Sunday, July 6, 2014

Phil Kniss: Captive freedom

Journey through Romans: We are free from sin, enslaved to God
Romans 6:15-23; Matthew 16:24-26

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Two days ago Irene and I were in our nation’s capital
on the day our country celebrated “Independence Day.”
It was for a baseball game, and a cookout with our family,
more than for the holiday.
But we, along with most of you,
took a day off work to celebrate the day
we declared independence from England, our motherland.
We look back on that milestone with fondness,
and rightly so.
A few pertinent historical details aside,
it’s safe to say that Independence Day
marks our coming of age as a country,
when we realized we were grown up,
and mature enough to be out on our own,
whether or not Mama England thought we were,
or liked it that we were.

Ever since then,
America has steadfastly upheld the ideal of . . . freedom.
We have made it our business in the world
to be a global defender of . . . freedom.
Nearly every war we have fought in our nation’s history
has been hailed as a battle to defend our . . . freedom,
or someone else’s freedom.

In the news recently, due to all the violence and chaos in Iraq,
we’ve been mulling over the war we fought in Iraq for 9 years
under the banner “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
The government website for that war used to be freedom.gov.
There is a great deal of doubt now, of course,
as to what sort of freedom was ever obtained,
either for Iraqis, or for ourselves,
when we count the staggering cost in human life and dollars,
and see how fragmented and violent life in Iraq continues to be.

Similar questions could be asked, in the aftermath of most wars.
What kind of freedom was gained? . . . for whom? . . . at what cost?
And what new bondage do we now have as a result?

Not only in war, but in other global enterprises,
Americans are renowned for trying to export freedom.
And on the home front, we have virtually worshipped at the altar
of this noble, but nebulous, cultural virtue of freedom.

Now, I will go on record as saying freedom is a very good thing.
I know God thinks so.
The Bible is full of freedom stories.
The most epic one being the Exodus.
God was, and is, all about granting freedom to those in bondage.
In Luke 4:18 Jesus declared that his mission on earth was
proclaim release to the captives, to let the oppressed go free.

So do not think that I’m either anti-American or anti-freedom.
I want us all, people of all kinds, all over the world,
to be the most healthy, joyful, and liberated
citizens of the world,
and citizens of the realm of God.

But I do want to raise some troubling questions about freedom,
at least, as we often define it.
Because as followers of Jesus,
if we’re going to be true to God’s vision of human freedom . . .
we have be a little suspicious
of our Western culture’s vision of freedom.

We in the West have made freedom a virtual absolute,
the “be all” and “end all” of human existence.
We have come to believe that for the human being
to fulfill its greatest potential,
it has to be utterly free to be and to do,
whatever it wishes to be and to do.
The one and only limit to my freedom,
is that I can’t trample on someone else’s freedom.

As a moral principle,
that seems a little short-sighted.
The Declaration of Independence,
which we just celebrated,
insists, rightly, that all people were created equal,
and that our Creator endowed us with certain human rights.
Bravo!
But what it doesn’t give us,
is the deeper theological implications,
of having been created and sustained by God.
I wouldn’t expect it to.
It was a political statement, not a theological statement.

So let me add to it,
from our Judeo-Christian theology of creation.
As created beings,
we are utterly de-pendent on our Creator for all that we are,
and we are responsible to our Creator for all that we do.
The fact that our Creator gave us free will,
does not take away our moral obligation to our Creator.
I am morally responsible to God, for the way I live my life,
because that life was given to me by God.
God my Creator, still has a claim on me.
I cannot under-emphasize how much that shapes how I live.

God, who created all things, and whose character is love,
longs to be in relationship with us,
longs to be reconciled with us,
and longs for us to exist together in reconciled community.
God’s fullest intention and desire for us,
is that we find wholeness as individuals in community.

If we make individual freedom an absolute value,
with the only limit being,
not to violate someone else’s individual freedom,
we undermine the value of community
at the heart of the creation story.

