Recognizing Christ

Devotion shared by Amanda Phillips at the evening worship service following the Enid Welcome Table on April 30, 2017.

Luke 24:13-35 NRSV

 

The walk to Emmaus… a very popular story, because it’s relatable on so many levels. Some will read this story and see men so distraught and so in mourning, they do not recognize the Savior. That is very relatable. Deep in anguish and pain, how many of us have wondered where God is?

Some will read this story and see stubborn men who didn’t believe the women who went before them. (That’s what I see) That’s pretty relatable as well.

There are many “meanings” or “lessons” in this story…

I’d like to focus on this one:

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

They recognized him through the breaking of bread. They were blind until they shared a meal together. Their heartache and weariness lifted in sharing food with Christ. They’re eyes were opened.

Today was a very hard day for my family. We have said “congratulations” and “see ya soon” to our Associate Minister and friend, Rev. Shannon Speidel as she moves on to a new position with the Oklahoma Coalition of Churches. The last few weeks I have been walking through my life with deep sadness in my heart, so today, I tried to focus on all of the sharing.

Shannon shared Christ’s love first with my children when she began her ministry here. Always focused on serving God by helping others, she found ways to sow service into the children’s ministry. She worked with others to have the kids lead worship at nursing homes and serve homebound communion. She had these little people breaking bread and showing love to those who cannot attend church. They collected pet food for the SPCA and made doggie blankets. Her heart always on ways to help others. She shared her service and our eyes were opened and we recognized Christ.

Shannon continues to spend her ministry being an advocate for all people, LGBTQ and women in particular. Standing up for health and justice issues for those who are discriminated against and ridiculed. She shared her support for others and our eyes were opened and we recognized Christ.

Shannon wanted anyone at all who needed a meal to be able to come eat without strings attached. No hoops to jump through, no prerequisite, no religious requirements. If people are hungry, you just feed them. She worked very hard to keep everyone involved in this project focused and was vital in making sure that Enid Welcome Table became a reality. She shared a meal and our eyes were opened and we recognized Christ.

As she moves forward in her career I’m incredibly confident that she will continue to move mountains. It is our duty to keep sharing Christ’s love with all we meet as we continue forward here. Breaking bread with strangers, sharing the cup with all we meet, so that their eyes may be opened and through us they can recognize Christ.

We have a children’s worship service on Sunday morning called “Following Jesus.” During this worship we light a “Christ candle.” I tell the kiddos “it reminds us that He is with us as we hear the word of God.” At the end of the service we “change the light.” I take the candle snuffer and cover the candle until it goes out. Slowly I raise and swirl the snuffer to make beautiful swirls of smoke. As I do this, they hear something like this: “Now it’s time to change the light, because we know that the light of Christ isn’t really this candle and doesn’t stay in this room. The light is within us and goes with us as we share the love of God with others.”

Thank you Rev. Speidel for shining that light. Let us all move from this place and share God’s love so that eyes may be opened and they can see the risen Savior.

Embracing the Grace, Authenticity and Mission of Jesus: Thank You Rev. Speidel

Shannon

There is widespread agreement that if a church is to survive this century, then it must do what most churches resist doing. It must change. To avoid joining the thousands of churches that will die by the end of this century, I believe there are three major changes that many churches need to make. 

  1. Churches must wholeheartedly embrace the grace of Jesus.

Jesus prevented religious folks from throwing rocks as sinners, and so should we. Of all of the human organizations on this fragmented planet, the church should be a place where all people are welcomed to join a community of grace, love and forgiveness. Without fear of being judged, bullied, or ridiculed, all people should feel welcomed to come as they are and honestly and openly confess their sinfulness and brokenness, and then receive grace. Then, they should be encouraged to share that same grace with others. I believe all churches should be open and affirming, because a church that follows Jesus has no business being closed and condemning.

  1. Churches must wholeheartedly embrace the authenticity of Jesus.

Some church people have the reputation of being like the people Jesus criticized the most: hypocrites. Therefore, we must stop claiming to follow Jesus on Sunday morning while ignoring everything Jesus taught the rest of the week. This means that blessing the poor, standing up for the powerless, and fighting for those who hunger and thirst for justice should always be our priority. It means loving our neighbors as ourselves, selflessly and sacrificially, no matter the cost.

  1. Churches must wholeheartedly embrace the mission of Jesus.

Jesus never confined his ministry to the Temple or a synagogue. Church people must be willing to move out of the sanctuary into a hurting world. Instead of inviting people to come to church on Sunday, we should be asking people to be the Church everyday by doing the things Jesus did such as: eating and drinking with outsiders, feeding the hungry, welcoming the foreigner, becoming a friend to the oppressed, and being a healing presence for all who need wholeness.

The exceptional leadership that Rev. Shannon Speidel has given to our church as our Associate Minister for the past two years is exactly what we need if we are to continue to be a viable church, as she wholeheartedly embraces the grace, authenticity, and mission of Jesus. I am grateful for the way that her inclusive love for all people, her unwavering passion for social justice, and her bold desire to be the hands and feet of Christ out in the world has challenged us to be the church God is calling us to be.

I am also thankful that she will continue to be in a position to bless Oklahoma as she begins her ministry with the Oklahoma Conference of Churches. Churches across Oklahoma are fortunate to have a leader like Rev. Speidel who possesses the gifts, vision, passion and faithfulness that will help them not only survive, but thrive throughout the 21st century.

Easter People Behind Locked Doors

Andrew Finiish
As a Special Olympian, Andrew has run in many 1 mile “fun runs,” but he has always dreamed of finishing a 5k race. However, Down’s Syndrome and surgically-reconstructed knees have made it impossible. The good news is Easter transforms impossibility into reality.

