Thursday, September 10, 2009

When in Rome?

This September I started preaching on Romans. I am so used to using the lectionary, but it has been energizing to actually look an a book of the New Testament and go through it sequentially. Of course we are just starting. I may get sick and tired of Romans in a few weeks.

What's amazing to me is what a Jewish book it is. So much of the letter is devoted to theological questions about what it means to be Jewish and believe Jesus is the Messiah.

It is also full of "Chutzpah". Here is the author of a letter who has never been to the Church in Rome. (We don't know if Paul had been to Rome before his conversion or not.)

But he writes a letter, claiming authority over a group of Christians, most of whom he has never met.

The other remarkable thing is that so much of the stuff Paul addresses is the same stuff we struggle with today. How to live in peace cross-culturally, how to live in peace with your government, how to live in peace with others, and most important, how to live in peace with God and find the serenity that comes from that relationship.

Of course the best part of preaching is always what you learn. I am always astonished that no matter what part of the Scripture I read or study, even the parts most familiar to me, still have something new.

Of course, one of my friends says, "That's because of all the brain damage from your wild youth. You did know this stuff, you just think it's new because you don't remember anything not written on the palm of your hand in indelible ink!"

While some of that may be true, I am still amazed by how God seems to surprise me in the bible.

peace - paul f.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Harry Potter flies again!

This July, one of my favorite fictional characters returned to the big screen. Harry Potter, the amazing boy wizard, once again returns for a summer appearance. I don’t know about you, but I have been grateful for Harry’s reappearance in print or the big screen.

Harry hit the bookshelves in 1997, and for the last 12 years, in print or in movies, J.K. Rowling returns her fans to Hogwarts each summer. The last book of the series broke all previous sales records for any publication when it sold more than 15 million copies globally within 24 hours of being released!

Why are these stories so captivating? I can only speak for myself. Somehow, J.K. Rowlings characters bring to life the hard work of growing up. Harry and his friends face death and its loss, the ups and downs of friendships, discerning good from evil and the hard work of choosing good especially when we’d rather choose evil.

And through it all, even the most evil characters are portrayed with understanding and when merited, compassion, without justifying their wrongdoing, Sometimes the evil people return to goodness and their evil is conquered. And sometimes their evil is simply vanquished when they die.

But what I like best is that good always conquers evil in the end. Harry’s adventures remind me that good will always eventually triumph over evil, including the evil that is part of us.

There is much that is evil in the world. I could make a list, but just read the newspaper, and you’ll find a few examples. Christians believe that evil is real, dangerous, and destructive. But we also believe that evil will be defeated.

We believe it’s defeated on a small scale in daily ways. Simple acts of kindness, compassion, and mercy defeat evil. Decisions to forgive those who have wronged us, decisions to ask forgiveness from those we have wronged. Each of these acts destroys an evil.

We believe that it will be defeated on a cosmic scale at the end of time. Someday God will renew the world in such a way that evil will cease.

We believe that our own evil will be defeated and removed from us by God’s forgiveness and love. And we believe that the evil we have experienced will be redeemed, transformed, and somehow turned into something good and holy.

Finally in Harry Potter’s world, the victories over evil are always won by sacrifice. So too in our world, for good to triumph over evil means sacrifice. Sometimes it is my small sacrifices that prevent or undo an evil. But most often evil is undone by Jesus love shown on the cross.

So get some tickets, grab your popcorn and watch the battle!

Friday, July 10, 2009


When we moved to Eagle Pass 11 years ago in the summer one very hot day the clouds built up in the sky. A huge thunderstorm moved in from the west. Thunder boomed, lightning flashed, but no rain materialized on the ground.

The next morning my older next door neighbor, Jack, who had lived many years in South Texas told me, "I estimate I got at least 3 or 4 inches, what did you get?" I looked at him wonderingly and asked "Did you get rain out on the ranch?" "Rain!?, I waern't talkin' 'bout rain! I'm talking about lightning!"

A few days later another storm came through, and a few drops fell and spattered dusty cars and streets. Another older fellow put his hand up to the windshield and measured the distance between the drops. "I figure this to be about a 4 inch rain he stated, and the other old timers all chuckled.

I learned quickly that it takes a sense of humor to live through the hot, dry, summer in this part of the world.

Finally in late September, it rained hard one evening. The next day I stopped by Jack's shop to pick up some hardware, and he said "Pay attention, everybody in town will be cheerful today." He was right. People were unfailingly happy, laughing, walking around with a smile on their face.

I learned to be grateful for rain.

Over these last few weeks I've been praying hard for rain, and giving thanks for clouds and shade. God knows when it will rain again. And the fact is that God does know. And when it does make sure to say "Thanks".

And for fun read this poem, "Said Hanrahan". It could have been written in South Texas.

peace - paul f.

Thursday, May 28, 2009



The word means to re-create. It is interesting that we choose such a word to describe activities that we consider fun.

Fun is essential to wellness.

We have a person in our Episcopal Church community, the Diocese of West Texas who works with churches and vestry in areas of evangelism and church growth. One of the things he does is some basic personality inventories of leaders and leadership groups.

A few years back I took the test. It showed that I like being a leader, but I also like to have fun. I am best at leading when what we do is creative and fun.

(That may explain why puppets show up in church so much!)

For the last week, Anne, Suzanna, and I have been in Oregon meeting up with our son Colin and other friends and family for some much needed re-creation. And I plan to have fun!!

I am so grateful to God for the opportunity to take a few days to simply be, to visit with family, and to let my brain wander off in different directions for a while.

Thanks be to God for opportunities to be re-created.

Peace - paul

Monday, May 11, 2009

Spiritual Warfare - 3 Floors or 1 Floor?

Does our spiritual universe have 1 floor, 2 floors or 3 floors?

Anthropologists have noted that the modern, scientifically sensitive,Western world reduces the spiritual universe.

What they mean is that people can conceive of spiritual reality in 3 different ways.

Historically most peoples have used a 3 tiered model that looks like this:

Heaven, God, Hell, etc.
Earth’s spiritual world: Angels, demons, spirits
Earth’s material world: People, animals, all matter

But in the West, the universe gets reduced to a 2 tiered world that looks like this:

Heaven, God
Earth’s material world: People, animals, all matter

Or reduced even further to this:

Earth’s material world: People, animals, all matter

You can see the assumptions that are made with each view of the universe. The 3 tiered model assumes a world that has both seen (material) reality and unseen (spiritual) reality. It assumes that the spiritual world influences the material world. In other words, it believes that spiritual forces are at work all the time, not just a spiritual reality that we find after we die.

Most Westerners assume that that view is the result of leftover primitive superstitions that have been disproved by modern science. We assume that the world of angels, demons, miracles, etc. is the result of ancient peoples attributing powers to parts of the material world which they did not understand. But given the advent of the microscope, the telescope, particle physics, etc. we now know that such a world does not exist.

Some Western people still believe that Heaven is real. (Far less believe that Hell might exist!) And many Westerners have dispensed even with any afterlife at all. They are complete materialists.

I have gone from believing in a materialist one tiered universe to a full fledged belief in a more traditional (primitive?) view of a 3 tiered universe. In my next post, I’ll explain why.

Peace in Christ - Paul

Monday, May 4, 2009

Spiritual Warfare continued...

Spiritual Warfare

I quoted C.S. Lewis “Screwtape Letters” book in the May edition of the Christ Church Newsletter. But a longer quote is helpful when writing about spiritual warfare. It is perhaps the best intro about the issue of fallen angels ever written. By examining the portrayal of angels and demons in the arts, Lewis uncovers the root of much of our own beliefs. In doing so, he forced me to examine not what I thought I knew about the subject, but to look again at the biblical passages, and to reflect about how much my worldview is shaped by an comic visual images coupled with an Enlightenment perspective which minimizes or eliminates substantive spiritual reality altogether.

Here is the rather long quote from the intro: (Highlights are mine.)

“The proper question is whether I believe in devils. I do. That is to say, I believe in angels, and I believe that some of these, by the abuse of their free will, have become enemies to God and, as a corollary, to us. These we may call devils. They do not differ in nature from good angels, but their nature is depraved. Devil is the opposite of angel only as Bad Man is the opposite of Good Man. Satan, the leader or dictator of devils, is the opposite, not of God, but of Michael.

