Monthly Archives: February 2015

Prepare Ye The Way of the Lord

The Gospel of Mark tells the story of Jesus’ life, ministry, and death. It begins in the middle of the story, and ends before it’s over.

Mark begins John baptizing people in the Jordan River. There’s no wise men, no manger or shepherds. There’s no virgin Mary or stunned Joseph. There’s no Christmas at all. There’s just John, the wild and wooly prophet telling people to change their lives and minds, and look forward to the coming one. Jesus shows up pretty quickly, and is baptized. As he comes out of the water, Jesus hears a voice from the heavens, “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.”

Thus marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Thus marks the beginning of the musical Godspell. Thus marks our beginning of Lent, and our photo journal. For the next few weeks I will be writing and reflecting on different themes, songs, and stories that are found in Godspell. After a prologue, Godspell begins with John the Baptist blowing the shofar and calling the people to baptism. In our production, the children are the first ones up. Then they bring the adults with them to the stage. We sing joyfully, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord,” until Jesus comes to be baptized as well. It is the start of the musical. More importantly, it is the start of our journey. We are invited this week to take pictures of things that makes us think of “Prepare the Way,” and words like begin, embark, baptize, water, and Spirit. Some began the journey by sharing pictures, all of which you can see on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter using the hashtag #tryLENT. These are some that were shared on various social media:

Announce

Announce

Begin

Begin

Start

Start

Water

Water

The Jordan River

The Jordan River

 

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. It begins with these words: “From dust were you formed, and to dust you will return. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” These were the words I used as I applied ashes to the foreheads and hands of those that came forward on Ash Wednesday. As the start of Lent, Ash Wednesday is a chance to take the sign of the cross in ash, and begin the journey toward Easter. We begin the season of Lent with reminder of our own mortality, a call to repentance, and a call to faith.

Why then, on the first Sunday of Lent do we share the story of Jesus being baptized? Why the sudden shift from Death, mortality, and repentance to baptism? Because it really isn’t that much of a shift. The words of the imposition of ashes are a poignant reminder, and an apt starting point for the journey of Lent.

“From dust you were formed and to dust you will return.” This has not only a theological truth rooted in the second creation story as found in Genesis 2. It has a scientific truth in our understanding of the cosmos. Carl Sagan is famously quoted as saying, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” All of this is to say that we are mortal. The human body was made as a fragile vessel.

When we take on the ash of the cross we are reminded of the simple fact that we will die. The truth of death is one of the only universals of life. It is something we all share. Yet it it is a truth we seldom want to acknowledge. It is good, every now and then, to be reminded of our own mortality. Not to dwell in morbidity or to scare people into believing. Instead, I like to remind myself and others of our mortality so as to savor every breath. Yes, we were formed from dust and to dust we will return. But in between, we are fill with breath. We are filled with life. We are filled with spirit.

On Ash Wednesday my daughter came forward to receive ashes. I placed my finger on her forehead, rubbed some dirt on her and said, “From dust you were formed, and to dust you will return.” I looked into her deep brown eyes and I could scarcely get the words out. It was too much. It was the truth, but in that moment it felt like too much truth. Somehow I got the words out. I was thankful that this was not the end of the imposition. I had more words to speak. Through my tears, I put my hand on her shoulder and continued, “Repent, and believe in the good news.”

And thus we get back to the beginning. “Repent and believe in the good news,” was the heart of John’s message while he was baptizing. It was Jesus’ first message after coming back from the wilderness. In Mark 1:16, Jesus says, “Now is the time! Here comes the God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust the good news” (Common English Bible). This translation gives us the meaning for repent. For too many teachers and preachers repentance has to do with shame and guilt. Repentance though, is not about shame. It is about orienting. It is not about looking back, it is about looking ahead. It acknowledges that we have fallen short, but repentance does not allow us dwell on sin. When we repent, we turn. At the beginning of Lent, and at the beginning of this journey, we are invited to repent.

Turn away from those things that distract us from God. Turn away from the things that pull us away from life. Turn away from the things that get in the way of loving God and loving others. Turn toward forgiveness and reconciliation. Turn toward justice, healing, and peace. Turn toward grace. Repent, and believe the good news. And what is that good news? It goes back to Jesus being baptized. When he got out of the water, there was a voice from heaven saying, “You are my Son, whom I dearly love; in you I find happiness.” (Mark 1:11, Common English Bible).

The ashes are a reminder of our mortality. They are reminder that we must turn away from the things that keep us from life and toward the things of God. And they are reminder of this good news that we may all share. “You are God’s son. You are God’s daughter, whom God dearly loves. In you God finds happiness.” To believe this statement is as true of me as it is of Jesus is not to believe I am the messiah. It is to understand that God’s love is so full, so abundant, so steadfast, that even I am God’s son. I was formed from dust, given the breath of life, and offered the water of baptism. I am God’s son, adopted into God’s family not because I earned my way to such a distinction, but only by the grace of God.

This is good news. This is truly remarkable news. This is amazing news. It is the kind of news I want to share. It is the kind of news that makes me want to sing. “Prepare the way of the Lord. Repent, and believe in the good news. Prepare the way for a journey with Christ.”


 From February 25-March 3 we’re invited to reflect on “Day by Day.” This song in the musical comes in a time when the community coming together. The song includes the beautiful prayer “See thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly.” So the words we should look for are things like follow, grow, see, community, friendship. Please share pictures using #tryLENT


 

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For as long as I am able, and for as long as you want me to

carry“Will you carry me to bed?” she asks.

“Of course,” I say. I set aside the laptop, and get up off my chair. “One, two, up,” I say as she leaps up into my arms. I hold her close, smell her hair, kiss her head.

