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#Advent14 — God, Do It Again!

A reading from the Psalms.

It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when God returned Zion’s exiles. We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune. We were the talk of the nations—”God was wonderful to them!” God was wonderful to us; we are one happy people.

And now, God, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives. So those who planted their crops in despair will shout hurrahs at the harvest, so those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing, with armloads of blessing.

Psalm 126 (MSG)

This is the Word of the Lord.

Exiles. Those for whom home is not where they are, but a place they most desperately want to be. Somewhere between the place of their dreams and the place of their hopes.

Not quite here.

Not quite there.

As someone who has never been forcibly removed from my home, I can’t even begin to imagine the indescribable joy that must come from returning to a place that once seemed so far away. Trapped in a foreign land. Trapped under rules and regulations that make you only slightly more free than a prisoner.

When we pull in the driveway of our home in Edmond after a few months overseas, my heart skips a beat or two. My own bed. The familiarity of smells and sights and sounds. The view of pasture and neighbors–not too close–press into my eyes.

Even more sweet than that, is that first service when we are back home at Acts 2 UMC. The worship band sounds better than they ever have. The message refreshes and brings deep wells of life. And, communion–the family dinner–is the most precious moment of all.

Until last week, that was the closest that I could come to imagining the joy of the exiles returning home. And, then, I met a pregnant lady living in the basement of a church. She, and her family, are Christian refugees from the conflict in Iraq. She has a six-year old and a three-year old. She pointed to her six-year old daughter and said through the translator, “When I was pregnant with her, I had to flee my home because of war.” Then she pointed at the three-year-old son and said, “When I was pregnant with him, I had to flee my home because of war.” Then she smiled and said, “Now, I’m pregnant again. And, fleeing again.” As I fought back tears, I hugged the daughter and kissed the son on the forehead.

And then she said the most unexpected thing, “I’ve never known joy until I came here to this church. I am home.”

As I read today’s scripture, I kept thinking about this precious lady and her beautiful children. I thought about her statement. While I know that she’ sound a place of safety and peace in the midst of the conflict, I also know that she is stuck somewhere between the dream of home and reality of home. And, I wondered how much joy would be in this woman’s heart and in her family when she really does return home.

And, so we pray, for this family and the millions of other refugees around the globe. These modern day exiles. We pray that they will return home. That they will no longer be trapped between the now and the not yet. We pray for peace–not the absent of conflict–but the presence of Emmanuel–God with us.

Even in midst of the conflict, we pray that more and more of these exiles will be able to say like this dear lady, “I feel like I am home.”

Our prayer for them all resounds, “God, do it again!”

 

Advent14 — The Waiting Begins

Yesterday, in churches and homes all over the globe, a candle was lit. The first of four. The beginning of a new year in the church calendar. The beginning of Advent.

Advent. A word that simply means coming. A word that is packed full of meaning and is wrapped up in hope, joy, peace, and love. A word that brings us to that place between knowing that the Messiah has come and waiting for the Messiah to come.

It is that brief period of the church calendar where we position ourselves with an oppressed people longing for rescue. We–purposely–find ourselves between Malachi and Matthew. Wondering if things will ever be better. Knowing that for centuries “better” has been prophectically pronounced.

The King is coming!

Prophets of old have told us. Our parents have passed it on to us. The King. He is indeed coming.

At any moment now.

And, yet.

We’re a captive people. Captive in our own land. Captive in our own homes. Captive in a world that couldn’t care less that we stand in anticipation of rescue. In fact, we are captive in a world that mocks our anticipation.

And, we wait.

The Prophets once told us that this King would be called Immanuel.

Immanuel. God with us.

And, yet, we wonder if God could ever be with us. How, into this mess of a world, could God come?

Death. Some of it to disease or accident. Some at the hands of another.

Illness. Some curable. Some not.

War. Some in the name of money or resource. Some in the name of the very God we hope will come near. Some of it even considered just and right.

Hunger. Some due to famine. Some due to stinginess of those who have more than enough. Some due to neglect.

And, into this world, we wonder how God could come. And, yet, He does.

We learned over the weekend that a group of gunmen stormed a residence in Central Asian nation and opened fire on three South Africans who were there to help provide education to the children of the nation. A father and two teenaged children gunned down, and then the house burned. The mother, a doctor, was at the hospital bringing healing to the hurting–some of whom may even have been in support of the gunmen. For Warner, Jean-Pierre, and Rode, they rest tonight in the arms of loving–and near–God. For Hannelle, questions and fear and no rest. Yet, still in the arms of a loving–and near–God.

Three lives given–given so that others–strangers–might have an opportunity to a life of fullness.

One life remaining–longing for God to come near.

It is there in the tension that we long for the Messiah. We yearn for the Kingdom where lion and lamb will lie side-by-side. We hope for the place where weapons of death–guns, and knives, and drones, and tanks, and missles, and planes–are beaten into things that bring life–plows, and shovels, and hoes, and rakes.

And, we wait for God to come near.

We’re hearing confirmation of the rumors that the World Food Progamme lacks the $60+million dollars necessary to continue to provide aid for refugees who have fled the conflict in Iraq and Syria. And, so, more than one-and-a-half million people are forced to wonder from where they will receive bread and milk. Hundreds of thousands of children sit on the brink of starvation. Rumor has it that it’s not just this United Nations program that is lacking funding, but it is also many Non-Governmental Agencies–some even faith-based–that lack funding.