I believe this not in the sense that it is part of my creed, but in the sense that it is one of my opinions. My religion would not be in ruins if this opinion were shown to be false. Till that happens -- and proofs of a negative are hard to come by -- I shall retain it. It seems to me to explain a good many facts. It agrees with the plain sense of Scripture, the tradition of Christendom, and the beliefs of most men at most times. And it conflicts with nothing that any of the sciences has shown to be true.

It should be (but it is not) unnecessary to add that a belief in angels, whether good or evil, does not mean a belief in either as they are represented in art and literature. Devils are depicted with bats' wings and good angels with birds' wings, not because any- one holds that moral deterioration would be likely to turn feathers into membrane, but because most men like birds better than bats. They are given wings at all in order to suggest the swiftness of unimpeded intellectual energy. They are given human form be-cause man is the only rational creature we know. Creatures higher in the natural order than ourselves, either incorporeal or animating bodies of a sort we cannot experience, must be represented symbolically if they are to be represented at all.

These forms are not only symbolical but were al- ways known to be symbolical by reflective people. The Greeks did not believe that the gods were really like the beautiful human shapes their sculptors gave them. In their poetry a god who wishes to "appear" to a mortal temporarily assumes the likeness of a man. Christian theology has nearly always explained the "appearance" of an angel in the same way. It is only the ignorant, said Dionysius in the fifth century, who dream that spirits are really winged men.

In the plastic arts these symbols have steadily de- generated. Fra Angelico's angels carry in their face and gesture the peace and authority of Heaven. Later come the chubby infantile nudes of Raphael; finally the soft, slim, girlish, and consolatory angels of nineteenth century art, shapes so feminine that they avoid being voluptuous only by their total insipidity -- the frigid houris of a teatable paradise. They are a pernicious symbol. In Scripture the visitation of an angel is always alarming; it has to begin by saying "Fear not." The Victorian angel looks as if it were going to say, "There, there."

The literary symbols are more dangerous because they are not so easily recognized as symbolical. Those of Dante are the best. Before his angels we sink in awe. His devils, as Ruskin rightly remarked, in their rage, spite, and obscenity, are far more like what the reality must be than anything in Milton. Milton's devils, by their grandeur and high poetry, have done great harm, and his angels owe too much to Homer and Raphael. But the really pernicious image is Goethe's Mephistopheles. It is Faust, not he, who really exhibits the ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration upon self which is the mark of Hell. The humorous, civilised, sensible, adaptable Mephistopheles has helped to strengthen the illusion that evil is liberating.

A little man may sometimes avoid some single error made by a great one, and I was determined that my own symbolism should at least not err in Goethe's way. For humor involves a sense of proportion and a power of seeing yourself from the outside. Whatever else we attribute to beings who sinned through pride, we must not attribute this. Satan, said Chesterton, fell through force of gravity. We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment. This, to begin with. For the rest, my own choice of symbols depended, I suppose, on temperament and on the age.

I like bats much better than bureaucrats. I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of "Admin." The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid "dens of crime" that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern.

In my next post I'll look a bit at the worldview issues involved.
Christ's peace - paul

Sunday, April 12, 2009

April 12, 2009 "Right here, right now!"

Alleluia Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Lent is over, and this is the last of my lenten blog. This is mostly adapted from this mornings sermon.

After seminary, my wife Anne, and my children, Colin and Suzanna, and I moved to Virginia just a few miles from the Manassas / Bull Run battlefield.

A few weeks after settling in we went to visit the battlefield. Suzanna had was not quite 4 years old. In the visitor center, we’d seen an interactive presentation, with sound, and video clips, and loud recordings of rifle and cannon fire.

That night she wouldn’t go to sleep. Finally when I asked her what was the matter she told me she was afraid, because that war we’d visited earlier in the day was scary and very close to her house.

I explained to her that the war was over, and that the fighting we’d seen was a story about something long ago.

In fact there were annual re-enactments of both of the battles at that place, sort of a historical "memorial service."

There is a tendency to think about Easter that way too.

Sometimes we act as though our Easter services are a sort of memorial service. A service to commemorate something that happened a long time ago.

But Easter is much more like something else I saw when we lived in Virginia. Living as close as we did to Washington, D.C. for 6 years, I had many opportunities to go to the city and many opportunities to play tour guide.

If you’ve been, you know it’s a city full of memorials. You can walk past the Vietnam Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the World War II Memorial.

And when you go past these memorials you hear snippets of conversations. And there are three kinds of people you hear.

You hear the tourist, for whom the memorial is just that, a memorial.

Then you hear the "second generation" conversations. The memorial holds some meaning because a grandfather, father, son, uncle, brother, mother, sister, grandmother, or other relative was in the war.

But the third group of visitors are the veterans. When they get to the memorial, it is not just a memorial. They are often transported to a very real and still very present reality that shapes their lives to this day. For them, the memorial brings something that happened in the past right into the present.

And that is why Christians celebrate Easter. Not to memorialize something that happened a long time ago.

Easter is more like a party being given for a special guest. And our guest is Jesus. Because what happened on Easter is still happening. The one who rose on Easter is not far away, a long time ago, but here, right now by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I love the Narnia books, have very much enjoyed the Harry Potter books, and have read some of the Twilight series books.

And what I enjoy most about those books is that there is another world, living right beside us in what seems to be our so humdrum world.

Easter means that the Risen Jesus is right here, right now, and we can ask him to enter our lives just as he entered the lives of the disciples that Easter morning.

Come Lord Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

April 11, 2009 "Holy Waiting"

From the office of Compline in the Book of Common Prayer, page 134

We give you thanks, O God, for revealing your Son Jesus
Christ to us by the light of his resurrection: Grant that as we
sing your glory at the close of this day, our joy may abound
in the morning as we celebrate the Paschal mystery; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake
we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.

In Easter Season, add Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Friday, April 10, 2009

April 10, 2009 "A Good Friday Meditation"

In August of 1973, I was faced with a life changing choice. I’d just been through a couple of life-changing events.

First, I’d left Guatemala in October of 1971. We were evicted due to something my father and other pastors had written and published in the paper. It was a document that said it was wrong for Christians to kill one another for political power, and a call for warring factions to come to a peace process and end a guerilla war. After it hit the press we had three days to leave the country or suffer more serious consequences.

Next, a few months later, I’d become a committed Christian and was leaving behind a world of drug addiction.

Now, I was faced with choosing one of the colleges I’d been accepted to, or going off to live in near an Episcopal Church, that had a huge ministry of a residential Christian Community gathered around Church of the Redeemer in Houston, Texas. I’d visited this Church earlier in the summer and wondered if God might not want me to move there.

After some soul searching I chose the Christian Community. It undoubtedly saved my life. My addiction to drugs was a strong power, and I needed support and accountability. Moving in to a residential Christian community I got both.

I suspect that I would have had a lot of support to remain addicted to drugs had I chosen any of the college I was contemplating.

It would take too long to explain this community. But briefly, it was Christians who committed to living together. A few single adults might live with a family, or a few single adults or single parents might live together.

But beyond living in the same residence, we committed ourselves to daily prayer, at least one meal a day together, to sharing resources and to working to support the ministry of our local Episcopal Church. It was a life changing experience, and I discovered that Christians really are a new kind of family.

Earlier this Friday I spoke at an ecumenical 7 Last Words service. I was to speak on the seventh word. I could not help but reflect on the reality that God in his mercy creates a family of the church, that includes and redeems our “natural” family.

My family at Church of the Redeemer in Houston continues to be a source of grace and strength even after moving away in 1983. God taught me to love the church, and to allow my heart to grow in my understanding of family.

My meditation from the service this afternoon follows.

John 19:25 ....But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26* When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" 27 Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

This is one of those gut wrenching scenes. Jesus is dying in a public execution. He looks down and sees his mother. We have no description of Mary. We do not know if she was standing there stoically, weeping hysterically, silently mourning.

We know that Jesus is near the end of his life, and seeing her he gasps out those two quick phrases.

Woman, see your son.
Son, see your mother.

Mary is losing her son.
But it is not the first time.

Jesus as a young boy is somehow left behing in Jerusalem. Here is a child missing for three days, with parents frantically searching for him. When they find him his response is this: In Luke 2:49 we read “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house?”

And his response must have stung Mary and Joseph that day. This temple, here is my house.

And as a young man near the beginning of Jesus ministry, Mark tells us that his family comes looking for him.

