Twenty years ago I was serving at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Concord, New Hampshire. It is a historic church that sits adjacent to the State House. St. Paul’s was a great church and one thing I enjoyed was the bell tower. At the top of the stairs of the tower, if my memory is correct, were 8 bells of various sizes. To ring the bells, there was a bank of wooden levers. By pushing a lever down, a particular bell would ring. I spent some time in the tower learning how to play hymns on the bells. To this day I cherish this experience.
One afternoon I was in the tower playing away when all of a sudden our parish administrator came running up the stairs. She said, “Robert. Robert. You need to stop. The Senate is in session and the bells are so loud they cannot deliberate. They just called. They asked who on earth was making all the racket. I did not tell them it was you.” I was certainly grateful for that especially as I knew the governor at the time.
Bells have been part of faith traditions for centuries. The use of bells by priests is found in the Book of Exodus. There we learn that Aaron wore bells whenever he was in a particular area of the Temple. In the Christian tradition, bells were introduced by an Italian Bishop in the 400’s. A Pope in 604 sanctioned bells for use in worship. Since that time, church bells have been used for worship, to announce the beginning of worship, special services, or simply for celebratory purposes.
Church bells can be small or quite large. One bell at the National Cathedral weighs over 3500 pounds. Other bells around the world are even larger. Regardless of bell size, there are few sounds as glorious as church bells ringing.
In Psalm 100 we find this verse. “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.” When we worship God, we are invited to do so with joy, even and perhaps especially in the midst of painful hard times. One way to do this is with bells. Also in Psalm 100 is this. “God made us and we are his. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture.” In other words, we worship God with joy because we are God’s. We belong to God through it all and nothing changes that.
This Sunday is Easter, the day we remember and celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus. It is the day humanity learned clearly that new life follows the life we have now and that death is a passage into something wonderfully and beautifully beyond description. Because of Jesus, we can trust eternal life is ahead and this changes everything, including how we live now each day.
To help us celebrate Easter with joy, let’s use some bells and connect ourselves with those who have worshipped God over many centuries. I invite each of you to join me, following our online live broadcast of our Easter service at 9AM, MDT, to go outside, wherever you are, and make a joyful noise unto the Lord. If you have bells of some kind, use them. Ring them with vigor to express your joy over Easter and Jesus’ resurrection. If you don’t have bells, I invite you to make a joyful racket unto the Lord. Use pots and pans, anything to express joy to God. And if you cannot join us at 9 MDT, sometime during Easter Sunday go out and make some joyful noise. You might just get somebody’s attention who needs a smile.
This time in all of our lives is so tough, hard, and unsettling, to say the least. The losses many are experiencing are massive. I believe it is during this time, we need a dose, even if just a small one, of joy. Joy over our Lord who is guiding us through this time. Joy over God who loves us without bounds. Joy over our Lord who promises us that when it is all said and done, all will be well. Happy Easter my friends.
Without a doubt, as I reflect upon my 60 years of life, I have learned the greatest lessons through pain, struggle and tough times. Often when in the midst of something difficult, however, it can be hard to find meaning or to gain insight into what can be taken from the experience. Sometimes the passage of time is required to gain perspective.
I suspect the global crisis we are in now, will one day prove to be a teacher to each of us if we are attentive, intentional and prayerful, today and in the future. Said another way, through the very significant hardships, fear, and up-ending consequences of this current time, we have been given the opportunity to reset various aspects of our lives, how we live them, and who we are down deep. When what we are accustomed to is stripped away, we can be forced to explore our values, priorities, and ultimately what matters not only the most, but at all.
While what we learn from this time will be unique to each of us, my hunch is that shared realizations may happen. Having said this, however, I pray that some specific lessons will come from this pandemic. Others likely will have very different hopes. That said, it is my prayer that these months will remind us of our utter dependency upon our loving Creator. That every day we wake up we will embrace the truth that any given moment we have is a gift from God, ripe with opportunities to serve and live selflessly.
After this crisis, I pray that we will embrace face to face relationships with people in person and understand that being in person with another is where true connection and intimacy happens. Perhaps we will learn to distance ourselves from uni-dimensional forms of communication and learn to pause to look into the eyes of the person in front of us.
