Tag Archives: sermon

This is not the end!

Proper 28 Mark 13 15 NOV 2015

Title: This is not the end!!

Context: Field Service at Ft. Sill. Last Sunday of Mission Readiness Exercise in preparation for a deployment in February.

Text: Mark 13:1-8

Proposition: There will always be war and rumors of war but have hope, the end is not yet.

What makes a phrase “iconic” perhaps the better question to ask is what makes a phrase, “timeless?”

In our passage this morning, we have an iconic, timeless phrase, “there will be wars and rumors of wars…” It’s a phrase that is repeated in literature and in culture throughout West. It’s one of those phrases that is almost always true.

There will always be wars and rumors of war.

Why? Because we are human. Because we consistently fail to resolve our issues with one another with dialogue and conversation. Because we are greedy. Because we seek for power. Because we love violence. Because we can’t abide evil that destroys life. Because we are human. There will always be wars and rumors of wars.

It is nearing the end. The followers are starting to notice that their leader has been getting darker of late. It’s evident to them as they travel that people are less likely to welcome them, house them, and give them food. Good, Yahweh fearing, hardworking, respectable people are closing their doors when they pass. The young come out in droves. The hurting needing healing are hounding them. The poor who have nothing to lose anyway come out to see them and hear the prophet. But the respectable? The established? The connected? The wealthy who could support them in their ministry? Nowhere to be found. What worried them were the zealots, the outcasts and subversives that brought with them spies and traitors, agents of the empire. Fear began to creep in and disturb their comfort.

Something, something was happening.

It wasn’t always like this. When they were recruited, it was exciting! They were part of a movement unlike anything they had ever experienced! Jesus was a rock star. They were awesome just because they were with him! Early on, everyone came out to see them. Everyone surrounded them pressed them in. It was exhilarating! They were part of something big!

They had given everything to this movement. They had abandoned their careers. Left their families. Walked away from security and home because they felt the call to something bigger. Lately though, it didn’t seem as fun. It didn’t seem as clear cut. The teaching was darker and Jesus kept going on and on about dying in Jerusalem. Then they went to that very place. The place where Jesus said he was going to die.

Day one was amazing. People who only had one coat in their lifetime threw that coat on the ground so that the donkey Jesus was riding didn’t even have to touch the dirt. Branches of trees were strewn everywhere. Jesus was riding in like a king! They cried out hosanna!! Then someone (clearly a zelot) started saying, “blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” The people picked it up and it spread through the crowd. They weren’t screaming for a messiah, they were screaming for their king. So, Yeeeahhh, that happened. Their leader became the literal second coming of King David. Obviously Rome was NOT impressed. Things began to go south. Moderate people started to avoid them. The reception began to go cold.

It all went downhill from there. Everyone is watching them. People are looking darkly from behind corners. There is angst about what comes next. Is this what they signed up for?

Angst. Anxiety. Worry. Embarrassment. Maybe this wasn’t the best thing to do with their lives. (I might be projecting a little but that’s what telling stories is all about right?)

So, then they come to the Temple. It’s beautiful. The stones are so huge! They rise out of the ground. These fishermen, most of whom have probably never been to a city in their lives much less Jerusalem, the Holy City, are amazed. They walk around gazing upward like the country bumkin rednecks they are. They comment to Jesus how awesome the stones are, how magnificent the building is (maybe trying to cheer him up?) and how does he respond?

“Do you see these great buildings?” replies Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Crash and burn. Jesus is talking about the very seat of Jewish identity. This is the core of the Jewish faith and their nationality. Of course, we know now that not long after this, Rome would burn it all and what would be left is rubble never to even look like what it was. But they didn’t know that. Jesus rained on their parade with fire and brimstone. This is after (in chapter 12) he has laid waste the religious establishment for building their wealth on the backs of the poor who could not afford it.

So the cozy up and ask – “so, when’s it going to go down?”

Jesus replies by describing what the end of the world would look like. It is important to remember that Mark is an apocalyptic writer. He believed that Rome would bring (as it, in fact, brought) about the end of civilization. This writing was to a people who believed that they would see Jesus again in their lifetimes. The message is to a specific people but it is also timeless.

There will be war. There will be rumors of war. This is a fact of life. But the end is not yet come.

And that, I hear with hope. The world will be bad, it will get worse, it’ll be tough. Things will be demanded of you that you can’t imagine but don’t be afraid, the end is not yet.

