ROMANS 12:2: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
2 CORINTHIANS 3:18“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
Did you ever have an experience than really could only be termed “surreal”? Dream-like? Something that stands out from the ordinary that can’t seem to leave your mind? Did you feel the experience changed you in some way?
A month ago, Ed and I left for Mt Airy, NC for our first Siamese Twins, Chang and Eng, Reunion. That alone has a feeling of being unreal, but I assure you it was quite real. You see, Ed is the Great Great Grandson of Chang Bunker, one of the original Siamese Twins. Ed is related to the Twins through his mother, Patti Hill’s, side of the family. Patti grew up in Mt. Airy, NC where her Great Grandfather Chang and conjoined twin, Eng, were quite famous. The Twins settled there after leaving the circus, met sisters- daughters of a Baptist preacher- married and had 21 offspring.
A little background: As children, the Twins lived with their parents on a boat in Siam (now Thailand.) The boys raised ducks (on a boat!) and sold their eggs to make a living. The Twins got quite a bit of attention, even from the Royal Palace, because of their unusual disability - joined together at birth by a flap of skin on their chests. Despite their physical deformities, they managed quite well and were very athletic. Eventually they caught the eye of a sea Captain who figured out a way to exploit them in American circuses. As teens, Chang and Eng left their homeland, never to see it or their family again - spending their days and nights being indentured servants, working for very little while American circuses profited.
As the Twins got older and wanted a different life, they ended up marrying NC sisters. Together the Twins amassed large quantities of land thanks to their great business acumen and without a formal education. They even built a Baptist church where they would eventually be laid to rest in the cemetery out back. Ed and I got to see this place with our own eyes. There are streets and also a bridge named for the Twins as well as a Museum honoring Ed’s famous relatives which is connected to another famous Mt Airy native, Andy Griffith. A large statue of the Twins is also in the works.
The Siamese Twins is a wonderful true story of overcoming adversity and would make a great sermon on its own- written about by many authors including Mark Twain and most recently by Yunte Huang - “Inseparable”. I could go on and on about them but I will save that story for another time.
Today I want to share with you a related story- equally as remarkable. Ed’s Mom, Patti, grew up in beautiful Mt Airy, NC. Some like to call it “Mayberry” since it is the muse of Andy Griffith’s creation. The downtown area holds Walker’s Drug Store & Fountain Shop, Snappy’s Lunch, Floyd’s Barbershop and other familiar names for Mayberry aficionados. Miss Patti eventually became a Nurse and met Ed Mantie Sr., while he was stationed in the Navy in Key West. They married, had our Ed, and later settled in Carteret NJ- daughters Carol and Claire to follow. Despite many years in Central Jersey, Miss Patti maintained her NC drawl as well as a jar of bacon grease by the stove. She entertained many with her colorful anecdotes as she cooked up Southern treats. Pattie worked hard as a night duty Nurse in a local NJ hospital and took care of her family during the day. There was little time for sleep. Many years later, Patti passed and was cremated. It was her dying wish to return to her childhood home of Mt Airy, NC and have her ashes sprinkled from Pilot Mountain. (You Andy Griffith fans may remember this as Mt Pilot.)
Ed had not been back to Mt Airy since he distributed Miss Patti’s ashes and wanted to do something special to remember his Mom. He thought about bringing yellow flowers (his Mom’s favorite color) and throwing them off the 2400ft elevation but wasn’t really satisfied with that idea. I suggested Ed write his Mom a letter, we burn it and then he blow the ashes off the mountain. Ed loved the plan and “commenced” to writing.
It was the day after the big event where the entire Royal Thai Delegation from DC, the Governor of Shamut Songkhram, Thailand (the Twins hometown) as well as the Sec’y of State of NC signed into effect
“Sister Cities” of Mt Airy and Shamut Songkhram. This morning we had attended a lovely Baptist service with Ed’s wonderful cousins Judy and Gary. Afterward, we set out on our own on what would be a very emotional and surreal afternoon.
Pilot Mountain is an awe-inspiring sight – a 2400ft elevation of the Blue Ridge Mountains and remnant of ancient Native American Sauratown Mountains. Pilot Mountain gets its name from its navigational qualities- from land and by air. There are endless views from the top for those not afraid of heights. It really takes your breath away- especially the winding road to the summit with an incredible drop just a few feet from the side of the road we were driving on. It was already becoming a spiritual journey for me as I prayed silently the Jeep wouldn’t go over the side!
We parked, had a discussion of how we would go about burning the letter, and walked to the first overlook. Let me just say it rendered me speechless and Ed will verify that doesn’t happen often. Looking out over God’s creation from such a vantage point really gives you a feeling of His majesty – the endless land, the colors, the beauty of nature, birds of prey soaring overhead…
After a few pictures, we set out on our hike to the top. Each rest area gave way to views even more devastatingly beautiful than the last. Ed found a secluded spot with only a simple open wooden fence separating us from the tops of giant trees, overlooking NC. He removed the letter to his Mom, lighted the paper and ashes started to fall. I said a prayer thanking God for Miss Patti’s life and joy in knowing she was safe in her Savior’s arms. Ed spoke a few words and told his Mom he
loved her. It was a very moving moment as we watched ashes fly into the air and become one with the mountain.
Suddenly Ed said, “LOOK!!” A few inches to his right, I saw a large yellow butterfly had landed on a purple flower. We watched, holding our collective breath –mesmerized. This beautiful yellow Swallowtail butterfly calmly fluttered its wings and kept us company- yet staying close to Ed. We took pictures, wanting to capture this incredible moment- feeling we had been a part of something really special.
