Wednesday, April 23, 2014


There are so many things we grieve in life.  We experience the loss of things that are important in our lives.  One specific story that stuck in my mind this week concerns one of my youth who almost lost her foot.  I was with her in the hospital, and watched her go through a lot of problems as the high and the low times hit.  The accident forever changed her life, even though she kept her foot.

We even grieve things we never thought we would mourn.  I remember grieving the loss of houses as we moved.  I remember lamenting the loss of my two-toned 1983 Escort as we sold it.  I felt saddened by the loss of my high school building that really looked like a prison.  I even grieved the unique and nasty smell of that high school.  I guess when we are living life the moments and memories mean so much we hold on to them.  This doesn’t even touch on mourning the loss of people.  We know that is the deepest form of grief we feel.  We hold onto their words, the pictures of them, and their actions.  We can’t imagine a world that is griefless, because it is all we know.

This week marked the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon, which we want to forget.  As I looked at the images again, I remembered how 2013 shaped a new view of this wonderful event.  The image of this Marathon was forever changed with two blasts that ended the race.  We remember the pieces that came out of this:  Neil Diamond singing “Sweet Caroline,” at the known spot during the Red Sox game.  I recently heard a story about the college student who was studying to be a physical trainer, and who was in one of the most famous pictures.  She was tiny, but ended up helping a man who lost both of his legs, by pushing him through the masses.  So many people lifted her up as a hero, that she deleted her Facebook account.  Grief struck her, and praise was far from what she wanted.  And there was even grieving in St. Louis as we lost a World Series with the mindset that Boston needed that one. It seemed to shape a lot of grief last year.

To be griefless is not something we can imagine.  Yet, we can imagine this is what the disciples felt as they saw Jesus.  All grief left them.  All of their questions were answered, and they were able to breath easy.  The disciple who wasn’t with them still had a lot of questions.  Thomas was still grieving and questioning while the other disciples were relieved.  This weekend we continue to celebrate Easter and the promise of a griefless life, because of what Jesus did for us.  We take a closer look at this story and the way in which the disciples responded to seeing Jesus for the first time since the crucifixion.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Big Week

Gearing up for a big week is hard for everybody.  No matter who you are when you know something is coming which demands your “A” game, it is difficult and challenging.  If it’s a week when you have an interview, then you want to make sure you have anticipated all possible questions.  If you have a big test scheduled, then you know you need to study all the pertinent information.  If you have a business, then you want to make sure you are ready for your clients.  This year the tax day deadline arrived during Holy Week.  Accountants have been gearing up for this final week as they hammer out tax forms, or file extensions for those clients who are a little late to the party.  Big weeks are a part of life, and as we grow older such weeks demand a little more energy and a little more preparation from all the wear and tear of the big weeks of the past.

As a pastor, Holy Week is the biggest week of all!  Anytime you throw something else into it, the week becomes a little more challenging.  This year someone asked me to preach at Meramec Bluffs, and because I am a loving person, and more importantly, a loving son-in-law who cares for his mother-in-law’s ministry, I agreed to do it.  Yet, as I sat down to prepare for this intense week, I realized that not only did I add another sermon, but another audience.  Different audiences make me nervous, because they don’t know me.  Will my words come across the way I hope they will?  I’m sure you wouldn’t think that a new audience would cause this reaction, but honestly, I feel audiences of the past forgave me for my flaws.

As Jesus entered the most powerful week of His ministry, I am sure His human side was gearing up.  He knew what was going to happen.  He knew all the things He had said in the past, and He knew the people eventually were going to get it.  But He had to go through a week of experiencing new audiences, which were often in utter confusion.  He was going to appear before groups consisting of the apostles who knew Him, but who also were going to be confused by what He was saying.  He was going to step up in front of officials who were going to wrestle with His words.  And finally, He was going to come before an audience that was planning to kill Him.  Isn’t that the culmination of all fear--that not only will people reject you, but they will want to kill you as well!

Thankfully, I have never had to deal with such a situation, and if you are reading this you haven’t either.  (Unless you are an escape artist)  But we all have had to deal with daily dying and struggling with sin and pain.  Every audience that crossed Jesus’ path faced those things.  They often had their own solutions, not realizing that the True Solution stood before them.  The beauty of Holy Week is that it ended with the greatest miracle and the gift of our salvation.   Jesus knew it was coming and there had to be great joy for Him knowing what a gift this was going to be for you and for me.  As you gear up for this big week, don’t forget to invite your own audiences to hear about the most significant week the world has ever known.  This is a week to celebrate what God has done for us.  Happy Holy Week and God’s Peace this Easter!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Palm Thinking

In the Midwest palms are few and far between, so we have to order them for Palm Sunday church services.  As a kid it meant that I swung my palm branch around, and eventually made a cross with it.  Palm Sunday is a unique time of celebration, followed by the sadness of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and then peaking with the joy of Easter.

The instances of seeing palms during my lifetime were also few and far between.  We would see them as a family as we drove to visit my grandma in Florida. I remember watching the palms blowing around the beach and in my Grandma’s backyard.   When I drove to California as an adult, I noticed palm trees all over.  The difference, of course, was that they looked dead on the bottom.  Because of the lack of seasonal change, there were palm branches that looked liked they had died before, but had not long enough to fall down, thus allowing more palms to become green.  Florida seems to have more of the seasonal feel and more rain so this is less of a problem.

The first sermon I wrote about Palm Sunday, I totally tanked because I used all kinds of connections to donkeys.  I remember all the things I learned from my amazing teacher who was, and still is a great preacher.  He taught us to look into the Law and Gospel and not dig too deeply for odd connections and twists.  While I still have a love for a new connection or twist in Scripture, I did see his point to not miss the obvious and powerful meanings.

