A moment scattered

“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:31-33 (NIV)

A paradox, being alone and not alone simultaneously. I have only once before personally encountered such a time. In 2006 during hurricane Katrina, southern Louisiana scattered, across the country. Though families moved apart and friends became geographically distant, there was a unity to the New Orleans area that was a strong thread. It was this thread that tied the people together and helped them heal.

Once again, I find myself scattered, separated from family and friends. This time that scattering is global, and it seems no one will escape unaffected by this scattering. We are directed to stay in our homes and keep our distance from each other, which has left many of us alone, a bit lost, and somewhat afraid. The followers of Christ must have felt then similar to how we are feeling now. Separated from the routines they had become accustomed to, a bit lost without Jesus, and afraid, not knowing for sure what is coming next.
I am so deeply moved by Jesus’ prayer in John 17. In a longing plea with God, he speaks on behalf of those he loves. He knows that they will feel alone and lost, and he pours out his concern for them. He does not request that they are removed from the circumstances that will cause them pain. He pleads for protection that the pain will not overtake them. He asks that they are set apart from the suffering. The way to set them apart is once again paradox. He pleads for unity, that those he loves and all who share in that love be made one with Himself and God.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them, I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
John 17:13-24  (NIV)

In this present moment, when we are scattered to our homes, separated from our routines, a bit lost, a bit afraid we are also united in our desire to not let COVID-19 overcome us. There are many stories of people reaching out in safe yet powerful ways to keep others from feeling lost and alone. We share each other’s burdens and lift each other’s hearts. We are separated but we are not alone.
We are united by Jesus’ prayer on our behalf, our unity is sealed by his death, and the glory of this Divine Unity will shine across the globe as we celebrate the Resurrection of our Redeemer.

We are no longer scattered.
Peace.

A moment of unlimited access

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Photo by Sindre Strøm on Pexels.com

For me, this week is the best part of Christmas.  The advertisements are slowing down, the need to shop has all but stopped, and most of the returns and exchanges have been made.  And with a deep and glorious sigh, I now have time, time to rest in the Christmas season which will not officially end until January 6th.  Growing up in New Orleans I think I took Epiphany traditions for granted.  January 6 was an important day! It was, sadly,  time to take down the Christmas decorations, but it also marked the beginning of Carnival season and my favorite treat the King Cake.  Over time, as with many traditions, the significance of Epiphany has developed into something much more precious.

It is during this time that we reflect on the Magi, also known as the Wise Men, and the Star of Bethlehem.   The wise men, traveling across the desert, saw a star.   Knowing the Old Testament prophecies, understanding the stars, and recognizing that this one was new and in motion, they would have been compelled to investigate.  Faithful to the promises made in history they would seek the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Savior.

When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.   Matthew 2:10 (NRSV)

As they entered the house and saw the child with his mother Mary, their reverence and adoration brought them to their knees.  So much hope led them to this place, and in this moment they were given a miraculous gift.

The gift of unlimited access to the love of God was given.

In my mind, it is as if time stood still.  King Herod, the wily and efficient ruler and a cruel tyrant, is forgotten and all the love that is God radiates in the room where the Christ child rests in his mother’s arms.

If we are wise, faithful to the promises and follow the light, we too are given unlimited access to the love of God.

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
    and a light for my path.   Psalm 119:105 (NLT) 

January 5th “Twelfth Night” by tradition I will add the “Three Kings” to my nativity in preparation for Epiphany.  I will pause and contemplate the power in the moment when they saw the star, in the moment when they first laid eyes on the child, the Messiah, who was promised to the people of God, and in the moment when they fell to their knees and worshiped him.   I will take out my Bible, and I will remember that we to have been given a guiding light.   I will recognize that we too have been given unlimited access to the Love of God.  I will let time stand still for a moment, and I will offer my reverence, adoration, and gratitude to, Christ, Emanuel, God with us.

