Where Will It all End?

Where Will It All End?

“Where will it end?” That is the question of frustration that often comes in the aftermath of destructive patterns of behavior that are often repetitive.  Shock and outrage are familiar companions in these moments, and yet, as someone asked following the shootings at the Navy Yard this week, “Are we becoming accustomed to these horrific events?” I would hope the answer to these questions is “no,” but I can’t help but wonder…
The inability to agree on meaningful legislation that could have an impact, as well as our unwillingness to confront and deal redemptively and accountably with mental health issues might be seen by some as evidence of a sense of complacency in response to these terrible incidents. Please understand, I do not believe there is one simple solution that will bring these mass shootings to an end.  In a free society where access cannot always be controlled and purposefully harmful intent always known, opportunities are obviously there for an individual or group to take advantage.  Various entities connected to the Navy Yard shootings this week have announced reviews of their personnel and security policies and practices, vowing to do what they can to make the installations safer.  They are doing the right thing by such evaluation if it is followed by meaningful change.
But where will it all end?  I cannot say with certainty that I have an answer to that question.  It is easy to point fingers, and easier still to expect that someone else will fix the problem.  But where does that leave you and me?  What is our role here?  The electoral process gives us some opportunity to affect decision making and we must participate in it.  Some will choose a more vocal role through involvement in groups or organizations that push forward a particular political or social perspective and that is a privilege of the freedom of expression we have as citizens of this nation.  But what about the day to day experience of the great majority of Americans that perhaps have the greatest impact on everyday living?  What about the way we treat others or the realistic expectations we have for relationships between ourselves and others?  It appears to me that we assume less and less responsibility in these areas as we become more and more polarized by and entrenched in our own particular perspectives.  Are we willing to dialogue about the things that divide us and that threaten our society and personal safety with open minds and civil tongues?  We complain about the lack of substantive action and effective leadership, but what are you and I doing to have an impact in our neighborhoods, work places, and schools?
As a follower of Jesus Christ, I profess a faith that is to have an impact on the way I view the world, beginning where I live.  That doesn’t mean that I can fix every problem or overcome ever act of irrational fear or anger that is meant for harm.  But my view of the world must begin more intentionally right where I live and work and play, reflecting the kind of love that isn’t dependent on another’s racial, ethnic, political, or theological persuasion.  The love of Christ is a gift that I am called to offer, regardless. Unless I am mistaken, that is what the cross of Christ calls us all as Christians to exemplify…sacrifice, service, forgiveness, mercy, restoration
Where will it all end?  I cannot tell you.  I will, however, ultimately trust that God is at work, not in the initiation of these terrible events, but in and through people who will take seriously the claims of faith and work together to bring light to an often dark and dangerous world.  I will also pray for our nations leader’s, for those who establish policies that impact our lives, for first responders and other persons who bravely answer when called, and yes, for those whose violent actions devalue human life for that is what scripture calls us to do.  And I will pray for the families of those who have lost loved ones in this most recent mass shooting as well as those injured, those who waited under desks, hid in closets, and ran down stairwells and across parking lots seeking safety. Their lives have been irrevocably changed by what they have seen and heard.
John writes of the light of Christ, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” 
Dear friends, this is indeed a time to let your light shine!
Jim Abernathy

The Nats, Ancient Israel, and Me…

Following the Washington Nationals this summer is a bit like reviewing the history of ancient Israel…two steps forward, three steps backward.  The excitement over the team’s 2012 performance elicited great expectations for 2013, yet as we come to the All-Star break, the Nats are one game above .500 and six games behind the Atlanta Braves.  Injuries, poor defense, and the lack of timely hitting are but some of the reasons offered for their poor performance, leaving fans frustrated and baseball experts shaking their heads.

Ancient Israel had a pretty promising start as the Creator pledged through a man named Abram that his descendents would be more numerous than the stars in the heavens. In a most unlikely manner, Abram and his wife Sarai became parents of a boy named Isaac in their old age, proof, as in many sports analogies, that it ain’t over til’ it’s over.  From this miracle of God a nation was born whose swings between faithfulness and disloyalty were as common as the National’s most recent home stand record of 5-2, followed by a road trip of 2-5.  The wondrous miracle of deliverance from Egypt by the hand of God was followed by forty-years of wandering in the wilderness because these miraculously delivered people chased after other gods instead of faithfully following the One who brought them out of oppression and slavery.  Again and again the children of Israel seemed poised to soar, only to stumble and fall.

One certainly cannot confine such comparisons so narrowly. In reality, the ups and downs of a major league baseball team and the Old Testament people of promise are but the stories of human trial and error.  As a fan, it would be great to see one’s favorite team display the kind of consistency that is continually reflected in the best efforts of the team that lead to mounting wins over losses.  As a student of history and a person of faith, it would be encouraging to see the ascending story of a people whose dependence upon and faithfulness to that promise was unwavering. 

