the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

More on the Gordion Knot

I wrote about a wedding I performed here.

Today I am performing the funeral for the husband. He died on Tuesday of lung cancer at the age of 43. Please pray for his wife, Cindy, and his eight brothers and sisters.

This makes about the tenth person I have buried with lung cancer from smoking. If you smoke, stop. Don't give me all your excuses, just stop, damn it! You don't want to die the horrible suffering unto death that awaits you if you get lung cancer.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Sunday 03/26/06 Year B - Lent 4

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

Man's Problem, God's Solution

Have you ever wondered where the concept of God came from? I mean, God is not visible to us. God does not engage us in commerce or war or even in the cure for our physical and mental illnesses. God is not readily available to study, probe and consult. There are signs of God everywhere but to properly read the signs a person must already be in tune with God's spirit.

It has been said that we know about God instinctively. And, of course, the idea of God could have been handed down from father to son and from mother to daughter ever since Adam and Eve. Yet, I think one of the reasons the concept of God came about is because this life stinks. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. Life and justice are inexplicable. I have here the lyrics of a modern day song. It is irreverent and crude, as much of modern life is, but it speaks of the hardships and the suffering of life:

Life's a Bitch
By Thom Schuyler & Fred Knobloch

Fresh out of college, carrying a Ph.D.
I thought with all that knowledge
The world couldn't wait for me
But then my eyes was opened
Just as wide as they could be
Now I'm busy coping with this harsh reality

Took some time to learn
what the world already knew
And now I wake up everyday
with the proper attitude

Life's a bitch and then you die
You don't know when and you don't know why
You love a little and you say goodbye
Fate comes in and throws the switch
Life's a bitch and then you die

I went to see the preacher, such a righteous man
A healer and a teacher, I was sure he would understand
Well he prayed and meditated while I told him about my life
I told him how I hated all this daily stress and strife
He took off his collar, he looked me in the eye
He closed the good book lying there and much to my surprise

He said life's a bitch and then you die
You don't know when and you don't know why
You love a little and you say goodbye
Fate comes in and throws the switch
Life's a bitch and then you die

I went to see the doctor, finally, to cure me of my ills
He reached into his locker and he handed me a bunch of pills
He said, "Boy, by your description, I can tell you're near the end
So take this here prescription, you'll be on your feet again
Follow these directions and in a week give me a call
And if these ain't effective, boy, well you might as well take 'em all"

Because life's a bitch and then you die
You don't know when and you don't know why
You love a little and you say goodbye
Fate comes in and throws the switch
Life's a bitch and then you die
Life's a bitch and then you die.

This is the Problem of Life here on earth.

You may dislike the attitude of these lyrics, and I don't blame you because they reflect a very cynical and hopeless outlook on life as a whole. But when you cut to the chase, and take away all of the rationalizations and excuses we make about our own troubles, it does pretty much sum up the reality of life as we know it.

In mankind's need to make sense of all of this pain and suffering came the assertion of Faith. Faith that there is a being higher than us who is in control of this world. That Faith, as told in the Old Testament, (The Old Testament is really a bad name for the Hebrew Scriptures. There is nothing old or out-dated at all about it. I like the term given by some -- The First Testament. For that is truly what it is. The First Testament/Covenant between God and Man.) The First Testament tells of a time when life was not filled with pain and suffering. A time when man and woman walked with God in the cool of the evening in their Garden of Eden. This was an idyllic time in the life of mankind. A time that was not to last. Man and Woman are never satisfied, even with paradise. And now all life lived East of Eden is filled with hard labor, pain and suffering.

We now interject into our discussion the concept of Salvation. Salvation is not a uniquely Christian word. It can be found all through the First Testament.

But what exactly do we mean by Salvation? What are we being saved from? Are we being saved from Hell? The Bible speaks of Hell in many different ways, as a lake of fire, as eternal darkness, as life lived without the true light. Or, are we being saved from the Problem of Life? Will this salvation suddenly make the hard labor, the pain and the suffering go away? In other words, Is Salvation Real or Abstract? Are we talking about salvation in our lifetime or are we talking about the "Pie in the Sky, Bye and Bye?" Is Salvation Meaningful within the Problem of Life? Is there something about this idea of Salvation that gives hope, peace and happiness in the midst of the fact that "Life's a bitch, and then you die?" Or perhaps salvation is the freedom from the slavery to that kind of cynicism.

