Monthly Archives: November 2014

Are We Nomads or Pilgrims?

Text: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Joshua 4:1-7
Theme: We are wandering nomads until we have a vision and a goal. Then we become pilgrims struggling along the path toward the goal we have chosen.
LIFE IS A JOURNEY! That journey is described in very different ways. In Shakespeare’s play “King Lear”– Lear defines it: “Life is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”    On the other hand, Jesus told his disciples, and us, that he had come that we might have life, and have it abundantly.    Of the two descriptions, I choose the one that Jesus gave and the one that the entire Bible seems to indicate.    God is a God of love and wants his creation to be happy and have good lives.
We do know that the journey of life contains many hardships. It also contains many joys we celebrate. And, it contains many failures as we strive toward our goals. but it also contains many achievements that reward us on the journey. All of these joys, hardships, failures, and achievements are milestones that we reach as we go on this journey we call life. That is true of our lives as individuals and it is true of our life as a faith community we call the church.
In this journey of life we are either nomads or pilgrims. What is the difference? A nomad is a wanderer. Nomads have no goal in mind, they just wander from place to place. A pilgrim journeys toward a known goal.
An important part of life’s journey is knowing our goal or destination. Where are we going? Why are we going there? What difference will that destination make? That is true for us as individuals and it is certainly true for our faith community we call “the church.”Without a vision, the people perish” the writer of Proverbs wrote long ago. How true both for individuals and for churches!!
Without a vision, a goal for our lives and the life of our faith community we are like wandering nomads. When we have a goal in mind we change from being nomads to pilgrims and our life and the life of our church becomes a quest toward the goal that lies before us.

Moses reminded the Hebrews that in their early history, they were nomads. In verse 4 and following of chapter 26 of DeuteronomyMoses speaks about that in these words: “When the priest takes the basket of first fruits from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God. ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor (Jacob), he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous….the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand…and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” He points to the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham, that wandering nomad, that he would make of him a great nation that would be a blessing to the entire world—a promise repeated to Jacob. Now that goal was being accomplished as the Hebrews entered the Promised Land.
The Exodus from Egypt had led them toward that goal of the Promised Land and the Hebrew people ceased to be “wandering Areamean”—nomads—and at that time became Pilgrims—-making their way toward the goal of the Promised Land.
And when they entered the promised land according to the book of Joshua, Joshua told them to leave behind them at the place where they entered the Promised Land, 12 “Milestones” representing the 12 tribes of Israel where they crossed into the Promised Land—- it was named Gilgal (circle of stones). The story is recorded in Joshua: Joshua 4:1-7]

On Feb. 5, 1994, the Markale Market in Sarajevo was jammed with Bosnians. Hundreds of women, children and men had come for their weekly outing in search of food and goods. Suddenly, without warning, a 120 mm mortar shell hit the crowd, exploding in the midst of the open air market, tearing apart the bodies of 68 people and spewing blood for yards around.
Unable to accept the murder of his anonymous brothers and sisters, a cellist from the Sarajevo Symphony resolved to mark their memory in some way. He decided that each life lost must be marked and honored in some way. The day after the deadly bombing he took his cello and a chair and quietly set them up in the heart of the bombed-out area of the marketplace—the site of so much cruelty and carnage.
Then, without saying a word, he played a short memorial concert, uninterrupted and unannounced, that transformed the scene of horror into a place of harmony and beauty while the crowds gathered and listened as he played. At the end of his concert, he picked up his chair and cello and faded into the crowd.
The same thing happened the next day and for 68 days, as the cellist played a memorial concert for each of the victims who had died in the shelling. He commemorated their lives, not just their dying, and brought dignity and honor to their families. His concerts marked the milestones of each of their lives.

Moses told the people to remember the MILESTONES in their journey from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. They were to remember that even as they wandered in the Wilderness God provided for them—the manna and the doves. He reminds them to celebrate the crossing of the Red Sea on Dry Land The Passover celebration is a remembrance of the Exodus and the freedom from Egyptian slavery.. And Joshua reminded them to celebrate their crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land on dry land. The Circle of Twelve Stones at Gilgal carried from the bottom of the Jordan River that they crossed on dry land, marks the celebration of the entry of the Hebrews into the Promised Land .

The question is thisWhat are the milestones that we will leave behind individually that shows our pilgrimage on earth? What will we leave that future generations of our families will remember and celebrate? What differences will we have made that are enduring? The same three questions might be asked for the congregations that we serve and have served. What will we leave behind that will be remembered and celebrated long after our names are no longer known? What milestones will we leave to future generations that will be remembered and celebrated? What difference will our lives as a part of a community of faith make that will continue to have impact after we are gone? In other words….

