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Archive for October, 2014

Blessed?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven . . .”  Matthew 5:3-12a (NRSV)

Blessed?  Really, Jesus?  How can you tell your disciples – and that includes those of us who follow you – that we will be blessed when all these negative things happen to us?  Okay, maybe we can understand some of them, but persecution – uttering evil falsely?  Really?  Blessed?

In our society, we consider “blessed” as good things, good things according to our own standards, of course.  Being blessed often includes material goods, promotions at work, a pay increase, having healthy children, keeping our own health, not having bad things happen to us, and the list could go on and on.  But what happens when these things don’t take place or when the bottom drops out of our comfortable living.

What happens when our house burns down and we don’t have enough insurance?  What happens when we are passed over for that promotion to a younger, better looking, squeaky clean “newbie” fresh out of college?  What happens when our wages are frozen because the company can’t afford pay raises?  What happens when our child is born with major medical and neurological problems?  What happens when we have a devastating disease or illness?  How do we see ourselves as blessed even in the midst of such challenges?

The Common English Bible translates the word “blessed” as “happy.”  I’m not sure about that.  For me, blessed and happy are related in some ways but are two different things.  “Happy” indicates that life is good; we are satisfied with our circumstances and “life is good.”  “Blessed” is a recognition that, in spite of everything that befalls us, we still have things/people/situations for which to be thankful.  “Blessed” opens the door to see the hand of God in all things – in all places – in all situations.  That often takes place through the support, encouragement and help of others who walk with us and are there for us.

My dad has remarked often following my mom’s death this past year, about the support and encouragement he has received from the people in our tiny hometown in the Midwest.  It hasn’t just been the church family, but also the community who still ask him how he is doing and let him know that they care about him.  My sister and brothers have been there for him too.  Dad is lonely, but he sees the blessing in his journey of grief through the way God has supported him tangibly in the people who care about him and are there for him.  After 67 years of marriage it has been quite an adjustment for him to live alone, but with the blessings being heaped upon him, he’s moving forward one day at a time.

May we all find the blessings in our lives.  They really aren’t about the materialistic side of life or even about the hard-to-deal-with situations.  They are about God at work in us and through others.  Let us count our blessings every day!

Loving God

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind . . . You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  Matthew 22:37-39 (NRSV)

Jesus knew the Torah and the laws that were in the Torah, so when a lawyer tried to trap him by asking which was the greatest commandment, he quoted from Deuteronomy and Leviticus.  The quotation wasn’t to show the man how much he knew but to teach him that God was more important than anything else.

I think the Jewish mindset was really quite “on.”  God wasn’t separated from life but an integral part of life.  People during Jesus’ day and throughout the Bible don’t spend their time questioning whether God exists.  They believed it as part of their very being.  In more recent times, and perhaps following the enlightenment, we have enlightened God into a separate compartment, almost as if we could just to there whenever we “need” God.

A greater understanding of God’s love for us leads us to understand our relationship with God as one of love, not necessarily the strong emotional passionate love that we might feel for a spouse, significant other, child, parent or close friend.  This is a love that connects us to God and requires a commitment from us to live in God’s ways.  The natural outgrowth of that become loving ourselves as God does, and loving our neighbor.

This kind of love becomes kindness, compassion, caring, helping, respecting, and honoring the other person even if we aren’t particularly fond of that person.  Recently, a parishioner came to see me to share a story about a relative toward whom he had had years of anger.  He did everything he could to avoid that person who had been such an offense in his family.  But he decided to try to make things right to the best of his ability.

The relative listened to the man’s reasons for his anger and understood what he was saying.  Yet, the relative had a hard time letting go of the assumptions and errant notions that had caused the problem to begin with.  After the meeting, the man who had tried to find some resolve decided that he had tried, and that he had been able to forgive even if the relative wasn’t able to let go of the issues.

When we are hurt by someone, we often want to hold grudges and avoid that person.  Yet, Jesus told the lawyer and all who were around him that loving God was the MOST important thing we are asked to do, and the second most important thing is to love our neighbor – our relative – our enemy – even those who hurt us.  It doesn’t mean that we have to accept abuse or allow ourselves to be walked all over, but it does mean that we treat the other person with respect and give them the value that God has for them, even as God cares about and values us.

No one said this faith journey would be easy.  Clearly it is not.  Yet, loving God and neighbor is what we are called to do.  And, of course, this IS a journey – a life-time journey.  May we all continue on that journey as we seek to be faithful.

Everyone is in Ministry

We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function.  In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other.”  Romans 12:4-5

Some folks think that they don’t have any responsibility for helping the church to grow.  They come on Sunday morning and go through the worship service and then they think they are done.  Others want to do something but feel they don’t have the gifts to make a difference.  Still others throw themselves wholeheartedly into a task or committee or some activity in the church, and eventually they burn out.  Some people leave because they get mad at the pastor or another church member.

Paul reminds the congregation in Rome that they are all part of the Body of Christ, and each one has something to offer in continuing the work of Christ in the world.  The Church really isn’t the building, but the people, and the people don’t stay in the building, they are sent forth to be in ministry to the world.  And yet, the work of the church also needs organization and administration in order to help that happen.  EVERYONE has something to offer.

