Sunday, July 31, 2011

Wrestling with God

It seems that the story of Jacob wrestling (Genesis) has come up a lot lately. I've read it on my own, we read it and discussed it at the School of Christian Mission, and then, today, it was the topic of the sermon during worship.

I've written before on this blog about the identity of the person/angel/God who Jacob wrestles. Is it God? Is it Jacob? Is it an angel? Is it Esau?

I like Joe's take on it today. He said it could have been any of the above, but he thought it was God. The story, he told us, is a testament to how close God will come to us -- how personal our relationship is with him. He (Joe) didn't think God would miss out on an opportunity to wrestle with Jacob -- he wouldn't turn that over to anyone else.

God cares enough to struggle with us -- for us -- against us -- beside us. He is there, and he is not leaving.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


This is our beagle.  She's turning white.  When she was a puppy, almost everything about her face and ears was black.  As she grew, the brown and white filled in, but now almost her entire face is white.  She's eight years old, and moves around like a young dog, but looks old.  Sweetest dog ever.  Too bad she eats socks and underwear.


Friday, July 29, 2011


Friday Five from RevGalBlogPals -- which of the pair appeals to you? 
  1. Sunrise or Sunset -- I don't think there is a way I could choose.  Both can be equally beautiful.  I suppose sunrise requires rising myself, early, so maybe that's the tipping point to help me choose sunset.  BUT, I've seen some beautiful sunrises over the Atlantic Ocean....
  2. To the Mountains or to the Beach -- To the beach.  I live in the mountains, and while they are beautiful, take me to the beach.
  3. Coffee or Tea -- Tea, definately.
  4. Advent or Lent -- Advent would be my favorite if it weren't the four weeks leading to Christmas.  Too stressful.  So, I guess I choose Pentecost.  What a way to avoid a decision.
  5. "Raindrops on Roses" or "Whiskers on Kittens" -- Hmmm.  Neither.  I choose the look on a puppy's face when she's happy.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Daily Bread

Give us this day our daily bread....

What does that mean to you?

I don't usually have any problem finding my "daily bread" if we are to consider this a literal prayer for physical nourishment.  I am blessed that I do not go hungry.  I know there are those who do, every day, every night.  Lord, give us all our daily bread.  Lord, help me to provide daily bread to others.

On the other hand, we are all hungry.  We are hungry for something.  We all have needs that only God can meet.  The daily bread we pray for may be physical -- not only food, but rest, health, healing,  Our daily bread may be emotional -- love, compassion, forgiveness, strength.  Our daily bread may be spiritual -- faith, grace, hope.  Lord, give us this day our daily bread.

What does the prayer mean to you?


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sheep and Goats

From my work on the Certified Lay Ministry Modules -- one of the hardest sets of Biblical Reflections yet:

Matthew 25:31-40
31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.  32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.  34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Reflection Questions

  1. When have you seen Jesus hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick or in prison?  How can you help others see Jesus in the poor, the stranger, the downtrodden?  Everywhere, all the time.  We are all the hungry, thirsty, the stranger, naked, sick or in some kind of prison.  Christ is in all of us.  The question really isn’t about where we see those who are hurting.  The question is how do we see Christ in the hurting?  How do we see Christ in those we want to ignore?  How do we see beyond ourselves, our own needs, beyond those we care for, to see Christ in everyone?  I think I can help others see Christ in those around them by using the gifts I have been given – by teaching about it, by preaching about it, by witnessing to others about the presence of Christ, and hardest of all, sometimes, by seeing Christ in everyone myself, and then letting that knowledge change my actions.
  2. Whose job is it to see that the hungry are fed, the stranger welcomed, the sick visited, etc?  Yours and mine.
  3. How can you help others understand that it is not just the pastor’s job?  What are some of the ways you can encourage intentional ministry both within and beyond the walls of the church?  Think about ways in which you have felt cared for by others.  Which aspects of caring do you need to cultivate to become an example of Christ’s love to others?    I think some of the ways I can encourage intentional ministry is to affirm it, to encourage others to use their gifts in service, to provide opportunities for service and ministry, to speak about as lay leader in leadership meetings, and to intentionally do ministry.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Passing it on

I was talking to someone today who was telling me about a series of sermons her pastor is doing during this summer.  The series was about taking a new look at familiar Old Testament passages.

