April 2, 2015 § Leave a comment
“…the Lord’s Supper is a feast of forgiveness and reconciliation… The Supper is a gracious communion with a forgiving God; but it is also a supper we eat with one another, and that too will require forgiveness. God’s design for human flourishing cannot be satisfied in isolation.”
James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom
Tonight our church community will gather for a soup dinner. Together we will sing, hear a short message, and then share the Lord’s Supper. It is a Maundy Thursday tradition that began some four years ago, and has become one of the sweetest of evenings. On some level it is a reenactment of the night Jesus met with His disciples in that Upper Room, when He told them that His time to die had come. It was the night Judas would betray Him, and the rest of His friends would scatter.
The term, ‘Maundy’ comes from the Latin, ‘mandatum,’ and it means command. The connection is found in John’s gospel where Jesus says to His disciples (in that Upper Room), “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)
Whenever we gather at the Table of Christ, we not only reenact that dinner, but we also rehearse the Kingdom of God until Jesus returns and makes everything new. By gathering with people we may not see outside of worship, we retell the story of His reconciling love, of how He came and died and gave Himself. We remind ourselves that we are weak, broken and needy, but that our bond is a strong one because Jesus has come, and is coming.
And this is our good news…
January 31, 2015 § Leave a comment
“…I have come to believe that by and large the human family all has the same secrets, which are both very telling and very important to tell. They are telling in the sense that they tell what is perhaps the central paradox of our condition – that what we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else.”
Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets
We had a great laugh in our Ministers & Directors meeting last week, and it involved our new office phones. A few months ago we replaced our 25-year old system, and in our meeting we took time to enjoy the obligatory shared gripe session. We complained about how the speaker functions, how the buttons press down – all that minor stuff. And then one of us said, ‘You think that’s bad… I have six messages on my phone and I don’t know how to get to them!’ At that point all started laughing, because secretly we (mostly the guys, I hate to admit) all had the same problem. Of course it is almost a waste of space for me to say that this particular malady wasn’t the system’s fault!
Either way it was worth the laugh.
I am convinced that the greatest damage sin does to the human soul is found in its isolating power. Through the agency of shame, it has a way of driving us underground into secrecy for fear that exposure would further alienate us from those we know and love. We are secret carriers. Temptation finds us when we are vulnerable and alone, and then imprisons us in isolating guilt.
The Church hasn’t been too good at this whole sin and acceptance ‘thing.’ Our message is grace, but our practice often comes across as perfectionism. In spite of Paul’s assurance that our struggle with temptation is a common one (1 Corinthians 10:13), we can be terrified at the prospect of admitting our struggles. And so it is no wonder that people often feel more comfortable confessing their sins in the workplace than with fellow believers. It isn’t that there are more sinners there. It is that no one denies the struggle.
But the gospel presents a Deliverer who suffered and died in isolation, from friends, even from His Father, when He bore punishment for the very guilt that we hide in. And this means that we don’t have to hide.
Hey, until Jesus comes and renews the world, we will bear secrets. We’ll never feel perfectly safe in our fallen frames, and there is an argument to be made for oversharing, but every time we take the Bread and the Cup, together we publicly acknowledge that perfection isn’t the point, and that the Father loves us in spite of the fact that once again we didn’t make it through the week unscathed. And this simple acknowledgement draws us out of the shadows.
Friends, this is good news…
PS Enjoy the Super Bowl (and take the poll)!
August 16, 2014 § 38 Comments
“Robin Williams attended City Church in fall of 2006 when I was preaching through the Apostle’s Creed. He confessed the faith of the church and shuffled up for communion with everybody else needing grace. He was always kind to those around him. I know from other friends of his in the Bay Area what a generous, humble, and charitable man he was and his death saddens me greatly today. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.”
Fred Harrell, Sr. Pastor, City Church San Francisco
Robin Williams’ death has rocked me. Yes, I’m a Christ-follower and minister, and in God’s story, no one person is greater or better than the next. He was addicted to alcohol – I know this too. And I already know that suicide is not only an act of desperation, but also one of selfishness.
All this is true, and more. But for some reason, in the brilliant offerings and characters of this extraordinary comic and actor, it is as though Williams’ sorrows somehow connected with my own. Whether a magnificent iconoclastic English teacher, a distant Dad reminded of love and joy and family, a son who longed for the courage to face his own terrors – and father, or a caring Therapist, Williams drew me in like few have.
Through great writing, roles and directing – but also in his own pathos – Williams tapped into something deep within. When his heart broke over the suicide of one of his students in Dead Poets Society, it was real. When he finally refused to run from the hunter who chased him for years, in Jumanji, it was as though all of us finally grew up and stopped running. In Hook, when he told Jack, his son, that he was his ‘happy thought,’ my heart swelled for our own children.
I think it was more than acting, but a man who wanted to believe there is hope past one’s own sorrows and demons. I am sad for him and all who wrestle with the darkness of such depression that wrecks that hope.
Fortunately, as selfish, damaging or cowardly as it may be, for those who belong to Jesus, suicide holds no power over the gospel. It is a sin, but it isn’t unforgiveable, any more than my own cowardice, selfish ways and damaging actions. We believe that nothing can separate us from God’s love – not even us (Romans 8).
I am sure that when I was fresh out of seminary, and filled with self-righteous zeal, that I would have written some pietistic essay on why Williams could not have possibly entered the Kingdom, but I would have been wrong.
