The Rain Drop

The horrendous, tragic airplane crash with 350 souls aboard, made even more tragic by the presence of 167 grade school students who were on a service trip to help a town devastated by a tornado and of 7 sick infants with their mothers all on their way to a special hospital, never happened. Nor did the resulting suicide of a careless mechanic who was to blame. And that mechanic’s son did not grow up fatherless, and fall in with a corrupt crowd and turn to crime. Nor did the nearby community, shocked by the tragedy, gather up its moral strength and foster happier families, more full of love. And one of the local youth did not, upon seeing the devastation, change his course towards being a fine and successful safety designer for an airplane company, raising up his own family in joy by honest work. No, it never happened.

For when that mechanic was yet young and walking by a toy shop with a large model airplane window display and was about to turn his head and look, a lone rain drop made a momentous decision (as all raindrops do). It veered slightly and unexpectedly and glanced the boy’s cheek opposite the window display. He, surprised by the feeling, turned to look, put his hand to his cheek to wipe off the water, looked up at the clouds, and walked on past the display to his future.

This parable is copied from a book called “Seeing Differently” by Thomas Swanson. The parable is a profound reminder that tiny events can have big impacts and the ripples can reverberate for years to come. It is impossible to know all the ramifications of a single decision or all the myriad ways in which lives intersect. It is futile to relitigate the past. We simply don't know what good would be tossed out with the bad. For the disciple that means we must walk through life with humility. We must have faith that the ripples of our good actions are making a real difference and we must trust the maker of raindrops when things don't go our way.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

“Pray that I have clarity…”

mother-teresa

“When John Kavanaugh, the noted and famous ethicist, went to Calcutta, he was seeking Mother Teresa … and more. He went for three months to work at “the house of the dying” to find out how best he could spend the rest of his life.

When he met Mother Teresa, he asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she replied. He then uttered the request he had carried thousands of miles: “Clarity. Pray that I have clarity.”

“No,” Mother Teresa answered, “I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh said that she always seemed to have clarity, the very kind of clarity he was looking for, Mother Teresa laughed and said: I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.

This account, taken from Brennan Manning’s classic book: “The Ragamuffin Gospel”, perfectly illustrates the true nature of faith. Faith is not about having clarity but having trust in the face of uncertainty. Human beings naturally seek clarity. It is not enough to know there is a plan for our lives, we want to know the plan. This desire for clarity can be the enemy of trust. As Proverbs 3:5 famously exhorts: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Karl’s Answer

The Swiss theologian Karl Barth was one of the most highly respected theological writers of his generation and has gone on to be considered the greatest protestant thinker of the 20th century. He wrote volumes upon volumes of important exegesis and biblical commentary and influenced countless schools of thought with his systematic approach to the Bible. Upon his retirement, he was asked by a reporter to tell the most profound and important thing he had learned in all his years of study. His answer was simple: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”

Sometimes we Christians can make things really complicated. Doctrine is important. Praxis is important. But neither are the main thing. The love of Jesus and the love of God revealed in Jesus is the main thing. That’s the thing that transforms peoples lives and gives them hope. That’s what the whole Christian enterprize is all about. The rest is just window trimmings. 

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

“Is Anybody Up There?”

A man was hiking on a large mountain when suddenly he looses his footing, trips, and goes stumbling off the side of a steep cliff. He has the presence of mind to reach out and grab a branch half way down. Clutching his branch, he looks down at the jagged rocks below and then at the impossibly steep cliff above. Not knowing what else to do, he looks up at the sky and cries with all his might’ “Is anybody up there?”

Suddenly some clouds parted, revealing a bright shaft of light and a deep soothing voice sounded from heaven, sayin, “It is I, God! You must have faith my child. Let go of the branch and I will catch you.”

The man thinks for a second, looks up at the sky, and cries, “Is there a body else up there?”

