The Sunday That Kept On Going

November 11th 2018 was a packed worship service.  There were so many things going on.

The service started with a touching tribute to our veterans.  The Deacons worked with the children to give cards and pins to our vets in a very nice, very moving inter-generational way.

But that was not enough.

A family stood up to proclaim their desire to have their baby baptized.  The children promised to help guide this child as she grew up in the church.  The adults again reclaimed their baptismal promises, to reject evil, to embrace Jesus, to support the church, and to be spiritual mentors to this child.  We then prayed over water, an ordinary substance transformed to something holy, and baptized her in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  As the choir sung a touching song, the baby went for a walk with the pastor around the room.  As every eye was upon her, she was looking to the ceiling, perhaps at the angels in attendance, or the “Great cloud of witnesses”.  Baptism always makes me emotional because I can really feel God’s presence as God marks the child.

But that was not enough.

The worship leader read the Old Testament scripture and sat down.  I approached the pulpit and stood in silence as a Trustee rang the bell eleven times.  You see, it was the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – the one hundred year anniversary of the end of the first world war.

But that was not enough.

I preached an impassioned sermon on the Widow’s Mite and the Widow of Zarephath, calling out the fact that God sees our plight, God sees our situations, and God responds through people.  People like us.

But that was not enough.

We again have experienced a tragic shooting in our nation.  As pastor, I wrestled with my response, writing a second sermon, going back and forth between which sermon to preach, and finally deciding to make a special time of prayer.  I called the congregation to pray, and then to be the answer to prayer, because the church is the most effective and powerful force on the planet – when we work together with God.

But that was not enough.

You see, we still had the prayers of the people – that time when we lift up the needs of the congregation, community and world.  We prayed for people having surgery this week.  We prayed for a woman that nobody knows, but she needed prayer.  We prayed for loved ones who are sick, loved ones who are recovering and loved ones who are dying.  We prayed for victims of the California wild fires, and we prayed for the leaders of our nation.

By the benediction, I was completely drained.  Emotionally, spiritually, physically and mentally drained.  And I’ll do it again next Sunday because worship is that important.

It is not every Sunday that we baptize someone.  But each Sunday we are called to remember our baptism and charged with living it.  It is not every Sunday that we honor our veterans, but each Sunday we are reminded to give thanks for their blessing.  It is not every Sunday that we ring the bell, but each Sunday we are called to gather to promote peace, justice and the forgiveness of sin.

And every Sunday we hear the gospel proclaimed.  Every Sunday we lift up people in prayer.  Every Sunday we experience the forgiveness of sin and the call to live as followers of Jesus.

If you really stop for a moment and think about it, every Sunday is packed with lots of life-giving things.  If you haven’t been to worship in awhile, this is a great time to return as we approach the Advent season.  We will explore the themes of Hope, Peace, Love and Joy and how we, the baptized, can embody those themes in our daily lives.

I hope to see you Sunday,

 

Bill

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A Message to Men on All Saints Day

Men – who was most responsible for teaching you the faith?  For most men it began with a mother or grandmother, and then fell to that special woman who we marry.  For me, I had an aunt who taught me to serve the Lord by serving the church in many ways.  My grandmother taught me to love God.  Both my grandmother and my mother taught me to read scripture and pray.  Yes my dad had a hand, but it was the women.  Just like Timothy in the Bible (2 Timothy 1:5), “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”

Men, November 1st is All Saints Day a day set apart to remember those faithful in the Church Triumphant.  Let’s think about the women of our lives who taught us about God and God’s love.  Let’s give God a prayer of thanksgiving for those who have gone before us.  And then let’s remember the women still in our lives, honor them and pray for them as well.  After all, they are saints too.

Showing Up

It was a simple gesture.  My wife and I attended a special service of healing at a synagogue.  Nothing to it – we just showed up.  And people thanked us for coming.

It was not that typical, un-meaningful “thanks” that some people say.  It was heartfelt and there was a lot of emotion and gratitude behind the simple word.  I was dumbfounded.  All I did was show up.

Yet that was the point.  You see, the Jews are a people who have been oppressed for thousands of years, even by Christians.  And I am a Christian.  I am a Christian minister.  And I wore my collar.  The symbol of Christian ministry.

I did wear my collar on purpose.  I wanted all to know that Christians stand with Jews, especially after the events of Saturday.

But I never expected the simple “thanks” said by so many members of the synagogue.  A heartfelt “thank you for coming, thank you for supporting us, thank you for standing with us.”

And all I did was show up.

Imagine if I did more.

Imagine if you did more.

Imagine if we all worked together to show solidarity instead of division.

Imagine if we stood with each other instead of against each other.

Imagine if we all loved instead of hated.

Perhaps then we would live the words of Jesus, you know, those words he repeated from the Hebrew Scriptures:  The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

All I did was show up.

And last night, that was all I had to do.  Show up.  Support.  Love.

Reflections on a (Good) Friday Morning

I have a pretty set routine for Fridays.  I get up, make breakfast and say goodbye to my wife as she heads to work.  I take my daughter to school, then usually do the food shopping.  At some point I end up  finishing work that did not get done (even though Friday is my day off).  But today is different.  Today I spend more time focused on one thing.  Today is Good Friday, a day we remember Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.

