Who Would Have Thought?

Banks-Long-hours-detailWho would have thought that God’s amazing love would look like this: a friend betrayed, a scapegoat accused, a Son rejected? Certainly not us. Not us, who are so distracted, so ‘busy.’ Not us, who are the ones for whom it all happened.

This Holiest Week, we are called to remember.  (Isaiah 53)

Who has believed what we have heard?

he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering* and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces*  he was despised, and we held him of no account.

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

We are convicted by and for our selfishness, but remain among God’s beloved. How? Why?  We must hear again the truth:  that the Lord heaped our sins, our evil upon Jesus, and that Jesus was punished horribly for it.

We must admit, acknowledge these days. We are sinful.  We are wrong.  We deserved much, and Christ took it on.  Until we do, Easter celebrations will ring hollow.

Come remember with us and worship at 7:00pm Maundy Thursday, or online at www.fpcandersonsc.com.  Worship and remember with us at Central Presbyterian Church at 7:00pm Good Friday.

MaundyThursday.detail

GoodFriday.detail

Advertisements

How Sweet It Is

candyTrue confession: I stood in the drugstore yesterday and said, “Thank you, Jesus, that Easter is coming!” I wasn’t kidding. You see, I saw the pastel gleam of the candy aisle, and I knew that my first chocolate covered marshmallow egg was coming soon.

I felt no guilt.

Well, I felt a little guilt when the lady near me gave me the stink eye, but there was no guilt for being excited that the most important celebration in the Christian calendar is only three weeks away. And there was no guilt that we celebrate the sweetness of Jesus’ resurrection and our salvation with treats so sweet that they make your teeth hurt.

We are almost half way through the season of Lent. (Yahoo!)

yummy eggYou’re worried because you’ve been told that Lent is supposed to be full of doom and gloom? Repentance and self-examination and fasting and prayer? It can be, but what about the anticipation? Where’s the hope? What about the joy?  “Oh, Caroline! You’re confused. Advent is the hope and joy season, silly. This is Lent, the holy season of self-flagellation.”

No! I’ll admit that this is a pet peeve of mine. I think many of us forget that Lent and Advent are parallel seasons. Advent isn’t all about babies and mangers and candy canes, it is about remembering that the savior of the world came as one of us for all of us. Lent isn’t all about betrayal and shame and giving up chocolate, it is about remembering that the savior of the world came as one of us for all of us. Lent, like Advent, is a time of joy, even as we consider who and whose we are called to be, and what that entails.

dafodilBy the way, do you know what the word Lent means?  It means springtime. It is the beginning of the beginning, the glimpse. Lent is a time to anticipate all the good that is to come, just as Advent is. Lent is the frustration of past failures and the fresh start. It holds the same potential as early jonquils in a slush of melting snow, and unseasonably warm weather just two weeks after astounding cold. Like spring, like Lent, like the chocolate covered marshmallow egg that sits sealed in the wrapper just waiting for Easter morning- we are living in an exciting time: the almost, but not yet.

“Thank you, Jesus, that Easter is coming!”

Snow Day

SnowAnderson

Do you see that one little flake at the bottom?

I have high hopes that by tomorrow it’ll be flannel pajamas, hot cocoa and a day at home for most of us. With snow predicted, some of our hearts are buoyed by all the snow related fun to be had. From shaping it into men and forts, to packing it down for optimal sledding conditions, we’ll scoop snow up from how we found it and change it into something completely different.

It is one week into the season of Lent, and my mind keeps going back to one of the scripture readings from the Ash Wednesday service, Jeremiah 18.  A little bit like we’ll change fallen snow into joyful figures and super sledding hills, God the Potter changes and turns us into something new, something different.

LentClay

These pieces of clay received new shapes as worshippers prayed and pondered the scripture above.

This season isn’t everyone’s favorite. It is not as fun as Advent.  It is all about repentance for sin and remembering the reason that the cross and resurrection were needed. It is also about grace, change, renewal, and rebirth. We remember Paul’s letter to the Romans, “As surely as we died with Christ, we believe we will also live with him.”

How might God be reshaping us? Molding us like clay or like snow? How might God be turning us into something new?

Enjoy your snow day and remember that even if we have the day off, our God is at work.

The Call: Love

This doesn't make you think of love?

This doesn’t make you think of love?

In these Lenten days, we know to listen for the call to dedicated faithfulness, to serving others, to being intentional in prayer. We expect tasks during this time, things we can do or schedule or work on- at least things that can be penciled onto sticky note. But, what about the other things? The elusive things… what about love?

Our primary and our clearest call by Jesus is to love. “Greater love has none than this,” “Love the Lord your God,” “Love one another as I have loved you.”  In his death on our behalf, he expressed a degree of love for us than we can’t even fathom. As recipients of this love, our willingness, our need to love- should be the strongest pull in our lives… and when we’re ‘on our game’ with our faith, it is.

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” –Romans 12:10-11

Tasks and practices came second, love and honor came first for Paul and for the Roman Christians, as they should for all of us. Their idea of love wasn’t romantic. Love was (and is) mutuality, respect, concern, prayer and care.

