Sunday, November 25, 2007

Strange - November 25, 2007

Luke 23:26-43

Happy New Year’s Eve …

New Year’s Eve? You say.

Yup … New Year’s Eve … at least for Christians … this is the last Sunday of the church year … the New Year begins next Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent … but today, we linger near the cross … we watch the strange ending of a strange man called Jesus …
Who would have thought?
We call Him King of kings and LORD of lords.
Who would have thought … such a strange ending would have such profound consequences for all the world!

Step back to Noah’s flood for a moment … the world was a mess; God regretted creating us … so let it rain …
Let the waters fall and let the waters rise … humankind failed the test, and they have to pay the price.
So pay we did … all but Noah and his family … and animals two-by-two.
When the waters finally recede, Noah gets right down to business … he plants a vineyard.
Makes wine, gets rip-roaring drunk … so drunk, he passes out in his tent … buck naked.
Ham stops by, sees the old man and laughs …
But Shem & Japheth take a garment and cover their father.
But the family is now divided.

It didn’t take long for things to get back to where they were and worse … and God said, “Now what?”

So God called Abraham and Sarah … “May I have a few moments of your time?”
A new family, a new nation, a new world …

But Abraham tells lies …
Lot lives in Sodom …
Sarah laughs at God …
Abraham fathers a child with a slave girl …
Jacob and Esau are enemies …
Slavery in Egypt …
Wandering in the wilderness …
Fighting for the Promised Land …
King Saul … a failure …
King David … a mighty man of valor, but hands covered in blood …
Solomon … ever-so wise, ever-so foolish; the kingdom collapses into warring factions – north and south – Civil War!
Death and mayhem everywhere …

And God said, “Now what?”

So God conceived a plan … “Mary, may I see you for a few moments?”
“Joseph, it’s all right … take Mary for your wife … she carries a holy child … He will set His people free” … and Joseph named Him Jesus.

30 years later … Jesus goes to the Jordan to be baptized … when John the Baptist sees Him, he cries out: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

Takes them away … doesn’t wait for us to give them up, but takes them from us … takes them away … far away.

“As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1).

“Blessed is the one against whom the LORD will not reckon sin” (Romans 4:8).


What’s the big deal?

The church has fussed and fumed too much about sin, that’s for sure … saw-dust trail preachers have frightened children with hellfire and brimstone … sin has been used and abused to fleece folks of their coins and intimidate the crowds.

But if some of the church made too much of sin, it does us no good to offer up a pablum of self-help – a “Christ without a cross in a world without sin.”

I don’t know what sin is precisely … some deep inability to love … an instinctive self-centeredness … hostility in our homes … the wars we fight around the globe … a mugger in a back alley … a white-shirted corporate officer cooking Enron’s books …

I don’t know what sin is precisely … the will to dominate and win … the fear we have of the new … closed neighborhoods and gated communities …

I don’t know what sin is precisely … 40 million Americans uninsured; too many children dying for want of medical care, right here, in America … 30,000 children a day around the world …

I don’t know what sin is precisely … the dark shadows of the soul … shame, guilt and anger … an average of 17 military personnel a day who take their own lives …

I don’t know what sin is precisely … the games we play with God … looking good on the outside and still king of our own little domain …

I don’t know what sin is precisely … the distance between us and God … the boundaries we draw between neighbors … the chasms we dig and the walls we build … the suspicions we hold; the tales we tell …

I don’t know what sin is precisely … hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, factions, envy, self-indulgence.

I don’t know what sin is precisely … but Paul’s words ring true:

“The good I want to do, I don’t do; the evil I despise, I keep on doing … wretched man that I am; who will rescue me from this impasse (see Romans 7:7-25)?

And then, these immortal words: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our LORD.”

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

The movie, “Sister Act” … Whoopie Goldberg, working with a youth choir … they’re singing “O Happy Day … when Jesus washed my sin away” … at first, lackluster singing … then Whoopie lights a small fire, and it takes off … and they sing with heart and soul, “O Happy Day” and when they finish, the audience on their feet, cheering madly, Whoopie says to the youth, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are now a choir.”

