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Archive for February, 2013

Wings of Love

Jesus said, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”  Luke 13:34b (NRSV)

When I was growing up and in my teens, my mother used to try to hug each of the four of us:  me and my three siblings.  As children, we didn’t mind so much, but the teen years brought what most teens go through – rebellion and not wanting to hugged by your parents and maybe not even being seen with them.  Somehow that stuck as an adult, and I wasn’t much of a hugger for a long time.  But I had a few friends along the way who taught me that hugging helped me to feel loved and somehow like I wasn’t alone, especially when I moved 1500 miles from home to live and didn’t have family around.

I try to be aware that there are many people who don’t like to be hugged, and, as a pastor, I ask permission before I hug and watch body language and facial expressions.  On the other hand, there are some people who only receive a hug when they come to church because they have no one else.  In one of the churches I have served, there are several people who have no one else in the world – no other family and very few friends because they no longer drive or most of the people who were closest to them have passed away.  These folks want hugs and want to know the touch of a human being.

There is something comforting about Jesus’ imagery of the mother hen drawing her chicks under her wings to protect them.  Of course, I realize that the verses previous to the one quoted above talk about Herod, and Jesus refers to him as a “fox.”  I think Jesus uses the idea of a hen protecting her chicks to demonstrate his great love for all of us – a love so strong that he was willing to die for us.  He gave his life so that we might have life abundant in this world and in the world to come.

It seems to me that the church can provide the same sense of love and comfort to everyone who comes.  I would hope that people who come into our churches would feel the love of God through us, and that we would demonstrate what it means to be part of the life-giving and sharing qualities of our Savior.  If we aren’t offering that, we might want to take a look at what is going on in our congregations.  It’s all about Christ, and that’s where we begin and continue to offer Christ to the world.

Many people have had conversations with me about the “structure” of the church and the hierarchy of the United Methodist Church.  It is constructed in human minds and something that needs to be in place to give organization and order to our church lives.  I agree that sometimes it gets muddy and cumbersome and downright frustrating.  But if it’s the structure and organization of the church that keeps us away, then we have missed the point.  The calling of all churches is to share Christ with the world, so Christ must be the center of all we do.

That is our calling – to the best of our ability.  Let us offer the wings of love – Christ’s wings – to all whom we encounter wherever we are in this world.  It isn’t always easy, and it isn’t even always safe, but it is honest and true.  It will make the world a better place.  Give it a try if you haven’t been doing it already!

Temptations

If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”  If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”  “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you.‘”  Luke 4:3, 7, 9-10

Ah, temptations.  They assault us every day.  There’s the temptation to call in sick when we aren’t, the temptation to fudge on our income taxes, the temptation to drive much faster than the speed limit, the temptation to lose our temper when a deep breath and common sense might be better, the temptation to start smoking again or having another drink or eating food that’s unhealthy.  I totally relate to the food temptations.  Sometimes I do so well and stick with an eating plan without deviating from the foods that I know have no nutritional value, and then there are the times when I let go and totally indulge in “forbidden foods” that I know will cause weight gain, indigestion, and push me closer to pre-diabetes.  It’s maddening!  Why do I give in?

Jesus was led into the wilderness and tempted three times.  All three had to do with self-serving behaviors:  power, prestige, and personal gain.  Turning the stones to bread appealed to his state of hunger, but it was far more than that – it was also serving himself by reducing his abilities to magic tricks and not focusing on his time in the wilderness for spiritual growth and understanding.  Giving up his position as God’s Son by worshiping the devil is self-serving in that he would rule all the kingdoms of the earth, but that is temporary and rejects his mission in life.  Jesus’ kingdom, as he said to Pontius Pilate, is “not of this world” so there is a much larger mission that is self-giving rather than self-serving.  And throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple would be sort of thumbing his nose at God or testing to be sure God would follow through with the promises of safety and protection.

