Category Archives: Religion

The Church: Begins, Grows, Evolves

Sermon given on Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018.  What a powerful day to bring together the messages of Pentecost, John Wesley’s Aldersgate Experience, and the 50th anniversary of the merger of the Evangelical Brethern and the Methodist churches in 1968.  

Reflection:  The Church Begins:  Pentecost Ignites the Apostles

Pentais Greek for the number five, and pentecostliterally means the 50thday.  Originally this was 50 days after Passover in the Jewish tradition, but after Jesus’ Resurrection, which concluded during the Jewish Passover festival, the term pentecosthas developed its own significance as the birth of The Church.

Today, May 20, 2018, we celebrate Pentecost as the birth of The Church but more importantly the arrival of the Holy Spirit as God with us.  The Apostles were still trying to sort out what they were to do after the crucifixion and the resurrection of their teacher Jesus Christ.  There was no university program designed to equip them with the skills to take a peaceful, service-minded, loving idea and set up an organization to drive the movement forward.  But as they sat in community, the Holy Spirit arrived:

Acts 2 1On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.

 

Can you even imagine what the experience must have been like?  The closest thing we could even compare to that is a tremendous thunderstorm suddenly developing, but this happened without the meteorological event—and not outdoors but inside a closed building.

The record in Acts is not the first mention of the Holy Spirit.  The first reference is in Genesis 1:1-2:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.   2 The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

 

This event followed the Resurrection, 50 days later.  Bob Deffinbaugh, a pastor from Texas describes the event:

The Day of Pentecost arrived when the small company of believers were gathered together in one place. It was then that the Holy Spirit came upon them in a powerful and dramatic way. The accompanying sound from heaven attracted a large crowd, many of whom were devoutly religious. A large number of them had come from distant lands to reside in Jerusalem (to be there when Messiah appeared?).  [Accessed on May 17, 2018 at https://bible.org/seriespage/4-peters-sermon-pentecost-acts-214-36%5D

 

The event now known as Pentecost for Christians across the world and throughout all denominations marked the beginning of The Church as the Apostles began their work.

Deffinbaugh describes the gathering as a “small company of believers,” but that is a very relative term.  In Wesley’s Study Bible, the commentary states:  “They” probably refers to the 120.  The “one place” may be the temple courts, due to the group’s size and the crowd’s reaction. (p.1324).  That number refers to Acts 1:15 in which it states that Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about 120) . . . The gathering was also in conjunction with the Jewish harvest festival during which the faithful practiced a covenant renewal.

How appropriate was the setting and the crowd for God to send the Holy Spirit in a highly visual manner, or as Deffinbaugh said, “a powerful and dramatic way”!  The prophecies of the Old Testament and of Jesus were fulfilled by the anointing of these Apostles and the earliest disciples with the Holy Spirit. The ability for all to hear the words in their own language demonstrates the inclusiveness of God’s message.  The Church began its work as each one of those Apostles and faithful stepped out to share God’s message of loving one another.

Today’s celebration is global.  The work is global.  The audience is global.  We are just as important today as the very first disciples were on that fiftieth day after Jesus’ resurrection.  We are The Church.

[Join in a time to talk with God.]

Reflection resumes:  Pentecost: John Wesley’s heart strangely warmed

Pentecost is reflected in the COR’s stained glass window, but the real impact can be seen right here in this sanctuary.  Our own stained glass story is “dramatic and powerful” and we can witness the effect of the Holy Spirit in our own history.

Each one of us knows how the Holy Spirit works in our own lives.  We have met others who are filled with the Spirit as they serve others in love.  We have felt moved to love someone in some manner that may have surprised even you.  We have suddenly turned down a road we did not plan turning onto only to discover we were there to listen to someone in pain or to help someone with a flat tire or to spot a situation that needed immediate help.  We know God works through us in ways we may not even suspect. This is the evidence of the Holy Spirit.

Maybe we have not experienced a life-altering event, or have a “heart strangely warmed” as John Wesley did.  But God is present with us as the Holy Spirit, and it is alive when we serve one another in love.  God’s work is mysteriously done in not so mysterious ways as when Christians actively live out their faith in their daily lives.

Pick any day of the week, month or year, and you can see God alive in this world.  You can see it in your own homes, on the roads you drive, and at the businesses you visit.  Sometimes it is easy to see; sometimes it is more hidden.  At the same time, you can see so many places in which God is needed. God asks us to live our faith out loud. He asks us to respond to the cry of those in need.  He asks us to take care of this world he created.

Pentecost, as an event, occurred on that fiftieth day after Jesus’ resurrection, but Pentecost occurs each time we experience empathy with another, when we feel moved to act as God would act, when we see through God’s eyes, when we hear with God’s ears, when we step into the sanctuary and feel calmed by his presence.  God is with us all the time.  He is triune—as creator, as Jesus Christ the human son, and as the Holy Spirit that resides within all who believe.

So, happy birthday to The Church that was born when the earliest believers were baptized by the Holy Spirit on that harvest festival day in Jerusalem.  The Church grew from that point in time, that place in the world, to the Church it is today that wraps around this globe.

(Pause for the offering and hymn.)

Resuming the reflection:

Another birthday, so to speak, is included on this day, and that honors John Wesley’s epiphany when he was attending a study group on Aldersgate Street when “he felt his heart was strangely warmed.” This experience was on May 24, 1738, often referred to as the Aldersgate experience.

In an on-line article from UMC.org, Rev. Fred Day explains the experience:

. . . John Wesley was at a low point, having just returned from his disappointing missionary efforts at the colony of Georgia in the New World.

Wesley reluctantly attended a group meeting on the evening of May 24th on Aldersgate Street in London.  As he heard a reading from Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans, he felt his “heart strangely warmed.”

Rev. Fred Day: “He writes in his journal, “I felt that God loved me.” I experienced that God loved me. It was no longer something that was in my head, but it’s something that I felt in my heart.”

