Where’s the Pastor?

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This week, if you go to Community Christian Church, I will not be there. Without a doubt, some will ask: where is the pastor?

Whenever a minister takes time away from the church, this question is asked.

It’s because, as a church, we do life together. We are there for one another during hospital stays, journeys through grief, new births, preparation for weddings, daily wrestlings, and life’s joys.

For the first time, I will be away from the church for multiple days in a row.

But I’m not on a vacation this week. Instead, I am in Dallas, Texas with a group called the Bethany Fellows.

In the New Testament, Bethany was a place for the sick and the poor in spirit to go for refuge.

It was on the holy ground of Bethany that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

It was in the warm, compassionate place of Bethany where Mary anointed Jesus with oil.

In the week after Palm Sunday before the crucifixion, Jesus prayed, broke bread with friends, and prepared for his greatest hardship in the safety of Bethany.

This week, along with 30 other young ministers, I am spending time in my own Bethany.

I am part of a fellowship program that allows ministers to find a place of refuge twice a year in their first 5 years of ministry.

On each of these retreats, I stay in a monastery. I meet with my ministry mentor for spiritual direction. I travel to thriving churches to workshop with their pastors. I study best practices and most successful initiatives in these churches so that I can bring them back to CCC. I meet in a small group with other ministers to discuss what we are doing in our local congregations.

Most importantly, we spend 24 hours in silence in the middle of the week. This is an opportunity for us to encounter God, to realign ourselves with our own spiritual health, and to gain endurance for the long road of vocational ministry.

These retreats are fully funded by a Lilly foundation grant. The only cost for us is our travel to and from the city where we will be in retreat.

So, I invite your prayers this week as I go to that place of Bethany. This holy sanctuary of healing, refuge, and prayer strengthens my soul. And while I am away, I will certainly be praying for all of you: my beloved church family, my friends, and the witnesses of my ministry.

To learn more about the Bethany Fellows, check out: http://www.bethanyfellows.org

Note: photograph taken from http://www.montserratretreat.org

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Submerged Under Water (A Few Thoughts on Resurrection)

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+ Romans 6:4 “We are buried with Christ through baptism into death so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of God, we too, may live a new life…”

On Easter morning, we baptized 5 of our young disciples. Parents and grandparents and friends gathered to witness this wonderful event.

This was a reenactment of the resurrection…

On Easter morning, I asked each of these young people: Do you believe in a living God, a redeeming Christ, and an inspiring Holy Spirit? And they said yes.

With that, I lifted them down into the deep, holy waters of our baptistery. And then, I raised them up to their whole cloud of witnesses at the church.

But across the world in South Korea, in this very same weekend, other parents, other grandparents and friends wait and grieve as they, too, witnessed their young people submerged under deep waters.

A ship of 475 passengers took a sharp turn in a fast current and began to tip over. Reports say that the captain waited 30 minutes to order an evacuation.

Nearly 175 passengers, including the captain and many crew members escaped.

But 100 were lost in this accident, and 200 are still missing.

They say families of those lost can be heard crying and wailing loudly on the shores.

The sorrow is deep among these witnesses… these parents. It’s as if they stand at the foot of the cross…

After Jesus carried the heavy cross through Jerusalem, he was brought to a hill on Calvary, and there, his loved ones wept. There, the sounds of piercing cries and screams from his mother who wept for her son could be heard.

Then, early, on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb of her Rabbi. It was still dark. She came to grieve, she came to pay tribute and keep vigil with her beloved who had died.

But when she arrives, the stone that covered the tomb was rolled away…

This resurrection story continues to whisper good news: Tombs will be emptied. All of the tears in our eyes will be wiped away. Hope will be restored. Even out of death, God will draw out life, and strength, and new beginnings.

When Christ was lowered into the tomb, into the burial waters, he went with his arms wide open. Jesus outstretched his arms to reach for all of God’s people.

Under those burial waters, he reached for the 200 still missing in the ocean off the Coast of South Korea and gathered them close, he reached for our mothers, fathers, grandparents, and lost friends. Jesus reached for all those who we have loved and lost.

And with one embrace, with one holy act of love through resurrection, Christ has carried all those we have loved and lost into the presence of God.

In Eastertide, we celebrate empty tombs, we celebrate the arms of Christ that reach around the whole world.

The good news of Easter is this- every tomb will be emptied because Christ has put death to death with those outstretched arms of hope.

