Mary’s Faith

This week, we celebrate Mary and her faithful response to the Angel’s visit. Here is the story of her encounter with Gabriel from Luke chapter 1,

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

We know the story so well, we often miss the power of not only an angel’s visit, the transforming words he offers, but Mary’s response. There is no request in the angelic proclamation. He does not ask, “Mary, God has a job for you to consider.” The only consideration is her response. Here is a painting which helps me capture the power in Mary’s choice.

mary

Here are the details, their possible symbolism, and parts of the story we may have overlooked.
Red Dress: If you went to high school when I did, you likely read The Scarlet Letter. Regardless of the origin of her future child, Mary would not have been seen as a ‘good’ girl. Like many teenagers with child, Mary does what many had to, went away to see their cousin. Sometimes they stayed until the baby was born, sometimes in Mary’s case, at least until the intensity of the scandal calmed.
Sight: In the paining, Mary is looking forward. She has a clear sense of vision.
Umbrella: Mary is in the rain. The umbrella is before her. To get out of the rain she has to step forward. The choice is also before her. She can stand still or step out.
Water: She can step forward to get out of the rain, but the path ahead is not dry. She will have to step into an apparently deep lake. The minor choice seems to be accompanied by a large one, out of the rain and into deep water. If she trust’s God’s messenger and God, then she will not see herself as cast off no matter what her culture and family might say about her, but the step will be into deep water. God works that way. God called Abram and Sarah – they left their homes and went into a famine.Jesus called Peter and the other fishermen. “Leave your nets, come and go with me and I’ll give you purpose – I’ll make you fishers of people.” “Fishers of people? Wow!” “Oh, yeah, by the way, I’m headed to the cross…”
Alone: Though Mary stands as a solitary figure in the paining, that was not how she saw herself. She knew little enough of men, the world, parenting, to have any idea what life would be like for her. She did know enough of God and know God well enough to trust, not beyond reason but beyond reservation. She had faith like that poet, Taylor Caldwell described,

I am not alone at all,
I was never alone at all.
That is the message of Christmas.
We are never alone.
Not when night is darkest, the wind coldest,
the world seemingly most indifferent.
For this is still the time God chooses.

During Christmas we retell the familiar tales, but if we dare to listen, we will hear the voice of one beyond time calling us to step out, venture from the shore, to the infinite sea of God’s impossibility made our potential.
Lead on, Mary!

Audience of One

In the theater to the right, where would you place the following?

sanctuaryPreacher
Choir or Singers and Musicians
Congregation
God

The common response is to place the preacher, choir, and musicians on stage, the congregation in the audience, and God everywhere. We discuss worship as in any theater. Soren Kierkegaard challenged our thinking of worship and said that we have the audience wrong. The congregation is not the audience. God is the audience. Those who gather for worship are on stage. The preacher, singers, and musicians are all backstage prompting the congregation. It is not our pleasure which is the final judge but God’s. It is not whether or not we consider a service meaningful but whether God finds meaning in our service, in church and out, on holy days and every days. God is our audience of One.

Recently, the music group from our church, Macland Presbyterian, went to serve dinner and sing at a local rehab center.  Due to an overdose of one of the residents, the men all went to a group. Our band was there, but didn’t have anyone to hear their music. Randy Campbell sang anyway. I’ve heard the familiar expression, “Dance like no one is watching.” Randy sang like God was listening. See and hear what God heard and saw at this link:

https://www.facebook.com/maclandpc/videos/1353911207962016/

This Christmas, and all throughout the year, remember your audience of One.

Have a Funky Christmas

My favorite Pat McLaughlin quotes…

When asked to sing at church, “I don’t know any sacred songs. Well… perhaps they’re all sacred songs.”

After I finished worship, “That’s the best #*^##* sermon I ever heard.”

This song is not a carol, and it won’t ever be in a hymnbook, but it brings me joy inside. Shouldn’t all Christmas gifts bring us joy inside? With that intention, have a Funky Christmas.

