God’s Dream, Our Hope

5743984911_db52566ee5_o.jpgPhoto Credit: “Hope”, © 2011 Steve Snodgrass, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

I have a confession to make. I’ve been in a dark place this last month.

My anxiety level has been rising as I’ve immersed myself in news about the world, news that doesn’t seem to be getting any better, news that highlights just how dark humanity is to one another. Where little girls aren’t necessarily safe with their fathers and tears seem to flow more freely than love and kindness. Where women political leaders are called by every venomous description that can be hurled at them and they have to have security to protect them from individuals who threaten death. Where swastikas are spray painted on churches and people feel free in public to tell others of different faiths to return home where they supposedly belong.

If you’re like me and you find yourself immersed in the online conversation you have noticed that it continues to get more vile and the divide grows deeper as lines are drawn over domestic policy. We begin to wonder if we are really any better off with this internet that was to unite us than we were before.

But even as the temptation is to blame the online conversation, the question arises as to whether the online conversation is any different from coffee rows throughout Saskatchewan where people gather to complain bitterly and gossip about just who is to blame for the latest juicy tidbit. Is it really any different from coffee shops where people whisper and gossip about those neighbours who look different, act differently and worship differently from them? Is it really any different from those times in history where whole groups were blamed for the ills of human society?

Or has it just given a voice to deeply held fears being manifested in hate and blame? In the face of uncertainty ad changing times, is it just easier to blame others making other groups of people other than those who we call our own to blame for the mess humanity finds itself in?

I have more questions than answers these days and this past month any illusion that I held about humanity’s glories were shattered as again and again we’ve been witness to our hell bent intent on the destruction of ourselves and others. Despair has threatened to settle into my heart and my soul, making me wonder if all that I’m called to do is for naught.

Then through that darkness, that anxiety, that despair these words of Isaiah pierced this week as I prepared for service:

 In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

These words pierce through all of the hate, all of the evil that we visit on each other and they cast before us another way, the way of God, the dream of God for our humanity, for our world, for us and I have to say that I’m filled with hope.

They are the words of a prophet and as Eric Baretto says, “Perhaps the most important role of the prophet is rousing us from our stupor. When we get tired, when we are weary of resisting, when we are told over and over again that this is how things are going to be, the prophet’s call is clear. God has something better for us. Something liberating. Something just. Something transformative.”[1]

And it reminds me to hope.

Hope not in the illusions of humanity’s ability to bring about that justice but for God’s ability to work through our destruction and raise us all to new life.  It reminds me to hope for the coming of Christ into the world in which we really live, not the one in which we wish to see. It reminds me to hope for a future that makes manifest this dream of God even in the face of our destruction.

That’s the tension and the gift of Advent for us as we move towards preparing for Christ’s arrival, in our world, now and in the future. Where we find ourselves immersed in the tension of the reality of the darkness and the hope of Christ’s coming in the future.

It’s why Advent is such an important part of the church year. Advent is an opportunity to live with the reality of our own restlessness in order to prepare us for the amazing gift of love that is the Christmas story.

Advent allows us to live within the stark reality in order to hear the message of hope and new life that can be found in God’s dream for us and God’s gift for our whole world.

So as we face squarely the reality of the bleakness of our violence and our destruction, let us also face squarely the hope of the Lord, that in days to come God will bring about a new thing. That in days to come, our violence will be no more. That in days to come in the kingdom of God, our weapons of war will become implements of peace.

Advent reminds us of this truth and this hope, that in the face of all the terror, we can say “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” because we know that God’s dream will be our future hope and future reality. Thanks be to God.

[1] http://www.onscripture.com/prophetic-resistance

King of Peace

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Photo Credit: “Stations of the Cross (St. Mary’s Menston) 12”, © 2008 St. Mary’s Menston, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.⟦Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”⟧ And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”   One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”  Luke 23:33-34

Perhaps you’ve heard this story being talked about this fall: it’s about this group of homeless people in Regina who are moving around from location to location, trying to find a place to put up their tent shelters, a place to call home. Police are continuously checking on them and landowners evict them. During the day many are panhandling to make some kind of a living.[1] But at night they sit around the fire sharing what they have with one another finding a home together in community.

