The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss ~ The Butter Battle Book

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Corinthians 13:4-8a, 13.

Joshua is teething. Our wonderfully content little man…is now a wonderfully cranky little man. Poor guy. It is true what they say – it is good that babies are the ones that teeth and that they (we) forget the pain. Adults could not endure it.

Watching Joshua teethe, attempting to soothe him, or listening as he gives Andrew a piece of his mind about teething during the late night hours is hard. It is hard to watch and attempt to soothe and listen to someone you love experience pain.

We rock Joshua. We sing to him. We offer him a cold teething ring. We assure him that the pain will pass. We offer him something to eat and, when necessary, pain reliever. He is not left alone in his pain. Our nearness assures him that we see, we know, and we walk alongside. Our nearness communicates our commitment to him. Our nearness and our presence in his pain – not to increase it but to comfort him in hopes of alleviating the pain – is an expression of our love.

Our world is full of all sorts of pain. And sadly there are many in this world that sit alone in their pain – some through self-selection and others that have sought listening ears and warm hearts and found only cold shoulders. I am convinced that their pain – our pain – would be surely eased and well on its way to being healed by giving and receiving the gift of nearness, which entails both companionship and compassion.

Sometimes when we see a loved one in pain, we can fix the situation. Andrew or I can offer Joshua a teether and that does the trick! But other times we cannot fix the pain; it is either beyond our capacity to fix or it is not our role to fix. No matter the circumstance, what we can do – and it is hard! – is show our loved one empathy by sitting with them in their pain. The intent of sitting with them is not to further exacerbate their pain but to acknowledge that it is real, and, that if it is a concern for their heart, then it is a concern for ours, too.

Pain, and often the shame that accompanies it, intensifies when we feel we are all alone, which is why the Apostle Paul calls our attention to “a more excellent way” – which is the way of love expressed through companionship and compassion. This is the love that we receive from God because God first loved us. This is the love that bears all things, believes all things, and hopes all things. This is the love that never fails. This is the love that never ends.

When was a time someone showed you empathy? How did that nearness comfort you and heal your pain? Who is God placing on your heart to connect with this week? How might sharing God’s gift of nearness alter their circumstances for the better?

Prayer: “Your love, O God, has called us here, for all love finds its source in you, the perfect love that casts out fear, the love that Christ makes ever new.”* Amen.

*“Your Love, O God, Has Called Us Here,” The United Methodist Hymnal 647.

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Advent Prophet Parade: Malachi

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Malachi 3:1-4

The Rev. Dr. Thomas Long taught my homiletics course in seminary.  Homiletics is a fancy word for preaching.  One of his earliest lectures subjected how a preacher determines the biblical text that he or she will prayerfully discern, exegetically (from the word exegesis meaning critical interpretation of a text) explore, and theologically interpret for his or her congregation.

I thought to myself…wow…is he serious…an entire lecture on how to select a text?!

But it was a lesson that I needed to hear.  Dr. Long spoke of the damage that we can inflict on a text when we lift it up out of its larger context to preach.  He used the illustration of wallpaper (I know…do you remember that stuff?).  When preachers lift up a portion of Scripture out of its larger context it’s like we are briefly removing a piece of wallpaper from the larger whole.  We want the section that we take to preserve the integrity of the whole – we want it to still look like and identify with the whole – while we explore just a portion.  This guards from reading in to the text, which is known as eisegesis.

Yet, we still do damage…once wallpaper is torn it can never be whole again.  Yes, the pieces can fit back together, but the marred edges will remain.

The lasting lesson for me was this: if I am going to do damage to a text in lifting it up, then I want to make sure the marred edges are worth it.

When I consider this week’s Scripture passage, Malachi 3:1-4 looks like a neat little piece of wallpaper taken from the larger whole…but I wonder if the crafters of the Revised Standard Lectionary lifted up this section of Scripture a tad prematurely.

Malachi 3:1-4 speaks of the Coming Messenger of the Lord.  This messenger will be like a “refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap,” purifying all God’s people (3:2).  This messenger will be a physical manifestation – an incarnation – of God’s justice.  This messenger will bring about a new day which will be like the “the days of old and as in former years”…perhaps even like the “first day” when  creation was called “good” (3:4).

And the lection or Scripture lesson ends.

Readers are left with a general image that justice is coming…but for who specifically?  Keep reading.  Malachi 3:5 names them:

“Then I [the Lord] will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.”

I question whether the marred edges of the Malachi 3:1-4 lection are worth it.  Yes, these verses proclaim that justice is coming, but it isn’t specific enough for me…nor do I think it is specific enough for God’s people that I serve.

I can stand in my church week after week and proclaim to my congregation that God’s justice is coming, but I believe what they truly need to hear is the nearness of the justice.  Justice is coming to the broken, the afflicted, the wanderer, the judged, the lonely, and the lowly.  It some circumstances the justice has arrived and been embraced; in others arrived and deflected; and still others awaiting arrival.  Whatever the circumstance, justice is coming and it is coming near.  

This is a proclamation and reminder that they, me, we have not been forgotten.  God draws near to us.  God redeems.  That is the healing that comes in the justice.  That is the gift of the refiner’s fire and the fullers’ soap.

The justice was, the justice is, and the justice is to come.

So the lesson, my friends, is to keep reading.  Don’t start or stop where I say or anyone else says.  Explore the Scripture to the fullest.  Question and discern the marred edges of Scripture passages.  Bear in mind and keep in sight the integrity of the text.  Draw near.  Draw near and be refined.

Prayer: Holy God, Messenger of the new covenant, flaming Spirit, we confess that we are sinners and cannot worship you worthily except as we are purified and cleansed of our sins.  Let your Holy Fire refine our characters, and not merely our appearance, so that our very natures can become true and rich, purged of the dross of our deepest faults and the evil that corrupts us.  Fit both pastor and people to worship you in the purity appropriate to the house of God, through the fire of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.*

(*from B. David Hostetter, Prayers for the Seasons of God’s People: Worship Aids for the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 13).