Tuesday, April 30, 2013

On Being a Full Time Christian

Sometimes people see pastors as being full time Christians, devoting every day to serving God.  And while I hope that is true, the reality is all Christians are called to full time faith!

I have a friend who is a pediatrician.  He is a wonderful doctor.  He treats each child as a unique and precious person.  He keeps himself up-to-date in terms of his skills and knowledge so that he can give his little patients the best care possible.  Beyond that, every morning he kneels down at home and prays for the children he will see that day.  For my friend, all that is what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  All that is part of being a full time Christian.

One of my former parishioners in Connecticut worked as an attorney for a large public agency.  Her tasks included seeing to it that laws designed to protect children were fairly enforced.  She took time to carefully research each case, even going so far as to consult with appropriate experts who could help her understand her clients.  And most every work day she and a co-worker met to pray (on their own time) not just for their personal concerns, but for the needs of those they were serving as well.  For her that, at least in part, was what it meant to be a follower of Jesus.  That is what it meant to be a full time Christian.

When my wife and I lived in New Jersey our home was located at a busy intersection.  The borough we lived in had city garbage pickup.  Every Tuesday and Friday that smelly old truck would come careening around the corner and barely slow down long enough for the guy hanging on the back to jump off and grab the garbage pails.  He was a large black man, dressed in coveralls.  I never did learn his name.  But each time I'd see him he'd smile and shout out "God bless you!"  And as he'd move down the street, he'd do that without fail for everyone he passed.  On cold, icy days, and in the heat of summer.  Without fail.  I suspect he was a follower of Jesus as well.

Whether you set down a briefcase or pick up garbage pails, whether you write sermons or brief, whether you take care of home and family, or treat sick children--if you are a follower of Jesus you are called to give your all.  You are called to be a follower, a disciple, a full time Christian.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Important, The Urgent, and Planet Earth

Today is Earth Day.  Perhaps you forgot midst all the news from Boston and Texas and China.  Perhaps it just slipped your mind.  I heard no mention of it this morning on the news.  But maybe I wasn't listening carefully enough.  That happens.

It's easy to see why.  The unfolding drama in Massachusetts is filled with details to take in and comprehend.  The tragedy in Texas is hard to imagine.  The earthquake in China, which has resulted in thousand and thousands of injuries seems so far away, yet so very real.  It is easy to get caught up in those stories and forget that it's Earth Day.

Or, maybe, for you, there are important personal issues that have you preoccupied.  Maybe you are preparing for a wedding.  Maybe you have a very sick family member.  Maybe you are coping with a rebellious teenager.  Maybe someone you love has just passed away.  Whatever the nature of the concern, you have really been out of the public loop, and so you've missed lots of things, not just Earth Day.

All of that is very, very understandable.  The trouble is that just as Earth Day may have slipped your attention this year, so, very often, have environmental concerns.  We seem to constantly be finding reasons to put environmental issues on the back burner.  Something always seems more pressing, more immediate.  And so we say, "We'll deal with the environment  tomorrow."

I was once told that there is a significant difference between something being urgent and something being important.  That which is urgent is in your face, it presses you to act right now.  It may or may not be truly important in the long run.  The pushy waiter to asks you to order and makes you feel rushed creates a sense of urgency--but is your choice of fish or chicken really important?  Some things are both urgent and important--certainly all the things mentioned above probably fall into that category.  But all too often we allow the urgent to replace the important.

Caring for the earth is important.  I worry that we'll not make it a true priority until we realize that in the grand scheme of things it is also urgent.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

To Run or Not to Run

They've been holding the Boston Marathon for over one hundred years now.  Since 1897    folks have run 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to downtown Boston.  Some have run it in record times, and others have been lucky to straggle across the finish line hours later.  And every year, those who qualified for the event have had to decide to run or not to run.

This year folks ahd to make the same decisions before the race, and during the race as they tired out, especially near Heartbreak Hill.  But some also ahd to make such a decision for reasons that had nothing to do with physical conditioning.  Some had to decide to run or not to run because of the bombs that went off at 2:50 PM right at the finish line near the intersection of Boylston and Exeter.                 .

