Sunday, February 18, 2018

Reflection on Genesis 9:8-17

It is a little phrase that I have never noticed before. 

I have read or heard some version of the Noah flood story probably over a thousand times throughout my lifetime.  The number of times has significantly increased with the development of children in my life, of course.  It is a favorite story, ranking up there with Zacchaeus and the Loaves and the Fishes because…you know…animals and all.  Actually, those animals have to do with the phrase that I never noticed before.  Want to know what it is?

Before I tell you, a thought about the rainbow for a moment. 

The rainbow is the sign of the promise that God made concerning destroying all life on the earth again.  As long as rainbows continue to appear, we know that God will not send another earth drowning flood.  Rainbows are beautiful and all, but have you ever thought about the fact that each time you see one, God is reminding us, and God is being reminded also, of the promise? 

It is an active promise that has not stopped.  It is an active promise that God has not forgotten.  It is an active promise that each generation of people get to see anew.

It is an active promise that seems to fade with adulthood.  When I was a child and I saw a rainbow, not only did I try to chase it across the fields, attempting to stand in its multicolored glory…which I never accomplished by the way, rainbows are shifty things, never staying put…but when I saw a rainbow I knew that God was talking to me at that very moment.  When a rainbow showed up, I just knew that God was giving me the promise of life and security from destruction at that very moment. 

Do you want God to talk to you directly even in these days and times?  Just go look at a rainbow.  It is an active promise to us even today. 

As a child, I inherently knew it to be an active promise. 

Adulthood and the study of light and prisms and all that, I supposed, tampers down the promise giving wonder of God and rainbows, but they need not.  It still shows up as a promise even now. 

It is a promise from God that never dies or fades.  As Isaiah says: “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.”

That sort of reminds me of that phrase in the story that I never noticed before. 

I once had a random thought (which as a kid with an active imagination I have always been prone to having), and the thought went something like this: if all people on the earth died from some sort of disease or something like that (not because God wanted us all to perish, but we did anyway), would there still be rainbows? 

It is an interesting random thought for a child, is it not?  If rainbows are a promise for us, then will the promise still shine even after we are gone? 

My answer is: probably, I guess.  Scientifically, prisms will still scatter light, and theologically the word of God…the promises of God…will stand forever, even after we are gone. 

It all has to do with God’s promise to us and does not have anything to do with us accepting it or believing it.  But, beyond that, there is the phrase that jumped out at me while reading the Noah story for the 1561st time that also helped me to answer my own question in a small, but significant way.

It is contained within this sentence of scripture from Genesis: "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (NRSV, Genesis 9:12-13. 

Did anything jump out at you? 

Here is the idea that jumped out at me: not only is the promise of the rainbow intended for every person of every nation and color and persuasion and ideology (it is for all people now and forever), but it is also a promise to the earth, including the animals.  You know, those cute animals that we count two by two and sing about coming off the boat three by three…you know because of being locked up in a boat for 40 days and 40 nights. 

God makes a promise to all living creatures. 

So, to answer my childhood random thought; yes the rainbow will still shine even if humans are gone in the future, because the promise is for all living creatures, not just us.  The gnats and cockroaches will be gazing at the multicolored promise long after any apocalyptic war takes us out. 

God cares for all that God has created.  This should not be an earth-shattering revelation in any way, but in today’s world where desire for more and more overcomes love for others, and greed overcomes care for others, the idea actually is sort of earth-shattering. 

We modern people assume that the earth is a gift for us to use as we wish, but we forget that we were actually created to be gifts for the earth.  We were made to be stewards or caretakers of all to whom that God has made the promise. 

Not only does God not want to lose a single one of us humans, but God also desires to redeem all creation. 

Colossians is clear on this: “Through [Christ] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” 

The cross redeems all.  The rainbow too will always shine its active promise to all creation, whether humans are there to see or not.  The promises of God are for all on earth that God loves, not just us humans.

And, that was my revelation after reading this text for well over the thousandth time.  It finally sunk in, like really sunk in, that God values all that God created.  God actually does care for the animals that God saved two by two.  It is not just a cute story.  It is a story of dramatic salvation for the bunnies, mice, and elephants. 

And, the rainbow is a promise that they will not be destroyed by God again because of the carelessness and sinfulness of human beings.  Animals will no longer be a scapegoat for our own sins. 

All creation is loved and valued enough to create an eternal promise that shines on little children running in fields and the deer running in the same field alike.

"This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh…” (NRSV, Genesis 9:12-15a).

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Reflection on Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

I would not be so hard on those hypocrites listed in Matthew, because I have been there.  I have been one of those hypocrites. 

