Category Archives: Hope

An Easter Foot Race

Each of the Gospels has its own unique emphasis as it shares the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection. In John chapter 20 we are told how Peter and John ran to the tomb after Mary reported it was empty. Verse four says, “The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.” Why was this detail of having arrived first, important to John? Did it give him bragging rights? “I beat Peter to the tomb!” I have often puzzled over this aside within the Easter story. On Easter there was a race and John outran Peter. It seems like the kind of detail one commits to memory around a life changing event. It’s the event that is important, but it’s importance is mirrored in the details that are remembered around it. For John, outrunning Peter was one of those details.

But they were not the first to run that morning. Backing up to verse two we see that Mary Magdalene was the first to run. She ran from the tomb to tell Peter and John what had been discovered: the tomb was empty. They ran to the tomb to verify her claim and see for themselves. Lot’s of running.

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A Weary World Rejoices

In my experience some of the best ideas in life and ministry are borrowed, so with a nod to Pastor Adam Hamilton of Resurrection United Methodist Church, who’s Christmas Service message bears the title “A Weary World Rejoices”; I offer my own musings on that theme. I assume Hamilton is borrowing the title from the well-known lyric of “O Holy Night”. One can quickly go down a rabbit hole searching the origin of that song, but let’s assume, for the sake of giving credit, that it was an adaptation of a French-language poem by poet Placide Cappeau, written in 1843, composed to music in 1847 by Adolphe Adam.

I confess ignorance as to what may have prompted reflection on being weary in 1840’s Europe, but I imagine each age has its own reasons to feel weary. Indeed it is the juxtaposition of that phrase “a weary world” that can yet “rejoice” that captures my eye and ear. We are a weary world these days, are we not? Weary in so many ways. Let’s recount just a few: We are, of course, weary of the Covid-19 pandemic, weary of death and disease, weary of yet another variant and spike in cases the world over. We are weary of tests, weary of masks, weary of wondering if it’s safe to gather, and what the vaccination status of our neighbor or extended family member at those gatherings may or may not be. In addition, we are worn out by the residual layers that have piled on and fueled our fatigue: division, politics, protests, animosity, recklessness, selfishness, anxiety, stress, and a lack of regard for the other. Yes, weary comes in all kinds of expressions these days the world over. But is it any worse, any more severe than in days past? Even the days that greeted the birth of the Messiah?

That world, at least the part of the world into which Jesus was born, had to have been weary. The people of Judea knew occupation, the absence of true self-rule, oppression at the hands of a foreign empire which taxed them economically, socially and spiritually. It was a world divided, where various sects and groups sought a better future through varied means – strict legalism, power through political partnerships, zealous separatism. Disease and a short life expectancy were also common place for the common person. Weary? There was surely some weariness present in Herod’s, Caesar’s and Caiphas’ world. This was the world of Joseph and Mary, pilgrims who trod from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a long three-days journey by foot, to comply with a mandated registration.

Yet, it was into that world that rejoicing broke forth. Luke tells us that an angel of the Lord broke the joyous news to shepherds, near Bethlehem: I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Lk 2:10-11) In response a “multitude” of angels brought forth a celestial flash mob singing: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors! (Lk 2:14)

Yes, a weary world rejoiced. Shepherds and angels among the flocks and fields of Bethlehem, and not far away a young couple who had just experienced the miracle of birth and new life – swaddling their son in cloth and putting him down for a first nap in a manger. Weariness and joy are natural partners in childbirth, when it goes well.

So, I ask: If then, why not now? Why can’t the weary world of today wrap its collective self around this simple yet profound natal story and rejoice yet again? To think, ours is a world with a benevolent Creator, who having given us free-will did not then walk away from the creation, but set forth a plan to redeem it. Ours is a world created by a God who loves us, seeks restoration with us, and came to be among us – one of us – in order to sort out the mess we humans had made of things. Isn’t that a cause for rejoicing?

