Planting Seeds of Mercy, Compassion and Love

Howard Thurman, in his book, Disciplines of the Spirit writes, “There are many forces over which the individual can exercise no control whatsoever. A farmer plants a seed in the ground and the seed sprouts and grows. The weather, the wind, the elements the farmer cannot control. The result is never a sure thing. So what does the farmer do? The farmer plants, always the farmer works at it . . . in confidence and assurance that even though this seed many not grow to fruition, seeds do grow and they do come to fruition.”

These past months have brought turmoil in many sectors. Our political divisions continue to separate us. We demonize those whose viewpoints are different than ours. Last weeks confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia symbolized for me how fractured we have become. White nationalists, proud of their evil symbols of hate and bigotry marching with torches, brought shades of another era and time. It was as much symbol of our political discord as it was of the attitudes which formed it. And then the tragedy when a young man drove his car into a group of pedestrian aiming to injure and kill.  This has been a time of questioning who we are and what we are becoming as a nation.

At moments like this we ask ourselves what we can do to challenge the forces of evil in our world and in our nation. We wonder why we should keep trying, when nothing seems to be working.  We grow discouraged.  Challenging moments are those in which we most need to remember that seeds do grow.  Our task in God’s kingdom is to sow the seed.   Seeds grow. We know they do.   We  have seen that growth in our own lives.   We know too,  that without planting at appropriate times there would never be a harvest of good fruit.

Like the farmer, we are never certain which seed will grow. Planting seeds of faith, nurture, love, acceptance, compassion, tolerance, mercy, integrity, hope, joy, peace, commitment and service continues to be our task. Sowing good seed, loving God’s people, risking, caring and forgiving are ways we live out our faith day by day. No, our efforts are never a sure thing. But, God asks only that we try, that we do our best, and leave all which remains to God.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21

Put Your Hand in the Hand of the One Who Quiets The Storm

Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River in Minnesota USA

One of my favorite routes to travel is Hwy 61 south of the Twin Cities along the Mississippi River. The beauty of God’s creation is always on display, from bluffs, to waters, forests and eagles flying overhead.  One windy day I stopped at Lake Pepin in Lake City where the river widens. Usually Lake Pepin  is  filled with sailboats, but  on that warm spring morning, not many ventured out. Those who did were tested by the waters and the wind.

I thought of the gospel writer who records the disciples saying of Jesus, “Even the winds and the waves obey him.” The setting was the Sea of Galilee after a sudden storm arose while they were trying to get across to the other side. Jesus’s disciples were frightened, terrified in fact. As people of the sea, they had a healthy respect for storms which arose, seemingly out of nowhere. It was no small thing to be tossed by the waves and blown off course by the winds. Disoriented, with neither sun nor stars to guide them, fear grew.

When we find ourselves in the middle of one of life’s storms we can quickly become disoriented. Winds and waves of a storm can throw us off course. What we thought we knew to be true may “no longer fit” the reality of our lives. It is at these times we most need the one who calms the seas and quiets the winds. When the disciples cried out “Lord save Us” both wind and sea quieted.

Song writer Gene MacLellan composed the words of a song that come back to me when I’m troubled, reminding me to trust the one who calms and quiets us:  He wrote:

Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who stilled the water
Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who calmed the sea
Take a look at yourself
And you can look at others differently
Put your hand in the hand of the man
From Galilee

The calm that Jesus brings is one that quiets our spirits, calms our troubled hearts and reassures our broken emotions, allowing us to reset our lives and build on more trustworthy and firmer ground. Storms are inevitable, but as certain as storms will come, is the knowledge there is one who is with us in the midst of each of them. One who still grants us a quiet center, even and especially in the most  turbulent of times.

Easter is God’s Message of Hope

My confidence in the arrival of Spring wanes in years of bitter winter nights and sluggish March days.   Yet, even when I doubt, God’s provision for Spring is already on its way. Today, I see slivers of hope. Leaves are thinking about pushing their way into our Minnesota landscape. Driving down my street,  I spotted a lone magnolia tree sporting some blooms.   Our lives follow a similar pattern. There are winter times, when life is hard. We go through days of struggling and working through our current trial. We wonder when the pain will end. We wonder if it ever will.

