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Recognizing Jesus

Scripture: Luke 24:1-35

I’m a big fan of U2. (The rock band). A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go see them in concert. It’s hard to describe, but that evening in New Jersey felt like a deeply spiritual experience. The old Meadowlands became an outdoor cathedral.

This morning I want to give space for the “worship leader” from that evening, Bono, to give witness. Here he is talking about his faith in the risen Christ.

Bono’s words remind me that perhaps the most compelling witness we can offer regarding the risen Christ is the story of our own experience.

That’s how Luke’s account of the resurrection begins.  It begins with the experience of a group of women who go back to the tomb early on the third day.  They go back to the tomb with spices because they are planning to take care of a dead body.  But they don’t find one. Instead, they hear the surprising news that Jesus has risen.

The women go back and share their experience. But to the apostles, their story seems like nonsense. Peter at least goes to the tomb to see for himself.

What we know from this account is that no one was expecting resurrection to happen. The events of the whole week had blindsided the apostles. They were in shock. Numb.

No one expected the kingdom of God coming on earth to look like the body of Jesus hanging on a Roman cross in early spring…

This was not the way things were supposed to go.

What do you do when your vision of God’s work has been crushed, leaving you deeply discouraged and disillusioned?

Luke’s account gives us a glimpse of what this looked like for two disciples. They’re heading home to Emmaus. As they are walking and talking about all that has happened, a stranger joins them. It’s the risen Christ, but they don’t recognize him.

Father Thomas Keating says that “the price of recognizing Jesus is always the same: our idea of him, of the church, of the spiritual journey, of God himself has to be shattered…”

What strikes me at this point in the story is that resurrection has happened, but the disciples are not able to see what is right in front of them…because they are not looking for it.

The text tells us they had hoped that Jesus was the one who would redeem Israel. But they had a different idea about what redemption looked like. They had a different idea about how Jesus would bring his kingdom on earth.

So the first thing this story helps me understand is this. Recognizing Jesus and living into the story of resurrection has everything to do with us. Our ideas about God, the church, and the spiritual journey. And our grief and pain when those ideas are being shattered.

It is painfully difficult to be in the darkness that comes when our ideas are being shattered. The darkness, where things do not go like we think they should or want them to… The darkness, where we lose our vision and energy for church… The darkness, where we cannot see a clear way forward for our lives…

The good news is that God is with us in that darkness…even when we can’t see God. That’s the witness of the Emmaus road story. And the witness of the Emmaus road story is that sometimes, in order to recognize how God is with us, something has to happen in us. Read more



My spiritual director reminds me
that what I am up against is
the principalities and powers
encountered in the pathology
and dysfunction of
the human condition

Like flotsam and jetsam
I get pulled into currents
of action and reaction
words and feelings
fear and denial

But now I am still…

I look out the window
and watch the bluebirds
sustained by a feeder through
the harsh elements of winter

Their witness is undeniable

Turning to wonder

Scripture:  Luke 1:39-55 (Advent 2)

During a retreat at Pendle Hill several weeks ago, I encountered Jane Hirshfield’s poem, “Three Times My Life Has Opened.”

We were invited to sit with the poem, to reflect and journal about three significant transition points in our lives.  Three times our lives have opened.  Three watershed moments.

My mind went to that moment when I was seventeen years old.  When I moved away from my immediate family in Oklahoma to attend Christopher Dock Mennonite High School for my senior year.

I had grown up as a missionary kid in Mexico and as a third culture kid in Dallas and Tulsa.  The move was about the dream of playing basketball.  But it was also about a desire to discover family roots and the Mennonite community that had shaped my parents lives.

It was a watershed moment.

When young Mary received the message that she was going to give birth to one who would be called Son of the Most High…  When she opened herself to the mystery of what this word meant for her as a virgin…as a human being…

It was a watershed moment.

Watershed moments change the course of our lives.  They are moments that are bigger than we can fully comprehend.  They are moments that we live into.

Mary models the ability to question and see our limitations as human beings, but also the capacity to turn to wonder.

What does it mean to turn to wonder?

In a world of rational answers.  In a world that conditions us to the accept how things really work.  How do we leave room for wonder?  For the possibility that God is at work in the world…in this moment…in ways that require us to pay attention.

