The Needed Thing - thrive UMC Official Blog

The Needed Thing


Friends, it’s good to be here with you, for the first time in 2017!  It is a new day of a new year.  And the change of the calendar marks new territory for us.  We’ve seen all the other years and exhausted them, but 2017!  2017 could be it! This could be the year we’ve been waiting for.  It could be the year when we lose weight and get our health under control.  It could be the year where we find that new career opportunity, or new place, or new relationship.  It could be the year where we just have a lot more fun, and a lot less worry, and start making better decisions!  2017 could be the year where life gets better, and things start going our way.  It could be the year where we get better.

After all, wasn’t 2016 just kind of a mess for lots of us?  We all lost celebrities and inspirators like David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Prince, and even Princess Leia (just when the Star Wars movies were starting to get good again!); and we lost Harambe the gorilla, the city of Aleppo was pretty much wiped off the map, and the E.U. lost Great Britain.  And I could go on and on about all of the violence, fear, and drama, interspersed with inexplicable appearances of Kanye West that happened in the year past.  But the scent of 2016 still lingers on our skin, and more heavily in our hearts –most of us for much closer, and more personal reasons than anything that could be shared on Facebook.

In fact, from listening to most people, the only clear winners of 2016 I’ve heard about were Leonardo DiCaprio finally getting an Oscar (for one of his least watchable movies), the Chicago Cubs, and Donald Trump.  And that just pretty much sums it up 2016.  Yay for surprises, right?

But that’s all the past now –except for Donald Trump, who’s going to be our president for the next foreseeable four years- this is a new year. Besides that, THIS is 2017! And we’re free!  But the question remains: how will we keep 2017 from being like all of the other years? How can we keep some of the same disasters from last year from popping up again?  How can we approach the days ahead with, if not a fully optimistic sense of hope, than at least a diminished sense of dread?  How can we hold our heads up, and know that we’re at least doing our own little part to let life be good?

Just last month, I was talking to some who’s new to the field of mental-health counseling, and in the course of the conversation I asked if there were any trends or patterns in the stories of the people she saw.  And after thinking about it for a moment, this mental-health professional goes: ‘pretty much everyone I see suffers from just two things.  Either they’re lonely, or they have low feelings of self-worth.’ And while there was absolutely nothing shocking at all about that statement to me, it has been lingering in the back of my head for almost a month now.

Of course she’d say loneliness and a lack of self-worth!  We can see that everywhere!  We don’t need professional degrees, or a physician’s diagnosis, or some magic crystal ball into the human condition to know that those are the roots of most of the really profound forms of human suffering in America today: people are lonely and disconnected from one another; and they don’t feel good about themselves.  They don’t feel like their lives are valuable or meaningful.  And I have seen this, I’m not kidding you, everywhere.  Since I heard her say that, it’s been at every social gathering, on every political post, every tv show or movie I’ve watched, every song I’ve heard, every work-related interaction I’ve had: it’s all about the people-connection; and the deeply set desire to feel worthy –to feel worth something.  Which, of course, might not be two different things at all.

So when I see all my friends of Facebook sharing New Year’s Resolutions to get ‘in shape’; and when I hear about my peers and friends in the area talk about their career goals for 2017, and when I sometimes talk with people who are having difficulties in their relationships, I wonder to myself: do you think maybe you’re just lonely?  Or do you maybe feel a little worthless, from time to time?

Isn’t that, maybe the thing, instead of your body, or your job, or the drama with other person who’s being such a jerk right now (because never once have I met with someone having relationship problems, and they turn to me and go ‘you know what, the problem in my relationship is: it’s me.’  I dunno why; but hat never happens.)?   Couldn’t it maybe be the case that –in any and all of those circumstances- you just need to find a way to experience connection and a sense of value or importance?  And at the risk of being really corny and cliché and wildly unoriginal, I could say ‘don’t you just want to be loved?’  Right?  Because that’s what the deepest sense of love is about: connection and the most profound form of value (but I won’t talk like that because it might sound generic, in which case I’m afraid you won’t love me anymore.)

