843) Feeding the Hungry

Matthew 11:15-21  —  As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late.  Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”  Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away.  You give them something to eat.”  “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.  “Bring them here to me,” he said.  And he directed the people to sit down on the grass.  Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves.  Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.  They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.  The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

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     Yesterday’s meditation raised the question of how a good God can allow suffering in the world.  I pointed out that the Bible responds to this question in a variety of ways, and one of those ways is in the Matthew 14 story of the feeding of the 5,000.  The disciples bring to Jesus the problem of people who are hungry, and Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.”  The same story is told in John 6, where Jesus asks Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”  

     Philip thinks this is a ridiculous suggestion.  He wonders how they were supposed to do that, saying, “Six months wages would not be enough to give each person even one bite.”  Philip could have added, “Don’t forget Jesus, we all quit our jobs to follow you, so we don’t even have one month’s wage on hand with all of us put together.”  You wouldn’t have to be a pessimist or a negative thinker or even a person of small faith to see that what Jesus suggested was an outrageous, impossible solution– telling twelve unemployed men to buy lunch for 5,000 people.

     But then one of the disciples started to do something.  John 6:8 tells us that it was Andrew who found a boy with a little lunch along, and said to Jesus, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish.”  Good old Andrew– there’s a positive thinker for you, a man of real faith.  I can see him cheerfully telling the other disciples, “Well, at least it is a start.”  But even he had to add, “I don’t know how far this will go among so many.”

     Then came the miracle, and a little boys small lunch fed 5,ooo people.  There was a problem and Jesus said, “Do something about it.”  Do not just sit there and talk about it, do not let it destroy your faith and trust in God, don’t waste your time writing angry books about it, don’t even wait around for God to take care of it– just do something about it, Jesus said.  Little you, with the little bit you have, can begin to do something about it, and then watch God bless the efforts.  Even something so small as a boy’s lunch can make a difference.

     When faced with 5,000 hunger people, Philip threw up his arms and said, “It can’t be done.”  But Andrew said, “Here’s a little boy’s lunch,” and soon everyone had their fill.

     Andrew’s response reminds me of Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity.  Fuller’s goal for Habitat for Humanity was to, in the name of Jesus, provide a decent place to live for every single human being on earth.  That’s a big goal, and when he started talking to people about investing in his new ministry, many thought he was crazy.  He was doing a radio interview one time and somebody called in to say just that.  “You are crazy,” the caller said, “How do you think you are going to provide a decent home for everyone on earth?”  “Well,” said Fuller confidently and cheerfully, “Our plan is a simple one.  Our motto is ‘no more shacks,’ and so we are just going to build one house after another until we are finished, and everyone on earth has a decent house to live in.  And then,” he added, “when we get all done with that, we’ll think of something else to do.”  Just like Andrew, he was willing to get started with what he had, and see what the Lord would do with his efforts.  The work of Habitat is not done yet, but with volunteer labor, and donations given to provide interest free loans, Habitat has built or repaired over a million affordable homes over the last 39 years, providing homes, instead of shacks, for five million people.

     The New Testament is filled with this message, and the first Christians went right to work to obey Jesus’ command to serve those in need.  Although they were small in number, their service to others began to have a huge impact, and was noticed.  Even one of the early enemies of the church, a Roman official, in a report to his superiors on the problem of Christians in the Empire, had to admit that “These followers of Jesus are good people; they feed their own poor, and they feed ours too.”  That example of service to others, and that witness to their love and the love of their God, eventually won over a majority of the Roman empire to the Christian faith.

     Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) could write a book about ‘why God is not great and how religion spoils everything,’ and another book on what a terrible person Mother Teresa was; but none of that did anyone much good.  But when Mother Teresa brought starving homeless people in off of the street for a meal and a place to stay, lives were touched with the love of Jesus.  And when millions of less famous Christians around the world stock local food shelves or give to their church’s hunger appeals, hungry people are fed, one at a time.  

     Feeding the hungry is not a burden; rather, it is a privilege to be allowed in on this great work of God.  If the whole world shared like Jesus said we should, the whole world would be fed.  God has provided enough resources to feed everyone, but human sin, greed, corruption, and war are always interfering with the distribution of those resources.  But as each individual person does what they can by sharing, that response becomes one small part of the answer to the problem of suffering.

