by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” - Mother Teresa

May, 2004

It’s time for my tenth annual column about the balloons that fill our church each Easter Sunday! This year, it’s also about some of our other Easter traditions, like “The Leftovers.” In case you didn’t know, “The Leftovers” are a group of people who learn–and later sing–a new Easter song between the pancake breakfast and the Easter service, including parts. This year, while we were practicing, we weren’t doing very well, and Mary said, “God help us!” And I replied, “Well, he always has before.”

And it's true. Each year, we always sound better than anyone has any right to expect. We didn’t do as well this year as we had hoped but we did “make a joyful noise.” We enjoyed singing and the congregation seemed to enjoy our song. And, most important, we were able to “Praise God in his sanctuary;” (Psa. 150:1b NIV). Somehow, God always makes it possible for our different voices to blend in song.

This year, the balloons blended together surprisingly well too. In addition to the usual balloon colors, red, yellow, green, blue, and such, there were brown balloons. Some of us speculated about the brown balloons. My theory was that they were supposed to be like chocolate Easter eggs and bunnies. Larry said he thought they were root beer. But when the church was decorated, the balloons looked wonderful. The colors all blended together marvelously, even the brown.

Things don’t always look as if they will “work out” for us as we follow Christ. The night before he was crucified, Jesus quoted the prophet Zechariah (Zech. 13:7) to his disciples: “‘You will all fall away,’ Jesus told them, ‘for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”’” (Mark 14:27 NIV). And of course, he was right. After he was taken by the mob that had been sent by the chief priests and the teachers of the law, the disciples ran away (Mark 14:50), all except Judas Iscariot, who had betrayed him, and Simon Peter, who would deny him. The sheep had lost their shepherd, and they were scattered.

But we know the story doesn't end with the disciples being scattered. Immediately after Jesus told the disciples they would fall away, he said, “‘But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.’” (Mark 14:28 NIV). And after he had risen, the angel said to the women who had come to the tomb, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” (Mark 16:7 NIV). When Jesus appeared to the disciples he said to them, “‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.’” (Mark 16:15b NIV). They were scattered again but this time they were no longer wandering aimlessly and without hope. Instead, they were scattered because they had been sent forth in his name.

The balloons we release on Easter are scattered but they have also been sent forth to proclaim the message of Christ. Each balloon contains a message about God's love and our church. As we were singing our hymn of invitation, I thought of the way God sends us into the world:

“In all the world around me I see his loving care,
and though my heart grows weary, I never will despair.
I know that he is leading through all the stormy blast;
the day of his appearing will come at last.” (“He Lives,” vs. 2, Alfred H. Ackley.)

Christ is leading us through all of life’s calm weather and “stormy blasts.” He goes ahead of us just as he went ahead of the first disciples, into Galilee, Maplewood, and the world. Others can see God’s “loving care” in the world because of us. We are God’s messengers to a world of hurt and despair, sent to bring color and joy to a drab, colorless world. God brings us together, makes harmony out of our discord and beauty out of our clashing colors, and sends us forth as witnesses. We have not been scattered, we have been sent.

“After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” (Mark 16:19-20 NIV.)


Copyright © 2004 by David Phelps