Advent 20/20 Lenses

Advent is not for “Pollyanna Optimists”.  Advent is best experienced by “Realistic Idealists”.  Advent kind of folk read the signs of life’s decay, that are as ever-present as the evening news and as personal as our own skin, as signs of this world passing.  At Advent, we don’t stop at of our decaying ways.  Instead, we look beneath and see signs of hope that God is doing something new.

Jesus said, “When you see the fig tree or other trees sprout leaves, you know that summer is near”. (Luke 21:30)  When we look around in East Texas we see the trees have turned their colors and the leaves have fallen.  (Thanks to Tom Green for the photo.)  As the beauty of this fall season passes, we are seeing signs of decay and death set in for the season of winter.  Even on this day in December, it is possible to see beneath the piles of leaves and the roots of the barren trees, to see signs which point to the hope of spring.

This is a metaphor which describes the work of Advent.  Advent people possess a hope throughout the period of waiting, knowing we will again be treated to buds and blossoms.  Advent people notice signs of what is to come.  Count me in, I will not allow the realism of this world’s decay rob me of hope.  I am looking beneath and beyond what is wasting away with a hope, which refuses to miss any promising sign of the coming of God.

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Published in: on November 30, 2010 at 7:16 am  Leave a Comment  
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Rethink Christmas

Published in: on November 29, 2010 at 7:02 am  Leave a Comment  

Betty Still Speaks..

I am doing a graveside service today for a lady who voice will never cease in my ear.  These are my notes for the sake of my memory and others.

There are people that leave a lasting legacy that shapes us.  Dr. Harold Cates became a quick friend, who mentored me.  I could listen to him all day.  He would say things like, “I’ve got 20/20 in both ears, for I can spot a bad sermon 30 seconds.”  He would speak of poorly organized things and say, “that will hold together about as much as a mitten full of warm tapioca.”  He would say about a person who was careless in speech, “They have about as much tact as a Sherman tank in a bed full of pansies.”  I will never forget those images, and the truth they conveyed.  One Harold Cates platitude I practice is, he would tell me on Sunday when I look into the mirror to shave I should ask myself, “Do you really believe what you are about to say?”  There are Sundays I still see Harold in the mirror.  Harold has died, but, he still speaks because his life transcends his death and gives abundance to my life still today.

Betty Hanzl does the same for me and all of us-She Still Speaks.  I am not just here to officiate at a graveside.  I am here to lead us in thanking God for the portion of Betty Hanzl’s life that still speaks.  I share with you the parts of Betty’s Christ-like contagious ways that reside within me, hoping my recall resonates with and comforts you in grief and points you to our God who can care for you in ways no person can as we grieve.

Betty treated everyone like family.  I should have known something was up, when I showed up as a 33 year, still somewhat greenhorn, pastor and Betty treated me like royalty.  Betty never met a stranger and was generous with her time and resources.  I would later learn her hospitality skills were well honed as a child in Newton, Mississippi, where she learned and practiced the very best of southern hospitality.  Perhaps, Betty’s way of making everyone feel like family (including a new pastor), was fashioned as one of the youngest of ten children.  So, I stand here today not just as a former pastor, but feeling a bit like family because of Betty’s far-reaching arms of “boundless love” she extended to family member and stranger alike.

Betty flight attendant gifts were God given.  Betty earned her wings with Delta Airlines and met her husband in the airways.  When she landed after marriage and began to raise her family, serve in her church and involve herself in her community, she did so as a flight attendant.  Scott, Karen, David, and Susan rode in the cabin of Betty’s private cruiser and would rarely want for anything.  When Betty showed up at Schreiber she served that faith community effortlessly with grace and energy that caused the rest of us to marvel.  Then when she spread her wings out to places like Nathan Adams, Boy and Girl Scout troops and other civic responsibilities she did so like a chief purser on a long haul overseas flight.  These are God given gifts which Betty put to use fully as in all her ways and with every person she met or served.

Betty was a grandmother on the grandest scale.  Each and every one of her ten grandkids (Joe, Amanda, Alex, Andrew, Audra, Katie, Kaitlin, Rachael, Jacob and Michael) gave her bliss.  I think the reason so is; she felt it was in them she was passing on her legacy of boundless love and unending service of others.  It is one thing to teach your kids, it is another thing to pass along lasting qualities more than two generations.  I can personally attest Betty Hanzl’s grandmother effect echoes beyond her own family into mine.  My daughters still speak of her permeable impression she has left on their soul.