 

Maundy Thursday (Shaped Through Communion)

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“… and God, be with all those who are hungry tonight, who do not break bread with their friends like we do. Help us remember them. Amen.”

Those were the final words prayed by one of the 11-year-olds in my Pastor’s Class last Saturday night.

We gathered in my home for a meal of hot enchiladas followed by ice cream with chocolate sauce. We planned this evening as a celebration of the end of our 6 week intensive study of Christianity, God, and Jesus. We laughed. We recalled everything that the class learned so far. These young, bright souls can tell you a lot about Jesus.

If you say: what is a parable? They can answer.

If you ask them to tell you about miracles from the gospels-they will tell you about crowds of 5,000 being fed, men with leprosy being healed, and their all-time favorite: Jesus spitting in the dirt and making mud to wipe in the eyes of a blind man to give him sight…

When we gathered last Saturday, before feasting ourselves, we explored communion. We wanted to go way back and learn about the Passover festival that brought thousands of people into Jerusalem long ago on the last week of Christ’s life. We studied passages about that Passover meal from the gospels of Luke and Matthew. We read the words of institution through scripture.

And then, on one side of my living room: I set up a little altar- and I invited each of the Pastor’s Class kids to say the words of institution while breaking bread and blessing the cup. I invited them to say a prayer. And finally, each participant served communion to their mentor that night.

One by one, these kids went to the altar as we all gathered as a small congregation in my living room. And one by one, they would say these words from the Gospel of Matthew: after the supper Jesus took a loaf of bread…

On a Saturday night, we spent time in my living room writing prayers, serving communion and talking about God…

Again, tonight, my church came to the altar to remember that Passover meal. We read scriptures, we prayed, we served communion and we slowly put out the lights- one candle at a time…

Tonight, we remember the Passover meal shared between friends long ago. We remember the many generations of people who have come together at a table to break bread and remember God’s abundance and grace even in the midst of our brokenness.

My own understanding of the Passover meal deepened as I saw young people preside at the table on Saturday.

They spoke and prayed and served with such reverence. They approached the table with such anticipation and hope.

They reminded me of what we are all called to do every time we remember the Passover Meal that Jesus shared with his disciples: we break bread for everything in the world that is still broken, we share the cup in honor of the deep thirst still present among us… and we pray for our neighbors.

May we all be strengthened by this reminder tonight, as we honor Maundy Thursday.

Shaped Through Tears

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+ John 11: 32-33 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.

We dedicated prayer shawls at Community Christian Church on Sunday.

These shawls wrap around us in times of deep pain, agonizing grief, and exhausting journeys of recovery. Sometimes, these prayer shawls hold the first tears of a new born baby. Sometimes these shawls hold the seemingly endless tears in the years after we lose someone we love.

Even though we blessed these prayer shawls on Sunday, we do not always honor tears in our culture. Instead, we love to offer cliché responses to suffering.

Sometimes, I hear people say: “I am not going to cry about this loss, because my loved one is with God now, in a better place, so I will celebrate!”

We often bury our grief.

But to do this—to avoid weeping and grieving for those we love– is to do something that Jesus himself could not do. On Sunday, we lingered in the scripture about Lazarus’ death. This is the story of Jesus himself losing someone he loved deeply.

Most of the time when we hear this story about Lazarus, we skip right to the next part where Jesus brings him back to life- another miracle, another sign of resurrection, another indication that Easter is coming and that all things are possible with God.

But I want to focus on the incredible moment in the scriptures that plays out when Mary finds Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus- when they both come face to face with the pain and grief of the moment.

When Mary heard Jesus was at the tomb, she went to find him and when she found Jesus, she fell to her knees. Mary must have grabbed tightly to the soft, warm robe surrounding Jesus that day.

And right there, in the middle of the road in a town called Bethany, she buried her face into the stitches of that soft surface and cried.

This warm shawl of Christ must have been full of prayers and hope in each stitch. I imagine she curled into a ball with that shawl pressed to her face, and then, she filled it with tears.

And there, standing beside her was Jesus- weeping too.

This is beautiful, vulnerable, tenderhearted image of God incarnate, weeping right there in the middle of the street with Mary as she grieved.

Isn’t this still true today?

Was Christ’s robe one of the first prayer shawls offered to someone who grieves?

Slipped into the Gospel, between stories of Christ’s teaching and the mystery of resurrection, we must take time to fully grasp the moment where Christ stands right beside us to weep.

May we all remember this gentle, compassionate, tender side of Christ, and may we be strengthened by this image of the divine.

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