HOPE for the HAPLESS

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12


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Hanging On to Hope!

rocket-flight-blogYesterday the following story from the associated press just happened to catch my eye …

DENVER – A daredevil hopes to propel himself across a southern Colorado canyon using a jet pack powered by hydrogen peroxide. Eric Scott tells the Rocky Mountain News he’s never travelled as far as he wants to Monday – 457 metres (1,500 feet). The Royal Gorge is more than 335 metres (1,053 feet) deep. A bridge spanning it was the site of a deadly stunt in 2003 when a parachute jumper miscalculated and fell.

Suspended over 1,000 feet above the ground by a 30-second stream of highly pressurized gas … shooting for a distance as yet untested … and all without a parachute! (Apparently he didn’t consider wearing one necessary) Talk about being hopeful!

Or is it? Have you ever wondered at the workings of this crazy mixed up world, when people are willing to put their “hope” in something like this rocket pack. And all for what? A moment of defying the odds. A chance to prove one’s foolhardiness, taunting all the sensibilities of rational thought and common sense? The opportunity to throw your life to the wind (literally) and walk away with your continued existence as the reward? Is that really “hope”or something just a smidgen more crazy?

I’m happy to say that Mr. Scott made it across, just as he hoped he would. But what if he hadn’t? What if his hoped-for burn time wasn’t quite long enough? What if the hoped-for thrust just wasn’t enough? What if his calculations were only a few feet shy of the mark? What if He isn’t alone in His misplaced hopes?

How often do we place our hopes in things that are just as plain crazy? Things like money, or family, or health. Things like our jobs, our position in the community, our retirement nest-egg. Oh Sure, these things may have gotten you across the chasm before, they may even get you over the pit again … but what happens on that day when they don’t? Any one of these is a gossamer thread that could snap without warning, (How are your investments doing these days?) sending us plunging into the long dark. Worse yet, there WILL come a gorge for every one of us over which none of these hopefuls can get you across. What then? When you stand on the cliff edge of the deep dark called death which of these can propel you to the other side?

True hope, lasting hope, real hope must be found somewhere else … in someone else … There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:4-5

And so knowing there is no hope of me convincing my wife that a rocket pack would be a cool way to get to the church each day, I will be content to place my hope (real hope, lasting hope) in the One who took the long dark fall for me, that I might soar with Him forever!

Image of Eric Scott (seen here in an earlier flight) courtesy of Jet Pack International


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Walking the Labyrinth

labyrinthWhile at a pastors’ retreat not too long ago I had the opportunity to walk for a time in the footsteps of an ancient mystical tradition.  I tried my hand (or rather feet) at experiencing a labyrinth.  And no, it wasn’t the kind of Labyrinth with David Bowie and countless Jim Hensen puppets (I wish!)

For those of you who may not be familiar with with such a thing, a labyrinth is used for mediation.  It is meant to represent the pilgrimage of the soul, be a metaphor for life’s journey.  It is a swirling path that leads into the centre of the design and then back out again.  According to the literature I read before embarking on my mystical pilgrimage it is meant to be walked in silence, with an open mind, an open heart, and a desire for union with God.  The path to the centre is a path to “the very heart of God and the very centre of the self.”  Thus one who treads the path should be ready to receive the insights and wisdom the Holy Spirit has for them.

“Keen,” I thought.  I do some of my best thinking/praying/soul-searching while pacing around my office and the sanctuary.  This could be interesting.  Besides, I had some time before supper. So I respectfully doffed my shoes and began my journey into Christian mysticism.  What did God reveal to me in the labyrinth?

ON the path inward, the “Purgation” I discovered that trying to follow a twisting path laid out on a giant floor mat seems pretty silly.  Cast out the thought and keep going.  Man, who knew you could get dizzy just by walking on a rug … cut it out … when is this thing going to get there?  You know you could just step over that little line and be in the centre.  If you don’t you know it’s going to swing way out to the edge again … OK just stop thinking … you’re not helping.

Finally, just when all the lines were beginning to blur together, there it is – the middle.  Now to stop and wait for “Illumination”.  All I could hear was the tick tock of a clock somewhere in the next room, the odd shuffle from me as I tried to steady my balance … and then it struck me … my feet were cold.

After a moment or two of revelling in the feeling of cold feet I began my reluctant outward journey, the stage of “Union”.  Here is where God helps you integrate the divine secrets He has revealed.  And boy did He.  350 paces back to the beginning and at about step four I also began to notice a slight pain in my big toe.  By the time I reached the end it was clear … I should keep my shoes on.  Baring my sole before God is too painful!

