This will be my last Words from Will for a while. This Sunday is my last scheduled Sunday to preach at Central, then I’ll have a break before starting at Belin Memorial UMC in Murrells Inlet on July 14. I’ll likely resume Words from Will after that. I don’t know whether Rev. Thomas Smith will do something similar to Words from Will or not, but I know he’ll communicate with you in meaningful ways. Thomas is wise, witty, and warm. He’s a bright and caring person. However he communicates, be it via email, Twitter, pulpit, or in person, you’ll want to receive it.
The South Carolina United Methodist Church’s Annual Conference meeting began yesterday. It is scheduled to conclude Thursday. There’s an extra day this year because the laity and clergy are each electing 8 delegates to represent our Conference at the 2020 General Conference. That added work extends the sessions. It also tends to put people on edge.
Yesterday’s gospel lesson (John 14:23-29) spoke of the peace that Jesus gives to us; it’s a peace that the world cannot give. Our ability to endure, even thrive in the absence of worldly peace is rooted in this other-worldly peace that is Jesus’ gift.
The gospel reading this Sunday picks up in the middle of what is known as “The Farewell Discourse.” John chapters 13-17 follows Jesus and the disciples through the Passover meal and foot-washing, Judas’ departure to betray Jesus and Jesus prediction that Peter will deny him, familiar teachings about Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, the promise of the Holy Spirit, Jesus as the true vine, and, finally, Jesus’ prayer for the disciples.
I mentioned in the sermon yesterday that I witnessed love demonstrated at a school the other night. I couldn’t begin to list when I’ve witnessed love in our church community because the sermon would never have ended. Yesterday afternoon’s celebration was yet another example of Central expressing love well. I struggle to find the words to express our appreciation. Sally, Mac, Annagray, and I are (once again) overwhelmed by your love and support.
Last Sunday Psalm 23 reminded us of the Lord’s care and protection. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me,” the psalmist boldly proclaims (23:4). The psalmist does not deny that dark valleys are part of traversing life. The affirmation of faith is that we aren’t alone when we’re in them and, therefore, can resist the fears that seek to consume us.
Driving across the bridge into Charleston Saturday, pointing out the many spires, and reminding our children that Charleston’s nickname is “The Holy City,” I was met with a surprising question from our 14-year-old, “So where are we going to church tomorrow.” The correct answer, as it turns out, was Magnolia Plantation where I officiated a wedding. Pleased that he wanted to go, I didn’t discourage him immediately. Instead, I let the logistical and traffic challenge prevent our attending yesterday morning.
Paul describes himself as “someone untimely born” (1 Corinthians 15:8). He recounts Jesus’ various resurrection appearances and notes that Paul was rightly last and least to be visited because, “I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9).
Among the earliest self-designations for Christians was people of “The Way.” As indicated by Jesus’ self-reference, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), people of The Way are Jesus’ followers. They are people committed to going with him, going his way.
Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (a 4th Century bishop) said, “What has not been assumed has not been redeemed.” I thought about that quote when Rev. Pietila shared the insight that Thomas’ primary interest was to see that the Jesus he knew before and during the crucifixion was also the Jesus of the resurrection (John 20:19-31). Thomas may have understood that had the resurrected Jesus not had scars, our wounds would not be redeemed. If so, he anticipated St. Gregory’s point that Jesus was fully human, as well as fully divine, that we have a relatable God who chose to know (assume) the fullness of our humanity in order to redeem it.
Thomas famously vowed to doubt Jesus’ resurrection until he saw and touched Jesus’ crucifixion wounds for himself (John 20:19-31). As John reports it, however, it’s seeing and hearing Jesus that inspires Thomas’ belief. Nothing is written of Thomas touching Jesus’ wounds.
The men dressed in “dazzling clothes” asked a guiding question, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?,” but did not give guidance as to where to find the risen Christ. If Jesus wasn’t among the dead, where would the disciples find him? In Luke’s Easter story (Luke 24:1-12), they aren’t told, so, naturally, they return to the others with their incredible and perplexing news. Peter tried to sort it out himself, but he, too, came back with no instructions about where to find Jesus.
Last night we read through much of John 18 and 19 during the Tenebrae (“darkness”) portion of the service. As we went through those chapters I was struck by how much dialogue John reports. While modern adaptations often discomfort us with graphic images of Jesus’ physical suffering, John summarizes it succinctly with a single verse: Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged (19:1). Jesus’ agony on the cross is also understated (“There they crucified him” 19:18).
Typically parades are mostly entertainment. They are filled with short pieces performed by marching bands, Shriner’s antics, and convertibles with local dignitaries. They also include civic pride – gratitude for first-responder and military service, community-awareness about agencies. Occasionally parades are focused on a particular message. I imagine those are the parades that stick with you the following days. I reflected far more on the experience and meaning of participating in a march on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day than I ever did watching a Thanksgiving or Christmas parade go by.
We have one more week of Lent this year. I confess that I have not been as intentional about my Lenten devotional life as I have in previous years. Contrary to Martin Luther’s statement, “I have too much to do today to only pray for one hour; I’ll pray for two,” I have let the busyness of these days truncate what should have mattered most. My last hope is Holy Week. I commit to you that I will take some time in Central’s well-designed Lenten Spiritual Center next week. (This year it is divided into two spaces. Most stations are in room 164 off The Commons and the labyrinth is upstairs in the Children’s Assembly Room). If you are also feeling like this Lent got away from you this year, I encourage you to make some time in those spaces, too.
You’re a third of the way through the day when this arrives in your inbox. Enough into the day to have an idea of how you’re feeling and where things are going, but not so far that you can’t make adjustments. How are you being with Jesus today? If you don’t have an expensive jar of perfume (John 12:1-8) to use to anoint him or those who represent him (Matthew 25:31-46) today, how else might you be with him?
Last week’s parable caused us to reflect on God’s overwhelming, even prodigal (wasteful) love. Fittingly, this week’s (John 12:1-8) shows us wasteful love in return.
One of the many questions I presented in the sermon yesterday was, “How do we live with others who let us down?” That’s the dilemma of each character in yesterday’s parable (Luke 15:11-32). The younger son let the father and the older son down with his departure and wastefulness. The older son let the father and younger son down with his refusal to forgive the younger son’s decisions and celebrate his return. The father let the older son down by being quick to forgive or by being overly generous or by giving the younger son what he hadn’t given the older one (or some combination thereof).
There are several labels in Sunday’s scripture lessons. In the very familiar prelude and parable found in Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, we have the following labels: tax collectors, sinners, Pharisees, scribes, father, son, hired hand, slave, and brother. Note that nowhere in the actual story is the label “prodigal” found. It’s not in the text of the New Revised Standard Version, New International Version, or even the King James Version. Somewhere along the way someone stuck that label on this parable and that’s how we all refer to it.