That’s what God wants for this tired and trembling world … to sing a song, to be a choir … every voice represented … every style embraced … all together now, in one voice: “O Happy Day when Jesus washed my sins away.”

Simon of Cyrene … innocent bystander pressed into service … accidental disciple: “Here; you carry this cross and follow Jesus.”

What was Simon doing there?

Part of the Passover crowd … tens of thousands of pilgrims from the steppes of Russia to the shores of Tripoli … from India to the tip of Spain … the dream of every Jew … to see the fabled city and bring a sacrifice to the Temple.

Simon … immortalized in history … a bystander who carried the cross for our LORD.

And Jesus took away his sins.

The women who mourn and wail … not everyone in the crowd is eager for this man’s death … do they know Him? Were some of them healed by Him? Were their children blessed by Him?

And Jesus took away their sins.

The criminals on either side … not just back-alley thugs, but enemies of Rome … rebels, revolutionaries, terrorists … determined to overthrow Rome and rid their homeland of this hated enemy … violent men who lived by the sword.

That’s the charge brought against Jesus … sedition, treason, rabble-rousing - a threat to Roman rule … hence the public execution.
What better way to remind the people of their captivity – this exquisitely painful means of death – slow and agonizing …
And what better time - Passover Eve … let ‘em know who’s boss … Rome rules.

The soldiers throw dice for his garments – they mock Him – “Hey big guy, Mr. King of the Jews … you’re not so smart now, are ya’!” …
How else to break the boredom of a job done thousands of times … all over the empire, rebels, terrorists, instigators, crucified along busy highways; sometimes hundreds at a time … they’ve done this so many times, they can do it in their sleep. They know how to kill; they’re experts at it.
Just another day for these battled-hardened men.

And Jesus took away their sins.

The rulers are there, too … sneering; snide, enjoying their power … “What a fool you are Jesus of Nazareth … you had some good ideas, but you took ‘em too far … too radical … too much of a good thing … you didn’t play by the rules … you healed on the Sabbath; you disregarded our traditions … you forgive sins, but that’s our job, not yours.”
You spent too much time with the down-and-out, Jesus – you should’ve spent more time with us!”

And Jesus took away their sins.

The people were there, too … bystanders; tourists … in town for the Holiday … wondering … bewildered: “Who is this guy?”

“Where’s He from?”

“Nazareth, you say?”

“What did He do?”

And Jesus took away their sins.

Of the two crucified with Jesus, one was thoughtful … in the agony of his own death, he speaks kindly to Jesus … does he see something that everyone else missed?

“Jesus” … he knows the name.
Did someone tell him? … did he overhear it? Was he there at the Sermon on the Mount … did he witness a healing?
He knows the name, “Jesus” – remember me!

“Remember me” – I’m a nobody, and nobody cares about me … I die here alone … I’m a violent man, and I’m dying a violent death.

“Remember me.”

“Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”


Out of this mess? This wretched end to our lives? A kingdom?

And Jesus took away his sins.

“Today, you’ll be with me in paradise.”

A strange ending to a strange life … a place called The Skull, three men dying … the one in the center speaks of paradise.

And He took away the sins of the world.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Steady - Nov 18 2007

Luke 21:5-19

“LORD Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, I give myself to you in faith and obedience.”

Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Anointed One of God … the center of our faith … the anchor of hope … a portrait of life and love … the image of the invisible God … the firstborn over all creation … by Him, all things were created … He is before all things … and in Him all things hold together.

Jesus my LORD: he head of the body; the head of the church … the beginning and the end; the Alpha and the Omega; the firstborn from among the dead … all of God’s fullness dwells in Him … through Him, all things on earth or things in heaven are reconciled to God … through His blood shed on the cross (Colossians 1:15-20; Revelation 22:12).

Jesus my LORD.

