Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Royal Wedding

I watched about 15 minutes of the Royal Wedding.  Afterwards, I felt like I needed a shower.  There was something about it that just made me feel dirty.  Let me apologize up front to those of you who loved watching it.  If it is your thing, then fine.  I know, respect, and love lots of people who watched.

I had trouble putting my finger on exactly what it was that bothered me so much.  At first I kept thinking of this Eleanor Roosevelt quote:

Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.

I think there is something to this.  Celebrity news makes my skin crawl.  I like to watch the Oscars because I like movies.  I don’t like the red carpet. I like American Idol.  I do not care if Paula Abdul is in rehab or not.  I love to watch sports.  I’m not interested in Giselle and Tom.  But I realized that there is something more real that is bothering me about the adoration of the Royal Wedding.  To me, it just seems like materialistic pornography.

Think of all the things that are wrong about pornography.  It creates a false sense of reality.  It perpetuates the subjugation of women.  It objectifies bodies in an overtly graphic way.  It manipulates reality and gives people fantastic images that real life cannot live up to.  It draws men in with a point-of-view image that creates a false sense of invitation to sexual elation.  It poisons other real-life relationships.  It is a multi-billion dollar industry based on defiling sexuality – which is a God-given gift.

Those are all the things I found distasteful about the Royal Wedding.  The whole thing is based on this fairy-tale image of what a perfect life can be, and it is wrapped in pomp, circumstance, and over-the-top luxury.  It presents an image of happiness that is beyond the imagination of anyone.  Think of the opulence, extravagance and expense that went into the wedding.  It drew people in with the false sense of invitation.  It was a voyeuristic look at what it is like to be enormously wealthy.  Watching this sort of event sets up  an ideal for life that is unrealistic and antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It was a multi-million dollar affair based on taking God’s gift – a marriage – and turning into a celebration of worldly luxury.  Oh, and they all get great big fancy titles to boot.

Why don’t more people recognize this for what it is?  Few have trouble seeing pornography for what it is – a relationship-destroying temptation.  Why don’t we see this sort of luxury in the same way?  Americans use and consume and waste and strive to acquire more and more status, money and power.  Materialism is a part of the American Dream.  It is what we are all supposed to be striving for.  So we gather around this orgy of opulence.  We are fascinated by this graphic display of luxury and wealth, and I can’t help but wonder, “Would Jesus be at the Royal Wedding? ”

And if  you think this Royal Wedding doesn’t affect real people – that it’s just entertainment and no one really takes it seriously, consider this:

  • Kate and William’s wedding is estimated to come in at $35 million.
  • The median US household income is $52,000 (in 2008, according to US census bureau)
  • 13% of Americans live under the poverty level. (in 2008, according to US census bureau)
  • The average cost of a wedding in the US is $24,000.  This does not include engagement ring of honeymoon (according to
  • The average age for a woman at her first marriage is 25.9 years in 2009, according to psychology today)
  • The median income for a woman at 25 years old is $19,000 (in 2003, according to US Census bureau)

Why do people spend so much on weddings?  Because they have these images for what they want.  We wrap little girls in images of princesses and tiaras, horse-drawn carriages and flowing white veils.  They are engrossed in materialistic pornography for their entire life and then grow up to spend half their income or more on a ceremony that is supposed to be about love.  Watch an episode of Bridezillas or Say Yes to the Dress and tell me people don’t have an over-inflated image of what a wedding is supposed to be (and it has little to do with God).

To be fair, I am writing this with my own wedding in my rear-view mirror.  It was an extravagant wedding.  It was an amazing day, and it was a gift from parents that wanted the best for me and my wife.  I also write this with my daughters’ weddings in front of me.  Who knows what I will want or be willing to pay when my girls are married.

My point is simply this: things like the Royal Wedding create a standard – an image – that is impossible to reach.  It creates a model of happiness that is based on little more than material wealth.  Jesus calls us to more.

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An Easter Moment

I’m not sure why I have waited so long to tell this story, but on this Easter morning as my overwhelming joy is being converted to tears rolling down my cheek, I thought I’d share.  This is a brief story about my ordination last spring.  But I think you’ll see that it is really a story of Easter.

On that evening at Annual Conference I was ordained by Bishop Palmer.  I was given a Bible and a certificate and the authority to preach, teach and administer the sacraments.  On bended knee I accepted the responsibility, privilege, and humbling honor to be called an Elder in the United Methodist Church.  Bishop Palmer, along with Rev. Keith Zimmerman laid their hands on me and called upon the Holy Spirit.