Don’t know what to get your music lover for Christmas? Support quality song writing in Nashville and have yourself a funky Christmas.  http://www.patmclaughlin.com/

Name Him Bob

(Text version)

What if an angel came to you like he did Joseph? You’ve gotten the news about your fiance’ being pregnant with a child that’ not yours. In your tossing and turning for most of the night, but in that sleep a dream, and in that dream, an angel. The angel tell Joseph exactly what to do, even the name of the child. For this would be a sign to the rest of the world to just how special this child would be, Joseph, whose carpentry was average at best, did not get a great deal of respect in the village, but now he would. The name from the angel would have to be majestic. One of the older ones, Lion of Judah,  The Light of the World,
The Resurrection and the Life, The Bright and Morning Star,  Alpha and Omega.

Joseph waited for the angel to speak, to give him the name. “And you will name him….” Wait for it. “Bob.”

Continue reading “Name Him Bob”

Marriage is Like Football

To help you understand the premarital work I do with couples before they get married, I need you to watch this piece by one of America’s best theologians, George Carlin. Sure, Germany had Karl Barth, Geneva had John Calvin, Americans have had George Carlin. Makes a lot of sense to me. In this brief set, Carlin will clarify the differences between to two sports, and I help relate to marriage.

Wake to your family patterns.

 “Do you, Roger, take this woman to be your wife?”
“I do.”
“And do you, Rebecca, take this man to be your husband?”
“I do.”
“By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you man and wife. Let the games begin.”

I try and prepare them, those innocent young who come to the church to be married. I try to give them some picture that they have not only chosen each other, they have been chosen by their families, chosen as missionaries, as agents, as representatives. I try to show them how, in their lives up to this point, their families have been preparing them, educating them, training them in the ‘right’ way to live their family way, their long traditioned, heavily patterned, family way, sending them forth into marriage, to procreate a new family, one with the same values, behaviors, traditions, patterns of the family from whence they came.

I try to prepare individuals who come to me for premarital counseling for the upcoming mêlée. I ask them, “What do you think your marriage will be like?”

I listen to their responses, then I add, “I like to think of marriage as one really long…football game.”

Comparing marriage to football is no insult. I come from the South where football is sacred. I would never belittle marriage by saying it is like soccer, bowling, or playing bridge, never. Those images would never work as only football is passionate enough to be compared to marriage. In other sports, players walk onto the field, in football they run onto the field, in high school ripping through some paper, in college (for those who are fortunate enough) they touch the rock and run down the hill onto the field in the middle of the band. In other sports, fans cheer, in football they scream. In other sports, players ‘high five’, in football they chest, smash shoulder pads, and pat your rear. Football is a passionate sport, and marriage is about passion.

In football, two teams send players onto the field to determine which athletes will win and which will lose, in marriage two families send their representatives forward to see which family will survive and which family will be lost into oblivion with their traditions, patterns, and values lost and forgotten.

Preparing for this struggle for survival, the bride and groom are each set up. Each has been led to believe that their family’s patterns are all ‘normal,’ and anyone who differs is dense, naïve, or stupid because, no matter what the issue, the way their family has always done it is the ‘right’ way. For the premarital bride and groom in their twenties, as soon as they say, “I do,” these ‘right’ ways of doing things are about to collide like two three hundred and fifty pound linemen at the hiking of the ball. From “I do” forward, if not before, every decision, every action, every goal will be like the line of scrimmage.

Where will the family patterns collide?

In the kitchen. Here the new couple will be faced with the difficult decision of “Where do the cereal bowls go?” Likely, one family’s is high, and the others is low.

In the bathroom. The bathroom is a battleground unmatched in the potential conflicts. Will the toilet paper roll over the top or underneath? Will the acceptable residing position for the lid be up or down? And, of course, what about the toothpaste? Squeeze it from the middle or the end?

The skirmishes don’t stop in the rooms of the house, they are not only locational they are seasonal. The classic battles come home for the holidays.

Thanksgiving. Which family will they spend the noon meal with and which family, if close enough, will have to wait until the nighttime meal, or just dessert if at all?

