He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your mind.’
--Matthew 22:37 NRSV
Earth Day is coming up, so let me share some of my ecologically-minded musings with you.
Sometime long in the past, I can remember reading an essay by a Christian social justice advocate who was also a mom. In her essay, she complained about the amount of plastic present in the packaging of the snacks she had to bring for her kids’ soccer games. When it was her turn to be the parent providing snacks, for safety reasons she had to make sure each was individually wrapped by its producer. Rather than buying one large bag of oranges and slicing them up on her own, she had to purchase individual plastic cups of orange slices sealed with even more plastic. I remember agreeing with her about plastic waste but also thinking, “Who cares about packaged orange slices when there are giant corporations dumping toxins all over the place?”
Fast forward more years than I want to admit, and I’ve been thinking about all the plastic my family uses. Is this something that happens to people when they have children and reach middle age? I made dinner last night and all of the food came in some kind of plastic packaging, even the organic healthy stuff, and most of it was of a sort that can’t be recycled. I just stared at the packaging for a moment in amazement.
I think like most people I don’t want to pollute the environment, and I think like most people I feel sort of powerless to make change on a large enough scale to matter. When you live in a state where your politicians hold safe seats in Congress and in the state legislature AND they routinely deny climate change is real, you can write all the letters to them you want but you are just wasting paper—paper they probably won’t recycle!
I’m well aware of the good modern plastics provide for us. I’ve seen the commercials made by the plastic companies. Plastic helps save food from spoiling and waste. Plastics help save lives with advanced medicine. Plastics can be recycled. Etc. Etc.
I’m also aware that most plastic we use never gets recycled but rather goes in landfills where it will take 10,000+ years to break down. Ever since China stopped importing our recyclables some years back, the market fell for paper, cardboard, and plastic leaving recyclers with nowhere to sell the stuff we throw in the recycle bins each week. Almost daily, more news appears about the amount of microplastics in our rivers, lakes, oceans and even the air we breathe.
All of this leaves me staring at the amount of plastic involved in my family’s average meal and wondering if that meal was worth the amount of plastic that will take 10,000+ years to break down? We recycle and even wash the food particles off our plastic, because food contaminates plastic making it non-recyclable. We compost food waste, and we try to reuse plastic whenever we can. Yet, none of it seems like enough.
As a Christian, I’ve been taught all my life that the second greatest commandment is loving others as I wish to be loved. It comes right after the first commandment to love God. So many Christians envision a future that ends with a fiery cataclysm which could come any day, but those of us who reject such a view are left with an indeterminate future. This means the command to love others includes more than just people alive now but also others in the future.
Decades ago, I read a book by a Christian ethicist named Robert Parham titled Loving Our Neighbors Across Time. I’ve forgotten what the book said—probably the same stuff most environmentally conscious Christians say—but I’ve never forgotten the title. People I will never meet will live in the far future with the plastics I use every day for the most ordinary things. Jesus commanded me to love them too. It doesn’t seem very loving to leave them my mess.
If you’re reading this, maybe your reaction is like mine was years ago when I read a Christian mom’s lament over plastic-encased orange slices. You have more pressing things to worry about. Maybe sane people don’t look at their groceries and think about their neighbors centuries in the future or maybe we are all insane not to do so.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone
who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
I Peter 3:15
Hope is just a four-letter word until it is truly experienced.
We throw this word around rather loosely these days.
“I hope to find it on sale.”
“We hope the Chiefs will go back to the Super Bowl.”
“I hope I get that promotion.”
All these little things are more like wishes than anything else. They are what we would desire to happen. And really, they are fleeting sort of “hopes” that change with very little effort or thought. Real hope is much bigger, and we often express it as well, but most often it hinges on doubt.
“I hope the doctor can save him.” (But in our thoughts, we prepare for the worst.)
“We hope for a brighter future with less violence.” (But the world is so evil.)
“I hope that the homeless find homes.” (But it’s such a big problem, there is so little I can do.)
Here in I Peter hope is so much more. Hope is a noticeable quality that others see in us. It is a way of living that breaks through doubt an offers an assurance of things to come. True hope is not a wish for something, but rather a strong trust that our Lord and Savior will provide for us in our every need.
When we “revere”, or better yet sanctify or set apart in our hearts that Christ is Lord we have assurance that our hope is not in vain. When we fully accept Christ’s Lordship over our lives, we have an abundance of assurance that all will be well. That does not mean everything will turn out perfectly and there will be no pain or sorrow, but in those dark moments there remains a glimmer inside of us that knows God is in control and that He will provide for us.
When we have that glimmer, that small flame in our hearts, people notice. It does not mean we never doubt, nor does it mean that we are always happy. What it means is that we have accepted that Christ’s love will pull us through the most difficult moments and that when we reach the other side there will be joy. We are living for that joy. And when we live hopeful lives, that joy spreads to others around us.
There is an old song “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden”, and a line from it goes, “Along with the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometime”. God didn’t promise us that life would be without thorns, but He did promise that the Son would shine in us if we accepted Him fully into our lives.
Our hope is not a wish. Our hope is eternal and when we accept the assurance of Christ in our lives daily, our hope turns into joy the whole world can see.
For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching
ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires
--2 Timothy 4:3 NRSV
My oldest son just turned 18 and although we are having a family party for him this weekend, on his actual birthday we told him we would go out to eat wherever he wanted. He chose IHOP, because he wanted some kind of pancake concoction. I was disappointed. I’m not a big IHOP fan. Waffle House you betcha! But IHOP, no. But it was his birthday, so we went to IHOP.
In these COVID times, we sat socially distanced from other patrons, but I couldn’t help overhearing a conversation from another table. Like a submarine sonar array my minister ears picked up on someone quoting scripture and talking about God. My ears tend to do that. I couldn’t get the gist of what was said, but I heard quite clearly one person say, “It’s like the Bible says, people will have itchy ears and be led astray.” “Itchy ears?” I thought. “Does it say that in the Bible?” Oh, I can’t wait to look that up!
Ministers get excited about weird things.
It turns out the phrase “itching ears” occurs in 2 Timothy chapter 4 where the author says, “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires.” “Aha!” I thought. “This is a warning against false teaching with the whole itching ears thing as a pretty hilarious metaphor for people being led astray.” No wonder, this wasn’t a part of my spiritual vocabulary. I try not to be a self-appointed guardian of what is true and false doctrine. I’ve tried out that role and I’m really bad at it.
This verse is a part of a much broader discussion of what it means to be a Christian today and throughout Christian history. Is there a set group of beliefs a Christian must hold to in order to be truly Christian? If so, who decides what’s on that list and what is not? How do you guard against Christianity being an abusive power structure on the one hand and a relativistic free for all on the other? Religious wars have been fought between countries and at family dinner tables over such questions.
Even Bible scholars fight over these issues. Conservative scholars assert 2 Timothy was written by the Apostle Paul near his death bed warning the Christians coming after him to adhere to the teaching of the apostles. Scholars of other varieties assert 2 Timothy was not written by Paul but by people a generation or two after him who wanted to control the young religion and clamp down on its burgeoning pluralism. Depending on one’s point of view, this verse is an example of defending the faith from heresy or of ruining the faith by the exercise of abusive power.
A quick google search shows this verse is used by Christians concerned with purity of belief and virtually ignored by Christians who are open to mystery and more porous spiritual boundaries. I tend to fall in the latter group. The weakness of all assertions of what constitutes “true” Christianity comes down to the trustworthiness of the person making the claim. With so many different Christians claiming their particular take is the only real truth, how is one to know?
I’m pretty sure most Christians who quote this verse regularly would accuse me of having “itching ears,” because I wouldn’t be comfortable with their particular brand of Christianity. I guess I’m guilty as charged. My ears do seem to itch when I hear most Christians talk.
My ears itch when I hear someone using Jesus as a prop to justify their particular brand of politics which happens to hurt the sort of people Jesus chose to hang around.
My ears itch when I hear the Bible used as a weapon to hurt children and teenagers who are transgender, gay, lesbian or bisexual.
My ears itch when I hear Bible verses quoted to declare women are inferior to men.
My ears itch when I hear God used in some wack-o conspiracy theory.
My ears itch when churchgoing Christians say and act in ways less loving than people of other faiths and no faith in similar situations.
My ears itch when Christianity is equated with patriotism.
My ears itch when being a good Christian is described as being healthy and wealthy and those less privileged are disparages as lacking in faith.
My ears itch when Christians claim to “believe” sound doctrine but demonstrate nothing of Jesus’ love in their actions.
My ears itch when I hear Christians of conservative, liberal or whatever variety speak without humility and without at least admitting the possibility they might be wrong.
But what if my ears aren’t itching in the way 2 Timothy 4:3 describes? What if my ears are responding to Jesus who said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them listen?”
I hope so, but maybe I’m just a heretic.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
I’ve enjoyed the last two Sundays getting to match faces with names and voices I’ve known since coming to PHCC a year ago. Some folks returned to Sunday morning in person worship on Easter and the Sunday after it now that they have been vaccinated. A few have told me it feels both familiar being back in the church building and weird being at church or anywhere else where there are people outside their immediate family. It appears we are all going to have to learn how to do church again in a post-Covid world, even as Covid is not through with us yet.
In the PHCC Executive Committee meeting last night we discussed ways of strengthening reconnection in person after so long of forced separation. There are a lot of complications, because some have been vaccinated but others are still waiting for vaccines. Furthermore, all of us may be interacting with people outside the church, as we go about our routines, who have yet to be vaccinated or are refusing vaccinations altogether. Questions as simple as “When can we serve donuts again?” have no conclusive answers and neither do more complex ones.
On the one hand, if folks have been vaccinated there is no reason for them to stay away from in person worship or even resuming Sunday School classes—as long as they continue to wear masks, social distance, etc. On the other hand, after a year of messaging to avoid in person groups outside one’s “bubble” there is a natural resistance to doing so no matter what safety precautions are taken. We all have some adjusting to do.
So, the Executive Committee has decided we will plan a few events that have no agenda beyond us just being back together in person as a church. We will still wear masks, socially distance, etc., but we will be together.
Please know that I and church leaders are making all this up as we go along. None of us has ever led a church out of a pandemic before. We welcome all ideas and all feedback as we go through the next few months. All we ask is that folks be gracious to one another as some of us are past ready to jump back in with both feet while others won’t be ready to do so until some unknown time in the future. We are all figuring this out at the same time, so there’s no judgment regarding your particular pace for returning to church.
If you are interested in helping with the two upcoming events mentioned above, please contact either myself or Jill Watson, PHCC Board Chair. We could use help pulling these events off and we welcome any and all to work with us.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
--Romans 3:23 NIV
In recent weeks, my 14 year-old son and I have taken to watching the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer together. Thankfully, he has good taste and appreciates Buffy for the masterpiece it is. It’s been thrilling for me to return to Sunnydale, the fictional California town where Buffy and her friends encounter vampires, demons and other creatures of evil.
I draw comfort from Buffy patrolling one of Sunnydale’s way too many cemeteries (the town is located over the mouth of Hell after all). Inevitably, a vampire or three appear, fisticuffs ensue, and Buffy vanquishes each of them with a wooden stake to the heart. The show’s twenty year-old special effects mostly still hold up as each staked vampire turns to dust with a satisfying sound effect.
If only evil were that easy to destroy.
The fun in good overcoming evil as seen in popular entertainment, whether it’s the outlaw wearing the black hat being slowest on the draw or the Death Star blowing up, is the simplicity. Good wins, evil loses and that’s all folks! Real life evil is much more difficult to ferret out, because usually it wears a mask of goodness. T.S. Eliot wrote, “Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.” Similarly, Hannah Arendt who wrote about the Nazis after World War II (remember when we all agreed Nazis were bad?) noted, “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”
Growing up Southern Baptist, I was taught the “Plan of Salvation,” a list of Bible verses mostly taken out of context which explained why one needed to “accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” One of the first verses on the list was Romans 3:23 which declares “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Despite this shared understanding of all people as sinners no exceptions, inevitably some sins, and therefore some sinners, were worse than others. Abortion, homosexuality and voting for Democrats were the unholy trinity of sins preachers would rail against. Of course, my twitter feed today is filled with plenty of Christians of a more progressive bent who have their favorite sinners too. It’s a lot more fun to point out evil in others than acknowledge it in oneself.
Christian theologians and ethicists, at least the responsible kind, point out that most evil in the world is of the systemic variety. Rather than individual sins, such as lying, cheating and stealing, the bulk of sin results from our corporate actions or inactions. It’s not so easy to drive a stake in the heart of racism, climate change, violence, poverty, hunger, corruption and exploitation. Thirty-Five years ago in his book Saying Yes and Saying No, Robert McAfee Brown wrote:
While there may be differing degrees of direct involvement in evil, rendering some more guilty than others, there is no point at which any of us may claim total exemption. Some are directly guilty, for example, of the ongoing humiliation of people of color—they pass antiracial laws, or they refuse to enforce existing nondiscriminatory racial antagonism, or they speak and write against minority groups. While some are directly guilty of such things, all are responsible for their continuing. Those who acquiesce in the evil done by others bear responsibility for that evil. Those who remain quiet when the demagogue speaks give their support to the demagogue. Those who remain indifferent to the quiet voices of hatred encourage such voices to speak more loudly.
Unfortunately, most of the evil in the world can’t be destroyed as simply as Buffy slays vampires, but we can learn something from Sunnydale’s leading champion of goodness: her refusal to given in to apathy or despair. She is far from perfect, but she is always up for the fight and refuses to give into excuses for staying out of it.
The first step in tackling the evil n the world is to reckon with the evil in ourselves—the kind of stuff we may not even realize resides within us. No, we may not be a part of the Proud Boys or the Klan, but most of us were raised with privileges we were unaware of due to our skin color. No, we may not be thieves burglarizing homes, but much of what we buy and consume came to us via workers not paid a living wage. No, we may not be actively dumping toxins into rivers and oceans, but each of us everyday participate in things that hurt the air, water and wildlife of God’s world. No, we may not have pulled the trigger in a mass shooting, but most of us refuse to be actively involved in our communities in ways that lessen violence. None of it is as simple as driving a stake through the heart of a vampire, but rather than giving in to despair or apathy, we can begin with examining our own lives if we wish to challenge the great evils of our world.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the
throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of
the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and
the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there
--Revelation 22:1-3a NRSV
Each morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is glance at my phone to see what news headlines were “pushed” to me from various news apps I have allowed to always run day and night. Today my phone “pushed” towards me stories of another Black man shot and killed by a police officer in Minnesota and a COVID vaccine’s distribution halted possibly lengthening the difficulties of this pandemic. I sighed. Some days one must work hard to see the beauty in this world so as not to be overwhelmed by its ugliness. Some days I feel tired even when I just woke up from a good night’s sleep.
“I’m not afraid of death; I’m just afraid of suffering as I am dying.” These were the words of my mother weeks before a non-operable brain tumor ended her life. I’ve heard them echoed by many people who trust that the hereafter will be good but have their doubts about the here and now. Does knowing the end of the story help one deal with the pain that is to come between now and then, the pain of the here and now?
In preaching, teaching and writing, I find myself often saying, “Death doesn’t have the last word; God has the last word.” I picked up those words from who knows where? They certainly didn’t originate with me. Countless Christians down through the ages have considered the significance of Jesus’ resurrection and have come to the conclusion that God is in control over how things end even if the getting to the end involved a lot of pain and suffering beforehand. The mysterious John who had the visions of the Book of Revelation bearing his name endeavored to describe the mystery of getting to the end of the story and left us with images that have launched thousands of insane books, violent sermons, and delusional would-be messiah cult leaders. He also gave us wondrous images of beauty and hope. Does the fact there awaits a happy ending for each of us and all of us help right now?
I’ve secretly been of two minds about knowing how the story ends. On the one hand, part of the fun of a good story is the surprise awaiting the listener at its end. Will the hero or heroine prevail or is this the kind of story where the villain rules the day? Also, there is a pleasure that comes when the story ends in a way you didn’t see coming and you must look back on the story all over again with new eyes. Sometimes when one encounters a predictable plot or solves the mystery too soon or recognizes tropes from similar stories the fun of a story is lost. A peculiar sort of fatalism sets in. Why finish the story when you already know how it ends?
On the other hand, sometimes knowing the end of the story makes a difficult story bearable. A friend tells you of a dangerous or harrowing experience they had, but since they are sitting in front of you their survival remains certain. I confess to skipping ahead to the end of Stephen King’s The Stand to see if the boy survives. If he didn’t, then I did not want to enter the frozen hedge maze along with him and his crazed father. I feel similarly every Maundy Thursday and Good Friday service I attend. Why experience this painful story unless I already know how it ends?
I suppose the knowledge that God has the ending of things all sewn up could lead to a spiritual apathy in which one concludes why bother to attempt to change the world since its fate is already sealed. Yet, such fatalism strikes me as a lack of imagination. If what awaits us at the end is so good, then why wait? Why not get as much of that good stuff now trusting that it is so good that a taste of it now will only whet one’s appetite rather than spoil the later fun?
Also, there is the apparent truth that God doesn’t give the followers of Jesus much of a choice in the matter of being apathetic or not. God’s commands and expectations are clear that the Christian life is not a spectator sport. Participation is required. The future God promises is not just a future reality but also a present one. Episcopal bishop Henry Knox Sherrill once said, “The joyful news that He is risen does not change the contemporary world. Still before us lie work, discipline, sacrifice. But the fact of Easter gives us the spiritual power to do the work, accept the discipline, and make the sacrifice." The tough stories of life become worth the hearing and the reading, because God makes us part of them, and the end of the story is made richer because we participate in the getting to it.
Minister and writer Molly Baskette describes her fear of flying much in the same way my mother described her fear of dying.
It might seem counterintuitive that a Christian minister—or a Christian of any stripe—would
be afraid to fly. Don't we know that flying is the safest form of travel? And aren't we supposed
to have dealt with irrational fears and a propensity to worry, simply because Jesus told us to?
And, because planes sometimes do come down: well, isn't Going to Glory something we are
supposed to look forward to?
But that assumes I'm afraid of dying. I'm not afraid of dying. I'm afraid of falling.
She over came her fear with help from a book which advised her to imagine arriving safely. It read: "As you get ready to take off, imagine yourself at your destination. Whatever has happened during the flight, you have arrived safely. If you could just know for certain now what you will know then, you will have spared yourself a lot of unnecessary suffering." The key word in that advice is “unnecessary.” Life can be painful, and some suffering is inevitable, but we can avoid “unnecessary” suffering by focusing on the end of the story.
Whatever bad news gets “pushed” at us, knowing the end of the story helps us to stay awake and face the day rather than going back to bed and pulling the covers over our heads. We don’t have to fear the dying, the falling or and other “-ing.” Instead, we can trust that the end of our story is so good that even with what we know of it already we will still be surprised by how much better it is than we ever imagined. With this assurance of our good God, we can not only endure the pains of this life but thrill as it unfolds along the way.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ
was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with
him in a resurrection like his.
Roman 6:4 – 5
It is with great joy that we serve a risen Savior. And even more that we can take on the mantle of grace and become Christ-like in our daily living. As Paul tells the Romans, when we are buried with Christ through baptism, we have symbolically faced death, just as He did. The glory of the moment is when we emerge from the “death” and accept new life in Christ. How wonderful it is to know that Christ now lives and that in turn we too live in Him.
But what of those moments when it all seems so far away? Faith feels like our Mount Everest. How can we climb that mountain and really trust in the Lord? Circumstances of this worldly life can obscure the mountain top. High winds of despair blow our trust down the mountain side, maybe even off the mountain. How then do we lift our eyes up to the Lord and feel again His loving arms?
Look for comfort in the scripture and the blessed joy of the music God has given. There is no failure in moments of darkness. Those moments come to all of us. There is no lack of faith in those time we feel alone and outside of Jesus’ love, only human emotion. Darkness only last for the night. The great gift of hope in Jesus is that the daylight will come and in great joy we will again be able to sing praises to our God.
How dark it must have been for Armenian Christians locked in burning churches as they were persecuted in the late 19th century. In fact, how dark it must still seem to many Armenians as battles erupt from time to time between them and Turkish backed Azerbaijan. Yet, Christianity grows and strengthens, not because of the world around them, but because of the promised hope of resurrection in Christ.
Seldom are we faced with the threat of death because of our Christianity in America, still faith can seem so far away at times when the things or our world turn on us. Overcoming that sense of lose is where the Holy Spirit’s work begins in our lives.
When we open our hearts to the true power of the resurrection, we open our minds to the hope that can never be dimmed. Faith may seem fleeting, but with the Holy Spirit’s help, the small flame of hope can burn eternal in our hearts. There are days when we can not sing the old hymn He Lives, but with the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit a verse or a chorus will jump into our minds and that small flicker of hope is rekindled into a fire that warms our faith and even helps us grow stronger. Let the chorus wash over you:
He lives (He lives), He lives (He lives), Christ Jesus lives today
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life's narrow way
He lives (He lives), He lives (He lives), Salvation to impart
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart
It may take more than a few words. More than a verse or two, but when we dwell in the presence of the Lord and work as disciples together, in pairs of two or more, our faith can be restored. Our hope becomes a roaring fire warming our very being and reaching out to the world around us.
There is no shame in moments of doubt and fear. We are given the book of Job as an example of how it is ok to question God. But just as God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, the Holy Spirit speaks to us today, if we just listen. When the moments of doubt, darkness and loneliness threaten to overcome, turn to the Lord, in scripture, in song and in companionship of other disciples. The darkness will only last for a night. Soon the bright light of day, the shining of the Lord will set your mind at ease. Because we have been resurrected in the way of Jesus.
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was
raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
--Romans 6:4 NRSV
While grocery shopping this week, I noticed the leftover Easter candy was on sale. I felt a combination of relief and disappointment seeing that the Reese’s chocolate and peanut butter Easter eggs were sold out--I’m trying to eat better but I’m like Golum with the One Ring when it comes to those things. The marshmallow Peeps just laid there looking like they were hungover frat boys after a keg party. Scattered among the pitiful remains of Easter candy, they looked like a poor imitation of their pre-Easter glory. Those Peeps reminded me of the Sunday after Easter.
In the twenty years I’ve been an ordained minister I can testify to the fact that there is no sadder Sunday than the one that follows Easter. On Easter Sunday, church attendance swells--not to the levels of a generation or two ago but significantly higher than the average Sunday nowadays. I, along with every minister I know, just can’t help but feel hopeful that the crowd might come back next Sunday; even though we know better. The next Sunday’s inevitable low turnout always disappoints; again, even though we know better.
The story of Jesus shows that people are fickle. People show up for a Palm Sunday parade but are out for blood just days later. The disciples pledge to be faithful but end up abandoning or denying Jesus. The crowds love a good miracle but fade away when Jesus’ teachings get too difficult. You’d think ministers who claim to read the Bible would understand this truth. There may still be enough cultural significance to Easter to get people to church on Easter Sunday (for now, at least), but it’s much more difficult to make disciples who want more out of Easter than Easter candy.
