Saintly connections

Celebrating my birthday last weekend with my twin brother accentuated the fact that we rarely see each other, let alone on our common birthday. He and his family live in Kitchener; he’s a pastor, and so, too, works on weekends and holidays. If we see each other twice a year – and usually in the summer – we’re doing very well.

I’m probably not alone having this sentiment, since in this mobile day and age, many people experience the geographic fracturing of family ties. Even in good relationships, physical distance becomes an obstacle to regular contact.

Until Scrabble. Yes, I’m talking about the internet and all the benefits of online gaming. Growing up, we used to play Scrabble on a board with real letter blocks. And playing board games was one way we enjoyed each other.

Now, we can still play Scrabble in a virtual world on our mobile phones wherever we are! And even though we are separated by six hundred kilometers. What I find particularly enjoyable is the fact that my phone notifies me whenever he makes a move. In real time. Wherever he is.

That little, red marker appearing on my phone’s screen reminds me that David is there, making a move. Even though I can’t see him, or talk to him face-to-face, we are connected in that moment. And that connection is real. It’s in the heart. And every time I make another move and tap on ‘send’ I know he is receiving it immediately and reacting either with a disapproving grunt or a fist-pump ‘yessss!’

That connection we have with those whom we cannot see in this moment is not something easily appreciated, understood and celebrated. I suspect that is why our contemporary culture in the West has turned the celebration of ‘all the saints in heaven and on earth’ into something scary and gory at Halloween. It’s not easy to appreciate the real yet mysterious connection we share.

It’s easier to retreat comfortably into our own individual, materialistically-driven private worlds. Indeed, one of the both good and bad results of the Reformation in the 16th century was to emphasize making faith a personal thing, which was good.

But I think we also slipped into embracing an individualistic faith that lost this strong sense of communal ties. The community of faith matters; a corporate body of faith whose head is Jesus. We’ve become fragmented as Christians; often the only response to any difficulty, it seems, was to blame the community and leave it.

There was once a brother in a monastery who had a rather turbulent temperament; he often became angry. So he said to himself, “I will go and live on my own. If I have nothing to do with anyone else, I will live in peace and my passions will be soothed.” Off he went to live in solitude in a cave. One day when he had filled his jug with water, he put it on the ground and it tipped over. So he picked it up and filled it again – and again it tipped over. He filled it a third time, put it down, and over it went again. He was furious: he grabbed the jug and smashed it. And then came to his senses and realized that he had been tricked by the devil. He said, “Since I have been defeated, even in solitude, I’d better go back to the monastery. Conflict is to be met everywhere, but so is patience and so is the help of God.” So he got up and went back where he came from. (p.69, Benedicta Ward, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers)

Though you may have found some ‘distance’ with the church over the years, though you may harbor some real ‘disconnects’ with the life of faith, though you may feel distant from God and the saints of heaven – be encouraged, today. Be encouraged to know that the connection you have with your loved ones now in heaven is real. Be encouraged to know that the loving and forgiving connection you have with God in Christ Jesus is real – this is what the Holy Communion communicates to us week after week.

And be challenged to know that the saints on earth may very well be those who do not appear to us at first sight ‘saintly’ – a distant relative, a homeless person, the poor, the rejected, the marginalized, biker gangs, First Nations, immigrants, youth ….. There is a deeper connection we share in our communities, a connection that calls forth from us loving attention and action.

In our opening Litany of Remembering for All Saints Sunday, we read together that “the links of life are broken [with those who have died] but the links of love and longing cannot break.” How true!

When my brother and I played Scrabble on a board, we often argued about whether or not a word was legitimate. Often these kinds of disagreements distracted us and left us feeling frustrated, tricked and unsure.

Thankfully, playing the virtual, online game now means we don’t have these distractions anymore because the computer determines whether or not a word is real. Fortunately, even though we cannot see each other face to face, at least we can now focus on the essence of the game – strategically placing letters to maximize points and using as many of our letters as possible. This is the fun part of Scrabble.

