Thursday, November 20, 2008

'It May Be at Morn'

The texts for the last few weeks leading up to Christ the King (formerly Judgment) Sunday November 23 have all centered around Christ's Second Coming. It has been good to both hear my colleagues preaching and preach myself on that topic--too little emphasized these days.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, the epistle text for last week, we are reminded that it will come "like a thief in the night," unexpected and sudden, the time unknown to all but the Father himself, as Jesus taught. The warning is clear: Jesus is coming soon for each of us--whether in our own death, the time of which is also unknown, or at the end of time when Scripture tells us "he will come in great power and glory."

We know for sure that he is coming, and Scripture says it is soon. But we don't know when. '"It may be at morn," a hymnist writes, but it could be in the dark of night as well. What matters is not to know when, but to be ready whenever. My late brother Zenos put it as succinctly as I have ever heard it put, in a question requiring simply a yes or no from us: "Are your bags packed?"

Earlier this week my wife and I stood in awe as the sun came up outside our back porch (photo above). Was it a forestaste of Christ's coming at the end of time--a reminder of our own need to be ready, our bags packed? As Christians we need not fear that coming, the Apostle writes, for we are "children of light ... children of the day." Whoever has accepted Christ and is living by grace through faith in him will be saved on that day.

"Amen!" belongs there, loud and clear--or as the Germans say with outstetched arm, "Ja!" Let all believers be comforted that Christ is coming for them. And let those not yet living in grace through faith in him make this day their day of submitting to reality, coming to Christ and thus be ready, even expectant.

Those interested in how all this was woven together last Sunday may find the sermon I preached in the Pentecost heading under the Home Page link to Sermons (Audio).

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Moment of Truth

Minutes come and go, and with them days, years, and even decades. But moments are different. They are like the Word of God, which our Jewish heritage has taught us is substantive and lasting. A moment, when it arrives--like the Word once it is spoken--hangs in the air all around you until it accomplishes what it was sent out to do.

Time stands still in a moment. Kronos becomes Kairos. Though your watch keeps ticking, your soul is drawn into a kind of eternal silence and your mind suddenly focused on who you are and why you are.

I had such a moment this week, sitting in the back pew of a beautiful large sanctuary, looking ahead on all the people who had gathered for the Memorial Service of a colleague's younger brother. Right in front of me was a tall strong football-like man--there for who knows why, yet not really there it seemed to me, noting his lack of singing and praying along. What was he thinking about life and death or the church and its ministry. if anything? Behind me were two older gentlemen, sitting on what must normally have been the usher's bench, constantly chattering with each other throughout the service. A bad sound system made it hard to hear and beside me sat an elder saint whose sagging head made it clear that even a better one wouldn't have interrupted his nap time for long.

Gazing from behind on a virtual sea of humanity ahead of me, I hungered all of a sudden to enter into each of their lives as human beings. What was really going on in them in all that was going on around them? And suddenly, in those fleeting, wondering minutes, a moment came to me requiring its own response. Who are you? I found myself being asked, and why are you here?

The moment had universal implications--as all such moments do--way beyond the minutes that go on around them. I was being addressed as a minister, a pastor, which is my life calling. Who I was in that moment--and why I was there--became crystal clear and compelling. It was as if a voice within me said, "Purity of heart is to will one thing, and one only--to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and worship him forever. And impurity of heart is to lose that passion in efforts defined only by minutes that add up to very little if anything at all. You are a servant of God, called in a world of sound-bite minutes to gather people like these around you into the very moment you are now experiencing. Do that and you will have lived well."

As the Memorial Service ended and people of every tribe and nation were ushered out in silence, the sea of faces I gazed on fueled a whole new passion in me to be, like Jesus, "about my Father's business." The moment, like all such moments in my experience, faded soon into minutes again--standing in a long line for lunch, engaging in conversation with a stranger who knew me though I did not know him, visiting a charming nearby museum of Swedish memorabilia, and then driving home. Yet, thank God, the moment remains, no less fresh for its passing, and no less compelling as a reminder of who I am and, even more, why I am as both a child and servant of God.

Friday, November 14, 2008

'Choice, Not Change'

A few weeks ago a thought appeared somewhere in my reading that ever since has been noted on my desktop awaiting comment. Jean Nidetch, a middle-aged woman battling with excessive body weight, was quoted as saying that "It's choice, not change, that determines your destiny."

The ongoing struggle that many have with excessive weight may not entirely be be due to bad choice, of course. Some evidently are more medically prone to overweight than others. But Charlie Shedd's book a generation or so ago witnesses to Nidetch's point, that more often than not "the fat is in your head."

In the larger framework of life, where exponential change is often blamed for almost every personal and societal ill, it is good to be reminded that the free will we have been given by our Creator renders us as responsible for our circumstance as any surrounding changes to which we may credit or blame it.

In no arena is that more true than in maintaining our relationships with one another as human beings--whether in family, at school, in church, in athletics, or on the job. One can choose not to be adversarial, even though change tempts one to be so. In fact, choosing thoughtfully for engagement in the midst of change may well be the best way to diminish its threatening power.

One mother learned that from her child some years ago when schools in Chicago were forced to integrate. Weeks, even months of trying to prepare her grade school child for the trama she saw coming proved unnecessary when, on questioning her little girl about how it had gone on the first day of integration she replied, entirely childlike, "Well, it was scary at first. The teacher set me across the aisle from a black girl. But it turned out great. We were both so scared that we held hands all day!"

The framing of our past with the present on the way to God's future will require us all to hold hands in the midst of exponential change, lest fear and pride rob us of our free will to choose what is right and best.