I’ve always known Cassie and I were a match, but now I have biological proof. Our blood typing test came back positive. We are compatible for the kidney transplant! *BIG CELEBRATORY SOUNDS* But now what? Cassie is onto the next phase of being a living donor. They’ll do even more extensive blood testing as well as interviews with both a social worker and a dietician before seeing a doctoral team that will go over with her what the surgery will entail. At first it seemed weird when they asked her to come to the interview alone, but it soon dawned on both of us, that was done for her protection – in case she was being coerced or tricked into doing this. They just want to make sure she is doing this willingly and of her own volition. It’s sad they need to take that precaution but at the same time I’m glad they are. Sometimes we need protection.
As for me, even more testing, too. But mostly, they are waiting for me to lose enough weight for the surgery. Only about 12 more pounds to go. So how have I been losing weight? Lots of support from family and friends – especially Cassie who has been cheerleader, advocate, and strategist all rolled up into one. But on the nuts and bolts side, I’m focusing hard on limiting my carb intake, replacing sweet snacks and carb-loaded sides with something more nutritional. A lot more salads. And a lot more veggies in general. Even there, you still have to watch your carb intake, so I focus on the things I like that are relatively low carb like mushrooms and zucchini, and will still have some onions and tomatoes thrown in for added flavor. Instead of sugar, I rely a lot more on salt, fat (like butter and good mayo), spices – things on the more savory side to whet my appetite. For me, this works because my sodium and potassium levels have remained normal throughout my CKD. If they were elevated, I’d have to restrict myself further to avoid speeding up the kidney damage. My phosphorous levels have started to go up and that’s mostly because I replaced sugars and sweets with cheese and nuts – two things that are high in phosphorous which can have a dangerous effect on your body (if you’re curious, here’s a great article on phosphorous and why it’s important to monitor it). Knowing that, I’m working on dialing back my reliance on dairy and peanut butter and trying to find alternatives for quick snacks that will help me keep it under control.
Overall, I’m trying to keep my carb intake to between 30g to 50g per day. Generally, doing so will put my body into a state of ketosis where I’m burning fat and not sugar. To give you some perspective, I would typically have about 1.5 to 2 cups of rice PER MEAL. And that’s just the rice. That doesn’t include breading on my meat or croutons in my salad. ONE cup of rice is about 52g of carbs by itself, so I was having about twice as many carbs in one meal as I eat all day now. It’s hard for me to give up rice, so for a while I was having 1/4 cup of rice at lunch and dinner and just trying HARD not to have any other carbs, but eventually I started having just 1/4 cup of rice once a day and it gave me more flexibility to add in things like onions and tomatoes or other foods with limited carbs. That gave my meals more texture and more variety and surprisingly over time I haven’t missed it as much as I thought I would. Sometimes I don’t have any rice at all!
On the protein side, I’m trying to keep it below 80g per day although if I go a little above this I don’t worry as much. Too much protein CAN throw you out of ketosis, but 80g is still below normal so I haven’t worried a lot considering that it’s been working for weight loss and my numbers have been holding steady (Thank God!). It’s all about providing as little stress on my kidneys as possible. Thankfully, there are a LOT of things I DO like to eat that are keto friendly. Omelettes are something I’ve always enjoyed, but now create a lot more often. Eggs are a wonder food and incredibly good for you. I eat much more salmon (which is fine because I love salmon) and have found a number of creative ways to do it. And there’s this wonderful chicken dish that I’ve been making I was able to adapt to a keto lifestyle. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share with you some of these delicious recipes so you can make them yourself and taste the yumminess.
Overall, I’m down to 239.2 lbs – only 3.2 pounds away from my goal. Stanford wants me to get down to 236, and I feel really confident about it. Like I said, I’m not a doctor so this shouldn’t be construed as medical advice. As always, go talk to your doctor about what works best for your lifestyle. But I’ve been frustrated for so long losing weight and this has been working great for me. It might work great for you, too. So if it helps anyone in their journey or just inspires you to keep trying, then I’m happy to share my journey with you.
Today in worship we did something different. We conducted a Celebration of Life service. Normally, a Celebration of Life is a euphemism for a memorial service, but we decided to flip the script and instead really make it a celebration of somebody’s life! In this case, Greg Suzuki. In every church I’ve served, there is a Greg Suzuki. They are the ones who truly exhibit the love of Christ – not just at church but in every facet of their life. They are unselfish and genuine people who constantly give of themselves one way or another. And shouldn’t we tell those people how much they mean to us? Why are we so quick to criticize people but slow to compliment them? It’s the opposite of what God wants us to do as we discuss in today’s message…
A reading from Paul’s writing to the church in Philippi. Please rise for the reading of the Word of God.
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. – Philippians 4:4-9
When I think of Greg Suzuki, this is the image that comes to my mind.
A person with a gentle soul and the peace of Christ evident to all who know him. He is humble enough to tell you he struggles at times, too. That his soul isn’t always at peace. That he needs to guard his heart like the rest of us. And while that may be true, few people walk in Christ the way Greg does. It isn’t a pious act. Greg’s love of God is genuine and he constantly strives toward Christian perfection in true Wesleyan manner. As the chairperson for the Staff Parish Relations Committee, Greg’s patience, perseverance, and kindness have been put to the test time and time again and he continues to exhibit grace and forgiveness in even the most difficult of circumstances. And to top it off – he’s a Star Trek fan.
When we were thinking of people we wanted to honor today, it was easy to pick Greg.
Everyone agreed. Not only would Greg be kind enough to be the subject of such attention, but he is also equally deserving of it. He is always giving of himself for God’s kingdom and has a strong desire to help others know the love of Christ. He volunteers to help, not for his own glory but for God’s. You might find him at a Council meeting or putting up Christmas lights or cleaning the church or passing out candy on Halloween or singing in the choir or doing anything that might help others know God loves them. And his genuineness comes out in the way he conducts himself with each and every person who walks through those doors. Greg tries hard to see the good in each situation. So to honor him, we created this entire service as a surprise and have a few small tokens of appreciation. Greg if you would come up?
This is a celebration of life.
We talk about memorial services using those same words, and they are, but why do we wait? Why do we wait until the people we love are gone before we share with the world why they mean so much to us? Why do we celebrate life only in death? One of the things I like about funerals at a JA church is our tradition of “final tribute.” That’s where people come up and pay final respects to the departed and their family. What I like about it are the revelations shared as people come forward and talk to the family. There’s always some new story the family hadn’t heard, some detail about who that person was and why they meant so much to them no one else ever knew. Stories from the past come out of their hiding places to be revealed and the family walks out realizing their loved one made an even deeper impact than they realized. And I guarantee you, for every story told, there are five more that haven’t seen the light of day.
The reason we are here today isn’t just to honor Greg as deserving as he is.
