Dark Before Light

tenebrae

Last night I went to a Maundy Thursday service at another local congregation, a church a block or so (If we had blocks here in rural Vermont.) down the road from my own little church in Rupert.

They were doing a Maundy Thursday service and this year we were not, so it was a chance for me to worship instead of leading a service. (although in the end, the other pastor drew me into leading part of the worship.)  This other church has about 20 regular members, and my church has about the same. Last night there were 11 of us worshiping.

It was a traditional Tenebrae service. Tenebrae is a Latin word meaning “shadow”, and the Tenebrae service is a service focusing on the darkening days as Jesus approached his death on the cross. It marks the last supper, with its dramatic conversation between Jesus and Judas, the heart-wrenching night watch in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion. As each section of scripture is read, candles and lights are extinguished, marking the dark days before and including the crucifixion.

Dark stuff. No wonder there were so few of us there.

But important stuff too. Part of the message of Easter, a message that carries through the entire bible (when you pay attention), is that God can take the worst things and turn them around into something amazing and wonderful – that no matter how we mere humans can mess things up, he can lead us back to a place of grace and joy.

And to recognize joy to its fullest, we have to have experienced pain and darkness.

My life is nothing special. The older I get, the more I realize that. I’ve had loss, failure and tragedy. I’ve been betrayed. I’ve been trampled on. I’ve done my share of screwing my own life up. I’ve spent some of my life in the darkness of uncontrolled depression. Just like a lot of people, there’s a lot of messiness.

But God has largely led me out of my mess, again and again. I am in a good place these days, surrounded by people who love me, a new bride, meaningful work, and a deep spiritual life.  I appreciate the joy of this time more today, I think, because of my age and experience, and because of having lived in dark places.

That’s Easter.  A day of light. A day that takes all the dark mankind could throw out there, and make of it something beyond imagining. Light after dark. Life after death. Understood and appreciated more because of the darkness. The Tenebrae.

And so we note it. We understand that even in the dark, God is at work. We don’t deny the dark. In fact, we defy it. And on Easter, we push it back and dance in the light. God lives. Death is defeated. There is no power, certainly not the dark, that can escape our Lord’s love and ability to turn tragedy to good.

Find time Sunday to worship Easter. Recall, Remember and Rejoice in our God’s love and his power of light. Celebrate the eternal life he promises and shows to us in the central event of our faith.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

Lent as Spiritual Rehab

rehab

Do you ever think of Lent as Spiritual Rehab? I think there is an argument for it.
Rehab, of course, is working on the parts of us that are weak, either from injury or wear and tear. We focus on that broken part to make it strong again.  Rehab comes in all kinds of flavors: Physical, Emotional, Psychological and of yes, spiritual.
This week in the lectionary, one of the scripture came from John 3:14-21, which includes that almost ubiquitous verse, John 3:16. We Christians love John 3:16. It sums up so much of the good news for us. It is a verse that reminds us of God’s love (“God so loved the world..”), and his sacrifice (“That he gave his only begotten son.”) and the reward (“that we might have eternal life.”). No wonder it is one of such a small group of verses that most of us know by heart!
But we forget sometimes the context of John 3:16. Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, that Pharisee and member of the religious council who came to Jesus in the night because he knew that for all his learning and all his religion, something was missing. And Jesus reminded him what. He had lost the heart of the gospel, God’s love, in all the rigamarole and rules. And the only way for Nicodemus to get back to where he needed to be spiritually was to fill his heart with this message of God’s love for him. He needed….. spiritual rehab.
We often need the same spiritual rehab. Life beats up on our faith and our spirituality. A tumultuous world. A society that largely does not believe or act on their belief in God. A media that distracts us from time with God. We are a battered people. By the time Easter rolls around, it’s impossible for one day to lift our spirits. And so… we have lent, a 40 day season of remembering and introspection. A 40 day period of prayer, and opening ourselves to the miracle of the resurrection, and what it means for us. Anything we might give up is secondary. The real power in lent is spending more time remembering and drawing closer to the God that loves us.
Lent is not over. If you are not spending extra time each day talking with God, there’s time. He’s right next to you, waiting. ready to start rehab. 
Have a blessed week!
Tom

Preaching to Myself

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I preach to myself.

That’s because mostly I am never comfortable preaching at others. Even to others. I wasn’t when I started this journey and years later I still feel uncomfortable preaching. It’s probably kind of silly. I know that. But as a young person, preachers were like, next to God. I had them on pedestals as men (and later, women) closer to God than I’d ever hope to be. More righteous. More Godly. More plugged into God’s power. Wiser. Holy men.

I am old enough now, and I have a lot of preacher friends now, gained over a lifetime of church going, and so I know better. Preachers, most of us anyway, are just people. We have the same struggles as everyone. We fail. We blow the mission. We’re nowhere as good as other people think we are, and no where nearly as good as we think we ought to be.

We’re just people, trying to use our talents and spiritual gifts to serve the God who gave them to us, and the people who trust us in our congregations. Nothing more. We answer what we believe is a call and we struggle with being good enough. Because we we rarely feel good enough. Your preacher won’t tell you that. Because we are all trying hard to meet your expectations. We think somehow it is part of our job. But still, when I stand up in the pulpit, I often ask myself what the heck I am doing there.

So I preach to myself.

I am after all, old enough to have made most of the mistakes, sin most of the sins, struggle through most of the struggles that the average person has in a lifetime. I figure that if I am working through something, likely someone else in the congregation is as well. If it touches me, it will touch someone out there. And mostly that proves true. Hardly a Sunday goes by that someone in my two tiny churches doesn’t tell me that I was preaching to them that morning.

No, I wasn’t. I was preaching to myself, because I needed something. But that’s the thing isn’t it? We’re way more alike than we are different. Most of our struggles and journeys have more in common than not. That’s part of why the bible remains so relevant – things change. But human nature and needs don’t.

I’ve muddled through with this blog for some time. It began as an experiment, because people who visited my church asked me to publish my sermons. I’ve put those sermons out a lot of ways – written them (hard actually, because I preach from notes, not a written sermon), I did audio recordings. I did video recordings. All of it was OK I guess. There’s about 60 of you who follow this blog now – more people than actually come to my two tiny churches. But none of it came natural to me. No more natural than doing sermons. I don’t think I will ever be comfortable telling people what to do from a pulpit, even an internet based one.

One of the things I talk about a lot in my ministry are spiritual gifts. These are gifts that God gives us to do his work. We all get a few of them. If we want to know what God’s will is for our lives, all we have to do is pay attention to the gifts he gives us. Most of us don’t though. We do what we think we want to do, ignoring what God made us to do. And wonder why it doesn’t work out so well.

Duh, right?

We, I have been doing that here. I was made a writer. Not a great preacher, reader, TV/YOU Tube star. I write. It’s my gift and my craft. I am a teacher. It’s my gift and my craft. Dumb me needs to use those gifts, be what God made me to be, and stop wasting my energy trying to be something I’m not. So I have been preaching to myself over this for the last few weeks. And I’l give this blog another go. As myself.

It may not be the sermons that my visitors want. It likely won’t be sermons at all, though perhaps a tidbit from my sermons might stumble in the mix. But it will be honest. It will be me. And because I’ve made most of the mistakes, it might even touch you.

I preach to myself.

Tom