Wednesday, April 25, 2007

With the Morning

Texts: Psalm 30, Acts 9:1-6

“It’s been a week.”

I’ve been hearing that expression quite a bit these last few days – sometimes with a choice adjective or two added. I’ve added a few myself when talking with friends and family.

Even more than the usual, I had thought this week was going to be a full one – but not the way it has turned out. I don’t know what your plans included but mine had me driving the 1000 plus miles to Atlanta and back, while there doing research and meeting with professors, spending time with old friends, eating out at as many warmly remembered places as possible. A full week indeed. Most of our weeks generally are – full. When you ask people Sunday to Sunday what they’ve done that week, very rarely do you ever hear “nothing, absolutely nothing.” We pack our weeks in with work, school, soccer, ballet, meetings, movies, church, chores… Sometimes there’s a birthday or a big test, a promotion or party, something to make the week more memorable. If you’re lucky, maybe some of those weeks are vacation.

Weeks of work, weeks of school, weeks of vacation… This is the normal – full—pattern of our lives. And then there are weeks like this one. A week that completely disrupts our pattern, disorients us. A week that both speeds by and drags out, a week where you find yourself at a loss for words, where the question “how’s it going” or “how are you doing” cannot be answered with the customary and oft expected “fine.”

How do you begin to explain a week like this? How do you even begin to process someone falling ill at the end of the week and dying on Sunday? Someone so young, someone so full of life? As this community joined the LeBontes in grieving the loss of Vicki, daughter, friend, colleague, teacher, we have been forced to face these challenging questions.

And that was just the beginning of the week.

I still can’t wrap my mind around how and why someone could be so lost, so aching inside, so absorbed by darkness that mass murder would be… an option? Is that even a way to describe what was going on in that young man’s mind? How do you describe the thoughts that led to such action – led to one child of God, one human being made in God’s image, to distort that image so senselessly, to darken any light inside and “randomly” harm other children of God? Questions like these, questions we will probably never be able to answer, these are all we’re left with..

And then…

Even when you know it’s coming, have a general timetable when it will happen, death always catches you by surprise. Many of us said goodbye to a dear friend this Wednesday; ached with and for Mary Beth’s family, wondered why her, wondered why now.

It’s weeks like these that make you wonder, make you rail, make you thankful for the small blessings, the moments of miracles… make you angry, make you ache. That make you think about your loss, about the pain and suffering close to you, and then, perhaps, think about all those suffering throughout this world – this week alone we mourn the 183 souls lost to 4 bombs in Iraq on Wednesday, the 50 lost to election-related violence in Nigeria, the at least 190 killed in Somalia, the nameless who passed each day this week without anyone to tell their story… So much pain, so much suffering, such a week.

It’s weeks like these that psalmist could have easily been writing about.

Our psalmist tells of when he was as those who had gone down to the Pit – was in, well, hell. Life had been good, there had been prosperity, there had been favor. The psalmist had looked out from his mountain, from his penthouse apartment, and said “my life is good. And it’s just going to keep on being good! Ain’t nothing going to change my world.”

And then, the psalmist had a week of his own. What exactly happened, we don’t know. What we do know is that this once happy, confident, too confident perhaps, person is no longer up on some mountaintop of prosperity and fortune – he is in the Pit. He is in Sheol—the place of the dead. This person once full of life had a time of his own that has brought him down to death.

Though once his world had been filled with light, though he had never doubted his security, joy has turned to sorrow. Not only that, but he has felt as though God had hid God’s face from him – that God isn’t just hard to reach but has gone in hiding. How many of us have been there? Have wondered where our help and hope could be? Life in Christ is not a promise for unending joy, not a promise for uninterrupted bliss and good fortune. It’s not unwavering faith and unbending confidence in God’s presence and providence. No, anyone who tells you that is selling something – and it’s not the gospel.

Those who have experienced the pain of loss who have known agony, suffering, those who have found themselves wondering where is God from time to time, maybe more times than not, can understand what the psalmist means when he says God’s face is hidden from him. Understand what it feels like when you long for God yet cannot find or feel the divine presence. Understand what it feels like to be brought down so low, feel so lost, so alone, that you just can’t take it anymore.