     And then, don’t forget to give thanks to God that you are one of those blessed enough to be able to give, and not among those who do not know where their next meal is coming from.

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690) The Drop Box

Pastor Lee and Baby

Mostly from John Stonestreet’s blog, February 10, 2015 at:  http://www.breakpoint.org

     In Seoul, the capital of South Korea, hundreds of infants are abandoned on the streets every year.  The problem became so severe that one Korean pastor decided to take unprecedented action.

     It’s a story that’s now the subject of an award-winning documentary by film maker Brian Ivie.  Stirred several years ago by a report in the Los Angeles Times about Pastor Lee Jong-rak’s unique solution to infant abandonment, Ivie (then a film student at the University of Southern California) raised enough money to lead a team to Seoul to capture this tiny but inspirational ministry.

     Pastor Lee Jong-rak calls it his “Drop Box.”  The concept is simple.  Instead of aborting or abandoning their infants, mothers who either can’t keep or don’t want their babies bring them to the wooden box affixed to Pastor Lee’s house; they say goodbye, and they shut the door.  The box, which is equipped with lights and heat, has a sign in Korean, “Please don’t throw away unwanted or disabled babies, or babies of single mothers.  Please bring them here instead.”

     When the box opens a bell rings, and Pastor Lee, his wife, or a volunteer, comes and takes the child inside.  Since Pastor Lee installed the Drop Box in 2009, as many as 18 babies a month have arrived at his home, which doubles as an orphanage.  He and his wife have even adopted ten as their own—that’s the maximum number local authorities will allow.

     Sometimes he speaks to mothers face-to-face.  One told him she intended to poison herself and her newborn before hearing about the Drop Box.  Another simply left a note, which read:

My baby!  Mom is so sorry.  I am so sorry to make this decision…  I hope you meet great parents…  Mom loves you more than anything else.  I leave you here because I don’t know who your father is.  I used to think about something bad, but I guess this box is safer for you…  Please forgive me.

     Brian Ivie’s movie, aptly entitled The Drop Box, has already won awards at the Jubilee and Independent Christian Film festivals.  And now, Focus on the Family, Pine Creek Entertainment, Kindred Image and Fathom Events will present the movie in selected cinemas for three nights only, March 3-5.

     The Drop Box is the kind of story that changes lives.  Forever.  Just ask Brian Ivie.  When accepting one of the awards for the film, he said:

I became a Christian while making this movie.  When I started to make it and I saw all these kids come through the drop box; it was like a flash from heaven– just like these kids with disabilities had crooked bodies, I have a crooked soul.  And God loves me still.

     The fight for life is more than just political.  In so many ways, it’s decided in the cultural imagination.  And that’s why it’s critical that Christians support films like this:  high-quality films that don’t preach, but show how precious life truly is, and how otherwise ordinary individuals will go to extraordinary lengths to save and protect the most vulnerable among us.

     You can watch the three minute movie trailer at the below web-page, along with more information about Pastor Lee, and where to see the move.  Even the trailer is tremendous–  do take the three minutes to view it.

 http://www.thedropboxfilm.com/

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Pastor Lee's Son Smiling
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As a journalist I’ve been telling people’s stories for some 40 years, and Pastor Lee’s is one of the most inspiring I’ve encountered.  Without fanfare, one ordinary man in a poor neighborhood of Seoul, Korea, has now saved almost 600 babies from certain death.  He embodies the grace that I write about.
–Author Philip Yancey
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When the church reaches out to rescue and embrace the weakest and most vulnerable in society, it can’t help but push culture in a better, wiser direction.  The story of Pastor Lee and his love for ‘discarded’ children – especially children with disabilities – displays the power and influence of true Christian character.  
–Joni Eareckson Tada
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Matthew  25:40  —  (Jesus said),  “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Matthew 10:42  —  (Jesus said),  “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
Psalm 139:13  —  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
James 1:27  —  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
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 Blessed Lord, who for our sake was content to bear sorrow, and want, and death; grant to us such a measure of your Spirit that we may follow you in all self-denial and tenderness of soul.  Help us, by your great love, to support the afflicted, to relieve the needy and destitute, to comfort the feeble-minded, to share the burdens of the heavy laden, and always to see you in all who are poor and destitute.  Amen.
–B. F. Westcott, British Bishop  (1825-1901)

637) Not Getting the Credit You Deserve?