Mark 3:32 And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you." 33* And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" 34 And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother."

Again, imagine how Mary felt. In public he says, "Look around at all these women sitting here following me. Here is my real mother and my real brothers!" Again ouch!

Jesus is not against family, But he is clearly going to say that his family will never be defined in purely human terms.

And now at the foot of the cross, he is saying, "Here is the nucleus of my new family. Woman behold your son, Son behold your mother."

At this moment what we call the church begins. A new family is created, that shares a new bloodline.

Not a human bloodline.

Here at the foot of the cross, we hear the echo of the words from the first part of this book.

Here we hear the words of that this beloved disciple penned earlier. (John 1:11,12)

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God- children born, not of natural descent, nor of human decision, or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

Look around you today. Behold your mother, your father, your brother, your sister, your son, your daughter.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

April 9, 2009, "Unsolvable Mysteries"

One of the “unsolvable mysteries” of the Gospels is the mystery of exactly when and how Passover was celebrated in first century Jerusalem. Was the last supper a Passover meal? Was it a pre-passover meal? Did people from out of town celebrate Passover a day before the residents of Jerusalem to accommodate the huge crowds that gathered?

In the three synoptic Gospel’s the last supper on Thursday seems to be the Passover meal. But in John’s gospel, the lambs being sacrificed for the Passover meal are being killed in the temple prior to the evening feast on Friday, at the same time that Jesus, the Lamb of God is being killed on the cross.

And the oldest mention of the last supper is extremely brief and raises some very interesting questions too.

1st Corinthians 11: 23 "For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."

Paul’s description of the Lord’s supper is written no more than 30 to 35 years following the event described. Paul claimed to have seen Jesus in his conversion vision, (see Acts 9:1ff). Here he seems to be claiming another direct revelation from Christ: “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you…”

It’s possible that he received it from the other Apostles and is passing it on and simply relaying that he believed their witness that it came from the Lord. But he seems to say that Jesus himself told him about the Last Supper.

These questions help us realize that we are dealing with very old documents. We see that we still have a limited grasp of first century history, and the customs of the second temple period. We don’t know as much as we would like about Paul.

I love the technical questions, and they are important. But beyond them is something even more important. The Gospel differences and seeming inconsistencies tells us that these accounts were not just a dry historical record. Each of the evangelists is taking what happened but emphasizing certain events, and things Jesus said to make a theological case.

In the three synoptics and 1st Corinthians we see Jesus who takes bread and wine, and calls it his body and blood. In John’s gospel Jesus actual body and blood are poured out on the cross as the Passover.

We have Luke who seems to say the Jesus did not drink the fourth cup, the last cup of the Passover, and John who portrays Jesus as drinking sour wine from a sponge moments before he proclaims “It is finished.”, perhaps implying that Jesus was drinking the final Passover cup as he transforms it forever.

All four gospels, and Paul’s account in 1st Corinthians, tell us in no uncertain terms that a New Covenant has begun.

For those of us who are not Jewish the word covenant may not carry any great weight.

For first century Jews it was a slap in the face, a punch to the solar plexus, a statement of unbelievable audacity or outright heresy. It was a statement that deserved a death sentence. Jesus is saying that he is God, and that as God he is now making another agreement in the line of covenants he has made with his people. Wow!!

In the middle of the supper in John’s Gospel, Jesus gets up, goes to get water, strips down, and washes the disciples feet.

When I juxtapose Jesus claim of divinity, and his act of absolute servanthood, I am unable to say anything but “Thank you for your love.”

When I hear his words from John 13:34 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." I say, “Lord, save me, help me, give me grace.”

May this night be for us a night where the technical mysteries, and the much greater mystery of the God of the universe showing his unending love for the world, bring us back to his table to receive all that he has for us.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

April 8, 2009 "It's a draw"

John 12: 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."

So much about Christianity is offensive. Start with the claims of Jesus divinity. Nowadays, it has become popular to assume that Jesus never claimed divinity. Many say the “divine” and “miracle” part of the Gospel was added by the disciples after Jesus death.

The argument goes that the early Christians took a radical rabbi’s teaching and added elements of divinity and miracles to gain approval for their dearly departed leader.

I meet with a rabbi and a Baptist minister for lunch pretty regularly. And the rabbi is happy to confirm that idea that a human might be divine is a pretty strongly repudiated idea in Judaism.

And the idea that a bunch of first century Jewish fishermen would try to promote a their rabbi by adding divinity to his claims just seems ridiculous. If anything, those guys would have taken any of those claims out!

Of course there are other possibilities. The whole story could be made up. There may have never been a Jesus.

There is the possibility that Jesus was a more “new age” figure along the lines of the Gospel of Thomas, Peter, Judas, etc. But a great deal of evidence suggests that most if not all of those works were written even later than the four canonical gospels.

There is the possibility I started with: that Jesus was a first century radical religious teacher, but that all the other ideas, divinity, miracles, resurrection were later accretions.

Then of course there is an even more challenging and disturbing possibility: that the Gospels are faithful records of Jesus teaching, action, and miracles.

In which case as C.S. Lewis pointed out, Jesus is a) Who he claims to be, the Son of God, b) A deluded lunatic, or c) A misleading charlatan.

This week while walking on the treadmill in the gym, the Discovery Channel was running a show purporting to show the real Jesus.

Of course he was not the divine savior, but just a radical reformer. Yet most of their information was simply selectively taken from the Gospels, doing what Thomas Jefferson did a few hundred years earlier. Take out the miracles and all that talk about being the Son of God.

But, while I acknowledge that the other ideas might be true, I remain convinced that Jesus is who the Gospels say he claims to be. I don’t always like that answer because it commands an allegiance that I often do not want to give. But after lots of thought and examination I cannot bring myself to any other conclusions.

A few days ago, a friend sent me a quote from a novel during a Facebook discussion. She wrote: “There is a sentence in one of my all-time favorite books, "The Shack": Mack, the main character, after talking about people of different faiths, etc., is asking Jesus, "Does that mean that all roads lead to you? 'Not at all', smiled Jesus...'Most roads don't lead anywhere. What it does mean is that I will travel any road to find you.' (p. 182).

John 12: 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."

No one but Jesus seems to be able to meet my innermost desires. May we all be drawn to him.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

April 6, 2009 "Following in the faith"

Phiippians 3:16 Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

The old picture is my great grandfather, the Rev. Louis E. Ripley. He was a Methodist Minister, who served in Iowa in from about 1900 to 1943 when he passed away.

I've got a few of his old sermons. They are not bad. I also have his old Hymnal and Service book. It's kind of fun to look at his notes, and sometimes I am deeply moved to hold a book that has passed down several generations.

When I look at the religious history in my family, I have a family tree that has been Christian for a long time, was Roman Catholic, became Protestant and Puritan, with folks who attended and served Congregationalist and Presbyterian Churches, then some became Methodist.

Then my grandmother on my mother's side, (Mr. Ripley's daughter), became a Roman Catholic when she married, and an Episcopalian after she divorced!

On my father's side they seem to have been Episcopalian for a good while, and we're not sure exactly how far back.

But regardless of denomination, all of them were Christians. When my great-grandfather passed away, his wife continued to serve as a lay preacher in the congregations they were serving.

These ancestors on both sides were hardy people. They crossed the continent, (and like their contemporaries probably stealing land from the Native people), and founded what is now this country. They were flawed, and probably shared many of the prejudices and societal sins of their day.

Yet I do not judge them. From a distance I am grateful to them for persevering in the faith. I don't doubt that many of them had serious sins, problems, doubts, trials, and crisis's of faith. But they persevered and tried to pass the gospel message down to their children.

Yesterday I mused about what it means to be the church in the 21st century. I don't have all the answers, but I do know that one part means to continue to pass on what we have received. And another part is to see the church as much larger than any one denomination or "brand". And a third is to listen carefully to the Holy Spirit for wisdom to be faithful in our own day and time.

As we move through this Holy Week, may we seek charity with all those who share our faith, and seek to love those who do not with the love of the one who commands love.

Monday, April 6, 2009

April 6, 2009 "Meta-Narrative"

This past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about Church. What precipitated it have been comments like, “Well, your busy week is coming up.”, “Are you ready for Holy Week?” and other similar comments.

What struck me was the difference between my perception from the “inside” of the parish office preparation for Holy Week, and the outside.