Biblical scholars and theologians claim that the Sermon on the Mount, and specifically these Beatitudes (Luke 6:20-31), reveals the essence of Jesus’ teaching. I suspect we can all think of everything else in the church that can so easily distract us, and about which we argue. Not that those other things aren’t important. 

But placed in a proper perspective, they need not cause the acrimony nor dissension often associated with attending church. Because when we, especially as Lutherans, focus on the grace and love of God and the teachings of Jesus who says, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” we may truly experience grace and enjoy belonging to the sainthood on earth.

And relish in the promise of our ultimate link with God and the saints of heaven, a connection of love that will never break.

Thanks be to God!

Body Care

I admit this quote from St Theresa of Avila serves to motivate me to think twice about indulging in behavior that does not contribute to my bodily health. Not that that second thought leads always to healthier choices or self discipline. But maybe a regular return to these words over time will sink deep into my heart…..

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours, when
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

‘Pesky’ is good, or is it?

I think I got my tendency to cheer for the underdog from my mother. Growing up, she would always root for the team or individual competitor that was not expected to win. Whether it was hockey, the Olympics, the World Cup, or the local highschool track meet – her sympathies always leaned towards the smaller, the perceptibly weaker, comparably unsuccessful side.

I also think the surprising success of the Ottawa Senators last season was attributed to their underdog status. No one expected them to win, especially when their top star players were out with injuries and the fact that they were only in their second year of a rebuild.

They were the ‘pesky Sens’, a description that endured right into the playoffs when in the first round they defeated the top team in the Eastern Conference. The come-from-behind pattern to win games was common. The resiliency they showed when down and almost out – to keep at it, to pester their opponents with feisty, gutsy plays – was inspiring. They persisted. They were unrelenting. They literally beat their opponents into submission.

 

Maybe that’s why I really like the woman who unrelentingly pleads with the unjust judge. She is the underdog in this scenario. But she doesn’t give up. She keeps at it. She pesters the judge. And finally he gives in.

 

We like this woman. She is given to us, we say, as a model for persistent prayer. Let’s not forget that this Gospel text (Luke 18:1-8) is about how we ought to pray. In the first verse we read why Jesus told this story: “To pray always and not to lose heart.”

 

Indeed, this is how we have come to understand our relationship with God: We are like the woman; and God is the judge. Right? It is our job to persist, and bother God with our needs and prayer requests. And not just once, but keep at it. We are to be like the ‘pesky Sens’, making our case to God over and over again. We pray to God about the problems in our world and the problems of our own making. We make it our business, as good Christians, to pester God.

 

And, for some of us, we don’t seem to give up. Because we believe that, like in the parable, God will eventually give in and grant us our request. Surely, God will look with favour upon those of us who persist in pestering God.

 

Many of us will say that when we don’t get the answer we want, it means God said ‘no’ to our pestering. But that’s not what the parable says about prayer, and about our relationship with God. It doesn’t answer the critical question: Why doesn’t God grant us our prayer request even and especially when we do persist? The truth is, persistence doesn’t always get us what we want, no matter how hard we try.

 

What is more, the granting of the woman’s plea is not based on the merits of her case but merely on the fact that the judge is fed up. Is this the image of God the Gospel proclaims – a God who really doesn’t care, has no respect for anyone, a God who becomes irritated with us, a God who is – as the passage articulates – ‘unjust’? Is this the God who loved the world so much to send Jesus (John 3:16)?

Don’t you think it’s a bit strange to identify God with the unjust judge: to identify God with someone who has no concern for justice? Isn’t it a bit strange to suggest an understanding of this parable that insists that prayer petitions are answered simply because of our nagging God into action and that God acts without any concern for the content of the petitions themselves?

So there are some problems with the traditional interpretation of this parable, as much as it can motivate us to remain faithful in our life journey with God. Persistence is definitely a quality and value much needed in a church that has in many quarters grown complacent and ho-hum about the practice of our faith.

 

But, you can see why I hesitate to conclude that being ‘pesky’ is not the point of the parable. At least as it relates to us.

