About Me

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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Date: 05/08/2005
Feast: 7th s o Est
Church: LHPC
Bible text: Acts 1:6-14
Theme: Ascension - Mother's Day

After the baptism of his baby brother in church, Jason sobbed all the way home in the back seat of the car. His mother and father asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied, “That preacher said he wanted us brought up in a Christian home. But I want to stay with you.”

Which is, I think, where a lot of people are. You strive to be good, faithful, Christian people. But there’s this Sunday morning idea of how the world (how your FAMILY) ought to be. And this Sunday morning idea of how your family OUGHT to be butts up against Sunday-12:05PM through next-Saturday-night REALITY. You want – you really want – to stretch the Sunday stuff through the rest of the week, and sometimes it works. But most weeks, you’re just glad Child and Family Services doesn’t have hidden cameras in your house.

Here we are on Mother’s Day – a holiday, but NOT – officially – a Christian holy day. You have to really look to find Mother’s Day in the Bible. Some churches have re-christened it, “Christian Family Day.” But you won’t find a lot of cards that say that. Plus, if you give your mom a card saying, “Happy Christian Family Day,” it’s likely going to be a very long year.

On the Christian calendar, Mother’s Day falls near the day of Ascension (after Easter and right before Pentecost), which is how we get our scripture readings. On Ascension Day we celebrate how Christ ascended from earth up to heaven. And you won’t find a lot of cards to give your mom about that, either.

Ascension reminds us of a couple of things, though, that DO speak to our families, in whatever Christian (or satanic) state they’re in. First: Ascension reminds us of the vast distance between earthly reality and heavenly how-things-ought-to-be. Heaven and earth are related, even bound together, but heaven and earth are NOT the same thing. That’s probably not a news flash. But what the Ascension says, though, (and which IS newsworthy) is that there is a distance, there is a difference between life on earth and life in heaven – even in God’s family. Here’s heaven, here’s earth. Here’s the ideal, here’s reality. And they’re not the same thing, even for God. That can be some powerfully comforting news when we get stressed or depressed over how things are supposed to be. There’s a vast difference between the ideal and the reality, even for God and Jesus.

Second, the Ascension teaches us that glory belongs exclusively to God. But good news for us, and good for our families, God shares. God shares glory so that there CAN be a bit of heaven here on earth. God is willing to share the glory so that we can (for the most part) accept whatever families we’ve popped out into, and even then, still know that we live in a Christian home. A Christian home – Christian parents, Christian kids – isn’t a perfect home. YOU might join hands and sing, “Kum By Yah,” (in harmony) every night. You might lie in bed and call back and forth, “Good night, John-Boy,” “Good night Mary Ellen.” But even so, that’s not what makes a home “Christian.” What makes a home a Christian home is the amazing grace of God who has all the glory, and who freely shares it, even with sinful people like you and me. So even if our households aren’t perfect, they can still be glorious. Even if our families aren’t perfect, they can still glorify God. But not because we’re so fantastic despite our faults. We can glorify God because God says we can glorify God. God lifts us up, just as God lifted up Christ in the Ascension. God lifts us up to places of glory even when we’re stuck in the soggy bottoms of life on earth.

And so, on Mother’s Day, or Christian Family Day, or whatever you want to call it… on THIS day, the Ascension of Christ is good news for families who strive to be normal, only to find out that “normal” really isn’t that normal. Whether you’re bringing up kids, or whether you’ve reached the age where your kids think they’re bringing you up, or whether you’re all by yourself – you CAN do your bringing up in a “Christian” home, and still stay together. In the Ascension, we see how God “brings up” Jesus, and brings up us along with him.


Back on Easter morning, when Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden, and she reached out to touch him, he said, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (from John, Chapter 20)

Well, Mary DID run to the disciples. But she DIDN’T say what Jesus told her to. She skipped over all the “ascending-don’t-touch-me-yet” stuff – the commanded message from Jesus. Instead, she said, “I have seen the Lord.” Which was probably a good choice, in hindsight, because no one has ever understood what Jesus meant. “I’m ascending… don’t touch me….” It’s all a bit much for human minds. When it comes to God, we’re all better with small words spoken slowly.

Be that as it may, the fact remains that earthly Mary mis-interpreted, or re-interpreted, or completely ignored what heavenly Jesus told her to say. Jesus had this heavenly ideal – some sort of ascension-morphing, energy-transforming cool stuff going on – and Mary Magdalene reduces it to a very earthly true-or-false reality. “I have seen the Lord.”

