Thursday, May 26, 2022

Wonderings--May 26

As I continue to think and grieve over the shooting Uvalde, I thought about the intersection point between grief and compassion. Both ideas are serious and both can require a lifetime to fully address or practice. We can spend years trying to live compassionately in a world that does not practice compassion themselves. 

Nonetheless, God asks each of us to find space in our lives when these moments of suffering take place, and when our world is rocked to its spiritual foundations, and practice both ideas concurrently. 

To that end, as I wrestled with these ideas, I also remembered something that I read a long time ago which helps me with this practice. I return to these words often when 'presence' of compassion and the 'pain' of grief come together around me. 

Henri Nouwen wrote: 

"It might sound strange to consider grief as a way to compassion. But it is. God asks me to allow the sins of the world--my own included--to pierce my heart and make me shed tears, many tears, for them. There is no compassion without many tears. If they can't be tears that stream from my eyes, they have to be at least tears that well up from my heart. When we consider the immense waywardness of God's children. . . our violence, our anger, our resentment, and when look at them through the eyes of God's heart, I cannot but weep and cry out in grief." 

The act of crying out in pain as Nouwen speaks about, either out loud or silent in my heart, leads us toward a position of compassion. 

But in our compassion we are not resigned or apathetic toward what we witness in our world. We do not state that our world is 'getting what it deserves.' We don't distance ourselves from the pain even though this pain resides at such a physical distance from us in this moment. We further cannot just say, 'well that is their pain what am I to do about it.' 

Instead the pain of the world can enter into our hearts. It can, and it should, touch us and call us into our own grief time. In that time of grief, and in the space that we encounter God in, We receive His compassion. We feel God's love once again holding us closely. 

In our time of grief we can, and we should, turn to the Lord through prayer and presence. In our pain we continue onward because of Lord goes with us everywhere. As we turn to God, I wonder what God might do in our hearts?  

I wonder if you can find that intersection point between grief and compassion? Perhaps God is there and perhaps God is preparing to teach you something? 

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Wonderings--May 25

Following my discovery last evening of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, I opened my notebook and wondered if I could list, either by name or through a reference point, the shootings that occurred in schools around our nation. 

I knew that this task would be a lengthy exercise. I would hurt. But I just felt called by God to do it. . . . Pain would come to mind often as I wrote these names down and remembered them, but again, it seemed necessary to me as a way to begin to pray, and so sighing, I started writing. 

The first thing that came to mind (besides Uvalde, Texas) was standing in Jennifer's parents living room in 1999. It was a few months before we were married. Columbine was first. I remembered the images from the news and my shock and dismay at the story of the two assailants. Confusion and fear were all that I felt that day. Was I truly witnessing what it seemed that I was witnessing? I never saw something like this before. Little did I know back in 1999 that this would happen more and more and I would begin to feel numb to it. 

Sighing I continued the practice as a way to gently remember and continue to grieve. Leaving my judgements aside, I wrote. . . 

Names of locations came to my mind and they triggered memories of where I was and what I was doing for each. . . Majorie Stoneman. . . Sandy Hook. . . Virginia Tech. . . the Amish Shooting in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. No matter who took to lectern to attempt make sense of these shootings on the news, they could not. The best attempts that our national leadership made at helping us address, or confront the shootings, and try to heal, failed for me. I always felt helpless as I switched off the television and I had few words in prayer. 

There was little rhyme or reason for how these memories came to my mind. But I let the feelings and memories wash over me one after another. As I thought, I remembered an audio presentation that I heard about Dr. King's final sermon by John Meacham. This sermons was delivered in 1968--a day before his assassination. Dr. King proclaimed: 

"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go out to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. . . I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy tonight. . . My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

These words call me to continue my work for the Lord. They call me to continue to share God's word often and freely. For in the Word of God we find healing. We find union with our Savior in those words. In God's word we find hope that even as evil continues to live and hunt in this world. God is with us. Even as school shootings take our breath away and we say things like, "Come Lord Jesus," or "How can this happen God," we turn back to our Lord for in Him we find salvation and safety. 

In Him we find not a dismissal of evil or a punitive God who will strike down those who do these things. Certainly that can happen and it is God's prerogative if it does. For only He holds the universal perspective. 

