Namesakes

The sermon last Sunday at our church was about the first Christian Martyr, Stephen. (Acts 6-7). I have always been intrigued by this story because I share a name, but not the courage, with Stephen. True, I am “Steven” with a “v,” but that was not always the case. My birth certificate says I was originally named “Stephen” with a “ph.” I have often wondered why and when my name was changed to Steven, but I was never curious enough to inquire, and now that my parents and any other relatives who might know are dead it’s too late to find out.

I do know that there were several “Steven Allen’s” in my grade when I was in elementary school; so one hypothesis is that we were all named after Steve Allen, who was a popular entertainer and comedian back in 1940’s when I was born. There are no other Stephens or Stevens anywhere in our family tree that I know of; so that theory is as good as any.

I don’t remember when I first learned about Stephen, the Christian martyr. I do remember as a young boy thinking it would be really cool to die for Jesus. One of my early favorite hymns was “Onward Christian Soldiers.” I have long since abandoned a belief in a militaristic Christianity and have for many years known that it is much harder to live for Christ than to die for him. That is not to cast any aspersions on those who have the courage and faith to accept death rather than renounce their faith. In fact in today’s sermon I heard something in the Stephen story I don’t remember ever hearing before.

Acts 7:59-60 says, “While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.” Having that kind of compassion and grace literally under fire and in the final throes of death really blows m mind. In fact, one of my biggest regrets about my ministerial career is not having the courage to speak truth more clearly and emphatically than I did. It may just be an excuse, but one of the challenges professional clergypersons face is the conflict of interest between honest sharing of his or her interpretation of Scripture and theology while keeping those who pay her salary and often provide his housing satisfied enough to keep those salary payments coming. I have often felt like I sold my soul for a pension and a parsonage.

The job description for clergy itself contains the conundrum of how to be both prophetic and pastoral to a congregation at the same time. I have often likened it to patting someone on the back and kicking him in the butt at the same time. That requires a more mature faith and a skill set I am still trying to develop in retirement. I feel even worse when I see examples of colleagues who seem to do both of those ministerial functions far better than I ever have.

Part of my personal issue is being uncomfortable with conflict in any form. A case in point is that when I was in grad school in my mid 40’s studying rhetoric/persuasive discourse I wrote a paper entitled “They Shoot Prophets, Don’t They?“ As a child of the 1960’s I was all too familiar with assassinations in real time, in addition to such historical examples like Joan of Arc, Jesus, and Gandhi. That paper was an intellectual attempt that helped me articulate my theory of preaching, but it didn’t address my emotional fear of incurring the wrath of those who disagreed with me. Only twice in my 50 plus years of ministry did I have parishioners complain to my superiors about my social justice views. I’m embarrassed it wasn’t much more often.

The other thing about biblical names is that characters often get new names when they experience a life-changing encounter with God. Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah. Jacob becomes Israel, and Saul, witness to Stephen’s death, later becomes Paul. Maybe my parents did the opposite. Maybe they knew the story of Stephen the Martyr and wanted to save me from that fate by changing my name to make it a little less like his. Maybe if I had remained Stephen I would have had more faith and courage like the Stephen of Acts, We will never know, but what I do know is that the stories of brave witnesses to their faith and values and trust in the power we name Yahweh, Elohim, Abba or God is a call to all of us to emulate as much as we can that kind of courage and grace. And this too I know, when we come up short of that mark God, like Jesus and Stephen, offers us unconditional grace and forgiveness that empowers us to be a little braver and faithful the next time. Thanks be to God.

“Distracted Hospitality,” Luke 10:38-42

[I preached this sermon at an ecumenical vespers service at Wesley Glen Retirement Community in Columbus, Ohio, July 17, 2022]

Have you ever had someone drop in unexpectedly when your home wasn’t ready for company?  Tom, one of my clergy friends tells one of those stories that are funny when they’re over, but not so much as they unfold.  He and Elizabeth, his wife, lived in one of the tiny efficiency apartments on the campus of the Methodist Theological School.  They were one-bedroom apartments with a kitchenette that was half the size of a closet.  They were relaxing one Sunday afternoon when Tom got a call from his District Superintendent saying he and his wife were in the area and would like to stop in for a visit.  

When you are a Methodist in seminary you usually haven’t learned yet that it’s ok to say “no” to a District Superintendent because they are the people you depend on for a job when you get out of seminary.  So even though the apartment was a mess and the little kitchenette was stacked high with dirty dishes Tom said, “Sure, come on over.” When she heard that, Elizabeth went into a panic.  She said to Tom, “I haven’t showered yet; so since you invited them over you can deal with cleaning up the apartment.”

 Elizabeth took the fastest shower of her life and came out of the bathroom to find the District Superintendent and his wife chatting with Tom in the living room.  The apartment looked like a photo from “Better Homes and Gardens;” so the whole time they talked she was dying of curiosity about how Tom had pulled off such a miracle.  After a short visit their guests left, and as soon as they were out of earshot Elizabeth asked Tom what he had done with all the dirty dishes and other clutter?  He sheepishly led her into the kitchen and showed her where he had put all the dirty dishes – in the oven, refrigerator, and cupboards—and then to the closet where he had thrown all the magazine, books and things that had been on the tables, couch and chairs.  After a good laugh they started washing the dishes and reorganizing the books and magazines.

I don’t know if Martha and Mary were expecting Jesus in Luke’s account of his visit.  We can’t tell from these few verses, but I want you to notice something in the very first verse of that story.  We almost always list Mary first when talking about these two sisters.  Mary and Martha just flows of the tongue better than Martha and Mary, doesn’t it?  But when Luke describes this incident, notice that it is Martha who is named first.  She’s the one who invites Jesus into her home, and then we learn that she also has a sister named Mary.  

Mary gets Jesus’ praise at the end of the story because he says she chose “the better part,” namely to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his teaching, but I think Martha deserves some credit too.  Which role in this mini-drama would you choose?  If Jesus knocked on your door, would you sit and listen to his every word, or would you be like Martha scurrying around trying to be the hostess with the mostess?  After all it would be a real faux pas to not offer a guest some food or drink, and an even bigger no-no not to offer the very best hospitality to Jesus!