Our reading today … Jesus in Jerusalem … the political and spiritual center of God’s people … a city built on a hill … the Temple built by Herod the Great … a thorn in the flesh for Rome … the pinnacle of pride for the people … the City of David.

The boys from Galilee are impressed … “What a place,” they say. “How glorious it is; look at all the big buildings.”

Like Iowa farm boys visiting New York City … or a young lady from Nebraska strolling down Rodeo Drive …

Jerusalem the Golden …

I remember my own journey to Israel … we arrived in Tel Aviv … spent a few days on the Sea of Galilee, and then the bus ride to Jerusalem … following the footsteps of Jesus … from Galilee to the Holy City.

As the bus labored up a steep roadway, we all held our breath … the tour guide alerted us … “You will see the city as Jesus saw it.”
The bus crested the hill, and there it was … in the bright light of mid-morning … gleaming … alabaster white … a golden hue … the city of David … my eyes filled with tears.

The disciples were mightily impressed … why not? … this incredible city - one of the wonders of the world … every Jew dreamed of making pilgrimage there … “Oh to be in Jerusalem” … at ever Passover meal, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

We toured the city for a week … every turn of every corner, a piece of history … a story to be told … a picture to be taken … and finally the Temple Mount itself … the Western Wall … sometimes called the Wailing Wall because of all the tears shed by those mighty stones.

In the niches of the wall, scraps of paper, thousands of them – prayers scribbled … I scribbled mine: for Donna and the children … and I wept by the Western Wall.

In AD 70, the Roman Empire, fed up with Jewish unrest and rebellion, laid waste to the city – demolished the Temple, one stone at a time – nothing left; everything gone.

The gold and the silver, the precious stones and tapestries, hauled off to Rome – war booty - to underwrite the building of a monument … the Coliseum … to celebrate the victories of Emperor Titus …

Jesus foresaw all of these unhappy events … when the boys from Galilee were oohing and awing at the Temple’s splendor, Jesus saw something else … He saw the tragic outcome of the present course … headed for a showdown with Rome, and Rome would win.

It would be the end of the age … the world as the disciples knew it would cease to be … their world would come to an end.

Hardly the news anyone wants to hear … but so it is with life … what we know and those we love soon gives way to the flow of time …

This last week, Donna and I were looking at old slides … goodness … I was once young … and my children were once babies … things change … we move on … we all march to the beat of the same drummer … a rhythm tapping out the days, until we draw our last breath, and life is no more.

Stone-by-stone … the end of the age!

The disciples were unnerved … “When will this be? Will there be any signs? We’d like to know.”

“Beware that you are not led astray,” says Jesus.
Many will come claiming to have all the answers … “Do not go after them,” says Jesus.

Steady as she goes! Don’t be terrified … take advantage of the moment to testify: tell the world about faith, hope and love; grace, mercy and peace.

When you’re up against it, I will give you the words and wisdom you need … to withstand the onslaught of the world …

Steady as she goes … by your endurance, you will gain your souls …

An incredible promise: by your endurance, you will gain your souls …

A promise that makes sense … endure and we gain our souls … because souls are lost, when fear takes hold … when we’re unnerved by circumstance, when we panic, the center collapses, we become prisoners of the immediate … events dictate our state of mind.
Circumstances decide our character …
We’re no longer centered; our point of reference no longer within, but out there somewhere in the swirling sands of time …

Disasters and wars: cutbacks at work … slumping housing market … stocks in decline … a child’s report card … a fateful call from the doctor’s office.

Our stomach churns … sleep is fitful and nightmarish … imagined scenarios race through mind, and everyone of them is bad … trusted members of the family fail us … friends turn the other way, too busy with their own stuff … faith ridiculed by the skeptic; rejected by the cynic.

The end of the age! Or so it seems.

Jesus dares to say: be steady … remain centered; … you will make it through the storm; I will bring you to a better place … it’s going to be all right … not a hair on your head will perish … nothing lost … by your endurance, you will gain your souls.

