Archive for April, 2012

April 30, 2012

Love, Christians and Those Who Might Call us Crazy

When is the last time you encountered a person of faith, in particular a Christian who was engaging in particular activities one might call “crazy?”

I know I’ve met my share of over the top loving kind of Christians through the years being in church as long as I have.

I’ve met Christians who follow Jesus to the degree in which they decide to sell their home and pack up their things and move across the world– to third world nations sometimes even– to share hope in medical supplies, food and friendship with some of the world’s most discouraged and broken people. They do so saying, “God has called me to show Christ’s love.”

I’ve met Christians who follow Jesus to the degree in which they open up rooms in their home to internationals, struggling single mothers, or exhausted college students — even when the person has no means to financially repay their kindness and nurture them back on their feet again. They do so citing, “God has called me to show Christ’s love.”

I’ve met Christians who follow Jesus to the degree that they’ll spend hours of their free time making hospital visits to the terminally ill without family attending — bringing a compassionate touch of support to those who would not otherwise have any. They do so citing, “God has called me to show Christ’s love.”

I’ve met Christians who follow Jesus to the degree that they ask their own young children to go without that desired toy at Christmas so that instead the money can be used to buy toys, clothes and other household items for families in their neighborhood who have recently lost everything in a destructive fire. They do so citing, “God has called me to me show Christ’s love.”

I’ve also met Christians who follow Jesus to the degree that they stop everything they are doing when they learn a member of their church has experienced a death in the family. Soon piles and piles of mac and cheese, broccoli chicken casserole, and hearty soups are delivered to the home of the grieving just in case they get hungry. They do so citing, “God has called me to show Christ’ s love.”

Christians can be crazy people can’t that? Doing the behind the scenes work of compassionate deeds, sacrificial giving and life-giving hospitality that others in the world might find to be foolish, a waste of resources or for some, just plain dumb. But, truly Christian act– or seek to act in love because of the life and witness of Jesus Christ.

I John 3 lays it out clearly for us here:

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.   And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them,   how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children,   let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

As followers of Christ, our hearts are full of compassion for others in the same way that we know God has been compassionate toward us.

So, while sure, Christians don’t have a market on this whole “loving deeds” business (a tenant of people of all world religions), we certainly are people who can’t avoid it. We can’t say that loving each other is some humanistic talk without spiritual value to Jesus. We can’t boil our faith down to a commitment we made years ago with no evidence of it in our daily life. Just as Christ loved us and taught us how to love, we are to love one another.

I’m proud to be a member and a pastor of a church that is about the “crazy” business of loving each other and any who would come in our doors. Just a couple of weeks ago a group of homeless teens came to worship and I was so proud of how everyone responded to them feel at home. Just yesterday, we all piled our resources together and hosted a lunch for a family who recently lost their loved ones. And countless other examples could be given.  Loving other always our calling– even when we don’t agree theologically, even we don’t always understand one another, even when we get on each other’s nerves. We can still love. We can always love. And if they call us crazy for doing so, then this makes Jesus crazy too and we’d be in good company!

April 25, 2012

Are you a Christian?

As a pastor, I live in a unique place as a person of faith.

Whereas most have particular views on any given subject and go through ups and downs in their spiritual journey, my life of faith is a public one. I am asked every Sunday to give testimony to the gospel and God’s workings in the world.  I preach in times of great spiritual summer and also in seasons of great spiritual winter too. I preach in my own seasons of joy and in those of doubt. My calling is to use my voice to speak no matter what. And so you hear it. You know me.

Also, I blog as well in an effort to be on an authentic, transparent journey as a religious leader. As a writing Rev., it is easier to attack me than it might be of others with the same beliefs, convictions or theological leanings. It is very easy to figure out (if you want to) my thoughts on this or that– though I write with the disclaimer that  the views shared on this site are my own and not necessarily that of my family members, my congregation or even all people of faith.

In all of this, I speak and write for myself with the knowledge that one day I will have to give an account for my life before God for everything I’ve ever said or done, just like everyone else.  But, some people don’t want God to do the judging– they want to do it.

I was in a situation recently where I was accused of not being a Christian simply because I shared a more inclusive view of scripture. It was said that I am not a person who believes in the teachings of Jesus. And while I respect the religious freedom of any who have the right to believe as they do, it was more disconcerting that a religious litmus test still thrives and is encouraged in our modern times. While such a comment was nothing I’ve never heard before (hey, you don’t get to be a female Baptist pastor without a few battle scars), it was disconcerting to me that this is where we still are as a Christian people. Pointing fingers. Throwing down the trump card. “I don’t like what you believe so I’ll say you aren’t a Christian.”

I would never to presume to assert my interpretations of scripture– and the inclusive message of Jesus that I see clearly laid out– on others in a “you aren’t a Christian” sort of way. Part of being a Christ follower is seeing the God-given light in others, no matter what. And, above all, I believe any who follow Jesus are asked to respect one another, even when we just have to agree to disagree.

While my first response is “Hello! I am a pastor. I love Jesus. Do you really want to call me of all people not a Christian?” I thought I might use this opportunity to open up a conversation with all of you. So I ask, what makes a person a Christian? And do any of us have the ability to judge our neighbors faith? Is this something that the church should be about?

I am really interested to hear what you have to say. Let’s talk, but respectfully with one another!

April 23, 2012

Wordless Monday: the Future of the Church

April 23, 2012

Give Us a New Name!

Give Us a New Name!

John 20:19-31

What’s in a name? Does it really matter what we are called? Anyone been called the wrong name lately– even if the person didn’t mean any harm by it? Such a situation can bring out all the frustrations in our bodies, can’t it? The names we give ourselves and we are given by others are important and often change the trajectories of our lives.

