MCDOWELL'S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSAGES

THAT THING CALLED CHARACTER

The lithe young student took the pass from out of bounds. He stood there, almost indolently, as if daring his opponent to take the ball from him. His opponent lunged desperately, but he was too fast. He dribbled the ball, effortlessly it seemed, and his opponent tried to keep up with him. He stopped suddenly and jumped. The ball arched over his opponent’s outstretched hand and floated toward the basket. He heard that unmistakable friction sound that a basketball makes when it settles cleanly in the net and drops through.

The young man took for granted the perfectly executed shot he had made. He had all the classic moves and he had all the shots, from hooks to set-ups. He had the grace and economy of movement that distinguishes the superlative basketball player. But he was not a superlative basketball player and chances were that he never would be. He was lax on defense, he considered teammates a ridiculous superfluity, and he only did his best on special occasions. In short, he lacked character.

Whether or not he ever becomes an outstanding athlete is of no moment. What is of more importance is that the doggedness, the dedication, the consideration for others that was missing on the basketball court likely will be missing in his life. It will affect his education, his vocation, his most intimate relationships. Every little area of human activity is a magical microcosm of life itself. It is a sobering reflection to realize that all of our most important qualities are visible in such insignificant actions. Emerson said that all the universe is seen in a single leaf.

If we only knew how quick we are to betray ourselves! The discerning man would easily plot most of our future failures. In the way an adolescent mistreats his mother, or father, or brother or sister, or grandparent, is the seed of future difficulties and sadness. The daily schoolroom, with all the cheating and indifference, is a polygraph of future disappointments and failures. The self-centered conversationalist is setting forth in the most vivid manner the symptoms of his insecurity. In a thousand little ways we shout to others the most important qualities about us, but we ourselves are ignorant of the revelation.

MCDOWELL'S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSAGES

On Being Thankful: Count to Ten

I am indebted to J. Lee Grady for reminding us of what he calls “10 basic blessings that you should be thankful for.” The full account of what he has to say is available at www.charismamag.com. I list here only the ten things, along with some relevant facts.

1.    Clean water – 884 million people lack access to clean water.

2.    A bathroom – 40% of the world’s population does not have a toilet.

3.    Electricity – 1.6 billion people live without any electricity.

4.    Shelter – 2.5 million in America are homeless; 640 million children worldwide do not have shelter.

5.    Food – 28% of people in developing countries are estimated to be under weight or have stunted growth.

6.    Your stove – 2.5 million people use fuel wood, charcoal, or animal dung to meet their energy needs.

7.    Income – Most of humanity has an income of less than $10.00 a day.

8.    Education – Nearly one billion cannot read a book or write their names.

9.    Health – 2.2 million children die each year because they are not immunized. Annually there are 300-500 million cases of malaria, with one million fatalities.

10. Freedom – While freedom to worship according to one’s conscience is widespread, an average of 400 Christians around the world die or are imprisoned for their faith daily.

We can also be thankful for the thousands of charitable organizations – “the points of light” as President Bush I called them – that spend billions annually to alleviate human suffering, a testimony to all the generosity there is in our troubled world. Habitat for Humanity, for example, has surpassed in building one million “decent” homes. Generosity, prized as a noble virtue among all cultures, appears to have a place in the hearts of us all.

And yet when Paul refers to “perilous times” to come he lists “unthankful” among the vices (2 Timothy 3:2). Theologians often esteem generosity as the “queen of the virtues,” and they see ingratitude as among the grossest of sins. Generosity is God’s gift of grace, while gratitude is our response to that grace.

One thing appears evident: gratitude begets generosity, and generosity begets gratitude. A generous person is a thankful person, and a thankful person a generous person.

This Thanksgiving can be special. You can count to ten all around the table!

