Saturday, November 11, 2017

Trimmed and Burning

It was a teaching day today.  I was at the University of Indianapolis most of the day, working with local pastors on their preaching.  One of the bonuses of my new appointment and the house we purchased to live in is that I’m just a few blocks from that campus.  I walked this morning to get to the place where I teach.  Considering I used to have to leave at 6am on a Saturday to get here, that feels like a luxury.  And it was a great walk.  Cold autumnal air, crunching through the leaves that no one in the neighborhood can keep up with right now, though some try harder than others it should be noted.  It’s quiet at that time of a weekend morning.  Time for reflection, time to breathe.  But then catching a scent of that common fall like flavor, burning leaves.  The city says they’ll pick them up if you bag them and put them out, but some folks don’t like to wait.  They pile them up somewhere and burn them.  I didn’t see the ashes and only caught a hint of the haze, but smell was strong.  Despite the air quality issues, it’s not a bad smell, brings back memories of a more innocent age, an annual chore, a family moment.  

Fire fascinates me, I confess.  The bulk of our vacation experiences growing up was camping out in the wilds of somewhere, and a highlight of those trips was the late night sitting around the fire, cooking and toasting marshmallows, keeping warm, staring into the ever changing shapes and sounds of a crackling flame, being together, telling stories, singing songs.  The fire drew us together, kept us safe and gave us a sense of place in the dark and sometimes scary world around us.  Yet, care had to be taken with that fire, it had to be tended, it couldn’t just be set free to run and spread and turn into a destructive force.  You had to tend it, care for it, feed it and control it.  

Keep your lamps trimmed and burning is a Spiritual from the text we’re reading this weekend.  Like most spirituals it has an uncertain history, but it certainly can be traced back through various blues singers and recordings into the slave experience where is was used as a work song, but also a way of hoping for something better.  It was a flame around which an oppressed community gathered to keep their spirits warm and have a sense of place in a dark and scary world of pain and suffering.  A simple song, sung by workers able to keep their minds on their task and yet be transported into another reality, another kingdom.  Keep your lamps trimmed and burning / keep your lamps trimmed and burning / keep your lamps trimmed and burning / See what the Lord has done.

Actually there is some divergence on that last line.  The oldest recording of the song ends with “See what the Lord has done.”  It was sung by Blind Willie Johnson, a popular blues singer of the early 20th century.  His plaintive tenor voice seemed to be calling us to pay attention to what God is doing among us every moment of the day.  It was a call to keep awake, as Jesus tells us.  But not simply for what is not yet here, but what surrounds us already.  

A few years later, the Rev. Gary Davis, another blues singer/preacher, recorded the song and changed the last line to “for the world’s about to end.”  Rev. Gary was singing a warning about the coming kingdom, that the promised return of our Lord is on the horizon.  He wanted to remind us that what we see and what we experience, for good or for ill, is not all there is.  There is more, something more, another world, another reality into which we lean, even as we live and work in this reality.  There is a destination to our history, a culmination of all that we are becoming.  It doesn’t have to be a threat, it could be a promise, a hope.  One can imagine the slave singing of another world knowing that the scars he bore did not define him, the chains he wore was not the shape of his life, the name he was given to live in the white man’s world was the name written in the book of life for him.  And one day, one blessed day, the tears will end and life, promised abundant life, will begin.

But some of the oldest reports of this song being sung in the fields have yet another ending to the verse.  Keep your lamps trimmed and burning / for the work is almost done.  The work.  Or sometimes your work.  Your work is almost done.  Soon I can lay down this hoe, soon I can set aside this shovel, lay down my pen, and enter into the blessed rest of the savior.  Keep your lamps trimmed and burning.  

Matthew 25:1-13 "Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9 But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' 12 But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.' 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Sometimes I think Jesus tells a story just to confuse us.  It’s like He wants us to work on something, to work out something.  We’d rather He’d just hand it out on a silver platter, wrapped up in an easily opened package that makes things easy for us.  But no, a story, about ... what?  Weddings and lamps and oil and an odd celebration of selfishness.  Something is not right here.

Of all the images Jesus uses to help us grab hold of the kingdom of God, or of heaven, which is Matthew’s preference, this is the only one where the future tense is used.  The kingdom will be like this.  Why is that?  Aren’t the others future oriented too?  Well, yes, and no.  There is something unique about this one.  Perhaps if we heard entering the kingdom of heaven will be like this we might understand the whole story a little bit better.  The approach of the Kingdom of Heaven will be like this.  

Jesus loved weddings, He used the image for talking about the kingdom often.  Parties and feasts and especially weddings.  Because something special is happening there, a binding, a connecting, a covenant and a vow.  And a whopping great party.  What better description is there for this new world, this new life?  A party of inclusion and invitation.  Y’all come.  Right?  

Why then the lamps?  Why then wise and foolish?  And aren’t we supposed to share, even when we don’t have enough ourselves?  Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?  Why do we call the ones who won’t share wise?  OK, every metaphor has it’s limits.  Or rather we’re victims of crashing metaphors in this story.  Go back to the Sermon on the Mount, on the other end of Matthew’s gospel.  You are the light of the world, so let your light so shine before others that they may see your light and give glory to God.  Remember?  The light, the lamp, is not just an object of illumination, but it represents a life of service and sacrifice.  It represents a life transformed by faith in Jesus, by the grace of God.  The wise bridesmaids lived a life of preparing for the Bridegroom; the foolish ones thought it didn’t matter until the last minute. When He finally arrives, they have nothing to show that they belong to Him, nothing to shine as a way of living and giving and caring and hoping.  He says, I don’t know you.  

