Friday, October 26, 2012

Heart Trouble

It was a late night this week, we found ourselves eating dinner at 9pm or so.  How European of us, don’t you think?  Well, fine, good, it worked out.  No big deal, in our fast paced world, we all find ourselves time shifting, doing things at odd times, just to get them all in.  So, no problem, dinner after nine, fine.

Until about 3am when I woke up with heartburn.  Yikes, the grinding, boiling, there just ain’t no position that is comfortable kind of heartburn.  I know, now from this distance, that it isn’t really your heart but your stomach churning away, and maybe your esophagus receiving the volcanic eruptions from below.  I also know that compared to real heart trouble, this was minor stuff, easily overcome, soon forgotten.  All those middle of the night promises – “I’ll never eat that or then again, just get me through this, please” – surely aren’t binding, are they? 

We tend to panic a bit when our heart hurts.  Whether that hurt has a physical or an emotional or spiritual cause, it seems like a big deal.  Or it is a big deal, but sometimes we make a wrong diagnosis.  We have all sorts of things that we think will make our heart better.  We make promises, we look for relief, we grasp at straws, whatever it takes, we think.   Because there is no hurt like a hurting heart, no hole so deep as a hole in the heart, no hunger as powerful as a hungry heart. 

But then, as Bruce Springsteen suggested, “Everybody’s got a hungry heart.”   It is a common ailment, or simply part of the human condition.  The desire for more, for satisfaction, for home as Bruce sings, is not a bad or destructive thing.  But when it gets out of control, when it shapes everything, every choice, every plan, or hope or dream, that is when there is a problem.  That is when it becomes what we call greed. That is when we see it eat away at a soul that longs for but can never find satisfaction, can never know contentment.

Jesus warned us about this condition, this heart trouble.  He couldn’t have been plainer.  But we manage, most of the time, to convince ourselves that he is talking to or about someone else.  Not us.

Luke 12:15-34  And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."  16 Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly.  17 And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?'  18 Then he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  19 And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.'  20 But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'  21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God." 
    22 He said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear.  23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.  24Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!  25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?  27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you-- you of little faith! 
    29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying.  30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them.  31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.  32 "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Everybody’s got a hungry heart.  The question is what are you hungry for?  Adam Hamilton talks about Restless Heart Syndrome in the third chapter of the book Enough, which we are reading for our Stewardship emphasis this year.  RHS is that condition of the heart that makes us want more, or something different, or something better.  It is what drives us to be unsatisfied with what we have and always thinking we could do better.

It is understandable, however, because that is the world that we live in these days.  We are told over and over that the next big thing will be the one that satisfies us, at least until the next big thing comes out.  And it is not just things to buy.  We are unsatisfied on all sorts of levels.  We see the flaws more than we see the advantages, we long for better, fancier, cooler.  Even the people in our lives can sometimes be objects of dissatisfaction, and we look for ways to upgrade.  A better class of friends, a trophy spouse, better behaved kids; it’s all fodder for the heart trouble that plagues us.

Jesus tells us to be on guard against all kinds of greed.  All kinds, warning us that it isn’t just acquisitiveness, but dissatisfactions too many to mention.  He tells us not to worry - actually, he tells us not to keep worrying.  Not to let worry fill us up, to define us.  He knows that worries of all sorts crop up from time to time.  It would be a difficult thing to never let a worrying though enter our brains.  If that were the commandment, then we would all have something to worry about.  No, what he says is don’t live for the stuff, don’t live for the next big thing, for better this or better that. 

But, he says, but striving, seeking, wanting is a good thing.  Wait, what?  Aren’t we just supposed to be content?  Just kinda “whatev’” sort of folk?  Not in the least.  We are to strive, but to strive for the Kingdom.  For justice and peace, for hospitality and kindness.  We are not supposed to be satisfied with the amount of love we generate toward God and neighbor. 

It’s not about putting our hearts to sleep.  The trouble is not that there is a longing in the depths of our hearts.  The trouble is that we sometimes think that what will satisfy the longing is actually what is causing the discontent in the first place.  We aren’t going to find the contentment we seek in the stuff – no matter how fun or useful or exciting that stuff might be – of this world.  Our contentment is found in deepening relationships, with God and with neighbor, which includes those closest to us.

