Sunday, March 23, 2014

Listening to the Voice of Jesus.

I haven't posted in a few days. Lenten Fail. But as I tell folks I encounter in the hospital and nursing home; We believe in a God of forgiveness... So here is a sermonette I will be giving at work this week. Enjoy.

         This weekend I had the chance to take my confirmation class to a service at a pentecostal church. It was quite a change from the traditional presbyterian worship we are used to and for the kids in the class it was quiet the change and almost shocking. If you aren't familiar with the Pentecostal church, a focus of much of their belief is focused on the third person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit.
But the focus of our scripture this afternoon is Jesus. Who Jesus is, what authority he has, and what happens after the final resurrection.  Jesus in our passage is talking about the time that is coming when he will call out to the dead. And those dead shall hear his voice and they’ll live again! Pretty impressive stuff right? To think that something that is dead may live again?
But what if those who Jesus is speaking of here are not actually dead? If they haven’t really ceased to be? In studying John I have read and heard John’s Gospel described as the “Spiritual” Gospel. The other three clearly are similar and systematically lay out who Jesus was, what he did and why he did it. John; takes a spiritual road. In John, God is Love, and Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness to show that love. Jesus here in our passage is life giver and life bringer, he will raise the dead to life and be their judge. 
Jesus used the word dead in two senses in this passage. He uses it to address those who are spiritually dead, and also to address those who truly are dead but will be raised on the Judgement Day.  I want to focus on spiritual death. Jesus main focus is to those around him who have stopped trying, stopped listening and stopped feeling and stopped repenting. These are all things that someone who is physically alive SHOULD do, but doesn't ALWAYS do. 
Having faith in Jesus requires we have an active faith. A faith that hears Jesus’ voice, and then feels the spirit move that faith into action. John’s Gospel is the Gospel of Jesus’ “I am” statements. I am the vine… I am the bread of life…We then should be a people of “We are…” We are followers of Christ. We are redeemed.  When we come before Christ on that day, will he say well done, good and faithful servant? Or will he say why did you stop trying listening and feeling for others.
In sitting down to write this meditation for today, I thought about that visit to the pentecostal church. IF anything, they are spirit filled. Something we Presbyterians (my ordaining denomination) aren’t used to.   But the preacher touched on the most famous verse of scripture. A scripture that sums up John’s larger context of Love. God so loved the world he sent his only begotten Son.(John 3:16) Will we hear the voice of the Son and be raised from the dead? Will we be filled with the spirit?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Green Beer and Lent.

Today marks Saint Patrick's Day. 

So what do green beer, parades, Leprechaun's, snakes and all things Irish have to do with the saint we call Patrick? Absolutely Nothing!

Patrick was actually Scottish (possibly Welsh or English, depending on your source) who as a boy was taken into slavery in Ireland. Only after escaping at 20 and returning to Britain did Patrick become a bishop and return to Ireland as a missionary. Read some history here and here.

But what can we learn from St Patrick.  We can learn how it means to truly be a follower of Christ. How we can love our enemies as our neighbors. Going back to minister to those who enslaved you is pretty radical showing of God's love. We can learn to be rooted in the mystery of the trinity and work of Christ.

"I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ's incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan River;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spiced tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger."

St. Patrick's "Breastplate Prayer."1

Friday, March 14, 2014


There are certain times in our day or in our lives that can be routine. We can get seem to be stuck in the same old thing, doing the mundane of life.

We have our daily "to-do lists." Our morning stop for coffee on the way to work, reaching for our iPhone to check Facebook as soon as we wake up.(Guilty as charged)Taking a moment to thank God for that breath, coffee or phone.  Little or big things that we do, subconsciously or not, that define our days.

Now I sit here writing this in my office, realizing as I drink my coffee and check my usually websites before doing the task of visitations. The mundane can take a big chunk out of our day. For me, this blog is an intentional break from the mundane. Its a break from my routine, and a chance for me to work out my thoughts with whom ever actually reads it. Anyone? Buehler....Buehler?

And thats the thing about this serious yet joyous time of Lent. This seriously joyous time of Lent. Its a time to intentionally break from our routine. To break from our mundanity and to focus ourselves inwardly and on the cross.  So take a moment in your day and ask: Is this thing mundane and why? And how can I use the mundane to learn about myself and God.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."  James 1:2-4 (NIV; my emphasis added)

Monday, March 10, 2014

It was Good.

Yesterday I spent the day with a good friend walking through the Cloisters in New York City. It's a great part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and was built from the bones of 5 cloisters in Europe. Click here to check it out and plan a trip! We saw dead people. Okay, not really but we saw tombs. I spent the time in contemplative  thought in the various chapels and looking at religious art. 

It was a very nice day, and refreshing for my lenten journey. I felt a connection to the great history of spiritual observance and imagery of the church. There is a great beauty of having the stories of the bible and the passion of Christ presented on the detail of stone sculpture or simple wooden cross. 