I was struck by the questions she raised regarding the Passover passage.  The encounter with God that the Israelites experienced in Egypt has been passed on for hundreds -- actually thousands -- of years from generation to generation.

What do we do to pass on our encounters with God?


Monday, July 25, 2011

Stained Glass

At the School of Christian Mission, we were talking about the Genesis story of Jacob and Esau.  One of the questions concerned Jacob’s wrestling with – well, with God?  with an angel?  with a man?  Whoever it was…. 

The book asked a question about Jacob’s dislocated hip – the wound he received along with a new name.  What was the significance of this?

I think that when we are wounded, emotionally, or spiritually, that we have the hope of moving through the wound a changed person – a person with a new name.  I hope that on the recovery side of a hurt, I may be stronger or more mature or improved in some way.  I think that is one of the benefits of moving through something like that with the presence of God.  Transformation.

The leader of the class read a story by Heather Murray Elkins about stained glass.  She was designing worship for a conference, and asked them to give her an image of where they were.  The answers came back as broken glass. 

Think about broken glass.  It’s sharp, piercing.  It can be blood-stained from the hurt it might inflict.  Stained glass.

Think about stained glass in a church.  It’s beauty comes from the stain – from the colors and the story they symbolize.  Its greatest beauty – its only beauty – comes when light shines through it.

I wonder if sometimes our wounds are like this image of stained glass.  The beauty can develop from the stain, and it is most obvious when the light of Christ shines through us.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Thunderstorm at Sea

While we were on our cruise, we watched a thunderstorm from the balcony of our stateroom.
It was just luck that I captured lightning.
Strange sky.
And as we moved though the storm, it started to clear up ahead of us as we moved out of the storm.
The surface of the water was very strange.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Coming to the party?

Do you remember the parable about the great banquet?  It's in Luke 14:15-24.  Someone gave a great dinner and invited several guests.  None of them would join him; each of them gave excuses.  Frustrated, the man sent his slave to gather those in the streets to come to the meal.

We talked about this parable in class today.  There were many thoughts that arose from it.  As we discussed it, I wondered about a possible parallel.  (I know this probably stretches the parable uncomfortably beyond its meaning).

Imagine God as the one throwing the party.  He invites us to do the work of the kingdom -- work that must be done.  He offers us the opportunity to do it, but we refuse, giving all kinds of excuses.  The work must be done, and if we won't do it, others will be invited to the party.  Because of our unwillingness, others live in the joy of serving God, and we left outside of God's will.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Yellow Flowers


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Jacob and Esau

In the class I was in today, we took a look at the Jacob and Esau story from Genesis.  These are the discussion questions:
  • What are the different steps Jacob takes to find favor with Esau?  Are these steps different from ones you have taken in reestablishing estranged relationships?  Jacob makes plans for his encounter with Esau.  He sends a messenger, he prepares gifts, he protects what matters to him most because he is afraid.  I think we do all of those things when we try to reestablish relationships.
  • Who does Jacob struggle with during the night?  God?  An angel?  Esau? Himself?  With what or with whom do you struggle?  I think Jacob struggles with God, but it may be that he doesn't realize it at first.  I think I struggle the most with myself, and sometimes I realize that my struggles with myself are really struggles with God.
  • Jacob receives a wound -- a dislocated hip -- and a new identity in the struggle.  What is going on here?  Have you had a similar experience?   I think through Jacob's struggle, something about himself is transformed, symbolized by his name change.  I think that wounds in our lives can bring about transformation -- change.  The wound is painful, the growth is painful, but in the end, we are stronger, more mature, hopefully changed for the better.
  • Jacob's journey included pleas from Rebecca to flee for safety and hopes for distance and forgetting.  What do you imagine as Esau's journey that brought Esau from wanting kill his brother to running to embrace him?  I don't know, but I think this is an excellent question.
  • What does Jacob mean when he says that seeing Esau's face is like seeing the face of God  I think he looks at his brother and sees forgiveness and grace -- like seeing God.
(Questions are from the book The Journey:  Forgiveness, Restorative Justice and Reconciliation)

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Do you like it?