Christmas. Whose home will they visit first, if at all? How much money will they spend on gifts for his family? for hers?

Then comes for many couples an even bigger challenge – children of their own!

At the wedding, many couples take two candles and light just one often extinguishing their candle as a sign of devotion. The image is Biblical. The Bible is quoted a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. The unanswered question is, “If the two shall become one, which one?” Two families, two patterns, two ways of doing things, but which family’s patterns will survive to play another day, in another generation, and which will be lost forever? Let the games begin.

Wake to your family patterns that cross generations.

“Because I said so!” I can still hear my father.

As a determined eight year old, I swore, “I will never say, ‘Because I said so’ to MY child.” Fast forward thirty-five years later, we have three children, Cayla, Abbie, and Nathan. Each, at one time or another, has heard me say, “Because I said so.” Each has also heard me lecture them on the evils of not eating their supper while there are so many starving children in India, another thing I swore I would never say to my child. The patterns we learn as children resurface when we become parents, no matter how dormant we thought them to be.

What I have found even more amazing is just how unquestioned our family patterns can become. Sensible or not, we assume our way of doing things is the ‘right’ way, like in this story…

 Every time Mary cooked a roast, she cut off a small slice on each end. A neighbor, over sharing a cup of coffee, watched her semi-consciously cut off the ends. “Why do you do that?” asked the neighbor.

Mary thought about it. She didn’t know. “I guess it’s because that’s the way my mother always cooked a roast.” She was a little embarrassed that she had no other reason, so she called her mother. Her mother told her that she, like her daughter, simply cut the ends off the roast because she had seen her mother do the same. Mary called grandma. Her grandmother explained that she had always cut the ends off the roast because the pot she used was a small pot, too small for a normal roast. She cut the ends off to make the roast fit in the pot. Mary realized that two generations later she kept the same pattern of her grandmother even though they no longer owned the small pot nor needed to cut the ends off the roast.

We observe and imitate. The patterned way is assumed the preferable way, the right way, the best way, and why wouldn’t we pass on the best way to the next generation?

What family patterns do you have which have crossed generations? Do you know why you do the things you do? Are there any patterns in your family or in your life which have been held with football-like religious fervor?

Live Your Moments: Recognize – It’s All Made Up

In a lot of family vans, they have movie players so the kids can watch movies while they ride along. You can’t do that while driving, believe me… not that I’ve done it. I don’t have to. I just replay them in my mind. I have them stored, in my brain. Apparently my storage space was full by the time I was twelve because all I have in my mind is movies from childhood.
So, while driving down the long highway, The Wizard of Oz started playing. I can’t decide on who I think is scarier Ms. Gulch on her bicycle, or the Wicked Witch. If you throw in the flying monkeys, I have to say the Wicked Witch, but before that I’d say it’s a tie.
Then, because I am a preacher, I can’t just replay The Wizard of Oz in my mind, I had to consider them philosophically, “Which place is real, is it Kansas or is it Oz?”
Think about it. If you’re first thought is, ‘Of course Kansas real. Oz is made up. It’s just a story, a product of someone’s imagination. Not Kansas. I’ve been to Kansas.’ I must point out to you, in the movie Kansas is in black and white while Oz is in color.
Continue reading “Live Your Moments: Recognize – It’s All Made Up”

The Holy Declaration of Independence

If you ever feel lost in a crowd, then you understand what Meg was feeling in the climax of A Wrinkle in Time, Meg struggles to find life as a person out of the crowd. The crowd is a planet called Camazotz. The lines are marvelous. On this strange planet, she struggles to both live out her calling as an individual and as a person in relationship to her brother. Here are some of my favorite lines.