Mary reminds me of a song from “Fiddler on the Roof” where Tevye sings about what he would do if he were a rich man.  After listing the fancy house he would build and all the privileges of being wealthy, he says, “If I were rich, I’d have the time that I lack to sit in the synagogue and pray, and maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall. And I’d discuss the holy books with the learned men, several hours every day, and that would be the sweetest thing of all.”  But Martha shows up in that song too.  Tevye sings about Goldie, his wife, having all the servants she needs to cook and do other household chores, that is take care of hospitality.

A very dear friend of ours named Sonnie died earlier this year after a long illness.  Sonnie was a great cook, and one of the things I said about her at her funeral was that Sonnie never met a person she didn’t feed.  I especially miss her carrot cake, which was the best ever.  But hospitality is so much more than food and drink.  My wife and I visited Sonnie in the hospital early on in her illness. While we there two women whom Sonnie had recently welcomed into our church the first time they came to worship also came to visit Sonnie.  The fact that these two women became active members of our church might have happened anyway, but not nearly as quickly if Sonnie had not extended hospitality to them on that first Sunday.

After the two women left the hospital room I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that I asked Sonnie if she knew if the two women were a couple.  You need to know some history before you can appreciate Sonnie’s response.  She grew up on a farm in one of the most conservative counties in Ohio – wonderful people live there, I know, but for many of them their hospitality includes only those who look and think like they do.  So, I was a little shocked and very pleased when Sonnie responded to my question.  She said, “I don’t know if they are a couple or not, and it’s really none of my business.”  That’s real hospitality.

Like all biblical stories, we need to put the Martha and Mary story into the larger context of whole Gospel.  Even though Jesus says Mary has “chosen the better part,” he often himself provides the Martha-like hospitality to those who need it.  He makes water into wine at the wedding in Cana.  He feeds the 5000 when his disciples urge him to send the crowd away to McDonald’s; and that story also says there was enough food for the women and children in the crowd, namely those who had no standing in society.  Jesus included them all.  Robert Frost was once asked, “What is the ugliest word in the English language?” His response was “exclusion,” the polar opposite of hospitality. 

Extending hospitality to people we love is easy, at least most of the time, but both the Old Testament and Jesus tell us and show us a much more radical kind of hospitality.  Even the book of Leviticus, one of the most rigid and exclusionary books in the Bible, also includes some of the best words of hospitality.  Leviticus 19 includes these words often quoted by New Testament authors: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”  I still remember teaching a Bible study on that passage, and the good church folks in the class said, “But that doesn’t apply to us today does it?”  Oh, yes it does, and it is never clearer than Jesus telling us in Matthew 25 that how we treat the “least of these,” including the strangers/immigrants/foreigners, even those we label enemies, is how we treat Christ himself.

So, the bottom line about Martha and Mary is this, like so much in the Scriptures and in life, the choice between listening to Jesus and doing acts of hospitality is a false dichotomy.  It’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and.  The letter of James captures that perfectly when it says, “Faith without works is dead.”  We need times of prayer, Bible study, and worship, but sitting at Jesus’ feet is meant to help us have an attitude of radical hospitality toward everyone we meet. 

Now I know you all don’t have to do yard work or cook and clean anymore, and I’m jealous of that.  But it’s because Wesley Glen (a local retirement community) is a place of hospitality for all of you at whatever level of care and service you need.  But that doesn’t mean you can only be on the receiving end of hospitality.  How you treat the people who clean your rooms and those who prepare and serve your meals can either be hospitable or not.  The way you interact with people here who may be hard to love can be hospitality or it’s opposite. 

Now I know very well that kind of hospitality can be hard to do sometimes.  When my chronic back pain is really bad, or when I’m stressed or overwhelmed with things I need do, it’s all too easy to be anything but hospitable to people who move too slow in traffic or even in the grocery aisles.  That’s because I’m “distracted and worried by many things,” just like Martha.  I don’t think Jesus was being judgmental about Martha’s acts of hospitality; he was concerned about her being distracted and worried by many things.

These days it is almost impossible not to be worried – about the sad state of affairs in our nation and the world; about what the future holds for our kids and grandkids and great grandkids; and about our own health and mortality.  How do we deal with all those concerns that distract us, all those things we really have no control over?  When we take time to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear the good news of salvation, we can trust God to be victorious over all the evil and sin humankind can create.  We can rest in awe over the incomprehensible pictures we’re getting from the Web telescope.  If our God can create such a magnificent and endless universe, God can certainly welcome us with unconditional hospitality.  And that is why no matter what happens to us or around us, we dare to sing “It is Well with My Soul.”  (This beautiful hymn was written by Horatio Spafford in1873 after he and his wife had experienced a horrible tragedy.  If you don’t know their story you can find it at https://www.bethelripon.com/life-stories/horatio-gates-spafford.)

Pastoral Prayer July 10

O God, we’re here again seeking sanctuary from a broken world.  We need a place to rest and breathe, to reflect on the mysteries of life, and to turn our many cares and concerns over to you.  We confess our prayers too often sound like a shopping list, asking you to heal this family member, to protect loved ones who are traveling or going through a rough patch.  Forgive us when we forget that you already know the cares of our hearts.  Let us listen more than we talk in our prayers.

You have sent the Holy Spirit to comfort and guide us; you have provided us with the necessities of life, usually in great abundance.  You make it rain on the just and unjust alike, and we know it is not our job to tell you what to do.  But just so you know, we really wish you could send heavenly rain to our western states and other dry and arid places where your children are forced from their homes just as the Hebrew people were when they went to Egypt because of famine in Canaan.

Sometimes we get so focused on all the things that are wrong in our lives and in the world that we don’t see the good stuff.  We don’t stop to see the roses, let alone smell them.  We don’t listen to the bird songs, or marvel at a magnificent sunset; or rejoice over children and youth who have learned to share their abundance with their hungry neighbors.  You sent Jesus to give us abundant life, life that cannot be measured in earthly currency.  When we lose our way to embrace the abundance you provide, remind us that Jesus is the way and the truth and life we seek. 

We long for eternal life, but we don’t have to wait till we die to live that way.  Today is a part of eternity, but eternal life is not measured in years or decades or millennia.  It can begin right now on July 10th if we let go of the problems that weigh us down; so many things we can do nothing about.  Eternal life begins when we trust in you, O gracious God, when we surrender our lives and live for your glory; when we live in such a way that we make disciples for the transformation of the world. 

