The Wedding at Galveston

As you can see, this meditation is not flowing from the jugs of extraordinary wine at the Wedding of Cana; rather from a wedding that has been the focus of months’ long preparation and joy in our lives ~ the wedding of our youngest, Heather and her fiancé now husband Scott. With their permission, I am including it in my meditations. Enjoy . . .


The Ministry of the Word

Mark: 10: 6-9

. . . at the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one put asunder.

Matthew 7: 21; 24-29

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rains came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold Heather and Scott in their marriage? If so, say “We will!”

The Message

Five years ago, Scott and Heather met just as they were setting out on a new life. Scott had graduated from the prestigious Berklee School of Music; Heather was graduating from Paul Mitchell Academy with a license in Esthetics and on her way to licensure as medical assistant with the goal of achieving status as a medical esthetician.

Neither had a job, but they looked good on paper. Even though they talked a good show, Scott admitted they were a little lost. Nonetheless, in Heather, Scott saw something that felt real, substantial, and solid. In Scott, Heather saw something that felt real, substantial, and solid.

Obviously, they were blind. They were still lost. They didn’t have jobs.

But they had something new. They had this new relationship that felt like it might become something real, substantial and solid.

Time has passed, five years to be specific, and here they are today about to set out on a new life once again. The difference this time? They are not lost. They have indeed become a team, – real substantial and solid.

When I asked them what scriptures they wanted for today, the first one was from the book of Mark. Let me read it again: . . . at the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one put asunder. (or in later translations “let no one separate them.”)

Scott explained what prompted him to choose the Mark reading: “For so long, it’s been Heather and Scott, Scott and Heather. We’ve been a team. Today we wanted to stand before all our friends and family and God to promise that we will always be a team, more than a team. We will be one flesh – a forever team. This team will be rock solid, because God’s word is in on the promise.”

Heather and I were impressed.

Scott was essentially drafting the architecture seen in the Matthew reading, sometimes referred to as the story of the wise builder and the foolish builder. We know the story well. Well enough that the analogy is clear. What Scott and Heather have done is give their relationship time to grow, to give themselves time to mature, to establish themselves as free-standing financial units in their respective careers, to run a household, to build a circle of friends and to establish enduring adult relationships with their extended family. What they have been doing, is building a rock solid foundation for what they are about to do here today.

When they exchange their vows in a few minutes, they will be building this new life on a foundation composed not of concrete and rebar, but a foundation they have built over the past five years and sealed with the words of God. Theirs will not be a house haphazardly thrown together, built on sand, always shifting, never strong. They are building a house that will not fall apart when the winds of life pick up. When they do, Heather and Scott will face them as husband and wife, a forever team coached by God. And they will listen to the words God speaks.

And all of you out there, Scott asks that you listen to the words God speaks, “Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder.” In other words, don’t mess with this marriage. Don’t plant seeds of doubt or place temptation, criticism, or division in the way of the growing, living phenomenon God is building in our midst.

Scott, no worries! We gathered here tonight because we love you and Heather. And just minutes ago we promised in one strong voice to uphold this marriage. We will honor it, respect it, encourage and support it. We are all a part of your cosmic construction crew, building this house side by side with you on the rock solid foundation of the words of God. When the storms come, and they will, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health,” – those storms, – your house will not fall. It will stand strong. We will be there, holding up the walls. We promise.

Now, with the words of God ringing in our ears, let’s get those hammers and saws ringing in the night. We got a house to build!
Amen

The Last Sunday of Pentecost

The Old Testament Reading: Genesis 32: 22-31

The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”

Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

The New Testament Reading: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

As for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

The Gospel Reading: Luke 18:1-8
Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.

In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Aches and Pains

As this long and glorious season of Pentecost comes to a close, we find ourselves anticipating the secular season of Thanksgiving. I never have a problem finding something to give thinks for, since October is my birthday month, and a month later, I still live! Thank you, God!

One of the things I observe in my second-half-of-life-birthdays, are the many changes that come around. Ironically, the core of who I am still feels the same, yet changes appear inescapable. The most obvious and disconcerting change in my life these days lies hidden deep inside my closet: Shoes. No longer are there any four-inch spike heels perched jauntily on the shoe shelf! No shiny black leather boots balanced on high skinny heels. No strappy high heel sunshine yellow sandals. No spike heels of any kind or color! It took a while. Each pair went with tears; tears only made worse when I started giving away the clothes that went with them. You see, not only does gravity work its dastardly deeds on the human body compelling a critical re-appraisal of clothes you once wore with a flare; now your shoes force you to change your entire wardrobe. First, the cute little pencil skirts and business suits went missing. The cocktail dresses that topped off those strappy spike heels were the next to go; all GONE. Now I am left with flat-heel shoes and long, flowing skirts.

Have you noticed that you don’t eat and sleep the same way you did when you were 25? Remember when you could eat four large slices of pizza and sleep all night? Not anymore. If you ate four large slices of pizza tonight, you would be up all night, not wrestling with God, like Jacob did in our Old Testament reading, but wrestling with heartburn and acid reflux!

And speaking of sleep, most would describe typical sleep as something more akin to Jacob’s restless vision than sleeping like a rock! Then there are the aches and pains. Muscles, bones, and joints change over the years. Most of us have at least one hip joint in common with Jacob’s sore and swollen hip after a night of wrestling with God.

Another thing I have noticed is how my name keeps changing, not just married names that we pick up and drop over a lifetime. I am talking about what we are actually called. When you’re a kid, it’s your first name or a nickname or a variation unique to your family; ‘Lindy ,’ not the Linda your teacher would use. Then titles get added, Ms., Mrs., Dr., Mr. Then you take on new names like Mom, Dad, Aunt, Uncle, Grandmother, Grandfather, ~ names that mark us by context, relationship, and generation.

Our Old Testament reading today gives us an allegory for aging and a perspective on change in our life in faith. In Genesis, we see Jacob on his journey back home. He comes to a river. He sends on his wives, servants, employees, possessions, all of his earthly accomplishments, all of his earthly gain, all of his professional and business pursuits. All go to the other side of the river and Jacob is left to spend the night alone.