Talk about the power of positive thinking …

The glass is half-full … a positive spin … roll with the punches … bend with the wind …

Jesus is that kind of person … so is Paul the Apostle … Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr. … John and Charles Wesley … Mother Teresa … life is no picnic for any of them, but they make meatloaf sandwiches, fix potato salad and have a picnic anyway.

Things turn our best for those who make the best of how things turn out!

Jesus on the cross … salvation for the world.
Paul in prison … opportunity to sing hymns - witness to the jailor.
Martin Luther tucked away in Wittenberg Castle – a death sentence hanging over his head … he writes the Reformation documents that change the world.
Mother Teresa, the inner burden of spiritual turmoil and doubt … picks up a washcloth and comforts a dying man.

They all trust the fundamental promise of God: “I am at work in ALL things for good.”

A simple faith – there’s good here; I may not see right now, I may not know how it’ll all turn out, but I trust my Father in heaven.
I take God at His word, signed and sealed with the blood of Christ … confirmed on Easter morning … the stone rolled away; the powers of death undone … the old book closed; a new book opened … a new story, a new beginning, a new day.

The power of positive thinking …

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

“The earth is the LORD's, and all that is in it.” (Psalm 24)

“To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust.” (Psalm 25)

“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27)

The power of positive thinking … Robert Schuller didn’t invent it … Norman Vincent Peale didn’t invent it … Joel Osteen didn’t invent it …
But from the wellsprings of Scripture … the ancient text … the Word of the LORD … “God created the heavens and the earth” … “God at work in all things” … “then I saw a new heaven and a new earth” … “and we will be like Him” … “in the twinkling of an eye.”

Steady as she goes!

The power of prayer … “Jesus my LORD” … “Our Father who art in heaven” … “Now I lay me down to sleep, I the pray the LORD my soul to keep” … “God is great; God is good; let us thank Him for our food” … “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference” … “not my will be done, but thine” … “for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever” …

Steady as she goes.

The Holy Spirit … the Counselor, the Advocate; God inside us; God with us … the Holy Spirit instructs us in the things of Jesus, seals the grace of God upon our hearts … brings us into the kingdom of God, centers us in God’s unconditional love; implants God’s unconditional love into the center of our lives …

Steady as she goes.

Jesus knew full well that changing times unnerve us … and times are always changing … we’d like to know a few things, if you please … some inside information.

Jesus replies cryptically … an answer that’s no answer at all … a simple reminder; a reality check: earthquakes there are, and wars rage … natural disasters and human tragedies … small and large … played out in our living rooms and in our workplaces … in the halls of government and on the battlefield … fires roar up a canyon and homes are gone; rain ceases and a city is threatened … a thousand dramas every day … large and small … things change … things come and go … birth and death … hope and sorrow … joy and fear … love and anger …

Jesus says, “So what else is new?”

Steady as she goes!

Hang on to God, because God hangs on to you, and God will never let go.

It’s going to be all right; you’ll make it … the storm will pass; you’ll be the better for it … keep your eyes on God … steady as she goes.

“Do not be afraid little flock; it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)

“I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).

“I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

Steady as she goes!

“Let mutual love continue.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers …
Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them …
Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have.”

Steady as she goes … easy does it … stay calm … stay focused … stay centered in the love of God … read your Bible; pray often and pray simply …

And by your endurance, you will gain your souls!

Hallelujah and Amen!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Silly - November 11 2007

Luke 20:27-38

Good morning, dear friends … it’s good to be here … God has something good for us today … a word of hope, some encouragement … forgiveness; inner peace; renewal of spirit … fresh purpose and great confidence.

We’re God’s people; God’s unconditional love for us never changes … God is shaping our lives to be like Christ … day-by-day; year-by-year - to be ambassadors of the gospel … a light to the world … the salt of the earth.

“Come and follow me” says Jesus, and that’s what we do, and that’s who we are … followers of the Master …
Every day of our life,
He calls …
We get out of the boat, leave our nets behind …
We follow Jesus … so closely, we’re covered in His dust, the dust of the rabbi.