I do not remember much that Bishop Palmer said to me in those moments.  I remember tears flowing down my face, and I remember the feel of his hands on me.  I felt the loving presence of my family – whom I knew to be standing behind me, in body and spirit, amongst the congregation of those gathered.  I knew that members of my church were there as well – beloved saints who had made the drive to be with me on that holy night.  But there were so many more.

As I bowed my head I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit.  It filled me with an unspeakable joy.  Then I saw something I wasn’t expecting.  It was a woman.  A beautiful woman smiling at me with a radiant glow.  She was so beautiful.  Her brown hair and brown eyes glowed.  Her face was youthful and filled with love and joy and I recognized her in an instant.  It was at the same time unexpected, completely real to me, and somehow no surprise.  It was my Aunt Jean.  Then she sort of nodded in a way that said to me, “Look who I brought.” She wasn’t alone.  Standing there with her were my Grandma Esther and my Grandpa Nick.  And with them were my other grandparents Eugene and Lucile.  The five of them stood there for a moment, looking at me with pride and joy.

When I was a boy, I remember going to the Communion rail with my Mom and Dad at Our Redeemer’s UMC.  We would kneel at the railing and take the bread and the cup and linger a little to pray.  I would always wait there, even if I was done praying, because I knew that if I waiting long enough, my Father’s hand would reach out and grip my shoulder.  Then his arm would wrap around me, and I would feel the power of his love and the love of my heavenly Father wrapping me up.  As I knelt at the railing at my ordination, I could feel the loving arms of my father and mother, my sister and brother, my wife and daughter and all of those that had lead me to that moment.

Then I saw my Uncle Larry and Aunt Janie and more and more saints – until I was completely surrounded.  I could hear them clearly saying, “We love you, Robby.”  There was a golden glow that surrounded them and fully embraced me.  I could feel again my father’s arms wrapping me up in unconditional love.  It was the single most powerful moment of my life because, you might have guessed, none of these people dwelled on earth any more.  I was surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses – the resurrected saints of God who were claiming me.

This was not a dream.  This was a holy vision and it was as real to me as holding my daughter at her birth.  It was an Easter moment.

Today we celebrate Easter and I am reminded of the power of the Holy Spirit to conquer sin and death.  I am reminded of the words that I have read at so many funeral services, “Where O death, is thy sting, where, o death, is your victory?”  I am reminded of the words of Charles Wesley, who wrote, “Lives again our glorious King. Alelulia! Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alelulia! Once he died our souls to save, Alelulia! Where’s thy victory boasting grave? Alelulia!”

I feel the sins of which I have been convicted.  I feel the sins of which I have been forgiven.  I feel the sin that remains in this world – the sins of war, poverty, hunger, racism, sexism, greed, corruption and the rape of the earth.  I know that the world threw everything it had at Jesus, and that on this day Jesus rose.  And just as Jesus defeated death, so too will God conquer all of these sins. On this day Jesus won the victory.  On this day life won. Grace won. Love won.

All of those that have died are alive again.  All of the battles I fight as a pastor, as a husband, as a father, as a son, and as a man – I fight surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  I will surely fail.  I will fall and I will be beaten by temptation.  But I will rise; just as Aunt Jean rose.  Just as Eugene, Lucile, Esther and Nick rose.  Just as Jesus rose.

And so I invite you to rise as well.  Claim Jesus as your own.  Claim the victory that Jesus has won.  Be a part of the fight to redeem the world.  Rise and live in the Kingdom of God.  Rise because Christ is Risen.

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Lazarus: Miracle and Motive

Listen to a podcast of the sermon “Lazarus: Miracle and Motive”

The lectionary text on Sunday is about Lazarus.  The Gospel of John tells us of the illness, death and raising of Lazarus.  This Sunday is exactly why I am not a lectionary preacher.  All too often, the lectionary cuts off stories just when they start to get interesting.

(A note to non-preachers: the lectionary is a tool used by preachers in many denominations to help guide worship.  It is a three-year cycle that offers four different Biblical texts from the gospels, the epistles, the Psalms, and the Hebrew Bible.)

It doesn’t just cut off the story before it gets interesting, it cuts off the story before the most important part is revealed.  The raising of Lazarus, as it is found in the lectionary, is about the power of Jesus.  The story, in typical John fashion, has Jesus almost floating around in his divine cloud, then raising his dead friend with only words.  The one glimpse of Jesus’s humanity is revealed in words of the story, “Jesus wept.”

To me though, the story of Lazarus is not so much about the power of Jesus.  The story of Lazarus is about how people react to this miracle.  The lectionary selection ends with, “Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him” (John 11:45, NRSV).

It sounds like a happy ending.  Jesus raises his friend.  Everyone rejoices.  Many people believe in him – “Woo Hoo!”  Here’s the problem: that’s only part of the reaction.  Ending the story here is irresponsible, and I think is symptomatic of a much greater problem we have in the church (and our culture) today.

