First Congregational Church
August 28, 2022
12th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 14:1, 7-14
“The Restorative Hospitality Characteristic of God’s Realm”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
A six-year-old said grace at family dinner one evening. "Dear God, thank You for the pancakes.” When she concluded, her mother asked her why she thanked God for pancakes when they were having chicken-pot pie. She smiled and said, "I thought I would check to see if God was paying attention.”
Two caterpillars are escaping a spider…. They climb up a small branch and get to the edge, but realize they are now trapped.
"Hold on tight!" says the first caterpillar, and he quickly chews through the branch. It snaps and they begin to fall, but he grabs two protruding twigs and steers the branch through the air with grace and finesse. "That's amazing!" says the second caterpillar. "How are you doing that?!” The first caterpillar scoffs. "Am I the *only one* in the whole forest who knows how to drive a stick?"
To set up this morning’s scripture passage, it comes from a section of Luke in which Jesus was going through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Last week our text was from the 13th chapter of Luke; this morning’s from the 14th. Between last week and this week, Luke describes really short versions of the mustard seed and yeast parables, Jesus’ teaching about the narrow door and his lament over Jerusalem, ending up with the healing of a man with edema, right before today’s passage.
Luke 14:1, 7-14
1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.
7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:
8 "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.
9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.
10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests.
11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
12 Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.
13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,
14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
Thank you, Julie. When Billy Graham was driving through a small southern town, he was stopped by a policeman and charged with speeding. Graham admitted his guilt but was told by the officer that he would have to appear in court.
The judge asked, "Guilty, or not guilty?" When Graham pleaded guilty, the judge replied, "That'll be ten dollars - a dollar for every mile you went over the limit.”
Suddenly the judge recognized the famous minister. "You have violated the law," he said. "The fine must be paid - but I am going to pay it for you." He took a ten-dollar bill from his own wallet, attached it to the ticket, and then took Graham out and bought him a steak dinner!
Fiorello LaGuardia, was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII. He was called by adoring New Yorkers 'the Little Flower' because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation in his lapel.
He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids.
One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself.
Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter's husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. "It's a real bad neighborhood, your Honor." the man told the mayor. "She's got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson."
LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said "I've got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions - ten dollars or ten days in jail." But even as he pronounced the sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: "Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant."
The following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.
Years ago, Jeffrey Zaslow’s father coached a team of eight-year-olds. He had a few excellent players and some who just couldn't get the hang of the game. His dad's team didn't win once all season. But in the last inning of the last game, his team was only down by a run.
There was one boy who had never been able to hit the ball - or catch it. With two outs, it was his turn to bat. He surprised the world and got a single!
The next batter was the team slugger. Finally, Mr. Zaslow’s players might win a game. The slugger connected, and as the boy who hit the single ran to second base, he saw the ball coming toward him. Not so certain of baseball's rules, he caught it. Final out! Zaslow's team lost!
Quickly, Mr. Zaslow told his team to cheer. The boy beamed. It never occurred to him that he lost the game. All he knew was he had hit the ball and caught it - both for the first time. His parents later thanked the coach. Their child had never even gotten in a game before that season.
They never told the boy exactly what happened. They didn't want to ruin it for him. And till this day, Jeffrey Zaslow is proud of what his father did that afternoon.
Charles Spurgeon and Joseph Parker both had churches in London in the 19th century. On one occasion, Parker commented on the poor condition of children admitted to Spurgeon's orphanage. It was reported to Spurgeon however, that Parker had criticized the orphanage itself.
Spurgeon blasted Parker the next week from the pulpit. The attack was printed in the newspapers and became the talk of the town. (Thank goodness the newspapers don’t print my sermons!) People flocked to Parker's church the next Sunday to hear his rebuttal.
"I understand Dr. Spurgeon is not in his pulpit today, and this is the Sunday they use to take an offering for the orphanage. I suggest we take a love offering here instead." The crowd was delighted. The ushers had to empty the collection plates 3 times. Later that week there was a knock at Parker's study. It was Spurgeon. "You know Parker, you have practiced grace on me. You have given me not what I deserved, you have given me what I needed.
