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Sep 19 21

Where do the wars among you come from?

by davesandel

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 19, 2021                     (today’s lectionary)

Where do the wars among you come from?

Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder.

The “Half-Way Tree, still standing south of Brodhead, WI just north of the Illinois border, is a big bur oak standing at the midway point of an old Indian trail, which is the shortest walking route between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River.

The spot is accurate. Paced off, surveyed in 1882, and visible for all to see on Google Maps, that spot marks a middle ground more easily found by surveyors of the earth than of the mind. I need that midpoint more and more in my life – in my relationships, my theology, my church … everywhere and in everything. When I get carried away onto one side or another, I make critical, unnecessary judgments with more or less (mostly less) self-awareness, and suddenly I’m unhappy. Shut down inside, argumentative, ugly. I feel like I might be ready to start a war.

About all I have to fight with is a BB gun. I had a slingshot when I was a kid, and Dad shot starlings out of the trees now and then with a shotgun. We didn’t do much hunting. Any hunting, that I remember. I was a reader, not a shooter.

My BB gun is for shooting at squirrels in our Urbana backyard who were tearing up my birdfeeders. The BBs were so slow, I could watch them hit their target or not. The gun’s still loaded up, sitting in the corner of our computer room in Illinois.

Doesn’t your conflict start in passions that make war within your members? For example, you covet what you do not possess. Your envy turns bitter, and thus you fight to get what you want. But you do not possess because you do not ask. Or more often you simply ask out of selfish jealousy, and therefore you do not receive.

Lately I’ve noticed how impatient I get when someone talks too long in a group, or even in a simple one-on-one discussion. Twice this week I wanted to just walk out of the group I was in, because I got so frustrated. (Frustrated is a more polite word for angry.) Margaret said she would pray for me, because she wants me to be a giver, not a taker in those moments. I want that too. Can’t I minister to someone rather than judging them? And don’t I do the same thing sometimes, when I get the chance? Re: the log in my own eye?

Wisdom from above is pure, and therefore peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits.

In fourth grade I fell into a wrestling match with the strongest, most popular kid in school, and I won the match. His name was David too. We were friends after that, and at a high school reunion much later on, we had a jalapeno eating contest, which he won hands down.

A year later, again after lunch, I got into an argument with an unpopular kid named Gene. A friend held his arms and I hit him in the stomach.

What on earth? Was I such a hot shot? Why did I do that, especially after lunch? I don’t remember if Gene threw up. I do remember seeing his obituary a few years ago. He had been a lawn care and maintenance guy at Lincoln Christian Seminary for decades.

Wisdom from above is constant and sincere. The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.

Those words pour hope into my heart. Show me how to cultivate peace, Lord. Reflect that peace into other lives.

Taking a child, Jesus placed her in their midst and putting his arms around her said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.”

Let me relax, Lord. Show me how to be Your kid, and be happy.

(Wisdom 2, Psalm 54, James 3, 2 Thessalonians 2, Mark 9)

(posted at www.davesandel.net)

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Sep 18 21

A Rule of life

by davesandel

Saturday, September 18, 2021                                   (today’s lectionary)

A Rule of life

A sower went out to sow his seed.

We decided to take a trip north yesterday, not to Illinois or anything, but to Georgetown, Texas, where Rachel with her blond hair took care of us at the Monument Café. Two weeks ago her hair was green, but she got tired of washing it in cold water, which was necessary to avoid the green dye running out into the sink.

The low-slung café on Austin Street with its wide windows on every wall, is fast becoming one of our favorite destinations. Where else can you get gluten free onion rings and chicken fried steak? It’s 30 minutes away with good traffic; will we make it there for gluten free buckwheat pancakes one of these mornings?

Rachel has two teenage twins, and she is surrounded in Georgetown by her mom and dad, her sister and her boyfriend. She is a happy person. You can tell she loves her work at the Monument Café.

I charge you before God, who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who gave testimony for the noble confession, to keep the commandment without stain or reproach.

Twenty-five years later, in 2002, I revisited the Havasupai Indian Reservation, this time with our son Marc. We tracked our way across the desert with the help of, I think, one sign. A herd of cattle blocked our way for a few minutes, and we took pictures. Just as in 1976, we got to the trailhead later than we planned, and it was past dark when we walked through the village of Supai toward the campground. Marc was exhausted, and I wasn’t, which surprised us both.

