Let us pray: Thank you, God, for the brand new year ahead. Help us to sing into your life-giving message as each day we tread. Give us strength and courage to be a people of faith. As the year ahead lies empty, may we passionately fill it with joy, peace, love and hope. Amen
Do you make New Year’s resolutions? I can’t say that I do, but if I did… I would love them to sound like the ones Paul expressed in his letter to the church in Colossae. To be more compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, tolerant, forgiving, loving, peace-creating and thankful.
Paul had heard that the church at Colossae had false teachers who insisted that in order to know God, the people were to worship certain spiritual rulers, authorities and follow strict special rites.
Paul wrote to them opposing these teachings and expounding the true Christian message - compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, love, peace and thankfulness.
The stats on how many people actually follow through and accomplish their New Year Resolutions are rather grim. Studies have shown that less than 25% of people stay committed to their resolutions after just 30 days, and only 8% accomplish them.
As faithful people, we strive to live the Christian message. Sometimes, however, we fail to live it out as fully as we should in our talk and in our actions.
Sometimes we have been too slow and other times too fast in our response to our neighbour, our vision and principles, our environment and have been conjoined to their suffering.
So how can we revision those grim resolution statistics and make God’s message a part of our everyday lives?
Well, we can start by dreaming big. We can take all Paul’s words heard this morning and hold them up for reflection, hold them up for discernment, hold them up for wonder and examination.
And then we can say “Wow! That’s going to require a lifetime of work!"
So we need to break these big dreams into smaller steps. Steps that are meaningful, steps that are realistic, steps that bring us wholeness and completeness. Steps that speak of a faith deeply connected to the human experience and life-centered God experience.
Maybe we can look at one value each month, perhaps we could concentrate just on those we find most difficult to practice, or maybe start with one we think we might have a better chance at success with… I think I will leave this to your imagination.
Now all this requires us to commit ourselves to grow into an experience that is different from before. It means not just being satisfied with the definition of forgiveness or tolerance, but going deeper into what forgiveness or tolerance looks like in our life work; like peeling back the layers of an onion and getting to the centre. It may mean setting goals and following through. Making a calendar, keeping a journal.
On a show called “The Middle,” Sue Heck the middle child does a school project, and her hypothesis was: If you walk by and smile at a person, 100% of them will smile back at you. Her results fell short of her 100% goal, but she was committed to getting it there.
Even though the school project was over, she was determined to find ways to meet her hypothesis because she saw it as an important part of humanity… that’s commitment.
We also can learn from the past. Many of us can remember times when we weren’t so loving, patient, forgiving, humble or compassionate.
When we look back to those times, we may regret our hardened responses and wish that we could revisit those times and change our responses, but we can’t… However, we can learn from them and from others who find it in their hearts to live Paul’s words.
People who have suffered great losses or lived very difficult lives. People who have had every opportunity and still look out for their brothers and sisters.
We need to understand why we shouldn’t make a change. Did I say that correctly? Understand why we shouldn’t make a change.
If we aren’t compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, tolerant, forgiving, loving, peaceful and thankful what will we experience - hate, disorder, chaos, fear, war, mistrust.
Marilyn Sewell, a Unitarian minister, wrote:
“Throughout history, our theological beliefs have been called into question - the Enlightenment, the World Wars, The Industrial Age, Indigenous Reconciliation, Globalization, Climate Crisis. At such times our faith is shaken, even shattered. We drift aimlessly, wondering how to bring our given beliefs in line with the reality of our existential experience.
The 21st century is the first time in the history of the world that one generation has been given the task of keeping our planet viable, not just for ourselves, but for generations to come.
We are called upon once again, to reimagine our theology, to question what we hold sacred, for these beliefs determine our working definition of morality and dictate how we actually behave.”
Now she was speaking more about Climate Change, but her words ring true in the other seismic shifts we keep finding our human selves.
We need to be patient. It may take a few walks in the desert before we understand what it is we hope to accomplish.
Every day new circumstances appear, and we are asked to repeatedly redefine what forgiveness, for example, means.
Are we having to ask for forgiveness, or are we having to give forgiveness? Are we more forgiving when it is for someone we know than for someone we don’t know?
How many times are we asked to forgive?
Think positive and tough. On the wall facing my daughter's exercise bike is this poster: “Losing weight is hard. Being overweight is hard. Pick your hard.”
None of these expressions of life - Compassion, kindness, humility, patience, love, forgiveness - are easy paths to always walk and live.
As people of faith, we work every day to be and do better. We also know that we don’t walk this path alone, for God is with us.
Choose not to fail. Let supportive others know what you are working towards.
Suggest and or attend workshops on related topics where you are among fellow journeyers.
Positive Self-talk is also helpful.
And of course, prayer is a powerful force of assurance.
And if you do experience a setback, try and see it as a gift in disguise, as a means to propel you back to the direction you first desired.
So far, I have been talking about what we as an individual, can do to fulfil Paul’s message. Just as we are asked not only to love our neighbours but also to love our enemies, we also need not just to learn to be compassionate, kind, humble, patient, loving and forgiving ourselves; we need to be, again using Marilyn Sewell’s words, radically relational, respectful, inclusive, conscientious of our worldly brothers and sisters, and be irrationally hopeful.
What touches one touches us all. We cannot only conceive of ourselves alone, as our connectedness and dependence on one another make our caring universal rather than exclusive.
We cannot relate to others as “other” anymore. We are part of profoundly interdependent life.
We are called to take responsibility for each other, for our environment and all living things.
We need to extend these caring values in ways that are not constrained by skin colour, religious persuasion, language, gender, or ethnic and class background and do so for generations yet to come.
Robert Flaherty, in his story called “Nanook of The North”, tells how Nanook moves through the wilderness of Northern Canada hunting, fishing, and building igloos. He considers the next hunter or fisherman who will one day happen by and leaves each shelter or site more hospitable than when he found it. He sees himself responsible for those unknown ones who will come.
Our stewardship must also extend to those nameless ones who will follow, those who will be born and live and love and die largely dependent upon how we care of each other and the world they happened into.
Paul calls us to live values that are larger than self.
We are challenged to bring out the best in ourselves, engendering a great storm of creativity and compassion that demands a kind of faithfulness like we have not known. We are called to be bigger than we are.
Therefore I resolve to be more compassionate. I resolve to be more kind, humble, thankful and gentle.
I resolve to be more patient, tolerant, forgiving, and peace creating.
And I resolve to do this with inclusion, diversity, equality, the planet and humanity in mind.
I resolve to love.
When we give ourselves away to purposes larger than our own pleasures, we continue to be a vital presence with a message of a progressive Christian hope and love.
A message we cannot keep from singing.
May it be so as we go into a New Year. Amen