As we enter 2017, let’s make it the “Year of Loving Well.” As Peter Scazzero says, “The art of loving well is the essence of true spirituality.” May your new year be deep and rich, and may your depth and richness be measured in love.
“Clarence checked out of Pastor Ingqvist’s sermon early. It was about the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, the ones who came late getting the same wage as those who came early and stayed all day, a parable that suggests that you need not listen carefully to a whole sermon from the beginning but can come in for maybe the last sentence or two and get the whole point.”
— Garrison Keillor, Leaving Home
How many had I taught . . . to climb the the high places of true vision? I had filled hundreds of students’ minds with knowledge; how many souls had I filled with faith? Many bachelors of arts had passed through my classes; how many prophets had I inspired? I could count those I had given passing grades by the hundreds; in how many had I awakened the hearts of poets? Many were the athletes I had coached; how many had I made into athletes of the spirit?” (Glenn Clark, 1937)
Glenn Clark was Professor of English at Macalester College in Minnesota in the 1930s.
(Thank you to my friend, Dr. David Wright, for this nugget of gold.)
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain; heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign. In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him: give my heart.
Out in the fields, minding their own business — and kablammo! Something big happens!
Angels show up! a huge angel choir! Glory to God in the highest! Life change in a moment!
The shepherds drop everything and run to Bethlehem, where they find the Christ-child lying in a manger. They rejoice, celebrate and end up broadcasting the good news everywhere they go.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
They see a distant star in the east and are puzzled by its appearing. “What does this mean?”, they wonder. After a long pondering, they begin a long, winding journey of faith.
It takes them quite a while to figure things out — with plenty of detours along the way. But, eventually, they, too, end up in Bethlehem.
Departing, they did not cause a big scene like the shepherds –but had the experience of inner transformation as well (though of the “still waters” variety.)
I like the manger scenes where wise men and shepherds are all together at the manger.
Though most Bible scholars say otherwise, as a hopeless romantic, I imagine love to imagine it just like the Christmas cards. I picture them kneeling before Jesus side by side: rich and poor, wise men and shepherds, locals and tourists — all worshiping Jesus together! It’s would be just like God’s timing to arrange it that way.
The important lesson here? It doesn’t matter whether you are a shepherd or a wise man. Shepherds aren’t better because they dashed dashed to Jesus. Wise men aren’t better because they took a longer,
thoughtful, more reflective route. The only thing that matters is that they both ended up worshiping Jesus in Bethlehem.
Awakening to a beautiful blanket of snow this morning, I was reminded of these words from Edwin M. Johnson, legendary Northwoods poet:
God laid a blanket on the hills last night,
A quilt all fluffy, downy and white,
He tucked the edges round flowers asleep,
Warned the litte one burrowed down deep,
Not to awaken until the Spring,
When thrush and robin and bluebird sing.
Yes, God unfurled a blanket last night,
And He looked on earth and loved the sight,
The spruce and the flowers fell asleep with a nod,
I think they were thankful for the goodness of God.
When I saw how He tenderly cared for a tree,
I just knew He would care for you and me.
(This beautiful picture of the trail in winter woods was taken by my friend, Sue Bartz.)
“Ribbit-ribbit-kneedeep-ribbit,” — Kermit the Frog
(translation: “May success and a smile always be yours… even when you’re knee deep in the sticky muck of life.”)
Strong winds destroyed a swath of trees — leaving jagged trunks jutting from the earth.
Driving by, a few days later, I shook my heads and sadly recalled how beautiful the land used to be.
I grumbled against the wind.
Good-hearted loggers tried cleaning it up a bit — by clearing the windfall debris. Their honest efforts seemed more of an invasion than a healing. Their cuttings left cruel scars, cold and stark.
Driving by the destruction, I shook my head, and grumbled against the loggers.
The burning followed. How the fire started is still a puzzle — perhaps a lightening strike, or careless cigarette. Regardless of the start, it took the firefighting volunteers a full effort for the finish. Acres of charred stubble marred the landscape.
I grumbled against the fire.
But passing time has a way of healing scarred soil and human hearts. From blackened ground, new life emerges.
Twelve seasons later, quite by accident, we happened upon the barren place and were amazed to find bushes loaded with raspberries — and a new patch of wild blueberries growing near the earth.
Before dinner that evening, we bowed our heads, and gave God thanks for the berries and
Blessed the wind,
Blessed the loggers,
Blessed the fire.
The Wesley Covenant Renewal Service, first published by John Wesley in 1780, is a rich and deeply meaningful experience, if we take these words to heart. I’ve taken the liberty to adapt and combine a few versions of the Covenant for the pattern we use.
Commit yourselves to Christ as his servants. Give yourselves to him, that you may belong to him.Christ has many services to be done. Some are more easy and honorable, others are more difficult and disgraceful. Some are suitable to our inclinations and interests, others are contrary to both.
In some we may please Christ and please ourselves. But then there are other works where we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.
It is necessary, therefore, that we consider what it means to be a servant of Christ. Let us, therefore, go to Christ, and pray:
Let me be your servant, under your command. I will no longer be my own. I will give up myself to your will in all things.
Lord, make me what you will. I put myself fully into your hands:put me to doing, put me to suffering,
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing.I freely and with a willing heart
give it all to your pleasure and disposal.
to take my lot with you as it may fall.Through your grace I promise
that neither life nor death shall part me from you.I make this covenant with you, O God,
without guile or reservation.If any falsehood should be in it, guide me
and help me to set it aright.
And Let this covenant I have made on earth be ratified in heaven.Amen.