Later, we talked about what a momentous trip this had been and eventually spoke of the yellow butterfly. Neither of us could get it out of our mind. What did it mean? A sign from his Mom? A sign from God to comfort Ed? Or was it just a coincidence? The timing was incredible, just after our little service.
Ed revealed to me he could have been a better son to his Mom and was apologizing to her in his letter- telling how he regretted his actions and loved her. Ed was making an amends to mother. After we both cried, I said I think the Butterfly was about forgiveness- about forgiving others and also about forgiving ourselves. There is much beauty in that.
Later, I shared this story with my friend Linda. She told me about her doctor. He had just buried his wife; the graveside service was over when a green Butterfly landed on his forehead. He was at first struck by the fact he had never seen a green butterfly before. Then, he too, wondered if this was a sign from his wife? Or God to comfort him? The Doctor mused that the timing was incredible.
Does God always show Himself to us but are we often too busy and distracted by life to notice? Is God trying to get your attention? And… why a butterfly?
The Beautiful Butterfly everyone appreciates, but it has its humble beginnings as a caterpillar. I don’t think anyone thinks the Caterpillar is beautiful. It’s definitely not delicate but chunky, furry and not nearly as colorful. Farmers certainly don’t like them to eat their crops. Caterpillars don’t glide through the air but crawl along. They are definitely the world’s best “before/after” makeover as they undergo the process of METAMORPHOSIS. Did you know that in the Greek Bible, Metamorphoo is translated to Transform?Paul’s letter in Romans tells us to metamorphoo or transform by renewing our minds. He’s telling us to be picky about the things we read, what we see, what we hear and what we do. Simply- put good stuff in – get good stuff out.
Our world is so full of anger and violence- in news, our movies and books. God’s word can’t fit in with a steady diet of that. Zig Ziglar, a Christian Motivational speaker (fav of my Dad’s) said,”Feed your mind with the good, the clean, the pure, the powerful and positive.” I believe this means read God’s Word, go to church to recharge, Bible Study, watch spiritual movies (there are more coming out these days), volunteer and hang out with positive like-minded people. Input- output.
Do any of you know someone who may have been a little shady or unkind? Someone who perhaps might be the LAST person you would expect to change and then they DO?! One might even say they “Transformed” as in our reading from Romans 12. They are no longer “conforming” to the world but are “transforming” to what is God’s will? (Ed’s letter and admission of not being the best son was a process of transformation.)
Perhaps you know someone who has reached the bottom in life, found God and changed 100%? Experienced their own Metamorphosis? We all know people like that – maybe a friend, a relative, maybe even ourselves.
Don’t you think the Butterfly is an awesome symbol for a person’s TRANSFORMATION as they accept Christ into their lives? When you putJesus first, the rest of your life will just fall into place. The person has let go of the old ways (ugly caterpillar) and been reborn/”metamorphed” into something beautiful like the butterfly. The possibilities for growth and change are endless. 2nd Corinthians points out that we are “transformed in the same image” as we are saved through Christ. However, this is an ongoing process- an ideal or goal. We as humans often take one step forward only to take two steps back.
Sin and this world can really get us down- we might feel we are crawling at times…just inching along in our misery. In contrast, the transformed butterfly can go far- some migrate as far as Mexico in their short lives. God enters us and we feel “uplifted”, our hearts “soaring” with gratitude of His wonders-a beautiful view from a mountain, a sunset or a rainbow-a symbol of our Covenant with God. Jesus never promised our lives would be easy, but HE overcame the world and we can too when we are transformed by His love for us during our lives as in Romans 12 and 2nd Corinthians. Jesus gave his life for us. There cannot be a greater love or greater sacrifice.
So… was the Butterfly on Mt Airy a sign? Or mere coincidence? You decide. The Butterfly did very importantly remind us of the TRANSFORMATIONAL powers of God in our lives when we ask Him into our hearts. As you leave here today, take time to notice the joy in simple pleasures. Notice the beauty around us that God has created. Thank Him for the lovely sunrise each morning as my Dad always did or that much needed cool breeze on a hot August afternoon.
JEREMIAH 29: 11`-12, PSALM 25: 4-9, LUKE 21: 25-31
(”IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY, BUT I GET THE GIFT”/ “DON’T WORRY…WE’LL GET THROUGH THIS TOGETHER”)
(Chaplain E. Lahti Rosensaft)
“Push me…pull me…lead me…guide me.” This has been my plaintiff cry to the Lord since He called my beloved Dad, mostly known as “Grandpa”, home on October 17, 2018. Although I had assumed most responsibilities of my Dad’s after his broken hip in 2013, it was scary to be left without the head of the family to attend to all of his final needs, his estate and other matters, without being able to bounce things off him. My Dad would always comfort me in times of trouble and say,” Don’t worry- we’ll get through this together.” Knowing that I wasn’t alone gave me great solace. But what to do now? I needed a plan, with instructions, from a patient Coach. God had pulled me out of stressful situations before and it was only natural I would immediately reach out to Him. Being someone who understands that the Lord can move mountains, but expects us to bring a shovel, I knew I was in for quite a bit of work, as well as heartache, but I was comforted in knowledge my Savior “Coach” would be right there with me for this journey too.
Today’s readings make clear the following promises:
There is a plan for each of us and it is good.
There will be instructions, “signs” and a Coach who prunes with love.
A Great Reward is freely given: Hope, Grace, Mercy, Forgiveness of Sins and Everlasting Life.
