We Need the Eggs

“When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?'”
John 5:6


Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the man whose brother-in-law believed himself to be a chicken. The man finally got fed up with his brother-in-law’s scratching, clucking, and pecking – not to mention the nest-building in every corner of the house.

The man went to see a psychiatrist to explain the problem. The doctor said, “Sounds like a simple neurosis. Bring him in, I’m sure we can cure him.”

“Oh no, Doc,” said the man, “we can’t do that. We need the eggs.”

When Jesus came upon a man who had been sitting beside a healing pool for thirty-eight years without ever getting in the water, he asked, “Do you want to be healed?”

The truth is that in churches (but not only there) we sometimes get a lot of eggs from people who are suffering in basic ways, i.e. deep down they don’t experience themselves as worthy of God’s love and grace. Often those who suffer such wounds deal with their pain by over-functioning – constantly doing for others, taking on every job, or taking responsibility for other people who aren’t being responsible for themselves. We in the church may even encourage this. We’ve gotten used to the eggs.

But here’s the really shocking thing in this story: Jesus asked if the man who had sat there for so long wanted to be healed, but he didn’t wait for an answer. He just ordered the man to get up and walk. Jesus took away the eggs.

So, watch out, because so far as I can tell Jesus is very likely to bust in on our little arrangements and take away the eggs. Jesus is intent on taking from us all the ways we’ve learned to keep true life and real healing at bay.

Come Holy Spirit, break us open and make us new, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

Pushing the YES Buttton

For Jesus Christ was not “yes” and “no” but in him it has always been “yes”!
2 Corinthians 1:19


Sitting on the old man pews at Wally World the other day I had this weird thought: after all my groceries and other stuff had paraded down the conveyor belt, I swiped my credit card on the payment box and received that familiar but curious question:  “Your total is $96.23, is that OK?”  Answer options include:  “Yes” and “No.” 

Just as I was about to mechanically enter “Yes,” I thought, “Why am I being such an unthinking conformist?  Suppose I disagree with this total?  Suppose I break away from the pack, take the road less traveled, challenge the system, make a statement of protest and push the “No” button?!!!”

So I asked the check-out person, “Just out of curiosity, what happens if I push the “No” button? Emphatically, she said “If you do, I will have to ring up your order all over again while you and the five people behind you wait!”

I pushed the “Yes” button.

Isn’t that the way it is in church sometimes?  Isn’t it easier to swallow your misgivings about Christianity rather than clog the system with uncomfortable questions? Fortunately you have landed in the United Methodist Church, where no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, we welcome you …and your questions.

Does that make us the “Uncertain Methodist Church?” I’m uncertain about that, but certainty is certainly not what it’s all about.  Instead, it’s all about finding and giving a full, resounding “yes” to the One who has already said “yes” to you and me.

Patient God, may your “yes” to us override our doubts about you and overwhelm us with gratitude and joy, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

 

Love One Another

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
John 13:35


One day, a man was walking across a bridge and saw another man standing on the edge, about to jump off. He immediately ran to him and said, “Stop! Don’t do it!” “Well, why shouldn’t I?” he replied. The other said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!” “Like what”? “Well … are you religious or atheist?” “Religious.” “Me too! And are you Christian or Jewish?” “Christian.” “Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?” “Protestant.” “Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?” “Baptist.” “Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?” “Baptist Church of God.” “Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?” “Reformed Baptist Church of God.” “Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?” “Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!” To which he said, “Die, you heretic!” and pushed him off the bridge.

When we get together with our family on Sundays, we often find ourselves discussing and even arguing our views on various topics, political, spiritual, etc. One man said of his family: “You’ve heard the phrase two Jews, five opinions? That’s our family. At the end, we all laugh about who argued best and try to learn from one another.”

The body of the Lord is one big family. Yes, we differ in opinion on some issues. But we are going to be together for eternity and we must learn to live in peace with one another! In order for us to make a real difference in the world, the world needs to see us loving each other.

Let’s not be like the man who pushed the other off the bridge. Let’s laugh about it and try to learn from one another.

Dear Lord, make my circle of love, understanding and acceptance bigger and bigger each day until it includes ALL your people. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve

 

Voicemail in Heaven

“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live”
(Psalm 116:1–2 NIV).


What if God ran heaven like a business and installed voicemail? It might sound something like this:

Thank you for calling heaven. Please select one of the following options:

  • Press 1 for thanksgiving.
  • Press 2 for complaints.
  • Press 3 for requests.
  • Press 4 for all other inquiries.
  • [Press any number]

I’m sorry; all of our angels are busy helping other saints right now. However, your prayer is important to us, and we will answer it in the order in which it was received. Please hold for the next available angel.

If you would like to speak to the Father, press 1. For the Son, press 2. For the Spirit, press 3. If you would like to hear a Psalm while you are holding, press 4. To find a loved one residing in heaven, press 5, then enter his or her Social Security number followed by the pound sign. If you get a negative response, please hang up and try area code 666.

