THIS HAS GOT TO STOP!

And I heard my friend murmur…

       “…this has got to stop!

I was in Denver with my 27-year-old son last week when I saw the news of what was unfolding in Charlottesville.  Live and in color and enough to weary my soul.  We were staying in a hotel downtown just 1/2 block away from the U.S Federal Courthouse where the Taylor Swift ‘groping’ trial was in its 4th day.  TV cameras in Denver.  TV cameras in Charlottesville.  Both events important.  Both events worthy of reporting.  Both events have subsided.  For now.  And trust these events are far more than just distracting life interruptions.  “When is all this crap gonna stop?” a friend asked.  “Why is it that people with good intentions, who do good productive work, have to stop and respond to stupid stuff like this?”  Pay $1 for an ass grab, an obvious selfish act vs. pay with your life for a young woman with love of neighbor and a passion for justice seeking to help one crowd quiet another’s acts of selfishness.  My friend is misinformed. It is important.  And my friend is right.  This has got to stop, but it won’t if we stop talking about it.

Should I care that a Denver DJ had to pay $1 for copping a feel of a famous country singer of whom I know little of either?  Frankly, yes.  My 27-year-old son is depending on me to.  As are my grandsons.  Should I care that an organized crowd of neo-nazi haters gather in a quiet college town to intentionally bring disruption to the daily life there and point attention to themselves?  I better.  My son, 2 two brothers and 2 sisters and my grandchildren are counting on it.  And just for the record… their mother and I are counting on them.  Yes, this has got to stop.  But, this an old story that has turned a page with a new chapter with new players and new faces and will happen again in spite of all our collective efforts.  It’s the diminishing factor that I’m looking for.  That ass grabbing and hate mongering will become less and less. And, in time, finally disappear.  Yes, this has got to stop.  So, please, do not stop talking about it.

I work with men.  Men of all ages.  Men as old as my late father, men my own age and men the same ages as my sons.  But, when I see  the young men gathered together, like I did in Charlottesville, spewing hate and coaxing a scuffle, I come to one conclusion… “there’s lots of work left to be done!  Lots!”  America is still not the  ‘kinder, gentler nation,’ the country with “a thousand points of light” former president George H.W. Bush hoped for.  Some seem to think their difference of opinions make them better than others and others are not equal to them.  My Bible and the U.S. Constitution say otherwise.

Why is this important?  Working with men?  Simple.  It’s an inclusive thing.  Men just don’t hang out with men.  They have parents, siblings, friends, co-workers, both male and female, a spouse, children and grandchildren.  Men’s ministry is not exclusive.  Men are everywhere.  They relate to everyone.  They were on both sides of the street in Charlottesville and in both ends of the jury box in Denver. The things that men do impact everyone.  For the good and the evil. Impact is impact.  And what I know now that I wasn’t fully tuned into when I was as young as my sons is that the impact lingers.  For the good and for evil.  So, I’m all for advancing the good and helping diminish the evil.  And I also know I can’t do this alone.

As a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and as an advocate for Lutheran Men in Mission, I must state clearly…  I’m not THE voice of the ELCA.  I am A voice.  I’m not THE voice of LMM, but I am A voice and where I come from your voice… my voice counts.  So, let me point you to a few of my favorite quotes from another voice… Martin Luther… as this is stuff that falls into the category of ‘working out our salvation with fear and trembling‘ (Philippians 2:12)…

First,

“God does not need your good works; but your neighbor does.”

What good work is done when one man grabs the buttocks of another woman?  None.  Selfish pleasure reigns.  Superiority seeks its place.  In Denver, humility cost a dollar plus a reputation.  And what good work comes about when young men take over city streets bringing disruption and fear to local residents?  How would anyone refer to this as ‘supremacy?’  Inferiority? Yes.  Oppression turned inside out?  Absolutely, as these actions were leveled in full disregard of neighbors.  As a Lutheran pastor, a husband and father, as a friend and brother I abhor such behavior.  So, maybe my friend was right.  It is an unnecessary distraction from the good and productive things I could be doing.  But, writing this is a good and productive thing, too, I hope, even though I’d rather be doing something else.

To take that further… Luther went on…

“Each one ought to live, speak, act, hear, suffer, and die in love and service for another.”

Wow.  Doesn’t sound like the Denver and Charlottesville stories. In fact, let me say it like my old mentor, Art Haimerl, said in Sunday messages often… “You discover who you are as you give your life away in love.”  Pretty cool, huh?  Pretty biblical, too!  Or like what is written in the Didache’, the earliest handbook for Christians…

“There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways.”

A great difference.

In Luther’s day he would say (my paraphrase) “be the butcher, the baker or the candlestick maker…” all worthy occupations which give back to the community and bolsters the lives of those around you… doing work that is necessary and helpful… so, I take that to mean in this day and time… “don’t be the bank robber, the pimp or the drug dealer…” for it is in this kind of work that life is sucked out of those closest to you… actions that lead to death.  So, in like manner… don’t be an uninvited ass grabber  and don’t go taking over people’s streets because you think it’s a good thing.  Yes, this has got to stop.  Will it? Perhaps.   One man at a time, I like to say… and no man left behind.

And another way Luther pointed to…

“A Christian is the most free lord of all, subject to none; and a Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, subject to everyone.”

As my friend, Steve Kelly says… “Get it?  Got it?  Good.”