I suggest that instead, we start with the creation story
and say that the only absolute value worth dying for
is fulfilling God’s intention for us as a people
created in communion with each other,
with God, and with Creation.

That makes a world of difference in our ethics, I think.
_____________________

That’s what Paul was getting at here in Romans.
You may find it helpful to follow along in Romans, ch. 6, vs. 15-23.
Paul talked a lot about freedom in his letters to churches,
including Romans.
It was a favorite theme.
Paul strongly believed in salvation by grace
through faith in Jesus Christ,
which led him to preach a Gospel of freedom.
Because salvation comes by grace,
and not by successfully achieving
all the rigorous demands of the law,
then we are free.
Not free, as in, now we can do whatever we please.
But free, as in, not under bondage from the despair and shame
that goes with trying to earn salvation through perfection.

That was Paul’s passionate and eloquent argument in chapter 5,
which we looked at last Sunday.
Salvation is a gift.
And confessed failures and sins don’t count against us.

Now, in today’s text, he quickly jumps in with a “yes, but.”
He says, don’t get the wrong idea about freedom.
Just because God’s gift makes us free from the guilt of sin,
is not a license to abuse the gift.
We don’t just live however we want to,
without boundaries.

Apparently, some new believers in Rome were so relieved
by this grace and freedom,
they threw caution to the wind,
and threw away their boundaries, too.
Paul says in v. 16, hold on a minute—
“Don’t you know you are still slaves?”
No, you’re not slaves of sin anymore.
You’re freed from that.
But you’re God’s servants now.
v. 18: “You’re servants of righteousness.”
In other words, servants of the right and of the just.

It’s a much better kind of servitude, Paul says.
But it’s servitude, nonetheless.
We are not independent, at all.

He draws a line, and points to the opposite ends, in v. 20ff—
slaves to sin, or slaves to righteousness.
He says, “Formerly, as slaves to sin,
you were free, in regard to righteousness.
Righteousness and justice had no claim on you.
You were free, as far as that went.
Now you are enslaved to God,
and you are free, in regard to sin.
Sin has no claim on you.

So which slavery do you prefer? (v. 23)
Slavery that leads to death,
or slavery that leads to life, and life eternal.

In Christ, we do give up a certain kind of freedom,
in order to gain, not in-dependence,
but a more rewarding kind of de-pendence.
In the words of Jesus, from today’s Gospel reading,
“Those who want to save their life will lose it,
and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
_____________________

It’s always a temptation to think we become free
by tearing down all fences.
It is simply not the case.
We are free, but only because we get to choose our fences.
God is not a coercive master.
God is a loving master who grants free will.
Nevertheless, God is still a master,
with a rightful claim on our lives.
We are not free from all obligations.

It’s not just Paul and other biblical writers
saying that fences are good things.
It’s really a common sense conclusion.
Knowing and respecting our boundaries, our limits,
gives us a sense of identity and security.
We can never truly be free,
unless we know who we are, and feel secure in that identity.
Show me someone who is confused about who they are,
confused about who they belong to,
confused about our perimeters,
and I’ll show you someone who is living in bondage,
who is losing a healthy sense of self and freedom.

You with me?
I’m guessing you are, because it makes perfect sense—
biblical sense, and common sense.
Now, I’m going to make the opposite point,
and see if you can all stay with me.

Boundaries are also not the be all and end all for the good life.
Boundaries, like freedom, can go to seed, and do bad things.
Boundaries can also lead to bondage,
when they consume all the attention and energy
of an individual or a group.
If we use up all our resources and vision
obsessing over the perimeter,
guarding and protecting the edges of our identity,
we will almost inevitably neglect tending to the center.
And by center, I mean the core of what defines who we are,
and who are called to become.
An emphasis on boundaries,
without a corresponding emphasis on the center,
also leads to a loss of freedom
to be who God intends us to be.

The journey to freedom involves finding a balance between
tending to the center and tending to boundaries.

