Grounded Guerrillas of Grace

“To wed guerrilla with grace suggests that the truer cause is God’s kingdom. Since the ‘principalities and powers’ are never completely ‘out there,’ but also stomp and rumble around ‘within,’ a significant piece of the life to be reclaimed or liberated is the prayer himself or herself. In an unavoidable way the struggle begins—and begins again and again and again—with choosing sides. Choose one side and you’re a conformist; choose another and you’re a guerrilla!”
You may be surprised to know that those words were not written about the current struggle for the soul of our nation, and yet they seem as fresh as new mown hay on this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday 2020. I had not read those words for over 30 years, and reconnecting with them recently is like embracing an old friend. They are from a book of prayers entitled “Guerrillas of Grace” by Rev. Ted Loder and were published in 1981. A friend blessed me with a new copy of the book this week and as soon as I opened it I knew it was a gift from God.

My soul is weary with despair over worldly and personal concerns to the point that I am questioning the foundations of my faith again. I’ve been down that road before, and Loder’s “old” book reminded me again that while much has changed in the last 40 years, the struggle with evil in its multitude of forms is still the same as it was for Amos, Jesus, Paul, Bonhoeffer, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Dr. King. As it was in the first century Roman Empire these words from Ephesians 6 still ring true in the 21st century” “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the world rulers of this present darkness…”

Even before I began rereading Loder’s book I was reminded of a song that inspired my meek guerrillaness back in the decade that Loder was compiling these prayers. I remember preaching a sermon in those days on the David and Goliath story, one that I have been drawn too as one who has always been of very small stature. I’ve since distanced myself from it because of its reliance on violence to resolve conflict, but all that aside the song it led me too was one that says:

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

To right the unrightable wrong
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
Into hell for a heavenly cause

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

And the world will be better for this
That one man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To fight the unbeatable foe
To reach the unreachable star.” (“The Impossible Dream,” by Joe Darion and Mitchell Leigh)

I have certainly not lived up to that impossible dream, and I understand that none of us will ever fully conquer the principalities and powers of evil without or within ourselves in this life. That’s why we will always need guerrillas of grace to journey with us and share the power that strengthens hearts and minds arms that are too weary of the world’s woes with prayer that is in Loder’s words attentive, open, imaginative/playful, intentional, personal and corporate.

As one who lives with ambivalence as a staple of my existence I am challenged by Loder’s statement that “Ambivalence generates resistance. It is hard to get carried away when we’re hanging on tightly to the familiar.” I am also an impatient prayer. I want results yesterday if not sooner, and Loder cautions that being a guerrilla of grace “may mean being carried away as a stoker on a slow freighter.” One of my chores as an adolescent was putting coal in the stoker that fed our home’s furnace. (Yes, I am That Old!) It was a daily thankless and never-ending chore, putting coal in and taking the “clinkers” of unburned waste out of the furnace; but if I failed to do it our whole family would have been cold, pipes would freeze and life would have been dire.

I’m rambling, but I do rejoice that Loder has re-stoked my spiritual furnace with just the introduction to his book. I look forward to getting reacquainted with the prayers that follow; and I want to close by sharing the first prayer in the book, entitled “Ground Me in Your Grace.”

“Eternal One,
Silence, from whom my words come;
Questioner, from whom my questions arise;
Lover, from whom all my loves are hints;
Disturber, in whom alone I find my rest;
Mystery, in whose depths I find healing and myself;
Enfold me now in your presence;
Restore to me your peace;
Renew me through your power;
And ground me in your grace.”

T’was Two Days Before Christmas

T’was two days before Christmas and all through my mind thoughts and feelings are bouncing before and behind. On one channel bad news of the world on a continuous loop: refugee kids in cages; impeachment shots fired across a partisan chasm that divides families and friendships; violence rages in streets from Hong Kong to India; and climate crisis wildfires and extreme weather bombard our fragile planet. Another brainwave features heavy grief for the parents of a young man I will bury on Friday. A personal memory that my father would have celebrated his 98th birthday this day tugs at my heart competing with the siren song of consumerism Christmas.

