Monday, October 16, 2017

Do You Want To Be Forgiven: Book of Joy

(John 20:19‑31 NRSV)  When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." {20} After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. {21} Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." {22} When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. {23} If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." {24} But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. {25} So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." {26} A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." {27} Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." {28} Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" {29} Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." {30} Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. {31} But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Today we continue our journey through the Book of Joy, this morning we look at the pillar of forgiveness.

The reality is you're going to be hurt in life. 
          by things people say about you,
          by things people do to you,
          even by things that people think about you. 

Some of these hurts are still fresh because many of you have been hurt very deeply.

My message this morning is pretty simple. 

First, we're going to look at "Why in the world should I ever forgive anybody who hurts me?"
And then we're going to look at how we can learn to forgive. 

Because until we learn to forgive (and be forgiven) we will never fully experience JOY.

Let me share with you a couple of reasons why we should forgive others.


This to me is the most important thing I will say today.
God has already forgiven you.

The problem is, I am not sure that we really believe in a God who is willing to forgive us. 
          I want God to forgive me
          But I am not so sure I want God to forgive the person who hurt me.

We tend to believe in a God who wants JUSTICE, and justice for most of us means that a price must be paid.

So if someone wrongs us --- a price must be paid.
          At the very least they have to be sorry.

But throughout the New Testament, the message of Jesus is we must forgive (period!)
          Not forgive if they ask
          Not forgive if they are sorry

          JUST FORGIVE

In Ephesians 4:32 Paul writes:
"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." 

But if I don't really believe that God has already forgive me
          I'm going to have a tough time forgiving anyone else. 

If you are one of the people who have a hard time forgiving others, you probably have a hard time letting go of hurt, you have a hard time of forgiving a grudge, the possibility is that you yourself don't really feel forgiven.

If I don't feel forgiven, I don't want you to feel forgiven. 
If I don't feel grace, I'm certainly not going to be very gracious to you. 
If I don't feel set free from the things I've done wrong, I certainly don't want you feeling forgiven about the things that you have done wrong to me. 

I need to realize that I'm living in the presence of God's love and grace because God has forgiven all the things I deserve to be punished for.  God's forgiven me.  When I remember that, it makes me want to be a little bit more forgiving.

You will never have to forgive anybody more than God has already forgiven you.  God will always forgive you more than you forgive anybody else. 
God has already forgiven me and you.


Actually it's very self destructive. 
It's counterproductive. 
Resentment always hurts you more than anybody else. 

If anybody in the Bible has the right to be resentful it was Job. 

But three times in the book of Job we're told that resentment doesn't work. 

Job 5:2
"To worry yourself to death with resentment would be a foolish, senseless thing to do." 
It's foolish and it's senseless.  It's illogical, it's irrational, it's dumb. 

The author of Ecclesiastes (7:9) writes: "It's foolish to hold a grudge." 

No matter how resentful you are, no matter how bitter you are toward that person who hurt you: (mother, father, ex-husband or wife, that person at school, that former friend who betrayed you) all the resentment in the world is not going to change the past. 
It's not going to change anything. 
It's stewing without doing. 
All the resentment in the world will never solve the problem.  All the resentment in the world, in fact, never hurts that person, it just hurts you.

Research has shown over and over, that the single most destructive emotion is resentment, bitterness, being unforgiving. 
When you hold on to resentment, you only hurt yourself. 


Jesus says it like this in Matthew 6:14-15 (the Message)
there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.

Jesus is saying we cannot receive what we're unwilling to give.
That's just the way it works. 

I've talked to many people over the years about letting go of hurt. 
I've heard this many, many times, "You just don't understand. 
          You don't know my hurt. 
          You don't know how that parent hurt me. 
          You don't know how for years and years I was abused." 
You're right.  I don't know. 

But God says: for your own sake you need to learn to let go.  You're not helping the situation by holding on to the hurt.  When you hold on to a hurt, you're still allowing somebody in the past to continue to hurt you.  That's your choice.  They can't continue to hurt you unless you choose to allow it. 

So how does one forgive?

Our story begins this morning with the disciples hiding — scared to death — that the fate that has happened to their friend Jesus is going to happen to them also.  They had given up everything that they had to follow this man Jesus — they banked their whole lives on him — and now — now Jesus is dead

They obviously did not believe Mary Magdalene’s insistence that Jesus had risen from the dead. Their fear and unbelief left them literally separated from the community, secluded in a locked room, much like fear and unwillingness to forgive can separate us from our own families and communities. Then, Jesus appears, wishing them peace.

