We, the church, are now in the time after Pentecost. Pentecost is that time when the Spirit came with power that could only be described as flaming tongues and wind. It was the gift that left the followers of Jesus “on fire.” Pentecost is what we all seek. We all, I think, want to be so filled with the Holy Spirit that we are “on fire” with love for God and neighbor.
Now, most of us, maybe, experience moments when we are “on fire.” We experience moments when we feel close to God and alive with God’s presence. Remember the women who anointed Jesus’ feet. Jesus is at supper with some of the leaders when this woman slips up behind him and anoints his feet. Judas protests: “This should have been sold and given to the poor.” This woman is a sinner. What right does she have to anoint Jesus’ feet?
But the woman is so filled with love for Jesus that her loves spills out in oil on Jesus’ feet. She loves so deeply and well that she cannot keep it in a bottle. It spills out in extravagance. It’s more than is needed or maybe wanted. It is nothing less than the extravagant love of someone who is “on fire” with love.
We all experience moments like this. But, most of our lives are filled with ordinary life. The church calls this time after Pentecost and Trinity Sunday Ordinary Time. It is an acknowledgement that we experience the power of the Spirit, the resurrection of Jesus, and then we go back to Ordinary Time. In ordinary time, we work out with the Spirit what it all means. We are baptized, saved, renewed and then we spend the rest of our lives working out its meaning for us.
In the Christian Year, there are many more ordinary days that High days. Now, ordinary days does not mean that it’s all just hum-drum and boring. That would be the way the world would hear this. In our present world we are so intent on not having ordinary days that we drug our selves to death. Every day and every moment must be “high.” If it’s not “high” then it’s boring.
Nonsense. Ordinary time wants to remind us that extravagant love is being poured out through Jesus to us every moment of every day.
In fact, the word “ordinary’ comes from the idea and word that our lives are ordered in the presence and life of God in Jesus. Ordered, not determined in the strictest sense, means that as people of faith our lives are ordered by God. It doesn’t mean that we can step outside God’s order; we often do. It means that over the long haul, if we are living in Christ we are being shaped and ordered toward the life that God would have us to lead.
Read Psalm 37:23. The steps of a person are ordered by God. So, in ordinary time, we are praying: “Order my steps, Lord...”. God is acting in the universe, in all times, times of “highness” and in ordinary times to order our lives to his will.
It’s all about Easter. Sure, because of the immense materialism of western culture, Christmas carries a heavy weight. Christmas, celebration of the birth of Jesus, came about as a Christian celebration to counter the cultural pagan celebration. But...
Easter has always been the highest celebration of Christian faith. So, on this day of Easter, we proclaim that Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. And we greet each other with Happy Easter! Of course, we do. What brings more joy and happiness than the truth of the resurrection. God brings life even out of death.
Happy Easter! Jesus who was dead is alive. And, in worship wherever we are, in church, or in the world outside, Jesus is here. He is not longer subject to the same bounds of existence that human beings are. He is...He is here.
But, as we worship on this day there is much not to be happy about. Our happiness is tempered by the awful political/social divisions of our world and culture. Every day we yell at each other that we are right and you are wrong. Our hearts are broken. And, we allow, unfortunately, votes and debates and all the rest to decide whether we will find joy or not. The world is not as we would want it to be, not yet. Still, Happy Easter!
The church is inflicted by the same divisions and pain of the world around us. We are human and we cannot help but be drawn into these terrible divisions. We think that the ultimate power is in issues. And, even in the church, we are mean to each other. We look too hard for ways to exclude rather than include others in our great fellowship. Who are we to say who belongs to Jesus when the Holy Spirit has follen on them? And yet, the church is not what we want it to be, not yet. Still, Happy Easter!
I don’t know about you but I am not the person I wan to be, not yet. My family is not the family I want it to be, not yet. Our sin and pain drag us down and cause us to inflict pain on those we don’t understand. Still, Happy Easter!
