Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable to God the Father, Jesus the Son and to the Holy Spirit that dwells within me. Amen.
Please be seated.
I want to take a moment and reflect on this morning’s reading from ROMANS (12:9).
Let love be genuine: hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love on another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
Best advice ever.I think my own spiritual journey started on the LA Freeway when we were passing the community known as “Watts” in our ’68 Dodge Station Wagon. My sister and I were probably in the far back seat – the one facing the oncoming traffic. I am fairly certain the car had no seat belts – at least not back there.
I had seen cities burning in the distance before. I vividly remember the night sky on the way to see the launch of Apollo 11 and my parents explaining that racial riots were going on across the south and that we would be staying along the highway and avoiding urban areas as a result. This, while one of mankind’s greatest achievements was about to happen.
On this California day, I had seen the morning news. I had already read the LA Times and seen the pictures there too. But now we were driving by and seeing the smoldering remains in person. And like a flash, I realized that people lived in Watts. They had families too. How could they go on?
And then I thought about all the people who were driving by like we were. Would they care? Did I? How come I was only thinking about them now?
When my Dad went to Vietnam (and I was six) I had thought about the impact on people. I knew that if your Dad was a helicopter pilot he was probably not coming home. I knew that if my Dad got home, people would not thank him or respect him. Thank God that has changed.
I think I must have thanked God in that moment for my Dad making it home. That got me thinking about God. That got me thinking about why bad things happen. Didn’t God care about the people of Watts?
I knew God cared. God was perfect. People were flawed. It was part of God’s plan. Indeed, God had a plan for each and every one of us. God knew about and cared about every one of those families in Watts and even about all those people driving by on the LA freeway who pretended not to notice the smoldering ashes.
All of us were just driving by much like the “valley of ashes” in The Great Gatsby. I definitely read too much for a kid, but now I understood F. Scott Fitzgerald’s point. So my revelation sitting in traffic on the LA freeway might not be a new thing. Yet it was new to me and it started to re-shape my thinking.
This was a burden, but it seemed like part of growing up. I had already felt tremendous responsibility for my family when my Dad went to Viet Nam. I had been told I was the “man of the house.” Should I feel the same responsibility for the rest of humanity. Did God expect this of us? I decided he did.
I remember being overwhelmed with the knowledge that every individual life was just as complicated as my own. But I also remember being overjoyed that God cared just as much about every one of them. I dwelled on that a lot at the time. But then I started to think about what God expected us to do about it. In many ways, I think that is what my spiritual journey has been about – and more and more what my life is about.
In many ways, my own spiritual journey began on that day. It has remained a struggle to live with both the joy of salvation offered to each of us and the responsibility to take care of each other until that day. A struggle to balance joy and responsibility.
The tougher part is what I call “Tuck’s question.” What is God calling us to do in the world? Are we awake to it? Are we listening? How do we figure that out?
And Tuck has upped the ante here. He has privately asked me how my work is a form of worship? In other words, how am I honoring God when I am working? How is my behavior different than someone who is not a believer? How am I modeling good Christian ethics, even when I am working?
I have long been obsessed with C.S. Lewis. Both of my children grew up listening to The Chronicles of Narnia. I really mean his other works about the problems of evil and suffering in the world. As a child and throughout my adult life I have been perplexed by a world that can accept human suffering on so large a scale.
The problems we faced in the 1960’s were described as political problems, so it felt correct for me to go into the political world. Even as a child, I turned our dinner table into political discourse. I loved campaigns from the start. I was eventually drawn toward studying the pulse of the people. I studied public policy in graduate school and I ended up becoming a public opinion pollster.
I can honestly say that I enjoy what I do. My task it to remind others of what actual people are going through in their daily lives. Most of the time in this country, but also abroad. Most of the time with elected officials, but with other groups, companies and foundations as well.
But I cannot say that this type of work has not challenged my faith in very real ways at times. I have seen the ugly side of politics. I have seen those entrusted with power turn their back on those they were elected to represent and to care for – and they almost always have an excuse. But more times than not I have witnessed humble and sincere public servants do their best in bad situations. I still think goodness can outshine the bad – but only if we take responsibility and hold others accountable.
Perhaps more importantly, I think truth almost always comes to light in the end. God loves truth.
Here is a check list of things that I think help me steer toward the light. Am I meeting the mark? No way. I am way short of what God should expect of me. Absolutely.
Listen. Everyone has something to teach you. Your job is to figure out what it is. This will lead to liking others and appreciating them. Listening to others is the only way to understand what is happening around you and to meet the needs of others.
Live what you believe. When someone asks you what your opinion of the death penalty is, tell them why you oppose it – even when you know they voted for it.
This is another way of saying prioritize God in your life. And that will lead to talking about your own faith journey with others, which God expects us all to do.
Tell the truth. Do it when it is unpopular. Again, God loves the truth. When political aides fail to tell their bosses the truth, we end up with public policy that hurts people.
Force those around you to think. God gave us brains for a reason. Any public policy that leads to death or ignores bad outcomes is bad. That is not rocket science but it passes for it in Washington DC.
Make people explain. Always ask why. Most people don’t have reasons for why they act the way they do, but if they are forced to explain, they often change their behavior.
But that also means you should tell people “why.” More often than not, we have the same goals and desires as others. Sometimes the difference between us is only our judgement on the best way to get there. Sorry, but I don’t think compromise is a bad word. It has kept me happily married for 20 years.
Push ethical behavior. Try just asking people what decision they would make if they had to explain it to their own Mother. Trust that they will do so, but verify when you can.
Learn how to pray. Give yourself lessons and practice. Get someone to teach you. This is going to get you through the rough patches. This will help you to understand that God always has your back.
If someone asks for help, help them. And then don’t make a big deal about it. Don’t expect anything in return. If you don’t feel real joy from that, then you need to pray more.
God wants us to love each other. If you love someone, be sure to tell them. Your wife will understand that you love other people and she will get used to it. I am a kisser. My son understands this and he even lets me do it in public now.
Finally, feel the joy. This is my biggest failure. I am a worrier and it is hard for me to be in the moment. When I come into St. Luke’s Church, I feel the joy…But I also feel the responsibility, as all of us should.
Life is about people and the connections we make with each other. When we are gone, no one will care about the money we made or the toys we played with. We live on in the way that we have touched each other’s lives and made each other feel and taken care of each other.
It has taken me most of my adult life to get a remote understanding of what God expects of me and I am still on a journey that I do not fully understand.
I told my daughter the other day that I have lots of jobs. My first job is to take care of her, her brother and her mother – and then every other relative no matter how distant. My second job is to take care of the people at work, both the clients and the people who work with me – and their families. My third job is to take care of St. Luke’s and all the people who call this building home.
What I did not tell her, but expect that she will understand some day, is that God expects us all to take care of one another. What I did tell her is that God expects us to worship Him alone and then love each other as we love ourselves. And then I might have asked her if she had done her homework.
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