Thursday, January 30, 2014

Coming home

“…Miners hammer away at the rock, they uproot the mountains,  They tunnel through rock and find all kinds of beautiful gems,  They discover the origins of rivers and bring earth’s secrets to life,  But where, oh where will they find Wisdom?..."
         — Job 28:10-12

      Keeping perspective isn’t always easy when you live in Florida.  This cold snap we’re having is a nightmare to citrus growers, but a mere inconvenience to most us who are forced to dig out an old jacket and maybe a scarf or a pair of gloves from somewhere.  And when family from up north call you up and ask how things are “down there,” the last thing you want to tell them is how cold it’s been.  That opens it up to endless stories of school closings, piles of snow and roads iced over, not to mention the latest subzero readings on thermometers.
        The parking lot behind my parents’ house in Columbus, Ohio used to get a heavy blanket of snow each year.  When the trucks came and plowed it up in mini-mountains, my friend Mike and I would get busy.  We’d build snowforts and igloos, and have all kinds of adventures in that newly white wonderland.  One week, we brought shovels over everyday after school and began to dig tunnels through one particularly huge snow mountain.  I started from one end, and he started from the other, and by the end of the week you could crawl all the way through.
       I think of our fabulous snow tunnel when I read Job’s description of miners deep in the earth, searching for precious gems.  Mike and I weren’t looking for anything we could keep or sell — we were just digging for the fun of it.  We weren't exploring a new world so much as exploring ourselves, trying to discover what was possible and how much we could accomplish.  We weren’t trying to make a living, just trying to kill a few afternoons.

              To Job, however, those miners were a perfect example of God’s greatness.  We think we’ve got this world figured out, then one day a farmer stumbles onto a hidden cave in his field.  He goes down into it and sees that it opens up into a beautiful cavern, sparkling with gems, crossed by an underground river.  A whole new world had lain beneath his feet, and he never knew it.  The miners exploring these subterranean spaces may find amazing places and untold wealth, “but where oh where will they find Wisdom?” asks Job. 

             We seek high and low, we read and study and explore, and we spend our lives looking for answers to things only God can explain.  Much of what we seek in life is not hidden, but right in front of us.  Much of what we’re after may be ours already.  This is something I came to realize in college when I began to study different religions.  Some of them seemed to have brilliant insights, but when you broke it down they didn’t fit the human condition.  Some of them were elegantly simple, but really didn’t help my understanding of evil or sin.  Some had all kinds of practical instructions for what to do and how to pray every hour of the day, but who can really keep that up?

                Eventually, I came home.  I saw that the faith of my fathers and mothers was my faith too.  I realized that the stories and teachings of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were mine as well.  I understood that the God who took on flesh and came to live with me here in this confusing and imperfect world — the God who sent His son Jesus to be my Savior and friend — was just the kind of God I needed. 
             This season of Epiphany focuses on how this God reveals Himself in countless ways.  We see him in the starry skies, and we know He’s there in those caverns beneath the  earth, and in the seas with all their creatures.  But the “epiphany” that Epiphany is about is the one that happens when we see Him in our own lives.  We come to the lakeshore, and Jesus is there calling us to fish for people.  We head down the road, and Jesus calls us to stop off and see a sick friend, or pull into the supermarket to buy some groceries for a poor shut-in.  We come to worship and Jesus is calling us to welcome the new people and say a prayer for our recently widowed neighbor.
              We may not find answers to all our questions, but when Jesus meets us, we will always have THE answer.  Despite our plans, it happens God’s way.  Even when we feel tired and our heart is discouraged, our hope and renewal is closer than we imagine.  We don’t need to look into heights of space or the depths of the earth.  We don’t need to take a class or read every word of the Bible or discover some secret code.  For those with faith and a wide open heart, there is an epiphany right around the corner.  Jesus is there now, waiting to be discovered in the face of the next human being you see.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Discover God's Love

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another,
as good stewards of God's varied grace:
-- 1 Peter 4:10

Friends of Atonement,
            Welcome to 2014!  Thank you for your participation and support of our ministries here at Atonement in 2013.  We have experienced another great year of ministry with a record number of new members, record numbers at the food pantry and major facility upgrades, including a new columbarium. In addition, our Laying Foundations for the Children of God Capital Campaign has been blessed with an offer of $25,000 in matching funds. Donations given to the campaign through February will be matched by a generous anonymous donor.
            I’ve been using the phrase “Discover God’s Love” for some time now.  I use it as the title of the newsletter, and today it’s up on our church sign.  To me it expresses a deep need in our world.  For many people, God’s love and care for them is not obvious.  They do not connect their blessings, the successes they have or the good things that happen to them with a loving, caring heavenly Father.  They do not find peace in their hearts from the love of a Savior, or power in their lives through the presence of God’s Holy Spirit.  Many people in our world need to discover God’s love.
            And that’s what God put us here for!  As Peter wrote, our blessings have come to us as gifts from God.  Now let’s use them to serve one another – in and out of the church – to demonstrate God’s love. What gifts do you have that you can put to use to help others “discover God’s love”?  Maybe you have a skill you can share or show off at the upcoming Talent Show on February 23.  Maybe you have a valuable item you no longer need that could be sold in support of a ministry.  Maybe you have a passion to serve on the Stewardship Team, Caring Team, or as a community volunteer.            
             You are part of what makes this congregation so wonderful.  I hope more and more people in and around our community see what I see when they look at Atonement: people gathering together, bringing their unique and irreplaceable gifts, laying them before the Lord, and helping one another discover God’s love.