Memorial Day

Gramps

John 15:12-13 (New Living Translation)
This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

I grew up hearing stories about my paternal Grandfather’s experiences in the Navy during World War II. My “Grampa Doc” — Dr. William Wallace Hall, Jr. — was a master storyteller, and even the most frightening episodes had an air of humor and suspense. One story that stands out in my memory is of his first solo surgery: a “routine” appendectomy.

The very young Dr. Bill Hall was brought onto his ship as an assistant physician. But when his senior officer was transferred to another ship, he suddenly found himself the head doctor in charge. One evening, a young man was brought into the infirmary with nausea and an intense pain in his side. Grampa immediately diagnosed it as acute appendicitis, and he knew what needed to happen. Only problem? This young doc had never performed the surgery by himself before!

He contacted the captain and suggested that the ship return to port, so that the sick man could receive treatment in more experienced hands. Grampa was told, in no uncertain terms, that this was not even remotely possible, and that the captain considered him to be more than capable of doing what was necessary.

Grampa put on a brave face in front of his patient, then raced off into the corner to quickly consult the pictures and instructions in his textbooks. He informed the captain that the emergency surgery was about to take place, and the course of the enormous ship was altered to minimize the rolling in the waves during the surgery.

Happily, the surgery was a success, Grampa told us with a smile.

I loved listening to him tell his stories. But, as I grew up, I began to realize that my beloved Grampa had told us kids only the “happy ending” stories.

Today, on Memorial Day, we stop to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, losing their lives in wars and conflicts throughout time and across the world. We pray for their families and loved ones, for whom this day is not just about picnics and barbeque, but remembrance and grief.

We give thanks for their service and selflessness. Today, we ask for God’s blessings on each person.

And we pray that wars and violence and conflicts and hostilities would cease, and that all people, everywhere, would one day leave in peace.

Wishing you all a blessed and safe Memorial Day!

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Love Your Enemies

In Jesus' Cell

Luke 6:32-36 (New Living Translation)
“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”

______________

In my family, we have people on just about every side of every possible argument — political, ideological, societal, theological. I have family members who have deeply-held beliefs that are directly against other equally passionate family members. You name an issue to me, I bet I can come up with at least two names of people in my family who hold completely opposing views.

All this makes for very interesting family gatherings. 😉

For example… in the days leading up to my Grandmother’s funeral in late August, several family members were texting back and forth, making plans to get together while we were all up in New York. It started out innocently enough, who was coming, when they were arriving, where they were staying.

But then one politically charged comment was made. Then another. Followed by a cutting counterargument. It didn’t take long until it was a full-fledged battle via text messages, complete with misunderstandings and with hurt feelings.

Reading these messages between people I love broke my heart. The amazing people in my family are not enemies. They love each other. Deeply! But the divisions in our world, the bitterness and pain and chaos, they have an insidious way of seeping into even the closest connections.

Before I knew it, I felt compelled to join in the argument. This is what I wrote:

“I love you all. And one of the reasons that I love you is knowing how passionate you all are, how committed and strong. And I know you love each other, even when you don’t agree. In just a few days we will all be together to honor the memory of someone important to us all. With this in mind, I would suggest that we step away from this text chain, and, in the intervening hours, remember the love we all have for each other. Because that love is there and it is real. I pray that we never forget that, even when… especially when… we disagree.”

Now, I have to admit that I was not so sure what their reaction would be to that text. Again, my family members are passionate, strong, opinionated people. And I’m a pastor, but they often still see in me the small child they knew with crazy hair. It’s hard for people to take you seriously when they’ve known you since you were a baby, people who have blown your nose or changed your diaper or have seen you as an awkward teenager with braces on your teeth.

But, thanks be to God, that text worked. It diffused the situation. The next text was this: “Amen.” Other family members typed their responses, telling each other how much they loved each other.

This kind of thing is not, unfortunately, something that is unique to my family. Not at all. It’s happening all around us. We see it on the television, with people saying horrible things about people who believe differently than they do. We see it on social media, with cruel words, damaging jokes, bitter arguments. We witness and experience bullying and intolerance and plain old viciousness.

Lines are being drawn, sides chosen. You name the issue, and there are enemies and allies very clearly defined.

It is tragic.

And I don’t believe for a moment
that it is God’s desire for our world,
for our community, for our church,
our families, our lives.

“Love your enemies,” Jesus says in our scripture for today.

In the verses directly before, Jesus had spent the night on a mountain, praying. As the sun rose that morning, he gathered together his friends. They walked together down the mountain to join the crowds below, who were waiting to hear words of wisdom from Jesus, and to be healed by his miraculous powers.

In speaking to those crowds, Jesus began with these words: “God blesses you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. God blesses you who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied. God blesses you who weep now, for in due time you will laugh.”

What a great start to Jesus’ speech! Those who had walked all the way from Jerusalem, from towns across Judea, even from the northern seacoast towns of Tyre and Sidon, they had come to hear something just like this. Promises of blessing and favor. To those among them who were poor, Jesus promises God’s own Kingdom. To those who were hungry, satisfaction. Those who were grieving, a future with joy.

But then, then Jesus does something that must have really confused them. After that great beginning, he continues on a breath later: “What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you because you follow me. When that happens, be happy!”

“Eh… what?” I can picture the people gathered there turning to those around them, saying, “Did he just say what I think he just said?”

Then he continues to double-down, leading into our scripture for today. “Love your enemies!” Jesus proclaims.

“How?” the people may have thought, “How is that a good idea?”

