One of my favorite stories of all time is "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" by C.S. Lewis. First of all, it's C.S. Lewis, and second it's just a great story about humanity; creation, brokenness, sacrifice, salvation, and just an all around great show of the battle between good and evil.
One of my favorite lines in the movie comes pretty early on when Susan, one of the main characters, if having a conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver about Aslan, who is the Christ-figure in the story.
Mr. Beaver says, "Aslan is a lion, THE lion, the great Lion."
"Ooh," said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't save. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
Over the last 8 months, we have been worried about "safe." Are we safe from the Corona Virus? Are our jobs safe? Our livelihoods? Our kids as the return to school? Safe is a word that we often equate with the word Good.
If I am safe, then all is well, because it's not bad.
But think about this for a second; does "Good" always mean "safe?"
Have you ever thought about what Jesus might have looked like? Do you have a picture in your mind about Jesus? I think for so long, in my mind, his robe always seemed to be nicely pressed, and he had a colorful sash that draped over his shoulder. He has fair skin, and blue eyes, and his hair and beard were neatly trimmed.
Where on God's green earth did that imagery come from?
If you want my honest opinion, it's because that is the "safe" Jesus. That's the Jesus who looks kingly. That's the Jesus who speaks in a mild and meek manner, never gets frustrated, and always as something beautiful to say in the right moments.
But that is not the real Jesus. That is the Jesus made in our image.
There are many times in Scripture where Jesus bucks this "traditional" imagery of Jesus. You know what I mean...you've all seen the picture hanging somewhere in your churches.
Do you think that version of Jesus would use the phrase, "YOU BROOD OF VIPERS! YOU SNAKES!" No...I didn't think so.
In John 2: 13-22, we read the story about where Jesus cleanses the temple.
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!"
Wow, Jesus. Get yourself together.
...am I right?
No. I am not.
For anyone who reads this blog post, I want you to seriously take note of what is going on in the world. Take note of what is going on in our churches. For so long, our churches have forgotten that we have been given access to a terrifying and wonderful power. We have been given God's Holy Spirit, and for those of us who receive it, we have often squandered it out of fear of being labeled "unsafe."
Just because something is "unsafe," that doesn't mean it isn't "good."
It is time for our churches to reclaim the Spirit that was once given to us. It is time for us to return back to being a church who not only hope and rely on miracles, but expects them. It is time for us as a church to stop being afraid of the unsafe, and put our full trust in God; not just for our salvation, but for our protection and provision.
Let us Pray
We give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! We shout, "his steadfast love endures forever!"
God of us all, help us to reclaim the power that you desire to give us. Help us to be the church in the midst of the chaos of this world, to remember that you may not be "safe," but that you surely are "good!" Forgive us in our weakness, help us to return to our position of strength, not for our glory, but for yours and yours alone. Help us to witness to your power in this world.
In Jesus' STRONG name we pray!
This morning as I was preparing breakfast, I turned on the news, which is a normal occurrence for me. I guess you can say, while I'm making food, I like the background noise. But as I was watching, coverage began for the Funeral Service for the late Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader-Ginsberg.
While we were watching, a couple of things struck me. I made a comment to Miranda that no matter where you stand politically, when you see a flag-draped coffin, it makes you pause. You begin to think about what that flag means; what it represents, and how much a symbol it has become. You think about the men and women who have given their lives in service of that flag. You think about the the beauty of it and, to some, the controversy. But at the end of the day, it is something that belongs to all of us who call ourselves "American."
While the honor and symbolism is palpable in an event like the funeral service of a Supreme Court Justice, and while I could feel my patriotism flowing through me, this was not what struck me the hardest.
Most know that Justice Ginsberg was Jewish. Her faith was important to her, as it is to us. So naturally, her service was begun by a Jewish Rabbi. When she began the service, she alternated speaking in Hebrew and speaking in English as she read the traditional Jewish prayers and scriptures. But there was one moment when I was overwhelmed with emotion. When the Rabbi recited the 23rd Psalm in Hebrew, I felt like I was hit with a ton of bricks.
The words spoken in Hebrew flow with a hauntingly beautiful cadence. Every single word, dripping with a deep and rich tradition. It was almost too much to bear. The weight of the passage was suffocating. Then I thought about what it all means.
This "Song of David" is one that we often hear at funerals, even in the Christian Faith. It is one that speaks hope in the midst of hopelessness, peace in the midst of fear, joy in the midst of sadness, and even life in the midst of death. It is a perfect understanding of the Grace of God; that even in the midst of "my enemies" God comforts and protects, and that even beginning in this life, we can "dwell in the House of the Lord forever."
It is no secret that our country is torn in two. It seems like every single day we hear a little bit more of the velcro that holds the two sides together ripping apart. The longer this all goes on, the more I realize how much our politics is just another symbol of all that is wrong in this world. Hypocrisy, lies, attacks, and media spin, it also is too much to bear.
What a better scripture than the 23rd Psalm to remind us who is on the throne. Who it is that takes us to peaceful places, who takes us to a place where we can drink the living water safely; who it is that restores everything, even our souls, and shows us the proper way to walk. Who it is that allows us to fear nothing in this life; who beats off the wolves, and who provides protection. It reminds us that we are all his children, that our "enemies" are also loved by him, and that it is Him, and Him alone who provides for all our needs.
May you be blessed today by the words of the Psalmist, David. May they bring you peace and comfort.