We humans continue to make a mess of things, in my opinion. We can no more come to agreement, much less collaborate for the common good, today than in the days of the Herod’s and Caesar’s. The names of those in power have changed, but the behavior isn’t much different. Nations continue to be at odds with one another. Rather than rally together in response to a virus that threatens life, we’ve splintered into camps that point fingers and seek to lay blame. Might we instead set aside the discord for the harmony of Christmas? Can we come together in this season to once again rejoice in the birth of a Savior? That in itself might serve as a balm for our weariness. The act of rejoicing, joining in common joy, thanksgiving, and praise; it’s an other centered act. It takes our focus away from self and puts it on the reason for joy. It’s a recipe for the thwarting of weariness. Let’s try it. What do we have to lose?

Consider afresh the lyrics from the carol, O Holy Night.

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees,
Oh, hear the angel voices
O night divine,
O night when Christ was born
O night divine,
O night, O night divine,

The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees,
Oh, hear the angel voices
O night divine,
O night when Christ was born
O night divine,
O night, O night divine,

O holy night

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A Word Salad of Sorrows

*Note: Each time the United States has surpassed a 100K marker in deaths due to the Covid-19 pandemic I have felt compelled to lament those who’ve lost their lives. Early on, when there were no vaccinations, this observance felt like a common public lament. Now, when science tells us that vaccinations will safely curb the outcome of deaths and tremendously reduce the chance of hospitalizations, the “common” element seems to have fractured into camps standing in opposition. This is sad. As one who hopes and prays for the greater good, and advocates for public health and love of neighbor; I confess frustration with the stubborn nature of humankind. So often, when presented with a better path, we prove reluctant to take it, and seemingly so determined to stand with a fist. So, putting my cards on the table and owning my opinion, I pray for changed hearts and once again offer this lament on the occasion of our nation having now surpassed 800,000 deaths due to Covid-19. What follows are simply words that came to mind as I took time to reflect on the sad milestone reported on the news today.

A Word Salad of Sorrows

800,000
Lives Lost
Families Grieving
Futures Changed

Variants Identified
Vaccinations Shunned
Pandemic Prolonged
Science Ignored

A Weary World
Silent Nights
Long Haulers with . . .
. . a Different Supply Chain

Prayers Recited
Boosters Offered
Patience Thin
Patients a Plenty

Choosing the Other
Loving a Neighbor
Common Good
Balcony View

Finding the Will
Cooperating Together
Mitigating the Spread
Avoiding 900,000?

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What Giving Thanks Can Prompt

I thank my God every time I remember you . . .“. Those are the opening words of Paul’s prayerful greeting to the members of the church at Philippi. (Philippians 1:3 NRSV). It’s truly a beautiful and bold statement, one of my favorite beginnings to a New Testament Pauline letter. So, it seems a fitting jumping off place for some thoughts on giving thanks in this Thanksgiving season.

Here are three statements about Paul’s thankful statement and what giving thanks can lead to:

A BIG STATEMENT
Not only is Paul’s opening statement bold, it’s also BIG. To so emphatically declare that he is thankful “every” time he remembers these brothers and sisters in Christ must indicate that they hold a special place in his heart. Yet, if we stop and think about it, I would guess we might each have someone for whom this is true – someone for whom we give thanks when we think of them?

Maybe it’s a spouse, child, grandchild, friend or parent. Maybe it’s the person who led us to Christ, or the prayer partner we share our heart with? Who is it for you? Search your mind for a moment to see. Then give thanks for them. Then, tell them! Part of what makes Paul’s statement so BIG is that he shares it with the Philippians. Have you told the “someone(s)” you give thanks for when you think of them, how you feel? Go for it! Thanksgivings that are shared have more impact than those held too close.

A TRUE STATEMENT
I do not get the sense that Paul is engaged in any kind of hyperbole or stretching of the truth with his claim. This is not “preacher speak” or the buttering up of an audience. He is being truthful and vulnerable. Thanksgiving wells up in him when he thinks of these friends as he prays for them. They have been partners in ministry with him. They have stood with him during his imprisonment and separation from them. He knows that they “hold him in their heart”, just as he most assuredly does them.

Sharing a thanksgiving like this requires a certain amount of vulnerability. Many of us are not all that comfortable with such openness, yet that is part of what makes this prayer of Paul’s so memorable and touching. He’s taking the risk of being completely open and honest with his partners in the faith. When were you last this open and honest with someone? What was the outcome? Did you feel even more thankful for them after they returned some form or empathy or understanding? True statements of thanksgiving are often received with reciprocity.

