Wednesday, November 30, 2016

epaphras

Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Jesus Christ, greets you.  He is always wrestling in his prayers on your behalf, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in everything that God wills.  Colossians 4:12

Epaphras, that's who did it, that is who sent the cards.

Ten years ago, when we were on our traumatic journey through the legal system with Teddy, we received literally hundreds of cards, emails, calls from folks from all over the world, speaking of their hopes, their loves, their concern for all of us.  All these messages meant so much to us. 

But each and every day without fail, one of the green cards showed up in our mailbox.  Cards which had a biblical verse of hope, of support, of encouragement, of compassion printed on them.  Cards which reminded us

   - that God always whispers grace and peace to us,
      even when we are too mad to talk with God;

  - that when we stand knee deep in despair, 
       we are not alone;

  - that when we are too exhausted to even get out of bed,
       someone else, somewhere, is lifting us to God. 

We never found out who sent those cards, we probably never will.  I simply call her or him Epaphras, that person who wrestled in prayer everyday on our behalf, so that we could stand when we fell down, so we could heal when we were most broken, so we could be assured that in everything, every moment, God was with us. 

Prayer:  Help us to be the Epaphras that another needs.  With a simple note, a card, we can remind others of your grace, your love, your life in them, Holy God, so they might continue to discover you in the silence, the pain, the grief, the questions of their lives.  Amen.

(c) 2016 Thom M. Shuman

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

kids

Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray.  The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belong."  Matthew 19:22

On my way home from work, I usually pass a construction site, where large pieces of equipment are moving around piles of dirt, digging large holes, transporting pipes and lumber from place to place.  Something big is being built, something new is going up, but there is no signage indicating what is taking place. 

The other day, I noticed them.  Against the immense drama of the construction, one could easily overlook them.  It was a father sitting on the sidewalk, his child standing next to him, and an empty stroller.  The little one was absolutely mesmerized by the activity going on before their eyes.  The movement, the noise, the sheer enormity of the machinery dancing before their eyes kept them both enthralled.  I could see the child lean over to Dad and say something, and he would reply, while pointing to something only the two of them could see.

I wonder if that's what Jesus was doing with the kids who were brought to him.  He would sit on the ground and they would stand next to him watching something only they could see.  They would ask him about what was going on, and he would point to God moving governments and history around so that the kingdom of justice could be built; of a hole deep enough to hold all our foolishness being dug; of shelters for the homeless and forgotten being erected; of injustices being turned into opportunities to serve others, of weapons being broken converted into garden implements.  The day is coming, Jesus would whisper to the kids, when the poor will be welcomed at the wedding feasts, when the forgotten will be remembered, when children will be heard not just overlooked, when hope will overcome despair, gentleness will replace bitterness, love will be preferred over hate.

Something big is being built, something new is going up.  Can we become kids again, and stop to notice?

(c) 2016 Thom M. Shuman

Monday, November 28, 2016

Miriam

Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing.  And Miriam sang to them:
      "Sing to the LORD, for he has
              triumphed gloriously;
   horse and rider he has
              thrown into the sea."  Exodus 15:8

We just can't seem to help ourselves; we have to analyze, explain, theorize about everything.  Something happens in the world, and immediately the experts and talking heads spend hours debating the whys and wherefores, listing the full ramifications and possibilities of this momentous event.  A simple task is given to a group of people, and committees are formed, action groups are put into place, a process is begun to come up with goals and objectives, with a final report to be produced with color-coded pages, pie charts, and all sorts of spread sheets.  Theorists, conspiracy and non, produce volumes of books to explain exactly what happened on that day, with that person so long ago.  We just can't seem to help ourselves.  This is how we deal with what happens in our lives.

This was true even back in the days talked about in the stories of faith.  God's people are rescued from slavery, and brought to safety through the mighty waters, and Moses cannot help himself.  This self-proclaimed inarticulate leader suddenly writes begins to sing a rather lengthy song about the experience.  And then, in true human fashion, he will sit down and explain it all to other folks.  Not just in one book, but five books!  Maybe he couldn't help himself.  This is how we deal with what happens in our lives.

Of course, we could just pick up our tambourines and sing.  We could sing a simple song of praise which almost sounds (to me) like one of those Taize chants which, when sung over and over again, begin to transform our hearts and souls, and draw us closer to God.  We could join hands with Miriam and the women and the children and simply dance with joy to celebrate all the wonders, the goodness, the hope, the life God has given to us.  We could spin and whirl and laugh until we fall on the ground in exhaustion, gazing up at the beauty in the night sky, bursting with stars, and moons, and blazing.  We could . . .

but that's not how we deal with what happens in our lives, is it?

Prayer:  We could spend this season talking, debating, analyzing what exactly happened when and where and how; or we could take your hand, Tambourine God, and learn the dance steps of grace and joy you long to teach us.  Amen.

(c) 2016 Thom M. Shuman



Sunday, November 27, 2016

Jesse

So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife.  When they came together, the LORD made her conceive, and she bore a son . . . They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.  Ruth 4:13, 17b

When I was growing up, and the time rolled around, I always dreaded the first day of school.  We would sit in class and the teacher would start calling the roll.  When my name was called, there was always this moment of silence.  Then came, "Are you Mike's brother?  Are you Barbara's brother?"  And I would give a quick nod or a simple answer that yes, Mike and/or Barb was my older sibling, and the teacher would move on.  And so it went, year after year.  When I graduated and prepared to go off to college, I couldn't wait.  Finally, I thought I would be on my own, finally I would be out of the shadows of other folks.  And it lasted for awhile, about six years in fact.  Until I went back to our hometown to work, and whenever I would meet someone new, and told them my name, there was always a moment of silence.  Then would come, "Are you Steve's brother?  Are you James' brother?"
referring to my younger siblings.

I wonder if that was how Jesse felt at times.  When he became an adult, he apparently was quite successful as a sheep owner, a rancher, farmer.  He had a large and prosperous family.  He was known for his faith, and his pious ways, so much that, according to rabbinic tradition, he was one of four people to die without sin.  Yet in all those years, he was probably simply known best as being the grandson of the saintly Ruth, the generous Boaz.  And then, in his most successful years, when he should have been best known for who he was, he became identified as the father of David, the greatest king of Israel.  Talk about living in deep shadows.

We all have lived in someone else's shadow at some point in our lives.  Maybe it was family members, a partner, a boss, a professor, a coach.  We know what it feels like to be noticed, not for who we are or what we might accomplish, but for the gifts, the lives, the achievements of those around us.  Does it make us more aware of those around us who live in the shadows today?  Do we notice those who are forgotten simply because someone else is better remembered?  Do we see the persons who are longing for someone to look past the star of the show and see the stage crew, the ticket takers, the parking attendants?  Can we look beyond the glitter of the season and recognize those who live in the grimy streets around us?

Prayer:  Help us to search the shadows for your children, God of Advent, so we may take them by the hand, bring them into the light of hope and grace, honor them for their gifts, and recognize them for who they are as your beloved child.  Amen.

(c) 2016 Thom M. Shuman