Seven Questions of Faith: Is There Hope?

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 24:1-12

I spent time with my niece last week. Addison helped me prepare a side dish that our family would share at dinner – sliced squash and zucchini on the grill. She was in charge of seasoning; in complete honesty it was her idea to add the red pepper flakes, Anna and Gramps (Mom and Dad)!

(Okay, maybe not complete honesty…Addison had an accomplice!)

After dinner Addison wanted to show me her latest achievement. At the age of almost nine months, Addison is starting to walk. She has a variety of “push toys” that she can position herself behind and then totter all over the house. She pulls herself up and stands next to furniture. She will take steps while holding onto the hands of loved ones. And she loves to dance to the hot dog song, a popular tune on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

At times Addison takes steps without fear. At other times she is a bit more timid. What does not change is that she steps. Addison moves forward.

Mixed with fear and timidity, Mary Magdalena and the other women approached the garden tomb. The shadows that lingered since the Sabbath began are finally starting to fade.

Deep blue becomes gray. Gray becomes pale blue. Pale blue gives way to light.

And the women step forward.

They come to the tomb; yet, their intent on being there is not looking ahead but behind. They come to finish preparing Jesus’ body for burial and to their astonishment, Jesus is not there! He suffered and died and left his grave clothes behind.

He is risen, just as he said!

Confident of their next steps, the women leave the garden and hurry to the disciples. They witness to what they have seen, and yet many of the disciples, who had physically moved forward but were still looking behind, did not believe.

Peter is the first to wonder…

He left the safety of the disciples’ hiding place to venture to the tomb. He stepped forward, clinging to his faith.

Could it be?

It is.

We that journey with Jesus this week will take many steps – to the upper room, to the garden, to the governor’s house, to the cross, to the tomb. As we journey may we look forward rather than behind. Looking forward will draw our attention to the present moment.

Gone are the shouts of praises and waving of palm branches.

Prepare for the Last Supper.

Then prepare for death.

And once that death has occurred, my friends, do not look back at it.

Honor the steps that you take, be they fearful or timid or heavy or tearful or have some other character. Whatever their character, take steps. Be present.

And prepare for resurrection.

Prayer: *Merciful and everliving God, Creator of heaven and earth, the crucified body of our Son was laid in the tomb and rested. Grant that we may await with him the dawning of the third day and rise in newness of life, through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.”*

*”Holy Saturday,” The United Methodist Book of Worship 367.

 

Seven Questions of Faith: What About Suffering?

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 27:27-31.

Some smells never leave you.

Growing up in Polk County I was introduced early on to the smell of burning leaves. In the late 80s and early 90s citrus canker was a huge ordeal. Once the canker set in the only solution was to burn the trees. Burn the trees. Defeat the canker. Protect the living.

No matter where I am, if that smell is in the air, I know exactly what is happening. Somewhere near something is burning. Something is being defeated. A measure is being taken to protect the living.

On Friday, January 29, 2016 I stood on the side of highway in the region of the Golan Heights in Northeastern Israel. Behind me was Israel and down the hillside below my feet, beyond the fence of the demilitarized zone, was Syria.

Syria

The smell of burning was in the air.

It was not trees burning this time. Smoke rose from homes, buildings, and ground cover due to the burnout of explosions. And the burning smell was not on its own; it was accompanied by the popping of gunshots. Due to the distance the popping sounded like a woodpecker drumming against a tree.

This scene broke my heart. It is burned into my memory as the flames burned the ground. I stood on that hillside and listened. I inhaled. I exhaled. I wept. I raised my left hand to my heart and extended my right hand towards the broken land. I joined in prayer with my friends gathered there.

We prayed for the people that decided that land should burn. We prayed for the people that believe more in violent defeat than in justice and peace. We prayed for the people who chose these methods as the means to protect only some of the living. We prayed for those who suffered. We prayed for their suffering to end.

Inhaling. Exhaling. Weeping. Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

As we left side of the highway our bus fell silent, which for a group of 35 made up of pastors and spouses is quite a feat, indeed! Though the bus was silent my mind reeled, heart ached, and spirit wondered, “What about suffering? What about the innocents? Why?”

I was reminded of these questions for the remainder of the day as the smell of smoke lingered in my hair and on my clothes. My neighbors are in harm’s way. They are afraid and feel alone.

Does anyone see? Does anyone care?

Jesus sees. Jesus cares. Jesus suffered. Jesus suffers still.

Jesus suffers when we suffer. Jesus cried over the venom in the hearts of the people as he looked down upon Jerusalem before he finished his pilgrimage to his grave. Jesus cries over the venom that spews and spreads evil that breaks apart families, turns friends into enemies, fortifies walls instead of bridges, and leads some to untimely deaths in unmarked graves.

But unlike our suffering, Jesus’ suffering culminates in transformation. Though battered, mocked, and spat upon, Jesus’ suffering is the gateway to resurrection.

For him. For us all. In this world and beyond this world. In ways we can see fully now and in ways that we will only see fully once the veil of mortality is completely repealed.