Remember, unlike the Sermon on the Mount which is for everyone, this is insider talk here in Chapter 25.  This is the sign that you’ve been paying attention.  This is for those who said yes some time ago and now they need to show a yes worthy life.  The wise bridesmaids didn’t share their oil because they couldn’t.  You can’t share acts of love.  Each has to do their own.  Each has to participate according to the grace given them, to use the gifts they have received.  I can’t ride your coattails into the kingdom, you can’t let my lamp light your way.  That’s just not how it works.  Sure we can share, sure we can teach and mentor and sure we are better together than any of us are alone.  But in the end, we have to trim our own lamps, we have to burn our own oil.  That’s the work.  The work that is almost done.  Keep your lamps trimmed and burning / the work is almost done.  Thanks be to God.   


Saturday, November 4, 2017


It’s time to go.  You’ve heard that a few times in your life, I know.  Said it many times too.  Go.  Let’s go.  Can we go?  Ready to go?  Questions, statements, promises, pleading - Go has lots of moods, lots of attitudes.  It’s hard to deny the excitement inherent in Go.  It just drips with possibility and with newness.  Go into a new world, a new reality, a new way of being.  Who could say no to Go?  The horizons are calling and the world is yours.  Just go.  Go and see, go and live, go and be.  A new chapter is a new beginning, but also a continuation of the story so far.  Go!  Of course we want to go.

But.  There is the other side of Go.  In order to go you have to leave.  To move toward a new tomorrow is sometimes to leave a comfortable – or even not so comfortable, but maybe familiar – yesterday.  To embrace the call to go is to turn your back on stay.  It is to leave behind those who have become family, even as you stride into an uncertain hope, a possible joy.

We stand on a mountain with the remaining disciples, as they wait for whatever might be coming next.  Mountains in the Bible are more than simply geologic formations.  They are theological signposts.  Something significant is going to happen.  You can tell.  There’s a mountain.  It’s a dead giveaway.  Or rather a living one.  Mountains are alive (thank you Rogers and Hammerstein by way of Julie Andrews), but not just with the sound of music.  No, mountains are alive with the Presence and Power of God.  Standing on this mountain, the lives of all of the disciples was about to change forever.  In fact the whole world was about to change forever.  Not that they knew that in that moment.  All they knew is that they heard that word: Go. 

Matthew 28:16-20 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

I’m only reading the last couple of verses in worship, so we can get right to the Go.  But here, I’ll back up and include some of the prelude to Jesus’s command.  There’s some very important information in these extra verses.  We want to get right to the crux of it, to the Go, the Great Commission.  And that’s certainly understandable.  That’s where the work is, that’s where the call is.  We are a part of a denomination that takes as its mission understanding that we are to be Making Disciples for Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.  And we say it like that, with capitals and emphases.  You can hear it in how we say it.  We say it with fervor, with passion, we say it, let’s admit it, with a bit of desperation.  We’re losing our grip on what we have been, and uncertain about what we will become.  So we cling tightly to the Great Commission for the salvation of the church, of the denomination.  And we hold it so tightly we squeeze the life out of it.  It has become our weapon, our bludgeon to force a resurrection of the churches we were once upon a time, in our memory if not in fact.  

It comes down, I believe, to how we hear the word Go.  All authority has been given to me, says Jesus, to drive His point home.  To sear it into their souls, so that they would bow to the King, and scuttle out of the mountainous throne room ready to do His bidding by hook or by crook.  Go.  Make disciples!  Whether they want to be made or not.  Baptize them, even if you have to hold them under the water until they stop squirming, get them in, get them done.  Then teach them to obey.  Obey.  Put them in their place.  Under the thumb, under the heel.  Make them good, make them pure, make them right when all they seem to want is wrong.  Get ‘er done!

You’re squirming as you read those words, aren’t you?  I hope so.  I was squirming as I wrote them.  But the truth is that is the attitude of many in the faith historically and today.  The Great Commission is license to hate, to wield the sword, to put down, look down, come down on those who don’t measure up.  Go, run over the world until you’ve made it into the image that is palatable to Me!  And if some get hurt in the process, well, better that than to miss the urgency of the call to Go.  It’s in there, they say.  That steel, that iron, don’t mess with God.  All authority has been given to me.  There is no other way.  So, you’d better shape up.  Get in line.  And if you don’t have the right credentials, we don’t want you, we won’t let you in.  Go.

Matthew says, with what sounds like a certain amount of sad honesty, that it was eleven disciples that gathered on that mountain.  Did you notice.  Maybe he hoped you wouldn’t.  Eleven.  They were broken.  Incomplete.  One of them turned, betrayed them, threw it all back in their faces and pushed to make something happen that wasn’t going to happen, or pulled down the curtains to reveal the smoke and mirrors of the whole enterprise.  At least that must have been what he thought.  Oh, I know, John says it was the enemy.  That he was infected, diseased.  Can’t blame him, he was a cancer that was cut out.  Let’s point the finger and let him take the blame.  It absolves us.  Our betrayal can remain hidden that way.  Our weaknesses, our failings pale before his.  

But Matthew doesn’t seem interested in blame, just in truth.  Eleven disciples gathered on that mountain.  Carrying their wounds, their failures, their disappointment and their fears.  Even when Jesus appeared, he says, that they worshiped but some doubted.  Really?  The resurrected Christ, stood before them, about to ascend into heaven and take His place at the right hand of Almighty God.  And some doubted?  Still?  On the mountain?

We aren’t told what they doubted.  Him?  Themselves?  The mission that was about to be handed to them like a hot coal from a fire?  All the above or something else entirely.  Who knows?  We don’t.  Except that we do.  Because we have them too.  Those doubts.  That sense of inadequacy.  That feeling that maybe we shouldn’t force someone else to believe what isn’t within them to believe.  That maybe we should just keep it to ourselves, this faith thing.  Keep it quiet, don’t make waves, don’t disturb the neighbors.  Live and let live.  That’s a better motto.  Better than Go anyway.

