Do this…

Do this…

Today is Maundy Thursday – the day we annually remember Jesus’ last meal with his disciples.  The word “maundy” simply means command.  We “do this in remembrance” of Jesus – sharing bread and juice/wine with each other, representing his body and blood – because he commanded us to.

Today is the annual observance of that command.

Of course, many churches obey this command more frequently than once a year.  Depending on your denomination and tradition, some do it quarterly; some monthly; some weekly; and some, even, daily.  My tradition, United Methodism, typically celebrates Holy Communion monthly, though in recent years we have been encouraged to move to weekly communion.   For this season of Lent, my own church has celebrated communion weekly, instead of our regular practice of the first Sunday of the month.

We call this ritual by several names – Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving”), The Lord’s Supper, and Holy Communion.  Recently, I’ve been pondering the word communion.

There are a number of words that are related to the word communion…

  • Common – as in, ordinary, and the things we share with “in common” each other.
  • Community – as in, the people we share our lives with.
  • Commune – as in, where some people live together as a family or community.
  • Communicate – as in, the sharing of thoughts, ideas, concepts, or concerns.
  • Union – as in, the gathering or joining together of things or people.
  • Unity – as in, the one-ness shared between people.
  • Unite – as in, the coming together of people for a common purpose or cause.

Isn’t that what Holy Communion is all about?  We gather as a community, sharing common pieces of bread and juice/wine with each other, which unites each person with God, and results in a unity among the people gathered?  This is more than a ritual observance, practiced obediently, because we were told to.  This ritual is communion – connecting me more deeply with God and with the community of Christ, through common symbols representing his sacrificial flesh and blood.

It strikes me that all of us need a lot more communion in our lives – ritual, and otherwise.  So much seems to drive us apart, distract us from God, and even divide our individual attention and intentions.  This world – and all who live in it – is so disjointed, disconnected, and discombobulated (sorry, I needed another “d” word, for alliteration sake).  It seems to me that obeying Jesus’ command to commune with him and with each other is much needed medicine – for all of us.

So, today is Maundy Thursday.  You are commanded – by Jesus, himself –  to find a church, to receive Holy Communion, and to enjoy the communing benefits.

Do it.  Today.  That’s a command.

Pre-Easter Pondering

Pre-Easter Pondering

I know it’s not Easter yet.  Easter is still a few days away.  Before Easter, we still have Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and Holy Saturday.  We can’t just skip to Easter, bypassing all that led to Easter.

But, Easter is on my mind – probably because it’s the biggest day of the Christian year and I have a sermon to prepare.

Here’s what I’m pondering…

I don’t have any problem believing in Jesus’ resurrection.  As unexpected as it was, and as impossible as it may seem, I do actually believe that Jesus died a human death, that his corpse lay in a tomb from Friday evening through early Sunday morning, and then his dead body came back to life – resurrected life!

Undeniably, that is a pretty remarkable thing to believe.  But, I do.  With all of my heart, I do.

I also don’t have a problem believing that because Jesus was resurrected, that he has made that possible for me.  I mean, because Jesus died and came back to life – in a new, resurrected way – I will be raised after I die, too.  I believe that.  When I die – whenever that may be – and breathe my last breath, I believe I that I will awake to a new, resurrected life on the other side of death.

Undeniably, that, too, is a pretty remarkable thing to believe.  But, I do.  With all of my heart, I do.

But, here’s what’s on my mind this Holy Week about the Resurrection.  The Bible doesn’t only say that Jesus rose from the dead (past tense), or that we will be resurrected after we die (future tense).  The Bible says that we ARE resurrected (present tense).  Now.  Today.

“Therefore, if anyone IS in Christ,the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new IS here!”  (2 Corinthians 2:17)

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but CHRIST LIVES IN ME. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  (Galatians 2:20)

“Since, then, YOU HAVE BEEN RAISED with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life IS NOW hidden with Christ in God.”  (Colossians 3:1-3)

I HAVE been raised with Christ.  I AM a new creation.  My life IS NOW hidden Christ.  CHRIST LIVES IN ME!

Present tense.  Not just past tense.  Not just future tense.  Present tense.  Resurrection is a present reality.  I AM resurrected!

Is that really true (I know that it is)?  I don’t always feel resurrected.  I don’t look resurrected.  The Lord knows, and everyone I know will confirm, I certainly don’t act resurrected.  What does it mean for Vance Clifton Rains to be a resurrected human being, alive in Christ, today, in Coral Springs, Florida, at work, in my house, etc., etc.?

I certainly couldn’t ask such a question without Christ’s resurrection.  And, this life is short, so my future resurrection from the dead is pretty exciting.  But, increasingly, it seems to me that my current state of resurrection may be what’s most important.

