Food for Thought-Prayer for Holy Saturday and Easter Morning

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We wait in the rain and gray of a Saturday that seems to never end. Our broken hearts, numbed by the images of your suffering, seem to re-shatter each time we move our bodies. How can we live without you? Grant us a steadfast hope which is more than any understanding we possess. May our lives be replanted and renewed beyond the fetid air of death that stalks our souls. May the promises you made in life be more than words we remember at your death. May the festering wounds of this week be healed and offer strength for the journey, not simply proof for those who doubt. Create within us space for wonder, amazement, joy, and love. For if we are not moved by love, we do not see the risen Christ or hear your words of comfort-the reality of the resurrection does not become real.

In Jesus Name,
Amen

Food for Thought-Maundy Thursday Sermon (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

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It’s been one of those weeks.  Jesus has been all over the news, in one way or another.  Whether in documentary form, docudrama, or the news; his name and his presence have been invoked at every turn.  Jesus seems to be everywhere.  Yet, is it him? Certainly, people are talking about him.  I’m not so certain everyone is on the same page.  It’s easy to talk about Jesus.  However, it is very difficult to gather in a small room and sit down at a table, face to face with Jesus.  With that degree of intimacy, we cannot hide.  We are forced to be honest with Jesus and ourselves about the meaning of this evening. We come here not to speak, not to put words in his mouth, or to talk on his behalf.  We are here to listen to him.  What does Jesus want to tell us on this night?

He wants to tell us, “It’s going to be ok”.  Why does he want to say this? We are never more vulnerable as people of faith than we on Maundy Thursday. This is the night when our worlds will spin so far out of control.  They’re already headed in that direction.  Our natural instinct will be to reach for something to control, a decision to make, or a person to hold onto. Those things that we think we know and rely upon aren’t going to be there.  To this table, where we are gathered, we bring this crumbling charade of control.  Beside the chalice of wine and plate with the bread we dump our garbage, junk, mess, and general personal chaos.   Jesus, on this night, when the world seems to be spinning out of control, you see us for who we are and what we are.   We are never more vulnerable than when we come before you at this table. We are a mess.

For some reason, despite the mess we’re in (and the mess you’re in) we are here together.  You’re with us, at this table, in the midst of our overwhelming messiness.  Jesus, we can barely understand yesterday.  We have no way to put words or thoughts to the immensity of tomorrow’s events.  Yet, there is something about the present which you are telling us to transform into a new way of living.  It’s all wrapped up in what’s on the table.  In the good memories we take in and the bad we leave behind; this table is the place where we realize the ugly memories of our lives do not define us in the eyes of Jesus.   We do, in remembrance of Jesus.  It is not, “what we have done”.  It is at the table where we see Jesus most clearly; can we embrace the aching vulnerability to make that same sense of clarity a two way street?

How do I know Jesus wants to tell us, “It’s going to be ok”?  John 15:12 and beyond seems to answer this question clearly.  Jesus tells his disciples to love one another as he has loved them.  They are to take care of each other and love one another. In verse 15, he goes one step farther, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends.”  He calls them friends. In the hours before his death Jesus calls his disciples friends.  It’s a strong enough statement to be recorded in John’s gospel.  We are friends.  We share this table.  In our vulnerabilities, flaws, darkness, and light, this is the space where the memories of yesterday become the ministries of tomorrow.  This is where everything gets left.  Take nothing home but the grace of God.

Food for Thought-Where Was God When Germanwings 9525 Crashed?

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I wish I knew. I don’t say this lightly. Some people aren’t going to like this but I’m going to say what’s been bothering me since I first heard the news on Wednesday. If I as a pastor can’t speak my mind, then who can? I’ve been wrestling with this question for three days now. Amid the discussions about mental health and cockpit security, the “God” question has been foremost in my mind. From the moment we realized the passengers and crew were aware of a serious problem (via the in-flight recorder) they too must have known their own deaths were imminent.

Why did God allow 149 innocent people to perish on the side of a French mountain? This question can be posed in any number of ways involving tragedies ranging from disease, famine, and natural disaster. Why does God permit any of these things? For the moment, I only want to talk about the plane crash.

I hear accounts of miracles on almost a daily basis. Listening to stories of God’s divine intervention and miraculous actions are not new to me; they are part of my work. Earlier this week, a man came to the church to tell me the story of his fiancé, crippled in an automobile accident last year now slowly regaining the use of her limbs. This he assured was a miracle and a response to his unceasing prayers. God had intervened on the night of the accident and saved the life his beloved. Now, she might walk again. I hope so. I prayed with him for over 30 minutes about his life and the life of the woman he hoped to marry.

I read in scripture that God actively intervened to deliver the Israelites from military catastrophes and social disasters. Jesus healed people day in and day out of his three year ministry.

It would seem easy for the God who divided the Red Sea, raised Lazarus, and is doing miraculous things for nearly everyone I encounter on Facebook, to cause the electronic lock to fail on the interior of a cabin door of an A320 about to crash in the French Alps so the pilot might save the lives of 149 innocent people. For some reason, that miracle doesn’t occur. That would be a miracle I would love to weep about, hold up to the world, and point to the mysterious workings of a great and wonderful God. I can’t do that; because my God, the God who worked that way in Exodus, Joshua, Matthew, and Mark is not working that way on a Germanwings flight over the French Alps. I don’t know where that God is now. I would like to know where that God has gone. How can this God be credited with so many things in my world (pre-mature babies born safely, people healed of cancer) and no one hold the same God accountable for the unspeakable terror of which Flight 9525 is only one example.  Some will call such statements heresy.  I call it a fair question, especially at Easter.

Perhaps that idea of God died en route to Dusseldorf.  Like a modern day version of Calvary on a Good Friday that never ends, God has fled the scene we are left to pick up the pieces. So we wait, for redemption, deliverance, and meaning from torn up doctor’s notes and aviation experts.  Woven in between the frantic words of explanation is the one truth of Holy Week: God can die and we must acknowledge this reality.

Food for Thought-A Lewis Carroll Inspired Collect for Holy Week

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Almighty God, as we prepare to step through the looking glass of our lives into the topsy-turvy world of resurrection living; fashion our hearts and minds for the Mad Hatters of Maundy Thursday, the Damnable Dormice of Good Friday, and the blank stares of the March Hare on a bleak Saturday afternoon.

As we recall your tea party, a celebration of life and living of gifts and giving; may we say what we mean and do the things we remember not for a queen or king but you, our friend, in whom we believe. For much we have heard and some we have not seen and yet we still, even today, say we believe.

Amen.

Food for Thought-Psalm 51 Questions and Reflections

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I can imagine they liked to sing. They were a singing bunch; like pirates. I can hear the disciples walking down the Galilean hills singing these words. Once I put multiple voices to the words of the Psalm, it no longer seem melancholy, penitential, or sad. Instead, the words of Psalm 51 seem to be brimming with joy and life.

I can imagine that music allowed the disciples to put things into perspective and calm their spirits.

In the music of Psalms, we find words in which the disciples can place their hopes and fears, words in which they can try to understand their individual and collective realities. The stories of their lives are told in the Psalms they sing.

I think these verses are ones the disciples knew, had sung before, or first heard as part of a sermon or exhortation from John the Baptizer. When we read Psalm 51, we’re hearing the melodic glue that held the apostolic community together.

It is in verse 10 where the words begin to cling to our souls and take meaning from the world around them. What does it mean to “put a clean heart” into our bodies and a “new and right spirit” within us?

a) What would this look like?
b) We don’t want the Holy Spirit to be taken away from us. We need that companionship. Why is this so important, particularly in an era that had no understanding of the Holy Trinity?
c) “Restore the Joy of My Salvation”- How do I get back to a place where God’s priorities outweigh my own? My salvation is still there, in place but it needs restoration. Your salvation is not in jeopardy; it needs a reorientation back to God’s priorities. Central to that restoration is a sense of joy.
d) Here’s where it starts to get interesting. Once all of these things have happened, “I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will return to you”.
What does that look like?

Teaching transgressors? Who are the transgressors? What are your ways? Who or what constitutes a sinner? What are they returning to or from?

Food for Thought-My Grandmother Is Dying

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My grandmother is dying. She has a large cancerous tumor in her stomach that is visible to the naked eye beneath her skin just above her waistline. She is in a great deal of pain that may only be ameliorated by regulated amounts of morphine. As of this morning, she can no longer communicate. Such are the remaining hours of life for an octogenarian, dying in America, in the capable hands of Hospice, surrounded by family, and abandoned by God. I can’t stand to see anyone suffer. It’s much worse to see those whom I love suffer. It’s even worse to see family and friends pray that God may relieve my Grandmother’s pain and day after day the pain grows worse. God does nothing. Our prayers fall on deaf ears. The final trip over the river Jordan is inevitably delayed time and time again. One might come to believe God doesn’t care, isn’t listening, or that suffering is endemic to the human condition despite our relationship with God. I keep telling my mother (it’s my job, remember) that God has intervened on behalf of the faithful throughout history. I hate being made out to be liar, especially to my own family. Despite my protestations, God remains silent.  My Grandmother lingers in pain because, as one nurse told my mother, “she’s fearful of dying.”  So that’s why she’s suffering, the God I’ve dedicated my life to serving is keeping her alive (and in pain) out of her own fear of eternity.  How do people become so misguided in their understanding of God?

Where is God in all this? Where is the connection between Christ’s suffering then and being active in the world now? One child goes into remission, one person gets healed, one marriage gets restored and we claim proof that God still answers prayers. Yet for the one, the sole example, millions of people go to funerals and leave hospitals without the miracles, only to be told, “I guess God needed a new angel”. We have no good answer for the people who don’t get their prayers answered the “right” way. Our only responses are clichés; pat answers that pour salt on the open wounds of grieving souls.  Again, I hate being made out to be a liar, especially on such a pretty afternoon.