So, Saturday night I boarded a plane to head back to Houston.  “Dad, you ready to preach in the morning?” my son asked.  “I was,” I said.  “Until all this stuff happened and I’ll need to change some things.”  And maybe that’s the point.  This stuff won’t stop until some change occurs.  But, I can only attend to the change in me and I’ll have to pray for the change in you.  But change will be necessary for any kind of diminishing of hate and violence to come about.  I believe we can do it.  I believe it can happen.  And when we all say, “this has to stop,” then it will.  And, still, I will keep working with men… because I can… and because I want to… knowing, eventually, some other selfish guy will grab the back side of an unsuspecting woman or some young men with nothing better to do will march into another town with tiki torches and swastikas to evoke hate and promote disruption.  Face it… we all have better things to do, but at the same time we all better tend to THIS… so, please don’t stop talking about it… our grandchildren’s grandchildren are counting on us…

And I heard my friend murmur… “THIS has got to stop.”

murmuring for the good the best I can…

     Brian

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Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego Get Fired Up for God

…and I heard them murmur… “How hot could it get?”

Every once in a while, it can feel like you are in the middle of the furnace with fire all around you. It’s more than living in Texas in August.  It’s a thing that consumes you and if you are going to come out of the fire, the goal is to not smell like smoke!

I’ve stood near a fiery furnace.  A summer job in college.  Toss in the scrap aluminum.  Don’t lean in too far.  Watch it melt.  Pull off the dross. Repeat. Be sure to wear protective helmet, vest and gloves.  That’s one image.  There’s more.  A lot more!

I’ve stood in the fiery furnace.  Sometimes you don’t even go looking for it.  The door is right there at the beginning of your day and someone tosses you in.  It’s that moment when you realize, “I just got burned.”  It’s not the temperature you worry over; it’s realizing your heart is scorched and your brain is simmering and you can’t think of anything else except asking, ‘How did this happen?’  ‘How long will this tempest last?’  ‘Could it get worse?’  You pray someone shows up with a hose or glass of Irish whiskey.  Sometimes they do.  Sometimes they don’t.  Being alone in the fire is worse.

Then I’ve seen others jump into the fiery furnace.  I knew they knew better, but as the saying goes… ‘she just couldn’t help herself!’  Despite all the will power anyone can muster and even after all the loving warnings from friends and family, there are still those occasions when the encroaching fire beckons.  In that moment of intentional blind and personal abandonment of all that is holy, just and right you fall into it to welcome the pain and pay a price that can linger a long, long time and even create a path from which there is no return.  That’s when you smell like smoke!

Stop for a moment and feel the heat.  Do a quick scan or your torso top to bottom.  Start low.  Look up.  See any scars? Some leftover burn marks from that time or those times you found yourself in the fire?  Now close your eyes.  Take a look inside.  The scars are there, too.  Most likely even deeper than the ones on the outside.  Lost love.  Lost job. A debilitating accident.  Death of a parent.  Death of a spouse. Death of a marriage. The child you thought you deserved.  A doctor’s diagnosis.  Fill in the blank.  The older you get the chances are the more scars you’ve acquired.  “Trials and tribulations, you shall have,” Jesus said.  That was spoken as promise and not be to confused with fake news.   So, don’t be too surprised if you find yourself in the fiery furnace from time to time.  It’s called life.

So, here’s a story.  One I remember as a child, but in all my 36 years of ministry never once preached on. Until August 2017.  In Texas. With a temperature in the 90’s closing in on 100 degrees.  The story of King Nebuchadnezzar and him having Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego tied and tossed into the fiery furnace of unfaithfulness.  Or at least it seemed so at first.  You can read about it yourself in the Old Testament book of Daniel… chapter 3… https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Daniel+3&version=MSG.

King Nebuchadnezzar didn’t kill the people he took captive.  He didn’t burn down the town, either.  He was a subtle mind-manipulator and culture shifter.  He found the local leaders.  He gave them good Babylonian food, good Babylonian names and good Babylonian jobs.  The Israelites noticed their leaders thriving and soon made similar adjustments. When in Babylon, do as the Babylonians, right?  Well, except if you are Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego… formerly known by their Hebrew names Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah… all pointing out the power and glory of God… the one true God to be worshiped rather than the 90 foot high and nine feet thick golden statue not so good King Neb erected for all of his kingdom to worship.  Narcissism goes way back, huh?  Well, at least moon god worship.

When was the last time you took a bold stand? When was the last time the music got cranked up and you chose not to dance with the rest of the crowd?  You know… “do a little dance, make a little love… get down tonight…” or “you’ve got to fight for the right to par-tay” or ‘if you can’t be with the one you love… love the one you’re with” kind of resistance?  Or did you join in? Many did.  Some of us have the scars to prove it!  What Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did was about the mission of God.  An ‘amen’ moment to stand fast and hold their ground of faith.  No matter what the King and culture dictated, their response was a bold, we can’t be pushed around devotion to God…  a love for the one true God… Yahweh, Jehovah, Elohim of Israel… the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!  And that’s when the big stout monks showed up, stoked up the King’s fiery furnace seven times higher, bound the three friends and tossed them into the fire!

And here’s where the alarm bells go off…

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not go quietly into the fire.  Despite King Nebuchadnezzar’s promise of a very painful death for not worshiping his idol, the three men responded in kind… “Can your God save you from me and this inferno?” was the question and the answer was short and sweet. “Yes, our God can save us from the fire!” (and here’s the real important part…) “but even if God, doesn’t… we will never bow down and worship you and your idol.”  What?  “But, even if God doesn’t… ”  Whoah.  When was the last time you heard a Christian in the USofA talk like that?  “Even if God doesn’t” is the key to the mission of God for the three men in the fire and for us…

Can we do that?  What happens when God doesn’t answer our prayers?  Can we still live faithfully tending to the things of God?  What if our neighbor doesn’t love us the way we think God wants them to?  Will we still love them as God desires?  For all the times we offer up our shopping list one-sided conversations with God when we deem the moment critical only to get silence from heaven, do we still dare to bear witness to the God who stands with us in the fiery moments of life?  What King Nebuchadnezzar saw in the fiery furnace was not three men bound and in flames, but a fourth face… and all four men walking freely in the furnace.  Unharmed. Unsinged. Unafraid.  Unwilling to worship anything short of their faithful God.  The king spouted these words… “It looks like a son of the gods…” as he noticed the protection Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had acquired.   It seems that Jesus doesn’t just show up when life is good but is present even in the most treacherous moments as well.  The cross and empty tomb testify to this as well!

