Path to God, Love of Enemies, Spirit Body in our Earthly Body

Carol Bullard-Bates

February 24, 2019:

Psalm 37

Psalm 37 explains for us a path to being with and following God:

We are not to fret because of the wicked.
We are to trust in the Lord and do good.
We are to commit our way to the Lord, trust in him and watch for God’s actions.
We are to be still before the Lord and wait patiently for God.
We are to refrain from anger and forsake wrath.

We are not to fret or worry about the wicked?  I don’t know about you, but I have been doing a lot of fretting since our President and his followers have been a part of our government.  The psalmist says that fretting only leads to evil.  One thing it does is waste time,

  • time we have that is precious,
  • time we could be acting against the decisions that are separating us from each other,
  • time we could be doing retreats for the Samaritans at the border like Connie and Jesse,
  • time we could be enjoying each other and supporting each other in the fight for justice,
  • time we could be fleshing out our call we are hearing from God,
  • time we could be asking God for help in healing ourselves and others. 

Fretting and worry takes away from our precious lives.  The way my father always puts it “What does worry do for you?  Nothing.  “ He always ends our calls when we have been talking about our concerns about the world, “Well, I’m not going to worry about that.” I often tell my patients who worry and who are God-followers, “when you find your self worrying, catch yourself and start praying for the situation.” We only have the most meager sense of the power of prayer, but bringing God’s peace that passes understanding and power in to any situation is unleashing a flowing stream of strength we can only imagine!   In heaven we will understand it at a more awesome level, although many of us here have had miracles happen in our lives that illuminate God’s power, clearly bringing the Kin-dom on earth.

We are to trust in the Lord and do good.

It’s hard to trust in the Lord when our government is destroying our support structures, and our ways of controlling our carbon emissions; when our son is not talking to us for months; when my brothers are still hurting themselves with alcohol.  At these times we can get distracted from the fact that God is working ALL THE TIME.  God is moving in ways we can see and ways we cannot see.  At these challenging times, I hold on to God’s vision for our world and our loved ones.  I prayerfully envision our son becoming the man God created him to be, with all his gifts to share with our world.  I imagine my brothers in recovery with their bodies and minds and spirits healing from their addiction.  I imagine all of us caring for our animals and plants and all the natural world, bringing peace and justice wherever it is needed, caring for ourselves and each other.  This is a prayer with power.  If we see the problems, we also need to ask ourselves whether we are called to make a difference in that problem.  In my life, having something come up in my mind over and over is the beginning of call.

One example is what has been happening to me recently.  Every time I go by Tony in the Festival Center parking lot or see others in the street without a place to be out of the cold, I can’t ignore it.  I feel that I am called to make a difference to these people.  Then a man called Matthew Munk from Baltimore—whom Wendy told me about last year—started talking to me about the importance of Jesus’ followers focusing on empowering the marginalized in our world.  This is different from helping others.  The focus is on walking beside people, hearing about their dreams and visions for their lives and encouraging them to become leaders and work at accomplishing their visions and what they need.  I have been excited about this model.  Matthew envisions these marginalized communities becoming their own churches to give them the support and strength they need from each other.  I believe that none of these experiences are accidental.  I see God at work in it all to direct me.  So I am challenging our Jubilee Church to take the step to support this vision and want everyone one here to consider joining us in this path if it is resonant with you.  We are going to start getting to know our friends on the street by meeting at 5 PM on Wednesdays before Jubilee Church to meet at McDonalds and get to know people who are hanging out there.  Michael Schaff is the one who suggested this at Jubilee Church and Barbara Oldland knows everyone in this area so they are our leaders/guides.  Like any new call, I am scared of this vision as well as excited, but I have my brother Mike and sister Barbara leading us which is reassuring.  Also, God is the one who has given us this vision, so we are trusting God will be leading us.  As the   psalmist says, we are trusting in the Lord and hopefully we all will being doing God’s will in the process, doing good.

