Archive for November, 2014

November 6, 2014

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:17-26

I’ve never seen anyone, dead for four days, come back to life. Medical science can’t do it. Benny Hinn can’t even pull off a trick like that. If you have been dead for four days, as the King James Version used to put it, “Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.”

I’ve never seen a dead man come back to live but I have seen plenty of people, as good as dead, who God has resurrected into brand new lives.

I know a guy who seemed to have the world by the tail, except for the part where he was on the edge of losing a high paying job because of his drinking. He kept all of that secret until the morning after he had been arrested for DUI. His wife was threatening to leave him and take their child with her. He was broken. I couldn’t do anything for him.

But I had a friend, a pastor in recovery from alcoholism, who once said that the only thing to do in a situation like that was to take the person to an AA meeting. So that is what I did.

Today he is a new man. Sober for years. Still married to the same patient and loving woman. He has a great life. And he would be the first to tell you that his sobriety is not something he did on his own – it is a gift from God that came through his willingness to take certain steps.

I know plenty of people like that. They all say the same thing. Their recovery has been their “this life resurrection to new life” and all the credit goes to God.

We say every week when we confess our faith using the Apostles’ Creed that we believe in the “resurrection of the body”. I do believe in that. I just don’t think we have to wait until we die to see it. God’s transformative power is available to us today, tomorrow, and forever. No matter how much it looks like we stinketh.

Let us pray: Thank you, dear Lord, for the power you have to raise us to new life, to pull us out of the ashes of our brokenness, out of the mud of life, and set our feet on a new path. Draw near to those who are hopeless, to those grieving the death of loved ones, and to those suffering in despair. For you alone are the power greater than ourselves who gives us life, new life, and the life to come. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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John 14:1-4

November 5, 2014

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” John 14:1-4

Give me an open canvas for a wedding and I am probably going to use the story from John 2 where Jesus turns the water into wine. Do the same for a funeral and you’re probably going to hear from John 14. I love/hate both of these passages.

How can you love and hate the same passages from the Bible? Easy. Just read them closely.

Expecting a miracle in your marriage is a pathway to disaster. And telling people at a funeral “do not let your hearts be troubled” is cruel. That’s what I hate about those passages. And it is also what I love.

I love, at a wedding, a story that promises that Jesus can take what is good and make it even better. I love how the story says, even though mass producing magnificent wine is a pretty cool parlor trick, the best is yet to come. Coming so early in John’s book, like the ceremony coming so early in a life long marriage, it draws you into the beauty of the story yet to come. I love it because it is so hopeful.

And here, in John 14, while Jesus clearly skipped his Clinical Pastoral Education 101 class which warns us against telling people how they are supposed to feel, I have to admit there is something powerful in the words “do not let your hearts be troubled.”

Think about it a bit. Someone has just been crushed by the death of a loved one. Whether a sudden tragic death or a long lingering suffering death, the loved ones left behind feel powerless, empty, grieving. They feel victimized by the forces of the universe. Like God turned God’s back on them. Like they are being punished. Their hearts are feeling explodedly troubled.

And Jesus leads with “do not let your hearts be troubled.” Jesus appeals to us, not as victims but as survivors, not as helpless children at the mercy of raging emotions, but as human beings capable of self-reflection and redirection and hope. And he doesn’t stop with that opening line but goes on to words of promise.

Jesus says he has prepared a place for us. He will come and take us to that place. He says there is life after death just as there is life within grief and life after grief has become something else. We are hanging then, with one hand on don’t let your hearts be troubled and the other hand on I will come again and take you to myself, until we finally realize that we don’t need to decide which hand needs to squeeze the hardest to hold on. We realize that we can just let go. And Jesus will take care of us.

Here too, the best is yet to come. I love/hate this passage. I can’t read it often enough.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you love us in the face of life and you love us in the face of death. When we see death as a bleak brick wall or an enormous black hole in the ground and in our hearts, help us see it instead at the gate to eternal life. Help us see death through the lens of the resurrection, the miracle of life after life, that we might again see the miracle of life within life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Revelation 7:13-17

November 4, 2014

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:13-17

This past Sunday was All Saints Sunday and this text from Revelation was one of the texts we read in worship. It had been a tough week at church. Two very difficult funerals. The whole week passed with the taste of the “great ordeal” in my mouth.