1.THE PLAN: How do I know of this “plan”? For the Bible tells me so! Our first lesson of the day comes from Jeremiah 29- my Dad used to quote this to me frequently and it has become my go to verse. “For I know the plans I have for you…to prosper you…not to harm you…to give you hope and a future.” I don’t know about you, but when I am floundering with indecision or fear, it gives me peace to know there is a plan for my life, as there is a plan for yours, too. It’s like my Dad saying to me,”Don’t worry…we’ll get through this together.” God didn’t bring me this far to just drop me off, but it’s hard to be in the solution when you are mourning a loss. Many of us feel frozen in our grief. We can’t deal with anything else at the moment.
Everyone experiences some kind of loss at different stages in their life:
Loved ones - a parent, spouse, child (the worst), sibling, a friend or a dear pet?
Tangible loss- financial, a job or a home as many here in NJ experienced with Hurricane Sandy.
Physical loss- lack of mobility, sight or hearing changes, memory, inability to care for yourself, a health crisis.
Suddenly everything we know has changed – our plans are broken. Nothing is the same. The good news is that God is always the same- unchanging in His love and concern for us, his children. The Lord proclaims in Jeremiah, “Come and pray tome and I will listen.”
Later today at Zion we are celebrating Hilary King, beloved wife of Ken for 62 years, who went to glory on October 1st. The King family is now forever altered. Hilary was my Soprano Choir buddy and friend for many years. We supported each other in our ups and downs. I would get surprise books and cards from her in the mail that brightened my day. An incredibly humble servant of the Lord, she would be embarrassed when I would thank her for them. Hilary, the Zion official Uber, was picking up those for church who were unable to drive anymore. She was also entertainer of homeless children in our Family Promise program, who
came scared, hungry and without a clear view of their future, to our church – finding a comforting friend in Hilary who would put them at ease. Change is tough- loss isrough. I had a 3rd loss in this same two weeks in October- my friend, Mary Ann. She was part of my new found “cruise buddies” and one of the most giving individuals you ever wanted to meet. She constantly crocheted blankets and slippers for all of her friends AND the friends relatives! If you visited her house you left with a shopping bag full of crocheted items, dinners and home grown veggies in the summer. I have beautiful reminders of Mary Ann adorning my living room. I’m sure her husband Tom wonders what the plan is for his life now after over 40 years of marriage. Our Country lost a President this week, but the Bush family lost a Dad, a Grandpa, a Great Grandpa. Loss is a big common denominator. It was Hilary’s, Mary Ann’s, President Bush’s and my Dad’s time, but what about those who are left behind? What do we do now?
2.) INSTRUCTIONS: My Dad had a sign in his house in the entry way “GROWING OLD IS NOT FOR WHIMPS.” (I used to think that was funny.) It was hard for my Dad to go from running 2 ½ miles a day before he opened the doors of his business 6 days a week, chopping wood in the evening for his woodstove to being in a wheelchair. He learned to find the little joys in each day- reading Scripture and over-feeding Ritz Crackers to the birds on his deck. Change is a part of life and most of us humans don’t like it one bit. I know I don’t. But God has PROMISED each of us a plan and I know He will make good on it. Adjusting our sails to accommodate the winds of God is easier said than done. Acceptance is the key but no one said it would be easy.
My Dad, a usually positive person, once bemoaned the fact that the list of the “couldn’t do’s” was getting bigger than the “could do’s”. His bookkeeper, Ann, told him he had the most important job now and that was to pray for us all. My Dad took that to heart and kept a list of everyone who asked him to pray for in his Bible- there were hundreds of people on that ever expanding list he prayed for each day. We all have ways to give of ourselves even as our skill sets change over the years. Prayer will help guide us towards the next leg when we come to those forks in the road. (Or perhaps a discussion with a trusted friend- like the Pastor?) I have found that in my darkest moments, helping someone else ALWAYS helps raise my spirits and gets “me out of me”. Doesn’t St. Francis tell us that in giving we receive?
Our second reading today from the 25th Psalm directs us to be proactive in discovery of God’s instructions. “Show me your ways, Lord. Teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me.” How do we do this? My simplistic “Push me, pull me, lead me, guide me” works for me. In quiet meditation ask God to show you where you should go, what is the right plan? How should you proceed? God loves to hear from us… First Thessalonians tells us to “Pray without ceasing”. God loves to hear from His children. We don’t needbig fancy prayers just short heartfelt concerns. God is more than just a Sunday God- He’s a 7 days a week God! You know how you might shoot your friends a text throughout the day? Do that with the Lord! Keep that connection alive. And I can’t stress this next partenough – as you see things start to take shape in your life- THANK HIM! I say “Thank you, Jesus” all the time. I never could have gotten through the last 5 years, or especially the last month, without constant hand holding from my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Some say trials in our lives give us moreopportunities to be closer to God. Do you visit the dealership’s service department or the Doctor’s office to tell them how great things are? Probably not…
I believe the more anxious I am during these “trials”, shows how little I am trusting in the power of God. That Psalm reads, “My hope is in you all day long.” That means God is always with as we go through the tough things (and the good things) in life. I love the humor in this Psalm where David, a Bible hero with clay feet, cries,” Do not remember the sins of my youth (Bathsheba!)…for you Lord are good.” It seems that David, a once Bible bad boy, is feeling unworthy. The cool thing about God is He knows us inside and out, good and bad, and STILL loves us! Jesus died for our sins to be forgiven- washed away as we saw in the Children’s sermon demonstration. All of us have an enormous need for grace and mercy – David was no different. He went on to do great things. It only shows us
God does not call the prepared, He prepares the called. This draws attention to how great and infinite God’s power is.
