Saturday, July 11, 2020

Giving Back the Baseball


Christian Lopez, a  23 year old phone salesman, paying off six figures of debt, held it firmly, admiring the baseball. Christian was in the left field bleachers of Yankees Stadium on the night that Derek Jeter accomplished one of the rare feats in professional baseball as he hit safely for the 3000th  time. The baseball on the receiving end of the bat was an instant collectors items worth perhaps as much as one million dollars. 

As Mr. Jeter took his historic swing Christian was holding his camera in hand snapping a picture. He got more than the picture: he saw the ball coming directly toward him. As Christian puts it in one story covering this event, the ball just rolled in front of him and he dived on it.

Instant millionaire, right? Nope. Christian gave the ball back to Mr. Jeter.  When people started asking Christian how he could give away something worth so much money he said simply that the milestone baseball belonged to the man who made the milestone.  Some compared it to giving away a winning lottery ticket.  It didn't matter to Christian. He held it,  but it wasn't his to keep.  

The prophet Malachi passed along God’s simple request:  "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse...Test me in this...and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." (Malachi 3:10) 

Giving back to God some portion of what we have is just ‘giving back the baseball’ to the one to whom it really belongs.

I am blessed to be the pastor of a church filled with generous souls who are just like Christian. Their gifts each week, even though we were ‘closed’ to public worship, have been one of the many wonderful benefits of leading a church through the pandemic. Our story is not unique.

I know that some say the Church is dying. While some churches will die, I believe the ‘Church’ is alive and well. The people of God, like those I am blessed to be in community with, will not let the Church be another victim of the virus.

Thank you, dear friends, for keeping Hope alive.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Making Our Own Parade


Lest our children forget, history should note that today there are no public parades.  There are no municipal fireworks.  Today, this Independence Day 2020, is unlike any I have every known and, I pray, unlike any our nation’s next generations will know.

Today, instead, the children of the United States will hold their private parades, towing wagons and riding electric scooters down their streets, probably not really caring whether anyone comes out to watch their salute to freedom.  Because celebrating is fun. Families will shoot off their private fireworks because, well, loud noises and sparkling fire lighting up the night sky never fail to awaken our sense of pride, that we are part of a nation born from a revolution to gain freedom from a king’s rule to be replaced by a government of, by and for its people.

The celebrations are not happening in public places, at least not officially, but the American spirit still should be celebrated, even if from home. The ideals which the 4th of July celebrations represent ought never to be left on the shelves of our minds.

President John F. Kennedy, on January 20, 1961, and following a bitter, razor-thin election held 60 years ago, said this:

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution.  Let the word go forth…to friend and foe alike, that the torch had been passed to a new generation of Americans…proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.”

“…whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice we ask of you. With a good conscience as our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

The revolution birthed an experiment that continues today.  We are making our own parades because the revolution is not over, our purpose is not ended.  Because God’s work is still our own.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

They Tell Me I am Old


    Even when I am old and gray,
    do not forsake me, my God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
    your mighty acts to all who are to come. Psalm 71:18

The government tells me that this coming week I will be officially old.  After about 50 years of paying into Social Security I am eligible to get my full share of it back. Because I am old and gray.

My body tells me that I am old too. A friend warned me that this was going to happen after I turned 60. I don’t know if it was a curse or a prophecy, but either way, it turned out to be true. I have problems in parts of my body I didn’t know existed before ‘the curse.’  The smell of menthol-infused rubbing solution has become my new daily cologne.  Because I am old and gray.

Even my words reveal that I am old.  I said to a man who told me he was feeling old at age 50, ‘Ah, still such a young man!’ I thought it odd when ‘old’ people used to say that to me. Now it’s me reminding people in their 50’s that they are entering the most productive decade of their lives.  I know this. Because I am old and gray.

The next generation tells me I am old when some young man might want to hear from me about how to stay married; some young woman might ask me about a secret to advancing her career; some child might like my ‘old man’ stories.  They ask me questions. Because I am old and gray.

I am not retiring, or letting my body keep me still, or letting my words stop flowing.  I will ask God to give me the wisdom and strength to keep on declaring God’s power. Because I am old and gray.

And to all of my readers in their 80’s, you are my new heroes, serving the Lord until the Lord says it’s time to come home. I want to be like you! Because you are old and gray. Thank God.





Saturday, June 20, 2020

"Though It Linger..."


“For the revelation awaits an appointed time….Though it linger, wait for it…” Habakkuk 2:3
Juneteenth Was an Answer to Centuries of Prayer by Eric Washington

“The first celebration of Juneteenth began at the same courthouse in Galveston, on the same date where, one year before, enslaved people in Texas learned that the war was over and they were now free….Union Major General Gordon Granger had read, “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves. …” On this day, June 19, 1866, the Emancipation Proclamation was read out loud, and then those gathered progressed (to church) for a public prayer meeting.

“Theologian J. Kameron Carter writes,

“Juneteenth invites us to reflect upon the fact that during the two-and-a-half-year period between Emancipation Day and Juneteenth, there were still some people of color, people of African descent in the United States, who were still in bondage. They were still functioning as slaves, though legally they were free. Juneteenth, then, was for them a delayed celebration, a delayed enforcement of freedom. It represented a lagging liberation. This time lag of liberation is a metaphor of what it means to exist in the in-between of freedom, in freedom’s now-but-not-yet. In other words, Juneteenth points to the fact that liberation is not a one-time event. It is an ongoing project beckoning us to write the vision of freedom and issue renewed proclamations of “freedom now.” Juneteenth signifies the fact that freedom and liberation is both behind and ahead of us.

