Monday, April 28, 2014

Native American Ministries Sunday

Like many Oklahomans, I have some Native American ancestry.  It is fairly distant but on my mother's side, I have a great great great grandmother, Eliza Anne Raby, who was Cherokee and came west on the Trail of Tears.  Her mother died on the way and she was separated from the tribe.

Eliza was taken in by the Haney family and eventually married her adopted brother.

I can't imagine what it would be like to be forced from your home and then to lose not only your home but your family as well.  She must have been a tough woman.  She reared seven children and lived to be 68 which was above average for the 19th century.  

At that time, Native Americans were not granted the same social status as the European settlers.  In fact as they were brought into the Christian faith, many of their native cultures and traditions including their languages were considered inferior and were repressed.
I'm hopeful that the Cleveland Indians of Major League Baseball
may be phasing out the use of Chief Wahoo as a mascot.
Unfortunately, it is still an emblem on this season's uniforms.
To be honest, I'm shocked that it is still being used
in the 21st century.

Within many Christian traditions, these were even viewed as sinful. The spirituality of much of Native American culture was not seen as a valid vehicle for the grace of God.

Within United Methodism, we have begun to move past this and we do recognize the Holy Spirit working in and among Native American people within their own cultural traditions. As Wesleyans, we see that prevenient or preceding grace is present throughout the world and it is this understanding of God's love that allows us to see Christ at work within other faith traditions.

This Sunday is recognized as Native American Ministries Sunday in the United Methodist Church.  

This traditional Native American prayer has been included in our hymnals since 1989:

O Great Spirit,
    whose breath gives life to the world,
    and whose voice is heard in the soft breeze:
We need your strength and wisdom.
Cause us to walk in beauty.  Give us eyes
     ever to behold the red and purple sunset.
Make us wise so that we may understand
     what you have taught us.
Help us learn the lessons you have hidden
      in every leaf and rock.
Make us always ready to come to you
      with clean hands and steady eyes,
so when life fades, like the fading sunset,
      our spirits may come to you without shame.  Amen.



Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014

"Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me."

       Paul of Tarsus, 1 Corinthians 15:8

As the gospels were written 40 to 60 years after the resurrection, we see that the earliest written record we have of the Easter resurrection come from the letters of Paul which were written to the early church.  It was likely written in the 50's which would put it at twenty years after - during the early growth of the Jesus movement among first Jewish and then later Gentile populations.

Of course, Paul was not one of the original disciples.  His experience with Jesus entirely lies within the appearance of the risen Lord to him on the road to Damascus.

This must have been frustrating to those who followed Jesus in the flesh.

Who does Paul think he is?

Of course, his experience is more in line with our experience.  None of us ever walked with Jesus on the dusty roads of Judea.  We didn't sit at his feet as he told and explained the parables.

Our experience lies within the mystical just as Paul's did.

Our experience also lies within the body of Christ - the church.  How we share together in worship shapes us and forms us.  It allows the risen Christ to live within us as we seek to change the world for the better.

On Easter, we try to approximate God's kingdom coming on earth as is is in heaven.  Just as Jesus taught us to pray.

We celebrate at worship.

We gather with family to eat together.

We indulge in whatever things we gave up for Lent!

As we think of those early disciples who walked and talked with Jesus, we see that his teaching rubbed off on them.  How else would they have allowed this upstart who was so self-assured to preach to the world?  And if they hadn't allowed this, we likely wouldn't be gathering for worship today or reading this blog.

So on this Easter, I'm thankful to the disciples for following and listening.
Just as Paul was blinded by the light, the light
is continuing to shine to people today.
Can you see it?


Because I'm untimely born as well.  And yet we see the time is right.

Christ is alive today just as he was for the disciples and just as he was for Paul.  Our witness is just as important as Paul's.

Maybe future Christians will be thankful for you!








Photo by EzykronHD (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Day 40 of Lent, Holy Saturday, April 19, 2014

They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.
                           John 19:40 (NRSV)

On the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter morning, it must have been somber. The body had been wrapped and anointed.  

What would Jerusalem have been like?  It would have been the Sabbath and so there would not have been a lot of activity.  It would have been quiet and still.

Sometimes after the loss of a family member, there may be a lull before the service if all the tasks have been accomplished.  Usually there are extended family who have gathered for the service.  We usually bemoan the fact that we only get together like this for funerals.  

