I walk the middle path. It can be a lonely place to be. It can be a dangerous and frightening place to be, caught between two extremes at war with each other with verbal, spiritual and even sometimes physical shots being fired by both sides. But as a Christian who tries to follow the teachings and example of the Master Teacher it is where I am called to be, shining the light of God’s love.
So, what does walking the middle path mean for me? Well, it means being a Christian. It means not being an “Evangelical” or a “Progressive.” It means not being a Democrat or a Republican. It means not being “conservative” or “liberal.” It means believing that being “pro-life” does not end with the birth of a child. It means believing in protecting and caring for children once they are here. Protecting and respecting the lives of individuals with disabilities. Allowing and encouraging everyone to grace us with their gifts. And, finally, not playing God with end of life issues, either by extending life by artificial means or prematurely ending it.
Walking the middle path for me means believing that peace is not best achieved by war. It means believing that frightened citizens arming themselves too often ends in tragedy. It means seeing the Christ in everyone, no matter what they look like on the outside or where they came from.
The middle path demonstrates loving our neighbor, even when they seem unlovable (I struggle with this). It means recognizing that we are all in this life to help and care for each other and that life is not meant to be a huge competition with winners and losers and no middle. It means seeing justice not as vengeance or retribution, but rather doing what is right.
Do I always stay on the path Spirit has set out for me? No. I veer off course, first once direction, then another — right, left, forward, back and sometimes even up and down. If you could trace my spiritual footsteps it would be a mess. I allow myself to get pulled off course by fear, loneliness, old beliefs and anger. But no matter how far off path I may get I always have to come back to my true center. To that place where love, light, peace and justice exist.
And that friends is our calling. To live in the world but not of it. To rise above the hatred and confusion of our times. To rest in God and to shine our light. There is no brighter candle in the world than the one who, through it all, is able to live a life of peace through faith. That candle is found in the middle path where Christ still walks.
Today we’re going to do something different and begin with a Scripture reading from Mark 12:28-31.
28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[e] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[f] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[g]There is no commandment greater than these.”
32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
—-Mark 12:28-31, The Bible
Just a reminder for all of us right now. No matter what side of the political, social or religious divide you may find your on, we all need to remember what Jesus called the greatest commandments, to love God and to love our neighbor.
Take a minute and look at your attitudes, words and behavior toward those you disagree with and may even consider your enemies. If we are going to call ourselves Christians, no matter what else your call yourself, we must live lives that follow the teachings of Jesus.
If you think the word neighbor refers only to your fellow church members or those you agree with please refer to Luke 10: 25-37 for the story of the good Samaritan. You may remember that Jews and Samaritans hated each other.
Do you have the courage to reach out to someone you may hate or even consider “evil?” I am preaching to myself here. I live surrounded by outspoken people with different political and religious beliefs than mine and I get very perturbed with them, but this is something we have to do It is our calling, we can’t ignore it and still call ourselves followers of The Christ.
Now let’s stand and sing the closing hymn with Rhonda Vincent. It’s a good one!
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. — Romans 15:13 NIV (from Bible Gateway,com)
Here in the U.S. we like to throw the name of God around a lot. Our “pledge of allegiance” to the flag of our country contains the words “one Nation under God.” Even our money has the words “in God we Trust.” But do we — really?
Do we trust God? Or do we trust one man alone to solve all the problems in the world and in our country?
Do we trust God? Or do we trust the government to create a just society?
Do we trust God? Or do we trust our guns to keep us safe without killing an innocent friend, neighbor or family member?
Do we trust God? Or do we trust our money to provide our needs and make us feel important?
Do we trust God? Or do we trust the military to destroy our enemies without destroying the lives and futures of the soldiers who are fighting?
Do we trust God? Or do we believe that perhaps God has turned his back on us and that we have to fight the evil in the world on our own?
It’s time we looked at what’s going on in the world and asked the difficult questions. Do we really trust God?
Two and a half years ago Bob and I moved to the lake. At first it was “paradise.” Then some major changes around here brought us back to reality and reminded us that life has its challenges and people are people no matter where you live.
The biggest challenge for me has been staying young and healthy in body, mind and spirit while surrounded by people who are older and believe sickness is an inevitable part of aging. In fact certain illnesses and major surgeries seem to be badges of honor and rights of passage.
