Category Archives: Death

Encountering God in Lament

praxis_encountering_godWe had some web issues that delayed our posting of last Sunday’s sermon. I also wanted to include part of the liturgy we used in praying with our brothers and sisters in Charleston.  Here is the sermon from Psalm 42-43.

The words from One Church Liturgy:

A Call To Worship for the Tragedy In Charleston

[Leader]
We stand before you today, oh Lord
Hearts broken, eyes weeping, heads spinning
Our brothers and sisters have died
They gathered and prayed and then were no more
The prayer soaked walls of the church are spattered with blood
The enemy at the table turned on them in violence
While they were turning to you in prayer

[All]
We stand with our sisters
We stand with our brothers
We stand with their families
We stand to bear their burden in Jesus’ name

[Leader]
We cry out to you, oh Lord
Our hearts breaking, eyes weeping, heads spinning
The violence in our streets has come into your house
The hatred in our cities has crept into your sanctuary
The brokenness in our lives has broken into your temple
The dividing wall of hostility has crushed our brothers and sisters
We cry out to you, May your Kingdom come, may it be on earth as it is in heaven

[All]
We cry out for our sisters
We cry out for our brothers
We cry out for their families
We cry out for peace in Jesus’ name

[Leader]
We pray to you today, oh Lord
Our hearts breaking, eyes weeping, souls stirring
We pray for our enemies, we pray for those who persecute us
We pray to the God of all Comfort to comfort our brothers and sisters in their mourning
We pray that you would bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes
We pray that you would give them the oil of joy instead of mourning
We pray that you would give them a garment of praise in place of a spirit of despair

[All]
We pray for our sisters
We pray for our brothers
We pray for their families
We pray for their comfort in Jesus’ name

[Leader]
We declare together, oh Lord
With hearts breaking, eyes weeping and souls stirring
We will continue to stand and cry and weep with our brothers and sisters
We will continue to make a place of peace for even the enemies at our table
We will continue to open our doors and our hearts to those who enter them
We will continue to seek to forgive as we have been forgiven
We will continue to love in Jesus’ name because you taught us that love conquers all

[All]
We declare our love for you, our Sisters
We declare our love for you, our Brothers
We declare our love for you, their families
We declare our love as one body, one Lord, one faith, one baptism
We declare they do not grieve alone today

Content “like a weaned child…”

content lambAs a sequel to Sunday’s sermon, Enough, and  our last post on Contentment, I share this reflection from Psalm 131. It is a beautiful picture of our satisfaction being rooted more and more in Christ.

O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me.  Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me.  (Psalm 131:1,2)

Like A Weaned Child – Ed Miller

 

As a weaned child rests upon mother

Is content, on her bosom, to lie,

Has abandoned the tears and the tantrums,

Over things that could not satisfy;

So, my soul is reposing on Jesus,

Without thoughts of the gift or reward.

What a glorious foretaste of Heaven–

Being weaned from this world, to the LORD!

 

There were times when I questioned His purpose;

And His patience was put to the test;

When I harbored hard thoughts of His wisdom;

And mistakenly thought I knew best.

But His love wore away my resistance,

I was drawn by invincible grace

From the blessings that held my affections,

To Himself, and His tender embrace!

 

I don’t bother myself with great matters;

I’m at rest, and my heart is not proud.

I’m content with whatever He gives me,

And I’m thankful for what is allowed.

God is getting me ready for Heaven,

As He draws me from this world apart;

I’m awaiting, with joy, for the weaning

That shall bring me at last to His heart!

 


I heard the author of this poem ask an important question:
Q – Is there anything better than Mother’s Milk?
A – Mother!

Is Jesus ‘Enough?’ – Listen to Bach

enough-titlePrinceton mathematician, Bernard Chazelle runs out of superlatives for J.S. Bach. He calls Bach the most human of all composers who “gets to your soul through your body.”
Here is a gem of an article with embedded excerpts of music that will make you an instant Bach fan. (You can also listen to a fascinating On Being interview by Krista Tippett.)

Speaking of Bach, I was preparing a sermon on coveting and contentment. I’d decided to title it, Enough” (available for listening here). The next day, I’m listening online to a weekly radio program, called The Bach Hour. Each week, it plays one of Bach’s cantatas with translation. This day it was No. 82. based on Jesus’ presentation as a baby in the temple and Simeon’s response, “Let your servant now depart in peace!” (Luke 2:22-35)

Bach’s first line title: “I Have Enough!”

1. I have enough,
I have taken the Savior, the hope of the righteous,
into my eager arms;
I have enough!
  I have beheld Him,
  my faith has pressed Jesus to my heart;
  now I wish, even today with joy
  to depart from here.
2. I have enough.
My comfort is this alone,
that Jesus might be mine and I His own.
In faith I hold Him,
there I see, along with Simeon,
already the joy of the other life.
Let us go with this man!
Ah! if only the Lord might rescue me
from the chains of my body;
Ah! were only my departure here,
with joy I would say, world, to you:
I have enough.
3. Fall asleep, you weary eyes,
close softly and pleasantly!
  World, I will not remain here any longer,
  I own no part of you
  that could matter to my soul.
  Here I must build up misery,
  but there, there I will see
  sweet peace, quiet rest.
4. My God! When will the lovely ‘now!’ come,
when I will journey into peace
and into the cool soil of earth,
and there, near You, rest in Your lap?
My farewells are made,
world, good night!
5. I delight in my death,
ah, if it were only present already!
  Then I will emerge from all the suffering
  that still binds me to the world.