Maybe that’s why Scripture lesson from Genesis is linked with this Gospel story in the lectionary. This has always been one of my favourite pieces of Scripture. I can’t help but cheer Jacob on. No matter how much of a rascal Jacob may be, I still want Jacob to win that wrestling match with God. strong>

He starts out as the underdog here, in a couple ways. For one thing, he’s up against God Almighty. For another, Jacob is returning to the scene of his crimes when he is told that Esau is on his way to meet him; on his way with a force of 400 men.

Perhaps Jacob is having second thoughts about his journey to face up to the mess he’d made of things. Perhaps Jacob is having second thoughts about continuing on the path towards reconciliation and taking responsibility for his actions. In Jacob’s dark night of the soul, God has no other choice than to wrestle with Jacob.

But, unbeknownst even to him, Jacob has inner strength, and almost prevails against God. All night long they wrestle and at daybreak it becomes clear that Jacob will not relent. And so God strikes Jacob on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint.

Why did God bother Jacob like that? Maybe God pestered Jacob for the very same reason that God pesters us. As the lyrics from the new title track of the contemporary Christian music group, Switchfoot, repeat: “Love alone is worth the fight”.

 

Why does God persistently wrestle us to the ground? Love. God says the love for creation is such that makes divine persistence annoyingly necessary. To push us. To prod us. To get us moving. To get us doing what we need to do. To keep us on the path towards doing the right things. To prompt us, nudge us in the direction we might not want or consider easy – but deep down we know we have to do.

The ‘Pesky Sens’ sometimes didn’t play by the rules. They would do the little things, sometimes illegal, that would get under the skin of the opposing players. They were pesky.

Just like this wrestling match between God and Jacob. God starts the fight. And it is God that tries to finish the match with a blow that is below the belt. God does this even though Jacob may have been a liar and a trickster; even though he may have cheated his brother Esau out of his inheritance and conned his father Isaac into blessing him.

But Jacob is older and wiser now and he’s doing exactly what God has told him to do: He’s heading home, he’s going to face the music and try to make amends with his brother. God pestered Jacob into continuing his journey towards love, reconciliation and forgiveness.

Love alone is worth the fight.

I believe that there is more to this Gospel parable for Luke. You see Jesus has this habit of turning our understanding of God upside down and if we look closely at this parable you might just see Jesus turning things over. Think about it, how many times in the Bible have you read a story in which God identifies with or sticks up for the widows and the orphans? Jesus himself was constantly encouraging his followers to care for widows and orphans.

So, what happens if instead of identifying God as the unjust judge we identify God as the widow? I believe that it is us who fill the role of the unjust judge who neither fears God or respects people, so often. It’s more than likely that we are the ones dominated by our egos and generally looking for what is in it for us. We are really stubborn in our self-seeking.

But God is persistent in love for us. God is the hound of heaven who wears us down, like the widow, by persistently pursuing us. Eventually, we waver and sometimes we let God enter our lives and guide us to do the right thing.

God is persistent in trying to break down our defenses. God is the one who is bothering us. God is the one who takes the initiative. As long as we insist as seeing prayer flowing only from us we are missing the point. Prayer is communication between God and us. Prayer isn’t just about our requests offered up to God so that God can do our bidding. Prayer is about relationship.  And every once in a while, God just can’t resist pestering us.

From time to time, I’m sure that God has no choice left but to try to wrestle us to the ground and pin us down. It’s our task to try to figure out what God is trying to tell us when we wrestle with events in our lives.

We wrestle to find meaning, to find purpose and the struggle is often intense. Sometimes we may not know the reason we are forced into the struggle. Understanding and listening don’t always come easily for us. It’s often hard for us to see the hand of God at work in the struggle. We stumble in the dark, just as Jacob is left alone in the night to wrestle.  

As for the low blows, I’m sure God knows what God is doing.  For often it is the wounds and the scars that we receive in the struggles that remind us of the pain and enable us to be better at tending the pain of others.  After one of those long periods of darkness it is only in the final outcome that we realize that we have been touched by God.

