Sunday, April 23, 2017

Easter is Never Really Over

photo by Snow Monkey Pottery / flickr



Our scripture for today is found at the end of John's gospel. Easter had come and gone. The disciples were still trying to unpack what it really meant. But they were still having a hard time. For you see they had forgotten what Jesus had told them.  So they just gathered together behind closed doors. The Lord showed them his hands and his side and John said they were glad.

Thomas was not with them when Jesus came that first time. But his friends told him that Jesus had come back and spoken to them. Thomas responded as probably we would have responded: “"Alive? You gotta be kidding. He died. I saw him die. You must be out of your minds." And the disciples kept trying to convince him and it did no good. "Unless I see for myself," Thomas said, "I will not believe." And so eight days later when the disciples had gathered once more behind closed doors--still afraid— the Lord appeared to them again. But this time Thomas was there. And I love the way John puts it in the King James Version: "...then Jesus came…and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.”(20. 26) Then Jesus moved toward the old doubter, who had a hard time believing. The Lord said:” See. See."  And he showed Thomas his nailed-scarred hands and he showed him the place in his side. And Thomas for once just stood there open-mouthed, not saying a word. 

We are a lot like Thomas, I think. It’s after Easter for us too. And in some ways it seems a long time since you decorated the Cross with flowers and sang the Resurrection hymns. In just the short space of four weeks we’ve gotten caught up in the thus- and so-ness of life. Wondering who is going to take Julia’s place. Sending in Income tax forms. Dealing with ta multitude of things in our lives. Worried about conditions in the world. What in the world does this Easter thing have to do with all the things we’ve been wading through this week? Thomas asked it and we ask it too. 

But the church came to understand that Easter was not just a one-day celebration.We all get caught up in so many things—and this Scriptures today gives me hope. “Jesus came and stood in the midst of them and said: ‘Peace’.” So here is our sermon—and here are some handles that might be able to help us as they helped Thomas. Two things we find here. Christ came and stood in their midst. So Christ is here with us all. The text also says: Christ brings peace when he comes.

Look at what John writes. Jesus came and stood in their midst. Where were they? Behind
"that feeling"  photo by Sylva K. Ficova / flickr
closed doors. Scared out of their wits. They had already seen him once eight days before—the Risen Lord. But still they double-locked the doors and they were afraid. Over and over they must have wrung their hands and said: What are we going to do? And among them was Thomas. He could not believe. Unless I see, feel and touch—I won’t believe.

What happened? Jesus came through those closed door. Those locked doors could not stop him. It was after Easter, much like we are today. Listen. He came to those who were afraid and did not believe and had some serious doubts. He came. Even with the locks of unfaith on the door and problems galore nothing kept him out. We all need to remember that the lilies may have faded and maybe you have put your Easter outfit away—but Easter just keeps on coming. Nothing can stop its power. 

Could this also be a word for the church. He never did say that the hard, hard times would not come. Did he? He did say, over and over, when the hard times come, I will be with you.  Do you believe that about our church? That here, in the midst of all the things we are trying so hard to work out—we are not alone. This is God’s thing. God’s church. God is here. God will be with us all the way. Remember his promise? Where two or three are gathered in my name I am there. And here among people as flawed as we are—once in a while we see the face of Jesus when we least expect it. 

Let us be clear. Outside those locked doors stood Rome with all its power. And there would be Judaizers that despised them and their new movement. And some days Rome crucified hundreds along the road just to remind people who was in charge. Rome was out there. Poverty was out there. Slavery was out there. Mean-spiritedness was out there. Unfairness walked down every streets and knocked on door after door. And, like us, they tried many things. 

I think it was in my first church that I saw this advertisement. You could get this rubber band and slip it tight around your stomach and ta-dah—just walk around—you’d lose all that pudgy stuff. So I ordered one and tried it. Even wore it on Sundays when I preached. What happened? Nothing. And they finally quit selling those contraptions. And guess what? I picked up a magazine the other day and they’re coming back. Twice as much as they were. Maybe I should have kept my old rubber corset. Maybe if we add another praise song or as traditional hymn that would bring them in. Maybe we could expand the parking lot. Jazz up the sign out there. Or call a real live bonfire preacher who will help put chairs in the aisle.There are some things that will not budge easily despite our efforts. 

photo by Thomas Hawk / flickr
John’s story contradicts this. Easter just keeps on coming behind whatever closed doors there are. We’ve all knocked on doors that just would not open. We know them too. Jobs or lack of. Marriages or its failures. Health…Depression…Family stuff…the mess in the world. The forces of evil had tried to stop him--and still he came. Christ came and stood in the midst of those earthy broken disciples. They didn't unlock the doors. Some of them, like Thomas did not believe. It hardly matters. God will not be defeated by the work of our hands or the lack of work we do. Christ is here. And even if the storm rages outside those locked doors--it does not matter. God is here in the midst of his people.