It’s to remind us not to let an opportunity pass us by to share the good in life with those around us. We live in a culture of negativity. We’re fine ripping each other to shreds when we disagree. We spew hate when someone does something we don’t like. But how many of you are willing to take equal time to share how much you appreciate someone? Before I became a pastor, I did market research analysis and one of the most important factors in market research is knowing your biases, specifically negativity bias. People are more apt to remember something bad that happened to them than something good. According to one guy the Golden Ratio is 40:1. It takes 40 positive experiences to overcome 1 negative one. Imagine that. We tend to focus on the things that go wrong instead of all the things that go right. It’s why we so easily discount people who don’t agree with us instead of realizing we have much more in common than we do different.
The best way for us to turn that around is by recognizing the good in people.
Very Biblical by the way. We’re supposed to lift each other up instead of tear each other down. Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” And of course 1 Thessalonians 5:11-13, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.” The truth couldn’t be more clear. We need to build one another up. And it all goes back to Jesus’ final command, “…(L)ove one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35).”
Who are the Greg Suzuki’s in your life? Who are the people who make you feel loved, needed, wanted, useful, helpful, or important? Who has made a difference? Tell them that. Write them a letter or give them a call or tell them face-to-face, “You make a difference.” The world is so quick to judge us and tell us when we got it wrong. Let’s flip the script and lift each other up by telling those around us that they matter.
Who ARE you?
I don’t know why that line from Alice in Wonderland always sticks with me, but it’s a good one to ponder. Who ARE you? When we are on the path to becoming clergy, we have to take the Myers-Briggs Personality Test. Actually, we have to take a series of tests on ethics and personality and go through a psychological evaluation before we can become an elder. It’s a whole day of testing. Literally eight hours of exams and questions and probes to discover who we are. And I discovered, according to Myers-Briggs, I am an ENFP. Extroversion, Intuition, Feeling, and Perceiving kind of guy. When I attended the year-long new church start cohort, they had us take a DISC assessment where it was discovered I was a high “D” person meaning I am outgoing and task oriented. Taking the assessment again for the conference, I was suddenly a high “I” meaning I was outgoing and a people person. Consistently I was definitely not reserved or compliant. A bunch of clergy in our conference are really into the Enneagram and love to be junior detectives trying to figure out “what you are.” I’ve been told I’m a 7 (The Enthusiast), a 2 (The Helper), a 3 (The Achiever), and even an 8 (The Challenger). My test results were all over the place. But after all of that, something Ian Morgan Cron said really spoke to me. He said, “Don’t let anyone tell you what they think you are. Don’t let the test tell you what it thinks you are. If you believe yourself to be a certain type of person, then you ARE that person.”
YOU are unique.
YOU are a child of God and are fearfully and wonderfully made. And no one can take that away from you. But people will try. Your entire life there will be people who try and tell you what you are and what you’re worth, but we need to remember THEY do not define us. Only God does that. And God thinks you’re wonderful. In Psalm 139, we find David singing a song about God’s hand in our creation and taking comfort in knowing God did not make us by mistake but instead his hand was in it from the beginning. We read in another section of the Bible that God SEES us for who we are and not what the world sees. When the prophet Samuel is looking for the next leader of Israel, Samuel sees Eliab who must have been tall, good-looking, and had the presence of a leader and he says to himself “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord (1 Samuel 16:6), but God warns him and says, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)” Your value does not rest on what other people think of you, but instead only what God thinks of you. As long as you make God proud, the world’s opinion means nothing. God knew what he was doing when he made you. You are a person of sacred worth.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
We need to be reminded of our self-worth because the most vulnerable among us are being attacked.
Not for something they’ve done. Not for a crime they’ve committed. But for simply BEING. The issue of the day seems to be gender identity or more specifically denying people the opportunity to be the person God created them to be. We have such narrow definitions of “man” and “woman” as if those labels actually mattered. The obsessive need to define who we are by gender identity is more a statement about our own insecurities than it is about how we were created. Why do we need labels anyway? What difference does it make other than to force us into black and white boxes? But life isn’t so simple is it? As much as we would like to make the world black and white, there are many shades of grey. While we read in Genesis that God made the day and the night we are not so naïve as to think it’s one or the other. There is dawn and dusk and twilight and solar eclipses. We read God created the land and the sea but what about icebergs or tundra or marshes? Are they land or sea or something in-between? God created plants and animals, but we know that microscopic organisms exist that qualify as neither one. I like the way Brenda Walker sums it up, “It is my conviction that God has created us male and female and everything in between, mirroring the diversity and variance that exists in all of creation.”
I’m confused about whether or not the political right believes parents have rights.
On the one hand, they claim they are protecting parent’s rights by enacting the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation in Florida. Somehow banning the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity is protecting parents’ rights? But then you’ve got Texas Gov. Greg Abbott directing the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate for child abuse any family supporting a child who receives gender-affirming medical care. So parents have the right NOT to teach their kids about gender identity, but do NOT have the right to help them with it? With two swift kicks, the government is telling our transgendered kids they are not okay. To score political points, two governors are willing to sacrifice the well-being of transgendered kids and their families. What gigantic threat is being posed by transgendered children that we need to enact directives and legislation to stop it? With so many other problems going on where we can make a real difference – voting rights, gender equality, gun control, vaccination disinformation – we don’t need to invent problems that don’t exist. As a community of faith, we need to stand up for those without a voice. We need to be more proactive in our advocacy in support of other communities that are being attacked. We cannot call ourselves Christian and stand idly by while people around us are being persecuted and attacked simply for being who they are.
You do you.
Just be the person God created you to be. If with all your heart you try to do only two things – love God and love your neighbor – you are fulfilling the will of God. And that’s what matters. Eventually, the world will catch up, but don’t let that stop you from being YOU. The world will catch up. There was a time when you could not be a pastor if you were a woman. Because the Bible said so. Well, it took centuries, but we finally understood the Bible never said so and today many wonderful women have led people to faith in Christ. The idea that only a man could properly teach about faith in Christ is ludicrous. Sadly, there are still denominations out there that hold onto that antiquated belief. Today the same is true for the LGBTQ community. There are those even within the United Methodist Church with closed hearts and closed minds and closed doors toward the idea people in the LGBTQ community can be called to service in pastoral ministry. They claim it’s because the Bible said so. Once again they will find out they are wrong. In the meantime, we cannot allow other people to define our sense of self-worth. It halts us from being exactly who God created us to be.
Cassie and I are perfect for each other.
