Is Your Congregation Struggling to Survive?

Crucifixion Picture

Many congregations are moving through challenging times these days.

Immediately after World War II, the “builders” got to work; and church buildings, some of them quite large, popped up everywhere. Many church buildings were filled to capacity in the 1950’s and some congregations even needed to put chairs in the aisles on special occasions. But, as we moved into the 1960’s and 1970’s, things began to change. People became suspicious of institutions of every kind. But, even in the 1980’s and 1990’s, many church buildings were still almost full because the “builders” kept coming to worship and were incredibly faithful in both their attendance and financial support.

But things continued to change. The “builders” began to age and even die. Congregations began to see worship attendance falling and budget deficits rising. And congregations began to respond to that change in two different ways: (1) Some congregations turned inward and chopped away at their ministry to save money, and (2) Other congregations turned to God in prayer, sought spiritual renewal, and searched for new and exciting ways to engage in mission and ministry.

In the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, we meet two very different men.

One of the men hanging on a cross beside Jesus cried out in desperation saying: “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.” This was a cry for survival. Maybe the man on the cross was asking for one more day to make amends with those he had hurt. Maybe he wanted to live for another month, another year, or even another decade. But, what we do know is that this man’s desperate plea for survival wasn’t answered. He didn’t get what he wanted; and, perhaps, he even died in sad desperation. But, this shouldn’t really be a surprise. Didn’t Jesus once say that those who try to save their own lives are going to lose them? (Matthew 16:25)

But, the other man who was hanging on the cross beside Jesus did something very different. He began by confessing that he had gotten himself into a pickle; and that, in some ways, he was only reaping what he had sowed. And then, in a moment of faith, he turned to Jesus and said, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Here, we have a man of faith. This man, who cried out to Jesus in the same desperate situation said, “Jesus, please take me wherever You want to take me.” He entrusted everything to Jesus alone. And, in that moment of faith, he heard a promise: “I will remember you,” Jesus says, “and you will be with me in Paradise.” And those words shouldn’t surprise us either. Didn’t Jesus tells us that those who give up their life for His sake and who trust in Him alone are going to find it? (Matthew 10:39) Didn’t Jesus also tell us that He was going to build the Church and that even the gates of Hell would not prevail against it? (Matthew 16:17-19)

Moses once told the people of Israel: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.” (Deuteronomy 30:15) And the story of Jesus’ crucifixion does the very same thing.

Congregations that turn inward and try to “survive” by chopping away at their ministries to save money are choosing a perilous path that often leads to death. Congregations that seek renewal through prayer and daily devotion and that entrust their futures to Jesus, in difficult times, often find new life and exciting opportunities to share the love of Jesus with others because renewal often brings a deeper sense of God’s guiding hand in life and in the ministry of the Church.

Jesus has clearly told us that He has something special planned for us, and that He’s going to carry us into better days and into a future that’s going to be far better than any of us can imagine in our wildest dreams.

And that leaves us, our congregations, and even the whole Church with a question that needs to be answered: Do we want to fight to survive for another year or even another decade, or do we want to follow Jesus into a future where our ministry will continue to grow and thrive even in challenging times? The choice is ours.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Holy Moments – Holy Lives

End of World

Our lives consist of many moments when ordinary life and the sacred connect.

Many Christians live their lives awaiting the return of Jesus Christ. We see nations rising against nations. We hear about earthquakes and famines and fatal illnesses and disease. This morning, I learned that the government of China has begun to arrest Muslims and remove them from society. We hear about children shooting each other in our schools. We see world leaders rattling their sabers in an effort in intimidate each other. I’ve even noticed that every time something happens, like a “Blood Moon,” people start saying that this is yet another “sign” that the End is near. And it all simply wears me out….

John the Baptizer proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is near to us. Reza Aslan, who wrote the book Zealot got it right when he said that the message of John the Baptizer was carried forward by a much more famous man named Jesus. In a world that’s filled with nations rising against nations, the Kingdom of God is near. In a world filled with bad news about earthquakes, famines, diseases and school shootings, the Kingdom of God is near. When your life is filled with abundant blessings, the Kingdom of God is near. And, the Kingdom of God is near when you climb out of bed, when you kiss someone that you love, when you’re afraid that you’re going to flunk a test, or when you lose someone who was dear to you.

Our lives consist of many moments when ordinary life and the sacred connect.

