The Day After

Yes, I know Easter was yesterday. I just did not have the time or energy to write the last of my Lenten devotions. Both Saturday and Sunday were chock full of worship and family, and yes, naps. We had a very full weekend. Full in a good way.

For weeks I have lived Psalm 42:2, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?”

When indeed? When shall I behold God’s face and feel God’s presence? When shall I even begin to see through a glass dimly, much less clearly? So many things in my life have been in turmoil, in confusion, and surrounded by fear of the unknown.

But this weekend was when. On Saturday I experienced both the sacraments. My stepson was baptized and the entire congregation was invited to remember our own baptism and renew our baptismal promises. And then after the baptisms I was served communion by that same child who had just made some very adult promises and who was still literally dripping with the waters of his baptism. It was powerful.

Easter morning we headed to worship with a congregation who, though we have known each other a very short time, have embraced us as family. We left our burdens in a cloud of smoke and we sang about the power of the risen Christ. And when worship was over and we all came back inside to the give each other Easter wishes and blessings (and eat receive bags of Easter candy) it began to rain.

My soul has been so thirsty, but the rain was a literal in-my-face reminder that God quenches thirst. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I see the future clearly, but I am renewed and confident there is a future and I won’t be facing it alone. I am surrounded first by the power of the Holy Spirit and second by the love of family and friends (though it is often hard to distinguish the two, so why bother?)

I have beheld the face of God in love for and from the people around me. I have a better understanding of some things from the past that it is time for me to “unbind and let go”. Once again, I am starting over.

He is risen indeed!

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Don’t Mess with Mister In-Between

In 1944 the song “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive” written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer became very popular after appearing in the film “Here Come the Waves.” The song helped people in the midst of World War II to focus on something other than war.

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

Mister In-Between was to be avoided. The song was meant to stimulate people into being positive rather than dwelling on the negative which was touted at the key to happiness. It also insisted that there was little middle ground between the positive and negative. You gotta choose, and choosing the positive was the key to happiness.

The Declaration of Independence declared that all people had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Happiness was something we had to pursue for ourselves. Perhaps pursuit of the positive is the key to finding happiness, but it is hard to separate it from the right to life and freedom.

I’ve seen and heard a lot of discussion about freedom lately. The Constitution guarantees us several types of freedom including freedom of speech. While generally speaking we have the right to say what we believe or what we want or don’t want or what we like or don’t like, there are some limitations. One is that we do not have the freedom to incite anyone to violence. So, no, we can’t just say anything that we would like without hindrance or restraint.

Incite is a word that is often associated with violence or chaos or anarchy. It has pejorative connotations, but the word itself simply means to provoke (another word with pejorative connotations), or stir up (slightly less pejorative), or stimulate (well now that word can be ameliorative). Pejorative just means worsening or destructive, while ameliorative means building or strengthening.

Hebrews 10:24 tells us, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,” In this case we are told to consider how we can provoke or incite or stir up or stimulate others, but not to influence them to do violence or speak hatred. We are told to figure out how to provoke, incite, stir up and stimulate people to love and good deeds.

How are we going to light a fire under people to love each other? How can we give people a shove into the realm of good deeds? How can we stir people up until they want to spread love throughout the land? How can we stimulate people to focus on good instead of evil? How can we incite people to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ?

We won’t do it by demonizing other people. We won’t do it by shaming them either. In order to provoke people to love and good deeds we need to spend more time accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative.

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It’s Better to Light a Candle in the Darkness and Make a Wish

Exodus 12:2 tell us, “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.” And it is the first month of the year for me, always has been because I was born in this month. In fact, today is my birthday.

But this verse from Exodus is not about my birthday. It is about the celebration of Passover, which apparently began the beginning of the year when it was instituted.