We can never do or say anything enough to express our gratitude for all you have done and are doing for us.  Sometimes the only prayer we need to say is a simple “thank you.”

Amen

Prayer for Freedom

O Eternal Author of all that is, on this Independence Day weekend we celebrate all the freedoms we have, including the freedom to gather here on line and in person to worship you.  We confess we often take our freedoms and privileges for granted.  Help us tap into the well of gratitude we owe to you first and foremost, even as we celebrate the visionaries who dared to declare their independence from Great Britain almost 250 years ago.  Our journey as a nation toward a more perfect union has been a very bumpy ride; so even as we shoot off fireworks and eat too much this weekend to celebrate our freedom, we also lift up our prayers for the broken and divided nation we occupy in this particular chapter of  American history.  

We have come a long way toward fulfilling the dreams of Jefferson, Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, and Dr. King, but we have miles and miles to go before we reach the high ideals of liberty and justice for all.  As we celebrate our own freedoms this year we also pray for those who are not free from food and financial insecurities.  Remind us to pray for those without adequate health care or opportunities for education and training for meaningful jobs.  We pray for those in our nation and others who are not free from the fear of violence in their cities, and for women and girls who still yearn for the wages, rights, and opportunities taken for granted by their male counterparts.  

We offer special prayers for those who are not free from racial profiling and stereotypes that threaten their very lives.  For homeless immigrants around the world and people living on the streets of our own city, hear our prayers, O God.  We weep for our sisters and brothers in Ukraine enduring naked aggression and suffering at the hands of a misguided bully.  But we also pray for all those who feel the need to oppress and are insatiably hungry for power over others.  

Jesus, our Lord and Savior, said he came to set the captives free, and so we pray for true freedom:

Freedom from extreme temperatures, droughts, and storms caused by climate change.

Freedom to be better stewards of your creation.

Freedom from systemic racism and discrimination against our LGBTQ siblings.

Freedom to offer hospitality to all of your children.

Freedom from addiction in all its forms.

Freedom to offer support to anyone struggling with disease and chronic pain.

Freedom from depression and. hopelessness.

Freedom to be open and vulnerable enough to share our own struggles with those who need a friend they can trust to hear their story without fear of judgment.

Gracious and loving God, you already know the cares and concerns of our hearts, yearning to be free.  Send your Holy Spirit to bring blessed assurance to each one worshiping with us.  

Remind us again that your reign of justice and peace does not come with swords loud clashing nor roll of stirring drums, but with deeds of love and mercy.  We know that true freedom will not come until we dwell again in heavenly peace with you.  But until that day comes empower us with the courage to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with you as we offer the freedom of your grace to all we meet.  We ask these things, as well as our unspoken prayers in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen

[Pastoral Prayer for July 3, 2022, Northwest UMC, Columbus, OH]

Things I Never Asked My Father

My father, Herb Harsh, died four years ago at the age of 96. Part of my grieving for him and for myself has been thinking of many questions I wish I had asked him before he lost touch with reality. There are several reasons we never talked about a lot of things.

My father was a child of the depression born in 1921. He grew up with an abusive alcoholic step-father in rural northwestern Ohio. In spite of that he excelled in school and was valedictorian of the 1939 class at Buckland, Ohio high school. We used to tease him that it didn’t take much to be at the top of a class of 19, but the more I’ve come to appreciate the obstacles he overcame I regret that I didn’t give him more credit for his academic and survival skills in those depression years. His high school classmates were lifelong friends for him, bringing him back to high school reunions for nearly 70 years until he could physically no longer make the trip back home from his retirement community near Cincinnati.

My sister Sue and I inherited Dad’s ability to achieve in school. She was valedictorian of a class of 200, and I was second in a class of 120; and both of us went on to get graduate degrees. I think Dad would have been the first in his family to go to college had it not been for WWII. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps shortly after Pearl Harbor. One of the things I wish I asked him is what he did in years between high school and the service. My sister said she remembered he worked on the railroad at some point in his early life, and we think that may have been it.

I also wish I knew where he got his love for music. He played his tenor saxophone and sang in every musical group he could find until he was about 90. He had his own dance band in the 1950’s and bookended that with organizing “The Harsh Notes” quartet at his retirement community. In between he sang in the choir at every church he attended. When the aging process took those things away from him he lost most of his will to live. Because I was not gifted with any musical talent I never showed much interest in his love of music, and I regret that. I have always been a sports fan and listened to or watched every baseball, football and basketball game I could. My dad had zero interest in sports of any kind, and I wish I had explored that topic with him, just to understand him better.

I know my parents met at a dance, but I never cared enough to ask him for any details, and I’m sorry. All I do know is that my mother, a small town girl of maybe 19, followed her love to at least two air corps towns in Texas. Somewhere along the line they decided to marry before he was shipped overseas to fly B-17 bombers. I don’t know if they ever were formally engaged or where/when that might have happened. I do know they were married on June 5, 1943 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where he was stationed for officer training. Sometime thereafter he shipped out to England. I wish I knew more about when that was and how he traveled there.

After he died we discovered that he had written about some of his war experience for the newsletter at the Otterbein Retirement community where he lived the final 38 years of his life. He apparently flew a few bombing runs over Germany near the end of the war, which he didn’t like doing, and again I wish I had asked him more about that. Like most survivors of war I don’t think he really wanted to talk about his war experience, but I wish I had shown more interest and wonder if it would have been good for him to talk about it.

The life-changing event in his service career happened after the war was over in Europe. He was co-pilot of a B-17 bringing 17 service members home after the war. For some strange reason I wish I understood they were flying across the Atlantic at night, leaving a refueling stop in the Azores Islands around midnight. Shortly after leaving there both of their engines failed, and they were forced to ditch (crash land) in the cold North Atlantic. Because it was foggy they came down too steep and too fast. My dad was knocked unconscious by the impact and remembers his pilot shaking him and urging him to get out before the plane sank.

The survivors of the crash impact spent the next 12 hours in the dark waters that they had been told might be shark infested. They were not able to retrieve any life rafts from the wreckage and had to rely entirely on their Mae West life jackets to keep them afloat. By the time they were finally rescued the next morning only four of the 17 men on the plane survived.