MCDOWELL'S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSAGES

 

“All is Vanity” – Solomon

“It Looks Like He May Be Right” – McDowell

As I have listened for the last several weeks to Jeff and guest Rocky witness in sermon to Ecclesiastes and the subject of the meaning(lessness) of life my mind sometimes drifts. I thought I would share the driftwood ……


When I passed the mid-life passage I began to think differently about death. Thirty years before that I could spit in its eye. I could talk about death, teach it, preach it, make fun of it and yes, God forbid, laugh at it. I was a preacher. I was 22. White shoes, matching belt and tie, leisure suit. Nobody in his right mind ought to be 22. I now tremble at the thought of death, which enters my train of consciousness only a few dozen times each day. Like when I feel a gas pain (heart attack I figure), have a sore back (leukemia for sure), blurred vision (tumor), or shortness of breath (cancer).

I’m a faithless coward. And you’re not?

Talk on preacher. Tell us how the victory’s won, and he is better off now, and we shouldn’t cry, and how the Lord called him home … and, all I can hear is “My God!! Why? Why have you left me now?” And it scares the beejeebies out of me.

Death is getting on my nerves. I don’t like it. I don’t pretend to. I’m afraid of it. I think about it. I’m getting paranoid. I have hopes of living at least another year but doubt I’ll see another playoff game. I pretend not to notice but I tremble at night in the still darkness when I am supposed to be asleep. I hear my wife breathing and tuning contentedly in bed. Am I the only one on earth who is awake and scared?

Everything is vain – futility. I find it hard to believe but it is. It is all a very unfunny joke. What good does it do to get born? And go through high school and learn to drive, take immunization shots, learn how to diagram sentences, enroll in college, go through the turmoil of starting a career and getting married and raising children and buying insurance and going to one zillion church services and then … boom! Everybody just dies off.

Another group comes on the scene, a new generation and they have their turn and do the very same thing, fully believing they discovered it for the first time. That generation thinks it was the most important, the worst, or the sinfulest or the best or the lostest or the happiest, ad infinitum. Stupid. Only the earth remains. The sun, the wind, the rivers do their bit, big deal. What difference does it make? None.

Churchill dead! Kennedy dead! Will Rogers dead! C.S. Lewis dead! Babe Ruth dead! Hemingway, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Twain, Joyce, Anderson, all dead! Thurmon Munson dead! Tony Lema dead! Bobby Jones dead! Carl Rogers dead! Virginia dead!

I read on a bathroom wall “Death is nature’s way of telling you to slow down.” Very funny, veeee-re funny. Probably written by a 22 year old preacher with white shoes and matching belt and tie in a leisure suit.

Only a fool can pretend he does not fear and tremble in the face of death. Or maybe someone who has yet to be touched by it. I read in Saroyan’s stuff about his long preoccupation with death and I understand. I read in Ecclesiastes, a book that is making more sense all the time, about death and how we’re all going to turn to dust. I read others who fear it, respect it, fight it, contend it, and I say Amen.

I find that it is the very young, your teen group, who laughs at death, the middle-agers who fear it the most, and then the wise and ancient who say, “Ah, what the heck, I’ve had my share.”

Marilyn Monroe dead! Clark Gable dead! John Wayne dead! Elvis?? Davy Crockett dead! Solomon dead! Einstein dead! Washington dead! Rockwell dead! Dizzy Dean dead!

“For there is no remembrance of the wise more than the fool forever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? As the fool. Therefore, I hated life.” Ecclesiastes, chapter three.

Modern translation: “It is a strange thing that God hath wrought upon a man to endure. ‘Tis all vexation and vanity - futility… (then you got your bad news). ‘Tis a burden to be born, ‘tis an unknown-God-forsaken-dead-end street to die, ‘tis some kind of pure hell in between.” Bill McDowell.

If nothing makes sense and all is vanity and vexation and void, there is no wisdom under the sun and so it will be apropos to conclude with a rush of pure folly, or is it pure wisdom?

“To be, is to do!” Nietzsche.

