Stories of Comfort and Hope

They Know His Voice

“Go call the cows”, my father would say, and we would walk out to the pasture and we would say, “Come boss, come boss.” At the sound of our voices the cows would raise their heads and all of them would start to follow us until they got to the barn. One by one each would enter the barn and go to the same stanchion they had gone to the day before. It seemed kind of magical to me at the time that the cows listened to us and that they knew just where to go.

Now I know that the cows had figured out that our voice meant food and water. If they listened to our voice they would get milked and get hay to eat in their manger and have a nice warm place to sleep for the night and in the morning they would be let out again to return to the pasture. They trusted us and we never let them down.

Jesus speaks of this same issue with his words from the Gospel of John when He says that the sheep “Know His Voice”. In His day sheep also knew the voice of the shepherd who took care of them. When the shepherd came to the sheep corral in the morning and spoke to them, they left the safety of the corral and followed the shepherd because they knew He was going to lead them to green pastures and still waters. They knew He would feed them and protect them and sustain them. So there was routine in their lives. There was predictability. There was trust that their shepherd would not let them down.

This raises a question in my mind and perhaps it also raises the same question in your mind as well.  When you hear voices that say, “This pandemic has been way overblown.  The cure is worse than the disease.  It is time to get back to work and get the economy going again.  Maybe a few older people will succumb to the virus but for the livelihood of the vast majority this may be a price we have to pay.”  As we hear these voices advocating livelihood at the expense of life we also hear voices that say, “Take care of the widow and the fatherless.  In as much as you have done this to the least of my brothers you have done it unto me.  He leads me to green pastures and still waters.  He restores my soul.  I have come that you might have life to the full,” we hear these voices advocating that life is more important than livelihood.

Perhaps this can give us some insight in our current struggles with how to proceed in our battle with COVID.  Rather than pitting livelihood against those who advocate for life we might see that our good Shepherd is calling us to embrace both.  We need to work and we need to protect our health.  Rather then saying, “It is either having a job or having the virus,” we should be trying to find ways of how do we protect ourselves and our neighbor while at the same time trying to keep our economy going.  This approach seems to be the one that most states are following.  Trying to do enough testing and tracing to find out where the hot spots are so the spread of the virus can be kept as low as humanly possible while bringing back jobs in a slow and measured way is a way to try to protect both our livelihoods and our lives.  So the voices that say,”It is time to open things up” may not be the voice that has a concern for those who will most affected by the virus flaring up and reaching epidemic proportions if this gamble doesn’t work out.  Our elderly, our hospital and health care workers, our service workers, our police and fire department workers, all will pay a heavy price if the virus becomes even more wide spread than it is now.

As this pandemic goes on and we all grow restless and fearful and we question the wisdom and advice of our leaders and we hear people pushing to get going I am hoping we can all take a deep breath at this moment.  Listen carefully to all the voices you hear around you.  Read the news carefully and think through all the implications of what might come out of decisions made in the days to come.  And listen especially to what the voices are advocating.  Is the strategy being proposed being done because this will be good for me and my neighbor?  Will it be done in a way that we all bear the pain together?  That all of us are in this together and each of us has something to contribute that will ease the burden of those who can’t bear it by themselves?  Maybe this will help all of us to know that this is the voice of the Shepherd who loves us.

We Had Hoped

Some of the most heart rending words that have ever been spoken were spoken by the two disciples on the way to Emmaus when they said to Jesus, “We had hoped.” They were not the first people to say these words and they will not be the last. But every time I hear these words I understand the pain that forces the heart to express these words. These two men had such high hopes for Jesus. They had seen His love. They had seen his miracles. They had seen His popularity grow. They had seen the people flocking to hear Him and draw strength from Him. It seemed that Jesus was poised to become something really special and these two men were poised to become a part of this movement. They envisioned their future with Jesus would be one of glory and joy and countless blessings. As they talk with Jesus on the way to Emmaus they still can’t believe how quickly their hopes had turned to ashes. They couldn’t believe His arrest, His trial, His crucifixion, and His death.  Out of the depths of their grieving  hearts came the words, “We had hoped.”

Louder than the roar from a packed sports stadium we are hearing those words all around us these days.  “We had hoped” say countless businesses and restaurant owners as they look at their shuttered doors and wonder if they can overcome their financial losses and reopen.  “We had hoped” say countless students as they prepare for careers that may no longer be there for them or as they ponder what course their future education will take.  “We had hoped” say countless family members who could not sit at the bedside of a dying loved one and could not have a traditional funeral for the loved one who died.  “We had hoped” say millions of people all over the world who wonder when will the threat be over and when will things get back to normal.