One of my spiritual heroes, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached on this “Love Your Enemies” text once each year. It was a foundational scripture passage for his ministry and his theology. In a 1957 sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, he said this:

The words of this text glitter in our eyes with a new urgency. Far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, this command is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. Yes, it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies.

I believe that. I believe that the best chance for our society, our country, our world is to rediscover the power of love. Even… perhaps especially… love for our enemies.

This is, quite possibly, the single most challenging command Jesus gives to his followers. And it is, quite possibly, at the same time, the most potentially world-transforming.

“Love your enemies,” Jesus said.

The word for “enemies” in Greek, it’s worse than a person who dislikes you or who is a competitor. It means someone who is actively seeking to harm you. It is someone who is openly hostile toward you. “Love your enemies,” Jesus says.

Really?

That word for “love” in Greek makes this even more challenging! It is one of my all-time favorite words, in any language: agapē. There are other words for “love” in Greek, such as eros, romantic love, or philos, the love we have for our close friends.

But agapē love, it’s something quite special. It’s the love that God has for us. It’s a love that is not blind to the imperfections of the one who is loved. It is a fully aware love, a realistic love. It is a love of choice, of knowing the real person, and still loving, no matter what.

Jesus is asking us to make the conscious, deliberate, intentional, purposeful, incredibly difficult choice to love those who are actively hostile to us and to what we believe in.

Really, Jesus?
Where would we even begin to do such an outrageous thing?

To begin to love our enemies we must begin in a counter-intuitive place. First, we must seek to understand ourselves better.

Jesus tells his friends and the crowd assembled that only loving those who love them back isn’t enough. Even the sinners in the world do that, he says.

Sinner. Harmartia in Greek. It means, literally, to pick up a bow and arrow, to send the arrow shooting through the air, but entirely missing the intended target.

sinner = a person who misses the mark

Harmatia. I don’t know about you, but that strikes home for me. Because I know I miss the mark, in big ways and in small ways, every day.

(Is it just me? How about you?)

Just a few verses past our scripture for today, Jesus says this: “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”

The first step to loving our enemies is simply this: understanding that we are not perfect.

Second, in order to begin to loving our enemies… we seek to understand them better.

It is easy to look at people who are hostile to us, who say painful things, who believe something so different than we do, and to see in them the sinner who misses the mark.

But that person — that group — that makes you so angry, they are sinners just like us who miss the mark… and they also, just like us, bear the image of the God who created them.

That person — that group — whose words and actions make your blood boil, they are people for whom Jesus came to earth. They are people for whom Jesus died and rose again. They are people for whom God yearns. They are, in spite of their differences, our brothers and sisters in this world.

That knowledge can give us the courage we need to begin to reach out.

We have become such a divided nation that it seems almost impossible to reach across the divide. But when we begin to reach out, to build relationships, to build bridges across the chasm, we can begin to understand each other: our motivations, our troubles, our desires, our stories, our hopes and fears and dreams.

When we get to know each other, we can finally begin to see beyond the surface and find common ground for discussion. That does not mean that we will agree! But all our bitter arguing right now is only causing that divide to further deepen and broaden. We need to be bold enough — to be brave enough — to take the first step.

62 years ago, Dr. King said this:

Somewhere somebody must have some sense. Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.

“Love your enemies,” Jesus said.

Please understand, this was not an academic exercise for Jesus. Jesus was not asking us to do something he was not willing to do himself. In fact, at the very core of his ministry was loving those who could — and who would — do him harm. “Love your enemies,” Jesus said.

Seven months ago, on a cold February afternoon in Israel, I had the opportunity to stand alone for a moment in the jail cell where Jesus was held in Jerusalem as he awaited the verdict of the court. The people in the tour group I was leading were walking up the steep stairs, and I was left alone in the room.

As I stood there, I remembered how in those hours of Thursday night into Friday morning, he was alone in that cold, dark, damp room carved out of the bedrock stone. The only light by which he could see would have been through a small opening in the ceiling, far above.

Two millennia ago, there were no stairs giving easy access to that room. Earlier in the night, Jesus would have been lowered by rope through that same hole, down into the jail cell below.

As I stood there, I thought about how Jesus would have been able to hear the raised voices of the angry people in the room above him. His enemies, those who were actively seeking to do him harm. Those who would do him harm.

I thought about how he would have known how they would accuse him, the false testimonies that would be hurled against him. I thought about how as he stood alone in that dark jail, Jesus knew — he knew — that that night would end with his death on the cross.

I found myself kneeling down, placing my hands against the rough stone of the floor. Now, I’m a stoic New Englander by birth and by nature, and I don’t express emotion easily. But that day, kneeling on the cold floor of Jesus’ prison, I began to cry.

Because Jesus, the Son of God, through whom our beautiful universe was made, all powerful and magnificent, was willing to put himself completely under the power of those who he knew would do him harm.

Because Jesus loved them. In spite of the enormous, gigantic, monumental mistake they were about to make, in spite of how far they were veering from the mark, Jesus loved them.

When, at the beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus told the people gathered on that plain on the morning when he and his disciples came down from the mountain after a night of prayer… when Jesus told the crowd “love your enemies,” he knew that his life would end on the cross.

He. Knew.

And he was willing to go to the cross
to show us the depth of his commitment.

But when it comes down to it, this is still one of the most difficult challenges that Jesus gives us: “love your enemies.” So… ultimately, the biggest question is: why? Why in the world would we be willing to do this?

Why?
Because Jesus has already done it for us.
For me.
For you.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


[Thank you, Lynn Henschel, for taking the picture and sharing it with me!]

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ROAR!