The houses in the outskirts were all exactly alike, small square boxes painted gray. Each had a small rectangular plot of lawn in front, with a straight line of dull-looking flowers edging the path to the door. Meg had a feeling that if she could count the flowers, there would be exactly the same number for each house. In front of all the houses, children were playing. Some were skipping rope, some were bouncing balls. Meg felt vaguely that something was wrong with their play… This was so. As the skipping rope hit the pavement, so did the ball. As the rope curved over the head of the jumping child, the child with the ball caught the ball. Down came the ropes. Down came the balls. Over and over again. Up. Down. All in rhythm. All identical. Like the houses. Like the paths. Like the flowers.

The brain of the town, the central coTnsciousness of the planet, was in the CENTRAL Central Intelligence Building, and the brain, devoid of personality, was called IT. And IT monitored all the planet for any distinctiveness among the people. Meg resisted the uniformity of Camazotz. Later in the book, Meg faced IT to rescue her brother from the control of the oversized brain who spoke to her through her brother. She decided to confront IT. For encouragement, she recited The Declaration of Independence. Continue reading “The Holy Declaration of Independence”

For Fathers, Sons, and Daughters

In Matthew 6, Jesus taught his followers to pray in this way, “Our Father…” 

As we approach Father’s Day, with a celebration of dads heavenly and otherwise, I see a parallel between God the rest of us regulars, we all want the same for our children, to grow, to become, to live, and to love. As my son Nathan continues to grow into his teenage year and is gaining wrestling skill from camp and club, I am well aware that it won’t be long until my son pins his father. For the hopeful continued growth for Cayla, Abbie, and Nathan, and to encourage all of us to continue to grow and encourage growth in each other, I offer this simple poem by Orval Lund that he wrote for his father.
Wrist-wrestling father
Orval Lund
for my father

On the maple wood we placed our elbows
and gripped hands, the object to bend
the other’s arm to the kitchen table.
We flexed our arms and waited for the sign.
I once shot a wild goose.
I once stood not twenty feet from a buck deer unnoticed.
I’ve seen a woods full of pink lady slippers.
I once caught a 19-inch trout on a tiny fly.
I’ve seen the Pacific, I’ve seen the Atlantic,
I’ve watched whales in each.
I once heard Lenny Bruce tell jokes.
I’ve seen Sandy Koufax pitch a baseball.
I’ve heard Paul Desmond play the saxophone.
I’ve been to London to see the Queen.
I’ve had dinner with a Nobel Prize poet.
I wrote a poem once with every word but one just right.
I’ve fathered two fine sons
and loved the same woman for twenty-five years.
But I’ve never been more amazed
than when I snapped my father’s arm down to the table.

Let Your Light Shine

I’m preaching today on the light of the world passage from the Sermon on The Mount in Matthew 5:

Matthew 5: 13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and
trampled under foot. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

I am amazed at how different images from a scripture I’m living with during the week come to the surface when I’m thinking through my lenses of a Biblical passage. So often we make Jesus a person who is one in a billion, a person like no other, and, I believe, we miss where Jesus’ identity and life point us.

Continue reading “Let Your Light Shine”

A Tigger or an Eeyore?

Galatians 5:22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.

Randy Pausch began his famous Last Lecture telling of his diagnosis,
   If you look at my CAT scans, there are approximately 10 tumors in my liver, and the doctors told me 3-6 months of good health left. That was a month ago, so you can do the math… So that is what it is. We can’t change it, and we just have to decide how we’re going to respond to that. We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.
   Pausch goes on to say later in the lecture,
   …you just have to decide if you’re a Tigger or an Eeyore  . I think I’m clear on where I stand on the Tigger/Eyore debate. Never lose the childlike wonder. It’s just too important. Continue reading “A Tigger or an Eeyore?”

