Maundy Thursday Pot-Luck Liturgy

On Maundy Thursday, my church has done something a litte different the last two years. Instead of a traditional worship service in the sanctuary, we have done a Pot-Luck and Liturgy. The idea of this service is to come together in fellowship for a meal and together tell the story of Jesus on holy Thursday. The liturgy below mostly follows the story as told in Matthew 26:17-56. There are two reading parts and congregational reading as well. Reader 1 mostly functions as the narrator. Reader 2 is usually the words of Jesus. Most of the congregational reading are the words and responses of the disciples, especially Judas and Peter.  In my context, both Reader 1 and Reader 2 are ordained clergy. If yours are not, you may want to adjust the Communion section accordingly.

To set up this service, you need to have a regular pot-luck (or some meal provided). Each table should have a loaf of bread, a pitcher of grape juice, and cups for everyone. There are four main parts:

I. Before the meal: Prayer of thanksgiving, reading the ‘commandments of Jesus,’ and a prayer of confession

II. The meal: People are invited to gather their food and begin to eat.

III. The Bread and the Cup: Before everyone is done eathing their supper, there are readings for the Words of Institution, a prayer of invocation, and people are invited to share the bread and cup with one another at each table.

IV. After the Meal: Readings from when the story goes out to Gethsemane. The prediction of Peter’s denial and the arrest of Jesus.

Below is my script. There are places for three different songs, which help get people’s attention in the midst of the meal. We have a piano in our fellowship hall, so this should work. If you don’t, you might use selected recorded music to help set the liturgy apart in its sections.

Maundy Thursday service and pot-luck. April 18, 2019, 6:00 p.m.

Words of Welcome

Reader 1    We gather on this night to remember Jesus’ last night with his disciples. Friday is a day of mourning, reflecting on the death of the Messiah at the hands of jealous men. Saturday is a day of waiting, pondering the mystery of a tomb that is soon to be empty. Sunday is a day of joyful excitement, proclaiming the Resurrection.

Reader 2    Today is Thursday; a day to remember what Jesus lived for. It is a day to remember how he loved, what he taught, and how God’s steadfast love was revealed through him.

Reader 1    Today is Maundy Thursday. Maundy comes from the Latin “command.” So today we remember what Jesus commanded us to do. As we enjoy this great feast set out before us, we will recall Jesus’ words and deeds. We will recall the response of the disciples, who all fell away, and we will leave with a prayer for us all to remain awake through the very end.

Song 561   Jesus United by Thy Grace vs 1, 2, 6

The Meal Begins

Reader 1    On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and said,

All                “Where do you want us to prepare for you the Passover meal?”

Reader 2    He replied, “Go into the city, to a certain man, and say, ‘The teacher says, “My time is near. I’m going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.”’” The disciples did just as Jesus instructed them. They prepared the Passover.

Reader 1    Let us pray together and give thanks for

All:      Gracious God, we give you thanks for all which is set out before us. Send you Holy Spirit to fill each of us with thanks and praise. Guide us as we remember that your Anointed One, on the night before he suffered, instituted the sacrament of his body and blood. Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life. Amen.

Reader 1    Here are the commandments of Jesus

Group 1     Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

Group 2     You must love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39)

Group 1     Do not pay back violence with violence. (Mt. 5:39)

Group 2     Do not withhold forgiveness. (Mt. 6:15)

Group 1     Do not hate or curse your enemies. (Mt. 5:44)

Group 2     Do not pray like the hypocrites or make a show of your faith. (Mt. 6:1)

Group 1     Do not ignore the needs of the poor. (Mt. 19:21)

Group 2     Do not put the letter of the Law over the heart of the Law. (Mt. 15:10)

Group 1     Do not be afraid. (Mt. 28:10)

Reader 2    Jesus said, “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love. This is my commandment: Love each other.”

All:               This is our commandment. To love each other.

Reader 2    Jesus said, “No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends… I give you these commandments so that you can love each other.”

Reader 1    Before Jesus and his disciples gathered for the meal, there was one who had taken matters into his own hands. For thirty pieces of silver, Judas had agreed to hand Jesus over to the chief priests. From that moment on, Judas was looking for the right time to betray Jesus.

Reader 2    “I assure you, one of you will betray me.”

All:               I’m not the one, am I, Lord?

Reader 2    “The one who will betray me is the one who dips his hand with me into this bowl.”

All:               Judas said, “It’s not me, is it, Rabbi?”

Reader 2    “You said it.”

Reader 1    Let us confess together:

All:               Merciful God, we confess that we have betrayed you. We have denied you. We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Moment of quiet reflection for personal prayer and confession.

Reader 1    Hear the good news: when Christ gathered with his disciples to remind them of his love, he knew that he gathered with the one who betrayed him, the one who would deny him, and all who would abandon him. This proves that Jesus loved them, even when they failed him, and he loves us still today. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.

INSTRUCTIONS: All are dismissed to the buffet line one table at a time. Begin the meal, but please be aware that we will have more readings before the meal is finished. We will come together by singing:

Song 616   Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast (v. 1, 2, 5)

Sharing the bread and cup

Reader 1    On the night in which he was betrayed, and while they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said,

All:               “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you”  

Reader 2    And when the supper was over, he took the cup, gave thanks to God, shared it with his disciples and said,

All:               Drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink of it, in remembrance of me.

Reader 1    And so,
in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
as a holy and living sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of faith.

 All:  Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

Reader 2    Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here,
and on these gifts of bread and wine.
Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ,
that we may be for the world the body of Christ,
redeemed by his blood.

By your Spirit make us one with Christ,
one with each other,
and one in ministry to all the world,
until Christ comes in final victory
and we feast at his heavenly banquet.

Through your Son Jesus Christ,
with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church,
all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father,
now and forever. Amen.

Each table will have one loaf to share. Please break off a piece, hand it to the person next to you and tell them, “this is the body of Christ.”  When all have eaten their piece of bread, the remaining bread may be placed back at the center of the table. Then take the pitcher of grape juice, pour out a cup for your neighbor, give it to them and tell them, “This is the cup of forgiveness.” You are free to eat more bread and drink more juice if you wish. You may finish your meal. When all the places are cleared, we will finish the service after the choirs sing.

CHOIR ANTHEM

After the meal

Reader 1    Then after singing songs of praise, they went to the Mount of Olives.

Reader 2    Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Tonight you will all fall away because of me. This is because it is written, ‘I will hit the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will go off in all directions.’ But after I’m raised up, I’ll go before you in Galilee.”