But then, maybe we’ve got the tone wrong.  Maybe it isn’t about triumphalism.  But about joy.  Not about being right, but about being whole.  Maybe Jesus meant that all that happen has just shown that His way, His life, His parabolic teaching was indeed a better way to be, and that if we were thinking right we couldn’t keep it to ourselves if we tried.  It will leak out of us as we live in the world as fully alive human beings.  So, says Jesus, live intentionally.  Live outwardly.   When He says “make disciples” he doesn’t imagine a anvil upon which we pound them into shape.  Instead, He imagines a relationship.  He says, Go spend time with people, value them, learn from them, know them, help them, tell them what makes you the fully alive person that you are.  It isn’t a course you take and get a diploma, it’s a way of living that we are always growing into.  Make disciples as you are being made into a disciple.  

Baptize them.  That sounds formal, ritual, joining up, signing on the line, right?  Well, sure.  But maybe more.  Baptism means cleansing.  Washing.  Maybe he meant less of a rite of the church and more of a process of being made clean, peeling off the understandings of a self-centered culture, scraping away the stuff centric life, and immersing yourself in the Creator God, the Redeemer Christ and the Sustainer Spirit.  Give them something else, Jesus was saying, to live by, to be defined by.  Give them Me, He said with that trademark thousand watt smile.  And teach.  Oh yes.  Teach them obedience.  Not by breaking their will, though, not by beatings and repetitions, but by passion and joy and encouragement.   

Go, He said, to them and to us.  Go.  And trust that He knows how hard that is.  That to Go forward is to leave something behind.  That to accept the call to Go is to live with uncertainty and a sense of what if and why not.  It is to embrace the goodness of God in spite of those doubts.  Trusting that new place, the new world is a mountain of potential and power and the Presence of God.  And maybe the real call is to live into Go rather than to jump and run to meet some deadline, some quota.  Having known failure, Go is harder to hear.  Harder, but not impossible. Because with God all things are possible.  Even Go.


Friday, October 27, 2017

Treasuring the Treasure

I’m on the road again this weekend.  Heading back to Fort Wayne to participate in a wedding.  One of those grand celebrations of life and love and covenant and commitment.  Though I trust these friends and this family to do a good job of keeping things in perspective, weddings are often over the top in terms of expense and glitz and indulgence and all out craziness.  Luckily most of it is reserved for the reception and the weddings themselves are quieter and simpler affairs.  But the stops are all pulled out for the reception, and for getting to the reception.  Which seems backward to me.

I’m just helping to preside on this one, but the bride and her family are friends of ours and I was honored to be asked.  But the groom’s father is a pastor and he has the central role.  If I was preaching at this wedding, however, I would probably want to talk about the treasure.  It’s my favorite wedding sermon.  It’s from Matthew 13, a parable that Jesus tells, hoping to help us grasp this kingdom of heaven thing, which is frankly beyond us.  But He keeps trying, keeps giving us glimpses and hints and pointers.  And we think we get it, but then realize we don’t.  We catch a glimpse of it, out of the corner of our eyes, but when we try to focus on it, when we try to figure it out, it escapes us again.  So a treasure, He says, a treasure we stumble upon.  And then give up everything to have it.  Everything else.  Everything that keeps us from that treasure.  Which is why I like it for a wedding sermon.  Where better can we talk about treasuring, and about giving up everything for the treasure? 

We are not getting married, however.  We are continuing our journey along our discipleship path.  We began with Connect, we reflected on Serve, we listened to Grow and now we’re dwelling on Give.  Again.  As if it were important.  More important than the others?  No, certainly not.  All are equally important.  But maybe this is the one we struggle with the most.  Maybe this is the one we resist the most.  So, we need to spend a little more time with Give.  And with treasures.  But here’s our question: what treasures do we seek?  Is the hidden treasure something we can hold in our hands?  Is it stuff, even good stuff, helpful stuff, stuff we can use, but still stuff?  Or ... what?

Matthew 6:19-21 19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

For all that Jesus seems bothered by stuff, he is in favor of treasures.  Did you notice?  It’s not, stay away from treasure, it’s bad for your health.  No, treasuring is ok.  It’s what we choose to treasure, that’s the issue.  There are some treasures that aren’t worth storing up.  Or piling up.  Or tucking into the attic so that when you dig it out you say with a sigh, what were we thinking keeping this?  The stuff around here just wears out, gets stained and unwearable, it rusts.  Rusts? What did they have that rusted in Jesus’ day?  Well, the word is “brosis” in Greek.  It often refers to food that gets eaten.  Consumed.  Used up.  Worn away until you don’t even recognize it any more.

No, apparently there is treasure and there is treasure.  Some treasure is worth treasuring, some just fit for the junk heap.  How do you know?  How can you tell the difference?  How do we know we are saving the right things?  Treasuring the right things?

Well, some say it is all about the tally sheet.  You’ve got to pile up a good score in heaven.  Every act of service is another star in your crown.  And our goal is to get lots of stars, lots of jewels.  Not, to be sure, to earn our place in heaven.  That comes by the grace of God.  No, this is about the furnishings.  A better mansion, plush carpets, bigger windows, more floors.  They’re building us a dwelling place out of the materials we send up from here.  Some say.
I’m not convinced, frankly.  Stuff is stuff.  It seems like if Jesus was against too much stuff here he would be against too much stuff there.  Don’t you think?  So, it doesn’t sound like the treasures Jesus wants us to treasure is more stuff, divine or otherwise.

What if our math is wrong.  What if it isn’t do this to get that?  What if the treasure isn’t the end product, the reward or the payment for our acts?  What if it is the act itself?  Not the result of our action but the action.  What if the treasure is not something we can hold in our hands but something we do with our hands?
In other passages when Jesus shares this secret, he tells someone, the rich young man, “sell everything and give the money to the poor and you’ll have treasure in heaven.”  We think, we get something, when we get to heaven there will be something there because we’ve done this great thing.  Maybe not.  He says “do this and you will have.”  Go and sell and you will have your treasure.  In the selling and giving.  That’s the treasure.  That’s the gift.  That’s the blessing.  The doing.  The giving.  

Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.  Live your life in such a way that you know the blessing every day.  Live your life so that you are treasuring what lasts into eternity.  That’s what Jesus is trying to point out to us.  Some treasure is eaten away, and some treasure lasts and nothing in this world can take it away.  An act of kindness lives forever.  Love lived out lasts forever.  Goodness outlasts bitterness.  Joy endures while despair fades.  An act of generosity is treasured into eternity.

Maybe that’s what Malachi meant.  Remember him?  Old Testament guy.  The last word in fact.  The final book.  Matthew is the first book of the New Testament, Malachi is the last book of the Old.  He talked about giving.  Went on a bit of a rant, really.  Says when you don’t give, you’re robbing God.  It’s all God’s anyway, when you keep it to yourself, you hoarder, you’re robbing God.  He wags that bony, prophetic finger with some passion.  He scowls, he spits, he nearly swears, he’s so worked up.  Read it for yourself, halfway through chapter three.  He starts by saying a reckoning is coming, a messenger of God bringing fire, bringing soap.  This messenger is going to burn you clean, going to wash you raw.  Because, he says, you’re robbing God.  But then he comes out with this little tidbit, right in the middle of his rant:

Malachi 3:10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.

Overflowing blessing.  We get stuff?  We God robbers?  That’s how so many have interpreted it.  God will fill your pockets, your storehouses, your room of requirement.  Right?  Maybe.  But then maybe not.  Maybe it isn’t stuff.  Maybe it is the blessing of giving.  Maybe it is the joy of service, of surrender.  Maybe the blessings that overflow are like treasures in heaven, the relationships, the covenants, the love shared that fills us up so that we can’t hold any more.  Maybe the more we let go of stuff, the more we know blessings.  God’s blessings, overflowing over us, into us.  

Yeah, it’s scary to cast off the stuff that defined a life, or seemed to anyway.  That is a loss to be sure.  But what cannot be lost are all the moments we’ve treasured together, the lives that we’ve lived, the experiences we’ve shared.  Even when we forget them, and I suspect we will, they will be ours in eternity.  When we meet we will remember and be remembered.  And what greater treasure can there be than that?

So join me in wishing Kali and Jonathan well this weekend.  They found a treasure that they will give everything to possess.  May we all be so blessed. 


Friday, October 20, 2017

Rendering the Ministry

One of the things I’ve discovered recently is how much we depend on the ministry team around here.  Our staff is somewhat depleted because of vacations and maternity leave.  The hard truth is we’re getting everything done that needs to be done, but there isn’t any flair to it.  Flair?  No, more like style.  Or more like making sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed.  We’re getting the bare bones done, but there is plenty left undone. And there are certainly things falling through the cracks that others on the team would have caught easily.  We missed a surgery call and a visitation opportunity.  And just this morning I went to staff prayers at the usual time and it was just me.  

The staff gathers every morning at 8:30am, just before things get really started - though stuff starts around here a lot earlier than that, I must say.  What with the preschool opening and part of the staff being morning people, we’re interrupting the day to stop at 8:30am.  Me, I’m just getting here by then.  Call me at midnight or even after and I’ll be ready to go.  But morning? ... Anyway, I love that I came into a staff that already functions well, and one sign is that we gather in the morning for prayer together.  And we’re never rushed with it, as least most of us.  We chat about all kinds of things.  It’s really a check in meeting, seeing what’s on the schedule and what’s going on that we’re aware of and a “how you doin’” meeting too.  But one of those we check in with is God.  We pray for the work of the day, for the state of the world, for the congregation in all it’s various needs and manifestations for the day.  I love it, frankly.  Love the feeling that we’re a team and God’s an active part of the team, not the silent partner we rarely hear from.  

Still it was a bit lonely this morning.  I went and sat in the worship center, like we do each day, and I listened.  And I thought.  And I prayed.  And part of what I prayed is how grateful I am that I’m not in this alone.  That there are other hearts at work here, that there are other minds making plans and arranging ministry, that there are other souls listening to God and holding up the congregation and the wider community too.  It is amazing to me how much better all kinds of things go when we share the load, or share the work and the joys both.  We live in an individualized culture, where the focus is way too much on me and my needs and my gifts and my choices.  And yet we all know that in community is a much more effective, productive, enjoyable way to live and work.  It is certainly the only way to do ministry.

2 Corinthians 9:6-12  The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 9 As it is written, "He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." 10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; 12 for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.

It’s the “rendering of this ministry” that we’re focusing on this weekend here at Southport.  We’re venturing into the murky corners of the discipleship path.  Murky?  Yeah, you know, that Give word.  Ah.  We’re good with Connect - it sounds fun and social and uplifting.  Serve sounds useful and productive.  Grow sounds beneficial and enhancing of mind and spirit.  Even Go sounds energizing and enthusiastic.  But Give?  Give sounds ... necessary, of course.  And ... administrative, and ... painful.  Give til it hurts.  We’ve heard that.  We avoid that, but we’ve heard it.  Giving is something we avoid.  Here’s a little social experiment for you – pay attention to the commercials you see over the course of a week.  How many times do you see someone handing over money to pay for the items that they are receiving?  Advertisers avoid that part of the transaction.  And if they do have talk about cost, they’ll emphasize how little it is, or how much you’ll save, or how it’s less than it used to be.  We don’t like to talk about paying, about giving.  We’re a receiving oriented culture.  Not a giving one.  

Oh, I know there is all kinds of evidence to the contrary, that we are willing to give, for a crisis.  For a one off.  Floods that come, hurricanes that blow, fires that burn, families that grieve, we’ll jump up and be willing to give for that.  And we should.  And let’s celebrate our generosity in the moment.  That hearts can be stirred and hands can reach out and pockets emptied in the moment.  Praise God we are still aware enough to do that.