The day Jesus was crucified, his friends and family were devastated. All the events which transpired were outside of the control of his followers. Jesus on a cross brought little hope for any kind of a future, yet the record of history and God’s actions in the city of Jerusalem, tell us of a different reality. There is no keeping Jesus in the grave. Two thousand years bear record to that great truth.  Easter is God’s message  telling us not to  lose hope. God is working in our lives, even though it may not look like it at the moment.

Our hearts may break. We may despair. The power of Easter is that because Christ lives, we can live also. We can face tomorrow. We can do so without fear.  This Easter you may be troubled of spirit and soul.   There may be difficulties and trials. The bitter taste of rejection and injustice may linger.  Your heart may be buried in grief.  I have no easy answers. But, while much of God remains a mystery to us, of one thing I am sure. God is a God of resurrection power. Witnesses continue to proclaim this truth. In God’s providence, Easter will follow Good Friday. Life stirs into being after death. Spring inevitably arrives in spite of winter’s hold. New life is God’s gift to each of us.

Charles Wesley’s Easter Hymn “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” includes this verse:

“Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!”

May this Easter bring you hope. Where life has been hard, may you see glimmers of how  God is working in your life.  Where there has been the loss of one held dear, may you find hope in the mystery of Easter and God’s love for you and your lost loved ones.   May you be reassured that God holds tomorrow and is working, even now,  to make all things new.

Seeing Through a Glass Darkly

The question of suffering is deeply troubling. We want the very best for those who are precious to us. When a loved one hurts, we hurt. When they suffer, we suffer. Part of what makes us human is this connection of suffering love. So, we wonder how a good and loving God, can allow the grief and pain we see in our world. We don’t understand why God allows a September 11th or the shooting of little girls in a small Amish school.  Mudslides, fires, earthquakes and tsunamis all come with their own “Why.”

 

Especially, we wonder why God allows painful things to happen to ourselves and people we love.      If nothing else- we at least want to make some sense of our suffering.  A young woman from a congregation, that I had left weeks earlier, was murdered by a man who had just moved into her apartment building. As I searched and prayed for words of comfort and hope for the family, this passage of scripture began to fill my mind, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known..” I Corinthians 13:12

At the deepest level of faith, we trust that God will take our broken hearts, our deepest questions, our gut wrenching grief and weave them into our life in such a way, that some good will shine through. Today, we do not understand the “why” of suffering.  Till then we are comforted by God who chooses to be involved in our world, in our lives.

The apostle Paul’s affirmation in Romans encourages us. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:39

The mystery remains . . . as does God who is with us and from whom, nothing can separate us in Jesus Christ.

By God’s Grace, Light Will Shine

IMG_8060The last weeks have been difficult ones for some in my family.  A long and unexpected hospital stay, including surgery, left part of my family struggling through the Christmas season.   I once  heard Henri Nouwen  say, “Jesus didn’t come to take our pain away, but to be with us in it.”   While I would like God to fix everything that is amiss in my life and the lives of those I love,  that was never God’s promise.   The promise wasn’t to fix,  but to be with us in  the difficulty and complexity of  life’s challenges.

Brennan Manning, in his book, “Reflections for Ragamuffins”  mentions a man who was reflecting on the gospel of John where it is written, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . The Word was made flesh and dealt among us.” (John 1:1-5) As the man thought about the passage it seemed to him that God was saying, “Yes, the Word was made flesh. I chose to enter your broken world and limp through life with you.”

Brennan Manning goes on to say, “On that last day, when we arrive at the Great Mansion in the Sky, many of us will be bloodied, battered, bruised, and limping. But, by God and by Christ, there will be a light in the window and a “welcome home” sign on the door.”

We do not know what this new year  holds for us. For some of us there will be great trials.  We may  face enormous challenges or confront heartache and sorrow.  High mountains  may be conquered . . . where we will revel in the accomplishment of long sought dreams. Along the journey, it may be that we find ourselves in turn, battered, bruised, bloodied, weary and worn by the turnings of life.

In the birth of Jesus, we witnessed God’s fresh start in our world . . . God coming to live among us, to show us how to live life with integrity and with power. In Jesus, God entered a weary world and the earth has never quite been the same.  God’s gifts of comfort, strength, hope and joy came with Jesus. It is God’s gift, freely and abundantly available for all . . . God’s welcome sign, sent to all the worlds people. We call this gift grace.