Does this sound vaguely relevant
to current tensions across the Mennonite family of faith?
I hope it does.
I can hardly turn to any text for preaching these days,
and not read them through the lens of our current context.
So let’s think a little about this text, and our context.

We can all agree, quite easily I think,
that good fences are necessary
for healthy self-definition
and healthy sense of freedom.
Where we disagree often,
is not only where the fences should lie,
but how we want those fences to function,
how high and wide and penetrable they must be,
and who gets the right to determine where they lie.

Different groups, different Christian faith traditions,
have very different understandings on basic questions of
who has authority to erect the fences, and maintain them,
and how much fence-crossing is permitted,
before our health and freedom is threatened.

Our history and theology and practice as Mennonites
make these questions challenging, for good reason:
Mennonites believe that how we live makes a real difference.
Doctrine is important, but discipleship even more so.
It’s not enough to speak good words about what we believe.
Ethics matter, and they matter in all areas of life.
We understand that authority does not operate top down.
We believe cold, hard, rule-making by leaders at the top
who are isolated from their followers,
results in bondage, not freedom.
We believe in communally-discerned fences,
in compassionate boundaries,
in a church where everyone contributes to the decisions
about how our covenant will be lived out.

So . . . for us, living peaceably, in covenant community,
is hard, messy work.
It always will be. It always has been.
We are not at a brand new place in the life of our church.

But it does seem to me,
that if we would spend our best energy, time, and passion
working out what our center is,
and working out what draws us toward that center,
then our ongoing community fence-building project
might have more integrity, and more staying power.
_____________________

Paul tells us in Romans 6, that by God’s grace,
we are free from the bondage sin brought,
and we are able to live full lives as servants of God.
God has a claim on our lives,
and we do not assert the right to live for ourselves,
since the fullest life we can live
is a life submitted to God’s agenda.

So the more we lean into God’s will for our lives,
or to use Jesus’ words,
the more we lose our lives for the sake of the kingdom,
the more likely we are to find our center—
both individually and as a church.

Individually, we will be focused on taking up our cross
and following as Jesus invited us,
and not living out of fear and self-protection.

Collectively, as a church,
the more we are willing to lose our lives for the kingdom,
that is, let go of institutional pride or self-preservation,
or securing our borders at the cost of mission,
the more likely we will be to have discovered our center,
and to grow toward God’s intention for our life together.

Now, I know this all sounds very nice . . . and simplistic.
Making it real, for us here, for us now, gets complicated.

Because perspective makes all the difference.
Where you sit determines where you see the fence,
and where you see the center.
The very same thing can look to one person
like an unhealthy obsession with institutional boundaries,
and to another person like a healthy clarifying of the center.
That makes our work challenging, to say the least.

But it also tells me that, like it or not,
it makes our continuing work necessary,
if we want to be obedient as the church of Jesus Christ.
_____________________

Many of you know that in the last eight days,
the main governing boards
of both EMU and Mennonite Church USA,
issued public reports of decisions made
relating to concerns in the church
over how we view same-sex relationships.
The specific questions they dealt with were different.
I won’t make my sermon longer than it is
by recounting all the details.
They are well-documented, online at their websites,
and in the church press.
But if any of you who do not get online,
and haven’t seen the statements yet,
let me know after the service.
I have some hard copies with me.

For the purposes of my sermon,
I’ll simply observe that the decisions reached by both bodies,
for this particular point in time,
elicited some sharp, disappointed reaction across the church,
by persons on both ends
of the conservative and progressive spectrum.
And it gave some reassurance to many others,
myself included,
that there is, in fact, a strong commitment by our church
to stay together at the same table,
and keep putting in the time,
and sometimes grueling effort and energy,
to do the important work of clarifying our center.

Maybe their actions did look like institutional self-preservation
to some of you.
So be it.
I don’t fault your perspective.
Maybe it did look like caving in to cultural pressure
to some of you.
So be it.
I don’t fault your perspective.
What you see is shaped by where you sit.
And your vantage point has its own integrity.