Start a conversation with an expectant parent who just found out the gender of their child and you’ll find one obsession on their minds: the name. No wonder expecting parents often time spend hours flipping through those “1001 Names” books, looking for just that right “feel” of a name for their new son or daughter. They want to give their child the best and most meaningful name they can. Names matter!

As for me, even though my name is one that is popularly shortened or modified, I’ve never liked being called anything other than Elizabeth. Even though I hear names of others sometimes that sound pretty or more interesting than my own and even went through a phase in college where I wanted to be addressed as Liz (but it never stuck)—Elizabeth is just who I am, like it or not. I imagine many of you might feel the same about your name as well. We are who we are called.

But, beyond the names we are all given at birth, we are also given descriptive names  that often say a lot about who we are too. We might have been known as the “the smart one” or the “pretty one” or the “athletic one.” We cling to these positive descriptions of our selves– claiming their complete worth, shaping our becoming through all our growing up years.

Then, there are those names which speak to our less than stellar moments which stick to us like post-its that we can never seem to find a way to get off our backs, no matter how hard we try. Names like “the cry baby”, “the dumb blond” or even “the black sheep of the family” follow us too. Even though these names come to us sometimes because of one person’s moment of stupidity or insensitivity, such names haunt us in pain and frustration any time we recall them. We always remember the time when we were called ___ as much as we’d like to forget.

In our gospel lesson for this morning, we are met by a disciple of Christ who also has a name lurking around him, although he is never called this by Jesus or anyone else in the text. You all know his name. If I say Thomas, you think________. (Doubter) It’s hard to complete a sentence with Biblical Thomas in it without the name, doubter descriptor isn’t it?

We remember Thomas by this famous scene in John’s gospel of Thomas refusing to believe that Jesus was risen until he saw and put his finger the marks of the nails in his hands and in his side.

Even though scripture gives him another name Didymus which means literally “The Twin,” we don’t think of Thomas by the name his momma provided; rather, we call Thomas: Thomas the Doubter or the Doubting One. And while Thomas’ nickname: the Doubter was much better than the other disciple we have nicknamed: Judas as the Traitor, I imagine that if I did a pre-sermon quiz this morning, few of us would rank Thomas in among our top five on a “Best of Jesus’ Disciples” list.

We remember Thomas for his name of “doubter.” Because of his moment of doubt as recorded in John, Thomas would be remembered for his failure, not his later moment of belief.

But, I offer you this morning that in calling Thomas the doubter and dismissing his significance from the gospel means we are really missing an opportunity to get to know this faith hero and a confession of faith that we as resurrection people can model our church after. Maybe, we need to give Thomas a new name in history.

Let’s first consider the scene. On Easter evening, the disciples (minus Judas who has died and Thomas who is for some unknown reason away from them) are locked in a room scared out of their pants, hoping that the religious leaders won’t come to arrest and crucify them like they did to Jesus.

Mary Magdalene knocks on their door sometime that afternoon and to tell them what seems like a ridiculous story. She claims she had “seen the Lord” alive at the tomb.

Yet the disciples are seemingly unmoved by her testimony and continue to stay locked in their upper room. And then when evening falls, the risen Christ comes and stands in the midst of the disciples saying “Peace to you.” Jesus SHOWS them his hands and his side and breathes on them the gift of the Holy Spirit and departs yet again.  It was quite a moment of resurrection before their eyes.

The obvious problem is that Thomas is not there. Thomas does not see Jesus. And when he returns and hears the great story of what has transpired, he makes a particular request in verse 25:

“Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

I stop here to point out that while Thomas asked for proof, to see Jesus’ wounds for himself: he only wanted a viewing of what the other disciples had already seen. It was not more “doubtful” than any of the other of the 10.

In fact, it is important to note that the disciples had received similar testimony from Mary Magdalene before seeing Jesus for themselves but didn’t believe just like Thomas.

So, if we were playing the blame game, we would need to call out all of the disciples as doubters. Thomas was not alone in wanting to see for himself.

As the story continues we realize that a week later all of the disciples (including Thomas) were again the room with the doors shut. Jesus comes to speak explicitly to Thomas. What is most interesting about this part of our text is the interchange between Jesus and Thomas after proof is offered—notice with me again verse 27. Jesus tells Thomas to “Reach out your hand and put in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” A better translation of the last part of this verse would read: “Do not be unbelieving but believing.” To which Thomas replies in complete belief saying: “My Lord and My God.”

And, I dare say  in this confession that a transformative work took place Thomas: he was a new man, empowered by the fact that his faith came from not merely seeing Jesus, but professing his fully name.

And in these five words, Thomas makes the greatest confession of Christ found in all the entire Gospel of John, saying not only that Jesus was Lord, but that he was God incarnate! In fact, this is the only time any disciple of Christ “gets” him enough to link his identity with God. Thomas, thus, provides the Gospel of John with its bookend.  Just as the gospel began with the statement: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” Thomas rightly names Jesus as the Word, God who was and is the great I AM. And in naming Jesus as God, Thomas gave the church a  statement of faith, saying what it meant to have life in the resurrection power of Jesus’ name. Who are we asked to call the Resurrected one? My Lord and My God! Just as Thomas did!

Consider the rest of the story taken from one chapter over in John 21. We find Thomas again at a crucial moment of faith. He’s out fishing with the boys when Jesus comes to meet them. Through being there, Thomas became one of the key witnesses at this crucial appearance final appearance of Jesus in the book. Thomas gets a second chance. Moreover, according to historical tradition, Thomas goes on to proclaim this name of Jesus throughout his life. He becomes a Christian missionary in India in fact, risking his life to bring the gospel to those who had never heard.