He doesn’t sleep well. God comes to him in the form of a man and they wrestle through the night. There’s not a lot of conversation. It’s a guy thing. It’s a fight, a struggle. At the end of the night, Jacob refuses to let go of his opponent, demanding, ‘I want your blessing.’ And God gives it to him.

In the morning light, with God’s blessing, Jacob’s life was changed. He had a new name and a new position in life. He was to become a messenger of God, and would be named Israel, patriarch, forefather of King David and God’s own son. And he had a limp.

Like Jacob, we are on a journey home, a life journey that takes us ultimately to our home in the arms of Jesus. In the meantime we work to build a place for ourselves on earth, a community, a family, a way of life and vocation, a legacy. Then something happens to bring us face to face with our mortality. It may be a dramatic moment like Jacob’s, or an illness, a disability, or the loss of a loved one. It may be gradual, like having another birthday that compels us to consider the subtle and not so subtle changes of aging. Whatever it is, when it happens it is a long and lonely night when we stand naked, unprotected by the status and accoutrements of life. We are exposed before Him. We stand alone in our struggle with God, to learn who we are to become and the message we are to carry. Morning will come and we will go into the day with God’s blessing even if we are limping on our way. That’s what happened to Jacob and that is what happens to us.

I have to admit that I like the “Jacob walking with a limp” touch. I find it reassuring. Jacob did not walk away from his night of struggle unscathed. God’s blessing did not transform him into a new and perfect creation. No, God sent him back to his community marked by the struggle, limping and sore. I can relate to that. When we are lucky enough to get this old, most of us walk with a limp. Obviously, God does not need us young, fit, and strong to do his work. He takes us as we are.

Take Paul for example. He was one of God’s most prolific messengers. He limped through beatings and imprisonments, while starting churches from Rome to Ephesus, and writing a host of letters we study even to this day. For example, in his letter to Timothy, Paul reminded his young protégé who it was who prepared him to be God’s messenger: his mother and grandmother. Timothy knew the sacred writings because of them. They taught him the word and the importance of proclaiming God’s message with persistence. Paul urged Timothy to follow their model, to convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience in teaching just like they did with him. To Paul’s way of thinking, these two women were messengers of God. Even Timothy’s grandmother did not get off the hook because she was a woman or because of her age. Timothy’s grandmother was God’s messenger and her message immortalized Timothy.

How did she do it at her age, with the long years of life slowing her down? How do we do it when we have struggled with life’s changes and grieved its losses; when we have tossed and turned through sleepless nights, wrestling with God; when we get up in the morning, sore and limping? We have only to look to today’s gospel for the answer. Jesus, the ultimate Messenger tells us to pray always, never losing heart. What do you pray for? Freedom from the aches and pains? Jesus suggests otherwise. He tells us instead to pray for faith. If we pray always and never lose heart, he will provide the faith we need to sustain us as his messengers. After all, we are praying to a good and loving father, not a corrupt uncaring judge, for goodness sake!

The good and caring Father does have expectations, however. At the end times whether it’s your end time or my end time, or the end time of the planet, God expects to return here to find faith, – faith in you, faith in me, and ultimately, faith in the people who have received his message through us. We know the message; we have heard and read the sacred writings all our life. We carry a long and uniquely individual history and perspective that only a lifetime can generate. It didn’t come without a litany of achievements and failures, without gains and losses; without aches and pains. Some might call our message an offering of scripture made relevant by the wisdom, patience and persistence of age.

I don’t know what your message you will sound like. I don’t know your style or vocabulary or even your ever changing wardrobe. That’s up to God and you. God gives you the long life, the message, and the people who need you and what your message. Then he gives you the faith to spread the message, to convince, rebuke, and encourage with the utmost patience, just as he did Timothy’s grandmother. And finally, there is one more thing that he gives you. He gives you a new name. What will yours be? Man of Faith, Woman of God, Elder of the Church? Daughter of the King? Are you up for that?

If you have your doubts, remember the gift. When we walk out into the morning, we may still have a limp, but we will walk cloaked in faith; carried in faith; and supported in faith. God has provided us with the message and a world who needs it, “for the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.”

Obviously God is needing teachers like us. As a group, we long ago stopped caring about what suits the desires of others. Some might call that stubborn. I call it the surety that faith brings when we have seen the face of God, and still live. We won’t be wandering away from the truth to myths, not with this swollen hip! There is not enough time or energy for that. Just give us the truth and we will carry it to those whose ears are not itching for something entertaining or distracting, but are seeking to be immortalized.

Wow, I like the sound of that! Amen

We pray: Dearest Lord, as I am called by a new name to a new mission, I lift up my eyes to the hills from which my help will come. My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Amen!

Transfiguration Moments

We pray in the words of the Psalmist: Let your loving-kindness O Lord be upon us, as we have put our trust in you. Indeed, our heart rejoices in you for in your holy Name we put our trust. Amen.

The Readings

Exodus 34:29-35
Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.

Luke 9:28-36
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.

And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.

Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said.

While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

2 Peter 1:13-21
I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, since I know that my death will come soon,. . . For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

Transfiguration Moments

I have a confession to make.

As we know, confessions run the gamut from embarrassing to terrifying. While the latter would certainly paint a portrait of me as a dramatic and mysterious anti-hero so popular these days, it would also be a false portrait. Sadly, my confession is heavily weighted on the embarrassing side, and therefore embarrassing to confess. However, confession is good for the soul, so I will get this done and over with.

I have a dog with the attention span of a gnat. It doesn’t bother him. It bothers me so I make fun of him. That is not nice. “Oh, Lord. Make my words sweet and tender today because tomorrow I may have to eat them.”

Today, I ate my words. At the very beginning of our scripture reading from Luke, I confess that I exhibited the attention span of a gnat. The moment I heard the part about Jesus’s face changing and his clothes turning dazzling white, my mind was off on gnats’ wings, flying in swirling vertical twists and turns in the bright lights of my daughter’s upcoming wedding.

Easily you can understand how this might happen. My little girl will be dressed in a gorgeous white gown on her wedding day and she will be dazzling. As beautiful as her face always is, it will be extraordinarily aglow with happiness. That’s how it is with brides.

