High and Lifted Up

Road Leading to High Mountains

Isaiah 6:1: In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.

I don’t know that many of us think about escalators and elevators. They’re there and we use them, and a few people aside who have claustrophobia or a fear of falling, most of us think they’re convenient. Evensong Bells thinks an elevator in this building would be a gift from God, and while God’s time is best, my hope as someone who plays bells and, as part of the job, schleps cases around when we play in the front of the sanctuary or take our bell songs on the road. It takes either two bell players to carry one of the two largest cases, but Jim Harris can carry both at once. He is one strong man. And here ends the commercial from Evensong.

I’ve always been fond of any device that can transport me to a higher level be it airplane, funicular, ski lift, rescue basket, and of course escalator and elevator. (I’m talking physically being lifted up here–hold on for the spiritual transport. You’re on your own for the emotional version.

Now, if you’re claustrophobia and must avoid elevators, I can’t help you much. But I can do something about fear of an elevator cable snapping as it seems to in the movies and a car packed with people falling to their horrible demise. In our local writing group, Write by the Rails we had a visitor one evening who was an elevator inspector. Normally we go around at the end of the meeting and talk for a few minutes about what we’re doing and what help we may need, if any. When our guest’s turn came up, someone asked about falling elevators such as those we see in disaster movies. His answer was that it’s physically impossible for an elevator in good repair to fall because of the way they’re designed. Think about—how many times is there a story about an elevator falling with multiple fatalities on the news? I can’t ever remember seeing one. Not that that proves anything, but if you find out about such an accident, please let me know.

Escalators fascinated me from an early age. If I had to choose between them and elevators, I would choose the moving steps. The engineering is fantastic, and while you’re more likely to be injured on an escalator, if you tie your shoes, watch where you’re putting your feet and hold on to the handrail, you’ll be fine. (The preceding announcement was brought to you by your mom, who also wants to remind you to wear a raincoat, eat healthy food and not talk to strangers.)

On teacher workdays in elementary and intermediate school, our mom would take my brother Ron and me to what was then called Parkington and now Virginia Square. Parkington was so called because of the large multi-story parking garage behind the multi-story Hecht Company building, whose façade was made up of large glass windows. It was an imposing sight and sported escalators which, while new and made of steel, lacked the soul of the ones in a store at our next stop, McCrory’s in Clarendon. For most of my pre-high school career, they had wooden escalators. I wish I could tell you what kind of wood they used, but I didn’t develop an appreciation for different kinds of wood until high school. The escalators at McCrory’s were old and funky, and our mom would leave us to ride the escalators up and down while we shopped. We would have ridden all day had she not threatened to leave us and see how much we would enjoy walking the thirteen miles to our house in Fairfax. Somehow, we managed to never make that walk, which would have spoiled a nice day of riding elevators.

Now, it seems to me that sometimes God lets us carry the heaviest hand bell cases over all kinds of terrain, including high mountains. At other times, he provides a nice wooden escalator to take us to new heights. And at other times, we have those rapid breathtaking ascents as we do in one of those glass elevators that pop out from the building and we feel there’s nothing holding us up but the floor. All these experiences are part of the journey we’re on, and whether we’re toiling up the mountain on foot or riding in style to the top the God who created us and loves us so much is there with us and ahead of us. Thanks be to God for God’s eternal presence and care!

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Breaking the Code

Code
 
Matthew 7: 28-9: When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

I don’t know if you pump your own gas these days or not. I suspect you do, like most of us these days, unless we visit New Jersey where it’s against the law to do so. This fact of modern life was satirized in a scene from one of my favorite movies, Back to the Future, in which Marty McFly is astonished to see four attendants at a filling station launch themselves at a car to check the air in the tires, clean the windshield, pop the hood to look at the oil and coolant levels, and take the driver’s order for gas. Now, those were the days!