Yale Divinity School Professor of Hebrew Scriptures, Carolyn Sharp, wrote a line this week in her commentary on this morning’s scripture passage that does a wonderful job of describing the gospels, especially the accounts in Luke. “Jesus invites hearers to imagine a transformative web of relations woven in mercy and strengthened not through patronage or obligation but through joyous connection across lines of difference.”
Not long after that sentence, she wrote the phrase that became this morning’s sermon title; “The restorative hospitality characteristic of God’s realm.” Let that roll around in your head for a second. The restorative hospitality characteristic of God’s realm.” It’s grace, isn’t it?
Sitting at the end of the banquet table is not so that we will be ushered to a more prestigious spot, but gives us the ability to avoid humiliation. Brett Blair of sermons.com posted his take on this passage, and he asked a wonderful question. “How do you stay humble in a haughty world?” First of all, bonus points for the word “haughty.” Secondly, it’s a great question.
Mr. Blair said there are two things we need to do to answer that question. First, don’t put yourself in a position to eat humble pie. And second, expect to be honored only in the life to come. In terms of our own hospitality, Mr. Blair said, “Kindness to people who can repay us in kind is not charity.”
He ended with this thought. “Jesus did not choose a palace but a stable in which to be born. He did not choose the priesthood but carpentry as his profession. He did not choose world leaders but world losers, to develop his plan. He did not choose a throne but a cross from which to govern.”
Mother Teresa was once asked, "How do you measure the success of your work?" She thought about the question and gave her interviewer a puzzled look, and said, "I don't remember that the Lord ever spoke of success. He spoke only of faithfulness in love.
It is said that Charlemagne was the greatest Christian ruler of the early Middle Ages. After his death, a mighty funeral procession left his castle for the cathedral at Aix. (ex) When the royal casket arrived, with all pomp and circumstance, it was met by the local bishop, who barred the cathedral door.
"Who comes?" the Bishop asked, as was the custom. "Charlemagne, Lord and King of the Holy Roman Empire," proclaimed the Emperor's proud herald. "Him I know not," the Bishop replied. "Who comes?”
The herald, a bit shook, replied, "Charles the Great, a good and honest man of the earth.” "Him I know not," the Bishop said again. "Who comes?” The herald, now completely crushed, responded, "Charles, a lowly sinner, who begs the gift of Christ.” To which the Bishop responded, "Enter! Receive Christ's gift of life!” Let us pray.
Holy and Hospitable God, you well know that sometimes it is easy and sometimes it’s hard to realize, much less embrace our common humanity. You also know how human we are, in competition and fending for ourselves. But this morning we pray that you help us be mindful of humble hospitality, especially its low material cost and its high divine value. Give us extra portions of grace for making apologies when needful and for stepping up to moments of recognition, when those are needful, too. While we are mindful that these requests are not about making points for eternal admission to your kingdom, move our hearts and minds to do the work that you need of us to do until the day we enter eternity. For these and all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
August 21, 2022
11th Sunday after Pentecost
“Living Between the Lines”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Ole and Sven were on vacation, hiking through the jungle when Sven noticed a lizard, standing on its hind legs, telling jokes. Sven turned to Ole and said, “That lizard is really funny!” Ole replied, “That’s not a lizard. It’s a stand-up chameleon.” I know. It’s been far too long since a really bad pun was part of the morning message.
This week commemorates some famous events. August 22, 1864, is the day when twelve European nations signed the First Geneva Convention, launching the international humanitarian law movement. Nurse Clara Barton lead the effort for the United States to join the Convention, ratified 22 years later.
August 25, 1916, is the day President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the 1916 act that established the National Park Service. Sleeping Bear National Park will remain a beloved and protected area in perpetuity.
