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Archive for October, 2015

Hope is with Us!

I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look!  God’s dwelling is here with humankind.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples.  God . . . will be with them as their God.”  Revelation 21:3 (CEB)

For years I avoided preaching difficult passages maybe because I was nervous about interpreting them well or even understanding them well.  Yet, in the last ten years, I have challenged myself to preach from them for my own growth and understanding as well as sharing some marvelous messages in them with the congregations I serve.  Revelation is one of those books that I’m occasionally using as the text for my sermon.

Actually, Revelation 21:1-6 has been one that I have read throughout my life because I find such comfort and promise in it. Here we have the promise of God coming to earth to dwell with us for eternity.  We have the promise of peace on earth, and that we will no longer have tears, mourning, death, pain or maladies that bring us down.  It will be the restoration of the earth, relationships between families, friends, and nations.

Those who believe that we will destroy ourselves with wars, pollution, mismanagement of our resources, etc. will scoff at the idea that the earth will be restored, but Revelation reminds us that God really is in charge!  Not only will God come to live on earth (heaven isn’t just a “pie in the sky” thing!), but God will bring peace and wholeness to us.  There is always hope!

What does that say about those saints who have gone on before us?  I can only speculate that we all will be together in a place of peace and harmony – that’s the promise of heaven anyway.  Of course, I realize that there are galaxies we haven’t even been able to fathom way out there in space, but then, God can be wherever God wants to be, so wouldn’t it be wonderful to know that the entire universe lives in harmony together with God’s presence.

It’s interesting to at least think about these passages!  I always tell my Bible study group that I have a long list of questions and things about which I want to learn when I get to heaven, but by the time I get there, I guess the list won’t matter anyway.  God reveals as much as we need to know and what we can handle, and maybe the rest just doesn’t apply.  Whatever the case, I find that the Bible holds out the promise of hope through Christ’s death and resurrection, as well as the promise that God is and will continue to be with us to the end of time – whenever that may be.

Where is your hope?

How do you cling to it when the times get tough?

How do you tackle the challenges?

How are we blind?

“Jesus asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’  The blind man said, ‘Teacher, I want to see.'”  Mark 10:51 (CEB)

Bartimaeus was a blind man who was ousted by his society because of his physical challenge.  He was forced to beg for everything in order to survive.  One day as he sat by the side of the rode, he heard a commotion, and when he asked what was happening, someone told him that Jesus was passing by.  Somehow Bartimaeus knew about Jesus, and he decided to muster up his courage and call out to him.  After all, what did he have to lose?  He had basically already lost nearly everything:  his family, friends, home, position in the community, and livelihood.

So, he shouted even when the crowd told him to be quiet.  Jesus heard him.  Not only did Jesus hear him, but he paid attention to him and asked what he wanted.  “Teacher, I want to see.”  Blindness in the scriptures has more meaning than just not being able physically to see things; it also refers to the inability to see situations or understand something.  Jesus periodically indicated that the temple leaders were blind to the true message of God’s grace and love.  He also recognized the lack of insight and vision his own disciples displayed because they couldn’t grasp what he was trying to teach them.

Spiritual blindness is another form of not being able to see.  Bartimaeus may have been able to see spiritually far better than most sighted people.  So, what can we learn from this story?  Well, I think one thing is that we shouldn’t give up on praying because it continues to open doors so we can connect with God.  Prayer opens us to God’s presence even as Bartimaeus’ shouting opened the door for him to meet Jesus and be healed.  Perseverance in prayer as well as in building our relationship with God helps us to find strength in the tough times.

Another lesson we can learn is that we might have our own blind spots in our lives when it comes to God, to Christ, to church, to someone in our family, among our friends, or with our co-workers.  Maybe there is a habit or behavior that “drives us crazy” from another person, and that’s all we can see in them.  What if we asked God to show us the good qualities?  Someone once reminded me that one behavior “does not the person make.”

Bartimaeus also showed the qualities of courage when everyone else was trying to tell him that he was out of place.  Change is hard for so many people.  When we have a vision for changing something that isn’t working or that can improve our lives, our churches, our work places, our homes, we can pull the courage out of somewhere to make the change.  If it doesn’t work after all, at least we tried!

Maybe this also teaches us a lot about taking inventory of places where we may be blind to God’s call in our lives or God’s working through us and others.  We tend to pass off every day events as just normal stuff, but we hear often that God’s miracles happen in the ordinary events of life.  Maybe doing an assessment of our own behaviors as well as living mindfully of our interactions with the world and people in our lives will help us to be aware of the complete presence of God with us even when we might not see it.

Where have you seen God at work?

How have you been part of bringing healing to someone else?

In what ways can you be courageous and proactive to make a difference in your own life as well as the lives of others?

The Laity

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but he same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of the in everyone.”  1 Corinthians 12:4-6

In our congregations this Sunday we celebrate the Ministry of Laity.  It is a time to lift up the ministry that everyone shares by using the many gifts they have been given.  The apostle Paul uses imagery of the body and how we are all connected, and he reminds us that we are all one in Christ and called to use our gifts and talents to further the work of the church together.  We do this to the glory of God and to build up the family of God here on earth.

