What a difference a week makes. I didn’t have to write this Words from Will early because there is no threat to our church or home right now. Skies are blue, wind is calm, even the rising waters won’t directly impact most of our homes. They are impacting our lives, however. Our hearts ache for the lives lost and disrupted because of the flooding. Our spirits are encouraged by the courageous and generous service others provide.
I trust you’re doing okay today. Florence, for the most part, was spared devastation. If you need some assistance, however, please let us know. If you don’t, you know others do. The worst of the flooding is yet to come. Continue to pray, but also consider giving financially. Maybe a good way to look at it is the think about the money you might have spent evacuating this storm, but didn’t have to. Could you give a portion of that to assist those who will be dealing with the storm’s aftermath for some time? If you want to give through Central, note the gift is for UMCOR and we’ll contribute the money to their efforts to help. They have already awarded our Annual Conference a $10,000 emergency grant to get relief support in motion.
The Words from Will are usually written the day of or the day before they are published. The exceptions to that are when I’m away for a period of time or when the weather threatens to make publishing them difficult. I want you to know that in case this email comes out in the aftermath of a destructive Hurricane Frances. As I write this on Tuesday, I have no idea if Friday will be beautiful with everyone enjoying electricity and the start of a nice weekend or a mess with trees down and flooded areas and power outages.
The healing stories in yesterday’s gospel reading (Mark 7:24-37) demonstrate both the abundant mercy of Jesus and of others who care. In both stories, it was other people who brought the needs of the afflicted to Jesus. As it turns out, in Mark’s gospel there are two healings that occur as the result of Jesus initiating contact with the afflicted, four that happen after the afflicted persons ask Jesus for help, and seven that occur because others brought the need before Jesus on behalf of someone else.
There is a difference between being happy (as in joyful) and being satisfied. I’m satisfied when I’ve worked in the yard and it looks good after my efforts. I’m happy when a hummingbird appears seemingly out of nowhere and enjoys the nectar in my yard. I’m satisfied when my team wins. I’m happy when my child or a child I’ve worked with takes what she’s been learning and uses it well in the right moment, a combination of effort and grace. I’m satisfied when I have enough and am capable enough. I’m happy when I realize the grace and salvation that mean I don’t have to be it all or do it all.
As our District Superintendent Rev. Terry Fleming pointed out in his sermon yesterday, begging is not something any of us want to do. It feels demeaning. We’ll ask. Some will command. Some just do whatever they think is right with the hopes that others will follow suit. But, few of us will beg. If we were to beg, it would be for the most significant of reasons.
Two messages emerge repeatedly in Christian theology: 1.) You can’t do it on your own; you need the Savior who has entered your flesh to redeem you and 2.) As a response to his gift of salvation, give your best self to honor your Lord. The invitation to experience eternal life, to take Jesus into your life as though your life depends on it, now brings both messages together.
The church is, at times, unfairly (and, at times, fairly) criticized for being focused on what doesn't matter to people and missing what does. At times our defense, to put it bluntly, is that the wrong things matter to people. Humans can get focused on some insignificant and unholy things. At times, though, we are indefensibly aloof to what does and should matter to people. When that's the case, we should repent. There is too much that matters and the gospel has too much that addresses it for us to be "so heavenly as to be no earthly good."
If my sermon yesterday sounded a little grumpy for someone just returning from a wonderful vacation, then you should know that the majority of the work was done before I left. Maybe that explains some of the edge. When I returned, refreshed and joyful, however, I still saw the value in preaching it. It's not that I've noticed a rise of malice and slander among our congregation, but that we're to "not make room for the devil" (Ephesians 4:27) and it feels like there has been a rise of anger and hardheartedness on a national and global scale. Thankfully there are counter-stories that show that kindness is not only still part of how our church lives and grows together, but how the country and world does.