Trinity Sunday

In case you didn’t know, today is Trinity Sunday, which is a day often handed to deacons and deacon interns to preach because it is one of those tricky topics to preach on. So, what is the doctrine of the trinity? Well to figure that out I started with the prayer book and discovered that the Catechism describes the Trinity as the three Persons of God, but I don’t find that all that helpful in our quest to understand it because that is merely a definition. My next stop was various commentaries on scripture and that is where I found that in Greek the word Persona, which is the origins of our word for person, means the face through which you speak, so when we refer to the three persons of God, it might be helpful to think that we are referring to the three faces through which God speaks.

The three persons of the trinity are God the father or the creator, who is omnipotent or all powerful; there is God the son or the redeemer, who walked among us as Jesus; and there is God the Holy Spirit or the sustainer, who resides within us and guides us. Church doctrine dictates that all three persons of the God head are fully separate and fully God and that all three are in fact one God. If you are thoroughly confused as to how anything can be separate while it is also not separate, you are not alone. The reason the church has landed on the doctrine of the trinity is because it is the only explanation that we have come up with that comes close to explaining the many ways we have experienced God throughout human history. We could spend our entire lives trying to understand the doctrine of the trinity and never do so and if we did do that, we would be completely missing the point of our faith, which is to be in a loving relationship with God, through which we can be faithful stewards of creation.

Rather than thinking of God as three persons, I invite you to think of God through the lens of the original Greek meaning and think about how each of God’s faces is present in our lives. God the creator is the easiest to experience because we can see it, hear it, smell it, feel it, and even taste it. From the depths of the oceans to the highest point of the Himalayas everything in nature should remind us of the awesomeness of God because only God could create things that cause such wonder, amazement, and fear all at the same time.

God the redeemer, or Jesus, is the face through which God attempted to establish a deeper connection with humanity. The entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures describes the struggle of God to connect with the people. In Exodus God speaks directly to Moses and provides explicit laws in the form of the ten commandments. With Abraham God creates a new covenant which is meant to formalize the relationship between God and the people. Later God sends prophet after prophet to warn the people that they are not leading God centered lives, but still many of us turn our backs to God. Ultimately God makes the decision to come personally in order to speak to us directly through words and actions. The life of Jesus is a road map of how to be in relationship with God. The people of the first century had the advantage of being able to directly experience Jesus as the face of God, they were able to see his actions and hear his message directly, and still they struggled. We can only experience the life of Jesus secondhand because we can only read about it and when we do read about it, we often do so in small doses and out of context, which makes it that much more difficult to understand.

God the sustainer, or the Holy Spirit, is the face through which God is always fully present to us and, to me, is the one that provides the deepest connection to God. The Hebrew scriptures speak of the Spirit of God, but in Judaism it refers more to the divine force and influence of God meaning it is the force behind the will of God, so the Spirit of God does not act as a driving force on its own. In our tradition the Holy Spirit is a constant presence among us, it is a driving force behind our interaction with both creation and God. Our sense of morality, compassion, and love is rooted in the presence of the Holy Spirit and our connection with God.

Our relationship to the Trinity is quite personal and that is the way it is meant to be. For many people God seems to be a source of comfort and the thing that they look to when they need guidance; for some people God is a thing to be feared because scripture appears to be filled with God’s wrath; and for others God simply is.  Whether or not we understand the doctrine of the trinity is irrelevant, the only thing that matters is that we acknowledge the presence of God in our lives and actively seek to accomplish the mission God has given us, namely to love God and to love our neighbors. This mission was originally handed down by God the Creator through the ten commandments; God then attempted to reinforce this message through the prophets, who were charged with pointing out to God’s people that they were straying from the plan. As this did not work, God became incarnate in Jesus and both told and showed us how to follow through with our mission. In addition, Jesus took away the one thing we consistently feared and that was the wrath of God, which ultimately resulted in death. Through his death and resurrection Jesus showed us that death is no longer on the table, so we don’t need to worry about doing the wrong thing and then being punished for it. When Jesus was baptized the Holy Spirit descended upon him, which is the basis of our belief that the Holy Spirit resides within us and assists us in carrying out our mission of Love. As humans we are capable of love, however when left to our own devices we will choose self-interests over our neighbor most of the time. We could argue that, like God, we have multiple faces. We have the faces we use when we are with our family and friends; we have the faces we use in public; we have the faces we use at school, at work, and at church. How we interact with people reflects our relationship with God. When we are short with people; when we ask how people are and then walk away before they have a chance to respond; when we focus on how others actions affect us and not wonder why they may be acting the way they are; when we insist that our needs are more important than the needs of others, then we are not reflecting the love of God which the Holy Spirit is continually urging us to share.

