We Remember – Memorial Day Reflection

Photo taken June 29, 2019 Arlington, VA

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to summer. The grill will be pulled out of the garage, the boat will be gassed up, and the ice cream makers will start churning. 

Of course, there is a deeper meaning to this weekend. It is one that we would do well to remember. 

Memorial Day has its roots in the commemoration of Union Soldiers who gave their lives in the Civil War. It has since expanded to a day of tribute to the dead soldiers of all the nation’s wars. It is a holiday of remembrance.

The remembrance that is being asked of us is more than nostalgic reflection on former days. It is an active remembering of making present the memory of the past. 

Active remembering of the sacrifices made gives us hope for a better tomorrow. We remember the sacrifices in order that we may be hopeful for tomorrow.

It is a remembrance that has us praying toward a future where “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore“ (Isaiah 2:4). 

A world where “swords are turned into plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4). 

It is this type of remembering that evokes the imagination to consider a future with no more war. 

This weekend, we remember. We express gratitude. And we pray. 

Prayer: 

Almighty God and most merciful Father, as we remember with gratitude the courage and strength of the fallen soldiers. We hold before you those who mourn them. 

Help us to remember the sacrifices bravely made.

Help us to remember those that stand in the breach where conflict threatens freedom and liberty of all people. 

Help us to remember that we look for the day when every sword will be replaced by a plow and all live in your peace.

Forgive us every sin that makes for division and for war, and bring us all into your kingdom on earth as in heaven.

In the name of Jesus we pray Amen. 

Small Things

daisyHave you ever heard the phrase, “Don’t sweat the small stuff?”

What if it is the small stuff that is damaging our relationships? The weight of small things may be the symptom of a larger need.

A dirty sock constantly left on the floor can turn into “you don’t listen to me, you don’t respect me.”

By taking the time to sweat through the small things, we are better prepared to handle the larger challenges confronting our relationships.

In Luke 16:10 Jesus says, “If you’re honest in small things, you’ll be honest in big things.”

Working through the small things in a relationship builds trust and greater trust brings deeper intimacy.

We love through small acts.

What small things do you need to pay attention to today to make your relationship healthier tomorrow?

Prayer for the week:

Loving God, let your blessing fall upon those who serve neighbors without reward, who weep with friends, and who forgive seventy times seven. Be with us all this day and help us to be attentive to the small things before they turn into big things. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Holy Saturday

IMG_4650

I admit that I have never given much thought to the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter. As Jesus lay in the tomb, I have gone about my day picking up groceries for Easter lunch and last minute gifts for my children. But this year is different.

I woke up today in what felt like a season of heavy waiting. Waiting for it to be over? Waiting for what’s next? Waiting for what I am not sure. I am just waiting.

For the first followers of Jesus, it was a day of Sabbath rest.  Jesus is dead and buried. Everyone has gone home.

Jesus was dead. The Gospel of Mark wants to make the point when he says, “Pilate couldn’t believe that Jesus was already dead, so he called for the Roman officer and asked if he had died yet. The officer confirmed that Jesus was dead” (Mark 15: 44-45). Jesus was dead.

On the back side of the resurrection, Holy Saturday is a day that sits between two polar opposites. Between death and life. Between sadness and joy. Between what has been and what will be.

It is a day that describes those who sit in grief. I believe a lot of the angst we are experiencing during Covid-19 is because as a culture we have forgotten how to grieve. We want to simply fix it and get over it. Like everything else we do in modern Western society, we view grief as a problem to be solved. Patch it up and let’s move on.

Megan Devine in her book “It’s OK That You Are Not Ok” writes, “The most effective and efficient way to be “safe” in this world is to stop denying that hard and impossible things happen.” She continues, “Real safety is in entering each other’s pain, recognizing ourselves in it.”

Holy Saturday reminds us that grief is not a problem to be solved. It is an experience to be carried. There is no need to rush redemption. Yes, Sunday is coming but acknowledging and naming the grief before us makes resurrection all the more meaningful.

What gives me hope on this Holy Saturday in the midst of Covid-19 is said best by the poet Wendell Berry when he says, “I take literally the statement in the Gospel of John that God loves the world. I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love. I believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always toward wholeness, which ultimately is reconciliation and atonement with God.”

Friends, Sunday is coming!

Be blessed!

Good Friday Meditation

IMG_4895

Good Friday exist between the “Hosannas” of Palm Sunday and the “Hallelujahs” of Easter morning.

“No one has greater love than this,” he said on the last night of his life, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Having explained this to his friends, he leaves the room to go prove it. Less than twenty-four hours later, it was finished

The cross of Calvary is the place where God, having become flesh in Jesus, took upon himself the brokenness of our fallen world. God did not create a fallen world. We made this mess. Instead of abandoning us to our own transgressions, God chose to reach over an infinite chasm of justice and love and wrap us in mercy. The cross is God’s victory over darkness. From it, we see a love that can only come from God. On the cross we see dying love, and we recognize it as the undying love of God.

Seen from the light of Easter, the Crucifixion is the turning point in history. It is the moment when all the evil and pain of all the world is heaped into one place and there dealt with once and for all. “For God so love the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16).

As we struggle with the isolation and despair that we are all experiencing, I am reminded of the beginning of Psalm 130, “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord!” The writer has found himself in a deep place. A place that he didn’t expect. A place that is fearful, dark, and that echoes with every scream. A place not of his choosing but a place he has found nonetheless. It is in this dark place that he cries out, “Lord, hear my voice.”

The cross teaches us that God is with us in those deep places. God has come among us in the dark places.

The Psalmist words are our words. They are the words of a parent who has lost a child, a couple who has lost a house to a fire, a daughter who is losing her father to sickness, an employee who has been laid off, a parent waiting for the prodigal son to come home, the wife who feels betrayed, the husband who calls for divorce, the child who has been abandoned, the homeless family, the hungry. “Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!” God hears our voice in the depths because God is with us in the depths.

