Olympians

Did you know that for the first time ever, rock climbing is an Olympic sport? It is called Sport Climbing, and there are three different types of competition. Speed pits two climbers in a head-to-head race, climbing a 15m wall. Bouldering puts the climber on a 4.5m wall, climbing over fixed routes in a specified amount of time. Lead is where climbers try to go as high as possible on a 15m wall as fast as they can before the whistle blows. Who knew?

NPR aired a program yesterday where they interviewed a few pioneers of sport climbing. At the end of the show, the interviewer asked about finger strength. I was intrigued about this as well. I can’t open a pickle jar, so there is no way I would have the strength and dexterity to hang from a cliff by my fingers. It turns out that you can develop strong hands and fingers by exercising them in specific ways. They have even created “finger boards” to do this. I wonder if that means that piano players are a step ahead of the rest of us.

As with all Olympic sports, being an Olympic sport climber is a combination of God-given natural ability, strength training, perseverance, and determination.

In our passage from Ephesians today, Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus about their own training regimen. They are in the Growing-in-Christ Olympics. Paul encourages them to be disciplined in this sport and to be steady, consistent, and unified:

Ephesians 4 (The Message)

1-3 In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

4-6 You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.

Obviously in Paul’s mind, this is a team sport. He instructs them to walk….better yet, run!…on the course that God has laid out for them. Running on this track will take them closer to the God they love. We can imagine them in a relay race, where instead of handing off a baton, they hand off acts of love, compassion, and forgiveness.

7-13 But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. The text for this is,

He climbed the high mountain,
He captured the enemy and seized the plunder,
He handed it all out in gifts to the people.

Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts.

Yet even as a team, this calling to be the body of Christ together is fortified by the fact that each participant has a different strength and spiritual gift. All of these individual spiritual gifts combine to make us stronger in our Oneness…as long as each one does their part. It is like the Olympic Parade of Nations. Each country walks behind their flag, with everyone wearing the same uniform as they represent different sports. So, too, is the church called to stand behind one Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

Like synchronized swimmers, we are called to move rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in our response to God. Sometimes that means giving way. Sometimes that means compromising. Sometimes that means putting the needs of the many before your own.

That is the church.

14-16 No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are easy prey for predators. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.

In typical Paul fashion, he tells us to GROW UP. He wants us to know the whole truth and tell it IN LOVE.

I believe that our team is strengthened every time we search the scriptures and discern God’s will. I believe our disciplined training of worship, prayer, giving, meditation, self-examination, service, discernment, study…in other words, all of the spiritual disciplines…will draw us closer to God and to one another.

You are an Olympian, too. Where is God calling you to train harder?

Keep on Climbing by Karen Warlitner

Dis Unity

Our families are suffering from a lack of unity. Discussions on politics and national events have made any kind of family gathering (even by ZOOM) filled with polarized positioning, often expressed very loudly.

Our churches are suffering from a lack of unity. My denomination is on the precipice of a historic split that will forever change who we are, and I am heartbroken over that.

Our nation is suffering from a lack of unity. We have become the Un-United States. The disunity on our streets, in our media, in the national government, and in our towns is destroying us.

Can there ever be unity in the world again? One would think that a global crisis such as a pandemic would have caused us to lay down our swords and turned them into ploughshares for the sake of humanity.

But no.

When evil raises its ugly head and godly people are silent, the enemy comes to kill, steal, and destroy us by targeting our unity first. Knowing that there is strength in numbers, disunity is the goal of every evil force around us. When the righteous scatter, the enemy prowls around looking for weaknesses.

As people of God, unity should be our goal. Jesus‘ most fervent prayer was that we would be ONE. We are called to be the body of Christ for the world, working together in harmony to bring the kingdom of peace to the earth.

Let’s look at our psalm today and see what it teaches us about unity.

Psalm 133 (New Revised Standard Version)

How very good and pleasant it is
    when kindred live together in unity!

