A Dwelling Glorious podcast, based on Isaiah 11:1-10 for the second Sunday in Advent, December 9, 2007.
Someone cancelled their email subscription to Confessions the other day. I understand that because I get too many emails myself. Plus, email gets stuck in your inbox, you’ve got to read it or delete it, and mostly if you don’t read it right now, you’ll forget about it. I just cancelled my last two email subscriptions today myself. I’m all Google reader now.
If you haven’t used a reader, it’s really simple. Microsoft XP has one built right in to your browser and you can bookmark blogs just like you bookmark sites. But I like Google reader because I also use Google Desktop, including gmail, which I can access at home, at church, or from any computer with internet access. I’m all about not carrying my lappy with me more than I have to. If you don’t know how to do this, ask a friend. You’ll be glad you did.
You can also download my sermon podcasts through iTunes or from my sermon blog, Chuck Warnock: Sermons, etc, plus you can read the sermon manuscript there (usually) before the Sunday I’m going to preach it. The podcast is up on Monday (usually).
I’m working on (meaning I have someone else working on) putting all my blogs at one address, but we’re not quite there yet. I’ll let you know when that happens. Until then, do the feed reader thing. You’ll be glad you did.
Ain’t Gonna Study War No More!
Isaiah 2:1-5 NRSV
2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2:2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.
2:3 Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
2:4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
2:5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!
A Strange Advent Sermon
This is going to be the strangest Advent sermon you have ever heard. I didn’t plan it that way, but it will be. At least I thought so as I was thinking about the passage from Isaiah that we have just read. For it is not a passage about a baby, or about a mother, or about shepherds, or about wisemen. It is about the future. Not the future like H. G. Well’s Time Machine, or Michael J. Fox’s Back to the Future. It is about the future of God and God’s people. A future we anticipate today on this first Sunday of Advent, which means “coming.”
The Backstory on Isaiah
But, first we need a little background. Isaiah lived about 760-or-so years before Christ, before that story of a baby, and a mother, and shepherds, and wisemen. Isaiah became a prophet through a really amazing encounter with God and he writes about in the 6th chapter — “In the in the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted.” That was about 740 BC.
Isaiah was sent to warn the nation of Judah, the southern kingdom, that God was very unhappy with them. Israel, Judah’s kinsmen and northern neighbor, was being threatened by a growing, aggressive Assyrian military. In a bold political move, Israel’s king joined forces with the kings of Aram (now Syria) to thwart an Assyrian takeover of Israel. This new coalition asked King Ahaz of Judah to join them. Instead, Ahaz made a deal with Tiglath-Pilezer, king of Assyria. In 722-721 BC, Assyria overran the northern kingdom of Israel and disbursed the northern tribes. Judah survived, but at the price of betraying their own kinsmen.
God was not pleased with Judah. Judah was the nation in which Jerusalem was located. Jerusalem was the city in which the Temple of God, the temple Solomon built was located. Isaiah called Jerusalem and the Temple “the mountain of God.”
The problem was that the people of God, who occupied the mountain of God, were acting like they didn’t know God. They had made a deal with the devil, or the Assyrians to be specific, a deal that led to war, and the deaths of tens of thousands of the inhabitants of the northern kingdom of Israel.
Isaiah spends all of chapter 1 calling Jerusalem and Judah to listen, as he speaks the words of God saying —
“The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the LORD.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts
my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood;
16 wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds
out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,
17 learn to do right!
encourage the oppressed. [a]
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.
18 “Come now, let us reason together,”
says the LORD.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
Isaiah 1:11-18 NIV
To say that God is not pleased is an understatement. And all that stuff God said about their sacrifices, the trampling of my courts, meaningless offerings — those are all things that happened in the Temple. So, even though the Temple is in Jerusalem, God is not happy with Judah because they are not walking in God’s ways.
A New Vision of God’s Temple Mountain
So, that’s where we pick up Chapter 2. Which is a totally different scene. Here Isaiah says,
- God’s Temple mountain will be chief among the mountains,
- All the nations will stream to it;
- Many peoples (plural, meaning not just large numbers, but from all ethnic groups) will come to God’s Temple mountain;
- There God will teach them God’s ways so they can walk in God’s paths.
- All these diverse peoples will not only lay down their weapons of war, but they will actually forge implements of farming — of life and growth — from swords and spears.