And yet if I listen carefully beneath the static a still small voice proclaims a miracle where one day’s lamp oil lasts over a week—a secret humans have celebrated for millennia every time the solstice darkness surrenders to more minutes of daylight. Another voice chimes in “Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

I believe. And yet the cosmic tug of war between darkness and light still plays out in my frazzled brain. I drag my heels in futile resistance to turning the page of my mortality calendar into the December years of my life. Despair and hope swing light sabers to see which will rule the new year.

But I know in my better moments that incarnation doesn’t come when it’s easy or unneeded. It does not come with “swords loud clashing or roll of stirring drums,” but “silently, so silently” the the gift of hope is given where “meek souls will receive it still,” not in Time Square or St Peter’s but in a dark cave in a one-stable town where there was no room in the Bethlehem Hilton.

And by Menorah, or star in the east, or Solstice sunrise, the message resounds again and again – Let there be Light!

Peace and Goodwill

Note: I am pleased to share these good words from the Christmas letter of a fellow pastor. Bill Hull was a classmate of mine in seminary and has been a cherished friend now for over 50 years. I am pleased to share his thoughts as a guest contributor and offer a hearty Amen.

“Glory to God in the highest, and peace among people with whom God is pleased.” Luke 2:14 RSV

As we draw near to Christmas, this is a season of anticipation, a time of promise. It is the promise of peace and goodwill, not as pie in the sky by and by or among only heavenly beings, “but on earth…among people with whom God is well pleased.” I take that to be all people.

When God created, God proclaimed the work to be “good” as in “God don’t make no junk.” We on the other hand tend to criticize or to reject and exclude those whose sins are different from ours. To do so, we pick and choose from the buffet of laws and prohibitions in the Scripture to justify our inclusion among those “with whom God is pleased.”

The promise of peace and goodwill is sometimes hard to believe. We live in a time of deep division within our own country, of alienation from those who have been our historic allies and of threats of destruction from our enemies. We live in a time of domestic and foreign terrorism, a time of increasing hatred for those whose skin color, religion or lifestyle are different from ours. We live in a time when violence, death and duplicity are all around us. How do we believe in the promise of peace and goodwill among people?

I wish I had an easy answer. I don’t. I believe that a part of the answer to believing the promise is to be the promise. I believe that part of the answer is to act as if being loving is more important than being right. I believe that part of the answer is treating all people as beloved of God, created in God’s image. I believe that it means being peacemakers, that it means being neighbors to all who need what we have and what we are.

To be the promise is eternal life here and now. It is all that we can do. The rest is up to God.

Christmas Surprise: Lessons of Orogrande

Note: This is a story I wrote many years ago. The plot would have to be altered in today’s internet and social media world, but at the same time the heart of the story is as true as Christmas itself…

It was a warm spring day in Orogrande, a nearly deserted mining town in New Mexico, 50 miles northeast of El Paso. The Sharks, Orogande’s contribution to gangdom, were gathered down by the river trying to decide what trouble they could cause that day. Jake, their commander-in-chief, spotted Palermo, the villages designated “idiot,” coming their way. Motioning for his posse to follow his lead, Jake called to Palermo excitedly, telling him to come see the big fish they had just caught. The Sharks, sensing the sport to come, quickly got into the spirit of the joke and huddled around, pretending to admire the fish. They conveniently made it impossible for Palermo to see.

As he had done so many times before, Palermo walked into their trap with child-like trust. He hurried down the river bank and bent over to see their prize. Immediately, Jake got down on his hands and knees behind Palermo, and one of the other Sharks, known affectionately to his friends as “the Blade,” tossed a handful of dirt in Palermo’s face. Palermo stood up coughing and sputtering to brush the dirt out of his eyes. One of the other Sharks shoved Palermo backwards over Jake’s back, head-first into the scummy, stagnant river.

Palermo came up fighting mad, but by that time the Sharks were on their way to torment someone else, laughing and enjoying their little prank to the fullest. Palermo dragged himself up on to the bank and looked up to see John Perez, the town’s mayor and constable, standing at a distance with a thinly-disguised smile on his face. “Hey, Palermo, don’t you know enough to take your clothes off before you go swimming?”

Palermo shouted back in broken English, “Sharks, they push Palermo in river. Why you not stop them?”
“Oh, Palermo, there’s no sharks in that river. You must be dreaming,” and Perez laughed again as he walked away.