A Mother’s Difficult Gift

In honor of mother’s day, there will be ample mention of how much mothers do, how much mothers give, and how many wonderful attributes go into being a mother. Those ideals will abound.
The one talent mothers have which often goes unnoted in a Hallmark card is the wonderful way some mothers master the art of simply letting go. Celebrating the difficulty of mothers to let a child grow is this wonderful poem…

The Summer-Camp Bus
Pulls Away from the Curb
Sharon Olds

Whatever he needs, he has or doesn’t
have by now.
Whatever the world is going to do to him
it has started to do. With a pencil and two
Hardy Boys and a peanut butter sandwich and
grapes he is on his way, there is nothing
more we can do for him. Whatever is
stored in his heart, he can use, now.
Whatever he has laid up in his mind
he can call on. What he does not have
he can lack. The bus gets smaller and smaller, as one
folds a flag at the end of a ceremony,
onto itself, and onto itself, until
only a heavy wedge remains.
Whatever his exuberant soul
can do for him, it is doing right now.
Whatever his arrogance can do
it is doing to him. Everything
that’s been done to him, he will now do.
Everything that’s been placed in him
will come out, now, the contents of a trunk
unpacked and lined up on a bunk in the underpine light.
 

Live Your Moments: Don’t Be Stronger Than You Need to Be

The Bible has a lot of paradoxical statements, die to live, lose to win, and then there is this one from Paul, “When I am weak, I am strong.” It’s a tough workout to practice, make yourself weaker to become more powerful. Here are Paul’s words of encouragement to the church in Corinth. He begins by sharing about his own struggles and praying three times for relief then opens up to what he learned from the process.

2 Corinthians 12: 8 Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Here is a song written by Gary Nicholson and shared by Seth Walker. He provides a more palatable image of what might be gained in our weakness and encourages us to not be Stronger Than You Need to Be…

 

Can’t Shake Jesus

When I was younger, there was an evangelism program called, I Found It, complete with celebrities, booklets, and bumper stickers. One of the messages of the advertising campaign used the image from Revelation 3 with Jesus standing at my door and knocking, promising if I will just let him in, he will come in and be my friend.
As an adult, in Russia, on a trip I did not select as much as was sent, I was in the home of one of my new friends who had an almost life-size framed picture of Jesus standing at the door and knocking. “Do you know this passage?” he asked. “Yes,” I said, “but in my life, I feel more like Jesus doesn’t knock and wait hoping I’ll open it, but my experience with Jesus is that he kicks it in.” Even after translated by another in Russian, he did not seem to understand. I wish I had Gordon Kennedy with me to help explain. He has a marvelous way of singing about Jesus in songs like, Can’t Shake Jesus,

naked, alone, cold cobblestones
they beat Him until the blood ran
they brought Him to die, on a cross, up on-high
with spikes through His feet and His hands
a crown of thorns on His brow, His eye on the crowds
all of God’s daughters and sons
they’re spitting on Him, cursing at Him
“Forgive them for what they have done…

you can use Him, abuse Him, mock and accuse Him
sell Him out for thirty pieces
betray Him, slay Him, do the devil’s mayhem
but you can’t shake Jesus

well I’ve had my bouts, questions and doubts
you know there are those who deceive
I’ve tried to resist, escape and dismiss
but there’s one who’s shadowing me

 I can lose my religion, break with tradition
say I’ll hold out till Hell freezes
I can test Him, try Him, but I just can’t deny Him
no, I can’t shake Jesus

Here is Ricky Skaggs preforming “Can’t Shake Jesus”

Here is my promise. Run if you want. Hide if you can. I don’t see it going well for you. If he’s after you, he’ll find you. You can’t shake him. A warning Edith Lovejoy Pierce captured in her poem, Drum Major for a Dream,

Above the shouts and the shots,
The roaring flames and the siren’s blare,
Listen for the stilled voice of the man
Who is no longer there.
Above the tramping of the endless line
Of marches along the street,Listen for the silent step
of the dead man’s invisible feet.Lock doors, put troops at the gate,
Guard the legislative halls
But tremble when the dead man comes,
Whose spirit walks through walls.

What About Holy Saturday?

Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday – But what about Saturday?
Certainly Saturday must have been what seemed like one of the longer days of the week.  Jesus had died, terribly, but burried certainly. With each moment came the expectation that those who came for Jesus might come for them, that the “Jesus Problem in Jerusalem” wasn’t going to be settled until all his followers were rounded up and seen to their own demise.
Saturday is the between time. The after the cross but before the resurrection.
The importance of the between time, the day between the crucifixion and resurrection, the day between Friday and Sunday, is holy time. For the Jews, that day, Saturday, it was worship, Sabbath, the Holy Day.
For Christians, Holy Saturday marks that between time, that space between the crucifixion and resurrection, the day of emptiness, which, if noticed for what it was, could have pointed to the emptiness of the tomb.
To enter nothing, to step into the void, is our holy journey. It is where, like the disciples, we encounter God. Meister Eckhart said, It is characteristic of creatures that they make something out of something, while it is a characteristic of God that he makes something out of nothing. Therefore, if God is to make anything in you or with you, you must first become nothing. Hence go into your own ground and work there, and the works that you work there will all be living.
       The first symbol of Easter is a void. Easter begins with nothing. Easter begins with the empty place. Easter begins with the empty tomb. And an invitation, “Come and see the empty place.” Emptiness opens us to possibility. As the proverb says, It is not the bars but the space between them that holds the tiger. Without space, there is no room for life symbolized by the tiger.
A priest will often use a cup as a symbol of self. Like the tea cup, it is not the pottery but it is the space between the pottery which gives life. Without space, the cup would be a ceramic ball – a poor ball that breaks soon after you throw it. It is the space that allows the cup its purpose. In a similar matter, not the notes but the empty space between them that creates the music. It is the empty places that make the music. In a similar manner, it is not the walls, but the space between them that makes a home… or a church. Without space, a church would be one giant block of concrete. Space makes room for life. We call church space between the walls ‘sacred’ space.
Easter invites us to let our minds be sacred space. The transformation of Easter, which took a tomb of death, and made it sacred, is to take your mind and make it sacred space – an empty place where you can experience the power of God to give full life. What does God want from you? Nothing. And it may be one of the hardest things you have to give. Especially on a Saturday. Especially when we face a tomb. That’s why we call those moments, “Holy.” Soren Kierkegaard described prayer as going intentionally to that empty space, a great way to live out Holy Saturday.

As my prayer became more attentive and inward,
I had less and less to say.
I finally became completely silent.
I started to listen
–which is even further removed from speaking.
I first thought that praying entailed speaking.I then learnt that praying is hearing,
not merely being silent.
This is how it is.
To pray does not mean to listen to oneself speaking.
Prayer involves becoming silent,
and being silent,
and waiting until God is heard.

Why Jesus Died

To this day, I am haunted by a sermon that I heard. The church is Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta where Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sr. both preached. I was there with a seminary group on the Sunday before Easter.
The preacher asked, “Why did Jesus have to die?” We thought about it while he went on to describe all the details of Jesus trial, beating, crucifixion and death?
He asked again, “Why did Jesus have to die?” Then described the scene of Jesus death again.
Then he said, “There is one thing I want to know? Why was Jesus alone? Where were the disciples?” We all knew they were off hiding. He asked, “Where were the rest?” Rest? what rest? “The people shouting ‘Hosanna’ in the street? Where were they? Where were those that Jesus healed? Where were the ten lepers? The blind and the lame? The woman who was caught in adultery that Jesus kept them from stoning her, where was she? Zachaeus who Jesus brought down from the tree and into the community? The roman centurion that Jesus healed his slave? Nicodemus who came by night? Where were they? Where were they all? What about Lazarus? Jesus raised him from the dead? Why was he not there? He was living on bonus time! How could he not be brave enough to show up? Where was he? Where were they all?”
“You want to know why Jesus died? He died because no one waws willing to stand beside him! Because no one was willing to stand with him!
Because no one was willing to stand up for him! He died because when he needed them most, when he – the one who did so much for them needed them most, they were off hiding. Or if they were in the crowd, they were to afraid to act! Jesus died because the ones he healed, cared for, loved…did nothing.”
Since I heard that sermon, I hear this story with new ears. In that crowd were people, followers of Jesus, lovers of God, people who knew Jesus was innocent, and they were too afraid to act. So I scream at them, “Do something!”
Jesus died because they did nothing.
The truth of the matter is, how many more times does Jesus die because people like us, people who have felt his special touch, people who know the love of God, do not act.
Martin Niemoeller was a pastor in Germany in the 1930’s and 40’s. He said this, “They came first for the communists, but I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came fo the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak.”
When Khrushchev came to power in the Soviet Union, he denounced Stalin and his brutal actions during his rule. In a crowded hall, someone shouted, “Where were you, Comrade Khrushchev, when all these innocent people were being slaughtered?”
Khrushchev paused, looking around the hall, and shouted, “Who said that?” “Will the man who said that stand up so I can see him.”
Tension built. All was quiet. No one said anything or moved.
Then Khrushchev said, “Well, whoever you are, you have your answer now. I was in exactly the same position then as you are now.”
As the saying in your bulletin reads, “All that is needed for evil to triumph is that the good do nothing.”
As we face this Holy Week, as we remember all that was done to Jesus and all that others didn’t do, as you wake to another Easter season and another day in your life, what will you do? How will the world be different because you lived another day?

