Monday, February 23, 2015

Little Easters in the Middle of Lent

Each Sunday in Lent is considered to be a "Little Easter" and is not part of Lent, actually.  So, you can eat that chocolate cake that you gave up for Lent one day a week, on Sunday.  If one adds up all the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday you come up with more than 40 days.  The Early Church decided that on Sundays we should always proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ so Sundays became days of celebration even during Lent.  Adhering strictly to the Lenten discipline that you set before you on Ash Wednesday is noble but you can "live a little" on each Sunday even during the Lenten season.

Sundays are special days year round.  When one is accustomed to attending worship services on Sundays and rarely misses them, it seems unnatural to be elsewhere on Sunday morning.  Sundays seem incomplete without church attendance to many of us.  There is a certain air about Sundays that may have to do with people having a different schedule than during the work week.  Even after being in worship, Sunday afternoons seem lazy and long, perfect times for reading the newspaper and then taking a nap.  I love Sunday afternoon naps and I usually try to work one in every Sunday if I can.  Then, after waking from the nap, a good cup of coffee and maybe something to go with it, such as a piece of cake or pie or a couple cookies reinforces the Sunday lazy feeling.

Some people like to be out and about on Sundays and that is nice now and then but having a relaxing, lazy Sunday afternoon is more of a treat to me than driving into the city to see a movie or getting involved in some activity that will take a lot of energy out of me.  The commandment to "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy" has many interpretations.  Honoring the Sabbath, to Christians that is Sunday, may mean doing very little and actually "resting" as the scripture says God did after God finished the busy task of creation in six days.

Sundays in Lent are reflective, worshipful days centered on the themes of covenant and cross, discipleship and duty, and offer us the opportunity to think about our relationship to God and our neighbors.  Sundays are the perfect days to allow God to speak to us as we slow down enough to hear God's voice.  Monday will come soon enough, too soon for most of us.  Enjoy each Sunday during Lent and savor each moment as much as you may savor that cake you deny yourself the other six days of the week during Lent.  Come Easter, resurrection cake will taste even sweeter and be more satisfying because you proved to yourself that you could do without it most of the time in order to enjoy the reward of it later after the 40 Days have ended.    

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Gift at the End of the Rainbow

Have you ever wondered why people are fascinated with rainbows?  If a big rain comes and then the sun suddenly comes out and a rainbow appears, people will stop walking in the street to stare and point and make remarks about how beautiful it is.  If you are driving and you see one, you may be distracted by its location and beauty.

Scientists can explain how rainbows appear and why they happen but they are still very mysterious.  They are part of legend in various cultures but the most well known, of course, has to do with the Irish culture and finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.  Leprechauns are responsible for making humans go to all lengths to try to discover the end of the rainbow so as to find the gold and they laugh with joy whenever the humans have been fooled by their tricks.  That does not make humans dream less about fortune that could be hidden at the rainbow's end.  It continues to be a fantasy to some who daydream about wealth and riches.

There is a rainbow in a story in the Bible.  The story is one of the most famous biblical stories--Noah and the ark!  Noah builds a huge boat called an ark to hold his family members and two of each kind of creatures on the earth so that after the giant flood they can repopulate the earth.  The giant flood happens because God is very angry at how violent human beings have become so God decides to just start over with Noah and his family and the creatures who are saved from the flood.

The rains stop falling and the flood waters finally begin to receded and Noah sends out a dove to see if there is dry land.  When the dove returns with an olive branch in its mouth, then Noah knows that the coast is clear, relatively speaking.  There is still a lot of water around and a lot of damage control to enact, as well as the planting of a vineyard so that Noah and his family can have wine to rejoice and celebrate the new life.

God and Noah talk and God tells him that God will never again destroy the planet with a flood.  As a sign to help God remember this promise, God tells Noah that God will place a rainbow in the sky as a reminder to God that this promise was made to humans.  The rainbow is actually a reminder for God and a sign of this covenant with Noah and the new inhabitants of earth.

God made this promise not only to humans but also to all the creatures that inhabit the earth with humans.  God grieved over the loss of human life as well as animal life and did not want this act to happen again so the rainbow was set as a reminder that God would remember the promise made.

We may never find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but we can find a sign of God's great promise to humankind that God's love and grace will be everlasting.  This is the first of three great covenants made by God to humankind--first with Noah, then with Abraham, and then with Moses at the mountain as the Commandments were given.  God's steadfast love continued to grow as humans learned about this God and how God loved humans despite their frailties.

When it looks like the sun will not shine again, remember the rainbow, a sign of promise and hope and new life to all who are seeking a better future.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Check-Up from the Neck Up!

I went to my family doctor this past Monday to have my annual physical examination.  I did not eat anything from midnight the night before and did not have my usual morning coffee which irritated me greatly but I followed all the directions given to me and arrived early for the appointment.  When I was called in, I did my duty and give them the urine sample needed, and then went into the exam room where the nurse asked me a host of questions, took my blood pressure reading, and made me read an eye chart after weighing me and measuring my height.  The scale in the doctor's office even weighed me less than my scale at home for the first time ever.  So, my visit started out in a very positive manner.

Soon, the doctor came in to see me.  I have been seeing this same doctor for about ten years now so he knows me somewhat.  I stay pretty healthy so I do not see him regularly unless I have a need for him.  He makes me come in at least twice a year so he can stay in touch since I take a small amount of blood pressure medication and he wants to be sure it is working okay.  He looked down my throat, in my ears and eyes, and listened to my heart, my chest, my back, the sides of my neck, each time asking me to breathe or hold my breath, as he desired.  Then, he did those things that doctors do to men patients that require one to drop his pants and stand in front of the doctor while he prods and pokes and does unspeakable acts.  All went well and then I went to give my three vials of blood for testing.  All in all, it was fairly painless and not humiliating at all, since I chatted with him all through it, even when I had my pants around my feet.

