From the Well - 11/15/2018

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Mark 13:1-8 (NRSV) 
1 As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" 2 Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down." 3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?" 5 Then Jesus began to say to them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

In Anne Tyler's novel, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, there is a scene where a young boy named Luke is hitchhiking. He's on his way to visit relatives in a distant city but he's also running away from a troubled family. Three motorists give him a ride. All of them have troubled lives, their lives destroyed by some tragedy. Each of them is trying to put their lives back together.

First, there is the mother whose teen daughter is rebellious and hateful. Things are so bad that the mother uses her car as an escape. She drives around the city trying to remember her daughter as a young child. She tells Luke, "In those days she liked me a lot. I was a really good mother, and she liked me."

The second ride is from a middle-aged man whose wife is divorcing him. He is on a desperate journey into his past to visit all his old high school girl friends because, "They like me; they thought I was fine, or at least they seemed to."

Finally, there is the truck driver who gives Luke a ride. They pass a highway sign pointing to a hospital. The driver tells Luke that in 1956, he and his pregnant wife were traveling down the very same highway when his wife went into premature labor. He raced to the hospital and his wife gave birth to a five-pound baby girl named Lisa. The baby did not live. "I never bounced back so good. I pass that hospital road and you know . . . I halfway believe that if I made the turnoff, things would be just like before. Dotty'd be holding my hand, and Lisa Michelle would be waiting to be born."[1]

All of these people are trying to reclaim a world lost and gone. They've lost hope. Jesus tells us that worldly things always stand the possibility of being destroyed or coming apart but He will never abandon us. The Temple was the disciple's world. It was the frame for their faith. If the Temple was on the verge of being destroyed, that meant history was finished. There would be nothing left from them to do but sing Psalms and wait for the end.

Someone once asked the great church reformer, Martin Luther, "If you knew the world would come to an end tomorrow, what would you do?" Luther replied that he ". . . would plant a tree." In other words, he would continue to do the hopeful and steady work of being a disciple. Temples and things of this earth will rise and fall but the love of God never ends. God's work will always be done, maybe not in ways that are familiar to us, but in God's way. May our faith and discipleship remain steady, faithful and enduring to the end. Think about it.

Matthew

            [1]Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (New York, NY: Random House, 1982)

From the Well - 11/8/2018

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Mark 12:38-44 (NRSV) 
38 As he taught, he said, "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows' houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation." 41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."

So, how do you measure a life? Is life measured by power, wealth, and position like the scribes measured it or is it measured by the scales of love, service, friendship, and sacrifice? Jesus suggests that the better examples are often found among the little people like the widow, people who go about life doing the best they can.

The motivational speaker and writer John Maxwell tells a story about the making of parachutes during the Second World War These parachutes were packed by hand in a tedious, painstaking, repetitive, boring process. The workers crouched over sewing machines and stitched for eight hours every day. The endless line of fabric was the same color. Then they folded, packed and stacked the parachutes. All that was left was for someone to pull the rip cord.

How did they stand it? They stood it because every morning before they began their work, they gathered as a group. One of the managers reminded them that each parachute would save someone's life. They were then asked to think, as they sewed and packed, how they would feel if the parachute was strapped to the back of their son, their father, their brother.[1]

The laborers worked sacrificially, unerringly, uncomplainingly, because someone connected what they were doing to a larger picture, to a larger mission that involved saving lives. Jesus mission was to connect us to one another, to help us understand that discipleship and ministry is about a larger picture. It's about saving lives. Think about it.

Matthew

[1]John C. Maxwell, Developing the Leader Within You(Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 28.

From the Well - 11/1/2018

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Matthew 22:35-40 (NRSV) 
35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" 37 He said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Someone emailed me this week and asked if I was going to send out an email about the Pittsburgh shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue. As a matter of full discloser on my part, I was in a news blackout last week. After the difficult death of Rebecca Bobbitt, the constant, ongoing bad behavior of politicians and others, I was weary of the news. I was emotionally spent and tired.

This is not normal for me. I am an avid NPR listener. I typically watch the nightly news and scan news reports on my computer in order to be up-to-date on current issues. But lately I’ve grown weary of the vitriol and caustic exchange that seems to be a part of society and culture these days. Therefore, when someone asked me after the 8:30 service this past Sunday why we didn’t pray for Pittsburgh, I didn’t know what they were talking about. I immediately recovered and we included it in our prayer concerns for the next two services.

So, after thinking about the terrible anti-Semitic events in Pittsburgh and the killing of 11 of our Jewish brothers and sisters a quote-the first thing you read as you enter the Yad Vashem (Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem)-came to mind:

“A country is not just what it does-it is also what it tolerates.”

There is a resurgence of antisemitism and other hate crimes in our country because, in my opinion, there is a lack of appropriate response from our leaders. As I said to someone this last week, “I’m afraid there is going to be an escalation of these kinds of events unless we find a better way to disagree and debate.”It’s difficult for organizations and countries to rise above the emotional intelligence of their leaders. As Edwin Friedman says in his book, A Failure of Nerve, “The anxiety is so deep within the emotional processes of our nation that it is almost as though a neurosis has become nationalized.”[1] Amazingly, this was written over 20 years ago. It’s as if Friedman could see into the future.

Where does all of this leave those of us who call ourselves the Body of Christ? Jesus reminds us that being a Christ follower is more than loving God, it is loving God and neighbor. All people are our neighbors not just people who look and worship like us. We need to shift our dualistic (us/them) conversations and arguments that create a climate of distrust, distortion of the truth, and fear to conversations about justice and peace. We must start learning to live with one another and to work out our disagreements on a more mature level or we are headed, I’m afraid, for a precarious and dangerous future.