In Him we find a way to reach our hands out to those who grieve and suffering. We find, with God, a way to express and live in solitary with the wounded and the suffering. 

In Him we do not find our pain swept away so we can return to normal necessarily, but we hear a call to dwell with the 'least of these' for in that place we feel their suffering and we strive to offer hope. 

I agree with Dr. King, I don't know what happens next, but I also agree that "my eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Wonderings--May 24

Although we live in a 24-hour news cycle there are some issues that continually surface in our minds long after we have stopped witnessing the news coverage. These things, or these issues, live on. We read about them, and listen to them, and as such we cannot ignore or push them away totally. Distractions are only that--distractions--the pain lives on. The greater pain and suffering still resides with us and since we are called by God, we must respond. 

The seriousness of them linger for long periods of time with and in us. 

But today as I thought about some of those lingering challenges and struggles in our culture, and as I clicked out of my news app on my iPhone, I was drawn to an article written by Rabbi Yeheil E. Poupko. His work addresses the Jewish community's interfaith relations with the larger world. As a theologian he frequently witnesses what is taking place outside of his window and community and finds a way to wonder about God's placement in those events? 

Recently he wrote an article that appeared in Christian Century

Tracing a thought-line through Jewish history and into the present, where violence and shootings occur more and more frequently, Rabbi Poupko invites us to reflect back through our combined history with God as a way to affirm God's presence with us. 

Although the temptation is present to state that God is far off and we cannot find a way back to Union with God, perhaps a different choice could be made by the church? Perhaps we could use the pain that we feel, and the tragedies that we witness, and the suffering of the community at-large, as a way to examine our response? 

Rabbi Poupko writes: 

". . . The Jewish tradition no longer attempts to address the question “Why?” when horrific and evil events overtake us. Rather, it seeks to answer a different set of questions: Now that we have been subjected to such events, what must we do? How should we do it? With whom should we do it? When and where should we do it?"

These are also questions that we might be challenged by God to answer in our day and situation. What should we do next? . . . How must we do it? . . . When and where is our response called for? None of this reflection can be done lightly or causally. These questions invite us to a practice of discernment. They are an invitation by God for deeper reflection when evil surrounds us.

For while we read and reflect back on the evil that we witness, that does not mean we are powerless. We have a role and a mission. I wonder today how you might answer these questions? What might God be asking of you? 

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Wonderings--May 18

Last night I did not sleep well. This has less to do with any anxiety or stress that I am reading about or feeling. My sleeplessness is more related to my choice of dinner than anything else. Add to my bout of indigestion and curious shih-tzu who wanted attention every time I got up, and the night dragged on a little more than I would have liked. 

So sleepily I slung my backpack over my shoulder and as I walked to the church I knew that I needed a little extra God-time to help my soul. I needed God's help not to 'awaken my soul' or to help me be more productive, but I needed God's help in a different, more personal, way. 

It was time to walk into the cemetery here at Bethesda and pray. Opening my devotional app on my iPhone, I slowly walked and considered the material. Each day this devotional offers listeners a 12-14 minute program which combines many pieces of worship. The company who creates these follows a simple formula: 

Musical selection (sometimes in English)
Reading of God's word
Questions for reflection
Re-reading of the same passage
A final question

I have listened to this program for years since a seminary professor recommended it to me and I often find it helpful. The formula works and neatly fits into even the busiest of days. 

Today's text was from John 15. In the text Jesus tells his disciples to abide in him and he will abide with them. He is the vine. . . They are the branches. He brings life. They must remain together with him. Certainly familiarity is ringing in your ear as you consider this text. The first question that the speaker offered us for reflection was all the my soul needed, and I wonder if it might be helpful to you today? 

In a world that feels cut off at times from God, and in a world where society makes choices that also feel counter to God's will, perhaps her words can help us reclaim our union with God. She said: 

"Imagine what would it be like to be a branch, joined to this vine? 
To be tended by the gardener and bear abundant fruit?"

Could you take a moment right now and do this? Consider this question in your heart right now. . . 