You see, people most often assume the worst about people when they do something in a very public way. 

For example, that guy who tries to pray eloquently out loud so that others will be pleased by his words, I am pretty certain that most of us have been that man.  We should not assume that he is so bad. 

I am not saying that all of us have prayed eloquently out loud, but I am saying that most of us are worried about sounding intelligent when asked to pray in front of others.  I do not know of a single person who does not worry a little bit about how they sound when they pray in a group setting. 

I have been in the situation (before I became a pastor and prayer became an expected part of the job description) where I have been asked to pray out loud, but I declined because I was too worried about what I would say and how I would sound.  So, do not be too hard on that guy who is just trying to do it right.

Also, do not be hard on that fasting girl who shares what she is up to with others.  After-all, you are not in your right mind when you are short on calories.  Plus, fasting is a big commitment.  You do kind of want someone to share in the experience, if even a little bit.  She is just trying to do the right thing by fasting for God’s sake.

Now, I can honestly say that I have never blown the trumpet before me as I have proceeded to give my offering in church.  I have rarely given the type of donation that would warrant a trumpet, or even a kazoo.  But, I do remember a time that $5 was what I gave, and it was a huge sacrifice because it could have paid for some needed food.  I did want others to see that I at least put something in the plate.  At least I was trying.

I guess that is my point in all of this; each of these people tried.  They were trying to do the right thing.  They were trying to be good, faithful people.  They were trying to fit in with the norms of the faith community. 

Do not be too hard on them because they are you, and me, and the person next to you.  We have tried over and over again to do it right, but as is often the case, we have somehow missed the mark.

You know what was lost in those times that I was worried what others would think about my prayers or my manner of speaking when delivering a prayer?  The prayer.  The prayer was lost.  The relationship with God was lost.  The conversation with God was lost. 

The whole idea of praying out loud became a wall that separated me from God because I was too worried about doing it right.  It is all the same with the giving and the fasting, we are so often worried about doing it right, doing this faith thing right, that we miss the opportunity to actually have a relationship with God.

What if? 

What if Jesus made it OK to just go to your room and talk to him?  No walls of worry about your public performance.

What if? 

What if Jesus told you that it does not matter what other people think about what you are giving?  What if Jesus just cared about if you show love for others?  Then Jesus would see your heart and your gift.  No walls of community approval needed.

What if? 

What if Jesus simply wants to be close to you when you fast or do some other sort of spiritual discipline?  What if being close to you and showing you grace is all he cares about?  What if your spiritual discipline is not about what you are doing for God, but rather an opportunity for God to do something to you?

You are a child of God through the blood of the cross.  You are a child of God because Jesus wanted to call you a sister or brother. 

You did not have to do anything to earn this inclusion in the holy family and you do not have to prove anything in order to maintain this family inheritance; not to God; not to God’s other faithful people; not to anybody. 

There is no need to prove yourself.  Proving yourself does nothing but build an unneeded wall between you and your relationship with Jesus Christ. 

Imagine that, for one reason or another, you felt you had to prove to the world that you loved your son.  Therefore, you spend all your time buying him the toys, the bikes, and the cars that everyone can see. 

Unfortunately, you are so concerned about proving your love that you actually forget to actually love your son.  You actually forget to spend time with him and show him the ropes of riding a bike in the backyard where he will not be embarrassed when he falls. 

Worrying about what others think is a wall, and it gets in between all that you love and all who love you, including God.

When you choose a spiritual discipline this Lent, one that seeks to bring you closer to God (such as reading the Bible more, attending worship more, fasting and praying, doing spiritual artwork, whatever you choose) feel free not to enter into the Lenten discipline conversation at church or work. 

You do not have to enter into that yearly, predictable conversation that goes, "I'm only two days into Lent and I already ate the chocolate!  Oops!" 

You are free from having that conversation.  You are free from the pressures of the outside world.  You are free to have the most beautiful relationship with Jesus that one could possibly develop, and no one needs to know.  After-all, your spiritual heart is about you and Jesus, and no one else.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Reflection on Mark 9:2-9

Imagine that you are walking through K-Mart, shopping list in hand, looking for a fuse for an old fuse box.  Do they even sell fuses at K-Mart anymore?  You are turning your head looking for the fuse, but what you are actually thinking about are the stresses at work and home. 

Consumed with the stresses, suddenly the floor quakes and the ceiling tiles rain down around your feet.  You look up to see a heavenly ray of light shine down through the roof...of K-Mart...and you here a voice boom through the hole.

“Jesus is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.” 