I cannot begin to imagine what those 12 hours were like. My dad didn’t write about any of that in his account. Watching his buddies die and fearing for his own life would surely have qualified him for a PTSD diagnosis if there had been such a thing in 1945. I will never know why I didn’t figure that out until very late in his life. It would have changed so much about our relationship and made me so much more patient and understanding about his approach to life, parenting, and his faith.

I wish I had asked him about how that horrific experience brought him from a churchless upbringing to a devout, dedicated Christian life for 70 years. I can only guess how his conversion experience happened, but what I know for sure is that my personal and professional life choices were totally affected by his come to Jesus moment or hours there in that water.

Why didn’t I explore all those important life events with my father? Let’s say I was a child of the ‘60’s and he came of age in the ‘30’s. Ironically it was his encouragement of me academically that created most of the divide between us. My life experience once I began college and seminary was totally foreign to the conservative, parochial life my father grew up in and chose to stay in after the war.

Pre-Viet Nam I was a typical patriotic American kid. I played war games with my friends, I wrote a piece in 4th grade that said I wanted to be a marine when I grew up. I was an Eagle Scout in 1960 at age 14, but all that began to change one day in my senior year of high school. A history teacher, Mrs. Miller, told our class one day that she thought Viet Nam was going to be the next trouble spot in the world. None of us had a clue where Viet Nam was, nor that Americans had been dying there already for 4 years. Suddenly my fantasies about attending one of the military academies came face to face on the nightly news with the realities of guerrilla warfare in the jungles of Southeast Asia,

That unjust and unnecessary war escalating was the backdrop to my entire college and seminary educational experience. My peers were dying in Vietnam and at Kent State University just 100 miles from my seminary campus. At the Methodist Theological School in Ohio we students didn’t have to protest. Our faculty and administration cancelled all classes to discuss how we could respond to the Kent State tragedy. That event led to my first political action. Some of us decided to go Washington DC and talk with our legislators about our concerns over the war and the unrest it was creating in our country. In one 24-hour whirlwind three of us drove all night to DC, talked with legislators the next day and turned around and drove straight home that night. The three of us probably made no difference in DC, but we bonded through that experience and are still good friends 52 years later.

Unfortunately my new liberal politics and theology were very troubling to my dad. I understand now that he needed the certainty of very concrete beliefs and values to manage his undiagnosed PTSD, and my divergence from those beliefs and values were a threat to his worldview. I wish I had been smart enough then to be patient and understanding about where he was coming from; but I guess I was not confident enough in my own burgeoning faith to reason with him. It was easier to rebel and withdraw from any controversial issues with him.

There is a running joke in my extended family about all of us who have received one or more of Dad’s infamous letters criticizing us for breaking one of his rules for living. My younger sister was always her Daddy’s girl and was his devoted caretaker in his last difficult years. She prided herself that she had never received one of his nasty letters, and she made it till he was getting very belligerent about his circumstances in his last two or three years. I’m hoping I don’t get that way, but I do know I learned or inherited my impatience and temper from him. He had every reason to be miserable those final months.

My mother died suddenly from brain cancer a few weeks after my parents celebrated their 50th anniversary. My dad was lost without her, and remarried a year later a recently widowed woman who also lived in their retirement community. Both families were aghast and thought they were making a huge mistake. But they had 20 good years together before dementia did it’s dastardly deed on her. Dad often lost patience with her, and I’m sure I would have too. Eventually she had to move into memory care, and Dad, bereft of his music, his wife, and his dignity became a handful. It was in that state he finally wrote a nasty note to my sister criticizing her for not being available to him 24/7. My sister Nancy is a candidate for sainthood, but her letter made one family member happy — my son, Matt, now gets to boast that he is the only member of the family who never got a Harshpa letter.

One of the things we can laugh about now but was very stressful in Dad’s later years was how much he absolutely hated wearing diapers. For many months he was determined he was going to invent an apparatus that would make diapers unnecessary. His idea was somehow to create a device out of plastic tubing which at one point he was going to super glue to his penis! When we all presented a united front and refused to buy him any more supplies for his hair-brained idea he was livid. I made one trip, two hours each way, to visit him after that, and when I told him no, I was not going to the hardware for him to buy supplies he told me I could go to hell, and my 4-hour trip resulted in one very ugly 5-minute visit.

I don’t share that to criticize my Dad. As I am aging now I fully understand the frustration of giving up so many things I used to be able to do. I wish I had more fully understood that for my dad, and I’m sure most families go through some similar tough times. We were never forgiven for taking away his car keys either, and I get it now.

The good news is that for some years before the diaper conflicts Dad and I reached a somewhat peaceful and comfortable relationship. He mellowed some, or gave up trying to change me, and I came to understand that he had done the best job as a father he could. That grace is what most dads want most for Father’s Day. We all have regrets about things we have done or failed to do as fathers, but the bottom line is we’ve all done the best we could, and that’s all anyone can ask.

Pentecost Prayer

Oh, dear God, sometimes we feel like those first apostles, confused and grieving over the violent death of Jesus at the hands of the Romans.  Given the horrific events in Uvalde, Ukraine, Tulsa and the nightly multiple deaths on the streets of Columbus and other American cities, we like Peter and the other disciples feel adrift and overwhelmed with doubts and fear for the safety of our children, teachers and for all of us.  

We humbly pray, O Holy One, that you will bless us this Pentecost day with the assurance and power of your Holy Spirit as you did so long ago.  As your current disciples we stand in the need of the strength and power you alone can provide for us in the living of these difficult days.  We may not feel a mighty wind or tongues of fire, but we ask that you reveal to us your ways of peace and justice in whatever form you choose in your wisdom to know the needs of our hearts.

The Pentecost story reminds us that you alone can break down the language barriers that divide your children from each other. We pray for your Spirit to build bridges over the gaps that separate us into different camps.  May the winds of Pentecost knock down the barriers between political parties, between the NRA and those asking for stricter gun laws, between law enforcement and those who fear or criticize them.  Touch us all with your universal tongue that breathes love into broken hearts, peace into fearful children and parents, and into all those on the margins of society who feel helpless to have their voices heard.

