Saturday, October 12, 2019

"Behind the Lady Who Dances"


“Behind the corpse in the reservoir, behind the ghost on the links,
Behind the lady who dances and the man who madly drinks,
Under the look of fatigue, the attack of migraine and the sigh
There is always another story, there is more than meets the eye.” At Last the Secret Is Out, W.H. Auden

I am trying to understand.  You.

There must be another story.  There must be more than meets the eye.

I want to forgive. I want to be forgiven. 

But I don’t know your untold story. I cannot comprehend what my eye cannot see.

I offer you blank pages, with no columns for judgment, for you to tell me your story. I seek to understand you finally.  I search to see you fully.

I want to love you real, as God who knows all your stories loves.

Tell me another story…tell me please.

A Meditation on Psalm 139:1


Saturday, October 5, 2019

What If We Could Take It With Us? Part 2


“Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (1 Timothy 6:18)

Why?  Well, while we cannot take our money and stuff with us, our ‘good deeds’ are investments which pay dividends in this life and in the life to come.

When we do good and generous things our brains reward us by making us feel better about ourselves and the world. As we express our gratitude to God for true life as we do good and share generously,  God rewards us through our a built-in reward system.  Doing good and being generous with your time and money is good and good for you.

But, our good deeds, generosity and sharing are also investments for the future. They are a ‘firm foundation for the coming age.’ (1 Timothy 6:19)  What’s more, we are promised that as we leave this world and enter the world to come, that is, when we die, here’s what happens to all the good, generous, sharing investments made on this earth. We are blessed when we die because our deeds will follow us.  “’Yes’, says the Spirit, ‘they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.’” (Rev. 14:13)

That’s right, you can take it with you. Not money and stuff, but your good deeds. They are in the U-Haul which the angels drive behind you as you enter the next life. Salvation comes by grace through faith, all gifts from God, that is for sure. But, the reward we experience will be far greater for those who heed the admonition to be rich in good deeds on this life’s journey.

The richer we are in good deeds during this life, the richer when we will be as we enter our divine rest.

May the angels need to rent a semi-trailer to carry your investments down heaven’s highway,  and may Jesus prepare a place for you which is large enough to store your reward for eternity.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

What If We Could Take It With Us? (Part 1)


“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,...” Truth. (Job 1:21)

“and naked I will depart.”  Again, Truth. Rich, poor, middle-class, when the clock strikes midnight we all turn into the same thing.

All to prove what many wits have said, “You Can’t Take It With You.”  What kind of response is that supposed to create?  According to Job it is supposed to result in our praise of the name of the LORD. Really? Is the fact that we enter and leave this life naked supposed to be a comforting thought, a wake-up call or a depressing thought which causes us to ‘eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die?’ 

Couldn’t God have made it so that we enter life with a million bucks in an account paying 8% interest which we can take with us, along with our full collection of Beatles records? If God wants to bless us, wouldn’t that have been a better plan for Adam and Eve, et al.

What if we could, Augustine wonders?  “What if we could  take something, wouldn’t we be devouring people alive?  What is this monstrously avid appetite, when even huge beasts know their limit?” Animals know when they are full, so they stop eating, but we human beings, our appetites for ‘stuff’ is insatiable.  If God had designed the afterlife so that we could take our possessions with us can you imagine how stingy we would be in this life?  Think about it: you get past St. Peter and the Pearly Gates and the first thing you see is a money changing booth, where your savings can be turned into the currency of heaven.  I don’t know what the exchange rate would be, but people would be dying to find out.

Think about what our last will and testament would read like if we could take it with us?  Would charities stand a chance at getting 10% of our net worth? Would our children receive more than a token percentage?  Our mansions in heaven would need garages the size of football fields, but at least our kids wouldn’t have to hold estate sales (or rent dumpsters).  Still, wouldn’t you like to know that the treasure you accumulate in this life is going to pay some dividends in the life to come?


Saturday, September 14, 2019

Felicity's Sentence and Grace


Felicity Huffman, famous actress, will spend 14 days in prison.  She is an admitted criminal, having committed fraud, helping her daughter cheat in her college admission tests.  She also will pay a $30,000 fine, spend a year under court-ordered supervision and serve 250 hours of community service.

If you research this story you will find ‘outrage’ voiced from those who believe her sentence is too light when compared to sentences given to other non-white criminals.  (See, for example, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/13/us/felicity-huffman-sentencing.html) That is a worthwhile discussion to have, whether our criminal justice system is really ‘blind’, meaning that it should render justice without any partiality to a person’s skin or status.  While I could join that chorus, I want to use Ms. Huffman’s sentence to get us thinking about another topic: the nature of grace.

God’s grace.  I wonder if we truly understand how scandalous grace really is. We sing about it as being amazing, but that is because we think about it in the context of God forgiving and accepting ‘me’.  We all, mostly, agree that it is amazing and wonderful that God should forgive ‘me’ for ‘my sins’.  But, what about Felicity?  Should God ‘remember her sins no more?’, which is one description of how completely God forgives us? Should Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross be used to cover the sin of fraud by a rich and famous white woman?

You see, that is how grace works.  Here’s a little of what Ms. Huffman confessed to the Judge, which I am giving her credit for being a heart-felt statement of contrite repentance.  “I was frightened, I was stupid, and I was so wrong. I am deeply ashamed of what I have done….I take full responsibility for my actions." When God hears a confession like this, if it is sincere, God through Christ forgives the sin completely.  Does that make you happy or sad, this amazing grace we profess?