As for those unanswered prayers, remember that well-known story of this devout Christian who lived directly in the path of a storm.  And the civil authorities issued a flood warning and told all the residents to evacuate. Well the devote Christian prayed and prayed and decided that because he was on such good terms with God that God would save him from the flood, if only he would have faith.

So when the sheriff came by on patrol he tried to convince the devout Christian to evacuate…but the fellow said, “no, no, I have faith and God will save me. Well the storm came and the river rose beyond its banks and the flood waters flowed dangerously close to the fellow’s house, and the National Guard came by in a row boat and tried to convince him to evacuate but he told them, “no, no, I have faith and God will save me.”  Well eventually the fellow’s house was flooded and he had to climb up on his roof and a news helicopter saw him trapped up there and they tried to help him evacuate, but the devout Christian just waved the helicopter on and said, “Don’t worry; I am a Christian and I have faith and God will save me.” strong>

Well, finally the house was swept away in the flood and the man couldn’t hold on any longer and he drowned. When the man arrived at the pearly gates St Peter was really surprised and told him that they certainly weren’t expecting to see him there for quite some time. As you can imagine, the devout Christian was very upset and he demanded an audience with the Almighty.

And so St. Peter ushered him into the Holy of Holies and the fellow started ranting and raving at God. God didn’t take too kindly to the man’s complaints and let him know in no uncertain terms that God was sick and tired of this guy’s ingratitude. After all God had heard his prayers and God had sent the sheriff in a squad car, the national guard in a boat and the news media in a helicopter all to save him. And still this fellow couldn’t get up off his duff and do something.

God doesn’t send bad things our way. God is not some kind of cosmic puppeteer up in the sky sending us trials and tribulations to build our character. God doesn’t send bad things our way anymore than God kills innocent children. The bad things that come our way come as a result of humanity’s abuse of God’s precious gift of freedom. God does not wish us harm, God wants only what is good.

But when bad things come our way as a result of the brokenness of creation, our God does promise to be with us in the struggle. Prayer doesn’t consist merely of us reciting our wish list. Prayer is about conversation and conversation involves listening as well as talking. Prayer is about relationship and relationship requires action. It is not enough to pray for God’s reign. It’s not enough to pray for justice and peace.   It’s not enough to pray for an end to hunger. It’s not enough to pester God with our requests. God is calling us to get up off our duffs and do something. And God will provide the necessary things once we actually get off our duffs.

Like the pleading widow, our God cries out to us for justice. Like the widow our God continues to pursue us. Prayer provides God with the means to enter our lives so that God can challenge us to change the world. Like the pleading widow, Our God persistently cries out for justice trusting that eventually we will hear God’s pleas and begin to cry out for justice with both our words and our deeds.

And yes we ought to be persistent in our prayer so that our prayers can become more than just words and we can be about the work of ushering in God’s reign of justice and peace. The struggle will be intense; be prepared to wrestle with God but do so with the assurance that in the end we will receive God’s blessing. For we will see God face to face, and yet our life will be preserved.

So continue to pester God. But also continue to be pestered by God. And together with God we will ensure all our prayers are answered and God’s grace shall prevail.

Many thanks to pastordawn whose blog appears in WordPress. Her many wonderful thoughts and words appear in this post, from hers entitled “Whose Persistence”

Thanksgiving: an act of graceful resistance

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”—John 6:35

When Jessica and I were married some sixteen years ago, we received as a wedding present – a bread-maker. For sixteen years it served us well. Jessica has enjoyed baking bread with it.

And then, just last week, it died. It made a very loud and scary noise … and refused to work. What to do? Despite our best intentions, we could only think of throwing it out.

I understand there are e-waste organizations out there now that will collect electrical appliances for a proper recycling. Apparently these outfits will disassemble the appliance and dispose or recycle each separate part appropriately and carefully.

So as not to waste any piece. To gather the fragments, that nothing may be lost.

At the heart of John’s story of the feeding of the multitude, which is the context of our Gospel reading for Thanksgiving Day (John 6) is Jesus’ thanksgiving over the loaves. After the crowd had been fed, John adds a word not found in the other gospels: Jesus says to the disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost” (verse 12).