Let me say this……..God is not the kind of God that thinks you and me so awful and horrible that we should get what is coming to us, death and destruction. Instead, God thinks you and me are so beautiful, so precious that our redemption is worth dying for.

At the end his book, What Jesus Meant, Gary Wills comes to Good Friday. He writes, “Dark and mysterious as the whole matter of the Incarnation and the Passion, perhaps a single thing can help us think of them.” He then shares a personal account of a conversation that he had with his son. His young son woke up one night crying. He had a bad dream, a nightmare. When Wills asked what was troubling him, the little boy said that an adult had told a group of children that they would end up in hell if they sinned. “Am I going to hell?” the little boy asked his father. Wills writes, “There is not an ounce of heroism in my nature, but I instantly announced what any father, any parent would: ‘All I can say is that if you’re going there, I’m going with you.”

On this Good Friday, Jesus says, “There is no place – no hell, no suffering, no threat, no virus and not even death that if you are going, I am going with you.” Only God can love like that.

Letting Go of Expectations

03AD8532-3069-4B9E-8D8D-700474350A64

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—the King of Israel!’” (John 12: 12 – 13). 

The waving of palm branches and shouts of “hosanna” are signs of expectations. The first king of Israel, David, rode a donkey as a humble animal reflecting his identity as a shepherd king, The prophet Zechariah, five hundred years before Jesus would ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, promised, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9).

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Is taken directly from Psalm 118. It is a psalm written to welcome kings back to Jerusalem as they returned form a victorious from war. The crowd would place that image onto Jesus as he comes riding into town. The people are recognizing him as king and liberator. Expectations are high.

And yet their expectations go out the window, as the Jesus parade keeps moving. He rides past Pilate’s headquarters, no overthrow of power. His parade takes him to the temple where he makes a mess by turning over tables and passes judgment on the way their religion is being practiced. His ride takes him through the city of Jerusalem to outside the city gates to a hill called Calvary. The same crowd that shouted hosanna on Sunday will be the same ones who shout crucify him on Friday.

Expectations shattered.

He is a humble king whose way of ruling is the way of love.

It is a love that we will miss if we don’t let go of our expectations of what type of savior we think we need. Don’t let your expectations keep you from experiencing the love of God. Don’t let your assumptions of what you think God is supposed to be doing in this time to keep you from receiving what God has for you.

I know we all want normal. I want normal. I want to get back to living with clearly defined boundaries that keep everything nicely in place. I need a box for everything including God. But if Palm Sunday in a time of quarantine teaches us anything, it is that our expectations are sometimes wrong. Don’t let what you possess, possess you. Don’t let what you have come to define as normal, keep you from the new life that God wants to give you.

What expectation of normalcy do you need to lay down? What possession that has possessed you do you need to release? What sin do you need to lay down? What habit do you need to surrender? What assumptions do you need to just let go of?

One Word New Year

What if one word had the power to set the direction of your life?

What if instead of a list of New Year’s resolutions, you considered setting the course of your life based on one word?

What word would you chose for 2020?

For me, it is the word “intentional.” I want to live a life that focuses on being intentional on loving those in front of me, intentional in my work, and intentional with my time.

What about you? What word would give you the focus needed on becoming the person you want to become?

What is your word?

Going On a Bear Hunt

When my kids were younger the choice bedtime book was “We’re Going On a Bear Hunt”. The classic book describes a family going through the elements of nature in search of a bear.

On weekend hiking trips we would turn the story into a fun game of searching for an imaginary bear. We have been chased by bears. But mostly our occasions were spent hunting bears.

As a family hunting our imaginary bear, I tell myself this is crazy. Normal people don’t chase bears, they run away from them.

Sometimes we discover that the biggest risks bring the greatest opportunities. I have realized that taking no risks is the greatest risk of all.

As you set out to make resolutions this New Year, ask yourself, “What bears in your life need to be chased?” What opportunities need to be taken?

Let’s go into the New Year boldly declaring, “I’m going on a bear hunt, I’m going to catch a big one!”

What bears are you chasing this year?

The World Was Not Worthy

church (1 of 1)

Do you know what has gone to the wayside in our society? The photo album. When was the last time you sat down with the family and thumbed through an old collection of photos? I can’t remember.

The author of Hebrews is pulling out the photo album in chapter eleven. The author is flipping through the old family of faith photos and reminiscing on long-gone loved ones whose sojourn has made this world a better place.

He/she comes to the end and says, “They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them” (Hebrews 11: 37-38).

Every year on November 1, Christians around the world observe All Saints Day, which honors all saints of the church that have attained heaven. In my tradition, United Methodist, the first Sunday in November is the day to recognize All Saints Day. It is a day of remembrance, to recall the loved ones lost over the past year, to collectively remember the faithfulness of God in life and death, and that there is a future with hope, with God’s reign enduring forever. We will call out the names of those who have passed away, light a candle, and ring a bell in their honor.

In some ways they are the ones that “the world was not worthy.” They suffered much, they loved deeply, and they kept the faith. They kept promises and remained steadfast. We can probably list a multitude of reasons why we were not worthy of their time, presence, and love. And yet, God gifted them to us.

inside church (1 of 1)

The late William Stringfellow described saints as “those men and women who relish the event of life as a gift and who realize that the only way to honor such a gift is to give it away.”

They are the ones who have taught us that despair is no way to live. Hope is what keeps the heart beating. A life of judgment doesn’t go near as far as a life of forgiveness. Tearing down others is destructive but building up one another makes a community. Loving will always take one further than hate.

We are not worthy of their gifts. And yet, without them our walk toward sainthood would not be complete.