Then as quickly as it started, it is all over.  The aisle is suddenly clear of the debris of ceiling tile, but the voice’s words still echo in your head.  Listen to Jesus.  Listen to the beloved.

Why did God do this here?  Why is God do this now?  What does Jesus have to do with the stresses at home and work. 

What if I listened to him? 

What if I truly listened to him as I consider dealing with the stresses?

It happens in other places to other people.  A young man was stopped in the hall at the high school by the falling debris of ceiling tile.  He too was told of Jesus the Beloved.  He too was told to listen to Jesus. 

It is kind of strange.  The kid was not the religious type.  You never would have pegged him for a divine message.  Yet, he got one.  His life, strangely, seems to have changed.  He seems, I do not know, a little more focused on life you could say.

The smile on her face was all you needed to see to know that it happened to her.  She had been sitting on her walker in the elevator when the elevator suddenly stopped, the tile came down, and light poured down the elevator shaft. 

She had been slowly working her way to lunch in the personal care home.  Her table mates were not looking forward to her arrival. 

“I don’t think the woman has ever had a positive thing to say during dinner,” one of her table mates quipped during her brief absence. 

But when she finally arrived at the table, she smiled.  Her table mates did not think the frown lines in her face would even allow a smile, yet there it was.

It was as if something changed in her.  It was as if God had moved some mountain of sadness or anger or something from in front of her life.  It was as if she had stopped complaining and started listening to God.

An encounter with the divine changes you.  Every year orthodox Jews set up tents (the Festival of Booths) to remember the days that their ancestors wandered in the wilderness.  But, they also do it so that they can intentionally listen for God’s direction and God’s voice.  While living in the tents during this festival, they wait for the voice.  They pray for the guidance.  They hope for the change.

When the divine tears through the atmosphere on that beautiful day with Jesus on the mountain, Peter offers to pitch those tents of listening for everyone on the mountain.  Perhaps, God was about to speak? 

Little did Peter know, God would not wait for the tents to be pitched.  Clouds gather over Jesus whose drab and dusty long shirt had been morphed before their eyes into a sight of true divine white and light.  Words rain down from the gathered clouds: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.” 

Those who climbed the mountain with Jesus are changed. 

It is not that they failed to hear Jesus' voice before.  He taught all the time, and they even followed him up the mountain when he told them they were going for a hike.  But, there is a difference in hearing Jesus and listening to Jesus.

Listening has to do with trust.  Listening has to do with investment.  Listening has to do with following, even when you do not know the outcome.  Listening has to do with your life being transformed from one where you do everything the way you have always done it (where you react the way you always react) to a life that is shaped by Jesus and all that Jesus cares about. 

The teen who usually walks around the skirmish in the hall suddenly sees the weak getting kicked by the bully and steps in front of the punch. 

The father who usually avoids those who get on his nerves, including his family, steps from the sanctuary of his garage and actually asks his son how his day was with a basketball in his hand. 

The lady who only sees the worst in people looks out her window and actually sees, as if for the first time, the joy on the faces of the kids playing across the street.  She wonders if they would like a soda to drink.

In all of these ways, big and small, the voice of God breaking into our world changes us. 

The command to listen to Jesus finally gives us direction and hope, where we previously had none. 

In addition, the hope of the resurrection, the promise that darkness and death will not have the last word, gives us the strength to reach beyond what we know and what we expect, and try something new under the guidance of Jesus. 

Maybe, forgiveness instead of building a wall is a better option.  How do you know unless you listen and then try it? 

Maybe, caring for the sinner instead of chiding them can change a life.  How do you know unless you listen and try it? 

Maybe, touching the untouchable, talking to the un-talkable, and seeking the lost cause will change their lives?  Maybe, it will change our life. 

You do not have to wait for the ceiling tiles to rain down on you at work or while you watch television at home in order to get this revelation.  You have already heard the story of the atmosphere being torn into two so that the voice of God might come down and change your life. 

“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.” 

The revelation is for you.  The words are intended for you.  Do not just go to church, sit as you always have, and hear the words spoken.  Rather, listen to the words.  Let them enter your soul as you walk from your place of worship. 

Let them interrupt you as you go to lunch. 

Let them interrupt you at work, or school, or while doing chores. 

Let them disturb you as you contemplate your next move. 

Let them transform you from who you are now to who God wants you to be. 

In other words, let Jesus guide you in all that you do and say.  He is, after-all, the one who can change your darkness into light.  He is, after-all, the one who can change the evening of death on the cross into a resurrection in the morning.  If he is the one who can do all that, why would you listen and trust in anyone else?