The psalmist says we are to commit our way to the Lord, trust in him and watch for God’s actions.

How do we commit our way to the Lord? 

  • First we must listen carefully to the messages that keep coming to us.  Reading the Scriptures to discern God’s and Jesus’ path is also essential. 
  • Then we must have the courage to take the steps to answer God’s call.  This is a scary process.  But if the call is from God, as I just said, God promises to be with us!   We can trust God to be there, no matter how upsetting things are around us. 
  • The next step is “watch for God’s actions.” Watching for God’s actions has been something I have been consciously doing ever since Trump has been in the White House, and I have seen God acting in clear ways. 
  • We all were disgusted with Trump bragging about abusing women, and yet the MeToo movement has made it clear that women are no longer going to put up with sexual harassment, sexual abuse and rape; and men have had to take responsibility for their actions in this area and face the consequences.  The Catholic Church has finally had a conference on sexual abuse of priests in this last week.  These are God’s actions. 
  • I also see the fact that women were so sick of the government’s decisions and lack of decision making in the important areas of all our lives that many have decided to run for Congress and won.  These are God’s actions. 
  • People of color and people of a range of gender identities were so horrified at the racism and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from Trump and his followers that they decided to run for Congress, mayor, and state legislatures and won.  These are God’s actions. 
  • As Trump has cut back on the emission standards for cars and pollution standards for companies, and pulled the US out of the Paris Climate agreement, many state legislatures have moved toward even more stringent standards and have sued Trump for the health consequences and destruction of the earth to bring it closer to being inhabitable.  These are God’s actions through people who see God’s values and want to be a part of God’s Kin-dom, whether they are conscious of being in God’s stream or not. 
  • Trump’s racism has ignited the Poor People’s Campaign, trying to help poor white people to realize that their needs are the same as poor people of color, and they need to join ranks with each other and empower each other to fight racism and war against the poor in this country.  This is God’s action, whose preference is for the poor. 
  • And in spite of the racism that has been unleashed in this country in a more destructive way, there has been a major change in sentencing in the criminal justice system which is beginning to bring a little more justice to those incarcerated for minor crimes.  This is God’s action.

We are to be still before the Lord and wait patiently for God.

Why is stillness important?  We can’t hear God or Jesus unless we are still.  Stillness drowns out all the world’s values and misguidance and temptation to consume more.  Stillness makes it possible to see why we are scared or traumatized and where we need healing, as Connie talked about last week.  Stillness helps us to understand why we are hurtful rather than empowering of our loved ones and ourselves and those who God has given us to care for.  Stillness makes it possible to calm our anxieties and see what is really important in our lives. 

Then the psalmist asks us to “wait patiently for the Lord.” Jimmy always talks about how our answers to prayers, “are in God’s time, not our time.” I waited many years of praying to see my grandfather, who was hell on wheels to everyone in the family, actually have an experience of Jesus coming to him and telling him he was accepted, which he had never felt he was.  He became a follower of Jesus.  I have been waiting and praying for my whole life since I have been a Christian to see justice and peace come in Israel-Palestine.  Now the Museum of the Palestinian people is going to have its first art exhibit which will consist of paintings depicting what it will be like to live in a place of justice and peace for all people in Israel-Palestine.  They are envisioning God’s dream.  I am shivering with God’s vision as I think of the miracle it will be as I write this.  I can imagine it and I know the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.  If it can happen in South Africa, it can happen in Israel-Palestine.  I am trying to wait patiently, but my patience is not always there.

We are to refrain from anger and forsake wrath.

I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of what I call righteous anger about what has been happening in our government and our country and our world.  I always talk about anger that mobilizes us versus anger that hurts us or others.  In another Scripture it says “Be angry, but sin not.”