Thus, in the case of Thomas— how he NAMED Christ in our text for today became not only a catalyst for the message of the John’s Gospel to go forth but his personal sense of mission too. Thomas received power from the name of Jesus that empowered his own name, his own life and his own purpose for living.

As people of the resurrection, how is our confession of Jesus as Savior and as Lord– just as Mary modeled before us this morning– going to change our names too? How might our association, our dependence on the name of Jesus shape everything we say and do as a community?

In a small North Carolina town where I once served as a pastoral intern in seminary, I once overheard a conversation that struck a nerve in me and I’ve never forgotten. At a local diner, two men sharing a relaxed conversation over a cup of coffee. I was “trying” to study my Greek verb flash cards two booths away for an upcoming exam, but got distracted.

I knew the first gentleman in the booth. He was a regular attendee at my church, though he didn’t remember meeting me. I began to listen in when the second gentleman loudly offered to the first that he hadn’t been to church in years. Going on to say with a big bite of a donut in his mouth: “There’s no difference between membership at a church and country club.”

“How so?” my church member asked.

The non-church attendee said both groups had dining halls were people gathered to eat.

Both had Sunday worship services of sorts- the churches in sanctuaries and the country clubs on the golf courses (singing praises to the best golfers of the day).

And who serves in leadership positions, he said, at each often have a lot to do with race and family position– “For you just don’t go to any church or any country club and become President,” he noted. “There’s a selective process.” And he concluded by offering, “So why do you want me to come to your church again? I think the country club route would be more fun and without the guilt.”

And in response, my church member said nothing. And said nothing. My jaw dropped a little as I observed the silence.

(Silently, I cheered the church member on in my head, trying to give him messages of delightful things to say about how much he loved our gatherings (and my sermons of course), what a difference a relationship with Jesus had made in his life, and how I knew being part of a church community had brought him closer to his wife and his grandkids who recently joined the choir)

But, none of my seminal messages worked it seemed. Finally, the gentleman who was my church member spoke and added that the golf course did sound more fun so he might try it out the next Sunday. What???

As part of the internship, I shared weekly mentoring sessions with the senior pastor. I couldn’t wait to tell him about what I heard at the diner. I expected the pastor to respond in outrage to what I’d heard, promising me that he’d put on his holy high shoes and give the congregation a talking to about their evangelism practices the next Sunday. But, he didn’t seem as outraged as I had hoped. And he didn’t start condemning the congregation from the pulpit the next week either. But he did tell me that he’d have a special message to offer.

But, he got into the pulpit the next week claimed one simple point: Jesus is Lord.

He said that naming Jesus as Lord was what we as a church needed to keep claiming and claiming and claiming again for why it was we did everything. He challenged us all to take this name– even if it was brand new for some of us– and place it as a banner over all aspects of our lives.

When nursery workers changed diapers, washed little hands and played with play dough  in children’s Sunday School, do so in the name of Jesus being Lord.

When volunteers show up to clean the gutters or wash the pews on church work days, do so in the name of Jesus being Lord.

When we sing hymns, and pray prayers and give our tithes and our offerings, do so in the name of Jesus being Lord.

When we decided what to make, prepared and set out our covered dishes for church lunches, do so in the name of Jesus being Lord.

And say it with me, whatever we do and wherever go in the future as a community, we do so with the name of Jesus as Lord going first.

And what wisdom this was! To join for worship each Sunday in the name of Christ, we are given an entirely way of existing in this community which speaks to EVERYTHING that we do.

And while sure, there will always be those who “don’t get it” who don’t understand why centering ourselves in God and in community is worth it, we keep going. We keep teaching the children. We keep washing the windows. We keep making the Sunday meals. We keep saying the name. We keep professing Jesus as Lord, in the footsteps of our dear brother Thomas, believing, trusting that this confession of faith connects us now and forevermore with the resurrection power we need in this world to make a difference.

Today, the cry of our hearts must be Lord: “Give Us a New Name.” For there is no other way than in the name of Christ that we or our church can go forward in God’s mission to the world. Our own name just won’t do. So, come Lord Jesus, give us your name, a name new to some of us for the first time, and to others of us a name we’ve forgotten. Come and teach us how to live in unity with one another as claim together this hour that you are Lord.


April 20, 2012

Letting Go

How much time do you spending worrying on any given day? Though such would not be a statistic that any of us would boast about, I know it is something we all do. And all the time.

We worry about what we will eat for dinner when we come home. We worry if our children will finally eat tonight what we put in front of them.

We worry about what traffic will be like on the way to work. We worry about the fastest routes to take.

We worry that we aren’t where we’d like to be in our lives by whatever age we find ourselves in. We worry what is next and how we get there.

We worry about a friend’s reaction to this and that and how it might cost us a beloved friendship.  We worry about being lonely.

We worry our parents are getting older with declining health. We worry about how we will have the means to take care of them when the worst news comes.

We worry that we won’t make it to the movie on time and the show will be sold out.  We worry then, what will we do for fun on a Friday night without our preferred means of entertainment.

We worry that our best laid plans will all go awry without a plan B automatically in place. We how we will cope when all feels lost around us.

We worry. Worry creeps into our every moment faster than we might ever recognize– both in the minor details of our lives and the big stuff too.

But, when we do what resources of our faith tradition and practices are we deigning help from? How might we be robbing our constant worried filled lives with some of the best resources for calmer waters? 

