Sunday, September 25, 2011

Don't Be a Weed

Readings: Ezekiel 33:10-16   Colossians 3:12-17
Matthew 13:24-30 

Being married to a farmer for a number of years, I learned a whole new definition of the word "weed". Before, when looking out over a field of soybeans and seeing the occasional single corn stalk rising above here and there, I would simply think how healthy that corn plant looked, albeit out of place. Then I learned that anything that didn't belong was a weed, regardless of its worth in another location. So, the corn stalk among the soybeans was a weed.
A new way of thinking...or maybe not.
Whenever I have a little garden in the yard, I draw the line of where I think the grass is welcomed and where it's not; a couple of inches inside the garden and I look at that same blade of grass with a great deal of disdain and attack it as the enemy. 
Let's face it--we're just wired to not like weeds.
So why do we allow ourselves to be "weedy" from time to time?
In Ezekiel, the idea of self-ownership of one's own sins is defined. Up until this time, there were a myriad of excuses used to explain being a "weed" in the "garden of good". Before now everything was blamed upon the sins of the fathers--he's just like his father was a commonly used explanation. But now each person came to the realization that if you're known as a good person but doing bad things, you're just being a weed. And, as stated in the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13:24-30, the weeds of the world will be allowed to exist among the garden of good in the world until it is time for the harvest. At that time, the separation will take place and the "weeds" will be cast aside.
Feeling pretty weedy right now? Only we, unlike those intruders out in the garden or in the field have a chance to transform back into a lovely productive, useful member of the garden of life. In Colossians we are called to "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God" (16). 
We have the opportunity, every day, to be a weed or to be a thriving, growing, and productive member of the garden of life.
Don't be a weed.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Simple. That's it.

The word "simple" has received a bad rap in our vocabulary. If someone is less than academically inspired, he or she might be spoken of as "simple"; if something is straight-forward, the suggestion of "so simple a child can do it" might be implied in a negative way. So, in today's sophisticated society, we tend to shy away from the word "simple"--pity, really.
One of the greatest American philosophers, Henry David Thoreau pleaded with his contemporaries to "simplify, simplify, simplify"; a simple plea that carried volumes of worthwhile advice. Nevertheless, even back in days with no modern machinery, tools, or technology, people felt being too "simple" was a sign of lack of inspiration and, of course, living simply could infringe upon the all-important human characteristic of the outward signs of monetary wealth.
Stepping back into the readings from today, I kept hearing the word "simple" over and over again in my mind as I read the story of the exodus from Egypt, the discussion of the laws of God, and a stormy time in a boat for the disciples.
It was all so remains so simple today.
When Moses led the Israelites from Egypt, they had one major barrier--the Red Sea. It was in the way. Too many people and too few boats. Left up to humans, the gaffes in the planning alone to transport that many people across that body of water would have changed the course of history. So, God simply parted the sea. Many people have a tough time believing that actually happened--it's too simple. Where's the drama? 
Where's the drama? 
Through a tremendous amount of faith on the part of Moses in God and an equally tremendous amount of faith on the part of those following Moses, the simply sublime happened--a door was opened, or, in this case, a sea was parted. No boat docking schedules, no missed launches, no nothing. One parted sea--simple.
Later, in Matthew, we revisit the story of the disciples in the boat with Jesus. Jesus falls asleep; a storm comes up. The disciples panic and wake Jesus. Jesus calms the storm and then, in a somewhat incredulous manner (according to translations) simply replies to them, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" (8:26) Jesus was with them; nothing was going to happen to them. Yet, being good humans who tend to complicate things, panic and impatience entered into the picture.
The reading in Romans takes us no where near water, but it does take us to the shores of the simplicity of our spiritual law: "Let no debt remain except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law--All others are summed up: Love your neighbors as yourself" (12:8-9) 
How much more simple could it be?
Over this past week I've been a bit more clued into just how well simplicity works. I decided to simplify my eating in order to be a bit healthier or to at least keep the pharmaceutical companies away from my doorstep as long as possible. In taking a look at healthy eating, I see that God, in all his infinite wisdom, has made that very simple for us--we're the ones who make it indefinably difficult. God gives us vegetables, fruits, grains, and simple proteins. Exercise? He gives us feet and places to walk. No need for complicated eating plans, spas, gyms, or meetings.

Being the backporch philosopher, I have, for some time, thought about how complicated we make daily living. I've read the Bible from cover to cover a few times now and not once do I recall reading about needing to grab all the gusto in life, not missing any chances for adventures, being sure to buy only the best...none of that. What I do read consistently is our need to love one another and to care for one another. In our geographic backyards; in our global backyards. Simple. The simple joy that comes from knowing we've been given the opportunity to put food in the hand of a hungry person, to put shoes on the feet of one with no shoes, to give clean water to a village where there was none before...what more do we need?
Our world is complicated--'ol Scratch is loose and makes sure it stays complicated to make sure we lose sight of what truly matters.
And then God makes it simple all over again and we regain our path on the journey.
Simple...that's it.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It's Easy--Just Follow the Directions

