Celebrating Easter in Hyrule and Eden (UT)

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We are now counting down the days the end of the most wonderful season of the liturgical calendar year.  Now, I know, you all think Advent is the most wonderful season of the liturgical calendar year.  But we all love Advent for all the wrong reasons.  Advent is meant to be somber.  We force it to be festive, prolonging the 12 days of Christmas into 30+.

But the fifty days of Easter is and always was meant to be all festivity.  This is why as I have fasted the 40 days of Lent I have come to realize the Lenten cycle isn’t over until you have feasted the 50 days of Easter.

And I have certainly been feasting over the last 48 days!  It has been Easter in my life this past month and a half.  I have tried to enjoy and celebrate the Resurrection, Restoration and Redemption every moment.

Image result for hyruleThe first way I have done this is by playing Zelda.  Many of you know that I fast video games during Lent so on day 2 of the Easter season I began my feasting by dusting off my old copy of “Twilight Princess” and putting it in my aging Wii so that I could waste time riding across Hyrule, collecting gadgets and solving puzzles.

It goes without saying to you who have played them that the Zelda games are unlike any other video games.  The aesthetic and gameplay are incredible.  Even the darkest of Zelda games are still pretty lighthearted and cartoonish.   The graphics are incredibly beautiful, as is the music.

 

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Despite her awkward appearance the true “Twilight Princess” has one of the best stories in all Zelda.

But more than all that, the characters are diverse.  They come in all shapes and sizes and styles of clothing.  Most of them are downright weird.  This is probably because of Zelda’s Japanese origins but I love the characters nonetheless.  They resemble some of the weird people I know, many of whom have attended churches I pastor.  If you add to all that the over arching theme of driving darkness away with light, you might realize that Zelda is certainly a wonderful and beautiful gift.

This Easter season I taught my youth group that the secret to finding joy is Philippians 4:8 which teaches us to think and dwell upon whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely excellent and praiseworthy.  The Zelda games have so much of those wonderful attributes.  Enjoying these artistic pieces is one great way to celebrate the light of the world and the light that is in the world.

I also spent this Easter season training for a marathon in and around Eden, UT.  The road to Eden goes through, “Mountain Green” whiImage result for eden, utch is aptly named because green abounds on those mountains, especially this time of year.  To accent the green, the mountains were still snow capped.  The lake was smooth as ice, partly because some of it was still ice.  I spent hours running up there marveling at the beauty of it all and celebrating Easter by praying, reciting Scripture and smiling at the various wildlife.  The marathon was a couple weeks ago and we began running right as the sun was rising to illuminate a gorgeous, green day.

I can’t help but draw parallels between the fabricated world of Hyrule and the actual creation of our God.  Eden, UT resembles Hyrule in its beauty.  Actually, Hyrule resembles Eden but it doesn’t match it.  Real life is somehow always better than fabrication.

It also reminds me that, like Hyrule, darkness still threatens this world.  It makes itself known every time I catch myself striding over a dead deer on the highway.  Those carcasses remind me our world is indeed still broken.  Death is still the enemy and he has not yet been vanquished.  As the hymn, “My Hope is Built” reminds us, “Darkness does sometimes veil [God’s] lovely face.”

But so too, the light shines out all the clearer during Easter season.  After all, Jesus didn’t just save me.  He saved and is saving all creation.  Creation was and still is groaning under the oppression of futility.  Unfortunately the ground is still cursed because of Adam.  But Paul teaches in Romans 8 that all creation too “shall be liberated from its bondage to decay.” (Rom. 8:21)

And now as this wonderful Easter season winds down and we march into common time or Kingdomtide, the season for work, we are reminded that God has done God’s part against the darkness and the death.  Now we too must work out our own salvation (see Phil. 2:12-13).

Come oh Jesus, we long for, we work for, you.

 

Resurrection Sunday Reflection: Going Back to Galilee!

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Well, I made it.  We made it!  It is now Easter again.  Such a remarkable day, yet an exhausting one for a pastor.  It began around 5am this morning, as Easter’s usually do for me.  The Lord blessed me with a full bladder right around the time I had to get out of bed which I wish would happen every day–He is risen indeed!

And after a day of much glorious celebrating and feasting and festivities here I sit pondering Jesus’ first words post-tomb.  Maybe for the first time in my life, I am reading the Resurrection story in Matthew 28 and realizing how remarkable it is that angels tell the good news but Jesus has something different in mind.  “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matt. 28:10)

Wait, what?  I mean, I like the “don’t be afraid” part.  That’ll always preach.  But the next part isn’t very inspiring.  It isn’t very eye catching.  It isn’t very thrilling.  “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee?”  Jesus, shouldn’t we at least first talk about how you are still alive?  Shouldn’t you tell us what it all means?  Shouldn’t we do some theology?  Shouldn’t we at least sing some songs about forgiveness, grace, mercy and the like?  Shouldn’t you tell us what God the Father is doing/thinking/wanting?  In fact, shouldn’t we talk about anything other than Galilee?