We aren’t perfect. Not by any means. But we are a good match. One of us likes to get our hands dirty and fix things. One of us likes to cook. One of us loves to work in the yard or change the garbage disposal. One of us likes to be the caretaker in the family. But it’s not the one society says it “should be.” And I love that. I love that Cassie enjoys being the fixer-upper around the house. I love to be the one who cooks the family meals. I love that Cassie is the one who likes to work in the yard. And I love that I had the chance to be a stay-at-home dad for the first few years of Emma’s life. A more amazing gift, I could never dream of. What I love most about Cassie is she has always been supportive of ME. Not who she wants me to be, but who I am. She challenges me to grow and improve, but still loves me both despite and because of my quirks. I hope I do the same. And I hope you do the same for those in your life, too. It reminds me of a poem from the show Free to Be, You and Me. It was my favorite poem growing up and I loved it so much I’ve memorized it.
My dog is a plumber, so he must be a boy,
Although I must tell you his favorite toy
Is a little play stove with pans and with pots
Which he really must like ‘cause he plays with it lots.
So perhaps he’s a girl, which kind of makes sense
Since he can’t throw a ball and he can’t climb a fence
But neither can dad and I know he’s a man
And mom is a woman and she drives a van!
Maybe the problem is trying to tell
Just what someone is by what he does well?
You are a person of sacred worth and my prayer for you during this time of Lent is that you reflect on that idea and take it to heart and recognize that those around you are also persons of sacred worth, too. Let’s treat each other like we matter. Because we do. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 I don’t know if that’s a direct quote or a paraphrase, but something along those lines.
 From Brenda Walker’s blog: https://www.pastorbrendawalker.com/blog/bible-gender-identity
What kind of world do we live in?
It would be GREAT if we all lived in a Ferris Bueller world. Everything always works out for Ferris. No matter how deep a hole he gets himself into, somehow he finds a way out. If only life could be like that for everyone. Instead, we seem to be trapped in a world of “isms” – ageism, sexism, racism just to name a few. But it shouldn’t be this way. To quote the sage himself, Ferris Bueller, “I do have a test today… It’s on European socialism. I mean really. What’s the point? I’m not European. I’m not planning on being European, so who (cares) if they’re socialist. They could be fascist anarchists. It still wouldn’t change the fact that I don’t own a car. Not that I condone fascism or any ‘ism’ for that matter. ‘Ism’s’ in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an ‘ism,’ he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon. ‘I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.’ A good point there, after all he was the walrus. I could be the walrus, I’d still have to bum rides off of people.” Ferris Bueller’s Day Off might seem like a simple teenage comedy, but it’s also a poignant statement about finding value in yourself and in others. And while Ferris himself probably wouldn’t put it this way, his story is a reflection of the idea that every person is of sacred worth and deserving of being valued and loved. It’s too bad we still haven’t learned that lesson.
It’s been over 50 years since LBJ gave his famous “We Shall Overcome” speech.
Over 50 years since he gave voice to racism in America and called it out as President of the United States. The Civil Rights Act had been passed the year before, but many refused to abide by the law of the land. And in this speech he gave on the Ides of March, 1965, he holds up a mirror to the nation for them all to see how far we had yet to go. Sadly, reading his words today, they are words he could speak right now and they would sound the same. As Santayana once famously wrote, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It appears we have not learned from the past. Listen to these words from President Johnson and see for yourself how relevant they are today:
“Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this there can and should be no argument. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right. Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes.
Every device of which human ingenuity is capable has been used to deny this right. The Negro citizen may go to register only to be told that the day is wrong, or the hour is late, or the official in charge is absent. And if he persists, and if he manages to present himself to the registrar, he may be disqualified because he did not spell out his middle name or because he abbreviated a word on the application. And if he manages to fill out an application he is given a test. The registrar is the sole judge of whether he passes this test. He may be asked to recite the entire Constitution, or explain the most complex provisions of state law. And even a college degree cannot be used to prove that he can read and write.
For the fact is that the only way to pass these barriers is to show a white skin.
Experience has clearly shown that the existing process of law cannot overcome systematic and ingenious discrimination.”
Meaning: We can convince ourselves we aren’t racist while being racist.
Today racism is being disguised as “election integrity” or “antifraud legislation,” but it’s just racism in sheep’s clothing. All of the ways LBJ described systemic racism are STILL being used today and those who invoke those reasons are STILL hiding behind a veneer of “protecting the public” to hide their racism – but protect it from what? Study after study shows that we have one of the most secure systems of democracy in the world so what are we being protected from? Voting was fine as long as they were winning, but when the system doesn’t go their way, racist people all over the country hide behind “election integrity” and other nonsense to justify their racist agenda. They probably even believe it. Because we are really good at hiding racism – even from ourselves. Like the Montana man who tried to form a new “racially inclusive” branch of the KKK. John Abarr said that in his chapter of the Ku Klux Klan people of any race, religion, or sexual orientation could become members. But many, including other members of the KKK, question his sincerity and his beliefs. Abarr still wants to be affiliated with the KKK and wear the traditional white robes and hoods, but the idea being that underneath one of those hoods could be an African-American, a Jew, or even a homosexual. It just goes to prove we can convince ourselves of anything.
But it’s that kind of thinking we have to be on guard against.
It’s too easy to ignore the signs of racism and prejudice within ourselves. We couch it in pretty words. We even convince ourselves we mean it. We talk about “national security” and “protecting our borders” and “keeping American safe” to hide racist attitudes. And if we’re not careful, we will keep perpetuating this same kind of racist thinking by passing it on to your kids. It says something about us as a nation when Caucasian children think of their ethnicity as “American.” One time when I went on a field trip with Emma’s class, one of the kids asked Emma “where she came from” and Emma said, “Georgia.” And the kid said, “No, I mean like are you Chinese or something?” So Emma answered, “Oh, I’m Japanese, but I have some American Indian and some English and some other stuff, too. What about you?” And I’ll never forget this boy’s response. He said, “I’m American.” I couldn’t stop myself. I said, “Emma’s American, too. So am I. We were all born here.” As if he was unclear, the boy said, “No, but I’m American-American.” It breaks my heart that this child has no sense of ethnic identity and worries me that he thinks he’s “more American” than us. It’s that kind of thinking that is at the root of racism. This kind of “insider-outsider” mentality. We see that in our reading today from the Bible. This passage isn’t particularly about racism, but it is about how easily we shift our excuses to fit our way of thinking. It’s about how we fail to recognize the fear and the ignorance within ourselves and instead shift the blame to other people. In this passage, the Pharisees have sent the temple guards to arrest Jesus, presumably for heresy but even that is unclear. What is clear is that the Pharisees are intimidated by Jesus. The people are starting to come around and believe in him and they couldn’t have that. So they send the guards out to capture Jesus and they come back empty-handed. That’s where we being our reading today. Hear now the Word of God.
45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”
46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.
47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”
50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”
52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” – John 7:45-52
Excuses, excuses, excuses.
