Sunday, November 26, 2017

Reflection on Matthew 25:31-46

If you had to make a bet, you would not have bet on her.  Yet, she was the one who journeyed off into African tribal lands to live with the poorest of people and help teach them sustainable living. 

The act seemed wildly holy and Jesus-like, but she would have never put it that way. 

She sent back pictures of her time in the Peace Corp. and they showed her living in her small, dust floored hut, working beside the people in their small fields, and even dancing with them while they sang and worshiped. 

She was the one who actually went out and did it. 

Many of us talked about it.  Many of us said we would go off and make a difference in the places in the world where there was suffering. 

But, it was the one atheist in our graduating college class who actually did it.  She was the one who went out and loved some of those people who Matthew would describe as “the least of these.”  She was the one who went out and loved as Christ loved.  And, here’s the real kicker, she did not even realize what she was doing.  Christ’s love was working through her and she did not even know it.

Her story flashes through my memory whenever people corner me at the end of church halls and ask the desperate question, “What does God do to those who do loving things, yet do not believe?” 

The question is always desperate, because they are not ever asking as if this were a generalized theological question for their own self-education.  Rather, the question always has a name attached. 

“My husband Bill was a good man.  He loved everyone, yet he never believed.  What will happen to Bill?” 

“Rachel was the sweetest little girl, but she never had time to know the Lord before the cancer took her away.” 

“My brother in arms, Chuck, lost his faith in the war, but he saved a bunch of us.  If he ain’t going to heaven, then I don’t want to be there.”

Her story flashes through my mind when these questions fly my way because it is her story that reminds me of Matthew 25.  Matthew 25 actually answers these questions and answers them quite clearly.  Matthew 25 does let us know what the King of Kings thinks of the nations who have not heard of him or sought to worship in his name.

So, here is what Matthew 25 has to say: 
As people from the nations come to the throne (people of the nations are people who do not know God or follow Jesus) the king declares,

"’Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'’

This story is talking about my Peace Corp. friend and your husband Bill, and little, innocent Rachel, and your friend Chuck and about any number of other loving people. 

This story is about those people who were filled with the love of Jesus, but did not know it.  It is about loving people who showed that love onto the lonely, vulnerable, and forgotten. 

Notice that the people in Jesus’ story are not surprised that they showed love by helping someone.  They knew what they were doing, after-all they wanted to do something good!  They knew they were caring for others and serving them. 

What they did not know…and what they were surprised to discover…is that they were actually serving Jesus. 

“When was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you,” they asked.  They were shocked when they were told that their love was directed at Jesus.  They are surprised to find out that they care about all that Jesus cares about.  In other words, they were surprised to discover that they had been loving with the love of Jesus and following the ways of Jesus the whole time.

Now, if I were to go up to my devoutly atheist Peace Corp. friend and declare that I know she is going to heaven because the Bible tells me so, I am pretty certain that she will look me straight in the eye and flip me the bird. 

But, for Jesus, it is not about getting into heaven or not getting into heaven.  For Jesus, it is about love. 

Does the love that he showed on the cross, the love that cares for powerless and hopeless, the love that cares for the poor in spirit, the love that seeks justice for the lowly, the love that raises up the sinner to new life; does that love show up in real ways in the real world? 

Jesus loved the whole world and died for it, and is therefore overjoyed when that love reaches the farthest points.  Jesus will use whoever Jesus needs to use to spread that love.  And, Jesus is overjoyed when that impulse to love is not stifled.  There were those who did not help “the least of these” who must have stifled the love given to them.

My Peace Corp. friend did not stifle that love.  Instead, she lived in it.  She basked in its glow.  She was the love of Jesus.  She was no stranger to that love. 

Now, being an atheist, she will certainly be surprised when she discovers that there is a King of Kings and a Lord of Lords.  But, one thing she will not be shocked by is that the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords is not like the corrupt and powerful leaders and institutions of the world. 

She will be happy to see that the King of Kings shows up in places like humble mangers and in vast fields filled with the poor, sick, and hungry.  She will be happy that Jesus gives attention to those who she gives attention.  She will be happy that the King of Kings loves the people she loves.  I think she will be happily surprised to find out that the love of Jesus has been with her the whole time.

I think she, and all those who love others but do not know the Lord, will be happy to hear Jesus’ words of love that sound something like, “welcome to eternal life.”

Reflection on Luke 17:11-19

Over the years I have had the opportunity to hear many people at many Thanksgiving tables share the things for which they are thankful. 

Most of them are heart-felt, yet predictable: “family,” “friends,” “children,” or “spouse.”  I have even heard a couple of people mention the rare but coveted “good employment.”  But, some of the most memorable came from children.

When it was his turn to share, one little boy answered, “Chocolate.”  When his grandmother asked him to share something a little more appropriate and dignified he answered, “Dove chocolate?”