May your life be touched by “grace filled moments” where you have cause to marvel at God’s good gifts of love for you.

Christmas Will Come and Go – But the Christ of Christmas Will Remain

Candle

Christ Came as Light

Some years back, a person kept taking a cab to the same location several days in a row. He simply asked the driver to stop at a certain place where he would sit and stare out the windows. After the third night, the cab driver became suspicious. He contacted the police who came to talk to the man. The man told the officers that his wife was very ill. The future did not look good. He wasn’t, he said, a very religious person and found it hard to pray. Pointing to the stained glass windows, glowing in the darkness of a nearby church, he said, “Something about its light gives me strength and peace and somehow, looking at it, I have the words to pray.”

Something about Christmas and that light which came into our world gives me strength. Strength to face trials, hurts and the inevitable losses that life brings. It gives me strength to face whatever lies ahead for good or for evil. Because God chose to be present in our world, not only for a season, but for all time.  Christmas is about hope. It is about the light that breaks into our darkest night, our most anguished moment. Light that gives direction when we are confused or broken. Light that surrounds us and embraces us. We never really come to terms with Christmas and what Christmas is about, until we realize that Jesus was born for us – you and me. Light came into the world to meet every single one of us in our personal darkness.

I’ve been reminding myself of this as the season of Christmas has come with complications in my family. An extended hospitalization for a family member with surgery scheduled just before Christmas, has changed agendas and plans as well as created anxiety. Other family will be out of town. The forecast is not conducive to trust that many of us will be able to get together.

I’m reminded that this Christmas will come and go, but the Christ of Christmas will remain, shedding light into our world. A light that does not diminish with the years or shine only for a season, but lasts through each day. Christ came into our darkness to be our light, to be our hope, to be our peace and to give us life  – not only in the distant future  – but here, today,   at this moment.   The New Testament writers looked to the words of Isaiah to describe the changed reality. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9: 2)   There really is something about that light that stirs the soul, moves the spirit, encourages us and gives us strength.

Yearning for the Perfect Christmas

Chihuly Glass - The Ceiling

Chihuly Glass – The Ceiling

For years, I only bought Christmas cards that had a picture of the three wise men on them. It was my strategy to make sure I was in the right season when they were sent. I knew that the likelihood of getting cards in the mail before Christmas was in direct proportion to the parties, programs, practices, presents and cookie making I needed to get done. My best intentions of having them sent in time were often thwarted. Throw in a pastoral crisis or two, and the cards waited till January.

Something in our hearts and minds yearns for a perfect Christmas. A Christmas that fulfills our expectations of what the day ought to be like, when all the pieces of life fall into place. Written into our hearts and souls is a yearning for a day when everything will be right. Justice will come on earth and will usher in a time of peace and harmony which spreads throughout the world. This yearning has existed, almost, from the beginning of time. In our personal lives we yearn for the spirit of Christmas to warm our hearts in some mystical, magical way, telling us all is well.

The book of Isaiah was written during a period when there had been a series of corrupt kings. Throughout those years, the nation had been under attack with great loss of life. The words of Isaiah carry both promise and hope. “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him. The spirit of wisdom and understanding. . . the spirit of counsel and might . . the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:1,2) Hundreds of years later, the promised savior does not come in Israel’s strength, but in it’s weakness. Not in the days of power but rather in powerlessness. When all seems lost, God works in that mysterious way of God to change the course of history.

Isn’t that the way that God most often works in our lives? When all seems lost, God moves in and around us, bringing life to dead and barren places. Just at that moment when we are ready to give up, God surprises us with grace and compassion. God works in our lives a miracle of love that restores hope and gives us a promise that there will be a future.

This Advent season is one to reflect on our faith, our lives and the one who enters our world in Bethlehem. It is written of him, that “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:3)

Our world is far from a perfect place. Wars consume lives of innocents. Systems of justice get corrupted. The wicked still prosper at the expense of the laborer. Good people grieve their losses. The promise of a day when all is just, peaceful and righteous continues to pull at our hearts, because it is God’s dream. The longing continues and will continue till God’s kingdom comes in all of its fullness. Meanwhile, there is Jesus, who came as Emmanuel, God with us, to walk with us through all the days of our lives in this imperfect world.