We are living in a time when up to 2 and 1/2 generations of Americans know little of God and even less of ‘church.’ A time where the mission of God takes a back seat the to 90 foot high 9 feet thick idols we run after in a selfish culture to secure a sense of self-worth and purpose.  And that’s not fake news either.  It’s like what one of my colleagues reminded me this past week… “a mom and dad drive down the street passing the church.  Their children pipe up from the back seat…’what’s that?” as they point to an empty parking lot with 3 crosses in the front yard.  “That’s a church,” said dad.  “What do they do?” the younger brother quipped.  “I don’t know,” said the mother.   “I’ve never been.”  That’s why we can hear on the news of young girl who died following a dare to drink boiling water through a straw and where 5 boys in Florida record a video on their cell phone of a man drowning, taunting him throughout his struggle, not rendering any kind of aid to the man or think to call for help… but after watching him die were heard on the videotape (that went viral) “He dead.  Let’s go upload this and get some lol’s and some ha-has…”  A culture with few values will fall on its knees to just about anything that comes along.

But, I want to point out how the story of the three men in the fiery furnace ends.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego do not die.  They live to give God glory.  They live to serve God another day.  Their witness causes King Nebuchadnezzar to shift his cultural perspectives once more and the 3rd chapter of Daniel ends with these words…

Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel and rescued his servants who trusted in him! They ignored the king’s orders and laid their bodies on the line rather than serve or worship any god but their own.

29 “Therefore I issue this decree: Anyone anywhere, of any race, color, or creed, who says anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will be ripped to pieces, limb from limb, and their houses torn down. There has never been a god who can pull off a rescue like this.”

30 Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon.

Daniel also reports that when the three men came out of the fiery furnace they did not smell like smoke.

…and I heard them murmur… “How hot could it get?”

May you find comfort in knowing that life’s fiery furnaces are real.  Sometimes they come on their own; sometimes we jump in head first.  So, tend to the mission of God as we are never alone in the fires of life even if God doesn’t show up in the way you desire…And may you come to God’s house for worship this next Sunday with all your limbs intact and your house standing strong on its foundation.

… murmuring mostly for the good,

     Brian

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REMEMBERING MEMORIAL DAY

REMEMBERING MEMORIAL DAY

… and I heard her murmur…

… ‘now don’t you forget what I told you…’

I was 12 years old.  It was 1966.  My grandmother’s older sister and her husband were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  Aunt Min and Uncle Bob were great people.  She was a kind and gentle woman with a Methodist faith. We loved to hear her play an old pump organ and I never saw her not smile.  He was a ‘tinkerer’ with an engineer’s mind.  He built birdhouses and manger scenes (the Christmas crèche kind) and was known to say “Judas Priest” when he heard things that were upsetting.  He taught my father how to pitch horse shoes and that passion lingers still in me.  Lots of folks showed up for their big day.  Fifty years is a long time to grow a family.  The years will fill a family with lot of love and make room for a lot of remembering.  They’d scene much.  Some worth repeating.  Some not.  Their home was where my father’s mother’s side of the family gathered to celebrate Memorial Day and that’s why this story is worth repeating.

When it comes to hawks and doves and war and peace I’ve always leaned to the peace side and have flown with the doves more than those who readied the fight. I punched a friend in 5th grade ( he deserved it after 3 warnings!) and spanked my children (once each!); but other than that I’ve not raised a fist at anyone and will always look for the peaceful way to bring any conflict to a close.  But, when you are 12 years old, you are just chalking up your own memories, lacking the needed skills for adult behavior, and whether you like it or not you have to listen to the ‘elders’ in your life.  They always want the best for the generations that follow them and take license to offer an opinion even when those words are unsolicited.  Aunt Min did that to me on that day.  Years later, now, one learns the stories and experience of our own lives provide the filter for how we engage the future and how we want to include others along the way.

Obviously, at a 50th wedding anniversary there is lots of noise and laughter and all the eating and drinking that is attached with a day like that. Most people were sharing good words and encouragement to Uncle Bob and Aunt Min and thanking them for their faithfulness and the wonderful things they had accomplished.   But, anyone who has been married 50 years and adds about 20 more to it will also acknowledge the dark images that are impossible to forget.  So, imagine this— the children were playing in the yard and having all kinds of fun.  Water balloons, croquet,  and tag were on the agenda and in the midst of all that noise Aunt Min took a moment to call me off to the corner.  And this is how that conversation went… one-sided as it was…

“I’m so glad you got come to this party.  Your grandma Irene is so special to me.  You know Uncle Bob and I watched over her and your dad when your grandparents divorced,” she said.

I never knew my paternal grandfather. I saw him once but no words were spoken.  He loved Seagram’s 7 more than the Savior and in 1944 when my father was 14 his mother, tired of getting beat, up filed for divorce.  A bold thing in a war-time nation.  Uncle Bob and Aunt Min offered the family safety net that most families do.  Love requires nothing less.  But, she went on…

“I know you are a pretty smart boy. I hope you read the paper and listen to the news,” she continued.

I nodded my head up and down to say, ‘yes.’  She had an agenda.