Palermo knew it was hopeless. He had been tormented all his life by the whole town of Orogrande. The humiliating laughter rang in his ears at night and kept him awake. The taunts and insults echoed in his dreams, and often he awoke pleading for mercy from a very real-to-life nightmare. As he sat on the river bank sobbing, he tried to think. No one ever gave him credit for thinking, but Palermo thought a lot. He thought about life and wondered why it was so hard? He wondered about how he could get away from Orogrande and start a new life. He dreamed of getting even with all the people who had mistreated and abused him. But the answers he came up with were always the same. He had no money to go anywhere or do anything. People gave him enough food to survive on, and Mrs. Brown let him sleep in her garage. But no one would give him a job or enough money to get away. A few people were nice enough not to tease him. Some just avoided him and told their children not to go near him.

Palermo didn’t understand why that was so. He couldn’t remember how it all began. He had heard people call him the “orphan boy” or “that half-breed” or “illegitimate” or “bastard.” He didn’t’ understand what those words meant, but he knew how they felt. They made him an outcast. They meant that other kids had never been allowed to play with him. He had never had a chance to go to school like the other children. He had no mother or father. But most of all they meant that he was all alone in a cruel and hateful world.

Thinking about it made him cry. Then it made him very angry. He remembered what the Sharks had just done to him and all the years of torment. Anger and hate boiled up in him till he just couldn’t stand it anymore. He got up and started back toward town. He didn’t know what he was going to do, but he knew he was going to get even for at least some of the things the evil people of Orogrande had done to him.

Palermo went straight to Mrs. Brown’s garage. He was in such a frenzy he was not sure what he was looking for. He rummaged around the corner where his cot was, found nothing there and moved on to the other side where Mrs. B kept her car. He found a rusty old axe there and thought for moment of using on Jake or Perez. Then he spotted a can of gasoline, and he knew what he would do.
He was excited and restless. It was only 6 o’clock, and he knew he had a long wait for darkness.

He had not eaten all day; so after pacing the floor enjoying his plan of revenge for awhile; he headed for Smitty’s bar and grill. Smitty ran the only bar in Orogrande, and the upstanding citizens of the town were always trying to run him out of business. But Smitty, along with Mrs. Brown, came the closest of anyone in town to treating Palermo like a human being. “Maybe Smitty understands what it feels like to be an outcast,” thought Palermo, as he turned onto Main Street. Smitty certainly did. He was barely able to support his family on what he made at the tavern. He hated the constant harassment and pressure to close his place. But as always, he was glad to see Palermo and offered him a hamburger and some fries.

As Palermo was finishing his meal, Perez walked in. Seeing Palermo, he picked up where he had left off that afternoon by the river. Only this time he had an audience. Soon everyone in the bar was laughing furiously at Palermo. Palermo tried to ignore them. He took it as long as he could. Then the anger began to boil again. Before he knew what he was doing, Palermo pushed Perez across the room and shouted, “You not laugh when Palermo burn up your house!” Then he turned and ran out, stopping only at the drug store for some matches before going back to the garage.

Perez was annoyed at being pushed, but took the threat lightly. Everyone laughed some more at Palermo’s display of anger. Everyone that is, but Jake and The Blade who were shooting pool in the back room. Almost simultaneously, they had the same idea—a way to get Perez and let Palermo take the blame! They played pool half-heartedly until Perez left the bar. Then they took off to round up the rest of the Sharks.

Smitty couldn’t stop thinking about Palermo all evening. He had never tried to talk much to Palermo, but he really felt sorry for him. When he closed the tavern that night he walked over to Mrs. Brown’s to see if Palermo was still awake. When he found the garage empty so late at night he was afraid Palermo might have been serious with his threat. He ran down Water Street and up Jackson to where Perez lived. Sure enough, he found Palermo hiding in the alley behind the house, waiting for everyone to go to bed.

Palermo was angry that Smitty had come, but then he began to realize that Smitty was right. He would be a dead duck if he torched Perez’s house now. The whole town would know who did it! So, still angry and frustrated, but glad Smitty had saved him from making a stupid mistake, Palermo went back to his cot in the garage and went to bed. He lay awake for hours. He was still very angry about the day’s events and wanted revenge in the worst way. He was so upset he thought of pouring the gasoline on himself and lighting it. In fact, he was still wondering what that would feel like when he heard a commotion outside. He looked out the door and saw a mob coming toward the garage. Perez was leading the way.

