We are all part of something bigger. The notion that the Life of God is something that we could quantify, fold up, and catalog away is so laughable, yet we tend to try and do just that. Most of us crave a "nutshell" version of everything. When Jesus spoke of God and the life that was offered to us, He spoke of such varied applications and facets. From trees that provided shelter for birds to dinner parties that offered seats to the unfit, the one thing that every description had in common was the invitational nature of God. There are so many ways to experience the Life of God, but only one door. That door is Christ. Though we may take many different winding paths to that door, we all enter that door through humility and faith. No longer seeking to obtain the Life of God via our own efforts, our humble response is to confess our insufficiency and need. When we put our trust in the unfailing love and mercy of God, we find our true hope; not in ourselves, but in the kind intentions of the God of the universe. This reckless abandon is what I invite all of you to come and go with me into. I can think of nothing that would be scarier. I can think of nothing better. No, God isn't a tame lion, but he is good.
“Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.” To that they said, “Well, what do we do then to get in on God’s works?” Jesus said, “Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God’s works.” They waffled: “Why don’t you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what’s going on? When we see what’s up, we’ll commit ourselves. Show us what you can do. Moses fed our ancestors with bread in the desert. It says so in the Scriptures: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus responded, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.” They jumped at that: “Master, give us this bread, now and forever!” Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever. I have told you this explicitly because even though you have seen me in action, you don’t really believe me. Every person the Father gives me eventually comes running to me. And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go. I came down from heaven not to follow my own whim but to accomplish the will of the One who sent me. “This, in a nutshell, is that will: that everything handed over to me by the Father be completed—not a single detail missed—and at the wrap-up of time I have everything and everyone put together, upright and whole. This is what my Father wants: that anyone who sees the Son and trusts who he is and what he does and then aligns with him will enter real life, eternal life. My part is to put them on their feet alive and whole at the completion of time.”
God, we have a simple prayer this week. Give us guts. Give us the courage to trust the kind intentions of your heart toward us; that through the raging fury of your love, we will come to know perfect peace. Amen.
Can you think of a more devastating word? To have a chasm between two people is so final and defeating. Walls can be torn down, obstacles can be circumnavigated, but chasms are different. Chasms don’t just mean that we are separated in one aspect; rather, they separate us in several dimensions. They separate with an obstacle. They separate with distance. They separate with fear. Think about it; in order to get across a chasm, I have to go over the edge, down the cliff face, across the river rapids, and then find a way back up the opposite cliff face. Natural chasms get wider and deeper with age as the river in the bottom continues to erode the soil and the edges keep falling in. The chasms that separate us from one another are not easily dealt with as we spend much more time widening the gap with our anger and deepening the gorge with our bitterness than we spend trying to cross. It is key to discover what it is that is angering you about someone else. What is it that has embittered you? What is it that scares you about them? As our staff was discussing Pastor Andy’s sermon topic this week, it struck me that most of the chasms in my life stem from my inability to recognize Christ in others. This happens when I look at someone and only see our differences, the things done (or perceived done) that have brought offense, how they don’t agree with my politics, how they threaten my theological comforts, or even how they just aren’t my kind of person. The things that separate me from others and keep me from seeing the image of the invisible God always seem so trivial when I stack them up against what really matters. It hurts us all when I cannot see that someone else is fearfully and wonderfully made and is so desperately loved by God because all I see is a different sexual orientation, skin color, socioeconomic status, or creed. It is when I look past the differences, the offenses, and the fears that I am able to see the Divine fingerprints. Suddenly, as I catch a glimpse of my God of love embracing one to whom I have been directing my dividing hatred, I find grace to forgive. I find grace to overlook the dividing factors. I find grace to reach out. Somehow, that great chasm between us is gone and we are swallowed up in a depth of relationship that was previously impossible.
“Above all, show sincere love to each other, because love brings about the forgiveness of many sins.”
God of love, set me to love. God of mercy, set me to show mercy. God of perfect unity, set my hands and my heart to remove all that divides. Set me on my enemy's side of the chasm that we might be friends. Amen.
