Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Second Station--Jesus Scourged and Crowned With Thorns

"Christ nailed up might be more
than a symbol of all pain.
He might in very truth
contain all pain.
And a man standing
on a hilltop
with his arms outstretched,
a symbol of a symbol,
he too might be a reservoir
of all the pain that ever was."
   --John Steinbeck

"Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified...And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him they mocked him, saying 'Hail, King of the Jews!' And they spat upon him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe, and put his own clothes on him, and led him awaty to crucify him."  --Matthew 27. 26, 28-31

His Pain

Of all the Stations, this one sticks in my mind. His pain. Pilate had already had Jesus scourged. Scourging meant that on the bare back someone with an iron chain, with little metal balls or bits of bone on the end—would whip the prisoner again and again. Often the person would die from such treatment. But Jesus somehow endured. He stood there dizzy and reeling from the pain. Then the soldiers—a whole battalion of six hundred men stood guard. Why so many? They added humiliation to his pain. He was stripped naked and then robed in purple like a king. They thrust a crown of thorns on his head. They placed a reed, his scepter, in his shaking hand. They bowed down in mockery—saying over and over, “King Jesus...King Jesus.” People standing by joined in on the act. Cruelty is contagious. The crowd spat and yelled and cursed.

Our Pain

But if the Stations of the Cross are a mirror—we see our pain, too. The hurts of our childhood. The wounds our parents never intended to inflict. The pain we cause ourselves. The self-destructiveness that we carry like a burden. Not to speak of that lump that turned out to be more. And that EKG which showed that blockage. Or the migraines or the aches in old age. Look closely and you may see your own pain.

Their Pain

But we also see their pain. Pain of all the sufferers through the years. Little children, abused and emotionally crippled for life. Soldiers broken and wounded by war. The pain of their families. Guantanamo. Water-boarding. Cancer. Heart-trouble. Alzheimers. Mental illness. Drugs. Drugs. Drugs. Behind the doors of that beautiful white house with green shutters—we don’t hear the abuse that goes on day after day. Grief that never leaves. Ugly words. Those terrible text messages the kids receive. Words like faggot, queer, retard,  nigger, stupid, bitch, Muslim, socialist and no good are just some of hurtful wounds that wound. What words would you add?

Old Samuel Johnson said he could never hear or read the Latin hymn without breaking down when he came to the words: “It was seeking me that Thou didst sit wearied; and for me that Thou didst bear the cruel pain of crucifixion. Grant that such labor may not be all thrown away.”

(The visual interpretations of the 14 Stations are drawn and painted by artist, Cecile L. K. Martin who lives in Seneca, South Carolina and teaches at the University of Georgia College of Environment and Design.
If you ae interested in her work she can be reached at: cecilem@uga.edu)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Franklin Graham Pontifications on Who's a Christian

Sitting at home Friday morning, drinking coffee I was listing to Morning Joe. Franklin Graham was being interviewed on his opinions about what candidates for President are Christians are who are not. I was appalled to hear him say, "Well--I'm just not sure if President Obama is a Christian or not..." He was confident, though that Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich were in the fold. About Romney--being a Mormon--like Obama he did not make the cut. Where do people get off deciding who's in and who's out of the Kingdom? Remember the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. Jesus said leave them alone and on Judgment Day God will decide. Zachary Bailes, MDiv. student at Wake Forest Divinity School has written a splendid article on Mr. Graham and his religious pontifications in ABP News. His article is entitled: "A Letter to Franklin Graham". I recommend the article--it's fine.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The First Station--Jesus Stands Before Pilate

"Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "'Are you the King of the Jews?'"

Cecile Martin, the artist whose Stations we will be following this year says that the Stations of the Cross are really mirrors. She hopes they will be confrontational. For in them we see “bits and pieces of life which we bring with us.” Could it be that if we look at these Stations long enough we may just confront ourselves?

If the Stations of the Cross truly are a mirror—what is it that we see here? This first Station of Christ before Pilate is portrayed in black and white. Two figures are present here. The man in the background is Pilate. The bald-headed man in front is Jesus. Perhaps the darkness in the picture is a symbol of the darkness of this journey.

James Sanders, a New Testament scholar has said that if we really want to understand the Scriptures we should identify with the bad guy. If this is true then we are the man in the background: Pilate. Like that Roman Governor we are privileged, educated with a great many advantages. We really do represent the have’s of the world. And before us is just an ordinary man. You wouldn’t look at him twice on the street. They called him King—this bald-headed man does not look like any king we remember.

