When we break this bread and drink this cup…

last supperLast Sunday we celebrated the Lord’s Supper.  As a pastor, facilitating the sacraments is one of the most important, meaningful things I do.  To stand at the font and baptize a person – to pour the water symbolizing dying to sin and rising with Christ is so powerful.  And to stand up and break the bread broken for us never fails to touch me.

Whatever you call it, Communion, the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist; and whatever your beliefs are about Christ’s presence, we can all share this.  Jesus gave us this special meal to celebrate with each other, and he is present with us in the breaking of the bread.  It is a very powerful, very connecting ritual of the church.

On Tuesday morning, during prayer time, I randomly opened the bible and landed at this passage: Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver.  From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over (Matthew 26:14-16).  This event immediately comes before the Last Supper, the institution of the holy meal of Communion.

Now I have read this countless times.  I have preached it, I have studied it.  But the significance never really struck me until this week – Jesus celebrated this meal, this special event, this sacrament while he was being betrayed by one of the 12.  He gave his apostles, and us this means of grace knowing that one would betray, one would deny and 11 would abandon him in just a few short hours and then he would be executed.

Often we experience betrayals in our lives.  It might be a close friend, or a fellow leader, or even a spouse.  We might have someone walk away from us during a time of need.  We might even be in a life threatening situation when someone abandons us.  And that hurts.  But can we, like Jesus, give grace in the middle of the turmoil?  Can we offer ourselves as a blessing to others even when we are in crisis?

The next time you eat the bread and drink the cup, remember his sacrifice and pray that God would show you how you can be a blessing to others even in the middle of life’s difficulties.

God Loves Us…Its True!

IMG_1214I never went to Vacation Bible School as a child. I did not even really know about VBS until I was an adult and my girlfriend (and now beloved wife) volunteered at her church. Naturally I was “roped” into service.

VBS brings up different thoughts in me. I always wonder if it does any good. Are we reaching children for Christ or are we just entertaining kids for a week? The truth is many of the children who attend our program are churched – they attend worship at various churches in the community, and attend some of the other VBS programs as well. But this year, as a group leader, I got to see a different perspective. While many of the children are members of a congregation, many are not always involved in real, solid Christian formation. They may attend church and Sunday school, but are they actually being nurtured? Are they an important part of the community of faith?

Being a group leader I had the opportunity to get to know some of the children from our community (and our own congregation) in a different way. I could interact with closer than during the children’s sermon. I had a chance to speak with them about faith and life. And I will admit my ego was boosted a bit when the Apostle Paul (one of our faithful VBS volunteers) asked the group who told them about Jesus and one of the boys answered “my pastor”!

One of the best things about VBS is the children themselves. They invited their friends to attend and hear about Christ’s love. It was important for some of them to get their friends to come. Imagine if the adults did the same thing for every Sunday service. We might actually reach some of those unchurched in our neighborhoods after all.

Four Funerals and a Wedding

Recently I was asked what I liked best about being a pastor. Now I was standing in a line of preachers about to process forward for an ordination service, so I did not have time to think, nor answer anything short of a “tweet”. I said something about seeing people in our community that the church has helped. And that is a true thing. Over the past few weeks I have seen people who attend our Shepherd’s Kitchen meal ministry, or people who the church has been able to help in various ways (physically and spiritually). And seeing them in public, in the “real world” so to speak is always nice. One family who benefited from our church’s willingness to help expressed their gratitude and told me some great things going on in their lives now.

But now that I have had a chance to ponder the question more, I think one of the best things about being a pastor is seeing the connections between what we do on Sunday morning and a person’s life the rest of the week. This is the eternal connection between God and us that we so need and desire. This is living in the “thin places” those places where the barrier between Heaven and Earth are thin – places where God’s presence is felt more powerfully.

During May and June, we had four deaths in the congregation. Two of them were an elderly couple who died within ten days of each other. It was a grueling couple of weeks. I gave up vacation time to tend to the families and prepare the services. Two of the funerals were held on the same weekend, so it was a very busy time. Our women’s group, (as always), was wonderful putting together funeral lunches and the entire church responded by checking in with the families and helping with the services. I am extremely grateful that our church still has people willing and able to help with funeral lunches.

Funeral services always have that air of sadness around them. Obviously people are grieving and hurting, but there is also a sense of celebration. We celebrate the lives of the deceased – we celebrate the lives of our loved ones. And we celebrate the resurrection – knowing that death is not the final answer to life. The word of God connects to people at funerals. Funerals are always at the thin places.

But during this time we also celebrated a marriage. I officiated at the wedding of a young couple in the church. And here is also where the word of God connects with people. As I delivered the sermon based on Paul’s “Love Passage” from First Corinthians 13, I stressed how the wedding day, while a happy day, is not the most joyful day of the marriage. That comes tomorrow (and the tomorrow after that and so on). Every day is an opportunity to love our spouse just a little bit more – loving them with the servant love of Jesus. And these words connected – even to a congregation where divorce has happened, where love did not last a lifetime, where pain still exists. But God’s word can penetrate that pain. His word always brings hope. And that hope was seen on the faces of those present at the wedding. Weddings are held in the thin places.

So, what do I like about being a pastor? Seeing the connections between each other, and most important, seeing the connections between God and humanity – seeing people at the thin places. May God bless you abundantly, and may you always sense the thin places around you.

Hitting the Wall

My Monday morning started off a bit different than most. Around 5 AM I woke up to a heavy rain storm. I tried to go back to sleep, but pretty much tossed and turned until the alarm went off. I shuffled downstairs and made the coffee for myself and tea for my wife. I read my morning scriptures and spent a little time in prayer. Then I sat down to the computer screen. Normally on Mondays, I get the scripture for the sermon into the document, do a lot of background studying, and then start to write. My writing process is one of free flow writing – I type everything that comes to mind and then start to sort it out. Sometimes I write a couple of different ideas down until one concept takes over. The left over items might get saved for a future sermon. Ultimately, by the end of Monday, I have the overarching idea of the sermon down and will hone it during the rest of the week in between visits, bible studies, meetings and administrative duties.

But this Monday was different. The ideas did not flow. The concepts never emerged. I wrote some stuff, but could not focus. I’ve hit a wall. It might be due to working almost every day over the past eight weeks. I might be hitting a wall because I just completed a sermon series. It might be lack of sleep. And it might just be a sign that my original plan for the sermon is not God’s plan for the sermon.

Preaching is hard work. Preachers try to help the congregation link the ancient scriptures to today’s lives so transformation may occur. And we never do this alone. We rely heavily on the Holy Spirit so that what we preach is more about God than our literary and oratory skills. And fortunately, the Holy Spirit has never failed me.

So where am I on the sermon? Well after some time of prayer and reflection, I gave up the scripture lesson I first planned and went with another. And while I am not as far on the work as other weeks, knowing that the Holy Spirit is working with me gives me great confidence that all will work out on Sunday. And the Holy Spirit will transform me in the process.

And that is why God is so great – He never abandons us, He always supports us, and will carry us when we have hit the wall. May God bless you abundantly this week.