August 26, 1910 is the birthday of Anjeze (an’ yes) Gonxhe (go ’n check) Bojaxhiu (boya’ g u) in Skopje (skow’ pee ya), present-day Macedonia. She took religious vows at the age of 21 and taught at a school outside Calcutta, but was deeply disturbed by the poverty that surrounded her. So she left the order, trading in her habit for a simple inexpensive white cotton sari with a blue border, and got permission from the Vatican to begin a congregation that would become Missionaries of Charity. By the time Mother Teresa died, more than 4,000 workers in 133 countries opened orphanages, homes for people with tuberculosis and leprosy, soup kitchens, hospitals, mobile health clinics and schools.
In 1940, a small baby girl, 4.5 pounds, was born to Ed and Blanche in Clarksville, TN. She was a sickly child … the 20th of 22 children. Before the age of five, she dealt with measles, scarlet fever, and a variety of other diseases, and eventually was stricken with polio. She was told she would never walk again. Known in her family as Baby Girl, when she and her parents got back from the hospital 50 miles away, everyone in the family was upset and crying. All except Baby Girl’s grandmother, known as Big Mama. Despite what the doctors said, Big Mama vowed to go into deep prayer for her grand baby.
When Baby Girl was about twelve years old, a revival meeting was held in their town, and Big Mama informed Baby Girl that they were going to go together to that meeting. Baby Girl didn’t want to go, because she didn’t like people looking at her legs with the braces on them.
When the preacher called for anyone in need to go forward, Big Mama looked over to Baby Girl and said, “It’s your time. Make your way to the altar.” As the elders and women of the church prayed around her, she said that she felt something from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet that said, “Baby Girl, it’s time to run.” Baby Girl tried to make sense of the conflicting voices - the doctors and the prayers - but after hearing the message, “It’s time to run,” Baby Girl started walking around the church. And then she started skipping and running around the church. And the braces started to come off as she ran.
And Baby Girl kept on running - all the way through high school, to Tennessee State, and eventually to the Olympics. Wilma Rudolph was acclaimed as the fastest woman in the world in the 1960s, the first woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympic Games, and became a role model for black and female athletes, one of the most highly visible athletes in the world, all this despite becoming pregnant her senior year in high school.
10 On a Sabbath, Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
Thank you, Mike. I don’t know about any of you, but I feel bad for the gathered crowd that day. There’s the synagogue leader yelling in one ear and the woman’s praises in the other ear. The one who represents authority - the synagogue leader - reminds them of the fence of the law while Jesus reminds them that common sense makes sense. If you don’t water the livestock on the Sabbath, you degrade their physicality, damaging your own “bottom line” as it were. If animals get that which allows them life, then why wouldn’t a person afflicted with a malady be cured when it is available to them?
The religious authority figure keeps his hand on the necks of the crowd, causing confusion. Do they follow after their eyes and one ear and the miracle man and woman right before them, or do they trust their other ear and the one who shames them for wanting what she has and what Jesus could do? If anyone else wanted such healing, you’d better think twice! Part of the reason that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day get such a bad rap is that by falling into a pattern of strict obedience to the law, they become killjoys of God’s glory.
There are so many voices these days, some of them really loud, against the background white noise of life. Some days, it’s hard to hear, much less see, the miracles in front of us, and we can forget to lift up our heads because we are free in Christ.
“Don’t you all go get any ideas! You’ve got six days to get healing. If you want to be made well, you’re not going to get it today.” Imagine being at church and seeing someone become well and whole, only to be told that it might have happened for this one person - by accident - but there would be no more accidental healing - when it came to you.
The religious leader assumes that he understands what is right and wrong for the Sabbath. Yes, there is the command to keep the Sabbath holy, but even animals are worthy of care on the Sabbath.
As you try to envision this scene in your mind, is the synagogue leader shaking a finger at the crowd? His indignation roars! He implies that the woman is the reason the healing occurred when the real reason was Jesus. In his deflection, the leader’s voice is not really about the healed woman, but about himself. The woman may have been bent over because of physical reasons, but the leader is bent over because of religious reasons, rules that drag his neck down.
