Preparing Through Parable: The Bigger Debt

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Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
~Luke 7:41-43

 

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We all owe huge debt, far greater than we even comprehend.  It is tempting to minimize how  deep a hole we have dug ourselves.  When we acknowledge the reality of the extent of our sin, His promise of grace becomes an overwhelming gift of love unlike anything we have ever known.

Debt not just forgiven, but paid in full through the shedding of His own blood.

What wondrous love is this?  He makes sure we know how wondrous.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

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Preparing Through Parable: The Rain Came Down

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Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.
~Matthew 7: 24-27

 

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Our house is built on sandstone, on a rise on the farm.  It is strong and solid, warm and cozy.  We don’t worry about rising waters from the perpetual rains this time of year.

But the barns are built on lower ground where the waters come in torrents down the hill in fierce storms and fill the floors and cause chaos.  Add in the winter winds, and we worry about whether the structures and their inhabitants can survive another season.

The wise man who built the barns on solid rock knew there would be hard times on that low ground yet his buildings have remained standing for decades despite the storms and threats.  We too stay standing on the Word, even when tossed to and fro, though stuck in the mud and muck of life.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

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Preparing Through Parable: The Light of the World

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You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stands, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
~Matthew 5: 14-15

 

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I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
~C.S. Lewis

 

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This time of year some mornings seem so dark I wonder if the sun will ever rise.  This feels like a crawl-back-under-the-covers-and-hide type of day.

Yet this parable explains we are not allowed to hide the Light we reflect, not under a bowl and not under the blankets.

We are created to shine whether we feel like it or not.

His Light has become ours, meant to illuminate everything and everyone around us.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

 

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I see your world in light that shines behind me,

Lit by a sun whose rays I cannot see,

The smallest gleam of light still seems to find me

Or find the child who’s hiding deep inside me.

I see your light reflected in the water,

Or kindled suddenly in someone’s eyes,

It shimmers through the living leaves of summer,

Or spills from silver veins in leaden skies,

It gathers in the candles at our vespers

It concentrates in tiny drops of dew

At times it sings for joy, at times it whispers,

But all the time it calls me back to you.

I follow you upstream through this dark night

My saviour, source, and spring, my life and light.
~Malcolm Guite “I am the Light of the World”

 

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Preparing Through Parable: Bursting at the Seams

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…no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’
Luke 5:36-39

 

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Sometimes one good metaphor leads us to another good metaphor. That’s why parables are well remembered as we can link them to our personal experience, even across millenia.

Unfortunately there are no new or old, full or empty wineskins lying around on the farm to help this illustration — all the animal bladders here are in full use by warm and furry  critters.

However, on the farm I have found skins that burst when the new breaks through the old.  The old skin becomes so tight and inflexible that new vibrant life can no longer be held within.  It is left behind, a useless shell:  still interesting, worthy of study, but in no way alive like the new skin.

Lord, help me wriggle free of my old skin even when I want to cling to it and help me celebrate the new way you have reinvented me.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

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Preparing Through Parable: New Patch on an Old Tear

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He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.
~Luke 5:36-37

 

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…awakening the mind’s attention to the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which, in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude, we have eyes, yet see not, ears that hear not, and hearts that neither feel nor understand…
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, Vol. II

 

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My life brims with holes and tears that I attempt to mend by slapping on bandaids that don’t stick to the sides of the wounds.  I try fixing what is gaping with iron-on patches, or darning until midnight, or whipping stitches through frayed cloth.

My efforts are futile. The edges cannot hold no matter how I try to bring them together myself.  I am dust, as is what I’m trying to repair.

Jesus tells me to quit trying to save the old – the dusty old laws, the old rituals, the old ways of doing things – and to embrace the brand new life that He offers, not use it as superglue to patch up the old life.