- These diverse peoples will not go to war anymore, and
- They won’t learn war anymore. No more studying military strategy because they won’t need it.
Which obviously reminds us of the old spiritual which says,
Gonna lay down my sword and shield, Down by the riverside,
Down by the riverside, Down by the riverside,
Gonna lay down my sword and shield, Down by the riverside.
Ain’t gonna study war no more.
I ain’t gonna study war no more, Ain’t gonna study war no more,
Ain’t gonna study war no more, I ain’t gonna study war no more.
That’s this passage right here. And that’s where that song comes from. And, you might be thinking, “Yeah, won’t heaven be great! No more war, no more fighting, no more conflict.”
To which I would reply — “But God isn’t talking about heaven. God is talking about something altogether different from heaven. God is talking about the kingdom of God and how different it is from the kingdoms of this world.”
“But,” you might say, “in the real world, we have war. It’s just the way it is.”
To which I would reply — “But, it’s not the way it has to be.”
The Reason for War
Let’s look at war for a moment. Why do “nations rise up against nations in war?” Well, there might be a lot of answers. Politics, greed, natural resources, fear, security, hatred. But boil it all down and war is about “me preserving my way of life.”
For the Nazis of World War II, war was about ridding the world of the Jews who were the cause of all of Germany’s problems following World War I.
For the Rwandans in the 1980s, war was about the Hutus winning over the Tutsies, or vice versa depending on which tribe you were in.
For the Iraqis, war is about the Shia taking over their country from the Sunnis who had ruled it under Sadam Hussein. For us, Iraq is about preserving freedom and our way of life.
Thomas Barnett, in his insightful book, The Pentagon’s New Map, subtitled, War and Peace in the 21st Century, said that
“the antiglobalization forces — represented in their most violent form by Al Qaeda — don’t seek our historical destruction so much as a sort of permanent civilizational apartheid.”
In other words, radical jihadists like Osama Bin Laden want to preserve their way of life, which they believe our Western way of life threatens. We feel the same way, and so we are at war.
Now the issue is more complex than that, but at its core…
…war is about preserving a way of life.
Now at this point we could talk about a bunch of examples of nations that wanted to preserve a way of life that was really not good. We’ve already mentioned some — the Nazis, the Rwandan genocidists, the battle between the various factions of Islam, or any religion for that matter; the lists are endless. And, we could come away convinced that our way of life is better than all these. But that’s not the point.
It’s Not About Our Way, It’s About God’s Way
Isaiah says that all nations will come to God’s Temple mountain to learn God’s ways, not which of the nations ways is best. And, we can kind of lump our entire human race together to score ourselves on how good we’re doing in living the right way, and we don’t come out too well.
Dr. Jared Diamond, professor and archaeologist at UCLA, wrote his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, based on the idea that we as a human race, not just some of us, are doing a lousy job choosing the right way of life.
Here are 12 signs of trouble Dr. Diamond says our way of life has brought on this planet and ourselves —
- We are destroying natural habitats or converting them into human habitats at an accelerating rate.
- We are decimating the “wild food” available to the world by overfishing or misusing those resources.
- We have made extinct significant numbers of wild species — plants and animals — and we continue to do so at an alarming rate.
- Farmland soil is being carried away by wind and water at rates 10 to 40 times faster than new soil formation. Remember the Dust Bowl of the 1930s?
- The world’s major energy sources are fossil fuels.
- Most of the world’s freshwater rivers and lakes are being tapped by our insatiable need for water, and underground aquifers are being depleted at rates faster than they can be replenished.
- The energy from the sun is being diverted or wasted, and we will reach what he calls the “Photosynthetic ceiling” by the middle of this century. This will affect the ability of plants to synthesize sunlight and flourish.
- Chemicals in the environment through industrial pollution will continue to affect human populations and the environment. We banned DDT in the US for that very reason.
- The transfer of non-native plants and animals to other places will continue to be a problem. Ever seen kudzu?
- The ozone layer continues to be damaged and more greenhouse gases emitted creating a perfect combination leading to global warming.
- The world’s human population is growing. I’ve been to Shanghai, a city of 15-million people, and Mexico City, with a population of 23-million. When I was in grade school, there were slightly over 3-billion people on earth, today there 6-billion.