There is a great story in the Book of Joy:
Anthony Ray Hinton spent thirty years on death row for a crime he did not commit.  He was working in a locked factory at the time of the crime that he was accused of.  When he was arrest in Alabama, he was told by the police officers that he was going to jail because he was black.

Anthony Ray Hinton spent 30 years in a five-by-seven cell in solitary confinement, allowed out of the cell for only one hour a day!

Can you imagine the anger — the bitterness that had to go through Anthony Ray Hinton's mind every single day that he spent in solitary confinement?

Forgiveness is hard!

I don’t know what else to say!

How do I let go of the anger that I hold toward those who have wronged me?

How do I accept forgiveness from somebody that I have wronged?

How do I accept God’s gift of forgiveness to me?

Let’s go back to our story:

The disciples are hiding in a locked room — thinking that it's over — their dreams — their hopes — everything had died with Jesus on that cross.

Suddenly — what must seem to them as a ghost comes into the room — right through the locked door — and when this “ghost” speaks to them he says “peace be with you”.

Now I don’t know much — but what I do know is that the disciples did not feel peace at that moment!

Jesus says to them again: “Peace be with you.  As the father sent me, so I send you.”  But this time he does something more: Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. "Receive the Holy Spirit," he said.  "If you forgive someone's sins, they're gone for good. If you don't forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?"

When Jesus breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” — the disciples physically felt the breath of God on them, and then they heard the command to accept the Spirit.

As soon as he gives them the Spirit by deed and word, Jesus provides instructions on what to do with it:
they have the power of forgiveness, as well as the choice of whether or not to use it (John 20:23).


The good news is that you have received that same gift from God. 

It is a free gift from God.

We have that same choice today.

We can forgive — or we can continue to hang on to the hurts and frustrations that hold us locked into our room — afraid!

Remember Anthony Ray Hinton?

During his time on death row, Hinton became a counselor and friend not only to the other inmates, fifty-four of whom were put to death, but to the death row guards, many of whom begged Hinton’s attorney to get him out.

When a unanimous Supreme Court ruling ordered his release, he was finally able to walk free. “One does not know the value of freedom until one has it taken away

When Hinton was interviewed on the show 60 Minutes, the interviewer asked whether he was angry at those who had put him in jail. He responded that he had forgiven all the people who had sent him to jail. The interviewer incredulously asked, “But they took thirty years of your life—how can you not be angry?”

Hinton responded, “If I’m angry and unforgiving, they will have taken the rest of
my life.”

Unforgiveness robs us of our ability to enjoy and appreciate our life, because we
are trapped in a past filled with anger and bitterness. Forgiveness allows us to move beyond the past and appreciate the present.

Hinton is a powerful example of the ability to respond with joy despite the most horrendous circumstances. As he was driving in a taxi in New York, he said, “The world didn’t give you your joy, and the world can’t take it away. You can let people come into your life and destroy it, but I refused to let anyone take my joy. I get up in the morning, and I don’t need anyone to make me laugh. I am going to laugh on my own, because I have been blessed to see another day, and when you are blessed to see another day that should automatically give you joy.

“I don’t walk around saying, ‘Man, I ain’t got a dollar in my pocket.’ I don’t care
about having a dollar in my pocket, what I care about is that I have been blessed
to see the sun rise. Do you know how many people had money but didn’t get up this morning? So, which is better—to have a billion dollars and not wake up, or to be broke and wake up? I’ll take being broke and waking up any day of the week. I told the CNN interviewer in June that I had three dollars and fifty cents in my pocket and for some reason that day I was just the happiest I have ever been. She said, ‘With three dollars and fifty cents?’ I said, ‘You know, my mom never raised us to get out there and make as much money as we can. My mom told us about true happiness. She told us that when you are happy, then when folks hang around you they become happy.’

“I just look at all the people who have so much but they are not happy. Yes, I did
thirty long years, day for day, in a five by seven, and you have got some people that have never been to prison, never spent one day or one hour or one minute, but they are not happy. I ask myself, ‘Why is that?’ I can’t tell you why they are not happy, but I can tell you that I’m happy because I choose to be happy.”

God is here today — he has walked through those back doors and what he desires more than anything else is to breathe on you his breath of life — his breathe of forgiveness.

What you do with it is up to you, but Joy is found when we let go of the hate and bitterness and learn to forgive.

So quickly, let me give you a couple of suggestions on how to forgive.

First, recognize that we are all imperfect.

When we are filled with anger and bitterness toward somebody, we tend to lose our perspective about them. 

When we're filled with resentment and bitterness and hurt, we tend to dehumanize the offender. 
          We treat them like an animal. 
          We demonize them. 
          We forget that they're a human being too. 