I pray for the day that all suffering will end. I pray for the day that burning smells and their kindred memories will be replaced with peace.

Prayer: “Almighty God , you sent your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to suffer death on the cross. Grant that we may share in his obedience to your will and in the glorious victory of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and ever. Amen.”*

*”Palm/Passion Sunday,” The United Methodist Hymnal 281.

Seven Questions of Faith: What Brings Fulfillment?

Sunday’s Scripture ~ John 13:1-5, 13-17.

Through washing the disciples’ feet Jesus enacts and makes visible his love for his own. “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (Jn 13:15).

As I marinated in this text this week I also marinated in the question, “How is it that I enact and make visible my love for my own?”

I am an accomplisher. I accomplish tasks with regularity and efficiency. I accomplish tasks as a way of expressing my love.

And one of my primary ways of accomplishing and therefore expressing love – cleaning.

I pause for a moment because I know my parents are picking their jaws up off the floor. As a child my parents would attempt to twist my arm six ways to Sunday to get me to clean and now it is one of my primary ways to express love for others.

I know you are proud, Mom and Dad.

Some of you may wonder…why cleaning? This is why.

During college Andrew was a church custodian for one of the largest United Methodist Churches in Florida. And allow me to let you in on a little secret – church people are not the cleanest people. For five years Andrew cleaned up messes that he did not make. He scrubbed walls and floors and trashcans. He swept, mopped, and polished. He worked well into the night – every night – so that guests to the campus would arrive to find their room and adjacent facilities in pristine and hospitable conditions.

Andrew took pride in his work. He served well. And he became an example for me.

I clean with the diligence and commitment that I do as a way of making easier the path for others around me. As I accomplish the tasks my hands may be manipulating a rag or a broom, but my heart is focused on the individual I am serving in that moment. My dedication to that task frees my neighbor to dedicate their hearts in another area, to another person or project, which will bring them joy and hopefully sustain these waves of service as they continue rippling.

It is true, cleaning tasks are not always glamorous…and sometimes they are down right smelly. And that is when I think about my Jesus, kneeling before the pungent feet of his disciples, offering them comfort and care through washing their feet.

“For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

I encourage you to find time this week to consider how it is that you enact and make visible your love for your own. Consider how you make easier the paths of those around you. And then begin to identify the ways that others make easier your path. Give thanks for the many ways the waves of service ripple to and from you.

Prayer: “Called by worship to your service, forth in your dear name we go to the child, the youth, the aged, love in living deeds to show; hope and health, good will and comfort, counsel, aid, and peace we give, that your servants, Lord in freedom may your mercy know, and live.”* Amen.

*”Lord, Whose Love Through Humble Service,” The United Methodist Hymnal 581.

 

Seven Questions of Faith ~ Where Is God?

Sunday’s Scripture: John 1:1-5, 14

I have a theory about the intended purpose of dogs wearing collars with tags, and more specifically, my intended purpose for my dogs wearing collars with tags.

We call them necklaces in the Miller house.

Collars with tags, or necklaces, are helpful if the pups meet a new human friend. The collars and tags share their names and give evidence that they are currently vaccinated.

What is my intended purpose for the pups wearing their necklaces? Necklaces deactivate a pup’s stealth mode. The tags that dangle off a collar do not make much noise, but they make enough noise to reveal their location, reveal their current activity level at that location, and reveal if that location is changing from one to another.

Samson and Tala…I know where you are! And that brings me great comfort.

Sometimes I would like to put a necklace on God so that without a shadow of a doubt I would know where God is. Always knowing where God is would – can you imagine it!? When the world gets loud through shouts of violence, cries of pain, and weapons of words or machines preach a blaring gospel full of hate, what I would give for a sensory assurance of God’s presence.

Just to hear God say, “My children! I am over here!”

And that is when I need to remember that in the midst of all the noise, God is still speaking. God is still making Godself known. In the loud moments the change must happen in me. I must focus my eyes and tune my ears to recognize God’s presence. Finding God’s presence in what at first may have appeared an unlikely place encourages my assurance of God’s presence to move from knowledge in my brain to beating confidence in my heart.

God’s presence is revealed through helpers, comforters, and providers. God’s presence is revealed through a cup of cool water, a bowl of steaming soup, a pair of new socks, and a kind, welcoming word. God’s presence is revealed in Scripture, song, and sacrament. God’s presence is revealed in you and me.

So in us and because of us, what sort of divine presence do our neighbors experience?

Victor Hugo penned in Les Miserables,”to love another person is to see the face of God.” Where is God? God is in each of us. God is capable and yearning to take up residence in each one of us so that we can become God’s echoes in the world. In this way when people wonder where God is or wander in search of God, we can lend our voices to saying “God is here. Allow me to show you how. And, more importantly, allow me to show you why.

Prayer: “Emmanuel, Emmanuel, his name is called Emmanuel. God with us, revealed in us, his name is called Emmanuel.”* Amen.

“Emmanuel, Emmanuel,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 204.