From Laodicea : A Poem

20-21 “Look at me. I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you. Conquerors will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honor at the side of my Father. That’s my gift to the conquerors!
22 “Are your ears awake? Listen. Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.”   (Revelation 3:20-22, The Message)

by Jeff Rainwater, 18 January 2017, near Pray, MT

“I stand at the Door and knock…”
How long?
How long do You stand waiting
fist on Wood with no response
from other side of Threshold?
Do You quit knocking ever
and let the silence judge
the one inside by the fire
with warm socks on
yet alone?
So alone.
Do You walk away… ever
or stand eternity on the Doorstep
waiting, listening, praying?
Or do you withdraw for now
If so, will you return soon?
As you stand and wrap on the Frame
what do you pray for or for whom?
Do You pray for me?
You could splinter this Divide
with one blow from angry fist.
Will You plead with me instead
who will not
(can not?)
open the Door?
“I stand at the Door and knock…”
with unsure steps, trembling hand
I reach out..

A few words about this work: First, I invite you to find your Bible and read the whole letter to Laodicea found in Revelation, 3:14-22. This poem was meant to be read with the whole letter in mind.  I find this passage contains some of the most vivid word images found in the Bible, especially evocative in Eugene Peterson’s paraphrased version, The Message.

I am not a poet so this particular work is quite a surprise. Early last week, we, the Joint Cabinet of the Mountain Sky Area, had the privilege to sit with Rev. Dr. Joretta Marshall, Dean of Brite Divinity School, as we discussed collaborative, transformative, potential for ministry.  The first task necessary, Dr. Marshall shared, is to Join with another or others for that work.  The troubling question arose, “what if the people we need to join with do not want us to join?”

Suddenly the letter to Laodecia jumped into my conscience, especially verse 20. The image of Jesus standing at a door would not easily be dismissed and then a question followed, “How long?”  How long would Jesus stand at the door?  Soon these words began to reveal themselves over the next couple days as a form of response to the Letter, hence “From Laodicea.”

I leave these words here for your pondering and devotional life.  May they open a door for you to a deep conversation with our Lord.

Gifts Without Tags

Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.
Luke 6:37–38

It’s January 10 in the Rainwater home and The Tree is down. The house seems bare. The presents have all been unwrapped. The goodies digested. Even the beloved Christmas music is making a reluctant exit. I can’t even rely on the 12 days of Christmas to extend my good holiday mood any more. In a word (ok, 3 words)… Christmas is over. And that is depressing. So on this winter day in January, would you allow me to share one more Christmas memory before the boxes are all packed up?

It was the year Mom decided that labels on gifts were not needed. Why? I don’t know why. You will need to ask her. After all, how is a precocious, inquisitive, only child with questionable impulse control to know which present to measure, handle, and shake until the flimsy scotch tape holding the whole darn thing together was pushed to its limit. Oh wait… maybe that’s the reason! Anyway, Mom decided no labels and so there were no labels. She assured us she knew which gift was whose since she was the one who wrapped almost all the gifts any way… even her own! She had some special code or something.

And all went very well through all of Advent. Precocious, inquisitive, only child with questionable impulse control was thwarted and was rarely found sneaking around under the Tree through most of December. And generally there was peace in the Rainwater home. Finally, Christmas Eve! In our household, Santa always came while we attended Christmas Eve candlelight service. It may or may not have been at the request of the parents of the precocious, inquisitive, only child with questionable impulse control who were tired of being awoken at 0-dark–30 on Christmas Day.

Christmas Eve… and suddenly Mom’s ingenious plan went terribly wrong. Her special code had failed as precocious, inquisitive, only child with questionable impulse control received a gift he did not expect… a luxurious pink bathrobe in his mother’s size. The evening’s proceedings did not improve. Mamu (my grandmother) received that toy I was looking forward to all year. I could elaborate but I think you get the idea. Even Santa’s deliveries, apparently, had been caught in this web of chaos. Mom’s ingenious plan went terribly wrong. And yet Christmas went so right. I don’t remember our family laughing more or having more fun as gifts were given and then given again.

As I reflect on this Christian walk that we share, I am convinced that God has forgotten to put labels on the gifts God has given. Why? You will have to ask Jesus why, but it appears to me some things have gotten mixed up. I have seen how what I have been given has become so much more when I have shared it with another. And as I look at some of what has been given to you, I’m quite sure it’s really your neighbor that needs it. Don’t worry, though. I’m would bet if you decide to share with her what is hers, you may find she is holding your gift. Things may have got mixed up, but I am sure of one thing: There are enough presents under the Tree for everyone.

That’s why we do what we do as a church sharing the Good News of God’s Grace in Jesus Christ in the multitude of ways that we can. That’s why we try to fulfill the mission of the United Methodist Church, “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We don’t do this work so our church can remain strong and we can continue to enjoy what we we have received and think is ours. We do so because what is in our hands, what we feel in our hearts, whatever we gain from participation in each of our faith communities, may not really be ours, except for us to give away.

I told you to ask Jesus, but here is my guess to God’s mixed up no-labels-on-gifts plan. The biggest gift God gives is not in the things we own, the talents we possess, the status we think we have. The greatest gift is meeting the Christ in the other and the blessings of being the body of Christ as we share what has been placed in our hands or our hearts that God really intends for someone else.

Christmas is over, but the gift giving has just begun. May you have a blessed 2017.

Rev. Jeff Rainwater
Wyoming District Superintendent
January 10, 2017