Upbuilding: Determined to Share

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Thessalonians 2:1-8

This year I am participating in a new mentoring program initiative at a local high school.  This program matches students in the local high school to volunteers in the community that want to come alongside these students and support them in their educational success.

I have met with my mentee three times so far.  For the first two meetings we talked sports – I talked about football and my mentee is continuing my education about basketball – I may understand it eventually!  We talked a little about our families and what we want to be when we grow up.  The conversations skimmed the surface, which is normal.  We were getting to know one another.

This week the conversation increased in depth.  My mentee shared a goal with me, but my mentee’s heart was not happy.  It was downcast.  The goal was before my mentee and the path to achieve that goal presented itself like walking across broken glass on hot coals up a mountain both ways without shoes.  So, we circled the wagons.  We strategized.  We came up with a plan.  We even role played the conversations that would need to happen and possible outcomes that could result depending on what was shared in those conversations.  And slowly but surely my mentee’s downcast heart became hopeful.  The frown on my mentee’s face started to turn up at the corners.

I cannot wait to see my mentee this next week and follow up on the progress towards his goal.

I am confident that my mentee and I were able to share in that conversation because we had intentionally laid the ground work of getting to know one another.  Sharing about ourselves took time.  A relationship had to be built.  Trust had to be established.  Showing up incarnated my commitment, incarnated my care, incarnated my investment in his success.  I am in my mentee’s corner.  I will hold him accountable.  I will celebrate his successes and I will help craft plans for greater acheivements so his goals will become his reality.

I also have a goal of understanding basketball by the end of all of this.  I am pretty sure my mentee will make that part of my reality.

This mentee/mentor relationship is not a one way street.  Just because I am the mentor does not mean that I am not being guided, and learning, and being formed and transformed by the conversations shared with and insights gained from this intelligent mentee.  We are both giving.  We are both receiving.  We are both committed to sharing about ourselves, learning about one another, and learning together.

Sharing ourselves with others is a way to share Christ with them – to love our neighbors, to serve our neighbors, to care for them, to comfort them, the challenge them, to congratulate them.  This is what living life is about.  This is the life that Paul lived with the Thessalonians.  He was a mentor to and a companion of the Thessalonians.  He was also a mentee of the Thessalonians.  They lived life together.  He was dedicated to sharing with the Thessalonians and rejoiced over the sharing the Thessalonians did with him.  Together, they incarnated that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20).  Christ is there with them.  Christ is here with us.

As I was leaving our mentoring time this past week my mentee asked where I was headed.  “Back to my office.”  “Where is your office?”  “At a church.  That’s where I work.  I pastor a church.”  “What!?  You’re a pastor??”  “Yes, I am.”  “Could…could we talk about that sometime?”  “You bet.  You just let me know.”

Where two are gathered…

Amen.

Prayer: “Draw us in the Spirit’s tether, for when humbly in thy name, two or three are met together thou are in the midst of them.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Touch we now thy garment’s hem.  All our meal and all our living make us sacraments of thee, that by caring, helping, giving, we may true disciples be.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!   We will serve thee faithfully.”* Amen.

*”Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 632.

A Child Is Born To Us!

Today’s Scripture ~ Isaiah 9:2-7; John 1:14-16; Luke 1:46-2:20

A child is born to us!  A son is given.  What a heavenly spectacle it is.

The Sheep Stood Stunned in Sudden Light

by Thomas Troeger

The sheep stood stunned in sudden light.  The shepherds shared the creature’s fright, while heaven’s star embroidered train swept over hills and down the plain.

They heard a rhythmic, rumbling roar, like breakers breaking on the shore and running up the thirsty strand to toss a treasure on the land.

And then the waves began to sing!  A sea of angels, wing on wing, was circling, chanting in the skies the news of Christ before their eyes.

This night, O God, again we hear your hidden ocean drawing near, against we sense through Jesus’ birth the sea of grace that circles earth.

O when the voiceless night returns and heaven’s sea more softly churns, may faith be like the shell that sends the sound of oceans waves and winds.

Through faith we’ll hear the angels’ songs, and though the dark be deep and long, we’ll bravely live, for by our side is Christ who came on heaven’s tide.*

From heaven to earth – from spirit to flesh – we celebrate the miracle of the incarnation.  Our Christ is born – Emmanuel – and he shall bring peace.

He shall bring peace.

Merry Christmas, my friends.  Merry Christmas

*Troeger, Thomas H., Borrowed Light (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994) 28.

The Coming King: The ‘Grumble’ Servant

Scripture ~ Matthew 11:2-6

In this Scripture passage disciples of John the Baptist engage Jesus in conversation.  It is not a casual catch-up.  They are not swapping challah recipes.  There is weight in their question, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

There’s a fabulous song playing on the radio once every 20 minutes it seems…okay not really every 20…more like every 12…by Avicii called Wake Me Up.  The second verse sings, “I tried carrying the weight of the world, but I only have two hands.”   John the Baptist’s disciples bore a very heavy question in their hands.  And they asked it on behalf of the imprisoned First Century prophet, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

I wonder how quickly Jesus answered their question.  Did he grant the question space to breathe, to resonate, to echo before he answered?  The text does not tell us…but what it does tell us is saving.

Jesus says with assurance, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

What have John’s disciples seen and heard?

Healing.

What could our world – and more specifically our individual selves – see and hear more?

Healing.