The truth is we all sin and are capable of hurting others. 
Every one of us have intentionally wronged other people in our lives. 

Recognizing that we are all imperfect can help set us on the path of forgiveness, because we are all in need of forgiveness.

Second, let go of your right to get even.

This is the heart of forgiveness.  This is what forgiveness is all about. 

James Dobson once said: “Forgiveness is not taking the revenge your entitled to.” 

The second step in forgiveness and what forgiveness really is, is when I say, "I give up my right to get even with you.  You deserve to be hurt back but I'm not going to do it.  You deserve to be retaliated against, but I'm not going to do it.  You deserve to be punished, and I deserve to get even, but I'm going to give up that right." 

Your resentment doesn't work. 
Your resentment keeps you from being forgiven. 
Your resentment keeps you unhealthy. 

How often do I have to do that?  How often do I have to release my right to get even with the person who's hurt me?  As often as the hurt memory comes back.  Every time you start to get resentful again, you have to do it again. 

Forgiveness is not a onetime shot where you say, "You're forgiven" and you never think about it again.  If you've ever been deeply hurt you know that doesn't work.  You can forgive a person and really mean it and five minutes later -- or five seconds later -- feel the pain again and think, "I don't know if I want to forgive them or not."  You do it over and over. Forgiveness is not a one shot deal.  It's a repeated act of saying, "I give up my right to get even."

Jesus taught this.  "Peter asked, `Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me?  Seven times?' [Peter thinks he's being real generous here!]  `No,' Jesus replied, `seventy times seven!'" 
In other words an infinite number.  Don't even try to count it. 
Every time you remember that hurt you must forgive them again and again until you know that you've released it. 

Third, respond to the evil with good.

How do you know when you've fully released someone? 
          When you can understand their hurt and when you can pray for them.

Luke 6, "Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. 

There's no way you can do that on your own power. 
Humanly speaking, you don't have enough love and forgiveness and joy in your life from the human standpoint to continually forgive everybody who's hurt you. 

The only way you can do that is if you get Jesus in your life and He fills you with His love and His peace and His forgiveness because human love runs out. 

If you want to experience the freedom of forgiveness, there's a fourth step and you have to take this one too. 

Fourth, You have to move on.

Stop focusing on the offense. 
Stop focusing on the hurt. 
Stop focusing on the person who has offended me. 

Instead begin to focus on moving forward in your life.

As long as you continue to focus on that person who has hurt you they control you. 

Back when I started Celebration Church I lead numerous Divorce Recovery Workshops.  One women who came through the program was elderly (probably my age now) --- in talks with her, her divorce seemed like it was fairly recent (my guess in the prior year or two).

At the last workshop, I would lead the participants on a guided meditation, inviting them to say to the person who hurt them all the things that they wish that they had said --- and then say goodbye.

Later, in talking with this woman, she shared how for the first time she felt freed from her anger.  That for thirty years, her ex-husband was still hurting her because she had refused to let go and move on.

Until she let go, she was allowing him to continue her pain, anger and unhappiness.

One of the most powerful prayers in the Christian tradition is what we call the Lord's Prayer.  Have you ever really paid attention to what you say?

What I dislike about the Lord’s Prayer the most is when is says: that God will forgive me my sins only to the extent that I forgive others their sins against me.

I would probably be more comfortable if the line went, "Forgive us our sins BETTER THAN we forgive those who sin against us."

But that is clearly not what it says — nor what Jesus intends.

Jesus knows that the only way we can find joy is to let go and move on. 
And that is forgiveness.

Let me close with these words, written at least three thousand years ago and eventually called Psalm 103:

GOD is sheer mercy and grace;
          not easily angered, he's rich in love.
He doesn't endlessly nag and scold,
          nor hold grudges forever.
He doesn't treat us as our sins deserve,
          nor pay us back in full for our wrongs.
As high as heaven is over the earth,
          so strong is his love to those who fear him.
And as far as sunrise is from sunset,
          he has separated us from our sins.
As parents feel for their children,
          GOD feels for those who fear him.

Monday, October 09, 2017

An Attitude of Gratitude

Luke 17:11-19
On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.  As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’  When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean.  Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.  He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.  Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?  Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’  Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

This morning we continue our series on Finding Joy.
We have looked at three of the eight Pillars that Archbishop Tutu and His Highness the Dalia Lama identified so far in The Book Of Joy
This morning we continue with gratitude

Gratitude is really nothing more than accepting reality
It is moving from counting your burdens to counting your blessings

Do you realize:
If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep ... you are richer than 75 percent of this world of ours.

If you have money in the bank, cash in your wallet and spare change in a dish someplace ... you are among the top 8 percent of the Earth's wealthiest people.