Exodus 1:8-14 (New Living Translation)
Eventually, a new king came to power in Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph or what he had done.
He said to his people, “Look, the people of Israel now outnumber us and are stronger than we are. We must make a plan to keep them from growing even more. If we don’t, and if war breaks out, they will join our enemies and fight against us. Then they will escape from the country.” So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves. They appointed brutal slave drivers over them, hoping to wear them down with crushing labor. They forced them to build the cities of Pithom and Rameses as supply centers for the king. But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites multiplied and spread, and the more alarmed the Egyptians became. So the Egyptians worked the people of Israel without mercy. They made their lives bitter, forcing them to mix mortar and make bricks and do all the work in the fields. They were ruthless in all their demands.


[Transcript of a sermon delivered at Plantation United Methodist Church, June 2, 2019]

Good morning! This is the first week of our four-week series we’re calling ROAR!  It’s based on the themes from our upcoming Vacation Bible School, which begins on June 17th. Over these next few weeks, our Sanctuary will be transformed with our VBS decorations!  This year, you will see in this space the creation of an amazing jungle as we prepare to welcome well over a hundred children to our campus!

During this series we’ll explore some of the same themes that the kids will, looking at the same scripture: the Book of Exodus. The tagline for the ROAR Vacation Bible School curriculum is: “Life is wild. God is good.” Pretty cool, I think! They are going to have so much fun!

In pondering how to adapt a kids’ theme for us adults, I started thinking about what “ROAR” means…

As a noun, “roar” can mean “the deep cry of a wild animal” — the Merriam-Webster Dictionary uses the example of a lion’s powerful cry. This was the first thing I thought of when I heard the VBS theme. Maybe it sprang to mind first because I was looking at the ROAR logo with a big ol’ lion on it…

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 4.40.06 AM

But “roar” can also mean a loud, continuous sound. For example, one of my favorite sounds in the world…

the roar of ocean waves crashing on a beach.

Roar can mean a boisterous, loud, energetic outcry, like the sound of sports fans at the end of the game when their team wins…

the roar of the crowd!

And “roar” can also mean… a loud, deep cry of pain or distress or anger. And it’s this sense of roar that we’ll be looking at today.

The story of Exodus begins with a little exposition, a setting of the scene, letting the reader know the background of all that is to happen. The Book of Genesis (the opening book of the Bible) ends with the story of Joseph, who became the second most powerful man in the land of Egypt. He was Pharaoh’s right-hand man, and, using his influence, Joseph saved his very large family from certain death during a long famine. Joseph’s family, called the “Israelites,” settled down in Egypt, and made their lives there.

But by the time of our scripture today, many, many years have passed — generations! — and the scriptures tell us that the new Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, didn’t remember Joseph as a leader. He just saw the large number of his family’s descendants, foreigners living all throughout his land, as a threat to the safety of his kingdom. And so… he enslaved them.

Men, women, the elderly, parents, the young, all now slaves in Egypt. The conditions were horrible, as they were forced to do back-breaking work of building cities for those who enslaved them. In chapter two, we’ll hear that the people cried out, groaning to God in the pain and distress and anger. Lifting up their spirits in prayer, they roared out their anguish to God.

Here’s what always breaks my heart when I read this part of the Exodus story. Whenever you have a group of people who are oppressed, abused like the Israelites, that always means that there is another group of people who are doing the oppressing, or who witness the oppression and do nothing.

You’ve heard me say this many times over the years, but one of the things that breaks my heart wide open in pain is this:

people created by & loved by God
doing great harm to
people created by & loved by God.

It is just…
awful.
Inconceivable.
Utterly heart-sundering.

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 6.44.51 PMWith that in mind…

I’d like to read to you this morning from a book that few non-clergy people ever see, let alone open: The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. It’s kind of the rulebook of our denomination, and it is revised every four years — this is the 2016 version. Changes to the language therein will be discussed (no doubt with vim, vigor, & vitriol) at General Conference next year, in 2020.

In this book, which is neither light nor exciting reading, there is a section called the “Social Principles.” It’s a long statement about all sorts of issues, from science and technology, rights of children, sustainable agriculture, divorce, health care, church and state relations, and on and on. It is a pretty impressively comprehensive document.

And you may be surprised to learn that it is one of the reasons I fell in love with The United Methodist Church.

Not because I agree with every single word in those Social Principles — I don’t!!! — but because I was so impressed that a church would take the time to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider a God-honoring response to each of the issues raised.

Part III of the Social Principles is “The Social Community.” The introduction to this section goes like this… are you sitting comfortably and ready for this? … okay, here goes. The Social Community, paragraph 162…

The rights and privileges a society bestows upon or withholds from those who comprise it indicate the relative esteem in which that society holds particular persons and groups of persons. We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God. We therefore work toward societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened. We support the basic rights of all persons to equal access to housing, education, communication, employment, medical care, legal redress for grievances, and physical protection. We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, age, gender, disability, status, economic condition, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious affiliation. Our respect for the inherent dignity of all persons leads us to call for the recognition, protection, and implementation of the principles of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights so that communities and individuals may claim and enjoy their universal, indivisible, and inalienable rights.

Okay… I just totally violated one of my preaching rules: never read a long passage from the Book of Discipline! Thanks for sticking with me through that!

Why did I read that section? Because it matters for the way we live out our faith. At the end of just about every worship service, I close with these words: “What we have said with our lips in this hour, may we believe in our hearts. And what we believe in our hearts, may we practice in our lives.” Our faith is meant to be a lived faith, an active faith, one that makes a difference in our world — not just for us, but for those around us as well.