But what I am so grateful for in all of this,
and why I am more hopeful than discouraged,
is that we all still believe enough in this thing called church,
that we are willing to keep working at it,
even when the work is painful.

Some may need to walk away.
Some may feel pushed away.
I hope neither happens,
but I am realistic in expecting that both will.
But the organized church is still a voluntary association,
and we will make the alliances and affiliations
we feel we are called, and able, to make.

We are free in that way, humanly speaking.
But in our alignment with God, and with God’s purposes,
we are not now,
nor do we ever want to be . . . free and independent.
We hear God’s claim of ownership,
which our Creator has already made on us,
and we respond with yes, I am yours.
Do with me as you will.

I invite us to respond with this “I will”
by singing together a hymn text that is in our blue hymnal,
but which we have rarely sung.
It’s “Make me a captive, Lord.”
We decided to put it to a different, more familiar tune,
the tune of “This is my Father’s world.”
You will find this hymn in your bulletin insert.

The poetry is rich and meaningful.
You will want to read it again later,
to try to digest it all.
But let me read the first & last verse, before we sing it.

Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.
Force me to render up my sword, and I shall conqueror be.
I sink in life’s alarms when by myself I stand;
imprison me within thine arms, and strong shall be my hand.

My will is not my own till thou hast made it thine;
if it would reach a monarch’s throne, it must its crown resign.
It only stands unbent amid the clashing strife,
when on thy bosom it has leant, and found in thee its life.

—Phil Kniss, July 6, 2014

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Phil Kniss: To choose to trust

Journey through Romans: We are justified by faith
Romans 5:1-11; Luke 7:1-10

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This morning’s theme in this series on the book of Romans,
is what you might call the main theme, the organizing idea,
for the whole book.
You can ask anyone well-versed in biblical studies,
and ask them to sum up the book of Romans in three words,
they would probably say “justification by faith.”

Romans is sometimes held up as a counterpoint to James,
which emphasizes the necessity of works, or good deeds.
Romans is the “yes, but” for James.
Yes, James is right that good works provides the evidence
of a genuine faith in Christ,
but Paul is quite clear in Romans that our salvation
is a result of our faith itself,
not something we earn.

I have some mathematical evidence
that points to Paul’s overwhelming concern about faith.
If you do a word count, you find out Paul talks about faith,
more than twice as much as he talks about grace,
three times as much as love,
three times as much as hope,
four times as much as peace.

Of course, numbers don’t tell the whole story.
The real important question here,
is what does “faith” mean to Paul?
What is his underlying concern
that makes him talk about faith so much?

Now, theologians have published 2-inch-thick volumes
on the meaning of faith in Paul’s writings.
My expectations for today is more modest.
I won’t try to answer, or even ask,
all the questions that could be asked about faith in Romans.
I have one main agenda here,
and that is helping us grow as disciples of Jesus.
So I’m only going to address a few things
that I hope move us in that direction.

The word “faith” comes up a lot in church lingo.
And it means a lot of different things,
depending on the context.
We talk about a particular religious tradition as “a faith,”
as in,“the Christian faith” or “the Jewish faith.”
We talk about a systematic body of doctrine as “the faith,”
as in, “holding to the Anabaptist faith.”
We talk about individually accepting of a set of belief statements,
as in “affirming or confessing a personal faith.”
We talk about faith as the stubborn will to believe something
despite lack of evidence,
as in “just have faith, and don’t doubt.”
We even talk about a vague spirituality as “faith,”
as in “I rarely go to church, but faith is important to me.”

In each case, it’s the same word, with a different meaning.

Now, I have no problem with a word having many meanings.
There’s a proper time and place to use the word,
and mean any of those things.
Sometimes we just need to explain what we mean.
And hopefully, the context will help makes it clear.

But . . . one of the first rules of biblical interpretation,
is not to bring our own word meanings to the text,
but try to discover what meaning the author had in mind,
and what meaning would have been understood by
the original hearers of the word.