The funeral service is meant to be a celebration of life in the church.  It is seen as a movement from this life to the life eternal.

Most of the time when I am meeting with families, I hear them say to me, "We don't want this to be too depressing.  He (or she) would have wanted us to celebrate rather than mourn."  
Garden tomb in Jerusalem

While there is a sense and tone of celebration, it is a little silly to think that we won't mourn a loss. It is part of our human nature. We are sad that our earthly future will no longer include our loved one in our plans.

This must have been how the disciples felt on that Saturday. They may have been asking God, "Why?" They would have been remembering all the people Jesus healed and even the ones he raised from the dead.  As his disciples, I wonder if any thought about trying to raise Jesus from the dead as he had done others.

Would they have wondered if Jesus performed those miracles so that they might do it for him? He did talk about being raised up in three days - what if this was part of the plan and they simply didn't understand?

Some would also have been wringing their hands over their desertion.  What if they had done a better job of helping Jesus escape? 

And the thoughts would have gone on and on.

They may have thought about being reunited someday at the resurrection.

They imagined this to be at the end of time.  

But sometimes God's time and our time don't coincide.  The end would come early the next morning.

It was actually a beginning...



Photo by Nemo (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, April 18, 2014

Day 39 of Lent, Good Friday, April 18, 2014

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

                     Jesus of Nazareth, Matthew 27:46 (NRSV)

On Good Friday, when we remember the crucifixion, there may be opportunities for you to hear the story of the Passion recounted as liturgy for the church.  It is important for the Body of Christ to gather and to remember what happened to the body of Jesus on this day almost 2,000 years ago.  

To die upon the cross was a cruel and terrible thing.  It was unfortunately more common for those living in the Roman empire to witness as it was used as a way of controlling the masses.

The story of Jesus moves to tragedy today.  As we remember all of the good things he did - how he was present for those who felt lost or abandoned - we may feel that this is sadly ironic that Jesus now feels abandoned.  His disciples have left him and it seems as if God has as well.  

It is important for us to understand that Jesus is quoting from Psalm 22.  In fact, it is almost equally important for us to read this Psalm on this day. Within the Psalm, we see that there is more of the Passion narrative acted out and written down hundreds of years before Jesus experiences it.  The fact that it has happened before does not take away from the Passion of Jesus.  The fact that it continues to happen in the world today does not remove the power of the cross.  

In fact, it makes it all the more significant. 

In verses 7-8, the antagonists call into question the relationship with God.  If God loves you, why are you suffering?  Why doesn't God save you?  

This profound question that all who suffer ask is repeated in the Passion as recounted by Matthew in 27:43 when the religious leadership declares, "He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to, for he said, 'I am God's Son.'" (NRSV)

But as we read on within the Psalm, we see that faith is restored.  God appears unseen but is present even amid the suffering.  

On Good Friday, Jesus experiences the deepest suffering.  And yet, Jesus also transcends even this suffering for us.  For we realize that even in our suffering - in the midst of our deepest loneliness - that Christ is with us in this.  That God somehow has walked this road before.

It is enough.


Christ of St John of the Cross by Salvador Dali, 1951.
The original hangs in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Day 38 of Lent, Maundy Thursday, April 17, 2014

Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”

                               John 13:8

The story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples is only contained within the Gospel of John.  It is an extremely intimate story of a rabbi who taught his students what it really means to lead.

In that day and age, having your feet washed was an important service. Anyone who has ever worn sandals on a dirt road knows what it is to have dirty feet.  If animals regularly use the road, you would begin to get an approximation of what first century feet would look like in Judea.

Those with means would have a servant wash the feet of any guests entering the home.  The servant on the lowest rung of the ladder would be the one stuck with this job.  I'm sure servants were always happy to see someone new hired to take on this task!

So the reversal that Jesus attempts is understandably met with resistance. To wash the feet of those beneath him in status would take away from his social status.  Peter protests.

Jesus does exactly what he sought out to do.

Is he diminished?

I don't think so.  

Bishop Hayes encourages Jacki Banks in the foot washing ritual May 29, 2012,
during the Service of Ordination at Annual Conference,
held at Boston Avenue UMC in Tulsa. Photo by Holly McCray
Bishop Hayes of the Oklahoma Conference washed the feet of those he would ordain to Elder and Deacon at their ordination service.  If he felt any anxiety about being an African American man washing the feet of white people, he gave no indication of it.  