We pray that you will inspire this congregation of your church to grow in our ability to be a place where the Gospel of Christ is proclaimed in word and deed in ways that are understood by all of your children, no matter what languages we speak.  Help us articulate the good news that no matter what happens in our earthly lives you continue to love us and assure us that nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from your eternal love.  Your holy wind is stronger than inflation, more powerful than any weapon of mass destruction, mightier than our grief and fear, and better than any app that translates our human words into a common language.  Your universal language is agape love where we understand that we are all loved and embraced by you no matter what transpires in our nation and world.  We are humbled and our hearts are filled with gratitude and trust that you will make a way for us in the days ahead as you always have.  

We pray as always in the name of the risen Christ who in his death and resurrection conquered all fear forever.  And so we join our voices now in the prayer Jesus taught us…

Dis-United: Realism vs Aspirations

May 2022 will go down in my personal history as one of the most difficult in my life. I have not written a post here for over a month for a number of reasons, including trying to work through my chronic pain to help care for our beautiful 2 acre property. My depression over my failing strength has coupled with despair over humankind’s addiction to violence. From Mariupol to Buffalo to Uvalde bloodshed has colored the news and my Eeyore-like emotional state.

Amidst all the terrible news of current affairs the unmerry month of May has been the scene of schism in the United Methodist Church, my church home for 65 years. That split along with the related political paralysis in our country got me searching for a common thread. There are several, but the one that captured my imagination is the semantic commonality shared by both my country and my church, namely that both share in their names a paradoxical claim to be “united.”

The UMC was founded 54 years ago in 1968 with the merger of two denominations, the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Evangelical United Brethren and is younger than the USA by almost 200 years. Realizing that the word “united” in both cases is more aspirational than descriptive, it still saddens me greatly that in both cases the divisions have widened over their lifespan rather than moved closer to living up to their names.

Case in point: “The United States may have been founded on the idea that all men are created equal, but during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, slaveholding was common among the statesmen who served as president. All told, at least 12 chief executives—over a quarter of all American presidents—enslaved people during their lifetimes. Of these, eight held enslaved people while in office.” (history.com)

The authors of the American experiment in democracy included the damning phrase in our constitution that enslaved persons only counted as 3/5 of a person because those authors were predominantly slave owners. That 3/5 clause was a compromise to “unite” the northern and southern colonies, but at a price we are still paying for today. Systemic racism had already been in existence for over 150 years in those colonies, and the battle over it dominated the country’s politics for 80 years ending in the bloodiest war in our history. But, unlike what most of us were taught in school, that war didn’t solve this existential problem. Systemic racism continued to poison our nation through lynchings, Jim Crowe laws, and outright genocide against Native Americans. That racism may have seemed to go underground for a few years after the successes of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s but reared its ugly head again in the 21st century in the twin evils of birtherism and Trumpism.

It frustrates me greatly that we weren’t taught about this disunited history in school. Our history text books never mentioned the Tulsa massacre of 1921or many other similar atrocities all over the country. We did not learn about the Trail of Tears or Wounded Knee or lynching of black folks for public entertainment sanctioned by the church. Those omissions were not our teachers’ fault. Those ugly parts of our history were so buried and censored that our educators didn’t know either and kept passing those lies along. “United” States? Not even close.

The disunity of the United Methodist denomination is a similarly sad story. I was ordained in 1969 in the first class of ordinands in the infant UMC. Three years later the exclusionary language condemning homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching” was inserted into our Book of Discipline, the rule book governing the UMC, by the first General Conference of the new UMC. And for the next 50 years that culture war has raged, leading to the schism in our denomination.. That Covid-postponed split began to unfold officially on May 1, 2022 with the launching of a new denomination called the Global Methodist Church by those who are opposed to ordination and marriage for LGBTQ people.

So we have these two “united” in name only entities with ever-widening irreconcilable differences. When stuck in that kind of relationship a married couple faces the painful reality that separation and divorce may be the lesser of two evils. Divorce is always messy but sometimes necessary for both parties to survive and flourish. Even Jesus instructed his disciples in Matthew 10:14: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”

Are we at that point in either the UMC or USA? For me the answer is yes and maybe. In the case of the UMC I am convinced that a divorce is necessary. For 50 of my 53 years as an ordained pastor in the UMC the debate over LGBTQ equality in the eyes of God has dominated a large part of our corporate life and consumed so much time and energy that could have been used in more important forms of ministry. As one with first-hand experience with marital divorce I can attest to how much emotional energy is consumed by conflict and pretending to be something we are not. There comes a time in some marriages when the most loving decision is to set each other free, and the UMC is at that point.

As for the USA the issues are far more complicated. Our two major political parties are so far apart on most issues there is little common ground upon which to stand. The Gospel of John tells us that we need truth to set us free and we aren’t getting much truth. The Republican Party has descended to fear-mongering and lies to get or maintain power. Too many individuals are so concerned with inflation and losing our own privileged lives to see the bigger picture. Such short-sightedness means we keep kicking the can of climate change and other critical issues down the road and leaving our children and grandchildren with a bleak future. Any modicum of impartiality and non-partisanship in the judiciary at every level has succumbed to political gamesmanship. Any hope for real election reform to undo the damage caused by Citizens United would have to be enacted by the very lawmakers who benefit from existing laws. That seems to be an idealistic pipe dream.

When we can’t even manage a peaceful transition of power in a Presidential election it seems hopeless to think we Americans could engineer any kind of altruistic or amicable divorce.

For real or even semi-unity in either of these cases a healthy dose of conversion to comply more closely to our founding ideals in the Bible or the constitution respectively would be necessary. Unfortunately the only road to conversion is through confession and repentance, and I see little humility needed to make that happen in our church or nation. If we continue to bear the heavy burden of pretending to be something we are not instead of facing the hard truth of our real history we will never have the courage or energy needed to hear the truth.

But here’s the truth that sets us free. We are still loved even in our division and sinfulness. Our creator’s unconditional love is what sets us free to confess our failures and move toward a more perfect union. It’s that simple and yet so hard because it requires a leap of faith. The alternative is to keep widening the chasm of disunity until it is beyond repair.

