Monday, October 21, 2013
Where Does Our Help Come From I have a habit that really annoys Heather, actually probably a couple… But the one that I am thinking about this morning is probably less of a habit and more of a mannerism, I have a tendency to ask a question but before anybody else answers it, I answer it myself. I do this enough that every time it happens it is pointed out to me. I can’t think of an example off the top of my head but often includes locating something. Much like the psalmist who wrote today’s psalm. I’m not sure that he is afflicted with what Heather has affectionately called refrigerator blindness but he is in a desperate need to locate something. And often times asking the question is part of finding the answer as we see in the first two verses of today’s psalm. I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come? 2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. You see often times people look inward for help and never find it. Sometimes we look to other just as flawed people for help and walk away let down and betrayed. Sometimes we look to imperfect and finite things for help and end up as empty as before, the latest fix just leaves as craving the next fix. But today’s psalmist found the help he needed by looking to the Lord. After asking the question the psalmist goes on to describe the nature of this help. There seems to three key words in his description of God’s help, keeping, watching, and preserving. These things all speak to me about God’s unfailing and everlasting presence in our lives. Those other places we go for help will run dry and run out. But God’s help, his protection, his comfort, and his blessings begin at conception and are eternal. Jacob also realized that ultimately he needed to depend on God. His whole life he schemed and worked for what he wanted, even if it belonged to others. He planned on how to steal his brother Esau’s birthright out from under him, he went 7 years working to earn the right to marry the love of his life. And in so doing he became a well-off influential man. But he knew something was missing. Today we meet him as he prepares to attempt reconciliation with his brother, his past misdeeds weighed on him and this was a difficult task. He needed strength and assurance from the well that doesn’t run dry. That is what leads us to today’s encounter with this holy angelic stranger. The encounter is what he needed but it wasn’t too pleasant. It is often described as a wrestling match and Jacob walked away with a limp. Asking for help isn’t always easy, and sometimes receiving help is downright hard. Sometimes help is good and necessary but not comfortable, it may call for a drastic change of perspective or lifestyle. Sometimes improvement of our circumstances or conditions call for pain and struggle, sometimes looking to the hills for help after looking elsewhere for so long comes with a brightness that can hurt our eyes. I am reminded of the quote from the Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” You see the help that today’s psalmist talks about isn’t about being comfortable or even happy, we can find other things to make us happy or comfortable. God’s help however is about drawing us closer to Him, seeing the world in the way He wants us too, choosing right over wrong and good over evil more often than not, and it is about not letting guilt cripple us when we don’t. Those of you who are parents may understand this kind of help better than others. Sometimes the most helpful thing we can do for our children is say no and make them do homework or errands, those things we would never choose to do on our own yet will work to make us better people. Creating boundaries is a necessary job of any parent, especially our Father in heaven. Yes, this morning Jacob walked away with a limp. But what a blessed limp it was. For with that limp Jacob walked right into the open arms of his estranged brother. With that limp he walked right into a new identity, Jacob receives a new name, Israel, one who has wrestled with God, an identity that will be claimed by a whole nation of God’s people. People who know as our psalmist reminds us the undying and unsleeping hand and care of their Lord and God. That is another thing I really liked in the psalm. The author makes the connection between God being the keeper of Israel and your keeper. Your relationship with God isn’t some private matter exists because of some decision you made in a vacuum. We can look to the hills for our help because God has made us part of His family through the nurture of the church. We have spent some time over the last couple weeks in 2nd Timothy. And we learned that he became a disciple of Christ through the raising of his mother and grandmother, this is how faith happens from being part of a family. This morning we get to welcome Tyler into that family. Like Jacob he will receive a new name, beloved son of God. His parents and Godparents will make a promise to raise him up as best they can to know his help is in the Lord. This entire community will make a promise to prayerfully support this family as they answer that call. For have great news to share, as stewards of the Gospel we are called to constantly remind those people around us that we are sons and daughters of a God who doesn’t sleep or slumber, a God whose caring watch and empowering hands are never far off, no matter how far we may think we stray from Him. This is the God we turn to for help day and night as the parable reminds us. This God does not weary of our prayers and His blessings don’t run out.
