Good morning, Friends! Thanks for being here this morning. And happy Valentine’s Day!
Last week, we talked about one of the core ideas of the Quaker movement. We talked about integrity. Integrity shows up in a lot of different places.
It’s wanting to sing songs that really mean something to you, sung in the right spirit and the right moment. It means being able to pray in your own words. It means being able to talk about your own experience of God.
Integrity is what Jesus was talking about when he said, “true worshipers worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.” It’s so important!
It’s not wanting to put up with anything which is cheap or fake. It means wanting to be 100% real and authentic, without holding back or without pretending anything.
Integrity is that deep desire for the living water Jesus talks about, the living bread, the life Jesus wants us to have.
This week, I want to lift up another important spiritual thing for us. It’s at the heart of the Quaker movement, and it goes all the way back to the earliest days of our fellowship.
The basic idea is simple. None of us is perfect. That’s pretty obvious. We are not as good as we want to be. Not as good as we can be. Not as good as God invites us to be.
How can we reach out, to bridge the gap between our failures and limitations, and God’s perfection?
Are we just supposed to be frustrated, all our lives? Are we supposed to feel bad, or feel guilty, all the time?
I don’t think so. How we handle that gap, between where we are, and where we could be – that’s what I want to talk about with you this morning. How do we get from here to there, when it feels like there’s a wall or a mountain in the way?
To start us off, let me read you a Scripture. It’s very short, but it’s very powerful.
“Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.”Luke 8:18
George Fox, who was one of the first leaders of the Quaker movement, always thought we could do things a whole lot better than we do. He thought we could worship with more integrity. He thought society could be better. He thought our individual lives could be better.
George Fox was an idealist. But he was also practical, because he saw clearly that we grow in small steps. We see the ideal spiritual world. But we get there gradually.
George Fox had a favorite phrase. He used it all the time, in conversation, in sermons, and in dozens of letters he wrote to struggling Quaker meetings, up and down the length of England and in the new American colonies.
He said, “Live up to the Light that you have, and more will be granted to you.”
It’s so simple. And it can change our lives.
Take an example. Telling the truth is a really important part of the Christian life. But society wants us to put up with lies, all the time. Big lies. Little lies.
Do really need product XYZ to be happy? No. Is such and such a star or a celebrity is the greatest person in the world? Not really.
Do I make up excuses for things, and get caught up in fibs and little lies? All the time. Are things really going OK for me? Not always.
How do we get untangled from that spider web of lies in life? How do we get clear?
The way to do it, George Fox said, isn’t all at once. Telling the truth, living the truth, is a radical change for almost everyone. We’re so used to making polite, little fibs all the time, that we just about can’t stop.
So, start small. Try telling the truth about one thing today. You don’t have to be offensive about it. But the next time the choice comes along, to tell the truth or to fudge, don’t fudge it. Tell the truth instead.
No, I don’t agree with that. Yes, I want to contribute, but I can’t right now. No, I can’t come. My family really needs me right now. I need to take time for myself, to rest and to pray.
Try telling the truth about small things, George Fox said, and telling the truth about bigger and more difficult things will be easier. Truth gets easier with practice.
All truth comes from God, George Fox said. And telling the truth is a spiritual discipline. Truth is like light. It shines into all the dark and murky and compromised parts of our lives. God helps us, to see the truth, to know the truth, and to live the truth.
It’s like a flashlight in a dark room. Maybe you only start by seeing one corner. The light moves around, and you discover what’s in another corner. It would be great if we could all just jump into the full light of day. It would be great it we could understand everything, and do everything right, and just be perfect.
But most of the time, what we start with is a flashlight, or a candle, or even just a match. We’re not there yet. We don’t understand everything. And we aren’t as perfect as we want.
But live up to the light that you have. Start where you are. Begin inside yourself. Do the absolute best with that. And you’ll be given more.
Take another example. We want our country to be at peace. We want people of all skin colors and all backgrounds to get along.
But some days that just seems impossible. There are so many barriers, so much history, so many hurts, deep in the past. How can we fix it all?
We can’t fix everything today. But we can do better. Start by treating one person right. Start by trying with the next person you meet, to make them not be afraid of you. Smile at the next person of another skin color you meet. Smile at kids. Wave at your neighbors.
Take the next opportunity you have, to treat people well, and to let them know that you’re trying to overcome the barriers to fairness and equality.
Don’t be patronizing. It’s my problem that I’m trying to overcome. If people see that, they’ll respond a bit.
Sometimes the wall of inequality comes crashing down, dramatically. But a lot of the time, the wall comes down one brick at a time, when we understand a little more about what’s wrong, about what it’s like to live in a world where some people are treated better than others.