- This increasing population has an increasing impact on the earth. All of the people in the two-thirds world want to live like Americans. Yet, a 5% of the population of the world, we consume 40% of the world’s resources.
So, this is our way of life. Diamond, sounds an optimistic note, however. He says that we have two choices for survival as a species —
- long-term planning, and
- a willingness to reconsider our core values. Our core values of globalization, unsustainable growth, overpopulation, greed, damage to God’s creation, a growing division between the poorest and the richest — these are our values.
Brian McLaren in his book, Everything Must Change calls these values, this way of life, “the suicide machine.” Like Dr. Kervorkian, we have built the machine that means our own death as a civilization. Unless of course, we change our way of life.
And this is why people from every ethnic group — all the nations — will come to God’s Temple mountain — so they can learn God’s way and walk in God’s path. Because God’s way is a better way. Not only is God’s way a better way, it is the way God intended for us to live. Not only is God’s way a better way, and the way God intended us to live, it is the only way. And that is what we are saved to. We are saved to live God’s way, in God’s presence — God’s Temple mountain — until we go to God in death or God comes for us in glory.
Isaiah knew it, and we know it today. Because if we’re not defending our way, we don’t need war anymore. If we’re not defending our way, we don’t need swords or spears or tanks or missiles or humvees or stealth bombers. If we live life God’s way, we don’t have to fight anymore. We don’t have to learn how to fight anymore. God has defeated the last enemy. God’s way wins.
Jesus is God’s Way
And how does that happen? Eugene Peterson says of us, in his book, The Jesus Way —
“My concern is provoked by the observation that so many who understand themselves to be followers of Jesus, without hesitation, and apparently without thinking, embrace the ways and means of the culture as they go about their daily living “in Jesus name.” But the ways that dominate our culture have been developed either in ignorance or in defiance of the ways that Jesus uses to lead us as we walk the streets and alleys, hike the trails, and drive the roads in this God-created, God-saved, God-blessed, God-ruled world in which we find ourselves.
This is wrong thinking and wrong living. Jesus is an alternative to the dominant ways of this world, not a supplement to them.” The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson, pgs 1-2.
And how do we know this way of God? Through Jesus. Jesus is how God comes to us, as a baby in the nativity story, and today, in 2007 in Chatham, Virginia. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”
God’s way is found in Jesus. Not just in belief about Jesus, but in Jesus himself, then and now. And in Jesus, there is no need for war because Jesus said, “greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” And so he did. And all attempts to defend him, he abandoned. All the power at his disposal, he set aside. All the means he had to conquer the world, he laid down.
Instead, he stretched out his arms and died. So that we might live. And that is the way of God. And so Isaiah says, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
We Begin Walking in The Way of God This Advent
When I was a boy, I was a member of the Royal Ambassadors, the boys missionary group in Baptist life. We sang the Ambassador song at every meeting. Some of you may remember Mary Helen Thompson leading RAs here. Did you sing the song here at Chatham? Here’s the first verse —
I am a stranger here, within a foreign land
my home is far away upon a golden strand,
Ambassador to be, of realms beyond the sea,
I’m here on business for my king.
And so we walk in the way of God, in the light of God, this Advent season. We live as the people of God by doing the small things in our lives that show we are walking in a different way from the way of all nations —
- So, this Christmas we might spend a little less, and give a little more;
- In 2008, we might consciously try to consume less of the world’s resources, making sure there is enough for all;
- We might realize that walking in the Jesus way is very practical, good for creation, and is the invitation for others to come and join us — to come and go with us to the the mountain Temple of God so we can learn God’s ways and walk in God’s paths.
These are small beginnings, as we seek to walk in the Jesus way. But in the book of Revelation, John tells us that these small beginnings have an ultimate destination. That God’s way leads from here to eternity.
John is writing of the new Jerusalem, the city as God intends for it to be, not the city as it was in Isaiah’s day or Jesus’ day or even our day. The new Jerusalem, the City of God. John says, “I do not see a temple in the city, because the Lord Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.”
That is the future of God among the people of God, and it begins here as we watch for the coming of Jesus, again.
A Place In The Garden
Luke 23:33-43 NIV
33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[a] And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.”
