by Lauren Gilstrap Milley
Christians spend a lot of time at Easter focusing on Jesus rising from dead. While that’s important, it tends to overshadow the first part of the story. Jesus was – executed. Executed as a criminal. Why? Well, that’s the part of Easter that I think far too many of us “good church going Christians” conveniently overlook. Ironically, it’s exactly the part of Easter that makes it a story for absolutely everyone.
If Jesus had just been some nice guy walking around telling people to love their neighbor and turn the other cheek, would the Romans have really cared? Probably not. Instead, he was executed by the state because his message was much more dangerous.
His message was that things don’t have to be this way. There is a better way and it’s all of our responsibility to make it better. His message wasn’t about how to live in a racist world – his message was how to stand against racism and forge a new world without it. His message wasn’t just about how to forgive unfair police brutality – his message was stand with the persecuted, overturn the tables and rebuild a better system, one that’s fair for everyone. Jesus wasn’t a pacifist. Pacifists don’t get executed by the state.
So what makes Easter everyone’s story? Easter is the story of God (however you define that) saying “yes” to Jesus’ message of compassion and justice and “no” to the greedy, self-serving powers of the status quo.
Whether you believe in a bodily resurrection or not, because of Easter, Jesus’s message of a better, more fair, more just world has outlived the Empire that killed him by centuries. Because of Easter, we all should stand with those society marginalizes, speak up for the voiceless, put our pocketbooks and our pride on the line for what we know to be right.
The social expression of love is justice. That is what Jesus taught and that is what he gave his life for. Easter is God saying “no matter what they do to you, I got your back, keep going, keep fighting – light will always outshine the darkness.” And that makes it a story for everyone – everyone and anyone who wants to make the world better.
Happy Easter, Happy Spring and here’s to keeping the faith, fighting the good fight, getting in good, necessary trouble and leaving this world just a little better than we found it.
A Holy Week Reflection by Brian Rogers
Passion Week! Many emotions this week…the lowest of lows at the crucifixion, the highest of highs with Jesus overcoming death. What strikes me as an overriding theme of Passion Week is humility: the humility of Jesus, first to take on human life, and then, with humility, to wash his apostles’ feet, to go through the passion for all of us. Anne spoke eloquently about the nine Fruits of the Spirit. I believe that humility is the gateway, not only to forgive as Jesus did on the cross, but also to every one of the nine Fruits.
Humility opens the door to those Fruits so that they flourish in our lives. The Fruits wither on the vines without humility. It seems that humility is difficult to attain, retain and sustain in our society that values achievement, status and material monuments to self. Focusing on other people with needs greater than ours takes humility. Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-Control: without humility, can we ever truly have any of these fruits? We are made in the image of God and I’m not more in God’s image than the homeless person or those of different ethnicity, religions, sexual orientation or social status. The height of humility is Jesus dying on the cross…Passion Week for us.
C.S. Lewis notes “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”
Philippians 2:5-8: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Prayer for Humility
Let me have too deep a sense of humor to be proud.
Let me know my absurdity before I act absurdly.
Let me realize that when I am humble I am most human,
most truthful, and most worthy of your serious consideration.
– Daniel A. Lord, SJ
As Jesus rode into Jerusalem for the last time, his disciples thronged around him, cheering him on. When religious leaders told him to calm his followers, Jesus told them that if the people were silent, the very rocks beneath their feet would cry out in their place. What about today? Are there times when we fall silent and leave it to the stones to speak out? Join us Sunday under the tent as we begin our journey through Holy Week.
– Pastor Anne
In the spirit of “the first shall be last,” we finish up our Fruit of the Spirit series this Sunday with the first thing Paul lists. It also happens to be the one thing Jesus says is needed to inherit eternal life. I would love to have you join us this Sunday on Zoom!