The next thing Jesus said was just one word. He said: Peace. In fact, he said it twice here. It is a wonderful word. He said it when the storm came up and the disciples were so scared. He had already said it when he was trying to prepare them for his death and they were so afraid of the future. "My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give it to you." And then when the shadows of the cross were so evident: "Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid."(John 14. 27)

He said the same thing before his death and after his death. Peace. They weren't peaceful in that upper room behind closed doors. They were scared out of their wits.The word peace comes from the Greek word, eirene. The Hebrew word is shalom. It does not mean the cessation of war or an absence of trouble. After those disciples left that room with the locked doors ten of the twelve disciples would by martyred for their faith. Times would be hard and the little churches they established would limp along and sometimes break their hearts. This word peace meant wholeness, completeness, health. It means: "I will give you everything that makes for your highest good." Peace.

There is a lot of despair and isolation and pain out there.  Somehow so many haven’t heard that word that Jesus whispered behind closed doors. Easter really does keep coming. And he still brings Peace. That peace spoke to internal affairs and external situations. It means to lay down the weapons we use against ourselves-because we are our own worst enemies. It means to lay down the weapons we use against those closest to us--for we maim and cripple them the most. And it means to lay down the weapons we use against one another in the Church and in the larger world. 

Remember what he said in the Beatitudes? If you want to be children of God you will be peacemakers. Doesn't mean to stand around smiling when we are raging inside. It means to lay down our weapons. You cannot have a fight without two opposing sides. We learn to make peace. We are all peace-lovers but the hard thing is being a peace-maker. It took those behind those locked doors a long time to unpack what the risen Jesus told them. I bring you peace. To Thomas and all the others—Easter just keeps on coming.

And the good news today is that whatever locked doors you live behind or with—Peace—the peace that passes all understanding—can even come to you and to me. 


Sometimes you find that place in the strangest places.A couple of years ago we went back to one of the first churches I ever served. As part of the service they enlisted three people to stand and talk about: “I remember Mr. Lovette.” It scared me. What in the world would they say. I had hoped they had forgotten a lot of my mistakes. 

The first person that came forward was a beautiful young lady from the Choir. She still had her robe on. Frances was her name. She had rejoined the church again after living somewhere else for several years. She told us that she had lived behind the store in an old shack when I was Pastor there. One of eight children. No Daddy—he had left them. They had a hard time. Her mother died when she was just 39 years old. Just gave out. And Frances was the oldest and the burden for the family was on her shoulders. She told us that she started coming to church. I got to know her like I did all the kids. I even baptized her. She talked about what I said when I brought her up out of the water. She said I whispered,. “You did good.” I did not even remember that little girl. But she talked about all the things that made a difference. How far she had come from that old house back of there store. 

Who would believe that this little shy fellow from a cotton mill village whose parents never had a car and never finished the eighth grade would one day move to the state of Virginia and touch a little nine year old girl and make a difference.  


I hope I don’t sound too self-serving in telling that story. But I would remind you that Easter isn’t over by a long shot. For any of us. It still happens. Your life. Your marriage. This Church. Like Thomas and Frances and even me. This is why we come. God offers new life to us all. And that’s the best news I know. Easter is never really over.


"Calm After Storm" photo by Michael Peterson / flickr


(This sermon was preached at the North Anderson Community Church, Anderson, SC, April 23, 2017)



--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.cpom

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Sunday in Trumpville



We preachers find Easter sermons hard to preach. You wouldn’t think so. Packed house. Good music. Easter lilies everywhere. And it would seem that we egomaniacs that inhabit the pulpits would just be itching for the day to come. Captive audience!

Not so. We preachers sit down and try to figure out how you get your hands or heart around this watershed in Christian history. It isn’t easy. Even the Scriptures don’t find it easy. Weeping women. Simon Peter peeking into the Open Tomb and no Jesus. He was terrified. Even days later the followers found themselves in an upper room with the doors locked. Still scared. 