That was one confession.

I have another confession, as embarrassing as the first. While my dog and I obviously share the attention span of a gnat flaw, I confess that we share another trait. Once you give us a bone, we will not give it up. Ever since my mind went astray on that Sunday morning closest to Transfiguration Day, I have not been able to let it go. The more I thought about it, the more comparisons I saw between Jesus’s transfiguration and weddings.

For example, transfiguration events are extraordinary in that they change, transform, and elevate everyone and everything involved. Jesus was elevated from friend and miracle worker to Son of God. The bride and groom are elevated from friends and lovers to husband and wife.

Then we have the venue. Luke simply identified it as the mountain. When Peter wrote of the same mountain years later, he called it the Holy Mountain. It was sanctified when it became the destination of a transfiguration. It was made holy. When a couple plans a wedding, they search for the perfect venue. Whether it is a church or a mountain or a coastal garden, it will be their holy place.

Like Jesus, they will invite friends and family to witness their life-changing transformation. Jesus invited Peter, James and John, and his special guests of honor Elijah and Moses who had his own Mount Sinai moment. I imagine Elijah and Moses as Jesus’s groomsmen, discussing what lay ahead for him, – his life, death, life again; the good and the bad; the importance of knowing who he is and the promises he will keep. Words of wisdom and guidance from men who walked that path, they are much like the words young grooms hear from mentors on their wedding day.

Transfiguring events call for preparations to commemorate the time and place they occur, which was what Peter wanted to do that day on the mountain. Our soon to be marrieds can understand Peter’s drive. After they have found their venue, the work begins: caterer, photographer, wedding party, attire, music, invitations, officiant, registries, websites, showers, bachelor and bachelorette parties; in other words, stress, stress, and more stress. And just like Peter was momentarily distracted from what was happening in his presence, young men and women can be transformed by the demands of a wedding into bridezillas and groom-divas, distracted from the significance of the moment.

When Peter, James and John were distracted, God sent a cloud that covered them, separating them from everything they knew or thought they knew, leaving only silence in which to hear God’s voice telling them, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.” In that moment, Peter, James, and John were stunned into silence, as they too were transfigured. Their lives would never be the same. They would follow Jesus to the cross, to the grave, and beyond. They would become the cornerstone on which a new church would be built, a church Jesus would claim as his Bride there on the holy mountain with his own Father officiating a heavenly wedding.

When we celebrate the transfiguration of Jesus, let us consider the holy moments of transfiguration in our own lives. It was on that mountain long ago that we became the bride of Christ. We were transfigured from people simply living out our lives, into the church victorious. Like his disciples, we too will walk the path to the cross, to the grave, to his resurrection and his coming again. We will walk our own path as well. There will be spectacular moments, baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals. There will be quiet moments so personal that only we will feel them. Big or small, may they transform us into something higher, something closer to God and to those he has given us to love. We can only trust that in the moment of our final transfiguration, Jesus will not be distracted. His thoughts will not fly away on gnats’ wings in swirling vertical twists and turns in the bright light of his heavenly splendor. No, He will come for us. He will hold us in his arms, name us as his beloved bride, and take us to our home with him.

Indeed, our heart rejoices in you for in your holy Name we put our trust.
Amen

Declare Independence!

2 Kings 5:1-14
Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy.

Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.”

He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.”

So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”

But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, `Wash, and be clean’?”
So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Declare Independence!

It is clear as the Liberty Bell why we read Commander Naaman’s story on the 4th of July, right? Probably not. I am sure it was simply a coincidence falling as it did this year on a popular secular holiday. The 4th is the weekend we celebrate with fireworks, patriotic music and cookouts the signing of the Declaration of Independence from the government of Great Britain in 1776.

Have you ever wondered about the course of events that led to that day? What happened that it started so well and ended so badly? The political science theorists would say that good government is defined by reciprocal altruism i.e., the government protects and rules its people and the people support their government. I take care of you; you take care of me. Obviously, the people of the thirteen colonies no longer believed that reciprocal altruism existed with the government of England and hence, they declared independence from what they felt was a bad government.

Commander Naaman had no interest in declaring independence from the governance of his king. The King of Aram respected, honored, and rewarded him generously. And Naaman brought to his King military victories, wealth, respect and power. They had a reciprocal altruism that made them a formidable team in the land. Sadly, Naaman also had a bad governor in his life. It did not matter how good, honorable or powerful he was, this evil governor would take it all: his health, wealth, strength, and ultimately his life. Naaman had leprosy.

You read the story how in a raid on the land of Israel, Naaman’s troops kidnapped a young Hebrew girl who came to live in Naaman’s home as his wife’s maidservant. Rather than hating the man who stole her away from her family, she approached her mistress with concern for his wellbeing and suggested he go to the man of god to be healed.

Naaman takes the message to King Aram who sends him to Israel with a letter of introduction and a treasure lode of gold, silver, and expensive garments. Naaman travels with his servants and the king’s gifts to a country where lepers are considered unclean and shunned. When Naaman arrives at the Israeli King’s court, he is not greeted in gracious fashion. Not equipped to heal Naaman, the king suspects a plot to justify an attack. News of the king’s distress spreads through the land to Samaria, Elisha’s home. The man of God sent word to have Naaman come to him.

Naaman arrives at Elisha’s home where once again, he is not greeted in gracious fashion. Elisha does not open his door to the man or shake his hand or invite him in for food or drink, a violation of all the rules of hospitality of that time. Instead, Elisha stays in his house and sends his servant to give instructions. I wonder if he didn’t greet the commander himself because Naaman had leprosy and he didn’t want to risk catching it himself. We are not told; I just wonder.

And then there are the directions. Go wash yourself in the Jordan seven times. “Really?” Naaman must have thought. He was offended; felt disrespected; and was obviously disappointed. He’d hoped for a magic show complete with waving of hands, incantations, maybe even some fireworks, patriotic music and a cookout. It is the 4th of July, right; but he got none of that, and left in a huff.

His servants gave him time to cool off and then offered a reasonable observation. You know, sir, if the man of god had asked you to do something hard, you’d have done it. This is easy. Let’s just go do it. And of course Naaman, an intelligent guy agreed and did as Elisha instructed. He went to the Jordan River and bathed himself seven times.