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[b]“
43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Christ The King Sunday, The Last Sunday of The Christian Year
“How did we get here?” you might ask. How, on this Sunday after Thanksgiving, do we find ourselves at the crucifixion of Christ? This is Christ The King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Christian Year. Next week, is the first Sunday of Advent, when we begin to look all over again for the coming of the Christ. But today, the story of God ends for this year. “But,” you say, “why does it end so grimly? What happened to the resurrection and the hope and joy of Easter?”
This week we went over 40,000 views and still going! Thank you for stopping by now-and-then, and making this a real gathering place for the small church community.
Every time you read something I write here, you’re giving me a gift… attention. It’s getting more precious all the time, you have more choices every day, and it’s harder and harder to find the time. I know. I’m grateful. I’m doing my best to make your attention worth it.
So, have a great Thanksgiving. And thanks.
So, thanks from me. And have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day! — Chuck
We’re podcasting on iTunes now! I’m pulling all the mp3 files together for the initial link to iTunes, so if you subscribe to the Chuck Warnock: Sermons, etc podcast thru iTunes, you’ll get all the back podcasts in one place. Hope you’ll visit iTunes and subscribe. Right now you have to go to iTunes store>podcasts>religion and spirituality>then search for Chuck Warnock. I’m not listed on the podcast directory yet, but my sermons are there. As soon as iTunes “lists” me, I’ll provide the direct link.
And, I’m always looking for feedback on things you think might be helpful in sermon prep.
Thanks for your support and please pass the word to others. Since we launched in September ’07, I’ve seen a steady increase in traffic. In time we will have built a comprehensive sermon resource based on the revised common lectionary. Peace.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if the expiration date for a church were stamped on it as clearly as it is on a package of meat at the grocery? The expiration date tells you how fresh the package you hold in your hand really is. If you’re like us, Debbie and I always dig in the back of the case for products with an expiration date as far in the future as possible. Unfortunately for churches, that’s not always possible. As a pastor or church leader, you don’t get to choose the freshest church. You’re already in a church and it may be closer to its expiration date than you think.
Eight Stages in the Lifespan of a Church
- Establishing. This is the start-up, the everything-is-new-and-aren’t-we-excited stage. Lots of energy, lots of enthusiasm, simple mission — survive.
- Formation. Once survival seems fairly certain, now what? At this stage congregations begin to self-organize like ants-in-a-hill. Things start to stabilize and there is a collective sense of “we’re actually going to make it work.”
- Adolescence. What does this sound like? High energy, lots of activity, lots of trying out new stuff, lots of growing up.
- Prime. Everything is working at this stage. Energy, organization, guidance, relationships, and manageable anxiety. The key here is staying here. Often churches only recognize this stage after they are through it, as in “Remember back in the ’60s when the building was full?”
- Maturity. This is the well-oiled machine, aging, but still running strong. Maybe not quite as strongly as before, but everything looks okay. Unless you realize that the trajectory is toward decline and dissolution. This is often a stage of denial and self-satisfaction. “We’re not as big as we used to be, but the quality of our members is much better.”
- Aristocracy. Not all churches become aristocratic, and probably none should. This is the era of the archives room, commemorating the glory years of the congregation. Links to prestigious pastors, pride in classic buildings, and other characteristics of the “church as museum” come to play.
- Bureaucracy. Even if you skip the aristocracy phase, this is an unavoidable and unmistakable stage. The numbers tell the story — lower attendance, offerings, budgets, baptisms, and energy. The denials might still continue, but the decline is obvious and depressing. The solution? Let’s tighten the rules. Watchdog the budget. Form more committees. Rewrite the constitution. Energy goes to rearranging the deck chairs while the Titanic takes on water.
- Dissolution. The end. Period. No more church. Property is sold or bequeathed, missions gets a big check, and folks go away from the funeral saying, “She died with dignity.” Or maybe not. But the result is still the same. A church out of business.
The stages are Dr. Galindo’s, the descriptions are mine. While the specific timeline may vary from church-to-church, the results are the same. But there is hope. These stages are not inevitable if church leaders, including the pastor, can recognize the stage a church is in and offer leadership appropriate to that stage.
The question your church has to ask itself is “What stage are we in and what should we do to revitalize ourselves?” That’s what we’re dealing with here in Chatham. I’ll let you know how it comes out. And while you’re waiting, get a copy of Galindo’s book. You’ll be glad you did.
Smile, It’s Thanksgiving!
