Pilgrimage to Where Seeds Were Sown

Last week I began a pilgrimage to the churches and communities where Linda and I lived during our almost 59 years of marriage. It has now been ten months since her death and I continue to adjust to life without her.

In the months ahead, I will visit several communities and churches that sowed fertile seeds of grace that grew for six decades in Linda and me.

Memories and feelings will be rekindled. Some will be painful. Most will be joyful. I will give thanks for the good memories, lament the painful ones, confess my failures, and celebrate the Grace which permeated them all.

I am convinced that pastors are formed by the congregations they serve as surely as pastors help to shape congregations. I realize how much the life Linda and I shared was shaped by the churches and communities in which we lived.

Sixty years ago, June 1960,  I was appointed as student pastor of Watauga Methodist Church, located on a hillside above the Watauga River, on the outskirts of Johnson City, Tennessee.

I was only nineteen and a student at East Tennessee State University.  I had received my “Local Pastor’s License” a year earlier.

The Watauga community had a population of fewer than 400 in 1960 and remains about the same today.  The businesses in the community included farms, a rock quarry, grain mill, and grocery store. Some people worked in either Johnson City or Elizabethton.

Watauga ChurchThe church had an average attendance of 22 which grew to 26 over the two years I was there, maybe the largest percentage increase in my subsequent years of pastoral ministry. Admittedly, much if not all of the increase was the number from my family who would occasionally attend to hear their “boy preacher.” Membership included only one young family with children.

My salary was $600 per year, with a raise to $800 my second year. The Conference added another $400 after we married in 1961, bringing the total to $1200.

Linda and I had been dating for about a year when I was appointed. She was a student at Emory and Henry College, majoring in religion. She decided to write a history of the church for one of her classes, a paper I still have. She attended services when she was home from college, which happened with increased frequency.

We decided to marry after her graduation, even though I would have another year of college. She got a job working at ETSU as a secretary in the department of health education.

House at Watauga1

There was no parsonage. However, the St. Johns, who owned a large farm and the grain mill, made available a small house across the driveway from the stately antebellum house than dominated the landscape.  The small structure  had once served as “servants quarters.” We paid $40 per month rent.

Though it needs painting today, the house looks as it did 59 years ago. The congregation helped us gather used furniture sufficient for our use. They were proud that their young preacher and wife would be living in the community, a first for them. Though the house was markedly smaller and less attractive than Linda’s middle-class home, she accepted our new residence with graciousness and gratitude.

Upon returning from our honeymoon, the congregation treated us with an “ole fashion pounding.” They brought ‘pounds’ of flour and sugar, plus canned goods, vegetables, and even household utensils for the newlyweds. It was quite a celebration!

The two dozen active members of Watauga were socio-economically diverse, from two large-farm families, a retired business man, and station owner to families on public assistance. One man even skinned skunks and sold the pelts for income. Two were college graduates and at least one could not read or write. Yet, they were like an extended family to one another.

The church considered it their special God-given ministry to give young pastors a start. They made that clear on my first Sunday in June 1960. They celebrated my presence with them and no criticism ever reached my ears in those two years. Yes, they offered kind, sensitive suggestions for improvement; but they never put me down or humiliated me. They were quick to compliment and affirm every sign of progress and dutifully attended special studies that I suggested.  They were determined to support their young pastor.

It was a time of “firsts”: first pastoral visit, first funeral, first weekly worship leadership and sermon preparation, first Sunday night Bible study, first district pastors’ meeting, first time to be introduced as “my pastor,” first (and last) time Linda ate souse meat (look it up). I still remember the look on her face when I told her what it was! Still, she thanked our hosts, Sarah and Landon, for their warm and generous hospitality.

The pattern for our fifty-nine years of marriage and shared ministry was set during those two exciting years. That little congregation shaped us far more than we shaped it.

When we left in the summer of 1962 for Washington D. C. to attend seminary, the congregation rejoiced that we were taking this next step in preparation for ministry. They sent us off with celebration and thanksgiving.