Have you ever wondered about the bathing seven times thing? Why seven? Because it is a magic mystical number, the symbol of completeness? God created the earth in seven days? God rested on the seventh day and declared it the Sabbath? Maybe Elisha was just testing Naaman’s patience? Or maybe Elisha knew all along that God’s ability to cure this honorable man of leprosy did not require an afternoon in the Jordan. Instead, let us consider. Elisha knew leprosy to be an evil governor, yes. He also knew of other governors equally destructive who threaten Naaman and the rest of humankind from the inside out. These bad governors could destroy Naaman as efficiently as could leprosy, governors described as the seven deadly sins.

Pride ~ the sin from which all other sins arise, an inflated sense of grandness, entitlement and disdain for others. It comes across as arrogance, a lack of respect and criticality in relationships. It interferes with the recognition that we need God and we need others. It is also known as Vanity.
Envy ~ the desire for what others possess: status, abilities, life situation. It is manifested in repeated comparing of self to others that leaves one feeling unhappy, desolate, cheated and dissatisfied with what they have and who they are.
Gluttony ~ an irrational desire to consume more than one requires, whether it is food or wealth or possessions. It is about excessive consumption.
Lust ~ also Cravings or Addiction, a most deadly sin affecting people across all social, economic and cultural lines.
Anger ~ also Wrath, which is particularly malignant when adding a cause as in righteous anger or righteous indignation. With a seething internal attitude of anger, people turn away from love and forgiveness to rage, alienation, and violence. It is the foundation for road rage, hate crimes and terrorism.
Greed ~ the excessive desire for material wealth while ignoring the needs of the community, never “giving back” of one’s time and money; also called Avarice
Sloth ~ also known as Laziness, it is the avoidance of physical, emotional or spiritual work. There’s nothing like “lazy in love” to take the zing out of relationships, whether at home, workplace, or church. When Sundays become the day to sleep in, it is just a matter of time before the relationship with God becomes an afterthought.

I’d like to think that each time Naaman bathed, he washed away one and then another and another deadly governor so that when he stepped out of the Jordan, he was wholly healed and free from all evil governance. He could return to his land with but one earthly king and one heavenly king on whom he would rely for good governance.

What if you had been celebrating a summer holiday with Naaman that day and it was your turn to get wet in the Jordan. Once in the water, what would you wash away? Would it be fear or grief or loneliness? Or would it be one of those seven deadly sins? Which one is your favorite?

Do you pride yourself for holding on to grudges, never forgetting the misdeeds done you? Do you find yourself with a list of secret resentments against a loved one, keeping count until you feel justified to walk away leaving behind the carnage of another relationship that failed to meet expectations? Do you constantly compare yourself to others, always feeling you came out on the short end of the stick? Do you lament your craving for sweets and the extra weight that threatens your health tipping you ever closer to diabetes? Has addiction destroyed the quality of your relationships, or credibility on the job or financial stability? Do you resent the church asking you to contribute some of your hard earned money just when you were saving up for another vacation this year? Which one? Or are there others that disturb your peace of mind and the tranquility of your relationships?

Well, I don’t plan to be on the shore of the Jordan this summer, but after looking at the list of deadly sins, I am feeling a bit sweaty and grimy. Just to be on the safe side, I’m thinking an afternoon of seven dips into the cold central Texas Comal River doesn’t seem like a bad idea. I want to feel as clean as Naaman felt when he stepped out of the Jordan, as clean as a freshly scrubbed child. Besides I like the idea of declaring independence from bad governors in my life. I plan to place my vote for the one governor on whom I can count for reciprocal altruism: the God of Elisha, please and thank you!

We pray with David,
I will exalt you, O LORD, because you have lifted me up and have not let my enemies triumph over me. O LORD my God, I cried out to you and you restored me to health. (Psalm 30:1-2)

Happy Independence Day!
Amen

Mary and Martha

Luke 10:38-42
As Jesus and his disciples went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Have you ever had one of those days when absolutely nothing went right, a day best described as a waste of good make up? It’s one of those days when your first discovery is finding your slippers mysteriously moved out of reach under the bed. You spill coffee, burn toast and find nothing in your closet that suits you. No matter what is in your hands, you don’t like it, you’re destined to break it, burn it, or just downright trash it. And when you do, you’re going to catch flack. Somebody is going to say something and you are not going to like it.

In our story for today, Mary and Martha had just one of those days. It started off well enough. They are at home, enjoying the peace and quiet when there’s a knock on the door. Things are getting better: a knock means company. When they open the door, their day breaks into indescribable brightness. Standing before them is Jesus.

Mary and Martha were more than just acquaintances of Jesus. They loved and honored him, so you can only imagine their delight when he came to their home. Being good Jewish women, they knew the things that needed to be done to make Jesus feel welcome and comfortable. They slipped into gear and started getting things ready.

But then something happened. We don’t know what it was. We don’t know if Jesus had a serious look to him that morning. Maybe it was his demeanor or a change in his tone of voice, more intense perhaps. Of course what Mary and Martha could not have known, was that Jesus had set his face to Jerusalem. Knowing what lay ahead, Jesus was bound to have had a sense of urgency about him. Whatever it was, it took Mary to her knees and she sat, distracted from the tasks at hand, spellbound at his feet. And she caught flack for it.

Her sister, not distracted from the work to be done, was distressed at having been left with the full responsibility for their important guest’s wellbeing. Although irritated with Mary, she spoke directly to Jesus because obviously it was going to take a Jewish man to tell this woman to stop sitting around and get to work. Instead, Martha caught flack!

Jesus’ words started compassionately enough: “Martha, I know you’re worried and distracted. I know you’re stressed and tense. It’s ok.” So far, so good, but watch out Martha, here it comes. Jesus continued, “But, you see, right now there is one thing that is important, and Mary has picked it.” There it is! It was one of those days when whatever you do, someone will have something to say about it.

It seems to me that we hear way too many sermons on this scripture, sermons about Martha’s failure and Mary’s inside line to Christ. The sermons inevitably conclude with the admonition-like question, “Are you a Martha or a Mary?” The question leaves no doubt as to the approved answer!