A HOPEFUL STATEMENT
When we are thankful, we are by nature more hopeful. Would you agree? In my experience, both in being around thankful people and practicing thanksgiving myself, I have seen the relationship that grows between thankfulness and hopefulness. It is as if a thankful thought or comment prompts one to look forward with greater optimism and promise. Thankfulness, in this way, becomes a seedbed for hopefulness.

This past summer I expanded my vegetable garden, adding some additional space to the preexisting garden. The land I took in, however, was not in very good shape. It had been occupied for several years by a dead pine tree that over the years had dropped many pine needles and cones. Not only did I have to remove the pine tree and it’s stump, I then needed to cultivate the soil. I began to do this by bringing in some additional dirt, working it in with the existing dirt, and removing (by hand) rocks and other debris that surfaced in the cultivation of the plot. While I improved the seedbed it did not yield as nice or productive a harvest of vegetables as the preexisting garden plot did. I will need to continue working on the foundation of this new seedbed so that it will produce a better yield.

Thankfulness leads to the improvement of our hopefulness seedbed. When we practice thanksgiving it’s as if we aerate the soil, infusing it with oxygen and nutrients that will produce better results. In life those better results from cultivating thanksgiving frequently translate into a more positive, hopeful disposition.

No wonder Paul was so purposeful in the verbiage of his opening prayer to the Philippians. It’s as if he knew that his Big, True and Hopeful statement about giving thanks was going to have a lasting impact on that community of faith (and others) far exceeding his own life. Here’s hoping your expressions of thanksgiving can yield similar dividends this year and beyond.

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Up and Away

On a recent Sunday morning as I stood outside the front entrance of the church, getting some air and waiting to greet folks as they arrived, I looked up to see a hot air balloon aloft in the distance. Initially hardly more than a speck, the balloon gained in size as it closed the gap between us. Making use of a substantive air current, in just a few minutes it was overhead to the delight of a growing group of worship arrivals. Many, like me, were snapping photos, angling to catch both the balloon and the peak of the church building in their picture. Others were speculating who the pilot might be, naming a local man known to have flown balloons for some time. Some arrived commenting on how they had been watching the balloon as they drove in that morning. Still others were recalling prior hot air balloon experiences they’d had – a ride while traveling in Australia, attendance at the Albuquerque, New Mexico festival.

Photo taken by Dan Cash

I rather wished we could’ve relocated worship outdoors that morning, given the blue sky and warm weather. Then speculated how challenging it would be to keep a congregation’s attention while a hot air balloon went over. Not a chance! I think you’d have to call an audible, suspending whatever was happening in worship, to let people enjoy the sight.

There is something rather uplifting and serene about seeing a hot air balloon aloft. I was immediately taken back a few weeks to having witnessed four in flight together over Colorado while taking a morning walk. Then recalled another occasion, years prior, also in Colorado, having come upon a balloon festival near Aspen. The fields were in full color that day as the balloons dotted the landscape. Maybe it’s the size, colors or the silence of these airborne vessels that can stop you short when you see them. Their hushed travel interrupted by the occasional plume of fire gushing more air into the balloon. It’s the rhythmic music of rests with the occasional whole note of gas, igniting the elevated air ship to greater heights and distance.

Some years ago our church observed our own neighborhood celebration with tethered hot air balloon rides on the lawn. People lined up and waited for their turn in the basket, young and old alike, a quick up and down ride that offered a taste of what such travel might entail. It was a great part of a fun day together, it’s memory brought back by the unexpected spotting of our Sunday morning balloon guest.

FBC Faithful at 50 Celebration in 2014.

Worship is sometimes described as that which creates or facilitates an encounter with God, causing the worshipper to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and holiness. Much effort can go into the elements that lead to worship on a typical Sunday. A preacher will spend hours crafting a sermon. Musicians will rehearse. Worship leaders give much thought the service’s flow. Then there are the other moments, like the one that spontaneously developed outside the front entrance to the church this past Sunday. A moment when an unexpected worship leader caused us to look up, reflect, and notice the wonders of life as God has created it.

Turns out we didn’t need to relocate worship outside the church, it had already happened. We had been called to a moment through the artistry and simplicity of an overhead leader causing us to stop and worship God outdoors, before we went inside to continue.

Photo taken by Wayne Lovelace

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