For something like seven years, Wilma Rudolph’s grandmother was in deep prayer for her granddaughter. The woman in this morning’s passage was crippled for 18 years and still went to synagogue. Sometimes, we want so much to “do” something for someone and the only thing we can do is pray. We all know that, but a good many of us need to be reminded to keep on a-prayin’.
I’ve known of two women and two men who live or lived life at 90 degrees. Most of us can only imagine just some of the realities of living such a life. Medications, dishes, and glasses have to be brought down to a reachable height. Conversation while standing comes from a side. People can literally talk over them, excluding them from inclusion and any sense of normalcy, unless they are sitting down.
Having cared for people that are so curled, I’ll tell you, it’s not easy. Their back and leg muscles just don't want to relax, even when laying on their back. So pillows are needed to help prop them - either so they stay on their back, or under them, so they don’t smash their face all the way into the pillow and can at least breathe. There are so many people, with so many struggles, a huge number of them being physical. It would probably be a moment of sad realization if anyone here who struggled with a physical malady raised their hand.
Rev. Otis Moss, III, Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois, preached on this passage, and he pointed out how this woman was considered to have diminished capacity, which reminds us that some people link still link ability and intelligence. But she was still in church, even though she struggled with a condition that seemed to be permanent.
After eighteen years of struggling to see the faces of those around her, she had enough vision to make her way to the worship space. Rev. Moss’ best line was, “Even if this woman was never healed, she speaks to the boldness and tenacity we need to have in this day and age.” We get the woman’s example of going to worship, regardless of condition. And granted, Covid’s had a thing. But it’s reading between the lines that we see her boldness and tenacity, and that of Wilma Rudolph’s grandmother’s prayers.
It’s interesting that the woman doesn’t ask for help, there is no mixing spit and mud, no washing in a river. Jesus just sees her, touches her - risking contamination by a sick person, heals her, and recognizes her - daughter of Abraham. If you were that woman, and Jesus came and put his hands on you and you were “unfolded,” how do you think you’d react? Silent tears of gratitude? Great, loud whoops of joy? Not only is she healed, but now she can see again.
It’s an interesting thought, living between the lines of what is written in this holy book. And yet, it’s not so hard, because between the lines is love. Love that longs for wholeness - for each of us - for all of us - even the ones that are not our favorites.
As I was writing yesterday, I realized that I maybe need to change a way of thinking about life - that it’s so much easier living in a world that has clear boundaries, what we call black and white - which is in itself a phrase that needs changing. While it’s easier to live with clear rules and consequences, a good many of us live not in the black and white of life, but in the grey spaces of life. Except that maybe I - you - all of us - really live in all the colors of life - between the polarities of black and white. And isn’t that really what living between the lines is like - living in all the colors of love? So we pray.
God of Colors and Common Sense and Appreciation and Intelligence, thank you for so designing our world that we have the ability to live deeply - in all its aspects. Thank you for the hope of prayer and the answers of those prayers, whether we realize them or not. Give us the guidance and insight on helping those bent over in sorrow or fatigue or pain - to be able to straighten up; to be able to look up - to you and this glorious world that you have given us. Thank you for all your blessings, as all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
August 14, 2022
10th Sunday after Pentecost
“Judging for Ourselves”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I came across two little snippets, that when put together, make powerful sense. Many a shampoo bottle carries the claim that using it will give your hair extra body and volume. Now think about that. When rinsing out the soap, the shampoo runs down the rest of one's body, which is generally not where one likes “extra body and volume.” So I got to wondering about Dawn dishwashing soap, because the label has read “Dissolves fat that is otherwise difficult to remove.”
49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Interpreting the Times
54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?
57 “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way, or your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
Thank you, Nancy. William H. Belgian Jr. wrote about a sociology professor, whom every year begins his course on "The Family" by reading to his class a letter, from a parent, written to a government official. In the letter, the parent complains that his son, once obedient and well-motivated, has become involved with some weird new religious cult. The father complains that the cult has taken over the boy's life, has forced him to forsake all of his old friends, and has turned him against his family.