What would life look like if, instead of waiting around for Jesus to return, we went out into the world to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near? Maybe, realizing that God journeys with us each day, we could bear witness to the fact that the Kingdom of God is near by buying a child, whose family is struggling to make ends meet, a new winter coat – or maybe, we could proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near by visiting people and sending them encouraging messages when life is hard? Maybe we could proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near by not running away and hiding from people when we know that they need our help now more than ever? Maybe we could try harder to speak-out on behalf of people in our world who aren’t being heard by people who look at them as nothing more than a drain on society? Maybe, especially at the holidays approach, we could tell other people that the Kingdom of God is near by carrying light and love into dark places where people are grieving, fighting diseases, trying to escape from abusive relationships or fighting a battle with some kind of substance that’s taken over their lives?

One of the most important lessons that I’ve learned in my journey of faith is that every moment that I live is a “holy moment” when the Kingdom of God is near. And in those “holy moments,” God prepares me to go out into the world and tell other people about God’s love and to remind them that the Kingdom of God is near in every moment of their lives, too.

You see, it doesn’t really matter what day, or month, or year Jesus returns. It doesn’t matter if the End arrives before I have a chance to post this message, or if the End comes long after I’m dead and buried.

What matters is that I have the wonderful opportunity to live a life that’s full of times when God is near. What matters is that, in the “holy moments” when the Kingdom of God is near to me, God always points me back to people who believe that things are so bad in their lives that the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off.

When we realize that the Kingdom of God is near and that each moment of our lives is a “sacred time” when God is close to us, our walk of faith becomes more about learning to live faithfully in a world that can be pretty scary, rather than about waiting for some Day when Jesus will return to fix everything. When we realize that our lives are filled with “sacred moments” when the Kingdom of God is near, we have something to share with people – when their lives are going well and when their lives are falling apart.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

The Tree of Life Massacre – One Year Later

Yard Sign

It’s hard to believe that it’s been one year since the unconscionable slaughter of eleven innocent worshipers at the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill (a part of the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). I’m reminded of my first feeble attempt to “do something” and to “take a stand” after a senseless tragedy that left me both numb and speechless each time I see the sign in the front yard of my home.

We have been challenged to think and to reflect in the last year. Many of us have grown and have been changed as we took a more honest look at ourselves in the mirror and as we’ve wrestled with what we believe about other people. Faith leaders in the Pittsburgh area have traveled for many miles – coming from churches, mosques, synagogues and temples – to join in both open and honest conversations that have helped us to better understand each other and the faith traditions that we represent. God has been at work in our communities to challenge us, to soften our hearts, to open our ears and hearts to the voices of others, and to stretch both our patterns of thinking and faith.

The last year has, also, been a time when leaders and members of spiritual communities in Southwestern Pennsylvania have worked hand-in-hand to create a Statement that we, as leaders of different faith traditions, believe expresses the principles and beliefs that we can embrace together. I am providing a copy of this newly released Statement to you, and am hoping that you will take some time to read it, to reflect upon it and even to pray about it. We, as faith leaders in Southwestern Pennsylvania, believe that our faith traditions challenge us: to recognize the dignity and worth of those around us; to speak boldly and clearly against racial supremacy, demonization of those from other cultures and religions, and the violent acts that grow from those bitter roots; to stand in solidarity with minority and marginalized communities; and to repent from our own complicity in words and deeds that have expressed individual and systemic bigotry, racial and religious supremacy, and oppression.

We have committed ourselves to building more loving communities and neighborhoods that uplift the oneness of humanity and the worth of every individual, and that bind us to one another as moral neighbors in both trying and peaceful times even as we continue to both recognize and accept the fact that we believe many different things about both God and our world because of our different faith traditions.

I am now presenting this Statement to you hoping that you will take some time to read it, to ponder it, to pray about it, and to allow it to both challenge you and lead you toward the new kind of life that God calls us to embrace in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Living Faithfully with One Another

As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to interpret and draw guidance from sacred texts and traditions.

The sacred texts of the world religions all affirm the created dignity and worth of each individual and our sacred responsibility toward those in need. As we interpret our own sacred traditions in preaching, teaching, meditation or prayer, we will lift up these values.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak and act in support of the dignity and worth of each person.

With sacred texts and traditions as our guides, we reject the theories and rhetoric of racial supremacy, the demonization of those of other cultures and religions, and the violent acts which grow from these bitter roots. We embrace the right of all people to worship (or not to worship) according to the dictates of their own consciences, and we expect the government to respect this freedom.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak and act in solidarity with those in need.