I was in a minor car accident yesterday. I’m fine, the driver of the other car is fine. At 6:30 on a Wednesday night (when it happened), 6 different members of our church happened by and each pulled aside to check-in. Their faces spoke volumes and expressed great love.  Tense and pale they each asked, “Are you ok?  Was your child in the car?” and when told that I was and he was not, each responded with a sound or phrase akin to “Thanks be to God!”  The next line, “Can I help?”

Sometimes a scary situation re-reminds you how much you are loved, how much you love someone else, how real and tangible love is. In times like that, love is written on faces and heard in quavering voices. Luckily, love is shown in many more ways that that.  It can even be simple, direct. “I love you,” “I’m so glad you are part of my life,” “Thank you for your help.”

As people of faith, we have to take seriously Christ’s directive to love as we remember that we are to be loved, too.  What does, what can love look like?  Are we loving enough?  Are we loving well?

As Holy Week approaches again this year, may our Lenten discipline be more than what can be scheduled or planned. May we express love.  Show brothers and sisters in Christ, show total strangers what love is and what it means.  Prayerfully consider the call of the one we worship: Jesus Christ, who embodied love.

love-like-jesus1

John 13:35 “By this they will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

What A Joke

Even in the Lenten solemnity, most Christians have to feel a little bit of bemusement.  After all, we are an Easter people.  We know how this story goes.  “Jesus is dead. It is terrible; all is lost… April Fools!”  It sounds like the silliest thing in the world, and it absolutely is.  We worship a God who died, completely and fully as any man or woman can, went to hell, and then experienced resurrection.  He woke up, rose from his burial-place, spoke, walked, talked, and then rose all the way to heaven, to be our eternal advocate.

Is it any wonder that some think that we who have faith are a little bit ‘off?’

Perhaps we are.  Is that going to be a problem?

“For Jews demanded signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” -1 Cor. 1:22-24

It trip completely senseless to think of God (GOD!) being willing to come down to earth, live, teach, and accept a horrible and finite death on our behalf… but that is what happened, and that’s why we celebrate, even as we walk together toward the cross.  The senselessness is why it is such a big deal, and it is also why it is called ‘faith.’  We sometimes fear that someone is going to jump out from behind us yelling, “April Fools!” but it hasn’t happened so far…

…and it isn’t going to. We are God’s beloved, you know, as silly as it sounds.

Where are you?

flight-370They just made it official. Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 did crash into the Indian Ocean and all who were onboard have been lost to the sea. Our world has been gripped in the drama of this international land/sea/air investigation. And as we waited and wondered, we were filled with anxiety, not knowing what to think. At the beginning we hoped that they’d landed safely somewhere, and couldn’t get a message out. Then, our fear got the best of us- was this an act of terror? What nefarious plots were at play? Later, we marveled at the vastness of the earth, that there still are places untouched by radar. As time went on, our hope faded, our fear lost its edge, and our wonder was replaced be dread. We knew, most of us.

And now it is no longer a point of speculation or conversation. Instead we’ve been shown again that each person spends his or her days walking the razors edge between life and death. As people of faith, how do we respond to that? After all, we who love Jesus are not immune to the dangers of the world…

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day… Psalm 139:7-12

This is the truth: God loves us. God has never left us-any of us- alone. There is no place in the world where God does not dwell. According to the Psalmist, from the heights of the sky, to the sides of mountains, to the depths of the sea, to the heart of Sheol (the place of the dead), God is with us. Truly, in life and in death, we belong to God.

Especially in this season of Lent we remember that we all will die, and that our deaths, no matter their newsworthiness, no matter their circumstances, have meaning only because of Jesus’ sacrificial life and death. Ultimately, death is just an entry to eternal life and everlasting communion with God.

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” -John 11:25-26

Day 1

untitledMy husband’s birthday was yesterday, and I teased him that last year I pulled out stray grey hairs when I saw them, but this year there are too many to bother with.   He told me that living with me was making him old… and he may be right!  We discussed his sermon for today, Ash Wednesday, and jokingly wondered whether it would be appropriate to just stand up and say something like, “It’s true: each of us is inching toward the grave.  It’s a good thing we’ve got Jesus.  Let’s spend Lent thinking about that.”

We weren’t serious, but there is a grain of truth in every joke.

Ultimately that is what the season of Lent is about.  Today begins our Lenten observances and our countdown to Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Most people don’t like Ash Wednesday because it reminds us that we will all die.  We are told that we are dust, and to dust we will return (Genesis 3:19).  And being marked with a sign of the cross made from the dried and burned palms we waved with joy last year seems almost over the top.

As Christians, though, being reminded of our mortality is not supposed to be morbid, but instead should serve as a reminder of what we have received: eternal life!   Advent’s anticipation of the Christ child must be tempered with Lent’s reminder of his death on our behalf- and, then, of his glorious resurrection.  After all, were it not for Easter, there would be no need for Christmas.  As in Advent, in Lent we are called to be still, quiet, prayerful.  As in Advent, in Lent we are called to repentance, sacrifice, and to ask ourselves whether we live differently because of God’s gift to us in Jesus Christ.

Some people call this day the beginning of the end.  I think of it as the first day of the rest of our lives, and I meditate on Psalm 145 and Isaiah 58. Join me.

A Light: This Week and Always

isaiah-49-6I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’  

-Isaiah 49:6

As we think about God’s great act of salvation this week, this Holy Week,  we rightly think about what it means for us: for ourselves, for our family, maybe even for our fellow Christians.  Often, though, that’s as far as it goes.

God does not, however, stop at the boundaries, of our own hearts, our doorsteps, our sanctuary.  God has saved us, and asked us to pass on the Good News of Jesus to the whole world.

This week, we focus on Jesus: his journey to the cross, the grave and then his rising from the dead.  We go to worship and hear the familiar stories, walk with our Lord and sing songs of grateful praise.  While we do this, we need to keep our ears open for what we can take away from the stories, scripture, sermons and songs that we can share with others.  Expressing God’s salvation may seem like a task that’s too big for us- it is… but with God’s help we’ll do what we can.  If we are faithful followers of Jesus, we can be a light to the world; our lives can be a sign of the new life that his resurrection has bought.

 Join us for Holy Week worship at First Pres:  

Thursday, March 28th at 6:00pm in the sanctuary (Maundy Thursday). Come as you are. Worship/Communion service with Message: “Caught Red-Handed.”

Friday, March 29th at noon in the chapel (Good Friday). Come as you are. Worship/Prayer service with “Solemn Reproaches of the Cross.”

Sunday, March 31st, 8:30 and 10:55am in the sanctuary (Easter Sunday!). Worship Service with Message: “Carpe Vitae.”

Worth in Christ

Have you ever felt worthless? What if that worthless feeling is warranted? What then?

Failures, missed opportunities, unmet potential, the fact that we all sin, falling short of God’s vision for our lives- we’ve all been there… we all live there.  Sometimes it feels like you’re living at the bottom of a pit, looking up at a world you can’t get to.

There is hope.

hashtagConsider the story of the # symbol.  Not long ago, it was almost never used.  Occasionally used on a telephone, the # seemed worthless on a computer- at best, it was an occasional stand-in for the word “number.”   Taking up space on our keyboard, doing nothing.  Rarely noticed, and when it was- it was only for people to think, “why is that dumb symbol even there, hovering over the number 3?”

Then, all of a sudden, the world changed for the lowly #.   It was saved.  When the use of Twitter (and other forms of social networking) began in earnest, oh how popular it became!  Given a brand new name, the “hashtag” has become the critical symbol, boiling your message down to its point. [As in:   #whereisshegoingwiththis?]

While the plight of the # is nice, we Christians, in Jesus Christ, have had a far more surprising comeback than the #. Our joy and our worth come from Jesus.  All of a sudden, because of him, our worthless and sinful lives have meaning, have value.  No matter how we feel, we have worth.  Jesus came to us as one of us for all of us, and in his sacrificial death, has secured for us a place among God’s children.  WE ARE WORTHY BECAUSE HE IS WORTHY.  Thanks be to God!

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ*—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.

-Ephesians 2:4-6

silhouette-of-a-man-in-front-of-a-cross1

 

Faith and Easter

Every year between Good Friday (the day we remember Jesus’ death) and Easter Sunday (when we celebrate with joy his resurrection) I find myself asking questions.

How did Jesus’ body resusitate- how does that worK?  Was he really dead- all the way dead?  How do we know that he came back to life?  What did it look like?  Was he the same as before he died, really?  When this happens, I remember something written by author and pastor Frederick Buechner:

“Almost nothing that makes any difference can be proved.  I can prove the law of gravity by dropping a shoe out a window.  I can prove that the world is round, if I’m clever at that sort of thing- that the radio works, that light travels faster than sound.  I cannot prove that life is better than death or love better than hate.  I cannot prove the greatness of the great or the beauty of the  beautiful.  Faith cannot prove a damned thing.  Or a blessed thing either.”

Paul Tournier, the Swiss physician turned theologian once put the point this way:

“Faith knows itself to be weak and uncertain, and yet like a reed it will survive the storm better than the proud oak. It knows that in this world it can never penetrate all the unfathomable mysteries of God, and yet, however tiny the light it receives from the Lord, this is the only light that can really show the way.”

These days aren’t about they questions; they aren’t about the answers.  They aren’t about how it worked.  They aren’t about proof.  Christ’s death and resurrection are about shouting from the rooftops the good news of salvation.  Christ’s death and resurrection are about embracing this witness in our lives and living as servants of a servant Lord.  Death has lost its sting.  The world is alive because he was. 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

-Hebrews 11:1

Thanks be to God that I don’t have to ‘get it fully’ to get what God has done for me in Jesus.  Thanks be to God that I don’t have to ‘get it fully’ to get IT (grace) fully.  Thanks be to God, even on this, darkest day.