After three days of hiking into the village and down to the Colorado River, reading, taking an IQ test together, and mostly lounging in the blue-green water beneath the waterfalls, cool as cucumbers in the desert heat, we packed our gear at dawn and hiked back up the canyon. That fifteen miles was tough on me. A bit after noon, I finally stuck my sweaty, heated, nearly broken head over the top of the mesa, and Marc was waiting for me with a cold Coca-Cola he bought from a Native-American woman. He was a server, even way back then. I pressed the can to my forehead.

The Lord is good, and his kindness endures forever, his faithfulness to all generations.

Marc drove and we headed away from the desert toward our at least superficially civilized world, stopped at a sweet café Mr. D’z in Kingman, which is still in 2021 serving perfect burgers, grilled buns, crispy French fries and home made root beer.  Marc played his music on the jukebox. When we flew into Las Vegas we had each picked out a few CDs before we headed into the desert. That music lifted Marc (and me) when we needed lifting on that trip. It illuminated us when we needed a little deeper light.

Know that the Lord is God, and he made us. We are his people, the flock of his pasture. Come with joy into the presence of the Lord.

We found a place to clean up our exceptionally dusty car, took it back to Vegas, spent another night at the Hard Rock Hotel, and flew home.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, blessed and only ruler, King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light and whom no human being has seen or can see, TO HIM be honor and glory and eternal power.

I remembered all this yesterday, talking with Margaret and Rachel, who was born in Tucson and has made a better home here in Texas. Marc has been a server in several fine restaurants. Rachel and Marc both love talking to people. Neither of them settled for careers that offer only money. In restaurants, the people come and go, they serve them and share themselves, and their lives are rich.

A sower went out to sow his seed.

 

(1 Timothy 6, Psalm 100, Luke 8)

(posted at www.davesandel.net)

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Sep 17 21

Lay hold of eternal life

by davesandel

Friday, September 17, 2021                            (today’s lectionary)

Lay hold of eternal life

Like many prophets, preachers and healers before and after him, Jesus took no baggage for the journey. He depended on the help of those along the road, and pilgrims ever since have wanted to follow his lead.

We brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it. If we have food and clothing, we shall be content with that. For the love of money is the root of all evils.

Although I didn’t count myself as monk, preacher or prophet, I set out to hitchhike across the country, from New York City to Cleveland, Toledo, and Valparaiso … where I hesitated for awhile, long enough to rediscover my alma mater. I lived there a few months and moved to Chicago with my new girlfriend. We spent four years together.

In 1976 I left for the rest of my trip, from Chicago to San Francisco. This time I carried a small guitar in a plaid gig bag strapped onto my back pack. I headed south to St. Louis to visit my guitarist friend Jim, a dorm floor supervisor at Valpo. In the Ozarks, my family’s favorite vacation spot, I slept in a cave on Table Rock Lake and dove into the morning water. In Fayetteville, I met another guitar buddy with a band, who played much better than I did. We canoed the Current River, and I met his friend Jay, who was also heading west. Jay had a car.

Religion with contentment is a great gain.

We traveled together for three weeks and got along well. At the Lama Foundation north of Taos we built an outhouse, climbed the highest mountain in New Mexico, and spent the night up there in the clouds. We flew down a riverbed the next day and ended up a few hundred feet from the Taos Music Festival at the ski resort.

We drove west. That night we slept through a downpour on a Hopi hillside, waking up to the village’s Home Dance just beginning below us.

Jay and I camped again beside a very flat lake near the Canyon de Chelly, before driving to Grand Canyon Village and arriving at midnight. We stood beside the black yawning canyon, dizzy, seeing nothing, feeling everything.

In no way can a man redeem himself, or pay his own ransom to God. Blessed are the poor in spirit; the Kingdom of heaven is theirs.

Fifty miles driving mostly lost into the desert on a dirt road, at last we found a parking lot and path down into the canyon’s Havasupai Indian Reservation and the blue-green waters of the Supai River, deep waterfalls along a path to the Colorado. We had no desire to leave this place. We stayed several days, hiked up the 15 mile trail and got back in Jay’s car. We parted at Route 66.