If we are angry it can affect us and others negatively, and that is not God’s path.  However, if our anger mobilizes us to fight destructive forces in this world, it is a gift from God!   Wrath, on the other hand, needs to be forsaken.  I am rarely that angry, but when I am, you need to stay as far away from me as you can!   It is usually when I have been unjustly accused, which Jesus dealt with all the time.  The only way I can calm down is to talk to my husband, Kent, or someone I trust, or spend a long time praying to reset my body and mind.  The sooner we do this, the sooner we will be back on Jesus’ path.  Making decisions when I am feeling wrath is NOT a good idea!   So the   psalmist encourages us to refrain from wrath.  If we can’t refrain from it, we need to at least deal with it quickly if it occurs to us unexpectedly.

Alleluia!

Luke 6: 27-28

Now Jesus comes to the most challenging statement in all His teachings for us in Luke 6: 27-28.

“But I tell you who hear me: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

This is the core challenge of our faith as Jesus followers, being able to love our enemies as we do those who we are close to.  I often say the only way we can do this is through the strength of Jesus and God and the Spirit.  It is not humanly possible to love people who are hurting us, hating us, cursing us.  This is where we need supernatural strength from God and discernment.  My mother always used to tell me that if we treat others kindly when they have been rude or obnoxious or mean, “it is like pouring burning coals on their head,” which is from another Scripture.  When my kids were complaining about me as they were growing up, I often used to say “Thank you,” which would throw them off for a moment and they would look at me weirdly and their anger would be dissipated a little. 

It would have been hard enough if Jesus had said treat your enemies well, but he says “Love your enemies.” When I think of love, I think of wanting the person’s best, wanting the person to thrive, to be all he is supposed to be, empowering her to be fulfilled and to be able to give back to the world with his or her God given gifts.  Praying in love would include all these things we wish for those we love.  Do we pray for our enemies like this?  I know that William does.  He prays for Trump that God will get in to his heart and teach him about love.  William has not given up on Trump.  William sees love-potential in Trump.  I have recently been trying to envision Jesus knocking Trump off his power horse like he did Saul and asking Trump why he is persecuting him.  I was told by Kent that Trump’s father told him that the world was full of eithers losers or killers.  What kind of a relationship can a young man imagine if he sees all people as one of these?  I can imagine that he is a lonely soul searching for his needs in all the wrong places.  He does need all of our prayers and Jesus calls us to pray for him, no matter how destructive he is to us and this world.  Can we see him in a transformed light?  Our prayers are powerful and can make a difference.  I was going to write an angry letter to Trump, but instead I decided to ask him to be a leader in the areas I felt we needed him to respond differently.  I looked at the Greek word for love in this “love your enemies” passage, and it is agape, self-sacrificial love.  Now Jesus is putting us out on our outer edges of possibility.  Sacrifice ourselves for our enemies?  Yet his examples call us to this.  Walk an extra mile with the soldier if he asks you to walk one, turn your other cheek for a hit, willingly give someone your tunic if he takes your cloak.  This leaves us naked.  Naked before the person.  Perhaps this would help the enemy to see what he is doing to others?  Love is to have no limits.  This reminds me of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. telling his followers they could not fight back when they were attacked, or arrested, and they needed to pray for those who were killing them and cursing them.  That took power from Jesus and God.  They knew that civil rights and voting rights were their God-given gifts and they were willing to suffer for those rights to show the white supremacist culture that they were stronger in God’s Spirit and clear in their God-given identity.

What enemies in your life do you need to love?  Can you call on Jesus to guide you in to love?  Can you be self-sacrificing to show others God’s power and vision?  Be kind to yourself because this is a process to learn to truly love and pray for an enemy.  But it can be done and it is a huge gift when we have been transformed in that vision from Jesus.