The world, the church, and you and I, are not what we want them to be, or what God wants us to be, not yet. We cannot fully believe in resurrection, not because we cannot believe, but because we believe more in the power of death. Death reigns or so it appears. But, not really, Easter means that Christ reigns. All power belongs to him and his love and grace are still with us as we are. Easter means that all death will be overcome and transformed. Easter means that the great victory of God’s love over evil has already happened.
For me, Easter means that God is still moving here, that God is not done yet. God is moving us toward the Kingdom of God or as much of the Kingdom of God as we can absorb. Happy Easter? Not Yet? NO.
Happy Easter! No question mark. No hesitation. For the power and the glory and the love of God are the true power of the world. And, nothing will stop this love and life, ever. The love of God wins, now and forever. Amen.
Someone once said that all people pray. I believe that. Everyone prays. Sure, maybe there are a few confirmed atheists who don’t pray. But, I would bet that in hard times, even Atheists meditate and comtemplate and...
Almost everybody prays. And, for most of us, prayer is that steady daily time of connection with God that keeps us going. If I started the day and things got away from me, I would sometimes miss my prayer time. Usually, at the end of the day, I would remember that. I always responded to the day and others better when I pray.
Even secularists are teaching others to spend some time in thought, meditation, reflection. They recommend that every person start the day with a few moments of silence.
We pray not to change God, but to change ourselves, to bring ourselves into that connection that saves us and makes us whole.
Jesus prayed. It’s one of the things about him that the disciples noticed most. Before Jesus gave us the Lord’s pray, Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray.
A noted preacher said: “We spend a lot of time asking Jesus to answer our prayers, but we don’t spend as much time trying to answer his prayers.” What if being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, means that I try to live my life as an answer to Jesus’ prayers.
One of Jesus’ great prayers is recorded in John 17. He prayed: “Lord, I do not ask you to take them out of the world...”. Then, why do we spend to much time trying to get out of the world. If God loved the world so much, then God still loves the world. Jesus prayed for us to stay and live out our faith in the world, in this world. Here and now.
Earlier in John’s Gospel Jesus says: “They will know you are my disciples by your love.” Stay in the world and love. Doesn’t sound that hard, right? No, in fact, it sounds very hard. And yet, nothing is more meaningful than the love of God. The love of God is the answer to everything; that’s why we call it salvation.
My blue grass group sings an old Dolly Partin number. The words say: When we’re gone, long gone, the only thing that will have mattered is the love that we shared and the way that we cared, when we’re gone, long gone.”
So, this Lent and beyond are you living your life as if you are an answer to the prayers of Jesus?
A song that keeps going around and around in my head is from the movie: Frozen. It’s called: Let it go! About 10 days ago, I wrote about one of the great themes of Lent being about stopping and waiting and praying. Another great theme of lent has to do with letting go.
Sometimes we express this in challenging each other to give something up for Lent. And, some of us do try to give something up for Lent, like chocolate, or coffee, or the internet, or tv. I used to challenge my congregations not just to give something up but to take something on by way of sacrifice. Give up a meal during Lent and give the money that it would cost to a homeless shelter. Or, write a letter (does anybody do that anymore) to someone you’ve been meaning to touch base with, or call someone, or visit someone, or...
The list could go on and on. The point is that if I give up something or do something extra these things afford me the opportunity to focus for a bit on God, on my spiritual life, on the meaning of life.
Let it go! Is there something that you need to let go of during Lent? Letting go is a natural part of our faith in God in Christ. It’s a part of life. Maybe you need to let go of a grudge. I don’t know who’s reading this, but I do know you’re human and our human tendency is to stack up things that people have done to us. Make a list; check it twice. And, the normal human tendency is to cut them off, to write them off. In a very few cases, there’s nothing left to do. Even then, we forgive, let it go, and move on. Right?