“You stinking half-breed, come out and take your medicine,” Perez shouted. Palermo was afraid. He tried to run out the back door, but they were there too. They grabbed him and knocked him down. Someone kicked him hard in the ribs. Finally Perez pulled him to his feet and spat in his face. There was fire in his eyes like Palermo had never seen before. Perez wanted to lynch Palermo on the spot, but cooler heads persuaded him to wait until they could at least go through the motions of a trial. The mob literally dragged Palermo to the jail. He tried frantically to ask what he was being locked up for, but no one would even acknowledge his questions.

Palermo spent a sleepless night, confused and afraid. The jailer on duty kept Perez from killing Palermo, not because he wanted to, but because he knew he had to. In the morning they let Smitty in for just a minute. He told Palermo that someone really had burned Perez’s house the night before. Palermo swore he had not done it. Smitty urged Palermo not to tell anyone anything until he could find a lawyer. And then Perez gruffly told Smitty his time was up.

If fate hadn’t taken a hand in things, Palermo would have been railroaded through a trial and hanged before the sun set. But as it turned out, Judge Griffin in Buena Vista, the county seat was on a two-week vacation. In that time the media latched onto the story about Palermo’s case.

Ten days after the fire, a Mercedes with California tags drove into Orogrande. It stopped in front of Smitty’s place. A well-groomed three-piece suit got out and looked around, then went inside. The stranger ordered a drink and began asking people about Palermo. Nobody in Orogrande usually wanted to talk to strangers, especially not about Palermo, but Smitty overheard the questions and asked the man why he was so interested in Palermo? The stranger said he might be able to help Palermo, but he needed to know about his parents. Smitty said he had only been in town eight years. The only person he could think of who might know anything would be Mrs. Brown.

It was a long shot, but the man headed for Mrs. Brown’s little house on Third Street. Mildred Brown was a kindly African American woman of about 60. She, too, was leery of this stranger at first, but said she would tell him what she could if it would help Palermo. He asked her if she knew anything about Palermo’s mother. Reluctantly, Mrs. Brown related the painful story. “Palermo’s mother was a Mexican girl who just wandered into town one day. No one knew where she came from. She stayed in town, mostly doing housework for people. A few months later it became apparent that she was pregnant. She claimed the baby’s father was young John Hartford, son of J.T. Hartford. Hartford,” she explained, “owns the Orogrande Copper Mines where everybody in town works. Well, Maria, that was her name, she hid here in my house until the baby came. Mr. Hartford sent his son away to school. But when he found out Maria was still here he told some of the men who work for him to ‘take care of her,’ and they killed her.” Mrs. Brown was in tears. “I don’t know why they didn’t kill the baby too, but it would have been better for him if they had!”

“And the baby was Palermo?”

“Yes. I took care of him as best I could. But they wouldn’t let him go to school. They threatened to run us both out of town if I let him live in the house with me. Everyone picks on him. I don’t blame him for setting that fire. He took so much hate for so long!”

“Here’s a picture, Mrs. Brown. Could you tell me if this could be Palermo’s mother?”
“Why yes it is. Where did you get it?”

The gentleman explained that he was one of several attorneys who had been working for the Spanish government for years trying to locate the daughter of King Ferdinand. She had come to the U.S. twenty years ago to study at U.C.L.A. She ran away from there about 20 years ago and was last seen in northern New Mexico. “You see, Mrs. Brown, if your story is true, Palermo is the heir to the throne of Spain. I saw a story about his case on CNN last week. His age and the location and the fact he had no family inter4ested me enough to check into it further. It seems to have paid off.”

Mrs. Brown sat in stunned silence. Palermo, a prince!

The rest, as they say, is history. With the best attorneys money could buy, Palermo was cleared of the arson and murder charges against him. The Sharks were convicted of arson and manslaughter and sent to prison. The whole town of Orogrande was flabbergasted and turned itself inside out trying to redeem itself for 18 years of abuse.