But like Pilate long ago we don’t recognize Jesus. Cecile has said that many people have looked at this painting and said, “That doesn’t look like Jesus.” We want him to have a long flowing robe and beautiful flowing hair and a well-trimmed beard. And this one who stands before us—we’ve seen a zillion times. The Hispanic with fear in his eyes. The black man hanging off the side of a garbage truck. A little girl barely out of college worried about her loans. The man who has sent out 720 resumes and no job. In the last parable Jesus ever gave us he told of the sheep and the goats and said, “Inasmuch as you do it unto the least of these you do it unto me.” So if we are Pilate we must not make the mistake he made. We must look at every face we see. Who knows? Jesus may be a whole lot closer than we ever imagined.

Prayer Meditation: Jim Wallis tells the story of a church in Washington, DC that fed breakfast to the homeless every morning. The men, women and children lined up early waiting for the doors to open.
The servers took their places before the eggs bacon and toast. One of the workers was called on to pray. The servers bowed their heads as someone prayed: "O Jesus, we know this mornin' you will come through the line. Hep us to see yo' face. Amen."

Prayer: Help us to see Your face today.

(The original renderings of these 14 Stations can be found in St. Paul the Apostle Church in Seneca, SC. The artist, Cecile L. K. Martin is a member of that parish. She teaches at the College of Environment and Design at the University of Georgia. she writes of her work here: "A benefit of being born in a Catholic environment, if one is visual, is the rich artistic heritage that permeates early life. " She continues: I have always wanted to make religious art but was frustrated in finding an audience and an appropriate exhibition space.  In 1995 an opportunity arose when her church was being built.

She says that the Stations are the result of two years of preliminary consultations, research, comunity/artist interaction and dialogue and studio  work. These Stations are meant to reflect the richness of diversity found in a contemporary parish. Ms. Martin can be reached at: cecilem@uga.edu.)


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lent--We Begin our 40 Day Journey

"...why deny ourselves any opportunity to come aside awhile and rest on holy ground? Why not withdraw from the daily web that keeps us muddled and wound? Wordsworth's complaint is ours as well: 'The world is too much with us.' There is no flu shot to protect us from infection by the skepticism of the media, the greed of commerce, the alienating influence of technology. We need retreats as the deer needs the running stream."
  --Gloria Hutchinson

This is one of my favorite stories. Wheeler Robinson told of visiting a cathedral in Paris as the choir practiced. He stood in the narthex as the choir sang the twenty-third portion of the Mass: “Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, misere nobis.” Which translated means: “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, be merciful to us.”  Robinson noticed a man who also came into the vestibule. He looked nervous and distraught. As the choir kept singing the man began to moan and then to whisper, over and over, “O God, if he could! If only he could!” And with that the man ran out of he church and Robinson never saw him again.

Lent is the time when we listen again to the old words:” Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” For the Church it all begins again on Ash Wednesday. We are reminded, once more, of the dustness of our lives, the unfinishedness of much of what we do. But this holy season we get a glimpse of those words the choir sang. They are still music to our ears. Lent says it for forty days: There really is a Lamb. He takes away all our sins. He showers mercy upon us all.

This Lenten season could not come at a better time. Millions without jobs. Politicians gouging away at each other. Mistrust everywhere. Down my street, the man who lived on the corner went bankrupt and his house is in foreclosure. Students jogging by my house must try to forget about student loans and jobs and future. We, in the church, seem powerless in the face of so many complicated problems. But we do what Christians have been doing for centuries. We turn back to the old story. We remember so many others who have staggered through war and famine and pestilence and personal tragedy and yet made it. Not alone. They found mercy when they needed it most.

So as we turn in the next few weeks to the last days of Jesus’ life in our meditations. We will listen to the word that God still sends. And hopefully we will discover, as if for the first time, the power God’s love and grace always brings. And it will be enough.

(This powerful sculptured piece is found on the grounds of the Trinity Episcopal Church, 33 Mercer Street, Princeton, New Jersey. I have been unable to find the artist's name.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ash Wednesday--Just Waiting in Line

"Anyone who has attempted to squeeze aboard an E train and get off at Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street around 8 A.M. on a weekday knows only too well what a zoo the subway can be. The other morning I was among the mass of journeyers cramming on to the two working escalators.

