Scripture – Story – Song

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Corinthians 4:1-18.

Jack Vinson was martyred in the Kiangsu Province of Mainland China in 1932. A bandit told the missionary, I’m going to kill you. Aren’t you afraid?

Kill me if you wish, Vinson replied. I will go straight to God.

Vinson’s courage inspired this poem, authored by his friend EH Hamilton:

Afraid?  Of what?

To feel the spirit’s glad release?

To pass from pain to perfect peace, the strife and strain of life to cease?

Afraid – of that?

Afraid? Of what?

Afraid to see the Savior’s face

To hear his welcome, and to trace the glory gleam from wounds of grace?

Afraid – of that?

Afraid? Of what?

A flash, a crash, a pierced heart;

Darkness, light, O Heaven’s art!  A wound of his a counterpart!

Afraid – of that?

Afraid? Of what?

To do by death what life could not –

Baptize with blood a stony blot till souls shall blossom from the spot?

Afraid – of that?*

The words of Tertullian, The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, continue to resonate as we read Paul’s words to the Corinthians: We are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. In biblical times martyrs gave up their lives in order to give life – to sustain life – whereas our present reality connects martyrs with acts of terror, violence, and harm.

I think it is time we write a new story, by returning to the old, old story.

The idea of martyrdom in the faith is no longer associated with the Christian’s religious identity, but I believe it should be. Writes Martha Sterne, “Our religious identity is usually associated with stability, prestige, comfort, satisfaction, and happiness. We get up on Sunday morning and go to the church that strikes our fancy…we are not harassed by civil authorities, and in our communities of faith we are almost never asked to sacrifice. Christian life and discipleship are frequently confused with good citizenship, appropriate decorum, and following socially acceptable norms and lifestyle”…but that is not what Christian life and discipleship are.** Christian life and discipleship are displayed in the witnesses of the martyrs – women and men who boldly, with great conscience – meaning the ability to determine right from wrong – sacrificed their words, acts, and lives to give life to the church that we enjoy today.

The testimonies of Christian martyrs challenge us to move beyond our comfort zones and as uncomfortable as their witnesses may make us – we must realize that we are their blossoms. Their testimonies should encourage and embolden us to articulate and share  what effect this precious treasure in clay jars has had and is having in our lives. While I do not advise looking for martyrdom opportunities, I also do not advise avoiding the to speak up, explain, or defend our faith.

The testimonies of Christian martyrs encourage us to trust – as they did – that if they gave it all, put their life on the line, God is faithful. Our culture says we live in a world of those who lose their life lose it. Our assurance from our God is that those who lose their life will find it and it will be everlasting.

This Sunday in both services our congregation will experience Scripture-Story-Song: an opportunity to reflect in gratitude and offer songs of praise to our God for all our many blessings. These worship services will be a wonderful way to prepare our hearts and center our spirits for Thanksgiving celebrations next week. I look forward to this time of worship with you and encourage you to invite a friend that could benefit from encouragement and affirmation to join us! See you in worship, friends!

Prayer: “O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be! Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”*** Amen.

*Jesus Freaks 74-75.

**Feasting on the Word Year B Volume 1 424.

***”Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” The United Methodist Hymnal 400.

Jobbbb: Bitter

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Job 23:1-9, 16-17

A question that I have become most fond of is, “What brings you joy?” And the great thing about this question is that after I listen to the answers of my friends and family, I have a chance to answer myself. Somedays my answer – and the answers from my conversation partner(s) – comes swiftly. Other days…not so much.

I would not say that I like to complain…but I find myself complaining more than I should. I have learned there is a difference between complaining and venting. When I vent I share my feelings, my concerns, my fears, and they are released. I state them and I move forward. When I complain I share my feelings, my concerns, my fears, and then I repeat them. Nothing changes. Nothing resolves. I do not move forward.

The consequence of the toxic cycle of complaining is bitterness. My outlook, my attitude, my interactions with others all sour and suffer. I become like Job. I want answers. I seek them. And at times the only answer I receive is deafening silence.

And yet…

Complaints pale in comparison to our joys. Complaints have a nasty way of obscuring joy and, through that obscuring of joy, they deprive us of joy. Now, I am not suggesting that we all start complaining about our complaining…that will not get us anywhere! But I am suggesting that we each take time to name what brings us joy.

I invite you into a time of reflection. What has been the topic(s) of your recent complaints? I encourage you to write them on a sheet of paper. For every complaint, I invite you to (1) write out something that brings you joy and then (2) begin to brainstorm ways that you can address your complaints. Perhaps after reviewing your list you may be able to easily identify steps that will lead those complaints to positive resolutions. Perhaps after reviewing your list all you are able to do is write PRAY in big bold letters. Once you identify ways to address your complaints, act on them. Take one at a time, but take action. Move forward.

My husband, my niece and nephew (first time saying that!), my family, my puppadoos, the growth in my yoga practice, the continued stewardship of our church, Tuskawilla’s faithful and faith-filled leadership, God’s call on my life, my mentors, my dear friends, and pumpkins – yes, even pumpkins, bring me joy.

What joys will you name today?

Release your complaints. Do not be overcome by bitterness. Unleash your joy.

Prayer: “Pass me not, O gentle Savior, hear my humble cry; while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by. Thou the spring of all my comfort, more than life to me, whom have I on earth beside thee? Whom in heaven but thee? Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry, while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by.”* Amen.

*”Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” The United Methodist Hymnal 351.