Backstory

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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Lectionary Readings

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 and Psalm 66:1-12  •  2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c and Psalm 111  •  2 Timothy 2:8-15  •  Luke 17:11-19

Backstory

Psalm 66:1-12 Our responsive reading comes from Psalm 66 – a praise to God for the deliverance of the people from slavery in Egypt. The first twelve verses focus on remembering and praising God for their deliverance.  In the remainder of Psalm 66 the Psalmist turns from a remembering praise that is internal to a remembering praise that is external, a physical response –  a demonstrative transformation.

2 Kings 5:1-15 The common thread in the books of Kings is the rulers’ abuse of power and God’s provision of the prophets to provide accountability.  Elisha, who followed Elijah as the prophet of the Northern Kingdom – Israel, is in the beginning stages of his ministry.  The successful captain of the army of Aram (an adjacent country – current day Syria – and frequent enemy to Israel), a man named Naaman, is sent to see Elisha to be healed of leprosy (a situation which terrifies the King of Israel). The entire story is an interesting tale of the unexpected avenues of rescue and transformation.  A slave girl from Israel tells Naaman’s wife about the miraculous acts of Elisha and then the healing is almost sidetracked by Naaman’s own arrogance.

Jeremiah 29:1-7 A familiar text to us as we see Jeremiah addressing those who have already been, and those who are about to be, exiled from Judah.  He tells them that they are to continue on with life in the midst of their slavery for the decades to come.  They are to build homes, have children and give their children in marriage….and to work to make their captors successful.  An ironic instruction as Jeremiah himself was forbidden, by God, from marriage and having children due to the fact that they would be part of the coming exile and slavery.

2 Timothy 2:8-15 Last week we saw Paul reminding Timothy to remember his faith.  Now, Paul is calling Timothy to a security and confidence in that faith and of truth itself.  The reason for this urgency of faith is that Timothy is about to come face to face with false teachers who are set on misleading the church.

Luke 17:11-19 Our gospel reading takes place after the parables we have seen in the past weeks the teaching about faith from last week.  Jesus, as he is during most of the gospel of Luke, is one his way to Jerusalem, to the cross.  His encounter with the group of lepers gives us an enhanced understanding of personhood, redemption, cleansing and even salvation.  It is an undeniable demonstration of God’s love and the transformative act of recognition, gratitude, and praise.

Transitions are Tough

hungry birdsOver the past few months we have had the honor of witnessing the birth of several birds in nests scattered outside our house.  

About two weeks ago, there was an even greater thrill as we happened to be watching as three little birds prepared to leave the nest outside our bedroom window.  We realized this was taking place as they began to take turns flapping their wings while jumping around the nest.  

Then it got interesting. The largest of three walked to the edge and stood there.  Teasing us with many “will he fly off now?” moments.  Finally, he took the leap, and it was truly a leap, straight to the ground with a thud.  The remaining two birds, a bit more hesitant, followed the example, and seemed to have the same failure as their larger sibling.  From what we could see, none of the three succeeded in the art of flight, they all just fell to the hard earth. We were certain that this was the end, they had all failed flying and we would soon be in the bird burial business.

Even in the surety of their failure, we continued to watch, often having to run to windows in different bedrooms.  We saw the squirrels coming closer as if they had been waiting for this moment.  We also knew that there were other, more aggressive and larger, birds witnessing this embarrassment, or, should I say, opportunity, unfolding.

We, in our infinite wisdom, were sure that these little birds we had become intimately attached to, had not been ready to attempt flying and had met their doom.

As we continued to watch, however, we noticed their mom and dad.  Neither was grieving or blaming the other.  Instead, Dad was watching from the highest branch on a bush near the back fence, while mom was standing on the ground, strategically positioned between dad and the babies.  As she stood there you could see her aggressive stance ready to attack the other opportunistic creatures.  One at a time, mom escorted the tiny poor fliers to the bush by our back fence, their new home, where dad received and congratulated each one with the bird equivalent of a high five.  It was not long before all three ‘not yet ready for flight’ birds were back with mom and dad and ready to continue their journey and their training….only now with more privacy, at least from the nosey Anthony family.

I have to be honest however, for the four humans watching, it was a pretty scary process. We gave up hope many times.

