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HOLY WEEK REFLECTION

Yesterday in our Palm Sunday service my oldest daughter performed a monologue I wrote.  She did such a wonderful job with it.    The piece is a reflection of Holy Week based on the Gospel of John.  The Fourth Gospel is the one I’ve been working through during Lent and will also spend time with on Easter and afterward.  I thought I would post it here as many of us work this week to stay focused on the sacred time we are engaged in. 

For three years Jesus had tried to tell people about how to be spiritually healthy.  He had used metaphor after metaphor after metaphor.  “It’s like being born again,” he’d told the old religious leader.  “Are you thirsty?  It’s like drinking water” he told a marginalized woman in a male dominated world.  “Can you imagine eating food that came from God?  That’s exactly what it is like,” he told people in a synagogue.  “It’s like you were blind, but suddenly you see.  It’s like sheep that follow the one Good Shepherd.”

He tried every analogy known to man and God:  Wind, fruit, trees, servants, you name it—he tried it.  But the people still were not able to put their mind around what he was talking about.  He so badly wanted them to get it, but they hadn’t just yet.

Standing outside of Jerusalem he knows time is just about up.  The fullness of time ticked his whole life and now the tocks are louder as his hour is at hand.  His mission on planet earth was not only to teach the ways of God and of spiritual truth, but to embody spiritual truth.  The biggest part of that spiritual truth is sacrifice and atonement. The time for him to die at the hands of religious people and politicians is here.  They would not take his life.  He would give it.

Soon the water would be bloody.  Talk of being born again would become, “It is finished.”  The food from God would mutate into vinegar on a sponge and the taste of a bleeding, battered jaw.  The one who opened the eyes of the blind will now have his eyes beat swollen shut.  The good shepherd will, like sheep, be led to the slaughter.  No more talk of luscious fruit bearing trees; soon only the tree of pain would matter.  The only fruit now is oozing from underneath a thorny crown.

But the wind, the wind still blows.  It blows across Jesus face as he gazes at Jerusalem.  It blows through the Temple courtyard and down the crowded streets of the city at Passover.  It blows in the coming day—through a window in the upper room, in Pilate’s tussled hair, across Jesus hanging body, and in the midst of a tomb.  The wind blows and the Spirit of God descends upon his people and finally, slowly, they begin to understand and know what Jesus had been talking about all that time.

THE PRICE OF GAS AND PASTORAL MINISTRY or PASTORAL GAS

This week I have already logged 180 miles doing ministry.  I legitimately could have doubled that had I the time.  For example, today I am supposed to go to Tacoma for a denominational meeting.  It is a meeting I love and am prepared for, but will not be able to attend because of time constraints—next week is Holy Week and I’m a little busy.  So, if I were going to Tacoma again this week, that would up the mileage considerably.

Being in a car is not unusual for me or for any minister.  It is a part of the work and travel is an ancient part of ministry.  Jesus was always on the move as was the Apostle Paul.  To a certain extent I enjoy travel, whether by car, ferry or plane.  What has changed though in recent times is the cost of gasoline.  When I first began doing ministry gasoline was about $1.19 a gallon.  Yesterday I paid $4.05.  Experts are indicating that by the summer it could be as high as $5.00 a gallon.  If I take my 180 miles and assume 30 miles per gallon (which is a high estimate because much of the driving is stop-n-go traffic) I’ve spent $24 in gasoline this week.  Average that out over a month and we have $96, and in a year, well, that is $1,300.  This is money I do not get reimbursed for and which I do not get a tax deduction for because I already max out all my allowable deductions. 

My church pays me well, so the money is not a problem.  I am taken care of because i serve the greatest church in the world.  Other churches solve some of the problem by giving the minister a gasoline allowance.  That is probably a good idea.  The point though, that I am drawing out is regardless of who is paying or how well pastors are compensated, the price of doing ministry is going up—and this price is being calculated at a personal level.  I suspect there are many pastors who are not well compensated and who have no reimbursement plan from their church and the price of gas is killing them.  Will they get a haircut this week, pay for their kid’s band trip, or go make hospital visits?

I suspect that as energy costs rise, we might see the following changes to ministry.

  • More phone calls, less hospital/pastoral/how-are-you-doing visits.  This is a practice I need to nurture a little more.  Because I value the spiritual intimacy of face-to-face and the ministry of presence I’ve always been biased against the phone and in favor of in-person.  Probably I need to get over that.

 

  • Social media may become a tool for meetings and strategy planning.  If I am feeling the pinch as pastor, chances are very good that some of my leadership feel the same way.  I have some leaders who live very far away from the church building.  That means to come have a planning meeting or even attend a ministry event or even worship requires a greater financial sacrifice that others who live closer.  Social media might be a tool to bridge that gap.  How would Skype work in a hospital room?

 

  • Fewer meetings.  I need to do a better job of how I use my time and resources.  It is not very cost-effective (or time effective) to try and attend every meeting other people expect me to be at.

 

  • A renewed emphasis upon lay ministry.  Because the expense is getting higher, sharing that expense with dedicated laity—men and women who also serve—would help distribute the expense.  It is true there are some things only the senior pastor can do, but there are many things which capable, God-called people are able to do just as effective, if not better, than a pastor.  The problem of course is convincing pastors to move beyond this in theory and into practice.

HEAVENLY DELIGHT

Last night I was searching for heaven.

