18 April 2011

A Double Eye Patch Fast for Holy Week!

Last night Jenny Rau and I went with our Confirmation class to St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Frisco. It was a very meaningful service. In his homily, the priest challenged the church to fully participate in Holy Week. He recalled the disciples in the garden with Jesus as he prayed and later when he was arrested. As Jesus prayed, the disciples could not keep awake and pray with him. As he was arrested, they ran away for their own safety. The priest said, "Don't be like them. Stay with Jesus to the end. Join with him in his suffering this week." Hearing the priest last night in a different setting where I was participant and not leader, I was convicted. I had never connected the disciples' actions-or inactions-with my own during Holy Week. What could I do-or not do-to make sure I stay with Jesus this week?

Then Monday came, bringing with it the usual flood of email. I am sitting at home, trying to get things organized, knowing that we have five services over 66 hours this week. Knowing that for my own soul I need quiet and perspective this week. These next seven days are called Holy Week because they are about Jesus' final days, not my every days, and I could already feel the distractions, emotions, and stresses of everyday life pulling me away from the garden. A portion of Sunday's Easter text popped into my mind-I have been praying through it for weeks in anticipation: "Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are on earth..." (Colossians 3:2). Those are good words. I've decided to put them to work in my own small, radical way.

Starting this afternoon, I am unplugging from many of my daily distractions for the next seven days. Back in January during the Facebook/Twitter/technology series I acknowledged my dependence on my Blackberry and the Internet to remain plugged in to the world around me. I am ready to disavow that dependence for a few days to properly focus my heart and mind where they should be: on Christ. After all, meetings will be scheduled, emails will be answered, non-emergency calls returned-they can all wait until next Tuesday. If I am too overwhelmed by distractions that Holy Week becomes blurred, I have to wait another 50 weeks for it to come again. For my own good, I do not wish to wait.

My plan is to stay away from email, Facebook, Twitter, texting, non-emergency calls, TV (the Rangers' bullpen has made this much easier recently), etc. for seven days. After Easter Monday I will return to my normal routine. In the meantime, I will write in a prayer journal every day and publish some of the prayers on my blog next week. Read through the Passion stories of Christ (Matthew 26:1-27:66, Mark 14:1-15:61, Luke 22:1-23:56, John 13:1-19:42)at least once a day. From an actual Bible, not on the phone or computer. Read over and over, praying aloud and silently, the text for my Easter sermon (Colossians 3:1-17). Enjoy silence when it is near, listen to the voice of God in the ever-present Prosper wind, enjoy family and friends, eat good, healthy food, drink lots of water and with each sip remember my baptism, exercise for the good of soul/mind/body rather than trying to please a scale, walk the pews in an empty Sanctuary, praying for each person that will sit there on Sunday, writing letters of encouragement and invitation, bring Holy Communion to some of our saints, and more as I am led. I am not retreating from the world or people. I will see many of you Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights-hopefully all three-not to mention the Easter Egg Hunt Saturday and Easter Day worship Sunday.

I invite you to pray for me-or better yet, join with me-in this embrace of simplicity and reverence. We may not all be able to unplug in the same way, and we don't want to be Pharisaic during Holy Week, wagging our fingers at others or ourselves-but each of us can say no or not yet or wait until next week for a few things. And there are other things we can say yes to. Instead of playing in his soccer game this Thursday night, Miles will most likely be laughing hysterically in worship as he washes his Mom's or Dad's or brothers' feet and has his own washed.

This morning Linus came to me with a couple of pirate eye patches, wanting me to put both on. I could not see anything! It was a great metaphor for what I-and, I suppose, many of us-need this week. A double eye patch fast from distractions and noise for Holy Week. Let's remain with Jesus in the garden: awake, loyal, and ready for whatever comes next.

08 April 2011

Time Capsules

The other day Chuck Marshall, one of PUMC's co-Chairs of Trustees, walked into my office with a box of stuff.  He had just been to the bank to drill out our safety deposit box (keys long lost).  He handed me a book that looked 100 years old-- it was.  It was a roll call of membership from Elm Ridge UMC, located in East Denton County.  While we are making plans to celebrate our 110th anniversary next March, Elm Ridge is in their 137th year.  Why we have some of their historical records I know not.  I need to get them to ER's pastor, Jon Kendzie.  In the book were names of folks from 1887 or 1886 or 1891 who were baptized or accepted as members.  Prosper UMC stuff included minutes of leadership meetings, surveys of property, and more.  It was like opening a time capsule.

This Sunday we'll end our Lenten sermon series on the book and life of Jeremiah, one of the great Hebrew prophets.  The last two Sundays we have talked about the need to repent of our sin (individual and collective; sins of commission-- things we have done against God and others and omission-- things we have left undone that cause just as much harm) and how sharing with God our cries of lament during times of great distress or even despair can allow God's healing power to restore us.  The overarching theme of the series has been: sin has real consequences.  When God is pushed to the side to make room for anything else we will experience the same sort of destruction the people of Judah and Jerusalem experienced in the year 587 BCE, when they saw the city destroyed and the Temple of Solomon ruined, finding themselves in exile in a foreign land as slaves.

Yet even in times of great turmoil there was hope.  Ezekiel, another great Hebrew prophet, sent messages of hope to the exiles in Babylon; so did Jeremiah.  We often read Isaiah 40:28-31 at funerals:
Do you not know?
   Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
   the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
   and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
   and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
   and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
   will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
   they will run and not grow weary,
   they will walk and not be faint.

The thing is: as comforting as these words are, making them very appropriate to read at times of profound grief, it is not a funeral text-- it is a text of hope.  A future.  In the midst of losing everything they held dear, the Israelites affirmed God's presence with them.  Despair would not be the last word.

As Chuck and I looked through those old documents and memories, we glimpsed into the past of two great, historic congregations, both of which have been through their own times of exile, recovery, and renewal.  Each one of us can probably relate to that-- we've been through difficult times: the loss of a loved one, a fearful diagnosis, a broken relationship, a job loss, wondering if things will ever improve for us.  I've said it many times, and I'll probably repeat it often over the coming years: every time I walk into our Sanctuary I marvel.  Not just at its beauty, but the vision of those who built it in 1925ish.  They could not have imagined the activity we have going on nearly a century later, but they built big enough in case there was need.

God is faithful.  Always.  In the midst of joy and peace, in the midst of pain and despair.  God is faithful.

On Sunday we have some special activities planned: the Children's choir will sing at 11:00 worship, and after the service we'll enjoy delicious food and great fellowship at our BBQ lunch (tickets still on sale Sunday!).  As you are waiting in line, glimpse into the beautiful display cases our United Methodist Women purchased a couple of years ago.  There are documents, pictures, and memories of PUMC throughout the years.  Appreciate the history, celebrate the present, dream of the future.  God is faithful!