Saturday, March 25, 2017

"When Life Makes You a Sixteen Seed" (2015)

Sixteen seeds have a 98 per cent chance of losing their first (and thus only) game in the annual men’s national basketball tournament.  That’s life for a 16 seed.

(There are over 350 schools which have men’s basketball teams at the highest level, called “D-1”.  Of that group, 68 teams are invited to an annual single-elimination (“lose and go home”) basketball tournament. The best four teams are “seeded” as a “1” in the first round of games against the worst four teams, called “16 seeds.”  No “16” has beaten a “1”.)

So, why bother playing the “16 v. 1”  game? Because when you are a 16 seed you believe you can win.  Each year at least one 16-seed player declares, “We can beat anyone.”  They believe it. They are champions of their own conference, and they have won something like 20 of their 30 games, and they believe in themselves. And then the game is played and they lose. Every time. Reality sets in.  The game is over.  No one cares.

You would think that “David loses to Goliath” should be a headline, but it’s not. People expect David to lose to Goliath, except in the Bible story.  We want David to win, but, let’s face it, in our lives, Goliath wins more than he loses.  And yet all kinds of “Davids” keep taking up 5 smooth stones, trying to slay life’s giant enemy. I wonder if when Jesus was a little boy he played with a slingshot, pretending to be the superhero he admired from the temple stories.  But then, maybe not. Maybe he knew that he was born to be a 16 seed, always playing a 1.  Oh, he would have his moments, but then, in the end, the enemy won. And he knew it was going to happen. But, Jesus kept playing.

Why did Jesus bother to play the game of life if he knew he was going to end up dead on a cross? Well, maybe the cross isn’t the end of the game. Maybe the game isn’t over. Maybe all the “cross-watchers” are wrong. Maybe the people who give you no chance to succeed in your life don’t know that the game of life isn’t what it appears; that David still beats Goliath; that good conquers evil; that the faithful are rewarded with the victor’s crown. The game isn’t over, friend. Keep on playing.  Someone cares.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Corned Beef, Culture and The Church

The corned beef was very good. Lean. Tasty. Excellent with a little horseradish. Yum. Most of my Irish American friends are practicing Roman Catholics, which would normally have meant that they could not have enjoyed the corned beef on this St. Patrick’s Day Friday. But, thanks to the dispensation of Catholic Bishops, they could join me in the meat and potatoes feast “guilt free.” Because I didn’t grow up Catholic it is very hard for me to understand that another person, like a Bishop, has the authority to tell what I may eat and when. But, I respect their tradition and I am impressed that millions of people faithfully follow what the Bishop says when it comes to fasting and eating.

The explanation for the St. Paddy’s Day dispensation on meat eating is that it recognizes the cultural realities.   I can relate in the sense that, though God calls us to offer a sacrifice of praise, I often am asked to give my nod of understanding, if not blessing, to the cultural reality that Sunday is first a “sports” day and second a “worship” day.  Culture trumps Church on more than St. Paddy’s Day. Fasting, whether from food or pleasure, has a way of creating hard choices for which the Church feels compelled to say “God understands.”

Still, I wonder and worry whether the Church has done its people a disservice in the way we teach about fasting? The danger of fasting, whether from food or pleasure, is that we might conclude, “There, now we’ve done our duty towards God.”  God does call people to fasting as a way of religious observance, so meatless Fridays make Biblical sense. But what seems to drive God to distraction is when God’s people use their ‘little fast’ to rationalize that they have now satisfied God’s desire for real fasting:
“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.” (Isaiah 58:6 The Message)

God may smile on a little cultural concession for Friday meat or Sunday worship, but God will never smile on the Church’s failure to speak up against “me-first” cultural values which result in injustice, discrimination or the endorsement of hate. God is much more interested in justice than corned beef.  May the Church never stop teaching that truth.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

When Life Is Not Perfect

“When life is even more imperfect than it is the rest of the time”. That’s what the title should read. Because life is rarely ever perfect.  I can say with 95% certainty that whoever you are, your life this past week was not “perfect.” Something went wrong. Something goes wrong. And something will go wrong tomorrow.

