July 3, 2022
"Living Life on MY Terms"
Rev. Scott Landis
I’ve just returned from two weeks in the continental United States visiting family and friends in three different cities. The last leg of my tour was spent with my father who is aging gracefully but definitely showing the wear of his 91+ years. On one of my last days in Pennsylvania, Dad and I went to the graveyard to visit the grave of my mother who died nearly 20 years ago. Unable to traverse the uneven ground of the cemetery anymore, Dad stayed in the car as I made my way their gravestone. It’s powerful what happens to you (or I’ll speak for me) when you return to the spot where your loved one was buried and touch that stone once again. My mind was flooded with memories and a plethora of emotions: sadness, gratitude, and love, but also palpable sense of God’s presence as I paused there with my hand on that stone for only a moment.
I noticed my father’s name next to my mother’s. It had his date of birth and then a dash line after the date. That little dash line seemed to simply hang out there all alone seeking some kind of resolution. All too soon we will be putting another date on that stone and my visits to Philly will be far less frequent.
I thought about that dash line in between the dates of birth and death and remembered a chapter in a book by Robert Fulghum, I believe, where he talked about that “little dash line in-between.” THAT line – though short and very plain – constitutes the entirety of our lives.
My Mom was a force to be reckoned with. Her dash line was very different than my dad’s to date. You see, my dad can be pessimistic and kind of grumpy. But Mom was upbeat, lively, and positive, and someone everyone wanted to be around. One of her favorite songs was the one we just sang, “I’ve Got Peace Like a River.” She would sing that at the top of her lungs sometimes marching through the whole house doing a silly little dance just to take it up notch. She’d get us all going – with the exception of my father – who thought such antics a bit ridiculous.
It was her willingness to let go – even make a fool of herself – singing a raucous little song like this one that inspired me in so many ways. Her faith was based on trust — the belief that God was with her – ALWAYS – and that made all the difference in her little dash line. [Pause]
We’re all so different. Our lives shift and change AND, depending on a variety of circumstances, shape us in ways that change our dash line, the result of which affects the way we relate to God. Our story today is a case in point. It’s a remarkable tale which tells an awful lot about the lives (the dash lines) of each one of the characters involved.
You’ve already heard it so I need not retell the entire story, but notice the postures expressed in the attitudes of each. The King of Aram thought that all he need do is throw some money at the source of healing in order to get what he wanted. The King of Israel thought the whole situation was a trap and was distressed by the pressure he felt to do what the Aramean King wanted – so much so that he tore his clothes – a sign of great anguish. Naaman’s servant, acting on her trust in Israel’s God, is the one who offered a means by which her master could be healed. And Elisha simply did what he knew best to do. Trusting in God, he offered the possibility of healing. He simply instructed Naaman to wash several times in the Jordan as a means to heal his skin. [Pause]
Here's where Naaman reminded me a lot of my father. “I’m not going to do that,” he said. “No self-respecting man would go marching through the house singing ‘I’ve Got Peace Like a River’ or, I mean, would wash seven times in the dirty Jordan to be healed. We’ve got much better rivers where I come from, and besides why hasn’t Elisha come out to greet me? Don’t I deserve such respect? [Pause]
You see, the primary difference in the dash lines in the lives of the servant girl, and Elisha, and my mom was the ability to let go and let God take over — completely. It was their belief that God had this situation well in hand and all Naaman had to do was “Trust” and do what God wanted rather than insisting that he live life on his own terms. Pride, in this instance, had a nasty way of really messing things up. Pride still does that doesn’t it?
Even Naaman’s entourage understood as they quipped, “You’ve got to be kidding me. All you need to do is go down the Jordan and dunk yourself 7 times. Why not give it a try? At least you’d cool off a bit.” But Naaman wanted a cleaner river, more drama – and at least a visit from the Holy Man himself and not just his messenger.
But when he finally let go of his pride – well, not only was his skin cured of that horrible disease – his little dash line became just a tad more interesting. You need to read the rest of the chapter to get all the details. [Pause]
Famed preacher of the Riverside Church in New York city, William Sloan Coffin, used to distinguish between “faith” and “trust.” He said, “If our faith is based on the idea that God controls every detail of our lives, we are bound to be disappointed because when things go awry (or not the way we expected or planned) our faith begins to erode, as we surmise that God doesn’t care.
William Sloan Coffin went on to say, “What we need to do is trust – with our whole heart. Faith is not believing without proof but trusting without reservation.” Do you hear the difference? It’s subtle but so very important. Can you see how that distinction may have or has affected your life? The goal of our faith journey is to “trust without reservation” rather than demand that life must be lived on my terms. Our faith can only grow and mature when we trust without precise expectation OR reservation. And that will not happen if our lives our shackled with pride. [Pause]
During the last few minutes of my flight home the other evening, just as we made our final descent into Maui, the little girl in the seat in front of me began to scream in pain as the altitude change wreaked havoc with her little eardrums. Unable to know how to correct the situation she threw herself into her mommy’s arms and screamed into her breast. While I had deep pity for her pain, I thought, oh to have that kind of trust in God. Despite any circumstance or pain, and not knowing what to do to take care of matters myself – what would it be like truly to trust without reservation? And how might that change my “little dash line in-between?” [Pause]
Today we will receive the bread and the cup – reminders of God’s invitation “to take and eat – take and drink” to trust without reservation. In the bread? In the juice? No, on the grace that those elements represent. To trust the God who is always with us – without fail. As you receive those gifts today, I invite you to think for a moment about your ability to trust without reservation. I promise, the more you do, the more exciting your little dash line will be.