love explored is in Psalm 136, which we’ve shared as a part of our Call to Worship and Prayer of Confession this morning. Hesed is who and what God is all about.

And the good news, my friends, is that you are made in the image of God. Genesis 1 tells us that you are a chip off the old block – and therefore, that hesed is not only who and what God is, but it is who and what you are. This is waaaay better than being the son of the guy who lettered in four different sports back in the day, because it’s about how you are made.

And Paul wants to drive that point home when he writes to his friends in Colossae, so he reminds them that they have been renewed in Jesus Christ. If some part of the image of God that is in us has been tarnished, says Paul, there’s no need to worry, because Jesus has polished that all up. You bear the Divine image. You are like God! You are destined to live and share hesed in this world.

“Yeah, Pastor Dave, that’s a nice pep talk and all that, but, well, to tell you the truth, I tried being nice. I really did. For about a week and a half a few years back. And I hated it. And everyone screwed with me. I’m just not cut out for that hesed business.”

The way I read it, my friends, it’s not really an option. Because while my daughter is free to say that she’s not interested in fishing with me, any child of mine is going to have hairy legs and an oddly-shaped head. Nothing that anyone can say about that – it’s just true. It comes with being my offspring.

And the same is true of you and hesed. You are created to love.

The question is, do you love love? I mean, that’s the requirement: we are to love and nurture that part of us that is reflective of God’s image and intentions.

Wolves_in_NorwayAccording to a story that comes from the Cherokee tradition, an elderly brave was talking with his young grandson about the battle that goes on inside of every human being. “Inside of you there are two wolves, each of which desires to control you. One of those wolves is evil: it loves to see you caught up in anger, jealousy, greed, pride, and selfishness. The other is noble, and represents joy, peace, love, and hope.” The young boy looked at his grandfather and said, “Tell me: which of those wolves will win?” The old man put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and said, “The one that you feed.”[1]

How do we get to the point where we love love? I’d suggest that it is as simple (and as difficult) as choosing which of those wolves to feed.

On the one hand, we can seek to weed out the things that threaten our ability to live into the fulness of God’s purposes for us. Paul talks about that in Colossians, but the trouble is that he uses a lot of Bible-sounding words like “fornication” and “impurity” and “desire” and “wrath”. What does that look like in real life?

Well, for me, one of the things that I had to do was stop watching South Park. When that show came out almost two decades ago, I thought it was one of the smartest, funniest, perceptive shows on television. I liked watching it. This animated sitcom follows four young boys around their home in Colorado, and it is well-written. But here’s the thing: when I was watching that show, I found myself being enthralled by the sarcasm and satire that is done so well. I noticed that I was, myself, trying a little harder to be sarcastic and caustic in my humor. It was a great show – but it was turning me into a jerk – so I stopped watching it.

Similarly, there are people who simply bring out the worst in me. When I am around them, I am liable to act in all sorts of ways that are contrary to my God-given nature of hesed. Saying “no” to the toxicity that these people would bring into my life is one way of feeding the hesed that lives in me.

But it’s not enough to simply avoid the bad. Part of what we are called to do is to practice the things that will help us to develop the gifts of hesed in our daily lives.

Practice. Do. When we gather for worship, we allow ourselves to remember that we are a part of a community. By physically being present, we put ourselves in a position to claim the truth that is true – even when we can’t always feel it.

When I practice making a certain percentage of my money available for the Lord’s work, I’m not depending on how I feel at the moment. I’m following through with a decision that I’ve made, and trusting that acting like a generous person will allow me to become one.

When you decide to spend a couple of hours a week in a volunteer project, you proclaim with your lifestyle the things that are important to you. When you choose to forgive the person who wronged you, you are saying that you believe in and trust in the grace that is there for you when you do wrong.

Look, you know the truth: none of these things are warm and sentimental, like a cup of hot apple cider or pictures of kittens on the internet. But all of them will help you to grow into the kind of hesed for which you were made.

A.J. Jacobs is a young man who, a few years ago, decided that he was going to try to live a year following the Bible literally. He began the year as a non-religious Jew, but he found that he was hungry for some sort of faith. He thought that if he acted like a person with faith, he might learn something about that. He did. One of the key insights of his Year of Living Biblically is that it is far easier to act your way into a new way of feeling than it is to wait around until you feel like acting differently.

This morning, I hope that you will choose to come to the Lord’s table, and that you will be renewed in your awareness of God’s gift of hesed that is for and in you. Further, I dare to hope that you will be renewed in your desire to be a channel of God’s gift of hesed to the community that we share. Can you love hesed?

Look, I don’t want to sound like an overbearing Little League parent here, but you’ve got this. Come on now. This hesed? It is all you. Let’s see it. Thanks be to God! Amen.

[1] “The Tale of Two Wolves”, http://www.nanticokeindians.org