April 2017 – What makes Jesus weep? (What makes him smile?)

Jesus weeps with his close friends Mary and Martha of Bethany, as they weep over the death of their brother Lazarus. And here in one of the bible’s shortest verses – Jesus wept (John 11:35) we have one of the bible’s larger mysteries. The death and resurrection of Lazarus looks a lot like a rehearsal for Jesus’ own death and resurrection.  And Jesus knows he will raise Lazarus from the dead. Just as he knows he himself will rise from the dead. Why then, is he weeping? Most likely for much the same mix of reasons for which he weeps also in Luke’s account of his entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-42), where Jesus weeps because of our age-old human habit of not recognizing what makes for peace. And the real mystery, perhaps, is not so much in why Jesus weeps, but in why we don’t weep more with him. As Pope Francis has said, “Jesus is weeping today, too, because we have preferred the path of war, the path of hatred, the path of enmity…” Francis gets the importance of Jesus’ weeping. As Catholic News Service reports: Pope Francis encourages people to pray for “the grace of tears” when pleading to God to help others, when recognizing their own sinfulness, when contemplating the greatness of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and when experiencing God’s mercy. Sometimes, he has said, tears are the only true response to the question of why the innocent suffer. In January 2015, the pope listened to a 14-year-old boy in Manila describe life on the streets as a struggle to find food, to fight the temptation of sniffing glue and to avoid adults looking for the young to exploit and abuse. A 12-year-old girl, rescued from the streets by the same foundation that helped the boy, covered her face with her hand as she wept in front of the pope. But she managed to ask him, “Why did God let this happen to us?” Pope Francis said a real answer was impossible, but the question itself was important and the tears that accompanied the question were even more eloquent than the words. “Certain realities of life,” he said, “are seen only with eyes that are cleansed by tears.” For people who are safe, comfortable and loved, he said, learning how to weep for others is part of following Jesus, who wept at the death of Lazarus and was moved with compassion at the suffering of countless others…. Still today many Mary’s and Martha’s are weeping for many, many lost brothers and sisters. Still today most of the world lacks knowledge of what makes for peace. And weeping is still one of our most basic and most often overlooked spiritual practices… *** Yet just as surely as Jesus weeps, so surely I believe he also smiles. I picture Jesus smiling whenever his people get it right. Many times, I’m pretty sure, I catch glimpses of Jesus smiling as he watches his people in worship, in prayer, in loving service… I picture Jesus smiling every Sunday in our worship, Sunday School, and after-worship-coffee-hour times, as we share joys and sorrows, hopes and needs… I’m sure Jesus is smiling even in some of even our most difficult and tedious moments, whenever we pause to consider “what would Jesus...

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March 2017 – Walking the way to Easter

Lent is just beginning as I write. Last night we received ashes on our brows in the shape of a cross. This morning I’m remembering a worship service from some years ago, when I served a pair of Methodist churches close to the Canadian border in Northeastern New York – our churches, a neighbor Methodist church, two nearby Catholic churches – together for a Sunday afternoon worship service just before Lent. We listened to scripture, prayed, sang together, making ready for Lent; ending on a somber note, singing, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross… Then as we stood for the benediction, we heard the sound of a solo violin, playing from high on the church balcony – Christ our Lord is Risen Today… Reminding us Lent is a journey that leads to the cross… And just as surely to the resurrection… Lent begins with repentance from sin. Repentance means literally turning. Turning from sin – turning to God. Sin means anything that hurts our relationship with God or people made in the image of God. In the opening chapters of the bible we’re told we are dust – and to dust we shall return.  All of us are mortal. Our bodies are made up of earthy material that will return to earth. The first chapters of the bible also tell us we are all made in the image of God. Called and equipped to live as beloved children of God. And God invites the whole world to be reconciled to God through Christ – and through us, frail creatures of dust – whom God nonetheless calls to be ambassadors for Christ, offering Christ’s reconciliation to the world… In Lent we are invited to recognize ourselves as both frail human creatures of dust and ashes  – and as beloved children of God, made in the image of God, renewed in God’s image through Jesus Christ. We are dust and ashes. And we bear the image and likeness of God. And given this double-identity, we’re called to repent not only of obvious wrong-doing – but also to repent of ways in which we don’t live up to our full potential as Christ-followers – people called by Jesus to bring the good news of his reconciling grace and peace to all this world which God so loves… Together we are the body of Christ, called to embody the life of Christ in the world. Thus we’re called to repent not only of our personal sins, but also the sins of the world we live in, the sins of the wider church of which we’re an integral part. In Lent we recall ways in which our relationship with God and neighbor needs repair. Together we make time for prayer, for study of God’s word, for worship – time for abstaining from all that distracts us from God. Time for listening for God. Time, above all, for remembering and rediscovering the breadth and depth of God’s love – love divine, all loves excelling. May the love of God in Jesus Christ fill our Lent with the promise of Easter… May God’s grace,  peace, joy, and love bless and keep you always…. Pastor Tim...

