Wednesday, November 29, 2023

I Wonder--November 29

I wonder if you would pray with me for someone you have not met? 

Today I had my yearly physical with my doctor and it went very well. Heart, lungs, BP, etc. all were good. I enjoy seeing my doctor; he is a good friend to boot! As the appointment ended I was sent to the lab for my yearly blood work--this too was expected just ask my grumbling stomach (I was fasting and had not eaten yet). 

The young lady working the desk called me up to give blood. I went into the room and the normal small talk began. But then God walked into the room, sat down. . . 

The young lady asked me, "What do you do for a living?"

"I am a preacher." I replied. Pausing I asked: "How can I help?" Her eyes widened. 

Then she told me her story. It was unremarkable; it was not tragic. But in her story she faced a choice--a moment of discernment that she was struggling with and she wondered where is God in that moment? And in her moment she did not know what to do or even where to turn. She had some faith, but she said she talk like Job standing before God. 

She asked me for a scripture and maybe (her words) a prayer. I offered her both. 

Then she drew my blood. 

We talked a bit more and I left and began the remainder of my day. 

But walking to my car I wondered: how often do we follow up with a promised statement? She asked me to pray for her; it was clear that she needed prayer. Had I done that? Had I kept my word? Would I continue to pray for her later in the day when I thought about the morning and the events at the doctor's office? 

Or would her need float away the further away from the office that I got? 

That is a temptation that we all face. We know we should pray; we should care for others. We should serve them as Christ has served us. But do we follow through with this most simple act of Christian faith and practice? 

So today, I wonder, will you pray for someone you do not know? Someone who does not know you? 

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

I Wonder--November 28

I wonder how do we learn to work together? 

Now that is a loaded question with deep, complex, and personal, answers. Trying to answer this question too quickly will result in platitudes and niceties. Answering to quickly will lead us to answers that fit on Hallmark greeting cards or Instagram posts surrounded by various nature scenes. 

For the last month I have spent time thinking and considering this question as it surfaces at various points in life? 

How do we work together when we come before God to ask Him "Why?" . . . "Why did this have to happen?" Or more personally, "Why did you do this God?"

How do we work together to teach the lessons of God's Word to children--some of whom are not listening and do not desire to listen? 

How do we work together as the Church when we see the hungry, the cold, the needy drive into our community and ask for help without actually hearing them say 'help?"

How. . . How . . . How? 

We are conditioned to answer "How" questions in a certain way. In my experience, asking "How" means finding a solution and then implementing the solution repeatedly. But I want to resist that temptation. I want to resist trying to 'fix' anything that I define as broken. Instead, can we notice what the "How" question makes us address and wonder about? 

I read a story recently of a man who visited a L'Arche community. These communities, which exist all over the world, serve and support the needy--no matter how 'needy' is defined. 

This man spent a time with a group of folks who are handicapped. During his visit he would work alongside of them at a task that he never did before. To increase the challenge, this man did not speak the language of the people, and if that is not enough, one of the group members did not like others translating for their visitor. She believed that he would learn and understand words he never heard before, if he just listened. (fascinating I think). 

Interestingly enough, he did. He mirrored the work of others. He followed their nonverbal leading. He was gentle and allowed the other people in the room to have the place of authority and power. And at the end it was a wonderful experience. 

So to return to my question: how do we work together? . . . Perhaps if we follow the Lord silently, allow the nonverbal communication of the Holy Spirit to guide us, and trust that God places us in the exact right position or moment, we might learn something about working with God in the kingdom. 

I wonder, how might you respond to the question? How do we work together? 

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

I Wonder--November 15

This morning as I was walking I listened to an interview with the famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma. His gentle words spoke deeply to my heart and caused me to wonder. . . 

The story he told was about Mr. Rogers--a man he had the privilege of meeting and working with. Once Mr. Rogers was in front of congress seeking funding for his television program. As a PC(USA) minister Fred was deeply familiar with God's Word and voice. Yet he was gentle and did not lash out when congress pushed him on topics.  

At an important moment in the hearing, when the tension was high, Mr. Rogers offered the congressmen and women a pair of Hebrew words which translated: "Heal the world." 

He did not provide any direct programming ideas and did not offer any solutions/platitudes (or even a rebuke to the leaders of congress who didn't 'get it.')  about how he felt called to do this work. It was just simply his mission: Heal the World. 

We have a lot of opportunities in our days to practice what Mr. Rogers taught that day. While we know that God ultimately does the work necessary to heal the world, we are offered a place in partnership with the Lord. We are offered the chance to step outside of ourselves and be the hands and feet of Christ working with other people. 

But the choice is ours. God does not force His will upon us. We have the choice to respond to the call. The Holy Spirit is at work in our lives each day. The Spirit speaks to us; invites us. I wonder, will, and how, will you practice what Mr. Rogers taught? How will you serve to heal the world? 

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

I Wonder--November 14

While I know that this week is going to be quite busy at Bethesda because of our turkey giveaway, the mindset that called us toward this mission project should be the same mindset that is at work in each of us as Christians. 

We did not have some special revelation from God; there was no voice from heaven announcing to us that we were solely called to support our community for our glory and pride.  

Rather as we spent time in God's Word together, and as we prayed, we heard, and we felt, God's call on our lives. God moved in our hearts and helped us to wonder. It is a similar sense of call that each member of the Body of Christ is offered by God. The Lord asks us to spend time in His Word; He asks us to meditate upon it. Then after spending time with God, and in Christ, we move out into our community. 

Majorie J. Thompson, in her book Soul Feast, wrote these words to support what this call looks like. She said: 

"If the Word I hear Sunday morning or during my private prayer has no bearing on the way I relate to family, friends, and foe, or how I make decisions, spend my resources, and cast my vote, then my faith is [a] fantasy."

