Category Archives: Reflections on Ministry

Thoughts about Easter 7

The first reading for this coming Sunday.

Acts 1:6-14

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?  This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.  When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.  All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

This passage strikes me as a wonderful description of where we spend most of our lives – In Between.

We live In Between our baptism into Christ and the culmination of our hope.

We live In Between the promise of the reign of God and the fulfillment of that promise.

We live In Between “In the beginning” and the final “Amen.”

We live In Between the Alpha and the Omega.

The question for us is not, as the disciples tried to ask, when will all of this happen? When will we no longer be In Between?

The question is, How are we to live IN this “In Between”? How are we to live as people who have received a promise, but who have to wait for its fulfillment?

The disciples, for all their failures, get this one right. They gather, they pray, they support each other, they go through the In Between together.

One thing we might need to remember is that, even though Pentecost eventually came with all of its Spirit-driven hurricane-like impact, the disciples were still In Between. The Spirit came, but the church was still only “on the way.”  It had not arrived.  We still haven’t.

And that’s ok!

We are called to embrace the In Between.  Even as we have been embraced IN the In Between.

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Reflections on the end of a 9-day Life

I’ve just returned from the cemetery, at which I presided over the burial of a 9-day old baby boy.

The baby never had much of a chance at life; born 10 weeks premature with complications too many to count, he wasn’t supposed to last one day, let alone nine. But he was a fighter, who hung on for hours even after the machines were unplugged.

The feelings at the grave side were palpable: anger, unbelief, shock, anguish, hopelessness…. The whole spectrum.

Certainly expected. Completely understandable. The intensity itself was intense.

And the pastor, who is, after all, merely human, is touched by this intensity.

Then the fear and self-doubt sets in. ‘I’m supposed to speak some Word which will…, what? Make things better? Take the pain away? Make sense of it all? Give everyone hope and peace so they can get back to their lives and their jobs and their homes as if they just had a 24-hour bug? How the hell do I do that? Can I even do that?’

No.

And in that acknowledgment, there is direction, there is purpose for being here. The Pastor does have a Word to speak.

So we begin with honesty.

“The fact that we have to be here today is just wrong.”

The tears begin.

Not a bad thing. In fact, it means that this Word has spoken to their reality, brought the demon into the light and named it.

More truth. Might as well go into the deep water.

“And talking about a loving God who cares for all of us and doesn’t want us to suffer, can, in a situation like this, sound like a cruel joke.”

The religious demon needs to be named here, too. Too often the Church has not named this demon. Too often we have made Jesus into a kind of Zeus: all powerful, all controlling, capriciously deciding who lives and who dies, against whom we have no recourse but resignation and despair.

But the pastor is, quite intentionally, not a spokesperson for Zeus.

“Jesus said, ‘Let the kids come! Don’t get in their way. They are as much a part of the reign of God as anyone else.'”

This is the story that was read over the baby when he was baptized, still in the hospital, still connected to the machines, tubes still going everywhere, wearing a gown provided by the nurses.

This is the story that was read when it had become obvious that he was not going to make it; that he was, in fact, going to die.

And now it was being read as he was buried.

This Jesus, this Jesus who welcomed children, does not sit off in heaven making decisions about our lives. This Jesus comes to us, and suffers with us, and cries in hospital rooms, and moans at gravesides, and takes 9-day old babies and the baby’s parents and the baby’s grandparents and the baby’s aunts and uncles and the baby’s friends who never even met him, into his arms.

This Jesus says, to the baby, and to everyone here, ‘You are as much a part of God’s reign as anyone else.’

We belong to God, even here. With whatever feelings you have. Now or tomorrow. That’s the promise.”

The father lowers the ashes into the ground. Tears are shed.

“Our Father” is prayed. Tears are shed.

“God bless you all, now and always.” Tears are shed.

And Jesus took them, gathered them in his arms, and blessed them.

Blessed them all.

Including the Pastor.

And all of this through a 9-day life.

Amen.

A Day in the Life….

Spent this morning and early aft walking through the Court system with a family. After waiting interminably, the charges were finally dropped. Big sighs of relief all around!

What struck me as we waited (and waited and waited!), was how similar the process felt to going to the hospital.

– You go to a foreign-feeling institution through no choice of your own.

– The building itself is overwhelming, let alone the situation.

– You feel lost and alone. And afraid.

– People in uniform are walking around looking important (and also looking like they know what they are doing).

– There’s a lot of “Hurry up and wait” that takes place.

– All you have is your own story, and at that particular moment, that doesn’t feel anything like enough.

– Maybe you make small talk with whoever is around (friends, strangers, anyone who is nearby) just to pass the time, while you try to ignore the lead ball in your stomach.

– You want to go the washroom, or the cafeteria, or outside, but are afraid you’ll miss something if you do.

– You try to be optimistic, but you know that things can go either way.

– Your name is called, and you force yourself to go in.

– People are there who “know things,” either law or medicine, about which you haven’t got a clue. You are a stranger to them, yet they hold your life in their hands.

– You know in your head that the people around you are just “doing their job,” but your gut tells you that some of the people around you might not have your best interest at heart; they might have other priorities.

– Then, you are confronted by the “Important Person” (doctor or judge), who has a hideous amount of power over you.

– You are terrified to hear what the “Important Person” is going to say, yet know that your life can’t continue until you do.

– At the same time, the “Important Person” might say something which will change absolutely everything in ways you can’t even imagine.

– The only prayer you can pray is, “Please, God!”

– In this case, the “Important Person” said, “You are free to go.”

– The lead ball in your stomach begins to fade (slowly, though, because it took a while to form in there).

– You’ve been sitting all day, but suddenly you can’t stand.

– And yet, for now anyway, life can begin again.

And what was, and is, the humbling part for me is that I was allowed to walk through this valley with these people.

Every once is a while, as a pastor, you get to do what you thought you would be doing.