We turn with compassion toward those in our midst who have the greatest cause for fear and insecurity. We stand in solidarity with all marginalized and minority communities, especially those who have been targets of injustice, discrimination, prejudice, and hate. When any of us are attacked in word or deed, we promise our support, help, and protection.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak truth to those in positions of power.

Our voices must be spoken and heard in public discourse. We seek to bring the perspectives of sacred traditions to bear in our shared public life. We call upon and remind elected, appointed, and professional leaders throughout our community to uphold and enforce the values of justice, fairness, nondiscrimination, and dignity.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to high standards of self-reflection.

We call upon ourselves, our faith communities, and our institutions to acknowledge and repent for complicity in words and deeds that express individual or systemic bigotry, racial or religious supremacy, and oppression. We are committed to growing in wisdom and inclusivity as we learn from one another.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to live abundantly, joyously and harmoniously with one another.

We will work resolutely to strengthen the ties that bind us to one another as moral neighbors in both trying and peaceful times. When and where we disagree in our understandings, we commit to acknowledge, listen to, and value the perspectives of others even as we respectfully present our differing opinions.

We covenant to create, expand and nurture a community of mutual support throughout Southwest Pennsylvania. Seeking Divine help and guidance, we commit to building the beloved community, a neighborhood of neighborhoods that lovingly uplifts the oneness of humanity and the worth of every individual.

October 3, 2019
Pittsburgh, PA

Do You Want to be Healed?

question mark

I suspect that we all have questions about healing.

We can all see the difference between those who appear to be healthy and those who are struggling with disease. Even little children can sense the distinction between justice and oppression. Almost all major religions try to speak a helpful word to those who struggle with human mortality and to point them to the hope of eternity. Today, we experience many gaps between where we live and experience life today and where God’s promised to take us in the future.

This week’s story is one of my favorite stories from the Bible.

Picture mighty Naaman, an “important” man who lived his life commanding others to do what he wanted them to do. Picture this same man carrying 750 pounds of silver and 150 pounds of gold across nearly 80 miles of untamed wilderness. And when Naaman gets to Elisha’s house, he expects something big to happen.

But we read that the prophet Elisha didn’t even come out of his house to meet Naaman.

And then, we hear this very human response from a man who expected the prophet to heal him. “I thought that FOR ME the prophet would surely come out!” Naaman says to those who were traveling with him. And, in those very human words, we can hear our own voices can’t we? Have you ever expected God to do something big and spectacular in your life? Have you ever asked God to ride onto the scene and heal a terminal disease, or give you something that you really wanted? Have you ever been disappointed because God didn’t do what you expected? That’s the beauty of this story.

We’re reminded, in the story of Naaman, that God doesn’t always bring healing into our lives in big and spectacular ways. God brings healing through the touch of doctors and nurses, and through the medications that we take. God sometimes brings healing into our live while we’re talking with a trusted friend, a professional counselor, or even a pastor. God fills us with strength and faith as we come to the Table to be forgiven and renewed by Bread and Wine – the Body and Blood of Jesus. God, sometimes, even helps us to bring healing into the lives of other people through the kindness, forgiveness and compassion that we extend to other people when they need it most.

At this end of this wonderful story, there’s a hidden gem!

Picture mighty Naaman, a commander of soldiers, walking down to the Jordan River to wash himself in the water. Naaman, undoubtedly, wore heavy armor. He wanted to look strong and ferocious in battle. He, also, wore his armor everywhere he went because a thick layer of armor also hides leprosy, doesn’t it? Can you imagine what would have happened if Naaman had just walked to the water – wearing armor? Can you imagine Naaman sinking like a rock as his armor dragged him to the bottom of the river?

As Naaman approached the Jordan, he needed to remove his armor didn’t he? Before Naaman could be healed, he needed to remove the armor that protected him from other soldiers in battle and from the eyes of those who would have been shocked when they saw his leprosy. And healing often begins in our lives when we do the same thing.

Sometimes, we need to remove the “masks” that we all wear before God can work in our lives to bring healing. How many times have you told people that you’re “fine” when you really weren’t? How many times have you carried burdens that you carefully concealed because you didn’t want other people to know what was happening in your life, or even in your family? Healing often begins when we become both honest and authentic with ourselves and other people. The “masks” that we wear aren’t always helpful.

