Tag Archives: peace

MLK quote in cover photo dimensions

MLK quote in cover photo dimensions

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929)

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January 15, 2013 · 12:54 pm

Longest Night: For those that mourn at Christmas

This is a liturgy I wrote for a service I have called either a “Blue Christmas” service or a “Longest Night” service.  Where I am, the longest night of 2012 will begin at 4:35 on Friday, December 21.  If you are a worship leader, I suggest you start this service half an hour before sunset.  Send out letters now to all families that have had funerals in the last year, and also to local hospital chaplains.  I believe this is a beautiful way to make space for those that mourn at Christmas. You have permission to use as much or as little of this as you wish.  I’d appreciate a small credit somewhere in the bulletin.  If you plan on using it, I’d love it if you told me in the comments section.

Set in a prominent place in the sanctuary should be vase with water and dead, gray sticks coming out of it.  Each person, as they enter, shall be given a blue or purple carnation or rose.  These probably need to be ordered ahead of time, as most florists do not have them on hand.  Placed around the vase may be votive candles as well as the bread and cup for Communion.

The candles for the Advent wreath should be lit before the service.  If this service is held on the Longest Night, the fourth Advent candle – the candle of love has probably been lit.  Later in the service, each person will be invited to take the flame from the candle of love – which cannot be extinguished by death- and light a votive for the person/persons they mourn.  They then place a blue carnation in the vase amongst the dead sticks.  After all have placed in the vase, it becomes quite a beautiful winter arrangement.  This arrangement can be left in an inconspicuous place in the sanctuary for the Christmas Eve celebration.

Music can be used in this service, but as an undertone to set the mood.  If you have a musician available, then they can play calming music at the beginning of the service, and possibly some recognizable hymns (not Christmas carols) during Communion.  One song that is suggested can be played as a CD, but permission from the artist must still be granted.   I do not have the right to grant usage rights, it is merely a suggestion because I think it is a beautiful song.

Words of Welcome

The Advent season is one of wonder.  For so many it is a time of hopeful anticipation.  It is a season of promise.  The longer nights and the gray clouds seem to provide the perfect background for the lights and the tinsel.  The decorations are everywhere we turn.  For so many, this is a time of hopeful anticipation.  But for many of us, especially those of us gathered here, Christmas is a harsh reminder of life that once was.  So we gather not so much in hopeful anticipation, but in the cloud of despair.   While so many are ready to sing “Joy to the World,” we gather as those that mourn.   We gather now to carve out a time of quiet reflection.  We gather to shed tears if they come, to hold hands if they are available, and to know that we are not alone.  Whether this is the first Christmas without someone you love, or if you seem to be hurting from loss for as long as you remember, We gather to be reminded that it is okay to mourn, even at Christmas.

Prayer for those that mourn at Christmas

In this season of anticipation, we seek the comfort of the Holy Spirit.  We ask for your blessing this night upon those that mourn, for the pain at Christmas seems sharper.  We remember the words of Jesus, who promised comfort to those that mourn.  All around us are reminders of the joy that the world tells us we are supposed to be feeling.  Forgive us, O God, for not joining in the celebration with our whole hearts.  Guide us now, O Holy One, that we may move in still small steps from mourning to comfort.  Help us to find healing in the midst of the pain, and order in the midst of chaos.  Lighten our burden.  Give us rest.  Amen

Song – “Come to Me,” by Christopher Grundy (or another song)

Words of Grace

The Lord is merciful and gracious; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to the faithful.  For the Lord knows our frame, and remembers that we are dust.  But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon the faithful, and the righteousness of the Lord to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. (Psalm 103: 8, 13-14, 17-18)

Matthew 11:28-30 (Common English Version)

“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.  Put on my yoke, and learn from me.  I’m gentle and humble.  And you will find rest for yourselves.  My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”

John 14:1-4, 16-20, 25-27  (Common English Version)

“Don’t be troubled.  Trust in God. Trust also in me.  My father’s house has room to spare.  If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you?  When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too.  You know the way to the place I’m going…

I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion who will be with you forever.  This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him.  You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you.  I won’t leave you as orphans.  I will come to you.  Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me.  Because I live, you will live too.  On that day you will know that I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you…

I have spoken these things to you while I am with you. The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.  Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give you.  I give to you not as the world gives.  Don’t be troubled or afraid.”

