Monday, June 27, 2005

A Glimpse of the Kingdom

It happened again yesterday.

Jesus took two little children and put them among us during worship, and we saw the kingdom around us. Two sisters, one 10 and the other 6, were brought forward to be baptized. The words we speak at every baptism were said, the promises we make at every baptism were made, the Apostles' Creed was affirmed once again.

Then the prayer over the water was made, and the Spirit began to play in it, laughing and splashing in delight. She allowed me to caress the living waters with my hand, and bring them to Caroline and Leigh Ann: a palmful for the God of Grace, a palmful for the Christ of Love, a palmful for the Spirit of Life. And as I touched their heads, I saw the baptismal waters reflected in the tears brimming in the eyes of their parents.

And last night, when Leigh Ann and her Mom were out in the back yard watering the vegetable garden, Leigh Ann (who has some developmental challenges), dipped her hand in the cool water, and placed it on Mom's head three times, repeating the words spoken to her that morning.

No wonder Jesus tells us we have to become like a child in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

They get it.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, June 17, 2005


When I went out with Cocoa the Wonder Dog last night, for her last piece of business before bed, I saw them . . .


For some folks, it is the last day of school; for others, it is the first day the swimming pool opens; but for me, the first sign that summer has truly arrived are the fireflies.

Flickering off and on in the gathering darkness, playing hide-and-seek in the wildflower garden; trying to see which one can go the highest in the air - I love to watch fireflies on a summer's evening.

As a child, I tried to collect as many fireflies as I could in an old mayonnaise jar (with holes punched in the lid, of course), and would fall asleep by the flickering light the captives cast on my bedroom wall. Now, I just love to stand out on the deck and enjoy their evening dance.

Until Cocoa comes up and nudges me with her nose, and we go in for the last dog treat of the day, go upstairs, curl up on the bed, and fall asleep, the fireflies still dancing in the night.

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Grace upon grace

What a gracious God!

Sarah is worried about there being no direct heir for Abraham, so she insists that her maidservant, Hagar, be the bearer of such an heir - and grace upon grace, Ishmael is born!

What a gracious God!

God appears to Abraham and Sarah, sits and talks, eats and drinks, and makes them a promise about a child being born to Sarah - and grace upon grace, Isaac is born!

And, as so happens with so many folks who have been given grace upon grace, Sarah turns into one of the most ungracious people in the Bible. She becomes so jealous of Ishmael (and Hagar), so worried about the share Isaac will get (and her share?), that she insists that Abraham cast them out of the fold.

We can certainly read this story as one of the culture of the times, in which flesh and blood is everything.

But note what a counter-cultural movement God makes - God responds to the cries of the outcasts...God listens to the cries of a woman, as well as a boy who might as well be an orphan. God listens, God saves, God makes a great nation out of the ones cast out by the one who was called to be a blessing to all nations.

We who have been given grace upon grace, we who have been gifted beyond all imagination, we who have been blessed with more than we could ever ask for or expect - how do we respond to such grace? What do we do with all our gifts? How eager are we to become a blessing to others?

And what counter-cultural moves are we, as individuals and churches, willing to make as we look around and cannot fail to see the ones cast out in our societies?

What a gracious God!

Dare we be so gracious?

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Thursday, June 09, 2005

At the Abbey of Iona
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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

How Ordinary!

I have to admit that on some days, especially Mondays, whenever there is a knock on the door, there is a part of me that says, "I hope it is someone important, some celebrity who is just dropping by to meet me because they've heard what a gifted preacher I am, what a witty conversationalist, what a charming bon vivant."

So when the knock came on the door yesterday morning, I could hope that it was Angelina Jolie, here to talk to me about the latest crisis in her life, or her journeys around the world with her humanitarian work. But it was a single mother from the neighborhood, who wanted to chat about her desire to be married in the church this fall.

And the next time there was someone at the door, I could fantasize that it was the owner of the Cincinnati Reds, come to ask my advice on how to turn his team around. Instead, it was a young man from a couple of streets over, who had just lost his job, his fiancee was struggling with medical issues, and rather than giving in to (as he put it) all the wrong things he could have done to deal with his life, he decided to stop in a church.

I can hope/dream/imagine all I want about the "beautiful people" stopping in for a chat, for advice, for a respite from their lives. But what God sends to me are all those ordinary people with bills to pay, with kids to find child care for during the summer while they work two jobs, with aging parents who worry them with diminishing lives, and all the ordinary, everyday struggles with which celebrities never have to deal.

Ordinary people - like all the tax collectors, sinners, hookers, women, children that Jesus used to hang out with on the street corners, and sit down to eat with at the local greasy spoon.

Ordinary people - like the money launderers, the blue collar Joes, the deniers, the betrayers the ones Jesus called to follow him, and then sent them out to share his good news.

Ordinary people - just like me.

Ordinary . . . and the most beautiful people in the world.

Keep 'em coming, Lord, keep 'em coming!

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Face

And there they were.

Those faces we had grown so accustomed to 30+ years ago: the Plumber, the Burglar, the Chief of Staff, the guy who would run over his own grandmother if it would help thePresident, the Trickster - all those folks who put the USA through a constitutional crisis perhaps unparalleled in our history.

And there they were, the same faces, a little more lined, a lot more gray, but the same voices: spinning, justifying, obfuscating, accusing, denying.

But the face I will always remember from theWatergate era is that of Bob. A white-haired fellow in his early 70's, he was a part-timer in the campus post office. He had been through some of the most difficult times in the 20th century: the Depression, World War II, coming home from war to start a life. And because he was of that generation, even in retirement he was always moving. The only time he ever sat down was for coffee in the morning and afternoon, and when he would open up the brown bag lunch his wife lovingly packed him each day.

But when the hearings started to be broadcast on the radio, he started to move a little slower and would do more of his work sitting down. At first, he had the look that most folks had then: disbelief at all the fuss over a minor break-in in some office. But then more and more people testified, more and more was revealed, and Bob's face went through all the classic stages of grief that we are familiar with, until he was sitting there nodding his head in belief at what most of the folks were saying about his government, his president, his leaders.

And when the famous "smoking gun" tape was released, and the proof could no longer be denied, Bob reached over, turned off the radio, got up and went back to work. And while my memory may be a little hazy after 30+ years, I am pretty sure he was humming:

'On Christ the solid Rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand,
all other ground is sinking sand.'

(c) 2005 Thom M. Shuman