Now, quick side-not here: go to the gym.  Get better at your job.  Work on your relationships.  Absolutely. Do all that stuff.  Those are all good and necessary things.  But don’t do any of that stuff because you want connection and value for yourself.  Instead, do those things because you are valued; and do those things as an expression of your connection –to yourself and to other people.    Go to the gym because your body is awesome and it has so much potential –and it can do so many things it’s not doing now. Let your trips to the gym be a celebration of you, and not some kind of sick comparison game.  Get that new job because you can make the whole organization even just a little bit better.  They need bright and confident and talented people, so show ‘em your stuff! Find satisfaction in important work, even if absolutely no one seems to notice –because everyone is probably way too caught up with trying to get their stuff noticed, so they won’t notice yours.  And, please, for the love of God, go work on that relationship because I bet, somewhere mixed into that messy conflict, the other person probably just needs to know and experience, and have reaffirmed again just how much they mean to you.  Forget the balance-sheet of debt and the power-struggle: focus on gift you are to one another.

But the point here is this: if you want a better life and better future for this year, focus on those two big things: connection and being valuable.

I wanted to take a few moments to read from our scripture for today, which comes from the story of Jesus the call ‘the gospel of Matthew.’  We started reading this story last month before Christmas.  And it’s a story about our salvation.  It’s a story about human life being the best it can, here on earth and beyond too.  And it centers around Jesus.  And if you don’t know, Jesus is a guy who sets people free, and so far in the story, we know he’s a big deal; but we haven’t really seen why yet.  Until today.  We’ll open the story in the 4th chapter, starting in verse 12.  Jesus has just gotten into a life-philosophy argument with the devil, where he was starving for 40 days and 40 nights.

This is what happens next:

12 Now when Jesus heard that John was arrested, he went to Galilee.13 He left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum, which lies alongside the sea in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This fulfilled what Isaiah the prophet said:

15 Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, alongside the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, 16     the people who lived in the dark have seen a great light, and a light has come upon those who lived in the region and in shadow of death.[e]

17 From that time Jesus began to announce, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!”

18 As Jesus walked alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, because they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” 20 Right away, they left their nets and followed him. 21 Continuing on, he saw another set of brothers, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with Zebedee their father repairing their nets. Jesus called them and22 immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

23 Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues. He announced the good news of the kingdom and healed every disease and sickness among the people. 24 News about him spread throughout Syria. People brought to him all those who had various kinds of diseases, those in pain, those possessed by demons, those with epilepsy, and those who were paralyzed, and he healed them. 25 Large crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from the areas beyond the Jordan River.

Now, I know that’s kind of a long text, and it might feel like some of us have heard it a million times before; but this is a summary of pretty much everything Jesus does throughout his entire human ministry.  In these 13 verses, we get a summary of pretty much everything Jesus does in his human ministry.  For starters, we have his central message, which he stole/ carried on from John the Baptist: “Change your hearts and lives!  Here comes the kingdom of heaven!”  If you’re reading from another translation of the Bible this verse probably says something like, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!’ And repentance is all about the orientation and grounding of your life –move to make sure you’re connected to the stuff that gives you life, instead of being hung up in the stuff that kills your spirit and your body. I’ve got a number of friends who decided recently ‘hey, maybe I drink a little more than what’s good for me,’ and so they decide and act to be free from alcohol –or whatever- at least for a while.  And that’s exactly what repentance looks like.  Reinvest yourself.  Change your heart and life; turn it around. Free yourself from your own self-destructive choices so that you can reconnect with the things that build you up.  And by the way, this part is your personal responsibility –God doesn’t seem interested in forcing repentance on most of us.

So that part is our job; but why do all that now?

Because the Kingdom of God is becoming.  It’s here and it’s available right now but we also kind of grow into our access to it –which sounds like it makes absolutely no sense at first, until you think about how people work.  Take me, for example.  Ten years ago I was me, right?  Obviously, because who else would I be?  But I’m more me now than I was 10 years ago.   Ten years ago, I wasn’t a pastor –I didn’t have any kind of official public role or function.  I didn’t have so many of the relationships that have helped me grow and learn and mature and transcend my previous state.  I wasn’t married –I had no kids!  I didn’t have so many of my greatest life’s treasures back then and in that way, I was a lot less me then than I am now. And physically, there’s more of me now too; but that’s another story.  But knowing that, I anticipate becoming yet more myself in the years and decades to come.  Though our bodies might age, we’re all, inevitably, finding out more and more about who we really are.  We are all becoming.  And that’s kind of what the Kingdom of God on earth is like –but we’ll explore that more in the weeks to come.