Yes, Holy Week is busy, but it is much harder on the parish secretary and the parish custodian than the parish priest! I get everything ready, but Connie, our faithful secretary, and Fina, our faithful custodian have lots to do.

The busier times for me are times when the unexpected, a death, a serious pastoral situation, or other crisis interrupt in the middle of our normal preparations. That is when I have a busy week.

But in thinking about that I returned to something that I’ve been thinking about a great deal for the last ten years.

What does it mean to “be” the church in the 21st century? I’m not alone in thinking about this. For 1500 years, the Western world was defined by Christendom. To be European was to be Christian.

But for the last 200 years, that understanding has been undergoing a great change. The best articulation of some the issues surrounding how to be church continues to be Reinhold Neihbur’s “Christ and Culture.”

Neihbur observed that throughout history the church or at least parts of the Church tend to try different approaches to dealing with the society in which it finds itself.

There is the radical, Christ against Culture model, where the Church is seen as a haven of safety against the world.

Then the Christ of Culture model, where the Church engages in kingdom work and recognizes Jesus in the world.

There is the Christ above Culture model, where the Church sees that some of what is in the culture is God given and can be accepted as good, but where other things in the culture are fallen and must be transformed or rejected.

There is the Christ and Culture in Paradox model, where the Church recognizes that in a fallen world, we cannot hope to reconcile cultural demands and the radical ethical demands of the New Testament and so we live in faith and hope with our present imperfections.

Finally he postulated the Christ transforming Culture model, where the Church through conversion converts the members and institutions of society.

Why bother restating this?

Because we now live in a world of where the very thing we call culture is increasingly fragmented and constantly scrutinized and redefined, sometimes by members of a culture and sometimes from without. We live in a time where some sub-cultures are media driven or commerce driven.

We live in a time when there is competition between and suspicion of what some have called “Meta-narratives.” A simplified definition of a Meta-narrative is a worldview that explains nature, humanity, and culture in a relatively coherent whole.

But in a world where people see the differences and sometimes oversimplifications of the Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, Communist, etc., etc. meta-narratives, some have become increasingly suspicious that there could be such a thing. (Of course skepticism in meta-narrative might be it's own meta-narrative!)

Now, I do believe in the broad Christian meta-narrative: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and final Consumation. I think that it makes the best sense out of the universe in which we find ourselves and I believe it is true.

But it still leaves the question. How do we "be" or "become" church in a world of increasing competition between and distrust of meta-narratives?

How does the church engage culture in a time where you have to ask “which culture” sometimes within the same neighborhood, or even within the same church?

And perhaps more importantly, why ask the question?

I believe that God is the author of the great meta-narrative. That each person, whether they lived a few hours, or more than 100 years, is part of that great opus. And I believe that each person is not just a passive participant. It is as though an artist painted a painting where the elements in the painting took on life and the painting changed on it’s own, or a film maker made a movie where the characters took on their own life apart from the film.

And so, it is important to ask, how can we participate in this great work of God, not passively, or antagonistically, but faithfully.

Peace and blessed holy week.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

April 5, 2009 "Domingo de Ramos"

Domingo de Ramos

It was life in Guatemala that brought the passion to life for me. I was a young teenager, living in a country where guerilla warfare kept the country on edge. Bombs would go off on buses, or in a marketplace. There were drive by assasinations, bodies that were tortured dropped by the roadside, or in front of the family home.

Holy week was full of street processions, where the Roman Catholic churches would bring forth their most gruesome statues of the passion, or sometimes hand carried floats with people portraying the stations of the cross.

These floats would parade throught the streets. In some cities families or neighborhoods would craft elaborate carpets in the streets formed of flowers and leaves. They were works of art, beautiful, yet ephemeral, soon to be trampled by the tread of marchers carrying the crucified Christ.

It was one such Holy Week, when during a procession there was a large armed presence of soldiers, each carrying a rifle or a submachine gun. At one intersection, a young man stood in the back of a jeep with his hands on a 50 caliber machine gun, with one belt loaded, and 3 ammo boxes open ready to load.

It was then that the impact of the original crucifixion hit me. Suddenly I could see the Roman army, surrounded by a hostile crowd. Some of the crowd wanted them to kill Jesus, but they were no friends of Romans. I could sense the tension in the air, the confusion.

And I could see Jesus, dragged down the street, the Lord of Glory. This was just how the world has always worked. One more troublemaker tortured, put on display as a warning to anyone who might pose a threat to Rome. All glory extinguished. Horror and beauty are slammed into one another in a groteque cosmic conflict.

I watched the soldiers and the marchers, stunned that after 2000 years we were still at it. Still torturing, still killing, still intimidating.

A few years later, after my family was thrown out of Guatemala, I found myself working with Guatemalan and Salvadoran refugees. It was then that I realized that the powers of this world, which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God, and my own sinful desires and rebellion against God are no match for the power of the cross.

Every act of hate meets its match when confronted with matchless love.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

April 4, 2009 "Easter's coming!"

It was one of those warm days that happen sometimes in spring in Denver. The sky was a robin egg blue, and the breeze felt warm and fresh. The snow of two weeks earlier was gone.

I worked for the St. Francis Center, a ministry to homeless people. In the mid-morning, “Danny” came in, and said to me “I think there’s a dead guy in an old building down the block. I was picking up cans in the alley to sell, and I saw what looked like a guy sitting on an old couch, but he didn’t move when I yelled and then I saw some flies.”

By the time I arrived at the old, abandoned house, and opened the door, the warm spring day gave clear evidence that indeed someone had died, and it had been a few days back. Even if I had not seen the body I would have been quite sure. Death stinks.

Over the last several days readings, John’s Gospel tells the story of Lazarus of Bethany, a man whom Jesus knew well, and part of a family he loved. His two sisters tried to get him to come heal Lazarus who was quite sick. But Jesus doesn’t arrive until four days after Lazarus burial in an above ground cave or rock tomb.

When he arrives he tells the people with him to remove the stone. Martha, the sister, ever practical says “You might not want to do that, it stinks out here and he’s been dead for four days.”

Dying can be a relief, sometimes full of peace, even when the circumstances around the death are hard. But here in the gospel we are confronted with the blunt fact. Even in a “good death”, death stinks. Death stinks, literally and figuratively.

Death stinks. There is something wrong with living breathing creatures having the life taken out of them. And here is Jesus standing in that stink.

He gently reminds Martha. “Didn’t I just tell you that if you believe you would see the glory of God?”

And so they roll back the stone. Surely the odor increased. But Jesus stands there and prays. And then dramatically, perhaps ordering death to be undone, yells: “Lazarus come out!!”

In a scene made for Hollywood, the (formerly) dead man comes out, still wrapped in burial cloth. The accusations of the previous verses, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” are suddenly meaningless. Jesus who called Lazarus back to life, could have prevented him from dying whether he was near Bethany or not.

Some new change is happening. Some new order is coming into being. Death’s stink is reversed. Decomposition is recomposed! The impossible is happening.

If we follow John’ account of the next few weeks, another will die. But this one, when he comes out of the tomb, will be a the new man, not just the old man renewed.
And now let me finish the story.

It took a few days, but once the medical examiners did their work, we discovered who the fellow in the old house was. Bill Webb had been a regular among the many Denver “wino’s” in the downtown area. No family came to claim him, and he had no close friends. We knew him from his many visits to St. Francis for coffee or a shower.

After the legally required few days, we at St. Francis petitioned the city to allow us to have Bill’s body and give him a burial. We put fliers out at all the other shelters, and put the word on the street that there would be a funeral for Bill Webb.

And we ordered a brass plaque to place on our wall in the worship space so that somewhere, Bill’s name would be remembered.

The afternoon of the funeral St. Francis center was standing room only. Except for a few policemen who’d known him for years from the drunk tank, and we shelter workers, it was a great crowd of his fellow homeless.

We sang Easter hymns, and said the burial office. We celebrated Holy Communion. And we remembered that we are the people who know the Risen Lord. We are those who proclaim: Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Friday, April 3, 2009

April 3, 2009, "Long term planning"

Long term planning

In October of 2006, the last Rabbi left Iraq. It was a sad day. There had been a Jewish population in that part of the world since at least 605 B.C., (or B.C.E. if you prefer!), when Nebuchadnezzer first invaded Judah, and took captives back to Babylon. That is a span of more than 2,500 years!