Words of Reflection (From “Longest Night” from the blog http://fatpastor.me)

On Christmas Eve churches everywhere will be filled with happy people.  The lights will be on, the poinsettias arranged, the sweaters will be bright, and the smiles will be wide.  People will gather in the pews and sing the traditional carols, hear the Christmas story, and light candles.  Millions on Christmas Eve night will rise and sing “Joy to the World.”

Many of those same people that will rise and sing on December 24 will go to bed on December 21 and face the longest night of the year in despair. There will be many that lie down wondering, “Where is the joy?”  For people that are hurting, struggling, or mourning, the longest night of the year is so very long.

The bills have not been paid, the credit debt is mounting, and work is hard to come by.  The night is so very long.

My mother died at this time of the year.  Christmas won’t be the same.  I miss her smile.  I miss her words of wisdom.  I miss her so much, and the night is so very long.

For the last 53 Christmases I have been with my husband.  He held me in his arms as we watched the children, then the grandhcildren, open their presents.  He made hot cocoa every Christmas morning.  I do not even know the recipe, and the night is so very long.

The onesies I got for Christmas last year are put in a box in the attic.  Never worn.  Never held.  I miss my child and I never held him in my arms, and the night is so very long.

The night can be so very long.  The night can be so very dark and cold.

Some say that everything happens for a reason.  God is in control, and has a plan.  But what kind of God could plan such things?  Is this the God that I am supposed to celebrate?  Is this the God that I am supposed to worship?  How can I sing “Joy to the World,” when there is none in my own heart?

Christmas does not mean everything is okay.  Christmas did not end the sadness, the pain or the despair.  For those that are hurting at Christmas, I hope you know that you are not alone.  I do not offer you simple platitudes.  I do not offer you easy answers.  All I can offer you is my love.

I don’t think that everything happens for a reason.  I think there are terrible things that happen every day that God did not plan. If it this were not so, then why would Jesus ask us to pray for God’s will to be done? I also think that God gives us the power and the grace to overcome even the worst that can happen.  God gives us the chance to heal and be healed; to feed and be fed; to love and be loved.

The longest night can be so very long.  Christmas does not end the night, but it gives us hope for the dawn.

When we leave this place, it will be into the longest night of the year.  Take this time, and claim it, but do not linger here.  Know that tomorrow the night will be shorter.  Know that soon, the light of God will break through.  Know that on Christmas, God broke through the chaos.  Know that on Christmas, God came to life so that we may have life abundant and life eternal.

We gather here today to acknowledge that our pain is real.  We acknowledge that death has its place in the world, but it is not in a place of triumph.  Death has been swallowed up in victory.

Act of Remembrance and Communion

We gather in this place with signs all around.  The Advent wreath has been lit, with the lights of hope, peace, joy, and love already lit as we prepare the way of the coming of Jesus.  If, as the Bible says, God is love, and God is eternal, then love is eternal as well.  Tonight, we are reminded that nothing can extinguish the candle of love.  The love that God has for us is steadfast and endures forever.  The love that we have for those we mourn cannot be extinguished by death.

In front of us are sticks.  This collection of dead sticks is here as a reminder that we are always surrounded by death.  The cycle of life to death is in all of creation.  When you entered, you were given a blue carnation.  This carnation is a sign of those for whom you mourn.  Blue is a traditional color for sadness.  It is also a traditional color for the Advent season.  These carnations remind us that even as we prepare for Christ’s coming, there is room for the human reality of sadness.