Of course there are no more sermons on the Mary/Martha scripture than on any other scripture in our lectionary. It just feels like it to me because at heart, I know that I am guilty. Through and through, I am a Martha. I know that if no one gets up and prepares a meal, no one will eat! I can assure you that if Jesus came to my door, tired and hungry, the first thing I would do is make sure he had a cold drink and food on the table before I sat down for a chat. So what is this stigma associated with Martha? Surely I can’t be the only one confused.

There are Biblical scholars who look at this recorded moment in history for what it is, a day in the life of three friends 2000 years ago. Other Biblical scholars go a step farther. They study this reading as an allegory, addressing a dual nature in people called to Christ. These scholars would say that there exists a Martha and a Mary inside each one of us. They would draw our attention to the times our Mary within is summoned just as it was that day 2000 years ago when Jesus summoned Mary to sit quietly and listen. They would note that on another day, Jesus would be calling upon the Martha within: The harvest is plentiful. The workers are few. Get on with it! Feed and clothe the poor. Visit the imprisoned. On those days, Martha is absolutely stigma-free! And Mary standing idly by would catch well-deserved flack.

As if that’s not enough, Amos, in chapter 8 of his book takes us to another level of self-examination. The prophet addresses the complexity of the Mary/Martha dilemma in his own audience, accusing them of deception, “Listen, you that trample on the needy and bring to ruin the poor of the land, who say, ‘When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain and the Sabbath so that we may offer wheat for sale?’” At first glance, here are people immersing themselves in the word, right? They are in worship, sitting at the feet of God, if you will. But Amos understands that worship must extend even to their thoughts. Are they thinking Sabbath thoughts, or are they thinking business? When we are in church on a Sunday, are we focused on worship, immersing ourselves in the word? Or are we composing a mental grocery list for after church shopping? Or a check list of all of the errands we still have to run before returning home?

How do we maintain the purity of our Mary and Martha? Do we act like a Mary living a contemplative life to avoid getting our hands dirty with the work of the world? Or do we work like a Martha with a martyr’s joyless resentment when we get no credit for what we have done? Just as Amos’s audience didn’t like what he had to say, we find these not easy questions to ask ourselves, much less coming up with a solution. Paul offers some help. In the first chapter of his letter to the Colossians he suggests that we divert our focus from ourselves to Christ if we are to live fully these two entities. “Christ himself is before all things. He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the first born from the dead. Why? So, that he might come to have first place in everything.”

Paul reminds us it’s not about Mary. It’s not about Martha. It’s about Christ calling on us. When he calls us to work, let’s do what we can even if it is not what we once did, or less than we would have wanted. And when he calls upon us to slow down and pick up our devotional, or Bible, or this blog to read, study, worship and pray, we will be able to do so with Jesus as our head and center guiding our focus.

The way I see it, we have two questions to consider. The first, “How can I live to the fullest my Martha and my Mary?” Paul gave us the formula. Take the time to immerse yourself in Christ’s presence so that you are up to the task of doing the work he calls you to do. Keep Christ at the head of everything, and you cannot fail.

The second question is about timing. How will we know when it is time for our Martha to be in high gear or when it is time for our Mary to be in quiet focus? This one is up to us. To avoid mistakes, we must pay attention to what is going on around us. Be present. Is there someone in your life who could use a moment of your Martha time to hold open a door, cook a meal, or offer a gentle touch? Are there opportunities before you when someone simply needs your Mary to listen quietly and lovingly? Do you have times of spiritual burnout or lethargy when you need to sit quietly at Jesus’s feet like Mary, and simply take in his light and power? At the end of the day, we can only hope to do the right thing at the right time, and to do it with singleness of heart, with Christ as our head.

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Serenity Prayer. It is a prayer about being present, paying attention, and making decisions. Let me read the familiar first lines. “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The Reverend Dr. Niebuhr composed the Serenity prayer back in 1934 and it’s been prayed repeatedly in many different contexts and circumstances. I don’t think he’ll mind if I change it up just a little bit to sharpen our listening skills for the times Jesus calls to us.

“Dearest God, grant us the health, energy and drive to do the work that you have given us to do.
Grant us the serenity to sit quietly and patiently in your presence and in the presence of those who need us.
And grant us the wisdom to know the time and place for each. Amen.”

Father’s Day

Genesis 1:1-2: 4a

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights– the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night– and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

John 14: 8-14
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; . . . “

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; . . . “

Happy Father’s Day!
Happy Father’s day to all of you who are fathers.
Happy Father’s Day to all of you who are like fathers to your family.
Happy Father’s Day to all of you who look forward to being fathers.
Happy Father’s day to the fathers we hold dear in our hearts; fathers still with us, and fathers who are not.

We all have a father. We couldn’t have gotten here without a man out there somewhere. That man may or may not have proven to be a father, but for the most part, the majority of us can claim a father in our life, and that is a good thing. Fathers are important. It is a sad statement that we hear more these days about dead beat dads than we do about dependable dads; or about distant dads than dedicated and adoring dads. With that said, I hope you had or still have a good dad. I do.

I went to see him yesterday. He’s in a nursing home now. I prepared myself emotionally, he’s become so frail. He can’t keep track of his glasses, and his vision is cloudy. He can’t hear and he won’t wear hearing aids even when he knows where they are. After a multitude of TIA’s his balance is so impaired that for his own safety, he is in a wheelchair. I walked into the community room and recognized him even though his back was to me. I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Hi, Daddy.” He looked up, smiled and said, “Oh my beautiful daughter. I am blessed.”

We sat together and caught up on news and the weather, before reading his Father’s Day card. First, I described the little girl on the sepia colored card recalling back to a post WWII time of innocence. She was holding her father’s hand as they walked along a wooded path. I read her words, how much she adored him; how she always looked up to him; and how he’d taught her so many things. While those were words on a card, they were also words from my heart.

I remember being three years old standing with my hands on the handlebars in front of daddy, “driving” his motor scooter up and down the block in front of the house. I ‘m sure my mother was thrilled.