I pray that we will get back to God’s understanding of the world. Borders, differences in languages, backgrounds, cultures, religions, and various ways of doing things does not mean we are not all God created human beings. All of us are on the same singular planet and hope resides in flipping the way we see others and how we approach global problems. Historically every great challenge that has arisen in human history comes from the distinctions we make, not God.
I pray that what gives us a sense of security and stability will move from that which is ephemeral to that which remains over time. Friendships, families, congregations, integrity, honesty, doing the right thing, empathy, lack of ego, and love, in my view, are where security for daily living comes. Stability arises when who we are in public aligns with who we are in private. Assets come and go. And while wealth can and has been used for great good, stability and security does not come from things temporary. What gives us a foundation is that which we take with us into eternity.
I pray over time that as a result of this crisis, our definition of success will broaden. That our tenderness toward others will increase. That our sense of who our neighbor is will reflect what Jesus taught us. That indeed we will treat every person as we wish to be treated. That we will embrace the truth that when one person hurts, we all hurt. That we will learn to seek joy, share it and laugh more. That we will learn to take what we do seriously, but not take ourselves too seriously. That stress will be embraced as a signal to turn in a different direction. That we will honor this planet as a spectacular gift from God and act accordingly.
While there is much more that I pray for, when it is all said and done, I pray for a dramatic resurgence in love. The love of God. The love of others. And loving compassion toward ourselves. As we say over and over and over at the Chapel, as God is love, the only thing that really matters is love and actions based on such love. I pray that through this time we learn most of all to celebrate, emulate, communicate, and live our lives based on love as our number one priority. Idealistic? Certainly, but we have chosen to follow Jesus who calls us to His ways, not ours.
Please know we are praying for you and we want to know how we can be helpful to you and those you love.
Several decades ago I along with my classmates were at the midpoint through our 36 month residential seminary training in Tennessee. For the vast majority of us, it was a very difficult time, largely because of the uncertainty of the future along with the extreme academic and spiritual demands placed upon us.
I recall lots of my friends were stressed, in tears, worried about income, because none of us had any, and uncertain as to what the future would hold. Few if any of us knew where we would end up serving.
It was at this particularly shared low point that we were all gathered in a classroom. As we took in yet more information about this and that, it was then we heard a strange distant sound. Over a few minutes, the sound became louder and clearer. It was the sound of singing and of musical instruments being played. The volume increased as did our puzzled expressions.
Then, to our great surprise, the doors of the classroom burst open and the room filled in with seminarians in other class years, dressed up in funny costumes singing a very clear repetitive line. That line. “We are all in this together. We are all in this together. We are all in this together.” This dramatically changed our perspectives and outlook amidst our worries and uncertainty.
The world wide pandemic is obviously difficult beyond description and my seminary experience is vastly insignificant in comparison. But one thing is quite relevant. Indeed, we are all in this together. For every single human being across national boundaries, ethnic identifications, orientations, political persuasions, income levels, lots in life, philosophical differences, and spiritual paths, we are all in this together.
In the midst of hunger, unemployment, illness, fear, boredom, worry, uncertainty and more, we are all in this together and to me, this makes all the difference in the world. It is my prayer that each of us individually and we as human kind collectively, will gain new perspectives, levels of understanding, empathy, compassion, and love for all people across every divide. We have always been on the same boat and perhaps, just perhaps, something will come from this time that reminds us of this profound truth.
We are all God’s children, no exceptions. Can you imagine the global shift if we were to embrace such a truth. And perhaps, just perhaps, the profound losses that we are experiencing along with the new normal will lead us to look at each other through new eyes. We are all in this together.
God created all of creation and everyone in it. That was God’s choice. In response, the choice has always been left up to us as to how we will respond to what we have been given. The path of love or the many others humanity has taken since inception.
Over the days and week ahead, please let us know how we may help you, through prayer, grocery shopping, a call to check in, or simply a reminder that you are loved by God and all of us at the Chapel. We are here for you and we are all in this together.