Las Vegas. Los Angeles, Big Sur, San Francisco. I kept a journal, and the stories fill several hundred pages. In San Francisco I did NOT become a student of the Alexander Technique for Massage and Therapy, as I had planned. Instead, in Berkeley, I joined the Moonies.

God was throwing me from one side of his pendulum to the other, shaking me to the core. The peace that passes understanding would come later.

Do not pierce yourself with many pains. Instead, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you have been called.

(1 Timothy 6, Psalm 49, Matthew 11, Luke 8)

(posted at www.davesandel.net)

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Sep 16 21

The days are just packed

by davesandel

Thursday, September 16, 2021                                  (today’s lectionary)

Memorial of St. Cornelius, Pope and St. Cyprian, Bishop, both Martyrs

The days are just packed

Seven spices graced the carrot and pineapple bread, not including the flour, sugar and quick oats. Two year old Jasper poured one after another into the bowl. The video was turned toward him, and he looked around my arm and the bowl a few times, oogling for the camera. Such a happy guy he was, at 8:15 in the morning. We were making FOOD!

Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity. Do not neglect the gift you have.

He whisked away at the dry ingredients, while I grated three large carrots. We drained a 20 ounce can of pineapple and stirred it into the carrots. He helped break three eggs into the bowl, and we melted butter in the microwave, watched it change before our eyes!

We cut up a cup of pecans. “Eat!” he asked a few times, before he just ate without asking. He loves pecans. We spooned it into the loaf pan and decided not to look at the oven for an hour, until the bread was done. I washed the dishes, and he dried. He sat on Margaret’s lap and watched himself on the video. We waited. The smells coming from the oven were not subtle. Cardamom and ginger and cloves, pineapple and carrots, sugar and spice and everything nice.

Be diligent in these matters, be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to everyone.

I put on big gloves and pulled the beautiful carrot loaf out of the oven. It steamed golden bounty. We stirred up yogurt, maple syrup and pineapple juice for a smooth white sauce.

Attend to yourself, persevere in both tasks, for by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.

Project #1, completed. Project #2 coming up. Ten days ago I found a nice white queen-size frame for Margaret’s bed lurking outside our apartment complex trash bin. Almost all the parts were there, and the price was right – free. Two corners needed hardware. I ordered some from Amazon, but it didn’t fit at all. I looked at it awhile. I thought … can I just take this thing back outside and hope someone else will want it? I looked at it some more. For several days I found many other things to do, so I could skip over the building of the bed. Then at last I thought of something. And I could get it at Lowe’s!

How great are the works of the Lord! The works of his hands are faithful and just; sure all his precepts, reliable forever and ever, wrought in truth and equity.

I bought inside corner braces yesterday, and now the time had come. Jasper being here gave me courage. I said, “Let’s get the wood and bring it into the bedroom.” Jasper’s eyes popped. “Wood!” he said. “Wood!” he said again. He found three pieces of scrap 1x3s we had scraped up at his house, and he carried them in. I took one end of the first long bed board, and he took the other. It was heavy. Jasper made some strenuous groans. His face looked a little stricken. He held on, and we got it around the corner and into the bedroom.

“Wood!” he hollered. We got the other board. Then I filled my tool box with the tools we needed, and a few more besides (like a magnetic extension rod and a mirror on a metal stick, because he loves those tools). But actually, he was very busy arranging and rearranging his three pieces of 1×3, and deciding which hammer to use to bang on them. “Tools!” he shouted.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; prudent are all who live by it. His praise endures forever. How great are the works of the Lord!

I had bought some cool drill accessories that helped us get around corners and screw into tiny spaces. They were in a ziplock bag. “Ope!” he pleaded. “Ope!” Grandma said, “Opennnn,” Jasper. “Opennnn.” He looked up at her. “Open!” he said. We looked at him in disbelief. A breakthrough in his often-one-word vocabulary. “Eat! Wood! Tools! Ope!”

