Some Post-Pentecost Thoughts


 I am once again reminded that I don’t like open time.  Even with the thought that Isaac Newton developed his ideas on gravitation and calculus during one episode of the Black Plague in England (which is perhaps ironic for me as my first major scientific work dealt with Newton’s Law of Gravity) and William Shakespeare did most of his best writing in similar periods, for some reason I do not find the same spark of creativity. 

But that is not to say that I haven’t been thinking and in the coming weeks, I will have to not only be thinking about what I am going to be writing but I will have to put some effort into the research phase of writing as I look at the history of our favorite hymns. 

But, let’s step back a day or two on think about Pentecost and what it means for the coming days. There were three points made in the Lectionary for Pentecost – common languages, skills, and community. 

When I was in high school, I planned on taking three years of German.  But this plan was quickly cast aside when we moved from the Denver area to the St. Louis area and then to the Memphis area.  The high schools I attended in Missouri and Tennessee did not offer German and I was not interested in taking Spanish, French, or Latin.  So, the plans of my freshman year were cast aside. 

That’s not to say that I don’t have a “foreign language”.  My interests in computer programming would provide the basis for meeting the language requirement for my doctorate at Iowa as I used my proficiency with SPSS to meet the language requirement (and produce my first set of professional papers). 

The idea of a foreign language being part of one’s doctoral program goes to the idea of being part of a community.  For many years, German was the language of science and mathematics because much of the ground-breaking work was done in Germany.  But over the years, the language of the lab became English and the demand for German dropped.  But the development of computers suggested a new language, that of computers, as the means for communication. 

There is still a need in science and mathematics for traditional methods, but computers offer ways to assist those traditional methods.  And it was through computer-based communication that several of the papers that I wrote with Marcin Paprzycki and George Duckett were produced. 

On Pentecost, many individuals, from various places around the Middle East, had gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Harvest.  One can only imagine the chaos of that time and place as people found it impossible to communicate with each other.  But when the Holy Spirit came, it suddenly became possible for the visitors to Jerusalem to understand the Christians and each other.  And though there were many different individuals, from many different lands and backgrounds, through the Holy Spirit, a new community was built.  It was a community of believers, using the skills and abilities to meet the needs of the community. 

If we fast forward to today, we find that the idea of the community of believers is being tested, tested perhaps to the breaking point.  Can Christianity or any of its denominations, survive a time when many who identify themselves as Christians demand that believers accept what they believe as the absolute truth. 

Can society survive when the search for truth, a process that requires many different skills and, often, people working together, is questioned.  It strikes me than the greatest resistance to the search for truth often comes from people ensconced in their self-contained bubbles, impervious to change and new information? 

Can society survive when, while we speak one common language, are unable to understand what others are saying?  We see the same object but, at the same time, we do not see the same object. 

We are at a crossroads and we must decide which way we are going to turn.  One way leads to the Kingdom of God and the other leads away.  What Pentecost tells us is that we must turn as one community, working together, using all the skills we have, finding many ways to communicate.  If we declare that our way is the only way, we may find ourselves going in the wrong direction.  But if we see that we are a community of many believers, then we will find the right path. 

Are You Ready?


Here are my thoughts for 24 May 2020 – 7th Sunday of Easter/Ascension Sunday (Year A). This was also Aldersgate Sunday and Memorial Day Sunday. Please note that this summer, the “Back Page” will focus on the back stories for favorite hymns.

When I began thinking about this piece, it was with Ascension Sunday in mind.  Probably because I don’t spend much time in the “outside” world, I had a hard time connecting this Sunday with Aldersgate Sunday and Memorial Day.

The problem with Memorial Day has more to do with the calendar than anything else.  Since Memorial Day on the 4th Monday of the month, it sometime comes before the end of the month and you have to scramble to remember to observe it.  And I wonder if we were, borrowing from the title of this piece, ready for it.

After all, Memorial Day is supposed to be that day when we remember those who have died in the service of this country.  But so much of this country have wanted, in light of the pandemic, for Memorial Day to mark the beginning of summer, we are perhaps not ready to remember those who have died in the service of this country.