Reader 1    Peter replied

All:               If everyone else stumbles because of you, I’ll never stumble.”

Reader 2    Jesus said to him, “I assure you that, before the rooster crows tonight, you will deny me three times.”

All:               “Even if I must die alongside you, I won’t deny you.”

Reader 1    All the disciples said the same thing.

Group 1     I won’t deny you

Group 2     I won’t deny you

Reader 2    Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane. He said to his disciples “Stay here while I go pray over there.” When he took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, he began to feel sad and anxious. Then he said to them, “I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here alert with me.”

Reader 1    As Jesus prayed in anguish, none of the disciples could stay awake. A moment before they all pledged their undying loyalty. Now they couldn’t stay awake to pray in Jesus’ time of need. Finally, it was time.

Reader 2    After finding them asleep again, Jesus said, “Get up. Let’s go. Look, here comes my betrayer.”

Reader 1    While Jesus was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, came. With him was a large crowd carrying swords and clubs. They had been sent by the chief priests and elders of the people. His betrayer had given them a sign.

All                “Arrest the man I kiss.” Just then he came to Jesus and said, “Hello Rabbi.” Then he kissed him.

Reader 2    Jesus said “Friend, come do what you came to do.”

Reader 1    Then they came and grabbed Jesus and arrested him. One of those with Jesus reached for his sword. Striking the high priest’s slave, he cut off his ear.

Reader 2    Then Jesus said to him, “Put the sword back into its place. All those who use the sword will die by the sword. Or do you think that I am not able to ask my Father and he will send to me more than twelve Legions of angels right away? But if I did that, how would the scriptures be fulfilled that say this must happen?”

Reader 1    Then Jesus said to the crowds

Reader 2    Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as if I were a thief? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me.”

All:               Then all of the disciples deserted Jesus, and fled.

Reader 1    Get up. Let’s go. Look, the hour is at hand. It is time to depart from this place. Tomorrow is another day to remember and reflect on all that Jesus did and gave for us. Go now and remember Jesus’ last commandment: to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Go in peace, transformed by Christ’s commands.

All:               This is our commandment: To love each other. We will go in peace and wait. We will try to stay awake.

 

 

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E and Me Podcast, episode 1

E and ME ep 1-1The first episode of the E and Me Podcast has been released. While we’re not on Apple podcasts yet, you can download it or listen directly to it if you click on this link.

Follow us on Facebook or Instagram at @EandMePodcast.

E and Me Podcast Site to see all four episodes

 

Our first episode is about body image, beauty, and fitness. Ellie reveals that she hates the name of this blog, and we talk about what it means to be healthy. We ask some discussion questions for you to ponder with people you love.

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A New Daddy-Daughter Adventure

My daughter and I are about to launch a new podcast called “E and Me.” We are looking at an April, 2019 launch. I’ve been writing this blog for over ten years. One of my most common topics has been struggles, reflections, and thoughts about raising my daughters. Some of my earliest blogs were about her. Another topic I write about is my journey with fitness and weight loss. Through it all, my daughters have served as a huge motivation to be more healthy. My desire to live longer for them and to be better for them have served as motivation for me on the treadmill or on the weight bench. My oldest daughter is 12 now. When I started this blog she was not even 2. Below, I picked out some of my favorite entries about our relationship. These range from the fish funeral, about a frank conversation about death with a two-year-old, to Preacher’s Daughter, where I reflect on her dating, falling in love, and exploring herself.

In April we are going to launch a new project together. As evidence from Fish Funeral, she and I have had truthful conversations all her life. Most of my adult friends have kids younger than E, and they were talking about how hard it is going to be to talk about difficult things like sexualiy and death. One day E and I were talking about how great it is that we can share so openly and realized that our relationship might be fairly rare. As we chatted we realized that other kids and parents might be able to learn something from the way we talk to each other. From this conversation, E and Me was born.  The E and Me Podcast is meant to help families begin truth-filled conversations. Our first season will be six episodes, Body Image, Relationships 1 (friends), Relationship 2 (boyfriends), the Future, Gender roles, and A Wrinkle in Time Book Review. You can follow our podcast on Facebook and Instagram. You can listen to the preview of episode one here. You can read more about our relationship in the blog posts below.

Preacher’s Daughter  — “Our culture of consumption and commercialization will do enough to oppress her. I do not want to add to that with my misguided attempts at protection. I love my two daughters more than I can possibly express, and I am so afraid for them. I am afraid of how the world will treat their kindness. I am afraid for others may try to pervert their beauty. I am afraid of so much, but I cannot project my fear onto their lives. They deserve to live.”

For as long as I am able, and as long as you want me to — “I know that there will be a time when she may be physically small enough for me to carry her, but she will not want her Daddy to do such childish things any more. I seldom tell her to “grow up” in admonishment. I know that she will. There will be a time when I put out my arms, and count, “one, two, up,” and she won’t leap into my arms. There will never, however, be a time when I won’t be willing to try.”

I’m not babysitting, I’m her DadNo. I’m not a babysitter.  A babysitter is someone who occasionally watches a child, often for money.  A babysitter has temporary hours, and goes home.  I am her Daddy.  I cut her umbilical cord and handed her to her mother.  I never breast fed her, but I spent many long nights holding and feeding her.  There were a few months when there was no one on earth that could put her to sleep faster than me.  I changed diapers, wiped butts, and cleaned up puke.  I was at the helm of The Great Poopy Disaster of 2011.  The last time she had a stomach virus, the only place she wanted to sit was my lap.  I had to change shirts twice.  I once got a little bit of her poop in my mouth.

My own Tower of Babel — Every morning I wake my daughter up to get her ready for school, I build my own little tower. I crawl into bed with her and wrap her in my arms and want so badly to keep her from being scattered. Every time I whisper into her ear, “Honey, it’s time to get ready for school,” I break the tower down. It is one of the hardest things I do. Settlement and safety are not inherently bad things, but anything that works against God’s mission for the world must be worked through. It is so tempting to hold her and never let go. It would be so easy to keep her in my own Tower, but in trying to protect her, I would be hurting only her.

My first Father’s Day Present — My dreams for their futures are a luxury that most fathers in the world cannot afford. For most daughters of the world, safety, dignity, education, and health are unattainable dreams. So my gift to my daughters on this Father’s Day is to the daughters of the world. My gift this Father’s Day is a word of encouragement. It is a word of awareness. It is a call to action.