We call today Palm Sunday, and we recognize that Jesus is our Lord and Savior.  Yet on that first Palm Sunday, many appeared with their palms that day because they wanted to see what this miracle worker named Jesus would do.  In those days, waving palms was a traditional way of recognizing and honoring greatness or royalty; yet Jesus took a donkey that no king in his right mind would ride upon..  He came riding humbly on a donkey, knowing what would happen.  The funny thing is that we are the ones who ultimately face humility in this story.  As did the people in the story, we also go from one minute recognizing Jesus, and the next minute we find ourselves yelling, “Crucify him!”  Sometimes, like my first experience in writing a sermon, I was looking for the wrong connection.  The people were still looking for that miracle worker, and when they came looking for the wrong thing, they just didn’t find what they wanted.  But the amazing thing was that it was a good thing they didn’t find what they were looking for.  As our story continues, we find Jesus on the cross, thereby rescuing us from all of our lack of humility.  And the cycle starts all over in the Church.  Traditionally we burn the palm branches and use them for Ash Wednesday the following year.  This brings us back to the humility we were missing by waving palms and looking for something else, while Jesus was showing us true humility. This weekend we spend time diving into this tradition of the Church as we recognize the power of Jesus in this story.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Message Delivered

Recently I watched a documentary about Magic Johnson.  He was an icon that I remember as I grew up playing grade school basketball and collecting basketball cards.  At that point in my life I still had dreams of becoming a professional basketball player.  I thought that might happen until I reached middle school and high school when that possibility was no longer apparent.  Regardless, I considered people like Magic Johnson as untouchable as far as making mistakes were concerned.  I was eleven years old at the time when AIDS and HIV were issues that seemed very hard to understand.  I had no clue how this married man could have gotten this disease.  I also never understood why this fun loving, smiling basketball player questioned whether he could continue to play with other players.  All of this was cloudy until I saw a documentary about him a few weeks ago, after which I could understand the issues of sin that he had before getting married.  I also became aware of the courage it took for him to explain it to the public, which then resulted in the fact that many people considered him to be a sign of hope.  In some of the closing moments of the documentary he said, “I am a blessing and a curse to this disease.”  His reason behind this statement was that he helped fight the stigma, and advocated for finding a cure; but that also he was a curse, because everybody who got it thought they would get better like he did.

It is interesting how personalities and sin can change the message.  It is also interesting how our opinions of certain persons can change the message.  We expect good guys to bring a good message and bad guys to send a bad message.  It is cut and dried in our world, but not so with God.  Recently my son Jacob has been asking me, “Dad, why do bad guys do this stuff?”  There are lines even in my five- year-old child’s mind about what good people and bad people do.  One of the most interesting parts of this week’s lesson is about Caiaphas, who was one of the bad guys in Jesus’ trial.  Caiaphas prophesied that Jesus would die for the people.  This is one of those sections in Scripture we forget about because we peg Caiaphas as a bad guy, so we don’t expect him to preach the message of the way to Heaven.

Yet, it spoke to me.  Often as I sit in the midst of my own sin, I can still see the way the Holy Spirit shapes me to share the Gospel.  There are earthly perspectives on sin, and on sins that play greater roles in impacting people.  But there is also something to be said that God’s message of hope can even come from bad guys.  Believing that God’s grace is for all people can also mean that grace is offered to all people even if they don’t believe it for themselves.  This weekend we take a longer look into a well-known miracle.  We observe the response of the people, and the resulting message from one of the key people who was responsible for the death of our Savior.  Moments like this may confuse us, but they also illustrate Jesus’ power to rescue all of us, no matter the opinion or perspective that we have on a particular person.

Remedies and Diagnoses

Rarely do I throw Mindy under the bus, but I love it when she diagnoses things.  As each one of my kids experiences health issues, Mindy’s instant response is always, “Do you think they have cancer?”  It doesn’t matter if it is a sore throat or if they aren’t walking at the developmentally appropriate time, it always leads her to wonder if it is cancer.  I mean who can blame her with so many reports of new cancers coming out everyday?  And honestly, who doesn’t have a family member who is, or was affected by cancer?  I remember when the doctor was checking me for skin cancer, and I asked, “Is this hereditary?  That was the cause of my dad’s death.”  He said, “Well, about ten percent of cancers are hereditary.  Does that make you nervous?”  I said, “Not in my line of work.”  I was probably thinking about humor more than I was processing what I was saying, but as we look at this week’s lesson the real problem there is diagnosis.

The Pharisees wanted to determine what sin and its accompanying punishments involved.  What’s funny about this is that even in our court system today there is no consistent punishment for crime.  There are so many variables in crime, and the ways in which the court system processes it.  Yet, for the disciples and the Pharisees, this was all about diagnosis.  At the time, there was a strong belief in spirits continuing on from a previous family member, or from mistakes of the past.  This is taken out of context and understanding from the Old Testament that describes future generations facing the sins of their forefathers; and this is the point where it was taken it so literally.  Applying that idea today, for example, we could think that because my dad had cancer, my kids don’t have a shot of escaping it.  This is an extreme way of holding onto this passage and focusing on sin.

This week as we see Jesus use an unconventional way to heal, it brings us back to Light, the focus of our Christian walk.  The passage in Ephesians describes the way life should be—living as children of light—not centering on the darkness.
The Pharisees were concentrating on the diagnosis of darkness instead of focusing on the light.  The light brings us back to the ways in which God restores us even if we have had an ailment since we were born.  The power of this passage offers us another Lenten reflection on how amazing the actions and heart of Christ were for His people.  This weekend we take time to study this story, learn to abandon diagnosis, and give our attention to Christ’s healing hand.