1189) A Reluctant Good Samaritan (c)

Malachy McCourt  (1931- )

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     (…continued)   What saved Malachy McCourt from himself was the opportunity to help someone else– the chance to be a Good Samaritan.  His first marriage lasted only long enough to produce two children, which he seldom saw.  His second marriage survived his drinking, but just barely, marred again by his irresponsibility and absence.  But the one thing he did sober up enough to get right was the care of his second wife’s mentally challenged daughter from a previous marriage.  Nina was severely impaired and needed almost constant attention.  Perhaps because of his own miserable childhood, Malachy had a special love and concern for Nina.  He would do anything for her.  They kept her at home for as long as they could, but finally they had to seek out institutional care for her.  

     That began a decades long search for a suitable place for Nina.  Sometimes, she stayed at group homes where she received good care.  But then those places would close, and other places often brought poor care and much disappointment and frustration.  It was a never-ending search to find what was best for Nina.  One of the places Nina stayed was in a New York State facility.  Family visits were in a clean and pleasant area which gave the impression of it being a wonderful place to stay.  But day to day life for the residents in the back hallways and wards was appalling, with conditions unfit for animals.

     When McCourt heard about these conditions, he was enraged, and he began to organize the families of residents to work for changes.  What followed was a long fight against the authorities on every level, but which finally led not only to changes there, but throughout the state and even the nation.  He had a little bit of fame from his on and off acting career, and a lot of contacts, and so his involvement was crucial.  

     This was the first time he had ever worked with other people with the goal of helping someone else, and it brought a new meaning and purpose to his life.  It became a turning point for him, and with it, began the long process of patching together his life, which was in ruins.  He had to quit drinking, save his second marriage, reconnect with his kids, get and keep a job for once, get reconciled with family back in Ireland, and settle things with a whole host of others he had angered or alienated or cheated out of money over the years.  It even led to a religious conversion of sorts, and a return to faith in the God he had heard about in childhood, but had so angrily turned away from.  It was a long and painful process, but it did bring to him a bit of peace and comfort by the time he was an old man.  And it all began with the opportunity to be a Good Samaritan, and the decision to, for once, do something for someone else.

     In his old age, Malachy McCourt was looking back on his life as he wrote this book.  As he was thinking about his work as a Good Samaritan, that work which led to so many positive changes in his life, he was reminded of something he memorized in catechism class as a child.  He remembered learning that, “Our purpose on earth is to know and serve God, so that we may spend eternity with that God.”  He remembered thinking as a child that would be extremely boring.  He wanted to raise hell with his friends, not sit around in heaven with God and a bunch of holy people.  But now, many years later, he thought of how good it felt to be a part of something that helped so many people, and he said, “If that’s what it means to serve God, being able to work with and be with the kind of wonderful people that I worked with on that project, then I have changed my mind about heaven and I am all for it.”

     God has created us in such a way that when we help others, we ourselves are also blessed.  He has called on us to take care of not only ourselves, but each other.  For years, McCourt raged against a God that would allow children to suffer like he did.  He did not understand that God has given us each a free will, and we can use that free will to make the world a better or a worse place.  Some people make it worse, and some make it better.  Jesus calls on us to be like the Good Samaritan, helping others whenever we can.  

     McCourt often raged against the Catholic charity workers who were at times mean to his mother and added to her humiliation as she sought their assistance.  And while the behavior of some of those workers was indeed terrible, it was that Catholic charity, given by Christian people in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, that did keep alive the four McCourt children that did survive.  Without that aid, there would have been nothing for several years.  Imperfect and unwilling as we are, God calls us to be a part of his work in making the world a better place to live for everyone.  Our willingness to be a part of that work of helping others then also becomes a blessing for ourselves.

     A fellow pastor tells about a conversation he had with a man in his parish who was a World War II veteran.  He was in on the D-day invasion of Normandy and the march across Europe to push back and defeat the Nazis.  As he spoke of his war experiences, he mentioned the suffering, the deprivation, the loss of many good friends, and the horror of war.  But then he said, “Still, I look back on those four years as the very best years of my life.  For once in my life I really had the feeling that I was part of something bigger than myself.  I was on the move, and we were going somewhere and accomplishing something important.  We had a mission.  Maybe it’s sad to say, but I do look upon those years as the best of my life.”

     He said, “I was a part of something bigger than myself; we had a mission.”  You do not have to be a soldier in a war to do that.  God calls each of us to a mission, a mission that is far bigger than our own little self.  And, said Jesus, even a cup of cold water given to one who is thirsty can be a part of that mission.  “Whatever you do for the least of these my children,” said Jesus, “you do it for me.”  And to the man who asked who is this neighbor he should be helping, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan; and then said, “Go and do likewise.”

