Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thoughts on Holy Week

I received a call yesterday from a reporter from one of the local newspapers and he was doing a story about Easter worship and asked me to tell him two things about Easter worship at Peace. One – what was important and unique about Easter worship; and two, what special symbols will be included in our Easter worship?

What is important and unique about Easter worship? Well the first thing to say is that every Sunday is a celebration of Easter. One of the reasons we worship on Sundays is because it is the 1st day of the week, when the women went to the tomb to find that Jesus was no longer there. But Easter Sunday does stand apart from other Sundays in importance and meaning mainly because it is so closely linked to Holy Week. In order to truly understand Easter, one must enter into and experience Good Friday. Without Good Friday, Easter is trite; and without Easter, Good Friday is just morbid. But when experienced together we have the opportunity to enter into God’s saving work in Jesus and catch a glimpse of the depths of God’s love and grace as reflected in the events of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus.

Historically the church has always celebrated Easter as part of the “Three Holy Days” (or “Triduum”). These three days are Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. On Maundy Thursday we remember and experience Jesus’ last supper, the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and the arrest with Judas’ betrayal. This service include confession and absolution, Holy Communion and the stripping of the altar. Good Friday services includes the reading of the passion of St. John as the darkness comes upon us and it includes the bidding prayer and verses of supplication.

The first service of Easter was always celebrated at the Easter Vigil late on Saturday evening. This service includes the rekindling of the light of Christ in the darkness, the remembrance of God’s saving history (as recorded in the Old Testament), Affirmation of Baptism and the first festival Eucharist of Easter. At Peace most of those elements will be a part of our sunrise service on Easter Sunday morning (Service of Light, Affirmation of Baptism and the 1st Eucharist of Easter). The remembrance of God’s saving history will be a part of the Saturday evening service of silence and prayer to be held at 6:00. This service is NOT an Easter service. We will sit in the darkness in the back of the church. There will be no music and no communion. The service will include readings of some of the great stories from the Old Testament and prayers and silence. We will then depart in silence.

Finally, I was asked about a special symbol. Well, my response to the reporter was that the most important symbol of Easter is the celebration of Holy Communion – the Eucharist. This Sacrament is the most important symbol and sign of God’s love and grace extended to us through the miracle of Easter. Through Holy Communion we again receive bread and wine as a sign of God’s love and presence “for you!” Have a blessed Holy Week and Easter!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Some Thoguhts on Lent 5C - Philippians 3 - Past is Present is Future

“When I grow up…” From an early age we learn to look forward to the future. We dream, we hope, we make plans, we do things that we think will move us along on our road to wherever we are trying to get. None of this is bad, in and of itself. It is good to plan and dream and hope; it is good to have goals. But what happens when we finally “arrive?” Does a time ever come when we have accomplished all of our goals and fulfilled our dreams for the future? What happens then? For many of us, we keep revising our future goals and keep striving, or we work at maintaining what we have accomplished. What kind of effect does that have on our present?

And what about the past? How does the past inform, enable or disable our present and future? For many the past is like a ghost that continuously hovers over our present and future, sometimes disabling our present and impairing our future. What can we do about this? How can we free ourselves from the haunting of the past?

All of these questions are questions raised by Paul today in the Epistle passage from the 3rd chapter of his letter to the Philippians. Paul in no uncertain terms tells his readers, “Look, you are struggling to achieve “it;” to be righteous and holy and let me tell you, that I have been there and done that! I was a pharisee’s pharisee; I was the most promising Jewish scholar of my time; and I was incredibly successful. My future was secure! And as far as past – well, I persecuted Christians and directly participated in the execution and imprisonment of other Christian believers. So, I have a past that haunts me as well. How do I deal with all of this? Christ! My call to follow Christ led me to leave all of that position and success behind, not because it was bad, but because that is what I was called to do. And my shady, violent, “claw my way to the top” past – that is in Christ as well. Because of Christ, I can move forward, forgiven and accepted by God’s grace through Christ.

What about us? We are very future-focused in our society. Everything about our society looks forward to the future. But at the same time for many of us we are haunted by the past and our present and future is sometimes disabled by the past. We plan; we reminisce; we plan; we reminisce…. What is missing? For many of us what is missing is a sense of the present. Our text today calls for us first to recognize that we are in Christ – it is the love and grace of God in Christ that gives our present its grounding. From there we can accept our past, learn from it, accept God’s forgiveness, forgive ourselves and move on; and from there we know that the future dreams and hopes we have also are grounded in our faith in Christ. This will hopefully allow us to pause, and appreciate and accept the present – as a gift from a loving and gracious God. The present is not just a way station on the way to somewhere else, nor is it a hospital for recovering from the past; think of the present as a garden of grace.

This weekend Peace will re-dedicate the sanctuary that has been in use since 1936. That is our past. A future of ministry and mission is in front of us. But today we will praise God, we will thank God for the past, ask God’s guidance for the future and experience the life-giving presence of God in the present through song, prayer, scripture and bread and wine.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lent 4C - The Prodigal Son - Thoughts in preparation for worship...