In the Day 1 curriculum for the ROAR VBS is “When Life Is Unfair… ROAR!” Merriam-Webster defines “unfair” as “marked by injustice, partiality, or deception.”

I’m going to really push my preaching boundaries here this morning, and quote from yet another Methodist policy book, this time The Book of Resolutions:

The United Methodist Church believes God’s love for the world is an active and engaged love, a love seeking justice and liberty. We cannot just be observers. So we care enough about people’s lives to risk interpreting God’s love, to take a stand, to call each of us into a response, no matter how controversial or complex. The church helps us think and act out a faith perspective, not just responding to all the other ‘mind-makers-up’ that exist in our society.

I think they could have found a better phrase than “mind-makers-up” there, but you get the point. Our faith is mean to be a lived one — it is meant to make an actual difference in the world around us. Our faith… it is meant to roar! To roar so loudly as to be heard over the clamor of the world around us, speaking out boldly for justice and compassion and care.

This is a fundamental part of who we are, who we are meant to be. It is so fundamental to our faith, in fact, that it is a part of the ritual that marks the entrance into the life of faith: baptism!

In the ritual of baptism, we usually ask four questions of those being baptized:

First: Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
[response: I do!]

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
[response: I do.]

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?
[response: I do.]

According to the grace given to you, will you remain a faithful member of Christ’s holy Church and serve as Christ’s representative in the world?
[response: I will.]

I’ve often thought, as I read those questions to people being baptized, that the order of those four vows was a bit wonky. A few times I’ve actually changed the order, asking first the questions about acknowledging Jesus as Savior and serving as God’s representatives, because, after all, that’s where the Christian faith begins.

* (But I’ve learned over the years that
you just shouldn’t mess too much
with the baptismal ritual…

’cause people… they get really
really
really
mad…)

But think about those questions that we ask! If you’ve been in church for any length of time, you have, no doubt, heard them before. Perhaps you remember answering them yourself, if you were baptized as an adult. These questions are important. These questions were created, crafted with intention and purpose, meant to be a launching pad for our faith!

In baptism, we ask forgiveness for our sins, we acknowledge Jesus as our Lord as the core of our faith, and we promise to serve as Christ’s representative in the world.

We say yes all to this… but what does it mean? How do we serve as Christ’s representative in the world? That second vow tell us how!

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

It’s right there in the words of our baptism.

From the time of John Wesley on, from the very beginning of the Methodist movement, this faith, it was meant to be a faith that makes a difference. A faith that moves each of us to look around our world to witness where things are not in line with God’s will, where people are being harmed, where God’s love is not reaching.

And we are called not just to see it, to acknowledge it, but to do something about it. That roar of discontent, of heartbreak, of disillusionment within our spirits, that feeling that something needs to change… that is God roaring within us.

We don’t have to look back thousands of years, to the time of the Israelite slaves in Egypt, we don’t have to look back to witness injustice. We can witness evil, injustice, and oppression right here in our own time, our own world, our country, our community. And we are called to make a difference!

May our voices ROAR,
using whatever influence
and resources and power
God has given us to speak
for those who cannot speak for themselves.

May our actions ROAR,
accepting the freedom and power
God has given us
to actively and boldly resist evil,
injustice, and oppression,
in whatever forms they present themselves!

May our lives
positively ROAR
with God’s grace and love!

 

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Pockets

A haiku for today,
when I could not find a place to stash my office keys…

Suits are requisite.
And, yet, I am a woman.
I have no pockets.

#clergygirl
#pocketsforall

In the name of all that is holy…
PLEASE explain to me why women’s suits do not have pockets?

🙄

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The Rock

My name is Simōn Petros… the “Rock.”

No, not your modern Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. (Although I am a fan.) No. I’m the original Rock. That’s me: disciple of Jesus, Simōn Petros. Simon Peter.

But that wasn’t always my name. Until just a few years ago, I was known as Simōn Bariōna: Simon, Son of Jonah. It was Jesus who gave me my new name.

He gave it to me after I answered a question. It was a question much discussed among those of us who had left it all to follow Jesus. It was a question I had wrestled with many times in the middle of the night as I watched the stars cross the heavens above. It was a question I had asked myself whenever I watched Jesus heal someone sick, when I witnessed him reaching out with compassion to people who were hurting, when I heard him talk about scripture with such passion and authority and clarity. Over and over again, I asked myself…

“Who is this man?”

Then, one day, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee where I used to fish, Jesus himself asked all of us the very question that had been burning in our hearts for so long:

“Who do you say that I am?”

Before I could stop myself, the answer leapt from my throat: “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”

It’s as if that answer had been laying within me, all that time, as I struggled to make sense of what I was seeing, what I was learning, as I walked alongside this man who had called me to follow him. I didn’t know it, but the answer was already there.

I mean, who else could he be? This man of such power, such authority, such grace and love and joy. Who else could he be?

“You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”

As I said this, Jesus looked into my eyes, and smiled. “Blessed are you, Simōn Bariōna,” he said, “for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter — Petros — and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Whoa! Seriously! On this — on this Rock — he was planning to build his community of believers. On this Rock! Me! Suddenly, I could see it! Me, standing by his side, his right-hand-man as he took his position of power in Jerusalem, as he showed the world what he was capable of. This man, this Christ, the Messiah. We had been waiting for him for so long! And I was to be with him, at his side, for it all!

Simōn Petros
that’s pretty awesome,
I thought.

But things took a weird turn almost immediately after that. Looking back now, I think Jesus had been waiting for one of us to say out loud what we had been thinking: that he was the Messiah.

