Sunday, December 31, 2017

For Sunday 12/31/17 - Blessed No Matter Where or What Temple is For You

Luke 2:22-40  (NRSV)
22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord"), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." 33 And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too." 36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. -- NRSV
Lectionary Reflection:
"Blessed No Matter Where or What Temple Is For You"

What captures my attention in the above scripture is God's fulfillment of a promise to Simeon that he would see the Messiah before he died.  Upon seeing the Baby Jesus, Simeon proclaimed he could now be dismissed in peace and with that proclamation Simeon blessed Jesus and prophesied things about Jesus and his family -- such as the falling and rising of many and piercing of loved ones' souls.  I make no such proclamations for myself, either in terms of the rising or falling of others or having been blessed in a temple.  I do resonate however with Simeon's desire for the consolation of his country's sorrow and his desire for a divine promise to be fulfilled so Simeon could be dismissed from Temple ministry to go live his life in peace.

In August 2010, I took an extended vacation.  It was three weeks long and more of a staycation than going anywhere exciting or new.  Most mornings I went fishing to reflect and contemplate at Frenchman’s Bar, a park beside the Columbia River in Clark County WA.  It was a time in my professional ministry that I felt broken and dejected.  I was 53 years-old.  Nothing I understood or saw about my life and ministry at that point made sense -- particularly in terms of the visionary calling dream I experienced at age 19.  A scripture connected with that calling experience reads as follows, I have adapted the scripture to be more gender inclusive:
"Prosecute the missionary work in this land and abroad, so far and so widely as you may.  All are called according to the gifts of God unto them; and to the intent that all may labor together, let those who labor in the ministry and those who toil in the affairs of business and of work labor together with God for the accomplishment of the work entrusted to all.”  -- Doctrine & Covenants Section 119:8
One morning late into that staycation, it rained quite heavily while fishing.  Prepared for the downpour, I dressed in my water repellent raincoat and pants.  As the rain pelted me, it seemed like the tears I often had during my prayers and contemplation that vacation.  A frequent reflection during those days was the age 19 calling experience and these words that often accompanied reflection: “God, release me from the calling given so long ago.  Let me have peace with life as it is now.  For whatever the reasons may be for how I failed you, let’s just say that I either wasn’t smart enough to make it happen or I possessed too many faults, too many deficits, too many shortcomings.  I take responsibility for failing you.  I ask your forgiveness.  I pray that from out of your unconditional love you grant me peace to serve humbly, meekly, submissively in whatever role your church has for me the balance of my ministerial career.”

At the conclusion of praying such thoughts, the downpour stopped, blue sky returned, and then a rainbow formed across the river in front of me. Feeling peace as I marveled at the rainbow, God then spoke words I did not want to hear, “I keep my promises.”  Moments later, a very dear friend in the faith called me.  After we exchanged greetings, he said, “I felt impressed that I should reach out to you.”  Those precious simple words buoyed up my spirit giving me courage and hope to carry on.

Months later in May 2011 in an Austin TX hotel room, after visiting this friend in Harlingen TX, a life altering ecstatic experience took place.  It changed my life direction entirely.  I have come to call it, “My God Encounter.”  Everything since that time echoes the words of the Prophet Jeremiah:

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

These days, I also find God bringing to my mind additional verses connected with Jeremiah 29:11, and wonder if God may one day have other exciting possibilities for me to consider.  Whether there are or not, I have decided I am where I am supposed to be and that I shall wait upon the Lord:

"For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.  For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.  When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord..." -- NRSV Jeremiah 29:10-14 

Nearly 6.5 years later in my ministry now as a board-certified licensed psychotherapist, I am doing the best work of my life as I am finally free to engage in “carrying on the healing mission of Jesus Christ” through the Catholic healthcare organization for which I currently work. It is a ministry that I always hoped in some fashion I would get to do through the denominational church organization in which I was raised and for which I labored forty years as an ordained minister, nearly twenty of those years as one of its professional ministers.  Why did I have such a hope and stay with that organization so long?  I did so because it billed itself as prophetic.  I did so also because of a Jungian psychiatrist with whom I had the privilege to work with for a few years -- a deeply compassionate physician who during one of our supervisions expressed profoundly prophetic words, words that I hoped to bring to reality, “Churches could be wonderful places of healing for our patients.”  As my spirit soared hearing such words, then came his sobering words, “The only problem is that their God is not big enough.”  In the years that followed as I returned to full time ministry, I came to discover that no matter how hard I tried to inspire, lead, and motivate churches, the good doctor’s words proved all too true – simply too many churches with gods far too small. 

Some things are not to be as I learned from my “God Encounter” in May 2011, however God never gives up on you or me especially if our hearts are pure with desire for “accomplishment of the work entrusted to all” – an interfaith work otherwise known as God’s Just and Peaceable Reign here on Earth.  There are those actively seeking to tear down the bridges and roads built towards a more just and peaceable betterment of Humanity's Common Good.  POTUS 45 is one such person, Putin is another, and the sickening ilk of their followers who collude with them.  None of them know or understand God's Peace.  In your corner of the world and mine, we must continue our efforts at what we do best until such persons fall and no longer trouble us and we have our consolation and healing and assurances that never again will persons like them rise up.

My daily walk with God now encompasses most weekday mornings the privilege to walk by the biblical “writing on the wall” as I head to my office in a clinic dedicated to healing the human spirit.  The writing on the wall is my employer’s mission statement, “We carry on the healing mission of Jesus Christ…..” – I then realize that I am right where God wants me to be -- a wonderful place and space that St. Teresa of Avila shared about in one of her prayers.

As St. Teresa of Avila’s prayer states, so I wish the following blessing for you this coming year:
May today there be peace within. May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith. May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content knowing you are a child of God. Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.  – Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
Brad Shumate
Free of Encumbrance
Eugene, Oregon USA

(For aiding others who have experienced a "God Encounter", Brad Shumate provides spiritual direction ministry in-person, via video-conferencing, by telephone, or through email consultation. If you are interested in benefiting from the healing ministry of spiritual direction, please complete the contact form in the right column of this blog.  Brad will respond within twenty-hours.)

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