1 Peter 1:3-9 NRSV

It’s the Season of Easter. The Lord is Risen. Christ is alive! Jesus is on the loose. The Messiah is on the move. And he’s coming for his disciples! He’s coming to offer them an incredible gift!

As our Epistle Lesson testifies:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (1 Peter 1:3).

And where are the disciples?

The first verse of our gospel lesson this morning reads: “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked…”

Jesus is alive. He is moving out in the world, and the disciples are inside a building, cowering behind locked doors.

Now, it is nighttime, a dangerous time in any city, and here in the city of Jerusalem on this night, maybe they had a good reason or two to lock their doors.

The most obvious reason being their fear that the religious leaders who organized to crucify Jesus would soon be coming after them. The ones who began plotting from the very beginning to put an end to Jesus and his message were quite possibly even now plotting to put an end to them.

So, who could blame them for locking the doors.

But then, there may be have been another reason those doors were locked.

Remember, Mary Magdalene has told them, “I have seen the Lord.”

And what do the disciples do? They lock their doors.

Could it possibly be that they did not know what kind of gift the Risen Christ was bringing to them: a new birth into a living hope through his resurrection?

Or could it be that they knew exactly the kind of gift Jesus was bringing?

After all, they were all witnesses to what had to taken place before Easter could happen: Before a new birth into a living hope could come, somebody had to pick up a cross.

So Jesus might be coming with the promise of new birth into a living hope, but before this new life can fully realized, there might be some more cross bearing to do.

And this was certainly no new concept for them. For they had heard Jesus say on numerous occasions: “to gain one’s life, one must first be willing to lose one’s life.”

They had heard Jesus say, the road to rebirth, the way to new life, the route to resurrection, the path to Easter, was very narrow and very few find it. For it’s a road of self-denial. It’s a way of self-expenditure. It’s a route of sacrifice. It’s a path of suffering.

So, when they heard that Christ was on the loose and he was coming with the promise of new birth into a living hope through his resurrection, of course they locked the doors.

Just like we lock our doors.

And my, my: The locks that we use! The barriers we create! The walls we build!

His way is just so radical, so revolutionary, so scandalous, we do all we can do to shut him out.

“I know Jesus said that he is ‘the way, the truth and the life,’ but we still prefer to do things our way, make up our own truth, live our own life.”

“I know Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the poor,’ but isn’t that the Salvation Army’s job?”

“I know Jesus never excluded anyone, but perhaps we ought not advertise that.”

“I know Jesus said ‘the first shall be last,’ but I still think we should put America first.”

“I know Jesus called women to be his disciples, and I am aware that whenever he had an opportunity, he elevated the status of women, but they really shouldn’t serve behind the table or preach behind a pulpit.”

“I know Jesus stopped the self-righteous from throwing rocks at a sinner, but if we are not careful we are going to make our church ‘a haven’ for all kinds sinners.”

“I know Jesus said that when we welcome the stranger we welcome God, but ‘pardon me, I believe you are sitting in my pew.’”

“I know Jesus said ‘forgive seventy times seven,’ but the Bible says those people are abominations!”

“I know Jesus said we could learn from Syrophoenicians and Samaritans, and he said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ but surely he did not mean for us to love our Muslim neighbors!”

“I know Jesus said ‘there are other sheep who do not belong to this fold and we must bring them in also,’ but ‘You’re not a member of this church. So, what are you doing here?’”

“I know Jesus said feed the hungry, but we have to be fed too.”

“I know Jesus talked about being salt for the world, but are we going to let those people use our salt…and our pepper…and our sugar… and our sweet ‘n’ low?”

I want to suggest that it wasn’t just great fear that caused the disciples to lock those doors. It was also great courage.

For it takes some incredible nerve, some brave audacity, some serious brass, to lock the Risen Christ out of the building.

And sadly, ever since that first Easter evening, people who claim to follow the way of Jesus have been brazen in their attempts to thwart the way of Jesus.

Think about it. We have to be pretty bold to dare to reduce the meaning of the death-defying power of the resurrection. We have to be pretty brave to call ourselves “Easter People” and then water down the meaning of it.

I am grateful that church pews all over Enid were full last Sunday. However, I am afraid that the only reason many people came to church was merely to thank God that they, like Christ, will one day be resurrected to live forever. I am afraid the reason some church pews were so full on Easter Sunday was simply because “Easter People” wanted to remember Jesus’ resurrection and look forward to their own.

But if that is all Easter truly means, do you really believe those disciples would have locked those doors on that first Easter Sunday?

No, those doors were locked, because those disciples knew exactly what Easter means. They knew that Easter means the resurrection offers a living hope for this world, and not just for the next world. Easter is something to be lived today and freely shared with all who need re-birth and new life now.

But to do that, to offer that Easter hope to others, to truly live as Easter people, means that someone is going to have to pick up a cross.

It means that someone is going to have to deny themselves. It means someone is going to have to lose themselves. It means someone is going to have to open a door, leave a building, remove a barrier, tear down a wall, go outside, bend down to the ground, pick up a cross and walk in the steps of Jesus.

It means someone is going to have to share. It means someone is going to have to sacrifice. It means someone is going to have to suffer. It means someone is going to have to do something more than study a lesson, sit on a pew, sing a hymn and listen to a sermon.

So, the disciples, like you and like me, locked the doors.

Now listen to the good news:

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked… Jesus came and stood among them.”

