To all of you who have been caught us in March Madness…a madness that has been brought to an end by the crowning of the University of North Carolina as national champions…I offer you this wonderful Lenten piece written by Reverend David M. Evans.
But the truth is, of course, that March Madness is not just for college basketball junkies. There is yet another “madness” at work during these days of March. We who follow Jesus indulge in our own sort of March Madness each Lent. We allow ashes to be marked in the form of a cross on our foreheads. We engage in deep reflection about our lives. We enter into a time of darkness voluntarily. We read the Gospels and kneel in prayer and fast one day a week and gather for worship and sing hymns. We load up our tools and go to Mexico to build a house for a family we do not know and will likely never see again.
March Madness Then, at the end of our madness, we gather on a Thursday evening to break bread and drink wine even as Jesus did the last week of his life, and on Friday night we gather to allow the agony of the cross to overwhelm us and the darkness of the tomb to become a reality.
March Madness Yes, much of the world thinks we are mad for devoting our lives to an obscure carpenter who lived 2,000 years ago in an arid land occupied by a foreign army. We say our lives “belong” to a Jewish peasant who advocates an outlandish and absurd ethic. He dares to teach us that we should love our enemies, turn our cheeks to those who offend us, return no one evil for evil, show hospitality to the strangers in our midst, visit the prisoners in their cells, feed thos who are hungry and give drink to those who thirst. Then, as if that is not enough, he says that the meek and those who mourn and peacemakers will be the ones who are blessed in this life. And the fnal madness is that he tells us that if we want to follow him we must sell all that we own and give it to the poor.
March Madness In a world seemingly gone mad, what is madness anyway? Is it madness to believe that Faith will overcome fear? Is it madness to believe that Love will triumph over hate? Is it madness to believe that Peace will prevail over violence? Is it madness to believe that Hope will be victorious over despair? Is it madness to believe that Death does not have the last word?
March Madness If you resonate with any of this madness, if you have any faith in this hope that does not disappoint, then you may be ready for the ultimate madness, not two weeks from tomorrow when a new national champion will be crowned, but the madness that will finally prevail two weeks from today when our alleluias will reverberate off these hallowed walls and into the streets. Do not miss March Madness. For in the end this madness is our only hope in a world gone mad.
A Psalm by Reverend David M. Evans, who is a University of Texas fan during March Madness
January 7, 2017
Doubt! Often, as I try to shepherd someone through a time of great
spiritual crisis, they will stop and look at me and say something like, “I
hate to say it to you pastor, but my faith is not strong enough. This problem I am facing has caused me to
question everything. Sometimes I doubt
that my faith was ever real. I have even
begun to question God.”
Or, from time to time I hear what could be perceived as the
opposite statement, “If this crisis has taught me one
thing, it has taught me that I should never doubt my Christian beliefs and
certainly I should never doubt God.”
But, if you look at these two statements closely, I believe
you will see that they are not opposites, but two perspectives on the same
misconception…that doubt is the enemy of faith.
Doubt, lack of certainty, skepticism…call
it what you will, this experience is not the enemy of faith but an essential
element of faith. And, even though they
are often painful, crisis triggered experiences of doubt are inevitable on the
Christian journey. We all get to points
in our lives when we just don’t know what we believe anymore. And, as a pastor what I want people to know
is that once you enter this questioning time of your faith life, I have found
only three choices moving forward.
Make believe that you never doubted
and everything is fine. Suppress your
questioning, bury your thoughts, and keep moving forward as usual.
Think of this episode of doubt as a
temporary bump in the road and if handled properly so as to put it behind you,
you will return to your original unquestioning state and all will be fine.
Accept this period as an opportunity
for spiritual growth…an invitation to take a new
pilgrimage of faith without predetermined results.
Many scholars point out that among conservative Christian
churches that choices one and two are predominant. But, after serving a mainline Protestant
church and a progressive interdenominational church, I can tell you that
choices one and two are the go-to positions of members of liberal churches as
When faced with doubt we tend to tell ourselves, “Stop
making waves and get with the program” or “This
period of doubt was simply a momentary lack of faith on my part, but now I see
things clearer and my previous beliefs are just fine.” But, here is what my experience tells
me. Once the doubt hits there is no
going back to the way things were. The “doubt”
one experiences is a gift from the Holy Spirit and it is an amazing opportunity
to grow and mature in faith.
So, what words should we say to ourselves when faced with a
crisis that causes us to doubt our faith.
not sure what has happened and I would give anything to go back to the way
things were. But, I know that can’t
be. Instead I choose to trust God even
in this painful process and see where the Spirit will lead…even
when I don’t know where that will be. I need to let go of thoughts and positions
that originally gave me a false sense of certainty, embrace doubt as a means of
growing spiritually, and trust in God’s unending love for me…even
when I doubt.
The trick, as many questioning Christians have found out
the hard way, is to find a place where they can talk about their doubts and not
be made to feel that somehow they are the only ones who have these thoughts…like
they are the only ones who don’t “get
it”…like somehow their doubts have put them on the wrong side
of the church and the wrong side of God.
I pray that the Chapel in the Pines is a faith community that welcomes
with open arms those who are seeking, those who are doubting, and those who
need a safe place to explore their questions.
And, if you should ever feel that you are alone in your doubts, don’t
hesitate to give me a call so that we can explore your questions together.
A Benediction for Election Season
The following is a Benediction for Election Season written
by Reverend Kenneth Tanner of the Church of the Holy Redeemer in Rochester
Hills, Michigan. I pray that we will
take these words to heart as we approach and heal from our national, state, and
May you remember
that all politics and all platforms and all legalities and all borders and all
leaders are temporary.
May you recall
that political movements and boundaries and personalities and programs are here
one day and gone the next. All of these
are passing away.
May you resist
the temptation to place ultimate trust in any person, policy, party, movement,
or nation — even a beautiful idea that is embodied by a nation — because there
is no nation with an eternal foundation.
May you know that
your kingdom is not of this world but of the world that is coming to this world
and that is not yet here.
May you in the
same breath grasp that engagement with the things of this world — not escape
from its harsher, darker realities — is the sacrificial pattern of Jesus
May you discover
your role in the just and merciful governance of the world God made good and
pursue that cosmos-converting vocation with love amid the world's brokenness
May you see your
work in the world — all of your callings and activities — as a participation in
bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth.
May you have
strength and beauty and determination and wisdom as you love your neighbor and
your enemy as Christ has loved you, seeking with all persons to bring justice,
mercy, and lasting peace.
comprehend that your salvation is not dependent on whom you vote for in an
election, or in whether you vote; that you are under no biblical or theological
or moral obligation to vote for a person or party or proposal or initiative if
that vote violates your conscience.
