Do it now. Go say Thank You.

Larry House died last week. He was my first boss, hiring me for my first wear-a-shirt-and-tie-everyday job at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia in the development office. I will be forever grateful that he took a chance on me, a young, not-ordained, 20-something fresh out of seminary with lots to learn.

Larry was a real mentor to me. He taught me three things that I didn’t necessarily appreciate at the time, but which have proved essential in my ministry several years later:

  1. Larry taught me how to be a professional.
  2. Larry showed me how to give, and he expected me to do so.
  3. Larry modeled a great love for the church and its people.

A few years later, after I left the seminary and was working elsewhere, I called him on the anniversary of my hire date and thanked him for giving me my first job. He was touched and surprised by the call. Yet,  I’m not sure that even then I truly appreciated how much he shaped me. As a pastor, I am grateful for the lessons Larry taught me, and I am continually trying to learn those lessons and practice them in my daily work. And I wish I had fully expressed this to him before his unexpected death early last week.

Who is that person in your life who gave you a chance when perhaps you didn’t deserve it? Who taught you life lessons and professional skills that have proved helpful over the years? Who shaped you into the person you are today?

Figure out who that person is, or who those persons are, and track them down. Give them a call or, better yet, write a letter. Write a letter describing what they did for you and how appreciative you are. In fact, write the letter, copy it, and send two copies – one for that mentor, and one for their spouse or safety deposit box or otherwise for safe keeping. Not to be morbid, but if this person is that important to you, you want these words to be available to their family upon her or his death. And, you want to write and send this letter now, if for whatever reason your death predates hers or his, so that she or he and their family has the chance to know what they mean to you.

I have three letters to write – for starters, anyway. The first letter is to Larry’s family. Though I’ve shared some of these thoughts in person, I want them to have it in writing. I only wish I had done this earlier.

I’ll also be writing letters to two men with whom I have little regular contact these days but who were deeply influential in forming me into the man and pastor that I am today. Indeed, not a week goes by in my life and ministry when I do not think of them. They need to know that. And I need to tell them that.

I have three letters to write. How many will you write?

Our temptation: to trust sin more than we trust God

First Sunday in Lent
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lent 1 – Year A 2011

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

On this first Sunday in Lent,
    we begin with sin.
And not only do we begin with sin, but we begin with the beginning of sin.
In our first reading, we are introduced to The Fall,
    the Biblical account of how sin entered into the world.
To hear the author of Genesis put it,
    our first sin was to disobey one of the laws that God gave to man.
Now, in this brand new creation, God had already given several laws,
    perhaps not formally formulated or laid down in written code,
    but God put man in the garden of Eden
    with the expressed responsibility to till the land and to keep it,
        a form of law, a command, to care for the earth that God has just made.
And, too, God laid down one prohibition:
    Man was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

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We look for the resurrection of the dead

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.
– Nicene Creed

Yes, Jesus was raised from the dead.  The stone was rolled away, and our risen Jesus appeared, variously, to the women, to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus, and to his disciples.  To a doubting Thomas, Jesus revealed his wounds.  Jesus ate fish to prove he wasn’t a ghost, yet he also appeared among his disciples, even though the doors of their room were locked.  The resurrection of Jesus.  This is what we celebrate in the season of Easter.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

But it is more than an amazing act of God.  Jesus’ resurrection is a conquest of sin and death to reveal the awesome and life-giving power of God.  Indeed, the resurrection of Christ shows us God’s intention for all of creation.  The resurrection of Jesus is not a one-time thing, an isolated anomaly in the spiritual fabric time and space.  No!  The resurrection of Jesus is not a once-and-done event, but a debut, a first-of-many.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

St Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.  For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at this coming those who belong to Christ.

Christ is the first fruits, his resurrection is the first act in a holy drama that has yet to end.  But this much we know – what has come to Jesus in the resurrection is promised to us.  For at St Paul writes in Romans 6:

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

What is so great about Easter is that it its story of our Lord’s resurrection we see a reflection, a telling of another story – the story of what God promises to do in and for us.  Just as the stone was rolled away from Jesus tomb, so too will God’s angels roll the stones away from our tombs, breath new life into us, and make all things new.  Death will be no more.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

Indeed, the hope of early Christians was not a hope for a spiritual heaven, a disembodied world of ghostly apparitions floating in the clouds. The hope of the early church, of the first generations of Christians, was a hope in a new flesh-and-blood life, a life like Jesus’ resurrected life, a life of death defeated and sin conquered, a life where that which breaks us down is itself broken down, and a New Creation springs forth in joy, love, and peace.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

And since our hope is set on a renewed flesh-and-blood reality, our Lord sends us, not looking to the heavens, but looking to the world, for it is in the world where God’s promises will be fulfilled.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

So may we be Easter people in these days –
People who look for the dead to be raised. 
People who look for the new world to come to this world. 
People who look for God to live and dwell among us. 
People who look for our Lord to appear to us in the breaking of bread. 
People who, with doubting Thomas, proclaim the presence of God in the midst of wounds and deathly scars. 
People who look to the cross and all its misery … and see hope.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

[Reposted from my column in the April 2010 edition of my congregation's newsletter]