Later, as I thought through the experience, I remembered I had been awakened that morning to a very busy, and noisy, mom and dad.  While I had grown accustom to the parents feeding the birds early each morning, this morning, the morning of the kids’ first attempt at flight, mom and dad seemed to be executing the feeding process with a special and intense urgency. The children were receiving an extra portion of breakfast with a veracity that, as to yet, had been unseen. Don’t be fooled, they had always enjoyed feeding time but nothing matching the intensity of this day.  Mom and Dad knew the kids were going to need even more strength and power than ever before.  The kids, for their part, were taking advantage of this preparatory process for an adventure that was far greater, and riskier, than anything the nest had ever offered over the course of their entire lives.

The preparation before, during, and even after, was calculated and amazingly exhausting and emotionally draining.  At least it was to us humans, we were exhausted and spent even after having only experienced it from the spectator seats.  As the five birds disappeared into the bush, we four humans headed to the kitchen to feed ourselves and to prepare for the semi-calculated and amazingly exhausting and emotionally draining adventure of our average day that lay ahead.

I cannot claim to have any real empathy with a mom and dad watching their children take a necessary and deadly leap in order to move ahead in life. 

I can, however, say I watched my oldest child walk up the ramp to enter pre-K at Monroe elementary in August of 1998 and then, not too much later in the day, driving by the school to assure myself that he was not standing in the middle of the busy street (my wife later admitted to having done the same thing).  I actually remember watching, and hating, the transition, as each of my five kids walked the same ramp over the next five years, and driving by later just to make sure they, too, were not standing in the middle of the street.

Then, this year I watched as that same son walked another ramp to receive his college diploma followed by a drive to Stillwater later in the week to enroll my fourth child in her first year of college.  This means that we will be driving her to live in a place that is not our house in less than two months.  In the meantime, we have taken our third child to the airport to fly away to a summer volunteering experience in Hawaii as number two headed to Colorado for her summer job.  Finally,  I have listened each day as our youngest has gotten himself out of bed very early each morning for cross country practice and lawn mowing.

I lay in bed wandering when we transitioned to a time when he no longer needed me to wake him up and take him to practice or work.  I lay in bed wandering when he, our fifth little bird, approached the edge of the nest.

Maybe I do have a little bit of empathy for my dear mom and dad red bird friends that lived for a short time outside my bedroom window.

Paying Attention,

Rick

totalled Toyota VanOh… and we had to say goodbye to our Toyota van on May 4th due to the fact that we were rear ended by a school bus as I was driving Andrea to school (the irony has not gone unnoticed).  Goodbye to the van that each of our children learned to drive in and where almost 300,000 miles of memories took place.  It was tough to see it driven away on the tow truck.


Transitions are tough.

What Do You Have?

oilShe was frustrated and somewhat angry, she was miserable and hopeless, she was at the end of her rope and there, in front of her, was her dead husband’s former boss.  She approached him and said, “My husband gave his all for you, he was your servant, and now he is gone. And, in return for his faithfulness to you, his widow and children, are now penniless and sliding deeper into a pit of despair.”


The boss queried, “What do you need?”

This was an easy yet difficult answer for the woman.  It was easy because the needs were all she had thought about since the loss of her husband.  The question was difficult because she was not sure where to begin.  It didn’t take long, however, for her to respond, “I’m about to lose my children.”

The boss followed with another question, “What do you have?”

This was also an easy yet difficult answer.  Easy because she didn’t have much, difficult because what she did have seemed insignificant and not worthy of being mentioned.

It was also difficult because relinquishing the little that she did have, regardless of how insignificant, was scary.

This is the story of Elisha and the widow documented in II Kings 4.  It is a story of the wife of a servant of Elisha following the death of her husband.  She was being hounded by creditors who were now about to take her children and sell them into slavery.

It is the story of each of us.

The widow was desperate.  She was hopeless.  She was mad.

Just like us.

When Elisha asked “What do you have?”, she replied “nothing, except a jar of oil”.

Oil was a forgettable possession since it seemed so meaningless.  At the same time, it was an essential possession, as was seen in the story of Elijah and a diffent widow. 

It was also forgettable, at least verbally, because giving over control of the only thing we think we have is difficult.  It is our basic humanity to hold on to it with all our might, not trusting anyone to take it away.  It was, and is, difficult because trusting often means things will not go as we hoped or planned.  It means we will give up control.

