Bringing People to Jesus

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Mark 2:1-5

Bumper stickers rarely contain profound truth, but I saw one recently that helped me see this text in a new light. The bumper sticker was in the shape of a dog’s paw with the simple question “Who rescued who?” written in the center; the context being that the driver of the vehicle had adopted a dog from a shelter.

I struggled with the idea of using this metaphor because it compares the paralyzed man to a rescued dog.

But isn’t this exactly how conventional readings of this story treat the paralyzed man – as an individual in need of pity and that might be somehow subhuman? “Good thing for him he had such good and decent friends!” – we think to ourselves before thinking about all the ways we can use our strength and power and connections to bring those in need to a place of help.

Thinking about how can we use our friendships and connections to help those in need. Figuring out how bring those in need of healing to the healer. Following the Samaritan’s lead and loading the dying onto your camel and tending to his wounds – even at great personal cost – this is part of loving our neighbors.

But I want to explore this story in a new way by asking a simple question of this familiar text – isn’t the paralyzed man somehow responsible for bringing his friends to Jesus?

Does loving our friends and neighbors – and perhaps even our enemies!? – bring us closer to Jesus? In a better positions to see the wonder and grace of Jesus? More in touch with our humanity and our own need for healing.

We are not called to merely love our neighbors – we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. This, I think, means seeing our shared humanity with all of those we encounter – and seeing this humanity in all of its complexity and nuance.

The five men – the paralyzed man and his friends – came to Jesus together. In the midst of shared needs and strengths, they came to Jesus seeking healing and receiving both healing and forgiveness.

The Communion liturgy invites us to “come to Jesus not because you are strong, but because you are weak” and it is in our weakness and humbleness of our humanity that we encounter the Lord who offers healing and new life.

It is by serving others that we come to experience Christ and the people we serve lead us in this process.

Friends of Covenant History Reception Speech

Greetings. My name is Andy Meyer and I’m very happy to be here today representing the Covenant’s Commission on Covenant History. Specifically, I’ve been tasked with telling everyone how they can get involved in the group “Friends of Covenant History.” This group – supported by the Commission on Covenant History – is intended to gather, connect, and equip people interested in Covenant history so that together we can engage and expand the Covenant story.

This is a really exciting and interesting group – and I wanted my announcement to be equally exciting and interesting. So I thought “what would make for a great announcement?” and “who makes great announcements?” I thought to myself: politicians! – they make great announcements! But then I thought – politics can be polarizing forces – “Friends of Covenant History” is meant to be as inclusive as possible. So I scrapped that idea.

Then I thought – infomercials! They have perfected the sales pitch; I could provide a little background, reveal the project in stages with rhetorical flourishes. But “Friends of Covenant History” isn’t about selling a product or trying to create a need; “Friends of Covenant History” is about trying to foster a community of people centered on solving real community needs. So I scrapped the infomercial idea.

Then it dawned on me. This group is looking for members – members united by shared interests and yet rich in diversity. We are looking for informed and engaged members. The best model for this announcement isn’t a political campaign. It’s not the infomercial. It’s the Public Television or NPR membership drive!

So, without further complication or introduction, I’d like to kick off the first ever “Friends of Covenant History” membership drive!

  • The best way to get involved with “Friends of Covenant” is by becoming a member! Membership is a way to formalize your support with a financial contribution. The membership fee is minimal – it mostly goes to cover the cost of printing, cookies, and coffee – but is an important part of making this project sustainable.
  • And if you become a member of “Friends of Covenant History”, you get an awesome gift! Right now, it’s this amazing mug but we have other dreams for the future. It’s our way of saying thanks for becoming a member!
  • Beyond membership, you can also join the growing “Friends of Covenant History” communities on social media. Right now, you can find us on Facebook and Twitter. We will continue posting interesting articles and cool pictures – but we also want to hear from you! Share an important date, post a picture or stories, ask a question and we’ll do our best to connect you to others.
  • I’ve talked about membership, I’ve talked about the amazing membership gift, and I’ve talked about connecting with us on social media. If this were an infomercial, I would say – “But wait, there’s more!” Another way to get involved is to contact the Commission directly and share your thoughts, stories, or questions. There are opportunities to write for the newsletter, host regional gatherings, to equip local churches to preserve and share local stories, and many more. The Commission’s role isn’t to manage all those projects but to connect and resource local people and churches. If there are opportunities for us to better serve the Covenant church, please stop us today or contact us in the future and let us your thoughts and ideas.
  • Finally, the last way to strengthen this group is to get more people involved!
    • Ask your friends to become “Friends of Covenant History” and share us with your church.
    • Tell your local historian or archivist about this organization! Membership in this organization make a great gift for that “special someone” in your church or community!

