Back To Our Regular Lives

“O give thanks to the Lord, for God is good;
God’s steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say,
    “God’s steadfast love endures forever.” – Psalm 118:1-2

On Easter Monday the big celebration is over. Most of us are back to our regular lives, carrying on like nothing has changed. Something has changed, though. Just yesterday we were reminded again that death was defeated by God’s love, and that hope has broken out of the tombs and into the world.

Today’s lectionary readings include this very short passage from the Psalms. Most readings are far longer than two verses, but on this day after Easter, this is all we need: Give thanks to God, for God is good . . . God’s steadfast love endures forever.

Ministers love to use five words when one will do, so this is a good reminder to those of us who preach that sometimes brevity is the soul of faith. There is nothing more that I can say about the miracle of Easter that is not said in these two lines. I could preach for an hour, and I’d never be able to sum up the task of Easter Monday better than this: Give thanks to God for God is good . . . God’s steadfast love endures forever.

And so, as you go out into the world today, do just that. Give thanks to God for a goodness and love that could not be contained, even by the grave. Give thanks in prayer and praise, but give thanks in other ways, too. Give thanks through all actions you take, every act of kindness you bestow on others, and each occasion when you are called to stand up in courage and love for your neighbors.

God’s love has already won. It’s our work to spread that good news to those who do not yet know it. Our thanksgiving thus becomes the world’s joy, and our every action becomes a small reminder of resurrection. 

If You Build it, They Will Come

The other night I got caught up in watching “The Field of Dreams” once again. I think this one and “The Natural” are my two favorite baseball movies. But we all know that it is more about relationships than baseball. “Dreams” harkens back to the days when the “Eight Men Out” story was the front page news. It is how Shoeless Joe Jackson and seven other players were banned for life from baseball for supposedly throwing a game (letting the other team win on purpose for money). Jackson was never found to have done anything to help throw the game… he took the money but did not participate in the crime.

“Dreams” finds this progressive Iowa farmer out in his corn field early one evening when he hears a voice saying: “If you build it, they will come.” He questions this voice but receives no answer.  Finally, he sees this baseball field where his corn field is and realizes that he is being asked to build a field where baseball dreams can come true, not only for the gang of eight, but for all people.

Near the end of the movie this dreaming farmer has to make a decision between keeping the field and losing his farm. James Earl Jones (Terence Mann) makes an impassioned speech about why he should keep the field:

“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steam rollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

Certainly baseball is not the one constant in our lives. Only God is that. But one thing that is constant is that if we build a field where people can find peace in their souls, dreams will come true, relationships will be healed, and peace will abound. Many of us, perhaps all of us long for that time when things were good. And we need that goodness today to bring us to that place of peace in our soul.


Grace and Peace

May you find a Field of Peace in 2018

The Christmas Risk

As many of you know, I sermon/homily binge on Sundays. I stream the worship services from Washington National Cathedral, Riverside Church in NYC, Duke Chapel, and finally Myers Park UMC in Charlotte. These are all very well designed times of worship, each giving a little different message, but all very uplifting, challenging, and filled with grace.

Today being Christmas Eve, with all the candlelight services offered, it gives me a little more opportunity to share in this experience. We participated in worship at Myers Park UMC at 11:00am, 6:00pm and 8:00pm; Washington National at 11:00am; Duke Chapel at 11:00am; and St. Peter’s in Rome at 11;30pm. Yes, I have had a day of preaching. But it has all been good.

Pope Francis spoke about the refugee nature of the Holy family being forced to go to a place where they were not wanted… not welcomed… a place where there was no space for them. He called on the world to make room for the refugees of the world. The narrator of the service mentioned that every 20 minutes of every day a family leaves their land for a new place seeking the hope of a new life or a family is forced to leave their land out of fear for their lives.

I was particularly struck with James Howell’s words this morning when he said: “Love risks being born.” It was a tremendous risk for God to risk being born as a helpless human infant and grow up in a world where he was unwanted but very needed. All day, as Shirley and I were getting prepared for tomorrow’s Christmas dinner and family, I kept having these flashes of James’ words: “Love risks being born.” Look what God risked to be born in us. And what are we risking to have His love being born in us and through us born in another? 