To my daughters on Valentine’s Day — I want to raise you as girls that love God, and I pray that someday you will find someone that loves you as much as I love your mother.  It’s my job to teach you what that feels like.

Fish Funeral — Ellie knows a little about death. She has been to funerals. We have allowed her to see bodies laying in state. We talk to her about death. I’m not sure what she understands, but we haven’t hidden it from her. We feel that society does enough death-denying. We don’t have to participate in it too. Sometimes she asks questions or says things that give us pause. But we try to be consistent in telling her that eveything dies. Even Dorothy, even our dog, even Mommy and Daddy.

“Will I die?” she asks.

 

 

 

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Preacher’s Daughter

The first time I heard this song, it was still a project. This is why I love house concerts and small venues. You can get a glimpse into the heart of an artist as their work takes shape. There seems to be few things more vulnerable than an artist who says, “This is something I’m working on, and I would like to share it with you.” Ben Grace shared this song with me in a small church concert. When he said it was called “Preacher’s Daughter,” my own little girl turned her head to look at me. As I listened to it that night I was touched by its simple beauty, but I wasn’t able to fully take it in because it was a fleeting moment of music in the midst of a night of art and storytellilng.

Now it has been released as a single – a finished product (as much as a song can ever be finished). I can listen to it again. And again. And as I listen to it for the third time with my earbuds in, my little girl turns and asks me why the tears are flowing down my cheek, and I can barely respond.

My daughters are 12 and 8. One of them could be the girl in the song. She could be the girl who likes a boy, who nervously writes him a note and hands it down the pew. She could be the girl who is embarrassed by her mother in front of her friends, whose tender words are torn to shreds. She could be the girl who steals a kiss, with her heart beating wildly. She could be the girl who faces the scorn of an angry father.

I could be that father. I don’t want to be.

I want them to be safe. I want them to grow up and get a solid education. I want them to chase their dreams. One wants to be a politician so she can help make positive change in the world, and I know the world would be a better place for her efforts. The other wants to be a chef or a teacher or a vet, depending on the day. They are both mighty girls of passion and strength and courage and kindness. I want to protect their vulnerable hearts, and the big, bad man in me wants to protect their bodies too. If I could just hold them in my arms, they will be forever safe. They will never be hurt, or insulted, or discarded.

There is a part of me that understands the angry preacher wanting to protect his daughter. I want to protect hem, guard them, and cherish every moment of their lives, but I know that is no kind of life.

One of them is sitting on the couch across from me as I listen to this song. I want her to love. I want her to have crushes and write notes and kiss boys (or girls if she so chooses). I want her to feel that wild, scary, earth-rocking feeling of touching his hand and wondering if his world shook too. I want her to call him on the phone and awkwardly hang up after two minutes of stunted conversation. I want her to explore her feelings, her emotions, and yes – her sexuality. I want her to treat herself with respect and demand it from others, and if I intervene with anger every time she ‘likes’ a boy, she will never learn to do that on her own.

Our culture of consumption and commercialization will do enough to oppress her. I do not want to add to that with my misguided attempts at protection. I love my two daughters more than I can possibly express, and I am so afraid for them. I am afraid of how the world will treat their kindness. I am afraid for others may try to pervert their beauty. I am afraid of so much, but I cannot project my fear onto their lives. They deserve to live.

static1.squarespace.comThey deserve to pass notes, share feelings, and steal kisses. I will love them fiercely until I die, but I never want to be the reason for their fear. I want my love to give them the courage to take chances and know that they can survive the heartbreaks and disappointments that will surely come. I want them to know my shoulder will always be a place to for them to rest their head. I also want them to find another shoulder if they so choose, or be a shoulder for someone else who needs their strength. I want them to know that love is not something to fear – it something to pursue and embrace.

So thank you, Ben. Thank you for telling this sweet, heartbreaking story. Thank you for reminding me to overcome my own fear so that they will be free to live fully. Thank you for these tears and for the chance to tell my daughters why they are there. I never want to miss what this preacher’s daughters said.

 

 

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Another Resurrection Moment

Mom, Dad, and me after my ordination in 2010.

When I was ordained as an Elder in the United Methodist Church, I had a vision. I wrote about it once. I think of it as a resurrection experience. I was at another ordination recently, and it happened again.

Ordination in the United Methodist Church takes place within regional gatherings called Annual Conference. These are our yearly gatherings of about a thousand people in a huge convention hall where budgets are set, retirees are honored, churches are closed, resolutions and statements are debated and passed, minimum salaries and healthcare for clergy are set, and those joining the guild of clergy within the denomination are brought forward for their final approval and vows.

The road to ordination in the United Methodist Church can take years. I graduated with a three-year Master of Divinity degree in 2006. I was appointed to full-time ministry immediately thereafter, but I wasn’t ordained until 2010.

My official journey toward ordination began in 2001, when I told my pastor that I was interested in exploring becoming a pastor. He, a retired pastor, and I met for lunch to talk about what that meant. From that moment, I was an exploring candidate. Really though, my process started when I was 15 years old and my Mother told me that I was going to be a minister someday. I didn’t’ believe her at the time. The road from that conversation in the backseat of her Honda to kneeling at the railing in front of the Bishop and a thousand fellow Methodists took many twists and turns.

It has been eight years since my own ordination. The service then, as it does now, includes the celebration of Communion. Every year at Annual Conference, the ordination service is a highlight. I always tear up at the vows they take as the gravity of “take thou authority” hits me anew. I can’t help but remember my own resurrection experience from when I was ordained. I love to go to Communion with one of the newly ordained Elders or Deacons. After they have been ordained, the Bishop leads us in the liturgy for Communion, and the newly ordained take the bread and the cup out into the large crowd gathered. Communion is always special, but it feels like a particularly holy moment when they break the bread for the first time as an ordained clergy and say, “This is the body of Christ.”

For years, Annual Conference was one of my favorite weeks of the year. It was a chance to see old friends, gather with fellow clergy and be empowered by fellowship and worship. Yes, there has always been the boring business of resolutions and amendments and (heaven help us) amendments to the amendments. I’m not a Robert’s Rule of Order wonk, but I’ve always sincerely loved Annual Conference.

This year, however, felt different. There has been growing discontent within the church over how we can continue to be the church amid disagreement over human sexuality. Rehashing the history of the UMC’s position on homosexuality would take more time than I care to take right now. It has been done by more prolific bloggers than me. Check out Chris Ritter’s and Jeremy Smith’s blogs to learn more about all that from two different sides of the inclusion debate.