Our desire is that this group be as broad and as inclusive as possible so that we can gather, connect, and equip the entire Covenant community. Your history is our history – we need your stories to tell the broader Covenant story and we think that the broader Covenant story gives inspiration, warning, encouragement, and guidance to our local stories. Join with us in this work by becoming a member, joining us online, and by sharing us with your community. Thank you!

Covenant Home Altar

Biography

Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I’ve called Chicago home for the past decade. I did my undergraduate work at North Park University and just completed a Masters in Theology through the seminary. I work in the Brandel Library and am most happy when surrounded by good books and good coffee. Writing these devotions was a difficult but also wonderful experience because it forced me to look at the Advent season through fresh eyes.

Sunday, December 8 – Isaiah 11:1-5

Waiting and Listening

I have a confession: waiting is hard for me. In the grocery store, I survey each checkout lane and consider everything – How long is the line? Does the cashier look experienced? Do my fellow shoppers look determined? – before making my decision. I can stand back, assess the situation, and proceed with efficiency because I’ve done this all before.

My real confession, however, isn’t about grocery shopping. It’s that I’m in the same rush during Advent. I rush through this wonderful text from Isaiah because as soon as I hear the opening line, “a shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse,” my brain flicks immediately to Jesus, to Christmas, and then to a smug sense that I’ve got the message. But, really, I’ve missed the point because I’ve missed Isaiah’s beautiful description of a king who will judge with righteousness and will act with justice on behalf of the poor.

God, help us to wait and enter this season of Advent with open hearts.

Monday, December 9 – Isaiah 11:6-10

Peace and Wholeness

“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat.” Isaiah’s poetic language speaks to the heart of God’s ultimate plan for peace in the world. Yet I can hardly imagine a world that isn’t divided in violence. Divided by religion. Divided by politics. Divided by race, by power, by economic status, and by countless other things. This seems like a plain fact of existence. More than mere external realities, it seems many of us feel the same internal divisions within ourselves. At least I do.

And what does God promise? God promises a complete transformation of the established order. Where there was division and violence, God promises peace and wholeness. This peace that passes understanding is made possible through God’s righteous and just reign and in the power of Christ, who’s coming we await.

God, increase my capacity to imagine peace and wholeness and to work with you toward those ends.

Tuesday, December 10 – Romans 14:13-23

Peace and Edification

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean” As usual, Paul’s logic is unexpected. He claims that “all food is clean” to a people who had a long list of foods that God had deemed unclean. Might it be accurate to paraphrase Paul as saying “Do not destroy the work of God because of your religious beliefs or because of your ethnic identity”?

How can Paul claim this radical truth? Because he has been persuaded in the Lord Jesus (v.14). Our context is different, but Paul’s words still deserve thought. In fact, I wonder how Paul would end this statement “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of ____” if he were writing today? Where have we allowed something else to define our actions and relationships other than the radical lordship of Christ?

God, let us never destroy your work by our small mindedness and instead work for peace and mutual edification.

Wednesday, December 11 – Romans 15:1-6

Choice and Gift

More than a decade ago, I watched a video about fishmongers working in Pike Place Market in Seattle. It was a video about creating a positive work environment and, miraculously, I still remember all of the concepts presented in the video. The last one was the simple reminder that you should “choose your attitude” every day.

I’m not an expert on corporate psychology or efficiency, but this seems like an appropriate practice for the workplace. However, I think it falls short as a Christian practice. Hear again the words from the Apostle Paul: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had.” God gives a Christ-like attitude for the good of the people. We both choose to have a Christ-like attitude and we must receive it as a gift; there is no other way.