“In this long moment of anti-black racism that has manifested itself in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, and the long list of unarmed African Americans killed unjustifiably by police officers, including Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Alton Sterling, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, Juneteenth is a commemoration of African American suffering and overcoming. It is a recognition that the prayers of the suffering and the oppressed can be answered, even if it ultimately takes centuries.”

Eric Michael Washington, PhD, is associate professor of history and director of African and African diaspora studies at Calvin University, Grand Rapids, Michigan.



Saturday, June 13, 2020

Jesus and Protesters


Protesters were the parents of the United States.  Since 1773, we have been a nation of people who use protest to speak truth to power.  If you are drinking coffee as you read this, as opposed to tea, you can thank the protest born in Boston’s harbors for making tea the less-favored hot drink of a new nation being born.

Ever since then our nation has been populated by protesters.  Protest and protesters are as ‘American as apple pie’.

How would Jesus respond to the latest protests, today’s Black Lives Matters crowds, which have taken place in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., in over 2000 cities and towns?

The protesters gather in crowds large and small everywhere now, and I think that is where Jesus would send his disciples, into the crowds.

When Jesus saw crowds he didn’t get angry or walk away to a retreat. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” His compassion for the crowds led him to observe: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers to his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-37)

When you see crowds in action do you see a ‘problem’ or an ‘opportunity’?  

When you see protesters gathered do you see a harvest field?  Are you willing to be one of the few who will work in that field?

“We walk towards God’s inbreaking justice in the world, which is coming whether we are flying, running, or crawling. Our small acts of justice – those single steps that we refuse to stop doing, even though we can’t see how they’ll make a difference – are met by a generous, just God who is multiplying our small efforts into making all things new.”
–Laura Jean Truman, “Radvent – Day 11“ (Source: inward/outward.org)

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Salt in Boiling Water


When the water you are watching boil reaches its boiling point too quickly what do you do? Throw in some salt. Salt reduces the tendency of the water to transform from liquid through evaporation.

Our nation is very near a boiling point, a point of permanent transformation. The temperature of the pot in which we dwell is too high. The heat in this cauldron is destroying psyches and lives.

How do we become salt?  Two actions: listen and speak. We pursue reconciliation through listening, and once we understand, we speak truth to power.

We listen to people of color explain why they are uniquely offended by the story of the murder George Floyd.  If, like me, you are not a person of color, then you cannot truly understand the visceral response of a person of color to the 8 minutes 46 seconds of a white uniformed police officer lynching a black man. The Church needs to become a forum for bringing together people of color and white people so that the white people can listen and learn.

What does it mean to speak truth to power? It means that you raise up the voices of trusted leaders like General James Mattis when he says,  "The Nazi slogan for destroying us ... was 'Divide and Conquer.' Our American answer is 'In Union there is Strength.' We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis -- confident that we are better than our politics." 

The voice of the Church must prophesy with words that unify rather than which divide the communities we serve.

It may seem counter-intuitive, to think that listening and speaking up will reduce our national boiling point. But, if we do not listen we will never understand the pain which drives the emotions of people of color.  To fail to speak, to be silent, to play along, to hide behind the fear of being shamed for telling the truth, allows the pot to boil rather than simmer.  

Listening quietly and speaking boldly are the ingredients, the salt which will keep our nation in a state of peace rather than allowing it to evaporate before our very eyes.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

The Power of God's Breath


“God has shown you, O Mortal, what is good.
           And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly…” Micah 6:8

The fires burning around our nation in protest over the death of George Floyd are a stark reminder that the work of God’s people is never done. ‘America has witnessed a murder’ by a rogue white police officer who ignored warnings and cries for help by as he was suffocating a black man, Mr. Floyd, under the guise of an arrest.

How can we as a nation not be outraged? Our nation must rise up in a unison chorus of condemnation of this abuse of apparent authority. The acts of these officers do not represent the vast majority of our law enforcement personnel. The condemnation of those who killed Mr. Floyd and the calls for reform are directed at those who do not represent who we want to be as a society.  

The sad irony of this story unfolding on Pentecost weekend is that tomorrow, Sunday, we will be talking about life-giving breath, about tongues of fire.  The Church of Jesus Christ was born with the tongues of the Spirit’s holy fire, with the expiration of life-giving, mission-empowering breath, the breath of Christ’s Spirit. 

The Church has ever since that Pentecost Sunday carried the weight of every soul’s glory, as C.S. Lewis famously wrote.  It falls to the Church of God to rise up with passion and compassion, using its platforms to speak for those silenced, for those whose dying words are ‘I cannot breath.’  We pray for God’s healing breath to be spread over all races to the corners of the earth.

Justice is more than words. Justice is an action which God requires of us. Did you see that word, requires? 

The Church does not condone violence.  The accused are entitled to a fair trial. But those truths are not an excuse for a lack of action.

‘Rise up, O Church of God, be done with lesser things.’ The Church still carries the cleansing fire and the life-giving breath of the Spirit. It’s collective voice must now demand justice and reforms.

Let us commit to using the power of God’s breath to cleanse this land of hateful racial discrimination.