Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Like a Child

When I was a child, my family and I spent a night in the apartment of a prostitute. She was the friend of our friends.

You actually had to ride in an elevator to get to her apartment, which was a novelty for kids who came from suburbia.  Being children, my sister and I made friends within the first few minutes of our arrival in Baltimore - they were right down the hall!  To us, it felt like a party.

My parents and our friend, Mr. B., brought our stuff up to the apartment.  The adults let us ride the elevator up and down with our new friends several times, buying time to hide the “art” in the apartment.  They draped nude statuary with jackets while we enjoyed the elevator.

Our hostess was so kind, feeding us heaps and heaps of spaghetti - our favorite!  She took us to the beach and showed us around Baltimore the next day.  That’s all I remember about her…  She was kind. My sister and I learned new jump roping rhymes from our new friends.  I showed them how my Charlie McCarthy puppet worked. I remember that I liked everything about that place and those people.

I’m glad for that. I’m glad I had the perspective of a child, and I’m glad I had parents who felt that being the friend of friends was enough to recommend someone to them.  

We are all friends of a Friend.  

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 18:3.

In “The Great Divorce,” C.S.Lewis wrote that time works backwards from the point of physical death.  For those who choose to live in Hell, every experience will be transfused with hellishness, beginning with the present and working backwards.  But for those who choose Heaven, they will find that Heaven has colored every moment, every experience they ever had.  From the moment we give over our lives to God, we grow less and less “adult,” more able to see things and people with the eyes of a child and the perspective of Heaven.  

If we want to get on the elevator, we must love the company.  If we want to enjoy the spaghetti, we need to love the cook.  When we get to Heaven, I hope that’s what we remember: We ate with people who were kind and we fit a lot of friends into the elevator!


Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Now may the God of endurance and encouragement grant you harmony with one another in Christ Jesus, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Romans 15:5-6

It is recorded in Exodus 31 that God poured out his Spirit on Bezalel, a master craftsman, to enable him to build the tabernacle and ark of the covenant. This was a time when specific people were anointed specifically to create a beautiful space where the Hebrew people could meet with God.

These days, God has poured out his Spirit on all of his sons and daughters!  Specifically ALL.  

From start to finish, the creation of the Easter Service was a team effort and an act of worship, empowered by the Holy Spirit.  As we labored together (writers, actors, musicians, hospitality, nursery, greeters, etc… ), we offered our creativity back to God, asking him to anoint the service so that it would be a beautiful space where people could meet with God. All.  Not just the Christians.

If you weren’t there, this is what we did:  We created a memorial service for Jesus.

The service started with one of our pastors reading the eulogy (not ever mentioning Jesus’ name), and then inviting “friends and family” to share memories.  Jesus’ mother spoke first, followed by Peter; the woman at the well; Jairus and his daughter; Zaccheus, and Thomas.

Thomas’ remembrances were cut short by the sound of distant church bells ringing, and then Mary Magdelene burst into the assembly hall, shouting, “Stop!  Stop the service!  He’s not dead!”

She ran to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and, after hugging her, began to sing a powerful song that proclaimed that Jesus was alive!  Toward the end of the song,  “Jesus” walked through the doors, dressed all in white, not dead as we supposed, but risen!  As he walked down the aisle toward his mother at the front of the church, all of his friends came out from their seats among the congregation and followed him, stunned and overwhelmed with joy.

Someday Jesus (the real one) will come through the door, followed by a host from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  A powerful moment happened for me when I suddenly saw - in my mind’s eye - my own father among that throng.  My own father (who died almost 8 years ago), following hard on the heels of Jesus when Jesus walks through that door.  Alive.  I wept with the beauty and promise of that revelation.

It struck me.  As we collaborate with each other and the Spirit of God, each service and act of service, each event and every interaction, will become holy spaces in which people like my father (and yours) - like my neighbor  (and yours) - can meet with God.  Where all people will experience God’s love.  Then, one day, we will turn to see Jesus come through the door, and ALL those people will be hard on his heels, glorifying him with one mind and one voice!  


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Withered Palm Branches

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
   my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
   as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  Psalm 63:1

It is Holy Week.  We are walking with Jesus toward the Passover celebration, his last meal with friends before his crucifixion.  We are walking with him through a dry and parched land.  People are thirsty for faith in something bigger and greater than themselves, something with the power to change things for the better.  People are hungry for hope that tomorrow holds goodness, and they are desperate for love.  But the fruit of the Spirit doesn’t grow in a spiritual desert, and the palms laid down for the feet of Jesus’ donkey have already withered.

Praise shrivels quickly in a drought of hope.  When he entered Jerusalem, Jesus was applauded by a crowd of “believers.”  Here was the man who would restore sovereignty and preeminence to the nation!  They weren’t looking to worship God, they were looking for power.

I do it all the time.   “Hosanna!”  is on my lips when I feel like I have what I want in sight. But I leave my palm branches in the dust when the sun rises on another day of hard news or strange trials.

Some withered palm branches were left on the floor in the lobby at church last Sunday - Palm Sunday. Traditionally we make little crosses from the leaves, but these were too brittle.  A friend told me they could be made green and supple again by soaking them in water.  I took them home and placed them in a pan full of water.  Sure enough - they are green and fresh!

Now I can make them into a cross.  

It’s how Jesus said to do it.  “Take up your cross and follow me.”  He didn’t call for the palm branches, he called for the Cross.  The greening comes as we immerse ourselves in him.


A Word in Season

The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.  Isaiah 50:4 KJV

A person finds joy in giving an apt reply-- and how good is a timely word!
Proverbs 15:23 NIV

It is gray and rainy and the yard is full of mud. There is dirt and detritus everywhere, uncovered by the thaw. Spring in the North Country.  Mud season.

Some days are just ugly like that. Days where all it would take to send you back to bed would be a grumpy word or a cold shoulder, because you already feel cold in spirit and hard of heart. Dirt and detritus everywhere, exposed.

It could happen just that way.  A cutting word could cut you down.

Or - it could happen this way:  A friend could speak a kind word.  Even just a “Hello,” accompanied by a smile (which costs so little yet is invaluable), could save the day!  A timely word.  A word in season.  

Wise people know this and greet each person with respect.  They look up when someone enters the room and they say hello.  Wise people know that, no matter who they meet, it is always Jesus.