And the memories are not just of those who died while on military service but the many people who have died because of the virus that has swept this world.  So I am not entirely sure that we are ready for this Memorial Day.

I do not think that John Wesley was ready for what was to take place on May 24, 1738 when he went to the Aldersgate Chapel.  Nothing he had done seemed to have worked; his plan for salvation was not working and he had returned from America with a sense of despair and defeat.  I do not think he was ready to feel his heart strangely warmed by the experience in the Chapel that night.  But he was ready to understand what that meant and it is clear that, because he was ready, what became the Methodist Revival became a reality.

And how did the Disciples and other followers feel that day, 40 days after the Resurrection?  One has to think that they were not ready for Jesus to leave them and I am pretty sure that they were not ready to take the next step in the mission laid out before them.

But Jesus knew that they were not ready and He told them as He ascended to remain together and the Holy Spirit would be with them.

Were you ready for that moment when the Holy Spirit came into your life?  Are you ready to help others have that moment?

There are many who want to get out into the world right now but it is not the time.  We may not like this imposition of waiting but then many of those gathered that day 2000 years ago probably did not either.  And just as that day for which they were to prepare was unknown, perhaps so too is that date for us.

But, remembering the words of Louis Pasteur that chance favors the prepared mind, we can prepare for that day.

On this day when we remember many individuals, some we knew and many we did not know, we know that memories are best served by what we do.

Are you ready?


“Who Is Your God?”


Here are my thoughts for 17 May 2020 – 6th Sunday of Easter (Year A)

In our first reading for this Sunday, Luke notes that there was a monument to an unknown god; a simple statement that even the people of Athens had a “god of the gaps:”, the god they could turn to when none of their regular gods was available or could solve the problem at hand.

Some years ago, one of my students suggested that as humankind became more intectually capable, it eliminated the need for gods.  Unitl Abraham, society had always had created gods to deal with the problems of the world.  If rain was needed to water the crops, we prayed to the god of rain.  We prayed to a goddess of fertility if we wanted things to grow (or if we wanted to have children).  There was gods for the wind and rain and it was clear that we, humankind, had to have done something wrong when our society was beset by a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or some other natural disaster.

But as we began to understand the world in which we live, the needs for these gods diminished and ultimately disappeared.  But, as I suggested, to my student then, this approach could not provide an adequate explanation for why there is good and evil in this world.  And despite the suggestions of some, a better understanding of science does provide answers for the “why” questions of life.  Science cannot explain why mankind is created or even why there is good or evil in this world?

It could be that we have a gene that determines whether we will be good or evil but that begs the question of what we will do if this is the case.  We have seen what has happened when society has sought to remove those deemed less desirable.

So if good and/or evil are not an integral part of our lives, then there must be something else.  Throughout the history of mankind, we have sensed the presence of another God, one above all the minor gods, the gods that we can explain through our experience in this world (from https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2008/03/01/a-particular-moment-in-time/)

I have sensed the presence of God in my life many times and in many ways.  It is that same sense that allowed Isaiah to know that God knew him before he was born; it was the same sense that allowed John Newton to write “I once was loss but now I am found.”

These are times when we might feel lost.  Our daily lives have been interrupted and there is a sense that we will never return to that routine.  It is a time when we might feel lost or at least confused.

It is at times like these when we remember that Jesus said that He would not leae us, that we would not be alone.

Thomas Paine wrote of the times that tried our souls.  They were times where the struggles of the world were clear and the choices to be made perhaps clearer.  These are the times that try our spiritual souls; our struggles are not perhaps as clear.  

But in these times, in our moments of solitude, we have the opportunity to reconnect with Christ.  We are not bothered by outside noise so we can, in this earthly peace, find the moments to reconnect with Christ.  And in this time with Christ we can begin to think of those moments when we will again be a part of this world.

Poet, novelist, and environmentalist Wendell Berry writes in What are People For?:

“We enter into solitude, in which we also lose loneliness.

True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. 

In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. …

After having returned from the woods, we remember with regret its restfulness. For all creatures there are in place, hence at rest. 

In their most strenuous striving, sleeping and waking, dead and living, they are at rest.”