But Give on our discipleship path is not a one off, not a heartfelt response to a obvious need.  Instead it is a way of life.  A generosity of Spirit that allows us to hold our possessions as though they were in trust from another.  To hold even our own lives as though they were the property of a Presence beyond us.  Giving includes, of course, more than simply money.  There is the giving of time and talent, the giving of labor and companionship.  There is the giving of attention.  In our attention deficit world, giving attention to someone is a precious gift.  Give includes more than just money.  Though it also includes money.

Paul was taking a collection.  Doing a little fund-raising as he ran around setting up faith communities.  The collection was for the “mother church” back in Jerusalem, which had fallen on tough times and was needing support from the younger and stronger communities in the wider world.  Paul believed in this cause, and we could psychoanalyze his reasons for it - the Jerusalem council had given him heck for his crazy ideas about spreading the faith and including those formerly thought unworthy of this gift.  So maybe he was trying to show the validity of his calling by sending back support to the home church.  Maybe he was showing they were wrong and his methods are more productive than theirs.  Who knows?  But he used all the fund-raising tricks to get the new churches to pay up.  Don’t let someone else’s generosity show up yours, he told them.  He played on their emotions about the source of their new found faith being birthed in the mother church.  In this letter he is telling them that their first efforts at raising the funds in I Corinthians wasn’t enough, thus II Corinthians!  Like the pastors that lock the sanctuary doors and take up a second offering.  No one is leaving until we get enough!

He tells them that they are already behind in the giving department.  No, not the other churches that are doing more, giving more.  But the God who calls them to give, has already out-given them.  Out-given all of us, we’re behind before we’ve even started.  We’re in debt before we get our wallets out.  But, and this is the blessing in this, we don’t give out of a sense of duty and obligation.  We give willingly, we give cheerfully.  Cheerfully?  Is such a thing possible?

Well, yes of course, say some.  Because in giving we get.  You will be enriched in every way, writes Paul, for your great generosity.  Enriched in every way.  Of all the things that Paul says that potentially and can be often are taken the wrong way, this is one of the worst.  If I was Paul’s editor I would have sent this bit back for a rewrite.  “You know, Paul” I would say in my best editorial voice, “you say this and folks are going to come up with the most outlandish interpretations of the phrase.”  “Outlandish?” Paul would ask scratching his bald head, “what you mean outlandish?”  “Well, they’re going to say that you meant if folks send in their hard earned cash, then God would make money miraculously appear!  They will say that God wants you to be rich, and that if you’re poor it’s because your life isn’t right with God.  They will send junk through the mail to get people to give and they’ll put that junk in their wallets or on their mantles or hold it in their hot little hands and say the Jesus prayer and zip zap money will appear like magic.  That’s what they’ll say.”  And Paul would stand with his mouth hanging open and say, “no way would any one stoop to that kind of level.”  Oh yes they would, I’d reply.  And he’d say “give me an eraser.” 

We give cheerfully because we are participating in something bigger than ourselves.  We are joining in a fellowship that ripples out and changes the world in which we live.  We are rendering the ministry that cares for the saints and gives glory to God.  We are becoming a part of the team.  A world wide team, that understands we need each other in order to do the ministry before us.  Giving reminds us that all that we have is a gift from God and life itself is a gift to be given away as a way to lift up others and glorify God.  

Give is an essential part of the path of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.  And part of what I intend to give more of is gratitude for those who work alongside me in ministry.  Should they ever come back.  Please let them come back! 


Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Stones Are Alive

Sounds like a tag line to a really bad horror movie, doesn’t it?  The stones are alive!!  Oh no!!  Run!!!  Aaaaaa ... ahem.  Sorry about that.  It’s been a odd day.  And one too many Halloween commercials, perhaps.  But odd because I’ve been at UIndy all day in the Course of Study.  The Course of Study is the process by which local preachers complete their requirements for service as clergy in our denomination.  Our newly appointed Associate Pastor Doug Shinkle is taking a course in the Course of Study.  So, it is a good thing, a useful thing, and I am honored to be a part of the process.  But it throws off my Saturday.  Just saying.  But even more odd for me is that this is a Saturday before a Sunday that I am not preaching.  Talk about really throwing off a Saturday!  I’ve been in this pattern for over 35 years, and the Saturdays I’m not gearing up to preach far out number the ones where I’m not.  So I hardly know what to do with myself.

Just a warning, some weeks when I am not preaching I also don’t do this bible study, but I usually try to warn folks so that they aren’t expecting it, or wondering if I got hit by a bus or something.  Since I didn’t warn you, I felt like I should do something in this space.  Speaking of warnings, next week La Donna and I are heading to Chesterton on a Saturday to teach a UMW session on the Bible and Human Sexuality.  Not sure whether I’ll be back to do this or not.  The following week we are heading back to Fort Wayne to participate in a wedding for some dear friends that I promised to do before I left town this summer.  Again, not sure whether you’ll find this gem in your inbox or not.  Consider yourself warned! 

You’d think I would be able to change my pattern.  To not have to wait until Saturday to write this bible study.  You’d think since my preaching weekend now starts on Thursday that I would be wanting to do this earlier and not wait for the old system.  I’ve already preached the message once before I write, it only makes sense to do it sooner.  I know all that.  I’ve had the debate in my head about it.  But it just doesn’t work.  I’m stuck in my rut of long time thinking.  And it’s hard to break out.  It’s hard to change something you’ve done for at least 14 years.  Even if it doesn’t quite fit the new reality.  The new wineskin, you might say.

No, that’s not it.  We’re not in Matthew or Luke.  We’re tucked away in the back of the New Testament.  Peter.  You remember him, don’t you.  The one who got it right, at least one time.  The one who’s failures were predictable.  The one who had to learn how to live his life all over again, before he gave it away.  That Peter.  Remember?

