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Approaching Life in its Messiness

November 17, 2018

The week we were in Florida was a time for rest and refreshment. One evening we went out on a Sunset Cruise and I was fortunate enough to capture this Pelican in flight. Pelicans can be messy when it comes to take-offs and landings, but this particular take-off was incredible.

It reminds me of life… sometimes the take-offs and landings are smooth (Have I been flying too much lately? Perhaps!) and sometimes they are messy. Some of my most memorable take-offs and landings as a passenger in the USAF were my incentive flight with the Thunderbirds, a Combat Search and Rescue Exercise flight in an HH-60 Helicopter, and Combat take-offs and landings in a C-130 in Afghanistan. They left my stomach a bit unsettled (slight understatement) and myself being impressed with our flyers and their mission! However, this blog isn’t about Combat Take-offs and Landings or Pelicans; it is about the messiness of life.

The Scripture readings for tomorrow are somewhat mystifying (at least the Gospel is). As the disciples admired the massive stones which made up the Temple building, Jesus seemed to poo-poo them. Nice buildings but they will be knocked down, stone by stone! This had happened before as the people had been taken into exile and the Temple had been destroyed. Nehemiah led the people in the rebuilding of the Temple after the Exile. It was completely destroyed in 70 CE, forty years after the crucifixion of Jesus.

In the Gospel, Jesus gets all apocalyptic on the disciples and shares some pretty scary prophecies. “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines: This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” (Mark 13:7-8)

Yes, in Jesus’s day, there were always rumors of war. There were constant threats of insurrection against Imperial Rome and the expected threats of retribution against the rebels. Does this sound familiar today? It should sound familiar to each of us.

I went on Active Duty as a Chaplain shortly after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. Through various operations in the Middle East, Somalia, and other parts of the world, we were always on a war footing. We never knew when we would be sent into harm’s way. When the attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred, we ramped up operations even more. Even as the forces were “streamlined” (read cut by bureaucrats and bean-counters who had no clue what they were asking us to do with fewer and fewer personnel), there were constant “rumors of war” as we wondered where we would be sent next. I retired in 2011 after 26 years in uniform. From 1985-1990 as a Reservist, we were in the middle of the Cold War and other operations. From 1990-2011 we were constantly at war! Sadly, it continues still to this day, with more and more operations around the globe.

With this background, I look at what Jesus was talking about with his disciples. Hey Lord, where is the hope in the midst of all this apocalyptic stuff? What are we to do and how are we to live in the midst of this fear?

At this point, I turn to the first Scripture Reading for this Sunday. In Psalm 16 we read of hope in the midst of trial. “Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge… The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot… I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. You show me the path of life.” (selected verses)

As we prepared for Operation Desert Storm, books were filling the shelves of Christian Bookstores about the Apocalypse. Oil, Blood, and Sand… how Revelation was coming to pass in the Middle East. Of course it happened again in the post 9/11/01 world as the Fear-mongers plied their trade in a misinterpreted Bible and unbridled Capitalism. Where was the hope in the midst of all this? Well, Easter in Afghanistan and Christmas in Southwest Asia showed me glimpses of that hope. Walking with our troops as they actually got to know the residents of these war zones as real human beings created in the Image of God certainly helped.

Today some would have you believe that a caravan heading from Central American was filled with Terrorists, Criminals, and other “Bad Hombres”… Geez, if you actually accompanied the Caravan like some Christ-following Pastors, you would find men, women, and children… young and old… fleeing persecution (can you imagine Jesus, Mary, and Joseph fleeing Herod’s massacring hordes as they went to Egypt?) and hoping for safety and a hope for a new life. They come, like my immigrant fore-bearers came, to this country with the promise of Lady Liberty — “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Again, the words of the Psalmist cry out on their behalf: “For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:10-11)

This, dear reader, is how you live in the messiness of life. We are called to be the light of the world according to Jesus. That light does not spread fear; it shares love, hope, and peace. It does Justice… Loves Kindness and Mercy… it walks Humbly with God. Will you join with me in being a counter to the fear-mongering and hate? Will you be instruments of the Lord’s Peace?

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