May you have
empathy for the political decisions of others that you find troubling —
particularly those of family and close friends.
May you have ears to hear what
lies at the heart of their political concerns, and eyes to see the noble but
imperfect search for goodness that is motivating their choice, especially if
you strongly disagree with the candidate, party, or politics they support.
May you be grateful
for the opportunity to participate in your government, and if you choose not to
participate in the election may you find ways to make that non-participation
more than a protest.
May you act to help
and protect the poor, oppressed, and defenseless who might have been helped or
shielded by your vote.
May you realize
that the kingdom of God is within you and that the Son of God sets you free
even as you vote for whomever your conscience dictates, without anxiety or
fear, for the Spirit the Father gives us does not make us timid, but bestows on
us power, love, and self-discipline.
May your posture
toward every human leader be driven by respectful prayer, and where protest,
prophecy, and nonviolent resistance are needed, may you have the courage to speak,
oppose, and critique — in humility and charity — their ideas and actions that
oppose Christ and his kingdom.
May God grant you
grace to affirm the humanity — the image of God — in every political candidate
and leader, and civility to impartially and energetically embrace any pursuit
of genuine human flourishing they propose.
May you perceive
God's love for creation in sending Jesus to embody a New Humanity, and may you
join in Christ's care for the earth and all its creatures and resources, for we
await with patience not only the coming of the Son in the flesh but his perfect
bride, a people who beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into
May you trust
that Providence is working behind the scenes of history to draw all things to a
good and fitting and proper end with justice and mercy.
Posted 7/19/2016 Do
Churches Actually Help to Solve Social Problems?American’s
Increasingly Say “No!”
following is my summary of a recent post on the blog of Sojourners Magazine by
Ryan Hammil. I offer it here for your
findings from the Pew Research Institute suggests that Americans have
become less likely to believe that religious institutions can play an important
role in confronting social problems.
some of the decline in trust in religious congregations likely originates in the
of the nones,” or
the religiously unaffiliated, that alone does not explain this crisis of
confidence. Between 2008 and 2016, both
Protestants and Catholics showed a 17% decline in the percentage of people who
believe houses of worship contribute to social reform and the percentage decline
was only slightly higher among the religiously unaffiliated. So, the decline in the confidence of
religious institutions to affect real social change cannot be explained by
the picture is not entirely bleak. Even
taking into account the total 17 percent decline across all demographic groups,
that still leaves 58 percent of people who believe that churches, synagogues,
and other houses of worship contribute “a
great deal” or
ameliorating social ills. It’s
a majority, but it’s
not the 75 percent who believed as much just eight years ago.
is also worth noting that the percentage decline differs widely between those
who attend religious services weekly or more (9 percent decline), and those who
attend less often (21 percent decline).
Those who are more frequently involved seem less pessimistic. Nevertheless, what the two groups have in
common is their growing pessimism — not
a single demographic breakdown became more likely, over the course of 2008 to
2016, to believe that religious institutions can solve social
with infrequent attendees of worship services, the young and middle-aged had
especially notable declines of faith in religious institutions (20 percent for
ages 18-29, 22 percent for ages 30-49).
nascent pessimism about religious institutions is troubling. Eight years ago, three-quarters of the
country believed churches, synagogues, and mosques had important roles to play
in the broader society. Now, little more
than a majority holds that view.
then with the pattern of police violence and white America’s
reluctance to engage the issue, but knowing nothing of what was to come
Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Dallas, and Baton Rouge, back in November
Robert P. Jones,
author of The End of White Christian America was asked, “What
is the institution that’s
going to bridge the racial divide?” The rhetorical question hung in the air for a
know what it is,”Jones
be the churches.” Sadly, more and more Americans are coming to
me this article was not only shocking but it made me very sad that the beautiful
institution inspired by Jesus and sustained by the Holy Spirit is now perceived
by the average American as impotent when it comes to making real social
change. The gospel of Jesus Christ is
all about changing hearts, one at a time, so that the world might be transformed
through our love of God and our love for all our neighbors.
do we need to do to make sure that our church never gives up our calling to
bring about real change in our world through the hope that we find in Jesus
would love to hear your comments on this.
In our recent adult Bible study on
the Gospel of John, one term kept coming up over and over again…Eschatology. Simply put, eschatology is the study of the
time promised in scripture when all of creation will be redeemed and all of us
will be put back into a right relationship with God.
Now, admittedly there is much
division among scholars as to the signs leading up to this event and even
confusion over whether it will be found in the future or whether it is realized
bit by bit each and every day of our lives.
But, the one thing that is certain is that Christians are obsessed with
the end time and are anxious about its arrival.
And, that is obvious from the popularity of the best selling “Left Behind” series of books to a lady who sat in my dental chair last
week and was convinced after watching Fox News all day that the end of time was
With all this in mind, my plea to all
of you is:
Stop obsessing over the end of the
world.Enjoy creation now as a gift from
Creation, time, space, love, truth,
goodness, and beauty are not afterthoughts in God’s plan to redeem all of creation. Each plays an intricate role in the
plan. Each reminds us of God’s good intentions for God’s world and all its inhabitants. For no matter your eschatological point of
view, (whether you are a first century Gospel of John disciple of “realized eschatology” or a whethermore modern “rapture” and “tribulation” sort) you and I are called to live in creation, time,
space, love, truth, goodness, and beauty for now and at least until God chooses
to take us out of this world.
Let’s see if we can focus on three concepts:
First, creation is, in one way or
another, part of God’s plan to save the world.
God has placed you in creation for
the present time and you are receiving this time in creation as a gift of
God. Creation is a gift to those who do
not believe - God causes the rain to fall on the fields of the just and the
unjust. Creation is a gift for those of
us who do believe - it is the stage upon which we enact and embody God’s plan of salvation until God sees
fit to change things.
Second, creation, despite its
groaning and brokenness still bares the mark of its Creator.
Through creation God is inviting us
to participate in God’s
rescue mission. We get to be a part of
story of salvation and redemption. The
journey towards that promised salvation and redemption matters to God, or else
God would not have left us here.
Third, scripture’s reflections on eschatology were
never intended to help us be able to predict the end times or to set our hearts
on the end times, but were intended to teach us to be faithful right now, right
here, no matter our circumstances.
Now, I understand that there are
indeed biblical injunctions to look for the second coming of Christ, but I
believe that the point of every one of those passages is to remind the church
to live faithfully within its present situation. The Bible’s eschatological, end-times teaching never intends to take
us out of the present moment and plant our hearts solely within the future or
to plant our hearts in the next world.