Another child was asked what she was thankful for and she answered, “Cucumbers.”  OK.  I guess she really appreciated cucumbers. 

But, I love the answer from one little guy provided when his grandfather asked what he was thankful for. 

The boy answered, “Amebas.” 

“Amebas?” his grandfather asked.  “Why amebas?”

“Because they’re small,” he beamed proudly.

Who can argue with that?

What I really like about these answers is that they are so heartfelt and honest.  I do not know about you, but I am tempted to believe that my thanksgiving answer somehow needs to be profound or heartwarming.  I actually take a little time to think about and plan on what I am going to say. 

These children, on the other hand, simply answered what was right on the top of their heads…or right on the top of their tongues, because they were simply and purely thankful for those things.  They felt no need to plan ahead in their answers.     

We see this sort of purity of thankfulness coming from that tenth Leper in our Thanksgiving Bible reading from Luke 17. 

As you already have read, all ten Lepers called out for healing.  All ten Lepers were instructed to go show themselves to the priests so that they might be found clean and allowed back into the everyday life of their towns.  All ten Lepers walked away and looked down to see that their skin was made clean.  All ten were healed by Jesus as a gift, but only one was made whole. 

What I mean by that is that only one had a heart that was compelled to return to Jesus and give thanks.

We might be tempted to be a little harsh of the nine who walked away without giving thanks.  I know that in the back of my mind I sit on the judgment throne and declare them unworthy, as if I am qualified to do such a thing. 

But, here is the one thing that gives me pause: Jesus found them worthy of healing.  

No, they did not return to give thanks, but all of them followed Jesus’ instructions to a T.  The nine went off to the priests as they were told to do.  The nine did as they were told and were healed.  The nine were all probably great people.  The nine were probably a lot like you and I who go about our everyday lives, yearning to do the right thing and yearning to be healed.

I once talked to an emergency room worker who regularly saves lives, and out of curiosity asked how many people sent letters or cards of appreciation after their lives were saved on those dark nights.  He responded that he rarely gets them, but that is not why he does it.  Maybe ten out of every hundred people sent a letter or card giving thanks. 

Now, I was never any good at math in school, there is a reason that I am a pastor and not an accountant, but if my math serves me right, I think 10 out of 100 emergency room clients is the same percentage as 1 out of 10 lepers.

All of us are healed, but not all of us are made whole. 

All of us recover, but only a few of us have a change in heart. 

The tenth leper was made whole.  The tenth leper had a heart that was changed toward faith.  The tenth leper was given something special, and I think that I yearn to have it. 

I yearn to have that sort of gratefulness to Jesus.  I yearn to have such a purity of thankfulness.  I yearn to have such faith.  But, such wholeness of faith is a gift and not a task to accomplish or a rule to follow. 

Given that, I guess that my simple prayer to Jesus is to be made whole. 

I desire the purity of thankfulness that can appreciate amebas.  I desire the gratefulness that causes me to stop in my tracks, turn around, and worship.  I desire to love as much as I have been loved. 

But, until my prayer is granted by Jesus, I guess the best that I can do is find ways to take time to be thankful to Jesus.  I know it is not the same, but just as smiling when you are unhappy can actually bring about happiness, maybe, just maybe, the practice of being thankful every morning and evening will open up the door for Jesus to make us whole…to make us truly thankful. 

Reflection on 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

The pain came out of nowhere.  It happened while she was in yoga class performing a particularly muscle soothing downward facing dog, but the pain was so great that it caused her knees to buckle to the floor. 

Those around her stopped what they were doing and asked if she was alright.  “It’s just a muscle cramp, I’ll be OK,” she replied as she left for the locker room, but the pain was greater that any muscle cramp she had ever had. 

In fact, the pain felt like.  No it couldn’t be.  It’s impossible.  How could she have gotten this far along without knowing?  But, it did feel just like a contraction.  Another pain hit while she took a drink at the water fountain and she clung to the fountain for dear life.  Many contractions later, it was all over and she was the unexpected mother of a baby boy.

You, my friends, are not this mother.  You, my brothers and sisters in Christ, are the young mother who knew from the very first bout of acid reflux that you were pregnant with the Holy Spirit. 

God’s work in your life does not come as a huge surprise.  It is not as if God has shown up in your life like a thief in the middle of the night, exposing the fact that you had failed to lock the doors.  Not at all. 

When the Lord comes, you will be the young mother who has bought all the baby clothes, decorated the baby room with soothing colors, and bought that one special stuffed animal that will stay with the baby their entire life.  You will not assume the first kick is a bout of indigestion, nor will you mistake the first contraction for anything else other than what it is in the middle of yoga class. 

You are Mary who expected the Lord to come to birth.  You are Joseph who heard the angel’s whispering and followed the instructions. 