So was a youngster--age about 8--who looked up at his Mother.
Son: Mom, are we in line?
Mother: There is no line. This isn't school. This is life."
 --from the New York Times

I stand in a long and winding line.
In some ways I’ve been standing here
  all my life
  waiting, waiting my turn.
I remember my terror waiting in line
  to get that shot in school.
I remember waiting in line with all the
  other scouts hoping to be picked to play.
I remember that line when, in cap
  and gown, I reached out for my diploma.
There have been so many lines—
  waiting to get baptized, to get my driver’s license,
  to get married—to wait with all
  the other men for the Doctor to come
  and say: “It’s a girl...”
All my life, it seems I have been waiting
  in some line.
Sometimes scared, sometimes bored—
  sometimes excited.

And today I stand waiting in yet another line.
Waiting for what?
I do not rightly know.
To have someone mark my forehead
  with a smudge.
To hear those painful words: “Dust thou art
  and to dust you shall return.”
To remember moments ago we penitents prayed
  together: “Have mercy upon me O God...”
To move away marked by a smudged cross—
That wherever I go and whatever I do—
To try to remember that I will be
  or carried
  or loved
  or just forgiven.
And so, I stand in this long line
  waiting hopefully.
  --Roger Lovette

(I first wrote this poem last Ash Wednesday. Because I still stand in too many lines, because I greatly need to stand in this line--I share it with all the others that stand in line hopefully waiting.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Transfiguration--Getting Ready Time

"In barely one generation we've moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them--often in order to make more time. The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug. Like tweenagers, we appear to have gone from knowing nothing about the world to knowing too much all but overnight." --Pico Iyer

We stand on the edge of another Lenten season. And Wednesday Christians around the world will kneel before some altar and be marked by the sign of the cross. It will be a reminder of our finitude: “Dust thou art…and to dust thou shall return.” It is a painful reminder, along with the aches in our bodies and our thinning hair and the lines that just keep coming. We are finite creatures and we will not be here forever.

The Church’s text for Sunday is that Transfiguration passage. It stands midpoint in the gospel story. The storm clouds were gathering around Jesus already. His enemies were growing in number and the pressure was increasing. In the distance Jesus saw trouble, serious trouble ahead.

And so he took Peter, James and John high up on a mountain. It was a dream-like scene. Some called it a vision. But whatever it was something important happened there. Jesus appeared with Elijah and Moses. It must have been terribly emotional because Peter wanted to stay and build three tabernacles and just worship God. But Mark reported that the disciples were terrified. They had told him it was like one of those out of the body experiences. But out of the midst a voice came. God’s voice. “This is my son, the Beloved, listen to him.” It was the same words Jesus had heard whispered that day he stood waist-deep in the Jordan and was baptized. And then, Mark wrote, it was over. Elijah and Moses were not there. The mist was gone and the four of them just stood there. Not a word was spoken. But somewhere they heard a bird sing.

Jesus led them down the mountain telling them to keep what had happened a secret. At the bottom of the hill there was a world in need. Scholars say that this whole experience was a preparation time as Jesus came nearer and nearer to his death. Later those disciples would read back into the story their own meanings. It was a preparation time for them, too—preparing them to face the fact of their Lord’s death and perhaps their own.

So why did the Church keep the story? On the edge of another Lenten season what is there for us to take into our own lives? Two little words, I think. Maybe not little at all. Maybe two of the most important words that we have.


The first word is vision. Who here does not need some vision? Out there it is easy to lose the way. TV blaring, crisis upon crisis, War on terror, squabbling in Washington, millions and millions of dollars spent just hoping to win. Millions still without work. That fire where a father burned up his four children and himself at home. As our war winds down over there we hear new talk about Iran and nuclear weapons. But it’s closer than that. All week long we think of those friends we know having such a hard time. We carry around, all of us, the struggles of our own hearts. Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress used it “the burden on our backs.”

Like Jesus, like his disciples we need some vision to refocus our lives. Jesus heard a voice at his baptism and then on the mountainside. “You are beloved…” the voice said. “You are beloved of God.” Those words carried him through all he had to face. And they would remind him, again and again, of something he already knew. And so he reached into his heart and gave to them what God had given him. He whispered, over and over, “You are beloved.” Prostitutes, beggars, old cripples sitting by the pool for 38 years. Rich young rulers and fisherman and tax collectors. He told them all the same thing. You are beloved. No wonder they followed him.

