Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Becoming Our Parents

There is an insurance commercial currently running which shows a group of men and women attending a “Dad” support group.  The group is wrestling with the fact that they’re all turning into their parents, saying things like “I text in complete sentences”, “This hat was free, what am I suppose to do, not wear it?” “Why is the door open, are we trying to air condition the whole neighborhood?”  One man holds up his flip phone and says, “Why would I replace this? It’s not broken.”

The truth is, many of us have watched with fascination and surprise as we slowly grow to be like our parents.  We enter the cocoon of adulthood only to emerge as butterflies suspiciously similar to the moms, dads, and guardians before us. 

Young children left on their own will not survive, and because of this nobody grows up entirely alone.    All of us have had our lives shaped by the people who were there to nurture us and walk us into adulthood.  And those people leave a lasting imprint on us, for better or worse, whether we know it or not.  We’re not doomed to become like those who have gone before—especially if we suffer abuse and neglect—but if we don’t actively resist it, we naturally and subconsciously grow in that direction.

This is true of our concrete human relations, but it also seems to be true in a spiritual sense.  We tend to grow into our image of God.  If we see God as cruel and judgmental, we tend to become cruel and judgmental.  If we see God as compassionate and forgiving, we tend to become compassionate and forgiving.

This is one of the lessons we can learn from Jesus in his Sermon on the Plain (Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount).

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.  Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.   (Luke 6:32-36 NRSV)

For Jesus, this idea that we should be kind to people regardless of whether they’re kind to us rests on his image of God.  We should be that way because God is that way.  And being kind to all, even the wicked, will make us “children of the Most High” because God is “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”  The way Jesus saw God was reflected in his life and his teachings.  And when we share Christ’s vision of God, it will be reflected in our lives and teachings as well.

This creates something of a ripple effect.  Embracing God as merciful tends to make us merciful, which in turn tends to make our children merciful.  Children grow to be like us as we grow to be like God.

We do have a merciful God who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked, it’s just that we often make the mistake of portraying God in different ways, and this mistake can have unfortunate and long term consequences.

I wish all our women a happy Mother’s Day, and all our men a happy Father’s Day.  We are blessed by many loving parents who have grounded their lives in a loving Divine Parent.  May we all build on the same foundation. 

Yours in Christ;

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Our Journey of Exploration

May is a month chocked full of special events.  Not only do we have Mother’s Day on the 13th reminding us to thank and cherish the women who bless us in so many ways, but there’s also May Day (May 1st), Star War’s Day (May the 4th be with you!), Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) and Memorial Day (May 28th).  And I’m sure the young people wouldn’t want me to forget about National Clean Your Room Day on May 10th!

And then there’s May 14th, which in 1804 marked the beginning of an important event in American History—the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Captain Meriwether Lewis and his friend Second Lieutenant William Clark, to lead a group in exploring and mapping the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase.  So the small group left St. Louis to travel 8000 miles over a period of 2 years, four months, and 10 days.  It’s a famous journey, but we sometimes forget that these early explorers didn’t always have it easy.  For example: 

  • On at least one occasion, Lewis and Clark got lost.  In June 1805 they unexpectedly came upon a fork in the Missouri.  Since the Missouri was their route through the mountains, they had to figure out which fork to take.  After a week of investigation, and two separate expeditions, Lewis and Clark decided to take the south fork.  Everyone else in the party disagreed with them, but Lewis and Clark turned out to be right.
  • On April 29, 1805, Lewis and another hunter killed a large grizzly bear.  Grizzly bears were still largely unknown to science.  Another grizzly bear got some revenge on June 14th, 1805.  While exploring the river’s edge, Lewis shot a bison and as he was waiting for it to die, a grizzly bear snuck up on him and chased him into the river.
  • The party usually lived on wild game, but when food got scarce, they would frequently dine on dog meat.  At one point the starving group was reduced to eating horses, candles, and portable soup.
  • On the return trip, Lewis got a little behind in his work when he was accidentally shot in the posterior by a member of the team named Pierre Cruzatte.  Cruzatte was nearsighted, and mistook Lewis for an elk. 

Explorers were essential in the exploration and settling of the American Continent, and I’m not just talking about the European settlement of the land.  When the Pilgrims arrived to settle Plymouth Colony in 1620, they were touching down on a continent already inhabited by native people who had themselves explored and pioneered America 10,000 years previously!