Ultimately, she handed over the oil.  In return, Elisha pointed out that she had so much more.  She had her children, she had other vessels and she had neighbors who also had vessels. In the end she saved her children, gave the neighbors back their vessels, and gained a security that permitted her to live, work, and survive.

All because she realized what she had and trusted it to one who could meet her need.

What do you have?

The Man in the Moon


moon-half-face-singleLast Friday I spent the night with our college kids at their house on Sherwood Street in Stillwater.  It was not my first time to spend the night on Sherwood although it was been over fifty years since my last stay.  In the early sixties, my grandma Bill moved from the farm into town on Sherwood after my granddad passed away.  Everyone told her that she needed to be off the farm and around people.  She only made it a couple of years before the people proved too close and the solitude of the farm too far. 

Now our three oldest kids are a couple of blocks away from Bill’s former house. 

As I lay in bed, I began remembering nights on Sherwood Street.  I remembered, as a four or five year old, standing in the middle of the street in the dark of the night, with the kids from the neighborhood.  Susan and Mary and others pointed out the man in the moon, which I actually saw and was convinced.  This early sighting caused the excitement over Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969 to be fairly redundant. I also remembered my many plans and dreams;  dreams fulfilled and those handed over to those with more passion and better qualifications.  I didn’t become president but I did manage to make one hundred dollars.

More than any of those things, my mind went to the unimaginable dreams that I have lived and experienced. The family I have been blessed with, the friends who have touched my life, the places I have seen…and, of course, the hundred dollars.

Paying Attention,

Rick

Next Door Blessings

lizard 2Around dusk, I ventured up the street to our neighbor’s house.  They are on vacation and we have been taking care of their lizard, fish, plants, mail, and newspapers.   We go up twice a day to feed the fish, water, collect newspapers and mail, and turn on/off the lizard’s lamp.  The lizard still has crickets hopping around so there is no need to feed him (or her, we don’t know) until he cleans his seven-day-old plate.  We love these neighbors.  I have known the husband since seventh-grade, but have really only had consistent interaction with him over the course of our decade in the neighborhood.  The recent interaction has made me wish I had branched out from my own group of friends in high school.  We love the way they live, the way they raise their kids, the way they have integrated their two different faiths, and the way they make you feel very important with every engagement.

Across the street from them is a retired couple who are also wonderful. They are Jewish.  The husband grew up as the son of a Rabbi.  There is a reason I mention their faith. It is Christmas Cookiepertinent and not just my attempt to convince you that I am open-minded.  In all of my adult years, they are the only neighbors who have ever brought us homemade – and decorated – Christmas cookies.  They frequently ask me about our church and our kids.  They are genuinely interested.

Across the street from us are recent transplants from Britain. They are very kind and respectful and join us in our skepticism of the local television weatherpersons when it comes tornado season.  They take refuge in our tornado shelter and, together, we attempt to estimate which of the broadcasters’ rants need to be taken seriously.  They are very smart. He is a physics professor at the local university. Regardless of actual intellect, however, all they have to do is begin speaking with their British accents and we automatically give them credit for great wisdom and discernment. It is like having sat in the living room with soccer goalMaggie Smith at Highclere Castle wondering for weeks afterwards if you were insulted or complimented.

On one side of our house, we have a neighbor with a huge soccer goal cemented in the front yard.  When we initially moved into our house, they invited our soccer-playing children over to use the net anytime.  I have always appreciated the eye-catching net for use as a landmark when giving directions to our house.  I don’t think the previous owner of our house liked the net, or these neighbors.  She repeatedly called the police when they attempted to cut the limbs from her old and gigantic tree which were resting on their vehicles.  The police would inform her that the neighbors were permitted to cut the limbs which were stretching over their property, but she continued to call and complain anyway.  During the first year living in our home, a devastating ice storm toppled that entire tree, causing a section of the trunk to fall and strategically land on three of their cars.  No insurance lawncovered the damage – ours nor theirs.  They never complained to us and have always been beyond gracious.