The cross upon which Jesus hung, suspended between Heaven and earth, is symbolic of the salvation that is offered because he hung there. And because the tomb and the power of death could not hold him.

To use spatial terminology, we may characterize the dominant biblical view of salvation as "horizontal," for while God acts from above, God acts in and through the sequence of history. From the time of creation God has guided the world with its population relentlessly forward to a climax, a climax that is often seen in terms of divine intervention in the course of history. So Salvation lies either in history or as a climax to history.

The Jews view their salvation through history because they are children of the promise. The promise given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that they were God's chosen people. This salvation is punctuated by several climactic events in their history: The covenant with Noah, the covenant with Abraham, the Exodus and the covenant events at Sinai. They see their salvation in tangible forms such as possession of the land given by God to their ancestors or deliverance from their enemies. Christians would add the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, with the ultimate climax of history being the crucifixion of Christ on the cross and his triumphant victory over death by his resurrection.

Counter to this is a "vertical" view that sees two worlds coexistent, one heavenly, one earthly; and the earthly world is but a shadow of the heavenly—not primarily a world to come but a world above that already exists. Earthly existence, and history only prolongs the meaninglessness of life. Salvation is made possible through escape to the heavenly world, and this can occur only when someone or something comes down from the heavenly world to set people free from the earthly existence.

The View from John's Gospel is that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." The culmination of Jesus' career is when he is lifted up toward heaven in death and resurrection to draw all to himself. Jesus brings the life of the "other world" "eternal life" to the people of this world, and death has no power over this life. Jesus' gifts are real gifts, that is, heavenly gifts: the real "living" water of life with which we will never be thirsty; the real bread of life with which we will never be hungry; and he is the true light that has come into the world.

The Gospel writers and perhaps even the early Jesus people were quick to find parallels in the Hebrew Scriptures to what happened on the Cross. They found a poignant parallel in the Prophet Isaiah, the section on the Suffering Servant which begins at chapter 52. Here is a passage from Chapter 53.

Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
We see his suffering depicted in the descriptions of the crucifixion. We see his agony in Gethsemane. We feel the humiliation and the physical pain he must have suffered. We empathize with his loved ones at the foot of the cross who stood by powerless to save him from saving them. Jesus truly was a servant who suffered greatly.

But we must not forget the Servanthood of the Suffering Servant. Remember how he declared his mission to the people in the synagogue in Nazareth. He stood up to read and asked for the scroll of Isaiah. He read from the 61st Chapter, verses 1 and 2

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
The act of God in Jesus on the cross is the source of our salvation. But, like God, Jesus is not physically with us. So, where do we get this salvation? If this salvation is real, if it is meaningful within the problem of life then it is a valuable commodity. How does God distribute it to the masses of people who live the hard work, pain and suffering of life?

The apostle Paul tells us in Second Corinthians chapter 5 verses 18 to 20

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us;
It is the Church that is the instrument of salvation in the world today. Not the building, not the services that go on in the building, but the souls, saved by the grace of God that make up the Body of Christ. This is the instrument of salvation in the world today. You and me.

Jesus himself charges us to... Go and make disciples of all nations, baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always."

It is vested with us to offer the meaningful solution to the Problem of Life to others. Like Jesus, our LORD has anointed us; he has sent us to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

That is the vision I have of salvation that keeps us from saying "Life's a bitch, and then you die." Because we have the love of God in Christ expressed in our love for each other and for everyone that crosses our path. Life is hard. There is pain and suffering to endure every day. But Jesus says to us, "I will be with you always..., I will never leave you or forsake you."

Thanks be to God.

