Silly me. Boarding my recent flight from Boston to Frankfurt, I was envisioning a welcome break from the intense on-the-job training which is modern life. The flight was only a quarter full – plenty of room to stretch out and relax! An immaculately groomed German flight attendant served a delicious dinner complete with complimentary wine. I was thrilled to have my sister with me, providing good company and her fabulous dry wit. To top it off, I had brought along a great book and planned to immerse myself in it. It was one of those “What could possibly go wrong?” times…..
The book I was reading is called The Anatomy of Peace – Resolving the Heart of Conflict. The reference to “the heart” in the title speaks to both looking at the core/heart of an issue and the decisive importance of the state of our hearts – whether we are attempting to make peace from a “heart at peace or a heart at war”. The author was saying that “Peace – whether at home, work or between peoples – is invited only when an intelligent outward strategy is married to a peaceful inward one….. If we don’t get our hearts right, our strategies won’t much matter.” I was reminded of Jesus’s admonition to Peter, saying, “Put away your sword…” when Peter’s instinct was to start a fight with the men who came to arrest Jesus.
In my book, powerful dialog followed, between an Israeli who had suffered profoundly at the hands of an Arab and an Arab whose father was murdered by Israelis. These were tragic stories and reminded me of the agony of our own county, aching for a route to peace. I was reading that the more intense the conflict, the deeper into relatedness we have to go to find true understanding and peace. As Jesus said, “My peace I give you……” (John 14:27) Had he not had a heart of peace, he could not have given peace. My mind wandered off, thinking of situations – both personal and global – to which this concept might be applied.
My drift into theoretical peacemaking was interrupted by a growing confrontation in the back of the plane. I dug deeper into my book…. Perhaps it would resolve itself. Time passed. Nope, not resolving. The volume and the tone in the conflict were escalating. I could feel my body tense with fear.
The fighter was clearly drunk. Anxiety was making its way into our previously-tranquil flight. Passengers looked around; anxious eyes met. No flight attendant around. More from a place of instinctive fear than of love, I found an attendant and explained what was going on.
Before she arrived, another passenger got up and addressed the man calmly – communicating care. He came right up to the agitated man, put his arm around the man’s waist, looked him in the eye and started friendly dialog. “What’s up, buddy? Who are you traveling with? Is your wife with you? Let’s get you back to your seat.” It was a profoundly moving scene. Arm in arm, the two came down the aisle, the drunk man spilling his story to the peacemaker. I felt humbled and not a little ashamed. A palpable sense of relief and “Wow! Why didn’t I think of that?” rippled through the cabin as, with virtually all eyes on him, this peacemaker skillfully de-escalated the situation with man-to-man conversation.
Getting off the plane, I heard multiple people thanking him for handing the conflict so effectively – with a heart of peace.
If you attend the Chapel’s service in person or online this coming Sunday, you may notice some funny handshakes. Why are they shaking with their left hand you might ask? February 4 is Scout Sunday; during the service the younger members of the Chapel will be involved in the service, and scouts will take an active role in reading, greeting, and delivering the children’s message while celebrating the fact that religion, spirituality, and worship of God is an integral part of scouting.
You may not be aware, but about six years ago Robert and some friends started a Cub Scout pack at the Chapel to instill scouting values in the four initial pack members. The pack grew quickly, and years later those first boys transitioned from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts of Troop 201 in Aspen.
Scouting’s left-handed handshake is the formal way scouts of both genders greet one another. The handshake is made with the hand closest to the heart and is offered as a sign of friendship. Though seemingly strange to those unfamiliar with the practice, the symbolism reflects much of what both scouting and the Chapel are about.
Different sources offer three widely accepted explanations for the origin of the handshake 1) to being an ancient sign of respect and bravery, 2) to the founder of scouting’s post-battle experience with warriors, or 3) to the works of Ernest Thompson Seton. Lord Baden-Powell, the father of scouting, was said to have encountered African fighters who offered their left hand. In one account, Colonel Baden-Powell saluted the Ashanti warriors with his right hand, but an Ashanti chief offered his left hand and said, “In our land only the bravest of the brave shake hands with the left hand.” These warriors used their left hands to hold shields, so to lower their shield and shake the left hand of another showed they trusted each other.