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     We who are working in God’s vineyard here on earth ought not be jealous of the gifts or rewards belonging to others.  The Lord will do as he sees fit and we can only say “Thank you.”

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     “My last word to God’s children is this:  what does it matter, after all, whether we are first or whether we are last?  Do not let us dwell too much upon it, for we all share the honor given to each.  When we are converted, we become members of Christ’s living body; and as we grow in grace, and get the true spirit that permeates that body, we shall say, when any member of it is honored, ‘This is honor for us’…  If any brother shall be greatly honored of God, I feel honored in his honor.  If God shall bless your brother, and make him ten times more useful than you are, then you see that he is blessing you–  not only blessing him, but you.  If my hand has something in it, my foot does not say, ‘Oh, I have not got it!’  No, for if my hand has it, my foot has it; it belongs to the whole of my body.”

–Charles Haddon Spurgeon

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I Corinthians 12:4-7…12…17-18…21…27  — There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ…  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?  If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be…  The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”…  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

I Corinthians 1:11-13  —  My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.  What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized in the name of Paul?

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Lord Jesus, as we serve you, may we faithfully do all that you call us to do.  And after we have done what you commanded, may we have the wisdom and the faith to say what you have taught us to say:  ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’  Amen.  (See Luke 17:10)

570) Charity in Words and Deeds

CHARITY IN WORDS AND DEEDS;  From the life of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

Johnson’s Deeds of Charity; from Stephen Danckert, The Quotable Johnson, Ignatius Press, 1992, p. 15:

     Johnson’s later years were characterized by extraordinary holiness and compassion, manifest in the most ordinary of circumstances.

     As in his writings, there was an immediacy, a freshness, to Johnson’s charity:  emptying his pockets to beggars who asked for a coin, slipping pennies into the pockets of sleeping children on the streets so that they might have money for breakfast, frequenting an unpopular pub merely because “the owner is a good Christian woman and has not much business.”  Johnson once said, “He who waits to do a great deal of good at once, will never do anything.”

     En route home from a tavern one night, he came upon a prostitute half dead with the cold.  Wrapping her in his enormous brown coat, he picked her up and carried her home.  There he nursed her back to health, arranged for medical attention, and provided her room and board.  Some weeks later, he found her employment as a servant in a family of good reputation.  Many would have hesitated to open their homes to a prostitute; others might have counted their duty discharged in providing a single night’s shelter.  Not so with Johnson, whose memory of (his own days on) the cold London streets never left him.

     Mrs. Thrale, close friend of Dr. Johnson, wrote of him:  “He loved the poor as I never yet saw anyone else do, with an earnest desire to make them happy.  And so he nursed whole nests of people in his house, where the lame, the blind, the sick, and the sorrowful found a sure retreat from all the evils whence his little income could secure them.  And just as he would give all the silver in his pocket to the poor who watched him as he left the house, so, on returning late at night, for years he had been putting pennies into the hands of children lying asleep on thresholds so that they could buy breakfast in the morning.”

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Words on Charity; from Sermons IV and XIX by Johnson (paraphrased):

      The chief reason for which charity is to be practiced is the shortness and uncertainty of life.  To a person who considers for what purpose he was created, and how short a time is allotted to his earthly duration, and how much of that time is already passed; how can anything that terminates in this life give any real satisfaction?  Whatever abundance that we have been blessed with, and whatever plenty may surround us, we know that it can be possessed only a short time, and that the manner in which we use it will determine our eternal state.  How can one argue that they should use their abundance in any other way, but to use it in a way that is agreeable to the command of Him that bestowed it?  

     …What stronger incitement can any man require to help the poor and needy than that the Lord will deliver him in the day of trouble; in that day when the shadow of death shall come over him, and all the vanities of the world shall fade away; when all the comforts of this life shall forsake him; when pleasure shall no longer delight, nor his own power protect him?  In that dreadful hour, the man whose care has been extended to the general happiness of mankind; that man shall find favor in the sight of God.  Then he shall stand without fear on the brink of life, and pass into eternity confident of finding that mercy which he never denied to another.

     …Charity is a universal duty, which is in every man’s power to practice, since every degree of assistance given to another, done with proper motives, is an act of charity.  There is scarcely any person in such a poor state that he may not, on some occasions, benefit his neighbor.  The widow that shall give her mite to the treasury, and the poor man who shall bring to the thirsty a cup of cold water, shall not lose their reward.