I believe that in this moment, he set any racial tension of service aside and took on the role of Christ as servant leader.

Was he diminished in doing so?

Not in the slightest.  In fact, his stature only increased among those whom he leads in our conference.

To be on the receiving end of having your feet washed is also humbling.  In the moment, you don't imagine yourself above them but somehow thankful for what they are doing for you.

As we approach Good Friday, may we pray about how we might adopt this attitude of service for others in all the ways we think and speak and act.  May we remember those in service to us in multiple ways and see ourselves not as above but rather as grateful for what they are providing.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Day 37 of Lent, Wednesday, April 16, 2014

But I am poor and needy;
    hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
    Lord, do not delay!

           Psalm 70:5 (NRSV)

Psalm 70 is part of the daily lectionary reading for the Wednesday of Holy Week.  We can see how it fits into the overall theme of the week.  Can you imagine Jesus praying over this Psalm in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his arrest?

When we are facing stresses that others may not understand, we often feel lonely.  It can even be in the midst of friends and family. As Jesus prayed in the garden, he found his disciples sleeping. "Simon, are you asleep?  Could you not keep awake one hour?" (Mark 14:37, NRSV).  I think that Jesus may have felt lonely in his time of trial even though his disciples were with him initially. They soon deserted him and he was left truly alone.

As we encounter loneliness, studies have shown that it is actually contagious.  This seems counter-intuitive.  If you are around others, why are you lonely?  This shows us that it is more about mindset than the proximity of others.

Since this is a human condition that all people experience at some point in life, our goal would then be to reduce the amount of loneliness that we experience ourselves so that we don't pass it on to others.

Pulling others out of the pit is part of the call of Christian faith.  Yet at the same time we must be sensitive to what is going on in their lives.  Grieving and loss elicit real feelings that shouldn't be glossed over.  But pessimism about some of the daily things of life can be turned around.

Hold up the mirror to yourself: do you tend toward pessimism or optimism?

As we journey with Jesus to the cross, we are reminded that there are tasks we each face that are hard if not downright deplorable.  How we choose to face these is up to each of us.

But we are also reminded that we don't face them alone.





Photo by Arief Rahman Saan (Ezagren) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Day 36 of Lent, Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Do not remember the former things,
    or consider the things of old.
19 I am about to do a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

               Isaiah 43:18-19

There's a viral video going around featuring some college students playing Wheel of Fortune.

One of the students, Julian, has all the letters of the puzzle guessed but blows the pronunciation.




He pronounces the name, "Ah-chill-ess" rather than "Ack-ill-ease". According to the rules, this is considered a wrong answer.

Evidently, he had a pretty large sum of money on the line as well.

It's one thing to embarrass yourself but on television?  Now with the internet, it's even worse.  The worst of the worst lives on in infamy.  

Fortunately, we don't have to define ourselves by our poor actions.  God allows us to come back from bone-headedness and even to thrive.

As we continue in Holy Week, we can see that the disciples had some missteps that were a lot worse than blunders.  They fall asleep when they should be praying.  They run away in fear when Jesus is arrested.  They deny him to strangers.  They even betray him for money.  Not a great week for them to remember at all.

Outside of Judas, all of them went on to bigger and better things for which they are remembered.  

They weren't defined by their weakness but through identifying with Christ.

We've all got things we would like to forget.  How is it that you want to be remembered?
  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Day 35 of Lent, Monday, April 14, 2014

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

                  Jesus of Nazareth, Mathew 15:24 (NRSV)

Three people were killed at two separate Jewish facilities in Overland Park, Kansas on Sunday.  As of this writing, rumor had it that the suspect was an older man who was shouting Neo-Nazi phrases as he was arrested.  

Seeing as how this was done right before the beginning of Passover, it certainly looks like it was fueled by hatred for Jews.
Passover begins this evening - unfortunately with a cloud.

As we heard the stories on Passion Sunday and approach Good Friday this week, there are elements written into the text that seem to be antisemitic. I didn't have time to deal with this in Sunday's sermon but after this violence erupted, it seems like a good time to address it.

In Sunday's scripture reading for Matthew, chapter 27, verse 25 reads, "Then the people as a whole answered, 'His blood be on us and on our children!'" in reference to Pilate's attestation of the innocence of Jesus. 

As Christians, we need to understand a few things about texts like this as well as the Gospel of John which often refers to "the Jews" as antagonists rather than as fellow citizens.