Unity is good. Unity is pleasant. Unity is a blessing. Like a fine and precious oil, God’s gift of unity should flow down the chins of his people.

It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down over the collar of his robes.

Just as the dew on the mountains comes after the refreshing rain, unity is a sign of what life-forevermore will be in the kingdom.

It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
    life forevermore.

Where in your circle of friends, family, community, or world can you be the voice of unity today? Where can you offer a sign of reconciliation to someone “across the aisle” that would bring a moment of peace? Where can you lay down your right to express your opinion so someone else might voice theirs, and then listen with the goal of mutual understanding?

We can’t fix the world overnight. But you can change your attitude. Make peace with someone today and pass on a blessing of kindred living that is calm, respectful, and peaceful. One day, when Christ returns, we will all take a knee….in unity.

Every Knee Shall Bow by Kathy Schumacher

Sibling Rivalry

I have always loved the Joseph story that appears in the Old Testament. It is the best part of Genesis for me. I love how it weaves in and out of one improbable situation after another. With themes of favoritism, prophecy, sibling rivalry, deceit, lying, cheating, arguing, imprisonment, and (finally) success, it is a veritable storytelling feast.

Today’s passage focuses on three themes: the perils of being braggadocios, the consequences of a family experiencing extreme jealousy, and the power of mob rule.

Joseph is the father’s favorite and was given a beautiful “technicolor dream coat” by his doting dad. He wears it proudly while he brags to his brothers that he has received a dream-vision that says that all the brothers would soon be bowing down to him in obeisance.

Can you imagine how well THAT played with the brothers? If your sibling said the same to you, how would you respond?

Genesis 37 (Contemporary English Version)

14 Joseph’s father said, “Go and find out how your brothers and the sheep are doing. Then come back and let me know.” So he sent him from Hebron Valley.

Joseph left and found his brothers in Dothan. 18 But before he got there, they saw him coming and made plans to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Look, here comes the hero of those dreams! 20 Let’s kill him and throw him into a pit and say that some wild animal ate him. Then we’ll see what happens to those dreams.”

Well, that was predictable! In some ways, Joseph’s lack of humility brought on his brothers’ ire. Joseph forgot that the glory belonged to God. If indeed he was destined to rise to power, it would be God’s doing and not his. By taking credit and lording it over his brothers, he invoked a jealous response…from God. God rarely suffers anyone putting himself on the throne in God’s place.

21 Reuben heard this and tried to protect Joseph from them. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. 22 “Don’t murder him or even harm him. Just throw him into a dry well out here in the desert.” Reuben planned to rescue Joseph later and take him back to his father.

23 When Joseph came to his brothers, they pulled off his fancy coat 24 and threw him into a dry well.

Luckily Reuben steps in and offers a less violent solution, with good intentions to return later and save his brother. But that was not to be….

25 As Joseph’s brothers sat down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with all kinds of spices that they were taking to Egypt. 26 So Judah said, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and hide his body? 27 Let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not harm him. After all, he is our brother.” And the others agreed.

28 When the Midianite merchants came by, Joseph’s brothers took him out of the well, and for twenty pieces of silver they sold him to the Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt.

For twenty pieces of silver they sold their own brother. The story has a pretty good ending, but that won’t come for many chapters yet.

Let’s turn this on its side for a moment and look at it a different way. Do you suppose denominationalism does the same thing? Does the bickering between churches look to the world like a giant sibling rivalry? Can infighting within a denomination feel like the smaller brother is being thrown into a well?

The world is watching. If we claim to be “brothers and sisters in Christ,” we need to reach down the street to our other-denomination neighbor and pray for their ministry just as hard as we pray for our own. We need to rejoice in their growth and not be threatened by it. Within our denominations, we should celebrate our differences and not use them as a sticking point for judgment.

In the body of Christ, there are no divisions. No Greek, nor Jew, nor male nor female, nor Presbyterians nor Catholics nor Methodists, but ALL are one in the body of Christ.

So let’s act like it.

That They May be ONE by Kathy Schumacher