Because after that, he started talking about how he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die.

I have to tell you, that was not what I expected. I mean, what would be the point of it? What was the point of having all that knowledge and power and ability, just to go to the Holy City… to die?

No. Just no. He couldn’t mean it. He was so powerful, so awe-inspiring. I had seen him heal people who had been desperately sick for years. I had stood with him as he confounded the snooty intellectuals who tried to trick him. I had witnessed miracles.

What would be the point?

“Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus said. “You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Jesus… he actually called me Satan! Just hold on a second! I thought I was the Rock upon which Jesus’ followers would be built. Now… now I was the devil, the adversary, the tempter. All because I didn’t want this future that Jesus was laying in front of us. It didn’t make sense! A future of confusion and despair. A future without Jesus.

No. No! I didn’t care. I meant what I said. He was the Christ, the Messiah. And I had been waiting my whole life for him. My parents, their parents, their parents… all waiting for him. And he was here. And I… I was a part of it all.

I. Was. The. Rock.

But then…
Jerusalem.

We went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover together. That Sunday, as we entered the city, people placed their cloaks on the road in front of him, they waved palm branches as a sign of victory, they welcomed him.

But then everything he said would happen… it happened.

He was torn from us. He was taken to trial in front of the elders of our faith. And he suffered. Oh, he suffered. I don’t know what you’ve all heard, but I was there. I had, you could say, a front row seat to it all. Not many of us were able to get in to the chief priest’s courtyard that night, but John got me in. And I heard, right there, all about what had happened.

I can’t tell you, there are no adequate words to explain to you, how terrible that night was. I was so confused, so terrified. I didn’t understand what was happening, I didn’t understand how this had happened! Jesus — this amazing man, this Christ, my Messiah — was being tried as a criminal.

That hit me. A criminal. And I… I was guilty by association. If they found him guilty, what was to keep them from taking me next?

Hear me: I am not proud of what did, of how I acted. I was the Rock. And, that night, the rock shattered. Three times as I stood in that courtyard — a short walking distance between me and the cell where Jesus was being held — three times I was asked if I knew him.

And I denied it.
Three times.

I, Simōn Petros, who had been so excited to stand by Jesus’ side as he took power… I denied even knowing him.

I did not stand by him.
I was too afraid.
And I am so
so
so
sorry.

You, sitting in this sanctuary this morning, you know the story. That mockery of a court, they convicted him. Innocent of anything but stirring up within his followers a desire for the truth. Kind, loving, compassionate, brilliant. He who healed, who taught, who saved us and loved us and challenged us: they convicted him. They hung him on a cross… until he died.

I heard that his body had been taken down from the cross. I heard, because I was too ashamed, too afraid to be there when it happened. I wasn’t there when they took down his broken body, when they placed it in the tomb, when they rolled the stone in place. I wasn’t there.

Some “Rock”
I turned out to be.

Those of us who were still in Jerusalem gathered together that weekend. We huddled together in a room in the city. We were afraid to venture outdoors. Because, who knows what awaited us out there? Were we next for the cross? We stayed inside.

But there was a small group of women, all followers of Jesus along with us, who mastered their fears, and went out. By that time it was very, very early on Sunday morning, and the Sabbath was over. By Law they were now permitted to finish the burial process for Jesus.

I could have gone with them.
I could have done it.
Could have gone to offer him
one last act of love.
But I didn’t.
I didn’t.

They came back with the most extraordinary story! They had seen Jesus. Not Jesus’ body, but actually, really Jesus! Walking around, talking with them, telling them not to be afraid. Jesus.

John and I leapt up, threw open the door to the room where we had been hiding, and we ran. We ran and ran. I felt as though there was something drawing me, pulling me, making me run faster and faster and faster toward that tomb.

But…
When we arrived…
there was
nothing.

No body.
No Jesus.
Nothing.

John and I walked together back to Jerusalem. Back to that room where the rest of our friends were waiting for news. We walked… slowly. We didn’t speak. After all, what was there to say?

Back in that room with our friends, our fellow followers of Jesus, who had been killed: shut away from the world, we sat together. In confusion. In grief. In uncertainty.

Then…
suddenly…
he was there.

He was there with us. Jesus! There, in that room, with the door locked and barred, with us hiding away inside, terrified and uncertain:

He. Was. There.
With us.

Over those next few days, I tried — best I could — to wrap my head around the fact – the undeniable fact — that he was not lying forgotten in a borrowed tomb outside the city of Jerusalem, but was with us. Alive!

All we had seen, all we had learned, all we had experienced: what did it all mean? And what would we do now?

We couldn’t stay in Jerusalem. Things were so tense there, so dangerous still. So we went back to where we came from. I went back — along with Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and a few others — we went back to the very place where Jesus had first called me: the Sea of Galilee.

I don’t know if you know… but I used to be a fisherman. It was my business, my livelihood. I have fished that sea all of my life. I supported my family, my wife’s family, on the fish I brought back from that beautiful sea. It has been a place of comfort, of familiarity, all of my life. So… we went back.

Remember: we were restless, we were unsure. With anxiety and adrenaline burning within us, as the sun went down over the sea, I took my friends out on my boat to fish.

I told you, I am a life-long fisherman. I know those waters. I didn’t need any of your new-fangled GPS devices, chart plotters, or fish-finder sonars. I just knew where to catch fish. My father had taught me. His father had taught him. Down through the centuries, we were fishermen. So I took my friends out into my boat to fish. To take our minds off of the confusion of all that was happening.

Because there is so much
that I did not know right then…
but I knew these waters.

But that night,
we caught…
nothing.

