Word for the way: peacemaking

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“Blessed are the peacemakers” – Jesus

“Promise me you won’t get into the middle of this.” That’s what my mother said to me just before I got out of the car to go to the Donald Trump Rally at Lenoir Rhyne University in Hickory, NC. “Sure thing” I said and off I went. I shouldn’t have made that promise.

I was at Lenoir Rhyne to stand with my Bishop and my brothers and sisters in Christ. I wasn’t pro-the Donald; to be honest I don’t really agree with much of anything he has to say. Then again I wasn’t really there to protest either. It’s not really my thing, I’m more interested in standing for what I’m for than against. So what was I for? I was for Jesus. I was for the ideas of Grace, Mercy, Forgiveness, and love.

For a time all was well. The supporters supported, the protesters protested, and the Christians sang and prayed. It wasn’t until after the auditorium was filled to capacity and the doors shut that the real fun began. Where once there had been a hundred or so feet of grass separating the groups now they converged upon one another. Rival signs like banners of war waved as shouts and taunts flew through the air…it seemed to start all at once with both sides being the instigators.

We pastor types wearing our clergy collars and singing our hymns found ourselves between two groups of angry folks, Mr. Trump’s supporters on one side and his detractors on the other. There we were, a thin line of Christians linked arm in arm singing “Jesus Loves You” for all we were worth. It was scary. It was scary because their anger was real. Other Trump rally’s had fallen into chaotic violence; would it happen here as well? I was right smack dab where mom didn’t want me…in the middle of a powder keg.

Blessed are the peacemakers, that’s what Jesus said. I’d heard those words in church countless times; but now, with the church outside her four walls in the midst of shouts and taunts and anger those words raced through my head and took on a whole new sensation. I never knew being the peacemaker Jesus called us to be would be so knee shaking, heart pounding scary.

As we stood there linked arm in arm between these two groups who needed only the smallest provocation to erupt the irony was not lost on me that Mr. Trump had indeed gotten a wall built. We stood there walling off one group from another. The difference between Mr. Trump’s wall and ours was that ours was built not of stone and mortar but of the living stones of our flesh and blood. Our wall, while separating folks for a time, had the ultimate purpose of preventing further escalation so that one day these two groups might become one again. Perhaps our wall was something of a bridge?

It’s a funny thing about those two groups as I’ve thought about them hours later from the safety of my home. They’re both so very similar. Sure they have different life stories, different ideas about how to move forward; but at the end of the day they have something linking them together that they may not even realize. In all honesty both groups, Trump’s supporters and his detractors, feel forgotten. They both feel forgotten by the political elites, the talking heads, the powers that be. Both are forgotten in so many ways from Wall Street to the Main Street’s of any town USA. Both feel forgotten and both are angry about that. Time and again our go to answer is to find a group of people to blame for our lot in life. It’s easier to bear if you’ve got someone you can shake your fist at; that’s the common knowledge at least. Both groups, the supporters and the detractors, have been told the other is the problem and now here we were, a thin line of Christians linked arm in arm amid the mayhem.

At one point I heard someone call out “hold the line.” I have no idea who called it out or who they were instructing to hold the line; was it us? I thought of God commanding the seas in Job’s account of creation, “here shall your proud waves be halted, here shall they go and no further,” it’s my own heart translation. There was the church between two raging seas. Jesus said that by faith we can move mountains; I wondered if faith could hold back the relentless waves of the sea…we would find out.