(p.s. Ten of Bach’s children and his wife died in his lifetime.)

A few days later, I visited a dear sister in Christ in our church, who was near death after a long fight with cancer. I shared Bach’s words with her husband. He asked me to read it at her Memorial Service.
I will…
Bach was right.

Lessons from a Modern Disciple

WillardOn three consecutive Saturdays, the Christ Church community celebrated and mourned at the death of beloved fellow-believers. Just prior to these weeks, author and fellow disciple, Dallas Willard died of cancer. Willard was known for his wonderful work of deepening the Christian Church’s understanding of Spiritual Formation and Discipleship.

In light of our fall series, I am a Disciple! I want to share some quotations from conversations and writings of Dallas Willard worthy of our serious rumination.

Disciples of Jesus are those who are with him, learning to be like him. That is, they are learning to lead their life, their actual existence, as he would lead their life if he were they.    (Renovation of the Heart)

The mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do in his or her place.

Willard taught me that a disciple is a student who sits at the feet of Jesus day in and day out. A disciple is someone who is with Jesus, learning to be like him, so that when we encounter the world around us, we do exactly what Jesus would do if he were in our shoes.

We cannot be Christians without being disciples, and we cannot call ourselves Christians without applying this understanding of life in the Kingdom of God to every aspect of life on earth. (The Great Omission)

When asked, “What is death? “ Dallas responded:
Jesus made a special point of saying those who rely on him and have received the kind of life that flows in him and in God will never stop living.

Willard also challenged us to take the Sermon on the Mount more seriously, especially the parts about seeking first the Kingdom of God.  He called it “The cost of non-discipleship,” referencing Bonhoeffer’s famous “Cost of Discipleship.”  He put it this way:

“If you think it’s hard being a disciple of Christ, you should try living the other way. Living to make a name for yourself or secure your own future is way too expensive. Stop now before you ruin yourself utterly. Jesus was talking in these stories about the cost of non-discipleship, and it’s breathtakingly high.” 

“So then, whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord!”  (Romans 14:8)

HAVE YOU CONSIDERED THE ‘COST’ OF NON-DISCIPLESHIP?

Poetry Monday – Humility and hope in a broken world

narniaI try to always read some poetry on my day off – my Sabbath Monday. This poem by Anne Porter struck me in a unique way. It reminds me of my part in the brokenness inflicted by sin. My “blind complicity” as she says in the third stanza. How I dismiss people in their wounded state, “as if I were not one of them.”

The last lines remind me of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when Aslan’s resurrection ushers in the spring of the New Creation!

Whatever harm I may have done
In all my life in all your wide creation
If I cannot repair it
I beg you to repair it,

And then there are all the wounded 
The poor the deaf the lonely and the old
Whom I have roughly dismissed
As if I were not one of them.
Where I have wronged them by it
And cannot make amends
I ask you
To comfort them to overflowing,

And where there are lives I may have withered around me,
Or lives of strangers far or near
That I’ve destroyed in blind complicity,
And if I cannot find them
Or have no way to serve them,

Remember them. I beg you to remember them

When winter is over
And all your unimaginable promises
Burst into song on death’s bare branches.

“A Short Testament” by Anne Porter, from Living Things.
reprinted in The Writer’s Almanac

Jesus pulled me up by the wrist

Resurrection Icon
Resurrection Icon

Holy Week and Easter Sunday were glorious times for our church. In the sermon Sunday, (available here) I used, as I have for many years, the icon of the Resurrection, originating in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Christ has smashed the gates of Hades (or death) and fashioned them as a bridge over the pit of hell. Below, the locks and keys lie broken. In one, Satan himself is bound, powerless to prevent the destruction of his kingdom.

The song we sang that comes from an ancient Paschal hymn says, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling over death by death…”

Christ stands over the tomb pulling Adam and Eve (as representative humanity) up and out. We don’t see Jesus raising two individuals. We see him raising the entire human race from bondage to sin and death.

This year I discovered a detail I never saw before. (Further study confirmed it is a standard requirement of all versions of this icon.) Jesus is pulling the man and woman up BY THE WRIST. They have no power to stand on their own. They don’t even have much power to reach out their hands to Jesus. The wrist image is a graphic way of proclaiming, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV)

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:8-13, ESV)

Glory to God!

Poetry Monday – “Life”

Jamestown, RI
Jamestown, RI

On this New Year’s Eve,
I’m doing some life review
and some humble planning ahead.

Pastor, poet George Herbert (1593-1633)
wrote a short poem called Life,
reminding himself of its unpredictable span
and of its hopefully lasting significance.

Life

I made a posy, while the day ran by:
“Here will I smell my remnant out, and tie
                           My life within this band.”
But Time did beckon to the flowers, and they
By noon most cunningly did steal away,
                           And withered in my hand.

My hand was next to them, and then my heart;
I took, without more thinking, in good part
                           Time’s gentle admonition;
Who did so sweetly death’s sad taste convey,
Making my mind to smell my fatal day,
                           Yet, sug’ring the suspicion.

Farewell dear flowers, sweetly your time ye spent,
Fit, while ye lived, for smell or ornament,
                           And after death for cures.
I follow straight without complaints or grief,
Since, if my scent be good, I care not if
                           It be as short as yours.