They have indicated when interviewed that some struggle with addiction and they don’t feel at home in the shelters. They have felt that the shelters that provide for the homeless have too many hoops to be jumped through and they are tired of fighting the system.

Joseph Redwood, one of the residents of the tent community speaks out of what must be his despair saying, “I’m not going to fight for it and I’m not going to argue for it, cause it’s always a losing battle…it’s always the same answer, ‘I’m sorry we can’t help you.’”[2]

They aren’t even very surprised when they are evicted from place after place.

Now I know there are two sides to every story.

Perhaps their addictions have caused many of the problems that they are facing. Perhaps those shelters and the social service agencies have given them more chances than they care to admit. Perhaps the community that they have found amongst themselves is fostering destructive ways to themselves, to each other and to the community at large.

We don’t know the full story and we probably never will from where we sit because we are not God.

But there is one thing that we do know that has been true throughout the ages and although we would like to think that our society is better than this, it is not.

That the rules that are created, whether intentional or not, have the effect of placing some people on the inside, and others on the outside.  So that those who in their positions in our structures and institutions, hold sway over the lives of others and despite whatever good intentions they have continue to make life difficult for those who cannot or will not conform.

And so we find situations just like this where Joseph Redwood and his community while attempting to find their own solution to the problems that they are facing run right into those whose job it is to enforce the rules that were made.

These officials may just be doing their job but there is the sense that perhaps the rules and the laws are not for the benefit of all people, but for the people who make them. All the while those who are on the outside are always seen as being on the wrong side of the rules or the law because they don’t fit into our systems and our ways of doing things.

So in the end, we blame the one who finds themselves on the wrong side of the system for not towing the line. We blame their addictions and their choices for the situation they find themselves in, all the while forgetting that we too have our own addictions and our own bad choices but we are just a little better at presenting a veneer of having it altogether to the world at large.

We forget that we are just better at fitting in and living within the system works for us and for our particular sins.

At least until we are confronted with the cross.

  • The cross who by the legal standards of the time was one of the consequences for not following the law of the land.
  • The cross upon which God was nailed for loving those on the outside: those like the woman who had to come to the well in the middle of the day because she didn’t follow the rules of her society, those like the prostitute who was shamed for anointing Jesus feet with oil, those like the demon possessed man who was chained outside of the community and kept everyone in fear.
  • The cross which the law abiding, religious people of the day, used to do away with someone who made them uncomfortable, who challenged the way that laws were used to keep the outsider, an outsider even though he or she was a child of God.

Yes, on this cross, we are confronted our violence but we are also confronted with the love and mercy of God that overcomes our violence.

On the cross, we see the love of Christ reach out to the one on the outside. We see the hand of mercy given to that thief; the thief who recognized his own fault but even more so recognized that he was in the presence of God.

On the cross, we see Christ’s promise God’s kingdom to this one who could not or would not follow the laws of the land. We see Jesus promise him the presence of God even as the institutions of the day kept him out and in the end put him to death.

Nothing has really changed from that day to ours. The ones on the inside use the rules of the day to keep people in their place. And sometimes even we in the church do so.

We bemoan the fact that Christianity no longer has the power or the influence that it once did, not really remembering that having that power allowed us to keep others on the outside for way too long. Our history is not only a history of the promise of God but all too often, we have found ourselves on the side of powerful against the outsider.

So instead of grieving the power that has slipped completely from our fingertips, let us be thankful that we no longer are bound by that power but are free to live under the reign of another King:

  • a King who changes the rules so that there is never an outsider again
  • a King who lets go of all power for the sake us, for the sake of the ones in need, for the sake of reconciliation and forgiveness
  • a King who takes all of the worst we can give and makes it new

Serving this King may set us at odds with the King makers of this world, but it also frees us to be the church in the world that we are called to be: a church that is “helping humanity…those who are exploited, destitute and struggling to survive.”[3]

The cross may show us our worst. But it also shows us God’s best – the love of God that redeems our worst and makes it into something new, something beautiful, something full of life. Thanks be to God.

