Ash Wednesday – February 14, 2018

https://soundcloud.com/user-688328025/ash-wednesday-pastor-steven-cauley-february-14-2018

Increasing as I age, I become more aware of my sinful nature. It’s not as if I’m a terrible person, but I realize the powerful effect sin has on my life and the world God loves. Perhaps it is the realization I have that I have the power to destroy and great potential to create distress and havoc. Not that I would ever wish to access my ability to create harm and hurt others, but I am aware of my power and limitations.

images

St. Ignatius described sin as putting our hope in the wrong things. From this perspective, I can see how far off my inner drive and thoughts are from the will of God. I think for some it would be just easier to give into sin and live a life without any internal examination to discover the beauty of one’s self. In other words, it is so tempting to live life in these times of transition with the motto, “Do whatever you want as long as you don’t harm anyone.” After all, it is the beginning of the age of authenticity. The point in time where our own experience directs our life and if we don’t like doing something we might as well quit the practice because the cost of missing out on something else is too significant.

images-1

The world is getting smaller every day and more focus on the self. Losing sight of the inner relatedness of life is easy.

As Dr. King taught, “all people see in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

In other words, what affects one person impacts us all. We might not consciously be aware of, but we are all, as Dr. King suggests, woven together into one fabric of life.

Moving away from our self-centered way of living to a concern for the Commonwealth of all people was Dr. King’s vision of what he called the “Beloved community” in which he meant the Body of Christ dwelling together under the Reign of God. The sin manifests itself when we divide the world into the “good” and the “bad.” Of course, we are always the good ones; the others are bad. The ones who have a problem are still outside of us, and therefore we tell ourselves we must struggle against those outside our group.

images-2

But a real community is different because of the realization that the evil is inside of us – not just inside the community or group, but inside of me. Jesus talks about this as thinking about the need to remove the speck of dust from my neighbor’s eye but overlooking the log that dwells within my eye. Sin dwells within me. Warfare is within me, within my community. We confess that we aren’t living the life God desires for us and that we place our hope in things that do not create an experience for all.

Jesus calls us into living a different vision for life. A life where, through our baptism into Christ’s death, we too are called to live a different narrative. A narrative where we are called to be agents of peace amidst the violent nature of the world while recognizing the warfare that is going on inside of me.

images-4

Jesus calls us to seek the wholeness, in that our souls are restless until they abide with God. Nothing else will satisfy this longing. Many will attempt to fill their spiritual needs with things that are not spiritual, and as a result, they can never find that inner peace as they continuously battle their own self.

Jesus gives us words of great hope this Ash Wednesday. He tells us that he is God’s “Way, Truth, and Life.” There is a need in all of our souls that we cannot meet. It’s impossible for a human to be completely satisfied on our own. We seek for meaning and life outside ourselves.

This is the day we remember how we have placed our hope in those things that are not God. That we have all wondered from the Truth, Way, and Life that God desires for us. This is the day we remember that we are not at peace. We wrestle with far more matters of life than we care to admit. This is the day where we remember that we have neglected God’s call to live peacefully in community with the world God loves. And because of all this, one day our life on earth will eventually come to an end.

images-5

This is a heavy day. But there is hope. Hope is found in the alternative vision Jesus offers in which there are many places to dwell in God’s house. In Jesus, there are many kinds of people who stay and live out what Dr. King called a “beloved community.”

This Lent, we will dig deeper what it means that Jesus is the “Way.” Not “one way” or “a way” but “The Way.” Jesus words in the Gospel speak to us in ways that our culture cannot and will not talk. So, remember to listen to his words as if you were hearing them for the first time. Think about what you are seeing in your life and what God wants to show you. For God is there, ready to receive us and forgive us even in spite of ourselves.

Hear his invitation to repentance and the possibility of growth in your faith again. Trust that where Jesus is, there we may also be. Amen.

images-1

Dealing with Conflict – Matthew 15

 

With all the traveling I’ve done this summer, I pulled out an old book on cd and listened to it as I was driving around the country. The book was about guidelines for having meaningful conversations with other people and how to react when communication become what the author calls “crucial” which is an emotionally charged discussion when the stakes are high. His point is that when we engage in critical conversation the most primitive part of our brain, the Amegda takes over, and cause us not to think clearly. Thus, when the stakes are high, and we need to be able to reason at our best, we are not able to because our brains are wired to the fight or flight response to a threating situation or conversation.

images-3

The key in these types of situation is to be self-aware of our response and knowing how to keep the conversation safe so that both parties feel open to contributing to the shared pool of common knowledge. We often shy away from the crucial conversation because they are challenging and we don’t want to upset or disappoint the other person. Often avoiding issues is no good either. It could lead to a passive aggressive attempt to get back to a person if we don’t talk through an issue, or sometimes conversation that isn’t handled well can lead to violence or hurt feelings.
I think Jesus knew that there were going to be disagreements and conflicts when well-meaning people gather. Jesus knew this wouldn’t be easy for you and me to practice our faith together as children of God.