I know someone who has been a Christian all her life, but years ago someone said something to her in church that hurt her feelings. I’m not playing down the hurt. The hurt is real. But, what could happen, if in the light of God’s love for all, she could let it go? It might open up all kinds of creative possibility. Whatever that person said to you that hurt, said more about her than it did about you. It’s not about you. This would mean that I will not live my life as if others have control over my life. I am ultimately the one who makes the decision to live out my life believing that God in Jesus loves me, no matter what. You are a child of God, precious in his sight. You are loved. You are surrounded by grace in family and friends.
Sure, you have to deal with the feelings. But, in faith we can let it go and move on.
Abraham and Sarah were old when God called them to father/mother the nation of Israel. They had to let go of all the supports of life, family and friends. They left what was familiar and moved on with God’s guidance.
A pastor friend has a wall paper in her office on which is printed the words over and over again: Let go; trust God. Let go; trust God. Let go; trust God.
At every stage of life, we experience things and people and events. It’s a kind of dying. Death means that we let go so that we may come to resurrection.
Henri Nouwen says that prayer is best done with open hands. Open hands can’t grasp too tightly or hold on to what needs to pass. What do you need to let go off this Lent?
The Season of Lent is our season of preparation for Easter. Like Advent before Christmas, it calls us to give ourselves to a time of devotion, worship and prayer, so that we might properly celebrate when Christmas comes. Lent, unlike Advent, is not a time when we are in a rush to get somewhere. Even our secular culture rushes to get to Christmas, getting started with it as soon as Halloween is over. We could argue, maybe, as to why we are in such a hurry to get to Christmas. Is it commercial? Sure. Or, is it because the times are so filled with bad news that we can’t wait...
Lent is not that way. I don’t know anybody who is in a hurry to get to Easter. Also, Lent is longer than Advent and affords us more time to reflect, if we will, on this great journey of faith. Lent, in part, is that call to slow down, for God’s sake.
Being slow has not been a problem with me. (Don’t say a word!) I am by nature a person who enjoys taking my time. Sure I can waste time with the best of them, but taking my time is in my soul. I have always felt that part of being a disciple was going slower than the rest of the world, particularly when this present world seems to be in such a rush to get somewhere, where it doesn’t seem to know.
Now, don’t mistake my slowness with “not caring”, or not being interested. It’s just that the older I get the more I realize that each moment is precious. And, I don’t want to miss a single minute. Now, I know it’s March and I’m into March Madness and I don’t want to miss a single game. OK. I know that’s madness. But more, I’m talking about the moments of our lives. Every minute of every hour, every hour of every day, every day of every week, every week of every month, every month of every year...it’s all a gift. It’s not a burden. It’s not a problem to be solved or figured out. It’s not a space to fill up. It’s a gift.
Lent is a call to slow down. Maybe it’s a call even to stop. It’s a call to stop judging, and earning, and moving, and achieving, and worrying, and doing so that we can worship and pray more. God doesn’t seem to have a problem with stopping for Sabbath. “On the seventh day, God rested...”.
God rested and so should we. We rest in prayer and worship.
Lent is also a time to give up something, something that compels your attention. Most of us know what we need to give up for our soul’s sake. Lent gives us the opportunity to do just that.
Now, Lent is not about just focusing on your own self. God help us. NO. We rest, we stop, we slow down to focus on the gift of God’s love in Jesus Christ for us and for the whole world.
Check back with me in this season to ask: how am I doing?
Today is the day when Bill Cosby is sentenced to served 3-10 years in prison for sexual assault. The crime is almost unthinkable, that a man with Cosby’s gifts and graces would drug women and then have sex with them, rape them. I can’t even get to the question of why a married man would act this way. I can’t get passed the question about sex and our culture. We are so mixed up sexually. For many, sex seems to be this dirty thing, rather than the creative gift of God that it is. So much of our violence and pain and shame are acted out in sex crimes.
