Becoming Christ’s Hands and Feet

I’m in the second year of teaching a Sunday school class. We call it Navigators, and it’s for those who are perhaps newer to church, or it’s been awhile, and we cover some of the basic concepts of Christianity (but to a slightly deeper level than just a new members class).

One of the things we try to do is take advantage of opportunities to develop our “mission muscles”–to demonstrate that the grace we learn about in class has a component that leads us out into the world, to bring Christ’s love, in action, to others. One of our classmates, Bob, has elderly parents; his mom was put into hospice care last Friday, and his 90-year-old dad isn’t able to take care of stuff around the house as much anymore. And it had been a source of stress for Bob, that there was stuff nobody could get to while mom was ill.

So last Sunday, Navigators drove three hours to the southern tip of Maryland to Bob’s parents’ place, and spent the day being in service to a brother in Christ. We beat back bushes that had overgrown; we weeded and mulched the front gardens; we removed a torn awning from over the side door; we mowed, we weed-whacked, we generally did whatever Bob said needed doing.

When we were done, I have to admit, the place looked a whole lot better than when we arrived. Bob’s dad was off visiting his mom at the hospital, and so he had a wonderful surprise waiting for him when he got home. But all the more important was the lesson we all learned about going when Christ says “go.” It was a l-o-n-g drive, it rained on the way back, and we probably each had a dozen things on our own lists that we could have been doing with our Sunday. But for one brief day, our worship wasn’t in a church building. It certainly wasn’t mechanical, or uninspired. It was meaningful to us all, to be in service to Bob and his family, and it helped bring the Kingdom Among Us to a family who needed a little extra help.

I slept well that night. It was a good day to be growing as a disciple of Christ.

Advertisements

Dealing With Bad News

What do you do when the plans you were making, around which you’d built your expectations for the future, suddenly crumble and you realize they won’t become reality?

We’re dealing with that this weekend. We had some very disappointing news come into the family–shattering news, really, to the one making the plans–and it’s affected us all. I wasn’t the one making the plans, but this news has consumed almost all of my spare brainpower ever since.

When something like this hits, everything feels different. Things move in slo-mo. Brains race. Even, I’ve noticed, food tastes a little differently. Our primitive instincts begin to kick in, we get afraid, we fear. We lash out at anyone or anything we think got in our way.

At times like this our faith in God goes one of two ways. We can get angry with him–how could you let this happen? What kind of God claims to love and then ruins my plans?

Or we can get our egos out of the way and put more faith in him. We recognize that God might not be the actor causing the sudden crisis…but we recognize that he certainly can use it, that he has a plan for us, and that even if we can’t see what that is, that he still loves us.

Easier said than done. When we feel we’ve been wronged, there’s a part of us that likes to play the victim. That’s a whole lot easier than recognizing any role we may have had ourselves in the downfall of our plans.

The good news is, though, that even when we’re angry with him, God still loves us. And that, odds are, he wasn’t the one behind our misfortune. Remember, we have an enemy who wants to wreck our plans and sow discontent and drive wedges between us and God. But in the depths of our crisis, how hard it is to see anything else.

Sometime, yes, new plans will be made. This weekend’s devastation will be surmounted, even if we can’t forget it. And in the midst of it, that hope may seem so distant. But it’s there, waiting for us to discover it with new hearts.

The End…?

The celebrations of only a few days past feel like they may as well have been a hundred years ago. No palm branches waving in joyous greeting, and now the crowds aren’t adoring, they’re hostile, or at best, utterly apathetic. The procession winds its way to Golgotha and the Roman soldiers do what they do best: keep the process moving, don’t let anyone interfere, and get on with the execution efficiently and quickly.

How did we wind up here, when only last night we were preparing to celebrate the Passover meal? How did we wind up here, when only days ago he was cleansing the temple and restoring God’s righteousness? How did we wind up here, on a windswept hill, at the foot of a cross, watching his blood run like rivulets down the rough wooden cross?

When he told us last night that the bread and the cup were his body and blood given for us, I had no idea that he really meant his body and his blood would be sacrificed. I thought it was another of his parables, just another saying that we didn’t really understand, and now he’s not going to be able to explain them ever again, is he.

The crowd and the soldiers are taunting him: “If you’re so mighty, come down off that cross yourself!” I’ve seen him heal the sick, cleanse lepers, even raise Lazarus from the dead. I know he’s powerful. So yeah, why does he just…stay there? Why doesn’t he summon the power of God and break free? What on earth holds him there?

I can’t imagine what he’s going through. The pain of the nails, the slow suffocation of hanging on the cross, every breath shallower and shallower, as he grows weaker. And he’s probably not the last of our circle to be up there: so many of the brothers have faded away already. They’re scared, and they have every reason to be–I wonder how long before the authorities are knocking on my door.

All that he taught us…all about God’s kingdom, all about love and mercy and repentance, everything he stood for, is now ebbing away with his fading heartbeat. It can’t be, but it’s ending, here on this hill, on a criminal’s cross.

It is ending…isn’t it?

Baby Steps

Lead me through the darkness / Lead me through the unknown / Oh, lead me, Holy Ghost. (MercyMe, “Ghost”)

I’ve written before about my very much ongoing efforts at discernment, to determine if perhaps I am being called into ordained ministry after five decades on this planet. I guess it’s time for an update.

Over the past couple of months I’ve started private mentoring and counselling sessions with my pastor, to try to gain insight into what’s going on. They’ve been very helpful sessions, which have explained some things and given me other things to think about.