A part of being in relationship with God is thanking God the creator for everything they have provided; studying scripture, with the Holy Spirit as our guide, so that we can understand the teachings of Jesus; and then, also with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, implementing what we learn from our study of scripture in our lives. Nowhere in scripture does it say greet your neighbor and then ignore their response; nowhere does it say be short with people; nowhere does it say put your own needs ahead others; nowhere does it say blame others for how we are feeling. God projects nothing but love, and by God’s grace we can do the same; but first we must be willing to say no to anger, say no to jealousy, say no to greed, say no to fear; and say no to our egos. God is always present to us, God is always speaking to us, God is always guiding us, but how often are we present to God? How often do we speak to God? How often to we allow God to guide us? God’s love and guidance is not limited to Sunday, Sunday is just the day we choose to gather for fellowship. God is always ready and willing to love and guide us, we just need to be ready and willing to accept it and stop thinking that we need to be in control. My challenge to all of us this week is let go. When we feel ourselves getting stressed or angry or jealous, when we feel the need to be in control, take a breath, pray for God to give you the grace to move passed your emotions and see what happens.

Good Friday

The journey was at an end. Jesus was quickly thrown backward with His shoulders against the wood. The soldier felt for the depression at the front of the wrist; he drove a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly, he moved to the other side and repeated the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly. The title ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’ was nailed into place, and the crossbar lifted into position. The left foot was pressed backward against the right foot. With both feet extended, tows down, a nail was driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees moderately flexed. The victim was now crucified.

I am at a loss to think of a more horrible way to die, nor can I fathom willingly choosing to do so and I assume that I am not alone in that sentiment. However, no matter how horrible it was, Jesus’s death alone has no meaning. People die in horrible ways all the time, both 2000 years ago and today and most of the time our feelings of horror last no longer than it takes us to scroll to the next story or move on to the next task, and that is how most people treat Good Friday.  It is treated as just another day, the day that marks the death of Jesus, something to make note of in passing, but nothing more. In an attempt to get more people to pay attention, we could try make the argument that what makes Jesus death special is that he willingly chose to die out of obedience to God, but again thousands of people in human history have chosen to go to their death for many reasons and we don’t pay any more attention to their deaths than we do anyone else’s. So, if the death Jesus isn’t made significant or even special by the fact that he chose death, why are we here? Why do we choose to gather to remember this event, year after year?

The short response to these questions is that we gather to remember the death of Jesus because we know it is important enough for us to give time and energy to it, even though we may not be able to explain why. The slightly longer answer draws our eyes to Easter. The reason the death of Jesus is so important is because he did not remain dead. It is in Jesus’s resurrection, not in his death, that we find hope for the future. But if that is the case, why not just skip to Easter, like most people do? Most people treat Good Friday as just another day and then put on their Sunday best for Easter; but attempting to celebrate Easter without Good Friday is like trying to bake bread without yeast. The bread will cook, it might even resemble bread, but it will not be the real deal.

Good Friday is not only about remembering Christ’s death, it is about preparing ourselves for Easter, it is also about taking count of the things that separate us from God, as well as the things that cause us to suffer. Once we have taken count, then we must make the conscious decision to allow those things to die because it is in letting those things die that we can fully experience the joy of an open and loving relationship with God, which we gain through the resurrection of Jesus. The death of Jesus has meaning because of the good that comes out of it. With his resurrection Jesus proves that with God even death can be defeated. But yet, with our own relationship with God we expect the life-giving Joy of Easter without the death. If we want to have a true relationship with God, then we must learn to let go of the things that separate us.

