Jon Hevelone's blog
1 Corinthians 13 NIV
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels,
but do not have love,
I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries
and all knowledge,
and if I have a faith that can move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor
and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy,
it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease;
where there are tongues, they will be stilled;
where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child,
I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror;
then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
Well, it’s that time of year again. New Year’s Resolutions. Earnest intentions to change the way we live. Honest pledges to begin to do things differently.
And there’s help! You can’t turn on TV or surf the net without seeing ads for gym memberships or the newest diet or a pill that will rejuvenate you. It’s time to get in shape.
If our great grandparents could only see us now. They might think our whole exercise fixation is just plain silly. Back then they had to work for a living. There wasn’t time or energy to do what it takes to get six pack abs. They didn’t go to Weight Watchers. They never had to lose ten or twenty pounds. They controlled their weight by hard work.
Still, we do want to get in shape so we will have a better life -- so we will be healthy and fit. Our work usually isn’t as demanding as it was in the old days. Instead, we place hope in the ads that make a lot of promises about the easy way to control our weight. Yea, right. There is no easy way.
I was reminded of this shortly after Christmas dinner. We did a pot-luck this year, with everybody bringing something good. After eating the turkey and ham, after the mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, after the pasta salad and the cranberry salad, after the squash and the green bean casserole, after the gooseberry pie and the chocolate cheese cake, I knew I had made some wrong choices.
Often, it is the influence of the world and our secular culture that shape us into ways that are not in God’s plan for us. Often, it is the influence of our best friends and family that shape us into people that do not reflect God’s way. Often, it is the unexpected events in our lives that get the best of us, and shape us in a different direction. Often, it is our deliberate choices that shape us into a sinful path.
New Year’s isn’t just the time for making resolutions about getting physically in shape. There is our whole spiritual dimension that probably needs a tune-up even more than our bodies. Most of us do tend to get a little out of shape in our relationship to God. In the worst case we become real spiritual slackers. We no longer feel the hands of God shaping our lives. We no longer live so following Jesus has high priority in our lives. The result ain’t pretty!
But listen, church -- there is real hope. (And I didn’t get this from a junk mail flyer, but from the Bible!) God is always there, willing to reshape, remake, renew us. God is always there to help us become people who are whole, useful, and beautiful.
Some of us are old enough to remember Bing Crosby crooning “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas...” Trouble is, those of us old enough to remember the song aren’t dreaming so much of a white Christmas, as perhaps a warm Christmas, or maybe a quite Christmas. Anything that doesn’t involve shoveling snow and moving at the staccato rate of the television commercials that first tell us to go there and buy that, and then tell us to buy that and go there.
Actually, what I’m dreaming of is a slow Christmas. I want my Christmas to be slow enough I can gaze into the beauty of Christmas, the beauty of God Incarnate, of God fused to humanity in a child -- Jesus, my Lord.
On second thought, maybe I do want a white Christmas. There is probably nothing as effective at slowing things down than a big, unexpected dumping of snow over everything. It really takes the whole commercial bit down a notch or two. No wild shopping frenzy. No compulsive socializing. Just quietly marveling at the splendor of a world drenched in white -- preferably seen through the window closest to a fireplace.
I suspect the problem of overdoing it at Christmas has been around for quite a long time. The folks visiting Bethlehem that first Christmas had the same problem. They had come into town from other villages to be registered in the census. Upon their arrival they had to scour the streets looking for a place to stay. Then they had to fight the crowds to get something to eat and find directions to the place where they would meet the government requirements.
The residents of Bethlehem were busy that first Christmas - renting rooms, cooking meals, making beds -- hoping to make a buck or two off the visitors. The feed store owner was working as hard as Boston snow plow drivers, taking care of all the donkeys who needed hay to eat. And more people just kept pouring into the little town of Bethlehem.
In Bethlehem there were a few people who stood apart from the busy crowds. Shepherds. Out doing their job on the hillsides, watching sheep. Not the most exciting thing, but it paid the rent. They weren’t to concerned about what was happening in town. They just huddled around a fire to keep warm and swapped stories. They led a quite life.
Then it changed. The sky -- the sky lit up. They heard the news about the most important thing going on in town -- most important thing in the world. Without questioning, without hesitating, they immediately went to Bethlehem to check it out. To see for themselves the incredible things they had just been told. They find the baby. His parents. Right there in the stable -- just like the angel had said.
Let me tell you, they weren’t worried about their clothes, or whether or not they had Christmas gifts. All they could hear were the words of the angel ringing in their hearts – "This very day in David’s town your Saviour is born – Christ the Lord."
Sunday I preached on the age old problem of trusting God in the face of evil. I spoke about how bad things can suddenly appear out of nowhere, how awful stuff happens in our world. I looked at the “why did this happen to me?” question and how it cannot ever be answered satisfactorily. It’s more profitable for Christians to ask “what can I do now?” I preached my conviction that no matter what, we best trust that God will be with us however hard our life becomes.
After the service I went home and looked forward to a quiet time of recovery, capped by a well deserved Sunday afternoon nap. (I always told my kids that preaching was as hard as digging ditches all day. I’ve convinced myself, if not them, that it’s true.)
That’s when the phone call came. My daughter was speaking, her voice telegraphing desperateness. Tate, our three year old grandson was out hiking with his dad, when a stick rammed into his eye. They were on their way to Boston Children’s Hospital emergency room.
I was overcome with confusion and fear and helplessness. My prayers rapidly cycled between “Please, God, save his eye,” and “Why, God, did you do this?” From time to time my mind would go the the sermon I had just preached. I did serious soul searching. Was my message just hot air and pious cliches, or did I trust God even in the ugly events of the last hour? Did I trust God with my grandson?
Sometimes Christians are viewed as simplistic and naive. People think that when we are faced with difficult situations, we just avoid facing reality. We solve problems like an ostrich does — by sticking our head in the sand and hoping everything goes away. That unfortunately may be the way a few Christians act, but the Bible calls for us to trust God as capable, intelligent, and strong people who know God cares for us. Even more, we know that is true no matter the outcome. God promises that nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from His love Christ Jesus our Lord, and that God will work it all together for good.
Trusting God when the bad stuff hits doesn’t come easy. It’s a lesson we’re always learning. I discovered more about God’s care Sunday afternoon than I ever did in the time I spent preparing and preaching my sermon.
Oh, and Tate’s eye is just fine. His reaction to the whole thing? On the way home he happily announced, “Next time I poke a stick in my eye I’m going to come to the same hospital and the same doctor!”