What does this all mean for us, sitting here, in this room looking down the barrel at (for some of us) another journey into the breach? We all saw the news yesterday, Paris and Beirut attacked, once again, the drums of war sound and those of us who have carried that burden hear them with the exhausted ears of the boxer hearing the ring to start round 14. Will the wars never end?

Perhaps and perhaps not. History, if it shows us anything, demonstrates that as long as we’re human, we’ll be either at war or talking about it. War is an exercise in rhetoric except for us, we who put on the armor, pick up the rifle, shoulder the ruck, and move to contact.

Here’s how I hear the text this morning:

Listen, these walls you see, they are built on the backs of the poor. They will fall. They cannot stand. This is the nature of life. There will always be people who come along and profess that their way is the only way, beware of them. They will say they represent me but they do not! When you hear of wars and rumors of war, do not be afraid, this is not the end.

Soldiers, there could not have been a better text for us this morning. There will always bGetting readye wars and rumors of wars. We are fighting one that is 14 years old and another that is moving into its third iteration. There is no doubt in my mind that war will define the rest of my career and possibly yours as well. If we continue as we are, in 2025 when my retirement becomes possible, we just might still be in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And yet, the message I hear is, “Don’t be afraid… the end is not yet.”

Saints, hear this from Christ, Do not be afraid, this is not the end.

So live! Love life! Anxiety is normal. It is part of recognizing that we are not working at McDonalds, we are Soldiers in the Army of the United States. And we, gathered here, are Christians. Followers of the Way. As we move to contact, as we live our lives, let us be the best of who we are. Let us be the best Soldiers for we represent our heritage. Let us be the best leaders for we represent our nation. Let us be the best people for we, believers, represent Christ. Let us live forward, into the light, unafraid, for this is not the end.

Amen.

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Chaplains Represent… what?

There is a remarkable disconnect between the symbols of authority I wear on the uniform and the actual authority I bear as a person. A chaplain has no authority. They have no command. They have no real power. They only have representative power.

This looks like invoking the commander’s name when I need something acted upon as a staff officer. This looks like owning the rank on my chest as though it actually meant something other than a pay grade.

This looks like good, old fashioned pride often enough.

And yet, when I come into a room, it is not uncommon for Soldiers to stop with foul language or they will ask for pardon, “sorry chaplain…” Sometimes, people will shift uncomfortably in their seats waiting for me to finish whatever business I have in their space and leave; hoping, it seems, that I don’t start talking to them.

Is this because I am somehow intimidating? Heavens no! I am average in every way. I am a middle to end of the pack runner. I am always pushing the deadlines on my staff work. It is a great struggle and burden to keep up with the younger, more fit, better educated officers I work with.

So what drives the discomfort?

Representation.

I read this passage from a “Minister’s Prayer Book” this morning and it resonated with me.

                “I was a pastor ministering at a hospital. A patient said to me, “if you were a ditchdigger, you’d have a more useful calling than you do now.” That was a long time ago, but I have not forgotten it. I thought so myself many a time as I watched the nurses performing their tasks which are so needed and desired by the sick, and surgeons and doctors performing the most wonderful operations – while I stood there making miserable attempts at pastoral conversation. If I only were a ditchdigger! But a pastor? An impossible figure! Impossible before God, the world, and even myself. For there is a tremendous gap between what is required of a pastor in his (her) ministry and his (her) authority and power. Does he (she) have any power at all?…”*

I have oft felt that angst. I have oft flited about the “battlefield” on a mission or tasking with nothing more to do than visit with my Soldiers and just “be there.” Often, I have dealt with my angst by finding busy work to engage in. Becoming an expert in suicide intervention, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Leadership, morale work, budget analysis, event planning, and whatever else I could do to make myself useful to command.

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Really, I’m often just finding work to fill my day. To fill the void in my heart that seems so unfulfilled and worries that I’m of no actual use to the world I work in I create usefulness. I can own that it often came from pride.

It is noted, on the other hand, that I was raised with the maxim, “find a need and fill it.” This, combined with the embedded message of, “always look busy,” created in me a need to always have projects going. At its best, those projects were in the first vein but often, they could be easily identified as meeting the latter need.

Projects are good. Fulfilling needs and meeting goals are always healthy endeavors. For me, I’ve found that ignoring my spirit for the sake of keeping busy is injurious to my soul. They are an effort to be needed, to create some authority, please someone rather than the Someone, and by attempting to be indispensable, create power. That is inherently not good and not healthy.

