Like a Child

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“But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children
come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these
that the kingdom of God belongs.”
                           Luke 18:16
The story of Jesus and the children always reminds me of the movie Dave, with Kevin Kline.  The hero, Dave, is a look alike for the president.  When the president has had a massive stroke, Dave is hired to come to the White House and impersonate the president so the country won’t know anything has happened.  Acting as the president, Dave goes with the First Lady to a photo opportunity at a child care center.  She has been estranged from her husband, and is unaware of Dave’s substitution.  The First Lady is passionate about quality day care, and is lecturing a group of reporters, surrounded by the children who attend the center.  She looks up and sees Dave, off in a corner, out of view of the reporters and TV cameras, talking quietly with one troubled, little boy, doing magic tricks for the child.  Everyone else was taking in the kids as one mass -a gaggle of kids, a collection of statistics, an opportunity for a photograph; but Dave was getting to know one real child in an intimate way, giving his time in a way that said, you’re valuable enough for me to spend my time with just you.

And isn’t that what God’s intimate ministry says to us?  When God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve, God showed how much they were valued.  God loved them enough to stop other important duties, to set aside the tasks of the divine in order to simply delight in the company of humans.  Not delight in the mass of humanity or the idea of human beings, but in the very presence of two concrete, specific people.

Jesus, too, loved people, not just the concept of people.  He stopped to take the children on his knee, children with dirty diapers, kids who pulled his hair and spit up on his robes.  He ate and drank with sinners, even being accused of gluttony and drunkenness because he enjoyed the company of others and valued getting to know people as individuals.  He listened to them, he related to them, one on one.  He developed relationships with people, rather than standing far off, like the pope on his balcony blessing thousands of people at a time.  His presence was an affirmation of our worth, a confirmation that even one single creature – whether the sparrow or a human being – matters to God.

So let’s remember that as we live our days.  Each one is worthy of God’s love; each one is worthy of our attention; each one is someone to relate to and get to know as a unique individual, a child of God created by the master.

Prayer:  Lord of life, I thank you that you created human beings, each one, unique and valuable.  Help me to approach each person in my life as your handiwork, a child of God who is precious in your sight.  Let me value each person and seek to know them not simply by their gender, their race or other shared characteristics, but to know them as your unique and beloved child in whom your image is reflected.  For I ask it in the name of Jesus, who loves me as your unique and individual child.  Amen.

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Two Roads

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“He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'”
                                                          Acts 9:4
I have been moved by dramatic conversion stories through the years.  I’ve heard people talk about having been a drug addict, alcoholic or atheist, and having their life turned around when they accepted Christ.  Like Paul on the road to Damascus, these people walked down a road of transformation and rebirth as they found God.
Listening to stories like those, I find myself wondering if my faith is as authentic as theirs.  I have no dramatic conversion story, no exciting turn-around of my life.  I was born into a Christian family, attended church from the time I was a toddler, and moved into a deeper and deeper relationship with God through the years.
But I eventually realized that God has prepared two roads – the road to Damascus and the Road to Emmaus.  In Luke’s account of the day of resurrection, we read about two disciples who are traveling home to Emmaus and meet a stranger on the road.  We know, of course, that the stranger is Jesus, who talks with the two and teaches them as they walk. Then, inviting the stranger to join them for dinner, the two have their eyes opened to Jesus in the breaking of the bread. They learn, their faith is deepened as they walk the road to Emmaus, and at last, they recognize Christ in the breaking of the bread.
The former is a road of dramatic conversion, the later a road of gradual, deepening understanding, but both are roads to God.  For those who have a dramatic conversion, we can rejoice that God found a way into their life that led to a significant turnaround.  But for those whose faith has been a gradual deepening of relationship with God, the road still leads to the same destination, just by a different path.
Whichever road your life has taken you, give thanks that God provides many ways to grow in relationship.  We may not all have dramatic conversion stories, but whichever road we have travelled, we can all have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Rejoice that God so loves us that God welcomes us  by whatever path we approach.
Prayer:   Loving God, in Jesus Christ you have acted to redeem me from sin and death.  You could have insisted that I come to you on a path of your own choosing, but you have opened many roads to you.  Thank you for loving me so much, and for welcoming me into your presence through Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

