We’re Not Lost

You may have thought that I was lost since I have not written a new post for a while. I confess to feeling a little lost these days in the midst of hurricanes and earthquake devastation, fires that claim life and property, threats being fired back and forth about nuclear destruction, a plague afflicting Madagascar, people in Puerto Rico without drinkable water and lack of food following a hurricane, and the horrible deaths and injuries to people from the automatic weapons used in Las Vegas. These incidents always make an impact on me and as a result I feel lost sometimes. I wonder where God is and I feel so helpless.

Gerhard Frost in his book of meditations titled “Homing in the Presence”, tells this story. “There was once a powerful man, important in the world of business. He was accustomed to command, to having his own way. One day, late for an appointment, he decided to take a shortcut. To his dismay, he soon found that he had chosen the wrong road. He realized he was completely lost, and he determined to ask the first person he saw for directions.

That person was a child. He addressed the young boy gruffly, ‘Boy, which way to Dover?’ ‘I don’t know,’ the child responded, embarrassed.

‘Well then,’ the man demanded, ‘how far to Paynesville?’ ‘I don’t know that either,’ the child answered.

The man’s questions got angrier as the boy kept responding with the same answer. The boy grew more and more uncomfortable and, finally, the man lost his temper and shouted, ‘You don’t know much, do you?’

Then, for the first time, the boy smiled. Looking up the winding road that led to a little house where the evening light shone through the window, the boy exclaimed, ‘No, but I’m not lost.'”

There are times when life’s stressors, complications and fearsome catastrophes can play havoc with our faith, and we lose sight of Whose we are and who we are. Those pillars of strength and security in our lives seem to be melting and crumbling and we feel lost. Our leaders may also appear to have no moral or spiritual foundation and the future looks hopeless with no compass or clear compassionate direction.

In the midst of this seeming chaotic picture, we need to hear again that God has found us, and that all, especially you and me, are not lost. We have been found in Jesus Christ, and God’s promise to us of his never-ending love, holds us close even in the worst circumstances. Psalm 90 says,

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

We always have a home in God’s grace and the light is always on for us.

 

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The Door Is Open

Jesus opens a door for us by saying, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last”, and “. . . whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” I confess that each time I read these words they bring me to my knees, because I wonder if these words are at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ today, and, though I am not seeking to be called “great” by others, I am far from being that Christ-like servant in this world today. I have hope only through the grace of Christ.

A family physician, my age, reflected on his life. His major commitment was to medicine, the families who called him their doctor and their needs, hopes and dreams. When asked how he would characterize his relationships with the patients in his practice, he pointed to the figurine of a shepherd with his flock. He devoted himself to serving them, and he pictured people “sheltering” with him as he listened and responded to their needs.

Peter and Darlene had saved up for a special vacation to a resort they would normally never be able to visit because the costs would be too great. As they were driving onto the grounds of the resort there were people handing out fliers on blue paper. When they got to their room Peter read through the flier and what he read disturbed him deeply. This resort, according to the flier, was paying their workers less than minimum wage and expecting they would get tips to make up the difference. Peter was appalled  that the wealthy people who lived here and vacationed here would treat other people so demeaningly. Peter believed that the people who were serving the guests at the resort, were also in need of being served.

It seems to me that when many people read these words of Jesus, they think that it means that other people will be getting more than they are. These people, whom they think do not work as hard as they do, don’t “deserve” to be treated as equals to themselves. Jesus seems to be changing our whole notion of life itself.

If we keep up the jealousy and judgments between people, based on “deserving”, then we have lost sight of what the Kingdom of God is all about, and the door remains closed. As long as we keep asking who “deserves” to receive care and be served in this world instead of seeking out what people need, we may have lost sight of Jesus and his ministry among us. The community of love that draws all people together could be destroyed.

I am brought to my knees when I remember that I am least deserving of Christ’s love and serving, but he comes to give his life for me and for you and for the whole world. Jesus keeps calling us to understand and to follow, to see that the ways of the Kingdom are not the ways of business or government or the courts or the police or judges, etc. The way of Jesus is to turn the ways of the world upside down. He keeps lifting up the lost, the least, the little and the last and giving us the opportunity to be servant of all. Jesus keeps on calling us to ways of mercy and grace, because if he only came for those who deserve him, we would all be lost, and the door would be closed.