 

I can remember a conversation with my dad about knowing the truth of one’s own faith.  He said wondered if he really knew God because he had never had an experience that told him he did.  I know Dad experienced times when his heart “felt strangely warmed” because he also said explained that sometimes driving and listening to the news he would just start crying.  Surely these were moments when the Holy Spirit were speaking to him.

The Pentecost comes to each of us in our own way. Today, one of the closest Sundays to May 24, honors Wesley’s Aldersgate experience.  With Pentecost being celebrated today, what better time to acknowledge that Wesley’s personal Pentecost that moved The Church forward through his own work that has resulted in the denomination of which we are part—Methodism.

So today, let’s say happy birthday to the Wesley’s Methodist movement.

(Pause for a small celebration.  Singing and cake are possible additions.)

Concluding today’s reflection:  The Church Evolves:  50years as United Methodists

And The Church continues to evolve.  The Methodist denomination that grew out of Wesley’s ministry has also evolved.  Today the United Methodist Church celebrates 50 years.  In 1968, the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical Brethren Church.  Personally I can remember that because I had a classmate who was a member of the Evangelical Brethren Church and when the announcement was made, I wondered if she would begin attending with me.  (She did not; but she also lived in another community so I have no idea where she worshipped.)  That merger was 50 years ago:

[Show the UMC.org video on You Tube.}

So, another happy birthday we say to the United Methodist Church.  The Church continues.  Each denomination has its own story.  The heritage is filled with changes because humanity is static, every-changing, too. Therefore, The Church continues to evolve.  The stories in the stained glass window(s) capture the history, but it cannot freeze the evolution of The Church.

The United Methodist Church is currently undergoing another stage of change.  The social and cultural changes that are challenging today’s people are beginning to be addressed by so many organizations and the United Methodist Church is one of them.

The Council of Bishops has worked for several years to create appropriate amendments to the Book of Discipline that reflect the Christian values in today’s global culture.  The Bishops finally submitted five amendments:

  1. The first amendment proposed a new paragraph between current Paragraph 5 and Paragraph 6. This new paragraph would have focused on gender justice. (66.5%)

 

  1. The second amendment proposed changes to the wording in Paragraph 4 in “The Book of Discipline.” If it were ratified, the proposed amendment would have added “gender,” “ability,” “age” and “marital status” to the protected membership groups. (61.3%)

 

III. The third amendment dealt with the election of delegates to the General Conference as contained in Paragraph 34. As ratified, the amendment adds this sentence to Paragraph 34: “Such elections shall include open nominations from the floor by the annual conference, and delegates shall be elected by a minimum of a simple majority of the ballots cast.”  (90.3%)

 

  1. The fourth amendment clarified the time of election of bishops in Central Conferences as contained in Paragraph 46. As ratified, the amendment adds the following words to Paragraph 46: “provided that episcopal elections in central conferences shall be held at a regular, not an extra, session of the central conference, except in the case where an unexpected vacancy must be filled.” (92.9%)

 

  1. The fifth proposed amendment adds language to Paragraph 50 regarding how the Council of Bishops holds its individual members accountable for their work. As ratified, the amendment adds the following sentence to the end of Paragraph 50: “These provisions shall not preclude that adoption by the General Conference of provisions for the Council of Bishops to hold its individual members accountable for their work, both as general superintendents and as presidents and residents in episcopal areas.”(81.2%)

 

The amendments had to receive 2/3 majority to be passed, and much to their own surprise, the first two amendments did not receive the required 2/3 majority (the percentage of yes votes are indicated in parenthesis after each amendment).

This is the reaction by the Council of Bishops:

“While we are not completely clear concerning the motivation that caused them to miss the two-thirds required majority by slim margins, we want to be clear that we are unequivocal in our commitment to the equality of women and their full inclusion in our Church,” said the Council statement.

 

Another surprise was the expressed by the female bishops who wrote in their letter:

“Like Rachel weeping for her children, so we as episcopal leaders weep for our church. We weep for the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual harm that is inflicted upon women and girls because of this action. We weep for those who are denied the ability to use their gifts to make a difference in the world. We also weep for those who are not protected from exclusion in the church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition.”

 

On May 7, 2018, Bishop Robert Farr, our state’s bishop made the following statement:

I am saddened and disappointed that two of the constitutional amendments related to the right of girls, women, and other vulnerable groups did not receive the necessary 2/3 aggregate vote of all the annual conferences in The United Methodist Church. Please know that as your bishop in Missouri, I am firmly committed to the equality of women and their full inclusion in our Church. I stand beside the active and retired women bishops’ statement released alongside the announcement.  . . .

 

While I believe we have made progress in Missouri, I know we have miles to go before we realize gender justice in the Church. Both amendments passed handily in the Missouri Conference at 90% and 80% respectively. In fact, it passed in both of our partner conferences in Mozambique, too, by even greater margins.

 

The Church evolves.  We are connectional, but as a congregation we are responsible for carrying out God’s work in all the ways that we can, as best as we can, for as long as we can.  The Church is all denominations and how our community defines itself is by the work of this church family in relation to the community in which it exists.  The Church is much more than its discipline and its connectional organization.  The Church is the action of the Holy Spirit within us.  This Pentecost Sunday is a time to review the birth, the growth and the evolution of The Church since the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The story continues. . .

Closing prayer:

Dear All-knowing Lord,

 

Thank you for the Holy Spirit

            Who is your presence within us.

Thank you for the earliest Apostles

            Who established The Church.

Thank you for all the reformers

            Who continued The Church’s growth.

Thank you for accepting efforts

            That keep The Church evolving.

 

Guide us through the Holy Spirit

            To continue your work

            Sharing the story

            Loving one another

Guide us to listen carefully

            In how to work together

            In how to grow the church

            In how to serve one another.

Guide us to see this world

            By the power of the Holy Spirit

            By the vision of Jesus Christ

            By your unlimited love.

