A Sizable Confession
I have a confession to make. I am horrible at losing weight and keeping it off. My goal this year is to lose 10 pounds. I only have 15 more to go. There are times that I wake up excited and full of energy to tackle this important task of getting into good physical shape, and by noon I am frustrated. I mean I had been controlling my urge to eat unnecessary things all morning and I do not have a six-pack yet! I know that losing weight is a constant battle of self denial, and consistent intentional good choices for the rest of my life. Perhaps, the battle is the problem. I am a lover not a fighter. I am a lover of cheese flavoured snacks.
No Ian keep on track, I tell myself. I am going to lose this belly. I am going to exercise everyday. I am going to watch what I eat and stick to it …. Are those nachos? After all, I only seem to remember I want to lose weight after eating them. Perhaps I should just stop the complaining and pick up my, eat my fork salad and be sad. If losing weight was as easy as losing my keys, cell phone or even my mind I would be in the best shape of my life.
In my mind, I am still 18 or 20 years old. Deep down, I am having a real problem believing that my body does not work the same way that it used too. I want it too, but the cold hard reality is that it does not. I hurt after I work out… when I do workout that is. I mean a lot too. I am genuinely afraid of sneezing the day after I workout, because I will hurt all over. After a good workout with my arms (raise arms slightly) this is as high as I can lift them. All of this is new to me.
When I was younger I could take the pain better. But now with kids, and being older I have a hard time with this. I feel shame, sad and disappointed in myself for not achieving what is wanted. What is worse is my wife is a great encourager for me on this in keeping me accountable, am I consistently let her down. If it was just me, I would not care so much. My wife and kids are rooting for me, and I keep failing. It feels like no matter how hard or long I work, I will never get to the end goal … whatever that is or looks like. In the end I often feel like giving up, and giving in. I am frustrated. In my head, I don’t want to but my heart is aching with pain.
When it comes to our individual relationships with God and Jesus, I suspect that this pattern of trying, not measuring up and then feeling down is more common than we think.
Work and our relationship with God
For some people doing good things means that they are good Christians. It seems like a logical thing. If I help a young kid who is down and out, I am a good person. I did what God wants me to do. The kid is in a better spot and I was the one who helped. I did what I was called to do. This is the gold standard in trying to work into God’s favour. Helping the little guy. Even the Bible writes about that. For others, it can be different
The more common way that we can think of working our way into God’s good graces is by living a good, noble life overall. Sure, I may not be perfect but I help where I can. I do not ask for praise or even acknowledgement of my work. When I help in the little ways I am still working to ensure that God is happy with me.
Lastly, we may even try reading all the right books and praying all the right prayers to please God. We may come to church every Sunday, actively work or lead a ministry. Through our activity, we show our faith because words fail us, and that is just not us. Instead I will do something to help.
In each of these instances our work is what is at the forefront. We are working to please God, show Gods’ love, or maybe even to try and make God like me a little more. If I do all the right things, then I must be a good person and a good Christian.
If any of this was completely true, then why did Jesus die on the cross for you or for anybody else? Why did he suffer being abandoned by his close friends on the eve of his trial? Why bother getting out of the tomb on Easter morning? If our works and deeds could get us into God’s good graces, then Jesus would have died for nothing. Of course, doing good things has their place in the Christian life. Service is a hallmark of it, but ensuring salvation and a close relationship with God is not one of them. We are saved by faith and not works, and a faith that does no work, is no faith at all.
Prayer and Contemplation and our relationship with God
Great. I guess what really matters is believing. If I accept all the right things, and believe all the right things then I am good with God … right? I guess I really do have to believe Easter and the Virgin Mary, and the Jesus was all God and all a person at the same time, … even though it makes no sense to me. This must be the reason I ask people to read the Bible. This must be the reason we need to share our prayer lives with each other. Well not exactly.
There are some who are more academically and theologically inclined and prefer a good, hard Bible study for their mind to chew on. There are people who can eloquently speak a great fruitful Christian language and appear to know it all. Perhaps you see me this way?
Then you would be wrong. If all you did was study and pray, and did nothing with what you believe, then you have missed the point of what you had been reading. We pray to know more about God and how God works. We read to learn more and grow deeper in our faith so we can have more confidence in what we believe. These things are indeed work, and it is not the only work. If you prayed everyday of your life, and did not notice the poor hungry person across the table then you have not really prayed at all.
Prayer and personal reflection should move us to act. Our actions should move us to pray. When we find ourselves doing this, then we have an engaged, active life of faith that God is really working in and out of. Therefore, works and faith must go together. If you only focus on one, you will feel like a baby trying to lift a barbell. No matter how hard you try that barbell will never be lifted.
How do we do this
Working in harmony with God takes a lot of practice. I am sorry, but it is the truth. As Christians, we are called to be go-getters and followers. It is easy to get ahead of God working in your life. After all, God is always calling us to do something. The trouble is some of us need to learn to not get ahead of God, because when you do, confusion, disorganization and disharmony will result. Then the ministry and life in Christ that we are so excited about will need to be started all over again. We may feel we have wasted valuable time, – God’s time – simply because we are to proud and ambitious to wait for God to lay out the path before us. This is what happens when you workout too hard when you first start. You over work your muscles and end up hurting yourself and then need to start over. This is same thing that happens when we expect our work to be good enough for God, instead of waiting on God to point us in the right direction, for where the work needs to be done.
One of the things that I have had the learn to do is slow down. (Don’t laugh … Just because my slow is your fast, does not mean it is not slow for me …) Instead of going full on and getting right to work, take time to pray. Intentionally and deeply pray before you act. Wait and expect the Holy Spirit to fill your head and heart with fresh new ideas. Wait and expect the Holy Spirit to fill your heart with more than enough energy to take on the task in its fullest. We may need to slow down long enough for God to get ahead of us, and place the right people around us to keep Gods mission moving.
If you feel God’s call for you to do something, slow down for a while. Really get in tune with what is going on inside you and around you and then act passionately. Then your faith will be in action.
The reading in both Corinthians and Matthew encourage us to remember how God comes to us, and spurs us on to grow in Him. In Paul’s letter, he is reminding us that ‘God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” Through Christ Jesus, God comes to us as the source of all life and goodness. Through faith we can take comfort in our blessings.
In the gospel, there are two words that are repeated and these two words are incredibly important. Matthew repeatedly writes, “Blessed are ….” Not bless if, or bless when. Blessed are those who do these things. This means that if you are doing one or some of these things, God is already with you and is actively working in you too! God has already forgiven you for the things that you can’t forgive yourself for. This means that you do not need to slave away trying to work your way into God’s good books, … you are already in them. God is with you, … are you with God? Can you accept that Jesus loves the real you, despite all the stuff that you have done … or failed to have done? Jesus wants to take good enough that you already are and transform it into something even better. This is all given to you through your active faith.
I began this homily with a confession of my failure to lose weight and keep it off. I shared how I continually let myself and my family down, and that I feel sad, disappointed and ashamed. These things are not going to keep me from trying though. These things will not define who I am, and I will not let them seep into my heart. If God can suffer on the cross to show me he loves me, then I can suffer through some sore muscles and some hunger pangs to be more of the person I can be. I am doing this for myself and my family. What are you going to do for yourself and your faith in God? Amen.