You are children of the light.  You know you are children of the light.  You desire to live as children of the light.  No darkness shall overtake you.

In fact, if the end of the world were to happen tomorrow and the Lord would come back, descending from billowing clouds fashioning a heavenly staircase down to the earth, you would not fear as others fear.  You would not fear the end as if there were no hope. 

You are children of the light after-all.  The birth of the second coming would not shock, nor would it confuse. 

It would be a joyous day; tough but joyous none-the-less.  It would be an unsurprising day of labor pains that leads to joy in the end as your savior embraces you in those long expected, everlasting arms. 

Let me remind you then, children of the light, to not fall asleep. 

I do not mean that literally.  Go ahead and make sure to get your full 7-8 hours of sleep every night so that you can be fully awake during the day. 

So, I should really say, do not fall asleep in the waking hours.  Do not let the darkness overcome you; for there is certainly a lot of darkness out there in the world. 

Wars and rumors of wars, nuclear fears, and unneeded destruction all cast a shadow of fear over the world that lulls us into a type of waking sleep that entices us to look away. 

“For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you” (Isaiah 60:2). 

Do not let fear overshadow.  Do not let darkness lead you to believe that darkness will win.  Do not say to one another, “It has gotten worse and worse, I am glad that I will not be living in the days to come.” 

You are not darkness.  You are light.  Evil that lurks, hidden in the dark will not overtake you.  It cannot.  You are children of the light.  And, you most certainly will not be surprised that light wins, because light always banishes the dark. 

The morning always comes. 

Light always wins.

Of course, darkness will always continue to threaten.  It always has.  The evil one has always lurked in the shadows. 

But, on that day of darkness, do not grieve as others grieve, as if there is no hope.  Rather, when the day of grief comes be sad that a life has come to an end and be sad that you will miss all that you love, but darkness shall not overtake you. 

For you know the truth.  You have the hope of eternal light that spans the skies forever and ever, beyond the horizon.

Do not let the fear of the dark entice you “get away from it all.”  You do not need a vacation from the world that God has created.  You do not need to hide in the comfort of drunkenness.  You do not need to get accustomed to the dark. 

Listen, I know that it is easy.  I know that it is natural to hear about tragedy and ignore it because to think about it would bring too much pain. 

It is easy to become accustomed to living in the dark, hiding in the shadows, ignoring the labor pains. 

But, children of the light, you know that darkness will come to an end.  It was promised to you on that day when the cross turned from a device of terror into a symbol of redemption, and when Jesus’ tomb transformed from a locked door of death into an open door leading to new life. 

Rather than being lulled into a sleep that ignores the world, put on the breastplate of faith and love.  Put on the helmet of hope of salvation. 

Do not hide in the dark, face the dark.  Be the light of faith and love for all those around.  After-all, Jesus has made you the light.  You are the light of the world.  You shall not be snuffed out. 

Never forget, God has made you the soon to be mother who prepares a small world of love and bright color in her home.  You are the soon to be mother who glows that pregnant glow even on the rotten days.  You are the soon to be mother who knows that the days of love and giggles and snuggling will soon be here. 

You are the one who walks through life as if the light will win, because you are children of the light. 

After-all, “God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10). 

Shine with the glory of the light of the Lord, even when the day is dark and long, because God has destined you for light.

Do it together though.  Because, let us face reality here, the lull of the darkness, the pull of depression, the desire to escape, and the reality of the world can become overbearing.  There will be days when you want to sleep through the darkness.  There will be days when the darkness is just too much to bear.  There will be days when the weight on your shoulders is far too great.  All of that is true, but one other thing is also true.  We are not the light by ourselves. 

God has given that glorious eternal light to those brothers and sisters in Christ who are a part of your life.  Their light will shine on you when the darkness seems too much.  Their hope will get you through when the labor pains seem unending and unbearable.  Their hope will remind you of the joy through the pain when you have no joy to offer. 

WE are the light. 

WE are the light of the world. 

WE have been destined for salvation. 

WE hold the promise of eternal life. 

WE do it together.

“Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). 

Pray together that Jesus might keep us awake until that day when the shadows fade and the light shines from all sides. 

Awaken our souls, and set our sights on that day.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Reflection on Matthew 25:1-13


As you all know, some things are easier to wait for than others. Christmas morning is a hard wait if you are 3 years old, but I would argue that it is easier than waiting for your loved one to come home from the battlefield…if they ever do come home.


The birth of a child is a hard to wait if you are an expectant first time parent, but I would argue that it is easier than waiting for your loved one to die the slow, arduous death of Alzheimer’s Disease.


We all wait throughout our lives. Some waiting is exciting. Some waiting is anxiety ridden. Some waiting is explicitly tied to God’s action or lack of action.

We wait for answers from God. We wait for the results from the Holy One. We wait for Jesus to come and act. We wait. We wait. We wait.