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Galatians 6:7-10  —  Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

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Thou art never weary, O Lord, of doing us good. 

Let us never be weary of doing Thee service.  Amen.

–John Wesley  (1703-1791)

1188) A Reluctant Good Samaritan (b)

Malachy McCourt in The Molly Maguires, 1970

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     (…continued)  I will illustrate the message of this parable by telling the story of a man who spent much of his life being the very opposite of a Good Samaritan; and then, how his life improved when he became a Good Samaritan.

     The man is Malachy McCourt, now in his 80’s.  Malachy is the younger brother of Frank McCourt, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning childhood memoir Angela’s Ashes, which was made into a movie.  Malachy has also written a book about his interesting life.  Frank and Malachy were two of seven children raised in poverty and misery in Limerick, Ireland.  Three of the children died before the age of five from disease and malnutrition; and the terrible conditions that the family was raised in makes one wonder how any of them survived.  Most of the trouble was caused by their alcoholic father who hardly ever worked, and when he did, he spent it all at the pub on pint after pint of Guinness beer.  Eventually, he abandoned the family, never to return.

     Malachy was filled with rage about what his father had done to his mother and the family.  When he grew up, he left for America to get out of Ireland and away from all the bad memories and begin a new life.  Here in America, in no time at all, he became a world-class drunk, got married, was unfaithful from the very beginning, and had two children, which he then abandoned.  He remained extremely angry with his father for what he had done to the family, while at the same time, he was making all the same mistakes and doing the very same thing to his own family.

     McCourt is a brilliant man, and eloquently describes his three decades of alcoholism.  He was never at a loss for words, and, was a natural at acting, so he had various jobs as an actor in plays and television and movies, along with being a radio talk show host and businessman.  But his drinking always ruined everything; and while at times he had a huge income, at many other times he was as poor as his father had been back in Ireland.  He was completely irresponsible, not only in his marriages and with his children, but also in his business dealings, his friendships, and all his other relationships.  He lied, cheated, provoked, fought, spent time in jail, worked for a time with an international smuggling ring, got fired from most of the jobs he held, and kicked out of many of the places he went.  He is a great story-teller, his accounts can be hilarious, and he really did have some incredible experiences.  At times, the reader might even begin to envy him for some of his many adventures and his sometimes exciting life; except that he makes very clear that none of that brought him any happiness or peace of mind.

     Reading the story of the Good Samaritan brought to my mind the huge difference between the life of Malachy McCourt and the actions of that Good Samaritan.  It occurred to me how unselfish was that Good Samaritan’s act of kindness.  He had nothing to gain and much to lose by stopping to help that man on the side of the road, and yet he did so.  But Malachy McCourt’s life, for so many years, was lived completely for himself.  He could not understand why his wife was so upset with him for never being home, and never bringing home a paycheck.  After all, he told her that he loved her– what more did she want?  After the divorce, the court order was that he should not take the children into a bar when he had them for the weekend.  But having no place else to go, he took them to the bar, and when they told their mother, and she got mad, and then he got mad at the children.  When business partners got upset with his arrogance and irresponsibly, he got mad at them.  And, he ridiculed those who tried to help others, because in his life, everything was done for himself alone.  That was his way to live and be happy– to live only for himself.  In fact, he owned a bar in New York for a time, and the name of the place was ‘Himself.’

     In escaping the misery of his childhood, he had roared into adulthood, desperately seeking all the friends and good times he could.  But even though his whole life was centered on making himself alone happy, he ended up lonely and poor and an alcoholic and oftentimes suicidal.  He ended up worse than he was as a child in Limerick, where at least he was able to keep alive the hope for a better future.  By middle-age, all he had left was the alcohol induced happiness when he was drunk.  But, when he was sober, there was an ever deepening despair.

     What saved Malachy McCourt from himself was the opportunity to help someone else– the chance to be a Good Samaritan.  (continued…)

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Ecclesiastes 2:1…10-11  —  I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.”  But that also proved to be meaningless…  I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.  My heart took delight in all my labor...  Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

Isaiah 48:22  —  “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.”

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Thou hast formed us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.

–Augustine, Confessions, Book 1

1187) A Reluctant Good Samaritan (a)

The Good Samaritan, Vincent van Gogh  (1853-1890)

Luke 10:25-37:

     On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

     “What is written in the Law?” he replied.  “How do you read it?”