 

[1] http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/programs/morningedition/when-life-took-a-turn-joseph-redwood-ended-up-living-on-regina-s-streets-he-shares-his-story-with-sheila-coles-1.3853131 and http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/homeless-wascana-park-regina-1.3840736.

 

[2]Ibid.

[3] https://sojo.net/articles/have-we-forgotten-point-christianity

For all the saints

6210980691_822cc485bc_o.jpgPhoto Credit: “World Communion Table”, © 2011 wplynn, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance,* having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this* is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. 15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love* towards all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20God* put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1:11-23.

       When my mom and dad downsized and moved into a much smaller home, they asked me and my siblings to decide what furniture we would like to have from the house since they would not have room in their new location for it. I don’t remember how we got there, but I was happy with the outcome. I would get the dining room table.

This dining room table first sat in the household of my great, great grandmother. My parents received the table when they married and it sat in our dining room table for as long as I can remember.

It is a part of the story of our family.

I remember it most sitting in our dining room at the farm in Goderich ON. But most of all, I remember the stories of those that I cared for as they gathered round that dining room table:

Like the one the every day occurrence of setting the table sometimes with all of mom’s finery, waiting for my siblings and their families to arrive for holiday meals. There are memories of playing crokinole with my family and one particularly memorable game when my Grandpa Steckle and my nephew played together one Christmas.

I remember putting together the only 500 piece puzzle I ever did with my friend Laura Campbell one New Year’s Eve and icing Christmas cookies with my Grandma Erb. I remember many Christmas celebrations as we filled that dining room with not only that table but two other ones as the Erb family held their traditional Christmas get together.

I remember sitting there uncomfortably while my boyfriend at the time met my big brothers and their families on my 18th birthday. I remember ‘studying’ for a French exam with Michelle as we prepared tortierre and crepes. I remember hosting my first dinner party as I gathered with my friends as we returned home to celebrate the holidays during my college years.

That dining room table is a symbol of a connection to the stories of my childhood and they all make up a part of who I am.

In 2006, my aunt and uncle visited us to celebrate with me, my ordination. They brought with them that table with all of its memories from my past.

From then on, it proudly sat in our dining room here in Esterhazy. In its way that dining room table connected me not only to the people of my past but it also connected me to my present life here in Saskatchewan.

As Darryl and I began our life together, we not only created new memories of our own, we were connected to a sense of heritage, a family, something that was bigger than just he and I.

So, when I would feed my children their first tastes of solid food at that table, we shared something in common with the many babies who had been fed at that table. When we would sit down and pray together before meals, or at meetings with some of you, we were connected to all those of faith who had gathered to pray at that table.

Who we are as a family, is connected to that table because we share in something bigger. We share in a long line of human beings sticking it out as family through thick and thin. We share the life blood of the past that connects us to the hope of the future.

We are a large part of who we because of our stories and that table reminds us of those stories and our connection to something that is bigger than we are, bigger than our failures, bigger than our successes. It is about community and love.

That’s exactly the kind of gathering, the kind of church, the kind of being together as a people of faith that we remember on this All Saints Sunday.

We are remembering that as we gather around this table:

we are gathering with those who have gone before us in faith, the ones we remember and the ones we do not.

we are gathering with those who are present with us and those who are not.

we are gathering around this table with the ones who are to come.

And we are gathering together in hope with Christ as our host, receiving sustenance and life “because in Christ we have also obtained an inheritance…so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.”[1]

We gather around this table in all our fears and our frailities, in all our hopes and our dreams, in all of who we are redeemed by the Christ who calls, who gathers us, and who moves within us to draw us all to God.

Some of them we remember, like the ones that we are naming today and we feel the grief of their physical absence.

Some of whose names are forgotten in history but who God remembers and brings into the communion with us.

Some of them we have never known but their stories have been shared down through the ages pointing us toward God.

And we are all gathered here connected in the body of Christ as one.

We do have a connection to all those who have come before and to all those that will yet come…Jesus Christ.