Now, seven weeks of Easter later, the Ascension process reaches its conclusion. In the Book of Acts, the risen but not yet completely ascended Jesus is talking with his disciples.

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

Of course, they’re all standing there, slack-jawed. Watching Jesus rising on the cloud. Wouldn’t we all? It’s not something you see every day. But the angels appear and say, “[Ahem.] Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Again, it all gets a bit too mystifying. If you asked them what happened, the disciples would probably have said, “We saw Jesus on a cloud.” Even if we SEE the heavenly ideal, a slack-jawed, semi-attentive, half-connection is the best we can expect. Why? Because they’re human. Messenger Mary is human. And God is God. Here’s heaven, here’s earth. Here’s the ideal, here’s reality. Here’s the INTENDED message from God, dictated – and here’s what gets spoken. And they’re not the same thing, even for God and God’s family. The difference, the distance between heaven and earth is there, even for God, even in the Bible.

On Mother’s Day, it occurs to me that moms might resonate with this better than most everyone else. Why? Because moms worry. I’m pretty certain all women worry almost all the time. Men worry, too. But moms elevate worry to an art. Moms worry. And if they’re not worried, they’re worried that they’re not worrying enough. Moms are in touch with the concept of a heavenly ideal. Moms know how they want us to behave, what they want us to wear when it’s cold, the retirement home we should move into.

Moms worry because they see so well how ideals and reality are different. You moms are both blessed and cursed to be able to see the gap between heaven and earth. You see the gap it took Jesus to ascend. You meditate upon the gap as you worry over how things ought to be. And while the rest of the world might not always appreciate your worry, were it not for your concern, our high, heavenly ideals might have been dragged down to earth long ago.


And then the angels appeared and said, “Moms of Jerusalem. Why are you standing there, looking up towards heaven?” Well, that’s not exactly what they said. They DID say, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come again in the same way.”

It’s true that because of our mothers’ worries, many of our households are a lot more like heaven than they’d otherwise be. But it’s also undeniable that even the best of households has a long way to go. The angels tell us: Standing in the road, staring at the distance ahead doesn’t get us anywhere. Even the disciples had to break the paralyzing effect of wonder. Whoever we are, if we’re blessed with the intuition to see the heavenly ideal, we have to move in order to reach it, just as Jesus did. But not even Jesus did it on his own. God lifted him up. On our own, we’ll never ascend to the heights of our dreams. As with even Jesus, God has to lift us up.

The country band, Lonestar, has a song out called, “Mr. Mom.” It’s about a guy who loses his job and decides it would be easier to stay at home and take care of the kids. He learns…

Pampers melt in a Maytag dryerCrayons go up one drawer higherRewind Barney for the eighteenth timeBreakfast, six naps at nineThere's bubble gum in the baby's hairSweet potatoes in my lazy chairBeen crazy all day long and it's only Monday
Mr. Mom

There’s so much of life in general, and family life in particular, that’s about as far from glorious as you can get. Some days aren’t meant to be enjoyed; they’re meant to be simply endured. You reach the end of a week and the reward you get is that there’s another week coming when you get to get up and do it all over again. You wonder, IS this as good as it gets?

The angels catch us daydreaming, staring slack-jawed into space, and jolt us back to reality. But the angels are also the ones who give us hope. The angels tell us this Jesus will return in the same way as we saw him fade into heaven.

God has all the glory. But God shares. God has lifted Jesus into heaven and God will send Jesus back to us. God will send heaven down to us in the reality where we stand, in the world we endure, in the days we slog away to build a household of faith. Our work to bridge the gap to glory will be complete when God brings the finish line to us. A “Christian” home isn’t a perfect home. A Christian home is any home that waits. A Christian home is any home that hopes. A Christian home is a home that waits and hopes for the relief of God’s glory to descend from on high, to bless the little things, the worrisome things, the crazy, irritating, marvelous things that fill a home, day in and day out.


The scripture ends by saying,

Then they returned to Jerusalem…. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

It took having this scripture pop up on Mother’s Day for me to notice the importance of that one phrase, “including Mary the mother of Jesus.” Yup, Mom’s there. From birth to Resurrection to Ascension, and beyond, Mom’s there.

And so are Jesus’ brothers. And so are the disciples and “certain women,” too. If we saw them, we’d probably think they were a pretty odd bunch. And maybe they were. They weren’t perfect. They were likely very worried. They were a mixed bag of men and women, young and old. Misfits and outcasts.