What strikes me in this story is how Jesus responds to the grief of these two disciples.  He walks with them.  He listens to them.  He lets them get all of the grief and pain out in the open and then He tries to show them where the path ahead may lie.  He helps these two men to see that what they hoped for is not what they were going to get.  The very thing they didn’t want to see happen was exactly what had to happen.  So Jesus gives them a different hope.  No glory now but there will be glory later.  Suffering can’t be avoided but it can be a pathway to higher meaning and higher goals.  And then He sits down and breaks bread with them and their eyes are opened and their hearts burn within them.

This speaks to my heart right now and I hope it will speak to your heart also.  We are so divided from one another in our world today.  We shout at each other from our silos.  We  label each other as liberals or conservatives.  We see ourselves as people who have nothing in common with one another so we can’t talk to each other and we can’t understand each other.  And yet we are all in this together.  We are all grieving right now.  We all are living with broken hopes and broken dreams.  Our shared grief unites us.  We can cross boundaries and sit down with each other and listen to each other as we express our grief.  And then maybe we can also look at how our hopes may have to change.  Maybe then we can try to help each other try to figure out what will the real normal be when the virus subsides.  Maybe then we can provide a helping hand and a word of wisdom and a word of encouragement to each other as we try to get back on our feet.  Maybe we can even break bread together which is where we truly experience the intimacy of knowing that what unites us is so much bigger than what divides us.



And the Doors Were Locked

Last Sunday’s Gospel reading was the story of Doubting Thomas. There was one line in that story that caught my attention more that it had before. It was the line that said the disciples were together and the doors were locked for fear of the Jews.

It made me think of our current situation with COVID-19 that has many of us in isolation and like the disciples we are huddling behind locked doors. It reminded me of my childhood when my sister had told me about the Boogie man and how he came out at night and he especially liked to capture little boys. So as I lay in my bed at night I thought I could hear the steps creaking and I thought as I looked at my doorway that there was someone standing in that doorway and my heart began to beat faster and I was sure it was the Boogie man. And then I began to believe that if I stayed in the middle of the bed I would be safe. As long as I didn’t put my foot over the edge of the bed, as long as I didn’t get out of bed, the Boogie man couldn’t reach out from under the bed or from out of the darkness and grab me.

Fear does strange things to our minds doesn’t it? It makes us believe that if we just lock the doors, if we just stay in the middle of the bed, if we just keep believing that we are going to be OK, then somehow we will escape the danger that lurks around us.

Did the disciples really believe that locking the doors would prevent the Jewish authorities from arresting them? The armed guards and clubs and ropes they had with them when they invaded the Garden of Gethsemane would have been more than enough to bash in the door to the room where they cowered if the authorities had been ready to make their move to scoop up Jesus’ followers and quash His movement once and for all. The little boy who cowered in his bed in fear of the Boogie man knew he was engaging in magical thinking that he would be safe in the middle of his bed but magical thinking was better than thinking of what would happen if the Boogie man actually caught him. And we who are keeping social distancing and wiping every surface with Lysol wipes know it is helping to keep us safe from COVID-19 and yet we also know this virus is no respecter of persons. No one can say COVID-19 can’t get me.

So we know we are all engaging in a certain amount of magical thinking. We know our attempts to hide behind locked doors may look humorous to the virus. It may look like an act of futility. It may look like a child like attempt to whistle in the dark. But what else can we do?

What we can do is wait like the disciples until we are joined by the presence of Jesus. We can sit there with our fear until He stands amongst us. Until he says to us, ” Peace be with you.” What really strikes me as I look at this scene is that He doesn’t make fun of them, He doesn’t express disappointment that they don’t have more courage. He understands how real their fear is. He just says, ” It’s OK. You are not alone. I am with you.”

That didn’t tell them what was going to happen. They didn’t know that for a time they would be able to share the love of God with countless people before the authorities did arrest them and did execute them. But they were not alone. They had each other. They had their God. And that was enough to get them past their fear and able to unlock the door.

Our God still doesn’t tell us what lies ahead for each one of us. Will we get through the pandemic unscathed? Will our efforts to protect ourselves bear fruit? Will we be able to help others who are just as scared as we are? But he does say, “Peace be with you, ” and so I also say peace to all of you who are my friends as we try to find the courage to be safe and yet not cower behind locked doors.