So I want us to try, as best we can,
to get inside Paul’s head,
and understand what he was trying to say to the Roman church,
before we decide we know what he’s saying to us.

So with that in mind,
let’s take another step back, before Paul,
and look at what Jesus had to say about faith.
I suggest this because,
I think we best understand Paul through the lens of Jesus.
Even though Paul never met Jesus in the flesh,
Paul was a contemporary of Jesus’ own disciples,
and he heard first-hand stories
from the mouths of Peter and James and others.
And Paul claims that Jesus Christ
is the foundation of everything he preaches.
So if we know what Jesus meant when he talked about faith,
we probably have a better angle for reading Paul.

I chose one short Gospel story this morning to illustrate.
I could have picked from dozens.
Because Jesus continually talked about people’s faith,
either being amazed at their “great faith,”
or being disappointed by their “little faith.”

In today’s Gospel reading from Luke 7,
a Gentile centurion, captain of the local Roman guard,
sought out Jesus to heal a beloved servant who became deathly ill.
He called some elders of the Jewish community,
who went to ask Jesus for this favor.
And Jesus responded positively.
So on his way to the centurion’s house,
Jesus met a second group
sent by the centurion with a follow-up message, saying,
“Don’t trouble yourself.
I don’t deserve to have you come to my house.
Just speak the word, and my servant will be healed.”

At which point Jesus . . . stopped in his tracks . . .
turned to the crowds of followers,
and said, “I tell you, not even in all of Israel,
have I found such great faith.”

Now that is simply astounding!
That Jesus would say that Gentile
had more faith than any member of his own Jewish family,
which includes the holy men, the religious leaders.
And not just any Gentile, but a member of the military occupation.
Not just a foot-soldier in the occupying force,
but a commander.
Jesus said a military leader of the foreign occupiers,
had more faith than his own Jewish people?

So what kind of faith did Jesus see in the centurion,
when he said,
“I don’t deserve to have you come to my house.
Just speak the word, and my servant will be healed.”

What sort of faith was Jesus admiring?
Was it the centurion’s belief that Jesus could heal with just a word,
without actually seeing and touching the servant?
Was that the faith that amazed Jesus?

It could not have possibly been that.
By this time Jesus had already healed lepers,
cast out demons,
made the lame walk,
and healed all kinds of other people
with nothing more than a word.
Without only a word he turned water into wine,
healed a man with a withered hand,
filled the empty nets of unlucky fishermen,
with so many fish the boat almost sunk.
No touching. Just a word.
And by this time, after this string of miracles,
thousands of people, all over Israel,
believe that Jesus could exercise his power with a word,
and were following him around because of it.
Thousands had that kind of faith,
just like the centurion.
Jesus would not have been amazed by that kind of faith,
nor would he have said he had never seen that faith in Israel.
Because obviously, he had.

So was Jesus amazed by this man’s faith,
in the sense that he had mastered a system of religious beliefs?
There’s no evidence of that whatsoever.
We know he was a friend of the Jews.
He might even have been a believer in Yahweh, a God-fearer.
He did pay for their synagogue,
but he had not joined the Jewish community.
He was still an outsider to the faith.
We can know, without a doubt,
that was not the faith that impressed Jesus.

No, I think what made this man’s faith remarkable,
and something that stood out above and beyond
anything he had encountered among his own people,
was the man’s humility and vulnerability,
and a simple, yet profound trust in the goodness of God.

Somewhere along the line, I believe,
the centurion had gained more than an intellectual respect
for the God of the Jews.
In building relationships with the people around him,
he came to trust in their God’s character of love and compassion.
He trusted that God would not abandon him in his time of need.
And he was humble enough to admit his need.

I can’t back this up with chapter and verse,
but I think Jesus was surprised twice by the man’s faith.

