Monthly Archives: April 2019
This is a poem I wrote two years ago. During National Poetry Month, my youngest daughter, who teaches middle school in NYC, and I write poems to each other. Many of mine should never see light of day, but that year I wrote poems each day of Holy Week about the events of that day. I stumbled across the tradition of calling this “Spy Wednesday,” after the plotting that was going on that day. Treachery, using, selling out–they are the deepest pain that wells forth from human beings. The deepest pain of Holy Week is the revelation of betrayal of the innocent Jesus by his friend.
What a great name for the day
A friend’s fate was sealed,
Sold out by the man for whom
Dante created an ice rink on the lowest level of hell.
The word sends icy shivers down the spine
Because it requires loving trust as its precondition.
People betray love, not hate.
Enemies try to kill you. It’s what they do. No surprise.
Only friends, lovers, teammates
Sisters, brothers, colleagues betray you.
It has to rip a hole where you felt safe to do its work.
It’s a sordid business—
Traitors sell you out, stab your back
Let you down, break your trust, turn on you
Ruin your faith in people and undermine your capacity to trust again.
Only double minds and hearts, labyrinths of secret compartments
With cracks in the walls, broken floor joists and low light,
Can pull it off.
A loyal spy is still a patriot
But a double agent is up to the highest bidder
At the cost of a soul
Thirty pieces of silver for Jesus puts the condemnation at Simon’s house
In an even more painful contrast. Hers was of love found
His was of love disdained.
His only hope now is “all have sinned and fall short of the glory”
A tiny speck of hope that his wretchedness is but one more evidence
Of what stares back at us in the mirror sooner or later.
So the drama unfolds,
which character, bent, long before it would be set in motion.
The emotions of Holy Week run the gamut. From the wild enthusiasm of Palm Sunday morning to dread and anxiety of Maundy Thursday, the stark hopelessness of Good Friday and “darkness across the face of the earth” to the somber placing of Jesus in a borrowed tomb, the pilgrimage takes us through the full range of human experiences.
Churches will look forward to crowded sanctuaries on Sunday morning, naturally. Children in beautiful new Easter clothes, beautiful ladies’ hats, uplifting music and, unless a pastor has the flu, a message of enthusiastic hope and energy. A great crowd, a holiday,: of course, it will be energetic.
This is the fortieth consecutive year I have preached an Easter sermon. I intentionally do not look back to see how badly I fell short to capture the “extraordinary in the ordinary” majesty of the resurrection and what it means to humanity. I will tell you this, though: As my own experience of call to ministry came in 1971 on a Palm Sunday and was presented to my high school church family on Easter Sunday, I have never forgotten the ups and downs of this week for me. That week I wrangled and struggled and finally decided to accept the call, at least what I knew at that point, to enter the ministry. It was full of anguish. What did I really understand about what this would mean or where it would go? I can assure you, it wasn’t as clear as
And then, forty years from now, you will be standing in your beloved church of more than twenty-five years in Birmingham, Alabama, and you will have a wonderful congregation, one of whom will be in the top ten in American Idol singing competition.* You’ll have some nice facilities and three grandchildren and an excellent staff.
If only the call were so clear! It was little more than, “This is the direction for your life. Come with me.” What did that mean? Where did it lead? I moved toward the leading but still without a lot of clarity about what it would mean.
The late theologian Jim McClendon said of the spiritual life that we must leave room, along with our spiritual disciplines and our spiritual experiences for what he called “the anastatic.” It means, in the ancient koine Greek language, “Resurrection.” Literally, “to stand again,” but Jim took it to mean, “the surprising work of God.”
In the Christian faith, Easter is a surprise. That means people had no right to expect what transpired. So, everyone was surprised, shocked, stunned, overwhelmed. There was no way to anticipate what happened. “Well,” one might say, “Jesus told them this was what happened.” Even so, I imagine it made as much sense at the moment as lecturing your dog about the importance of a good education.
Nothing indicated this was coming. Their hopes were literally in ruins. I have thought of this while grieving the terrible fire at Notre Dame in Paris. I have only had the privilege to visit there one time, but I remember the awe at this magnificent work of human hands motivated by faith in God.
Out of ashes and devastation, we wait. One more Holy Week. One more hard moment in humanity. No reason to expect a surprise. But for those of us who are Christians, we’ve become accustomed to looking to something unexpectedly, undeservedly good to come along when we least expect it. This week, we walk into the cold ashes of human disappointment and wait to see what God might say to enable us to build out of this moment something new and unanticipated.
No matter who you are, where you came from, or whatever has happened, Easter is for you. That is the message. “God is for us. Who can be against us?” That is a word for everyone.
Walk along this week with God’s people. Through it all.
This Wednesday evening we come to the final of four outstanding speakers in our 2019 Speaker series. Each week, a speaker has taken us inside the journey of Christian calling. Too often we have turned the Christian faith into a series of ideas or reduced it to a buttress against our fears and anxieties rather than what Jesus revealed it to be: a dynamic and life-changing adventure. Our final speaker is Dan Haseltine.
For more than two decades, Dan Haseltine has been the founder and primary songwriter for the Grammy-winning music group, Jars of Clay. From a band formed among college friends in Illinois, they skyrocketed in the mid-90s to crossover fame. Their self-titled debut was released in 1995. When the single “Flood” began to climb the charts on mainstream radio stations, Silvertone Records started to heavily promote the song, turning it into one of the biggest mainstream hits ever by a band on a Christian label. The album has since reached multi-platinum certification according to the RIAA. Over the next decades came touring, more Grammys and successful albums.
I met Dan a few years ago while on an interfaith advocacy effort in Washington. We were paired together to talk to congressional leaders about the importance of global health and hunger funding, so we spent a day together. He is one of the most engaging and thoughtful, down to earth people I have ever met. Many years ago my youngest daughter, then in high school, pressed me to go down to the old Boutwell Auditorium, May 2, 1998, to hear Jars of Clay. I had never heard them, pretty well being into acoustic music and bluegrass then, but I went along. I liked them. I didn’t know I’d ever end up walking around DC with that young singer someday.