This season we can cultivate a healthy practice of solitude in creation and recover our humble place in the communion of all creatures. A solitude practice can be especially challenging when you already may feel isolated. But remember, solitude is not a lack of connection; it is a deliberate spiritual discipline that allows us to become fully attentive to other lives – to God’s voice, to the voices of other beings.   (from Sojourners e-mail, 15 May 2020)

The thing is the world in which we will go tomorrow is not the world we left behind yesterday.  Which means that the way we may have connected with Christ may not be there when we go back out into the world.  But in these times of solitude and contemplation, we will find ways we never knew to be better disciples of Christ.

“Stones”


Some thoughts for the 5th Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2010.  This was also Mother’s Day, which is for those who are not aware, the result of Methodist activism. I am a little behind in my writing but working to get even and perhaps ahead of the curve.

It is safe to say that no one likes stones.  Stones hurt.  Perhaps that is why the Romans allowed the Jewish authorities to use stoning as a means of capital punishment and saved the other froms of punishment for themselves.

We may not use stones in the manner that the ancients did but we still use them to hurt.  But it is an interesting comment that the same stones that we use to hurt people can be gathered together and make something useful.

In the Old Testament, every time someone encountered God, they gathered the stones together to make a monument to that meeting.  Even today, we still do that, looking for the largest stone upon which we begin building our lives.  On this Mother’s Day, 2020, amidst all that is going on, I want to pause for a moment and remember my Momma, who set down the cornerstone of my own personal journey in faith.

The Romans gathered stones together and built the roads that would unite the Roman Empire.  And those same roads that allowed the Roman legions to maintain the Pax Romana through intimidation and violence were the same roads that allowed Paul and the other disciples to leave Jerusalem and spread the Gospel message throughout the whole word.

Stones come in many shapes and sizes.  Sometimes we use them to hurt others; sometimes others use them to hurt us.  But we also gather those same stones together and build things.  Our faith is built upon Christ, the Cornerstone.  As our faith grows, we build the roads that allow us to bring others to Christ.

As you wander through this time and space, consider the stones that lie at the foundation of your faith.  How will you use those stones?

“Are You Coming In or Going Out?”


Some thoughts for the 4th Sunday of Easter (Year A, 3 May 2010) 

As I read and pondered the lectionary readings for this Sunday, I was struck by the contract between them.  The reading from Acts speaks of a welcoming community; the reading from the Gospel speaks of a welcoming Christ.  And yet, in the 2nd lesson, Peter talks about the suffering one is going to receive for being a Christian. 

And as I thought about that, I continued to think about how the church today is going to respond to the issues that society faces today. 

Like so many people today, I have quite a few friends on Facebook.  Of course, there are members of my family.  But there are those whom I went to either high school or college with them or I knew them before Facebook existed.   

I share something in common with each of my Facebook friends.  But I have found that I do not necessarily share the same beliefs that some of those on my friends list have.  I suppose the proper thing to do would be to drop those with whom I do not share a common belief set and whom I have never met. 

But then I would only have a distorted view of the world on Facebook.  For example, I would not know that I am being persecuted for being a Christian or that other religious groups are receiving preferential treatment.  Apparently, I didn’t get that memo.  I also didn’t get the memo detailing the various and sundry conspiracy theories that lurk beneath the surface veneer of society. 

It is interesting and somewhat frightening to see what many of these will post.  But is what more frightening than the hatred they preach, the false information and conspiracy theories that they push is that they claim to be Christian, believing in the power of Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. 

And in today’s world, I cannot see how one can espouse a doctrine of hatred and ignorance and claim to be a Christian.  Perhaps you can but I don’t share that view of the world.  How do you explain someone who proclaims to be a Christian but hates the world?  How do you explain someone who attends church on Sunday and is a pillar of the church but who ignores the cries of the needy during the week or even, as I discovered growing up in the South, works against the goals of Christianity during the week? 

There are, perhaps three types of Christians in the world today.  The first can be called a separatist.   