“Wait a second,” I say as I realize something. “Weren’t you just in the bathroom brushing your teeth?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says sheepishly.

“And you came in here to ask me to carry you to bed?”

“Yes.”

The bathroom where she was brushing her teeth is across the hall from her room. She was literally 15 steps from her bed when she finished rinsing. I was sitting in my chair, down the hall, in another room.This meant she walked an extra 40 feet or so to come get me to carry her to bed instead of just crawling in herself. I chuckle, and as I squeeze her through the door, she legs hits against the frame.

“I’m sorry sweety, are you okay?” I ask her as she falls into bed. I can tell it probably hurt, and I feel terrible that I banged her into the door. “I’m not sure I can carry you any more, you’re getting so big. You don’t fit through the door.”

Now she’s got her head buried in her pillow and she doesn’t respond as I  go and get her little sister. I pick her up from in front of the sink, carry her to her lofted bed and gently toss her in. She giggles. Then I notice that her sister is still laying with her head in her pillow. I notice her shoulders shuddering. It’s the telltale sign of sobbing. Now I’m afraid that I really hurt her leg.

“Are you okay? Did I really hurt you?” I ask as I lower myself to her bed and place my hand on her back.

“My leg is fine,” she says through her tears.

“Then what’s the matter?”

“You said you can’t carry me any more.”

I carry my daughters a lot. I think they know that there is a rare occasion that I deny scooping them up into my arms. I know it’s a sure way to get a big hug, and usually more. “I’ll carry you, but I get tired, so you have to kiss my cheek to give me strength,” I tell them. In the morning, I’m a rickshaw as my sleepy daughter gets ready for school. Every morning I can judge how well she slept by how much I have to carry her. Sometimes it’s just from her bed to the bathroom. After some late bed times, it is to the bathroom, then back to her room, then to the kitchen before she can bring herself to use her own legs. I never mind. Like I said, it’s a great way to get some cheek kisses. My little one and I have a whole routine that is like our own secret handshake, except with ear lobes and noses.

As she sobs into her pillow I realize the mistake I made was not in being careless with her body. It was being careless with her heart.

“Oh sweetheart,” I say. “I can still carry you. Of course I can still carry you,” I say as I turn her over and scoop her into my arms. The tears slow.

“I’m sorry. I made a mistake. I should have said, ‘I have to be more careful with you,’ I just felt bad that I banged your leg into the door. Next time we’ll just have to go in sideways or something, okay?”

She smiles and nods and squeezes me a little tighter. I look her in the eye and say, “I will carry you for as long as I am able, and as long as you want me to. I promise.”

It is a sincere promise. I will carry her as long as I am able and as long as she wants. I know that eventually one of those things will come. Physically, there is sure to be a time when I cannot carry her. She will become a grown woman. I will become an old man. To be honest though, the ability to carry her is one of the reasons I workout. In our last house, the ability to carry them both up the stairs without getting winded was a highlight of my fitness level on par with finishing my first 5K.

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.

This is my promise. For as long as I am able, and for as long as you want me to; I will carry you.

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#TRYLent Photo journey through Lent

TRYLent revisedHere’s something we’re going to try at our church, Two Rivers United Methodist Church. From February 16-April 4 everyone will be encouraged to participate in this photo journey. Each week we will have a different theme. Pictures should be marked with the hashtag #TRYLent. TRY stands for Two Rivers Youth. Lent is the time of year when we participate in repentance, preparation, and reflection as we move toward Easter. I love the season of Lent because it is a time to encourage new practices that can bring us closer to God. I don’t focus my energy on “giving something up for Lent.” Last year I wrote about giving up, and the need to give up my own sense of control. I’ve also done a lot in the past to encourage building relationships in Lent by offering the 40 Notes in 40 Days exercise. I’ve also encouraged people to Take something up for Lent.

I’ve participated in photo journeys before. I usually don’t make it more than about a week. That’s why this isn’t a daily journal. Instead, it’s a weekly one. Each week corresponds with the theme of my sermon on the coming Sunday in Lent. I will be preaching in Lent using the songs of Godspell as my guide. I’m going to work to include a blog about each week as well. Here’s the schedule for my sermon series. The posting schedule is Wednesday to Wednesday, so pictures will be posted leading up to the Sunday, and for a few days after. Then shift to the new theme. The exception to that is the week that includes Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Here’s the schedule:

Feb 18-24 — Prepare the Way.  Themes for the week: Preparation, Baptism, Water, Holy Spirit. The text will be Mark 1:4-13, the baptism of Jesus.

Feb 25-Mar 4 — Day by Day. Themes for the week: Community, Fellowship, Growth, See more clearly, Love more dearly, Follow more nearly. The text will be Mark 18:21-35, the parable of the unforgiving servant.

Mar 5-Mar 11 — By My Side. Themes for the week: Pebble in your shoe, Conflict, Tension, Determination, Courage. The text will be John John 8:1-11, the story of the woman caught in adultery.

Mar 12-Mar 18 — On the Willows. Themes for the week: Sadness, Depression, Lamentation, Betrayal, Judas. The texts will be Psalm 137 and Matthew 26:14-16, which is the moment Judas agrees to betray Jesus.

Mar 19-25 — All Good Gifts. Themes for the week: Thankful, Seed, Harvest, Gifts. The text will be Matthew 13, the parable of the sower.

Mar 26-April 4– We Beseech Thee. Themes for the week: Palms, Crucifixion, Sorrow, Service, Supper, Bread Broken, Washed Feet. The text will be Mark 11:1-11, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and Palm Sunday.

Apr 5-Apr 8 — Beautiful City. Themes for the week: Easter, Resurrection, Eternity, Empty Tomb, Wonder. The text will be Mark 16:1-8, the women find the empty tomb.

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