As she said these words, I stopped and sat on a little bench in the shade. It was a cool sunny morning and I was thankful to find this place of rest as I strengthen my artificial knee. I closed my eyes and listened to my heart's response. The responses were buzzing around me almost instantly. I heard words coming from my heart like:


I saw in my heart a yellowish-white vein flowing from the root of the vine and into the branches. Like veins in our bodies, this light granted, or brought, life to the extremities of the vine--to us--and fruit would grow. I saw the Gardner traveling around his field. Smiling. Watering. Feeding. And caring for his field; caring for us.  

This reflection went on for 10 more minutes. Then they finished with a benediction and I returned to my desk. 

The election struggles that I read about from primaries around the country are still present and unresolved. NATO issues are part of our day. War still rages in far off places. We are still divided as the Supreme Court rules on case after case. . . And yet, for the moment, I abided in the vine and it helped. 

I hope you will take a moment today and consider the question that was posed to me. Maybe God brought it into your life for a reason? 


Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Wonderings--May 17

I am not quite as angry or upset today by what I am witnessing in our community--but I am also not apathetically moving on either. The pain is still there as is the confusion and uncertainty.  

There is still the pain of reading, and noticing, how the initial suffering in places like Buffalo and the church in California spreads outward into the world-- and I still don't have the answer to the "why" question. 

We are hearing and witnessing the pain as it travels from firsthand accounts toward us at home. In this way their communal suffering seems to resemble a pebble dropped into a lake; the ripples are continuing to move outward further and further from their source or inciting incident. We cannot see where the shoreline is and so the ripples keep traveling further and further away. . . or further closer to us. 

Op eds are being penned and revised and evaluated and defended at every turn by political commentators and news sources. Polling numbers are being scrutinized and applied as leadership tries to grapple with the world and the impact of these events. People want to have a justification for what they feel or experience and they want to process those feelings in front of the community and demand the community accept them--a practice that I can sympathize with for no one likes to stand alone and confess that they feel powerless and targeted. 

And yet this morning I read the words of novelist Jodi Picoult and I stopped and considered the implications of what she was speaking about. Her words are cited in the book: God, Improv, and the Art of Living

She writes this: 

"Heroes didn't leap tall buildings or stop bullet with an outstretched hand; they didn't wear boots and capes. They bled, and the bruised, and their superpowers were as simple as listening, or loving. Heroes were ordinary people who knew that even if their own lives were impossibly knotted, they could untangle someone else's. And maybe that one act could lead someone to rescue you right back."

I don't want to parse out exactly what Jodi said in this quotation. Instead, I want to wonder with you today about who in your life is displaying the superpower of listening and loving? And I wonder if it could be you?  

When we read about tragedy and suffering, and regardless of its motivation, we find people who choose to dwell and listen. Certainly there were folks who acted in these horrific events. We need those people. Someone began to the process of 'hogtie-ing' the shooter in the California church. That person's work saved lives. Personal when the shooter in Pittsburgh opened fire in a Jewish synagogue, the rabbi hid elderly individuals in closets around the building for their safety. 

But now as we pick up the pieces as a society, and as we read and listen to politicians attempt to capitalize on the events for the gain of their agenda, I wonder if we can notice who just dwelt with the wounded? 

Who was there to hold their hand and grieve with them? 
Weep with them? 
Dwell with them? 

I am sure in your life when times of suffering have come someone sat down on the bench next to you and didn't say a word. They didn't offer a solution or an opinion. They didn't not opine the latest buzz-worthy response or offer to show you a meme that captures how you feel. And they didn't have to. . . They just sat there. Perhaps they didn't even look at you, but their presence made verbal interaction unnecessary. 

Perhaps that was their superpower. . . perhaps it can be yours as well. 

I wonder if God has shown you someone who you could dwell with in these tough times? Maybe He has given you the relationship so that you can help them through something that does not need to be named in order to be meaningful? 

Rev. Derek

Monday, May 16, 2022

Wonderings--May 16

I am upset today. . . Frustrated. . . Angry. . . . My feelings are a mixture of rage, confusion, and apathy, and I imagine you feel the same way. So if you will indulge me for a few minutes that might help us both as we work toward faithfulness. . . 

