“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)
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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.
Election season brings to mind an experience. While in college I served on the Student Government Association as senator for two years and finally elected president during my senior year.
So much of what we read and preach about Easter has become too practiced or rote. It is not that we don’t believe what we say, or even that we don’t have emotional attachment to what we are saying, but rather that it has become a distant truth. We have connected it to a one time event in the chronicle of Christ, and we are “preaching to the choir,” those who already agree with us.
My first calling was to a congregation who were very strong in their faith — and in their opinions. One such parishioner was a retired surgeon, of great personal wealth, who had been extremely well respected, and feared, in the health care community.
When my father died I was devastated. I was relatively young, as was he, and we were close — even though my parents were divorced and I lived with my mother in another community. The loss was enough to cause me to register shock. One of my coping devices is to compartmentalize, which I did in this case. As a result, I did not have to deal with my emotions until much later.
I have been overweight most of my life, with periodic bouts of relative thinness. The unfairness of being overweight, for me at least, is that there is no way to hide the excess — it’s out there for everyone to see. Most people’s over indulgences, or “issues,” can be hidden or masked, not so when you are overweight.
During a recent period of snow and ice I announced to my family on Saturday morning I was driving to the church to check on how clear the sidewalks and entryways were, and to see what needed to be done for Sunday. My youngest son, Walter, who is not old enough to have the teenage loathing of traveling five minutes with a parent, said, “I want to go!” Happily, I said “Sure, come on…”
As a little boy I would think in terms of the future, often to the exclusion of the present. Of course, children and young people think they have forever to live… No different than my friends, I was always looking forward to something that was days or weeks away. Saying things like; “I can’t wait until Christmas,” or “until my birthday,” and the universal, “I can’t wait until school is out!”
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