If my future resurrection means that, on the other side of death, I will be completely free from this life of sin and selfishness, and that I will have perfect communion with God and God’s family, and that I will be a perfectly whole and unique reflection of God’s image in me, does my current state of resurrected-ness mean that I am to be those things now…

  • free from sin and selfishness?
  • in perfect communion with God and God’s family?
  • a perfectly whole and unique reflection of God’s image in me?

Today?  Is that what being resurrected, in the present tense, means?  If not, what else?

This week, as I ponder Easter, I just keep coming back to wondering if we are missing the point.  We (Church-going Christians) do our programs and rituals.  We read our Bibles.  We believe what we we’ve been taught to believe.  We have our stances regarding what is right or wrong.

But, are we resurrected people?  Do we worship as resurrected people?  Do we serve as resurrected people?  Do we work as resurrected people?  Do give as resurrected people?  Do we love as resurrected people?

If I AM resurrected, why am I still so enamored with this world?  If I AM resurrected, why isn’t my life, my attitude, my worship, my heart a better reflection of the world and the life to come?  If I AM resurrected, why aren’t I more like Jesus?  Now?  Today?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not questioning the present reality of my resurrection.  I AM raised with Christ!  I know that it is Truth.

I’m wondering what it would look like for me, for you, for the Church, for the Body of Christ to look a bit more resurrected – TODAY.  And, every other day, until Christ comes again.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

Happy Pre-Easter.  Now, go be resurrected.

Refreshing

Refreshing

I had the privilege of teaching my church’s confirmation class about the Sacraments this morning.

When I teach about Baptism, which is one of our two Sacraments in the United Methodist Church, I often ask, “What is water used for?”  I’m looking for three answers, each that help us understand the meaning of Baptism, knowing I will usually only get two.

Everyone knows that we use water to wash.  Similarly, Baptism washes away our sins.

Everyone knows that we need water to live.  Similarly, in Baptism we receive the Holy Spirit, who is the source of never-ending life.

The third, that know one ever thinks of, is that water can kill a person – you can drown in it.  Similarly, the waters of Baptism drown us, killing the old sinful person, and then we rise from the water, born again.

But, today, one of the confirmands thought of one that I had never considered.  Water refreshes.

I like that image of Baptism.  Baptism refreshes.  In Baptism, I enter into life in the Spirit, which is refreshing.

I was reminded of Acts 3:19, where Peter says, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”

I love that image – times of refreshing from the Lord – that begins with Baptism.

Though there are certainly times for seriousness, and even lament, it seems to me that spiritual refreshment ought to be the defining characteristic of life as Jesus followers.

Yes, there are times for reflection and discernment.  Yes, we are called to obedience.  Yes, there are times for broken-hearted repentance and confession.  Yes, there are times for rolling up our sleeves and doing what needs to be done.  Yes, there are times for prophets to speak out, and to fight for justice.  Yes, there are times for weeping and wailing.  But, refreshment is a gift that is perpetually available, and too often ignored.

Jesus said that all we have to do is ask…

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for[f] a fish, will give him a snake instead?12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  (Luke 11:9-13)

Refreshment.  I like that.  I want that.  I need that.

Thin Places

Thin Places

As I was reading this morning, I came across this statement in James K. A. Smith’s, You Are What You Love

“We might say the sacramental power of Christian worship “enchants” our everyday lives, reminding us that the world we inhabit is not flattened “nature” but rather a creation charged with the presence and power of the living Spirit… Creation is always more than we see.  What might appear “natural” is suffused with God’s grandeur.  It is in worship that we learn to inhabit the world in this way, as an environment charged by the presence and activity of God.”

Worship “enchants” our everyday lives… I like that.

Reading that reminded me of an ancient Celtic belief that heaven and earth are only about three feet apart.  Thus, heaven is always within reach – always, everywhere.  But, there are also times and places where the separation is much thinner.  Celts called those “thin places.”

Could we also call them “enchanted places?”

Though I know, theologically, that God is always with me, those thin, enchanted spaces and moments, reveal God’s presence more intimately, more obviously, more clearly.  I find rest and peace there.  Some of my thin spaces include…

My back porch, especially on those rare cool mornings, surrounded by my bonsai trees, some in bloom.

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In deep conversation, over cups of coffee, with intimate friends (you know who you are).

An ancient church in Chichicastenango, Guatemala, early in the morning, when the Mayan incense is rolling in from the front doors.

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On top of Volcan Pacaya, in Guatemala, with beloved friends, as the lava flowed a few feet away, and we shared in Holy Communion.

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On top of Mount Nebo, in Jordan.

Riding my motorcycle on canopy roads or along the coast.

Laying side-by-side with my wife, holding hands, completely relaxed in each others’ presence.

Duke Chapel, where I went to seminary.

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Holding someone in my arms as they weep.

The Monastery of the Holy Spirit, where I have gone for many, many silent retreats.

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The birth of my children.

Standing in the surf, at sunset, baptizing students when I was a campus minister.