     …One of the excuses for the neglect of charity is the inability to practice it.  But this excuse is too frequently offered by those who are poor only in their own opinion, who look only on those who are above them, rather on those that are below them.  They cannot consider themselves rich if they see any who are richer; and, while their tables are heaped with delicacies, they allow the poor to languish in the streets in miseries and in want.

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Helping the poor is more complicated today than in Johnson’s day, when he would put coins directly into the hands of children sleeping on the streets,– but we can help them.  One very effective way is to be generous in donating to the Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign, soon to be appearing outside of many stores.  The Salvation Army uses the money they are given to provide help by welcoming “whole nests of people in (their) house, where the lame, the blind, the sick, and the sorrowful find a sure retreat,” as did Johnson (see above).  This coming Christmas Season as you pass those Red Kettles on the way into stores, think about Samuel Johnson putting coins into the hands of the poor children in the streets of London, and be generous.


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

Ezekiel 16:49  —  Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom:  She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

Proverbs 19:17  —  He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.

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O Lord, come to me and use my bread, silver, gold, and all that is mine.  How well they are applied, if I spend them in your service.  Amen.
–Martin Luther

496) The Frustrations of a Good Samaritan

     By William Willimon, The Last Word, Abingdon Press, 2000, pages 49-52.
The Good Samaritan by David Teniers the Younger  (1610-1690)
      We were coming out of the diner, my friend and I, he a preacher and I one too.  Heading down the street toward our churches, we came across a poor old man sprawled out on the edge of the sidewalk, head swirling around in drunken stupor.
     A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers…  Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  (Luke 10:30-31)
     “Poor old man,” said my friend.
     “You know, we really ought to do something,” said I.  “He could get hurt out here in his condition.”
     “After all, we’re in the business, right?” said my friend.  
     “Yea, right,” said I.  That’s how it started.
     But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them.  (Luke 10:33-34a)
     My friend took one of the man’s arms, and I took the other.  With some difficulty, we got him to his feet.  He was dressed in a rumpled, terribly dirty old suit, with a crumpled hat.  As he attempted to steady himself, he swerved and staggered back and forth on the sidewalk, my friend and I staggering with him, trying to get him upright.
     “Easy does it,” the man mumbled.  “Lookout for those slippery placcs!”
     “Hey, old man, you really ought to get some help,” said my friend.  The three of us, the man with my friend and I on either side, staggered and tottered down the sidewalk, people scurrying out of our way.
      “Where do we take someone in this condition?” I wondered aloud.
      “There’s got to be somewhere for people like him,” said my friend.
     “Would you mind watching what you’re doing,” said the old man in an aggravated tone of voice, “you’re going to run aground and kill everybody on the boat!”
      We staggered and tottered, the three of us, to a nearby phone booth.
     My friend left me outside to wrestle with the recipient of our compassion while my friend began thumbing through the phone book.  “Well, are we going to just stand here, or are we going to go inside and eat lunch?” asked the man, gesturing toward the phone booth.
     “Aha!  Here we are, the Greenville Alcohol Information Center,” said my friend.  “It’s not too far from here.  We can drive it in five minutes.”
     We staggered, the three of us; on down the street; with the man mumbling, “What was wrong with that restaurant?  It looked good to me.”
     Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  (Luke 10:34b)
     Once in my friend’s car—he in the front, and me and our ward in the back—we headed toward the Alcohol Information Center.  By the time we reached Main Street, the old man had passed out again and was snoring quietly on my shoulder.
     Just after we turned on to busy Main Street, without warning, the old man began to shout, curse, and kick.
     “Hold him!” said my friend, looking over into the backseat where I was wrestling for all that I was worth.  The man was kicking, screaming something about “Snakes, everywhere, snakes!”
     With that he somehow managed to kick the back door open and fell forward out of the car and into the street.  The car stopped.  All I had to hold him in the car was the seat of his pants, pants which, with his struggling to get away and my struggling to hold him, were now being pulled down to his hips.
     “Help me!” he began shouting to the people on the sidewalk.  “Help me!  I don’t even know these people and they are trying to take me someplace!  Help!”
     There I was—traffic stopped in the middle of Main Street—attempting to wrestle this old man back into the car while also speaking to the now gathering crowd on the street:  “I am a Methodist.  My friend is a Baptist.  We are clergy.  We are helping this old man here.”
     “I don’t want no help from nobody, ‘specially no preachers!” he was shouting to the crowd.
     I finally succeeded in forcing him back into the backseat, and the car sped away.  After a few more moments of struggle, the old man passed out once again and slept peacefully until we arrived at the big office building that housed the Alcohol Information Center.
     It wasn’t easy getting a totally unconscious man out of the car, across the street, into the lobby, on the elevator, and up to the ninth floor.  I had him propped up in one corner of the elevator, where he kept sliding to the floor.
     “I am a Methodist minister,” I kept saying to people who got on the elevator.  “We are helping this man.  My friend is a Baptist.”
     The Alcohol Information Center consisted of a young woman seated behind a desk.  On the desk were stacks of leaflets about substance abuse.  That was it.  When the three of us staggered into her office, it was obvious that she had never actually seen an inebriated person in her life; probably never seen two clergy, either.
     “You can’t bring him in here,” she said to us.
     “But he needs help,” protested my friend.
     “Not here,” she said.  When he persisted, she agreed to go upstairs and ask her boss what we might do with the man (who now slept in one of the metal chairs, his head resting peacefully on her desk between the stacks of pamphlets).
     The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” (Luke 10:35)
     As soon as she left the office, my friend and I looked at one another and, without a word of deliberation, quietly but quickly tiptoed out of the office and ran for the elevator, leaving the recipient of our good will sleeping between stacks of pamphlets.
     Once downstairs and on the street, we sped away, he to work on next Sunday’s sermon, me to the tennis court.
     Luke 10:29-37.  Easier to preach than to practice.
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Genesis 4:9  —  Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
     “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Luke 10:29  —  He wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Matthew 25:40b  —  (Jesus said),  “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
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O Lord Jesus Christ, who when on earth was always occupied by your Father’s business:  grant that we may not grow weary in well-doing, and give us the grace to do all in your name.  Amen.    –E. B. Pusey