If you woke up this morning with more health than illness ... you are more fortunate than the million who will not survive this week.

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation ... you are ahead of 500 million people in the world.

If you can attend this worship service, or any other religion-related meeting, without fear of harassment, arrest, torture or death ... you are fortunate. Billions of people in the world cannot.

It should not be hard for us to count our blessings, should it?

Most of us could quickly and easily jot down a rather lengthy list of things we are grateful for --- things we are thankful for:
·         family
·         friends
·         food
·         clothing
·         cars
·         for a home
·         for a job
·         for health
·         for freedom
·         for opportunity, and so on.

But what if we turn this upside down on its head?

So, if we lack these things, are we saying that we cannot give thanks?

Can count our blessings only if we have stuff to count?

Listen to these words found in Luke’s Gospel
Luke 17:11-19
It happened that as he made his way toward Jerusalem, he crossed over the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met him. They kept their distance but raised their voices, calling out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Taking a good look at them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”

They went, and while still on their way, became clean. One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.”

In today’s passage, Jesus is on a road trip, moving between Samaria and Galilee on his way to Jerusalem.

As he enters a village, 10 lepers approach him and call out from a distance, raising their voices in unison, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:13).

These men are desperate for healing, but as unclean people they don’t dare rush up to Jesus.
They know that they are supposed to keep their distance, and live outside the community.

But in our story, Jesus sees them and feels a desire to be merciful toward them.

Then he gives them what seems to us a rather unusual command:
“Go and show yourselves to the priests” (v. 14).

To us, these words sound odd, but in the time of Jesus a leper who was fortunate enough to be healed was required to show himself to a priest.

Only a priest could certify that a person was truly ritually clean and thus able to return to the community.

Something is going on here, something wonderful and mysterious and tingling with the healing power of God.

As the lepers make their way toward the priests, they are miraculously cleansed.

And the story tells us that one of them turns on his heels and races back to Jesus, praising God with a loud voice.
He prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet and thanks him profusely (vv. 14-16).

Only one gives thanks.
          One out of 10.
“Were not ten made clean?” asks Jesus, sounding miffed. “But the other nine, where are they?” (v. 17).
Only one takes the time to count his blessings.
Only one bothers to come back to Jesus and say thanks.

A 10 percent return. That’s pretty pathetic.
          But are we doing any better today?

Keep in mind that the other nine lepers did exactly what Jesus told them to do.
They were obedient.
They followed instructions.
They were doing the will of God.
Can’t fault them for that.

But gratitude and thanksgiving move us beyond the standard, the acceptable, the ordinary. A gracious attitude and lifestyle make one extraordinary, unusual, blessed, a cut above the rest.

Recent studies have shown that an attitude of Gratitude can make your life better. 

Robert Emmons’ book: Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier looks at the science behind gratitude. 

Emmons and his colleagues at the University of California at Davis are among the pioneers in research on gratitude, part of a larger movement called positive psychology.

Positive psychology, instead of focusing on illness and emotional problems, studies health-promoting behavior and the things that bring joy to life.

What they have found is astounding. 

People who pause each day to “count their blessings”
in the study they had them journal the good things that happened in their lives those folks felt more joy and better about their lives overall, were more optimistic about the future, and reported fewer health problems than the other participants.

In a related study, researchers at the University of Connecticut found that gratitude can actually have a protective effect against heart attacks.

Studying people who had experienced one heart attack, the researchers found that those patients who saw benefits and gains from their heart attack, such as becoming more appreciative of life, experienced a lower risk of having another heart attack.

Summarizing the findings, Emmons says that those who practice grateful thinking “reap emotional, physical and interpersonal benefits.”

People who regularly keep a gratitude journal are filled with more joy.  They report fewer illness symptoms, feel better about their lives as a whole, and are more optimistic about the future.

Emmons conclusion is that gratitude is a choice, one possible response to our life experiences.

But what exactly should we be grateful for?

In the classic book The Little Prince, the fox character is saying goodbye to the little prince, and as he leaves he says:

"And now here's my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

"What is essential is invisible to the eye," the little prince repeats, so that he will be sure to remember.

That is the same thing that Paul says to the Church in Corinth:
"We look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18).

What is essential is invisible to the eye.

What is Paul thankful for?

Paul doesn't give thanks for:
          gold jewelry
          fancy cars
          big houses

Paul refuses to focus his gaze on the things that can be seen, because he knows that these things are temporary.

Instead, Paul looks only at the essential and eternal things that are invisible to the eye.

When Paul counts his blessings, he lists absolutely nothing you can buy, and nothing you can own - instead he is grateful for:
          faith, love, a spirit of wisdom, a spirit of revelation, God's inheritance, God's power.