Friday, March 24, 2006

An Amazing Story

...from Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas:
February 10, 1950
I went to the garden house attic, as usual, after dinner. Climbed up the ladder, observing all the hoes and shovels lying on the floor. I made my way through the litter of old stove-pipes and broken strawberry boxes to the chair by the window. On the chair is a sack, stained with either paint, creosote, or the blood of something slaughtered. I opened the small window (a pane fell out one day when I let it slam; I can still see the fragments of glass on the red roof of the shed below.)

Today it was wonderful. Clouds, sky overcast, but tall streamers of sunlight coming down in a fan over the bare hills.

Suddenly I became aware of great excitement. The pasture was full of birds—starlings. There was an eagle flying over the woods. The crows were all frightened, and were soaring, very high, keeping out of the way. Even more distant still were the buzzards, flying and circling, observing everything from a distnce. And the starlings filled every large and small tree, and shone in the light and sang. The eagle attacked a tree full of starlings but before he was near them the whole cloud of them left the tree and avoided him and he came nowhere near them. Then he went awaay and they all alighted on the ground. They were moving about and singing for about five minutes. Then, like lightning, it happened. I saw a scare go into the cloud of birds, and they opened their wings and began to rise off the ground and, in that split second, from behind the house and from over my roof a hawk came down like a bullet, and shot straight into the middle of the starlings just as they were getting off the ground. They rose into the air and there was a slight scuffle on the ground as the hawk got his talons into the one bird he had nailed.

It was a terrible and yet beautiful thing, that lightning flight, sraight as an arrow, that killed the slowest starling.

Then every tree, every field was cleared. I do not know where all the starlings went. Florida, maybe. The crows were still in sight, but over their wood. Their gutteral cursing had nothing more to do with this affair. The vultures, lovers of dead things, circled over the bottoms where perhaps there was something dead. The hawk, all alone, in the pasture, possessed his prey. He did not fly away with it like a thief. He stayed in the field like a king with the killed bird, and nothing else came near him. He took his time.

I tried to pray, afterward. But the hawk was eating the bird. And I thought of that flight, coming down like a bullit from the sky behind me and over my roof, the sure aim with which he hit this one bird, as though he had picked it out a mile away. For a moment I envied the lords of the Middle Ages who had their falcons and I thought of the Arabs with their fast horses, hawking on the desert's edge, and I also understood the terrible fact that some men love war. But in the end, I think that hawk is to be studied by saints and contemplatives; because he knows his business. I wish I knew my business as well as he does his.

I wonder if my admiration for you gives me an affinity for you, artist! I wonder if there will ever be something connatural between us, between your flight and my heart stirred in hiding, to serve Christ, as you, soldier, serve your nature. And God's love a thousand times more terrible! Now I am going back to the attic and the shovels and the broken window and the trains in the valley and the prayer of Jesus

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sunday 3/19/06 Year B - Lent 3

Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

The Destruction of the House of God

Related Scripture
Jeremiah 7:3-15
Mark 11:12-25

How are Jesus' actions in the Temple prophetic of his actions in the Church today?

Today our Gospel passage is John’s version of the purging of the Temple. We usually read this story from one of the synoptic Gospels. The passage from John differs from the synoptics in several ways:

1. John places the story at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry whereas, the synoptics place it at the end, and is the main reason the Scribes, Pharasees and Chief Priests seek to have him crucified.

2. John links the purging of the Temple with Jesus’ prediction that the Temple will be destroyed and rebuilt in three days. This is a prediction that is not on the lips of Jesus in the synoptics but on the lips of false witnesses at the trial.

3. In John’s telling, Jesus alludes to a passage from Psalm 69:9.
Psalm 69:8 I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother's children. 9 It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.

In the synoptics, Jesus quotes a passage from Isaiah 56:7...
Isaiah 56:7...for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

And one from Jeremiah 7:11...
Jeremiah 7:11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?

Although tradition has called this passage “The cleansing of the Temple,” Jesus is not just cleansing it, he is shutting it down. By a symbolic action that reminds us of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, Jesus is destroying the Temple.
Why would God want to destroy his Temple? But He did, in fact, destroy it three times in history:
1. The Tabernacle at Shiloh at the hand of the Philistines.
2. Solomon’s Temple at the hand of the Babylonians.
3. Herod’s Temple at the hand of the Romans.