This Tuesday a dear friend and congregant of mine will undergo a double mastectomy to address and entirely remove the breast cancer from her body.  At the end of the worship service this past Sunday we paused as a family of faith to pray over my friend and her spouse through the laying on of hands and anointing with oil.  Together we prayed,

“My friends, you are anointed with oil in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

O God, the giver of health and salvation, we give thanks to you for the gift of oil.  As your holy apostles anointed many who were sick and healed them, so pour out your Holy Spirit on us and on this gift, that those who in faith and repentance receive this anointing may be made whole; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

May the power of God’s indwelling presence heal you of all illnesses – of body, mind, spirit, and relationships – that you may serve God with a loving heart.

Almighty God, we pray that our sister and brother may be comforted in their suffering and made whole.  When they are afraid, give them courage; when they feel weak, grant them your strength; when they are afflicted, afford them patience; when they are lost, offer them hope; when they are alone, move us to their side.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.”  Amen.*

At the end of the prayer the family of faith at Reeves granted space for the prayer to breathe, resonate, and echo in and around us and finally settle on my friend and her spouse.

Sunday morning I was granted the privilege to witness the healing Jesus testified.  I saw it.  I heard it.  I experienced it.  And even more humbling, I was honored to lead the healing liturgy for this special couple.

In that service of worship became what Jesus assured John was happening and it is happening because the incarnation of Christ is in our midst.  There is no need to wait.  There is no need to wonder.  Christ is the one who is to come and we know that with confidence as we see the healing taking place all around us: in relationships mended, in needs provided, in weakness restored, in sins forgiven.    

Jesus ends his response to John the Baptist saying, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.”  After experiencing what I led and walked alongside the Reeves family through on Sunday I understand Jesus’ words as, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offence at the healing my coming initiates.”

My friends, we are truly blessed.  Christ’s healing is all around us.  May our eyes be opened to see it, may our ears be cleared to hear it, may our hearts be softened to receive it.

Prayer: “O let the Son of God enfold you with his Spirit and his love.  Let him fill your heart and satisfy your soul.  O let him have the things that hold you, and his Spirit like a dove will descend upon your life and make you whole.  Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.  Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.  O come and sing this song with gladness as your hearts are filled with joy.  Lift your hands in sweet surrender to his name.  O give him all your tears and sadness; give him all your years of pain, and you’ll enter into life in Jesus’ name.  Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.  Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.”** Amen.

*”Healing Service,” The United Methodist Book of Worship, 620-621.

**”Spirit Song,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 347.

Alpha, Omega and Everything In Between ~ Incarnation-Salvation

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Philippians 2:1-11

This week we turn to the first major theme in the New Testament: Incarnation-Salvation.  I couple these themes together because I believe the presence of one brings about the presence of the other.

When discussing Incarnation-Salvation we are talking about God’s one and only, begotten not created, Son – Jesus Christ.  As we read the Gospels and examine the epistle texts, like this week’s from Philippians, we gather from Scripture that who Jesus is – Christology: the study of the person of Christ – is inextricably linked to Soteriology: the study of what the person of Christ does, which is save.

So when Jesus was incarnated and entered the world, it was with a specific purpose – to save humanity and redeem all of creation.  Incarnation-Salvation.

In our Scripture lesson this week Paul describes that in Jesus’ incarnation Jesus emptied himself that he would be able to save humanity.  Paul sets Christ as an example for all humanity in this text.  Paul encourages us to empty ourselves that we may be God’s hands and feet and participate in the salvation of the world for ourselves and for others.

Paul wanted the Philippians to do this, but it wasn’t in the vain of “do this for me.  Win this one for me.”  The Philippians empty themselves not for Paul’s sake, but for Christ’s sake.  Pastor Fred Craddock writes, “If [the Philippians] failed to live by faith in the grace of God and to offer themselves to each other and the world as servants after the manner of Christ, then Paul saw himself as having labored in vain” (Craddock, Philippians, 36, emphasis added).

When we empty ourselves – following the example of Christ – we do so for Christ and Christ alone.  When a person encounters pastors, religious leaders, Sunday School teachers, small group facilitators and is asked to respond to particular teaching it is not (and should not!) be in the vain of “do this for me.”  It’s not about them.  (And for the folks at Reeves, it’s not about me!)  It’s about the budding relationship between the individual and Christ, about what Jesus has asked and asks that individual to do.

In emptying out ourselves we prepare our minds to turn our focus towards our neighbors.  We do not lose our identity our individualism in this emptying.  Paul supported individualism “in the sense that one is to be responsible for oneself and bear one’s own burden” BUT “if minding one’s own business meant unwillingness to bear another’s burdens, a distracting oneself from partnership in the gospel, an aloofness from the common joy and suffering, a coldness to all the ways we are members for one another, then such individualism is destructive of the community and a contradiction of the gospel which speaks and sings of a Christ who was first and always the servant of others” (Craddock, Philippians, 38).

*whew!  That was a long sentence…definitely a good one!  Marinate on those words for a while: unwillingness, distracting, aloofness, coldness – all of those are destructive.  All of those words paint of picture in opposition of who and what Christ wants us to be.*

In emptying ourselves, our visions become clear.  This clarity hones our focus.  No longer are we unwilling, distracted, aloof, or cold.  Our focus is our neighbor.

In emptying himself, Christ’s vision became clear.  This clarity honed his focus.  He was never unwilling, distracted, aloof, or cold.  His focus was and is his neighbor.  You – me – humanity – for eternity.

Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Gracious Lord, in the words of Wesley’s Covenant Prayer:

I am no longer my own, but thine.  Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.  Put me to doing, put me to suffering.  Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.  Let me be full, let me be empty.  Let me have all things, let me have nothing.  I freely and heartily yield all things to they pleasure and disposal.  And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine.  So be it.  And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.  Amen.