It has been a challenge, growing into my ministry identity.

In a sense, I have suffered into it. 15 years into my ministry I am finally recognizing that what people need from their pastor is not programs or skill sets or leadership – they need authenticity. They need someone who knows their lane and knows their God and can represent that to them.

I love this from my morning reading:

                “The pastor’s authority is based solely upon the fact that Jesus Christ ministers to him (her) through the forgiveness of sins. What do I have to do in my ministry? I have to preach, and we say, “preaching is God’s Word.” And I know how those sermons of mine were produced. Often, it is true, with prayer and fear and trembling; but also by the dint of coffee and tobacco, sometimes in a burst of effort, very sketchily and superficially, because I have seemingly more important things to do. Strictly speaking, an impossible thing – unless Jesus Christ himself is not ashamed to accept this preaching.”* – Herman Dietzfelbinger

I know how my ministry has been produced. Through suffering both external and internal. Through the battles of the soul. Through disciplining my body and my mind, failing miserably in the intent, getting up and doing it again.

I think, and hope, that this is the sort of pastor people want and need. One who suffers as they do and yet, still embraces hope; even when it’s so hard to see. It is not about the work I do, the expertise I develop, the intellect I wield (thank God), it is about who I seek to represent. Can my people see Jesus through my stuff or does my business get in the way? Can they experience Christ in my presence, words, and actions or do they experience just another staff officer doing their jobs?

Pastoral ministry is, after all, all about who I represent.

 

* I chose intentionally to make the passage egalitarian.

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Hearing the Wife preach

Last Sunday, I heard Sara preach *in public* for the first time. It was perfect. It was not her first sermon, just the first time I got to hear her. One of the realities of being a two-pastor home is that we do not get to hear each other preach all the time. Sara often covers for me when I’m in the prison, so while I love that I have a dependable preacher every Sunday I am out of my civilian pulpit and in the prison, I also do not get to hear her preach. boo.

Sitting in the pew, I experienced pride, joy, anxiety, excitement. I’ve walked this journey with her for years. I remember our conversations about what to do as the kids grow up, how to pursue a career. One of the things that attracted me to Sara from the beginning is that she was not just about getting married and having babies. She was a strong, career minded woman even though at the time, she didn’t have the theological freedom to embrace that. I sensed that in her and it drew me. I remember exploring all these helping professions with her since it seemed that was the most logical but all of them fell short. She was not fulfilled. I wanted her to find her passion but didn’t know how to help her.

When she acknowledged God’s call in her life, it immediately made sense. It was the most logical, peaceful realization we have experienced together. I didn’t affirm her because she was my wife, I affirmed her because I immediately recognized the truth of her calling. Of course she was called to pastor. Of course!

When she called the kids to come forward for the children’s sermon and they all gathered around, snuggling in to a pastor who also was a mom, it was so right. When she took to the pulpit and began with a brilliant introduction about the elementary school pick-up line that drew the audience in to the text, it was so perfect. When she ended with solid questions and challenges – I watched the impact on our congregation – it was palpable.

Experiencing Sara in the pulpit for the first time confirmed once again to me that the God we serve is about the business of calling the best shepherds to guide the flock.

It was fun preparing the message. Since we have been in Matthew 5, we chose to do a mini series. I preached last week and Sara this week. What I loved about it was that we were able to take different perspectives on the same passage. Our congregation really enjoyed it as well. As we come into Lent, we are going to preach back to back through the season with the same goal.

I have noticed that we take very different approaches to preparing sermons. Sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s challenging. I may have been preaching for much longer but that does not mean that I get to critique without leave…

I gotta tell you, this is getting fun!…

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Kids in Worship.

We’ve got three kids. 5 (going on 12), 4, and just turned 2. It can be tough sometimes finding a church where we fit in. I have a value of my children attending a regular service. There is nothing wrong with kids church, I’m a fan – I just also value our children experiencing the significance of the adult service.
It can be challenging bringing kids to church. I too have not been above appealing to the paint function on an ipad (or that really awkward moment when the theme to “superwhy” that plays whenever the app opens rings out loudly in the middle of the sermon). It’s especially bad in my little church where the historic building has one bathroom that can only be accessed via a door off the main stage. Yeah. That’s right, you have to take your child down the middle aisle, right in front of the pulpit, where I am “breaking sacred bread” in order to let potty-training kiddo use the bathroom. If you listen closely, you can even hear the ancient toilet flush.
Even with all that, I still believe it’s important to bring your kids into the service. I’m a preacher and it does not bother me or phase me, or interrupt my train of though to have kids talking and coloring though the service. I do a kids message before my adult sermon that ties into concepts with the message and (when I remember) I also include a coloring page. None of these will keep a kids still for 20 minutes so if someone cries, they cry. No. Big. Deal.
All that said, I read this article today and thought it had some great ideas for making that transition from kids church to adult church.
Let your child get comfortable in the worship space.