To be more specific I was searching for heaven on my computer files.  I am preparing for a series of sermons on DOUBT that begins on Easter Sunday.  The second sermon is about heaven and I want to talk about doubts or questions people often have about heaven.  I am actually very excited about the series.  I want to start today, though, working on that second sermon—heaven.

One of the things I like to do before I preach something is find out what work I’ve done in the past on the subject or text before I boldly traipse off to work through the material.  So that is why I was searching for heaven last night.

What I discovered shocked me.  I don’t have a single sermon, in over 15 years of pastoral ministry and 20 years of preaching, on heaven as a topic or a singular text.  Not one.  I have to be careful as I write this because you might get the wrong idea.  It is not that I don’t preach about heaven—I do, as part of other sermons or other ideas.  It is not that I haven’t taught on heaven.  I have a thick file folder in my study at work on the subject.  But what I don’t have is even one sermon specifically dedicated to it.  What a glaring omission that is.  The same thing happened to me about five years ago.  I was working through my preaching schedule and discovered that I had never preached a sermon just about King David.  That was when I committed to preaching at least one a year, at least one sermon a year that was specifically fixed on the life of King David.

But back to heaven.  As I drifted off to sleep last night I began to psychoanalyze myself and wonder if there was something going on that might have caused me to avoid preaching directly on heaven all these years.  I came up with three possible answers.  One, I might be avoiding it because I save all my good heaven stuff for funerals.  Two, maybe I’ve heard so much preaching about heaven in my lifetime that I’m trying to balance the scale.  Three, perhaps my pastoral focus is to lead people into how to live here rather than daydream about heaven.

This morning though, as I write with the sun coming up over majestic Puget Sound and the birds chirping outside in expectation of a spring day (cue music), I think I’ve found a better answer.  For me, heaven is a major article of faith.  I simply affirm that I believe in heaven but can’t ever grasp how great it will be.  I take much of the language in the Bible about heaven to be metaphorical for “man, this is going to be great!” so that is all I’ve ever felt comfortable saying about it. 

But as I get ready to preach it now, I’m forced to think about how people doubt the reality of heaven and how I need to approach the topic from a skeptic’s perspective.  I don’t quite know how that is going to work out, but I think it will be fun.  I know it will push me beyond where I am normally comfortable, and that is a good thing.

OOPS, THERE IS SAND IN MY BIBLE

sandcastles come and go

 

So we are on day three of our spring break get-a-way.  A big shout out to Megan for house sitting for us.  This morning I’m thinking about three beach realities that inform my walk with the Lord and my place in the world.  These thoughts coalesced this morning as I read my Bible out on the deck and heard the surf pounding the shore.

1.  A lot of the trees found here, either in the dunes or just off of them lean away from their roots.  These trees have grown in the constant wind—strong wind—blowing off the shore.  The tree looks healthy and actually looks strong, but it leans away from the beach.  The strong, stormy wind blowing off of the waters is an appropriate biblical image of the nicks and dings of life that blow over us.  These winds of illness, relationship troubles, and economic problems all blow us and force us to lean away from them, but we can’t escape it.

The Bible, in Psalm 1, describes that the righteous person is like a tree with deep roots. It is the roots which hold us in place.  Our trunks may lean, flinching from the pain, but if our roots are deep—deep into the Scriptures, our church community that holds us accountable, and our ongoing connection to Christ Jesus—then we will hold in there, faithfully, even if we lean a bit.  Our lean might be kinship to Jacob’s limp.

2.  Yesterday we built a sandcastle in the frigid sand.  It was actually a pretty good one.  Phoebe decorated it nicely and Chelsea helped build the walls.  Kim took photos.  Today, though, that sandcastle is gone.  The surf pounded all night and washed it away.  Sad face.

It doesn’t seem to matter what we build on this earth, the pounding, thumping, surf of time and nature eventually destroys all of our handiwork.  Your beautiful yard you work hard to manicure, the car you polish, wax, and vacuum, the job you think is so important all will fade out of existence. 

What remains?

The only things that remain are the eternal things.  Of course, the most important eternal thing is our very soul which is kept in Christ.  But I’m also thinking of the eternal aspect of our relationships and our memories.  Long after the sandcastle has washed away back in to the sea from which it came, my family will remember the day, the moment, and the laughter.  These are the things we take with us through life that really matter:  Our memories and the relationships.

3.  While we are here at the beach, time is measured a little differently for us.  I’m still wearing my watch, but I’m not nearly as concerned about it as when I am at home.  I’ve been told that there is such a thing as “beach time.”  I admit I don’t know what that really means, but I first was introduced to it years ago at Ocean Shores, Washington.  Beach time seems to be that concept that it is not the ticking of the hands that matters, but the quality of the time and the enjoyment of the moment.  Beach time doesn’t say, “We’ll eat at 5PM,” it says “When we’re done flying a kite we’ll eat.”  This week, the Greenings are on beach time!

This made me think of the New Testaments distinction between kairos and chronos.  Chronos is the ticking, thumping, deadline oriented time that most of western culture lives in.  But kairos is God’s time, the “last days” kind of time, not measured by the clicking ticking clock but by the advancement of the Kingdom of God.  Somehow I need to recapture kairos and loose some chronos. 

Maybe I’ll learn another couple of things before we leave.  Maybe.  I hope.