Today as I prepared to come to the church, I read in The Guardian (England's most reliable, and unbiased, new source). The paper reported that Finland and Sweden are preparing to join NATO, and as I read this, I also I read Russia's response to their choice. The Russians say things like, "this won't go unnoticed by us. It demands a response." The Russians state that they will respond with a potential military build-up near the 810 mile border between Finland and Russia--and I think, "here we go again."

I am upset as I read about protest and public statements related to an upcoming Supreme Court decision and reading about how protesters are gathering around the country--even at the homes of justices--to make their voices heard. And while I support our right to gather and express our opinion, what I read and notice seems less based on a sense of 'coming together' and more 'you won't win.' Last evening JonMark and I talked as he drove home and we wondered together why we cannot have a dialogue anymore? Why must things get to this level of outrage? 

I thought about the violence and terrorism in Buffalo as a man traveled 3.5 hours to execute other members of God's family. His actions were completely racially motivated and the way he defined himself to law enforcement sickened my heart. His 100+ page manifesto spouts only hate and theories that defy logic. His attempts to live stream his actions are beyond understanding to me. As he modified his weapon to increase is effectiveness, I wondered how could this happen?  

My anger bubbled again as I heard about a church in California who dealt with their own active shooter. And while there were injuries in the church, and some quite serious, the church was able to subdue the attacker. Is not even God's house, the sanctuary, a place where we can take 'sanctuary' any longer? 

On and on it went with my frustration and anger growing inside of me. . . And while I know part of the solution is to stop reading the stories, I can say that these incidents still happen whether I read about them or not. 

What am I supposed to? 
How am I supposed to act or feel? I feel helpless and hopeless. . . 

Not knowing exactly what to do, I opened my morning prayer app and I started walking. The heat this morning warming me as I entered my sacred space and traveled around it. Quiet music played first. A passage of Acts was read by someone. The narrator offered some guided prayer for me. . . And I walked in my sacred space. 

I slid my glasses off my face and wiped some of the sweat from my eyes. Placing them in my shirt pocket, I took a deep breath and hummed the music that I was listening to. They sang: 

There's a song inside of us
A song of beauty and truth
That fear has sometimes stolen
That fear has sometimes stolen

There's a voice inside of us
a voice of creativity
Which judgement tries to silence
Which judgement tries to silence

But now I rise
Pouring out my song of love
Here at your feet
No more fear!

Awake my soul! 

While I have been trained to think theologically when confronted by any situation in life, and as I have honed my heart to listen to the spiritual rhythms of God each day, I find that I cannot do more today than simply walk. . . "No more fear. . . Awake my soul!"

Perhaps today you are in a similar place? 

Struggling to come to terms with what is happening in our world and community? In that case you are not alone. . . Struggling to see God at work? . . . Again you are not alone in this. Angry, righteously, against what is happening in our world? 

If so, I wonder if you might take a moment as I did, and spend time with the Lord? I wonder what the two of you might learn and how you might feel God drawing close? Perhaps God is ready to awaken your soul in a way that is new and helpful? 

Rev. Derek

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Wonderings--May 12

It has been a surprisingly quick 12-weeks for me. Actually it has been 12 weeks and three days if I am being specific, but I know that this detail is not that important. It has been 12 weeks since Dr. Weiss replaced my knee. Caps, rods, and spacers were put where they will be for the rest of my life and I can walk better and smoother now. Today was the final check-up with Dr. Weiss for a while (I will see him at 1-year just to make sure everything is well and stable--which he thinks it will be).

Last week I saw my physical therapist for the final time also and she pronounced me 'good to go.' Her final instructions were to come back with an update so she could see how well I was doing. She showed me some extra work that I could do at-home to help me in recovery and I headed back to my truck. All the necessary measurements (flexion and extension) were taken and I was significantly ahead of schedule and felt good. 

I have learned a great deal during these weeks of therapy and healing that I have shared either in these posts or from the pulpit on Sunday morning. 

They key learning point for me has been the intersection of patience and listening--tasks I know are hard for a lot of people. Through my recovery, I learned to listen to the tiny voice in my heart that routinely updates me on my pain levels and flexibility. As best as I can, I now listen better to that voice more often and try and obey its suggestions. 

