Month: April 2014

Seeing Through Tears: Easter Sermon on John 20:1-18

iStock_000008712641SmallWhen does Easter happen this year?

It’s a question we ask every year – will Easter come early or late? Will it fall on Spring Break or after the snow birds return from their winter condos. Will it interfere with March madness or final exams?

When does Easter happen this year?

From an lunar perspective, the answer is: Easter always falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. Easter is set by the moon and always coincides with the greening of the earth. When the sap rises from the dormant trees and the crocus’ emerge from the hard earth. When life overcomes death, Easter happens.

When does Easter happen this year?

It’s a question that suggests something of the future… which is ironic when we often we think of Easter as a moment in history…as a recorded event that happened long ago to one person-Jesus. We tend to think of the Resurrection as a day in history that we are commemorating. Like a Birthday, or an anniversary. We Easter as something that happened. But, what if we thought of the Resurrection that something about to happen? What if the miracle of the resurrection was that Jesus appeared to us even today – would you believe it if we saw it?

Would we recognize Jesus if he appeared before us today? Seeing that none of us were alive back then, it’s doubtful we would know him by looking at him. But Mary Magdelene knew him. – Surely she would recognize him. She ate with him and learned from him but even she didn’t recognize him on that Sunday morning. Her eyes were too filled with tears and her mind was too distracted with grief.

In the early dawn, as the birds began to sing, before the sun began to emerge over the horizon she walked in the cool of the morning to the place he had been buried. Her eyes stung after a night of weeping, her head pounded from wailing, after she saw him take his final breath, and her body ached for his. At last dawn has come after a night of not sleeping. It felt good to do something…to have a job, a way to make things better, some how. So she gathered the oils and spices and walked in the cool morning where his body lay….. Where his body lay…. Could this be happening? She saw with her own eyes his suffering and death and yet she still could not believe he was truly gone. He was everything to her. He was everything to so many. So many people believed in him and now it was over.

And what good came out of it? Really? Was all of this in vein? Just pretend happiness? The least she could do is pay respect to him in his burial to thank him for what he gave her.

So she walked on.

Even from a distance she could sense that something wasn’t right. Something just didn’t look right – the stone…the stone was moved. Oh God, what have they done?

Can you imagine the desperation.. no, no, no, this is not happening. This is not fair. First they kill him. Then they take him. It must have been like watching him die twice.
Even angels could not soften her weeping. They were there when she worked up her nerve to look inside the tomb, sitting where he had lain. “Why are you weeping?” they asked her.

“Why am I weeping?” “Why I am weeping?!”

“Seriously, you have the nerve to ask why I am weeping?”

Have you ever been incensed with someone’s cluelessness? You have just lost someone you love? Someone who you shared breakfast with, shared Christmas with, shared your life story with and they are gone and the world keeps happening? The mail still comes and the grocery stores are still open and your world has fallen apart and you cannot stop crying. All you see before you are clouded tears, and someone has the nerve to ask you “why you are crying?”

Mary is kinder than I would be. “They have taken away my Lord,” she answered them, “and I do not know where they have laid him.” Mary doesn’t stop and interview them, inquiring why they may be sitting in a tomb… how terrifying. She seems sort of oblivious to the fact that she has just spoken to angels. It’s like she doesn’t see them. That happens when we have lost our faith – we can’t see anything but despair.
She turns around and is startled again. Another man stands there and asks, “Woman, why are you weeping and what are you looking for?”

Mary doesn’t answer the question. She wants answers, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.”

I love that about Mary. She thinks she can make everything all better on her own. “Mary,” he said to her, and she turned to stare at him. Mary does not see Jesus, until she hears him speak her name.
The very thing she is looking for is right in front of her, if she can just see through her tears.
And once he says her name, she recognizes him, “Rabbouni!” she cried out. “My Teacher!” “Do not hold on to me,” he cautioned her, “because I have not yet ascended to the Father.”

It is interesting that Jesus is concerned about her holding him, when there is no evidence that she was about to embrace him. Could he mean, instead of literally holding him, he means holding him back? Holding him back from where he needed to go? He was on his way, you see. And Mary must be on her way too. He says, don’t stand here and hold me, but go and tell others that I am going to my Father. And here’s the powerful part of this story. The part that gets me every time. Mary walks away from Jesus, the very one for whom she sought and grieved over, she walks away from him, she doesn’t ask for one more day with him, they don’t sit on a rock and chat, she doesn’t even fall to her knees and worship him. Rather, with this amazing faith and resiliency, she lets him go. She turns and walks away, her heart beating with tremendous joy. Through her tears she has seen the face of God.
Easter has happened.

When is Easter going to happen for us this year?