There should be no debate that Jesus was Jewish.  His disciples were Jewish.  He said things to indicate that his mission was primarily to Jews.

When the Gospels were written down, this was when Christianity was a minority break-away movement within Judaism.  How distinct it would be from Judaism would depend upon which community you were looking at.  

When I put on my scholar's hat, the words from Matthew 27:25 sound more like words coming from a heated debate among Christian and non-Christian Jews in a synagogue setting 50 years after the crucifixion rather than what a crowd would say in unison at a public execution.

References to "the Jews" as antagonists in John's Gospel also sound different when lifted up by an oppressed minority (which is what they would have been when written) than by the majority in power.

The apostle Paul still identified himself as Jewish and still understood that God's salvation was intended for the Jews.  As Paul states in Romans 12:9, "Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;" These are important words for Christians to remember when confronting any kind of racism.

Today, I am in solidarity with my Jewish brothers and sisters and will keep them in my prayers as they begin Passover with such tragic and hateful news.


Photo by Eczebulun (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm/Passion Sunday, the Sixth Sunday of Lent, April 13, 2014

"When Judas, who betrayed Jesus, saw that Jesus was condemned to die, he felt deep regret."

            Matthew 27:3 (Common English Bible)

"Live your life with no regrets!"

This is bad advice.

There are always going to be some things that we should have done differently.  We all make mistakes and the mark of maturation is when we learn from them.
Judas by Nikolai Ge

If we repeat the same bad behavior again and again, we become stuck. Others around us usually end up paying for it as well.

I think the intention of the original advice is that we do not become paralyzed by our poor choices.  There are times when we must move forward.  We take responsibility for the past but we don't let that define us for the future.

As we enter into Holy Week, we hear the story of the Passion of Jesus Christ (not to be confused with the movie).  We move from the excitement of the palms to the anguish of the arrest and crucifixion.

Some people skip this part and move straight to the resurrection.

I would invite you to linger at the cross.  Just as we learn from our mistakes, we also have much to gain from identifying with those who are suffering.

As we begin to really "see" the other, we may find that resurrection is all that more wonderful on Easter.

And then you won't regret missing out on the whole story!



Picture by Nikolai Ge [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Day 34 of Lent, Saturday, April 12, 2014

“As for whoever causes these little ones who believe in me to trip and fall into sin, it would be better for them to have a huge stone hung around their necks and to be thrown into the lake."

                                        Jesus of Nazareth, Mark 9:42 (Common English Bible)

On Friday, Pope Francis made a statement personally asking for forgiveness for the priests who have been involved in sexual abuse scandals.  It is the first time that a pope has taken responsibility in this manner.


As we see this crucial move forward, we understand that forgiveness for sins done against you is an important step in healing.  For those who have experienced sexual abuse, forgiving the abuser is key in that it releases the power over the victim.  

When you have forgiven the abuser, you are in a sense, claiming that they have no power over you.

This is very different from allowing continued abuse or removing yourself from abusive situations or even being around an abuser.  You can forgive someone of the abuse but still be distant from them in order to remain happy and healthy.

Pope Francis claims that the church will deal harshly with the abusive priests.  My hope is that they'll be removed from the priesthood.  It seems that this should be the standard for those wounding others who have placed their trust in them.  This does not mean that the church cannot forgive them but it does mean that the church should have standards for what it means to be set aside for service to the church as a clergy-person.

For United Methodists, I know of one case in particular where a pastor's credentials were removed after being convicted of sexual abuse.  It is simply not allowed.  

The church cannot prevent every situation of abuse that will occur but it can prevent future abuse from happening by a pastor or priest known to be abusive.  

I'm not for witch hunts of the clergy but when children are damaged, it is clear that these are not fit to serve in this capacity.

As we pray during Lent, let us pray for those who have been sexually abused that they may find healing and that their faith may be restored.  Let us also pray for the abusers - it is likely that they were once abused as children too.  Let us find grace and healing as the church.



Friday, April 11, 2014

Day 33 of Lent, Friday, April 11, 2014

“I believe; help my unbelief!”

       Father of a boy with an unclean spirit as shared in Mark 9:14-29

We don't do very well as a culture with mental illness.  It is stigmatized and most people refuse to get help for minor ailments because they believe that to do so indicates weakness.