“To do, is to be.” Sartre.

“To be, do be do.” Sinatra.

Is there no one who can answer? Don’t we have one single person among the entire race who will go for us? Is there no one somewhere, sometime, somehow who has borne our kind of miserable sorrow? One, who is fully acquainted with my kind of gut wrenching, insomnia causing, nauseating enraged grief? Is there not one who has broken the vain cycle of nothingness called life?

MCDOWELL'S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSAGES

A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the Bank

All of us are economical. After all, we have to be. We have jet age appetite with horse and buggy pocketbooks. If the average man made two thousand dollars a week, and if he bought everything he wanted, he would be broke before the weekend. Some wag might say if his wife be managing the money he would be broke before Tuesday.

Since we want more than we can afford we practice economy. On some things we splurge, on others deny ourselves. The pattern that develops from this necessity can be highly individualized. For example, a man who was reported to be the richest man in the world several years ago was reported to have had pay telephones installed in his English mansion. Many a man has humiliated his wife by making a scene in a public place over a few cents. A few months after my wife and I were married we collected what little change we had, cashed in all our soda pop bottles for the deposits, put seventy-five cents worth of gas in our old jalopy, and went and had dinner at the nicest eating place in town. One man's indulgence is another man's thrift. Of course my example is hopelessly and romantically dated, but you get the point.

People are uniform in their desires, but they differ radically in the way they practice economy. Which is one way of saying we want the same things but some of us give priority to one value, some to another.

To illustrate, all of us believe in education, insurance, religion, benevolence, the democratic process, etc. And we all want nice homes, fine furnishings, new cars, beautiful clothes, ad infinitum. If we had an unlimited supply of money we would make liberal donations to every worthwhile institution and, at the same time, we would satisfy our personal longings for material goods. We would leave no good undone that money could fix or fortify. In this impulse we are all alike.

However, since we do not have an unlimited supply of money we are forced to be frugal. We must choose certain values and reject others. We do not want to reject any value, but we must. There just is not enough money to go around.

It is in making this selection that we differ. Spending money is a continual crisis in which character is revealed. Our values are bared. We stand spiritually and morally naked before God and society. For we spend money not just on things we believe in but those things we believe in the most.

So the real question is not "what do you intellectually subscribe to?" We all believe fundamentally in the same things. The question is: "to what do you give priority?" You have to economize somewhere. Do you deny yourself material things that you might be rich toward God? Or do you indulge yourself in material whims and finance them by economizing with God?

One person makes sure they give liberally to God and their church and, if they have any left over, they buy material possessions. Another makes sure they have the finest material possessions their salary will buy, and if they have any left over they give a bit to God. What is the difference in these people? Is one a religious person and the other an atheist? Dos the first despise material goods while the other is a thoroughgoing hedonist? Not at all. They are both religious and both church-goers. They both appreciate fine things. One gives priority to God, the other to mammon.

Jesus said give priority to the kingdom of heaven. The other things will be added to you.

MCDOWELL'S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSAGES

Walking With the Lord

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).

One bright autumn morning, I was sitting at my breakfast table, thinking:      

    “I’ve certainly had a lot of problems lately. Troubles at work, troubles at home. . . I really ought to take time to pray about them.”

But then, all of a sudden, I sensed that someone had walked into the room behind me. I turned around and gasped:

          “Lord Jesus! What are You doing here?”

The Lord himself was standing in my doorway! I rubbed my eyes – was it really He? Yes, everything checked out .  . . from the tip of the white seamless robe to the faint glimmering halo around His head. I stammered:

          “That is . . . errr . . . it’s not that you shouldn’t be here. I’m just not used to You dropping by in such a visible form.”

This unexpected visit had unsettled me, and I vaguely wondered if I had done anything wrong. He smiled and the light in His eyes grew brighter.

          “Would you like to go for a walk?”

          “Uhmmm . . . why. . . sure!”

