On the Streets Where We Live

On the Streets Where We Live

Isaiah 40:3: “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.”

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this either in person or via the internet or on television, but there’s a “Half Street” in the Southeastern quarter of Washington, D.C. The southern most part leads to Nationals Park, while the northern part runs into I Street just four blocks away. Knowing this, I got to thinking about streets in general. Streets are always underfoot, and they are almost invariably ready to serve their purpose unless they’re compromised by fire, flood, tornadoes, earthquakes, volcanos or crashes. They also are a part of a number of songs. Think of “Sesame Street,” Lombard Street in San Francisco, Wall Street, Broadway, The Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Beale Street in Memphis and Seventy-Seventy Sunset Strip. I know, that last one isn’t a street. I included it so see if anyone would snap their fingers at the right time.

The point of this is that streets show us where we are and where we are going. God does much the same for us—holds us up to God’s perfection and grace. We are to prepare a way—a street—for him and God will show us the way, the way of love, of humility and grace. Praise God for making a way for us and in so doing gives us the means to eternity and righteousness. Amen.

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Reading It Through

Psalm 119:105 – Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

I don’t know if you’ve read the Bible all the way through, but I’d bet most of us have, and some even multiple times. This time I’m using an unusual method, reading a page a day as one of my Parkinson’s “loud” exercises, which works on my vocal strength and clarity. I started doing this on April first this year and expect to finish on about October first next year.

Reading the Bible is a fruitful exercise since we have changed since the last time we read it. We have new insights, see the characters differently and understand better that God intends for us. As much as I’ve read the Bible, I could not tell you if the pages of the one I have been using were numbered or not. I hadn’t thought to look up and see the number. I’m pleased to report that the Bible I’m using does have numbers, which made it easier to calculate how long it would take me to finish.

The value of reading the Bible all the way through or in short selections is well known. From such readings we derive deeper understandings of ourselves and others, we understand cultures far different from ours and we understand that God is a God of love, so much so that He gave his son as an atonement for our sins.

Thanks be to God for the Bible, for scholars who work to understand it and for those who have worked to translate it so that people all over the world can know of its message of love, of hope and of encouragement, all the things that lead us to salvation. Amen.

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The Uses of Silence

Psalm 13: 1-2: 13 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

I don’t know how much you care for silence. I relish it, so I can spend hours with my computer or a cat or a book not saying a word and not missing the world of sound at all. This might be because I have extra sensitive hearing which stood me in good stead when I was teaching. A miscreant sitting in the back of the class might mumble some evil comment and then would be surprised to have earned himself a trip to the office to discuss his word choice with the principal.

My point is, I suppose, that silence has its uses. During the time of Covin, as I’ve said, I’ve spent hours in silence every day. But that’s not the only use of silence. Silence gestures can communicate a great deal. Pre-Covin when we would be at a social gathering and had be there for a while, all it takes is a look from Becky that seems to say, “It’s time to leave. I have to practice my prelude.” There are thousands of displays like this, including the rolled eyes of a teenager or the wrinkled face of someone who smells something bad. I’m sure you can think of other examples.

God also uses silences such as we heard in the passage from the Psalm. Jesus is in the silences of the touch for the leper, for the woman and for those who touched his robe. Then there are the silent healings with the centurion’s daughter, the woman possessed by demons and the ten lepers.

These examples stand as lessons for us. We do not need to speak to comfort or to encourage or to bring the past to mind. When we do these things, we are obeying the commandments of God. And they’re quite often found in the silences.

Amen.

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Truly Yours

Truly Yours

Isaiah 43:1: But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel:“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”

I don’t know how many of you remember this closing to a “friendly” or business letter. It seems to have fallen out of favor, along with hand-written cards and letters. We use email and texting to communicate and to remember but we know that these methods are dependent upon a vast web of electronic media and everything could vanish, never to return.

I am so pleased that some of you and others in the church send cards and letters to comfort, to entertain and to inform. And those who receive these missives often will save them and they will last as long as they don’t get wet or don’t burn up.

The oldest texts are some 5,000-year-old Iranian tablets and are mostly accounts of property holdings. And of course, they’re written on clay tablets

The earliest extant paper fragment was unearthed at Fangmatan in Gansu province, and was likely part of a map, dated to 179–141 BC. So paper will last a good long time if it’s cared for property.

