HOPE for the HAPLESS

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


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Hagiographies of the Hapless

all saintsNovember 1st marked the festival of All Saints. It is the time of year when Christian thought wanders to the saints of Christ, and all that God did for His kingdom through their lives in the world. It is a good time of year for hagiographies.

Hagiographies are the biographies of the saints. Some of them are doozies! Women using crosses to carve their way out of the belly of a dragon. Men carrying their decapititated head for several miles, preaching all the way. Men and women in picture after picture holding various body parts sacrificed to their persecutors, and/or the instruments of their torture and death … all for being faithful to Christ.  I suppose these saintly stories are supposed to be uplifting … pointing to the greatness of faith, and what it is willing to suffer for Christ.

But when I think of hagiographies, I am led to remember the lives of saints who are far less astonishing (in the gruesome sense of so many of these ancient stories), and far more astounding given ordinary nature of the men and women involved.

Consider, for example, the dear saint who struggles to raise her three rambunctious daughters. For weeks at a time her husband is overseas working to support the family, and she becomes the sole caregiver. Yet through her exhaustion and frustrations she never fails to bring those girls to Sunday School and church. You can see the concern etched into her features. You can feel her tiredness and ache. You could not count the number of times she has been at her breaking point, ready to give up, roll over and go back to sleep, give in and take the easy road. But she doesn’t. She struggles on, she finds the resolve, and the time, for her daughters … the precious gifts God has entrusted to her. She cannot give them everything she would like (including her patience) but she can give them Jesus.

Or take for example the elderly saint who after a lifetime of living successfully as the world has told him he should, one day finds himself broken and defeated at the funeral of his beloved wife. And there he hears the Good News of forgiveness, salvation, and the promise of something better to come in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the first time he has really heard it … and he wants to hear more. After several conversations with the pastor he finds himself one Sunday morning not so very long afterward being Baptized at the tender age of 78 years. See him only few weeks later as he is given the news from his doctor that he has terminal cancer. Yet, he is no longer the man he once was only months before. He takes the news in stride, and spends the next few months … the first few months of his life in Christ … planning his funeral. Choosing the hymns and the readings with his pastor. Writing letters for his children to send to family in Holland who don’t speak english. Using the little time he has to share his precious faith with his devasted children. Telling them He is not only fine (he is better than fine) and looking forward to seeing their mother again.

Or consider the dear saint  who lives alone in her little basement apartment. Unnoticed for the most part by the world around her. A quiet little lady, full of grace and quiet conviction. A talented seamstress, she has spent her life mending and hemming, and altering other’s clothes. She has designed more than a few in her time too. These days she mostly works for family, grandchildren in particular. Her hands are showing their age and she can’t work the cloth like she used to. So the gifts are fewer and farther between. But she prays. Sitting there at her dining room table is her Bible, her prayer book, and her notebook FULL of names and prayers. Page upon page of handwritten notes. Notes for everyone and everything … It all goes in there.  And she prays it every single day. While the world goes by her, completely unaware of the treasure in their midst she quietly and happily prays for them all. Earnestly, continually, joyfully … never for her own satisfaction, but always for others’ needs.

These are the hagiagraphies we should tell. The stories of the saints we should remember. People like you and me. Ordinary, average, fallible people who are loved and saved by God. People called by the Holy Spirit. People gifted with the Gospel of Jesus. People who taught … and still teach … this pastor what it means to be a saint. People with their struggles. People with their weaknesses, their shortcomings, their sins and failings. But despite it all, people who God has claimed as His own. People He has set apart. People He has used to bring Christ to those around them and change this world for the better. Patience, long-suffering, and prayer may never make for a spectacular story, but they make for astounding lives of faith!

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Out of the Darkness

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” [Psalm 119:105]

light pathWe’ve all been there … stumbling through the middle-of-the-night darkness. Reaching, grasping, feeling tentatively with our outstretched hands only to bang our shins, stub a toe, step on something sharp and painful, or worse,  squishy and unpleasant. As we stumble and bumble our way around the kitchen or to the bathroom we curse the darkness and all its subtle dangers which weren’t there in the daylight.

Have you ever stopped in the inky blackness, toe throbbing or shin aching, and considered that only moments before the darkness was not the least bit of a problem. In fact, most sleepers welcome the darkness. For those laying safely in bed the dark is rarely a fearful or dangerous thing (if you’re over six years old). But when you’ve got somewhere to be or something to do … well that’s when the darkness becomes something very different.