Faith is casting your lot entirely with God, no matter what. There is no plan B. The life of faith is letting go when it is not clear that we will be caught. If we knew how everything would work out, it would take no faith. The saying may seem trite but it’s also true: there comes a time in which we must let go and let God.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Ant and the Dove

One day the ant was thirsty and travelled to a nearby stream to drink some water. The current of the stream was so strong that it pulled him in and soon he had been whisked along toward certain peril. Several yards ahead, on a branch, overlooking the stream, sat the dove. Noticing the distressed ant coming his way, the dove kindly dropped a leaf. So well timed was the leaf that the ant was able to climb on it and ride to safety. Some minutes later, a hunter was silently creeping up on the dove from some distance away. The ant saw the hunter with his bow drawn to strike the bird that had just rescued him and he bit the hunter on his toe so hard that he let out a yelp. The startled bird then took wing.

How we care for the least among us is a central concern for Christians. This parable, pulled from Aesop’s fables is a reminder that it is always good to help those that you might think could never pay you back. Like the dove, we are unable to see what benefit may come from our small acts of mercy, but that is all the more reason to do them. Whoever is an ant to you, whoever is weak and seemingly unable to repay your kindness, that is precisely who Jesus is talking about when he says, “Whatever you have done for the least of these, you have done for me.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

“Give it everything you’ve got!”

imageA father tells his 12 year old to go into the back yard and a remove a tree stump. The boy, eager to show his dad how he can master this manly task, runs out and begins pushing on the stump with all his might. After about twenty minutes of huffing and puffing, the stump hasn’t budged.

The boy turns to realize his dad has been outside watching him. Embarrassed, he tells him, “I’m sorry Dad, I can’t do it.”

His Dad just smiles and says, “Son, give it everything you’ve got!”

Now the boy, more determined than ever, kicks, pulls, takes running starts, and pushes and pushes and pushes until his arms are limp. Collapsing with exhaustion, the boy tells his father, between heavy breaths, “I can’t do it.”

His father looks at him and says, “Give it everything you’ve got!”

The boy picks himself up and decides to give it one last try but after 30 more minutes of grueling, the stump is no more loose then when he started. Now he is entirely spent. He sits on the stump and looks up at his dad. ” I’m sorry Dad. I gave it everything. I really did. It just wasn’t enough.”

The father looks at the son, smiles and says, “You didn’t give it everything you have, son. Because you never once asked me for help.”

This is one my dad likes to tell. I have no idea where he got it so, if you know, tell me. Too often in life, we let our capabilities be defined by our own strengths and weaknesses. This parable reminds us of the untapped resources we have in the people around us and, most importantly, in our Heavenly Father. Ask any wise old saint and they will tell you: the times they struggled most in life were the times they refused God’s help. As the old hymn says:
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!”

Whoever has ears to hear, Let them hear!

A King’s Pardon

frederickopenerpg1Once Frederick the Great of Prussia was touring one of his country’s largest prison facilities. Word  had quickly spread among the prisoners that the king was in the building and their excitement grew at the prospect of receiving a king’s pardon. As King Frederick passed each of the cells the prisoner would call out to him pleading their case. They yelled things like, “I’m innocent!”, “I was framed”, or “Give me justice!”.

Occasionally he would stop and listen to a prisoner’s account of how he had landed in the prison despite his innocence of the crime he’d been charged with and then, unmoved, continue on. Finally, King Frederick passed one particular cell and it was completely silent. His curiosity was aroused. In the back of the cell, in a dark shadow, a man sat on a bench looking down at the floor. The king called out to him, “Sir, aren’t you going to plead your case to me as well?”

The man, paused for a moment, looked up at him, and said, “No, your highness, I’m guilty of everything they said I did. I’m right where I belong.”

King Frederick immediately turned to the guards and cried, “Free this guilty man at once, before he corrupts all the innocents!”

I’m not sure how historically grounded this anecdote is but it serves as a powerful parable about the freeing power of confession. We live in an age that teaches that guilt is unhealthy and that we need to learn to be OK with ourselves. The problem is that we cannot find true freedom if we are only in the business of guilt management. If we delude ourselves into thinking we are merely the product of our social environment or forced into our actions by a series of incidents beyond our control, we never truly come face to face with our true sinfulness and never experience the redemption and liberation that comes from God’s grace. The scripture says if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive them, but until we look the king in the eye and tell him we’re guilty as charged, we cannot receive His pardon. St. Augustine said it best: “Assume nothing; one thief was saved. Presume nothing; one thief was damned.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Great Blondin

In the middle of the 1800s, the most famous tightrope walker in the world was a man called “The Great Blondin!” Blondin was famous for crossing Niagra Falls on tightrope and people came from all over the world to watch him perform the feat.