We all know that God does not write letters as we think of them, but he does communicate in various ways, such as during Belshazzar’s feast, or the story of the writing on the wall (chapter 5 in the Book of Daniel). God also communicates through the burning bush, with the still small voice and through answered (and unanswered) prayer. And you know, somehow I think that God ends each message, “Truly yours,” for if we call on God, God is truly ours and we are truly God’s. Praise God for always being present for us and for giving us his Son as a sacrifice so that we are God’s both now and evermore. Amen.

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Silver and Gold

1Peter 2:25: For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

I don’t know if you lose or misplace important things as much as I do. It seems something goes missing every week or so. When I was a lad, I bought an Epiphone El Dorado guitar with the money I paid painting inside houses for a dollar an hour. I saved this money carefully and paid $175 for the instrument. It was my first “real guitar” and it enabled me to play on beaches, at camps and for church. I enjoyed it all and judging from their reaction, my friends and school mates did as well.

I bought the guitar in 1964 and held onto it until we came home one evening a few years ago and found that a few of my guitars and some incredibly important items of Becky’s jewelry had been stolen. We were distraught, but there was little we could do. To torture myself further, I checked the current price for the Epiphone and found out it was worth $6000 dollars, but I didn’t care about the worth of it. The memories and good times I had with it were more important to me.

More recently, I misplaced the wedding ring Becky gave to me 48 years ago. I looked for it for about a month with no luck. Like the Epiphone, it was gone.

Last week I was dressing in my tuxedo for recording my parts for the Chorale’s virtual concert and took out the small box that I keep my cuff links and shirt studs in. As I rummaged through the items looking for what I wanted, I saw a shiny curved piece of metal. Thinking it might be my missing ring, I pulled it out and looked at it more closely. But it wasn’t my ring: it was my father’s wedding band that he wore for over 61 years. It wasn’t the one I was missing, but it reminded me of my father and mother, so that’s why I’m wearing it.

I thought that this story could be about the way that God treats us. We might want certain gifts, but God knows what is best for us, He turns us down when we ask for what we don’t need. But he doesn’t turn us down cold: He always has something different in mind—not better or worse—just different and it’s something we do need. Praise God for always wanting what is best for us and praise God for coming to earth and sacrificing himself for our sake, something we do need, desperately. Amen.

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Left Out

Leviticus 18:19: You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

I don’t know if you heard about the discovery in the Middle East of a basket that was perfectly preserved and over 10,500 years old. The age is interesting enough, but half the basket was woven by a left-handed person. I have no idea how someone figured this out, but it was amazing.

The value of this discovery is incontestable and I would like to take it further. The basket is like we are as Christians. God wove us together, and I don’t think God is necessarily left-handed, but God knows us, all parts of us and although some of what we are is not good, God loves us anyhow. Praise God for God’s love and for the miraculous way he put us together and sacrificed Jesus Christ although we were sinful.With God’s help may we be useful and beautiful woven baskets. Amen.

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Priming the Pump

Pump

John 4:13—14: Jesus answered the Samaritan woman, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever pumped water by hand. I first encounter this at my grandmother’s house in the mountains of west Tennessee. She didn’t have any of the usual amenities such as running water or a flush toilet, but we loved going there to spend some time with all kinds of relatives who treated my brother and me as special creations, unlike the way our parents saw us. I think you know what I mean.

I remember clearly the day my grandmother asked to come out onto her back porch. She said she wanted to show me something. I thought it might be a pony, but all I saw was the cast-iron pump protruding from the concrete. I was puzzled. I knew about the pump which spouted water as if by magic, but I knew nothing about how it did this.

My grandmother took a nearby bucket which was half filled with water. “I’m going to show you how to pump water.”

I thought, that’s no big deal. You pump the handle and water comes out.

“I know how to do it already,” I said, but I didn’t.

“All right,” my grandmother said. “Show me.”

I took a strong grip on the handle and worked it up and down in a flurry of action.

No water came. I pumped harder. Still no water. And a third time with the same result. “Granny,” I said. “This pump is broken. No water comes out.”

She didn’t say a word but poured some water from her bucket into the pump. She studied the place where she had poured for a few seconds and then began pumping, slowly and deliberately.

Then I heard something. It was—no, it couldn’t be. I watched in disbelief as water gushed from the spout.

“What’d you do?” I demanded. “How’d you get the water to come out?”

“I primed the pump.”

“You what?”

“I poured a little water in to soak the gasket.”

“What’s that?”