In this extreme agony, frustration, even anger, the psalmist doesn’t throw his hands up and reject God, doesn’t turn away from struggle that is life, doesn’t take his pain out on those around him – he cries out to God for help.

His cry isn’t a soft plea, a quiet prayer – it’s a scream, a roar, a rage! “Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!”

This is the plea of a desperate man, a despairing man. It is also the plea of a man who knows the truth, who knows what it is God can do – will do. He cries out to God for help because he knows, even when he wonders where God is, that though times of weeping have come, do come, will come, it will pass. God’s favor is what lasts forever. Yes, there is weeping, but God turns weeping to joy. Yes, there is mourning, but God will set our feet to dancing. Yes there is death, but even in Sheol – the place of the dead – God is there, lifting up.

When we fall to the Pit, when our nights our filled with weeping, God does not let us stay there. God lifts us up. God transforms what was terrible something we may call good. Our story from Acts is just one reminder of what God does in our life, in our world. Saul, Saul was not a good man. He persecuted, zealously, even to the point of murder, something which this week seems terribly, terribly awful. He was doing what he thought he had to do. And as he was on his way to commit more horrendous acts – a bright light stopped him, blinded him, changed him. A light he knew as the Lord, even before he knew to call the Lord Jesus Christ. And from that moment, that moment of light, a new life dawned, a new Saul was born. What once was a persecutor became the persecuted; what once was death-bringing promoted new life; what once was Saul became Paul.

God has a way of it… Has a way of transforming what was terrible to something new, different, and yes, even good. Of bringing hope where there was once none. Of helping us move from weeping to joy. Saul knows it. The psalmist knows it. Even in – no especially in – times such as this past week, we should know it.

If there is anything we followers of Christ, whose Resurrection we celebrate each and every Sunday, should know – know even if we don’t understand it – is the power of God, the promise of God. We don’t have to understand how or even when, but we may know, believe, that even in the midst of all this agony, God is at work. God is weeping, God is consoling, God is raging against the senseless loss of life. God is in the bright blue sky that makes you catch your breath in wonder. God is in the memory of a lost loved one that bubbles up, causing you to laugh and cry at the same time. God is in the arms of those who surround you, in your arms that surround the ones you love. God is.

The psalmist called out to the Lord and as the morning came—perhaps hours later, perhaps days, perhaps months, perhaps more—as the morning came, the Lord drew him up, healed him, restored him to life. No matter what changes he faced—loss of loved ones, loss of health, loss of prosperity, even loss of life—nothing changed the truth that God is there, with him, with us. Nothing can change that. Nothing.

Though there are shadows that haunt our earthly days, the Lord is shining, bringing us the light of life. God is, not even death on a cross could change that. This is our truth. This is what we know. That even in death there is life. This is the Resurrection. This is our Easter Reality. That even when the mark of death mars the face of our days, we may find healing and wholeness, we may find Life in our Lord. Life that in Christ is life eternal. God is, therefore we are. The darkness and death we know here is not the end, is not the ultimate. God is greater than any darkness, any death. Weeping may linger in the night, but in God, joy comes with the morning. In God, life is the ultimate. In God, there is no end. May our souls praise the Lord and not be silent. For the power and promise of life, may we give thanks to the Lord, forever. Amen.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


"We just really knew him as the question mark kid."

This quote describing the relationship between Monday's gunman and his peers has troubled me in particular.

I was driving from Staunton to Atlanta when this was happening--drove by the Blacksburg exit with police cars whizzing by, not realizing what was going on--and have only today gotten to really inform myself on what happened yesterday at VT.

I ache. I think that's probably the best way to describe what I'm feeling at the moment. Ache for those who were killed, those injured physically, those injured emotionally, their families, the community, God. I ache that our Creator would watch as one of those made in the divine image would so distort that image. I ache that this young man somehow was known best as the "question mark kid," that he wouldn't or didn't know how to let people in, that people didn't know or wouldn't try to "get in."

I ache. I ache to be Christ's servant to the best of my ability, to minister to all those I meet so that should a question mark kid come across my path, I will been open to the Spirit so that God could use me to offer love. I'm in Atlanta in part to work on our own youth ministry, to strengthen what our community offers our kids. And I think, did this question mark kid have people like our kids do? Wonderful, warm, caring adults and families that will not let them slip through the cracks, not let them go unknown? Do we, with our warm and caring families, do even we have a kid who is a question mark, one we do not know, don't know how to know?