A religious separatist is one who separates their religious life from their secular life. They wear their faith as if it was pure and they will not allow anyone or anything to disturb that purity.  For these individuals, if it is not clothed in Christ, it is not part of their lives. They will be at Christian groceries, eat at Christian restaurants, shop only at Christian stores, and listen to Christian music. It is a life separate from others.  But they turn off people to the true faith because they, the separatists, cannot relate their faith to the world around them. And when you ask them to integrate their faith into the culture around them, they panic. 

The second type of Christian is a conformist.  These individuals adapt their thoughts to the world, making sure that no one knows that they might go to church on Sundays. And it is quite easy to see that many of their friends would be surprised to know that they are Christians because there is no evidence to suggest. Religious conformists use religion when it is convenient for them. Christianity is something done on Sundays; Mondays through Fridays, one must be a realist and you cannot be a realist if one is a Christian. 

The third type of a Christian is a the transformist. Such individuals seek to make faith a part of the prevailing culture; they use their faith to change the culture, not for the purpose of a self-proclaimed religion but for society. John and Charles Wesley could easily be thought of as transformists.  

Transformists understand that you cannot categorize faith, love for God, and love for people into separate and independent categories. Their faith is integrated with their live and their love for God is shown by their love for people. (Adapted from “the Journey Towards Relevance” by Kary Oberbrunner; first published in “A Door That Swings Both Ways”

For me, those who say that they are being persecuted for their beliefs are quite easily separatists.  Theirs is the only world that counts; as I have written before, they see the sanctuary as a protection from the outside world. 

And yet today, we do not meet in the sanctuary.  The sanctuary now extends beyond the walls of the church into our homes and yards and throughout the world.  These must be frightening times for separatists and conformists alike.  For the separatists, the outside world which they don’t want to enter their lives is now very much a part of their lives; for the conformists, the lessons of Sunday now become the actions for the week.   

If I am not mistaken, the community of believers that formed the community outside Jerusalem did not prevent anyone from entering or being a part of the community.  Yes, they did “throw out” some who did not want to follow the rules of the community, but they also realized that some were not able to do that.  Theirs was a community of hope and promise. 

I am not interested in building a new community; I am interested in making sure that the community in which I live is one in which all can live.  I want a community of hope and promise.  I know that it will not happen tomorrow or even within the next few weeks.  But there will be a time in the next few months when our gatherings will be in person rather than online.  It will be a moment when we must decide the future of our faith community. 

As I looked at the lectionary readings for today, my focus was on Jesus is the Gatekeeper.  For the separatists and the conformists, He stands at the Gate, letting only a select few, locking the Gate to keep the sheep safe.  But if Jesus taught us anything, it was that the traditional view doesn’t always work. 

Yes, Jesus stands at the Gate but not letting us in but directing us to go out into the world, to transform the world.  Locked behind the Gate, we are protected from the ravages of the world, but we cannot begin to transform the world. 

God does not expect us to venture into a world unprotected, but He does expect than when it is time, we will leave the safety of the sanctuary.  Between today and that time, we must decide if we are going to go in or come out. 

“Our Falling Apple Moments”


These are my thoughts for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, 26 April 2020 (Year A).  Even when you normally work from home as we do, things can get piled up, pushed around, and buried on the desktop.  And that later point is a fairly good trick when your desktop is your computer screen.

I think that the Gospel reading came at a time when there is talk about getting out of the house.  We certainly would like to be outside, especially as the weather gets warmer and we begin to see the changes in the world that tell us spring is arriving (you all can post photos of the flowers blooming in your garden if you want.).

I sometimes think that we feel that we have a better chance of being with God if we are outside.  We sing of being in the garden alone with him or seeing all that is there as “Our Father’s World”.

And we are, perhaps, getting a little tired of staying inside.  It is okay to stay inside when it is winter and the weather is hardly conducive to rambling walks in the garden or forest.  It is getting warmer and the days are getting longer.  There is something inside us that says we must go outside; we must be with others.

It hurts when we cannot be with others; it hurts when we see people we know suffering and we cannot do a single thing to comfort them.

But common sense, that intuitive nature about life that we were given by God, tells us that perhaps now is not that time.