At this point, it seems to me, that there’s enough “there” that I need additional help in working through the prospective call. And so I have taken the first steps down that path, by submitting my name (and the first bits of paperwork) to begin the formal process of discernment in the United Methodist Church.

When I hit Send on that email, I had a sense of reassurance, that this was the right thing to do. My first hurdle will be the District Committee on Ministry interview, which could be later in the spring; they will either pass me along and assign me a mentor to undergo the discernment exercises, or tell me I’m not ready. I find myself hoping to be passed along to the next stage. We’ll see.

If I were to go through with this, it could be another decade (!) before ordination. Lots of work to do between now and then, and that’s a bit intimidating. But it hasn’t scared me off yet. On to the next stage.

Our Growing Community

Tonight we brought our sister in Christ, LaRae, down off the mountain from her Emmaus weekend. She walked with 27 other women on E-184 and, as with every other such weekend, had just the most tremendous experience of God’s love in new ways that she had never experienced before. Some thoughts came to mind today at different times.

First, when we were seeing all the pilgrims looking so happy and radiant, it really brought joy to my heart. And that’s not just a saying: I mean it brought a touch of the divine, a moment of connection of heaven and earth, and I found myself tearing up a little because they were getting to experience it too. All I wanted to do was shout praises for what Christ was working in their lives.

Later, we welcomed LaRae into the Sydenstricker community of Emmaus with her Fourth Day Dinner. I remember my own, two springs ago, and I think there were perhaps 8 to 10 people around the table–some of them not even from our church. Instead, tonight there were 21 folks gathered. There is a wonderful new energy about our Emmaus community that is simply so refreshing to see, and rewarding to experience.

LaRae is already talking to her husband about his walking on the men’s weekend this spring, the one I’ll be teaming on for the first time. And there were a couple of other names tossed out as men who need an invitation. Who knows, perhaps we can get out to a couple dozen before long!

De Colores!

Not *That* Way

I’ve previously written about hearing the news that our Division at work was potentially going to offer early retirement, and how almost immediately I felt pricked by that–“You paying attention now?”

I learned this week that while that is true, my boss has made the ruling that no one on her staff will be offered early retirement (because then she’ll lose the position and can’t replace us).

OK, so I’m a little disappointed and perplexed. I really thought I was supposed to pay attention to that. And so while I did think at the time the likelihood of actually being offered early-out was slim, I did feel it was a nudge.

So quite clearly now, that door is closed to me. And we all know what that means: God’s opened another one, and is standing next to it patiently tapping his foot, waiting for me to get around to noticing it. In all likelihood, it won’t be as grand a door, or as easy an exit as early retirement would have been. But maybe that’ll be the point. I just don’t know.

Give me a revelation, show me what to do
Cause I’ve been trying to find my way, I haven’t got a clue
Tell me should I stay here, or do I need to move
Give me a revelation, I’ve got nothing without You

–Third Day, Revelation

Well That Was Different…Gulp!

I had a slightly different set of experiences Saturday night. Pastor Don had invited me to preach in his place at the Saturday night service, since he was going to be at a conference in Charlottesville that day and not getting back in time. Sure, I can do that. It was supposed to be bowling night, but hey, I can get there late. Then our teammate Ken announced he would be travelling this weekend and could we pre-bowl. God was starting to move things out of the way for this night. Little did I know why.

Whenever in the past I’ve been asked to take part of a weekend, I’ve always picked my own scripture and theme: I’ve never tried to work off the same as the pastor has for the rest of the services on a weekend. But this time, I tried doing just that, because it was the concluding sermon on a series he’d been doing on “renewal.” It didn’t feel right to have had the Saturday night service attendees get four out of the five topics covered, and then just leave them hanging on the last night.

So I checked out the scripture, Matthew 18–the whole chapter–and was floored. It’s just so rich, so full of things to preach on–hey, Don, where were you going with this? He explained that he was preaching on the Kingdom of God and how it’s already present with us…didn’t really say much more. So I went off and came up with a sermon to try to follow that headline lead. I was working on my usual path, of coming up with rough notes and lines to take that would be the basis for my text, when I kept getting a nudge. “Just go with an outline. Don’t write it all out.” Gulp. OK, I’ll try.

Saturday came and by midafternoon the promised “wintry mix” was materializing. Sleet, snow, rain, we had it all…I kept waiting for the message from the school district that they were closing campuses for the night: since the church follows the school’s lead, we would then be cancelling services. But no message came, and so off I went.

You can imagine my surprise to see Pastor Don was there when I walked in! The weather had cancelled his conference, he explained. But he came out to hear me preach–wouldn’t hear of taking it back. Gulp, take two. I’ve had the luxury of preaching without a professional present for years…and one whose topic I was trying to work off of, who has the “textbook answer” already ready to go for tomorrow morning! Gulp, again! To add to the nerves, my Emmaus brother Charley and his wife–one of Mary’s Emmaus sisters, Kathy–decided to come check me out. Gulp, once more!

In the end, I did pretty decently. Not the best I’ve ever done, but also not the weakest. The technique of just using major outline headings worked pretty well: I can’t think of something I missed saying as a result.

But all the more, Charley and Kathy were very complimentary, and I had someone else ask the regular question on her way out the door (“Are you going into ministry?” To which for the first time I equivocated: “It’s not an immediate plan…”). But the report card from Pastor Don was all smiles. “You’re a preacher,” he said. “No doubt in my mind.”

Gulp.