 

May our work reflect your perfection.

May our work continue the story.

May our work strangely warm others hearts.

 

In you name, Heavenly Father,

And in your son Jesus Christ’s,

And through the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

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Mothering: Susanna Wesley Style

Sermon for Mother’s Day, May 13, 2018.  Susanna Wesley is one of the figures included in the Church of Resurrection’s, Leawood, KS, stained glass window which has loosely tied the sermons together for the past several months.

            Just imagine where The Church would be without mothers.   Mothers have raised children perpetuating their culture’s faith foundation even before Jesus was born.  Looking at the COR window, the images include other mothers, too, but Susanna Wesley cannot be ignored within our tradition.

John Wesley learned his faith and developed his methods from his mother’s teaching.  He along with his nine other brothers and sisters including Charles, were raised in a devout Church of England family.  Their father was Samuel Wesley, a priest in the Church of England, who even left the family for a year simply over a political argument with Susanna.

The article from historyswomen.com quickly introduces Susanna Wesley as the Mother of Methodism:

As a wife and mother in a small 18th century English parish Susanna Wesley herself received little recognition for how she managed her household, raised and educated more than a dozen children and coped with a sometimes impecunious, idealistic and occasionally difficult clergyman husband. Yet from her personal influence and loving home came a son who would experience a spiritual awakening and use that inspiration to begin a ministry that would fill a void in the national spiritual life and also develop into a world wide church. Indeed, it might be said that the movement called Methodism had its foundations in the home of Susanna Wesley.  [Accessed on May 10, 2018.]

 

I have no idea if Mom and Dad connected my name with Susanna Wesley, but I do know that Mom certainly referred to Susanna after I had my two kids.  Susanna had ten children who survived beyond infancy, but I clearly remember one of Mom’s pieces of advice that I am sure is familiar to many:  “You need to give each one an hour.  Susanna Wesley had ten kids and she devoted one hour to each one.”

Now, I am not certain if that is completely accurate, but I did find a similar statement in historyswomen.com biography:  She gave each child individual attention by purposely setting aside a regular time for each of them.  [Ibid.] A second website, christianitytoday.com, added this statement: Susanna made it a rule for herself to spend an hour a day with each of the children over the period of a week.

One thing I do know is that Mom greatly respected Susanna Wesley and so did her own son.  My mom also told me how the family’s home burned and John almost died. The biography on christianitytoday.com also affirmed Mom’s references:

After the fire of 1709 family discipline broke down, but Susanna managed to restore it later. She paid special attention to John, who was almost lost in the fire. He referred to himself as “a brand plucked from the burning fire,” and his mother said that she intended to be more particularly careful of the soul of this child that Thou hast so mercifully provided for, than ever I have been, that I may do my endeavors to instill into his mind the disciplines of Thy true religion and virtue.  [Accessed on May 10, 2018.]

 

Today we honor our mothers, true; but consider where today’s church would be without Wesley’s mother.  She was the daughter of a priest, she married a priest, and she mothered a priest (remember John Wesley was ordained in the Church of England as a priest).  Her personal upbringing greatly influenced her mothering.  One can only speculate how the scriptures prepared her for that role.

Looking at the Old Testament, the wisdom of King Solomon is found in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon/SongsSurely Susanna knew these words well:

Scripture:  Proverbs 22:17-21

17 Listen to the words of the wise;
apply your heart to my instruction.
18 For it is good to keep these sayings in your heart
and always ready on your lips.
19 I am teaching you today—yes, you—
so you will trust in the Lord.
20 I have written thirty sayings for you,
filled with advice and knowledge.
21 In this way, you may know the truth
and take an accurate report to those who sent.

 

Proverbs are“short, concise sentences that convey moral truths,” as explained in the Life Application Study Notes.  These statements cover

“a range of topics, including youth and discipline, family life, self-control and resisting temptation, business matters, words and the tongue, knowing God, marriage, seeking the truth, wealth and poverty, immorality, and, of course, wisdom [defined as applying knowledge/facts to life]. [p. 1306]

 

As Susanna was raised in a religious home, she must have known these proverbs well.  In an UMC.org feature by Joe Lovino, a letter she wrote to John outlines her mothering tips. The tips are outlined in these categories:

  1. Religious education
  2. Education
  3. Order and Discipline
  4. Sleep
  5. Meals and Dining
  6. Manners

 

Reading through Proverbs 10-24, which is titled “Wisdom for All People,” many of Susanna’s tips seem to echo several proverbs.

Additionally, Susanna practiced self-discipline, too. In fact, her prayer life was extremely important, and I stumbled into one blog that discussed her use of a “prayer apron”:

When Susanna was young, she promised the Lord that for every hour she spent in entertainment, she would give to Him in prayer and in the Word.  Taking care of the house and raising so many kids made this commitment nearly impossible to fulfill. She had no time for entertainment or long hours in prayer!  She worked the gardens, milked the cow, schooled the children and managed the entire house herself.  So, she decided to instead give the Lord two hours a day in prayer!

She struggled to find a secret place to get away with Him.  So she advised her children that when they saw her with her apron over her head, that meant she was in prayer and couldn’t be disturbed.  She was devoted to her walk with Christ, praying for her children and knowledge in the Word no matter how hard life was. [Accessed on May 10, 2018 at http://sharonglasgow.com%5D

Certainly today’s mothers know the difficulty of finding quiet prayer time; therefore, let us quiet our own lives, consider throwing an apron over our heads, too, and spend some time in prayer:  (The practice in our church family is to join in a time of prayer during our worship, concluding with the Lord’s Prayer.)

Reading through Susanna’s letter to John, provides today’s mothers solid advice on raising their families.  Even though few families have ten kids living in the one house, the wisdom of her motherly advice is worthy of review.

  • Religious education:

Devotions:  “The children of this family were taught, as soon as they could speak, the Lord’s prayer. . .

