Seeing is Believing – “Doubting” Thomas

John 20:19-31 (NRSV)

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

I think this story is a testimony to the difficulty of faith – how hard it is to believe.  Merriam-Webster defines faith as a “firm belief in something for which there is no proof.”  Belief.  I think of the words from the Apostle’s Creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and so on…”  or from the praise song – “I believe in Jesus…I believe he is the son of God…that he died and he rose again…that he gave himself for me…”  All week as I’ve thought about this text, the old Steven Curtis Chapman song has rolled around in my head, “I do, I do, I do, I do believe, I know, I know, I know, I know it’s true, Lord, I believe in you.”  Firm belief – faith – is not only foundational, but transformational.  It can be life-changing as we mentally and verbally declare – this is what we believe.  This is who we are.  So what about the disciples – where was their belief, their faith?

The doors are locked in fear.  The disciples are meeting together not just behind closed doors, but locked doors.  Their fear is apparent.  As Jesus was betrayed, they scattered like ants and that initial fear has only been heightened as they believe that their friend, their leader, their rabbi has been crucified.

But wait, prior to this, didn’t Peter and John see the empty tomb and the discarded clothes of Jesus?  Haven’t we heard “Up from the Grave He Arose” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” and celebrated the Resurrection with all of the Alleluia’s?  Didn’t Mary Magdalene see and speak with Jesus and then proclaim to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”?  It seems that Thomas has gotten a bad rap.  As much preachers like to use “Doubting Thomas” in our sermon illustrations, he wasn’t the only one that needed to see to believe.  They too needed a personal encounter or experience with the Risen Lord.

Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  I like that he just sort of appeared.  It doesn’t say exactly what the disciples were doing – maybe freaking out or worrying over what they would do next or what would happen to them – but all of a sudden, there was Jesus – Jesus that had been crucified and buried, Jesus that they had deserted, Jesus that they loved and had followed, saying, “Peace be with you.”

He doesn’t say, “Dude, where were you guys?” or “I told you so,” but peace.  Peace.  He showed them his hands and side to prove to them that he wasn’t a ghost, that he was the same Jesus they had known, had eaten with, walked with, learned from, the same Jesus that had been crucified just three days earlier.  The text says, “Then,” “Then” they rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  Not until he showed them did they rejoice.  Seeing was believing.

Again Jesus says, “Peace be with you.”  And then he does an amazing thing – he empowers the disciples and gives them authority.  Not only does he react in compassion to their doubt, but he ordains them to bringing the Good News to the world.  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  They have seen the journey that Jesus has taken – the ups and the downs and especially the persecution.  But he doesn’t ask them to walk this path alone – he gives them the Holy Spirit.  Actually it says, he breathed on them – just like God breathed life into Adam – He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The disciple’s faith, their firm belief, was restored.  They thought they would never see him again, and in he walks into the room.  They witnessed in person the Risen and Resurrected Lord.  They had a personal encounter with Jesus.

What does it take for us to believe?  The Gospel of John shows us that faith comes in different ways and with differing intensities to different people. It doesn’t all come in the same neatly wrapped package.  In verse 8 of this same chapter, the beloved disciple believes upon seeing the empty tomb. In verse 16, Mary believes when the Lord calls her name. The disciples here in verse 20 rejoice when they see his hand and side.  And then here comes Thomas.

He had missed out on the action, the unbelievable good news.  They had seen the Lord with their own eyes – but he had not.

Whether out of reaction to all of them seeing and now believing and a little bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) or whether he just needs tangible proof, he takes it a step further.  He not only wants to see Jesus to believe, but he says that he wants to put his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in his side.  That’s a pretty hardcore and definitive statement.

You see why he’s called Doubting Thomas?  He’s been singled out throughout the ages as someone with inferior faith because he actually expressed his doubt in the resurrection. He made his reservations known out-loud.  He used his outside voice not just wondering in his head. He absolutely refused to say that he understood what he didn’t understand, or that he believed what he didn’t.   He was honest and blunt.  As I said earlier – it’s not that the other disciples immediately believed or that they weren’t scared as well, but Thomas is the one who remains firm – No, I’m not going to believe unless…  And because of that he is the poster child for skepticism. Even those that don’t know the story, have heard of a “Doubting Thomas.”  His name is so synonymous with doubt that if you look in a Webster’s Dictionary you’ll find it in two places: under “d” for doubt and under “t” for Thomas. According to Webster the definition for a “doubting Thomas” is a habitually doubtful person.

But contrary to his bad press in Webster’s, he had not always doubted.  Thomas had believed in the Lord.  In verse 16 of John chapter 11 as Jesus prepared to go to Jerusalem, Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  He had believed and he had followed, but his worst fears had been realized – in his mind, Jesus was dead and that was irreversible.  Any normal person would have that same reaction – because no one previously had been resurrected and no one ever since.  Thomas was speaking out of his grief, out of his fear, out of his anger, out of his despair.

Virginia was 19 years old and pregnant when she went to live with her 15th set of foster parents. Her case file read like a textbook example of neglect, abuse and bureaucratic failure. She sat silently in a chair, hands neatly clasped, staring into her lap. The foster parents, whose three children were in school, had been apprised of Virginia’s story and promised that this placement would be “temporary.” (Temporary was the story of Virginia’s life.)

Finally, the foster mother said, “Are you frightened, Virginia?”

“Kinda,” she replied without looking up. Then, “I’ve been in lots of homes.”

“Well,” the sympathetic woman tried to reassure the bewildered young mother-to-be, “Let’s hope this time turns out for the best.”

Virginia’s reply is one of those statements that sticks to your soul — it was flat, without change of tone and without Virginia even looking up, “Hurts too much to hope.”

Can you imagine?

Thomas could.  It hurt too much for him to hope.  In his mind, dead is dead.  His Lord was dead.  Jesus was dead.  It hurt too much to hope.