I know the rest of the story just like you. But if we are too understand the real Easter we have to start with disciples on the road to Emmaus saying, “We had hoped he was the one too redeem Israel.” There are no sadder words than we had hoped.

And yet the dawn really did come and the Tomb really was empty. And disciples who had been scared and foolish would come back days later with wonder in their eyes. Four of them would write the story in their own words and each had a different slant. But how in the world could any sermon do this day of days justice?

I keep in my office a framed picture that captures Easter for me. I tore it out of a magazine years ago and framed it. Some days when I am planning for a funeral and just burdened with the injustices of so much—I see the picture and once again I remember.

The picture is a photograph of a young hispanic boy. He must be say, ten years old. The photo is black and white and he is running carrying in his arms an Easter lily. He’s looking up and he seems proud and glad and wonder-filled. He is surrounded by the projects in the city. There is graffiti on the brick walls behind him. Trash is piled up in the corner. The concrete under his feet is broken. But he is oblivious to his surroundings. It’s Easter and he holds in his arms that Easter flower. And he is glad.

That’s about as good a description of Easter that I know. The first Easter was set down in a world of cruelty, injustice, poverty and tears. And yet Easter came. The Church has not given up on this day despite the chaos of so much then and now. 

That little boy with his olive skin reminds me that Easter is for everybody. We live in a world where Syrian refugees hunker in broken down buildings. The lucky ones have fled for their lives. And they live in tents and know the meaning hunger. This little boy reminds me of all the Hispanics in our own country scared today. Parents separated from children. Wives and husbands torn from each other and one of them sent back. Many of them do not have smiles on their faces this Easter. Like the disciples long ago they must also say: “We had hoped…”

This Easter is set down amid great cruelty. Millions losing their health care. If the present program is dismantled as many as 24 million could be without health care. Some elderly women with big hats on worry this Easter about their Medicare and Medicaid. And across the aisle some  grown man or some husband wonders about what is going to happen to Mother in that nursing  home.

There is much hopelessness out there. People who have lived here for generations look around and the landmarks seem to have disappeared. They mutter: “What kind of a world are we leaving to our grandchildren?

Easter morning came with the rising of the sun. And that sun touched not the few but everyone. For Easter light says everybody is important and every person should find the hope this day promises for us all.

If I had my way every child today—here and everywhere—would have the kind of smile on their faces I see in that little boy’s photograph. The angel said, over and over, “Do not be afraid.” And the task of all of us is to help make that the old Biblical promise come true“”…They shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.” (MIcah 4.4)

And so maybe Easter means to leave Church and march out and make Easter happen, not only for us and ours but for everyone.

Photo by Alwyn Ladell

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com


This blog piece was published in The Greenville News (SC) , Easter Sunday.



Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday Reverie

On the left side of my desk--right next to my computer and my list of special phone numbers and surrounded by photos of people and memories--You will find these two renderings of the crucifixion.

The top crucifix I picked up at Oberammagau in Germany when we went to the Passion Play. It was handcarved by someone in that village. The second crucifix I found in Italy on another trip. I have placed them on my desk to remember. Maybe like me you forget. In the rush of the too-muchness of everyday--I fail to recall what is real and what is important. I get caught up in bill paying, the air conditioning not working and trying to finish the flowers I want to plant in my garden. And so I forget.

But often my eyes are drawn to these two crucifixes. On this special day I remember again. For as long as I can remember I have loved this figure with his arms outstretched. And wherever I go and whatever I do there is that strange man hanging on that cross. Those outstretched arms reach out to me regardless of my failings and my stupidity. They draw me back to the reality that I have worth--that I can be forgiven yet again--and I can move on hopefully remembering that the future may just be different, better than the past.

Lately I think of those outstretched scarred hands and call to mind his embrace of the whole world. That little verse: "For God so loved the world..." used to be pretty small. My family. My friends. My church. Maybe even the state of Georgia where I lived. I had no idea that those hands stretched so far or that they took everybody in. Not only the "saved" whatever that means--but everybody. The old  song: "He's got the whole world in his hands" takes on new meaning.