We sang around 6 songs about Jesus’ Resurrection this morning.  By the end of the Easter liturgical season we will have exhausted many more.  All of them are more melodic and poetic than, “Tell my brothers to go to Galilee!”  Kindergartners write better poetry than that!

But for those of you who do not know, Galilee held a pretty unique spot in the Roman Empire.  Don’t let my word choice of “unique” trick you.  Unique here does not mean special and it certainly does not mean glorious.  Instead it means weird.  Galilee was a weird place for so many reasons.  They were like the Puerto Rico of Rome.  They were totally a part of the country but everybody kind of forgot they existed.  (No offense to the Puerto Ricans.  In fact you have my humble apologies!)

Beyond that, Galilee had its own government, kind of.  In fact, their kings were kind of a drag.  The citizens were too.  They were farmers and fishermen and shepherds.  They didn’t have the temple, or really many great buildings at all.  They were Jewish but not always faithful ones.  They were also Romans but not always loyal ones.  They were simple, slightly uneducated and, as I all ready said, mostly forgotten.

Yet Galilee is where Jesus lived.  Galilee is where he ministered.  Galilee is where he made his namesake and Galilee is where he began the revolution of love against sin and evil.  And Galilee was where he apparently couldn’t wait to get to after defeating death and all that.

That’s right, Galilee.

That might be the most awkward part of any Easter liturgy:

He is risen!

He is risen INDEED!

He is going to Galilee!

He is going to.  .  .wait.  .  .Galilee?   Um, indeed.   .  .Galilee indeed?

Yet where else would he go?  In fact, what better place to go?  He is not just risen.  He is risen and going back to Galilee.  He is risen and going back to the forgotten, poor, rural communities.  He is risen and journeying back to those who are marginalized, weak and foolish.  He is risen and you will find him where you were always able to find him, in Galilee.

So as I sit here after a full and wonderful but exhausting day and wonder where this Easter might take me or might take you, I find myself hoping that the resurrection of the Lord will find us in the Galilee’s!

Happy Easter!  He is risen (and in Galilee) indeed!

Ash Wednesday Reflection 2017

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Hey everybody.  Sorry this is a day late but I was unable to post this yesterday because the day got shorter than expected when I spent two hours running and then 1 hour trying and failing to make ashes for our Ash Wednesday service (more on that in the next few days).

But the following is a very cleaned up version of what I tried to share during the homily portion of our Ash Wednesday service last night.  I hope you enjoy it even if it is a day late!


 

The first time I observed Lent, it had nothing to do with Easter.  It was September of my Junior year of high school.  My youth pastor had awakened in me a desire to pursue a holy life and I wanted to work on becoming a better person.  So on August 31st I hatched a plan that for the 30 days of September I would give up television, movies, video games and secular music (which meant the Oldies station).  I would read at least three chapters of Scripture a day, compliment five people and do one act of service.  And I would keep a journal of it all for accountability’s sake.

So for the entire month of September, that is what I did.  I kept a yellow notebook journal with lists of every good deed, every compliment, every Scripture passage along with some written thoughts.  It was in my hands at all times.  People would ask about it but I would not tell them what it was because it was my secret.  Also, I knew even then the whole thing was pretty nerdy.  But the project itself went well.  I didn’t miss one compliment, performed 30 small acts of service and didn’t relapse to the television or the oldies station.

It was only a few months later, in late January, that I found out about Lent, the forty day period for fasting, discipline and prayer.  Since the yellow notebook project had worked so well I decided to do it again for the forty (actually forty six) days of Lent.  This time I used a red notebook and once again I didn’t miss a day, even the Sundays which are supposed to be “feast days.”

I repeated it again the next September and the next Lent after that.  I planned on doing it forever until the crazy, hectic schedule of college life put an end to it.  I have still celebrated Lent every year, just in less intricate ways.

As I have been thinking about that first September with that yellow journal, I have also been reading, “The Patient Ferment of the Early Church” by Alan Kreider which everyone really must read.  Kreider devotes a large section to the early church’s catechesis processes whereby everyday Roman pagans became tried and true and baptized Christians.  Kreider reminded me of what I have always known, that Lent was not originally conceived for the mature Christians.  Lent was more a part of the evangelism process than it was the discipleship process, though it certainly said a lot about discipleship.  Today Lent is something the mature, Super Christians do but originally it was designed for brand new, not yet baptized Christians who wanted to know more and be more like Jesus.  The forty days were intended to help these new, curious Christians figure out what Christianity was all about before they committed their lives to it by baptism.  In short, this forty day period of discipline, fasting and prayer was the means by which they were apprenticed into Christianity.

