Friday, October 24, 2014
Today's daily lesson comes from Psalm 31 verse 5:
"Into your hand I commit my spirit."
Last night I spoke at a memorial service for persons who passed away while under the care of one of the local hospice services in town.
My sermon was titled "Release" and it was about letting go. I reflected on how much of life is about holding on tight. Even as newborn infants one of our first natural impulses is to grasp hold. Pediatricians even have a name for this; they call it the Palmer Grasp and it is said infants can hold up their own weight with it. And that is what life is about -- holding ourselves up by holding on tight.
But in every life, I said, there comes a time when we must let go; and that is the most difficult thing to do in the world because it goes against our natural will to life.
I shared with them how earlier this year I lost a friend to a long, and very grievous and debilitating disease. For years this person had struggled to hang on. It was the fight in him which had kept him alive well past expectations. But in the last months of he understood that the time had come to give up the fight and let go. "Is it okay?" he asked me in one very memorable conversation. "Is it okay to . . . up?"
"It is okay," I said.
As God would have it, the next day I stumbled upon words from Richard Rohr which I knew were intended for my friend. I shared them with him and now I share them with you:
"If the word surrender scares you, let me tell you that surrender is not giving up, as we usually understand the term. Surrender is entering the present moment, and what is right in front of you, fully and without resistance. In that sense, surrender is almost the exact opposite of giving up. In fact, it allows you to be given to!"
Soon, my friend allowed himself to be given to his new moment; he let go and surrendered himself to death. It was the hardest thing a fighter like him could ever do; and it was the holiest thing also.
"Into your hands I commit my spirit." Words of the psalmist which Jesus prayed in the dark hours of his crucifixion. Words which remind us that there is indeed a time of surrender; and in that decisive moment we place our ultimate faith in the hands of God, who alone can still hold on, even when we let go.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Today's daily lesson is from Luke chapter 10 verses 33 and 37:
30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion . . . Now go and do likewise.”
Did you see the story this past summer about the guy who was beaten over by the mall?
After getting off the late shift, he was walking towards the bus stop when three youth jumped him and took all his money. When the man came too it was pitch dark and no more busses were running. He crawled beneath a tree in hopes that somebody might look over when their cars stopped at the red light.
The next morning a few people did see beneath the tree, but he looked like a homeless drunk or addict. When it came out in the paper a couple from our church told me they had seen him, but didn't know what to do. They said they thought, "Maybe he just slept there or something." One person stopped and got out of his car to check on the man. When he saw the man's condition he called 9-11 which probably saved the man's life because he was bleeding internally from one of the punches he suffered.
The paper did a follow-up feature on the man who stopped and got out of his car. His name is Muhammed Abbud. He is originally from Syria, but came to the United States to study engineering at Texas A & M. The article called him a "a modern-day, Muslim Good Samaritan."
An Aggie Muslim Good Samaritan. Think about that.
Now go and do likewise.*
*Some may ask if this story really happened. To which I respond, I am sure it happens every day.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Today's daily lesson comes from the book of Revelation chapter8 verses 3 and 4:
3 And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, 4 and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.
Why do you pray? Do you pray?
I hope so, not only because prayer can make a difference in our life, but also because prayer is pleasing to God. We are told in the Bible that our prayers are a fragrant offering to God. That is why incense from a censure is often used in worship to accompany prayer; it is symbolic of the prayers of God's people rising up to God. And the prayers are a pleasing delight to God.
As a father I understand this. There is nothing I desire and delight in more than for our oldest child to talk with me and tell me about her day when she gets out of school. That little conversation is a pleasing and pleasant joy to the spirit of this father. And so too are our conversations with Heavenly Father.
Want to bring joy to God's spirit? Offer up your prayers. He delights in them.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Today's daily lesson is from Psalm 36 verse 9b:
"In your light do we see light."
As we all know, the moon is only a secondary source of light, reflecting light from the sun back from its own dark and rocky surface. When we look at the moon we see light; yet the moon itself is actually dark. We aren't really seeing the moon's light but rather the sun's light reflected. In a weird sense then moonlight is actually in fact sunlight. We see light of night because of another light -- the light of day.
What is true in the physical world is also true in the spiritual one. As the psalmist said, "In [God's] light we see light," -- even in darkness.