What are we going to pass on through our lives? What is the torch that we will pass on to those who follow us?
There is a story of a father and his young son on a hike in the mountains. The path was not well marked and the footing was treacherous at times. The son said  to his father who was leading the way—-“Be careful, Dad, I’m following in your steps right behind you!” In the same way we must “be careful” and…..

Hold high the torch! You did not light its glow—
‘Twas given you by other hands, you know.
Tis yours to keep it burning bright,
Yours to pass on when you no more need light;
For there are other feet that we must guide,
And other forms go marching by our side;
Their eyes are watching every smile and tear
And efforts which we think are not worthwhile,
Are sometimes just the very helps they need,
Actions to which their souls would give most heed;
So that in turn they’ll hold it high
And say, “I watched someone else carry it this way.”
If brighter paths should beckon you to choose,
Would your small gain compare with all you’d lose?
Hold high the torch!
You did not light its glow—
Twas given you by other hands, you know.
I think it started down its pathway bright,
The day the Maker said: “Let there be light.”
And He once said, who hung on Calvary’s tree—-
“You are the light of the world…Go!!…Shine–=for me.

 

Are your Dreams Big Enough?

When I retired from teaching I had a lot of dreams that I wanted to fulfill in retirement.   For example, I wanted to put together a woodshop and one of my first projects would be building a grandfather’s clock with a kit from Emperor Clocks in Alabama.  I envisioned other things I would do, such as writing a book,  traveling in the U.S. and abroad, etc.    Dreams!     I put those dreams in a journal that I began writing every day (and still do)  after I retired and moved to Kansas from southern California.   for the first few years, once every year I looked up those dreams in my journal and wrote a “progress report” in my journal about my successes and failures in achieving my “dreams” and what I planned to do about it the following year.    Dreams are important!    They give you a reason for being, for living!

I recently worked for several months with leaders of my home church to evaluate our church and what could be done to improve it.   In the process we used the “Life Cycle of a Church” found in George Bullard’s book—Pursuing Your Full Kingdom Potential—-and decided we were in the “Maturity Phase” , which is one phase  beyond the prime time of the church and beginning the downward part of the life cycle that leads toward death of the institution.    One of the telling points in  the committee’s decision was a decided lack of a “Vision” or “Dream” for our church.    Vision is the first thing that disappears, according to Bullard, when a church begins a downward trend.   When I asked the group of spiritual leaders who were gathered for evaluation what the vision was for our church, I was met with silence—-no clue.

Long ago, the writer of the Book of Proverbs wrote (KJV) “Without a vision, the people perish!”     That is true, and without a vision, the church will perish.  It has no raison d’etre, no ” reason for being”.

As I grow older I ponder two thingsfirst, where I have been and what I have done, and where I am going and, secondly,  what remains undone in that uncertain future that I have ahead of me.    I guess I’m a lot like the late  Robert Kennedy,  who is quoted as saying:   “Some people see things as they are, and say why?   I dream of things that never were and say, “Why not!?”  When I give up dreaming you might as well bury me as I’m the “walking dead.” 

Many people and many churches never achieve their full potential because they fail to dream big enough dreams!     Churches, especially are weakened by their failure not only to dream big enough dreams of their church’s future but to dream God’s dream for them.   However both ourselves, and our churches limit our potential if we do not dream large enough dreams and if we do not become aware of God’s dreams for us!

When I dreamed about my retirement I failed to dream large enough dreams.   I achieved much of what I dreamed originally—-not all, but enough—on my list.   But my life is full of much larger dreams and much larger achievemenst now  because God had much larger dreams for me than I did for myself!     For example, when I retired from teaching, I was going to build some things in a wood shop  I would put together, write and travel—-God’s dream was for me to go back into ministry where I had originally started fresh out of seminary years ago. I became a pastor to 7 different churches in Kansas, after retiring from teaching—five of them as an interim minister helping put churches back together for the next pastor.  It was also God’s dream for me to be a chaplain for three years in southeast Kansas and to touch numerous lives of patients and their families during their end of life experience.    If God’s dream for me had not prevailed over my limited dreams for retirement I would be much less the fulfilled person that I presently am!    A second example,  I felt my dream was to retire with my wife of 50+ years and live out the rest of my life.   But my wife died after 56 years of marriage and I found that God had other plans for me.   Although the original dream was shattered by the death of my wife, God found me a wife at a church I served after my first wife’s death,  and I am now enjoying a wonderful loving relationship with her in complete retirement!   As my present wife and I express often—-it was a “God thing” that led us together and made life so much  better for both of us than we could have dreamed.   She lost her husband about the same time I lost my wife.     God had other plans for both of us.   God’s dream is always bigger and better than we can dream ourselves.

I need to ask you, my readers:    “How big are your  dreams?”   “Have you included God in your dreams and are you trying to dream God’s dreams, as well as your own?  We are never too old, and never too young to “dream dreams, and see visions”.   Make sure that your dreams are “big enough”   and that they are God’s dreams and visions for you.   And we will be blessed by those larger dreams!  That’s my experience!Amen.