Tired, smelly, bone-exhausted, we came back to shore early the next morning. As we came closer to the shore, we could see the light of a fire on the rocky beach.

Then we heard a voice call through the lightening skies: “Children, have you caught any fish?”

“Children,” that voice said. Children. Paidia, the voice said. Little children, infants, young sons and daughters.

I should have known.
I should have known right then.
But I didn’t.
Not yet.

“Children, have you caught any fish?”
“No!” we responded.
“Throw your net on the right-hand side of the boat!”

We did. Tired as we were, we threw that net over the starboard side of the boat. We cast that net wide, and watched it, in the morning light of the sun, sinking down, drawing low under the surface of the water.

Then…

The boat tugged to starboard. In our feet, we felt the boat lean to the right, saw the ropes of the net tighten, then strain, then the boat tilted, water spilling in over the side. Looking over the side, we could see fish — so many fish — flapping madly in that net suspended below our boat. We could not pull it in.

I looked back to the shore, where that light from a campfire glowed, where that voice had come from, and… I knew.

And… John whispered with a sound of awe:
“It is the Lord.”

I grabbed my tunic, threw it on, and jumped over the side of the boat toward the water. With every stroke of my arms as I swam toward shore, I thought: “He is here! Oh, my Lord… He is here!”

I actually made it to shore before the boat did. I have no idea how I managed that, but that voice called out again as I touched the shore, saying, “Bring me some of the fish you’ve just caught.”

By then, my other friends had anchored out, just a bit off the beach. I waded back out, and took some of the fish they had already counted out. We had caught 153 large fish in that net, I would later find out. The largest single catch of my life.

But in that moment,
I could not have cared less.

Because… Jesus was waiting for me. 
For us.
He. Was. Here.

And our Savior, our Christ, our Messiah, for whom generations of our families had been waiting, this Rescuer, Redeemer, this Son of the Most High God…

He made us breakfast.

He fed us, tired and hungry and bone-exhausted. He fed us bread and fish. Then he asked me the strangest question:

“Do you love me?”

Do you love me? Of course I loved him! I gave up everything — home, family, job, reputation — everything to follow you, I thought. Of course I love you!

He responded: “Then feed my lambs.”

I thought that finished the discussion. I really did. But then he asked again: “Do you love me?”

My heart hurt, as suddenly I remembered standing in that courtyard in Jerusalem, 70 miles and seemingly a lifetime away, listening to the rooster crow as the sun began to rise the morning as Jesus was held in that prison, awaiting executing.

I remembered how my heart hurt then, how frightened I had been, how uncertain. And I answered his question: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

“Then take care of my sheep,” he said.

But, even then, Jesus wasn’t finished with me. He drew breath to speak… and I knew what was coming. The spirit within me cringed as he asked a third time:

“Do you love me?”

I answered his question, one last time: “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

“Then feed my sheep,” was his response.

That…
That is when it hit me.

Just days before, standing in the courtyard of the Chief Priests’ house as Jesus was humiliated, as he suffered, three times — three times — I had denied knowing him.

And here, on the shores of the sea that I loved, where he had called me, the Savior I followed had given me the opportunity to declare, out loud, three times, with that same voice that had betrayed him… to declare that I loved Jesus.

And, three times, Jesus had given me the command, the order, the opportunity to show him, to demonstrate to him the depth and seriousness of that love.

By this:
by caring for,
by feeding
his flock.

By giving of myself
out of love
in the same way
Jesus gave of himself
for us.

You and I, we’ve never met face to face. You live two thousand years in my future. But I pray that you, this morning, would know, that you would understand, that this same Jesus who called me by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, this same Jesus who I followed across hundreds of miles, this same Jesus who taught and healed and suffered and died… and who came back to us…

This same Jesus taught
and healed and suffered
and died
and came back …
for you.

It’s not an easy question… but it is the most important one of your life.

My brothers and sisters across the miles and the centuries… as each of us gathered here this beautiful morning… Jesus asks you:

“Do you love me?”
“Then take care of my sheep.”

 

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Salsa Recipe. (Really!)

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Now… for something COMPLETELY different.

[Sorry, but nothing remotely theological here.]

It’s been a heck of a week, so my husband Chuck and I took the evening off to relax. Over the past year, we’ve been experimenting with improving our cooking skills, stretching our comfort zone with recipes and experiments (some failed, some ah-may-zing). We’ve tried + modified many recipes…

and this, by far, is our favorite! We make it at least once each week!

So, tonight…
just for fun…
from the Kitchen of Hedy + Chuck…

CASA COLLVER SALSA

You’ll need:

  • Two pounds regular plain ole tomatoes, nothing fancy (Chuck’s description) – about 4 tomatoes
  • Two jalapeño peppers
  • One red (or yellow or orange) pepper
  • One medium white onion
  • Three cloves garlic
  • Safflower oil
  • 1 cup of chicken broth (we use “Kitchen Accomplice” reduced sodium chicken broth concentrate with water) — Chuck says you get bonus points if you use homemade chicken broth … I don’t need the bonus points right now, so: concentrate!
  • Salt
  • Pot for boiling stuff
  • Large frying pan for cooking stuff

Boil tomatoes, jalapeños, and garlic in pot with water. (How else to boil them other than in water? Don’t ask me. I’m still new at this!) Bring to boil, covered, but ajar, then reduce heat until just bubbling, about medium, for about 15-18 minutes.

Slice off about 1/4 cup of the onion, and put in blender. Do NOT slice off your finger, just the onion. (Not that I’ve done that. Just saying.) Chop in blender (setting 2 on our blender). Leave it in blender, waiting for the other stuff to be added.