I stand and walk around the office and fellowship hall almost every hour now so that I do not become too sore and stiff. I walk around the parking lot often in the morning before work--but not every day because I do hurt still at times. The voice reminds me that overdoing it is bad and that choice only wears me out faster. 

When is it time of Advil? When should I elevate my knee and ice it? The voice tells me. But the spiritual learning has been more meaningful.

Today I am more patient. 

My at-home physical therapist was the first one to push back on my desire to work harder than I needed too so that I could walk quicker. She helped me to realize that patience was as much a part of PT as the hard work that was, and is, needed. 

We read about patience in the book of Habakkuk. In the prophet we read: "For there is still a vision for the appointed time. . . it speaks of the end, and it does not lie." If you read on you will hear God say to the prophet: It it seems slow; wait for it. It is on its way; it will arrive right on time. . . this is a word of patience for the church. 

Often we want to push as fast as we can and become the most effective and efficient models of the Christian life. But in doing so we risk not hearing that small voice of the Holy Spirit telling us to be patient. . . dwell with God. If spiritual progress seems slow don't worry it will happen. Just give it time and space. 

Maybe instead of pushing as hard as we can to become faithful, slowing down, sitting back, and resting might be just what God is asking of us? This has been a lesson that I learned as I healed from surgery and it is one that maybe God is asking you to adopt yourself?  


Rev. Derek

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Wonderings--May 11

This week I have had the blessing of taking communion to members of the church who are unable to physically attend worship. These moments are special, sacred, and unique. Each individual whose home I travel to demonstrates their own story of God. 

When I meet with people from the church in their home I ask myself silently, 'What are you up to here God?" Then I just sit back and listen and watch. . . Home communion, in my experience, is always a sacred moment. This time the sacredness grew because a pair of elders from the church have come with me. Their memories and stories of the person we are going to see helps to create a more vivid picture of God's presence. 

For three years covid has made these sacred visits more challenging--but slowly that is changing. 

This 'round' of communions I have sat on front porches and watched the traffic flow by. I met new family members and been re-introduced to others. I have heard the stories of how couples met and heard how their love grew and deepened over time and how covid affected them. I heard about hobbies and the lifecycle of the community, and its animals, in these visits. The history of this area has been shared with me again I learned more about Bethesda and God's work here. 

Sacred memories of the church have been shared and troubled-memories healed by being community

Whether we know it or not, times like these, where we sit and listen to each other are acts of worship. They are opportunities to sit and listen to "How God is at work" in the life of another person. Worship does not have to be formal or occur only in the worship space. Worship occurs when we invite the divine into our midst and we listen and dwell there. 

Yesterday was a beautiful day. As Ernice and I sat on outside together, with a member, I just marveled at the beauty and wonder that God does each day. In something as simple as watching the birds eat and the squirrels attempt to steal their food, God could be located and praised. Sighing I realized that God has come close in that moment-- if we will just dwell there and notice Him. This is an act of worship.  

Worship "means to participate in the daily practices of forming and restoring a local body of people and helping it to flourish in both the generic habits and the unique calling the Holy Spirit has given its as the church." 

I like this definition because it addresses the importance of the daily practices of worship that take place around us each day. I wonder if today you might take a moment, calm your heart, and notice the act of worship that you could participate in? 

Rev. Derek

Monday, May 9, 2022

Wonderings--May 9

I wonder if you might take a little walk around your house with me today? And as we walk maybe take a long, slow look at what is present. . . what's on the walls. . . what's on the shelves and in the drawers? Go slowly around and notice your house. 

James K.A. Smith believes that every house has an unspoken 'vibe' carried throughout it; and ethos of the household that is present. Through its daily rituals--the way we pass through the home and exist there--a story or 'hum' is speaking to, and for, us. It might even be something that is being shared without us being aware of it. 

Smith says:

"You might have Bible verses on the wall in every room of the house and yet the unspoken rituals reinforce self-centeredness rather than sacrifice. Thus each household and family does well to take an audit of its daily routines, looking at them through a liturgical lens.

What Story is carried in those rhythms? 

What vision of the good life [in Christ] is carried in those practices?  

What sorts of people are made by immersion in these cultural liturgies?"

