My brother-in-law, Bruce, spent thirty
years restoring his “Vicky”, his Crown Victoria classic car. When he died, he
was almost finished but not quite. Occasionally, over the years he would take
“his Vicky” to a classic car show, but when questioned there was always
something else that needed to be done. Her transformation wasn’t quite
In some ways we are like Bruce’s beloved
Vicky. God spends our lifetime working on our transformation. Sometimes, we may
seem to be finished but not quite. We never attain perfection. The difference
is that Bruce’s Vicky was passive, waiting for Bruce’s decision around what
needed to be done next. As God’s beloved children, we are not created as
passive beings. We are humans blessed with the gift of free will. God’s
transformation for us is much more difficult for God. God has the power, the
love, the wisdom to do anything God wishes, and yet God waits. God waits for us
to understand, to willingly make the choices needed for our transformation. We
are a team with God, whether or not we want to be.
The miracle of life lies in the fact that
God is always ready and waiting for us. God will lovingly work with us to
enable us to become the best that we can be, in life, in death, in life beyond
death. We are not alone.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future. (Isaiah 29:11)
The last few days, my thoughts have focused on Jesus’ story of “The Lost Son.” In movies, books, and life, I seek happy endings. I smile when the lost son realizes his folly and returns home. I nod when the grieving father runs out to meet him when he is still a long way off. The elder son’s response of anger and righteous judgment feels good and proper. The father’s response also feels good. Will the elder son understand his father’s plea for love and mercy? We aren’t told, so I can fill in my happy ending. Both sons have learned how to love. Father is wiser.
How does Jesus’ story end today? Too often today, addiction swallows us up leaving us lost, sleeping on the streets, even murdered. Sometimes it’s our commitment to overwork, an extramarital relationship, total self-indulgence, that carries us away from family, loved ones, God. Unlike the lost son in Jesus’ story, we don’t return home. We may have started home many times but we stumbled again and again and again. We can’t stay on that homeward path.
And so, too often, as parents, spouses, children, friends, we are left sitting at the gate, still loving, still praying, still hoping, still weeping. The opportunity to run down the path, arms open wide, love pouring forth, never comes.
Too often, as elder siblings, we keep plugging away, doing our best, resentment hidden and growing, judgment made. We want to hang onto our rage, our self-righteousness. We’re sure we are right. We don’t want help forgiving those who are unforgivable. We don’t want to face God’s unconditional love, God’s endless mercy, let alone participate in it.
Today, whether we are the lost son, the elder brother or the loving parent, we go to our death still paralysed, still lost on life’s journey. And so we think there is no possibility for a happy ending.
For me, the Good News, the “happy ending” comes when we learn to trust our Christian story which tells us that the power of God’s love is so strong, God’s plan for each one of us so flexible, so creative, that even death cannot keep us paralyzed. In fact, death, in whatever form it comes, opens the way for “new life,” the happy ending.
Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)
Jesus’ own life story tells us that whether our death brings forth the possibility of new life, transformation, abundance.
Today, whether we are facing the loss of a beloved person, the ending of a life-long dream, the closing of our precious church,– wherever we find ourselves present in Jesus’ story, we can trust that the resurrection will come. God will not be defeated. We may not see the transformation, but it will come, if not in this world than in the next. Weeping will end. Joy will come with the morning. We are not truly paralyzed. We can open ourselves to understanding, forgiveness and love. We can receive God’s peace that is beyond our understanding because we can trust in God’s transformation, whenever it happens.
We have hope, for God has assured us there will be “a happy ending” in this life or the next. Our transformation is guaranteed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
We can hear and live Jesus’ words: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27) For this, I am truly grateful.
A gift of $50 in your loved one’s name will help build
a 7 room school in Duplan, Haiti
I Can Make a Difference!!!
My son Dave, his wife, Joanne and granddaughter, Jenna, are not coming home for Christmas. We’ll miss them. We want to include them, but how? We can’t mail gifts to them because the mail where they live is not as reliable as it is in Canada. Packages tend to be opened and their contents shared long before they get to our loved ones. It would be easy to send money, and I’m sure it would be appreciated, but for me, that leaves Christmas out of the equation. I need to honor my faith in my gift giving.
The United Church’s “Gifts with Vision” Catalogue and Kiva’s Microloan Catalogue and others like them provide a wonderful smorgasbord of gifts that will help change the world through love. Every year we give each family on our list one of these gifts. This year, shopping in these catalogues will be even more fun. We’ll have more money to spend because these gifts will make up our entire package for Dave’s family.