Human justice (imperfectly) serves society’s goals of retribution and rehabilitation.  God’s goal is to bring God’s children home. When I hear stories like Ms. Huffman’s I am thankful that God is a Judge who sees me just as I am and loves me anyway.  That is grace, and I want Ms. Huffman, and all criminal offenders, to know that scandalous and amazing grace.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Driving Jesus Mad


Road rage. Who among us has not engaged in it, either as the perpetrator or the victim, likely both. Lately, people with guns have taken to settling their rage with shots.  What’s up with drivers?

I read an article on the psychology of road rage (credit: ‘Why do some drivers allow road rage to take over behind the wheel?’ Stephanie Blaszczyk, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Published Aug. 16, 2019). Studies show the reason otherwise ‘normal’ people act like lunatics behind the wheel is that we are ‘anonymous’ and ‘social conventions’ don’t apply. You know, like, don’t throw toys, share the sandbox, etc. When we are in a vehicle we believe we can act as if (a) we own the road; and (b) everyone else had better respect my right to drive like the freeway is the Indy 500 track.

But, for people of faith, most of us are taught that God is always with us. ALWAYS. (See Psalm 139) There are plenty of circumstances in which we would prefer to not think about that. One time we really don’t believe it is true is when we have just been cut off on the highway.  Fingers are raised. Language is spoken which we would never say in church (or even the grocery store.) What if we really believed that Jesus is riding in the passenger seat as we get stuck in the fast lane behind someone going the speed limit?  Would we then race around and cut in front of the car thinking, ‘that’ll teach them to take my lane!’  Or would we look over at Jesus, smile and say, ‘Boy, that person really obeys the law, what a good model for society, right Jesus?’

I know, I know. Some people are really lousy drivers and they don’t get that the law says slower vehicles should travel in the ‘slow lane’.  But, really, when someone gets you hopping mad would you drive like ‘that’ if you were driving Jesus?

Because, of course, you are.  You are not anonymous. And while social conventions may seem to not apply on the road, God’s commands to love your neighbor, even your enemy, do. Drive like you love that other vehicle’s operator. Drive like you love God.

Don’t drive Jesus mad!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Remembering Tony's 'Going Home'


(The following words concluded my sermon in memory of my friend and brother in Christ, Tony Scherg, who died in August 2018, following a very courageous medical battle. We remember, Tony.)

Tony wanted so desperately to go home.  He knew that he would pass from the home where he would be surrounded by the loves of his life to the home where he would receive the victor’s crown: the ultimate reward for those who keep the faith through suffering.

Jesus promised Tony, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Rev. 3:21) The promise that became reality for Tony on Sunday morning is not just for him. It is ‘for all who long for the Lord’s appearing.’  It’s what you hope for that defines your death and your life.

Life is not defined by sickness, by cancer, the limits of medical science. Life is defined by the fact that the people who long to see Jesus face to face are promised that their pilgrim journey will finally bring them home.  In Anne Lamott’s book, Traveling Mercies, she writes about a story her minister told.  When she was about seven, her best friend got lost one day. “The little girl ran up and down the streets of the big town where they lived, but she couldn’t find a single landmark. She was very frightened. Finally, a policeman stopped to help her. He put her in the passenger seat of his car and they drove around until she finally saw her church. She pointed it out to the policeman, and then she told him firmly, ‘You can let me out now. This is my church, and I can always find my way home from here.’”
          
Corry, you brought Tony to this church. Through the three baptisms he witnessed, through the life he witnessed in you, this church became his home.  Mitch and the Praise Team brought him under their wing as he learned to praise God with his bass. And, in time, this church became his home.  And so it is proper that we bring Tony back here, to his church. Because Tony wanted to go home. And he knew he could find his way home from here.

You can too.  If you want to find your way home.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Baseball, Mud and Saving Lives


Ray Chapman died in 1920, hit in the head by the pitch of a slick baseball. That was enough to get the powers that run America’s Pastime to take action.  A baseball should not be a weapon that kills people. ‘Let’s find a solution’, everyone who mattered agreed.

No Major League Baseball player had ever died from getting hit by a baseball before. No one has since either.  When baseballs are manufactured they look nice and clean, but they are very slick. Pitchers can easily lose their grip, and that is what can turn a baseball into a weapon. The baseball authorities knew they could do better. They knew that they must find a solution.

They tried rubbing the new slick baseballs with all kinds of materials. Nothing worked the way they wanted it to until they discovered ‘miracle mud’ in the 1930’s. “Miracle mud’ comes from a one mile stretch of one river in the United States, a secret location, so secret that not even baseball’s owners know it.  But, since the 1950’s, it’s been the rule that this mud must be rubbed on every baseball for every MLB game, some 240,000 baseballs a season.

Pretty amazing, don’t you think. Someone dies.  The governing authorities decide they need to do something about it.  Not just lament Ray Chapman’s death; find a way to prevent the next one. Then, with the will to change in place,  the genius of the American mind works, experiments, until a solution is found. Then, that solution is written into the baseball rules. Everyone must follow the rules, because mud on baseballs saves lives.

The American mind, the American spirit. Creatively making life safer.

When there is a will, we find a way.

Hmmm.

(Source and credit: Sports Illustrated, July 29-Aug. 5, Stuck in the Mud, by Emma Baccelieri)