Explorers are essential in the life of the church as well, and this is a good time to notice and appreciate the explorers among us.  So our hats are off to those people who have broken new ground, and led us through uncertain times.  Maple Avenue is blessed with an unusually large number of talented and innovative people, and we celebrate all of them!  

This is also a good time to recognize that we live in a changing world and our whole congregation is in a real sense engaged in a journey of exploration.  Like Lewis and Clark, we need to try different things, check out new rivers and paths, and find untapped resources.  Like them we need to brave unexpected challenges, overcome setbacks, connecting with people in innovative ways.  And like them we will sometimes take a wrong turn or have to tighten our belts. 

We are on a journey of exploration, but we never travel alone.  Jesus Christ travels with us, the Holy Spirit empowers us, and God continually calls us forward to that Kingdom of love and grace.  It is an adventure.  There are many people in the world who like to play it safe avoiding uncertainty.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  But we are explorers and pioneers, and I thank you for traveling with us!

In God's Peace;

David Rockhill

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Jesus is Dead…April Fools!

This year we get to witness a relatively rare event.  Easter falls on April Fool’s day!   The last time this happened was 1956, and the next time we see this conjunction is 2029.  So for me and many others, this is the first time we remember seeing such a thing.  

Since Easter celebrates the Resurrection of Christ, and April Fool’s Day celebrates practical jokes, one might conclude that there’s not much of a connection between the two events, even when they fall on the same day.  This isn’t exactly the case, however.  Many early Christians understood the resurrection of Christ to be a practical joke disguised as a ransom paid to the devil.  As Jonathan Burke explains:

According to the ransom model humanity was held under the power of the devil, until Christ offered the devil his own life and body in exchange for those he held, thus ransoming us by taking our place (substitution).  Christ tricked the devil however, ransoming humanity but also taking back both his life and body.[1]

Not many modern Christians embrace this view, as entertaining as it may be, since it involves Christ making a shady deal with the devil.  But the idea of Satan victimized by a divine practical joke did inspire an interesting Christian practice. 

In the 15th century a number of churches could be found celebrating Easter by telling jokes and encouraging people to laugh.  They called it the “Risus Paschalis”, which is Latin for “Easter Laugh”.  Easter was always a time of great joy, but the introduction of jokes into a sermon was something many of the dower Church Fathers would have frowned on.  And when the Easter joke telling got out of hand, and the pulpit acquired an ‘R’ rating (or far worse) the practice was condemned and discouraged.

Recently there are a number of Christians resurrecting the practice.  One group, The Fellowship of Merry Christians, has been promoting a cleaned-up version of the Easter Laugh since 1988.  Noting that Christians from the earliest days to the present have seen Easter as a time of unbridled joy, they say why not laugh!  And why not tell jokes (clean ones)?

Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy” (John 16: 20 NRSV).  If our pain has turned into joy, who can fault us for a hearty chuckle?  

April Fool’s day is something of a mystery, and nobody is entirely sure where the holiday came from.  But Easter is a different story.  For Christians, it is grounded in the greatest upset in human history, when Jesus Christ conquered darkness and death by rising from the grave.  I don’t see this as a practical joke, but it does give rise to the greatest punch line in history:  “He has risen!”

The 4th century Christian preacher John Chrysostom mocked the grave in an Easter sermon with these words:

It received a body and encountered God.
It took earth and came face-to-face with heaven.
It took what it saw and fell by what it could not see.
Death, where is your sting?
Hades, where is your victory?
Christ is risen and you are overthrown.[2]

So tell a funny story, go to a Post-Easter Party, laugh.  We share an Easter faith.  It’s not an April Fool’s joke, but it is our hope, a hope that makes us now and always a joyful people.


[1] Jonathan Burke, Crucified With Christ: The Biblical View of Atonement (LivelyStones Publishing) 10-11

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Non-Leap Of Faith

Ken Baldwin was twenty-eight years old, and severely depressed back in August of 1985 when he decided to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge (According to a New Yorker article).  “I wanted to disappear,” he said. “So the Golden Gate was the spot. I’d heard that the water just sweeps you under.” Walking onto the bridge, he counted to ten, froze, counted to ten again, and this time jumped over the side.[1]

Baldwin is one of the few people to jump off the bridge and survive, so we know what he was thinking at the time.  “I still see my hands coming off the railing,” Baldwin recalls, and “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”

People who jump off the bridge, not surprisingly, often find themselves suffering from “tunnel vision.”  They only see their troubles, their depression, and fail to see anything bright or hopeful in their lives.  They focus on escaping their problems, and the edge of the bridge offers them a path to that destination…or so they think.  One jumper left a suicide note with the simple message:  “Absolutely no reason except I have a toothache.”