Again, we are called by the Lord to practice our faith. We can do that in large scale projects (like our turkey giveaway this week). We can also do it intentionally in seemingly small daily choices. God calls us to practice our faith not just on Sunday when we come to church, but God asks us to practice our faith in response to His revelation in our lives. 

I wonder how might God be asking you today to practice your faith? 

Thursday, November 9, 2023

I Wonder--November 9

This week I have spent some significant time reading and considering the work of Stanley Hauerwas. Specifically, I have been reading a longer essay that he wrote on a major social issue that we are facing as a culture. 

Now I am not going to comment on, or identify, the issue here. It is far too polarizing for an appropriate discussion in this space.

Instead as I read Hauerwas, I was struck by how his answer to the problems our society is facing is community and community caregiving. In his work Hauerwas does not critique and rebuke either side of the issue alone. Rather he takes the reader on a journey through both sides of the argument and wonders if being a Christian might call us to practices of community-building rather than division?

Division is what the community focuses on. They prefer to divide and categorize. Us/them language and practices are more common in the community that lives outside of the church.  

Now, certainly there is a place for judgment and correction as we read God's word and consider what God says to us. That is one of the basic messages that we find in the Bible. Time and again God's people are confronted with their poor choices and called to change their lives in response to God's self-revelation. 

But while we read, pray, and consider God and His voice, maybe we are invited to dwell with our community? Maybe as we think about how God asks each of us to live, we can abide with our neighbors, our community members. . . Maybe God wonders if we might dwell with them a little longer and as we dwell, perhaps we can offer them the care and support that we find in God's word? Care that was given to us once.

It is easy to judge and divide when we look at the choices that our community members make. But I think God is pleased when we opt to abide with them and to care for them first. I wonder if that is how the gospel is shared authentically? 

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

I Wonder--October 31

At some point tonight, pallets of Christmas decorations will finally come out of their hiding. Shrink wrap will be cut away and boxes opened. Any last vestiges of Halloween candy, costumes, and decoration will go on clearance; room must be made for Christmas. 

Now I am one who loves Christmas and the joy that comes with the celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. But I wonder. . . have we not forgotten something? 

And no, I don't mean Thanksgiving (which is also important). By rushing past Halloween, and headlong into Christmas, perhaps we are missing what All Hallows Eve truly means. It is not about unlimited amounts of sugary candy and it is also not about haunted houses or smashing pumpkins on the street. That is what the culture has taught us. Instead, All Hallow's Eve (better known as Halloween) literally means "the day before All Saints Day"--which is November 1st. 

All Saints Day celebrates the lives of the saints of Jesus' church. It celebrates the known, and the unknown, those who served the Lord faithfully before entering into the Resurrection. November 1st is a time of memory and reflection. It is a time where the church comes together reflectively and considers the faithful of every time and place who served the Lord. 

On All Saints Day I will call to mind members of my family who have returned to be with God. I will remember the lessons that they taught me about faith.  I will choose to remember. . . 

I will remember the church my grandparent's, Len and Carol, helped found in Cleveland and how I can still see grandpa's labelling in every church cabinet. I will remember singing around my grandmother's piano--sometimes in tune with her (often not) from her red hymnal. 

I will remember my father teaching me about the importance of church attendance and how my faith would grow if I listened. I will remember the Bible that he bought for JonMark when my son was first born. He told me to give it to him when JonMark was ready. 

I will remember my Nana, Adeline, talking to me about the saints of the Catholic church and how important her little parish in Pennsylvania was to her faith. And I will also remember how she whispered when she came to grandpa Frank's grave as he let him know that she was there and gently pulled the weeds out from around his stone.

There are many others that I will remember. . . and I know it is a practice that the Lord will be with me in.

Tomorrow is the day that we can intentionally remember the saints of our church. As you sneak a Reeses cup tomorrow, I wonder who might you remember? Maybe take some time on All Satins Day to practice remembering and see who God calls to your mind. 

Monday, October 30, 2023

I Wonder--October 30

If the Church is not careful it can become too practically-based, or too praxis-oriented. In doing so, the church can move away from its primary calling to dwell in Christ. If we become too practical in our mission work, we could lose the theological underpinning and the call that motivated us to leave the church grounds and care for the community.

From my perspective the temptation is real and we need to pause and consider how we move forward with Christ.  

I witnessed this temptation firsthand here at Bethesda recently in the number of mission programs that we began recently. Bags of food to our community, lunches to children who are out of school for a week, candy at Trunk or Treat, Grief Share support, we could become so focused on the practice of mission that we miss the Christ who walks with us into the community. We could miss the Christ who dwells. 

At Trunk or Treat I saw a familiar face come around the corner. This person, whose name I do not know, received several lunches from us during the second week of October. During that week, I walked to this family's door and handed them a couple brown bag lunches each morning. I handed them a full sack of food on one day. On the final day of the lunch program, we included an invitation to Trunk or Treat which was coming soon. (Seriously who does not like a little Halloween candy!) 

And this family came. 

Did they come for free candy or did they come because we displayed Christ's love for them? 

The only one who knows that answer for certain is God. 

This family and I made eye contact--but in a quiet way. They did not acknowledge me or anyone from the church who brought them food that week. But they did smile ever-so-subtly as their daughter came up for candy, a pumpkin, and a cross necklace. 

Stanley Hauerwas wrote: 

"The most important social task of Christians is to be nothing less than a community capable of forming people with virtues sufficient to witness to God's truth in the world." 

I wonder how often our social practices as a church, or your personal practices, seek to 'witness to God's truth in the world?' 

Maybe take some time and reflect with the Lord about this. . . 

I Wonder--November 29

I wonder if you would pray with me for someone you have not met?  Today I had my yearly physical with my doctor and it went very well. Heart...