1 Peter 2:2-10 Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation– 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God's sight, and 5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture: "See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." 7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner," 8 and "A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

We’re still on our Discipleship Path – Connect, Grow, Service, Give, Go.  We’re picking up Grow this week.  Which implies change.  Which calls for development.  Which isn’t satisfied with status quo but wants more.  From milk to ... um ... stone.  Um, OK, maybe Peter isn’t that good with metaphors.  He should have talked about milk as he started and then building to meat.  That would have been better.  But given all the struggle that the early church had with meat, I mean the clean and unclean controversy - sure Peter had a vision and bacon is now good (thank you Jesus) - but it still makes him uneasy; and then there’s the meat sacrificed to idols thing that Paul struggles with so much.  It’s no wonder that he saw the slippery slope he was on and started with food, but then jumped to stone masonry.  

Long for spiritual milk then come to the living stone.  And why living stones?  Wouldn’t stones that stay put be better?  Wouldn’t stones that are inert be better for building?  You don’t want your stone house to be all wobbly.  Or worse yet, for the stones to come to life and wander about.  Hardly a secure construction pattern, don’t you think.

Well, that’s why riding metaphors too long gets you into trouble.  He’s not giving advice to stone masons, he is helping to build the church.  He’s bought into this faith thing.  God doesn’t want dead weight holding down the pew, God wants living stones who will live and move and grow in their faith.  He doesn’t just want a stone who will come and hold up their corner and that’s it.  He wants a stone that will look for other places to shore up the walls, will learn other methods for framing doorways and paving paths, will discover more opportunities to be a trail marker or respite giver.  The uses of a stone, a living stone are beyond counting.  That’s who Christ is calling for, that’s who Christ was.

A stumbling block.  Now that’s something all good construction grade granite needs to aspire to, am I right?  Sure, I want to be the one that stubs toes and bruises knees.  Especially when they deserve it.  At least that’s what Peter seems to imply.  They stumble because they disobey.  And they deserved it.  Right?  They were just bad, says Peter.  We’re better.  We’re royal.  We’re part of God’s light show.  We’re the ones who have received mercy.  Even though we hadn’t before.  Even though we were just bad.  Even though we deserved it.  Even though .... Hmmm.

What if Jesus didn’t come to be a stumbling block?  But instead came to be a stone bridge that leads us from where we are to where we could be, where we’re called to be.  Because people are clumsy, and sometimes don’t want to move, but get satisfied with ruts, the effect is that we stumble.  A better way is before us, and we stumble because it might be better, but it definitely is different.  And maybe destined means that as long as we follow our own inclinations we’re sunk, or limping with bruised and bloody toes.  But when we receive the mercy of living differently, once we pledge allegiance to the king and not to the monuments of our own making - however good they may be or seem - then we learn to walk differently.  

And Peter says, with, I believe, a certain amount of surprise and relief, that Christ chooses to let us be a part of the plan, a part of the structure to build a better kingdom.  Come and be built.  Come and be alive and yet participate in something bigger than just yourself.  Come and grow into something more.  More than we are.  More than we imagined.  To be a priest is to be a go between.  We can help usher someone else into a new way of living.  We are privileged to partner with the king - that’s why we’re royal priests, not because we are special, but because He is special.  We’re just like the ones stubbing their toes and knocking their knees.  We aren’t better than them, we’re just being used for a greater cause than we even knew was out there.  It is His mercy that makes us worthy of being a living stone.

And the more we can learn about what that means, the more effective and the more complete we will be.  The more alive we will be.  The more we are willing to set aside our own preferences and patterns for the service of the King, the more we will grow as living stones.

So ... maybe look for this earlier next week?  Maybe.  I’m still growing.  What about you?


Saturday, October 7, 2017

By Every Wind

Another hurricane?  Nate it’s called.  Having blown through the Yucatan peninsula causing some damage and death, now menacing off the gulf coast moving toward New Orleans.  I know there are those who doubt, who speak of cycles and patterns, but the idea that our lifestyle hasn’t had an impact on the world around us seems harder to deny day by day.  By catastrophic event. By the winds that blow with unrelenting power and regularity.

I got an email from my brother today, reporting on a visit to dad to the rest of us.  But also letting us know that he won’t be in touch for a while.  He’s heading to Redbird Mission in Kentucky with a church group to work for a while, and then from there he is going to Texas to help with the clean up for a week or longer if he can stay, he says.  I don’t know his opinion on climate change, I’ve never asked.  He might have one.  But then he might not.  He does, however, see a need and he rolls up his sleeves to help.  He doesn’t ask who made the mess, who caused the problem, he just helps clean up.

We’re leap-frogging around our discipleship path (Connect – Grow – Serve – Give – Go) and landing on Serve this week.  We did it for reasons.  Trust us.  But serve.  Yeah, kind of a no-brainer really.  No one questions whether we ought to serve.  Everyone knows that.  It goes with the territory.  My first inclination was to make this the shortest bible study / sermon ever: Just do it!  The Nike approach.  Just do it.  We’d all nod and say, yeah, we know that.  Gotta serve somebody.  Even Bob Dylan knows that.  “Well it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, / But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”  Thanks Bob, we got it.

At least the concept and on occasion the reality of service.  We’ll do it.  Sometimes with enthusiasm, sometimes with a sigh and a roll of the eyes.  Like our mom told us to clean our room or take out the trash when we’re on level 34 of Destiny 2.  “All right, all right, get off my back, will ya?”  But we’ll do it.  And most of the time we’re better than that, right?  Most of the time we see a purpose and even feel good that we are able to help.  Which is an extra little bonus, we don’t do it for that.  We don’t serve for the high we get from serving.  But it is there. Sometimes profoundly so.  It’s a bonus, gravy, the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae of service.  