There is a great line in the movie Bruce Almighty when Bruce tells God:
“I just gave everyone what they wanted.”
And God says, “Since when does anyone have a clue about what they want?”

We think we want the house, the car, this certain relationship.
We have no idea what we really want.

And that is the problem, isn’t it?

When we WANT the wrong things, we are not grateful for the invisible gifts that we have.

A few years ago in Parade Magazine, Bob Kerrey made the following comment:
Character begins with gratitude. And the great challenge for America is that gratitude and wealth are sometimes at odds. The more we have, the less grateful we may be. The easier our lives become, the more we may forget how lucky we are to be free. Our parents struggled to make certain that our lives would be better than theirs. But, by giving us more, they may have prepared us less for those moments when our bank account will not help us.

In my first year at New School University, I observed that foreign students come to the United States with more gratitude and enthusiasm than native-born students. The immigrant students are less likely to be burdened by the presumption of entitlement. Most of them do not begin with a demand that we do everything for them. As a consequence, they do more for themselves and are more likely to find happiness as a reward for their labor.

God challenges us to slow down and say THANKS.

So how do we gain an attitude of gratitude?

Brother David Steindl-Rast suggests: "Ninety-nine percent of the time we have an opportunity to be grateful for something. We just don't notice it. We go through our days in a daze".

Everything that I read this past week suggested one main way to gain an attitude of gratitude.
And it is so simple that most of us will not take the time to do it.

But if you want to have a happier and healthier life — everything suggests that we need to do this.

And that is, start a gratitude journal.

Write down the things that you are grateful for —> EVERY DAY

A doctor who used to see a lot of depressed and unhappy patients used to prescribe a "thank-you" cure. He told his patients that for six weeks they had to say "Thank you" for every good thing that happened to them and keep a journal of the incident. The cure rate was remarkable.

Truth is simple. And we want to make it complicated.

In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle writes,
“You don’t need to own anything to feel abundant, although if you feel abundant consistently things will almost certainly come to you. Abundance comes only to those who already have it. It sounds almost unfair, but of course it isn’t. It is a universal law. Both abundance and scarcity are inner states that manifest as your reality.”

It might not be easy. But it is pretty simple.

Brother Steindl-Rast:
Whatever life gives to you, you can respond with joy.  Joy is the happiness that does not depend on what happens.  It is the grateful response to the opportunity that life offers you at this moment.

If you want to find joy in your life, take the time and record all the blessings that happen in your life EVERY DAY!

Take the time — and begin to develop an Attitude of Gratitude.

Get Over Yourself: Humility

Philippians 2:2-4    (NRSV)
make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

Two weeks ago we began our series based on the bestselling book by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and His Holiness the Dalia Lama.  The "Book of Joy" examines what they have experienced in their lives and what scientists have found to be the wellsprings of joy.

They spend the first part of the book looking at obstacles to joy, but we have decided not to focus on the obstacles, the second part of the book is what they call: The Eight Pillars of Joy.

Two weeks ago, we looked at the fist pillar PERSPECTIVE.

A healthy perspective really is the foundation of joy --- because the way that we see the world is the way that we experience the world.

Changing the way that we see the world will change the way that we feel and the way that we act --- and ultimately --- it can change the world itself!

So getting a healthy and authentic perspective is the start of finding real joy.

Our second pillar that we will focus on this morning is HUMILITY.

Archbishop Tutu shared a great story to get us started.

"A bishop was about to ordain candidates to the priesthood.  They were speaking about the virtues, including the virtue of humility.  One of the candidates came up to the bishop and said, 'My lord, I've been looking in the library to find a book on humility.'  The bishop said, 'Oh, yes, I've written the best book on the subject.'"

I promise you, this will not be the best sermon every preached on humility!

Humility is a funny thing. 

What fascinates me about humility is how dictionaries tend to define it. Most often they state that humility is a modest or low opinion of one's own importance.

I am not sure that the Archbishop or His Holiness would completely agree with that definition.

Seven years ago next month I embarked on a journey that would change my life.  I completed my first half marathon at Fort Harrison in the whopping time of 3:08 minutes --- you notice I didn't say I ran it.  I basically walked the 13.1 miles.

Two years later, I RAN the Chicago Marathon.

I am training for a half marathon next month in Louisville and my training plan required me to put in a ten mile run yesterday.

This past week had been tough, but I had been able to somehow sneak in my runs.

But as I went out yesterday to run, my legs wouldn't go.  I somehow ran 2 1/2 miles before I had to sit down and try to convince myself to go again.