To make a reservation for heaven, please enter J-O-H-N-3-1-6. For answers to nagging questions about dinosaurs, the age of the earth, life on other planets, and where Noah’s Ark is, please wait until you arrive.

If you are unable to reach one of our angels, please hang up and try again tomorrow.

This office will be closed for the weekend to observe the Sabbath. Please pray again on Monday after 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time. If you need emergency assistance, please contact your local pastor.

Can you imagine this? No one would pray. Thank God—yes, I mean thank Him—that He gives us direct access. All the time. Remember that God hears genuine prayer, even when He’s quiet.

Father, thank You, thank You, that I have direct access to You. I’ve so often taken it for granted, but it is a supreme privilege to connect with You directly when I pray.

 Grace and Peace

Steve

 

Eleven Special Words

“The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other.”
Excerpt from 2 Corinthians 5:16-20 (The Message)


A few years ago at a couple of church gatherings the week before Thanksgiving, I asked this question:  “Who will be around your table at Thanksgiving and does that represent any challenges?”  The responses were quite remarkable:

“Well, it all depends if my aunt shows up.”

“This year Thanksgiving is with my wife’s family, so we’ll be fine.  But next year we’ll be with my family, and that’s a whole other story.”

“My brother hasn’t been with us for Thanksgiving for a long time, so we’ll have to see how that goes.”

We watched an old “Raymond” show during the holidays which had some of this same theme. Everyone was trying to get along with Robert’s wife’s family. When it didn’t work and people starting arguing Raymond says: “Now it feels like a holiday!”

Can you picture that famous Norman Rockwell painting that depicts a large family gathered at a dining table for a Thanksgiving meal?  The father is at the head of the table, hands folded.  All heads are bowed.  I always assumed they were all offering prayers of thanksgiving for their manifold blessings.  But now I wonder if the prayers were more like these:

“Dear God, help me to hold my tongue.”
“God, everyone is doing real well so far.  Don’t desert us now.”
“Please help us steer clear of political arguments.”

When I imagine prayers like that, the depiction of the Norman Rockwell family goes from merely sentimental to something very real and very poignant.

Ira Byock, a professor at Dartmouth Medical School, writes from his experience with dying patients and grieving families about the eleven words that people need to hear in such moments. Then he rightly observes that these eleven words are important to say – and powerful – not just at such critical moments, but at other times and in other circumstances.

Those eleven words are:

Please forgive me.
I forgive you.
I love you.
Thank you.”

So in the wake of Thanksgiving, let me ask:  Does anyone need to hear these words from you today? It just may change the whole picture.

Dear Lord, bring a spirit of reconciliation to my heart, to my words, and to my actions.  May I live out these eleven words to all around me, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve


“If only your children will take heed to walk
before me as you have walked before me.”
Excerpt from l Kings 8:22-30


In preparing for worship and sermons I like to read what other ministers are doing. Sometimes I will listen to Podcasts of sermons or lectionary discussions among a group of seminary students, like Concordia Seminary. It always seems to give a fresh insight into the text of the week. Recently I ran across an interesting story by a clergywoman, Talitha Arnold, who served in the UCC church.

She told that whenever new members joined the Connecticut church she served in the 1980’s (First United Church of Christ in Middletown, CT), they used the congregation’s original covenant. Written in 1658, the statement began, “We doe in ye presence of God, the Holy Angells and this Assembly take, acknowledge, and Avouch the one and onely true God.” Reciting it, she said she always felt like we’d stepped back into a Shakespearean play. It must have been quite a rite of passage for new members to stumble through the archaic language.

I thought about the language as it recalled to mind the 23rd Psalm that was read by Dr. Rick Pierce at my dad’s funeral. He read it from the Scottish version with a heavy Scottish accent. It was very beautiful language but hard to understand. You really had to listen. The core of the UCC covenant rang true, even 300-plus years later, and so did the 23rd Psalm thousands of years later. “Ingaging that we will walk with this God,” we promised, “and one with another according to the rules of ye Gospell.”

The commitment to “walk with God and one another” wasn’t original. Variations of the promise are found throughout the covenants of those early churches, beginning with the Church Covenants of the earliest of years.

Today’s scripture text reminds us that the promise is also deeply rooted in our biblical faith. As he dedicates the Temple, King Solomon tells the people to “take heed to walk before God” as their ancestors did. The king knew it was the only way to life. 

Whether from 3,000 years ago or a mere 300, the covenant to walk with God and one another affirms that faith is a journey, best taken with others. As we gather on Thursday to give thanks, may that journey be at the top of our list of blessings. 

Dear Lord, thank you for walking with us every step of the way. Continue to guide our feet in your paths of peace and hope, as we journey with one another in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace
Steve