Friday, September 30, 2016

Sunday Bulletin - September 25, 2016

SUNDAY WORSHIP:  September 25, 2016


A time of meditation to prepare our hearts and minds for worship


HYMN            Great Is The Lord                 HWB 87

ALL:  Lord Jesus,
            Blind I am, do thou enlighten me;
            Naked I am, do thou clothe me;
            Wounded, do thou heal me;
            Dead, do thou quicken me.
            I know of no light,
            No physician,
            No life, except thee.  AMEN

*HYMN Dear Lord and Father of Mankind HWB 523
                                                                             V. 1,2,4     

SCRIPTURE READING:  Multiple Readings by the Congregation                    

PEACE STORY (or random acts of kindness)

*HYMN My Shepherd Will Supply My Need   HWB 589  


PRAYING CONCERNS AND JOYS                      

MESSAGE:   “Trusting in God”

*HYMN Just a Closer Walk With Thee   STJ 106

ALL:   God of guidance, quicken your Holy Spirit in our hearts
            And minds so we may follow what is right.
            Give us direction so we may know which way to choose
            And which to refuse; which course to claim and which to
            Reject; which action to take and which to avoid.
            Enlighten our minds, purify our hearts, strengthen our
            Wills, and lead us to live as faithful followers of Jesus
            All the days of our lives.  AMEN                 

*HYMN The Lord Bless You and Keep You  STJ 76

*Please stand if able

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Trusting in God, September 25, 2016

Sunday, September 25, 2016
Trusting in God

“Taking as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.”  That line from the long version of the Serenity Prayer is one that made a lasting impression on me.  It also took a huge weight off of my shoulders…….I didn’t have to drive myself crazy trying to change people or trying to change the situations that I found myself in.  I didn’t have to fight against what was happening around me…..fighting against it just made me extremely frustrated and very sad.  I just needed to accept what was happening …..aka…. trust that God would take control and make all things right.  In other words, the very next sentence in the Serenity Prayer - “Trusting that He would make all things right if I surrendered to His will….”.  Wow.  Those two sentences are so powerful and so tempting and I want to follow them so badly because I am tired of feeling crazy inside.  What is it about myself that is keeping me from letting God lead the way?   

Am I so confident of myself that I think I can handle each and every situation on my own?  Am I such a genius that I can figure everything out?  Sometimes I am so stubborn and pig-headed that no one can tell me anything…..I know it all.  HA.  All I have to do is take a backward glance at my life and I should realize that I am not such a perfect being.  If I’m so smart, shouldn’t I comprehend the fact that I could have used a lot of help from God?  You would think so, but nooooo!

The past year has been a trying time.  I sometimes feel overwhelmed with responsibilities.  Yet, I also want to spend time with my hobbies and it’s sometimes a struggle within myself trying to decide should I visit my parents, should I visit my granddaughter, should I do this or that for the church, should I do this or that for Paul, should I do the housecleaning, or the paperwork, or should I go up to my studio and work on my crafts?  Sometimes I just want to explode because I don’t know what to do first.  God – help me!  There it is…..I’ve said it.  God, help me.  Can God help me?  The answer to that is of course God can help me.  But he needs me to do something in return; and that is to trust him. 

I started to think of the people in my life that I trust and the people that I don’t trust.  Why do I trust some and not others?  Those that I do trust follow through when they say they will do something.  They are reliable.  They are honest with me and aren’t afraid to tell it like it is.  I admire them and the way that they live their lives.  I feel safe when I am with them.  I can discuss with them the issues that are on my mind, and they will listen, really listen, and show concern.  They may or may not have suggestions for me….suggestions that I can choose to try or not.  So, is trusting in God the same thing?  I think it is, but it is also quite a bit more than that and quite a bit harder than that.  I have to remember that God knows me intimately.  He knows what’s right for me.  I think that trusting in God requires me to be obedient to him.  Being obedient is quite often difficult for an adult.  It kind of goes against our egos.  As a parent, I’ve been used to being the one that doles out the rules and regulations and I am the one that expected obedience in return.   As an adult, I have had to make many decisions, and I could make those decisions because I trusted myself to make the best decision possible.  But sometimes, there are events or situations that arise where I don’t know what to do.  What I should do, is listen to my heart, for God is there within in, willing and eager to help me.  I need to put my ego aside and just listen and then actually do it.  Perhaps it’s not really obedience in the typical sense of the word,  but what I mean by being obedient to God means working with Him to produce the results needed. I cannot sit down and fold my hands in idleness and expect things to work out on their own. Faith and works must go together. I must permit God to direct my efforts. I must be willing to work when He wants me to work and in the way He wants me to work. My attempts to trust will amount to nothing if I am not willing to listen and follow his direction. But what if the path God is directing me toward is not a path that I myself would choose.  What then?  Am I trusting enough to follow and comply when the thing commanded is something I myself would not choose to do?

