Words That Hurt, Words That Heal

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“People have tamed all kinds of wild animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures. And they still tame them. But no one can tame the tongue. It is an evil thing that never rests. It is full of deadly poison.'”
                                                    James 3:7-8


“Do not be a false witness against your neighbor.”
                                           Exodus 20:16
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This week, we were all stunned to hear the escapades of a group of American swimmers in Rio.  Ryan Lochte and several others had gone to a party, had too much to drink, and then headed back to the Olympic Village for the night.  Along the way they stopped at a gas station to use the men’s room, and it appears they caused some serious damage to the property. They then made their way back to the village by taxi and headed to bed.  At some point the next day, Lochte called his mother and told her that he and the group had been robbed by a policeman or someone posing as a policeman.  Once the story escaped his lips, Lochte watched as his mother notified the media, the press sensed a big story, and the IOC became involved.  Lochte was on the Today Show, even claiming the robber had pressed a gun against his forehead.
A few nights later with Lochte already back in the USA, the other swimmers were detained, two of them removed from their flight home, to answer questions that had arisen about their story.  The Rio police had conducted an investigation and, at least for the moment, it appears the swimmers’ story may have been fabricated by the foursome.  An entire country shamed by what now appear to be false allegations of robbery and corruption.
Maybe Lochte and his teammates didn’t intend to report the issue, maybe he was just rambling on the phone to his mom while suffering from a hangover from the previous night’s partying.  Whatever the reason, once the words of the robbery tale were spoken aloud, the story grew and grew.  What began in a phone call home to mom became an international incident that has occupied police and diplomats in Brazil and in the USA.
James understood that words, while they can be helpful and healing, can also be hurtful and cause injury.  Like toothpaste in a toothpaste tube, once our words have come out, there’s no way to pack them back in again.  Lochte and his teammates bore false witness, lying about what happened to them in a way that could have led to legal problems for others.  The investigation is ongoing at the moment, but even the TV commentators are now siding with the Rio police’s version of events, and denying the credibility of Lochte’s story.   There are calls for Lochte to be permanently banned from international swimming meets.  What a sad end to an awesome athletic career, all because of words that should never have been spoken.
The story reminds us that our words are more than squiggles on a page or sounds in our ears.  Words have power; they can bless or harm, build up or destroy.  When we are tempted to lash out verbally, to respond to insult with insult, we need to stop, count to ten, and ask ourselves, is this truly how God wants us to relate to others?  Of course, we all fail at times and speak harmful words, but the goal is to challenge ourselves to pause, to reflect, to remember God’s amazing patience with us, and to respond as Christ would respond, even if we have to say, “I can’t respond right now, I’m too angry.  I’ll answer you in a few minutes.”
God invites us to treat everyone as our sister or brother, to see the Christ in each person we encounter. If we imagine that every word we say is addressed to Jesus Christ, perhaps we can tame that tongue a little bit more and work toward becoming more like him who is the head, the Son of God.
Prayer:  Loving God, you have so many reasons to speak harshly to me, to condemn me for my sin and for the ways my tongue slices like a blade instead of building up.  Forgive me for the times I lose control and speak in ways that hurt.  Help me this day to speak words that will encourage, support and show my love for my neighbor.  Remind me that my words are a reflection of the depth of my faith, so let my faith grow deeper and wider until all I say and do brings glory to you and your son, Jesus.  Amen.
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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. 

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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The Light of Christ

“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
John 1:3b-5
A 7-year old child was drawing a picture of the Nativity. The picture was very good, including Mary, Joseph and, of course, baby Jesus. However, there was a fat man standing in the corner of the stable, that just did not seem to fit in. When the child was asked about it, she replied, “Oh, That’s Round John Virgin.”

On Christmas Eve we’ll join our voices to sing “Round yon virgin mother and child” as we hold our candles high. The light of the candles will begin as only a few points of light in the darkened sanctuary. From just the light of the Advent and Christ candles, the light will spread across the room from hand to hand until the room is alight. The candle light will fill the room, allowing us to read the words of the hymn and see one another’s faces. That light will be enough for us.

A young mother, a child born in a stable, a rag-tag group of sheepherders…not the beginning that we would expect for the Son of God. A small beginning, not too different form the light of one candle, but a light and a beginning that cannot be overcome by the darkness that threatens it. As the faith is passed from person to person, just as the light is passed from hand to hand, the darkness recedes. We might not have total light in the world anymore than the we will have total light in the sanctuary, but just as the candle light is enough for us to see one another, the light of Christ is enough for us to see each other in the world, to recognize and care for fellow children of God. The light of Christ promises life, grace and a new future for all who believe.

