Friday, April 24, 2015
Are you familiar with the Greek philosopher Heraclitus? His most famous line, “Nothing endures but change” led to the observation that you can’t step into the same river twice! The point is that by the time you have stepped into the river, stepped out of it, and stepped back into it again, the river is very different.
Alfred North Whitehead, took the words of Heraclitus and updated them by saying, “not only is the river different, but every human being is changing physiologically, biologically, and even chemically in a sense, every moment”. In other words, everything and everybody changes. Some changes are welcomed, some are not. Some are well planned, some are surprises. Some you can spot a mile away, and others sneak up on you.
Think about all the changes in your life. You are not the person you were 20 years ago, or even ten, or even yesterday. We are one big, amazing collage, mysteriously painted by colors of change.
As you know, I will be going through a number of changes as I retire from Sardis, a place that I have called home since 1988. For over forty two years I have been pastor of a church. All that is about to change as we move to Princeton, New Jersey.
In one way or another, my leaving Sardis will also change your life. This change will be good, I am sure. The change will give this great congregation a unique opportunity to chart a vision for a new day at Sardis. What could be more exciting as you celebrate the past but dream and reach for tomorrow? Oh, just think of the wonderful changes we both will experience as God guides us into unknown territory. It can be a bit scary, but as the old saying goes, “we do not know what the future holds, but we know the one who holds the future!” Thanks be to God for we are assured by scripture that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8 NRSV)
Friday, April 17, 2015
"Heavenly Father, help us remember that the jerk who cut us off in traffic last night, is a single mother who worked nine hours that day and was rushing home to cook dinner, help with homework, do the laundry, and spend a few precious moments with her children.
Help us remember that the pierced, tattooed, disinterested young man who can't make change correctly is a worried 19-year-old college student, balancing his apprehension over final exams with his fear of not getting his student loans for next semester.
Remind us, Lord, that the scary-looking person, begging for money in the same spot every day may not own a second home at the beach or mountains, but is precious in your eyes.
Help us to remember that the old couple walking annoyingly slow through the store aisles and blocking our shopping progress are savoring this moment, knowing that, based on the biopsy report she got back last week, this will be the last year that they go shopping together.
Heavenly Father, remind us each day that, of all the gifts you give us, the greatest gift is love. It is not enough to share that love with those we hold dear. Open our hearts not to just those who are close to us, but to all humanity. Let us be slow to judge and quick to forgive. Help us to show patience, and express the love of Christ our Lord. Amen."
Friday, April 10, 2015
My mom turned 100 on April 1, no April Fool’s! We held a birthday bash for her this weekend in Ohio, where she lives with my brother and his family. It was quite a time, a grand and glorious reunion with lots of laughs, some tender tears of joy, sharing of stories, and a ton food, surpassed only by the number of hugs and kisses.
No one knows for certain why some people make it to be centenarians. I suppose it has lots to do with your family tree, healthy eating, exercise, and the lucky roll of the dice. I came across an article titled, “100 Ways to Live to be 100”. Some that topped the list were:
- Be Conscientious – in other words, approach life with a healthy balance. Good advice, but hard to do at times.
- Laugh – the Bible says, “Those who sit in the heavens, laugh” and it seem like those who have a love of laughter on earth seem to live longer.
- Go nuts- I found this a bit “nutty” at first, then I realized it was talking about eating nuts. Why, according to one piece of research, people who eat walnuts have a 39% lower risk of early death. Who knew?
If my mother had been interviewed, she would have said, “Drink lots of tea!” From the time I was a little boy and took notice, my mother always had a cup of tea in her hands, from morning to night. Even to this day, she soaks the life out of a tea bag and is never far from her cup of Tetley.
I don’t think we will ever know why some live longer than others, but regardless of our age we can all take a page from the Psalmist, “O Lord, teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” (Psalm 90). What matters most is not the longevity of our lives, but how we have lived them. Did our days count for something? Did we create good memories along the way? Did we do our best to make the world a better place?
The number of candles on a birthday cake doesn’t matter as much as the number of people we have loved. In many ways, the good life is not the longest but the one best lived.
All of this makes me wonder, “How am I spending my days?” How about you? What do you think makes the good life?
Friday, April 3, 2015
On February 22, 2011, I drove home from Sardis in typical fashion: on the phone talking with Michelle about lunch, life, liberty and the pursuit of General Hospital. I don’t much care for talking on the phone, so I get it all done in the car when I have nothing else to do but drive. (Don’t say it. I know… Driving’s pretty important). The day, however, would turn out anything but typical from the moment I walked in the front door. I hadn’t even shut it when, in the middle of a sentence, I let loose the most blood curling scream I’m pretty sure has ever left my lips (this includes my first ride on White Lightning at Carowinds).