In some ways, it seems that Thomas has become a scapegoat – not only for a society who does not prize doubt, but certainty and confidence, but also a scapegoat for the church.  Somehow doubt has come to be seen as wrong, or that it is somehow less than faithful to need a sign, or a touch, or a vision, or a personal encounter.  We get the impression that we are not allowed to ask the hard questions without being labeled a cynic, or a skeptic, or a “liberal.” Since when are questions bad? Since when is it wrong to admit that we don’t understand everything? Since when is it wrong to ask God these things? Read the account of Job, the Prophets or the Psalms. All are filled with uncertainties, complaints, and questions of God. Even Jesus while hanging on the cross cried out to God, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Thomas is just one in a long line of faithful people who have raised their voices to ask the hard yet faithful questions.  If one is asking God questions or seeking answers from God, there has to be some kind of faith that God exists and can respond.  When we cry out to God, know that God will answer.  Maybe not immediately or in some of the ways that we want or desire, but God always promises to work things together for good for those that love God.  Our God is a big God and can withstand our doubts, can withstand our fears and can withstand all that we throw at God, and “God with us” will respond.  Jesus doesn’t throw the book at Thomas because of his doubts.  He doesn’t say – welp, you missed out on seeing me, you’re permanently stuck in your unbelief.

A week later, this time the doors are shut, but not locked and Jesus comes and stands among them again saying, “Peace be with you.”  Part of me wonders if he leads off with the “Peace be with you” each time because it’s still probably pretty shocking to see him alive and in their midst.  Immediately he says to Thomas – do it.  Do what you need to do to remove your doubt and believe.  “Do not doubt but believe.”

Thomas’s need to grasp, to touch for proof evaporates as he sees Jesus and he responds, “My Lord and my God!”  Thomas’ fears were removed – he was given all that he needed.

Reminding me very much of Thomas, Paul Tillich writes, “The old faith must die, eaten away by doubts, but only so that a new and deeper faith may be born.”

In France, they grow a lot of grapes, but in France they do not water the grapevines. In California there’s lots of irrigation, but not in France. The French believe that it’s better to have a bad harvest one year than to lose vines due to drought. If you don’t water your vines the roots of those vines go deep, deep, deep into the earth until they touch groundwater and become invulnerable to drought. The harvest may not be great one year but the vines will return the next year.

When we say I believe, when we have a real and personal encounter with our Risen Lord, we sink the roots of our faith deeper and deeper, so deep that these roots of our faith can handle the droughts. The times we feel God is silent.  We don’t know what kind of harsh weather our lives will face; we don’t know the twists and turns awaiting us on this journey, but we trust in the deep, eternal well of God’s faithfulness because we have seen and know. We send our roots deep into the waters of life with God, not because God removes all of our obstacles, all of the storms, but because God walks with us through them.

Jesus knows our doubts just as he knew Thomas’s.  He knows our hearts and if we but ask him he is faithful and true and will answer our doubts.  The Bible says, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you – if we seek the Risen Lord, we will find him.  These encounters come in a variety of ways, they meet us where we are and speak to us in ways that only God can.

Father John Dear in Blessed are the Nonviolent, writes,

“In the summer of 1982, a few months before I entered the Jesuit order, I visited the Holy Land to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

On the day I left the United States, Israel invaded Lebanon. When I stepped off the plane in Jerusalem, soldiers carrying machine guns searched me. I had unwittingly walked into a full-scale war.

I visited the “Chapel of the Beatitudes,” a small, eight-sided stone church that stands on a hill overlooking the sea. I remember sitting there one afternoon, carefully reading the familiar words inscribed on the chapel walls:

Blessed are the poor. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those persecuted for the sake of justice, for Jesus. Love your enemies. Be as compassionate as God.

I walked onto the balcony and surveyed the magnificent Sea of Galilee. It suddenly dawned on me: I think Jesus is serious.

I turned to the sky and called out to God, “Are you trying to tell me something? Do you want me to hunger and thirst for justice? Do you want me to be a peacemaker? Do you want me to love even my enemies?

“All right,” I declared, “I’ll work for peace and justice for the rest of my life — but on one condition: if you give me a sign!”
Immediately, two Israeli jets swooped down at me from the sky above the Sea of Galilee. They roared over me, causing a sonic boom. Moments later, they dropped bombs along the Lebanon border.
Trembling, I made two decisions in that moment. I would devote the rest of my life to working for peace and justice. And I would never ask God for another sign.”

We serve a show and tell God.  I bet that if we thought about it, each of us would have stories to share about the ways that Jesus has met us where we are.  The signs and wonders, the little God things, the assurances, the encounters that strengthen our faith, that help us to believe when we’re down or all seems lost whether it be a word from a friend, that special passage we flip to in God’s Word, or the song that happens to come on the radio when we need to hear it most.  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  Blessed are you – who have not physically witnessed the Risen Lord – have not physically seen the nail prints and the scars, but who have come to believe, to know this Jesus.

The text says that this story was written “so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  God knows our need for a first-hand encounter. That is why God came to us in the person of Jesus, Emmanuel – God with us.  Jesus does not shrug away from our doubts and questions.  He wants us, he longs for us to believe.  God searches and finds us even when we don’t want to be or don’t think we need to be found.  Jesus breaks through the door of our hearts breathing his Spirit over us literally blowing away our mountains of doubt.  May we let Jesus speak to our hearts, just as he spoke to Thomas.  May Jesus take away our doubts.  Ask and you shall receive, seek and ye shall find.

It doesn’t end there though – After the Lord breaks into our hearts and we have declared “my Lord and my God,” there is a life that proceeds from that point. God calls us out of our locked rooms into the world.  The disciples knew – they had seen and believed, but they could not believe for Thomas.  We can’t believe for our friends and family.  Thomas had to make the decision for himself.  They didn’t ridicule him for his disbelief or kick him out of the fold.  May we also – welcome those that are seeking, that are questioning, those that have never heard the Good News or who have a Christianity that’s contorted beyond recognition. May they see Jesus Christ alive in our hearts and lives. The ways we love each other; the ways we respond to those in need; the ways we strive to live as Christ followers – the hands and feet of Christ.  May we go forth knowing in our hearts that we serve the Risen Lord and may we let that light, that truth be known to the world!  Thomas believed; may we believe also!

HOPE – Keep Awake.

Mark 13:24-31

24“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Keep awake.

That’s one way to summarize the last lecture of Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Pausch delivered his final lecture in September 2007, after he had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. He showed a love of life and an approach to death that many people have found inspiring, and his lecture has turned into a phenomenon, viewed by millions on television and on the Internet. He went on to write a best-selling book with columnist Jeffrey Zaslow titled The Last Lecture, a book about love, courage and saying goodbye.