Read more

Shaking Our Reality at Advent

I went to Africa for the first time this year.  When I settled in at the Mennonite Guest House in Nairobi, Kenya, I heard various guests sharing accounts of their experiences with law enforcement while leaving the airport.

Some claimed that armed guards hopped into their vehicle and demanded bribes.  Others claimed to be taken by airport security and scrutinized.  All chalked it up to a vastly corrupt law enforcement system against white Westerners.

I quickly became attentive to the way I saw law enforcement, the citizens of Nairobi, power abuse and coercion to reap benefits from foreigners.  For the first time in my life, as a white American male, I felt the weight of being vulnerable and exposed in social settings due to my race.

I came home exclaiming how corrupt the Nairobi law enforcement system was and how unsettling it was to be subjected to that corruption.  It might not be perfect, I thought, but at least here in America we seem to have law and order.

Then, the news reports came of African American teenagers and young adults being attacked or killed by police officers in American cities and towns.  All  my thoughts of being “watched” by law enforcement in Nairobi hit me like a freight train and I realized that to my white, male perspective in America, the system that had seemed so just and orderly was, in fact, filled with the same prejudice and corruption when it came to interacting with minority communities.

I realized that the African American community has a much different experience when it comes to encountering police officers in this country.  It was a shock to my system when I realized that my experience in Nairobi was the same experience of minorities on our soil.  Read more




June 22, 1974, on a hot and humid summer evening, Dave and I were married.  Church bells chiming the 6 o’clock hour mingled with the Lohengrin Bridal March.  That is one happening that I remember.   Memories of that day are fading because that was 40 years ago.  I told Aubrey that I was married to Pappy for 40 years.  With her typical four-year-old melodrama she said, “Wow!  That is a lot, Mimi”.  I suppose it is a lot but, time has a way of passing, unnoticed.  I offer a few reflections.

We had known each other for one and a half years when we took the plunge into matrimony and said forever and ever, no matter what.  What were we thinking!   We certainly weren’t thinking of 40 years down the road and all that happens in between.  I didn’t know Dave.  I didn’t know he was an early riser.  Not only is he an early riser, but a cheerful, whistling and joking morning person.  To someone that is somewhat grumpy and needs a cup of coffee and time to wake up, that can be annoying.  I didn’t know he detests phones.  And, I am married to my phone.  His secretary and I both share the frustration of trying to reach him when he’s out and about and has left his phone somewhere, on his desk, on the car seat, being charged and sometimes he just needs to turn it on!  I didn’t know he can shut down in the middle of an argument when I still want to continue and maybe, win it.

Didn’t know he was a neat freak.  I never have to pick up after him.  He keeps his workplace cleaned and organized.  He works with skill, persistence, determination and will not hold back until the job is completed.  He loves my cooking and is always prompt.  My birthday is never forgotten and because mine is close to Valentine’s Day, I often receive a somewhat extravagant gift.  He shares housekeeping duties willingly.  He is an awesome Dad and Pappy.  Every day at five in the morning and before he leaves for the gym and then work, he leans down by my side of the bed and gently kisses me goodbye.  I’m not always aware of it but if I am awakened, I try to murmur, “Goodbye, I love you, too”.  Who doesn’t love a guy like that?

Our marriage is unlike the Biblical Israelites journey.   We did not experience forty years of wilderness wandering.  Neither did we always live in the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey.  But what it was and is, is mutual respect for each other.  It is a commitment to make it work, no matter what.  The “D” word is not an option.  It is security in knowing we will always be there for each other.  It is sharing laughter and tears, sharing the love of reading and a black cup of coffee.  We both love to travel.  Parenting our two children was a both a challenge at times and other times a joy.  But we shared the responsibility.  His family became my family and my family became his family.  Mary, his mother was my closest neighbor, a best friend and my second mother.  My widowed mother loved Dave and chided me at times that I didn’t feed him well enough.  She was from the generation that believed the way to a man’s heart is through the stomach.  He was a go to person when she needed a man’s job done.

On that hot June day, forty years ago, the day ended with a thunderstorm and refreshing rain. “Rain on your wedding day brings good fortune,” goes the old adage.  Did we experience 40 years of good fortune?  When I view the past years through the lens of gratitude, it actually looks pretty rewarding and fulfilling!