This past Monday, on the 499th anniversary of the Reformation, the world witnessed the coming together of Roman Catholics and Lutherans in a Cathedral in Lund worshiping that Christ despite our differences and our violent history.

We gathered and we prayed.

We gathered and we sang.

We gathered from all places and from all times to witness the reconciling love of Christ.

So today, as we remember those who have personally touched our lives with their faith, as we remember those who have died in the past year, we join in song with all of those from all times and all places celebrating our connection still to one another. But more than that, together we point to something bigger than us, a God who tells the story that nothing keeps us separate from this God who wildly and recklessly love us and draws us all to him.

Thanks be to God!

[1] Ephesians 1:11-12.

Faith for the rest of us

 

Photo Credit: “Jacob Wrestles”, © 2013 michael_swan, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio14093709943_87b56566e3_o.jpg

Photo Credit: “Jacob Wrestles”, © 2013 michael_swan, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

22The same night [Jacob] got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When 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. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

Genesis 32:22-31

                In the early 90’s the movie Hero made me think differently about what it takes to be a hero. I used to think that heroes were extraordinary people but the movie turned that idea on its head for me.

The person who saved the day was a unscrupulous character who didn’t play well to the cultural ideal of a hero and throughout the movie we see the characters come to terms about what it means to be a hero.

Personally it made me realize that heroes are not extraordinary people rather they are ordinary people who in perhaps only one moment in time, did an extraordinary thing.

Heroes – we love them and we hate them. They are everything that we hope to be and at the same time, they are everything that we are not. We look up to heroes for inspiration but at times, when we measure ourselves according to the outward appearance of their heroic acts, we find ourselves falling short.

In her book, flunking sainthood, Jana Reiser, explores her own attempt to live a faithful life, perhaps trying to live up to some of her spiritual heroes. She decided to take on a year-long project of reading the spiritual classics while attempting different spiritual disciplines.

From the title of her book, you can imagine how the year turned out for Jana.

As her story unfolds, we laugh with her and cry with her. In February she fasted from food but instead of realizing that it didn’t necessarily make her feel closer to God as she was expecting, however, she began to realize a deeper truth . It dawned on her that, “fasting is not for visions or even for answers to prayer. It’s not to manipulate God into acting according to our wishes, and not to show God just how willing we are to sacrifice something for him. Fasting is to help us on that painful road toward humility.”[1]

Throughout the year, as Jana engages in other spiritual disciplines, we find that the road isn’t easy for her as she recognizes her humanity and her limits but she also experiences God in the midst of all those failures. What we begin to see is that those spiritual practices reveal more of who she is and her need of God and that discovery continues to unfold for her throughout the year.

What Jana experiences during this year exemplifies the understanding that we are at the same time both sinner and saint. That in our humanity we have need of God but at the same time, God declares us saint and gives us his blessing.

I think that is why I like Jacob so much. We’ve declared him to be a hero in faith although he possesses so many qualities that make him so difficult to want to emulate.

The list of undesirable and unethical behaviour stacks up as the story of Genesis unfolds, we learn more about Jacob, one of the patriarchs of the faith.

Jacob takes advantage of his brother, Esau’s hunger to gain a birthright that he had no claim to. Unfortunately for Esau, it wasn’t the last time that he experienced his brother’s treachery. On the day Esau was to be blessed, Jacob, with help from their mother, beat him to the punch. Jacob intentionally, deceived his father into believing that Jacob himself was Esau and received his father’s blessing in Esau’s stead. Finally, although it could be argued that his father in law had it coming, Jacob took advantage of Laman’s trust in him to gain wealth through dishonourable means.

No, Jacob was not perfect. He was never satisfied and he always wanted more. More from life. More from those round him. More from God.

So much more that he wrestled with God at Peniel.  He wrestled with God AND received a blessing.

No matter how often we struggle. No matter how fierce our resistance. No matter the struggle that we engage in as we grasp for more with God.

In the end, God blesses us.

Yes, that’s right…even though we mess up, even when we are manipulative to get what we want, God redeems us and blesses us.

Jana and Jacob’s stories gives hope to the rest of us as we have our own struggles in the life of faith.