“Peter, you’re looking a little dusty today.”
“You bet I am; it’s the dust of my rabbi. Where He goes, I go. If he walks on water, I’ll do it, too!”

Every time we pick up the Bible and read of Jesus, we follow Him … from Galilee to Jerusalem; from Pilate’s chambers to the cross of Calvary; from the empty tomb to the gates of heaven.
We hear His parables; we witness the healings … we watch the powers-that-be challenge Him and plot His removal … we’re amazed at His courage … we’re moved by His compassion … we’re saved by His death … made new by His resurrection.

Jesus my LORD!

“I am who God says I am. I have what God says I have. I can do what God says I can do.”

In our text today, Jesus is confronted by the Sadducees … a group who didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.

From Abraham to King David, the Hebrew people had no concept of eternal life … this life was good enough … when life was over, everyone went to Sheol, the rich and the famous; the leper and the blind, and everyone in between – to Sheol, the land of the dead.

The nations around Israel had a sense of life after death … look at the pyramids … but not Israel … this life was good enough … nothing more was needed.

To have lived on God’s good earth was sufficient … to love and be loved … to enjoy good food and wine … to be charitable with neighbors; to have friends and be respected; to worship the LORD and sing the songs of Zion.

This life was good enough!

But God had something more in mind … God touched the heart of His people and said, “I have something for you beyond this life.”

The thought of eternal life emerged in the mind and heart of the Hebrew people … a new heaven and new earth … death banished; tears wiped away.
Everything made new!

Jesus believed in the resurrection of the dead … but not the Sadducees.

So they confronted Jesus with a question … did they want to learn from Him? Maybe!

But more likely, a less charitable intent … a question to set up Jesus, embarrass Him, discredit Him … a silly question with harmful intent!

A lady on a plan was reading her Bible … a man next to her asked, “Do you believe all of that?”
“Yes, I do!” she said. “It’s the Bible.”
“What about the guy in the whale?” said the man.
“You mean Jonah?” said the lady.
“Yes, three days in the belly of a whale … how could anyone survive?”
The lady paused for a moment, then said, “I don’t know. I’ll ask him when I get to heaven.”
The man said sarcastically, “What if he’s not in heaven.”
“Then you’re gonna have to ask him!” she said.

The Sadducees asked Jesus, “This resurrection stuff. Do you believe that?”

I wonder how long they labored to craft their question … did they meet in counsel earlier in the week? … did they gather that morning? … did they rehearse their lines?

“Here’s a good question … this’ll trip him up for sure!”
“Say it this way Eleazar.”
“Use this tone of voice.”
“All set?”
“Eleazar? Are you ready?”
“Okay, here we go!”

So much time for something so small! Silly!

Earlier this week, on my way to church, coming here on 79th, the light changed, so I stopped – I was on the intersection.

Sepulveda traffic was heavy, and a car had stopped blocking the cross walk to the YMCA.

A man on the southeast corner … the light turned green, the walk sign lit up, the man stood there … looking at the car blocking his way as if it were the Grand Canyon; shook his head with disgust … finally stepped off the curb with a huff, walked two feet out of his way around the car, glared at the driver, and then on to the Y.

I thought: “Silly!”

Time and energy wasted for something so small.

But we all do it.

Someone criticizes your work, and you spend hours fretting about it.

You do your best, but someone questions your motives … and now you can’t sleep at night.

A co-worker irritates the daylights out of you … and you can’t get it out of your mind.

You spend hours explaining yourself … trying to win over your critics … wondering how to get back at them.

Small things!

Silly things … a thousand little silly things thrown into the pathway of our life … 999 of them not worth a second thought.

That car blocking the walkway … not worth a second thought … walk around it, shake it off, who cares? … get on with your life. Don’t sweat the small things.

Stay on the high road … be of good cheer … roll with the punches.

“LORD, silly things will come my way today … little things not worth a second thought … and I’ll not give ‘em the time of day …”

“I’ve got better things to do … higher thoughts and greater ideas.”