On Sunday come and hear some suggestions for how to overcome Restless Heart Syndrome.  In the meantime, spend some time seeking your true treasure.  If Jesus is right (and I’m willing to trust him) and that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also, then we need to take inventory.  And when we discover, or remind ourselves what really matters, where we want to invest our time and our energy and our resources, we will find our way to contentment. 

And maybe it has something to do with dinner time.


Saturday, October 13, 2012


I learned a new word this week.  Actually it wasn’t a new word, just a new formation, or a new usage.  It was a word I knew that got a make-over, you might say.  I was listening to the radio and there was an expert on Middle Eastern politics and he was being asked about Iran and the situation there.  And he said that “Iran’s influence is tentacular.” 

Tentacular?  OK, I know tentacle, so I guess that is a real word.  It just sounded odd there on the radio.  I was driving so I kept saying it all afternoon.  And now I can’t get it out of my head.  Tentacular.  Kinda worms its way in there, in the crevices of your brain, you know, down the corridors, in the darkened corners, kinda like ... well ...

Maybe it stuck with me because of the passage I’ve been mulling over for this weekend.  I’ve been reading Paul, he kinda gets in your head too, come to think of it.  But he’s talking about stuff that gets in your head, that takes over before you even realize that it does.  Take a look and see if you agree.

1 Timothy 6:6-10   Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment;  7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;  8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.  9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

This is the summation part of the letter.  Paul has been writing to Timothy, mentoring him really.  Timothy is a new leader, a new pastor it seems, and Paul is passing on a lot of wisdom about how to do that job.  But in these verses he concentrates on one issue, the tentacular effect of greed.

We launch our Stewardship Campaign this weekend.  We are using as a guide to the process a book by Adam Hamilton. Pastor of the Church of the Resurrection outside of Kansas City, one of the largest United Methodist Church in the denomination.  The book is titled Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity.

This first week Hamilton helps us think about “when dreams become nightmares.”  He refers to the American Dream, which for many if not most, is about getting and having, about owning.   And the problem, Hamilton argues, is that enough is never enough.  Or that we lose sight of enough.  Just when we think we have enough, someone else has more, or there is a new model of something we already have and haven’t yet learned how to use all of the old model’s capabilities.  But something says we need to keep up.  That what was enough yesterday is not enough today. 

What is important to stress is that Paul isn’t against being rich.  The problem is wanting to be rich.  He isn’t against money, the problem is loving money.  I know, it seems like a semantic game.  It seems like a way of avoiding the issue.  It seems like a way of rationalizing our wealth.  We can have as much money and stuff as we can imagine, but we just can’t want it.  That doesn’t even really make sense.  If we didn’t want it, we wouldn’t have it, so just by having it we reveal our wanting.  Don’t we?  It all makes my head hurt to be honest.  Like we are in the grip of something bigger than ourselves.  It all seems so ... tentacular.

I think the truth is in there, in the struggle I mean.  When we get comfortable with our wealth, with being able to have whatever we want, whatever we can imagine without too much struggle, then we have lost something.  Maybe we’ve lost our recognition of a need for a savior, the need for someone to come and give us what we simply can’t get for ourselves, something we would be lost without. 

Or maybe it is something smaller.  Maybe it is we’ve lost the ability to dream big enough to change the world.  Maybe we are too satisfied with feeling better about ourselves.  With filling our space with pretty or useful things. 

Maybe what it does is make us forget that we already have everything we really need.  Maybe what is being stolen is our ability to be satisfied.  To know contentment in a real and lasting sense.  Maybe what we’ve lost is a sense of enough. 

And the curious thing about it all is that we don’t even realize what we’ve lost.  We are so caught up in the culture that tells us getting is good and having is better, and buying is a way to save the country from its economic woes.  It is unpatriotic, it seems these days, to say we’ve got enough.

Now, it seems to me that I’ve raised more questions than I can answer in this space.  Or in a sermon on Sunday morning.  Or ever come to think of it.  And maybe that is just what we need to do as we launch a stewardship series, ask questions.  I suspect that we will get to some answers, or hints anyway, along the way.  But for now, I guess I’ll leave you with a question.  How much is enough for you? 