Let me just say though, that this year was tough. There was nothing particularly controversial on the docket. I just felt, for the first time, that I was surrounded by people that kind of wished I wasn’t there. That feeling may have been more in my head, but it placed an inescapable pall over everything I did this year. I have long known many clergy with whom I disagree on inclusion. I have always felt though, that we shared something that would keep us together despite the disagreement. I have always been hopeful, but it is growing more difficult to be so.

I’ve grown skeptical about motivations of interest groups. I’ve wondered about the legitimacy of the process. I’ve wondered about the money trails that lead to voting devices. I don’t like these feelings, but this year on my drive to the conference I felt like I was on my way to a funeral, not a reunion celebration.

So I sat through most of the proceedings with my introvert dial turned up to 11. I avoided small talk. I sat in the corners of the giant room. I participated fully in body, but not in spirit. I had a hard heart, and while singing “For All the Saints,” with 400 other clergy at the beginning of the week felt good, it didn’t move me like it usually does.

Then it was time for Communion with the newly ordained. Once again, I heard the vows to “take thou authority to preach the Word of God, to administer the Sacraments, and order the life of the church.” I reflected on that awesome authority to which I still submit. I thought of the people in my little congregation in Rock Island, a diverse, aging, youthful collection of hopeful and spirited people who want to love the world. They embrace refugees, warmly welcome the homeless and mentally ill in worship, feed thousands every year, open the doors of the beautiful ancient fortress to children and community, and seek creative ways to share the love of Christ. They’ve been through so much as a people, and are still growing and struggling and reaching. By the grace of God I have been trusted with the awesome responsibility of guiding these saints to the Kingdom. I owe them more than a hard heart.

And then it was time to receive the bread and the cup. Slightly thawed by the grace of the people of Two Rivers Church, I went forward. I got in line for one of the young women who had just been ordained a deacon. As I waited for the piece of soft bread and grape juice she came to me again.

I have written before about the holy moment of my ordination. When the Bishop laid hands upon me and I took my vows, I had a holy vision of resurrection, and it was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. A few moments later I took a loaf of bread and went out into the crowd gathered and shared Communion with all who would come.

One of my strongest memories of that day was placing the bread of life into the hands of my Mother. It was her prophetic word that began me on my path to ordination. It was her love that guided me to find Christ. It was her love that made me into the man I am today, and I miss her terribly. She died nearly years ago. My grief is not as sharp as it once was, but it is still profound. I remembered that moment from years ago when I placed that bread in her hand, looked in her eye and said, “Mom, this is the body of Christ which is broken for you.” I remember her eyes above all else. I could see the tears welling up. I could see the joy in receiving this thing she had received so many times before, but never quite like this. I remember the pride in her eyes as she saw a baptized infant, a confirmed teen, a married man, a new father, and an ordained Elder all in one moment of infinity.

I moved forward in the line as the tears started to flow. Then the bread was placed in my hand and I dipped it into the cup. The Holy Spirit washed over me as I was forgiven by Christ’s blood and was unified by Christ’s body. The sweet and tangy grape flooded my mouth and in one moment of infinity she was there. I knew her joy in sharing this meal with me in this moment. Her pride in the pastor and father I am. Her sadness over my pain. Jesus’ grace for my sin. It was all there. His arms rested upon me. Her eyes fixed on me. Her cool, soft, refreshing hands touched my face and I knew resurrection again. Through the locked doors of my heart, she appeared, and I wept.

I went back to my seat and found an old friend sitting where I had been. She and I share a similar struggle with the church, and I said to her, red-eyed and sniffling, “sometimes I wish I didn’t love this place so much. It would all be so much easier if I didn’t care.” She laughed and agreed.

Then I remembered one of my last conversations with my Mom. General Conference of 2016 was over, and anxiety among Methodists was high. She was in bed, and we talked about it because I needed to know. I needed to know how she felt because she had once made it very clear to me how she felt.

Twenty years earlier she and I had a conversation where she made it clear that she agreed with the likes of James Dobson, who was highly influential at the time. She did not think it was “okay to be gay.” When I first contemplated seminary, she warned me against “those liberal seminaries.” I heeded her warning for a while, and put off seminary altogether for a few years. Later I did pick one of “those liberal seminaries,” but neither of us really knew it at the time.

Me, Adam Hamilton, and my Pulpit Fiction partner Eric Fistler. We met Adam Hamilton at a Festival Homiletics. His book “Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White,” was highly influential to my mother. She and I shared many conversations as she read it in her book study at her church.

She changed a lot over the years. We had many talks about the Bible and church and books she was reading. She had a pastor she loved who helped open up the Bible to her in new ways. She called me after she read Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White, by Adam Hamilton. She called again after she read Love Wins by Rob Bell. She didn’t always agree with what she read, but she started to see gray. She started to wrestle with her faith, with her old ideas and conceptions of life and death and heaven and hell. Somehow through it all I had helped guide her, which always felt like a tremendous privilege but also a little trippy. So there, literally on her deathbed, I needed to know.

I needed to know for my own heart. I needed to know for the sake of her grandchildren. I needed to know she would celebrate them no matter whom they fell in love with someday, even if she wouldn’t be alive to see it on earth. I needed to know what she thought about the church we loved so much. I needed to know what she thought about the United Methodist Church, which she loved with her time, talents, and treasure for many years. She was too sick to be following the church politics closely, so I explained to her what had happened. I told her there would be a commission to try to figure it out, that it might result in a split. She sighed and wondered, “Why can’t they just love each other?” I pressed her. “What do you think, Mom?”

She answered, “Love is love.” Those were not her last words to me, but they were pretty close. She died only a short time after that. “Love is love,” she said to me. She spent 38 years on earth with me, and I can think of no better final words than those. She taught me so much, but “Love is love” may have been the most important of them all.

So I sat there next to my friend and in the real presence of my Mother, and we all wondered, “Why can’t we just love each other?” I left that service with my heart powerfully warmed. I don’t know what the future holds for the people called Methodists. I do not know what kind of pain lies ahead for the denomination, or even for my congregation. Regardless of what happens in convention centers with voting devices, people are going to be hurt.

You may agree with me about affirming our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, or you may think I am leading people astray. I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything with this post. I hold onto my mother’s naïve wish that we could all just love each other. All I can do is be faithful to the expression of love I have found through the Bible and through Christ. I still wonder about what the future holds, but I have seen transformation. I have seen healing. I have seen resurrection. I know that love is love, and I will keep doing everything I can to tell, show, and spread Christ’s love.

