When we have family and friends visiting we like taking them for a tour of George Ranch Historical Park. Going through the four different residences of this huge complex is a wonderful invitation and introduction to our local history. Right when you come into the welcome center there is a permanent exhibit that blew my mind challenging my perspective of cowboys. I grew up with those classic western movies where cowboys were gun-toting, boot-wearing, white men – like John Wayne, or Clint Eastwood. But here on this most Texan ranch I learned that most cowboys did not look the way I thought they did in the 1800s: It is thought that, on some Texas trails, a third of cowboys were Mexicans and about a quarter of cowboys were former slaves: They were black!
In the ancient Middle East the most prominent livestock was sheep. Now again: My perspective of what shepherding looks like is fundamentally challenged: Who hasn’t heard of the good shepherd and Psalm 23 and all that biblical imagery portraying God as a shepherd? Here is another one:
“He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”
(Isaiah 40:11 – Watchword for the Week of Sunday 7 December 2014)
I always thought the shepherd’s crook was used to shove the sheep in the right direction. And I would have never thought that shepherds go around hugging the entire flock maybe exchanging a few friendly words like people whispering words of affection into their pets’ ears. We are talking livestock business after all, aren’t we? And “leading them gently”, really? Isn’t it more like unleashing the German Shepherd dogs that bark and bare their teeth in order to get the sheep in line?
Well, it seems like reality is always more complex than anticipated: Those rough tough cowboys were slaves once, just like the Word of God became a lowly human being and has come to us and shared our common lot. Or in biblical context: The shepherd put down his staff, abandoned his power and embraced the power of love because he knows what the whip feels like from own experience.
Memorial Services for Sherry Schneider will be held at St. John’s UCC on Saturday, December 13th at 2:00 p.m.
from your friends at St. John’s United Church of Christ:
Oh yeah, FM 99.1 has been playing the most wonderful tunes for almost a week. Christmas baking is in full swing, the church and many homes are decorated. We’re fixin’ to have a jolly good time again. That’s what Advent is all about: Preparing for Christmas, right?
The first Sunday of Advent sets us straight:
“Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.”
(Mark 13:26 – Watchword for the Week of Sunday 30 November 2014)
The first week of Advent is about the end of the world. While the whole season of Advent is about getting ready for Jesus’ first coming as a baby on Christmas, this first week is a reminder to also get ready for Jesus’ second coming at the end of all time. The people in Mark’s church fully expected Jesus to come back during their lifetime!
Imagine that: If I were to fully expect the world to end before I die, I wouldn’t worry about retirement planning. Also my holiday preparations would change: Do I really start the fermentation process for my home-brewed Christmas beer that takes from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve? And after the holidays: Do I bother boxing and labeling all the decorations? – I may not need them ever again! And what gifts should we give with the expectation they are our final act of love?
Christians have been wrestling with this tension for over 2000 years. 2000 times doing everything for maybe the last time. May this Word from God never get old but may the still-speaking God continue to challenge us when we get too comfortable.
The holidays are fast approaching. You may already have started your Christmas baking. You certainly have started planning out the details of your Thanksgiving feast. One thing is certain: The most yummy dishes usually contain ridiculous amounts of fat plus either sugar or salt. So basically the worse they are for you the better they make you feel. Indulgence adds pounds to our waste-lines and obesity is one of the main causes for so many diseases that kill so many. According to the Calorie Control Council, during the state-sanctioned gorging event known as Thanksgiving, the average American can stuff down as much as 4,500 calories — nearly twice the recommended daily allowance. Don’t we bring doom on ourselves with all this overeating?Even God Almighty seems to be joining the health-conscious choir:
“I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.”
(Ezekiel 34:16 – Watchword for the Week of Sunday 23 November 2014)
To be honest I have a problem with texts that proclaim “God will destroy the fat” or whatever group of people. They are so easily abused by hate-groups that put their own spins on them. I would much rather learn what God wants as opposed to what people condemn. So, on a positive note let me put our Thanksgiving feast back on the menu: God’s vision for the culmination of world history is that of all the peoples of the earth gathering on Zion for an everlasting heavenly feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines (Isaiah 25:6-8). After all Jesus ate with sinners and his disciples all the time – so much so that they called him a glutton and a drunkard (Matthew 11:19).
So if food is not the problem, what is? Our watchword this week contrasts the haves and the have-nots, the ones that are starving and homeless and those that are out of control in looking only after themselves. That is a problem in every aspect of life: If all your resources be they food, finances, feelings are all focused on just yourself then you are not open for the love of God and the love you are supposed to share with the people around you. That does not only go for overabundance: People starve themselves, emotionally and physically and overindulge in the pain and the feeling of being lost. I want to read this edgy text to call for a well balanced diet for all aspects of our lives. And literally every diet plan has cheat points or days. So enjoy!