223) Play Your Part Well (part two)

     (…continued)  Moses is thus not only saved from certain death, but he is allowed to live in the palace.  His own mother is hired to care for him and will be paid out of the king’s treasury to raise her own son; the same king who had ordered that all such babies should be killed.  And this baby grew up to be God’s chosen leader to deal the nation of Egypt a most crushing defeat, one that would free all the Hebrews from slavery.  It is a wonderful story, filled with miracles, surprises, courage, hope for the future, and, a happy ending– and it was made possible by the courage of one little girl, Miriam, who was faithful to her little brother and played her part well.

     This seems to be God’s favorite kind of story.  The small and insignificant person obeys God and does something of everlasting significance.  The boy David says, “I’ll take on the giant Goliath.”  The young Isaiah says, “Here I am, send me.”  The illiterate fishermen Peter and his brother Andrew hear Jesus say, “Follow me,” and they drop their nets and go.  A widow puts two pennies in the offering, and is praised by Jesus.  A little boy lets Jesus have his picnic basket, and Jesus feeds five thousand people out of it.  An angel appears to the young unmarried teenager Mary to say she is pregnant with the Savior of the whole world, and Mary says, “Let it be to me as you have said.”  And in Matthew 10:42 Jesus praises every act of kindness and service no matter how small with these words, “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones of mine because he is my disciple, truly I tell you, he will not lose his reward.”

     That was Miriam.  She was not the star of the show.  She was not the main character in the story, but there would have been no story if it wasn’t for her.  She would go on to stay by Moses’ side, supporting him in all his troubles and helping him in his many duties; until she died many years later in the wilderness, on the way to the promised land.  She played her part well, served her brother, her God, and her nation.  She was a vital part of God’s plan to free the Hebrews and establish the people of Israel in their new land.

     Miriam and John Parker were similar in that they both were called on to do small acts of service to people in positions of greater authority.  But the way Miriam fulfilled her duty in service to her leader was quite the opposite of how John Parker failed in his duty and service; and, with the opposite result.  Miriam’s service made possible the long career of her brother Moses.  John Parker’s failure ended the career of America’s greatest President at a time when his continued leadership was desperately needed.