Jesus, our teacher, has been known to use parables and it seems the fig tree was one of his favorites. As we go through life, trying to adhere to what seems to be the plan, oftentimes things go awry and not the way we had hoped. God may have to prune us into obedience here and there (like Israel) to go the right route. It’s like the parent who says they are “doing this for your own good”. Another tricky element here is that in asking for the plan, and also the guidance, we must remain teachable. This can be a very humbling and revealing phase.
When I was little, my Dad would take me to a family property on Spec Pond during the winter to let me ice skate. I enjoyed this time with my Dad and would twirl away on the pond in my little 5 year old world. On one occasion, my Dad noticed an area where the ice looked dark and appeared to have a hole. If I skated too close I could have fallen in and died. My Dad would not have been able to save me had I gone under the ice. He calmly called my name and asked me to come to the shoreline where he was standing. I was having fun and really didn’t want to go back to the shoreline, but being the obedient child, I did as I was told. (If I was 14 in this story, there may have been a different outcome.) I remember skating back and my Dad giving me an extra big hug. He told me there was danger out there – a hole near where I was skating and I could have fallen into the icy water. I shivered, even today, thinking about what might have happened. I put my trust in my earthly father to guide my path and keep me safe. In the same way, we need to put our trust in our Heavenly Father for guidance.
God often puts things in our path to change the progression of something that might be harmful- to give us a moment to reconsider what we are doing. I know one individual who struggled with alcohol. He was trying to stay sober, had some clean time but decided this day his problems were too big. He had a bottle of liquor out and was about to open the bottle. The phone suddenly rang and startled him- the long conversation that ensued kept that man from taking a drink that day. That was many years ago and he is still sober today. Have you ever been about to do something you didn’t think you should and the phone rang or perhaps someone knocked at the door? Or maybe you got upset to be caught in traffic but later found out there was a bad accident ahead that you might have been involved in? I believe that’s one of those pruning moments of the Lord’s to make us grow in the right way like the fig tree. When we ask God for a plan and help to guide our lives, we shouldn’t be surprised when HE gets involved.
As a 100% Viking woman, asking for help is hard, but God puts His Special Angels all around to guide us in times of need. Some of us need more help than others. Maybe you need help shoveling your walkway, going to the grocery store or taking care of a loved one? Taking care of my Dad long distance, I had to put my faith and trust in others (Special Angels- Nurse Lisa and Joann) to do the right thing for my father in MA when I was in NJ. It was a tough but necessary lesson to learn. “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.” In prayer, I try not to ask for specifics – wisdom, guidance and acceptance for God’s will. (That last part is often the hardest, most humbling and revealing of our own character.)
3.)THE GREAT REWARDS: Our last reading from Luke is Apocalyptic. It talks about end times and “signs”. This particular verse states “When they (fig trees) sproutleaves…you know that the summer is near.” Luke is likely referring to Jesus’s second coming but we don’t know when that is. “The Kingdom of God is near.” Patience is the watch word and we must have our “heads up” in alert. Advent is coming and that is where we find ourselves in the church calendar. We see the promise of the birth of Baby Jesus - God’s only Son given, to later take our sins. What an incredible gift! My Dad always referred to March 8th (my birthday) in this way, “It’s your Birthday but I get the gift.” (Meaning me!) How appropriate to look at Jesus’ birthday in this way- we are the ones who get “the gift”- Hope in a future, Grace, Mercy, Forgiveness of sins and Everlasting Life? These are the best presents under the tree.
As a Chaplain, I see a lot of sadness, but none so sad as those who have no faith. It’s awfully hard pushing water uphill alone. Those folks have no trusted friend in Jesus. I’ve had patients and their families angry with God and I tell them- “That’s OK. He can take it.” We talk- a lot. They look shocked but it shows them I’m open to conversation and it usually turns out they do have some faith, it’s just that their grief is just too much for them to carry anymore alone.
The Head of our JSUMC Pastoral Care Department, Rev. Cotton, shared a moving story at the Staff meeting Thursday. It seems there was a terminal patient, a Dad, who resisted any faith, even though his family did. Rev. Cotton visited many times and was beginning to think this was a lost cause. Suddenly the man’s wife phoned Rev. Cotton, explaining her husband really enjoyed their visits and encouraged Rev. Cotton to come back. The man accepted Christ an hour beforehe died. Tears welled in my eyes to hear such a tale for I knew God had moved a mountain in this man’s heart allowing Rev. Cotton to come in.
God has a hopeful plan for each and every one of us. He never tells us that our lives will be easy, but He does promise (John 16:33) to be with us and that He has overcome the world. God only asks that we reach out to Him, like a child to his earthly Dad.
God will instruct us in all of our ways and keep us from falling through the thin ice.It’s like He says,” Don’t worry…we’ll get through this together.”
Near the end of his Christmas Eve sermon, Pastor Bill McGowan read One Solitary Life…..
From Pastor McGowan after reading the above:
…..and that is true. Amen. I guess my word to us is that each of us has our life, a life that is to be united with this Prince of Peace, a light that is sent to dispel the darkness, a light that is meant to bring hope where there seems no hope, and in a world that is searching for answers and is searching for light, Christ calls each of us
our own solitary life to be joined with His to be a beacon of hope and love for this world. May that be a part of our reflection and prayer this night.