I realize that there are those who will disagree with me on some of my points. That’s OK. Can we disagree as brothers and sisters in Christ? Think about it.

Matthew

[1]Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York, NY: Seabury Books, 1999), 53.

From the Well - 10/25/2018

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Mark 10:46-52 (MSG) 
46 They spent some time in Jericho. As Jesus was leaving town, trailed by his disciples and a parade of people, a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, was sitting alongside the road. 47 When he heard that Jesus the Nazarene was passing by, he began to cry out, "Son of David, Jesus! Mercy, have mercy on me!" 48 Many tried to hush him up, but he yelled all the louder, "Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!" 49 Jesus stopped in his tracks. "Call him over." They called him. "It's your lucky day! Get up! He's calling you to come!" 50 Throwing off his coat, he was on his feet at once and came to Jesus. 51 Jesus said, "What can I do for you?" The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see." 52 "On your way," said Jesus. "Your faith has saved and healed you." In that very instant he recovered his sight and followed Jesus down the road.

We may have perfect vision but we may be spiritually blind.

Someone bluntly asked blind and deaf Helen Keller, “Isn’t it terrible to be blind?” Her response gets to the heart of the matter, “Better to be blind and see with your heart than to have two good eyes and see nothing.” This is the point Jesus is trying to make to His disciples.

Parker Palmer tells a true story about a long term group he facilitated for public school educators. He says there was a high school shop teacher who was having a hard time in the group. He just didn’t get it. Tim almost always sat in silence, looking uncomfortable, distracted and often disdainful of Parker’s process. Parker says that six times Tim took him aside to ask, “What the heck are we doing here?” Six times Parker told him that his question, though heartfelt, was not one he could answer for him.

As the seventh retreat got under way, it quickly became clear that something had happened to Tim. He was obviously eager to tell everyone about it. For the past two years, he said, he had been locked in a power struggle with his principle, who had insisted that he attend a summer institute on the new, high-tech method of teaching shop. For two years, Tim had responded to his principle with and equally insistent and increasingly angry. ”NO!”

“This high-tech stuff,” he told his principle, “is just another fad that will fade away. And even if it doesn’t, it’s not what my students need right now. They need hands on experience! I should know. I’ve been teaching shop for twenty years. That summer institute is a crock, and I’m not going to waste my time or your money attending it.”

For two years, Tim and his principle had been in the ring with each other, and a few weeks earlier, the bell had rung for round three. Once again the principle called Tim in and made his demand, and once again Tim refused.

But this time, Tim said something new. “For the past year and a half,”he told his principle, “I’ve been sitting with this group of teachers who’ve been exploring their inner lives-and I’ve begun to realize that I have one, too! I can see now that I’ve been lying to myself, and to you, about why I won’t go to the summer institute.”

“The truth is, I’m afraid. I’m afraid I won’t understand what they are saying. I’m afraid that what I do understand will make me feel like I’ve been teaching the wrong way for twenty years. I’m afraid I’ll come home from that institute feeling like I’m over the hill. I still don’t want to go, but at least I can be honest with you why.”

At that point Tim paused and then continued, “My principle and I sat there in silence for a while, staring at the floor. Then he looked up at me and said, ‘You know what? I’m afraid too. Let’s go together.’” [1]

With Jesus’ help our eyes can be opened and once they are opened there can be growth, understanding, and faith. Jesus has the capacity to help us see if we will just let him. He can help us push back the blind spots in our own lives, blind spots that bring harm to us and to others. He can help us see the places in the church, community and world where our gifts can be used to make the world a better place to live. Think about it.

Matthew
[1] Parker J. Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey toward an Undivided Life (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 67-68.

From the Well - 10/18/2018

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Matthew 5:48 (MSG) 
48 "In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you. 

Acts 20:35 (MSG) 
35 In everything I've done, I have demonstrated to you how necessary it is to work on behalf of the weak and not exploit them. You'll not likely go wrong here if you keep remembering that our Master said, 'You're far happier giving than getting.' "

In Eugene Peterson’s, Run with the Horses, he tells the story of a family of birds teaching their young ones to fly. Three young swallows are perched on a dead branch that stretches over a lake. The mother swallow shoves the young chicks toward the end of the branch and then proceeds to push them off, one by one. Somewhere between the branch and the water, the first young chick begins working its wings, fledgling off on its own. The second one manages to take off the same way.

The third chick refuses to be bullied by its mother. It holds on to the branch with all of its strength. At one point swinging downward and hanging upside down with a bulldog tenaciousness. Mama bird is persistent. She pecks at the young bird’s talons until it is more painful for the chick to hang on than risk the insecurities of flying. Finally, the young bird lets go and its inexperienced wings begin pumping. The mother swallow knows what the chick does not-that it can fly-and there is no danger in making it do what it is designed to do.

Peterson writes:

Birds have feet and can walk. Birds have talons and can cling. But flying is their characteristic action, and not until they fly are they living at their best, gracefully, and beautifully. [1]

There are two points that I want to make using this story as a backdrop. First, we are at our best when we give. It is what we are designed to do. Some desperately hold on to themselves and what they have and are ultimately miserable in the process. We don’t think we can live generously because we have never tried.

The second thing is this: there are people in our community and world who are desperately hanging on to a troubled life. They can only let go if we are here to provide guidance and support through the Body of Christ at Clemmons UMC. The two work together. There is a need to give and the desperate need of those who need to know the transformative experience of following Jesus Christ. It’s a match made in heaven. Don’t you want to be a part of it? Think about it.

Matthew

[1]Eugene H. Peterson, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at its Best (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 43-44.