The Bible wants ethical, good, beauty-seeking, truth-telling Christians
to plant themselves within this world and to work towards the transformation of
God is for this world.
Creation is God’s gift to us. No matter your view of the end times, this
present moment is where God has called you to live and move and have your
being. So, let’s stop waiting for the end of the
world and let’s start
receiving creation as a gift from God.
receive each moment and each person we meet as an opportunity to participate in
plan of salvation.
A Follow Up to my “Say Something Nice”Challenge
The Baptist Global News reports that a South Carolina Baptist layman voiced disappointment after the three remaining candidates for U.S. president rebuffed his challenge to a one-day moratorium on incivility.
For the 10th anniversary of Say Something Nice Day, founder Mitch Carnell asked presidential candidates to agree to a two part pledge: do not say anything negative about each other and if possible say something nice on June 1.
All three candidates not only ignored a May 20 deadline to respond to the challenge, Carnell said, but if anything stepped up the negativity that characterizes much of today’s polarized political debate.
Carnell, a member of First Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C., said the committee promoting the annual observance hoped a one-day lull in the war of words would have a positive influence leading to a more civil discussion of issues facing the country.
”We are in need of good examples of civility in the public square,” Carnell told the Baptist Courier, newspaper of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. “The present level of rhetoric is totally lacking in respect for differing viewpoints.”
Say Something Nice Sunday - June 5, 2016
Sunday, June 5, is Say Something Nice Sunday, an annual event that goes one better than your mother’s advice that if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Mitch Carnell, an author, speaker and communication consultant in Charleston, S.C., got the idea when he volunteered to help with students at the inner-city middle school where his wife, Carol, was teaching, and was overwhelmed by negativity from both students and faculty.
One day the principal told students, “If you want to do well this year, just be nice.” The idea stuck, and Carnell wrote a booklet titled Say Something Nice, Be a Lifter!that he hoped to distribute in public and private schools. That didn’t work out, but the city of North Charleston was interested. The city bought copies for all its employees, and Mayor Keith Summey declared the first Say Something Nice Day on June 1, 2006. In its 10th year, the event has spread across the country and into Europe.
Looking around at issues polarizing religious communities, Carnell approached his pastor, Marshall Blalock, at First Baptist Church of Charleston about the idea of having a Say Something Nice Sunday for churches. Blalock embraced the idea, and the congregation passed a resolution calling for the first Sunday in June of each year to be observed as Say Something Nice Sunday.
Leaders of the Charleston Baptist Association and South Carolina Baptist Convention became supporters, and before long it went ecumenical with participants including the Charleston Atlantic Presbytery and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina. Bishop Robert Guglielmone of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston added his blessing, prompting support from Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York.
This year marks the tenth Say Something Nice Sunday. A flyer on the First Baptist Church website explains why churches should participate:
“The simple answer is that words are powerful,” the pamphlet says. “Words have the power to build or destroy. Words have the power to heal or wound. With our words we have the power to build up a Christian community or to destroy it.”
Carnell says there is no place where words are more powerful than at church. Say Something Nice Sunday “is an opportunity to build the community of faith, strengthen relationships and heal old wounds,” he says.
“This is a day to say thank you to those who make our lives better just by being a part of them. This is a day to recognize those who contribute to our lives in specific ways. This is a day to apologize for words spoken in frustration, anger or disappointment.”
Pastor Paul’s Three Challenges For Say Something Nice Sunday
Today I will not say any word that is derogatory or demeaning toward another person or groups of people.
Today I will say something nice and uplifting to at least three people…one in my family, one in my church family,
and one that is outside my known family and friends.
And in this election year of not-so-nice rhetoric from every corner…
Today I will go so far as to say something nice about the
Presidential candidate of another political party!
The Chapel in the Pines - Where Jesus
Last Sunday morning started off as
usual. I arrived at the church around
7:30 to prepare for worship. After a bit
of time, from my office I could hear Edward, Tamara, and Rebekah begin to
practice the morning’s
music and I went out to greet them.
Soon, all of you began to arrive and I set about shaking hands and
collecting hugs from as many of you as possible. Everyone was smiling. Nothing seemed unusual about the morning.
But, as worship began John Caggiano
interrupted the service, which is very un usual for a good Catholic boy. John, a former principal and school
superintendent put on his best “teacher” voice and
brought the service to a halt and proclaimed that an announcement needed to be
made. Now, I looked at the bulletin and
no where did it say, “John
Caggiano will now make an announcement.” So, having been trained by the Presbyterians, who are also
known as the “frozen
chosen,” I know that we mainline Protestants just don’t do things that aren’t listed in the bulletin. We leave all that Holy Spirit spontaneous
stuff to the Pentecostals and Evangelicals.
So, I was taken out of my stride and was a bit apprehensive about what
would happen next.
Now, I was relieved when Helen
Simpson came forward because Helen was on the Personnel Team that hired me
three years ago and so I assumed that John would not send her to fire me in
front of the entire congregation. So,
for the moment I pulled myself together to await her announcement.
Through the years Fran and I have
made many announcements that surprised all of you. We’ve announced marriages, birthdays, and anniversaries. We’ve announced when some of our most faithful members were worshiping with us for the last time before their moves to senior living
facilities or to be near their children.
announced troubling prayer concerns and even the deaths of some of our beloved
Chapel family members. And, just
recently, we even announced Fran’s retirement. Many
of these announcements came as a shock to you.
But, the one thing that was true about all these announcements is that I
knew their content before you did.
Not so this past Sunday morning. No one could have been more surprised when
Helen greeted me with those kind words of love and no one could have been less
prepared than I was to see all of you strip down to your t-shirts that read, “The Chapel in the Pines - Jesus lives
here!” If I
had not been so shocked I would have surely cried, for your excitement for our
Chapel and for Jesus, the cornerstone of our church could not have been more
joyously declared. It was an affirmation
of our ministry together and an encouragement that I will never forget.
I want to thank my friend Tarheel
Tony for planting the idea of the t-shirts in all our minds. I want to thank whoever headed up the plans
for this surprise and especially to those who were able to keep this such a
wonderful secret. I want to thank the
Spirit of God in each one of you for the joy and love I felt last Sunday and
that I feel every Sunday that we are able to join together in worship.
As a way of thanking all of you I
have arranged for Tony to visit with us again this Sunday. Who knows what mischief he might encourage
Earth Day, 2016 John 10:22-27
My sheep hear my
voice. I know them, and they follow me
As all of you know I just don’t miss an opportunity to preach on
the topic of Creation Care and Earth Day is just such an opportunity. In fact I believe that God has called me to
speak to the sacredness of the earth and our responsibility as Jesus-followers
to maintain the “goodness” of creation.
