Saturday, February 20, 2021

Reboot Your Life (Lent I)

You know that experience when your computer just won’t do anything?  The screen is frozen, and you are in danger of losing all of your work. You shout ‘Ugh!’, or more colorful words What is the one remedy to resort to when the computer is just resisting all other efforts?

The one thing that your frozen, uncooperative computer will respond to is this: reboot. When you restart a computer it wipes out all the garbage that is standing in the way of that machine doing what it's supposed to do. Sometimes the only way to remove the trash inside, to free up the memory, is to reboot the thing.

Psalm 51 is the plea to God we use when life brings us to the point of realizing we cannot fix this computer on our own.  It is just stuck, so we need to start over. If you are feeling stuck in your life a good place to begin the process of becoming unstuck is to review whether there is anything it would be healthy for you to confess before God; not for God's sake, but for your own. 

This year you have enough stuff to make you feel down about life.  I declare that this Lent you don't need to feel guilty about eating a piece of chocolate or having a second cup of coffee. Because God does not delight in sacrifice. What God desires from each of us is a broken spirit and a contrite heart as signs that we recognize that there are things in our lives that are blocking us from peak performance.

The Church imposes ashes each year as a symbol that we are dust, not just to remind us of our own mortality, but also as a reminder that we need a new start by allowing God reboot our lives.  The ashes remind us not that we are dead, but that we are dead to sin and that you are alive in Christ. 

Lent is the annual journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter. It is a time of preparation, of cleansing, of starting over. Use this season to reboot your life, to restart your interior life, replacing the dirge of dying with songs of joy and gladness.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Heavenly Conversations

Imagine your first conversation with Jesus.

Where are you? Who starts the conversation?  What is the first thing you say?  You are not going to talk about the weather, are you?

While I generally follow the counsel of John Calvin, who recommends that we do not inquire into mysteries that are beyond human comprehension, I think we do have some basis for allowing our imaginations to run free on our first heavenly conversation.

This weekend the Church thinks about the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ. (Mark 9:2-9) In this event two Jewish men who had died centuries earlier meet with Jesus on a mountain top. What we learn there gives our imaginations room to roam. We learn that Moses and Elijah are alive, that they are physically present, not appearing as ‘ghosts’ or as in a dream. No, they ‘appeared’. They could be seen.  Their presence was real enough that Peter, somewhat foolishly, suggests putting up a tent for each of them.

They were recognizable and ‘knowable.’  That is, someone, presumably Jesus, knew them by sight and called them by name.

They  could speak and be understood. They appear in person to speak with Jesus, presumably in Hebrew. There is no suggestion that they are afraid of speaking with the Son of God.

I sure don’t claim to know exactly what the next part of our existence will be like.  But, from this event (and others in the Bible), I believe we will have real bodies which Jesus will recognize and know by name.  We will speak in awe, but not in fear, and be understood. We will see, hear, and comprehend Jesus in all of his glory.  

Imagine with joy your first heavenly conversation with Jesus.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

She Will Raise You Up

 

Barb made 6:00 a.m. tolerable.  Sitting in a tiny outpatient room in a hospital 40 miles from home at that hour was a challenge to our minds and bodies, but Barb greeted my wife (the patient), and after telling her what a cute name she had, she asked, ‘And where did we get him?,’ referring to me, the scruffy man huddled in the opposite corner.  We had a pleasant conversation as all of the vitals were taken and as Jill modeled the beautiful hospital gown.

Nurse Barb got me an exemption from the rule requiring me to vacate the room during surgery since the procedure was relatively brief. So, while the surgery was underway I remained in the room working on my sermon text, which includes a little vignette about Jesus visiting Peter’s mother-in-law who was suffering from a bad fever. “So he went up to her, took her hand, and helped her up.”(Mark 1:31)

Soon thereafter the surgery team returned, wheeling the patient back to one side of the tiny room. Barb asked me to get up out of the ‘big chair’ because she had to move Jill to a seated position to start the recovery process. And so she did. Barb took Jill by the hand and helped her up.

The book of Mark was written in Greek, and the word used to describe Jesus helping up Peter’s mother-in-law is the same word that Mark uses to announce, “He has risen!” (16:6)  I believe that Mark wanted us to see the act of raising up Peter’s mother-in-law as a glimpse of what was to come for Jesus, and one day, for all who are ‘re-covered’ by Jesus’ healing power.

Which made me think about Nurse Barb, and the thousands upon thousands of caregivers who every hour of every day, 24/7/365, take someone by the hand and help them up. I am praying that Barb, and all her sisters and brothers in the world of delivering healing, know that they are doing the work of Jesus.  “We need to get you up so you can be well.”

She will raise you up, offering spiritual eyes a glimpse of the eternal.

God bless the healthcare workers who raise us up so that we may be made whole.  Just like Jesus.

 

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Why You Shouldn't Look Back

 

“Don’t look back.” They warned her, the angels did, as they led her by the hand away from the coming destruction. “But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” (Genesis 19:26)

 Why didn’t them tell her why she shouldn’t look back?  Maybe the angels figured that she had lived long enough to learn: looking back, when it is motivated by regret, is a dangerous game to play.  I have played that game and lost every time.  I did not become a pillar of salt, but I was frozen in time.  The temptation for human beings is to look back, not to simply record what happened, but to re-live that which wasn’t meant for us, whether it is relationships, occupations, education or investments.  There is a good reason to look back: to learn lessons that will teach you ‘I should not make that mistake again.’ But, if your looking back fills you with regret, you will be unable to move toward the freedom God intends for you to enjoy. So, don’t look back, because the time you invest looking back in regret is the time you could invest looking at the present in joy.