     He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

     “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

     But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

     In reply Jesus said:  “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers.  They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.  Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper.  ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

     “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

     The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

     Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

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     In the southwest corner of Colorado, near Ouray and Telluride, there are many abandoned gold mines, and lots of old mining roads up and down the steep mountainsides.  The mines are closed, but now there is a booming business in driving jeeps on these old roads.  You can hire a guide to drive you, or you can rent a jeep and go on your own.  It is beautiful, it is a thrill, and it is dangerous.  The roads are narrow, there are no guard rails, there are many inexperienced drivers out there, and it is a long way down.

     Not everyone comes back.  The locals can tell of many tragedies.  One story I will never forget.

     A young couple was on a jeep ride with their two young children.  The father was driving, and stopped at the edge of a high cliff to get out and take a picture.  The family stayed in the jeep, all buckled in.  Something went wrong, the parking brake did not hold, and the jeep started to move toward the cliff.  As the mother struggled to get the kids out of the seat belts, the father grabbed on to the bumper to hang on and try to stop the jeep.  It all happened very fast.  The mother and children could not get out in time; and the father, would not let go.  All four went over the cliff, and the entire family perished.

     Think about that.  That father could have at least saved himself by just letting go.  He could not save the others anyway.  All logic would have told him to stay safe.  But love make him unable to let go of that bumper.  That is the sacrificial love of a parent.  That is what someone will do for their family.

      But what was it that made the Good Samaritan stop and help that poor beaten man on the side of the road?  He might have been a father, but this wasn’t his son.  There is nothing said of him knowing the man at all; and, in that part of the country, chances are the man was a Jew, and Jews and Samaritans had little time for each other.  What’s more, whoever robbed and beat up that man on the road, might still be lurking nearby behind some rocks, just waiting for their next victim.  Common sense, safety, and self-interest were all on the side of hurrying on by, which is just what the first two travelers had done.  So why did this man stop?

     Jesus tells us very little in this parable about the man’s possible motives, saying only that ‘he took pity on him.’  This is a parable not about thinking the right thing, or even believing the right thing.  There are certainly many other parts of the Bible that talk about those things.  But this parable is about DOING the right thing.  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” was the question of an expert in the law that prompted the parable.  “DO THIS and you will live,” said Jesus after the man repeated the Old Testament command to love God with his whole heart, mind, and soul, and, to love his neighbor as himself.  And then after the questioner asked, “Who is my neighbor?,” Jesus told this parable.  Jesus ended it by saying, “Go and DO likewise.”  (continued…)

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Grant us grace, O Father, not to pass by suffering without eyes to see.  Give us understanding and sympathy, and guard us from selfishness.  Use us to gladden and strengthen those who are weak and suffering, that by our lives we may help others to believe in you, projecting your light, which is the light of life.  Amen.

–H. R. Sheppard  (1880-1837)

1077) No Flak

American B-24 hit by anti-aircraft flak, November, 1944

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      Among the great heroes of World War II were the men who flew the bombers and fighter planes in thousands of dangerous missions over Europe.  One of the keys to stopping the German army on the field was to destroy the factories in Germany that were making the many vehicles and guns and ammunition needed to keep that vast war machine going.  Every day hundreds of planes took to the air to bomb these factories, flying into fierce antiaircraft fire from the ground and attacking fighter planes in the air.  These flight squadrons sustained some of the highest casualty rates of all the groups of soldiers in the entire war.

     There is an interesting story of one of pilots who survived.  He described how the anti-aircraft ammunition got more sophisticated as the war went on.  At first, many of the shells were nothing more than big bullets, and even if hit, the shell might fly through a wing or into the plane itself and not cause significant damage.  Later on, however, ‘flak’ was invented and used in the anti-aircraft guns.  These were shells that exploded upon impact, spreading shrapnel all around like a hand grenade.  A hit by one of these could blow a wing off and the plane would crash.  

     This pilot described how on one flight his plane got hit by several of these shells, and he was quite sure he would be going down.  But the shells did not explode and he made it back to the base without any trouble.  When on the ground he examined the plane and was able to locate one of the shells, still stuck in the plane’s wing.  He noticed that indeed it was one of the newer, more deadly shells, but for some reason it had not exploded on impact.  He was curious and wanted to look inside.  So he had the shell carefully taken apart, and he was surprised to see what was inside.  In that particular shell, there was no shrapnel or explosive powder at all.  All that was inside was a piece of crumpled up paper.  He unraveled the paper and saw that it had a message:  “Hello,” it said, “My name is Stanislaw.  I am a Polish Jew forced by the Nazis to work in a munitions factory.  This is all I can do for now.”