So, you know that this war in Viet Nam is not going to end soon,” her voice getting soft and serious.  “You can count on this war continuing when you are 18 and if you get drafted I want you to promise me you won’t fight and you’ll go to Canada.”

At age 12, six years was already half of my life and 6 more seemed pretty far off even though she was gonna be pretty right. My draft number was 123, but in 1972 then President Nixon began pulling our troops out of Viet Nam, suspended the draft and no one from my graduation class was called up.  So, Aunt Min was pretty right, the war lasting longer and yet, I didn’t go Canada.  I never asked her ‘why’ and it took some time for me to discover why she said… “… ‘now don’t you forget what I told you…’.  Memorial Day had a new kind of remembering.

Memorial Day began at the conclusion of the American Civil War.  “Decoration Day” was instituted by Union soldier survivors and their families bringing a flowery honor to the graves of those who died in battle.  Confederate families did a similar thing but it wasn’t until after WW 2 Memorial Day was set for the last Monday in May.  It’s not to be confused with Veteran’s Day, where we honor all who have served in branches of the military.  Memorial Day’s focus is on those who have died in battle, those who gave their life via the ‘last full measure’ as President Lincoln wrote.  Although, mothers and fathers have honored the battle dead for 1000’s of years because that’s what families do, it is a unique kind of remembering we do officially this weekend.  So, please take a moment… first in church… and then on Monday to recall the names of those you know who sacrificed their lives to assure the freedom we have access to day after day in the US of A.

It seems, though, there are some who have died while serving in the military during non-combat time.  Richard, Uncle Bob and Aunt Min’s son was one of those.  My father’s cousin, “Dickie,” served in the US Army and while standing with others on the tarmac was killed by debris from a plane crash during a practice run.

And I heard her murmur… again… today…

… ‘now don’t you forget what I told you…’

Love is a never-ending season.  It shows up with a vengeance on a weekend like this. Trust God’s grace.  It’s all we can really count on.

Brian

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JESUS LOVED HIS MOMMA

JESUS LOVED HIS MOMMA!

… and I heard him murmur…

“Mother, behold your son; son behold your mother!”

“When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he said to his mother, Woman, behold your son! Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.”                                                                                                                              John 19:26-27

“Jesus loved his momma.”  That’s what the sign in front of the church says.  That’s what the Bible says, too.  We’re supposed to love our mothers.  Most do.  Yet, some don’t.  Some cant’ and some won’t.  It takes time in life to learn that we don’t always get the relationship with our mother that we desire.  Some mothers don’t want to have the relationship their children desire and still that goes both ways as some mothers get less than they want or worse… they get the love they deserve.  The reason the Bible tells us to ‘honor’ mothers and fathers is because we don’t get to pick them.  It takes more effort but parent / child relationships can and will grow as many of us find out over time our parents can be more than father and mother… they’ve, actually, become a friend, a confidant and a guide!  And still, the worse thing for a mother is to watch her child die. Jesus’ loved his momma and she watched him die.

There are always four parts to a story.  The beginning… the end and all that goes on in the middle make up the three and still the most important part is what any of us makes of that story when all is said and read. Jesus’ story with his mother was a brief 33 years and ended very abruptly.  How it started is all on God and plays out big in how Jesus treated his mother.

How could Jesus not love his momma?  Out of all the woman in all of creation, God the Father chooses a young woman who is unknown yet full of faith and hope.  She received a visiting angel with grace and accepted this call to be the “mother of God!”  The Greek Orthodox Church refers to Mary as “Theotokos”… “THE GOD BEARER,” a name Jesus’s mother has worn well over the centuries.  I have her icon neatly displayed in my office and the image above is from the back of one of my calling cards.  And despite God’s intervention of her marriage and family plans with Joseph, and sensing that great and ominous things would happen (“… and she pondered these things in her heart”) Mary proved to be a typical Jewish mother living out her Hebrew faith with all the love and foibles a mother can engage.  From the very beginning she knew she would outlive her son.  Why?  Right after Jesus’ presentation in the Temple where old man Simeon holds Jesus and blesses him… St. Luke says this about what Mary would endure…

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”                                    -Luke 2:34

Sticks and stones could break his bones but words would never hurt him.  Yet, when the time came, Mary stayed close to Jesus and was within ear shot on the day of his crucifixion.  Point?  Sons will leave their mothers but mothers never leave their sons.

Mary was a typical mother?  Sure.  When owning up to being with child, she scampers off to her cousin, Elizabeth to share the great news!   What mother-to-be keeps that kind of news to herself.  Life is best lived close to family.  Life is to be shared and lived out in community as well.  She was faithful and brought him to the temple to be given a name and be circumcised.  She and Joseph gave him not the name they would have desired… to bear Joseph’s name … but rather gave Jesus the name the angel requested… Joshua… “Ya-Shoo-Ahh” in Hebrew… unlike how we would say “Joshua” … but then…“Jesus” … in English… the name that means… “God is generous!”  Did you know that?  God is generous?  God is… and Mary trusted God’s generosity!  But, that’s not all.

We find Mary and Joseph teaching their faith by practicing their faith and there is a story of them taking Jesus down from Nazareth to Jerusalem for Passover.  It wasn’t a weekend trip.  It lasted a week to 10 days to and from.  Travelling in a caravan, they provided safety.  They were family and neighbors.  And what parent has ever been in a crowd and lost sight of a child?  My hand’s up!  Mary’s too!  And where did she find him?  In the place most parents in 2017 would look last… in the church… and just for the record… Jesus got an earful and at the same time teaches a lesson about ‘honoring’ one’s mother and father.  For, it was in that moment that Jesus respectfully disagreed with his mother’s tone and reprimand… reminding her and Joseph that God has a bigger picture to paint here than one lad momentarily lost in a crowd.