During the Holston Annual Conference session in 1992, I was endorsed as a candidate for the episcopacy. At that same session, the dean of the Cabinet read the names of the churches to be declared discontinued and closed. On that list was “Watauga United Methodist Church, Johnson City District.” The perfunctory vote was taken, and the church where Linda and I began ministry and life together no longer existed.

I wanted to pause to give public testimony to the contribution that small, faithful church made to my formation and that of other pastors who were nurtured by its support and commitment.

It was at that conference session that I vowed to myself and to Linda that if I was elected a bishop, no church would pass out of existence without our pausing at Annual Conference to celebrate and give thanks for each of the “abandoned” and “closed” churches.

Watauga Church is no longer United Methodist, but it is an active church. The photo above was taken last week! Its appearance hasn’t changed nearly as much as that of the nineteen year old who showed up as the pastor sixty years ago.

I am convinced that faithfulness to the gospel consists primarily of sowing seeds of grace, which is God’s presence and power to create, shape, and transform human hearts, communities and the entire creation. In other words, seeds of the reign (kingdom) of God.

While I continue to grieve the loss of Linda’s presence, I am profoundly grateful for the seeds of grace which Watauga Methodist Church sowed in us and which give me comfort, joy, and hope.

 

 

 

Pilgrimage to Where Seeds Were Sown

Last week I began a pilgrimage to the churches and communities where Linda and I lived during our almost 59 years of marriage. It has now been ten months since her death and I continue to adjust to life without her.

In the months ahead, I will visit several communities and churches that sowed fertile seeds of grace that grew for six decades in Linda and me.

Memories and feelings will be rekindled. Some will be painful. Most will be joyful. I will give thanks for the good memories, lament the painful ones, confess my failures, and celebrate the Grace which permeated them all.

I am convinced that pastors are formed by the congregations they serve as surely as pastors help to shape congregations. I realize how much the life Linda and I shared was shaped by the churches and communities in which we lived.

Sixty years ago, June 1960,  I was appointed as student pastor of Watauga Methodist Church, located on a hillside above the Watauga River, on the outskirts of Johnson City, Tennessee.

I was only nineteen and a student at East Tennessee State University.  I had received my “Local Pastor’s License” a year earlier.

The Watauga community had a population of fewer than 400 in 1960 and remains about the same today.  The businesses in the community included farms, a rock quarry, grain mill, and grocery store. Some people worked in either Johnson City or Elizabethton.

Watauga ChurchThe church had an average attendance of 22 which grew to 26 over the two years I was there, maybe the largest percentage increase in my subsequent years of pastoral ministry. Admittedly, much if not all of the increase was the number from my family who would occasionally attend to hear their “boy preacher.” Membership included only one young family with children.

My salary was $600 per year, with a raise to $800 my second year. The Conference added another $400 after we married in 1961, bringing the total to $1200.

Linda and I had been dating for about a year when I was appointed. She was a student at Emory and Henry College, majoring in religion. She decided to write a history of the church for one of her classes, a paper I still have. She attended services when she was home from college, which happened with increased frequency.

We decided to marry after her graduation, even though I would have another year of college. She got a job working at ETSU as a secretary in the department of health education.

House at Watauga1

There was no parsonage. However, the St. Johns, who owned a large farm and the grain mill, made available a small house across the driveway from the stately antebellum house than dominated the landscape.  The small structure  had once served as “servants quarters.” We paid $40 per month rent.

Though it needs painting today, the house looks as it did 59 years ago. The congregation helped us gather used furniture sufficient for our use. They were proud that their young preacher and wife would be living in the community, a first for them. Though the house was markedly smaller and less attractive than Linda’s middle-class home, she accepted our new residence with graciousness and gratitude.

Upon returning from our honeymoon, the congregation treated us with an “ole fashion pounding.” They brought ‘pounds’ of flour and sugar, plus canned goods, vegetables, and even household utensils for the newlyweds. It was quite a celebration!

The two dozen active members of Watauga were socio-economically diverse, from two large-farm families, a retired business man, and station owner to families on public assistance. One man even skinned skunks and sold the pelts for income. Two were college graduates and at least one could not read or write. Yet, they were like an extended family to one another.