Perhaps like me their stories are making you consider the ways in which you struggle with God and perhaps the most helpful to do is to acknowledge those ways that we strive with God like Jacob.

So today I invite you to take a moment to  write down ways that right now, you are striving for more and struggling with God and I invite you to share with your pastor or with someone who is your spiritual mentor those things that you are struggling with so that others can pray with you in the struggle.

We might not be perfect in our faith yet God declares his blessing. We might always struggle for more instead of being content, yet God names us blessed.

Jana may have flunked at the kind of sainthood that most people think of when they think of our heroes of faith but she did receive her blessing. Six weeks after she submitted the manuscript to the publishers she received a phone call from the hospital that her father whom she had not seen in 27 years was laying dying in the hospital.

Her father had left her family when she was 14, cleaning out her mother’s bank account and her whe found herself facing  the difficult decision as to whether she would fly to his bedside. To top it off, she had been asked by the hospital to make the decision to take him off of life support as he was unresponsive and could not breath on his own.

As she shared her story I could not help but notice that even though she felt as if she had flunked sainthood, she was describing that God’s presence and peace was with her right in the middle of this gut wrenching experience. I  couldn’t help but notice that in the midst of all her failures and fears our God was naming and claiming her as his own. God was in the middle of her struggle declaring that she was blessed.

We all struggle against something.

We all fight for more.

And in those moments when we are wrestling with God we can remember that although we struggle, there is a fine line between wrestling and embrace. And while we might be fighting God. I’m pretty sure he is just there holding onto us not wanting to let us go until we let go, subside and so that he can give us that blessing. Thanks be to God.

[1] Jana Reiser, flunking sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray and Still Loving My Neighbour. Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2011.

Sola Deo Gloria

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Photo Credit: “Thankful”, © 2012 Jeff Turner, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

1On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.
12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him.
Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
And as they went, they were made clean.
15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.
And he was a Samaritan.
17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?
18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:11-19

I follow the blog called “The Real Full House” written by “Danny”, a pseudonym for this man who lives the reality of that 90’s television show, Full House. This week he shared his thoughts on gratitude in response to his week and the connections he made.[1]

Last weekend, he met an old friend at a concert who knew “Lisa”, his spouse who had died after a bout with cancer.  They got to talking and his friend when asked how he was, said that he was 96% good and 4% needed working on. While saying those words, Danny’s friend teared up saying that Lisa’s death had taught him that that can change at any time.[2]

Danny continued to reflect on those words over the weekend and realized that for a long time while they lived through his wife’s struggle with terminal cancer and then subsequently experienced the grief of her death, those numbers for him were reversed where 96% of his life needed working on and only 4% was good. But even in the midst of the illness, on the advice of others who had experienced their own tragedies, he and his wife tried to recognize the good as difficult as it was in the midst of facing death.[3]

He then went onto say that now that his life was about 96% good, he found himself focusing on that 4% that needed work instead of all that was going so well in his world. It was a good reminder to him of all that he has to be grateful for.[4]

I was listening the other day to a podcast that talked about the research on gratitude and you’d be surprised to hear that it shows that people who are grateful have “stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure on average, fewer symptoms of illness, less anxiety and depression. [Those who are grateful are] less bothered by aches and pains when they are sick…[and they] also sleep better on average… Many recoverbetter from traumatic events and they seem to have better relationships with people close to them.”[5]

So the question was asked, if it’s so good for us, how come people are not more grateful.

Good question, right?

One of the key components to gratitude is thinking that you are the joyful recipient of something that you don’t really deserve. It seems that the catch about gratitude is that one needs to recognize that we are dependent on something outside of ourselves for what we have in life.

Being grateful can be difficult because we are desperate to believe that we are masters of our fates and that not much is out of our control. To top that off, we think that by in large we are good people who deserve only good things.

It is too easy to congratulate ourselves when things are going right by saying that we are doing all the right things. It is so easy to blame others when things are going wrong saying that we are blameless. It is a whole lot more difficult to recognize that all that we have and all that we are is a gift from God on whom we are truly dependant.

