Fresh Starts, New Beginnings

Posted by Andy Charnstrom on

The mid-term elections are over; only a few votes remain to be counted, only a small number of races yet an issue.  If you’re like me at all, you have already let out a sigh of relief.  No more campaign ads, no more accusations, no more fear of talking with friends and neighbors about the topics that might lead to uncomfortable confrontations about the things that divide us.  But—again, if you are at all like me—something inside you whispers, “Until the next time—no more until next year, until the next fight….”  Perhaps, your sense of relief fades and that grey cloud of dread hangs just on the horizon.

Let me suggest something.

We serve a God of fresh starts and new beginnings.  We serve a God of second chances.  We serve a God who made us to be in sustained relationship.  We are loved unconditionally by a God who calls us to love without limits.  The greatest commandments, Jesus tells us, are that we are to love God with all that we are, and all that we have, and that we are to, likewise, love our neighbors. 

Most times in life today, it doesn’t seem like there are any clean breaks.  The work projects of today bleed into our to-do list for tomorrow, the kids’ football season overlaps the beginning of basketball, Christmas shopping is considered “last minute” if the leaves have begun to fall.  Even the lawn mower that used to be put away in October remains at the ready just in case the grass looks ragged when we hang the Christmas lights.  But we have the power—we’ve had it all along—to set our own clean break.  We can pick any moment and decide, “That was yesterday; this is today.”  Jesus is not only our willing accomplice in this decision but our joyous co-conspirator.  Jesus lives in the margin between all of the yesterdays and all of the possible tomorrows.  Everything—that’s right, every single thing, no matter how hurtful, no matter how bitter, no matter how dirty, no matter how shameful—every single thing can become the distant and forgiven past, cast aside by the joyous new and the endless possibility.  It started a long, long time ago with Jesus, but it starts anew with us today.  The past can become the past at a moment’s notice.  Why not now?  Why not today?

How do we do it?  How do we make this break from yesterday and start fresh tomorrow or, if we are really motivated, make a new beginning today?

Let’s start with this: “Be still, and know that I am God.”  Be reminded that the “I” in that passage, Psalm 46:10 is not you, but God.  Find comfort in the power and the authority and the responsibility that you do not have.  You are called to be good, but you are not called to be God.  That means that most of life—okay, be honest—that means that the people around you are not yours to control.  If you have no power to control others, is it really productive to dwell on what others do, or say, or think—even how they spend their money or cast their votes?

Next, though, is this:  Love God.  Jesus said that we do more than show our love of God, but we sustain and nurture and mobilize that love by keeping God’s commandments—the ones that govern how we live with one another.  Honor the people in our lives.  Don’t lie, or cheat, or steal, or covet what someone else has.  Don’t be violent.  Give, and share.  Remember—try as you might, you can’t control how your boss, or your neighbor, or your spouse or even your child responds to God’s commandments.  Don’t let that frighten you; don’t be dissuaded.  Love God with all that you have, and all that you are, and all that you may ever be.

And, then, love your neighbor.  Some are easy; okay, a few are easy.  Maybe one or two are easy.  Sometimes, it’s just not easy at all.  But, look in the mirror.  Are you all that lovable, all of the time?  Set your standard of love with the easy one.  That’s what Jesus was saying, I think, when He commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  It wasn’t about the quantity of love, nor about quality.  I think that Jesus was saying that we probably think of ourselves as easier-to-love than most of the others.  So calibrate your “love meter” by how much you want to be loved by others and by how easy you think that ought to be for them to do, and then use that same measurement to dole out your love to your neighbors.  Do you think that the people around you ought to overlook the fact that you are a grouch before you have your morning coffee?  Then set your love meter there and overlook the grouchiness of others.  Should your friends and family understand that you sometimes have a bad day and that the words that come from your mouth don’t really reflect what lies in your heart?  Measure your love of others by the same standard.  Do you sometimes doze off when your spouse is talking, or glance at your phone while your child reports on the latest video game, or forget to give a good-bye kiss while you are rushing out the door with your gym bag in one hand, your briefcase in another and your coffee in that mysterious third hand that seems to appear sometimes, and, yet, you believe your oversights should be overlooked?  Work on some self-improvement, for sure, but set your love of others by the same meter you would have applied to yourself.

Here’s the harder part for me, and I daresay for many of us today.  Some around us--some who live down the street or in another town or another country, but also who live in our midst, in our seats of power and in our churches and, yes, even in our homes—some don’t live the way that Jesus calls us to live, don’t love God with a passionate everything, don’t love neighbors, don’t even love their own families—at least not the way we love our families.  Some seem to think, perhaps, that they really are the gods of their own lives and, maybe, of the lives around them.  Some people are just simply and incredibly difficult to love.  We see in them the problem, the differences, the threat, the impossibility that this world will ever know peace.  And the hardest part is that we might be right. But they are children of God, and we still—right or wrong—we still are not God.  And so it is for us to remember the One who is God and to pray for goodness to be done in all that we cannot control, including among the children of God.

Here’s what I can control: I can control my response to God by choosing to love, by trying to love, by asking myself, often, whether I am loving and always seeking to love more.  I can love my neighbor, whether the person next door, the person in the car with the blinking turn signal (or no apparent turn signals), the person who serves me coffee, the person (all these persons!!) who seems confused at the grocery store, the person who doesn’t wipe clean the seat on the bike at the gym, or the person next to me at the breakfast, lunch and dinner table, all in accordance with the same “love meter” I have used to measure how I should be loved.

Finally, I can control how much I allow the others—the ones in whom I find little redemptive—to affect me.  I love them by remembering that they are God’s children, just as much as I am, and by remembering that it is for God, and not for me, to control God’s children.

I’m going to try it.  No—wait.  It was Yoda who said, “Do or do not.  There is no try.”  I’m going to do it.  A fresh start.  A new beginning.  Will you join me?




Tags: christianity, indiana, indianapolis, indianápolis, jesus, jesús, love, neighbor, new beginnings, union chapel, united methodist church