We use a phrase around the church called “the communion of saints.”  The communion of saints is not a spooky doctrine reserved only for high church types.  The phrase does not only refer to nearly perfect people who have lived upon the face of the earth.  The “saints” are common women and men who lived by faith and who died the same way.  The communion of saints is a belief that says even after death, those who die add strength to our lives on earth.  Though they are gone, they continue to give us spiritual sustenance through our memory and communion with them.  They offer strength to us.  They have died, through our faith, they are still speaking.

Who needs a doctor, lawyer or Indian chief when have family members who still speak even though they are gone.  I have not heard Betty’s voice for more than a decade and she still speaks.  Things change and we learn to live with these changes by making gradual adjustments.  Her children will have to define yourself and establish patterns without her, but they can be comforted her voice is never hushed.  When they wake up tomorrow morning and the world feels different, she still speaks to them even as they walk out the door.  We are fortunate to have a legacy like Betty Hanzl who speaks to us though she is gone.  Amen!

Published in: on November 27, 2010 at 6:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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What If…..? (Thanksgiving Thoughts)

The formative American story of Thanksgiving is recalled by school children and history buffs each year.  I read again this morning how a band of Puritans set out on the Mayflower for Virginia only to get blown off course and come ashore along Cape Cod.  The winter was much worse than they expected and by April only fifty of the original one hundred and two had survived.  A serious discussion arose on whether those remaining should return to the Old World.  The decision was made to stay and plant a few acres of corn and barely.

When the time came to observe their first anniversary another discussion arose on how it should be observed.  Some proposed a day of mourning, focusing on all those who lay in unmarked graves on foreign soil.  Another group proposed a day of thanksgiving for the fifty who had survived, the crops which had been harvested, and the Indians who had become their friends.  We all know the rest of the story.  What would be different in our country if those Pilgrims had chosen to mourn rather than give thanks?

It started me thinking, what would be different in my life if I chose mourning as the music of my life, rather than a repeated refrain of thanks? It caused me to sit down and make my thanksgiving list.  I plan to check it twice as these holidays unfold.  Makes me wonder what might be different if gratitude sings the loudest song throughout the remainder of 2010?

Published in: on November 24, 2010 at 7:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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Lincoln Proclamation for Thankgiving Revised for a Community Prayer

This is a prayer I will offer tonight at the Community Thanksgiving service.

On October 3, 1863 Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the Civil War issued a proclamation of national thanksgiving; initiating this tradition we gather to celebrate on this week.  My invocation paraphrases some of the words of that declaration.

God of every time and season, we bow our heads tonight as this year draws towards its close to acknowledge how you have filled it with blessings.  To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed in our land, we say thanks.  Forgive us when we are prone to forget the source from which they come.  We ask that our watchful and providential God penetrate and soften our indifferent hearts.  Remind us no mortal hand is capable of bestowing upon us the gracious gifts of the Most High God; who deals with our sin with unending mercy.  So tonight, we solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledge with one heart and one voice our gratitude for these gifts from above.

We ask our gratitude be a unifying force, which acknowledges the harmony of your ways.  We ask our gratitude be expressed in service to others; particularly toward those who have less in our community.  We ask now you receive our grateful praise in our worship and empower us with your Holy Spirit, so the name of Christ whom is the source of the best gift be carried from this place.  This is our prayer we ask in the name of the one who loves us most, Jesus Christ and the whole congregation says: Amen!

Published in: on November 21, 2010 at 6:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Are We Called to be Insurrectionists?

Christ entered the world as an insurgent who migrated across borders to avoid captured; tested the institutional leaders as a man/child; called for the “Year of the Jubilee” in his first sermon; buoyed the hopes of עם הארץ (people of the land); became a threat to authorities; was charged with insurrection; died as a criminal; left behind an effective network; and lives in the hearts of his followers, who are assured Christ’s kingdom will be manifested here on earth as it is in the heavenly places.