We are also aware that some of the food, coal, blankets, tents, clothes that should have found it’s way to these displaced peoples didn’t. Whether stolen, sold, or otherwise, the situation is dire.

And, we wait for God to come near.

And, God does indeed come near.

He comes near in the birth of a baby. In the unlikliest of places. To the unlikliest of parents. Immanuel. God with us.

And, God does indeed come near.

At the hands of everyone who has answered the call to give more than they keep. The call to go where no one else will. The call to love the unloved–and the unloveable. The call to feed the hungry. The call to clothe the naked. In every answered call, God comes near.

And, God calls us to come near, and to be near. To be near the wife and mother who mourn. And, also, to be near the gunmen and their families. To be near the millions who are without a home or a country or a meal. And, also, to be near to those who have driven them from their homes and countries and meals.

Advent.

So, yesterday, we lit a candle. A flicker of light in the darkness. A candle that will be joined by another and another and another. And, then, by the candle of the Christ-child. And, then, by your candle–and mine.

Until, the room grows bright, and we are pushed out into the world to proclaim that the King has come. And, when the King comes, so does the Kingdom.

The Kingdom In A World Of Pain

#Ukraine

#Iraq

#Syria

#Ebola

#Suicide

#Gaza

#Ferguson

Just a few of the “hot spots” in the news this morning. It's hard to see the hurt and pain and suffering around us. We struggle to understand how or why.

Or when.

When will the Kingdom finally come in all of it's glory and splendor and peace and comfort.

And lions laying down with lambs.

We proclaim it every Sunday. That great mystery of the faith. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

We exclaim that He is Risen. He is King. He is Ruler.

Yet.

Kyrie Elieson (Lord, have mercy.)

How do we reconcile those truths with the realities of the world around us?

How can we proclaim that the Kingdom has already come when it's quite clear that it hasn't?

There's the tension we live between. This knowledge that Jesus has come. And, with His coming the Kingdom has come. Yet, also, knowing that the fullness of the Kingdom lies in wait. Not yet here. But not so far away. But not all that close. But coming.

Last weekend, we were in Bella Vista, Arkansas with our friends at Highlands Church. In one of the workshops on prayer someone asked about this tension. How to do we reconcile the pain and suffering with the triumph of a Risen King? How do we pray?

At that time, my answer was we simply pray, “Your Kingdom come.” And, then, we work to bring His Kingdom. We stand in solidarity with the poor, and suffering, and marginalized, and hurting, and grieving, and cast out.

We drill water wells in places where people are dying of water-borne illnesses.

We nurse those sick with Ebola back to health.

We give families in Las Flores, Belmopan, Belize sacks of beans and rice and flour and sugar.

We go into the darkest places and proclaim that the King has come and is coming and will come.

And, we pray.

Your Kingdom Come.

When John's disciples came to Jesus in Matthew 11 and asked if He was the Messiah, Jesus didn't offer platitudes or speeches or definitions. He simply said, “The blind can now see. The deaf can now hear. The lame can now walk. The dead live again.”

And, yet, others remain blind, and deaf, and lame, and dead.

Tension.

Stretched somewhere between Kingdom has come and Kingdom will come.

It's easy–too easy–for Christians to offer words of comfort. “It'll be ok.” “Jesus is with you.” “The world is not my home.” “I'll fly away.”

And, while words of comfort are needed, words of comfort don't stop the bullets or the Ebola or the rockets or the bombs or the suicide.

Last Sunday, our Associate Pastor, Andy Nelms (@anelms), talked about anxiety and the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus in the midst of pain and suffering (you can watch the recording on our church's website). He made a statement that has stuck with me throughout the week.

God doesn't take our anxiety away. Rather, He repurposes it for His Kingdom.

In the midst of our pain, He doesn't airlift us out and make everything instantly better. Rather, He parachutes in and walks alongside us through it. He stands in solidarity with us in our pain and in our suffering and in the ugly of our life and turns it into a means of testimony to His goodness and mercy and grace and faithfulness.

And He calls us to the do the same. Stand alongside those who are hurting. Hold those who are in pain. Cry with them. Laugh with those who are rejoicing. Dance with those who can now walk.

Photos can be to us what parables were to Jesus. A way of illustrating the truths of the Kingdom by painting an image that sticks in the mind of the reader. Something that pops back into our mind's eye when we hear the phrase “Kingdom of God”.

And, in a timing that can only be God, as I was writing this post a friend posted a picture on Facebook of her two girls walking to school together this morning. It's the first day of a new school year. The older has been there and done that. Second grade. For the younger, this is the first time. Kindergarten.

They're walking down the sidewalk hand-in-hand. Older and younger. Old hat and new fears. Peace and anxiety. And, even in the old hat of it all, there lies an element of the unknown. What will be different? Will my friends be there? And, yet, they walk. Hand-in-hand.

Hand-in-hand.

Like the Kingdom of God.

Those of us who can walking with those of us who can't.

Hand-in-hand.

Everytime we recieve a revelation of the goodness or love or faithfulness or gentleness or mercy of God, we are obligated to share that with others. It's the way of the Kingdom. Giving away what you have.

I've been asked a couple of times in the past few weeks what our response as Christians should be to the challenges of the world around us. I really think it's quite simple. We should grab the hand of the hurting and walk with them. Step-by-step.

Like a second-grader walking to school hand-in-hand with her kindergartener sister.

For, that is what the Kingdom is like.

Our friends walking to school on their first day. Photo courtesy of their Mom.

Our friends walking to school on their first day. Photo courtesy of their Mom.