Last night the altar was stripped of all its trappings to remind us that God is not found in the fair linens, in the candlesticks, or even the altar cross. God is not found in any man-made thing; God is not found in our anxiety, in our fear, in our suffering or in any other idol we create, whether it is physical or emotional. God is found in every one of us and is waiting for us to die to the idols in our lives and to turn ourselves over to the power of the Holy Spirit, so that we can fully know God’s love and be the creatures of Love and compassion we were created to be. God gave us the gift of free will and because of that gift God will not take away our suffering because God did not cause our suffering, God gave us the ability to choose because love without choice is not love and in return for that gift we choose to replace God with idols. It is our actions and our words that cause all of creation to suffer and it is our actions and our words that separate us from God. Even though we have rejected God’s love, time and time again, God has not given up, instead God came among us to show us the path back. The story of Jesus’s death and resurrection is a package deal and our lives need to be the same. Jesus had faith that if he put his trust in God, no harm would come to him and he was right. We have the same choice to make, do we cling to the world the way it is, or do we trust God to lead us to a better life? If we truly want to know God and let God into our lives then we must let go of the things that interfere with our relationship with God, we must let go of our pain, of our suffering, of our anxiety, of our love of things, of our obsessions, of our need to be in control and let them die with Jesus on the cross, so that we too can experience the resurrection in all its glory. Amen

Barriers are meant to be crossed

All around us there are invisible barriers separating us from “the other”. Some of these barriers have physical properties such as fences, hedges or even walls but most of them go unseen and are rarely crossed. I think that there are two reasons we don’t cross these barriers, the first is because we are unaware that we can and the second is because when we are aware we are afraid to do so.

Today’s gospel is about these very barriers of separation, it is about the dividing line between fear and faith. The Sea of Galilee is the barrier between the predominantly Jewish culture on the Western side and the predominantly Roman culture on the eastern side. We heard that when Jesus finished teaching for the day he decided to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, presumably because that is where he planned to teach the next day. The communities on the other side are predominantly Roman in culture because the emperor had ordered settlements to be created there to Romanize the area, so this is an instance where Jesus is venturing into somewhat unfamiliar territory as he has spent his life in predominantly Jewish communities, where Roman culture was present, but not dominant. So here we have a Jewish man spreading a new message to the Jewish people and who is already annoying his own people’s leadership, willing to go into unfamiliar territory to spread that same message to a group of people who don’t even believe in the same God.

Most barriers worth crossing are not easy to cross, I think that Jesus knew this but it certainly did not stop him which is demonstrated by his willingness to go into Roman dominated areas to teach both the Jewish and non-Jewish populations. I think that sometimes the barriers we want to cross are scarier than what is on the other side, which is also demonstrated by today’s Gospel when Jesus and the disciples are caught in the storm. The storm, which occurs in the middle of the voyage causes the disciples to freak out and think that they are going to die. Jesus not only stops the storm but once again chides them for their lack of faith and allowing fear to control them. The fact that their fear takes hold in the middle of the sea is significant because at that point they are in the middle of the barrier between the known and the unknown, which is typically the scariest point. The disciples are half way through their journey having left behind a safe and friendly group of believers and are on their way to a new location that may or may not welcome them. They trust Jesus and happily followed him onto the boat, but the second things got rough they abandoned their faith and allowed fear to take over.

How often do we allow our fear of the unknown to drive our decisions as opposed to our faith? How often to we claim to believe in God, to love God, but when faced with a new barrier in our lives, choose the familiar. When I was a child I missed out on many things because I was afraid. My grandfather used to set off fireworks on the Fourth of July, But I never saw them because I would be in the house hiding. When I visited Stone Mountain in Georgia, I never made it to the top because I was afraid of the Gondola. When I visit the ocean, I am still afraid to venture beyond my knees because I am afraid of what might be lurking there. You could argue that these are superficial barriers and have nothing to do with faith and you might be right, however if we can’t cross the superficial barriers and overcome our own self-inflicted fears then how can we expect that we will be able to cross the barriers we encounter in our ministries? Jesus gave us the answer in today’s Gospel. We need to trust that God will not lead us to danger and that God will not push us up to a barrier that we are not equipped to cross. When I was a child I did not understand this, so my fear and anxiety got the better of me, but now that I do understand I am willing to take chances, which are no less scary to me, but I know that I have to take the chance. Sometimes the barriers other people encounter may not seem like barriers to us, but what we think doesn’t matter, our only job is to love them where they are and recognize that there are people who have barriers in front of them that they may not be able or ready to cross. Those situations are our opportunity to show them the love of God by meeting them where they are and with Gods help guide them across the line and once they do take that step, we need to be there with open arms to greet them.

There is a line that both clergy and lay preachers face when preparing their homilies and that is do we bring up controversial topics. I would argue that the answer is yes because it is our job to get all of us to think about the relationship between those hard topics and our faith. The current border crisis we are experiencing on our southern border is one of those topics. The people who are currently arriving at the border and asking for Asylum, as well as the people who are crossing the border without permission are doing nothing more than stepping out in faith that if they cross the line into the United States that they may have a chance at a safer and happier life. We have a duty as Christians to love them, which does not mean that we as a nation shouldn’t hold them accountable for breaking our laws, but it does mean that we must treat them with the dignity and love that all of God’s creation deserves.

When we are faced with a situation that is foreign to us and we feel the fear rising we need to ask ourselves some simple questions. First, would crossing this barrier mean that I am loving my neighbor? Second, would crossing this barrier further God’s vision for creation? Third, am I afraid because this looks different than my usual comfort zone? If crossing a barrier means you will be loving a neighbor, if it means you are furthering God’s vision for creation and if your fear is simply based on what might be on the other side, then cross it and don’t look back because God would not lead you to a barrier you aren’t prepared to cross. Amen

Evangelism means being present.

To hear an audio recording of this sermon please click here.

I have noticed over the years that when I look at passages of scripture I tend to look for confirmation of what I already know about God. When I was growing up the only thing I remember learning was that God loves me so when I look at a passage of scripture, either from the New Testament or from the Hebrew scriptures, I look for confirmation of that fact.  There are of course many issues with that, one being that it limits God and oversimplifies all that God is and all that God represents. It places God in a tiny, tiny box labeled “For Emergency use only” and implies that we only need to pay attention to God when we are feeling hurt or disappointed. Additionally, by only looking for confirmation of God’s love in scripture we can very easily ignore anything that sounds contrary to what we know, for example today we heard that Eli’s family was going to be punished because of the actions of his sons; we heard about the sin of fornication; and we heard Nathanael make a fairly elitist and possibly racist and/or bigoted comment when he said “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”. These themes and ideas are not the ones that we put in our little box because they don’t jive with our simplified view of God; but by doing that we are denying ourselves the fullness of God, we are denying the reasons we need to rely on God for everything in our lives.

The message to Samuel that Eli’s sons have caused the punishment of Eli’s house is certainly contrary to the God we know in the Gospels; which is why we would not put that message in our little box. However, it is important to remember that it is humans that wrote these words, not God, and that the purpose of writing down these words is to capture the complexity of the relationship between God and humanity. So the author of the 1st book of Samuel is doing two things with this particular passage, first they are reminding us that our thoughts and actions should be focused on God, otherwise we will find ourselves in bad situations, which is what is happening to Eli’s family. His family’s downfall has nothing to do with God, it has to do with the fact that Eli’s sons ignore gods law. Secondly, the author is foreshadowing what we will hear in the rest of the book of Samuel. Samuel was a prophet in the time of the kings and much of what he has to say about society at the time settles on the idea that the kings are greedy, self-centered, power hungry people who have little desire to actually be in relationship with God and they are leading their people down the same path. We tend to focus on Samuel in this story because he answers God’s call, but his call story would not be as powerful without the story of Eli’s family attached to it because it is through that part of the story that we are reminded that even when we spend our lives dedicated to God’s service, as Eli has, we can still fall short; but God will not punish us, the only punishment we will receive is our own guilt.

In his 1st letter to the Corinthians Paul chastises the people for their sin. He is reminding them that as a part of the body of Christ, meaning the church, their behavior reflects on and affects the entire church. The discussions of prostitution and fornication should be seen as a metaphor for sin in general. Sin is what separates us from God, in this particular passage Paul is warning us that if one part of the church sins that can affect the rest of the community, so it is important to remember that God is with you and that if you rely on God you can avoid sin.

John is telling us that Nathanael does not think very highly of people of Nazareth, but by the end he is a believer. Why might John have Nathanael say such a thing? Well we typically focus on Philip in this story because he seems to have no doubt about who Jesus and that is what we aspire to. So once again this is an attempt to reinforce the main message of the passage, which is that Jesus is the Messiah, by juxtaposing the ideal, which is complete faith, next to someone who is a poster child for what humanity is. If Nathanael simply believed without any kind of doubt then his belief would be meaningless. This is a message to the reader that even the most fervent of Jesus’s followers had doubts; doubt is not sin, unless you let your doubt take you away from God.

So, what does this have to do with anything, well my hope is that you can see that it is through the complexity of scripture that we can truly begin to understand our role in God’s creation. We are called just like Samuel was; we can serve God and still fall short, just like Eli; which is why Eli’s story is important. We need to rely on the Holy Spirit, because if we do we not, will fall into egregious sin, which is what Paul was stressing to the church at Corinth. We can have doubts, even speak ill of people and still have faith, just like Nathanael did, the key is that in the end we return to God.

There is a group of people, a small group, known as Deacons, who purposely put themselves in the position to be between the Eli’s and the Samuels; between the Paul’s of the world and the people represented by the Corinthians; between the Nathanaels and Philips. They purposely place themselves in the middle of it all. They aspire to bridge the gap in understanding between what the church truly teaches, which is not just that God loves us, and how that translates to the world in which we live; but they also bring what they learn from the world back to the church to say hey, you see that person over there or that group over there, what you’re saying or better yet, what you’re doing, doesn’t include them; so get your act together and fix it. The message they bring to the world is the best kind of evangelism that can happen, presence. Here’s the thing with that though, deacons can only do so much, which is why we are all called to action through our baptism. We are all called to accept the call of God, just like Samuel and Nathanael did, but we can’t forget that sometimes we might be like Eli’s sons or like some of the people in Corinth. What truly matters is did we try, so we are going to practice holy evangelism right now because I want you to see how easy it is. Turn to the person next to you and ask how they are. and then notice their response.

Was that hard? That’s evangelism! Here’s the thing though, doing this at church is easy, but can you do this with someone you don’t know? This week’s homework is to do just that. Ask a complete stranger or at least someone you know, but don’t know well, how they are and then listen. Ask the cashier at the grocery store how they are? Ask the bank clerk, ask your mail carrier, ask the person pumping gas next to you, ask a coworker who tends to stick to themselves and then see what happens. Pay attention their eyes, you will be able to gauge their reaction to your question, pay attention to how you feel afterwards and then at least think about doing it again.

Relationships

I recently heard a TED talk about a 75-year study conducted by Harvard University. In this study they followed the lives of more than 700 men beginning in 1938. They began by looking at two groups, the first being Harvard students at the time and the second being a group of young boys from the south end of Boston, which at the time was one of the poorest areas in the city. For the next 75 years the participants were interviewed every two years to gather data about all aspects of their lives. The purpose of the study was to determine what causes happiness in a person’s life.

What the study found was that it is strong relationships that lead to happiness. Based on the data the researchers could trace periods of happiness and unhappiness back to their root causes; but more importantly what they found was that over time they were able to predict how their subjects would be feeling based on the data they were gathering. When the subjects were in strong and loving relationships they were happier regardless of what other things may be happening in their lives.

Our faith can seem overwhelming and complicated, but this often because we are our own worst enemies. In our, seemingly, infinite desire to understand and have control we lose sight of the fact that the purpose of our faith is relationship. It is, at its core, about the relationship between people and God; people and the church; people and people; and people and creation.

Through the words of Exodus, we hear that it is through their rescue from Egypt that God establishes a more permanent community and relationship with the people of Israel. God is the source of the relationship between the Hebrew people, it is their belief in God that brought them together to form that community and it is their belief in God that keeps them in relationship with one another. The Exodus story is highlighting the style of relationship God wants to be in with all of us. It is a relationship based on mutual love, where both God and you spend your time and energy on building the relationship with one another.

Today’s reading from John highlights the establishment of a new relationship, a relationship also rooted in love; Love for God and for all of humanity. With a simple act of humility, we are given a glimpse of what a relationship with God is truly like. Like the Exodus story, John’s account of the last supper establishes the kind of relationship we are to have with both God and one another. When Jesus kneeled before his disciples to wash their feet he was symbolically demonstrating the love of God, who’s love is so vast that he is willing to lower himself to his knees, which is a position of reverence, submission, and complete surrender to the situation. When we kneel we are not only defenseless and unable to flee, but we are also placing our trust in the person before us. God has placed his trust in us to be the instruments of his love and mercy in creation and he established that when Jesus knelt before the disciples, all twelve of them, even Judas whom he knew would betray him, and washed their feet. He then told them to do the same for one another. Now the story of the foot washing may very well be just that, a story. Whether or not it occurred is irrelevant though, what matters is what we can learn from it. What is God calling us to do? The answer to that question is found in today’s Gospel. At the very end of the passage Jesus says “as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Every single action we are told Jesus did and every parable he told was rooted in this.

God loves his creation so much that he was willing to put himself, in the form of Jesus, in harm’s way so that he could show us firsthand how to experience his love. Until his last night on earth Jesus had spent his time showing his followers, and through them, us how to experience Gods love by living the way God has called us all to live. He did not judge others, he did not withhold his compassion, he simply lived his life with humility, empathy, and love. When he came to the end of his life he knelt before his friends and washed their feet. He could have fled into the wilderness and probably lived a long life as a refugee and wanted man, but he didn’t. He accepted his worldly punishment with the knowledge that he never wavered in his devotion to his Father and that his father’s devotion to him also never wavered.

In the beginning, I talked about the importance of relationships to being happy. When people come from a loving and supportive home, they are happy and that allows them to thrive and grow as people. The sad reality is that many people do not come from loving and supportive homes. There are many people in the world who do not have a network of relationships to fall back on in hard times. And when you are in that lonely and dark place it is easy to forget that God is always present, because you can’t see him. It is also easy to fall into bad habits, with the hope that they will help you feel better. Some people turn to alcohol, some to drugs, and in many cases far more risky behaviors in the hope of either becoming oblivious to the world or at least covering the pain and loneness they feel. The problem is that these things give you nothing more than false hope. There is no real chance that these behaviors will improve their lives, which means they are engaging with nothing more than wishful thinking. There is hope in relationships, whether that relationship is with another person or with God.

In both the old and new testament we are called us to “Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul.” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself”. We are called to be Gods representatives in the world. In Exodus, Moses was Gods representative. It was through Moses that God led the people of Israel to the Promised Land and established their lasting relationship. It is through Jesus that God has established a relationship with us. It is now on us to be Gods face and ahnds in the world, it is up to us to reach out to the people who don’t have strong relationships and allow God to reach them through us, because he can’t reach them on his own. He can’t reach them because they can’t recognize him; but if we reach out and offer them friendship, they will come to know God through us and with the help of the Holy Spirit, eventually be able to be aware of God on their own. We have the ability to do this because we already do Love God with all of our hearts, mind and souls. We are aware of his love; we can feel it and experience it. Now is the time to be brave and to take the next step. We need to spread God’s love to everyone around us by engaging in the world, we need to build relationships based on trust and understanding. It is through this type of engagement that God will be able to reach everyone, and it is through that relationship that many people will find the kind of love they are searching for. Even if they never fully experience God’s love, they will at least have had yours.

I recently read a book called “The Love of God: Divine Gift, Human Gratitude, and Mutual faithfulness in Judaism” By Jon Levenson. In it Levonson discusses the Hebrew understanding of God’s love and how it appears in scripture. He argues that God’s love in based on the relationship between God and the Israelites, much like Christian scholars argue that divine love is based on our relationship with the trinity. Towards the end Levenson says “The life focused on the love of God…is a life lived actively in the world yet focused on the Creator and drawing its energy from all-encompassing love for him.”

So as we come together tonight to wash one another’s feet and to celebrate the Lord’s supper remember what these two acts symbolize. They symbolize the love of God and his willingness to kneel before us in humility and love. They symbolize the relationship we have with God, as well as with one another and all of creation. God wants nothing more from us than to love him and to use his love to help us love others.

The Path of the Firefly

                I recently witnessed a field of fireflies flashing their lights; it was a most beautiful site. It looked like chaos, but if you know anything about fireflies you know that their blinking lights are their way of attracting mates. As the fireflies glide through the air they are sending a very clear signal to anyone who is willing to listen. They are saying, “Hey, I’m friendly, why not come hangout with me.” The problem with this is that when there are several thousand blinking lights in one field, all trying to get your attention, how do you choose which one to follow? And once you choose one, how do you focus on that one when there are so many other just as beautiful lights to distract you. It becomes easy to give up and just admire them all from afar, never allowing yourself to know the joy you might have had from following just one of them and seeing where that little light may have led you.

                Many people, and in fact I think most people, choose to admire the fireflies from afar. Choosing to admire them from afar does produce a sense of joy and excitement, it creates a moment when they stop and look and admire. They may even convince some of the people around them to do the same thing by pointing out the site of thousands of little lights dancing through the air. But after only a few moments they will all return to whatever they had been doing and soon forget about the fireflies.

Some people stay longer and attempt to follow the same little light as it navigates the sea of flashing beauty, but they will inevitably lose track of that little light and most likely tire of guessing where the lights will appear and move on to seemingly more exciting things, eventually forgetting about the fireflies until the next time their paths cross.

Others choose to capture one of the fireflies and take it home to care for it, hoping that they can keep the light going forever. This tactic typically ends with the death of the firefly because its captor will likely forget about it and forget to feed it or give it air. The firefly was meant to use its light to bring joy and friendships to others, not be a captive in a little jar for one person’s amusement.

Some people, although admittedly very few, go amongst the fireflies. They do not do this in order to capture them, but to experience them up close. When a person goes into the field, amongst the fireflies it becomes easier to choose one to follow. The onlooker can not only see their chosen firefly when it is lit up, but also in the darkness, because it is right in front of them and it’s pure beauty is the focus of their attention. That firefly may lead that person through a field of brambles or it may lead them through a patch of wild flowers, but because the blinking light is so encapsulating the person will not care, they are simply focused on not losing site of that little light and the joy it is bringing them.

Discerning a relationship with God or which path God wishes a person to follow, is much like looking at a field of fireflies. There are potentially thousands of paths, but how does a person know which one is right? You could view God from afar, and simply admire the beauty of creation. You could choose which path to follow, but how will you remain focused on that path and not lose sight of it? You could keep God in a box on your shelf, but He will likely die, just like the firefly.  Or you could go out into creation, with God at your side, and see where He takes you.

There are no definitive answers when it comes to understanding what God is calling you to do and because of this I think that many people choose to distantly admire God. They may go to church every week, participate in the liturgy because that is what they have been socialized to do, but in actuality may feel and perhaps even believe nothing. This particular kind of participation may create a sense of joy and excitement in the short term, but by the time you return home those feelings will have most likely dissipated and you will return to your normal, godless routine. I myself have chosen this path at certain times in my life. I have gone to church because that is what I did; it had no meaning beyond being something that I did. I was a distant admirer and nothing more.

Some people choose to focus their attention on one aspect of God. Over time I became this person. My focus was on worshipping through ritual. I sang in the choir and I served at the altar almost weekly and through that I thought that I had found God and that I understood what it is to be a Christian. However, over a long period of time, it became apparent that I had lost sight of God and strayed from the path, if I had ever been on it in the first place. I got bored and was not interested in looking for the path anymore, so I stopped looking and returned to being a distant admirer.

Some people choose to call upon God when it is convenient or when they need something. They think that they can keep God locked up in a jar and on their shelf and when they need a favor they can take Him down, open the jar and He will fix everything. In a way it is like treating God as a genie. He lives in the lamp and is at your beck and call, but if you don’t need him you can just forget about him. I am also guilty of viewing God in this way. When I was a distant admirer I only prayed, if I ever did pray, when I wanted something.

Some people attempt to walk with God in the world and follow the path that they think he was putting before them. I did this for several years. I began to become disillusioned with focusing my attention on ritual, I realized that it was not enough and that it was not a real relationship with God. I thought that I was heading down a path with God, but when I got to the garden gate I was too afraid to open it, what I now know is that I was allowing the ritual of going to church and doing all of things I had always done fool me into thinking that I was walking with God in creation. While he may have been with me, I was not listening. Now I am left in a state of emptiness. The things that used to fill me with joy that I associated with God no longer fill that void, but I do not know how to find God. I do not know how to stand amongst the fireflies and focus on the one little light that will lead me in the right direction.