Monthly Archives: November 2013

Living Stones

Let me share a little church history of Allentown Presbyterian Church. Our motto is I AM THE VINE YOU ARE THE BRANCHES. And so our purpose is to remain in him and bear much fruit for the Kingdom. This was voted upon, chosen because it’s so true and we are an agrarian area of New Jersey so it’s very appropriate.

But some of us liked the metaphor of Living Stones as a motto even more. Yet It was thought to be too hard to understand. Remember Jesus declaring that if they forced people to shut up about him that even the stones would cry out? It’s implied that we are like those stones. A prayer from the Valley of Vision describes us as something like them when it says:

Though creature cells of emptiness we have a fullness accessible to all, and incapable of reduction.

As cells or stones we have that capacity for fullness in God all because of the power of God. As fully filled Stones or cells we are sort of built up into one Living Dwelling place of Christ and God’s love. So we are particularly fitted stones for taking in and participating in his being.

Why is living stones a preferable symbol to me? First, because we are all in this living of life on earth, together. Since we are empty creature cells that can access his life, and because we are placed so close together to form the walls of his dwelling, we have an effect on one another. We are less an upright wall if any surrounding us are empty. We are more likely to be filled and stay filled if those surrounding us are fully built up in the loving power of Christ. We have a harder time of this living business if we are surrounded by either clods who choose to remain empty or stones dried hard by the harshness of their surroundings or merely, the much less fortunate who are without the great advantage of the experiences of love and learning.

So this living stones metaphor reveals how we rely on each other for support and stimulus to avail ourselves of God’ s presence and filling. We can deplete one another and revive each other and we often all stand or fall together. Often in rising to the difficult challenge of helping those close to us to be filled, we become fuller and stronger ourselves as God’s power avails for us.

So being all we can be as living breathing cells or stones, we are one, God’s beloved and maybe like Pygmalion’ s sculpture, we come alive, but only as we all come alive. Your aliveness in Christ is never wasted, but always edifying for all the living stones around about you. We strengthen them in strengthening ourselves. When we open ourselves up to the filling of the Holy Spirit we help build him a beautiful dwelling place with our unity and love accessed through him alone. Let us be actual living stones, a living, eternal monument and community which anyone might join to grow and flourish in all manner of fullness we can not comprehend but if we stones can cry out, can live, we can some day fully comprehend and know as He knows.
This is a motto worth leaning into for our future.

1Peter 2:4,5; 10

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

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Consummate Service

Blessed is she who has regard for the weak. Ps.41:1

After serving one meal in a down town Trenton church hall, Ted was pressed for his reaction. Actually I pressed him because at that meal he seemed aloof to all those around him. In a later meeting he shared his and his family’s mix of feelings, at least part of the mix.

The Trentonians looked like they expected the meal and showed no thankfulness for it. This, he continued, contrasted sharply with the smiling Guatemalan people his family served during a weeklong summer mission there. Maybe just two hours herding people through a lunch service is unequal to being compared with a weeklong mission that’s ongoing for these villagers. Maybe the Trentonians could use a full court press of ministry,service,attention, and love like our Central American neighbors receive.
Though not easy to compare, they are compared. To me the comparisons are odious.

That was the sermon title of Gordon Westlind’s exhortation not to compare ministers with one another. Comparisons are Odious he said. Why in mature spiritual living is it so?

Could Gordon ever imagine addressing the comparison of the needy people in different mission fields? He’d be dismayed to hear of it. I am dismayed and hardly have the inner moxie to address it here. How do I address a rich man who didn’t get the kind of response he expected after serving a meal on a cold, late fall day in a barren inner city? Now I’m seeing my rich man as needy and also a mission field. I hit my head. Aye carumba! But address the comparison I will.

In Guatemala we worshipped with everyone. In Trenton we didn’t. In Guatemala people were happy and smiling. I found joy with some of the Trenton diners as I sat and chatted with them. I asked Ted, Did you sit down and talk with them? No. He seemed to have seen them as prisoners…he used the prison metaphor to describe how the meal seemed, so that overcame any initiative he might have had to fraternize with them.

I went to Guatemala and I must say that I love the Trentonians more. They are my next-town-over-neighbors. They are living in the richest country in the world and are this country’s poor people, so are reminded every life moment of their circumstances, their label, their stigma. Didn’t Langston Hughes write of this? Had Ted no background in any of his past studies that required him to ponder the Black person in America, to write or discuss the unique experience of being other than the Standard or accepted norm? Many of America’s homeless are the mentally ill who were released into the community legislatively but with no financial component to this law, they ended up on the streets.

In Guatemala, no stigma, everyone is poor. They do not stand out like a sore thumb. No contrast, comparisons, no shame. Comparisons are odious.

In Raisin In The Sun Loraine Hansberry has the wise spiritual beauty, Mama, confront her daughter’s bad mouthing of her brother who has made a terrible mistake in risking the family’s inheritance and losing much of it. She commands her daughter in loud strong tones to be sure that when she’s measuring the worth of a man, to take into account the hills and valleys he has had to
climb up and down to get to where he is right now, and how much more moral stamina he has had to call forth to be in the apparent same place as another. So she explains why comparisons are odious. They simply measure nothing of great spiritual value. They are odious because they are slanderous.

My neighbors in Trenton do not deserve that slander.

More on odious comparisons, but for now, a literary character has helped me understand. Now what do I do with my judgment of Ted? To whom Am I comparing him?


Catching that Thought that Almost Got Away

A strand of thought came back to me of the ten or twenty I’ve had these past two days that I let get away. Now that I’m sitting or perching on my couch and knowing it is time to start writing I was surprised one such strand returned at just the right moment when I was set to write on reflections.

So this strain of thought I reached for and caught was on the Judges in the Old Testament. Our church, Allentown Presbyterian in N.J., is reading a Readers Digest style version of the Bible together, to get the grand sweep of it, the panoramic view. I thought of the women judges I had been reading about, who empowered and led those around them, and women characters like Jael who killed the commander of an army in his sleep, driving an iron peg through his temple and Deborah who instilled courage in her army and served as a great judge for her nation.
Other ancient religions may have women gods, but they don’t have actual human women as full blown main characters in their ancient stories. I dare you to find one from any of our ancient surviving religions. Considering that these stories of female leaders had to survive hundreds of years of male editing and rewriting, what a wonder they remain. The finest art, and these stories are nonfictional folk art, always seem able to transcend the cultural prejudice of their time, but these true stories transcend because they are inspired by the God who is always getting us to perceive beyond our eyesight and with His gift of insight so we might have courage and sustenance of spirit through all our trials and intrigues. These women embody God who is one with all of us.
Women judges over 3000 years ago in Western religious history leading throngs of humans spiritually, militarily, and practically is amazing. Today women in Saudi Arabia are not permitted to drive a car. Nor are Middle Eastern women allowed to travel alone in many places.

Anyone can transcend the stories that seem already scripted for us. For when we focus our attention on the wonder of our selves, of our interconnectedness with all creation and the Creator we can be led to go forward to be the heir of that female judge of 1200 bc. Hard work, prayer, clarity and focus on God, our inheritance, that’s how we then are chosen and maintained. Choose then, in order to be chosen and unedited by others who have no insight from God.