“Peace Be With You,” John 20:19-31

I spent most of the 1980’s doing youth ministry and was blessed to have a whole crowd of wonderful volunteer adult leaders, including one who played guitar and led our youth groups in singing.  One of the songs we did often came to mind this week as I was working on this sermon.  It’s an old Peter, Paul and Mary song called “Day is Done,” that includes these lyrics:

“Tell me why are you crying my child, I know you’re frightened like everyone.  Is it the thunder in the distance you fear?  Will it help if I stay very near?  I am here.  All will be well when the day is done.”

In our Scipture for today Jesus is saying to the disciples, “I am here.”  He says that with the phrase, “Peace be with you.”  In these 13 verses from John’s Gospel Jesus utters those 4 words not once or twice but three times.  And those words are the first thing he says when he appears mysteriously in a room with locked doors.  “Peace be with you.”  Why are those doors locked?  Because of fear.  And what do we need when we’re frightened- we need peace.  Jesus understands that his friends are afraid, and he has come to bring them peace that only he can provide, the peace that passes all human understanding.

Don’t we all yearn for that kind of peace?  Many tomb stones or sympathy cards include the phrase “Rest in Peace” That prompted someone on Facebook to ask recently, “Why do we only rest in peace? Why don’t we live in peace too?”  The good news in this post resurrection text from John is that we can.  We don’t have to die first.

I had an insight on Maundy Thursday this year about the disciples falling asleep while Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.  We worshipped on-line and then I sat down to read.  But I couldn’t stay awake, and I wrote a short blog post about that experience.  In part, I said, “I’m not physically tired, just exhausted with world news overload. Maybe it’s compassion fatigue or just frustration that there seems to be so little I can do to save the world from its warring madness. I can’t not watch the news, and if the scenes from Ukraine or the New York subway shooting aren’t fatiguing enough they are interspersed with incessant mean-spirited and fear-based political ads.

Instead of judging the disciples for napping, maybe they were just worn out from all the weird stuff going on around them. They had to be confused trying to understand Jesus’ determination to put himself in harm’s way and with all his talk about death and resurrection. They had been on an emotional roller coaster from Palm Sunday’s high to this strange trip to the Garden in the dark. Jesus’ strange behavior, insisting on washing their feet, a job only done by servants, not a Messiah. And what did he mean about his broken body and his blood shed for them?

It was too much to comprehend. Maybe their bodies just shut down to get a respite from the confusion in their minds and spirits. They had hoped he was the one to throw off the Roman oppressors and bring them peace, but they were wrong.”

I had stopped at a Tim Horton’s earlier that day which was just two days after the subway shooting in New York.   As I waited for my coffee I found myself looking around for a place to hide if shooting suddenly broke out.  That’s a symptom of the low-grade fear that clings to us like a dryer sheet on a pant leg.  We try to shake it off by turning off the TV and social media, but we can’t unsee those pictures of Putin’s crimes against our sisters and brothers in Mariupol and Kyiv.  We can dress up and have Easter egg hunts and excellent worship to mark Holy Week and Easter (or Passover or Ramadan), but we’re still afraid of what’s happening to our world.  We’re already so awfully tired of COVID.  Wave after wave of extreme weather keeps leaving a path of destruction as they sweep across the country on a weekly basis, and still many people are in denial about climate change. We’re tired, Jesus!  Where is that peace you promised?

I find it helpful to step back and examine this need for peace through the stages of grief developed by Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her classic book, “On Death and Dying.”  She describes 5 stages of grief people go through if they or a loved one are dying:  Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally a stage of peace she calls acceptance I think the disciples in the Holy week experiences are in the early stages of grief.  Jesus has told them goodbye at their Passover meal, and they are already grieving.  Sleeping in the garden could be a form of denial, an escape from the reality of the moment.  When the soldiers come after Jesus one of the disciples grabs a sword and lops off the ear of a servant – that’s anger, another natural part of the grieving process.  

And now on Easter night John tells us that the disciples have already been told that morning by the women who were first-hand witnesses that Jesus is alive again.  Two of the disciples, being guys who don’t trust a woman’s word, ran to the tomb to see for themselves.

They call Missouri the show me state because people there insist that only seeing is believing. I don’t think any of the disciples were from. Missouri, but they act like it.   The disciples have not yet seen the risen Christ; so who can blame them for still locking the door?  They are like a little girl crying in her bed during a thunder storm.  When her daddy goes in to comfort her he hugs her and reminds her that Jesus is always there with her.  She looks up at him and says, “I know, Daddy, but sometimes I need someone with skin on them.”  Don’t we all?

Peace comes in many shapes and forms; a hug, a kind word, or just a willingness to sit with someone in their sorrow.  

I have had a springtime ritual for years that I’ve ignored during the COVID years.  For many springs before that I have watched Susan Sarandon and Kevin Costner in my favorite baseball movie, “Bull Durham.”  I happened to see it listed as I was channel surfing recently and recorded it; and Diana and I watched it about the time baseball season started.  What struck me this time through were some words that Costner’s character, Crash Davis, says to Annie in the final scene.  Crash is a veteran Minor League catcher, which means he’s good, but not quite good enough to make it to the Major Leagues.  He has just quit the game after setting the dubious record for most home runs in the Minors.  He comes back to Durham and to Annie who is a die-hard baseball groupie and intrepid philosopher of the game.  When Crash, bedraggled and exhausted, tells Annie that he’s hung up his catcher’s gear for the final time she launches into one of her treatises about baseball being a non-linear game.  Crash holds up his hand to stop her.  He says he wants to hear all of her crazy baseball theories but not tonight.  Tonight he says, “I don’t want to think about baseball or anything else.  I just want to be.”  

Isn’t that the peace of mind and soul we are so hungry for?  To rest, to stop worrying and thinking. And just BE.  In the Rock Opera “Jesus Christ Superstar,” there’s a scene about just that.  Jesus is frustrated because his best efforts to move people closer to God’s kingdom of peace and justice are being ignored.  His friend Mary Magdalene tries to comfort him.  Many people see that scene and get distracted by theories that there was a romantic relationship between them, but that’s not the point.  Mary sings a sweet lullaby to Jesus where she says, “Try not to get worried, try not to turn on to problems that upset you, oh don’t you know everything’s alright, yes, everything’s fine, and we want you to sleep well tonight. Let the world turn without you tonight.”

