The Respectful Golfer

There were two golfers out on the course for there usual Saturday morning game. They were out on the sixth hole when they noticed, at a distance, a funeral procession slowly making its way down the highway. The older of the two, when he saw the procession, stopped, removed his hat, and bowed his head reverently for a full minute until all the cars had passed.

The younger golfer was surprised and humbled by the gesture. Later, as they sat in the golf cart, making their way to the 7th hole, he told the older golfer, “You know, that was really respectful what you did back there. Most people would have kept playing. That really touched me.”

The older golfer said, “Well, I was married to her for 42 years. I figured it was the least I could do.”

Whenever I tell that joke, there are some men who get knowing looks from their wives. We all know that golfer. Often we are that golfer. The things we say we prioritize and the things our lives show we prioritize are often very different. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples, “Where your treasure lies, there your heart lies also.” What do you spend your time and money doing? The answer to that question reveals what you treasure. God speaks through the prophet Hosea (6:6), “I desire mercy mercy not sacrifice and acknowledgement of God not burnt offerings.” God wants us to show that we treasure Him through the way we live our lives and not through respectful gestures on the sixth hole.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

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Dying of Thirst

When Spanish ships first started sailing to the Americas, there were many new challenges associated with the long voyage. One particularly challenging ordeal was an area known as the doldrums. The area, about 30 degrees on each side of the equator, is one of the most still areas in the Atlantic Ocean. A ship could hit this spot and go days, even weeks, without a breeze. Ships that did this were in real danger of exhausting their food and water supply. There is a record of one such ship being so depleted of water after a month in the doldrums that by the time they approached the Americas many of the shipmates were dying of thirst. They didn’t know their latitude so they had no idea how much longer their journey would last until they happened on a Peruvian boat. When the Peruvians saw their sickly condition, they called out, “Can we help you?”

“Water!”, they called out, “We need water!”

“Lower your buckets!”, the Peruvians replied.

Every good sailor knew not to drink sea water. The salt is dangerous and can kill you. “No!”, they called back, “We need fresh water!”

Again, the Peruvians called out, “Lower your buckets”

Unbeknownst to the Spanish sailors, for the last week of their journey they had been sailing where the mouth of the Amazon river empties into the Atlantic Ocean. This is the source of 20% of earth’s runoff water. It flows into the ocean with such force that for hundreds of miles in every direction, the water is fresh. The sailors had been dying of thirst in a sea of drinkable water.

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water,” Jesus tells the Samaritan woman in the 4th chapter of John. Jesus compares himself to “living water.” A lot of times we miss what he’s telling her because we’ve spiritualized the term “living water.” Living water was an idiom used to describe spring water or river water as opposed to pool water or well water. Living water is continuously flowing and so is an inexhaustible supply. Living water does not have to be stored or rationed. It flows freely. As disciples we are anchored at the foot of an inexhaustible supply of fresh life giving water. We have no excuse to be dying of thirst.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Turban

The following is quoted verbatim from a story by Jonathan Pearlman in The Telegraph:

A 22-year-old Sikh man in New Zealand has been hailed as a hero after putting his religious beliefs aside and removing his turban to help cradle the bleeding head of a 5-year-old boy hit by a car.

Harman Singh, 22, was at his home in Auckland when he heard the sound of an accident on the street and rushed out to find Daejon Pahia, 6, lying by the roadside after being struck by a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Mr Singh has been strongly praised by the Sikh community

He immediately removed his turban and lay it under the boy’s head – an action which the boy’s mother said helped to save her son’s life.

“I saw a child down on the ground and a lady was holding him,” Mr Singh told The New Zealand Herald.

“His head was bleeding, so I unveiled my turban and put it under his head … I wasn’t thinking about the turban. I was thinking about the accident and I just thought, ‘He needs something on his head because he’s bleeding.'”

Mr Singh has been strongly praised by the Sikh community but modestly insisted that “anyone else would have done the same as me”.

