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Tabernacle United Methodist Church

Thursday's Thoughts
12 July 2018
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I have long loved the prophet Jeremiah... ever since I was an undergrad at Virginia Wesleyan in the mid-1970's, and spent a semester with kindly Dr. Charles Kessler and the 600 BC voice of God to His people (Jeremiahnot Kessler!).  Jeremiah runs the whole gambit of human emotions in his struggles to come to grips with his calling.  He starts with “I’m only a boy!” and “This won’t be popular!” and proceeds to “Thus says the Lord....!” and is so frequently full of tears and pain at what he’s given to pronounce to God’s people that the children of Anathoth call him “Rain in the Face” or “Weeping Man” and worse!

It’s been one of those weeks...  It started with having to leave little Xavier Micah Harrison, our first grandchild, in Ohio.  It’s not that we don’t think his parents are up to the responsibility; quite to the contrary, they are stellar!  Calm, cool, collected!  Lots of new gadgets, information, and Sampson, the Doofus-dog, close at hand for alerts and “general protection” duties... nothing gets past him, when he’s awake!  It was just tough to leave the little guy, having held, rocked, bounced, photographed, and been completely enthralled by his first days of life.  It was heart-breaking to get in the car, and simply back down the driveway, and turn toward the interstate in the direction of home, here in Poquoson.  Yes, it did include one “false” start.  We made it all the way to the nearby Panera’s for breakfast, before turning around... just to be sure everything was okay!  The second leaving wasn’t quite as difficult as the first, because promises were made about returning SOON to “help out” in whatever way a fledgling Grandma and Papa could.

Then there were the 12 boys and their coach, stuck more than a mile and a half in an often-traversed cave in Thailand.  Along with the rest of the world, we worried, fretted, prayed, constantly searched the news channels for the latest word on their condition and future.  When word of the first group making it to “the light of day” came through, we were elated, worried still for the others, and full of tears for the joy, agony and uncertainty for their families and friends.  Then word came that one of the Thai rescuers, returning to SEAL service from retirement, had died in mid-course, and the anxiety again heightened.  One night, however, I was reminded of my own faith, when one of the other rescue leaders said, “We want to complete what he began, in his honor!”  Finally, all the boys, and their young assistant coach (who had given his food to the young ones) emerged, and were whisked off to a nearby hospital, where family and medical care awaited.  And the world erupted with shouts and celebrations and applause, and tears and joy and all the range of human emotions.

It was a kind of homecoming for me, too, on Tuesday evening, and I made it for the end of the Vacation Bible School activities.  Many of the children came to find and hug me and take my hand, saying “We missed you!” and “Where have you been?!?”  I think I make it through the summer on the strength of those little ones in VBS, gathering to hear some “old, old stories,” and find that they have a part in the Bible’s story about God’s love for all humanity.  It reminds me of the photo from the early 1960's that I keep on my desk.  It’s a black-and-white Brownie shot of Rev. S. K. Emurian and my Cub Scout buddies.  He always came by on Tuesday afternoons for Children’s Choir, always seemed to know all our names, always had a ready “God Bless You” for every last one of us, even when we were behaving in a less-than “churchy” way!  The little guys here renew and restore that old man’s blessing to me, some 55-60 years later, filling my heart, and my eyes.

Circulating on Facebook and other platforms has been the image of a familiar, iconic, Christmas-time presentation of the Holy Family, gathered around the infant Jesus.  Mother Mary, on one knee in humble adoration; Father Joseph, with one hand extended toward his son and the other resting on the shoulder of his wife, head back, as if in a heartfelt prayer of gratitude for the gift of this child.... and when the camera draws back, we find that they are encircled by a chain-link fence, held in, restricted, imprisoned by some unseen captor.  The connection being made by the photographer between this jarring image and those of the “evening news” of children being held in cages which are hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from their families is quite plain.  It wasn’t long, you will recall from the stories told by Matthew and Luke in their gospels, that Jesus and His family were refugees, strangers in the strange land of Egypt, feeling from the madness of a ruler who found Him to be a threat to the “law and order” he believed had come to first century Palestine.  I can hardly bear to look at the photo of the caged lawn-ornament-Holy-Family, as it brings tears of outrage, disbelief, and the pain of separation to heart and mind.

It took me quite a while to understand, and then to embrace the Bible as a terribly human offering of the story of God’s relationship with us, and ours with Him.  In it, I find those moments of pain, as in Jeremiah and many of the Psalms, full of the frustrations and worries of the heart being poured out as an offering, because they have become too heavy, too many, too burdensome to carry even one more day, hour, minute, step.

But I also find one other thing.  A God is revealed by the Spirit in those pages who can receive all the anger, all the fear, all the frustration, and all the worry-fill tears that we can muster.... and love us still.  Like a mother soothing a distraught child with the sound of her voice, or a father’s strong yet gentle, snuggling embrace, our God gathers us up, lightens our life-load, wipes our tears, and assures us that all is well, and that nothing which comes our way will ever separate us from His care.  Tears wiped away.  The warm, snug embrace enfolding us.  The song of One Heart to another.  They cause us to lay claim to the 3 most delightful, and yet difficult words to accept, at times: “I am loved.”

Friends, these are the words of the gospel for you and me this day: “You are loved.”  No matter the upheaval, the challenges, the distance from home, the insanity of the policies.... God’s love is not thwarted, nor is it held at bay.... You - and I - are as close as ever to the core of God’s heart, because that’s just how He is.

Grace and peace.

Jim Earley, Pastor,

Tabernacle UMC

Responses? Send me an e-mail: RevsRUs@cox.net. OR Give me a call (571-239-3529). Or, meet me in worship on Sunday morning - 8:45 and 11:00 a.m. (2 settings).... or on Easter at 7:00 a.m., just down the lane next to the church cemetery, for our SonRise Service on the waterfront! I look forward to hearing from you.

Last update: July 22, 2018