Sometimes we see mental illness erupt in violence such as in Murrysville, Pennsylvania. Sixteen year old Alex Hribal is being charged with stabbing 21 of his classmates on Wednesday.  

Most have so far described him as a nice kid.  He didn't seem to be a loner and made good grades. It didn't appear that he was bullied.

Not a lot of clues have surfaced as of this writing for a motive.

To be honest, I would like a motive.  I want to make sense of this.  If he was bullied or had a history of mental illness, that would help.  If his parents were divorcing or if he had a bad break-up - something!

When a fellow human being does something so random, it is disturbing because we can't counter it.

The next best thing we can do is to punish it.

We want to send a message so others won't do the same thing.

And so he is being charged as an adult.

I think about my own children who are a few years away from his age.  I want to keep them safe from these kind of rampages.  But I also would want to get them help if they had a breakdown like this.

As I consider teens suffering from mental illness, I don't think that they contemplate whether or not they'll be charged as adults before acting out in violence.  In fact, I don't think they look at consequences at all.

If we truly want to redeem those who are ill, we need to do a better job of removing the stigmas of counseling and therapy.

Lighting a candle for those who are suffering.
We are complex people but we also believe that God's love is constant.  I pray for all those who suffered physically from this attack on Wednesday.  As I pray for their trauma, I also include those wounds that damaged them mentally or emotionally or spiritually.  I pray that they'll embrace forgiveness as it leads to healing.

I also pray for Alex Hribal.  I would like to hope that he will get the help he needs.  To be honest, I'm kind of doubtful that he'll get it.  But my faith tells me that God is still at work in his life.  Is he redeemable?

I believe!  God, help my unbelief.


Photo by Arivumathi (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Day 32 of Lent, Thursday, April 10, 2014

"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment."

                                   1 Timothy 6:17 (NIV)

The Cabinet Office of the United Kingdom has done research on the relationship between jobs and life satisfaction and found that the clergy are at the top of the list.

I know, you are thinking, they are that dissatisfied?

But no, they are actually the most satisfied out of 274 different occupations surveyed!

I find this remarkable since so much of American writing about Christianity in Europe is negative and bemoaning the death of God there.

The list is fascinating as you read through it.
As I helped build a house in Mexico, this one was just as satisfying.

I remember one young woman in particular that felt she was called by God to serve the church as a pastor.  Her parents were not interested in this and preferred her to pursue a more lucrative field like law.  Legal professionals come in at 108 on the list.

I guess that they made a direct correlation with income and happiness which is not always true.

I believe that clergy scored so high on this because they see their job as a calling.  The work we do is connected to a higher purpose and we see that we are part of the greater work for good in the world.  This is no small thing.

As you consider your own vocation, are you happy with what you are doing?

How do you see God as part of your work - both daily and on a long-term basis?

I thought this prayer for our work was pretty spot on:

Lord, a lot of the work I have to do is dull - deadly dull.  Sometimes I'm so bored, and sometimes I'm depressed.  It goes on day after day.  God, sometimes I hate work.  And then I remember two things, and take heart.  I ask your help to keep them more in mind. I remember the carpenter's shop at Nazareth.  That can't always have been all joy and sunshine.  People can be very rude to others who work for them.  So I know that you understand - and I'm thankful.  I remember, too, that my work is linked through the work of others to the work of all people, just as I am linked through others to all people.  They depend on me and I depend on them.  Lord, keep me faithful.  Amen.



Prayer by John Charles Vockler, Archbishop of the Anglican Catholic Church

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Day 31 of Lent, Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"(Love) isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints"

                                  Paul of Tarsus, 1 Corinthians 13:5 (Common English Bible)

A Lakewood, Colorado elementary school was evacuated on Monday as hazmat crews decontaminated students for...

Habanero peppers?

Really?

I mean, I know that they are hot but come on.

A picture of Sheryl cleaning up after
making some of her famous chili.
Apparently, the alarm was from students coming in from the playground with skin and eye irritants. After the hazmat crews were called in they found six of the offending peppers in the wood chips.

Sheryl has jokingly referred to her chili as "weapons-grade" when she makes it for the cook-off because it is orange from all the Habaneros she includes. Maybe this is more serious than we suspected!

I find this whole story amusing because a) I love Habaneros and b) I can see this metaphorically.

How many times do we make a big deal out of nothing?  There are times in my life when I've wanted to call in the hazmat crew for an emotional situation that was really not such a big deal.  After I took some time and gained some perspective, I actually felt silly.