I’m not sure that those other 9 lepers were not grateful. I’m pretty sure they were.

I wonder though if they really understood to whom they were dependant on for their very life. I wonder if they might not have felt that they deserved to be healed.

But to me, that begs the question. If only those that deserve to be healed are, then what of the others that aren’t so lucky and are not healed? Does that mean they don’t deserve to be healed?

I’m pretty sure we don’t want to say that God is doing that: picking and choosing the winners and losers based on our merit.

This foreigner must have come back because he recognized in Jesus that God was present in human flesh here to be with him. He must have recognized that God was there and present to him even though he was ‘other’.

Perhaps this foreigner recognized who Jesus was because he or she had nothing and yet was still healed. Perhaps this foreigner could recognize his complete dependence on God because he knew that according to the rest of the world, he didn’t deserve anything.

The last thing anyone accompanying Jesus that day would have expected was that a Samaritan would recognize Jesus was as Lord. Yet it was a Samaritan, probably the last person expected to see God.

You see, even the experts who research gratitude say that it isn’t so much about listing the things we are grateful for.[6] Gratitude is a deep recognition of who we are in our failures and our flaws. It is recognizing that the something or someone outside of us has more control than we’d like to admit.

Gratitude follows when we remember that the God of all creation loves us as we are. While we may not deserve it all the time, and while life might now always turn out exactly how we want it to, we can be grateful for what we have recognizing that we don’t have us much control as we’d like to think.

As one author put it,

“gratitude is not the same as giving thanks. It comes from a deeper place that knows the story could have ended differently, and often does. Gratitude is surviving the worst thing you can imagine…and realizing that you are still standing.

Gratitude helps you cheer the news that the lump is not malignant, and helps you to be grateful when you learn, as my friend Diana did, that her husband was not in any pain from his cancer, and could come home from the hospital to die with the cat on his bed, his dogs underneath it and family all around.”[7]

At times it is difficult to find the silver lining in many of those things that drag us down and wonder if it is worth continuing to put one foot in front of the other. And yet there can be this realization that brings us to our knees recognizing that life is a gift from God and we are humbled and we are grateful to be a part of it.

I think it was this kind of feeling that moved that Samaritan to return to Jesus, to prostrate himself at Jesus’ feet and giving thanks.

We have a ritual in our family of beginning and ending the day with a blessing. One of many blessings that we use in the morning is the words, “God loves you and I love you and it’s going to be a wonderful day. And even if it isn’t, God will be with you.”

I kind of think that that is what gratitude is. The recognition that in all of who I am and in all of what happens to me whether I deserve it or not, God loves me and God is with me.

As Thomas Merton says, “To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise the goodness of God.” (Reis, flunking sainthood, p. 109-110). 

Sola Deo Gloria. To God alone the glory.

 

 

 

[1] https://therealfullhouse.wordpress.com/2016/10/05/ninety-six-percent/.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2695491466.

[6] Ibid.

[7] http://www.womansday.com/life/real-women/a6267/life-lessons-giving-thanks-125063/.

 

Seeing and Not Seeing

8746768927_9f90e13b98_o.jpgPhoto Credit: “Double Indemnity”, © 2013 John Spade, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

[Jesus said:] ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth,* who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’* The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God. “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

Luke 16:[10-15]; 19-30

Between last week’s text and this week’s text I’ve been thinking a lot about my trip to India. While I was a student in seminary and while I was struggling to make ends meet, the seminary changed their curriculum to include a cross cultural experience.

While I thought the switch was a good one, I was anxious about having to go on that year’s trip to India. I didn’t believe I could afford it and I was concerned about the money I would have to spend. You see, I felt like I was a poor broke student.

I still remember arriving in India and making our way from the airport to the place where we were staying. It seemed like a whole new world and for all intents and purposes it was.

I’m still affected by those first sights as I drove through the city that night. I remember darkness and the light of fires. As we drove down the streets I remember thinking how humble their homes were, in fact, I thought of them as shacks. As we continued on our journey, I began to realize that those homes that I had thought of as shacks were actually castles compared to what I was beginning to see. As we got further, my eyes adjusted to seeing in a new way and I realized that the shadows on the sidewalks were actually people who had stretched out to go to sleep.

