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…

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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…

Brother Masseo’s Request

During the first days of the Fransiscan movement, St. Francis surrounded himself with disciples who were eager to learn from him and imitate his life of simplicity. One of these was a man named Brother Masseo. Brother Masseo became very convicted one day after hearing Francis preach on the virtue of humility- so convicted that he resolved to forsake all other pursuits and seek only after humility! Brother Masseo went back to his cell and for days on end he fasted and prayed late into the night, begging God to send him to Hell for his sins. All this was in an effort to cultivate humility. He continued like this until one day in his despair he wandered out into the woods where he was startled by a voice from heaven:

“Masseo, Masseo,” said the voice.

“My Lord!” cried Brother Masseo, knowing the voice was that of Christ.

“Masseo,” said Christ, “What will you give me in exchange for the humility you seek?”

“My very eyes!” Brother Masseo called back.

“But I do not want your eyes,” Christ replied, “Keep them, and have my grace as well.”

From that moment on, Brother Masseo was filled with true humility and unspeakable joy.

This little story from “The Little a Flowers of St. Francis”, one of the earliest collections of tales about him and his followers, is a deep parable that rewards contemplation. Brother Masseo ultimately learns that humility cannot be achieved through effort but that it is a gift of grace. He also learns that Christ has no use of our eyes. In other words, our high or low view of ourself and others is of no value to Him. Masseo was trying to obtain humility by lamenting about his wretched estate. Yet it is this very kind of self involved thinking that is the enemy of humility. In a recent blog post, “Science Mike” McHargue wrote, “humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less…” I couldn't put it any better myself.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

The Dry Wood

Sometime during the 4th century a man named John renounced all of his worldly possessions and went to live among the Desert Fathers. He was quickly accepted in the community and because of his shorter stature was nicknamed by the brothers, “John the Dwarf.” When he first arrived in the desert, John's spiritual mentor was a man named Father Pambo. His new spiritual guide took a piece of dry wood, planted it, and said to him, “Water it every day with a bottle of water, until it bears fruit.” The nearest water source was 12 miles away so John had to leave in the evening and return the following morning. John did this faithfully and without complaint for three years, leaving each evening and returning each morning, until the wood came to life and bore fruit. Then St. Pambo took some of the fruit and carried it to the church, saying to the brothers, “Take and eat the fruit of obedience.”

To this day, in the Nitrian desert, in the abandoned monastery of St. John the Dwarf, you can see this tree. It is known as the “Tree of Obedience.” This parable shows us the great value of obedience. Obedience to God demands that we trust His wisdom and His timing. Obedience is faithfully doing our duty each day trusting that in the end it will make the difference. The United Methodist prayer of confession ends with the line: “forgive us we pray, free us for joyful obedience in Christ Jesus our Lord…” Joyful obedience is at the heart of what it means to answer the call of discipleship. Denying ourselves and taking up His cross. We do so in the hope and promise that one day we will sit at that heavenly banquet table and taste the sweet fruit of obedience.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

 

Heaven and Hell

A monk was deep in his prayers when an angel appeared to him and offered to reveal to him any of the divine mysteries. The monk said to the Angel, “show me Heaven and Hell.”

Suddenly the monk and the Angel were in a large banquet hall. There was a large table filled with every good food you could imagine. There was succulent turkey, fresh from the oven, hot bread and butter, any side you could want, and delicious cakes for dessert. All the guests looked pale and sickly. The monk noticed that they were chained to their chairs and that they each had large metal rods shackled to their arms. Unable to leave their chairs or bend their elbows, the monk watched in horror as the guests at the banquet were unable to feed themselves any of this delicious food. They'd pick it up and drop it over and over and cry out in hunger, unable to get any of the food to their mouths.

“This,” said the Angel, grimly, “is Hell.”

“I cannot bear to watch their suffering any longer,” said the monk, “please show me heaven.”

Just as suddenly the monk and the Angel were in a differen banquet hall. There was also a large table filled with every good food you could imagine and all the guests here too were chained to their chairs and they each had large metal rods shackled to their arms. But these guests were not crying out in anguish. To the contrary, they were singing and laughing. They were not pale and sickly like the guests in the room before. These people were happy, healthy, and content. The monk watched closely and suddenly realized the difference between the two rooms. In this room each was picking up food and feeding his neighbor.

