“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14). Most scholars believe this line used by St. Paul is part of an ancient baptismal hymn. You can imagine it being sung out by a gathering of the people of God as the newly baptized rises from the water. Its poetic words form a call to a new life, a life free from the terrors of the grave, free from futility and aimless wandering. Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead,
One of the things we can all learn from this pandemic is how insanely connected our world is. An outbreak in Wuhan China can spread with frightening speed around the globe, shutting down whole countries and grinding international commerce to a halt. It is commerce that we need, commerce that plays with the stock market, which plays with our retirement plans, which effects our stress levels, which causes anxiety and fear. So, we stay home, but in staying home we fail to read a book or play card games with the family, no we turn on the internet and read the global news as we text our friends and facetime with our family members. We are bound up in the lives of others in ways never imagined a decade or so ago. We are more connected, more dependent, more aware of a world far outside of ourselves than ever before.
A little framed picture hangs to the right of the door exiting my study which leads into the sanctuary of the church. Most people leaving through that door probably never even notice it, but I do. Though it is small, behind the glass is a simple and eloquent prayer.
We all ought to love the story of Nicodemus and his conversation with Jesus in John chapter 3. It is a fitting text for modern readers of the Word of God and plays well with our own understanding and practice of the faith. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and like all the Pharisees of his time the discussion of Jesus was first and foremost on his mind. He was not a figure anyone was going to ignore.
I feel genuinely sorry for people who do not go to a church that follows the old church calendar. Not that it will necessarily make the preaching better or ensure the handing over of the gifts of God, but as an organizing principle the movement of seasons and times throughout the year gives us something powerful, something beautiful, something to help drive our attention and focus. Could you imagine not having the season of Lent?
I often wonder what sort of stories a biography of St. Peter might contain. This man was incredible; incredibly passionate, incredibly rash and incredibly human. The more I read about him in Scripture, the more I find him to be a similar spirit to me, a comrade of sorts. His life from the moment he was called by Jesus to follow until the end of his days is marked by incredible highs and lows, moments of profound faithfulness and defiant hope and then, almost within the same breath, miserable failure.
When I became a pastor, one of the questions asked of me in the ordination rite was if, “I would minister faithfully to the sick and dying, and demonstrate to the Church a constant and ready ministry of the Gospel?” To which I answered, “Yes, I will, with the help of God.” This meant my call as a pastor was not to stay within the walls of the church or to remain in my study, but it was, in part, to go to the sick and dying, go to those who could not come to church on their own, to those who needed the gifts of Christ brought to them.
I must have been in Sunday School when I first learned the song. It was one we loved to sing because there were hand movements and parts we got to shout out. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
There can be no off days. There are no times when a preacher can just mail it in, saying, “I’ve covered this all before. I’ve said it all before. Perhaps this once, we’ll do something different. Perhaps, this Sunday I will take the opportunity to lay out a vision for the future of this congregation. Perhaps, this time I will get creative and show my prowess for finding the hidden connections of a particular text and how they matrix with the greater Scriptures. Perhaps, I won’t worry so much proclaiming the Word. Just this once, I won’t focus so much on the distinction of Law and Gospel and instead I’ll give some good lessons for reading the Word at home.”
I was talking with a friend of mine the other day about our current state of public discourse and the political climate in our country. Our conversation covered everything from the practice of law on a local level to the impeachment trial being played out for political theater in DC. One of the things that seemed certain to us both is how perhaps the greatest challenge anyone faces in our day is the ability to change their minds, to see things from a different point of view, to admit wrongs and happily go forward in a new direction. Instead of seeking and discovery, there are entrenched views where the other side is shouted down and one happily roams about in their own echo chamber. Perhaps the ability to change is a dying art. Perhaps the rise of the internet and social media has made it unlikely one will change. If this is so, I think we should all be saddened by it. Life has become somewhat less, darker and bleak.