Monday, October 28, 2019

Expressing Grief

Lectionary Reading: 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12 (NRSV)

As I've led various presentations with different church groups lately, they have all had similar themes.  The church has experienced loss as it has experienced change.

Change in and of itself may not always be bad.  Sometimes we need to change our lifestyles to become healthier.

Many people have to adjust their diet as they age because they are burning less calories.  I've had to make this adjustment several times as my metabolism slows down.

But even change that is good for us means a loss of some kind.  For me I eat a lot more turkey burgers than beef burgers these days.  My taste buds prefer cow but my blood pressure cries fowl!

Some expressions of grief give us a sense of peace.
For our church, we have experienced changes due to technology.  Projection is a part of most congregations these days.  Music continues to change in worship - even in traditional worship services.  Sermons seem to be getting shorter.  Okay, so maybe not all changes are experienced as loss!

One of the most telling changes we express within the life of the church is the loss of our loved ones in a funeral service.  We grieve and it is important for us to recognize that our lives are diminished without them.

The church has another way of acknowledging this beyond the standard memorial service.  We celebrate All Saints Day each year on the first Sunday of November (technically the day falls on November 1 but we make allowances).  We light a candle during worship for each church member that has passed away since the last All Saints Day.  As we celebrate Holy Communion during that service, we recognize that they are communing with us in the church eternal.  This can be a powerful moment of healing for people.

One of our other expressions of loss in our local setting is to provide a card for those in attendance.  They may write the name or names of others who have also passed away who may not have been members of our church.  Then when they receive Holy Communion, they leave the card on the altar rail as their commemoration.  In this we are thankful to God for their being in our lives.

Grief is a difficult thing.  Since I lost both parents in 2018, I recognize more acutely the times when it sneaks up on you unexpectedly.  But I also know that to pretend I am not grieving is to cover up something that needs my attention.  I think when we ignore our grief, we do not properly honor those we loved.

Paul writes that we give thanks to God for the church at Thessalonica.  Their faith and love were increasing.  We also give thanks to God for those who have shaped us in faith and love.  May ours continue to increase as well as we express our own loss and share it before God.

I believe this time of remembrance will be especially healing for me this year as I hope it is for you!

In Christ,


Photo by Larry via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, October 21, 2019

I'm Humbler Than You

Lectionary Reading: Luke 18:9-14 (NRSV)

Within the scripture today, the reversal of the righteousness of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector would have been astounding within first century Judaism.

Because we have grown up with this parable, it is not so shocking for us today.

We have come to accept humility as one of the traits that at least Christian leadership should exhibit.  Well, technically, all Christians should show humility but at the very least the clergy should make an attempt.

There are still some strands of Christians who embrace the more judgmental attitude reflected by the Pharisees.  When you see a preacher lashing out against sin that he stands above (women may do this as well but most of the denominations that emphasize this style of preaching do not ordain women), it doesn’t reflect the kind of humility shown by the tax collector in the parable.  To include oneself in the sin that is being exposed is more likely to get people to identify with their own vulnerability to it.

Have you ever seen a pastor that preaches a lot of 
judgment participating in ceremonial foot washing?
I'm sure it happens but I believe it's rare
compared to those that emphasize grace.
And yes, this whole caption is ironic.
If I throw stones against you for something that doesn’t bother me, I elevate myself above you in righteousness.  As we both remain “in Christ” I fail to connect that our righteousness is equal regardless of our faithfulness with regards to this particular sin.  It is the faithfulness of Jesus Christ that affords our righteousness before God.  This doesn’t mean that right behavior or faithfulness in the face of temptation is not important.  But it does mean that these are always responses to the grace we’ve received.

“How do we lift each other up?” becomes the Christian response to sin. 

And if we are really not bothered by this particular behavior?

In other words, “What if I really am empirically better than this person with regards to this sin?”

It may be that we need to confess our own weaknesses.  To come to a place where we all recognize that we struggle at times with who we are called to be seems to be what Jesus is calling us to acknowledge within today’s parable.

I hope you’ll join us on Sunday as we continue to wrestle with this scripture in worship!

In Christ,


Photo by John Ragai via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Bloom Where You're Planted

Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 (NRSV)

Sheryl and I made our way to First United Methodist Church in Duncan in 2006 to celebrate the 100th birthday of Reverend Phil Wahl, pastor emeritus of that church.  He had been serving in some type of pastoral role in that congregation since 1968 and Sheryl had grown up with him as her pastor.  We didn't know if he would recognize us or not when he saw us but he called each of us by name.

His greater gift was to not only recognize people but to really know them.

He asked us several pointed questions that indicated he not only remembered our faces but knew what we were about.

There were some great stories about Rev. Wahl through the years.  He was famous for driving over the speed limit wherever he went and most people learned to get out of his way!  I heard a story that he told the church secretary to call the highway patrol:

"Tell them I'm headed to Oklahoma City to visit people in the hospital so don't stop me for speeding."

There were various times he ended up in the hospital himself.  The great thing about him was that he wouldn't stay in bed while he recovered.  He would move from room to room, visiting others who were there in need of prayer.  He definitely bloomed where he was planted!

His attitude exemplifies the scripture from Jeremiah today.  Jeremiah tells the people who have been forcibly removed from their homes to not only prosper but to help their new nation prosper.  What does it mean to pray for a place when you don't necessarily agree with their philosophies?

Can we find a greater good?

This Sunday, we will explore this important scripture in an age and culture where we are so partisan as to consider it anathema to seek the good for our opposition.  I hope you'll join us as we grow in faith together!

In Christ,


Photo by Laurel F via  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Power of Touch

Scripture Reading: 2 Timothy 1:1-14 (NRSV)

There is a longing that people have to be touched.  It is ingrained in us from our birth.  In fact, premature babies that end up in natal intensive care units are found to grow and improve more rapidly with gentle touching and skin-to-skin holding.

Watching Trey hold Sloane at lunch on Sunday reminded me of how my own children touched my face so often when I held them.  Touching is fundamental to us.

When both of my children were born, I was able to wash them for their first bath.  I remember gently holding them and gingerly putting the cloth on their skin.  I think I probably took a long time for the task because I was afraid that I would be too rough!

This picture reminds us that joyous
experiences are even better shared!
My own parents gave me plenty of hugs growing up and as they grew older in recent years, I realized that they needed the hugs from me.  Prior to their deaths, it was important to see them and touch them each day.

As I think about how we ritualize touch, I remember my wedding day.  When we join hands in the ceremony, it is a formal acknowledgement of the relationship.  At the end of the ceremony, the permission to kiss publicly is a declaration that this romantic touch is now validated and even encouraged by society.

As an ordained pastor, the bishop laid hands upon me.  Bishop Blake implored as he did so, "Samuel, take authority as an elder to preach the Word of God, to administer the Holy Sacraments and to order the life of the Church, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."  

Today when praying for someone in the hospital, we touch the person with whom we are praying for healing.

In the scripture reading today, we hear the importance of the laying on of hands.  This is done to rekindle the sense of mission in the people of God.  In verse seven, we shrug off cowardice and replace it with power, love and self-discipline.  But this comes within the Christian community.  It is done when we hold hands and create a circle of prayer together.  This binds us together.  This clarifies our purpose.  This allows our mission to continue through the generations.

I hope you'll join us on Sunday as we worship together.  My hope is that you will renew in yourself your own sense of power, love and self-discipline which are life-giving!

In Christ,


Photo by Robert Couse-Baker via  Used under the Creative Commons license.