And so, we walked down the little country road that leads past my home. Slowly, the truth began to dawn upon up and I murmured to myself:

          “What an incredible opportunity! He has all the answers to all my problems – my relationships at work . . . my worries about the future . . . my family problems. All I need is to ask.”

We walked quietly for several minutes, and then I turned to Him:

          “Excuse me, Lord, but I need advice on this very difficult problem. . “

But before I could finish, He had raised His fingers to His lips:

          “Shhhh . . . Do you hear it?”

At first, I didn’t hear a thing. But then came the faint tumbling of a nearby brook, crisp and light beneath the autumn colors. The Lord sighed:

          “Isn’t that beautiful?”

“Ah . . . yes . . . I suppose so. . .”

I was thoroughly distracted. (He had interrupted my train of thought.) I waited a few minutes to show due respect, and then – just as we walked past a rolling meadow – I blurted out:

          “Lord, I’ve been worried about my prayer life. Things have been awfully dry. Now, according to the books that I’ve read. . .”

He put His arm around my shoulder:

          “Hush . . . Do you hear it?”

Children were running through the meadow grass. Once again, He smiled:

          “Isn’t it wonderful?”

          “Uhmm . . .yes . . . now that you mention it.”

Then I added irritably :

          “You know I love children.”

We walked on. A horrible thought loomed in my mind: what if I lost this opportunity? Here were all the answers to all my problems, right at my elbow! He even knew the deepest mysteries of the universe: love . . . death . . . .the Armageddon! As a last resort, I thought I’d talk to Him about religion. After all, that is His line of work:

          “Lord, I was wondering what you think of the conflict in modern biblical scholarship between . . .”

Again, the friendly arm came around my shoulder and I gritted my teeth. The Lord stopped and silently picked up a roadside pebble. He grinned:

          “I’ll bet you can’t hit the top of that telephone pole.”

I was bewildered. Why, of all things! And from the Lord! (This was not what I had expected from the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. If you were God, wouldn’t you be a bit more serious about it?) He casually tossed His pebble toward the pole:

It arched silently through the air.

          Hmmmmm . . . He missed!

My depression was deepening, but still I stopped to pick up a pebble. What else could I do? Half-heartedly, I tossed it in the general direction of the telephone pole:

It arched silently through the air.

          Hmmmmm . . . I hit it!

The Lord proudly looked at me and chuckled:

          “Hey, you’re good.”

As we strolled on, the knots in my stomach grew tighter. Whenever I wanted to talk about anything of any importance, there would always be an interruption. Some faded blue chicory would be brushed by the wind, or a butterfly would light on a moss-covered fencepost.

At last, our walk is finished. I am so upset that I can think of nothing to say. Beneath His long black beard, the Lord has a playful smile, and as He turns to leave, the light in His eyes grows brighter.

He walks to the door, and then stops to glance at me over His shoulder:

                     “Stop trying so hard.”

         

         

 

 

MCDOWELL'S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSAGES

My sister, Loretta Tetrick, visiting me from her home in Rock Island, Ill., spoke to the Women’s class at Norway Church of Christ this past week. Below are notes from that message. I feel blessed by sharing in her thoughts and love for the Lord.

WHO AM I?

I am visiting my brother and his wife, Marie this week.  Though I was introduced as Loretta you may call me Sis (Bill’s name for me, of course). When I go back home to Illinois I will be known as Lorrie, Mother, and Grandma.

We can be known by many names or known by our occupation, but who truly knows who we are? We have the desire to be known and loved. God has put a vacuum in our hearts that can only be filled by him. In Psalms 139 David expressed it beautifully. He says the Lord has searched him and knows him. He knows he is always surrounded by God’s thoughts, his love and even God’s right hand will hold him fast. I find it fascinating in the last two verses of Psalms 139 he asks God to search his heart, to test him and see if there are anxious thoughts in him.