In today’s lesson, Jeremiah writes a letter. The Kingdom of Judah has been taken over by the Babylonians. Huge numbers of citizens have been sent as slaves or indentured servants. And apparently some were predicting that this migration would be a short-term event.

But Jeremiah writes on behalf of God and says, “don’t believe these people who says this will be a short term event. Build houses, plant gardens, marry, have children, and plan for the long haul. Be good citizens of the city where I have sent you.”

Obviously Jeremiah’s interpretation of what God was saying was right. It was a long haul. We know from the book of Daniel, that 70 years passed before the Jews living in that part of the world were given freedom to travel and some returned to Judah.

Amazingly, God seemed to say that good would come of this tragic and painful exile. Jeremiah continues speaking for God and in these verses which are a favorite of many, including me he writes: “11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,”

Yet it was the Babylonian captivity where the seeds of scholarship developed, where the what became synagogue worship was instituted, and where the seeds of belief in the resurrection began to take root.

The world that shaped Jesus and his disciples, the synagogue, the reading, studying, and interpreting of the scriptures began in Babylon. God knew that this would all precede Jesus coming, and was essential to the spread of the Gospel.

God knew that the Jewish presence in that part of the world would last far beyond what the Jews of Jeremiah’s day could imagine. And because they obeyed, they remained a vital part of that part of the world through many changes and upheavals.

That longevity gives me great confidence in the end of today’s passage from Jeremiah. God’s words about his people proved to be true. How much more must his words about his own character be trustworthy?

12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,”

The God who told Jeremiah the truth about the captivity speaks truth about his desire to be found by, and known by us. “Call on me, pray to me. I will hear you. Search for me, you will find me if you put your whole heart into it.”

If that sounds familiar it may be because Jesus says this: Matthew 7:7 "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8* For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”

The God who loves his creatures, longs to be prayed to, to be sought, and to be found. Amen.

P.S. – And though it is terribly sad that the Jewish people are almost all gone from Iraq, due to persecution, I am confident that in God’s everlasting plans and economy some great good will someday come of this sad tragedy.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

April 2, 2009 "Debate Team"

Debate team

Jesus is the kind of guy you want on your debate team. He’s very quick on his feet. We don’t know if he mastered Aristotle’s rhetoric, but he certainly understood how to use it. Of course he was Jewish, and lived in culture that valued education, study, argument, and thinking.

In the lesson today from John’s Gospel we see that while Jesus was persuasive to many he was not persuasive to all.

And of course what he has to say is outrageous.

First, when asked if he is the Messiah, he essentially says yes. And then he goes on to say that he is not just the Messiah, but that he and God are one and the same.
It is an in your face kind of claim. I am God. It sounds presumptous because it is.

Of course if the Gospels are trustworthy he backed up that extraordinary claim by miraculous signs. We get a hint of that in the opening verses of today’s reading.

John 10:19 Again the Jews were divided because of these words. 20 Many of them were saying, "He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?" 21 Others were saying, "These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?"

“Listen, this guy healed the guy who was blind for years, there is no way he is possessed.”

Two things strike me about today’s reading. First, if Jesus is God, he shows the limitations that God places on God’s self when it comes to persuading people that he is who he says he is.

Jesus uses reasoning, cleverness, word play, and even miracles to try to convince people of who he is and what he has to say. Yet, while he debates and says clearly what he believes, he doesn’t use his divine power to force people to believe.

Two, it shows the amazing respect that God has for his creatures. People are never coerced or forced into belief.

Years ago someone told me, “ I’ve read the New Testament and I’m not persuaded that Jesus was God or that any of the miraculous events in it really took place.”

“Good for you” I replied. “I know lots of Christians who have never read the New Testment. It’s awesome that you made the effort. Can I ask you one question?”

“Sure” he said.

I asked, “ Are you not persuaded because you are sure it’s not true, or are you not persuaded because if it is true, you know you would have to change your life.”

“Ouch!” he said, “I have to confess that it is because I don’t really want to change.”

“Can I ask one more question?” I said.

“Maybe” he said tentively.

“OK, here it is. Would you be willing to let me pray for Jesus to persuade you, even if you don’t believe he exists, and are hoping he doesn’t?”

“That would be Ok”

About two years later that man let me know that he had done a 180 degree turn around and become a Christian.

I don’t fully understand how free will, and God’s power to convert us work. But I do know that if God respects his creatures enough to give them free will, he expects those who follow him to do the same.

God make me a witness to Jesus. Help me to be persuasive, but never demeaning or demanding. Amen.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April 1, 2009 "Inside and Outside"

Inside and Outside

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer pg.100)

Richard Dawkins, the Oxford biologist, is highly critical of religious belief in God. He sees it, (often rightly I'm afraid), as the source of many of our current problems. He argues that there might at one time have been an evolutionary, genetic advantage to a belief in a transcendent being, even though no such being exists. But he says that now that we know better, we should discard this belief that no longer is helpful. Rather faith in God is a delusion.

Of course the truth is that faith is part of any human life. Faith in God, or faith in no God are simply two faiths. Both often use the same evidence to support their claims.

Those who hold the no-God faith look at the scope, magnificence, complexity, and seeming indifference of the universe and say, it is obvious that there is no transcendent being that created this.

Those who hold to the God faith look at the scope, magnificence, complexity, and seeming indifference of the universe and say, it is obvious that there is a transcendent being that created this.

I often find people arguing with atheists saying things like “There must be a God, the Bible says so.”

Of course the problem is that to believe that anything in the Bible is true, you must be on the “inside” of faith. For many of us, a belief in God must precede a belief that God actually spoke through the complex and messy books that make up the Bible.

Those who try to speak to those on the “outside” of faith, using the Bible to support their claims are wasting their breath. Those “outside” do not see the Bible as having any special authority or relevance. To them, faith in what the Bible says seems just as irrational as faith in God.

I never worry about those who do not believe. If there is a transcendent, all knowing, all powerful, God who created the Universe, then he is quite capable of reaching those who do not believe in him.

I know, because I was one of them. In today’s lesson from Romans Paul declares that: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” In other words, God is able to let people hear his voice. It may be that they will hear by the words of a preacher, or reading the words of the Bible. It can happen in numerous ways. When it does, then the scripture will come alive with the power and presence of God.

I said I do not worry about those who do not believe. I do not worry, but I do pray. Like Paul who is desperate that his Jewish family comes to know Jesus, I am desperate for many to be touched by Christ. I want them to know what a great gift awaits them when Jesus becomes the object of their faith. And I will preach as persuasively as I know how.

But in the end I trust all those who believe and those who do not to the great shepherd. (Jesus said) John 10:14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father."

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March 31, 2009, "Home"

Psalm 122:1 I was glad when they said to me, * "Let us go to the house of the LORD."

There are Sundays when I feel like not going to church. I have a favorite editorial cartoon. It shows a man in a bathrobe sitting in a Lazy boy recliner, with a newspaper spread on his lap, a remote control at his side, with a football game on the television screen in front of him. He’s holding some papers in one hand and a small microphone in the other. The caption reads “Pastor Smith was able to make Sunday mornings much more relaxed when he realized the wireless mike worked from the pastors residence.”

Sometimes getting up on Sunday, getting out the door, getting to church takes a huge amount of energy. It can feel like there is some invisible force field trying to slow my every move. Reasons to skip church come to mind: “Too much to do, need time for myself, I loose my whole morning”, and others flood my mind. And I’m the pastor!

I think there is an invisible force field that tries to prevent us from worship. It uses tiredness, busyness, sadness, hurt, frustration, and anything else it can to prevent our meeting with other Christians to worship the living God.

The irony is that sometimes the mornings that I find most difficult to arrive for worship turn out to be the most profound. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting Christians who lived in parts of the world, where going to worship put them in danger: An Anglican bishop in Pakistan who lost a son who was shot and killed to send a message to his father, a bishop from Nigeria, whose family has been assaulted twice, and their home robbed twice, a priest from Vietnam who spend 5 years in a “re-education” camp, a woman from a middle eastern country who would be killed by her male relatives if she ever sets foot in her home country again, a priest in the Sudan who was kidnapped and held at gunpoint twice, and survived air raids on several of the church buildings where he served.

All of them could have been free from this persecution if they would stop worshipping. Yet for each of these people, it is worship where they discover the strength to persevere. When you worship with these people, you know that they are glad to be in the house of the Lord. Their lives are full of joy.