It was humbling!
But it really didn't change my opinion of my self importance.
          I know I am a slow runner --- I am just happy to finish

So what does humility mean?

It comes from the Latin word for earth or soil --- HUMUS

Humility brings us back to earth --- it reminds us of our humble beginnings.
          Remember the words in the traditional funeral service:
                   "Ashes to ashes --- dust to dust"
          Or the words we say on Ash Wednesday as we place ashes on your forehead
                   "You are dust --- and to dust you shall return"

Humility reminds us not to get too large a view of ourselves.

The Dalia Lama shared a Tibetan prayer that says:
"Whenever I see someone, may I never feel superior.  From the depth of my heart, may I be able to really appreciate the other person in front of me."

The challenge is for us to recognize that we are all brothers and sisters and children of our creator God.

Because when we get that 40,000 foot view --- we realize that we are just one of many.  All of God's children are of value.

It goes back to the concept of Ubuntu that I shared two weeks ago.

Ubuntu says: "A person is a person through other people." or put another way: "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity"

When we see our interconnectedness and embrace it --- it humbles us.

In many ways the idea of Ubuntu can also be summarized in our passage from Galatians.
the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The key to humility is understanding that the world does not revolve around ME.  It doesn't revolve around you --- it revolves around God.

Humility leads us to understand that we need each other
          We are not truly independent or self-sufficient
                   We are inter-dependent with each other

The terrible disasters that we have witnessed lately are some of the best reminders of how much we need each other.

·         Houston needs us
·         Florida needs us
·         Puerto Rico needs us
·         Virgin Islands need us
·         Cuba needs us
·         Mexico needs us

Without help --- many will die
They cannot rebuild on their own --- they need all of us to help

Leonard Bernstein, the late conductor of the New York Philharmonic orchestra was asked what was the most difficult instrument to play.
Without hesitation he replied,
"The second fiddle! I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm—that’s a problem. And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony."

This is the problem we face.
We don’t easily want to play second fiddle because it’s too humbling a position.
We want to be important.

Do you remember the great scientist George Washington Carver?  Maybe we need to learn from him.

George Washington Carver is remembered for developing hundreds of useful products from the peanut.

When he was young he asked God to tell him the mystery of the universe.
But God answered: That knowledge is reserved for me alone.
So he said, “God, tell me the mystery of the peanut.”
Then God said, “Well, George, that’s more nearly your size.”
And he told him.

But I want to be clear --- being humble does not mean that we should become timid.

We need to use the gifts that God has given us to make the world a better place.
But we need to remember the source of our gifts --- GOD --- --- when we understand that -- THAT is humility!

As the Archbishop reminds us:
"Humility allows us to celebrate the gifts of others, but it does not mean you have to deny your own gifts or shrink from using them.  God uses each of us in our own way, and even if you are not the best one, you may be the one who is needed or the one who is there."

Paul in his letter to the church at Philippi says in chapter 2, verse 4, “let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” Then he gives us the ultimate example of this in verse 5f, “let the same mind be in your that was in Christ Jesus, Who though he was in the form of God, Did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, But emptied himself, Taking the form of a slave.”

Jesus emptied himself. He poured himself out for us.

His attitude was not directed to himself.
          It wasn’t ME, MINE.
          It was you, ours.

Do you remember the story from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio? 

USA Track and field star Abbey D’Agostino during the second semifinal heat of the women’s 5,000-meter race, stopped to help a fallen runner.

It all started when New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin took a tumble on the inside track. Impossible to avoid the fallen runner, D’Agostino tripped over Hamblin, stumbling to the ground herself.

Rather than get up and plow past Hamblin, D’Agostino stopped to check to see if her Olympic rival could continue and helped her off the ground.

She finished the race almost 2 minutes behind the winner of the heat.

That is the attitude that Paul was talking about when he reminds us of the humility of Jesus.

In our western, North American culture we are trained from childhood that life is all about ME, MINE, and MY WAY.
Even our religion is based on MY relationship with God, My eternal destiny, MY beliefs.
If I’m good with God, then I can check that off my list and move on with my life.

What if we changed the ME, MINE, and MY WAY to WE, OURS, and GOD’s Way.

Joy is found when we change the me to we 

May God help us change our attitude so that Joy may grow in our lives.

Listen to Paul as he shares with us an early Christian hymn in Philippians 2:5-11

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,

    to the glory of God the Father.


Galatians 5:22-23a
22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.

Luke 19:1-10    (NRSV)
19 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

When I go out for my run in the morning, instead of listening to music, I listen to Podcasts. 

Recently, a couple of the talks have had a direct relationship to this series that Matt and I am starting.

