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:

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;

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


Road RageI was surprised to read about a man in Kosciusko County recently sentenced to 23 years in prison for a road rage incident that took place in 2016.  That seemed like a steep punishment to me, until I read the article.  The perpetrator, irritated at another driver, fired a gun at that driver and then rammed his car several times sending it off the road.  When the County Sheriff’s Officer attempted to intercept him, he sideswiped the officer causing his airbags to deploy and knocking the officer unconscious.  When another officer arrived, the angry driver used his truck to repeatedly ram the police cruiser.  The renegade driver was finally subdued and taken into custody, but about a month later, he saw one of the original victims driving with his wife and after attempting to hit them “head on” was arrested again.  Clearly someone has an anger management problem.

Maybe it’s my imagination, but lately, here in Terre Haute, I’ve seen more incidents of angry drivers then usual…honking, rudely waving, yelling, etc. Just yesterday, for example, I witnessed such an incident on 3rd street, and even though it didn’t involve me, I felt sorry for the hapless driver who irritated a speeding and accelerating driver by pulling onto the road in front of him at a sane speed.  The speeding driver wasn’t shy about letting his displeasure out.

So many people seem to be walking around full of anger, looking for any excuse to erupt.  Like pressure cookers ready to explode, all it takes is a small crack on the surface to get a destructive blast, and crackpots like this are all over the place.  And this is in spite of the fact that most of us really have very little to be angry about.  Unlike many people in history, we don’t have to work bone-crushing jobs that grind us down and kill us before we reach forty.  We have food to eat, clothes to wear, roofs over our heads, family and friends.  And yet, our discontent runs amok.

Since summer time is that season when many people take vacations, I’d like to offer a suggestion here.  Let’s take a vacation from unwarranted anger. 

If you hang around discontented people all the time, you will become discontented.  Or crazy.  Or both.  The discontented tend to become angry, and we need to take a vacation from anger.

If you constantly relive the wrong’s you’ve endured, both imaginary and real, you will end up carrying a load of resentment.  Resentful people become angry, and we need to take a vacation from anger.

If you fill your life with anxiety and never take a moment to unwind, you will become anxious.  Anxious people become angry, and we need to take a vacation from anger.

There’s no way to avoid discontent, resentment, or anxiety.  But we don’t have to cultivate these things until they produce a harvest of rage.  Relax.  It’s summer.  Take a vacation…from anger.  And one more thing:  when you’re on the road, please try to be nice.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Lion’s Share of Potential

In 1994, when the animated movie The Lion King was released, many at Disney Studios were not counting on it being much of a hit. For one thing, it was their first feature length animated film based on an original story (although it very loosely draws on Hamlet), and nobody was sure if this lack of public familiarity would be readily accepted.  So, according to Mental Floss the movie was actually made by the “B-Team” animators since the “A-Team” elected to work on a film with more potential:  Pocahontas (1995).

The Lion King,, however, soon became king of the box office, and even today it is the highest grossing hand drawn animated film in history.  Until Frozen came along, it was the highest grossing animated film ever.  It seems that nobody realized just how much potential a movie like this could have, and this is interesting, since The Lion King is all about potential.  Specifically it’s about Simba the lion cub growing up to realize and embrace his potential to lead his people, and then standing up to the dark side, and restoring balance to the force.  

(Well, maybe I have confused this last bit with another movie but after all, James Earl Jones, the voice of Simba’s father Mufasa was also the voice of Darth Vader, and both Mufasa and Vader did appear to their sons after they had died.)  

This tendency to miss potential is not a new thing.  You find it all through the Bible.  Few people realized the shepherd boy David had the potential to become king of Israel.  Who knew that Jesus, crucified would be Christ risen?  As the New Testament describes this turn of events, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner."  Most people wouldn’t have guessed that Peter, an ordinary fisherman, and Paul, a persecutor of Christians, would both become leaders in the faith as it swept the world.  There is potential all over the place that only God can see.

The Lion King took off, netting Disney a billion dollars in merchandising its first year alone, and it has shaped the lives of the many children who grew up watching it with the tune to “Hakuna Matata” stuck in their heads.  Nobody realized the potential of such a movie about potential.

The movie had so much potential it grew into a hit Broadway musical, which eventually was adapted for young people.  And now here in Terre Haute a group of talented young actors are playing the roles and singing the songs.  They have worked hard on this production, and I think you’ll agree that it shows.  And if you look closely at them as they’re on the stage you’ll see something that some folk are good at missing.  You’ll see potential all over the place.  They have amazing potential, and knowing them gives me a sense of confidence and pride.  I hope you feel the same way.

So in a show about potential, a show in which everyone missed it’s potential, there is a stage full of potential.   And maybe there is also an audience full of potential, all taking place through a congregation full of potential.

The potential is there.  It’s filling the streets of Terre Haute.  It’s even in you.  May God breathe it into life, and may we never stop striving to reach it.

In God’s Peace;