The Pastor’s Pen – February 11, 2018

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jason-blackeye-279890-unsplashBe patient and persistent for God’s blessing…
February 11, 2018
Scriptures: 2 Kings 2:1-12, Mark 9:2-9
Have you ever had a moment when you wish you could just put time on hold? When you so wanted to preserve that moment, to hold on to it forever? A moment when everything seemed perfectly aligned and you were so tempted to ignore any impulse to move or to respond to whatever else might call upon your attention…a moment you truly wished would last forever?
And when that moment began to slip away, did you ever try to hold on to it, impatient with the fleetingness of the feelings and the goodness you had just been feeling? Was it not frustrating when reality finally succeeded in intruding and you were forced to move on, leaving that special moment of feeling everything in wholeness, balance, and symmetry behind…sadly relinquishing your grasp on what was so special, so fulfilling…so temporary?
I know there were many such times when my children provided such moments for me…times when they were so precious, so cute, or just so interested in discovering the beauty of life as it opened before their eyes and hearts. A warm and blessed feeling would just wash over my whole being as I watched my child reach out into new experiences, filling me with a deep gratitude and peace.
And then, then a phone would ring, or the dog would bark, or something or other would serve to bring an abrupt end to the magic of the moment and reality would crash in upon you as you were forced to pick up the now crying child and try to find your way back to peace and quiet. And regardless of how successful that effort was, it was always the case that the warm and special moment you had been feeling was now gone completely, for life had called you to get on with it and to tend to whatever else needed your attention.
And once more…the ‘moment that was’…was now in the past and you moved on, ignoring your heart’s sense of regret and loss that such a special time had to come to an end. And wearily you trudged on, hoping for a return to that blessed gift, but never sure when it might occur. And then, as life moved forward in its ever increasing pace those special gifts of moments of holiness gained value at least in memory as their frequency decreased directly relative to your ability to find those moments of quiet and solitude. Somehow over time, the busyness of life always seems to get in the way of time for reflection and wonder.
In our gospel reading today we see Jesus selecting three of his trusted disciples to go with him up to the top of a very high mountain. Peter, James, and John followed after Jesus up to a place where all of a sudden everything they knew was transformed before their very eyes. In a flash, Jesus was transfigured and his clothes became as dazzling white as he was joined by the figures of Elijah and Moses. Truly this had to be the most amazing thing the disciples had ever seen as they were filled with awe and totally unsure what to make of it. It had to have seemed to them to be one of those moments they wanted to hold on to forever…what a blessing, how incredible, how blessed were they to be seeing what no one else ever had or ever would!
And as they marveled in the presence of this fantastic moment they were dumbfounded and unsure of what to do…except for Peter. Remember Peter? The one who was always so sure of himself, the one who was at least the self-appointed leader of the disciples, the one who told Jesus that in fact he was indeed the Messiah, the one who Jesus called the ‘Rock’ upon whom he would build his community? And also the one with the biggest mouth, the most impetuous spirit, and the one who would not only deny Jesus three times but quickly go back to fishing after it seemed that Jesus life and ministry had come to an end.
Yes Peter, this Peter decided to take control of the moment there on the mountain. This ‘Peter’ was the one who set about seeking to hold on to, to preserve that special and gifted moment, blurting out an offer to build thatched huts for Jesus and his companions so they all could stay there for as long as possible. Peter grasped that this was a moment of real grace and he just did not want it to end. In fact he may have even wanted to stay there on the mountain and to somehow make this their new reality…to make this moment in time a moment that would last and last. And so he tried to force it to remain…impatiently he tried to insure that this special moment would never end…as though somehow he knew that, though life with Jesus was always filled with surprises and amazing moments, it was filled as well with danger and hard work…far different from the dazzling experience the three disciples were then being blessed to behold.
And of course, his impulsive reaction to the moment, his attempt to prolong the experience served as that perennial barking dog, or that ringing phone that instead shattered the moment and brought reality crashing back in around them as they stood there once again all alone with Jesus. The blessing of the moment came…and then seemed to just fly away as the four of them slowly made their way back down the mountain, back to the work of following after Jesus day by day.
And I am not sure if or for how long Jesus would have kept talking with Elijah and Moses, but it does seem clear that Peter’s impetuous outburst hastened the closing of the moment. Perhaps if he had been just a touch more patient the three of them could have remained on the mountain in the middle of that warm and glorious time just a bit longer…perhaps the blessing would have remained if Peter had not tried so hard to hold on to it.
There is a common saying you may have heard, that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. And while this may make us smile and feel easy to relate to, I think there may be a deeper layer to this thinking for those who claim to follow our Lord Jesus. For in my experience I have always found that the greater part of ministry, the greater part of a life spent in service of the divine consists more of multiple small acts rather than a few ‘world-changing’ acts of faith. Each and every day we are given opportunities to do small things that often can seem repetitive, as though we are doing the exact same thing over and over…and often without visible evidence that our actions are actually making a real difference. Hence the aforementioned thoughts on insanity…