As in many churches, at the start of the service we greet one another as a sign of peace and love. Whether you embrace, shake hands, offer a smile, or speak friendly words, these expressions of love flow from God and come from the heart. At the Chapel, we talk about love being what it is all about. Love God – Love people is often heard. Reaching out to others to show we care about them is one way God works through us. As the scouts shake hands this Sunday, let us all be reminded of the treasure of friendship and of the importance of conveying God’s love to those around us.
Written by Star Scout Peter de Wetter’s mom, Regina
We learn in the Book of Acts that Jesus’ followers were first called Christians in a city named Antioch, which today sits on the border of Turkey and Syria. The word Christian means belonging to Christ.
The word belong comes from root words which mean “to go along with, or to be the property of, or to be a member of…”
As I think about these definitions, I feel compelled to ask myself, “Do I belong to Christ? Do I go along with Christ? Am I the property of Christ?” These are important questions for each of us to ponder, I believe. Not only important, but fundamental, central, and key.
Richard Stearns, the CEO of World Vision, wrote an amazing book entitled, “The Hole in our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us?” Here are some excerpts from his words and from words he quotes from others within the book.
“When we commit ourselves to following Christ, we also commit to living our lives in such a way that a watching world would catch a glimpse of God’s character, His love, justice and mercy, through our words, acts and behavior.
And finally quoting Mother Teresa, he writes, “I am a little pencil in the hand of God who is sending a love letter to the world.” She had it right. We are not the authors, any of us. We are just the pencils.”
And so again I ask myself, “Do I belong to Christ? Do I really belong to Christ and do I see myself as God’s writing instrument as God sends a love letter to the world?”
From where I sit, so much seems amiss in this valley, in our culture, and in our world. If we open our eyes, we each know this to be true. That said, in saying this, I don’t feel like I am being particularly negative because as you have heard me speak about over and over and over there is also so much good happening everywhere all the time in the middle of what is bad.
The world has always faced significant and sometimes horrific problems and this was certainly the case for the first Christians. Early Christians, despite everything, regardless of the problems of culture, in the midst of what was terribly wrong, were called Christians who followed the Way. I believe in the midst of these challenging times of 2018, in which there is much good and much which is so far off base, we too, as Christians, are called to be intentional about following the Way.
So what is the Way, what might it look like, and why it is important?
Jesus in John’s Gospel said something. Jesus said, “I am the Way.” In other words, the way is Jesus. The more we follow Jesus, the more we invite Jesus to take over our lives, the more we allow ourselves to be Jesus’ property in the sense of belonging to Him, the more we accept becoming more and more like Him. the more we are willing to be different, to act differently, and to stand out from how others are acting, the more we are following the Way.
And I believe we begin to move away from the Way, move away from Jesus, whenever the practical, the political, the social, the cultural, and other such claims on our lives compete, replace, or too greatly inform who or what we are willing to be about out in the world.
Being a Christian and being people of the Way is a complete and total call upon all aspects of our lives. That said, however, I need to be clear. No one can follow the way perfectly. It is why we need a Savior.
Despite our best efforts to follow the way fully, completely, and wholly, we will be imperfect, flawed and sometimes very off track in doing so, hence the importance and centrality of humility. When we follow the way, humility and forgiveness must be part of the core of who we are way down deep. We are invited not to take ourselves too seriously because we take Jesus very seriously and his love, his forgiveness, and his way of treating people.
So what is the Way in a world in which so much seems amiss? The answer is Jesus and to become his totally devoted followers in such a way that we are his presence wherever we find ourselves.
This last week I began a sermon series at the Chapel. In it, I shared a song released two years ago written by Lori McKenna.
Here are just a few excerpts from the lyrics. “Visit grandpa every chance that you can…It won’t be wasted time…Hold the door, say please, say thank you…Don’t steal, don’t cheat, don’t lie…Don’t hold a chip on your shoulder…Bitterness keeps you from flying…I love you ain’t no pick up line…Don’t take life for granted…Always stay humble and kind…”
Always be humble and kind. Those two things alone are enough to change much of what is wrong out in the world. Those two things are often enough to change what is amiss in our hearts. And those two things alone, will greatly help us follow the Way, follow Jesus, to which we are all called.