On our other side is a retired widow who has taught us the meaning of tenacity and determination.  She is always there to express concern and offer help.  She has admitted that one of her chief goals in life is to make me look bad, her strategy is to spend every day either re-mowing or perfecting her already perfect lawn.  Andrea, and the kids, often ask, “Why can’t our lawn look like that?” as we pull into our garage.  When the other trunk of our tree fell onto our roof, this neighbor climbed the ladder to our steep, and icy, roof to help me place a tarp over the holes caused by the fallen tree.

We are very blessed.

I often fail to recognize and appreciate the blessings we have on our street.  I often fail to look around and pay attention.  I often neglect to fathom these and so many other next door blessings.  I often let every nature of meaningless and trivial distractions keep me from seeing what is right in front of my eyes.

I am determined to pay better attention, I’m determined to see those blessings right next door….beginning today.

Paying Attention,

Rick

Priceless Moments

Theater with Isaiah and DadLast night Isaiah, our youngest son, and I went to the IMAX opening of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Going to an opening night was, and still is, not something I am giddy about doing and last night was no different.  We purchased our tickets two weeks early and Isaiah gave me a daily, if not hourly, countdown.  When the evening finally came I was surrounded by individuals of all ages (mostly in their late twenties and up) who are Marvel fans, and all types of superhero and science fiction fanatics who know every detail of every Marvel, superhero, and science fiction creation in existence.  They were robustly telling jokes about the genre before the movie (jokes I did not understand), they cheered at the all the previews, especially the Star Wars preview (not to mention the appearance of Hans Solo and Chui, who I did recognize), and there was a handful dressed as Avengers characters in costumes that would have been the envy of Hollywood designers.  It was something that I swore that I would never do in the entirety of my life, but I did.
There were, however, extraordinary circumstances.

Last December Isaiah landed in the Emergency Room in immense pain.  With our intense medical background, Andrea and I had diagnosed him with something ‘bad and scary’.  We could not make a more in-depth analysis without the help of technology which we do not have…..we also needed the people to read and treat anything discovered through that technology.  After hours at the E.R. we were sent to a urologist who did surgery finding many things that he, with a shocked look on his face, claimed to have never seen in his 27 years of medical work.  When we finally got to see Isaiah following the surgery, none of the nurses were there to greet us due to the fact that they were all on google looking up everything they had just seen inside of my son.  I was told that the surgeon had actually called all the nurses into the operating room to see this anomaly in medical history.  When we finally got Isaiah home, and began the week plus long process of cleaning up blood in the bathroom, he rested with the dreaded knowledge that the doctor had the same process planned for six months down the road.

For my son, the only saving grace from the pain and discomfort coming from the procedure that had been originally promised as minor and ‘no big deal’, was the fact that anytime his sisters annoyed him he could ask them, “Do you have a stent from you kidney through your penis?”  This seemed to obtain him special kindness and treatment.  My bunch has never shied from the use of anatomically correct words such as penis but the whole thought of a stent through that section of the body especially brought me to my knees….not to mention to the place of granting my son his every wish. I became an unfunded one man Make-A-Wish foundation.

So, about two months early of his six month second surgery, he began to to have the same pains that had originally led Doctors Rick and Andrea to seek outside medical counsel.  Whenever your fourteen year old is able to adequately identify his pain as coming from his kidneys, and then correctly point to the location of the kidneys, you know you have to take it seriously. The outcome was that, less than two weeks ago, he had another surgery leading to another stent….yes, from the kidneys ultimately traveling through the aforementioned penis.

This time his sisters were less quick to jump at his reminder of the penis, however, his dad, who also has a penis, once again became putty in his hands.

Days after his surgery I took him to a 10:30pm IMAX showing of Furious Seven.  Furious Seven, by the way, is one hundred and thirty seven minutes long movie not including the previews or the pre-movie special IMAX effects meant to awe you with the capacity of the world’s largest movie screen.  I know this because, thirty minutes into the movie, I illegally looked up the movie time on my phone without going outside of the theater to not bother those sitting around me.  I figured the guys, and girl, that make up the Furious Seven bunch originated as law breakers so surely they could tolerate the whole phone thing, not to mention that I am old and it was way past my bedtime.