The season of Lent, that period of time between Ash Wednesday (February 14th this year) and Easter (April 1st), is a season of introspection, and a time when we sometimes give up something bad for us (candy, cigarettes, etc.) or start practicing something good for us (praying regularly, exercising every morning, etc.).  Lent is a season for change, but maybe instead of embracing superficial changes, it ought to be a season of significant shifts in our way of living.  And what’s more significant than a shift in attitude?   Maybe Lent is a good time to replace our “tunnel vision” with a wider perspective.  Instead of leaping into despair, or the promise of a quick and easy solution, we should hunker down and face life head on.  Don’t give up, but plan and dream.  Don’t go over the edge, but courageously resist and hold on.  As the Apostle Paul advises:  “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13 NRSV).  

The French dramatist and novelist, Tristan Bernard, was arrested by Gestapo agents along with his wife, and interned at the Drancy deportation camp.  The agents were at his door to take them away, when Tristan turned to his weeping wife and said:  “Don’t cry, we were living in fear, but from now on we will live in hope.” This seems like an excellent idea for Lent.

Maybe, as Ken Baldwin discovered when he jumped off the bridge, everything in our life that we think is unfixable is totally fixable—if we don’t leap into despair.  Maybe Tristan Bernard is right, and now is the time of hope. Maybe Paul is right and we should stand firm with faith and courage.  And maybe this Lent is a good time to take this non-leap of faith.

Yours in Christ;

[1] From the New Yorker's 2003 article:  Jumpers: The fatal grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge, by Tad Friend:  https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/10/13/jumpers

Monday, January 8, 2018

Resolving To Become More Stubborn, Close-Minded, And Obsessive!

After years of making New Years resolutions that always seem to melt away with the snow of winter, maybe I’ll try something different this year.  How about this:  For 2018 I resolve to become more stubborn, close-minded, and obsessive!  After all, I already have some talent in these areas, plenty of experience, and I might as well build on my strengths.  Besides, these aren’t necessarily bad qualities; it’s just that we typically practice them in bad ways.  In fact, I invite you to join me in these resolutions.  Together we can make 2018 a year of stubbornly close-minded obsessiveness.  Here’s what I mean.

Let’s be stubborn, but in the right way.  When we have a conflict with another person, let’s stubbornly forgive and refuse to hold a grudge.  Let’s be stubborn about resolving the conflict in healthy ways.  When we have an illness, or find ourselves facing a stressful ordeal, let’s be stubborn about fighting the illness and working through the ordeal with courage, compassion, and determination.

Let’s be close-minded, but in the right way.  When life refuses to live up to our expectations, let’s not be close-minded about the evidence.  Instead, let’s be close-minded in our refusal to become unloving, or disrespectfully.  Let’s be close-minded about listening to thee evidence and not our desires.  Instead of being close-mindedly inflexible, let’s be close-minded about learning and growing. 

Let’s be obsessive, but in the right way. How easy it is to be obsessed with unimportant things, like the dust in our house, while completely ignoring larger issues like the dust gathering in our important relationships.  So let’s be obsessed with maintaining healthy relationships!  And instead of obsessing over buying that new TV, car, or house, let’s obsess over spending our resources on things that would make our world a better place. 

Jesus invites us to “…strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33a NRSV).  With the arrival of 2018, we have an entire year ahead of us to do this very thing, while at the same time perfecting those qualities in which we already excel.  Let’s make a New Years Resolution to work together in stubbornly, close-mindedly, and obsessively striving first for God’s Kingdom!

Yours in Christ;
David Rockhill

Friday, December 1, 2017

Good News of Great Joy

Cleaning out the thousands of pieces of junk mail that had accumulated in my email inbox (I’m not exaggerating here) I ran across several recent emails that I had ignored.  All of them brought good news of great joy.

Good NewsThere was an email from my “sister in Christ” who I’ve never met, Doris Tamo, who’s husband died leaving her with $2.5 million dollars in a lock box.  She’s been diagnosed with cancer, and would like to donate that money to a church or individual.  Of course, she wants to give it to us.