What I’m trying to hold on to ~ the comfortable, the familiar, the traditional ~ is no match with what is to come.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

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Preparing Through Parable: Getting the Message

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Every happening, great and small, 
is a parable whereby God speaks to us, 
and the art of life is to get the message.
…Listening to great music, or reading great literature,

an inner rhythm is detected and the heart rejoices,
and a light breaks which is none other than
God’s love shining through all of creation.
~Malcolm Muggeridge from his lecture “Christ and the Media”

 

For Lent this year, each day will be devoted to a story Jesus told –his parables–
to help each of us “get the message” in a way we might not otherwise.

Whether about a lost coin, a wandering sheep, a light hidden from view,
or a hypercritical older brother:  the parable told is about me and choices I make.

 

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Every day is filled with stories told
and I feel too rushed to listen,
to take time for transformation
by what I see or feel or hear,
no matter how seemingly
small and insignificant.

When I pause
for the parable,
it makes all the difference:

A steaming manure pile
becomes the crucible for my failings
transformed into something useful,
a fertilizer to be spread
to grow what it touches.

An iced-over water barrel
reflects distant clouds
above me as I peer inside,
its frozen blue eye focused
past my brokenness
to mirror a beauty
far beyond.

An old barn roof awaiting repair
has gaps torn of fierce winds,
allowing rain and snow
and invading vines inside
what once was safe and secure,
a sanctuary exposed to storms.

I am looking.
I am listening.
Getting the message.
Badly in need of repair.
To be changed, transformed,
and to become part
of the story being told.

 

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When Flesh and Heart Shall Fail

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(Ten years ago this week, this healthy young college student came to our clinic stricken with seasonal influenza complicated by pneumonia.  His family gave permission for his story to be told.)

 

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Nothing was helping.  Everything had been tried for a week of the most intensive critical care possible.  A twenty year old man, completely healthy only two weeks previously, was dying and nothing could stop it.

The battle against a sudden MRSA pneumonia precipitated by a routine seasonal influenza had been lost.   Despite aggressive hemodynamic, antibiotic, antiviral and ventilator management, he was becoming more hypoxic and his renal function was deteriorating.  He had been unresponsive for most of the week.

The intensivist looked weary and defeated. The nurses were staring at their laps, unable to look up, their eyes tearing. The hospital chaplain reached out to hold this young man’s mother’s shaking hands.

After a week of heroic effort and treatment, there was now clarity about the next step.

Two hours later, a group gathered in the waiting room outside the ICU doors. The average age was about 21; they assisted each other in tying on the gowns over their clothing, distributed gloves and masks. Together, holding each other up, they waited for the signal to gather in his room after the ventilator had been removed and he was breathing without assistance. They entered and gathered around his bed.

He was ravaged by this sudden illness, his strong body beaten and giving up. His breathing was now ragged and irregular, sedation preventing response but not necessarily preventing awareness. He was surrounded by silence as each individual who had known and loved him struggled with the knowledge that this was the final goodbye.

His father approached the head of the bed and put his hands on his boy’s forehead and cheek.  He held this young man’s face tenderly, bowing in silent prayer and then murmuring words of comfort:

It is okay to let go. It is okay to leave us now.
We will see you again. We’ll meet again.
We’ll know where you will be.

His mother stood alongside, rubbing her son’s arms, gazing into his face as he slowly slowly slipped away. His father began humming, indistinguishable notes initially, just low sounds coming from a deep well of anguish and loss.

As the son’s breaths spaced farther apart, his dad’s hummed song became recognizable as the hymn of praise by John Newton, Amazing Grace.  The words started to form around the notes. At first his dad was singing alone, giving this gift to his son as he passed, and then his mom joined in as well. His sisters wept. His friends didn’t know all the words but tried to sing through their tears. The chaplain helped when we stumbled, not knowing if we were getting it right, not ever having done anything like this before.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.

And he left us.

His mom hugged each sobbing person there–the young friends, the nurses, the doctors humbled by powerful pathogens. She thanked each one for being present for his death, for their vigil kept through the week in the hospital.

This young man, now lost to this life, had profoundly touched people in a way he could not have ever predicted or expected. His parents’ grief, so gracious and giving to the young people who had never confronted death before, remains unforgettable.

This was their sacred gift to their son so Grace will lead us home.

 

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