Giving It Up… Control

First sermon in our Lenten series: “Giving It Up.”  Many thanks to ministrymatters.com for the inspiration and framework of this series.  Thanks as well to David Lose and his working preacher article that was also an inspiration for this sermon.

2013-lent-control

What are you giving up for Lent?

2013-02-lentSo, it is Lent.  What are you giving up for Lent these next 40 days not counting Sundays?  It is a common question this time of year and kind of fun because of all the interesting things people try.  Long ago, it used to just be meat that one gave up, but now the choices are as diverse as our society.  Every year the website OpenBible.info searches the twitter feed to determine what people are giving up for Lent.1

In the past, the list has been headlined by giving Twitter and Facebook — an irony.  This year, #1 on the hit parade: being pope.  Apparently most Twitterers have a sense of humor.  Next on the list, though, is swearing, soda, social networking and alcohol.

What might God want you to give up?

2245523931_52b16df3f1_oAs I was thinking what I might give up for Lent, I came across an interesting quote: “Lent is for Life not just for chocolate.”  It made me wonder:  If I was to let God choose what I was to give up this Lent, what would God choose?  In the right spirit, there is some value in giving up things like chocolate or soda pop.  Our Ash Wednesday liturgy said that fasting interrupts our daily lives and calls us to prayer.  I gave up all drinks except water and let me tell you, every time I want my Coke Zero or cup of tea… Well, let’s just say my life has been interrupted and I have been called to prayer often.

Still, if I was to list all of the things that God would like see removed from my life, I have a feeling chocolate would not be very high on the list.  So during the weeks of Lent this year we are going to consider a few of the things God wants us to give up.  And I will warn you now:  The list is a lot tougher than giving up chocolate, facebook or swearing.  Today, we are starting with a big one… control.

Control : The Grand Illusion

There is nothing that marks our society more than our desire for control over… well, everything!  And this desire seems to only grow.  One example: the remote control.  Think back 30 years (if you have lived that long).  How many of these did you have in your house?  I remember growing up… we had one remote control for the tv… me!  Jeff, turn to channel 8.  Jeff, turn to channel 4. Now, not only are there lots more channels; there are lots more remotes too.  We have no less than 5.  Why?  So I can control what I watch.  But, be honest, don’t you sometime feel burdened by all this “control” you have over your life.  We have so many choices today to control our lives that it becomes dizzying.  Another trivial example: Sometimes when I go to the store to get some toothpaste, I just want toothpaste.  But, no, I have to choose between whitening, breath-freshening, gel, paste, both, tartar control… I’m not sure I am in control anymore.  A less trivial example:  We have electricity — a wonderful tool to help control our lives.  And yet how in control do we feel when that is taken away even for a short period of time?  Ask the people on the East Coast who went through Hurricane Sandy.

That, you see, is the great lie, the grand illusion.  Today, we have no more control over our lives than we did.  We may even have less.  This is not a modern problem.  It is the first lie that was sold to us way back in the garden.  You can have life on your terms, the devil said, and it will be a dream come true.  You, apart from God, by yourself, should know what is good and what is evil.  Take control.  You make the choices.  You don’t have to rely on anyone.  How did that turn out anyway?  Was it a dream come true… or has it been our nightmare?  Broken relationship.  Broken lives.  A life forever after that lived in fear.

Jesus’ Alternative : Trust

Many years later, not in the garden but out in the dessert, the devil comes calling to try to sell his lies only this time Jesus offers an alternative.  Instead of trying to control, Jesus chooses to trust.  Jesus trusts in God.

“We sometimes refer to the devil as ‘the great deceiver’ and with good reason. [But what is really deadly about the devils words] is that he sows mistrust. He plays upon the insecurity of Adam and Eve.  He calls into question God’s intentions. God hasn’t told you everything about the forbidden fruit. So what else has God not told? What else is God withholding? It is a story of seduction based on mistrust that leads to the dissolution of the relationship between the two humans and God, then between Adam and Eve themselves, and then between them and all creation.

[In the Gospel] The devil again attempts to sow mistrust: you may go hungry; you do not have enough; how do you know God is trustworthy. In each case Jesus replies with Scripture. Over the years people have made a great deal about that, inviting us to respond to life’s challenges by remembering or quoting Bible verses. And while there may be something to that, I wonder if it’s not so much that Jesus quotes Scripture to deflect temptation as it is that Jesus finds in Scripture the words to give voice to his trust.”2

Jesus could have taken control.  Had his needs met, had his confidence in God confirmed, Had respect of those around him.  But he relinquished control and chose to trust God wholly with his life, trusting God’s will for his life instead of what might be his own.  And if you think that wasn’t a challenge, fast forward to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus faced again with this choice prayed bitterly and sweated blood.  Fast forward to the Cross.  Was it worth it?  Fast forward to the Empty Tomb.