When the path God has chosen for me is something out of my comfort zone, I may start to worry instead of trusting that God knows what is best for me.  We all know that worrying doesn’t solve anything.  When we worry we become anxious. Trust takes away the anxiety. Think about what happens when worry takes over.  A large portion of energy and time is used up when worrying, sometimes so much time that anxiety takes over your life; worrying can become such a habit that peace and calmness and assurance have little room in our lives. The cure for all this is trust. Trust brings confidence. Trust whispers to our souls that there is no cause to worry. It tells us that God holds the helm of our vessel. It asks us to have courage, assuring us that God is our refuge and strength, that our lives are in his hands, and that he will work out for us the things that are best.  Remember that when you worry you are not trusting, and that when you trust you are not worrying. Worry depresses, discourages, and weakens. It never helps us in any way. It is always a hindrance to us. God wants to bring into our lives a peaceful calm. He would have us without anxiety, as care-free as the birds. It is trust that brings us this experience.

Trust also implies patience. Even God cannot work everything out immediately. So many times we want the answers to our prayers right away. If they do not come quickly, we grow impatient and think God is not going to answer. There is no use trying to hurry the Lord; we shall only hinder him if we do. He will not work according to our plans, but according to his own. Time does not matter as much to God as it does to us.

Trust means that we will not fear the outcome, for many times, the outcome is not something that was expected.  What happens to our trust when that occurs?  Many times, we moan and groan that things didn’t turn out “right.”  But what is “right” to you and what is right to God are probably two totally different things.  How can we say that something didn’t turn out right, when we have no idea of what God has planned for us in the future?  Only after we look back and reflect on what happened will we see that God did exactly what was right for us.
You know, there is a formula for trust.  It is Faith + Hope = Trust.  Faith is belief that God is; Hope is believing that God will do what he has promised, and Trust is living in absolute confidence in God’s unconditional love and having confidence that God is telling you the right thing to do, even when it doesn’t make sense to you.
It’s easy to have faith, hope and trust when life is good.  But there are many obstacles that make it hard to trust in God’s love and goodness, such as pain and suffering.  Physical and emotional pain can keep us self-absorbed and unsure that God is reliable.  Some people are so badly bruised and traumatized that they can barely survive one day at a time.  But, trusting in God does not mean that people won’t get hurt.  God has not promised that he will give us good health, or wealth, or even that we will be happy all the time.  But he does promise that He will be with us through our struggles and our disappointments.  Perhaps these struggles and disappointments are just what we need in order to build us up, or perhaps we need to learn something.  It is during these times that we need to trust in God’s infinite wisdom to do what is right for us at that particular time in our lives. 

Trusting in God is one of the hardest things to do.  But, when we truly trust the Lord with our hearts, we give Him permission and freedom to direct us without us getting in his way.  He won’t force anything on us.  But we must let go of our egos.   By not trusting him, We are trying to retain control over our situations.  But because of our limits as human beings, we really have no control anyway.  Rather than telling God exactly what you think you need for yourself, ask Him to do what is best for you (Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done) and trust that whatever happens is what He wants for you at this time.

God wants us to have full and abundant lives.  He only asks that we believe in Him.  When we do, He can then make us the people He wants us to be.

Life is simple and peaceful when we come to God like little children and say, “God, I don’t want to live on my own. I want to trust You. When I don’t know what to do, I’ll trust You. When I don’t understand why, I’ll trust You. I’ll do my part with Your help, and when I’m done, I’ll trust You to do the rest.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What I have learned at Fairfield Mennonite Church

Sunday Message Prepared by Lynn Walters

What I have learned at Fairfield Mennonite Church

August 28, 2016

I made a list of over 21 things I have learned while at Fairfield Mennonite Church or FMC for short. They fell into two categories:  Ideas about being a “Church” and what I learned from the adult discussion group. I may only need ten minutes to tell you what I have learned, but what I have learned will last the rest of my life.

I have to confess that I enjoyed telling friends and people in general, that I attended a Mennonite Church. I had been a member of a Methodist Church, a Presbyterian Church, and attended a Lutheran and Baptist church in my past. I had family members who were Mennonite, but I had never spent much time with them.