We need that voice still that touches our hearts underneath all the clutter of our days. A voice larger than ball game scores and economics and personal struggles. We also need to hear that despite our shabby lives we really are beloved. But sometimes it gets complicated. Tony Campolo tells the story about an old man in the backwoods of Kentucky that could always be counted on when the evangelist came to town and the annual revival cranked up again. At the end of the service the man would get up when the invitation was given come down the aisle, kneel at the altar and cry out: “Fill me Jesus, fill me Jesus, fill me!”

The revival would end and the old man would slip back into his meanness and drinking ways. And the next year at the revival he was back at church and when the invitation was given, he would saunter down the aisle crying out, “Fill me, Jesus. Fill me.” And from the back of the church an old lady said, “Don’t do it Lord, don’t fill me. He leaks.”

Isn’t this why we all need a Lent? We all leak. We don’t live up to our promises. And this is a preparation time. It is getting us ready to be honest with ourselves once again. To help us with the hard things and turn toward the good things. Faith is not easy. We all leak. It comes hard. “Lord,” we pray, “we believe, help thou our unbelief.” So we read our Bibles, we pray, we come back to church on Sundays to see a little clearer once again. To be reminded that even though we all leak we really are beloved, no matter who we are and what we have done. But isn’t this just half of Mark’s story?


And so we come to the second word: Task. If the first word is vision—the second word is task. When Jesus and his three friends finally got to the bottom of the hill reality hit them in the face. No vision now. Just life. A man stood helplessly by as his son convulsed. And the disciples could do nothing. The text says, sadly: they were not able. They could not help the man. And so they argued. About the right cure. About many things as the boy convulsed and the father cried: “Help him! Help him!”

Doesn’t it sound familiar? The world aches and leaks, too. A mother and a father and two kids lose their home and find themselves in a trailer park. Boys and girls still coming home in boxes—over 7,500 now from 20 countries, not to speak of those 22,000 others seriously wounded. And the church argues about gays and abortion and birt control and and drinkin’ and dancin’ and smokin’. The world convulses. We understand the disciples’ frustration when they told Jesus we are not able. There is so much about our age and our lives that we can also say, we are not able.

But we don’t have to pick on Washington. We would give anything to help some divorced daughter and her two children. We’d give anything to help our friend with cancer. We’d give anything to find help with the leaks in our own lives.

And Transfiguration comes. It says the strangest thing. If you find your vision…you can make it. If you see beyond the Evening News and this strange rage our kids have over vampires and the sad, sad death of Whitney Houston. It’s a tall order but we begin to reach out, as best we can, where we are and help somebody else.

Some time ago a man came to me and told me a sad story. He was depressed and his job was not going well and he was turning forty and the fun had about gone out of everything. He met this woman who thought he was the funniest thing she ever met. And she listened to him. Laughed at his jokes. One thing led to another. Word got out and he lost his job and his wife kicked him out. His children wouldn’t speak to him. And he didn’t know what he was going to do. And in desperation he went to see a counselor. Over a period of time he found his way back. It was not easy. He got another job—not as good as the one he had. He and his wife came to some understanding and they are working hard on their marriage. He came through the line after our Christmas Eve service, his family trailing behind him. I hugged him and whispered, “Aren’t you glad you worked it out and stayed.” Great big tears came to his eyes and he said back: “Oh yes, I’m glad I stayed.”

The world is a better place when we get in touch with our visions, deal with our leaks, lift somebody’s burden and help some convulsive child. We may not be able to do it on our own. But with God’s help—who knows?

No wonder the church left Mark’s Transfiguration story in the book. No wonder we read these old words on the edge of Lent.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Church is in a Strange Place

"We moderate and polish the world's thinking, and name it Christian. The church embodies the upside-down kingdom. Whatever the world admires is probably not good, according to kingdom values. The church is always anti-empire.

What the church does is provide a place where pain can be touched and where the vision for a new world can be lifted up and held before people."

  --Peter Renner, "Good Is a Timely Word"

Over my morning coffee a story in the local newspaper caught my eye. The headline read: “Churches try to cross ‘stained-glass barriers.’” Below those bold words there was a picture of a Pastor with a huge tattoo emblazoned across his back. A huge Jesus had his hands outstretched over a bridge. It symbolized that Jesus is the bridge between persons and God. The article went on to report that these churches are springing up everywhere. But they don’t take a denominational name, they meet in gyms, bowling alleys, warehouses and strip malls. There are no Christian symbols to be found anywhere. One Pastor said, “I think all the trappings of traditional religion can make it difficult for people to start coming.” Filling the chairs (no pews) is the bottom line. They are welcoming people who do not feel comfortable in a regular church setting. Instead of a Robe the new Pastor dons blue jeans, Reeboks and maybe has a beard, a goat-tee or a tattoo wrapped around his young arm. Almost all are male. There are no business meetings and few Committees. The leader or Pastor is in charge period. Democracy, after all is really a messy business. Most of these churches have no hymnbooks and wouldn’t be caught playing an organ. Screens, guitars and choruses rock the worship center. Most of them say they don’t want to “look like a church.”