LORD, I’ll stay focused on my life … I’ll do the best I can, and let you do the rest.
I trust you, LORD; I know that cars will block my way today … but I’ll walk around ‘em; I’ll not waste time fussing and fretting. I’ve got better things to do.”

The Sadducees fussed and fretted about small things … silly things …

But Jesus didn’t succumb to their game … Jesus didn’t allow silly things to distract Him … He knew what He had to do, and He had to do what He knew.

Stay on the high road … stay focused … we’ve got better things to do.

Sometimes the car blocking my walkway gets to me … I focus on the car, I stare at the driver … I’m bummed, I’m incensed, I’m insulted; my stomach churns.

No, no, no, no … stay on the high road … stay focused … we’ve got better things to do.

A little girl was told repeatedly by her mother, “Don’t climb up on the chair.”

One day, the mother was in the other room; things seemed very quiet. The mother peeked around the corner to see her child climbing up on the chair … but rather than walk into the room, the mother decided to watch.

The little girl climbed up, stood there on the chair, said, “no, no, no, no” and swatted herself.

I have to do that now and then … “no, no, no, no.”

These are not good thoughts … this is a waste of time … it’s a silly thing …

“No, no, no, no!”

I’ll take the high road … I’ll stay focused … I’ve got better things to do.

Jesus stayed focused on the things that count!

Sometimes I ask myself: what really counts? What’s important?

40 Million uninsured Americans?
Environmental degradation?
Humankind’s warring ways?
30,000 children dying every day?

What’s important?

Bad hair day?
The color of the carpet?
You didn’t get your newspaper on time?

What really counts?

Jesus sums it up well: A new commandment I give to you, Love one another as I have loved you.”

Paul writes ten years later: “faith, hope and love abide, and the greatest of these is love.”

In the film, “Dan in Real Life,” a young man says: “Love isn’t a feeling; it’s an ability.”

Yes, an ability to change the world … by making life better one person at a time!

Johtje Vos died on Oct. 10 in Saugerties, N.Y. She was 97.

During the war years, Mrs. Vos and her husband, Aart, lived in a three-bedroom house on a dead-end road in the town of Laren in the Netherlands, with acres of forest behind it. Mr. Vos, who died in 1990, grew up in Laren and knew every stream and field in the area. That allowed him to lead Jews through the woods to the house at night and back into the woods when the Nazis were coming. Each time a German raid was imminent, a sympathetic Dutch police chief in Laren, a friend of the Voses, would dial their phone, let it ring twice, hang up, then repeat the code.

In all, 36 people were saved by the Voses, with as many as 14 hiding in their home at any one time.

One of the survivors said at Johtje’s funeral:

“If Johtje hadn’t done what she did, my mother wouldn’t have survived and I wouldn’t be alive.”

Mr. and Mrs. Vos resisted the notion that they had done something out of the ordinary. Interviewed for a 1992 book … Mrs. Vos said, “I want to say right away that the words ‘hero’ and ‘righteous gentile’ are terribly misplaced.”

“I don’t feel righteous,” said Mrs. Vos, who, like her husband, was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, “and we are certainly not heroes, because we didn’t sit at the table when the misery started and say, ‘O.K., now we are going to risk our lives to save some people.’ ”

It started one night in 1942 when a Jewish couple asked to be sheltered for just that night as they ran from the Germans. Soon after, another friend asked them to keep a suitcase containing valuables before he was sent to a ghetto.

The Voses were surprised to discover that their friend was Jewish. “We never talked about Jews,” Mrs. Vos recalled. “They were all just Dutch, that’s all.” (New York Times, Nov. 4, 2007).

Love is an ability to stay focused on the things that count … a daily promise:

LORD, I’ll not let the Sadducees get to me … if a car pulls into my walkway, I’ll walk around it …

LORD, I’ll stay positive and hopeful

I’ll not lose sight of the goal.