Peoples reaction was often one of  a questioning look on their face. I could tell that they immediately wanted to know if people wore head coverings and dressed like the Amish. I was only too willing to tell them about our church and why I attended this particular Mennonite Church.  I tell them it is a group of people who care for each other and their community.  FMC is a group who is trying to put their faith into action.  Doing is as important, if not more important, than believing.  They are a group who challenged me to live what I said I believed. Who would not want to be part of such a group?

At FMC  I  grew in the awareness  that “caring for the environment” was a responsibility of  all Christians. We have a responsibility to care for what happens to all people and this means that we have a responsibility to make sure the world is a place that can sustain all God's children.  Fred and Dan and others demonstrated this in a way I could understand. I have to confess that I still am not into raising my own vegetables or composting, but I know that I need to do more to take care of the earth God has given us. Who would not want to be part of such a group?

FMC has demonstrated what a “little” church can do. It is FMC that provides the place for the Fairfield Area Food Pantry, the staff to run it and the building in which to serve those in need.  The “building” is to be used to serve anyone or any group that has a need.  We do not charge for use of the building. There is not an attitude that the church must “make money” off its service.  FMC was not out to “protect” itself, but to serve. Who would not want to be a part of such a group?


Everyone has a part to play in this church, everyone contributes what they can, and I am not talking about money.  I have never been a part of a church where you will find members (even past and present pastors) running the vacuum cleaner and cleaning the kitchen. The emptying of the trash every week by Rodney is a testament to the way all members are important and appreciated. I wanted to be a part of such a group.

People expect this church to help those who have a need. I learned what it means to accept people where they are and not judge them. When FMC opens its building to house someone who does not have a place to live, they are acting like the Good Samaritan who saw that the injured man was cared for. I learned from seeing actions instead of believing words.  I knew from personal experience, their love and their acceptance shown to my niece Michelle and her family.  I know it was not always easy but they helped in a way I think few churches would. Who would not want to be part of such a group?

Here I have seen what it means to be a “Church family”.

When someone has a need you do not say “I will pray for you” but I will take you to the doctor, pick you up for church, bring you dinner, cry and celebrate life's challenges with you. Who would not want to be part of such a group?

Here I saw what  it meant to be a “peace church”. I had often referred to myself as a pacifist but was never able to explain or defend my position.  I just knew that the use of violence in any form, was not what Christ wanted for his followers.  It was here that I saw people taking a stand, willing to take a public position against war and violence. They responded in love when someone took advantage of their help but still held people responsible for their actions.  Who would not want to be part of such a group?


               I have learned what real congregational singing sounds like. I don't think I could save my own life, if it meant I had to sing in tune.  I am always telling people about the beautiful voices in this congregation. Many large churches would love to have people that sang like this little group. I have learned what an important part music can play in worship. Norm's concerts and the civic chorus demonstrate FMC willingness to be part of the community and not  isolated Christians only relating to other Christians who believe as they do. Who would not want to be part of such a group?

Here I found a group of people who were willing to consider a position that the general public often rejected without consideration - their acceptance and love of Haya, a young lady from Gaza.  Their willingness to look at the Palestinian situation with an open mind yet have room for those who have a different  understanding of the Palestinian situation. Who would not want to be part of such a group?


My first contact with FMC was coming with Michelle one Sunday morning.  There was a group seated around a table  drinking coffee and talking.  I now know this might have been the Adult Sunday School Class. I sat down and joined the discussion. I was so impressed, that here was a group of people who thought as I did and were trying to follow the teachings of Jesus. I came from a church of good people but who held different ideas as to what it meant to be a believer in a modern world. The FMC group was thoughtful, challenging and accepting. Who would not want to be part of such a group?

I learned so much from this group of people.  My list is in no special order.  I learned that everyone has something to teach me. This meant accepting people with different ideas and beliefs or no beliefs. I could not reject someone just because they did not use the same Christian phraseology that  I was used to.  I began asking myself “what did they “mean”?  Was it the same as I believed, just using different words to express the same idea or were they new ideas that I needed to consider?

An example of this is the use of the word “myth”.  Every time Joyce would use the word, I would cringe .  All I could think of was Greek and Roman myths and I did not think they were “real”. How could she call the stories in the Bible myths?  In time I came to understand that a myth is a story that has something to teach us. Whether it had actually happened was secondary to what we could learn from the story. Joyce can now use the word myth, and I just listen to learn, not judge.

When we are studying a passage of the Bible, we use as many different translations as we have. We even used a dictionary to aid our understanding. I used to love doing a word study -   looking how one word was used in different places in scripture.  But using different translations shows that a word-to-word study does not add to understanding but can be very misleading.  Seeking to understand the meaning or teaching of a passage is what gives insight and guidance.