All of us who are clergy once were laity, too.  That’s how we started in ministry, and most of us really struggled with our call to become ministers to the ministers.  It’s not an easy path, and it can be a very lonely place to be.  Ethically, we really can’t become friends with our parishioners – not close friends, anyway.  We can socialize, but we aren’t supposed to play favorites.  We put ourselves in jeopardy when we share our personal frustrations and irritations with parishioners whom we fell we can trust, but if something happens for them to be mad at us, that information can be used against us.  No matter where go, we are visible to our parishioners, and they always have that word “pastor” in the back of their heads when they are with us.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my congregations, and I think they are wonderful people.  But I also know that I will be with them a much shorter time than they will be with each other.  The laity have a unique opportunity to share their gifts in community and to build on those gifts.  They are the “movers and shakers” in the church – or at least about 10 percent of them are.

I don’t remember when the church researchers say that momentum shifted from a partnership in ministry with pastor and congregation to “let the pastor do it.”  That attitude is, fortunately, beginning to turn around as the laity realize that they have a calling and are the ones who are still there when a pastor leaves.  Many are beginning to claim their gifts and use them to further the work of Christ in the church and, even more importantly, in the world.

The passage from 1 Corinthians above has been one that I have read many, many times, but I was struck this week when I was reading it again that the word variety is used three times referring to three different ways of answering God’s call:  gifts, service, and activities.  That just about covers everything!  We share our talents, offer whatever gifts we can, serve in whatever way we feel we can best serve, and in a wide range of active ways.

Service isn’t confined to the church only, and that is sometimes hard to remember when the Nominating Committee is on the search for people to serve on committees or as officers in the church.  Even though we need people to do the work that keeps a church going, the most important mission field is “out there” where we work, play, shop, live, and interact with the world around us.

Coming to church on Sundays or being active in the church is part of a type of training ground where we learn about Christ and hear God’s call in our lives.  It’s where we grow in faith and connect with other disciples who are growing.  Church is where we practice so we can be sent forth.  That include the clergy, but they are, frankly, in the minority.

So, clergy, let us lift up the laity of our churches!  And let us celebrate who they are, Whose they are, and the gifts they have, even as we help to lead, inspire, instruct, and nurture them.  Oh yes, and call them – and us – to accountability as we strive to serve faithfully with each other to the glory of God.

Down and Out

“My God! My God, why have you left me all alone?  Why are you so far from saving me–so far from my anguished groans?”  Psalm 22:1 (CEB)

Have you ever felt this way? Years ago I read something that has always stuck with me:  “When you feel far from God, guess who moved?”  I’m not sure if the theology behind the statement is all that sound, but it seems to be a good reminder that we tend to leave everything up to God and expect God to be the one to “zoom down” and fix things.  It doesn’t work that way.

However, the feelings of abandonment, the sense of lonesomeness, the deep grief that comes from the Psalmist has also been part of our experience at some point in our lives.  In one of the churches I served years ago, there was a woman in Bible study who said that she hadn’t experienced anything really negative in her life.  She said she was blessed to have had a happy, non-eventful life to that point.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish negative or heart-wrenching experiences on anyone, but I do think she will be in for a let down at some point.  It’s very easy to see God as all-loving, grace-giving, and the caring heavenly Parent when things are going well.  But when we are down and out, we also easily blame God for our troubles (“What did I do to deserve this?”) or we think God has forgotten about us or abandoned us.

When my great-nephew was born way before he was due, he struggled for his life at just over a pound and half in weight.  He fit in the palm of his father’s hand.  When he died a week later, our family grieved his loss, and his grandmother questioned why God would allow such a thing to happen when so many people had been praying for him.  They are valid questions.  Why didn’t God answer their prayers for the little guy to live?

The grandmother’s question to me was, “What good does it do to pray if God just sits there and does nothing about it.”  They cried out Psalm 22 in their own words.  I think it’s important to remember that God doesn’t “zoom down” to fix everything, and our prayers are for our connection with God to gain strength in difficult times and to find ways in which we can minister to each other and those who are struggling.

Let’s face it:  life isn’t fair, but that isn’t God’s doing.  We have freedom of choice, and many of us have to choose between good and evil, between offering help or ignoring.  As Christians, we are called to offer a helping hand, a shoulder on which to cry, loving support – that’s how God works in our lives.  The more we worship, study, and grow in faith, the more we build a relationship with God that helps us keep on keeping on in the tough times, and it also helps us to be  ministers to those in need.

The song that continues to sing in my head is Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”  It reminds the listener that we are the bridges that help to hold each other up when the troubles come into our lives.  It’s our calling as followers of Christ, and it’s the gift we have to offer.  It’s the way God works though us as God’s hands and feet in the world.  May we claim that calling and live it through example and outreach.

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