Monday, October 14, 2013
Thanksgiving as a Spiritual Discipline 2nd Kings 5:1-15, Psalm 111, 2nd timothy 2:8-15, Lk 17:11-19 One of the things I have thought about as a father that I rarely if ever thought about before Toby came into the world is how there are things that need to be taught that we wished would come natural. One of the obvious ones being gratefulness, beginning with the simple act of saying thank you. Being thankful for gifts we are given and the good that is done for us is something we would all like to think just happened in our upbringing, but like the young people in our midst we needed it to be taught and modeled to us. And unfortunately some adults may never get it, it can be hard to say thank you. Today’s readings make this human tendency to struggle with thanksgiving clear. In our Old Testament lesson, Naming has an opportunity to rid his body of Leprosy. Although he comes around by the end of the narrative and confesses how wonderful our God is. His initial response is one of angst, “what I need to wash in that river to receive a miraculous healing? Who does God think he is” It takes the words of a lowly servant to remind God how small of a price it was to pay for such a life-changing miracle. How many times do we fail to recognize God’s blessings because they don’t happen the way we expect or wish. You may recall these lyrics penned by Garth Brooks. Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers Remember when you're talkin' to the man upstairs That just because he doesn't answer doesn't mean he don't care Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers Just over 3 years ago I was packing my bags for a new call in PA. It was a thriving congregation with a solidly biblical and confessional foundation. I was excited, I prayed to God that he would allow this to be the place I minister for a long time and that Heather and I raise Toby. Obviously that was a prayer that God didn’t answer, and I’m glad he didn’t. About 2 years into the call at GR I was approached by a pastor nearing retirement. He had received permission from both his congregation and his bishop to talk to me about being his successor when he retired. There were inklings that finances at CHULC would not allow them to continue to support two ordained pastors and I had also began to realize that I craved more leadership than an associate pastor position allowed. Discernment started and my prayer changed, I was going to Maryland. And then it happened, it was obvious that my timeline and this congregation’s timeline weren’t going to line up and God was calling me to another place, an unknown place, this was not my plan. I told God that I wasn’t happy with him. Instead of being thankful that he set me down a path to prepare me for what was going on at Christ Hamilton, for I can’t imagine how the financial conversation would have gone if I hadn’t already opened myself up for call, instead I was indignant that I wasn’t going to Maryland. I know how Namaan felt, and like Namaan I was called to a river and my life has been blessed ever since. I am Glad that God knows what He is doing but there will be times in our lives that we forget that He knows what he is doing. In those times thankfulness is hard. Brothers and sisters God knows so much better than you or me what God’s business is… and that in itself is a blessing. In today’s gospel lesson we meet 10 more lepers, they leave there encounter with Jesus transformed in a radical miraculous way, yet only one comes back to say thank you to the messiah who gave him his life back. We don’t know anything about the other 9 so any guess on why they failed to say thanks for this amazing gift is just that, a guess. I think that perhaps they knew that in their life as lepers they missed out on so much that they were in a hurry to catch up. In their rush they forgot to stop to give God thanks. I know that has happened to me, in such a hurry to the next big thing I fail to stop and even offer a small thank you to God. That is where Psalm 111 comes in. This kind of thankful prayer needs to be a part of our repertoire. Not for God’s sake, God won’t stop being God because of our faithlessness and failed disciple moments. Brothers and sisters God doesn’t need us we need God. And God continuously offers what we need, forgiveness eternal life, a community that loves and supports us. The list goes on and on. As is always the case the psalms offers us a prayer that we can pray because we often won’t pray thanksgiving without it. Sometimes God and his deeds are taking for granted by those who have grown up hearing these stories and singing these same hymns. Both Namaan and the one thankful leper from the gospel lesson were outsiders and foreigners. New recipients of God’s grace. Perhaps in our prayer lives we need to lift up God’s activity so it is constantly in front of us and doesn’t become just the backdrop of our lives which we no longer notice. St. Ignatius, writing less than a century before Martin Luther, in his spiritual exercises had a special kind of prayer for the people under his charge. It was called the examen, it consisted of two questions that were to be reflected upon. I have seen various translations or revisions to make the questions more modern but the main questions are “In what ways has God been especially present for you today?” and “How has the Devil attacked you today?” Both those questions in different ways lead to thankfulness. The first question leads to thankfulness because as we list the ways that God has blessed us we can’t help but be thankful. The second question makes us thankful because it reminds us we are His and the enemy cannot touch us no matter how hard he tries. You see the psalmist and Ignatius both knew that this kind of prayer needs to be rehearsed. We force ourselves to be thankful until thanksgiving become second nature. Before we know it we will be able to see God working on even the toughest days and those blessings and miracles in our lives will point us and others to the God who has given his very life for us. My challenge to you this week is to spend even more time in prayer than usual. And be even more specific about the things you are thankful for than you are about your wants and needs. Please pray with me.