Wednesday, March 23, 2016

It's Easter !

photo by NumiGuy / flickr


Every Easter I remember a story that fell into my hands several years ago. There was a woman named Kay who was Associate Pastor of a Methodist congregation in Georgia. After twenty-five years of marriage her husband came in one day and told her he wanted a divorce. He had found someone else prettier and younger. He wanted to be free and she gave him his freedom. She writes that she and her sixteen-year-old son had to begin life over again, rebuilding their family, just the two of them. There was a two-year separation before the divorce, which she found very difficult as she tried to adjust to single life again. She leaned on her pastor-colleague continually. He was a great man who would listen to her without judgment. She said she would sit in his office and cry and wring her hands and say, “I don’t know what I am going to do. I just do not know what I am going to do.” One day, between sobs, he pulled from his desk drawer an Easter egg. He gave it to her and said, “I’m going to give you this plastic egg. One of this days you will use this egg to bury your relationship and let life begin again.” Those were the only instructions he gave her. He told her she would know what to do with the egg when the time came.

Two years later the divorce was to be finalized in Myrtle Beach. She and her son flew down for that unhappy occasion. As she sat in the office of the lawyer she remembered that day in 1963 in Oklahoma when a nineteen-year-old and a twenty-year-old had been hopelessly in love. As the lawyer droned on and on, she remembered the happier times. The lawyer kept saying: “You get this, he gets that…”. Finally the divorce decree was granted, and she stumbled out of the courthouse. Kay said that she brought with her the plastic egg her pastor had given her. She and her son walked down to the Atlantic Ocean. She took out of her purse a picture of a young couple and the happiest Christmas they had ever spent. She took the picture and folded it and placed it inside the Easter egg.  She walked across the sand to the water’s edge and threw the egg as far as it would go. She ran through the sand, grabbed her boy and they sobbed and sobbed. Mother and son began to walk slowly back to the car. She remembered praying, "Dear God, bring something good out of this bad thing. Let Easter happen to me."

Kay reported that she was tempted to look back hoping to see a butterfly emerge from that egg. She longed to hear a voice that would say comfortingly, “He’s going to come back. It’s going to change. It’s going to get better.” But she did not look back. She heard no voice. She just kept walking toward the car. Later she would realize that painful act of throwing away that egg with the picture of her and her husband inside was really the first funeral she ever conducted as pastor.

After reading her story, I gave each person who came to church the next Easter a plastic Easter Egg. I told them Kay’s story. I asked everyone to take a scrap of paper we had provided and write down a word that represented some hard thing in their lives. I then instructed them to place their petition inside the egg and ask God to give them a fresh start. After all were finished writing the Ushers came forward with large baskets, collected the eggs and brought them to the altar. At the front of the Church on the communion table the broken things of all our lives covered that table that morning. Eggs of blue and green and yellow and red symbolized our need for Easter. We had a prayer that day in which we asked God to take the broken things of our lives and make them right.

I wrote the Methodist preacher and told her how much I had appreciated her story and what I had done that Easter morning with her experience. Kay wrote me back and said, “That’s not the end of my story. I moved on to another place and have two churches where I am now Pastor. And since I have moved here I have met someone. We are getting ready to get married. He understands me and I love him and I have never been happier.” She ended the letter by saying, “There really is life after death. I ought to know.” 

Every Easter I keep remembering Pastor Kay and her story. I also remember my church and that mound of Easter eggs. I remember the last words of her letter: there really is life after death. Easter says it doesn’t matter how difficult things may be. We can start over again. We can all begin again. Life really does come after death. That's Easter! 


photo by KentarOh / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com



Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Guns and Jesus--Great Combo

photo by Pal Joakim Olsen / flickr
My sister-in-law is saying something very funny these days: "Looks like we are going out just in time." Don't know if she is talking about Donald Trump or Baptist preachers rabid for Predestination or stamping out birth control. I remember when we used to say: "Why the Catholics don't even believe in birth control!" I also remember when Baptists used to say we believed in separation of church and state. Many preachers are now pontificating that it is God's will for us to vote for some particular candidate--many of these prophets are pushing Republicans for the job. Strange times. But even stranger are these stories that are coming out about Guns in church. Baptist News' writer Matthew Waller has a great article called Packing the Pews.  It seems like in Texas you can now carry guns in church. Some Ushers are carrying. Even some Pastors are packing.

Kyle Childress, a Baptist preacher in Texas makers me proud I am a Baptist. Read his protest of these crazy shenanigans. You'll find his article in The Christian Century. I just wonder where all this is going to end up. 