It has also become clear to me that we should not insist on one meaning of a passage or that everyone has to believe the same thing about the passage. 



Allowing people to believe something different from me has allowed me to hold on to my beliefs and still learn from others. In fact, they have often proven to be right and I have changed what I believe. It has been these differences which have caused me to rethink and learn to restate what I had been taught.  I know that I often hold different beliefs but that is okay for me and is okay for others.  Who would not want to be part of such a group?

The Christian faith has been a major part of my life since I was very young.  I still believe that the Bible is a special book and one that has been inspired by the Holy Spirit.   I still find that God uses it to speak to me and guide me.  I believe that we all have a need of God's forgiveness.  I can't tell you what is always meant by “sin” but we all know that we are not all we could be, and that none of us are perfect.  I still believe that Jesus Christ was sent by God to show us how we should live our lives here on earth. He makes it possible for me to believe Him when He said he is preparing a place for me to be where He is.  Because I believe this I am not afraid of death or what my future here on earth is.  He has guided me so far and I expect He will see me though the future, whatever that will be here in Fairfield or in Minnesota. Having Jesus Christ as a part of my life has made life worth living and the future bright.

Because people in this church are willing to freely share, I am free to hold and share my beliefs and continue to learn what they have to teach me. They are willing to share when they know that others might hold a different view.  They give acceptance to everyone in spite of  their difference. No one demands we all agree or even sometimes understand what is being said.  Who would not want to be a part of such a group?

Now I would like to ask if anyone one would like to share what they have learned at FMC. Each of us is different and our response, too, will be different but that is why I want to be part of such group. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Septics Faith

We had a great trip to Ohio, but it is inevitable when the Shutt clan gets together that we dissect the world and talk about the heavy stuff like death, faith and faith issues. Gretchen has been taking courses at her church and right now she is doing a course on comparative religions, so she spent quite a bit of time interviewing folks about what they believe. Her assignment included discerning whether we were theists, humanists, or agnostic/atheist. What she discovered was that most of us Shutt/James are theists, but skeptical theists! Yes, we believe in a higher power. Yes, we believe in a divine creative force, yes, we recognize there is something unique about Jesus, but the rest is up for grabs. Big surprise, huh?

I really tried to keep my big mouth shut and listen, which was difficult. Even so I recommend listening to all of you. Listening to others without trying to formulate a response or clarification or rebuttal can be very instructive. The more she probed the more she realized that the skeptic's position does not oppose faith. In fact, it often exemplifies a deep but unconventional faith.   After all, Paul himself reminds us, faith is holding on to things we long for, things we cannot see or prove.

I have struggled with “faith” all of my life. Partly because faith is generally defines as an absence of doubt. I can still tap into the pain I felt as a young adult listening to my elders talk about faith.  I'd be rich is I had a dollar for every time I heard Prof Martin say “you just have to have faith.” Yet when I asked “but how do I get faith” the answer was a vague “you just have to have faith” which never seemed very helpful. I found far more reassurance is Jesus affirmation of Thomas, because Thomas's response is one I can understand.   "Show me!"

Having grown up in FMC I learned early that paradoxical thinking is ok, in fact, for the faith journey is a paradoxical one. Questioning is an important aspect of any spiritual journey because a sustaining faith does not come from blindly accepting what others say or swallowing dogmatic statements taught by some accepted authority or reading the Bible literally. While that has been reassuring in one way, that also left me open to doubt and struggling.  I can assure you that for some of us “I told you so” just doesn't work even if we'd want it to. Some of us have these weird personalities whereby we seem compelled to question and struggle with everything.   I suspect that's why I've been so attracted to the 12 steps because one of the basic premises of the 12 step program and its spiritual principles is one can only follow “the god of your understanding.” 

And so I struggle with the question of whether my intuitively sensing that something larger exists apart from us is enough for a Christian's faith? Was there really a Jesus? Does it matter? Is it enough to be so attracted to what Jesus represents that I feel impelled to try to model my life after his teachings and life enough? Is hoping that something positive, dynamic, creative, imaginative exists even when war and violence, addiction and greed and pain and suffering this faith? 