Genesis 9:12-17: And God said, “I am giving you a sign as evidence of my eternal covenant with you and all living creatures. I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my permanent promise to you and to all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will be seen in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with everything that lives. Never again will there be a flood that will destroy all life. When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature on earth.” Then God said to Noah, “Yes, this is the sign of my covenant with all the creatures of the earth.”
I love these verses! I will let you in on a secret, when Pastor Bill asked me to do a sermon again; he threw in an added enticement of me getting to pick the scripture. I knew I wanted to share these favorite verses of mine and their meaning and comfort to me. I hope that they will become a source of comfort to you, too.
SCIENCE: Before I get to that, what exactly is a rainbow? Scientists explain it as an arc of several colors in rain or spray opposite the sun. Optically it is a distorted image of the sun caused by light reflected and refracted through a rain drop. It is said that the brightest and most spectacular rainbows occur after big thunderstorms and the heaviest of rain. (It’s always darkest before the dawn?) They say that no two people see exactly the same rainbow, even if they are standing next to each other! Why? Apparently the few inches between each person’s eyes makes a difference in what you are viewing. (Don’t we all seethings from our own subjective point of view? Gives new meaning to the term, “Seeing things Eye to Eye”!) They also state that if you are driving and following a rainbow; look first with one eye only and then the other. You will see a different rainbow. (We look at thingsdifferently at different stages of our life...as you will learn in this sermon, something that is just pretty to look at took on greater meaning to me as I got older.) Something surprising: A rainbow is actually only aportion of an arc. If you were skydiving, you might see the whole ring. (A rainbow is a perfect, permanent, unending circle of God’s love for us.) Double rainbows occur when light bounces around inside a raindrop more than once before making it out. It is even possible to see 3rd, 4th and multiple rainbows. Each raindrop acts asboth “prism” and “mirror.”
HISTORICALLY SPEAKING:Homer thought the rainbow had only one color- purple! Aristotle said the rainbow had 3 colors: purple, yellow green and red. It wasn’t until the Renaissance that they decided rainbows had 4 colors: red, blue, green and yellow. They still had no idea where rainbows came from. Isaac Newton finally said there were 7 colors. His rival, Rene Descartes, came up with the idea that colors came from the sun being split into different colors by rain.
THE IDEA OF “7”: 7 Appears to be a significant number. Pythagoras felt the universe ran the RULE of 7: 7 days of the week, 7 notes in a musical scale, 7 planets (at that time) and 7 colors in the rainbow. Biblically, God created the earth in 7 days, He made the Sabbath the 7th day, 7 is the number of completeness and perfection; both physically and spiritually. Also of interest, seven is mentioned 735 times in the Bible, but nowhere more prominently than Revelation with discussion of 7 churches, 7 angels, 7 seals, etc. There are also the famous 7 Hills of Jerusalem.
RAINBOWS & OTHER CULTURES: We all know about Leprechauns, rainbows and the “pot of gold” in Ireland; but what do other cultures say about rainbows? Ancient Greece thought that Iris, wife of the god Zephyrus, caused rainbows. Iris was a messenger between mortals and the gods. She ran back and forth, dressed in shimmering multicolored robes. The word “iridescence” comes from Iris’ robes. In Medieval Germany, many believed that for 40 years prior to the end of the world, there would be no rainbows. The Germans were always relieved to see the rainbow and know the end was not near. “So the rainbows appear, the world has no fear, until thereafter 40 years.” Native Americans saw the rainbow as a “Pathway of Souls” and believed the rainbow forms the hem of the sun’s coat. The Japanese called it the “Floating Bridge of Heaven” and Polynesian legends call the rainbow the “Path to the UpperWorld”. In Norse religion, the “Burning Rainbow Bridge” took only good or virtuous warriors (Vikings) and royalty to the afterlife. Other cultures saw the rainbow in negative ways. In ancient times, Slavic people believed that looking or pointing at a rainbow would bring bad luck or even death! Amazonian cultures associated rainbows with evil spirits who caused harm such as miscarriages and skin disease. There is even an old saying that a house that is over arched by a rainbow will soon experience disaster within a year.
OTHER: Kermit the frog and Judy Garland sing about them, groups identify: Rainbow Coalition or Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland to name a few. Dolly Parton once said, “If you want the rainbows, you gotta put up with the rain!”
NOW WHAT DOES ALL THIS HAVE TO DO WITH WHY WE ARE HERE TODAY? Let’s go back to Genesis, where it all began. (Read portion of the scripture). God makes a covenant or a promise to Noah. What is a “covenant”? The preferred meaning in the Old Testament is “a bond”. God promised all people and all living creatures, that He will never create a global flood again. Noah and his family were the only people left after the Flood. The comforts of civilization had been washed away and they had to start over; kind of the way I feel after having communion…I am starting with a “clean slate”. God gave Noah His special blessing; and through Noah it is given to us. It is every bit as real and present today for all of us as it was for Noah then. This is real “show and tell” for God’s presence: in the RAINBOW! God is reachingout to us in the form of a beautiful rainbow. How cool is that?!
God presented Noah and all his ancestors the ultimate blueprint for healthy living. God gave Noah a new start and the Rainbow is our reminder in 2015 that God is with us and will be with us as we stumble through life. I love Noah because he was a “regular” guy, he wasn’t perfect, even had some issues with alcohol. (Remember, man was made at the end of the week when God might have been tired!) God still saw Noah as a righteous man, despite his flaws, and used him for good. Noah, despite his failings, listened to God. He built the ark amidst ridicule in his society. Maybe some of us think God doesn’t use us in His plans; maybe we think we’re not important enough. Nonsense! Think again…we have seen many people in the Bible who stumbled but went on to greatness; “Ordinary people doing extraordinary things”; how about David or Joseph? As a Chaplain, I witness God hard at work through the caregivers on the Oncology floor where I work. I started a support group and Drop In center for the nurses and staff. There is nothing glamorous about some of their jobs, but they have the biggest hearts and show God’s love in all the details.
