Author Archives: Sandy Bach

Redeeming Time

15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (Ephesians 5:15-20 NRSV)

Summer isn’t over.  That will occur on September 22 this year with the autumnal equinox.  Meteorologists call the end of summer on August 31st.  Frankly, summer is over when school begins.  It’s the beginning of a new year, so to speak.  Our kids return to school and new classrooms and new teachers.  And the rest of us tend to follow suit.  Vacation season comes to an end and we get serious about fall activities.

How timely that we read this passage today.  The author of Ephesians tells us to make the most of time; the days are evil; be wise; don’t get drunk; worship and sing; give thanks for everything.  That’s a tall order!  Perhaps it’s also strange.  As we begin a fresh new year, perhaps this passage is timely.

How do we redeem time?  The word, redeem, has so many meanings and we Christians throw it around as if we understand it’s meaning.  Jesus went to the cross to “redeem” us from sin.  He traded his life for yours and mine.  He freed us up to make better lives for ourselves and others.

Redeeming time, in this sense, is about what we do with the time we’re given.  When we awaken each day, we have the opportunity to open ourselves up to our very existence.  We can receive this new day that God has made because we know that God is in it.  What might that look like?

We begin by understanding that not everyone awakens to a beautiful world.  Some choose not to see the beauty.  Sadly, some are surrounded by really bad stuff.  All of us are capable are seeing the fresh possibilities in a new day.

We redeem time when we recognize that we have choices.  As my friend and colleague is fond of saying, “Life has choices.  Choices have consequences.  Make good choices.”  We redeem time when we rescue the time we have from loss or inappropriate practices.  Notice that the author says, “Don’t get drunk with wine…” (vs 18)  Certainly alcohol abuse is a waste of time and energy.  But, don’t we get drunk on other things?

The risks exist: to get drunk worrying about the future; to get drunk on overspending money; to get drunk on anger.  We get drunk when that which gets in the way of our relationship with God takes over our lives.  We lose time.  We lose ourselves.  We’re unable to worship God.  We’re unable to be thankful.

We get drunk when we choose to lose ourselves in anything that kills our spirit and our soul.  Over drinking and abusing drugs come to mind.  Overeating is the drug of choice for others.  Getting drunk relieves anxiety and we can avoid both God and the problem.  Until we sober up and all sorts of other emotions step in to drive us back to our addiction.

Our author suggests being thankful.  In everything.

Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to be thankful when things are going wrong?  First we see all the bad stuff.  Then if it gets bad enough, we begin to see glimpses of God’s presence:  a friend saying the right thing at the right time; a good night’s rest after many a restless night; a sense of God’s peace just when you need it most.  Soon you’re noticing that the rain let up at just the right moment.  That the evening news reported somebody performing an act of kindness.  You see life differently and, though life is not all good, it’s also not all bad.

Give thanks for the right timing of events; for green lights; for smiles and sunshine.  Dare to turn to the evilness of our days.  Give thanks that, though evil exists, life isn’t evil.  God is the one who gives and sustains life and intends good for God’s creation.

That’s when time takes on a new aspect.  There is an example used in training classes that expresses this best.  The facilitator jams rocks of all sizes and shapes into a jar and then tries to pour sand around it.  Each rock is an item on our to-do list.  Predictably, it all doesn’t fit.  Then the facilitator empties the jar and begins again.  This time she identifies priorities and puts the largest rocks in first.  Next come the secondary priorities and she puts the smaller stones into the jar and watches them settle around the largest rocks.  Finally, she adds sand and it slips over the rocks and stones into the tiny crevices.  These are the less important things, but still things that need to be completed.  The jar is filled and all the items on the to-do list fit in the jar perfectly.

The point is this: what’s most important in your life?  Do it first?  I tried meditating in the evening and guess what?  I never got to it.  I had to move it to first thing in the morning.  I discovered that it got my day off to a good start.  Some of my biggest rocks include physical exercise, caring for my disabled husband and for the congregation I serve.  Once I identified those, everything else fell into place.

Redeeming time requires wisdom.  It’s part time management, part boundary setting.  It’s all prayerful and prayer-filled.

We redeem time when we use it wisely.  We redeem time when we use it to change the world.  We redeem time when we seek the leading of the Holy Spirit and grab it while it while we can

All glory ad honor be to God.

Amen.