Also in front of us are the bread and the cup.  These are the elements of our Lord’s Last Supper.  It was a supper he shared with his disciples when he knew that his life on earth was coming to an end.  The bread, which is for us the body of Christ, is broken.  It reminds us of our human frailty, and of our unity as the Body of Christ.  The cup, which is for us the blood of Christ, is shed.  It reminds us of the Christ’s death on a cross, and of the forgiveness that is offered to all.

On this, the longest night of the year, we are reminded of just how dark the world can be.  Yet it was into this dark world that Christ was born.  It was in the midst of death and destruction that a child came so that we may have life.  We gather at Christ’s table in remembrance of the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We remember that Jesus walked with us as the Word of God made flesh.

He healed the sick, fed the hungry, forgave the afflicted, comforted the mourning, worked for justice, and wept for his friends.  He proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and calls all people to enter with rejoicing.  He came so that we may have life, and have it abundantly, and he invites us all into life eternal.    By the baptism of his love, compassion, suffering, death, and resurrection Christ gave birth to his Church, delivered us from slavery to sin and death, and made with us a new covenant by water and the Spirit.

When Jesus gathered with his disciples, he took the bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said, “Take eat, this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

When the supper was over Jesus took the cup, gave thanks to God, gave it to his disciples and said, “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 it, in remembrance of me.”

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

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and grape.  Make them be for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by Christ’s blood. By your spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, one with the great communion of saints, one with the great cloud of witnesses, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory, and we all feast at his heavenly banquet.  Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in your Holy Church, all honor and glory is yours now and forever, and so with the confidence of children we pray:

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen”

Come now to the table of Christ, for all things are ready.  After you receive the bread and the grape juice, please pick up a votive candle and light it from the candle of Love.  You may also then place your carnation into the vase.

Blessing and Sending Forth

This arrangement, which was once barren and gray, was only a reminder of death.  Now it is something beautiful.  It is a reminder that God take all things and make them new.  Death is a part of our human experience.  It was a part of Jesus’s human experience.  But death is never the final chapter.  The despair of death may last, but we are never called to linger on it.  Go now into the night knowing that you need not go alone.  Go now into the night knowing that the dawn is coming.  Go now into the night knowing that love endures forever.  Go now into the night knowing that the Christ child will come.  Go now, and may the peace of Jesus Christ, the peace that surpasses all understanding, be with you.  Amen.

Other Advent worship resources from the General Board of Discipleship 

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Jesus didn’t look like a King

Jesus didn’t look like a King.  He didn’t act like one either.  Kings raise armies and collect taxes.  Kings have subordinates.  They have grand, well-guarded homes.  They have pomp and circumstance. Jesus didn’t.  And yet people were talking about him.

“Pontius Pilate” by Michael Yazijian. The artist has a website at http://www.mikeyaz.com/

He was raising quite a fuss throughout the country.  There were stories of him feeding multitudes, healing the sick, forgiving sins, raising the dead, challenging authority, and disturbing the peace at the Temple.  People were talking, so when he was finally brought before the governor on charges of blasphemy and treason, Pilate already knew something of the man.  Pilate had heard of him, or he would not have asked him this question.

“Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked Jesus.  Pilate knew he didn’t look like a king.  He didn’t act like one either.  Jesus so much as admitted this.  If my Kingdom were of this world, Jesus explained, “my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish leaders.  My kingdom isn’t from here.”

As far as Pilate was concerned, there was only one King. It was the man he answered to.  It was the man that gave him the power to rule.  The only King Pilate acknowledge was the Emperor of Rome.  All others were insignificant. Please don’t believe that Pilate was somehow a passive bystander as Jesus was led to the cross of humiliation, shame, and death.  Much evil has been done in this world by those claim that Pilate was an innocent bystander, manipulated by the bloodthirsty Jews.  Pilate was the unquestioned ruler.

