Category Archives: Reflections

All We Like Sheep

Perhaps I should have listened to or better even, sung George Fredrick Handle’s Messiah before writing my sermon this week.

On Sunday evening we heard the Florida Orchestra and Master Choral of Tampa Bay sing this amazing oratorio. Before the concert guest conductor, David Lockington, and the tenor soloist, Colin Balzer, answered a few questions about the performance.

Among their fascinating remarks Colin Balzer noted how the audience nearly dances in their seats while the choir sings: “All we like sheep have gone astray.” But he noted that if we attend to the meaning of the words, we should not be pleased that we “have gone astray and have led everyone from his own way.” This is not an affirmation that we like to eat mutton or wear wool, but a condemnation that we are no better than animals. This condemnation comes clear in the last few measures of this section when Handel abruptly changes the mood and tempo as the chorus intones: “and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

Click below to hear this section performed by a different choir and orchestra.

Have you experienced the euphoria of temptation and the joy of bringing others along on our adventures? Only later do we experience the price paid for our misadventures.

As much as we might frolic with “All we like sheep” Handel offers his grandest music when substitutionary atonement gives way to resurrection in his Hallelujah Chorus and his final chorus “Blessing and honour, glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever. Amen.” Each of which readily draw people to their feet.

 So to might we offer our grandest praise during this Christmas to bringing our praises of honor and glory to the everlasting Christ who sits upon the throne of God.

Unity in Diversity

“We’re not always this friendly to one another,” the councilman said to me as I sat down at their table this morning. He continued to explain that they frequently have strong arguments against one another as they battle enacting policies, regulations, and the city budget.

This morning a First Responders Breakfast sponsored by the local Women’s Club provided an opportunity for these six politicians to show their respect for one another despite their differences. This morning the five councilmen and the mayor appeared to be six friendly neighbors.

Their example of friendship despite their political differences parallels my hope for the church that we might love and respect one another striving to maintain our unity for Christ’s mission using our theological differences to advance God’s Kingdom.

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit,
sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
— 1 Peter 3:8 (NRSV)

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

Be careful opening this book.

I opened it thinking I would read a few pages before going to sleep only to set it down nine hours later after reading all 369 pages.

Andy Weir successfully strings together plausible solutions to plausible problems of surviving after being stranded on Mars. Each solution stresses a habitability system beyond its original design only to result in a new potentially life ending problem. In addition to exploring human resourcefulness, in the face of nearly certain agonizing death, he also considers how other people would risk or advance their careers to save one person.

Weir uses good science and solid engineering throughout most of the book. Only in the final chapters does he allow the plot to rely on improbable solutions.

I am confident that you will also find The Martian by Andy Weir enjoyable and informative while shining a light on human capacity to survive and help one another.

Changes

I trust my weekly reflections has lifted and challenged your spirit.

For several months I have related these reflections to my sermon for the coming Sunday. More recently, including most of July and August, I have posted my weekly reflections both here and at the website for the congregation I now serve, Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church. You can also access audio of the related sermons in those posts.

Beginning this week those reflections will only be posted on the church website. If you would like to in continuing to receive my weekly reflections you may also subscribe to that website.

I anticipate using this space for occasional reflections and book reviews. I hope that you will continue to visit me here as well.

Yours in Christ,
Robert Shaw

 

Ready or Not

If temptation were like a lion roaring in the jungle, one might turn and run the other way. But temptation is more like a tiny snake, hiding among the path were one might walk, able to slip through the narrowest crack, then inject its poison before one might react.

Donation of the British Museum.
Sumerian phalanx formation. c. 2450 BC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A thousand years or more ago a well-disciplined armed unit could readily withstand arrows by marching tightly together, with soldiers on the outside holding their shields side-by-side forming walls around the group while soldiers in the middle holding their shields over everyone’s head providing a protective roof. But flaming arrows were more dangerous because they could provoke panic. If only one soldier broke ranks, gaping holes occur in the unit’s armor.

