New life comes in spite of us.

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Many years ago, a parishioner gave me a resurrection plant. I keep it in a half pound margarine dish. Once every 4 or 5 years at Easter, I open the dish and bring this dry, lifeless, ball of sticks to church. During the children’s time I set the plant in a wide flat bowl and pour in some water. The children carry it to the church hall and set it on a table while they participate in Junior Church. By the end of coffee time, the plant has come alive. The ball has opened up to become a luxuriant green plant.

No amount of neglect will destroy this plant. It has the power to become new again with just a drink of water. That’s the way God made it. For me that plant is a marvelous illustration of the “Easter resurrection.”

With Easter coming, many of us skip Good Friday. We don’t want to deal with the “gruesome” part of the Easter story. We prefer to put on our Easter clothes and our happy faces to celebrate the resurrection on Sunday. Yet when I look at my plant, unless I experience it first as wizened and neglected, there is no miracle, no amazement. If we skip the crucifixion and head straight for the resurrection, Jesus becomes a piece of toast. We drop him into the ground on Friday, and he pops up on Sunday morning. We have no way of understanding the miracle of God’s love that is part of the story of Easter.

Easter is a spectacular celebration of God’s unconditional love. In Jesus, God was not defeated by the worst that we could do. We can face the pain of our mistakes, the horror of some of our actions because our Easter story assures us that God has the power to give us new life.  We can’t earn that new life by climbing up the rungs of a ladder of good deeds. God’s gift of new life is unconditional and free. It comes as God’s Grace, and it’s amazing.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

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Why “Good” Friday?

An Act of Love
An Act of Love

For our Good Friday service a number of years ago, a professional actress in my congregation portrayed Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she stood at the base of the cross. Those of us who risked coming to worship that morning experienced some of the pain, horror, helplessness of the crucifixion of Jesus. After the service, many who were present said, “Please don’t make the Good Friday service so graphic. I don’t ever want to experience that again…”

Our inhumanity to our fellow human beings didn’t begin or end with Jesus. Every day we hear and see pictures of soldiers dying in wars around the world. Film clips and books written about life in refugee camps, the direct result of war, touch our hearts. Like the story of the crucifixion, we don’t want the pain of these experiences to penetrate our hearts.

In Jesus’ time, torture and death by crucifixion was the absolute worst punishment. Yet even in the midst of his pain, his disappointment with us, the story tells us that God spoke words of love through Jesus – “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) God’s loving mercy poured forth from the cross.

Holy Friday is a story about God showing us unconditional love. God became flesh and walked among us as Jesus. His stories called us to love our neighbours and our enemies. His teaching called us to let go of tradition that was imprisoning us. He accepted us all, Jew and Gentile, as God’s beloved children. Jesus’ last act of love was his excruciating death on the cross. Jesus lived God loving us at our worst, just as we are.

We tell this story because we need to see our role in the horror of today’s chaos. We need to feel Mary’s all-consuming grief at the base of the cross. Only through experiencing some of the pain and horror, can we begin to understand the depth of God’s forgiveness. Good Friday becomes Holy when we allow our hearts to open even a tiny crack and feel the desolation of the crucifixion. Through that crack, God slips in with a love so strong and deep that it brings new life.

 

How Did They Know?

Couldn’t sleep last night. Finally, got up to pray and do my morning meditation early. Read my Bible – Luke 19:28-40 – The Triumphal Entry. I felt the need to write. The following is what came from God through my fingertips. At least that is the way it felt for me. It’s twice as long as my usual blog because I haven’t edited and polished it. I offer it to you as you head off for church on “Palm Sunday”.

How Did They Know About the Parade?

In the Bible the title for the story is “the triumphal entry.” We read about the preparations that Jesus and his disciples made. He sends two ahead to get a donkey for him to ride. Jesus has made his plans. He knows what he is doing. He will ride through the gates of Jerusalem on a donkey – the symbol of a victorious king arriving home from battle.

The roadway was lined with people waving palm branches, laying their coats on the road before him. As a teenager, I wondered, how did the people know he was coming? What did Jesus do to ensure that there would be a crowd to greet him? Today of course, Jesus would use social media. He’d put his plans on Facebook. His followers would post the story of getting the donkey with a picture. Surely Jesus would know the key words necessary so that the post would go viral. After all if politicians can do it, Jesus would be able to do it.

Back then, there would only be word of mouth. There would be no flyers to distribute. Most people couldn’t read. Yet the story says they lined the roadway. This was an important parade.

By this time Jesus had a reputation at least in the outlying areas. He’d been to Jerusalem before. And it was Passover. People were streaming into the city from all over the world. There would be lots of Galileans in the crowd. Many of them would have seen Jesus do miracles, heard him preach, at least heard of the raising of Lazarus. Those who didn’t know would be curious. The people of Jesus time were like us. If they saw something happening, people gathering, heard the noise and shouting, they would run to see what was going on. So Jesus had a crowd.

Some would be Jesus enthusiasts. Some would be curious onlookers. Some would be there to heckle, or criticize. According to the story most got caught up in the mood of the crowd. Most cheered and waved palm branches. After all this was a parade.

One of the neat things about the Bible is that it captures life on earth, not just 2000 years ago but today as well. The details have changed but the basics are the same.