images-4When we are honest with ourselves, sometimes we as people of faith must be engaging in a crucial conversation about a matter that is important to us individually as well as the Body of Christ, but in this passage from Matthew’s gospel Jesus lays out a method for handling sin within the community of discipleship.
How does it work Jesus’ first step is to talk straight with others. You’ve got a problem with someone else? Deal with it directly. Don’t embarrass the person in public – deal with him or her one-on-one. Don’t do it over the phone or letter. Words on paper can be misinterpreted. Do it in person, and don’t beat around the bush. Get right to it. But we are dealing directly with that person, point out the fault and resolve the situation. Don’t talk behind the others back, tear them down. If you don’t have the gumption to deal directly with that person, then keep your issues to yourself. More harm is done to others with “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but did you know….” Speak, speak, speak; don’t keep your mouth shut. You will be held responsible for your silence and for the consequences of your unwillingness to talk.
You see, you can either speak it out, or you will act it out. In the long run, talking with someone is always more productive than acting out by not have a crucial conversation with someone else.

Of course, there are also some folks who have no problem with straight talking. In fact, the trouble is they seem to enjoy it too much. I don’t think that is what Jesus or Paul had in mind when discussion about the conflict in the body of Christ. Paul says when you must speak the truth to a loved one, a friend or fellow church member, tell the truth in love.

As hard as it might be for some of us, it is our job and obligation, to speak the truth lovingly and genuinely when someone has sinned against us. And if the straight talk doesn’t work in resolving the problem, then get other involved, Jesus says. It’s a systematic process, take it to the elders. And if nothing else works, then be done with them. In the end, we are called to love not to be like by everyone. Sometimes our call to love is tough.

images

How do you deal with others who have caused problems for you? Jesus has the answer. With straight talk, due process, but most of all, with grace. Knowing that we are all human and everyone we meet is carrying a heaven burden. All of us; there are no exceptions. By treating one another with Grace, you will be fulfilling more than the law and the prophets; you will fulfill the gospel of Jesus Christ. Amen.

“What is War?” An Article for the ‘Voice of Muscatine’ Newspaper

The other day, my preschool-aged child asked me, “What is war?”  I fumbled through an answer that was accurate yet sterilized to match her young age.  It is indeed sad that a preschooler may be asking such a question.  Yet anthropologists tell us that humans have been dealing with violence since the beginning of civilization.  Though just because we may have, deep down, urges to be aggressive and even violent, it need not be the only impulse that shapes our behavior.

img_top2

 

Just as innate as aggression, is our drive to be kind to one another, to lift others up, and to express love.  This same preschooler, who fights with her sibling and has already been exposed to the concept of war, also knows how to share her toys, show comfort and affection.  Just the other day, she, unprompted brought me a tray of canned fruit and granola bars after I told her I wasn’t feeling well.  The instinct both to lash out and to love is a part of the fiber of every human being.

So, it is our responsibility, as leaders, as parents, as mentors, as fellow humankind, to be aware of our inner drives.

During our interactions with others, through words and action, we can choose who it is we are going to be – the one who spreads love or the one who shows contempt.

We have the ability to respond (response-ability) to others with kindness, with goodness of heart, and with actions of love.  And maybe, just maybe, the preschoolers of future generations will not even have the words “war” or “violence” in their vocabularies.

Violence and Language

As the parent of young children, I often find myself stopping quarrels between sisters.  Sometimes these quarrels get physical and require separation.

Often times, however, squabbles between my two older children are fought with words.  I find it baffling where this vocabulary of fighting comes from—my spouse and I do not call each other names, nor do we use negative language with our children.   Yet name calling happens more often than I care to admit.

We live in a culture of violence.  From almost daily shootings, to violent video games, to the realities of war, acts of physical violence are commonplace.

But it is our vocabulary of violence that begets such physical acts.  As we try to teach our children, name calling is wrong.  Words hurt. Bullying happens often and the impact of violent words can (and are) felt for years to come.

images-7

I grew up hearing, “sticks and stones may hurt your bones but words will never hurt you”.  I disagree emphatically.  Psychological violence, and the effects of bullying, causes harm– the consequences of which can stick around for a lifetime.

It is time to watch our language, not just around our children, but for the sake of humanity.  When our politicians name call, we need to call them out.  When celebrities ‘throw shade’, we should resist the temptation to glamorize it.  When hurtful things are said on social media, we need not repeat them.

The art of polite deliberation seems to be lost.  If we want to create a truly non-violent society, we need to begin with our language.  Being part of a more perfect union depends on it.