Monday, December 17, 2007

Snowed-in, Sugar-Rushed, and Sermon-Deprived

On Saturday night Liz and I opened our house for a Christmas Cookie Exchange. Twenty-five folks from our church came, bearing gifts of sugar, frankincense, and cane. The spoils would be my comfort the following morning at the news:

...Leesburg Grace Brethren church, all services canceled...

Church was canceled for the second consecutive week. A week ago the culprit was ice; this week it was snow. The sky fell for more than sixteen hours, and when I didn't see a single car on the road Sunday morning, I was afraid I missed the apocalypse. The radio fed my suspicions:

...Christ's Covenant church, all services canceled; Precious Moments church of the Divine Nativity, services rescheduled for Christmas eve; Holy Faith church of the Four Seasons, all services canceled until spring...

I was disappointed; my sermons were getting forced into preservation, but I was out of good Tupperware. (They were filled with cookies.) What is a pastor to do when he cannot preach?

...Winona Lake Grace Brethren church, all services canceled; church of Laodicea, services may or may not meet; The Historic-Universal-Apostolic Church, all services moved to your home...

Well, like all good Christian men, he throws his children in snow drifts, drinks hot chocolate with his wife, shovels the driveway, sings Christmas carols by the tree, eats three dozen cookies, takes four hours to reflect on the NFL*, and spends the evening in fellowship with close friends.

In a word, we rejoice.

(*After reviewing the play, the call on the field is overturned. Four hours of watching the NFL cannot be deemed reflective. Pastor Tim is charged his final Time Out.)

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Prayer at the U-scan

They had dirty fingers, sallow eyes, and forty-three items in their shopping cart. The cart alone should have been a sign they were in the wrong line. Clearly posted was the rule: 15 items or less. I'm not typically a legalist, but when it comes to the universal law of counting, I don't bend.

It didn't help that I was carrying a squirmy two-year old in one hand, and a frozen pizza, Diet Pepsi, and gallon of Vitamin D milk in the other. Nor did it help that at one point, the squirmy two-year old wiggled free and ran to the Christmas toy display, displacing us in line.

I started to pray. The first prayer was rather imprecatory--it was addressed to the God of Angel Armies and Kroger Checkout Staff. I called down ice from the heavens (sorry Northern Indiana) to sheath their car. I begged for faulty bags to tear at the handles. I requested power outages in their kitchen to spoil their groceries.

Then, as I felt the frozen pizza thaw in my armpit, I realized a challenge I'd heard from a sermon the previous week. The pastor (a dashing chap) asked the church to pray that God give Jesus' eyes of compassion each time one of them shopped during the Advent season.

There I was, shopping, eyes set on petty injustices, and I thought I should change my prayer. God gave me a gut check, much like Jesus when he saw the five thousand chase him around the lake. They had no groceries. And they were without a leader, too.

Suddenly, the dirty-fingered, sallowed-eyed couple looked less deplorable. I still watched them cheat a system, but I knew it's because they felt like systems never served them. And not just U-scan systems.

(Sorry Wayne Grudem, that includes you're theology book, too.)

And [Jesus] took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward the heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied... (Mark 6:41-42, NASB)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Glories of Aging

"Do you have time for a cup of coffee?"

I'd stopped by to collect a box of books for our ESL program. The couple welcomed me in, offered me a brief tour, and invited me to sit. Since they likely didn't treat the mailman to the same hospitality, I chose to stay. Besides, the top bullet point of my job description is "Have time for a cup of coffee."

The books could wait, as well as my sermon.

In an hour I'd consumed eight ounces of Folgers and fifty years of personal history--work, married life, family, remodeling projects, church sagas, and a few surgical tales. I took them in sips, black and unsweetened.

I learned about running your own business and Christmas Snowflake Bears. I learned about building codes and government health care. And I learned that a man who passes the offering basket can lead a church, and a woman who sits near the back can throw a nasty right hook.

At one point I asked about aging. The difficulties were apparent; I wanted to know the glories. They shook their heads and smiled. The conversation returned to ailing eyes and prescriptions, but they hadn't fooled me.

The flesh may weaken, but the spirit persists. It glows in reminiscence and story.