In God’s kingdom, the fragments are precious. Broken life is precious. Jesus declares this a little further on in the chapter: “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (verse 39).  We give thanks that the broken life in us is cared for and mended, redeemed by the one who is bread of life for us.

Jesus’ birth took place in Bethlehem, in the town whose name means “house of bread.” And he was laid in a manger, a feeding place. Right from the beginning, Jesus came as bread. God knew how hungry the world was. And continues tobe.

It is a dark and hostile world, where only the winners are recognized. It is a dark and hostile world, where the survival of the fittest is the mantra for ‘success’. It is a dark and hostile world, where those who do not measure up are easily forgotten. In this dark and hostile world, it is easy to get lost, overlooked, misunderstood and dismissed as irrelevant. In this dark and hostile world, there is no room for everyone, where some are expendable.

In the dark and hostile place where we live, a loving God offered the bread of life. It is a great wonder that we are offered such bread. When we seek to follow him, we discover that our following takes us into every broken place where people are hungry for bread, for peace, for freedom, for affirmation, for acceptance, for spirit. Our giving of thanks is lived out when, with those early disciples, we gather up the fragments of life and offer the living bread that is in us.

The poetry of Wendell Berry, an American farmer-poet, shows a beautiful understanding that this offering stands at the heart of faithful living. In a three-line poem entitled February 2, 1968, he wrote this:

In the dark of the moon, in flying snow, in the dead of winter,

war spreading, families dying, the world in danger,

I walk the rocky hillside, sowing clover.

I think only a profoundly grateful person can face the darkness this way. What hope is there of life rising in such conditions? Many would say, “Wait for more suitable weather, wait for a favourable season, wait until the conditions are perfect when all is well … then we can be thankful, then we can share with the world…”

But one who trusts God to make whole what is broken approaches all life in gratitude, and offers back an open heart and open hands. Thanksgiving is an act of graceful resistance that allows us to admit to the fragility of life, but also realizes that every fragment is of infinite worth. Jesus speaks to us again: “Gather up what is left, that nothing may be lost.”  

This Thanksgiving, remember that in Christ you are living bread. Remember, too, the fragments. Love finds a way on the rocky hillsides of our lives, gathers us in and holds us forever in God’s hands. As a favourite hymn puts it: “For the wonders that astound us, for the truths that still confound us, most of all, that love has found us, thanks be to God” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship #679 “For the Fruit of All Creation, verse 3).

Thank you to Gordon Light, writing many of these words in the Anglican Journal, “Gather up what is left, that nothing may be lost” (the full text can be read at m.anglicanjournal.com/articles/-gather-up-what-is-left-that-nothing-may-be-lost)

Death & Thanksgiving

I read of a pastor who got a phone call from a woman who told him that “there had been a death.” She went on to say that her dog, Pepper, had accidentally gotten out of the fenced-in back yard and had been killed by a car.

Her children were very upset. She was upset for them, because they were foster care children, and losing a dog brought up all those feelings of abandonment that these children had already known all too often.

A day later at the pet cemetery, when all the prayers were said, the mom gave each child a rose. One by one they walked up to the edge of the grave and put a rose on top of the blanket wrapped around Pepper’s body.

When it came for little Jack’s turn, Jack placed the rose on Pepper and then looked up into the sky, and with tears streaming down his sad face, he cried out, “Thank you, God, for giving us Pepper as long as you did!”

“Thank you, God, for giving us Pepper as long as you did!” Pure gratitude. Pure thanksgiving.

It is Thanksgiving weekend, and the death of your beloved father, grandfather, great grandfather and friend may make you feel not very thankful at all this year.

In fact, the loss of someone we’ve loved leaves us feeling angry, hurt, profoundly at a loss. Considering the loss of your father is the third death of a close loved one this year, you have every right to put ‘thanksgiving’ on hold.