Jesus once called us to come to Him when we’re heavy laden and nearly overcome. Jesus calls us gather with other Christians in a community of faith where we can be forgiven and strengthened, renewed and even healed.

What are you going to be doing this weekend? Perhaps, it’s time for you to push all of the busyness of life aside, for just a moment, and to find a precious place to rest with those who love you and who want what’s best for you? God’s calling you, right now, to set aside some time in the next few days; and to spend time with people who will strengthen, heal, renew, and help to make you whole again.

Please Click Here for This Week’s Message

Food for Your Soul

Bread and wine

Many people are watching what they eat these days.

Doctors tells us that we need to eat more fruits and vegetables. I suspect that most of us know that it’s not good to eat a slab of bacon every morning, or to make potato and corn chips a regular staple in our diets. But what are you feeding your soul?

A lot of people seem to be confused about what their souls need and a lot of churches are scrambling to provide what people want in larger portions. Many churches are focusing upon the marvels of technology, and they’re filling their services with flashing lights and loud music. Most pastors know that folks in their congregation want a service that lasts about an hour each week. Many pastors try to accommodate special events by trimming other parts of the service. And sadly, in an effort to provide what they think people are searching to find, many churches eliminate – or seldom celebrate – Holy Communion.

It’s easy for us to forget that we live our lives of faith from Meal to Meal to Meal.

At the Table of the Lord, God creates a space in our lives where company presidents and the people who work for them kneel beside each other. At the Table of the Lord, God creates a little “snippet in time” when people who are homeless and people who live in a mighty mansion are offered the exact same meal in the exact same portion. And then, God sends us back into a world where hundreds of people compete with each other every time a new job is posted. God sends us back into a world where people are not at all reluctant to push other people out of the way as they climb to the next rung of the corporate ladder. God sends us back into a world where people build their identity by defining life as “us versus them” – “insiders versus outsiders” – “people who are just like me versus people who simply aren’t.”

Living a life of faith isn’t easy. Living a “Kingdom Life” that bears testimony to the fact that God has given ALL of us value and worth and that lifts-up the fact that EVERYONE deserves to be honored and cherished as a Temple of the Holy Spirit isn’t easy in a world that’s built upon competition and getting ahead of other people. And that’s why the life of the Church is built around a Meal. The Bible tells us that, from the very start, the earliest Church was built around gatherings where people shared Bread and Wine.

God forgives us and renews us and strengthens us at the Table; and then, God sends us back into the world as people of faith. And, with a new set of eyes and with a heart that has been filled by the power of the Holy Spirit, God sends us into the world as people of faith who have been given a little glimpse of how the Kingdom of God really works and who are called to point other people in that direction. And when we grow weary, God brings us back to the Table to be forgiven and renewed and strengthened again. Jesus calls us to live our lives of faith from Meal to Meal to Meal.

You see, the Church is built and is sustained by the Meal. Holy Communion continues to be food for our souls in a world that’s so filled with consumerism and searching for the greener grass that many people are losing touch with what their souls are searching for in a world where life’s never easy.

Jesus continues to build His Church around a Meal that’s meant to strengthen us and give us a glimpse of God’s presence in the world. Holy Communion is a little “snippet in time” when Jesus provides a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

Let’s eat!

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Stronger Together!

something-new-graphic

I can’t think of any words that describe the last few months of our ministry at Christ’s Lutheran Church better than the words: “Stronger Together!” We’ve been devoting a lot of time to developing partnerships with other churches and organizations, and the seeds that we’ve planted have already sprouted and grown into fruit-bearing trees! God has been doing mighty things in our midst and we have some exciting stories about how God has been at work in our congregation to share with you today. So, here’s what’s been happening….

Flea Market

In June, our Social Ministry and Outreach Team sponsored yet another successful Flea Market that drew hundreds of people from our local community together. Many of our partners in ministry at Christ’s generously donated items that were sold, while other partners carefully sorted and priced the items before the “BIG DAY” arrived. We had partners who supplied baked good, other partners who cooked hot dogs and sold cold drinks. We had still other partners who worked on the day of the event collecting money from hundreds of people who arrived searching for their treasures, and yet others who packed-up what remained unsold at the end of the day. People who joined together as partners with a common cause raised more than $2,000 that will be used to support life-giving ministries throughout our community.

