KOH2RVA: Day 178

winterYesterday morning at staff meeting we talked about whether or not to cancel our regular Wednesday evening activities this week.  It was a tough call.  None of the forecasters could agree on what the weather was going to be.  Some said we could get eight inches of snow.  Others said it would only be rain.  Eventually I asked, “What do we lose if we cancel Wednesday evening activities?”

We don’t lose money (Wednesday night suppers break even on a good night, and we don’t take up an offering at our Wednesday evening services), but we do lose choir rehearsals, discipleship classes, youth and children’s programs, worship, and one of the most important things of all: fellowship.

What happens around the tables at Wednesday night supper is essential to the life of our community.  We need some un-programmed time to talk with each other, laugh with each other, and tell the story of our day.  For many of our members who live alone, it is an essential mid-week boost.

I’ve quoted Gary Gunderson before, an expert on faith and health, but look at what he says about the effects of a faith community on health:

“Medical science has noticed that over a life span, people who have a faith community—not just a faith, but a faith community, a local congregation—it is as healthy for that person as smoking is unhealthy,” he said.

Because it’s not just fellowship we share around the tables: it’s love and concern.  We pray for each other, check up on each other, and when we’re sick we take each other casseroles.

The leading cause of death in the U.S. is almost a tie between an unhealthy diet and smoking. But according to Gunderson, if you ask the opposite question, “What is the leading cause of life?’ the data says the answer is “participation in a community of faith.”

We eventually decided to call off our regular Wednesday evening activities this week, but we didn’t do it lightly.  We knew that if we didn’t call it off some people would fight their way through those 1-2 inches of snow just to be at church, and someone might skid sideways in the road, or slip and fall in the parking lot.  We didn’t want to run that risk.  But Gary Gunderson helps me understand there is another risk out there, one that many people don’t consider, and that is the risk of not participating regularly in a community of faith.

I hope you will help me get that word out.  Maybe you could do it tonight when you’re not at church.  Call some people, post on Facebook, write some letters, send some emails.  Tell people that participating in a community of faith is as good for their health as smoking is bad.  And then, on Sunday, when it’s supposed to be 64 degrees and sunny in Richmond,

Come to church.

A Prayer for Your Wedding Night

I have one of those big study Bibles that includes the Apocrypha, although we Baptists don’t read that part of the Bible very often.  It’s more of a Catholic thing, since Catholics include those books in the canon of Holy Scripture.  Us?  If we look at them at all it’s often only to marvel at the strange things you can find in there (not that there aren’t a lot of strange things in the 66 books we include in our canon.  Just take a look at Ezekiel sometime).  But since I probably bought the big study Bible to impress people, and since it looks more impressive with the added bulk of the Apocrypha, well…there it is.

But this morning when I was finishing up my devotional reading I thumbed through that part of the book, and stumbled on this interesting wedding night prayer.  It’s from the Book of Tobit, chapter 8, verses 4b-7, and it’s offered in unusual circumstances. Tobias wants to marry this girl named Sarah, see?  She is “sensible, brave, and very beautiful.”  There’s only one problem: she has married seven men and each of them died in the bridal chamber.  Things don’t look good for Tobit.  But he asks for her hand anyway, brave lad that he is, and when he goes into the bridal chamber he puts the heart and liver of a fish on the glowing embers of the incense in the room.  It gives off such a stink that it drives the evil spirit (the one that was killing all of Sarah’s husbands) to the remotest parts of Egypt, but Tobias’ guardian angel–Raphael–follows and binds the demon hand and foot, just so it won’t do any more mischief.

Now, you would think that this would be the end of it, but Tobias isn’t taking any chances.  Before he gets into bed with his new bride, Sarah, he invites her to join him in prayer.  I’ve printed the prayer below, and I think it’s one of those things every couple could pray on their wedding night, and maybe should, just to keep the evil spirits away (wink). 

Tobias began by saying:
‘Blessed are you, O God of our ancestors,
   and blessed is your name in all generations for ever.
Let the heavens and the whole creation bless you for ever.
You made Adam, and for him you made his wife Eve
   as a helper and support.
   From the two of them the human race has sprung.
You said, “It is not good that the man should be alone;
   let us make a helper for him like himself.”
I now am taking this kinswoman of mine,
   not because of lust,
   but with sincerity.
Grant that she and I may find mercy
   and that we may grow old together.’
And they both said, ‘Amen, Amen.’
Then they went to sleep for the night.

