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Posts tagged ‘trust’

Reality

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt.”  Matthew 2:14 (NRSV)

We have barely finished the glitter, partying, gift exchanges, joyful celebrations, time with family, people on vacation (or at least a day off), and then we go to church to hear this story of the realities of life.  What a come-down!  Mary and Joseph had been visited by a bunch of people including wise men from the East who gave them gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh – precious and expensive gifts – gifts that would probably have to support them in their quick departure from Israel to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod.  Talk about a rude awakening!

Yet, as I’ve read through commentaries this week and realized that I would normally be on vacation this week after Christmas (not this year), I realize that I have left this passage for others to grapple with as they filled in for me in the pulpit.  Maybe I can even admit to being relieved that I didn’t have to deal with the passage, after all, I admit to being a romantic who loves happy endings.  But maybe that’s unrealistic.

Life is hard work, and living as a follower of Jesus, the Christ, adds a big challenge to that work.  Let’s face it:  the difficulties we face in life often far outweigh the celebrations.  Bummer.  It’s like being reminded that there is an emotional and spiritual sort of CRASH when we come off a retreat or vacation time – we have to return to the regular, ordinariness of our lives, and the reality of it hits us as we face the return to work or school or job hunting or balancing the checkbook or dealing with relationship issues or health issues. 

We fool ourselves if we think that the nativity scenarios we have created at Christmas are romantic.  I mean, really, look at the story in Luke.  Mary and Joseph had to travel because of a census that was meant to increase taxes paid to the Roman government.  They were poor and had very little.  Then, when they arrived in Bethlehem, they ended up in a stable – a crude cave with a bunch of smelly animals where the conditions for giving birth to a baby would send our doctors and nurses reeling.

After the birth a bunch of “low-life’s” showed up – Shepherds of all people – who were despised and rejected because they were unclean and didn’t honor the Sabbath (how could they – the sheep didn’t take a day off!).  And then eventually, a few years later, according to Matthew, these three wise men arrived to honor the child.  Aha!  Maybe that was the turning point!

Alas, this was not the positive turning point we would want in our romantic setting.  Instead, the wise men tricked the wicked and murderous King Herod who had even murdered one of his wives and two of his sons for fear of losing his throne.  When he realized that the wise men had tricked him, he sent his soldiers to slaughter the boys two years old and under in the region around Bethlehem, thinking he would rid himself of this “newborn king” who would surely claim his throne.

But God was ahead of Herod.  In a dream, God told Joseph to take Mary and Jesus and go to Egypt where they would be refugees, but safe.  That is what Joseph did, after all, Jesus had a much more powerful mission to accomplish.  The realities of life are that we aren’t going to always have an easy journey; there will be twists and turns that take us different directions and change our lives forever.

One reality brings us the happy ending.  Through it all God is with us.  God sends human families and friends to support and care for us.  God sends us on our journeys with blessings and accompanying angels.  Human beings may make life miserable, threaten us, be really nasty to us, but God is in the midst of it, giving us strength to keep moving ahead.  We may become ill or have a loved one die, but we are not alone in the journey of grief, pain, loss, and healing.  God is with us in Emmanuel, the Wounded One who understands our life, knows our pain and hurts, walks with us even to death.

In the television show, “Touched By An Angel,” someone who died would always be accompanied by Andrew, the angel of death.  He was not one to be feared, but a companion on the journey who was sent by God to help us cross over to the new life – the life made possible because of the One who was born into a humble home and who opened the doors so that all people could know God’s love and grace.  That is a reality that many miss or don’t want to believe because they can’t SEE it.

Maybe they are just too stuck in life’s realities to really look or comprehend that Emmanuel, God-with-us, is right here in our midst.  God can work through others to touch our lives and bring us to a new place of joy and peace, even in the midst of the rankest realities.  That is always my belief – my hope – my trust.  In the midst of Christmas, the message is of God’s love and strength and guidance for us.  Thanks be to God!

Do Not Be Terrified

“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”  Luke 21:9 (NRSV)

This past week, we saw the horrible devastation and loss of life in the Philippines.  One U.S. army general flew over a residential area and reported seeing thousands of bodies on the ground and houses washed away or leveled to the ground.  Those who are left have no place to sleep, they have lost their homes and many of their family members.  People are starving, thirsty, and trying to figure out what to do next.  Looting has begun, and relief efforts are slow in arriving.  It must seem like the end of the world to them.

When we think back to last year, it must have seemed the same way to the folks in New York and New Jersey with Hurricane Sandy, or to those in Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina, or Japan following the tsunami, or the earthquake in Haiti, the attacks on the World Trade Center towers in 2011, or the Vietnamese people when a horrible war broke out in their country, or in Korea, or during World War II and the Holocaust or World War I or the American Revolution or the tribal wars in Africa or . . . or . . . or.  We could go on and on with the list of times when everything seemed to be crumbling around the people of that era.  Surely, they believed that it was the end of time.

The Jesus followers of the early church believed that Jesus would return any moment, but he didn’t.  All the signs were there of false prophets, earthquakes, famines, plagues, persecution, and devastation.  It must have seemed like the end of time and that Jesus would be coming back to establish the eternal kingdom on earth, but it still didn’t happen.

Jesus doesn’t promise that we won’t suffer; in fact, he assures us that choosing to follow him will actually bring us more suffering, alienation, and hardship.  What he does promise is that he will be with us.  Luke 21:19 hold this promise:  “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”  (NRSV).  The thing that always assures me is that Jesus knows what I’m going through in my every day life as well as what it is like for others to suffer.  He gets it!

He knows what it is like to lose a father to death (even though we don’t read about that in the scriptures, his earthly father Joseph clearly is out of the picture by the time Jesus begins his ministry).  Jesus knows what it is like to laugh, play, cry, grieve, be betrayed by friends, love others, be an outcast, be a leader, be abused, and any number of other human experiences because he WAS human.  He was God in the flesh, and because Jesus experience the full gamut of human life, God also understands what we are going through.  Jesus is with us all the way on this journey.  “. . . I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”  (v. 15 NRSV).

When the 9/11 attacks happened, people flocked to the churches.  Some were terrified and seeking answers.  Many have since wandered away, not satisfied or willing to make a complete commitment to Christ.  And yet, perhaps some seeds were planted so that the next time their world seemed to be coming to and end such as the death of a loved one, loss of job, or illness, they might have a sense of the presence of Jesus with them.

Our family is dealing with my mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease.  This past week, we moved her to a long term care facility.  For my dad, it was a heart wrenching decision, and for my siblings and me, it was so hard to see them going through this.  But they both have a strong faith that is helping them get through this – along with our support and care.  Last summer, Mom and I had a conversation during one of her moments of clarity when she told me she talked to God all the time and wanted to be with God.  She said that she would see her parents and was ready to go.  I pray, for her sake, that she will have her prayer answered soon.

For us, as a family, it may seem like the end, but through our faith and drawing together as a family, we recognize the presence of Christ in our midst as we take this journey.  The essence of who my mother is here on earth has gradually faded away, but her soul is strong.  My dad is strong, and at 90 years old, he has great wisdom and perseverance.  I see the presence of God personally in them and in my siblings who are all strong in faith, and I’m grateful for God’s love in our lives.

Do not be terrified, Jesus said.  My mom isn’t terrified.  For her, the return of Christ will be when she meets him face to face in the near future.  For the rest of us, it’s a matter of faith and trust.  We don’t know the future, but we do know that Jesus has already gone on ahead of us and has paved the way, and he is with us throughout our lives and through all of the world.  Thanks be to God!

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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