Jesus stood before Pilate, accused of blasphemy, of which Pilate cared little, and treason, for which Pilate cared a great deal.  There was after all, only one King.

Jesus’ silence ultimately condemns him.  He never directly answers Pilate’s questions.  He never engages in Pilate’s rhetorical games.  Instead of answering questions, like a good subordinate should do, he responds with questions.  The Judean leaders had already made up their mind.  In the Gospel of John, they had decided long ago that he must die.  Pilate, who had little use for a poor Jew from the countryside, wanted only to maintain order.  So he had him crucified like he had thousands of Jews before.

“So, are you a king?” Pilate asked Jesus.  Left unanswered, the question has lingered through the centuries.  It has become a haunting reminder of Jesus’ life, ministry, and his untimely death.  It is a question that remains only for us to answer.

Jesus certainly didn’t look like a King.  He didn’t act like one either.  In two thousand years, that has not changed.  Jesus still does not look like a king, which continues to be a source of conflict in a world that worships power.

So, is Jesus King?

That question is now yours to answer.

Who is the King? Is it Caesar?  Caesar is the one who enforces order with the threat of terror.  His grip on power is only as strong as his army.  It is only as sharp as his sword.  Caesar is the one that rules by dividing.  He rules by accumulating followers that must serve him and him alone.  Any question or challenge to his authority is met with swift and devastating violence.  He guards the status-quo, protects the protected, and comforts the comfortable.  His peace has no justice.  His peace has no compassion.  His peace is no peace at all.

Who is the King? Is it Jesus? Jesus, whose power comes from being anointed by God.  His power comes from forgiving the sins of others, from welcoming the stranger, the outcast, the poor, the widow, the sick, and the foreigner.  His followers come looking not for favor, but for love, compassion and kindness.  His peace comes in the midst of terror.  He comes offering not vengeance, but the bread of life and the living water.  Jesus’ path to rule leads through humiliation, tragedy, mockery, and crucifixion.  Jesus wept for the death of his friend.  He wept for the people of Jerusalem.  His night in Gethsemane was marked with sweat drops of blood as he searched his own courage and found that God’s will was more important than his own comfort.  Is this the King that reigns?

He was the King that never looked like a King, and he lives and reigns and endures forever.  On this Sunday before Advent we pause for a moment and remember what we are celebrating.  Before the Church swings into high Christmas gear, we remember who reigns over it all.  Even though it might not look like it, we know that Christ is the King.

There are still many Caesars and would-be kings.  They sit on paper thrones and wear gilded crowns.  They are the kings of consumption, selfishness, revenge, bitterness, poverty, and disease.  The wield much power, and they continue to ask us all the same questions.

“So, is Jesus the King?”

Ours is the answer.

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True Peace

 


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What would they think?

I remember mixing the blueberry muffin batter.  I was so careful not to spill the little tin of blueberries on the counter, because I knew it could stain.  My brother was really in charge of the batter, but he would let me mix it too.  He added the secret ingredient – the honey.   It was my job to make the tea, which meant I put the mug of water in the microwave.  We put the carefully crafted breakfast on our Dukes of Hazard TV tray, but we would cover up Bo, Luke and Daisy with something classy – like a paper towel.  Just one more added touch to make it perfect – go out in the yard and find a flower.  Pick the dandelion, put it in the glass and a perfect Mother’s Day breakfast in bed was ready.

anna jarvisI wonder how much the founders of Mother’s Day would recognize today’s ritual?  What would they think of the handmade cards, the breakfast in bed, and the dandelion bouquets?  There are three women generally recognized as the co-founders of  Mother’s Day.  All of them had similar ideas, and were inspired by similar motives.  They were churchgoing women who wanted to recognize the role of mothers.