But, my favorite image is the wedding at Cana. Joseph is now seemingly out of the picture.  Jesus accompanies his mother to the wedding… just like a lot of men in their late 20’s today… living at home and going where the parents go.  There’s no mention that Mary or Jesus knew the bride and groom but with a close proximity of Cana and Nazareth, it is likely that Joseph may have done some stone work for a Cana family and were therefore, out of respect, invited to the celebration.  And in those days, weddings were few and far between and when a wedding did occur it would last 2-3 days or longer and thus the running out of wine makes sense.  Mary knew that Jesus could help and must have given him “the mother look” when he resisted the invitation to assist.  But, he did… as ‘honor your mother’ was obviously playing in the back of his heart and mind… and when he did… he provided the best wine of the party!  Even today, at weddings, the opening prayer includes these words… “Lord God, as you gladdened the wedding at Cana by the presence of your son, so by his presence now bring your joy to this wedding…”  You can thank Mary for that!

So, St. John was correct in writing… “there are many more things that could be written about Jesus and his ministry (including more stories of Jesus and his mother…) that can’t fit in this book… but these things are written so that you will know…”

And one thing we know.  Jesus loved his momma … to his dying day and even in his dying showed us that there is still living to do and provided for her care in the days to come…

And what a surprise for Mary to have received the news that Jesus was now alive. All that she knew and all that she experienced brought to full circle.  God IS generous! People still speak of her today!  Jesus loved his momma.  And on weekend’s like this… I miss mine!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the momma’s out there and for all who provide ‘motherly’ love!

Murmuring for the good…

    Brian

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IF IT WASN’T FOR EASTER…

… and I heard them murmur…

             …“whadda ya mean he’s not here…”

(a post-Easter edit to Sunday’s message of April 16, 2017)

If it wasn’t for Easter, we would know nothing about Jesus… his story would have ended with the crucifixion!  That’s it. That’s all.  Just another insurrectionist zealot trying to topple Rome and take out a few Pharisees along the way… and for the Roman government… just another day at the office.  But, there’s more.  When it comes to Jesus, there’s always more.

If it wasn’t for Easter, we would never have known of Jesus’ descent into hell to announce victory over death and the grave.  You see, Good Friday was humanity’s ultimate “NO” to God and our world’s collective rejection of all that God offers.  But, remember, when it comes to Jesus, there’s always more.  The resurrection, then, is God’s rejection of our selfishness… Easter is God’s rejection of our own neglect of all the things of God… Easter is God’s announcement to the cosmos that the power of God cannot be nailed to a tree or placed in a tomb… The nails could not keep Jesus on the cross and the tomb could not hold him… with the purpose of dying and rising for a world that has always needed and still needs his love, grace and power!

If it wasn’t for Easter, Jesus last supper would have been just that… his last Passover meal with friends and the meal we know and savor as the Lord’s Supper would hold no value to us all.

If it wasn’t for Easter, all of Jesus’ teachings would have faded in a few sunsets… unlikely would any of us have access to a pamphlet titled, “The Sayings of Jesus!”

If it wasn’t for Easter, all the stories of Jesus healings and his conversations with God’s people and parables about life, love, community, prayer, work, integrity, and, hope would have never been recorded…. And we’d never hear the phrase… “Jesus once told this story about…

If it wasn’t for Easter, we would never have known of Jesus’ battle with Satan on the top of a hill to teach us that temptation will come to anyone of us at any time but that the power of God is a power that the Prince of Darkness cannot overcome!

If it wasn’t for Easter, we would never have known of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by his cousin John and his great commission for his followers to go into the world and baptize and preach and teach in his name…

If it wasn’t for Easter, no one would recall that even the Son of God can run away from earthly parents at a religious revival.  And he did, and when his parents found him, he was teaching the religious teachers of the Temple… who were amazed.

If it wasn’t for Easter we would know nothing of Jesus’ birth and the story of God taking on our human flesh and God’s entry into the story of us that makes each and every day of our lives worth living…

If it wasn’t for Easter, we would never have known of Jesus’ sending the Holy Spirit to us… to guide us… to lift up faithful leaders, servants and followers for now two thousand years!

If it wasn’t for Easter… ponder that for a moment… If it wasn’t for Easter…

And remember, when it comes to Jesus, there’s always more…

If it wasn’t for Easter, none of us would be here today!  There would be song or prayer, or a chancel decked with Easter lilies or a stark empty cross draped in a black veil now filled and alive with the color of Spring flowers…

If it wasn’t for Easter, the rhythm of life from Sunday to Sunday for us would not exist.  Jesus was the model of the Godly life for… the one who balanced worship, work and play… the one who went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his custom and one who went around Galilee and Judea from town to town as an itinerant rabbi teaching people of the Kingdom of God.  He played with children.  He told funny stories and made weddings more joyful.

If it wasn’t for Easter the words we speak each Sunday would be less than a whisper and never a shout… that “This is God’s house … and we are God’s people… called to believe… called to belong… called to be bold and called to be love…”

If it wasn’t for Easter, the staff at New Life would be doing something else.  All of us!  The Sunday’s Cool teachers would never have to prepare a lesson… there would be no LYO or WELCA or Men in Mission… and the Church Council wouldn’t exist and therefore never have to meet…

If it wasn’t for Easter, New Life would be purposeless… the verbs “pray, worship, study, invite, encourage, give and serve” might still be in our vocabulary but they would take on a whole different meaning… and the sense of community and partnership in the gospel we share would be non-existent!