Worship and music:  “. . . the day began with reading or singing a psalm, reading an Old Testament chapter, and saying private prayers—all before breakfast.  At the end of the school day, they paired up to read a psalm and a New Testament chapter.”

Sabbath:  . . .The children “were very early made to distinguish the Sabbath from other days. . .”

  • Education

Focus:  School was 9-12 noon, and 2-5 pm

No goofing off:   “Rising out of their places or going out of the room, was not permitted unless for good cause. . .

Reading:  Each child was taught to read at age five. . .

  • Order and discipline

Routine:  a tight schedule. . . [with] times assigned for naps, education, meals, and bedtime.

Self-regulation:  Susana believed “self-will is the root of all sin and misery,” . . worked to help her children develop self-control.

Forgiveness  . . . never be punished for the same offense twice.

Peace  . . . household was not chaotic . . . much quietness as if there had not been a child among them. . .

  • Sleep

Bedtime  . . .all in bed by 8:00 pm whether they were ready for sleep or not.

Naps  infants . . . napped on a schedule. . .to bring them to a regular course of sleeping

  • Meals and dining

Dining  Mealtime was family time.

No snacking

Choosing meals  . . . expected to eat was served.

Medicine  . no problem when “. . . used to eat and drink what was given them”

  • Manners

Polite speech  be polite. . . [if] wanted something they were to ask

No lying  . . .if confess it and promise to amen, they would not be punished.

Respect for property  . . . taught to keep their hands off of another’s stuff. . .

 

Mothers all know the struggles to raise children, and Susanna was like all mothers yet today.  She knew how difficult managing a household can be much less homeschooling the ten children.  And among those ten children were two sons John and Charles Wesley.

The Church grew as John adapted his own organizational methods to take God’s message to those beyond the doors of the Church of England and even across the Atlantic to the United States

John’s brother Charles worked side by side with John and is accredited with writing so many hymns that appealed to the populace:

[Charles]was said to have averaged 10 poetic lines a day for 50 years. He wrote 8,989 hymns, 10 times the volume composed by the only other candidate (Isaac Watts) who could conceivably claim to be the world’s greatest hymn writer. [Accessed on May 10, 2018 at Christianitytoday.com]

 

Susanna’s motherhood was not easy.  Susan Glasgow’s blog summarizes Susanna’s motherhood:

A devastated home isn’t always apparent on first impression, is it? Susanna Wesley was married to a preacher.  They had 10 children of which, two grew up to bring millions of souls to Christ. That would be John and Charles Wesley.  It’s a powerful story if you stop there, isn’t it?

But, behind the door of her home, hopeless conditions were the norm.  She married a man who couldn’t manage money.  They disagreed on everything from money to politics.  They had 19 children.  All except ten died in infancy.  Sam (her husband) left her to raise the children alone for long periods of time.  This was sometimes over something as simple as an argument.

One of their children was crippled.  Another couldn’t talk until he was nearly six years old.  Susanna herself was desperately sick most of her life.  There was no money for food or anything.  Debt plagued them.

. . .One of her daughters got pregnant out of wedlock and the man never married her.  She was devastated, but remained steadfast in prayer for her daughter.

 

The Church continues through the efforts of mothers everywhere.  Susanna Wesley may be the mother of the Methodist denomination, but she is really the same as Christian mothers everywhere.  Her model of mothering includes the self-discipline of works of piety her son outlines:

  1. Reading, meditating and studying scriptures
  2. Prayer
  3. Fasting
  4. Regularly attending worship
  5. Healthy living
  6. Sharing our faith with others

 

The model of Susanna Wesley reflects much of the wisdom shared in the book of Proverbs.  As our opening scripture shares, we are . . .

17 Listen to the words of the wise;
apply your heart to my instruction.
18 For it is good to keep these sayings in your heart
and always ready on your lips.
19 I am teaching you today—yes, you—
so you will trust in the Lord.

Today, we can turn to Proverbs and share with others the wisdom, too.  If Susanna can do so, so can we.

[Distribute at least 30 proverbs among those in attendance and have them read them aloud to the others.]

 

Thank you to Susanna Wesley for her mothering skills.  Today, we can understand how challenging it is for mothers in our world by realizing that mothers have always managed life challenges.  The key is to study scripture and to raise our children the best that we can, teaching them the wisdom found in scripture.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving God,

Thank you for providing words of wisdom

as we find in the scripture.

Thank you for Susanna Wesley

raising her children in faith.

 

Guide us to continue following leaders

who live faithful lives  based on scripture.

Guide us to teach our children

to do all that they can for all they can.

 

May our efforts continue The Church’s work

carrying your story forward.

May our work demonstrate the true wisdom

in loving one another as we want to be loved.

 

Thank you for Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Thank you for Susanna, the mother of John.

Thank you for loving us, your children.

 

In your name,

In the name of Jesus Christ,

And through the Holy Spirit, amen.

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Riding The Church’s Circuit

Sermon for May 6, 2018.  This continues the connection to the Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass window.  This sermon focus’s on Francis Asbury, but also explains a personal decision effective July 1, 2018.  The Methodist itineracy continues.

 

            Searching through the images of the COR’s (Leawood, KS) stained glass window, I found Francis Asbury.  Yes, the name is familiar to Methodists, but how does his story demonstrate how The Church moved forward?

As Methodists, we may think that our denomination is the first church that used the circuit riders, but the practice actually began much earlier.  Consider even the Apostles who were commissioned by Jesus himself. Interestingly there is a parallel between the story of Philip and the Eunuch and a story of Francis Asbury meeting a freedman.

The story is in Acts 8:26-40 (NLT):

     26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopianeunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

     30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

     31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

     32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”[b]

     34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

     36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” [37]  38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.  40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

 

The Church grew because the Apostles took to the road sharing the Good News.  Interesting that the Apostles were not first known as Circuit Riders, in fact, the title Circuit Rider is believed to begin with the Wesleyan movement.