Aa I approach my 79th birthday I've become even more convinced that there truly is a benevolent creative force behind life and creation. Of course, my family environment helped. As did this growing up in this church. As did going to Bluffton College where I was reminded over and over that nothing we can learn or do can undermine God, for God is always bigger, always greater, always that force behind any discovery, the source for what we are learning.
Over time I've come to understand that I truly live by faith everyday. I have faith that when I flip a light switch a light will come on. I have faith the car will start. That Earl will be supportive. That Fairfield Mennonite will keep on being here and supportive of each of us as we walk together on our journey of faith. That I will have enough to eat. That the will sun come up and set. All this even when it doesn't always happen. Light bulbs burn out. The power goes off. The car doesn't start. Earl 's sometimes grumpy and critical. FMC almost imploded a number of years ago when our little group experienced that most painful of all experiences...a church split.   Loved ones die.  Some days it's cloudy and I can't see the sun. Yet I keep on keeping on, because I have sure of the basic dependibility of life. Somewhere along the line I've discovered that practicing gratitude creates a spiral of goodness and inner contentment for me. For me, at least, it's by being grateful for all the little things which we take for granted that I find daily affirmation that love is really stronger than hate, that good does overcome evil, even if only in small ways.

When we travel I get the back seat--- which is just where I want to be--- except my aging ears don't hear too well and all I get are parts of the conversation going on in the front seat. But that was enough this trip as I'd been mulling over what I wanted to say this morning when I took my turn preaching. When I heard Gretchen interviewing Earl about what he believed or didn't, I found myself thinking of C.S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia. As so often happens for me, I find more answers to my faith questions in fiction than Scripture or overt religious writings. In Lewis's book THE SILVER CHAIR the children find themselves trapped in a dark, hot, frightening underworld with the lost prince and the green lady(an evil witch.) Puddlglum, a Marsh Wiggle, is with them. Now Marshwiggles being half frog and half human are naturally skeptical creatures. If there is a way to put a negative spin on something, the marshwiggle will find it, so it is inevitable that the Marsh Wiggle saves the day,  for skeptics are more difficult to disillusion that those who simply assume that the good get rewarded. You see, once the Green Lady has everyone in the same room she casts her hypnotic spell over the prince and the children convincing them that nothing exists except the underworld they are experiencing, a world where everything is dark and gloomy. So it is the Marsh Wiggle who is skeptical that what she is saying is the complete truth.  Even when she glows with a seductive beauty, entertains them with her wonderful music, drugs them with an incense she throws on the fire... all the while telling the children that Narnia does not exist, that there is no world of love and laughter, sunshine, stars, fresh water, light, talking animals, friendship and hope. But Puddleglum, struggling to resist the green lady's spell forces himself to stamp out the fire and the drugging effect of the incense though it burns his webbed feet terribly and causes a terrible stink. So the children and the prince escape and run for their lives toward the surface where they believe/hope that Narnia does exist, even as the underworld crumbles around them....not knowing anything more than they have to keep climbing up toward what they believe is the way back to Narnia.

That, my friends, is my metaphor for a skeptic's faith. I am a skeptical Puddleglum. Like him I finds myself unimpressed with what the this world offers with its commercialism and materialism and ISSIS and gun violence, racism, sexism, and greedy oligarchs running our country.  Maybe that is all there is.  Maybe. Even so I choose to believe that Narnia exists. Whether or not Jesus ever lived or there is life after death, doesn't really matter to me.  The promise that that what Jesus represents, that the stories surrounding Jesus and how he lived, taught, and treated people shows me there can indeed be a different way to live right now in this broken world.  Even as I struggle with my questions and doubts in a crumbling world filled with darkness and hate, in the end the hope, no a conviction,  that a Narnia might exist becomes enough for me to hang on and keep reaching for something higher, something better than what I see. My deep longing for something more keeps me living day by day with gratitude, joy and contentment. You see, in spite of my doubts, I have faith that my random acts of kindness, my feeble attempts at loving my enemies, my inadequate efforts to 'feed my sheep” does in some unknown way flip as a divinely wired switch of love and goodness. And that is enough.

For we fix our attention not on things that are seen, but on things that are unseen. What we can see lasts only for a time, but what we cannot see lasts forever.” Or as Peterson says in The Message” “There's more here than meets the eye.”


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Finding Serenity Through Acceptance

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.  Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.  Taking as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.

In years past, I’ve heard the first sentence of the serenity prayer many times.  I’ve seen it on plaques and wall hangings.  They were just words and the words didn’t mean anything to me because I never stopped to think about the words. 

That first sentence of The Serenity Prayer…..God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference…… very powerful if you take the time to actually absorb what the words mean.  But hearing the entire prayer is more powerful still.  I’d like to examine the prayer with you and then let’s see where we are at the end of this message.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change –

Serenity….what is it?  What does it mean? It means clearness, quiet, calm, tranquil, peaceful. 