I ache and I pray. It's all I know to do.

Friday, April 13, 2007

yet another quiz

Yet another quiz, this one picked up from my mom's friend Ryan's blog.

Which Church Father Are You? I quite like it!

You’re St. Justin Martyr!

You have a positive and hopeful attitude toward the world. You think that nature, history, and even the pagan philosophers were often guided by God in preparation for the Advent of the Christ. You find “seeds of the Word” in unexpected places. You’re patient and willing to explain the faith to unbelievers.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Youth Sunday

Batten down the hatches! This Sunday our Senior High Youth are taking over! All that energy, all that joy for the Lord—will we ever be the same? Covenant has been blessed with a group of young people and young-at-heart leaders who truly enjoy one another, this congregation, and the God that calls us all together. Our youth have talked a lot this year about wonder—about seeing this wonderful world God as created with open eyes and hearts, with a simple love and joy that sometimes gets lost the older we get. This Sunday, the youth are going to help lead us back to that love, that joy, that sense of wonder.

When I look around God’s creation, I find myself in awe and wonder at the most random things. Sometimes I’m moved by the way a person helps out another; sometimes I’m brought to tears just watching my cats take care of one another (yes, my cats). Every time I’m brought to that place where all the world’s problems and harsh realities sift away for just one moment, one moment where the goodness of God’s world is so evident, I am thankful. As we look forward to a wonderful Sunday filled with wonder and worship, I encourage you to think about the moments you find yourself filled with that reverent awe, that unabashed joy, that sense of wonder.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

what am I? apparently...

I've done a lot of "what religion/theology are you" internet quizzes over the years (what can I say, ADD much), and found this one posted by Katherine at any day a beautiful change particularly interesting.

You scored as Neo orthodox. You are neo-orthodox. You reject the human-centredness and scepticism of liberal theology, but neither do you go to the other extreme and make the Bible the central issue for faith. You believe that Christ is God's most important revelation to humanity, and the Trinity is hugely important in your theology. The Bible is also important because it points us to the revelation of Christ. You are influenced by Karl Barth and P T Forsyth.

Neo orthodox




Roman Catholic


Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Classical Liberal




Reformed Evangelical


Modern Liberal




What's your theological worldview?
created with

Monday, April 02, 2007

christians in palestine

My friend Teri posted this on her blog and I thought I'd bring it over here. Given John's sermon yesterday, this seems particularly poignant.

"Ahead of Easter" - report from Palestinian Christian NGOs

"We are about to welcome the Easter season after forty days of fasting. To us, Easter is a reminder of the suffering, crucifixion, and most importantly, the resurrection of Jesus. In our Land, traditional celebrations have been taking place for centuries, such as the processions of local communities, scouts, participating in Palm Sunday, and Saturday of the Holy Fire celebrations from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

"Processions and traditional celebrations are governed by the Status Quo over the course of many years. Such celebrations have been taking placed uninterrupted. However, in the last few years the Occupation authorities are impeding the celebrations, especially the Saturday of the Holy Fire celebrations of the Orthodox Church. The Occupation authorities are preventing worshipers from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or celebrating in the yard on the roof top of the Church, and are preventing the traditional joyful celebration march and the procession of the banners.

"Easter celebrations are hostage to the whims of the Occupation authorities, as part of policies that are racist and that aim to push Christians to immigrate. The Occupation authorities are imposing strict restrictions on the movement of Christians during Easter week, and are preventing Christians from reaching the churches, and are adopting a policy that prevents Palestinian Christians from other parts of the West Bank from reaching Jerusalem to celebrate Easter. Also, barriers are put near the gates of the old city of Jerusalem, especially in the area leading to the Christian quarter, Herod’s Gate, and the roads leading to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in order to deny worshipers their right to pray freely. A new phenomena now, is the huge presence of Israeli police inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher with their weapons, which violates the sanctity of the Church and religious traditions.

"Therefore, we, members of the Christian community in Jerusalem, are calling upon our fellow Christians around the world, and the Heads of Churches as well, to put an end to Israeli violations of our right to worship freely in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, so that Christians will be able to enter the Church to pray."

Source: Palestinian Christian NGOs, 20 March. 2007