An on-line article from the UMC’s General Commission on Archives and History, includes a brief summary of the development of the circuit riders:

John Wesley’s Methodist plan of multiplemeeting places called circuits required an itinerating force of preachers.  A circuit was made up of two or more local churches (sometimes referred to as societies) in early Methodism.  In American Methodism circuits were sometimes referred to as a “charge.”  A pastor would be appointed to the charge by his bishop. During the course of a year he was expected to visit each church on the charge at least once, and possibly start some new ones. At the end of a year the pastors met with the bishop at annual conference, where they would often be appointed to new charges.  A charge containing only one church was called a station.  The traveling preachers responsible for caring for these societies, or local churches and stations, became known as circuit- riders, or sometimes saddlebag preachers.  They traveled light, carrying their belongings and books in their saddlebags.  Ranging far and wide through villages and wilderness, they preached daily or more often at any site available be it a log cabin, the local court house, a meeting house, or an outdoor forest setting. Unlike the pastors of settled denominations, these itinerating preachers were constantly on the move.  Their assignment was often so large it might take them 5 or 6 weeks to cover the territory.  [Accessed on May 2, 2018]

 

Francis Asbury, included in the stained glass window, is credited as the leader of the American Methodist Episcopal movement that grew through the work of the circuit riders.  In the Wikipedia biography on Asbury, a meeting with a freedman, Henry “Black Harry” Hosier might compare to Philip’s meeting with the Ethopian Eunuch:

In 1780, he met the freedman Henry “Black Harry” Hosier, a meeting Asbury considered “providentially arranged”. Hosier served as his driver and guide and, though illiterate, memorized long passages of the Bible while Asbury read them aloud during their travels. He eventually became a famous preacher in his own right, the first African American to preach directly to a white congregation in the United States. [Accessed on May 2, 2018]

 

The Church grows through the efforts of those called to ministry whether in the pulpit or whether in the saddle.  Asbury carried the Methodist movement into a growing denomination during the earliest years of this country’s existence following the Revolutionary War.

The circuit rider images have faded into our memories.  These Christians answered a call into ministry that was filled with challenges as simple as where one might find food, clothing and shelter along the paths between settlements.  The circuit rider’s lifestyle did not lend itself to establishing a home base or even a family.  They made friends, but the work was so demanding that it frequently took a toll on the health.

In the GCAH article on circuit riders, the lifespan of circuit riders typically was no more than 30 years of age.  Asbury came to the US at the age of 26, and he lived until 1816—71 years old.  Of course, Asbury also became one of the American co-superintendents, now more akin to that of a Bishop, with Thomas Coke being the second one.  (The Methodist publishing service Cokesbury is named for these two men.)

In the final paragraph of Asbury’s autobiographical flier (bulletin’s insert), one can see the numerical evidence of his work:

… in 1784, Asbury had 15,000 members and 83 preachers to shepherd.  Thirty years later, he herded 212,000 members, 700 ordained pastors, and 2,000 lay preachers.

 

Today, the United Methodist Church data services provides these figures:

World UM US Africa, Asia & Europe
Lay Members 7,064,602 5,663,340
Clergy Members 44,080 11,859
Baptized Members 571,507 N/A
Local/Organized Churches 31,867 12,255
Districts 419 451
Annual Conferences 56 80
Bishops/Episcopal Areas 46 20
Jurisdictions 5 N/A

 

Asbury and Coke answered God’s call to ministry and took John Wesley’s Methodist movement and created the American Methodist denomination that continues today as the United Methodist Church.

Today’s UMC congregations still remain in connection using the itinerant system of appointment.  The itineracy, as defined on line by the UMC website, is a result of the circuit riders:

The system in The United Methodist Church by which pastors are appointed to their charges by the bishops. The pastors are under obligation to serve where appointed. The present form of the itineracy grew from the practice of Methodist pastors traveling widely throughout the church on circuits. Assigned to service by a bishop, they were not to remain with one particular congregation for any length of time.

 

I am convinced that the artist who selected the figures to include in the stained glass window consciously chose those who have answered God’s call to ministry and have continued the mission of The Church despite all the trials and tribulations that batters Christians.  I am glad that he included Francis Asbury, because the history of our denomination grew from his work.

Wesley sat the bar for his followers:

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

 

These words are so engrained in my psyche that it is makes accepting my own efforts as adequate.  Over the last three years, I have felt a pulling to do something else. I cannot define it.  I can only say, I know there is something more that I am to do.  The district superintendent has listened, questioned, and advised me.  Two weeks ago, we met and he asked what I needed. His perception was that I was tired and needed rest.

The stained glass window has inspired much of my research and guided me through these past few months.  The story of Teresa of Avila seemed to open a new awareness within me of my theology differently than any of the other stories. I felt a thrill and a hunger for more.

I have read I John over and over.  I have turned to the gospel of John several times over the last month, and the pull to do something more continues to grow.  I finally heard the DS say, “You are tired.”

Yes, I am tired.  I am so mentally and spiritually tired that I cannot hear God’s direction.  Therefore, I will not be taking an appointment at this time.  I suspect I will need at least six months of rest, to read, to listen, and to pray about the next appointment—whether or not it is a pulpit or some other form of ministry.

From John’s first letter, I am focusing on knowing God as light, love, and life.  I have more work to do; but to do it, I must rest.  Please hear John’s words:

  • I John 1:5-7This is the message we heard from Jesus[a] and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

 

  • 1 John 3:16 16 We know what real loveis because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.
  • 1 John 3:18  18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we loveeach other; let us show the truth by our actions.
  • 1 John 5:11-12 11 And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not havelife.

When one completes the Course of Study, one of the final requirements is to write one’s own credo.  I decided to review it because so much scripture that I have highlighted as support for my credo is located in the writings of John.  I am hopeful that you will hear these words and recognize something about me:

I believe in the Triune God,

Father, the Creator;

Son, Jesus Christ the Teacher;

And the Holy Spirit, an ever-present ally.