I have a photograph from early childhood, sitting on Daddy’s shoulder. He was standing knee deep in the Gulf of Mexico jellyfish-infested waters. I was not afraid. My father had taught me fearlessness. He taught me to swim and to dive from the high board. He’d throw coins into the deep end of the pool, sending me to retrieve them. With eyes wide open, I’d swim underwater until I found them, and spring up to the surface victorious. I’m sure my mother was thrilled.

My daddy taught me how to ride a bicycle, and later a car. I was only fourteen when he taught me how to drive a standard transmission on deserted airstrips on the island of Guam. When we returned to Texas, we drove up and down country and city roads until my 16th birthday, when I took the driver’s license test. Passed it on the first run-through, thank you, Daddy.

It seems like yesterday, my now adult son and I were driving up and down country and city roads, him learning how to drive a standard transmission. I asked if he wouldn’t rather his dad or stepfather teach him. He said, “No Mom, you’re the only person in my life calm enough to teach me how to drive.” He was probably right. My father was the only one calm enough to teach me. Decades later, here I was, teaching my son exactly the way my father had taught me.

Daddy taught me more than driving and swimming. He taught me that Sundays were special beginning with his early morning extravagant breakfasts that made it easy to get up. There never was a question about the Sunday schedule. Church and Sunday school were top priorities. Weeknights at home were also special. We gathered for family devotions that he initiated with assignments to each of us so that all participated. It was a time of peace; a time when God found a place in our home. To this day, Sundays are honored as a time for worship, and evenings close with prayers from the Book of Common Prayer gifted to me and signed with my father’s message of love and hope for my life in Christ.

“I am in the father and the father is in me.” With these words Jesus explained the physics of life, the cascade of love that in the holy scheme of things flows from the father through the mother to the children. In our New Testament readings, we have two farewells that look deeply into this formula. John recalls Jesus’s prophetic words of farewell to his disciples as they shared a Passover meal the night of his arrest. Jesus cautioned that hard times lay ahead, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” He predicted his departure and return, “And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself that where I am you may be also.” He clarified his place in life and in relationship with his father, “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the father but by me.” And still, they struggled to understand the formula, until he boiled it down to the simplest of terms: Do you not believe that I am in the father and the father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own authority. I speak on the authority of the father who dwells in me! Believe me! I am in the father and the father is in me. If you have trouble believing my words, believe me for the sake of the works that I do that are the works of the father.

Again and again Jesus explained the physics of life. Nothing stands still; nothing remains static. He understood fully that the influence of a father doesn’t stay put; it moves through his children and beyond. Jesus certainly made that clear when he sent a handful of men and women into the world to create his church, an astronomical task second only to the Father’s creation of the universe! It was an impossible mission except that he himself was present in each and every one of them. His words of farewell empowered them in a way that was beyond all human understanding, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me and I am in you.”

Many of us in the second half of life no longer have a father who is still alive. Yet what you know from the physics of life is that in one shape or another, he lives on in you. Maybe that’s a good thing; maybe not. The reality is, you learn from and incorporate into your own psyche your father’s successes and virtues as well as his failures and weaknesses. The unique relationship of father and child can be a source of joy and strength, or struggle and angst. Accounts from the Garden of Gethsemane seem to indicate that Jesus struggled with a Father who would allow his son’s arrest, torture, execution and death. What kind of a father would do that? In Jesus’s case, it was a father he loved and honored. It was into his father’s arms that he commended his spirit at death.

Maybe your father was a role model for strength and compassion, and left you with words of love and encouragement at his last farewell. Conversely, you may have had a father who didn’t bother with a farewell and left you with a challenging and difficult opportunity to love unconditionally and forgive generously. Jesus within us, we will have the power to come to peace with who we are in relationship with our earthly father, dead or alive. Then can we let our hearts not be troubled. Then can we become the honored father, leaving behind encouraging and loving words of farewell to our children.

My father is still alive, but I know that farewells will come soon. When they do, I am sure he will have a message for me much like the message Jesus had for his disciples or Paul for his parishioners in Corinth when he said, “Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.”

Of course, my father will have his own thoughts to add, I’m sure. They might go something like this:
“Daughter, I showed you how to live fearlessly, and you have certainly done that. You aimed way higher than I was comfortable with and at times you half scared me to death.
Forgive me for not understanding your passionate pursuit of education and profession. Thank you for not lowering your sights even when I suggested it.
I taught you how to live an orderly and responsible life, how to be organized and tidy. You’ve done a good job and you’ve done it with a dash of style.
You live in peace and love with everyone, especially me. Watching you greet others with a holy kiss, I pray that when I cross over, the saints will greet me in similar fashion. I’m sure they will when they learn that you are my daughter. They will look at you and see me in you. That will bring a smile to their face and a holy kiss for me. They know their physics.
Good bye, my beautiful daughter.”

Thank you, Daddy.

The Season following Pentecost

Back to the Church Calendar . . .

After 50 days of Easter and the excitement of Pentecost, we move gently into the Season following Pentecost, a long, quiet time, not anchored down by, or preparing for any particular major Festival, like Advent preparing for Christmas or Lent preparing for Easter. Pentecost’s absence of any major church festival seems ironic in light of our chocked full secular calendar. This is the time when we celebrate Father’s Day, Memorial Day, Mother’s Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving. And, if you are part of my family, add to that at least half a dozen birthdays and anniversaries!

This relatively quiet time on the church calendar has also been called the Ordinary Season, not because it is ordinary, but because the season is measured by ordinals; that is, numbers or order of placement in a numbered series, like dates on a calendar. Let me explain.

It begins on the Monday following that explosive Pentecost Day that kicked off the rapid spread of the Good News, complete with rushing winds in the upper room, tongues of fire above the heads of the followers of Jesus, and a sudden fluency in multiple languages that enabled them to announce the resurrection to pilgrims in Jerusalem traveling from countries afar to celebrate Shavuot.

It may include twenty eight or twenty nine Sundays, depending on whether you call the first Sunday after Pentecost the First Sunday after Pentecost and count from there, making it 29 Sundays; or you call the first Sunday after Pentecost Trinity Sunday and count from there, in which case there are 28 Sundays. Don’t you just love this!?