We have had a very strange and disturbing year. Many of us have not known how to deal with or what to say about it. I know I have lost some friends over politics because of me expressing my feelings. Even my family thinks I am going to hell in a hand-basket. I must say that I have not allowed my better self  to shine or be born each day in me… no that old lower self has had most of the control. I am sorry that I spoke as I did… I surely could have said what I felt needed to be said in a much better way… a more sensitive way.

I still am pondering this risky love being born in me. Not sure what it will look like or how it will play out in an old man’s living. But I hope it will look more loving, more caring, more understanding, more open. Don’t expect a door mat for you to wipe your muddy shoes… I will still come to the door. But expect me living on a higher plane where love is being risked.

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel

Merry Christmas to all of you. I pray we all may find a way to risk really loving God and each other in the coming year. I am planning to use this as my waking prayer each day, cause I need to be reminded.

Grace and Peace


The Christmas Angel

There is a beautiful children’s picture book entitled, December by Eve Bunting and David Diaz. I have used it in conjunction with the Isaiah 64:1, “O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down….” The synopsis is below. 

A young boy and his mother who are homeless are spending Christmas Eve in a their cardboard box shelter. They have made it as cozy as possible with the picture of an angel with a rose in her hair from an old calendar hanging on one wall. He decided she is named December because that is the word under the picture. They have a little scrap of an evergreen branch as a tree with a paper star and an old tin soldier as ornaments. There is also a paper plate with two Christmas cookies, one red and one green. The boy has recycled bottles and cans for weeks to earn money for the cookies. They go to sleep warm and snug under the great coat of the boy’s deceased father.

At midnight they are awakened by a knock on their cardboard door. An old woman, cold and frightened, is asking for help. They invite her in and warm her up. She is so grateful that she takes a faded fabric rose off her hat to add to the Christmas ornaments on the little tree. After a bit of wrestling with his conscience the boy offers her the red Christmas cookie because he thinks she is hungry. They cover her with the father’s coat and all three go back to sleep. Early Christmas morning just before dawn the boy awakens to discover the woman is gone. He is drawn outside of their box and there in the morning fog he sees his Christmas angel, December,….the one on the calendar sheet hanging in the box. She is singing softly and she smiles at him. As she fades into the fog he notices that the rose in her hair is just like the rose that is now hanging on the tree.

A year later the boy and his mom celebrate Christmas in their new warm apartment. The mom now has work and the boy is in school. They put out the angel picture and they have a bit bigger tree with the star and the soldier and the rose. There are two cookies under the tree. And even two small presents. They are blessed. Life is very good and the boy gives thanks as he remembers the angel named December.  

Grace and Peace

God Will Handle It

Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.
1 Thessalonians 5:15

Recently Shirley and I went to a local restaurant for lunch and had our usual waitress; Anna, usual food; soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, and a most unusual check out. The bank declined my debit card. The clerk even punched in the numbers and still it was declined. So in the spirit of the season we sit at a table and call the bank. They tell us that my card has been compromised by ITunes. Isn’t that just great??? I have downloading classical music for the Christmas season and some joker is stealing my debit card number and charging around $500.00 in three different places in Virginia. I just don’t think that is very much in keeping with the Christmas spirit. The Christmas Spirit is give not steal.

I tried to think of appropriate scripture for this devotion, one that would voice my inner feelings. All I could come up with immediately had to do with destroying my enemies… casting them down into a deep, dark pit. And, you know, for a while I was very well pleased with this scripture and attitude. I even started singing “You’re a foul one, Mr. Grinch!” in that deep voice – with feeling.

Then I was reminded; “You are a preacher!” Oh yeah! Well, I guess that means that I need to, at least, try to handle this a little better. So, perhaps deal out only severe pain instead of the destruction and pit thing? Really what I want to do is to stand at the top of the pit and shine my flashlight down into the eyes… e-d-b-d-eyes… of those who are holding their ill-gotten gain… with my money.

I don’t understand why people do this. I don’t have the capacity to appropriately deal with this but I do know that I must forgive and let it go, and turn it all over to God. God will handle it in a way that brings about God’s solution and not mine.

Dear God, I thank you for reminding me of not seeking revenge but seeking the higher road of turning it all over to your loving care knowing that you will do what is best. Amen.