Here’s the thing about Easter. It is not made out of sugar and bunnies. It’s not plastic and it’s not pretend. We can’t pretend we live in a world we don’t live in. Cancer happens. War happens. Violence happens. Injustice happens. Loss happens. And sometimes our eyes can be so clouded by loss and wanting to control what’s happening to us and to our loved ones, that we miss angels standing right in front of us and Jesus asking us what is we are looking for, and calling us by name.

If you were to turn around this Easter morning, and find a familiar but unrecognizable face asking you what it is you were looking for, what would you say? Would you recognize the Lord if he stood before you this morning?
Would you see him?

Can you see him through your tears? Will you be brave enough to turn walk away and tell others that you have seen him?

Easter happens every time you find hope in despair. Every time you find joy instead of fear. Every time you experience healing instead of pain. Easter is not a day we remember. It is a day we live into.
Jesus says to us today, I will be there in your future. There is no tragedy so great that I cannot in some way redeem it, and there is no personal loss so profound that I cannot overcome it, and there is no pain so deep that I cannot bear it with you, and there is no cause so hopeless that I cannot redeem it. When does Easter happen this year? It happens when we see differently that which is already in front of us. That Jesus has gone before us, a head of us, and we cannot hold him back. He’s right out front redeeming, overcoming, enduring, loving. There is no tragedy that Christ cannot redeem. There is no loss that Christ cannot overcome. No cause so hopeless that Christ cannot energize his people to devote themselves and his kingdom earth.

When does Easter happen this year?

It happens every day, every morning you wake up and realize that you are known by name. And that you are not walking towards death, but life. When you see the future in a different way and realize that you do not need to hold on to the past so tightly, because Jesus is holding you. He has walked before you, gone on ahead. He is not here. His is risen. – Now Go. And tell the others .

Thanks be to God.


The Waves of Shema

beach at night

Often my prayer is like the famous Thomas Merton prayer in which he says something like, “Dear God, I have no idea where I am going, or if what I am doing is pleasing to you, but I believe that my desire to please you, does please you.” I have always taken comfort in the fact that a monk as holy and spiritual as Thomas Merton felt lost some times in his relationship with God.

The other night I walked along a white sand beach, listening to the rise and fall of the purple waves, as the orange sun sank into the ocean. Meditating on the grand body of water put the daily realities of taxes, calendars and responsibilities in perspective. I know writers have made fun of those “spiritual but not religious” folks who see God in the sunsets, accusing them of being cliché, and I admit it is cliché, but man, there is a reason the cliché is there. There is something about walking into a sunset that reminds you of your mortality and the Presence of One bigger than your problems. Maybe for those who are “spiritual but not religious” a sunset is the closest they have ever felt to the Divine. I’m o.k. with that.

dad's sunset

On this particular night of evening prayer, as I was talking to God, I realized that I was doing all of the talking. Like a bad date, I was not giving any time for my partner to join in the conversation.

I closed my eyes and listened, asking God to give me word. “Dear God, what do you want from me?” I asked. Eventually the word the came.

“Shema. Shema. Shema.” The waves seemed to whisper it. “She…ma…”

The Shema is the ancient prayer of the Jewish faith found in Deuteronomy 6. Like the constancy of the waves, this prayer should be a constant in our rising and in our resting.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.
Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.

Barukh sheim k’vod malkhuto l’olam va’ed.
Blessed be the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.

V’ahav’ta eit Adonai Elohekha b’khol l’vav’kha uv’khol naf’sh’kha uv’khol m’odekha.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

V’hayu had’varim ha’eileh asher anokhi m’tzav’kha hayom al l’vavekha.
And these words that I command you today shall be in your heart.

V’shinan’tam l’vanekha v’dibar’ta bam
And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and you shall speak of them

b’shiv’t’kha b’veitekha uv’lekh’t’kha vaderekh uv’shakh’b’kha uv’kumekha
when you sit at home, and when you walk along the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.

Uk’shar’tam l’ot al yadekha v’hayu l’totafot bein einekha.
And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.

Ukh’tav’tam al m’zuzot beitekha uvish’arekha.
And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Someone once said, “Sometimes the earnest seeker looking for God is closer to the kingdom than all the scribes put together.”

Dear God, what do you want from me?

Hear Me! Let’s just start there. Be quiet. Listen.

You are blessed – Have you forgotten?

Command. I have given you commandments – laws to give you parameters, not because I’m a stick in the mud, but because I want you to live.

Love. If you put your love for me before all other things and people, then your love for them will be in balance. Love me above all and you will love all as you should.

Teach. You don’t learn this by osmosis. Teach by example. Teach by listening to your children as I listen to you.

