Parable of the Merchant

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:45-46.

When I was in elementary school a sure sign of summer was that my mother and aunt would pile my brother, my cousin, and me in the backseat of either the Oldsmobile or the Bonneville and we would head for the beach. Anna Maria was a family favorite; beach, shade, and a playground with a really fast slide.

Days at the beach included time in the water, walks in the sand, regimented slathering of sunscreen, exploring the playground and eating special beach foods – like Pringles and Fig Newtons…I did not know it was possible to eat these foods at other times than at the beach! But the activity I looked forward to most was hunting for seashells.

And not just any seashells – specifically corkscrew or auger shaped shells – once their snail inhabitant had vacated, of course!

These shells are not typically atop the sand. They are deep within the beach and must be unearthed, taking time and patience. Some days at the beach I would not find a single corkscrew; others I would come home with an entire cupful! Each find increased my delight and fed my hunger to find more. Though other shells were readily available on the beach – that was the one I wanted; that was the one I sought. I would disregard all others for that certain shell.

The merchant in our parable for this week is in search of fine pearls, but in finding one precious pearl, the focused and determined merchant sells everything to possess that one pearl.

Our lives are full of many pearls…or things that would like us to consider them pearls. But God sets before us the pearl – the Kingdom of God – for us to seek and take hold of and thereby not be distracted by other items, people, or activities. God places within us a desire to seek the Kingdom and some days we may see it and others wonder where, in fact, it is or if we are privy to participate in it. I assure you that we are in the midst of the Kingdom, even on the days when we feel we are in a fog or a haze. Says the writer of Hebrews, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Says the author of the Fourth Gospel, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29).

Some days we seek the pearl and other days it is in our grasp; as with the life of faith – it is about the journey as well as the destination.

Prayer: “Crown him with many crowns, the Lamb upon his throne, Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own. Awake, my soul, and sing of him who died for thee, and hail him as thy matchless King through all eternity.”* Amen.

*“Crown Him With Many Crowns,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 327.

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Parable of the Weeds Among the Wheat

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 13:24-30.

In reaction to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Patton Oswalt, renowned actor, comedian, and writer, shared these words,

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity where inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago. So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance, or fear, or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred, or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, “The good outnumber you, and we always will.”

These are incredibly powerful words that provided me with a sense of hope and comfort after that terror attack. They are words that I, unfortunately, continue to recall with each additional act of terror that happens in our nation and in our world.

As I think on these acts of terror – and as I read and reflect upon our Scripture passage for this week – I find myself asking – again – that powerful, haunting, one-word question.

Why?

Why do innocent people suffer? Why do hurt people choose to hurt people?

How do we cope with people – near or far – that seek to do us harm and yet we must grow alongside them? How do we heal from personal behaviors by which we do harm to ourselves?

Why do weeds grow among the wheat?

Why does God allow it to happen?

I do not think God allows it to happen; I believe people allow these sort of harmful behaviors to manifest-er into harmful acts. And I believe we must face these harmful acts caused by hurting people with grace and forgiveness. The Scripture says that we have to grow up together, for to take one from the other would cause damage to both. Jesus holds us accountable to how we treat our neighbors – neighbors that love us and that we love as well as neighbors that desire to cause us harm and, towards them, our thoughts are less than kind.

Scripture also tells us that Jesus is judge. Jesus is adjudicator. In trusting his sovereignty, we trust that he will enact justice. In coming under his lordship, we hope that we will be found among the faithful that responded to his commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors – all neighbors – as ourselves.

Since the time of the Fall God has been saying, shouting, praying that the good outnumber the evil and always will. I believe God calls us to join in saying, shouting, and praying this statement – not to puff ourselves up as the good – but to offer hope in a world that at times seems all too gloomy.

Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.

On all. On us. On me.

Prayer: “Come, my Light, and illumine my darkness. Come, my Life, and revive me from death. Come, my Physician, and heal my wounds. Come, Flame of divine love, and burn up the thorns of my sins, kindling my heart with the flame of thy love. Come, my King, sit upon the throne of my heart and reign there. For thou alone art my King and my Lord. Amen.”*

*”An Invitation to Christ,” The United Methodist Hymnal 466.