On Friday, July 25, 2008, Pausch succumbed to cancer at the age of 47.

He expected maybe 150 people to attend his last lecture. After all, it was a warm September day, and he assumed that people would have better things to do than attend a final lesson from a dying computer science professor in his 40s. He bet a friend $50 that he would never fill the 400-seat auditorium.

Well, Pausch lost that bet. The room was packed, and when he arrived on stage, he received a standing ovation. He motioned the audience of students and colleagues to sit down. “Make me earn it,” he said.

According to columnist Zaslow of The Wall Street Journal (May 3, 2008, and September 20, 2007), Randy hardly mentioned his cancer in the course of his 70-minute lecture. Instead, he took everyone on a rollicking and riveting journey through the lessons of his life. He talked about the importance of childhood dreams, and the stamina needed to overcome obstacles. “Brick walls are there for a reason,” he insisted, showing slides of the rejection letters he had received over the years. “They let us prove how badly we want things.”

He pushed his audience to show patience toward others, saying, “Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you.” He celebrated his mentors and his students with an open heart, and revealed the depth of his love for his family.

Giving a nod to his techie background, Randy showed good humor. “I’ve experienced a deathbed conversion,” he said with a smile. “I just bought a Macintosh.” And wanting to show the crowd that he wasn’t ready to kick the bucket, he dropped to the floor and did one-handed push-ups.

Keep awake. That’s what Randy seemed to be saying as he invited his audience to rethink their ambitions and find new ways to look at other people’s flaws and abilities. Keep awake to what is truly important in life. After showing pictures of his childhood bedroom, marked up with mathematical notations he had drawn on the walls, he said, “If your kids want to paint their bedrooms, as a favor to me, let ’em do it.”

Keep awake to what really matters. In this case it’s children — not bedroom walls.

After the lecture, Randy’s only plan was to spend his remaining days with his family. But a video of his talk began to spread like a virus across the Web. Randy was soon receiving e-mails from people around the world, telling him that his lecture had inspired them to spend more time with loved ones, quit pitying themselves, and even resist suicidal urges. Terminally ill people were inspired to embrace their own goodbyes, and have fun with every day they had left.

His last lecture really woke people up.

Then Randy gave part of his talk on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and ABC News named him one of its three “Persons of the Year.” People urged him to write a book, which he resisted at first, since he wanted to spend time with his family. But since he needed to exercise, and had to be alone as he rode his bike, he began to use his daily rides as a time to reflect on his lecture, his life and his dreams for his family.

And so, for an hour each day, he would talk to columnist Zaslow through a cell-phone headset, and over the course of 53 long bike rides he shared the insights that became the book called The Last Lecture.

Keep awake. That’s what Randy Pausch says to us, and what Jesus says as well.

The Last Lecture of Jesus Christ, given to the disciples only hours from his execution, is found in today’s reading, Mark 13. Of course it wasn’t a lecture and he wasn’t in a classroom, although, in those days, “classrooms” and “lectures” were rare. Conversations on a walk were more the rule perhaps.

Still, it’s not a stretch to think of these words of Jesus as his last thoughts, his last “lecture” in which he challenges the disciples to keep awake for his second coming, an earth-shaking event which will occur at an undetermined time after his death, resurrection and ascension. He promises that he will return as the Son of Man, coming in clouds with “great power and glory” to gather his people from the ends of the earth, and bring them into his kingdom (Mark 13:26-27). The danger is that the disciples will miss what really matters, distracted by the many assorted demands and details of day-to-day life. So Jesus says to them, “Keep awake” (v. 37).

We face the same challenge as we enter the season of Advent, and begin our march through the wild weeks of decorating, shopping, partying and concert-attending that lie ahead. Jesus is going to be coming to us soon — maybe not in an earth-shaking second coming, but in a personal arrival that’s every bit as important to each one of us. He’ll be coming to speak to us in words of Scripture that have eternal power —“Heaven and earth will pass away,” says Jesus, “but my words will not pass away” (v. 31). He’ll be coming to gather his people into a community that knows his everlasting salvation, a community stretching “from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven” (v. 27). He’ll be coming to see if we are alert and ready for his arrival, living in a way that is focused on his will and his way.

The challenge for us is to “keep awake” — awake for the coming of the Lord during this Advent season.

So how do we do this? We begin by listening carefully to the words of Jesus, words that can be hard to hear in the middle of the noise of the holidays. Randy Pausch took time to leave specific words of advice for his children, saying, “If I could give three words of advice, they would be, ‘Tell the truth.’ If I got three more words, I’d add, ‘All the time.’”

These are good words, but even better are the words of Jesus. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (8:34). We are called to self-denial, even in this season of rich foods and expensive gifts. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all,” says Jesus (9:35). Glory and power are to be found in service to others, even as we focus on the fun and festivity of the holidays. “Truly I tell you,” promises Jesus, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (10:15). This emphasis on childlike faith is an important antidote to the ever-increasing complexity of this season, in which we always seem to schedule more, do more, try more, buy more.

Receive Jesus, with childlike faith. In a very few words, that’s what Advent is all about.

It’s also important for us to remain connected to the community that Jesus intends to gather when he returns. Christian faith is a team sport, not an individual activity, so it’s critically important for us to continue to get together for worship, service, fellowship and fun. We have lots of opportunities to get together for learning, fellowship and service in the coming weeks.

In an over-scheduled holiday season, it’s tempting to skip worship and head to the mall, or choose a special concert over a routine small group meeting.
Remain steadfast, in community. That’s the best position to be in, if you want to meet Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.

Finally, it’s important for us to be alert and ready for his arrival, living in a way that is in line with Christ’s will and way. “I am maintaining my clear-eyed sense of the inevitable,” says Randy Pausch. “I’m living like I’m dying. But at the same time, I’m very much living like I’m still living.”

Randy was wide awake, with a clear-eyed sense of the inevitable. We should be the same, living every day as though it were our last day on earth, doing our best to trust Jesus and love God and neighbor. Fact is, we don’t know when our lives will end, just as we don’t know the timing of Christ’s second coming. The best approach is to be alert to Christ’s will, living each day with faith and love and a spirit of service.

“What I say to you I say to all,” says Jesus: “Keep awake” (v. 37). These words come to us from the Last Lecture of Jesus Christ, like a message in a bottle that has traveled through the centuries to remind us of what really matters.