The passage Jesus quotes from Jeremiah is important for our consideration of what he is doing here in the Temple. It is important enough that we should take it in context. The context of Jeremiah 7:11 begins with verse 3 and ends with verse 15.
3 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place.

It is a common theme among the prophets to preach to the people “Amend your ways and your doings.” Even John the Baptist called for repentance. But here there is more. In this verse God is connecting His dwelling in the Temple, the House of God, with the ethical practices of the people.
4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: "This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD."
The people believed that because they possessed the Temple of the Most High God in their holy city, and because of that they had special privilege. That God would always bless them. Jeremiah taunts them by sarcastically repeating the phrase “The temple of the LORD. The temple of the LORD. The temple of the LORD.
Listen to his promise:
5 For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another,
6 if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt,
7 then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever.

The conditions are simple and clearly stated:

1. Do not oppress the alien – the Gentiles.

2. Do not oppress the orphan or the widow – the marginal people of society.

3. Do not shed innocent blood.
Remember Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:21 "You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.

4. Do not go after other gods to your own hurt.

In the days of the Prophets, the people of God were unfaithful to him, they worshipped Baal and Ashera along side the LORD.

While there are still other gods out there to worship, the god of most Americans is the god of materialism. The aquisition of material things that we believe will bring us comfort and peace. It is a false god.

The promise is equally simple and clear:
I will dwell in this place – the Temple – and in the land that I gave to your ancestors.

But listen to the indictment of Jeremiah:
8 Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail.
9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known,
10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, "We are safe!"-- only to go on doing all these abominations?
11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the LORD.
Then God gives an example from how he acted in history:
12 Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel.

You may not remember Shiloh, except to know that there are many many churches named Shiloh. You remember the story of the little boy Samuel. His mother took him to the holy man Eli and gave him to God. This was at the semi-permanent location of the Tabernacle that the children of Israel carried with them in the wilderness.

You remember the story of how God called Samuel one night and how he thought it was Eli. In telling the story we always stop with the final acknowledgement of the young Samuel "Speak, LORD for thy servant is listening.”

We never tell the message that God had to give to Samuel. It was a prophecy of the destruction of Shiloh and with it the punishment of the family of Eli. This story was vivid in the mind of Jeremiah because being of the lineage of Eli, the story was told to him over and over as a small boy.

Now hear the judgement:
13 And now, because you have done all these things, says the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently, you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer,
14 therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your ancestors, just what I did to Shiloh.
15 And I will cast you out of my sight, just as I cast out all your kinsfolk, all the offspring of Ephraim.

This prophecy was fulfilled in the year 587 BC when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple of Solomon and carried the Jews into captivity.

The temple was again destroyed in 70 AD when the Romans sacked jerusalem, destroyed the Temple of Herod and scattered the Jews to the four corners of the earth.

Today, there is no Temple and the site where the Temple stood is occupied by a Moslem Mosque. Temple worship is no more. Both Jews and Christians have had to learn to worship as the ancient Israelites did, in our hearts. God is not confined to the premises of a building, although many Christians, by their actions, would believe that He exists only inside the church building.

But God is in all the world. He is in our hearts. But let us not forget the covenant, its terms and conditions. For God sent not his Son to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

Let Us Pray...

Deliver Us:
Deliver us, Lord, from the evil of sin
and from our obstinate self-will
that refuses to listen to you
and to those you have given us as our guides.
Help us to free our brothers and sisters
from our hunger for power and wealth
and from the oppressive structures
that keep them from living as your children.
Help us to prepare in hope and freedom
for the final coming in glory
of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
For the Kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
now and for ever.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Funeral Sermon for Sandra's Mom

KJV Matthew 1:1 The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2 Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judah and his brethren;
3 And Judah begat Perez and Zerah of Tamar; and Perez begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram;
4 And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon;
5 And Salmon begat Boaz of Rahab; and Boaz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse;
6 And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of she that had been the wife of Uriah;
We are here today to honor and celebrate a Life well lived. The life of one who was well loved by those who knew her, and all who knew her knew they were loved by her.