As the month of June drew to a close, it was time for the young people from Christ’s and their adult sponsors to travel to Lorain, Ohio for our long-anticipated Mission Trip! We spent a week digging holes, pounding nails, pouring cement, painting walls, talking with people that we’d never met, worshipping in a church building where we’d never been, reflecting upon our own journey of faith, and learning what it’s like to be more deeply engaged in mission. We learned that people don’t have to travel to a strange land to be a missionary – because Lorain, Ohio isn’t all that different than Murrysville, Pennsylvania. We learned that people who serve as missionaries often face tight budgets and don’t always have the money that they need to do the things that they want to do. We learned that when we are willing to step out of our own “comfort-zone” we can learn things about life and other people that we’d have never known it we didn’t do that. And we learned that, sometimes, there’s a difference between what people need us to do for them and what we want to do for them (I remember a conversation with one of the women we were serving who wanted the steps on her deck to be placed in a different location, so that it would be easier for her to bring her groceries into the house – and there was a little bit of angst because the “plans” that were drawn for her deck indicated that the steps were going to be built in a different location).

Mission Trip 2

Mission Trip

We had a lot of fun. We learned a lot about life. We had many opportunities to reflect upon our faith. And again, it was all made possible because of partnerships that were forged between people who joined hands. Many of our generous partners at Christ’s contributed the money that we needed, and a few of our partners worked tirelessly to bring it all together. NextStep Ministries forged connections that we couldn’t have built by ourselves in Lorain, Ohio; gathered the tools that we needed; identified the locations where we worked, secured the necessary permits, and prepared our meals. The Avon Lake Presbyterian Church provided a place where we could leave our belongings, shower at the end of the day, gather for meals and worship, and sleep (when I wasn’t blasting Podcasts in the sleeping quarters). Once again, partnerships bring explosive results and open new doors to life-changing ministry!

And then, before we even had a chance to unpack the suitcases that we had taken to Lorain, Ohio, it was time for another adventure with Vacation Bible School. Once again, an army of partners at Christ’s was raised and rallied – and kids, from our congregation and from our local community, came out of nowhere. We sang songs and played games. We talked about the wonderful world that God has created, had a blast working on crafts, and filled our bellies with snacks every day. We even had a surprise development this year! On Monday, it took me a little bit longer than I had anticipated to get to the Fellowship Hall to say the prayer before the snack. Well, on Tuesday, the kids decided that they were not going to sit around and wait for me. And so, one of the kids stood up and said, “I’ll say the prayer today!” And every day after that, one of the children stood up and volunteered to say the prayer before the snack was served. Awesome! Another display of partnership! A great team of people coming together with a common goal and purpose – making great things happen together!

VBS

Now this story’s a bit tricky (and we can’t share a picture because of confidentiality issues), but it’s a real gem! Last Spring, our Outreach and Social Ministry Team had an idea and decided that it would like to reach-out to people in our community who are presently living their lives in the role of a “caregiver.” As you know, being a caregiver is not easy and we, at Christ’s, don’t have the resources (or the expertise) that we need to be able to offer the kinds of support that caregivers both need and deserve. And so, once again, partnership became something for us to explore. Our Outreach and Social Ministry Team contacted the Westmoreland County Area Agency on Aging and discovered that the agency offers a 6-week class for caregivers called Powerful Tools for Caregivers. And Voila…! We were ready to move forward. But, then, there was another challenge. How could we work together to enable people who are caregivers to attend the classes, particularly if they are a sole caregiver who needs to stay with their loved-one nearly 24-hours each day? And we found the solution in yet another partnership with the United Way through its Open Your Heart to a Senior program. Well, I’m happy to report that these vital partnerships (another example of our ministry bringing people and organizations together) is working well. We have 12 people enrolled in the class (the maximum number of people who can be enrolled) and we have four more people on our waiting list – ready to attend our next class!

And finally, yet another exciting partnership is blossoming at Christ’s Lutheran Church! This summer, we formed a new partnership with the Northside Common Ministries – a ministry that is supplying food to people who are facing hunger and homelessness in our area. The Northside Common Ministries is devoted to taking meals to people in our area who are homeless. Meals are packaged and delivered to the distribution site; and then, they are hand-delivered to people who are homeless by people who are committed to reaching-out to children of God who are caught in a quite difficult situation. Together, we have supplied food containers and flatware. Several of our partners in ministry have joined in the distribution of meals. And a group of our partners in ministry gathered on August 10th to prepare 66 meals that were distributed to people facing homelessness later that evening. This wonderful new partnership is yet another example of the fact that we can do far more when we join hands with other people who share the same kind of hopes and dreams that we have for a better world.