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Little Johnny and his family were having Sunday dinner at his grandmother’s house. Everyone was seated around the table as the food was being served.
When little Johnny received his plate he started eating right away.
“Johnny, wait until we say our prayer.”
“I don’t have to,” the boy replied.
“Of course you do,” his mother insisted. “We say a prayer before eating at our house.”
“That’s at our house,” Johnny explained, “but this is Grandma’s house, and she knows how to cook.”
Well, if you find yourself like little Johnny, feeling you only have to pray to ward off some disaster, gastronomic or otherwise, then do I have something for you today. Thanksgiving is just around the corner again, and here come all those reminders to be thankful. In the passage we just read, Paul encourages us to “rejoice always” and to do everything, particulary our praying, with thanksgiving.
Despite what you have heard and will hear that everyday should be a Thanksgiving day, or we should do thanks-living instead of thanksgiving, or any of the other clever phrases that are bandied about at this time of year, the truth is we hear a lot about being thankful, but beyond that don’t do much about it.
We do some things to express our thanks. I grew up in a household where we always said a prayer of thanks before meals, and Debbie and I still do that today. We are thankful for what we have to eat, and we stop and acknowledge that God is the giver of not only everything, but this particular meal we’re about to enjoy. If we’re with other folks, I usually say, “Well, let me pray for this and then we can all eat.” Which is received in the spirit I intend it — one of thanksgiving to God. Plus, I keep it short, out of respect for others who do not normally have this practice, and so the food won’t get cold.
But that aside, how do we rejoice always? Or is that just one of those really nice sounding spiritual aphorisms that we all say, but few of us do, or even know how to do? Well, I think I might have the answer for you tonight. I did not discover this, and I’ll tell who I got it from in a moment, but here is the secret to rejoicing always: Smile.
Yep, that’s it — smile. Right about now you’re wondering if you can get a refund on your ticket, but then you’re remembering that you didn’t actually have to pay to get in, so you can relax. I’m serious. Smiling is the key to this whole business of thanksgiving. Here’s what smiling can do for you:
• 72% of people think of those who smile frequently as being more confident and successful.
• 86% of people say that they are more likely to strike up conversations with strangers if they are smiling.
• Bosses are 12% more likely to promote people who smile a lot.
• Research shows that 65% of communication is non-verbal (many claim an even higher percentage).
• Non-verbal communication comprises facial expressions, eye movement, gestures, posture, and all other bodily signs-primarily facial expressions.
• The effects of a smile are so powerful that even a smile on the telephone produces positive results.
• When someone comes into a room, people are automatically drawn to their face, and a smile provides a warm greeting.
• Studies show that happiness is a by-product of smiling, not the other way around as most people assume.
• Research shows that when two people in conversation use the same kind of body movements and gestures (such as smiling), they will experience greater empathy for each other, which they may not even consciously notice.
So, this is not bad. Smiling actually does more than give you little smile lines, for which the cosmetic companies have developed remedies, as if smiling were detrimental to your health. Just the opposite — smiling is good for you, not to mention the folks that have to look at you. As a matter of fact, not only is the act of smiling good for you, but even the word S-M-I-L-E brings a…well, you guessed it… smile to our faces. So much so that here are some of the acronyms that organizations have made from the world SMILE.
SMILE Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences Program SMILE Semiconductor Microcavity Light Emitter SMILE Service Makes Individual Lives Exciting SMILE Signal, Mirror, Interior, Lights, Engine (drivers education) SMILE Single Mothers in A Learning Environment SMILE Smart Management Interface Local Exchange SMILE Smart-Power ICs (Integrated Circuits) for Lighting Applications SMILE Spatial Multiplexing of Local Elements SMILE Spiritually Minded Is Life Eternal SMILE Stanford Medicine Information and Learning Environment SMILE Students Making It a Little Easier (freshman orientation in West Caldwell NJ) SMILE Students’ Mobilization Initiative for Learning Through Exposure (Indian youth initiative)
Okay, so some of these are better than others, but the point is we like the word SMILE. Then how do we do this? Well here are a few pointers —
Smile. Smiling is the beginning of laughter. Like laughter, it’s contagious. Pioneers in “laugh therapy,” find it’s possible to laugh without even experiencing a funny event. The same holds for smiling. When you look at someone or see something even mildly pleasing, practice smiling.