That is why Jesus is so revolutionary. “The last will be first and the first will be last,” and “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant . . .” The door is open.

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We Need One Another

Last night I learned that President Trump, speaking to an audience in North Dakota, compared the drought conditions of North Dakota to the terrible hurricane and flood conditions of Houston, Beaumont and parts of Louisiana. He said to the people in North Dakota that they were better off than the people in Texas and Louisiana. It seems to me that this statement pits one against the other.

Wouldn’t this have been a time to say that people throughout the country are suffering? Drought threatening farmers and crops in North Dakota; flooding causing the loss of homes and jobs in Texas and Louisiana; forest fires and the loss of lives and property to people in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, California and other places; and the terrible loss of life and property from Hurricane Irma, still on its way to Florida, bring suffering and pain to many people in our country. The impact on people’s lives can be overwhelming, and we are so deeply grateful for the ways in which people have reached out to help and sustain those in need throughout our country and the world. We need one another more and more in our lives. We are all grieving the losses we have experienced in these recent days and weeks. Wouldn’t this have been a way to connect us all and to try to heal some of the divisions that continue to separate us? Instead, the President used this moment to further divide and disconnect us from one another.

Jesus speaks to us about a shepherd who, when one of the sheep is lost, leaves the others in order to find this one sheep and return it to the community. Jesus speaks to us about the importance of doing everything possible to keep people connected to one another and to Christ, forgiving one another and bringing healing between people who have been wronged. Jesus is always concerned to draw people closer in community. Even his own death on the cross is a sign that God wants all people to be saved. We need one another, especially now, and the message of the Gospel needs to be heard in the face of the all the messages from the President that only serve to divide and separate people.

It is such a blessing to see the Gospel being lived out as there are people who are with those who are suffering to bring them comfort and help in their time of need. We see it again in Houston, but we hope that those same people will be strengthened to continue to help even as the tragedy begins to fade in the country’s memory. Each of us is called upon to be the hands and feet of Christ as we reach out to serve our sisters and brothers in need. There are many people fearing the coming onslaught of Hurricane Irma, and there are many who have already experienced her fury. Especially now, we need one another, and we need to celebrate the ways in which the gifts God has given to each of us get shared without thought for differences in race, creed, or color.

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Eclipse Day

It’s Eclipse day when the moon will cover the sun’s light.

For now, the sun is shining. The sky is mostly blue.

The world is silent, waiting, anticipating;

even the wind is reverently holding its breath.

 

I feel pensive, thoughtful today; a day like few others.

This day has the feel of a holiday, though children are in school.

Many are taking a vacation day

to experience this heavenly phenomenon.

 

At 12:47 the light is beginning to darken, and the wind

is making the Russian sage clap its sky-blue hands,

the pine needles in the tree are clicking with joy,

the leaves of the maple tree are waving enthusiastically.

The breeze is picking up and it feels a little cooler.

The moon is now about halfway across the sun.

A butterfly flits across the deck where we watch, looks briefly

at the zinnias, and flies up into the maple tree.

 

All the students, about 600, from the middle school behind us,

are walking out to stand on the soccer field, each carries eclipse glasses.

“Oh, my God!” cries one boy, as he, in wonder, sees the moon’s progress.

“That is so cool!” “That is awesome!” Students shout in awe and joy.

 

The light that remains to us is so special and unique, I pause to

take it all in, to take a deep breath and to be in the moment

as darkness covers the face of the sun and imprints its deep shadow

upon the earth. The crickets and cicadas shout, believing

it is  now night, and students shout and scream in the face of

this most special vision, one they will not soon forget.

 

I feel exhilarated during this path of reaching totality. I wanted

to be part of it, and I am thankful that we were alive to

experience this unique gift.

 

Picnic shelters, tents, and fields,

backyard decks, whatever yields

a vantage place for one to view

sun and moon, God’s gift of two

orbs of creation coming into line

so as to appear as one wedding ring

or to have disappeared into the darkness

of this midday sign.

 

Could this be a gift from God to draw us

together as people of vastly disparate cultures, races, religions,

colors, backgrounds, circumstances,

refugees, Presidents, billionaires, poverty-stricken,

terrorist, police, soldiers, supremacists, and many others,

to look to the sky and in the path of moon covering sun,

and passing by again, in that time of totality,

when we are all looking up,

to possibly see also that we are all one in our humanity.