A couple of years ago I heard the best sermon on Passover ever. I wish I could reproduce it for you here, or at least give you all the main points, but I never saw a written copy and I only remember parts of it now. The story in Exodus tell us that the Hebrews were still slaves in Egypt when they got the instructions for the first Passover. You might remember that some of those instructions were to get dressed and be ready to go, eat standing up; kill a lamb and roast it whole and then eat the whole thing (and if your family wasn’t big enough to eat a whole lamb in one sitting, then team up with another family because the lamb had to be eaten that night.)

Now here’s the part I remember from the sermon: It takes a long time to roast a lamb whole. You were to get together with your guests and sit around and talk until the meal was ready and then stay to consume the whole thing. Sounds to me like what God was trying to do here was to reconnect some people in preparation, not just for a quick escape from slavery, for a journey that was going to take decades.

Some of the best things in life don’t happen in a hurry. Good chili or stew or even soup take a long time to simmer. Roasting a whole lamb takes many hours. Kindling or rekindling the relationships required to build a nation can take hours as well, and becoming a new nations take decades in the wilderness.

I can’t help but wonder if this relatively new nation of the United States of America doesn’t need a little more time in the wilderness to coalesce. Or maybe this time in history just feels like the wilderness to me, and maybe we could use this time to establish relationships and learn to live and work together.

Anyway, that’s my birthday wish. Get the candles over here so I can blow them out.

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Who, Me?

When I was 12 years old I went, by myself, to see the movie “Rosemary’s Baby.” To this day I do not know how I convinced my mother it was a good idea. She knew I loved scary movies and I couldn’t wait to see this one which looked and sounded really good. It was good all right, and it scared me to death. But it wasn’t the [spoiler alert – Wait, you never saw “Rosemary’s Baby”? Go rent it before you read the rest of this] witches or even the devil that scared me. It was the betrayal. I couldn’t shake how awful it was that Rosemary was betrayed by the man she loved and who supposedly loved her. The truth is, I’m still not really over that.

To betray is to expose (one’s country, a group, or a person) to danger by treacherously giving information to an enemy. The husband in this “Rosemary’s Baby” did that all right. He gave his young wife over to the devil in order to further his career.

William Blake once said, “It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.” I think that is probably correct. We don’t often trust our enemies. It’s the breaking of the trust that makes betrayal so horrible.

During the last supper Jesus ate with his disciples he told them he knew that one of them was going to betray him. It was shocking news to them. Well, the story doesn’t say they were shocked. They actually seemed more confused than shocked. John 13:22 says, “The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.” Maybe betrayal was so unthinkable that they couldn’t wrap their minds around it.

Who would betray their friend? Who would betray their rabbi? Who would betray their Messiah? One of them was going to betray him?

I think by this time they knew that Jesus was not long for this world. He certainly had been trying to tell them that for some time. But I don’t think the disciples were prepared to hear that one of them would do the betraying.

One of us? Which one? Who, me?

It’s easy to single out Judas as the person who caused this horrible death to happen. But Judas didn’t do it by himself. And I don’t think this was a case of the other disciples being above reproach while Judas was the scoundrel. If he was known to be that bad, why did keep him in charge of the community purse? You need to trust the person in charge of the money. They might have disagreed with him, but they trusted him.

Then Judas turned out to be the one who gave Jesus up to the authorities. Something had gone terribly wrong. This wasn’t how the story was supposed to turn out. Or maybe it was. When hear this story now, over 2000 years later, knowing the ending. They didn’t know how it would end. If they imagined an ending, this wasn’t it.

We are living in the aftermath of this betrayal of the Messiah. We know he was arrested and executed and buried. And we also know that the tomb could not hold him. We know that the resurrection brought new life into the world for all of us. Yet we don’t really know what life in the Kingdom of God will look like. We don’t know exactly what will result in the Kingdom of God here on earth.

We don’t think we would ever betray Jesus, but perhaps we would. Perhaps we do. Perhaps when we think the will of God needs a little push in another direction we decide what we think would be the best thing to happen, what is needed. Perhaps the temptation to succeed in the world the way it is now is a little too attractive. Perhaps even the temptation to secure our survival is a little too attractive.