After we come to know God – know who he is – asking WHO I AM is the key to our Christian walk. God already is familiar with all our ways, but now we desire to be intimate with Him.

There can be an issue for some if their thoughts and opinions about God are not based on his love but on punishment and condemnation. They think deep inside they are deserving of this punishment and feel God is displeased, quick to anger, and perpetually disappointed with them. Such a wrong belief drives many into fear, guilt, depression and insecurity.

This is the key in our Christian walk is – God knows us!

 “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love him because he first loved us” (John 4:18-19).

God is Personal! “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eyes upon you” (Psalms 32:8).

A favorite song writer of mine is Fanny Crosby. She became blind at the age of six weeks and throughout her life gave God glory and praise. She thanked God he had given her “soul vision.” Though her blindness resulted from a mistake from a physician she said it was the greatest favor in the world. Who was she? She was physically blind but God gave her sight. “Christ is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my way.” So what is your perception of who you are? “We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Colossians 1:9).

 WHO AM I?

1.     I am God’s Workmanship.  Ephesians 2:10…for we are Go’s workmanship, created in Christ to do good works, which God prepared in advance to do.

2.    I am an Original Psalm 139:13-14…For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

3.    I am More than a conqueror.  Romans 8:37…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

4.    I am Anointed.  I John 3:27…but the anointing that you receive from him abides in you and you have no need that anyone should teach you.  But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is not a lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him.

5.    I am a New Self.  Colossians 3:9-10.  Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

  TRUTH:  Your identity comes from what God has done for you.

                    Your identity comes from what God’s says about you.

I AM A WOMAN OF GOD

 

MCDOWELL'S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSAGES

 The Power of the Resurrection

The meanings of the Resurrection of Christ, as interpreted in the New Testament, reaches a much deeper level than is reflected in most contemporary preaching. The Easter message is far more than one who was dead was restored to the life he had before. It is more than that we, too, have a continued existence after death. It is more than affirmation that a unique event like the resurrection can be regarded as credible in a scientific age.

The Easter message, as it unfolds in the pages of the New Testament, is, first of all, that our world is in the hands of God - not blind and uncaring fate. It is a world in which the final word is his a world, in whichChrist does not go down in defeat, but wins the victory over the forces of evil and darkness and death. The climax and keystone of the redemptive, revealatory history is the resurrection of Jesus. It is the actual cornerstone on which the whole gospel rests on and on which the Christian church is built.

The Easter message is also that which God was doing in raising Jesus from the dead has cosmic significance. This was the beginning of a "new creation," something comparable of what God had done in the first creation. The Resurrection is the clue to all of history. In the Resurrection a new age had arrived - not just a prolongation of life but a new order of life in a new relation to God and one's fellow men.

The gospel of Jesus Christ announces what God did for Jesus at Easter he will do not only for all those who are "in Christ" but also for the entire cosmos. It will be an act of new creation, parallel and derived from the act of new creation when God raised Jesus from the dead.

The Easter message goes still further by proclaiming the new order of life inaugurated by the resurrection is one which can be ours and into which we may enter now. The new life is not for our Lord only, but also for humanity of which he is the head. The same divine energy which manifested itself in him is available to us and is available now. This is what Paul is implying when he speaks of knowing him and "the power of his resurrection" (Philippians 3:10), and refers to it as operating in us "with the strength and the might which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead" (Ephesians 1:20 NEB).

So when Paul says, "We are citizens of heaven," (Philippians 3:20) he doesn't at all mean when we're done with this life we'll be going off to live in heaven. What he means is that  is that the Savior, the Lord, Jesus the King - will come from heaven to earth, to change the present situation and state of his people. The key word is transform: He will transform our present humble bodies to be like his glorious body. Jesus will not declare that present physicality is redundant and can be evolutionary cycle. In a great act of power - the same power that accomplishes Jesus' own resurrection, as Paul says in Ephesians 1:19-20 - he will change the present body into the one that corresponds in kind to his own as part of his work of bringing all things into subjection to himself. Philippians 3, though it is primarily speaking of human resurrection, indicates this will take place within the context of God's victorious transformation of the whole cosmos.