Tune in next week for more…
For as long as I can remember, I have loved birds. When I was growing up, the grandmother of my best friend had a Myna bird. While I can’t remember his name, we were delighted to hear him talk as he freely roamed the house. I also was blessed to have a pet canary and later a paraquet. If we pay attention, birds of all kinds continually surround us whatever ecological zone we happen to find ourselves within.
Years ago while living alongside a lake in Upstate New York, I encountered the Loon for the first time. It is a spectacular bird, not only because of its behavior, but particularly due to its call. I don’t know whether to say the call of the Loon is melancholy, mysterious, mystic or haunting, but it does capture one’s full attention and I find its call to be magnificent. I miss hearing the call of the Loon here in the Rocky Mountains.
While living back east, one day I walked into a store and displayed on the wall was a clock. I immediately bought it because every hour on the hour, recorded sounds of a variety of Loon calls are played. Just hearing the clock sound brings back a flood of memories of gazing across calm lakes watching Loons dive for their prey.
A few days ago I noticed something seemed different as I sat at my desk. It took me a while to figure it out, but I soon realized I no longer heard the sound of Loons coming from the clock. I had forgotten to change the battery and it had stopped.
As I took out the old battery and put in the new, I was reminded of an important truth. If we want something to be an active, enriching part of our lives, we have to not only pay attention, but to be attentive. The Loon clock only keeps sounding on the hour if I care for it. The same, of course, is true of our relationships with others.
People are the source of what it most important in life. And so I have spent some time thinking not about what battery I need to replace in a clock, but what relationships that make me who I am may need a charge and some attention. I invite you to join me in pondering whose voices you miss hearing in life. Give them a call and recharge what has been.
Walking alongside of people in the midst of joys and horrendous tragedies are markers of what it means to be a pastor. In the midst of such experiences, over the years, a variety of events stand out for me as transforming and life changing. The memory of one has come flooding back into my mind the last few days, along with tears and a hurting heart.
In my last parish and Diocese, I along with others came to know a seven year old girl named Flor and her mother Rosa. We got to know them through mission work. Due to profound poverty and oppression, Flor’s case of Rickets was one of the worst US physicians had ever witnessed. Through hard work, fundraising, governmental paperwork, and prayer, Rosa and her mother were brought to the US to the community of which I was a part.
Surgeons and medical care providers along with a major medical center donated services and completed rounds of excruciatingly painful corrective surgery to treat Flor’s deformities. It was agonizing not only for Flor, but for her mother and those of us who cared for them. But through God’s grace and amazing human beings, Flor was healed.
After a year or so, Rosa asked if I would baptize Flor. In one of the most moving and Spirit filled services, I had the astonishing privilege of baptizing Flor by the side of a gorgeous lake. It was at that moment I was reminded that we are all children of God, are bearers of the Holy, and that love is the only standard by which we should conduct ourselves whenever we are in the presence of another human being. Flor and Rosa taught me what love means and that what God cares most about is love as God is love (1 John 4).
A variety of Central and South American theologians and clergy have understood this truth. Here is what a few of them have said.
The eternal destiny of human beings will be measured by how much or how little solidarity we have displayed with the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the oppressed. In the end we will be judged in terms of love. Leonardo Boff (Brazil).
Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world. Gustavo Gutierrez. (Peru).
A church that does not provoke any crisis, preach a gospel that does not unsettle, proclaim a word of God that does not get under anyone’s skin or a word of God that does not touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed: what kind of gospel is that? Oscar Romero (El Salvador)
It is entering into the reality of a child, of the poor,of those wearing rags, of the sick, of a hovel,of a shack. It is going to share with them. And from the very heart of misery, of this situation, to transcend it, to elevate it, to promote it, and to say to them, “You aren’t trash. You aren’t marginalized.” It is to say exactly the opposite, “You are valuable.” Oscar Romero (El Salvador)
And so, to Flor and her mother Rosa along with all others from stricken El Salvador, I say, “You are valuable to me and you have taught me much about love and what it means to follow Jesus.”
So goes chapter 1, verse 1, of the Book of Genesis. What follows these four words is a description of what God did in 8 creative acts over a period of 6 days. It is a magnificent description of God creating the earth and everything within it out of nothing. This part of the Book of Genesis is a profound theological statement of how all things began in an orderly manner. As we enter the New Year, I believe we are invited by God to spend time pondering, praying about, and turning to our creative God. More on this in a moment.
I think it is important to remember that the beginning verses of Genesis are theological and never were intended by the writers to be an exact scientific description of creation. If we allow them to, however, science and theology, in fact, work in tandem when it comes to the creation story. God is the creator and science has helped to fill in a few of the blanks as to how God’s creative process unfolded over time. As I see things, science helps us with the “what” and faith based theology leads us to “why.” But regardless of the timeline of the “what”, it is God who started it all, God who oversees it all, and God who created order out of chaos.
“In the beginning God.” As I reflect upon these words, it strikes me that they may serve as the basis of empowering mantras with which to live each day. These words, if we allow them to, help to refocus our attention and enable us to live lives grounded upon our creator. What if throughout the course of each day we were to prayerfully say things to ourselves like the following?
“As I begin this day, God…. As I prepare for work today, God… As I think about how to approach this problem today, God… Before I go to this meeting, God… As I dial this number to have this conversation, God… When all the possibilities of how this might go enter my mind, God… As this transition unfolds, God… When I have to say goodbye, God… With this new…God…”
How we complete each of these statements and others like them is for each of us to work out with the help of God. As our creator, I believe God invites us to intentionally turn to God with all new beginnings from the small to the large. To focus upon him when something different is about to unfold or we are uncertain how to approach a person, situation, or relationship.
God never intended for God’s creation to be separate from God, nor does God ever want us to try and live each day and move through the challenges in front of us without God. Instead, God wants us to remember that God is there at the beginning of all things, in the midst of all things, and at the conclusion of all things.
“In the beginning, God…” Indeed these are some of the most encouraging words to be found anywhere and remind me of what God said to Joshua just before he led the Israelites into the Promised Land. God said to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) Because Joshua remembered that God was with him as he began the journey across the Jordan River, Joshua had the strength and determination to bring about a new era for humankind.
It is incredible to think that the year 2018 is upon us. At least from where I sit, the 1970’s seem like yesterday. Countless people across the globe will celebrate the New Year in every conceivable way, some wonderful, others perhaps not so swift.
I enjoy gathering with friends and family to welcome in a New Year. There is something special about parades and bowl games. And I along with many feel that with the arrival of a New Year, there is cause for hope. That said, in general, New Years Day and the events that surround it have not been my favorite compared to other holidays. For a long time I didn’t understand why, but recently I think I have begun to gain some insight.
Over the years lots of us have had the experience of making resolutions for the New Year. Resolutions are not the problem. Often in fact they can be life altering for the good.
The challenge is that we at times seemingly make our resolutions calendar dependent. It is as if a simple change on the calendar gives us the opportunity for a new start that was not present before time moves from the 31st of December to the 1st of January.
If however, we look at change as being calendar driven, we can lose sight of the fact that each and every day we are given by God is a fresh moment we can begin anew, set a new course, change directions, make different decisions, or confront ways of living that diminish us.
Said another way, we need not wait for a new year to arrive to make transformative commitments or to resolve to do this or that. God gives us that opportunity every moment of every day.
Scripture is replete with examples of people making changes, starting anew, or engaging in a new beginning. None of the stories I can think of were calendar driven, but God led. Whether it was Moses beginning his role as a leader or Esther taking on the new responsibility of saving her people, new starts, beginnings and choices didn’t depend upon a ball dropping at midnight.
While it is important to mark the passage of time, celebrate meaningful events and passages, the good news of the Gospel is that we can start fresh at any time. This is why in Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthians he writes, “What we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new.” (The Message).
When our lives are grounded in Christ, God’s spirit enables us to get such a fresh start every single moment. The Spirit of God does not depend on a calendar, time, or the day of the week.
It is my prayer for each of us this New Year that we will resolve to awaken each day expectant that our Lord is working through us to bring about not only what is new, but what brings us joy, hope, an opportunity to serve, healing, and purpose.
Happy New Year!
Each year, Christmas arrives in the midst of whatever is happening in life. For most of us, our lives are a mixture of the good and bad, the joyful and hard, the successes and failures, along with what is going right and what is terribly wrong. But wherever we are this Christmas, I have a prayer that something will happen to each of us over the days ahead.
I pray that each of us will receive something from God. Not something that comes in a wrapped package. Not something that is found underneath a colorfully lit tree. Not something we only encounter on Christmas. Something only our Savior can give us. And what our Savior has to give each of us is not only quite special, but very unique, life changing and transforming.
Some of us need strength. We are depleted. Maybe we are in that place where we have learned that relying on our own strength sometimes is not enough and ultimately is not going to cut it. We know we need a power far greater than ourselves to help us and we are in that place ready to finally receive that power, that strength.
For those of us who need strength and know it, “Unto us a Savior is born” and our Savior wants to give us the strength we need for whatever it is. His strength. Our Savior says to us, “Come to me, all of you who are worn out and burdened and I will give you rest. Come to me and I will give you the strength you need.”
Some of us, however, may need something else. Maybe we are in that place where our hearts are heavy and our spirits are troubled because issues of forgiveness are consuming us in one way or another
We know we need to forgive ourselves, but perhaps just can’t. We know we need to forgive another, but it seems impossible. We know we have to let go and that bitterness is doing us no good. And for those of us in such a place, “Unto us a Savior is born.” A Savior who wants to deal with whatever it is when it comes to forgiveness. Our Savior says to us, “Turn the struggle over to me. All is forgiven. All will be well. Let go of guilt. Be free from the weight of it all.”
But perhaps there are others of us whom are filled with fear, worry or trepidation. Maybe we are consumed with angst. Despite our best efforts, living in the moment is a foreign concept and our minds are consumed with all the “what if” questions imaginable. For those of us in a place of dis-ease, “Unto us a Savior is born.” Our Savior wants to free us from fear and invites us to turn it all over to God, to let go, to let God deal with whatever it is, and to receive a strong trust in God that replaces our fear.
Some of us, however, in the midst of all the delight, may be dealing with loss or are really missing someone who is gone. For those of us in such a place, “Unto us a Savior is born.” A Savior who shattered the tomb of death and rose again reminding us all, that through our Savior, eternity awaits us.
An eternity beyond description. A space beyond our five senses in which all is well, all is beautiful, all is the way it is supposed to be. “Unto us a Savior is born” to remind us to live with hope and count on the fact there is so much more going on than meets the eye, so we can go ahead and live right now without concern about the future or those we miss and see no longer.
And finally, may be in need of something that transcends everything and that is love. For those of us who need love, the right kind of love that changes everything, “Unto us a Savior is born.” A Savior whose essence is love.
A Savior who was born to show us that God is love, that all that matters in the end is love, and that the purpose of life is love. That love has been the point, remains the point, and will forever be the point. Loving God with all our hearts, minds, soul and strength and loving other people by what we do moment to moment. And for those of us who need the love only God can offer, a love which is permanent, healing, lavish, deep, profound, and unconditional, “Unto us a Savior is born.”
I know first hand the complex challenges, heartaches, pains and pitfalls of life. I know that there is a heck of a lot of bad in the midst of all that is great and wonderful and good. But through it all, we have a Savior, whose birth we celebrate. We have Jesus who has been given to you and to me to free us to live with joy and confidence.
And we can live with joy because we have a Savior who gives us the strength we need, a Savior who has dealt with and responds to any and all issues of forgiveness, a Savior who empowers us to let go of fear, a Savior who had taken care of death so we can live with hope, and a Savior who shows us the path, the purpose, and the reason for it all, which is love.
John the Baptist is one of the most colorful characters in the New Testament. The story of John is about a man who prepared people for the coming of Jesus. It is important to point out that long before John showed up, the Old Testament prophets of Malachi and Isaiah told of a time when a person would arrive on the scene proclaiming that the Messiah was on his way.
In Malachi we find, “A messenger of God will go ahead of you.” And from Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” John the Baptist was the fulfillment of these prophecies. John had a clear purpose in life. To tell people about Jesus, to prepare folks for his arrival, and to encourage them to repent or to turn their lives back to God. He passionately encouraged people to open up their hearts and their lives to God and for what God was about to do through Jesus.
John profoundly affected people around him. He shook people up by what he said, by how he acted, and in fact by how he looked. When people were around John they paid attention.
As a result of John, folks thought about their lives and what was important. They thought about God and what it means to have a God that is fully present. They thought about how they had fallen short and what they needed to do to set things right in their lives and relationships. They spent time thinking about their passions, affections, and attachments as well as their purpose in life.
As I think about John and who he was and the impact he had, I am compelled to offer some questions for each one of us to think about this Advent season.
John’s life proclaimed Jesus. Who or what do our lives proclaim? Who or what do our lives point to? What principles and values do our lives represent? What do people take away from us after an encounter with us? What rubs off of you and of me onto others?
Whether or not we know it or intend it, people are affected by being around us. And what rubs off of us can run the gamut from things that are debilitating to destructive to life changing to healing to leading people to Jesus. So the question is, what do you want to rub off on others as a result of people being around you? What do you want people to take away from being with you?
I know I have fallen short in many ways throughout my life. I have done and said things I regret. Not all of whom I have been has reflected my true values. And sadly, some of what has rubbed off of me onto to others is not what I really would have wanted. Perhaps you have had some of these feelings too.
But I also know that you and I are on a journey. That we can ask God to help us. We can repent and turn back to God. We can take the time to stop and think about the questions I’ve posed and what rubs off of us.
While you and I are not like John the Baptist, there is no doubt that we can have a massive impact on those we encounter. I invite you over the Advent days ahead to take some time to pray, think about, and dig deep within your heart, about what it is that rubs off of you onto others. And my prayer for each of us is that what we exude most of all to everyone we encounter is the love of God, a love so desperately needed at this time in our land.
We now are moving into our second week of Advent. It is a season in which, we as Christians, continue to ready ourselves to celebrate Jesus’ birth and prepare and ponder His Second Coming. These themes of the Advent Season cause me to ask another question. Am I prepared for Jesus to come into my life right now?
Perhaps God wants us not just to think about what He did and what He will do, but what He is doing this moment. Frankly, if we spend too much time thinking about what was or what will be, we might not be paying enough attention to what the possibilities are right now.
Long ago, the prophet Isaiah wrote, in effect, “Lord God, we are the clay and you are the potter.”
While Isaiah’s words were to a people who lived and suffered a long time ago, in many ways, his words have a lot to do with us who live in a vastly different place and time. Isaiah said, in essence, “Through it all, the good and the bad, live like a piece of clay and let God be the one who shapes you.”
I think this is great counsel for us this Advent season. We don’t need to wait for His second coming for transformation, healing, or peace within our lives to begin. Jesus wants to come into our lives, come into the changes we are going through, come into the center of our identities and ways of doing things, and have His way with us right this moment.
Are we ready for Christ to come into our lives right now in ways that may change us at our core? Are we ready for that kind of change? Are we truly willing to expand what it is that we are building our lives upon?
Are we willing to finally build our lives around Christ? Not kind of. Not partially. Not sort of. But completely.
So this Advent, over the next days and weeks, I invite you to do a few things.
Have some straight talk with God. Talk to God about your life and especially those places you resist changing the most. Talk to God about those spots you are afraid to let go of. Tell God how you feel.
Ask God to help you build your life around Him. And it you already feel you have done that, ask Him again. Ask God to help you build your life around Him, not stuff, places, relationships, ways of living or a whole litany of other possibilities. Ask God to help you develop a relationship with God in which you are the clay and God is the potter.