The good news is that the doors we lock, the barriers we create, the walls we build, will not thwart the way of Jesus! Despite our bold and brazen attempts to stop Jesus from coming, to shut him out, he’s still coming. And nothing is going to stop him or even slow him down.

And he is coming to lead his Easter people get out of the building, to pick up a cross and bring rebirth and new life to all whose lives have been diminished, to all those who have been de-humanized by poverty, disability, bigotry and hate.

And here is some really good news: To bring new life, by the grace of God, we may not have to hang on that cross. We might not have to shed any blood. We may not even have to get arrested. We just need to be willing to pick up a cross and carry it a little way. The Risen Christ will carry it the rest of the way.

Running 3.1 miles is nothing for Gary Hula. Gary has been running 26 miles before church on Sunday for the last several weeks in training for the Oklahoma Memorial Marathon. Gary can run 3.1 miles while reading the News and Eagle and drinking a cup of coffee!

But that is how far Gary usually runs while pushing someone with special needs for Ainsley’s Angels.  Just 3.1 miles. Takes Gary 20 minutes.

But after a 3.1 mile race last week, the mother of the 26-year-old man with surgically reconstructed knees and Down’s Syndrome, who rode in a running chair that this church purchased for just a few hundred dollars, said and I quote: “My son’s dreams have come to life.”

Can you hear the resurrection in that statement? Do you hear Easter in that mother’s voice?

The next day the risen Christ came and helped us to welcome some of the most impoverished people in this community for a meal in our Fellowship Hall. Now, we didn’t do that much. The Oakwood Country Club prepared all the food. All we had to do was warm it up and put it on some plates. We just had to show up, unlock a couple of doors, and invite people in. We just had to be kind to people, treat people as we would want to be treated.

But after serving that meal, one of the guests said to a volunteer: “Today, you have made me feel human again.”

Do you hear the rebirth in that statement? Do you hear the new life? Can you hear Easter in that woman’s voice?

The good news is that because the Lord is risen, because Christ is alive, because Jesus is on the loose in this world, because the Messiah is on the move, all we may have to do to be the Easter people the Risen Christ is calling us to be is to be willing to unlock a door.

Easter People

Welcome Table

The Easter Sunday timing of the Enid Welcome Table’s debut could not have been more appropriate.

The front doors of the church building swung open wide, as guests, some homeless, some extremely impoverished, all hungry, were greeted with smiles and words of welcome. As they walked into the fellowship hall, a host guided them to a table that was beautifully decorated with an Easter-themed table cloth and a spring flower bouquet centerpiece. Soft jazz  played from the sound system adding to the welcoming ambiance.

After the host fulfilled the guests’ drink orders, a waiter approached the table to read the menu that was displayed on the TV monitors in the front of the room. Guests had a choice between pork tenderloin, peel-and-eat Cajun jumbo shrimp, and baked chicken. Sides included sweet potatoes, roasted potatoes, a medley of roasted vegetables, macaroni and cheese, and deviled eggs. Desserts included lemon cake, cherry pie, apple pie and chocolate cupcakes.

The attentive wait staff promptly served the guests with generous portions and while keeping their drink glasses full.

Volunteers who had come to serve, some members of our church, some members of other churches, some members of no church, joined the guests at the tables to share dinner and conversation.

Upon experiencing the extravagant welcome, a genuine welcome devoid of any agenda, strings, or ulterior motives, one of the guests said to a volunteer: “You have made me feel human again.”

“You have made me feel human again.”

Let that sink in.

It was Easter Sunday, and someone said that she felt alive again. It was Easter Sunday, and someone said that she experienced new life. It was Easter Sunday, and someone said that they felt resurrected.

Christians often like to call themselves “Easter People.” However, I am afraid that what that means to many is that they, like Christ, will one day be resurrected to live eternally in heaven. I am afraid the reason some church pews are so full on Easter Sunday is simply because “Easter People” want to remember Jesus’ resurrection and look forward to their own.

However, what if being “Easter People” means something more?

What if the resurrection is not just a gift to remember or a gift to look forward to, but a gift to be experienced now? What if resurrection is a gift to be shared with others today? What if being “Easter People” means that we are people who offer the gift of resurrection to those whose lives have been diminished by the sin and evil in our world? What if being “Easter People means we are called to resurrect those who have been de-humanized by poverty, racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia?

What if being “Easter People” means that we are called to do much more than sit on a pew on Easter to thank God for the promise of God’s kingdom that is coming after the resurrection? What if being “Easter People” means that we are called to get off of those pews to bring the promise of God’s Kingdom that is coming now to those who need resurrection today? This Easter Sunday at Central Christian Church, that is exactly what being “Easter People” meant.

The First Easter Word

 

Easter Welcome

Sermon delivered at the 6 PM service  following the first Enid Welcome Table Meal, Easter, 2017

John 20:19-23 NRSV

The very first word that the risen Christ brought to his fearful and anxious disciples who denied and abandoned him was: “PEACE!” “Peace be with you!”

It was the same word that was proclaimed at his birth by the angels: “Glory to the God in the highest and on earth, peace!” And it was the last word that came from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

“PEACE!” It is the word that every human being living in this fragmented world needs to hear from our risen Savior.

Thus, after Jesus pronounced the word to his disciples, he said, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

The Church has been commissioned by none other than the risen Christ to share this word with others. “PEACE!” It is the word people need to hear from the church more than any other word, and it needs to be the very first word that they hear from the church.

However, sadly, even after nearly 2000 Easters, churches all over this world have ignored this commissioning. And tragically, the very first words that many hear from the church are words that denote the exact opposite of peace.