The most convincing evidence of the power of the Resurrection is human lives that are renewed by their own contact with the risen Christ. This was true in the first generation of Christians, when men who were frightened and despairing became bold proclaimers of faith in God as a result of their encounter with him as a powerful presence with them. It is equally true today. If one does not have this kind of evidence, neither a study of the gospel narratives nor a theological exposition based on them will convince him, but, if he has it, no other evidence is needed.

The proof of the Resurrection must always be in the presence and power of the Living Christ among his followers. It was a sound insight that led a modern poet to say to "loud mockers" of the Christian faith: "Yet all the while my Lord I meet/In every London lane and street." Paul does not debate the truth of the resurrection: he simply assumes it. He assumes, too, that
Christians share in it. So he tells them: "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above" (Colossians 3:1). The resurrection is not merely something about Christ in the long ago, nor merely something about ourselves after we die. It is reality now. To the extent that we realize this, we are linked with the power of the Resurrection.

And They Laughed at Him

Good Friday

Matthew 9:24

It is a sobering, heart-rending scene. To have someone laugh at you - not with you, but at you - hurts, causes pain not unlike that of physical attack; indeed, oftentimes it is far worse. And yet, here it happens. The Son of God, Savior of the world, is the object of people's ridicule.

He had come to the home of a young girl who had died. It was when he went to her and said she was only sleeping that they laughed. The King James Version preserves the sharpness of the ridicule even more, for there we are told "they laughed him to scorn."

This incident reported in Matthew 9 may have been one of the first times people laughed at our Lord, but it was not the last. For on the day we call Good Friday they laughed with even more belligerence.

"Ah, ha, if thou art the Son of God, come down from that Cross."

"Physician, heal thyself."

"He saved others,; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!" (Luke 23:35 RSV).

And so they laughed and mocked him as he writhed in agony on the cross, but their laughter had a hollow ring to it, for it cam from their own emptiness, their ignorance and smallness.

Laughter is often anything but what it appears to be. It is often a cover for our own sense of inadequacy. We laugh at those greater and bolder than we because we have no other way to stand before them. We laugh because they have the vision, the idea, the faith that we don't have. We laugh because before such a one we feel our own poverty of spirit and mind. People laughed at Henry Ford; the Wrights were laughed at because they had the idea the people can fly. And people laughed at the Son of Man because as they stood in opposition before him, they felt the poverty of their own spirits most of all. 

They laughed because he exposed their threadbare souls. As they clung to their old ways, to their legalism, their positions of station and prestige for the purpose of impressing others, they saw how artificial it all was when the light of his presence was cast over it. When they saw the freedom he exhibited before God, when they saw God is not a tyrant but the loving Father, they turned away; their notion of God was of one who was more concerned about protocol and procedure than people. For them, God was not a loving Father but a stern judge, looking for slip-ups and mistakes, more ready to punish than to forgive.

The God of Jesus brought the breeze of freedom, of joy, of love, of peace, of celebration. It was too much for them, but since they had no way to deny it, they laughed at him.

Today the world still laughs at him. The demands of his teachings are so extreme as to be funny to many. "Turn the other cheek" - we make a joke of it, don't we, because it seems so far-fetched and ridiculous. Who among us will take it seriously?

And what of his words about forgiveness? Peter had asked him how many times he should forgive another - seven was what Peter suggested in an attempt to be magnanimous. But Jesus said, "Not seven, but seventy times seven." Forgive without limit!

And we chuckle for how preposterous it is. In its generous moments the world allows a second chance, but not a third or a fourth chance, let alone endless opportunities. Such a thing won't work, so we laugh.