These new congregations are springing up everywhere. Down the street, in the mainline church you will see a lot of empty spaces and rows and rows of grey-hairs. In these new places you’ll find few older folk but a houseful of youngsters and your adults. Some Pastors even skype their services to a variety of locations.

What’s going on here? I am not at all sure. Maybe I am just too old get with it. But it seems to me that these new churches are playing a dangerous game. They seem to have little understanding of the great stream of faith that has been here generation after generation. They are suspicious of anything that sounds like tradition. The new standard is to be new, exciting and as far away from old mother church as one can get. They are a symbol-less group unless we talk about the new symbols of: Reeboks, blue jeans, screens and praise songs.

You will find few if any women in leadership positions in these new churches. What does this say to all the little girls sitting out there? You will hear almost no difficult questions raised that concern us all. You won’t be bored but unless I miss my guess there will be little room for silence or mystery or wonder. You don’t get that on Direct TV and you don’t get that in many of these churches. Entertainment is most important.

All this activity reminds me a little of the Protestants that stormed into churches smashing stained glass windows and decapitating statues and sweeping the place of many traditions. And yet—these folk are on to something. They care about people. They welcome all that come and most feel comfortable. They are determined that their worship will not be dull or boring. Some have said these are comeback churches. People come back to these places after being gone from church for years and years. After a while many will move to something more settled and more traditional.

A wise man once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is true for the mainline church as well as these new forms of church life. Yet I do know that there is something deep down that longs for some traditions. When a President or great leader dies we go to the Cathedrals. We sing hymns that have helped Christians for hundreds of years. We listen to anthems and solos that have been with us for a long time. We read the old words from the old book. Somewhere in the distance sometimes a bagpipe plays “Amazing Grace.” We do this because this old tie to our past makes bearable whatever it is we face.

Someone has said that the problem with the liberal is that they have no screens on their windows. The problem with the conservatives is that the windows have been nailed shut. Somehow in this country and the church we need to open those windows carefully, screens and all, and let the Spirit of God do its great work. God isn’t finished with God's people—organs, Reeboks or whatever.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Fifth Sunday in Epiphany--a Meditation

"When we walk to the edge of all
    the light we have
and take that step into the darkness
    of the unknown,
we must believe that one of two things
     will happen--
There will be something solid for us
    to stand on,
Or, we will be taught how to fly."
  --Patrick Overton, The Learning Tree

This is mid-Epiphany. The season of light. God knows we need some light. Those who sit in the pews this Sunday—or any Sunday—come seeking “the kindly light.” To a people in Exile Isaiah wrote about the greatness of God. (Is. 21f.) In verses 28-31 we stumble on that greatest of mountain peaks. “They that wait for the Lord shall renew their strength...” Isaiah seemed to be saying that the exiles had to lift up their eyes beyond the terrors and nightmares of their days and see a larger picture which could help carry them through.

Someone asked Maya Angelou, about her own circuitous journey, “Why is God so crucial in your life?” She said, “The most delicious piece of knowledge for me is that I am a child of God.” She went on to say: “It seems to me that if we accept—if I accept-- the fact of evil, I accept the fact of good. We’re all doing what Anne Sexton calls ‘that awful rowing toward God.’ That excites me. It gives me incredible delight to be alive, and prepares me with as little fear as possible for death.”

Turning toward this week in February—there is scary news from Israel and Iran. Could we be on the brink of yet another war? The economy slowly improving and yet there are still millions out there without jobs and many without hope. The Republican candidates for President seem to flounder more and more and the attacks on our sitting President continue unremittingly. What a way to run a railroad.

Isaiah knew and it looks like Maya Angelou learned along the way that we have to lift up our eyes even beyond the hills until we are staring mystery and wonder in the face. In this season of light perhaps this week’s Old Testament text nudges us to something holier and healthier than this morning’s news.