This joyful, celebrating mob of people just one week later become the crowd that cries “Crucify him! Crucify him!” It’s the same now. Politicians certainly know that. Today the news media and the internet can be manipulated to swing the crowd from loving you to condemning you, almost overnight.

What then is the lesson in this age old Bible story? Is it a warning. Be careful. One mistake, one failure and you’ll be condemned. Your good name ruined. For sure that is truth but I believe it’s more than that.

Jesus was God with us. Surely he knew that the crowd was fickle. Up till now, he hadn’t planned big gatherings they had just happened. Why did he do this?

Theologian, James Taylor in his book Last Chance tells us, this parade marks the beginning of Jesus’ last chance to teach us about God’s love for us and God’s call to us to love others. The week we’ve named Holy Week is the week in which Jesus gave up telling and doing God’s love in order to live it totally. Jesus knew when he entered Jerusalem that last time he was putting his life at risk. He knew that he was surrounded by enemies. He knew when he trashed the temple. He knew with each step he took, each word he said that he was totally vulnerable to those who wanted rid of him. He went forward anyway. He loved us all and he wouldn’t stop trying to teach us how to love.

Jesus had to have that big parade in order for people to recognize him as he carried his cross to Golgotha, as he hung there in disgrace. He wanted the city to know who it was they were crucifying.

He wanted us all to know that he loved us so much that nothing we could do would tempt him to condemn us. He spoke the words of love from the cross – “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” He wanted his last words heard. He wanted his death to count and it did.

For 2000 years we have told and retold the story. For 2000 years we have heard his words of forgiveness; we have heard his love for the convict hanging beside him. For 2000 years, Christians have celebrated the fact that God’s love is with us.

Yes, we can never be good enough to earn God’s love but that isn’t necessary because God loves us as God’s beautiful children even at our worst. The rest of the world can continue to earn God’s love. That’s their choice. Our Christian Easter story tells us that God loves and accepts all of God’s creation, male and female, young and old, of every race and color, whether or not we know what we are doing. We can live in that confidence.

I’m sure glad the crowd was there to see the victory that Jesus lived that sacred holy week in Jerusalem.

“Do a Small Thing with Great Love.” (Mother Theresa)

 

Last month I stepped beyond words into commitment. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be my last. Still, it felt huge, exciting and scary. Over the last few months, I have written several articles about our need to respond as individuals to the Syrian refugee crisis. As a writer and speaker I know the value of words, but I’m aware that words must issue in action.

Being a woman of faith, I have read the words from the book of James 2:26, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” I know the value of showing my faith through my actions. It was time for me as an individual to live what I was preaching. I knew I couldn’t care for all of the refugees fleeing violence around the world. I knew I couldn’t care for all of the refugees that our government is bringing to Canada, or even to Peterborough. What I could do, and what Tom and I both did, was join with a group of twelve individuals, all of whom have pledged to support one government-arranged refugee family with practical action like transportation, finding housing, and friendship.

 Yes, this is only one family, one tiny drop in the ocean of refugees. As Mother Theresa so eloquently told us:

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”

I am grateful to God, for leading me into this exciting new adventure.

 

“But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” (James 1:25)

 

 

 

We’ll All Miss Our Good Friend Meg.

Today our daughter Connie and family said goodbye to their much loved dog, Meg. She joined the family the same year as our granddaughter Ellie 14 years ago. She’ll be missed by all of us, including “Bear Paw” Meg’s daughter. Here is a picture of the two of them taken a couple of years ago. Bear Paw had hurt her leg, and Meg a wonderful mother, kept her close giving her comfort. Meg has been a blessing for all of us.

Meg, the chocolate lab and her injured daughter Bear Paw. I mother's work is never done.
Meg, the chocolate lab and her injured daughter Bear Paw. I mother’s work is never done.

Pets bring so much love and support into a family. They love us just as we are, unconditionally. I believe God often offers us solace, strength and love through our pets. They too can be angels in our lives.

It’s Hard To Trust!

Lent is the Christian season that leads up to Easter, in which we examine what we believe and why. This year I am focusing on “Trust”. Experience has taught me that I can trust in God’s care for me always.   When life is good, the sun is shining, and my life feels under control, it is easy for me to trust God with my life. When the going gets tough for me, I know that nothing I can do and nothing anyone or anything else can do to me, can separate me from God’s love. (Rom 8:38-9)  I can look back over my life and see God’s strength protecting me, and pulling me back to the “Way of Christ”. I am grateful for that trust, that security.

Still my trust wavers when I am faced with the traumas, the illnesses, the poor choices of my loved ones. These are the times when I cry out to God, “fix them”, “give them a miracle”, please, please, please.” These are the times when I lose patience and question God’s existence as well as God’s loving care.

Yet, even with my questions, my anger, my pleading, I never totally give up on God. Why? It’s more than the feeling that God is my last resort. Despite all my fear and worry for others, I cling to the fact that God is at the base of my life. My foundation of faith holds me up when I waver. These are the moments when I cry out to God, “I believe Lord, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

We all have times when the road is so dark we can see nothing, absolutely nothing. It is in those times when our faith wavers, we can turn to the wisdom of our Bible, and the strength of our Christian friends to hold God’s light for us. God never leaves us to struggle alone. Thanks be to God.