There was no intruder… no crock-pot explosion… no ransacked apartment suggesting I’d been robbed… no overflow from the dishwasher or washing machine to soak the floor and the apartment below mine… none of that. All I had seen was something on the floor just inside the living room that shouldn’t have been there and somehow I knew, before I even turned on the light and got a better look, what it was, just by the stillness and emptiness of death that seemed to be pervading the apartment.
My cat Buffy (not the Vampire Slayer) lay on the floor, his little body facing me, almost as if he’d been trying to make it to the door, perhaps waiting for me to come home. I was screaming because he wasn’t moving and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that nothing I did would ever get him to move again. He was the first cat I really ever owned myself. All our other pets had been family ones and I had been in college or grad school when they’d passed and had been removed from the immediacy of their deaths. I’d never had to deal with it myself. Though Buffy had started out his first two years being passed around from one family member to another, for the last 12 years of his life, he was truly mine.
I continued screaming into the phone at Michelle for what couldn’t have been more than 5 minutes, though it seemed forever, incoherently alternating the screams with crying (to this day I often wonder why none of my neighbors came to see what was the matter). Michelle was panicking, not even able to tell for the first couple of minutes exactly what I was screaming about. Once she figured it out, she didn’t know what to do. She even asked her brother’s girlfriend, a cat-woman like myself, to see if she could do something about my hysteria… all the way from New York. Jen tried her best to get through to me, suggesting I try CPR and a number of other things, but nothing worked. I just kept screaming. I knew Buffy was gone. The animal that had just the night before, lain on my pillow with me to sleep, would no longer meow, purr, try to trip me or leave me gifts of hairballs or Palmetto Bugs (that’s a cockroach for those of you not from South Carolina). He was just… no more.
Later in the day, my brother came and helped me take him to the 24-hour Emergency Vet to lay him to rest and I tried to make it through the rest of that day and the next day, grieving and searching for one ray of light in the darkness. Over those two days, many people sent me the Rainbow Bridge poem and other consolations and would tell me that since all dogs (and cats) go to heaven, one day I’d be reunited with not only my family and friends, but Buffy too. And by Monday night, I had already begun feeling the guilt of wanting to immediately go to the shelter to get another cat… or five… I needed something to cling to. I couldn’t replace Buffy but I could adopt a sibling (or five) for him. It would help me cope, I told myself. It would help me move on. I settled for two; a 12-week old kitten and a 2-year old cat.
Michelle would tell me in the coming weeks when the new kitten, Sunny, would climb the curtains, run races over my head at night or beg for food 12 times a day, that her big brother Buffy was looking down from heaven and laughing. I clung hard to that idea. Four years later, Sunny and her sister Shadow are still bringing me joy (and hairballs and sometimes spiders).
The night Jesus died, the disciples and His followers must have experienced the same emptiness and despondency of death and I would imagine, so much worse. They had no such assurance that they would see him again, or if they should have, based on things he’d told them, none of them seemed to recall His teachings in the heat of the moment. They thought him to be dead and truly gone from them. A brief life snuffed out too soon and for all they knew, they were next. The day he died and the next day were their hell; their belief that what once was… was no more. No poetry, no condolences from anyone outside their immediate circle… just… death. They huddled hidden in a house contemplating how to go on.
And then Easter morning arrived. He was ALIVE. He had RISEN. What was once no more… was more than it had ever been! Still, yes, He’d eventually be leaving them in body again, but this time they had something to hold onto. They had a solid knowledge that they’d one day see and be with Jesus again, forever and in the meantime, He was entrusting them to carry on His work until that time came. Monday morning must have brought them their “Rainbow Bridge” poems and the ability to remember, without screaming hysterically or gushing tears as they clung to one another, memories of His time WITH them and His words TO them… encouragement from Jesus Himself. It had to have been a needed calm after the storm… a peace in their hearts giving them the ability to get back on track to do His work and to begin a new, exciting chapter.
This morning, as you remember the events of Lent, Holy Week and this Easter Monday, let the peace that all Christians have and that passes ALL understanding pervade your hearts and souls. That peace says that though there are times our lives are filled with Friday’s despair, loss and grief, and the emptiness and despondent hopelessness of Saturday, we know we can expect the blinding joy of Sunday when Christ rose in new life… and the blessed assurance that we will one day have the same. It’s Monday. We’ve mourned and now celebrated. It’s time to get to the business of doing Christ’s work.