Friday, July 29, 2011

In threes?

Around where I live, and most likely around where you live, they say that it comes in threes.  It does, you know.  Trust me.  When the first one comes, count one . . . when the second comes, count two . . . and when the third one comes, count three.  Above all else, once you've counted three, START OVER.

They say it about a lot of things, but most of the time they mean deaths and funerals.  They were right this week.  Monday brought news of two deaths related to our church and Tuesday brought news of the third.  In spite of having heard them for a long time and having officiated at more funerals than I can recall, I'm not so sure about the cycle of three . . . well, not unless one follows the rule above.

What I am sure of is what a church member told me a few weeks ago, "I won't get out of this alive."  He was talking about his long struggle with cancer.  Three deaths this week, plus a visit to my 88 year-old mother-in-law, and a long afternoon at the hospital with another church member and friend who is losing her battle with cancer has led me to think about life.

We put too much stock in the big stuff--successful careers, big paychecks, the awards for outstanding whatever, the expensive vacations, the designer clothes, the right school . . . you get the picture.  These things are not all bad, and some are good.  I like having a successful career; and I like having made enough money to supply all my needs, more of my wants than warranted, and to have been able to share with others.  It's nice having these things.

It's nicer knowing that my wife of almost 42 years is downstairs where I will join her in a few minutes.  It's nicer knowing that my friend and church member whose hand I held this afternoon drew comfort from my presence, not my words.  It's nicer knowing that on a very hot day and night, the overhead fan is creating a gentle breeze that is cooling my sweating body.  It's nicer knowing that when it's my turn to be counted among the three, there will be a few who will weep momentarily and rejoice that we've shared the journey.

I do like stuff; but most of all I like being part of a community, particularly my community of faith, where the important stuff is as near eternal as it can get this side of the divide.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Looking Inward

It is sometimes so easy to forget that long before we were there were others--others who found the Other and spent a lifetime seeking to become One with the Other they found.  I was reminded of that this evening as I read a selection from Scott Cairns' Love's Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life.

I invite you to do as I have been doing for the past hour . . . pray . . . meditate . . . move toward the Other.

O Lord and Master of my life,
remove from me this languid spirit,
this grim demeanor, this petty
lust for power, and all this empty talk.
Endow thy servant, instead,
with a chaste spirit, humble
heart, longsuffering gentleness,
and genuine, unselfish love.

Yes, O Lord and King, grant
that I may confront my own offenses,
and remember not to judge my brother.
For You are--always and forever--blessed.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The NASCAR Bible Lesson

Just a few miles up I-71 from where I live is the Kentucky Speedway, where last weekend there were big happenings--three races, including a cup race on Saturday night.  As one might expect, there was a lot of hype and publicity.  The owner of the track bragged that the cup race would outpace the Kentucky Derby.  If he was thinking in terms of chaos and traffic jam, he was 100% correct.

On Saturday prior to race time, traffic was backed up for miles north and south on I-71.  The problem?  Well, one problem was that the race track has only two gates by which fans can enter.  When many of the 107,000 fans tried to arrive mid-afternoon, the gates were too narrow.  Some fans never got inside; some turned away after sitting in traffic for two or more hours; and some got inside the gate but couldn't find a place to park. 

The fans caught in the jam were not happy, and they spread the blame around.  Some blamed the track; others the Kentucky Department of Transportation; and some the Kentucky State Police who were somehow expected to solve the traffic flow problem.  The radio talk shows and the TV news provided lots of coverage and plenty of fodder for the unrest.  Not everyone was unhappy.  One fan who called in to a local radio call-in show expressed an interesting idea.  He blamed the fans.  "They all waited until the last minute to try to get into the track."  He then told that he and his family had left around 8:00 a.m., arrived at the track and enjoyed a picnic lunch, and then found their seats in the arena.  "No problem," he stated, "if you plan ahead."

Plan ahead?  Jesus had something to say about that.  Remember the wedding that included ten bridesmaids, five wise and five foolish (Matthew 25:1-13).  The wise took oil and lamps, while the foolish took only their lamps.  Although the arrival of the bridegroom was delayed, the foolish did not use wisely their time.  When news came announcing the bridegroom’s arrival, five maids were ready.  The other five scurried about, begging oil from the wise.  The wise were, and they protected their supply.  At the midnight hour, the foolish rushed out to buy oil, which they found; but when they returned the door to the wedding feast was shut. 

The NASCAR Bible lesson: Plan ahead.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

For Certain

We, who think we understand God, and particularly we, who attempt to speak for God, must be careful what we say about God and what we speak in God’s behalf.  It is likely that we understand less than we think and that sometimes, maybe often, the words we speak are less God’s words and more our own.