In the prayer, we are asking God for the peace to accept the things in life, both personal and situational, that cannot be altered.  Accepting the things we cannot change is so difficult. Much of our lives are shaped by things that happen to us. We come into the world from the very beginning shaped by circumstance beyond our control. The family we are born into, the culture, the economic resources, the country, all of these things shape us before we take our first breath.
But it doesn’t end there. Life is filled with things that just happen to us, things beyond our control. Oftentimes what we want to change most are the other people in our lives. One of the hardest things to accept in life has to be the inability to change other people, especially the people that we love. Certainly we can provide encouragement and resources, but it is virtually impossible to force another person to change unless he or she is willing to change themselves.  And anyone who has taken the time to reflect on their life knows the struggle of not being able to change the past. Every one of us has regrets, a bad decision made here and there. We can do our best to mend a relationship that has been damaged, but the past is the past, there’s no white-out in life. There is nothing we can do to change it. God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change.

And then there is the nagging desire to change ourselves. There are a great many things that we can change about ourselves, but there are many more that we are stuck with. We are imperfect beings, by nature. We are not going to be perfect parents, perfect spouses, perfect homemakers, perfect professionals. And we also aren’t going to have perfect bodies or perfect health. Try as we might, some things are beyond our control.  The sooner we accept the things we cannot change about ourselves, the sooner we can move on to focus on the things we can change.

So, what is this first part of the prayer asking us to do?  It’s asking us to embrace what IS, rather than wishing for what is not.  It’s asking us to embrace what’s happened in the past, embrace our faults, embrace the people in your life along with their faults.  When we accept these realities, we are acknowledging that they are real, not made-up, not fake.  “Acceptance” boils down to this: standing firm and being willing to look reality in the eye.  To face our fears and doubts.  To quiet our impulse to run away or distract ourselves in the hopes they’ll go away.  When we accept, we start to find that we tend to be more at peace, more serene – we realize “it is what it is.”

Now, The courage to change the things I can –

This is a request for the strength and fortitude to overcome that which is possible to achieve.  We’ve already ascertained some of the things that cannot be changed, so, what are some of the things can be changed?  I can change myself, I can change how I live my life, I can change any addictions that I have, I can take a stand about something….there are many things I can change, but first, I have to go back to the first part of the sentence and accept that the thing I want to change is real.  I have to accept that I demonstrate an unhealthy behavior at times, I have to accept that I have an addiction, I have to accept that there is an intolerable situation that I am passionate about, etc. etc.  But this part of the sentence uses the word courage.  Courage – what’s that got to do with changing things?  Courage is the ability to conquer fear or despair.  I feel that courage is a very appropriate word here.  How many of us are content to put up with things, yet are equally content to complain about it?  How many of us have decided to actually change something, only to work at it for a little while before falling back into old habits or saying that “it’s too hard to change?”  How many of us have felt very strongly about an issue, yet will not speak up, or attend that demonstration?  That’s where the courage part comes in.  Is it really too hard to change, or is it that we’re afraid to change?  Our little world may become disrupted if we change….it may affect the way people look at us……it may actually cause the breakup of a relationship.  But, if the thing you are trying to change is real enough or painful enough to you, then you need to find the courage to do it. 

And the wisdom to know the difference –

When we have the wisdom to know the difference between what we can and cannot change, we can save ourselves a lot of trouble and energy.  When we can distinguish what is in our control and what is not in our control we can stop trying to control what we absolutely cannot control. 

Wisdom – that’s a great word.  Wouldn’t you be pleased as punch if someone associated you with the word wisdom?  Say, you know Dan is really wise….or that Fred….he’s got a lot of wisdom.  It’s a distinguished word.  Wisdom means insight, judgment, good sense, knowledge.  We’re asking God to provide us with the wisdom to know when to accept a situation and when to challenge it.  To me, that means that we need to have faith that there is a higher power or higher being that can grant us this wisdom.  How does this wisdom get from God to us?  I can only speak for myself but in my experience, God speaks to me in one of two ways:  the first requires quiet and time to be introspective and look deeply inside myself.  I need to contemplate and think things through.  Sometimes, if I’m lucky, the wisdom will come quickly, but all too often, my thoughts start scattering and I can’t bring myself back so, I may have to try this many times.  The other way is usually the way it happens for me.  I can be going about my usual business, thinking about this and that, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the wisdom comes to me….Boom.  Here’s the answer.  Each one of you needs to find your own way to wisdom.  You need to let go and let God.