Palermo was flown to Madrid where his grandfather was dying. In less than a month, he had gone from village idiot, to prisoner, to crown prince. Palermo had a very hard time understanding what it was all about. But with the aid of special tutors he was soon able to read and speak both Spanish and English. He had even begun to grasp a little history and political science by the time his grandfather died and Palermo became king.

A few months after his coronation the new king announced he would be making a trip to visit the United States to confer with the President. Palermo had arrangements made so he could also visit Chicago and Los Angeles, and he wanted a special stop in Orogrande included in his itinerary.

When the big day arrived, everyone in Orogrande turned out for a parade in Palermo’s honor. It was the biggest even in the history of the town. They had streamers and banners all over town welcoming their most famous son. There was a VIP banquet in his honor at the high school. At the banquet Perez and J.T. Hartford both gave long flowery speeches saying that things would certainly have been different if they had only known who Palermo was. They apologized profusely for any “inconveniences” the town might have “unknowingly” caused Palermo. They said they were glad that was all in the past and could be forgotten now. They presented Palermo with a key to the city and revealed elaborate plans to erect a statue in his honor on the town square.

Finally, Palermo rose to speak. In flawless English he thanked his former tormentors for their honors. Then he asked to see Mrs. Brown and Smitty. The banquet committee was embarrassed. They hadn’t even invited either Smitty or Mrs. Brown. So everyone waited while Smitty and Mrs. Brown were escorted to the high school by Perez’s part-time deputy. And then Smitty and Mrs. Brown were embarrassed because they weren’t dressed for the occasion. That was soon forgotten as Palermo greeted his old friends warmly. He presented Mrs. Brown with a diamond pendant and guaranteed both of them comfortable income for the rest of their lives. It was his thanks to them for being the only two friends he ever had.

Then abruptly Palermo started to leave. Mr. Hartford stopped him and explained to him that his copper mine was in deep financial trouble. He pointed out that the whole town’s economy depended on that mine. He was wondering if Palermo could find any way to help them out. Hartford repeated how terribly sorry they all were about the way things had been in the past.

Palermo listened politely and then started to walk away again. Hartford was persistent. “Palermo! I mean your majesty. This was your home. I am probably your grandfather. We desperately need your help! Don’t you care about us?”

Palermo turned and almost laughed in Hartford’s face. “When did you ever care about me, Mr. Hartford?” With that, his royal highness left Orogrande for the last time.

No, they didn’t live happily ever after. Few people do. But lest you should judge Palermo too harshly, it wasn’t long after this final visit that sizeable contributions of cash from an anonymous source began to arrive in the office of Mayor Perez. They came with a simple designation: “For improving the welfare of the citizens of Orogrande.”

Many people speculated about this donor. Only Smitty knew for sure, and Mrs. Brown, who found herself listening over and over to an old recording by Mahalia Jackson of “Sweet Little Jesus Boy, we didn’t know who you was.”

Who Gets the Last Word? A sermon on Revelation 22:12-21

Who gets the last word? Well, one answer to that question is that since this is the final sermon in this series on Revelation – I do! Not really.

You’ve probably heard that “Men should always have the last words in an argument with their wife.” Those words are “Yes, Dear.”

And here are some really last words uttered on a death bed:
Actor W.C Fields, when asked why he was reading the Bible said, “I’m looking for loopholes.”

A pastor was visiting an elderly man in the hospital when the man suddenly gasped for air and couldn’t breathe; so he grabbed a pen and paper to write his last words. He handed it to the pastor and died. The pastor took the note, put it into his pocket and ran to get the nurse. A week later at the man’s funeral the pastor is reading from the Bible and remembers the note in his pocket; so he opens it up and reads it to the congregation, it said: “You’re standing on my oxygen tube!”

Those bad jokes were inspired by a couple of verses in the text for today from the final chapter of Revelation. As soon as I began studying this chapter there were two verses that grabbed my attention, not because they inspired me but because they were very challenging.

Here they are, verses 18 and 19: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” John seems to be saying he gets the last word.

Interestingly, at least to me, is the fact that these two verses are omitted when this chapter appears in year C of the Lectionary. When the lectionary omits verses from the middle of a text I always wonder why and have to go look to see what was left out. In this case my guess is that like me, the authors of the lectionary would rather not deal with these difficult verses. But I left them in because these verses point to a central issue that has divided Christians over the years and is especially relevant in our time. These verses have to do with how we choose to interpret Scripture.