Not once do the Pharisees consider that the guards had something meaningful to contribute. When the guards told them that “no one ever spoke the way this man does” immediately they revert to “You mean he has deceived you also?” As if there couldn’t be any other explanation. Then the Pharisees cry out that the whole mob must be cursed! There’s no other explanation in their already closed minds that it could be anything else. Even when one of their own speaks up against the injustice he’s seeing in front of his eyes, when Nicodemus cries out for a fair hearing, they reply, “Are you from Galilee, too?” In a way threatening him to being outcast simply for having a different view. Suddenly Nicodemus has become a “sympathizer,” a “Galilean lover” instead of a Pharisee who sees other Pharisees giving in to prejudice and hatred. It reminds me of a scene from the new version of the movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes where most of humanity was wiped out by an epidemic but left the apes on the planet much smarter than they were before. This one guy starts getting hysterical and starts shouting the other humans should just go and kill all those dumb apes since this whole thing is their fault, but even when somebody brings up the fact it was a human being who created the plague and a human being who spread it, the crowd starts to get riled up against the apes who up to this point in the movie have done nothing against the humans. It was simply human fear that drove them to persecute the apes. Not anything logical or rational or justifiable. Prejudice doesn’t need facts, just fear.
We must always be on our guard for racism dressed up in sheep’s clothing.
Key words to notice are “always,” “never,” “all,” or “none.” Using these words should be a warning to us that we’re about to make an assessment not on a person we know, but on an entire group of people we don’t. Using those words is dangerous because it starts to train our minds to thinking of people not as individuals of sacred worth, but nameless, faceless objects not worthy of our attention. Above all, we need to remember that before we talk about “those people” no matter who “those people” are, we ARE “those people.” We are all children of God. We are all persons of sacred worth. And Jesus didn’t die for just us, he died for justice – and mercy and grace for all.
We have not yet overcome the spectre of racism.
We still have a long way to go. But if we are to remain faithful to Christ, we must never give up this fight. We CAN do it, but it will take a willingness within us to speak out against racism and to see it in ourselves. If we want to live in a Ferris Bueller world where all persons are valued and have sacred worth, we need to do more. How can we as individuals, as a church, and as the people of Christ do more for those experiencing the kind of racial animus happening in the world today? We can start with ourselves. Take time to pray about your own worldviews. Where might be your blindspots? Who are you not treating as a person of sacred worth? And challenge yourself to do better. We can’t change everyone, but if we all worked on ourselves, the world would be a better place.
At least, you could if you lived in China. Back in July 2013, China’s legislature passed a law that allowed the government to fine or even detain kids for neglecting their parents. Apparently, neglect of the elderly has become a significant problem for the Chinese. A people who pride themselves on their care for the aged have had increasing numbers of incidents where children are letting their parents squander away. There have been a number of cases in China where elderly parents sue their own children for emotional support. Most of the time, they simply don’t want to feel neglected. One instance of elderly neglect in particular drew attention from Chinese news when Chen Shoutian put his 100-year old mother in a pig sty to sleep. What was more heinous is that Chen has six bedrooms in his home. He claimed on the news that it was his mother’s choice, but soon afterward had put his mother into a kitchen in his home. Obviously, this is an extreme case but highlights the situation that even in countries where the elderly once held an esteemed place, there are troubles with how we treat them. And that could be a serious problem, especially with estimates of the world’s elderly growing at alarming rates. China’s elderly population is said to grow by over 300 million people in the next 40 years – an estimated 35% of the country. What will we do then? Will we treat our elderly better or worse?
We also have a problem with how we treat our children.
We’ve gotten better over the years, but even in Jesus’ time, children were treated no better than slave labor. Sometimes even worse. It took centuries before we enacted laws that protected children from harm and abuse. And that was in the United States. Sadly, those laws are not universal and in many countries, children are often used and abused. In some places they are forced to work longer and harder than most adults for a fraction of their wages. But that’s not the end of the story. Routinely, children are abused in ways more than just forced labor. They are abused physically, emotionally, and sexually. They are also neglected both physically and emotionally. It was estimated that about 5 children a day die due to neglect and abuse. Five children a day. That comes out to more than 1600 children a year. More than 70% of those deaths were among children 2 years old and younger and most of those were caused not by a stranger, but by at least one of their parents. And that’s only part of the story. Of those that survive, they die on average 20 years earlier than those who did not suffer from abuse and neglect. There are other effects from this type of trauma as well, but the end result is pretty clear – we don’t do a good enough job of helping the young or the elderly.
And that is not how Jesus would want us to be.
There are many passages in the Bible that tell us how we should treat both young and old alike. We are supposed to revere our elders, we are supposed to protect the young. It’s as clear as black and white. Revere our elders, protect the young. So why aren’t we doing that? For too long have we weighed a person’s value on how productive they are to society. And we’ve qualified what productivity is. Productivity is artificially set by a bell curve. The bell curve tells us that our highest productivity is within a certain range of years. Most likely between 18-34 but for some can be as high as our 50’s. After that, we start losing value. People older than 50 are making more money than people doing the same job at 30 years old. So we hire younger people who will work harder for less money. We value youth for other reasons, too. They are self-sufficient. The older we get the more we rely on others to help us. And in our society today, that is seen as a sign of weakness. Maybe it’s also a reminder of our own mortality. We forget the elderly have experience on their side. They have wisdom and knowledge that can hold the truth to answers we may not have figured out for ourselves. They are able to understand relationships that we are barely scratching the surface with. Our elderly have MUCH to contribute if we only would stop to utilize them the way they should be utilized. Children are considered weak because they too are less self-sufficient. Especially in their formative years. They need the financial and physical support of their parents. If it weren’t for labor laws, there would be many people who would force their children into physical labor or worse. It boggles my mind to wonder how for so long we could ignore the words of Jesus Christ.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! – Matthew 18:1-7
When God made us caretakers of the Earth, it was more than just for the birds and the bees.
We were supposed to take care of each other, too. In this passage, Jesus warns us that if we cause our children to stumble, whether they are our biological children or not, if we cause them to waver in their faith, to lose their childlike innocence, to become jaded and cold like the rest of us, then it would be better for us to drown in the sea. Jesus said, “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” Are we those people?
Jesus valued children.
It’s as plain and simple as that. They are God’s creation and they bear the mark of innocence until we ruin it for them. I’ve told you before the story of Emma and the beggar woman. As Emma handed her all the change she had, thinking she was doing the kind and good thing, the beggar woman shattered her good nature and robbed her of that kindness and innocence by asking her in an accusatory tone, “Is that all you have?” Do you think Emma will give as freely the next time wondering whether or not she’ll be judged for the amount she has given rather than from the heart with which she gave it? Do you think children are born racist? Or do you think that those attitudes and ideas might possibly come from their parents and their environment? We have to protect one another, old and young. We have to recognize the value in every human being. We have to find a way to remember that we are all God’s children and therefore all are considered of sacred worth in his eyes. Everyone has something to contribute to society at every age. Whether you are 5 or 95, YOU are important. YOU are of sacred worth.