Gagan Dhillon, a Sikh passer-by who also assisted, said he saw Mr Singh without a head covering and “thought ‘that’s strange’”.

“But then I saw one hand was underneath the boy’s head supporting it and his siropao [turban] was stopping the bleeding,” he said.

“But being a Sikh myself, I know what type of respect the turban has. People just don’t take it off – people die over it … He didn’t care that his head was uncovered in public. He just wanted to help this little boy.”

Sikh leaders said Mr Singh’s decision to remove the turban in public was a rare and significant act but was consistent with their faith and its emphasis on kindness and humanity.

This true story of a Sikh man helping a stranger in need hits us with all the force of a good parable. It calls to mind the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, who are unwilling to help the man bleeding by the side of the road because of their purity codes. It also calls to mind The story of Jesus healing on the Sabbath. When confronted about his disregard for the religious prohibition against work on the Sabbath, Jesus asks, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” In other words, Jesus knew that his inaction would profane his religious principles far more than action. Harman Singh saw a little boy in need and was willing to put compassion above prohibition. We would all do well to follow his Christ-like example.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Child’s Drawing

There was a kindergarten teacher who made a habit of giving her class free time to draw. She felt this encouraged her students to use their imaginations. She made a practice of going around the room and asking the kids about what they were working on. On this particular day, one of her students had a very serious expression on her face as she drew. The teacher could tell she was drawing something that meant a lot to her. When she came around to the little girl's table, she asked her what she was drawing.

The little girl looked up, smiling, and said, “I'm drawing God!”

The teacher was a little surprised. “No one knows what God looks like…”, she reminded the little girl.

The girl, not looking up from her intense art session, replied, “That's because I'm not finished yet.”

Of course God is unseen. He is bigger than our human categories. How do we present a picture of this God to others? For Jesus, the answer had to do with the way we live our lives. Christ lived his life in such a way that the character and nature of God was unmistakable and he challenged his disciples to do the same. “Be therefore perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect…” Being made in God's image gives us the responsibility of bearing that image to others. As disciples, we are called to live in such a way that people come to see God in us that through the power of the Spirit we are conformed more and more into the likeness of Christ each day. You may think that impossible but I, for one, am not finished yet.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

There is nothing to be afraid of…

Solomon Rosenberg tells this story from his time in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. He, his wife, his two sons, and his mother were all arrested and relocated to a labor camp. The rules were simple: As long as you can do your work, you are permitted to live. When you become too weak to do your work, then you will be exterminated. The conditions were harsh and inhumane. The prisoners were given little to eat and the weak among them would begin to waste away until the inevitable day they could no longer work and they were taken to the gas chambers.

Rosenberg watched his mother and father being marched off to their deaths when they became too weak. He knew that his youngest son, David, would be next because David had always been a frail child. Every evening when Rosenberg came back into the barracks after his hours of labor, he would search for the faces of his family. When he found them, they would huddle together, embrace one another, and thank God for another day of life. But each day, David looked just a little bit more frail and Solomon always feared the next day would be the day he was taken away.

One day Rosenberg came back and couldn’t find his family. He stormed through the barracks in a panic until he finally discovered his oldest son, Joshua, in a corner, huddled, weeping. He said, “Josh, tell me it’s not true.” Joshua turned and said, “It is true, Poppa. Today David was not strong enough to do his work, so they came for him.”

“But where is your mother?” asked Mr. Rosenberg, “She is still strong enough to work!”

“Oh Poppa,” he exclaimed. “When they came for David, he was afraid and he was crying. Momma said, ‘There is nothing to be afraid of, David,’ and she pulled him close and held him. Then she took his hand and went with him so he wouldn’t have to be alone.”