     We are all called on by God to serve others– some within their own family, some in a classroom, and some, in leadership positions over an entire county, state, or nation.  But even presidents depend on the service of others.  Jesus taught us that whatever we do for someone else is important and is a way to serve God.  We might see the importance of only the more visible positions.  God sees the value in all.

     David Horowitz was a student radical in the 1960’s.  In his book Radical Son he describes how arrogant and self-righteous he and his friends in the movement were.  They saw themselves as great and wonderful people– after all, weren’t they trying to bring peace and justice to all the earth, overthrowing the powers of oppression, and creating a new and better world?  But Horowitz began to realize that his friends weren’t such wonderful people after all.  They were mean, selfish, arrogant, and petty just like his parents and the rest of the older generation, and so was he.  Today, Horowitz has many regrets about the mistakes he made in those years.

     Horowitz now sees others who are like he was, full of themselves and self-righteous with all their big ideas, and he is not impressed.  He says, “Everybody wants to save the earth, but no one wants to help mom with the dishes.”  Big ideas and the desire to change the world is great, and God calls many people to work for such change.  But God also calls people to smaller acts of service; and the world is made a better place even when a little boy helps his mom with the dishes, or a little girl is nice to her little brother, or some friends get together to help another friend, or an offering is taken for world hunger, or you stop by and see that old friend in the nursing home.  One time Jesus told the story of help given to a stranger by a Good Samaritan, and then he said to the crowd, “Go and do likewise.”

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

Luke 10:36-37  —  (Jesus said), “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.”

Matthew 25:37-40 — (Jesus said), “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “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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O Almighty and most merciful God, of thy bountiful goodness keep us, we beseech thee, from all things that may hurt us; that we, being ready both in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things thou wouldst have done, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  —Book of Common Prayer

222) Play Your Part Well (part one)

     John Parker had the worst seat in the theater.  He was attending a popular comedy and could hear the audience roaring with laughter.  He could hear most of the lines being said, so sometimes he knew what everyone was laughing about.  But he could not see the action and was missing out on much of the fun.  Finally, he decided to move, and he was able to find a better seat.  He sat down, and from there enjoyed the rest of the first act of the play.  He stayed in that seat until the intermission, at which time, he went to a tavern across the street for a drink.  It is not known where John Parker was during the second act of the play.  But it is known for sure that he was not back in his original seat.

     It was the evening of April 14, 1865, and John Parker’s change of seats at the play that night resulted in one of the greatest tragedies in American history.  The reason Parker could enjoy the play from his original seat was because he was not there to see the play.  Parker was member of the Metropolitan Police Force.  He was on duty that night at Ford’s Theater, there to guard and protect President Abraham Lincoln.  Parker’s chair was down a balcony hallway, outside the door to the State Box seats where the president and his wife were sitting.  Presidential protection in those days was minimal by today’s standards, but when Parker abandoned his post, there was no protection at all.

     Abraham Lincoln was a man of good will, and a skilled, powerful, and respected leader.  Binding up the nation’s wounds after the long Civil War would have been a challenge even for him.  His successor Andrew Johnson was also a man of good will, but was a weak leader and not respected.  He was not able to contain the rage and bitterness and thirst for revenge in the postwar years, nor was he able to deal effectively with the integration into society of the many freed slaves.  There is no doubt that the following decades would have been much better for this nation had Abraham Lincoln not been killed that night.  The course of American history was changed because one man, John Parker, did not do what he was supposed to do.  He did not play his part well.

     In the second chapter of Exodus we read about Moses’ sister Miriam.  In this story, as in the story of John Parker, we see the importance of lesser known people playing well their part in what might seem like small acts of service.  It was Miriam’s little brother, Moses, that would one day get all the attention and all the fame.  Moses is, in fact, the most important figure in the entire Old Testament.  He is referred to in the New Testament more than anyone else, and it was he that God used to bring the Hebrews together as a nation with a common faith.  But when Moses was an infant, Miriam played a part in saving him from certain death.

     In Exodus chapter one we learn that the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt.  Their cheap labor was desirable, but there was getting to be too many of them, thought Pharaoh, king of Egypt.  He reasoned that a large number of Hebrews might decide they could rebel against their masters, so Pharaoh made a law that all boys born to Hebrew mothers were to be thrown into the Nile River and drowned.  The mother of Moses attempted to hide him for three months, but then hiding a noisy little baby became impossible.  Still unwilling to throw the baby into the river to drown, she put Moses into a basket, and then set the basket adrift in the river, leaving Moses in God’s hands.