Years ago half-tipsy with wine me and my buddies were in a motel at Myrtle Beach. Outside the window you could hear the pounding of the surf. And inside one of my buddies began to strum his guitar. And as he began to play: "He's Got the Whole World..." we began to hum and then to sing. First we sang our own names and the people we loved. But it got out of hand--that song--that night. We began to sing about our children--some lost and broken. We sang about a failed marriage and people we did not like. We sang about mean church members that we really did despise. We kept on going until we had completed the circle wide and large. And somewhere in the singing we began to cry as we sang. He's got me...the little tiny baby...my brother and sister...everybody--every body in those nail scarred hands.

I wish I could recapture that night as I look at these two outstretched figures. This is a terribly divided time. About as divided as I have ever seen it. It looks like we have a President who has no intention of trying to bring us together--or the rest of the world either. But most of us too, have our enemies' list.

But on this day when I remember that awful hill and the day the sun turned dark--I come back to the incredible truth that Jessica Powers' reminded me of. "I came upon earth's most amazing knowledge someone is hidden in this dark with me."

Strange title: Good Friday. I used to think what made it good--Jesus died. But what makes it so good is that he died for us--and he taught us that when we take our last breath we too will be in the hands of the Father.

Remember that on a hill faraway there stood an old rugged cross. And that hill and figure matters for us and for everybody.


photo by Jes / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogsplot.com

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday Means What?

photo by Patrick Emerson / flickr


Maundy Thursday. Strange word. Maundy. It comes from the old Latin word which means mandate. And we all know that mandate means: this is what we have to do. 

To understand Maundy we have to go back to that time in John when the shadows came and it was dark. Holy Week, it was. And Jesus knew his time was running out. And when you know it won’t be long—he must have felt the desperation we feel from time to time. Especially we old folks. My brother-in-law who feels his old age some days says things like: “Well, this will be the last refrigerator we ever buy.” Or: “You know, this is probably the last car we’ll ever have.” And his wife looks at him like he has lost his mind. But Jesus knew it would not be long. So he met them in an Upper Room. He washed their feet. And around a table he broke bread and passed the cup. 

And this was the setting of his mandate. Maybe it was a Last Will and Testament. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also must love one another,By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This was the mandate. And almost every Maundy Thursday we read these words.

For a long time I have wanted to write a book called: “Things I Wish Jesus Had Not Said.” And one of those things was this mandate: “I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you..”

I don’t know about you—but I don’t want to love everybody. Seems like a big order. “Everybody, Lord? Not everybody.” “Everybody.” In case we have not heard he said it again: Everybody.” And this is why I wish he had not said those words and I wish there would not be this troubling word: mandate. Mandate? That’s a strong word. It means: I command you...It’s an order—like a military decree. He laid down the law. Mandate. Lord, I’ve got to love everybody? “Everybody.”

If you’re a Democrat does it mean to love Donald Trump and Melania and the whole bunch. If you’re a Republican does it mean to love Hillary Clinton—Chelsea and Bill Clinton?  What about Putin? And that monster: Assad. Or that man across the fence that is as mean as hell. Or that woman who talks about you behind your back and smiles at you like an angel. I went back to one of the churches I had served years before. While I was there one of the men would call me and cuss me out. Told me I should leave and quit trying to kill his church. He hated me and he was not exactly one of my favorite people. He kept it up. And when I’d see him there would be blood in his eyes. Ten years later I went back and walking down the hall I saw this man. And guess what? He still had that look of hated in his eyes. And I still despised him and it all came back.

Mandate. Must. Should. Command. Whew. Maybe in 2017 we can call it a mini-Mandate. Maybe Mandate with some exceptions. Like Muslims or KKK or just mean people we know. And we all have these. I wish Jesus had not said these words: “Love one another.”

But it’s there. And maybe what this mandate means is that you don’t have to have some warm squishy feeling toward everybody. Maybe feeling good toward somebody is not love. Love is not what you feel—but what you do. Look at marriage. We said: for better or for worse. And some women have added: “but not for lunch.” So you fuss. And you make up And you fuss and you make up. You disagree. And you accept her/him’s other weirdnesses. You hurt each other. But you forgive. Sometimes you love but you flat out don’t like. 

I don’t even like that. But—if it’s Mister Trump I have this mandate to do good toward him. And Hillary? The same thing. Love is an action, see. Jesus acted right about Judas even though he knew this disciple was plotting his death. And Peter—he denied the Lord—broke his heart—and later Jesus called him over after fishing and talked to him tenderly.