There is a phrase that appears in scripture more than any other. It is not the phrase don’t sin, or start repenting, or watch out, or don’t do this or eat that. It is none of these. It is a phrase that occurs more than 365 times. It’s a phrase in the Bible that is repeated more often than there are days in the year. And that phrase is Fear Not. Fear Not.
What God has to say to you and to me this day in the midst of our vulnerability is Fear Not.
In the book of Genesis, soon after God calls Abraham, he and his wife Sarah experience a terrible famine. They have no food or drink. In the midst of their hunger, Abraham ends up in a horrific battle in which he must rescue his nephew from tyrants. And it is in the midst of the anxiety of hunger and battle that God says to Abraham, “Fear not Abraham, for I am with you.”
Years later in the book of Exodus, through the actions of evil Egyptian Pharaohs, the chosen people of God suffer tremendous oppression and hardship. The people are forced to work long hours for no wages. They see the waters of the Nile turned into blood; the land consumed by frogs, the air filled with gnats and flies as one plague after another strikes.
Parents search to find words to explain to their children why locusts fill the air and why hail destroys the land and people. And after all of this, the people finally escape Egypt, hopeful that Moses will lead them into safety. As they flee the land, thousands of chariots and quantities of weapons of mass destruction are aimed at the fleeing people. It is at this point that God speaks to His people, “Fear Not, I am with you.”
Years later, in the book of the prophet Isaiah, the chosen people of God have lost it all. Their land has been taken over by an invading army. Their homes have been destroyed. Their places of worship are no more. Friends and family members have lost contact with one another as hoards of people are hauled off by marauding troops into a foreign land. The people have lost everything, a place to live, a means to make a living, and the support of extended family members and friends.
It is at this point of utter despair that God speaks to His people and says, “I, the Lord your God hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, Fear Not, for I will help you. Do not fear, for am I with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you….”
In the New Testament, Peter, whose life had been spent fishing, reels with uncertainty and confusion. He is confronted with a world in which nothing seems predictable. Everything he had learned to count on seems shaky. And it is in the midst of Peter’s turmoil and soul-searching questions that Jesus says to Peter, “Fear Not.”
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says to His disciples, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body…Consider the birds of the air, they don’t sow or reap and yet God feeds them. Can any of you add a single hour to your life by worrying? If God clothes the grass of the field…how much more will he clothe you…Fear Not, little flock. I am with you.”
Over and over and over throughout the pages of scripture, which is a story about our fragile lives, God says, “Fear Not, I am with you.” Throughout the Bible, whether dealing with death, fear, anxiety, anger, numbness, confusion, hunger, despair, or economic devastation, God says, “Fear Not.”
Although I know it can be a challenge to let go of fear, this is precisely what God asks us to do in this and any time of uncertainty. And let us remember Jesus’ words to his followers and to each of us. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”
This last week for several days, my wife Regina and I visited our eldest daughter who is attending The University of the South, Sewanee. It certainly felt like a homecoming as Sewanee is where I attended Episcopal seminary in the 1990’s. It is a special place with wonderful people and tremendous opportunities to learn and grow. While we have not lived in Tennessee for quite some time, it is a magnificent state with much to offer.
Tragically this week, a horrific tornado ripped through the Nashville area causing devastation and death. Tornadoes are not unknown in this part of the world and I remember many afternoons and evenings sheltering in place.
It was also this past week I visited several clergy friends of mine and we discussed the Coronavirus, a threat of another kind with lots of unknowns. Both of these things are poignant reminders that life, while full of blessings and joy, is also indeed fragile and ephemeral.
Over the years living with the frailties of life as we all do, generally speaking I’ve had two reactions to threatening possibilities. One is to keep the words of Psalm 46 front and center, the other is to be prepared and informed and hence non- reactive or panicky.
In excerpts, Psalm 46 reads, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea: though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult…Be still and know that I am God…The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
These words are a potent reminder that ultimately we have nothing to fear because God is God. While terrible things will happen, our destiny and future with God is clear and known. And as God is love, we can trust that love is where we ultimately will all reside.
