Thursday, May 19, 2011

Going Green

Going Green is in these days. It is an expression that offers the chance for environmental sensitivity. It means that whatever activity is going to happen the priority will be to use up as little of earth's resources as possible.

Well it seems that nature had the idea first before it became a slogan. Spring is the time when all of life goes green. My wife's garden is definitely going green and red and yellow and bursting out all over. It is the season of new creation.

The birds sure love it. I can barely keep the bird feeders full. Their favorite color seems to be green. They sing about it, play in it, and fly through it. Life is happening all around and green is its primary color.

I recently spoke words of encouragement to the class of 2011 at the College from which I graduated 42 years ago. Wait a minute let me catch my breath....42 years ago? The college colors are, you guessed it, green and white. Those eager faces who listened to my words were "green." They were new to the world. They may think they are ready to burst forth and be full blown grown ups but I reminded them that they were "green" and it was OK. They were supposed to be.

I cautioned them to be mindful that they were beginners in learning not graduates of it. I offered them a poem that I often read to those standing before me who are being married. Here it is:
The raw materials of love are yours–
Fond hearts, and lusty blood, and minds in tune;
And so, dear innocents! you think yourselves
Lovers full-blown.

Am I, because I own
Chisel, mallet and stone,
A sculptor? And must he
Who hears a skylark and can hold a pen
A poet be?
If neither's so, why then
You're not yet lovers. But in time to come
(If senses grow not dulled nor spirit dumb)
By constant exercise of skill and wit,
By patient toil and judgment exquisite
Of body, mind and heart,
You may, my innocents, fashion
This tenderness, this liking and this passion
Into a work of art.

I told them if they lived life carefully they would remember these words so that even though they were not yet adults "full blown" that "by patient toil and judgement exquisite" they might fashion the life they were given "into a work of art." In so many words I reminded them they were still green and they were supposed to be if they wanted to truly grow.

And now for the rest of us I remind all who read these words that we are always to remain a bit green. If we think we are finished then we are. Life is about growth. We must be open to what the day's sunlight will bring us.

This Sunday I'll speak to another group of graduates. This time it will be high school students. Yes, they are even more green but they probably think they are farther along than they are. They'll learn in time that they are not "full blown." So I'll give them some additional words from the lips of "Red Molly." It is a song I use sometimes at points of transition to remind all who will listen that "this is the best time of your life." Here are the words:

From: New Non-Fiction (2001)
Copyright © Susan Werner
May I suggest
May I suggest to you
May I suggest this is the best part of your life
May I suggest
This time is blessed for you
This time is blessed and shining almost blinding bright
Just turn your head
And you’ll begin to see
The thousand reasons that were just beyond your sight
The reasons why
Why I suggest to you
Why I suggest this is the best part of your life
There is a world
That’s been addressed to you
Addressed to you, intended only for your eyes
A secret world
Like a treasure chest to you
Of private scenes and brilliant dreams that mesmerise
A lover’s trusting smile
A tiny baby’s hands
The million stars that fill the turning sky at night
Oh I suggest
Oh I suggest to you
Oh I suggest this is the best part of your life
There is a hope
That’s been expressed in you
The hope of seven generations, maybe more
And this is the faith
That they invest in you
It’s that you’ll do one better than was done before
Inside you know
Inside you understand
Inside you know what’s yours to finally set right
And I suggest
And I suggest to you
And I suggest this is the best part of your life
This is a song
Comes from the west to you
Comes from the west, comes from the slowly setting sun
With a request
With a request of you
To see how very short the endless days will run
And when they’re gone
And when the dark descends
Oh we’d give anything for one more hour of light
And I suggest this is the best part of your life

So...May I suggest to you that we are all "green" and that if we stay open to continued growth this is the best time of our life.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Left-over Easter

I've been on a blogging vacation...but for now I thougth I'd share with you what I shared with my people on Easter...It's all about "Mr. Saturday Night"

