The Line in the Sand

And it is the will of him who sent me that I should not lose any of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them all to life on the last day. ~ John 6:39

As Easter approaches, my mind is awash in many painful stories. I’m aware that “Easter” and “Pain” are not words we often put together, but please be patient with me as I attempt to sort through all of this.

For the past few months I’ve been listening to seasoned fire fighters tell their stories (I recently joined the department) while at the same time I’ve been working as a chaplain alongside local law enforcement. I find myself asking “What does the resurrection of Jesus mean for people who face ungodly things?” Or to put it another way, “Does the celebration of Easter ring hollow in the ears of those faced with life’s deepest pains?”

The work that those in our police and fire services do often calls them into the ugliest situations in our communities. The stories I’ve been hearing in my firefighter’s training reflect this. Firefighters are asked to walk into extreme situations where lives can be on the line, and those situations don’t all end with wins. And in chaplaincy work with the sheriff’s department over the past few years, I’ve witnessed some of the most difficult and traumatic things I can imagine. Just hours before I sat down to write this piece, I spent most of the morning with a mama and daddy who had just lost their baby girl. The grief I witnessed in that home, as these poor parents held their little girl for the last time, was indescribable. But I was impressed with the care and compassion with which the medical examiner and the local police officer did their work.

The stories that these emergency responders can tell aren’t often their own—they belong to you and to your neighbors—but these men and women become carriers of these stories. And listening to them reveals the depth of the pain that exists in our communities. The weight of that pain can seem overwhelming, and coping with it can be difficult—there’s a reason that gallows humor exists—but as we approach Easter, I’m thankful for those who work in those hard places, not least because they remind us that celebration is the farthest thing from many minds.

Some of you know the unspeakable grief of the family I sat with this morning. You’ve experienced the pain of a life-changing diagnosis. You’ve had loved ones taken too quickly. This kind of pain can be horribly destructive—it can tear families apart, it can isolate people from their neighbors, it can rob us of our hope for the future.

So again, “What does the resurrection of Jesus mean for people who face ungodly things?”

The true power of the gospel message is that it speaks loudest into the dark and ugly corners of our lives, the ones marked by death and loss. Easter doesn’t look like a celebration in these places, but it’s no less powerful for that. No, in these places, Easter is simply a line in the sand, declaring to death “This far you shall come and no farther!” In a world that can take so much—when the things and the people most precious to us are ripped from us—the resurrection of Jesus speaks a promise that nothing precious is finally lost, for we go as he goes: from death to life.

Whether Easter in 2017 will be a celebration or a line in the sand for you, the promise that our Lord loses none of what is his, and brings life into death is for you. May it be for you a firm and certain hope. For he is risen. He is risen, indeed.

Pastor Clifton Hanson

Blessed Blindness – Sermon on John 9

Sermon on John 9:1-41, preached 3-26-17

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9 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

God Loves Your Job

“Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters…”

~ Colossians 3:23

We’re a month into 2017 so I imagine that your resolutions, like mine, are looking a little worse for the wear. In light of such failure, I’d like to offer you different resolution for 2017, and this is one you can swing: appreciate the work you do. The reason you’ll be able to keep this resolution is because keeping it doesn’t even require you to like your job. There’s a Christian appreciation of work that goes beyond how we might feel about a job.

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There’s a long-running debate about how people in general and particularly young people, poised to enter the workforce, should decide on a career. Should you follow your passion? Follow the money? Look for a need and fill it? Find a nice piece of real estate in your parents’ basement and hunker down for the long haul? There’s no shortage of options and opinions, and it can be difficult to know which way to go. I won’t try to answer this question here; the tradeoffs of college, trade school, on-the-job training, and choosing one field over another are ones that each person has to weigh. God be with you in finding the answers!

I’m more concerned with what you do once you find yourself in a job. Because whatever leads people into one line of work or another, many people don’t like their jobs. Here are some of the most common complaints: My work isn’t rewarding; I’m not making a difference; I don’t like my company. If your job is attaching one piece to a machine on an assembly line, you don’t get to see the final fruits of your work, and you might feel like a simple cog. Or even if you see the results of your work, it might feel like it’s not a big deal. Sure, you rang up someone’s groceries and now they’re leaving with their bags, but what difference did that make? Am I really helping anybody?

assembly-line

The truth is that most people do work that doesn’t feel like it helps anybody. Even in jobs that are designed to help people—teachers, counselors, pastors, social workers—getting that sense that anything is really being accomplished is rare. So what does all this mean?

As Christians, we believe that God is at work in this world, not just generally, but through the hands of each one. I had a friend who recently took over managing his family farm. A while back I ran into him when I went to see my parents, and he told me about something his dad said to him years ago. They were at the Cenex in Goodridge and one of the employees was filling their tank for them. He told his dad, “I’m glad that we’re farmers. I wouldn’t want to work at a gas station” His dad answered him, “If that man didn’t work at this gas station, we couldn’t farm the way we do.”

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It’s true. Without the work of elevator workers, machinery manufacturers, chemists, feed and seed store managers, gas station attendants, and all the rest, producing food for anyone beyond the immediate family would be beyond the capacity of farmers. It’s the same with the rest of us, too. A teacher can only devote herself to teaching professionally because she doesn’t have to grind wheat into flour, wash clothes by hand, milk cows, etc. We can only do the things we do because someone else has freed us from other things. No matter how small or insignificant or impersonal a job may seem, it is part of a large web of work that God has given us to do on this good earth of his. One job is not more honorable than another, God has made each one vital.

When we see our work through this lens of faith, it allows us to trust that what we do matters, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Appreciate your work (even if you hate your job). The Lord is with you in it. May he bless the fruits of your labor, no matter how small they may seem to you. Amen.

Pastor Clifton Hanson