How to prepare for Advent? Receive Jesus, with childlike faith. Remain connected, in community. Live every day as though it were your last day on earth, in line with Christ’s will and way.  Rest in hope.

Hope, you say?  Hope.  Unwavering, courageous hope.  An unquenchable and undiminished hope.  Oh we’ll be ready,  as we journey towards the baby in the manger, the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, we’re going to be HOPE sharers.  Each one of us needs to be a little hope beacon.  We live in a hurting world that needs HOPE all the more.  I don’t have to tell y’all this because you know it:  the reality, the statistics, the gluttony of both food and stuff.  It reminds me of a quote by Archbishop Oscar Romero, “I also try to live these four weeks of Advent, this time of preparation for the Nativity, with an attitude of joyful hope and at the same time try to clothe myself in the virtues that the Word of God highlights:  first, poverty and hunger for God, second, vigilance and faith; third, Christian presence and action in the world.”

We’re a people of hope.  The South Carolina motto is Dum spiro spero, “While I breathe, I hope” and the people of Christ should be radiating the hope that comes from knowing that God will never leave nor forsake us.  If we have hope built on nothing less than Christ’s abundant grace, salvation, and righteousness, it will see us through whenever Jesus returns.  We do need to keep alert, living our faith out loud every day, being agents of hope as well as agents of change bringing God’s kingdom to earth.  It can happen and it will happen.  No matter our earthly circumstance.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 says this, “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

Whether we’re Black Friday shoppers or had our Christmas presents wrapped in July, we’re grieving and hurting or joyous, high on the mountain top, God goes with us every step of the way, and that is the Good News.  Giving us the hope we need at the time when we most need it.  Even if it doesn’t look like it, even if all seems lost, there’s always HOPE.  May we continue to come toward, to draw near the hope of Jesus as we journey through this Advent season and may we KEEP AWAKE to God’s wonders anew and afresh for us this day!

  • Preached on Sunday, November 27th.

Choices – You Reap What You Sow

Galatians 6:1-10 (NRSV)

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.

Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.

Growing up, my two younger brothers would have cavity after cavity, and though I ate the most candy, I never had one.  We got Evy’s “Vacation Fun” book, where she writes a whole story about seeing candy, the scent of candy being in the air, so much so she could almost taste it.  She’s a child after my own heart.

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Though Josh and Caleb didn’t eat near the amount of sugar I did, my senior year of high school we moved and it all changed.  Dr. Anderson, our new dentist, got a lot of money from my parents.  I had 7 cavities that year.  It had all caught up to me and my brothers said after all of those years skirting by after they received filling after filling, I deserved it.

Out of the verses in this passage,you reap what you sow is probably the most famous and one of the most commonly used Biblical passages in the vernacular.   Even Urban Dictionary has a definition for it. It begins by saying it’s the basic nature of God’s justice.  It gives us these definitions:  1. Everything that you do has repercussions. It comes back to you in one way or another. 2. You cannot escape the consequences of your actions. 3. You will see the long-term effects of your actions. 4. What goes around comes around.  Terrence Trezvant ends his post this way, “Sow a thought you reap an act. Sow an act, you reap a habit. Sow a habit, you reap a character. Sow a character, you reap a consequence.” 

I always want to know the context for a verse.  Both what the writer of the letter is trying to say and where it is in the passage.  Paul was writing a letter to the Christian communities in Galatia.  He was battling the controversy of Gentiles not adhering to Mosaic law, such as circumcision.  You see, the Galatians were converted directly from Paganism and some of them became Judaizers, which means they followed all the laws, living like Jews.  Paul’s arguing against this in many of his letters.  It’s a constanttheme in his epistles that you put your faith in Christ alone or the law of the Messiah, which requires living life in community.  Love God and love neighbor.  So you see in verse 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” and this you do in care and compassion as verse 1 makes priority.  Be gentle with one another, but be firm in convictions so as not to be tempted, however, this not leads to lack of personal responsibility.

The college students that I’ve worked with didn’t have very many universal feelings, but they all detested group projects and they would come to me from time to time to gripe and commiserate with one another about how their group was the worst.  It’s true for group projects, you have to bear one another up but it’s not an excuse to let one group member do the work, and not take personal responsibility, not  put forth your best effort, or not to do your fair share.  It’s grace and accountability.  You’ve got to give people grace, but you also have to hold them accountable.  It’s a balancing act.  Verses 4 and 5 says each person must answer to God individually, testing and taking pride in their own work.  Isn’t that a relief?  We don’t have to judge others, we are only responsible for what we put in the world.  I’m reminded of Trezvant’s words, “Sow a thought you reap an act. Sow an act, you reap a habit. Sow a habit, you reap a character. Sow a character, you reap a consequence.”

How are we to sow to the Spirit and what are we to sow?  Simple things like smiling at someone.  Angela Johnson is a Deacon of the South Carolina Annual Conference serving in Atlanta at Action Ministries and she wrote on facebook the other day, “Be still my heart.” Daily, I encounter individuals and families who are homeless. While I cannot immediately change their circumstances, I know that I play a role in helping people obtain housing. A gentleman told me today that “my smile encouraged him and gave him a sense of hope.” I do not share this to brag about myself, but want to encourage you that small things can make or possibly change someone’s life/situation/or circumstance.  Be the light…so others may see Christ in you.”  Galatians itself gives us the answers in chapter 5 verses 22-23 talking about the fruit of the Spirit. “22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”  If we plant these fruits of the Spirit as little seeds, and cultivate, nurture, water and tend them then they will burst forth from us.

