Keep your eye on the ball

I read a good blog post yesterday titled Distracted.  It addressed a distressing distraction that has been going on this week; something that has (and is) drawing people’s attention away from what is ultimately important.  Do you know what that distraction is? It’s…

…the Supreme Court discussing and considering a ruling about (so-called) same sex marriage.

And in a show of support on Facebook, people have been changing their profile pictures to a red-ish/pink-ish equal sign (meaning marriage equality).  As I browsed through Facebook this week I saw a ton of those pictures and a lot of status updates defending “marriage equality”…and all of this in the midst of Holy Week.

The blog post gave kudos to Satan on his brilliant scheme to distract people from the glory of this week.  And I have to agree.   All of the discourse I read on Facebook was about gay marriage and condemning those who would hold a different view.  I read these and I was sadden.  But what saddened me even more was that as I look back on this past week I too was drawn in.  My thinking was caught up in this distraction.  I didn’t post anything on social media indicting my view but I was thinking about it…and being distracted.

So I am here this morning confessing my sin and repenting of my actions.  This week is Holy Week.  Yesterday was Maundy Thursday where we celebrated the Last Supper with Jesus and his disciples and then walked to the Garden of Gethsemane to see Jesus arrested and then beaten, mocked, spit upon and tried.  Today is Good Friday where we will walk to the cross and see how our Lord and Savior died to save us from our sins.  He will be buried, but on the third day rise that we may have eternal life.  But instead of pondering what our Lord and Savior did for us we have taken our eye off the proverbial ball.

This is Holy Week.  Look to the cross.  See how Jesus took OUR sin and destroyed the grip of death.  See how Jesus defeated Satan and won the victory for you and for me.  We are ALL sinners…worthy of punishment and condemnation, but through the grace of God we have forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Let’s keep our eye on the ball people and give glory to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen!

From the Heart of a Pastor -|—

Wave those branches loudly

Palm-Sunday

Wave those Palm branches to the glory of God and don’t be silent.

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
[Luke 19:38-40]

Let us pray…
Loving God, we enter another Holy Week.  We will hear the same story.  We will participate in the same worship services.  But your story is anything but business as usual. The Passion of Jesus is anything but old news.  I ask that you may make this story come alive for us so that we can see once again your amazing grace; not old news but Good News.  We are sinners, O God, with very short attention spans and therefore we need to hear this story over and over again.  Work faith where needed.  Strengthen faith where needed.  And in the end may we seek you with our whole lives.  May we cry out to you in praise so the rocks will have no reason to take our place. To you who is worthy of all worship, honor and praise…in Jesus name…Amen!

Blessings to you on this Palm Sunday and during your journey through Holy Week as we approach the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The pastor -|—

Palm of my hand to my forehead

I did it again…

[Palm of my hand to my forehead]

…I forgot the cross. (see my post from two years ago: Where’s the cross)

“Traditionally” we put a huge, rugged cross in the narthex at Salem on Ash Wednesday to mark the beginning of Holy Week.  It has a crown of thorns on top with a purple cloth draped over the cross beam. For Good Friday, the cross is moved outside to the end of the ramp leading to the narthex with a black cloth draped over the cross beam.  Then for Easter the cross is moved into the sanctuary where it is “decorated” with Easter lilies (something that gives my allergies a run for it’s money).

After this happened in 2011 I asked my secretary to write it on her calendar figuring one of us would remember. We remembered for 2012…just not for 2013.  So…like what we did in 2011, we will wait to put the cross out until Palm Sunday as a way of setting Holy Week apart.

There is so much that can be said theologically about this but I will refrain since I am too busy palm planting my forehead.

Doh!

The pastor -|—

Holy Week support for your pastor

Holy week begins on Sunday, April 1…and that’s no joke.  Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday is considered the holiest week of the year for Christians and the busiest week of the year for pastors.  And…if you’re a solo pastor it is even busier (not to say pastoral teams are not busy or have it easy).

So with this busy week coming up I wanted to give you (the people sitting in the pews)  a little heads up.

Your pastor WILL be busy…

…and maybe a little stressed and  maybe a little over-tired.  There are a bunch of worship services to plan, details to line up, multiple sermons to write and maybe some small group studies to lead (among other things).

So with all this craziness that is coming up I wanted to clue you in on the top ten ways you can support your pastor during this busy and crazy week.  These are not necessarily time tested things but from where I sit I think they would work…because I wouldn’t mind them.  So here we go (in no particular order…and…definitely not an exhaustive list):

(1)  Stop by your pastor’s office sometime and ask them: Have you taken some time for yourself today?  If the answer is no then as a person from the congregation whose offerings help pay their salary, gently encourage them to go for a little walk ~ 10 to 15 minutes at least.  Anything to just get outside and clear their head.  Tell them you’re doing this because you care about them.  And…if it’s raining then be a little flexible about the outside walking part.