     “All I could do for now,” he wrote.  All he could do was fill those shells with crumpled up paper instead of shrapnel– that was all, but it was enough to save the life of that pilot and his crew on that day, and no doubt the lives of many others.  I had always heard about the heroic pilots in World War II, but I had never heard of Stanislaw.  But he and those like him also contributed to the defeat of one of the most powerful and wicked regimes in history.

     God calls some people to do great things for him.  It seems he calls most of us to do more common and ordinary things.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, is one of the most important people in all of the Bible.  Yet, her importance was in her very ordinary role as a mother, being obedient to God’s call on her life.  May we also be obedient to God’s call, doing our best to serve God in whatever circumstances He has placed us. 

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Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.   –Mother Theresa

It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.    –Ancient Proverb

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Luke 1:38  —   “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.  “Let it be to me according to your word.”  Then the angel left her.

Matthew 10:42 — Jesus said, “If anyone, because he is my disciple, gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

Luke 16:10 — (Jesus said), “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

Matthew 25:23 — (Jesus said), “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Colossians 3:17 — And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

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“Here am I.  Send me.”   –Isaiah 6:8, where Isaiah responds to God’s call upon him to serve.

849) The Craziest Thing He Ever Heard Of

Millard Fuller was the founder of ‘Habitat for Humanity.’  In his book Love in the Mortar Joints, 1980, (pages 70, 71) he tells this story from the early of the organization, when people were still trying to understand what he was doing.

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     Even though many people throughout the United States understood and supported this effort to relate the Gospel to the poor in tangible ways, many people did not, especially some of our closer neighbors.

     As the first two houses were nearing completion, we called the local power company to request that they hook up the electricity.  When their work crew arrived, I was at the building site.  As the men began their job, the foreman of the crew sidled up to me and asked, “Who’s building all these houses?”  He swept his arm out, indicating the 42 lots we had staked off.

     “Koinonia is building them,” I replied.  “You know of Koinonia, don’t you?  We are a Christian community right down the road.”  (The place Fuller was living when he first started building houses for the poor, even before it was called Habitat for Humanity.)

     “Yes,” he said, “”I’ve heard of Koinonia.  But why are you building all these houses?”

     “We are building them for poor people– folks who don’t have a decent house to live in.  You’ve seen people around here living in bad houses, haven’t you?”

     “You mean those nigger shacks up and down the road?” he said.

     “Well, I wouldn’t put it just like that, but you’ve got the idea,” I said.

     “Okay, but I still don’t understand.  Who is making the money out of this project?”

     “No one,” I responded.  “It is a Christian venture, and building these houses is an expression of our faith.  The houses are sold to people with no profit added to the cost of construction and no interest charged.  The people will pay low monthly payments over a 20-year period.  We get the money for construction from gifts and non-interest loans from friends of Koinonia around the country and from shared profits of the Koinonia farming operations.”

     “But what are you building the houses if no one is making any money out of it?”

     I was becoming exasperated.  “I’ve already told you,” I said.  “We are building them to help our neighbors who desperately need a decent house; we are doing this project because we are Christians and we believe Christians ought to help their neighbors when they are in need.”

     He shook his head in disbelief, saying, “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of!”

     Now it was my turn to ask a question.  “Sir,” I said, “you’ve been grilling me about this project.  Now I’d like to ask you a question.  Are you by any chance a Christian?”

     He drew himself up to his full stature and beamed with pride.

     “Yes, sir,” he said, “I am a deacon in my church.”

     And I said, “You are a deacon, and helping someone is the craziest thing you’ve ever heard of?”

     “Yes,” he replied.  “I’ve never heard of anything like this!”  And he walked away, shaking his head.

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II Timothy 3:1-5a  —  But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents,ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power.

James 2:14-17  —  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.

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Father, as we diligently labor for You it is not to bring attention to ourselves, but it is to bring glory to Your name and to further Your kingdom.  Help us to find our place where we can develop our gifts and expend our labors in Your service.  Amen.  –source lost

828) No Room in the Inn

From A Sermon for Christmas Day, Luke 2:1-14; by Martin Luther (1483-1546), on Luke 2:1-14

     See to it that you do not find pleasure in Christmas only as a story, for that is only transient; neither regard it only as an example, for it is of no value without faith; but see to it that you make this birth your own, and that Christ be born in you.  This is our foundation and inheritance, upon which faith and good works must be built.

