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Archive for September, 2016

Paying Attention

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 (CEB)

I wonder.  If someone rose from the dead – like a relative or friend – I think I would sit up and take notice!  The story of Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol comes to mind when I read this passage.  That story always gives me hope that people can change, wake up, realize that they are on the wrong path, but of course, it is fiction . . .  sigh.

However, that doesn’t mean to give up hope!  Those of us who follow Jesus know that someone DID rise from the dead – he did!  Without that belief, our faith is hopeless.  In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, there appears to be no hope for Lazarus.  The rich man ignores him, and it would seem that everyone else did, too.  Yet, after death, he is held “in the bosom of Abraham” (as the African American Spiritual goes) and is comforted.

On the other hand, the rich man is thrown into the burning fires of Hades where he suffers and longs for a cooling, soothing touch.  For many of us who read this story, we figure he got his “just rewards.”  He tried in vain to have Abraham send Lazarus to his siblings to warn them, but Abraham told him it wouldn’t work.  They won’t be convinced.  They have to figure it out from those who are teaching and preaching to them.

I wonder sometimes if what I preach really makes a difference in people’s lives.  I don’t often see changes of behavior.  I still hear gossip, see people trying to get things their way, hear criticisms of others, witness hurt feelings without forgiveness, and the list could go on and on.  But then, I need to remember that a change of behavior isn’t up to me because I am only the messenger.  The behavior change is between the individual and God.

We all need to pay attention to the messages that we receive through the scriptures, through prayer, through worshiping together, in Bible studies, and in the living of the saints who teach us about faithful and watchful living.  It is in hearing the message and beginning to apply it to our lives that we will grow into the likeness of Christ.  It’s a lifelong process, but paying attention is the beginning.

What messages from God do you hear?

How do you apply them?

In what ways do you then share that message with others?

Are You Found?

“Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.”  Luke 15:1-10 (CEB)

I have a bad habit of losing things – mostly papers that I hold onto because I know I’ll need them at some point.  I put them in a pile so they are right where I “know” I will find them, and of course, when the time comes that I need them, I CAN’T find them!  I start going through my “in” and “out” boxes on my desk, check in files where I may have put them, look at my “pending” file, and then I start searching the house.

Much to my relief, I DO eventually find them, but not after a lot of frustration and anger at myself for “doing this again.”  You would think I would figure out a better way, but I just don’t take the time to do it.  Maybe some day . . .

In the parable of the lost coin, a woman has lost one of ten coins.  I can imagine that this is a big loss for her because money didn’t come easily in her day.  She did a little of what I did:  she went through her pockets, swept the whole house, pulled out drawers, storage boxes, looked underneath things, and eventually she found it. The inanimate coin probably had rolled into a corner and was waving at her all along saying, “Here I am!”  But of course, she wouldn’t have “heard” it anyway – instead she had to work hard to find it.

Once she picked it up, instead of being relieved and putting it in a safe place, she went out and spent it because she threw a party to celebrate that she HAD found it!  Does that make sense?  Not to me.

But then, this parable is about God and God’s inclusive love.  When someone is “lost,” whether it’s one of us who might consider ourselves pretty faithful but who have missed the mark somewhere along the line, or whether it’s someone who has turned away from God, God goes looking.  When God finds us/them, we are lifted and celebrated.  We have found home.  So, maybe this isn’t about being lost; rather, maybe it’s about being found.

We are found with God’s amazing grace and infinite love.  We can’t understand it, but that love is so great, that every time someone turns to God or returns to God, there is great celebration!  God loves us that much, and God doesn’t give up on us!  Just as the shepherd who went to find one sheep and the woman who swept hard to find one coin, God finds us and celebrates us.

That’s pretty awesome.  How can we not want to spend time with someone who loves us that much?

In what ways have you ever felt lost?

Where or how did God find you?

Did you know that there was a celebration?

Ouch! Thanks!

Then the word of the Lord came to me:  “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as the potter has done?” Says the Lord. “Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” Jeremiah 18:1-11 (CEB)

I remember playing with Play-Doh when I was younger.  The dough was soft and flexible, and as long as I put it back in the plastic cup replacing the lid, it stayed that way.  However, if the lid was left off or the dough was left out for a while, it lost is pliability and became stiff, hard, and breakable.

When we read the image of the clay in the potter’s hand, we can picture the potter sitting at the wheel and shaping it into a vessel of some kind.  I have a friend who once made a whole bunch of chalices and plates for a women’s clergy gathering.  90% of them were great, but a few of them had leaks and wouldn’t hold the liquid and had to be thrown away.  Fortunately, most of them were fine.

Thinking of being like clay in God’s hands is a reminder that, as God’s children, we are molded and shaped through our baptism and our choice to follow Christ throughout our lives.  And as long as we stay open to God’s word, the teachings of Jesus, and the power of God’s Spirit moving, we will grow and become stronger in faith.

Yet, we all have cracks and leaks that show up occasionally.  No one is perfect, and each of us is shaped uniquely in our own way with our own gifts and talents.  Staying malleable keeps us from becoming so rigid in our beliefs that we aren’t willing to learn something new and become even better.  That’s how God shapes us.

I’ve been so blessed as a pastor because the majority of the people in the congregations I have served are open to learning and growing.  There have been a few who disagreed with me, and I would have been disappointed if no one had!  I grow through my interactions with others and from considering their ideas, too.  God is always stretching me and shaping me into being a better “vessel” as I pastor my congregations.

Sometimes the breaks or cracks that show up and bring us pain and sorrow can be repaired.  The scars and the putty or glue that repair those cracks is always visible, but they can also make us stronger.  We can learn about God’s presence in our lives and share that love of God more fully even with – maybe because of – the “wounds” that we carry.  Others can see our human-ness and realize that they can have the same thing as they grow in faith through their life experiences.

What about you?  Where have the breaks and cracks come in your life?

How were you able to see God working to heal and help you move on?

In what ways has God shaped your life and how do you share that with others?

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