Date: March 26, 2017
Title: “Fasting From Excuses, Feasting on Enthusiasm”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Romans 12:2, 9-18
When I was a child, Saturday mornings were not about watching cartoons on television, or playing tag with my sisters, or bike riding with my best friend Russell Ford. No, Saturday mornings were all about work. Housework, yardwork, homework… all of it seemed to land squarely on Saturday morning – every Saturday morning.
One Saturday I decided I’d had enough of this obvious injustice, this clearly oppressive parental subjugation. So I decided to come up with an excuse. What I needed was not just any old “I don’t want to do it” kind of excuse. What I needed was a real doozie, one that for sure would get me out of the workforce for the day. I needed an excuse to top all excuses, one that my 2 older sisters would envy for years. So I thought long and hard about it, and then I consulted the 1964 World Book Encyclopedias my sister Bunny had won at the previous year’s Puget Sound Science Fair.
You see, I remembered how mom had told the story of her near-death from appendicitis when she was a child, and I figured that memory would be enough to buy me a little maternal caution, if not downright fear. So I found the first volume which covered from “A to C” and I looked up appendicitis. And I was well prepared when mom stopped in to check on my chores. “Ooh,” I said, “I’m not feeling so good. I’m a little nauseous, and I feel clammy. And there’s this stabbing pain – right here – in the lower right abdominal quadrant…”
Aha! I was right … Obviously a sick child could not participate in the labor force, but would have to rest and relax in front of Bullwinkle and Rocky the Flying Squirrel or Wiley Coyote and the Roadrunner or the like. So there I sat, feeling that all was right with the world as I luxuriated in the power of a well-crafted excuse. Until my father got home.
Dad had been working that morning at his office 35 minutes away when mom called to tell him I might be sick and she was worried. So home he came with the family’s one car, and bundled me up to take me back those 35 minutes to the Army hospital next door to his office, all the while muttering under his breath threats that went something like… “You had better be sick if you know what’s good for you!” I didn’t have the disease, but for a while it looked like I might be having a near-death experience all the same!
Excuses, excuses. We all make them. We’ve all heard them:
- My dog ate my homework
- The traffic was terrible, the train was late and the bus never came
- The wi-fi was down, I didn’t have any cell reception, I couldn’t find my glasses
- I didn’t think you’d notice, I didn’t think it mattered, I didn’t think anyone would care…
Or then there’s my personal favorite, from comedian Steve Martin, who says all you need are just two simple words. Just 2 simple words in the English language, “I forgot”… Martin says:
“How many times do we let ourselves get into terrible situations because we don’t say “I forgot”… Say you have never paid taxes or you’ve robbed a bank or you’ve forgotten to do the dishes before dashing out the door… Just say “I forgot” to pay taxes, “I forgot” it was illegal to rob the bank, “I forgot” to do the dishes…
Excuses – the rationalizations we make, the reasons we invent to defend our behavior, or cover up our failures. We make excuses to avoid taking action or to deny responsibility. And the problem is, even if they seem to work in the moment, they will not work forever. There is a price to pay for a life of excuses. Over time, excuses prevent us from reaching our full potential. They blind us to new opportunities for growth and new chances for change and new possibilities for life. A lifetime of excuses will limit your belief system, and make you vulnerable to paranoia, always worrying about being found out, or caught by the truth behind your fabrications. A pattern of excuses will erect imaginary walls around an ever-decreasing comfort zone and it will stifle your native creatitivity.
So you see, it is about high time for us to fast from excuses and to begin feasting, instead, on enthusiasm! “Enthusiasm” comes from the Greek word “enthousiasmos”, and consists of the root words “theos” (meaning God) and “en” (meaning in). Putting the two words together, “enthusiasm” then means literally, “God within”
Think about it – when you are really enthusiastic about something, it feels like you are being inspired by a force beyond yourself, by the God within yourself. Enthusiasm is infectious; it is creative; it is outwardly-focused, and it is fun. It may even be life-giving. Psychology Today reports:
In a recent survey of over 9000 employed adults, enthusiasm not only predicted general life satisfaction, but also predicted work satisfaction and whether or not a person viewed their work as a job or as a calling… This same study also found that enthusiasm, gratitude, hope and love were more strongly associated with life satisfaction than judgment or learning or professional accomplishment.