1. Attend a child-friendly church.

A church that invites children to attend worship, that has a children’s time during worship or a service in which children are included, will not mind the noise and commotion that comes with having young children in worship.

2. Bring your child to church on a day other than Sunday morning.

Call the church office and make an appointment with a pastor, Christian education director, or church school teacher. Go on a tour of the church facility, and locate the Sunday school rooms and bathrooms as well as the sanctuary. Let your child explore the sanctuary, see how it feels to sit in the pew, and leaf through the Bibles and hymnbooks. Look behind the pulpit, Communion table, and baptismal font, and explain the use of these.

3. Take home a worship bulletin and go through the service at home.

Show your child that there are times to sit, to stand (and in some places, to kneel), to sing, to pray, and to listen. If the Lord’s Prayer is used, write down the words and let your child practice at home. Prepare offering envelopes and let your child put money in the envelope, and explain why the offering is important.

4. Play “Let’s go to church” at home.

Practicing the worship service at home will help your child feel more comfortable with what happens in worship.

5. Read the Bible and pray at home.

Purchase an age-appropriate Bible for your child and read the stories. Let your child handle the Bible and encourage questions. You can explain that the Bible is where we learn God’s story, and how we are part of that story. If you let prayer be a part of your everyday life, not just something you do at church, your child will understand its importance.

6. Sit near an aisle, near an exit.

If your child needs to go to the bathroom, or is feeling overly stimulated or having a disruptive day, don’t be embarrassed. Walk your child out of the sanctuary until she can work off a little energy, and then come back in. This is much easier if you don’t have to crawl across a row of other people in the pew!

7.  Be prepared with a worship notebook or bag.

Many churches provide materials for children to use during worship, but if not, bring your own supplies. Colored pencils can be used to mark the parts of worship in the bulletin as you go through them one by one. Get to church a few minutes in advance and use a bookmark to mark the hymns that will be sung that day. Have some coloring pages from a Bible coloring book for your child to color, or some blank pages for doodling. This is not disrespectful, and can help your child listen more attentively. Have the words of the Lord’s Prayer printed on a page for the child to follow, if he or she is of reading age. Let your child draw a picture of the anthem or hymns being sung, or the sermon, and give this to the choir director or pastor afterwards.

8. Teach basic church etiquette.

Speak to people before and after worship, and teach your child how to shake hands and greet others. If your child is shy, don’t force it, but practice at home and let your child see you greeting others. Let the child put the hymnbook and Bible away after use, and be sure to take your bulletin with you, rather than leaving it in the pew. Meeting other people and taking care of the church facility helps a child feel that “This is my church!”

9. Get to know the pastor.

Pastors of child-friendly churches love to get to know the children of the church. Introduce your child to the pastor after worship, and participate in other church activities so that the pastor becomes a friend and not a scary adult.

10. Don’t give up!

It may take awhile for your child to become comfortable in worship, and to learn how to sit quietly. The best way for this to happen is to attend worship on a regular basis. There may be days when it doesn’t go well, but don’t let this stop you from coming the following week. Practice makes perfect!
Inspired by Rufus and Ryan Go to Church! by Kathleen Bostrom, illustrated by Rebecca Thornburgh (CandyCane Press, an imprint of Ideals Publications).

Thanks to Ministry Matters

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Nicely played Steward. Nicely played…

Luke 16 

He was hired to manage people and property. That’s his job. Make money for his master, the landowner. Pause.

In the preindustrial world of Jesus, agriculture is the heartbeat of the economy. The chief issue at play in the economy was who controlled the land and who had the power to extract the surplus. In this case (Luke 16) the landowner had the power and the steward (manager) had the responsibility to manage the agricultural production on the property. In the case of this story, the debtors (who rented/worked the land) owe the master produce – olive oil and wheat. Money, in peasant economies, was neither the only nor the primary medium of exchange. The Steward will pay regardless if the peasants produce or not. Go.