And when they woke up the next morning, they were both still alive.  How’s that for the power of prayer?

How to Stay Warm on a Cold Night

Snuggle_Buddies_by_DragonflyHeartSometimes everything just comes together.

It did this morning at community missions, down on the basement level of our building.  I try to go down there every Wednesday morning to greet our homeless neighbors and make them feel welcome.  I usually share a thought and say a prayer.  I don’t always know what my “thought” is going to be until it’s time to speak, but this morning everything came together. 

I was watching people come in from outside, shaking the rain off their caps and jackets.  I knew that it wouldn’t be long before they start to come in shivering from the cold.  So when Brenda Andrews announced (confidently) that I was going to share a good word I began to tell them about David.

For four weeks now on Tuesday nights I have been telling the story of King David out at Westminster Canterbury, the elegant retirement community on Westbrook Road.  This week I was talking about the end of David’s life and how, when he was an old man, he just couldn’t stay warm.  “He would go to bed at night and shiver beneath his blankets,” I said.  “His bones would ache with the cold, his knees would knock together, and no matter how many covers they piled on top of him he couldn’t get warm.”

I could see people nodding their heads; they’d had nights like that, except they hadn’t had a bed to sleep in and not nearly so many covers.

“You may have read in the Book of Ecclesiastes,” I said: “‘Two can stay warm under the same blanket, but how can one stay warm alone?'” (Ecc. 4:11). 

I’m not sure they had read it, but I could see that it made sense to everyone in the room.  “Yes, two can stay warm under the same blanket!”  Some of them smiled at memories they would have been embarrassed to share.

“So David’s advisors suggested that they find the prettiest girl in Israel and let her try to keep David warm at night.  This idea pleased the king (Oh, did it?), and so they held a national beauty contest, going through every village from Dan to Beersheba looking for the prettiest girl in the land.  They finally settled on Abishag the Shunnamite, and from that night on (although the Bible makes it clear that she had no “relations” with him), Abishag slept in David’s bed and kept him warm.”

I don’t think most of the people at community missions had heard that story before, though it’s right there in 1 Kings, chapter 1.  They smiled at the image of the old king finally warm at night, and some of them must have wondered how they would stay warm when the winter winds begin to blow.

“The thing I love about David,” I said, “is that he was so human, so real.  He had been a great warrior—a giant killer!—but he got to be an old man who couldn’t stay warm at night.  He loved God and wanted to please him but he also made some terrible mistakes along the way and had to beg for God’s forgiveness.  Still, he was remembered as the greatest king who ever lived in Israel, and his story gives me hope.”

“If God can use someone like David, he can use all of us, can’t he?”

And they nodded, they really did. 

“Of course he can!”

 

The Sound of Falling Snow

tree_snowing_800Yesterday was my daughter Ellie’s 21st birthday.  Hard to believe she’s been in the world that long!  In honor of the occasion I dug up a story that I wrote about her when she was four years old, when we went to visit her grandparents in the mountains of Western North Carolina.  It goes like this:

It had been a rough night.

We were staying at my parents’ house near Asheville and the girls were having trouble sleeping in unfamiliar beds.  It took a long time to get Ellie down and when I got to my room I found Catherine, my youngest daughter, snuggled up beside Christy with her head on my pillow.  I tried for several hours to sleep on the six-inch strip of mattress she had left to me, but finally staggered back to Ellie’s room and crawled in beside her.

At 5:30 the next morning she called my name.

“Daddy?”

“Umph?”

“I think I hear snow falling.”

And slowly i came to, and more slowly still I found myself glad again for children, for their innocence and imagination.  Only a child would lie awake listening for a sound that can’t be heard—snowfall, or the hooves of reindeer on the roof.  Think how much more sleep we would get, and how much more life we would miss, if it weren’t for them!  I reached for Ellie’s hand, and together we lay in the darkness, straining our ears for the imperceptible sound of falling snow.

It was much later in the day that I thought how much Christmas is just like that.  In all the noise of this season those of us who believe hold hands and strain to hear the sound of Incarnation.  Above the roar of jingle bells, office Christmas parties, and the unwrapping of gifts we listen for the imperceptible hush of God breathing through human nostrils.

And some of us would swear that we hear it.