From the moment we began our own journey with Christ, we have known that we must set aside a time and place where we are with Him.  Many years ago, I was wandering the campgrounds of Perkins Scout Reservation north of Wichita Falls, Texas.  In this wandering, I came across a clearing with a tree stump in the middle.  On that tree stump was a hawk, resting, I suppose, from his day’s labors.  There was something about that image that gave me a sense of calm.

Four years later, I would find another tree stump, this one on the edge of the campus of NE Missouri State Teachers College.  I was there to begin another part of my journey and on those days when the journey seemed a bit rocky, I knew that I could come to that place on campus to once again find my focus.

I do not know if that clearing on the campgrounds is still there.  I know that work on the sidewalk took out the tree stump but the spot is still there.  Still, I cannot go to those places of focus but they are imagines in my mind and I can use those images to help me refocus.

There is evidence to suggest that Isaac Newton came up with his ideas about motion and gravity during a period when the bubonic plaque had closed Oxford University and he had returned to the family farm.  While there is no evidence to suggest that a falling apple was the impetus for his thoughts of motion and gravity, he was able to envision the experiment and its results.  Similarly, the evidence suggests that much of Shakespeare’s works were done during periods of plaque that had closed the theaters of London, forcing the Bard to return home to a more contemplative mode.

These are “our falling apple moments”; times when the way we would like to focus has been take away from us and we find it necessary to find a new way.

In this way, we remember that our journey with Christ continues.  In these moments of quiet reflection and solitude, we can refocus our lives.  When the time comes that we can journey out into the world once again, we will be refreshed and able others to continue or begin their journey.

“Theory or Experiment”


Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” on this 2nd Sunday of Easter (Year A), 19 April 2020.

Tradition has it that Nathaniel Bartholomew was the scholar of the disciples.  In John 1: 48, he asked Jesus how he knew him and Jesus replied that He had seen him sitting under the fig tree.  Tradition has it that Nathaniel was studying the Scriptures and it was that knowledge that allowed him to respond that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.

One might say that Nathaniel was engaging in a bit of inductive reasoning – making a generalization from a set of specific observations.  The Scriptures of that time would have held many references to the identity of the coming Messiah and, in knowing what had been written, would have been about to conclude that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.  To some extent, then, Nathaniel was theorist, basing his ideas and conclusions on what others had done.

I think that Nathaniel’s friend and compatriot, Thomas, was more of an experimentalist.  He needed to see the evidence before making any sort of conclusion.  His conclusion that Jesus had risen from the dead comes not from what others said but on what he saw for himself.

But what does this all mean for each of us?  Are we theorists or experimentalists?  And what does how we see the Resurrection help others?  I think that if we are who we say we are, we are experimentalists because it is by what we do that others see that Christ is alive.

Those who say that the only path to salvation is through Christ offer a theory without evidence (and too often, it seems, live lives that belie the notion of Christianity).

But by actively living a life with Christ, we can offer the evidence of what is to come.

So, do you lead a life of Christ that is theory based or experimentally based?

“This First Easter”


Here are my thought for this Easter Sunday,12 April 2020 (Year A)

This piece is entitled “This First Easter” because it is, for me, one of many “first” Easters. 

For most of us, this will be an Easter where we will not be in our church but, because of technology, we will still be able to celebrate the Risen Christ.  We will know that our friends will be celebrating with us, but we will not be with them to celebrate. While I appreciate the technology that allows us to celebrate Easter, I miss the interaction of the people that comes from meeting together and, perhaps, gives more meaning for the day.

And as I thought about this being a “first Easter”, I also thought about other “Easters” in my life.

My first Easter would have been March 25, 1951. As I was just six months old, I really don’t know much about that day.

There was the Easter that I celebrated in 1969.  As I describe in Our Father’s House”, I was a student at Northeast Missouri State College and about to go home in Memphis for spring/Easter break.  I knew that I would be in church with my family on Easter Sunday, it was not my church (it was the church I attended while in high school) and that didn’t feel right.

So I went to the pastor of 1st UMC in Kirksville, Marvin Fortel, and asked if I could take communion before I left town for the week.  He agreed to do that and we met in the chapel of the church. And it was then I began to have a better understanding of what my faith meant.  It was a conversation that I have remembered over the years (see my notes in “The Changing of the Seasons”).