This is where we needed to be; this is where the church is most fully the church. Christ calls us outside our sanctuaries to create sanctuaries in the midst of wildernesses so often filled with hate and anger and chaos. So often today the church is considered irrelevant. Out of touch and useless in a world that has moved on. Well today my friends I have seen with my own two eyes that the church is anything but irrelevant and out of touch. Today I saw a church that spoke peace to a growing storm, just like Jesus did all those centuries past on a sea in Galilee. Today I saw a church reach out in healing touch choosing to make well that which is sick, just as Jesus did in times past along the highways and byways of lands holy. Today I saw a church teach the ways of grace, mercy, and love, just as Jesus did on the hillsides of of places far away. Today I saw Jesus and I saw him in the church gathered outside a chapel named Grace at Lenoir Rhyne University.
You may well want to call us dreamers or naive or too young or too old. But I know a God who time and again has chosen dreamers and the naive; I know a God who has time and again named and claimed the too young and the too old; I know a God who has time and again walked with all the wrong people and through them has shown the ways of love and forgiveness and mercy and grace. I know a God who can create everything out of nothing and yet still chooses you and I, flaws and all, to be his co-workers in making all things new. Jesus calls us out into the chaos, blesses us, and then sets us to work peacemaking.

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Word for the Way: Story

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“Jesus, looking at him, loved him” Mark 10:21a

My Grandmother has this great piece of needlework in her kitchen that I always love to look at, it reads, “God is watching you, but he understands.” It’s always given me comfort. The reminder that God is watching you is often given so that we’ll behave and walk the straight and narrow. There’s always a tone of judgment there. But the addition of the words “but he understands” gives a whole new meaning. God understands the struggles and the hardships; he looks at us in love, even in our less than glorious moments just as he looked on in love to the rich young man in his less than shining moment. God looks at us with love, always.

This past Sunday in my sermon I mused on how judgmental we all can be…especially us comfortable, decent, middle class types. I observed how often it happens that we can be in a grocery store and see the person in front of us pull out a WIC card or some other form of government assistance. What do we do? We start making note of what all is in their grocery cart and passing judgment on their need or lack thereof for those items. We look to see if they have on bright and shiny shoes, if their clothes are nicer than our, their cell phone newer…shoot we even track them in the parking lot to see what kind of car they drive. Sure we make excuses for our behavior, but when we really boil it all down we’re passing judgment on them. (FYI, passing judgment is God’s domain not ours, treading on God’s domain is sin…just so you know)

Well, a few days later I find myself in Sam’s club picking up a few things. I kept seeing a young woman riding around on one of those carts to help the disabled and elderly. Eventually I was behind her in line. Now, lets just say that she and I were different from one another and that old Adam in me, mister sinnful himself reared his ugly head. I noted that she was young and didn’t seem to have any noticeable physical ailments that would impede her from walking. “Why was she using this when a seemingly more deserving person might be doing without?” I thought. Was she lazy? Maybe a freeloader?

Then it hit square between the eyes, this is what I had talked about on Sunday. It’s kinda rough when your own sermon gets you. As I thought more about it I realized, I didn’t know the first thing about this young woman’s story. Instead I was standing silently by passing my judgment on her, and that’s sin plain and simple.
Every one of us has a story to tell. Buried beneath the surface there’s a story of pain and sorrow; joy and happiness; successes, failures, triumphs, heartbreak and all the rest. Everytime I hear a story from someone I walk away changed, impressed by the sheer magnitude of a life lived. Hearing a story of someone is like watching a master artist paint a painting. You are the canvas, your story is the paint, and the God who watches over you is the painter creating his masterpiece. You are God’s masterpiece and God looks upon you with love. I think that’s why God wants us to consider each other as nothing less than a beloved Child of God. As we go out may we struggle to no longer look upon one another with our judgment and instead know that behind each face is a story.

Sermon Scribbles (take two): The Judas Principle

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“But Judas Iscariot, one of [Jesus’] disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, ‘Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?’” – John 12:4-5

Here’s the thing about preaching, some weeks you have to really work to figure out how to preach a text, other weeks it comes to you quickly, then there are the occasional weeks where you get too many ideas to preach and not enough sermons. This is one of those weeks.