AS Christians we need not look for the “pot of gold” as the Leprechauns did. The rainbow, God’s covenant with us, is much more valuable; it IS the pot of gold. Jesus continued God’s covenant. God gave His only Son to us who would later die for our sins. God couldn’t have given us more. As a Mom, I can’t imagine the sacrifice God made. The rainbow is a beautiful reminder to ALL God’s creatures of His love and promises.
I have my own Rainbow story. Ten years ago, I lost 2 people in my life, coincidentally on the same summer day. I was devastated. “How could this happen?” I thought, “such a cruel blow for me and for others”. I was standing in my living room in Barnegat Light which faces the ocean. For some reason, I felt compelled to go outside on the deck. I needed to catch my breath after such awful news. I shuffled outside feeling down cast. It was then I saw people walking towards the beach with cameras talking excitedly. “What’s going on?” I wondered. As I continued to puzzle this mystery, I lifted my head up and my eyes suddenly went wide. Wow! The biggest rainbow I had ever seen, seeming to stretch across the horizon over the ocean! I started to run back inside to get my camera when I noticed something else, there were TWO RAINBOWS; the 2nd one, a little fainter above the primary rainbow. I excitedly called to my daughter Mia to bring my camera. I stayed outside for a long time that day, looking at this gorgeous, natural phenomena; not wanting to leave because I felt I would never see such a spectacle again! Slowly I realized this double rainbow was God’s promise to be with us, His covenant to care for us all as he brought comfort to Noah and his family. I felt His presence with me that day. God was reaching out to me in the form of these beautiful rainbows. There were two rainbows and for me they represented each of my loved ones who had passed away. Instead of being sad, despite my tears and red nose by now, I felt joy that they were with God, enveloped in the incredible beauty of His RainbowPromise.
Years later, I was feeling down about a situation in my life. It might have been trivial to others, but for me it was upsetting. Lost in thought as I watered my hydrangeas, I silently prayed to God for wisdom and direction. Suddenly I noticed a rainbow inside the bushes. My face went from a frown to a smile as God, once again, reminded me He was withme, His Promise, in good times and bad, no matter how small. I called my Cousin Sarah and she said the story gave her chills and hope.
As many of you know, I have a wheelchair bound Dad I visit every 3 weeks in Massachusetts. This past week, getting him from rehab after the latest fall, his condition continuing to deteriorate, I was at my wits end with all the jobs that I inherited. Maybe you can relate to feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and feeling like you are only one small person with the workload of many? I heard my new IPhone ring and saw I had a text coming in; it was from Ed. He had taken a photo from the deck of my house of a giant rainbow over the ocean, reminding me that God was still with me even though I was feeling alone. Again, my spirits lifted. God works through others.
A few days ago I was talking to a friend. She asked what I was doing this weekend. “Well…actually I am preaching the sermon at my church, it’s about “rainbows”. “Say no more; I have a story for you,” she said. It seems years ago my friend was suffering hard times, living as a single Mom with her parents. Her 2 year old daughter was just diagnosed with Leukemia. My friend was very down as she drove back from her daughter’s latest chemo treatment at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She is a spiritual lady and prayed as she drove the 90 minutes back to the Jersey Shore. “Dear God, things are so bad. Please show me a sign that You are with my daughter and me; that You will get us through this.” As my friend steered around the curve she had the surprise of her life; on the horizon was the biggest rainbow she had ever seen! God was reaching out to my friend in the form of a rainbow. With tears in her eyes, she thanked God and was amazed that He had heard her and responded so quickly! Today, that little 2 year old girl is a healthy 17 year old young lady! YES!
Today I am filled with joy when I see a rainbow; I feel it is God reaching out to me and to others. I am always amazed at how the timing is soperfect. I always remember to thank Him for reaching out to me and I never feel alone.
I pray that you are feeling hopeful today. In every big and seemingly trivial moment, God is with us, from the time of the Flood and even when we see glimpses of Him as we care for our plants. The promise to Noah is still as strong for us today. Now go look for your own rainbow promises.
Greetings of Peace and Joy in this time of Our Lord’s Eastertide! Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
I can’t tell you how wonderful our Easter Celebrations were this year both at the Inlet and at Zion as well. My appreciation for all who helped out at the inlet with setting up our space for worship. If you haven’t ever been there for that early morning celebration, mark your calendars for next year. What moves me as we worship there is that people come from all over to worship together. People are coming from all the Christian denominations and people who don’t belong to any particular denomination as well. The variety of faiths gathered into one is exactly in keeping with Jesus’ Maundy Thursday prayer at the Last Supper. “That they may all be one. As you, Father are in me and I am in You, may they be one in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me!” (John 17:21). There is a special gift of God’s presence at that service that’s hard to describe. Being outside at the water’s edge, early Easter morning, bundled in blankets on beach chairs! Worshipping the Lord in gratitude, joy and thanksgiving! The Lord is with us!
Back at Zion later that morning, we gave thanks too for Eleanor Crane sitting at the organ bench! Our appreciation to the Reynolds for hosting and teaching all 16 of our children who were at worship on Easter Morning at Zion! The boys and girls found their Sunday School time just what they were looking for! And for all of you! It’s just great to be a part of your faithfulness to Our Lord and to Zion’s mission! Joan and I are so grateful for this time of our lives and the pleasure to share our days with you! May God’s blessings be with you and your family in this new season!