A few years later I was in Lexington, North Carolina for the funeral of my maternal grandmother, Clatie Hunt.  I flew out to North Carolina on Maundy Thursday and stayed for the wake and the funeral on April 3, 1972.  The next day, April 4, 1972, was Easter Sunday and I flew back to St. Louis and drove back to my home in northeast Missouri.  This was, to the best of memory, the only time I was not in a church on Easter Sunday.

In recalling these two Easter Sundays, one where I celebrated Easter on the day of the Last Supper one where I could not be in church, I realized that there were many Easter Sundays where I don’t remember if I was in church or not.  But this was the period that I have come to call my “wilderness years” so it is understandable that I would not remember.

But as I wondered in the “wilderness” I also began to remember the covenant I had made with God in 1965 when I earned the God & Country award in scouts.  And so it was that I began to be more active in the church, making sure that, at least on Boy Scout Sunday, I was the lector. I began to sing in the choir again and, in 1991, received the call to be a lay speaker.

On Palm Sunday in 1997 (March 30), I became part of a pastoral worship team serving two small rural United Methodist Churches in Mason, Tennessee.  In 1998 I would move from Memphis to Whitesburg, KY. I was asked to become the lay pastor for the Neon UMC in November, 1998.

On April 4, 1999, I would celebrate “The First Easter” as a lay pastor.  In the message I gave for that Sunday, I would use a story written by Thomas G. Pettepiece that was in my Prayer Guide.

Today is Resurrection Sunday. My first Easter in prison. Surely the regime can’t continue to keep almost 10,000 political prisoners in its gaols! In here, it is much easier to understand how the men in the Bible felt, stripping themselves of everything that was superfluous. Many of the prisoners have already heard that they have lost their homes, their furniture, and everything they owned. Our families are broken up. Many of our children are wandering the streets, their father in one prison, their mother in another.

There is not a single cup. But a score of Christian prisoners experienced the joy of celebrating communion – without bread or wine. The communion of empty hands. The non-Christians said: “We will help you; we will talk quietly so that you can meet.” Too dense a silence would have drawn the guards’ attention as surely as the lone voice of the preacher. “We have no bread, nor water to use instead of wine,” I told them, “but we will act as though we had.”

“This meal in which we take part,” I said, “reminds us of the prison, the torture, the death and final victory of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The bread is the body which he gave for humanity. The fact that we have none represents very well the lack of bread in the hunger of so many millions of human beings. The wine, which we don’t have today, is his blood and represents our dream of a united humanity, of a just society, without difference of race or class.”

I held out my empty hand to the first person on my right, and placed it over his open hand, and the same with the others: “Take eat, this is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Afterward, all of us raised our hands to our mouths, receiving the body of Christ in silence. “Take, drink, this is the blood of Christ which was shed to seal the new covenant of God with men. Let us give thanks, sure that Christ is here with us, strengthening us.”

We gave thanks to God, and finally stood up and embraced each other. A while later, another non-Christian prisoner said to me: “You people have something special, which I would like to have.” The father of a dead girl came up to me and said: “Pastor, this was a real experience! I believe that today I discovered what faith is. Now, I believe that I am on the road.” (From Visions of a World Hungry by Thomas G. Pettepiece)

This was Pettepiece’s first Easter in jail.  I do not know why he was in prison or where he was in prison, though the use of “gaol” suggests he was in Ireland.  I would use this same story a few years later in “The Message Is Clear”.  Thomas Pettepiece’s daughter discovered this writing of her father but could not offer any information about what he might have been doing.

So on this First Easter, we are much like Pettepiece and the other prisoners, separated from our church and our family.  And in our separation, we cannot even celebrate the “Communion of the Empty Hands.” On a Sunday when we should be celebrating the Risen Christ, we have a sense of sadness and our view of the future is shrouded in a cloud of gloom and despair.  We have to ask ourselves if there will ever come a time when we will again be a physical community of believers.  As we gather collectively on the Internet, we have to wonder what the future will be.