I learned in India that what I thought was my poverty, was what they would consider advantage.

What I thought was destitution was hope because of my educational opportunities.

I had been seeing all that I could see in our culture where I had compared myself only to others who had what I thought as more financial advantage than I did. I had never stopped to open my eyes to the advantages that I had that many around the world, and even in our own country didn’t have.

Sometimes poverty is in the eyes of the beholder. Sometimes we see what we want to see.

Jesus tells us this story of the rich man. We don’t know his name. We don’t even know much about him except that he has siblings. But there is something in this story that reveals quite a lot about him.

In life it seems the rich man had eyes only for himself, while at the gates that he had erected, possibly to keep those uncomfortable realities out, there sat a man desperate and in need. There sat Lazarus, ignored and shamed. When Lazarus would have been grateful for the scraps off the table that the dogs wouldn’t eat, the rich man ignored him. The rich man didn’t see that in front of his gate sat a human being in pain, in front of his gate sat a fellow man, that in front of his very own gate sat a human being created in the image of God.

And then we see that as the tables turned, when comfort finally came for Lazarus who was so hungry, the rich man only thought of Lazarus only in terms of his own needs and wants. When this poor man who was someone most of us would turn our eyes away from as those dogs that ate the garbage on the streets would lick the wounds on his body, when this man Lazarus, finally found comfort in the bosom of Abraham, the rich man still could not see him as he truly was, a human being, a neighbour, a child of God but instead saw him as an object, as someone who was only there for him, who could serve him and make his unease more comfortable.

We begin to see that the chasm that is between the two of them that no one can cross is the chasm of not being able to see what really is. That other people are not there to be used for our own comfort making our life easier. But that other people are human beings, brothers and sisters in the family of God.

We begin to see through God’s glasses of love, mercy and grace. And the ones we turn our eyes away from we begin to see as brother and sister, family and friend. We begin to see the truth that we are all woven from the same fabric and that the labels we give are the gates to keep the comfortable out. We begin to see that those we wish to ignore who are desperate for mercy are just like you and me.

Later that same trip, after our visit to Mother Theresa’s nursery, after we ignored a young woman holding a baby, begging for more, we found ourselves on the road again to another place. I sat in back seat of the cab silent as I couldn’t put into words the emotions that I was feeling. Silent with my head against the window tears in my eyes, not even knowing why, my eyes caught a young woman’s eyes in an approaching vehicle.

I still don’t know what happened. I can’t even quite explain it. But in that moment, she and I shared something of our shared humanity together and it was a sacred moment. A moment where through God we became connected as human beings, as sisters, without even saying a word.

This text is not a passage that speaks about what gets us into hell. This passage doesn’t even tell us how to get into heaven. It is a commentary on the chasm that is created when we use anything as an excuse so that we do not have to see another who is suffering as human. It is a commentary showing us that all too often it is easier to see another human as someone who can make our lives easier rather than a brother or a sister loved and cared for by God.

We are and we are not the rich man. We are and we are not the poor man swept up to the bosom of Abraham. We are both of these people.

We are the ones who are blind and do not see and at times we are the invisible.

Whoever you are today, may the scales fall from your eyes and may we see that we are all God’s family. Loved and beloved, held in the bosom of Abraham. Thanks be to God.

Be On Guard

Lots of thoughts flying through my head early in the morning far too often, none of them worthy of waking up before 4:30 am and yet here I am, wide awake and distracted by the “dissipation and worries of life” (Luke 21:34).

It is so easy to find myself distracted and worried. In fact it seems to be my default position. When I am distracted by the worries of life, I avoid being drawn  into the life of God.

And so, this Advent I long to watch and wait…wait for those moments when God breaks in. I long to turn my eyes away from those distractions and turn to the joy that awaits in the midst of the burdens of life. I long to awake and greet the new morn where light shines dissipating those worries in the dawn of hope.

Photo Credit: “The First Sunday of Advent”, © 2013 Susanne Nilsson, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio