Stepping Up To The Plate

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Peter 1:3-9

It’s the week after Holy Week.  My dear friend Sarah refers to it as Hurricane Holy Week!  Feelings of being windswept, underwater, and overwhelmed are all the menu.  Activities at home go on hold – save eating, sleeping, and showering – which spouses, staffs, and congregants appreciate.  Activities at church go on hold, too, unless they pertain one of the many ministry happenings of Holy Week.  And then Easter happens – He is risen, indeed! – and life resumes to its regularly scheduled programming…

I have had some difficulties this week getting on the right channel.  Exhaustion – physical, spiritual, and creative – has reigned.  On Tuesday Sarah (who is in Western Massachusetts), our friend Dan (who Southwest of the ATL), and I participated in communal sermon planning…and at the beginning it sounded a lot like the conversation between the two buzzards in the Jungle Book:

What text are you preaching on this week?  I don’t know; what text are you preaching on this week?  I don’t know; what text are you preaching on this week?

Haven’t we already established that none of us know!?!

We laughed.  We scratched our heads.  We observed the smoke pouring from our ears – a consequence of extreme pastoral concentration.  And ultimately we enjoyed the community.  We remembered that even though we may feel all alone and isolated that we are not far from friends and family and persons that do truly know what you are going through at that exact moment.

That gift of community brought me peace.  And that peace gifted Sunday’s sermon.

*exhale*

I Peter 1:8 reads, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribably and glorious joy.”  I believe this Scripture is true about my Savior.  “Blessed,” Jesus says, “are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29).  We have not seen him, but we love him and believe.  And when we struggle to believe or struggle to accomplish an act of faith, we turn to that community that brings us joy, which is a reminder of our own joy in Christ.  I have not seen Sarah in over three years.  I have not seen Dan since February of this year, but it feels like so much longer!  For me, they are part of my community – a community to commiserates together and celebrates together, a community that embraces the struggles and successes of living out our salvation, a community that does not always see one another, but loves one another dearly and believes in one another sincerely.  That love and belief gifts indescribable and glorious joy, which is a reflection of the indescribable and glorious joy that is ours to hold because of our salvation in Christ.

Who is in your community?  Have you told them lately that you love and believe in them?  Take some time this week to do just that.  And experience the joy of it all.

Prayer: “Come, we that love The Lord, and let our joys be known; join in a song with sweet accord, and thus surround the throne.  Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God; but children of the heavenly King may speak their joys abroad.  Then let our songs abound, and every tear be dry; we’re marching through Emmanuel’s ground, to fairer worlds on high.”* Amen.

*”Come, We That Love The Lord,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 732.

We See Him – Witnesses of Change

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 28:1-10 and Acts 10:34-43

It seems like I have been waiting for Easter Sunday forever.  Life as a pastor makes a person hyper aware to one’s proximity to certain holy days.  It is always easier to prepare for Christmas Eve…I know when it will happen.  But Easter…Easter is another holy day entirely.

The day we celebrate Easter shifts every year in accordance to the lunar cycle and to keep it near the celebration of Passover.  Last year Easter was “early” – the last day of March.  This year it is three Sundays into April…and I am ready to celebrate.  I am anxious to shout a word that begins with “Alle” and ends with “luia” that I have kept from my vocabulary since the first Sunday of Lent, thereby participating in the early church tradition of not saying that word during the Season of Lent.  That word is a proclamation that the Kingdom of Heaven is established on the earth and during Lent we earnestly pray and crave for the Kingdom’s coming.

On Easter we relish as we utter that word – the Kingdom is come and it is an eternal one, free from the bondage of sin and death because our Christ has defeated the grave.  Our Christ is victorious.  Our Christ leaves the grave, not so that he cannot be found and not so he can play his version of hide and seek.  Jesus is not hiding, but he calls those who are faithful to him to seek him.  And where will we find him?  Why among the people, of course.  His ministry is not done.  He wants us to see that even in the present Kingdom ministry, service, sacrifice, care of neighbor, will of God must still be done.

We leave the tomb for it is empty.  We meet Christ in the world and see what he is doing.  And then we join him in it.

One of my favorite praise songs for Easter is Christ is Risen by Matt Maher.  This particular video combines the lyrics and orchestration of Maher with the incredible spoken word talents of David Bowden.  In his spoken word Bowden describes where Christ is present after the resurrection and the healing that Christ brings.  My everlasting hope is that Christ will always be present in these places and that his presence will draw his faithful nearer.

What holy day follows Easter?  Pentecost…the birth of the church…the day we celebrate the receipt of the Holy Spirit…the day the church collectively commits to carry forward the ministry, service, sacrifice, care of neighbor, and will of God because Christ has gone ahead of us into the Kingdom.  We commit to these acts until he completes his Kingdom here.

Prayer: “Almighty God, through Jesus Christ you overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life.  Grant that we, who celebrate the day of our Lord’s resurrection, may, by the renewing of your Spirit arise from the death of sin to the life of righteousness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”*

*”Easter Vigil or Day,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 320.

 

Atonement: Crucified God

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 21:1-11 and Mark 15:25-39

As Marcy said so eloquently to Peppermint Patty in a beloved Peanuts movie, “Duck, sir; Easter is coming.”  It is the week before Holy Week…otherwise known as the week to work and write and prepare and pray before we join our Christ (and pastors join their congregations) in the walk through Jerusalem that began with a block party and ended with a stone blocking the grave.