     If Christ has now thus become your own, it follows that you will do good works by doing to your neighbor as Christ has done to you.

     Therefore, you have no other commandment to serve Christ other than to direct your works to benefit to your neighbor, just as the works of Christ are of benefit to you.  For this reason Jesus said, “This is my commandment that you love one another; even as I have loved you.”  He loved us and did every thing for our benefit, in order that we may do the same– not to him, for he needs it not,– but to our neighbor.  As Christ helps us so we in return help our neighbor, and all have enough.  Thus, if you see your neighbor going astray, sinning, or suffering in body or soul, you are to help him in every way in your power, and if you can do no more, help him with words of comfort and with prayer.  Thus has Christ done for you and given you an example for you to follow.

     Now let every one examine himself in the light of the Gospel and see how far he is from Christ and the character of his love.  There are many who are filled with dreamy devotion, and when they hear of such poverty of Christ, they are almost angry with the citizens of Bethlehem, denouncing their blindness and ingratitude.  They think that if they had been there, they would have shown the Lord and his mother a more becoming service, they would have found a room for them to stay, and they would not have permitted them to be treated so miserably.  But do they look around to see how many of their own fellowmen need their help?  Or do they let them go on in their misery unaided?  Who is there upon earth that has no poor, miserable, sick, erring ones, or sinful people around him?  Why does he not exercise his love to those?  Why does he not do for them as Christ has done for him?  

     It is altogether false to think that you would have done so much for Christ then, if you do nothing for those needy ones now.  Had you been at Bethlehem you would have paid as little attention to Christ as they did; but since it is now made known who Christ is, you profess to serve him.  Christ has said that he is in our neighbor.  Serve him in your neighbor as you would if he were in the manger.

There Was No Room For Them In the Inn, by Eugene Higgins  (1874-1958)

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Luke 2:7b  —  There was no room for them in the inn.

John 13:34  —  (Jesus said), “This is my commandment that you love one another; even as I have loved you.”

Matthew 25:40  —  (Jesus said), “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” 

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Lord God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served, and to give his life for the world.  Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom the world offers no comfort and little help.  Through us give hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved, peace to the troubled, and rest to the weary; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978  (#141)

614) Martin the Cobbler

     Based on a short story by Leo Tolstoy

     There lived in the city of Marseilles, a hundred years ago, an old shoemaker, loved and honored by all his neighbors, who affectionately called him ‘Father Martin.’

     One Christmas he sat alone in his little shop, reading of the visit of the wise men to the infant Jesus, and of the gifts they brought, and he said to himself, “If tomorrow were the first Christmas, and if Jesus were to be born in Marseilles this night, I know what I would give him!”  He arose and took from a shelf two little shoes of softest snow-white leather, with bright silver buckles.  “I would give him these, my finest work.  How pleased his mother would be!  But I’m a foolish old man,” he thought, smiling.  “The Master has no need of my poor gifts.”

     Replacing the shoes, he blew out the candle and retired to rest.  Hardly had he closed his eyes, it seemed, when he heard a voice call his name.  “Martin!”  Intuitively, he felt aware of the identity of the speaker.  “Martin, you have longed to see me.  Tomorrow I shall pass by your window.  If you see me and bid me enter, I shall be your guest and sit at your table.”

     He did not sleep that night for joy.  Before it was yet dawn, he arose and tidied up his little shop.  Fresh sand he spread on the floor, and green boughs of fir he wreathed along the rafters.  On the table he placed a loaf of white bread, a jar of honey, a pitcher of milk; and over the fire he hung a hot drink.  His simple preparations were complete.

     When all was in readiness, he took up his vigil at the window.  He was sure he would know the Master.  As he watched the driving sleet and rain in the cold, deserted street, he thought of the joy that would be his when he sat down and broke bread with his guest.

     Presently, he saw an old street sweeper pass by, blowing upon his thin, gnarled hands to warm them.  Poor fellow!  He must be half frozen, thought Martin.  Opening the door, he called out to him, “Come in, my friend, and get warm, and drink something hot.”  No further urging was needed, and the man gratefully accepted the invitation.

     An hour passed, and Martin next saw a poor, miserably clothed woman carrying a baby.  She paused, wearily, to rest in the shelter of his doorway.  Quickly, he flung open the door.  “Come in and get warm while you rest,” he said to her.  “You are not well?” he asked.

     “I am going to the hospital.  I hope they will take me and my baby in,” she explained.  “My husband is at sea, and I am ill, without a soul to whom I can go.”