I call this the Judas Principle. I’ve long been fascinated by it. In the text Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with costly oil. At this sight Judas objects noting that the oil could be sold for a great sum and the money given to the poor. Sounds good, right? Who doesn’t want to help the poor? Well, John continues with a little editorial comment informing us that Judas really wasn’t interested in helping the poor at all, he was a thief and had his eyes on a pretty big score.

What I find interesting about this is how deeply it resonates with my own lived experience. In every church I’ve ever been in there’s always debate about money. It’s a normal natural thing. Having a church and doing ministry costs money. What I’ve noticed, and you may have noticed this too, is that not everyone always agrees with how monies are spent. Just about everyone can identify some form of spending in their church that they believe to be frivolous. Now, when they voice their dissatisfaction what do you think I almost invariably hear them say? That’s right, why are we wasting money in this way…it could go to help people in need. Mind you, these folks may not really be concerned about those in need…shoot they may have never before uttered a word about helping the poor and needy; but now, in the face of an expenditure they don’t like all of a sudden they’re Mother Teresa.

Now to be sure I’m not calling these folks thieves; I have no doubt I myself have proved the Judas principle a time or two and you probably have too. What I am saying is all to often we simply aren’t honest with ourselves and others that their might be church and ministry expenses that may well be fine and good we just don’t like them…we need to own that. All too often we can’t be honest with ourselves and others, we can’t own our own biases and dislikes, and instead we shuffle or own shortcomings onto the poor…and Lord knows they don’t need anything else heaped upon them.
In place of the Judas Principle try to bear in mind that the mystery of Christ, his church, and the ministry done is larger than you. Some things will be done that you like and others that you don’t like; some things will come easy for you and others will challenge you. Through it all though Jesus is Lord.

Sermon Scribbles: WWJD

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“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing” – Isaiah 43:18-19a

Have you ever seen those little WWJD bracelets? WWJD, meaning “what would Jesus do?” were all the rage when I was in youth group. I guess it’s a good thing when Jesus stuff becomes a fad, but then again, fads are passing and Jesus never goes away. WWJD asked kids, and adults, to wonder in the midst of all life’s circumstance how Jesus would respond in a given situation and then to respond in the same manner. It’s a good idea; I mean can it really be bad if we’re asking folks to share the mind of Christ and walk in his manner? Of course not. None the less I have a little problem with WWJD. WWJD puts Jesus in the past. What would Jesus do? How about what does Jesus do. See, here’s the thing, Jesus is living and active; he’s not dead and gone.

One of the challenges I see from people of faith, myself included, is that we’re all too often focused on the past. What God did back when; rather than what he’s doing now. Our church really was great at one time; rather than God is doing something new and exciting here. This is how we do it; rather than how can we do this now? I’m reminded of the event of Jesus’ ascension; it’s so very instructive for the church. The disciples are all gathered together looking into the sky after Jesus ascended…they’re looking back. The angels come and say to them “why are you doo doo birds looking there? Come on, let’s go! There’s work to be done.” Admittedly that’s the new revised Jonathan version of the Bible. When we focus all of our effort and attention backwards, in the past, we miss what amazing things God’s doing here and now, in the present, and how he’s leading us to a bright future.

The people Isaiah is speaking to have this problem. They are so focused on the past that they cannot even begin to see what it is that God is preparing for them now. It’s a great little text. Isaiah starts with something so familiar to them; he recounts for them the story of the Exodus. This is their story, it’s a crowd favorite, it never falls flat. They tell it again and again and again. I can almost picture the scene, Isaiah starts to tell the story and they all look at one another knowingly nodding their collective heads. “Gee willikers, wasn’t that swell when God did that!” (Did I just turn the people of Israel into Walley and the Beaver?) Then Isaiah hits them with a bomb. “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.” Wait, what? That’s right. This was a great and wonderful thing that God did, and yes, it is indeed right to think on it and remember it…but not at the expense of paying attention to what God is doing now in the present. God’s going to do a new thing says Isaiah. Stop focusing all of your energy and attention in the wrong direction. Stop looking back, turn around for heaven’s sake a see how God is lowering the mountains and raising the valley’s and sending waters into the desert right before your very eyes.

