First Sunday after Christmas
Well today is the day for all those resolutions we make attempting to improve ourselves in the year to come. New Year’s is a natural restart. It offers a symbolic point in time to redirect ourselves.
This new year also heralds an opportunity for Christians to witness a better way than division. To witness to the world the love and care Jesus offered the world. To witness to the peace of Christ.
Yet to do that, we must resolve to step up our game. As all those bowl coaches are saying: it’s time for us to get in the game; it’s time to give 110%.
To help us do this, to offer more faithful presence for those we encounter, I offer the “Don’t Resolutions.” In trying to be helpful to others, we all too often fall back on platitudes and clichés. We try to console and comfort. More often than not, however, we close off an avenue allowing a person to express truthfully what they are going through. Too often, in trying to be kind, or helpful, we shortchange God with bad theology. It is not what we say that comforts, it is that we are there, present with another in their distress, uncertainty, anger.
So, in the spirit of David Letterman’s old top ten list, here are ten sayings we need to shelve for 2017:
10) Everything happens for a reason. No it doesn’t. Implied in this statement is a very specific understanding of how God interacts with the world. It says, God directs all things. So cut to the chase, does that mean mass murders? It is saying God had a reason for those senseless acts of violence. Another example, stubbing your toe on the door frame? God sought to smite your toe!
This theology of God turns humanity into puppets. God’s little play things who really have no freewill. God doesn’t need toys.
9) God needed another angel. So the theology is this: God loves you. God loves your loved ones. God is coming for your loved ones! If it hurt when God smote your toe, imagine when God rips your heart out because God needed another angel in heaven.
That doesn’t make someone feel better. it tells them they better not share with you the agonizing pain gripping them. Instead of offering this bromide, simply ask someone to tell you about their loved one. Listen.
8) God never gives us more than we can handle. The human spirit has an amazing capacity to overcome. But sometimes it can’t. Imagine this answer on a suicide hotline. In a way this is wrong like number 10 is wrong. And it’s wrong because life does sometimes overwhelm. What helps and heals is when we get in the muck with another and walk with them. But to tell them, no worries, you’ll make it, as we walk on without them, is wrong.
7) But for the grace of God, there go I. Think about that for a moment. How about walking in the shoes you’re grateful not to be in for a minute? Are they where they are because they lack the grace of God that you received? Does God pick and choose whom grace lands upon. That would mean God intentionally withholds it from some people.
Most of us when we say this, don’t really mean it that way. But that is what we’re saying when we say it. Yes, we need to be thankful for where we are and the blessings we have. At the same time, we should not throw coals on other’s shoulders. Even if unintentionally.
6) I must be living right. It’s Christmas Eve. You’ve run out to the store for one last needed item. The parking lot is packed, and just as you pull down a row, the car in the first space, closest to the store, pulls out. And you say to yourself, “I must be living right?”
OK you are half joking. But think about it, only half joking. Statements like this have their root in that “everything happens for a reason” concept. This is the same idea as those who ask God to help them win a football game. I hate to spoil it for everyone, but God doesn’t care who wins the game, (I know, I’ve been rooting for the Chargers all season) or how close to the store we get to park.
Link this comment to the previous one and what are we saying about those who had to park in the very last spot, next to the cart return where the car doors get all dinged up? For that matter, if I’m “living right” perhaps I should take that spot and leave the one up front for someone else.
5) Love the sinner, hate the sin. The problem with this one is the comma. It should be a period. In fact, even “the sinner” is problematic. For one thing, scripture teaches we all sin and fall short of being the people God desires. Beyond that, who are we to decide for someone else what is getting between them and God? We need to account for our own shortcomings. Hands off others. Maybe on this one we stop with the first word, Love. Period.
4) It’s okay to judge. “I’m not judging him, I’m just saying…” The pick-a-little-talk-a-little gossip ladies of The Music Man, have given way to the wildfire that is social media. And like the town gossips of old, social media has given license to sharing opinions on all manner of subjects. One in particular is judging others. Some even think it is cool these days to judge others. Of course, if we “love the sinner, but hate the sin,” then it’s ok to talk about others. Right? Except maybe we need to take the log out of our eyes, before we tackle someone else’s cinder.
3) Because the Bible tells me so. Many of our folks just completed reading the Bible in 90 days. There were more than a few surprises. One that we held back, there are unicorns in the Bible. That’s right, unicorns. Well, not in the version we read, the NIV. But nine times in what the NIV translates as “wild ox,” the King James translates as unicorns.
The Bible is not a proof text. It is the story of God’s relationship with humanity. So the best way to approach this comment is in the sense that Karl Barth used it in response to a woman’s request to sum-up his theology in a nutshell. He replied: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
2) When God closes a door, God opens a window. A God-given escape route sounds nice. But to someone who is languishing in poverty, the persecuted Christians in Isis held territory, or to the parents of the murdered in Sandy hook, sometimes the doors are closed and the windows are nailed shut. Just leave this one at the door.
1)God has a plan. God does have a plan, that we live life, and live it abundantly in God’s grace. Yet sometimes that plan goes awry. When it does, folks don’t want to hear about the plan. Because in that moment, the plan stinks. What they need to hear, is that Jesus sat down with the down and out, like the woman at the well. That Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, even though he had a plan to bring him back to life.
In fact, that’s as good as any comment you could ever make to someone, sit down with them. Listen to them. Share with them their very real pain; their very real doubt; their very real uncertainty; their very real anger. Be present with them, and allow God to work through your presence. Can we resolve to do that in the new year?
© 2017 Gordon B. Mapes III, all rights reserved