Food Packers

And so, as you can see, it’s been a busy summer! It’s been a summer where we’re stretching our wings in some new ways, where we’re exploring some new types of ministry, and where we’re seeing God work through the power of partnerships that we have formed with other groups of people in our community. Please keep your eyes open as we move into the Fall and as we continue to share the stories of other things that we’re doing. There are so many different ways that you can be a part of what God’s doing at Christ’s Lutheran Church. And there’s a special place for everyone – including you!

While Journeying to Paradise

ZZZ - Psalm Intro and Response

Christians talk a lot about Paradise.

We look forward to the day when the New Jerusalem will come down out of Heaven and when God will, personally, wipe the tears from our eyes. We long for the Day when there will no longer be any pain and suffering, mourning and sorrow,  or crying and grief. And we, sometimes, disagree about how that Great Day will come. Some folks invest a lot of time and money reminding people of the Day of Christ’s return. Others speak of God’s Kingdom in the world today – slowly transforming everything into what God wants it to be. And, of course, in the last few weeks, we’ve been focusing upon “Olam Haba” – “What our world is yet to be” – while keeping in mind that the words “Olam Haba” don’t appear in the Bible even though the concept has been discussed and debated by the rabbis and theologians in the Christian tradition for thousands of years.

We look forward to the Great Day when the promises of Christ will be fulfilled; but we, also, need to live in the world today. So let’s keep things practical in the same way that the writer of Psalm 15 did so many years ago.

The writer of Psalm 15 begins by reminding us that we are sojourners – travelers – who are moving from one place to another. The psalmist reminds us of the days when the people of Israel worshiped God in a tent that was located in the Wilderness. The psalmist then goes on to speak of the days when God’s people worshiped in the Temple – before it was flattened like a pancake by the Babylonians and then, again, by the Romans. But, much to our surprise, the psalmist doesn’t write about cultic practices and about how we should worship as we travel from “where we are right now” to “where God wants us to be in the future.” In fact, the rabbis even warn us against using Psalm 15 as an “Entrance Quiz” to determine “who is welcome” and “who is not welcome” as we gather in worship.

And so, how do we live as we are journey toward Paradise?

The psalmist is clear. “Do what’s right and speak truthfully from you heart.” “Tame your tongue and use words to build people up.” “Be a person whose life is clearly marked with honesty and integrity.” “Live your life with a spark of hope in your heart and honor other people by treating them fairly in a world that’s often marked by heartless attitudes.”

Have you ever though about why God put you on the earth?

How would your life and your relationships with others change if you focused upon the fact that you’ve been put on the earth to learn how to love?

The promise of “Olam Haba” continues to point toward better days. The vision of “what our world is yet to be” can ignite a spark of hope in our hearts and send us into the world as people who point other folks toward the light at the end of the tunnel in a world that’s often both challenging and cruel. And isn’t that what Christian ministry is all about? Isn’t Christian ministry about going into the world and doing God’s work with our own hands – after we’ve captured a vision of “Olam Haba” – “What our world is yet to be” – in times of prayer and worship?

Click Here for this Week’s Message

 

עולם הבא

ZZZ - Psalm Intro and Response

In the coming weeks, we will be using the Hebrew words: Olam HaBa. Olam HaBa, which can be translated as “what the world is yet to be,” lifts-up images of hope and of what life and the world will be like when God’s final plan for the Creation is complete.

Olam HaBa is widely discussed by theologians. Some speak of Olam HaBa as the time when those who will be resurrected and those who will not share in the “world to come” will be separated. Others speak of Olam Haba as a time of radical transformation—as a time when single grapes will produce enough wine to fill a flagon, when trees produce fruit one month after they are planted, and when God’s people will be known throughout the world as the producers of the finest grain and wool. Olam HaBa is the fulfillment of God’s promised Messianic Age.

But we can’t fully enjoy (or understand) Olam HaBa because it doesn’t exist yet–and that’s what this week’s message  is all about. Olam Haba is still in the future. Think of the day when God will personally dry your tears, and when all of your suffering and pain will come to an end. Think about a Great Day when every type of suffering and sorrow and mourning will come to an end. The words “Olam HaBa” don’t appear in the Bible; however, John of Patmos captures the essence of Olam HaBa when he writes:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” ~ Revelation 21:1-5a

Do you know a child who’s grieving?