 

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Merit Badges

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,[b] as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.[c] Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us[d] and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  (Ephesians 4:25-5:12 NRSV)

Rules for living in unity:

  1.  honesty is the best policy
  2.  keep a check on your anger
  3.  thieves, get a job, so you can help others out
  4.  watch what comes out of your mouth
  5.  no backbiting or profane talk.
  6.  forgive each other

Merit badges.  Do your best to be a good person and here’s a list of what to do and what to avoid.  And, to be truthful, my badges are adding up.  I’m feeling pretty good about myself.

It’s an easy passage to read, unless we read between the lines and understand the context.  This is a letter written to churches made up of Jews and Gentiles.  The Jewish Christians already had a set of values that they learned from the law of Moses.  The Gentiles came to them with what the author calls pagan values.  They have left behind the worship of multiple gods and entered their new life with a sense of freedom from laws and rules.  This collided with the Jewish sense of Torah (Law.)  The author aims to set everyone straight.

The Head of the Church is Christ.  And that implies great meaning.  The rest of the letter is directed toward understanding what that means for the fledgling congregation.

The author could be speaking directly to us in the 21st century.  We need this passage to run a check on ourselves.  Let’s take another look.

How do we speak truth to our neighbor?  In his play, “Strange Interlude,” Eugene O’Neill has a double dialog going: dialog spoken and dialog of unspoken thoughts.  The two dialogs don’t agree.  When we talk about truth telling, we often think of this in terms of pointing out wrongdoing or inaccuracies.  The double dialog protects from hurt feelings, but also, authenticity.  The author states that our neighbor deserves best.  And it begins with truthfulness in our own hearts.

If we are to be honest, we begin with ourselves.  What are you doing to protect yourself and those secret places in your soul that you don’t dare allow in the light of day?  What are you hiding behind that could be melted away in God’s grace?  That’s right, God’s grace.  Honesty with neighbor begins with God.  Exposing our soul to God opens us up to repentance and forgiveness.  We are changed as much as the members of that first century congregation.

Anger is important.  It reminds us that injustice is a sin or that someone is trying to hurt us.  The problem with anger is when it turns lethal and we seek revenge for wrongdoing against us or a loved one.  But, it gets us no where.  Anger has a way of multiplying itself until it owns us and we lose the authentic self that God created us to be.

When we deal with our anger today, we let it go and allow God to do something with it.  If community is important, than reconciliation is a constant.  Holding grudges allows for festering.  It does no one any good and too many people suffer from it.  If it’s important enough to hang onto, it’s important enough to talk it out with the one who hurt you.

The same with evil talk.  It has a lot to do with unresolved anger.  Allow your words to build up rather than break down.

During this summer, the sign on our neighborhood elementary school has read, “Be the kind kid.”  I walk past it every morning and I read the reminder to me: “Be the kind adult.”  The first thing I did was to talk less.  I love the sound of my own voice, so it’s been a huge lesson to speak less and listen more.  I’ve discovered that kindness has been easier because listening provides me with words of understanding and acceptance.

As I read this passage, I discover that I want to remove the merit badges from my sash.  In fact, I want to set aside the whole concept and reread this passage in light of my baptism.  Every time we see the baptismal font, isn’t it a reminder that we are a new creation?  That God, in Christ, came to earth to show us the way?  Every time we come forward to that font, we are reminded who we are and to whom we belong.  We were marked in those waters and reminded what Jesus did for us.

We are a new creation over and over again.  Our salvation is always and forever.  And God is always at work in us to transform us.  Every time we receive that transformative power, we “put off” our old ways.  We repent, yet again, and enter a renewal that leads to changes in the way we act, the way we respond and the way we are.

We do this every time we walk with God.  We do this every time we change as a result of listening to each other.  We do this when we talk honestly to God.  We do this when we own up to our anger that is getting in the way of our relationship with God.

It requires fellowship, repentance and forgiveness.  It leads to reconciliation.  It makes for authentic community.

We often say, “Remember your baptism and be glad.”  Sound silly?  Many of us were baptized as babies.  Remember what?  Remember that you are baptized and marked by God.  Remember that you belong to God through Jesus Christ.  Remember that you came through the waters of baptism into new life.

Remember your baptism.  And be glad.

I’m putting away the merit badges.  I’ve achieved very little when I look at what God has done for me through Christ.  And though I know that I’m saved by grace through faith, I want to honor God by paying it forward.

