Have I been discounting Jesus’ pain?

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Rank the following in order of importance to your faith:

a.  The Life and Teachings of Jesus
b.  The crucifixion of Jesus
c.  The resurrection of Jesus

It’s amazing to me how varied people’s answers are, when I ask this.  What’s your order?

Mine is a, c, b.   Even though I know  resurrection is the gift at the heart of my relationship with God, I can’t help but think about how much Jesus has taught me to walk in the light.

I suppose I go back and forth between a and c.  But b, crucifixion, never makes it out of the 3 spot.

I was reading about crucifixion, about how extremely painful a form of execution it was.  How the nailing of the hands, which was not always done, would have added another layer of agony.  Add to that Jesus’ scourging, whipped until he was bloody, and there’s no discounting the suffering he encountered.  It was unspeakably bad.

And yet I do not give it the attention I give the other parts of the story. Have I been discounting Jesus’ pain?

I’ll admit, it occurs to me that there have been many others to die on a cross.  Many to be tortured, punished, put to death in cruel and unimaginable ways.  I’ve seen the pain of warfare and the harm of disasters.  I am aware that these human bodies are mortal, and fragile.  It’s all part of being human.

Jesus died among the worst ways possible.  But there were two thieves hanging there with him, enduring the same fate.  There have been saints who have been martyred in the same way as Jesus.

Crucifixion?  It’s a terrible way to go, but for me, it’s not the showstopper of Holy Week.

Until I think of this:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  —1 Peter 2:24

The physical pain of the cross would pale in comparison to the spiritual weight of the world.  He “bore our sins” in order to heal us, an unthinkable feat.  Without Jesus’ pain, the Easter story would be very different.  The entire Jesus story would be very different.  The pain of the crucifixion anchors Jesus as our champion, taking on all the sin the world can throw at him.

And still…I can’t stay there.  I can’t give the crucifixion the same due I give the resurrection, or Jesus’ ministry.  Here’s why:

Whereas there is a place for me in the crowds that followed the life and ministry of Jesus, and a place for me inside the wondrous empty tomb on that Easter morn, I find no place for me on the cross of the crucifixion. It’s too powerful, too dark, too dangerous.

I can look at the cross, and pray at the cross, and pick up my own cross, but I cannot climb up and embrace the burden of this kind of pain.  There is only one who ever could.

And so, this Holy Week, I invite you to spend some time with all 3 parts of Jesus’ story.   .  There’s a reason it is referred to as the Greatest Story Ever Told.  If some parts are more painful to watch than others, just do what I do:

Take a good long look,

 

But keep a safe distance.

 

In Christ,

Mitch

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Artist Rendering

Wednesday morning brought with it the moment that astronomers and geeks have been waiting for.  A first-ever look at a black hole.

You might have assumed we already had a picture of a black hole. Well, truthfully, we have TONS of pictures–they’re just best guesses of what some artist thinks a black hole might look like.

Every article I looked at this week had a different artist’s rendering.  Here’s what some of them looked like:

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Aren’t they beautiful?  Dramatic?  It’s the stuff of major Hollywood studios.

And then….the unveiling:

Slide 1 of 134: The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) -- a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes forged through international collaboration -- was designed to capture images of a black hole. Today, in coordinated press conferences across the globe, EHT researchers reveal that they have succeeded, unveiling the first direct visual evidence of a supermassive black hole and its shadow. This breakthrough was announced in a series of six papers published in a special issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. The image reveals the black hole at the center of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster. This black hole resides 55 million light-years from Earth and has a mass 6.5-billion times that of the Sun.

A glazed donut.

As exciting as it is to have a telescope that can capture this long-elusive image, the results, so far, are a little…fuzzy.  Not exactly the crisp, brilliant image the nightly news was hoping for.

If the results are less than fully defined, I’m okay with that.  The lack of detail makes it more believable, because life rarely coughs up a pristine image for us.  This donut gives me something to focus on, even if it still retains some of its mysteriousness.

It makes me wonder about Heaven.  Just like black holes, people have stared up at the black, starry sky, and wondered what it looked like.

Here are some of the artist renderings people have made of Heaven:

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Beautiful and majestic, for sure, but imagine the day that telescopes could fix their sights on Heaven.  What if it looked like this?

 

 

 

 

 

Sorry, I can’t supply a picture like that.  All we have are more of those artist renderings, which as we’ve seen, may fall a little short in the accuracy department. I don’t blame them for trying–in fact, I applaud the creative spirituality.

The truth is, it’s enough for me to simply know that something exists.  I don’t need fancy renditions to pique my interests.

I know Heaven exists because of what my soul tells me, like a deep fuzzy look out into the expanse of faith. Of course, we have no telescope to capture an image, however blurry, of the Magic Kingdom.  We don’t even know where Heaven is.  Is it a place out in space?  Or in another dimension? Who knows!

I’m not expecting a HD vision of paradise any time soon.  And that’s okay.  In place of a heavenly photo, may I offer a short word picture painted by Jesus?   Though the Bible seems deliberately fuzzy when it comes to detailed depictions of the World after this world, this passage has always given me a tantalizing glimpse of things to come.

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? John 14:2

No floorplan, no HGTV description.  Just a barebones image of what’s to come.   Yes, it’s still a pretty vague metaphor, but it’s just blurry enough

for me to believe it.

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

See the source image

 

 

 

 

Please Turn In Your Hymnals

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If everything falls apart in the United Methodist Church, and one side claims one of the flames, and the other side claims the other, I was wondering:

What do we do with the hymnal?  The United Methodist Hymnal that has been our guide in worship, at least for English speakers, since, what, 1989?  That’s 30 years of worship — is it now up in the air, too?

A lot’s changed in those 30 years.  Lots of American Methodists don’t even pull their hymnals out any more, grudgingly accepting the ease of words on the screen.  Many others have traded in the old standards for almost-as-old “contemporary” hymns.  There are new songs for new generations, and strangely enough, new music based on old standards.

Time has passed, but the hymnal has endured for a good long while, along with two other United Methodist hymnals, Mil Voces Para Celebrar: Himnario Metodista (published in 1996) and Come, Let Us Worship: The Korean-English United Methodist Hymnal (published in 2000). (Wikipedia)

If the denomination splits, do we have to split up our hymnals, too?  How would that even work?

“You guys can have ‘O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,’ but we get ‘Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.”

or

“You can take Word and Table II, but we get to keep Baptismal Covenant I.”

Or maybe the Holy Spirit appears, with a list of hymns neither side gets to sing anymore, including:

“Oh Church of God, United” (547)
“Let Us Break Bread Together” (618)
“Help Us Accept Each Other” (560)
“In Christ There Is No East or West” (548)

I vote for none of the above options, of course.  I pray instead that the Holy Spirit guides us out of these treacherous waters with truth and justice.

As we struggle along, maybe we can find some common ground in the common songs of our tradition. Music has the power to amplify voices of hope and peace.

Who knows? If we’re loud enough, and bold enough, maybe God will hear

The Faith We Sing.

Have a great week,

Mitch
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Lucky 13

 

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I did a funeral today.  Can you guess what psalm I used?

That’s right.  Good ole Psalm 23.  The psalm people who don’t even know scripture probably know.

It’s so well constructed.  So heartfelt.  What could beat images like the gentle shepherd, and the valley of the shadow of death, and dwelling in the house of the lord forever?  I don’t know for sure who wrote Psalm 23, but it’s earned its place as Top-10Bests.com’s 2nd most famous scripture, right under the reigning champion  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

But just once, I’d love someone to suggest something different.  Maybe accidentally ask for Psalm 13 instead of Psalm 23.

Have you read Psalm 13 recently?

Psalm 13

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me

Psalm 13 has a lot going for it.  It’s about the same handy size as Psalm 23, has a nice ending, but most importantly, it SOUNDS like me.  Like the frenzy of thoughts and emotions that can race through my head in a tough time.

Psalm 23, for all it’s glamour, sounds like a perfect vision.  Psalm 13 sounds like a perfect mess.  And when I’m in a serious time of need, that’s what I closely resemble.

Here’s some of the ways Psalm 13 resonates with me:

“Will you forget me forever?”  A flat out accusation of God.  An irrational declaration of abandonment.  CHECK.

“How long must I wrestle with my thought/have sorrow in my heart”.  Yes!  When I’m in a bad way I can’t seem to control my thoughts or feelings.  I’m just stewing in my fragmented juices. CHECK.

“How long will my enemy triumph over me?”  Defeated.  Lost.  Weak and Helpless.  CHECK, CHECK, CHECK and CHECK.

“Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death”.  Overdramatic much?  Yeah, been there too.  CHECK.

And then, right when it seems I’m throwing in the towel, like I’ve dug myself a hole darker than any shadow of death, then I come to my senses.

“I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he’s has been good to me.”  CHECK. Yep.  Wallah! Like a deathbed conversion, I realign myself with God. (Could you say ‘Grace’?)

So that’s it.  For your consideration.  Psalm 13, although far less poetic, and lacking the compelling narrative of other Psalms that end with “3” , really speaks to the crazy messy faith journey I find myself on time and again.

As I understand it, that’s what many of the Psalms are designed to do — hold themselves up like a mirror to our own irrationalities and uncertainties.

Okay… reading Psalm 13 at your funeral?  Maybe not the best choice.  Better to pick something flowery and King Jamesy.

But to help steer you out of the jumbled mess that is your rocky faith life?

You could do worse than Lucky 13. (CHECK!)

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Intervention.

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Create in me a clean heart, O God –Psalm 51:10

This is an intervention.

We’re worried about you.  You’ve been distant lately.  Whenever we try to talk to you you seem so distracted, unfocussed.  Like your mind is caught up in other things.

Have you gotten yourself in some sort of trouble?  Are you making bad decisions?  Have you forsaken us for something unhealthy?  Maybe it’s your actions that have been problematic, or maybe it’s your thoughts.  You know, unhealthy patterns of thinking are just as dangerous as their corresponding actions.

Okay, we’ll just come out and ask it:  Are you cheating on us?  Of course, we already know the answer.  We’re your parent, your brother, your spirit.  We know you best.  We know every thought before you think it, every move before you make it.

We’re your heavenly family, with bonds stronger than even those of your earthly family.  When you pull away like this, it hurts us.  It hurts the whole Kingdom.

So what can we do to mend your cheating heart?  How can we guide you back into the fullness of relationship—not just with us, but with your earthly brothers and sisters?  How can we help you be healthier?  Holier?

This is an intervention.  It doesn’t work unless you admit you have a problem.  We love you so much, and we want to give you room to ponder who you are, and who you want to be.

Why don’t you take some time to think about it, and pray about it.

How about, say, 40 days?

Have a good Lent,

Mitch

Holytrinity

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1001 Way Forward Jokes (for Methodists)

Q:  Why were the moderate delegates in danger when a fire broke out?
A:  They hadn’t considered the Exit Plans.

Q:  How many General Conference 2019 delegates does it take to change a light bulb?
A:  It depends on if a majority can turn the same direction.

Q:  Is such an important, crucial moment in the life of our church a joking matter?
A:  You bet your modified connectional one church simple backside it is!

Let me explain.

On September 11, 2002, one year after the terrible attacks in New York and the Pentagon, I sat in the sanctuary at Manhattan, KS FUMC.  We hosted a community worship service, and there was a full sanctuary of people of different backgrounds and religions.

Right at one of the most solemn moments, I heard something from across the room.  Laughter.  A woman was laughing.  It took me a few moments to realize it, but it was something I’d studied in seminary:  Holy Laughter.  Folks from some more Pentecostal churches believe that, much like speaking in tongues, the Holy Spirit could lead people to laugh.

Well, the folks around me were not impressed, nor was I.  It seemed crass and out of place, especially on such a dark occasion.

But since then, the idea has stuck with me.  Holy Laughter.   Is such a Spirit-led thing possible?  I kind of hope so.

I may not believe in glossolalia (speaking in tongues) or spirit-fueled utterances, but I believe in the holy power of laughing.   I would consider it high up in my list of spiritual gifts.   Every sermon, every wedding, ever funeral — I aim to include some laughter, because I’ve seen what it can do.

Now, there’s good laughter and bad laughter.   I try not to be crude, or divisive.  I’ve made my share of jokes that cut another person down — I’m ashamed of those.  But I find that laughter can open up lines of communication that once were closed.  Laughter can heal anxiety like nobody’s business.  Laughter, if truly used according to the Spirit, can awaken hope, relief, and yes…a Way Forward.

Hard as I try, I’m not much of a prophet.  I have strong beliefs but I prefer to be a shepherd to my flock, guiding them as they grow in faith.   I struggle with anxiety and uncertainty as much as anyone, but I’ve learned that nobody is served by an excess of fear and panic.

And so, as our delegates head to Saint Louis for this momentous occasion, what I have to offer is a counter-intuitive suggestion:  Laugh a lot next week.   Find the humor in moments big and small.  Laugh with people from different places and different positions.  Not divisive or crass humor, and maybe not when it’s clearly uncalled for — but embrace the kind of Spirit led humor that can lighten a room and clear a way.

Even if you’re only laughing on the inside, if you feel the nudge, let er rip.

Grace, Peace, and Blessings!

Have a great week,

Mitch Todd

My style of humor is more spontaneous, so these riddles fall more into the Laffy Taffy realm of bad.  Enjoy.

Q:  What do you get when your denomination is reduced to a single location?
A:  The One Church Plant

Q: Why does the Connectional Plan have trouble meeting people?
A:  It’s Complicated.

Q: If Jesus showed up in St Louis, where would he sit?
A: Enterprise Center.  Bruins vs. Blues.

Q:  How many Bishops does it take to change a denomination?
A: That’s not their job.  (But if you get desperate you could ask)

Q: If there’s a schism, who gets the cross and flame?
A.  Jesus gets the cross.  The Spirit gets the flame.  And God gets a headache.

(That’s 8 down, and 993 to go.  You write the rest.)

 

 

The Wrestling Life

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The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. -Exodus 14:14

What a match this has been.

On one side, it’s been You and God, and on the other side, your opponents.  You know, your physical and mental illnesses that bring you to your knees.  Injustices that try to hold you down.  Doubt and Fear that threaten to do a pile driver on you.  Sin and shame that will hit you with a chair when you least suspect it.

You and God?  Totally outnumbered.  There’s an endless mob climbing up over the ropes trying to pin you. Adversaries you’re wrestled with for so long you know them as well as you know yourself.  Grabbing you by the hair, and flinging you into the ropes.

You’ve had about all you can take.

Isn’t wrestling supposed to be fake?  This doesn’t feel fake.  It feels like you’re getting your tail kicked.   Sometimes life is like that.  And no matter how hard you try to fight it, sometimes it feels like you may be going down, and you may not be getting up again.

Gasping for breath, you see it out of the corner of your eye:  God’s hand, reaching out desperately.  How could you have forgotten?  This is a tag team match!  If you can just reach out and take…God’s…hand…

Connection!  God swoops into the ring as your beaten body slumps to the side.  God says, “I will fight for you; you need only to be still.”  And so you are.  It’s all you can do.

You lie there, panting, having done everything you could do to overcome every last sin, sickness, and shortcoming.  You’ve long been accustomed to the wrestling life, one ordeal after another.  One obstacle, one battle, one endless bout, but now, you have taken God’s hand…

God is powerful. Doubt and Fear dissolve at God’s gaze.  Injustices and enemies reel at God’s signature move — a mighty blow, arms formed into the shape of the cross.

As the match continues, you just lie there, as instructed.  Your breathing slows.  Your eyes droop.  You are still.

And then God is prodding you.  You awake refreshed, energized.  God nods back to the ring, hand outstretched to you.  God has done so much on your behalf, but most importantly, God has renewed your strength, so that you’re ready to go back to the battle..

It’s your turn again.   You take God’s hand, and climb back into the fray.

Now this story may seem a little bleak to you.  Life must surely be more than a constant battle, and our relationship with God is certainly more than a “Tag, you’re it” at the edge of a wrestling ring. But the moral of the story is essentially clear:

God will fight for you when you can’t. And when life threatens to overtake you, God can give you rest.

So get out there!  Grab that lingering self-doubt by the shoulders and pin him to the mat.  And remember, you don’t have to conquer all your adversaries at once…

just the ones walking around in their underwear.

Have a great week,

Mitch

thn5ane2mc

 

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MY NEW BOOK!  A collection of my favorite devotions from over the years, complete with study questions.  Perfect for individual reflection or group discussion.  Get yours on Amazon

barefoot.: devotions & discussions by Rev. Mitch Todd Paperback