But he was terrible at his job! He squandered his Master’s money. The property he was given to manage has produced and he has not managed it appropriately.  Now, he’s going to pay. Pause.

The verb translated “squandered” here is the same word that is used to describe what the Prodical Son did with his inheritance – wasted it. Threw it away. Took the blessing and responsibility from his father and spent it on worthless things. The passage does not say what the Steward did to squander the money, I suspect it does not matter, what DOES matter is that it’s time to pay up and there’s nothing to pay.

It’s worth noting that the Mishnah, postbiblical tradition in Jewish literature, identifies three kinds of renters: those who pay a percentage of the crop, those who pay a fixed amount of the crop, and those who pay in money. This passage speaks of the second kind. They need to pay regardless of what the ground produces. A risky business after all. If they do well, they will have a great year since it’s settled up front what they owe, if not, it’s coming out of their savings or debt. And it’s not a small amount. The amounts in question underscore the rich man’s wealth. The first debtor owes one hundred “baths” of oil. Since a bath is equivalent to nine gallons, this man owes nine hundred gallons of olive oil. The second debtor owes one hundred “kors” of grain. Estimates of the size of a kor vary from 6.5 to 10-12 bushels, and even Josephus gives inconsistent reports as to its meaning. Nevertheless, a hundred kors of grain would have been a large amount. The rich man and his debtors were dealing in large commercial interests therefore, and not in household quantities. Go.

The master returns angry. He calls the Steward to himself – you’re fired. You can’t produce. You are fired. The Master shows mercy to the manager. After all, he had the right to have him fined or imprisoned. He does neither, just lets him go. The steward’s reputation will proceed him and he’ll not find work anywhere else. The Steward is in chaos. What will he do? Where will he go? It’s not like he can go apply at the Synagogue for unemployment! He’s simply out of a job, out of a home, out of security, and out of time! He’s too old to dig (read: work) and too proud to beg! Desperation creeps into his thoughts.

Except… he’s not out of time. A plan forms in his mind. There is some hope here if he plays his cards right. Pause.

A Steward, or an Estate Manager, was entitled to a commission. He was entitled to a fee for each transaction, which itself was recorded, principle and interest, in a public contract. There is no way that he could extract a fee of 50% as peasants would immediately inform the Lord that of the extortion. If the Lord and the Steward were in cahoots, there would be revolt. What he does here is described as “shrewd” or brilliant, or terrible based on how you see it. Go.

The Steward realized that he had a window of opportunity to write new contracts with the peasants before they realized that he was no longer the Steward. He rushes out and speaks to the debtors. You owe the master 100 measures of oil? Make it 50. You owe the master 100 measures of wheat? Make it 80. The peasants love him! They begin to dance in the streets! They begin to praise the master’s generosity! What a great year it’s going to be!! The Steward has never been more popular. Pause.

Here’s the brilliance – by renegotiating the contracts, he has set the Master up. If the Lord rescinds the legally binding contracts because they are unlawful, he will alienate the renters AND the entire village who are out singing his praise. If he allows the contracts to stand, he will lose money but will gain honor. And in the ancient Mediterranean culture, honor is better than money. To some extent, it IS money. The good favor received from these transactions will carry him far in the economy of the time. That said, it’s still going to be a touch year. The Steward, though now unemployed, can turn to his former clients and make claims on them for favors as he needs them since everyone knows who “arranged” the deals. Nicely played Steward. Nicely played. Full Stop.

So. Now we ask the obvious question – why?

Three possibilities:

1. Steward is a worthless manager, also corrupt, so in response to getting fired, cheats the master out of the contracts. He sends a blanket email to everyone in the company and does not use BCC declaring that they are all… wait, I’m jumping ahead a few centuries…

2. Steward was acting righteously by excluding any interest figured into the debt.

3. Steward reduced the debt by his own commission – however, no steward gets half as we’ve already discussed.

Whatever the reason – it costs the landowner a significant amount of money. The mere fact that he does not have the faithless steward killed on site probably reveals a good deal about how wealthy this guy was. Seems like the owner looks at the big picture and decides that there are better things than money – honor being one of them. So he commends the steward… and then has him escorted off the property.

Jesus follows this up with what seems to be a sarcastic comment – make friends with unrighteous mammon and you’ll be welcome in that world but it’ll cost you. Is that the kind of person you are? Slave to money?