On this past Sunday I shared with you
some of my thoughts on the creation and our Creator.
To be alive is to honor God’s creative voice by honoring God’s creation.
Evangelist and theologian Brian McLauren says that “to be alive is to look up at the
stars at night and to feel the beyond-words awe of space in its vastness.
To be alive is to look down from a
mountaintop on a bright, clear day and to feel the wonder that can only be
expressed in ‘oh’or ‘wow’or maybe ‘hallelujah’. To be alive is to
look out from the beach toward the horizon at sunrise or sunset and to savor
the joy of it all in pregnant silence.
To be alive is to gaze in delight at a single bird, tree, leaf, or
friend, and to feel that they echo the voice of the creator that we all share.”
A psalmist said the same thing in
universe is God’s work of art…God’s
handiwork. All created things speak or
sing of the God who made them. If you
want to know what the Original Artist is like, a smart place to start would be
to enjoy the art of creation…to hear the voice of the creator…and to follow that voice with your
And, after your visit to Christine’s site I hope you will once again
consider the challenge that I left you to ponder this past Sunday.
But, before God takes the day off to
enjoy creation, God speaks again and we hear the voice of God one more time…
God said to humankind, I have made
you God-like… I have made you in my image… Now, you, be responsible for the fish
of the sea and the birds in the air, the cattle, yes, and even the earth
And, God blessed us and God’s voice said, I have given you everything…every sort of seed bearing plant…every kind of fruit bearing tree… all the animals… all the birds… I have given you everything that
moves and breathes…why I have given into your care all
of creation…God has given into our care all of
creation! The voice of God says that all of
creation is given into our care!
The Good Shepherd speaks… we have heard and we know his voice… Will we follow?
2/26/16 Passing the Peace
Christian worship is filled with
profound actions. We bow our heads in
prayer, we stand to sing, we face the cross and affirm our faith, we clap when
the music touches our souls, we dig into our wallets for the offering, and we
come forward to receive the sacraments.
One ancient and significant gesture in worship is Passing the
Peace. Passing the Peace is a tradition
rooted in scripture (Matt. 5:9; 2 Cor. 5:20) that expresses our joy in the
forgiveness of Christ and the peace that his love and mercy brings to our
From the very beginning Christians
have exercised this practice. “Peace be with you” is a greeting Jesus himself used with his disciples (Luke
24:36; John 20:19, 26). The apostle Paul
opened each of his letters with the words, “Grace and peace be with you.” (Rom. 1:7; 1
Cor. 1:3; 1 Cor. 1:2).
Today in many Christian traditions
the Passing of the Peace comes after the Declaration of Forgiveness (Words of
Assurance) or just prior to celebrating the Lord’s Supper. At these
times we leave the comfort of our seats, turn to our neighbors, grasp their
hands (or give them a big hug), and speak any number of words such as “Christ be with you…and also with you; Peace be with you…and also with you; God loves you and
so do I.”
The gesture is simple, but the
meaning is profound. This practice
should never be seen as or disintegrate into a mere pedestrian greeting. Fred Edie, the author of Book, Bath,
Table, and Time writes, “…Passing the Peace challenges us to be more than polite. We might say that it dares us to move beyond
create Christ-like community with others.
It is the practicing of a communal way of life framed by Christ’s peace that makes this gesture so
On Sunday mornings it is my hope that
as each of us enters the sanctuary that we will greet those we have come to
love and those who might be visiting our Chapel. We grow silent as the light of Christ enters. In word and in song we call ourselves to
worship and we praise God and give God thanks for creation and for our very
lives. In the invocation we become aware
once again of God’s
presence among us and then we join together as a community of faith and in
silence, as individual members of that community and we call on God to forgive
us of our sins.
Then there is an intentional
interruption in the service…a transition of heart and mind. Hearing the pastor declare that through the
life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, WE ARE FORGIVEN!…we break into a celebration. We are thrilled that our lives have been
redeemed by the unmerited love and grace of Jesus and we beam with the joy that
comes from experiencing the peace of Christ that follows his forgiveness.
Finally, we turn to one another and symbolically
in this place called the Chapel, I have experienced a peace which, though it is
mine, it is every bit as much yours…therefore, enjoy.”
I invite you to embrace this
wonderful moment in the liturgy each Sunday morning with a joy in your hearts
that cannot be contained but must be shared.
And, in the days in between, may the peace of Christ be with you!
The Season of Lent - 2016
As we Christians who have historically been steeped in the tradition of Lent bump up against our brothers and sisters who haven’t customarily observed the season of Lent, except for perhaps a token abstention from chocolate, Lent is making a resurgence in our consciousness and practice at the Seven Lakes Chapel in the Pines. But, the language of Lent often makes us feel uncomfortable.
During Lent we speak of “examining ourselves”, “confronting our sin”, “confessing our shortcomings”, and “seeking forgiveness.” Lent means being honest with ourselves and being honest with God and Lord knows we would like to avoid that at all costs.
Of the many words associated with Lent, "repentance" may actually qualify as one of the more underappreciated and misunderstood words.
What is repentance?
Repentance is often described as turning from sin and it certainly may involve doing that. But the Greek behind our Latin-based word, "repent," means to change one's mind. Repentance, then, is about a fundamental change in the way we see our lives, the world around us, and our God.
That process may entail "turning from sin," particularly if our behaviors and actions are at odds with this new state of mind. Repentance may also involve regret or sorrow over having lived our lives under the mind's old perspectives. But, like a person who undergoes Lasik eye surgery, the point of repentance is not to make us ashamed of what we couldn't see. No, the purpose of repentance is to allow us to see…to see ourselves as made in the image of God, to see others as God's children as well, and to see that we are all meant for freedom and forgiveness and a glory that we can not even imagine.
Shame, regret, and sorrow are most certainly not the goal of repentance. We may feel sorrow for having delayed getting "spiritual Lasik eye surgery,” but God is not trying to make us sorry for that delay. We may feel shame if we try to cling to our old ways of seeing, but God does not want that from us either. In fact, those feelings can only slow down all the anticipated benefits of repentance.
Repentance, then, is our moving deeper into healing, transformation, and new vision…all of which began as a gift of God through the grace of Jesus, the Christ.
So, for all of us that think that Lent is a “bummer” and that repentance is just a way that God or the church or the preacher gets us to feel bad about ourselves…listen to this. Repentance isn't meant to destroy us. It's meant to free us. Repentance frees us to be honest with ourselves and with God. Repentance frees us to change our minds and allows us to see ourselves and the world around us with new eyes. Most importantly, repentance is our natural response to being transformed by the love of God and the sweet forgiveness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
May all of us here at the Chapel embrace this season of Lent and its God-given opportunity to repent and may our repentance set us free to see ourselves, others, and God with new eyes.