I’ll start at the baptismal font.  And I’ll try to be the kind and authentic person.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 

 


How Do We Fit In?

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,

“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.”

(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended[a] into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.  (Ephesians 4:1-16 NRSV)

 

In a motion picture called The Mission Robert DeNiro plays Mendoza, a ruthless mercenary who makes his living selling Indians on the slave market.  One day he kills his brother in a fit of rage.  Unable to live with the guilt, Mendoza goes to live in a monastery where he meets Father Gabriel.  The priest suggests that Mendoza accompany him to a mission in the mountains where the Indians live.  As penance Mendoza carries a huge sack of armor along the way.  Near the end of the climb Mendoza struggles up a slippery hillside, still carrying the sack, when he comes face-to-face with one of the natives.  The Indian man holds out a knife, and Mendoza assumes he will be killed.  But the man uses the knife to cut the rope, and the sack of armor goes tumbling down the hillside.  Not anger, wrath, and malice, but compassion, kindness, and humility.  That’s what Paul writes about. *

Humility.  Gentleness. Patience. Bearing with one another in love.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks often of “Ubuntu.”  It’s a difficult word to translate into English, but it describes the kind of person Paul is calling us to be.  A person with Ubuntu is generous, hospitable, friendly, caring and compassionate.  Ubuntu understands that we are not our own.  We are a part of something much larger and because of that we participate with others.

Paul says that we’re a part of Christ’s Body.  Also known as the Church.  It’s a calling.  It’s a calling to humility and gentleness and patience.  We bear with on another in love.  We enter the world in love.

It seems to me that anger and hate are easy and energy sapping all at the same time.  It takes courage to humbly stand for what we believe. It takes courage to be patient with those who don’t see things our way.  Yet, the outcome is peace.  Peace of mind and body and soul.  It’s a form of letting go and allowing God to be involved.

We tell our kids to play well with others.  How do we measure up to those standards as adults?  How do we stand tall, serving our neighbor, while risking becoming a doormat?  We do it together.  We are the body of the Christ.  We aren’t alone in this, but we are a part of something much larger than us.  Huge.

And we do it by the grace of Christ.  Paul is clear about what we believe: One.  One body, one Spirit, one hope in Christ’s resurrection; one Lord, one faith, one baptism.  And it all leads to God.  Amen and amen.

But, that’s not all.  Paul shows us how we move into this unity thing in order to develop our skills of caring and compassion.  It comes as gifts bestowed on those who will equip us for this journey.  Some will be Apostles to build the Church; prophets to speak truth in love; evangelists to share the Church with seekers; pastors and teachers to preach and to teach the Church.

That’s how we grow up.

Ubuntu generosity and hospitality.  Ubuntu compassion.  Holding the knife, not to kill, but to relieve burdens.

That’s the world I want to live in.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

  • Mike Graves “The Sermon as Symphony: Preachign the Literary Forms of the New Testament”  (Valley Forge, Judson Press, 1997) page 187

 


Not Enough

1-4 After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee (some call it Tiberias). A huge crowd followed him, attracted by the miracles they had seen him do among the sick. When he got to the other side, he climbed a hill and sat down, surrounded by his disciples. It was nearly time for the Feast of Passover, kept annually by the Jews.

5-6 When Jesus looked out and saw that a large crowd had arrived, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread to feed these people?” He said this to stretch Philip’s faith. He already knew what he was going to do.

Philip answered, “Two hundred silver pieces wouldn’t be enough to buy bread for each person to get a piece.”

8-9 One of the disciples—it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter—said, “There’s a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.”

10-11 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” There was a nice carpet of green grass in this place. They sat down, about five thousand of them. Then Jesus took the bread and, having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish. All ate as much as they wanted.

12-13 When the people had eaten their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted.” They went to work and filled twelve large baskets with leftovers from the five barley loaves.

14-15 The people realized that God was at work among them in what Jesus had just done. They said, “This is the Prophet for sure, God’s Prophet right here in Galilee!” Jesus saw that in their enthusiasm, they were about to grab him and make him king, so he slipped off and went back up the mountain to be by himself.

