A few hours ago I gave my first – and last – sermon at chapel for the spring semester. It was my best shot at a new year’s sermon (however late). And its message was simple. In 2014 I encourage you to live with grace; honor the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love; and find peace. In fairness, I may have an easier time doing the above than most. I am starting my sabbatical. By tradition, professors are encouraged to take a sabbatical semester off from regular teaching every seven years to focus on research, writing, travel, and (not unimportant) rest and renewal. There is some Biblical support for this act. In Leviticus 25, we read of the sabbatical year when the ancient Israelite farmers would allow their fields to lie fallow every seven years to give the soil a chance to be renewed.
I am about that task of renewal right now and I welcome you to join me. However, you don’t need to wait seven years. Indeed, I encourage you to find some of that renewal in your life right now. Here are three paths. In 2014 consider this approach to life:
1. Choose grace: New year’s resolutions usually hammer us with expectations. Lose weight. Clean the clutter off of your desk. Get your schedule better organized. Save money. Plan ahead. Be more efficient. Do more. Be more. All of these recommendations are worthy, there can no denying. But they aren’t life-giving when taken too seriously. Remember that you are loved as the flawed human beings you (and I) are. Live with gratitude and focus on small not grand changes.
2. Embrace the “theological virtues.” In I Corinthians 13:13, St. Paul tells us, “faith, hope, and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love.” The ancients wrote of virtues such as courage, temperance, justice and prudence. Paul embraced faith, hope, and love. All can be powerful, but Paul’s list comes as a form of grace. As Hebrews tell us, faith “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Having a faithful sense of trust – not fear – as you venture forth this year can be freeing. In Romans 5, Paul tells us that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produce character, and character produces hope, and hopes does not disappoint us…” Trust that you can learn from life’s experiences. Be gracious with your failings and optimistic about the opportunities for growth in the future. And remember, love is what matters in the end (I Cor. 13:13). Spend less time focused on your academic/professional resume and more time on your loving relationships.
3. Nurture inner peace: Paul was convinced that faith and a deep awareness of grace led to peace. In Dr. Bernie Siegel’s book, Peace, Love, and Healing, he lists the “symptoms” of inner peace shared by Dr. Jeff Rockwell, a chiropractor, and his wife. They have twelve “symptoms.” Let me list five. They include: “An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment; loss of interest in judging self; loss of interest in judging others; loss of interest in conflict; and loss of ability to worry.” (p. 212)
Choose the graced life. Embrace faith, hope, and love. And, in the midst of the crazy schedule, take time to nurture inner peace. Know that sabbath rest isn’t just for the sabbath every seven days or the sabbatical every seven years. It can be now, today, this year, this life. God bless!