Find A Way

September 8, 2013

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

Proper 18 – Year C RCL

Jeremiah 18:1-11, Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17, Luke 14:25-33

Last Monday afternoon, at 1:53 Eastern Time, something amazing happened. No, it wasn’t that your teenager finally woke up, after sleeping-away most of the Labor Day holiday… it was even more amazing than that… after swimming 52 Hours 54 Minutes 18.6 Seconds, Diana Nyad made history as the first person to swim the 110-mile Florida Strait… and she did it without a shark cage.

Diana Nyad, Photograph by J. Pat Carter, AP

Diana Nyad, Photograph by J. Pat Carter, AP

It was her 5th attempt. Her first attempt came when she was in her twenties. Her goal was accomplished at the age of 64. That’s what I call commitment!

In an interview on Good Morning America the next morning, she struggled to speak because of the cuts inside her mouth. They were caused by a mask she wore while swimming at night, to protect her from poisonous jelly-fish. In spite of this discomfort, in the interview, she was radiant! She beamed as she talked about the accomplishment and the many people that helped her through.

She also admitted that this wasn’t easy – and she knew it wouldn’t be. After four previous attempts, she didn’t kid herself into thinking any of it was going to be fun. It was going to be a struggle. But this time, she came up with a mantra that she used in those moments when the struggle was overwhelming… she said “Find a way.”

  • At moments when the mask was causing her to take in water, she said, “Find a way.”
  • When her body ached from the constant movement, working against the wind and waves, Diana kept thinking “Find a way.”

And after more than two full days and nights of swimming in open seas, Diana Nyad found her way to the Florida shore, accomplishing what many said couldn’t be done.

Later this week, I heard another inspiring story, not on the morning news, but in a FB post by a family friend in Raleigh, N.C.. He wrote:

My 12 year old daughter is not very afraid. Not afraid to try out for things. She has tried out for multiple dance teams. The track team. Chorus. School play. And more. And each time she has been told, Thanks, but no thanks. That’s tough on a youngster’s psyche. This year, she tried out again for the cheerleading squad, which she didn’t make as a 7th grader. AND SHE MADE IT!!! Here’s to Clara, for never giving up. For never letting rejection (times 10!) prevent you from trying one more time. I’m proud of all my kids, but this one really made my day.

These are two very different stories, yet both show what it is to keep going even when the message from the world is telling them it isn’t possible, or they aren’t good enough. We are reminded in today’s Old Testament readings, that we are good enough.

Clara

Clara

Psalm 139 reminds us that God was there when we were being formed in our mother’s womb, and it assures us that we are wonderfully made – just as we are. As I was walking around the Youth Center last week, I noticed that a portion of this psalm is painted on the wall of the Rite 13 room. I love that. At this particular time in their life, as they begin to move through the complex time of adolescence, it’s important to be reminded of the message “you are good, just as you are. You are enough and valuable because you are God’s child.”

It’s a message we must continue to remind ourselves of throughout our life. There are things that happen, decisions we make, things we do, or judgments others impose on us that can cause us to feel damaged, broken and unworthy of love. When I feel this way, I return to Psalm 139 and remember that I, too, am wonderfully made, and God’s child.

This propensity for self-doubt is not a new phenomenon. Even those chosen to be God’s prophets, struggle with their own sense of worthiness. Jeremiah didn’t think he was a prophet – but he was called by God and only by his willingness to respond, could he hear and do what God asked of him.

God told him to go to the potter and see what he was doing. Jeremiah watched the potter remold a spoiled vessel into something that was good and useable. After this, God asks… “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done?… Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand…”

God is all around us, committed to us, renewing and reshaping us. This is good news!
In the Gospel lesson, Jesus is asking if we are equally committed to God. He does it in an interesting way, at least it’s interesting to me…

Having spent twenty years in the business world, today’s gospel lesson is my kind of text. Not so much the part about having to hate your father and mother, wife and children, your brothers and sisters and even life itself! That’s the part we always remember… and the last part: that you have to give up all your possessions. But, there’s this piece in the middle that doesn’t get much attention – I call it “the cost-benefit analysis of discipleship”.

Look how all the business-types out there perked up!

Jesus says, if you’re going to build a tower, you need to sit down and estimate the cost to make sure you have enough to complete it… otherwise you might get halfway through and not have enough to finish it. Or if you’re a king that’s about to go into battle, and you find out that you’re greatly outnumbered, it’s best to go make peace with the other king before getting in over your head.

This is basic planning – in business or in our daily lives.

Do we have the resources we need to commit fully?

But then, Jesus says, “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”

But what does this cost-benefit analysis have to do with giving up possessions? You would think just the opposite would be expected. Store up what you need to make sure you don’t run out of money, or status, or all the other things the world says are important.

Let me suggest that when Jesus asks us to give up ALL our possessions, he isn’t just talking about material things. It’s also about giving up the limits we put on ourselves and the perceptions that keep us stuck in one place or one way of being in the world.

Giving up possessions is also about letting go of the judgments others make about us; even overcoming the deficiencies we see in ourselves… thoughts that we aren’t good enough or we can’t do this or that.

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a scientist, meditation teacher, and founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic, says that,

“… it is our attachment to the thoughts we have of who we are that may be the impediment to living life fully, and a stubborn obstacle to any realization of who and what we actually are, and of what is important, and possible.”

In giving up our attachment to self-defeating thoughts, relinquishing those things that limit us, we are able to free ourselves for discipleship, and to live a life centered on God and demonstrating love for others.

I’m not saying it’s easy. There will be difficult times, but when they come, we can adopt Diana Nyad’s mantra… “Find a way.”

  • When we are frustrated by the injustices we see around us and are about to give up hope, we must “Find a way.”
  • When we struggle to forgive someone who has wronged us, we must “Find a way.”
  • When it’s difficult to see the face of Christ in someone who is different from us, we must “Find a way.”
  • When we don’t believe that we are wonderfully made, and are unable to embrace the gifts that God has given us, we must “Find a way.”
  • When we don’t feel like carving out extra time each week to go to Sunday School, we must … (had to sneak that one in!)

Most of us who have spent time in the church have heard the phrase “the cost of discipleship.” But I contend that phrase is missing the “Benefit” component!

Today’s text from Luke makes clear it’s “The Cost-Benefit of discipleship.”

Jesus is saying, you have to be ALL IN, that’s the cost.Yet, the benefit is, we aren’t in it alone.

God is here, in front of us, behind us, beside us… God hems us in like a warm blanket. God is the potter’s hands all around us, forming us, molding us, helping us to be the vessel that serves and loves ourselves and others.

It doesn’t mean there won’t be obstacles.

Jesus was walking down the road to the ultimate obstacle, death on the cross – yet he kept walking. And by continuing to walk, Jesus also walked toward the ultimate benefit, a resurrected life; a life in complete commitment and service to God’s purpose, centered on love and compassion for all people.

Jesus came to simplify God’s message… hoping to help us find a way to this universal love that brings God’s presence alive on earth. Through Jesus, all the rules of the Old Testament got boiled down to two – Love God and Love Your Neighbor.

Can you commit to that fully?My response is: “I will, with God’s help.”

And when you falter, will you continue to try, not giving up even when the odds seem overwhelmingly against you? … I will with God’s help.

Clara did, and she’s only 12. And Diana Nyan did at the age of 64…

When talking about the swim, Diana said, “I wanted this swim, this endeavor not to just be the athletic record, I wanted it to be a lesson for my life that says, be fully engaged, be so awake and alert and alive every minute of every waking day…” That’s the level of commitment it took for her to show what the human spirit can do – what God can do with a wonderfully made vessel.

Being fully engaged is what Jesus is calling us to be, this day and always.

If you haven’t already committed fully, with God’s help, find a way.

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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