Faithfulness and honesty. These are bywords of the person who desires to live a “kingdom life.” They can be described as faithful and honest in all their dealings. You can live shrewdly but there is a reward for that – emptiness, separation from the service of the master. There are more important realities than things and money – there is faithfulness and honesty.

Notice the conclusion:

1. A slave cannot serve two masters.

2. If he does, he’ll hate one and love the other or despise one and love the other.

3. We cannot, as servants of God, serve God and wealth. The two do not go together. This is not to say that wealth is somehow bad or that Christians should immediately give everything they have away and move into socialist communes (although, to be fair, the early Christians did…) – it is to say that if wealth is driving you, God certainly is not.

It is reminiscent to me of Ephesians where Paul admonishes the Christian to be led by the spirit of God (rather than drunkenness).

One of the marks of a Christian is that they are faithful regardless of the size of their paycheck or responsibilities. Our faithfulness is not about a measurement, it is about our faithfulness.

This week, you may be called upon to “defend the faith” but probably not. It is more likely that you will be challenged – even today – to be faithful in what God has called you to be. Will you help another on the road of life? Will you offer a listening ear to someone suffering? Will you defend that person who is always getting picked on at work? Will you be patient with your children? Will you be honest in all you dealings? Often, we say we want to have God challenge us to greatness – I’m wondering if we’re actually ready for it.

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Mothers and Goats.

Mother’s Day is complicated.

For some, it’s this wonderful day filled with joy and excitement, love and comfort, poorly made breakfasts and eating out. For others, it’s a reminder of death. It’s a reminder of failure. A reminder that all the struggles to have children didn’t work out and judgments passed on those who choose for perfectly fine reasons not to have children.

Sometimes, Mother’s Days feels a little like “celebrating the fertility gods…”

During the Civil War and long after, Ann Jarvis had founded Mothers’ Day Work Clubs in Grafton, WV and five other cities to improve sanitary and health conditions. The Mothers’ Day Work Clubs also treated wounds, fed, and clothed both Union and Confederate soldiers with neutrality. A great legacy to mothers and their labors to better the world we live in. On May 12, 1907, two years after her mother’s death, Anna held a memorial to her mother and thereafter embarked upon a campaign to make “Mother’s Day” a recognized holiday. It was an opportunity to recognize what mothers go through and sacrifice to raise children. It was, and is, an opportunity to highlight that poverty and struggle exists for some mothers. She succeeded in making this nationally recognized in 1914. The International Mother’s Day Shrine was established in Grafton to commemorate her accomplishment.

By the 1920s, Anna Jarvis had become soured by the commercialization of the holiday. She incorporated herself as the Mother’s Day International Association, trademarked the phrases “second Sunday in May” and “Mother’s Day”, and was once arrested for disturbing the peace. She and her sister Ellsinore spent their family inheritance campaigning against what the holiday had become. Both died in poverty. According to her New York Times obituary, Jarvis became embittered because too many people sent their mothers a printed greeting card. As she said,

A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother—and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment.

—Anna Jarvis.

Mother’s Day is complicated.

It’s complicated because we are complicated. We humans relate to one another in complicated ways. We have these great intentions but somehow, like Mother’s Day, it does not translate into the legacy we’re wanting to leave. Anna Jarvis had a vision of celebrating her mother, she had a vision of celebrating mothers everywhere but somehow that vision became blurred. When other’s started to carry the torch and started to make the day their own, it became something that Anna looked at with distain – “it’s not me!!”

…Cause parenting is never like that!!…

My own mother died 13 years ago this June. Mother’s day is complicated. I have three children who have an amazing mother and I celebrate her today. I also miss my mother. My mother’s mother died recently. They had a complicated relationship. It wasn’t always good. It wasn’t always pretty. It wasn’t always breakfast in bed, soft hair brushing sessions, saintly talks and iconic paintings. It was sometimes dark and moody. Stormy and frightening. Kind of like the relationship I had with my mom.

One of my fondest memories of my mother was out on the “farm” in Michigan. My mother was idealistic. She had these great dreams of simple living and independent subsistence – living off the land. We kids lived out that dream for better and for worse!

One year, we got goats. Little, jet black African Pygmy goats with white stripes down their throats – I hated them. I mean, they were cute until I had to care for them. Let me take that back, they were cute for about a day. Then the stinkin’ male, “Buck” put his little horns on me and we had a “hate/hate” relationship from that day on. We would milk them… have you ever tried to milk a pygmy goat? It is everything you could imagine. A bit like milking pencils. That bite. And kick. And crap all over you. Seriously cramped my style.