I was in a worship service today.  The worship leader said, "If there is nothing in a worship service that you do not like, then we haven't done our job." 

What do you think of that theory? 

I think that whether I like something in worship or not isn't really the point.  I mean, I will have an opinion of the music, the liturgy, the sermon, the prayers.  I can't help but have an opinion, but that's not the point of worship.

Someone said today that high worship doesn't move people.   I don't believe that.  I do believe that it doesn't inspire some people, but I also believe that it is inspirational to others.  How can anyone make a statement that a particular kind of worship doesn't move anyone? 

I do wish we were more tolerant, less judgmental, more authentic, and less willing to worry about what we like in worship.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011


A few weeks ago, the sermon in worship was about the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23).  You are probably familiar with the story of the sower who throws seeds on all kinds of different ground, and the result is sometimes fruit, but most often not.

Sometimes we hear the sermon told with the focus on the soil -- what kind of soil are you?

But it might be closer to the intention of the parable to focus on the sower and the seed.  As Jack preached, it occured to me that the crux of the parable is that there is a limitless supply of seed.  We so often plant with the idea that we should make the seed count -- we only have a certain amount of it.  We  only have a certain amount of time, or resources, money or space.  We only have a limited number of people or ideas.  We need to make them count.

But if the seed is the word of God -- if it is the grace of God -- the love of God -- then the supply is unlimited.  Throw it everywhere.  Toss it with abandon.  It can't be wasted, because it is limitless.

If the seed is unlimited, what does that mean to us?
  • We can plant it anywhere and everywhere.  We don't need to make judgments about the soil.  We just plant
  • We don't have to worry about whether we can predict failure or success.  Doesn't matter.  Just plant.
  • We can sow the seed with unlimited generosity.  We can celebrate with the sowing of seed.  Just plant.
  • We aren't responsible for success or failure.  We just plant.
We can love anyone and everyone.  We can tell anyone about the grace of God -- we don't have to limit our fields.  We have unlimited seed.

Throw it everywhere!  Celebrate!  Sow!

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Special Day

Guess what today is?

Happy anniversary, Steve.  I love you.


Sunday, July 17, 2011


Why is it that when we talk about the cycle in Judges -- Turning our back on God, oppression, repentance, intervention of God -- we get the idea that the people sin, but we blame the consequences on God. "God brings about the sin so that the people will learn their lesson."?  Why do we miss the connection between our disobedience to the consequences that result from it?

And why do we insist on thinking that God brings about Bad Things in our lives so that we will learn our lessons?

Isn't that kind of attitude very egocentric? Bad things happen to others according to the actions of God so that he can teach us lessons?


Saturday, July 16, 2011

Alphabetical Thanksgiving

On Friday Five at RevGalBlogPals, there was a suggestion to use the first letters of your name to list what you are thankful for.  Surely, I can think of more than three things, and it kind of seems like a harder challenge to use the entire alphabet:

A -- air conditioning
B -- beagle (our dog)
C -- chocolate
D -- dishwasher
E -- electricity
F -- friends
G -- Grant
H -- home
I -- iProducts (yes, I am thankful for them)
J -- Josh
K -- knitting
L -- love
M -- Mom
N -- non-smoking restaurants
O -- office (my office in particular)
P -- paper, printers, pens
Q -- Quick Oats for breakfast
R -- reading material (books, electronic books, blogs)
S -- Steve
T -- Trinity -- God, Jesus, Spirit
U -- United Methodist Church
V -- Victory in Christ
W -- work
Y -- yarn
Z -- zippers

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Friday, July 15, 2011

An unusual sight on the road

Have I posted this?  We were driving to Buckhannon in June, and this passed us on the interstate going in the opposite direction.  It's the fuselage of the USAirways flight that landed in the Hudson River in 2009.  Remember that?  Here's a link.