     “Poor child!” cried the old man.  “You must eat something while you are getting warm.  No?  Let me give a cup of milk to the little one.  Ah!  What a bright, pretty little fellow he is!  Why, you have no shoes on him!”

     “I have no shoes for him,” sighed the mother.

     “Then he shall have this lovely pair I finished yesterday.”  Martin took down the soft little snow-white shoes he had looked at the evening before, and slipped them on the child’s feet.  They fit perfectly.  Shortly, the young mother went her way full of gratitude, and Martin went back to his post at the window.

     Hour after hour went by, and many needy souls shared the meager hospitality of the old cobbler, but the expected guest did not appear.

     At last, when night had fallen, Father Martin retired to his cot with a heavy heart.  “It was only a dream,” he sighed.  “I did hope and believe, but he has not come.”

     Suddenly, so it seemed to his weary eyes, the room was flooded with a glorious light; and to the cobbler’s astonished vision there appeared before him, one by one, the poor street sweeper, the sick mother and her baby, and all the people whom he had aided during the day.  Each one smiled at him and said, “Have you not seen me?  Did I not sit at your table?” and vanished.

     Then softly out of the silence he heard again the gentle voice, repeating the old, familiar words:  “Whosoever shall receive one such little child in my name receives me…  For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in…  Truly I say unto you, inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”

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Read on-line the entire short story Where Love Is, God Is by Leo Tolstoy (1885):

http://www.online-literature.com/tolstoy/2892/

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Working Shoemaker, Pytor Konchalovsky, 1926

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Matthew 18:5  —  (Jesus said), “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Matthew 25:35, 40  —  (Jesus said), “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…  Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Hebrews 13:2  —  Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

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Thou art never weary, O Lord, of doing us good. 

Let us never be weary of doing Thee service.  Amen.

–John Wesley  (1703-1791)

598) A Life of Service and Thanksgiving

by Eric Metaxas, November 27, 2014 blog, at:  www.breakpoint.org 

     Between 2005 and 2012, Jason Brown lived what many people would consider to be the American dream.  He was a starting NFL offensive lineman, first with the Baltimore Ravens and then with the St. Louis Rams.

     In 2009, he signed a five-year deal with the Rams worth $37.5 million.

     Then he did what many would regard as unthinkable:  He walked away from another potentially big contract to become… a farmer.  But not just any kind of farmer.  Brown became the kind of farmer who embodies what it means to be thankful.

     After the Rams released him in 2012, other NFL teams contacted Brown about coming to play for them.  He was only 29 years old and could have easily played another two or three years and made millions more.

     Instead, he told his agent that he was through with football and was ready to pursue his real dream:  becoming a farmer.  His agent said he was “making the biggest mistake of his life.”  Brown’s reply was “No, I’m not.”

     Making the story even more difficult to fathom was that Brown had not grown up on a farm.  His father had been a landscaper who took his son with him on jobs.  Brown planned on learning how to farm from– are you ready for this?— YouTube and the internet, plus whatever advice other farmers might be willing to give.

     If this story sounds a bit quixotic (a colleague of mine says that the 1960s sitcom Green Acres came to mind when reading about Brown), there was nothing starry-eyed or impractical about Brown’s motivations.  As he told the Raleigh News-Observer, “I want to help people.”

     When he looks out at his 1,000-acre farm, he sees “youngsters learning how to fish” in its ponds, and fields “dedicated to providing fresh produce to shelters and food pantries.”

     As any farmer can tell you, things don’t always go according to plan.  Thus, “Many of the squash and cucumbers he had planned to give away were not harvested this summer because of heavy rains.”  Similarly, “The apple, plum and pear trees need time to mature.”

     But earlier this month, he harvested his first crop:  five acres of sweet potatoes, fifty tons, which he promptly gave away.  As Rebecca Page of the Society of St. Andrew, told a North Carolina television station, “”It’s unusual for a grower to grow a crop just to give it all away.”

   You’ve probably guessed what motivates Jason Brown.  If you haven’t, here’s a clue:  his farm is named “First Fruits.”  Brown’s former Rams teammate, All-Pro wide receiver Tory Holt, recalls Brown as “always being very strong in his faith.”  According to Holt, Brown “was very encouraging to everyone.”

     After his playing days were over, Brown decided that “it was time to start giving back… God has blessed us with this place, “ he said, “and I am to be a steward, to use all these good things to help other people.”

     To those who wonder why he walked away from football, Brown replies that “when I think about a life of greatness, I think about a life of service.”  As the News and Observer reports, “He is thankful for what he has been given and thankful for what he hopes to do.”

