A new reggae song by the group Stickfigure contains the lyrics, “Summertime is comin’, and it’s about to slow down.” I was driving my normal 70 mph on Sunrise Highway while listening to this song, when it arrived at the chorus: “Slow down, slow down, slow down.” I asked myself, “Is this song trying to tell me something?” The chorus repeated itself: “Slow down, slow down, slow down.” So I slowed down to 65 mph, and watched people go crazy all around me, everyone in a rush, even tailgating me in the right lane!
The Message Bible (MSG) is a paraphrase, but it’s the only place to find a Scripture that says, “Slow down.” It’s a funny Scripture: “Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?’ But you say, ‘I can’t help it. I’m addicted to foreign gods.’ You’ve got more gods, Judah, than you know what to do with (Jeremiah 2:25, 28).”
What’s the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway? These are good questions. When I’m in a hurry, it’s usually because I’ve made myself late by procrastinating: taking too much time in the shower, trying to figure out what to wear, or checking my emails one last time. Sometimes I’m in a hurry because I’m trying to do too many things at once. This Thursday, I have 21 hours free and three different obligations in the same three hour time period. I can’t do them all. Not only will I need to slow down my pace, I’ll need to slow down my thoughts of guilt and anxiety over what I can’t do.
We are an over-scheduled society living at an accelerated pace, with virtually nothing to show for it.
Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?
Sometimes we can work two jobs, double overtime, trying to get ahead, and yet we never get that promotion or that raise, and our family life suffers. Sometimes we can even over-schedule a vacation, turning leisure time into work and enjoying none of it (wake up at 8, showers done by 8:15, in the car by 8:30, arrive at the park by 9, first ride done by 9:30, and so on).
Do you think that cooking is a really slow way to get food? Or that walking is a really slow way to get around? Or that reading is a waste of valuable time you could be spending watching TV?
One of my friends told me he’d been really stressed out lately. Is everything alright at home, I asked? Yes, it was. How about work? That was fine too. Was he healthy? Yes, no complaints. Then why was he stressed? He said that there were so many new shows on Netflix that he was already about 34 hours behind and that he needed to watch them. He had turned television into a job, an obligation that he was already resenting!
Is there intrinsic value to cooking, walking, and reading? If so, there is also value to the slower parts of our faith: prayer, meditation, working on our relationships with God and other people.
Just what are you after, anyway? I asked myself this question. My immediate answer was, “to get stuff done, so I can check it off my list.” But there’s always more stuff. My long-term answers: to stay strong spiritually, to be inspired, to experience less entertainment and more awe.
We’ve been extremely blessed this summer to see many pods of dolphins offshore. There are three types of reactions to dolphins: 1) Wow, dolphins! 2) Let me put this on my Instagram! and 3) I don’t need to look, I’ve seen dolphins before.
That’s an actual quote. I never want to be that person, the one who never looks up.
But you say, “I can’t help it. I’m addicted to foreign gods. I can’t quit.” We can replace “foreign gods” with just about anything: Facebook, Twitter, video games, exercise, work, politics, parties, shopping, complaining, remorse. We can quit. But we have to want to quit.
What are you after, anyway? Why are your thoughts driving at 70 mph? Why wear yourself out with worry? Many Scriptures address this topic. Be still, and know that I am God. The LORD will fight for you; you need only be still. The LORD was not in the wind, not in the storm, but in the still, small voice.
Stillness leads to contemplation. What do I have? What has value? What do I want, and what do I need? Might I actually have everything I need already? If so, what’s the hurry? Why wear myself out with rushing and worrying?
Don’t be anxious, says Jesus. Consider the lilies and the sparrows.
When we slow down, we notice things. This morning I saw a butterfly on my front steps, and watched it for a while. But then on my morning walk, I saw a dead bird, and there were ants eating the bird. I wondered if there was a message in all this: a butterfly that used to be a caterpillar, a bird that used to fly, ants that were getting their daily bread, and I realized the whole circle of life was laid before me, and I remembered the song from The Lion King, and then I remembered another song, “Hakuna Matata,” which means “no worries” (more accurately, “no problems”).
Then at Starbucks, I saw some people from church, and they asked, “What are you doing today?” and I said, “Going to church!” and they looked guilty, like they wanted to rush home and change clothes and come back. But I was glad that I had noticed nature, and people, and God, all by slowing down.
When we slow down, we improved our overall health in all categories: physical, emotional and spiritual. To paraphrase Simon & Garfunkel, “Slow down, you move too fast. You’ve got to make the morning last. Just kickin’ down the cobblestones, lookin’ for God and feelin’ groovy!”