In the Christian tradition, Jesus had a lot to say about worrying. The most famous of sayings on this topic came from his Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew 6:

 25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Such as always been one of my favorite and least favorite scriptures. It a comfort for Jesus to have acknowledged and cared about that which most of us do all the time, but annoying too. It is always easier to worry than it is to surrender, isn’t it? I recently heard a member of my congregation say as we were having a discussion on this topic, “What would I do with myself and my time if I didn’t worry?” Good question. It seems that the whole “non-anxious” presence is not a state of being that comes naturally or enjoyably to us. We might just have to re-think our dispositions in the world if space in our brain was opened up from letting go of worries.

A hymn– a great hymn of the Christian tradition that often comes with baggage for many is “I Surrender All.” Such is certainly the case for me. Only until recently did I allow it on the “songs we are allowed to sing in church” list during worship planning. “I Surrender All” draws to mind images of emotional manipulation, long “alter calls” at revivals, and on the type of Christian worship that makes me want to pull my hair out in disgust. But, even with such a history, it’s a hymn whose words are a powerful testimony of what God asks us to do in our all-consuming problems. And this is: let go of them.

All to Jesus I surrender;
all to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust him,
in his presence daily live.

I surrender all, I surrender all,
all to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

2. All to Jesus I surrender;
humbly at his feet I bow,
worldly pleasures all forsaken;
take me, Jesus, take me now.

3. All to Jesus I surrender;
make me, Savior, wholly thine;
fill me with thy love and power;
truly know that thou art mine.

(See aren’t the lyrics not as bad as you might have remembered?) What powerful words!

Surrendering everything is one giant leap from the worry world in which most of us live all the time. But what if we began with just one worry? What if we said for a day, “I will not worry about ____ today. I will leave it in God’s hands. I will trust God to be present to me and provide for all of my needs.”

Because in the end, just as Corrie Ten Boom said in her book, Clippings from my Notebook: “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength” we’ve all got a lot of holy encounters waiting for us in life. And we truly don’t want worry keeping us from them. Do we? So, for me, for today, I am choosing to let go and mean the words when I say them, “I Surrender All.” What about you?

April 17, 2012

Ten Thoughts for Tuesday

I’ve haven’t blogged in a week, so I thought I’d catch with 10 thoughts for Tuesday:

1. There is excitement in our household because of a big announcement we made to the church on Sunday. Kevin, my husband has a new job. On June 4th he’ll begin his post as CEO/ President of Feed the Children. You can read more about this story here. I’m so proud of Kevin and his willingness to serve in this role. I can’t wait to see all the wonderful things he does to ensure more children around the world don’t go to bed hungry.

2. Happy tax day! Have you filed yet? Luckily we were on the ball and go ours done weeks ago. But, while mailing some packages today, I learned the hard way . . . stay away from the post office. It’s a zoo out there.

3. Thanks to the encouragement of one of my congregation members, I watched GCB again this Sunday night and was delightfully surprised. A message of Christian love and forgiveness came through by the end of the show. Maybe I was wrong about the show when I wrote about it here.

4. There’s nothing better than coming home after a long day to find that your husband made you a three course dinner! Such was the case on Saturday night and I couldn’t have been more surprised. Kevin often cooks for church and when we have dinner parties in our home, but rarely just for me. I savor the fun of such occasions because they are rare and wonderful.

5. I’ve been writing in some new places lately. I’m thankful to Ethics Daily, Baptist Today and guest posts on friends blogs for opportunities to write. This week, I’m writing again for, an online devotion site sponsored by Passport, Inc. If you are looking for some inspiration this week, check it out here.

6. Holy Week at Washington Plaza Baptist was a lot of fun. We shared a Maundy Thursday dinner with our friends from Martin Luther King, Jr. Christian Church on Thursday night. We gathered with five other local congregations for a noon seven last words of Jesus Good Friday service in our church’s sanctuary. And, we worshipped at 9 am and 10:45 on Easter morning with an egg hunt for kids and a big breakfast in between. If you want to see some pictures of the event click here.

7. It has been months now that I’ve been writing regularly alongside a group of fellow Writing Revs in the DC area. I’m learning so much and already indebted  to the fabulous advice this group shares with me at our bi-monthly gatherings. If you want to be a serious writer, get a group to read your stuff. So important. So helpful.

8. Can I say that the IPad is the best gift I’ve gotten in a long time. Ever since receiving one for my birthday in  February, I can’t go a day without using it. Sometimes I can’t go to another room in the house without taking it with me. If you are looking for a new electronic toy, well worth the money!

9. One of my favorite hymns is “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love.” I thought of ways to re-write this hymn with humorous lyrics this week when visiting a church out-of-town. And this is what I propose: “They Will Know What Kind of Church We Are By Our Smells” While making a visit to the ladies’ room at this particular church, I was overcome with how much the bathroom smelled like my great-grandmother’s house before she died. The bathroom experience was just one of many experiences in this church that exhibited signs of decline. Think bad perfume and wicker furniture. Gross. So, I wonder, what does your church’s bathroom say about your congregation? Something to ponder more for sure.

10. A favorite quote that never grows out of style: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  -Martin Luther King, Jr. What’s the light God has called you to bring in your neck of the woods?

April 10, 2012

When the World Doesn’t Look the Same

When the World Doesn’t Look the Same

Easter 2012: Mark 16:1-8

I don’t know if you are like me, but when I make my choices in entertainment, especially in movies, one of my favorite weekend pastimes, there is only major requirement I have.

And that is: I like a good endings. I hope for  loose ends tied up. I want an ending where I feel like the story I’ve invested my 10, 12 or in some cases $15 was well spent. The alternative to this often is frustrating isn’t it?  Investing hours of your time into a storyline, only to be disappointed in the end that you don’t know what happens!  Stories that don’t end in the imprisonment of all the bad guys, kissing and making up for all the “they are so perfect for each other couples” and the most hopeless of characters coming to their senses and making some good choices: I simply don’t like them.