It’s important you believe that, too.
There have been studies done that show that our belief in our own self-worth, our attitudes about our value to society matter. They matter not only to the world, but to our own quality of life. It’s been found in studies that people who have more positive views of aging, live on average 7.5 years longer than those who don’t. Those with positive aging attitudes are 44% more likely to fully recover from disabilities than those who don’t. And those who have more negative aging attitudes had a 30% greater decline in memory than those who thought more positively. These attitudes toward aging are ingrained in us early on, far before we hit our senior years, and they stay with us most of our lives. We must do more. We must do more for both young and old. We must break through these convenient stereotypes of “old” and “young.” Not just for ourselves but for the world around us that is aging at a rapid pace. We must do more intergenerational work. We must learn to value one another. We must learn to look beyond categories and instead find the worth in each human being, no matter their age. And we must start today.
Ageism affects everyone whether we realize it or not.
It enforces bad stereotypes. It devalues human beings. And it tells us we have no worth when in fact we do. So how do we combat it? By refusing to give in. By finding value in each person. By finding their strengths instead of their weaknesses. By recognizing that all people have something to contribute. We are mistaken to underestimate people based on age. Emma has a better understanding of God and humanity than many adults that I know. I find that true of many children. Most elderly people have experiences that worth a fortune that can only come with time. Revere those who are older. Treasure those who are younger. And take it upon yourself to protect those of every age. Because that is our sacred duty and YOU are of sacred worth. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Ibid – relating to children who “have 6 or more adverse childhood experiences”
It peppers my life in ways even my wife doesn’t understand. It’s not the kind of intense that’s chaotic or obsessive, but intense in the way that it holds deep meaning in my life. The theme parks especially have a special place in my heart. A Disney theme park was the place I got my first job, was the place I met my first girlfriend, and was the place I bought my wife a Minnie Mouse ring and promised one day I would marry her. I came through on that promise by the way.
I love Disney because it hearkens back to an idealism about the world we are sorely missing. With reality TV everywhere we turn, we seldom get to imagine the way life COULD be. Today even our sit-coms are based “in reality.” When I was growing up, we watched shows like Brady Bunch, Happy Days, Family Ties and The Cosby Show. The reason these shows were so popular were not because anybody actually lived like that, but because they showed us the kind of life we aspired to have. The kind where parents make the right decisions in raising their kids. The kind where love and understanding triumph over selfishness and self-centeredness. And it brought hope we could rise above it all.
If you want reality TV, you simply have to turn on the news to see the worst in one another. But where is the counterbalance? Where are the images and examples that we can look up to and live for? They seem to be disappearing these days. One of the reasons I became a pastor was because I fully and whole-heartedly believe God offers us hope for a better life if we only reached out and took it. And I don’t mean in a blind faith kind of way either, but if we embraced what God has to teach us – to love one another – we could reshape the world! And that’s the kind of hope I want to share with others..
To me Disney offers that kind of hope. In a world filled with horrible realities, Disney often offers us a better way. One of the things I loved about working in the parks was the concept of the “berm.” The berm was a big wall that shut out the outside world. Beyond the berm was every trouble and worry that dotted our lives. But for a brief instant in time, when you walked beneath that sign that said, “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy” you did just that. You lived in a place where magic exists and dreams do come true. Is it the reality of our world today? No, but it could be. And it should be.
We often take vacations at a Disney theme park, not just because they are fun and family-friendly, but because I want my family to have this hope in their lives. I want them to know that for an instant and maybe right now only in this place, does this kind of idealism exist in the world. But it does exist! Other theme parks may offer more thrilling rides or more dangerous rides, but none of them offer you a better way to live. We see this idealism in the animated movies Disney creates and we watch them come to life in the parks and we can hope at least for the day this idealism remains alive and well and can inspire us to make the world a better place. That’s why I’m a Disney Dad, because I want to make this world a better place for my children. Every child deserves to have hope, happiness, and love in their lives. Don’t you think?
Hi, ho! Kermit the Frog here.
Today I’m going to tell you why YOU should be a frog. Frogs are cool. We help clean the water. We eat all those bugs that bother you humans so much. We help important scientific research (not always by choice – but that’s another topic for discussion). And we are a very important part of the Circle of Life (talk to my friend Simba about that). A few of us have even become famous. Thor, God of Thunder, he became a frog – the first frog superhero. Disney made a whole movie about us – The Princess and the Frog. I’m told they are going to make that into a ride even. Finally, Mr. Toad won’t be the only amphibian represented at Disneyland. And of course, there’s Jeremiah. He was a good friend of mine. Never understood a single word he said, but I would help him to drink his wine. Frogs are great! And if you ever get the chance to become one, I highly recommend it.
I appreciate you for sharing your unique perspective on life as a frog. But what if I told you, we could all become frogs without kissing a princess or anything like that? (Kermit: I’d say you’re missing the best part of it all). Be that as it may, Kermit’s right. We should all want to be frogs and we can and we should. Says so right in the Bible. If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, would you please find the Gospel of Matthew beginning with chapter 6, verse 25. Matthew 6:25. Now we’re not talking about turning green or eating insects. We’re talking about frogs of another sort. People who Fully Rely On God. Or FROG for short. This idea that we should learn to trust in God wholeheartedly is a theme that runs through the heart of the Bible. The foundation of our faith rests on our ability to be a FROG. It’s also one of the hardest things for us to do. For most of us, it’s something we will be working on for the rest of our lives, but the pursuit of it is worthwhile because even if we don’t fully succeed, the more we are able to trust in God, the more we are able to be our best selves. The more we are free to be how God created us. And the more confidence we gain in who are.
It’s easy for us to lose ourselves in the world around us.
We sometimes lose sight of our hopes and dreams, we become out of touch with God and God’s creation. Instead, it’s easier to focus on getting your Wordle done each morning than it is to live up to the potential of who God created you to be. Don’t get me wrong. I love Wordle. I’m still waiting for the word “about” to be the word of the day so I can win it in 1. But we enjoy these things because they are easily obtainable (okay sometimes Wordle isn’t all that easy either – but you get the point). They don’t require us to work on ourselves and improve bit by bit. They don’t require us to have faith in the unseen. BAM! They’re done. And in a world filled with so many unsolvable problems, sometimes we just want to feel life’s tiny triumphs to get us through the day. Just think of the MASSIVE events happening around us right now. There’s a war going on in the Ukraine. People are dying, are jumping in front of tanks, are holding back an invading force who attacked without provocation, and for what? Power? Greed? Self-interest? Things are finally lightening up again with COVID-19 and people are removing their masks and acting as if everything is back to normal. Of course, this is what it looked like before the Delta and Omicron waves moved in. Even though it’s MUCH better than it was even a couple of months ago, about 50,000 people are being admitted to hospitals around the country daily and still around 2,000 are dying. Meanwhile, we have to deal with voting rights becoming MORE restrictive instead of less. People being MORE polarized in their beliefs than before. And MORE acts of racism happening on our streets. It’s hard not to dwell on these things and not worry. It can be tough to fully rely on God.
