It’s Enough to Make You Cry

Retirement Interrupted 

Idyllic images of rural retirement have been rudely interrupted by a frustratingly stubborn kidney stone.

I went back to Tampa General Hospital on Monday expecting to leave the thing behind but ended up staying until Wednesday. After nearly two hours of Roto-rutting (which I thankfully slept through!) the surgeon gave up and left the broken stone behind.  In four weeks he’ll go back in to try again.

(I remember Sundays when I went home grateful that the sermon I preached that day wasn’t my only chance to get it right!)

Again, I can’t say enough good things about TGH but I wouldn’t recommend it for fine cuisine. Hospital food is, well, hospital food. The day after surgery, still groggy and in pain when lunch arrived, I uncovered a hunk of sausage pizza that had at one time been hot and some broccoli that had at one time been green. To be fair, the food improved; it’s hard to mess up chicken noodle soup or chef’s salad. But the service couldn’t have been better and if I were looking for a great menu I can name plenty of good places to go.

Interestingly enough, I have no profound spiritual insights from the experience, except to say that as one who has offered countless prayers for others in the hospital, I am profoundly grateful for the person who held my hand and prayed for me.

Enough, already, on the health report. We’re off for a few days in the Birkshires to relax and soak up some culture!

Now, to something more important.

Enough to Make You Cry 

Take a good look; a look that penetrates the self-protective shields of social acceptability; a look that goes deeply into the heart; a look that is a finite expression of the infinite love with which God looks out on our world, and it’s enough to make anyone with a heart cry.

It’s what the prophet Jeremiah felt when he looked at his world and wrote, “If only my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears, I would weep day and night for the wounds of my people.” (Jeremiah 9:1)

Read the headlines or watch the evening news and we know why Jesus wept over Jerusalem saying, “If they only knew the things that make for peace.” (Luke 19:42)

We weep for residents of Tel Aviv fleeing to bomb shelters and for Palestinians who have nowhere to hide from the attacks that are destroying their homes in Gaza.

We weep for thousands of children making their way across our border only to be caught up in our hopelessly confused and politicized immigration system.

We weep for millions of people who are homeless refugees because of the conflicts in Ukraine, in parts of Africa, and as a result of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We weep for the lives that have been lost in jets that have been blown out of the sky.

And we weep — the way Jesus wept beside the grave of his friend, Lazarus – for the deeply personal wounds, hurts, disappointments that sooner or late come crashing in on every one of us.

With Jeremiah, we ask, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?”  (Jeremiah 8:22)

I also know how Jeremiah felt when he said:  “If only I could flee for shelter in the desert/to leave my people and forget them.” (Jeremiah 9:2)

I’d probably not choose the desert.  I might take a house on the beach or a cabin in the mountains. I might just turn off the television, cancel the newspaper, go to a movie and stop paying attention to the pain and suffering around me. Sometimes we’d all like to flee.

Weep or flee? Which will it be? The truth is that there are times for both. There are times when I need to weep for the wounds of the world around me. And there are times when I need to accept Jesus’ invitation, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)

So, where is God in all of this? It may be when Jeremiah hears God say, “I am going to refine them, for what else can I do with my people?” (Jeremiah 9:7)

I’m not suggesting that God causes the terrible things that happen in order to teach us a lesson.  I’m a Wesleyan, not a Calvinist.  Most of the things that make us weep are a direct result of human decisions that are an outright contradiction of the will of God.  Our sinful choices are enough to make God cry.

Although God does not cause everything that happens, God is able to use anything that happens to refine us, the way gold and silver are refined. Instead of making us bitter, it can make us better.

The Spirit of God is present in our tears to break our hearts with the things that break the heart of God, to show us the ways in which we contribute to the pain of the world, to form us more fully into the likeness of Christ, and to enable us to participate in God’s healing work in this world. If there is a “balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul” it will be found in the hearts, lives and actions of faithful people who become the agents of God’s love in the lives of others.

Perhaps the Christ-shaped alternative is not just to weep or to flee, but to become God’s healing presence in the world. At least it’s worth praying for.

 

Advertisements

Some Songs Never Go Away

Remembering Old Songs

Isn’t amazing the way songs get planted in your brain and can come back when you least expect them?

