Years ago I watched a dark comedy starring Bert Reynolds. In it the character he was playing, feeling sorry for himself, decides to end his life. Going to a beach he dives in the water and swims far out into the ocean. As he swims he justifies to himself why he is taking his life, until he becomes exhausted, and unable to take another stroke he stops, sinking into the water to breathe his last.
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When I was young my grandparents would gather our family together in Nags Head, North Carolina. They would rent a cabin on the beach for two weeks - grandparents, parents, cousins, uncles, aunts, it constituted quite a household - but we loved it.
“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye [Matthew 7:1-5].” Similarly in Luke 6:37, we read: “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.”
After what has seemed to me a long, dark, and cold winter, I can finally see the hopeful signs of spring coming forth. All of creation around us — the trees, and bushes, the flowers, the grass — everything that seemed dead only days ago is springing to new life. Even the birds and animals seem to share in this Canticle of Resurrection.
“So that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. ” (1 Cor 12:25)
“But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” (James 3: 14 - 16).
I was given a gift. It was a mask made to look like some type of happy bovine-like creature with horns — colorful and exotic looking. The person who had given me the mask said she got it in New Orleans and that it was an antique from another country. I hung the mask in my apartment thinking it gave the air that I was an urbane man of the world.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” (Matt. 6:5, NIV)
There is a true story about the famous Violinist Joshua Bell. In an experiment initiated by The Washington Post, Bell donned a baseball cap and played a violin, valued at nearly $4 million, as an incognito street performer in Washington, D.C., Jan. 12, 2007.
A new year has begun, an old year has entered the history books, and I have most likely broken all the “resolutions” I made just a few days ago on the eve of 2015. Oh well, as I’ve often said, “there is always next year.”
Some of my earliest memories center on church services at Christ Church (Episcopal) in Pt. Pleasant, W.Va., and especially the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It was called the “Midnight Mass” not because, as one would think, it started at the strike of 12 a.m., but because the actual taking of Holy Communion, and the closing of the service, was around midnight.
The Season of Advent, which began Nov. 30, is the beginning of the Christian Calendar (Happy New Year!), and is understood to be a time of preparation for the celebration of Christmas, The Incarnation of God, “The Word made flesh.” It is likened by many to the Season of Lent, which prepares us for Easter and the Resurrection.
There is something about Thanksgiving Day that conjures up images of family, certain foods and a perfectly set table.
There is something poignant about “homecoming celebrations” — people who have been separated by time and distance or those who have simply grown apart, deciding to make the effort to come together and celebrate the relationships that were, often in the very places they were forged.
“Render unto Caesar” is the beginning of a phrase spoken by Jesus in the synoptic gospels.
The electricity was off for a few days following a storm and as time went on some were growing a little agitated about the situation. When the electric company’s truck finally made an appearance on our street, I went up to thank one of the men for coming to our aid. Before I got to him, an older lady came up, obviously angry, and said, “This is all the fault of those people,” pointing to a house with several tree limbs down around the yard - none touching the power lines.
It is difficult to love others as we love ourselves. Some of us may think we are not worthy of being loved, or are of no value, which can affect the way we look at others or consider their value.
I am not a morning person. I am up and about early because I have to be, but not pleasantly so…Taking my boys to school is an example. In a single parent home, I am charged with the duty of waking everyone up, getting baths, breakfasts, and whatever else, together. And it is never pretty. I yell and scream, threaten and cajole, and still barely make it on time.
Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, a well known Methodist preacher and teacher, offers an interesting look at misinterpretation and criticism:
Once, while going through a youthful crisis my father asked how I was holding up. I answered him, “Considering the problems many people have, I shouldn’t complain…” I went on to list a few examples of people with problems I perceived as being greater than my own.
My mother had a beautiful garden which graced her front lawn. There were exotic flowers and plants, along with miniature trees and bushes.
As young people growing up in a small town we often visited one another’s churches. While there was broad religious teaching in these mixed groups it was never doctrinaire nor used as a tool to proselytize.
As a clergyman, people often ask me if I am afraid to die, or, conversely, if I really believe all those things I say about death in sermons, particularly at funerals. To the first question the answer is no. However, the process of dying, and certain ways of dying, pain, and all the accoutrements of dying may bother me when I think upon the process of leaving this earth… I don’t want to die, because I am only learning to live more fully. I love life, family, friends, and the Church here on earth, most of all, I love God, and He gave me this life as a gift, so I cherish it. As to question two, do I really believe those things I say about death, the answer is a resounding yes!
I had a conversation with a man I admired. He was a judge on the bench many years. I felt he was a good Christian man.
I had an acquaintance I barely know who made very unsettling comments to me. This person sounded “nice,” as did the comments, but I know neither were intended to be taken as pleasant. I was meant to understand that I was being insulted, and affronted, and everyone else was supposed to understand the veiled ugliness of the exchange between us. Actually it was one-sided, I kept trying to understand where the anger was coming from, and was completely bewildered.
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