And the only thing that we can say in the midst of this awesome event is

“Oh, my God!”

 

Could it be that God is giving us a sign,

that though it seems that hatred, fear, violence, and the

torches of supremacists have eclipsed the light,

the light of God’s Son will again fill the world

with light, hope, love, peace, and joy again;

that God’s way of binding us all together in

care for one another is the hope upon which

we can depend?

 

Maybe just for a brief moment

could killing stop? Maybe just for a little while

could we stop the mad rush to meet

our own needs,

and just be in awe of God, who brings together

the prize jewel  of God’s creation,

human beings, aligned under the sun and moon?

Maybe we can begin to realize that we are so small

in relation to the vast creation, stretching to eternity.

Maybe we can begin to see that the God

who has made a path for moons, planets, stars and suns,

is also the God who knows and is deeply involved

in our cares and concerns.

The God who loves the whole world and all creation in Christ,

enters our eclipses, where light is obscured, and fears are magnified,

to be our hope and our light, now and forever.

 

 

 

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Stepping Out of the Boat

We tend to believe that Jesus is intent on keeping us safe and secure. But when Peter, who is not certain that it is Jesus who is walking on the waves in the storm says, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water,” Jesus’ response is surprising to us. Instead of Jesus saying, “No! No! These waves are dangerous. You stay in the boat where it is safer,” Jesus says to Peter, “Come.” Really? Into this stormy sea?

I wonder if Jesus is speaking to the church today, to me and to each of us, letting us know that there will be storms in our lives, fearsome and dangerous times that we cannot escape. In fact Jesus may be saying that we need to face these storms and not try to run from them. It could be a frightening diagnosis, disease or illness. It could be a bad choice that we made. It could be the pain we have in dealing with the loss  of people who have died whose life and love we are grieving, or maybe it is depression or anxiety, or a time of the loss of meaning and purpose in our lives. It could be that we, like Peter, are questioning our faith, having doubts about God and God’s Promise. Could it be that Jesus is saying we cannot escape these storms?

Jesus is already out there in the middle of the treacherous waves and storms of our lives and he reminds us, “I am with you in the midst of your fears. I’m holding on to you and I will never leave you alone.” Jesus still lifted Peter from drowning even though Peter doubted. God’s grace is greater than our doubts.

But what about the people whom we love and care about who try to walk on top of the waves and the storm, but who lose the battle and who go under? What happens when it seems to us that Jesus is not there to pull us or our loved ones out of the sea to keep us safe and secure? There is no happy ending here, and all our hopes and dreams for our loved ones come down like a wave crashing on the shore. There are no easy answers.

Faith, which is a gift of God’s Spirit in us, keeps on holding on to the Promise that Jesus, who is already in the midst of the storms of our lives, the one who gave up his own life for us on the cross and took on himself God’s judgment of death, is holding on to us and to our loved ones. Even when we are unable to see him out there, Jesus’ Promise to us is still sure. The ending of the story may not be to our liking, and when it seems as though God is absent or uncaring, God’s promise in Christ is still there for us.

My mother-in-law lived with us the last months of her life. I was with her when the doctor told her there was nothing more that could be done for her; no more blood transfusions, no miracle drug that could be given that would extend her life. What do we do when the life of our loved one is coming to an end? What do we do when we are not safe and we are sinking? What do we do when all life supports are taken away and there is nothing we can see but the vast unknown. In the face of death itself she spoke of Jesus as her Great Physician who was her abiding presence and healer. It was like she was standing in the boat looking at Jesus. He invites her to “Come” and he says, “I am with you. Don’t be afraid.”

In the water of Baptism God’s Promise is to the church and to you and me. We know the storms of our lives. We are in God’s boat with many other people. We can’t go backward, wanting to return to the way things used to be, where life seemed safer and more secure. Those days are past, though there are many people these days who long for this past.  Life moves forward and there are many people of many colors, cultures, religions, lifestyles that are different from our own who need to be listened to, loved and cared for. Jesus is already in the waves and the storms of this troubled world. We are invited to listen to Jesus and to be the presence of God’s love where we are, trusting that we are not alone. Jesus invites us to step out of the boat, “Come. I am with you. You don’t have to be afraid.”

