A summer spent hiking in New Mexico and canoeing in Maine was the acme of my scouting experience. For two separate weeks I and a few of my friends traveled with no more than we could carry on our backs in very rugged places far from the rush of civilization. To prepare for these trips we learned to leave behind anything that we would not need. Every ounce mattered. Anything extra would be a distraction and burden for what lies ahead.
Life can also benefit from leaving extra things behind.
Having moved several times, if I have not used something in the most recent 3 to 5 years I am likely to sell or give it to someone more likely to appreciate it. And when considering purchasing a new item, I think for a moment if I will still be using it in 3 to 5 years, if not, should I leave it for someone else to buy.
A chaplain had told me that the hospital she served expected her to visit every patient frequently, for statistics showed that patients visited by a chaplain at least three times were discharged sooner.
Similarly the ritual of anointing that I carry in my pocket links spiritual care with physical health saying: “Spirit of the Living God, present with us now, enter into … in body, mind and spirit, forgive her/his sins, and heal her/him from all that harms her/him.”
Spiritual healing might not kill viruses nor bacteria; it might not mend broken bones nor close a nasty cut; it might not directly affect any of the multitude of diseases and illnesses that modern medicine can cure or at least name. But guilt and shame can burden more than a person’s soul, feelings of unmitigated remorse do cause real illnesses.
Conversely, feelings of joy and acceptance can and do improve one’s physical well-being. People who attend worship regularly live longer, happier, and healthier lives. The placebo effect, merely telling someone that a treatment will help, does make a physical difference.
Perhaps this is why the Greek word meaning “to save” is also used as “to heal.”
[Jesus] said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you;
go in peace and be healed of your disease.”
— Mark 5:31
I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, June 28th, 2015.
I look at what is happening to the Church these days and wonder: Where is God? New churches have become a rarity. A growing congregation celebrates if it can merely keep pace with the growth of its community. Many congregations see their membership numbers decline and especially the number who attend worship each Sunday. More and more churches have closed and others contemplate how many months they can eke out an existence.
Today the church does not face violent persecution as it had in the first century, but a dead calm. Increasingly events are scheduled on Sunday mornings ignoring the spiritual needs of those who attend worship services. The result is the same.
But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
— Mark 4:38 (NRSV)
Mark’s Gospel tells of Jesus calming a storm while the Apostles attempted to cross a sea by rebuking the wind, by ordering it to be silent. Now many individuals perceive they can weather life’s storms by themselves without a church family, without a caring community of believers.
Or perhaps the Church has busied itself with internal controversies and neglected to communicate the story entrusted to it. Have we too long enjoyed the calm waters? Neglected to communicate how worshiping God positively affects our daily living? Neglected to communicate the importance of setting aside a day to connect with one another and with God?
How have you helped the church put its oars in the water so that it might continue to effectively communicate the love of God in the dead calm that culture provides?
I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, June 21st, 2015.
I have experienced times when I wanted God to come in with a big hand and fix a few things. Something obvious like a timely, yet unexpected rain squall on an otherwise calm day that extinguishes a fire or a miraculous cure when none was expected.
Yet more often than not, miracles have been long in the making: diverse services coordinating to extinguish a blaze and aid those harmed by it; or slow and steady advancements in medicines; or even someone with exactly the right training available at the exact moment. As if God had sown a variety of seeds widely and generously, without knowing how each particular seed might contribute to answering a future prayer, but hoping that if enough seeds were sown a few would eventually lead to great things.
“The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,
and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow,
he does not know how.”
— Mark 4:26-27 (NRSV)
What seeds has God planted in your life?
I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, June 14th, 2015.
Each week as we prepared to move we set aside bags and boxes of things to be donated or trashed. Things that we no longer needed or had fully served their useful life.
Electronic equipment stops working. Clothes fray at their edges. Paint peels. Glass breaks or chips. Wood warps. Metal rusts.
Given enough time even mountains will wash away to the sea.
Nothing is permanent. All things wear out or break down. Nothing is exempt.
But what about people? Each day from the day we are conceived cells die and are absorbed by other cells. For most people, until our early twenties, the growth of new cells out paces older cells. But as we age beyond thirty increasingly we lose agility, strength, reflexes, creativity and the ability to recall information. Great gymnasts are seldom more than teenagers. Great athletes seldom older than thirty. Inventors typically achieve success in their forties. We fall victim to presbyopia, presbycusis, and dementia as our eyesight, hearing and cognition fade with age.
Yet there is more to life than meets the eye, more than science can measure. As we age we become increasingly aware of our connections with all people, with all things, and with God. Our past sufferings become lessons learned for future losses including the loss of life. We begin to recognize God in all things: in the good and beautiful as well as in the ugly and painful.