I’ll take the high road … I have great things to do … life is precious and good …

I am who God says I am. I have what God says I have. I can do what God says I can do.

Jesus my LORD. Amen!

Monday, November 5, 2007

A Tale of Two Robes - Nov 4, 2007

1 Samuel 16:1-13; Mark 12:38-40
Acts 17:21-22

I no longer wear a robe.

It’s more than a sartorial decision – more than simply going to the closet, wondering what to wear.
My story, three chapters:
Unrobed, robed, disrobed.

Chapter One: Unrobed:
I’ve tried to recall what my childhood pastors wore, and I can’t recall any images.
They were good preachers, good pastors, but what they wore, not a clue, though I seem to recall suit and tie more than anything.
When I graduated from seminary – went to West Virginia – wore a suit and tie most of the time, I guess, but no clear recollections!
Went to Altoona, PA, a tough, inner-city sort of place; learned that a clerical collar made hospital calling easier.
I wore the collar during the week, but stayed with suit and tie for Sundays – then began to wear the clerical collar for worship, but stayed with a suit or a sport coat.

Then as an associate at Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh – large congregation, 6 full-time pastors, several part-time – there, the clergy wore robes.
I didn’t own a robe, so I borrowed one from the clergy closet.

From Fox Chapel to Northern Wisconsin – suit and clerical collar.
Trip to Duluth one day, a religious supply house.
Bought an alb (albino, white), with four beautiful hand-made stoles from Montreal, rope cincture for the waist.

Chapter 2: Robed: I wore the alb for ten years.
In 1986, I earned a doctorate; two of my faculty advisors from Western Theological Seminary flew done to Tulsa to conduct Sunday morning graduation ceremonies at the church.
It was grand day, a festive day, and well do I remember it – a fellow-student from Kansas City was there – Christian musician Ken Medema provided incredible music.
The church gave me this ring – something Donna remembered from an earlier visit to a James Avery Jewelry story in Tulsa.
At the store one evening in a mall, I spotted the ring in a display cabinet.
I said, “If ever I were to wear a ring, this would be it.”
When the church asked Donna what to give me, she remembered, and they gave me this ring to me that Sunday.
Then Donna and the children gave me my robe, a Genevan gown, with chevrons on the sleeves, representing the doctorate.
Then, a dramatic moment in the graduation ceremony, the hooding – my chief faculty advisor, the Rev. Dr. Robert Coughenour, put it over my head – gold and blue, the school colors, dominated by the broad swath of red, the color of the degree, the color of theology.
I can’t put into words what it meant to me then, and still means. It’s a precious gift given to me by my family.

I wore the robe for many years, with clerical collar, and many times the hood.
It made the Sunday morning closet easy – and I was comfortable in it.

But times change …

Chapter 3: Disrobed:
About eight years ago, I disrobed!

Behind my decision, prayer & thought.
What are the times in which we live?
What’s the 21st century calling us to be?
What does it mean to be the “salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”?

If clergy garb served a function, what was it really?
Is it consistent with the New Testament witness? With Jesus our Rabbi? With the early church?

One of the Scripture passages that means much to me in all of this, Mark 12:38-40 …

I’ll read it again:

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.

Jesus accepted the title Rabbi easily, but at the same time Jesus warned us:

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:8-12).

Eight years ago, I put my robe away with tenderness … I spoke about it with Donna and the children, because they gave it to me, and they all agreed.
Times change!
“Put it away Dad; it’s a new day for the church!”

Ever since Constantine made Christianity the religion of the realm, the church has struggled with SACERDOTALISM.

“Sacred power” reserved for the few – baptism, communion - the forgiveness of sins.
Only a few folks can do these things. SACERDOTALISM.

The middle ages – YOU were NOT the church – I was the church.
Me and my clergy buddies, we were the church – priest, bishop, arch bishop, cardinal and pope, along with monks and sisters – we were the church, not you.

You were customers of the grace we created every time we did the Mass.

You didn’t need to be there – no one needed to be there, except the priest, and when the words were said, and the bells rung, a little more grace for the world.

