July 23, 2015

Poem on Faith

"Unshrinking Faith"

O’ for a faith that will not shrink,
Though pressed by every foe;
That will not tremble on the brink
Of any earthly woe.

That will not murmur or complain,
Beneath the chastening rod,
But, in the hour of grief or pain,
Will lean upon the Lord our God.

A faith that shines more bright and clear
When tempests rage without;
And when in danger know no fear,
In darkness feels no doubt.

Lord, give us such a faith as this,
And then, whatever in life may hone
We’ll leave this place with hallow bliss
To the place we call eternal home.


–W. H. Balhurst
Ocean City, Maryland

July 13, 2015

Repentance & Reconciliation

One of the goals God’s word longs to accomplish within us is to open our eyes.  When we hear Scripture being read we are being invited to see the bigger picture, to move beyond our own personal world and to enter into a more divine, more mysterious world. From the beginning God has commissioned human beings to help accomplish this work, to bring people into a greater awareness of the big picture.  In the Old Testament God called prophets.  In the New Testament God sent Jesus; Jesus sent disciples (us).
           
One of God’s greatest joys is revealing to us what he is doing for us. One of the exciting things about following Christ is how far he tries to take us in our Christian journey.  When Jesus comes into our life he does two things: He reveals what our lives are supposed to be, and he enables us through love and forgiveness to receive God’s message of hope and assurance. Jesus wanted badly to put people in touch with this message.  In the New Testament we see this time and time again.
           
In Mark’s gospel (Mark 6:7-13) Jesus sends out twelve disciples. He sends them out, to do what?  In verse twelve we find the answer. “They went out and preached that people should repent.” Repentance is a tricky word, simply put it means a change of heart, a new direction, a new way of seeing.  When we see, when we look at life in the way God challenges us to view it, there is healing.

As one scholar put it, 
“repentance is signaled by
a new desire for
and experience of
the presence of God.”

When we live a life of repentance, Paul said, we will be “filled with praise, recognizing the divine favor God has bestowed on us.” (Ephesians 1:3-14).  When we look out and see the world as God intended it to be seen, we will discover God is still speaking.           
           
Our lives don’t have to suddenly, drastically change when we repent.  All that needs to change are those things that I would call half-truths . . . those notches in our way of seeing things that are not in line with how God sees things.  When the disciples of Jesus are sent forth to preach about repentance, what God is saying to the world, in part, is that he wants heaven and earth to be closer, to look more alike, to have in this world some of the wholeness that exist in the next world.

That is the message Jesus was sending the disciples to deliver to those with ears to hear.  The message of God’s redeeming power. That God, in Christ, was reconciling the world unto himself, not counting the people’s sins against them, Jesus sends us forth with the message of repentance and reconciliation.  (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Photo of St. Louis, MO from inside the Arch 

July 6, 2015

A Dead Person

As Jesus approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.  And a large crowd from the town was with her.  When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”  Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still.  He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”  The dead man sat up and began to talk and Jesus gave him back to his mother.  They were all filled with awe and praised God.   (Luke 7:12-16a)

          Perhaps her friends recognized the extent of her loss, for we read that a large crowd of them assembled to mourn.  As the procession carried the body of the young man of the city to the cemetery, still another group joined them, for they met Jesus and his disciples.  Jesus was always sensitive to sorrow and to human need.  He understood the situation immediately.  Then he moved to the side of the weeping woman and spoke quietly.  “Do not weep,” he told her.  His words surprise us when we read them, even as they must have surprised the widow. 
          Why shouldn’t she weep?  She certainly had reason enough to be sorrowful.  A funeral is an occasion for grief.  God does not expect us to conceal our feelings at times like these or to pretend to be tougher than nails.  Nevertheless, Jesus told her not to weep.
          If we listen closely, we can hear his voice, even now, speaking to us. “Do not weep. You cry because you only understand part of this experience of death.  Let me show you something more.”  Then Jesus turned and touched the casket. 
          He wasn’t the only one to touch it that day.  Loving hands had prepared the body for burial.  Others were carrying the casket in the funeral procession.  But no one else had touched it in the same way that Jesus did.  His was the touch of release, of power.  His hand brought the funeral procession to a halt.
          His touch had given sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, cleansing to the leper.  Now his touch turned an occasion of sorrow into an occasion of triumph.
          Then Jesus spoke.  “Young man, rise up.”  The young man sat up, began to speak, and was restored to the loving arms of his mother.  The tragedy had come to an end.  Her hopes and dreams were reborn.  Tears were replaced with smiles.  The power of resurrection became a reality to that grieving woman in an instant.
          That power is still a reality for us today.  Our experience of tragedy and loss is still the same.  Our tears flow just as easily today as they did for those back then.  Our ability to find release from our pain in the face of tragedy is no easier today than it was for them.
          Just as it was for them back then, there is another thing still the same, with us, is Jesus Christ.  Christ our Lord is still with us to help us face our sorrow with the strength we receive from placing our faith in him.  God gives us the strength beyond all understanding to help us overcome our grief by reminding us that death is not an ending to existence, but rather the beginning of a new kind of life.  The cross was not the end for God’s Son, for on the third day the tomb was empty.  He spoke of a place prepared for us after death, the Father’s house in which there are many rooms.
          Thus we experience the sorrow of separation, but we know we will not be separate forever.  A funeral gathering is thus a celebration of life, of faith in Christ and of hope in the promises of God.  If we listen closely, we can hear the Master’s voice telling us, “Do not weep.”  The power of resurrection is still among us.      
    