It's not uncommon for people to make mountains out of molehills.  However, as we remember our faith in God, we trust that things are not so bad as they sometimes seem.

Let's pray today for perspective for all people and include ourselves at the forefront.

And just to clear things up, I was nowhere near Colorado on Monday!


Picture by U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Brandon E. Loveless. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Day 30 of Lent, Tuesday, April 8, 2014

“Whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone.”

                 Jesus of Nazareth, John 8:7 (Common English Bible)


Pastor Bob Coy
Pastor Bob Coy of megachurch Calvary Chapel of Fort Lauderdale, Florida resigned as the senior pastor on Thursday, April 3, 2014. He did so after confessing to cheating on his wife. 

The church is rather large with 20,000 attendees on 10 different campuses each weekend.

Calvary Chapel identifies itself as a balance between fundamentalism and Pentecostalism.  

This news will impact a lot of people who are faithful and have worshiped with Coy at the helm since 1985 when he founded the congregation.  

Unfortunately, this story is not that unique.  We seem to hear this story of pastors falling to sexual temptation rather often.  The difficulty of the pastor-parishioner relationship is unique.  There is a lot of trust involved and a lot of vulnerability shared.  There is power within this relationship.  When a pastor makes advances to a church member or even if the pastor simply succumbs to advances of a parishioner, the power in the relationship is such that the pastor abuses the person involved.

It is easy to pile on to a pastor who tends to be judgmental of others.  I remember thinking that this was justice indeed when Jimmy Swaggart was found guilty of the same infidelity as Jim Bakker.  Especially after Swaggart was one of Bakker's harshest critics when the news first broke.

Hopefully, I've grown since then and don't relish when another person is found out to be more sinful than realized.

I'll keep Pastor Coy and his congregation in my prayers.  And it will serve as a reminder to be watchful of temptation.  Good practices between pastor and congregation such as keeping office visits at a time when others are in the building are helpful.  As you consider your own fidelity - whether in marriage or singleness - not putting yourself in situations that could lead to things you normally wouldn't consider is key.

 As we think about it, I'm sure Bob Coy never set out to have an affair.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Day 29 of Lent, Monday, April 7, 2014

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.

                         Matthew 21:28-31 (NRSV)

It has been 20 years today since the Rwandan genocide.  In 100 days, 800,000 people, mostly the minority Tutsi, were slaughtered by Hutu extremists.  

The violence was horrific and many of the people were killed with machetes. Roadblocks were set up.  Rwandan ID cards identified people by their race.

The racism was so pervasive in the country that some clergy participated in the genocide and have been convicted of these atrocities.  While the church should always stand in opposition to racism and genocide, this is a reminder that the church often is reflective of the culture in which it exists.

When we as a church are guilty of promoting hatred, it is good to apologize whether we were actively a part of it or not.  It may have been our forefathers or even distant cousins.  If the sincere repentance for these deeds can help with the healing of the wounded then it is worth it.

I remember attending the 2012 General Conference and many were not happy about the service of repentance led by our Native American brothers and sisters.  Those upset by the service claimed that the past should be the past and we should move on.

My take was that if it was helpful to some who have suffered, then it was worthwhile for all of us to attend.  It cost me nothing, save some retrospection.  I gained new perspective and understanding which is always valuable.  

As we continue in Lent, please be in prayer for our Rwandan brothers and sisters.  My prayer is that reconciliation will continue so that they never have to repeat this awful tragedy.

Skull and Belongings of Genocide Victims
Here, a sister in Christ.
Genocide Memorial Center - Kigali - Rwanda
  
Photo by Adam Jones, Ph.D. (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Fifth Sunday of Lent, April 6, 2014

                     “Lazarus, come out!”

                                          Jesus of Nazareth from John 11:43

One of my favorite movies is The Shawshank Redemption.  It is a story of Andy Dufresne played by Tim Robbins who ends up serving time for two murders he did not commit.

As the innocent man who brings light to those in the prison - even suffering on their behalf - he represents a Christ figure in the film.

You see the Christ image even
on the movie poster with the arms
extended out as he faces the light.
At the turning point for Andy in the movie, he is speaking to his friend Red played by Morgan Freeman. Andy is telling him about a place on the Pacific Ocean down in Mexico.

He states that the Mexicans say the Pacific Ocean holds no memory and that is someplace he would like to go: a warm place with no memory.