Instead, I am comforted by the words of his pastor, and my friend.
And though I didn’t know Robin Williams, I will miss him.
But better, and in spite of his flaws – and mine – I hope to one day see him – and you – at the Feast.
Wouldn’t that be sweet.
What good news…
March 29, 2014 § Leave a comment
“God’s work to release himself from his suffering is his work to deliver the world from its agony… When God’s cup of suffering is full, our world’s redemption is fulfilled.” Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son
I had no idea that the extraction of a wisdom tooth could be so painful, though I consider anything done in my mouth while in the dentist’s chair to be an act of violence. I thought the guy was going to rip my jaw off my face! It was like he was going to crawl inside my mouth. Sure, I’m an unapologetic anti-dentite (though I denied this to him – he had tools and drills and stuff at his disposal – you know, live to fight another day, and all that…).
And then there was the pain afterwards. A few hours following the extraction (the term alone is enough to elicit screams of panic and shrieks of terror!), I had a late afternoon meeting. All I could think of was my poor mouth. My pain. Me! It was freezing outside and I was sweating and daydreaming of romantic encounters with Extra Strength Tylenol, holding my jaw in my hand, in agony (proving that I’m no faith-healer).
It didn’t help for our Director of Worship to ask, ‘Is it safe?’ (you have to know the horrific scene in Marathon Man to grasp the depth of cruelty in this person that amazingly, I call ‘friend’).
So it is with pain. It demands our undivided attention, reminding us that all is not well with our bodies. When in pain, it is difficult to think of anything else.
And mine only lasted a day. But the world has been in pain ever since the fall.
Just yesterday a friend posted his sorrows on the birthday of a son that he and his wife lost – he would have turned seven years old. It was so painful I could barely read it.
Pain puts us on notice: in our homes, in our relationships, our minds – wherever it touches. We are cruelly reminded that the world isn’t what it was intended to be.
Amazingly, in the Lenten season we actually celebrate Christ’s pain, because His ‘via dolorosa,’ was not only a path of suffering, but also the passageway to a healed world. One day, what we see and know and experience and avoid and collide with every single day – will pass.
This is the narrative we sometimes miss in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, when we reaffirm that though pain occupies a place at the table in a broken world, it will not be seated at the Feast of Jesus when He makes all things new.
What good news…
November 16, 2013 § 1 Comment
“How I wish you could have known me in my strength.” Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
Last week, as we prepared to distribute the Lord’s Supper in our first worship service, one of our Elders, a lovely and faithful brother, dropped the trays he was to carry (Amazingly this doesn’t happen weekly by any who distribute the elements, ministers included. The trays are practically designed as ecclesiastical booby traps!).
Actually, they didn’t merely drop – they dropped, bounced and exploded out of his hands and onto my shirt, coat and pants, which meant that with no time to change in between services, I would preach our second with noticeably unfashionable grape blotches.
It’s a peculiar thing to walk around with such stains. At first I self-consciously offered explanations to any whose eyes wandered to the obvious (which was everyone). Few resisted opportunistic playful jabs.
The fact is, we carry our stains, and while most outside of us never detect them (and wouldn’t care if they did), without some intervening grace, we feel compelled to hide. Our own self-consciousness leaves us presuming that we could ever appear clean to the observing world.
This took me to our friend in the hospital that I wrote about a few weeks ago. He was in an accident in which ten of his twelve ribs were broken on the right side, some crushed and beyond surgical repair. Amazingly, doctors inform us that they will self-repair, that his ribs will find their way back to one another. Only they won’t exactly take the shape they had before the wreck. There will be bumps and funky angles involved – but they will heal – completely. And they will work.
With God it is never that we figure out how to escape our stains – or bumps – but that we finally rest in the love of a Father who likes us that way, believing that His repair is what He intended all along. In fact, our true escape is in no longer feeling the need to hide. As with Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh,’ Jacob’s limp and Christ’s scars, the unique contours of our broken lives become the identifying marks of God’s love and triumphs of His grace.
What better news could there be?
March 28, 2013 § 3 Comments
This evening, along with many congregations around the world, our church community will celebrate the night that Jesus met with His disciples in the Upper Room for what is commonly known as, ‘The Last Supper.’ Borrowing from a friend who pastors a church in San Francisco, for the past three years we have celebrated with a soup dinner, worship and the Lord’s Supper. It is a sweet time.
On the most surface of levels that night could not have been more disastrous for Jesus. Not only did He disclose his impending death, but also He had to arbitrate His friends’ objections, internal arguments and despair. Additionally, it was in that room that He confronted His chief betrayer, Judas. Later that evening He would be arrested, and the next day, put to death.
And yet there could not be a more hopeful dinner party than that evening, because in the midst of the sad news, the disappointed friends and the torment to visit Jesus until He died, came a promise: “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matthew 26:29).
Though His friends could not see it, Jesus assured them – and us – that the end would not be the end, but the beginning that would find its greatest expression in God’s Kingdom. Interestingly this was the one and only feast that we know of Jesus inviting His friends to during His earthly ministry. This was His feast. I suspect that the food was incredible.
But it was only a taste. And by instituting the Lord’s Supper, He assured us that until the Kingdom comes and He once again sits with us, He will be our Feast.
Jesus will always be enough. What good news.