Mr. Saturday Night Gets the Last Laugh
John 20: 1-18

His name was Buddy Young and his older brother and supporter was Stan. The whole movie Stan puts up with Buddy and his insults. In fact Buddy’s main form of humor was insults such as looking at a woman in the audience during one of his Saturday night stand up comic routines and pointing her out saying, “Wow who puts on your make-up, Ringling brothers?....or …Did you get too close to the Avon Lady when she exploded.”
Another scene in the movie after Buddy is an aged out comic and is no longer a headline he looks at his brother Stan and says, “So what do you do down there now that you’re retired?”… “I play golf and enjoy my friends,” responds Stan. A surprised Billy says, “You got friends?” Stan shoots back, “Yea they came with the condo. You could get friends or cable so I chose friends.” Buddy responds, “Over cable?”
Then comes a famous line I want you to hear today. Buddy says to Stan, “Did you see what I did there?” This small line is full of meaning. It is an inside way between brothers of saying something like, “Did you pick up on my way of turning things around so that the joke worked…Did you see what I did there?”
The movie I am alluding to is “Mr. Saturday Night” a 1992 movie staring Billy Crystal who plays the aging stand up comic Buddy Young. Throughout the movie his older brother Stan tries to help Buddy but there is really no helping this self-absorbed sarcastic but very talented comedian. But at various times in the movie Buddy says to Stan, “Did you see what I did there?” This line is a way of describing the moves of a joke. Of course if you have to explain a joke it looses something but between brothers this is a way of pointing out the talent behind the comedy.
Well today I offer you another Mr. Saturday night. It seems this Mr. Saturday night pulls off one of the greatest jokes of them all. He outflanks death on Saturday night and come Sunday morning he gets the last laugh. Jesus leaves an empty tomb and in today’s story he sort of says to a mystified Mary, “Did you see what I did there?”
Of course no one quite gets it in our story today. The only laugh they hear is the deep dark laugh of death that overcomes their hopes and dreams. Sure Peter and John run to the tomb but they are not quite sure what to do with what they see.
I mean did you hear the story? Breathless from their run to the cemetery after Mary comes to fetch them to tell them that the body is missing, Peter and John lean into the dim light of the vacant tomb and then..and then…They go back home.
What? This is like saying, “He won the 10 million dollar lottery and then went back home and enjoyed his oatmeal.” Come on something happens here. How could they just “go back home?” I wonder if they could really respond to a Jesus who says, “Did you see what I did here?”
I mean let’s not miss the stand up that Jesus pulls off on the Sunday after Saturday night. He plays a cosmic joke and Death is the fall guy. Woody Allen once said, “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Well our Mr. Saturday night is there when it happens and the joke is at Death’s expense.
There is a book out about the start-up careers of the famous comics of the 1970’s. The title comes from another famous line that comics often use when things are not going well in their stand up routines, “Can’t you see I’m dying up here?” The book is, “I’m Dying Up Here: the Heartbreak and High Times in Comedy’s Golden Era.” The book chronicles the journey of such people as Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Robin Williams.
The introductory line for these comics who follow their “shot in the dark” dream to LA is, “Hey I can be broke anywhere, I might as well be broke somewhere where it’s warm.” Jesus takes a shot in the dark and ends up playing a joke on Death that last jokester who would like to say to us, “Turn out the lights the party’s over.”
Do you ever wonder where Jesus goes those three days that the joke is on him? Well of course we do not have documentation on this but some who study such things think that on Saturday night he is “playing” in Hell. That’s right the oldest version of the Apostles Creed says that he “was crucified dead and buried, he descended into hell, and on the third day arose from the dead.”
It seems that such an ancient affirmation states that there is nowhere that the love of God in Christ will not go…even to Hell looking for the lost. And here I thought at least Jesus would get some rest after 3 years of intense ministry but then this is Jesus we are dealing with here and when it comes to finding lost coins, lost sheep, and lost people..well to Jesus it seems no laughing matter.
Our Mr. Saturday Night is busy even in death because our God will not have death be the last word or the last laugh. Jesus seeks the lost even after he says from his cross in the midst of the laughter of darkness, “Can’t you see I’m dying up here?”
What would it mean to think that on Saturday night when Mary is in the midst of her grief and anticipating going to the cemetery to morn her dead Lord that Jesus is even then looking for the lost? What does it say about a God whose son never gives up even in death though Peter and John are locked away on Saturday night full of fear and left over denial?
It says that we have a Mr. Saturday Night who gets the last laugh on Sunday morning. Part of me would like to think that after what Jesus goes through from Thursday to Friday that he would have at least have a 3 day vacation from trying to save the world. I mean give the poor man a rest…but listen..we are dealing with a God here who longs to save the world. So even though some of us no longer say it in our Creed maybe our Mr. Saturday night is working to save the lost even in his death.
I work with people who are going through hell…the hell of grief..the hell of lost dreams…the hell of lost health…the hell of depression. The hope of Easter is that our Mr. Saturday Night never gives up even in the face of death and Hell.
So today what does this story say to you? Peter and John run to the tomb and really want to believe but notice that they simply “go back home.” Is that the way you came today? Part of you wants to run up here on this Easter Sunday and proclaim “He is risen” but in a few minutes you too will “go back home.” How will you go back? Will you go back home wanting it to be true but not really knowing?