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The sanctuary at First United Methodist Church of Orlando, where I discovered a spiritual home for the first time – where I was married, heard my call to ministry, preached my first sermons, and performed my first wedding.

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Fall Creek Falls, where I went to camp as a teen, and played and worshipped at the base of the falls.

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Corpse pose, after a good hour of yoga.

Time on the beach, early in the morning, listening to Bob Marley.

Occasionally, while I’m preaching.

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Sometimes, when I cry.

Sometimes, when I write.

And, oddly, a few unspeakable moments of unbearable tragedy, when I was called upon to be a pastoral presence.

As Smith writes, these, and others, have been thin, enchanted places, “charged by the presence and activity of God.”

It was good to be reminded of those places this morning.  It was good to be reminded that those places exist.  It was good to be reminded that I need those places.

So, this morning, I took my cup of coffee, and walked out to my porch.  I walked from bonsai tree to bonsai tree, to look at each blossom and to look for new growth.  I enjoyed the moment.  And, I felt God’s enchanting presence.  And, it was good.

Where are your thin places?

Character

Character

I’ve been reading through the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel recently.  1 Samuel tells the story of the rise and fall of King Saul, and the rise of David to take his place.

By Chapter 24, it was obvious to King Saul that David was a threat to his reign, and he plotted of have David killed.

King Saul heard that David and his supporters were hiding in the desert of En Gedi.  King Saul led an army of thousands to find him and kill him.  By coincidence, Saul happened to enter a cave to “relieve himself,” where David was hiding with his men.  Unaware that he wasn’t alone, David snuck up on King Saul – while he was otherwise occupied – and cut off a corner of his robe, then quietly snuck away, doing King Saul no real harm.

David could have killed King Saul, while we was vulnerable and unaware.  His men thought he should.  It would almost seem that God had delivered King Saul right into David’s hands.

But, David didn’t see it that way.  While King Saul had clearly lost God’s favor, and David was clearly destined to take his place, David would not be the one to harm or kill the King.  In fact, David felt guilty for even cutting King Saul’s robe.  As long as King David held the throne, at least in David’s eyes, King Saul was still God’s anointed.

Chapter 24:8-13 says,

“My lord the king!” When Saul looked behind him, David bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.  He said to Saul, “Why do you listen when men say, ‘David is bent on harming you’?  This day you have seen with your own eyes how the Lord delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the Lord’s anointed.’  See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life.   May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you.   As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you.

To David, harming – or even disrespecting – King Saul would be a violation of his conscience.  We call that character – doing the right thing, all the time, even when there is personal cost or risk.

You don’t have to be a Christ-follower to be a person of character.  There are certainly people of every religion – and none – who have admirable integrity and conduct.  But, to be a Christ follower demands that we strive to have the character of Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10).

Isn’t that, at least in part, what Lent is all about?  Is our character consistently a reflection of Jesus Christ?  Or, have we compromised in the small things?

Certainly, killing King Saul would have been a big deal.  But, David regretted even cutting the king’s robe.  In David’s mind and heart, there was no justifying a compromised character, even when others might think him justified in doing something as small as cutting the kings robe, or even as extreme as killing.

Do I care about the small details in my character and conduct?  Do you?

See Me Through

See Me Through

I was recently given an incredible new worship CD, called, “Able”, by Newspring Worship (Thanks Carol!).  I highly recommend it!  The second song on the CD is “See Me Through.”  The lyrics are…

When the worries of the world are on me

Your Spirit breathes and leave me longing

For you heart, where love has been waiting

The enemy, it stands against me

I’ve tried to run but I’m returning

To your heart, where love has been waiting

To your heart, where love has been waiting

You turn my darkness into dancing

You set my feet upon a rock

That can’t be moved

You have won my heart forever

You brought me here and you will

See me through

When I doubt that you are for me

Open up me eyes, remind me

Of your heart, where love has been waiting

Your heart, your love is still waiting

Your unfailing love

Has taken over me

The praise belongs to you forever.

In this season of Lent, as we are talking a lot about restoration, this song has spoken to my heart.  I particularly love the line, “you turn my darkness into dancing” which echoes Psalm 30:11, You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy.”

What a promise.

I also love the simple refrain, “You brought me here and you will see me through…”

Beautiful.

I just wanted to share this beautiful song today.  But, I have one additional comment.  For months, I’ve fallen into the habit of listening to the news while I drive.  But, since I popped this CD into the player, I haven’t tuned back in to the news, and I haven’t missed it.  Frankly, I think it’s improved my mood and fed my soul.  The constant negative news has kept me in a chronic state of worry.  But, listing to God’s word in these songs of worship have lifted me.  The world leaves me feeling pretty shaky these days.  But, as the songs says, “You set me feet upon a rock.”

If you would like to hear the song, here it is…

NewSpring Worship — “See Me Through” from Evan Oliver on Vimeo.