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Solitude vs Loneliness

This Lent I have started a new series called “Deeper.” The idea is to take the six weeks of Lent to go deeper with our faith, and to go deeper in our relationship with God. Many of us barely scratch the surface when it comes to examining our relationship with God. This Lent, let’s try and go deeper. Each Sunday I will look at a practice that can help us connect on a deeper level with God. The problem, as I see it, is that many of these things that can help us go deeper, can also have a dangerous side. This Sunday I explore solitude.

Solitude is an important part of the spiritual life. Jesus pursued solitude, and was often drawn out of his own yearning for solitude by the needs of the people. In fact, the Bible story for this sermon includes Jesus withdrawing to a deserted place, only to be ‘tracked down’ by Peter. When Jesus was told that there was a crowd waiting for him, he says, “Let’s go the other way.” I take a closer look at this story, and this aspect of Jesus’ personality that we often forget.

The problem with solitude, however, is that there is a fine line between it and loneliness. The same empty house that can be exhilarating to the exhausted parent can be crippling to the newly widowed. I encourage us all this Lent to “seek solitude and redeem loneliness.”

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I don’t believe in “before” and “after”

My motivation t-shirt

I was recently on a local television news show called Paula Sands Live. In a world where people complain that there’s not enough good news on TV, this show is dedicated to the interesting, uplifting, and fun stories of local interest. I’ve been on a few times to tell  people about events at Two Rivers United Methodist Church, but this time they just wanted to talk about me. Below is a link to my segment.

The Fat Pastor on PSL

There’s one quote from the piece that I want to lift up. “I don’t believe in ‘before,’ and ‘after’… All we have is right now, and the decisions I make right now, and the choices I make right now. Sometimes I make good choices, and sometimes I don’t, but I want to keep trying to live well and do good.”

Over the last few years I think this may be the most important thing I’ve learned. A life of wellness is not about before and after. It is not about being fat or thin. Life is more complicated then the number on a scale or the size of my waist band. Life is a series of choices, and I try to make my choices according to God’s will in my life. I try to be guided by the love of God in all that I do. There are times, moments, days, seasons, when it all seems to be working. There are times when I’m praying more, reading more, working out more, eating well; and there are times when I’m well, I’m just not.

It has now been two months since winning The Challenge with my friend. From August to Thanksgiving I lost 50 pounds, going from 360 to 310. In that time I was able to go from walking a mile on the treadmill in 16:00 to being able to finish a 5K in under 34:00. I’ve gotten stronger. My clothes fit again, and some of the shirts that I bought this summer are now ridiculously big. I am on the tightest hole on my two belts. I generally have more energy and I’m less moody.

This is what a plateau looks like.

On Thanksgiving morning I weighed 310 pounds. Today, two months later, I weight 310. I’ve fluctuated between 308-312 for the past two months. Part of my is frustrated. I wanted to keep on that downward trend. I wanted to simply keep getting faster and leaner and stronger, but it hasn’t happened. There were some major holidays, and extra large meals. There was a hamstring strain that kept me off the treadmill for three weeks. There was the flu that kept me from the gym for about a week. I have also been dealing with more hunger lately than I have did while losing the 50.

I can be good all day, light breakfast, healthy lunch, smaller portions at dinner. Then a few hours pass and I’m cleaning up the kitchen or watching some TV and the hunger sets in. I suddenly want to EAT ALL THE FOOD. One cookie turns into a handful. And a bowl of cottage cheese. And some yogurt and granola. Suddenly all the gains I made all day are gone. I’m not alone. Losing weight is hard. According to some research, keeping it off is nearly impossible. Apparantly it is a natural reaction for your body to be more hungry after losing weight. It’s as if your body is screaming “You’re starving yourself!”

So what’s the answer? I checked out some websites, and basically the only way to maintain this lower weight is to keep doing what I’m doing. In other words, there is no before and after. There is only now and the next choice I make.

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Fat again

So, it happened. The thing I promised wouldn’t happen happened. The thing I swore I wouldn’t become, I became. I was another short-term success story. I’ve read that as many as 80% of people who have substantial weight loss gain it back within two years. Count me as one of the 80%. I got fat again. There are a lot of reasons it happened. Injuries, change of jobs, and grief are the top three candidates.

In case you missed it, this is how I went from Fat to Fit the first time:

In 2012 I dropped about 70 pounds. I followed a very simple formula: exercise more and eat less. I used the Lose It app on my phone to track every calorie burned and eaten. I learned a lot about portion size, and saw big changes from making little choices like fruit instead of hasbrowns at breakfast and broccoli instead of fries at dinner. I started exercising more, starting with the elliptical machine, and working my way up to jogging. I started my program in January, and in June 2012 I ran my first 5K in 36:00. In 2013 I stopped tracking the calories so comprehensively, but kept making good choices, and kept running. In June 2013 I ran another 5K in 26:28, which earned a trophy for second place in my age group, and remains my personal best. I added longer distances, including two five miles runs that I completed in under 50:00. In 2014 I slipped a little, but somewhat intentionally. I went to the gym a little less frequently so I could spend more time with my preschool daughter, but in May I completed my first half marathon. At that point it had been two and half years since I embarked on a new fitness journey. I felt good, and believed that I had made changes in my life that would be permanent.

Then it all came apart.

Injured at the Bix7 in July 2014.

One catalyst was an injury I suffered at the 2014 Bix 7 in Davenport. This is a huge event, one that is a part of the culture of the Quad Cities. Everyone who runs in this area has run the Bix. It counts as the National Championship for 7 mile runs. It features two large hills. On the second one, at about the 3 mile mark, a muscle in my calf popped. I couldn’t finish. I went to the doctor and he didn’t seem to think there was any structural damage. So I laid off of it, and let it heal. A couple of weeks later, I would run again and start to feel good, then it would pop again. So I would wait a few more weeks, and try again, only to hurt it again. So then I waited a month, got in worse shape, and tried to start again. It would be going well for a few weeks and then pop! After about six months of starting and stopping, I settled on stop. Also in July 2014, I started a new job. I went from being an associate pastor to the solo pastor. This meant more responsibilities, more preahing (thus less blogging), more stress, and more demands on my time. It became harder to get to the gym – or at least easier to find other things to do, especially one I was discouraged from being out of shape.