But then I’m reminded of a lesson Jesus shared with his disciples.
During his most famous sermon, what scholars call the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shares this with his followers. This is from Matthew’s version of the story, an excerpt from Matthew 6:25-34. 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?… 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
It’s natural to worry.
But if we let it stop us from doing what’s needed or doing what’s right, then it works against us. Excessive worrying can become all-consuming, and when that happens it also has some serious effects on our well-being. Worrying can lead to panic attacks, depression, headaches, breathing problems, loss of libido, upset stomach, extreme fatigue, increase blood pressure, and more. Which of course, gives us even more to worry about. But notice what Jesus tells us here? “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Worrying is unproductive. It takes away precious time from doing things that are meaningful and fulfilling in life. It robs you of the joy God wants for you. Jesus isn’t saying we shouldn’t prepare. In fact, he’s big on preparing (i.e. the Parable of the Ten Virgins). Jesus wants us to worry less, not be careless. We should be prepared. We should do all we can to get out of a bad situation or do a good job on a test or prepare for an interview. But once we’ve done all we can, dwelling on it becomes counter-productive. You and I know we can pretty much talk ourselves into or out of anything given enough time and worry. And Jesus tells us, “…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” There are enough problems for us to deal with TODAY that we don’t need to add to it by worrying about what MIGHT come tomorrow. Instead, focus on the here and now, on what you can accomplish in front of you, on the people in your life who need you in this moment, and let tomorrow be tomorrow. Or as in the words of Paul McCartney, “let it be.”
When Paul wrote the song, it was a time of stress in his life.
The Beatles were nearing the end of their career together and it was a time of change in both the lives of the band and in their personal lives as well. As Paul wrote, “…I’d been doing too much of everything, was run ragged, and this was all taking its toll. The band, me – we were all going through times of trouble, as the song goes, and there didn’t seem to be any way out of the mess. I fell asleep exhausted one day and had a dream in which my mum…did in fact come to me… (S)eeing my mom’s beautiful, kind face and being with her in a peaceful place was very comforting. I immediately felt at ease, and loved and protected… She seemed to realise I was worried about what was going on in my life and what would happen, and she said to me, ‘Everything will be all right. Let it be.’ … So, this song becomes a prayer, or mini-prayer. There’s a yearning somewhere at its heart. And the word ‘amen’ itself means ‘so be it’ – or ‘let it be.’”
There is something powerful about releasing your cares and your worries to Christ.
It frees us to be our best selves. It’s hard to do our best or be our best when we are weighed down by doubt, anxiety, or fear – and that’s what worry is. It’s the cumulation of all those things. And if there is a way in which the devil becomes manifest in our lives, it’s from stopping us from being all God created us to be, by preying on our those fears and doubts. It’s one of the reasons why God wants us to learn to be more like Kermit in our lives and embrace our inner FROG. We need to all more fully rely on God to help us and guide us through life because with all that is going on around us, it can be tough to deal with, and if we’re not careful we can become overwhelmed. I know at times prayer seems counterproductive, especially for those of you who aren’t used to praying. It seems like we’re spending time just talking with God, who supposedly already knows what’s going on in our lives. So why are we wasting time just reciting again what God already knows? But that’s not the purpose of prayer. Prayer isn’t just sharing a wish list with God. It’s about communicating with God, it’s about focusing on God, and through that relationship strengthening our reliance on God. Of laying it down at his feet. It may not seem like it at the time, but learning to go to God and giving God the load is helping to train us to trust in the Lord and to let go of those things that are beyond our control. It’s an acknowledgement that we are not in this alone. Listen to the words of Jesus as he shares with us these words of wisdom, 27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Lent is a time of reflection, a time to focus on our relationship with the Lord. So as we move toward that day of celebration where we sing praise and joy for God’s grace and mercy, let us spend time in prayer to draw closer to Christ in our lives. Let us all embrace our inner Kermit and become more FROG like every day. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Let it be.
 Paul McCartney, The Lyrics, pp. 413-414
Eighty years have passed.
Eight years since President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, an order that would send to concentration camps nearly 120,000 innocent civilians out of fear and ignorance. That order would wreak havoc on the lives of those people, forcing them to lose untold millions of dollars in property and belongings while told they had to pack their lives up into one suitcase each. A lifetime in one suitcase. This was the culmination of decades of prejudice and violence against anyone of Asian descent. Alien Land Laws in California and across the country prohibited Asians from owning land. A ruling in the California Supreme Court (People v. Hall) found Chinese people could not testify against white people because they were “a race of people whom nature has marked as inferior, and who are incapable of progress or intellectual development beyond a certain point” and presented a “clear and present danger” because they might one day “see them at the polls, in the jury box, upon the bench, and in our legislative halls.” Those were racist quotes from the case used to justify setting free a murderer. The press did nothing to mitigate the hate. In fact, they stoked it with headlines shouting about a Yellow Peril and stoking the fires of hatred with claims that Asians were here to take over the minds of white people. So it came as no surprise when Congress did nothing to prevent this blatant act of racism. And while there were certainly people who stepped forward to do what’s right, the vast majority of Americans either openly supported or did nothing to stop it.
The excuse I often hear for this atrocity is that people were justifiably scared.
Without knowing if the threat was real and with actual violence against Japanese-Americans just for existing, maybe it was better to herd them off somewhere safe. But that argument has no legs to support it. Otherwise, our country would have locked up Germans and Italians also “for their safety.” This was despite absolutely no evidence that Japanese or Japanese-Americans were planning on rebelling against the government or its people. In fact two different studies came to the same conclusion, and yet the Japanese population on the mainland was herded off to camps in the most remote areas of the country under poor conditions and with no regard to their personal lives. It reminds me of a quote from Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
One of the gifts we have to offer as an historically Japanese church is the gift of this memory.
We keep alive this Day of Remembrance, not to dwell on the past, but to right the wrongs in the present. We, more than most, have a responsibility to keep alive those memories as a reminder to us all not to repeat the mistakes of the past. When fear and ignorance come creeping up to our door, we need to be on alert and do what we can to fight it. The Good Samaritan is an example of how we can act. There was this guy, who was left on the side of the road, stripped naked (literally), beaten and wounded. When a priest saw the man, he purposefully went to the other side of the road and left him to die. When a Levite (also a priestly man) saw the man lying there brutally beaten, he too crossed the street and left him on the road to die. It was only the Samaritan, a man despised by both the priests and the Levites, who chose to do the right thing. Too often Christians have acted more like the priest and the Levite than the Samaritan. Which is not to say there aren’t plenty of good Christians doing good works in the world for the sake of Jesus. But it is to say that often Christians have often stood on the sidelines while bad things happened. Take for example the reading from Scripture this morning.
