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You might recognize the name Elizabeth Gilbert as the author of the bestselling novel Eat, Pray, Love.  Along with her fiction writing, Gilbert also writes and speaks about creativity – how it works and how it sometimes doesn’t work.  She tells stories about her own experiences with writer’s block and the fear of failure that can stop creativity dead in its tracks.

Hand-Me-Down Faith: Breaking Bad Cycles

January 21 cover.jpg

By W. Winston Chu
Wesley Campus Pastor
UUMC sermon of January 21

Scripture: 2 Chronicles 34:3-5 CEB
"In the eighth year of his rule, while he was just a boy, he began to seek the God of his ancestor David, and in the twelfth year he began purifying Judah and Jerusalem of the shrines, the sacred poles, idols, and images. Under his supervision, the altars for the Baals were torn down, and the incense altars that were above them were smashed. He broke up the sacred poles, idols, and images, grinding them to dust and scattering them over the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. He burned the bones of the priests on their altars, purifying Judah and Jerusalem."

Hand-me-downs can be a great gift from the previous generations. My daughter, Tsipporah, discovered my old varsity letter jacket last spring and she wore it to school every day for a week. Recently, I went looking for my trusty ski pants to shovel the driveway only to discover them keeping my son Ethan warm and dry outside for some snow play.

On the other hand anyone who has received hand-me-downs knows that there are also items that you don’t want: ill fitting trousers, or ties with dated patterns. Just because someone wants to give you something doesn't mean you always want to receive it.

The same is true with values, attitudes and beliefs that are handed down to us. As we have been exploring our faith communities and spiritual families have gifted us with an amazing spiritual legacy. However, it is likely that we have also inherited negative patterns and destructive habits.

When we carry on these negative patterns and destructive habits they can become bad cycles passed from one generation to another. These bad cycles have been recognized in habits like smoking, alcoholism, and domestic violence.

Behavioral psychologist Sherry Turkle’s outlines bad cycle learned from parents and reinforced by negative behavior of the child in the book "Reclaiming Conversation." The most moving and representative section of the book concerns the demise of family conversation. According to Turkle’s young interviewees, the vicious circle works like this: “Parents give their children phones. Children can’t get their parents’ attention away from their phones, so children take refuge in their own devices. Then, parents use their children’s absorption with phones as permission to have their own phones out as much as they wish.”

Today we read of a young king who was able to break a bad cycle. His name was Josiah. What was remarkable about Josiah is that he inherited a huge spiritual mess of a two-generation bad cycle from his grandfather and his father.

Josiah's grandfather was Manasseh. And the bad cycle begins with him.
Manasseh was 12 years old when he became king, and he ruled for fifty-five years in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the Lord’s eyes, imitating the detestable practices of the nations that the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the shrines that his father Hezekiah had destroyed, set up altars for the Baals, and made sacred poles. He bowed down to all the stars in the sky and worshipped them. (2 Chronicles 33:1-3)

In this way, Manasseh led Judah and the residents of Jerusalem into doing even more evil than the nations that the Lord had wiped out before the Israelites. The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they wouldn’t listen.

So the Lord brought the army commanders of Assyria’s king against them. They captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze chains, and carried him off to Babylon. (2 Chronicles 33:9-10)

Manasseh repented from his evil and returned to the Lord God.

When his son Josiah turned away from the idols of Baal and the ceremonies of incense, he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. This included restoration of the temple.

Breaking bad cycles is more than just replacing one idol for another.

Bad cycles are more about behavior than idols. This temple restoration was restoration of more than a building. It was restoration of relationship with God and God’s people.

Under the bad cycle of Manasseh and Amon, money was swindled from the people. Josiah broke this bad cycle and the laborers, artisans and servants of the temple were paid fairly. Moreover, relationship beyond the temple walls were established and cared for under the rule of Josiah. Widows and orphans were cared for.

The church can learn from this biblical breaking of a bad cycle. Josiah devoted himself to a relationship to God and to God’s people. He saw the essential of faith, a hand-me-down to truly be cherished.

Our vision is to dare one another to love God and to love neighbor. How will we dare to do this?