Perhaps Ralph Waldo Emerson was onto something when he said Nothing great has ever been achieved without enthusiasm … I think the apostle Paul would agree. Certainly the picture he paints of the Christian life is one infused with enthusiasm. Remember how he writes:
- Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for God
- Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it
- Hold on for dear life to good
- Keep yourselves fueled and aflame…
There are, depending on the English translation you use, as many as 30 imperatives in this short passage. It’s obvious Paul is not addressing particular problems in Rome, but is lifting up a model of Christian community for any of us who would follow the risen Christ. You can almost hear Paul suggesting “Don’t try this alone”… you need a community around you.
Christianity itself grew community by community as enthusiasm – that presence of God within – was shared from person to person and place to place. Our own branch of the franchise – Methodism – took root and spread rapidly in this country not because of some theological abstraction or doctrinal emphasis. It grew because of enthusiasm. John Wigger in his article “Taking Heaven by Storm” writes
The enthusiasm of early American Methodism appealed to a broad spectrum
of Americans for at least two reasons.
1- its emphasis on personal experience gave the marginalized (like women
and African Americans) the ability to exercise greater influence in the church;
2- It answered the yearning for a more direct contact with God in everyday life
and for the freedom to engage in one’s own salvation…
Enthusiastic religion offered a more interactive faith in which the believer
and God work together to meet life’s daily challenges
Early American Methodism grew because people got beyond the traditional ecclesiastical excuses of “I’m not good enough” or “I’m not educated enough” or “I’m not rich enough” or “I’m not important enough”, and instead engaged the people with an enthusiasm which said God is in you, and you are enough… period. You are enough. I am enough. Together we are enough, because we are a part of the body of Christ, a body which doesn’t need excuses when we have enthusiasm. When we recognize God is in us, there is no longer a need to rationalize or defend our behavior. There is no longer a reason to avoid taking action. There is no longer a desire to deny responsibility. There is no longer an urge to find someone else to blame.
Enthusiasm not only takes heaven by storm, it sets the world on fire as well. Howard Thurman put it this way: Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
You may remember my story about my seminary classmate Dave. I think it bears repeating today:
I went to the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, where new student orientation included a picnic at a campground up in the mountains, about an hour west of town. Students carpooled to the picnic, usually with four or five people in a car.
The driver of my car was a native of Nebraska named Kay, and one of the passengers was Dave, who hailed from Kansas. Both of them were awe-struck by the beauty and the grandeur of the Rockies, having rarely, if ever, seen really big mountains before. And all was lovely on the way up to the picnic as Kay hugged the right lane and slowly chugged up the steep incline.
On the way back down, however, the car began to pick up more and more speed and we were soon hurtling around curves and bends with what felt like unwise abandon. At one point I glanced over to see Dave gripping the door handle, knuckles white as his face. Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore and blurted out, “Stop the car! I’ve got to get out! God has great plans for me!”
Of course poor Dave never lived it down. Over the next three years there were many opportunities for him to be reminded of those “great plans” in God’s mind. They provided us with much fodder for teasing, much gentle prodding and more than a little bit of humor, all at Dave’s expense. And yet… that moment of panic-inspired honesty, that movement beyond any excuse to an embrace of the God within also inspired a bit of encouragement for us along the way.
My friends, this morning what the world needs is for you and me to come alive. The world needs us to fast from our excuses. The world needs us to feast on enthusiasm. Because the truth is, God does have great plans for us all!
Thanks be to God! Amen.