We humans tend to have a love/hate relationship with directions. I can remember that when something arrived at our house that needed to be constructed, my dad would carefully pull the direction sheet(s) out of the box and lay them neatly as far away from the project as possible. He liked the challenge, he said. He was living proof of the saying, "If all else fails, read the directions."
I think he kind of had the right idea. Most things in nature and life shouldn't really involve complex "fit slot A into section BB" directions to get something done. The form is there, as is the ultimate function. It's we humans that have trouble translating the step-by-step...we tend to make it overly complicated to the point of distraction.
After recently dipping my toe into the world of technology, I am immediately looking at many different systems with new eyes. Wow...can we complicate simple things. We blame the computers, but they're just machines. It's the human behind the keyboard that's inputting all the superfluous instructions that keep us all tensed up. Our response? Stupid computer! Hhhmmm... 
We, for some odd reason, like to make our paths in life as complicated as possible, while, at the same time, debating and ranting that things should be easier. Take, for instance, our health. It's pretty simple...don't smoke, exercise, drink alcohol sparingly, don't eat processed foods, keep fats within reason. Not exactly rocket science. Yet we spend billions each year on health care because we didn't follow the simple "form and function" rule of our bodies' health. As a result, too many become shackled to a litany of drugs with accompanying direction/side-effect sheets of paper that do require a degree in rocket science to translate. And then we hear in commercial after nauseating commercial on TV, "It's easy...just follow the directions." Yikes. 
In 2Kings, we find Naaman wrestling with the concept of easy directions. Poor Naaman. A mighty warrior, but plagued with leprosy. He heard through the grapevine that there was a healer in Israel that could rid him of the horrible disease. He told his king, who, in turn, sent him on his way carrying all kinds of payment for the cure. When he arrived and started asking around, it led him to Elisha' doorway. Elisha heard the message through a household servant, gave the cure to the servant who then simply told Naaman to go wash himself in the Jordan seven times and he would be cured.
That's it?
Naaman was livid. Washing himself seven times in the Jordan? They had much better quality water back in Damascus. He thought, at the very least, this guy would come out, wave something over him, do some fancy maneuvers, and then yell, "Heal!" But just go wash in the Jordan? That's too easy. There needed to be more complicated directions. Finally his servants convinced him to give it a try. Their winning argument? Helping him realize that he would've jumped right in to the river if Elisha had given him much more detailed instructions; why not just give it a try with the simple "Insert self into river and wash seven times" ? 
And so he did...and so he was healed. 
Later in the Book of Matthew we see the proof that not everyone needs to have complicated directions...some have faith, the simplest direction of all. The Centurion that spoke to Jesus on behalf of a servant asking his his healing was a beautiful example of the simple perfection of faith. Jesus said he would come to the home and heal the servant, but the Centurion said it wasn't necessary. He knew that if Christ only said the word that the servant would be healed.
And he was. No directions needed. 
In Romans we are once again reminded that we shouldn't look down on our brothers and sisters. It seems that in all the complications of the world and its reams and reams of directions, we sometimes build our proverbial soapboxes on these stacks of red tape, road blocks, and general mayhem. We lord over those who just "don't get it"; we have short tempers with those who, seeking help, don't read non-sense instructions with the fervor those in charge do. As a result, we don't love our neighbors as ourselves; and we certainly don't help as humble servants.
So, for today, for this week...let's just make it easy. Are all those directions really necessary? It seems pretty straightforward, after all...10 simple other Gods before our one true idol worship...don't misuse God's holy name...remember to rest and give praise...honor mom and dad or whomever raised or is raising you...don't murder, commit adultery, steal, or lie against your neighbor...don't want what others have that isn't yours...and love that neighbor as you love yourself.
It is easy...we can just follow those directions. The rest of life will fall into place as long as we don't complicate it for complication's sake.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bringing Out the Best

Readings: Isaiah 61:1-6; Romans 12:6-16a; John 2:1-11

Humans are generous by nature, but, from time to time, we all have a tendency to hold back the best for those "just in case" days. Interestingly, those days seldom come; it seems that in our everyday existence we have those days without fanfare or usually even recognizing them until they become discovered after the fact in our recollections.

We have many possessions, many gifts, and many talents to share. In Isaiah 61, we as servants of God are called to bind up the brokenhearted, to comfort those who mourn, and, in doing so, we can build up those who are down and out.  If individuals are then returned to a state of grace, what's to say that this can't move on to neighborhoods, towns, and cities? 
It all starts with sharing and not holding back...bringing out the best.

This is further illustrated in Romans when Paul speaks to those around him concerning the gifts we have in accordance with the grace we're are given. Paul stresses that we should freely and without hesitation use these gifts for the betterment of others and ourselves. 

It's easy for us to hesitate to share our gifts--how do we know we even have them? That's pretty easy; if the gift is there, others will notice and let you know. Good teacher? You'll know. Good nurse? You'll know. Good person to visit shut-ins? You'll know. That's part of the plan. Just don't not share while wondering...bring out the best.

Perhaps the best illustration of this is found in John 2:1-11--the wedding in Cana. Jesus arrives to find that all the wine is gone; at his mother's request, he then goes and directs the servants to draw water; as we know, the water was then turned to wine. And not just any wine--according to the master of the banquet, it was by far the best. Not the usual practice of sharing the best only to then share the weaker and cheaper once the guests had been drinking and wouldn't notice. No, this just got better and better.

So the thought is this: We are all called to share our gifts and our talents. And it's not just enough to say we're sharing. We give our best and, as we've heard before, our best only gets better.

Kind of sounds like something God would do, eh? Perfection.

Peace be with you.