One year, my parents went to Pensacola for school leaving me and my sister home to hold down the fort. Buck gets into 50 pounds of corn feed. 50 pounds of corn feed. Do you know what that does to a goat? 50 pounds of corn feed? Bloat. Gas. Impeding death.

I walked in on a bloated goat staring up at me and immediately my life passed before my eyes. This was bad. There was no way I could tell my mother that I let the goat eat itself to death. I called my grandma Dee. She raised goats, she would know what to do. She laughed. Literally laughed out loud when I explained my plight. When she stopped laughing she helped me understand the proper way to help a goat pass gas.

I hated those goats.

We had the goats a couple years. The second winter, Buck got sick. Started acting funny and within a day went from ok to expired. I watched his little life spiral away. I was not sad. I mean, I didn’t do a little happy dance or anything, but I didn’t really grieve either.

Mom said to bury it out in the field.

January. Michigan. There was no burying of the goat that was going to happen that day!

But then, I was not about to tell my mother that. You didn’t really contradict my mom. You nodded and said, “yes ma’am.”

So what was a 16 year old boy to do with a goat that he hated?

Rigor mortis was setting in by the time I got around to taking care of the goat. The day was just starting to end, sun going down and it was cold. I stood in the darkening barn and stared at that goat. What to do? I saw a trash barrel and being the “inventive” young man who effectively sought for the “low hanging fruit” (some people call this lazy but they just don’t get me) I put the goat in the barrel. I mean, it was as good as place as any until I could figure out how to bury it in the frozen ground.

When I put the goat in the barrel, his hooves stuck out and it struck me as kind of funny since… oh stop! Don’t judge me. I was 16. I was burying a goat. On a farm. If you grew up like that, you would have a macabre sense of humor too…

So there the goat was, half in a barrel frozen in death looking like it was just about to jump out. I arranged it just so… looked taxidermied. By then, it was dark and I needed to do homework. I went back into the house knowing that I’d take care of it tomorrow some time. For the record, my sister thought it was funny too.

Later that night, I was reading in my room when my sister Emily pounds on the door. POUNDS!!

“Jon, mom went to get wood!”

“What? Ok. Why would I care?”

“Jon! Mom. Went. Out. To. Get. Wood…. IN THE BARN!!!”

My heart dropped to my feet.  I could see my burgeoning basketball career ending in years worth of grounding. I ran down the stairs as fast as I could go. I tore through the dining room and out the kitchen door…

…just in time to hear a blood curdling scream come echoing from the barn across the snowy lawn. I watched frozen in terror as the beam of my mother’s flashlight shot up and down reflecting her arm movements as she strode back through the deep snow towards the house.

There was nothing to say. There was no excuse. There was no escape.

“JONATHAN RANSOM FISHER! YOU DID NOT BURY THAT GOAT!!!”

I haven’t thought of that story in years but this mother’s day, it came to my mind. My mom died of brain cancer in June 2000. I was miles away in Idaho. I got the call on in the morning. I arranged a flight home that afternoon. The traveling singing group I was singing tenor for said goodbye with reassuring hugs as I was driven to the airport by a church deacon I can’t even remember in a beat up old red S10. My life had changed that day and I could not even know how. I could not even imagine what the future would hold.

I missed mother’s day that year. I had been home but Mom wanted me to keep my word to the ensemble group and the college. I was in Idaho. I don’t have any memories of that time except that my group was awesome. They were so kind. The chaos of my life reflected in their eyes.

Mother’s day is complicated.

Legacy is complicated. We hope that people will carry on what we have given them. I hope my children will carry the torch I bore from my mother/father, her’s from her’s and on it goes.

Jesus, in John 17, is praying for us. That we would carry the Legacy.

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Its part of a greater prayer in this chapter and ends with our role in the coming Kingdom of God. The coming Kingdom of justice and mercy. The coming Kingdom of love and compassion.

The prayer has a present and future reference. It is a prayer, first, that disciples to whom God gave to Jesus may be one and, second, that those who “will believe” may be one and those present and future disciples may become “one.” Did we do it? I’m not sure sometimes… ok, most times…

Unity is never a fixed reality to be taken for granted as accomplished. Rather, it is an ongoing gift from God, who makes it possible to us, and an ongoing demand if we are, indeed to carry out our mission of bringing “the world” to the knowledge that “you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (v.23) Saints, our unity is the testimony that the “lost” need to experience. It is the testimony that Jesus was and is real.