     At this point, Miriam entered the picture.  Miriam watched to see what would happen to the basket.  It doesn’t say if she did this on her own, or if her mother told her to do it, but either way, she followed and watched; and then came the miracle.  

     The river flowed out of the Hebrew ghetto, and down toward the palace.  Pharaoh’s daughter was at the river bathing, saw the basket, and heard the crying.  It was clear that this was a Hebrew baby boy, and she no doubt knew about her daddy’s rules.  But she felt sorry for this little one, had it brought to her, and her father allowed her to keep the baby.  In the meantime, Miriam was still in the river, watching everything.  It would take courage to come out from hiding among the reeds along the river and approach the king’s daughter.  But this is what Miriam did, saying to the princess, “Do you need someone to nurse that baby for you?”  The princess agreed that would be a good idea, and Miriam went and got her mother, who got the job.  Moses is thus not only saved from certain death, but he is allowed to live in the palace.  His own mother was hired to care for him and would be paid out of the king’s treasury to raise her own son; the same king who had ordered that all such babies should be killed.  And this baby grew up to be God’s chosen leader to deal the nation of Egypt a most crushing defeat, one that would free all the Hebrews from slavery.  It is a wonderful story, filled with miracles, surprises, courage, hope for the future, and, a happy ending– and it was all made possible by the courage of one little girl, Miriam, who was faithful to her little brother and played her part well.  (continued…)

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Exodus 1:22  —  Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people:  “Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

Exodus 2:1-4  —  Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son.  When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months.  But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch.  Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.  His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him. 

Micah 6:4  —  “I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery.  I sent Moses to lead you, and also Aaron and Miriam.”

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AN EVENING PRAYER FOR LOVED ONES FAR AWAY (Walter Rauschenbusch):  O God, we yearn for those who belong to us and who are not here with us.  We wish we could be near them to shield them from harm and to touch them with the tenderness of love.  We cast our cares for them on you, and pray that you do better for them that we could do.  May no distance have the power to wean their hearts from us and may no sloth of ours cause us to neglect communication with them.  In due time restore them to us and gladden our souls with their sweet presence.  We remember also the loved ones into whose eyes we cannot look again.  O God, in whom are both the living and the dead, you are still their life and light, as you are ours.  Wherever they may be, lay your hand tenderly upon them and grant that someday we may meet again and hear once more their words of love.  Amen.

96) ‘You Don’t Expect Me to Do that Every Day, Do You?’

From Let Me Tell You a Story, by Tony Campolo, copyright 2000, page 91

     The story is told by M. Scott Peck, the famous psychologist and author, of a woman patient who was suffering from extreme depression.  One day, when she was due for an appointment with him, she called on the telephone and told him that her car had broken down.  Dr. Peck offered to pick her up on his way into work, but he explained to her that he had to make a hospital call before he got to the office.  If she was willing to wait in the car while he made the call, they could have their appointment.  She agreed.

     When they got to the hospital, he had another suggestion.  He gave her the names of two of his patients who were convalescing there, and told her that each of them would enjoy a visit from her.  When they met again, an hour and a half later, the woman was on an emotional high.  She told Dr. Peck that making the visits and trying to cheer up those patients had lifted her spirits, and that she was feeling absolutely wonderful.

     Dr. Peck responded by saying, “Well, now we know how to get you out of your depression.  Now we know the cure for your problem.”

     The woman answered, “You don’t expect me to do that every day, do you?”

     That’s the tragedy of our lives.  Doing what Jesus would do lifts us out of our doldrums into a higher quality of life.  And yet, we often think that imitating Jesus is something burdensome.  It’s not!  Doing what Jesus would do feeds us emotionally and lifts our spirits.  One experiences the flow of the Spirit in the context of serving others.

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II Corinthians 1:3-7  —  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.  For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.  If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.  And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

Philippians 2:1-5 — If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus… 

Deuteronomy 32:46-47 — (Moses) said to them, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law.  They are not just idle words for you– they are your life.  By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”

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This is another day, O Lord.  I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready for whatever it may be.  If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.  If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.  If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.  And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.  Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus.  Amen.  —Book of Common Prayer