Dr. Kosuke Koyama was a Japanese theologian of an earlier era. He saw the bombs rain down on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killing thousands and maiming many more. But somewhere he saw a light which did not blur the pain of his life—but made it a little more understandable. In talking about death, Dr. Koyama recalled the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. He said Jesus will be the same way today. “Looking into our eyes and heart, Jesus will say: ‘You’ve had a difficult journey. You must be tired and dirty. Let me wash your feet. The banquet is ready’.” Such a vision carries me through and I hope you too. We are not alone. The light has come and the darkness cannot put it out. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Three-Mile-an-Hour Church

Ever heard of the Japanese theologian Kuyama’s old book, The Three Mile and Hour God? I’d like to rephrase that title and talk about the Three Mile An Hour Church. Dr. Koyama wrote years ago that the reason God moved so slowly was not because he/She was old and tottery but because God’s people have always been moving at about a three-mile-an-hour pace. He used the Moses narrative to make his point. It took God’s chosen 40 years to travel 400 miles. So—Koyuma figured that’s about the speed God’s people usually travel.

Finally getting everyone in the car for vacation, about ten minutes down the road the kids would say: “Err, are we there yet?” We all know that it takes a while to get there. But the three-mile an hour pace seems pitifully slow and always has to this retired Reverend.

People quit the church or move their membership to another place hoping the church will pick up the pace. After a while they might just look around and realize that the church everywhere moves slowly—even the places with screens, banners and tambourines.

Why do we move so slowly? Many reason, of course. Kuyoma’s book helps me here. He wrote that one of the reasons is embedded in the Moses’ story. Remember how the people spit and clawed and griped at their leader sometimes, wistfully remembering how they thought it used to be in Egypt. Egypt? My Lord, did they forget the chains, the misery and the nightmare of slavery? Moses understood those complaints. We read in that story where he was furious with himself, his resistive people and the Lord God himself. Like them he often wondered if there would be enough water or manna or other resources to carry them through. I do not know a Pastor anywhere who does not identify with his doubts and complaints.

Moses and his rag-tag band both were responsible for that journey that should have taken just weeks at the most. Pastors and people today are the culprits in our present-day church. Everywhere I go Pastors and church members are wringing their hands. Everything seems down and sometimes flat. Attendance, Church school and of course—money. One main line Denominational figure said at the rate his denomination was going there wouldn’t be a single member left by 2025.

If I knew the solution to this problem I’d be a household name in the church—sorta Joel Osteen without the hair. But neither he nor I really have any real answers to the church’s dilemma today. But after reading Anthony Robinson’s “Five Habits of Healthy Congregations” which is also entitled: “How to Follow the Leader”—it set me to thinking.

We know that one of the reasons this nation is in such a mess is that after we have elected a President the not-so-loyal opposition set about to tie his hands and feet and made the deliberate decision that they would make sure he did not succeed. Maybe they think they are helping their country—but we are moving at about a three-mile an hour pace nationally these days. Whoever is President—and we have covered this ground before—cannot lead this country unless he has some committed followers. Not to the President particularly—but to their country.

No Pastor can succeed without a cadre of people that stand behind him or her. In the Moses’ story the leader would get weary and a group of people held up his hands on the mountain. As long as they that—the battle Israel fought would succeed. When they dropped Moses’ hands—they found themselves losing the battle. One of the things the church needs are people that are willing to hold up the Pastor despite his or her weaknesses.

Reuel Howe told a wonderful story years ago about a Pastor that a church called. But early in his tenure many shook their heads. They began to murmur: “He just can’t preach.” The official board called him in for a conference and told him how many in the congregation felt. Heart-broken he offered to resign. But a wise laymen in that group stood and said, “We don’t want you to resign. We want you to stay. And if you stay we will stand with you and pray for you—and support you. We called you—and we have a responsibility to make your ministry work.” Howe said that when the history of that church was written some of the richest chapters in that book were the years that man had served as Pastor.

I know there are some losers out there behind the pulpit. And I know some Pastors should be shown the door. But I also know healthy churches really do follow their leaders. They don’t ignore his/her frailties or applaud their every effort—but they do stand by and support. Often they give the Pastor hard feedback—but they really do speak the truth in love. They buy into a big vision of what they want their church to be. They take risks together—and when some of those risks fail—they move on to something else.

I keep thinking about Moses and his weak hands. And I remember that he never would have made it without those that, in time of need, really did hold up his hands. It may have taken them forty years to get there...but they would have never made it even then without one another.