Winter is over! Spring is with us! You can feel the Island coming to life as more of our stores are reopening after their winter closures. The bicycles are out on the pavements again just waiting for someone to take them for a ride! The traffic lights are still blinking but not for long! Zion is gearing up too for another summer season of new faces, summer worship and lots of opportunities to be together as God’s Holy People in Christ at Zion Lutheran Church! Let’s have a great spring and get ready to welcome our extended Zion Church family back home again! I can’t wait to see the rich new blessings that God has in store for us all!
This article was written by Stan Zdep, a Zion church member. It was published in LivingLBI magazine in the October, 2014.
DON’T BE TOO QUICK TO BLAME GOD FOR YOUR MISFORTUNES
Reprinted from LivingLBI, October, 2014
At noon On Saturday, May 3, I noticed the dark curtain that was ominously invading the field of sight in my right eye. I knew that this meant a detaching retina and that my window for obtaining help was small.
But let’s start at the beginning. My wife, Betty Anne, and I have been fortunate to be able to spend summers on LBI and winters at our place in Jupiter, Florida. This winter, after many seasons, we decided to put our condo on the market, with the realtor’s contract scheduled to expire on April 1. We had planned to return to LBI on April 2. Before we left, in early March we had an acceptable offer that appeared ironclad. We began packing only to discover that the buyer backed out at the last moment for personal reasons. My initial reaction was anger--anger at God specifically. I had prayed for a sale, and not only had this not occurred, but I seemed to have been toyed with in the process.
Then, I remembered a clergyman once saying that sometimes our wishes aren’t granted because God has a greater (different) plan for us. This consoled me and my anger dissipated. But even in my wildest dreams I couldn’t envision what God’s plan for me would be.
The day after we arrived back at LBI on April 4, we received a better cash offer from a different buyer who had viewed the property earlier. It proposed a closing date of May 13, which was a week later than the original offer. I did not realize then that I was about to have some serious eye problems, but God would provide the time, place and resources for me to prevail. With this new closing date, God had just established the timetable that would coincide with my upcoming eye probems and the place (South Florida) where a miraculous series of events was about to occur. As a scientist, I define a miracle as science so advanced as to be currently unexplainable.
Betty Anne and I returned to Florida to pack our belongings on April 29. At the airport rental counter I was asked if I wanted to upgrade to a luxury car. I declined, but in the rental lot, a Cadillac awaited us.
The packing went smoothly until four days later when my retina began to detach. Being a Saturday, my ophthalmologist’s office was closed, but the answering service forwarded the message to the on-call doctor who agreed to see me within the half hour. He confirmed what I suspected, but delivered worse news that all eye surgery centers, including the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute satellite in nearby Palm Beach were closed for the weekend. The Bascom Palmer Hospital emergency room in Miami was the only place in south Florida where I could receive prompt attention. Had my retina problem occurred during a weekday, I would have had it taken care of at one of the local surgi-centers. In retrospect, that would have been a serious mistake.
We left the ophthalmologist’s office not knowing if Betty Anne could negotiate the complicated, eighty mile emergency drive to Miami. Arriving back at the condo, we called Michael and Mary Ann, friends living on our floor. This was the beginning of the resources being provided that I needed. These friends would serve as angels on my shoulder until we returned to LBI.
Michael and Mary Ann drove us to and from Miami. At Bascom Palmer, a retina specialist on duty determined that fluid had already invaded the center of the eye known as the macula. Immediate surgery to prevent this was no longer needed, so I was scheduled for surgery on Monday, May 5, the same day that the movers would be arriving at the condo. In addition to these logistical problems, we were worried about a persistent hacking cough I had that might undo a delicate retina operation. I also was concerned about having brought along sufficient hypertension pills to get me through almost two additional weeks in Florida. I counted them, and there were exactly the number that I would require.
On Sunday, May 4, Michael accompanied me on the return trip to Miami, while Betty Anne and Mary Ann stayed behind to supervise the move. In he meantime, Mary Ann had been on the internet and discovered that Bascom Palmer had been named No. 1 in ophthalmology nationally for ten consecutive years in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Hospitals” rankings. This meant that it also had to be No. 1 in the world.
We stayed at a nearby hotel in Miami for two nights. Michael was constantly at my side pre-and post op at the hospital to assist and independently listen to everything I was told. He returned to the hotel during the surgery which was supposed to last 30 minutes. It took two hours because my cataract-replaced lens (IOL) clouded and prevented the surgeons from seeing the retina. Two of Bascom Palmer’s top retina specialists employed an endoscope to complete the operation. Later my surgeon told me that Bascom Palmer was probably the only eye hospital to have such equipment available in the operating room. The chances of surgery success without it were nil.
Five minutes after my arriving in the recovery room Michael appeared, telling me that he had ordered special recovery equipment by which I could remain face down, as required, for a week or more. The only place where this equipment could be rented, predictably by now, was in Jupiter!
While in the recovery room, separated by a curtain, a man in the next cubical was moaning in obvious pain. When he implored Jesus’ help, I also said a short prayer for him.
I overheard an attending nurse tell another patient that everyone had to remain in the recovery room for at least one hour. Upon taking my blood pressure, she found it to be 168/95. I told her that I was confident it would return to 137/78 within 15 minutes. It did, and I was permitted to leave. Upon passing the man who had been in discomfort, I noticed he was resting peacefully, apparently without major pain.