They were crusaders, rallying around the universal power of mothers to make the world a better place.  Their passion, their overriding sense of call, was to the cause of peace.  Julia Ward Howe, who wrote, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was appalled by the evils of war and wanted to create a day where women would come together to make change in the world.  Juliet Calhoun Blakely came to the pulpit in her Methodist Church in Michigan when the pastor was too drunk to finish the job and preached about temperance.  Anna Jarvis taught Sunday school at a Methodist Church in West Virginia.  Jarvis advocated for children’s health and welfare and promoted peace in a community torn by political rivalries.  It was in West Virginia that the first Mother’s Day was officially recognized in 1908.  On Mother’s Day we stand in the shadow of these mighty women, and I wonder what they would think.

These were women that had a strong sense for the pain in the world.  What would they think of the sentimentality of the day they helped create?  They understood pain in the world as only a mother could.  Their sons’ bodies were sacrificed on the altar of war.  Their sons had missing limbs, broken bodies and shattered spirits.  Their sons abused alcohol, wasted their income, their time, and their energy on the promise of an empty bottle. Their daughters lived with terror of domestic violence.  Their sons and daughters died slowly of disease.  They were mothers – not just of the offspring they raised – but of all children.

It was in the midst of this pain that they stood.  Out of the ashes of war, out of the shadow of abuse and alcohol, out of the despair of disease, the mothers stood.  They were angry with the state of the world, and wanted a day to recognize the power of mercy and love.  They wanted a day to recognize the power of women – mothers – to make a change in the world.

What would they think now?  What would they do when they saw women in Africa weeping over a child dying every 45 seconds of malaria?  What would they say to those that claim that health care is a privelege, not a right?  What would they think when they saw more sons and daughters going off to another war to kill the sons of other mothers?  How would they respond to the meth labs in living rooms?  What kind of pain would they feel?

I’m guessing that they would feel just as mothers do today when they see their children suffer.   I’m guessing they would continue to stand with their fellow mothers and support a local shelter for victims of domestic violence.  They would get involved with Imagine No Malaria, a project with a plan to eradicate malaria deaths.  They would help at food pantries at their church, organize health clinics, contribute to literacy campaigns.  What would they do when they saw that their children were in pain?  They would do what mothers do today: they would work, volunteer, preach, donate, teach, mentor, guide, and pray.

What would they think of a dandelion bouquet?  I think they would treasure it just as my mother did – like all mothers do.  They would see the love out of which it was made.  They would know that all the work they do in the world is for this: So that children every where can live in peace.  Those women, and women before them, and women since them have wanted this: to live in a world where all of God’s children are free to pick a dandelion bouquet – free of disease, free of fear, free of war.

Its a dream we all share.  It is a dream for which we all work.  In the meantime, take the time to pick a dandelion bouquet, and say a prayer for mothers.

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The Longest Night

On Christmas Eve churches everywhere will be filled with happy people.  The lights will be on, the poinsettias arranged, the sweaters will be bright, and the smiles will be wide.  People will gather in the pews and sing the traditional carols, hear the Christmas story, and light candles.  Millions on Christmas Eve night will rise and sing “Joy to the World.”

Many of those same people that will rise and sing on December 24 will go to bed on December 21 and face the longest night of the year in despair. There will be many that lie down wondering, “Where is the joy?”  For people that are hurting, struggling, or mourning, the longest night of the year is so very long.

The bills have not been paid, the credit debt is mounting, and work is hard to come by.  The night is so very long.

My mother died at this time of the year.  Christmas won’t be the same.  I miss her smile.  I miss her words of wisdom.  I miss her so much, and the night is so very long.

For the last 53 Christmases I have been with my husband.  He held me in his arms as we watched the children, then the grandhcildren, open their presents.  He made hot cocoa every Christmas morning.  I do not even know the recipe, and the night is so very long.

The onesies I got for Christmas last year are put in a box in the attic.  Never worn.  Never held.  I miss my child and I never held him in my arms, and the night is so very long.

The night can be so very long.  The night can be so very dark and cold.