The first words they hear from many in the church are words of judgment and condemnation. They hear loud, angry, hate-filled rants and protests. They hear words judging them as not only sinners, but as “abominations.” In the name of God, they are condemned by those who justify their hate with the same type of Christ-less scriptural interpretation that was used to support sexism, slavery and racial discrimination.

They may hear reserved words of welcome to come in and sit on a pew, but they clearly get the message right away that they are not to expect to truly become a part of the church. They are not to expect to be able to use their gifts to serve with and alongside those who have been deemed worthy for service. They are not expected to be truly accepted, forgiven, and loved.

However, I believe the Risen Christ still speaks to his disciples today. He is still saying to us that first word of Easter, “PEACE;” and is still saying, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

For God knows that there are people in every town, at every crossroad,  who hunger and thirst for a community of people in our world who have the audacity to truly live as followers of Christ who take the commission of their Risen Christ seriously to share “PEACE” with all people.

They are yearning for a church that seeks to be, not an institution or club of moral and devout people with right religion, right beliefs, right color and right lifestyles, but a church that seeks to be the living embodiment of the Risen Christ in this world, serving, loving, accepting and embracing the poor, the lost, the broken, the fearful, the grieving, those riddled with guilt and shame, and those whom society has rejected as outcasts, offering them the unlimited hope, unfettered grace and unreserved love that is in that first beautiful first Easter word, PEACE.

Remember Your Baptisms!

Baptism

Romans 6:1-5 NRSV

I love a baptismal service on Easter Sunday morning! I love it, because I believe one of the greatest things we can do on Easter Sunday morning is to listen again to the words of the Apostle Paul that are etched onto our baptistery, and remember our baptisms!

As a pastor who has been blessed with the opportunity to remember many baptisms, I will never forget one particular Sunday I walked into the waters of a baptistery like ours.

It was the Sunday after Hurricane Floyd flooded the first house Lori and ever purchased in eastern North Carolina.

I had been wading in waist deep water that Thursday and all day Friday. And then that Sunday morning, one of the first things that I did was to climb down those steps into waist deep water.

I’ll never forget the first words I spoke.  I looked out into the congregation from that baptistery, and I said, “You know, standing here this morning in waist deep water is the last place I wanted to be this morning.”

But I then said, “But it may also be first place I need to be this morning!”

Before that Sunday, baptismal water had always represented purity and refreshment to me. It was a water which cleansed one’s spirit and refreshed one’s soul. It was a renewing, invigorating water, life-giving water. Baptismal water was to me like the water from a spring welling up into eternal life from which we could drink and never thirst again.

However, on that particular Sunday, that water came to represent to me something more, something dreadful, something heinous, something sinister. That water came to symbolize destruction, despair; it came to symbolize death.

To the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul said: “Remember that you have been buried with Christ by baptism into death.”

You know what this means don’t you?  It means Paul’s house must have flooded too!

Well, probably not. But it does means that Paul understood the destructive forces of sin and evil in our world. It means the apostle Paul understood water to be symbolic of of those chaotic forces, evil forces in our world that seek the drain the very life out of us.

For many of that day, water was a very fitting for symbol for death, as many lost loved ones at sea, folks who who traveled out on the water, encountered a storm and never returned. Therefore, water was something to fear. Water was something to dread.

This is why the picture of Jesus walking on water is so inspiring.  Jesus was doing much more than walking on water. Jesus was walking all over the forces of evil like they did not even exist.

This is why when John gives a list of things which we are not going to find in heaven in the 21st chapter of Revelation, “no more sea,” is the first thing on his list. Before no more crying, no more pain, and no more mourning, John says there will be no more sea. One day there will be no more of anything more to fear or dread.

My hope on this Easter Sunday is that Braylen, Brenden, Ethan, Caden, Ashton, Rhianna, Brooke and Angie will always remember their baptisms—Remember that they who have been buried with Christ into death, have also been raised with Christ to walk in the newness of life.

And may each of us remember our baptisms. May we remember that we went under the water, but may we especially remember that we also came up out of that water.

We came out of the water symbolizing that in this world of evil and sin, with Christ we can be more than conquerors.

We came up out of the water symbolizing that in spite of those who attempt to drain the very life of us, in spite of those who never cease in persecuting us, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

We came up out of the water symbolizing that despite the many storms of life that come our way, death, divorce disease, there is nothing in all of creation: no rulers, no powers, no things present, no things to come, no height, no depth and not even death, that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.

We came up out of the water symbolizing that in all things, God works for the good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose.

We came up out of the water symbolizing that when we face uncertain days, even death, we will possess the grace to always remember our baptisms and the glorious message of Easter that our baptisms proclaim!

Sudden Sunday Surprise

He is not here

Sermon preached at the Easter Sunrise Service, Central Christian Church, Enid, Oklahoma.

Matthew 28:1-10 NRSV

There is no doubt that the surprising events which took place on Friday had left the disciples in a state of shock and disbelief.  The King of the Jews, the Son of God, the one who would finally bring them liberation from the Romans was crucified like a common criminal.  They were all taken off guard as all of their hopes, all of their dreams suddenly vanished.

They found themselves in the same state of mind you and I find ourselves when our lives are often surprised by evil.  When the telephone rings in the middle of the night.  And it is not the wrong number.  When we hear words from our employers like “cutting back, laying off, letting go,” or words from our doctors like “cancer, inoperable, terminal.”

 “No, it can’t be!”  “I don’t believe it!”  “This is not happening!”