Red Fox

If, at the breakfast table,
I had not looked up just
as the red fox, burnished
coat glinting, trotted past,
white-tipped tail carried
like a flag, I would have
missed him. I would have
missed him if I’d slept late,
sneezed, or even blinked
which makes me think how
much I’ve missed because
of chance—if chance is what
it is—the life I might have
lived if I’d turned left instead
of right, responded no instead
of yes, walked through one
door, not the other. I’m not
complaining: I wouldn’t have
it otherwise given all I would
have missed; this life, this love,
this fox outside the window,
trotting.

(Red Fox, by Sarah Rossiter, December 30, 2020, https://www.christiancentury.org/article/poetry/red-fox)

 

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Sing Along With Garth

 

Lady Gaga belting out the National Anthem was a highlight.  It was, for me, the best rendition since Whitney Houston knocked the collective socks off the world at the Super Bowl. But in an Inauguration full of soaring music, soul-stirring poetry and reality-check speeches, there was a different highlight I will most remember.

I know that there is a wide and deep divide, even, or maybe especially, among God’s people over what to make of President Biden’s and Vice-President Harris’ Inauguration. Many people prayed that it would not be so, and when it came to be, they offered up prayers of lament because God did not intervene and change the outcome. Many other people prayed prayers of praise and thanksgiving for God bringing the Inauguration into existence against efforts to defeat it. 

It seems like one of the thorniest of theological problems.  Did God’s will fail? Did God’s will prevail?  Here’s what I know. God was not surprised. God wasn’t surprised on Inauguration Day 2017 nor Inauguration Day 2021. God didn’t fall asleep at the switch on Election Day 2016 nor Election Day 2020.  I am not saying that God votes, because God doesn’t get a vote.  But God wasn’t surprised.

God is still in control. Jesus is still King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  What should unite all Christians under all Presidents are those things we hold in common. Our common mission: preach Good News: repent, believe, love, serve.  Our common prayer: bathe us in grace.

I didn't really anticipate ever singing Amazing Grace with Garth Brooks, but his invitation for people at home and work to join him was heartfelt; and so sing I did, joining my voice with tens of millions of people who love God and this nation. Praise God for Amazing Grace that will, in God's way and time, unite America.

I believe that we are going to overcome our divisions, perhaps just enough and just long enough, but enough, to live under the cover of God's Amazing Grace for a season.  So in this season, as in the one which preceded it, the people of God still praise God and seek God’s blessings. 

God bless America, President Biden, Vice-President Harris, the Congress and the Supreme Court. Amen.

 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Oh Say Do You See?

 On April 3, 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached this sermon:

Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation….

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And he's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the coming the glory of the coming of the Lord. (American Sermons (1999), Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. New York, N.Y.)Video: https://youtu.be/Oehry1JC9RkMountaintop” begins at 1:19)

On April 4, 1968, at age 39, the Rev. Dr. King died from an assassin’s bullet.

The vision which the Rev. Dr. King received from God is one which God still places before the eyes of all people of true faith. In light of that vision, can we, God’s people, summon up the courage to denounce hate and violence in all forms and to instead announce love to all people, regardless of their race or religion or politics?

Over the next five days, a fringe of haters, motivated by lies, loss and anger, threaten to rip apart the fabric of a nation which it has taken nearly 250 year to sew. We, God’s people, motivated by the vision of the ‘promised land’ defend against their hate with God’s love, for it remains true for all peace-loving people that, “We (still) have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”

Oh say do you see that vision, placed right before our very eyes?

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Two Sides of Being Jesus' Mother

 

In the days following the Holy Night of Jesus’ birth, I think about how Mary must have delighted in seeing that her child looked and acted just like the other children.  “I can do this”, she thought. 

Then came the traditional trip to the Temple, presenting baby Jesus to the Father. Here Mary was so soon made aware of what must have haunted her the rest of her baby’s life. (Luke 2:22-40)

Being a mother means that you live with the happiness your child produces in life. But it also means living with the sorrow that your child produces in life. Mothers best relate to Mary’s shock upon hearing that her precious Infant Holy would also be the sword which would one day pierce her soul.

“Jesus was still in diapers when his parents brought him to the Temple in Jerusalem as the custom was, and that’s when old Simeon spotted him.  Years before, he’d been told he wouldn’t die till he’d seen the Messiah with his own two eyes, and time was running out.  When the moment finally came, one look through his cataract lenses was all it took.  He asked if it would be all right to hold the baby in his arms, and they told him to go ahead but be careful not to drop it.  ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation’ he said, the baby playing with the fringes of his beard.  The parents were pleased as punch, so he blessed them too for good measure.  Then something about the mother stopped him, and his expression changed.  What he saw in her face was a long way off, but it was there so plainly he couldn’t pretend.  ‘A sword will pierce through your soul,’ he said.  He would rather have bitten off his own tongue than said it, but in that holy place he felt he had no choice.  Then he handed her back the baby and departed in something less than the perfect peace he’d dreamed of all the long years of his waiting.” (Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who. Harper & Row, 1979, pp. 156-157. S. Hoezee, cep.calvinseminary.edu)

There are always two sides to saying ‘yes’ to God.