Maybe we should stop and consider what we are willing to sacrifice for the Kingdom of God. Would we sacrifice financial security? Would we sacrifice honor and reputation? Would we sacrifice our own plans and good intentions? Or would we betray the unknowable plan of God in order to accomplish what seems to us to be the best thing? Can we be trusted to follow?

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The Time Has Come

One of my favorite “I Love Lucy” episodes is the one in which Lucy goes to the hospital to have Little Ricky. It’s not my most favorite. That has to be the one about Vitameatavegemin, and I do love the one in the candy factory, but the one I quote most often is titled “Lucy Goes to the Hospital.”

In this episode it is clear that Lucy is very close to having the baby. Fred, Ethel, and Ricky decide to practice their parts for the big event. Each of them has assigned duties to ensure that they get Lucy to the hospital with maximum speed and efficiency. Fred will hail a cab while Ethel calls the doctor and Ricky escorts Lucy safely to the street.

While Lucy rests in the bedroom, Fred, Ethel, and Ricky run through their “it’s time to go to the hospital” scenario. The signal to begin the run-through, timed with a watch, is Ricky announcing with great dignity and importance, “The time has come.” That’s the line I like to quote a lot. The time has come.

The problem is that when Lucy comes out and interrupts their rehearsal with the news that the baby is coming and she needs to get to the hospital, they all panic and rush around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off. Lucy is left standing there to figure out how to get to the hospital by herself.

Of course it all works out in the end. Lucy gets to the hospital on time. Little Ricky is born and everyone is happy. It does not, however, go according to plan.

In John 12:23, “Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.'” Whenever I read this verse I think about Ricky announcing, “The time has come.” And yes, I envision the disciples running around like headless chickens much as Fred, Ethel, and Ricky did when the time had come.

We try to prepare for things that we know are coming, but often the preparation doesn’t work out the way we think it will. Some things we can’t prepare for. Real life refuses to follow the script we ourselves have written. We find ourselves winging it.

It’s not called the art of improv for nothing. Improvisation really is an art form, but the more we practice winging it, the better we can get at it. The trick, according to Mary Ann McKibben Dana, is to respond to whatever is said or done with, “Yes, and…”

When life surprises us either with what is happening or when or how it is happening, the trick is to respond, “Yes, and…” We need to be ready to react at any moment to whatever happens, especially when the time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Plans are good, but be ready to wing it.

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Be Careful What You Ask For…

Just yesterday I was part of an interesting discussion about what “Seek and you will find, ask and you will receive, knock and the door will be opened” means. Let me take this opportunity to restate that it is always appropriate to take our needs and desires to God in prayer, no matter what those needs and desires are. However, no, not everything we seek will we find, not everything we ask for will be given, and not every door upon which we knock will be opened.

Has that been your experience, that everything you pray about happens? Of course not, God is not Santa Claus.

It is important to remember that the “ask and you will receive” bit comes at the end of the story that begins with the disciples asking Jesus to teach them how to pray. Jesus proceeds by teaching them what has come to be known as The Lord’s Prayer. He concludes this lesson by telling them when you ask, seek, and knock to receive these things – God’s Kingdom here on earth, God’s will done here on earth, enough of what we need just for today, forgiveness as we also forgive, resistance to temptation and deliverance from evil – when this is what we are after we will get it.

The requests from the Lord’s Prayer are the most important things in life – not just the most important things for us, but the important things for everyone. When these are the things we seek, we are on the path of righteousness. When these are the things we receive, we are truly blessed. But when we are truly blessed, not everyone is going to be happy about it.

Human beings get this idea that there is only so much of God’s love to go around. Ridiculous! And yet we see life in terms of the more someone else gets, the less there is for us to get. This is also known as scarcity. Remember Jesus said that he came to bring life, abundant life, for everyone and not just for the ones God loves the most. There is no such thing as the ones God loves the most. God loves everyone.

Granted, God is not always happy with us, any of us, and perhaps some of us less than others. God judges all of us and we all come up short. just how short we come up is not something God cares about that much. Our turning back toward God is what God cares about.