It’s funny, there’s so much that can separate us from the love of God in the here and now. Sure we all know that there are plenty of bad things that can separate us. Drugs, food and drink, theft, adultery and the like. But here’s where it gets hard. There are plenty of really good things that can separate us from God. Our focus on our own efforts at being a really good person, our volunteer work, our past understanding and appreciation of God, even our families…all of it can serve as a separation from God and what he’s doing in the here and now. Take Paul for example, in the week’s text from Philippians 3:4-14. He lists his resume and it’s all really good stuff, except of course for that whole business of persecuting the church…that’s never a good thing. But by and large every bit of it, good as it may be, can serve as a barrier to Christ. Yet Paul says that all of his gains he considers both loss and rubbish because of the all more surpassing knowledge of Christ active not only in Paul’s past, but in the now and on into the future.

How is life different when Jesus becomes more than a past reality? In what sorts of ways might you act now knowing that Jesus is living and active in your life? So many throughout the Bible acted in ways that seemed obscure and even down right odd because they knew that God was more than just a past reality; they knew that he was acting for us today and tomorrow. Noah built an ark when there was no rain or water; Joshua marched around the walls of Jericho; Mary anointed Jesus’s feet with her only possession of value. All these and more did what made no sense because they knew that Jesus was active not only in a past tense way but also in the present and even future tense.
Let me close with this thought, God said that he would send water to the desert; so what do you do? Wait and see if it happens and if it does great, but if it doesn’t then no harm no foul? Or do you dig ditches in the desert to collect those waters of blessings when they’re sent into the desert? It sure might seem odd to dig ditches in the desert to collect water…but then again, following Jesus has always been a bit odd. So, what ditches do you, or your church need to dig so that the God who is alive and active may fill them with waters of blessing?

After the Sermon; parting thoughts from the Prodigal Son

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God’s always putting together a party in the Bible. Be it the original garden party in Genesis, the mountain top festivities of Isaiah, or the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation. God’s all about throwing a party. Jesus was all about a party, in fact, he had a certain reputation shall we say. People saw him as a glutton and a drunkard. Even his parables are filled with party images. The stumbling block the older Prodigal brother faces is that he doesn’t get to choose the guest list at his Father’s party. Here’s the thing, God is planning the greatest, most amazing party ever; you can’t even imagine it. John tried to describe it in the book of Revelation and struggled to. God is planning a party; rest in the knowledge that you are not in charge of the guest list, but celebrate that you are on God’s guest list.

Word for the Way: Growth

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“I will make them and the places around My hill a blessing And I will cause showers to come down in their season; they will be showers of blessing. Also the tree of the field will yield its fruit and the earth will yield its increase, and they will be secure on their land Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I have broken the bars of their yoke and have delivered them from the hand of those who enslaved them.” – Ezekiel 34: 26-27

All around where I live I see these silos with trees growing out of their center. They dot the landscape like quiet sentinels bearing witness to what once was but is no longer. We still heavily identify as an agricultural community; but not like we once were. Where once there were many farms, now there number is fewer. An exodus of sorts has occurred; farms have closed and folks have moved to where there are newer, better, or simply other opportunities. All that is left are these silent monuments; a majestic reminder of the past filled with new life sprouting from its core.

As I look at them along my way I can’t help but stare at their oddness. It seems at first glance an unlikely place for a tree to grow. Yet here they are. These silos with their new found tenants remind me of a simple truth; life finds a way. These silos would seem to be done for; they’ve spent their years of usefulness and now sit alone to crumble away. Yet a new purpose has been unexpectedly found for them. Once they stored the fruit of the harvest; or they stood by full to the brim with nourishment for livestock. Now they’ve been re-purposed by God into nurseries for fledgling trees.