“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.”  In all that you do, take time to listen to Jesus.  It will change everything.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Reflection on Mark 1:29-39

One detail from this healing story in Mark rubbed me the wrong way upon first reading: “she began to serve them.” 

After Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law from a fever, the story says that “she began to serve them.” 

I do not know about you, but in a week of revelations of abuse and horror coming from the mouths of women who are courageously speaking up in the #metoo movement, and during a week where a nationally known pastor declared that women should not be preaching or teaching, but should rather keep in their places of learning and serving, this image of a woman snapping to it after she is healed in order to serve men seems not only insensitive, but also archaic. 

And, I would be right in allowing this image to rub me the wrong way.  After-all, it goes against so many other images and messages from the Bible that show women in a positive light. 

It is the women who stick with Jesus through the end of his life; through the cross.  All the men run away. 

It is a woman who has a deep theological discussion with Jesus at the well.  She discusses the depths of God as freely as any man of her time. 

And, of course, we cannot forget that it is a woman, Mary Magdalene, who is the very first evangelist after the resurrection. 

In Jesus’ world, women are not second rate citizens.  In Jesus’ world, women are not slaves or objects to serve men’s desires.  In Jesus’ world, there is neither male nor female, slave nor free. 

We are all equal in God’s sight according to the Bible.  We are all equipped by the Holy Spirit for the work of ministry according to the Holy Scriptures. 

So I guess if Simon’s mother-in-law is healed to serve anyone, it would be to serve Jesus in the exact same way that all of us followers are drawn to serve Jesus.

Maybe, we are on to something there with that thought.  After-all, Simon’s mother-in-law is not the only person to react with faith after healing.  The gospel of Mark is full of people, men and women, who run and tell of the wonders of God after being healed by Jesus.  It is full of people who get up and follow Jesus after their ills have been attended to.  In other words, it is full of people who “serve” Jesus after they have been made whole by his touch. 

Serving Jesus appears to be the natural reaction that a person has when healed by Jesus.  Somehow, when we encounter the healing hands of our savior, we are immediately drawn to serve in the same way that we have been served.  It is as if being healed and serving Jesus are inextricably linked together. 

Listen to what Jesus has to say in Mark 10:45: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” 

Somehow, in some way, being a part of Jesus’ kingdom means we serve others.  It means we sacrifice some of our time and love for the sake of someone who may not deserve such attention and affection. 

Perhaps, that is why God made it feel good?  Have you ever noticed how good you feel after helping someone else?  It just feels good and right to help others. 

That good feeling gets a bad rap sometimes.  People will accuse do-gooders of doing their good deed only so that they can get that good feeling high. 

“You should to right and good, because it is the right and good thing to do, not because you get some high from doing it,” they would claim. 

Though I do not disagree that we should do right and good at all times, even during the times that it does not give us the warm fuzzies, I disagree that we should feel bad about enjoying serving our neighbor. 

Love feels good.  That is just the way God made it. 

God created love to feel, well, loving.  And, when we are serving and loving, and feels like it is good and right, then we can know that it is indeed good and right because it feels as if it is in line with the goodness of Jesus’ kingdom. 

Love feels like love, and we should in no way feel ashamed about serving God in loving ways.

In fact, it is when we are not serving others that we should start to worry.  The scriptures lead me to think that a lack of serving others, that a lack of loving others through our actions, is actually the symptom that indicates that we are in need of healing. 

Just think about when you have the flu.  Unfortunately, I can speak from very recent experience here.  When you have that fever of over 104 degrees, for five days straight, there is little that your body wants to do.  No matter how much you want to do the chores around the house, the minute you resolve to move around, your muscles become stubbornly weak and your lungs start to strain over the simplest of exertions.  The obvious lack of serving others when you have the flu will automatically lead a doctor to believe that you need to be healed of the flu. 

Other spiritual ailments are no different.  When you have lacked the energy to serve others, do you remember what has caused the problem? 

Sometimes grief will keep us from doing the goodness that we have always done.  It is not uncommon for those suffering the loss of a loved one or the loss of a career to withdraw and not care as they normally would. 

Sometimes our sin and subsequent guilt will keep us from serving as we should.  I once knew of a young man who stopped coming to church the day that his girlfriend moved in with him.  He felt so guilty that he was not living as he thought that he should that he could not bear to show his face to others in the faith. 

Anger at others can do it.  Sometimes our anger and hatred can get in the way of showing love. 

Still, for others, it is some wrong done to them, some violation of body or soul, that has left them too hurt and too vulnerable to reach out to others in love.  Caring can become too vulnerable of a position in life for those who have been abused.