16-21 In the evening his disciples went down to the sea, got in the boat, and headed back across the water to Capernaum. It had grown quite dark and Jesus had not yet returned. A huge wind blew up, churning the sea. They were maybe three or four miles out when they saw Jesus walking on the sea, quite near the boat. They were scared senseless, but he reassured them, “It’s me. It’s all right. Don’t be afraid.” So they took him on board. In no time they reached land—the exact spot they were headed to.

 

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

John 6:1-21

An emergency meeting was called by the ruling board of First Church.  The discussion was centered around what to do with 5,000 people gathered on the church lawn in search of healing and a meal.  All committees were to report in on their findings.

Philip was chair of the Finance Committee.  He reported that not even six months’ worth of worship offerings would cover the cost.  He concluded, “Not enough.”

Andrew from the Outreach Committee reported that there was a small percentage of the budget set aside for this type of thing, but, again, “Not enough.”

The Trustees tried to settle them on the grass outside, but worried about the newly manicured lawn and the azalea beds.  In terms of space, “Not enough.”

The Worship Committee were unable to add to the conversation because they had been busy making plans for the Advent Season.

No one expected a miracle.  No one even looked for a miracle.

Not enough. In the wealthiest nation in the world, there’s not enough.  Not enough food; not enough medical assistance; not enough munitions for war; not enough of anything.  We’re live in a world that isn’t good enough, isn’t big enough, can’t do enough.  And we end up shrugging our shoulders in despair at the 5,000.

We’re not enough.  That’s all we can do.  And we leave the meeting, sighing at the enormity of the problem.

Enter Jesus with amazing grace.  He has the crowd sit on the green grass, like a shepherd making them, “to lie down in green pastures.” Then he takes the bread, he gives thanks to God for bread and fish.  He gives it to the multitude.

And there’s more.  When everyone had satisfied their ravenous hunger, he had the disciples gather up the leftovers: nothing is to be wasted in the kingdom of God.  Twelve baskets full.

The 5,000 saw the miracle.  They welcomed it and they welcomed Jesus.  So much so that they tried to make him king.  This was who they’d been looking for.  This is the man who will set Israel right and get Rome out of their land.

In the face of the crowds outside our doors, what can we do?  When there’s not enough of anything, what can we do?

What we do is face facts.  We can’t do it alone.  We aren’t enough without Jesus.  When the crowds tried to make him king, he slipped away.  And while the disciples tried to row to the other side of the lake, they saw him, not far off.  He is never far off.  He is always ready to get in the boat with us.  When we receive him, we find ourselves on dry land.

We aren’t enough without Jesus.  We run out of food and money and supplies.  Most of all, we run out of knowledge of what we can do.  We come to the edge of our education and life experiences.  There’s nothing more we can do.

Or not.  That’s when we look up and there he is: walking on water, present with us even when we didn’t realize it.  That’s when we say, “Come, Lord Jesus.  We aren’t anywhere close to being able to help.  We need a miracle.”

Then we look for it.  Here is a place where God will be glorified.  Here is a place where mercy will break forth.  Here we will see amazing grace.

We shy away from that, don’t we?  We rightfully refuse to turn Jesus into a circus act that can be objectified and controlled.  We rightfully refuse to have our Lord and Savior entertain us with an experience that will make us feel better.

We miss out on the relational experience, though.  We miss out on the deeply passionate.  We miss out on the incarnation.

We have a Blessing Box on our church lawn.  It’s a cupboard filled with emergency food.  The sign on it says, “Take what you need.  Leave what you can.”

People take from it daily.  Often they leave something: powdered baby formula, extra tins of food.  We even found a sealed package of cigarettes!  Often, generous donations arrive in boxes.  They set them under the box because there’s so much.  Notes appear on the community Facebook page, speaking of the generosity: we offer emergency groceries with no expectations in return.

One evening, a neighbor reported that as soon as the Blessing Box was full, someone waiting in her car nearby, was waiting until the volunteer left.  Then she would drive up to the box and take everything.  She left nothing behind.  Word on the street was that she was selling the food for drugs.

The ruling board spent just a few minutes receiving the report.  The decision: there is so much good occurring with the box. We would continue as we had.  We would not incur rules.  We would hold the young woman in prayer.  Two weeks later, the theft stopped.  We don’t know what happened and we’re not even sure about the reason for her taking the food in the first place.