My memory of when a 3-mile jog was a light warmup weighed heavily on me. I became discouraged by how far I had fallen. I blogged less. Again, there were a lot of reasons I strayed from this blog. One was that my creative outlet was being met by preaching every week. I was prolific on this blog when I preached about once a month. When I started preaching 48 times a year, I found less time, and less creative need to write here. Second, I focused more attention on the Pulpit Fiction Podcast. Since 2013, my partner Eric and I have released over 300 episodes. I focused my social media attention on the podcast first, my new church second, and the Fat Pastor third.

The real reason I stopped blogging was simple. I was embarrassed.

Over the course of 2015, I slowly gained more weight, and worked out sporadically. After two years of finding a way to get to the gym, I found plenty of excuses to stay away. And for me, it all flows from regular exercise. When I’m exercising regularly, I eat better. I sleep better. I study and preach and write better. When I wasn’t exercising regularly I ate crap. The route from my church to home passed a Hardees, a Wendy’s, and a Taco Bell. Taco Bell is my personal Satan. On any given day you could see the passenger seat of my car littered with brown paper bags from fast food places. It wasn’t uncommon for me to have a Wendy’s lunch and a Taco Bell dinner (Mexican pizza, two soft taco supremes, and sometimes a Meximelt too). While I was already falling down this spiral, my Mom died.

This sent me reeling in ways that I didn’t even notice at the time. She died in August 2016. I spent the next year in and out of depression-like symptoms. I had low energy, so I wouldn’t feel like working out. I was depressed, so I sought comfort in bad food. I felt terrible, so I would punish myself with self-hating thoughts. I hated getting dressed because none of my clothes fit. No, I didn’t hate getting dressed. I hated myself. I would think to myself, quite often, “I hate myself.”

This death-spiral continued until I had gotten up to 360 pounds (30 pounds more than when I refocused on my health in 2012). My whole body hurt. I was out of breath all the time. Simple tasks like picking something up off the floor were difficult. After walking up the stairs to my office, it would take me a couple minutes to catch my breath before I could say hi to the secretary. Tying my shoes was difficult, and would leave me gasping for air and muttering to myself, “you are a piece of shit.”

The Challenge

One day in August my friend texted me a challenge. He saw that I had posted something no Facebook about being frustrated with my fitness and health. He proposed  challenge. We would both work on getting healthier, and whoever lost more weight by Thanksgiving would win. We exchanged some baseline information, getting details about where we were physically. When I told him where I was, his response was, “Jesus Christ, you’re going to die buddy.” He was right. I was going to die. That is where I was heading, and I knew it. At our official start to The Challenge, I was at 358 and it took me 16:00 to run a mile. The memory of the 8:40 pace for a 5K mocked me.

A few days after we got started, on the anniversary of my Mom’s death, I was at 360. I was on the treadmill, struggling to jog for a minute without stopping. Sweat pouring down my face, legs in pain, air hard to find, I cried. I cried as my heart raced, and for a moment I thought I was going to drop. And then it happened. I wanted to.

The grief.

The shame.

The pain was too much to bear, and I thought to myself, “You are going to die right here on this treadmill.” And I let out an audible response: “good.”

I didn’t die. I finished my mile a few seconds faster than the one I had run two days earlier, which was a few minutes faster than that first one. Four days later I was back, and ran it 20 seconds faster. I was sore, there was pain. I started doing more elliptical machine to alleviate the stress on my legs. As I grew faster and stronger I started feeling better about myself. I started tracking my calories again. Profits at the Taco Bell dipped in September. Then one day I looked at the floor of my car. It was littered with VitaWater bottles, the ones I would buy after every workout, instead of paper sacks.

This morning I weighed in at 318. I’m winning The Challenge (We bet dinner. He’s buying regardless. Winner gets to pick the spot). I’ll let you know who wins at Thanksgiving. Here’s the thing, I’m winning no matter what. This has never been about a number, or a weight, or about fitting in my clothes again. I feel so much better. I’m not in pain all the time. My heart doesn’t race any more – except for when I kiss my wife. I feel stronger, more patient, and more efficient. A few weeks ago my family went to a State Park. I was able to hike and climb and play with my girls. My daughter has noticed that I’m in a better mood and not as tired. It’s about making life-giving choices.

Today I was running a 5K on the treadmill, my third this week. My goal in August was to do a 5K in under 36:00 by Thanksgiving (which was the time of that first 5K back in 2012). As the mileage was ticking up toward 3.1, I realized I had a chance to beat that goal a few weeks ahead of schedule. I had to keep up my pace for one more minute without stopping. Sweat pouring down my face, legs in pain, air hard to find, I cried. I cried as my heart raced, and for a moment I thought I was going to drop. And then it happened. I pictured my girls. I decided to run toward them.

The joy.

The love.

The grace of God washed over me, and I thought to myself, “Finish this for them.” I turned the pace up on the treadmill a little faster, and I finished it in 35:40.

My friend John quite possibly saved my life. He got me going. He helped shake me up, and gave me something on which to focus. I don’t really care if I win The Challenge, because no matter where I am at Thanksgiving, I know that I won’t be finished. I stopped believing in “Before” and “After” a long time ago. There is only “Now,” and a future with me in it.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.” (Frost)

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Poem

What a friend we have in Jesus.

Please don’t tell me that everything happens for a reason.
Cause if there was always a reason, then there would be more healin’.
If cancer was the plan – then why am I still reelin’?
This pain’s not going away – it’s not just here for a season.
They say you are a mighty God – so why did she stop breathin’?
I prayed and prayed and Prayed and PRAYED that you would give this some meanin’

But there she lay.
Tumor in the brain.
My tears pour like rain.
Calling out a name,
When she wasn’t moaning.
Calling out a name,
When she wasn’t groaning.
Calling out a name she didn’t know – and it wasn’t Jesus,
A friend for 75 years, and what good did that do her?

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and grief to bear.

So I lay next to her.
I hold her hand next to her.
I stroke her hair next to her.
I read the Psalms next to her.
I pray to God next to her.
I stop and sing next to her:

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.

Please don’t tell me everything happens for a reason.
But this love we share – it will always have meaning.
This love we share – Eternity is its season.

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Stations of the Gospel. Good Friday reflections through Luke.

Begin

Setup: This is the first station. It should be found just inside the door. The rest of the stations can lead through hallways toward the sanctuary of the church. Signs clearly marking the numbers of the stations, and arrows to assist people will be helpful.

Find a copy of Bach’s Magnicat in D Major. It is readily available on youtube. Set it up to play loud enough to be able to hear for several stations.