SENT

“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
                  John 20:21
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Our daughter was just shy of three years old when our son was born.  I had stayed home with her, caring for her, playing with her, and reading to her.  There were books all over our house, and one of my greatest joys was reading to Jenny.
When Doug was born, Jenny came to the hospital to help us bring him home.  Once home, we tried to include Jenny in activities with her new baby brother..  Imagine my surprise when I peeked into the living room one day to find Jenny reading to Doug as he lay in his baby seat.  She was holding a book, running her finger under the words that she couldn’t yet read, just like I did with her.  She was telling the story we had read so many times, turning pages at just the right time. She was doing for him what I had done for her.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” Jesus told his followers.  For three years his disciples had observed him, watching how he worked.  They saw him heal the sick, feed the hungry, preach good news and reach out to those on the margins of society to bring them into the circle of God’s love. Now Jesus was sending them to do for the world what they had seen him do.
You and I are sent in the same way.  We are invited to watch Jesus at work in the Scriptures and then go and imitate his work, caring for those Jesus cared about.  We have the portraits of Jesus in the Bible; we have images of a loving God in the lives of the saints, and we have the privilege of continuing the work of God as the Body of Christ today.  In resurrection power, we are sent to the world as Christ was sent, to share God’s promise of new life.
Prayer:   Eternal God, you sent your son to the world to bring the love and life.  In the power of his resurrection, he now sends us to the world to continue that work.  Help us to act in imitation of Christ, to heal and love, sharing good news that makes a difference in the world for good.  Amen. 

Rock Concerts

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“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.”  He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.””
                  Luke 19:39-40
That first Palm Sunday Jesus announced the first rock concert – the stones singing Jesus’ praise if needed!  The comment reminds us that Christ had come not just to save humanity but to restore all of creation.  As Paul says in the letter to the Romans, the whole creation has been groaning, waiting for redemption.  All creation hails Jesus as God’s anointed one, the one who will deliver us from the consequences of the fall.
So often we think of Christ’s work only in terms of human redemption.  While that is important, the story of salvation covers all of creation.  Revelation 21 tells us that a new heaven and a new earth will appear at the end of time; in other words, all things will be made new.  The cycle of decay and death has entrapped not only human beings but all living things and even much that is not living.  And so we celebrate not only what God has done for us, but for all of God’s creation.  We join trees and flowers, cats and dogs, everything that has breath and everything that God created in rejoicing over Jesus Christ.
So as we go through Holy Week, let’s not take a ho-hum attitude as if this is not important.  Because if we don’t shout out our praise, God will find another way to celebrate the Son’s love.  And I’d rather be part of the concert than sitting on the side watching a rock take my place.
Prayer:   Gracious Lord, fill my heart with praise today.  Let me join all of creation in celebrating your son.  My I not stand silent on the sidelines, but instead offer my praise and thanks to the one who redeems everything that has been created by you.  Amen. 

God and the Electoral Process

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“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
                                                                              1 Corinthians 13:1

Have you been watching the political process in our country as we’ve seen it acted out in the primary campaigns going on? Listening to the candidates, we might wonder if this is a country of liars or non-Christians who bicker and backbite! Truth and civility seem to be the casualties of the electoral process.  I listened as one commentator talked about his sons, one college age and one high school age, remarking that they would never consider running for office on the basis of the attacks and smear campaigns they are witnessing in this year’s electoral process.  Their reaction saddened me as I wondered, are we driving away the gifted by the nature of contemporary campaigns, and only getting candidates who are committed to misbehaving?

Is it possible to get elected and not lie?  Is it possible to get elected and be decent and civil in he process?  Can a real Christian who commits to truth-telling and love for fellow humans even run for office?  These are questions we need to be asking ourselves.  These are qualities we need to demand in our candidates.  No, it isn’t nearly as much fun to watch a civil debate as it is to see the fireworks in personal attacks; it isn’t nearly as entertaining to hear policy descriptions and factual information as it is to see candidates tear each other apart with innuendo and half-truths.  But we, the American people, will get what we demand, and if we don’t demand civility and truthfulness in our electoral process, we’ll get the alternative – half truths and personal demonization.

Regardless of politics, it pains me to see someone like Gen. Colin Powell step away from the political process because of the potential cost to his family. Are we losing the opportunity to benefit from the gifts of truly gifted candidates because of the process we have created? It may be that the candidate who truly espouses Christian virtues cannot be elected in this country.  That would make me very sad, but I have to consider that possibility.  But I would love to see somebody try; I’d love to see a candidate tell the truth to the best of their ability and refrain from personal attacks.  Wouldn’t that be a novel approach? Perhaps the problem, however, is not in the candidates but in us, the electorate.  Perhaps we get the behavior we reward. So maybe we need to ask ourselves, what do we really want in our election process, because it may be that despite our protests to the contrary, we are getting exactly what we want

 

Prayer:    Almighty God, you have gifted and equipped some to be leaders in the civic arena, and called them to exercise their gifts for the good of all people.  And yet the very process by which we select leaders seems to deny your law and discourage some truly gifted candidates from entering the arena. Help me by my actions to encourage a process that conforms to your expectations of how we are to live together.  Let me not only affirm community with my lips, but let me live it with my life, so that those who are gifted and called will be willing to share their gifts without risk to themselves and their families.  Amen. 