The church considered it their special God-given ministry to give young pastors a start. They made that clear on my first Sunday in June 1960. They celebrated my presence with them and no criticism ever reached my ears in those two years. Yes, they offered kind, sensitive suggestions for improvement; but they never put me down or humiliated me. They were quick to compliment and affirm every sign of progress and dutifully attended special studies that I suggested.  They were determined to support their young pastor.

It was a time of “firsts”: first pastoral visit, first funeral, first weekly worship leadership and sermon preparation, first Sunday night Bible study, first district pastors’ meeting, first time to be introduced as “my pastor,” first (and last) time Linda ate souse meat (look it up). I still remember the look on her face when I told her what it was! Still, she thanked our hosts, Sarah and Landon, for their warm and generous hospitality.

The pattern for our fifty-nine years of marriage and shared ministry was set during those two exciting years. That little congregation shaped us far more than we shaped it.

When we left in the summer of 1962 for Washington D. C. to attend seminary, the congregation rejoiced that we were taking this next step in preparation for ministry. They sent us off with celebration and thanksgiving.

During the Holston Annual Conference session in 1992, I was endorsed as a candidate for the episcopacy. At that same session, the dean of the Cabinet read the names of the churches to be declared discontinued and closed. On that list was “Watauga United Methodist Church, Johnson City District.” The perfunctory vote was taken, and the church where Linda and I began ministry and life together no longer existed.

I wanted to pause to give public testimony to the contribution that small, faithful church made to my formation and that of other pastors who were nurtured by its support and commitment.

It was at that conference session that I vowed to myself and to Linda that if I was elected a bishop, no church would pass out of existence without our pausing at Annual Conference to celebrate and give thanks for each of the “abandoned” and “closed” churches.

Watauga Church is no longer United Methodist, but it is an active church. The photo above was taken last week! Its appearance hasn’t changed nearly as much as that of the nineteen year old who showed up as the pastor sixty years ago.

I am convinced that faithfulness to the gospel consists primarily of sowing seeds of grace, which is God’s presence and power to create, shape, and transform human hearts, communities and the entire creation. In other words, seeds of the reign (kingdom) of God.

While I continue to grieve the loss of Linda’s presence, I am profoundly grateful for the seeds of grace which Watauga Methodist Church sowed in us and which give me comfort, joy, and hope.

 

 

 

A Needed Challenge from a Black Friend

I have been reluctant in recent weeks to add my voice to the plethora of  commentaries on race and white supremacy. Careful listening, honest self-examination, and prayerful reflection have seemed a more appropriate approach.

I’ve tried to be attentive to the voices of the victims of racism and white supremacy. I have also attempted to probe my own experiences for residues of racism and participation in the benefits of being white in this culture.

White privilege has been my lot for almost eighty years, and I continue to reap the advantages of systemic racism.

Extricating myself from these sins has been a lifelong struggle.  I have made progress from my childhood days of segregation and Jim Crow. But, I still have work to do!

In the sermon I delivered at the worship service in which I was received as the bishop in Mississippi in September 2000, I acknowledged my own participation in systemic racism and white privilege. I called racism a diabolical sin from which I want to be delivered. I invited the clergy and laity present to confront me whenever they detected prejudice or racism in my actions, adding, “I may be embarrassed by your confronting me, but I’d rather lose face than lose my soul.”

Following the service, a Black member of the Cabinet pulled me aside. He affirmed my openness and commitment to justice and reconciliation. Then, he added, “But, bishop, we Black people can’t cure your racism. Don’t put that burden on us, too!”

He spoke the truth! Racism is a problem we White folks have created, and we must work diligently to root out this deadly personal and systemic sin.

For too long, we have put the responsibility onto Blacks. If they will only respond, behave, do, act, and believe as WE want or expect, then racism would disappear. Such an expectation or projection is clear evidence of our White privilege and presumed superiority.

A first step toward a solution to racism is for us White folks to humbly acknowledge that WE are the problem. We must get beyond our defensiveness and engage the long process of repentance, turning toward the “beloved community” where reconciliation rooted in justice is possible.

The Cabinet member and friend who refused to take responsibility to overcome my racism contributed to my ongoing healing. I am grateful to him!

