The God Who Loves Leftovers

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM for November 26, 2017

The Holy One loves leftovers. I’m not talking about the kind we crave the day after Thanksgiving as we search for new and creative ways to reimagine turkey and all the trimmings from our holidays feasts. No, the divine predilection shows itself in a continual outreach and a tender welcome to all who are excluded, dismissed, ignored, missing from the table. These, all of these, are the leftovers the Holy One is dreaming about today in our beautiful, yet wounded world.

We’ve listened to, read, and prayed with the Gospel accounts of the multiplication of theHandswithbread2 (1) copy loaves and fishes (Matthew 15:32-38, Mark 8:1-10), where Jesus stretches the capacity of a meager reserve of bread to fill hungry stomachs. Miracle enough, but what Jesus does next is even more astonishing. He directs the disciples to gather up seven baskets of fragments, the broken pieces, the crumbs that nobody wants. In this simple, tender action, Jesus shows his care for the leftovers, for all that is fragile and seemingly insignificant in our human family.  His gaze is focused on those who are overlooked,  undervalued, granted not a second of attention or care.

The crumbs and the broken fragments are called by another name in Chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel. Here Jesus highlights his particular affection for those the world might dismiss as lost causes: the wandering or inattentive sheep; the misplaced coin; the willful, impulsive child. Lost, lost, and lost we call them, but far from being forgotten, they are front and center in the memory of Jesus. His constant desire is for their return. He imagines them as temporarily lost but permanently found. All his longing is for their homecoming. All his hope is in someday hosting a feast that celebrates their turnaround.

We stand at the edge of Advent, a season when we contemplate the mystery of God’s love made flesh among us, the Word taking on our human condition. In Emmanuel, God-with-us, we see up close the witness of Jesus’ self-emptying love. We see his lived experience of what it means to be the anawim, the small and vulnerable one, born as an outsider in a stable, rejected by his own people.

umc.org

We see how the Holy One turns our notion of belonging and worth on its head and evidences a predilection for those who are vulnerable, marginalized, without power or voice, the hidden ones, those who seem to count for nothing. These Advent days remind us that, no matter what is happening this moment—shame or brokenness or beauty or joy—we may recognize our lives as precious and know ourselves as welcomed guests at the divine banquet. May we embrace our neighbor as an equally honored guest as we gather at the gracious table of plenty the Holy One has set.

Wishing you every blessing of the Advent season ahead!

Takeaway

Sit in stillness in the heart of the Holy One.
Reflect on one of your own experiences of being an outsider.
Name what this felt like and looked like for you.
Imagine yourself now as both healed and affirmed in the heart of the Holy One.
Express your gratitude to this welcoming Presence and breathe your blessing to others in need in the universe.

Images:
thepetitionsite.com
Chris Koellhoffer
umc.org

NOTE:
Please hold in your prayer the many Advent events I’ll be privileged to lead in the next two weeks: 

November 29:   Pre-Advent evening for Lay Ministry Formation, Diocese of Scranton, PA
December 3:     Advent afternoon for the Churches of Sullivan County, NY
December 4:     Advent Evening of Prayer, Christ the King Church, Springfield Gardens, NY
December 5:     Advent Evening, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish, Swoyersville, PA 

Thank you for your prayerful support! 

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Giving Thanks for All That We Carry

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, for November 12, 2017

Whether the hurried departure is caused by an approaching hurricane, a raging fire, or the threatening menace of weapons and violence seems to make little difference. All who are catapulted into a hasty leave-taking face the same challenging questions: What to grab? What to save? What to leave behind?

This year we’ve watched the terrified flight of families driving their cars in panic as they attempted to outrace flames nipping at their tires. We’ve witnessed images of people backpackchildclambering to the roofs of flooded homes as rising waters swirled around them. We’ve seen news feed of people carrying bundles larger than they are as they clumsily ran to escape invading forces.

One thing all of these people hold in common: They’re on the move and faced with urgent, seemingly impossible choices that will impact their futures.

In Rohingya refugees: Choosing what to save and what to leave, the BBC’s Shalu Yadav and Neha Sharma met and spoke with encamped refugees who had to make hasty choices about what they could bring with them and what they had to leave behind as they fled. In some cases, people had two hours to pack and hurry to safety; in some cases, mere minutes.

Asiya, a young girl who seemed sheltered from the reality of imminent danger, said she packed her face powder, makeup, and her bangles. She expressed sadness because she couldn’t take her favorite yellow dress with her. Rehena recalled how her house was set on fire as she managed to grab some rice and some oil for her mother’s headaches. Noor, an elderly man who had difficulty walking, said that he was able to take only what would fit in his pockets, so he stuffed them with cash. What he really wanted to take, he confided sadly, was his herd of cattle that he had raised with love like his own children.

What about us? Perhaps we’re among the many fortunate ones who have the gift of time and leisure to discern and choose. Assuming our loved ones would already be safe, what would we choose to take with us if we were limited to only what we could physically carry? What would we leave behind?

Now suppose we expanded our list to include what we cherish and hold dear beyond the limits of what our arms could hold. In this season when we practice thanks-giving, what would make our Top Ten chart of blessings and experiences that evoke gratitude?

Perhaps our list contains good health or relationships that nurture us or success in our chosen career. Perhaps there’s a particular person who has blessed us with understanding and presence through a painful time. Perhaps we might even consider mixed blessings, you know, the kind that aren’t especially welcome and often challenging and difficult, the kind we wish would go away or be resolved quickly in our favor. Moments of joy existing alongside times of sorrow. Blessings in disguise that we can recognize and name as blessings only in hindsight.

Those are the tricky ones, the mixed blessings. Born out of loss, and grief, and suffering of any kind. Coming from the shadow side of life, like the loss of a job that led to the work we had always longed to do. Or a serious illness  that revealed how deeply loved and cherished we are. Or a letting go that offered us the opportunity to redefine ourselves.backpackrefugees

Can we offer thanks for all that has brought us to where we are in any given moment?

In Thanksgiving: Grateful for Mixed Blessings, Diane Cameron observes: “Of course the ultimate level of this kind of gratitude is saying ‘thank you’ even before the good part comes. When you’ve had experience with mixed blessings you begin to know—even while it’s painful or unpleasant—that there will be meaning in it, and so we say thank you even when we’re getting hit hard.”

As we gather around the table with friends and family this Thanksgiving, as we volunteer at soup kitchens and serve dinner to those in need or those without loved ones nearby to celebrate with, may we cultivate a grateful heart. No matter what is happening in our lives this holiday, may we learn from everyone and everything, most of all to be grateful.

Takeaway

Take some quiet time to review the significant experiences of the past year.
For what is it easy to be grateful?
Where is it challenging to feel gratitude?
For what are you most grateful at this time in your life?
Share all your responses with our loving God, and give thanks.

Images
travelobservers.org
un.org
bbc.com

Wishing you and your loved ones peace and good health through the days ahead. I am so grateful for your encouragement and good company as part of the Mining the Now online community. Happy Thanksgiving!

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