“Live up to the light that you have, and more will be granted you. . .”
Let’s try one more example.
Go up to any musician you know. and ask, “Were you born playing like that? Did you just automatically know how to make those incredible sounds? Did you take a lot of lessons? Was it hard sometimes? Did you learn gradually?”
I’m not a piano player. I can just about bang out just one hand of “Twinkle, twinkle, little star”. I play other instruments. And I sing a lot. But to me, just the idea of doing what a pianist does, with both hands, and feet, and a lot of the time playing with her eyes closed – that just amazes me. I can’t even imagine playing like that!
Practice. That’s how it happens. Practice every day, and learn a little more. Grow a little bit. And practice again.
That’s how it works. Spiritually – in the area of prayer, in the area of faith, in the areas of telling the truth, making peace, sharing, testifying, all those things – most of us are some place back about the same level as a kid sitting down at the piano, and banging on the keys, and giving up and saying, “I can’t do it!”
A few people learn a little about spiritual things. They’re kind of at the level of plunking out “Twinkle, twinkle little star” or “Happy birthday to you.” But how many of us keep trying to grow spiritually, to learn and try a new step of faith every day?
Just remember that promise, “Live up to the Light that you have, and more will be given to you. . .”
We say, “Prayer is hard,” just like in school we say, “Math is hard!”
Well, it is hard sometimes. But we can learn. And because something is hard, doesn’t mean we don’t need to learn it.
Spiritually speaking, a lot of Christians are just like babies, counting on their toes all the time. We get to ten, or maybe we just get to five, and then we get frustrated and say, “I can’t do any more than that!”
Math is hard, and history is hard. Christianity is hard. Love is hard. Staying healthy is hard. Lots of things are hard!
Doesn’t mean we can’t learn. Doesn’t mean we can’t grow. We need to listen. We need to learn the basic principles. We need to practice, and put it to work.
The Lord’s Prayer is one of the most basic prayers there is. Most of us learn it when we’re young, and we never outgrow it.
The things the Lord’s Prayer teaches us – to keep God’s name holy, to put God’s will first, to look for the kingdom here on earth, to depend on God for what we need every day, to forgive and to ask for forgiveness – those are all basic lessons.
Staying away from temptation, staying away from evil – those are basics, too. Living in God’s kingdom. Depending on God’s power. Giving God the glory. Nothing is more basic than that.
A whole lot of people manage to get along somehow every day. They hold jobs. They drive cars. They stay more-or-less alive.
But spiritually, they haven’t even mastered the Lord’s Prayer. They’ve never learned to tell the truth, or even how to listen to it.
We want to be astronauts before we’re even off the ground. We think we know all the answers to the whole world, when we don’t even know why we’re here.
“Live up to the Light that you have, and more will be given to you. . .”
We are all, spiritually, back in first grade – and I include myself in that number. But we can learn. And the way to learn is partly by reading, but mostly by practice.
Putting our faith into practice is so exciting, when we see that it really works. It’s like a kid saying, “Hey, 2 plus 2 really does make four. It made four yesterday. It made four last week. Maybe it’ll make four tomorrow! I can’t wait to see if it still works again next time!”
Because the more we put faith to work, the more confident we get about it. The more we believe in it. The more we’re sure it will work next time, and every time. And the more new things about faith we’ll want to keep learning.
I’ve got a lot of friends who struggle with different things, every day. They tell me they’re making it one step at a time, or maybe one day at a time.
Sometimes that’s the only way to live for a while. We need to tackle just one problem, not a whole world full of problems. And even then, we fall down and fail.
When that happens, when we fall down, that’s when God steps in. The word for that, in the Bible, is grace.
Grace is such an interesting word, and so much of the time, we get it wrong. Grace isn’t a reward for something we’ve done right. It’s God helping us, because God wants us to do better.
Grace is free. It’s God being generous. It’s God loving us.
Grace is God doing something unexpected and something we don’t deserve. Grace is like healing. It’s like God reaching out to us.
In the Bible, the word “grace” is related to the word for “gift”. It’s an enormous present. It’s also related to the words for “joy” and “happiness”. God lifts us up, and we feel not only our own joy, but God’s joy that we’re trying again.
God wants us to be better. And God loves us, when we keep trying. God forgives us when we fail. But God keeps hoping that we’ll grow, and be strong, and share what we’ve learned.
“Live up to the Light that you have, and more will be given you. . .”
That’s a beautiful gift for Valentine’s Day. I hope you have a wonderful week.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.