Meaning Without Answers

This week health has been on my mind. On the one hand, we have a scripture that deals with Jesus healing a woman who was “bent over.” Probably such an extreme form of Arthritis that she could hardly move. On the other hand, my children have started school (Rowan for the first time), and with the start of school comes all sorts of wonderful germs. Both have been down for the count for extended periods this week—not fun! Imagine though, I struggled with sick kids for a week, and we are told this woman suffered for 18 long years and was healed!

 

This kind of healing raises all sorts of interesting questions for us: How do we make sense of biblical miracles? How come we don’t often experience healing in this way? Why are some healed and some are not when facing debilitating diseases? Why can’t the synagogue leaders celebrate instead of criticize for this healing on the Sabbath?—That’s the one we will tackle on Sunday.

 

On top of my typhoid Finch problem at home that had me thinking of health, I had a powerful experience on Monday this week. I was in the office, reveling in the quiet (church usually closed on Monday), when a woman that we have helped before came in. She came with the news that she has terminal cancer, and 3 kiddos at home. There is no other family support. If ever there was a woman in need of healing, it was her. She asked me to pray for her. She asked me to heal her. She believes that faith will take the cancer away, and she wanted to know why a friend of hers who had terminal cancer and survived was healed, and yet, things look so bleak for her. I had no answers. I still don’t. There are so many platitudes that we offer for times like these that ring hollow—or worse, bring despair! “Everything happens for a reason.” “We don’t know God’s plans.” The worst of all, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” (By the way, that last one is a butchering of scripture, Don’t use it!)

 

I don’t know why our friend is dying of terminal cancer. I don’t know why some people experience miraculous healings, and others don’t. I don’t know why such cruelty can happen to someone who is already in such desperation. There are plenty of “answers,” but none of them are truly good ones.

 

Here is what I do know. My time praying with this woman was powerful. I do believe for her, as well as for me. She overflowed with thanksgiving for Chris’ ministry with her, for the support of the deacons, for my time with her. She showed me what faith can look like in the midst of deep despair. I know how much my own heart was breaking for her, and how deeply I prayed to God for healing. I do know that our calling is to do what we can to help heal each other, and anytime we stand between someone and healing, we are no better than the synagogue leaders. I do know, that as we sat there together with tears in our eyes, I experienced the presence of Christ with us. I do know that I have been haunted this week by our prayer together. As I read a passage from Ecclesiastes 3 to the gathered session and deacons on Wednesday night, I couldn’t help thinking of our friend, “God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in our hearts, without enabling us to discover what God has done from beginning to end.” I do know that this week, I have experienced what it is to pray without ceasing for someone—I hope you will join me in prayer for our friend.

 

There are not always real answers, but that does not mean that there is not meaning. Although God has placed eternity in our hearts, we will not know in this life, why some things happen. I do know that there are often times where other answers and meaningful questions present themselves, even when our original questions go unanswered. Finally, I do know, that in the face of such big questions, there is but one response from those human hearts chasing after eternity…Prayer. Will you pray with me?

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Mud Pies

I have spent a lot of time this week thinking about conflict. The scripture passage this week has Jesus telling us that he didn’t come to bring peace, but division. If that is truly the case, maybe the nastiness of the times means Jesus is alive and well all around us! How’s that for looking on the bright side, huh?

Anyway, one of the thoughts I have had, is about how we deal with conflict. Quite honestly, I don’t think most of us do so well. If social media is involved, I think the likelihood of conflict being handled well is even less. However, I don’t think it has to be that way, and I don’t think that it should be that way.

This whole passage about peace and division starts off with Jesus saying, “Much will be demanded from everyone who has been given much, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.” This ought to hit us as a shot across the bow. As followers of Christ, we definitely fall into this category. We have been given so much, by the Grace of God, and the reality is, I think there is much expected of us.

When we wade into conflict (and we all do at times), I think that we need to be holding ourselves to higher standards. We know better. We know what is good and kind and loving. We have the ultimate example in Christ. We know what is expected of us. I know how easy it is to get caught up in the moment and lose yourself, your kindness, your love. However, we need to practice rising above.

