Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sidewalk Chalk

As I came to work last week, I found this welcome sign on the sidewalk at the entryway to the building. It was a welcome home greeting from the folks of East Anchorage UMC for one of their pastors, Fa'atafa' Fulumu'a, who just got back from attending the Course of Study for Local Pastors at Claremont School of Theology. Pastor Tafa, who graduated this summer, was gone for a couple of weeks and this was one of the many ways his congregation said "congratulations and welcome home."

This sign reminded me of sidewalk signs that adorn the course during a race. Many people get very creative in supporting their runners. I've seen sidewalk chalk of different colors saying encouraging messages. I've seen personalized and handmade banners and posters. One of my all time favorites was a sign left on a secluded section of a trail that said, "Run, stranger, run!"

Now some people take it to a whole new level. I've seen somebody blast music from their Bluetooth speakers. I've seen a group come out with their drums, helping runners keep their cadence. Some come with cow bells. And then there are those who meet the runners with treats! Donuts from a stranger. Gummy worms from kids. A friend of mine said he's even had a Bloody Mary offered to him by a spectator!

Sidewalk chalk. Banners and signs. Music. Cowbells. Gummy worms and Bloody Marys. I will testify to the fact that all of these simple things add up and give strength for the miles still to come. At mile 20 of a marathon, right as I hit "the wall" and want to quit already, these simple gestures have helped push me forward.

Simple words and acts of encouragement go a long way.
The account of the baptism of Jesus appears in all 4 gospels. Mark and Luke say it almost the same way. Matthew states it slightly differently and as always, John has his own take on it. In Matthew, after Jesus comes out of the water, the voice from heaven said, "This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17, NRSV). In Mark and Luke, the voice from heaven after Jesus is baptized says, "You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22b, NRSV). 

Notice the difference? In Matthew, God’s voice comes as an announcement to the people. “This is my beloved son.” It is a public proclamation to the people about who Jesus was. And that was important. A good introduction and reference. Jesus needed that as he was to begin his public ministry. But in Mark and Luke, God goes personal. Maybe it was just a whisper meant for Jesus: “You are my beloved son. With you, I am well pleased.” 

Jesus was about to launch his ministry. He was beginning something big, something risky and dangerous. He needed all the affirmation and encouragement that he could get. “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” These words did not take away the burden of the task or the pain he had to go through, but it gave him the strength to move forward. I imagine Jesus going back to these words as he prayed alone or struggled with his mission. These words strengthened him as he was tempted in the wilderness, guided him through his ministry, supported him at Gethsemane, and held him through Calvary. It was a voice that defined Jesus for the rest of his human life and ministry. 

Simple words and acts of encouragement go a long way.

I would like to offer a word of thanks to everyone who have reached out and continue to reach out in love and support to Ron, Rachel and Rebekah Myers during this difficult time of grief and transition. It has been an amazing outpouring of support and presence! Thank you! Please continue to be in prayer for them, as well as for the UMC of Chugiak and for First UMC Anchorage.

I also would like to express my deepest gratitude to all who have reached out to me, saying that they are praying for me as I lead the conference through this tough time. Thank you. I felt them.

I am sure those words on the sidewalk meant a lot to Pastor Tafa. As I write this piece, I am reminded that he is in Seattle caring for his wife, Aua, who is recovering from a kidney transplant procedure. Please continue to pray for them as well. 

We are all running this race called life. Runners have a certain ethos that when we're in a race, we cheer one another on. We share high fives, smiles and encouraging words. May you be an encouragement to someone today, by your words and simple acts. May you be encouraged by someone today by their words and simple acts. And may this today be God's word and simple act reminding you that you are God's beloved child in whom God is well pleased.


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