I believe strongly in the power of story as a more effective and potent method for sharing the redemptive work of Christ in our lives. Story helps to communicate the meaning of what is place in our lives for others. And so there is a story at work even in our homes. 

When Smith speaks about the "unspoken rituals [that] reinforce self-centeredness" perhaps he is asking you to consider how your home supports your on-going faith practices and how it supports your evangelistic practices? 

Does the calendar in the kitchen support time for you and your family to be with Jesus each day? Is the dinning room or kitchen table accessible so that the family can and will gather together to break bread as Jesus did with his disciples? What about entertainments devices such as televisions, gaming systems, or computers, do they occupy a central place in the home and thereby, through extension, drive Christ to the 'when I have time area' of life? 

No one ever means to push Jesus to the margins of life. He is our Savior and our focal point of living. Yet our lives, and our homes, can show a different dynamic if we are not careful. These things can tell a different story--one we do not even realize we are telling as people enter our living spaces. 

So I wonder what might happen if you took a walk around your home today? What might God show you about your priorities and your choices? 

Rev. Derek

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Wonderings--May 5

I just returned from the York County National Day of Prayer service. The members of the Western York Ministerial Association gathered, along with a crowd of civic leaders, to pray for God's presence and blessing to be upon us, our families, our nation, and our world. 

Truth be told, I was excited for the invitation to participate in the service. I sat there looking forward to 'my turn' in the liturgy. Yet there was something else in the back of my mind,  a feeling, that I could not shake as I drove to York and parked in the civic lot. . . 

As I normally prefer, I arrived early and waited for others to arrive.  While I was waiting, I took out one of my notebooks, the one that stays in the truck for such moments, and began to jot down some thoughts about my assigned prayer. 

My topic was: Peace. 

Sitting in the warmth of the late morning, alone in my truck, I felt something overwhelming beginning to settle inside my mind. Learning into that 'overwhelming-ness' I waited for God to help me to see and understand this feeling. . . It was then that I realized that any prayer that I might offer for peace would be unlikely to include every needed area in life for peace. I could do my best and yet my best would still fall short of the need for peace in Creation.  

I could pray for the end of the war in Ukraine and other places . . . and I did.
Prayers could be offered to end terroristic actions around the world. . . again they were. 
I could pray for the employment peace for those deal with it. . . and I did.
I could ask God to be with those who suffer physically. . . which I again did.
Prayer was offered for those suffering mental anguish and those who inflict that anguish upon others. 

A lot of words were shared from my heart about the need of peace, and yet I felt like I missed so much. Even the space where I built in room to silently pray felt inadequate. How was I going to end this prayer and find something meaningful to tie the service together (I was the final prayer in the service)? 

Perhaps, in spite of my best efforts, the most effective way to reach out to God in these moments is just one of honesty and submission. Perhaps when I no longer had the words the best choice that I could make involved remembering that the Holy Spirit prays for and with us when we do not have the words. 

As I drove back to the office, I thought about this idea. I wondered what would happen to our faith journeys and devotional times if we stopped trying to hard and just realized that God is already in the room or space with us? I wonder what our prayer life would become if when the moment arises we were still with God?

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Wonderings--May 4

This morning I re-read a parable from Tolstoy that I want to share with you. This is quite a long parable so I encourage you to find some quiet time to sit with it and consider the story. 

"It once occurred to a certain king that if he always knew the right time to begin everything; if he knew who were the right people to listen to, and whom to avoid; and, above all, if he always knew what was the most important thing to do, he would never fail in anything he might undertake.

And this thought having occurred to him, he had it proclaimed throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to anyone who would teach him what was the right time for every action, and who were the most necessary people, and how he might know what was the most important thing to do.

And learned men came to the king, but they all answered his questions differently.

In reply to the first question, some said that to know the right time for every action, one must draw up in advance a table of days, months, and years, and must live strictly according to it. Only thus, said they, could everything be done at its proper time. Others declared that it was impossible to decide beforehand the right time for every action, but that, not letting oneself be absorbed in idle pastimes, one should always attend to all that was going on, and then do what was most needful. Others, again, said that however attentive the king might be to what was going on, it was impossible for one man to decide correctly the right time for every action, but that he should have a council of wise men who would help him to fix the proper time for everything.