I love this old parable and I can't help but think about it every time I take communion. Especially on nights like tonight when Churches come together to celebrate that new command: “to love one another…” This particular Maundy Thursday, I'm struck by the irony that there is a national debate centering around the question of who Christians should have to serve. The legal issues involved are above my pay grade but it is hard for me to imagine that the Christ who welcomes all to His table would not want His disciples to do the same. In the Gospels, Jesus set aside his right to exclude people from his table and was criticized for the company he kept. This parable reminds us that it is our humility and our service that makes Heaven out of Hell. In the early Church, our self sacrificing love was indeed our defining characteristic and one of the chief ways we patterned our lives after Christ. The same Christ whose outstretched arms are marvelously depicted in the words of the old hymn: “Come Ye sinners poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore/ Jesus, ready, stands to save you, full of pity, love, and power…”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

 

The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked

And figs grew upon thorn,

Some moment when the moon was blood

Then surely I was born;

~

With monstrous head and sickening cry

And ears like errant wings,

The devil’s walking parody

On all four-footed things.

~

The tattered outlaw of the earth,

Of ancient crooked will;

Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,

I keep my secret still.

~

Fools! For I also had my hour;

One far fierce hour and sweet:

There was a shout about my ears,

And palms before my feet.

This lovely poem by G.K. Chesterton reminds us that Jesus came to redeem the rejected and despised. It is a telling of Palm Sunday from the point of view of the donkey. Chesterton builds on the detail found in Luke’s gospel that the donkey chosen for Jesus to enter Jerusalem with had never been rode upon. Such a creature must feel rejected. The donkey is a creature considered to be unnatural and a half breed. One beaten and abused. Yet it is this creature that takes place in the triumphal entry. As disciples we are called to see even the most despised creatures as children of God and to be agents of redemption in their lives. Because the truth is all of us were among the rejected when Christ chose us.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The King and the Maiden

Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents.

And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in a poor village in his kingdom. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist-no one dared resist him. But would she love him?

She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know for sure? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.

The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend to her. Clothed as a beggar, he approached her cottage with a worn cloak fluttering loose about him. This was not just a disguise – the king took on a totally new identity – He had renounced his throne to declare his love and to win hers.

This, perhaps the most beautiful of Søren Kierkegaard’s parables, is a profound illustration of the greatest Christian mystery: that God would give up all His holy splendor and don flesh and bone– that He would forsake His crown for a cross. The answer is “love.” As disciples, we are called to imitate this same love and humility. As the apostle Paul wrote in the second chapter of Phillippians: “Therefore in your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The One Who Stayed

You should have heard the old men cry,

You should have heard the biddies

When that sad stranger raised his flute

And piped away the kiddies.

Katy, Tommy, Meg and Bob

Followed, skipped gaily,

Red-haired Ruth, my brother Rob,

And little crippled Bailey,

John and Nils and Cousin Claire,

Dancin', spinnin', turnin',

'Cross the hills to God knows where-

They never came returnin'.

'Cross the hills to God knows where

The piper pranced, a leadin'

Each child in Hamlin Town but me,

And I stayed home unheedin'.

My papa says that I was blest

For if that music found me,

I'd be witch-cast like all the rest.

This town grows old around me.

I cannot say I did not hear

That sound so haunting hollow-

I heard, I heard, I heard it clear…

I was afraid to follow.”

 

This haunting poem by Shel Silverstein reminds us what adventures we forfeit when we are crippled by fear. The child in the poem hears the music but cannot bring himself to leave his comfort zone and now the world grows old around him. It is often said that our biggest regrets are not the times we've failed but the chances we never took. For the disciple, this poem is also a reminder of the courage it takes to follow Christ. It can be tempting to stay behind when we we hear God calling us to an extraordinary life beyond the bounds of everything we've known. In the gospels, Jesus does not wait around, he says, “Put your shoulder to the plow, and don't look back,” “let the dead bury their own dead.” When you hear the music calling you, will you be afraid to follow?

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…

Caged Bird

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

This poem, by Maya Angelou is a wonderful parable about privledge and oppression. It was no doubt drawn from Angelou’s experience in the segregated South, but it’s universal message speaks for all oppressed peoples everywhere. It is also a powerful reminder to those of us who fly freely that the sky is not our own. In fact, Christ promised that it was the poor who would receive the Kingdom of heaven and the persecuted that would be called children of God. It was the slaves, not the Pharaoh, that God demonstrated His power to in the wilderness. To be on the side of God is to sing for the caged bird.

 Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…