Over time each new Christian was expected to have a mature mentor and eventually those mentors began fasting during Lent as a way of journeying alongside and bearing with the new Christians.  Over time even those who were not mentoring new Christians began fasting during Lent as well so that they too could be with the new believers.

I don’t want you to miss the very profound point that all illustrates.  Even though Lent was not intended for them, the mature Christians commemorated it every year, not as a sign of their Christian maturity, but as a sign that they were willing to be weak to help the weak.  Once a year they wanted to pretend to be brand new Christians again.  They wanted to arrive at Resurrection Morning as if they were experiencing God’s grace for the very first time.  They were willing to “start over” as it were on their faith journey and become as children again, taking forty days to remember their sins and experience their weaknesses so that on Easter morning they could share more fully in the baptism of the new believers.

This is relevant for us because I have noticed that a funny thing happens as we mature in the faith.  As we get further and further away from our own baptism we begin to forget about grace.  The further we get from our “come to Jesus” moments, the more we forget the true nature of grace and the true meaning of our baptism.  Put another way, as we mature we become self righteous and proud, forgetting that we too were once wretched. Therefore, the ashes tonight are not signs of how mature our Christianity is, but signs that we want to remember our beginning, return to our roots and be humbled by our weaknesses again so that grace can grab hold of us anew on Easter morning.

For me, this means that when I receive the ashes tonight I am once again a junior in high school with all the awkwardness that comes with.  I am sitting again in my room on a hot August night, facing my own weaknesses, ashamed of own my sin and humbled by my own inadequacies.  Once more I am 17 years old and feeling the weight of holiness’ call and not quite sure what to do about it.  So I fast a few unhelpful practices, vow to commit a few helpful ones and take up a yellow journal, all so that I can work out my own salvation because, after all, it is God who is at work in me to will and to act according to God’s wonderful purposes.  And, as I did so many years ago, I again trust only God to deliver me to a grace filled Easter morning.

As I Prepare to Preach on Pentecost Sunday

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The wind is blowing a gentle breeze outside.  As I type these words I can hear its swooshing sound and see the trees outside my office sway.  Three Sundays ago the wind was blowing at 50 miles per hour and I was at home sick while my associate preached.  At that point I was a little bit sad Pentecost wasn’t then because God’s Spirit is breathe and God’s breathe is 50 miles per hour and more mighty.

As in answer to prayer the wind is still blowing today, albeit with much less force.

The wind blew my hair as I unlocked the doors of the church this morning.  I was reminded that the church is the content of the breath of God.  The Spirit is the breath but as the Spirit breathes, we are what it pulls in and then sends out.

In the same way that when I take a breath I am pulling in some weird mixture of Nitrogen, O2 and CO2 (among other things) and then breathing out a similar mixture, but with more CO2 than O2, the Spirit breathes in this weird mixture of holy and sinful people and then breathes those people out, but with more holiness than sin.

As I stepped in the door I turned to look at the two giant trees that grace our front lawn.  I was reminded that they also breathe in and breathe out only their breath is the reverse.  They give us more oxygen and through it more life.  We give them more carbon and through it more life.  They do our part.  We do ours.

I have always appreciated the trees for that very reason.  Without them, we have no life.

What I have not always appreciated is that my breath is just as valuable to them as they are to me.  Without my breath they die.  Without my gift they wither.

Today, on Pentecost Sunday, we remember that glorious day when God’s breathe blew over all creation.

In spiritual (Spirit-ual) worship we are breathed into God.  In benediction we are breathed back out to all creation.  We are breathed in sinful and breathed out holy.  However, we are not breathed out for our own benefit or own pleasure.  Holiness is not for the benefit of the saints, in the same way that my CO2 does nothing for me.  Holiness is for the benefit of the creation, for all creatures of our God and Kingdom.

Pentecost happens so that the saints may heal the hurting.

So that the saints can fix the broken.

So that the saints can love the unloved and unloveable.

So that the saints can reconcile the enemies.

So that the saints can comfort the afflicted (and yes, afflict the comfortable)

So that the saints can adore the ugly and entertain the lowly.

Pentecost happens so that a Holy people can redeem the world.

Happy Pentecost Everybody!

A Church Calendar Fanatic Comes to Grip With Mom’s Day

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Mother’s Day was yesterday.  Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about it.  Despite my wife’s claim late Saturday night that I had not mentioned Mother’s Day once in the weeks leading up to it, I had bought some cards and presents for the leading ladies in my life.