Jesus didn’t fall for the temptations.  But I’m not even close to being in a position like Jesus was, so I WILL fall and sin and give in.  And it’s more than about temporal things – we try to separate the material/physical from the spiritual, but in reality they are intertwined.  Our sinfulness affect our relationship with God, and our spirituality affects our growing in God’s grace.  We strive to live faithfully in a faithless world.  We seek forgiveness and learn to forgive.  We move from self-centereness and self-serving to other-ness and other-serving so that we can be God’s messengers on this earth, offering Christ to the world, offering hope and witness about God’s love and forgiveness and our experience of that amazing grace of God.  Jesus teaches us about focusing and faithful living.  We can learn from him and try to follow in his example throughout our lives.  Through us, the kingdom of God can grow and spread in the world as we serve our risen Savior.  Thanks be to God!

Mountaintop Experiences

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met [Jesus].” Luke 9:36 (NRSV)

Have you ever had a mountaintop experience?  If so, it may have been a spiritual retreat week-end, your marriage, receiving special recognition, having children, literally hiking a mountain to the top, walking the beach, a sudden revelation about something, a musical or dramatic performance with lots of applause, a good performance in some sporting event, or any number of times when your life was lifted up and in a really wonderful place.  What did it feel like?  How did you respond?  Then, what happened as you settled back into every day life and routines?  Let down?  Depression?  Disappointment that it hadn’t lasted?

Three of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, John, and James, went with Jesus up a mountain to pray.  While they were there, Jesus was transfigured before their very eyes – a dazzling, bright light coming from his clothes blinded him, and Moses and Elijah appeared in the midst of it to talk with Jesus.  Then a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (v. 35).  The three disciples were speechless at first, and they probably stumbled around inside their heads as to what to do next.  Peter eventually found his voice and suggested that they build booths to commemorate the event – much like we do when we take pictures of special events in our lives.

But Jesus didn’t want that, and God had clearly said to “listen!”  It was an amazing, awesome and awe-filled experience for those three mere mortals!  And as they came down the mountain from this magnificent, indescribable event in their lives, Jesus says, “Don’t tell anyone!”  Excuse me?  Don’t tell anyone?  But . . . Jesus, come on, we just saw something fantastic here, and you don’t want us to share it with anyone?  Really?

Jesus knew they couldn’t comprehend the event until after his death and resurrection.  The entire experience was one of affirming Jesus’ identity as God’s Son – as God in the flesh.  So, they needed to see the whole picture before they could begin to share it with some understanding.

And then look at what happened after their mountaintop experience:  they came down the mountain to the same old thing – crowds pushing around Jesus and asking for healing.  It was the same dusty street, the same old, same old work, the same pressures, the same expectations and demands.  What a let-down!  Jesus jumped right into the routine without even missing a beat.  The disciples really DIDN’T get it!

We are like that too at times.  We go on vacation and have a great time, playing, eating, laughing, visiting family and friends, and we come back refreshed and renewed, rejuvenated and restored only to find that the same pile of work awaits us on our desk, the same problems are in our lives, the world is the same (or maybe even worse) than when we took a week or two off.  Rats!  Ugh!

Mountaintop experience, I think, are there for us to appreciate the opportunities we have in all of life.  When we experience God in a new way, we are transformed into new beings although the same on the outside and with our daily routines, we begin to discover the joys in all of life, in our every day, ordinary events and circumstances.  Vacations, mountaintop experiences, times when things are different can help us find ways to better live out our lives as God’s children.

If everything seems drab and tends to drag us down after some kind of wonderful event, maybe it’s worth our while to stop to think about what we learned and how we can bring it with us into our work, at home, in the marketplace, with our families and friends.  What can we take from the experience to make our lives better?  And then how can we help others to make a difference with them?  The mountain top prepares us for the valleys and we need both in our lives in order to live fully.  May you cherish the mountaintops and live in “shalom” in the valleys!  God bless.

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