But, I suspect, little Jack grieving the death of his dog, Pepper, hints at something truthful. For we who knew and loved …. can also, I believe, express a feeling deep down in our hearts: “Thank you, God, for giving us Grampa, Dad, as long as you did!”

Thank you, God, for his life. Thank you God for his love. His humour. His good-natured love for friends and community. Thank you God, for his commitment to not only surviving but seeing the good in an otherwise difficult year o fhis life. We thank you, God, for giving us …. for as long as you did.

Like in the scripture from that obscure prophet in the Old Testament – Habakkuk: That though everything that could possibly go wrong HAS gone wrong, though the fig tree has not blossomed, even though the olive tree never developed, even though the flock and the herd have suffered and met tragedy …. YET I will rejoice. YET, I will rejoice.

Why? Even though everything has gone against us, our loved one has died, and we can never be the same without him, even though the worst has happened … we will give thanks. We will exult in the God of our salvation. Because God, the Lord, is our strength.

I appreciate very much what is written on the bottom of the obituary for your Dad. I don’t know where this quote comes from, but it is profound: “A dad is someone who wants to catch you before you fall but instead picks you up, brushes you off, and lets you try again.”

Perceptive. Loving. Truthful. You see, a full life is not about avoiding mishaps and mistakes. If our Dad always protected us from getting hurt (which is what dads want to do, nonetheless), we would never learn how to live. A good life is not descriptive of somehow being able to deny and hide yourself from risk, from failure and from disappointment. The greatest successes come from the greatest failures. Wise people know this.

I believe your loving father knew this. If that statement you chose even comes close to describing him – then indeed he was wise: He knew, even for himself, life was more than the down times. Each of us has to learn how get up after we fall.

This description of a “Dad” is godly. I’m sure God WANTS to catch us each time we fall. I don’t believe God WANTS bad things to happen to us.

But God is sure there to shed a tear when you do fall. God is sure there to pick you up, brush you off, and let you try again at life.

It’s about what you do after you fall. It’s how you navigate and live through (not deny) this grief during this most difficult year.

And, you have each other. You can help each other get back up. You don’t have your father to help ‘pick you up’ this time. But now you have each other, to help you through this time.

This is a most profound expression of God’s grace. In the love of God we find strength to carry on. In the compassion shared amongst yourselves you will find courage to face tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. And so, we can say: In God we are able to give thanks. Today we are here to say to God, “The Lord is our strength, yet we will rejoice; thank you, God, for giving us Dad for as long as you did!”

The Life of Christ and the Death of a Loved One, p.101-102

Playing in Marriage

Philippians 4:4-9 / Isaiah 43:1-5a, 18-19

Whether it is soccer, or ballroom dancing, or dragon boating, or whitewater rafting –  is your marriage characterized with ‘play’?

I would say, this is a good thing. For each of you. And for the health of your marriage.

Given the way the institution of marriage has suffered some in recent decades, for me to stand here today to suggest we need to be more playful in our marriages may seem, at first, counterintuitive.

After all, this is serious business. Relationships are not something to be taken lightly. Marriage, in some religious traditions, is a sacrament. It is holy, godly, and to be held in the highest esteem.

We may be driven to feel guilty, then, when nothing short of perfection describes any partnership – especially one tagged by ‘marriage’.

Is it any doubt, then, why marriage is not looked upon anymore with the beauty and joy it deserves — for those who consider following its adventurous path?

So, it lands on us who are married, and getting married, to bear witness to its joy. And you have already done that for us.

But sometimes playing can be dangerous. Especially for those of us passing middle age. My sister-in-law warned me last year not to play soccer. Why? She claimed that she didn’t know anyone in their forties who played soccer who hadn’t seriously hurt themselves – a sprained knee, twisted ankle, even worse – broken bones. And, come to think of it, she’s right. Yup, she scared me out of it.

I suppose that’s one way of responding to any opportunity. We may dwell on the risks, fearing the rough and tumble realities associated with anything potentially good in life. And avoid it, pretending we can somehow go through life unscathed.

But is that even possible? And, will that way of responding to life bring joy and a deep, meaningful satisfaction to our lives?