This true story from one of the most horrific times in history is a powerful parable about the meaning of compassion. Compassion, literally translated, means “to suffer with”. This portrait of a mother’s willingness to suffer with her son, on this Good Friday, can’t help but remind me of God’s willingness to suffer with humanity. Jesus was not exempted from the ugly side of humanity. He saw, first hand, what barbarity unthinking mobs were capable of. He saw, first hand, what cruelty an oppressive state could perpetrate against those they saw as less than human. He knew forced labor and the dread of death. And he felt the pain of a man losing everything, resorting to a little bit of psalm he learned as a child to express what he alone could not express: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” He did it all so we wouldn’t have to be alone.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Special Exception

A very rich man was nearing the end of his life and he began to contemplate the life to come. He was very troubled that he would soon lose everything he had worked so hard for. All his wealth would soon belong to others and he would enter Paradise poor. It didn’t seem fair to him so he prayed fervently that he would be allowed to take all that he had amassed with him. One night an angel appeared to him.

“O mortal,” said the Angel, “All men come into this world empty handed and empty handed they must go to the next…”

The man pled, “I have worked so hard for what I have and I have no family to leave it to… Can there be no exception made?”

The angel thought for a second. “This is highly irregular but I will see what I can do…”

Suddenly the Angel disappeared then just as suddenly, he reappeared and said, “A special exception has been made. You may bring with you what you can pack into one suitcase.”

After the Angel had again left, the man went and found his largest suitcase and packed it full with gold bars and laid it by his bed for the day of his death.

Sure enough the fateful day came and the man died. The man grabbed his suitcase just as his soul was leaving his body and took it with him. There at the gates of heaven, the man dragged the impossibly heavy suitcase all through the winding line to meet St. Peter. When it was finally the man’s turn, St. Peter looked at him and them down at his suitcase and said, “you know you can’t bring that in, right?”

The man confidently replied that he had been given assurances by an Angel that he would be allowed the one suitcase. St. Peter excused himself, and went back behind the pearly gates to conference with one of the Angels. When he returned, St. Peter apologized.

“It seems a special exception has been made in your case. I was, however asked to inspect the contents of your suitcase before letting you through.”

The man happily obliged and St. Peter unlatched the suitcase. As he surveyed the contents of the suitcase there was a look of pure confusion on his face. He shouted back to the Angels behind him:

“All this fuss over a suitcase full of pavement?”

What we value and what God values are often two very different things. This old church joke perfectly illustrates how the things we see as so precious and so worth our pursuit here on earth might be mundane and unimpressive on the streets of gold. Jesus admonishes us to store up treasures in heaven. As disciples we are called to reject what the world values and seek after the things that God values. This means denying our own desires and taking up our cross. It would be a terrible thing if we were to come to the end of our life and all we had to show for it was a suitcase full of pavement.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

The 3 Huts

A pilot was flying over the South Pacific when he noticed smoke coming from one of the many deserted islands below. The pilot flew closer and, sure enough, there was a man there with a great huge beard and tattered clothes sending the smoke signals. He looked like he had been on the island for years so the pilot made an emergency landing. When the pilot landed, the man was overjoyed.

“I’ve been on this island all alone for eleven years and I was beginning to lose hope! So many times I’ve seen planes fly by without noticing the smoke signals and here you are!”

“So happy I could help,” the pilot said, “Why don’t we gather your belongings and get you out of here.”

So the pilot followed the man into the leafy jungle and then to a clearing. In the clearing there were three huts. The man went into one of the huts and came out with a modest armful of belongings and announced that he was ready to return to civilization.

“Did you say you’ve been alone for eleven years?”, asked the pilot.

“Yes,” the man replied, “I’ve not seen another soul for eleven years!”

“Then, if you don’t mind my asking, why do you have three huts?”

The man smiled. “It’s simple really… the hut I just came from is obviously my home. This one next to it is my church. I go there every seventh day to worship God.”

“That’s very touching,” said the pilot, “How about that third hut?”