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Depending on One Another

Where is the world, our nation, and the church going? There are so many changes in our world, the environment, our nation and the church right now, and they have overwhelmed us. I wonder if our vision is more turned in on ourselves, and we are reluctant to accept or reach out to receive the gifts of people who are different from us.

Our society values independence and individualism. If we admit to our need for help, our dependence on other people, there is a sense of shame connected with that that separates us from one another. Are we becoming more isolated from one another even though the diversity in our society seems to be greater than we have ever seen? Certainly the move toward limiting legal immigration by our own government can be interpreted that way. We may think that these government initiatives help protect us, but possibly they only increase our fears and drive us further from accepting and receiving what all these unique and diverse people have to offer us.

You may remember the story in the Bible about Peter who wants to walk on the water , just like Jesus. Jesus invites him to, “Come.” Peter steps out of the boat and he must have walked toward Jesus for a short distance, but then he was distracted by the strong wind, and fear of drowning filled his mind. Peter was sinking fast, and he cried out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!”

The church at the time of the writing of Matthew was being constrained to see Gentiles, new people and cultures who needed to be invited into the community. The church was reluctant to do this. Their fears felt like chaos was enveloping them because they wanted to keep their community of the faithful insulated from the world. Their anxiety over this change was becoming evident, much like Peter who sees the storm and begins to sink into the waves. They wanted to return to the way things were in the past when everyone shared the same understandings and looked the same as everyone else.

Their individualism prevented them from seeing the inter-connectedness of life. Maybe the nations of the world, and our own government, and the church also, are so committed to this narrow vision, and we are fearful of asking for help from our brothers and sisters from other races and cultures to expand our vision, that we think that we have the answers we need. Like Peter, we think we can do this ourselves. But in denying others the opportunity to help us work at a new vision together, we are also denying Jesus.

The church is the gathering of God’s people who honors the gifts that each person brings to the table. Keeping our focus on Jesus and God’s unique and loving ways of including us all together in the Kingdom of God, we are sent to honor and receive the gifts that each person brings to the table. What if Jesus is still inviting us to step out of own comfort zones, out of the boat, in order to discover the gifts that all these diverse and gifted people bring to further extend God’s activity of love in the world? Could it be that the Gospel of Jesus Christ offers us hope in the midst of great changes going on in our society?

Again we hear Jesus speaking to us, “Don’t be afraid. I am with you.” Like Peter, we reach out our hands and Jesus holds on to us and raises us up. Jesus saves us all, and expands our vision so that we are not just focused on the storm, but we see Jesus in each of the people whom God sends to us. Can we accept the gifts that others are offering to us, our church, our nation, our world?

 

 

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Compelling Moments

“Time, like an ever-rolling stream, soon bears us all away;”

Time moves more quickly when

more of it is behind me than before me;

where does the time go?

What has time done to me?

Days pass, like an

“ever-rolling stream” and

it does not stop to check to see

if I am coming along.

So much yet to do, so much to see and write . . .

I am in a race with time

that I will not win.

 

Time:

leads me to reflection and perspective,

softens me and heals some wounds.

My memories grow dim, or

become more precious.

Maybe with time I can reflect that

healing will come,

tears will pass,

hope will return,

life will go on.

 

With the passing of time life’s issues become

more urgent, compelling, pressing,

insistent, crucial, pivotal, acute.

I have seen loss, pain, rejection,

heartbreak, little money, fear,

death, regret, change,

and still I am alive with hope and

promise for listening and caring for

God’s most vulnerable and hurting people.

I see the pain and despair of women and children,

gils and boys,

raped in Sudan,

and I insistently wonder

how this can be stopped.

I see the corruption in governments that feeds

the selfish wishes of leaders who are

accumulating more and more

at the expense of those who have nothing left,

and I pray,

“your will be done on earth

as it is in heaven.”

 

Now there also needs to be time for silence,

for reflection on experiences and relationships,

for leafing through the pages of memories,

for faith in the face of the deep unknown,

for adventures of new learnings yet to come.

No time to spend in judging and condemning.

 

Could it be that all the time that

now stands behind me has

prepared me for this time

and the time to come?

 

There is an urgency to time;

imperative, present, pregnant,

anticipating the promise of time to be

explored, expanded, God-given,

life-giving and life-sharing;

time for learning to live in ways

I never thought possible;

productive, blooming, imaginative,

reflective, inventive, creative, . . .

“Time, like an ever-rolling stream, . . .

 

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