Monday, February 25, 2013

I'd rather be in Philadelphia

Rumor has it that W.C. Fields' last words were, “I’d rather be in Philadelphia.” Isn’t it interesting the things that are on the minds of individuals who are about to pass from this life into the next?

Here are a few last words that caught my imagination….

“Lord, help my soul.” -Edgar Allan Poe
“Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” -George Bernard Shaw
“It’s very beautiful over there.” -Thomas Edison
“Jesus, I love you, Jesus, I love you.” -Mother Teresa

Since the beginning of Lent, in my sermons we have studied the Seven Last Words of Christ from the cross. I haven’t given much thought to what I would like my last words to be; have you? In fact the one thing I know for sure–no tombstone for me. Just a little marker with my name and nothing more. That will be just fine.

It’s important to keep our words kind and gentle, never knowing when those words may be the last heard from us. As we pass through this Lenten Season, it’s a good time to ponder our daily conversations with others. The Good Book says words can either curse or bless. Using our words to be a blessing seems the clear-cut way to go.

Years ago I lost a dear, sweet friend, Mark Hollowell. Many of you Sardis members miss him too. He was special. He died of cancer, but he never stopped being a blessing. One day near the end of his life, when he was in great pain, the doorbell rang. It took all of his energy to walk to the door, but he made the effort. His son, Adam, helped steady him as together they opened the front door and greeted a neighbor who had baked Mark a homemade cake.  

Well, Mark went on and on about the cake and her kindness and the neighbor lit up like a Christmas tree. When she left, Adam turned as said, “Dad, why did you say all those things? You hate this kind of cake!”

Mark smiled and replied, “It only takes a few kind words to make someone feel special.”

Those were not Mark’s last words, but they have lasted a long time with me. And I bet they stayed with Adam and the neighbor, too.

Let’s all make someone feel special this week, what do you say? While the words you say today might not be your last, they certainly can leave a lasting mark on someone’s life.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Pass the ketchup

I confess that my love for Heinz ketchup goes back to my early childhood.   The great ketchup maker’s headquarters is in Pittsburgh. Just like some of my best friends grew up with grits, I grew up with Heinz ketchup. I never know there was any other brand, only Heinz. We put it on everything from French fries to hotdogs to meatloaf to scrambled eggs. Everything seemed to taste better with it.

I was surprised, as were many in Pittsburgh, to learn that Warren Buffett is now in the ketchup business.   A Pittsburgh investing firm sold a ton of stock to an investment consortium headed by Warren Buffet. I can't even begin to understand all the nuances of what that all means in terms of economics. I just hope no one messes with the ketchup recipe.

Every child in the city of Pittsburgh remembers their school’s field trip to the Heinz factory, where we were given all kinds of free souvenir gifts to take home. We also had an annual school trip to the Clark candy factory. Needless to say, we loved the free Clark candy bars, which we devoured on the bus ride back to school.

To be honest, I’m not really sure why we made those field trips and what educational value we gained from the experience. For me, it wasn’t so much about how they made ketchup or used technology to mechanically wrap candy bars, but about a sense of community. I was from Pittsburgh, and we made the best ketchup in the world. We believed all of America said, “I want a Clark bar.” I didn’t own stock in either company, but I felt like I was a part them because they were a part of Pittsburgh. We belonged to each other.

I wonder what field trips you had when you were in school. Do you remember any of them? I’m sure schools still take children on field trips still today, but I don’t know exactly where. Do you think children today have a sense of pride and of belonging to a community; of something bigger than just their own school or themselves? 

We all yearn for a sense of belonging. We want to be a part of a community. I think God made us to live in community; in fact, I am sure of it. Every time we receive a new member class, I say to them what each new class hears: “and God has called us together into the family of faith, which is called the church.”

Thanks for being a part of the family. Thanks for doing all you do to give everyone a sense of belonging. That’s part of the recipe for a true church, a community where everyone is connected. This Lenten season, be sure to show every child, youth, and adult that they belong here with us. Remember to smile, say hello, and take time to welcome everyone to Christ’s church. 

Oh, and pass the ketchup, please!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Time to head to IHOP

Presbyterians greet Lent with about as much enthusiasm as a boring sermon or root canal. We have the wrong perspective, and we’re spiritually poorer for it.

So pause that yawn and let’s take a quick look at the history of this nearly forgotten season.

From the Old English lencten, Lent means “lengthening days in spring.” It is a time of discipline, reflection and following Christ. It begins with Ash Wednesday and continues for 40 days and the 6 Sundays prior to Easter.

Fat Tuesday
Everyone’s favorite part of Lent comes just before Ash Wednesday, on Shrove Tuesday. Historically, this is when people would confess their sins to a priest and be “shriven,” or absolved from their mishaps. Today, Shrove Tuesday has expanded to include a massive festival in New Orleans. Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday. And among other festivities, you will find hordes of people stuffing their faces with pancakes. In years past, people fasted milk and eggs during Lent, so Fat Tuesday pancakes were their last hurrah. Most of us can’t make New Orleans, but IHOP is one tasty alternative to this spiritual adventure.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Preacher, Plagiarism, & Punxsutawney Phil

On February 2, we mark yet another Groundhog Day. All eyes will be on Punxsutawney Phil, the legendary groundhog who predicts the next 6 weeks of weather without the advantage of Doppler radar or any other meteorological technology. Only an irrefutable shadow.

Some years ago, my son, Andy, wrote a piece about the Punxsutawney Phenomenon. So here’s a little plagiarism for this week’s blog.