Some Christians take this warning to mean we are not to change any part of the Bible because it is the infallible, literal word of God dictated to a human author. Another approach which I subscribe to is that the Bible is a collection of books written over several centuries by different authors in particular times and places who did their best to describe their own experience of the mystery of God.
So, let’s review the history of this particular book. Revelation was written in the late first century during a time of terrible persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire. The author, John, did not think he was writing the last chapter of the New Testament, and that’s a critical point. The New Testament as we know it did not exist until 200 or 300 years later when the church reached a consensus that the 27 books now in the New Testament should be included in our Bible.

Why is that important? Because it means that these two verses that say no one should change a word of this “book” are talking about the prophesy in the book of Revelation, not about the entire Bible. John wrote those words as the final word of his prophesy, not as the final words of the Bible.

Does that mean that we have carte blanche to rewrite other books of the Bible? Of course not. My point is simply that God did not stop speaking to us in the first century. The Bible is our primary source of inspiration, but that doesn’t mean it is the only one. Do we really want to limit God’s revelation to biblical authors who believed the earth was flat?

I think not. John Wesley, our Methodist founder recognized in his famous quadrilateral that in addition to the Scriptures we need to draw upon other gifts like Reason, Experience, and Tradition. Even though John closes this prophesy with a period, God’s word to us always ends with a comma because God is forever speaking to those who have ears to hear.

All of that is important because it helps us understand the other mystery in Revelation that is emphasized in this closing chapter. Our text for today begins and ends with the words, “I am coming soon.” Really? That’s like saying the Browns are going to win the Super Bowl “soon.” How do we reconcile “soon” with the fact that it’s been 2000 years since John wrote those words? Some people write off Christianity because the second coming hasn’t happened yet. Others use these words to try and scare people into believing. Neither of those works.

You can’t scare people into faith. Think about a time when you’ve really messed up and made a huge mistake. Do you want judgment or compassion? The fear-based approach says, “I made a mistake, my dad will kill me!” The Gospel of Christ says, “I made a mistake, I need to call my dad.” My understanding is that “I am coming soon” means it is very urgent to be living as if we are in God’s Kingdom now and every day because Christ is trying to break into our lives all the time if we invite him in.

Much of Revelation relies on the fear-based approach to evangelism, but notice what happens here in the last chapter. Right before those dire warnings about not changing the text are these two verses:
“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”
And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.”

Warning has turned to invitation. Jesus says, “Come to the wedding, come to my party. Everyone who hears, come; everyone who is thirsty, come; ANYONE who wishes take the water of life as a gift.” Eternal life is a gift, and gifts come with no strings attached. They are freely given, and that’s good news.

But when, Lord? When are you coming to quench our thirst for justice and righteousness? This verse reminds me of Isaiah saying, “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles…” But Isaiah doesn’t say how long we have to wait. We’re tired, Lord. We’re tired of strife and bitterness and divisions. We’re tired of cancer ravaging healthy bodies. We’re tired of making our children go through active shooter drills in pre-school. We’re tired of endless wars and political squabbles that prevent any real work on all the problems facing our nation and world.

How long do we have to wait? What do you mean when you say, “I am coming soon?” Let us know so we can put that date on our calendar and be ready; so we know how long we have to hang on.

Our theme for this sermon series is “Victory in Sight.” But we’re like squirrely kids who can’t wait for Christmas. We don’t want to see victory off in the distance, we want to celebrate and sing the Alma Mater with the band now. We want to hoist the championship trophy and hang the victory banner in the rafters now!

But we have to remember that our time is not God’s time. What was only 6 days of creation in God’s time took billions of years in our time. It may help to be reminded that the original Greek language of the New Testament has two words for time, chronos and Kairos. Chronos is clock time, time that we can measure and count. Chronos is the timer you set to tell you when the cake is ready to come out of the oven. It’s the tardy bell at school or the time clock you punch at work; it’s what keeps trains and planes sort of running on schedule; and tells us how many candles to put on our birthday cake.