Enough to have, enough to give, enough to claim, enough to live in joy.  How much is enough?  And how do we get free from the tentacular desires of this acquisitive culture we live in to find our way to enough?

OK, more than one questions.  I’d ask some more, but I suspect you’d say ... enough.


Saturday, October 6, 2012


I just had to see.  I had heard or, more accurately, read texts and Facebook posts and messages.  I knew because we had prepared for this moment, had prepared him to be independent and capable and a problem-solver.  I knew that he was fine, that he was learning and growing and making his way in the world.  I knew that, didn’t doubt it in the least.  Truly. 

Yet, I had to see.  There was that funny corner of my soul that ran rampant with doubts and fears.  There was that suspicion that maybe he wasn’t telling us everything, that the carefully constructed facade was hiding a deeper hurt and a sense of abandonment.  And once your mind starts down those side streets, there’s no telling what cul-de-sacs you will pull into.  So, I had to see.

It was time for my annual fall planning retreat.  A time when I go away to pray and think and listen to what God would have me do as Lead Pastor of Aldersgate, and oddly enough the conference I usually piggy-back upon wasn’t happening this year.  So, I was not tied in to a specific week.  Looking a bit further, I realized that DePauw’s Parent’s weekend was scheduled for a weekend when we had already decided long ago that Chris would be preaching.  So, I made the plans and penciled in a chance to go and see.

We are working our way through the Gospel of John in my Wednesday Night Bible Study class (6pm in room 200 - come and join us, we’ve just begun!)  We were reading the part about where Jesus calls his disciples and noticed that in John’s version there is a variety of techniques that he uses, but that one of those is a simple “Come and See.” 

As if he knew that sometimes words on their own don’t work, you’ve got to see.  You’ve got to touch.  And that is the blessing.

The passage this week is one where one preacher admitted that Jesus becomes almost embarrassingly tactile.  Instead of the reserved, aloof teacher of wisdom and discipline, a very different Jesus emerges in these verses.  Yet, they don’t strike us as odd in the least.  They have become instrumental in our own understanding of who Jesus is and who we are called to be. 

You remember this scene, I am sure.

Mark 10:13-16  People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.  14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it."  16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

This is the Jesus we know and love best of all, I believe.  But we have to realize what a radical departure this action was from normal behavior.  No one with any authority or power or standing in society in this period of history would even have time for children.  It just wasn’t done.  And yet here is Jesus, not only allowing children to be in his presence, but taking them up in his arms and blessing them.  Almost embarrassing, at least I am sure that some - like the disciples themselves - were scandalized by this behavior.

Yet, Jesus didn’t care.  What he cared about was blessing.  Was welcoming.  Was making sure that everyone understood the value of those of whom he said “let them come.”  It seems to me, or at least in my current mindset, that Jesus was trying to be concrete.  Trying to help his hearers see something of the glory and the wonder of the Kingdom and so he grabbed the nearest visual aid he could find. 

Come and see, he could have said.  See through these eyes the wonder of God’s creation.  Come and see the needs and the opportunities to serve.  Come and see how we can live out the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.

And then he gathered them up.  As if giving confirmation.  So that we could see that the best way to rid oneself of doubts and fears and suspicions and animosity is by getting outside of yourself long enough to bless a child.  To talk to them, to listen to them, to experience the world through their eyes.

I just had to see.  My mind was rampant with all sorts of problems and difficulties and emptiness.  But when I laid eyes on him, my son in college, all was well.  When I looked through his eyes the world looked different.  Sure there were struggles to be faced, but there were possibilities as well.  Sure he had left behind the comfortable and familiar, but he was making his way into a future of his own.  I had to see and in that seeing I knew blessing.

To such as these, he said.  To such as these belongs the kingdom.  Oh, to be gathered onto that lap, to feel that blessing.  Maybe that’s what he meant, not being childish or even child-like, but being blessed.  And the only way to be blessed is to get out of yourself for a while.

I had to see and wanted to bless.  And what I found was that I was blessed in return.