Let us Pray,
God of us all, you are ever more ready to hear than we are to pray. You know our needs before we ask, and our ignorance in asking. Give to us now your grace, that as we shrink before the mysteries in this life, that we may see the light of eternity. Help us to live as those who are prepared to die. And when our days here are accomplished, enable us to die as those who go forth to live, so that living or dying, our life may be in you."
One of my favorite stories in Scripture (and let's face it, they are all my favorite stories), starts like this: "There was a man who had two sons..."
Perhaps you have heard this story before? It's about a man...well...who had two sons, and one of them decided that he didn't want to live at home any more. Honestly though, when you think about it, isn't that the way its supposed to be? After all, we read scripture that says: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."
It seems as though we were meant to take off and fly on our own...to leave the nest. But that's not really what happened in this story. Not only did the boy want to leave his family, he told his father, "Give me my share of the estate."
In other words...I want my inheritance now...even though you're not dead yet, dad.
So, the boy went off on his own, and did life his own way. He partied, spent time with women, drank, and spend all of his money. He squandered it.
Did you know that the word "prodigal" actually means wasteful?
Growing up, I always thought that it meant the "returning" son. But when I got to seminary, and I actually looked up the definition for myself, I was floored. Jesus, telling this story, wanted people to focus on the fact that the son was wasteful. He took everything his father had given him and he had wasted it...he spent it on extravagant living, and then when his choices finally caught up with him, he found himself eating pig slop. mmmmmm....
My favorite line in this story comes next: "When he came to his senses..."
This is a moment of realization. A moment where the boy has a "come to Jesus" moment, and he says, what the junk am I doing here? This is not how life is supposed to be. I thought life would be better than this.
Be honest with yourself...have you ever had to come to your senses? Have you ever had a "Come to Jesus" moment? I know I have...a few times.
But the best part of the story is that the boy decided it was time to go home.
Growing up in South Texas, specifically in Corpus Christi, Homecoming was an important event, and living in Llano, I am beginning to see that it is an important event here too. Mums and garters, tuxedos and boutonniere's, beautiful evening gowns...oh...and football! Can't forget that one!
It really is a big party. Traditionally reunions happen, people get together and celebrate accomplishments and really just enjoy each other's company. It is really just a big party to celebrate being alive and being home.
And when the boy gets home, that's exactly what happens. The fattened calf is slaughtered, the great wine is brought out, the feast is on. No more pig slop for the boy.
As long as we have breath in our lungs, my brothers and sisters, it is never too late to come home. It is never too late to come to our senses; to have come to Jesus moment. After all, that is what Jesus wants: for us to come to him.
Let us pray;
Father, we realize there are things we have done that make it seem like you are dead to us; that we do not fully believe in the power of the Holy Spirit living within us. We know that we have failed you in our love and we have tried to do it our own way.
Help us, Lord, to "come to our senses" and to make the decision to return to you. We know that you love us, and you are ready to welcome us home.
In Jesus Name,
Be honest with yourself,
That title made you feel a little uneasy. It's not exactly a title that you were expecting in this week's "From the Pastor." Well, just hold on, I'll get there, I promise.
This last Saturday, I had the honor of walking with a family through a difficult time as they laid their father to rest next to their mother in the Llano City Cemetery. It was a small family from out of town who wanted a Methodist pastor to lead a small graveside funeral service. So, being the Methodist pastor in town, I was given the opportunity to minister to a family in their time of grief.
As per my usual, I arrived at the Cemetery about 15 minutes early in order to collect my thoughts and prepare myself to bring the peace of Christ into the situation. As a pastor, it can be real easy to just walk in to a situation and think you have all the answers, but you and I both know that is not the case. It is important to center ourselves and to focus on what we are really there for, to represent the church and to lead people in worship of the risen Christ; to point everyone to him and preach the Good News.
As I was walking from my truck to the graveside, it hit me: The Cemetery is so peaceful.
I thought about all the people who have gone before us, those who had lived full lives, and even those like my sister who is buried there, who didn't, but are now fully alive in Christ Jesus. I thought about my salvation and how one day, while my body may be buried in a place like that, my soul will be with Christ and I will be fully known and will know Jesus fully, and that peace just washed over me.
During the service I read these words:
There was a Saturday, much like this one, over 2000 years ago, where 11 of Jesus disciples were sitting in the upper room, wondering if they were next. They had seen all the events of the days leading up to Jesus' crucifixion, and I can only imagine the questions that were being asked; namely, why did he have to die?
When we come into contact with death, it makes us feel uneasy. It makes us feel pain and sorrow. But I am reminded of Psalm 30: 5 which says, 'For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.'"
I think it is real easy sometimes for us to forget why Jesus had to come in the first place. As humans, we have to come to understand that we are broken; we are sinners in need of God's grace, but that when we receive that grace, and allow Jesus into our heart, we no longer have to fear death, or the cemetery. In fact, it can become quite a peaceful place. It can become a place that is just another stop on this journey called life as we pass from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant.
Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans that there is NOTHING that can separate us from the love of God. NOTHING.
So, let us life as people who are prepared to die, but also people who are fully alive in Christ!
Let us pray,
God of all creation, you are good and your love endures forever. Help us to live as people to die, but people who are also fully alive in Christ. Give us peace, O Lord, and help us to be a light shining in the darkness. Help us to be people who, in the midst of death, see eternal life and to be people who proclaim the Good news that Jesus died for us to make us whole.
We ask all these things in the strong name of Jesus, Our Lord,
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 37-39)
Growing up in the United Methodist Church, I have always had a passion for ministry. Now, I have been called to serve the people of Llano at an awesome place called Lutie Watkins Memorial!