Archive for September, 2009
“I know a little boy who is dying today”, those words written by a Hospice chaplain in Northwest Arkansas got my attention.
It was unusual to have one so young in Hospice care and yet again not as rare as we might like to think. He was four years old and had never had a pain-free day. For one whose existence was short-changed, he knew the important things of life. When he had heard them repeating the Lord’s Prayer, instead of saying “Amen” at the end, he lifted his little hands above his head and shouted “YAY”.
It was a July Tuesday when he died. The chaplain described it this way, “This four year old knows real life now. He was lovingly taken to a waiting angel by his parents and brother!
“For Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. YAY!”
So tell me why you might find this true story interesting or challenging?
There’s an old story about an elderly woman who was told by her physician that she probably wouldn’t live much longer. Soon there after, she called in her family to discuss her funeral arrangements. They talked about how the service would be, where she would be buried, what kind of casket would be used, etc. As the conversation was winding down, the woman remarked, “There’s one thing that’s very important: I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.”
Her children were understandably puzzled by that remark, and one of them couldn’t contain his curiosity. “Mom,” he said, “what are you talking about?”
“I remember eating with my family when I was a young girl,” the woman began, “Each of us would help clear away the dishes. Every once in a while, mom would tell us, ‘Save your fork!’ We children knew what that meant. It meant that mom had fixed us a pie or a cake or some sort of treat. When she said ‘Save your fork!’, that meant the best was yet to come. So I want to be buried with a fork in my hand, for the best is yet to come!”
It’s a lovely story, a beautiful illustration of hope. In Spanish, the word “esperar” means “hope,” but it also means “wait.” You wait for a bus, and you hope it’s coming; the same word is used in both cases. It’s the same in the biblical languages. Our hope is built around the expectation of something that is to come.
The apostle Paul wrote to a group of new Christians in the city of Thessalonica, talking of the reputation these Christians had. He wrote “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven.” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10) That’s a beautiful description of a Christian’s life: turning away from an old life, serving God and waiting for Jesus to come back. We have hope because we are waiting for someone. He will bring us something wonderful, a life without pain or sadness.
We have hope because we know the best is yet to come. We have hope because we are waiting, waiting for our Lord to come back.
So save your fork!
I walked into my health club the other day and was immediately impressed. They had remodeled and added a number of new workout stations. I went to the front desk to ask how they were paying for this. I was a little offended that they did not seem to know who I was, but I asked my question anyway. It seems that health clubs have a number of people who pay dues but do not show up to work out. They love the idea of a healthy body, and the club seems like the right place to accomplish that, but they do not want to actually come in and exercise.
I admitted that I only came to the gym a couple of times a week. Then I confessed that over the past few months it may have been more like a couple of times per month. Then they had the nerve to ask me if I was serious about a healthy life style. They suggested workout partners to encourage me and hold me accountable. They challenged me to decide if I was serious or not.
The whole experience reminded me of the discussions I have had about Jesus. There are many people who like the idea of going to heaven. They consider themselves to be Christians. They are “members” of a local church. And they are offended if no one recognizes them when they show up.
Jesus intends for his followers to live in community: to help each other, to hold each other accountable, to encourage each other, and to be family. The Christian life cannot be lived in isolation. If you want to be serious about Jesus, get serious about being connected to His people.
They dragged the woman to the temple. Caught in the very act of adultery! Her cries for mercy went unheeded. This group wasn’t interested in compassion or justice. (Where was the man this woman had been with? The Law of Moses said that both were to be judged.) This woman was a pawn in a political game, a useful tool to trap this troublesome teacher named Jesus of Nazareth.
“Our law says this woman should be stoned. What do you say?” they asked Jesus with a sneer, throwing the woman at Jesus’ feet. Would this sinner-loving Nazarene dare to say that the Law should be ignored, that the woman should be set free? If he did, these Jewish leaders could immediately denounce his entire ministry as a fraud.
Or would Jesus dare to call for capital punishment, putting him at odds with Roman law which did not give the Jews the right to employ the death penalty? It was a perfect trap, and these men knew it.
Infuriatingly, Jesus refused to answer. Instead, he sat and wrote in the dirt with his finger. “Answer us! Answer the question,” the crowd insisted.
Finally Jesus, looked up, met their gaze, and said, “Fine. Stone her. But let the first stone be thrown by the one among you who has no sin.” With those words, the accusers became the accused. The trap they had set for Jesus had backfired. One by one, they slipped away, each very conscious of his own sin.
Jesus stood alone with the woman and asked, “Does no one condemn you?”
“No,” she answered quietly.
“Then I don’t condemn you either. Go and leave your life of sin.” ( John 8:1-11)
I wish Jesus were here today to stop me when I have a stone in my hand, to remind me that I am as much a sinner as anyone else. I wish he were here to stand up for those who are attacked and demeaned because of the mistakes they’ve made. I wish he were here to say, “Go ahead, label other people as sinners … as long as you’ve never made a mistake.”
Jesus’ followers need to stand up for those who have messed up, who have been caught red-handed in a sinful lifestyle. We need to say to them “Stop. Change. Leave your life of sin.” But we also need to say, “I’m a sinner too. I need God’s grace as much as you do.”
The church was meant to be a refuge, a gathering of sinners covered by grace, a collection of strugglers seeking to overcome sin. It’s not meant to be a rock-throwing society.
If you’ve had rocks hurled your way, please know that they were thrown without Jesus’ authorization. Come back. Try again. There are good people who are really trying to live like Jesus who will love you, accept you and help you to change. Jesus doesn’t want to condemn. He wants to save. His followers should feel the same.