PictureLent ~ Remember

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 23:39-43

I have returned! My pilgrimage through Nepal has concluded…and thanks to Turkish Airways was extended a few extra days. Many thanks to Rev. Melissa Cooper and Rev. Kate Ling for preaching for me while I was away and to Rev. Tom Love for serving as a pastor-on-call. Many thanks also to Tuskawilla’s wonderful staff and leadership teams for their service while I was away. I am so grateful to be home and to have returned to our wonderful community. I am refreshed despite the jet lag and altitude sickness. I know that the vineyard was well-tended while I took my Sabbath. I’ve got my stilettos…I’m headed back to work!

In Nepal, education is not public nor is it compulsory. Families have to pay for their children to attend school, and many do. What makes it different from primary and secondary education in the States is that each individual school is able to set their own calendars and the times of their school days. So one school may be in session from 5:30am-12:30pm and another from 9am-4pm and another from 12:30pm-7:30pm.

Could you imagine trying to balance multiple children through this kind of scheduling? Ack!

Since the schools have such random schedules at any given point throughout the day you see school-age children just wandering through town – and let me tell you – they love Westerners. They associate Westerners with sweets. They will see Westerners walking up the road or sitting in a park or strolling around a stupa and will run with great glee towards them and squeak “sweets sweets sweets!” They are after chocolate or hard candy or gum – whatever you may have. And then after receiving what they want, they laugh and run off.

I was a less-than-favorable Westerner to the Nepali children. I’m not a big sweets person – unless it’s my Mom’s cream cheese pound cake, my mother-in-law’s Mexican wedding cake cookies, or my best friend Becky’s peanut butter cup cookies. For me bacon and cheese grits > sweets.

Nepali children associate or remember sweets when they see Westerners. They ask – and pretty much if they do not ask me or others like me – they receive! My friend I was visiting in Nepal shared with me that many aid agencies across the country encourage visitors to give the children toothbrushes when they ask for sweets. Nepali children receive so many sweets that their overall dental health is abysmal. The benefit of a sweet lasts a few moments, whereas the benefit of a toothbrush can literally last a lifetime.

Take note in the conversation that the criminal shares with Jesus that he asks for the toothbrush and not the sweet. The sweet would have been “Hey Jesus, get me off this cross!” The toothbrush is “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). This criminal saw Jesus and turned his attention to the Kingdom. Perhaps it was his first ever thought of God’s Kingdom. Perhaps he was reminded in that moment – once again – regardless of his past – Jesus and God’s Kingdom would be his present and future.

When Christians encounter difficulties in life we often turn to Jesus because we remember that Jesus is our God, our Messiah, our Savior, our Helpmate, our Friend. We turn to Jesus and follow his teaching, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Mt 7:7-8). But for what do we ask? What is our request? The sweet? The temporary benefit? “Lord, get me out off this mess! Get me off this cross!” and then we revert to our life as usual instead of Christ’s life in us being our usual? Or do we ask for the toothbrush? Do we ask for the Kingdom? Do we ask for strength in tribulation? For our feet to continue following the narrow instead of the wide path? For peace with our neighbors? For enemies to become friends? For the healing of the nations? For abounding hope? For everlasting peace?

I know the Kingdom will indeed be sweet. I have tasted. I have seen. And I will taste and will continue to see. But I do not want the effects of the Kingdom to be temporary. I want them to be my present and my future. I want the Kingdom to pervade my lifetime and usher me beyond this time. Jesus, I look to you and remember. Remember me when you come into your Kingdom.

Prayer: “Alas! and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die? Would he devote that sacred head for sinners such as I? Was it for crimes that I have done, he groaned upon the tree? Amazing pity! Grace unknown! And love beyond degree. Well might the sun in darkness hide, and shut its glories in, when God, the mighty maker, died for his own creature’s sin. Thus might I hide my blushing face while his dear cross appears; dissolve my heart in thankfulness and melt mine eyes to tears. But drops of tears can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe. Here, Lord, I give myself away, ’tis all that I can do.”* Amen.

*”Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed,” The United Methodist Hymnal 294.