We go to movies to escape the drudgery, the monotony and the unsettling parts of our lives and so “happy endings” in somebody else’s life seem to be such a big part of it. Without all plot lines settled in the end, we feel gypped.

In the same spirit, if we came to church this Easter morning hoping for a proclamation of the gospel where all was well in paradise, where we get the 100% perfect happy ending that we’ve been waiting for throughout the Lenten season, I have sad news for you.  In Mark’s account of the resurrection story, we don’t get it. We are left with a cliff hanging end of unforeseeable proportions. Without some further exploration of this text, we might feel like we are missing our Easter ending too.   

Though we read of the stone being rolled away, Jesus not being in the tomb and the angel appearing to the women saying, “Do not be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here” which calls for us to shout words of joy, “Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed” Mark’s account gives us no tidy ending. In fact, we are left with response that most preachers like to avoid at the end of verse 8.  The women, who heard, the news, “went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Though there’s this amazing, all-inspiring story of Jesus not being in the grave and an angel, yes dressed in a white robe telling Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome that Jesus was not there.  . .

And though the good news that Jesus had been predicting all along in his years of teaching and preaching– that yes, I’ll be crucified but on the 3rd day, I’ll arise from the grave– is coming true . . . Christ is risen (Christ is risen indeed).

And  though the women are told specifically in verse seven, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” and are given everything they need to take the next step . .

Scripture tells us that the women do nothing. They do nothing. For it is in terror and amazement of what has happened that these women say nothing.

Jesus does his part. The angel did his part. And the women were given the opportunity to respond and follow the orders. But they don’t.

And for this reason, all seems lost. All seems ruined. How about this story for a happy Easter, celebration! It is a real downer, right?

Seems like a complete sour kind of ending doesn’t it?

Such is why countless translators through the years have sought to insert an alternative ending to Mark chapter 16. If you have your Bible with you open it to Mark 16 now (or if not make a note to do so when you go home today). What you will notice is the presence of section of scripture that is known as the “alternative ending.”

And though most of Bible translations contain these sections, almost all Biblical scholars agree that the addition of Jesus’ resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalene, to the two believers traveling along the road, the giving of the Great Commission and the ascension story were all most likely added 200 years later. For none of the earliest gospel manuscripts contain them.  In fact, if we study the original Greek as it flows from verses 1-8 and then verses 9-20, we find distinct changes in tone and tense of verbs. All in all, in all thoughtfulness, we can assume that Mark meant to end his gospel at verse 8.

But what a shame! It would be so much easier to have verses 9-20 to get the happy ending that we all crave.  It would be nice to have the later commentary on the story because it wouldn’t force us to talk about resurrection in terms of how the women experienced it– in terror and amazement.

It seems so un-church-like doesn’t it to think about Easter in this way? Shouldn’t have the women been shouting, “Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!” to all their friends? Shouldn’t they been overjoyed to share Jesus, their teacher wasn’t dead? Shouldn’t have they been able to recognize in an instant how this proclamation was going to change their lives– for if Jesus had conquered death, didn’t that mean something good for them too?

But none of this was clear. None of it.

And although some Biblical commentators want to stop us at this point and make parallels between the response of the male disciples (all of those guys who fled the scene and didn’t stay with Jesus at the cross) and the female disciples (saying, hey the women messed up too– see women weren’t up to the task of following Jesus either)– I believe all of this thinking completely misses the point.

Because, really the resurrection was a lot to take in. More than these women could have ever imagined on the adventure of following Jesus.

I ask you this morning– have you ever had an experience in your life that surprised the heck out of you? I mean, really, really surprised you in a mind-blowing, “I never saw this coming” kind of way?  An experience that maybe you hoped for or even prayed for but never thought in a million years would actually come true?

Well, if you have, then, I believe that you understand how truly bewildering it was for the women to find the empty tomb that early morn.

Sure, they’d heard Jesus mentioned this was going to happen. Sure, maybe even they’d been around at the home of Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus was raised. But, deep in their hearts, it was hard to believe that such was going to happen to their beloved teacher and friend. No, Jesus couldn’t rise again. No way! Resurrection wasn’t natural. No way. Death was a final event after all. We are born, we live and we die. It is just what human beings do. How could Jesus not be in the tomb?

Eyes crusted over. Hair uncombed. Shoes on but going through the motions of walking yet not quite sure where they were going.  Tears stains still on their cheeks. Tears in their eyes ready for water works to pour at anytime as the simplest of words of memories ever-present to set them off again.  The flood of shame, of uncertainty, of anger of loss: why did this happen to their Jesus?

They were lost in a sea of unanswered questions, of last words that should have been said, that needed to be said. They were caught up in the power of grief as it came to strike them and sought to bury them too in pain that was more than they knew how to bear.

Of course they were in shock. So of course they were afraid.

One commentator even unofficially diagnoses the women with what we know in modern times as post traumatic stress– both from the trauma of the crucifixion and of the jarring news to their tear stained faces that indeed Jesus was not there. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed.  It was such good news that they just couldn’t take it all end. The women were speechless.

If you happen to be a fan of YouTube, you might already be familiar with a video of Sarah Churman that has gotten millions of hits since its posting in September of last year. Sarah was born with a rare genetic deformity that means she’s missing the hair in her inner ear that transmits sound to the brain. She was fitted with her first hearing aid at age 2, but even with that technology she could only hear some vibrations and loud noises. She compensated throughout her life by becoming adept at reading people’s lips. She’d worked so hard to compensate in other ways; the thought of being able to hear just seemed out of the realm of possibility

But in late 2011, Sarah was fitted with a device called the Esteem Inner Ear Stimulator, an implantable hearing aid for the specific kind of hearing loss Sarah suffered. On the popular YouTube video, you can see a video of Sarah Churnam hearing for the very first time at age 29.

