You never know…

This morning one of the readings made me wail and lament my mixed motives and weak efforts as a disciple of Jesus,

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (I Corinthians 2:11-15)

But God’s mercy is great where my works are puny. My book, through a friend of a friend of a friend, found its way to a pastor in Texas. Even though his is not a family with autism, God used one of the reflections in the book to help him find the Scripture on which to build his most recent sermon. And it helped him in a week that presented challenges to him, personally, and to the people he serves.

Here’s the sermon. I thank God who, in the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit, uses our efforts above and beyond our limitations as he makes us ready for an eternal reward.

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Guess Who’s Coming to Church

I’ll make a long story short by linking to my own care giving blog, where I describe how my son with autism accompanied me on a preaching road trip.

To make the drive more pleasant, I pulled out our collection of hits by 60s/70s Canadian rock band The Guess Who.

About 90 minutes into the drive, while I was absorbed in worries about how my son would do at a strange (that is, new to him, no value judgement on the very kind congregation) church, the song Hang On To Your Life played.  I’d forgotten that the album cut ended with singer Burton Cummings’ lugubrious offering of Psalm 22:13-15 (King James Version),

They gaped upon me with their mouths
As a ravening and a roaring lion
I am poured out like water
And all my bones are out of joint
My heart is like wax
It is melted in the midst of my bowels
My strength is dried up like a potsherd
And my tongue cleaveth to my jaws
And thou has brought me into the dust of death

According to some sources I’ve consulted (OK, Googled), Cummings was having fun with his agony from a bad case of sunburn.  Just the same, hearing it as a Christian, my mind turned away from my anxious thoughts and toward the cross of Christ, which this Psalm foretells and from which Jesus quoted the first verse, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Such is God’s grace that playing The Guess Who as tranquilizing background music led to a behind-the-wheel contemplation of the cross of Christ, preparing me to preach him and to break the bread in proclamation of his death until he comes again.

Just for info’s sake, here’s a video of the song.  The Psalm is quoted at about 3:40.

Thanksgiving choking hazard

Thanksgiving (the act, not the holiday) should not be hard.

The list need not be long to be wondrous.

Like many of us in an abundant time and place, I suppose my list of blessings is so long that I take much of it for granted.

And I’m quick to think of an infinite list of “don’t haves” that provoke anxiety.

I wolf down too much; I bring up too much.  I choke on overabundance and even more on the expectation of this, that and the other thing.

The New Testament gives a short list when it comes to expectations and entitlements:

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.  (I Timothy 6:6-8 NRSV)

Man, I’m not very good at that.  I could stand to learn from one of the great spiritual guides,

If you do not lose the habit of speaking and complaining about everything – unless you do so to God – you will never finish your lamenting…

I repeat that the whole matter, or a great part of it, lies in losing concern about ourselves and our own satisfaction.  (Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection 11.2; 12.2)

Pope Francis recently pointed out that many of us struggle with attachment to all the good stuff without lifting our eyes to delight in the One who gives everything for our enjoyment,

“They are attached to this idolatry: they are astonished by the power and energy (of these things). They haven’t thought about how much greater is their sovereign because He created them, He who is the origin and the author of this beauty. It’s an idolatry to gaze at all these beautiful things without believing that they will fade away. And the fading too has its beauty… And this idolatry of being attached to the beauty of the here and now, without (a sense of) the transcendence, we all run the risk of having that. It’s the idolatry of immanence. We believe that these things are almost gods and they will last forever. We forget about that fading away.”

There is a serious choking hazard if we try to gorge on gratitude as a once-a-year ritual feast.  Thanksgiving must be a daily diet – a rich one enjoyed in the unhurried luxury of prayer – so that we can delight in the One who loves us rather than life’s temporary tokens of that love:

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected when received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the invocation of God in prayer. (I Timothy 4:4-5 NAB)

 

One more helping

I’m noticing the Month of Gratitude on social media.  Folks are sharing something for which they are thankful each day in the run up to Thanksgiving.

That’s a worthy effort.  “Counting our blessings” can transform our view of the world and of ourselves.  It can push negative thinking out of our heads and drive complaints from our lips.

Some folks will use Thanksgiving dinner as a time to express gratitude.  A collective grace is said as each person at table names something for which they are grateful, and when all  have shared all say AMEN.

My guess (and this is not a criticism, just an observation) is that most thanks expressed will be for fortuitous circumstances, like good health or a job.  Relationships will be another group of blessings named.  Some material things will be in the mix, such as comfortable homes or precious gifts received.

But there’s one more serving to be enjoyed, and it’s seldom named, probably because it sounds hokey or like something somebody is “supposed to say.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  (Romans 8:37 NRSV)

Do we understand that we are loved by God?  Can we push aside all of the other platefuls of goodies and fill up on that choice helping of good news?  Do we see all of the other things we might list as gifts and tokens of that love – more than in some nebulous sense, but in a very personal sense, as real as a loved one’s embrace?

“In all these things…” The Apostle Paul wasn’t counting blessings when he wrote that, but smarting from afflictions.  If he could perceive God’s love through the bad stuff, how much more might we name it as we count our blessings?

You are (not) here pt. 2

In the first You are (not) here post, I wrote about some character traits to seek in churches – traits that imply Jesus is the head of the church and that his personality is present by the work of the Holy Spirit in the people.

Today I want to bring up another, which is diversity.  One sign that Jesus is present in the power of the Holy Spirit is that a congregation isn’t easy to describe ethnically or socially.  As the Apostle Paul wrote,

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.  (I Corinthians 12:13 NAB)

Race, culture, socioeconomic status, former religious orientation all become secondary to baptism into Christ and new life in the Spirit.

It is easier to build a church around similarities and affinities and, frankly, most churches (even very healthy ones) won’t be able to avoid this.  People live among people like themselves.  That’s the nature of nations and even neighborhoods.  But to find a church where such lines are blurred, bent or broken is a great blessing.

We can even take part in the blurring, bending and busting.  Thanksgiving is an opportunity – just look at what Jesus had to say about guest lists:

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14 ESV)

May our Thanksgiving recipes come out perfect, and our guest lists turn out messy.  (That sounds like people gathered around the altar, doesn’t it?  A messy bunch gathered to feast on perfection.)

I should mention that this year I’m the messy guest at a friend’s gracious table.  It is a blessing to be invited, welcomed and served this year.  Long story for another time.