My mom had this tape that she bought us when we were little by the Bill Gaither trio.  It had a song called “Input Output.”  I actually looked up the lines.  I warn you that they’re really cheesy and outdated but the concept is still the same.  Input output that is what it’s all about

Chorus 1

Input output what goes
In is what comes out
Input output that is what
It’s all about
Input output your mind is a computer
Whose input output
Daily you must choose

Verse 1

Let the Bible be your primary feed
It’s got all the data you need
Talk to Jesus all the time
That’s the way that
You can stay on line

Verse 2

If your printout reads to lie or cheat
There’s some data you should delete
Debug your mind of sinful bytes
Then you will operate all right

It’s a simple concept.  What you put into your life is what comes out.  You can either sow seeds of peace, joy, and kindness or sow seeds of duplicity, malice, and destruction.  We have to be connected to the true vine, Jesus, to get our daily nourishment through prayer, reading the Bible, worship, walking through God’s creation, meditating on a scripture while you exercise.  God nourishes us in many various ways, but we have to stay connected.  John 15:1-6, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansedby the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” That’s the key to this whole thing, we can’t do it on our own.  No one is “good” enough.  No one has a corner on the kingdom.  There’s not a giant sticker chart in the sky that you are able to earn gold stars for and get into heaven.  The only way to finish the race is by the grace of God.  Psalm 51:10-12 says, “10Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.11Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.12Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”

IMG_5735

It’s a God action, not a human action,but because of the grace God has given us, comes great responsibility and that leads us to our last two verses, “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. 10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”  You will hear the phrase “do not grow weary in doing what is right” echo in the Bible.  Don’t be weary in spending time in God’s word and seeking to live it out.  Don’t be weary in planting seeds of the fruit of the Spirit.  Don’t be weary of praying for your family, friends, community, and country.  Don’t be weary in serving God with all that you have.  As John Wesley says, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

We can support each other on the journey to sow seeds of light.  We don’t have to do it alone, remember we bear with one another.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”  Together we can shine a brighter light.  Together we will reap a great harvest.  You have to choose to sow the seeds that produce good things and it’s sometimes hard.  As Dumbledore says in the Harry Potter series, “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are.  It is our choices.”

Let me close with a couple stories that I think illustrate this passage.   This is an example of how a single choice of whether to sow good or not can greatly impact others.   STORY NUMBER ONE Many years ago, Al Capone virtually owned Chicago. Capone wasn’t famous for anything heroic. He was notorious for enmeshing the windy city in everything from bootlegged booze and prostitution to murder. Capone had a lawyer nicknamed “Easy Eddie.” He was his lawyer for a good reason… Eddie was very good! In fact, Eddie’s skill at legal maneuvering kept Big Al out of jail for a long time. To show his appreciation, Capone paid him very well.

Not only was the money big, but Eddie got special dividends. For instance, he and his family occupied a fenced-in mansion with live-in help and all of the conveniences of the day. The estate was so large that it filled an entire Chicago City block. Eddie lived the high life of the Chicago mob and gave little consideration to the atrocity that went on around him. Eddie did have one soft spot, however. He had a son that he loved dearly. Eddie saw to it that his young son had the best of everything: clothes, cars and a good education. Nothing was withheld. Price was no object. And, despite his involvement with organized crime, Eddie even tried to teach him right from wrong. Eddie wanted his son to be a better man than he was.

Yet, with all his wealth and influence, there were two things he couldn’t give his son; that he couldn’t pass on a good name and a good example. One day, Easy Eddie reached a difficult decision. Easy Eddie wanted to rectify wrongs he had done. He decided he would go to the authorities and tell the truth about Al “Scar face” Capone, clean up his tarnished name and offer his son some semblance of integrity. To do this, he would have to testify against The Mob, and he knew that the cost would be great. So, he testified. Within the year, Easy Eddie’s life ended in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago Street. But in his eyes, he had given his son the greatest gift he had to offer, at the greatest price he would ever pay.

STORY NUMBER TWO

World War II produced many heroes. One such man was Lieutenant Commander Butch O’Hare. He was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific. One day his entire squadron was sent on a mission. After he was airborne, he looked at his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank. He would not have enough fuel to complete his mission and get back to his ship. His flight leader told him to return to the carrier. Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet. As he was returning to the mother ship he saw something that turned his blood cold. A squadron of Japanese aircraft was speeding their way toward the American fleet. The American fighters were gone on a sortie, and the fleet was all but defenseless. He couldn’t reach his squadron and bring them back in time to save the fleet. Nor could he warn the fleet of the approaching danger. There was only one thing to do. He must somehow divert them from the fleet. Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, he dove into the formation of Japanese planes. Wing-mounted 50 caliber’s blazed as he charged in, attacking one surprised enemy plane and then another. Butch wove in and out of the now broken formation and fired at as many planes as possible until all his ammunition was finally spent. Undaunted, he continued the assault. He dove at the planes, trying to clip a wing or tail in hopes of damaging as many enemy planes as possible and rendering them unfit to fly. Finally, the exasperated Japanese squadron took off in another direction. Deeply relieved, Butch O’Hare and his tattered fighter limped back to the carrier.

Upon arrival he reported in and related the event surrounding his return.   The film from the gun-camera mounted on his plane told the tale. It showed the extent of Butch’s daring attempt to protect his fleet. He had in fact destroyed five enemy aircraft. This took place on February 20, 1942, and for that action Butch became the Navy’s first Ace of W.W.II, and the first Naval Aviator to win the Congressional Medal of Honor. A year later Butch was killed in aerial combat at the age of 29. His home town would not allow the memory of this WW II hero to fade, and today, O’Hare Airport in Chicago is named in tribute to the courage of this great man. So the next time you find yourself at O’Hare International, give some thought to visiting Butch’s memorial displaying his statue and his Medal of Honor. It’s located between Terminals 1 and 2.

SO WHAT DO THESE TWO STORIES HAVE TO DO WITH EACH OTHER?

Butch O’Hare was Easy Eddie’s son.

The choice is yours.  Know what you sow.

Let us pray.

Exhausted, but Hopeful

One of the students this morning said I looked exhausted and asked if I was okay.  I thought I was covering it up by not wearing a t-shirt and yoga pants, by wearing real adult clothes – slacks, a cardigan, a statement necklace.  Apparently, it didn’t work. Yesterday was Senior Sunday and also a celebration for Ryan and I.  It was perfect.  I read the scrapbook the students and staff made me yesterday afternoon.  My eyes were red and puffy from happy tears and memories.  I announced yesterday evening where we’ll be going.  We are excited to let the world know, I was appointed to Point Hope UMC in Mt. Pleasant.  Since HOPE is such a large part of my story, I was thrilled it had it in the name!  We are thrilled to be in ministry with the people there.  We’ll be living and the kids will go to school in the same neighborhood the church is in.  Fingers crossed about the house.  I awoke this morning to several things we had to get together for our loan documents.  After I got those together, I turned on my iTunes and this song by Chris Rice came on.  Stirring my soul to holiness.