I tried.  I really did.  I like the idea of the labyrinth.  But just like any other mystical practice, when you open your heart and mind to the working of the Spirit but you do it apart from God’s Word and the Holy Sacraments the only thing you will find is yourself.  Sometimes finding yourself can be fun.  But often, you won’t like what you see.  As for me, I know what’s there, deep down in the middle (and I think it would scare even Mr. Bowie) … that’s why I try not to go there too often.

The Holy Spirit simply has not promised to work anywhere but in the Word and in the Sacraments.  So don’t look for Him where He isn’t.  Look for Him where He is.  Take a journey into His Word, Let the Scriptures provide you with Illumination, for when you reach the centre you will find the heart of God – in His Son who died for you on the cross and rose again from the dead.  In that centre, Jesus Christ, you will also find that Union you seek, His life for yours in Baptism, His Body and Blood for you in the Lord’s Supper.  The scope of God’s revelation to us in the Word and Sacraments is truly dizzying, but the journey never is.


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Ready?

The end of the church year is quickly approaching, and as it often seems to happen up here in Canada, the snow has begun falling.  I have always enjoyed how the two things seem to go hand in hand.

We here in Collingwood just had our first big snow squall of the year.  I was out shoveling my driveway three times yesterday, and will be again today.  The white stuff is piled up everywhere.  And even though the warning signs were all there, it seems that people were unprepared for it again.  Cars in the ditches, accidents on the streets, much needed hats and mittens still hidden away in the back of a closet somewhere, when they were needed now!

Even I was guilty.  I was caught with my own back yard still full of the kids toys, and some not-quite finished yard work.  Not that you can tell, it all being buried under a couple of feet of freshly fallen snow.  I will just have to wait until spring before I will find it all again.  (Sadly, I know that it will happily wait until then – no one gets off that easy)  But what does this all have to do with the Lord’s Return?

Ever since just after Reformation Sunday our readings have been bringing us into a clearer view of the great Day of the Lord to come.  It is a day for which we need to be prepared … not in the sense of steeling ourselves up for some great train wreck we see coming but can do nothing to stop.  Not in giving in to a sense of futility, or by abandoning hope.  The world might be tempted to view the end, Judgment Day in such negative terms, but that certainly doesn’t make them ready … anymore than complaining about the snow makes your yard cleaned up and ready to go when it starts to come down.

Christ calls us to be prepared by living our faith NOW.  By being in a relationship with Him now.  Cleaning up our back yard, so to speak, by living a life of repentance and forgiveness.  Being fed and nourished by the Word, in study, in song, in prayer and in preaching.  Being cleansed in the waters of Holy Baptism, set aside for that coming spring in the protection of the Church.  Putting on the Robe of Righteousness that covers our sin, and protects us from the harsh assaults of the world.  Being sustained through the long winter months of life in this world through the very Body and Blood of Jesus given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.

Once again, God’s gracious Word of warning, His call to repentance, has gone forth.  We do not know when that day will come, but it is coming.  You can smell it in the air.  Once again, He has reminded me through the sore muscles of the first snow fall, and the buried bags of fall leaves, that maybe I’m not as ready as I ought to be.  But by His grace I can be ready, not only for the storm that is coming, but for the spring that will follow!


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Sometimes We Get It …

Only in Canada.  Last week the Canadian public was surprised to hear that one of our feature reporters for the CBC National news program had been kidnapped in Afghanistan a month before.  It was only upon Melissa Fung’s release that the public heard anything.  For the entire month she was being held for ransom, the story was reported.

It did my heart good.  You see, sometimes even this sinful world of ours “gets it”.  Rather than exploit the fate of this poor reporter for the bang of a great story, the exec’s at CBC asked for all media to NOT report the story, seeking instead the well-being of their employee.  They held off on their industry’s natural inclinations to find the great story for the sake of someone else.  Amen.

Melissa herself, on the day she was released, (and in typical Canadian style) was overheard to say to the representatives of the Afghan government who worked so hard to secure her release that she was sorry for causing them so much trouble.  Again, despite what she had been through her initial concern was for the well-being of others.  Further, when pressed by them to give details of how she was mistreated, she also commented that those who had abducted her treated her well throughout.  She did not condone their actions, but she did not allow them to be unfairly vilified either.  Again, Amen.

Sometimes we do indeed “get it”.

“The second commandment is like unto it.  Love your neighbour as yourself” Jesus said.  In a world where everything runs on the idolization of the self, it is refreshing to see glimmers of this golden rule shine through.  In a world that is reeling from the effects of unregulated greed and self-serving attitudes, both in the social and economic spheres, how can you not help but feel a glimmer of hope when God’s truth peeks out of people’s words and actions?