Then there is an email from Miss Leticia Koulibaly who’s husband was poisoned by her "wicked uncle" (her words).  Miss Leticia has $6.5 Million dollars that this wicked uncle would like to get his hands on, and to keep this from happening she would like to give it to me or our congregation!

In addition, I have an email from Mr. George Culmer, “A Banker From Lloyds Banking Group United Kingdom”.  He’s sitting on a whopping $100 million dollars US, and would like to transfer this money into our country.  For this he needs my help.  In return, he will split the money fifty-fifty with me or the church! All he needs is information to access my bank account.

And if this isn’t enough, Mr.Ahmed Edelbore “The Chairman, Contract Awarding Committee of the ECONOMIC COMMUNITY OF WEST AFRICAN STATES” has $6 million dollars he would like to transfer into my bank account (or the church’s), and Miss Anna Paul, a young woman in Abidjan (wherever that is) needs my help getting $5.5 million into the US, keeping her evil relatives from getting their hands on it.

All in all,  either I or our congregation should be receiving over $70 million dollars in the near future!   

Of course, these are all scams, and if pursued the scammers will take you for all they can.  Not all “good news” is real news. Real good news actually pans out.  Authentic good news changes things for the better.  At it’s best, real good news brings truth and love to a dishonest and mean world.

Christmas is a time to celebrate the real good news of the birth of Christ.  And how do we know that this good news is genuine good news?  Because it has all the genuine side effects.  The good news of Christmas is actually good news because it makes us a better, more loving people. 

 Luke 2:10-11 NRSV  But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

We may not be getting that $70 million dollars, but we have something even more valuable than the false promises found in my inbox.  We have the good news of Jesus Christ!  A gift that makes us, and our world, better.  A gift that never fades.  A gift that we need to unwrap and share, this and every Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Visit the Holy Land With Me!

We celebrated a baptism a couple weeks back at Maple Avenue, and whenever I baptize someone I always add a few drops of water to the baptismal water taken from the River Jordan—the place where Jesus himself was baptized.  My parents visited there some years back and brought me a large plastic bottle full of water and while my Jordan River supply is starting to run low, I have enough for quite a few more baptisms if needed!

There is something special and sacred about the Holy Land.  New pastors in our conference are strongly encouraged to visit there with the Bishop, and many of my friends and colleagues have gone and returned to talk about how meaningful their visit was. I believe it can be a good experience, and if you have the chance to go why not do it?  

Still, I’ve never been there.  At least I’ve never been to the Middle East, or Jerusalem, or any of the cities visited by Paul.  But in a sense, I believe I have been to all these places.  And so have you.

In his book Passion for Pilgrimage: Notes for the Journey Home, the author Alan Jones tells of the abbot of the Coptic Monastery of St. Macarius in the Egyptian desert.  The abbot, who lived with the other monks in desert caves, was asked if he intended to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  The abbot replied that he had no need to go there.

“Jerusalem, the Holy, is right here, in and around these caves; for what else is my cave but the place where my savior Christ was born; what else is my cave but the place where he most gloriously rose again from the dead.  Jerusalem is here, right here; and all the spiritual riches of the holy city are found in this wadi.”

Jones adds that another monk said “The monk’s cell is the furnace of Babylon, in which the three children found the Son of God; it is the pillar of cloud from which God spoke to Moses.”

These monks had discovered something marvelous:  the Holy Land is wherever you happen to be, if you only have the faith to see it.  We don’t have to travel great distances to experience the reality of the stories told in the Bible.  We can experience them in our lives here and now, whoever we are and wherever we happen to be.

An old man who loved the Bible was growing weak, and sensing that his end was near told his family that his dream was to die and be buried in the Holy Land, like so many of his heroes.  So the family flew him to Jerusalem, got him a room, and then joined him to await his death.  But in these new surroundings, he grew stronger, and eventually began to flourish!  So he called his family to his side and insisted that they must immediately fly him back to the states.

“But why?” they asked him.  “You said you always wanted to die in the Holy Land and be buried there.”

“Dying in the Holy Land fine,” said the man, “but who wants to live there?”

In reality, we all live and die in the Holy Land, regardless of the name of our city or town.  It’s a matter of perspective and awareness.

This Thanksgiving let’s open our eyes to the presence of Jesus Christ all around us, here in Terre Haute, and wherever we may be.  This is our Holy Land.  This is where God Kingdom is breaking in.  And we don’t have to travel any farther than our front door to be can be part of it.

Your fellow pilgrim;