Of all Jesus’ parables the story of the “Prodigal Son” is perhaps one of the best known. We are all familiar with this story of how the youngest son very inappropriately asks for his inheritance before his father dies and then takes the money goes off to the 1st Century Palestinian equivalent to Las Vegas and then throws all the money away on what the old King James version called “riotous living.” And then a famine struck the land and the boy was left with nothing, starving and tending swine and eating the pods he is supposed to be feeding the pigs. “What am I doing?” he finally asks himself and he resolves to return home and beg his father to allow him to serve him as a hired hand, since he figures he will at least eat better. So he sets off and one can imagine that he practices that famous line over and over: “Father, I have sinned against God and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me like one of your hired hands.” But before he has a chance to deliver this well-practiced line his father sees him far off and runs – yes, runs out to greet him and he throws a PARTY.

So far, so good, right? The first hearers of this story would have found it offensive to say the least. A son dishonoring his father by claiming his inheritance BEFORE his death – in essence the younger son is wishing his father dead by this act. The father, actually agreeing to it; the serving and tending of the swine (which was about as unclean as you could get for a 1st century Jew). And then the father’s running out to him with extravagant forgiveness!!! Now, if the father had stood by the house with his arms crossed, let the boy get out his line and then made him work his way back into the family – well, that would have been ok – but running and showering gifts and throwing a party. Scandalous! Is Jesus suggesting that God is this extravagant in his showing of grace and forgiveness?

And then the “good” son appears. No one had called him in. He hears the party and asks what is going on and when he finds out he is appalled and refuses to go in. “How is this fair!?!?” “You never even threw a goat-party for me!!! How come you throw a fatted-calf party of biblical proportions for this looser son of yours.” (Note – not “my brother”). There is enough to go round, says the father. Everything is yours, and there is enough for you and your friends and everyone.

What a story! It is so easy to understand where the older son is coming from. But he is not the “good” son; and this story is not about just one prodigal – it is about two. Both sons are lost. We know that one returns to the father – but, what about the other one? We don’t know what he decides to do.

1. Which of these sons are you? Which one do you relate to the most?

2. How do you feel about the Father’s extravagance?

3. Does it make you grateful or uncomfortable to think that Jesus is drawing a parallel with God’s grace and forgiveness – which is just as extravagant?
The Hymn of the day is the wonderful old American hymn by Frederick Faber “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy.” Most hymnals include the 4 verses which we will sing, but there is another verse which is left out for some reason. This verse I think relates to this older brother part of this parable and says something to many of us who tend to be like the older brother. It goes like this:

But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.
Was there ever kinder shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Savior who would have us
Come and gather at His feet?

We have an extravagant God – may we always be prepared and ready to return to Him and accept his extravagant love and grace and forgiveness; may we anxiously come to the banquet table – for God likes to party with those He loves!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Lent 3C - "What did I do to deserve this...?

“What did I do to deserve this?” “Is God punishing me because of…….?”
We often assume that for every effect there must be a cause. If something happens then there must be a reason. If something bad happens then it stands to reason that God is punishing us or trying to get some kind of point across. Right?

Well, that’s the attitude of the group of people who question Jesus in our Gospel text today. This group of Galilean pilgrims had been attacked and massacred while they were in the process of offering a sacrifice at the Temple? What did they do to deserve that? This was an act of state-sponsored terror. Jesus offers another example – what about the accident where the tower by the Pool of Siloam collapsed and killed 18 men? Was that because God was punishing them? To both questions Jesus answers an unequivocal NO. This is not God “getting even” or meting out punishment. These events happened. Period. We live in a fallen and imperfect world where these kinds of things happen, and while it is natural for us to search for a “reason” sometimes there is no “reason.” And, regardless, it is never the case that God is “causing” bad things to happen for some reason.

Within the last couple months we (the world community) have experienced two horrific earthquakes. Thousands of people of been killed, many more displaced and continue to suffer. There have been voices that have suggested that the Haiti earthquake was deserved, or that God had caused it for some reason as punishment. We heard the same kinds of things said after Katrina, and even after 9/11. If this is true, what an angry and terrible God we worship, who would destroy so many innocents in order to simply make a point.

But that is not how God works. Jesus makes that very clear and he even betrays a little impatience with the suggestion: “Do, you think they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you…” NO, that is not how God works! You need to not be so concerned with judging and look to yourselves, Jesus tells them. You need to repent and live lives that reflect God’s love and grace. We will all perish, because we are mortal – but it won’t be because God is zapping us.

So, if this is not how God breaks into the world – then how do we experience God? How is God active in the world? Well…. There was a man who had a fig tree… This parable suggests that we experience God as patient and nurturing; always expecting the best from us and being willing to wait and help us become fruitful in our lives. How else is God active in the world? Look at Jesus’ ministry – reaching out to others, loving, healing, caring for others. This is how we experience God. So is God in the earthquake and in the accidents and in the bad things that happen to us. Yes, God is there with us: comforting us, caring for us, working with us to bring good out of bad. That is the promise of the Gospel!