Published in: on November 18, 2010 at 3:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Variation on Sisters and Brothers

Dear sisters and brothers:

Holidays and family gatherings are synonymous.  The Thanksgiving table and the Christmas tree bring families together like no other dates on the calendar.  Families who are blessed with the ability gather on these days will express gratitude for each other.  This is a gift no person should take for granted.

There are those who will not be able to be with family during these times for a variety of reasons-distance, discord, death, etc.  They will look elsewhere to create family during this season.  We can thank God that there are so many creative ways to find family during the holidays.

The coming holy days initiated my thoughts concerning church family.  I recall being in churches where everyone called each other brother this or sister that.  It is likely if this was your custom you probably grew up poor.  Once people get money they like to be known by their family name in church.

The reason churches called each other Sister Gladys and Brother Herb was to remind them that flesh and blood does not inherit the kingdom of God.  Nobody gets to take a last name to heaven.  The family of destiny takes precedence over the family of origin.  It is difficult orienting life in this way because it interrupts our familiar familial ways.

We all know spiritual sisters and brothers whom we need to make room for at our table during these seasons.  Imagine how much a new family member might add to the festivities.  Brother Juan or Sister Imogene might just be just what the family needs.

Our big brother Jesus is adamant there will always be room at the kingdom table and enough spiritual grace to go around for all.  Also, a new addition to the family gives another reason to bow our heads and offer thanks to our Heavenly Father for the gift of all our sisters and brothers.

Time for me to get busy setting the family table,

Russell

Published in: on November 15, 2010 at 11:23 am  Leave a Comment  

Spending a Lot of Time with Family Lately

If you grew up in a church where everyone was brother this or sister that you were probably poor. Once people get money they like to be known by their family name in church.

Churches call each other Sister Gladys and Brother George to remind themselves that flesh and blood does not inherit the kingdom of God. Nobody gets to take a last name to heaven. The family of destiny takes precedence over the family of origin. It is difficult orienting life in this way.

I have just spent some intense hours with my family in the hospital learning my mother has more cancer. We clinged to each other as we processed the news. Now it is Sunday and off to be with the church family even though I would like to be with mom. This morning I will just need cling to sister Martha and Brother John and others as we commune with our big brother Jesus.

Off to spend some time with family.

Published in: on November 14, 2010 at 6:51 am  Comments (1)  

Richard Rohr Thoughts on Adult Christianity

Father Rohr captures the state of the Body of Christ. I share his thoughts because they capture my thoughts in words I am still trying to form.

“For most of the people I meet, the only way to get over the hump to the second half of life is some kind of suffering. Nothing else is strong enough to force us to let go of our ego structures and our old wineskins. We’re not ready at age twenty, although there are exceptions (like kids with cancer).

Some of our private salvation project has to fall apart and disappoint us. At that point the temptation is to go back and do the tasks of the first half of life with even greater diligence.

Organized Christianity in its Sunday form tends to encourage people to do the tasks of the first half of life over and over again (firming up the container instead of getting to the contents). The clergy do not question this because the container is what gives us a job. But it is also why many people become disillusioned by midlife, and also why we have the constant phenomenon of groups emerging on the side, like religious orders, hermits, and prayer and service groups where people actually try to live the message.”

Tuning my ears to hear!

Adapted from Adult Christianity and How to Get There CD

Published in: on November 11, 2010 at 8:09 am  Leave a Comment  

Saints are Made not Born!

I have been thinking through this season how saints are not paragons of virtue.  I am starting to pay attention to their imperfect lives; their odd and quirky ways.  Most saints are real characters, which gives me hope.  James and John were constantly jockeying for power next to Jesus.  All the disciples denied Jesus in his moment of need, most famously Peter.  Jesus restored them to leadership of the church in his name.  We call them saints because Jesus gave them time.  I pray I can give others and myself the same grace of time to develop the character of saints.

So, we speak of saints becoming something other than what we consider normal; something they weren’t when they were born.  This says something to me about how we develop a second nature, a Christ like nature.  A nature that begins when we are born anew and then mature as we grow up by using well practiced kingdom come behaviors.

I am thinking about persevering until I get it right.  I am working on doing the little things, so when the big moment comes, if it ever does, I may do the right thing-like love neighbor as myself or even love on an enemy.  In that sense, saints are made, not born.

Published in: on November 8, 2010 at 7:31 pm  Comments (1)