In one of my churches, an older woman couldn’t do much, but she wrote out cards and called people who were ill, shut in, grieving, or had something challenging going on in their lives.  Another woman who was pretty much confined to a wheelchair prayed regularly over the list of people on the church’s prayer list, in the church’s directory, and for the pastor and staff.

I know people who would never come up to the front of the sanctuary to help lead a service, but they work hard to put out fellowship refreshments, help keep the building in good condition and looking nice, manage the financial parts of the church’s work, find ways to stay in touch with those who haven’t been attending, teach Sunday school or an adult Bible Study class, take the offering during worship, sweep the kitchen floor, bake, bring food to a pot luck supper, attend the men’s or women’s groups, or any number of things that need to work to help the church be in vital and faithful ministry.

That is the ministry of the Laity.  In fact, the lay people in a church are partners in ministry with the pastor.  Together they work to offer Christ to the world and keep the church a place where we can continue to support each other, grow in faith, and learn what it means to live in our often hurting and broken world.  The Laity are the ones who remain after the pastor leaves, so it is important for people coming to a church to make connections and get to know the other folks in the church.

As in any church, there will be people who don’t always get along, but what a great opportunity to set an example by showing kindness and respect to another person even if we don’t particularly like them!  This Sunday, I celebrate the ministry of the laity as they continue to BE the church in the world.  Thanks be to God!

God’s Fury

The Lord spoke to Moses:  “Hurry up and go down!  Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, are ruining everything!  They’ve already abandoned the path that I commanded.  They have made a metal bull calf for themselves.  They’ve bowed down to it and offered sacrifices to it and declared, ‘These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out the land of Egypt!'”  Now leave me alone!  Let my fury burn and devour them.  Then I’ll make a great nation out of you.”  But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God . . . Then the Lord changed his mind about the terrible things he said he would do to his people.  Exodus 32:7-11a, 14 (NRSV)

I wonder how many times God has felt that way with humanity over the generations.  I wonder how many times Moses felt like abandoning the people.  Yet, he hung on and pleaded for their lives with God.  I wonder if God is furious with what is going on in the world today – I suspect that is the case.

Every decade, every generation has acted in ways that abuse, exploit, murder, and reject God’s commandments.  It’s part of human nature.  How sad God must be over these things!  Whenever someone asks me if I think the end times are near, I answer “yes” because I think the end times are always at hand, whether its for the world or our own individual lives.  Jesus taught us that we should be alert, awake, ready, live prepared for the coming of Christ.

We don’t know when that will happen, but we are to live as if it will happen right now, at this very moment.  That’s hard.  So many things get in the way; so many doubts assail us; so many circumstances draw us away from God and from what we know is right and good and pleasing to God.

Sometimes it seems as if the world is always in an uproar somewhere, and it can be a frightening place to be, and the media plays up the horrible things that are happening.  Where is the good news?  Where are the decent, God-fearing, loving, charitable, caring folks?  Well, they aren’t in the news most of the time.

However, they are in the world – all over the place.  Even though we don’t hear about them regularly, all we have to do is look at the ways neighbors help neighbors, people reach out in times of disaster, and supporters show up for those who have lost loved ones or who are gravely ill.  The children of God who believe in the teachings of Jesus:  love, joy, peace, hope are in the world, quietly living out their faith and making a difference wherever they live, work, shop, play, or minister.

No, we aren’t perfect, but then no one is.  Thanks be to God that God already knows this!  Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection remind us that we have been forgiven and redeemed from our sins.  Our calling is to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world, to speak and act as God’s child.  May it be so.

Loving the World

“God so loved the world that he have his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”  John 3:16 (NRSV)

This Sunday is World Communion Sunday when Christian churches around the world all celebrate Holy Communion or as some say “the Eucharist.”  It’s a time when we celebrate as one church in the world in spite of our divisions and different theologies or ways of worshiping.  The Sacrament of Communion draws us together in Christ.

How I long for that to be the case all the time!  I think it’s wonderful for so many opportunities to worship in a style that “fits” and in a congregation that seems to be a good church “family.”  What I don’t understand is the judgmental attitudes we have toward each other when we choose to have a different understanding of what worship is or how we approach our faith journeys.

Debates have raged since the early church, so this is nothing new!  Unfortunately, we don’t find a lot of tolerance or acceptance of our unity in spite of our differences, whether the church is mainline or not.  My mother always used to ask, “Why can’t we just all get along?”  I guess I would ask the same.  We all worship the same Triune God!

I celebrate World Communion Sunday and I celebrate the church of Jesus Christ in the world.  May we focus on working together to stand up the evil and injustice we see in our world.  If the churches who believe in Jesus would speak out and really live out the teachings of Jesus in the world – all of them (remember – the Church is the people not a building!), I wonder what kind of transformation would take place?

It would be interesting to see!  It takes time and practice, but we can counter the negatives with positives and stop “bashing” other Christians who don’t believe the way we do.  Instead, let us work at respect, honor, and caring about others in spite of our difference – no, wait – maybe WITH our differences.  Think of what we can learn from each other.  Think of what a difference we would make in the world!  Let’s at least try!

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