I must admit that I now buy senior adult tickets for myself.  I don’t think I am actually the true age of a  movie attending senior adult but two years ago, on a movie outing with my wife, the attendant automatically sold me the senior ticket while giving my wife a special “super young not senior adult” ticket.  I have created this age category for the ticket that the ten year old handed Andrea while stars were spotted in his eyes; my ticket was just dropped on the counter.  I was offended until I realized that my ticket was three dollars cheaper than my wife’s “super young not senior adult” ticket.  At that point, I willing became a senior.  Three dollars is half the price of a refillable bucket of popcorn (that is, if I were permitted to still buy popcorn, or anything else tasteless and delicious at the theater, by the czar of acceptable food….Just in case my wonderful wife is reading, we did not buy popcorn with the fifty cent butter, last night).  If had had known earlier about this financial three dollar windfall when I first received the application for membership in the AARP at the age of fifty, I would have automatically signed up.

ThorBack to last night where I was sitting on the third row of the largest IMAX theater in the country, evidently an hour early is not enough time to get a seat that does not require you move your head from side to side to see the entire screen, for the opening of what will surely be the biggest movie of the year until Star Wars opens in December.  I was the only one there asking his fourteen year old embarrassing questions.  I was the only one being quickly squelched by his ‘too cool for dad’ freshman.  I was the only one who didn’t understand why Thor, sitting in front of us, had female breasts. Or, as my son’s friends asked, “Why does Thor have boobs?” when they saw the picture he sent out.

I was actually fully aware of what had landed me in these theaters at much too late of an hour and with entirely too many excited fans.   Last week, when I traveled eighty two miles to take my two college students out to dinner, my oldest child, Caleb, admitted to encouraging his little brother to take advantage of his medical misfortune by “milking this for all he can with dad”.  It is working.  I think I may have to eliminate the Xbox, or whatever game system Isaiah is now playing while concocting devious plans with his bother (this discipline plan is destined for failure as soon as Isaiah mentions the stent in penis situation).

So, I sat through another super hero movie heavy on action and a plot that is far too complicated, and involves entirely too many additional super heroes and plots, for my tiny brain to comprehend.  It was not horrible, and it was well over an hour into it before I turned to google to find out that the movie was one hundred and forty one minutes not counting the previews or IMAX special effects.  We sat to the very end with the other theater full of super hero fanatics, and I mean the very end, to make sure that there was not a second post credits scene.  Spoiler alert: there is not.

Avengers cast and IsaiahIt was after the movie when the real excitement began. As we exited the theater most of the superheroes themselves, not including the Hulk (I doubt even the big comfy seats in the Director’s Suite would fit that guy), were standing outside the door.  I quickly pushed Isaiah over in Captain America’s direction for a picture.  The amazingly dressed Captain, who quietly admitted to me that his wife had made the costume, asked Isaiah if he wanted the other Avengers in the picture. Realistically, could you really say ‘no’ to a question like that with all of them within hearing distance?  So they all gathered around him, including Thor with boobs, and pictures were taken.  A member of the crowd offered to take the picture so I could get in the shot, however, I, not being a super hero expert, was concerned that these men of super human ability and strength also all had super mind reading skills and could discern that I had previously made sarcastic statements about them so I declined the offer.  Afterall, Thor was holding his hammer, you just don’t take chances when Thor is holding the hammer within striking range.

The way home was one of the coolest experiences of my twenty years as a dad.  My son was so excited that I was concerned we may have to stop at the Emergency Room again.  He was breathing fast and talking faster.  It was a very cool moment.  I smiled bigger than him the entire drive.

It got me wondering if God has this response when He witnesses us have super cool moments.  I know that this is a cotton candy question, especially to those super spiritual individuals, but, still, I ask: Does God enjoy our awesome and incredible, unexpected and priceless moments?  Further I wonder if God now has an increased appreciation for these moments following His time in the flesh.  I wonder if Jesus was surprised by the joy of these moments.  Moments like watching Lazarus return to life or seeing Mary and Martha scream for joy as their brother walked from the grave.  I wonder if Jesus couldn’t resist turning around to see who touched him just to experience the excitement on the face of the woman who had been bleeding for over a decade.  I wonder if He was pumped to see the surprise on the countenance of the Samaritan woman at the well as he treated her as a human being.  Or, the high official who returned home to find his daughter alive.  I wonder if He was restless for the Sabbath to be over so He could appear to His friends.

I think the answer is yes.

Enjoying the Moments,

Rick