God, help us to understand that living in this world as you want us to is both a gift and a task.

Thursday, December 12 – Romans 15:7-13

Accepted and Loved

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you.” Paul’s claim here begs the simple question “how has Christ accepted you?” and that seems like a terribly powerful question. I cannot claim to answer that question for you but I simply want to offer an image to guide our reflections.

At the church I attend, when infants are baptized the service ends with this tremendous moment when the pastor raises the newly baptized child and proclaims: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” I must confess that I often need the emphatic “And that is what we are!” because the truth in this claim – that Christ has accepted me like this tiny and fragile child – is nearly too much to bear.
God, through Christ you have accepted as and made us your children; help us to honor our baptism by accepting one another.

Friday, December 13 – Matthew 3:1-12

Here and Now

“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea.” Matthew, like any good story teller, sets the scene. At a particular time and in a particular place, a man named John did something. John, a man who looked and sounded a lot like other Old Testament prophets does something new because he wasn’t just describing the reign of God. He was announcing it.

John is part of the Gospel story that is inherently and irreducible historical. The Christian faith boldly claims that at a particular time and in a particular place, God became human. The justice and mercy and truth and righteousness that generations of prophets and believers had hoped for took human form and came to dwell among us humans as a helpless baby.

God, you came to live among us at a particular time and place; help us to love and serve you in our particular time and place.

Saturday, December 14 – Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

Hope and Expectation

This Psalm asks God for a king endowed with justice, who judges with righteousness, who defends the afflicted, who saves the children of the needy, who crushes the oppressor, and who will endure forever. It ends with the exaltation “May the whole earth be filled with his glory!”

Is Jesus this hoped for king? Is Jesus the king they expected? I imagine the disciples asked themselves these questions at least once and John the Baptist asked it using different words “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else? (Luke 7:20). They expected someone who would crush the oppressor; yet Jesus was crushed for our sake. They expected someone who would fill the earth with the glory of God; yet Jesus came as a tiny infant.

We claim that Jesus is this hoped for king but perhaps not the king we expected.

God, let the wild unexpectedness of Christmas and the Incarnation renew our hope.

Second Station: Jesus Carries His Cross

Scripture

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. (Matthew 27:27-31)

Meditation

The crowd stripped Jesus of his clothes
– the same man who said “if anyone wants to take your coat, give your cloak as well.”
Forgive us when we violently take things that should be shared.

The crowd mocked Jesus with jeers and taunts
-the same man that was hailed as the true King with waving palms and “Hosanna” shouts.
Forgive us when we lie about ourselves and about you.

The crowd spat on Jesus
– the same man who with his spit, made mud so that a man born blind might see.
Forgive us when we take the good in life and use it harm instead of help.

The crowd struck Jesus
– the same man who said “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”
Forgive us when we ignore your commands and act in violence.

In these insults and in this violence, we see ourselves; we join the crowd that has crucified you:
you the Messiah,
you the Prince of Peace,
you the Good Shepherd.

And from the crowd, we see that you
silently bear the insults
bear the pain
bear the violence
and finally bear the cross.

All out of love for us.

Prayer

Forgive us when we join in violence and sin. Remind us of your costly love made manifest on the Cross. Amen.

Zenos Hawkinson for the Covenant Companion

A recent issue of the Poetry Magazine featured a section called “Antagonisms” which invited poets to “write short pieces about some ostensibly great poet they had never really liked, perhaps even hated.” That is not my task here – I’m sharing about a book I really like and perhaps even love – but one line from that unlikely place has stood out to me. Peter Campion wrote this about D.H. Lawrence: “I … want to open Lawrence’s Collected again and find that … the poems had been reading me, underlining all my shortcomings.”[1]

As I’ve read the writing of Zenos Hawkinson, collected in the book “Anatomy of the Pilgrim Experience” and published by Covenant Publications, I have felt that Hawkinson’s writings have indeed been reading me and underlining some of my shortcomings. Zenos Hawkinson taught history at North Park College for over forty years and our shared connections to North Park and the Covenant Church made his writing personal to me. Though he wrote on a wide range of topics, this book focuses on themes of identity and formation that Zenos addressed by telling stories of people on the move. I first read this book during my last semester at North Park and these stories seemed particularly relevant to me as I prepared to move from college student to college graduate and into the work force. I was on the move in my own life and this book served as my companion along the way.

