Tag Archives: Church
On Sunday you paid very moving tribute to my work here. For the last six weeks, in fact, you’ve been telling me what I’ve meant to you, in cards and conversations and kind messages on Facebook. It’s been overwhelming. So it’s only fair that I acknowledge what you have meant to me. Not just that you were gracious and kind and receptive, to me and to my family, but that you were, in fact, the difference between continuing to answer my vocation to ordained ministry and quite possibly washing out of that ministry altogether.
So something really strange started happening to me after the birth of our daughter. I would be out with her somewhere, usually with one or both of the boys, and I would become obsessed with the thought that I had left her in the parking lot before we went home. And it was crazy, because I had just buckled her in. But your mind plays tricks on you.
But either way, Jesus tells his disciples, rejoice that your names are written in heaven. Rejoice that you were sealed in baptism. Rejoice that when your name was called, you answered; you came up, you used the weakness of the moment to seize God’s promises for you. That’s the miracle. That’s the defeat of Satan and his empty promises and his power.
Meals make us human. But this meal, that you are celebrating for the first time today, is the most important of all. Every meal shared around a table connects us to each other. This meal connects you to Jesus. Every meal creates community. This meal creates you anew in Jesus. Every meal gives us part of the world. This meal gives you heaven. Meals make us human, but this meal makes you one with God.
It’s good to have projects. It’s important to expand oneself with tasks that go beyond the boundaries of daily needs. And it’s hard to live with only the exigency of the moment. Closer and closer it comes–the meal, the sermon, the meeting, the Wednesday night Lent worship talk, the coughing that pierces the night, the shopping for baseball gear–like the secret police, narrow escape after narrow escape until the knock comes before you’ve had the chance to slip out the back door.
Everything is falling down, but we try to preserve it, to build back, to add our own layer, to add our own wall to the project that is never finished. We pass what we love along, hand to hand, in a great chain whose links all die before the treasure ever reaches safety.
This is not to say, as politicians like Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan have recently suggested, that churches can step in to replace the social safety net. But in their own small, often invisible ways, local churches do something that I am tempted to call radical in our segmented, individualistic society: They ask us to bear with one another.
The denial of death and guilt has become useful to us, even necessary. Ash Wednesday stands out, then, as a brutally frank reminder of things we have halfway persuaded ourselves aren’t true — that our lives are brief and that we need grace. It’s a reminder people seem to crave. I’ve made empty churches echo with the news that God embraces and forgives, but when the day comes to be marked with the sign of mourning and repentance, the pews are suddenly full.
[I wrote this in 2011] At a church council meeting a couple of years ago, we found ourselves discussing friends and neighbors of our city church and their prospects for eventual membership. One neighbor in particular seemed like he should really be coming to church because, as someone observed, his brother is a Lutheran pastor. […]
Jesus says that the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve. And that means that we who are saved by faith in him, and raised to new life by his grace, must allow him to serve us, too. If you know the power of service, you probably know also the mania that can come with it. The passive-aggressiveness–”it’s ok, I’ll just do it myself.” The resentment–”I work and work and give and give and no one thanks me.” If Jesus only wanted us to find the humblest task and do it for someone else, he’d be setting us up for a great deal of misery.