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Tuesday, January 06, 2015


"… and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them." Luke 4:40

Have you unplugged from Christmas?  What's that mean to you?  What stories do you tell at Christmas that you don't tell at the beginning of February?  I'm not suggesting that you should be telling stories about shepherds and annunciations and leading stars.  I'm just wondering if you have been able to keep the best impulses of Christmas alive in your life thus far into the new year.

One of those Christmastime impulses led a bunch of us to go caroling in December.  In case you haven't heard that story, here's one part of it.

Terri Taylor is attending Andover Newton Theological School and one of her classmates is now a chaplain in Wrentham at the Wrentham Developmental Center, a community for adults with developmental disabilities.  Chaplain Liz Brimm invited us to come caroling.  We went in three or four carloads!  The building we visited had two apartments on each of four floors.  Each apartment was home to three to five adults and each apartment had three or four professional caregivers.  Few of the residents speak or move easily.  The apartments were warm and decorated for the season.

We were a little shy and a lot curious.  I was certainly curious.  The "cottages" of which we were visiting one are the remnants of the state school at Wrentham where people with certain disabilities were housed, put away.  That history is not ancient or happy.  So I, at least, felt the weight of that history and felt some tension about our visit.

We were greeted and ushered into the first apartment where our first sight was a woman in a wheelchair with wide eyes and strong, gesticulating arms.  As we shuffled into the apartment, we kind of hung together – mostly because we were looking for where to stand to sing our carols – except for Susan Spaulding.  Susan walked right over to the (somewhat startling looking) woman in the wheel chair and took her hand and said, "Hello, dear, hello!"

I'd like to tell you that the woman calmed right down or that all the people we saw that afternoon were healed, amused, or even knew we were there.  Well, no one began to walk suddenly or speak in full sentences and many of the residents seemed unaware of us.  But we sang a ton of songs in the cottage that afternoon and there were some folks joining in and smiling that we were there.  The staff seemed glad and that helped us grow bolder as we went apartment to apartment.  Some of us grew as bold as Susan and reached out a hand to hold a hand or touch a shoulder.

I don't mean to sentimentalize our caroling visit.  We sang some carols!  The apartments were warm and bright!  We were glad to go and we stuck with it through the entire building!  Clearly the residents are being cared for competently and kindly.  Chaplain Liz  said that, "There's nothing but love in this building."  We should go again!

I just wanted us all to remember that Jesus laid hands on people to heal them and just to make his presence tangible.  I also invite us to find gifts in each other and honor those gifts.  There are some of us who are not likely to use a keyboard to update a spreadsheet.  There are some of us who may be unlikely to sing a solo.  But each of us has moments when our gift of song, of conversation, of building repair, of crafting, of foam collecting, of garlic planting, or of approaching an intimidating/frightened stranger and reaching out to reassure and say, "Hello, dear, hello," makes our strength and gift clear.  So look for the gift in yourself, look for the gift in the people around you, and give thanks and praise to the one who gave us the gift and is giving still.


The story of Jonah is another Bible favorite! The reluctant prophet, the ship's crew in fear for their lives, a tempest, "man overboard!" a great fish, the prophet acquiesces, a land journey, a wicked city with a wicked ruler, a prophetic voice, a repentance and mending of ways, a temper tantrum, and a prank by the creator of the universe. Maybe you remember it as Jonah and the Whale. It's an epic tale and lends itself to child's drawings, costume dramas, puppet plays, and stained glass windows.

Which part of that story is about you? Is any part of that story like you or like part of your life?

Let me suggest a few places where you might see moments of your own journey in the journey of Jonah.

Have you felt compelled to take on an onerous or dangerous task? God compelled Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell them to shape up. Jonah really didn't want anything to do with such a fool's errand. The embarrassment would be huge. He clearly would have no effect on the wicked. His reputation as a prophet would go down the drain. It was a long and difficult journey. They might just throw him in jail, or worse. Jesus, faced with this kind of task, asked to be let off, although if that was not possible, he said he would complete his destiny. Jonah just got out of town.

How about this one? You might have realized that you were the one messing things up. Or you violated your relationship with someone; being too controlling, being unkind, losing your temper in a hurtful way, grabbing a moment of selfishness. Jonah knew that he was the one who was the cause of the tempest. He comes to a dramatic moment of truth, don't you think?

"He said to them, 'Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.'"

Have you ever given Jonah credit for this moment in the story? He will sacrifice himself for a bunch of strangers, people he just met. It is extraordinary! And then something else extraordinary happens. They refuse!

"Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to bring the ship back to land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more stormy against them."

So, over he goes. Can you relate? Have you ever cast your fate upon the uncertain or dangerous path in a way from which there is no turning back? Or perhaps you can relate to what must have happened after he hit the water. Jonah knew he was finished. Nothing is stronger than an angry sea and he was right in the middle of it and beginning to sink. There are images stuck in my head from the end of the movie, A Perfect Storm. One is Bobby Shatford, played by Mark Wahlberg, who is overboard and floating. He is completely alone in the vastness. Another is Billy Tyne, played by George Clooney, who is still in his boat, underwater, staring up as all is lost. Have you been there beloved? Have you been in a place where there is no more help coming, no hope at all?

Then maybe you have found what Jonah found. Even in the most devastating, hopeless chaos, something comes swimming as if it owned the place. The great fish swims to the rescue and Jonah is saved. God's child, leviathan, whale, giant beast of the sea, water angel, comes and saves the drowning prophet.

When you are in the place of chaos and pain, beloved, may you find the very hand of God to hold you and see you through.