Everyone likes the happy ending.  I can understand that, but focusing on the happy ending without also seeing the dangerous ramifcations of what Jesus accomplished simply capitulates to a christianish way of knowing Jesus.

Read more of the story – the part that the lectionary (and thus thousands of churches on Sunday) cuts out:

But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation,and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death. (John 11:46-53, NRSV)

Here we see the other reaction to Jesus.  In Lazarus, we see Jesus’s greatest earthly demonstration of his power.  We see Martha recognize Jesus as the “Mesiah.”  We see many come to believe in Jesus.  We see Jesus offer life, and ultimately, we see those in power respond with death.

It can be difficult to understand their motive.  Why would they want Jesus dead?  He offers life.  Why would they respond with death?  It is hard to understand. Didn’t they understand what they were doing?  Why would they respond with death?  Didn’t they understand that Jesus offered life? Didn’t they know his power?

The answer is: Yes.  They understood, and that is why they were scared.  Their response was motivated primarily by fear.  They feared Jesus because his was a power they could not abide.  They feared Jesus because he was threatening their way of life.  He was threatening their comfort, their position, and ultimately their power.  The Chief Priests were in power because they had capitulated to the greatest power that the world had ever known – the Roman empire.

They killed Jesus because he offered life, and they knew that the only thing that Rome had to offer was death.  They killed him because he offered life.  They killed him because they understood what his message was, and now they realized that he had real power behind him as well.  Until Lazarus, he was just another reformer.  He was just a vagabond with some followers stirring up trouble here and there.  After Lazarus they knew his power.  They knew they were in trouble.

It is unfortunate that in most churches on Sunday, no one will hear this part of the story, because hearing this part of the story makes us answer the question: What is our response to Jesus?  Who are we going to be like, Martha – calling Jesus the Mesiah, or the Chief Priests – fearing what Jesus might do if he were allowed to live.

Before you jump to an answer, let me offer this: If you don’t have a little bit of fear, then I think you might be christian-ish, or as Kendra Creasy Dean would put it, you might be Almost Christian.  I say this because I think the Chief Priests had it more right than most people give them credit for.  Jesus is dangerous.

Jesus has the power to turn your life upside down.  Jesus offers life, but he also offers a cross.  He offers life, but only to those that would turn their life away.  He offers comfort, but only to those that mourn.  Jesus came to afflict the comfortable.  He came to turn sons against fathers and daughters against mothers.

If we don’t have at least a little bit of fear about what discipleship really means, than I’m not sure we really get it.  Following Jesus can lead people into dark places – uncomfortable, dirty, smelly places.  It can lead us into danger, and bring us into contact with dangerous people.  Following Jesus calls us to our pews and our hymns and our rituals, but it also demands that we go out into the world.  Jesus calls us to love.  And love can be difficult sometimes.

Following Jesus means that we have to love, and its okay if that scares you a little.  It should.  It means that you’re paying attention.  It means that you have your eyes wide open to the cost of discipleship.  It means that you didn’t stop reading the story of Lazarus with the “Woo Hoo!” moment.

The Church, by and large, on Sunday will end the story of Lazarus with a happy ending, but they will forget to see the danger of what Jesus did.  Jesus revealed that his power was of God, and those that held onto Earthly power reacted in the only way they knew how.  But here’s the part the chief priests didn’t understand: they thought the death they gave him would be the end of him.

They thought the cross they hung him from would break him.  They thought the tomb they sealed him in would keep him.

How wrong they were.  And how wrong we are if we think that the power of Jesus is something that shouldn’t be feared.  I hope that when the Church hears Jesus cry, “Lazarus, come out!”  all the people heed his words.

Church, Come out!  Come out of your comfort zone.  Come out of your fortress.  Come out of your “good old days.”  Come out of your sin.  Come out of the lies that tell us how to succeed, consume, spend, buy, then donate and be happy.  Come out of your slumber, and go into the Kingdom.  Come out of your slumber, and go into your  mission.  Come out of your slumber, and go and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Go knowing that it can be dangerous.  Go knowing that Christ is with you.  Go knowing that the Holy Spirit will sustain you.  Go knowing that love is the only power that lasts.

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Star Wars the Musical

This is, without a doubt, the greatest thing I have ever seen on the interwebs.

There are six parts, and each is about 15 minutes.  To be honest, I haven’t watched it all yet, but so far it is awesome.  It combines clips from the movie, a few decent singers, music from popular musicals, and an impressive use of sweatpants and sweatshirts. The videos were supposed to be embedded into this blog, but for some reason that is not working.  So I just included the six links that will take you directly to a musical that took place “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

Act One

Act Two

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