Then as Sunday morning was dawning, maybe not part of the original twelve because of the sexism that has been so apparent in the history of humankind, but two of Jesus’ disciples nonetheless, Mary Magdalene and another Mary went to see the tomb, trying to comprehend what had happened, still trying desperately to believe it and somehow accept it.

And then it all seemed to happen again.  For that is how evil works in our world. When evil surprises us it does it in clusters. Some people say that it always comes in three’s. Other say, “when it rains pours.”

And suddenly, suddenly a word which always denotes surprise, shock and awe: there was a great earthquake.

“Not again!”  ‘Please no more.  There is just so much we can stand.”

But then in the midst of their confusion, shock, and bewilderment, an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  It so surprised the guards at the tomb, that they fell down on the ground like dead men.

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here. For he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then, go quickly and tell his disciples. “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.  This is my message for you.”

“So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy.”  There’s a paradox, isn’t?  Fear and joy. It lets us know that the women are still somewhat shocked. For they have been saturated with surprise!

Then, “Suddenly,” (there’s our surprising word again).  “Suddenly, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!”  Surprise of all surprises!  “And they came to him,” and did the only thing they could do, “They took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.”  Then Jesus said, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Hold on!  I thought the women were in Galilee. For that is what the angel had said, “He is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him.” The angel even bolsters these instructions by saying, “This is my message to you.” But where do they see Jesus?

They see Jesus somewhere along to road to Galilee.  The angel was wrong.  For the women did not have to wait to see Jesus.

I believe this is even more good news for us on this early Easter morning.

If angels do not know exactly when or where Jesus will appear with a presence and with words that compel us to take a hold of his feet and worship him, how can any of us presume to know?

Therefore, we should never be despairing, that is, we should never believe that things have gotten so bad Jesus will not come.

The wonderful truth is that when our lives are suddenly surprised by evil, Christ will always come, perhaps when we least expect it, maybe when we are least aware of it, and surprise us with words of love, words or peace, words of grace, words of assurance and words of salvation.

If we keep our eyes peeled to it and our hearts open to it, Christ will suddenly catch us off guard with his wonderful, hopeful, life-giving presence.

And we must never forget that since we are his followers, since we are called to be the Body of Christ in this world, we are commissioned to surprise all those who need surprising with the astounding love and amazing grace of God.

Can’t Celebrate Easter Without a Carrying a Cross: Remembering Mary Magdalene Feightner

Mary-Feightner-1492072139Here in the mournful darkness of this Saturday vigil, still in the shadows of Good Friday, we gather together with bated breath.

For Easter is coming! New life is being born! Resurrection morning is dawning! Something wonderful has been lost, but something magnificent is being gained.

However, I believe it is very important for us to realize on this Holy Saturday, that before we can experience new life, before we can celebrate resurrection, before we can sing alleluias, someone needed to pick up and carry a cross.

And the sad thing is that very few of Jesus’ disciples understand this. They don’t understand it today, and they didn’t understand it 2000 years ago.

Although Jesus continually taught that to gain life, we must be willing to lose our lives, that Easter would not happen without some self-denial, resurrection would not come without some self-expenditure, new life would not be born without some sacrifice, and the light of Sunday morning cannot dawn without the darkness of Good Friday, when the time came for the disciples to follow Jesus all the way to the foot of the cross, most all of them very selfishly fled to save their lives. One would even betray Jesus. Another would deny that he even knew Jesus. Nearly all would desert him. In spite of Jesus’ continual call to pick up a cross and follow him, most of the disciples turned their backs on him in his darkest hours.

However, there were a few disciples who got it. There were a few who were willing to carry a cross, to live and to love selflessly and sacrificially. There were a few who faithfully followed Jesus all the way to Golgotha.

Although the intrinsic sexism of this world’s history has caused the majority of people to overlook these faithful disciples, all four gospel writers did not.

In Luke 8 we read these words: Afterward [Jesus] journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women…Mary, called Magdalene… Joanna…Susanna, and many others…”

And on Good Friday, when none of the male disciples could be found, in Mark 15 we read: “There were also some women looking on…among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, Joses, and Salome.

In Matthew 27 we read: Gathered at the foot of the cross: “among them was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

In John 19:25 we read where all the male disciples fled, “But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

The problem with Christianity today is that there are too few Mary Magdalenes in the church who understand that authentic faith, true discipleship, involves a cross. There are too many Christians in our world who believe they can have Easter Sunday without Good Friday, who believe they can experience new life without death to self, who believe they can sing alleluias without sacrifice.

What this world needs, what this community needs, what the church needs more than anything are more disciples like Mary Magdalene and Mary Magdalene Feightner.

Like the Mary Magalene before her, Mary Magdalene Feightner understood that when Jesus called people to be his disciples, Jesus was always quite clear that there would be a cross involved, a cross that they would voluntarily need to pick up and carry.

I will never forget the last time I spoke with Mary. It was here, in this place, just this past Sunday. After the service was over and the congregation was dismissed, I was finishing a conversation with some people down front here who were asking about joining our church. I looked up and saw Mary walking down this aisle. I met her right here to greet her. I said, “It is so great to see you Mary.” And it was so good to see her. For each time I saw her she was always beautiful, stunning really, dressed to the nines, and always wearing a tremendous, welcoming smile.

Mary responded not in a manner people usually respond to such a greeting with “It is good to see you too!“ but rather “How is it going with that Air Force Class Central Christian Church adopted?”

I said, “It is going great! We had a good time trap shooting with them!”

And instead of replying, “Great, glad to hear it!” not allowing me to rest on any laurels, she replied: “Well, what’s the next event you have planned for them?”