This year – for the second Lenten season in a row – Reeves will offer prayer stations on Monday through Wednesday evenings of Holy Week.  Each station – of which there are 14 – is an opportunity to read, reflect, and respond.

  • Read a passage of Scripture – this year based on places visited in the passion narrative
  • Reflect on a brief interpretation of the Scripture passage
  • Respond to the Scripture passage by prayerfully engaging an short activity

Today I gathered rocks, burlap, posterboard, markers, nails, candles, scarlet and violet fabrics, and lettuce.  I held the signs of Holy Week in my hands.

Intentionally selected.  Purposefully placed.  Spiritually directed.

These every day symbols take on a new meaning as they are manipulated.  The symbols of this experience combine to make lasting memories and bring a fresh perspective to the journey of Holy Week.

In the prayer stations participants will journey from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to Jesus’ anointing and Bethany, to and through the events of Jesus’ passion.  As I collected each manipulative and readied each station I have had to walk through each “place” – each “moment” of Holy Week – to make sure I have not overlooked something…like the need of a table or pen.  In the course of this day I have walked from branches waving and fabric flying to sealed grave and women crying…and Holy Week is not even here yet!

I need to back track.  This journey still awaits me.  It is not quite Easter…and as much as I want to I will not race to get there.

This process of preparation has heightened my awareness to all the small moments that create big moments as we move through Christ’s passion.  This heightened awareness, then, makes me ache for persons that will share in a Palm Sunday party one weekend and then join in an Easter celebration the next.  What about all the little moments in between?  What about all the big moments in between?  If we were meant to go straight from Palm Sunday to Easter, I am quite confident that God could have worked that out.

There is a reason that we have all the moments in between.  I believe they are intentionally selected, purposefully placed, and spiritually directed.

The moments that Jesus experienced in Holy Week – they are to give us confidence, strength in endurance, and hope when we find ourselves in similar circumstances.  Jesus held people accountable, Jesus was afraid, Jesus received praise, Jesus was judged, Jesus was defended, Jesus died.  Jesus faced all this and more.

Some may say, “Yes.  He faced it and it killed him.”

And I say, “Yes.  And then he conquered death.  So shall we.”

I aspire to walk and journey mindfully through the Infinal days of Lent.  I do not want to be in a rush to get anywhere or cross any tasks off my list.  I want to be my Jesus’ companion.  I accept the invitation – the challenge – to keep watch with him and pray.  And I know as I do he will reveal something spectacular.

Prayer: “O God our deliverer, you led your people of old through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land.  Guide now the people of your church, that, following our Savior, we may walk through the wilderness of this world toward the glory of the world to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever.  Amen.”*

*”Lent,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 268.

Atonement: Forgiven…Even If

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 23:32-43

We are more than halfway through Lent.  The days till Easter are numbered; yet, the forthcoming days are some of the most troublesome to walk.  Andrew and I gave up bread – wheat and flour – for Easter this year so that space would be created for us to reflect on what it means to ache for daily bread and not receive it.  As the days proceed we have become hyper aware of how bread-centric our society is.  We have become hyper aware of the increasing challenges facing our neighbors as they struggle to secure food – and nutritious food – for themselves and their families.  We have become hyper aware of our neighbor’s innocence in so many of these predicaments and how our society is so quick to say “pull yourself up,” “make better choices,” “you brought this upon yourself.”

From the cross one criminal rebuked the other saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man had done nothing wrong” (Lk 23:40).  And then later from the voice of the centurion, “Certainly this man was innocent” (Lk 23:47).

The mocking soldiers and scoffing leaders – in a modern translation – could have said to Jesus, “Pull yourself up,” “make better choices,” “you brought this upon yourself” as he struggled on the cross.  Lone were the women who wept at the base of the cross.  They knew who Jesus was, they experienced his compassion and his justice, they knew the scandal of his death.  The women’s teary protest was taken up verbally by two other “outsiders” – a criminal and a Gentile centurion.  People, neighbors, children of God who were always in the direct scope of Jesus’ ministry throughout his ministry witnessed to his innocence as he hung dying.  But their witness did not stop his death.

We can know who Jesus is, experience his compassion and his justice, and know the scandal of his death.  We can also resist his love and his truth.  We can push him away.  We can deny.  We can crucify.

And we do.

As I draw towards Easter I become more unsettled because innocents continue to suffer.  Christ suffered and my neighbors suffer.  It is not right.  It cannot continue.  And if I am going to testify to the beauty of the resurrection, then I must have the courage to stand up to injustice and be a voice alongside the innocent.

I cannot live in a world where the innocent unjustly suffer.  Christ left this world because of it and rose that we would be his helpmates in redeeming it.

Prayer: “O Lord, open my eyes that I may see the needs of others; open my ears that I may hear their cries; open my heart so that they need not be without succor; let me not be afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong, nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich.  Show me where love and hope and faith are needed, and use me to bring them to those places.  And so open my eyes and my ears that I may this coming day be able to do some work of peace for thee.  Amen.”*

*”For Courage to Do Justice,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 456.