And in the rest of the bible passage we read for today, we see what Jesus does.  He calls his followers, and he serves people.  And at this point, how many disciples does Jesus have?  He has four!  He ends up with 12, but he starts with just four –two sets of brothers.  And who are they?  Are they the best and brightest and most in-demand candidates for powerful preaching or effective world leadership?  No!  They are fishermen! Tradesmen. Their best quality seems to be that they’re pungently-scented clean slates!  From what we know, they have zero knowledge, talents, or qualifications for the work that lies ahead –but yet Jesus sees them and says “Come, follow me and I’ll show you how to fish for people.”

And by a miracle they do!  They drop their nets and leave the lives of their family business behind and become full-time Jesus followers.

So then what do they go do?  They go with Jesus as he performs two public services:  he teaches.  And he heals –bodies, minds, spirits, whatever.  So, educators and health-care workers: bless you!  You’re already doing Jesus work professionally!   Thank you all. And please keep it up.

But that’s what the work of the Kingdom of God is about: healing and teaching.  It’s about mending all kinds of wounds, and about building people up.  And that happens by being in connection with one another.

Fun fact: do any of you know how the first hospitals came to be?  They were created by Christian churches!  Now, Christianity didn’t by any means invent medicine –that’s been around for a long, long time –but what the Church did was create a communal enterprise where medical healing could happen –explicitly so that people who couldn’t afford medical care could receive it.  And that’s why most hospitals even in America today have church-affiliated titles.  Here in town the two big hospitals are Mercy and Methodist –Catholic and, as you might guess, Methodist institutions!  So by this point, those two institutions have far outgrown the modest communities that brought them into being. And there’s a similar story for public education.  Because the church has historically been the public vehicle for gathering people together for healing and for teaching –it is a distinctly Jesus-inspired belief that everyone –all of God’s children- need to have access to growth through learning.  And yes, the Church has absolutely screwed this up and hurt and misinformed people way too many times too; but it has, nevertheless, made the things of God and humanity just a little more accessible over the ages.

And that’s what we’re here about today, friends.  We’re here to build people up and to heal them.  More explicitly, we’re gathered here together to call all of you into participation in that work.   Because the world is just filled with people who are lonely and crippled by feelings of worthlessness.  Maybe some of you feel that way from time to time.  I know I do in my darker hours.  And I bet those fishermen 2,000 years ago felt that way occasionally too.  Until a life-teacher came along and said –‘hey, keep doing what you’re doing –only this time focus on people instead of fish. Gather them together.’  Because people who are together –people who are connected- can do great and world-transforming things.  And people who do great things have this way of experiencing their own divinely-precious worth –and the sacred worth of those they encounter, and the One who created them too.

So this is my encouragement for all of you in 2017: wherever you go and whatever you do and among whoever you meet: build people up and make room for their healing.  Invest in them. You have everything needed to help.  Witness the miracles God is doing in and through their lives.  Let them know they too are being called to community and essential, life-giving work, as all of us are.

In fact, that’s why the leaders of thrive got together last month to start creating a new year’s resolution for our community.  This year, 2017, we plan to be all about growing people.  We want people to grow more deeply into their own lives through service and learning; and we want to work really hard this year to establish new connections with new people.  We want our people here already to grow as good news teachers and as healers of loneliness and broken hearts.  And we want to put ourselves out there for the sake of those who are still struggling on their own, trying to find their sense of meaning and purpose in a too often cold and dark world.

And I want you all to know that I didn’t set this goal, and Jen didn’t set this goal –this was something our team of leaders came up with together.  So at this time, I want to invite those who were at our Strategic Planning session last month, to stand up.  Because they set this, they’re accountable now.  They’ve committed to this vital work this year.  So we’re going to recognize them.

And this is how we start to make our way.  Let’s pray.