I do not need to go on.  You get the idea.  When someone ceases to serve it is a clear sign that they need to be healed and made whole once again.  Lack of service is the dark spot of cancer that signals a problem that needs healing.

So, I truly want to ask: how are you doing? 

What are your symptoms saying to you? 

Do you need to be healed? 

Do you need to be made whole? 

Is there anything keeping you from being the one that God made you to be? 

Is there an illness that needs to be cleared? 

Is there a sin that needs to be forgiven? 

Is there a wall that needs to be torn down? 

Is there a hurt that needs to be mended? 

Then come to Jesus, and find your healing.  Those who seek the touch of Jesus find their healing.  Come and be made whole once again.  Come and let Jesus put things right once again.  Come and be healed in the name of Jesus Christ. 

Come to Jesus, be made whole, and then go as the child of God that your were created to be. 

Come to Jesus, be healed, and go serve.

Here is a prayer for you:
Jesus healer of our every ill,
Fill you with love,
Mend you with mercy,
And grant you peace.
You are God’s child,
now and always.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Reflection on Mark 1:14-20

Think back to the beginning…the beginning of all beginnings.  “In the beginning, God created…” that is the beginning I mean.  I mean the one at the start of the Bible.  In that beginning, the Spirit of God hovers over the waters of chaotic nothingness. 

Have you even taken just a brief moment and considered the loneliness of that image?  In the beginning, there was nothing, other than the Spirit of God. 

It is an image that draws me to imagine a lonely boat on an unending expanse of sea.  There is no one else close by.  There is not even anyone else beyond the horizon.  It is just one boat floating, alone. 

It is not insignificant that God creates the universe to fill this void of nothingness.  God is not a God of loneliness.  No one should be alone.

Suddenly, there was light and dark, seas and land, plants and animals, a person and then a companion.  Suddenly, the universe went from a place of loneliness to a place filled with life and relationship.  Creation is the medicine for loneliness.

What Jesus does at the beginning of his ministry is no different.  The preacher out in the wilderness, John the Baptist, is arrested, and there is a void in the kingdom of God.  That void is quickly filled by Jesus.  And, one of Jesus' first acts in the kingdom of God is to draw people near.

“Hey you!” he cries out to Simon and Andrew who are casting a net out into the sea.  “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”  They follow.  He does the same a little further down the shore, calling out to James and John.  Like Simon and Andrew, they drop their nets and follow. 

Suddenly, Jesus who was walking by the waters alone, has created out of nothing: a church.  Suddenly, the kingdom of God went from being a lonely place to a kingdom that has quadrupled in size.  Jesus is not a savior who enjoys loneliness.  No one should be alone.

And, we are not alone.  On a dark night of the soul, a dark, sleepless night during college where the weight of the world’s problems and the doubtfulness of the spirit were working, like a demon, to possess all my thoughts and take control of my life, I resolved to wander across the campus in the morning to the office of a trusted professor. 

In the cold morning air, the chaotic clouds of breath that swilled around my head conveyed the chaotic thoughts and fears held within. 

As soon as I walked up and stood in his office door, my professor took one look at me, put down his coffee and said, “We need to talk don’t we?”  And, with that, he clicked his laptop closed and turned his full attention my way.  He offered his ear and his heart.  It was enough.  God is not a God of loneliness.  No one should be alone.

When we consider our kingdom task of fishing for people, too often we think about it in terms of numbers.  Unintentionally, we often think about God like an accountant who keeps a running tally of followers until there is a final amount sufficient to declare profitability. 

“Fish for people.”  “Bring more people into the church.”  “Grow your church.”  “Grow the kingdom.”  “Evangelize.”  “Get out there and knock on doors”…and the like. 

Though God does care about every lost and wandering soul out there, God in no way sees us as a number in the church’s tally of saved souls.

Instead, God cares about each one of us being connected…being together. 

A woman who has been suffering alone from bleeding for years and years, will soon touch his cloak and be rewarded for her faith.  She will gain a savior.  She will gain a family.  Jesus is not a savior who enjoys loneliness.  No one should be alone.

A man who has been rendered alone in his blindness will soon call out to Jesus, believing that Jesus can save.  Jesus will heal the man’s sight and Bartimaeus will immediately become a follower.  He is no longer alone.  Jesus is not a savior who enjoys loneliness.  No one should be alone.

That is the good news of the kingdom of God this day.  The kingdom is not about "me," it is about "us."  It is about community. 

The kingdom is not a place that emphasizes individual belief and individual salvation.  It is not a place that understands the “me and my faith” sort of Christian talk that we Christians throw around from time to time.  The kingdom is not as lonely as that. 