I have to say that it is quite moving to watch. As Sarah hears for the very first time her own voice: her laugh, her tears, the sounds of others around her, it’s a reality she never could have imagined, not under any circumstances, not in any amount of time.  Not in her wildest dreams did she ever believe such would come true, but it does. And in response, she weeps. And weeps and weeps.

Imagine hearing for the first time the sound of her husband. Imagine hearing the chatter of your child for the first time.  Imagine all of this.

And when it happens, Sarah is stuck dead in her tracks for minutes, upon minutes. Smiling. Full of joy but paralyzed to move toward anything at first. Sarah’s life would never be the same.

And, likewise, paralyzed in their tracks too the women who heard the news of the resurrection were overwhelmed too. Everything they knew, believed and staked their lives on? changed.

Resurrection of their Lord begged them to consider.  What if Jesus was the real deal: God with us? What if Jesus’ healings all those years had really come from God?  What if the kingdom of God, the abundant life they’d be hoping for was real?

Resurrection clouded their view from what had always been. Resurrection shifted their gaze from their own pain to what God could do in their pain, how God could restore their broken spirits. Above all, resurrection meant they were going to have to spend some time re-learning the stories on which they’d based their life.

What if the end was not the end?

What if new life could come from the most unlikely of places?

What if God could be trusted to care, and protect and guide them their entire life through and beyond too?

And, what if God trusted them so much and all of the Christ followers to come– like us– to keep the story going?

What if the ending was not about Jesus saying or doing this or that, but people like us being a part of the world not being the same?

Then, if resurrection was real,  everything was going to have to change.  No more shrinking into the back of the crowds. No more taking the worst news at face value. No more being a second class citizen. No more being exclusive of people who looked just like them. No more.  In resurrection the world did not look the same.

And, though the ending of Mark’s gospel is still an unresolved cliff hanger, so we want to ask ourselves, what did the women do next? How long were they afraid? How long did they not say anything to anyone? With our 2000 year plus perspective,  history tells us the rest of the story. And the rest of the story is that we know the story.  We know the story because eventually they did tell the story. And upon each telling and re-telling of the good news: “Christ is risen; Christ is risen indeed” the world never looked the same. We are living the story now.

I know this morning, I’m telling most of you a story that is not unfamiliar to you at all. In fact, you hear it every year. You’ve sure got Jesus is risen thing down. You know it well. You could recite it to a friend easily, just like I did with the children sermon this morning.

But, what I wonder is resurrection real for you, more than just a word that floats off your tongue in the spring time? I need to tell you today that resurrection, my friends, is not a noun and just an excuse to have a holiday celebrate, but it is a verb that asks of us action. And it is a verb that is meant to be inserted into the sentences of our lives not only on days like today but throughout all the moments of our lives.

We are called to action because of the gift of the resurrection. We are called to the action of being storytellers of the change. To be active bearers of this good story to our families to our friends, to our communities, to anyone who will listen.

At times, this story as each and everyone one of us experiences it, is going to overwhelm us. Sure, we might just have to be quiet for awhile in awe of what life altering news might do to our plans. Sure, we might even have to do some running away from time to time to get the  enormity of emotions out of our system so we can begin to act on what we see and feel.

But, regardless our call is to tell. Our call is to be the story. Our call is to keep writing and writing the chapters of the gospel tale so that the goodness of Jesus Christ that we’ve experienced it can be experienced by others too.   

Today: I tell you because of the resurrection, we’ve got chapters to write together, we’ve got a story to finish. Come again next week because we’ve got to live out resurrection together.

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed!


April 5, 2012

What Kind of Pastor Am I?

It has been a week when people who don’t know me particularly well have asked me the question: “What kind of pastor are you?”

It’s a funny question because I know that it comes with alternative motives. It’s a litmus test question of sorts for folks to try to pin me into one theological camp or another. It’s a question that people ask usually already having their mind made up as to what I’m like before they even met me.  (I do have blonde hair, but let that not fool you!)

But no matter the motives of the hearers, I seek to answer truthfully. In honest and respectful dialogue, I hope whoever is asking the question and I can grow in relationship with one another from conversation. So, let me start:

So what kind of pastor am I?

– I am a pastor who seeks to model and lead authentic community. Going to church and being in Christian community, for me is all about being able to share one’s life without fear of judgment. I tell folks all the time, “Come to church and be yourself. Don’t worry about what you are wearing. Don’t worry about what you say. Don’t worry about having a prior understanding of faith. Just come as you are.” And for this reason, I blog. I share my life with the congregation (and others of you out there too) as a way of being accountable to the type of life I desire to lead.

– I am a pastor who thinks Christ calls us to welcome all people into the church. No matter what. And, I mean ALL people. See the mission statement on the front of our church website if you don’t believe me.  I could not go to a church that didn’t have all flavors, colors and languages of people anymore. Without people who don’t look like us in the pews and around the tables, our view of the gospel is stunned.

– I am a pastor who doesn’t think that it is my job to “lord” over the congregation. We are Baptists after all and part of what it means to be Baptist is the priesthood of all believers. I see to learn from my congregation members as much as I ask them to learn from me.

-I am a pastor who knows that living together in community is hard, but well worth the effort. It’s tough work being church, especially when disagreements arrises and feelings are hurt. But God always calls us to take the higher ground to love and support our brothers and sisters in Christ even if we don’t 100% agree with them.