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. — 2 Corrinthians 4:16 – 5:1
The Bible sets amazing standards for people of faith. If the ten commandments were not hard enough to live up to, Jesus interpreted them adding difficulty.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.
— Matthew 5:21-22 (NRSV)
No wonder Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (John 3:1-2). What deep dark secret did he have in his life that might place him in danger of judgement? I like to write broad general confessions of sin so participants may write in their own sins and hear the assurance of pardon for those sins.
But what would it take for people to truly and perfectly live sin free lives? People who live real lives with daily temptations and compromises and imperfections? People affected by emotionally charged topics that lead to emotional outbursts?
Could real people set aside every past indiscretion and every past neglect and live new lives or would they have to start over? Or as Nicodemus suggested: crawl back inside one’s mother’s womb and be born again?
The amazing part of Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus is learning that God chooses us to be perfect. That we need only look upon Jesus to be healed of our imperfections so we can live lives as new people.
Nightly images of homes torn apart with memories strew across farmlands and neighborhoods tell us that tornado season has begun. These monstrous tails that descend skies that had only a few minutes before had been clear, amaze us with their power and unpredictability.
The second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles begins with the sound of a violent wind that filled the whole house where the disciples had sat. Within a few verses these devout men had been driven from their seats and out into the marketplace, alarmed and amazed by the power and unpredictability of the Holy Spirit.
While Luke described the Holy Spirit as power and fire, John described it as a counselor, one who comes alongside in difficult times, an advocate. This is how I most frequently experience the Holy Spirit; a serendipitous nudge to action with just the right word at just the right time.
But while a tornado rips and tears things apart, scattering homes and memories across miles, the Holy Spirit pushes us together, binding us into one body, the Church. So that together we might accomplish great tasks, together we might build the body of Christ.
The next few years will be roller-coaster-ish; boring and exciting, scary and fun, dangerous and safe.
I had written that sentence thinking about half a dozen boys and girls who were finishing a confirmation class. High school lay in their immediate future; a time that would at times be boring and exciting, scary and fun, dangerous and safe. In short roller-coaster-ish.
I suppose I could have used these same words a few years ago at the start of the great recession. The next few years will be roller-coaster-ish.
This year these words I will delivered to high school graduates and to their parents. The next few years will be roller-coaster-ish.
I wonder if Jesus might have had similar thoughts for his disciples as he prayed in the garden at Gethsemane. Had he been thinking of the trials and excitement, boredom and rewards they would face in the next few years.
And now I am no longer in the world,
and they are in the world, and I myself, come to you,
Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me,
in order that they may be one, as we are one.
— John 17:11
As much as we might like to protect these graduates, and their parents, from at least the most precipitous dips and sharpest turns, they need to experience them for themselves so that they may mature and develop into full adulthood. For life is indeed like a roller coaster.
“What are you running to?” a colleague had asked me. We had been discussing the reasons for leaving an employer that was downsizing paralleling the downsizing of the military industrial complex after the fall of the Berlin Wall. His question stopped me and made me think through where I was going to even more than where I was going from. That question, and other incentives led me to go to seminary and pursue a career as a pastor.
During subsequent changes in employment I have noticed that each transition involves a push and a pull. A reason to leave and a reason to arrive somewhere else. While pushes, reasons to leave, have initiated and sustained transitions, pulls, reasons to start somewhere else make the transitions worthwhile to complete.
While career changes had taught me to recognize the push and pull of transitions, force analyses also apply to organizational changes.
Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9) illustrates a divine push to change from his old life. Yet it was the ministry of a former foe, Ananias who helped Paul recognize the pull to a new life in Christ.
What forces started and sustained a recent transition for you?
A shelf in my home captures technological advancements in sound over the past forty years. Vinyl long play records fill nearly half the shelf, although I have not had a working record player in twenty years. A box I had built-in eight grade still holds a few cassette tapes and many more sit on top of it. I continued to use cassette tapes at least as long a my car had a player. But they too have been displaced by compact discs. But how much longer CDs will continue to be playable as cloud technology puts an endless array of music and audio books within my reach?
I suppose I hang on to my record collection as a tangible reminder of songs from my youth. The cassettes continue to get shelf space as I still have a tape player in an old radio allowing me to delude myself into thinking that I might listen to them once more before pitching them as well.
I suppose I could display the record covers changing them from time to time or season to season. But sooner or later I will recognize that their era has past and these relics can be disposed to make room in my life for new adventures.
For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven: …
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
— Eccelesiastes 3:1 & 6 (NRSV)
What have you hung onto beyond its usefulness which might impede future adventures?