He tells Red that he could use a friend like him down there someday.  Red tells him that he doesn't think he could even make it on the outside.  As he admits this dark secret to Andy, he then begins to berate him because the whole idea seems ridiculous - a pipe dream.

Andy then says that it comes down to one thing: "Get busy living or get busy dying."

In today's lectionary reading of the Gospel, we have the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  The wonderful thing about this miracle is that it can be taken literally or it can be applied metaphorically to our lives.  There are places where we have been busy dying.  These places sometimes become like caves to us.  They are dark and they smell like death and no one can come to us there.

No one dares come except the Christ.

Hear the words of Jesus, "Lazarus, come out!"  Put your own name in the sentence.

As Jesus states in verse 25, "I am the resurrection and the life."

It's time to get busy living.






Saturday, April 5, 2014

Day 28 of Lent, Saturday, April 5, 2014

             “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
            
                                    John the Baptist, Matthew 3:2 (NRSV)


Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship stated that "cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance."

This is an important statement for today where many people expect their sins to be forgiven without taking on a forgiving nature themselves.  Jesus spoke of the dangers of this in the parable of the unmerciful servant.

What does our inner self begin to look like
when we nurture bitterness toward another?
We pray this each week in worship when we pray the Lord's Prayer,  "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

I've often wondered that if we don't forgive the sins against us - those things which have really wounded us - do we really understand what we're asking God to do?

It seems that Jesus tied these together on more than one occasion for a reason.

During Lent, this is a good thing for us to pray about and maybe we'll understand a little better the depth of grace.





Photo by Jessica Flavin from London area, England (Anger Controlls Him) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Friday, April 4, 2014

Day 27 of Lent, Friday, April 4, 2014

     Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, 
        my brother would not have died.
                                                             John 11:21

Four soldiers died on Wednesday at Fort Hood, Texas including the gunman who committed suicide.  Iraqi vet Ivan Lopez shot 19 people, three of which were killed.

Lopez was undergoing treatment for mental illness and had a wife a daughter living on base.

This tragedy comes after the shooting in 2009 on Fort Hood in which 13 people were killed.
The remains of Sgt. Amy S. Krueger are carried to the waiting aircraft by the Fort Hood honor detail.
 Krueger was killed during the Nov. 5, 2009 massacre at Fort Hood.

The kind of grief that comes with this encounter for the family members of the victims is often horrific.  There is a steeling of oneself when a loved one goes to a foreign base where combat duty is a real possibility.  But to have this happen on American soil is likely more difficult because it seems so random.

When we lose loved ones - especially without warning to tragedy - the grief can be overwhelming.  Different people cope in different ways.

Diana Troxwell, who lost her 20 year old daughter to a heroin overdose felt like a failed parent.  She joined a support group of other parents who faced a similar loss.

Some people turn to their faith in times of grief while others feel that God somehow abandoned them.

They want to know, "Where was God in this?  Why didn't my son or daughter's guardian angel show up and prevent this from happening?"

In a shooting, there is not much room between being injured and being killed.  The small margin of error - the bullet moving just inches one way or another - can be the difference between life and death.

Knowing this can cause a person to "what if" themselves to a breakdown.  It can also leave them feeling as if God is oblivious to human feeling.

This Sunday's lectionary reading is from the story of Lazarus in John 11:1-45 and my sermon title is "When Death Seems More Real than God."  It will be available on www.piedmontumc.org by Monday.

I also found this prayer to be especially helpful for the grieving:

We give them back to you, dear Lord, who gave them to us.  
Yet as you did not lose them in giving, so we have not lost them by their return.
What you gave, you haven't taken away, O Lover of souls; for what is yours is ours also if we are yours.
And life is eternal and love is immortal, and death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.
Lift us up, strong Son of God, that we may see further; 
cleanse our eyes that we may see more clearly;
and draw us closer to you that we may know ourselves to be nearer to our loved ones who are with you.
And while you do prepare for us, prepare us also for that happy place, that where they are and you are, we too may be for evermore.  Amen.

                                 William Penn, 1644-1718


Photo by John Byerly, U.S. Army (Fort Hood departure) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Day 26 of Lent, Thursday, April 3, 2014

    The heart is devious above all else;
                      it is perverse—
             who can understand it?