Bigger (A Baptism Sermon)
The inspiration for this sermon comes from a recent Volkswagen commercial. A group of children are shown various images, to which they respond “Big!” or “Bigger!”
A candy bar ~ big! Sharing the candy bar ~ bigger! Getting lots of likes on social media ~ big! Patting someone on the back when they need it ~bigger! Big hair ~ big! Having confidence ~ bigger! Giant muscles ~ big! Helping to carry a stroller down a large flight of stairs ~ bigger! A whale ~ big! Cleaning up the ocean ~ bigger!
An old joke asks, “Who’s bigger: Mr. Bigger, Mrs. Bigger, or Mrs. Bigger’s baby?” The answer: “Mr. and Mrs. Bigger’s baby is just a little Bigger.” It’s a clever joke, one we understand when we become parents. Physically, a baby is much smaller than we are, but becomes the biggest thing in our lives.
And we want big things for our children. We say to our children, “You could be a president, or an astronaut, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or an Olympian. You could go on a reality TV show. You could be wealthy, famous, and popular.” These things are big. But deep down, we want bigger things for our children. We want them to be kind, generous, peacemakers, lights in their communities, examples to others, good friends, heroes.
Which is better: to have a bigger mansion or a bigger heart? To have a bigger car or a bigger smile? To have a bigger bank account or inner peace? To accumulate things for ourselves or to be part of something bigger ~ a church, a soup kitchen, a fire department?
All too often, we focus on the small things and treat them as if they are big: our own physical imperfections; poor service at a restaurant; the daily news cycle; our partner’s bad habit; our anxiety over things that may never happen; our stocks on any given day; traffic; being right.
I lost a friend once over a stupid argument. He said that men were better than women because they were bigger. I asked if a tall woman was better than a short man. He said he meant “on the average.” So I asked him if elephants were better than people, and he got really mad and never spoke to me again. I hadn’t been particularly rude, but I could have handled it better. I could have been the bigger man. Since then I’ve learned that there are times to walk away, or to be softer, quieter, gentler.
When we stand at the sea, we gain perspective. Our problems are small compared to the ocean. Our sins are nothing when seen in the light of grace. Our imperfections may seem large in a mirror, but they can’t be seen from space.
“When I look at the stars,” writes King David, “what are humans that you are mindful of them?” We stare at the heavens and are overwhelmed by the enormity of God’s creation. And yet we are God’s favorite thing. We see the night sky, or the Grand Canyon, or the ocean, and we say, “that’s big.” God says, “You’re bigger.” Jesus didn’t die for the ocean or the mountains or the stars.
Parents understand. They may have made an exquisite cabinet, or painted an amazing landscape. They may have invented a new app, or written a great book. But nothing they have created is as important than the little baby that they hold in their arms.
As we raise our children, may we always remember what is big, and what is bigger, and that we are all children held in the palm of God’s hand.
More Questions Than Answers
Trust in the LORD with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. ~ Proverbs 3:5, TEV
Listen to what is wise and try to understand it. Yes, beg for knowledge; plead for insight. Look for it as hard as you would for silver or some hidden treasure. If you do, you will succeed in learning about God. You will know what is right, just and fair. You will know what you should do. ~ Proverbs 2:2-5, 9, TEV abbreviated
The wisdom from above is pure first of all; it is also peaceful, gentle and friendly; it is full of compassion and produces a harvest of good deeds; it is free from prejudice and hypocrisy. ~ James 3:17, TEV
Happy is anyone who becomes wise ~ who comes to have understanding. There is more profit in it than there is silver; it is worth more to you than gold. Wisdom is more valuable than jewels; nothing you could want can compare to it. ~ Proverbs 3:13-15, TEV
In the movie “Jaws,” Quint thinks he knows everything about shark hunting. He’s been doing it for years, and it’s his boat. Meanwhile, Hooper is an ichthyologist. He’s been to school, and is widely known as an expert. He doesn’t think Quint knows what he’s doing. But the smartest person on the boat is Brody. He’s the only one who knows he doesn’t know anything, and he learns from Quint and Hooper. When the other two are gone, Brody is the one who kills the shark.
This is a sermon of questions that seeks to be a pathway to wisdom. The sermon begins with a few set-up questions before delving into politics, then religion, then politics and religion before wrapping up with a few softer questions. In church, we ended with a happy song about trees ~ you may wish to do the same at home, but any happy song will do!
- Do you know any human being who is always right?
- Have you been wrong about anything this year?
