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Video Series: What I’m Thinking

Each week, Pastor Eric Anderson shares just a minute or two of his thoughts on the upcoming week. But the most important part of “What I’m Thinking” is what you’re thinking. Please share your ideas in the comments, and see how they become part of Pastor Eric’s thinking, too!

What I’m Thinking: Anticipating Weeping

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Joseph wept so loudly when revealing himself to his brothers that, despite sending everyone away, they heard him through the walls. May we ever weep so!

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the 45th chapter of Genesis (Genesis 45:1-15) in which the long conflict between Joseph and his brothers finds its resolution.

The origins of that conflict – well, the first of them was the attitude of their father, Jacob. Jacob, with words and with deeds, clearly indicated that Joseph was the favorite son. That’s never a great foundation for family relations. Joseph himself had gone on to contribute to this. He’d had dreams about finding himself in a position of authority over his brothers. He imagined their stooks of wheat bowing down to him. In a choice that was not caring or compassionate and certainly not wise, he chose to tell his brother about those dreams.

Dreams are one thing. Sharing them: that’s another.

In a crime that echoes through the Scriptures, Joseph’s brothers decided to sell him into slavery.

At this point in chapter 45, the dreams have been fulfilled. The brothers did bow to Joseph. Joseph was in a position of great authority – second in the land of Egypt. At this point, however, Joseph sends everybody except his brothers away. He began to weep and he began to embrace them.

It’s the weeping that strikes me. Genesis says that it was so loud that the Egyptians outside the hall could hear. Joseph wept so loudly that Pharaoh could hear.

We find ourselves in a weeping time. Weeping for the distance that we have to keep from one another. Weeping for the things that we thought were set and fixed and are not. Weeping for… weeping for the griefs that we endure. Although we in Hilo have lost nobody to COVID-19, people have continued to pass away amongst our families and our friends. We have to mourn them that are uncomfortable, strange, unfamiliar, and lacking the traditions that have held us up for so long.

But it is not that kind of weeping that Joseph did. Joseph wept because they had found their reconciliation. Joseph had made his own reconciliation. The brothers, admittedly, are still a little behind on this, but the brothers had done something for Benjamin, Joseph’s younger full brother and his likely successor as Jacob’s favorite. They had defended Benjamin which they had not done for Joseph.

In Joseph’s heart, it seems that constituted a reconciliation, and so he wept.

So he wept.

May similar weeping lie ahead for us all: the weeping of reconciliation, the weeping of renewal, the weeping of embracing, the weeping of love.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

What I’m Thinking will take a two-week break, returning on August 31st.

Categories: What I'm Thinking
Tags: Joy

What I’m Thinking: Walking on the Water

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The story of Jesus walking on the water is so rich. It touches so many parts of our lives. It reminds us of our needs, our challenges, and our hope.

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the fourteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 14:22-33). We probably know this story best by the title, “Jesus Walked on the Water.”

The setting is a curious one. It immediately follows the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21). The feeding of the five thousand happened because Jesus had actually left the villages and communities where he had been working. Jesus left because he needed some time by himself with God – or at least with his closest friends and God – to mourn the death (the execution) of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12).

Well, a bunch of people followed and so he had to feed them. Once they were fed he still needed that time with God. At this point, he was tired enough that he sent his closest friends away as well. They hopped in the boat and ventured out onto the lake, possibly to have some conversation among themselves, possibly to do a little fishing.

It hardly matters what they were up to because they found themselves in the midst of a storm. Storms on the Sea of Galilee can be quite dangerous to a small group in a small boat. In the midst of it all, they saw a figure approaching upon the tossing surface of the lake. They thought it was a ghost until Jesus assured them who it was.

I’ll be honest. If it had been me, I’m not sure that my friend walking on the water was any less frightening or would be any less frightening than the sight of a ghost.

Peter offered to come out and walk on the water with Jesus. Jesus invited him. And in a classic case of “be careful what you ask for,” Peter got out of the boat, took a few steps across the waves, succeeded for some time, but then in the midst of the waves and the wind began to sink. “Oh, little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt?”

This is such a rich story. It reminds us once again that we cannot keep everything going all the time, that even Jesus – especially Jesus – needed that alone time, that non-ministry time, that grieving time, that renewal time, that prayer time with God. It reminds us that circumstances can and often do deceive us, that what we think is real may be something completely different. It’s a caution to us: be careful what you ask for. And also – I never, ever forget this – Peter did walk on the water. Yes, his courage failed him, and his faith, but he did walk on the water at least briefly. And when he sank, there was Jesus to pull him up.

So: a rich and wondrous story that reminds me of so many things.

  • How precious is that renewal time that we can and frequently don’t allow ourselves to spend with God,
  • The frequent ways in which the world can look like one thing and yet be another,
  • The risks inherent in the life of faith, and the deepest truth of all:
  • That when we’re out of the boat and sinking fast, there is still One to grab hold of us, to pull us back into the boat, and with (I think) something of a smile say to us, “You were doing it. Why did you doubt?”

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories: What I'm Thinking
Tags: Hope, Whatimthinking

What I’m Thinking: Blessing and Struggle

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Jacob spent a lifetime in conflict and struggle. Wrestling with an angel (at least, that’s what we think), he also found a blessing.

Here’s a transcript.

I’m thinking about the 32nd chapter of Genesis (Genesis 32:22-31), the story of Jacob’s all-night wrestling match with a stranger.

Now, Jacob was no stranger to conflict. He’d been in conflict with his older brother. He’d been in conflict with his father. He’d been in conflict with his step-father (correction: his father-in-law). He’d been in conflict with first one and then the other of his wives. Later in his life, he would find himself in conflict with his sons. Jacob was no stranger to conflict.