Waterbugs

The loss of a loved-one can be devastating to a child.

Some children travel through many years of their lives without experiencing the death of someone that they know. I wasn’t so lucky. One of my grandmothers died when I was four. Less than three years later, I lost one of my grandfathers – and two years after that, I lost my other grandfather.

It’s not easy to talk with children about death.

Children can have as many questions about death as we do. What happens to people when they die? Can grandma still see me even though she’s buried in the ground? Why does mommy cry so much, and why does daddy tell me to just leave her alone? Am I supposed to cry like everyone else? Am I going to die when I go to sleep tonight?

I have used Water Bugs and Dragonflies as a tool for many years. It’s a well-written story, and it’s a wonderful resource that can help adults to speak to grieving children. And now, it’s even available in an incredibly helpful coloring-book format!

If you know a child who’s struggling to make sense of the death of a loved-one, you may want to get a copy of Water Bugs and Dragonflies and spend some time reading a story, coloring, and talking about one of the hardest parts of life that we’ll ever face. 

Hatred will not Win!

Pitts Pic

John 11:32-44

I was as stunned and as saddened by last weekend’s senseless massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh as you were.

I don’t understand the hatred that led to the tragedy; and I don’t understand the racism, bigotry and narrow-minded thinking that led to the senseless killing of eleven innocent people. I spent some time with Jews and Muslims and Hindus and other Christians at Temple David in Monroeville, Pennsylvania last weekend because I needed to witness people coming together as a “community,” and because I wanted to be a part of a small gathering of people who are committed to the fact that hatred will not win.

Hatred descends upon us like a thick and suffocating blanket. Hatred isolates us from other people. Hatred turns off the lights and leaves us in darkness. Hatred makes our hearts cold and angry and bitter toward people that we don’t even know.

We celebrate the Festival of All Saints as a “holy time” in our journey of faith. We take time to remember people that we’ve loved and lost, and we tell stories about their lives (sometimes with a sense of heaviness in our hearts). We remember those whom we have loved and lost through the years and we stand beside people who have experienced the same kinds of loss that we have. And, just like in the short story of Lazarus’ death and raising, Jesus draws near to weep and to comfort us. Jesus brings the “living presence of God” near to us as He dries the tears in our eyes and bears testimony to the fact that even in times of sorrow and loss, God is at work to do something new. John of Patmos bears testimony to the God who is active and re-creating everything in our lives and in the entire Creation (Revelation 21:1-6a). John talks about God dwelling with us and wiping the tears from our eyes. John speaks of a day when death and mourning and crying and pain will be no more. John of Patmos echoes the great promise of the prophet Isaiah who proclaimed, “God will destroy on this mountain the suffocating shroud that’s spread over all people, and God will swallow-up death forever.” (Isaiah 25:7-8)

“Hatred will not Win!” Christians proclaim that God’s at work to re-create the world all around us; and God’s at work to bring an end to the types of racism, bigotry and narrow-minded thinking that can end the lives of innocent people. Christians stand together in the shadow of a Cross where God binds people together and welcomes everybody with a warm embrace. Christians understand that, when God’s at work, the world that we share can begin to change and people really can stop killing other people simply because they see them as people who are “different” in some way. Christians are called to stand beside our brothers and sisters in the Jewish community and to cry with them as they mourn – always carrying in our hearts the promise of the great peace that we crave in solidarity, and clinging to the fact that the great peace that we desire for ourselves and for those who come after us will come – and, as Julian of Norwich once said, “All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”

I don’t understand the hatred that led to last weekend’s tragedy. I don’t understand the kinds of racism, bigotry and narrow-minded thinking that led to the deaths of Bernice, Sylvan, Melvin, Daniel, Irving, Rose, Jerry, Joyce, Richard, Cecil and David. But I do know that the powers of good will prevail as long as Jews and Muslims and Christians and Hindus continue to come together and promise each other that hatred will not be allowed to win. The powers of good and of God will prevail as long as we allow God to draw us together into a “community” where what binds us together is stronger than what tears us apart.

But, now is a time to stop – to weep with those who are weeping – and to offer our love and full support to those whose lives have been changed in an unspeakable way.

May God’s peace be with you!

Always remember that, even in the face of tragedy, God is at work to re-create what we see all around us as we stand beside each other and share each other’s pain, and as we open our lives to God’s healing power that continues to work in our lives and in the world.