Zenos’ words guided my vocational search and underlined some of my shortcomings. My time at North Park cultivated a love for mathematics and a desire to serve God. This book helped me understand those passions and created a desire to see them engaged in my daily work. Zenos’ belief that “we need meaningful labor just as we need sleep, bread, and water” added a new focus to my job search by reframing work not as meaningless toil, but as a meaningful expression of faith.[2] With all of this in mind, I began looking for a job at a math teacher. I thought this would be a job that would combine these interests and lead to meaningful work that I could serve faithfully and wholly. This was also motivated by Zenos’ concern about human wholeness, wholeness that I understood as the integration of all things. I wanted my whole life to reflect my faith; to use what God has given me to help save the world, serve the church, and met all the other demands of life as I moved into adulthood.

My attempt to move into adulthood quickly became difficult and stressful. After some disappointments in a short job search, I found a teaching job that almost immediately overwhelmed me. Having been motivated by Zenos’ concern to “serve the work” I found new words speaking to me now: “if you feel perpetually unrewarded, unappreciated, misunderstood, you are probably not serving the work, or you are trying to serve the work for which you were not gifted.”[3] These words struck me, pushed me to ask difficult questions of myself, and seemed to underline my shortcomings.

In retrospect, I see that my shortcoming was not in achievement; my error was in my goal and mindset. My conception of wholeness was one of perfection; I was hoping that every part of my life would be acceptable, under control, and perfectly integrated. And while this is perhaps a valid goal, it is not what Zenos had in mind when he talked about serving the work or wholeness. I see now that Zenos associated wholeness as Christian realness. “Our problem is to find a way to be God’s people and real people. I associate realness with wholeness, even if this wholeness is marred by warts, even if, as a consequence of my wholeness, I am forced to confess to you that I am less than I ought to be.”[4] After graduation, I felt like I ‘ought to be’ someone who had life figured out and was doing good work, yet my attempts ended in experiences of frustration and anger that ran directly counter to my hopes. To me, wholeness now means the acceptance that everything – things as they ought to be and things in disarray – are still within the divine order. In my effort to make my life acceptable, I forgot to accept my life as a good gift from God meant to be enjoyed.

And even though Zenos caused some of my consternation and confusion, Zenos also offered encouragement and hope rooted in God’s goodness and expressed through the Covenant tradition. As I struggled with questions, words of encouragement and hope came in lines like this; “Imperfect as we are, we are yet, in ourselves, messages from God to each other, in that incarnated form we creatures most readily understand.”[5] I felt heartfelt emotion and confidence when Zenos reflects on the final line from a hymn: “that you are ransomed as you are. We have, praise God, the right to be ourselves” and when he offers the repeated exhortation to “trust the Word.”[6] Zenos offers hope to individuals and encouragement to the whole Covenant church that is rooted in the pilgrim experience and the love of God. It is good to have those stories as reminders.

The image I’ve used in this reflection – that Zenos’ writings has been reading me, underlining my shortcomings, asking questions, causing confusion, offering encouragement, and revealing hidden strengths – can be expressed more directly; Zenos is a teacher. The way this book has influenced me and changed me is connected to how a loving teacher grades the work of an honest student. “Anatomy of the Pilgrim Experience” has added question marks to certain areas of my life and exclamation points to others. This book has underlined some of my thoughts, crossed out some of my goals, and offered fresh thinking at pivotal points in my life. Zenos Hawkinson’s book represents the work of a great teacher who draws on the best of the Covenant tradition and I recommend it everyone, especially those who find themselves “on the move” in life.


 

[1] Peter Campion, “Delicate Mother Kangaroo: reconsidering D.H. Lawrence,” Poetry Magazine (January 2013): ???, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/article/245162.

[2] Zenos Hawkinson, Anatomy of the Pilgrim Experience: Reflections on Being a Covenanter (Chicago, IL: Covenant Publications, 2000), 130.

[3] Ibid., 128.

[4] Ibid., 5.

[5] Ibid., 86.

[6] Ibid., 91.