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January/February 2017 – Opening The Book

Christian writer Kathleeen Norris tells “the scariest story I know about the bible,” in her book, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. Norris recalls a conversation she and her husband once had in a local steak house with one of their South Dakota neighbors, a grandson of “dirt-poor immigrants” who now owned several thousand acres and bought new cars for his family every year; a man who had now begun treatment for a probably terminal cancer. That night this man of few words who usually spoke about business when he did speak, began telling about receiving a wedding gift, many years before, from his devout grandfather. Norris says: His wedding present to Arlo and his bride had been a bible, which he admitted he admired mostly because it was an expensive gift, bound in white leather, with their names and the date of their wedding set in gold lettering on the cover. “I left it in its box and it ended up in our bedroom closet,” Arlo told us. “But,” he said, “for months afterward, every time we saw grandpa he would ask me how I liked that bible. The wife had written him a thank you note, and we’d thanked him in person, but somehow he couldn’t let it lie, he’d always keep asking about it.” Finally, Arlo grew curious as to why the old man kept after him. “Well,” he said, “the joke was on me. I finally took that Bible out of the closet and found that granddad had placed a twenty-dollar bill at the beginning of the Book of Genesis, and at the beginning of every book … over thirteen hundred dollars in all. And he knew I’d never find it.” *** I knew little about how to practice Christian faith when I first began attending church, in my early twenties. But I had heard the bible is The Book for Christians. So I started reading… It didn’t take long to figure out the bible is a book made up of many shorter books, booklets, gospels, and letters, in all, 66 books-within-The-Book in Protestant bibles (more in Catholic and Orthodox bibles), written by many different authors over a range of times. And it almost goes without saying that I found some of the bible much easier to read than other parts. Some of what I read in the bible made sense immediately. Other parts began to make sense with prayer and more thought. Still other parts made little sense even after quite a bit of prayer and pondering. But I don’t usually mind pondering… And I was aware Christians have seldom if ever been entirely all of one-mind as to what the bible means… So I read the parts I liked often, the other parts less often… A few parts not at all… Till one day, reading the liner notes of Duke Ellington’s first Sacred Music Concert record, where Duke wrote saying he ‘began to understand the bible a little, after reading it cover to cover, three times.’ Equal parts shamed and inspired by Duke, I resolved to read through the bible three times – reading three or four chapters a day of the Old Testament along with daily readings of a few psalms, and a chapter each of the New Testament gospels and letters....

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December 2016 – The spirit of Christmas

It can sometimes take awhile for me to get into the true spirit of Christmas, especially in the early days of Advent… Which may perhaps be a bit like how Zechariah, father of John the Baptist felt, after the Angel Gabriel scolded  him for doubting the divine message and caused him to be mute, unable to speak, for nine months… My occasional bouts of seasonally-affected-disorderliness hardly compare with those of Zechariah – let alone those of Joseph, step-father of Jesus. I can hardly imagine what he must have felt when he first learned his fiancée was expecting a child. Even after God convinced him through a dream-vision-angel-appearance that Mary’s pregnancy was entirely through the Holy Spirit and it was indeed right to marry her… Still, I’d be surprised if Joseph felt much like having a merry Christmas…at least not till the holy child was born… My struggles to be ready for this season are really very mild, compared with those of our biblical role models of faith. Which I realize again, almost as soon as I begin re-reading the opening chapters of the gospels of Luke, Matthew, and John, and many passages in Isaiah that foretell the Messiah to come… The gospels and the prophets bid us to be ever-ready for the Savior’s birth… While also giving us permission to enter into the season of new-birth starting from whatever frame of heart and mind we may inhabit… Still it was hard for me to start writing this article, even up against a final newsletter deadline… Till our daughter came downstairs, hugged me several times, sat down at the piano, and began playing It Came upon the Midnight Clear… She then played once through Joy to the World… and asked me to sing along on a verse of Silent Night…Then she picked up a well-worn Christmas cantata songbook that dates back to the Plainfield Vermont Methodist choir’s singing of this cantata when Rohi was three. Rohi has held on to that songbook ever since, bringing it out again every year at Christmastime… Reminding me that I love the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany stories… I love to hear them come alive again in the silence of early morning reading and prayer times… But there’s something in this story of Jesus coming to birth that cries out for human companionship… This is, after all, the story of the Incarnation of our Lord. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was, in the beginning, with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life; and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…. And the Word became flesh, and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth…” The story of Jesus, Son of God and capital W Word of God, who has become flesh and lived among us is the story of God entering into human life – experiencing all the pain, sorrow, suffering, struggles, and difficulties of human life… The story of God entering fully into human life – bringing...