Reading of Scripture should be enough to caution us.  When Samuel was sent to anoint a king for Israel, he was sure he knew the man God had chosen.  In the end, he anointed a kid after being told by God that those who appeared kingly were not God’s choice: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look to the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7 NRSV).  Paul, at the end of that beautiful passage on love, wrote: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.  Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (I Corinthians 13:12 NRSV).  Our text for today provides the same caution: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NRSV).

I have always had my critics who warned that I am often less than clear about what God said or says.  I applaud the critics who understand me.  I am often unclear about what God said and says.  My hearing of God’s voice is less than perfect . . . my seeing of God’s will less than 20/20.  It has always been so and so shall it always be.  Being able to acknowledge this and proclaim it is one of the things of which I am most proud.  I know enough about God to know I am not God.  My hat is off to those who understand more about God than do I; but I remain cautious about those who think they always know what the word from God is about any given subject.  You should be, too.

For those who want certainty about God and what God says, here is that of which I am certain:
1.     I know in part and I see as in a mirror, dimly.
2.     God sees through our outward appearance to the heart of who and whose we are.
3.     God’s ways are not our ways.  God’s ways and thoughts are higher—better than ours.
4.     Sin is costly.
5.     Sinners—all sinners—are redeemable.  NO ONE is beyond redemption.

I do not fully understand God.  How could I?  I do not even fully understand myself.  I do understand enough.  God is God and I am not.  God is gracious, forgiving, and redeeming.  In God, sinners—all of us—can be and are made whole!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Gospel in a Sitcom

While watching an episode of All in the Family, “Edith’s Crisis of Faith,” a few nights ago, I found myself thinking about Jesus.  Funny how that happens; but why shouldn’t Jesus show up in a sitcom?  Back in the day, he certainly showed up in lots of places considered odd by those who knew how a Messiah should act and with whom he should be found.

Even the disciples had a hard time dealing with folks who weren’t, according to their understanding, truly religious.  They were used to seeing Jesus do the miraculous.  In time, they would even come to understand that much of what Jesus did, they could do as well.  But they had little tolerance for the outsider.  Consider this conversation recorded by Mark in chapter 9, verses 48-41 TNIV:

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.”
That’s what made me think about Jesus as I watched All in the Family.  In this particular episode, Michael, the Bunker’s son-in-law, the  meathead, was Jesus.

Beverly LaSalle, a female impersonator was in town, where he was to appear at Carnegie Hall, and came to visit his friends, Archie and Edith.  Michael left the Bunker house with Beverly, walking with him to the taxi stand. On the way, they were attacked and severely beaten. Both of them were taken to the hospital.  Michael’s injuries were not too serious. Beverly was not so fortunate; he died just hours after the attack.  

Beverly’s senseless death left Edith sad and angry—angry at God.  “How could God allow that to happen?” she asked.  She was inconsolable.  When Christmas Day came, habit led her to dress and step out the door to attend church; but she got only as far as the front porch.  She wasn’t going, she told Archie, Michael, and Gloria.  It was Christmas, but there was no joy.

Later in the day, Edith prepared and served the traditional Christmas meal; but she refused to offer the blessing, leaving that to Archie.

“Lord, A. Bunker here,” Archie began.  Edith left the room to sit alone in the kitchen. 

Michael told Archie he had to talk to her.  Archie explained that he already had.  "I told her that what is is. Then I told her that what was was.  And then I told her, most important of all, what’s gonna be is gonna be."  It was time for Jesus to take over.

Michael walked into the kitchen and sat with Edith.  She acknowledged that she was mad at God.  She added, "I don't understand."  Michael asked her if she had ever had a subject in school she didn’t understand. 

“Well, yeah.  Alegbra!  I never could understand it.” 

Michael asked, “Did you quit school because you didn’t understand algebra?” 

“No,” Edith replied.  “I couldn’t quit school just because I didn’t understand algebra.” 

You could see a glimmer of  understanding dawning in her eyes, and then encompassing her face.  “Ohhh . . . .”

Reentering the dining room with Michael, Edith stood to offer the blessing.  “Lord, E. Bunker here.”  She acknowledged what she didn’t understand, and then her prayer moved into thanksgiving for all she did understand and all she had.

To Edith, Michael Stivic, the atheist, became the Mediator, Jesus.  A. Bunker may also have played a role.

“No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.”

Be on the alert, Jesus might show up at your kitchen table; and who knows, he might not be the Jesus you were expecting.

There is so much in life that we don't understand, even after a lifetime of living. So, give thanks for what you do know . . . it might just be enough.