I hear a sound and turn to see
A new direction on that rusty weather vane
Suddenly the dead brown leaves are stirred
To scratch their circle dances down the lane

And now the sturdy oaks start clappin
With the last few stubborn leaves that wont let go
I can hear Old Glory snappin
And her tattered rope now clangin against the pole

And my breath is snatched away
And a chill runs up my spine
Feels like somethins on the way
So I look up to the sky, I look up to the sky

And from the corners of creation
Comes the Fathers holy breath
Ridin on a storm with tender fierceness
Stirring my soul to holiness, stirring my soul to holiness

I see the lifeless dust now resurrected
Swirling up against my window pane
And carried cross the distance
Come the long awaited fragrances of earth and rain

And out across the amber field
The slender grasses bend and bow and kiss the ground
And in them I see the beauty of the souls
Who let the spirit lay them down

And it takes my breath away
And a tear comes to my eye
Feels like somethins on the way
So I look up to the sky, I look up to the sky

And from the corners of creation
Comes the Fathers holy breath
Ridin on a storm with tender fierceness
Stirring my soul to holiness, stirring my soul to ho-holiness

And like a mighty wind blows with a force I cannot see
I will open wide my wings, I will open wide my wings
I will open wide my wings and let the spirit carry me, yeah, yeah

From the corners of creation
Comes the Fathers holy breath
Ridin on a storm with tender fierceness
Stirring my soul to holiness, stirring my soul to holiness
Stirring my soul to ho-holiness

I hear a sound and turn to see
A new direction on that rusty weather vane

Psalm 96

O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.

Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.

For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods.

For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.

Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts.

Worship the Lord in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth.

Say among the nations, “The Lord is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.”

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;

let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy

before the Lord; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.

Amen.  Let it be that God stirs all of our souls to holiness and may we see God’s tangible reminders that we REST in HOPE.

Four letter word – Hope

Hope is one of those words that evokes….hope, promise, possibility, trusting something to completion, believing against all odds.

Sometimes hope is something that you grasp hold off in the darkest or most challenging of times. Sometimes hope is what you cling to when you know something may not work out.  Sometimes hope is that thing that keeps you moving forward and putting one foot in front of the other.

A friend and colleague emailed me a few weeks ago and said that he was glad that I was hopeful about our Church because we need that.  He said he just wasn’t there anymore and had no idea where his calling/ministry was going.

A student and I talked this week about a relationship where things aren’t quite working out and whether one should be hopeful that things might change or if after time and time again of things not changing, it was better to move on.

Another student and I talked about how it totally sucks sometimes to be single and whether God had someone out there for her or if she would every meet someone.  Should she hope?

I look at all of the freshman coming through Orientation and their hope and fear and wonder about what the next step in college is going to be.

I look at people facing health concerns whether personally waiting for the next checkup to see if tumors or cancer has returned, those facing the health concerns of family members, or those facing the loss of a loved one and I wonder about hope.

A four letter word.  Unlike the others.  Hope.

One of my favorite lines in the Matrix movies was said by the Architect to Neo in the second movie (yes the first one is probably the best, but I really liked this quote) – “Humph. Hope, it is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness.”

Now I’m not saying in the case of the relationship that we live into Albert Einstein’s quote of Insanity – “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  I agree that sometimes our hope may be misplaced or that we’re trying to see the silver lining when there’s not one.  We have to be wise and discerning and honest with ourselves in that.

But I do think we rest in the hope of God and let that four letter word shape our story.  I think of the words from Lamentations 3, beginning with verse 19, “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassion never fails.  They are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.  I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”  The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;”

The thing about hope to me is that it’s an active thing.  You don’t just hope to win publisher’s clearing house or the lottery or to strike gold or to find a big pile of money in a brief case outside your house and expect it to happen just by hoping for it.  You have to actually enter to win publisher’s clearing house or buy the lottery ticket or rob the bank to find the briefcase full of money or work hard as heck on “Gold Strike Alaska” on the Discovery channel.  Not really encouraging any of these things but you get my drift.  You discern where the Spirit is leading you.  You don’t sit passively and hide out, but you grasp hold of your life with two strong hands and engage and grow and keep pushing forward.  You rest in the hope of God.  Giving God the chance to move and breathe and blow all over your life and your plans and your hopes and dreams.

If you really want a more solid devotional life, be intentional in making that happen.  Set aside time to pray, journal, sit in silence and listen, subscribe to the Upper Room email every morning, check out Alive Now, ask God to lead you to the people and resources that would best speak to you.  If you want joy at work or you want to do that thing that you’ve always dreamed of but that doesn’t fit with the “plan” in your head – ask God to show you the way.  Actually explore the possibilities and open yourself to making changes and making it happen.  There are many “what if” dreams that we have or moments or seasons of dissatisfaction or frustration, but in some ways we just comfortably stay in our safe little ruts because actually doing something about these things are scary as heck.  And we don’t know if it will work.  Or we’re scared that we’ll try and it won’t work and then we’ll have failed or lost that dream.

Swinging for the fence, hoping when it seems like it’s fruitless – you’ve got to actively and sincerely and intentionally do it and put your time and actions and heart where your mouth is.

What are your hopes?

In your personal life?

In your professional life?

In your vocational journey?

In your spiritual journey?

For your family?

For your friends?

For our Church?

For our world?

Hope.

Not a “Christian” song but I do think it talks about grasping hold of your life and not making excuses or complaining when we feel hopeless or frustrated or afraid.  Live your story with hope, actively engaging, and knowing that the crud will come, but there is One who gives us hope each step of the way.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. — Hebrews 11:1

What Makes for Peace

One of my favorite places to worship and reflect is Tillman Chapel in the Church Center Building across the street from the United Nations.  I like so many things about it from the stained glass, to the religious symbols, and the beautiful words inscribed from the Gospel of Luke chapter 19:42, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!”  It’s appropriate across the street from the United Nations and it’s appropriate as we take students on UM seminars to learn about people other themselves from places other than their homes facing circumstances that they may never face.  It’s also appropriate for us as we go about the tug and pull of the life of Christ in light of recent events.

