Sometimes It Happens — October 11, 2011


Every once in a while as I travel across these United States, a church that has scheduled me will cancel. I am not going to be so magnanimous or foolish as to lead you to believe that a bit of aggravation and a sense of rejection does not pierce through my armor.  I don’t like it.

I work real hard on trying to be a kind soul because it isn’t natural–for my “natural man” is much too anti-social to be of any assistance to those around me. So when this particular fellow canceled in North Carolina because he and his people felt like they needed more “preaching” than music, stories and teaching about the life of Jesus, I took a bit of offense to it. I share that with you because it is absolutely ludicrous to portray that I am anything other than what I am.

I am a person with my treasure in an earthen vessel–which tends to crumble when circumstances don’t necessarily meet my specifications. But I do have rallying forces in my heart and soul that save me from becoming cynical or self-abusive. And I would like to take a couple of days to talk about those reinforcements which rescue me from despair and stupidity. They are laid out very clearly in the first part of Matthew the 5th Chapter, which we have traditionally dubbed the Sermon on the Mount.

I will tell you a truth–if I discovered tomorrow that there was no God and that Jesus was a fairy tale, as a mortal walking on this planet, I would still need a code of ethics, a style of behavior and an internal morality to steer my ship from crashing into the rocks. I feel sorry for those whose religion is based on practice instead of practicality. What could be more miserable than getting the box for the television set without the gift inside it?

And the words of Jesus are the gift inside the box of salvation.

He starts off his great sermon (which I am sure did not include any singing, story-telling or teaching) with the Beatitudes. Now, they have been preached on so many times that they have nearly become mind-numbing.  So let me do you a kindness and sum them up in two words:get simple.

The only sure way to fail in life on planet earth is to insist that complicating matters actually offers any solution whatsoever.  Get simple. And the best way to get simple, according to Jesus, is to always discover a way to be happy. I love it.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. Bluntly, this is an admission that “I’m not nearly as good as even you think I am.”  I mean, there is an image I have of myself which is always over-wrought, but truly, I am not even as good as you think I am. So let’s remove the pressure. I don’t need to perform to my expectations–or yours. I just need to get simple by giving you an accurate report of where I am at any given moment.

Blessed are they that mourn. Since I know how weak I can be, I allow that realization to make me more tenderized to the needs and feelings of others. People who are incapable of sensing loss in the lives of others will eventually lose the sense of their own loss. Get simple. And because I know I’m not as good as even you think I am, which tends to make me more compassionate about your loss, I can really understand:

Blessed are the meek. Consider this: the more we try to use muscle to achieve our goals, the greater the chance is that we’re going to hurt each other. You have two great friends on this planet earth.  (1) Human beings become bored easily. So even though they may play around with something, when it doesn’t immediately work out, they will cast it aside and you can pick it up for free. That is, if you have (2) the second advantage: patience.  Patience is not sitting around waiting for something to come your way. Patience is making yourself busy with the last thing cast aside, while you keep an eye out for the next thing to be abandoned. 

Let me even get simpler than that–life is really one big garage sale. It’s where smart people can come into the yard of rich people who bought a jet ski and want to sell it for a song because little Emily fell off of it at the lake and broke her arm. You see what I mean?  Get simple.

And all of this works if you are willing to admit that you have a need for information and an infilling of God’s spirit. Yes: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. The best way to get simple in life is to tell people up front what you know and what you don’t–and when you’re absent knowledge, to allow yourself the advantage of becoming the student.  Get simple.  Do you understand how powerful it is to admit that you are without understanding? Therefore, no one expects you to spearhead and in the process you just might learn something.

Blessed are the merciful. I love mercy. It’s the way we imitate God’s grace after we’ve already established that we aren’t “all that and a bag of chips.”  This is why mercy is not pity. Merciful says “been there, done that.” Pity secretly whispers, “I’m glad I’m not you.”

And after you learn to become a great actor and simulate the characteristic of God’s grace by being merciful, you suddenly discover the beginnings of a pure heart. Indeed–blessed are the pure in heart. I am weary of conservative people, so defiled in their thinking that everything to them is foul and dirty. I’m sorry–sometimes people are trying to be suggestive or mean or insulting–and I just miss it. Why? Because I’m not looking for it. God has cleansed my heart enough through mercy, and I have gotten simple enough that I have begun to expect to see God in situations instead of probing for the devil.

So since I want good conclusions instead of thinking that I am pleasing God by ferreting out all the filth of the world, I become eligible to be a peace maker.  Yes–blessed are the peace makers. I’m no longer looking for a fight. I am no longer trying to misinterpret a glance that someone throws my way. I am not trying to be offended. So it enables me to step in and make peace among those who are still trapped in that complicated lifestyle.

And finally, if you actually have gone into the process to get simple and you know you’re not as good as people even think you are, which causes you to have empathy for their loss, and you can have the patience to understand that the world gets bored and drops really good things that you can pick up, which stimulates you to be really hungry and thirsty to learn more about yourself and the world around you, granting you a pure heart that isn’t always looking for the dark side of the moon so that you can become a maker of peace among those who are always looking for a reason to fuss with one another–then you will have followed the philosophy of “get simple” enough that even when you are rejected because of the stance you take, or made fun of for being too simple, or just temporarily set aside because you don’t seem to have the aggressive goods to make it in the marketplace, you can rejoice and be exceedingly glad–which literally scares the crap out of your critics.

I don’t know what my friend who canceled me thinks that preaching is going to do for people whose lives have become so entangled with religion, rhetoric and responsibility that they are overwhelmed by living and hope to God that dying and heaven will be better. All I know is that we’re here for a while and the first step to doing it right … is to get simple.

And “getting simple” is launched on the day that you turn to the world around you and say, “Oh, by the way, I’m not as good as even you think I am.”

Stand back.  It even gets more exciting from there.  See you tomorrow.


Jonathan sings “Let”

Jonathan Sings “Spent This Time”

Jonathan and his partner, Janet Clazzy, play “The Call”

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