I was just a kid when I read The Late Great Planet Earth. The writer basically combed the Bible for as much poetry and apocalyptic fantasy (yes, I said it) that he could find and then he tied as much of that as possible to rewriting history, spinning current events (in the 1970’s), and projecting future events. It would culminate in a horrible war and then Jesus would show up and clean house.

It scared the heck out of me. And sold millions of copies. It still sells.

I thought about all of that last week as the weekend drew near and an All Saints sermon was cooking inside of me. And then it occurred to me that we are already living in the midst of the great ordeal from which we long for release. We always have.

The Ebola virus has now been overtaken in the news by the NEXT BIG THING. As bad as it has been in some places, it pales before the plagues of the Middle Ages, the flu and the polio outbreaks from just a hundred years ago. There are wars and threats of war around the world (although nothing of consequence in the major population centers of the “developed” world.) Bad things are happening all around us. And always have.

The real question for us isn’t “When will Jesus return and clean house?”, the real question is “How are we to live in the meantime?”

Are we just to sit back, take what comes our way, fend for ourselves, and ride it out until that day when God will guide God’s own to springs of the water of life, and wipe away every tear from our eyes?

Or, seeing that day off in the distance, continue to live that future vision into reality by doing whatever we can to make a positive, loving, peaceful, life-giving difference as much as we can, as often as we can, to as many people as we can?

It’s a rhetorical question. I think we know the answer.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you send us into the world in your name, to be your hands, your feet, your listening ears, and your truth-telling lips. Encourage us to live fully and confidently, even in the face of the ordeals of our lives, with the confident expectation that you will take care of the big picture even as we tend the little corners of the garden where you have placed us. Let our love for you and others be a foretaste of the feast to come in the midst of a broken, self destructive, world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

1 John 3:1-3

November 3, 2014

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. 1 John 3:1-3

I love the line “the world does not know us…” I get that.

The Christian church – and I say it that way on purpose because it lumps us all together in one big diverse disagreeing extended families of cousins around the world – gets regularly trashed. It has become fashionable.

Facebook posts abound with how old fashioned and out of touch and hypocritical we are. One post tells us we ignore the “wants and needs” of entire generations of people, all to please grandma’s and grandpa’s and thereby keep the doors open.

We’re told that all we care about is money and buildings and stained glass. That the world will have to pry our cold dead fingers off our pipe organ keyboards. The sign might say “Lutheran” or “Baptist” or “Episcopalian” but all we are really are secret clubs of Democrats or Republicans who give for the sake of the tax breaks and care only about maintaining the status quo (which is code for our own personal and positional power.)

The world says we are either Tea Party Luddites, homophobes, and racists or else we are bleeding heart liberal homosexual loving sell outs who have traded the Ten Commandments in for “do you own thing, just don’t hurt anybody.”

The only time the Pope makes the front page is if he says something that might tweak the establishment. The only time most pastors make the front page is if they got arrested for stealing money or some sexual sin.

The world does not know us.

The world doesn’t see how insignificant our buildings really are to us. They are just tools. The world doesn’t see what happens within those walls. People showing up for one another, supporting one another, encouraging one another, praying together, serving, giving, crying.

Week after week after week, faithful people giving on their time, their skills, and their money to insure than the good that the church does keeps happening. People making way, learning new things, ever expanding the horizons of their views of God and the world.

Every week I watch what happens in the life of the congregation I serve. I realize, when I am working with couples preparing for marriage, that there is not one other place in the entire world where our conversation takes them right where they need to go to start their new lives on the right foot. I see conversations happening between young people and their children that would never ever happen anywhere else if not for the church to encourage them. I see random acts of kindness, consistent service, and streams of people showing up to our campus for recovery meetings and other activities that are profoundly life-giving.

The world sees none of that. At least nothing that gets reported on Facebook.

So I vote, let’s the tell the world about the side of the church that they have either never seen or have long forgotten. We will tell the world by speaking the universal language of the church – however muted, misunderstood, or misplaced – and that is the language of love. For that is all we have to give that matters.

Let us pray: Thank you for loving us, God of mercy, power, and presence. Keep speaking that love to us, and through us, for we so easily forget and so often need to be reminded that that is what you are all about, and that is all we need. In Jesus’ name. Amen.