All of us know that candy amounts to empty calories. It provides a sugar rush but no nutrition, a brief trigger of the brain’s pleasure centers but no real sustenance. Peeps don’t provide much that lasts (neither do Reese’s peanut butter and chocolate eggs). Similarly, singing Allelujah on Easter Sunday alone doesn’t make for a life of meaning or purpose.
The New Testament describes the resurrection as an ongoing reality rather than a one-time event. We mystically join in the new life God offers where death has lost its power and we are open to the joys of life all around us. The resurrection is not just a line in a creed, a box to be checked on a list of beliefs but a new reality where we are changed and so is our worldview.
On the Sunday after Easter, I look around to see who has shown up. I can spot the folks who come to church because they never miss a Sunday and it is part of their routine. Similarly, I can spot the folks who come out of a sense of obligation or even guilt and shame. Who I’m really looking for, however, are those who showed up because the resurrection has seized hold of them and they are experiencing the world God made in all its fullness. Those are the ones who bypassed the candy aisle in favor of something that truly lasts.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
One of the numerous emails in my inbox each day comes from Cameron Trimble, a minister and writer who trains clergy and church leaders. In a recent one, she shared a story from Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence. This story has EVERYTHING to do with the future of Park Hill Christian Church.
He said, “Let me tell you about Govan Brown. Govan Brown was a bus driver in New York City, He drove a bus up Madison Avenue. I once got on his bus. It was a very hot August day, very humid. And I was feeling a little irritable, like many people in New York City on a day like that. And when I got on his bus, Govan looked at me and asked, as though he really cared, ‘How has your day been going?’
And I was shocked because people in New York City usually don’t have a direct human encounter like that with someone they’ve never seen before. And as I sat on the bus, I realized he’s carrying on a conversation with everyone on that bus. And people would get off the bus, and he would say again, very warmly, ‘I hope your day turns out to be a wonderful day for you.’
At the time, I didn’t know his name was Govan Brown. I found that out in his obituary in the New York Times years later because they said he was the only driver of a bus in New York City who, when he retired, had a party held in his honor because he had so many fans. People couldn't wait to get on Govan Brown’s bus.
Govan was a pastor of a Black Church on Long Island, and he saw everyone on his bus as part of his flock. He was tending to his flock, that was my feeling.
It doesn’t matter what you do, it’s how you do it. That determines whether you really connect, whether you really help people.”
Why did I share this story with you? This story doesn’t mean PHCC should go hire a charismatic pastor like Govan Brown, although someone like him would be great. The point of this story is that Park Hill Christian Church needs to be like Govan Brown. It is not a pastor’s job to do the outreach and evangelism that should be done by church members. People need faith communities who are interested in their well-being rather than congregations who see people only as a means to help them survive.
This is an anxious time to be a church. Just when I think statistics couldn’t get worse, last week news from Gallup came out that less than 50% of Americans claim church membership. I’m here to tell that you just because someone says they’re a church member doesn’t mean they are involved in a church or even attend one, so that figure is deceptively high. Nobody knows if people will come back to church after Covid, and if they do, what will church be like? Yet, fear about the future is the wrong emotion to dwell on at this time—it accomplishes nothing except a focus on survival which is 180 degrees from how Jesus lived and taught.
With good reason, people are turning away from churches. The preponderance of white Christians supporting White supremacy in recent years has disgusted people. Decades of church scandals have left people cynical. When they bother to show up to church, they feel like prey from ministers and church leaders who only care about them as potential givers or volunteers to prevent their churches from dying. Who wants any of this shameful stuff? Not me.
What people want and need are people who follow Jesus and therefore live their lives in a way that demonstrates every person they encounter matters to them. Who of us doesn’t want to feel like we matter to others? People are starving to be known and valued. If churches—and by churches I mean the people who claim to be part of those churches—would quit worrying about survival and focus their attention on the people all around them who need to feel they matter and have value, then survival wouldn’t be a question.