I made my pilot holes and screwed in the braces, and it all turned out fine. While Jasper helped Grandma strip sweet corn and cook it for lunch, I tried out the bed, which was strong and firm and fully packed. No sign of it collapsing on the floor. Margaret and Jasper slept soundly at naptime, and it stood the test.

Come to me, all you who labor and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

We ate the carrot bread for snack, along with watermelon, and sent some home with Mommy and Miles for dinner. We got both my projects done. I was happy. We were all very happy.

As the Tomitas were leaving, Jasper saw his fishing pole hooked on the inside of the closet door. We got it down, just for a minute. Along with two new kiddo aprons today, s set of water wings came for him. And a very nice kite sits folded up in the trunk of our Prius, used once last spring.

We didn’t get to use those treasures today. But we will.

Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.

As Calvin said to Hobbes, “The days are just packed!”

(1 Timothy 4, Psalm 111, Matthew 11, Luke 7)

(posted at www.davesandel.net)

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Sep 15 21

The mystery of faith, out of sorrow rises joy

by davesandel

Wednesday, September 15, 2021                               (today’s lectionary)

Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows

The mystery of faith, out of sorrow rises joy

On the grounds of Marytown, outside the chapel, is a garden of Mary’s mysteries. For several years I spent four weekends a year at Transforming Community retreats which were held at Marytown, and I learned how to pray the Rosary in the midst of our Protestant retreats.

You can say the Rosary words quick and careless, or you can dwell on the words so you never quite get finished. For me, finding a middle ground was easier outside, in the chapel garden on the Heavenly Walk, where there are paths and benches, straw sculptures and bas reliefs set into wooden stands for each of the five parts of each set of mysteries. There are four, and today, of course, the Catholic Church focuses on the Sorrowful Mysteries.

  1. Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane
  2. Jesus’ scourging at the pillar with whips
  3. Jesus’ being mocked and crowned with thorns
  4. Jesus’ carrying of his crucifying cross
  5. Jesus’ crucifixion and death

Mary watched most of these agonies, she knew her own sorrow and perhaps that of God, and she must have remembered the words of Simeon thirty three years before. Not long wed, forty days after Jesus was born, she and Joseph came to the Temple in Jerusalem to present their son and fulfill the requirements of the Law of Moses.

Simeon was there, an old man, righteous, devout, and on that day moved by the Spirit to come himself into the Temple courts. He took Jesus into his arms and spoke at first to God, in gratitude and praise He thanked God, who had promised him he would not die before he met the Messiah. In the Lutheran Church of my childhood, we sang his prayer (his nunc dimittis) as our post-Communion canticle:

Lord, now lettest thy servant depart in peace, according to thy Word.

For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people,

A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

Simeon spoke also to Jesus’ parents, and blessed them, and said to Mary, the mother of joys and sorrows:

Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel,

And to be a sign that will be contradicted

And you yourself a sword shall pierce,

So that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

Mary watched the suffering of Jesus through tears, her eyes closed almost to slits, wanting to close them altogether but she could not. The sword was piercing her yet again, as it would Jesus soon, killing him if he was not already dead. Over these years Mary must have died a thousand deaths as she watched the people of God’s creation turn against their savior.

Undeniably great is the mystery of devotion,

Who was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the spirit, seen by angels,

Proclaimed to the Gentiles, believed in throughout the world,

Taken up in glory.

Paul spoke out of his visions and faith, never having met Mary, who personified this “mystery of devotion.” While he talked the talk, she walked the walk. Long before I spent time at Marytown I was fascinated and captured by the way she honored her son, the Son of God, the Messiah. Jesus learned from her, and then she learned from him, and I want to learn from them both, how to live in the world but not of the world.

The Lutherans said it this way:

The mystery of faith:

When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we proclaim your Death, O Lord, until you come again. The peace of the Lord be with you always.

Jesus told his friends, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart. And you shall find rest for your soul.“ We sang each night at Marytown, in the evening as the sun set, as part of our vespers, Jesus calling us to rest. Come to Me.

And you shall find rest for your soul.