Doubt as a Path to Faith

“Don’t be a Doubting Thomas,” was a charge I heard both at home and church. Doubt was bad. It was below lying and stealing, but doubt was otherwise high on the list of nonchristian characteristics and Thomas was the icon for doubt like Judas was the icon for betrayal.
Through the years, I’ve gained a little more respect for Thomas, doubting, and found little use for such polar dichotomies like doubt and faith. I’ve found throughout my life that there are few opposites. As a toddler, falling was not the opposite to walking but just part of the learning process. A little older, I found that mistakes in math were just part of the process in learning to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Throughout my life, I’ve found that doubt and questions just part of the process of growing in not only faith toward but love with someone as mysterious as Jesus.
In the recesses of my mind, I have stored a simple quote by Paul Tillich, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith, it is an element of faith.” As I searched for more on doubt from Tillich, I came across this article on faith from Frederick Buechner who weaves words together with an unmatched art.
As you, perhaps, wrestle with your own doubts and questions, hoping to encounter a Lord you can not only see but touch and be touched by, I hope Buechner’s words may be helpful.

When God told Abraham, who was a hundred at the time, that at the age of ninety his wife, Sarah, was finally going to have a baby, Abraham came close to knocking himself out—”fell on his face and laughed,” as Genesis puts it (17:17). In another version of the story (18:8ff.), Sarah is hiding behind the door eavesdropping, and here it’s Sarah herself who nearly splits a gut—although when God asks her about it afterward, she denies it. “No, but you did laugh,” God says, thus having the last word as well as the first. God doesn’t seem to hold their outbursts against them, however. On the contrary, God tells them the baby’s going to be a boy and they are to name him Isaac. Isaac in Hebrew means “laughter.”
Why did the two old crocks laugh? They laughed because they knew only a fool would believe that a woman with one foot in the grave was soon going to have her other foot in the maternity ward. They laughed because God expected them to believe it anyway. They laughed because God seemed to believe it. They laughed because they half believed it themselves. They laughed because laughing felt better than crying. They laughed because if by some crazy chance it just happened to come true, they would really have something to laugh about, and in the meanwhile it helped keep them going.
Faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” says the Letter to the Hebrews (11:1). Faith is laughter at the promise of a child called Laughter.
Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you’re going, but going anyway. A journey without maps. Paul Tillich said that doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.
I have faith that my friend is my friend. It is possible that all his motives are ulterior. It is possible that what he is secretly drawn to is not me, but my wife or my money. But there’s something about the way I feel when he’s around, about the way he looks me in the eye, about the way we can talk to each other without pretense and be silent together without embarrassment, that makes me willing to put my life in his hands, as I do each time I call him friend.
I can’t prove the friendship of my friend. When I experience it, I don’t need to prove it. When I don’t experience it, no proof will do. If I tried to put his friendship to the test somehow, the test itself would queer the friendship I was testing. So it is with the Godness of God.
The five so-called proofs for the existence of God will never prove to unfaith that God exists. They are merely five ways of describing the existence of the God you have faith in already.
Almost nothing that makes any real difference can be proved. I can prove the law of gravity by dropping a shoe out the window. I can prove that the world is round if I’m clever at that sort of thing—that the radio works, that light travels faster than sound. I cannot prove that life is better than death or love better than hate. I cannot prove the greatness of the great or the beauty of the beautiful. I cannot even prove my own free will; maybe my most heroic act, my truest love, my deepest thought are all just subtler versions of what happens when the doctor taps my knee with his little rubber hammer and my foot jumps.
Faith can’t prove a damned thing. Or a blessed thing either.

