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A Backpack of Rocks

“A Backpack of Rocks” by C. David McKirachan
“Sin Is The Schmutz On Our Lives” by C. David McKirachan
“And Now for Something Completely Different…” by Keith Hewitt

A Backpack of Rocks
by C. David McKirachan
Genesis 9:8-17

Whenever there has been a moment in my life for which I grieve, a moment in which my behavior caused suffering, it doesn’t seem to matter if I had a good reason or a good excuse, even if I was facing people doing bad things, their suffering and loss sticks with me. I carry it like a backpack of rocks. I’ve had therapists tell me that such regrets are better left behind. It is hard to be a balanced healthy human being if we are constantly reminding ourselves of pain for which we feel responsible.

God put the bow that had been used to destroy in the sky to remind people of all the suffering God had brought on the earth. God wouldn’t be following all that good advice I got. It would be hard for the Creator to be a balanced healthy being with that constant reminder of the suffering rained down on the earth.

The cross is a sign of suffering. It’s a torture rack that was used to maim and kill many over centuries. Many of us wear crosses. Some of us have a cross tattooed on our bodies. I’ve asked people why they wear crosses. “It was a gift from my mother,” or “It was a gift when I was confirmed,” or “…when I graduated.” The pectoral cross I wear to lead worship was given to me on the 25th anniversary of my ordination. Somehow these crosses that we wear do not seem to match the suffering that God’s bow caused. They do not match God’s intention. Ours remind us of an accomplishment, something we are happy about and proud of and of someone’s affection and affirmation of our joy. They also offer a blessing, a prayer that we wear, a relationship we share with the giver of the gift, ourselves, and with God. But that’s a bit esoteric for Mom’s gift.

But (you knew that was coming), whoever gave us the gift, for whatever accomplishment, a cross is a cross. We had an adult fellowship evening at the church that included a scavenger hunt in the church buildings. I’d made a list of thirty things to seek and discover. All five teams got 29 of them in the time allotted. The one they missed was a ‘torture rack.’ There were a few crosses hanging around in the church and a few of the searchers were wearing them. Most of them knew what a cross was used for. None of them were able to make the shift. Few of us want to. How many people attend Good Friday services compared to Christmas Eve Services? We have better things to do.

But God put the bow in the sky. It wasn’t so much to remind us what idiots we can be and how we’d better watch out. It was to affirm a covenant, a promise. “I won’t do that again. I’ll remember. Every time I see it, I’ll remember.”

Our covenant, our promise, our bond with God is forged in the blood of the Lord. Old covenants were sealed in blood. If the promisers meant business, they used the life force to seal it. I told a couple in pre-marital counselling that their vows were important. They were binding vows.

I told them that since cutting them and making them blood brothers/sisters was out, but they better mean business with the vows. This was no lightweight stuff. It got their attention.

It may seem gruesome but that’s what the cross is about. It’s a binding covenant. It bonds us to God. We are bound to God with a torture rack. Not like the bow, the one that belonged to the Creator and was used to destroy. The cross reminds us of our sin, our corruption, our separation from each other and our loving God, and reminds us of the distance that love will go to bring us home.

Maybe we need a day to remember, a Christian Yom Kippur. Oh, that’s what Lent is for. It might do us some good to make a list. Things that separated us from God and from each other. Specific moments when we weren’t faithful to the covenant of love. I wouldn’t recommend putting them in the sky.

We could bring them to the cross.

* * *

Sin Is The Schmutz On Our Lives
by C. David McKirachan
Psalm 25:1-10

Lent is supposed to be a time when we look into the shadows of our lives. Times and places where the light of God doesn’t shine. Paul Tillich said that, ‘the Christ is the clear window in the wall of mortality through which shines the light of God.’ If we are to follow this Christ, our job is to become clear ourselves. Lent is the time to clean our windows. And sin is the schmutz (that’s a deeply esoteric theological term I learned in seminary) on our lives. It keeps the light of God from shining through who and what we are.

Most of the time we think of sin as specific actions that are ‘bad’. Ten Commandments type stuff. They are infractions of the ‘code’, marks against our account that lower our credit score in the book that St. Peter has at the pearly gates. But when we hear phrases like the twenty-fifth Psalm: “Let me know your ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths…” it sounds more complicated, at least different than, “Making a list and checking it twice, God’s gonna’ find out who’s naughty or nice.” I think it’s fascinating that our attitudes toward virtue and sin don’t keep pace with our attitudes about Santa.