If it wasn’t for Easter, New Life church would not be supporting the efforts of Water to Thrive and building water wells in Ethiopia and Tanzania changing the lives of 1000’s of people whose names and faces we’ll most likely ever know…

If it wasn’t for Easter, there would be no Camp HOPE for our youth and their friends each year, no Camp Lutherhill… no mission trip to OK this Summer for HS students… no ELCA National Youth Gathering in Houston in Summer 2018…

If it wasn’t for Easter, New Life would not have been one of the founding churches of Christian Helping Hands providing food and services to those in this area whose way of life is very different from our own… and there would be no ‘pop-top’ ministry to help a homeless person live better one more day…

Are you hearing all this… what the world would be like… If it wasn’t for Easter…

Early in the 4th century a monk who became the archbishop of Constantinople now known as St. John Chrysostom (some refer to him as “Chrysostomos”—the ‘goldened tongued!’)  shared a brief but oh so powerful message on Easter Sunday… and as New Life in Pearland seeks to be a teaching church using an ancient future model … that is our moving forward will be fueled by our paying attention the faith and practices of the early centuries of Christianity… here are some words that should bring us encouragement and hope… on THIS Easter Sunday… as I know not all that much about what some of you bring into God’s house today… and then I know others much better…so listen to St. John and find your place in his preaching…

If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.

If anyone is a grateful servant, let them, rejoicing, enter into the joy of the Lord.

If anyone has wearied themselves in fasting, let them now be revived.

If anyone has labored from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward.

If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast.

If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss.

If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation.

If anyone has arrived even at the 11th hour, let them not fear on account of their tardiness.

For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first; He gives rest to those who come at the 11th hour, just as to the one who has labored from the first.

Christ has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one He gives, and to the other He is gracious.

He both honors the work and praises the intention.

Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward.

O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy!

O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!

You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!

The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you!

The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry!

Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.

Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free.

Christ who was taken by death has annihilated it!

He descended into doom and took Hell captive!

He embittered it when hell tasted His flesh!

It was embittered, for it was abolished!

It was embittered, for it was mocked!

It was embittered, for it was purged!

It was embittered, for it was despoiled!

It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!

It took a body and came upon God!

It took earth and encountered Heaven!

It took what it saw, but crumbled before what it had not seen!

O death, where is your sting?

O Hell, where is your victory?

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!

Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is risen, and life reigns!

Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!

For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that have slept.

To Him be glory and might unto the ages of ages. Amen.

When it comes to Jesus, there’s always more… and more there is to come…  as the Easter life we live is now and forever!

CHRIST IS RISEN!  CHRIST IS RISEN!  CHRIST IS RISEN!    ALLELUIA!

      Brian

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ON ABANDONMENT

abandment-japan-ww2… And I heard them murmur

           …“I can’t believe he’s gone…”

A young boy, Marcus, walked out the side door of his uncle’s home.  While the family gathered for a time of thanksgiving, he left them all behind and soon realized he was in an unfamiliar place.  It was the last time the family would see the nine-year-old boy alive.  ‘It only takes a moment,’ people say.  It really doesn’t matter the uncle is a former NBA star.  When any child goes missing, the prospect of loss looms loud.  In a flash of light everything can change.  It did.  It’s not new. 

Call it Thanksgiving leftovers or a pre-Christmas warning, I can’t shake yet the words from the gospel text from St. Matthew (chapter 24: 32ff) for Sunday, November 27…

  • no one knows the day or the hour… not the angels… not the Son… only the Father!”
  • “Two men will be working in the field… one is taken, the other remains”
  • “Two women are grinding at the mill…one is whisked away, the other is left”
  • “Therefore, stay awake!”
  • “Be on the watch!”
  • “Being a faithful and wise servant is a high calling indeed!” (my take)

Good words to note.  Lest any of us forget.  It seems there will always be occasions for wailing and gnashing of teeth, and whether we walk away from others or someone walks away from us, no one really wants to be caught off all by them self.  So, at the heart of these cautious words from Jesus take note of the ‘heads up’ given to the reality of abandonment!  We were not created to be alone and live in isolation and that’s why it hurts so much when people we care about take leave.  The greater harm is believing we can live well on our own when instead it is just a step closer to our own self-destruction. Every day is a gift; every moment a precious thing requiring our need to stay awake and be on the watch.

Abandonment goes way beyond a young boy walking away from a family gathering… it’s the feeling deep in our hearts that something has gone really wrong and needs tending to.  Sometimes we can control it; sometimes we can’t.  Have you stepped back already to consider the times you have felt abandoned?  Have you given thought to the moments where you have abandoned others?  I’ve got a list here to help… take a deep breath… it’s not very pretty…

  • The death of a grandparent—the one you loved and trusted the most;
  • Parents with young children choose to divorce—there is a kind of ‘death’ all around;
  • A friend moves away and you are present to see the moving van depart;
  • One who lands in jail and has no one come to visit;
  • When “the company” lets you go and you loved your job;
  • Not getting the job we really wanted with no other job prospect in site;
  • When the last child goes off to college or enters the military and the house goes silent;
  • When a woman is sexually assaulted and she is made to think it was her fault;
  • When one is targeted by false accusation or innuendo & no one steps up in defense;
  • When you feel ignored by your church in moments of joy or sorrow;
  • When you’ve ignored the church you are part of or joined with great joy & hope;
  • When a child or close friend dies due to an accident or sudden illness;
  • When you strike out in the bottom of the 9th with men on base & down by 1 run;
  • When drugs or alcohol sink into and take over a relationship or family;
  • When your doctor or dentist or plumber retires and you just don’t like the new one;
  • When the pet we’ve loved for so long is required to be put down;
  • When one’s own health declines and then is forced to move to an adult care facility;
  • When we’ve turned our back on God while we trust God will not do that to us…

Yep, there are many moments and instances when we can feel abandoned and neglected and at the same time need to take ownership of our abandonment of others.  Face it.  We do.  It’s a sign that life matters and that people count and little good comes of it in the long haul.  Keeping watch and staying alert then becomes critical to our sense of safety and security… for each of us as individuals, within our families and for the sake of our communities.

