e-letter 6/8/18

“What Happens In Vegas…”
by Steve Schantz
Hebrews 12:9 Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. 11 Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
       Rural Upstate New York can be a lot of fun in the winter.  Before snowmobiling captured our teenage attention, outdoor fun involved skating, sledding, building snow forts, and of course many snow ball fights between siblings and neighbors.  When my little sister was about 8 and her older brothers were all of 11 and 13, we found out that “What happens in Vegas” doesn’t really stay there.

    One evening under the cover of darkness all three of us strayed from some clearly spelled out family values.  I’m not sure who threw the first snowball, (and as the oldest I’d like to remain fuzzy on some of these details), but we decided to snowball passing cars. It made a lot of sense for us to launch our frozen ammo from the neighbor’s yard overlooking the roadway from above—a location which was at quite a distance from our own front porch.  Hearing the thump of a well-packed snowball on a car windshield, roof, or quarter panel became addicting. Each resounding thud had us giggling and congratulating each other for good marksmanship. Gravity and trajectory made up for muscle, and practice made perfect as we threw one snowball after another from our neighbor’s yard.

     One unfortunate soul who was making an evening grocery run got hit both going to and coming from the store. After being ambushed the second time, the driver braked quickly and veered into my parent’s driveway. We dropped our next volley and our hearts sank as the frozen evidence still clung to his windshield.  Leaping out of his car and landing on the front porch step of our house, he knocked on the door, our father answered, and they had a very meaningful short conversation.  The front porch light revealed the driver’s angry body language as he pointed out our location across the road. Shortly after he got back in his car our summons came.

      At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, each of us received timely, well-placed corporal punishment from my father.  In two words- it stung!  My sister started to cry while my brother and I were still under active therapy, and as her turn came to be disciplined both of us pleaded on her behalf to the high court of appeals: “Dad, Chris can’t even throw a snow ball!”, we moaned. “Her snowballs just fall apart and roll down the hill. She didn’t hit any cars.”  But alas, her intent was the same, and like all children she would get better at mischief if left to perfect her craft.  And, although a total pardon was not in her best interest, she did receive a reduced sentence.

    The notion that we can do as we please and not experience separation and pain from those we love has been around for a long time.   Distance from home only adds inertial weight to this thinking which leaves a painful mark.  Sometimes as God’s children we still struggle with running across the road into the far country to rebel.  Missing His mark has us attempting to make our own in all the wrong places.  While we hope that the stupid things we’ve done won’t come back to haunt us, we have each experienced enough of life to know that we reap what we sow.  (Gal 6:7) With snow balls and in life what goes up must come down, and what happens in Vegas doesn’t really stay there. 

But our Father has reached farther than we can run.   We were put here to grow up together into our calling as children of God weren’t we?  Surely we won’t become a permanent version of every stupid thing we’ve ever done!  We are meant to see where we’re headed and aim to do our neighbor good instead of harm – to serve each other and comfort each other, to show kindness to one another and bear one another’s burdens. That is part of growing connected and caring. It is part of being our brother’s keeper, and an important part of Suntree UMC DNA going into our future together. The Father’s love has come down to us in the person of the Son and we are included in that new life by the Spirit. The one who came down for us was lifted back up with us in his arms.  His discipline is always filled with hope and not hatred, diligence and not damnation, mercy and not mayhem. He knows the limits of our frame and counts the very hairs on our head. We can be thankful for physical parents who have helped us realize that what happens in Vegas doesn’t really stay there.  We can also be thankful for God’s grace and forgiveness, not only shown to us, but also made available to our parents and our neighbors. We each need the same tenderhearted forbearing mercy from God and from one another. This Sunday we will talk more about Paul’s words in Galatians 6:1-10 and how we can live into them together.