So then, why?  I mean, really, why do we do it, this service thing.  Because we’re told to?  Well, yeah, in part.  It comes with the territory.  It’s part of the package.  Just do it.  Quit analyzing everything, will ya?  Except that’s what we do.  Well, I do anyway.  I keep asking.  I was an early member of generation why.  Why serve?  

Ephesians 4:11-16 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.

Commentators tell us this is one of the most theologically dense passages of Paul’s writing.  As if we needed to be told that.  We can read after all.  But this is a transition chapter, which makes it even more complex.  The first part of the letter to the Ephesians is a theological explanation of what it means to be claimed by Christ. It is a foundational piece designed to give us handles on our faith.  The latter part of the letter is about living it out, designed to be practical information about how to live as a follower, or as Paul says at the beginning of chapter four, how to live a life worthy of the call.

So, these verses were designed to help us answer the why question.  Why do we do what we do?  Why do we serve in Jesus name?  And there are basically two answers in these verses.  First of all, we’re made that way.  There is some debate as to whether this is made from birth or made at our baptism.  The Spirit gives gifts, Paul tells us in more than one place.  Do we always have them and sometimes use them and sometimes not and only really understand when we are gathered into the Christian faith and told about spiritual gifts? Or do we receive something when we say yes to Jesus, when we claim the faith are we gifted with inclination and abilities that are then shaped by living in community and following our Lord?  Is it something latent in us, or a new gifting?  And the answer is ... yes!  Or, I dunno, maybe both, maybe one.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s just a given that you are gifted by the Spirit for something.  And Paul wants to help you find out what it is.

One way to look at the list in this passage is to identify various offices of the church.  This is the traditional understanding of what Paul was trying to do, set up a structure, even a hierarchy to those who would have leadership in the church.  And this theory says that the power and authority starts at the beginning with Apostles and works it way down to the pastors and teachers who were the lowest on the totem pole.  And maybe that is how it did work out in practice.  But it isn’t the only way to read these words.  

It could be instead that Paul was talking about inclinations, about attributes that church needed in order to fulfill the mission of going into all the world to make disciples.  Offices and organization, yes, certainly.  But maybe more importantly these were the types of servants that the church needed.  An apostle is one who is sent, someone willing to go where the need is greatest, to meet folks where they are instead of always asking them to come to us.  An apostle carries the message of hope with them, the credential of the church to establish a new outpost, a new beachhead on the campaign to spread the good news.  An apostle will go.  

A prophet can see the big picture.  Can discern truth in difficult situations.  And can tell us the consequences of our actions.  It isn’t about telling the future, except like your mom used to.  She would say “you keep doing that, here’s what going to happen!”  That’s a prophet.  A prophet loves you enough to tell you the truth.  That’s what the Spirit has gifted some to do, says Paul, there are those who will tell the truth, even when it is hard, even when it doesn’t make friends, even when it isn’t what anyone wants to hear.  Truth-tellers are hard to come by these days.  When this news doesn’t fit our news we cry fake news, when it just might be the truth.  A prophet will tell you the truth.

Some are called to be evangelists.  I’m sorry.  Sorry for them.  Sorry that we’ve so polluted that word that it isn’t even useful any more.  That climate has changed for sure, and it is definitely a result of our actions.  An evangelist is one who wants you to know the good news.  What’s you to know the hope that is within you.  The forgiveness that is offered you.  Wants you to know that the brokenness you’ve gotten used to because you’re being told that just is the way it is, isn’t all there is to life.  To your life or the life of the world.  An evangelist is an angel.  Really.  It’s a Greek word eu-aggelionEu is a positive prefix.  It means good.  Ooooh!  That’s good!  Aggelion - pronounced angelion, means message or messenger.  An angel is a messenger of God, they don’t speak for themselves but for the One who sends them.  They don’t come to condemn, but to redeem.  To give hope.  To lift up.  We all need more angels in our life.  An evangelist brings good news.

A pastor is one who cares for us, as broken as we are, is more concerned about our wounds than our theology, more concerned about our scars than our doctrine.  A pastor meets us where we are and loves us.  And a teacher then helps us become more than we are.  That’s why these two work together.  Pastors and teachers are listed together because it is a tag team.  We need more than just soothed, we need healed and made stronger.  We need more than just the surgeon, we need the therapist who will help us walk again.  We need pastors and teachers who care and lead.

That’s one, one reason for service, because we are made to do these things.  But the other is to build up the body.  Not the individual body, but the body of the church, build up the family, create community.  Our service may seem small and specific, but in fact all service in the name of Jesus is bigger than we can see.  It ripples, it transforms, it welcomes and invited.  When you help another, I am made stronger, when I serve in Jesus name you are built up, even if you aren’t there.  We are build up, made more mature by service, what we do and what we receive.  We are equipped with withstand the winds that blow, to endure the disappointments and deceptions.  We are made stronger, more whole.  And being stronger we can serve more.  Just do it.  You need it.  We need it.  Thanks bro. 


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Unless You Abide

I’m just back from a luncheon at my alma mater.  That’s an odd title, don’t you think?  Alma mater?  We use it for the school from which we graduated.  But it means “old mother”!  I’m sure there is a fascinating historical story as to where that name came from.  Some connection to an institution of higher learning that someone just fell in love with.  “She made me who I am today!”  There was probably a statement like that somewhere.  And there is truth to that.  I am who I am because of the university I attended all those years ago. 