And then there is the idea we ought to love our enemies. The standard of the world is we ought to try to love our family and friends. If we do that, we think we do well. But Jesus turns it all around by asking if we only love whose who love us, what have we gained. So love your enemies, he says. And we think, 'That obnoxious neighbor down the street, the boisterous poor demanding their rights - love them? He must be crazy!' And so, we join those who laugh at him. And yet, does our laughter not provide a greater indictment of ourselves than it does of him?

It has been said that laughter and tears come from the same place in the human soul. We ourselves know that experience of laughing until we cry. Their laughter, then, indicted them even as it intended to scorn him. For you see, more often than not, those who manage to laugh at another are themselves the wretched ones. When a child snickers at a crippled person, it is the child whom we most pity. When we laugh at anyone with a disability or infirmity of any kind, our laughter is more like tears for ourselves, tears that we are so blind as to miss our own pathetic state in such a moment.

We stand then before the cross and the suffering Lord as people in need of forgiveness, forgiveness for our blindness and hardness of heart. But we stand also before him as a people in desperate need of him and his ways.

It may be that as we move closely toward the edge of nuclear disaster; it may be as we wade through one international debacle after another, as we survive the flare-up of one more hot spot, that we, and other people of the world, will begin to see the need for the life and ways of our Lord.

It may be that after we have confronted the emptiness within ourselves often enough, we'll hear his voice and respond to his call. It may be that after all these things; we will bow humbly before the cross.

That is, after all, what this day is about. Through the discovery of love so great that he would die on the cross, our Lord is showing us the need to be loving and forgiving with one another, and to do those things that might bring on the laughter of many but life for those who have the courage to so love.

 

 

MCDOWELL'S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSAGES

NOW IS THE TIME

Do you recall how you were haunted by time as a child? Someone always seemed to be saying, “It’s time to go to bed,” or, “It’s time to get up.” And for some strange reason, we never wanted to do either at the moment.

Every modern contrivance seems to conspire to make us conscious of time. We seem to live and move and have our being in the presence of clocks and calendars. Time dogs us like a demon from childhood to death.

How often we hear our children say of time, “We have nothing to do.” And as adults we cry, “There’s not enough time.”

It is no mere coincidence the Greeks had two words for time. Our emphasis is chronological; we think of time as something to be measured. This is chronos-time. It is the time that ticks away, one second relentlessly following another. It is empty time. It is a void that has to be filled with something, anything. And they do fill it – some with alcohol, some with drugs and violence; others with more respectable time-fillers. But let it be noted a person can be very busy – and busy doing worthwhile things – and still, deep down, only know time as an empty void to be filled.

But the Greeks had another word for time. It is Kairos-time – time of opportunity and fulfillment. It is full time – a time when things happen to change the course of history.

And so Mark writes “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). The Kairos is fulfilled. The right time, the decisive time, has come. This is the time to act, to believe. It is now, or never.

The time of Jesus is Kairos – and so is a time of opportunity. To embrace the opportunity means salvation, to neglect it is disaster. There is no third course. In rejecting Christ, in failing to seize the opportunity, one courts disaster. By contrast, Christians, discerning the times aright, are the heirs of salvation. They “know the season” (Romans 13:11), “redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:16), Colossians 4:5); know that “now is the time acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Now is the time to receive the grace of God. Now is the time to enlist in his service. Now is the time to live life to its fullest possibilities. There is a memorable word in Wilder’s play, Our Town, which pictures the common failing to reach the limit of the possibilities of now as life rushes by.

A young woman, dead at a very early age, returns from the cemetery to her birthday part of years ago and can be seen by her parents only as she was. As she leaves them she wonders whether people “ever realize life while they live it, every minute.” She cries out, “Why don’t we look at each other?”

