February 26, 2012

Inspirational words

I have been wanting to blog about this since November, but that's where that laziness came in.  In November my uncle Chuck sent me a text message letting me know that he had a surprise for me.  Okay those of you who know me well, know that yes I do in fact love a surprise, but on the other hand I will grill someone about it until the surprise is ruined!  That's just how I work, anyway right after that text so many things were running through my head.  Hmm, are you moving?  Did something happen?  Is my grandmother moving back to NC?  Did you win a trip around the world and you have decided your to busy so your giving that trip to me? ;)  He let me know it was nothing like any of these, and then said it's not that big of a deal.  I was still wondering though I couldn't help it.  Let me preface just a little.  My uncle Chuck is a super guy!  I love him very much and he has always ALWAYS been there for me.  No big event in my life feels complete without him there.  I just look up to him, and have so much admiration for him.  And I love that Carter has a Choo Choo as great as him! 

So about a week later I get an email from Chuck with the subject line, Surprise.  I opened up and this is what I read:
The surprise was nothing major.
The Methodist Church has Lay Speakers which means from time to time Lay Speakers are asked to deliver the message. I was asked to deliver the sermon last Sunday. This is the message I delivered. I thought you might find it meaningful. You were an inspiration!
Uncle Chuck
Attached was his sermon he had given, little did he know it was major.  It hit my heart strings and tears were rolling down my face as a sat there and read these powerful words.  Thank you sweet uncle for these inspirational words...you have been an inspiration in my life and I love you so much!
Nov 20th Sermon
Compassion – Our Obligation
Scripture Matthew 25: 31-46
When Randy sent me the link to some scriptures I could use for today, he said to use the scriptures for the Laity Sunday that we missed and are celebrating today or use the November 20th lectionary.  He also added that if I didn’t use the November 20th lectionary to notify Cindy and Miriam because they had already chosen the music.  What kind of choice is that?  You think I want to ask Cindy Timberlake to change the music.  I am kidding Cindy.
So I chose this Sunday’s scripture.
This is one of the most powerful passages in the Bible and the irony is the last time I stood up here to speak I used the same scripture.  There are plenty of sermons in this verse.
Jesus commands us in very, very strong language to treat the least fortunate of us, the poor, the sick, and the hungry, even those in prison … to treat those folks as if they were Jesus himself.  In fact he says that if you don’t do this you will be eternally punished.
We all know that John 3 16 is the basic foundation of our Christian faith.  For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.  However, the blueprint for how we should live our life is outlined in this passage from Matthew.  Treat those who are less fortunate than us as if they were Jesus.   
 It’s a simple concept – sometimes difficult to execute – The essence of this scripture is this - Jesus is commanding us to show compassion.  We are obligated.
Definition of “compassion” – a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
“a strong desire to alleviate suffering”
 Isn’t that a great mission statement for a Christian?
Many of us who live in Southmont and on High Rock Lake have realized the so-called American Dream.  We have accumulated enough to live comfortably where we want to live.  We live in beautiful homes on or near a beautiful lake.  I know.  I have seen your homes!   However, it has been uncomfortable for many of us the last few years.  We find the days more challenging and get caught up in our own woes, those times when the outgo outweighs the income. Isn’t it easy to forget how fortunate we really are. 
Nancy Lewellen shared a Facebook post the other day  and it said …What if you woke up today with all the things you thanked God for yesterday – my first reaction was ouch!  Don’t you think a grateful heart is more likely to  lead to a compassionate and sharing heart?  So a first step to compassion for the less fortunate is recognizing our blessings and being thankful. 
What is disturbing in the current political and economic climate, is when we witness an absolute lack of compassion.  We, as Americans, often seem to blame the less fortunate for their current condition and idolize the successful and wealthy.  For example, one of my idols was Steve Jobs who passed away recently, But after reading his biography, he was not a person I would strive to be.
It’s amazing how this point of view – blame the less fortunate idolize the successful -  has been woven into American culture – “the American Dream”  . “Protestant Work Ethic” – work hard and be independent -  - and you will succeed.  So we have basically rolled “The American Dream and American Capitalism into our Christianity although I have never seen see the scriptural basis for it.   It’s uncanny to me that the average American, regardless of economic status, seems to identify with and protect the wealthy often at the expense of the poor.  I am guilty of this as well.
Many of us attempt to make “our Christian faith” part of our political dialogue.  We often get very keyed up on symbolic issues. A couple of years ago we were encouraged to boycott any business who said “Happy Holidays”.  Really?    Or get revved up about not being allowed to put a manger scene in a public place. Or the constant complaint about the need for organized prayer in the public schools. 
We should all be proud of our Methodist tradition –
From The Book of Discipline