The amazing part is not that life goes wrong but that life goes on.  People have accidents which result in crushing changes in life. People who seemed perfectly healthy are diagnosed with incurable illnesses.  Wars erupt and families walking away from their bombed out homes with only a backpack full of possessions.  But life always goes, even after days full of diabolical daily disasters. The car won’t start. The school calls and your daughter is sick.  Your boss is unreasonable and your co-worker is lazy. Small stuff that just accumulates into one big feeling of “when am I going to catch a break?!”  Life  is not perfect. But life goes on.

I read a story about a young man who, in the moments after the Cubs World Series win, dove into the shallow end of a hotel pool and came out a quadriplegic, which injury was followed two days later by a stroke.  The story was written by the mother-in-law of this young man, and she describes the long and difficult recovery; the sacrifices and disruptions that her daughter and son-in-law had in their lives as they try to find a new way of living.  The author ends with a focus on the blessings the family found from friends, co-workers and strangers, and she quotes one of those “old sayings”: “Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.”

How is it that this family finds life “wonderful”? I think that we are hard-wired by our Creator with the ability to hear God say “Go to a new place I will show you” when we are living in life’s imperfect moments.  God’s “go” calls us to find hope in the midst of life’s imperfect places. May God to give you enough hope to carry you through your next imperfect day. Keep on going to the place God wants to show you. (Genesis 12:1) Keep looking for signs of wonder in life’s imperfect days until that day when life will be perfect.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

"Welcome to Aquarius"

It should be some space ride!  Maybe it will be like some scene in a movie, our spaceship hurtling through space at the speed of light. Or maybe there will be some sort of teleporter to which we just request ‘beam me up’.  Put it this way: jetting to the south of France for the weekend will be so old school. Three hours to Florida will be something we laugh about, like comparing automobiles to the horse and buggy era. Getting there will be a real blast, pun intended.

The “there” of which I speak is 40 lightyears away, in the constellation Aquarius, and it consists of “seven alien worlds about the size of earth”.  These “worlds” are the latest of about 3,500 “exoplanets” scientists know about, of which about several handfuls are considered “potentially habitable.”

I take great comfort in hearing of these discoveries, but probably for a different reason than the scientists.  When I think about the Bible’s promised revelation of the “New Heaven and New Earth”, when “Time” ends, I am excited yet perplexed. Where will all of the people in all of those graves live? I mean, even if you raise up the ocean floors and flatten out the mountains, is there room for everyone?  But now I see what may be going on in the universe. God is preparing a whole lot of “new earths” in the “new heavens”. We all know that our existence on this earth depends on a very precise calculation of distance from the Sun. A little closer and we burn up; a little farther and we freeze. So, all God needs to do is move these exoplanets a tiny bit and, there you have it: enough “earths” for everyone!

Just like some people like to live in the moderate temperatures and some in the hot or cold temperatures now, we get to choose which planet to live on. And then we go visit family or friends in distant places for a long weekend, if we have weekends.  And getting there will be half the fun.  It will be unparalleled joy to be welcomed to heaven, but a close second will be the wonder of hearing a loved one greet us with the words, “Welcome to Aquarius!”

(Source: WSJ Feb. 23, 2017, Robert Lee Hotz)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Weapons of Reconcilation (Ash Wednesday Meditation)

Dear People of Hope,

 Tonight’s text was 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10.  You may want to take time to read it now. I was going to preach on the “weapons of reconciliation”…those things listed by Paul which are necessary for our reconciliation and restoration of relationships with God and our neighbor. 

So, tonight, I, with Paul, “implore you to be reconciled to God”; and to “not receive God’s grace in vain.”  For you see, “now is the time of God’s favor, now is the time of salvation.”

Tonight take up those “weapons” in your right hand and your left hand, those weapons of “purity, understanding, patience and kindness, in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God.”

As we begin our 40 day journey to Easter morning, begin with your personal time of confession before God; imagine the ashes placed on your forehead as you hear: “Consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ.”

This is a season of being honest with ourselves before God, creating space in our hearts and minds to be filled on Easter morning with the knowledge of the glorious resurrection. 

To fully appreciate the joy of Easter, allow yourselves to fully appreciate your need for and the offer of reconciliation with God. Use those “weapons” to reconcile with your enemies; make them your neighbors.