In Matthew’s time, the early Christians had already been waiting 50 years or so for Jesus to come back. He said that he was going to come back. He said that it was going to be soon.

They waited like a child waits for Christmas morning, yet the morning never came. The presents never arrived. The time of reunion with Jesus did not come. It still has not come.

We still wait for Jesus today in lots of ways. We still wait for prayers to be answered. We still wait to gain clarity concerning what the future holds. We still wait for the presence of Jesus on a lonely night.

We still wait.

So, both those people in Matthew’s time and us are forced to learn the hard lesson of waiting with hope.

There are two ways that waiting can be done. As the parable says, we can come with our lamps lit and with flasks full of oil just in case the bridegroom is late to the wedding, or we can show up with lamps lit, but with no oil to spare.

The first who come prepared with flasks of extra oil (as if their scouting merit badges had prepared them for this their entire lives) are considered the wise.

And, unsurprisingly, those who came with no provisions are the foolish. The lamps of the foolish burn through all their oil long before the bridegroom arrives, and the foolish are unable to light his path. The foolish cannot fulfill their purpose. The foolish lose out.

It all seems rather easy when it is put that way. Just make sure you are wise and find yourself prepared.

But, what if you have been praying for a long, long time for something, and God still has not provided the answer? I am sorry, but sometimes even your flask of extra oil will eventually run out.

Waiting is not as easy as, “Just make sure to bring more oil in the first place.”

You know what makes me mad about this parable? It is that the bridesmaids who brought the flasks of extra oil did not share.

I know, I know, it is all to prove the point that those who expect to wait for God to act over the long term are faithful and wise, and those who lose faith when God has not acted after a couple hours after praying for something are faithless and foolish.

But, what if you have been praying and praying and praying for God to act, and God has not acted for a long time. How is it helpful to be sent away, alone, to go deal with it yourself?

Why, just at the time you need people to be there for you, do those around you say, not explicitly but through their actions, “I’m sorry, we just don't have the time to be there for you”?

Please understand, wise bridesmaids do not have to be rude ones. If they had shared some of their wisdom concerning patience, and maybe helped to pass the time a little bit, then when the groomsman finally did arrive no one would have been left out in the darkness.

I know that God is good. That is true. And, God does provide answers to our prayers, that also is true. It may not be the answer we want, but answers do come.

However, answers come "eventually." Eventually, they come. The bridegroom does arrive eventually. But remember that God has all the time in the world.

Of course, God answers our needs when the time is right, but it helps if we do not have to wait alone for God to show up. It helps if we have someone who will wait with us. It helps to have someone who will believe for us on the days we simply cannot believe. It helps to have someone who will refill our lamp when we are running dry. I helps to wait together.


It is the spiritual discipline of the wise. The wise know that God acts on God’s own timing. The wise know to bring extra oil because waiting is to be expected when it comes to God. I just pray that the wise be compassionate on those who have not yet learned the lesson of waiting.

It is a wisdom that needs to be shared, especially in this age where you order something from Amazon and it arrives on your doorstep the very next day. Or you want to listen to some new music, and all you have to do is simply go onto your smart phone and get it. There is no longer a need to wait for 6-8 weeks for processing and shipping.

We do not live in an age where waiting is something we expect to need to do. If we do not get answers to our texts within seconds, we panic and think that something must be wrong. We just are not a people who understand waiting. But, that does not change the fact that those who wait well are wise.

Here’s the thing about waiting. Those who wait with their lamps burning, wait with anticipation. They wait with hopefulness. They wait in the same way that new parents wait for those cute little feet and hands to arrive. They wait with a fullness of hope, knowing that God will come and act. They wait with anticipation and excitement.

Just as the soon to be mother jumps at every little movement and pain, wondering if this will finally be the moment the baby arrives, so too the wise in the faith watch for God’s movement every waking hour, wondering if God has finally arrived…if God has finally shown us an answer to our prayers.

I say “waking hour” because the parable clearly tells us that it is OK to sleep. But, even in our sleep, the lamp is still lit, just in case you need to jump awake and see the workings of the Lord. The wise have souls that are awake and ready, even while they wait, because they trust that the Lord will come.

But, such wisdom is a gift from God. Waiting patiently for God is not something that you just decide to do one day. You do not just one day say, “I want patience and I want it now!” It just does not work that way.

Rather, it comes from experience. It comes from God answering our prayers in God’s own time in the past, and thus we are given the trust and hope that God will do it again.

It comes from wise people who are willing to wait with you and remind you that sometimes things turn out better when you wait.

Waiting is a gift of peace in the middle of a seemingly unstoppable troubled sea.

Waiting is a gift of light when the darkness seems to be spreading.

Waiting is a gift of hope when all others sob in despair.

Waiting is a gift of the wise.

Lord, give us peace in our waiting. Keep our lamps burning in the darkness.