Because Dave never forgets an important event in the calendar year I get a card and most times it is signed, “Forever Yours”.  As I end this tribute, I will sign off with…”Forever Yours, I love you, Dave!


Moving toward Jesus

March 16, 2014

Lent 2A

Scripture:  John 3:1-17

I had coffee with a couple pastor friends this week.  We were talking about the state of the church.  I want to share with you a bit of what ended up on a napkin during that conversation. 

(Draw the Liberal/Conservative axis)  We were observing that much energy in the church and in the political rhetoric of the broader culture is generated by the poles on this axis.  We could name issue after issue that has divided the church and this country into red and blue.  True…false.  Faithful…unfaithful…

But there is another axis that I am beginning to see needs to be added.  I believe it helps us see a reality that is even more important than the conservative/liberal spectrum.  At least for followers of Jesus.  (Draw the Open/Closed axis vertically)

I want to propose to you this morning that as I read the gospels, this is where I see Jesus (write on the Open side of this axis).  It is what we see in the story of Nicodemus. 

First a bit of context that helps us see that this conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus cuts against the grain of much of what we find in the gospels—as far as the relationship between Jesus and the religious leaders is concerned. 

When we study the gospels, we see that the Pharisees are not portrayed in a favorable light.  Jesus calls them a “brood of vipers”, “hypocrites”, “blind guides”, “blind fools”…  

Jesus calls them out as those who “clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside are full of greed and self-indulgence.” 

Jesus calls them out as those who “are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.”  (Matt 23).

The sharp rhetoric goes both ways.  In Matthew 15 we see the Pharisees and scribes coming to Jesus from Jerusalem and saying:  “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?  For they do not wash their hands before they eat.”  Jesus answers them: “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?”

In Matthew 12:  Jesus cures a man who is blind and mute so that he can speak and see.  All the crowds were amazed and said, “Can this be the Son of David?  But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons, that this fellow casts out the demons…” 

These are just a sample from those included in the gospels.  This adversarial relationship and tendency to demonize the other continued into the rhetoric we see between Judaism and the Christian movement of the first century and beyond.  Sadly, as Christianity gained more power, this kind of rhetoric from scripture would be used to justify anti-Semitic attitudes and much persecution of Jews. 

So this is important context as we consider our gospel reading for today.  The Nicodemus story provides a counter story to all the stories that are bitter and combative in tone.  I see this as a story of moving toward Jesus.  I want to offer four things from this text that might help us in our movement toward Jesus.

Read more

How do I listen to Jesus?

Recently, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the winter women’s shelter at the Lancaster YWCA.  The program provides homeless women a warm place to spend the night during the winter months.  It was a busy evening.  Approximately 40 women, of all ages, arrived out of the single-digit, outside temperatures.   I handed out blankets, sheets, towels, a washcloth, dispensed aspirin and Tylenol and many other sundry items.   I made coffee and set out snacks, helped to set up mats on the gym floor, and engaged in conversation with the guests.  They were very personable and I found myself enjoying their candor, insights and realized they were just “normal” folks who had the misfortune at this time of not having a place to call their own.   I didn’t approach the “whys’ of that with them.   Lights were turned off in the gym at 9:30 and a quietness and peacefulness settled over the shelter.

Now, the volunteers started their shifts of one and a half hour of monitoring.  Cheryl had the first shift from 10 to 11:30 and I was scheduled for 11:30 to 1.  Rather than going to a separate room to sleep, I decided to spend the time talking with Cheryl.   At 11:30 the shelter phone rang.  Two women at the front door were impatiently asking, no, demanding to be let in.  They had vouchers.  But, we were instructed to let no one enter after 9 PM.  Cheryl kindly asked them to wait until we contacted the designated spokesperson.   After getting permission from her, we walked to the front door, asked to check their vouchers and left them into the foyer.  The delay, the fact that we had to call a charge person before letting them enter, asking to see their vouchers and doing a brief check of their person, pockets, and items they were carrying caused them to become angry and very belligerent.  They pushed us aside.  No amount of explaining the necessity for security and safety could calm them down.  They were Christians.  Couldn’t we see they were carrying a Bible?  Why did we not accept them without delay when they have been at the shelter previously and always arrived late?  They refused to listen to our explanations.   Trying to remain patient, gracious and kind, we hurried them through the process and tried not to annoy them any further.  I thought we were being very “Christian”.

After they were settled, the one woman approached us to gently admonish us on our attitude.  We were ambassadors of Christ and it was very necessary to display unconditional love to the guests.  Were we living out and practicing the mission of the shelter?  Were we displaying Christ-like attitudes?   Where was the compassion?   Why did we not trust them when they were carrying a Bible?  I listened quietly, nodding my head in agreement with little argument and defense of my actions.  At one point, Cheryl exchanged hugs and the two women, who were very exhausted, retired to the gym.  Except for a few eye rolls that Cheryl and I exchanged, the incident was pushed to the back of my mind.  There was no further conversation.  The rest of the night passed without any disruptions and I left in the morning slightly weary but a deep down, satisfied, warm and fuzzy, I-will-do this-again feeling.

Later in the day, I started remembering/reliving the whole incident.  It became bigger and bigger.  Perhaps it was because I had little sleep the night before.  But, I found myself getting angry and defensive.  This was a goodwill effort, an easy “service project”.  Give myself a pat on the back.  Arguments, conversation I should’ve spoken and justifying my actions were created in my mind.  The nerve of her to question my faith and actions!  I was only following instructions.  I treated them with respect.  I was kind, understanding and compassionate.  I didn’t argue or defend my actions.  I was treated unfairly!  I was judged incorrectly. I felt there was no opportunity in the situation to clarify myself and therefore bring about understanding.

Jesus was misunderstood.  Perhaps he was the most misunderstood person that ever lived. As my thoughts moved in this direction, I remembered Pastor Brian’s benediction that previous Sunday.  He challenged us to contemplate the question, “How do I listen to Jesus?”  And with that challenge, my thoughts reversed and I started really listening to what they were saying to me.  It was not in the words they spoke.  And, it was not in their rude behavior and refusal to allow us to check their belongings.   It was in their subconscious perspectives and feelings that I recognized what they were really trying to say.  “Don’t judge us.  Don’t let society’s views of homeless people reside in your hearts.  Be the hands and feet of Jesus who fostered no biases, but loved and showed compassion to the unlovely, less fortunate, and fragile, feeble folks.  We are here not because we want to be, but because situations, that we for the most part have no control over, have put us here.”

Okay.  I’m listening Jesus.  But I don’t think I have biases towards the homeless.   I know that women are vulnerable to become victims and there are valid reasons why they are homeless.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.  Psa 139:23-24

    Ouch!  Maybe I did judge them.  I even made the comment to someone that they were homeless but they all had cell phones.  I have a cell phone and a cellular plan.  I know the costs involved with that.  Why not put that money towards rent?  Jesus had no preconceived ideas of the people on the fringes that he related to.  Searching my heart, I realized I often harbor the thought that they got into this situation because of poor choices they made.  And in thinking that, I quickly put myself on a different level, a better-than-thou level.  This inward contemplation was too revealing and hurt a bit.  Maybe I’m not as compassionate as I thought.   Maybe the “preacher” at the shelter was what Pastor Brian wanted us to know…How do I listen to Jesus?  And this time Jesus words were spoken by a homeless person.

For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt towards those who differ from us, accept my repentance, Lord.




The chaos isn’t going anywhere

by Emily Ralph

“Why don’t you take off your coat and stay awhile?”

I couldn’t get my friend’s words out of my mind.  I had been in my new home for four months and still my walls were bare.  It was time.

We spent all day Saturday hanging photos up the stairwell, decorating the top of the piano, getting the right tools and wine-colored candles for the candelabra in the living room.  I still had work to do, but I felt a wave of satisfaction every time I passed one of my newly decorated walls.  I was settling in.

By Monday, the satisfaction had dissolved into gloom.  It was my day off, but all day my mind was running wild with everything I still had to do, questions I still had to answer, people who still needed my help.  Emails and texts were flying with work problems that couldn’t wait and I found myself growing increasingly tense as my Sabbath day ticked by and, instead of feeling rested and prepared for the week, I felt exhausted and grumpy.

How is it possible, I wondered, to go back and forth so quickly from joy and satisfaction to frustration and fatigue?  I remembered my spiritual director reminding me that times of transition can be chaotic—it’s normal to feel emotions run wild in times of drastic change.