We can support building a water treatment and supply plant for Duplan Secondary School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. We can provide clothing, basic personal care, and pastoral support at St. Matthew’s-Maryland, West Broadway, and Oak Table community ministries in Winnipeg. We can stock a medical clinic in far off Africa. We can join with others to enable Domitila in Bolivia start a business making clothing so she can support herself and her family. In a very real way, we can act to feed the hungry, care for the poor, and to change systems that perpetuate resource inequities.
Our faith calls us to make a difference. If you’ve never seen one of these catalogues, or experienced the joy of this kind of Christmas giving, it’s time you did. They’re available on line and at your local church. Make sure that this year, that at least some of your gift giving makes a difference in the world. For today, keep the thought:
This year, I want to give a gift that will transform someone’s life.
“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)
Easter weekend is over. The Chocolate Easter eggs and bunny rabbits have disappeared from the store shelves. Commercial interests have marched on to Mother’s Day.
For Christians, Easter didn’t end on April 9th. We celebrate Easter each and every Sunday, all year long. That’s why we worship on Sunday rather than on Saturday like our Jewish and Muslim friends. We have our day of rest and celebration on the first day of the week, because our Christian story tells us that Jesus rose on that day.
Two thousand years ago, we committed the ultimate act of violence and rejection. We endeavoured to kill God. The joy that we celebrate at Easter is that we failed. No evil, no darkness has enough power to destroy God. On that third day, when Jesus rose from the dead, God showed us that goodness and love always triumph over evil. No matter what we have done, said, or thought, God’s love for us cannot be defeated. When we experience our guilt and ask for new life, God’s forgiveness is there waiting for us. New life is possible. The spark of God’s goodness and love that is born in each one of us can rise up and transform us.
The wonder of Easter is that God wants to work through us. Regardless of our past mistakes, God’s love lifts us up and sets us on a new road. We can speak out for justice. We can share willingly and easily of our abundance. We don’t have to live in fear of tomorrow.
The new life we are trying to live means that Easter is with us every single day. Like babies, we begin with a few halting footsteps. We can speak up when we hear a friend speak ill of another person. Instead of buying water in plastic bottles, we can refill our bottles from our taps. We can write a letter in protest when our government’s policies appear unfair. With each new step, we gain more of God’s courage. Easter is about transformation, about God’s victory over the darkness in each one of us. Easter is never over.
“Your life may be the only Bible that someone else reads.” For me that’s a mighty intimidating statement, yet in today’s world, it carries an element of truth. Society has great expectations of those of us who are identified as Christians. They want us to live good lives. They want us to be caring. They want to set us apart as special. Our faith is supposed to have transformed us, to have made a difference in how we live. When we fail to live up to those expectations, society labels us hypocrites.
As Christians, we know we’re not perfect. We try to do what we think God expects of us. We know we often fail. Like everyone, we live busy lives. Things overwhelm us. There are people that we find easy to love, but also people we wish we had never met. We know living our faith isn’t easy.
When I’m faced with someone whose sharp words have made deep gashes in my soul, I don’t want to offer forgiveness. When I hear about terrorists planting yet another bomb, or rival gangs killing an innocent bystander, I feel anger and disgust. I don’t want to see these perpetrators of violence as God’s beloved children.
When we read the Bible carefully, we learn that the Biblical characters were just like us. They, too made mistakes. At times, they were accepting and caring. At times, they deliberately weren’t. Most of the time, they knew that God was with them, pushing, prodding, trying to lead them.
Saying the words, “Lord, I believe” is not enough. Being a Christian means hearing the Word and being transformed by it. Transformation is a slow process. We often wobble back and forth between God’s way and our way. On our best days, with God’s help, we do become God’s Word for others. We truly are people of the Book.
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)
Winter brings relief from the constant road construction that slows down our journey. We want the convenience of smooth, uncongested roads without the frustration of time consuming delays and the vast expenditures of tax dollars required.
The Advent scripture readings begin with the prophet Isaiah saying, “Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Remove the rough spots, the places where you step away from God. Remove the hatred and the prejudice that have become mountains between you and others. Fill in the valleys of greed. Accept the freedom to share your bounty with others. Smooth out the rough road of busyness and dissatisfaction with prayer and gratitude. Put your life under construction.
Yes, construction is expensive. Changing your life requires energy. You will have risk looking at your dearly held prejudices. Lay them down to love and accept all people. You will have to receive the wisdom that comes from holding out your hands in forgiveness to those who have hurt you. You’ll have to open your eyes and hearts to the pain of others. Your family and friends may lose patience with you. Construction is like that.
This Christmas season, instead of crying out to God to smooth out your life, listen to the prophet Isaiah. Begin your own construction company. Believe you can do it because of God’s promise to love you and support you. God will provide the friends, the bulldozers and the strength you need to get the job done. This Christmas, be ready for the birth of the Christ child in your own heart.
A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. (Isaiah 40:1-5)