It is an equally interesting thought when applied to the light of God’s Word in this sin-darkened world around us. If we are not going anywhere, not doing anything, we can easily put up with the dark. If you want an acid test, just try listening to your favourite music, watching your favourite TV shows, or movies with that same six-year-old.  If the thought makes you hesitate, perhaps you have gotten too comfortable in the dark. No, the dark is not always scary. Indeed, we can often welcome it! But if, in our lives, we’re going somewhere important or doing something worthwhile, well then, light is what we desperately need.

Luther notes in his commentary on this very well-known passage from the Psalms that the Word’s light is not for our eyes and our seeing but for our feet and path. God’s Light – God’s Word – is there for walking in!  We read God’s Word so that God’s promises in Christ may have their way in our hearts, and in our lives.  Not just so that we would see, or know, but so that believing we would walk and do!

As Luther went on to say, our feet cannot be lit and our paths cannot see.  So this verse describes the Word’s work of faith.  “It guides the feet and the heart, and faith does not require understanding … Thus faith does not enlighten the understanding, indeed, it blinds it, but rather the heart.  Faith leads it where it will be saved, and it does so through the hearing of the Word” (AE 11:485)

What this means in a practical sort of way is that if you find yourself stumbling around in the dark of this world, there is a light that can keep you from hurting yourself.  A light to shine into those dark corners and illuminate those sharp edges just waiting to trip you up.  A light that shows the dangers of this world for what they are, and brings them down to size. That light is God’s Word.  That Light is Christ. And what’s more, just like you don’t have to know exactly how an LED bulb works to appreciate the safe passage your light gives … you don’t always have to understand every “why” behind God’s Word for your life for it to lead you to better things. You just have to follow where He leads.

May the continued daily reading of God’s Bright Word lead you in faith through paths as yet unseen, and dangers as yet unknown … down the path, and through the life that He would have you live in His Word, and as His beloved child.


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Leaving a Trail

Those of you with weak stomachs put down your sandwich now.

From the news recently: “People leave a unique trail of germs”  WASHINGTON (Reuters) – People leave more than fingerprints when they touch stuff — they also deposit a tell-tale trail of germs that could help investigators solve crimes, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.  They were able to map a unique bacterial genetic signature left by nine different people, and said this germy DNA lasted though day-to-day temperature changes, humidity and sunlight. “Each one of us leaves a unique trail of bugs behind as we travel through our daily lives,” Noah Fierer, a researcher at the University of Colorado at Boulder who led the study, said in a statement.

Researchers have been learning that people are colonized with billions of microbes, both inside and on the body. And studies have shown that these colonies are unique to the individual and even to the place on the body … The University of Colorado team had previously found that a typical person carries about 150 bacterial species on the hands, and that any two given people only share about 13 percent of these different species … And unlike non-native disease-causing germs, they are not dislodged by standard hygiene. “Palm surface bacterial communities recover within hours after hand washing,” the researchers wrote.

Do you still want that sandwich?  Are you looking at it a little differently?  How about the keyboard, the mouse, the doorknobs?  The hand extended in friendship?  This “germy” discovery is both interesting and a little disturbing … but is it really news?  Does it really change anything?

We all know that we leave a trail behind us for good or for ill.  We all know that our hands are tainted – stained – by our own particular sweat of sin and impurities.  There are some parts of our lives that go by relatively unscathed, but others that are continually sick and suffering.  And no matter how hard – how diligently – we try to scrub ourselves of it, the same sins just keep coming back.  And as so often happens, we can’t even see the trail we leave behind … at least not until it can be measured by its effect on others (parents of preschoolers going from one sickness to the next know what I mean!)

As much as we might hate to admit it, the trail of sin we leave behind us is one of the surest ways of knowing who we really are, and where we’ve truly had an impact. (As parents of preschoolers trying to un-learn certain of their own words and behaviours in their children can attest to!)

Yet consider another pair of sin-stained hands … the hands of Jesus.  Perfect, spotless, without sin or stain or impurity, they never-the-less bore the full colonization of this world’s sin and impurities.  Yet where our hands leave behind a trail of suffering and sorrow, His hands in bearing that suffering and sorrow upon the cross leave behind an all-together different tell-tale mark.  It can be seen in the hands and the lives of those who belong to Him.  For along with the bad that is often left in the long trail behind them there is also great good.  Tell-tale signs of a life not measured by the sin in it, but by the Saviour over it!

And again, it is a trail that we are not always able to see except long after the fact, in the effect it has had upon the lives of those whom we have touched.  The kind words, the prayers so freely offered, the moment of compassion, the act of forgiveness, the gifts of time and service … such are the life giving trail left behind by those whose lives have themselves been identified through the nail marked hands of Jesus.  And even more than our germy following, this mark of Jesus upon our lives is a trail that impossible to erase.