I’ll continue to listen, learn, reflect, and repent. Perhaps I will share more about my ongoing journey toward the beloved community. I want to contribute to the solution rather than add to the problem.

 

 

God Works Through Science Too

In response to Dr. Anthony Fauci’s expressed concern about a prevalent “anti-science”  bias in our society, Franklin Graham posted on his Facebook: “Science isn’t truth—God is.

The evangelist’s comment was an attempt to discredit or minimize scientists’ warnings and guidelines regarding COVID-19. The comment reflects a long-standing effort to drive a wedge between science and religion.

Pitting science and theology against one another is one of religion’s most costly and deadly mistakes. The church persecuted and executed scientists in the name of defending God; and the current attempts to undermine epidemiologists and other scientific specialists dealing with the COVID pandemic is killing people.

I was privileged to serve as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in the 1980s. The congregation consists of scores of Ph.D. scientists and professional engineers.  Their intellectual brilliance, commitment to the pursuit of truth, devotion to contributing to the healing of creation, and humility in admitting their mistakes inspired me and broadened my own understanding of who God is and how God works in the world.

One of my Oak Ridge friends was Dr. William Pollard, a world-renowned physicist and Episcopal priest. He spoke and wrote often of how his science expanded his understanding of God and how his faith informed the purpose and use of his science. He reminded us all that God is the source of ALL truth, scientific and theological/Biblical, and that all truth must be approached with humility and mystery.

Franklin Graham is right: God is truth! He is wrong when he pits religious revelation over against scientific data. God’s revelation is contained within creation as well as the pages of Scripture. In reality, the creation itself is the first “Bible,” preceding the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures by millions of years.

From my perspective, science is one of God’s most generous gifts to humanity. Yes, it can be–and often is–misused, but no more than religion has been and continues to be used for devilish purposes. Both religion and science can also be arrogant and idolatrous.

But anti-science is a dangerous form of practical  atheism. It denies God’s sovereign presence and work in ALL creation and negates our stewardship of God’s gifts. Science is God’s gift over which we are to exercise stewardship in service to the healing of creation.

Albert Einstein put it succinctly: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” 

God Works through Science Too

In response to Dr. Anthony Fauci’s expressed concern about a prevalent “anti-science”  bias in our society, Franklin Graham posted on his Facebook: “Science isn’t truth—God is.

The evangelist’s comment was an attempt to discredit or minimize scientists’ warnings and guidelines regarding COVID-19. The comment reflects a long-standing effort to drive a wedge between science and religion.

Pitting science and theology against one another is one of religion’s most costly and deadly mistakes. The church persecuted and executed scientists in the name of defending God; and the current attempts to undermine epidemiologists and other scientific specialists dealing with the COVID pandemic is killing people.

I was privileged to serve as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in the 1980s. The congregation consists of scores of Ph.D. scientists and professional engineers.  Their intellectual brilliance, commitment to the pursuit of truth, devotion to contributing to the healing of creation, and humility in admitting their mistakes inspired me and broadened my own understanding of who God is and how God works in the world.

One of my Oak Ridge friends was Dr. William Pollard, a world-renowned physicist and Episcopal priest. He spoke and wrote often of how his science expanded his understanding of God and how his faith informed the purpose and use of his science. He reminded us all that God is the source of ALL truth, scientific and theological/Biblical, and that all truth must be approached with humility and mystery.

Franklin Graham is right: God is truth! He is wrong when he pits religious revelation over against scientific data. God’s revelation is contained within creation as well as the pages of Scripture. In reality, the creation itself is the first “Bible,” preceding the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures by millions of years.

From my perspective, science is one of God’s most generous gifts to humanity. Yes, it can be–and often is–misused, but no more than religion has been and continues to be used for devilish purposes. Both religion and science can also be arrogant and idolatrous.

But anti-science is a dangerous form of practical  atheism. It denies God’s sovereign presence and work in ALL creation and negates our stewardship of God’s gifts. Science is God’s gift over which we are to exercise stewardship in service to the healing of creation.

Albert Einstein put it succinctly: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” 

What are the implications for the current pandemic crisis?