Terrorism through Inner Peace
the wake of multiple terrorist attacks across our globe, the Dalai Lama said, “At
81, I believe (that violence) cannot be resolved through prayers or government
help. We have to begin the change at the
individual level and then move on to neighborhood and society.”
her blog, Debra Landwher asks this question.
( I am paraphrasing here.) Is it
not remarkable how the Dalai Lama’s message reflects
the gospel message and is it not remarkable how different that message is from
almost everything else in the media…where endless
conversation and speculation skips over “us” and concentrates on
are the attackers?
they radical Islam or radical jihadists?
did they communicate?
will they strike again?
can we destroy them?
questions go on and on, and in the middle of that blame game that, as the
terrorists intended, preys on the fears our our hearts, here is the Dalai Lama
reminding us that the end of terrorism begins with our own inner transformation…with
our own inner peace.
is that possible? As we sit here in
Seven Lakes and West End and surrounding area, how can my inner peace possibly
impact a terrorist group intent on murder and mayhem? Why would my inner peace even matter when
what we need to do is infiltrate their terrorist networks, overcome their
encryption methods, and track down all those who are involved?
the answer is, it matters because we are all brothers and sisters…we
are all interconnected as children of God…we are all
essential parts of the same humanity.
The Bible makes it clear that God created us that way, even though we
have resisted that truth since the beginning of time.
have come a long way in understanding the interconnectedness of creation. We know now that flossing our teeth can help
prevent heart disease. We know now that
rubbing the web of your hand between your thumb and index finger can alleviate
the pain of a headache. We know now that
how we exploit the earth on one side of the globe can affect temperature and
rainfall on the other side of the planet.
We certainly know now that how a change in the economy of China or
Greece or the United States can begin a global economic event. In these areas we have no problem understanding
we still have a problem grasping the interconnectedness of all humanity. We keep repeating the same old patterns of
taking sides, claiming God’s favor on our side
alone, sorting people into allies and enemies, and thinking that we can wipe
out extremism by using extreme measures against the folks that God says are our
brothers and sisters.
the midst of all this, the Dalai Lama reminds us that radiating from our own
inner selves is the power to incite more fear or not. We have the choice to contribute to the
totality of peace throughout the human race and then become instruments of
change that will encourage those around us and those in power to look for
solutions that have been inaccessible because they have been shrouded in fear.
turn off you televisions and the 24-hour news channels that promote fear and
speculate endlessly on the incredible devastations that are just around the
corner. Instead, take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Sit in the loving presence of God. Feel God’s peace flooding
your inner self. Then ask God to use you
as an instrument of God’s peace. Ask for YOUR fear to be healed. Ask to join with others who are like-minded
to build a community of peace. Ask to
have the courage to speak up and represent a different path…the
path of the Prince of Peace.
Dalai Lama couldn’t be more right and, at the same time,
more wrong, for he tells us rightly that change does not begin in the halls of
government but in the individual heart.
But, he forgets that for Christians, prayer is an essential tool to the
transformation of our hearts. For
history tells us that we do to have the ability, in and of ourselves, to
embrace all of humankind. Only through
the peace of God, the grace of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit can our
inner selves be changed. And, it is
through prayer that we encounter the triune God that can change us and through
us change the world.
I invite you to join us for a workshop on prayer that begins January 7, at 7:00
pm at the Chapel. More information can
be found about this journey into prayer if you click the Events button on this
page. I pray that you will join us so
that you may learn a practice…a discipline…a
tool to use for your inner transformation to peace.
the King Sunday
November 22, the last Sunday before the season of Advent, we will celebrate
Christ the King Sunday. The relatively
short history of the Feast of Christ the King highligts some embarrassing
mistakes for which the church just might want to repent.
Feast of Christ the King was created, with no prior tradition, just ninety
years ago by Pope Pius XI. Pius was
negotiating the Lateran Treaties with Mussolini to bolster the political status and independence of the
Vatican. As a part of the deal, the
Vatican took action to suppress the only democratic party in Italy. Pius didn’t much like
democracy. He preferred monarchies and
authoritarian regimes because he found it easier to negotiate treaties with
them that favored the Roman church.
Mussolini and Hitler granted the church wide-ranging favors in exchange for
political silence. The Feast of Christ
the King was created with a political agenda to reinforce the message that the
Church wanted obedient subjects and to highlight the Vatican’s
power and the power of those regimes with whom the Vatican had negotiated
cooperative arrangements. Therefore, we
have a strange feast on our church liturgical calendar which arose out of a
questionable pact between the Church and the Fascists.
as ugly and embarrassing as that is, and as much as we would like to repent of
such things and perhaps even throw this feast out of our calendars as an
expression of our repentance, sometimes it is better to leave these monuments
to our mistakes in place as a perpetual warning and to continually challenge
us. So, I invite you to worship on
November 22 so that we might explore what scripture has to say about Christ our
King and so that together we might discover just why we still celebrate Christ
the King Sunday.
Most of us don’t think of Halloween as a Christian holiday, but that’s exactly what it is. The word Halloween is simply a contraction of All Hallows Evening. You may be familiar with the adjective “hallowed,” which means set apart or consecrated. The verb “hallow” means to make or set apart as holy. But “hollow” can also be a noun and it means a holy person or a saint.
That’s where we get the word Halloween. Essentially it’s another term for All Saints’ Eve, and that makes it pretty significant. All Saints’ Day is observed by Roman Catholics and by many Protestants all over the world. It’s a day of celebrating the communion of saints…a community made up of all past, present, and future Christians.
Christians have traditionally celebrated All Saints’ Day on November 1 with a vigil the evening before. Halloween and All Saints’ Day are followed on November 2 by a third, lesser known day called All Souls’ Day. The combined three-day observance is called Allhallowtide.
What’s the difference between All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day? Today, not much, because the two have been conflated over time and many churches don’t even observe All Souls’ Day anymore. But, the original purposes of these two days are quite different. All Saints’ Day is when we recognize Christians who have gone before us, but it’s also a day of asking how we should live as saints now and how we intend to pass on the faith to future generations of believers. All Souls’ Day, on the other hand, is a day set aside exclusively for commemorating the faithfully departed, particularly one’s relatives and friends.
Like Christmas and Easter the modern secular holiday of Halloween has been shaped by a number of factors including paganism, Christianity, but most importantly by commercialism. Because of Halloween’s association with death and evil some believers and churches have avoided observing All Hallow’s Eve entirely. Others have attempted to Christianize the celebration of Halloween…which makes no sense at all because how do you Christianize something that is historically Christian?