But, even more than all that today is the stunning realization that Bill Cosby was/is a predator and will go to prision. Many of us remember Bill Cosby as the great mentor and leader. He was a commedian of the highest order. We still own an album (vinyl) on which is Cosby’s retelling of the story of Noah. It’s absolutely hilarious and brilliant. It deals with a difficult scriptual passage and brings it to life.
Or, maybe you remember Cosby on the TV show “I spy”. Or, maybe you remember the TV show that my family and me never missed in which Cosby is Dr. Huxtable. He appears on screen as this loveable, wise, father and husband who is faithful. His humor comes through everything.
Cosby was a PHD. He promoted education and supported teachers. He chided those who did not take their role in family and community seriously enough. He was a example to be followed.
One of my favorite snippets from his book “Fatherhood” is one about sibling fighting. Cosby said that when two sibling are fighting they come to their father to settle it. They make their case and the father tells them to go to their room. Cosby says that the children think the father is interested in justcie, but the father is interested in peace and quiet.
Today, Cosby has fallen from grace. It’s almost too much to take in. He has done so much good, but left behind so much pain and suffering that he caused. It’s never right to take advantage of another human being. It’s never right for a man to rape or abuse or assault a woman. Never.
Sure, we’ll get over this just as we have absorbed the failures of others in the past. We will get over it just as we have gotten passed the sins of other men against women, other sinners. But, how much more grateful we should be for those men who treat women with the respect they deserve, as they gift that they are. How blessed are those men who are faithful to family and friends and church and God. May these be the men that we follow and emulate.
We have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. In human flesh is the treasure of God’s love, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray for Bill Cosby today and for all the victims of his recklessness. Where sin abounds, grace may much more abound.
I just watched a pretty good movie called: Lucky Number Slevin. It’s the story about a guy who, when he was a boy, lost his mother and father. His dad was a bad gambler always looking for the next winner. He played the horses one time too many and bet $20,000 with mobsters and he lost. He had inside info on a particular horse and something happened and the horse lost. The bad guys came to his house and killed his wife, tortured and killed him. And, even the bad guys couldn’t kill the little boy who looked to be about eight years old. They called in a professional assasin.
The assasin could do it either. He tried but couldn’t do it. So, he took the boy and raised him in his ways. Now, you don’t find out until nearly the end that that’s who this guy is. But, he goes after the bad guys who killed his family, with the help of his keeper. He killed the bad guys and more. He lived his whole life waiting on the time when he would take revenge on these bad guys.
It’s the way of the world, isn’t it. Someone does you wrong; you have a right to get them back. Lex Talionis is the law: A eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth. When the Jews came to this law it was a step forward from the blood shed of their day. It meant only one eye for one eye and nor more. It meant only one tooth for one tooth and not more.
Most of us are happy with the revenge idea. The bad guys should just get what’s coming to them. Then, Jesus comes along and ruins it. Doesn’t he do that often? He says: “Love your enemies. Do good to them that hurt you...”. Let the bloodshed stop with you. It has to stop somewhere.
I’m praying about and thinking my way through the awful stuff that has come out of the Catholic Church lately. I’m listening to the demands for justice. I’m sure there is some need to see revenge and you can understand it. I can understand it. Hurt like that, sexual, done by the church’s pastors is difficult to get over.
I have counseling some who have been sexually abused as children, not by priests, but by a parents or someone close. I can tell you that this grave sin damages a person for life. Add God and priests to the mix and you get a real mess, a life that is nearly destroyed before it gets started. I say that justice is the last that we can expect from the church.
What would justice look like? Right now, the statute of limitations covers such acts as far as the law goes, but shouldn’t the church dismiss all those who had any part is this sin. Give them a church trial and take their right to practice as the church’s representative. Acknowlege publicly what has been done; confess the sins. As often happens the coverup becomes as evil as the sin.
I don’t think these dear souls are looking for revenge. They want justice which would be a form of mercy for the victims. The greatest sin of all is to pretend that these sins didn’t happen.
Revenge is wrong but justice is only right. I pray for all those who are working through this. May God forgive those who hurt and maimed in his name.