The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is a public health challenge that requires the world’s best scientific minds. It is a new biological phenomenon about which science learns more every day. Let us support the scientists who are devoting their God-given expertise to understanding and defeating the virus.

The pandemic is also an ethical, theological challenge. The heart of our religious faith is summed up in the commandment that we shall love God and our neighbor. Science is showing us how we can best love our neighbors in face of COVID-19:

Wear a mask

Practice social distancing

Wash your hands

Avoid crowds

Support research for vaccines and therapeutics

Now is not the time for partisan politics and self-serving efforts to undermine scientists. Now is the time to seek and live the Truth revealed in science AND religion. For those of us who claim allegiance to Jesus, it boils down to loving one another as Christ loves us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tribute to Ted Jennings

Jennings-TedA virtual memorial service was held Saturday, June 27, for one of Methodism’s most provocative, challenging, and committed theologians, Theodore (Ted) Jennings. I was asked by his devoted spouse, Ronna Case, to speak briefly of Ted’s contribution to the church.

I first met Ted at a Symposium on Theology and Evangelism held, February 1992, in Atlanta. Later that year, I was part of a working group with him at the Oxford Institute of Methodist Studies. The theme of the Institute emerged from Ted’s recently published book, Good News to the Poor: John Wesley’s Evangelical Economics.

When the Council of Bishops adopted the Initiative on Children and Poverty, Ted became one of the theological consultants. As a member of the task force for the Initiative, I worked closely with Ted. We became good friends, and the friendship continued until his death in March of this year.

Ted’s contributions to the church are those of a prophet in the mode of an Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, or Amos, ever prodding and challenging the church to be a beloved community of liberation for ALL people. I briefly name four specific contributions.

One, Ted challenged the institutional church’s captivity to the consumerist, capitalist culture and institutional triumphalism. Ted’s vision and loyalty transcended preoccupation with institutional prominence, membership statistics, organizational structures, and marketing strategies. His was a vision of a reconciled and transformed world where justice prevails, and all have access to God’s table of abundance. And, as one of his former students said, “Ted made sure that we knew Jesus was with the crucified, not the crucifers; the oppressed, not the oppressors.”

Two, he called the church to presence among the marginalized, the outcasts, the poor, the vulnerable. In his work with the Episcopal Initiative on Children and Poverty, he regularly pushed the bishops toward the overarching goal of the Initiative: the transformation of the church in response to the God who is among “the least of these.” He persistently reminded us of God’s preferential option for the poor and most vulnerable, not as objects of charity but as friends and means of grace.

Three, Ted helped to reshape Methodism’s interpretation of Wesley, from a mere revivalist who focused on personal salvation to Wesley as a catalyst of a movement for holistic salvation that includes personal and social transformation. He challenged much conventional Wesleyan scholarship and spurred a new generation of scholars and pastors toward a more holistic vision of the Wesleyan heritage. He saw the tradition as something to be constructively built upon rather merely defended.

Four, Ted prodded the Church to confront its hypocrisy by courageously challenging us to embody radical love for God and neighbor, and to include ALL within the circle of God’s liberating love.  He had little tolerance for pious pretense and personal or professional posturing, whether by academics, bishops, or pastors. Indeed, he modeled leadership as derivative of authentic Christian discipleship. As a colleague scholar remarked, “Above all, Ted loved Jesus!”

Ted’s contributions will multiply in years to come, for he helped to form two generations of pastors and church leaders in the United States, Mexico, Korea, and beyond. Those leaders now form congregations as outposts of God’s present and coming reign of justice, generosity, and joy!

I give thanks to God for Ted Jennings’s devoted life, his faithful witness to Resurrection faith that liberates and transforms, and his enduring friendship.

 

Uncounted Victims of COVID-19

COVID-19 casualties, counted and uncounted, are mushrooming and getting closer to home!

Our family had a scare last week. Sandra, my daughter, is a social worker in a skilled nursing facility. She was exposed to the virus and developed familiar symptoms. We all anxiously waited three days for the test results. Fortunately, she tested NEGATIVE.