The Important vs The Urgent

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“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
                                 Matthew 6:33
     Thursday morning before I turned to my sermon, Gordy and I made a trip to the grocery store to stock up for the coming storm.  We went at the start of the day hoping to avoid the crowds.  Imagine our surprise to find the store almost deserted.  There was hardly anyone else shopping.  Now I know that many people were at work and others were still getting elementary aged children off to the school bus, but the store was practically empty!  I could’t understand it.
     Later that morning, Gordy went out to pick up a few more things.  He mentioned to the owner at one store how few people seemed to be out stocking up, and the owner provided what he thought was the reason – procrastination.  He said, “Wait until the end of the workday.  This store will be mobbed tonight.  People just wait till the last minute!”
     There was a whole day before the snow was forecast, so I guess people had other things that seemed more important – Thursday’s work or kids’ schedules.  But woe to the person who waited too long and discovered empty shelves without bread or milk on Friday afternoon.  They’d be hard pressed to provide for themselves or their family if the storm turns out to be as severe as forecast.
     Too often, we allow our priorities to be set by what’s next on the calendar instead of asking ourselves what’s most important.  In the words of Steven Covey, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”  (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People)  We allow ourselves to be dominated by things that are in truth less important but appear to be urgent because they are due sooner rather than later.  But sometimes, the things we are caught up doing prove to be relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Unfortunately, focusing on the near at hand deadlines can lead us to overlook what is truly important.
     Our faith life is like that.  For most of us, life seems to stretch out before us for years to come.  End of life concerns are things we think we can put off for some other day. “There’s time to nurture my relationship with God later,” we think, turning instead to address the “urgent” things in our life, things that are happening now.  But isn’t our eternal salvation one of the most important things in our life?  Isn’t our relationship with God the most important relationship we have? Which will be more important in eternity – that we squeezed in one more phone call for work, or that we set aside five minutes to spend with God.  Don’t put off doing the things that will draw you nearer to God; don’t delay!  This is the day to ask God to be a regular part of your life, and commit to growing in your faith.

     Prayer:  Patient and forbearing God, you want me to be in a close relationship with you, but too often I put you off, letting other needs eat up my time, consume my focus and move me away from you.  Open my eyes to your presence in my life. Open my heart to seek you every day in prayer, in Scripture and in my actions.  Help me to put your kingdom first, and to let your will be the guide to ordering all the rest of my life.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

Memories

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“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. ”
Luke 2:19
Yesterday I woke up with a tune running through my head. Over and over I found myself humming a tune that seemed to come from nowhere. Suddenly, after about an hour, I realized what the tune was – a song I learned in 5th grade at Girl Scout summer camp! It had been buried in my memory and for some reason just popped into my head as I woke up. I realized I could sing the song all the way through – all the words – and as I did, I remembered the camp experience, the lake where we canoed, the platform tents where we lived. All of that came back to me as I sang through the camp song.

I wonder if Mary had a tune to him or sing as she remembered that first Christmas. Maybe she had a lullaby she sang to the baby Jesus, or a traveling song she’d hummed as they fled Bethlehem for Egypt. However she made connections, she had a lifetime of memories treasured in her mind. There were memories of the shepherds crowding into the stable on the night of his birth, Jesus hitting his thumb with his hammer as Joseph taught him carpentry, of her son’s Bar Mitzvah, of girls flirting with him in the village, and of that trip to Jerusalem when Jesus got left behind. So many memories to cherish, so many ways to perceive God at work in her life, in Jesus’ life, and in the world.

As we begin our new year, I invite you to take a moment to recall the joys of 2015, the places where you saw God at work in your life, at Grove, and in the world. Pause to give thanks tonight as the ball in Times Square descends. Commit 2015 to God with thanks for what has gone well and with repentance for where we have failed the Lord. And then seek God’s presence in your life right from the beginning of 2016. Let this be a year for all of us to treasure and ponder in our hearts.

Prayer: Loving God, as we come to the end of this year, I thank you for all the ways you gave been active in my life. I am grateful for the ways you have enabled me to make a positive difference in the world. And where I have failed you, I pray that you will take my feeble efforts and transform them so that you might yet be glorified. Let 2016 be a year in which I am attuned to your presence, and ready to do your will for the good of your people and the glory of your kingdom, for I ask this in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

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