As the deep blue of heaven brightens into stars,
So God’s great love shines forth in promises.
Which, falling softly through our prison bars,
Daze not our eyes, but with their sweet light bless.
Ladders of light, God sets against the skies,
Upon whose golden rungs we step by step arise.


July 2, 2015

4th of July

The 4th of July is just around the corner. It’s time, once again, to celebrate Independence Day -- but what makes this day special?

What gives the Fourth of July its significance, of course, is that our Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776. It was in Philadelphia, and the signers of that document, composed by Thomas Jefferson, knew that this declaration of independence from the dictatorial rule of Great Britain might also be their death sentence.

They knew full well that the wrath and strength of the British army would be sailing across the Atlantic to descend on the relatively defenseless colonies. They knew their scattered “states” didn’t have the numbers or training to stand against the British, much less defeat them militarily. Yet they put their signatures, and their lives, their families, their destiny, on that parchment.  The 4th of July reminds us that the United States was founded on the principle of independence

But the first day of every week, Sunday, reminds us that the Church of Jesus Christ was founded on the principle of interdependence. 
                       
When we gather to sing each week to God, to offer up prayers, to hear God’s word, and express our mutual concerns, we are reminded of our church’s true longing, which is, interdependence—mutual dependence.  We are Christians in community who share our lives in service to one another and to the world around us in pursuit of Christ-filled happiness and spirit-filled holiness.

God doesn’t want us to be independent from him; he wants us to depend on him and upon one another, our church family—an interdependent Christ-like community.


June 27, 2015

The Rainbow

This is the sign of the covenant I have established
between me and all life on the earth: a rainbow.  
-Genesis 9:17

God hangs a rainbow in the sky as a reminder of a promise—that never again shall all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood. Interesting this promise (this covenant) God makes; interesting because it’s not made explicitly to Noah and his sons, but rather is made to all living creatures and to all generations to come.  It's a straight-forward formal agreement between two parties—GOD and ALL of creation.

Of course, as you know, we humans have been making covenants for a long time. You also know that these agreements/covenants usually come with strings attached, such as, “If you pay, I will protect” / “If you abide, I will comply” / “If you do this, I will agree to do that.” 

What amazes me about God’s covenant with all life and all of creation is that God’s covenant does not appear to have any strings attached.  It's a covenant without any -if- clauses in it, such as, “if you love me,” or, “if you follow every rule,” or, “if you would just say this prayer.”

It’s not that God is simply leaning back in a recliner and ignoring everything; that’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is that rather than flood the earth and do something God said he would never do again... God sent to earth a savior.

Rather than kill, God sent Jesus Christ who was willing to die.  Rather than punish, God is willing to forgive.  Rather than destroy, God offers the chance to gain new life. And that is good news—that to the sign of the rainbow—God addedthe sign of the Cross.


June 25, 2015

The Confederate Flag & Dr. King

In his 1963 speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. echoed the Bible when he observed that we “see men as Jews or Gentiles, Catholics or Protestants, Chinese or American, Negroes or whites,” but that we all share God’s "divine image."   To American Christians he said: “…God is neither Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Episcopalian. God transcends our denominations.”

I believe one of King’s most outstanding contributions to the civil rights movement was his incorporation of the nonviolence exemplified by Jesus, and the practice of unconditional love. To “love your enemies” was a big order to follow (see Matthew 5:39, Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27-28, Luke 6:29). 

If Dr. King were alive today, he would no doubt be engaged in the controversy over the Confederate Flag. If asked to give an opinion, the words he spoke back then would certainly still resonate alive and well today: 

“The Church…is not the master or the servant of the state, 
but rather the conscience of the state.  
It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.”

“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female.
You are all one in Christ Jesus...Freedom is what we have—Christ has set us free. 
Stand, then, as free people, and do not get tied up again in slavery to the law.”
–Galatians 3:28 & 5:1

The Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge, St. Louis, MO
photo by: Jason E. Royle

June 18, 2015

Thousand Gifts Thursday: 3 Pennies

The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, began her orphanage with faith and a dream. She told her superiors, “I have three pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage.” 

“Mother Teresa,” her superior’s gently pointed out, “you cannot build an orphanage with three pennies; with three pennies you can't do anything.” “I know,” she said, smiling, “but with God and three pennies I can do anything.”
           
The brief parable Jesus tells about a mustard seed sheds light on life from a different perspective; from the perspective of 3 pennies. When Jesus tells his listeners that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is one of the smallest seeds on earth (about the size of a pinhead) but which, in Palestine, grew to about 8 to 12 feet high to become the greatest of all shrubs…when Jesus tells his audience that he is inviting men and women everywhere to look at the world from a different perspective—one of faith-filled possibilities.

From the Christian perspective, we cannot go through life and 
"be just an ordinary egg, we must be hatched or go bad." C. S. Lewis.

God wants us to hatch.  To learn how to look for the mustard seeds in life; to look for signs of growth with faith and vision. Thomas Merton reminds us of this important truth when he writes, “the mind that is the prisoner of conventional ideas cannot accept the seeds of an unfamiliar truth and supernatural desire... how can I receive the seeds of freedom if I am in love with slavery and how can I cherish the desire of God if I am filled with an opposite desire?” 

May you implement the gift of 3 pennies in your life, and share that gift with others.

see Mark 4:30-34