Our unity.

God sends Jesus as the “Word” – logos – the very expression of God. We know God through the testimony of the Word. We know God through the incarnation of Christ. Jesus notes in this prayer that others know Christ by us. By our unity. By our love. They know Christ through us and God through Christ. That’s the mission. Unity. Love.

What about doctrine? What about dogma? What about worship? What about…

Unity. Love.

Saints, we are the second body of Christ. We are a revelation of Jesus. When we do right, Jesus does right. When we are hateful and bigoted, Jesus is hateful and bigoted. When we justify evil speech and call it Scripture, it become’s Jesus word. When we beat each other up over silliness and trite ideas, it is Jesus. That becomes the legacy. That becomes the testimony. That becomes the Word.

Hands. Feet.

These are not metaphorical, esoteric ideas in a dusty book of theological reflection – it is real! Literal! When I stand at an inmate’s door in solitary confinement, it is as a representation of the body of Christ. When I crawl next to a Soldier huddled behind the safety of a humvee wheel in Iraq, it is Christ huddling next to him. When I curse in anger and frustration, it is the voice of Christ. Christ represents God. I represent Christ.

Sara and were talking about this. She noted: As the Body of Christ, we rejoice with those who rejoice and we suffer with those who suffer. We show the love of God when we grieve with those who grieve. We show the love of God to our kids as model love to them. We show the love of God when we stand together as a body and don’t focus on our division. We show the WORLD the love of God by loving each other within the Body. The Body is ONE, it says. If we cut our arm, we bandage it. We care for it.

We in the Army realize this a little more than others I think. It is drilled into us that we represent the Army wherever we go. Whenever I put on a uniform, I am the Army to whomever I meet.

We are a family. We care for one another. Life is stressful enough without us beating each other up! We have surrogate grandparents, surrogate dads for kids whose dads are gone, surrogate moms for those who have gone to serve. We share the common suffering and the common pain.

We do this as an Army family and as a church family. We care for one another and so fulfill the law of Christ. Let us continue. Let us lay aside those things that come between us and live out the Gospel, the answer to Christ’s prayer. The testimony that He is risen! He is risen indeed!

13-19 Now I’m returning to you.
I’m saying these things in the world’s hearing
So my people can experience
My joy completed in them.
I gave them your word;
The godless world hated them because of it,
Because they didn’t join the world’s ways,
Just as I didn’t join the world’s ways.
I’m not asking that you take them out of the world
But that you guard them from the Evil One.
They are no more defined by the world
Than I am defined by the world.
Make them holy—consecrated—with the truth;
Your word is consecrating truth.
In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world,
I give them a mission in the world.
I’m consecrating myself for their sakes
So they’ll be truth-consecrated in their mission.

20-23 I’m praying not only for them
But also for those who will believe in me
Because of them and their witness about me.
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me. (The Message)

 

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Humility and Humanity

My point is that, even as religion has moved to the center of American political life, humility has moved to the periphery.

This thought, written by Stephen Prothero in response to Eastwood’s speech at the RNC highlights something that I am addressing in my sermon tomorrow. The text this week is from Mark 7 where Jesus hammers the Pharisees for missing the boat in relationship to God. They were so focused on their identity as expressed through obedience to the Law (their interpretation and extrapolation of it) that they missed the dynamism of actual relationship. Rigidity in the doing stymied relationship in the being.

Its not all bad for them. I note in the sermon that history teaches us that these rigid followers of the Law were faithful and committed people; their writings not legalistic (for their time) but rather demonstrate vitality, a gracious vision of God, a yearning for justice, and a desire for people to live faithfully. They really believed that they were the closest to what God wanted from humans. Of course, they got a little lost in that.

Its not like we’re all that different – in our drive to rid ourselves of abortion, we miss the fact that we’re to be loving, kind and willing to sacrifice to take care of unwanted humans. In our drive to “uphold freedom” and rid ourselves from any vestige of that dirty word “socialism” (early Christians very much were socialists) we  abandon the chronically poor and those that are most vulnerable in our society. Sure, we get our “pure”  religion right but miss the point of the whole thing.

I think the Pharisees were sincere. I think they were faithful to the revelation they had – they just missed the further revelation of Jesus Christ – are we missing the same thing?

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