We’re not Jesus but we are supposed to be his disciples. And that means that even though there will always be people we don’t like—we are commanded to act as if we do. Not hypocrisy. Not feeling. But action. This love will be something we do.

And sometimes we speak truth to power. We say No to our kids. We don’t let people run over us. We don’t even have to say yes, yes. And when we sit across the table from some family member and don’t agree on nothing politically. Or religiously or anything else. And they think you are crazy and you think they are crazy. But you act out love. Remember that verse: Be ye kind. And somebody said: "Be kind wherever you go for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

You vote your conscience. You stand up for the right. Because you loved this country you act out that loved by trying to make this place all it was meant to be. But hate is not a family value. But we cannot diminish another’s personhood whether they be illegal or a President. But we stand up for the right as we see it.

That’s why we keep coming back to this Table. We eat over and over at home because we get hungry. And here knowing we still have to work on this mandate—and always will—we take the bread and we drink the cup and pray that whatever Jesus meant by love another—we’re going to keep trying. 


I always say the same words as I give an invitation to this table. “You that do truly and earnestly repent of your sins and (listen) want to be in love and in charity with your neighbors…come to the table…” And so we bring here our sins and our wants…hoping that what happened long ago in an Upper Room might just happen to us. And when the hard days come…we will remember what it means to be a disciple and we keep trying always.




Photo by Robin / flickr



(I preached this meditation at the Maundy Thursday Service at Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church, Sandy Springs, SC. Holy Week, 2017)

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovettte.blogspot.com

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Palm Sunday Ain't What We Thought

photo by Kate Dixon / flickr


Palm Sunday is one of their great days of the Church. We pass out palms and remember 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. Politicians know they cannot talk about raising taxes. We all salivate. The officials turned against Jesus. 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 says goodbye to those he loved. He would break the bread and pass cup. He 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 moaned. 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—we see him 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? They got so carried away they tore branches off trees. 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! Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!" Those that lined the roads waved their palm branches wildly.

There was a second sound. And few heard it over the crowds and their yelling. The second
photo by Christ Phillips / flickr
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 ride in not on a stallion but on a donkey and it 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.  No throwing the rascals out. 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 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 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 other sound: 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. Peace to all the children—especially in Syria. Peace to the
photo by Birgit Kulbe / flickr
hungry and homeless and the weak. Peace to someone  like that man lying by the pool for 38 years. Peace to that woman of the streets. And peace even to little old Zaccheus that cheated others every April 15th. And that’s not half as exciting as the rah-rahs and the dancing girls. 

Mount Zion is a time of transition. No preacher Just all this parade of substitutes—and some of them old, old. 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. Not to worry about the budget. We all do, don’t we. 

He brings no sword. In fact in the Garden when they came to arrest him—Peter took a sword and lopped 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 friend of mine took her little girl to a Revival meeting in Louisiana. And as the Evangelist gave the Invitation he said: “Come on down here and meet Jesus.” And my friend’s little girl stood up on the pew looked around and said loudly, “Where? Where is Jesus?”Good question. Where? A good job. Your marriage will come back together and you will be able, in time to join the country club. Mostly these poreachers are all slick. Mostly men. Lot of hair. Moussed for the most part. Smiling a Colgate smile. With a  beautiful blonde wife always. And the couple leave 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? The little girl was right. Where?

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. 

But that other sounds is the heart of Palm Sunday. Clip-clop…clip…clop. He brings a whole lot more than a good job and a fine house and a big car. Not this Jesus. He brings peace—but that peace —not a sword—and it 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. What if on this day the poor and homeless would feel welcomed in the church. What if some Muslim or Hispanic scared to leave the house saw Jesus’ smile as he did that morning on the road. Smiling just smiling not asking anything else. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. Clip-clop. clip-clop.

Dr. Claude Broach was a wonderful Baptist preacher in Charlotte, North Carolina. He tells 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 went early. He put his dollar in his overall pouch. He stood there 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. 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 overall pouch  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. I wonder, things being as they are—if we will miss it too.



(This sermon  will be preached at the Mount Zion Presbyterian Church, Sandy Springs, SC, April 9, 2017)


--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com


Monday, March 27, 2017

Mr. Trump--Failure Goes with the Territory

photo by Mike / flickr




We're hearing a lot about failure these days. The failure of the Health Case bill to pass. The failure of Hillary to win the election. The longest war in our history is a failure.