Here’s my suggestion. Let’s return Halloween to its roots as an All Saints’ vigil. Let’s have a harvest festival for the community or a trunk-or-treat event for the children on the evening of October 31. Along with that let’s plan an All Hallow’s Eve worship service and mark the beginning of Allhallowtide…a distinctly Christian holiday. And, if we want to do something really radical, let’s worship the way it was traditionally done and have our All Saints’ worship service in the cemetery…bonfire and all.
My Theology of Hope Part 2
If you dare to look for them, one can catch a glimpse of signs of hope in the world. A recent video that I saw helped me visualize the death toll of World War II and makes the point that violence worldwide has been decreasing over the past several decades. People have a hard time believing that fewer people are being killed today because the news is so full of violence all the time. But it’s true.
And, although economic inequality, systemic racism, and oppression of all kinds are still part of our public life, there is also a growing awareness that we must not wait on centralized leadership to address these issues. Grassroots movements like Moral Mondays, #blacklivesmatter, and Occupy Wall Street have illustrated the ability of everyday people to shift the nation’s conversation.
I’m not saying that we are marching inevitably toward utopia, but I do take Jesus seriously when he says, “the Kingdom of God is among you.”
Jurgen Moltmann, in his “Theology of Hope” writes that the assertion that the world is steadily declining and that the best future for us is a quick death, the rapture, or the destructive wrath of God is a “sin against hope.” Hope, Moltmann argues, is the distinctive quality of Christian eschatology that connects the problems of the present with an openness to Christ’s future in the resurrection. We live, he says, “in the world of possibilities,” which is on rails neither to heaven nor hell in a hand basket. Instead Christ creates what Moltmann calls a “new horizon” which calls Christians forward in hope into active engagement with the future.
So, when street preachers or presidential candidates or my father-in-law speak fondly of the past and talk about the world getting worse, I remember that Moltmann said that “our God is active in history with an unfinished world.” God invites us to be part of God’s salvation project where not only humankind but the entire cosmos will be recreated into the dream that God planned for it all along. So, no, I don’t think the world is getting worse. I think the Kingdom of God is breaking in. And, therein lies my hope.
My Theology of Hope Part 1
Recently my wife came home from visiting her Father and reported that he was feeling down because all the news on television was so bad. Local, state, national, international…all the news was just depressing. Senseless violence, climate change, political corruption, never ending wars, racism, economic disparity between the haves and the have-nots…everything seems to be getting worse and worse. “What kind of world am I leaving for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” he asked?
It reminded me of my last encounter with a street preacher as I left the Wild Goose Festival last year. (Conservative evangelicals had camped outside the gates of the Wild Goose to save the souls of the terribly misguided liberal, progressive Christians who attended the festival.) I hadn’t run into one of those since I was a boy on Main Street in front of my Father’s movie theater in my hometown of Union, S.C. This latest street evangelist was better prepared than the ones of my youth. He had his talking points down and began with, “When you look around at all these things going on in the world today, doesn’t it seem like the world is getting worse?” But, I was prepared to joust with him, so I said, “No, actually I don’t think the world is getting worse.” He was speechless.
In fact, I surprised myself. I was prepared to tell him that I was a pastor and that there was no need to waste his time on a theological discussion that would not benefit either of us. But, something of his sureness that the world was going to hell in a hand basket provoked something inside me.
I read the news. I am aware of the problems this world faces. No doubt we humans have soiled out environment almost to the breaking point. No doubt gun violence in this nation and extremism throughout the world show us the brutality of humankind. No doubt incarceration rates in the U.S. and racism here and elsewhere continue to encourage inequality. No doubt the economic imbalance between the top 1% and the rest of us is oppressive. But, why, I ask myself, does it seem that my Christian brothers and sisters, like this street preacher, seem to be the most pessimistic about the future?
Louis Evely wrote that, “The paradox of our time is that those who believe in God, do not believe in the salvation of the world, and those who believe in the future of the world, do not believe in God.” The street evangelist, all the presidential candidates that I have heard, my Father-in-law, and perhaps even you will probably agree that the world is going downhill.
However, as a Christian I believe that we need to take seriously Jesus’ words when he says, “the Kingdom of God is among you.” I believe Christian eschatology is about “Good News,” and because of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus the Christ, I believe in an empowering and encouraging theology of hope!
More on my theology of hope in my next posting…
A Punishing God? Part III
It really got my attention when I saw how disturbed my wife was after viewing images of the barbaric actions of ISIS on the news. The list of their cruelties is long and disturbing. If mass beheadings, taking people into slavery, and throwing gay people off the tops of buildings wasn’t enough, they’ve now taken to burning people alive.
Burning people alive isn’t anything new and certainly isn’t unique to ISIS. Christians have a long history with this practice as well. Many of the early Anabaptists faced this same fate for the “sin” of baptizing adults, as well as people who had the crazy idea that the Bible should be translated into common language for everyone to read for themselves. In the name of God those people deemed to be “witches” were burned at the stake. Even Calvinism was founded by someone who had a theological enemy burned alive for disagreeing with his theology.
But, I hear you saying, “That was then and this is now. For heaven’s sake, it is 2015 and we just don’t do things like that anymore.” And, I agree with you. Civilized culture has grown beyond the days of burning people alive, recognizing the practice as something that is completely offensive to any rational person. And, not just offensive, we consider it morally repulsive to the degree that many Christians want the ISIS perpetrators wiped off the face of the earth.
I must say, those instincts are correct. Torturing people by burning them alive is morally repulsive. And so, we pray that God would intervene on behalf of these people who are suffering such unimaginable barbarism. But, here’s the irony of it all…while we find burning people alive morally repulsive when ISIS does it, most Christians seem to have no moral qualms about believing in a God they think will do precisely that. In fact, the traditional doctrine on hell paints God in a far worse light than ISIS. Instead of just burning people to kill them, this doctrine believes that the people will never die, but will be tortured by the pain of the flames for all eternity. And, somehow, they believe God will pronounce this as being good.
As a follower of Jesus, I believe that we were all created in the image and likeness of God, and that God has planted in our hearts a sense of justice and morality. When we see hostages paraded in orange jump suits, caged up, and about to be tortured, we feel moral outrage, and I believe this moral outrage comes from the Spirit of God within us, reminding our consciences that it’s never okay to torture a fellow image bearer of Jesus.
That same moral outrage at images of hostages about to be burned alive should also cause us to pause for a moment and rethink what we actually believe about God and God’s character. Is God perfectly moral in all God’s ways? Is God altogether good? Does God look exactly like Jesus… the one who said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”?