Suddenly the man’s facial expression got very serious and in a quiet voice he said, “That’s where I used to go to church…”

It’s pretty comical to imagine a schism of one and this old joke has made it into many a sermon about Christian unity. As the old saying goes, “it’s funny cause it’s true.” In most towns in the United States there are more churches than could possibly be needed to adequately seat all the worshipers on a Sunday morning. Too often these churches are not marked by a spirit of cooperation and common purpose but of competition and exclusive claims to God’s favor. Of course there are genuine theological differences between different churches and or course different worship styles speak to different people but how many churches are truly necessary? Far too often these are not the things truly dividing churches. Pride, history, and fear all stand in the way of unity. This parable reminds us of of the absurdity of having two huts when one should do.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Diagnosis

After complaining about a severe headache for weeks, a man finally goes to the doctor. The doctor looks him up and down and can't find anything wrong with him.

“Are you getting enough sleep?”, the doctor asks, “sometimes staying out too late and not getting the proper sleep can cause headaches.”

The man said, “Yes. In fact, I'm in bed by 8pm every night, just after I've said my prayers.”

“Do you smoke?”

“Certainly not. I would never put such filth into my body. My body is a temple of The Lord!”

“Are you a heavy drinker?”

“I resent the accusation! Why I've never touched the poison!”

“I apologize”, said the doctor, “It's just my job to ask… how many partners have you had in the past year?”

“I'll have you know I've remained celibate my entire life, thank you very much! I don't even allow myself to think of such temptations!

The doctor scratched his head for just a second then asked, “Where does your head hurt exactly?”

The man pointed to the areas that were causing him trouble and the doctor nodded knowingly. “It's just as I suspected,” said the doctor, “your halo is on too tight!”

Is your halo on too tight? I fist encountered this humorous parable in “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning. When our religion makes us joyless and prone to hold others in contempt, you could say our halo is on too tight. When Methodists celebrate holy communion we say a prayer of confession in which we confess our sins to God. The prayer ends with the line: “free us for joyful obedience in Christ out Lord.” For the disciple, obedience is a joyful response to the grace that has been extended to us for our failings. If our obedience is not joyful, then we aren't doing it right. Perhaps it is time to loosen our halos.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

 

Sherlock Holmes and Watson Camping

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go on a camping trip. After a good dinner, they retire for the night, and go to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes wakes up and nudges his faithful friend. “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”

“I see millions and millions of stars, Holmes” replies Watson.

“And what do you deduce from that?”

Watson ponders for a minute.

“Well, astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful, and that we are a small and insignificant part of the universe. What does it tell you, Holmes?”

Holmes is silent for a moment. “Watson, you idiot!” he says. “Someone has stolen our tent!”

This old joke is a favorite of mine and I do think it serves as a wonderful parable about human nature. Sometimes we human beings make things way more complicated than they need to be and we miss the obvious. Religion and theology are supposed to help us connect our everyday experiences to a God that is beyond our comprehension. These tools do help us to make sense of the night sky but if we're too busy looking up at the sky and pondering to notice our neighbor in need of that our own tent has been stolen then we are severely missing the point. The book of James reminds us that true religion is this: “to look after the orphan and the widow in their distress and to keep oneself unpolluted by the world.” Pure and simple… One might even say: “elementary”.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

 

The Transfusion

An eight-year-old boy had a younger sister who was dying of leukemia, and he was told that without a blood transfusion she would die. His parents explained to him that his blood was probably compatible with hers, and if so, he could be the blood donor. They asked him if they could test his blood. He said sure. So they did and it was a good match. Then they asked if he would give his sister a pint of blood, that it could be her only chance of living. He said he would have to think about it overnight.

The next day he went to his parents and said he was willing to donate the blood. So they took him to the hospital where he was put on a gurney beside his six-year-old sister. Both of them were hooked up to IVs. A nurse withdrew a pint of blood from the boy, which was then put in the girl's IV. The boy lay on his gurney in silence while the blood dripped into his sister, until the doctor came over to see how he was doing. Then the boy opened his eyes and asked, “How soon until I start to die?”

This story, copied from Anne LaMott's wonderful book on writing, “Bird by Bird”, is a wonderful parable of love and sacrifice. The boy in the story thought he was going to die in the process of giving his blood to his sister and was willing to do it anyway. 1 John 3:16 tells us “this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” This kind of self sacrificial love is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…