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Posts tagged ‘caring’

Being Good

Jesus said, “What do you think? Which one of these three was neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”  Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy.”  Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”  Luke 10:36-37 (CEB)

This Sunday’s reading (July 10, 2016) is Luke 10:25-37 and contains the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Many of us have heard this parable for years, and I suspect it has been preached on, quoted, misquoted, used and abused for centuries.  There are so many thoughts in it, but perhaps the simplest approach is to take Jesus instruction at the end of the passage, “Go and do likewise.”

At the beginning, we find a legal expert – someone who knows Jewish law VERY well – standing up to test Jesus.  So often the religious leaders and interpreters of the Torah or the laws tried to find ways to trap Jesus into contradicting a teaching.  Yet, he was never trapped, but, in his usual way, he began asking them questions.  They quickly revealed their ignorance of the deeper meaning of the law.

Their laws, although inspired by God and many were for the good of the people, were still written and upheld by human beings, and Jesus point of reference was God.  His questions always referred to “what would God want in this situation?”  So often the laws were kept in unreasonable and might even ignore human needs.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus made the point that it was a lowly Samaritan who had shown mercy rather than a priest or a Levite.  Both of those two men by-passed the man, maybe because they would have been considered unclean if they had touched him.  Compassion and mercy were avoided when they made their position and worries about themselves more important than the needs of someone who had been hurt.

God’s call in our lives is to show care, concern, and compassion to others regardless of their position, ethnicity, legal status, culture, or whatever the circumstances might be.  Human beings are human beings, and they are all part of the human family.  That is not only the call from Jesus, but also the challenge to all of us.  Micah 6:8 tells us what God expects:  “. . . what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”  (NRSV)  Let us go and do likewise!

Where have you walked past or ignored human need?

How have you ministered to someone?

In what ways can we follow Jesus teachings more faithfully?

 

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.

The Other Side of Things

“Jesus said, ‘Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some [fish].’ So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net.” John 21:6 (CEB)

A Native American Proverb states, “Never criticize others until you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins.” This is something I try to do as much as possible, and I preach it often.  Do I always succeed in following my own advice or the advice of our Native American teachers?  No, but I keep on trying.  I really wish people would begin to do this more often.  Sometimes I think we become so caught up in our own needs, wants, and demands that we really don’t walk in someone else’s shoes.

In the scripture passage above, we are reminded that Jesus appeared to the disciples following his resurrection and continued to teach them to look at things from a different perspective.  From what I understand, the fishers of his day would throw their nets over the left side of the boat because the catch was always better on that side.  For some reason they “had always done it that way,” so they didn’t even think of casting the net to the right side.

When they followed Jesus’ instructions, they were able to bring in a huge catch.  It was at that point in the story that Peter realized it was Jesus and swam ashore.  That was a pretty interesting thing for him to do given that he had denied Jesus three times and hadn’t been able to apologize once he discovered that Jesus had been raised from the dead!  Jesus eventually takes Peter aside and asks him three times if he loves him, to which Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”  Jesus instructs him to “Feed his sheep,” “Tend his sheep,” and “Feed his sheep.”  Forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, commissioning.

Jesus had a way of being able to walk in another person’s shoes.  He could understand their situation and help them to see things from a different perspective.  He never compromised his own mission and ministry to accommodate their “agendas.”  Rather, he entered into their lives and walked with them so they could find their way, could receive healing, and be encouraged.  Jesus does the same with us.

We don’t walk alone. Jesus walks with us, not only through the power of the Holy Spirit, but also through companions who are on the journey with us.  So, isn’t it remarkable that we continue to forget to look at things from each other’s perspectives.  Criticism comes when someone thinks we aren’t doing things the “right way” which more often than not is “their way.”  I wish we could consistently think about what the other person is feeling and try to enter into their perspective. Maybe our lives would be so much better because we are respecting and caring about others rather than ourselves.

Of course, we don’t need to be a door mat for someone who will not respect us, but we can try to understand what is going on with them and act (or react) accordingly.  That, to me, is looking at the other side of things and following in Jesus’ example.

What are the ways we can become more aware of “walking a mile in the other person’s moccasins?”

In what ways can we make a positive difference to someone else by doing so?

How do we model Jesus’ respect for others by doing so?

Maybe we will make the world a better place when we ponder these questions and look at things from a different side.  May it be so!

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!

Arrogance

For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”  Luke 18:14b (NRSV)

The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector shows a big contrast between arrogance and humility when praying.  While the Pharisee seems to actually be praying to himself as he proudly makes his list of accomplishments and pats himself on the back, the Tax Collector cries for mercy, recognizing that he is a sinner in need for forgiveness.

I suspect most of us might align ourselves with the tax collector in the sense that we probably think we don’t pray like the Pharisee did in this story.  Yet, Jesus’ point here is, I think, more about God than about us.  It’s more about the grace of God than it is about our own arrogance in praying for ourselves or giving thanks for all the good we do or the blessings we receive.  We often count our blessings in material goods:  a home, a car, a job, a good salary, health insurance, food on the table, and, oh yes – our families and friends.

Someone once sent an e-mail to me talking about thankfulness.  I don’t remember the exact wording, but the gist of it was something like this:  When I see someone who is homeless, I’m thankful I have a home.  When I see someone who is hungry, I’m thankful I have food on the table.  When I see someone who is collecting unemployment, I’m thankful I have a job.  When I see someone who is crippled, I’m thankful that I’m healthy.  And so forth.  It struck me then, as it does now, that there is a certain arrogance about this. 

It’s not that being thankful is wrong because I think we SHOULD give thanks every day of our lives – and often throughout the day.  What I find arrogant about it is the feeling that I get that the person is superior to others – is privileged – is better off than others and happy about it, but does nothing about it.  Of course, I know the person who sent it to me very well, and I have that impression of this person, so that probably doesn’t help my attitude about it!

However, even in the last statement I just wrote, there is an arrogance as I judge someone else’s mind-set and interpretation of being thankful.  It’s hard not to pass judgment and compare others to ourselves and our circumstances in life.  Maybe the point here is that human beings pass judgment all the time – maybe it’s necessary to our understanding of ourselves.  So the real question may be:  “Will we recognize that the grace of God is for ALL people, and that is the same grace we are asked to offer to others.” 

German concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel wrote:  “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.  The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.  The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.  And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”  (http://en.thinkexist.com/quotes/elie_wiesel/)

I would guess the result of arrogance, judgmental attitudes, and self-aggrandizement is also indifference.  We can put our best foot forward as followers of Jesus when we see others through his eyes and then act on it, when we offer care and compassion to those who are hungry, thirsty, poor, in need, sick, in prison, and hurting.  By actively living out our faith in the world, we put aside indifference and glorify God.  Maybe it be so.

 

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