We are moving through Holy Week. Seems like when Simon Peter picked up a sword to defend his Lord against the soldiers who were up to no good--Jesus reminded him and us that his way was not the same as the world's.

photo by madmanmikey / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com




Monday, March 21, 2016

Station 14 - Jesus is Placed in the Tomb

photo by Ron Zack / flickr
"Then, having bought a linen 
shroud,

Joseph took him down,
wrapped him in the linen,
and laid him in a tomb
which had been cut out of a rock.

Finally he rolled a stone 
across the entrance of the
tomb."

                  -Mark 15. 46


Somebody has to do the dirty work.  

Somebody has to wrap the body.

Somebody has to bring the spices.

Somebody has to do all they could do.

Even the soldiers have left having done all they could do--
rolling a stone so heavy it took three of their strongest men
to close Joseph's tomb. 

And the weeping--it comes all through the night.

If this was the end there would be
...no gospel
...no love
...no justice
...no hope.

Just emptiness and a terrible silence.

We don't know where the disciples were
when word came that it was all over.

But they, too must have wept all night.

And us? What about us? We have borne our burdens 
and, like him carried our griefs.

We, too have wept through the night.

No words. Just exhaustion and a heavy,
heavy tiredness.

And the weeping did not stop--
all through the night. 

We have been there or we will. 

And we, like them, hope that what seems 
like the end really is a beginning.

We, like them, weep all through the night.
But that, thank God is not the end of the story.


--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

A Mother Talks About Her Gay Son

photo by Jere Keys / flickr
"Freedom will not come

Today, this year

Nor ever 

Through compromise and fear...

Freedom 
is a strong seed

planted 
in a great need.

I live here too;

I want freedom

Just as you."

   --Langston Hughes



Denise Hutson of Clemson, South Carolina opened up her heart on a Wednesday night at the First Baptist Church, Clemson, South Carolina and told the story of her son's suicide. He was 30 years old when he took his life. His mother bravely told her church about this painful experience. He was gay and just couldn't come to terms with his sexuality.

And his mother began by saying: "I am going to be Artie's voice..." and she told the story of her son Artie Jr. and his journey as only a mother could tell.

I recommend her words to everybody. Parents all over are struggling with their gay children. Gay folks are trying to come to terms with the way God made them. And the church slowly, ever so slowly is having to open its doors and deal with homosexuality. Just about the time we think we have everything nailed down and settled--God sends us another challenge to see if we really do believe in the whole gospel.

God is using this grieving mother in a remarkable say to tell a story that needs desperately to be told everywhere. I thank my Pastor, Rusty Brock for having the courage to lay this issue on the hearts of our church family.

By the way at the end of Mrs. Hutson's presentation the church  gave her a standing ovation.

Listen to her words for yourself.

https://www.youtube.com30 years old/watch?v=C1rOynomsSQ


photo by Jere Keys / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogsplot.com




Sunday, March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday--Listen to the Sounds

Palm Sunday is one of their great days of the Church. We pass out palms and remember
photo by Kate Dixon / flickr
that sunny 
day when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem for a last and final time. The crowds lined the roads and it looked like a glorious time for God’s people. So Palm Sunday begins a week called Holy. He will leave the celebration, move into the temple—see how they had desecrated everything. Selling, laughing, making money in God’s house. Remember he ran off the money changers. And you know what happened. When you touch people’s pocketbooks—it is a dangerous thing. The officials turned against him. And for them this cleansing of their temple was the final straw. They met in secret to begin to plot his demise.

This will be followed by a week where Jesus said goodbye to those he loved. He would break the bread and pass the cup. He'd would wash their feet. And he would go out into the Garden of Gethsemane praying, praying that he would not have to die. “Take this cup from me,” he prayed. He rose from his knees to be kissed by Judas, arrested by Roman soldiers. He would be beaten the whole night long. And before the Roman governor he would be sentenced to death. And so on Friday of that long dreary week—he will drag a splintered cross up the hill and we know what happened there. Dr. Fosdick preached a great sermon called: The Sin of Palm Sunday. He said the crowd that welcomed him on Palm Sunday crucified him on Friday. The same people.

But let us go back to that Sunday morning when the people lined the street and waited for the king to come. I have discovered two sounds on Palm Sunday.

And here they are. First—the crowds, the palm branches, the alleluia. Joy and laughter and celebration. The king was coming. And who wouldn’t throw their coats on the road for him to ride. And he came in on a donkey. Some remembered that when the king would come riding in he would be victorious. He would change everything. Nothing would be left untouched. He would throw Rome and all the other rascals out.