If God is– and I believe God is– this alone should cause us to be willing to rethink and reexamine the traditional doctrine on hell as “eternal, conscious torment.” Because if we don’t, we’re saying that burning people to torture them is sick and twisted when ISIS does it, but that it’s good and wonderful when God does it.
Our moral outrage at ISIS burning people alive presents a completely good and valid reason to begin questioning and rethinking this doctrine. God gave us a conscience that bears witness to God’s own conscience. Let’s use it. Because I am convinced that if we rethink, reexamine, and attempt to rediscover, we might just see that God is not like an ISIS terrorist burning his enemies, but God is actually Jesus on the cross dying for his.
A Punishing God? Part II
Would you under any circumstances condemn your worst enemy to a fate of eternal agony? Think about that for just a minute. Not just agony, but eternalagony. Now, if I were the pastor of Westboro Baptist Church I might be afraid of the answer I might receive, but knowing all of you as I do, I ask this question without hesitation. I don’t believe any of you, no matter the magnitude of the wrong that was committed, would think that justice could be served through eternal punishment.
I read a blog recently where the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Kentucky asked one of his parishioners the same question. Here is his story:
“I recently discussed the subject of hell with a conservative Christian friend. She brought it up because she knew I didn't believe in eternal torment. In the course of the conversation I asked her, ‘Would you under any circumstances condemn your worst enemy to a fate of eternal agony?’ She wouldn't. (I knew she wouldn't, which is why I asked her that question. I'm not sure I would ask that of just anyone.)
I said, ‘Then why do you think God would? Are you more gracious and forgiving than God?’
This seemed to make sense to her. But then she came back with the common traditional response, ‘But you know the Bible says . . .’ I responded, ‘Yes, in a few places the Bible talks about hell, but could it be possible that you are misreading the Bible?’
‘What do you mean?’ she asked. I said, ‘Could it be that the passages about hell, as well as all the other biblical texts that seem to sanction divine violence, are actually teaching us, not about God, but about our human propensity to project onto God our negative qualities and repressed fears? She was quiet after that and said she would think about it. Perhaps she is ready to take a new step on her spiritual journey.”
As I come to know and experience the God of the Bible as read through the lens of the story of Jesus I must explore this possible conclusion…”If all of us are so loving and forgiving as to balk at the notion of inflicting on anyone the punishment of eternal agony…in other words, if all of us are ever more forgiving and loving than the God we imagine, then the God we imagine cannot be God.”
We must not be afraid of these texts depicting a punishing God…we must confront them. And, in confronting them, we must realize that these texts tell us nothing about God but a great deal about ourselves. These texts expose the ways we project our bent toward violence onto God. When we realize this, we will be able to relate to God in a much more healthy and transformative way. We will be able to have a relationship with the God made known to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus…and we will be transformed.
A Punishing God? According to any number of texts in the Bible, God is a punishing God whose punishments can be quite severe. It seems obvious to me that many mainline, liberal Christians who emphasize God’s love tend to ignore these texts. At the same time evangelical, conservative Christians who emphasize God’s judgment often come across as taking delight in a punitive God. On the other hand progressive and emergent Christians are just not at all sure what to do with these texts.
We should not ignore these texts. We should confront them. And, in confronting them, I have come to wonder if these texts have less to do with God and more to do with us. Is it possible that these texts expose our tendency to project our fears, insecurities, guilt, anxieties, and negative self-image onto God? One biblical scholars says, “The inspiration of these texts of terror is not to be found in what they teach about God, but in what they teach about ourselves. These texts do not tell us who God is, they tell us who we are, namely, fragile, fallible human creatures who are inclined to project our flaws onto God.”
Why do I agree with this scholar? Because I read these stories through the lens of the greatest story in the Bible…the story of Jesus. As a Christian I am first of all a Christ-follower and the sacred story of Jesus is the story through which I filter all other stories. And, in the story of Jesus I meet a nonviolent God.
Jesus teaches his disciples to love their enemies and pray for them. He reminds them that God “is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” (Luke 6:35) Jesus tells us that God is compassionate and instructs us to “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) Jesus also embodied what he taught. Jesus rebuked the disciples when they wanted him to call down fire from heaven upon the Samaritans. (Luke 9:51-56) When a disciple cut the ear of one who came to arrest Jesus, he told his disciple to put his sword away and then healed the injured man. (Luke 22:49-51) Jesus never responded violently to violence and in fact prayed for the forgiveness of his final tormentors. (Luke 23:34) The story of Jesus reveals a compassionate, forgiving, and nonviolent God.
By reading the Bible through the filter of the story of Jesus, the human propensity for projecting our violent tendencies onto God is exposed. I suggest this simple rule: If the God described in the text is not the good, loving, merciful, just, and compassionate God that Jesus taught, then we must question whether the God depicted in that text gives us a true picture of God.
Pastor’s note: I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Click the button at the top of the page and let me hear from you.
Women of God
The Bible states that in the very beginning of the human race God created humankind in God’s own image. Male and female God created them. (Genesis 1:27)) In other words, the Biblical record is clear: God created men and women equal. Period. The woman was not created inferior to the man; nor was the man created greater than the woman.
However, one of the consequences of sin was that men and women became separated from God. That basic broken relationship distorted God’s intended order in many ways, one of which was that men began to rule over women (Genesis 3:16). And, this sinful state has been very evident in the way women have been treated throughout history by various religions…including Christianity…that were founded, protected, and led by men.
However, God elevated the status of women forever when God chose for Jesus to be born of a woman. Then, during his ministry the words and actions of Jesus underscored God’s elevated opinion of women, as did the early church that was established in Jesus’ name following his return to heaven:
Jesus’ first miracle was performed in response to a plea from his mother. (John 2:1-11)
Jesus’ first revelation of himself as Messiah was to a woman. (John 4:25- 26)
Jesus’ greatest miracle was performed at the request of two women. (John 11:1-44)
Jesus’ death was memorialized by a woman. (John 12:1-8)
Women were included in his expanded group of disciples. (Mark 15:41)
Women stayed with Jesus throughout the crucifixion, even after the men had left. (Matthew 27:55-56)
The very fact that the Bible goes out of its way to carefully record all of this reveals the intentionality of God’s purpose to reestablish the position of women to that of equality with men. Jesus Christ, not only bridged the gap between God and man through his death on the cross, Jesus also removed all barriers including that of gender, race, and nationality.
This was confirmed by the apostle Paul when he stated, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ then you are . . . heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29). Today, when the Bible is read, applied, obeyed, and lived out, women are treated with respect and honor as co-heirs with Jesus Christ in the kingdom of God (1 Peter 3:7).