     And we are thankful for his example, which should serve as an encouragement to us all.

en1114hartman.jpg

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To read more and hear Jason Brown talk about his life and his farm go to:

http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/11/06/4300809_former-nfl-center-jason-brown.html?rh=1

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Proverbs 3:9  —  Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.

1 Samuel 12:24  —  But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.

Luke 3:10-11  —  “What should we do?” the crowd asked.  John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

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Lord Jesus, who came not to be served by to serve, help us live useful lives.

Help us always to encourage, and never to discourage others; to be more ready to praise than to criticize; to sympathize rather than condemn.

Help us always to help, and never to hinder others.  Help us to make the work of others easier and not harder.  Help us to not find fault with the efforts of others unless it is our job to do so, or unless we are prepared to do the thing better ourselves.  Make us more ready to co-operate than object, and more ready to say yes than to say no when our help is needed.

Help us always to be a good example, and never a bad example.  Help us always to make it easier for others to do the right thing, and never make it easier for them to go wrong.  Help us always to take our stand beside anyone who is standing for the right.

Grant that our lives may be lights shining for you in this dark world.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

A Barclay Prayer Book, by William Barclay (1907-1978), page 244-245, (adapted).

523) The Least of These

By Amy Morsch as told to Dean Nelson at:  www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/

 Amy Morsch is a senior at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas.

     There’s no way you can properly prepare for Calcutta.  Even the billboard on the highway going into the city makes you wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into.  It says, “Welcome to Calcutta—a City of Filth, Hunger, Warmth, Smiles and Joy!”

     I thought I was ready when I left for India.  I was a college student traveling with a group of volunteers as part of a $12 million airlift organized by Heart to Heart International, a Christian ministry founded by my dad.

     But when we got to Calcutta, I was immediately overwhelmed.  I felt a sense of hopelessness as I looked at the skin-and-bones children, the human waste in the streets, the flies, the women sitting in front of mounds of animal waste, making patties with their bare hands and baking them over open fires to sell as fuel.  And the sights were nothing compared to the smell of the city—a mixture of death, feces and rotten food.

     During our time in Calcutta, we talked with people on the streets and visited orphanages and hospitals.  But my most meaningful experience happened at a place called the Home for Dying Destitutes—a place for dying people who have nowhere else to go.

     One of the workers in the Home suggested that I help feed the lady in cot 17—a lady who was too weak to feed herself.  She weighed about 70 pounds, had three teeth and paper-thin skin.  The diaper she wore needed changing and she babbled constantly in a language I couldn’t understand.  I would like to tell you that my first thought was, Of course I’ll help her—she’s one of God’s children just like I am.  But it wasn’t.  My first response was that this work was too far below me, too gross.  But there was a sign on the wall that said, “Do small things with great love.”  It seemed to say to me, “It’s not what you do, or how much you do; what matters is the love you put in the doing.”

     So I went to the woman in cot 17 and fed her small bites of rice, curry and fish.  She ate a little, but what she wanted most was for me to sit so close to her that we were touching, as if she craved the touch of another human being more than she craved even food.  The longer I looked at her, the more I realized this wasn’t just a meal that was happening.  Finally, as I held a cup of water to her lips, she pointed at her heart, then pointed at me.

     In that very moment I experienced a whole new kind of love, the kind I think God must feel for us.  I knew I would do anything for this woman.  I said, “I love you” to her and as soon as I did, tears came pouring out of my eyes.  When the words left my mouth, I felt that I experienced God’s love for me, too.  I have done nothing to deserve his love, and yet it overwhelms me.  As he showed in the life of Jesus, God has said “I will do anything for you.”

     I left the Home thinking, God chooses to come at the weirdest moments.  Later I realized that it wasn’t such a weird moment.  It was the Thursday before Easter—the night Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.

     A few weeks later, when I got back to my comfortable room in my comfortable house in Kansas, I realized my experience in Calcutta wasn’t one of those emotional highs that goes away after a few weeks.  The lady in cot 17—I never did get her name—is like an anchor in my mind.  Experiencing God’s love through her has changed the way I work as a resident assistant in my college dormitory.  Sometimes, as I am dealing with a situation in the dorm and I really want to be doing something else, I realize that in those moments, the girls in my dorm are the “least of these” Jesus talks about in Matthew 25:40.  I need to treat them the way I would treat Jesus if he were right in front of me.  My experience in Calcutta sits at the front of my brain and affects virtually every decision I make.