And if we stop for a moment, we can realize that these are the same feelings that the disciples and followers had some two thousand years ago.  Two thousand years ago, the disciples were in hiding, knowing that if they were seen in public, they were likely to be arrested and suffer the same fate as their Teacher and Friend; as they woke up that first Easter morning, they must have thought that there was no future.  After three years with Jesus, how were they ever going to go back to the old life?  What will the future hold?

Today, as we watch the sun rise over the eastern horizon, we know that the Tomb is empty and the Son of God has risen.  It would take a few hours on that First Easter before the disciples got the word from Mary and the other women of that news.

And because we do know that the Tomb is empty, we can, even separated, celebrate the Risen Christ.

Whether this is one’s First Easter or one of many, it is beginning of a season.  As I thought and pondered about these words, I also realized that there will be days when in the solitude of our own room, we will feel the presence of the Lord, just as the disciples did in the Upper Room.  Some may say that this is a simply a hallucination but then again, I am pretty sure that people said the same thing back then.

And as we find ways to take private walks in the woods, we are most likely to encounter Jesus in much the same manner the disciples did on the road to Emmaus. 

In the coming days and weeks, as we begin to return to the world, we will, as the disciples and followers did, discover Jesus Christ is here, with us.  We approached this First Easter with caution and possibly fear.  We asked ourselves how we could celebrate the Risen Christ when we ourselves have been separated.  And yet when this day is over, we know that we have been given the opportunity to reconnect with Christ, much in the way the disciples did two thousand years ago.

And no matter when it might occur, we will have a gathering of family, friends, and neighbors, much as the followers celebrated the Day of Pentecost.

The world tomorrow will not be the same as it was two months ago.  Much has been discovered about our society and our world that has long laid beneath the surface.  The cry for the Presence of Christ, so long quiet, has become very loud.  Some will try to return to the “old days” and quiet the voice, just as their predecessors tried to do two thousand years ago.

Even as we are apart from family, friends, and neighbors, we are again one with Jesus and we will hear the call that came to the followers at Pentecost to take the Gospel message, to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and free the oppressed.  Take this “First Easter” to reconnect with Christ.

“Keep Your Eyes on The Prize”


Here are my thoughts for the “Back Page” for this Palm Sunday, 5 April 2020 (Year A).

The title for this piece is based more on April 3rd and April 4th than it is on April 5th.

Still, when I think of Jesus entering Jerusalem on the First Palm Sunday, with the crowds cheering and celebrating, I cannot help but think they had their eyes on a prize.  It was just that Jesus’ eyes were on a different prize.

The crowds were cheering that day because they saw Jesus as a sectarian messiah who had come to overthrow the religious and political authorities and replace them with a new set of authorities.  No doubt many in the crowd saw Jesus’ entrance as the means for them to take over the power structure.

And we know that many in the crowd this Palm Sunday will be in the crowd on Good Friday calling for the execution of Jesus.  Their eyes were on another prize and they were not going to recieve it.

There is no doubt that with one word, Jesus could have established a sectarian kingdom.  He was given that opportunity three years before by the Evil One but turned it down.

On that first Palm Sunday, JEsus had his eyes on another prize, The Kingdom of God that would be open to all, no matter who they were.  But Jesus knew that He had to go to Calvary for everyone to receive that prize.

On Friday of that first Holy Week, the disciples felt that the prize had been taken from them.  But on that First Easter Sunday, they saw the Prize.  It would take them time but the disciples would take the prize into the world..

I wrote a piece for my blog a few years ago entitled “Where Were YOu on April 4, 1968?”  I was a senior in high school at Nicholas Blackwell HIgh School that year.  I may have been aware that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Memphis to support the sanitation workers’ strike but my eyes were on another prize, graduating from high school and returning to my college studies at Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now Truman State University).

If my classmates or their parents were aware of Dr. King’s presence, most of them would have seen him as an outsider and an interloper who had no business getting involved in Memphis’ affairs.

I do not recall if Dr. King’s speech on the evening of April 3rd was covered by the local media.  But when he told the people who did hear him that night that he had been to the mountaintop and he had seen the Promised Land, you know that his eyes were on the prize of equality and justice.  Whether he knew that he would be assassinated the next day is a matter of conjecture but Dr. King knew that there were many who did not want to see him succeed.