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November 2016 – To God be all glory

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another, and if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:12-17 I got an email a few weeks ago from a parishioner and friend, with a note saying – “We saw this sign on a church here in Texas (where they were visiting family). Nathan insisted I send it to you.” The sign said: Jesus is coming – Hopefully before the election.  There was a news story that same week that said 52% of Americans say this election cycle is seriously stressing them out. The stress of our election cycle is very real, but still probably relatively mild compared to the lives of people in many parts of the world. Remembering Haiti, Columbia, Venezuela, and the Carolinas in our own hemisphere…. Iraq, Syria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, among the many places enduring much higher levels of suffering than we are used to… Which is not to make light of our own real trials and struggles. Just to keep our struggles and troubles in perspective, remembering God’s people everywhere are in this life together, according to God’s word. And remembering, as we pray for Jesus and his kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven – we all have roles to play in the drama of his coming kingdom. As a beloved hymn reminds us: O Jesus, I have promised, to serve thee to the end; be thou forever near me, my Master and my friend… O Jesus, we have promised…to serve you to the end. When we join the church, and every time we welcome a new member, we pledge to practice our faith together, as we say these words from the service of baptism and membership in our hymnal: “As members together with you in the body of Christ and in this congregation of The United Methodist Church, we renew our covenant faithfully to participate in the ministries of the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service, that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” Together we seek to be faithful in fulfilling our vows. This fall we’ve reviewed the topics of prayer, presence, gifts, service, and witness – with witness serving as a one word summary for the last phrase of our membership vows  – “that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” Serving as witnesses for Christ can summarize all the promises we make to God and one another as members of Christ’s body. And the quality of our witness for Jesus, our giving glory to...

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October 2016 – Renewing our Vows

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.   Romans 12:1 I didn’t grow up going to church, and even when I first began to believe in God and the biblical story, I still had plenty of doubts about the church. Over the years God has been gradually wearing down these doubts – mostly by bringing me into the company of believers, including you, who have shown me Christ’s grace at work. But having been outside the church for many years, I’m very aware of many of the reasons why some people don’t attend church. Church doesn’t come naturally for most of us, and even when we become accustomed to church, we benefit from periodic renewal of our vows – much like married people renewing their vows. We’re in the middle of a Sunday series in which we’re reviewing the promises we’ve made to God and one another to actively participate in the life of Christ’s church through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. We’re renewing our vows together in part because we live in a culture in which church (much like the institution of marriage) no longer enjoys the same breadth of support it once did. When public opinion pollsters ask Americans about their faith preferences, the category that has grown (by far) the most over the past decade is the so-called “Nones” – as in “none-of-the-above.” Without renewal, it becomes easier to forget the vows we’ve made. So I thank God for all of you who are part of our parish. I thank God for all of you who honor God with your presence. It’s a joy to be with you in worship and fellowship and in all the ministries of the church. It’s a blessing to join with you in our parish’s annual selling of pumpkins to raise funds for the Bourne Food Pantry (we do need your help!)… and in contributing to our School food for Back Packs Project, and all our other spiritual formation and outreach ministries. When we join the church and whenever we welcome a new member into the church we say together these words from our Methodist Hymnal: “As members together with you in the body of Christ and in this congregation… We renew our covenant faithfully to participate in the ministries of the church – by our prayers – our presence – our gifts – and our service – that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” Each part of our vows depends on all the other parts. But in this season in the life of our church, the word that particularly stands out for me is “presence.” It’s often said “showing up is half the battle.” The ancient philosopher Woody Allen has even said: “80% of success is showing up.”  What the actual percentages are, God knows. But whether we’re talking success in the workplace, making friends, staying married, being church together, or life in general – showing up is, at a very minimum, absolutely necessary… And when we’re talking about church, showing up in person, bodily, transformed by the Holy Spirit, ready and willing to participate…may be close to...

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