     Going to Calcutta showed me that my whole life boils down to Jesus’ words, “Love one another.”  We are on this earth to show God’s love.  And we don’t have to go to Calcutta to do it.  As the sign in the Home for the Dying Destitutes showed me, it’s not how much you do, it’s how much love you put into what you do.

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Matthew 25:40  —   (Jesus said), “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

John 13:34-35  —  (Jesus said), “A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:5  —  After that, Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

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Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.

–St. Ignatius of Loyola

366) Albert Schweitzer’s Jesus

     

     By the age of 30, Albert Schweitzer was already a world-renowned organist and expert on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.  I don’t know much about music history, but it is said that his work changed the course of world-wide organ studies and performance.  Also by the age of 30, that same Albert Schweitzer was also a world-renowned New Testament scholar and theologian.  I do know something about Biblical studies and I know that yet today, every seminary student hears about Schweitzer’s 1905 book The Quest for the Historical Jesus.  It changed the course of New Testament studies for a generation.  It is still considered an important work, and continues to be referenced as scholars debate the meaning of the life of Jesus Christ.  Two very different areas of study, and Schweitzer had accomplishments in both areas that would have been worthy of a lifetime of study, assuring him of a place in history in both fields– and all done by the time he was thirty years old.  It was an incredible achievement…  And then, Albert Schweitzer quit his work in both fields, resigned his comfortable position as a university professor, and went on to do that for which he would become most famous!

     At the age of 30, Schweitzer left everything that had brought him international fame, and went back to school, entering medical school as a first year student.  He had done no previous study or work in medicine, and had no previous interest in it.  But he felt God was calling him to be a medical missionary, serving the poorest of the poor in Africa.  So he started over in an entirely new profession.  Seven years later, at the age of 37, he graduated from medical school and headed to the jungles of Africa.  There he started a clinic, used his previous fame to raise money all over the world, and built a huge hospital.  In 1952 he won the Nobel Peace Prize.  Schweitzer lived the rest of his life in West Africa, working tirelessly until he died in 1965 at the age of 90.

     Echoing the message of Jesus, he summed up his philosophy of life in these words:  “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know; the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have learned how to serve.”

     Albert Schweitzer’s earlier passion in studying the life of Jesus was to get at Christ’s central message.  The problem he found in all the books he read about Jesus was that each author would argue that he alone had penetrated behind the many man-made doctrines about Jesus, and finally, he could portray the real man and what he stood for.  But Schweitzer noticed that the so-called ‘real Jesus’ presented in this book or that book always looked most of all like the writer of the book.  Everyone would find in Jesus just what they wanted to find, and it was always someone just like themselves.  If the author was a political radical, he would find in Jesus the prime example of a political radical, challenging the Romans.  If the author was a wise old university professor, he would portray Jesus as a kindly teacher, going around giving wise advice.  If the author was a fire and brimstone preacher, railing against the sins of the flesh, he would find in Jesus the same harsh and judgmental Lord.  If the writer was a gloom and doom prophet predicting the imminent end of the world, that is what his book would say Jesus was like.

     Schweitzer called this whole approach into question, showing clearly that all these so-called historical and scholarly studies were just picking and choosing from the New Testament whatever suited the writer’s purpose.  Most scholars saw the point and agreed, and that whole approach to studying the life of Christ was abandoned, at least for a while.  Schweitzer was correct in what he was against, but then he failed to be for much of anything.  For Albert Schweitzer, the real Jesus was lost in the distant past, far beyond our knowing.  There was still Christ’s call to service, and Schweitzer gave the rest of his life to follow Jesus in that much; but there was in Schweitzer’s theology no resurrected, living, Savior.

     In Matthew 16, Mark 8, and Luke 9 Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?”  They, like Albert Schweitzer, had heard many different answers to that question, and replied “Some say John the Baptist (risen from the dead); others say Elijah (sent back from heaven); and still others say that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”  And then Jesus asked, “But what about you, who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  The Christ, Greek for the anointed one, the Messiah, the one promised, the Son of God.  It would take a week to unpack all what that title means, but it means much more than a political radical, or a wise old philosopher, or a gloom and doom preacher, or even one who calls on us to serve others, as Schweitzer found.  Jesus was all of those other things also, but most of all, like Peter said, he was the Son of God, Savior of the world.  

     And Jesus said to Peter, “Blessed are you.”

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Matthew 16:16  —  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Luke 1:1-4  —  Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

2 Corinthians 5:19  —  For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them.  And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

–The ancient Jesus prayer