So, we’ve gotten through the most familiar form of The Serenity Prayer.  How about the rest….What does that mean to me? 

Living one day at a time, one moment at a time, accepting hardships as the pathway to peace –Living one day at a time, one moment at a time….we’ve all heard that phrase.  To me, since that phrase is found within a prayer asking for serenity, I take it to mean that we should enjoy what is around us…see the beauty of the seasons, smile, live now and don’t worry about what’s going to happen because when you worry about what might happen, you lose what’s happening right now. 

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace - There’s that “accepting” word again!  This goes back to “the courage to change the things I can.”  Hardships will happen…we don’t go looking for them, but they happen to everyone.  Accept it…it’s real.  If it’s something that can be changed, change it.  If not, let it go.  In either case, accept it and you’ll get your serenity back.

Taking as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; - I, like all of you in this room, would love it if the world were a peaceful, loving place.  It’s not.  Being distraught or overwhelmed by the events of this world is an unhealthy thing to do.  I am certainly guilty of being both.  But, coming back to The Serenity Prayer, I cannot change what has and is happening in the world today.  What I can do is take a realistic look at what I can do to make it a better place for the future.  I can’t wish away the wars going on in the Middle East.  But I can sit down to dinner with Deya and Haya and learn about them and get others to learn about them and then those others can get  others to learn about them… see where this is going.  Or like everyone that helps with the Food Pantry, or helps with renovating the playground….we’re helping to make the world a better place for some people.  We are doing what we can do in our community.  It all comes down to individual actions.

Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next –

Here’s where faith comes into play.  Stop trying to control things…..surrender to the will of God, listen for his messages.  He’ll lead us down the right path.  If we try to do these things, we should be reasonably happy in this life.  And the last part of the sentence “…and supremely happy with Him forever in the next,” well, I’m just focusing on this life, and not worrying about the next just yet.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Forgiveness: Loosing the cords of mistakes

Text: II Cor. 5: 16-21 from Today's English version, sometimes called The good News Bible. This sermon was delivered on Aug. 9, 2015

There have been some good and bad anniveraries this month. The 50th anniversary of the voting rights act. The anniversaries of our dropping the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Loose the cords of mistakes binding us as we release the strands we hold of others guilt.

I was reminded last weekend that family stories are filled with hurts and disappointments along with joy and delight. Watching our adult children interact; seeing old roles emerge at times; observating how desperately each wanted to be accepted and valued by the other, I was reminded once again that I am a Jesus follower not because he promises me eternal salvation but because the Jesus way makes so much sense. “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” may very well be referring to some kind of eternal salvation, but for me it is a simple yet dynamic statement of truth. If we are to get along with each other, if we are to co-exist without violence and ugliness we must learn to walk the Jesus walk. And as my dad used to say, “ideas are often hard to put in practice but watching how another person does something can be very enlightening. That's the role Jesus plays. Through his life and teachings he shows us how to be.”

It's ironic then that as human beings, as societies, as cultures, we spend so much time nursing our hurts and avenging our so called slights. Even our understanding of God is shaped by out lust for vengeance and punishment. In spite of our rhetoric we love a violent and vengeful God and use the Old Testament to excuse our own violence. Yet Jesus exemplifies in his person a God of love, a God of forgiveness, a God of new beginnings, a God of hope, a God of reconciliation and remption. If seeing is believing thepotential for human interaction in him, how can I not believe and follow?

It is also human nature to reduce everything to it's lowest common denominator so we seem to cheapen everything we touch. Forgiveness, for instance we reduce to simply saying” I'm sorry” or “that's ok.” But, true forgivenss is radical emotional and spiritual surgery that allows us to remounce all of our logical claims for revenge or compensation for the hurts and damage we've suffered. Forgiveness frees us by cutting the cords and knots, by breaking the chains of betrayal and PTSD and painful memories that bind us to the past that is keeping us captive. Forgiveness frees us from compulsively picking our scabs and opening old wounds so they never heal.

Popular understanding assumes that forgiveness is something we do to relieve the offender of their guilt. And that can be part of the process. But the forgivenss that Jesus practiced was a conditional transaction that is more about us than the offender: it's about the role we play in the process. It is conditional because we cannot forgive without first being forgiven for harboring hate and judgment and the lust for revenge. When he prays, “Father forgive them they know not what they do” he is releasing his disappointments and broken dreams of what he had hoped for; he is recognizing that Judas's brokenness and attachment to the ways of the world were just too strong and that governments are rigid ego driven institutions. He is recognizing that three years wasn't enough time.