Three gospels tell the story. And here we find the first sound.  Alleluia.  Alleluia.  Alleluia. The King is coming and he going to change it all.  

There was a second sound. And few heard it over the crowds and their yelling. The second sound is so quiet most missed it that sunny day. What was the sound? Listen. It’s quiet but it is real. Listen. Clip-clop. Clip-clop. Clip-Clop. It is the sound of the donkey’s feet that Jesus rode in on. Clip-clop. Clip-Clop. Clip-Clop. 

Most everyone there missed it. They wanted a King to straighten out everything that was wrong. Make the country great again. He would do it—they thought. This Jesus riding in on a donkey. 

They had forgotten that when the King rode into town on a horse—it always meant power and victory.  It was time to overthrow everything which was wrong—and that was a whole lot.

But the crowd didn’t know. Jesus came in—not on a horse—but the clip-clop of a donkey. They had forgotten the prophecy. When the King comes he will not ride in on a stallion but on a donkey and this king will usher in a time of great peace to all. And one of the reasons they turned away and the crowd became ugly is that he was not the king they expected. They mis-read the message. No war. No house-cleaning from top to bottom.  This king came in so quiet they didn’t get the message at all. Now they were not quiet. But he was. 

There are two sounds for the church and for the world and for you and me. The first sound is: tough. We’ll show them. It is divisive. Pitting one group after another. Showing everybody who’s really in charge of this outfit. That's why they waved their palm branches. This is why they really did not know who he was.

So much of the church from its beginning until today—has no idea about this Jesus. It’s all
photo by MrWyattFord / flickr
dancing girls and strobe lights and rah-rah-rah. If we give them what they want—oh, they’ll come back again and again and again. We will be successful. As if success could only be defined by rah-rah and Go team. Number One. Numero Uno. Number one.Winners—always. He’ll make us rich and prosperous and make everything we hate right. That’s the first sound of Palm Sunday.

But they turned away because they did not realize what that clip-clop meant. Not the circus. Not the band. None of that. So quiet we miss it too, so often. The one that rides the donkey brings peace. And that’s not half as exciting as the rah-rahs and the dancing girls. 

Pendleton is a time of transition as is the rest of the world. And Palm Sunday ought to teach us a lesson. He never gives us what we want…he brings always what we need. And the rah-rah crowd may be loud—but that is not the sound of this King. We want to pack the house. We want success. We all do, don’t we?

He brings no sword. In fact in the Garden when they come to arrest him—Peter took a sword and looped off one of the soldier’s ears. Jesus said. "Stop." He healed this soldier—his enemy. His way was not the way of the world.

This success gospel which is on all the air waves today—promises everything.  Come on down and accept Jesus and you’ll get a job. A good job. Your marriage will come back together and you will be able, in time to join the country club. Your kids will not get into any serious trouble. These preachers are slick.  Mostly men. Lot of hair. Moussed for the most part. Smiling a Colgate smile. With a  beautiful blonde wife always. And the clergy couple leaves the front door to get in their Mercedes or BMW and drive off to the Sunday buffet at the country club. Come on down here and you can have what I have. What’s wrong with this picture?

A friend of mine was asked to speak in one of these hot-shot churches. And when he went in the preacher told him, “Keep it positive. We don’t want any downers here. That’s not what they came for.” And my friend said when he walked down the aisle there were no Christian symbols of any kind. No Table with Bread and Wine. No stained glass windows. No baptistry. He asked the preacher: “Where’s the cross?” “We don’t have a cross. It is a negative sign. We are appealing to the millennials  and the boomers.” You can almost hear the swishing of Palm Branches and the rah-rahs. 

photo by Avondale Pattillo UMC / flicker
But that other sounds is the heart of Palm Sunday. Clip-clop…clip…clop. He brings a whole more than a good job and a fine house and a big car. Not this Jesus. He brings peace—but that peace always comes by way of a cross. That is the centerpiece of who he was. He told them there toward the end, 
“ Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid." Clip-clop. clip-clop.