Jacques Lusseryan was a blind French resistance fighter imprisoned by the Nazi's in Buchenwald. In his memoir Lusseryan tells how though blinded at age eight he was nevertheless able to cultivate within himself an ability to sense where objects were and at what distance. He called this the light within himself. Yet when he was arrested by the Nazis, his own anger and fear diminished the light within Lusseryan and he found himself no longer able to navigate the interior of Buchenwald as he had the outside world. He had lost his light. Part of his memoir is about Lusseryan's learning to recover the light within.
Those with the light in them can see light. Though their lives and circumstances may be dark, they yet are able to see the light of hope. The light they see in the world does not come from the world, but is instead -- like the moon -- a secondary light. The source of the light they see in the world is from another place -- the light of God within.
Our world is very dark right now with heinous evil on the loose and new disease at our doorstep. Yet even in the darkness, those who cleave to the light still see light; and the darkness does not overcome it.
Praise be to our God who is "the very light of very light" even in a very dark world.
Monday, October 20, 2014
Today's lesson comes from Luke chapter 9 verse 54:
54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?"
One day Jesus and his disciples came with their message into a Samaritan village, but the Samaritans would not welcome them because of their different beliefs. James and John, two of Jesus' disciples whom he called "the sons of Thunder" asked Jesus for permission to call fire down from heaven and consume the village as Elijah did centuries before. But Jesus, who was already walking out of the village and onto the next, turned and rebuked them. "The Son of Man has come not to kill but to heal," he said, and then led them out and onto the next village.
In various holy texts, including certain parts of the Bible, you can find evidence for making the case that infidels ought to be killed; but you will never find that it by looking at Jesus. Jesus never killed or coerced anyone with sword or with fire or with anything else. As he said, "the Son of Man came not to kill but to heal."
Sadly, throughout the ages, when Christians have persecuted others for their faith or lack thereof, we've acted a lot more like the Sons of Thunder than we have the Son of Man.
The great champion of religious liberty Roger Williams, who was appalled at the way New Englanders went about trying to convert Native Americans to Christianity, once wrote, "Forced worship stinks in the nostrils of God."
I believe it does.
Friday, October 17, 2014
Today's Daily Lesson is from the book of Acts chapter 28 verses 3 through 5:
3 When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. 4 When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.
In Pulitzer-Prize cartoon editorialist Doug Marlette's famous Kudzu cartoon strips, it was said that the town was so backward that even the Episcopalians handled snakes.
I for one absolutely hate snakes and was glad when I learned all that stuff at the end of the book of Mark where Jesus says believers will handle serpents and drink poison was an add on, and not part of Mark's original manuscript. In other words, Jesus really didn't say that. Somebody only said he said it. Whew.
And yet, here we have in today's lesson Paul being bitten by a snake and then shaking it off and going on like nothing happened. What to do with that?
I have no doubts about Paul having miraculously survived the literal bite of a snake. I'm sure it lieterally and physically happened. But I am thinking more today about the spiritual meaning - how it might be true for all of us that we can be snakebitten yet not succumb.
A mature Christian can withstand all sorts of biting scorn and venomous contempt. That's not to say the bite doesn't sting and the poison doesn't sicken. But no matter how venomous others may be, and no matter how noxious a situation is, they're just not going to be able to kill the spirit.
I'm not there yet; I'm only getting there. And on the way, I think I'll still avoid the snakes when I can. And when I can't, I hope, like Paul, I'm able to shake them off and trust God for the strength to see me through.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Today's Daily Lesson comes from Jonah chapter 4 verses 1 and 2:
1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord . . . I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”
Jonah couldn't stand it that the Ninevites were such a wicked and perverse people. And when they repented of their evil ways -- so remorseful that they even put their livestock in sackcloth and ashes -- well, Jonah couldn't stand that either.
There are some people that just have to have somebody to scorn and to condemn. They're always up in arms about somebody doing something. And "sorry" is just never good enough. They want everybody to get what they have coming.
When that doesn't happen then they say, "a bad precedence is being set," or we're "sending a signal that this kind of behavior is okay," or we're "not acting responsibly." When all is said and done, they end up looking like Jonah -- small-minded, petty, and mean-spirited.
The Bible says we are to "love mercy". That means that when we hate mercy something just ain't right.
Love mercy. Delight in it's giving. And for heaven's sake, don't cut off your nose just to spite your face.