-I am a pastor who may not look like, talk like, dress like or act like what you expect out of clergy, but it doesn’t make me any less called or faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ to which I cling. People tell me all the time, “You don’t look like a pastor.”  And, I always reply, “Well, come hear me preach and then decide if I look like a pastor to you then.” (Usually, minds are changed)

-I am a pastor who knows it is my job to love, care for and support the spiritual journeys of any God brings to my congregation. This means you will find me at the hospital, in homes, on the phone and talking over text with church members as needed. You can’t be a pastor unless you know your people.

-I am a hands-on pastor not afraid to work in the kitchen, bake for the Sunday lunch or attend a Bible Study even if I am not leading it. Sometimes we just need extra hands to get the job done. I’m willing to be used in whatever way if it means I’m encouraging others to learn to use their gifts for service in the church too.

– I am a pastor who isn’t afraid to speak up on issues of justice, even when this doesn’t make me the most popular person. Consider this recent challenge on fear of change that I wrote for the Associated Baptist Press.

If you are looking for a church to worship with this Easter Sunday in the Northern VA area, know that this pastor and my wonderful church can’t wait to meet you. (See our website for worship times this weekend). Together Washington Plaza and I are blazing a new trail of what the church will look like in the 21st century! It’s exciting work and I’m proud to be the pastor of my lovely, open-minded and faith seeking congregation.

April 5, 2012

Endurance to Stand

Promise in Night: Endurance to Stand

Mark 15:1-20 with Isaiah 50:4-9

As we began our service today outside, we re-enacted together what it might have felt like to be among the crowd waving palm branches and singing the praises of “Hosanna!” We shouted praises of thanksgiving for Jesus. We hailed Jesus as king. We adored his name.  

But, as we know and as we continue to follow the story from Mark’s gospel, the shouts of praise for Jesus were not the whole story.  Jesus’ darkness would soon be upon him. Soon Jesus’ courage, determination and ultimately proclamation of his Lordship would bring about his sentencing.

This is what we need to know: Jesus enters Jerusalem for the Passover fully intent on continuing the mission that was set before him at the beginning of his ministry: “bringing good news to the poor and release for the captives and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Nothing was going to change about his message of this “upside down kingdom” of the first being last and the last being first on the last week . . . no matter what kind of outside pressure Jesus got to back down. 

But, as we know, none of this was really acceptable in the eyes of those who were hanging their hat on getting something really good at the end of this adventure of following Jesus.  We know the disciples scattered and denied knowing him.  

Judas, the money keeper, led the high priests to send guards to arrest him.  Peter trailed behind and say, “I do not know this man.”

And, Jesus certainly wasn’t winning him any support in the crowds either as the accusations were brought up– no one wanted to say that they knew or loved him. And though the high priests found fault with him, they had no power to sentence him to die. We see in verse 1 of chapter 15 of Mark’s gospel that the elders, teachers of the law, and the whole Sanhedrin reached a decision, “They bound Jesus and led him way and handed him over to Pilate.”

In the Roman Empire the justice system made no provisions for a trial by jury. It was up to the ruler in charge to decide how he would judge cases. Therefore, after conferring with the religious leaders who brought the charges against Jesus, Pilate, the Roman administrative official, proposed to flog Jesus for his unlawful teaching and release him. But he looked to the crowds for moral support. Not acting as Pilate expected, the crowds strongly disagreed with anything other than the ultimate punishment under Roman law.  As defiantly as Pilate said Jesus does not deserve death, the crowds demand for Barabbas’ (a convicted criminal) release and shout loudly: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

Let’s stay here at these words: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” and notice how quickly the crowds who said “Hosanna” changed their tune. We find that spiritual maturity was at an all time low in the land. Although Jesus healed the sick, helped the lame, and blessed the children, it didn’t matter. It was if they just completely forgot the belovedness of their teacher– and were caught up in the emotions of the moment. With ease, they said with their words, “Jesus, we want you gone!” It was the dark night of soul– betrayal at a corporate level! It was a moment when the suffering for Jesus went to an even deeper level.

So, what was Jesus’ promise in the night now?

If you’ve stuck with me throughout Lent, you begin thinking that in the face of the horridness of crucifixion to come, there possibly couldn’t be a promise for Jesus at this juncture! We must have run out of promises by now!

But, such is not the case when we peer into our Old Testament lesson for this morning from the book of Isaiah.  As the children of Israel continued to deal with the ongoing disappointments, frustrations and shouts of “How long O Lord?” are you going to make us wait in Babylon in exile, hope seemed lost. They basically were shouting “We want to go home!” 

Verse 6  of Isaiah 50 serves as the center piece of the Israel narrative telling us from a personal perspective what it feels like to be in the midst of a time of deep loss and pain. And though the desire to give in, give up, or simple fall under pressure arises, Israel is asked to be strong. Israel is asked to actively wait. Israel is asked to stand and move through their sufferings through resistance that is not self-seeking, but resistance that sees the bigger picture.

Verse six says, with a collective voice for Israel speaking: “I have my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.”

With some consideration in mind for the trials of the life of Israel at this time, it seems odd doesn’t it that they’d be boasting of “turning the other cheek?” We might even call this weakness. But, courage comes it seems to remain in this posture, why? Because look with me at verse 7: “The LORD God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.”

In a nutshell, Israel remains committed to enduring the injustice in an active way– for the only way to faithfulness is to move their way through the suffering is to simply keep standing.  Why? We hear the testimony of the Lord being with them.