A legalistic interpretation of the law of God, the law that we have from the Old Testament, is what the prophets yelled against. ‘Being good’ for them had a lot more to do with a lifestyle than doing all the right stuff. Amos said, “I despise the noise of your song and the stench of your sacrifice. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” The required temple worship was despised by God. Micah said that the justice and righteousness that God wanted had more to do with “seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.” According to the prophets ‘being good’ has a lot more to do with a lifestyle than sticking to some straight and narrow way, going to church, or being pure according to some list. Such legalism offers us an illusory sense of control in the chaos of life. It might be nice to be able to keep score, I’m good, they’re not. But it has little to do with what the Lord requires of us.

To learn a different way of going through life requires humility. Thus, the psalmist speaks of the transgressions of his youth. Everything’s simple when we’re young. I saw a sign once, “Hire adolescents, while they still know everything.” They say senior citizens tend to be happier and less anxious, because they know what it means to lose and to grieve. It’s hard not to be humble after experiencing years of “…dreams and schemes, and flying machines in pieces on the ground.” (James Taylor). In my years of teaching, I discovered the children who do best, who learn the most are the ones who are willing to give new ideas a try, in spite of what their families or their friends have taught them. Humility allows us, whatever our age, to listen, to see, to accept new experiences and appreciate them as valuable rather than judging them with preconceptions. Faith has a hard time developing in someone who lacks humility.

So, we begin to see the schmutz that rains down on us from our culture and from our insecurities. Perhaps we need a longer season to get out the Windex of Lent to scrub some of it off our attitudes and values so that we more closely resemble our Lord. But all of our life with Christ is one long Lent, if we are to stay close to him. Discipleship ain’t easy. It seems to deny so much. But, in the long run, it affirms so much else. It offers us a brighter life that, to tell the truth, is a lot more fun.

But don’t tell anybody else about the fun part. They think we’re suffering during Lent. We wouldn’t want them to think we’re getting away with anything. Hee Hee.

* * *

And Now for Something Completely Different…
by Keith Hewitt
Mark 1:9-15

“Do you want to know what I think?” Haniel asked.

“Not really,” Zephon answered. “You are — we are — here to observe and report.” As if to punctuate his statement, Zephon picked up a small stone and chucked it toward the horizon, pointed at it with his index finger. As it reached the top of its trajectory it evaporated, for want of a better word, disappearing with no fuss or muss, leaving behind only a few wisps of disturbed air where it had been.

The air was visible to Haniel and Zephon. Everything was.

“Since you asked, I’ll tell you,” Haniel said, eyeing the eddies of air left in the wake of the stone. “I think we’re here on a fool’s errand, Zephon. You said we’re here to observe and report. Report what, exactly? God’s son is being tempted out here in this patch of nothing at the back end of nowhere and — surprise! — the temptation is going nowhere. Why? Because he’s God’s son. What did the Old Man think was going to happen?”

Zephon sighed....or would have, if he’d had lungs. “OK Haniel, let me break it down for you.” He raised a finger as he made each point. “A — and I can’t stress this enough — no one asked you. B, you’re new to Earth, so you know nothing about human beings. Less than nothing, actually, because you seem to have picked up some misconceptions about them that actually take away from anything you might know. And C, the Old Man doesn’t know what’s going to happen. That’s why we’re here.”

Haniel took a moment or two to digest what he’d just heard, then his eyes narrowed, and he tilted his head slightly. “What do you mean, he doesn’t know? He’s — well, God. He created everything, he oversees everything — he knows everything. He’s omniscient, Zephon. That’s, like, in his job description.”

There was another virtual sigh from Zephon. “Look, Haniel, I know in your last job everything was cut and dry. You were assembling stars, even exploding a few now and then, but it was all by the book, right?” Zephon looked up for a moment, eyes taking in the stars and planets beyond the blue sky, then shifted back down to his companion. “There are rules about how everything comes together, laws to govern how everything moves, immutable forces of nature that guide the creation of stars and planets — right? Set in place by God, at the beginning of time? Right?”

Haniel shrugged. “Of course. I was just there as quality control — I never actually had to do anything but watch. It got to be pretty boring after the first thousand years or so.”

