Thursday, November 7, 2013

Rebuilding

The scripture that I'm going to focus on primarily this week is Ezra 4.  Last Sunday we looked at the account of how in Ezra 1 Cyrus the Great gave the exiles the chance to go home to Jerusalem and to rebuild the Temple there.  He gave them financial assistance as well.

When they got there, however, they encountered some difficulties.  There were folks there that did not want the Temple rebuilt and who had reactions toward the returning exiles.  Now the truth is....if I'm going to be faithful to the scriptures and honest with you.....that part of these difficulties were the exiles own fault.  We're going to talk about that-and I'll preach on it-next week.

But right now, what I'd like to focus on is the issue of trying to rebuild.  It seems to me that one of the ways to make this story our own, and to let it have something to say to us, is to focus on what we do when we feel we're being lead, or called, to rebuild our own lives.

Right there, there is an issue.  In a discussion during last night's Prayer Meeting one of the folks said, 'I don't have a lot of gutter level experience to rebuild from.' And they were right.  They were also right in saying that their struggles were mostly internal.  So one issue is to make sure that when we talk about "rebuilding" that we don't limit it to folks who have done dramatic or drastic things, or who have been severely traumatized.  These folks have rebuilding issues....big ones.....but so do many others.  The spouse who must rebuild their life after the death of a husband or wife.  The parents who must rebuild after the loss of a child....or even after the children all finally leave home.  The individual who has had an experience that challenges the way they view the world.  The person who has been diagnosed with a serious, or perhaps terminal, illness.  All of these are going to face the challenges of having to rebuild.  To rebuild their image of themselves; their way of dealing with the world around them; their relationship with others; their relationship with God.

We can, however, learn some things from folks who have to make the really big, dramatic rebuilding moves because they highlight some of the difficulties for us in a way that the more subtle types of rebuilding may not.  It's not that the issues aren't there; it's that they're a little more under the surface perhaps.

So the exiles have gone back to Jerusalem and are beginning to rebuild.  Some folks who were left behind when the exile took place come and offer to help [warning: this is one of the things we'll talk about next week]. and the exiles said No.  What this resulted in was a letter to King Artaxerxes saying that the building should be stopped and that if the Temple and city walls were rebuilt that the King would have trouble collecting his taxes from these former exiles.  You can find the letter in Ezra 4:11-16.   It is a study in smarmy, kiss up letter writing.  It reminds me of Eddy Haskell from the old "Leave It To Beaver" show in its manipulative, slick quality.

But that's not even the point.....the point is that whenever we go to rebuild, we will encounter obstacles.  If someone wants to find something in our past....or to make a disparaging remark about the changes in us....or to just interfere....that's easy to do.  The lesson from this passage is that the exiles continued to try to build.  And when challenged, they pointed the King (Darius at this point) back to Cyrus' edict regarding the rebuilding of the Temple.

God has called us "Beloved."   With all our flaws, with all our sins, with all our illnesses, losses and failures.  That "edict" is the only word about us that matters.  We move forward and rebuild in our lives on the power of that edict.  You are Beloved.....and you can go forward.

Shalom

Friday, November 1, 2013

Forgiveness As A Daily Spiritual Discipline

Today I fly out of Dallas where I have been presenting a workshop on "Radical Forgiveness" at the Chin Baptist Churches USA Minister's Retreat.  The Chin community have been the victims of tremendous oppression under the military misrule in Burma.  (I would send you for more information about this to the Physicians for Human Rights report at www.lifeunderthejunta.org website) Yet, these clergy, many of them direct victims of these crimes against humanity, wanted to talk about how we can live out our Christian call to forgiveness.

What was even more remarkable to me was the way in which the Chin clergy spoke so openly and honestly about the ways that forgiveness needs to operate within their local congregations.  One of the places that there was significant agreement was that unless we are practicing forgiveness in the daily actions of our lives....for the small resentments that come up....we will not be equipped to deal with the big needs, the big times that call for great grace and forgiveness.

It was humbling to be here.  I was welcomed with warmth.  The pastors listened to my presentation in English, and when necessary, translated back and forth in their dialect so that we were able to carry on a lively conversation about this topic.  But we quickly moved to a larger topic...one of which I think forgiveness is a piece.....which is "reconciliation."  Once again, these pastors were very open about the struggles in their congregations to deal with reconciliation as it impacted the daily lives of those they serve.

I find myself, as I pack to go home, extremely grateful for this experience...for a large number of reasons.  The first of them is a renewed awareness that each of us as pastors and as Christians struggle to live out our understanding of what Jesus is calling us to do and be in our world.  The challenges take on, perhaps, a different flavor from culture to culture, but at heart, they are the same.  How do we love our neighbor...and our enemy.  How do we speak for those who have no voice.  How do we help to heal the wounds of those around us.

I met men and women of tremendous courage this weekend.  They are heroes of the faith.  I will be a long time processing my experience with them.  But I wanted to take time before I fly away to note their courage and their hospitality and just to say "Thank You" to these brothers and sisters in Christ.