Among the many uncounted casualties are those who live and work in nursing homes like the one where Sandra serves and the one across the street from me.

Sandra eagerly returned to work Monday. She loves her work, her colleagues, the residents and their families.

Lowman across street

I live on the campus of a beautiful continuous care retirement community. Across the street is the nursing facility, where approximately 140 residents are cared for by a dedicated team of caring staff members.

I see family members come to the windows of their loved ones and press their hands against the pane. I watch as staff members arrive for their long shifts and leave exhausted. I hear the sirens of emergency vehicles arriving and realize someone is in crisis.

But this is only a microcosm of the realities in the approximately 15,000 nursing homes in the United States where  1.4 million people are cared for by approximately 1,663,000 employees.

Only a small percentage of the residents in nursing homes have the COVID-19 virus. However, many residents are showing increasing signs of depression and failure to thrive as the result of isolation from loved ones.

Family members are growing increasingly stressed and frustrated by the imposed guidelines and policies.

I wonder if the confusion and agitation of those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is intensifying.

Family members of those nearing death plead to be permitted to keep vigil beside the bed of their spouse and/or parent. Thousands are dying with only the staff present to comfort them. I can only imagine the added pain of family members as they now grieve without having had the opportunity to hold their loved one’s hand and whisper “I love you” as a final goodbye.

The medical staff, social workers, and administrators are caught between regulatory guidelines and policies and the relational needs of residents and families. They are taking on added responsibilities way outside their job descriptions: administrators substituting as beauticians and CNAs; social workers becoming conflict mediators and surrogate family members; chaplains sweeping floors and delivering meals; housekeepers assisting with bathing and feeding.

I would like to help. My ability to respond is limited. After all, I’m in the vulnerable age group myself. But I’ve decided that I can do something:

  • I can wear my mask and observe the CDC guidelines so that I don’t add to the workload of healthcare workers, or spread the disease to others.
  • I can pray each day for the staff and residents and the family members, and I now consider each siren a call to prayer.
  • I can walk past the windows with my dog, Millie, and wave at the persons inside.
  • I can speak and write words of appreciation to the staff and not complain if I am inconvenienced by their preoccupation with their added workload.
  • I can communicate with legislators for more attention and resources for the frail elderly, including nursing homes.
  • I can call and/or write to family members I know who are caring for frail persons.
  • I can plant and cultivate flowers in my own lawn that are visible to the residents and staff, providing some glimmer of beauty.
  • I can make an added contribution to agencies that advocate and serve the frail elderly.
  • I can work for systemic changes in attitudes toward and treatment of the elderly, especially the most frail.

And, we all can “love our neighbor as ourselves,” including our neighbors who live and work in nursing homes and their families. They, too, are victims of COVID-19.

 

 

 

 

 

Living Among Those Most At Risk of COV-19

The devastation of COVID-19 moved close to home this week. I am across the street from one of the “hot spots” in South Carolina.

I live in a continuing care community. It was announced that 32 residents and two staff members in the healthcare facility have tested positive for the virus. They are housed only a few hundred yards from where I am “sheltered in place.”

I watch as staff members occasionally come outside for a break. A few times, I’ve spotted a family member appearing outside the window, attempting to provide support and comfort.

And, my daughter is the director of social services in a nearby long-term care facility. Although her facility has no cases, at least yet, the building is in lock-down; and she worries about either unknowingly bringing the virus in or taking it home to her family.

Those across the street are my close neighbors. Many of the staff members are friends. I have worshiped with them, joked with them, shared ministry with them.  Now they are putting their lives on the line.

I feel powerless to respond! I can’t visit. Even notes and cards from the outside are forbidden. The campus chaplain is there for spiritual support. She is marvelous! Sensitive! Compassionate!

I can and do pray for them. But, are there ways I can provide concrete answers to those prayers?

It is a small thing, but I’m going to get more flowers for my backyard since the residents can look down from their rooms. We all need beauty, especially when surrounded by grief and potential death.

I’ll be intentional in providing words of support for the staff, and I’ll be patient if I have needs that aren’t met quickly or efficiently.