Having said this, however, it is our obligation to respond to the current situation with resources and preparedness. As our Surgeon General recently said, it is important to be cautious but not afraid.
At the Chapel, we have decided to take some very simple steps, things in fact we should do every flu season. Here is a list of what we are implementing, which is in keeping with health recommendations, as well as guidance from other churches and national church bodies.
Charla and I both use hand sanitizer before serving communion and have for years. This will continue.
Beginning this Sunday, we will serve bread and not wine. When the current crisis passes, we will resume serving wine.
As has been the case, we have hand sanitizer throughout our worship and fellowship space and ask all people to continue to practice good handwashing.
We ask, and this includes staff and clergy, that if you are sick with cold or flu symptoms on a Sunday morning, that you stay home and watch our service online (go to www.snowmasschapel.org). Of course, as always, if you are not well, we also would like to know so we can offer care and prayer.
Some churches have asked parishioners not to shake hands during gatherings, but instead to smile or bow or give a sign of peace with hands. We will leave this at your discretion, but as is the case during flu seasons, handwashing after contacting people in large groups is wise.
We are looking at ways to more effectively serve food following our Sunday service.
None of this is meant to cause alarm or fear. We are simply responding to the situation at hand with how we have been advised with easy steps. This crisis, as others have, will pass. I ask you to please join me in praying for the end of this virus, for healing for those who have been infected, and for the complete restoration of world economies upon which we all depend. Please also pray for the people of the greater Nashville area as they recover from the tornado.
Know I hold all of you in prayer and I am so grateful for each of you and for the Chapel, a place filled with the presence of Jesus, the love of God, and great care and love for one another.
A number of weeks ago, the roads in the valley were dry as we were in between storms. The warm winter sun had melted all the snow. On that day, I was headed toward Basalt and was behind a well worn van. What struck me was that the wheels were so out of alignment it almost appeared as if the vehicle was traveling at a 45 degree angle down the road. Several minutes later I’d reached my destination and turned off the road, although the image of the van stuck with me.
This week we begin the season of Lent. It is a 40 day period from Ash Wednesday until Easter with Sundays omitted. Sundays traditionally are not considered part of the Lenten season because every Sunday we remember not only the cross, but Jesus’ resurrection.
Lent is observed by many Christian traditions across the globe and has been for centuries. Countless Christians use this time of year to reflect, re-establish priorities, intentionally pray, study scripture, and repent.
Repentance is a theme throughout scripture from Genesis through the Book of Revelation. While some have interpreted repentance as “feeling bad for bad things done,” or “immersing oneself in a big dose of guilt,” or, “getting in touch with how one has sinned and the consequences,” there is something much more fundamental and frankly transformative to the idea of repentance.
Repentance, if you go back to its central meaning in scriptural Greek, means to have a change of mind or a change of heart. In my own life and journey in faith, I know when I am off track. I can feel it. I can see it. I can observe the effects. Like a van going down a road with tires out of alignment, I know when I am a bit out of whack, and this is where repentance comes in.
Down deep, I believe that every single person, at their God given core, wants to do the right thing, to be kind and loving, and ultimately to be in alignment with why we have been life to begin with. That said, certainly countless people have lost sight of God, moved away from a relationship with God, have had life circumstances that have precluded knowing healthy love, have endured horrific events and happenings that have led to profound trauma and heartache, or simply have been terribly ruffed up in life, all of which leads to the pain, acting out, and sin we see so evident today.
But I believe, every person, given the right circumstances, seeks love, to be loving, and to feel at home within themselves and with God. I also think that most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, realize we need a change of heart now and then to get back to being whole and the creatures God intends. This is what repentance is all about. It is about a change of heart, about getting back to the way things should be, relationally, vocationally, physically, psychologically, and spiritually.
Sometimes the way I act, respond, treat myself and others, think, perceive, and relate to God are not in alignment and I can feel it. Repentance is all about spending time with God, with intention, seeking a change of heart, and getting back to who we know we want to be, to whom God made us to be, God’s beloved creatures being loved and loving in return.