I read recently about mountain goats who bound playfully along rock faces thousands of feet high. It is very clear that they, especially the younger ones, are playing. But the truth is, sometimes they fall. Mama mountain goat must be saying: “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.”

You’d think that over time, these mountain goats would learn their lesson and stop dancing on cliff edges centimeters from their doom. Stop it, already! But they don’t. It is in their nature to play.

Scientists have speculated and studied this paradoxical characteristic of animals. And they have concluded that even though playing is potentially dangerous, it is still necessary. It is necessary because, for one thing, playing is practice for skills needed in the future (Stuart Brown, Play, 2009). An attitude of playfulness is necessary not only for our survival, but our health, our creativity, and building up a resiliency for later in life when challenges and difficulties escalate.

A healthy marriage is not supposed to be always sugar-sweet. There are times when difficulties, challenges and disappointments will arise in the relationship. Playing is dangerous, sometimes. But it also provides a way for learning how to deal with what may come down the road.

The most beneficial play, they say, is playing with another. It is with another person that we discover our true self. It is caring for another, seeing to their needs, forgiving another and being forgiven in which find our stride, personally and spiritually.

God knew this about us. That is why we are created the way we are: To be together; to cry together; to laugh together; to play together. It won’t always be easy; sometimes we get hurt. But that’s reality. And it’s worth the effort!

I suspect you two have already experienced how that feels, because you play together. And you give space for each other to enjoy each other’s company and explore further goals and aspirations.

May God bless you this day, and in the time to come. Play on!

What ought we do?

In the Gospel text from Luke 17:5-10, the disciples are likened in the parable to “worthless slaves”. Yet, this is a misleading translation, since a servant who will work all day ploughing or tending sheep in the field, and then make supper, don an apron and serve the meal – is hardly worthless! Better those translations that render the word to mean “unprofitable”.

Because in our relationship with God, we can toil and do good works – for God and for the church. We may expect reward or at least recognition for our good works. Yet, Jesus reminds the disciples this kind of approach is like a servant doing what is expected of a servant – and then the servant feeling they deserve a profit, an extra bonus.

“Teach us simply to do what we ought, Lord” – a relevant prayer today. When facing a crisis or stress, either personal or institutional, our impulse may be to do something – anything! Last week someone at the Christian Meditation seminar in Arnprior told me that their father taught him as a young person: “When you don’t know what to do, do something, anything!” This impulse to action is so inbred in our cultural and economic psyche. NOT to do anything is foreign territory. NOT to buy something new. NOT to jump into the newest, latest fad. To refrain from activity is at very least, counter-intuitive.

Admittedly, it would take some self-discipline to hold back. And be silent. Be still. And wait upon God.

Paul’s words to young, active Timothy in our second reading today (2 Timothy 1:1-14) may help us in understanding this complex Gospel text: “For God …[gave] us a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline… [so] join with me … relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.”

We so easily get wrapped up in what we need to do in our lives of faith – to make it better, to save ourselves, to save the church, to save the world, to save our friends and family. I suspect that is what has been so challenging – for me, anyway – in inviting someone to church. Because we so naturally think that if they do come, it’s our success. Conversely, if they don’t come, we have failed.

But haven’t we crossed the line there – falsely taking on more than is our calling? Our job is simply to issue the invitation – and not just for “Back to Church Sunday” – but for every successive Sunday after that. Those first-timers who came last week – how many of them were invited to come back again? We certainly do have a job to do; are we focusing on the right thing?

The response of those whom we invite, however, is God’s job – not according to our works but according to God’s own purpose and grace.

“Teach us, Lord, what we ought to do.” It’s not a question of not ever doing anything. It’s not about staying stuck in a rut. Being still, waiting on God, is not passive complacency. Rather, it’s about growing a discernment about when to act, and when not to. When to wait, and when to move.

I suspect God is ready to show us something beautiful and what we need, should we simply get out of the way for a moment, stop, and be still – just for a moment.

“Teach us, Lord, what we ought to do.” Amen.