Dec. 13, 2015

Zeph. 3.14-20; Phil. 4.4-7; Lk 3.7-20

I was intrigued recently with a book entitled, One Hundred Places to Go Before You Die. It's kind of a "bucket list" book. And as I examined the glossy photos of the beautiful and interesting places shown in the book, I found I'd been to some ...others, not yet, and still others I'm sure I'll never get there. But, I wondered, if I didn't get to all of them, would that delay my death--it did say, "places to go before you die"? I guess that won't work, but it's a thought! Still, there are benefits to traveling to places that are away from "home".

For example, I remember when I was in seminary in the Bay Area of California years ago, I went with friends and stood at the base of the El Captain mountain and looked up at the thin wispy "Bridal Veil" waterfall that tumbled off the mountain top and floated down hundreds of feet to the Yosemite Valley below. Or when I lived in Arizona, there was the adventure of hiking with a full canteen into the desert where the saguaro cactus stand with their prickly arms stuck up in the air as if they were trying to fly up and out of the blistering heat. Or, I remember when I took a trip to Italy, and climbed up into the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and I wondered if this was going to be the moment when this ancient tower finally toppled over and crashed to the ground...with me riding it all the way down... my "bucket list" still incomplete!

I'm sure all of you have your own favorite encounters with extraordinary people and places. In all of these experiences, there's a joy and a challenge to journeying outside our familiar comfort zones of daily routines. That's where we learn to live fully into our lives and experience with a quickened pulse that makes us feel like we're truly alive and we have the stories prove it. And that's the life of faith as well.

But the point is this: either we can wilt and retreat from the pressures of challenge or we can blossom with the joys that come in working them out. Some of the prettiest and most fragrant roses I've ever seen or smelled happen to be corralled around by the biggest and meanest and most threatening thorns I've ever seen. Likewise, the happiest people I have ever known are the ones who didn't or don't just meet their challenges, but they confront them with energy and dispatch as they turn the most difficult of them into faithful proclamations of hope and joy. Such intrepid people are not loners...they are people-people. They get and they give the strength and nurture to and from friends, family, and co-workers because they are bridge builders. They have a zest for living that is only to be found in the joyful soul that freely and gladly shares that same joy with others!

In that same spirit, St Paul wrote in the epistle to the Philippians today, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice." You know, if I ever got a tattoo, I'd like to have those words tattooed onto my body so I could look at them every time I took off my shirt. They could become the Christian's byword...rejoice! St Paul said further, "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." This is makes Christians "CAN DO!" people. We CAN DO...because we bear each others' burdens and we stand together, and walk together in the path of Jesus Christ our Lord. We do not shrink back or turn back or slip back if we are standing firmly together. Our fellowship here at St Thomas Church is like doing weight training...the more a person lifts the stronger they become. But without this fellowship, we grow weak in resolve and effort. We turn away from challenges. Fear or apathy begin to rule our thoughts and our resolve.

If we believe we can, we will. But if we believe we can't, then we won't. It's been said that doubts are like steam on your mirror. You have to wipe it off before you can see anything in the mirror. It's possible to become so guarded and timid as to become lame. Let me give you an example. For many summers our family has gone up to New Jersey, the Garden State, to visit with my wife's family. I remember the first road trip we took to Jersey. I pulled into a gas station and as we all do, I just popped out of the car to refill the gas...and I realized that I had pulled into the "Full Service" lane. So, I quickly backed up so I could pull into "Self Serve," but alas...ALL of the lanes were marked "Full Service". So, I pulled back into the lane and waited, but no attendant appeared, so I jumped out and picked up the nozzle and put it into the tank...then all of a sudden a man came rushing out waving his arms and saying, " can't do that!" I said, "Oh, perfectly fine...I don't mind." He said, "Sir, it's against the law." I then found out that in New Jersey self-service gas had been banned since 1949. The New Jersey Legislature passed the Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act, based on safety concerns that consumers may not know how to pump gas. Many other states at the time followed suit, but soon those other states overturned their self-serve bans leaving only New Jersey and Oregon with such a law. Although, the great scientist and inventor Thomas Edison hails from New Jersey, everybody else in the state apparently doesn't know how to safely operate a gas pump.

Sometimes when I hear the evening news, I wonder, "Are we ever going to be able to get to the joyful place?" "Can we find the 'peace that passes all understanding'?" But I realized that "joy" and "peace" are things that happen within us...they can't be imported from outside. Joy and peace are not about journeying to a tropical paradise, but they are about opening up to God and allowing God to bring the awareness of joy and peace to our hearts. As we approach Christmas, with all of the haste and frantic activity like decorating, shopping, and social gatherings, it's helpful to take a few moments and open up to God who gives us the assurance that "I am with you even to the end of the world." This holiday season it is my sincere hope that we can all put joy and peace on our "bucket list". Amen.

The Reverend WA Ray
St Thomas Church

Diamondhead, MS 12/13/15