I was proud of their decision.  They continued to donate food to fill the Blessing Box, fully realizing that it wasn’t being put to the best use 100% of the time.  Yet, what we focus on is seeing amazing grace in action.  We know that Jesus is present and people from all over the community continue to help us fill the Blessing Box.

It not only fills a need for food.  It’s serving to bring the community together in a positive way.  Amazing grace pointing to hope and God’s presence.

We’re not enough without Jesus.  With Jesus, amazing things happen.  On the day that he fed the 5,000, everyone saw the miracle.  But, they also felt it.  They felt as if they were part of something important.  They were important enough for Jesus to take bread, give thanks and distribute it to these, the least the last and the lost.  They sat on that green carpet of grass and felt communion with each other.

They felt as if they mattered.  This incarnation of God loved them so much that he took time to feed them and heal them and listen to them.  They saw and felt the miracle that day.  They went home changed people.

Jesus gave hope and healing.  The community discovered “hope on the far side of despair, faith that could live with doubt, and the courage to live beyond the sting of death.”  (Douglas John Hall, “Feasting on the Words” (Louisville, Westminster John Knox, 2009)  Year B Volume 3 page 286)

We miss the miracle when we try to explain it.  We miss the miracle when we engage our logical minds.  The answer may be to look beyond the miracle.  We don’t know everyone who uses the Blessing Box, but we know it to be an important staple in our community.  Miracles happen because a family will eat and they will return soon, knowing they can depend on us to help them again.

Miracles happen with a touch or a hug that says, “you’re important.”

Not enough?  If we’re doing this alone, yes.  We’re not enough.

But with Christ, nothing is impossible.  And every time we serve him by serving others, miracles happen that we can hardly see and hardly miss.  When we do it to glorify him, Jesus multiples food and fish, changes water into the best wine, walks on water in order to be near us, heals our battered hearts and minds.

Not enough?

Look again.

There’s more than enough.

And it’s overflowing.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 


Can We Have It Both Ways?

30-31 The apostles then rendezvoused with Jesus and reported on all that they had done and taught. Jesus said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” For there was constant coming and going. They didn’t even have time to eat.

32-34 So they got in the boat and went off to a remote place by themselves. Someone saw them going and the word got around. From the surrounding towns people went out on foot, running, and got there ahead of them. When Jesus arrived, he saw this huge crowd. At the sight of them, his heart broke—like sheep with no shepherd they were. He went right to work teaching them.

53-56 They beached the boat at Gennesaret and tied up at the landing. As soon as they got out of the boat, word got around fast. People ran this way and that, bringing their sick on stretchers to where they heard he was. Wherever he went, village or town or country crossroads, they brought their sick to the marketplace and begged him to let them touch the edge of his coat—that’s all. And whoever touched him became well.  (Mark 6:3-34;53-56 The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson)

Our small congregation has a new mission statement: “Sharing Christ.  Feeding People.  Changing the World.”  It’s a tall order, but we believe it’s what Christ calls us to do.  We all share Christ in one way or another.  Sometimes we stumble.  Still, we must continue trying.  Feeding others means, for us, that we offer nourishment in the forms of food and healing.  Food to nourish the body.  Conversation and prayer and walking alongside to nourish the soul.  Each time we touch someone in a positive way, we change the world.

As I said, it’s a tall order.  There are many lives that could use some touching from the Master.  It was no different when Jesus walked the earth.  He ministered, taught and healed.  When his reputation spread, he sent out the apostles two by two.  His ministry grew in leaps and bounds and they found themselves in need of rest.  Jesus takes them away for that retreat and they’re followed and deluged with desperate souls, “like sheep without a shepherd.”

There are a lot of desperate souls today, both in and out of the church.  Life is filled with deadlines and family obligations; care-giving duties; health issues; jobs and careers. Kingdom work gets left to to a few people.

I wonder, “Where do we get off thinking we can reach out to those in the community in need of healing and nourishment?  After all, there are no guarantees.  Some of us will erroneously expect that this will grow the church; that we’ll attract young families and money and the church will thrive.

And I know the answer, even before I ask it:  “Jesus isn’t inviting us to grow our congregation.  Jesus is inviting us to enter into service with him.”

So, we get ourselves a head of steam, prepare for the organizational meeting, and we read this text,  “Come away and rest,” Jesus says to the disciples.  They try, only to be met by thousands who are hungry and need a piece of Jesus.  No matter where they go, they can’t catch a break  There’s not enough time or money or disciples or energy.