​A moment for questions

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So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”   John 20:25-27 (NRSV)

As many of us do, I live with a heart like Thomas, asking “show me.”  What specifically am I asking for?  In the Bible, there are many stories where the proof is shown.  Am I asking to see the wounds of Christ? Am I seeking a burning bush, a rainbow or to be swallowed by a whale until I have an understanding?  Maybe really I am just asking for some clarity.  How important is it that I believe in God and Satan or burning bushes and rainbow promises.  It doesn’t seem likely that we will ever have the privilege of the certainty that Thomas received.  So, what can we be sure of?

Perhaps more important than certainty is being able to recognize love and hate and to know that good and evil do exist.  We may never see a burning bush, hear the audible voice of God, or be swallowed by a whale.  But we can recognize the power of love, the peace that comes after a storm, and the push of our conscience to follow our gut.  Sometimes the stories in scripture frustrate me because the literal interpretation makes them implausible.  The intended message, however, is not.

When I see the sadness in the world, I think “There can’t be a God,” and the despair I feel brings me back to the story of Thomas. The disciples gathered in a house after his death.  They were full of the desperation they must have felt for the loss of Jesus and the leadership they had come to rely on.   Jesus entered and in the act of love and understanding showed Thomas his wounds and offered comfort.

The absence of God leaves despair, and the presence of God brings peace.  That is clear enough for me.  God is Love.  Jesus shows us what love looks like.  By our loving each other and bringing comfort and peace and we remove doubt and despair.

A moment of loneliness

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by Shelby Cruse

Genesis 2:18   the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”

 

 

 

There are 7 billion people in this world, and yet loneliness is becoming more and more common.  It has been reported that the average number of close friends Americans share has dropped from 3 to 2.  And the number of people in America with no close friends has tripled since 1985.   If you are one of these people, who suffer from loneliness you are not alone.

Interestingly loneliness is not a term used in the Bible, although the word alone occurs 195 times in the NRSV version.  Being alone is often a good thing and does not imply loneliness. Jesus had 12 close friends, and of those 12, Peter, Andrew, James and John were held even closer.  Even with this intimate group of friends always around he still often chose to be alone with God, which is still not alone and would not be lonely. These 12 men were called to friendship and set out to bring others into this fold.

Isaiah 41:10  do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.

Improve social skills–Practicing social skills can be very scary especially for the introvert.  But practice anyway.  Speak to at least 2-3 people a day if possible.  Smile, make eye contact and say ” Hi, how are you?” They may reply with a simple “fine.” However, it is the smile and the eye contact that will have the real impact on your loneliness level.  Asking others questions takes the focus off of you and offers it to the other person.  You are now thinking of someone else, and loneliness is moved aside even if only for a moment.

Increase social interaction–Put yourself in places where you can meet other people.  Even the seemingly superficial act of asking “How are you?” as I have said can have an impact.  If you can find ways to increase the questions, you will have more interaction.  Ask for help finding something in a store.  People love to be helpful, and you are offering them a chance to feel needed, and show they care.

Avoid negative thinking–Not all of the conversations you open will have a positive impact but keep your feelings neutral.  The smile and the eye contact you offer will be the thing most remembered and what you said will be forgotten very quickly.  Unless by chance, you said something very positive to a lonely person and made their day. That they will remember and you have done a very good thing!  Try to have a positive impact on everyone you encounter today.  It is a win-win!

Seek support systems–Look for groups that share your interests and join them.  I once said to someone,  “Close friends aren’t made they just are.”  It did not take me long after to realize that was not even close to accurate.  Friends are made, by seeking people with whom you have commonality.  By taking an interest in them and what interests them.  By noticing their low times and offering encouragement.  By sharing in their joys and laughter.  When you do this for others, you just might find that it comes right back to you.

Remember you are never alone–We were created in Love, by Love, for Love.  Open your heart to the Love of God and offer it to others.  It is the Love I feel from God and for God that pushed me to write.  It is my Love for His people that prompted me to send it out.  When I have moments of loneliness, I think of you.  You warm my heart.