Sit and Walk. Lie Down and Rise. You’re busy. You have a rhythm in your day. I am with you in that rhythm. In everything you do, I am with you. Are you with me?

Bind. I’ve got you. You are hemmed in. I have my hand upon you. There is nowhere you can go that I am not with you. I’m with you to hell and back. You can’t cut me loose.

Write. Put a sticky note on the door. Don’t forget to look at it as you head out for the day. As you grab your lunch and your umbrella, remember, I am with you always, until the end of the age.

sun bird

Practicing Family

I tell my kids to practice a lot.Jackson

Practice Violin
Practice Piano
Practice Reading
Practice Breast Stroke, Diving, Freestyle, Butterfly, Flip Turns
Practice Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division
Practice Spelling
Practice Kicking, Catching, Throwing (whatever the sport season requires)
Practice Ballet

That’s a lot of practicing, and yes I realize how high maintenance this makes me sound, and how programmed my children are.

After a hellish winter that went on and on and on, and a fall that included the drama of moving and relocating to new schools, we are on our family’s first vacation in a very long time. We, and what appeared to be the rest of our Midwestern town, headed to the Coast.

As we drove bumper to bumper like birds desperate to head south to warmer climate and annoying little sports cars zipped around us arrogantly suggesting that their arrival time was more important than the rest of ours, the dialogue in the van went like this:

“That’s my seat”
“Move Over.”
“I don’t want to watch that movie.”
“You shut up.”
“No you shut up.”

“I have an idea,” I said, “Let’s practice kindness. You don’t actually have to be kind to each other. I mean I wouldn’t want you to pull a muscle or anything, but, just practice kindness.”

Eyes rolled faster than our idle tires.maclean

“Your feet stink.”
“Your breath stinks.”
“Your butt stinks.”

“Practice Kindness!” I sing in my Julie Andrews imitation from the front seat, turning up Frozen just a bit.

“Mo-om! He hit me.”
“No, I didn’t!”
“Yes, YOU DID!”
“Owe! Mo-om!



Twenty four hours later three kids are holding hands on their own accord laughing with each other and jumping waves. All electronics are off and we are sitting around the dinner table with familiar but often neglected friends, “The Old Maid,” “Uno” and “Checkers.” Sun tanned and wind-blown, with tired bodies and hungry stomachs, three kids are sharing the same seat, hip to hip, actually being kind to one another.

This is a moment. I know it won’t last forever. In a few minutes someone will do something that will annoy the other,but for a moment this feels like family.

It takes practice to be a family. Families don’t become families because the same people live under the same roof and eat food out of the same refrigerator.

Families become families because they tolerate each other on a different level than the other human beings they encounter ever day. We could never get away with treating our friends the way we treat our siblings.

Families become families when they yes, practice kindness, but also take time to be together. I don’t mean be together in the car on the way to a lesson, or to school.

I mean time together like 12 hour road trips and playing a game, or doing a puzzle or building a sand castle. It takes space and time to practice being a family. I know this sounds idyllic and maybe unrealistic. Life does not lend for this kind of time easily. I think they only way to get this time is to demand it. It requires saying “no” to other events and activities. It requires saving Friday nights just for the people with whom you share a home. It requires discipline – as most practicing does.

There are high demands on families today. Yes, we put that pressure on ourselves to be Disney World for our kids and give them all the opportunities they need, from camps, to lessons, to experiences. Maybe I’m out on my own here, but I don’t think so. I think many of us are working so hard and trying to make sure our kids are prepared for the world that we have forgotten that right now, today in this sacred moment, we are a family that needs to practice being a family. Here are some of the disciplines that are required in practice:

Families Share. They share their stuff. They share germs. They share space. They share a common story.

Families Listen. They listen when they would rather be heard. They listen when they are tired. They listen because every person has a voice and should be honored.

Families Trust, They trust that they are safe to express feelings, be vulnerable, fail, and be imperfect.

Families Celebrate. They give each other high fives and share successes. They are proud of each other and cheer each other on. They show up.

Sometimes we take advantage of the people in our lives we call “family.” We assume they will always be there and we can put off practicing being a family for another distraction. Until one day we look around we think, “what happened to my family? Why don’t we talk anymore? Where did they all go?” and we realize our family has been neglected and has become rusty.

It might take you a while to remember how to play. You might have to practice a lot to get the hang of it. You will play some bad notes and make some mistakes along the way. – Be kind to yourself – After all you haven’t practiced in a while. You may need to try different ways to practice to make sure everyone plays in ways that allows them to get their practice in. The more you discipline yourself to practice on a daily basis it will become easier, more melodic, less foreign. Never practice for perfection. Perfection is overrated and is a falsehood. Practice for the messy, funny, challenging, joy of it. There is no greater reward.