What is left of the plane was being transported from a warehouse in New Jersey to an Aviation museum in Charlotte.  This link has a video of its travel, including what looks like its passage through a tunnel on the WV Turnpike.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Free us for Joyful Obedience

I have had to make lots of phone calls this month, asking people if they would be willing to do this or that.  I really don’t like to make those kind of phone calls, but I have found myself doing it a lot lately.  I’m the lay director of the next Emmaus women’s walk, so many of the phone calls have been to ask community members to serve on the team.

It has been a joy to speak to everyone I’ve called, and even though not everyone can say “yes,” everyone is resting in the middle of God’s will, and we are all finding grace in the process. 

Even though I don’t like to call people to ask them to serve, I am finding joy in obedience.

There is a line in the Prayer of Confession that is part of the United Methodist Communion Liturgy that says, “Free of for joyful obedience.”  It’s one of my favorite parts of communion.

Free us for joyful obedience.

It seems like it would be a paradox – to be made free so that we can obey.  We shouldn’t be surprised, though.  We are Christians – people who have received forgiveness we do not deserve, through grace of unlimited value that we did not earn.  We follow a Lord who has died but is alive, a God who created the universe but loves us each in a personal way, and we walk with a Holy Spirit we cannot see, hear or touch, but who surrounds us with love.  We know our God in three parts, and yet our God is one.  We are mortal beings who will live forever.  Nothing should sound like a paradox – everything is beyond our imagination.  We are made free so that we can obey, and in that obedience we find joy.

We are asked to serve – in our communities, in our churches, in our families, at our places of work, and in our Emmaus Community.  We pray about service, and we try to listen to God’s call on our lives, and yet, if you are like me, there are times when I am held back from answering the way God is leading me.  What is it that prevents you from being free for obedience? 

Is it fear?  Selfishness? Worry? A lack of confidence? Unwillingness?  Unhappiness?  What is it that is keeping you from saying “yes” or “no” in obedience to God?  What does God need to free you from so that you can find the joy in obeying him? 

Perhaps we all need to make that line part of our prayers each day.  Free me for joyful obedience.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Time Passes

In a few weeks, my older son will go to college. 

That sounds simple to say.  And sometimes, I don't think anything about it.  Other times, though, I find it amazing and hard to believe.

My older son is going to college, in just a few weeks.

There are many blog posts I could write about that, and I'm sure that I will be, but the one that is striking me right now is how fast time passes. 

Just a few minutes ago, one of the staff members for the Conference Center brought her grandson in to "show him off."  He is tiny -- very young.  It seems like just a few years ago that my older son was that age.

Time moves quickly, and we only have today - only today to make a difference.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Genesis 40

I'm still working my way through Genesis. The last chapter I read was Chapter 40. In this chapter, Joseph is in prison. He is told to serve a royal baker and cupholder who are in prison with him.

I noticed a few things about this passage that I don't remember from before. Joseph does more than just bring them food and do "servant" types of things. He shows concern for them -- he asks them why they look so sad. That seemed remarkable to me.

He volunteers to interpret their dreams, but he doesn't claim this is something he can do on his own. He gives credit to God for his gift. And it is this gift that will lead his to places of influence in Egypt, rather than political power.

Lots of ways one could contrast Joseph with his father.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Chicken or the Egg

In Sunday school this morning, we talked about the Lord's Prayer.

One of the lines of the prayer that created lots of discussion was, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

I was channel surfing the other day and landed on a program about the 15 Most Terrible Awful Incidences in the past 10 years (OK, I made up the title, but it was 15 something or others).  Anyway, one of the Incidences on the list was the hostage situation and shootings in a one-room Amish Schoolhouse in 2006.  One statement caught my attention:  The Amish attitude is that forgiveness should precede healing, while the rest of the world believes that healing should precede forgiveness.

I think that might be true -- the attitude, I mean.  I think we often withhold attempting forgiveness until we feel better, when in truth, we won't begin to feel better until we begin (with God) working on the process of forgiveness.