“The United Methodist Church has for many years supported the separation of church and state”….”The state should not use its authority to promote particular religious beliefs including atheism nor should it require prayer or worship  in the public school, but it should leave students free to practice their own religious convictions.”
Frankly there is more energy around these mostly symbolic issues than there is with compassion for those less fortunate in our society or in our world.  We want to build walls and fences rather than consider the plight of a man who will risk his life to climb that wall or that fence because he has no food.  Does building a wall solve hunger? Our scripture today lays out in very strong and unambiguous language what Jesus commands us to do with the less fortunate.   Do you ever wonder where Jesus would hang out if he was here today?  We should not discourage people for being passionate about their faith.  In fact we should applaud them. But………if we are going to make our faith part of the public forum and part of interaction with the political system, then we need a more substantive agenda.   I can think of no priority that is greater than today’s scripture’s lesson –- According to Matthew, these words came straight from the mouth of Jesus.  Show Compassiona strong desire to alleviate suffering
I have heard some say the major attraction of Macedonia is our spirit of of compassion.  The things we have witnessed in this church community over the years have at times been nothing less than awe inspring and were a major factor in Florette and I choosing Macedonia. We saw it before we joined. We have a compassionate tradition at Macedonia.  Methodist Men, Methodist Women and the Outreach Ministry all do great things.
The Cancer Ministry and Relay Team – my chosen ministries have been such a wonderfully collaborative effort among so many gifted people who have compassion, again - a strong desire to alleviate suffering..   I know our Relay for Life efforts may be taking a different path this year. I have stepped down as team captain,   But I would hope you could find it in your heart to stay involved. 
Finally, I have a very personal story of compassion, of love and of God’s Grace.
April 2010 was a very emotional time for me.  In the same weekend, two life changing events happened. First, My Aunt Ruth, who never married, died after a 10 year battle with Alzheimer’s at the age of 86.  I was never real close to my grandmothers but this woman was a saint in my eyes and I loved no one any more than I loved her, my parents included and to see her mind and body deteriorate and my subsequent prayers that God take her brought up intense emotions in me.   There was a silver lining however.  Within 24 hours my niece Kristin had a baby boy and what was to be a joyous occasion was quickly overshadowed in my mind, at least by the fact, that Carter had Down’s syndrome.  I remember being a total mess that Sunday in church.  I was so sad for this niece I loved and the challenges she faced.  Lee and Marsha Burch may remember this because they were sitting near me and actually came over and embraced me like the dear friends they are – they were compassionate..
Well 18 months later and Carter Montgomery is an absolute joy in our family’s life. We LOVE Carter.  We cannot imagine Carter not being here, He is happy and loving and has a beautiful spirit.  That is only half the story.  The most amazing thing is what it has done for my niece Kristin (with a lot of support from her husband Jeff).  Kristin has brought all her considerable talents and skills (some I honestly didn’t know she had) and LOVE and compassion as an advocate for Down’s syndrome.  She writes a wonderfully articulate blog with beautiful photos of Carter and his friends. She talks about hot button issues in that community.    She is on the local board for Down’s syndrome.  She communicates with and travels to see other Down’s syndrome parents. (She was in New York a few weeks ago).  So not only is Carter a pure joy, he has enhanced this beautiful spirit of Love and compassion and energy in Kristin that is a something to behold.  We are so proud of her!  We are proud of Jeff.  And we are so proud of Carter.  Oh Chuck, ye of little faith!  God knew what he was doing.  What appeared to be adversity is now a blessing.

God often gives us lessons in compassion by taking what before had simply been “nameless faces” that do not affect us and giving us a personal stake in an issue.   I didn’t think much about cancer when I was younger but then people I loved died from it and then I got it and then my dad died from it.  I didn’t think too much about how Alzheimer’s can ravage a family until my Aunt Ruth got it. I didn’t think much about what multiple sclerosis could do to the body until my friend Phil told me he had MS.  I didn’t think too much about how what its like to be gay   until my cousin, Tim, told me he was gay.  I didn’t think too much about Downs Syndrome until my great nephew Carter came along.  Sometimes God just has to give us a nudge and put a name on that face and warriors wanting to alleviate suffering will emerge.
So finally I will leave you with these three thoughts.
1– Thank God Every Day for the blessings we have received  – we are among the most fortunate people on earth and let’s not forget that.  
2) Accept we are More Fortunate and Share our gifts and our blessings with those less fortunate
3) Sometimes God gives us opportunities that aren’t immediately obvious that can bring the best out in us. Whether it’s cancer, MS, Alzheimer’s, a homeless person an orphan child, a gay cousin or a Down’s syndrome baby …..
As Jesus said,
'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.'

 This is love:

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