My church did a bang up job too, giving every woman (not mom, but woman!) in the sanctuary a potted plant.  I was incredibly proud of our stewardship team because when they discussed Mother’s Day they were very mindful that we have wonderful and holy women in our congregation who are not mothers but who are just as valuable as the moms.  Also on their minds were those who have lost their mothers in the last year as well as those mother’s who have lost children.  These are the types of great questions that a people who worship The Holy Trinity ask.  They are also questions and concerns that I share every second Sunday of May.

But my concerns run a bit deeper.  I am a church calendar nut and have been for some time and Mother’s Day always lands right in the middle of a “trinity” of holy Sundays meant to cap off the first half of the church calendar year.  In fact, the month of May is an awkward month for Christians because most Mays there are three major Church holy-days (Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity Sundays), one Hallmark holiday (Mother’s Day) and one national holiday (Memorial Day).  How is a pastor in the Christian tradition supposed to juggle all these things?!

My gut response is to prioritize the church days.  The first two, Ascension and Pentecost, are huge and important events in the life of Jesus and in the church.  In fact if Jesus hadn’t ascended and the Spirit had not descended there wouldn’t even be a church!  Even more telling is that our “family friendly” church spent 1,900 years creating holidays and never once did it occur to them to create one for mom’s or dad’s.  This despite the fact that honoring your parents is one of the top ten commandments!  With that said the first Mother’s Day was held at a church but apparently founded to encourage mom’s to join together to work for peace.  (Source and source)

Be that as it may when Mother’s Day, or even Memorial Day, conflict with the holy-days, I give them lip service at the top of the service and then move on to the more important topics, like Ascension and Pentecost and Trinity.

However, some days there is no conflict.  When Mother’s Day and Pentecost overlap it is fun to talk about the Spirit as our nurturing Mother.  When Memorial Day and Ascension overlap it is really fun to talk about that life which we remember the most, Jesus’s life, which did not end but goes on forever.

Putting those clever pairings aside, I still have always found Mother’s Day just too problematic for a church.  There are dozens of problems whether they be liturgical (isn’t Pentecost more important?), theological (the Bible tells us to give orphans and widows priority) or just plain practical (we have some women who struggle with infertility).

But last week I read something that made all this a bit less complicated for me.  I was reading a fascinating little commentary on the book of Lamentations written by Soong-Chan Rah.  Rah doesn’t pull any punches when he compares the honest heartache of Old Testament Judea with the dishonest and fake triumphalism of modern Christianity.  At times his words are down right insensitive, especially to this white suburban evangelical pastor whose very existence runs contrary to the heart of a book like Lamentations.

Halfway through the book Rah writes a very poetic paragraph about his mother.  Here is what he says:

“My mother has lived through a very difficult set of life circumstances.  She endured a very difficult marriage.  For most of her married life, her husband was not around, resulting in her raising four kids on her own as an immigrant in a foreign land.  Her minimal English skills as a first generation immigrant meant that she took miminum-wage jobs (often two of them at a time) to keep her family together.  During one stretch, she worked two jobs: a day shift at an inner city carry out and the graveyard shift at an inner city nursing home.  She was working twenty hours  a day, six days a week.  Throughout all her trials, she never lost her faith.  To this day, even with her eyesight failing her, she faithfully reads chapter after chapter of Scripture.  She would wake up at dawn to pray for hours every day.  Several years ago, I noticed that her knee caps had split into several pieces from the many hours of prayer she spent kneeling.  When she kneels, her broken caps conform to the flat surface of the floor.  My deep disappointment with American evangelicalism is that stories like hers are deemed less worthy than the stories of the latest greatest, evangelical superstar with his megachurch.” (p. 61 in Prophetic Lament)

I read that paragraph at the end of my sermon yesterday.  I had some clever but ultimately stretched tie in to the sermon, something about how Rah’s mother has something to teach us about a relationship with the one who ascended into heaven.  But in the end I couldn’t not read about that mom on Mother’s Day because, well yes, a mom like that does have a lot to teach us about what the Christian life looks like.

Later in the day I was talking to my church board about holiness.  I asked for concrete examples of the holy life and they all mentioned people they knew who lived it out, but lived it in ways that are hard for words to describe.  But the stories of their lives describe it well.  I believe Rah’s mother is one such example.  And if we want to live out the theology formed on Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity Sundays, Rah’s mother might help us considerably in that endeavor.

I am sure there are thousands more mom’s just like her.  Maybe it isn’t so bad to take a Sunday out of the year to commemorate them.