(1 Timothy 3, Psalm 111, John 19)

(posted at www.davesandel.net)

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Sep 14 21

Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight

by davesandel

Tuesday, September 14, 2021                                    (today’s lectionary)

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight

In The Chosen, Nicodemus plays a wanna-be large role. But he (and his wife) are afraid to give up their position as leaders of the Pharisees. Jesus invites him to come along with his disciples and tells him where and when to meet them, but as the moment approaches and passes, Nicodemus is frozen in place. His face is grief-stricken; he knows without a doubt that his fear has ruined his chance to walk with Jesus. He who saves his own life will lose it. He knows.

With their patience worn out by the journey the people complained. Then in punishment the Lord sent serpents, which bit the people and poisoned them, and many of them died. The people came to Moses and acknowledged their sin. “Pray that the Lord will take the serpents away from us!”

Nicodemus knew the story; he knew many who, like the complaining Israelites, were unhappy no matter what. Sometimes they begged him to help fix the mess they’d gotten themselves into. And like Moses, soft hearted Nicodemus prayed for them.

He wished someone could have prayed for him that night, when he stood frozen in place as the time for rendezvous passed. No doubt Jesus himself was praying, though, and still Nicodemus didn’t budge. The deadly serpent of fear and fear and fear bit him in the foot, and the ugly serum quickly traveled through his bloodstream to his heart.

Do not forget the works of the Lord! They flattered him with their mouths and lied to him with their tongues. Their hearts were not steadfast toward him, nor were they faithful to his covenant. Do not forget the works of the Lord!

In just these ways Nicodemus knew how guilty he was. His desire for holiness came and went. His thoughts about his own greatness were never more than a hairsbreadth away from his mind. Renowned as a teacher, he spoke little and listened much, but when he thought of Jesus … oh, my, Jesus seemed holy inside and out.

Jesus said to Nicodemus: “No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

Nicodemus was quiet, leaning toward Jesus to hear his soft words in that darkest time of night; they met then to avoid the prying eyes of others. He had no idea what Jesus meant by the Son of Man, but he knew the story of Moses and the lifted seraph.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

Now, as Nicodemus watched his timepiece give away the hours and he knew Jesus was away and his time was gone, he felt attacked, accused, condemned and cursed. The snake was working away, destroying his soul. But he knew his psalms, and he knew the words going back and forth over and over in his mind were Satan’s words, not God’s.

But being merciful, God forgave their sin and destroyed them not. He turned back from his anger, and let no more of his wrath be roused.

Nicodemus heard Jesus again, as he had heard him last night:

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

He slept badly, unlike his wife snoring softly beside him. He promised himself he would help Jesus however he could, whenever he could, for the rest of his life.

(Numbers 21, Psalm 78, Philippians 23, John 3)

(posted at www.davesandel.net)

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Sep 13 21

Timothy reads a letter alone in the marketplace

by davesandel

Monday, September 13, 2021                                    (today’s lectionary)

Memorial of Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Timothy reads a letter alone in the marketplace

First of all I ask that prayers and thanksgiving be offered for everyone, for kings and all in authority, that we may lead a tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior.

Timothy sits in the public square, reading his letter from Paul. His tanned legs are crossed under his tunic, and his wiggles the toes of his right foot in the comfortable dust of the road. Timothy has had his share of rebellious days, but no longer. Broken both by circumstance and repentance, he realizes his place in the world’s culture is not what matters. It was never what mattered.

God wills everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as ransom for all.

Once Paul’s message got under Timothy’s skin, he wept and wept. He couldn’t get the picture of Jesus on the cross out of his mind. That God broke out of his heavenly sanctuary and depended on his children to protect his son was impossible for Timothy to imagine at first. Those children that God had created killed him. Such blasphemy and misplaced pride! But Paul did not beat a dead horse, and eventually Timothy regained his composure. There was work to do.

It is my wish, then, that in every place the people should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.

After all, Jesus worked to celebrate the Kingdom of heaven every day of his life. Paul’s encounter with Jesus convinced him to do the same. And now Paul asked Timothy, the workman, to dedicate himself to passing on the message of Jesus. “Just tell the stories,” Paul told him.

Jesus finished his preaching and entered Capernaum. A centurion asked Jesus to come and save the life of his slave. But when Jesus was just a short distance away, the centurion sent friends to say, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Only say the word and let my servant be healed. I too am a man under authority, with soldiers subject to me.”

