Thursday, January 10, 2019

People

Please don't anyone tell me how bad people are, the people in our country or in the rest of our world. Right now, as we speak, many people in this country are working without pay to serve you and me and our loved ones. It just struck me how heroic that is. People in airline security and air traffic control are making sure people who fly are as safe as possible. People in the Coast Guard are doing water rescues. All while getting no pay and wondering when they will. All while trying to keep themselves and their own families afloat.

Don't anyone tell me how bad or evil our people are, either the people in our country or other people in our world. Sure there's sin. There has always been sin. There will always be sin. If there had not been sin, Jesus would not have come to this world. Jesus spent time with sinners, as the Pharisees pointed out disparagingly; but Jesus pointed out to them that they were sinners too. We all are. It's not people "out there" in "society", or "in other countries", that sin! It's every one of us, in some way or another. But that's not reason for despair, either for our nation, our world, or ourselves; because God is merciful.

But we do have some very real fears at times. Fears of people going homeless or hungry. Fears of sick people not getting the help they need. This is why we need compassion, compassion to look at people with eyes of faith and hope and especially love. Compassion to help them when we can and at least do them no harm. Compassion to have attitudes of love toward them.

"So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." I Corinthians 13:13.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

On These Two Commandments

I've been reading tidbits, just a few sentences a day, of the New Testament, sequentially, at home in quiet, to just ponder. Even though I know these texts, sometimes I'm just in awe...or something jumps out of at me differently than it previously had.

Here's an example. Yes, I'm very aware of - and sometimes refer to - the two Great Commandments; but the sentence following them really struck me this morning.

" 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment?' And he said to them, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.' "
Matthew 22:36-40.

"On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets." I've read and heard that many times, but how much have I really thought about it? To love God and to love our neighbor....and, that nothing else supersedes that....nothing in law, nothing in prophecies. That's it, right there.

To love God and to love our neighbor. And in another place, someone asks Jesus who is our neighbor. And he told him, in the story of the Good Samaritan, who our neighbor is. That person doesn't have to think as we do. He can be different from us in some way. And yet he is our neighbor. We care for him.

No law or prophet is more important than to love God and our neighbor. No prophet, ordained by God or perceived by man, is more important than love for God and compassion for our neighbor.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Wishing You Peace for Christmas


I want to take a few moments to pause to acknowledge, in compassion, the sufferings that many carry, especially at this time.
Allegorically, some people are dealing tonight with the prickliness of the straw in the manger, the poverty and loneliness and the bitter cold of that night. Mary had - a few months previously - gone to help her cousin St. Elizabeth with her birth. But there was no one to return that favor. Mary herself gave birth with no woman at hand, in a stable, with the smell and sound of animals around. How hard it must have been for St. Joseph, too, not to be able to offer a comfortable bed, a pillow, a little fire for warmth, for Mary and Baby Jesus.
For many people, celebrating Christmas is not what I think of when I think of the word "merry". For many, it's not the idyllic Norman Rockwell picture. There are those who are alone or who are sick, or who are both alone and sick. There are those who are lonely in the midst of many people and those who are overwhelmed. There are those of us who are missing loved ones who have passed on. As we get older, we might be missing a whole parade of loved ones, remembering those holidays of old, which we may have idealized over the years.
We heap expectations on the holiday and on ourselves. Homes sparkling, food abundant, decorations perfect. Everyone together and getting along. But often it falls short of the expectations. We don't have to make it perfect. It wasn't perfect at Bethlehem. The most perfect people did not have the most perfect Christmas, in the sense that we often set ourselves up for.
Let's stop to breathe, stop to say a momentary prayer for the stranger we run into who seems harried; for our neighbor or friend; and for our family member who is far from us (either in heart and mind or geographically)....even just a very quick thought sent heavenward in the midst of a very busy day. And let's remember to breathe.
May we all have peace and hope in our hearts at Christmas. May the Christ Child console us in our concerns, in our memories, in our sorrows for loved ones.
May we have a Christmas that brings to us, even in the midst of whatever sufferings we may have, the abiding, deep joy of the birth of Jesus, the peace that passes understanding.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Father, Forgive Them

"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do," Jesus said, after being crowned with thorns and spat upon, scourged and made to carry his own cross, stripped of his garments and crucified. What an example of forgiveness that is! 

I'm not a theologian but I think there is more to learn from these words, too, beyond the lesson of forgiveness.

"They know not what they do," and yet, surely the soldiers knew, in some place in their being, that they were going even beyond their job of crucifixion – unspeakable as it is – going beyond it, by humiliating and torturing someone beforehand.  And surely, those who called for the death of Jesus had followed the news of the day and knew at some level that this Man had done good to so many people.

In some ways, I would think, they knew some of what they were doing. But perhaps they didn't know the full gravity of it. Most importantly, they didn't know Who this was!

Today, too, I'm guessing that people who persecute, humiliate or injure others probably know, in some place in their heart, that what they are doing is wrong or unkind; but I'm guessing that often, they don't know who this is. 

For one thing, we don't always know what someone has been through. That cashier who wasn't friendly could have lost a child last week. Or, she could have come to work in spite of being in some kind of physical pain, because if she doesn't come in, she will lose her job. What if we treat her with patience and welcome friendliness wherever we find it without requiring it as part of our service?

That mother in the store, who is yelling at her two little children, may struggle each and every day to overcome the abuse she received as a child. She may be a kind, warm parent who studies child development in her quiet moments, and treats her children with firmness but respect. But this day, when she goes out to the store and her children misbehave, she hears the inner voice she grew up with and succumbs to the scrutiny of those around her. In frustration at her children's misbehavior and her own shame, she lashes out. It's only a blip on the radar; it's not who she is. As another customer, observing a few moments in her life, we don't really know who she is.

For those who think the mother in the store should be more in control of her children, we can look at a similar story. That woman whose children are running around may struggle each day to overcome the abuse she received from her parents and the abuse she received in foster homes. When she's in the store, she worries that she will strike out, even though she has never done it; she worries that someone will report her and take her children away, even though she has done nothing to warrant it. At home, she may set limits, but she doesn't usually take the children with her to the store. Today, she did. And we see her. But we don't really see her for who she is.

Outside the store, a homeless woman asks for money or food, and someone calls her a panhandler and tells you that the woman should get a job. We might not know that she actually has a job, but she hasn't been able to find a full time job recently and her part time job doesn't pay enough. We might not know that she did have a place to live, but it got flooded out. Just walking by, we don't know that she has a college degree, or that she used to be every bit as prosperous as the people walking into the store, but for lay-offs that left her without a decent income; a divorce that she didn't ask for; and medical bills that she could not pay.  

These people I've been sharing are fictional (except for Jesus, of course!), or they are composites of several different people. But they all resemble, in some way, real people whom I've known, or known about, people who have been shamed or shunned, neglected or wounded. There are so many more, so many worse stories which I know personally, but they are not my stories to tell.

But still, I see someone, often even someone online, and still I occasionally make an instant judgement. We see one aspect of someone, and we often think we know them, but we really don't know who they are.

Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."

And he gives us examples of who are his brethren…not those who some of his listeners would have expected. He gives us the examples of the woman at the well; and of the Good Samaritan, the foreignor who helped the man by the side of the road; and of Zaccheus, despised as a tax collector; and of the woman caught in adultery. His followers didn't know who those people really were. They only knew who they thought they were. 

But Jesus knew who they were. He always knows.

***

Scripture references:
Father forgive them – Luke 23:34
The least of these – Matthew 25:40