Instructions:

Playing in this room right now is Bach’s Magnificat in D Major. This triumphal and haunting music was inspired by Mary’s song as found in Luke. The word magnificat is Latin for magnify, which is the traditional first line of the song, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

The piece is about 30 minutes, and will be playing on continual loop.  You may sit and listen for as long as you would like.

Luke 1:39-55

Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”

Mary said

With all my heart I glorify the Lord!

In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.

He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.

Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God.

He has shown strength with his arm.

He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.

He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.

He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

Rest One: Baptism

Setup: Place a bowl of water on a small table. Consider saying a prayer over the water, perhaps from the baptism liturgy, or just a simple word of thanks for the water of life and blessing for all who pass through during this exercise.

Instructions:

You are invited to dip your fingers in the water before you, and place a drop on your own forehead. Feel the water, and remember your baptism.

Luke 3:3,  10-11, 21-22

John went throughout the region of the Jordan River, calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.

The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”

He answered, “Whoever has two shirts must share with the one who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.”

When everyone was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized. While he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove. And there was a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

Reflection

This journey begins where Jesus’ journey began—at the water. The water of baptism is a sign of rebirth. To be baptized is to die to your old self, and to rise out of the water as a new creation.

In the United Methodist Church we baptize infants, not because they are sinful and need to be cleansed, but because they are members of the Body of Christ, and are worthy of being marked as such. At baptism, the Holy Spirit makes a special claim on a person. This is aclaim that cannot be revoked. There is never a need to be re-baptized. The first one counts. No matter what.

From here we will proceed through Jesus’ life, ministry, teaching, betrayal, and death. We will reflect on these things, and may encounter trouble along the way. Know that through it all, your seal as a Child of God is complete. You are God’s beloved.

Rest Two: Life and Ministry

Setup: Print this picture, which are available under Wikimedia Commons bread and fish

Instructions

Look on the back page of this booklet. This is a picture of one of the earliest forms of Christian art. The fish, not the cross, was the first symbol of Christianity.

Luke 9:10-17

 When the apostles returned, they described for Jesus what they had done. Taking them with him, Jesus withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. When the crowds figured it out, they followed him. He welcomed them, spoke to them about God’s kingdom, and healed those who were sick.

When the day was almost over, the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so that they can go to the nearby villages and countryside and find lodging and food, because we are in a deserted place.”

He replied, “You give them something to eat.”

But they said, “We have no more than five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all these people.”(They said this because about five thousand men were present.)

Jesus said to his disciples, “Seat them in groups of about fifty.” They did so, and everyone was seated. He took the five loaves and the two fish, looked up to heaven, blessed them, and broke them and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. Everyone ate until they were full, and the disciples filled twelve baskets with the leftovers.

Reflection

You cannot separate the life of Jesus  from the bread and the fish. One of the only stories that all four gospels tell, it is clear that feeding the hungry was a vital part of what Jesus did. The people came looking for life, and he gave it to them in the form of loaves and fish.

This was so important that the earliest symbols of Christianity was the fish—a reminder of how Jesus responded to those in need. The need today is no less demanding. There remains thousands of people in our midst who are hungry. They hunger for bread, comfort, forgiveness, and fellowship. Pause for a moment and ask Jesus what we can do, but know that his answer may be, “You give them something to eat.”

Rest Three: Prediction

Luke 9:18-23

Setup: A chalkboard or pad with newsprint and markers. This should be placed right outside the door of the sanctuary. This is the last rest station before entry into the sanctuary. Last year, we left the board up for Easter Sunday.

Once when Jesus was praying by himself, the disciples joined him, and he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”

They answered, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others that one of the ancient prophets has come back to life.”

He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered, “The Christ sent from God.”

Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell this to anyone. He said, “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected—by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts—and be killed and be raised on the third day.”

Jesus said to everyone, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.

Reflection

Notice this story comes immediately after the feeding. People have noticed that there is something incredible about Jesus. He is clearly a man worth following, but he wanted to make sure they understood the cost. Following Jesus is not just about overflowing baskets and great wonders.

Jesus understood that what he was teaching and doing would get him into trouble with the authorities. He understood that they could not let him live, and he understood that his mission could not be thwarted by their acts of violence. It was not an easy thing for the disciples to hear, and it is clear that while Jesus lived, they never fully understood.

Instructions:

Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” On the chalkboard in front of you, answer this question. Who is Jesus?

Rest Four – Sunday: Entry

Setup: On a table near the back of the sanctuary, leave a couple of palm branches from Palm Sunday’s service and place a couple of rocks.

Luke 19:35-42a

They brought [the donkey] to Jesus, threw their clothes on the colt, and lifted Jesus onto it. As Jesus rode along, they spread their clothes on the road.

As Jesus approached the road leading down from the Mount of Olives, the whole throng of his disciples began rejoicing. They praised God with a loud voice because of all the mighty things they had seen. They said,

“Blessings on the king who comes in the name of the Lord.
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heavens.”

Some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, scold your disciples! Tell them to stop!”

He answered, “I tell you, if they were silent, the stones would shout.”

As Jesus came to the city and observed it, he wept over it. He said, “If only you knew on his of all days the things that lead to peace.”

Reflection

This story is usually described as “Palm Sunday.” It is on this day that Jesus entered Jerusalem. Jesus taught the people what peace looks like. It looks like aligning your heart and your actions. It looks like letting go of materialism. It looks like letting go of bitterness. Peace is not an easy journey. The Pharisees wanted to keep quiet in the name of what they called peace, but “true peace is not the absence of tension. It is the presence of justice.” In one moment Jesus is a part of a wave of celebration. In the next, he weeps, for he knows the cost of true peace, and he knows the people will not tread that path.

Instructions:

On the table is the palm branch and the stone. Even while we yearn for peace, are we willing to cry out? What story of justice, mercy, kindness, or sacrifice is within you? Can you hold it in? Will even this stone cry out if you don’t?

Rest Five – Monday: Confrontation

Setup: On another table, place a bowl or offering plate with a few coins in it. This station asks people to leave some money behind. Someone should check it periodically so as to remove the temptation of someone taking money from the unattended dish.

Luke 20:20-26

The legal experts and chief priests were watching Jesus closely and sent spies who pretended to be sincere. They wanted to trap him in his words so they could hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. They asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are correct in what you say and teach. You don’t show favoritism but teach God’s way as it really is. Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

Since Jesus recognized their deception, he said to them, “Show me a coin. Whose image and inscription does it have on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

He said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” They couldn’t trap him in his words in front of the people. Astonished by his answer, they were speechless.

