I grew up in a family of three boys. As you can imagine we often had moments of messes and broken things. We wrestled on more than one occasion, and to be honest I am not sure how my brothers and I didn’t break more things. One day when I was probably 9 my older brother and I were playing with a large stuffed animal my younger brother brought home. We did our best WWF style moves and smashed around the family room. While doing this, one of us (I really can’t remember who) smashed into my moms lamp. You know the lamp. The one that was old and had a long family connection. As you can imagine the lamp was in many pieces. In fact so many pieces that we did what any boys do when they have broken something. We ran and hid. We pretended like we didn’t do it. Well mom came home and was upset. No amount of super glue could put it back together. She was disappointed in her boys and quite angry.
Then it happened. You know who came home next. It was Dad. Dad came in the room. He saw what happened and sat all three of us on the couch. I really thought I wasn’t going to make it to my next birthday. He looked at us and said boys this cant be fixed. He didn’t yell in fact he had a large amount of calm. I really was surprised because dad could fix anything. Even he couldn’t get out enough glue and fix it, it would never be right. Instead he did something shocking to us. He went to a special store to buy a new piece. It was quite expensive. For the time over $200 to fix and for our family it was a lot. As a parent I think about how I might have had my boys chip in and help pay for it, but he didn’t. He went and just paid for it himself and mad the lamp new.
As we begin Lent I was reminded of this story. Today is ash Wednesday. It is a day we have ashes put on our forehead to remind us we are dust and to dust we shall return. It is a day to remember the mess we have made of our lives. It has been a mess made from the beginning of time and we as God’s people continue to move and make a bigger and bigger mess. We are marked as people who are a mess. God didn’t leave us in this broken mess. He didn’t just take out some super glue to put us back together. He did something far better. He sent His Son Jesus to be with us and to pay our price. If you go to service today you will have ashes on your forehead to remind you of both these facts. You are broken beyond repair. You are Dust…and to Dust you shall return. The cross reminds us Jesus doesn’t leave us that way. He pays the price and makes us completely new. So on this Ash Wednesday as we consider our sin and brokenness may we be reminded that Jesus has paid through the cross to make us new.
16 To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side[e] of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.Genesis 3:14-24
To download the booklet click here
I don’t know what to say. I really don’t know what to say to my kids or to the youth and families that I work with. For those of you who know me, know I am not normally at a loss for words. Today as I watched the events unfold at the capitol I was saddened, shocked and disturbed. What was more shocking to me was the number of posts on facebook about sticking it to people we disagree with politically. Comments like you didn’t speak out this summer when their were riots or you spoke out then and aren’t speaking out now or some other forms of attack on people we disagree with politically. It was ugly and hurtful all around. So how do I talk with my kids and families about what is happening? How should I as a Christian leader respond to this crisis in our world?
I still don’t know for sure? I don’t know if responding to every hateful or angry person on my feed is helpful. My guess it that it isn’t. In fact I think today we need stop and listen not respond. Listen to what God would have us do. Listen to how God is speaking in our lives. Most importantly listen to those around us and have empathy and compassion to those who are hurting on both side. Yes speak against violence in the streets or in the capitol but listen to people.
Today as I went through my day I had the opportunity to sit a listen to a few different people about different situations in their lives. People who in different simple conversations shared their lives. They shared about how they are feeling or how they are doing. Listening allowed me to hear them. So often we are quick to speak and share our thoughts but are we slow to listen. Too often we want to have answers or we want to speak up, but today I was reminded we need to listen more and talk less.
So what I am sharing with my kids and what I sharing with you that are reading this, we live in a world that is angry. In a nation that wants to speak and be heard, maybe we as Christians should stop and listen. Stop and be the hands and feet of Jesus. Let us be peace makers and people of hope. Today is Epiphany. The day we remember that God wants all people to know of his love for the world. Maybe today we can share Jesus with people just by listening and offering peace.
19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. 26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.James 1:19-27
I have a confession to make. I know many of you will be shocked by this, but I am a thief. Every year around this time, I go around my house and take all the Wise Men. I also take them from church if I see them and they can be removed. You might be thinking, “How can you do this? Steve, why would you do such a thing?” Well, let me tell you it is something I have done for the last 25 years and it has a purpose.
Many people don’t know or don’t remember that at the Nativity the Wise Men weren’t there that night. In fact, they did not arrive until Jesus was at least a year old. (Matthew 2:1-12) The only people who visited the young couple that night were the shepherds – the lowly people who were outside of town in the fields, watching their sheep. The Magi were important, but they didn’t come until later. So why steal them?
Well, I actually don’t steal them. I just move them. I move them around my house or around the church. I do it for two reasons. First, I want it to be more biblically accurate. Too often I think Christians may not fully know the story of Jesus. We take it for granted and teach our kids the wrong story. This can be a challenge for kids as they grow up, when they think they were lied to or tricked. Second and more importantly, the Wise Men came during Epiphany. The story of the Wise Men is about a group of people outside the promise of Abraham receiving the promise of Jesus. It is a story worth telling. We celebrate it in the Church 12 days after Christmas. So this year if you come to church and find the Wise Men missing, just know that I or someone else may be trying to teach a lesson.
(P.S. – This year at church, I convinced the pastors that I should be able to move the outside Wise Men around the campus before Epiphany. So if you are around St. John, drive by and see if you can find them. They will travel during all of Advent and make their way to the house on Epiphany.)