Do Not Feed the Homeless….Maybe They’ll Just Go Away!

Increasingly cities across our nation are passing laws banning or placing   restrictions that, in effect, ban feeding the homeless.  In addition, other laws are being passed to try to hide the homeless by banning them from public areas, loitering, etc.    A recent example of this may be seen in the link I will list below,  but according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, last month at least 31 cities had passed or were passing similar ordinances and many other were considering it nationwide.   Homelessness is a problem.   But, rather than dealing with the causes of  the problem and helping solve the problem,  city councils and legislatures are increasingly making the problem worse for the homeless by passing laws that make the helping of homeless individuals by feeding them illegal.   Those who feed them are subject to fines and jail time.

My question to our nation is simply “Have we no compassion?”    Are our upper and  middle class comforts more important than people going hungry?    I am not so naïve as to know there are many causes of homelessness.   I also know that once you are trapped in that condition in your life, for whatever reason,  it is very difficult to get out of it.   I have worked with homeless people for many years and understand that everywhere they turn there are roadblocks.     I can give you many examples, but two will be sufficient.

The first is a young man I met at a weekly dinner for homeless and needy people our church held every week in Hutchinson.    This young man was trying to get a driver’s license in Kansas because he had a job offer but needed a driver’s license.   He was from Lousiana and all of his papers had been lost in the Katrina floods.    The problem was that he needed a valid picture i.d. or his birth certificate in order to get his driver’s license.  He had no birth certificate and his Louisiana license had expired.    I tried to help him get his birth certificate from Louisiana unsuccessfully for two months.   The church paid the fee of around $60 and I helped him fill out the paperwork and sent his expired license.    I got a letter back, not returning the fee, that said they could not send his birth certificate without a current picture I.D.    Of course he couldn’t get his picture I.D. in Kansas because he didn’t have a birth certificate which he couldn’t get because he didn’t have a valid picture I.D.   And around and around we went.   Calls and further letters made no impact—the law was the law, rules were rules and neither could be ‘bent’ for the benefit of a needy person.

A second example happened yesterday.   Yesterday my wife and I were driving through downtown Wichita.    This is an area where the Lord’s Diner feeds over 1000 people who are hungry every night of the week—not all who are homeless but many who are in that condition.    We watched an obviously homeless man   crossing the street.   He had a full backpack, dirty and shabby clothes, no coat in the chilling wind, was unshaven and stared blankly ahead with eyes that showed an absence of any hope.    My wife remarked—-How do people expect a person in that condition to be able to get a job?    Who would hire him the way he looks?”    The answer is obvious that no employer would hire him, or even let him in the door, in this condition.  But there’s nowhere for him to go to clean up and if he did, only the clothes on his back are what he would have to put back on his body.   He has no address and no employers hires someone without an address.  Without an address the person cannot get a driver’s license.   Getting a driver’s license in Kansas is difficult for the homeless, if not impossible as seen above.

I think this country that refers to itself as a “Christian nation” should be ashamed.    I recently read a biography of Mother Theresa who spent most of her life in the worst slums of Calcutta, India, with the “untouchables” to give them, with the aid of her fellow nuns,  care and love when they were dying.   The story also told of her visit to the slums of New York City in the 1970s, and how she was shocked that the richest nation on earth would allow people to go hungry and un-housed.    This was in  the beginning years of the AIDS crisis, and those with AIDS were treated in our country  like the “untouchables” in India.   So, Mother Teresa and her sister nuns set up a mission station for the poor  in NYC to deal with the homeless and offer assistance and love to those who were destitute. She also opened houses for those who had been abandoned by their families and were  dying of AIDS s0 they could be loved and cared for in their final days!   You see, Mother Theresa had the idea that all people were God’s children and deserved to be treated with dignity and respect—-no matter what their station in life!    If you have read your Bibles that some are so fond of waving,  we will find that   God’s intent for his children  always has been that each person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, for we are all made in the image of God.  Have we fallen so far morally and spiritually in our country that we are losing sight of that?   Recent events indicate it.

Shame on those who not only are not working to alleviate the sordid condition of homelessness but are actively passing laws to prevent those who do have a heart and compassion to help them.

Jesus told a parable about this:   It’s a parable of judgment of those who follow in the footsteps of the Ft. Lauderdale City Council——

When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.   All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.   Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.   I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. Then, the righteous will answer him   “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?    And the king will answer them ‘Truly I  tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me!    (Matthew 25:31-40)

For a link to the Fort Lauderdal  action go to:     http://www.theguardian.com/us -news/2014/nov/05/fort-lauderdale-pastors-arnold-abbott-arrested-feeding-homeless