After reading the letter, the professor asks the class to speculate what group the father is talking about. Almost without exception, the class immediately assumes that the subject of the letter is a child mixed up with the "Moonies," or some other controversial group.
After the class puts out all of the possible conclusions they can think of, the professor surprises them by revealing that the letter was written by a third-century father in Rome, the governor of his province, complaining about this weird religious group called "The Christians.” If all one read of the Bible was this morning’s scripture passage, that one might be tempted to say something similar about us who follow the One - with a capital O.
Author Steven Molin shares the story of a “teenage girl at summer camp who was torn between two sets of friends. Some of them were sunbathing on the dock, asking to her “stay with us.” But her other friends were in a rowboat saying “no, come with us.” There she stood, one foot on the dock, the other foot on the edge of the boat, and the boat was moving. Trying to appease everyone, neither group any better than the other, trying to not decide, she ended up falling into the water; and worse, her hair got wet!
Mr. Molin goes on. “But I think this is exactly what Jesus is addressing in the gospel lesson today. He is warning us that there will be times when following him will require us to turn away from something else. There will be times in this life when we will be required to say “yes” to one thing, and therefore “no” to the other. And of course, the action some of us most often take is the same one that the girl did on the swimming dock. Many try to go in both directions. The tendency is to say “yes” to it all, and we end up falling in between the seams, and being miserable.”
I appreciate Mr. Molin’s take on this passage because, on its own, this passage certainly rubs my fur the wrong way, and I’m guessing I’m not the only one. Even more puzzling, the first 48 verses of Luke 12 deal with quieting the anxiety of his followers, and he ends with this sort of smorgasbord of dire warnings.
It might be that the writer - or writers - of Luke had various pieces leftover - after mapping out the whole of the gospel. “Let’s just stick these leftovers in at the end of chapter twelve, and maybe no one will really notice.”
Or maybe the writer of Luke was really on a role one day, writing and writing and writing, and then, as so often happens - squirrel! - and when they went back to the page, all continuity was lost. So the writer just started with what came to mind first. Probably not, but maybe….
It’s interesting that in one aspect, part of the passage almost seems more descriptive than prophetic to us modern-day folks. Sometimes, following Christ has had the sad result of dividing families. Other times, it has united them. Even the thought of such division can result in people drawing back from embracing a faith that is about love - if that is what love looks like. Except it’s maybe not so much about love - but passion - and passion carries that sense of heated emotion, which is not really what faith or following is about.
On a few occasions, a former pastor of this church, Dick Stoddard and I would preside at a wedding or funeral together. At one of the weddings we did, he said something that has stuck in my mind ever since. It went something like this, “being married to someone is not loving a person every day, but making a decision to love every day.” The vows that a couple makes are not about loving every day, but about the decision to love every day, because somedays, I hear it’s not so easy to love one’s spouse. I can say with full certainty that some days it is not so easy to love one’s family members or friends, either, without deciding to love.
In relation to this passage, an individual’s faith may cause a division in a family, but such a division means that there has been a decision to stop loving that family member or to let the issue grow bigger than love. We are to love all people, period. We don’t always have to agree with them. And yes, sometimes love between people can be very lopsided. That’s not new news.
The second part of this passage is also interesting because it isn’t necessarily worded in an easy-flow manner. The Dinah Haag summary of verses 54-56 would be something like “You may have disagreements, but you don’t have to jump on the disagreement wagon.”
And then comes the best question. “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?” It’s almost like you can hear the underlying comment, “You’ve got a brain. Use it!” Yes, God is supposed to be the judge about eternal things, and we get to be judges about things that pertain to our own selves.
The original lectionary assignment was not verses 49-59, but 49-56. If you don’t have your Bibles open, the lectionary didn’t include the part about judging for ourselves what is right. Without those verses, the passage is too strained; too limiting to omit - particularly when it makes so much sense along with the rest of the passage.