Jesus calls us to rest.  Take your Sabbath because God created it just for us.  We know we need to lay down our nets or our plows and simply “be.”  Sometimes we even accomplish it.  We allow the busy-ness of life to not take over our lives.  We rest so that our souls can be replenished.

We rest.  We pray.  We play.  We re-enter the world with recharged batteries.

Also known as: back to the grind.

Then there are those who lose themselves in the cause of justice.  These are the folk who watch the news with an equal mix of compassion and anger.  They try to help others while seeing the forces of evil bring them down.  Their spirits are zapped; their souls are sucked dry.

We rest.  Probably not for long enough.  We pray.  And wonder if Jesus is listening.  We play.  But not for long, because it isn’t right that we should be having fun while others are suffering.

Can we have it both ways?  Can we balance our lives and our service with rest?  Can we rest and work and find meaning?  Or do we simply burn out?

Sharing Christ. Feeding others.  Changing the world.

Jesus called his disciples into the wilderness for rest.  But, wait.  Why the wilderness?

The wilderness is where the Hebrew slaves found themselves after the Exodus.  No food. No water. No plan.

The wilderness is where Jesus spent 40 days being tempted.  No food.  Lots of tempting thoughts on how to take on the world.  Wild animals.

The wilderness is where Elijah escaped to avoid a monarch and his scheming wife.  He found wind and earthquake and chaos.

Whatever any of the disciples expected, they got just the opposite of rest: more work than they knew what to do with.

Can we have it both ways?  Can we work ourselves to death each week, take Sabbath rest and then go out to serve others?

No.  Because if we do it like that, in that order, “work” receives the bulk of our time, Sabbath rest comes in at a dim second and service to others?  We’ll get to that next week.  Or maybe the week after.

Can we have it both ways?  No.  I suggest yet another way.  Another way to view our lives.

The wilderness isn’t necessarily a place to which we travel.  We don’t need a passport, an airline or train ticket.  We don’t even need to pack a suitcase.  The wilderness is all around us.  We see those wilderness areas when we watch the homeless walking the streets; when we watch the news about war; when we talk to a friend of stranger about that tumor that is about to be biopsied.  We are thrust into the wilderness when we see God’s lost sheep without a shepherd and our hearts burst with compassion.

Rev. Fred Rogers of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” fame had a compassionate heart that burned for children.  He read the newspapers and watched the news and then used his children’s TV show to address the hate and murder and evil in the world.  He affirmed children.  He spoke about assassination following Bobby Kennedy’s death.  He put his feet in a pool side-by-side with an African American after blacks were driven out of a pool by someone pouring cleaning solution in it.  He talked about acceptance and beauty.  He taught children to be kind; he taught them kingdom values.

Fred Rogers knew the wilderness intimately.  He saw the promises of Jesus in that wilderness and delivered them to children week after week.  No subject was off limits: adoption, disabilities, death.  He often said, “What really matters is helping others win, too, even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and then.” (http://www.fredrogerscenter.org/about-us/about-fred/quotes/)

The wilderness is all around us.  Christ’s presence with us tames the wild animals; brings succor to dry tongues; nourishes the hungry.  Sharing Christ. Changing the world.

No, we can’t have it both ways.  We have it all ways when we recognize that we’re in the wilderness and there are so many in need of a word and more.  Yes, those without much want your money and some of them will try every trick in the book to get it out of you.  Yes, they’ll tell you what they think we want to hear, because that’s the only way they’ll get that help.  Offering healing to others is an awe-filled mix of soul-sucking and soul-reviving work.

We need rest.  We need work that gives us purpose.  We need to feel that our God-given gifts and talents are being used by God to serve others.  We are at our best when we can say at the end of the day that we tried to make a difference in the world today.

Can we fit it all in?  The family and work obligations with the sabbath rest with the service to others?  If you’re managing to make it work, go with it.  If not, I have a few suggestions.

First things first: identify your priority.  Not priorities.  Priority.  How does your life revolve around, engage with and point to that priority?  Simply stated; difficult to do.  When you see people who are doing this it’s probably because they did the hard work of figuring it out.

When you identify the One whom you worship, the rest will fall into place.  You’ll easily shed the unimportant, realizing that it isn’t giving meaning to your life.  Balance will occur.  Rest and prayer has a place, if you’re ready to sit and be still.