“A little piece of leather in the shape of a doughnut that allows the water to come up.”

I tried it and was astounded that I could duplicate her work. I also saw that I didn’t know as much as I thought. That was a valuable lesson.

We had a pump because water was so important to us, just as it was in the scene at Jacob’s well. Jesus acknowledges this when he asks the woman for water, but he takes it further when he tells her about living water, his message that brings new life and salvation. Thanks be to God for water, for being able to learn new lessons and for our savior Jesus Christ, the living water and saver from all our sins. Amen.

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Light and Darkness

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

I don’t know how you regulate the level of light in your home or place of business or wherever you might find yourself. Some people might need a low level of light, which I prefer. In fact, I need so little light that someone who lives with me calls me, “Cave man.” She does this fondly, of course, although she is decidedly not fond when I turn off the light in a room she’s in. My excuse is that I couldn’t see her for the glare.     I’m sensitive to light, that’s all. And I am pleased to report that our firstborn Amy was called, “Cave woman” at college. I’m proud that she followed in my lightly footsteps.

Becky on the other hand, prefers blinding levels of light, so much so that airplanes going into Dulles can navigate by our dining room lights. And we could do surgery in the kitchen. I think you get the idea.

We all know that life in Bible times was dark, literally and figuratively. And I think that people then were like I am: without strong lights in their lives, they still could walk around with very little light. The scripture passage seems to be only figurative: the Bible is the source of light that guides our ways. But it also literal: when people in Bible times needed to go out at night, they put miniature oil lamps on the toes of their sandals and off they went. They could see very well with those tiny lights.

God has given us light ever since God created it on the first day of creation. And that light continued literally in our lives. But it also presented itself to us as the love of God throughout the ages, finally arriving at the brightest life in creation in the person of Jesus. His life and his death on the cross meant that, as John wrote, “in him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Amen.

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Washing the Dishes

Revelation 21:5:  And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

I don’t know how you handle the dishwashing opportunities at your house. Growing up, my mom took care of that and the cooking, at least until she got a job. Then she solicited our help in comforting tones: “if someone doesn’t help me with the dishes, I’m not going to let you eat.”

We didn’t believe her until we left the dishes for her to do one evening. The next day I came downstairs, expecting breakfast, but there were no plates at my brother’s or my place. She and my dad had their usual spread.

I protested, “It’s child abuse not to feed us.”

“It’ll be worse than that if you don’t help me.”

I thought, she has a point and so until I went to college Ron and I washed the dishes. When we got a dishwasher and had it easier, we still had to put the dirty dishes in. I even complained about that (I was nothing if not determined), but she re-invoked her declaration.

The point of this is that we are called to help each other with all manner of things, the most important being the necessity of spiritual growth. This begins when we are born and accelerates when we accept Jesus as our Savior. The one who washed the feet of the disciples also washes our souls when we come to him. Praise God for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and for the way we can grow, past death and beyond. Amen.

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Wheels within Wheels

Ezekiel 1:16: This was the appearance and structure of the wheels: They sparkled like topaz, and all four looked alike. Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel.

I don’t know if you have a history with bicycles. I know I do, from the fat-tired woman’s bike my family found in the woods while takin a walk. I learned to ride with that bike. Then my parents bought me a three-speed English racer (it really was from England) and then I acquired a ten-speed with the paycheck from my first “real job.”

I still have that bike, although I haven’t ridden it for years after I had a close encounter with a fire hydrant. I wasn’t hurt badly, but it made me think about doing any more biking. I keep the bike in our shed and hadn’t had it out for years. As I was looking for some potting soil for Becky, I noticed the bike and I realized that my bike-riding days were over. My balance is not so good, and that’s important to riding.

I also realized that each bike was an improvement on the one before, and I had reached the pinnacle with each bike and my ability to ride. So, no longer riding is a natural step. I’m not sad about it: rather, I have a calm acceptance, confident that I won’t have to encounter any more fire hydrants on a bike. I’ll probably donate the ten-speed.

I was thinking that, just as I went through the different bikes, God calls us to grow spiritually and become a better believer. And I think this isn’t a smooth path, but one strewn with obstacles and problems. But God is with us through all of this, until we grow to meet him and, I think, continue to grow.

Praise God for growth, both spiritual and otherwise, and praise God for God’s presence and love. Jude noted that God “is able to keep us from stumbling and to present us before God’s glorious presence without fault and with great joy” and so he does, world without end, amen.

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