Dr. Claude Broach was a wonderful Baptist preacher in Charlotte, North Carolina. He told about a young boy who heard the circus was coming to town. He saw the posters and wanted to go so badly. But they had little money and so saved up. He saved up for weeks. He finally had the price of admission. And on the day the circus was to come to town, he got up early. He put his dollar in his overalls. He stood in a long time, in town, waiting, waiting for the parade. Finally in the distance he heard the band start. And they came marching down the street. And then there were dancing girls with batons and animals and circus barkers and wonderful sights.There was even a real live elephant.  And the boy just stood there goggle-eyed. And at the end of the line there came this clown, doing funny tricks. And as the clown came by the young man he took from his overalls his dollar bill and handed it to the clown. The boy turned and went home. It was over. He thought. He had come to see a circus and he had only seen a parade. The best was yet to come and he had missed it all.

And this is why today. We lay our palm branches at the foot of the Cross. And this is why we spread a table and ask you to come. For whoever eats this bread and drinks from this cup will live forever.

Take your Palm Branch—bring it forward. Lay it at the foot of the cross. Then take this Supper of our Lord for your comfort and for your grace. Nothing rah-rah about that. Just the peace we need more than anything else. Clip-clop. Clip-Clop.

photo by Royal Griffin / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Station 13 - Jesus Is Taken Down From the Cross

photo by Jim Forest / fiickr



"Near the cross of Jesus

there stood his mother,

his mother's sister,

Mary the wife of Clopas,

and Mary Magdalene."

                   --John 19. 25






There is no sadder day than
when the hearse pulls up--
the men come in, excuse you
and move toward your loved one who just died.

They close the door.

In what seems to be an eternity the door opens--
and there is a gurney and underneath the
white covering is the dead body of the person
you loved.

They take him/her out the door--into the back 
of the hearse and drive away.

You stand there by the open door
with your hand over your mouth.

It must have been like that for Jesus' mother, 
her friends and John.

They were immobilized. 

Joseph of Aramathea--a rich man--and Nicodemus
whom we met one starry night--
take down the broken body of the dead Jesus.

Mary reaches out her arms to hold for a last time--
the son she nursed and loved all his short life.

"My son," she says, what have they done to you?"

It is an old question that echoes through the years.
What have they done to you?

He is one with all the suffering ones. 
Whoever Mary there is--he is there.
Always.

Later when the grief is not so choking
his followers will take up the fight.

And what they did to him--they will do
to the others, too. 

All the disciples, save one met their death
at the hands of his enemies. 

But they are just a few of that long, long line. 
Francis and Dietrich and Martin and Dorothy and Theresa 
and Nelson and Mahat and all the others.

He had said as often you do it not 
unto the least of these
you have done it not to me.

What have we done--or not done--to him and all 
those others that follow in his train? 

Could we, in our little way, in our little place--
join that holy company who made the world 
a better place.

Like the rich man that came to take the body
And the doubting one who helped him that day.

Like them, perhaps what we do matters too.


--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com
















Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Healthy Word in an Unhealthy Time


 Steffan O. / flickr 
"Paul talked about faith, hope

and love. If he were writing

today I think he would say the

greatest of these is hope."

              --Frederick Buechner



Jim Wallis is a very wise man who has been the firing line for many years.

He has always been on the side of peace and justice for all. You can read his great stuff in Sojourners Magazine.

I just read this sermon that he gave at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington. His words are some of the healthiest I have heard in this dark time. I recommend them to everyone.

One of my favorite quotes about hope is by Barbara Kingsolver. I want to share her good words with you.

"Here's what I've decided: the very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for.  And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under it's roof. What I want is so simple I almost can't say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed. That's about it. Right now I'm living in that hope, running down its hallways and touching the walls on both sides. I can't tell you how good it feels."  (from Animal Dreams)


--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com


Station 12 - Jesus Dies on the Cross

photo by prof. Bizzarro / flickr
"My God, my God,

why have you forsaken me?"

Then Jesus uttering a loud 
   cry,

breathed his last.
        
         --Mark 15. 34, 37




Finally, finally it was over.

All of it.

The lashes, the spittle, the 
pain.  

The betrayals 
and the darkness at noon.

The soldiers had left. Their job
was finished. 

Most of the crowd, who always
liked a show--had gone home.

Only Mary and John were left.

And they must have heard his terrible
question--why, God, why?

And they looked away but they heard
the last breath.

It was as quiet as quiet can be.

Nothing stirred. Not even the wind.

And the birds that chattered and sang. 
Even they were quiet.

And when death comes, 
as it will come to us all 

What will we say?
Not much.

We reach out and hold someone 
close and tight--
as Mary and John must have done.

They stumbled away as we all do when
someone we love dies.

They found the others--hiding and
scared for their lives.

And they, too grabbed one another.
Holding on tight.

It is finished, he had whispered.

And it was the end--
at least they thought.