(2) Drop by your pastor’s office with a cup of coffee (or their favorite drink) and let them know that you are praying for them (and actually be doing so before you stop by).

(3) Drop by your pastor’s office with a cup of coffee (or their favorite drink) and offer to do devotions with them.  Sometimes we forget to spend time in personal prayer and/or scripture reading during Holy Week because of everything else on our plate.  Have something planned and them pray over them before you leave.

(4) Volunteer to help with something such as:  Read scripture for a worship service; help set up the sanctuary; make some phone calls; help with the Easter breakfast; basically…offer to help remove something from your pastor’s to-do list so they can spend more time preparing for worship and proclamation.

(5) If you have small children, bring them in sometime and instruct them to run into your pastor’s office and give them a big hug.  But make sure your pastor isn’t on the phone or having a private conversation with someone before sending the kids in.

(6) Have I mentioned the coffee part (that is if your pastor likes coffee)?

(7) Remind your pastor to spend quality time with their family.  Your pastor’s family may “understand” the craziness of Holy Week but it doesn’t mean they don’t want to see their husband/father.

(8) If you see your pastor around town and they don’t wave at you or say “hi”…be patient.  They are not trying to be rude.  Sometimes when there is much to do we have a tendency to put blinders on and get really focused on the task at hand.

(9) Get a group of people together, stop by your pastor’s office and sing some Easter hymns (kind of like Christmas caroling).  Now how can someone not smile at that.

(10) If your pastor is doing a good job, then take some time to let them know.

Once again, this is not an exhaustive list but just some ideas to help your pastor relax and enjoy this week.  For me…this is my favorite time of the year.  Maundy Thursday and Good Friday always give me goose bumps when I think about why Jesus would go through all that for me.  And Easter…well…that is just awesome.  I may be exhausted on Easter Sunday afternoon, but every single year I say to myself “It was worth it”.

God bless you this Easter season and may you know the joy of Jesus Christ died and risen FOR YOU.

Praise be to God!

edh -|—

Where’s the cross?

A few weeks ago my wife and I were chatting with some friends about Holy Week.  We were sharing what our respective congregations were planning.  Here…we share Maundy Thursday and Good Friday worships with Belmont Lutheran Church (the small county congregation I serve).  We each take one of those services and then flip the following year.  This year we worship at Belmont on Maundy Thursday and at Salem for Good Friday.

As I was sharing this I was talking about this old rugged cross that a couple Salem guys made a few years back.  It stands about 6 feet tall and made from two nice-sized tree branches.  They did a very nice job and it’s perfect for Good Friday worship.  As soon as I mentioned this I froze.  You see…on Ash Wednesday we put a larger cross in Salem’s narthex (we decorate this cross with palm branches and lilies for Easter Sunday).  There is a crown of thorns on top and it is draped with a purple cloth.  It greets people as they enter the narthex to remind then of Lent and of Jesus’ suffering and death.

Well…the cross was not there in the narthex.  I forgot to put it out 😦

How could I possibly forget the cross?  My wife was quick to remind me that our custodian always put it out…but here’s the thing…that person is no longer our custodian due to a stroke he suffered last June.  I always took for granted that Dave would have the cross out and ready to go for Ash Wednesday and Lent.  But that doesn’t absolve me for forgetting that cross.

I mean…think about it.  Lent is a time for us to remember why Jesus suffered and died on the cross.  We are to remember our mortality and sin.  We are to remember that from dust we came and to dust we shall return.  We are to remember that without the cross we are condemned to hell.  The cross is the focus…and I forgot that narthex cross.  But here’s another thing…no one else noticed either (or at least they didn’t say anything to me).  I am not sure what bothers me more:  Me forgetting or no one saying anything about it.

So the solution was  to put it up for Palm Sunday (which we did); marking the beginning of Holy Week.  The purple cloth on that cross will be replaced on Maundy Thursday with a black one.  The cross will then be put outside for Good Friday to REMIND people of what Jesus did for us.  And…the cross will be “decorated” with palm branches and lilies to remind us of the joy that comes through the cross.

Now…when I walk through the narthex I feel a little more complete…with the reality of the cross staring at me.  I hope that when Easter is done that I won’t need a large cross in the narthex to remind me of what Jesus did FOR YOU and FOR ME.

May you have a blessed Holy Week and a very happy Easter!

Praise be to God!

-edh-

Holy Week stress and an answer to prayer

Holy Week has been a good one for me this year, but there was still some stress for me.  This is an account of one particular stress point and the faithfulness of our awesome God who came through for us.