We forgive not for the other's sake but for our own, because forgiveness looses the strands we hold of others guilt so that we are freed from all that holds us back. So that we can move on. So that we can heal. So that we can begin to see the other through a new set of eyes. And in that process of our healing we set in motion the opportunities for others to heal.

Forgiveness is not about condoning evil or wrong. It is not about ignoring, making excuses or denying what happened. Forgiveness is about facing reality, accepting what happened even when we hate what happened, and then by taking responsibility for the part we played in whatever occurred, in acknowledging that the way we've chosen to respond to the betrayal, hurt, injury, is what is eating us alive. That revenge can never undo what has happened so the only way to move on is by our detaching from that pain. Forgiveness is saying to the other, “ I no longer give you the power to keep hurting me. I release you from carrying the guilt of what you did, hoping that you have learned something from all of this, but even if you haven't, I release myself from your power over me and my life. Just as I will what is best for me, I now will what is best for you so that we can both move into God's open future as non-enemies.

Three stories defining forgiveness.

A Jewish survivor of one of the death camps was called to testifiy at the Nurenberg trial against a very cruel and sadistic guard. As he painfully recounted his story he began to weep so much that the judge called for a recess. Asked what memory had upset him so deeply he replied, “it wasn't what I remembered; it was what I saw in myself. I got a good look at my deep hatred and contempt for the guard and I suddenly realized that I am no different than he. I am as capable of hurting others as he as I wanted him to suffer as we suffered. Thus I wept in fear and shame.” You see we often react so strongly to the acts of others because they hold up a mirror in which we are forced to see ourselves.

And then there is The Nichol Mines massacre of the Amish girls and more recently the mass shooting in Charleston SC. In both cases those who survived stated that they forgave because not to do so would make their loved ones deaths a senseless traversity accomplishing what the shooter desired.

In the early 60's a Korean family came to New York so their gifted son could study medicine.  One evening while walking to the universaity library he was murdered by 3 teen gang members. His parents were devastated. At the sentencing hearing the Korean family spoke against the death penalty and an excessive sentence. Since their son was no longer alive and able to become a doctor, they'd decided it was these very boys who must now pick up the dream they'd destroyed by killing their son. This couple told the court that they would pay for whatever it cost to have the boys finish high school and get college degrees while incarcerated. They believed God wanted them to invest all of their love and resources into these ghetto kids who killed all they held precious. When the boys came up for parole they wanted the boys released into their care. This was what they needed for their own healing for anything less than the complete change of these boys lives would make their son's death a tragic waste.

And so the miracle of forgiveness began... and continued through the years, for this quiet Korean couple visited those boys while in prison week after week, arranging for their education and counseling and religious training while incarcerated and even after their release. By refusing to define the boys according to their past behaviors, they helped everyone involved see themselves through a completely different lens. Today one boy is a doctor who runs a street clinic, another teaches in a ghetto school, and third is a missionary in Korea.

O God of love and forgiveness, grant what we need each day in bread and insight. Loose the cords of mistakes binding us to the past as we release the strands we hold of others guilt. Don't let surface things delude us but free us from what holds us back. Amen
Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Reading from the July 5 Sunday Service

My role as helper is not to do things for the person I am trying to help, but to be things; not to try to control and change their actions, but through understanding and awareness to change my reactions.  I will change my negatives to positives, fear to faith, contempt for what they do to understanding, and manipulation or over-protectiveness to release with love - not trying to make them fit a standard or image, but giving them an opportunity to pursue their own destiny, regardless of what their choice may be.

I will change my dominance to encouragement, panic to serenity, the inertia of despair to the energy of my own personal growth, and self-justification to self-understanding.  Self pity blocks effective action.  The more I indulge in it, the more I feel that the answer to my problem is a change in others and in society, not in myself.  Thus, I become a hopeless case.

Exhaustion is the result when I use my energy in mulling over the past with regret or in trying to figure ways to escape a future that has yet to arrive.  Projecting an image of the future and anxiously hovering over it for fear it will or it won't come true uses all of my energy and leaves me unable to live today.  Yet living today is the only way to have a life.

I will have no thought for the future action of others, neither expecting them to be better or worse as time goes on, for in such expectations I am really trying to create.  I will love and let be.  All people are always changing.  If I try to judge them, I do so only on what I think I know of them, failing to realize that there is much I do not know.  I will give others credit for attempts at progress and for having had many victories which are unknown.

I, too, am always changing, and I can make that change a constructive one if I am willing.  I can change myself.  Others, I can only love.