Of course, it’s easy to point fingers at your favorite team when they underachieve or methodically dissect the failures of an ancient people.  We are fairly skilled at making these judgments from what appears to be the safe distance of fandom and history.  But these are not the stories of insular human experience.  No, these are our stories for they remind us again and again of our own failures, our own unfulfilled potential, our own missteps.  Perhaps that is why we feel so confident in our assessments about the failures of others…we are all too familiar with them.

Nationals Manager Davey Johnson counsels patience. “It’s early yet,” he says.  He believes things will turn around as wounds heal and bats come to life.  He seems to see something in his players that fans do not always see.  The grace he offers must be an encouragement to the team, inspiring hope for a better day.  The grace of God is a continuing theme of the Old Testament story and indeed, the continuing human story, finding its greatest expression in the incarnation of Christ.  Though often consumed with the failures of others and ourselves, the grace of God continually calls us to see others, ourselves, and the Eternal One in a different light.

Gospel writer John chronicles these words from Jesus; “In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, Amplified Bible)  In the trials, distresses, and frustrations of life, there is a perspective for the follower of Christ that can indeed affect his or her world view.

Two steps forward…three steps backward?  I suppose that is a human pattern that we all follow from time to time.  The grace of God has proven capable of overcoming our greatest weaknesses.  That is the good news for today!

Now, if Bryce Harper can learn to hit the curve ball off left-handed pitching, Dan Haren be more consistent in the strikezone, Ryan Zimmerman more accurate in his throws to first base…and oh, yes, me more consistent in loving God and my neighbor, who knows….

 Jim Abernathy

Stating the Obvious…Responding by Faith

The American consumer is fortunate today to have at their disposal explicit warning labels that serve to identify potential dangers of nearly everything, from hot coffee to which end of the chainsaw to hold when starting. Of course, some of these warnings are more helpful than others, but in a litigious society, companies find themselves placing warning labels on their products that seem at times to go beyond the obvious.

M-Law, an organization in Michigan that exists to expose frivolous lawsuits, offers a first and second place prize annually to those who submit the most ridiculous, verifiable warning labels on the products consumers buy. In a recent post on their website, they listed previous winners such as:
 A label on a baby stroller warns, “Remove baby before folding.’
 A popular children’s scooter warns, “This product moves when used.”
 A cardboard sunshield that keeps sun off the dashboard warns, “Do not drive with
sunshield in place.”

Stating the obvious has become a defense against those who would exploit any opportunity to abuse the system for personal gain.

In the fifth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus seems to state the obvious when he encounters a man who has positioned himself by a pool, near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. John tells us that this pool is a place where the blind, lame, and paralyzed come in hope that when the waters are stirred within the pool, someone might help them into the water to be healed. Some believed that an angel stirred the waters and that healing powers resulted for the one who was first into the water.
Here in this place of misery and hope, Jesus asks this man who has suffered for thirty-eight years a question that seems to have an obvious answer; “Do you want to be made well?” One might think this a foolish question…after struggling with his physical limitations for nearly four decades, it seems obvious that the man would want to be made whole, to stand and walk, yet the action of Jesus in reaching out to him assumes nothing. Here is the wonder of God’s hand at work in the midst of human need. Though he has the power to heal the man, Jesus invites him to join the process, to become a participant, a partner if you will, in his own healing.

The man replies without hesitation that there is no one to put him in the water when it is stirred. The man’s predicament shows the likelihood that left on his own, there would be little or no chance for healing.

His story perhaps mirrors the limitations and challenges we face, for by ourselves we find our efforts unsatisfying, yet with the help of Christ we find, as Paul states, that by his strength we are empowered to do all things. Scottish theologian William Barclay writes, “The first essential toward receiving the power of Jesus is the intense desire for it. Jesus comes to us and says, ‘Do you really want to be changed?’ If in our inmost hearts we are well content to stay as we are, there can be no change for us. The desire for the better things,” he concludes, “must be surging in our hearts.” Once again, here is a great truth of our faith…the One who created us in the very image of God, calls us to partnership; certainly not equal, for the Psalmist reminds us that it is God who has made us and not we ourselves. But the good God desires to do within us is accomplished when God and we work together…when we allow the living Christ to work in and through us. In asking the obvious of this physically challenged man, Jesus invites him to faith, to partner with him in healing, not only his body, but more importantly, his soul.

Having invited the man into this divine partnership of faith, Jesus commands him in John 5:8-9, “’Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.” If the man was hesitant at all because of his limitations, the text does not include this. Having heard the call to healing, he stood up and walked. It is an amazing story of restoration…the transforming power of God at work within God’s human creation.

The table of our Lord tells a similar story. It bears the elements of body and blood, broken and poured out by the Son of God to bring healing and restoration to the human soul. God’s action in Christ calls any who will come to embrace this gift of salvation and in doing so, to find the saving grace and mercy that Christ offers. There, God states the obvious for those who will receive…There, God proclaims God’s love for all the world through the unmatched gift of Jesus Christ…There, we respond by faith to receive this gift anew and to be made whole. With the apostle Paul, we thus proclaim, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.” Amen.

Jim Abernathy

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