But they were also the first Christian family. These odd people were the first Christian family, brought together by nothing less than the glory of the Ascension. We’re gathered here today because of them. But no, we’re here today because God blessed whatever it was they were, whatever their prayers led them to be. We’re here because God shared glory and glorified what they could do on behalf of their risen Lord. We’re here because God shares glory and glorifies what we can do. We come seeking to see that glory, and take some back to our homes.

The great good news of Jesus Christ is that he will bring that glory to you. The great good news of Jesus Christ is that he will once again bridge the gap between heaven and earth, between ideals and reality. God does “bring us up” into a Christian home, no matter how our earthly homes may be. Along with Jesus, and his brothers, and Peter, and John, and all the disciples. And Mom.

If you have the opportunity to glorify your mother today, please do. If that’s not possible, for whatever reason, know this: The glory of God that’s able to lift Jesus Christ into heaven is greater than all earthly powers. Because it’s not an earthly power. The glory of God that’s able to lift Jesus Christ into heaven now rests upon YOUR powers – to love, to forgive, to believe, to hope. In short, the glory of God is able to bring you up into God’s family, and bless your days. And on that day when our family reunion DOES match the ideal, on that day when we gather in that Upper Room with all the saints, Jesus, and his brothers, and his sisters, and his mother will say, “There you are. We’ve been worried about you. Welcome home.”

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Adopted Into Love

Date: 05/01/2005
Feast: 6th Sunday of Easter
Church: LHPC
Bible text: John 14:15-21
Theme: Commandments - love

We left off last Sunday with Jesus sitting around the table at the Last Supper with his disciples, telling them not to let their hearts be troubled or afraid.
Because there are many rooms in his Father’s house and he’s going to prepare a place for each of them, and a room for each of us, too.

This Sunday we pick up again at Jesus’ speech of the Last Supper.
And again, he’s promising his disciples – promising us – that he won’t leave us out there on our own.
He won’t leave us orphaned.
He’ll send an Advocate, a Friend, whom we call the Holy Spirit.
And even though the world can’t see the Spirit, we’ll be able to.
Even though we can’t see Jesus, we’ll feel him, and know he’s with us.
When the world looks at the disciples and sees a bunch of weirdoes (or worse), they/we can stand tall.
When we look at ourselves and don’t like what we see, even then, we can stand in the light of God’s love.
We don’t have to be afraid, because God promises us love.


Jesus promises us, “I will not leave you orphaned.”
Remember, Jesus is also telling the disciples that he and the Father are the same.
So, when the disciples look up at the cross, if they dare to, and see Jesus crucified…
when the disciples see his tortured body laid in the tomb…
when they look into the tomb and see nothing but rolled up grave clothes…
it might look to them (as it looks to the world) that Jesus is dead, Jesus is gone.
It might also look as though God is dead, God is gone.
The Son, the Father – the heads of the family of faith – have been killed.
And if so, then the children of faith are orphaned.

Being an orphan, in particular being a fatherless child, back in those days meant that you were completely on your own.
“Who’s your daddy?” was more than a catch-phrase.
If you didn’t belong to a family line, you didn’t belong.
Think about all the long genealogies – all the “begats” in the Bible.
“And Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob…” and on and on until your eyes glaze over.
Who would have thought “begatting” could be that boring?
Not a lot of mention of the women who really did all the begetting.
Not that they weren’t essential to the process.
It’s just that the father’s family line was what made you an honest-to-goodness citizen in the community.
Or not.
So knowing who’s your daddy, and having a daddy to look out for you, made you somebody, instead of nobody.

So when Jesus told the disciples, “I will not leave you orphaned,” he’s saying, “Your faith in me isn’t in vain.
Your faith in God isn’t in vain.
It may look to everyone else that I’ve failed.
It may look to everyone else that you’ve failed.
But they’re wrong.
I’m not gone.
God the Father isn’t gone.
You’re not crazy for believing in me.”

In the Bible, we’re given very, very specific commandments that we – as a community – are to care for the people who are orphaned.
No one is to be left out of God’s love, whether they have daddies or mommies, or one or the other, or none at all.

Barney the Purple Dinosaur sings, “Oh, a family is people and a family is love – that’s a family.”
And, if you believe that love is a gift from God that binds us together, no matter what shape our biological household is in, then ol’ Barn’s got it right.
The Bible commands us to show love adoptive love to everyone who needs it.
Jesus takes it to the extreme.
He spends practically all his time living and working with outsiders, so that everyone can find a room in his Father’s house.

One of the things I really like about the Presbyterian way of doing things is that we try to model this when we do our services of Baptism.
We don’t have official “godparents.”
Instead, the entire congregation stands up and promises to be the godparents of our children, and of the adults who come forward making a commitment.
What we’re saying is, “We’re people, we’re love – we’re a family for you.”