Like Mary Magdalene, Mary Magdalene Feightner understood that to find true life is to lose one’s life, to truly live to truly deny one’s self, to always put the needs of others ahead of one’s own needs, to love and to welcome and to accept as Christ loves, welcomes and accepts.

It is no secret that Mary made it her mission for nearly the last thirty years of her life to give all that she had to welcome Air Force pilots and their families into our community.

It was obvious that Mary learned from her own personal experience, as she compassionately and empathetically understood from how difficult life could be for enlisted service men and women having to move and make a new home in a new community every few years. She knew the hardship on families: the time the kids get settled in school, make new friends, it’s time to move and start all over.

This is why Mary made Vance Air Force Base her base. They were here pilots, her families. She didn’t invite businesses or organizations or churches like ours to adopt these pilots or to do anything that she was not willing to do herself.

And she never did it for the recognition, for any reward, and certainly not to have the foyer of the auditorium named in her honor—the foyer, the first place pilots enter when they come to Vance, and the last place they leave after they earn their wings.

The night of the naming ceremony, her sons Ray and Mark will never forget having to tell Mary that they were going to the base, because Governor Mary Fallin was speaking, just so their mother would get dressed up and go.

Although Mary earned much recognition, Mary Magdalene Feightner did not volunteer her time for any award, any accolade, I believe she did it because she understood to find one’s life, one must first lose one’s life, as her work for the base was purely selfless, always tireless, and truly sacrificial.

It has been said by many who are associated with Vance: “Mary didn’t know she was 81 years old.” Because even during the most fragile part of her life, she selflessly gave all that she had. For example: staying out on the 103-degree tarmac for the Thunderbirds last summer until she passed out, sacrificing her personal well-being.

This was just Mary. No matter what Mary did, she gave her all and always put others first, whether as a banker in a man’s world working her way up from a teller to a loan officer to a Vice President, as a substitute teacher in the Enid public school system, as a Grace-Care Volunteer helping the elderly with basic needs, as the Secretary-Treasurer of the Northwest Oklahoma Banker Association, as a successful fund-raiser for the YMCA, the American Cancer Society, the March of Dimes, the United Way, or as Secret Shopper for Subway and Pizza Hut.

She did it because as a genuine disciple of Jesus, when it came to loving others, she didn’t mind that a cross might be involved. For Mary, people were worth the sacrifice. Thus, you could often find Mary in Enid wherever you find people. Whether she was picking up side gigs peddling Straight Talk phones at Wal-Mart or Kobalt tools at Lowes, she just wanted to where the people were, because she genuinely loved people!

She loved others, perhaps especially the Vance Air Force family with the same love that she had for her own family. By a living example she taught her sons a staunch work ethic, the importance of networking and social skills, and yet how to be a good listener. But, perhaps most importantly, she taught them how to accept, welcome, and love people.

Mark’s wife Diane will always cherish the way she used to welcome her and Mark into her home while they were in college. She said no matter what time of night it was when they arrived, she could always count on Mary being there to greet them at the front door.

Ray’s wife Kim and Diane testify, although somewhat reluctantly, of Mary’s unwavering devotion to her family, as according to Mary, Ray and Mark simply can do no wrong.

And each of her grandkids, Zachary and Kylie, Mason, Morgan and Madison can attest, at Gurnie’s house there were never any rules. Three scoops of ice cream? Who says you can’t have four?

I think it is interesting that Mary Magdalene is remembered and mentioned by name by the gospel writers more than any other apostle. And perhaps more than any other Partner in the Sky in Enid, Mary Magdalene Feightner will perhaps be most remembered by our community.

However, her great legacy is not why we are gathered here this afternoon in a Christian church. And her many contributions to this community is not why it is so appropriate that we have gathered here on this Holy Saturday, between the darkness of Good Friday and the light of Easter Sunday.

For tomorrow morning, Christians all over the world will gather and read or hear the following scriptures.

Some will hear the words Mark 15:47: “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were looking on to see where Jesus was laid.”

Matthew 28:1 reads: “Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave.”

Mark 16:1 reads: “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him.”

John 20:1 reads: “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.”

Out of all of Jesus’ disciples it was Mary Magdalene who not only sacrificially followed Jesus all the way to the foot cross, but she followed him all the way to the grave.

I don’t believe it was a coincidence that Mary Magdalene Feightner was here in this place to worship Jesus last Sunday morning. I don’t believe it was happenstance that she walked down this aisle on her last Sunday on earth, with her mind and heart not on herself, but on others. Like the Mary Magdalene before her, Mary Magdalene Feightner followed Jesus to the very end.

Because tomorrow Christians all over the world will read and hear those wonderful words that we are all anticipating on this Holy Saturday. From Mark 16:9 we read: “Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene…”

We are gathered here in this place, appropriately on this Saturday between Good Friday and Easter to celebrate someone who, because of her faithful discipleship, because she voluntarily carried a cross, because she sacrificed and poured herself out to this community, because she selflessly followed her Lord all the way to the end, Mary Magdalene Feightner has now experienced the good news of Easter in a way that we can only imagine.

And this Easter, out of all the disciples that have gathered here this day, “He, the risen Lord and Savior of the world, first appeared to Mary Magdalene Feightner.”

In John 20:18 with we these most hopeful words: Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

Yes, she most certainly has. Thanks be to God.

Claiming the Body of Jesus

cross

Sermon preached at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church for the Ecumenical Good Friday Service, 2017 in Enid, Oklahoma.