While the other stuff is boiling away (bubbling away) on the stovetop, move to your cutting board. Dice the red pepper (or yellow or orange) and place in a bowl. Dice onion to be about the same amount as the diced pepper, and put in bowl.

By now, the stewed tomatoes, jalapeños, and garlic should be ready. (I’m a slow chopper, so maybe you’ll have time to read a book, grab a glass of wine, whatever.) Use slotted spoon to put the tomatoes and garlic in blender with the 1/4 cup of now chopped onion. Put the jalapeños on the cutting board. Remove the stems from both. For one jalapeño, seed to your level of spicy-ness (Chuck likes all the seeds in, I’m wimpier, so we compromise with a half-seeded jalapeño). Place the jalapeño and seeds in the blender with the tomatoes, garlic, and onion. Add a a tablespoon of salt to the blender. (These are basically stewed tomatoes, so the salt cuts the super-acidity). Then… purée!

When you remove the boiling pot (at medium), don’t turn the heat off. Just put the frying pan right on it. Put in roughly 3 tablespoons of safflower oil. Let the oil get hot, then pour in the purée. Careful! It’ll splutter! Stir, cover ajar, cook for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Then, after 5-8 minutes, add the chicken broth. Stir, cover ajar, cook for another 10 minutes or so, stirring from time to time.

While this is all bubbling away merrily on your stovetop, go back to your cutting board, where that last lonely jalapeño is pondering its fate. Seed the jalapeño (if you’re a glutton for punishment, leave the seeds in!), dice finely, and place in the bowl with the diced red pepper (or yellow or orange) and the diced onion.

The stuff in the frying pan has been cooking for 10 minutes now (or so). Add the pepper, onion, and jalapeño to the mix. Stir, cover ajar, cook for another 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, and breathing in deeply the absolutely fabulous smell emanating from your kitchen.

Chuck: “Now, c’mon, you KNOW what salsa looks like when it’s done. Apply that knowledge… and you’re done. Maybe test with a teaspoon, and add more salt if needed.”

Me: “Then… while it’s still piping hot, test with a chip. And another chip. And one more, because you need to be sure you’ve gotten it right.”

Enjoy!!!!

 

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Fear, Forgetfulness, & Faith

As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. As he entered a village there, ten men with leprosy stood at a distance, crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy. One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”
— Luke 17:11-19 (New Living Translation)

In the Holy Land, there are many biblically significant sites to visit. In Jerusalem alone, there are so many, including, but not limited to: St. Anne’s, the church next to the Pools of Bethesda. Dominus Flevit Church, on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, where Jesus wept before entering the Holy City. In that teardrop-shaped church, you can look through the Sanctuary window across the Kidron Valley, to see the old city of Jerusalem.

The Church of All Nations at the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed on the night he was arrested. St. Peter in Gallicantu, a church built over the prison where Jesus was held, and where his friend Peter denied three times that he knew Jesus. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the rock of Calvary, where Jesus was crucified.

There are beautiful churches all around the land, such as: the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem; the Basilica of the Annunciation and St. Gabriel’s Church in Nazareth.

Off the beaten track, though, there is a seldom-visited church in the Palestinian town of Burqin in the West Bank.

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Burqin is not a thriving metropolis like Jerusalem. You can see it there, the red pointer. Almost directly south of it, at the very bottom of the frame, you can see Jerusalem. At the top, directly north of Burqin, is Nazareth in Galilee. There are under 6,000 people living there, the majority of them Muslim.

But there is a small community of Christian families, about 75 people, who can trace their ancestors back before the time of Jesus. Each Sunday they gather to worship at their church, known as the Church of the Ten Lepers.

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If you were sitting in their Sanctuary on a Sunday morning, in the pews with the worshipping community of Burqin, this is what you would see in front of you.

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It’s a very small church, with just enough room for the congregation to sit closely together on the wooden benches. The wall of twelve hand-painted icons in frames above the priest’s doorways reflect different scenes from the life of Jesus.

The first known church on this site was built in the 4th century. Local Burqin tradition tells us that that early church was built at the direction of the Empress Helena.

Helena was the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, who legalized Christianity in 313AD with his Edict of Milan. His mother’s deep faith had a great deal to do with this world-changing decision.

Toward the end of her life, we know that Helena took a pilgrimage through the Holy Land, and she is responsible for the initial preservation of many holy sites. When she came to the town of Burqin, she commanded that a church be erected to remember Jesus’ healing the ten lepers who encountered there.

Again, if you were seated in that small Sanctuary on a Sunday morning like this, looking at the icon wall, as beautiful as they are, your eyes might actually be drawn to what you could see off to your right.

You would see there a roughly hewn space, with unfinished and rough stone walls. In the middle of that space is a baptismal font, covered with a red and gold cloth.

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Because of its remote location, this church in Burqin escaped the large-scale destruction of churches by invaders over the centuries. Additional structures were built around Helena’s church, but the surviving original church, which included this room you see here, is one of the ten oldest churches in the world.

If you look closely toward the top of this picture, behind the hanging lantern, a large hole. This hole in the ceiling would have lead up to the surface of the hill above.

This room was once an old Roman cistern, a placing for storing water. In the years since it had been dug out, it had fallen into disuse, and was used instead as a living space, separated, away from the world, for ten lepers, cast off from society. One wall of the cistern was removed to open it up, and the sanctuary was built next to it.

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Can you imagine living there? With your only source of light and air coming through that hole in the roof. A hole that would enable you to get in and out, but would also let in the rain, the cold.