It’s baseball playoff season so for sports fans maybe this illustration helps – most sports are played on chronos time -there’s a big clock on the scoreboard that tells everyone exactly how much time is left in the game. But baseball is played on Kairos time, or as Yogi Berra put it, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” That’s good news for a team that’s losing. There’s no game clock and they can keep the game alive as long it takes to win as they don’t make the last out.

But Kairos is God’s time. Galatians 4 says, “In the fullness of time God sent forth his son.” Kairos means when the time is right; it means when God, who knows so much better than we do, says it’s time it is; and we run grave risks if when we think we know better than God what time it is.

So let’s think one last time about the theme for this series: “Victory in Sight.” What does God’s victory look like when it comes to pass? Diana and I recently took two of our grandkids to see the new “Lion King” movie, and I was struck by how dark and violent it was, I guess because it’s more realistic than the original animated version. It got me thinking about how many of the stories we tell our kids and ourselves picture victory of good over evil in a violent way? Simba kills Scar; super heroes rely on violence to win, Hansel and Gretel push the witch into an oven, a lumberjack rescues Little Red Riding Hood by killing the big bad wolf – all those stories define victory in terms of a violent outcome.

Is that the victory people of God have in sight? Earlier chapters of Revelation describe the ultimate battle at Armageddon where God conquers evil once and for all. Too often that vision of victory has been used by Christians as an excuse for not doing justice and mercy here and now in Chronos time. If God is going to take care of things at Armageddon then we don’t have to be bothered. It’s not our problem; so we can relax and enjoy our lives.

But that’s not what victory in sight means. God’s peaceable kingdom is better described by those verses of invitation in Revelation. The invitation is to all, not just to some predetermined few. It is an invitation to a time like the vision in Isaiah where “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.”

We live in a time of great fear. Some of us fear gun violence and some want guns because they are afraid of bad guys. Some of us fear immigrants taking over our rights and others fear what it means to refuse help to those who need refuge. Some of us fear unbearable pain but also fear opioid addiction. We have different fears, all legitimate, but we dare to believe this – faith and trust are the only cure for fear in whatever shape it comes.

Diana and I recently did a major renewal of landscaping around our pond and gardens by moving many tons of rock from where the delivery truck dumped it to where we wanted it. Thanks to a generous neighbor who loaned us his tractor with a front-loader the job was doable; and I got the easy job driving the tractor. In many places Diana stood bravely in front of the tractor right at the edge of the pond so she could direct me on where to drop the stone. One small slip of my foot on the brake and she would have been remembering her baptism in the chilly waters of our pond – and I would have been in the dog house for a very long time.

But she stood there dozens of times, as I marveled at how she trusted me more than I trusted myself. But here’s the other thing I noticed – her trust in me made me more careful because I wanted to be worthy of her trust.

It’s the same with God. When we trust God we become more trustworthy in our human relationships. When we trust that victory ultimately belongs to God and that we have no control over when or how then we no longer need to live in fear or guilt. Our God says, “Come, drink, live!” The invitation to live in the Kingdom of God is always there waiting for our reply. There’s no expiration date.

A God we fear won’t inspire faith – but a God of love will. No words, pictures, or stories can capture the infinite reality of God, but Revelation is one vision that helps us see some of the facets of God’s nature. We are all at different points in our life journeys, and none of us can rewrite our personal history. But we can start a new chapter today with the assurance that victory over our fear, our guilt, over hate; even over death itself is guaranteed because God is all in all, Alpha and Omega, beginning and end.

Genesis tells us that in the beginning all was chaos until God spoke the first word into the chaos. There was also terrible chaos in John’s time when Christians were fed to the lions as entertainment for the Romans. And we certainly have plenty of chaos today. But through it all we know who holds the future, and God’s victory is always in sight.

So, who gets the last word? All week long I thought I knew how this sermon would end, namely that God who spoke the first word gets the last word, in the fullness of time. But I realized yesterday that’s not true.

God’s last word in Revelation is an invitation to come, drink of the river of life and live in God’s new heaven and earth. But an invitation requires a response, an RSVP. So the last word is really up to us, and Revelation even tells us what our response should be—right there in verse 20, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.”
Amen

Deja Vu Storm Prayer

Note: I just came across this prayer I wrote two years ago when another monster storm was wreaking devastation. Harvey becomes Dorian, other details change names and locations; but the human condition is Deja vu in every generation–and so is God’s grace. So I’m just going to repost this as is, and you can fill in the blanks.