Actually I do. It is after all the orderly way. Nonetheless, I’m drawn to spicing up things when it gets too quiet, so instead of posts that spring from the inspiration of major church festivals, I’ll challenge myself to post to secular festivals like Mother’s Day (Done deal), Father’s Day (Yep), 4th of July, etc. Undoubtedly my husband is once again correct when he says, “With Carol’s family, it’s any excuse for a party!” Really? Have you ever heard of a Pentecost Party?

Mother’s Day

May 8, 2016

The Reading for today

Proverbs 31: 10-31 — The words of Lemuel, king of Massa, which his mother taught him as he began his search for a queen. Massa was a kingdom in northwest Arabia.

A good wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.

She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and tasks for her maidens. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She girds her loins with strength and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.

Her lamp does not go out at night. She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine and linen and purple. She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers girdles to the merchant. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.

She opens her mouth with wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.

Mother

We were driving to Anchorage, Alaska. My father had been transferred there with the United States Air Force at the height of the Cold War. Mom had grown tired of waiting for him to have us moved, so she packed our personal belongings into the car, hers, mine, my baby brother’s; and we drove away from our home in Texas.

I remember driving through mountains, the sharp rise of wall to our right, the sheer drop on the left. Then there was the other car, the one that kept crowding us to the wall. I sat between her and baby Gary in his car seat and saw her hands gripping the steering wheel, trying to keep us on the road. Suddenly, she hit the brakes as the other car pulled in front of us and stopped, blocking our way. The man opened his door and walked towards us. Mother looked straight ahead as she reached across me to the glove compartment, pressed the button, and released the door. She removed a gun, rested it in her lap and waited.

By now, the man had reached mother’s side of the car. He pulled a knife from his coat and smiling, began scraping it across the glass. Mother lifted the gun to the window, pointing it directly at his head. The smile vanished. He raised his hands, the knife dangling helplessly. He backed away, then ran to his car and drove away. There was silence; then Mother put the gun back into the glove compartment. We got back on the road and headed north.

When we arrived in Alaska, we moved into a trailer park where other couples like my parents lived, military and civil service personnel. Before long, my mother was managing the park and we moved out of our trailer into a house, a real house with a front door, and a mud room with its own door that opened into the kitchen. There was a bedroom for mom and dad. Gary and I slept on army cots, one on each side of a wood burning stove off the kitchen.

It was night and I heard a sound. I rolled over to see Mother between Gary and me. She stood in front of the wood burning stove, looking through the kitchen to the front door. She was holding the gun with both hands, pointing it straight ahead.

Someone had broken through the front and was rattling the door to the kitchen. Mother was still, the gun steady in her hands. She waited. I don’t know what caused the intruder to change his mind. Maybe he saw the glint of the gun through the window in the door. Maybe Mom had cocked the trigger, and he heard the potentially deadly outcome of this foolish venture. Whatever it was, he stopped. We heard him leave. Mother put down her gun and secured the house. I returned to sleep.

I learned a lot in those childhood moments with my mother. I learned that when she was there, we were safe. She was like one of those powerful women we read about in the last chapter of Proverbs, a woman who girds her loins with strength and makes her arms strong; a woman who could and would kill to protect her vineyards, livestock and children. And as the words of King Lemuel’s mother predicted, my mother’s children have indeed risen up to call her blessed, a woman far more precious that fine jewels. All of that is true.

I gotta tell you though. I was not thinking about blessings and jewels on that mountain road or in the tiny cabin in an Alaskan wilderness. I was thinking about the woman with a gun and I got the message, one that I would never forget. What I was learning, was that my mother was one scary lady, and I better be good! She turns 90 in June and she still carries a gun and a big stick. You better be good, too!

Happy Mother’s Day to all women who mother, and have mothered children, ~ mothers, sisters, nieces, aunts, next door neighbors, babysitters, nannies, teachers, pastors, coaches, friends, doctors, nurses, therapists, . . .
May God bless each and every one of you. We thank you.
Amen

Oh Thomas, poor Thomas

Sweet Jesus, we ask that all who have been reborn in you may experience again and again the exhilaration of your Easter miracle with a childlike faith unencumbered with doubt . We pray in your name. Amen.

Scripture Reading: John 20:19-31
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Meditation

Oh Thomas. Poor Thomas. Poor, poor Thomas. He was the only one left out in the cold the day the risen Jesus dropped in. He was the only one who didn’t get to see Jesus in the flesh. All the others saw him, but not Thomas. And in his frustration and disappointment, he stomped his foot and said those fateful words by which he would be known forevermore, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

Oh Thomas, you spoke without thinking. Apparently your mama didn’t teach you that little prayer, “Lord make my words sweet and tender today because tomorrow I may have to eat them.” And eat them he did.

A week later, Jesus called him to task, saying “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas looked into the eyes of his beloved Jesus, dispensed all doubt and fell to his knees crying, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus accepted his belief and added, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing.”

Today we are called upon to believe without seeing. It’s not really all that difficult, is it? Undoubtedly, we all believe in Jesus, the god man we have never seen. Why, if I had been there the day the disciples told Thomas the good news, I think I would have believed. After all, I’m a mature individual. At this point in life, I have seen it all. Nothing surprises me. I’ve seen life and I’ve seen death. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly and really, is there anything that surprises any of us anymore? Was resurrection really that big a deal?

If I spend any time at all basking in the artificial light of this judgment call, like Thomas, I would have to recant. You see, those of us who are mature think like Thomas. We are the product of a society in which we have lived half our lives, a society that perfectly reflects the words of Thomas, “Unless I see . . . and touch . . ., I will not believe.” We are a bottom line society, cut to the chase, get to the point, what you see is what you got, give me the numbers, show me the money, what’s the profit, what’s the loss. Don’t ask me to believe until I have all the information in black and white. Yes, our words are the words of a doubting Thomas, not the words of a fanciful, gullible believer. If you don’t believe me, read on.