Letting Go & Trusting God

That is what I am talking about when I say that God wants you to give up control.  You are not to give up control to anyone or everyone.  But give up control to One who is trustworthy.  Trust God.  Now I know that is easier said than done especially in a culture that has made control into an idol.  It will take a lot of prayer.  Matthew does not mention it but I can well imagine Jesus’ 40 days were full of prayer.  We know he often went into secluded places to pray.  I am not sure it is possible to truly trust God without truly praying to God, talking with God, listening to God often.

It’s going to take some patience.  Today, we have a big problem with delayed gratification.  We want everything and we want it now.  But God’s timetable doesn’t often fit into our schedules.  God is patient, maddeningly so.  We must learn to be patient.  And we are going to have to be persistent in our prayer and in our patience.  It is easy to fast from something a day, a week.  Lent’s 40 days tests us.  I thought I would put in some cool statistic here about how long it takes to form a good habit so I googled it, found a great article on Psychology Today, “How Long?”  Here’s the answer: “It depends.”  Thanks.  But that’s the truth, isn’t it?  We are talking about life changes here.  It will take time not just to receive answers from God but to actually learn to trust, learn to relinquish control, so we can see the ways that God is already trustworthy.

First Steps

Which brings me to a possible first step suggested by David Lose, preaching professor at Luther Seminary.3  Pull out your GPS guide.  See that section ‘something to remember.’  I want you to write down something there.  First, write down something in your life that you do feel confident of God’s support.  It shouldn’t be a “given” — stuff you never worry about, but something that matters, maybe you worry, yet you trust God.  Then on the next 3 lines, write down one thing that is difficult to trust God with right now.  Got it?  Now, take this GPS guide home with you.  Put it in your pocket or your purse.  Carry it around and a few times this week, maybe when you are thinking of that “other” thing you gave up, pull it out, give thanks for the way you do trust God and pray about the thing you are having a hard time with.

Give up control.  Let go and let God.  How is that for a Lenten discipline?  Sounds pretty tough, right?  You might just need to trust God to help you.  In the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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1. http://www.openbible.info/blog/2013/02/what-twitterers-are-giving-up-for-lent-2013-edition/ back to post
2. This is an extended quote from David Lose’s article. I liked the language too much to mess with it. http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=668 back to post
2. Ibid. back to post

On Steve Jobs, Providence and the Need To Trust

Yesterday we learned that Steve Jobs has resigned as CEO of Apple.  It’s almost as if he has died.  There are praises this morning on the internet worthy of obituaries.  Twitter is abuzz with grief.  I wonder what Steve Jobs has to think about this reaction.  Perhaps touched by the outpouring of those who admire and respect him.  Maybe a little annoyed that everyone thinks he is “done.”  Being an Apple addict myself, I very much hope neither he nor Apple are done, but it’s still not a bad thing to reflect on a remarkable life and some lessons to be learned.

This morning I ran across Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement address at Stanford University.  A wonderful speech with some wonderful theology.  Here is the link to hear it  directly (www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc).  In his address, Steve shares three stories of his life.  In the first, Steve describes how dropping out of college and dropping into a calligraphy course changed his destiny and maybe even the destiny of computers today.  Then he says…

 “It was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college, but it was very clear looking backwards 10 years later.  Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust the dots will somehow connect in your future.  You have to trust in something.. your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever… because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path and that will make all the difference.”

I instantly thought of the story of Joseph and the understanding of Providence.  Joseph, too, had no idea that all the events that were transpiring in his life — dreams, brothers selling him into slavery, Potiphar’s wife seducing him and then accusing him, meeting a baker in prison, all of that — were all each dots that were leading him to a place where he could save his family and even the entire nation of Egypt from a great famine.

One thought: who really connects the dots?  If Steve had no idea that calligraphy class was so important to his future, why did he go?  He says curiosity and the call of his heart.  I aim a little higher.  The amazing way the Bible tells the story of Joseph is that God is so rarely mentioned yet always so very present in the wonderful yet subtle ways Joseph’s life is formed and shaped.

Another thought: What makes the great ones great?   Steve Jobs is one of the great ones and I think it is because he is uniquely gifted by God with vision for what he loves and what he does.  But what he chose to share with those Stanford graduates is not rocket science.  Nor is it beyond the reach of anyone.  “You have to trust in something…”  How much of what has made Steve Jobs into the innovator he is is nothing more than dogged trust in the vision he has for his life’s work.  Might we even say vocation?  Calling?  Faith… unswerving, unwavering, uncompromising faith.

In my college years, I learned a lot about calling.  Some I learned from my campus pastor who was instrumental in helping me see how I was called.  But I learned a lot from her forester husband.  He was very good at what he did.  He told us once, “I was called to be a forester.  It is who I am.”  Faith… unswerving, unwavering, uncompromising.

I hope Steve Jobs all the best in his new position at Apple and his new position in life.  I pray good health for him and that he has many more years to share lessons about design, vision and life with us.  Technology, and life, would be duller without him.