I have a friend who is a walking compendium of rock music from the ‘60’s-‘70’s.  Mention a musician or a song and he will recite the words back to you with amazing perfection.

Songs – the kind that are really worth singing – are like that.  Once they get imbedded in your brain, you never know when you might suddenly remember them.

Watching the sun rise over the lake the other morning, the words (at least most of them) of a hymn I had memorized as a requirement for a class on worship in seminary came rolling back into my mind.  It was written by Thomas Ken (1637 – 1711) to help the boys in his British boarding school get started on the day. I can’t imagine that they were all that enthusiastic about it!

 Awake, my soul, and with the sun

Thy daily stage of duty run;

Shake off dull sloth, and joyful rise,

To pay thy morning sacrifice.

Lord, I my vows to Thee renew;

Disperse my sins as morning dew.

Guard my first springs of thought and will,

And with Thyself my spirit fill.

Direct, control, suggest, this day,

All I design, or do, or say,

That all my powers, with all their might,

 In Thy sole glory may unite.

When I Googled it to be sure my memory was correct, I discovered that Ken’s 18th Century words have been set to new music by more than one contemporary Christian musician.  It just proves that a good song never really goes away.

I hadn’t thought of those words for years, but I remembered that memorizing them turned out to be more than just a class requirement.  They actually became a morning prayer for me as I walked from our apartment to the campus.

That last verse is just about as all-inclusive as you can get:  direct…control…suggest…all I design…or do…or say.   A prayer like that never goes out of date and could make a real difference in anyone’s life.

Life Interrupted 

Our new life on the lake was interrupted last week with an overnight visit to Tampa General Hospital to deal with a nasty kidney stone.  It was an interesting role reversal for me to be the patient instead of the pastor, riding down the halls in a wheel chair rather than walking down them, being cared for instead of being the one doing the caring, instead of feeling like “someone” with a clergy badge to feel like “anyone” who shows up needing help.

The good news is that I could not have received better care and am doing fine.  I hit the road this week leading a clergy retreat in Baton Rouge and some workshops for church business administrators in Orlando before Marsha and I head to Charleston for some Gamma/Gampa time with Mattie.  I think that’s why we retired!

Wherever your travels take you this summer, I also remember Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans singing, “Happy Trails to You.”  Some old songs never really go away.

Grace and peace,

Jim

The Problem with Patriotism

The Poetry of Patriotism

When I was in elementary school, we had to memorize poetry. A couple of those poems have floated back into my brain recently. The centennial of the beginning of WWI brought back:

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the skies

The lark, still bravely singing, flies.

An inspiring  NPR interview with the author of “Our Declaration” (http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2014-07-03/danielle-allen-our-declaration) and anticipation of “A Capital Fourth” on PBS brought back these lines:

Breathes there a man with soul so dead

Who never to himself has said,

This is my own, my native land!

All of which is to say that a healthy patriotism is a good thing, particularly when it includes ruthless honesty about the ways in which we have both fulfilled and failed to fulfill the ideals that gave birth to our nation.

The Problem with Patriotism

For biblically-rooted, Christ-centered disciples, the problem with patriotism is when it gets tangled up with worship; when we drift into placing a higher priority on our citizenship in our nation than we place on our citizenship in the Kingdom of God; when we are more focused on our “national interest” than we are on the Sermon on the Mount; when we lift the flag in front of the cross.

Our daughter in the television communications business reminds me that what we see takes priority over what we hear. Visual symbols really matter.

On my way to and from our home, I pass a church with a flag pole by its entrance. A large American flag waves at the top of the pole. Beneath it is a Christian flag that is about the size of the blue field in the American one.

The position and the proportion of the flags are the problem.  The visual symbol declares that even for deeply committed Christians, being an American takes priority over being a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Their sign announces a “Patriotic Service” for this Sunday.  It makes me wonder what part of  “You shall have no other gods before me” they don’t they understand.

So, celebrate Independence Day!  Read the Declaration and give thanks for still unfinished vision it holds. Enjoy the fireworks! Watch for the canons during the playing of  “The 1812 Overture.” Stomp your feet to “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

But don’t forget who you are.  You are a disciple of Jesus Christ.  You are a citizen of the Kingdom of God.