While I was in ethics class in seminary, my brother Josh was living with us at the time and offered me great food for thought as we went back and forth over issue after issue.  We’re both pretty stubborn and because I love and respect him, I could hear things that challenged me and that I didn’t entirely agree with, that I would chew on for awhile.  Josh fits in well with the belief that The United Methodist Church is a peace church.  He does and we need people like him.  Even as he walked in a few minutes ago and I’m telling him about so many people posting on this, he has no hesitation in saying not just that we shouldn’t rejoice, but that we shouldn’t kill.  Violence does not solve violence.  I’m the one when watching the horror movie or drama on tv or when someone I love is hurt violently or tragically, that jumps to the let’s take action – go get ’em! – shoot the person already, etc.  When watching it in the movies of course you want the person being stalked by the killer to get away and the killer to be brought to justice, and we cry for justice just as much in “real life” as well.  It’s such a fine line between justice and wanting people to answer for what they have done and for the pain they have caused, and letting yourself be swept away by the hate that knows no bounds and just seems to be spraying everywhere.

I was a senior in college when 9-11 happened.  I got engaged the night before the attack and it was a beautiful September morning as I left for class.  In my first class of the day, English with Dr. Jones, we talked a little bit about someone having heard on the radio that a plane had accidentally flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.  We continued on with class thinking that it was just an accident.  By the time I went to my 9:30 class, History with Dr. Silverman, he had turned on the television in the classroom and as we watched, we saw the towers fall.  I remember girls in my class holding up my hand to look at my engagement ring as we watched all of this from the classroom.  That class was then cancelled and I made my way over to The Wesley Foundation where my then fiancee Mike and my campus minister Jerry were sitting in the living room watching everything on the television.  I remember our silence and our disbelief, our fear and our sadness, our uncertainty and our anger.  I remember having class that afternoon in Plowden Auditorium and our education professors led by Dr. Dockery and Dr. Vawter saying that we were not going to let terrorists disturb our day to day lives.  We were not going to give them the satisfaction and we were going to have class anyway.  I remember talking to the junior high youth group that I led and trying to answer their questions in youth and Sunday school about what had happened and where was God in the midst.

Over the years, as the anniversaries have come up, I’ve talked more and more to students and heard their stories from that day.  Many of them were between 8 and13 or so.  Hearing their perspectives and how this event has shaped their lives has been illuminating and fascinating to see how such a big event has shaped so much.  I try to think back to what I would have remembered at that age and I think about the Oliver North trials or for me, pivotal was the falling of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  It was the first bit of big news I actually remember.  When I think about our 9 year olds today and how they perceived the news Sunday night that Osama bin Laden had been killed, I wonder what their stories will be.  Was their family elated, throwing a spur of the moment party, as many of our students on campuses were doing?  Did their family solemnly watch the news, thankful that it was over and that justice had been done?  What did they think about the reactions of the press, of facebook, of their classmates or teachers?  What did their friends say?

Over the past days watching facebook light up the first night with so much passion and excitement about someone’s death and then over the last few days with scripture and sayings in response to that fervor, it’s been a study to watch the polarity.  I admit my own feelings are pretty mixed.  As Mike and I were watching the Celebrity Apprentice Sunday night (yay Lil John won $40,000 more of the United Methodist Children’s Home in GA) we saw the interruption bulletin and we thought it was about Kadafi.  When they then said that it was about bin Laden we were floored.  We, the United States, finally got him.  All of the families who lost loved ones in 9-11 finally get at least that much closure.  Yep, I was happy that that part of the story was over.  I watched families talk about their loss of loved ones and the pain that they still feel on the morning news.  I saw all of the commentators and military personnel talk about this as a shot in the arm for our military.  I’m not speaking at all against any of that.  We do need to support our military – the actual people – the ones that are suffering and fighting for us – whether we agree with the military action or not.  We do need to support these families and all of those affected by 9-11.  We as pastors do need to journey with our congregations and the mix of emotions they feel.  We do need to be mindful and intentional and praying for wisdom and discernment as we offer words in the days and weeks ahead.

But even as my most patriotic go get em’ self, I pause at all of the fervor surrounding this.  As Mike and I sat on the bed and watched this unfold, he looked at me and said, if you ever wanted to know what a lynch mob looks like, look at facebook.  There’s something about band wagons that make me pause whether it be jubilation expressed or scripture expressed or even the sayings of MLK that end up not being entirely true.  Some say we shouldn’t post anything at all to facebook because it’s not a real place of dialogue, you don’t know what people really mean, or can’t hear the emotion in their voice, etc.  But I feel like it is a place for us to engage and can be meaningful and insightful if we let it be.  It’s definitely interesting to see the wide diversity of some of our thoughts and opinions especially within the Christian faith.

Several of my students posted scripture yesterday and sayings and I was glad that they were in the mix.  The lovely Ashlee Warren posted the quote, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”  They were participating in the discussion.  They weren’t just sitting back, but were speaking up.  I was sitting back.  I didn’t even want to check facebook to see what was being bantered about.  But then I began to see that there were other people struggling to figure out how to feel or how to articulate a Christ who turns the other cheek and shows us the way of the cross.  This is a Christ who challenges us in Matthew 5 verse 43 (also echoed in Luke 6), “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  It’s hard to argue with that.  It’s hard to reconcile that to some of our feelings.  You can’t make that statement easy.   As much as I’m relieved that bin Laden is gone and that his reign of terror is over, I know that there are more stepping up to the plate.  I hope that his death will affect this “war” on terror in profound ways in turning terrorists away from their intentions and that they are discouraged and are brought to new life and peace in real, just and deep ways. I also hope it helps us in thinking about “what makes for peace” as Jesus cries in Luke.

What makes for peace?  Does demonizing someone (a country, faith, race, person, gender, sexuality, region, political party, education, or skill) make for peace?  Does killing innocent people as was done in 9-11 make for peace?  Does making blanket statements and assumptions about people without actually trying to engage in real dialogue and not just bullying people into buying in, make for peace?  Does hanging out with like minded people that always agree with us and being comfortable in our recliners with either our beer or our hot tea or our fair-trade coffee, make for peace?  Does throwing out scripture or quotes or opinions without being ready to stand up for them, apologize for them, or at least engage with others on them, make for peace?  If we continue down this road, it’s hard to know what we do that makes for peace in this world, where are we culpable and where we accept responsibility.