Can you imagine what it would have been like? Ten people living there together, closely packed in that dark, damp, depressing place. This was the home for those ten people afflicted with a disease so terrifying, so disfiguring, that they were rejected by their family of faith, by their own families, by their community.

This terrible disease, caused by a bacterial infection, not only robbed them of their health; it disfigured them, made them objects of fear and ridicule. It stole from them their community and their ability to care for themselves.

It is no wonder that, when they hear that the miracle-worker Jesus is walking by, on his way to far-off Jerusalem, they cry out to Jesus, “Master, have mercy on us!”

Have mercy on us.
Have compassion.
Look at us, see us, care for us.
Help us.

And Jesus does. He has mercy on them. He looks at them, seeing not their disease, but seeing children beloved of God.

These desperate people, rejected and scorned, living forgotten in their dark oubliette of a cistern, Jesus has compassion for them, and he offers them the mercy for which they are begging.

“Go,” he says. “Go show yourselves to the priests.”

The priests were the ones who would have declared them unclean at the beginning stages of their leprosy. The priests would have provided the diagnosis, would have cast them out of the faith community. And they are the ones who can proclaim them cured and welcome them back in. It makes complete sense that Jesus would command them to show themselves to the priests.

And it also makes sense that they, hearing Jesus say these words, would have understood exactly what he meant: they were going to be made whole again.

And they take off at a run.

We don’t know how far along their journey it is that the healing takes place. Did one of them turn to another, and see that the lesions had disappeared, that the skin was now smooth and unblemished? Did they then look down at their own hands, previously rotting-away stumps, now with fully extendable fingers. Did they feel the healing in their eyes, as their vision strengthened, and they could see the road in front of them clearly for the first time in years?

We don’t know when it happened, but we know it did happen. And, no doubt, there was joy and praise ringing from their throats and tears streaming down their faces as they ran to show the priests what had happened.

Then… one of those men stopped. He watched as his fellow sufferers ran on. And he turned back. He went back to the place of his shame, his alienation, now the place of his healing.

He went back to give thanks to the one who had healed him. He falls at Jesus’ feet, pressing his face to the ground, and cries out: “Praise God!”

Jesus looks down at this man, and asks a question of those around him: “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?”

And then he says to the man: “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

This story is often told as kind of a cautionary tale about remembering to give thanks. We’re reminded that 90% of those Jesus healed at Burqin that day ran off without even a “Hey, thanks!” to Jesus. We’re told that we should be more like that one, lone man who returned, as an afterthought, yes, but who returned to give thanks to the man whose power had healed him. We need to be more aware of the ways God is working in our lives, and to be grateful for it all.

And that is absolutely true. Living lives of profound gratitude to our God is a fundamental lesson of this story. No doubt about it.

But there is a detail here that makes it about even more than simple thanksgiving.

We’re told that this man is a Samaritan. In our translation of the passage, Jesus calls him a “foreigner.” Allogenés: a person from another nation. We can gather from this that the nine other men — still running full tilt toward the priests who can declare them healed — those men were all likely Jewish. But this man is not.

Sometimes you’ll hear this story used as a condemnation of those nine ungrateful men. They violated the rule our Mamas taught us:

Say thank you.
Be polite.
Show gratitude.

But remember: they are just doing what Jesus told them to do! Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priests, and that is exactly what they’re doing. Showing their thanksgiving through their joyful obedience.

So, why does the Samaritan come back?

As a Samaritan, he was already outside the purview of the priests. He wouldn’t have worshipping in the Temple or the local synagogues. He wouldn’t have gone to the priests for admittance back into the Jewish community, because he wasn’t a part of the community to begin with. So although he starts out automatically with the others, following Jesus’ orders, he stops and comes back.

And seeing him lying at his feet, Jesus gives him something that he did not offer the others. In addition to that physical healing, he says, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

Jesus uses a different word for healing here. And it’s a really important one: sózó. It means to be delivered from danger, to be rescued, to be taken to a place of safety. It’s the foundation of the word Savior.

This man, the only one who came back to thank Jesus, who shows his faith in his healer by throwing himself to the ground and crying out “Praise God!” … this man is offered salvation through his faith.

As I sat in that little sanctuary in the Church of the Ten Lepers, as I stood in the middle of that cistern, I thought about how easy it is for people of faith to lose track of what is ultimately important.

It is easy for us to be deeply thankful for what we have, but forget all about the One who has given it all to us. It is easy for us to sing out with joy for healing, but not lay our lives down at the foot of the Healer.

Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to help us see the danger in that.

The Samaritan wasn’t looking for human recognition of his healing. He was looking to praise the one who had given him that healing.

Those nine men did nothing actually wrong in racing off to the synagogue to be declared healed and returned to membership in the community. It was, after all, exactly what Jesus told them to do.

The error was in seeking first the approval, the acceptance of human beings. In seeking first the human acknowledgement of this miraculous healing.

Those nine men were deeply grateful for the gift they had been given. They knew what it meant for their lives, and they could not wait for it all to begin.

And that is completely, totally, utterly understandable.

But in their hurry to run toward that future, they literally turned their backs on the one who made that future possible, taking off without even a glance in the rear-view mirror.

My prayer for us this day, this Lent, is that we would not make that same mistake in our lives.

Instead, may we, like the Samaritan man, see the ways God is powerfully at work in our lives — the ways God is drawing us closer to God’s love, the ways God is healing us and guiding us and calling us and saving us — and that we would, like that man, lay our entire lives in front of Jesus, with hearts full of gratitude, crying out with full-throated voices:

“Praise God!”

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