As a believer.

I accept the responsibility to live a God-centered life.

I accept the responsibility to love this creation.

I accept the responsibility to love one another.

As a member of The Church, I believe

                        I need to do all that I can

                        For all that I can

                        In all the ways that I can.

 

Once called, always to serve.  To serve in the pulpit and to join in community with each one of you is to love. Here in this sanctuary, I find light, I find love, and I find life.

As the next few weeks lead us to find new directions, I cannot wait to share more of the stories of The Church.  We continue to grow together in fellowship, much as John concludes that first letter:

20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and he has given us understanding so that we can know the true God. And now we live in fellowship with the true God because we live in fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and he is eternal life.

21 Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts

Concluding prayer (in unison):

            Dear Loving Father,

 

            You are the light, chasing away darkness.

            You are love, binding your children together.

            You are life, always and forever.

           

            Guide us in turning on the light for others.

            Guide us in loving one another.

            Guide us in living for life eternal.

 

            Help us to find ways to chase away sin’s darkness.

            Help us to demonstrate love through our actions.

            Help us to live life in full connection

                        through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  –Amen

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A Mother’s Loss

The following Letter to the Editor was published today, April 27, 2018 in the Kansas City Star.  I wrote it after reading the tribute to Barbara Bush on April 21.  The essay/editorial struck a cord that is worthy of noting.  Please read.  Thank you to the KC Star for including it in today’s edition.

Mary Sanchez’s sympathetic and empathetic column concerning Barbara Bush is a testimony to the strength of character not only of Mrs. Bush, but her mom and all of us who experience the loss a child. (April 21, 11A, “Remembering Barbara Bush, grieving mother”)

My experience was a miscarriage of twins. But that was half a century after Robin Bush’s death and Sanchez’s mother’s first late-term loss. I was fortunate to have a community that understood it was a loss and allowed me to grieve.

Another generation later, our daughter-in-law lost a daughter, Faith, at 17 weeks. Fortunately, she was supported by a medical team that understood the need to allow her and her husband time with the daughter.

Loss is painful, but grieving is a process that one must experience, and a medical team that understands that need is exceptional.

Sanchez’s words and her insight concerning Mrs. Bush are evidence that our culture is learning to honor painful life experiences appropriately. Thank you for sharing such a personal and perceptive tribute to Mrs. Bush, but also to your own mom and all mothers who know the loss of a child all too soon.

Susan Annette Smith Warrensburg

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Puppy Love: Unconditional love in a bite for our duo

This is one of those days that the brain seems a bit fractured.  Maybe that has a negative twist, but I suspect most of you know those days.  As I went from one task to another without a plan, I realized that I needed some kitchen therapy.

I would never have considered kitchen therapy two years ago because after a busy school day and doing whatever household chores had to be done, esp. laundry, the kitchen was just another task.  After two years and moving to three, I have found that when I can’t seem to focus well, I turn to the kitchen.

Today, I decided that I needed to refill my homemade doggie treats, so I started the process.  I have taken two different recipes and tweaked them.  I use the basic standard of graham flour, rolled oats (not quick), egg, and applesauce, but then change them up.

Puppy Love Treats:  First batch out, now a second.  I even cook the scraps for a little extra in the food bowl.

I have found that baby food purees are a great way to add the sweet potatoes, peas, and apples that seem to please the dogs, so I add that in, too.  Vanilla seems to be a special ingredient in a wide-range of recipes, so I generously add that, too.

This time I am adding steel cut oats partly for the roughage, but also because it is smaller for my small Havanese to manage chewing.  Our bassador has no problem with anything and at 13 he has no teeth issues.

I cut them pretty thin and small so we do not overuse them, and they store very nicely.  The smell is great in the kitchen today, and even though the spring sunshine makes it look delightfully warm outside, it still is in the 50s.

Our Duo

Meet Possum the Havanese and Ralph the Bassador. They provide unconditional love whenever needed, so why not a little puppy love for them right out of the oven–cooled of course.

 

 

My brain is kicking in a bit better now, so I have also made my husband one of his favorites:  Butterfinger toll house cookies.  I think he will be surprised when he gets home that the oven has been working this afternoon.  They are in the oven now.

I have one more major task I wanted to accomplish and I think my brain is cleared enough to get it done.  Thanks for seeing how a little Puppy Love treat makes me percolate a bit better and the family gets the benefits and it all comes from unconditional love just like God loves us and asks us to love others.

 

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Contemplating the Mystics of The Church

Sermon for April 15, 2018:  This sermon developed from the images of Leawood, KS, Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass windows.  The images of those who continued God’s work after Jesus’ resurrection.  Today, the image of Saint Teresa of Avila was the inspiration for this sermon.

How many Christians harbor a seed of uncertainty about the resurrection?   Until we walk the same path that all must walk, there is no concrete evidence our logical minds crave to answer that lingering question.

In the lectionary’s scripture for this week there is a reading from I John 3:1-7.  This letter was written by John the Apostle, whose brother was James and father was Zebedee. Based on writing styles and historical research, the same person is believed to have written the gospel of John.

Scholars believe the first letter of John was written as a circularletter to be shared among churches.  The purpose was to reassure the early Christians and counter false teachings. The letter provides three descriptors of God:  God is light; God is love; and God is life:

Scripture connections:

I John 1:5-7  God is Light

This is the message we heard from Jesus[a] and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.

 

I John 3:1-3  God is Love

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.

 

I John 5:11-12 God is Life

11 And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.

 

Today’s world is consumed with logical thinking and the need for proof; Christianity is targeted as an outdated concept. Christianity cannot be boiled down to a code that computers can dissect and recreate with accuracy.  Christianity is simple but complex.  It is faith in what is known, but what is also not known.