Reflection

In the Gospel of Luke especially, Jesus is deeply concerned with our relationship with money. It was after Jesus disrupted the commerce of the Temple that the leaders decided that they had to kill Jesus. Here, he affirms all of their fears.

In front of you are a handful of coins. Those who wanted to be rid of Jesus tried to use money to trap him. It didn’t work. How many of us who follow Jesus however, are trapped by our money? Some social critics have said, “We print ‘In God We Trust,’ upon the god in which we trust.” How much truth is in this statement?

Instructions:

If you so desire, you may leave some money here (the plate will be checked periodically so as large amounts of cash will not be left unattended). Whatever is left here will be given to the church’s Samaritan Fund, which helps local people in emergency need.

Rest Six – Thursday: Supper

Setup: Place chairs around the Lord’s table, leave a broken loaf of bread and a cup (or several small cups) of grape juice. In our setting, the Table was stripped on Thursday night, so this quite easily accomplished.

Instructions:

Take a piece of bread off of the loaf. Please, don’t be shy. Take a good piece. Take off a piece that you actually have to chew. Eat it slowly. Taste it. Drink the cup of grape juice. Allow the sweet tang to fill your mouth. Breathe deeply as you chew and as your drink. Read this story as you eat your piece of bread. Really—take a big piece, even a second piece if you want. It’s okay. Remember, it only took two loaves to feed 5000.

Linger here with the bread. Linger here with the story. Hear Jesus’ words and know that YOU ARE THE BODY OF CHRIST. Read them again and know that YOU ARE FORGIVEN.

Luke 22:14-23

When the time came, Jesus took his place at the table, and the apostles joined him. He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.   I tell you, I won’t eat it until it is fulfilled in God’s kingdom.” After taking a cup and giving thanks, he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. I tell you that from now on I won’t drink from the fruit of the vine until God’s kingdom has come.” After taking the bread and giving thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”In the same way, he took the cup after the meal and said, “This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you.

“But look! My betrayer is with me; his hand is on this table. The Human One goes just as it has been determined. But how terrible it is for that person who betrays him.” They began to argue among themselves about which of them it could possibly be who would do this.

Post Script

As you were eating, did you notice who else was invited? Jesus knew that he would be betrayed by Judas, and what did he do? He broke bread with him. Sometimes the hardest part of the Gospel is realizing who else is invited to this table.

Rest Seven – Thursday: Denial

Instructions:

Simply read this story of Jesus’ trial. Do not read it all silently. Read Peter’s words, the ones in bold, out loud.

Luke 22:54-71

After they arrested Jesus, they led him away and brought him to the high priest’s house. Peter followed from a distance. When they lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.

Then a servant woman saw him sitting in the firelight. She stared at him and said, “This man was with him too.”

But Peter denied it, saying, “Woman, I don’t know him!”

A little while later, someone else saw him and said, “You are one of them too.”

But Peter said, “Man, I’m not!”

An hour or so later, someone else insisted, “This man must have been with him, because he is a Galilean too.”

Peter responded, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about!” At that very moment, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter, and Peter remembered the Lord’s words: “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And Peter went out and cried uncontrollably.

The men who were holding Jesus in custody taunted him while they beat him. They blindfolded him and asked him repeatedly, “Prophesy! Who hit you?” Insulting him, they said many other horrible things against him.

As morning came, the elders of the people, both chief priests and legal experts, came together, and Jesus was brought before their council.

They said, “If you are the Christ, tell us!”

He answered, “If I tell you, you won’t believe. And if I ask you a question, you won’t answer. But from now on, the Human One will be seated on the right side of the power of God.”

They all said, “Are you God’s Son, then?”

He replied, “You say that I am.”

Then they said, “Why do we need further testimony? We’ve heard it from his own lips.”

Rest Eight – Friday: On the Cross

Setup: Lay down a bowl full of nails. I bought the largest ones I could get from the hardware store. They are really better described as spikes.

Luke 23:32-43

They also led two other criminals to be executed with Jesus. When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right and the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” They drew lots as a way of dividing up his clothing.

The people were standing around watching, but the leaders sneered at him, saying, “He saved others. Let him save himself if he really is the Christ sent from God, the chosen one.”

The soldiers also mocked him. They came up to him, offering him sour wine and saying, “If you really are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” Above his head was a notice of the formal charge against him. It read “This is the king of the Jews.”

One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”

Reflection

There was not just one cross on Calvary. There were three. Jesus was hung next to two nameless men.  We only catch a glimpse of them at this, the worst possible moment. One joins the crowd and insults and mocks the man next to him. The other seeks peace, even in the midst of agony.

One cross gave us a savior. Three crosses gave us a church. Following Jesus does not take away the pain of the world. Our life journey will always be a struggle. We can choose to respond with anger and bitterness, or we can seek grace and healing. Always, Jesus will meet us with forgiveness and love.

Instruction

If you’ve ever chosen bitterness and anger, pick up a nail. Say a prayer of confession. Lay your burdens down at the Cross.

Rest Nine – Friday: Death

Instruction

Hold the nail in your hand as you read. Press it into your hand or wrist. Not hard enough to hurt you, but hard enough to feel it as you read.

Jesus came so that we may have life. He came to tear down walls and divisions which we are quick to build. He came to feed and heal. He came with forgiveness and grace. His power was not war or coercion. It was love. He died not because God needed him dead, but because we could not let him live. The World could not understand his power, so the Romans nailed him to a cross because they thought that would be his end.  They believed that the humiliation, shame, and death that came with the cross would erase Jesus of Nazareth forever.

Luke 23:44-49

 It was now about noon, and darkness covered the whole earth until about three o’clock, while the sun stopped shining. Then the curtain in the sanctuary tore down the middle. Crying out in a loud voice, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I entrust my life.” After he said this, he breathed for the last time.

When the centurion saw what happened, he praised God, saying, “It’s really true: this man was righteous.” All the crowds who had come together to see this event returned to their homes beating their chests after seeing what had happened. And everyone who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance observing these things.

Instruction

As you leave, stop by the baptismal font. Touch the waters again. Baptism is death and rebirth. There is no resurrection without death. Go forth knowing that through it all, your seal as a Child of God is complete. You are God’s beloved. On that hour on that day, the world embraced the dark. Today is Friday, but Sunday is coming…

The Stations of the Gospel through Mark

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