Count your blessings. Literally make a list. The simple act of considering the good things in your life will distance you from negative thoughts that are a barrier to humor and laughter. When in a state of sadness, we have further to travel to get to humor and laughter.
When you hear laughter, move toward it. Sometimes humor and laughter are private, a shared joke among a small group, but usually not. More often, people are very happy to share something funny because it gives them an opportunity to laugh again and feed off the humor you find in it. When you hear laughter, seek it out and ask, “What’s funny?”
Spend time with people who have successfully incorporated humor into their lives. These are people who naturally take life lightly, who routinely find ordinary events hysterical. Their points of view and their laughter are contagious.
Dr. Dale Jorgenson, a social organizational psychologist, has found that smiling at others may benefit the smiler in that, when you smile at people, they are more likely to smile at you. The more often this happens, the better the mood of the smiler. When reviewing self-reports handed in by students assisting with his smile research, he correlated the frequency of returned smiles with how favorable their moods were.
“The correlation between the number of smiles they reported receiving in return and their mood was extremely high (80 percent or better),” he said. “The more they got smiled at in return, the more favorable their mood was.”
The evidence is in — smiling is good for us, for others, and produces real positive results in our lives. But, what about the times you don’t feel like smiling. When you’re sad, depressed, grieving, angry, or hurt. How do you “rejoice always” then?
Listen to the story of Thich Nhat Hanh. Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk, who is 81-years old now. Nhat Hanh was born in Viet Nam in 1926, became a Buddhist monk as a teenager, and grew up in a country torn apart by war his entire life. Nhat Hanh founded the United Buddhist Church, and worked for peace in his country. He was a friend of Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk who said he felt closer to Nhat Hanh than many Christians with whom he knew.
Thich Nhat Hanh was nominated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work for peace during and after the Viet Nam war. The communist regime in Viet Nam was so suspicious of Nhat Hanh, that he was exiled from his native land for decades, only returning in 2005 to give some talks and visit his fellow monks again.
Nhat Hanh created what he called “engaged Buddhism” — today we would call it “missional” — Buddhism that was involved in helping the victims of war, and then other marginalized people around the world.
Buddhism is predicated upon the idea that all of our suffering is caused by ignorance, and so Buddhists seek enlightenment which means an end to suffering. But Thich Nhat Hanh also believes that there are practical ways in which we can make this world, and our lives, better. He tells his students, “To suffer is not enough. You must enjoy the blue sky, a baby’s eyes, the green grass.” Thich Nhat Hanh also founded a Thanksgiving Day for Buddhists, patterned after the American Thanksgiving, because he thought they needed a day to give thanks.
In Buddhism, there are meditation exercises. Now we are not going to become Buddhists tonight, but one that I find particularly helpful is this: Sit quietly for a moment and as you breath in say, “Breathing in, I calm body and mind.” And you calm yourself.
Then, you say, “Breathing out, I smile.” And you smile. Really.
I was listening to a CD of Thich Nhat Hanh giving this talk on “Being Peace” as he leads the audience in this exercise. I guess he has his eyes open, because he says gently, “You do not smile so much. Let’s try again.” Again, the “breathing in, I calm body and mind” then, “breathing out, I smile.” Still not satisfied with the results, he tells the audience, “Maybe you can practice some more later.”
Listen to what Nhat Hanh says about smiling:
“Even though life is hard, even though it is sometimes difficult to smile,we have to try. Just as when we wish each other “Good morning” it must be a real “Good morning.” Recently a friend asked me, “How can I force myself to smile when I am filled with sorrow? It isn’t natural.” I told her she must be able to smile to her sorrow, because we are more than our sorrow.”
“A human being is like a television set with millions of channels. If we turn sorrow on, we are sorrow. If we turn a smile on, we really are the smile.”
“Smiling is very important. If we are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace.”
To which I would add, if we are not able to smile, the world will not know that we know the Prince of Peace.
And that’s it. Smiling. Which amazingly does change your frame of mind, your physiology, and your life. And even in those times of great sadness or disappointment, if we can smile at those experiences, we can find our way through. We smile, not because we seek enlightenment, but because we seek the Light of God. We smile because we know that God is, in Rick Warren’s words, “Bigger and better and closer than we can imagine.” We smile because we are thankful. Go ahead, try it. Smile, it’s Thanksgiving!