Some say that everything happens for a reason.  God is in control, and has a plan.  But what kind of God could plan such things?  Is this the God that I am supposd to celebrate?  Is this the God that I am supposed to worship?  How can I sing “Joy to the World,” when there is none in my own heart?

Christmas does not mean everything is okay.  Christmas did not end the sadness, the pain or the despair.  For those that are hurting at Christmas, I hope you know that you are not alone.  I do not offer you simple platitudes.  I do not offer you easy answers.  All I can offer you is my love.

I don’t think that everything happens for a reason.  I think there are terrible things that happen everyday that God did not plan. I also think that God gives us the power and the grace to overcome even the worst that can happen.  God gives us the chance to heal and be healed; to feed and be fed; to love and be loved.

The longest night can be so very long.  Christmas does not end the night, but it gives us hope for the dawn.

Liturgy for a worship service “For those that mourn at Christmas”

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Jesus, Pilate, Barabbas, and centuries of violence

As we approach Easter, my church continues to work through Adam Hamilton’s 24 Hours that Changed the World.  This Sunday, we will be looking at Jesus before Pilate.  As found in the gospel of Mark, the story goes like this:

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.’ Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?’ They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ Pilate asked them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him!’ So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Gospel of Mark 15:1-15 New Revised Standard Version

Here we have an incredibly powerful narrative of Jesus, Pilate and Barabbas.  If used properly, this story can be a mirror to our own souls – forcing the reader to ask the question, “What do you wish me to do with the man?”  In this dramatic scene, the people are given a choice.  The Gospel of Mark presents this choice in clear and uncertain terms.  Barabbas is describes as a rebel who murdered someone during an insurrection.  He was an enemy of the state – and he used violence to achieve his goal.

Barabbas was resentful of Roman rule and wanted, like so many Judeans at the time, to be free of Roman rule.  For centuries Judea had been under the thumb of one world superpower or another.  Rome was just another in a long line of foreign rulers.  The people longed to be free of oppression.  Barabbas had followed one path toward freedom.  We don’t know if he lead a great uprising, or if he was just a part of a troublesome skirmish, but the details of his crime are not important.  He is presented as a symbol.  He is the path of liberation through violence.

More than this though, he is the way of the world.  His path is the same path as the Romans.  Though he had the goal of overthrowing Roman rule, his means were the same that Rome used.  His path of violence was, in many ways, the only one that people knew.  It was the way of the world – it was the way of “might makes right.”  He wanted to make a new Kingdom, based on God’s law and God’s people, but he used the tactics upon which the Kingdom of Rome was built.  They were the same tactics on which the Kingdom of Perisa was built, and the Kingdom of the Babylonians, and the Kingdom of the Pharoah.

Jesus presents a different option. He was trying to build the Kingdom of God, which can only be built with peace, grace, humility and self-sacrifice.  Jesus told his disciples to love their enemies, to sell their possessions, to leave their families and their status and their well-being and their comfort.   Barabbas said, “Pick up your weapon and follow me.”  Jesus said, “Pick up your cross and follow me.”

As we read the Gospel account of the people choosing to set Barabbas free, we must remember that the choice is ours.  Everyday we stand in that crowd.  Everyday we hear the chief priests – the pompous, the powerful, the comfortable, the talking-heads, the radio hosts, our friends, our co-workers, our neighbors – egging us on to set Barabbas free.  Everyday we must choose between the way of the world and the way of God.

We work either to build kingdoms of men, or the Kingdom of God.  Every time we choose to work for the good of others, every time we seek out a closer relationship with the outcast, every time we sacrifice our comfort or status for the sake of love, we reverse the decision that was made that day.  When we pay a little more for fair trade coffee, when we make an effort to recycle our trash, when we pick up our Bible and spend some time with God, when we ask a friend if it’s okay to pray for them, when we go to worship instead of sleeping in, when we witness to our faith through word and deed, we reverse the decision that was made that day.