Grace and Peace



Adopted By Christ

“In love he destined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will….”
Ephesians 1:5

John was born into a family of 12 children. They were very poor. He was the youngest. He never remembered his father eating a meal with the rest of the family. He had to work long hours to feed his family. One day his father ran off with another woman, leaving his mother to care for all 12 children. At age 6, his mother told him through tears that she was going to put him up for adoption along with 3 of his sisters. She told him she had no choice. If she didn’t take this step they would likely starve.

She placed an ad in a newspaper of a nearby town and within 3 days a couple responded. When the day finally came for John to leave, he said it was the worst day of his life. They were at the train station, ready to say their last good-byes. He said, “When the conductor reached down to take me from my mother’s arms I felt something die on the inside of me.

His new family was very loving and kind but it was just not the same. John lived with the constant fear that one day they would give him away too. He grew into adulthood and finally went out on his own. He spent year after year absorbed in his work, trying to bury the deep hurt in his soul.

One day something beautiful happened. In a moment of great discouragement, he visited a church, hoping he would hear a word that would boost his spirits. Little did he know that his life would be changed forever. The preacher talked about how God loves to adopt people into his forever family. At last, the ache in his heart was healed. Jesus told him He would never abandon him, never send him away. After years of turmoil and hate, John felt loved and accepted. He felt the Lord saying to him, “John, I know about that day at the train station. I know how you felt and I’ve been waiting all these years to adopt you into my family.”

There is never a single, horrible memory but what God plans to eclipse it with a better one. Like green grass sprouting to re-color a burned-over field, so God brings along beauty for ashes.

Dear God, adopt me and never let me go.  Amen.

Grace and Peace


Show and Tell

“Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.”
John 12:9

Dr. Fred Craddock, a renowned homiletics professor in seminary used to tell his students, “Preach Christ! Use words if you have to.” Dr. Craddock’s point, of course, was that people are much more impacted by what they see than by what they hear. Sermons in the flesh are more powerful and more enduring than moral proclamations and divine meditations alone.

At a certain point in his life, the only thing that rivaled the popularity of Jesus and his message in the Jerusalem vicinity was a living manifestation of Jesus’ power and a living illustration of Jesus’ message. According to John’s gospel, the power and the proclamation of Jesus were manifested and illustrated in the resurrection of Jesus’ friend, Lazarus.

When the crowds that gravitated toward Jesus got word that Jesus was dining at the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead, they came to that house to investigate for themselves. They came to see Jesus, certainly, but they also came to see what Jesus had done in the resurrected life of Lazarus.

Every person who has experienced the life-giving power of Jesus is up for inspection. People still want to know, is it really possible to hear the voice of Christ and defy the conscriptions of imminent death? People still want to know, does the eternal life promised to us by Christ make any real difference in this life? People still want to know, does Christ really have the power to give you life in the face of those who are invested in your death? People still want to know, is there any hope beyond the grave?

People still come because they want to experience our worship, enjoy our music and listen to our great sermons and testimonies about the life-giving, death-defying, body-healing, soul-saving resurrecting power of God in Christ Jesus. But they also want to see the evidence of our wondrous proclamations manifested in our everyday lives. They really want to see living illustrations of those who were once dead but who now celebrate life and life more abundantly.

What will they see?  What can they touch?  What will we show them?

Loving Savior, you have made us to be living illustrations of your power over death. Now touch our lives so that we may show forth your greatness and your goodness with gratitude and grace, in and through Jesus.  Amen.

Grace and Peace

A Pile of Rocks

Those twelve stones, which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal, saying to the Israelites, “When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, so that all may know the power of the Lord.”
Joshua 4:20-24a

Have you ever just sat and looked at stones? Some of my favorite are the stones in Jonathan’s Creek in Maggie Valley – near Lake Junaluska. I think Ray Stevens would call them “flat, smooth, river rocks, fit for skipping.” They just seem like special rocks.

Go visit Stonehenge in the English county of Wiltshire and ask some of my kin folk, as people have for centuries, “What do these stones mean?” The only honest answer is “We don’t know” or “Go ask an archeologist.”  If there ever was a plan to pass on the meaning from generation to generation, it didn’t stick.

Go visit the Holy Land and you’ll find rocks everywhere. Big ones, little ones and stacks of them, just like the pile described in Joshua 4 near the Jordan River. As soon as the Israelites stepped in the river, the waters parted, Red/Reed Sea-style, and the whole nation crossed over. It was a moment to remember.