One was a Ted talk about how we are wired.  What I enjoy about the TED Hour is that it combines a number of sometimes conflicting views on the same subject.
This particular podcast featured Robert Sapolsky who is a primatologist and a professor of neuroscience at Stanford University.  He suggested that we have very little agency -- very little choice in what we do.  We do the things we do --- because we have been wired that way.
Sapolsky said:
my personal bias is we've got no agency at all. I don't think there's a shred of free will out there. From spending my decades thinking about behavior and the biological influences on it, I'm convinced by now free will is what we call the biology that hasn't been discovered yet. It's just another way of stating that we're biological organisms determined by the physical laws of the universe.

In that same TED Hour Brian Little, a research professor in psychology at the University of Cambridge offered a very different opinion.  He suggested that we have more choice than we often realize.

But it was a Fresh Air Podcast that really intrigued me.  It was from early August with Robert Wright sharing about his new book: Why Buddhism is True.

Listening to Wright discuss the power of "mindful meditation" really spoke to me.  When I was in college I used to practice meditation, but I really haven't done it since and if I could, I would love to go on a retreat and learn more about meditation.

What I found so interesting is that he really touched on the first pillar of Happiness that Desmond Tutu and the Dali Lama suggest.

And I have come to believe that mediation may be the Key to help us unlock joy.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama open their book by saying:
          No dark fate determines the future.  We do.  Each day and each moment, we are able to create and re-create our lives and the very quality of human life on our planet.  This is the power we yield.
          Lasting happiness cannot be found in pursuit of any goal or achievement.  It does not reside in fortune or fame. It resides only in the human mind and heart, and it is here that we hope that you will find it.

I don't want to spend a great deal of time defining JOY because I think that over the next two months, as we share the eight pillars of joy --- exactly what joy is will be evident.

But I do want to distinguish between JOY and happiness.  Desmond Tutu stated:
"Joy is much bigger than happiness.  While happiness is often seen as being dependent of external circumstances, joy is not."  The Archbishop continues: "what we want is not actually happiness.  It is not actually what I would speak of.  I would speak of joy.  Joy is the far greater thing."

But the funny thing about JOY is that it is not something you can set out to achieve.  I say that because JOY is found when we "look away" from ourselves.

Quoting from a 12th century Buddhist text the Dalai Lama shared:
when we focus on ourselves we are destined to be unhappy: "Contemplate that, as long as you are too focused on your self-importance and too caught up in thinking about how you are good or bad, you will experience suffering. Obsessing about getting what you want and avoiding what you don't want does not result in happiness."
The text goes on:
Always maintain only a joyful mind.

And I think we all know (at least on a gut level) that JOY is not found in seeking pleasure.  Joy is so much more.

There is a Buddhist saying that "trying to seek happiness through sensory gratification is like trying to quench your thirst by drinking saltwater."

So if Joy is not found internally or in physical pleasure --- what is JOY?
          Joy is a way of seeing the world.

And it is found in how we relate to other people.

It is found in the concept that both Matt and I have talked about in the past --- Ubuntu.

Ubuntu says: "A person is a person through other people." or put another way: "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity"

In many ways the idea of Ubuntu can also be summarized in our passage from Galatians.
the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Those, it seems to me, are the key --- or hallmarks of JOY

Psychiatrist Howard Cutler reminds us:
“In fact, survey after survey has shown that it is unhappy people who tend to be most self-focused and are socially withdrawn, brooding, and even antagonistic. Happy people, in contrast, are generally found to be more sociable, flexible, and creative, and are able to tolerate life’s daily frustrations more easily than unhappy people. And, most important, they are found to be more loving and forgiving than unhappy people."

One final thought before looking at our first pillar. 

They close the first part of the book reminding us that without tolerance for each other --- one will struggle to find real Joy.

I am not going to talk about the second part of the book --- which they call: “Obstacles to Joy” --- not because they are not important, they are --- but because I want us to focus instead on the pillars that make joy possible.

I want to remind you of where I started --- Desmond Tutu stated:
joy is a by-product,  if you set out and say, I want to be happy, clenching your teeth with determination, this is the quickest way of missing the bus.

The first four pillars are all qualities of the mind.

The first pillar is PERSPECTIVE

A healthy perspective really is the foundation of joy --- because the way that we see the world is the way that we experience the world.

Changing the way that we see the world will change the way that we feel and the way that we act --- and ultimately --- it can change the world itself!

Every situation in life can be looked at in multiple ways
          Do we see possibility?      
          Or do we see only a dead end?

We all have known people who live their lives with a black cloud hanging over their head.  Wherever they go they seem to bring only thunder, lightning and rain

Others seem only to see opportunities --- it is as if the sun is perpetually shining on them.

