I woke up to my own chronic coughing. It wracked my body as I stood before the sink, trying to take my various medicines, and finally giving up on shaving - lying down instead to rest a bit before taking another lunge into the day, claiming usefulness and stability and contributing something to this new day of life.
It turns out, the radio informs me, that today, April 24th, is "Holocaust Remembrance Day." Public Radio had on a woman reporter just back from one of the great refugee camps in northern Kenya - housing multiple thousands of Somalis, fleeing their country to the north. She describes vividly the famine that has overtaken Somalia, and also this camp in the desert. She quotes the United Nations' description of it as the worst famine since the Second World War.
Her take on this greatest famine, is the indifference of the world. That, she says, is the sin of our time, that the world doesn't care.
My heart holds that condemnation for a while, and I remember the early 1980's, when five of our churches in Edina responded to World Vision's plea, that "people are dying in the Horn of Africa; Will you come over and help us?"
And we did, at some risk to our ministerial jobs, and at the enormity of the task of doing anything meaningful to help. Yet, we did. Eighteen of us from those churches went to see for ourselves, to be touched in our own hearts, and wrenched in our comfortable lives, until we were on fire to stir our fellow Christians and to persuade them to raise the quarter of a million dollars we were asking: until on Easter Sunday, 1983, those churches together, raised $369,000. And we were captivated, and transformed, and went on raising multiple sums, throughout that decade, to build wells and dams, pipelines and experimental farms - there in the Antsokia Valley of Ethiopia.
Many journeys back to those farms, we made, and deep became our own heart-roots in those villages of Mekoy, and Humbo, and Western Abaya. People in that iron curtain country, came to Christ, and churches grew and buildings were built and lives were transformed. Mekoy the death camp, became a virtual Garden of Eden. The "Holy Highway" was built, and a bridge across the Borkena River.
A transforming experience for us, and for them. But now I am no longer 53, but nearly 88. And I sit safe, with Molly, in a gracious retirement community, in a town called "Golden Valley," of all things. And I hear about a new famine - the worst ever. And the young journalists say the worst sin is indifference.
Later, Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, Nobel Laureate, my own brother's friend, asks, "What is it to be moral?" and he too, says on the radio "immorality is indifference to those dying of hunger."
And I grieve, but defensively answer: "I'm too old. I was there. I went to the camps. I and the people of my American
suburb answered the call, and fed the hungry, and saved lives. But now there is a new dying."
Is it just for the young to do something? How do I care? How do I make a difference? How do I be moral in this new day, this late day of my own life?
I think I must begin by renewed prayer. I think I must beg my friends to be serious right there, at the point of faith, of being Jesus' friends, and listening to Him again, and somehow acting with pure heart and in good faith, in a world that must struggle forever with the question of being moral, and making a difference, and remembering to Whom we belong, and daring to hear what He says now.
I am not abject in my thinking about "church." I know that church has many faults. The church, when it fails to be true to its faith and calling, it obviously disappoints many. People turn away from the church when they have experiences of its failure and hypocrisies.
But, the church has many positives, often very simple, though not always thought to be noble. It has community. A surprisingly deep fellowship of friends. It is full of quite good-hearted folks. It's a place to meet good people. Churches are often the first people ready to reach out to people in need. People from far countries who need to find freedom in a new land. The church loves children and is usually the first institution to seriously teach children manners, common decency, right from wrong, and surely, "the greatest story ever told," of faith. The church goes out of its way to give a wise understanding of love and faithfulness in marriage to those who come to it to be married. The church cherishes the meaning and value of human lives and is usually ready to arrange and conduct memorial services for those who've died. It offers counselling for dealing with life's problems. It teaches faithful, moral, selfless living.
On the other hand, church proclaims weekly the call to love one's enemies, to do good to those who hurt you - all because of the life and death, and resurrection of Jesus, whose selfless life was the most admirable in the history of the human race.
And, when you're down and discouraged, grieving and lonely, no place is better for you than the church. Try it!
This is "The Week that Was." For Jesus. For us. For the Church - the Body of Christ on the earth.
It is a triumphant week. A terrible week. Of Jesus' Triumphant Entry into His city. Of His "Famous Last Word: ("Love each other!"). Of the darkening gloom of His betrayal as disciples depart -- fading into the shadows. Of Jesus' trial before Pilate - who washes his hands of responsibility for the greatest crime of history - man's murder of God's Son sent to save them. Of the awful cross "on a hill far away." Of death and the tomb. Of the long waiting. And the empty tomb and Christ alive. And, the road to Emmaus: "Did not our hearts burn within us as He talked with us by the way?"
Our hearts need to burn again, this Holy Week. We need to find Jesus walking at our side, and talking with us, as He did with the two disciples on the road.
Let this one week be your remembering time. Your listening to Jesus' words time. Your envisioning Him again time. We can go, in our mind's eye, and heart of hearts, to those sacred places again. Each one. And see Him there. And hear Him. And respond to Him.
And then tell Him: "Lord, I am Yours. I am one of those who love You. I mean to follow You. I'll be at the cross. I'll be on the Hill. I'll be at church. I'll be among the believers. Oh, please let me stand with You, and walk close with You. Let my heart burn within me, as on the Emmaus Road."
"The Week that Was" can lead to The Hill Day for you. Bless you for that.
There is so much we do not know. Especially as we grow older, and find ourselves thinking long thoughts about life and death. And, about what heaven is like. And if, in the end, we will really get there.
People care about these eternal things. And worry. And even fear. But Jesus says a wonderful thing to us. A word of assurance. To the thief on the cross beside Him, who said, "Jesus, Remember me when you come into your Kingdom." And Jesus said, "Today, you will be with me in Paradise."
So many times, He assures us. "In My Father's house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you... And I will come and get you, so that where I am, there you may be also." And again, "I will be with you forever, to the close of the age."
Just being with Jesus is all we need to know. "Who will separate us from the love of Christ?" the apostle Paul asks. "Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword...
"No, in all these things, He says, we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:37-39)
Amazing. A word of assurance to all who love Jesus, and are His friends. He never lets go. Nothing in all creation can tear us away from Him. He holds on. He means us to be with Him always. Don't be afraid. Rejoice! You are safe with Him.
In our gathering for early morning Lenten Bible Study this week, after a beautiful rosy sunrise, one of the 16 of us round the fireplace at the Hilltop Restaurant noted the little advert in our invitation to these Wednesdays together - a reference to the blog posts in the "Arthur Rouner Ministries" ancillary website connected to The Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation's website.
I've been thinking a lot during Lent about the Biblical charge to "Think on (good) things." "Finally, beloved," Paul writes to the Philippians, "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable; if anything is worthy of praise, think about these things."
I take it as an admonition to think good thoughts. To think well of each other, and of those around us, including leaders.
We've gotten in the habit as a society, of adding epithets to our opinions of others. Epithets that dismiss them as sick, as "phobic." Like Islamophobic, or xenophobic.
Today I happened to hear part of an hour long program on Public Radio that was discussing mental illness. And, particularly mental illness--or suspicions of same--in past presidents of the United States. And then, of course, their speculation of some mental or personality disorder in our present President. All of this intended to raise the question as to whether he is in some way mentally ill.
The subject is clearly raised in order to do damage to the leader of our country.
The Bible, on the other hand, calls us to think about what's good in those around us. To think well of all people. A call to a different discipline on our part. But a step back toward helping us become a "civil society" again.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES
All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. . ."