Of course, even the best human families are only human.
Sometimes we’re too human for our own good.
Church families are no exception, and to expect your church to be super-human is a sure-fire road to disappointment.
And Jesus knew this.
Just before he spoke today’s words to his disciples, he told them that one of them would deny him (Peter), and one would betray him unto death (Judas Iscariot).
Even Jesus’ little church of twelve hand-picked members had its problems.
Jesus knew it came with the territory.

But what Jesus taught, what Jesus continues to teach, is that God’s family isn’t bound by human limits.
The church can be stronger than an ordinary family because we’re not bound by DNA.
We aren’t subject to the whims of Uncle Aspercreme, who demands that we do this or do that if we don’t want to be cut out of his will.
Quite the opposite: God’s calling to the church is to find ways to cut more people INTO his will.
The church is UN-bound by the limitless love of the Holy Spirit.
God calls the church to reach out to the same kinds of people Jesus reached out to – the very human: The people without status, the outsiders.
God calls us to reach out to each other when we see someone who’s alone, who hurting, or who isn’t “mature enough” to be taken seriously.
The church is supposed to be a collection of God’s Odd People.
And if we’re not odd enough, maybe we’re not taking our calling seriously enough.
Or maybe, we’re taking ourselves too seriously.

God offers you adoption into a family of faith that’s eternally bigger than you are.
God offers you adoption into a community that’s stronger than any human family, because it’s not rooted in biology – it’s rooted in love.


But is love enough?

One of the higher rated shows to come on TV this past year is one called, “Super Nanny.”
Have you seen it?
Really, the moment you start thinking your family is dysfunctional, you need to see this show.
The intro each week sounds like, “Bob and Helen are mild-mannered accountants with four children, but they’re having a few problems.”
Michael Jackson’s household is having a few problems.
These people have BIG problems.
But after a week with the Super Nanny, Bob, Helen and the kids are all hugging and crying as Nanny descends into her Mini Cooper and drives off into the sunset.
As far as I can tell, the moral to the story each week is, “If you set a few rules, and allow a TV crew into your house, life gets better.”
Love is good; love with rules is better; but love with rules and the embarrassment of having your family filmed and broadcast to the world brings true repentance.

“If you love me,” Jesus tells us, “you will keep my commandments.”
God calls us to be the Body of Christ to the world; but God doesn’t send out the body spineless.
Jesus’ commandments give structure – a backbone – to the body of faith.
You might SAY you love God and love Jesus… but if you don’t care for people in need…
if you don’t treat others as respectfully as you would have them treat you…
you might SAY you love God and Jesus, but do you really?
Do your actions make lies of your words?
Do your habits match your intentions?

Which is where all of us fall tragically short of the mark.
The disciples denied and deserted in spite of their apostolic love for Christ; how can we expect to behave any better?
And God the Father, who knows the number of hairs on our heads sees all our actions 24/7 – which is even more intense access than Super Nanny.

But here’s where things take a divine twist.
Jesus who promises not to leave us orphaned, takes it one step further.
You see, when we enter the household of faith, we confess our sin.
Standing before the bar of God’s justice, we know what we are.
No matter how much baptismal water we might use, no matter how viciously we might scrub our consciences, we can’t wash off the sin that keeps sticking to us.
That’s a given.
But here’s the additional step: Jesus promises not to leave his adoptive brothers and sisters stuck in the muck of our guilt.
He sends “The Advocate,” the Holy Spirit of truth, to be with us forever and remind us of all he has told us.
There’s something of Jesus’ spirit – something we can never kill – something of him alive and living in each of us.

And this may be the oddest part of all – The Advocate not only reminds us of what Jesus has taught us,
our Advocate reminds God that we’re only human, that heaven’s love is part of us, even though we don’t act like it.

Love is good; love with backbone is better; but love with backbone and built-in forgiveness?
That’s something only God could dream up.

Is God’s love enough?

The Bible reminds us elsewhere that the peace of Christ passes all understanding.
Which means the harder we think about these things, the bigger the headaches we’ll get.
We’re not to supposed to be able to figure out the cosmic, eternal love of God.
It’s a bit greater than our brains can handle.

But – and I love the way Jesus says this to us –
on those days when we do “get it” –
in those flashes of insight when God’s love, commandments, and forgiveness DO make sense –
in those times when we think we’re beginning to understand more than we have any right to –
he says, “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
In other words, the family will have a reunion.