How wonderfully they fulfill this purpose! The soil at their center is rich and fertile. Their walls protect the budding saplings as they grow. Light and water are funneled to roots desperate for nurture. With time these trees breach the tops of their silo nurseries; a canopy unfurls and what has been growing in secret is now present for all to see. It’s funny how growth works; so much can happen that is unseen until, one day, the fruits of so long a process are there before your eyes. Now birds can nest in it’s branches, onlookers can marvel at the sight of new life, lungs can be filled with the gift of the breath of God…poised and ready for his praise. Life finds a way.

That’s a core theme of the Bible, despite sin, death, and the devil; despite all that is around us that says contrary, life finds a way. Life for the people Ezekiel was prophesying to wasn’t pretty or easy. Yet despite it all we find these words from Ezekiel, words of hope and promise and life. God will cause showers of blessing to come down, trees will yield fruit, the earth its increase, security and deliverance for all; blessing will be found where there was none nor seemed to be any hope of any.
Life finds a way. When all seems finished and done; life finds a way. When usefulness seems spent and death waits around the corner; life finds a way. When memories fade and hope runs thin; life finds a way. God sends showers of blessing upon the barren and parched soil of our lives and slowly, secretly the miracle gathers strength until one day, at long last laid bare before eyes we see the toil of God’s fruitful work, the blessing of growth.

Word for the Way: Aroma of the Cross

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“it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20

A few weeks ago my wife and I had our son baptized. The baptismal rite concludes with something called the signation. Taking scented oil the Bishop marked a cross on our son’s forehead. Like any good artist God signed his name to him. “You are God’s handiwork” says Paul in Ephesians. Forever my son is marked with the strong sign and name of the Lord God Almighty. For days after this we could smell the scented oil on him each time we kissed him or rocked him. It was the aroma of salvation. They say that smell is the sense most closely related to memory…well, we could smell the work of God in our lives and it helps us to remember. Scripture says “taste and see that the Lord is good” I suppose it could also say smell and remember that the Lord is good.

A few days later was the observance of Ash Wednesday. Again my son was brought forward together with all the faithful, young and old, to receive a different cross, an ashen mess. This cross was dirty and not particularly pretty. It was imposed on him with the words “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Impose is the right word there. The ashen cross is always an imposition on you. In short order it means that you’re gonna die. This is not an easy thing to see happen to your newly baptised infant son. I often tell people that as a pastor Ash Wednesday is the hardest thing that I do; looking into the eyes of old and young alike and telling them that they’re going to die.

Death gets us all. There’s no escaping it. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor; smart or dumb; successful or a failure; faithful or not; death gets us all. It’s the great equalizer. It’s the only thing that’s certain other than taxes, as the saying goes. An ancient Christian liturgical line used to read, “In the midst of life we are in death,” but it would go on, “in the midst of death we are in life.”
When I think about those two crosses that have marked my son’s forehead recently I think about that piece. In life there is death but in death there is life. People often ask why bad things happen if God loves us. Simply put, this is a sin sick world. It was created in a harmonious way but because of sin it is now at chaos with itself. Sadly that chaos isn’t always experienced in an equitable way. Bad things happen. But, in the midst of that sin and all those bad things Jesus does something about it. He doesn’t say “there, there, it’s going to be all right.” Sure that would be loving, but Jesus is about enacted loving. That’s what Paul says in our Galatians text, Jesus “loved me and gave himself for me.” Jesus doesn’t simply explain away the bad things, he does away with them for good. Like that scent infused oil, Jesus infuses our death filled lives with his life. When Jesus died he had a surprise for death, he didn’t stay dead! That’s the gift he gives to us; when we die, because of Jesus, that same surprise awaits death, we don’t stay dead either! It’s Christ who live in you, and me, and my son. He’s signed his name to you, you can’t always see it clearly but that cross is there for God to see, for sin to see, for the devil to see, for death to see. God’s saving aroma covers you; it’s an aroma that beats back the stench of death. It’s the aroma of the cross.