John 19:38-42 NRSV

After Jesus is crucified, John speaks of two individuals who emerge from the shadows, exposing themselves, risking their anonymity, putting their reputations on the line, by claiming the body of Jesus.  The first is Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus who had previously hid his faith in secrecy for what John calls “fear of the Jews.”  He was one of the Jewish authorities who never openly confessed their faith in Jesus because of fear of losing their political power and position in the synagogue.

And the second was Nicodemus. You may remember Nicodemus from John chapter 3. He had previously come to Jesus secretly by night, showing some interest in Jesus, but never making a public profession of faith.  However, now on Friday afternoon, in claiming the body of Jesus, the faith of both of these men is clearly exposed and made very public.

And as we read John’s account we notice that by coming out of the shadows, openly claiming the body of Jesus, these two men do much more than risk their anonymity and their reputation in their community.  They also put at risk their religion.  For touching the dead body of Jesus made them ceremonially unclean which meant that they would be unable to celebrate the Passover and the Sabbath with their families.

The extravagant amount of burial spices which weighed about a hundred pounds that the men bring to anoint Jesus’ body, tell us that these men also put at risk their riches. Along with the expensive spices, the linen burial clothes they used to prepare Jesus for burial were usually something worn only by people of wealth and prominence. The pristine condition of the garden tomb also underscores the extravagance of Jesus’ interment.

So in this story we see two persons who come out of the shadows risking reputation, religion and riches to claim the body of Jesus.

The question which should come to our minds is why?  Why risk anything for someone who is dead?  Why would Joseph and Nicodemus risk their reputation, their status in the community; their religion, their standing in their family; their riches, and their wealth for a lifeless corpse?

What was it that led these men to risk so much?  Well, one might ask: What would have happened to the body of Jesus if these men had not claimed the body of Jesus?  Well history tells us that after a Roman crucifixion, the unclaimed bodies were often left hanging on the cross to be picked apart by birds. And other times, the unclaimed bodies were simply thrown into the trash dump outside of town.

So these men, living in secret shadows, loving Jesus from afar, simply said, “enough is enough.”

We can no longer conceal our faith.  We can no longer mask our love.  We can no longer sit back and do nothing. We can not bear to let our Lord and our Savior’s body be defiled by being picked at by birds or thrown into a pile of trash.

We must do something.  Even if it means putting at risk every thing that we cherish, everything that we hold dear.  Even if it means risking our reputation, our religion (the way we have always done it anyway), all of our riches, we must act.  We can no longer stay in the shadows. Our love for our Lord demands that we claim his body:  that we remove him from the cross; that we prepare his body for burial, that we seal him in a rich man’s tomb.

It was love, pure and simple and powerful which caused these men to act on the behalf of Jesus by claiming his body risking reputation, religion and riches.

The irony here is that it was the same love which caused our God to act on our behalf.  The story of Joseph and Nicodemus is the story of our God.  Out of a high and holy place, our God said: enough is enough.  I can no longer love my creation from afar.  I can no longer watch my creation suffer and perish.  I can no longer keep myself from risking my all, from empting myself, from becoming a human being.  I can no longer keep myself from offering my creation all that I am and all that I have. I can no longer keep myself from pouring myself out.  I can no longer keep myself from loving my creation even to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Joseph and Nicodemus claimed the body of Jesus because they were filled with the divine love of God.

The question for us is this:  How long are we going to continue to live in the shadows?  How long until we open our hearts to the story of God’s love; to the divine love of God which wants to fill our souls, to be so overflowing with the love of God that we have to cry out: “enough is enough!   I can no longer sit back and do nothing, I must act. I can no longer love my Lord and my Savior from afar.  I must claim the body of Jesus, the body of Christ, for myself even if it means putting at risk the things I most hold dear.  Even if it means risking reputation, religion, and riches, I must share this pure and simple and powerful love with everyone I know. I can no longer let others suffer alone. I can no longer sit back and allow injustice to continue. I can no longer ignore inequality. I can no longer turn my back on those who are marginalized and ostracized. I can no longer keep my faith private.  I can no longer remain silent. I can no longer keep myself from giving all that I have and all that I am to the ones who are lonely, thirsty, cold and hungry.  Enough is enough!  I must claim the body of Christ!”

Well, what are we waiting for?  Are we afraid of what we might lose from risking so much?  Let’s look at what Joseph and Nicodemus lost by claiming Jesus’ body.  They really did not lose a thing.  Instead of losing their reputations, their good names, their names are remembered by the gospel writers and by you and me two thousand years later as the ones who risked everything to claim the body of Jesus.

How do we want to be remembered?  As someone who lived only for one’s self; accumulating a lifetime of reputation, religion and riches?  Or would we rather be remembered as one who because of so much divine love welling up inside of our heart, we risked it all to claim the body of Jesus?   By doing whatever we can to serve our Lord in our community and in our world.  By giving all that we have and all that we are to our Lord by loving others with the complete, divine love of God.

A Living Prayer of Thanksgiving: Remembering Margaret Lambke

Margaret Lambke

Thirteenth century German theologian and philosopher Meister Eckhart is often credited with the following quote: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ that will be enough.”

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ that will be enough.

I believe it is enough, because I believe that the simple prayer, “thank you,” indicates that one understands that all of life is a wonderful, free gift of God’s amazing grace.

I have said before that I believe there there are basically two types of people in this world: People who get the concept of grace and people who don’t get it.

People who fail to see the grace of it all are usually not what we call “good” people. They act as if they have somehow earned their life, done something to deserve their life. They walk around with this air that the world owes them something. And they grow bitter and even hostile if life doesn’t go their way. After all, they deserve better.