The Sunday school teacher today said that God will forgive us once we forgive other people.  I don't think that's true.  I think we are already forgiven. It is grace, and we don't earn it through out actions.  It doesn't have a "catch" or a prerequisite.  I think the prayer means that we cannot experience forgiveness from God until we seek to forgive.  Our own anger and desire for retribution will stand between us and God's grace.  It isn't that God is withholding it; it's that we are blind to it until we open our hearts to the work of God to lead us to forgiveness. 

We are then open to the healing process of being forgiven -- of letting go of revenge and retribution.

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Saturday, July 09, 2011


Sunset on the way home from Buckhannon on Thursday


Friday, July 08, 2011


Friday Five from last week -- questions about Blogging:

  1. Have your blogging (writing/reading) habits shifted since the days of yore?  I used to write longer posts, and sometimes more than once a day.  I also used to "see" posts more readily in what is around me.  I definitely took and posted more pictures in the past.  I don't read as much as I used to -- what I read has always been "post starts" for me.
  2. Do you have some favorites that you miss?  I miss Cheesehead.
  3. Are there some blogs you still put in the 'must read' category?  One of my favorite blogs is actually a knitting blog -- Yarn Harlot.  I always look for new posts from Stephanie.
  4. If we gathered at your knee, what would you tell us about those early days of blogging?  I don't really have any stories from the early days of blogging.  I miss those who used to read the blog who I think no longer do. 
  5. Do you have a clip or a remembrance of a previous post of yours or someone else's that you remember, you know an oldie but goodie?  Oh, no, not really.  The first set of poems I wrote still stick in my mind.  There was one I wrote early that was printed on the cover of a bulletin at Annual Conference, which was very cool for me.   And one was printed in the Annual Conference newspaper. 

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Thursday, July 07, 2011

Viewpoint and Truth

I was going to work the other day when a segment about hurricanes came on the radio.  It is difficult, said the expert, to predict the intensity of a hurricane season.  That difficulty is compounded by our geographical location.  He asked those listening if we those the previous year had been a "light" or "heavy" year for hurricanes.  He predicted we would say "light" because no hurricanes struck land in the United States last year.

It was actually a heavy year, and if you lived outside the United States, you would know that. Hurricanes struck land in other countries; just not here.

Listening to that, I was struck by the idea that we often see what is happening around us only from our own perspective.  We see with narrow vision, and we think that we see with open eyes.

We need (I need) to remember that what we see if not nearly the sum total of the truth -- we may not know the truth, or we may only know a portion of the truth.  Our perspective may even create a "truth" that does not at all resemble what is real.

I wonder if we need to be less arrogant about our knowledge of the truth.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2011



Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Queen's Staircase

We have been on vacation!  One of the relatively newer aspects of Blogger is the ability to schedule posts, so while you were (perhaps) reading Sandpiper's Thoughts last week, I was on a cruise with my family.  Great week.

Our cruise destination was the Bahamas -- Nassau and Freeport.  The photo in the post is from one of my favorite spots in Nassau - the Queen's Staircase.  We were distracted from taking pictures of it by the several people who wanted to give us tours of the Staircase and Fort Fincastle.

Nassau (on the day we were there) was very HOT.  We walked from the ship up hill through the city to the staircase.  There are 65 steps from the bottom of a canyon up to the top.  They were carved out of the stone by slaves on the island in the late 1700's.  The canyon is filled with lush, green vegetation -- it was green and cool.  I would have loved to stay there and soak up the serenity (and take some pictures), but I felt rushed and watched.

Anyway, it was beautiful.

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Monday, July 04, 2011

Ocean sunset

Sunset on Atlantic Ocean from cruise ship balcony.