On one such occasion Blondin, known for his showmanship, called out to the crowd, “I am The Great Blondin! Who believes I can cross over Niagra Falls on this tightrope?”

The crowd was excited and called out to him, “We believe, Blondin, we believe!”

Next, Blondin pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket, tied it around his head and called out: “I am The Great Blondin! Who believes I can cross over Niagra Falls on this tightrope, while blindfolded?”

The crowd, more jazzed up than before, called out, “We believe, Blondin, we believe!”

Then Blondin whisked away a sheet and revealed a wheelbarrow standing behind him. He called out once more to the ecstatic crowd, “I am The Great Blondin! Who believes I can cross over Niagra Falls on this tightrope, blindfolded, while pushing this wheelbarrow?”

The crowd was practically roaring now! “We believe, Blondin, we believe!”

Finally, Blondin, summoned the crowd to silence and spoke once more, “I am The Great Blondin! ….. Now, who wants to get in the wheelbarrow?”

This parable, based on a true event, reminds us that it is far easier to trust God in word than to trust Him in deed. We can say we believe from the safety of the crowd but it is a completely different thing to ride in the wheelbarrow. In the gospels, Jesus says, “Whoever would be my disciple must, deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Discipleship is a risky proposition. Our safety is not guaranteed. God offers only this assurance: if we surrender ourselves and put our trust in Him, He will never let go!

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

What is a Saint?

A father and his 5 year old daughter showed up early for mass one morning and spent some time quietly in the sanctuary. There were three beautiful stained glass windows in the chapel: one of St. Peter, one of St. Francis, and one of St. Andrew. The little girl was fascinated by the windows. “Who are these people?” She asked.

The father smiled and answered, “Those are the saints.” Not wanting to miss an opportunity to teach her about their faith he asked, “Do you know what a saint is?”

She looked up at one of the windows and saw the sunlight beaming through it, casting colorful shadows on the floor. “I think I do,” she answered, “a saint is someone the light shines through.”

So often we think of saints as being a super-class of spiritual individuals who have achieved levels of holiness we ordinary mortals could never hope to attain to. This parable reminds us that what makes one a saint is not who they are but whose they are. The test of a saint is how brightly the light of Christ shines through them. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his followers, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” These instructions are for all believers. We are all called to be people the light shines through!

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

The Missionary and the Cannibals

A story is told about a missionary preaching to a tribe of cannibals. Things were going fine for the first couple of weeks. They had accepted him into their camp and he felt like he was really starting to make some headway. Then one day it all changed! The missionary wasn’t really sure exactly what happened. Perhaps he had committed some social taboo or made a grave error in translation, but at any rate, he had angered the whole tribe and things took a quick turn for the worst. That night as he lay in his tent, he heard the sound of war drums and off in the distance he saw torches. So he did what any of us would do! He ran! His speed unfortunately was no match for theirs and he tripped over a vine and found himself surrounded by the angry tribe of cannibals who quickly bound him and placed him in a large pot of water over a roaring fire. Not knowing what else to do, the missionary looked up to the heavens and beseeched The Lord to intervene!

“Lord,” He prayed, “If it be your will, I pray you would make good Christians of all this heathen tribe of cannibals!”

Suddenly, in the night sky, the clouds parted, and a great shaft of light fell on each cannibal assembled there. One could hear the faint strum of angel hearts as, one by one, each cannibal knelt in the earth and made the sign of the cross. Then, each lifting their eyes to the heavens, they began praying in unison:

“Bless, O Lord, this food which we are about to eat…”

A more pc version of this humorous parable can be told with a preacher and a bear but the truth remains. Real faith in Jesus Christ fundamentally changes our nature. As scripture reminds us: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (1 Corinthians 5:17) Becoming a Christian means a radical change in our behavior and thinking. Jesus criticized religious leaders who were pious on the outside but inwardly were “ravenous wolves”. He called them “white washed tombs” and criticized their practice of washing the outside of the cup and leaving the inside full of grime. As people of faith we must constantly be challenged by these words. We are called to be more than simply cannibals who pray before we devour one another!

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…