- Do you believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and if so, which translation? (It’s fun to discuss whether the right translation is “rabbit,” “rock badger” or “rock rabbit,” but it gets more difficult when the choice is between “sins,” “wrongs,” “debts” and “trespasses.”)
- Do you believe there is value in nuance?
- Could you be wrong about something right now?
- Are the people you disagree with 100% different from you?
- Can you learn something from them?
- Does God still have more to teach you?
- Where is wisdom hidden, and have you looked everywhere for it, as if if were silver or gold?
- Can a person say racist things but not be a racist?
- Do you listen to our preferred news outlet because you like their opinions or because you’ve checked their facts?
- Do you understand the differences between health care plans, and if so, can you explain them to me?
- If 97% of experts in a given field agree on something, would you take their word for it, or call it “just a theory?” (For example: that vegetables are good for you or that the climate is changing.)
- Are the words on the Statue of Liberty outdated, and if so, is it just a historical symbol?
- Can we protect the rights of the unborn child AND in the same bill do something to help unwanted children so they don’t grow up unloved AND in the same bill do something to help mothers in poverty to support their children should they choose to have them?
- Which will make you safer: owning 10 Rottweilers, 100 assault rifles and a box of grenades, or being a good neighbor?
- Which will make you feel safer: having neighbors on each side of your house with 10 Rottweilers, 100 assault rifles and boxes of grenades, or having nice neighbors; and what do your answers say about the arms race and gun control?
- What should the penalty be for doing something that doesn’t hurt anybody else?
- Since fewer crimes are committed by illegal immigrants than by U.S. citizens, wouldn’t it make sense that whenever someone commits a crime, we catapult them across the border and let one immigrant in?
- If we can afford to pay a little more to buy the same product from a company that treats its workers better than the one that offers the product on sale, do we have a moral obligation to do so?
- If women still make less than men for the same amount of work, and we keep electing the people that keep these policies in place, does this mean we agree with the policies?
- If we’re supposed to be a representative democracy, would it make sense to fire everyone in Congress and replace them with regular people chosen at random like we do for jury duty and the draft?
- Why can’t we have creation and evolution? Where’s the harm in saying God does both?
- Can’t science and religion get along? Isn’t science just a really cool way to find out how God does what God does?
- If God is real and God is good and God is love, is it possible that some people of other faiths, for example Gandhi, might go to heaven, or do you think there’s no way God would ever be that nice?
- If you believe in the moral teachings of the Bible, and the Bible clearly states that anyone who becomes angry or quarrels or separates into parties or groups will not go to heaven, are we going to heaven?
- If in the Bible, Paul says something that Jesus doesn’t say, do you think Paul speaks for Jesus?
- If one part of the Bible says that humans are good and another part says that humans are bad, which should you believe? Can you believe both at the same time? And if God made us good with the propensity to turn bad, does this mean that bad is good, or at the very least, that there is a reason for suffering?
- If you told a young person who wanted to commit suicide about all the things you’ve been through and everything you’ve suffered and how you got through it, and it kept them alive, would this be a good enough reason to explain why God permitted your suffering?
- In the 21st century, is religion more of a problem in the world or a blessing? If asked, could you make a good case for both sides?
- 80% of the world lives on less than $10/day. That’s $3650/year or less. This means that we’re all wealthy. So when Jesus talks about the responsibility of the rich to the poor, is he talking to us?
- What’s the worst thing you have ever done? Do you hope you’ll be forgiven for it? And if so, are you willing to forgive someone who did something to you that was not as serious as the thing you just thought of?
- If the theme of the world’s #1 sporting event (The World Cup) is the acceptance of all people regardless of race, gender, national origin or identification, does this mean that soccer is more loving than Christianity, and if so, shouldn’t we all be playing soccer on Sunday mornings?
- If you’re a Democrat and your child is drowning and a person in a Trump hat saves them, would you be mad at the hat or would you say, “Thank you for saving my child?”
- If you’re a Republican an you find out the people who prepared and served your delicious meal were all Democrats, would you leave a smaller tip?
- When you’re driving and a person with a Keep Christ in Christmas bumper sticker cuts you off, what’s the first thing you think, and if you they could hear the first thing you think, which hopefully you didn’t yell out the window, what would they think?
- If you had to choose one, who would you vote for: an effective atheist or an ineffective Christian?
- Are you less sure of yourself now than you were ten minutes ago, and if so, is this a bad sermon?
- Where will we find the answers to all these questions?
- Is it possible that God has hidden the answers in places we haven’t looked, in books we haven’t read and in people we don’t like? How far will we go, how hard will we try and how deep will we dig to find the blessings God has prepared for us?
The Reverend Richard Allen