But then again others said there were some things which could not wait to be laid before a council, but about which one had at once to decide whether to undertake them or not. But in order to decide that, one must know beforehand what was going to happen. It is only magicians who know that; and, therefore, in order to know the right time for every action, one must consult magicians.

Equally various were the answers to the second question. Some said the people the king most needed were his councilors; others, the priests; others, the doctors; while some said the warriors were the most necessary.

To the third question, as to what was the most important occupation, some replied that the most important thing in the world was science. Others said it was skill in warfare; and others, again, that it was religious worship.

All the answers being different, the king agreed with none of them, and gave the reward to none. But still wishing to find the right answers to his questions, he decided to consult a hermit, widely renowned for his wisdom.The hermit lived in the woods. . . and he received none but common folk. So the king put on simple clothes and, before reaching the hermit’s cell, dismounted from his horse. Leaving his bodyguard behind, he went on alone.

When the king approached, the hermit was digging the ground in front of his hut. Seeing the king, he greeted him and went on digging. The hermit was frail and weak, and each time he stuck his spade into the ground and turned a little earth, he breathed heavily. The king went up to him and said: “I have come to you, wise hermit, to ask you to answer three questions: How can I learn to do the right thing at the right time? Who are the people I most need, and to whom should I, therefore, pay more attention than to the rest? And, what affairs are the most important and need my first attention?”

The hermit listened to the king, but answered nothing. He just spat on his hand and recommenced digging.

“You are tired,” said the king, “let me take the spade and work awhile for you.”

“Thanks!” said the hermit, and, giving the spade to the king, he sat down on the ground.

When he had dug two beds, the king stopped and repeated his questions. The hermit again gave no answer, but rose, stretched out his hand for the spade, and said: “Now rest awhile – and let me work a bit.”

But the king did not give him the spade, and continued to dig. One hour passed, and another. The sun began to sink behind the trees, and the king at last stuck the spade into the ground, and said: “I came to you, wise man, for an answer to my questions. If you can give me none, tell me so, and I will return home.”

“Here comes someone running,” said the hermit. “Let us see who it is.”

The king turned round and saw a bearded man come running out of the wood. The man held his hands pressed against his stomach, and blood was flowing from under them. When he reached the king, he fell fainting on the ground, moaning feebly. The king and the hermit unfastened the man’s clothing. There was a large wound in his stomach. The king washed it as best he could, and bandaged it with his handkerchief and with a towel the hermit had. But the blood would not stop flowing, and the king again and again removed the bandage soaked with warm blood, and washed and re-bandaged the wound. 

When at last the blood ceased flowing, the man revived and asked for something to drink. The king brought fresh water and gave it to him. Meanwhile the sun had set, and it had become cool. So the king, with the hermit’s help, carried the wounded man into the hut and laid him on the bed. Lying on the bed, the man closed his eyes and was quiet; but the king was so tired from his walk and from the work he had done that he crouched down on the threshold, and also fell asleep.

When he awoke in the morning, it was long before he could remember where he was, or who was the strange bearded man lying on the bed and gazing intently at him with shining eyes. “Forgive me!” said the bearded man in a weak voice, when he saw that the king was awake and was looking at him.

“I do not know you, and have nothing to forgive you for,” said the king.

“You do not know me, but I know you. I am that enemy of yours who swore to revenge himself on you, because you executed his brother and seized his property. I knew you had gone alone to see the hermit, and I resolved to kill you on your way back. But the day passed and you did not return. So I came out from my ambush to find you, and came upon your bodyguard, and they recognized me, and wounded me. I escaped from them, but should have bled to death had you not dressed my wound. I wished to kill you, and you have saved my life. Now, if I live, and if you wish it, I will serve you as your most faithful slave, and will bid my sons do the same. Forgive me!”

The king was very glad to have made peace with his enemy so easily, and to have gained him for a friend, and he not only forgave him, but said he would send his servants and his own physician to attend him, and promised to restore his property.

Having taken leave of the wounded man, the king went out into the porch and looked around for the hermit. Before going away he wished once more to beg an answer to the questions he had put. The hermit was outside, on his knees, sowing seeds in the beds that had been dug the day before.