I take freedom to go to church for granted. I may experience some mild hostility for being a Christian. I may experience some spiritual warfare trying to prevent me from showing up for worship.

But when I arrive I am glad to be with my brothers and sisters at the house of the Lord. It is in worship that I again hear Jesus voice, know his mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love. It is in worship that I get strength to serve and follow him again.

Psalm 84:10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

Monday, March 30, 2009

March 30, 2009 "Open my eyes"

John 9:1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

Writing a blog for Lent has been an eye-opening experience for me. I've missed a couple of days and I actually missed writing. I usually read the lessons for morning prayer each day. And occasionally I think about one of the verses or passages. But when I write, I notice things more. I'm more aware of places in the scriptures that move me and also the ones that bother me. Today I'm aware of the things that bother me.

All three lessons today deal with the “why” of suffering, sin, and evil. And none provides a particularly satisfying answer. Jeremiah simply states, that this is how things will be. Paul writes to the Romans speculating that God creates some people who he allows to do evil, and endures their evil, to show how great is his goodness to the others.

And in Jesus answer to the disciples, who essentially are trying to figure out a tragedy and come up with the “right answer” Jesus give an answer that may have satisfied them, but has never satisfied me.

“Rabbi who sinned, this man or his parents?” The presupposition is that individual illness is the result of someone’s sin. And Jesus says, “Neither this man nor his parents did anything wrong; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

Perhaps the reality is that the mystery of the answer to suffering is always individual. If we read the rest of the blind man story, we discover from the dialogue that the man is at least thirteen years old, and probably older.

And the blind person seems to be truly grateful for being healed, and does not seem to resent the years of blindness that precede his healing.

I’ve been privileged to pray for physical healing for people. I have known cancers to disappear, a severe spinal injury to be healed, a destroyed joint to be instantly restored, and other healings. And in all the cases, the folks healed were grateful. And in several, they gave thanks for what they learned from being ill.

I’ve also been privileged to pray for healing when people were dying of cancer, injuries, and illness, and seen them not be healed or restored. In many of those cases, the people were peaceful and grateful. And in several, people gave thanks for how their terminal illness had blessed them.

Jeremiah doesn’t fully answer the question, Paul can only speculate, and Jesus gives an answer that may only make complete sense to the blind man himself.

God give me grace to have compassion on those who suffer, and to put my suffering into the hands of Christ. Amen.

Friday, March 27, 2009

March 27, 2009 "Glorious Food"

Pizza ranks high on the list. So does ice cream. But there are surprises. Salad sometimes makes the top ten. And once oatmeal ranked high.

When I teach children who are preparing to receive communion, one of the first things we do is talk about food. And of course an easy intro is to get the kids to list their favorite foods.

Food holds a high place in the scriptures. God tells Adam and Eve about the foods they can eat. And it is a forbidden food that gets them in trouble. A few generations later Esau sells out to his brother Jacob for a bowl of stew. That same Jacob tricks his father Isaac with another dish.

When the people of Israel are called to leave Egypt, God tells them to hold a special meal. And when they are in the desert and need food he gives them manna six days a week.

In today’s reading from John 6 we read: 57 (Jesus said) “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.”

John’s gospel is full of allusions to the first five books of the bible. In today’s lesson, we run into another of those allusions. Jesus claims to be the new manna, the new bread from heaven.

When I was a child growing up in the Episcopal Church, communion was forbidden to children until they had been confirmed, usually as late elementary or junior high kids. But I can remember desperately wishing that I could have communion. When I asked, the answer was, “not until you are old enough to understand it.”

I am 54, and I still don’t understand. But I do believe. I cannot explain how the forbidden fruit of the garden is redeemed by the fruit of Christ. I cannot explain how the Passover lamb becomes Jesus the Lamb of God. I cannot explain how the sin offering in Leviticus become the crucified Christ. And I cannot explain how the thank offering in the same book becomes the living bread, the living presence of Christ.

Oneof my favorite movie scenes,(click here for the Youtube clip), of all time is from "Antwone Fisher". In the clip a young boy stands in a field before a closed barn door. Then he is ushered in past ranks of people, and seated at the head of a vast table. For me it is image of what happens to us when we come to the Lord’s table.

When I come to communion, I know that I am being fed and nurtured, mothered and fathered by God, united to a great host of people, living on earth and living on heaven. I know that as we celebrate the Lord’s supper that somehow we are connected to the great table in heaven, and that Jesus, and the Father, and the Spirit stand, eyes blazing with joy and love saying, “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Amen.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

March 26, 2009 "A Universe reborn"

Romans 8:18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

I remember reading in elementary school that someday in a few billion years the entire universe will be reduced to just a large, cold, dispersed low level energy field. It made me sad. I thought of all the glory and majesty of the universe, galaxies, our solar system, the amazing planets in our system, and all the trillions of other stars and systems. I could not imagine that it would all someday be reduced to just electron buzz.

In 1824, the second law of thermodynamics was originally called Carnot’s principle. “Energy flows from highly organized and concentrated forms into less organized and dispersed forms.” Or you can say: “The total entropy of the universe is always increasing.”

In practical terms this means that the universe is slowly running down. All the matter and energy will slowly be turned into a huge very low energy level blob.

Paul seems to know this same thing, although not in terms of physics. He rights in Romans 8:21”…that the creation itself will be set free from it’s bondage to decay, and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

The Universe is declining. Our bodies decline. All is headed for death and decay. But Paul says that this time is actually not death, but labor. The universe is groaning with labor pains. She is about to give birth to a new creation, new creatures.

“The whole creation is waiting for God to reveal himself and his family, his children.” I think that Paul is telling us that there is a day coming when the second law of thermodynamics will be repealed! A day, when the universe becomes herself, in all her glory and entropy will be nor more!

Lord, help to appreciate the beauty of creation, and to carry within me the hope of the redemption of our bodies in your NEW Creation. Amen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

March 25, 2009 "Announcments"

Today is the Feast of the Annunciation. When the Church calendar set Jesus birthday as December 25th, March 25th became the day to celebrate the Incarnation. We celebrate Mary who said yes. And we celebrate Jesus who said yes.

John 6:38 (Jesus said) “…for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day."

"I have come down from heaven." Apparently so did the angel Gabriel when he appeared to Mary. The Chariot of fire that picked up Elijah came from heaven. The angel that touched Jacobs hip, and others, apparently came down from heaven.

But what is contained in those words of Jesus. “I have come down from heaven.” Come down, but not like the angel, able to simply zip back to wherever they came from. He has come down from heaven binding himself to the flesh of Mary, and through her to the flesh of each of us. In some mysterious way he has tied himself forever to our humanity.

Our wounds, illness, joy’s, triumphs, sorrows, trials, sins, and all we are contained in these bodies, he binds to himself. He takes our flesh upon himself, and begins to transform us.

“I came down from heaven.” Not a tourist, not a temporary visitor, but as one who lays claim to every atom under heaven.

“Come abide within me; let my soul, like Mary, be thine earthly sanctuary” **. Amen.

** Verse 4 of "God himself is with us" Hymn 475, Episcopal Hymnal, 1982

Colossians 1: 15* He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16* for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers--all things have been created through him and for him. 17* He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18* He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything.

Philippians 2 5* Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6* who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7* but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8* he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross. 9* Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10* so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11* and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Ephesians 1: 9* he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10* as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

March 24, 2009 "Shabbat"

Jeremiah 17: 24 “But if you listen to me, says the LORD, and bring in no burden by the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but keep the sabbath day holy and do no work on it, 25 then there shall enter by the gates of this city kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their officials, the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall be inhabited forever.”

When my brother Peter moved back to the States after a number of years in Israel, I asked him one day what he missed most. Without a pause he said “I miss Shabbat.” (Sabbath) One of my favorite books of the last few years is Lauren Winter's "Mudhouse Sabbath". I think we Christians need to listen to the centuries of wisdom about Shabbat from our Jewish grandparents.

When God gives the 10 Commandments to Moses, the fourth is to keep Sabbath. When Jesus heals on the Sabbath, he does not mean not to keep Sabbath, but not to over legalize it. In fact he says “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

God intends that we keep a time of rest, of worship, of family. Working too many hours, too many days, too many weeks, too many months, with no breaks is not a badge of honor. We have made it so, but God intended a different rhythm to life.

