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Teeth

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"Teeth" by C. David McKirachan
"Being Ready" by Peter Andrew Smith

Teeth
by C. David McKirachan
Matthew 18:15-20

Confrontation is one of my least favorite things. Because of that I have a staff, about six feet of cedar, knarled by age and elements leaning in a corner of my study. It’s to remind me that as a shepherd, I’ve got to remember that not all the people who come through the door are sheep. Some of them have sharp teeth.

I believe that some people like to fight, they’re conflict oriented. Unless there’s a good bangaroo going on, they’re not comfortable. The church is a good place for people like that. Most of us come to church to find a sanctuary, a safe place. We come to open ourselves to the call and the presence of God. The Gospel we cling to offers humility, hope, healing, as a way of life. We are tasty morsels for those with teeth. While we’re reaching out in reconciliation, they bite off our hands. Bullies aren’t uncommon either. In their sense of inadequacy they find lots of targets for proving to themselves that they can push people around.

And the list goes on. So I keep the staff in the corner to remind me of that part of my job, whether it’s one of my favorite things or not.

One of the most difficult moments in my ministry had to do with an elderly gentleman who only acted as such when he felt he was getting his own way, or when the barometric pressure was to his liking. He was convinced he was God’s gift to the world and to the church and took it upon himself to let everyone know that and make it clear that to disagree with him was morally wrong. He also volunteered for all kinds of jobs. He got on session and worked hard on Stewardship and Mission, helping the committees accomplish things that were blessings to the church in many ways. Things would go along fine for a while and then you know what would hit the fan.

After a particularly rough patch he called some people names questioning their ethics, their faith, and their biological origin. He did so loudly and in public. So, the shepherd had to get real. Matthew 18 says to me that people with teeth aren’t new to the people of God.

I have to admit that I did some seasoning of the recipe that Jesus gave us in this passage. I flavored it with some suffering servant, some Beatitudes, and some 1 Corinthians 13. It seemed to me that though this guy had proven without a doubt that he was more than willing to hurt members of the community, to sow division, and to threaten the ministry with ultimatums and even lies, he was a child of God.

I have kids. Let me tell you, they taught me a lot about grace. So does the cross.

Taking all of the above into account I made an appointment with him, corralled a tough and capable and faith filled elder into being a witness and laid out the situation to him. I told him that I could not let him run roughshod over other people. That as an elder he had a responsibility to serve the people and I didn’t mean as a standing rib roast. I told him that I had a responsibility too and part of that was to protect as well as to heal God’s people. So, I would make him a deal. If he would meet me weekly for a time of prayer and listening and learning, studying the interpersonal implications of the law of love and trying to make them a part of his life, then after six months I would be happy to have him work as an active elder. But if he wouldn’t bend to the discipline of the law of love, he would need to leave session.

I lived through the multi megaton explosion that followed my offer. We didn’t see him for a few months. I prayed for him and for us all. And I felt guilty. I’m neurotic. Sue me.

He came back slowly. A bit at a time. Until his wife developed terminal cancer. Let’s just say we got through it together. After the funeral he made an appointment with me and apologized for being a fool. I told him he was human and we all needed the love of God. He accepted the role of deacon and became a humble servant of the shut ins and the hospital bound. We spent quite a bit of time together.

There are parts of me that aren’t easy to tolerate. I’m sure I’ve hurt my share of the innocent. I hope not intentionally. We all need forgiving. But in spite of that I think we need to remember that the church must be willing to be more than nice. Nice isn’t appropriate some times. It’s not good for the abused and it’s not good for abusers. If our faith is to mean anything, if we are to genuinely seek healing and hope in a broken world, we need to be willing to confront ugliness with love. And we can’t stand by and watch while bullies do a job on Christ’s family.

The staff is still in the corner. For me and for others.

* * *

Being Ready
by Peter Andrew Smith
Exodus 12:1-14

Harriet felt a soft touch on her arm and opened one eye. Jennifer was leaning in toward her looking anxious. Harriet lifted her head and smiled broadly. “Yes?”

Her granddaughter peered into her eyes. “Are you okay, Nana?”

“Certainly. Why would you think that I wasn’t okay?”

“Your eyes were closed and your lips were moving.”

“Were they? Well sometimes I guess that happens when I pray.” Harriet closed her Bible and put it on the table next to her chair.

“Why were you praying?”Jennifer sat on the chair next to her. “Are you not feeling well?”

“No. I feel fine, dear.”

“Is Papa okay?” Jennifer fidgeted in her chair. “I heard you talking to him earlier. Is he sick or did something happen at work?”

“No, he’s fine as well. He called earlier to see if I wanted him to pick anything up on his way home.” Harriet looked up at the clock. “He should be here in a few minutes. He’s going to take us to the beach this afternoon.”

“Awesome. I was hoping we could go there today.” Jennifer frowned again.

“What’s the problem? I thought you liked going to the beach.”

“I do.” Jennifer rubbed her chin. “I just don’t understand why you were praying.”

“I think you’ve lost me dear. I always pray in the afternoon and you were busy working on your puzzle so I thought I’d read a bit from the Bible and pray.” Harriet tilted her head. “Why would that concern you?”

“I remember Mom telling me that you can always pray for God’s help when you are in trouble so I thought that there was something wrong.”

“No, there is nothing wrong at all.” Harriet examined the confused face sitting beside her. “You do realize that you can pray at other times too, don’t you?”

“Sure.” Jennifer sat back in her chair. “I know Gerry and his family pray before meals.”

“Yes, you can certainly say grace as well. What I mean though is that we can pray all through the day.”

Jennifer bit her lip. “Why?”

“Well to build up a relationship with God. Spending time with God helps us know God’s will and way and makes us better people.”

“Huh,” Jennifer said. “That seems like a lot of work when you could just pray when you’re in trouble.”

Harriet narrowed her eyes for a moment. “Since you know we are going to the beach in about half an hour what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to put on my swimsuit and pack my towel. What does this have to do with prayer?”

“It has to do with being ready. What would happen if Papa came home unexpectedly and told you we were going to the beach right away?”

“I would rush and get ready as quickly as I could,” Jennifer said. “I would have to be fast but could I do it quickly.”

“Would you forget sunscreen and your sunglasses like you did last time?”

Jennifer sighed. “I guess it is better if you know in advance.”

“Praying each day helps us to be ready when something happens in our lives. If a difficult time arises we know and trust God and are open to asking for help. If we have an opportunity open up we are ready and willing to move forward because we’re prepared each day to walk with God.”

Jennifer tilted her head and examined her grandmother’s face. “Is that why you were so calm when Mom had her car accident?”

“I wasn’t calm dear. I was upset and terrified.” Harriet shivered at the memory of that night. “Your Mom was really hurt.”

“But you were there for me and Mom when she was in the hospital,” Jennifer said. “Is that because you knew how to pray and knew God was with us even when things were hard?”

“I guess it was. I never felt that we were alone even when we didn’t know what the test results would be. I knew we could face whatever happened because I trusted that God would give us the strength to get through it together.”

“Cool.” Jennifer looked up at the clock. “I think I need to go change and be ready to go to the beach when Papa arrives.”

“That sounds like a good idea. Don’t forget your sunscreen and sunglasses.”

“I won’t.” Jennifer started out the door and then stopped. “Nana, after supper could you teach me how to pray? I think I’d like to start doing it each day.”

Harriet smiled widely at her granddaughter. “Nothing would make me happier.”

*****************************************

StoryShare, September 10, 2017, issue.

Copyright 2017 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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