Dec. 7, 2011
2 Corinthians 11:
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own people, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
I was in 5th or 6th grade. We’d had a lot of snow that December. On Christmas morning, it was bitterly cold. It was not a good day on the farm. Water pipes were frozen, getting a tractor to start was nearly impossible. If I remember correctly, the silo unloader was also under protest. You didn’t know a silo unloader could protest, did you? When it doesn’t cooperate and help feed the cows, I call it under protest.
It was going on noon before we sat down for breakfast and the morning chores still weren’t done. My Mom has this tradition of taking half a grapefruit and inserting a marshmellow and a candycane in the middleof it for Christmas morning. They are put under the broiler for just a couple of minutes to slighty brown the marshmellow. Along with this, she makes homemade bread shaped like a Christmas tree. We’d help her decorate the tree with icing, red hots and sprinkles to make it look like a real tree.
This is an annual Christmas breakfast tradition that my siblings and I looked forward to. But that Christmas morning, the grapefruit seemed more sour than sweet. The Christmas bread seemed hard and chewy. My Dad was discouraged by all the set-backs from the morning. I’m confident my Mom was tired and running on very little sleep. As we sat in the dining room (which we did only on special occasions) eating breakfast, it was very, very quiet. No one spoke of opening presents. My parents were experiencing financial challenges and I know my Mom had to be creative. My main present was a 12×12 latchhook pattern with a rose on it. I’m sure it cost less than $10. We knew the cow barn still needed to be cleaned and water pipes thawed. Just getting the animals fed and the barns cleaned were going to take most of the day.
No one knows everything you’ve been through but you. No one has ever walked in your shoes completely. Even your spouse, your best friend, your Momma – they aren’t able to get inside your head and understand your emotions.
I wish that I could go back and hear the emotions that my parents and my siblings were experiencing that morning as we quietly ate our Christmas breakfast. What was not supposed to be like every other day of the year was turning out to be just that. For my parents, the morning was probably indicative of the cascading of events which just made their lives seem more and more challenging.
The Apostle Paul is usually quite humble. In this passage, he lets go and shares from his heart his pent-up frustrations. Even the most faifthful of disciples endure great hardship, disappointment and feel let down. “When is enough enough?” Paul is saying. “When am I going to get a break? Others around me have. Isn’t it my turn?”
My mentor shared with me this week how everyone considers Mother Theresa a Christian martyr. She’s only considered one because everyone knew what she’d given up to serve God and God’s kingdom. If her story weren’t as well-known, would it have the same impact? Definitely not. In this sense, to a degree don’t we all want to be martyrs? Don’t we all want someone to know even a bit of what we’re going through? There are good and honest reasons for sharing. We’re encouraged to share our burdens with another so that we don’t become overwhlemed by them. When shared, our challenges and frustrations can become teachable moments for others.
As these days drawing closer to Christmas become more packed, the nights become a bit shorter and we wonder how to accomplish the variety of things we feel compelled to do, don’t we all want someone to recognize what we’re all dealing with? Honestly, it’s not always during the month of December I feel this way. It’s hard for me to admit this. Humbleness is one of my “occasion” spiritual gifts. I don’t always practice it well every day.
Life has a way of smacking us down, even when we’re trying to do everything right. In the Christmas story, Joseph comes to mind. He simply wanted to marry a honorable Jewish girl, have a family, continue working hard and teach his family the proper Hebrew way to live. Instead, his fiance shows up pregnant, he has a wild dream that he should go ahead and marry this girl and call the baby his own. On top of it all, now he has to travel toBethlehemand be counted for a ridiculous census? Are you kidding?
In Matthew 1:19, Joseph is called a “righteous man.” “Righteous, smightous,” I’d be thinking if I were Joseph reading the story about himself from Matthew’s gospel. How I’d like to get inside of his head and hear his emotions. What was supposed to be a wonderful year of his life, was turning into an uncontrollable disaster.
We hear very little about Jesus’ earthly father. But we know he was righteous. Even when the going got tough, he followed God and God’s calling in his life. Even when it would have been eaiser to follow his own path, he hung in there. We know Paul didn’t give up either. Despite his frustrations in this letter to the church atCorinth, he continued his work as a church planter for the early Christian church. And even became a martyr for it.
None of us will probably ever become a Joseph, a Paul or a Mother Thersa. But their stories should inspire us. Without them, we’d never know how even they felt challenged by Christ’s message and call on their lives.
Dear God: Sometimes, we just want someone to recognize and appreciate what we do, especially for your Kingdom. Is this OK? Why do we feel this way? Thank goodness you’ve never stop doing for us even when we forgot to appreciate and say, “Thank you.”