But isn’t that truly the heart of the gospel? Are we not called to act in ways that so often run counter to common wisdom and practice from time to time? Does it really make sense from a worldly perspective, from the perspective of being successful within our culture to fully spend your life in service to others? To give over and over again out of the kindness and goodness of your heart without expecting any reward whatsoever? Does it make sense to live your life in such a way that others, taking stock of your talents and abilities, look upon your life as one that is being ‘wasted’? Is it not perhaps insane to perform seemingly random acts of kindness and goodness over and over for anyone who happens across your path? And is it wise to persist in doing things for others even when doing so seems to take away from what you need for yourself?
Only if you are doing so in a sure and loving partnership with the one who has promised to supply all of our needs. Only if you are doing so with the belief that what you have already belongs to the Lord. Only if you are doing so trusting that your own needs will continue to be met even if the full extent of your wants may not? When Elisha heard Elijah tell him he did not have to follow him any further, Elisha knew in his heart that staying with his aged mentor and teacher was still his calling. Three times Elijah offered to Elisha the opportunity to let go of his servant life, to be freed from following after his every step…and three times Elisha refused to leave his master and teacher. And finally Elijah asked his young student what it was he could do for him before he himself was called heavenwards. And the young student-prophet asked for a double portion of the blessing that had been conferred upon his teacher. Elisha knew that be staying and walking in his master’s steps that in time he too would be blessed. He persisted and as our scripture tells us, he indeed did receive a double portion of the blessing that had rested upon his master.
If insanity truly can be described as doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result, than faithfully following after our Lord and daily serving as a witness of God’s love might indeed fit that definition. For as followers of Jesus we are called to be both patient and persistent…over and over. The Apostle Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians that ‘love is patient and kind’, and later on in Colossians he reminds us to, ‘be persistent in prayer, and keep alert as you pray, giving thanks to God.
The holy calling that rests upon each one of us is to follow after a Lord who daily asks of us small seemingly insignificant things that somehow all contribute to bringing the kingdom of our Lord just a little bit closer. We are called to be doggedly persistent in extending affection and encouragement to one another, and to those in need of it all around us. We are asked to reach deep into the reserves of love and kindness within us and to give of it freely even though, and perhaps especially if it may not always seem to be received with the grace with which it was given.
Indeed, we are asked to use the ‘daily bread’ of blessings we have been given to feed those around us who hunger for hope, trusting that it will be sufficient at least for that day…and trusting as well that our Lord’s persistence in continuing to provide ‘bread’ for the next day will be just as sufficient.
For in being patient and persistent in our faith we will find that the space we inhabit, indeed the life we live…will itself be a blessing. For in truth the real blessing is simply being in full relationship with our God. Everything else…all that we do, all that we give…each act of love we are able to offer is simply a consequence of that relationship. Which is not to say that such a pathway is easy or free from struggle or hardship. For indeed not everyone to whom you reach out in love will be open or willing to receive it, in fact there may be some who reject your kindness altogether.
But fear not, for the love of God offered leaves an indelible mark on whomever it touches…no act of Christian love given in faith ever fails to plant at least a seed of hope deep in the heart of the one to whom love was offered. And though you may not see results right away…and though great patience may be required to wait on the Lord until that time when the fruits of your labors are revealed, if they are revealed at all…we still have the assurance direct from the Spirit as spoken through the Prophet Isaiah in chapter 55 that indeed no act of love falls to the ground without first accomplishing that for which the Lord sent it.
The prophet tells us in verses 10 through 11, ‘For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.’
For in the end, it truly is all about surrender…about being willing to give our lives over into the service of this one who calls us to walk alongside of him and to live the life of blessing that is the sure result. And to let our lives be directed in ways of extended love towards others, sometimes in amazing world-changing ways, but more often in all the little things…those seemingly simple and insignificant things that are put before us each day that faithfully capture the loving spirit of our God…little acts of gentle grace…a kind word, a helping hand, a spontaneous embrace, a shared bit of good news, a smile or act of empathy. For it truly is all of these things, these little acts of grace and compassion that best exemplify the nature, the character, and the person of our Lord Jesus.
Our walk with God…our call as faithful disciples calls for us to seek only to serve, and to have the patience to keep on keepin’ on in all the little things of God’s work…as well as the persistence to seek after yet even more opportunities to extend that loving service in new and different ways. For with patience and persistence we will indeed find our dwelling place remains in the very center of our Lord’s greatest blessing…
…and that warm feeling we wish would never go away…
…just might seem to last on and on…
…amen

Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

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