If we go back to our gospel for this morning, we see this promise lived out in Jesus as he stays grounded in himself– no matter who spoke ill against him. For there was no amount of shouting, no amount of mockery, no amount of  physical pain would change him or set him off course of fulfilling his mission.  With Jesus:

There would be no overt shows of power for power’s sake.

There would be no reigning down the heavenly lights to slay the captors which spoke ill of him.

There would be no dueling or “I’m better than you” contests between Jesus and his adversaries.

Jesus remained steadfast in suffering.

Do you really get this part of the story? I mean, I know I’m talking to several folks who have been in church their entire lives, but do you really get the point that Jesus could have done anything to save himself, to defend his honor to command his disciples to get their butts out of hiding and come protect him– yet he doesn’t?

If we were to sum up the actions of Jesus during this dark night of the soul, we’d have to say that he modeled for a God-fearing response to suffering as he clung to the promise of “Endurance to Stand.”

No matter what. No matter why. No matter how long. Jesus stands. Jesus faces his sufferings head on.

When we think about our own experiences, it is true, like Jesus, we all know a thing or two about situations that are unfair.

Anyone experience a back-stabbing loss lately?

Anyone experience a life-threatening illness lately?

Anyone experience the lonely nights of grief lately? I see many faces nodding back at me in affirmation.

But, while true, as we were discussing in our Wednesday night grief class recently, few of us (if any) have faced suffering to the decree that it threatened to end our life as Jesus did in this reading of our scripture this morning.   Few (if any) of us have been asked to make the choice of either our faith or our life again, as Jesus experienced. But, such has not be the case of all Christ followers throughout the centuries.

Consider the Civil Rights movement in our country over the last century and the suffering evoked for many as a result. It was a time in our history when making stands for racial equality in the name of one’s faith, easily could have cost you your life.

Under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, especially, hundreds, then thousands, then ten thousands, of folks took stands for freedom for all, putting their own lives in danger.  But they did so not the way that their adversaries expected.  No militia formed. No battle plan of warfare was drawn. No slogans of “We really hate you, oppressive white folks” were placed on protest posters. No, a revolutionary campaign of non-violent resistance began through boycotts, marches and speeches. But, not without some push back from community leaders who thought this approach of standing tall and not backing down to fear or to violence was pointless.  Dr. King had some explaining to do. During the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1957, Dr. King sought to give theological perspective to simply standing strong saying:

A nonviolent resister does not seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent but to win his friendship and understanding. This was always a cry that we had to set before people that our aim is not to defeat the white community, not to humiliate the white community, but to win the friendship of all of the persons who had perpetrated this system in the past.[i]

And, yes, as we know from history, there was suffering to the non-violent protests for civil rights. That while yes, friendships across racial lines were formed and while, human dignity was restored to many, it wasn’t the whole story. Martin Luther King, Jr. and friends spent nights in jail. Dogs and fire hoses were directed toward school children. It led to the senseless death of four little girls in Sunday School class in Birmingham.  And the list could go on. Suffering came.  And it wasn’t pretty. We know Dr. King eventually lost his life in the fight.

Teresa of Ávila, the sixteenth century mystical writer, knew of this wrestling with life-threatening suffering.

In a particularly difficult moment of her life she was forced to cross a river while sick with fever. She raised her voice of complaint heavenward, “Lord, amid so many ills this comes on top of all the rest!” A voiced responded, “This is how I treat my friends.” “Ah, my God!” Teresa retorted, “That is why you have so few of them!”[ii]

In the same way, when we too continue to grow in our faith and walk in the footsteps of our Lord, I believe, much like Jesus, and like our forefathers and foremothers in the faith, we too will face suffering that it must to our distaste. Our suffering too will be longer. It will be more painful. It will cost us more than we ever could have imagined. It will force us to rooms filled with darkness that we’d rather overlook than deal with head on.  But, as friends of God– it doesn’t matter, suffering is just a part of the human condition, even as Jesus lived it.

But, as followers of Jesus, as we suffer, is does not come without comfort. We are given the courage to actively say “no” to what is unjust even if pain still comes. We are not asked to lose our souls in the process. We are given endurance by our Lord to stand through it and to know that even if death comes, resurrection is on its way.

Look with me again at verse 8 of Isaiah 50. The prophet speaks of the shared communion in sufferings as he writes, “Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me.”

Let us stand up together– the Lord says!

When insults are thrown against us,  we can say because of the Lord, “I’m going to stand!”

When gossip is hurled against us, we can say because of the Lord, “I’m going to stand!”

When our best friends reject us and leave us alone, we can say because of the Lord, “I’m going to stand!”

When our words of testimony at work about our faith cause others to mock us, we can say because of the Lord, “I am going to stand!”

Some may feel it is in the fine print of the Christian contract (all this business about suffering), but following Jesus is anything but safe, I must remind you! The prophecy of Isaiah puts a sharp question to its readers, “Will you identify yourself with the suffering One?”

Jesus stood and now today invites us to stand too.

Today, I ask you, will you follow this Jesus?  Will you commit to stand with him even if the night is long? Will you commit this week in a practical to go with him to the cross– all the way– even if it means taking time off of work, leaving some home chores undone or even changing some travel plans so that you can attend our Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services coming up this week?

The blessedness of our promise for this  morning is that as much as we are willing to stand with Jesus, Jesus is willing to also stand with us.

So, today, let us come to this table together and share of the meal that reminds us that we are not alone, we worship the one who says to us, no matter what trials find our way, that we are not without grace to keep going. Our suffering is not useless. For, we are standing together with our Lord. Therefore, no matter what may come, no matter what may go we have this promise in our night: Jesus says to us, “I’m giving you endurance to stand with me.”


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