Sunday, July 31, 2011

Don't Be Fooled By Me

Woe to you… hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.” (Matthew 23:27)

This week we begin a new sermon series called “Get Real!” in which I am challenging us all (myself included) to learn to be more “real” in our relationships with ourselves, others, and God. To do this, we first need to confront the hard reality that many of us wear emotional and spiritual “masks” that hide who we really are, and prevent us from being and becoming “real.” The following poem by Charles Finn (originally titled “Please Hear What I Am Not Saying”) addresses this truth in a poignant way:

“Don't be fooled by me. Don't be fooled by the face I wear, for I wear a mask, a thousand masks, masks that I'm afraid to take off, and none of them is me.

Pretending is an art that's second nature with me, but don't be fooled, for God's sake don't be fooled. I give you the impression that I'm secure, that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without, that confidence is my name and coolness my game, that the water's calm and I'm in command and that I need no one, but don't believe me.

My surface may seem smooth but my surface is my mask, ever-varying and ever-concealing. Beneath lies no complacence. Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness. But I hide this. I don't want anybody to know it. I panic at the thought of my weakness exposed. That's why I frantically create a mask to hide behind, a nonchalant sophisticated facade, to help me pretend, to shield me from the glance that knows.

But such a glance is precisely my salvation, my only hope, and I know it. That is, if it's followed by acceptance, if it's followed by love. It's the only thing that can liberate me from myself, from my own self-built prison walls, from the barriers I so painstakingly erect. It's the only thing that will assure me of what I can't assure myself, that I'm really worth something.

But I don't tell you this. I don't dare to, I'm afraid to. I'm afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance, will not be followed by love. I'm afraid you'll think less of me, that you'll laugh, and your laugh would kill me. I'm afraid that deep-down I'm nothing and that you will see this and reject me.

So I play my game, my desperate pretending game, with a facade of assurance without and a trembling child within. So begins the glittering but empty parade of masks, and my life becomes a front.  I idly chatter to you in the suave tones of surface talk. I tell you everything that's really nothing, and nothing of what's everything, of what's crying within me. So when I'm going through my routine do not be fooled by what I'm saying.

Please listen carefully and try to hear what I'm not saying, what I'd like to be able to say, what for survival I need to say, but what I can't say.  I don't like hiding. I don't like playing superficial phony games.

I want to stop playing them. I want to be genuine and spontaneous and me but you've got to help me. You've got to hold out your hand even when that's the last thing I seem to want. Only you can wipe away from my eyes the blank stare of the breathing dead. Only you can call me into aliveness. Each time you're kind, and gentle, and encouraging, each time you try to understand because you really care, my heart begins to grow wings-- very small wings, very feeble wings, but wings!

With your power to touch me into feeling you can breathe life into me. I want you to know that. I want you to know how important you are to me, how you can be a creator--an honest-to-God creator--of the person that is me if you choose to. You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble, you alone can remove my mask, you alone can release me from my shadow-world of panic, from my lonely prison, if you choose to. Please choose to.

Do not pass me by. It will not be easy for you. A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls. The nearer you approach to me the blinder I may strike back. It's irrational, but despite what the books say about [humanity] often I am irrational. I fight against the very thing I cry out for. But I am told that love is stronger than strong walls and in this lies my hope. Please try to beat down those walls with firm hands but with gentle hands for a child is very sensitive.

Who am I, you may wonder? I am someone you know very well. For I am every man you meet and I am every woman you meet.”

[--Charles C. Finn (September 1966), from his website]

May these words challenge us all to invite and allow God to help us remove the “masks” we all wear. Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Camp Meeting 2011

“Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near” (Joel 2:1)

As you read these words, Marietta Camp Meeting is celebrating 174 years of bringing souls into God’s kingdom. For those of you who don’t already know, our church here at East Cobb UMC is a spiritual heir of that great tradition. Our roots come out of Marietta Camp Meeting – going all the way back to the late 1800s -- and to this day there have continued to be many strong ties between the two ministry partners on either side of Roswell Rd.

Not only do we continue to be blessed in partnering with Campground in the annual Celebration event held last Saturday (July 16th where I hopefully saw many of you there!), and in our annual East Cobb music night on Tuesday, July 19th, but this year our own Associate Pastor Rev. Jim Perry was honored to be one of the two featured preachers for services Wednesday-Saturday (July 20-23rd). I hope many of you will attend not only to support Jim, but most importantly to be fed by the Lord in these special services at 11am and 7:30pm daily, celebrating the theme “Divine Possibilities.”

Finally, on Sunday, July 24th we will not have our usual 9:30am or 11am services in the Sanctuary. Instead, we’ll join our fellow Campground family as we always do each year in one combined worship service at 11:00am “under the arbor.” Not only will this feature lively sing-alongs of old favorites, but also music from our choir and praise team, preaching from myself, and Holy Communion for us all. So if you haven’t already, I hope you’ll make plans now to attend many (if not all) of these special Camp Meeting 2011 events! God is calling us each to a special assembly of his people – will you be there? Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Faith Of Our Founders

“Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord….” (Psalm 33:12)
As we celebrate our nations founding, it is good for us to also recall the faith of those who were our founders. By no means could all of them be consider stalwart and orthodox church-goers. However, most of them did espouse and presume a Judeo-Christian spiritual context for America that is often either ignored or downplayed today. For example, consider some of the writings/sayings of our founders:

--George Washington’s First Inaugural Speech (April 30, 1789): “It would be peculiarly improper to omit, in this first official act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe... that His benedictions may consecrate to the... peoples of the U.S. a government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes.... No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the U.S.” [Jared Sparks, ed., THE WRITINGS OF GEORGE WASHINGTON, 12 vols. (Boston: American Stationer’s Company, 1837, NY: F. Andrew’s, 1834-1847), Vol. XII, pp. 2-5]

--Thomas Jefferson’s SECOND INAUGURAL SPEECH (1805): “I shall need the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessities and comforts of life.” [March 4, 1805 in Saul K. Padover, ed., THE COMPLETE JEFFERSON, CONTAINING HIS MAJOR WRITINGS, PUBLISHED AND UNPUBLISHED, EXCEPT HIS LETTERS(NY: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1943), p. 412]]

--Benjamin Franklin: “There is one God, Father of the Universe. That He is infinitely good, powerful, and wise. That He is omnipresent. That He ought to be worshiped, by adoration prayer and thanksgiving both in publick and private. That He loves such of His creatures as love and do good to others: and will reward them either in this world or hereafter... That knowledge and learning is to be cultivated, and Ignorance dissipated. That none but the virtuous are wise, that man’s perfection is in virtue” [Leonard Labaree, ed., THE PAPTERS OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), Vol. I, p. 213]

In response, some have argued that statements such as these represent only pro-forma (i.e., “politically correct”) acknowledgements of religion from their authors, and do not therefore represent their personal views. However, the fact that they were written or said at all is significant – their authors must have believed enough truth about them to write or state them, whether they believed everything in them personally or not. As historian Noman Cousins explains, “Not all of the founders acknowledged a formal faith, but it was significant that their view of [humanity] had a deeply religious foundation.” [Norman Cousins, ‘IN GOD WE TRUST: THE RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND IDEAS OF AMERICA'S FOUNDING FATHERS (Harper and Brothers, 1958), p. 10]

The point here is that regardless of their own personal beliefs, our founders obviously recognized the truth that nations are only as strong as the moral and religious life that undergirds them, and that when that is threatened, the fabric of society begins to unravel.

So, as we celebrate our nation’s birthday, may we celebrate by also remembering the God who has made it all possible, and by each of us helping to keep firm our commitment to being “one nation, under God.” Remember that God loves you and I do, too!