President Trump loves the word winners. He despises the losers. And yet if I could talk to him today I would say: Mr. President join the club. We all fail.  And it isn't the fact that we fail--it's what happens after the failure. We'll be watching closely to see how Mr. Trump acts since this huge defeat.

We've already heard him begin to point fingers. It was the Democrat's fault. It was Comey's fault for bringing up these stupid Russian charges at the same time. It was Paul Ryan's fault. And if his daughter and husband had not been skiing in Aspen the results might have been different. Of course--the bottom line is that it was Obama's fault for getting us into this mess in the first place.

I've had my share of failures and defeats. And so have you. And it is so painful when you fall down and have a hard time getting up. But defeat and failure goes with the territory. And like Mr. Trump I have looked around and pointed fingers when I have bumped into failure. But when I settled down I began to see that it isn't always them that caused the trouble. Nothing happens in a vacuum. But one day after great pain I sat down and began to wonder: Just what went wrong? Slowly, ever so slowly I turn the finger from them to me. Oh, that hurt. I'm not into self-flagellation--but we have to take responsibility for our own actions. Maybe, just maybe, I could have done some things differently.

I've never had too many failure in my professional life--I'll not get into my personal life. But when the house shook and fell down around me--as I looked inside I began to hate myself. And what I learned from that time in the darkness is that self-hated is a terrible burden to bear. It took a long time but finally I began to forgive myself.

I love the Arthur Miller quote that came out of his broken relationship with Marilyn Monroe. In one of his plays he'd says, "There comes a time when you have to take yourself in your own arms." I think he was right. We don't get very far down the road by beating up on ourselves. And what I discovered was that we take that self-hatred out and point fingers at everybody around us. Except of course us. It makes us into miserable human being to be around. 

photo by Ray Krebs / flickr
The wisest people have learned from their failures. And that is not easy to do. But Leslie Weatherhead was a famous English preacher. He was Pastor when the bombs fell in England and destroyed so many and so much. And he said the most amazing thing. "Of course I love the sunny things when everything goes right--but I have learned more from the treasures of the darkness than I have ever leaned from success. " Dr, Weatherhead got those words from Isaiah 45.3: "I will give you then treasures of the darkness and riches hidden in secret places..." Those words come out of the Exile when Isaiah and his people were far from home and had lost everything.

This is no Norman-Vincent-Peale -whistle-while-you-work advice. Weatherhead went on to say that he had learned more from the treasures of the darkness that he ever learned from the light. Also my advice to our President and to us all is that we have to know that when we fail we might just learn something that would help us all the way down the road.

I remember that I have slowly learned that there's not but one Jesus. And we cannot beat up on ourselves for our stumbles and our foibles. I have learned the hard way that to be a human being is often to suffer and fail. So we have to give up the perfection malady.

I have tried and this has been hard to forgive myself when I have failed. This takes a long time--yet failure is not the end of the road. It's part of the journey. You get up and move on.

Of course we are skittish after failure. After a bad experience in a church when I moved on to another church I remember every time some little something would come up I would think: "Uh oh, I'm gonna fail again." Took me a long time to learned that lesson.

I have learned to look at others with grace and kindness and not so much judgment. We Baptists know a lot about judging and self-righteousness. To learn from failure is to join the human race with our fellow-strugglers. I hope this has made me easier to live with. Hope, I said.

I have learned, looking back that there is a whole of living to be done after failure. There is life aplenty after failure.

One of my friends that I don't see very often wrote these fine words. Maybe they will mean something to you as they have to me. His name is Al Staggs.

"It's good to fail sometimes
so that we do not grow proud of our illusions of 
greatness.
It's good to fail in the dark
if it makes us look fervently for the light. 
It's good to struggle for reasons
if it prevents us from complacency of mind.
It's good to experience pain
to know that we can still feel.
It's good to cry
to be able to flush out the would's weariness.
Some of what is bad, evil, distasteful,
can be for good
If it causes us to keep searching 
and refining our faith."

When I went through one of my hard times I took up calligraphy. And I discovered this quote and I have given it out many times. No truer words were ever written.