The call to fish for people is much bigger.  Ancient people did not use fishing poles in order to draw individual fish into the boat one by one.  Instead, they used nets that, when cast into the air rightly, would spread out into a huge sheet of webbing that could draw a whole school of fish into the boat or onto the shore.  That is what the kingdom of God is like.  It is like gathering a whole school of fish together so that it can swim for the Lord. 

It is like choosing a bunch of people in order to create a rocking soccer team for the Lord. 

It is like gathering the entire crowd at the wedding to dance together the Macarena.  Is that example too 1990ish?  No matter, you get my point. 

The kingdom is a place where all people are called and gathered so that they do not need to go through this thing called life alone.  The kingdom is a place where all are drawn through faith to find belonging.  It is a new creation.  It is a new family.  It is a place of Holy Relationship.  It is the realm of God where no one is alone.  God is not a God of loneliness.  No one should be alone.

There once was a man, true story, who lost his young son to the heat of a van in the middle of the summer.  Somehow, the son had wandered out into the van during nap time, closed the door, and overheated.  The man was distraught.  He questioned why.  He questioned where God was at that moment.  He questioned life in general. 

In other words, he felt alone.  He felt alone without his son.  He felt alone in his grief.  He felt alone, like no one actually understood; not even God.  He was alone. 

Not knowing how to cope, the man reached out to a pastor, shared his story, shared his loneliness, and shared most of all that he felt like God did not care, was not listening, or simply did not understand his situation. 

The pastor quietly heard the man’s pain and then shared one simple thought with the distraught man:

“One day, God lost his son too.” 

The man was not alone after-all.  God is not a God of loneliness.  No one should be alone.

We are a people who have been given a holy task; to fish for people.  But it is not about the numbers or the size of your church.  Rather, it is about the family of God.  It is about the holy connections that we make with the people that we gather into this place.  It is about walking together in faith.  It is about reaching out to a world of loneliness that is alone despite being connected constantly through our smart-phones. 

We are a people who have been given the task of exorcism of loneliness.  After-all, God is not a God of loneliness.  No one should be alone.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Reflection on 1 Samuel 3:1-20 and John 1:43-51

Had little Samuel lived in my house, I am quite certain that God’s call would have gone somewhat differently.  It would have started the same. 

“Samuel” God would call out. 

Samuel would come out of the bedroom and similar to Eli I would say, “Go back to bed.” 

Here is where the story would start to part ways.  The second time that God calls and Samuel comes out of the bedroom, I am sure my second response would sound less like Eli’s calm “lie down again,” and sound more like,  “I thought I told you to go lay down!  Now, go get in your bed, 1, 2, if you are not in your bed by three I swear…” 

And, the third time Samuel comes out of his room, I am certain that a heavenly visitor showing up in his bedroom would not even cross my mind. 

Rather, words that sounds a little bit like this would fly from my mouth: “For the love of…what the heck are you doing up again…I thought I told you to go to bed!  Now, you can go to a time-out.  No, don’t say anything to me, we don’t speak during our time out, I don’t care what you heard.  Now, be quiet and sit in your time out!”

Needless to say, God’s message would have been completely ignored had this all occurred in my house.  But, that does cause me to wonder, maybe God’s message has been ignored in my house from time to time. 

My children certainly are not sleeping in the Holy of Holies as Samuel was, next to the arc of the covenant, where God might rightly be expected to show up some night.  Samuel is in God’s bedroom in the temple.  God should be expected to pop by every once and a while. 

But, does that not make it even harder for me?  Do I even expect that God is going show up in my children’s bedroom, speak to them, and direct them in their paths?  Or, am I distracted so much by the day to day chaos of raising children that all the divine stuff might completely go over my head. 

It is quite possible, or even likely, that I will miss my opportunity to guide my children back to bed and tell them, as Eli did, to listen carefully to what God is saying.  Do I expect God to call out to them?  Do I even expect God to call out to me?  How about you?

What if one of your friends were to come up to you and tell you that he has found the savior of the world. 

“He’s from Nazareth.  Come with me and talk to him,” the friend says. 

I wonder if we would be open to it?  I would probably just respond sarcastically the way that Nathaniel does, “Can anything good come out of a junk hole like Nazareth?” and start researching mental health facilities for my friend.

And, that likely reaction leads me to wonder if we carry too much baggage?  And, yes, I mean baggage in the most negative of senses. 

Have you ever seen those amazing women from Africa who carry those huge loads on their heads and shoulders for miles.  Well, sometimes I wonder if we are like them, only not in an amazing and helpful way, but in a detrimental way. 