The king approached him and said, “For the last time, I pray you to answer my questions, wise man.”

You have already been answered!” said the hermit, still crouching on his thin legs, and looking up at the king, who stood before him.

“How answered? What do you mean?” asked the king.

“Do you not see?” replied the hermit. “If you had not pitied my weakness yesterday, and had not dug these beds for me, but had gone your way, that man would have attacked you, and you would have repented of not having stayed with me. So the most important time was when you were digging the beds; and I was the most important man; and to do me good was your most important business. Afterwards, when that man ran to us, the most important time was when you were attending to him, for if you had not bound up his wounds he would have died without having made peace with you. So he was the most important man, and what you did for him was your most important business. Remember then: there is only one time that is important – now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. The most necessary person is the one with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with anyone else: and the most important affair is to do that person good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life.”

I wonder where today you might find some time and space to be present as the king in our parable was present. For when we dwell in the moment with the other person, we find ourselves serving not only them but God. 


Rev. Derek

Monday, May 2, 2022

Wonderings--May 2

Now that Homecoming here at Bethesda is finished for another year, I can reflect on our preparations for it and praise God. I can look around and see how blessed I am and how blessed I feel this morning. Nowhere was this more evident than on Saturday afternoon. 

Jennifer and I headed out to the front yard shortly after 10am to do a little bit. She was going to do a small bit of yard work, and I was taking the trash to the dumpster. Both of us were tired from another full week, but we were together and that was good. I transported 10 bags of pine bark in my truck for her to mulch around a pair of small bushes in the front yard and around a telephone poll which needed another 10. 

She raked up the magnolia tree leaves and those little 'cone-like' objects that they leave behind. Chuckling she said that this was done more for her safety than anything else. You see, we walk through that area each Wednesday as we go over for the fellowship dinner and band practice. Neither of us want to trip over those cones, so they had to go! 

By this point it was getting to be lunch time. So I called Emma and she took care of us. 

After stopping for lunch we looked out at a large area to the right of the house and driveway. It needed a lot of attention. There were weeds everywhere. Sighing we decided to mulch that too. We wanted the manse to be ready for Homecoming and look its best too! 

A little more than three hours later the final bag of mulch was spread. This was a tremendous task that required a lot of work from us both. We were tired, thirsty, worn out, dirty, and just plain ready for a hot shower and some rest. But we stood there for a few moments to admire the yard and we realized who gave us the strength--God. And we did it together. 

Limping back into the house because of my knee swelling up, I worked to get my shoes off. Having spent a lot of time hiking when I was young with the Boy Scouts I knew that my feet would swell quickly because of how active I had been. Once those shoes hit the floor I was done. I knew my feet would hurt and the pain would travel up to my swollen, and quite warm, knee. So I pressed on and left the shoes in place. . . 

Jennifer took the girls out to the yard and I began to prepare drinks and a light snack for us. We still had more work to do for Homecoming and we couldn't stop yet. We were together with God in this work and it would be finished.  

Shortly after 10pm we finished the last task on our list. Food cooked for the morning and placed in the fridge to keep it fresh. The yard was cleaned up. We sat back and noticed how much soreness and pain we felt. Yet again, we said, it was better because we were together in this. . . Not just in how we suffered but in how we worked, we did so as a unit and we did so with God. 

And today I can tell you that this fact mattered for us. 

This union and community helped Jennifer and I finish the work with a good spirit in our hearts and determination in our steps. Partnering up has that effect on people. When we work as a unit consistently we find greater things being accomplished than we first believed was possible. 

I don't have any idea how we finished spreading so much mulch. I would have told you that it was impossible if you asked me at 10am on Saturday. But because I did not do it alone, because I had encouragement and support all along the way, something powerful happened at the Manse. This same thing can happen when we partner with the Lord. 

God takes us to places that we did not think were possible initially. He gently leads us onward and outward to change and remake this world into His image. As we work, God slips us a little bit more strength that we thought we had because we are serving Him as faithfully as we can. 

I wonder toady where could you find a place to partner with God? It matters that you serve God because you do so together--God with you and you with God. 

Rev. Derek

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...