Our story says simply that Peter and John went back home for “they did not yet understand the scripture that he must rise from the dead.” Well perhaps my task today is to send you back home understanding the scripture. Notice that the sentence does not say he “would” rise from the dead but that he “must” rise from the dead. Why…because God will not allow death to have the last laugh.
As a pastor I deal all the time with people who have trouble accepting a God who allows so much death in life. I know people who will not come to church because they want nothing to do with a God who allows children to suffer, or tsunamis to happen, or cancer to spread, or wars to rage. Well you do not need me to tell you that there is enough hell on earth to go around but I’m sending you back home with the words ringing in your ears that Jesus “must rise” from the dead because there is too much death out there. There is no place God’s love will not go even on Saturday night. Easter is about victory over death…all kinds of death…not just the death we experience when we take our last breath.
Easter is about a God who is with us on stage when our Saturday nights turn bad. When we or the people we love feel alone on the stage and want to at least whisper because of our fear, pain, or grief, “Can’t you see I’m dying up here?”
Well Jesus can see. He’s been there for you and me. His suffering and death is a way of God saying that you are never alone…even on your dark Saturday nights.
And then there is Mary. I wonder what Mary is doing on that Saturday night before we find her in the garden looking for the body of a dead Lord? Does she go over in her mind what she will do when she arrives at the cemetery? Does she wonder if she can persuade the guards to let her into the tomb so she can say a final goodbye to her lost dream?
But what does she find? She finds an empty tomb, the cruelest of jokes. She assumes that the last sacrilege has happened. Someone has stolen his broken body and laid even more waste to it. She too does not understand the scripture that he “must” rise from the dead for she is still hearing the laughter in the darkness that comes from that black Friday when she heard him say, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”
Mary joins by asking that same question for now this is a God forsaken world. Her Saturday night has convinced her that there will never be laughter again in her life.
So can you imagine when Jesus walks up behind her in her grief and says, “Say why are you crying so much here on this beautiful Sunday morning? Why the sun’s coming up and it looks like to me it’s going to be a wonderful day. What’s a pretty girl like you doing in a place like this anyway? It’s a cemetery after all. Are you looking for somebody?”
And then Mary not knowing the punch-line that is about to come from this very special Mr. Saturday Night steps into Jesus’ stand up routine. “Listen, I do not know who you are or what you are doing here but if you know what they did to my Lord’s body please tell me and I’ll go find him and put him back where he belongs.”
Then comes Jesus’ version of “Did you see what I did there?” All he really needs to say is her name, “Mary” and she knows the joke is on her…and for that matter the rest of the world. Death has been defeated. Mr. Saturday night has the last laugh.
When Mary turns toward the sun she sees not the gardener, nor a dead Jesus. What she sees is Jesus’ “stand up” routine as he stands up in the face of darkness and the laughter of death. Jesus is the ultimate Mr. Saturday night who gets the last laugh on Sunday morning.
Now to all of you who came today I say it’s time to “go back home.” But I send you back home not even as Peter and John went back home. I send you back home with a hope for understanding of the scripture that he “must” rise from the dead. I send you back home hopefully with a smile on your face from the realization that not even hell is safe from Jesus’ reaching love. I send you back home with laugher ringing in your ears from the ultimate punch-line as Jesus laughs in the face of death for us all.
I send you back home with the assurance that even in moments when you utter the words, “Can’t you see I’m dying up here” that you have a God who not only sees but who has been there. I send you home with the Easter promise that the words “must rise from the dead” are true. He did rise from the dead and perhaps he says to you and me today with a resurrection smile on his face, “Did you see what I did there?”
So let me send you home today with a story that will put a smile on your face and laughter in your heart…In a certain village the townspeople always had a Passion Play each year to portray the drama of Holy Week. The people of the village played the various characters.
One particular year they could not persuade anyone to play Jesus. Finally the only one who would agree to play the part of Jesus was the rugged town bully. He was always getting in trouble and often picked fights with the people of the town.
So it came as a surprise when he agreed to play Jesus. The people very much believed in doing the play so they went along with the deal. As the play came to a close the very man who had for so many years pushed his way around town but who was now playing Jesus was carrying his cross toward the scene of crucifixion. The people of the village playing the parts of the crowd who was mocking Jesus on his way to his eventual death were really getting into the part especially since it gave them a safe chance to yell insults at the town bully.
As “Jesus” passed by one man in the village who was in the angry crowd got carried away at his chance to shout at the town tyrant and he suddenly spit in the face of Jesus. At that moment everyone got quite wondering what the cross bearing Jesus would do.
The town bully stopped, looked over at the man, and just before going on with his cross bearing pointed to the man who had spit in his face and simply said, “I’ll be back to take care of you after the resurrection.”……..Did you see what I did there?

Smile…laugh…our Mr. Saturday night gets the last laugh on Sunday morning….and yes even in those moments when you say, “Can’t you see I’m dying up here” he will be back to take care of you after the resurrection.