As the weeks, years, decades, centuries distanced people from the events of that first Easter Sunday, The Church developed, evolved, and continued to share the story Jesus taught the Apostles and the earliest disciples.

The gospel written by the Apostle John differs from the other three and is sometimes identified as the mysticalgospel.  Why?  This gospel focuses on the fact that Jesus was God more than focusing on his physical human qualities.  God is light, love, and life.  The Word.

Scripture reconnect:

John 1:1-5, 9-14

1In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,[a]
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.[b]

 

     The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

     10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

     14 So the Word became human[a] and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.[b] And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

The Church had the task of continuing God’s work as delivered through Jesus Christ. And The Church continues.  At first there was just the one denomination, as we would call it today, but the reality is that even in the earliest days, believers formed different cells focusing on different perspectives.

Some fled into distant countries to live together in isolated communities.  Others blended into community churches located in homes.  Differences developed based on national cultures, strange practices, eventually creating orders who taught and trained others to continue the work of the Apostles.

Leaders developed into Popes, and The Church that evolved into the most organized arm of Christianity became known as the Catholic Church.  An organized religion developed and The Church grew.  The evolutionary process has seen various movements for reformation and Teresa of Avila, who later was beatified as a saint, led one.

[Insert video introducing St. Teresa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vn4v6atYpq8&t=0s&list=PLFlOzfWR7LMU3h-0LlX_QPiZWi_Lx_rFm&index=5]

Teresa of Avila lived during the time of the Spanish Inquisitions and is known as a mystic.  Admittedly this is an uncomfortable facet of Christianity that does not match the 21stcentury mindset.  Therefore, I turned to the Harper Collins’ Bible Dictionary:

Mystic:  one who has a direct experience of the divine presence, an intimate and transforming communion or union with God.  . . . Traces of mysticism are sometimes identified in the Pauline Letters, especially where Paul speaks of union with Christ.

With that definition as a foundation, the writings of John the Apostle can be understood as being mystical, too.  The words from his writings and the quotes from St. Teresa are similar.

As John wrote in his first letter, God is light.  An article from biographyonline.com explains that after a severe illness during which St. Teresa experienced a vision.

In one of her visions she saw an angel pierce her heart with a spear with a golden tip and the pain, instead of being debilitating, became a movement into ecstasy for the mystic.  As she herself wrote, “I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it.”  This event became symbolic of her life, that she was chosen in a special way to share in the pain of Jesus Christ. (Accessed on April 13, 2018 at https://www.coraevans.com/blog/article/the-incredible-life-of-st.-teresa-of-avila)

Afterwards, Teresa shared her vision, and some clergy argued the vision was the work of the devil.  She lost her confidence in her own visions and raptures, sometimes called ecstasies.

The article, though, continues to explain more:

However, in the course of time, she became absorbed in deep contemplation in which she felt an ever-growing sense of oneness with God. At times she felt overwhelmed with divine love. The experiences were so transforming, she at times felt the illumining grace of God would wash her soul away. She was so filled with divine contemplation it is said at times her body would spontaneously levitate. Teresa, however, was not keen on these public displays of ‘miracles’. When she felt it happening she would ask other nuns to sit on her to prevent her floating away.

Mysticism is not common in today’s faith discussions, but St. Teresa is accredited with part of The Church’s reformation.  Being included in the Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window (Leawood, KS) connects her to the evolution of The Church. She is accredited with starting a new order that focused on the values of poverty and simplicity:

She guided the nuns not just through strict disciplines, but also through the power of love, and common sense. Her way was not the way of rigid asceticism and self-denial. Although she underwent many tribulations herself, to others, she stressed the importance of experiencing God’s Love.

God is love.  The gospel of John along with his letters emphasizes that God is love.  St. Teresa’s writings include quotes that echo John’s teachings:

  • “It is love alone that gives worth to all things.”
  • “The surest way to determine whether one possesses the love of God is to see whether he or she loves his or her neighbor. These two loves are never separated. Rest assured, the more you progress in love of neighbor the more your love of God will increase.”
  • “We may speak of love and humility as the true flowers of spiritual growth; and they give off a wonderful scent, which benefits all those who come near.”

St. Teresa’s work clearly emphasized that God as love includes being a servant.  A few quotes from her sound very familiar to John Wesley’s most notable quote:

Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the souls you can, in every place you can, at all the times you can, with all the zeal you can, as long as ever you can. (Accessed on April 13, 2018 at Wikiquotes.com )

St. Teresa used these words:

  • “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
  • “If we practice love of neighbor with great perfection, we will have done everything.”

St. Teresa knew God as love. She also knew God as life.

“Remember that you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you have only one life. . . . If you do this, there will be many things about which you care nothing.”

In her visions, she experienced God’s love.  By the union with God through Jesus Christ, she saw God as life.  The metaphor that a nun is married to The Church simply means they are as devoted to the church as spouses are devoted, singularly, to each other. As a nun, St. Teresa’s life was devoted to God; God was her life on earth as well as after death.  In the biography, a fellow sister/nun describes St. Teresa’s death:

“She remained in this position in prayer full of deep peace and great repose. Occasionally she gave some outward sign of surprise or amazement. But everything proceeded in great repose. It seemed as if she were hearing a voice which she answered. Her facial expression was so wondrously changed that it looked like a celestial body to us. Thus immersed in prayer, happy and smiling, she went out of this world into eternal life.”

This final picture helps us to understand the mystical aspect of Christianity.  The Church cannot fully explain the complexity of God:  the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but the figures who have carried the story forward along human history’s timeline, provide glimpses.

Even St. Teresa explains her mystical faith in God:

“They deceive themselves who believe that union with God consists in ecstasies or raptures, and in the enjoyment of Him. For it consists in nothing except the surrender and subjection of our will – with our thoughts, words and actions – to the will of God.”