                       Jeremiah 17:9

     Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, 
       according to our likeness; 

                       Genesis 1:26


These two scriptures seem opposed to one another if you don't imagine God to be devious or perverse.  Of course a devious or perverse God doesn't seem to fit with the letters of John which define God as love.

Do you see humankind as inherently sinful or as made in God's image - a little lower than God? (Psalm 8). 

Maybe we are both.  We are created in the image of God, capable of great good.  Yet we are oriented around the self which causes sin to distort our potential.

It used to be that liberals followed along more closely to the idea of being created in God's image while conservatives were more likely to speak of the sinfulness of all people.

Yet when we speak of the free market, we find almost the opposite.  Conservatives seem to value less regulation by government, preferring the free market to self-correct.

In other words, businesses whose products are dangerous or deficient would be unable to survive the lawsuits and bad press and would go the way of the dinosaur.  Businesses that provide quality services and products would rise like cream to the top.

This is almost an egalitarian view of companies and their strategies to make a profit.

On the other hand, liberals tend to look for regulations to protect citizens from some of the more dangerous products or practices.

They tend to have a darker outlook on the nature of businesses, seeing CEO's as robber barons of old.

Some of the regulations that we have in the United States that both sides tend to agree on would be food and water standards.  It is nice not to wonder about the quality of the meat or produce we purchase at the store.

We assume certain safety regulations when we fly on a commercial plane and are happy that we don't have to wonder if a new airplane that just rolled off the line will be safe or not.

The question becomes, how much regulation is enough and when does it become ponderous?

This argument garnered the spotlight on Wednesday when the Supreme Court struck down the
 James Earle Fraser's statue The Authority of Law, which sits
on the west side of the United States Supreme Court building.
campaign contribution cap for our elected officials.  The conservative opinion prevailed 5-4 as this regulation of American politics was removed.  


Both sides speak in Pollyanna: the liberals imagine that deregulated spending on elections will look more like Lord of the Flies while the conservatives see them more as the unspoiled Blue Lagoon.

Okay, this may be exaggeration but not much.

As a pastor, I believe that humans are made in God's image and yet when we gather together, we sometimes revert to the lowest common denominator.

I've seen elections run with a sense of goodwill for one another and I've also seen them where the candidates run each other through the mud.  At the end of the day, everyone feels dirty when this happens.

When all is said and done, is the better person with the ideals we need elected to serve? Or is it more likely the person willing to sling mud with the coffers to do it that comes out on top?  

The Founding Fathers were skeptical of democracy believing that the common person was swayed by gifted orators rather than making informed decisions.  Hmm.

A representative government was built to protect us from ourselves.  

Theologically, I would like to be optimistic about our ability to work together and come up with leadership that is selfless.  But I also ascribe to the fact that all sin and fall short of God's glory.  

Is the amount a person can spend on political elections a form of free speech?  The Supreme Court says yes.  Is it wise?  Time will tell.  

As we continue to walk with Christ during Lent, let us be in prayer for all our political leaders that they might not be swayed by the dollars of political supporters but rather by information and the good of the people they serve.




Photo by Matt H. Wade (User:UpstateNYer). [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Day 25 of Lent, Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me.
                                          Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in Mark 9:37 (CEB)

One of the challenges of moving to an appointment without a parsonage is buying a home. Difficulties aside, the good thing about this is that we get to choose which school district we want for our children.  We picked the Cheyenne Middle School because Kyla already takes orchestra there on Monday nights so the transition will be smoother.

Unfortunately, this school district seems to be a popular one around Edmond which means the housing prices are higher.  Parents want quality education for their children and are willing to pay more or live in a smaller home to get it.

Our teachers held a rally at the capitol on Monday to remind the rest of us that education is important.  If we believe it to be important, we need to do a better job of funding it.  As we can look at Edmond or Piedmont, we see that young families are attracted to these areas because of the good school systems.  When we think about the long term future of our state, if we become known for top-notch education, it will be easier to attract families to come and live in our state.

As a church, we have always supported education.  We believe that God can more fully utilize a person's gifts if they are educated than if they aren't.  It's a matter of giving God more tools to work with!

I saw the sign below on a post from Twitter:

This sign is sobering because it is likely true.  It really gets to the heart of our priorities, darn it!

As we continue during Lent, we may look at extending our hand to the least of these in society.  As we do so, we discover that we are serving Christ.  The scripture in Mark above reminds us that this same relationship exists as we serve the children.



This is one of my favorite educational songs of all time: