Easter!

The celebration of Easter is such a joy following Lent, perhaps this year as much as any other. Last year, we were sheltering in place and so Easter Sunday had not choir, no congregation in the pews and people were worshipping live through television and the internet.

What a difference a year makes! We are still living in the midst of a pandemic, but at least the vaccines are being administered. There is a glimpse of a time when Covid-19 will truly lose it grip on us all. This year, we did have in person worship safely by requiring masks and having the pews marked for social distancing.

However, for me, the power of this Easter was part and parcel of walking through the last words of Jesus and an incredibly moving Good Friday Service. The music was new to the service as was a change from the passion reading from John. Instead, we re-read those last words of Jesus from the Cross. The music spoke to my heart and spirit.

Today, we heard the resurrection story from Mark which is abrupt and ends in silence. Later in the service we heard a later ending, but that story, I think, speaks to our life in the past year. A vocal quintet and a brass quintet along with the organ made the service glorious. While we could not have the choir sing yet, or have people come forward to sing, the “Hallelujah Chorus” is for me, what Easter is all about.

I am living hope right and grateful for the new possiblities that will be available as the vaccinations continue. If you would like to hear and see and worship both the Tenebrae Service on Good Friday and the Easter service, you can find them here.

Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen, Indeed!!

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At the Foot of the Cross: Palm Sunday

Holy Week begins. It was a beautiful cool spring morning and the sun was shining. All six candles and the Christ candle were lit for this morning’s service.

We began having in person worship, masks required and social distanced the first Sunday in March. It was wonderful. This Sunday, we opened our toddler and infant nurseries and had a palm procession with children. With the exception of the littlest ones they all wore their masks and waved their palms. Throughout the sanctuary the adults waved their palms.

I admit, I cried. I have not cried once during this entire pandemic. The site of children and adults waving palms along with the hymn “All Glory Laud and Honor,” did me in. With a powerful handbell piece and “Ride on King Jesus” it was as normal a Sunday as we can expect for the time being. The sanctuary felt full even though it wasn’t. The joy in the room radiated through out the sanctuary.

The sixth word of Jesus is Acceptance as he cries “It is finished.” Seems like we have had a lot of things we have had to accept through this difficult season of Covid-19. Last year, there was so much fear and so much we didn’t know about this disease. Now, it feels like we can begin to see a time when Covid’s grip might be loosened.

This week is all about the finishing, the end. Beginning with a parade and joy, this week ends in horror and violence. However it feels important to not jump from the Hosanna’s to Easter. To stop at the foot of the cross is some of the most difficult work we will do, but work that can open us up to the glory that is to come.

If you would like to see Palm Procession, or watch the service in its entirety or just the sermon you can find the links here.

I am praying for a most holy and sacred week during these waning days of Lent.

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Fifth Sunday in Lent: Suffering

I am not sure what happened last week. The fourth word from the cross was Abandonment. I guess I “abandoned” my blog for the week.

On the things I have been pondering during this particular sermon series is how it gets darker and darker as we approach Holy Week. The first words, or sayings of Jesus from the cross were outwardly focused. Jesus offered forgivness and grace and a new community to those who didn’t even ask for them.

This love and mercy is astounding when contemplating Jesus’ pain and agony as he is being crucified. The fourth word becomes a window into Jesus’ internal workings. His cry of abandonment from the cross is heart wrenching and deep. “Why have you abandoned me???’ The fifth shows how the crucifixion was causing him great suffering, “I thirst.”

Jesus the one who offered living water, the one who changed water into the wine, the one who fed the 5000 was thirsty and alone. These words, at least for me, remind me of the grace that is offered through Emmanuel: God with us in Christ. Jesus understands it all, betrayal, suffering, pain, abandonment and still, how he loves us.

You can find last Sunday’s and this Sunday’s worship services and sermons here.

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Third Week of Lent: Community

We have journeyed through about half of the season of Lent. The first few “words” from Jesus on the cross focus outwardly to the world. This last weeks word community comes from Jesus seeing his mother and the “beloved” disciple (who is not named) and entrusting their care one to the other. Here Jesus establishes a new community, a new family based on their relationship to Jesus.

This week has been filled with all kinds of memories as COVID-19 was named as a pandemic for the first time. This was the week that cities and states, businesses and school and even churches shut down. Not much was known about this novel coronavirus as year and fear and anxiety permeated everything from the airwaves to conversations to political discourse.

Suddenly we were isolated and social distancing. As we learned more about COVID-19 it became apparent how easily it was passed through the air. A year later, restrictions are slowly being lifted and vaccines are becoming more readily available. We are not out of the woods yet, but there is light ahead.

I have been pondering this week how as a community we are still carrying grief and anxiety, sadness and uncertainty. Or maybe it is just me. A little over a week ago a friend died, not of Covid but of cancer. From his diagnosis to his death was about month. A well known United Methodist, The Reverend Junius Dotson was a bright light to so many across Wichita where was a colleague and across this nation and world. I was so stunned by the news of his death, because that morning I woke up and thought, I should text Junius.

I have to say that grief and sadness tops off a deep well of sadness I carry from this last year. How about you? Colleagues, friends, parishoners have died from this horrible pandemic and countless have lost family members as well. Then there is the loss of gathering whether for a meal, or a drink in a restuarant, or our an outing or worship makes the human connection we had and will have again all the more precious.

This week, our devotion guide focuses on community and Leslie Coates does a wonderful job both in his video devotion (you can also find it our our webpage under the worship tab) and in his daily prompts. Community is such a gift and one that I have easily taken for granted. I do not intend to take it for granted again.

In the Christian tradition, community has stretched the followers of Jesus to include all, welcome all and embrace all. The church has never found it easy. Generation to generation new understandings of what it means to be a community and a family has pushed our comfort levels. Jesus pushed them through his ministry and on the cross, whether it be the theif on the cross, the woman the well, or the tax collector.

I continue to look for new ways to connect in community and to be in community with others. This pandemic has offered us multiple opportunities to reach out through the internet, through the telephone and good old fashioned mail. As human beings we need the physical contact, it is part our nature. That doesn’t mean the other ways we connect are bad or less than optimal. COVID-19 has engaged our creativity and courage and commitment to community in new and wonderous ways.

Community gives us the grace to connect in our grief over the losses of this past year. Community offers us connection heart, soul and mind to support one another and share with one another. Community gives us a space and a place, both in person and online, to share our joys and sorrows, our fears and anxieties, our love and loss. I am grateful during this third week of Lent to celebrate and embrace community in all its forms.

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Third Sunday in Lent: Community

This was our first Sunday back to in person worship. Literally one year ago on the eighth of March, I mentioned the “novel coronavirus.” I had no idea by the next Sunday we would have gone to only televised and online virtual worship within a few days. We gathered briefly for three weeks in the fall, but the numbers and positivity rate went sky high and we closed again for in person worship. For re-opening we shared this video as to what to expect.

Having people in the sanctuary, even masked and socially distant was such a gift. Jesus third word from the cross “community” was embodied this morning. This third word, like the first two were outwardly focused. Jesus entrusted his mother and his favorite disciple one to the other creating a new kind of community, family. We celebrated the sacrament of holy communion as well, which was certainly fitting.

As I said this morning, I do not know how long we will need to mask and keep pews roped off. However, we will continue as long as the CDC advises us to do so. I know God is not in a building, however, having the people of God worshipping together physically was moving. We now have three candles lit along with the Christ candle. We have halfway through our journey.

The full service or just the sermon can be found here.

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Second Week of Lent: Grace

The last few days have been gorgeous. The sun has been shining, the sky blue with wisps of clouds. The wind, typical for Kansas, is breezy. The root word for Lent means spring. This week embodies that meaning.

Today, I made my first hospital call in a year. Maybe it hasn’t been quite that long, but pretty close and what a joy it was to be able to walk into the hospital and be able to see a parishioner. I had to “check in” that’s new, have my temperature taken and give my name and the room number I was visiting (they are restricting visitors to two at a time per room) and I was of course masked.

I have been visiting this particiular hospital as a pastor since mid 1982. The halls are very familiar even with all the changes that have occurred over the decades. The sense of satisfaction and joy I felt walking those halls can not be described, at least not well.

The visit itself wasn’t anything profound. We talked, we prayed and saw each other face to face. I was deeply moved. I have been using the phone and all the technology available to do do pastoral care. This moment, however, I will savor for a long time. This moment graced my life deeply.

Grace is the word from the cross this week. As United Methodists, it is one of our favorite words. Theologically I can slice and dice and write many explanations and definitions. As I lit the second candle in the cross, I pondered how grace is more accurately experienced than defined. Grace includes moments of awe, of forgiveness, of love, and of connection.

In the second word from the cross the promise of Jesus, connecting in that horrible cruxificion, was one of grace. A promise that even in the midst of uncertainty, pain and suffering, the thief and you and I are not alone.

As the positivity numbers for Covid-19 go, I suspect that these connections of grace will continue as we see each other face to face and in person. I pray I don’t take them granted in the coming days. There are families and friends of over 511,000 who have died from Covid that would give anything for that moment I had this morning. May our grief and our compassion find new ways to offer grace in the moments, the days and the weeks ahead.

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Second Sunday in Lent: Grace

The second word form the cross is the promise of Jesus to the thief that he would join Jesus in paradise. This scripture from Luke 23 can be unsettling for some. This criminal at the last minute asks for grace and forgiveness. Being executed gives us an indication that this man had lived a hard life, but we don’t know if he had always been inclined to do what was evil or whether it was an act of desperation.

In any case, this criminal, also in pain, has heard Jesus offer forgives from the cross. While others mock and laugh, this thief sees an innocent man. “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”

Pastor Rebecca had a wonderful sermon on grace. Yes it seems unfair and yet God is all about redemption and restoration. At the foot of the cross we can receive grace upon grace.

We announced our re-opening for in person worship for next Sunday March 7. Only the Downtown Alive service will have in person worship as we transition back slowly and safely. You can find all the information. on our website.