15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him. 19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” 20But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered.22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” 23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” 25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.– Matthew 27:15-26
Whose crime was worse?
The people who asked for Jesus’ blood or Pilate who didn’t have the courage to do what he KNEW was right? Failure to act is an act in itself. When we fail to stand up to prejudice or hatred or fear we are tacitly allowing it to happen. We are part of the problem instead of part of the solution. Complicity is as much a crime as doing the act itself. During the era after the Civil War, preachers, pastors, and other church leaders took to the pulpit to defend slavery and slave owners. They would cite the Bible as part of their defense and it took over a century for them to be silenced. When the Japanese were locked up in camps, while there were definitely some who stood up against this overt act of racism and prejudice, the church largely remained silent. Christian leaders who didn’t speak out or who justified the act were the same people who said it was a “necessary evil” like slavery in the South. We cannot be the type of people who look the other way or perpetuate hatred and prejudice in any form. In an article for America, The Jesuit Review, Meghan Clark wrote a piece focused on white Americans, but something I think is apt for ALL Americans. She wrote, “We live in a culture that idolizes personal choice. This has obstructed our ability to recognize, confront and dismantle racism. Our narrow focus on the individual has deluded us into thinking that as long as we do not personally malign, attack or discriminate against persons of color, we can claim to be non-racist. Non-racism is a supposed third option, beyond racism and anti-racism, where politeness and civility are paramount. It recognizes the evil of white supremacy but, like Pontius Pilate, washes its hands of responsibility. As such, it is a rejection of racism that is also a passive acceptance of white supremacy. It allows white Christians to acknowledge racism is a sin while continuing to reap the benefits of white supremacy. Meghan, herself Caucasian, wrote this as a call to all white Christians. But none of us, white or otherwise, can afford to simply stand by while the culture of racial hatred continues to stand.
We need to do more.
For each of us, that might be different. You don’t have to march in a protest rally to be considered “doing something.” Sometimes, it’s as simple as being kind and decent human beings when others are fueled by fear and bigotry. Sometimes, it’s as easy as inviting your neighbor over for dinner or bringing them a meal in a time of need. Sometimes, it’s donating to a worthy cause that helps those in need. There are as many different ways to show support as there are people. You just need to find the ways you feel can do the most good. But we have to do something. We have to stand up and denounce racism. We cannot afford to sit idly by, hoping someone else will do it. Dr. King wrote about this in his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail. He wrote, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”
Just last weekend, another form of hatred reared its ugly head – antisemitism.
Hundreds of plastic bags filled with rice and antisemitic messages were strewn randomly around Berkeley, claiming Jewish people were to blame for COVID. Even though there has been no link to COVID and Judaism this small group of hatemongers have decided to put the blame for our current pandemic squarely on one people. I guess they are conveniently forgetting about the hundreds of thousands of Christians who have rejected the vaccine, claiming God will protect them. Or the pastors in their pulpits claiming you lack faith if you get the vaccine. Instead, they place the blame on the Jewish community. It makes no sense whatsoever, but then again, racism and prejudice never do. As members of a community that understands this kind of irrational hatred, we have to first be inoculated against it by keeping an open mind and remembering the lessons of the past. Then we have to find ways to stand in support of those being persecuted. I hope in these times we remember the words of Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” We cannot afford to be complicit when injustice happens around us or we might very well be the evil we hope to root out.
In the film, The Princess Bride, Westley starts out as a farm boy working for Buttercup’s family and those three words were all he ever said to Buttercup. “As you wish.” She would ask him to do the most menial tasks like cleaning the stable or polishing her saddle or fetching her some odd thing and he would simply say to her, “As you wish.” But what he was actually saying was, “I love you.” It wasn’t a secret code. Those words, “As you wish,” were Westley’s way of submitting to Buttercup. That trust in her allowed their love to bloom.
We tend to look at “submission” as if it were a dirty word.
At least by our cultural standards today. And it’s understandable. We have often been victims of abuse by those we submit to. Whether it’s our spouse or our boss or the government, it feels like over time we have been betrayed by the people we trust the most. And that’s what submission is based on – trust. When that trust is broken, our willingness to submit erodes over time until we no longer are willing to open ourselves to that kind of pain. But when done right, submission is not only loving but freeing as well. The church has done a poor job of understanding this concept for centuries. I wish it were otherwise, but passages in the Bible telling wives to submit to their husbands have given permission for men to abuse their wives for hundreds if not thousands of years. How we could get something so simple so wrong is unforgivable and astounding. It takes a blatant disregard of what God is trying to tell us to interpret it this way. It ignores the very premise of the Bible to love one another. In Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, he writes (Ephesians 5:22), “Wives, submit to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” And that’s all well and good, but for thousands of years we’ve ignored the rest of that passage which starts out with “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. A good and healthy relationship according to Paul is one of mutual submission. Mutual. Not one-sided. Not uneven. Mutual. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
As if that weren’t enough, we also ignore everything AFTER “Wives, submit to your own husbands.”
If you read the whole passage, Paul spends eight full verses on how husbands are supposed to honor their wives and treat them with more honor and respect than anyone else in the world. Do you know how many verses he takes up talking about wives submitting to their husbands? Three. He has to use nearly three times as much space to tell guys the same thing he says to the women in just a few verses. Maybe that says something about men’s capacity to understand? For whatever reason, Paul outlines for the guys what God expects and tells them they are supposed to treat their wives with the same kind of love and sacrifice as Christ did for all of humanity. That’s a pretty high standard to live up to but one which Paul felt women deserved. It’s what we all deserve in a committed, loving relationship – a partner who puts our needs, wants, hopes, and dreams above their own.
Sacrifice is at the heart of love.
All we have to do is look to Jesus to see that was true. Having the heart of a servant, being willing to submit to those you love, those are attributes Jesus exhibited time and time again. There was that moment when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. The rest of them were probably confused, but Peter was near horrified. “You shall never wash my feet,” he told Jesus, but Jesus looked up at him and said, “Unless I wash you, you have no part of me.” Finally, Peter relented and after Jesus washed their feet, he told them, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” Then there was the time when James and John asked Jesus if they could sit at his right and his left when he finally claimed his kingdom. Jesus told them that was a decision for God alone to decide. But just the audacity to ask the question made the other disciples mad and that’s when Jesus shared with them all this piece of wisdom.