In invite us all in these weeks ahead to keep the image of a car traveling down the road in mind. That is, to identify the ways in which we are and are not in alignment with what makes us feel truly at home with ourselves, others, and with our loving, healing, forgiving, creator. To take what we know about ourselves to Jesus and to ask in prayer for a change of heart.
I won’t forget the morning I had with humpback whales off the coast of Hawaii. They are astonishing creatures and I am so grateful they have been protected. Without such protection, they would be gone since the world lost nearly 95 percent of these mammals before their recent slow comeback. It is hard to imagine the world’s oceans without them.
Humpbacks are massive. They grow to nearly 40 tons and 60 feet in length. As big as a school bus, humpbacks live up to 80 or 90 years. They migrate up to 5,000 miles per year, more than any other mammal. The ones in Hawaii make the annual trip from Alaska to the warm tropical waters not only to feed but to calve newborns. Many people recognize humpbacks by their body shape as well as by the shape of their tails or flukes.
On the morning we were sailing and observing the whales, we were captivated by their movements, power, size, and grace. But it was when we lowered a hydrophone below the surface of the water we were most awed. It was then we heard one of the most unique sounds in the world. The sound of humpback whale songs. Click here for an example.
While both males and females make sounds, it is the male humpback that is known for making sounds that are song-like, can last for up to 20 minutes, and can be heard underwater for up to 20 miles away.
As I sat listening to the music of the humpback, I was struck by the realization that had it not been for the hydrophone, we never would have heard the other worldly songs of these magnificent creatures of God. We never would have heard their sounds if we listened, even intently, only above the surface of the water.
In some ways, in my own faith journey, hearing God has at times been like trying to listen to the sounds of a humpback whale. There have been passages in which I have stayed above the surface of the water, so to speak, and not put myself in a place or space in which I could hear God.
Distractions, noise, busyness, fatigue, technology, and the like all keep us above the surface of the water, where it is difficult to hear God. To hear God, we don’t need a hydrophone, but we do need to go deep and into places and spaces in which there is quiet, peace, and few interruptions. It could even be that in listening to the songs of whales that we are hearing an example of the incarnation of God’s voice in creation.
I invite all of us to frequently create the space, time, and place to make God’s voice more accessible. To that end, I ask us to contemplate how we each can go below the surface just to listen?
Happy New Year to each of you. I pray the year is full of blessings and joy for all. While everyone is different, many people look at the beginning of a new year as an opportunity to institute some kind of change. For some, resolutions are made and kept. For others, commitments with good intentions are made but follow through ultimately falters. We are human and life happens after all. Frankly, both kinds of experiences have been mine over the years. Some resolutions I have kept, others are distant memories.
As time has passed, however, I have come to view each day as a new beginning, a new opportunity, and fresh chance to go in another direction. I also believe that as God invites each of us to live right now in the moment, I encourage us to take on the view that every moment is ripe for change and transformation. We need not wait for a date on the calendar. Nor should a calender determine how we feel about ourselves and what we set out to accomplish.
In thinking about the year 2020, a thought came to mind. A few years ago while enduring some painful challenges, a friend shared an idea with me. At first it seemed a bit silly, but as I thought about it, the power of the idea grew on me. Sometimes simple ideas end up being quite helpful. Perhaps what follows is something you already do, perhaps not. But what my friend introduced me to is the idea of a “God Can.”
A “God Can” is a literal jar or can with a lid. Most people make their own. Attached to the can or jar is a label that states, “God Can.” Whenever we are confronted with something small or big, overwhelming or difficult, life impeding or painful, the simple idea is to write the issue down on a piece of paper and place it in the “God Can.” In other words, to visibly and tangibly turn whatever it is over to God along with a conviction that God will and can help.
There is just something about making the effort of writing whatever it is that is going on down and placing in God’s hands in a physical way. And sometimes having something we see can remind us of what we cannot see and prompt us to turn our lives over to the One for whom nothing is impossible.
So over this week of the New Year, I invite you to join me in taking stock of challenges and heartaches. To write those things down on pieces of paper. And to place those slips of paper into your own “God Can.” I’ll be dusting mine off. Over time, look back at what you wrote down and evaluate where things are and look to see the ways in which God was with you and worked through you.