But Joshua was smart enough to know that even mighty miracles are easily forgotten unless we do something to remember them. The twelve stone pillar was meant to arouse the curiosity of younger generations who would see it and naturally ask, “What’s that all about?” We are instructed to answer: “It’s there to remind us God is real and powerful and faithful.”

A common fear for parents of confirmation students is that their child will ask a question for which they have no answer. What’s baptism all about?  What’s communion all about?  And what about miracles, the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection?

The honest answer might be “I don’t really know” or “Go ask the pastor.” But if all we offered was the Joshua answer: “Those things remind us God is real and powerful and faithful,” it would be enough.

Today we don’t have a pile of twelve stones. We have a pile of stories, poems and letters known as the Bible to arouse our curiosity and help us remember God’s presence and faithfulness. It’s really the only thing worth remembering. I hope you don’t skip them.

Dear God, help us to remember that you never forget us. You never abandon us. Help us to pile up the stones, the altars along the way to remind us that you are always with us, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace

Pick Your Battles

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.
Luke 22:24

Most of the time most pastors get along well. Even if they come from different denominations, they still extend to each other a modicum of professional respect.

That was not the case about five years ago when pride came between two preachers. These pastors, whose congregations thought they were in competition, met on the street. One of them coldly said, “I heard you speak the other night and recognized that sermon. You preached it about 14 years ago.”

Somewhat put out by such a direct attack, the other shot back, “Thank you very much. I heard you speak just three weeks ago, and I can’t remember a single word you said!”

The conversation probably wasn’t much different as the disciples disputed about which of them was the greatest.

We expect little children to argue and brag. Children take great stock in telling why they’re the smartest, cutest, fastest and bestest. But Jesus’ disciples should have matured beyond such silliness.

How it must have hurt Jesus to hear them squabble.

His heartache stemmed from the fact that not only were His disciples fighting, but these were the men with whom He had worked the hardest. These were His trusted friends whom He had kept closest to Him, who had seen His miracles, and listened to His sermons on love. These were the ones who would be entrusted with the sharing of the Gospel.

Similarly, Jesus must be appalled by His present-day disciples who squander the church’s volunteers and resources on insignificant and inconsequential internal disputes. How sad our Redeemer must be when normally sensible and almost always rock-solid Christians jockey for recognition and demand acceptance of their own points of view.

Jesus knew back then, and He wishes His people to know now that the church and its leaders have bigger enemies to fight than each other.

Jesus died and rose so his people could witness to others on his behalf. Jesus died and rose so his people would come to him humbly and acknowledge, “Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me.”

Dear Lord, forgive me when my pride gets in the way of doing all I can for you and your work. Remind me that I have nothing to brag about. Who and what I am is because of your grace, mercy and compassion. Thank you for loving me enough to restore me to your family, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace

We Need the Eggs

“When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be healed?'”
John 5:6

Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the man whose brother-in-law believed himself to be a chicken. The man finally got fed up with his brother-in-law’s scratching, clucking, and pecking – not to mention the nest-building in every corner of the house.

The man went to see a psychiatrist to explain the problem. The doctor said, “Sounds like a simple neurosis. Bring him in, I’m sure we can cure him.”

“Oh no, Doc,” said the man, “we can’t do that. We need the eggs.”

When Jesus came upon a man who had been sitting beside a healing pool for thirty-eight years without ever getting in the water, he asked, “Do you want to be healed?”

The truth is that in churches (but not only there) we sometimes get a lot of eggs from people who are suffering in basic ways, i.e. deep down they don’t experience themselves as worthy of God’s love and grace. Often those who suffer such wounds deal with their pain by over-functioning – constantly doing for others, taking on every job, or taking responsibility for other people who aren’t being responsible for themselves. We in the church may even encourage this. We’ve gotten used to the eggs.

But here’s the really shocking thing in this story: Jesus asked if the man who had sat there for so long wanted to be healed, but he didn’t wait for an answer. He just ordered the man to get up and walk. Jesus took away the eggs.

So, watch out, because so far as I can tell Jesus is very likely to bust in on our little arrangements and take away the eggs. Jesus is intent on taking from us all the ways we’ve learned to keep true life and real healing at bay.

Come Holy Spirit, break us open and make us new, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace

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