One ER doctor, who was waiting for his wife to finish the race, who experieinced the explosion, who was unhurt by the blast, had to decide whether to run to safety or not.  He decided to not run--but rather made his way to the medical tent where he helped provide much needed treatment and care for the victims.

Many runners nearing the finish line had to decide whether to run to safety or not.  They decided to keep running, all the way to Mass General, where they volunteered to donate blood for the victims.

The Boston Athletic Association volunteers who lined the route near the finish line had to decide whether to run to safety or not.  They decided not to run.  Rather, they styed to help aid the many victims.

Next year many runners will need to decide whether to run or not to run.  One Southwest Florida runner told reporters he has already decided to run.  How could he do otherwise, he said.  Otherwise the bombers win.

Sometimes, in the race called life, we we need to run, and sometimes we need to stay put.  But we are always being called on to decide.  And sometimes just making the decision takes more courage than the running itself.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Red Sun in the Morning

Every summer when I was a little boy we would spend two weeks of our annual vacation at my aunt and uncle's camp on Lake Champlain, in Vermont.  It was a wonderful place called Elm Point.  From the front porch you could see across the lake to New York and the majestic Adirondack Mountains.  Many an evening we would sit and watch the beautiful August sunsets.  I think it was there on the lake that I first learned that ancient ditty about the weather which goes:  "Red sun at night, sailor's delight.  Red sun in the morning, sailor's take warning."

My younger brother Bob and I would be very excited if the sunset was full of red hues, because that would mean the next day we would have good weather and would be able to swim.  And although we saw far fewer sunrises than sunsets, when we did see a reddened sky in the early morning, we would make sure we took a swim as soon after breakfast as possible, because there was bound to be rain later in the day.

Watching the signs in the natural order which point to the future is nothing new.  It probably goes back to the earliest days of human existence.  Jesus famously talks about fig trees at one point, and observes that when their tender shoots appear, people know that summer is fast approaching.

I saw yet another story this weekend in the newspaper about the record number of manatees who have died this winter and early spring here in Southwest Florida due to red tide.  One of the reasons for increased red tide appears to be a higher phosphate content in the water.  Phosphates that come from the run offs created by human use.  I can't help but wonder if it is another warning, like the red suns of my youth.  Is it another warning that we need to be taking much better care of the earth?  Rising sea levels, seemingly greater amounts of catastrophic weather patterns . . . the list goes on.

I don't mean these are supernatural signs sent by God.  I mean these are signs from the fragile ecosystems of the earth itself.  The planet can only handle so much abuse, and then it starts to break down.  We can ignore the signs, or like wise sailors, we can take warning.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Stewardship: A Way of Life

You don't have to take the creation story in Genesis literally to be awestruck by the fact that God, the Creator of all that is, has given human beings dominion over creation.  There are those who would interpret that to mean we can do anything we want to the earth--pollute it, abuse it, even blow it up!  But when we understand our relationship to the earth is similar to God's relationship to us, then we come face-to-face with the reality that we are called to love the earth, even as God loves us.  And loving the earth means nurturing it, treating it respectfully, seeking to bring it to full flower.  With the privilege of being God's stewards on earth comes responsibility, for the good steward protects that with which he or she has been entrusted.

I once read an unfortunately true story about what a good steward is NOT. It appears that a Midwestern zoo's groundskeeper was arrested by the local police.  His crime?  He was caught field-dressing one of the zoo's captive deer that he had shot and killed.  When things were closely investigated it was discovered that the groundskeeper has also set traps in certain areas of the zoo--and furthermore, had built a smokehouse next to the zoo's maintenance shed. 

Unfortunately many human beings thinks that's how we should exercise dominion over the earth--squeeze out of it everything we can for ourselves.  We're in charge here and we can do any damn thing we want!  But that's not good stewardship--it's not even stewardship, it's blatant abuse.  It's the kind of thinking that leads to zookeepers killing the deer and building smokehouse.  Stewardship should be a way of life, not just an afterthought.

(The United Church of Christ's Eastertide focus on Earthcare, Mission 4/1 Earth, can be explored at www.ucc.org  Learn how you can excercise your gifts of stewardship!)