O Gracious and loving God we pray today for everyone dealing with the damage from hurricane Harvey. Be with those experiencing life-threatening floods of biblical proportions and with all the responders risking their own lives to save those of others. The news cycle will end soon and move on to some other crisis, but the recovery in Texas and Louisiana will continue for years.

So many natural disasters, Lord–wild fires, draughts causing climate refugees, the devastating mudslide in Sierra Leone that killed hundreds. We want to ask why Lord. We want to understand why there seem to be so many such calamities causing unbelievable suffering.

Our doubts and fears cause inner storms that shake the foundations of our faith at times. With the Psalmist and Christ on the cross we wonder if you have forsaken us.

So here and now Lord in the sacredness of this sanctuary we lay our most ardent prayers for everyone who is suffering. We surrender our fears and doubts because we know you are with us. You have walked among us in human form and suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous human misfortune and pain. And in Jesus the living Christ you showed us that evil and suffering will never have the final word.

When the storms of life are threatening to overwhelm us Lord, draw us to the life-saving power of your holy word. Whatever imagery works for us – be it a good shepherd, a mighty fortress, a rock of ages or that still small voice that we hear when we pause long enough to listen. Remind us again, gracious God, that you are our rock and redeemer, you are the one who speaks to the raging storms in nature, or in conflicted relationships, or within our own hearts and says, “peace be still.” Remind us again what ultimate trust and faith looks like in the form of our Lord sleeping in the boat on the stormy Sea of Galilee.

When the storms of life are raging, stand by us Lord. Empower us to face each day of life, each new challenge not because we know the future but because we know you hold the future now as you always have and always will.
We offer our prayers and our lives to you, O God, in the name of Christ Jesus. Amen

Doubt and Faith

“Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”

The quote above has always been one of my favorites from Frederick Buechner. (It’s from his book, “Wishful Thinking.”) But of late I’m wondering if like most things one can have too much doubt. I know I’m way too old for a mid-life crisis, but the ants in my pants are feeling more like fire ants in recent days.

My preacher mentality means I usually feel that I need to offer a word of hope when I write about the stuff of life, but for today I just need to vent. I’m depressed about the whole state of the world. The fires in the Amazon, senseless gun violence, divisions in the fabric of society that are deeper and wider than the Grand Canyon—it all feels so hopeless to me. When we desperately need to come together to solve these huge problems we just choose up sides and fire salvos across a partisan chasm that is no more real than the imaginary lines we draw on our maps.

So maybe it’s an old age crisis? And I’m not talking about dying. I’m ok with whatever death means. But the crisis for me is about what kind of world are we leaving for our kids and grandkids? I’m not an end of the age, Second Coming guy. In fact I think Christians who are rooting for the Apocalypse and even encouraging it with conflict-producing radical pro-Israel Middle East policies are not only copping out of our stewardship of the earth responsibilities, they are making matters much worse.

When I reflect on my life and what I’ve done to leave the world a better place than I found it, I don’t like the picture I see. There was a time not too long ago when I felt differently. I thought we were making progress on huge social issues like racism, nuclear weapons, and climate change, but no more. Maybe this is just a pendulum swing and a temporary setback. I truly hope so. I know my time is not God’s time, and I do believe that the life force we call God is bigger than this little planet we occupy. On my worst days I wonder if given our human history of evil and destruction of each other and our world that maybe humankind has outlived its usefulness. What if the universe would be better off without us?

That’s not hopeful or “wishful thinking,” to use Buechner’s phrase. But maybe the key to his quote is the part that says doubt “keeps faith awake and moving.” It certainly does keep me awake at night, but does it keep me moving or does too much doubt paralyze me? Only if I surrender to it! Just moving for the sake of moving is exhausting and useless. But if doubt and big existential questions keep me moving deeper and force me to surrender to God instead of to my feeble human fears, then the ants are doing their job.

I feel like the father in Mark 9 who brought his son to Jesus for healing of a life-long affliction with seizures that threated to destroy him. So it is with the problems threatening to destroy our world. Like the father I lay our broken world at Jesus’ feet and say, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” And like the father. at least today, my best response is, “I believe; help my unbelief!”