Even today panic can disrupt armor one might neatly arrange against temptations and evil. I have known managers who snap at candidates for a job to see if they will panic under stress.

In our culture of rugged individualism panic can cause one to perceive, if only for a moment, weaknesses that another person might exploit. And in that moment of panic, other weakness appear.

Faith in God, trusting that we are not alone but aligned with Christ guards us from panic. If in a moment when all seems lost, when all of one’s friends have departed, we can remember that the Holy Spirit is as close as our next breath, and avert panic averted and we might face a critical moment as a thinking rational human being instead of a reactive animal.

With all of these, take the shield of faith,
with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

— Ephesians 6:16 (NRSV)

How has practicing your faith helped you prepare to quench panic?

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, August 23rd at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.

Reflections

1985-1989 Dodge Aries
1985-1989 Dodge Aries
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the early 1980’s Chrysler Corporation nearly went bankrupt their stock price had dropped from about $8 per share to under $2. Lee Iacocca, became their CEO and personally appeared in advertisements promising to rebuild Chrysler. I had considered buying a few hundred shares during those dark weeks for Chrysler, when bankruptcy seemed more certain than growth. The upside appeared nearly unlimited. But risking nearly a month’s pay seemed quite foolish. From this side of history, betting on Chrysler would have been a superb investment for in the next two years the stock price soared to over $15 per share. A year after that it was still growing, soaring past $26 per share. And by 1987, it had split and those $2 shares would have been worth over $52 each. My investment of a month’s pay might have blossomed into over two years of salary.

Alas, Chrysler was a missed opportunity for me.

The letter to the Ephesians has similar warning:

Walk carefully,
not as unwise, but as wise,
redeeming the opportunity,
because the days are evil.
— Ephesians 5:15-16 (author’s translation).

Many translations interpret verse 16 as “make the most of the time,” but I wonder if the author had intended a play on words, urging followers to redeem each opportunity as God has also redeemed us, as the original Greek words have meanings of ‘redeem’ as well as ‘make the most’ and ‘opportunity’ as well as ‘time’. But the author did not write about our financial opportunities, but about our spiritual opportunities to praise God. Waste none, but redeem each moment for singing praises.

What opportunities have you redeemed? When have you redeemed a problematic situation to make a spiritual connection with God?

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, August 16th at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.

Anger: The Dangerous Emotion

Angry Sphynx
Angry Sphynx (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Preparing for this Sunday’s sermon I have seen pictures of angry people, angry dogs, angry cats, even angry birds. I suppose every animal with a spine can express anger. Anger makes us seem bigger and more powerful, ready to take on whoever or whatever has invaded our space. Anger helps us assert authority when we need defend ourselves, our home, or our loved ones, and for humans, our ideals.

But if used too freely anger can deter collaborating resulting in statements like: “I tried to tell you but …”

And once anger has inflamed our passion it distorts our memories of events and closes our ears and our eyes to our opponent’s virtues.

On the other hand, overly suppressing anger, acting nice in the face of rudeness, interference, or aggression helps no one. The person acting nice gets abused and disrespected and the one who violates cultural norms does not learn about boundaries our community respects.

Be angry but do not sin;
do not let the sun go down on your anger,
and do not make room for the devil.
— Ephesians 4:26-27 (NRSV)

But how are we to find a balance?

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath
and anger and wrangling and slander,

together with all malice,
and be kind to one another, tenderhearted,
forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
— Ephesians 4:31-32 (NRSV)

 One gift we have is to listen deeply and carefully when anger stirs our gut: To listen to ourselves discerning why our anger has arisen. And to listen to our opponents and discern what good and valuable and useful contribution might they be trying to offer or how might we have over stepped their boundaries.

I will have more to say about this passage at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church on Sunday, August 9th.  For an audio recording of that sermon go to Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church’s website.