Don’t let evil ones tell you that the decision was made by the Jewish crowds.  Don’t let them get away with pawning off this decision on them, because we are there making the same decision everyday.  Don’t let Pilate off because he tried to “wash his hands of this.”  It’s not that easy.  Jesus’ blood isn’t washed away with water and a towel.

This text has been misused to justify violence against millions for centuries.  It has been misused by people who want to avoid the question, “What do you want me to do with this man?”  Don’t let Mel Gibson’s movie tell you that it was the Jews that killed Jesus.  Don’t believe the lies.  Too often, depictions of the gospels in drama – called passion plays – get lazy.  They allow and sometimes encourage the viewer to side with Pilate, the reluctant Roman, and denounce the actions of the Jewish mob.

Don’t forget that the road from Oberammergau to Dachau is only a short drive in a car, and throughout history has been shorter than that in the hearts of those looking for someone to blame.  Read about the history of Oberammergau.  Read about Hitler’s visit in 1934.  Read about the changes they have made since 2000, and wonder why it took so long.  I live close to the longest running passion play in America, and yet its website is conspiculously free of anything about the link between violence against Jews and passion plays.

There are those that have deeply emotional responses to passion plays.  Part of my faith development includes a powerful experience with a passion play.  They are designed to emit emotional response.  There is a basic human response to the suffering of an innocent that should invoke emotional response.  All I am saying is, be careful.

If you see a passion play this year, do so with your eyes wide open.  Be honest with your own feelings.  Those emotions you feel – are they about the sin you see in yourself?  Do you have a contrite and broken heart because you see yourself in the crowd?  Do you see yourself in Pilate, trying to wash your hands of a something that you had the power to stop?  Or are you angry with those that killed Jesus?  Are you quick to blame others for sin in which we all participate?

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Blue Christmas

Yes, it is a cheesy Elvis song, but it is also the reality for so many during this season.  Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration; it is the time when the Word was made Flesh, when God broke through the darkness of night to reveal the power of grace.  Even if you keep only to the secular meaning of Christmas, it is supposed to be a time of laughter, of family, of giving.

For so many, Christmas is none of these things. It is simply the time when the pain, which is usually numb, comes back in agonizing sharpness.  For those that mourn at Christmas, for those who have lost loved ones in the past year, for those that are lonely and lost and seeking desperately for someone to cling to, Christmas can be a stark reminder of the emptiness.

It is not that they begrudge others of their joy.  It is not because they are jealous.  Often, the source of their sadness is the same source for the joy of others.  Christmas is linked to our childhood, to our memories.  The signs of Christmas are a seasonal reminder of what once was.  For some, this means joyful memories of happy gifts, singing songs, warm hugs and delicious foods.  For others, this means memories of abuse, empty chairs, meager tables.

Blue Christmas is a reminder that not all celebrate during this season.  Blue Christmas is a reminder that not all holiday memories are happy ones.  Blue Christmas is a reminder that those that mourn are not alone.

If you are mourning this Christmas, there is nothing wrong with you.  It is okay to be sad.  It is okay to be lonely.  It is okay, and you are not alone.  There are others that are struggling.  There are others that cannot face the depth of the cold black night.  There are others that do not want to wake.

Sometimes this knowledge is enough – not enough to lose the pain – but enough to get through it.  Sometimes it is enough to simply know, “I am not alone.”  So I offer you this reminder, you are not alone.

You weep, and I weep with you.  But more importantly, God weeps with you. 

You are not alone – never.  Not in the depth of despair.  Not in the darkest shadow.  You are not alone, and God has the power to break through the deepest darkness, even if you don’t.

For that, I hope we can all say, “Hallelujah.”  Even if it is a cold and broken Hallelujah.

And if you are in Chenoa on Thursday, December 18 at 7:00 p.m., stop by the United Methodist Church and be with us for our Blue Christmas service.

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