Jul 3rd, I have questions…, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
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Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
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Jul 3rd: I have questions…, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski.
We’re beginning our Summer worship series this morning on Questions. We ask you to submit the questions you would like us to engage, and we will build the focus of our summer worship around around your questions. Some of the questions you’ve asked us to wrestle with this summer are how can our faith ground us when life is in so much turmoil? How can we heal our divisions? What does a Christian have to believe to still be a Christian?
What happens after we die? Is there such a thing as good grief? Does prayer really work? What do we do with the evil in the world? And does love really win?
Wow. So much for a light and relaxing summer for the preachers. We don’t promise answers, but we do promise to faithfully engage your questions. If you read the Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, jesus has asked 187 questions, and he gives a direct answer to maybe three. Jesus himself asked 307 questions.
So maybe Earth isn’t about certainty, but learning to ask and sit in the complexity of good questions. Abraham heschel said, we are closer to God when we’re asking questions than when we think we have all the answers. Questions can be both challenging and inspiring. Let me give you just a few examples of the power of questions and how they can spark your imagination and even awaken your soul. So reflect on these questions.
What makes for a good day?
How would your life be different if you had no fear of embarrassing yourself?
What’s the one thing you would like to change about the world and how are you using your gifts to change it?
When is the last time you did something for the first time? When’s the last time you laughed so hard you thought you’d wet your pants? I love that one. What would you do differently if you really didn’t care what others think?
Are you the kind of friend to others that you yourself need as a friend right now? Are you spending your energy on the things that matter most or the things that matter least?
Do people feel important in your presence? What title do you hope the next chapter will be? What is the one thing that you would regret if you never did anything about it? What’s the one thing you would do if you were graced with 20 seconds of unstoppable courage? What do you want your legacy to be?
If you could ask Jesus one question, what would it be?
Questions are powerful. Civil rights leader Ruby SEO said, transformation doesn’t happen in headspace where we share opinions and try to convince other people of the rightness of our answers. Transformation happens in heart space where we ask powerful questions like where does it hurt? What would love look like for you right now? So often, we begin our conversations with our answers and where we think we’re right.
What would happen if we began conversations with really good questions, questions that open doors rather than close them. I mean, Jesus asked good questions. Jesus asked, who do you say that I am?
What do you want me to do for you? Do you want to get well? Why are you so afraid? Do you love me? Yeah.
Questions are powerful. So thank you for your questions, and I really trust that your questions will open doors and invite us into deeper engagement with our faith this summer. And so for the first question to kick off our summer worship series, someone actually asked, what’s the one question you’re asking yourself these days? Oh, boy, where do I begin? There are certainly more questions than answers these days.
Honestly, I think the most prevalent question that I’m asking myself really every single day right now is this how can I respond to the challenges of life from a place of wisdom and love rather than react from a place of fear, frustration and anxiety? How can I widen the space between what happens in life and how I respond? A space between the challenges of life and how we respond to those challenges. But for most of us, that space is razor thin, and we end up reacting overreacting making poor choices, reacting in ways that actually creates more stress and brings more conflict.
We can’t always control what happens in life, but we have been given the power to choose how we respond to what happens in life. It says in two Timothy, chapter one, verse seven, god has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power and love and self control. So honestly, the question I ask myself every single day is, how can I exercise that self control so that I choose love and not react from fear and frustration? I was at a red light and the light turned green, and the driver in front of me didn’t move because she was looking at her cell phone. And I ended up missing the light.
And I’m embarrassed to admit that I was irate. I mean, I was irate. I was fuming, teeth clenched, ready to blast my horn until I caught a look at myself in the mirror. Yikes. Not pretty.
I took a deep breath and then a deeper breath. I paused. I became curious why my reaction was so disproportionate to the event. I mean, have you ever reacted? Of course you have.
We all have. I like to think of a scale from one to ten, with one being calm and centered. And ten, you’re about to blow a gasket or kick the cat or worse. And I want to suggest we’re living our lives at eight on that scale. One to ten at eight, bombarded with 24 hours breaking news, breathing in air that is saturated with fear and anxiety and so much anger, absorbing violence, loss and grief, that our minds, our bodies, our spirits are just not designed to absorb.