The first people to observe a 7 day week seem to be the Jewish people. The first writing to set the week at 7 days belongs to the Jewish people.

Weeks in the ancient world varied from 4 days to 10 days. In the New World before the Conquest, they were between 10 and 13 days.

In the lesson, God speaks to Jeremiah and says if the people will stop and keep Shabbat, then the destruction coming will not occur.

Could it be that when we don’t keep Sabbath, work and money cease to be tools, and become gods?

I have deliberately tried to slow down this Lent. My blood pressure is lower. I enjoy reading the scripture, rather than racing through it. I actually listen when people are speaking without thinking of what I am going to say next. I pray with thoughtfulness.

We need to learn to keep Sabbath, to start the night before, to begin slowing down. It doesn’t affect God, but it keeps us whole.

Slowing down in Christ. Amen.

Monday, March 23, 2009

March 23, 2009 "Mushy movies"

Psalm 89:1 Your love, O LORD, for ever will I sing; *from age to age my mouth will proclaim your faithfulness. 2 For I am persuaded that your love is established for ever; * you have set your faithfulness firmly in the heavens.

Mushy movies move me. Not bad for alliteration and also true. My brother Matthew and I recently sat through “Marley and Me”, a movie about a family and a dog based on the true dog stories of Philadelphia Inquirer columnist, John Grogan

There are scenes in the movie that are very touching. By the end, we were both sniffling, but as I looked around the theater we weren’t the only ones. I loved the movie, because it was a story of love and faithfulness.

I love stories where love and goodness triumph. The writer of Psalm 89 writes “For I am persuaded that your love is established for ever...”

Not every story in this life or this world has a happy ending. It is not self-evident that a) there is a God, b) that God is good, and c) that God is love.

Perhaps that is why the writer says “I am persuaded...” Because it is not immediately obvious that God’s love is established for ever. It is not obvious that God’s faithfulness is firmly in place.

God must persuade, for if he forces, then he is not love. John said it simply “God is love.”
God will use all the force in the universe to make us seek that love, but will never force us to accept it. God will demonstrate that love over and over. And if we will let our hearts open up, and be willing to be “mushy” on occasion, we may find ourselves persuaded, that despite all the evil to the contrary, “that your love is established for ever.”

John the apostle said it simply. 1John 4:8b “God is love.”

Shakespeare was talking of his own love, yet it holds true for God as well.

Sonnet 116

Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle's compass come:

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

William Shakespeare

(1564 - 1616)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

March 22, 2009 "Rescue Me"

I like to write skits for children’s sermons. Sometimes the characters are puppets and sometimes they are people, and sometimes both. I often have skit ideas in mind even when I can’t find a cast or puppeteer to work with.

In my mind, this Sunday’s readings deserve a true “Monty Python” style skit. In my minds eye it would take place in one of the dining rooms on the Titanic. A reserved Englishman sitting at a table, that’s begun to list, is completely unfazed by the panic around him.

A steward approaches urging him to get to the deck and get a lifejacket on. “Well I haven’t finished the second course now have I?” he’d reply. And the skit would go on from there. There would be all kinds of reasons raised to stay on the ship.

“But, sir, the ship is sinking!” someone would say. “Now, now,” my "Monty Python character would reply, “Just a bit of list, sure the captain will get it straightened out, what.”

Eventually, in my skit, my Englishman would drown, clinging to his after dinner port.

The lessons for this Sunday, remind us that we are on a ship that is sinking. We’ve collided with the iceberg and need a lifeboat.

Following his description of Nicodemus and Jesus conversation, John says that the rescue operation is underway. Jesus himself is the lifeboat. God’s Son is the rescue operation. But John says, there are some who are unwilling to be rescued. They want to hang on to their pleasures and agendas. Some in fact might even see that the ship is sinking, but can’t bear the thought of giving up some pride or pleasure, and would rather sink, than be rescued.

But the rescue is ongoing. God’s desire, God’s hope is that everyone believe in the Son, and not perish, but gain eternal life.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

March 21, 2009 "Warfare"


Ephesians 2:1 You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.

From 1967 to 1971 my family lived in Guatemala City, Guatemala. During that time there was a protracted guerilla war between various communist factions, the army, and right wing death squads.

There were bomb scares, and bombings, people gunned down in the streets in broad daylight. People you knew were killed or “disappeared”. You kept your guard up and were vigilant and protective. To this day, certain sounds can put me on instant “alert”. There were times of calm, but you never forgot there was a war going on.

The New Testament says the world is in a spiritual war. Paul says that some of us were combatants on the enemy side, serving an evil power, until we saw the light and came over to the good side.

The Church has gone through times when it pretends it is not at war, or times when it mistakes the enemy’s human combatants for the real enemy who has deluded them.

Blessedly we are not always aware of the war, and certainly God grants us many times of peace. Even more blessedly we are given opportunities to see some of the victories in this combat.

But we must never forget that we are in a war against “the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now at work in those who are disobedient.” There is an enemy who hates all the people God has made.

Our mission is to reach out to those who are still deluded into fighting for the other side, with the same forgiveness and charity that won us to the army of the crucified Christ.

Friday, March 20, 2009

March 20, 2009 "Humility"

When I was a child, I heard the phrase, but didn’t know what it meant. “Don’t argue about religion or politics.” Age has brought me enlightenment. If you want to make people mad, argue politics. If you want to make them rabid, argue religion!

I remember in high school reducing a couple of sincere Christian kids to tears. I was vicious in my arguments and attacks on Christian belief, and the foolishness of believing in God. My hostility was visceral. Of course it turned out that I was hostile because I was beginning to wonder if maybe the Christians were right.

In the 8th chapter of John’s gospel Jesus is arguing religion. He is passionate and seems to be goading his opponents. And his opponents have a visceral response. Jesus has just said “You will know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

He’s met with instant defensiveness. “You think we don’t know the truth! We’re children of Abraham.”

Jesus is not going to win any popularity contests. John’s description of this dialogue puts Jesus one pebble away from being killed by stoning. He keeps provoking people!

But he seems to have a purpose in provocation. He’s trying to reach people who are so sure they are right, they have no room to examine other options. He has to provoke them to the point that they want to kill him. But he is trying to break through to allow new thinking and new living to transform them.

I have a t-shirt that each male in my family got last Christmas. It reads “I may be wrong, but I don’t think so!” It is not a badge of humility! And when I am so sure I am right, it can distance me the very truth that can set me free. I may not be able to hear.

But if I humble myself, God might teach me something new, or help me to see the old in a new light.

“John 8:47Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.' "

God help us to hear your Word, Jesus who you have sent.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

March 19, 2009 "Stupid Shepherds"

Jeremiah 10:21 For the shepherds are stupid, and do not inquire of the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.

Verses like the one above, reach up and slap me in the mornings when I am reading the lessons. Before 1992, I might have thought a bit about them. But after ordination as a pastor, a “shepherd”, the words are like a double shot of expresso, They perk you up.

All through Jeremiah he talks about the sins of the people. They’ve made false Gods. The people who know that every grain of sand, and every star in the heavens were made by the true God, have surrendered to worshipping trashy trinkets. And God is not pleased.

But it is the shepherds who have missed the boat. God says “They’ve become dull of heart, and stopped seeking the LORD.” That is the reason why things are going wrong and now the people are being scattered.

It is as though God is saying, “If the clergy had been really doing what they were supposed to do, the flock would not be doing the things they aren’t supposed to do.”

Of course the shepherds of Jeremiah’s day include the king, and the other officials of government as well.

Yet the visceral impact remains. Do I really want to inquire of the LORD? He may ask me to say some things that aren’t going to be popular. He may ask me to challenge certain cultural certainties. I may even have to use the “S” word. Sin!

This coming week I’m headed to the annual Lenten Clergy Retreat. It’s always in the third or fourth week of Lent. Unlike some of our other clergy gatherings, it is optional. It is a very inconvenient time. But my hope is that I will spend time and “inquire of the LORD.”

Perhaps the prayer at the end of today’s passage is because Jeremiah himself is one of the shepherds and knows all too well his own weakness.

Jeremiah 10:24 “Correct me, O LORD, but in just measure; not in your anger, or you will bring me to nothing.” Amen. Amen.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

March 18, 2009 "Perfect timing"

Timing is everything. I’ve heard that phrase my whole life. Sometimes people were talking about selling a house, or starting a business. Sometimes they were talking about avoiding an accident, or bemoaning an accident. Occasionally they were discussing a happening in a sporting event.