That kind of peace is what Kubler-Ross calls acceptance – the final stage of grief, making peace with the new reality that a loved one is gone or a job has disappeared or a relationship is irreparably damaged.  Or a world has gone mad.  It’s the peace the risen Christ offers his disciples and you and me, but there’s a paradoxical irony in this story.  John tells us that before Jesus offers peace to the disciples he breathes on them.  You have to let someone get very close to breathe on you if you can remember back before the 6 feet of separation we’ve lived with recently.  Breath, of course, in the Scriptures is the word that also means God’s spirit that can create something out of nothing. So the paradox is that we have to have enough peace to let Jesus get close enough to give us real peace! 

I don’t know about you, but on my less faithful days I’m not sure I want Jesus getting that close.  I’m afraid to be that vulnerable; so my own  or doubts  keep Jesus at a safe distance because of fear –fear of judgment, or rejection because I haven’t always lived a virtuous life.  But here’s the key to this story and to the Good News of the Gospel.  Remember that the disciples to whom Jesus offers his peace are the same guys who just 3 days ago denied and abandoned Jesus in his greatest time of need.  If Jesus offers them God’s peace he certainly can do the same for us. 

That’s the friend we have in Jesus we can take everything to in prayer.  If we try to hide parts of ourselves from God we are not only kidding ourselves, we are also revealing our mistaken belief in a God who is way too small.  St. Paul in Romans 8 says “nothing in all creation can separate us from love of God in Christ Jesus.”  And that nothing means nothing. No powers, no principalities, and no Putin can stop God from loving us.   No matter how many of the big 10 commandments we’ve broken Jesus offers us peace. He makes us new creations by breathing the peace that breaks the chains of addiction, hatred, isolation, guilt, and despair.

Rev. Fred Shaw, a friend and colleague and a wonderful Native American storyteller, put it this way recently in a Facebook post.  I liked the way he said it and asked if I could quote him.  He said, “We move too quickly from Good Friday to Easter, and then we fairly fly from Easter back to “normal.” I want to carry both with me throughout my life.

On Good Friday, the most significant words uttered by human lips are heard again, “It is finished!” The Greek word for “finished” carries the meaning of completion, wholeness. For Native people, it is the fullness of the Circle.

All of the love that our Creator has for us from the beginning of time came to fruition in the death of Jesus on the cross. The greatest horror of which humanity is capable, the murder of God’s own innocence. Even that could not separate us from God’s love.

The curtain in the temple that had divided the people from the Holy Presence of God was ripped…from the top down! God’s full acceptance of who we are, and God’s declaration that God loves us anyway, was declared beyond words.”  Let me say that last part again: “God’s declaration that God loves us anyway was declared beyond words.”

What does all this say to our broken, fearful world today? We don’t know when, where, how or even why God will forgive humankind’s unfaithfulness, but in God’s good time, not ours, it will be done. Even if we destroy ourselves and this precious earth God has entrusted into our care, we and all of creation will live and move and have our being eternally in the cosmic source of all Being. Because we put our trust, not in weapons of death and destruction, but in the power of resurrection that assures us that “all will be well when the day is done.” 

You know the line about opera – that it isn’t over till the fat lady sings?  I thought about that when I heard that John Lennon’s son Julian recently sang his father’s wonderful song, “Imagine.”  What makes that remarkable or ominous is that Julian has always said he would never sing that song publicly.  And at least once he qualified that remark by saying, “maybe if it was the end of the world.”  I don’t know if the state of the world had anything to do with it, but he recently sang “Imagine” publicly. 

I’ve always loved the hope that song describes.  Nothing has ever been created that wasn’t first imagined, and those of us who have received Jesus’ gift of peace are called to keep the dream of peace alive, especially when it seems so absent. The song says,

“Imagine all the people
Livin’ for today
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too

Imagine all the people
Livin’ life in peace
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.”

Easter is our invitation to join those who dare to imagine a world of peace.

You may have noticed the white post out by the parking lot as you came up the hill this morning.  We’re going to dedicate it after the service today.  On that Peace Pole are the words “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in English and seven other languages representing God’s children in every part of the world—including Spanish, Hebrew, Swahili, Arabic, ASL, Chinese and Japanese.   The Peace Pole is there where we will see it each time we come and go from here as a reminder to us of God’s peace and as a symbolic beacon of hope in a world bloodied by the ways of war.

Peace is our hope and our prayer, but wishing won’t make it happen.  Prayers without works are dead on arrival, and that’s why Jesus says something else to the disciples and to us after he says “Peace be with you.”  He says, “As God has sent me, so I send you.”  We can’t be peacemakers until we have surrendered to the peace that comes when we get up close and personal with Jesus.

I want to leave you with a thought from a Brazilian writer and journalist, Fernando Sabino.  He wrote, “In the end, everything will be all right.  If it’s not all right, it’s not the end.”  That’s the message for this frightening time in our world.  “Peace be with you.” 

Exhausted in the Garden

It’s 9:40 pm on Maundy Thursday and I just had a whole new take on that scene in the Garden of Gethsemane where the disciples keep falling asleep instead of keeping watch while Jesus is praying. It’s all too easy to pass judgment on the disciples. There’s just about nothing they do right tonight. We worshipped on-line tonight with our congregation, and then I sat down to read. But I keep falling asleep. It happens a lot in the evening lately. My spirit is willing but my flesh is weak and just plain tired.

I’m not physically tired, just exhausted with world news overload. Maybe it’s compassion fatigue or just frustration that there seems to be so little I can do to save the world from its warring madness. I can’t not watch the news, and if the scenes from Ukraine or the New York subway shooting aren’t fatiguing enough they are interspersed with incessant mean-spirited and dishonest political ads.

Maybe Jesus’ disciples were just worn out from all the weird stuff going on around them. They had to be confused trying to understand Jesus’ determination to put himself in harms way and with all his talk about death and resurrection. They had been on an emotional roller coaster from Palm Sunday’s high to this strange trip to the Garden in the dark. Jesus’ strange behavior, insisting on washing their feet, a job only done by servants, not a Messiah. And what did he mean about his broken body and his blood shed for them?

It was too much to comprehend. Maybe their bodies just shut down to get a respite from the confusion in their minds and spirits. They had hoped he was the one to throw off the Roman oppressors, but they were wrong.