Jesus invited his disciples to retreat for a much needed rest.  What they got was more work than they could handle.  But, Jesus was present, providing food and healing and nurturing, to the disciples as well those sheep in need of a shepherd.

Jesus is still present, offering provision for our needs so that when we meet others in the wilderness of life, we can pay it forward to the least, the last and the lost: the sheep without a shepherd.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


On Being Silent

14 King Herod heard [that…]  Jesus’ name had become known. Some were[b] saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod[c] had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed;[d] and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias[e] came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s[f] head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.  ( Mark 6:14-29 NRSV)

I don’t want to read this text.  It’s gory; it’s lusty; it’s filled with seduction and scandal and murder.  Truth has spoken to power and look what it got him.  Herod is holding on to power, but just barely.  He hangs on for dear life to money, a beautiful wife, but most of all, power — a seductive idol.

We might as well turn on the television.

The invited guests remain silent.  No one dares says, “No, Herod.  What you’re doing is wrong.”  They remain silent and stunned.

What he does is unspeakable.  But, that’s what weak people do.  They puff themselves up and blame others to make themselves look good.  They grab and abuse power in order to gain more power.  They demand loyalty and surround themselves with “yes people,” who agree with everything suggested, jockey for space to relate their version of the truth.

The silent hang on to their status at the expense of others.

Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps. (https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007392)

Niemöller is perhaps best remembered for the quotation:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Many of us could be included in the silent.  We stay under the radar, understanding what we believe to be truthful but unable to speak out.  We struggle to respect the views of those with whom we disagree.  Our hearts break when we’re attacked with falsehoods.

In our attempt to be faithful, we use Jesus to prove our self-serving point. We rail silently at the false prophets.  Our parents taught us to be nice.  We refuse to be like those who refuse to listen to any but their own truth.  Speaking out is dangerous and lonely.  Look what it got John.  Look what it got Jesus.

Jesus loved.  Not out of weakness, but strength.  He spoke truth to power.  And the day the powers thought they had silenced him were the ultimate losers. Caesar and Pilate hung on to their power, but it was fleeting.  Jesus’ victory is still speaking today.

2,000 years later, we continue to worship the same God who brought Jesus back to life.

2,000 years later, the history books tell us about those who rose to power only to fall.  Wealth rules the day, but only for a short time.

While Herod and Herodias rule the day, God is present in twelve uneducated disciples.

While sex and money and power hold sway for too long, God rules in eternity.

While the arrogant speak out in hate and vitriol and pride, God’s quiet word speaks volumes.

I stand convicted.  I’m the arrogant with the truth.  I’m the prideful one trying to save my life and my status while I’m losing my soul.  I want to silence some while I’m complicit with holy murder.  I’m haunted and unsure what to do.

Jesus reminds us that,  “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”  (Mark 8:35 NRSV)

I’m convicted all over again.

It’s not about me.  Or you.  It’s about speaking truth to power.  How do we do that?  I have a couple of suggestions.  But, be advised: they’re not easy.  In fact, they’re downright difficult.  But, I see no alternative.

First, remember that we are Beatitude People:

“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.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[b] on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  (Matthew 5:3-12 NRSV)

Blessed are you when your heart is broken when you see the elite mistreating others; when you see injustice supported; when hate takes the day.

Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for a world where everyone has enough to eat and justice is more important than power.

Blessed are you who mourn when you hear the false prophets.

Blessed are you, because Jesus’ heart is also breaking.  He will show an even better way.

Second, pray.  This is the hard part.  I turn to the Archbishop Desmond Tutu for assistance:

During the days of apartheid, the Archbishop would pray daily for the government officials who were maintaining the oppressive system.  He prayed for them to transform their hearts and to transform the racist system that they created, but he also prayed sincerely for their well-being.  It helped him to love them rather than hate them, and ultimately made it possible to work with them to help transition the country to democracy.  (“The Book of Joy” His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams [New York, Penguin Random House, 2016] page 259)

Jesus demands that we pray for our enemies and he modeled that ethos, even from the cross.  It may be difficult, but only for a short time.  Amazing results are waiting for you.

Pray for the false prophets.  Pray for your complicity in the murder of the just and holy.  Look for new ways of being that will speak loudly.