During this time I have often found myself feeling that I was fighting against negativity, stereotypes of aging and yes sometimes even people. I have often talked with Bob about the struggle to maintain my healthy lifestyle.
Then something happened that made me realize I had it all wrong. Instead of fighting against I should see myself as living for something greater. Instead of fighting against sickness and negativity I should be living for wellness, light, love and focusing on the positive. It may seem like a very slight shift but if we look at it closely the difference is huge.
The same applies to life in the wider world. Are we fighting against the negative forces in the world today or are we living for light, love, peace, acceptance, and creating a better world for all?
What are you fighting against? How can you flip that into living for something greater?
My morning practice takes some time — anywhere from 1 1/2 to two hours. Even though we are retired Bob and I still work. We just don’t go somewhere else to work and we don’t collect regular paychecks. Like most people, one reason we work is that we need the money. Sometimes that need takes over and my morning practice starts being seen as a nuisance that just takes up too much time.
So I start experimenting with ways to shorten it. I take my yoga practice down to 1/2 hour. Then I decide I don’t need to practice every day (believe me, I do). The morning walk goes by the wayside as do other things like my art. I become a really strung out mess going around saying things like, “there’s just not enough time to get everything done” and “I didn’t move to the lake to work this hard, I’m always exhausted.” Preparing healthy meals becomes a dreaded chore rather than something done with love. It’s just not pretty. Can anyone else relate to this? I sure hope I’m not the only one. 🙂
So what causes all this? Well, first my priorities get out of order. Our lives have never been about making huge amounts of money. While we do need to work to generate extra retirement income, our situation is not as dire as it sometimes becomes in my thoughts. Misplaced priorities lead to ignoring the way my body works. I have always tired easily. When you’ve lived with something that many would consider a limitation for almost 60 years you figure out ways to work with it. Trying to do more than my body can do only results in exhaustion and eventually illness. I know this — but sometimes I forget. Eventually I come back to my true self and things settle down. But I do wish I could stop taking these frantic detours.
So, what’s my point in all this? We talk about “values” and what is important to us, but when people look at our lives, is that what they see? If we say family comes first, yet we never find the time to spend with them are we living what we say we value?
After my latest detour I find myself back to one hour of morning yoga, followed by reading the Daily Word, a brief Tai Chi practice and my morning walk. I will eventually be combing Tai Chi and the walk. This is a meditative walk, not exercise. Then I can get to work. Know what I’ve finally realized? Work goes better. I get more done when I am calm and relaxed rather than in a frenzy worrying that “we’re going to starve.” I am also able to stop resenting what I am doing and enjoy life.
I understand that not everyone can find two hours to devote to spiritual practice. But just as we make time to stop for morning coffee and check social media we need to make time to slow down, get centered and start living what we say we believe.
Sometimes in the very early morning hours I find myself lying in bed silently thinking, writing or being taught. I’ve had entire written or artistic works come to me during these times, but then I have to get up and actually create them in reality before the thought or idea slips away. This morning I woke up thinking about a current artwork I’ve been working on called “Unraveled.” This art work was started during the Presidential campaign and continued in the aftermath as I watched what has appeared to be the foundations of American life — democracy, freedom and even civility coming totally unraveled.
Then I started hearing the music of my Baptist upbringing — the grand old hymns and gospel songs, sung by people who sang with great gusto, proclaiming their faith and not worrying about their singing not being good enough. One by one they played in my mind — …I’m standing on the promises of God, …,How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord is prepared for your faith in his excellent word…, On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand…, Rock of Ages cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee. Even a newer song by the late Dottie Rambo creeped in there — I go to the rock of my salvation I go to the stone that the builders rejected I go to the mountain and the mountain stand by me…
Noticing a theme here? These wonderful hymns and gospel songs all talk about standing and hiding in God, that firm foundation we can count on when the world seems to be falling apart. Growing up Baptist, I believed that each person has direct access to God through Jesus, the Christ, and I still believe that. When I pray and when I meditate there is a complete oneness with God that is beyond explanation. Teachings and prayers from others are important in the lives of the faithful, but no one can keep us from the pure joy and comfort of connection to Spirit.
The world may be falling down all around us but that solid rock, that firm foundation, still stands, hiding and comforting us and helping us to stand strong in our faith. We may be called to take action in the days ahead, but first we must stand in the light, love and protection of God. And so it is.
Now let’s all stand and join in singing the closing hymn.