On Easter, I said one of the Easter challenges God puts before us is to see those around us… really see them. But often, we see only what we want to see. Sometimes, like Thomas insisting on seeing the wounds of Jesus, we insist on seeing the wounds of others before we believe that the people we serve are persons worthy and deserving of grace and kindness during their most vulnerable hour.
What I wish to convey to you in this pastor’s letter is the importance of allowing scars to define us; not our scars however, but the scars of Jesus. Jesus's scars have their own story to tell.
I don’t think it is a secret that if you looked up “party animal” in the dictionary, you will NOT find my name or picture there. However, this lackluster kind of guy has a very odd allure to the festival of Mardi Gras.
One of the joys of being a pastor is to hear your stories, stories like these—reports of epiphanies.
The name of this month has associations with the concepts of beginnings, doorways, openings, gateways and transitions. There’s little doubt that the name derives from the Roman god Janus, who is usually depicted as having two faces, one looking to the past and one to the future. This year, I can’t help but wonder what the United Methodist Church will look like after February.
“Do you know what that young man said? When he rang the doorbell, and I answered, he asked, ‘Is he home?’ I told him, ‘No.’ He replied, ‘Oh good, he makes me nervous!’”
“Say what? Now why in the world would I make him nervous?”
“Maybe it is because you used your PREACHER’S VOICE, and you intimidated him.”
I knew the day would eventually come. I tried my best to not dwell on it, as it was just too painful, too final. Thursday, October 11, that dreaded day came. There was no more denying it or refusing to think about it.
While sitting at my desk in the church office, I received a phonecall from Nancy. She asked, “Did you see Cindy’s post on Facebook?” (Cindy is Nancy’s best friend from high school.) I told her I had not and immediately went to Cindy’s page to find what Nancy found so interesting. Here is what Cindy posted…
Today one does not need a textbook to learn. You can simply go to your computer and find your way to YouTube, and there you will find how to do any number of things. Someone, somewhere has created a video to show you how to do what you’re about to attempt; whether it’s a repair for your home or your car, how to put on makeup, learning self-defense or making dinner. All you need to do is look it up on the world’s most popular video site, and soon you’ll be an expert yourself—even if it’s expertise on the best way to massage your pet opossum (because, apparently, opossums need massages!).
These past few weeks, I have not had a smile on my face or heart. In fact, my heart is broken over the desperate cries of precious little ones as they were ripped out of the arms of their migrant parents. The anguish and desperation in their voices has reduced me to tears. This IS NOT the American way, or at least I pray it IS NOT the American way.
Grief is perhaps the greatest teacher known to humankind. It comes at a very steep price. Grief teaches us perspective, patience, love like never before, kindness, tolerance, acceptance, appreciation for the present moment, and so much more. Grief never ends, but it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is neither a sign of weakness nor a lack of faith. It is the price of love.
Do you have a nickname? When I was growing up, I had two nicknames. The first was Rara. I am not sure where it came from. Maybe my older brother couldn’t say Russel, and as he tried to pronounce my name, it came out “Rara.” I utilized that nickname with all the little children Nancy babysat over the years. Many of those children are now adults and still call me “Rara.”
The most beautiful sight to see is when the shepherd approaches his flock in the morning and calls out to them, “Sheep, sheep, sheep!” The first to run to him are the bummer lambs, because they know his voice. It’s not that they are more loved; it’s just that they believe it. I am so grateful that Christ calls Himself the Good Shepherd. I am a bummer lamb. Chances are you are too.
As I sit here at my computer keyboard, it is the day before my 64th birthday. Wow! How is that even possible? Depending upon which shoes you are in, 64 is a youngster and for others, well, you are seen as “old as dirt.”
My running route has turned into somewhat of an obstacle course with discarded Christmas trees strewn on the sidewalks. As I was running, I thought, only a month ago, these trees held special meaning and had a prominent place in the warmth and love of homes. And only a few weeks later, they are thrown to the curbside. The once beautiful, green branches decorated with lights and ornaments are now a tarnished brown, waiting to be burned or shredded into mulch.
The end of one year and the beginning of another is usually a time to look back to what has been and to look forward to what can be. To look back includes both the positive, as well as the negative, things. To look forward to what can be or should be possible is also an important exercise. As we stand at the threshold of a brand new year, it might help us explore the answer to the above exercise by reexamining one of the classic Peanuts cartoon strips.
Brian Abel Ragan’s father told him the same story every year, growing up, about a little boy so poor he had nothing but one toy: a little beat-up plastic car with two wheels and a broken windshield.
I was invited to join their conversation when Chris, the rehab therapist, mentioned she was from Sewickley. As we engaged in conversation, she seemed to know about me and the Sewickley United Methodist Church. As I sat at the kitchen table, she looked at me and said, “I want to thank you and your church for praying for me and my family. I am Katie Parish’s mother.”
Why do so many hate? Why do so many say to some of God’s children, as I said to that cute little bunny: “Don’t you dare go into the church. You don’t belong there. You will just cause havoc and make the people upset.”
As I sat there listening to the funeral liturgy, a 27-page booklet (but who was counting), I could not help but think how my life would be different if my father had been an active church member, and we were reared in the Ukrainian Orthodox tradition.