After a post-op examination the following day (May 6) I was cleared to return to Jupiter, worry free riding comfortably on the soft suspension of the Cadillac. I had instructions for Betty Anne to administer eye drops twelve times a day. She dutifully did this. The discomforting news was that I would be unable to fly for at least six weeks due to the gas bubble that had been inserted in my eye during surgery. We needed to be out of our condo in seven days, May 13, and had no idea what we were going to do.
One good thing, my hacking cough disappeared after the surgery and did not return until my retina had completely healed.
Beyond coincidence, Michael and Mary Ann told us that they would be driving to New York on May 15, and they insisted that we accompany them. Moreover, we were invited to stay with them during the two days when our condo would be unavailable. A quick call to the airline, Jet Blue, resulted in our being credited for our return tickets, without penalty.
On May 9, I was able to meet with my surgeon at the Bascom Palmer satellite in Palm Beach, thus avoiding a long drive to Miami. It was then I learned that my lens had become completely detached, and I would require another operation. Apparently, it had been loose prior to the operation. This explained the squinting I sometimes had to do to focus that eye.
Since we were about to head north, my Miami surgeon called Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia and arranged a follow-up examination with the surgeon who had been his primary professor while he trained there.
That Sunday, May 11, we attended church and were seated directly in front of a woman whom we recognized. We had exchanged pleasantries in the past, but not much more. This time, however, upon learning of my eye problem, she placed her hand on my shoulder and related the story of her six-year old grandson who had an identical problem. Speaking softly, she reassured me that all would be well. I was certain of this as I realized God had just passed by and delivered a message to me.
After spending the final two days of our stay in Florida with Michael and Mary Ann in their condo, we all headed north in their car. The drive was leisurely, and we spent three nights in hotels. The wind, thunderstorms and tornados remained a day ahead of us as we traveled in perfect weather. Upon reaching the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel we learned that it had been closed by weather the previous day.
We arrived on LBI on May 18, whereupon Betty Anne called our friends, Larry and Judy who had looked after our house while we were in Florida, to inquire if they knew someone who could drive us to Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia on the 21st for my check-up. Larry said that he did, and the persons’ names were Larry and Judy. Thereupon, I became aware of the northern angels who would sit on my shoulder during the remainder of my recovery. They already had been active in my cause by informing Pastor Bill at the Zion Church in Barnegat Light of my situation and he had called twice to offer blessings and prayers. Church members also prayed for me.
Larry and Judy drove us to Philadelphia twice where we found the hospital but a few blocks from the Ben Franklin bridge, and a parking lot was located just across the street. As Michael had done, Larry and Judy remained at our sides while we waited for my appointment when I learned that the healing was progressing nicely, but I would require another examination four weeks hence before my lens replacement surgery could be scheduled.
During this exam on June 18 I learned that my surgery could not be scheduled until August 5 to allow for complete healing of my retina.
August 5th finally arrived, and after an eighty minute operation, the old IOL was removed and a new lens was inserted in my right eye. The operation was a complete success, and my vision now is not appreciably different from what it was prior to the retina detachment.
In retrospect, I ask myself the question as to whether God caused my eye problems and the improbable series of healing events. That would appear to be illogical. Then, why do bad things happen to people? Even Jesus on the cross didn’t seem to have the answer to this.
What I do know is that I am trained in the powers of observation and can statistically separate chance from real phenomena. Thus, one or two of the events that happened to me after the onset of my eye problems can certainly be attributed to chance. But I am confident that the probability of all these being due to chance is not significantly different from zero.
I think we should all expect bad things to occur. But when they do, if we are alert, we just might discover God standing near to ease our pain. Believe me, it happens.
Since my recovery, I have often wondered why God came so staunchly to my aid after my eye problems. One reason, I suspect, is that God loves me, and another may be that God wanted me to tell my story to you, and you probably know why.
The weather has made its turn to cold, the leaves have changed their colors and most have fallen to the ground. Schools have now long been in session and learning and discovery have marked once again the start up of a new school year. Our summer visitors and residents have returned to the other towns and cities where their life continues when they are not on LBI! The speed limits are higher, the traffic lights are blinking. The Season has changed and we enter this most precious holiday season with our celebrations of Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas.
We remember during this new season the old stories. Stories of our ancestors coming to these shores. Finding a new home for their religious freedom and a new place to raise their families. A land that the scriptures remind us on Thanksgiving day, that this land of America, like the land for the Israelites is a land flowing with milk and honey! Our land is a land of blessing and it is God given to us to tend and to care for so that all may experience the goodness of God and that we may live in peace and prosperity.
We remember also the Story of the Word becoming Flesh and dwelling among us. This life, this Child is full of truth and grace. He comes among us born of humble estate. Born of a virgin. He comes to set us free. He would go on to proclaim the Kingdom is at hand! The presence of God breaking forth into our world to heal and comfort, to bless and to gather us to God's self! These are days of thanksgiving and blessing. These are days of anticipation and preparation. The time has come for wonder and celebration.
May our hearts be truly full of wonder and gratitude this holiday season as we turn to the One who has blessed us so abundantly! We come to be renewed, recreated and transformed by the One who has called us to himself, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! May His name be praised! May His glory be proclaimed! May His Will be done!
Joan and I find ourselves so grateful to be a part of our faith community at Zion. We have treasured this gift that we are to one another. We hold you always in our hearts and pray for you each day. We thank God for the gift of this time and this place and to live among you, the good people of Zion Lutheran Church! Thank you so very much for welcoming us so graciously! We wish you a season of hope and love! May God's grace fill you and your loved ones with joy and peace!