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote that “the obscurest epoch is today.” The hour in which we are now living is the magic hour in the truest sense, for now is the day of salvation. God has given us Kairos-time. We are given the now, to be used for the doing of his will and the hastening of his kingdom. The time is now

MCDOWELL'S MUSINGS, METAPHORS, AND MESSAGES

Christmas and The Impossibility of Love 

It is no accident that Mary takes center stage this time of year. Mary, so venerated by some Christians, so ignored by some Christians, so misunderstood by some Christians. At times Catholics have transformed the peasant Jewish teenage girl into an otherworldly queen. At times Protestants and Evangelicals have pretended that she never existed, or they have missed the truth that she is the first disciple, that she displays radical faith and trust in God. 

Mary hears the call of God and she responds. She models faith, obedience, servanthood, discipleship, and hospitality. The Annunciation is the word of God, through the messenger, to Mary. “You have found favor with God. The power of the Holy Spirit will come upon you. You will give birth to the Savior” (Luke 1:26-38). 

How can this be?” Mary asks. “Nothing will be impossible with God,” the angel/messenger says to her. The call of God is to an ordinary woman, and yet the call is to do something extraordinary. God chose an ordinary human being – Mary – to be the vessel through which the Son of God would be born. What is impossible for us is possible with God. Paul, writing later to the church at Corinth, would reflect on this truth that is common and profound: “We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extra-ordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). 

In a busy season of the year it is good to get clarity about what is happening. God calls ordinary people, people like you and me. This has always been the way of the Lord; again, Paul writing to the Corinthians says: “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But . . . God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28). 

Or we can go father back into the tradition and rehearse the call of Moses, who suggested that he was not eloquent of speech and that his brother might be a better candidate for God’s mission (Exodus 3).

The call of God comes to ordinary human beings, like Mary. Yet through ordinary people the extraordinary happens. The call of God, found in the Annunciation, finds its response in a later text, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56). Mary senses it: “I am an ordinary person. I am not perfect.” Preachers grasp this: we are imperfect people, and we preach to gatherings of imperfect people. 

The Good News of the gospel is that when God begins to search for us, God is not seeking perfection. God chooses the ordinary. God loves the unlovable. In fact, God reverses just about every expectation we might have of how the Lord would enter into this world and save it. 

Does God flatter the proud? No, God scatters the proud. Does God seek an invitation from the throne? No, God brings those from thrones down, and lifts up the lowly. Does God hang out at the finest restaurants? No, God throws a banquet for the poor. Does God choose a queen or a princess to be the mother of Jesus? No, God chooses Mary. Does God choose the wise, the noble, and the powerful in this world to accomplish the divine will? No, God chooses you and me. Does God love the unlovable? God forgives the imperfect; God reaches out to the lost. 

Christmas is really all about this attribute of God, who loves us, who reaches out, down to us, who stoops to our weakness. “Mild he lays his glory by,” Charles Wesley wrote in the carol “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”. God comes in the unspectacular and the humble. 

This is what Christmas is about. As a child growing up, our family party was always on Christmas Eve. Maybe we do tend to see the past through rose-colored glasses but I remember those times as among my happiest moments on earth. We were euphoric, ecstatic.  

I look at the pictures of those gatherings, and see the very simple house – and I look at the Christmas tree – a Georgia pine tree, not like the artificial ones we put up now. What was happening in those gatherings? 

It all becomes clear again. What made such a setting – simple, nothing grand or extravagant about it – one of the very places on earth that is most holy to me now? The clue is in the call of God to Mary and her response. God chooses the simple to confound the wise. God chooses the humble to shame the strong. God always chooses the ordinary to do something extraordinary. What is impossible for us is possible for God. 

In a stable, probably more like a cave, on a hillside in the country, out of the way, a baby was born to two scared young people. They had nothing to offer, only the circumstance of their lives. They heard the call of God, each in their own way. They responded in faith. Christmas, for us, more than twenty centuries later, is no different. What is the call and what is our response? What is God saying to you this Christmas? What are you saying to God?