I wonder if we sometimes carry too many preconceived notions about other people, carry too much pain, carry too many unfulfilled dreams from the past, carry too much daily distraction, too much uncertainly, too much grief, too much school, too much work, too much of whatever is on our minds that it blocks our view of God and plugs our ears to God’s words.

When I allow myself the time to daydream, do you know what I think might sometimes be nice?  Just starting over…having a fresh start in certain areas of my life.  Would that not be nice? 

Have you ever dreamed of dropping everything, dumping all of your baggage, and just starting over?  On some days, would that not be amazing? 

Only this time, you would dump everything that stresses you for a purpose.  You would dump all your baggage so that you could better see and hear and follow Jesus like those first disciples.

Do you want to know who just dropped their baggage in an amazing way?  Eli.  After-all, he actually entertains the notion that Samuel has something important to say when he gets out of bed that third time. 

Even more than that, when Eli hears the message that God tells Samuel, mainly that Eli’s family’s time of running the temple is over because of their sin, Eli responds, “Let it be as God sees fit.” 

What?  No fits of rage?  No sending Samuel to his room?  I am pretty sure that my child telling me that I deserve to suffer destruction would not go over well in my home. 

But, Eli takes it all in stride. 

Now, that is a guy without baggage.  That is a guy who is open to whatever and wherever God is leading.  That is a guy who has been found by God, and is secure in his relationship with the divine. 

Jesus echoes the same sentiment in the garden of Gethsemane as he prays to have his cup of devastation taken away from him.  Jesus follows his prayer of distress with, “yet, not as I will, but as you will.”  Those are the words of someone who has dropped their baggage and allowed God to speak and to lead.

But, that sort of freedom of the soul does not just come out of nowhere.  It just is not possible to simply let the baggage of your life, all that you have learned and clung to for security, fall to the ground if you have not first been given the security that comes with being seen by God.

Being seen.  When Nathaniel spouts off his sarcastic Nazareth comment Jesus’ first response is not to rebuke Nathaniel, but rather to see him.  Jesus sees Nathaniel for who he is.  Jesus values Nathaniel enough to pay attention to him.  And, Jesus promises that Nathaniel will see far greater things.  Nathaniel is seen, and it makes all the difference. 

Only when he is truly seen by God does he trust he is a child of God.  Only then can he drop his baggage, and follow, and then be.  When he is seen, he can finally be the child of God he was created to be.  When he is seen, he is free from the distractions. 

Nathaniel is seen by Jesus, and so are you.

The good news is that we are not stuck with our baggage.  The good news is that we can be more than our distracted selves.  The good news is that God is not done with us and never gives up calling to us, and inviting us to be God’s children. 

You are seen, you are free, and you can now be. 

Be what God has called you to be.  Be the person that the world needs.  Be the person that your family and friends need!  Be the beloved child of God who is not distracted, but does in fact hear the voice of God calling in the night. 

Be the child of God who says “Here I am Lord.”

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Reflection on Matthew 2:1-12

When you look at the three kings making their way to the Christ child, crowns of gold and gems on their heads and rich gifts in their hands, it is easy to assume that their lives are full and rich.

Following a divine star to their destination, it is easy to assume that the kings are special, with a divine appointment for this royal task of delivering gifts to the savior of the world.

But, if you would take the time to look closely, underneath the distracting shine of the crowns, you would see a different truth. If you looked closely at their faces, you would see the dark circles under their eyes and the struggles of life in the creases of their wrinkled foreheads.

You see, the moment the first king was summoned by the star to travel to Bethlehem, he was sitting all alone in his castle. The light of the star fell upon him as he sat eating alone.

Most days he ate alone, slept alone, and kept his own company. Even his kingdom rarely appealed to him for guidance. He was a lonely king, surrounded by the cold company of his gold.

As he gathered his things to travel to the newborn king, he took some of the gold as a gift in one hand, and carried his loneliness in the other.

Miles away from the first king was the second king who also held a secret underneath the gleaming riches of his crown. The secret had something to do with that crown that shined upon his head. For, when the star shown on him, directing him to travel to see the newborn king, his brow furrowed in worry about the cost of such an expedition.

You see, the truth was that the king had almost no riches, aside from that gilded crown on his head. He was as poor as his people, but he was expected to represent the nation as a rich and powerful leader. How many times had he given up his own dinner completely in order to impress a royal guest?

Giving up the valuable frankincense that was once gifted to him, and giving it to the newborn king was both an honor and a terrible sacrifice.  He gathered together some pride and left.