It was time to take charge of the chaos in my mind.  I lit the candles around my living room, thankful I had taken the time to decorate.  I sat down with my journal and began to pour out my heart to God, the good and the bad, the joy and sorrow, the times of feeling at home and the times of feeling lost.  I closed my eyes to meditate and heard God’s invitation: Why don’t you take off your coat and stay awhile?

The chaos and uncertainty weren’t going anywhere, I realized.  I could continue to fight it, to struggle to find balance and order, or I could settle into the chaos and accept that sometimes life is like that.  God was present, even in the chaos.

As I felt a peace begin to tip-toe into my heart, I slowly came back to awareness of the room around me.  A steady “drip-drip-drip” was coming from near the fireplace.

I startled and jumped to my feet, dashing across the room to discover that one of the candles on my newly hung candelabra had tipped sideways and had, apparently, been dripping for some time.  Wine-colored wax covered the wall, the floor, the armchair.

As I sank to the floor, gentling trying to scrape wax off the wood, I fought tears.  This was exactly the kind of day I had been having.  I couldn’t even meditate on settling into the chaos without—

Suddenly I began to laugh.  The chaos wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  Sometimes life is like that.  Why don’t you take off your coat and stay awhile?

Brotherly Love

by Marlene Kilheffer

Balmy sunbeams chase our feet down the city street.

Chiding words from train traveler,
“Be quiet!”
Only a faint echo.
Head turning, confused expressions, haute couture attire unknown
All tells the secret…not local!

A celebrity is stopped on street by eager fans.
Bits of paper, napkins pushed into hands,
Strangers crowding close and phone cameras clicking.
Only hoping to shop incognito, he smiles,
Patiently gracious.

Lost again we ponder how to navigate the subway.
She smiles widely and her kind ebony face
welcomes our questions.
“Go here, not track A, track B. Hope you find your way.”

Nan Zhou Noodle House has best Chinese
food this gal ever tasted
Elbows touch elbows in crowded dining
“Please, may I have hot sauce?”
Mary gifts the young, Chinese couple.
“We are from Shanghai.”
“I know student from An Chi.”
“We have been to Lancaster.”
Back-and-forth conversation.
Gathering bags we move toward door.
He quickly rises, bowing, bowing with
heavily accented,
“Thank yous,” “Glad to meet you.”

Macy’s all Christmasy in historic
Wanamaker building.
Peace on earth, goodwill to men
Streams out from huge organ.
(No peace until Mary is found)
Doorman points to trolley station entrance.

30th St. station is 13 blocks away.
Feet now walk weary.
Last train leaves 9:45 PM.
Take the trolley?
What? Where? How?
Friendly face peers out of ticket booth
“Here’s your token. I love Miller’s
Smorgasbord and Shady Maple.”
Reluctant to end story, he now leans out the
Shouting to our vanishing backs,
“Ever go there?”

Nervous faces give us away
The impatient trolley driver suddenly
becomes helpful.
Loud announcements for each stop
Let’s all know we never traveled this way

We disembark and He/She/Crossdresser
offers help
Sapphire blue eyeshadow and black
eyeliner circle kind eyes.
He raises his tattooed arm and points out
the way to Trader Joes.
“Thank you,” we say
He waves goodbye walks into the night

Busy grocery store, aisles packed, cart jam
Doobie Brothers singing, “What a Fool
Soon has stock boy, jiving and lip syncing
With late night friendliness, he says,
“What can I help you find?”
“This is the fast line to check out.”

Shop-til-you-drop day is over.
On westbound train with heads buried in
Mary, with 20/20 vision looks up and says,
“Can I check out large print books from the
Laughing tears, we cannot stop
We rest our heads back
Kristen reflects,
“People were kind to us today.”

Some say Filthadelphia.
Today, I saw Philadelphia.

Winter Borscht

Papery translucent skins
layers of clothing discarded
exposing tender white
onion flesh
now sliced with a knife
for our winter borscht

I remember the argument
we had in the spring
about how many bulb sets
were bought at the Amish
greenhouse and planted
in our garden plot

Now I sit here pondering
how carrot peelings
onion skins and conflict
become composted organic
matter in the fertile soil
of our life together