This past week, a long-time friend of mine found was caught falling into the fray online. One line of political comments quickly devolved into name calling and other nastiness—a story that is too oft repeated in this election cycle. It did not take long for things to get completely out of hand and fell to a level that can’t be repeated here (and shouldn’t be repeated anywhere!). I was, however, quite impressed with one particular person’s comments that were very much along the lines of what Jesus said. Rather than continuing the mud-slinging, this person brought a calm voice to the conversation that said, “You all know better than this. Show some respect to each other.” And that ended the fight.

I think that it is easy for all of us to forget that we are all better than how we often act—especially when politics are concerned! As Jesus starts his talk about conflict, he does so with the reminder, “Much will be demanded from everyone who has been given much, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.” That’s us. That is all of us! When we are tempted to fall into the slime of the political season, remember that you are exactly who Jesus is talking about. We are the ones that need to be setting a higher standard for all the discussion. And when we find that conflict, or that disagreement that really gets our goat, remember, you are a beloved child of God, and so is the person that is angering you. Try to extend some grace. Now, if only our political leaders could actually set that kind of tone, we might all be much better off.

Thy Kingdom Now

Are there any grammar hounds among you? Anyone who just loves to correct others when they misspell “their,” or “they’re,” or “there?” Perhaps you won’t admit it, because it is not often a trait looked upon fondly by your peers, but sometimes grammar is incredibly important.

 

This is one of those times. This week Jesus tells his disciples, “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom.” That is a pretty standard translation of the verse. Most of the time we read that and we think that we are reading the future tense—God will be giving us the kingdom sometime down the road. However, in Greek, the verb that means “to give” is in an aorist tense—that means it is past tense. In other words, for all those non-grammar hounds, God already gave us the kingdom. The kingdom has been established. The kingdom is all around us. We are already a part of God’s kingdom. So a better reading might be, “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father is delighted to have given you the kingdom.”

 

Though many of you may be shaking your head and thinking, “what difference does it make?” It does make a difference. Often times, Christians tend to be forward focused—we are working towards attainment of God’s kingdom, we are looking for to the kingdom to come. While there is certainly something to be said for God’s promise of what is to come for each of us, there is a danger in too much forward thinking—we forget the here and now. At times, the church has been so focused on saving souls for the afterlife, that we have forgotten the people that lie in need before us right now, in God’s kingdom that Jesus tells us is already here. At times, we are so worried about believing the right things so that we might be with God in the kingdom of heaven to come, that we forget that God placed us in this world as stewards of this kingdom. The result is often that we neglect our responsibilities to each other, and to this earth. Just this morning I was reading the paper and came across this article, that is disturbing: A stunning prediction of climate science — and basic physics — may now be coming true. Say whatever you will about the politics of climate change, the fact of the matter is that there is no question that we have fallen short of the calling God has given us to care for the earth.

 

The passage that follows Jesus statement, “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father is delighted to have given you the kingdom,” is one that is often used to think about the kingdom “to come” in the future. “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps lit…You also must be ready, because the Human One is coming at a time when you don’t expect him.” The way we have traditionally read this is that we must be on our best behavior because we don’t know when Jesus will return and establish the kingdom. In fairness, that is how it reads in Matthew. However, Luke is doing something different. If indeed, Luke’s message is that the kingdom is established, we have to read this as a reminder that our service is never done. It means we have to be aware, because the kingdom is happening around us all the time, and we are supposed to be caring for that kingdom now—not in the hope (or threat) of things to come. No—instead, it is in the realization that Christ has great faith in us to care for the kingdom now.

 

If we are reading this correctly, I think it is a call to service now. It is a reminder that we cannot rest on our laurels while there are problems to be solved and people to be served in this world now. Truly, we are a people that God has already graced with the kingdom of God—so act like it! It reminds me of the saying by Rabbi Tarfon in the Pikrei Avot:  “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.”

 

Friends, God’s kingdom is in our midst all the time. I hope that is a reminder that we really ought to be better about caring for it, as it is all around us.