I mean, our circuits are overwhelmed, and pretty soon that begins to feel normal. So we fool ourselves into thinking we’re at three or four when we’re really at eight. And if we’re at eight, it doesn’t take much to push us over the edge. And we find ourselves reacting. We find ourselves overreacting out of anger and anxiety, rather than being able to pause and respond from wisdom, patience, love.
Again, there’s a space between what happens and how we respond. And I actually think that’s what it means in Second Timothy, where it says, god has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self control.
Self control is knowing that even though we can’t always control what happens, we are graced with the capacity to control how we choose to respond to what happens.
And when that space between what happens in life and how we respond is razor thin, what happens is our fight flight response takes over. And when that happens, wisdom, empathy, compassion don’t stand a chance. So, yes, honestly, the question I’m asking myself many times every day these days, when there’s so much happening that feels overwhelming, how can I widen that space?
How can we widen that space between what happens and how we respond? Because in that space is the power to choose love over fear. In that space is the power to listen. In that space is the power to be empathetic. In that space, we can hear the whispers of wisdom.
In that space is the power to forgive. In that space is perspective. In that space is grace and the power to extend grace. And the one thing the world could use right now is a whole lot more grace.
You have heard what it was said. Let me get this right. Jesus said, this isn’t Matthew. You have heard it was said, that’s right. Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of God. I actually don’t think it’s an accident that right after Jesus said, love your enemies, he then said, pray for those who persecute you. And I don’t think he was suggesting that we pray for our enemies to change our enemies, but to change us. I think Jesus realized it’s impossible to choose love without pausing, without widening that space, without taking a deep breath and breathing in God’s peace, without taking the time for our hearts to be present to the love that is always present to us. During the Vietnam War, a man stood outside the White House with a single lit candle to protest the war.
Every single day for months, someone said to him, you’re wasting your time. You know that, right? You’re not going to change anybody’s mind. You’re not going to change anybody’s hearts by what you’re doing. And the man said, you know, I’m not here assuming I’m going to change their hearts.
I’m here to make sure they don’t change my heart.
There is so much outrage and anger and fear and sadness swirling around us. I was asked this week, what do I do with my rage? I am so full of rage now. Anger and rage really can be a sign of the spirit. It can be a wake up call to our conscience to stand on the side of love and justice.
The spiritual danger, though the spiritual danger of the moment when there is so much ugliness and inhumanity on display, the spiritual danger is becoming a mirror, reflecting the ugliness we are fighting, amplifying its energy for this moment. What is needed right now is the very best of our humanity grounded in wisdom. It says in one Peter three, verse nine, do not repay evil with evil or insult. Overcome evil with good.
The spiritual challenge is to keep fighting for what is good in this world without sacrificing our own goodness or denying the humanity of others.
Because, honestly, in the absence of wisdom and love, anger destroys. We witness the destructiveness of that truth every single day.
But anger and rage, grounded in the presence of wisdom and love, creates and can remake the world.
So, paradoxically, one of the most important and radical things we can do right now in this time of turmoil and uncertainty, is to widen the space between life challenges and how we respond. The most important things we can do is to hold an inner peace as best we can. Now, I don’t mean burying our heads in the sand. I don’t mean pretending the destructive chaos around us doesn’t exist or isn’t consequential.
What I mean is making sure we engage and respond to life’s chaos and trauma from a place of wisdom and love instead of getting swept up and carried away by the frenzy around us.
Jen Richardson put it this way let there be an opening into the quiet that lies beneath the chaos where you find the peace you didn’t think possible and see what shimmers in the store.
So, friends, I encourage you to ask yourself these two questions that I’ve been asking myself every day. And maybe this can be your spiritual practice this summer.
How can I respond to life’s challenges from a place of love and wisdom instead of reacting and over reacting from places of fear, anxiety and anger?
How can I widen the space between the challenges of life and how I respond? You know what you might discover in that space? What you might discover is grace and the power to extend grace to others. And God knows the whole world could use a lot more grace right now. May it be so.