And because they feel as if they have earned it, their lives are usually self-absorbed. Selfishly, they do only what they want to do, even if that means doing nothing at all.

Then there are those like Margaret Lambke who get it, who truly understand the sheer grace of it all. They understand that all of life is gift. It is unearned and undeserved. It is mysteriously and utterly precious. And these are who we generally call “good” people.

Filled with gratitude and joy, they live their lives abundantly, enthusiastically, lovingly. Every moment—whether that moment may seem extraordinary or ordinary, miraculous or mundane—every moment, because it is gift, because it is grace, is relished, appreciated and even celebrated.

It is not hard to understand how people like Margaret make the best parents. Margaret absolutely cherished being a mother, and later a grandmother, and great grandmother.

Debbie and Conie, this is because, for your mother, you two, and later your families, all of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, were gifts of God’s amazing grace, all unearned, undeserved. And she got it.

This is why she remembered, looked forward to, and loved to celebrate every birthday, every anniversary or every life event in your families.

I loved that you will always remember her many voicemails. I think you told me that you could receive over a dozen from her in one day.

“Hi Hon, it’s me, I don’t need anything. Just calling to check on you.”

I believe Margaret called you and left those voicemails as a way of saying: “Thank you.” Thank you for being you. Thank you for being my family. And she called each time her heart was suddenly filled, overflowing with gratitude for you. This is why she called twelve or sixteen times a day!

I believe this immense gratitude which flooded her soul was the exuberant energy behind everything that she did.

There’s no telling how many times she heard someone say to her: “Mar Mar, please sit down. Mar Mar, please rest a while.”

But like the energizer batteries a little pink bunny, the gratitude that overflowed inside of her compelled her to keep going and going and going.

Gratitude is what propelled her to immediately step up and raise her hand whenever anyone asked for a volunteer. Gratitude is how she managed a gift store, helped Jim with bookkeeping in his pharmacy, served as president of PEO, volunteered with mobile meals, played some tenacious tennis, planted and maintained beautiful gardens, made homemade candies and baked her famous Mar Mar bread. Gratitude is what compelled her, no matter how busy she was at the store or with her volunteer work, to always be there for her family. Gratitude propelled her to get in her car and drive to Colorado when she learned Debbie was a little homesick to to drive to the school to give a ride to Conie and the rest of the cheerleaders if they needed one. And gratitude was the reason that no matter how busy she was, she was always a leading candidate for “Mom of the Year.”

Everything she did, every project she undertook, every holiday decoration she created, every Easter egg hunt she hosted, every extra goodie or appetizer she prepared, every Sunday school class she taught, every breath she took, was a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the gift of her life.

“Mar Mar, please sit down!” she would often hear. But the immense gratitude she possessed for Jim and Debbie and Conie, her friends and family, drove her to keep at it, keep working, keep volunteering, keep cooking, keep decorating, keep loving, and keep praying with all that she had that simple but beautiful prayer: “Thank you.”

I am certain this is why it has been so especially painful to watch Margaret these last few years since she suffered a broken hip and the subsequent unsuccessful surgeries. To witness this one who never missed a beat, never slowed down, and never sat down, has been very difficult, to say the least.

And now to think that this one who was so full of life, abundant, exuberant, tenacious, is no longer living with us, well, it can be almost too much to bare.

Conie and Debbie told me that one of their mother’s favorite scriptures was John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

It is easy for me to understand why this passage of scripture was special to Margaret. For there is such amazing grace revealed in these beautiful words.

God gave, God gave. Do you hear it? Do you hear the gift? Do you hear the grace? God gave God’s only son, why? For the world earned this gift? For the world deserved this gift? No, for God so loved the world!

So that everyone who believes in this gift, believes in this grace, so that everyone who truly gets it, so that everyone who truly understands that if the only prayer that you every pray in your lifetime is “Thank you” that is enough, so that everyone whose entire life is a prayer of gratitude, they will never perish but have eternal life.

Eternal life. Life without ceasing. Life forever. For people who fail to get it, who fail to appreciate the gift of temporal life on this earth, this is not good news. However, for people like Margaret, for people who truly get it and appreciate it and celebrate it, that life itself is grace, for people who have lived life fully and abundantly and tenaciously and enthusiastically, then this is the best news of all!

And I believe this good news can bring much comfort and peace to those of us who are grieving today.

But I also believe that Margaret taught us that we can find even some more comfort this day.

For you see, Margaret herself was a gift. Margaret was grace. This world didn’t earn her, nor deserve her. We didn’t earn or deserve 8 minutes or 8 days or 8 years, and we got 88 years. Jim you got all but 20 of those years. 68 years of marriage. That is grace.

Knowing Margaret, I believe she is eternally grateful for that. And I believe she has taught us to be eternally grateful to that.

Garth Brooks sings a song entitled “The Dance.” One line of the song goes: “I could have missed the pain, but I would have had to miss the dance.” Our grief today only means that we have received and lost something wonderful. The only way to never grieve is to have never received or appreciated that gift. But as Margaret taught us with her life, to never appreciate it, to never get it, is to never truly live. As the song goes, the only way to miss the pain of loss is to miss the whole dance of life.

So Jim, Conie and Debbie, as I told you last week, every time you remember your mother and shed a tear, be grateful for those tears. Because those tears only mean that you have been graced by God. Those tears only mean, that you like your wife and your mother, also get it.

And because you get that you have been graced by God with the gift of Margaret, because we all get it, may we live out our remaining days on this earth as Margaret lived all of her days, by being a living prayer of thanksgiving.