In the parable from Luke 16, we are told of a crooked manager that is skimming the profits for himself and he gets in trouble for it. Fearing for his post-audit future, he sets about making as many friends as possible, and he uses his position as manager and the wealth of the master to reduce significant debts. The big surprise twist in the story is that the master appreciates the crook’s ingenuity and his tenacity. I really don’t believe that God is telling us that we should all start practicing embezzlement; rather, that we should have this same fervor for life. What would happen if we were to not just be content with the life we currently have, with the faith we currently have, with the friendships that we currently have? Jesus said that He came that we might have life. We are all too content to leave it at that. The rest of Jesus’ thought was that we would have life more abundantly. Did you notice the redundancy of that phrase, “more abundantly?" It implies that there is more than the more you already see. It is hard for us sometimes to see the forest for all of the trees, but even fewer of us see the untamed wilderness beyond for all of the forests. I love it when Pastor Andy talks about his favorite definition of God being “More." Are we hungry for more? Do you want a deeper faith? Do you want more intimate friendships? Are you hungry?
Jesus told this simple story, but the Pharisees had no idea what He was talking about. So He tried again. “I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of."
God, wake up the lion hunger in me, not that I would use and consume for self, but that I would hunger and thirst after righteousness. Let me not be content with the status quo or lay victim to the law of averages. God, help me to bare my spiritual teeth, to set my spiritual hand to the plow, and follow after You in the Way. Show me where mercy is stronger, where forgiveness is greater, and where peace surpasses. Let me love wider than my arms can go, hope bigger than my lungs can breathe, and let my faith be for more (so much more) than I can even imagine. Amen.
"There’s gold in them there hills!" How easy it is to overlook treasure, right? I love those stories about somebody picking up some obscure painting for the cost of a Happy Meal that turns out to be a missing masterpiece that is worth far more than the lucky buyer paid. I always felt bad for the seller who had no idea what they sold for $5 that was actually worth $500,000. You hear stories like that and you start to understand why some folk flocks to flea markets. When we read the parables of the lost coin or the lost sheep, we seem to always place God in the position of the seeker. I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing, but what if we put ourselves in that seeker role? What treasures are we dismissing when we see the homeless person on the street corner and offer up a programmed excuse for why we should not give them money? What treasures are we dismissing when we drive by that church that approaches faith in a different way than we do and we roll our eyes? What treasures are we dismissing when we poke holes in someone’s theology or when we poke holes in someone’s politics? It strikes me that God sees a lot more treasure in this world than we typically do. When Jesus tells us to give water to people that we simply would rather not associate with (naked and ill strangers with criminal records), He says that it is like giving Him water. I wonder if His point might be that when we open our love up to folk that we’d normally dismiss, it exposes the veins of gold in them and the fields of diamonds in us. Almost every treasure is like that.
The song I chose for today is born out of a story told by a preacher who saw churches closing down and having their doors shut in some of the poorest and most neglected parts of town. He looked at these old dilapidated steeples as if they were scarecrows. The smart crows know that scarecrows are the “x” on the treasure map.
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.”
God, we would ask that we might see the treasure in others. However, we know that treasure is meant to be sought, that it is only in seeking and finding that we are actually able to recognize value. God of grace, strengthen our resolve to search. Strengthen our commitment to entertain the notion that there is always more than meets the eye. Help us to stop judging books by their covers and instead dig deep into the potentially rich relationships available all around us.
We all have those things in our lives that challenge us and keep us from fully experiencing the life of God that is in us. The light of God is sometimes kept from shining in and through us simply because we have collected a mass of peripheries that surround and infuse our lives. Often times referred to as lesser things, they may not be sinful or negative in and of themselves, but when gathered together and given a place of prominence in our hearts and minds, they rather quickly start to slide down the dimmer switch of our religious experience. Friends, religion is only real when it finds its source in relationship. As with any relationship, disconnect is fatal. Instead of constantly tending to the bushels of day to day stresses and strains, let us pray for the grace to pour our energies into the things that will feed our intimacy with God. Attending to prayer, worship, study, and service to others enlightens our souls and helps to put those lesser things in their proper places in our lives.
Each week, I will connect these short reflections with a song for you to listen to, a scripture verse, and a prayer for the week.
“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”
God in heaven, please speak. Speak to me in the ways that I can hear you. Make real to me your presence in me, as well, for it is not enough for me to know you only as God in heaven. Any distance between us is too great. You have closed that distance but I have allowed lesser things to separate us. Move my heart in your direction and cut the ties that would keep me tethered to things that can never bring me the fullness of your life. Amen