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outgrowing the formulas

This sermon was given today at Marysville United Methodist Church. Or if you prefer, you can watch it. Enjoy!

You can outgrow lots of things. Some allergies as young kids go away. We outgrow some of our fears. A job, a relationship, the ability to eat whatever you want and it not affect you, a movie that you used to love, a bad habit.

We are growing and changing human beings. You are a different person than you were a year ago, maybe even a month ago. You see new things, hear a new perspective and it changes you. This is good. You’re alive in the world. It’s okay to change your mind on something and move to a new understanding.

Today we get to reflect on formulas, mud, spit, Jesus, bacon and why life is better when you can move from your head to your heart.

Confession. I’ve always been pretty bad at math. I remember my high school and college math classes. I barely got through. But I remember learning about formulas. A mathematical relationship or rule expressed in symbols. It’s a plan for how to produce a desired outcome for success.

When we go a little deeper and get really honest, here are some formulas I live by:
  • If I fit everyone into my schedule, then I’ll have all their needs met and I’ll be a good person.
  • If we do lots of activities, then our church will grow and I’ll be a good leader.
  • If my children are healthy, then I’m a good mother.
  • If I eat super healthy food, then I won’t get cancer.
  • If I do a lot of spiritual disciplines, then God won’t ever feel distant.
  • If I’m a good person, bad things won’t happen in my life.
Do you see how formulas can trap us? That maybe formulas are mostly about control. And I hate to tell you -- Control and faith don’t exist very well together.

God is too big for us to control. And many people spend their whole lives truly wanting to trust God and control everything around them. This leads to misery and anxiety. This is not the abundant life God so desperately wants to give us. Maybe it’s time for us to outgrow some of our formulas that we rely on to help us feel better.

Our gospel story in John 9:1-7 tells us of a guy blind from birth and how Jesus helps him see. It was a common belief in Jesus’ day that if you had a physical deformity, then you were carrying a sin of you or your family. So it makes sense that the disciples would ask, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”

That was their formula. Leprosy? Sin. Disfigurement? Sin. Blindness? Sin.

Jesus doesn’t even explain why it’s time to outgrow the formula. He simply saw it as an opportunity to show who God really is. Thank goodness God doesn’t follow our formulas.

What about this mud and spit going on the face? Can you imagine if you went to do the doctor today and after hearing about your ailment, they spit in their hand?

This may be helpful: In Jesus’ day, many people considered saliva to be a valid treatment for blindness. When people saw Jesus spitting, it would have been a sign he was about to cure someone. That’s not quite what we would think today. Jesus also recognized that people wanted to deepen their faith. He saw their spiritual need and offered a physical healing as a way to raise their expectations.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus never healed someone the same way twice. Details always varied slightly. God is bigger than our formulas.

What formulas have you been trusting? What if they aren’t true? 

That’s the magic moment right there. Once you’ve determined you indeed have formulas, can you question them?

Last week we talked about getting off the treadmill and slowing your pace to connect with God. This week it’s the truth that you can question the formulas that have been draining the life out of you. Suspend them for a moment and get curious about what could be different.

During renewal leave, I fell in love with the poetry of Hafiz. He’s a beloved Persian poet. There’s something about his writing that turns off my mind and cuts straight to my heart. Art and music especially have a way of getting us out of our monkey minds.

Tripping Over Joy

What is the difference
Between your experience of Existence
And that of a saint?

The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God

And that the Beloved
Has just made such a Fantastic Move

That the saint is now continually
Tripping over Joy
And bursting out in Laughter
And saying, “I Surrender!”

Whereas, my dear,
I am afraid you still think
You have a thousand serious moves.”

Images like this pull us out of our serious minds and show us something our heart longs to know.

This morning, I want to tell you what it feels like to outgrow a formula, then I’ll give you my best guess as to how to do this.

I had four weeks of renewal leave lately. The first week or two was family time. The third week, Aaron went on the mission trip, and I had a great week at home with our kids. I had extra time to reflect and be quiet. All these new things came to the surface. Then I came to my last week. There was an anxiety that I wouldn’t “figure everything out” before I went back to work. Then I received the greatest gift I could ask for with about five days left.

I moved from my head to my heart.

One night I was cooking bacon in the oven, because I wanted bacon. I burned myself with some bacon grease. My brain had been on the treadmill at the highest speed that late afternoon. I stopped, cooled off my hand, realized my family was outside riding bikes and that’s where I wanted to be. I walked outside, smiled to myself and thought, “Goodness, you take yourself so seriously.” And in that moment, I shifted out of my head and into my heart. As soon as I stopped taking myself so seriously, I realized my heart already knew things I had been trying to think my way to.
The formulas had trapped me. I was beholden to these painful formulas that I had to keep going, like plates spinning in the air.

Before leave, I knew God loved me. But I also believed the formulas. God’s truth and my formulas clashed. The formulas often won. Once I got four weeks to make time to listen to what God really feels for me, the formulas faded a bit. So now I’m having a heart experience of something that primarily was a head experience.

What formulas have you been trusting? What if they aren’t true? 

We run around our brains trying to memorize and remember and convince ourselves of anything that will make us feel better. When we learn how to listen to our heart, we just know.

Moving from my head to my heart feels stronger, true, obvious and light. It’s quiet. No drama. The urgency falls away. There’s no deadline to figure something out because my heart knows an eternal truth. The strength of the knowing can feel intense and a little uncomfortable. It was so strong that I gave up all hope of convincing myself otherwise. It was like my heart shushed my mind. Shhh...

It was like someone unplugged the treadmill and moved it out of the room without me noticing.

An insane confidence can emerge when your heart knows something. It feels too fragile when it’s in your head. But your heart? You’re unstoppable. No one can steal your joy.

I’ll never forget walking on the beach at Kayak Point near the end of my leave. I was having all these new feelings and realizing if all of this were really true, then I was free forever. No one could get me back on that treadmill, trying to earn something that was already mine.

What would you do if your whole being knew you were enough, you were loved, you were safe, you were held? Imagine all the formulas falling away. You outgrow them. What would you do?

God enables us to sing, “I was blind but now I see.”

I promised I would give you my best guess as to how to move from your head to your heart. I can’t explain exactly how it works because 1. God heals everyone a little differently and 2. Then I’d be giving you another formula to follow.

Here’s what I do know. When you notice you’re up in your head - overthinking, analyzing, trying to figure something out - suspend your reality for a moment and look at what’s underneath. Instead of asking your mind -- ask your heart what is most true.

It knows. You just have to practice trusting it. Amen.

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