It doesn’t say this in Luke 7,
but I think Jesus was first amazed when Jewish elders
came to fetch him, and ask him to heal the Centurion’s servant.
This was a Roman captain, representing the Empire.
And had all the wealth and military might of Rome behind him.
For him to stoop to ask for help from the elders,
from the very same people he was in charge of policing,
of monitoring daily to prevent an uprising . . .
that is pretty surprising.
It’s an astonishing expression of humility,
for anyone with that kind of power.

But having done that,
the centurion still could have used this whole thing
to his advantage.

This happens all the time these days.
Something terrible happens . . .
a hurricane or tornado or mass shooting.
And all of a sudden all kinds of important and powerful people
get in front of a camera and microphone,
to connect with their constituency.
They know photo ops
with the grieving and bereaved at their side,
make approval ratings soar.

Now nobody is so crass as to
openly wish for tragedy, to score political points.
And I’m not saying politicians are insincere
in their public words of condolence,
in fact, we want them to speak to us, to reassure us.
But people in positions of power
do know how to make the best of a bad situation.

For the centurion,
this healing event could have been a public relations goldmine.
To have the most well-known itinerant healer in the whole region
make a house call, with a crowd of adoring fans in tow,
would reinforce what a good man he was,
and would reassure the people he was on their side.

I can’t imagine that fact didn’t cross his mind,
and that it didn’t cross Jesus’ mind.

But before Jesus ever got there,
the centurion surprised Jesus the second time.
He sent a message saying, basically,
“I don’t want a public event.
I haven’t done anything to deserve attention.
You have lots of other people to take care of.
Just say the word, and I know God will honor you,
and show compassion to my servant.”
The centurion felt no need to prove himself,
no need to earn the favor of the people,
or the favor of God.
He simply had a need,
admitted it,
and trusted God to meet it.
End of story. The servant was healed.

And Jesus stopped in amazement,
and spoke these pointed words to the righteous and religious:
“In all Israel,” Jesus said,
“Never have I found the kind of faith
where people simply put themselves in the hands of God,
and trust God to do the right thing.”

I take it from the context,
that Jesus was saying, in essence,
“Everywhere I go in Israel,
people are trying to work out their salvation for themselves.
Eating the right food,
washing their hands at the right time,
tithing the right percentage of their mint and cumin.
They’re looking over their shoulder all the time,
to see who notices how righteous they are.”

Not only here, but time and again,
Jesus praises the faith
of those who trust the goodness of God enough
to put themselves utterly into God’s hands
for their healing or deliverance.
Time and again he denounces those “of little faith”
who try to work out their own deliverance.

Even in regard to Peter, and the other disciples,
after they tried to
manipulate events to Jesus’ advantage,
or institutionalize a spiritual experience on a mountain,
or to heal someone publicly, without success,
or walk on water,
how often would Jesus, say with great disappointment,
“O you of little faith.
Why can’t you just trust God to do the right thing?
Instead of trying to make it happen yourself?”
_____________________

I examined again,
the numerous occurrences of the word “faith,”
in all four of the Gospels,
and throughout the book of Romans.
I was hard-pressed to find even two or three verses,
where the word faith
was being used to refer to a system of beliefs,
as in “the Christian faith”
or was being used to refer to
accepting a statement of belief as being true.
The overwhelming majority of the time – more than 95% –
Jesus, and Paul, were using faith essentially as a verb,
meaning to “put trust in.”
Faith, as Jesus and Paul understand it,
is to lay down our own agenda,
and trust in the goodness of God,
even when there is apparent risk in doing so.
Faith is a relational move.
It’s not a head move.
Faith is moving toward someone and something
that cannot be controlled or managed or predicted.
But can only be trusted in.
Can only be “faithed in.”

Faith is not a matter of getting our minds around
a set of propositions.
And faith is not a psychological exercise.
Faith is rather an act of trust in someone.
It assumes a relationship.
Theologian Douglass John Hall defined faith as
a “response-in-relationship.”

Faith involves risk.

