by Bill Comfort
February 20, 2000
I took the title of this reflection from the title of the Washington North Idaho UCC Men's Retreat which I attended along with Manny, Hans and about 65 other men from throughout our conference. The retreat planners in turn borrowed the line from the Serenity Prayer popularized by AA and other 12 step programs. The weekend was all about courage and change and the Hebrew scripture and the Gospel for this week seem to me to be all about courage and change. Our church has arrived on the doorstep of the twenty-first century on life support. We are in need of courage and we are in need of change. The evil one, as Manny will testify, will lead you to believe that you can stay the same and survive or even thrive, but the evil one lies. Life is a process of continuous change and those who discontinue to change perish.
"Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old," says the Creator of all through the prophet Isaiah, "I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it." This sentence refers to the continuous nature of change. The Creator of the universe is saying to His creatures, "You may have thought that what I created in the last moment was praiseworthy, but see what wonders have been created in this moment." God wants us to see that each moment is created fresh. The evil one, our own egoic process, will try to insist that each moment follows from the last - that the actions and realities of the past constrain and limit the possibilities of the present. Nothing could be farther from the truth. God reminds is in the word of the prophet that every moment is a new Big Bang!
In the rest of the verse, God reminds us that the proper use of each moment is to praise God. The ways of praising God are to numerous to count. God is best praised by remembering the grandness of God's creation and ignoring our egoic nature when it commences on it's litany of what is not possible. God gives us this choice. This is what is meant by "setting before us the way of life and death." We choose death when we choose to remember the former things and consider the things of old. Human beings are alone in our ability to commit this kind of evil. Take a look at your dog when you get home. A dog is always looking for the possibilities of the moment.
The Gospel lesson today finds Jesus besieged by people who want to hear and touch him. Four people come bearing a paralyzed man. Had they listened to their egoic voices stating the limitations of the situation they would surely have turned back and told their friend they were sorry, but he would have to go on with his life as a paralytic. Fortunately the presence of Jesus in this particular situation was enough to remind them of all the possibilities available in each moment of God's creation.
Jesus was present for them in that moment and they clambered up to the roof of the house where Jesus was preaching and teaching. Then they burrowed through the roof and lowered their friend down to Jesus on his mat. Jesus saw that they had praised God by remembering the grace and grandeur of God's creation. These four very good friends showed the courage to look to the possibilities of the moment and delivered their friend to Jesus. Hallelujah! What a great day it was for the once paralyzed man! In the Wednesday class for the children we made clay sculptures to show how we felt about this piece of scripture. One of the girls made a happy face. When we asked her why she made that she replied, I bet the paralyzed man was smiling as he walked home.
It is courageous to believe in the possibility of new life in every moment. It is courageous to act on that belief. The four friends found that courage in the Gospel story. Yesterday I spent the day at the First Annual Healing Arts Fair at the Everett First Congregational United Church of Christ. One of the saints in my life, my wife Sheri, was the courageous person behind this event. When she proposed the event several months ago some of the people at the counsel said, "Oh, I don't know if we dare do something like that." Some people thought that the event would be too costly and that it would not draw. Some thought the inclusion of massage, Reiki, Shiatsu, meditation, art therapy and so forth in a Christian environment was too risky. Fortunately, God worked through Sheri again. She formed a committee and organized the event that was beautiful, inexpensive, popular and beneficial to the church and to Housing Hope.
By having the courage to perceive the new thing God was doing in the moment at the Everett church, Sheri joined the four who brought the paralyzed man to Jesus. The four friends and Sheri each joined God and created new beauty in the world.
I read in the survey that people don't like a Biblical lesson that doesn't relate to the fast paced world of today. Here is how this lesson relates. Our church is the paralyzed man. It desperately needs as many people as possible to lift up it's mat and carry it back to Jesus. This church is looking for people who have the courage to embrace new ideas and move out with them. I see a lot of beauty here. The singing is beautiful. The building is beautiful. The tradition is beautiful. Manny has pointed out that the evil one tempts us with what is good. Evil is when we take what is good in the place of what is best.
I envision a Monroe First Congregational United Church of Christ with people in every pew. I see people streaming down Lewis Street on Sunday morning to arrive at this beautiful place. I hear beautiful music produced by so many people that the walls and roof are threatened weekly by the sound. I see children flooding the chancel for the time with the younger folks. Praise God. I see a thriving Monroe First Congregational United Church of Christ - and I know you can see that too.
Look into your heart today and find the choice between the way of life and death.
Look into your heart and find the courage to see programs that will heal this old church as it teeters into it's second century of existence.
I've heard people say they are burned out. I've been burned out myself before and I know the feeling is hard. I learned a trick a few years back and I have not been burned out since. The people in our gospel story knew this trick. The trick is to operate on God's energy. Whenever you feel your energy waning turn to Jesus. Jesus is waiting even now, as He was in Capernaum to supply all the energy needed to accomplish his work. That is another wonderful aspect of God's creation. All great things are accomplished by turning to the creative energy of the universe and letting that move through your muscles and your heart.
Let us pray, abundant God, you created us as your creating partners. We have sometime failed to see the possibilities in the moment. We ask that you help us by way of your Holy Spirit to remember the creative possibilities of every moment and to have the courage to move out and accomplish those possibilities. Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the changing of these times. Together let us build a new church - one with faith and hope and love - and one with courage. All the courageous partners of God say, Amen.