Even today, there are those who would seek to establish a religious and political system that separates the people.  They seek a society where the door to God’s kingdom is closed, where entrance is denied because of their race, their gender or sexaual identity, or their economic status.  Their vision of God’s kingdom looks very much like that religious/political establishment that opposed Jesus two thousand years ago.

Sadly, the events of the past few months have shown that Dr. King’s vision of the Promised Land has become enveloped by a mist and perhaps clouds of hatred and violence.  What the pandemic has shown us is that the world is now even more separated by economic and political status, by geography and class.  The dream, the prize of equality may still exist but it is now far off in the future, covered by the mist and clouds.  

Tony Campolo noted that,

. . . if you think being religious, being Christian, being spiritual is getting ready for the next world, you’ve missed the message of Jesus.  Jesus didn’t come here to get you ready for the next world, He came into this world to transform you into people through whom He could do His work in this world.

In 1968 my eyes were on another prize but one year later, in the chapel of 1st United Methodist Church I came to realize that the door to God’s kingdom was opened to me when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.  And as I walked through that door, I set my eyes on the prize.

This year there will be no cheering crowds, no groups of children parading up and down the aisles of our churches waving palms as the congregation shouts “Hallelujah!”  But that does not mean that the prize is not there.

In a few weeks, we will be able to come together as we once did.  But all that has taken place over the past few months has given us a new understanding of the Prize that we have claimed and now must share with the world.

The world in which we live today may be separated by illness but it was separated by ignorance, hatred, and violence before that.  We have been given a new vision of the Prize and we know that when we are allowed to gather together, one of the things we will do is share the Prize that we received.

So on this Palm Sunday, keep your eyes on the prize and hold on

“The Sounds of Life”


Here are my thoughts for March 29th, the 5th Sunday in Lent (Year A).

We can believe that God is present and still be either six feet away or in the safety of our homes on Sunday morning. The church will always be the church, no matter how physically close its members are. God isn’t just found in the confines of a physical church building — God meets us where we are.   – Miguel Petrosky

As I read the notes on Facebook and look outside my window, I notice that the sounds are different.  I hear the birds a little more clearer.  It isn’t because they have gotten louder but there are no other sounds of life.  As people stay home, the world outside has grown quiet.

Our daily routine has changed and, as a result, the sounds of life have grown quiet.  And as we stare out our windows and we listen to this new world, we wonder, “Can life return to this world?

I think this was the same thought that Ezekiel had when he looked over the valley of the dry bones.

But it is more than just the silence; it is the separation.  We have become separated from our children, our siblings, and our parents.  We worry about those who have taken an oath to heal the sick and protect the weak, some of whom may be our children or friends.

We feel the pain that Mary and Martha felt when their brother Lazarus died and Jesus was not there to comfort them.  In their pain and grief, they felt separated from the world.

Alone in a quiet world, separated from the world, we wonder what we can do.

We know that when Jesus heard that Lazarus had died, he dropped everything and headed to comfort Mary and Martha.  And then, presaging HIs own Resurrection, he brought Lazarus back to life.

We know that God should Ezekiel that life could return to a seemingly dry and lifeless valley.

And we know that we, individually, cannot do anything.  Paul reminds us that those who seek to achieve success for themselves, for those who seek glory for themselves will always fail.

But we are not alone.  Even in our solitude, we are a part of a much larger community.  And through that much larger community, we reach out to other members to make sure that they are doing well.  We reach out to our community to share our prayers and our thoughts.  We may be separate from others but it has not stopped us from worshipping.

And as we bring our community together in spirit, we have discovered that there are many who society has forgotten.  And when the time comes that our physical separation ends and we gather together in celebration, we must begin to rebuild the community as well.

As the sounds of life have grown silent, we have begun to hear the cries of pain and grief from those who are often forgotten or overlooked by society.  We have, in the silence of the sounds of life, heard the voices of greed.

God has said that life can be restored and the sounds of life restored.  It will be because we have heard the voice of God that we know there are many whose voices have been silenced and we must answer those calls.

The sounds of life will return; will they be the sounds of all life?