Timothy didn’t understand at first. But the centurion was saying that Jesus could order the illnesses and evil spirits around because his Father gave him the power to do so. He believed that Jesus could do what his Father gave him the power to do, and he asked him to do it.

Jesus was amazed and said to the crowd following him, “Nowhere in Israel have I found such faith.” When the messengers returned to the centurion’s house, they found the slave strong and healthy again.

Timothy sat quietly on his chair, leaning back just a little. His mother had taught him not to lean back too far from the dinner table, and now he would never forget it. He stopped reading for a moment and closed his eyes. Timothy smelled the livestock and heard the carts. Their thick, round wooden wheels rolled, the oxen snorted, the drovers shouted. Boys and girls cried out selling olives and figs, eggs and oranges. Not many had the money to buy. Timothy heard two women walk by, talking in low tones. It was time for morning prayers, and Timothy began to chant under his breath.

The Lord is the strength of his people, the refuge of his anointed. Save your people, and bless your inheritance; feed them, and carry them forever! Blessed be the Lord, for he has heard my prayer.

Paul asked him to do more than he could do. He wanted to leave Paul’s letter with his congregation and walk away into the wilderness. It’s easier to pray in the wilderness, away from all the distractions of daily life. He could pour out everything to the Lord. Isn’t that what Jesus himself did?

Hear the sound of my pleading when I cry to you, lifting up my hands toward your holy shrine.

But Paul told him that God was not in a shrine but inside him, in his heart and lungs and stomach and brain. Paul reminded Timothy how Jesus prayed alone, but then went out into the people, working his miracles, sharing what He knew about God, directing the people in how to live holy and sacred lives. Come on, Timothy! That’s for us to do too. WAS for us to do … now, my friend … it’s for you.

Timothy felt lonely, more alone than he had ever felt in his life. But his prayers bore fruit. He no longer considered abandoning his friend or his savior or his mission.

He opened his eyes again.

The Lord is my strength and my shield. In you my heart trusts, and I find help. My heart exults, and with my song I give you thanks!

(1 Timothy 2, Psalm 28, John 3, Luke 7)

(posted at www.davesandel.net)

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Sep 12 21

Walking in the slowly-getting-cooler Austin evening

by davesandel

Sunday, September 12, 2021                                     (today’s lectionary)

 

Walking in the slowly-getting-cooler Austin evening

I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living. I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice in supplication on the day I called.

Big day for the Tomitas yesterday, and we helped celebrate. New furniture on their new screened in patio, a new charcoal grill that Aki and I put together just in time for amazing ribeye steaks from Indiana, and joy in Miles-and-Jasperville. They had fun with everything. And then they ate corn on the cob like it was going to disappear any second.

The Lord keeps the little ones; I was brought low and he saved me.

Finally we were heading home. I began filling up the car with this and that, and said hello to some walkers, Don and Shirley. They were older folks like me. We had time to stop and talk. They had no dog, no steps to count, no hurry.

Pointing at Andi’s house, Don asked, “Are you related to the folks who live there?” They asked more questions than I did; it’s not often I find an interviewer more focused than I am.

We talked about cows and dairy farming, since a Holstein cow sign marks their driveway and they came from Minnesota. “I milked cows by hand when I was seven,” Don said. He’s 82 now. Shirley looked up at him. “He was the dairy farmer, and I loved the cows.” That made sense to me; I milked cows by hand when I was seven too. And I never felt especially friendly toward them.

They told me that Don and Shirley’s and Andi-Aki’s homes are the only two in the neighborhood with a bedroom on the first floor. They are very grateful for that floor plan now. They’ve lived in the neighborhood since it was built up 25 years ago. When they moved in, fresh from Minnesota, there was a pasture beyond their back yard. Now one of the busiest thoroughfares in north Austin zooms right on by. Twenty-five years ago they watched workmen buzz through several live oaks that were in the way of the highway. Really? They had hoped for a parkway back there, with trees and grass between the lanes of traffic. Didn’t happen.

But they have no regrets. The neighborhood has been peaceful for two and a half decades; they quietly count their blessings. Their 63rd wedding anniversary trip this year was to Hawaii. On another trip, to the Holy Land, they visited their next door neighbor’s birthplace, Bethlehem. “That was the best trip of all for me,” Don said.