Jesus goes on “Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured in to your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Here Jesus makes it clear to us that what we give out to the world and each other—whether it is judgment and condemnation or forgiveness and generosity—is what we will receive.  It is so hard for me to not judge others, whether it is in my mind, or out loud to friends or family.  So many times I find myself judging others for so many things, even people I do not know.  It is usually pride that is being expressed at these times, thinking I don’t have their problems.  But one of the patterns I see in my judgment is realizing that so many times I judge the problems of others that are also my problems.  I can’t handle people who are bossy and controlling because I am often that way.  I can’t handle people who interrupt others because I interrupt people.  I can’t stand people who are not good listeners because I also am not a good listener at times.  Self-awareness is an ongoing growth area for all of us, and I am always grateful when I trust someone and they give me constructive feedback with love.

When I read the Scriptures for this week to begin the sermon, I realized that I needed to look at who I have not forgiven in my life.  I told Kent who it was in our family and how I think and say negative things about this person fairly consistently to myself and to others who are close to me.  This is not Jesus’ path, and one of my friends has consistently told me to try to change my way of talking about this person.  This used to make me irritated.  This week Kent and I had a heart-to-heart about the ways this person has suffered in life, how lonely this person has been, and I understood at a deeper level the person’s deep pain which has led to the pain in our family.  Through that conversation my anger was quelled and I feel I began the path of forgiving this person for all the pain this person has caused our family.  I feel I can be loving to this person and this week I have started to pray for this person’s life and happiness, and actually feel a sense of caring for this person which has been difficult for me in the past.  It was a great weight off of my spirit, and I hope it frees this person to be who God created the person to be.  Now I am experiencing a circle of love from me towards this person, and if I do not receive it back, I will understand better why not, because of the person’s suffering.

The negative energy from me is gone.  Thank you God for this release!

Alleluia!

And now we come to the most awe inspiring of the Scriptures this week, Paul talking about the resurrection of our bodies when we die.

“So it will be with the resurrection of the dead.  The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

I’ve been thinking about bodies a lot this week because of this Scripture.  Last weekend Kent and I heard the story of Santiago being born and then Luisely told us that the amniotic fluid is a similar salt content as the ocean.  Crisely said she was an ocean-lover, as I am, and I began thinking of our bodies as ocean dwellers as we are growing in our mother’s womb.  Such a miracle that the seeds of our mother’s egg and father’s sperm are sown in our mother’s womb and that God has created a small ocean inside our mother for us to be protected from any outside jolts or falls that could hurt us.  Our brain and spine are bathed in bodies of water for the same reason, to protect them.  We are made up mostly of water, even as we live on this earth.  Then, when we are born, we are creatures of the earth and the air, breathing in the oxygen given to us by the nations of trees and bushes, and breathing out carbon dioxide to nurture them, a beautiful circle of life giving energy. 

As we realize we want to follow Jesus, and receive his promised Spirit to guide us in our thoughts and actions, this gives us the healing power of love and forgiveness.  We are given spiritual gifts, and we become a Spirit being in our earthly body.  Then we become part of the spiritual Body of Christ, using our spiritual gifts to support and love each other, to guide and encourage each other to be Jesus’ followers and to create the Kin-dom on earth, even with our enemies!   We become spiritually transformational beings for ourselves, each other and those God gives us at our work, in our family, in the world and for our environment.  Now we care for and love every one and every being, sacrificially.  The Body of Christ is a safe and healing space where the negative energy from our family or our culture is transformed in our bodies to positive energy experiences of love and community.  When we feel safe and cared for, we have all our energy to use to be God’s witnesses of the Good News that God loves us all and transforms us all, loves the world and wants it to flourish and be healthy.  Then at our death our spiritual body moves beyond this earth to another realm, transformed to go forward on our next great adventure, as Mary Cosby used to say, of love and learning and deeper communication than we can imagine with God and Jesus and each other.  No one who has had a life-after life experience I have ever known or read about ever wants to return to this earth.  They only do it because they know that people here on earth need them to return.  They are willing to sacrifice their return for others.

So I urge you brothers and sisters, to go forth to vision God’s realm on this earth and to be God’s transformational power and energy in this world and beyond.