On this occasion, he was actually on his way back to live in the neighborhood with his older brother once again and was justifiably anxious about the renewal of that conflict. He had sent his servants, he flocks and herds, the symbols of his wealth, on ahead. He had sent his children and his wives on ahead. It seems to have been some sort of gesture to say to Esau that he was making himself vulnerable, that he was being generous as he returned to the family home.

But on this night, Jacob found himself wrestling with a stranger. Neither one of them could get the advantage over the other until the stranger actually dislocated Jacob’s hip. Even that was not enough to prevent Jacob from holding on.

Jacob demanded the stranger’s name (which he didn’t get), but the stranger said, you have struggled with human beings and with God, and you have prevailed. Then the stranger blessed him.

I keep wondering if conflict and struggle is really the only way for human beings to live their lives. But apparently, at least some portion of that is the way of the world. Jacob that night wrestled in ignorance. We have come to understand that great wrestling match as one between Jacob and some sort of manifestation of the Divine, of God: an angel, we usually say.

The point is that we, although not physically, we struggle with God all the time. We struggle with God about the things that we do not understand. We struggle with God about the things that we suffer. We struggle with God about the things that we want and don’t have. We struggle with God over the demands that God makes of us. We struggle with God, sometimes, because we’d like God to make some demands of us and God asks nothing.

Struggle with God, struggle with our relationship with God, struggle with our understanding of God: this is, indeed, how it goes.

We, of course, also struggle with the realities of the world, sometimes in real physical conflict with other human beings, but right now, of course, we have a struggle with a pandemic. We have a great struggle over the nature of racial justice in this society. Many, many struggles.

From Jacob we get the inspiration to hang on, not to the conflict but to the struggle, to seek in the struggles themselves what blessing we can find. Struggling with an angel or with God, the blessings will be great. Struggling with a virus, well, the blessings will be less. But there is something in that hanging on that offers the possibility of blessing when we are in the midst of the struggle.

And there is also the possibility of, as the angel said to Jacob, having prevailed – even in our struggles with God. The Scriptures say it is possible to win an argument with God, as strange as that may seem.

But I also note that Jacob did not come away from that wrestling match uninjured. He limped his way back to join his family in their journey toward Esau. When we struggle with these things we may suffer injury. We may find ourselves moving more slowly or more painfully as we come away from the struggle. But we do come away from those struggles, especially the ones with God, we come away from those struggles blessed.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories: What I'm Thinking
Tags: Conflict, Struggle, Whatimthinking

What I’m Thinking: My Favorite Scripture

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Romans 8 is filled with reassurance and comfort. It is, however, where the work of faith begins. The words are not the work.

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the close to the eighth chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Romans 8:26-39). In other words, I’m thinking about my favorite Scripture.

Truth be told, I have many favorite Scriptures. There are many texts in the Bible that I will describe in that way. This one, however… Well, it just may be my favorite Scripture. It is an assertion of confidence in the grace and the presence and the blessing of God, the consistency of God, the constancy of God, the faithfulness of God. It has many parallels, but I’m not sure anybody – even Paul or David – I don’t think anybody put it quite this way. It works for me.

“For I’m sure that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Those are words that live in my heart. Those are words that help carry me through the good days and the bad.

But I have a caution even on my favorite Scripture: the hope is not the fulfillment. The words are not the reality.

What I’m saying is is that to read the words, to speak the words, to take the words into my spirit: this gives me comfort. It gives me confidence. It may even give me some strength for the work. But the words are not the work.

The prophets, throughout the Scriptures, constantly declared what the will of God for the people was. Why did they do it? Because the things were not being done. Because they were not following what God had said. And so the prophets spoke and the prophets spoke and the prophets spoke.

And Paul spoke to people who were feeling enormously threatened, to people who were in the midst of crisis, to people who were rather like us, and used all those images of the powers and the principalities, death, life, all the rest of it, to say that God’s love and faithfulness were greater than these.

I believe this but the work is to live as if I believe it each day. To go forward with confidence – not of a miraculous cure for COVID-19 – but to go forth in confidence that God is guiding, that God is strengthening, that God is comforting.

Yes, I am sure that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor things present nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will ever be able to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. The struggle, the challenge, and the glory is to live that truth in every day.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories: What I'm Thinking
Tags: Video

What I’m Thinking: The Presence of God

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Psalm 139 uses some of the Bible’s most evocative poetry to impress the nearness of God on its hearers. How do you feel about the presence of God in the midst of a pandemic?

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about Psalm 139 (Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24). The Book of Psalms is filled with rich and evocative poetry, but some of the most magnificent imagery in the entire book is found here in Psalm 139. “If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, you are there, and your hand shall lead me.”

Psalm 139 is a song about the presence of God, the presence of God that is not limited by geographical place. It’s not even limited by time of life. It’s not even limited by stress and hardship.

In this time of pandemic, I find myself both reaching towards the presence of God and also turning away from the presence of God. I reach towards God because I need God so badly amidst all the stresses. We need God so badly to provide some healing for those who are ill and to provide healing for a society that has been so, so reckless, so selfish, so unconcerned with the fates of others, so wedded to wealth and to pride. Healing for people who are ill; healing for a culture that is ill. Healing for a culture that still cannot accept people of color as fully human, fully made in the image of the Divine.

And yet I find I also shy away because I fear disappointment. I fear that prayer that goes out into the void and the void says nothing – even as I wait for the voice of God.

The Psalmist was fully acquainted with the stresses and woes of that time. From those stresses and woes, but also from experiences of profound compassion and grace, the Psalmist spoke of the presence of God to be found in every place, and in that presence, blessing.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories: What I'm Thinking
Tags: Presence, Psalms
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