I will also abide by the CDC guidelines and protect myself against the virus and avoid carrying the virus to others.  I’ve added those practices as “spiritual disciplines” and acts of love. I’ll wear a mask in public out of respect for the health of others.

I will also advocate for the most vulnerable and those on the frontlines of care. That means insisting that policies in response to the pandemic be based on science and facts, not on political expediency and selfish advantage.

There is a lot of dangerous religious nonsense circulating with the pandemic. Claiming that the virus is God’s punishment only adds to the suffering and totally mischaracterizes the nature and action of God.

The notion that God is inflicting the virus on my neighbors across the street is blatant blasphemy; and any who suggests such are insulting God and my neighbors.

God is present amid the pandemic, suffering with those most at risk and sustaining those who care for them. God is also present in those researchers and practitioners who are diligently seeking therapies and vaccines.

As I sit in my sunroom and look across the street where several neighbors live with COVID-19, I sense that life will never be the same for them or us.

I pray that we will so live among those most at risk that we will emerge from the pandemic a more compassionate people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God Redeems the Silent and Dark Places

As a pastor, I largely overlooked Holy Saturday as an essential part of the divine drama of Holy Week. It was a welcomed day of rest after the intensity of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday.

Not this year! This year the silence and darkness between Friday’s crucifixion and Sunday’s resurrection speaks poignantly to where I am.

Within the last six months I’ve lost my wife of 58 years and an older brother, plus a beloved bishop friend, and two colleague/mentors. Treasured voices have been silenced and the places they occupied have become a dark void.

Added to the void is the isolation of a global pandemic. The wait for release from imposed aloneness is more than three days! We don’t know when it will end. When it does end, life will be different; but the shape of that difference remains unknown.

So, I identify more closely with the disciples on that first Holy Saturday. They were locked behind closed doors. Grieving! Afraid! Lonely! Confused! Apprehensive! Waiting!

Death creates silent and dark places for all of us. All losses are accompanied by silence and darkness.

Life itself is filled with unanswered questions, unfulfilled dreams, unwelcomed loneliness.

It is into all those silent and dark places that Christ enters on Holy Saturday. The ancient creed affirms that Jesus “descended to the dead” and “the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead” (1 Peter 4:6).

In the death of Jesus, God has claimed even the silent and dark places as realms of divine love and promise.

On that first Holy Saturday, the disciples were together in their silence and darkness.

We, too, are together emotionally even though physically separated. It is in our togetherness that God comes in our silent and dark places.

The author of 1 Peter offered this word of encouragement as we wait in silence and darkness: “Above all, maintain constant love for one another.”

Love speaks in the silence and shines light in the darkness!

 

 

 

 

 

Good Friday Prayer

Gary Phillips, the pastor of Salem United Methodist Church where our family participates, has invited members of the congregation to offer daily prayers during April as part of the church website. I was asked to offer the prayer on this Good Friday. You may access the video of the prayer here: http://www.salemumcsc.com/

I offer the printed prayer as follows:

Loving and Eternal God, in the Crucified Jesus, you entered the depth and breadth of the world’s suffering and brokenness and into humanity’s sin and frailty. On the cross, you took on the principalities and powers of sin and death with courage, humility, and boundless love.

You responded to hatred, violence, and bigotry with compassion and forgiveness. You met the abuse of power by religious and political leaders with the power of love. Amid the anguish and pain, you reached out to a dying malefactor with the promise of paradise; you cared for your grieving mother; and you endured abuse and cruelty with magnanimity.

O Crucified Christ, remind us

  • that no suffering is so traumatic that it cannot be redeemed
  • that our deepest loneliness is known by you
  • that no sin is so horrible but that you can forgive
  • that our death has been swallowed up in your victory
  • that you are with us through the dark valley of grief and loss

We praise you, O God, that in Christ Jesus you have defeated the powers of sin and death and opened to us a new future

  • where love reigns supreme,
  • justice and truth prevail,
  • hope vanishes despair and,
  • life outlasts death.

Through the presence and power of your Holy Spirit, create in us the mind that was in Christ Jesus and enable us to follow him with devotion and faithfulness.

In his name we offer our prayer. Amen