One Calling

I find the process of boarding a plane perplexing. As soon as seating rows are called passengers dash for the head of the line, as if being a few steps closer might get them to their destination a few seconds sooner, or perhaps their carry-on items might find a better position in the overhead storage rack. But the plane will not leave until everyone is seated and their carry-ons safely stowed and we will all arrive at the same instant, no matter how quickly one boards the plane.

Airplane Seating (Photo Credit US State Department)What if instead of striving to get one’s self quickly boarded passengers would oriented themselves to getting everyone seated and everyone’s baggage stowed? Perhaps taller able-bodied passengers with a strong gift for spatial arrangement could board first and take charge of carefully loading each carry-on where its owner could readily find it, filling all the available space. Perhaps patient individuals could guide first time fliers to their seats showing them where to find their seat belt and light switches. Experienced grandparents might sit next to parents of young children, gently coaching them.

This is my vision for the Church. A place where the passengers on a spiritual journey use their gifts to assist those around them and to allow assistance by other travelers. A place where we recognize that striving for one’s personal advancement deters everyone, but gently and patiently striving for everyone’s progress with humility, advances the person.

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord,
beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another in love,
making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
— Ephesians 4:1-3 (NRSV)

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, August 2nd at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.

Spiritual Gardening

purple crocuses with closed bloom Français : D...
Purple Crocuses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everywhere I have lived I we have had a garden. They have varied by where we live. In upstate New York we had planted crocuses beside our front walk as soon as the snow melted they would pop up and bloom announcing the coming of spring. In central Indiana two white pines we had planted behind our home had grown tremendously since we left, now providing shade to that house. We brought our container gardens with us to Florida and merely days after planting the seeds had sprouted.

Redwoods among the fog (Photo credit Scott Catron)
Redwoods among the fog (Photo credit Scott Catron)

In traveling to various parks we have seen the variety of God’s gardens: sand dunes that continually shift with the wind, mountain fields that eek out an existence between the last snow melt and the first hard frost, brackish swamps that support trees brush just above high tide, and redwood trees that have withstood storms and droughts for centuries. While one can readily see the height and girth of a redwood tree, its roots are hidden. How deep must they grow to support such spires and weather the sun and the rain, wind and snow?

Growing in faith yields resilience to weather life’s tragedies and comedies, promotions and steady work. While the fruits of one’s faith may be readily seen by others —charity, prayer, calmness— resilience comes from having deep roots.

I pray that, according to the riches of the Father’s glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
—Ephesians 3:16-17.

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, July 26th at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.

Click below to hear this sermon.

Blessing All

Thank you for reading my blog this week. Your participation in my ministry by reading and occasionally telling me how my writings have affected your life and spiritual journey have been a real blessing to me.

May God bless you and your life this day, so that you may grow stronger in our Lord Jesus.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
— Ephesians 1:2

The apostle Paul began most of his letters with a blessing and prayer for his audience leading me to wonder how the world might change if we were to follow this practice, blessing our listeners at the beginning of each conversation. Such blessings might be generic, as some of the recipients would be unknown when the blessing was written. For example, I do not know who all is reading this blog, and since it may be available for years to come, you might be reading this entry after a current reader shared it with you perhaps months or even years after I wrote these words.

Which leads to questions about the sincerity of the blessing. Are blessings offered so easily valued by the recipient? Or conversely, when a blessing is offered before the giver meets the recipient, is a blessing so offered valued by the giver? At what point do freely offered blessings get lost in the blizzard of advertising we receive each day.

Some three-hundred years after Paul, Augustine of Hippo had written blessings for Caesar; blessings universally expected, but widely recognized as lies. Yet the blessings in Paul’s letters differ from such banal pro forma fluff for he uses the rest of his letter to give depth and substance to the divine blessings he lists at the beginning of this letters.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
— Ephesians 1:3-4

On the other hand, if the blessings are sincerely offered and openly received, perhaps the communication that follows will have greater honesty and usefulness.

Below you can hear (most) of my sermon from Sunday, July 12th.