Blanket Blessings

Dr. Roy Honeycutt, then president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was at Carson-Newman College to preach a campus revival during my senior year.  I remember very little of what he said except that in one service, he did preach from the 28th Chapter of Isaiah.  The verse that has stuck with me all these years is verse 20: “The bed is too short to stretch out on, the blanket too narrow to wrap around you.”  I think this verse has stuck with me because it is just so very true.  What it is more uncomfortable than a bed that is too short, unless it is a blanket that is too narrow.  What is more pleasant than a comfortable bed and warm blanket on a cold night?

We cannot ponder such a question without being mindful of the many people who do not regularly, if ever, enjoy the simple pleasure of a comfortable bed and warm blanket.  I was recently reminded of those who have no place to sleep and no blanket to keep them warm while watching the trailer for the upcoming movie about the life of Michael Oher, The Blind Side. Oher grew up on the streets of Memphis, literally raising himself.  In the clip from the movie, Oher’s adoptive mother is getting him settled into his new bedroom.  He says, “I never had one.”  She says, “A room of your own?”  He says, “A bed.”  The young man had never had a bed of his own.

[picapp src=”c/9/a/0/RAVENS_0efa.JPG?adImageId=6950101&imageId=5675045″ width=”380″ height=”473″ /]

To be without bed or blanket is a hard thing, especially when you consider that one of the things that we all have to do every day is to sleep. To have to sleep in less than restful conditions is not really rest at all.  The prophet Isaiah creates just such an uneasy picture to describe the relationship between God and those he is preaching to.   For those who have strayed from their covenant with God, life is as unpleasant and as frustrating as a night spent in a bed too short, trying to stay warm with a blanket too narrow.  This is what life will be for those who led Israel to excessive indulgence and away from justice and mercy.

A blanket is a small thing unless you don’t have one when one is needed.  A blanket given may seem like an insignificant gift, but to receive a blanket when one is cold is no small thing.  Neither is it a small thing to give a blanket in the name of Jesus.  In so doing, followers of Christ put flesh on the idea that the church is the body of Christ.  The church being the presence of Christ in a world full of restless people, that all too often ignore their worn out souls, that have found no rest in a bed too short with a blanket too narrow, means offering a different way of ordering life.  Giving a blanket to someone who is cold becomes both an act of faith and a word of testimony.  It is an act of faith in the life and teachings of Jesus.  It says that we believe that if he taught us to pray “. . .thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven…” then we believe that it is coming.

Giving expresses that belief and bears witness to it.  God is at work in our world and God has invited us to join in the work of announcing the reign of God in our lives and in our world.  Whether we are giving blankets to the homeless in our city, dollars to send workers to the uttermost parts of the world, or our prayers for the peace of neighbors near and far, we are bearing witness to the reality of the coming of the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God is coming. Let us give ourselves to it cheerfully and sacrificially so that the presence of Christ might be made real in a world that grows colder each day.  Let us live in the light of his love showing the way with our words and actions, the way to warmth and rest.

Advertisements

Please keep us in your prayers.

I found a note in my box Sunday morning. Someone found it stuck in one of the doors coming into our building. The note asks for prayer. It also tells a story about the times in which we are living.

Dear Reverend,

Hello, my name is ___ _____. The reason I am writing, is because you may or may not have noticed my vehicle,(a maroon ford) parked behind the church most nights. I purposely do not park here on Saturday nights so that I in no way interfere with Sunday morning service.

Unfortunately, I was laid off from my job 3 1/2 weeks ago. My wife, my 10 year old daughter lost our home very soon after. As for the two special ladies in my life, they are able to temporarily live with her grandparents. Due to space issues, I cannot live there. I pray nightly that our situation will soon change for the better, as I tirelessly search for new employment. I just wanted to assure your congregation, as well as yourself, that I mean no harm towards this beautiful house of God. My wife and I are trying our very best to save money so that, God willing, we will soon be reunited under the same roof. In closing, I want to thank you for your understanding.