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light,
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

May the light of Christ fill your life this Christmas, and may you pass it on, hand to hand, person to person, until the world is alight with the grace of Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas!

Pope Envy and Radical Discipleship

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“Whoever is not against us is for us.
                    Mark 9:40
Did you watch the Pope yesterday?  I sat in front of the TV yesterday morning, hunched forward, listening and struggling a bit with his accent, but fascinated by his remarks.  Later in the day I saw a headline, “Pope Envy,” and I understood the sentiment expressed.  Oh, I have no intention of becoming a Catholic, but I admit I admire Pope Francis.  I don’t agree with everything he says, but he calls us to live a radical discipleship that I believe is closer to what Jesus intended than the faith many institutional churches promote.
The Christian life is not one that fits easily with the mores of society.  It wasn’t in 30 AD when Jesus proclaimed the gospel, and it isn’t any easier today.  The Bible calls us to care for the least, to protect the widow and orphan, to value all life and care for the creation, to love even the Samaritans among us, and to open our gates wide in welcome of the stranger as God has welcomed us into God’s kingdom.  Those are all challenging ideas.
I remember years ago reading about one southern governor, a devout Christian and a Republican in a Republican state, who saw a poll showing that his state was near the bottom in test scores for school children.  He proposed a small tax increase in order to pay for improvements to the educational system, citing his Christian faith as the motivation for helping children.  He was attacked for raising taxes, and voted out of office at the next opportunity.  The people of his state were overwhelmingly Christian, but only as long as there were no tax increases!
Jesus’ words were radical, and following the gospel way of life means radical change.  I know we can’t turn our lives upside down in one instant, but I challenge you to consider one way you might take a step forward in living that radical gospel of Jesus’.  Jesus did not die on a cross so we could enjoy prosperity; he did not suffer so that we could ignore the needs of the rest of our world.  Jesus gave himself for us and calls us to go and do likewise – to give our time, our talents, and, yes, our treasure, to be the living Body of Christ, continuing the work of Jesus caring for God’s people and creation, offering hope and love.
 
Prayer:   Lord Jesus, you have proclaimed a radical gospel, a call to live my life in a different way from the rest of the world around me.  But I don’t want to be different, I want to be like everyone else.  I don’t like being different, I don’t like the demands your gospel makes on me.  Remind me today of what you have done for me.  Help me to understand the magnitude of your sacrifice and let that inspire me to make small sacrifices in my life, so that I may embody your radical gospel in my own life.  Amen.
 

Laughing with Jesus

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“A person’s attire and hearty laughter,

                         and the way he walks, show what he is.”

                                                          Sirach 19:30

      “A pastor, a priest and a rabbi walk into a bar…”  How many times have you heard some variation of that?  And you knew what was coming next.  Oh, maybe not the exact words, but you knew that a joke was coming, and you listened with an expectation of laughter and fun around the corner.

     Today, July 24th, is National Old Joke Day.  Take a moment to share a joke with a friend or neighbor.  Laugh with a family member. Laughing, reports WebMD, changes us physiologically: “We stretch muscles throughout our face and body, our pulse and blood pressure go up, and we breathe faster, sending more oxygen to our  tissues.”  (http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/give-your-body-boost-with-laughter)

     I believe Jesus loved to laugh.  If you look at the stories of his life, he’s always eating out with people.  From Pharisees to sinners, Jesus loved to belly-up to the table and break bread. I can’t imagine his doing that without letting out a good belly laugh at some point.  Whether as host or guest (or meal!), Jesus came eating and drinking and, I think, laughing.

     So in the midst of all of our serious study of Scripture and commitment to prayer, let’s take time to gather at the table with friends.  Remember that God’s first act was one of delight and pleasure – to create a world that would bring delight to the Lord.  Let’s be intentional about creating special celebrations, laughing together, rejoicing in each other’s presence, and giving thanks to God for the delight of this day. Then, before you clear the table, turn to your neighbor and ask them if they’ve heard the one about the pastor, the priest and the rabbi.

Prayer:   God of laughter and joy, who made us for your pleasure and delight, I pray that my life will bring a smile to your face rather than a frown.  Help me to approach the world with the same delight and joy with which you made it, and to rejoice at the wonder of your love in my life as you rejoice at my love for you.  Amen.