Sermon Scribbles: The Prodigal

Prodigal

“And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

I’ve got to be honest, I’ve never particularly liked the Parable of the Prodigal Son. All that business about the younger brother daring to ask for his inheritance while his father is still alive, squandering it, then hatching a plan to get back to comfort again…it just doesn’t sit well. The younger son gets off Scot free when he doesn’t really deserve it, and the older son toils away faithfully year after year. No party is thrown for him; shoot, the party for the younger son starts and nobody bothers to even tell the older son, they just leave him working away in the fields. This one never really sits well with me; there’s no sense of justice about it. It doesn’t sit well with me because I largely identify with the older son.

In our culture the prodigal son motif has come to be one with which we can all identify. Most of us know a prodigal character or two in our lives. Most every church I’ve ever served usually has one or two folks who don’t really like this parable. They get it, just how infuriating and insulting these words of Jesus can be. That’s important to remember, the Bible can, and should, infuriate and insult us from time to time…if it doesn’t you may not be reading it honestly. I’m told that once on Sunday when this parable was being read my father stood up and objected to it (he doesn’t really care for this parable). I’m fairly certain that that is family mythology but his general distaste for this parable is real. The thing about this parable is that it is still fresh, it’s real for us. So many of the parables have a safe distance from us. So many don’t live in an agricultural setting or the like anymore so the parables are safely held at arm’s length, we’re protected from them by time and space. Not with the parable of the prodigal son, this one’s in our face, it’s very real for us.

A few years ago I realized I was looking at this Parable all wrong. I was incorrectly identifying who the prodigal brother was in this story. I assumed it had to be the younger brother…but it’s the older one, he’s the prodigal. Look at how Jesus tells the story. It all kicks off at the beginning of Chapter 15. Tax Collectors and Sinners are coming near to Jesus. As we’re accustomed to hearing the Pharisees and the scribes are grumbling about this. So Jesus tells a story. He tells this story for the benefit of the Pharisees and the scribes, not for the tax collectors and sinners.

Now, it’s important to note that pharisees and scribes aren’t really the horrible folks we like to make them out to be. In all honesty they are decent folk. They work hard, trust in God, read their Bible, play by the rules, love their children, respect their elders, and seek to make the world a better place. They’re not bogey men, they’re decent folk. The problem with being decent type folk is that we fall into the double trap of believing that we’re the reason that we’re decent to begin with and that others really should be as decent as us, if only they’d try a little harder. That’s the nefarious, insidious sin of the decent folk that we all to often don’t recognize. It’s self righteousness. Or, put another way, we become the judge of what makes someone good.

There’s a lot that can be said about this parable. But it’s the ending that always fascinates me. It doesn’t end. It’s left open; it invites you to ponder the question; how would I respond? Picture the scene with me:

It’s dark outside, the day’s work is over. A cool breeze blows through the air cooling the sweat on the oldest son’s brow; it ruffles his hair. His dirty hands are shaking with anger; he’s just found out that his youngest brother, the one who cut and ran with his money to do God knows what has returned. He’s been welcomed back! This older brother is dirty, dressed in work clothes from the field. But his younger brother is clean, he’s got on a nice robe and a ring. He sits out here all alone in the darkness. Off in the distance he can hear the music and the laughter of the party. The lights from the tent glow brightly amidst the darkened world. It makes him angrier. There appears a silhouette of a man walking towards him. It’s his father. This is the second time today that this father has left all of his possessions and comforts to embrace a child. With outstretched arms he embraces his son, kisses him, and invites him in. There’s a party for the younger son going on, but it can be the older son’s party too! The younger son has a nice robe on, there’s one for the older son too! The older son doesn’t respond to the father’s embrace, only stands there stiff as a corpse. He unloads his frustration, years of anger and resentment. This is good, it’s good to be honest, to get things out into the cool night air for once. Again the father invited the son into the party. Come in from the cool darkness into the light of the celebration and revelry. The scene ends; we don’t know what happens next. It invites the question. You be the older brother; you’re in this situation. What do you do? Do you stand firm and stay outside? Or do you go into the party?
When we get down to it this is a parable for us decent folk, the present day pharisees. We’re decent people…but we have our sins too. We like to determine who’s good and who’s bad; who’s in and who’s out. We like to play God…and that’s the original sin isn’t it, to be God ourselves. Yep, desolate living, debauchery, and squandering aren’t the basis of sin as we decent folk like to believe, it’s trying to be God. God’s business again and again throughout Scripture is to welcome sinners with outstretched arms, with robe and ring and festivities. He welcomes sinners both decent and indecent. Will we lay aside our own opinions about what makes people right with God? Will we celebrate that none of us make ourselves right with God but instead that it is God who makes people, both decent and indecent, right with him? Will we stop trying to be God and, instead let God be God for us? This is a parable about just how lavish, just how messy, just how surprising, just how far reaching the love and mercy and grace of God is. Are you ready for the party? You’re invited!

Photo Credit: The Prodigal Son by Rembrandt

Word for the Way: Stop

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“The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately” – Mark 11:3

Haggai is one of those curious prophets that I enjoy teaching about. He’s one of that blob of 12 prophets. Kids at my church do a great job memorizing the books of the Bible, until they get to the 12 minor prophets. Thats when things begin to break down. They’ll be going along well, “Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Ed, Ringo…” Yeah, sometimes they make a few up, but then again, wouldn’t the book of Ringo be awesome!

What I find curiously intriguing about the book of Haggai isn’t anything that Haggai prophesied. What I love are the narrator’s comments. Haggai, more than any other book in the Bible takes great pains to provide a date for each of Haggai’s four prophecies. When you do the math Haggai’s prophetic ministry was a grand total of four months. For a mere four months of Haggai’s life we hear about him in the Bible. We know nothing of his birth nor of his death. We don’t know what he did two days before the word of the Lord came to him nor do we know what he did a week after his last prophetic utterance…though I guess if he were like any good American celebrity he’d go to Disneyworld, but that’s just speculation. What really has me intrigued by Haggai is that the Lord had a peculiarly special need of him for four months and that was it.

This flies in my face and in the face of those I live and serve with. We value fortitude. I’m in it to the end; don’t quit; never give up! We value those who have served for a looong time. Those who served for four months only, well, we’d wonder what that person wanted from us and, clearly, they didn’t get it so off they went. Put in a good Biblical tone we’d say that person has no roots. No, we like our folks long serving and long suffering thank you very much.
Problem is that this simply doesn’t fit with the Biblical narrative. Haggai served for four months; Jonah likely only a few weeks…or even days. Simon of Cyrene only served for maybe a few hours; the colt from Palm Sunday for maybe less than an hour. Of course this isn’t to even mention the Lord God Almighty who created the cosmos stopping after just six days. Of course he resumes work the next day returning to his wonderfully creative ways. But it does make you think, if God works for six days and then stops how would he fair in our eyes; would we see him as one with fortitude or with no root? Curious questions to ponder. Now to be clear, you are a person of great worth to the Lord; he gave his only son for you remember. And of course the Lord wants you to be a co worker in his vineyard. But perhaps your service as a co worker might change and shift from time to time. You might be in active service one day, and a part of the reserves the next. You might be a starter this week and on the bench the next. You might be a Martha for a time and then you might be a Mary…and that’s actually ok. It’s ok to serve the Lord actively and it’s ok to rest for a while too…shoot, it’s downright Biblical. We might do well to ponder today why we don’t afford this blessed privilege of resting from our weary labors to ourselves, or to others. Perhaps the watchword for today is just Stop.