“Right. Now imagine that everything in the universe operates the same way — everything that exists is the product of laws put in place before there was anything but the Old Man himself. And when I say imagine, I mean that’s the way it is. Right?”

Another shrug, then a nod. “Sure. Build a star, build a tree, build an atom…same laws, different applications. I get it.”

“Right. And this process has been going on for umpteen years. In all this order, the only wild card has been human beings — because God gave them the gift of free will, the ability to choose right or wrong, obedience or rebellion, good or evil…you remember that much from your briefing, right?”

Haniel nodded. “I do. And if you ask me — ”

“Again, no one did.”

“ — it hasn’t really worked out, has it? Humanity went off the rails practically from the start.”

“It’s…more complicated than that, but that’s a topic for another day. This is where things get tricky. To redeem humanity, God chose to send his son to them, as one of them. Right?”

“You’re not telling me anything I didn’t get in the briefing.”

“Then get this: before his incarnation as a child, thirty years ago, Jesus was fully divine, with all the knowledge and power that goes with that. And now he’s fully human, with all the foibles and weaknesses that go with that.”

Haniel blinked as that started to sink in. “Okay…” he said slowly.

“Right. I think you’re getting it, now. Until now, the universe has been predictable and controllable, because there were laws to govern it. But now comes something completely different — the Son of God, in human form. Not just human form, but fully human, capable of choosing to obey or defy the God who sent him…in a sense, the God he is. Because he is unique, God had to know — had to be sure — that he would be obedient…that he would always choose to walk God’s path, and not his own. So, he needed to be tested.”

Haniel frowned, now, as he watched Jesus. “But why take the chance?”

Zephon shrugged again. “To be the bridge — the redeemer — he’s meant to be, Jesus has to be fully human. He has to be able to love or reject God.” He paused for a moment, then added thoughtfully, “I asked, once, and was told that the ability to love is nothing without the ability to not love. It’s what makes human beings different, in all the universe, and to be one of them Jesus must live that choice.”

Haniel watched as a figure — a man, by all appearances — materialized before them, seemingly assembling itself from wind and dust. Once formed, it began to speak to Jesus. Haniel listened as the figure engaged with Jesus and shook his head. “So, we just stand here and do nothing?” he murmured.

“We observe and report,” Zephon answered. “His mother and father have raised him well — the Old Man chose his parents carefully. So now we wait and see what he chooses.”

After a moment or two, Haniel frowned. “I don’t like uncertainty.”

“None of us do,” Zephon agreed…but even as he said it, he felt something deep inside — it might have been a quickening of his heart, if he’d had one. There was something…interesting…about not knowing what was going to happen, and he began to understand why God might choose to give the gift of free will to these creatures. Love would win, he was sure of that because in millennia of experience he had learned that it was the one immutable force in God’s universe.

But there was something to be said for not knowing what, exactly, would happen next.


StoryShare, February 21, 2021 issue.

Copyright 2021 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to the StoryShare service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons, in worship and classroom settings, in brief devotions, in radio spots, and as newsletter fillers. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to permissions@csspub.com or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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For June 27, 2021:
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John Jamison
When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. (vv. 21-24)

* * *

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I read this story in July 1991’s “Bits and Pieces.” I think it does a great job of describing friendship. A British publication once offered a prize for the best definition of a friend. Among the thousands of answers received were the following:

“One who multiplies joys, divides grief, and whose honesty is inviolable.”

“One who understands our silence.”

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Mark presented a portrait of Jesus that showed a Christ who moved into situations with action, often upsetting the expected. Many times, Christ’s actions did not bring comfort or peace. 

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When all else fails, what do you do? When you are up against it, where do you turn?
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Getting through grief may be one of the hardest things we do as human beings. One of the best ways to begin the process is to find it within ourselves to stand up and say something in a public setting that puts into words both the personal and collective feelings of all who have gathered to mourn. History is replete with stunning examples. Pericles' Funeral Oration as recorded by Thucydides in The Peloponnesian War is certainly one of them. At the end of the first year of war, the Athenians held, as was their custom, an elaborate funeral for all those killed in the war.
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Year after year Stumpy and Martha attended the fair in their home state, and every summer it was the same story: Stumpy was tantalized by the old-fashioned bi-plane in which anybody could take a ride for ten dollars, and Martha was disgusted by such an obvious waste of money. "Ten dollars is ten dollars," she would always say. And Stumpy would go home without his airplane ride.

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