The Lord has freed my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

They spoke with affection about neighbors across the street that we have met, a family with four girls and a friendly dog that go to Grace Covenant Church, where Andi and Aki have been members for years. I realized that being with Shirley felt a little like being with a shepherd; I think she knows all her neighbors. Don and Shirley might be the oldest couple on the street, and I had the sense they would be available for anything anybody needed.

If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warm and well-fed, but then do not give them what they need, what good is that? So also, faith without works is dead.

Earlier in the afternoon another David, who with his crew of sons and friends replaced windows and siding on Aki and Andi’s house, came to pick up a scaffold and driveway full of discarded pieces of siding and other stuff. Miles and I scavenged a few things, and David loved up both the kids. He jumped at the chance to visit the Houseboat meeting next month when I told him about it. He too felt like a shepherd; I felt safe around him.

Don, Shirley and David enriched my life yesterday in such simple ways. I’m sure that’s because all of them had listened a long time ago to Jesus:

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the good news, will save it.

And truly, I think they are listening still.

(Isaiah 50, Psalm 116, James 2, Galatians 6, Mark 8)

(posted at www.davesandel.net)

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Sep 11 21

Settling onto a good foundation

by davesandel

Saturday, September 11, 2021                                   (today’s lectionary)

Settling onto a good foundation

While Andi had a school meeting on Friday, Miles and Jasper spent the day with us. Since Miles goes to school himself for pre-K classes, it’s been awhile since we’ve had a day with them together. They had a great day today. We all had a great day today.

Praise, you servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord both now and forever.

The boys nailed roofing nails into 4x4s, started building a miniature replica of their new screened-in patio (just finished this week), tried out my electrical drill without bits, even helped me cut a piece of wood for their project. And after lunch, when a dry-erase marker cap flew under the refrigerator, they got down on the floor with their plastic gloves, yardstick and fancy flashlight and pulled out … well, the cap, yes, but as Miles said to Margaret, “Grandma, you wouldn’t believe the stuff that’s down here!” They got it all out and packed it over to the waste basket.

Who is like the Lord, our God, and looks upon the heavens and the earth below? He raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor.

For lunch we rolled hotdogs and pickles and ketchup up in tortillas. Jasper ate the tortilla, and Margaret offered to help him with his dog, but his toddler tastes mostly turn away from meat these days, if hotdogs even count as meat. He loves pickles, though, the more sour the better.

Miles brought a one boy pop-up tent to sleep in during nap, but he decided to take a nap with Grandpa. (Sometimes he calls me “Dave,” but I don’t always answer. I say, “Yes, grandson?” We go back and forth on that.) Before our nap we read books on construction sites, fire trucks, and a controversial-in-the-family book that he loves, Examining Airplane Crashes. He feels called these days to be a fireman on an airport fire truck. He explained everything he knew about them to me today.

From the rising to the setting of the sun is the name of the Lord to be praised. High above all nations is the Lord; above the heavens is his glory.

I’m sure Miles and Jasper will do their fair share of traveling. Their hopes and dreams aren’t settled, but both of them are learning how to think that way. One of Miles’ favorite songs right now is “What Does God Require?” and he sings it with gusto. Jasper’s enthusiasm for every part of life that he can reach demands more words than his two-year old mind can quite call up.

If you work my words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who dug deep and laid the foundation of his house on bedrock. When the river burst its banks and crashed against the house, nothing could shake it; it was built to last.

Will they build screened-in patios on good foundations, or on sand? I think, I hope, I pray, on good foundations.

After Andi took the boys home, we took our lease renewal (another year in Austin!) to Susan, Evolve Apartments’ new property manager. She’s looking forward to the weekend, because she’ll be helping her niece and family of four move out of her home. “I’ll get my house back again!”

Of course she’s happy to have some privacy again. What I thought, though, as we sat together in the afternoon sun, was about how willing she had been to share her home with them for awhile. Her decision testifies to an internal house built on rock … right? Susan’s generosity prevailed against all that other stuff that makes you say “NO!” instead of “YES!!”