In summary, the discrimination of women in the church does not come from the heart of God. God created women in God’s own image and God desired to have a relationship with all women. And, when sin destroyed that relationship, God redeemed all people, men and women equally, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. So that one day God will welcome into God’s kingdom every woman who has claimed Jesus Christ as Lord. And in that moment, the equality, respect, and status each woman should have experienced in this world will be hers. Forever.
Pastor’s note: It is one of the great blessings of my life to serve in ministry alongside the Reverend Fran Stark. Through her service to the people of the Chapel she creates a faithful vision of ordained ministry and sets a loving example for all the women and girls of this community. In Fran’s preaching of the Word, administration of the sacraments, and pastoral care to our entire community…may God continue to richly bless her.
An Update on the Needs of the People of Nepal
Many of you have made financial donations to help the people of Nepal following the devastating earthquake and aftershocks. Many more of you are prayerfully considering adding your donation to meet the growing need in that country. If you make this gift through the Chapel, we are assured that 100% of your donation will go directly to the people affected by this tragedy. Place your check, made out to the Chapel and designated Nepal Earthquake Relief, in the offering plate and we will send it to help our brothers and sisters in Nepal so that they might know of Christ’s love as they recover from this disaster. As a way of updating you on the humanitarian crisis in Nepal I offer you an excerpt of a letter written just ten days ago from Jon and Diane Post.
Hello, Thank you for praying for Nepal. The needs are great and our Father in heaven is greater - especially in showing people their greatest need, their need for Him.
In two days, on Sunday, Pr. Rajan, his wife Indu, I and my wife and perhaps one or two others plan to travel to visit some of our village churches. We have 25 affiliated pastors in different parts of Nepal. We have already visited the three that are located in the Kathmandu valley. Two of the villages have suffered a lot of structural damage to houses but not many deaths.
We called a number of the other affiliated churches outside of the Kathmandu valley last week also. At least five of the pastors have lost their homes and church buildings and many of the homes in their villages are destroyed. One of our leaders comes from a village two hours north of the capital. John lost 18 relatives in the quake, and most of the homes in his village are destroyed. We have started helping him with supplies to help people in the village - food and money for building temporary shelters, and a village health manual (Where There Is No Doctor at hesperian.org) in Nepali. In addition to many good sections on injuries and illnesses, it include instructions on sanitation and how to build latrines to help prevent the spread of disease and protect water sources. We have asked John to prioritize building these in his village. We have more copies for the villages that we will be able to visit this week and for at least a few more neighboring villages. My wife is a former RN and plans to teach on health and sanitation in the villages as we travel.
We will only be taking some smaller supplies on this trip as groups of men are stopping vehicles to get food and supplies for their own families and villages. The distribution of relief supplies still has not reached many villages. In John's village the young adults were not eating so the elderly and young could have some food. We heard that he did not have a meal for the six days he was there right after the quake. Aftershocks have continued for more than a week and there are still many people sleeping outside in tents or temporary shelters or even with no shelter because their homes are destroyed or unsafe.
After we do this inspection trip, we will prioritize the greatest needs. One is for shelter as the monsoon rains are expected in a few weeks. We hope to rebuild the church buildings first so that villagers without houses can sleep in those. Then we would like to help the pastors rebuild their own houses and address other needs in their villages and those around them. With joy and hope, Pr. Jon and Diane Post
An Avian Journey through the Bible …hope is the thing with feathers
The Bible is filled with birds…from the mother bird that hovered over the waters of creation in Genesis to the scavenging birds that eat the flesh of the “beast” in Revelation. There are birds sacrificed in the temple in Jerusalem and birds bringing life-giving bread to the prophets. We are told that Abraham had to run the birds off as he was giving an offering and Jesus had a bird to follow him on his first visit to the temple. In the Old Testament God is spoken of as a bird that carries the Jews on her wings and a bird under whose wings the people of God will find safety.
Birds have a place in the founding narratives of many cultures and religions including the Judeo-Christian story. From the beginning of time mankind has attributed profound meaning to birds. In our tradition birds are not just left over dinosaurs with feathers, but they are omen and strength and spirit. Birds are included in the legends of the Greek gods, the symbolism of the church, and the repertoire of tattoo artists.
We identify with birds. We watch them and research them. We are entertained while they are attacking our feeders and we marvel at their dedication to their young. I believe that when we tell stories of birds we explore our faith and our humanity.
This summer I will be preaching a series of sermons on the birds of the Bible. I hope you will find meaning in these messages as the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to our true selves and to our relationship with God through the birds of the air and of the earth.
***Can you help? During the months of June, July, and August I would like to transform the side chancel in our sanctuary into an art exhibition featuring birds. If you have art (paintings, sculptures, needlepoint, etc…) depicting birds that you would allow us to display for any period of time this summer, please click on the email link above and let me know. I am sure that many of you have artist friends…would you invite them to display their creations at our church as well.
Easter…So What Now?
Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!
So what now?
At least the disciples had a sense of finality to this Jesus story. There was grief and sorrow and fear…and there was sadness, as when any loved one dies. There was, most of all, the disappointment that comes from dreams unfulfilled. But, there was an end point, a “good try”, a “it was great while it lasted”…and some comfort in goodbye.
But, the disciples became, and we are, indeed, resurrection people for we know that the Jesus story is not over. Today we shout, “Jesus is alive!” And, even though no other possible news could be better, our relationship with God has become more complicated. Paul knew this when just a few years after the resurrection he said that we Christians are to be a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”
The Jews of Paul’s day would sacrifice an animal in the temple in thanksgiving or in celebration of God’s continued blessings. Today we might give to a special offering such as Stop Hunger Now or we might volunteer for Habitat for Humanity or we might bring a juice box and a pack of peanut butter crackers for a hungry school child or we might simply help out a friend in need. But, just like the sacrifices of the Jews in the temple, these sacrifices are all temporary.
You see the resurrection complicates our understanding of sacrifice. No longer can our sacrifice be a temporary, one-time offering to a cause or a neighbor. The tomb was about finality but the resurrection made sure that the Jesus story did not end…Jesus is alive! And, we are to be a living sacrifice…which means that we are to present our very selves, constantly and consistently in praise and thanksgiving and service to God.
So what now? Sacrifice is now!
But, sacrifice is no longer something that we do…now, it is who we are. We no longer volunteer at the church…we are the church. We no longer serve the body of Christ…we are the body of Christ.
In the upper room one of Christ’s disciples, Peter told Jesus that he would willingly die for him. Yet, as difficult as it would be to die for what you believe, it is so much more difficult to live for what you believe. We can only die once. We have to live for Jesus every day. We are to be a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”