Of course, if we’re paying cash, we have trudge over to the attendant—the horror of it all!—and schelp back to the car where we can then fill the tank ourselves. If we’re using a credit or debit card, our lives are somewhat easier. Indeed, if we used plastic to pay for gas, we rolled up to the pumps, got out, swiped our card through the reader, waited for the screen to respond, chose a grade of gas to our liking, and started pumping. Those days are gone, apparently, because the little magic screen now asks us to enter our zip code, a security measure in case we have stolen our own credit card and are trying to use it a half mile from where we live. I understand the need for this little addition, since having a credit number used and abused by someone else does not make for a good day in the life of the card holder, but I also have to confess it took me back a bit when I first had to enter the number with my little index finger. The screen also told me that if my postal code included letters, I had to see the attendant. Huh? I thought. There ain’t no letters in a zip code. What’s with that?

As it turns out, there are letters in postal codes of many countries around the world. Say you want to send a nice letter to Oxford Press in Oxford, England. You write your nice letter, put it in an envelope, and after putting on proper postage, address it to:

Oxford University Press

Great Clarendon Street

Oxford

OX2 6DP

Please note that the “postal code” includes letters and numbers, so they got it about 1/3 right. Not bad for a former mother country. They’re not alone, however, in using letters: about 250 other countries do as well, including, in some cases, the U.S. So, we’re in a minority by using only numbers. Who knew this? Not me!

Anyhow, all these numbers and letters got me to thinking about Christian belief and theology. We who have walked the path of belief most of our lives are familiar with the language and tenets of the faith. We know the hymns, stories, parables and theological terms. It’s all old business to us.

But to someone coming fresh to the story, it must all seem like a puzzle, a set of codes, a secret language which must be interpreted and studied to be understood. Such work is difficult and can, as we know, take years. And so, we need to be sensitive to those who are new to the faith and be willing and able to help them on their way, much as we were taught and guided and mentored by those who came before us and enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Through worship, Bible study, fellowship and service, we gained understanding of what we needed to know. We all have had in our lives parents, relatives, teachers and ministers who taught us the “mysteries of the faith,” so that these matters became, for us, ways of life. Jesus assured his followers, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” His teachings as compared to other rabbis were relatively uncomplicated since his word came from God.

I pray that we might be like our Savior in this as in other matters, showing others the way to the Master and to life everlasting. Amen.

 

Brown Thumbs and New Hope

Day Lilies (Not Mine)

Day Lilies (Not Mine)

Devotional #642

Matthew 6: 25-27: Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

I don’t know if you recall my mentioning in earlier devotionals that I have a brown thumb. In case you don’t remember this, I do. And I know it, and admit it. So when I got some day lilies last summer to go around the mail box, I wasn’t surprised when the leaves turned yellow and died. Maybe I watered them too little; maybe I watered them too much; maybe I planted them too deeply; maybe I didn’t plant them deep enough. I don’t know. I’ve killed plants off so frequently I just shrugged at this latest example of floracide and went on. The poor plants endured as some dry brown husks.

Then, this spring, I noticed that they were coming back! They had greened up, and one of the two plants started growing. Now it has nice yellow flowers. The other is still stunted but still, it’s green!

I reported my experience to one of our gardeners extraordinaires at church, who also happens to be in the choir, Mary Alice Corder. She knows a whale of a lot about plants and flowers, and I figured she would be impressed with my success at bringing back the flowers. But she said, “Well, you can’t kill day lilies. They’ll live in a ditch by the side of the road and they don’t care if it’s too wet or too dry.” I was glad to hear they were hard to kill, but then was not as impressed with my success in bringing them back. I really didn’t do anything, after all. Apparently, if I want real success with day lilies, what I need to do is dig a ditch by the side of the road, put them there, and ignore them. This would work well for me.

I think my experience with these poor plants has a spiritual dimension. Sometimes we try to get something going, something worthwhile and important. We do our best to try to grow something, somehow, and our efforts come to nothing or just flat out fail. We become discouraged and give up on whatever it was that we wanted to succeed so badly.

But, like my flowers, there is a power at work far greater than our poor pitiful efforts. We now that we plant the seeds or the flowers but it is God who makes them grow. We have to do our part, for sure, but by and large, we do not do the real work. The real work of God’s Kingdom is ongoing, and we have a part in it, but we do not need to concert ourselves with the success or failure of each little project or each little part of the grand design. That has been taken care of by the Master Designer, in whose care we all live and grow. Praise God for God’s providence and mighty power bestowed on his children!