--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com





Friday, March 24, 2017

Lenten meditation: A Prayer for a Hard Time






photo by Melissa Baldwin / Flickr

This morning on there eve of the Health Care vote --thinking of this new budget--I opened my Bible to read the lessons for today. I don't always do this...I should but the everydayness just sometimes covers it all. I remember Carlyle Marney saying, "When I get into trouble I always turn to the Psalter." Today these words from a Psalm spoke to me. Maybe they will speak to you too.



"O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!
Even now your enemies are in tumult; those who hate you have raised their heads,
They lay crafty plans against your people;
They consult together against those you protect
They say, 'Come, let us wipe them out as a a nation;
Let the name of Israel be remembered no more.'
They conspire with one accord; against you they make a covenant...
Fill their faces with shame, so that they may seek your name, O Lord.
Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever;
Let them perish in disgrace.
Let them know that you alone, whose name is the Lord,
Are the Most High over all the earth." (Psalm 83. 1-5,16-18)


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Maybe Langston Hughes' poem, "Mother to Son" says it in another way:


"Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair,
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places wth no carpet on the floor--
Bare.
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turning' corners;
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall down now--
For I'se still going', honey,
I'se still climbin'
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair."





photo by Linda Dee 2006 / flickr





--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

Monday, March 20, 2017

Meals on Wheels Under Attack

photo by Roger W - Sarasota Meals on Wheels / flickr


Looking over the proposed National Budget I have studied some of the places the Administration plans to cut. The list is long and alarming. School lunches for the needy, National Endowment for the Arts and the Humanities, dismantling Americorp, heating subsidies for the poor. Legal Aid for all 50 states. Job training programs will be cut. Block grants that help states with daycare and adoption assistance. But scanning that long list I stopped reading at Meals on Wheels which is also on the hit list. Meals on Wheels?

Volunteers have been delivering meals to older people since the 1950’s—67 years. Last year 2.4 million people received these meals. In protest to the cuts in this program in particular—I discovered that there are 5,000 Meals on Wheels projects in all fifty states. 

The Budget Director is a South Carolinian, Mike Mulvaney, In defense of these cuts in these programs—and Meals on Wheels in particular he responded, “We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good…Meals on Wheels sounds great—again, that’s a state decision to fund that particular portion too. But to take federal money and give it to the states and say, ‘Look we want to give you money for programs that don’t work—I can’t defend that anymore.’”Huh?

Unlike Mr. Mulvaney I know a little something about the Meals on Wheels program. When we l llved in Memphis my wife and a friend went into some of the poorest and roughest part of that city. She came home talking about some of the people she saw every week. They were poor. They were old and lonely. Many of these citizens who lived alone and saw no one all week except the “Meals on Wheels Ladies.” She told me that the visits were just as important as the food. But that for so many of these folk this was the only nutritious meals they had all day. 

Later when we moved to Birmingham—the AIDS crisis was epidemic and scary in the mid-nineties. So my wife began to deliver Meals on Wheels to people HIV positive. Many of them had been abandoned by their parents. Most knew that their chances of living were slim. Just to see a friendly face, especially bringing a hot meal meant much to those whom the larger community felt were untouchable.  Sometimes my wife would call a Doctor the person needed to see. There were occasions when she would call the person’s Social Worker to handle a problem. The Meals on Wheels program opens the door to help in many ways. Thank goodness we have dealt with the AIDS crisis in ways that have helped many live because of the availability of new drugs.

Mr. Mulvaney must not know that we cannot measure such programs but their success. Not showing any results? I dare the Budget Director to follow around some of these volunteers and see how wrong he is. I appreciate Senator Graham coming to the defense of Meals on Wheels. He said, “I think rebuilding the military we all want to do. But you're not going too rebuild the military by cutting  Meals on Wheels.” Only 35% of this program is funded by the federal government and it is such a tiny part of this whole budget.

The Meals on Wheels program is a symbol of many of the cuts in this proposed budget that will weaken the compassion that has run through the nation’s budgets for many years. People all over the world have looked to this country as a place that cares for people. This is one of the reasons that so many would love to come here to live and work.

In the last parable Jesus gave he said,”I was hungry and you gave me food…” But it looks like in 2017 in the richest country in the world we might just heed the challenge of Jesus. “Inasmuch,” he said, “As you do it unto the least of these you do  it unto me.”

Someone has said that if you open up your check book and study what you paid and when, you will begin to see what your priorities are. I think as we study this new proposed budget we will also begin to see what kind of a people we truly are. 

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com