Abandonment is rejection.  Intentional or not. Real or perceived.  Israel may have felt that way between the time of the great prophets and the entry of John the Baptizer.  We know Jesus felt that way on the Mount of Olives the night he was arrested and certainly his cry from the cross about being forsaken helps us know that none of us declare ourselves immune from the pain that comes with being all alone. Even, for a while the disciples felt abandoned by the rabbi and Lord.  So, we watch.  Yes.  We remain alert.

The good news that arises out of the end chapters of Matthew’s gospel is the promise that Jesus will come to us.  It’s his expectation and is a BIG story at one level and an everyday story at another.  The reason we watch and stay alert is so none of us dare miss Jesus’ “second coming” … the biblical promise that he will come again … as judge of the living and the dead… and bring about a kingdom that will have no end… And, yet, Jesus comes to us each day…  present in our morning devotions, sitting quietly at our table when we pray…  ”Come Lord Jesus be our guest…” and is the silent listener to every conversation we have … present in the preaching on Sunday, in the sharing of the peace, and in the bread and wine we consume at his table… so that the serving we do in Jesus’ name will be an action to “least of those” around us because we are doing that for him and ultimately TO him… and in this no one is abandoned by God.  We cannot be.  We are never left alone by Jesus.  He will not allow that.  And will not allow that because Jesus gets that.  So, stay alert.  Be watchful. There are those around us… young and old and in between… who want to walk off by themselves… wanting to turn their backs because it’s harder to understand and easier to blame.  That’s why we need each other.  That’s why looking out for one another is so important.  Life on its own lived out in community is hard enough all by itself.  Walking away… abandoning the ones close by only leads to a deeper danger.  

So, may your eyes be clear and your ears wide open and your hands remain strong and your feet be swift to stay connected to each other.  Jesus gave up his life for that.  Abandonment is not in his vocabulary… and yet, in a flash of light everything can change.  It did.  It can.  It’s not new. Be alert.  Keep watch.  It matters.

… And I heard them murmur… “I can’t believe he’s gone…”

Murmuring for the sake of God’s goodness,

Brian

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ORDINARY TIME

ordinary-time-keep-calm

And I heard him murmur… “I’m just wanting to have an ordinary day…”

The church I serve calls this time of year ‘ordinary.’  I listen to my neighbors, I watch the news, I open my facebook page, scroll up the twitter feed and it seems that this time of the year is anything but ordinary.  I get the point.  We must call it something. Hardly anyone anymore has a clue what the 24th Sunday after Pentecost means anyway.  In this day and age, though, why would any of us, especially in the church, be content with being ordinary? Ordinary as in ‘expected?’  Ordinary as in ‘typical?’ Ordinary as in ‘commonplace?’ It seems the world is crying out that we all be so much more. More as in moving from ‘good to great!’  More as in exercising the ‘extraordinary’.  More as in restoring the reality of ‘remarkable’ as a way to describe the kind of life we desire for ourselves and those around us.  Ordinary? Who needs that?  But, maybe that’s the point—that there is such a thing as ‘ordinary’ and what we see and hear about life on the planet these days is not.  And… that ordinary is a thing worth reclaiming.

I like how Webster refers to the term ordinary

  1. a prelate exercising original jurisdiction over a specified territory or group(2):a clergyman/clergyperson appointed formerly in England to attend condemned criminals b :a judge of probate in some states of the United States
  2. (often capitalized): the parts of the Mass that do not vary from day to day
  3. the regular or customary condition or course of things —usually used in the phraseout of the ordinary

Wouldn’t it be great if we could tell our friends and families… “hey, I’m heading out into the ordinary today!” But most folks these days, especially in cities like Baton Rouge, Dallas, Tulsa and Charlotte have to look and duck before heading out in to the streets.  And while I think I know a little bit about the definitions part one and two, the rest of the world is tuned in much better to part three—the customary condition or course of things.  Ah, there it is… what we are all looking for when it comes to our days being ordinary! “Customary condition.” When was the last time someone asked you about that?  Of course that is only if you are content with the way things are… and when no one complains when any of us tries to make it all better.  The angst occurs when people regress and forget that each person on the planet has been created in the image of God and deserves their moment of respect. That would be ordinary.  At least where I come from.

I don’t want to be misunderstood here, though.  Ordinary is not the same thing as dull or boring.  I have an ex-wife who called me boring once, but if you ask my fraternity brothers from college and my friends throughout life they will tell you that I’m anything but that!  So, let me get back to ordinary as I think that is the ‘time of the year’ so many people are yearning for.  It’s like that old saying… “I’m not really sure what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.”  That goes for picking cars, houses, delis, churches and the like.  Somewhere deep inside each of us we have this image of what is best and preferred and it seems no matter what side of the table one sits at there is a call for something better.  But, even at that, I hear few asking that things be ordinary. Maybe we’ve forgotten what ordinary looks like so even when it’s right in front of us, we can’t see it!

