Thrive: Boundaries

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ezekiel 47:15-20

Last December Andrew and I rescued Tala – then an 11-month old salt-n-pepper miniature Schnauzer. This is a photo from a few days after “Gotcha Day!”

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We are Tala’s fourth family, which is a lot in 11 months of life. Her first family gave her up because they did not want a mini Schnauzer with a natural tail. Most Schnauzers have their tails docked – our Samson does – but Tala has a full tail of glory. Sometimes I would forget that dogs have tails…now I have Tala who frequently smacks me with her tail as she perches around my shoulders on the back of the couch. She will not let me forget.

Tala’s second family gave her up because they did not have the energy to help train and raise a puppy. Tala’s third family gave her up because they did not have time for her. During this season she spent most of her time in her crate – not a lot of exercise or opportunities for interaction with humans or other dogs.

Tala joined our family and it was a long adjustment period. An addition to my apology for her making a mess or causing commotion was “She has no boundaries.” As a young pup she had not been taught what was to be done inside and what was to be done outside. She had not been taught how to play sweetly, how to walk on a leash, or how to relate to others. A little over nine months later we are still working on these skills. She has calmed down…a little…we think. She is learning and positive reinforcement sure does help. She is familiar with her boundaries and the consequences associated with them.

Boundaries help Tala feel safe and learn to thrive within stated expectations. Knowing her boundaries (our boundaries!) helps guide her behaviors so she makes good choices that lead to cookies and head-scratches and not bad choices that lead to solitary confinement in puppy-not-so-playland.

In our text for this week God’s messenger names the boundaries for the land of God’s people. The focal point of the land is God’s temple; all of the boundaries are defined in relation to the temple. These boundaries are an invitation for God’s people to root and thrive anywhere within this land. This is also an invitation to remember, above all else, that the people are here – we are here – because of God’s provision and our gratitude for God’s provision should continually lead us to offer praise in God’s sanctuary.

During her final semester of seminary theologian and homiletician Barbara Brown Taylor recalls praying fervently to God that God would answer her most dreaded question, “What do I do after graduation?” One late evening atop her favorite prayer space, an abandoned fire escape, God’s answer came to her, “Do anything that pleases you and belong to me.”* That is an incredible boundary. There is so much wideness and so much nearness within that boundary. God’s people engaging in behaviors that were not pleasing to God resulted in their exile and separation from not only God but also from the image in which they were made. Examining present and future behaviors and actions in relation to how they reflect our belonging to God draws us into a cooperative spirit with God as we thrive in relationship – created with Creator.

Thriving in this relationship draws us towards the image in which we were created – holy and whole.

Prayer: “Nothing between my soul and my Savior, naught of this world’s delusive dream; I have renounced all sinful pleasure; Jesus is mine, there’s nothing between. Nothing between, like worldly pleasure; habits of life, though harmless they seem, must not my heart from him ever sever; he is my all, there’s nothing between. Nothing between, like pride or station; self or friends shall not intervene; though it may cost me much tribulation, I am resolved, there’s nothing between. Nothing between, e’en many hard trials, though the whole world against me convene; watching with prayer and much self denial, I’ll triumph at last, there’s nothing between. Nothing between my soul and my Savior, so that his blessed face may be seen; nothing preventing the least of his favor; keep the way clear! let nothing between.”** Amen.

*Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 110.

**”Nothing Between,” The United Methodist Hymnal 373.

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