My doctor has joined the 21st century and sends me my test results by email so I received them yesterday.  I passed my physical with flying colors.  Everything is great in the blood department and I am supposed to carry on as usual since I try to eat healthy, get regular sleep and exercise, and try to live as stress free as possible.  Everything is moderation is my motto and I try to live by that saying.

It is good to have a complete physical exam once a year just to be sure that all continues to go well in your health.  It is good to have as spiritual physical also at least once a year, to think about what we are doing in our lives that either bring us closer to God to takes us in the other direction.  Perhaps we need to think about how often we attend worship or if we ever read the Bible or other inspirational material or how we treat our neighbors.  Maybe we need to think about making a new start during Lent that is about to begin next week.  Lent provides another place in life to start again.  We begin on Ash Wednesday by getting serious with God and perhaps making a pledge to do something positive in our life for 40 days.  That is a good way to break into a new habit or begin an old good habit once more.

I always give up something for Lent, not because someone tells me that I have to but because it gives me a good feeling to test myself to see if I can do it.  Forty days without meat or dessert does not drive me crazy with desire for either of those things.  I have given up one or both for Lent in the past and found that it helped me to live in a constructive way for that short period of time.  I learned that I could indeed be a vegetarian if I desired for a long period of time but doing it during Lent simply helped me to prove to myself that it is possible.  Giving up something does not have to include food.  Some give up a piece of technology or they give up gossip or they give up television on one day a week.  One has to decide what this sacrifice means to oneself and if it really will make any difference at all in life if they do it or do not do it.

I like Lent.  Lent gives me the time and space in my life to think about what is important to me in life.  Lent helps me to devote myself to new spiritual practices or to revive old ones that were once important to me but have been put aside for some reason or another.  I think about Lent as being just as important to me as that yearly physical exam.  It helps me to see what is going on in my life and if I need to change in any way or if things are good as they are.  Lent is like a check-up from the neck up, as it says on an inspirational poster I saw somewhere once.  Maybe it is a good thing to do for 40 days or even more.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Shared Strength

There is a wonderful story in the New Testament told by Mark in chapter 2 about four friends who help another friend who cannot help himself.  The friend is paralyzed, cannot walk or move without assistance from others, so his four friends put him on a stretcher and try to bring him to Jesus because they have heard that Jesus can heal people and they think that if they can get him to Jesus then their friend may be able to walk.  They encounter a problem in making their efforts fruitful, though....lots of people stand in the way.  Jesus is teaching inside of a house and the crowd is standing room only, literally.  People are packed so tightly inside the house that there is no room for another person, even if he can stand up on his own.

I can just imagine that the four friends who are carrying the man on the stretcher look at the situation and are just about to give up on their plan when suddenly one of them sees a ladder propped up against the wall and comes up with the scheme to take their friend up on the room and lower him down right in front of Jesus.  Of course, there is still the matter of the roof being in their way.  Roofs in the ancient world were mostly made of dirt so that obstacle soon is clawed and dug away as they tore through the roof to make a whole large enough to lower a stretcher by ropes into the room below.  Can you just imagine what the people who were listening to Jesus teach must have thought?  As they saw the sunshine break through into the room, perhaps they even shielded their eyes from the sunlight and from the dirt particles drifting down.

The crowd may have been amazed at the event unfolding before them and perhaps even Jesus was unable to speak for a moment, wondering what in the world was going on as he tried to teach the crowd gathered there.  When he realized what was being done, though, he responded to the need of this paralyzed man freeing him from his sins and restoring his health to him.  Not everyone there rejoiced in the new found health of the man, though.  The religious leaders judged Jesus for what he said as he healed this man.  The man and his friends did not care what those religious folks had to say though.  They rejoiced that their friend was well and could walk.

"You just call out my name, and you know wherever I am, I'll come running to see you again, winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is call, and I'll be there, yes I will, you have a friend."  I remember James Taylor singing those words about friends helping each other and how they come running when you have a need.  We all have to have help now and then.  That's what friends are for (that's another song).  We all help each other when a need arises.  We see what needs to be done and we do it.  We get into action because someone needs our help.

The Church is like that.  We share a common bond and we share the strength that is needed in good times and bad.  We become like St. Paul who says in this week's reading from his letter to the Corinthians that he tried to be "all things to all people".  That is a hard phrase to sort out but it has something to do with finding common ground with others and realizing that we are all human beings and we are more alike than we are different.  We share this journey that all of us are on and it takes us through life in partnership.

Even Jesus needed others to help him.  Think about the fact that Jesus called disciples to help him in his ministry.  He was God's Son and as such he could have just announced who he was and worked miracles and performed his ministry all by himself.   That was not his plan, however.  He involved others in the ministry that happened and commissioned others to repeat what he had done as they branched out into the world so that once he was gone they could commission even more people to help and teach and bring healing where it was needed.

Even the Lone Ranger was not alone.  He had Tonto to help him.  We all need each other and all of us need to find the Tontos in life who can share our burdens and to be Tonto to others who may be trying to be Lone Rangers in life.  There is a shared strength that comes from living and working in community.  It is the way life works and the way we receive the energy to go on from day to day.  You are needed by others and you need them, even if it is hard for you to admit that.  Go out and find the place where you belong, and if you think you do not belong, then come join us on our journey.  We welcome everyone, regardless of where you are on the journey of life.