Govan Brown was celebrated because he cared about people, and people sought out his bus because they knew he genuinely cared. The same thing can be true for churches if they can set aside their fear and actively value the people surrounding them whether or not they ever darken the church door or give a cent to it.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called
according to his purpose.
--Romans 8:28 NRSV
Growing up I was taught in so many words the resurrection of Christ was an afterthought. The climax of the story of Jesus took place on the cross and the resurrection was merely the denouement, perhaps an epilogue attached to the real story, maybe an addendum. Every sermon, every prayer, every Sunday School lesson included some mention of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, while the resurrection showed up only on Easter.
When I was a religion major in college, a seminary student and later during coursework for a Ph.D. in New Testament I never finished, I was taught the earliest narrative part of what became the four gospels we have in the New Testament was the “passion narrative” telling the story of Jesus’ suffering and death. The gospel writers assembled this narrative along with collections of Jesus’ sayings and miracles to form most of the gospels as we know them. Lastly, the writers added on the resurrection stories and the birth stories. The original ending of Mark or at least the earliest manuscripts of what is widely considered the earliest gospel end at the empty tomb rather than with a resurrection appearance of Christ. For rationalist-minded scholars looking for the “historical Jesus,” the resurrection was wishful thinking or perhaps ecstatic visions brought about by the disciples’ grief to be dismissed as at best ahistorical or at worst childish mythology.
Over the years since I encountered the resurrection seen as an afterthought, my theology has changed. What if the resurrection is the climax and not something added on that you see as the credits roll? What if the resurrection is what the story builds to rather than the cross?
There are a number of different theologies of what exactly Jesus’ death on the cross means, but in contemporary theology the most common one seems to be that Jesus pays the penalty imposed by God for sin in place of us sinners. Although I believed this particular understanding of the cross for decades, it has some weaknesses. The biggest weakness is God comes off like a violent punishing deity who commits divine child abuse. Another is the idea that because God made us with the ability to sin then God must punish us through eternal torment if we don’t. . . what? Join the right church? Say the right prayer? Partake of enough sacraments? Do enough good deeds? Not punishment for only a year or even only for a billion years but punishment forever—that seems a bit excessive.
Among the other ways Christians have thought about Jesus’ death on the cross is the belief that Jesus’ faithfulness to God and faith that God would be faithful to him demonstrates to us how to live. Jesus lived as God wanted him to live even if it resulted in betrayal, torture and execution trusting, as do so many other voices in the Bible from the Psalms to the Apostle Paul, that God would be faithful to him even after death. Seen this way, the resurrection is the real point of the story—God is faithful to us no matter what pain and suffering we may experience in this life.
What this means for you and me is God is in the resurrection business. Not only when our mortal bodies die but as we experience all kinds of little deaths along the way—death of loved ones, death of dreams, death of jobs, death of relationships, death of hopes, death of opportunities. This means that what we see as final is far from over, because God is always creating new life out of our experiences of death along the journeys of our lives. Amid the pieces of our broken dreams, hopes and expectations, God is busy reassembling those pieces into something new. The cracks remain visible between those pieces, just like Jesus’ wounds remained visible on his resurrected body but they become symbols of what one has gone through on the way to God’s newness. It is just in God’s nature to make beautiful and wondrous things out of what has been broken—none of those broken pieces is wasted, all of them are used in God’s re-creation process.
The writer Henri Nouwen puts it this way in his book Our Greatest Gift:
The resurrection does not solve our problems about dying and death. . . No, the resurrection is the expression of God’s faithfulness…. The resurrection is God’s way of revealing to us that nothing that belongs to God will ever go to waste. What belongs to God will never get lost.
I believe what we celebrate on Easter is not a mere addendum to what happened on the cross but rather the cross is merely a preface to the resurrection. It reveals to us that whenever we stand in the middle of the shattered pieces that remain from how we thought our life would be God is there with us using those pieces to create something new.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.