While we as mature adults could have brought so much to the early church, such as our wisdom, knowledge, organizational, social and political skills, Jesus did not go around picking old people as his disciples. He picked young people. He picked people who were willing to walk away from anything and everything to follow him. He picked young people who were unafraid to believe the unbelievable. He didn’t go after the mothers and fathers of Peter, James and John, Mary, Martha, or Mary Magdalene. My hunch is if he had, the church would never have gotten off the ground. There would never have been enough energy, or strong knees and hips. There would have been way too many doctors’ appointments, visits to Walgreens, and long afternoon naps. No. Jesus went to the young. It is our children who believe in Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny, those fantastical symbols of life and love and generosity. Young people take flights of fancy, as did the disciples who were young enough to take on a tremendous, demanding, frightening, and challenging journey with Jesus.

While I believe that the mature person has much to offer the community of God, I have yet to find one who did not come to Christ when young enough to suspend belief and believe. I’m going to guess that you have the energy and desire to be reading this blog right now because you came to Christ in your youth. Think about it. When did you first experience that moment of knowledge, that light switch, that enthusiasm, and conviction that Jesus was and is real, really real. Was it after you were sixty or seventy? Had you just turned fifty or was it sometime before thirty or forty? Or can you go even further back to the days when you sang “I got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart to stay; Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so; the B.I.B.L.E. It stands alone as the word of God, the B.I.B.L.E.; those songs. How many of you can track your faith back to a time when you had the ability to take flights of fancy and suspend belief and believe? Was it when you still believed in fantastical symbols of life, love and generosity; and in angels, wise men, shepherds, baby Jesus and his pretty mother? That childlike belief was the powerful building block of a tenacious faith that sustains us throughout life. It is the path to the conviction, sight unseen that Jesus went to Golgotha where he moved from death on the cross to the grave, from the tomb of death to life. You can believe it.

The good news is, it doesn’t matter how old we are now. Once we have taken this flight of fancy, we get to take it again and again. You took it today. You bought a ticket. You turned on your computer and pulled up this blog. You weren’t too tired. You weren’t too frail, too hard of hearing, too set in your ways, too technologically phobic or too afraid to ask a friend to download it for you.

You can climb on board. Our flight is about to take off. Hold tight to Jesus’ hem if you have any doubt left to be healed. He will take care of that so that each and every one of us can be confident in his joy when times are good or bad or ugly. We can trust his light presence even when we are flying low through the valley of the shadow of death. He will fly us through this universe on a fantastical flight of fancy and faith, an Easter Journey taking us from birth through life to death and back again to life. Are you packed and ready? Great! Let’s go. We’ll show those kids a thing or two!

Amen!

Looking for the living among the dead?

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection
Luke 24:1-12
On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. . . “

Meditation:

Why do you look for the living among the dead?

Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
This joyous Easter greeting rings out around the world ever since the women found the empty tomb at early dawn on the first day of the week after the Crucifixion. These were the women who took care of Jesus while he lived. Now, they were prepared to take care of him in his death. When they arrived at the tomb, they were taken aback. The stone was rolled away, and instead of the dead body of their Lord, they were confronted by two men in dazzling clothes asking, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

In my line of work, I generally caution people to avoid “Why Questions.” First, they are a waste of time. Just get to the point. Worse yet, they are triggers for lies, excuses, and a host of assorted other defensive retorts that instantly sabotage communication. At some level, the recipient of the dreaded Why Question knows that there will be no answer to satisfy the critical asker. “Why isn’t your room clean?!?” hmm Now what can that careless adolescent say that will satisfy a frustrated parent? Obviously, nothing!

The two men in dazzling clothing, however, were brave souls. They asked a Why Question that was never intended for the women to answer. They knew the women had witnessed the lifeless body of Christ taken down from the cross, the blood and water flowing from his riven side. They saw him laid in that very tomb where they now stood, terrified, with their faces bowed to the ground. The angels knew exactly why the women were there. So as not to waste time, they quickly answered their own question. “Jesus is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

There were no more Why Questions at that point. The angels simply sent the women away from the house of the dead to the world of the living, to spread the news of Life. Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! And that is what the women did, no questions asked.

As we begin the 50 days of Easter Season, I still hear the angels’ question, “Why do you look for living among the dead?” Their words must be as relevant today as they were on that Resurrection Day. Obviously, God still sees us grubbing about in the dead, attempting to find life. When does that happen? Is it when we spend an exorbitant amount of time revisiting old dead hurts, resentments, and grudges? Do we love to stir the pot of unjust slights and insults? Do we replay over and over in our mind some revenge we could justify with our righteous anger? Or even worse, do we burden others with our simmering resentments, as we enlist allies for our vendetta? Do we live out our life as the angry victim, justifying bitterness and hostility, puffing ourselves up with negative energy? Are we seduced into thinking this is life? That anything good will ever be realized from such dead end behaviors? If so, the angels will ask their Why Question again and again, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Give careful thought to your answer. Trust me. I doubt that any excuse or defensive justification will satisfy them.

Remember, the angels did not send the women out to launch a PR assault on the unjust torture and crucifixion of Jesus. They were not asked to organize a war of revenge. No. They were sent to the living with the good news of a Life energized by repentance and forgiveness. Days later, disciples were brought before a concerned and angry Jewish council accusing them of putting the blood of Jesus on their heads. Like the women, Peter carried the clear message that God had raised up Jesus as Leader and Savior, not to organize a vengeful rebellion, but to offer Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins. The open arms of Jesus on the cross was not an act of rejection and estrangement. It was an embrace.

In some ways the Season of Easter is much like the Season of Epiphany. Both are seasons of discovery. Epiphany invited us to take in the identity of Jesus, recognizing the signs and symbols of his kingship. Easter invites us to take in his resurrection, to recognize it historically and personally. Easter tells us, for the sake of our spiritual life, it is time to walk away from the tomb. Listen to the angels when they tell us that we will not find life among the dead where reside the very things that would be the death of our soul.

It’s a new day, a Resurrection day, a glorious day for a walk, don’t you think? We should be able to catch up with those women if we hurry. They do have a bit of a head start on us, but I can hear their lively voices even now, singing a song of resurrection all about love and repentance, life and forgiveness. Listen. I think they are starting the chorus. “Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia, Alleluia!”

Let’s go! Hurry!

And don’t waste time asking why!

Amen