This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I’m proof – Public Sinner Number One – of someone who could never have made it apart from sheer mercy. God even shows me off, evidence of his endless patience, to those who are right on the edge of trusting him forever.

By the end of the day, a little groggy after a long nap, I needed Susan’s faithfulness and optimism, just to catch my breath. Hope rises, hope sets, my joy comes and goes, and I knew God was showing off through Susan, just for me.

(1 Timothy 1, Psalm 113, John 14, Luke 6)

(posted at www.davesandel.net)

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Sep 10 21

Gravestones along the eternal road

by davesandel

Friday, September 10, 2021                                        (today’s lectionary)

Gravestones along the eternal road

Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

At the Austin Memorial Cemetery yesterday, I sat awhile on a dilapidated, moldy ancient wooden bench with slippery, bending, almost broken slats. The bench was hidden behind a pecan tree and faced away from the grave of James Michener and his wife Mari, longtime residents of Austin at the end of a life during which they were really Citizens of the World. It was a hot, dry day. I was aware of my mortality. The bench didn’t break, but it might have. I thought about Michener and his life.

I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy. I was once a blasphemer and an arrogant man, but God has treated me mercifully.

Like Michener, I am fascinated by Texas history. Andi married Aki, and moved with him to Austin in 2009. That July Margaret and I drove their big yellow Penske van full of furniture down through Memphis, where we visited the Dancing Pig Barbecue Parlor, through Little Rock, where we spent a day at President Clinton’s library and museum, on to Arkadelphia, Beth Moore’s home town, and finally across the border into Texas, through Texarkana, Dallas, Waco, and Austin. On that trip we did not stop at Buc-ees.

The grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

I was excited. Texas breathed hot smoke from its nostrils, especially in July, and I wanted to ride that bucking bronco wherever it would take me. James Michener’s 1,096 page Texas, historical fiction at its finest, started me down the road. The book begins in 1536 with an on-the-road walking conversation between young Garcilaco and the veteran explorer Cabezo de Vaca, who had been shipwrecked on an island he named Galveston nine years earlier. Cabezo told his young friend, “If your body becomes lost, your soul is lost, and you wither. If we had not fought to keep our calendar and our distances, we would have surrendered and died.”

You are my inheritance, O Lord. It is you who hold fast my lot. You counsel me at night; in my heart you exhort me, and I see you always at my right hand. You will show me the path to life.

Michener finishes this saga of several families in 1985, carrying us through the ensuing 450 years into most of the epic moments of Texan history. Michener’s life ended in 1997. Texas lives on … for better or for worse … in sickness and in health.

You are my inheritance, O Lord. You share the fullness of joy in your presence, and the delights of your right hand forever.

The life of Texas is a history of pride and perseverance in the desert, and many things besides. Second only in size to the Minnesota State Fair, the Texas State Fair opens in fifteen days. This year’s simple slogan, “Howdy, Partner!” quiets my curious mind and invites me to set down a spell, drink some Lone Star, and watch Willie Nelson sing all day outdoors. Maybe he’ll be at the fair this year, instead of Luckenbach. Bring your own lawn chair. Buy some chicken and some barbecue, and wait for the sun to set and the stars to shine. Like Cabezo de Vaca, Willie has been listening, and learning, all his life.

Can a blind person guide a blind person? Won’t you both fall in a pit? Get trained up and become like your teacher, neither of you any longer blind.

I guess I won’t accept the invitation, though. I’m older than that now. Dylan’s “My Back Pages” stretches across my memory and jabs me in the head.

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth, “rip down all hate,” I screamed

Lies that life is black and white spoke from my skull, I dreamed

Romantic facts of musketeers foundationed deep, somehow

Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

Jesus tells me, too, to STOP growing up stuck in all those fictions about people and geography, about being better or worse, worthy or unworthy. Start seeing people as my children, Jesus says. I love you all.

WHY do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye but do not notice the wooden beam in your own? It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, “Let me wash your face for you,” when your own face is distorted by contempt?

We are all one people, here in Texas too. We will all be dying soon, and then where will we be?

Resting in your arms, sweet Jesus.

(1 Timothy, Psalm 16, John 17, Luke 6)

(posted at www.davesandel.net)

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