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Archive for September, 2013

What does God expect?

Abraham said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” Luke 16:31. (NRSV)

The story of the rich man and Lazarus is interesting in that it is a reversal of our cultural expectations and desires.  In our world, especially our society, we, as people who live in the richest nation of the world, have the idea that the rich are blessed and the poor have done something wrong and have brought this on themselves.  In the story, the “fortunes” are reversed for both of the two men.  The rich man finds himself in Hades where he is suffering, and he sees Lazarus, someone he totally ignored in life, in the arms of Abraham, being nurtured and cared for in heaven.

When the rich man asks for relief, he is refused because the chasm between them cannot be breached.  So then the man asks for someone to go warn his brothers so they won’t make the same mistakes he made in life (maybe Charles Dickens had this scripture in mind when he wrote “A Christmas Carol”!).  Jesus was making the point that we need to pay attention to the poor in our life time.  This man totally ignored Lazarus – it wasn’t that he SAW him and chose not to help him – he IGNORED him.

It seems to me that Jesus is telling us to pay attention to our brothers and sisters who need our care and compassion and help.  There are so many things we can do to make a difference.  In Portland, Maine, there is a ministry for the homeless that offers opportunities to help the folks to whom they minister in easy and simple ways.  As winter approaches, they ask us to donate new clean white socks, warm hats, gloves, and blankets, and for the summer they ask for backpacks, tents, and the new clean white socks.  These are simple and pretty affordable things that nearly all of us can do, so we take a collection for them and someone delivers them.

Every Sunday, we are invited to bring food for our York County Shelter Food Pantry.  This is an outreach that offers food for the hungry seven days a week, and their shelves are often bare because there is such a great need.  We have invited the congregation to make bringing food a part of their regular offering, and they have responded wonderfully.  It isn’t asking a lot of people, but we are making a difference.

We don’t need to travel to foreign countries in order to notice the poor, but I think it is good to be aware of the poor wherever they may be.  We grow in understanding of our global connection as God’s children whether it’s in our own back yards, in our country, or in another country.  Being aware and learning about the plight of the poor opens our hearts to God’s call to BE the church in the world.  We don’t just represent the church; we ARE the church.  Jesus calls us to NOTICE the poor, to do something to help in whatever ways we can.  That is following the teachings of Jesus and living our faith in the world, not so others will see our good works, but so we will know we are striving to be faithful disciples of Jesus, the Christ.  May we keep our minds and hearts open to Jesus’ call in our lives.

Micah 6:8 – “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  (NRSV)  May it be so.

Mission Trips

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.  For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’.”  Romans 10:12-13 (NRSV)

This week I will leave for Guatemala on a mission trip.  I haven’t been on one for a while, and it’s time.  What do I hope to accomplish?  Well, the work part of the trip is to do the interior work of painting, laying tile, cleaning, preparing shelves and so forth for a new medical clinic in Cunen.  The building has been up for a while, and now we want to have it ready so it can open hopefully soon after we leave to head home.  That’s the “on paper” job description.

Years ago, missionaries would go to countries to share the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the indigenous people, and they often imposed their own cultural ideas on the people, thinking that they had to conform to the Western way of living, dressing, worshiping, etc.  But time and experience has helped us to realize that the Guatemalan people can teach us more about living as followers of Jesus than we teach them. 

We go to work with them, to establish a relationship of respect and love with the Mayan people who have been oppressed, massacred, abused, and marginalized for years.  Yet, they live with the joy of Christ in their hearts and share that joy freely and without worry about what others might think of their witness.  Their lives are not separated, but holistic:  body, mind, and spirit in God’s presence and love with them.

This trip will be a blessing to me, and I can only hope that I will be some kind of blessing to them as I paint, sweep, interact, and commune with the Mayan people.  Their story, in the long run, is my story, too, because they are my brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are united by the common bond of Christ in our lives, and it is a privilege to be able to work with them and learn from them.  I pray that we will all grow in faith and in the love of Christ.  May it be so.

Being a Cracked Pot

“Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”  Jeremiah 18:6b (NRSV)

Back a few years, I was the spiritual director on a spiritual renewal week-end, and one of my colleagues gave a talk on being imperfect.  She brought in a whole bunch of pottery – mostly small pitchers, bowls, and cups, and she talked about how they all have a purpose and function.  Then she picked up one pitcher that clearly had been broken and glued back together.

As she held it up in front of us, she said that it was her favorite, so when it broke, she didn’t have the heart to throw it away, so she glued it back together, and now it holds her pens and pencils on her desk in her office.  Instead of seeing it as worthless, she recognized its brokenness and found a new use for it.

In the Jeremiah 18:1-11 passage, we read about how God sent Jeremiah to the potter’s house to watch as the potter molded and shaped the clay into something useful.  The potter took a lump – actually, a blob – and started to shape it into something that had purpose, but the shaping didn’t go well, so the potter started over again by making the clay a blob and re-working it.

Israel had been called to be God’s people, and time after time they had turned away from God, ignoring the prophet’s call to repent and return to God.  Jeremiah’s message to the people of Israel was that they would be re-worked, re-molded by God so that they would once again be God’s faithful people.  They did have a choice, and often they ignored God’s call through the prophets.  Yet, God didn’t give up on them, didn’t abandon them, saw them as broken human beings who just needed to be shaped and guided back to the vision that God had for them.

So it is with us.  God sees our broken, sinful, hurting lives and finds ways to make something new out of what we might see as hopeless.  In the midst of pain, loss, hurt, anger, conflict, broken lives and broken relationships, God comes to say, “I will rework you, I will restore you.  You may look a little different, and your purpose or direction in life may change, but I will bring good out of bad and beauty out of the cracks. 

Are we ready to allow God to do that?  Are we willing to trust that God will guide us?  Will we listen and choose God over our own stubborn wills, thinking that we can handle this life, these hurts, these challenges on our own?  This passage is a reminder to us as a church that we have a calling:  one to offer Christ to the world, even though we are broken and glued back together vessels.  We are still God’s vessels, and God will work through us no matter how we look.  May it be so!

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