– Pastor Anne
In our series on the Fruit of the Spirit, we have two left: Joy and Love. This week we’ll examine joy and how it differs from happiness. I’ve thought about that distinction for a long time and, if you’ve ever read The Gift of Imperfection by Brené Brown, you’ll find that she quotes me on this issue. To return the favor, I’ll be using a video clip of her making the connection between joy and gratitude as the Call to Worship for our online service. Right now, we all want some happiness; but what we truly need is joy.
They say that good things come to those who wait. But “they” also say, if you snooze, you lose. Well, which is it? As we continue to consider the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, this Sunday we will look at the fruit of patience and how it differs from waiting. What does patience give us that simple waiting does not? How do we cultivate actual patience in our lives? Join us Sunday!
The particular fruit of the Spirit we’re looking at on Sunday is peace, which is a topic that could fill volumes. So I’ll be mixing it with another topic that is one of the linchpins for both inner peace and peace between warring factions of all kinds: forgiveness. Forgiveness is also a topic that could fill volumes, and this won’t be the last sermon on the topic.
But we’ll get started on Sunday by trying to understand what we are and are not doing when we forgive and by noticing that Jesus connects God’s forgiveness of us to our forgiveness of others in the Lord’s Prayer. I hope you’ll join us!
Lent is a time when I used to respond to the call to give something up for 40 days. But as life got harder and loss piled upon loss, I began to resent being told that I had to give up something else for Lent.
So then I entered the phase of doing something positive for 40 days instead. While better than giving something up, I began to resent that certain days on an already busy calendar demanded yet more from me. I struggled to find an approach to Lent that truly prepared me for Easter.
And then came THE Ash Wednesday. I stood in front of a congregation, imposing the ashes as I always did. But this time was different. A woman came forward to receive the ashes, but she struggled. She had dementia and couldn’t find the front. The congregation guided her and she stood before me. My mother. I looked into her eyes–the woman who still knew me but soon would begin to forget–and put ashes on her head saying, “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” She had to be guided back to her seat and the bowl of ashes in my hand became mixed with my tears. A gut-wrenching decade later I received the box of dust that had been my mother via the postal service.
That Ash Wednesday made me quit debating whether I should give something up or do something positive. Now Lent is my reminder that, as the Shirelles so wisely sang, “Mama said there’d be days like this.” Well, Mama learned that from God. God said there’d be days like this–harsh days, desert days–and that one hard day often stretches into 40 days and 40 days can stretch into periods of years. When the number 40 crops up in the Bible, it is not meant literally. It is symbolic of a really hard time. Noah had it, Moses had it, the Israelites had it, Jesus had it. And in the harsh fires of those deserts, a new thing was born.
These days I don’t give anything up and I don’t add anything to my habits. Instead, I reflect on the truth that there are stretches of life that no amount of positive thinking will change. There are deep pits where we feel abandoned, alone, and hopeless. All of us. If you haven’t been there yet, you will. And when you’ve lived with that reminder for 40 days, the power of the Easter message at the other end will literally throw you out of bed and into a place of joy like no other.
I’ve found the Lenten practice that actually prepares me for Easter.
As we continue on with our Fruit of the Spirit series, we’ll be looking at three of them together: kindness, goodness, and gentleness. One of those virtues was considered a vice by the Greek Stoics, and that same stoicism is built right into one of the historic funds in our own Crawford bank account. Can you guess which “fruit” they saw as a failure? Answer in Sunday’s sermon.
In the book of Galatians, Paul mentions nine traits that mark the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit in a person’s life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Those are not automatic downloads at our baptism; they are seeds that we have to nurture and grow over a lifetime. As we make our way through these, we’re going to start at the back end with self-control or “temperance” as it is sometimes translated.
Self-control is something that appears to be in short supply these days, especially when it comes to controlling our speech. The third chapter of James tells us that if we can keep our tongues in check, we can keep our whole bodies in check, and that seems like a claim worth investigating a little more closely. Is he right? Do other places in the Bible back that up? Do loose lips really sink ships? That’s what we’ll be looking at on Sunday.