But then, my alma mater isn’t the only shaper of my life.  I have, it must be said, a number of old mothers.  Other institutions that have made me who I am.  Not just institutions.  Events, certainly, circumstances and choices made, decisions and actions whether considered or spur of the moment also are a part of the make up of the person I am.  People, relationships, of course, those old mothers and fathers along the way who gave me advice, or good (or even bad) examples.  Old mothers and young ones too, fathers and brothers, intimate soul friends and casual acquaintances who helped make me what I am and am becoming.  It would be hard to name them all, hard to recall all those who touched me, informed me, taught me, loved me.  Hard to tell who did what, where they connected and how long it has been since our lives had intersected.  We weave in and out of people and places and times and are indeed a compilation of all of it, a conglomeration of influences, of roads taken and doors closed.  It’s hard to describe it, the tapestry of our lives, the sustaining and life-giving vine from which we grow and produce the fruit that we sometimes, in our forgetfulness, take credit for ourselves.  But a vine seems as good as any metaphor.  At least that’s what Jesus thought, when He set about trying to describe life to His followers during that profoundly deep conversation He had tucked away in an upper room in the midst of a busy city on the night before all hell broke loose in the world.

John 15:4-5 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

That’s what He said about vines and about life – no, about Life – on that night.  Well, He said more than that of course.  A lot more about pruning and harvesting, about glory and commandments, about love and about joy.  Lots more, but this will suffice for us today.  We are starting a new preaching series at Southport this weekend.  We’re taking a look at what we call our “discipleship path.”  We know that it is the mission of the church to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  But how does one become a disciple?  What route does one take?  What are the markers along the path? 

Our path includes these signs – Connect, Grow, Serve, Give and Go.  Over the next few weeks we’ll be exploring each of these to help us understand what is involved in the process.  One thing we’re clear about is that this isn’t a linear process.  You don’t start with step one and then move to step two and so on.  We find our contact points at different places and move through one and then another and sometimes back again.  We don’t finish growing, for example, before we start serving, and we certainly won’t wait to give until we’ve traversed through three other stages.  These are identifiers, markers on the road, not to see how far we’ve gone but to make sure we are still on the path.

Jesus wanted to be sure that we stayed on the path.  Things were about to change.  What they had gotten used to over the past few years of excitement and mind-blowing understandings, was all about the change yet again.  The One they had come to rely on, to follow in wonder and fascination, like a mother hen with her chicks, like an alma mater, would now no longer be present in the flesh.  They would learn, we are learning to navigate by the Spirit.  It was hard enough to keep up with Him as He strode around turning the world upside down, redefining everything they thought they knew.  But now they were going to have to walk by an inner light.  By His teachings, by His Word, His example, by their shaky memories of Him, and by this thing called Spirit.  They weren’t sure they were ready for it, to be honest.  Just like we aren’t so sure ourselves.  And, frankly, He wasn’t sure they were ready either.  So, John says, He sat them down for an all night study session just before the final.  And now, having worn them out with words and Word, He says abide. 

Abide in Me, and I’ll abide in you.  Actually, He said I’ll abide in all y’all.  It was a plural you.  Which means that not only was He saying stay with Me, He was saying stay together.  You’ll need each other.  You’ll need more help than you think you need.  You can’t do this on your own.  Abide in me as I abide in all y’all.  One might have a assurance of connection that others need any given moment.  Lean on each other, He says, as the Spirit guides and directs and informs and shapes.  Be bound together.  Keep one another on the path.

Connect on our discipleship path is about the recognition that we first of all need to abide in Him.  Abide, what does that mean exactly?  It’s not a word we use all that much these days.  Someone shows up at your door and says, I’ve come to abide, we’re likely to think they’re a little goofy.  Abide in Me.  It is more than just hanging out, more than just spending time together.  When Jesus asks us to abide in Him, he’s asking us to invest in Him, in His Word, in His teaching, in His life.  He’s asking us to put our lives in His life.  To trust in Him.  To place our bets that His guide to life is the only one that works, the only one that brings us the joy we seek, the life we long for, the hope we can live by.  Abide.

How will we know that we’re abiding?  And not just fooling ourselves?  Not just giving lip service or excuses or good intentions, but real honest to goodness abiding?  The fruit, that’s how you know, you begin to bear fruit.  So, what?  We do stuff?  Abiding in Jesus and we do stuff?  Good stuff, we presume, helpful stuff, stuff that gets you noticed, gets recognized, volunteer of the year, that sort of thing.  Right?  Well, maybe, could be.  But no, not really.  It’s not really about the stuff you do, though that’s great, and we’ll talk about service more next week.  But fruit bearing has more to do with impact than with effort.  It has to do with ripples, with transformation.  Ah, I see, you’re thinking.  Ripples.  Right.  Transformation. OK, no, I don’t see at all.

The fruit that Jesus wants us to bear has to do with changed lives.  We’ll know we are abiding in Him and He in us when lives begin to change around us.  Starting with our own.  And then ripple out to influence others around us, as we plant seeds and offer invitations.  The reality is we may never see it.  Life change takes time.  But that’s the life to which we are called.  To invest ourselves in changing lives. 

I am grateful for all the alma maters in my life, who invested time and effort and energy in me.  And I’m still in process!  I sat on the lawn of next to Good Hall on the campus of the University of Indianapolis reflecting on how it has changed since I was student there.  And realizing I had probably changed that much or more in the same time.  I have to be honest, I wasn’t there for me, though.  I was an add on, a plus one this time.  La Donna, when she was a student at Indiana Central University (now UIndy) wrote a paper on the architectural history of Good Hall.  She even recommended some work that needed to be done on the building.  Well now not quite forty years later, they are working on the building. Restoring the past and planning for the future, they call it.  And she was invited as a special guest because of the work she did.  And I got to tag along and get lunch out of it. 

Did she know back in 1980 the impact she was going to have on our alma mater?  Maybe, I don’t know.  She’s signed up for changing lives too.  Trust me, I know this.  Sometimes it takes a while. 

It’s funny to be back in the neighborhood of that school.  We had lots of conversations with various folks, and are looking for new and renewed connections to make there.  Maybe to give back as those who have received.  Or maybe to just abide for a while.  Who knows what fruit might grow?