As Methodists who know the words and works of John Wesley, St. Teresa’s words and work, we see that God is, God was, and God always will be light, love, and life—eternal life. To fully accept God in our lives, we, too, must be mystic at least to some degree.  There is no other way to know the reality than to rely on The Word—through reading scripture, through prayer, and through loving one another in any way that we can.

Closing prayer:

St. Teresa prayer life has also been the subject of study.  She said, “Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything.”

Now, please join in prayer:

Dear loving, life-giving Father,

As we wake to the sunlight of the morning,

As we lie down to rest in the moonlight,

Fill our souls with light, love and life

Taught us by your son Jesus Christ

And guides us as the Holy Spirit.

May we hear The Word within our minds

So that we, too, may live as your children

Following and reflecting your light others,

Loving one another as we want to be loved,

And confidently believing you are life

Now and forever, amen.

In closing:

            Here we sit in the Midwest in our protestant church.  The story of The Church is filled with saints who carried the Word forward, beyond the geographical home of Jesus Christ.

Here we live in the 21stcentury in a culture far removed from ancient thought, yet the saints kept Jesus’ work alive.

Therefore, when we learn that someone in our contemporary world experiences God in a mystical way, the story can empower us even more.  For some, the following story sounds familiar, for some it will provide encouragement.  This is the Easter story now, in our own world  [Accessed on April 12, 2018 at http://www.carmelites.net/news/resurrection-in-a-kansas-backyard/:

 

Resurrection in a Kansas Backyard

APRIL 1, 2018 | GREGORY HOUCK, O.CARM.

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Easter Sunday is one of the biggest days of the year in the Catholic Church, but for priests like myself it can sometimes be an occasion for sleepiness and maybe some crankiness. We’re cranky because the night before, the Easter Vigil, is a very large celebration in which the liturgy itself and the festivities afterward can go on for hours until early in the morning. Getting up the next morning for 7:30am mass can be pretty difficult.

 

This past Easter Sunday, I was helping out at a Carmelite parish in Kansas. It was a beautiful day; but that didn’t quite cut through the sleepiness. The aisles were choked, every pew taken, and I’m wrapping up one mass and preparing for the next when a man approaches me and asks me to give Last Rites to his dying father. Though this the last thing I want to hear at this moment, I tell him I can be there that afternoon, after the last mass.

 

Afterward, as I am plugging his address into the GPS in my car, I seriously consider blowing it off. I really need a cup of coffee and maybe something to eat. I need some time to rest. ‘I could show up tomorrow morning, no damage done’ I think to myself. But there was something quietly urgent about the man’s request, so I head over.

 

When I pull into the driveway, a crowd of people that could only be family is standing on the front lawn of the house. I think they must be waiting for the ambulance; I’m sure that because I hesitated, I am too late. But I find out pretty quickly that the family isn’t waiting for the doctor – they are waiting for me.

 

“Dad asked us to carry him out to the backyard to enjoy this weather,” the man explains. “We were afraid that if we stayed out back we wouldn’t hear the doorbell ring.” The family members– the dying man’s wife, two daughters, two sons, and a handful of college-age grandchildren – are pleasant enough, and as I am following them out to the backyard, I feel a bit calmer.

 

Out back, the dying man is propped up on a lawn chair. After relaxing in the sun and visiting for a while, I bring out the anointing oil, as well as Communion, in case anybody wants to receive. The Catholics in the group have skipped mass, afraid they’d lose their father while at church, and they are relieved at not having to forgo Communion today. I perform the Last Rites ceremony, and then I talk briefly about the Easter Gospel from this morning’s mass. I talk about the Doubting Thomas story, and about how Thomas’s newfound faith in Jesus is its own resurrection.

 

After a moment of quiet the dying man looks at me and says, “Today is the best day of my life.” I have to admit that given that he’s near death and had to be carried outside I wonder ‘if this is the best day of his life, what were the other days like?.’”

 

After distributing communion, the dying man asks to speak with me privately. Assuming he wants his confession heard, the family gets up and retreats into the house, and we are alone. After a moment of quiet the dying man looks at me and says, “Today is the best day of my life.” I have to admit that given that he’s near death and had to be carried outside I wonder ‘if this is the best day of his life, what were the other days like?’

 

“I’ve worked hard all my life,” he explains. “I’ve always had one or two jobs to keep food on the table. My kids – I think they knew I loved them, but I never told them that.” He pauses for a moment. He’s looking away from me. “I think they loved me, but they never told me that. We never said these things out loud – we just were a family.” He turns to me again. “But suddenly these last two days, being with them all the time, I know how much they love me. And I never really knew that before.”

 

As he speaks, I can feel my attention to his words sharpening. “I married my wife because she was the prettiest woman I ever saw – but I never really knew that her heart was so much more beautiful than that.” My Doubting Thomas sermon is starting to feel a little silly in comparison.

He stares out into the grass. “And I finally realized what I’d been missing my whole life. Today, after a few days with family constantly at my side, I finally got it. The whole point of life is to love. The reason we are alive is to love – and that makes this the best day of my life.”

 

I begin to understand that this man has just given me a gift – and that clarity like this is contagious. Love itself is a resurrection. The family returns and we sit around chatting for a while, and suddenly I am not so hungry, not so desperate for a cup of coffee. This man is approaching death, I realize, with joy; and that is a gift to his family too. They are not grieving so much as delighting in watching him exit with grace.

The next morning the phone rings in the rectory at an oddly early hour. It’s a representative from the nearby funeral home: “We’d like to schedule a funeral this week.”

 

“I know” I say to the voice over the phone. After hanging up, I’m sitting alone in silence for a few moments when I realize that tears are falling down my face. As a priest, I’m often called to be present when people die but, in truth, I’m generally not much of a crier. It dawns on me that my tears are not in sadness for the death of a man I barely knew. Instead, they are for the grace and privilege I felt at being witness to a resurrection on Easter Sunday afternoon in a backyard in Kansas.

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