It has been almost a year since we were worshipping in person weekly. We met for three weeks briefly in the fall before the numbers skyrocketed. We do long to see each other “face to face” and we will do so with some restrictions in place. What a gift of grace that will be!

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First Week in Lent

One week ago, Lent began. It was an Ash Wednesday like no other. After all these years to not be in person for worship felt odd. Instead of ashes, I had a temporary tattoo. The First Sunday in Lent was a continuation of weeks and months of virutal worship.

This year’s theme is “At the foot of the cross.” It’s a bit old school and yet, after almost a full year of lockdowns, social distancing, mask wearing and avoiding crowds, the theme feels very real. I have read several comments from clergy and other Christians noting this past year has been the “lentiest lent ever!” And there is a good deal of truth to that statement. How is it possible we are already in lent AGAIN???

If I am honest, Lent often sneaks up on me. It feels as if we just did “lent” and do we have to do it again? This year I am approaching it a bit differently. Somehow I want to participate in lent. I want somehow to embrace this time to ponder and pray, to mediate and fast. Perhaps it’s because of this past year of pandemic. I want to figure out what I have learned, how I have grown and what still needs to be nurtured and challenged in my relationship with God.

The lenten devotations are First were written by the staff. We are inviting people to create a lenten candle cross. With a Christ candle in the middle, each week we will light a new candle until on Good Friday, all will extinguished.

This is what Andrew and my candle cross looks like. The linen towel is one from his mother’s collection of linens. I like the way it looks. Along with lighting the candle each day and pondering the prayer prompts we are participating in the Lenten food drive.

This daily practice of placing an essential food item for United Methodist Open Door reminds me to be intentional about mission and prayer and action.

The first week of Lent has been a blessing for me. As I have focused on the first word of Jesus from the cross, I am reminded that forgiveness of my own sins and the challenge for me to forgive others is the hard work of being a Christian. Followning Christ means living out the forgiveness and the love I have been given by sharing it with others. It is a good way to begin this season of Lent.

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The First Word: Forgiveness

After the “lentiest year ever” in the words of so many, here we are again in the ACTUAL season of Lent. It was in the middle of lent last year the world went into shut down over a novel coronavirus named Covid-19. While First United Methodist Church opened briefly for in person worship for three weeks last fall, like many other churches we have done almost all of our fellowship, worship, small groups and Sunday School classses online and virtually.

We decided early on to not have an in person Ash Wednesday service. We talked through all the possibilities, worked at being creative and decided for us, having a virtual service made more sense. As the weather has been bitterly cold it turned out to be a good decision. Different staff members were assigned or volunteered to do one weeks devotions on a card. Sent out hundreds of lenten packets with a temporary cross tattoo to be placed on one’s wrist during Ash Wednesday (or one could use a marker or pen to make a cross or some dirt or ashes.)

We are also doing a food challenge similar to the reserve Advent Calendar. However instead of a different food each day in December we are doing a food for each day of the week.

Our sermon series is based on the traditional “last words” of Jesus on the cross. I am not sure I have ever done a sermon series, I have participated in some ministerial alliance lenten services over the years based on these scriptures, but I don’t know if I have actually done one myself. These phrases or “last words” seemed an appropriate focus after this last year of social distancing and concerns over Covid 19 and a contentious election season. While we are making plans to be back to in person worship soon, we will still be masking and roping off pews to keep people safe and healthly.

With the help of some wonderful volunteers (Danny White and Brian Hopper) our large cross was transformed to hold candles.

Similar to Advent we will light a candle each week along with the Christ Candle and then during Good Friday, one by one they will be extinguished in a Tenebrae service. Today the first word from the cross is “Forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Now I have read this passage from Luke so many times but as I was preparing this sermon and this series this is the first time is really struck me that Jesus’ first word was Forgiveness. Not the last word, or a word lost in the the middle, but the first word from Jesus is “Forgive them.” You can find the whole worship service here.

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Choose Joy: Compassion

We ended our sermon series on Valentine’s Day. Now some folks love that day and other’s hate it and I have personally been in both camps. The last couple of decades I have been in the former camp. I learned embrace the day not as some sort of commerical holiday, but as another path to remind myself of a Christians call to love.

This year I was most saddened because I didn’t have the opportunity to sign valentines for everyone who comes to worship. We are still worshipping virtually and I love signing hundreds of valentines each year. It was one more reminder of the losses we experience from the pandemic. So instead, I shared a picture of one of the antique Valentines I use my home as a note of love to all those who were worshipping with us virtually.

Using The Book of Joy, by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams has been such a gift. Each week we have looked at the obstacles of joy and then seen how a pillar of joy can help us overcome the obstacles. This week the obstacles were suffering and adversity. Both of these men, spiritual giants, know both suffering and adversity and point to how compassion helps us connect one to another. In that connection, even in adversity, even though we suffer we can experience joy.

In the Super Bowl there was an ad that noted: “what if we were were wrong this whole time? What if joy doesn’t come at the end? What is joy is the whole game, not the end game.” That is the premise of The Book of Joy. Joy is the point, joy is the journey, joy is the gift. You can find the whole service or just the sermon here.

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