I have people tell me from time to time…when I officiate a wedding or funeral or when I’m called on in public to pray at a business dedication or a banquet… “good job, Pastor, that was nice.”  You gotta know that’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to a clergyperson like me.  Good job?  That was nice?  Are you kidding?  As if it was expected I’d be terrible at officiating a wedding or leading a family through funeral service?  I guess it could go off the tracks; but I don’t roll that way.  I have my reasons.  And praying in public?  Well, first off Jesus sort of made it clear we not do that… at least that we do not draw attention to ourselves… but why would a minister be expected to pray a bad or inappropriate prayer at a banquet or business dedication?  That’s the ordinary thing I do.  I don’t expect any less; nor does God.  Maybe we’ve moved so far from ordinary that it’s just plain refreshing when it smacks us in the face.

So, when my church thinks of this time of the year as ordinary time, what is it that we think ordinary is?  According to the calendar it would be the time from the Festival of Pentecost to Christ the King Sunday and for those who are not versed in liturgical time that means the Sundays and weeks following 50 days after Easter (often around mid-May) when the Church celebrates its birthing with Jesus’ giving the Holy Spirit power for all time and eternity to the Sunday (around Thanksgiving weekend) before the four weeks of Advent which is, for those of  you not steeped in liturgical language, the time Christians get ready for the celebration of Christmas. Confused? Don’t worry, it won’t last.  You see, the thing is we do this every year.  Over and over.  It’s the ordinary thing liturgical church people do!  Just as the world lives from year to year … January 1 to December 31… with all of its celebrations and resolutions, the Christian Church marches to a calendar that is built around the life and work of Jesus.  And even when I think about this… I have to ask… what in God’s good green earth is ordinary about that?  What God has done in the life and story of Jesus is God’s own move from good to great!  Ordinary?  Expected?  Commonplace? This was the extraordinary shift in the view of life and culture from as far back as anyone can remember… some even call the ‘center of history’…the remarkable moment … the indwelling of Jesus as Son of God and Savior of the universe…the fixed piece of time 2000 years ago by which the Church marks time to do its work in the world.  What seems to be ordinary for those who live deep in the calendar of the culture is not so ordinary for those who mark time re-living the life and ministry of Jesus.  And vice versa?  Sure.  Need a proof text for that?  Well look at Christmas Eve 2016.  That’s December 24… a Saturday where 100’s of 1000’s of worshipers in the greater Houston area and all over SE Texas ready to celebrate Jesus’ birth and the good news of ‘God with us’ (Emmanuel in Hebrew!) will go head to head with the evening Christmas Candlelight service versing the NFL as they have scheduled the Houston Texans to play at home at 7:25 pm.  Can someone explain what is ordinary about that?  But, that’s not the bigger issue here… it’s only a symptom.

“What will the world say about you when there’s nothing left for you to say or do?”

When I listen to the news and I take the negative bent of what I hear as ordinary, then I’ve become complacent about how life should be.  When I watch the 2016 presidential debates (all this year up to last night) and think this is the ordinary way we do this I’m scratching my head for nothing as it’s taken the country a long time to get to the way this election process has unfolded.  I’m not sure why, but when I see it, I’ll know it and lately I think I’ve seen it.  And if you are like me, you don’t like what you have seen.  Parents should be able send their children to the neighborhood store and not be fearful.  It seems ordinary now that they are.  I shouldn’t have to be patted down at the airport to go on church business, but I am and I don’t find that ordinary even though it is my expectation every time I fly.  Children should have the expectation that they go to school to be challenged and learn all they can.  For some that IS ordinary and for others they feel they are being singled out and discriminated against.  There are reasons for all this.  So, just what is this church of mine promoting that is so ordinary that everyone would want to flock to its doors?  Here’s my short answer… the kind of thinking that I share at weddings and funerals and when I pray at business dedication or banquet… and what seems to be ordinary to me…

  1. Not a one of us asks to be here. There’s no sign up sheet for being born.
  2. Life is a gift. We get here when we get here. Most seem to be pleased; at least for a while
  3. Life is not the same for all. We get here where we get here.  Papua New Guinea or Palm Beach or somewhere in between.  It’s not our choice.
  4. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. They didn’t ask to be here, either.  This of course is taught and in church all my life I was taught this is critical to the stability of community.  Some folks get it.  Some don’t. Most can tell the difference of who does and who doesn’t.
  5. There are things we do in life and there are things life does to us. Some of this we have a handle on.  Much of this we do not.  Each one of us can make of life what we want.  Some born into extreme wealth waste their lives away.  Some born in extreme poverty seek a path to learn, grow and thrive. Most can see which of us does and who doesn’t.
  6. There are ancient ways in most cultures to feed one’s body and tend to one’s soul. Again, this is taught.  Things like… “Love God.  Love yourself so you can love you’re your neighbor.”  There’s an old saying, “when the student is ready the teacher will come.” Jesus was a good teacher.  Most knew that.  Some didn’t like it.  Some didn’t like him! Truth is truth no matter what day or what place or what standard one is born into.  If ordinary time is to love God, love one’s own self to love one’s neighbor, then we all have some learning and loving to do.
  7. This life one lives eventually ends. For some, sooner.  For some, later. Everyone finds this out.  What people do with their lives (from Genghis Khan to Mahatma Gandhi… from Moses to Martin Luther to Mother Theresa) for the good and not-so-good impacts us all.

It doesn’t get more ordinary than that, does it?

It is said that Martin Luther used to get up in the morning and recite the 10 Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed.  Then he would pray for an hour and if he thought the day to be more difficult than most… or ‘out of the ordinary‘… he would pray for two hours.  Daily.  I’m not sure that the world’s movers and shakers start their days like that!.  What will the world say about you when there’s nothing left for you to say or do?  How ordinary will you have become?  Will you have moved from good to great?  Seeking to be extraordinary?  Will others call you remarkable?

May this be ordinary time for you and everyone you know…

     Brian

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