For more by Frederick Buechner, you can start at this link: http://frederickbuechner.com/content/faith

Is God a Morning Person?

I often find poets make the best preachers. They focus on each word and every line to provide in often-succinct fashion interpretation of life and scripture. Along with the images of creation in Genesis and Psalms, I hold this version of our beginning by Vassar Miller dear to my heart.

Morning Person
Vassar Miller

God, best at making in the morning, tossed
stars and planets, singing and dancing, rolled
Saturn’s rings spinning and humming, twirled the earth
so hard it coughed and spat the moon up, brilliant
bubble floating around it for good, stretched holy
hands till birds in nervous sparks flew forth from
them and beasts – lizards, big and little, apes,
lions, elephants, dogs and cats cavorting,
tumbling over themselves, dizzy with joy when
God made us in the morning too, both man
and woman, leaving Adam no time for
sleep so nimbly was Eve bouncing out of
his side till as night came everything and
everybody, growing tired, declined, sat
down in one soft descended Hallelujah.

Whether the creation stories of Genesis or poets like Miller or James Weldon Johnson, the great ones point not just toward what God has done but what God continues to do daily. This week take Miller’s poem and perspective with you. See each day, each encounter, each dynamic moment as a work of an ever creating God.

Pray to Your Audience of One

Somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I have a vague memory from my childhood when I prayed in a family or other group gathering. Someone, perhaps a sibling, snickered at the words I chose in my prayer. My mother, the ever protector, responded quickly, “He wasn’t talking to you.”
Jesus taught that prayer was never a public performance but a private one. Here are his words again from The Message and Matthew 6:

“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?
“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

Instead of doing a dance for the world, you do your dance for God, your audience of one, The One. Instead of proclaiming your righteousness, you seek alignment with the heart and desires of God. Paul Thorn offers a great image for when God is your target audience and simple prayer in a phrase in, I Hope I’m Doing This Right, Continue reading “Pray to Your Audience of One”

Accident or Not?

I have friends in Orlando who live this as their philosophy,

We go nowhere by accident.
Wherever we go, God is sending us.
Wherever we are, God put us there for a purpose.
Christ who indwells us has something to do through us wherever we are.

Though I try to share their conviction, I am often the one of little faith. Walking through our yard last week, barefooted, on the phone, I have to wonder, was what I stepped in an accident? A gift from our dogs? A gift from God?
I make lots of mistakes. They seem to be life’s learning lessons for me. Only God, perhaps, never blunders, though the duck billed platypus makes me wonder. That being the case, I take this paraphrase of Psalm 53 that I came across this week as no chance reading but an assignment to study. See if you don’t agree. Continue reading “Accident or Not?”

God is love?

When I was a youth, we learned a song that made memorizing 1 John 4:7 & 8 quite easy. The verse is,
 
  Beloved, let us love one another,
for love is of God; and everyone that loveth
is born of God and knoweth God.
He that loveth not, knoweth not God for God is love.
Beloved, let us love one another. 1 John 4:7 & 8.

  Through the years, I have not forgotten the song, but I have had to work on trying to begin to comprehend what God is love might mean and have to do with me in my day to day living, and when I can, loving.
  I gained help from some who reflect on our human experience in deeper ways than I can. One is Frederick Buechner. In Beyond Words, he wrote of love’s stages:  

Continue reading “God is love?”