I feel that we as protestants tend to shy away from Liturgical art. The whole graven images/idolatry issue.  But there is something to be said for medieval church art. Not only was it a tool of the church to teach illiterate congregants, but it served as a reminder to focus our eyes and hearts to things not of this world. It evoked raw emotion, emotion that then connects us with the divine. 

I encourage you this lent to look for the beautiful. Yes Lent is at time to strip away things that can distract us from our attempt to walk with Christ. But that doesn't mean that God hasn't put a few flowers along the road. Look at them, smell them. Be reminded that God's creation is good and right and beautiful.

"God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day." Genesis 1:31

Friday, March 7, 2014

God is (T)here!

Yesterday I sat in my office at the nursing home towards the end of the day I had the chance to chat with the daughter of a resident. I had grown close to this resident, and this week the resident passed away. Her daughter had been in that day collecting items and preparing to empty her mom's apartment; and she stopped in to thank me for helping out her mom. (Mom having struggled with bi-polar disorder and all that that entails)

During our chat the daughter was thanking me for being part of her moms life and bringing her comfort. All very nice compliments, but I had to thank her as well for the honor I had to be part of her mom's life; truly we were both better for our relationship. That's the great part of chaplaincy, you get to share in people's spiritual and life journeys, however brief that walk together may be.

That's kind of what Lent is about. Yes, its a time to remember that we are created beings. To remember that we are flawed beings. That we are beings attempting to live up to Christ's standard.  AND we are loved. We are redeemed.

Lent is a time for personal introspection and personal spiritual fine tuning. BUT we get to do it together! We're told to do it together.(Romans 12, Galatians 6) Where ever two or more are gathered, I am  there among them. (Matt 18:20) We are meant to walk together. It's in our spiritual DNA. For in our shared experience, God is there!

"5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.....8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you."-Philippians 4:5,8-9

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Yay! It's Springtime!

Before you call me crazy and tell me to look outside at the foot of frozen snow we still have outside, let me say again Yay it's springtime! Yes, I know officially, spring doesn't start until March 20th or the spring equinox.

But for those of us observing the Christian calender and the period of fasting before Easter, we call it Lent. And Lent in old English means spring. So, there's that. It's Spring; be happy.

Lent is perhaps the most serious season in the Church calender. We take time to pray and fast. We consider our mortality and our sinfulness. We take time to look within ourselves. We look to do penitence and confession. (Scary Roman Catholic-y sounding words for some of my Protestant friends I am sure). But, they are biblical, and they focus us towards Christ. We are called to look at our lives and examine them in light of the one we call Lord. Its a good time to be honest with ourselves and with God.

So this Lent I suggest you take some time to earnestly pray and examine yourself. Rather than saying I give up french fries for Lent, ask yourself what deep dark dirty thing in your life you want to work with God to change. And then fail. And then try again. God honestly wants you journey with you to the cross, so that those deep dirty things can be left at the foot of the cross while we walk with the resurrected Jesus.

Oh, and if you tell me you are giving up chocolate for Lent....I'm walking away.( But you can follow me and we can discuss what to really give up.) This Lent, be serious. Commit to serious discipleship and the hard work that entails. BUT; be happy. Easter is coming. The resurrected Christ is coming. We are a people of "Yes, but not yet!"

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why all the smudges? Or, why we should celebrate Ash Wednesday

Growing up as a kid, like many kids, I paid no mind the the church calendar. Unless it was Christmas. I was a kid after all. When I was in high school, I began to explore my faith. I was enrolled in a Catholic school, while being confirmed into a Presbyterian Church.  That's when I began to notice the weird (to me) practice every Lent of my classmates walking around with smudges of ash on their forehead. 

So what exactly is Ash Wednesday.  For some of my Protestant friends, yes I agree, there is no biblical directive for us to celebrate Ash Wednesday. Just like there isn't a directive to celebrate Christmas or Easter. But there is at its core a great biblical theology of creation, sin, our mortality, grace and death.  It calls us to community in our shared brokenness and the humility of our mortality. 

The last few Ash Wednesdays I have spent imposing ashes in a major Hospital in the City. The same hospital that I did my chaplaincy training and now work as a per diem chaplain as an ordained Presbyterian chaplain.  The picture below is my thumb, after only half a day imposing ashes.

What I appreciate the most about Ash Wednesday it calls us to reflect on our shared frailty and brokenness. We come together and confess our sins, as a community, and visibly display our recognition that we are mere carbon based beings that return to that dirty red clay. (That's a Genesis reference)

But thats the great thing. We follow a gracious God. A God that took on our brokenness on the Cross of Jesus. And it's the road to that cross, and the resurrection story that we begin to reflect and pray about on Ash Wednesday.  We take the time to reflect on the sacrifice and the service of our savior Jesus Christ and to attempt, however much we fail, to live a life that models his grace and love. 

As I said to those I met today, I leave with you today: Remember that you are dust; and to dust you will return. And remember that our God is with you. 

By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, 
since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return." Genesis 3:19 NIV