When any of us has a powerful event as the result of an encounter with God’s love, God’s judgment, God’s forgiveness, it can change our lives. It changes us. It changes how we relate to God. It changes how we relate to the rest of God’s children. It changes our priorities. It changes our direction. Life is different for us, and in a sense for anyone who comes in contact with us. Life is abundant. We are more whole, more at peace, more empowered to seek and do God’s will.

When God does something powerful in your life, other people aren’t necessarily going to like it. Maybe they don’t like it because it happened to you and not to them. Maybe they don’t like it because they want to be in control, not empowered to seek and to do the will of God.

I have as many control issues as the next person. I probably a lot more control issues than most of the people who will read this. Surrender is not usually an attractive word to me. It reeks of defeat. But surrendering to the control and will of God is a big part of what following Christ is about. Figuring out the will of God as opposed to what others are trying to assert is the will of God, ah, that’s the difficult part. But if we ask…that’s right, we will receive.

John 12:10-11 tell us, “So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.” Jesus called new life to come out of the tomb, but there were those who didn’t receive this as good news. Not at all. They saw the call as a threat. They saw the called as a threat. They saw the caller as a threat. All three were a threat to those with power and position and in their minds all three had to be eliminated.

It is dangerous to be on the side of God, constantly seeking God’s will and the power to carry that will out. It is not at all a guarantee of safety or power or position. Nevertheless, it is who we are called to be. Nevertheless, it is what we are called to do. Nevertheless, we persist.

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I Love a Parade!

I do love a parade. I used to watch parades fairly often when I was a kid. I can remember many Stock Show parades when I was a kid in Fort Worth, Texas. I would be dressed in my little red cowgirl outfit and cowgirl hat. I was pretty rootin’ tootin’.

I remember another parade when Fort Worth declared it Alan Bean Day. And there he was riding in a convertible as the centerpiece, a real live astronaut.

Like most kids I watched quite a few Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parades, until I got a little old for giant helium balloons.

I went to a ticker tape parade in New York City that honored the United States Olympic teams in 1984. That was really exciting. I was there on a visit and we just happened to hear about the parade a day or so beforehand and decided to go. I actually got to meet the Men’s Olympic Volleyball Team when the parade came to a sudden and unexplained standstill with them right in front of us.

I’ve even walked in a few parades as a Girl Scout and as a Sweet Potato Queen.

But one of my all time favorite stories of a parade took place in about 1971 or 1972. It was close to Easter and our church’s Senior High Youth Group had gone to see a movie about the life of Jesus. It was one of the worst movies made on any topic. Oh come on, that bad? Oh yes. That bad.

It was titled “King of Kings”, but not any of the famous versions of “Kings of Kings”, this was kind of an off-brand. It was made in some foreign country and dubbed into English. In the scene portraying the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem after Jesus was born, they took the camera outside a wall, made a lot of noise, and threw plastic baby dolls into the air. I swear I am not making this up.

Our youth director slept through the whole movie. Snoring loudly.

We had no choice. There was nothing to do but laugh through the whole thing. When we finally got to the depiction of Palm Sunday suddenly the person sitting next to me burst out singing, “I love a parade!” (I’m remembering you, Laurie.) It brought the house down, not that there were more than 3 or 4 people in the theater besides our small youth group. I’ll never forget it. Well, I haven’t forgotten it in 45 years.

Matthew 21:10 portrayed that Palm Sunday parade this way, “When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?.” That line still makes me laugh.

Who is this, indeed? There were a lot of different answers at the time, and there still are today. People still want Jesus to be all kinds of things. They want him to overthrow the government and get rid of the oppressors so they can be in charge instead. They want him to pronounce them his disciples and bestow all the privileges that come with the rank. They want him to heal them. They want him to guarantee their salvation with no expectations.

Who is this? This is the King of Kings who rode into town on a donkey while people waved palm branches and less than a week later was hastily laid in a borrowed tomb.

But wait, there’s more…

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