Some churches do not hold Good Friday services.  Some do, but many Christians do not attend.  And that is a shame.  Yes I know, its another day or night at the church after a special Palm Sunday service and possibly Maundy Thursday service (are we really that busy that we cannot spend one more hour in worship?). I know there are so many other things going on.  But is it right to go from the celebration of Palm Sunday to the celebration of Easter without going through Golgatha?  Let us stop for a moment and think about one thing…Jesus.cross with shadow

Good Friday is the most solemn day on the church calendar.  It is a day that we stop to consider His death for us.  It is not a day to celebrate, rather a day to remember.  It is a day to focus on His passion, His pain and His love.  It is important.

 

Today, even if you do not attend a service, please read one of the gospel accounts of the passion.  Please stop for a little time and consider what Jesus went through for you.  Please take a moment and give thanks for what God has done, is doing and will do for you.  And may your Good Friday be one of significant blessings.

To read the Gospel of John’s account of the passion, click here

 

 

Reflections on a (Holy) Thursday Morning

My wife cut up some bread into cubes to take to her workplace.  There she will conduct two Maundy/Holy Thursday services.

I will go to the church building and prepare my service as well.  We’ve reset the sanctuary to look different, creating a special communion 1atmosphere, because tonight is a special service.

Well, tonight, Friday night and Sunday morning are all very special services that tell the most important story.

If you are not aware of the essential Christian story, it is told in three days – Maundy Thursday, the day in which Jesus gives us the mandate to love one another as He loves us, and the Lord’s Supper.  Good Friday, the day Jesus lays down His life for us and Easter Sunday, the day of Resurrection.  Three days that tell the story.

And you know what?  You don’t have to fully understand to take part.  You don’t have to understand exactly what happens to the bread and the wine when we take it.  You don’t have to understand why Jesus willingly sacrificed His life for us.  You don’t have to even fully understand the resurrection.  After all, there are many questions surrounding all these things – but that is what the journey of faith is about – exploring the questions of the intersection of God and ourselves.

So often Christianity gets a bad rap about what we stand against.  Maybe you shy away from church because you were shamed, or made to feel bad about yourself.  Maybe you just don’t like “organized religion”, or you are one of the many people I’ve encountered who just never quite understood what was going on.  Come tonight.  Be present with us as we explore the sacred mysteries of Communion.  Come Friday night and hear the story of Jesus going to the cross.  Then celebrate with us on Sunday morning as we shout out the oldest statement of faith in Christianity, “He is Risen!”

And if you don’t get it, that is fine.  At least come and start the journey.  After all, the journey is what it’s all about.

In like a lion and out like a lamb

In like a lion…

…out like a lamb

March has traditionally been described this way as the month starts off wintry and ends with spring.

Okay I know, as I write this on March 20th (the first day of spring), we are expecting ANOTHER winter storm filled with ice and snow.  Bear with me for a moment as this is not about March or the weather.  It’s about Jesus.

We began March with the gospel story of Jesus overturning the tables in the temple.  The lectionary text was John 2:13-25 where Jesus “made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.”  Pretty lion like, isn’t it?

But look at how March will end.  Friday March 30th is Good Friday and the gospel text comes from John chapters 18 and 19 where Jesus, the Sacrificial Lamb, is crucified.  The gospel story ends “At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”  Out like a lamb.

I’ve thought about this over the past few weeks as I’ve focused a lot on the authority of Jesus in my sermons.  His surprising actions in the temple often shock people (and certainly changes that phrase “what would Jesus do?).  But then again, for the people of Jesus’ day, his actions were certainly shocking.  I’m sure some loved his actions in the temple as it signaled Jesus’ change from “nice guy preacher” to Messianic Warrior about to overthrow the Roman occupation.

But that isn’t what Jesus did.  During that last week of his life, Jesus entered into Jerusalem as a King, cleansed the temple as a Prophet, wept over the city as a loving friend, washed his disciples’ feet as a servant, reimagined the Passover as a mystic and sacrificed his life for ours, as a savior.

In like a lion and out like a lamb.  And the world will never be the same.

 

 

 

The Loss to the Kingdom

26 people are dead.  26 people are gone, no longer able to do their part for God’s kingdom.  That is the first tragedy.  The second tragedy is that we will focus more on the never-ending one side versus another in the argument about gun control than on the loss of life.

This is insane.  And this is becoming far too common.

You see, I’m sick and tired of the same argument over and over.  I’m sick and tired of extremists on both sides trying to out shout each other.  I’m sick and tired of the hatred and the division.  Damn it, its time to stop all of this.

So if there is a way that we can agree on stopping the illegal purchase and use of weapons, can we work together and do it without shouting at each other?

If there is a way that we can increase the recognition and support for those suffering from mental illness without shouting at each other about our healthcare position can we do it?

Can we just work together and stop this insanity?

Twice in recent sermons I said the following:

Believe it or not, we can disagree on issues and remain in community.  We can disagree and continue to be in relationship.  We can remain together as the body of Christ even if we are on different sides of an issue. 

I want people who agree with this statement to do the following:  Pray.  Pray for the families of the dead.  Pray for the injured.  Pray for the emergency workers.  Pray for all affected But do not stop there.  Pray this as well:

Lord, how can we stop this insanity? What can we do to find a balance between the extremist factions regarding safety issues?  What can we do as united followers of Jesus Christ to end this violence in our communities?

I’m not looking for an argument.  I’m looking for reasonable people to put forth reasonable ideas to save lives; lives that are made in the image of God.

Lord, have mercy on us all.