This New Year, I pray we will take a moment, whether or not we create a “God Can”, to acknowledge and remind ourselves that no matter what, God can and will. And God can and will because we are all God’s beloved and treasured creation.
Happy New Year!!!
Every Christmas season, I like many of you, think back to Christmases of the past. The joyful and happy ones. The carefree ones. Those experienced through the eyes of a child. Those that were challenging and the ones in which I deeply missed family members and friends who are upon another shore in a greater light.
Speaking of Christmases past. A bunch of years ago, my wife Regina and I, before having children, were living in El Paso. On a late Sunday September afternoon, we were in our car in southern New Mexico not far from our house. It was on a road surrounded by cotton and chile fields that a sign caught my attention. The sign read, “Baby Goats, 5 dollars.” I looked at Regina. She looked at me and we pulled into a long driveway, at the end of which was a pen filled with baby goats.
They were all so cute I wanted to get out 25 dollars because I knew not all the goats were going to be adopted as pets but rather for recipes. But alas, one would have to be enough. After handing my five dollars over, Regina picked up our little goat, and we got into the car.
As we got back onto the road, that little baby goat began to scream. It was a sound I’d never heard before. Not only that, the screams were so ear piercing, we had to roll the windows down. And it was at that moment our baby goat received his name. Flip. We named him Flip because he totally flipped out that afternoon. Well, Flip grew over those fall months that followed.
Our neighbor at the time was the manager of a local mall. We were having dinner together one night, not long before Christmas, and I asked her how things were going. As this was a long time ago, well before there was online shopping, she spoke about how busy and packed the mall was. She said the next day was going to be crazy because hundreds of kids would show up for pictures with Santa.
The next day arrived. We put a leash on Flip, as he was used to neighborhood walks with us. But rather than going for a walk, we put him in the car and drove straight to the mall. After parking the car, with Flip in tow, we walked across the lot toward the mall. Flip thought it was great fun. He made sounds like this. I’m not sure why but so many people stopped in their tracks and stared at us.
We then made our way through the mall entrance doors, to the escalator and headed down to the lower level of the mall. It was great, those little slats in the escalator steps. Well they collected Flip’s droppings perfectly. At the bottom of the escalator, we walked a few feet and stood in a long line. After all, we wanted a picture of Santa with our “kid”. The sign after all, did say, “Santa Pictures with your Kids.” We were just doing what the sign told us to do.
After a bit of time, finally it was our turn. Santa said something about how he didn’t want Flip to sit on his lap. I am not sure why. Flip was nicely groomed for a picture. He also said that he could not believe his eyes as he’d never seen a goat in a mall for a picture with Santa before. But we got that picture. Yes we did. Santa even smiled. Flip too was delighted. So was our neighbor the mall manager when she heard about it all.
I think Flip was a perfect name for our goat. He flipped out when we first got him. He flipped people out when they saw him in unexpected places like a shopping mall. And I just like the word Flip because it denotes all kinds of things, like doing a physical flip or flipping out like our goat did. But the word flip can also mean to turn over, to change, to adopt a completely different approach, or even to see something in an entirely new way.
Although our pet goat was named Flip, I invite each of us to remember that when it comes to flipping things around, God is the master. When we turn to God, God will flip the way we see things, what we expect out of each day, our outlook, how we respond to challenges, and how we choose to spend our energy. God can even flip how we talk to ourselves and the thoughts that enter our minds.
Sometimes we say to ourselves, “I don’t measure up.” God’s spirit says, “I love and accept you as you are right now.” There are moments when we hold grudges and venom. God’s spirit says, “Forgive, and let go.” There are days in which we might feel judgmental. God’s spirit says, “Walk in their shoes. Empathize. They too are my beloved.”
Sometimes we might engage in exclusion or division. God’s spirit says, “Include and build bridges with others.” For those times in which we are filled with overwhelming fear, God’s spirit says, “Trust me and release your fear.” There are passages in which we may believe we have reached the end of a road. God’s spirits says, “There are always new beginnings ahead of you.”
Many of us sometimes question the future. God’s spirit says, “This is my world. Hold onto hope.” All of us have lost those we love. God’s spirit says, “They are with me and eternal life is your future with us.” We each encounter tension filled days. God’s spirit says, “Receive the peace I give to you.” And there may be moments in which we wonder what the point of it all is. God’s spirit says, “Love is the reason. Love is the answer. Love is the purpose. Love me. Love others. Love yourselves and you will have it all.”
Christmas is not just about celebrating Jesus’ birth and God coming among us in person, although it is that. Christmas is about being reminded that we have a God who loves flipping things around. Flipping how we think, how we see things, our expectations, what we feel about ourselves and others, how we see God, and flipping us around so that we come to realize that love is what matters the most, for God is love. And love is why Jesus was born.
On Christmas Day, Advent ends and we begin the 12 days of the Christmas Season, which ends with the season of Epiphany which begins on January 6. As mentioned in this e-letter, Advent is a 4 week period in which we are invited to prepare to celebrate Jesus’ first coming into the world at his birth. Advent is also the time in which we anticipate Jesus’ second coming.
A few weeks ago, I suggested Advent is a great time of year to pay attention to three words. Those words are anticipate, celebrate, and elevate. In our day-to-day lives, we can live with a sense of anticipation, celebration, and elevation. To help us remember the three words, I introduced the acronym ACE. A – Anticipate, C – Celebrate, E – Elevate. In Part 1 of this series, I focused on the A of ACE or anticipate. You can go to that blog here. Last week I explored the C of ACE or celebrate, and that eletter can be found here. To wrap things up, this week I will focus on the E of ACE, or Elevate.
The E of ACE living is elevating. This is an invitation to each of us to intentionally elevate ways of living that reflect a life that is focused on Jesus. In every moment, we can choose to live in response to Jesus instead of living in reaction to what is around us. We can choose to live responsively instead of reactively. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, each moment we can clothe ourselves in the presence of Jesus. We can elevate Jesus’ ways of being.
In the New Testament, we have two letters written by Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers. In his first letter, we find a lot about what an elevated life looks like. Here are some excerpts from the Message version of the Bible, with some of my comments.
Peter writes, “What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him… Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.”
Here Peter reinforces the idea that we are living in in-between times. Jesus was born and Jesus will come again. When Jesus comes again, Peter writes, we will have it all, life healed and whole. A good reminder to live with anticipation for that day. A good reminder to celebrate all that is right in the meantime, including that we have God and God has us.
Peter then writes, “So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing…Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God…love one another as if your lives depended on it.”
Peter again reminds us to live with a sense of anticipation. He then encourages us not to live for ourselves, but for God and that when we live for God we need to love each other as if our lives depended on it. In other words with everything we have. And we live by loving because of God.
Peter continues. “So clean house! Make a clean sweep of malice and pretense, envy and hurtful talk. But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people… you are God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you… Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul… Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the rules. Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God.”
Peter writes that our lives are no accident. Our lives come from God and we are made by God for God. As such, Peter states in essence, we need to get over ourselves, dispense with our egos, treat people with dignity and love, and work to rid ourselves of hard heartedness.
Peter finally writes, again in excerpts, “Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing. Say nothing evil or hurtful; Snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you’re worth…Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master.”
These words in Peter’s first letter certainly illustrate what Elevate means in the acronym of ACE. I am convinced that the more we strive to live like Jesus and the more we take on Jesus’ behaviors, views, and expectations, the more our lives will be transformed. When we do this, not only will we discover purpose, but we will also discover God’s peace that passes understanding.
The more we work to elevate Jesus’ way of being, the more and more love will become the focus of who we are and how we show up in the world. While this may cause us to feel, at times, out of step with others and their actions, we will feel much more in alignment with God and joy will come to define us.
In these waning days of Advent, I invite us all to ponder Jesus’ birth and second coming with a sense of anticipation. To celebrate all that is right and good and whole. And to elevate Jesus’ ways of being in our own lives. I look forward to seeing many of you at our Christmas Eve services at 5, 7 and 9. Blessings and love and prayers. Robert +