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Update Newsletters
December 21, 2011

  1. This Week’s Sermon from Rev. Frank and Mary Hoffman
  2. CVA Member David Frye Relates a True Christmas Story
  3. Reflections on This Week’s Lectionary: Titus 2:11-14

1. This Week’s Sermon from Rev. Frank and Mary Hoffman

The Peace That Surpasses All Understanding

2. CVA Member David Frye Relates a True Christmas Story

A long time ago I rescued a puppy who had been hit by a car. He grew into a beautiful dog, not only in appearance, but also in character. He taught me that animals share many qualities with humans. They have the same emotions, great memories, and deserve to be treated with respect. Because of him I set out on a journey of change that included aspiring to be a vegetarian, becoming active in pet rescue and adoption, and providing the opportunity for dogs to be of service by going to nursing homes and other places where people can experience their love and happiness.

A few years ago I learned that the local animal shelter had discovered a case of distemper and would be euthanizing all the dogs there at the time. My family and I took all the ones we could and provided a foster home for them until we could find them permanent homes. One of them, however, had an idea of her own.

We named her Heidi, and she was quite a mess when we got her. She was not happy about any human being present in her world. She was also afraid of every sound and anything that moved. She lived in my daughter's office for months, fearing almost everyone else who came near, including me. Even taking her outside to do her business was a huge ordeal. Frequently she would become frightened and flatten herself to the ground while straining at the leash to get back to safety.

Then, through an unpredictable series of events, she adopted me as her human. She went from being a recluse to sharing space with me and 2 other dogs. She began going to work and back home with us every day, even though previously she had not been a good traveler. She gradually accepted more and more humans into her world, and became part of our office and home families. However, she never lost her fear of strangers. I still wonder about the abuse she must have endured before she found us.

A Christmas or two ago an old friend of my late Dad's came by to see me. Heidi immediately showed her distrust by bristling and barking. Then she retreated to a hallway where she could run if needed, and just watched as we talked. The man was talking about some things they used to do and all the fun they had before my Dad passed away. Suddenly, he was overcome with emotion, and started to sob as he realized that almost everyone that had ever cared about him was gone. Then, just as suddenly, Heidi came from behind me, walked right up to him, and stood straight up on her hind legs with her front legs extended. She gently placed her paws on his chest, and then laid her head against him with her eyes turned up looking into his face. Her look spoke what was in her heart: "I want to comfort you."

Immediately, he was comforted! I watched with amazement as a big smile came over his face and he began to hug her. My shelter dog had just given this man the perfect Christmas present. Her compassion had overcome her fear, and in doing so she had given him comfort and joy.

I have no remembrance of what it cost to give Heidi a home, but I will never forget the priceless moment that she gave peace to a hurting human at Christmas.

3. Reflections on This Week’s Lectionary: Titus 2:11-14

This passage reads:

For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

One thing I find remarkable about this passage is its focus on “this world,” where the goal of people should be “zealous for good deeds.” This perspective is consistent with Jesus’ prayer for God’s realm “on earth as in heaven,” and it militates against the focus among many contemporary Christians on the afterlife.

The process by which Jesus redeemed us from all iniquity is a subject of considerable discussion and debate among Christian scholars, theologians, and lay believers. What I think is important is that nearly all Christians would agree that we are redeemed, which facilitates the path toward righteousness and “good deeds.” Once relieved of the burdens of our sinfulness, we can focus on assisting others. Otherwise, we tend to focus on gaining our own redemption, which generates at least two problems. First, this focus distracts us recognizing the suffering and needs of other individuals and impairs our calling to serve God through good deeds. Second, it encourages us to blame others for our shortcomings – an essential element of scapegoating. A manifestation of this scapegoating can be a tendency to blame other individuals for their difficulties, which discourages us from helping those in need.

Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

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