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Just a Thought or Two: Paying Attention to the Flags

Paying Attention to the Flags

One of my favorite places in the whole world is South Haven, Michigan. I’m not quite sure how we discovered South Haven, but I suspect –much the same way we discover grace and the Galilean named Jesus- someone pointed us in that direction.

There is a river that winds through the small town.

There is a drawbridge that is raised and lowered to let the sailing boats on the Black River make their way to Lake Michigan.

There is a lighthouse (it’s not the most graceful of lighthouses but it does the job).

There is a small bookstore that has a surprisingly strong collection of new books and old.

There is a place called the Black River Tavern where the cooks know how to prepare fresh lake perch.

There is a North Beach (our favorite) and a South Beach (very nice, indeed).

And there are always flags flying at the beach that tell you about the swimming conditions.

Red, yellow or green?

Swimming in Lake Michigan can be tricky. Sometimes the water is warm and sometimes –within the span of a few hours- it can turn bone-chilling cold as the wind shifts and the currents swing around. Sometimes the water is as quiet and calm as a small pond, and sometimes the lake is wild beyond belief. The storms on the Great Lakes can be fierce, and we have seen the waves roll up the Black River for 2-3 blocks, spilling over the sides of the jetty and chasing pedestrians off the sidewalks.

A green flag flying on the beach means the conditions are safe, and swimming involves little risk.

A yellow flag means conditions are more threatening, and swimmers should enter the water at their own discretion.

A red flag announces that the waves and the currents are very dangerous, and anything more than knee-deep is dangerous.

You learn to pay attention to the flags.

The difference between fun and dangerous

Last week the yellow flag was out, and Ella and Olivia –along with Grandma and Grandpa- enjoyed the wildness. The waves weren’t so powerful as to be dangerous, especially to young otters like those two, and so they would get knocked down and jump right back up. Olivia would do backflips into the breakers and Ella would dive straight into them.

The waves were fun but they weren’t dangerous.

Sometimes, though, we don’t pay attention to the flags and we step into dangerous water.

We shrug off the truth of those who know, we disregard the wisdom of those who have gone before, we lose touch with what the prophets and Jesus have to say about life, justice, compassion, oppression, betrayal, forgiveness and faithfulness.

One minute we are fine, and in the next moment we are in big trouble.

Are you paying attention to the flags?

I don’t know what beach you’re on, or what water you may be thinking about entering, but I would invite you to pay attention to the flags.

What does the life of Jesus, what do the words of Jesus, what does the best wisdom of your best friends, have to say to you about what you’re about to do?

In Matthew 5, Jesus says if we let anger control us, we’re going to be in trouble. Jesus says if we let lust control our thoughts and actions, we’re going to be in trouble. Jesus says if we let the desire for revenge drive us rather than the impulse for generosity, we’re stepping into dangerous water.

The Galilean also says that when we –as individuals or a nation- turn away the stranger, ignore the prisoner, leave those who are ill to fend for themselves, or shrug off the lack of affordable housing for those who struggle, we are stepping into dangerous waters.

Conversely, when we live generously, when we live compassionately, when we welcome the stranger and see one another as beloved children of God, we are in good water…doing back-flips into breakers of grace.

Are you paying attention to the flags?

Grace in Christ,

Pastor Mark


First Methodist