Find comfort in Christ who is present in the halls of power and Skid Row.  Find comfort in Christ who brought us an even better way.

Find grace in the margins.

And keep on praying.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

 


Watershed Moments

4-6 Jesus told them, “A prophet has little honor in his hometown, among his relatives, on the streets he played in as a child.” Jesus wasn’t able to do much of anything there—he laid hands on a few sick people and healed them, that’s all. He couldn’t get over their stubbornness. He left and made a circuit of the other villages, teaching.

7-8 Jesus called the Twelve to him, and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition. He sent them off with these instructions:

8-9 “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple.

10 “And no luxury inns. Get a modest place and be content there until you leave.

11 “If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.”

12-13 Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits.  (Mark 6:1-13 The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson)

When Jesus walked into Nazareth that day, did he know what to expect? It wasn’t so long ago that his family had tried to get him to come to his senses. They thought he was out of his mind and wanted to take him home. Some were worried about him; I suspect others wanted to stop the embarrassment he was creating for them.

Surely, he had a hint that things may not go well. Did he plan on using this as a watershed moment? Was it to be a lesson to the disciples who would eventually be sent out as apostles?

My husband had had bad teeth all his life. When he played trumpet, he pressed the mouthpiece to his lips off center to accommodate the space between his two front teeth. He grew a mustache to try to cover up what he thought was an unattractive smile. He learned to smile without showing much of his teeth.

It wasn’t until he was an adult that he could do anything about them. He went to a dentist who sent him to get braces. He endured the pain and the inconvenience of a wired set of teeth. But the day he received his new teeth was worth it.

His smile was now complete. Rather than hide it under his mustache or behind his hand, he allowed the smile to fill his face. He enjoyed laughter and now it no longer embarrassed him.

It was a watershed moment. It changed the image of himself and gave him the impetus to enter into new adventures in his life. And, to my great joy, he shaved that mustache!

As Jesus stood in that synagogue feeling the doubts and unbelief of his friends and family, it dampened his spirit. He didn’t stay long. Only long enough for the disciples to learn that despite amazing miracles in Galilee, across the Sea and even on the sea itself, people were people everywhere and they would, at times, be run out of town on a rail.

Watershed moments lead to great things. The disciples went out in pairs and returned marveling at the great deeds they had done in Christ’s name and the many people who were willing to listen to their words. I trust there were a few towns they had to “shake off.”

The history of Christ’s Church is rich with possibility and hope and excitement. It also holds disappointment, lack of faith and dampened spirits. Today the church is experiencing watershed moments.  God is at work, breaking down and building up.  Jesus calls us to proclaim, to heal, and to claim victory over evil. What does it look like?

I remember one of the Bible verses I learned in Sunday school: “Do unto others what you would have others do unto you.” (Luke 6:31 KJV)

What do you sense Jesus calling you to do?  What are you already doing?  Are you aware of Jesus’ activity in your life?  Are you where God needs you to be or do you feel drawn to a different place?

Let’s picture it now.

Close your eyes for as long as it takes to imagine some one or some thing or a some group.  Why do you think God has put that on your heart?  (Close your eyes now and read on when you’re ready.)

What did you see?  What did you discover about yourself?

Are you proud of the work you have put in?  Is there more you feel led to do?

Close your eyes and envision them again.  Try speaking with them. (Read on, when you’re ready.)

What did you say to them?
What did they say to you?

What are they hungry for?
Food? Justice? Companionship? Friends? Jesus?

Are you able to treat them they way you would want to be treated?

I wonder what you’re thinking? What worries you? What scares you? What excites you?

Most importantly of all, what insights have you gained from this exercise?

This is a watershed moment. Hold this in prayer and seek God’s call to you.  Perhaps all you can do is write a check.  You may be able to visit someone.  You may find yourself getting more involved than you thought you could.  Whatever the case, remember this: Prayer.  Prayer is what we do before, during and after.  Prayer is what makes things turn out right.  Prayer is the single most important thing you can do.

This is a watershed moment.   But it’s scary.  What if we fail?

Failure won’t happen, because there’s no such thing as failure in God’s kingdom. Perhaps the outcome will be disappointing. But, always remember that God doesn’t call us to be successful; God calls us to be faithful.

With that in mind, will we reach out and attempt to make a difference in the lives of those who cross your path?

Or will you find yourself missing opportunities and losing blessings?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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