Please keeps us in your prayers as we struggle through this very difficult and trying time in our lives. If there is anything that I can do for the church in exchange for me sleeping in the parking lot, by all means let me know. Again I thank you and may God bless you.

Sincerely,

___ ______

If you pray, will you please join me in prayer for this family and others who share their plight. I cannot add anything to what this man has already said, except to say that there are many hurting folks out there who need our prayers. There are many more who are just a paycheck or two away from sleeping with grandparents or in a car in the church parking lot. May God’s mercy and strength be theirs as the journey through this time of trial.

Jesus and His Churches

            She was five years old.  Her family was in the midst of a housing crisis.  That is to say that they did not have a place to stay.  In their city, some churches had formed a network to provide shelter for children and families who are in just the kind of situation that her family was now facing.  In this network, each church hosted the children and families for a week.  At the end of the week, the families in the network moved to the next church. 

            She had met a woman at the church where they had been last week.  The woman’s name was Charlotte.  Before it was time for her to leave that church, she asked Miss Charlotte a question.  She said, “Miss Charlotte, do you live at this church?”  Miss Charlotte smiled.  She did seem to spend a great deal of time at the church.  So much so that at times it felt like she did, in fact, live there.   

            “No, Honey, I don’t live here; but some days it feels like I do because I spend so much of my time here.” 

            “So, do you have a house?” 

            “Yes, I do.” 

            “Good.  I just wanted to make sure you had a place to live, because if you didn’t, you could stay here at the church with us.  That is why Jesus built all these churches.  He wanted to make sure everybody has a place to stay.”   

            This exchange was shared with me two weeks ago on the Sunday morning that our church was starting our week of hosting families in the network.  The man who brought the trailer filled with rollaway beds told it to me.  It had happened at his church.  He knew that it had happened and he had to share it with someone else.  It is that kind of story. 

            Since that morning, I have thought about it every day.  It is a heartwarming story.  While one may be able to read a retelling of it without responding in an emotional way, I imagine that it would be difficult to hear that little girl explaining why Jesus built churches without getting some moisture in one’s eyes.  Yet, to hear this story and to simply categorize it as a heartwarming one seems to me something of an injustice.  While there is certainly a warmth and tenderness to it that moves the soul, there is also wisdom in it that challenges our understanding of church, Jesus, and how He would have us live our lives. 

            Most of my life, I have made an effort to learn about what it means to follow Jesus Christ.  I have had caring and attentive Sunday School teachers who taught with dedication and commitment.  In college and seminary, I was privileged to sit under some of the most learned men and women in Christendom.  Since that time, I have attended numerous conferences and seminars where noted preachers and theologians have sought to shed light on issues facing the church in today’s world.  In all of that, I am not sure I have ever heard anyone sum up the whole idea of church as succinctly and with such clarity as did this little girl. 

            It is her story, her life, and her experience.  She is the one who, as a little girl, has experienced the trauma of not having a home — a place to live.  She is the one who found a place in a collection of churches and faith communities.  In her experience of being without a place to stay, and finding a place to stay in one of those churches, she has no reason to think that Jesus built them for any other reason but that everyone would have a place to stay. 

            She may not have known it, but she was expounding on the Great Commandment when she gave her explanation of why Jesus built all these churches.  Whether she realized it or not, she had been loved by some people loving their neighbors as they loved themselves; and in so doing, loving God with all their heart, soul, and mind. 

            What she may not have yet realized, but what her explanation certainly pointed toward, was that Jesus also wants everyone to have a place to stay in the next world as well.  He built all these churches so that everyone would have a place stay in the here and now, and in the hereafter. 

            Jesus asked the chief priests, “…have you never read, ‘out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?”  May we hear the word of the Lord, spoken by this little girl, who has nothing to offer us save the immeasurable richness of the gospel of our Savior, Jesus Christ.