Sunday, July 03, 2011

If You Love Me, Part III

Continued from yesterday

God has acted and provided for us an advocate, a comforter, a helper – he has placed himself beside us during time or trouble or need.  The Bible is full of images that echo this action of love.  Think back to the time when God bans Adam and Eve from the Garden.  Before they leave, he makes them clothes.  When Jacob has left home and is headed to Haran, he dreams about a ladder reaching toward heaven.  Angels were moving up and down the ladder, but God was standing beside Jacob, on the ground.  When Moses tries to argue his way out of going back to Egypt, God is right there with him, countering each argument, but never giving up on him.  I hope you have experienced that kind of presence of God.  I hope you have felt God standing with you in time of trouble or need.
Knowing the impossibility of the task, and out of his great love for us, God has acted, and calls the Holy Spirit to be with us – grace to equip us for the task.
Jesus goes on to say, “In a little while the world will no longer see me but you will see me, because I live, you also will live.  On that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me, and I in you.” 
God, through the Holy Spirit, will abide in us and we will abide in him.  Abide is one of those words that sound like we ought to understand it, but sometimes leaves us a little confused.  What does it mean to abide?  What does it mean that the spirit abides in us and we in him?

A pastor explained this to me once using a bowl of water and a sponge.  The sponge (representing us) before it enters the water, is hard and dry.  Place it in the bowl of water, and it absorbs the water (representing the spirit).  The water fills it.  The water is in the sponge.  The water abides in it.  In addition, the sponge is in the water.  The sponge abides in the water. 

The point is that the nature of this active love between us and God is that we are in relationship with the creator of the universe.  We can see God and know God.  We can hear the leading of God and act upon it, because God is with us, in the most connected sense.  Perhaps the impossible task of obedience is made more possible through God’s grace in sending us his spirit because we are now connected to him.

Because of that relationship, we know that God is trustworthy.  We know that we are not alone, and we know where God is leading us.  We may not always know our destination, but we know that God knows where he is leading us.  We love him enough to understand the nature of love.  We trust him enough to be obedient.

I was privileged to hear a young man speak about what he hoped would be his future relationship to God.  He compared it to the story of the Walk to Emmaus.  Jesus is walking the road with two believers who have witnessed his death and yet do not yet know of his resurrection.  They know him but they do not recognize him.  The young man said that he hoped that in the future, he would act in such a way that those who knew him would not recognize him, but would only see Jesus in his actions.

Is your love of God evident in your obedience to him?  Is your love of God an active love that spills over into love of your neighbor?  Can others see the nature of love and the nature of God through you?

Are you so obedient to God that you would jump into the deep hole with your friend, and do you trust God enough to know that he jumps in with you? 

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Saturday, July 02, 2011

If You Love Me, Part II

Continued from yesterday

Haven’t you been to a funeral where the loved one of the person who died says to you, “Thank you so much for being here.”  Have you ever thought in response to that comment, “Where else would I be?”  Our love for the person who died or for the friend in front of us has brought us to the funeral – what else could we do, really?  Our action – our presence – is not only a tangible result of our love, but is also tangible evidence of our love.

Jesus is telling his Disciples that their love of him must not just be sentiment.  It must translate to action, because that is the nature of love.
Remember, Jesus is saying these words to the disciples.  These are his friends – and he KNOWS them.  He knows how lost they can be.  He knows how they doubt, how they will betray him.  He knows how many times they have fallen short of obedience.  And I imagine that he knows that they will continue to fall short.  Jesus knows that obedience, to his disciples, sometimes feels like an impossible climb out of a deep hole.   He knows that his friends, even if they try to be obedient, will fall short. 

Don’t ever doubt, though, that he loved them anyway.  His next words confirm his love for them.  Jesus tells his disciples that even though he is leaving – he is soon going to die – he does not leave them alone.  He promises them that there will be someone with them.  The word he uses in Greek is parakletos.  The Greek is untranslatable; in various bibles you can read it as Comforter, Helper, Advocate.  William Barclay, a Scottish theologian, says that it really means ‘someone who is called in’ to during time of trouble or need. 

Jesus promises the disciples that they will not be orphaned – he is not leaving them alone.  We are promised the same thing.  We will not be orphaned; we are not alone.  God loves us – and it is a love that is not sentiment or lovely feelings.  It is a love that translates into action.  He knows the call he has placed on our lives is difficult – may even be impossible if we were to attempt it by ourselves.  He acts.  He does not leave us alone.  He sends the Holy Spirit to be with us, and that gift – that grace – is evidence of his love for us.   The Holy Spirit is the friend who jumps into the deep hole with us.