Along the road days later 
they said to one another:
"Oh, we had hoped he was the one
who would redeem Israel."

Just like we hoped there 
would be more time. 

Time to say what we had not said.
Time to do what had not done.
Time to know that he/she was the
most precious thing we had.

And so, like them, we just slip away.
And stare. And wonder.
And may cry too.

It is not the end. But something 
was finished that terrible day.

It would take years and years 
to reckon with what they had lost and 
what they had found.

Us too. We are still reckoning.  


--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com














Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Station 11 of the Cross - Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

photo by Ron Zack / flickr
"He's got the whole world in 
    his hands. 

He's got the whole world in 
   his hands.

He's got the whole world in 
  his hands.

He's got the whole world in
    his hands."

     --Negro Spiritual
      





As we come to this Station--the journey is winding down.

He has put down the heavy cross.

And they stretch him out and nail his hands to the cross-beam.

Those calloused carpenter's hands.

Those hands that reached upward again and again.

Those hands that helped and healed and calmed. 
Hearts and sometimes even the sea.

Those hands that took in little children 
and touched lepers and cripples and blind folk.

Those hands that broke bread on a hillside and in an Upper Room.

Hands folded in prayer in Gethsemane.

And now stretched as far apart as they could be stretched.

And then--
the pounding and the pounding of the nails.

It is hard for us to even imagine the pain--
but when they lifted him up
held only by the nails in his hands and feet 
the pain grew even worse.

But wait--is it so hard to imagine--the nails?

We have known them all our lives. The shame we carried. 
The sickness we or ours have endured.

Nailed to a job that we hated.
To a marriage that did not  work.
To a body less than whole. 
To the wrong skin color.
Or the wrong country.

To limits which kept us confined and boxed in 
and painful, too sometimes.

There were scars on those hands 
the soldiers must have noticed as they drove in the nails.

Carpenters knew about knicks and cuts and wounds 
and sometimes fingers gone from work somewhere.

We know about nails don't we. There are nicks
and cuts all over.

We found it hard sometimes. We still do.
For the nails of our lives pinch and hurt terribly.

But his nails do not hold. There will always 
be scars but the nails will be gone.

Look up at the nailed Jesus. 
Like other stations along this hard road--
we meet him where we are. 

If his nails do not hold--forever--maybe
just maybe those things that constrict us all
will not last forever. 

Is it any wonder that black folk sang the song that came from their hearts again and again.
                                        
"He's got you and me brother, 
He's got you and me sister, 
He's got you and me ... in his hands.
He's got the whole wide world in his hands."



photo by arbyreed / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com



Monday, March 14, 2016

Station 10 - Jesus is Stripped


"He was despised 

photo by Jim Forest / flickr
and rejected by others;

a man of suffering 

and acquainted with infirmity;

as one from whom others 

hide their faces

he was despised, 

and we held him of no account."

              --Isaiah 53. 3





The journey is almost over.

But not quite.

The soldiers stripped him naked.

It is a moment of utter shame.

The crowd laugh and point.

This naked man 
cross-eyed with pain-- 
blood streaming down his dirty body
is the expected Messiah?

He is totally defenseless.

They leave nothing hidden.
No thing. 

We have few pictures of the naked Jesus.

Somehow it seems completely
obscene.

And so we have solved the problem.

We have covered him over with
layer after layer.

Naked no more.  

He is now white.
And middle-class.
Successful as the smiling 
preachers tell us.
He is Catholic.
Or Methodist.
Or Baptist.
Maybe Episcopalian.
Maybe even Unitarian.

We have decked him
with our politics
and our guns
and our prejudices.
He is an American 
and on his tunic 
is a tiny American flag.

He hates what we hate.
Covered over with every pagan
myth.

Once in Germany
he was blonde and blue-eyed
Aryan despite what
they said.  

The fat preacher, parking his
Mercedes at the door
talks about Jesus' Republicanism
and how he helps us pick 
and choose God's candidate.

No wonder so many poor
never come to church
They wouldn't fit with the
nice Jesus and the successful 
folk
with the Audis and
the Cadillacs and the Corvettes
and the BMW's out front.

We have smothered him with
our trappings.
Silenced him with our talk
and talk and talk.

But at Station 10 there is no 
place to hide.
We cannot cover his nakedness
with our coverings.

Neither can we turn away.

This naked man
exposed and bare
is the Savior
not just us and our kind
not just our nation
not just 2016--
but the Savior of the whole wide world.

 We cannot cover him over any longer.

Standing here what we see
is the real Jesus.


--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com