We have a number of traditions here at Salem Lutheran Church as it pertains to Holy Week; traditions I look forward to.  Here are just a few of them (that relate to my particular stress point this week):

–We have a large rugged cross that stands in the narthex during lent that has a purple cloth draped on it topped with a crown of thorns.

–On Maundy Thursday we strip the altar and bring that rugged cross outside, to the base of the narthex ramp and drape a black cloth over the cross beams.
[A cool story about this from Good Friday.  Our custodian saw a van flying down the street next to the church on Friday.  When the van got to the church and saw the cross at the base of the ramp he slammed on his breaks and came to a screeching halt.  He looked at the cross for a couple moments and then proceeded on his way.  This cross, each year, attracts a lot of attention.]

–On Saturday we bring that rugged cross back inside to prepare it for Easter.  There are rings attached to the cross that hold Easter lilies.  We then staple the palms from Palm Sunday to the cross.  And let me tell you it is quite a sight…as pictured below…

100_0200

…well…here’s where the stress comes in…

…on Wednesday this week my wife and I noticed that the Palm branches from Sunday were dead.  They were dried up and crunchy even though they were still in water.  The problem was that we forgot to cut the ends to allow the branches to soak up the water.  Now what were we to do?  Wednesday was already a stressful day for me and this was the last thing I needed.  One of my deacons came in and cut the ends and put them in water.  We prayed that somehow God would resurrect those palms for Sunday.

On Thursday when I went out to Belmont for Maundy Thursday worship I noticed that Belmont had a bunch of palms that they were no longer needing.

[cue the ligh bulb that popped up over my head]

I asked the ladies of Belmont if Salem could have the palms and they said that would be no problem.  Now we have palms for the cross and our Easter tradition can continue.  An answer to prayer.  Praise be to God!

Now…as I write this, people are up in the sanctuary getting ready for Easter worship.  There are families in the Fellowship Hall preparing for the Easter breakfast.  And I am here finishing this post and soon will be finishing my Easter sermon.  I sit here feeling refreshed from great Maundy Thursday and Good Friday worships.  I sit here feeling hopeful that our amazing God is ever so faithful.  I sit here looking forward to our Easter worship services (as tiring as they will be for me, but I never seem to notice at the time).

God is faithful…not because He “resurrected” some palm branches for us, because…well…just look at the cross.

Have a very blessed Easter Sunday and God bless!

-edh-

The Passion of the Christ

Happy Holy Week!

That almost sounds strange to say, but someone said that to me this morning…so why not?  I know Holy Week is about the last week of Jesus life; about his arrest, trial, beating, crucifixion and death.  But through all of that we get to celebrate his resurrection and the victory Jesus gives us:

Death has been swallowed up in victory!
Where O death is thy victory?
Where O death is thy sting?
The sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the Law;
but thanks be to God for giving us the victory,
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

(1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

So…Happy Holy Week…

To kick off Holy Week each year, I have been showing the movie, The Passion of the Christ.  Yesterday marks the fourth year in a row we have done this.  Each year we get new people to come and watch; usually only around 8 to 15 people.  Last night we had 9.  This year I sent an email to the churches in town inviting people to come and of the 9 that came last night 5 were from other churches.  One particular couple stands out though.  I can’t remember their names right now, but the wife is legally blind.  I see this woman around town and have talked to her a few times so I think she can still see a little.  But when I walked into the Fellowship Hall last night I was surprised to see her there with her husband.  After the movie got going they realized that there were subtitles and she could not see well enough to read them.  I started feeling bad for her.  Then I heard something that made me smile and gave me goose bumps…her husband started reading the subtitles and read every single line to her throughout the whole 2 hour plus movie.  Every once in a while he had to describe a scene to her and which character was there and/or speaking.  It was a really amazing display of love AND ministry. There are so many things we take for granted.  The reading of the lines was not at all distracting…actually…it added to the movie for me.

After the movie we had a time of discussion and this woman participated.  She enjoyed the movie and thought is was very moving (even though she can’t see as well as you and I).    In addition to watching the events of Jesus life and death unfold, I got to experience the love of a husband telling the Passion Story to his wife.  I will never forget that night because in a way, I got to experience first hand one way the “passion of Jesus” is displayed and showed to people.  It is one thing to say that Jesus loves you and he died for you, but it quite another to display that love in your life.  This husband did that last night (and I am sure every other day in their lives).

I have seen this movie at least a half a dozen times and each time I get something new out of it.  Last night…I experienced something new…and for that I thank God.

I hope and pray you have a blessed Holy Week as we celebrate the victory won for us through Jesus death and resurrection.  God bless!

-edh-