We all know it’s not only better, but far cheaper to avoid going before a court to resolve an issue, and it’s just as true when it comes to the resolution of hearts. And we all know that sometimes such resolutions aren’t easy or even possible. So we have courts and laws that the citizens of the land agree to live by. But would be interesting information, to find out how much money could be saved in court fees if people could judge for themselves what is right - without the heat of passion.
Even then, it’s not nearly as much about money as it is about peace of mind and serenity of the soul. I get it, that it can take a while after someone has attacked my integrity before I can calm down enough to reconcile with that adversary - in my heart. Most of the time, an adversary has done what they have done, said what they have said, and moved right along, while my brain has nailed my foot to the floor of insult and I just twirl and twirl, justification following vindication in my own self-righteousness.
Just like the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz, we all have brains, despite what we may think is in our heads. And sometimes, we just need to be reminded to choose the voice of the brain over that of the heart, and sometimes vice versa. Like butterflies, we have to do our own struggling to grow - out of cocoons - or we won’t live full lives. Struggling with people we love can - if we choose - make us stronger in all our relationships - mainly if we use our brains - and reasoning - in the choosing.
Glenna Reed wrote something called “While There’s Still Time”, in which she talks about her childhood, when she knew everyone on her street, and how everyone knew each other and who needed help and who needed support. In her current situation, she’s in an apartment complex with four other units besides hers, and in one month, she saw one person.
She says, “In the parking lot people act as if they don’t know if they should speak. I do the same thing. Maybe I put my head down and make a beeline for my car, or maybe I just think about speaking. I try to say good morning or good afternoon, or just hi, but sometimes the other person makes it more difficult, sometimes it’s just my own fear.
These are some of the reasons why, Jesus asks, why is it that we don’t understand the appearance of what is right in front of us?
Wallace Kirby and C.S. Lewis came together in a comment that points out that the gospel was concerned to create "new people" not just "nice people." The human need is an inner transformation that makes us into new creatures. It is the warmth of the spirit of Christ that accomplishes this. This is not something we can do for ourselves; it is the New Testament insistence upon grace and gift, not work and merit.
I wonder if we sometimes allow that warmth of Spirit to get too hot, or we forget that we are created to be new people, and not just nice people. We need our reminders of grace and gift, light and love, to be able to do our part in God’s kingdom.
There was once an older man who had a little spotted dog. It was a mixture of spaniel, collie, terrier, and dachshund. He was a street-bred mutt, but the man loved him because he was all he had. They were constant companions, going everywhere and doing everything together. Every night the dog slept at the foot of the man's bed.
Then one day the dog disappeared. He was playing in the yard one moment, and the next he was gone. He searched everywhere for him, looked on every street, around every corner, and talked to every neighbor, but the dog was nowhere to be found. The man searched all over the town, calling out the dog's name as he went, listening in vain for the familiar bark. The next day was the same and the one after that . . . for weeks the man searched till finally his neighbors and friends convinced him that there was no use in looking anymore. Surely the dog is dead, they said: hit by a car, no doubt, and crawled off by himself to die.
Still, the man would not give up hope. Every night, before bed, he went out on the porch and called out the dog's name at the top of his voice. This went on for several months. The neighbors were certain that the man had lost his mind. And then one night, as the man was calling his name, the little spotted dog came home. The man never knew where he had been or what caused him to stay away so long, but he was very glad that he had never stopped calling his name.
God never stops calling our names, to love and care for those around us - strangers or adversaries or family friends - and calls us to use our brains - not just our hearts - to judge for ourselves what is right and important and worth chasing after. And God never stops calling us to communicate with God’s self. So shall we do.
God of Silences and Sounds, of Love and Grace, we thank you that you give us brains and hearts to be able to be responsible for our own responses to this life around us. Sometimes those responsibilities are overwhelming or painful, so we ask for extra portions of wisdom to make the best of choices in furthering your kingdom. And sometimes our choices are spot on, and your kingdom grows and for those times, we are grateful. Continue to teach us, God of Glory, to see further than usual, past our earthly limitations, to that which is of your kingdom and all its splendor. For all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.