Last Sunday, I spoke about the dangers of waiting around for someone else to do what we are called to do. If we assume someone else will do it, there’s a good chance that it (whatever “it” is) will never get done. If we wait around for someone else to do it, we may miss out on opportunities for our own learning and growth. If we expect God to do it all, we’ll be tempted to blame God when the work we’re supposed to do doesn’t get done. Last Sunday, was all about taking responsibility, getting the work done, and not waiting for someone else to do it.

Last Monday, I tried to work on the church’s website. In an attempt to save the church some money, I decided to change the company that hosts the site. Before I entered ministry, I worked a bit with computers and I was fairly confident that I accomplish this task on my own. There’s a lot of technical jargon involved with what I tried to do: hosting, server, ftp, dns, nameserver – it’s all a bit complicated for me to explain and, well, apparently it’s all a lot more complex than I thought it was going to be. If you’ve gone to our website this week you may have noticed something strange – like, it’s not there.

Last week, I spoke about the dangers of waiting around for someone else to do it. This week, I’m speaking about the dangers of trying to do it all yourself.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus told his disciples “I will ask God to send you another Helper, the Spirit of truth, who will remain constantly with you. …you do know the Spirit because the Spirit lives with you, and the Spirit will dwell in you.”

I believe that Jesus lived his life to help us see and understand what we are supposed to do. God, through Jesus worked to create a better world. He spent his ministry trying to teach others, not to do it for them. He was there to work with those around him and – when his time on Earth was over – he sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within and among them as a helper. The same Spirit lives within each of us. We may call her our conscience or our superego or our better self – the Spirit is that part of us that nags at us when we make the wrong choices, that feeling that we’ve strayed down the wrong path. The helping Spirit of God is what is inside of us telling us that we can do better. When I went to our website and found it was no longer there, the Holy Spirit was the one who said “Oops, maybe you should have asked someone else to help.”

Of course, it’s not always that simple. It’s not always easy to follow the right path. Or to know what path we’re supposed to take. Every time I followed the news this week, I wondered how I was being called to help out in a world full of anger and sadness and fear.

How am I being called to respond when Christians and other minorities are being driven out of Iraq and forced to hide in the mountains, wondering where their next meal will come from , and where they will have to run to next?

How am I being called to respond when I’m reminded that someone dies by suicide every 13 minutes in this country and that even a wealthy celebrity who brought joy to so many for so long was not immune to the struggles of depression?

How am I being called to respond to yet another shooting death of yet another unarmed black man?

It all just seems like too much. My first instinct is to run and hide, ignore the pain and suffering of the world and give up. The problems of the world are too big for me to solve. Why should I even try?

Last Wednesday, the class I’ve been teaching at the medium security prison in Concord came to an end. Throughout the twelve week course, I worked through a curriculum designed to help the inmates become more aware of their emotions in an attempt to help them change the course of their lives. At first, it seemed like a daunting task. I’ve learned that it’s pretty difficult to change a lifetime of bad experiences with a class that meets once a week. I’ve learned that the prison system has many flaws. I’ve learned that many of the men still have a lifetime of battles ahead of them. It all just seems like too much to change.

I began volunteering at the prison because Mary Bernier asked me to. Mary started to do it because she was invited to go along to a prison where her cousin volunteered. I confess that I resisted the idea for quite some time. But Mary was very persistent. As we explored the possibilities for volunteering, we found the Concord Prison Outreach and Carol Peters, who spoke here in the spring. Through that organization, we learned the ropes by co-facilitating the class a few times where we also met other volunteers.

One of these volunteers, Alice, worked with Mary and I this last time around.   The three of us divided up the teaching and administration of the class – each of us taking turns teaching, reviewing homework, leading meditations – all of the small tasks that added up and made the class what it was.

I couldn’t have done all that work by myself. Having the help of a great team allowed us to offer a class with real meaning and depth. We were able to share our stories with the inmates and, hopefully, show them changes in our own lives that may inspire them to make changes in theirs.

Each of the 22 men in the class were part of the team as well. We didn’t know their crimes. We got to know them for who they are, not what they did. Over the course of the 12 weeks, many of them shared with us their fears, their shame, and their sadness. At the end, we saw some real change and growth – in both the inmates and the teachers.

I have no way of knowing how much that will help in the future. I have no way of knowing how these men might change their lives when they get out of prison. I recognize that changing the prison system and changing the culture of crime in this country is too much for me to do. And I recognize that it’s not up to me to change the inmates’ lives. But I’m confident that Alice and Mary and I did something useful and worthwhile by working in small steps; by working on helping the men to become more aware of what triggers their anger and giving them options on how to handle their emotions. And because I didn’t try and do it myself, I was blessed to work with a team doing work that impacted my life.

When we face great challenges – when we look at the news and ask “what can I do?” – we see that it’s an impossible task for us to do on our own. However, if we can look at realistic, smaller goals and if we can remember to ask for help when we need it, maybe we can change things a little at a time.

So we can pray for guidance when faced with the challenges in Irag and Ferguson and in our minds. We can call on politicians to provide aid for struggling people around the world; we can call for restraint and better training when local police forces arm themselves with military weapons; we can remove the stigma of depression and mental illness by reaching out to friends who need our help and asking for help when we need it ourselves.

Hopefully the website will come back up in a few days. I’ve reached out to others in the congregation who know about computers and webhosting – something I should have done earlier.

Last week, I spoke about the dangers of waiting around for someone else to do it. This week, I’m reminding myself that it’s okay to ask for help when I need it. We are here to help each other and Jesus Christ, who taught us so much, has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit who lives with us and dwells in us. I pray that God’s Spirit be fully present and obvious in all that do.

About Last Week….

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