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:41-45
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
If we want to look for inspiration for how we should love one another, we only have to look to the cross and witness for ourselves the sacrifice that Christ made for us. He warns us how easily authority can be abused and when we submit ourselves before others, that’s exactly what we are doing – giving them authority over us and trusting that they will do what’s right. But as Jesus points out, so many don’t do what’s right. He talks about the rulers of the Gentiles and the high officials and how they love to boss people around and make them do what they want. But Jesus said that to truly become great is not about who can dominate the most people. That’s just abusing the trust people place in you. Being great is about service and having a spirit of service to others. And that’s what it’s all about – serving others.
To serve others means to be in tune to others’ needs.
In The Princess Bride, Westley does whatever it is Buttercup wants him to do. Not what he FEELS like doing. He doesn’t say to her, “As you wish, except that. I don’t want to do that. What about something else?” He listens to her needs and follows through. But that’s not always easy for us to do. We have a hard time stepping out of our own perspective and trying to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Like people who don’t like Star Wars. I don’t get that. I just don’t. Or worse. People who have never SEEN Star Wars! Gasp! Seriously, though, it isn’t always easy for us to do. Take for example the first and last time I bought Cassie flowers for Valentine’s Day (to be fair, I may have done it one other time in the 16 years we’ve been together but can’t say for sure). It was about 10 months after we had first started dating and I was SO in love with her. I was excited for our first Valentine’s Day together and I did what I thought I was supposed to do. I bought her a dozen red roses. I had them delivered to her work so that the WHOLE WORLD would know how much I loved her. That night she told me how beautiful they were, but said I didn’t need to buy her flowers to show how much I loved her, and I thought, “How sweet of her to say that.” I assumed she was just being humble because what woman doesn’t like getting a dozen red roses on Valentine’s Day? So a couple of weeks later, I brought her another dozen roses, just to show her I loved her not only on Valentine’s Day but EVERYDAY. She smiled, thanked me again, and told me again I didn’t have to do that. I thought, “What a woman! So humble and considerate!” So after the THIRD time I brought her flowers… she dropped the whole humble act and just spit it out. She looked at me and said, “Look, I wish you wouldn’t waste your money like that. I’d rather you saved that money for our honeymoon or our wedding instead of buying me something that’s going to wilt and die in a couple of days.” I didn’t know what to say! This is what you’re supposed to do, right? You buy a girl gifts, she melts in your arms, happily ever after. That’s what’s supposed to happen. It’s in some book somewhere. But what I didn’t realize was that wasn’t the way to Cassie’s heart.
It turns out she and I didn’t speak the same “love language.”
Gary Chapman wrote this great book called The 5 Love Languages which I’ve shared about in worship before. Cassie and I read it in our Bible study group when we first started going to church together. In it, Gary describes how each of us react differently to love. We have different “love languages” and he categorized them as Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, and Quality Time. Most of us have more than one, but there’s usually one or two that are on the top of our list and for me, “Receiving Gifts” was right near the top followed by “Physical Touch.” For Cassie, there was one language above all she connected with – “Acts of Service.” That was what filled her love tank and still does today. When I cooked dinner for her, helped her by mowing the lawn, take out the trash; when I DID things for her like that, she felt the most loved. Because for her, it was the self-sacrifice of my actions that expressed love to her and made her feel complete. Learning that she spoke a different love language helped me to understand how best to communicate my love for her. I have to admit, there are times I forget and fall back on what feels good for me and I have to resist those temptations. But I try to speak her love language as much as possible.
As we think about this season of love, maybe we can challenge ourselves to think of it in a new way.
Or at least to remember that love means sacrifice. That submission doesn’t have to be a bad thing. And that when we love each other the way God intended it can be amazing. But it takes trust. I know that’s something that seems to be in short supply today, but trust like everything else is a choice. You can choose to live your life without trust and for sure you will be taken advantage of much less frequently. But don’t kid yourself. It will still happen. And the worst part is you’ll never feel quite at ease. Or you can choose to trust, knowing that at times your trust could be broken. But most of the time it won’t be and the life you lead you will see will have a profound difference in your life. It may never happen, but the more we work to creating a world based on trust and love, the better off all of humanity will be. If we become cynical and distrustful of the world, in the long run we will only poison the relationships we have. If I’ve learned anything from The Princess Bride it’s that true love wins out, and there is not truer love than that of God for us, his children. Trust at least in that and see where that leads you. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
My keto journey started on November 4, 2021. I remember the date clearly because I had gone on a carb binge the week before, wanting one last taste of those things I love before giving them up. Pizza, french fries, burritos, and I had to have my mom’s Tagliarini Casserole (recipe here)! Of course, it caused me to gain some weight, but I was confident my new lifestyle would help me shed those pounds pretty quickly. Maybe not the best way to start my journey to healthy living, but I was in this for the long haul and wanted to say “good bye” for now. I was provisionally accepted into the Kidney Transplant Program at Stanford University. I weighed in at 274 which put me RIGHT at 40.6 BMI and typically they only take patients with a BMI of 40 or lower – JUST right on the edge. But because I had been losing weight on my own and because it was SO close, they took a chance on me and I was placed on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) national transplant list. I had 38 pounds to lose. It sure seemed like a lot, but we had a plan.
Consulting with my doctor and my family, I decided I wouldn’t go full carnivore like my wife Cassie – that much dependence on protein could negatively affect my kidney health. But curbing carb consumption was going to be the key to my success. After all the articles my wife sent me about how the body turns carbs into sugar, about glucose intolerance, and about how prevalent sugar is in our food, I finally woke up to how much inadvertent damage I was doing to my body. Sure, I had cut back on my sugar consumption – but not really. When you consider the rice, bread, chips, and other foods I ate instead, it was the equivalent of eating four or five candy bars a day. Which is not to say you should ditch other carbs and eat candy bars all day. Wrong message.
It was really a matter of getting my body to work FOR me instead of AGAINST me. I wanted to find a way to eat happy AND healthy without feeling like I was eating like a mouse. You don’t know how often I’ve heard the idea of “calories in, calories out” as the key to losing weight. But what they don’t tell you is that the TYPE of calories matter far more than what they measure. Calories are simply a number. You and I both know that 2000 calories a day of meat and veggies is very different than 2000 calories of soda, candy, and cookies. Fiber, nutrients, complex carbs, saturated fats – they all play a part in keeping your body healthy. If you only care about “calories in, calories out” you can still gain weight and/or do harm to your body.
By focusing on a keto lifestyle, I’m taking away those excess sugars and giving my body a chance to really work on the stores of fat. And so far it’s working! As of today, I’m below 250 for the first time probably since college. I only have about 15 more pounds to go before I’m at the right BMI for a transplant. I feel great. I feel healthier than I have for a while. And it is SO nice to feel the weight dropping off. In about 3 months, I’ve been able to steadily lose about 25 pounds and its made a huge difference. I’m hoping it’s only 2-3 more months before hitting that goal! But if it takes a little longer, that’s okay. As long as I keep making steady progress and doing it in a healthy way. Next time I’ll talk more about exactly what I’ve been doing and where we are in the process.