Still, many miles further was the third king. His kingdom flourished, and he was beloved by his people. All was well. Except that when the star shown on him to lead him to the Christ child, he did not see it. He did not see anything for that matter. He was blind. It was a servant who told the blind king that the star had appeared and summoned him.

How long had it been since the king had seen the faces of his family? How long had it been since he could see his brothers? “Too many years to count,” the king thought to himself. He did not even know where his family was any longer.

Grabbing some myrrh as a gift for the newborn king, and with help from an assistant, he mounted his camel with sadness in his heart and blindness in his eyes.

Now you know the truth of the king's lives.  Now you know not to be distracted by the crowns of gold and gems on these foreign king's heads, or the rich gifts in their hands as they arrive and make their way through the door to honor the new king.

The first king bows bearing a gift of gold and loneliness. The second king arrives next to the first, bowing and bearing a gift of frankincense and poverty. The third king is helped to his position by the servant, and he bears his gift in the wrong direction, his blindness no secret to anyone in the room.

The child king coos at the sight, and is briefly distracted by the gleam of the gems on the walls. But, soon the child toddles over to the first king, pushes the gold aside and gives the lonely man a hug. It is his first hug in years. The king’s heart melts, and for the first time in years the king feels a strange and beautiful sense of joy, and belonging.

Soon, the child takes the bag of gold, pulls and scoots the bag the short distance to the second king and says, “You take, you take.”

The other two kings assume it is the crazy antics of a small child, but the second king knows better.  It is a gift for him. The child knows him.

The child takes the frankincense and sets it next to the bag of gold. “Yours,” he giggles. Then the child’s smile fades as he looks straight into the king’s eyes and says “For you.” Never had the king been given such a gift.

Wandering off toward the third of his kingly visitors, the child relieves the king’s tiring arms of the dangling myrrh and pushes it toward the second king.

The third king soon feels the Christ child playing with his face; first his lips, then his cheeks, then his nose, and finally the child playfully, and gently, tugs at his eye lids.

Opening one eye lid, the child whispers, “peekaboo,” and the blind king sees the child’s lips say the words.

The king sees the child’s lips!

The king can see!

For the first time in years, the king can see!

They had each traveled to bear gifts to the child king, but what they had never expected was that they would be the ones to receive a gift. And, they certainly had never expected the last gift the child had in store.

The small child whispered to the once blind man, “Brothers” and pointed to the other two kings. The now seeing king focused his new eyes on the other two men, searching beyond the gleam of their crowns and beyond their dark circled eyes and wrinkles.

Seeing clearly, he recognized two faces that he remembered from his youth.  Almost simultaneously, the first king’s lonely eyes focused on the other two men in recognition. 

The child’s last gift was the gift of brothers being drawn together.

The Christ Child had brought them all together once again. And, as they rejoiced, the star above their heads shone brighter and gave light to the world.

This story is most rightly considered a legend of course.

Anyone who has studied their bibles knows that the men who visited the Christ child were not kings, but were magi, or men of wisdom. They were probably astrologers.

They also would note that the bible does not say how many of them visited. There may have been three, there may have been fifty three.  The bible certainly does not say anything about any ailments each one had, nor does it report of any healing that occurred because of the Christ child. As I said, the story is best considered a legend.

But, that does not mean there is no truth in the story.

Who we know Jesus to be is the same one presented in the legend.  He is the one who welcomes the foreigner.  He is the one who gives the blind their sight.  He is the one who gives good news to the poor, and he is the one who draws together those who have drifted apart. 

Wherever the blind (whether physically or spiritually blind) are given sight, Jesus is there.

Wherever lonely people who have been distanced from others are restored back to community, Jesus is there.

Wherever the poor are made whole and made to feel equal with all others, Jesus is there.

Wherever the stranger is welcomed rather than ignored or cast away, Jesus is there.

The story you just heard may be a legend, but it is full of the truth of Jesus. It tells the truth, that we do not bear gifts to Jesus, rather Jesus is our gift and Jesus bears gifts to us.

If the powers of the world ever threaten and force you to retreat, holding Christ safe in your heart in the same way Joseph retreated to Egypt to keep Jesus safe from Herod, do not stay hidden away in Egypt for long.  Return and share in the work of Jesus’ kingdom.   

As you follow in his path, your work might look something like teaching someone a trade (the blind see), supporting the recovery of amputee soldier (the lame will walk), opening the heart of someone who is closed off by hate, (the deaf hear), sitting with those who have lost everything (the dead are raised), and giving a job to a single mom (the poor have good news brought to them).

All of those things are signs of the kingdom of God. And, in all those things and more, Jesus is there.

Jesus is there.