The clergy presided over seven sacraments, to cover all your sins.
The clergy held all the cards: we could get you to heaven, or send you to hell.


Let’s think for a moment about the early church.

Everything was done in the home … when Paul wrote to the church in Rome, he was writing to 30 or 40 house churches.
There was no “church” as we know it for 300 years … there were only home-gatherings, or gatherings by a river … informal and powerful; home-based and world-changing. “Not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of the LORD” (Zechariah 4:6)

For a thousand years, the accretions of power grew upon the church, like lichen on a tree, or moss on a stone … vestments grew heavy with brocade, jewels and precious metals … cathedrals tall and overpowering … property and power … sacerdotalism.

The Protestant Reformation formulated a new teaching that shook the church to its foundation … not really a new teaching; a teaching from the New Testament … bringing the church back to its foundation; restoring the church to its first love; plain and simple.

Anyone hazard a guess?

The Priesthood of all believers!

The church liberated from sacerdotalism.

In our own tradition, the Disciples of Christ formed in the early 1800s in a desire to recover the New Testament model – the priesthood of all believers.
To this day, in the Disciples of Christ, the Christian Church and the Churches of Christ, all off-shoots of the Presbyterian family, the distinction between clergy and laity is far less than in most churches.
The clergy are primarily equippers of the people – as Paul the Apostle wrote: “equipping the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12).

If such were the case today, what might the church look like?

Baptism would be done in the home.
By parents and grandparents, friends and family - a cup of water in the living room - gathered at the beach, by a pool.
I believe any Christian family, gathered together with other Christians, can celebrate baptism – a simple, John-the-Baptist moment … or Paul in the home of Cornelius.

What about the LORD's Supper?

Didn’t Jesus say, “Whenever you eat?”

At home, in a restaurant … with friends, or by yourself – a peace of bread, a cup of anything – it’s the body, it’s the blood – the presence of Christ with His people.

Whenever a group gathers in Jesus’ name, He’s there … and anyone can take a piece of bread, anyone can lift a cup; any believer, any Christian, anywhere.

Every family meal – someone can say: Christ is with us – this is His body, this is His blood. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to all.

We can learn from contemporary Judaism: a religion of the home.

The essential rites of Jewish life are done in the home:

The bris – circumcision – done at home.
Passover – at the dinner table, presided over by the parents, and children fully participating. A family affair.

The synagogue is a gathering place for instruction … the rabbi teaches there … the community is strengthened by its gathering – children go to school there - but the essential stuff of being a Jew is done in the home, with friends and family.

We are all one in Christ … there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female … and I would add, neither clergy nor laity.

There are distinctions, distinctions of gifts … some are apostles, some are disciples, some evangelists, some are teachers; some are artisans; some are musicians … some have the gift of hospitality, some the gift of mercy … some are prayer warriors.
Many gifts, one spirit; many gifts, one calling; many gifts, one purpose … many gifts, one people.

We’re all equally close to God … every prayer said is worthy in the sight of God and welcomed at heaven’s gate … every person has a gift, maybe two or three at the most … everyone is equally important in the kingdom of God.

The state church of Norway recently severed its ties to the state, ending centuries of state oversight.
Bishop of Oslo notes, “It belongs to another time than ours.”

There was a time when I thought orange shag carpet was cool … and a purple shirt, with a purple paisley tie ten feet wide … and that ’56 buick of mine could lay a patch of rubber 20 feet long and hit a 120.

But they all belong to another time …

When Donna and I travel by air, as soon as the plane leaves the ground, I set my watch to the new time zone.
Donna keeps her watch on our time zone – which makes for some interesting moments for her.
What time zone are we in?

The energy of change is none other than God!
God always seeks a new place – a new strategy, a new way of communicating His love to the world. God loves change; God is ever creative and creating … making all things new … a new heaven and a new earth …

So I put my robe away … I’ve changed my mind over the years … and I’ll change my mind again before I go home to Jesus.