And yet, I find Christians wrestling with these things and struggling to find integrity in the midst of this event, as something that gives me hope.  I have been proud of my fellow United Methodist and other clergy as they have posted on both sides of this issue, as they have challenged each other and their parishioners, as they have stood up as sometimes a still small voice articulating and being a voice in the midst.  To me, us being in dialogue and engaging in the world showing that as Christians we sometimes disagree, we sometimes struggle with how to respond, we sometimes are counter cultural and other times struggle with a voice – this, this engagement has been breathtaking to see.  It has gotten our blood flowing and our brains firing and our hearts hopefully turned to what it means to have peace and justice and hope and grief and remembering and rejoicing and what it will be in a time and a place where war will be no more.

I can’t help but think of 1 Corinthians 13 and the love described there.  I hope that in the days and weeks ahead that we as clergy offer not fuel for hate, but fuel for love.  I don’t mean a love in a sunshine, flowers and rainbows, pansy type of love.  I mean a full, robust, no holes barred, Jesus is all in and extending grace to each of us, kind of love.  I hope that the scriptures that challenge us or our own feelings that make us a little uncomfortable will spur us on for more study and for more discovery and journey.  My prayer is that we will continue to search and act and live the ways that make for peace in our hearts, in our homes, in our church, in our country, and in our world.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

13If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,* but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly,* but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Easter?

He is Risen! The cross still looms to remind us of the sacrifice and the promise that death and sin are defeated by the love and grace of God!

We say that as Christians we’re an Easter people, a Resurrection people.  I believe that and have given an enthusiastic “He is risen.  He is risen indeed!”  I don’t know if it was because Easter was so late in the season this year but I started off pretty well at the beginning of Lent in trying to be intentional about this journey to the cross, but as the semester began to draw to a close and the to do list piled up, our car was totaled and we were depending on just one car, three of us had strep throat, and we moved everything out of my grandparent’s house, Easter somehow got lost in the shuffle and all the upheaval of life.

A clergy friend of mine posted the other day that Lent and Holy Week are her favorite time of the year.  I love spring and the flowers and the sun out more (even though we haven’t seen that as much yet).  I love the smell and feel in the air as people begin to come outside and play volleyball in the sand at Winthrop Lake, go on walks in the evening, and enjoy time on your front or back porch.  The transition from winter to spring is an amazing one and I know that very easily makes a symbolic leap to death and the resurrection.  So don’t get me wrong, I love this time of year, but I can’t say that I enjoy Good Friday.  It’s like Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List where it’s not something that you watch every day to lift your spirits, but it’s something you know you need to watch at least once to recognize the sacrifice and the weight of what was cost.

I hate to pick favorite anything’s but Advent and Christmas are probably hands down my favorite time of year.  It’s such a powerful witness to me that the great God of the universe decided to come as a baby and dwell among us.  Emmanuel, fully human and fully divine, is such a super big deal.  You can’t have Easter without that in-breaking of the kingdom where God became a vulnerable baby right here in all of our human frailty and all the kaleidoscope of human experience.  In some ways it’s the same reasons that I love watching The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston  the night before Easter every year.  There’s something about when Moses says,” I want to know God,” as he longs to go on the mountain, and something sacred and special about this God who speaks and delivers the people.  There’s something about Ramses in the movie when challenged to cry out to his gods for help saying about Moses’ God, “His God, is God.”  A God that could have anything or do anything God wants, that chooses to be in relationship with God’s people, that chooses to bring deliverance and justice, and that chooses to be present in the midst of suffering – that is something more powerful than any adjective could describe.

In thinking about Easter, I think a lot of my unease is around Good Friday.  It’s easy for us to lift up the tiny baby Jesus a la Ricky Bobby or in pictures and greeting cards, but you don’t see people sending out greeting cards or putting giant pictures of Jesus still hanging on the cross, crucified with the nails and the blood and the crown of thorns.  It’s easy to believe in this present and loving God that chooses to be with us, it’s a little harder to take the responsibility that all the suffering he did on the cross was for us.  That’s a little more weighty and pricks our pride a bit for those that think works or merit or self-seeking is what makes things happen, which is why I think we often rush straight from Palm Sunday right on to Easter and the resurrection.  We know it ends well and it’s all good and grace for us, but it’s hard to hear the words from Gethsemane, “Father, take this cup from me.”  It’s hard to read about the suffering much less watch anything like the Passion where we get an up-close and personal look.  If we really believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins.  If we believe that this innocent man was martyred for us, how does that change how we live our lives?  Does it?  Sometimes Easter makes the sacrifice look easy and the grace that’s thrown out in bushel-full’s seem simple.  But then I think about Peter and the other disciple running as fast as they can to the tomb and Mary weeping there.  This was real and personal and not something just long ago, but something that affects each of us as Jesus calls our name.

How would you describe Easter?  How would you describe what Jesus did?  Using real life language, what would you say?  In thinking about how to describe the Easter story to Enoch and Evy in ways that they understand, do I just pop in a Veggie Tales video on Easter or read them a children’s book or hope they pick up something at church?  How do we explain to the world what Easter means, not just the cute little baby Jesus, but the full scope of the story?

There’s a line to a song that I heard the other day that says “there’s no hope without suffering.”  There’s no hope without suffering.  I don’t know if that’s wholly true all the time, but I do believe that the hope born from suffering is a real and sustaining hope indeed.  What kind of resurrection hope are we offering our world?  This isn’t a hope that tells you that everything in life is going to be easy or rainbows and butterflies.  It’s much like our South Carolina motto, “While I breathe, I hope.”  This is a hope that says that no matter what, even on the darkest of days, that God is with you.  Sin and death have been conquered and new life, eternal life, abundant life, is offered in Christ.  No more do we have to make the same mistakes over and over, but through the power and grace of God and the Spirit that intercedes for us, we have the promise of something more in this life and a story unfolding far more magnificent, magical, and miraculous than any royal wedding, any Lifetime or Hallmark movie, or anything we may try to do on our own.  Beyond any “greatest story ever told” this God of Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, and everything in between – this God is seeking us and calling us to live this resurrection life out loud in the world by loving God, loving our neighbor, and loving ourselves to know that we don’t have to do it all, but we just have to depend on the One who did it for us.

Still love this song for Easter…

Want to see a fun Easter flashmob RISE UP?  http://blog.lproof.org/2011/04/glorious-resurrection-day.html