I want to assure you that I am not a health nut . . . not by any stretch of the imagination. At Montana State University Billings, where I work during the week, they have started what I would call a “health consciousness” program. I think that it is some sort of scam that the university’s insurance company has created to cut down on the cost of claims and increase the profit margin . . . but, they insist that it is out of concern for the university’s employees. Something like “healthy employees make happy employees, and happy employees are more productive and profitable.” Either way, they have created a program to help make people healthier.
They call the health program “It Begins with Me”. Now I want you to understand that the program is completely voluntary and no one is forcing anyone to participate in the program. I also want you to know that they are giving away some really cool bling and prizes for participating. The foundation of the whole program is that no one can do it for anyone else, if a person is going to be healthy he or she must do it for themselves . . . thus, the title—“It Begins with Me”.
Remember what I said at the start of this? I am not a health nut. I am not good about watching my diet . . . nope, I have a wife who does that for me . . . and trust me she does as she makes me eat all of this healthy stuff like chicken. I do not like chicken unless it is deep fat fried with the skin on and screaming “heart attack”. I am far from being a healthy eater . . . I love greasy hamburgers, thick steaks, lots of pasta and rice, salt, butter . . . everything a nutrition expert would claim is bad for you. I am not too excited about exercise. Exercise sounds like work . . . tiresome . . . and, painful. Besides, exercise makes you sweaty and then you have to take another shower. The health program at the university calls for its employees to embrace this idea and practice of healthy living . . . but, I struggle . . . I struggle with jumping in with both feet.
My co-workers at the university give me a hard time about it. They encourage me to embrace the program . . . but I haven’t quite done it yet. Now, it is true, that my body is a little rounder . . . okay, a lot more rounder . . . than it should be; but, the ol’ ticker is still ticking. I am standing before you this morning breathing and living. What more can anyone ask for. They just roll their eyes and tell me, “That is up to you.” And, they are right! It is up to me. If I am going to be healthier it is up to me . . . it has to begin with me.
The words of the prophet Jeremiah come to a people who are exiled . . . who are oppressed . . . and who miss their way of life back in their homeland. They long for the way that things used to be when they were an important nation . . . a powerful kingdom . . . and, they seemed to be blessed by God in all that they did. Unfortunately their current situation is their own fault for not doing the will of God . . . they had broken the covenantal relationship. Even though they knew this it did not stop their longing for the way things used to be.
Sometimes it takes something major to shake things up . . . to grab people’s attention . . . to create change. Being violently exiled from one’s homeland can do that. This exile, particularly with their relationship with God, created some changes. In the past the relationship with God was between the corporate—the people as a whole. Everything that God did was for the people as the children of God . . . as a nation . . . as Israel. Now the covenant would change. No longer would the covenant be between God and the people as a whole . . . it would be between God and each individual.
God says: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people . . . they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.”
From corporate to personal . . . the covenant now begins with the individual. This is a major shift that points to the New Testament saga of our journey of faith. It is now between us and God.
And, it begins with us.
The key to our faith begins with us . . . it is our choice as to whether or not we embrace the covenantal relationship between us and God . . . up to us whether or not we will claim our place in the family . . . up to us as to whether or not we will count ourselves among the faithful. It begins with us because God has placed the covenant within our hearts.
From the beginning of the creation story God has always desired an intimate relationship with creation—especially the human relationship. Yet, at the same time—after generations and generations of attempting to make the people love and relate to God—God will not force anyone into that relationship. No, God places that responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the people as individuals . . . places it upon each of us. It is our choice. If we are not in a relationship . . . an intimate relationship with God . . . there is no one else to blame. We cannot blame our families . . . we cannot blame the church . . . we cannot even blame our Lord and Savior Jesus who showed us how to live in intimacy with God. We can only blame ourselves. It is up to us.
The season of Lent calls us into a time of examination of our relationship with God. To determine whether or not it is everything that it should be; and if it is not, then to determine what it keeping it from being that. Then it is up to us to change it and make it what we and God want it to be. Kind of sounds like a “health plan” for our faith doesn’t it? A sort of “It Begins with Me” spiritual direction plan for our faith. And, like any plan for our health—physical or spiritual—we recognize the fact that it is not going to be easy. It is going to be hard, tiresome, and frustrating to get back to being healthy and staying healthy physically or spiritually. The season of Lent calls us to this work . . . work that only we can do as individuals.
The words of the prophet Jeremiah remind of this.
Though I joke about my health, I do take it serious . . . I at least think about it and feel guilty as I am eating that greasy hamburger. It is hard work, but only work I can choose to do for myself . . . it is up to me. So it is for each of us as we strive to grow closer and closer to God in our personal relationships with God. It begins with us.
No one ever said that it would be easy . . . but, Jesus showed us the way and the rewards are great. Hang in there. As my co-workers at the university tell me . . . it is worth it. Amen.