Well, that was a week ago, and since the news broke, the story has been exploited to the full.  Everyone from the boss down to the reporter has been hailed, congratulated, and interviewed.  Everything is back to normal so to speak.  But I won’t let it get me down.  God’s law is indeed written upon people’s hearts.  Every so often He shows us again.  And where the Law has its say in the words and actions of even sinful people the Gospel can then do its work … and people get to see what “it” is all about – a God who loves us so much that He put us before Himself, refusing to vilify us, but doing everything needed to procure not a great story, but our rescue from sin, death, and the devil.
Sometimes we “get it” but often we don’t.  For now I will happily wait for the next pleasant surprise.


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The Politics of Good and Evil

OK, I promised myself I wasn’t going to say anything, but after my Canadian News being hijacked for the fourth straight night with one feel-good Obama story after another (to the exclusion of any other possible news in this world) I just have to get this off my chest.

What bothers me in all this never-ending hype over the American election is the nagging question that I’m left with having watched it all unfold. When did this world’s our sense of the divine become so stunted, so clouded, so myopic, that we look for both our satans and our saviours in the very human political leaders of one nation of this earth? Over the months and years leading up to this election, the fervor has grown steadily not only in the USA, but here in my country of Canada and around the whole world it seems. It is the struggle between all that is good in this world and all that is wrong with it, light and dark, death and life. (I only wish I were exaggerating any of this!). The religious intensity with which so many have viewed and engaged this political process is truly startling.

Agree or disagree with with the politics, but President Bush is NOT the devil. Yes the whole world has been ruined by one man – but that man was Adam, not George. This world was in rough shape long before Mr. Bush arrived on the scene – to say otherwise is to give him far too much credit. Credit no one (and everyone!) deserves. Similarly, hope and change for this fallen world has indeed come through a second man – but that man is Jesus the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, not President-elect Obama.

I’m not ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ anyone in American politics. I’m Canadian, and it’s really none of my business – really! I am happy that the American people have exercised their right to democracy. I am happy that the American people have voiced their opinion and chosen a leader. I am happy that so many of them are moved to see hope in these tough times. But I will not substitute my saviour for someone even as charming as Barack.

What I will do is seek to put religion and politics back into their proper perspective. I will join in with my faithful American brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for their leader. I will pray that He might govern his people with wisdom and justice. I will pray that he would serve with compassion for those who cannot defend themselves. And I will pray that when he cannot deliver this world from the full weight of it’s sin, that this world will repent of this unfair burden they have placed upon his shoulders and turn to the one true Saviour of our world.

For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1Corinthians 15:21-22)


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Why Me?

I just spent one of my favourite weekends doing my least favourite thing … being sick. It’s just how it seems to go, isn’t it? The dreaded cold bug starts its inevitable inward spiral through acquaintances and friends, towards your home and family and you pray and pray that it will somehow miss this time around. Or that maybe you’ll be the only one who doesn’t get it. Or that maybe it will just hold off until things aren’t so busy …

Hapless fool.

Like a shadowy stalker it pounces in a stealthy sniffle and a light pressure on the chest. By morning it has brought you down. But like a gazelle with a relentless lioness hanging on your throat you stagger onward – that important (and all day) District meeting two hours away … your congregation’s All Saints Sunday Celebration … the luncheon after … the voter’s meeting after that … And somewhere in the mucus choked delirium your heart cries out “WHY ME!” “WHY NOW!” “WHY CAN’T I JUST GO HOME TO BED?” “WHY ON ALL SAINTS, when there is so much extra to do?” WHY ON ALL SAINTS when I won’t even be able to sing so many of my favourite hymns?”

And then the hymn you are actually reading because you can’t sing hits you right between your watery eyes. “We feebly struggle, they in glory shine; Yet all are one in Thee for all are Thine.” (LSB #677, st. 4) And that still small voice says “Why Not?” Why not you? Why not now? Why should you be any different than any other saint who has gone before. Did they never get sick? Did they never complain? Did they never once think why can’t I just go home to bed? And they at least had struggles worth complaining about! Struggles for faith and fidelity to the Gospel. Struggles of life and death. And then I start to think of poor St. Bob who had to share four hours of disease clogged air with me in the car ride to and from the meeting. Or St. Trish who (even though I’m not as much of a baby as some men when they get sick) had to pull double duty around the house and looking after the children – even while sick herself.

And then it all starts to come back into perspective. What do I have to complain about? Tomorrow will be better … maybe. Yet, even if it isn’t – even if my spiritual struggles are never more praiseworthy than getting over feeling sorry for myself – I’m in good company. And “Why Me?” Because I’m in God’s company. I’ve been called, gathered and enlightened in His great Church, the Communion of Saints. I’ve been Baptized in the blood of the lamb. And even though I feebly struggle now, one day I will come through my great (or not so great) tribulations to shine with all those saints of God gathered before the throne of our Lord.