When we trust someone,
we go beyond what we can really know.
We can never know, with objective certainty,
that the one in whom we trust
will come through exactly as we trusted.
Else, it wouldn’t be trust.
It would be scientific data.
The essence of faith
is to be willing, based on a relationship,
to go out on a limb.

To have faith in God is to choose to trust, based on a relationship—
to trust that God will not abandon us to the Evil One.
_____________________

And right there is the essence of this great theological truth
that Paul offers the church in Rome, and offers us,
in Romans 5:1, that “we are justified by faith.”

We are justified—that is, God declares us to be righteous—
because we are willing to go out on a limb with God.
We are saved, by virtue of the fact
that we admit we need to be saved,
that we are weak,
that we are unable to save ourselves,
that we put our trust in God to make things right.

And since we are justified by faith,
since we are saved by our willingness to act in trust toward God,
then . . . then “we can have peace with God
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have obtained access
to this grace in which we stand.”

On the one hand,
entering into a saving relationship with God is utterly simple.
No hoops to jump through.
No skills to master.
No goals to achieve.
We simply must be willing to receive, in faith, the love that is offered.

But on the other hand,
this kind of relationship can feel threatening.
Trusting God is a choice to be vulnerable.
It’s difficult to allow ourselves to be loved for who we are,
rather than what we have made of ourselves,
or what we pretend to have made of ourselves,
or what we hope to make of ourselves.
It’s difficult to enter a relationship
where we voluntarily give up control.
It’s difficult to, like the centurion,
relinquish the need to impress anyone, including ourselves,
and simply rest in God.

It is difficult, but we are nevertheless called to choose to trust in,
and thus be saved by, our ever loving God.

I wonder . . . as we reflect on our own life journey today—
be it a journey with grief and loss . . .
a journey of financial hardship . . .
a journey in some conflicted or strained relationship . . .
a journey with deep conflict in a group we are part of . . .
a journey with a debilitating illness . . .
a journey marked by a spiritual void, or darkness—
I wonder in what way God is inviting you, inviting me,
to choose to trust.
I wonder in what way God is inviting us to lay down
the burden we are trying to lug around on our own,
and trust God to act,
and relinquish our desire to control,
or manipulate the outcome.

When we come to Jesus in a spirit of trust and yieldedness,
and lay down our load, and ask, “Will you carry it awhile?”
Jesus will never say no.
That’s not saying Jesus will always give us whatever we ask for.
But when are laying down, relinquishing,
yielding, asking for help, Jesus will never say no.

Let’s turn to STS (purple book) #50, “Come, bring your burdens to God.”
I will be praying several parts
of Richard Foster’s prayer of relinquishment,
and after each part we will sing, one time through,
“Come bring your burdens to God, for Jesus will never say no.”

Following these prayers, confessing our faith and trust in God,
I will invite us to read the responsive reading in the bulletin,
words of trust from Romans 8.
So please keep your bulletin open,
and STS #50, if you need it.

And let’s begin with song . . .

“Come bring your burdens to God, for Jesus will never say no.”

Today, O Lord, I yield myself to you.
    May your will be my delight today.
    May your way have perfect sway in me.
    May your love be the pattern of my living.
I surrender to you
    my hopes,
    my dreams,
    my ambitions.
Do with them what you will, when you will, as you will.

“Come bring your burdens to God, for Jesus will never say no.”

I place into your loving care
    my family,
    my friends,
    my future.
Care for them with a care that I can never give.

“Come bring your burdens to God, for Jesus will never say no.”

I release into your hands
    my need to control,
    my craving for status,
    my fear of obscurity.
Eradicate the evil, purify the good,
and establish your kingdom on earth.
For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

“Come bring your burdens to God, for Jesus will never say no.”

And together, let us give voice to our assurance,
that nothing can separate us from this love of God.
all   For I am sure that neither death, nor life,
east   nor angels, nor principalities,
west   nor things present, nor things to come,
east   nor powers, nor height, nor depth,
west   nor anything else in all creation,
all   will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

—Phil Kniss, June 29, 2014

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