A few months ago, my older son was on his way to a high school basketball game.  He was driving, and I guess he was overly anxious to get to the game, because he was pulled over for speeding.  This wasn’t just speeding.  This was Speeding with a capital S.  His speed was so fast that he had to appear in traffic court rather than just send in money to pay the ticket. 

I’m sure you can imagine the fear in the heart of a 17 year old when he has to appear in court.  When the time came, my son, my husband and I went together to the community center where court is held.  It was a large room, with lots of folding chairs arranged in rows facing a desk with the judge, an administrator and a police officer.  As the judge called each person forward, he had to go to the desk, sit down in front of the judge, explain what he had done wrong, and listen to the judgment rendered – in front of everyone. 

When our son’s turn came, he stood up and walked to the front of the room.  We went with him, sat with him at the judge’s desk, spoke on his behalf, and explained the consequences we had instituted.  When we got back to the car to leave, my son said, “I was so glad you went up with me; I didn’t know you were going to do that.”

Just like at the funeral, I thought, “Where else would we be?”

Continued tomorrow

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Friday, July 01, 2011

If You Love Me, Part I

In answer to Sunday's signpost question, that sign is located on the hill on the Days Hotel hill in Flatwoods. I took the picture on my way to preach at Morrison United Methodist Church (and then Gassaway United Methodist Church). The following (and the next two days posts) are my sermon from that day.
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them."  John 14:15-21
There is an old story, and maybe you’ve heard it, but I’m going to tell it to you anyway, even though it’s old…..

Once, there was a man who fell into a hole. We don’t know why he would do such a thing – what happened that he didn’t avoid this giant hole – maybe he didn’t stop for directions or listen to his wife’s advice about going another way and avoiding the hole, but never-the-less, he fell into this hole. It was deep, and he was stuck, with no way out.

He waited at the bottom of this hole, calling out every once and a while, hoping someone would come by. Eventually, his neighbor poked her head over the edge of the hole. “Oh, my, Mr. Smith! What are you doing at the bottom of this hole?”

“I fell into it – can you help me?”

The neighbor told him how sorry she was for his predicament, and how she felt for him. She understood how awful it must be down in the deep hole. And then she left, feeling pretty good about herself that she had shown her neighbor how much she cared.

And the man stayed in the hole.

Eventually, a fellow choir member from his church came by. Once again, the man explained that he needed help, and that he was stuck in the hole. The choir member said, “Oh, how terrible! I’ll pray for you – I’ll call the other choir members and we’ll pray for you, too! We’ll activate the prayer chain, and maybe we’ll even have a vigil. Please know that you are in our prayers.” And he left.

And the man stayed in the hole.

Eventually, a friend came along. Once again, the man explained that he needed help, and that he was stuck in the hole. The friend looked around, studied the situation, and then jumped down into the hole with the man. “What are you doing!” the man yelled. “Now you’re down here, too.”

The friend answered, “Yes, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”

The scripture I read today is from a section of the book of John called the Final discourse.  John has recorded Jesus’ conversation with the Disciples just prior to the crucifixion.  Jesus is having an intimate conversation with his closest friends.  They’ve been through a lot together, shared life with each other.  Jesus is preparing them for what he knows is about to happen. 

My husband likes Red Letter Bibles --  I don’t – I’m distracted by the red, but I noticed as I was reading the scripture one more time before preparing the sermon that every word of this passage is in red letters.  These are the words of Christ, shared with his friends.  Red letter words.  We are invited to listen and to hear within those words what God might be saying to us through their conversation.

The passage begins with the words, “If you love me….”  I think the passage is about love – about the very nature of love.  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  The Message version of the Bible reads, “If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you.”  We have been told that the Greatest Commandment is to Love God with everything we have and are and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we ever had any illusion that love is just warm feelings toward someone, that love is only sympathy or even empathy, if we ever thought we could love from a distance, then this passage – If you love me, then show it by doing what I’ve told you – shatters those assumptions.  Love is active.  Our obedience to God is not to be done out of duty or even fear; our obedience to God an expression of our love for him.  True love of God cannot help but translate into obedience and action. 

Continued tomorrow

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