In today’s lesson from Romans, St. Paul writes: “At the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”

I don’t understand God’s timing. Why not have Jesus come and die for Adam and Eve the day after they’ve ruined their relationship with God. Or why not have Jesus come and heal things before Adam and Eve’s two sons behavior gets to bad that one kills the other.

Years ago, my wife Anne and I were in Salta, Argentina. We met a couple we did not know, who had coincidentally come to Salta and overlapped with us one day. During that one day we discovered that we’d had some amazing coincidences and relationships in common. And we discovered that we had a critical piece of information that would relieve a great burden this couple had carried around for more than a decade.

Timing is everything.

I don’t understand why God allows so much that is not good to happen. Yet there have been enough moments where timing has been very good to me and for me. When that happens I’m sure God is still in charge.

“At the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” The beauty is that the effects of that death are not confined to time as we know it in its linear fashion.

Christ died for the ungodly, past, present, and future. Since I have enough in my life to qualify me for the ungodly category, I can only bow my head and say “Thank you Lord.”

And may I have enough faith to trust my times to God. And may I seek to use that time to show God’s love “all the time.”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March 17, 2009 "Fill my cup"

When I came back to Christ I went for a while to a small Assembly of God church. One of their favorite songs was an old gospel tune, "Fill my cup Lord" Each time I heard it I would weep, knowing that my life which had been so empty was being filled with new life. The music was often sloppy and sentimental, but that didn't matter. The song would overwhelm me each time.

In today’s Gospel Jesus stands up during the last day of festival, the feast of booths. We can’t be sure, but it is probable that the Jewish people of Jesus day celebrated Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah on that day, which is really the day after the days of Sukkot, the feast of booths.

Shmini Atzaret is a day to remember the special love God has for the Jewish people, and a day when prayers for rain were offered, since rain is essential to life, and always one of the signs of God’s love. And on Simchat Torah, the yearly reading of all five books of Moses is completed, and starts again. If you’ve ever been to a synagogue on that day, you will see people rejoicing, and the rabbi carrying the scroll around as people give thanks for God’s word and kiss the scrolls, with dancing and singing.

John 7:37* On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38* Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 39* By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

For John the meaning is clear. He writes in the first verse of his Gospel that Jesus is the Word. The active, living, breathing, and incarnate Word always being spoken by the Father.

And so when Jesus stands and declares “If you are thirsty come and drink” he is proclaiming that he is the love of God for God’s people. He is the heart of the Torah. He will give new life to those who believe in him.

John then explains that Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit, who would be received by Jesus followers, but not until Jesus had been glorified: crucified, dead, buried, raised, and ascended to the Father.

Jesus proclaims that those who believe will be filled with the Holy Spirit. Yet many Christians today are like the believers described in the passage below. They have forgotten or perhaps not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.

Acts 19:1* While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2* and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." 3 So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John’s baptism," they replied. 4* Paul said, "John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5* On hearing this, they were baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6* When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

As we go through this Lent, let us pray to Jesus, asking that he send the Holy Spirit so the dry places of our lives, where unbelief and sin live, will become a place where rivers of living water flow. Pray that we become springs of living water for the thirsty people God brings to us.

Fill My Cup Lord
Like the woman at the well I was seeking
For things that could not satisfy;
And then I heard my Savior speaking:
"Draw from my well that never shall run dry".

Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up, Lord!
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul;
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more--
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole!

There are millions in this world who are craving
The pleasures earthly things afford;
But none can match the wondrous treasure
That I find in Jesus Christ my Lord.

Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up, Lord!
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul;
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more--
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole!

So, my brother, if the things this world gave you
Leave hungers that won't pass away,
My blessed Lord will come and save you,
If you kneel to Him and humbly pray:

Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up, Lord!
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul;
Bread of heaven, Feed me till I want no more--
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole!

Monday, March 16, 2009

March 16, 2009 "Spiritual Immunity?"

Microscopic pathogens, viral and bacterial, are the most dangerous animals on our planet. So small, and yet some of the most dangerous infections can kill 9 of 10 people they infect.

Yet in many other cases, such as typhoid, tetanus, diphtheria, smallpox, polio, and a host of others, we actually have learned to harness the power of the infection and our own immune systems.

After some simple inoculations some of the most dangerous animals on the planet cannot hurt us. The vaccinations usually work without us ever knowing we were under attack!

Years ago, I met several young parents. They had small children who had never been vaccinated against tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, and other potentially fatal diseases.

The parents claimed there was no need, because those diseases weren’t a problem anymore, and besides we now had antibiotics and other medication that could take care of those problem diseases.

When I pointed out that there was still no cure for polio or tetanus, they smiled at me condescendingly. They had an irrational, blind faith in the power of medicine. I could only pray that none of them discover the danger they were putting their children in.

Medical science has made significant progress in healing and disease prevention. But for medical help to be most effective, we need to use that help responsibly. Just being around people who have been vaccinated does not give you immunity!

In the lesson from Jeremiah, the prophet writes on behalf of God:

Jeremiah 7: 3 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: "This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD." 5 For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, 7 then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.

The people of Israel believed they were safe from harm simply because they were God’s chosen people, and lived where God’s temple had been built.

They had a false sense of security. Their behavior was seriously wrong, and un-Godly, yet they thought there would be no consequences, because they hung out near the temple!

They were like the young parents I met who thought because they lived near well people and good doctors they and their children were safe. But the people of Jeremiah’s day had not “inoculated” themselves with real faith, with real obedience, and with real devotion to God.

Responsible faith and blind faith are not the same. Responsible faith is a faith that is responsive to God’s call to truly amend our ways and our doings, to truly act justly one with another, and not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood ... or go after other gods to our own hurt.

God may I have faith, responsive and responsible faith. Amen.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

March 15, 2009 "Lost and found"

1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. 18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

It was just after lunch when the call came in. It was midsummer and although the church was large with many clergy, there were only two of us in town. The church secretary said, “There is a young man on the phone who’s in the hospital and wants to talk to a priest. Joe’s still out and I don’t think he’ll be back for a couple of hours.”

“I’ll take the call.” I replied.

The voice on the other end was hesitant, and young sounding. “You don’t know me” he said, “The nurses said that your church was pretty close to he hospital. I need to talk with somebody about God.” “That’s sort of a main interest of mine.” I said, “Tell me what is going on.”

What unfolded was a story of a 23 year old man. He was dying. He’d found a Gideon New Testament the day before and had begun to read.

He had no church background or religious background. His parents had divorced when he was young, and neither of them had ever been religious. He’d been reading the Gospels and some of Paul’s letters.

“I always thought there might be a God, but never really bothered to find out anything more. But in this letter of Paul’s he lists some things that are serious sins. I found some of my behaviors on this list. I’m worried about what might happen to me when I die.”

After a little more discussion, he got more specific, and a life of teenage and young adult dissipation poured out. I asked if we could continue to conversation in person, or if he’d prefer to talk to an older priest friend of mine.

“I’ll talk with anybody. I need to know what to do.”

At that moment the secretary appeared at the door, indicating that I needed to take another call.

“Can you hold on a moment? I promise I won’t hang up, I’ll be right back”


I picked up the other line, and it was Father Joe. In his northern English accent he said “I just popped round hospital, saw a parishioner and am about to head out. Thought I’d best check to see if things are OK before I go on.”

“Well, as a matter of fact…” I began.
A few moments later, Joe was at this young man’s bedside. After about an hour of conversation, the young man asked if he could pray and invite Jesus Christ into his life. Joe led him in a simple prayer.

Joe visited each day for the next four days. The afternoon of the fourth day, the young man passed away.

A couple of days earlier he told Joe. “All my life, I’ve searched for love and happiness. There were times when I thought I’d found them, but they never lasted. Thank you so much for coming. Because of you, I found Jesus.”

Joe said to him gently, “No lad, he found you. He’s always got his eye turned toward the lost sheep. Trust me, I know, for I was one myself.”

What Wondrous Love Is This
By: American Folk Hymn ca. 1835

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, That caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down, Beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul for my soul,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb, Who is the great I AM,
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing,
While millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free _I’ll sing His love for me,
And through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And through eternity I’ll sing on.