What next, God? Here we are in the dark of night, discouraged and afraid. There’s a cloud of fear in the air everywhere. People are not OK. I’m not OK. The gunman in Brooklyn is certainly not OK and hasn’t been for some time. Neither Putin nor American conspiracy theorists are OK. Today for not the first time when I stopped at Tim Horton’s for coffee I found myself looking around wondering what I would do if a deranged person with a gun started shooting. A server just doing her job at a local restaurant was wounded by a stray bullet from a fight outside just the other night here in Columbus.

Like Peter, Andrew, Bartholomew and the others on this Holy Thursday we’re tired. So tired. Maybe if we just go to sleep we’ll wake up and find this is all a nightmare. But here comes a mob with clubs and torches and Judas is leading them right to Jesus. This can’t be happening! What do we do now?

Anointed: Messiah Complex, John 12:1-8

Do you remember who your childhood heroes or heroines were?  Being vertically challenged all my life I’m sure influenced mine.  I was never big enough to imagine myself as Superman, but I could identify with a little flying caped rodent who came on every Saturday morning in the cartoons on TV.  I don’t remember much about him, but the theme song that introduced the show said something like “Mighty Mouse is here to save the day.” Yes, like most of our superheroes Mighty Mouse used too much violence to dispatch the bad guys, but he was always on the side of what my 8 year-old self understood as justice.  Life was so much simpler then.  Things were either right or wrong without all the messy ambiguity that I see in so much of life as an adult.

How many of you are familiar with the term “Messiah Complex?”  That’s an occupational hazard for preachers – to think that we and we alone have the Truth that will save the world.  It’s a dangerous and heavy burden to carry around.  I had a senior pastor advise me once when I was fresh out of seminary that I should “never lose my idealism.”  That was lousy advice.  Life on this side of heaven is not now nor ever has been “ideal.”  A better word choice would be to never lose Hope.  Idealism for me implies a kind of utopian ideal we humans can create.  Hope on the other hand is an unshakeable faith in God’s power to triumph over evil. 

We are living in a dark and ugly period of human history in so many ways.  Our hearts break every time we see pictures of what’s happening in Ukraine.  I have to turn the news off when I can no longer take the anger and helpless feeling to do anything to stop the cruelty.  Where is Mighty Mouse when we need him?  Or Wonder Woman?

At the beginning of the Gospels we have John the Baptist preaching hell fire and brimstone for all those who refuse to repent of their sins.  He’s expecting a superhero to overthrow the hated Roman oppressors.  But Jesus is not that kind of Messiah. We want a Rambo to save us and instead God sends us a Gandhi.   Jesus goes to the wilderness immediately after his baptism and rejects the temptation to use worldly power.  We long for a savior on a white stallion, but next week Jesus will ride into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey.  We expect our heroes or heroines to arrive in a stretch limo or a Batmobile, but instead Jesus appears in a beat up old Volkswagen bug. 

But this 5th Sunday of Lent, before the Palm Sunday parade, the Gospel of John tells us that six days before the Passover, two days before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, he came for dinner in Bethany at the home of his dear friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus.  This is just after Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead in John, chapter 11.  So this could have been a joyous celebration of Lazarus new life, but at least some around that table know that they will be dealing with another death and resurrection the following week. 

Mary understands, and she anoints Jesus’ feet with an expensive perfume and wipes them with her hair.  It is an act of love that foreshadows Jesus washing his disciples’ feet the following Thursday, but it is more than that.  The word “Messiah” means “anointed one.”  Mary and Martha and Lazarus know better than anyone that Jesus has the power over death itself; he is truly God’s anointed servant.

And so are you, and you and you and me.  Let me say that again in a different way.  When we are welcomed into the family of God at our baptism, no matter when or how that happened, we are claimed, just as Jesus was, as God’s beloved children.  Baptism means we all belong to a great and mysterious God who created this vast universe billions of years before any humans ever set foot on this tiny planet.  God created us, male and female, and declared us good and blessed from day one.  And no matter how badly we or anyone else screw things up, our blessedness doesn’t expire. 

There is nothing we can say or do, no matter how stupid or awful or sinful it may be that can ever change that.  Believe me, I’ve tried.   Jesus showed us that in the wonderful parable of the prodigal son where God the heavenly parent runs with open arms to welcome his wayward son back home.  St. Paul says it when he says “Nothing in all creation, not power, or Putin, or principalities, not even death itself can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” 

One of my favorite descriptions of resurrection came from a sermon by Bishop Dwight Loder at our annual conference many years ago.  He said, “Jesus wasn’t resurrected by the church; Jesus wasn’t resurrected for the church; Jesus was resurrected as the church.”

That’s the good news of the Gospel that we resurrection people draw strength from to be God’s servants in the world.  We all have a super power that enables us to hope when things seem hopeless; to love the unlovable, even when it hurts too much; to believe in peace and justice in a world that has gone mad.  That’s the kind of Messiah Complex we all need for these trying times to keep on keeping on.  A friend of mine reminded me recently of that old saying, “My get up and go got up and went.”  We all know that feeling.  But the power of the Holy Spirit tells us that even the “old will dream dreams” and “those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength and mount up on wings like eagles.”

The Lenten journey is long.  We began on Ash Wednesday being reminded that “we are dust and to dust we shall return.”  Don’t you hate being reminded of that?  A colleague in ministry told a group of us that he likes to change that up and say, “You are dust, but remember what God can do with dust!”  I like that so much better and just wish I had learned that earlier in my ministry.  “We are dust, but remember what God can do with dust.” 

Another way to say that might be, we know the pain and suffering Jesus will face in Jerusalem, but we also know the end of the story.  God wins!  Love wins!

When I get discouraged about my own life or the mess the world is in I often return to the words of an old song from my past.  Isn’t it funny how we can remember the lyrics to a song from 50 years ago but can’t remember if we took our meds this morning??  Anyway here’s the song from

“The Man of LaMancha.”

“To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
And to run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
And to love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far

To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march, march into Hell
For that Heavenly cause

And I know if I’ll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I’m laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man, (or woman) scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with the last ounce of courage

To reach the unreachable star.”

Amen

[Preached at Wesley Glen retirement center, April 3, 2022]