Edith Eva Eger tells the story of visiting two soldiers on the same day at William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss.
Both were paraplegics who had lost the use of their legs in combat. They had the same diagnosis and the same prognosis.
The first veteran, Tom, was lying on his bed knotted into a fetal position, railing against life and decrying his fate.

The second, Chuck, was out of bed in his wheelchair, explaining that he felt as if he had been given a second chance in life. As he was wheeled through the garden, he had realized that he was closer to the flowers and could look right into his children’s eyes.

Eger was an inmate at Auschwitz and she explained that our perspective literally has the power to keep us alive or to cause our death.
One of her fellow inmates at Auschwitz was terribly ill and weak, and others in her bunk asked her how she was holding on to life. The prisoner said that she had heard that they were going to be liberated by Christmas. The woman lived against all odds, but she died on Christmas Day.

Viktor Frankl has reminded us that our perspective toward life is our final and ultimate freedom.

The Dalai Lama has explained:
We must look at any given situation or problem from the front and from the back, from the sides, and from the top and the bottom, so from at least six different angles. This allows us to take a more complete and holistic view of reality, and if we do, our response will be more constructive

Archbishop Tutu challenges us to learn to get a "God's-eye perspective" of any situation that we find ourselves in.  That if we shift our thinking from being totally focused on ME --- we can see our life with a new perspective.

This phenomenon is something that astronauts have often reported after having seen earth from space. 
          Seeing our small blue planet floating in the vast expanse of the universe.

From space there are no borders --- there are no religious distinctions.  The world and our problems have a whole new perspective from space.

It is what Martin Buber referred to when he wrote his seminal book I and Thou

It is learning to shift our perspective from focusing on I, me and mine to we, us and ours.

As the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop explained, the wider perspective leads to serenity and equanimity. It does not mean we don’t have the strength to confront a problem, but we can confront it with creativity and compassion rather than rigidity and reactivity.  When we take the perspective of others, we can empathize with them. One starts to see the interdependence that envelops us all, which reveals that how we treat others is ultimately how we treat ourselves. We also are able to recognize that we do not control all aspects of any situation.

I think this concept of changing one's perspective is illustrated well in the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and he passes through the town of Jericho.

Luke implies that as Jesus enters Jericho that large crowds have come to see him. 
It helps if you are tall if you want to catch a view of somebody in a crowd.

However, as the children's song reminds us all --- "Zacchaeus was a wee little man."

There was no way he was going to be able to see Jesus --- so what does he do?  He climbs a sycamore tree --- and if you visit Jericho today; they will be glad to show you the tree.

As Jesus passes by the tree he calls out to Zacchaeus:
“Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.”

As far as we know, Jesus and Zacchaeus have never met.
Yet Jesus invites himself over.

Does that seem weird to you?

It did to everybody who witnessed it.

Do you remember who Zacchaeus is?

Zacchaeus was a tax collector.

Does anyone really enjoy paying taxes?
          Tax collectors generally aren't very popular people.

But it was even worse in the first century.
          Tax collectors worked for the enemy --- they collected taxes for Rome.

But that wasn't even the worst of it . . .
They had a fairly well deserved reputation for being dishonest, for overcharging, for skimming money off the top to line their own pockets.
Zacchaeus, the story tells us --- had become very wealthy cheating his fellow Jews

What in the world was Jesus thinking?

But, maybe the more important question is ---- what was Zacchaeus thinking?

Zacchaeus saw the opportunity to change his life.

Instead of becoming defensive --- trying to justify his way of life --- Zacchaeus admitted that he had been a cheat and a liar and offered to change.

Zacchaeus, we are told received Jesus joyfully.

What causes this joy for Zacchaeus?

Zacchaeus apparently had been a typical tax collector of that time, ripping people off, making himself rich by cheating people.

But now he says: “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”

Jesus' coming to him has caused a big change in the little man.
          This is repentance happening here.
          A new way to look at the world and his fellow human.

Zacchaeus has come to grips with his sins, he’s acknowledged them and is turning away from them.

Even though repentance in this case may end up costing Zacchaeus a bundle of money, he’s glad to part with any ill-gotten gain and also to repurpose his wealth to help the poor.

But that’s OK. What Zacchaeus is receiving from Jesus is worth far more than all the money in the world

Because the Joy he finds is worth more than anything.

How do you look at the world? --- is it constantly half empty --- or has God enabled you to have a new perspective and to see the possibilities?

Perspective is the first pillar to experiencing JOY in your life.

Without a God sized perspective --- Joy may be hard to come by.