The meanest, most hurtful Sin of White, Middle-Class, Protestant, Christian America, is the Sin of Self-Righteousness, seasoned with a full measure of Judgementalism. We’re all guilty of it. And we are not even aware of how much hurt we inflict on good, honest loving people who happen to live their life differently from us.

I Samuel 16:7 ...for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.
There are five women listed in the genealogy of Jesus. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary. These women were outside the norm. They were unorthodox. They were scandalous. But they were instinctive, intuitive, and assertive women who were survivors in a man’s world and in the midst of insurmountable trouble. They are misunderstood and misjudged by people of all ages. But God used them all in the course of their lives. And He chose the lineage for his son to pass through these women. And their blood flowed through veins of Jesus of Nazareth. What greater legacy could one leave?

Gladys Lankford lived most of her life being misunderstood and misjudged by the pious people with whom she came into contact. But like Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary, God was planning to use her in a great way. And like these biblical women of old, she too was blessed with a double portion of spirit.

I have known Gladys for 40 years, having been married to her second daughter for 38 of those years. You couldn’t ignore Gladys. There was nothing bland or lifeless about her. She inspired intense emotion in all those that came into contact with her. If you were angry with her your anger was intense, if you loved her you loved her with all your heart. She had a hearty laugh and a joyous spirit.

Like Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary, Gladys was a survivor. She was unorthodox in her methods but she was resourceful, resilient and redoubtable. Her spirit, her love and her instincts were a part of every thing she did and in every decision she made. And every decision she made she made doing the very best she knew how to do.

We are told that God tries us by fire. God tried and tested Gladys more than most. For her, hardship was a way of life. And yet she met every day with a smile and a song. She was not poor in spirit.

Her early life was puncuated with the loss of her mother. At age 9 Gladys lay beside her mother in their sick bed, and listened as she gasped her last breath. That was a sound, and experience that would haunt her for the rest of her life. Her father, Mel Lankford, couldn’t work and tend to three small children, so he moved in with his parents and his mother cared for little Gladys, Buck and Vernon. As they grew older, Gladys became like a mother to her younger brothers.

A cousin says of her, “Why, Gladys was the prettiest girl in Union Point.”

Her first marriage was to last for eighteen years. The first four years were spent as a war bride, her husband was in the Navy on board ship during the second world war. Linda was the first child to come along. Gladys and Linda were inseparable as Mother and Daughter while daddy was away at war. Soon after the war, a Second Daughter was born, Sandra. A few years later a boy was born, her only son, Doug. For several years, this family of five lived the American dream right here in Greensboro.

But the dream didn’t last. In today’s world, it’s easier to get a divorce than buying a car, and people get them almost as often as they do a new car. But in those days, divorce was scandalous. And Gladys was talked about and called ugly, hateful names. Whereas in today’s society she would simply be known as an independent woman.

Linda, who was closest to her mother, chose to stay with Gladys, Sandra, always a “Daddy’s girl” chose to stay with her dad and little Doug chose to stay with Sandra. They each had an emptiness in their hearts: Linda grew up without a father. Sandra and Doug grew up without a mother.

Many years after the divorce, she gave birth to two girls about a year apart: Cindy and Angie. When Angie was born, she was unmarried and unemployed. She knew she couldn’t care for two little children on the income she could make waiting tables. Once again she was in a hard place. She could care for one child but not two. How can a mother choose between two children? She knew that the one to whom she gave motherhood would also live a nomad’s life of instability. And she knew what it was like to grow up without a mother. But the decision had to be made and she kept one child and offered the other for adoption. It broke her heart. She kept Cindy who was older and better able to cope with her nomadic lifestyle.

Angie, she let go. How does a woman give up a child who is flesh and blood of her flesh and blood? It’s easy to stand in judgement. And in today’s world unexpected pregnancies are just a simple procedure away from the trash can. But Gladys gave Angie Life. And in recent years, I’ve come to know Angie. Angie’s OK. She grew up in a stable home with a mother and a father who loved her and were always there for her. These were things Gladys was unable to give to her other children.

Cindy had Momma, but not stability. Angie had stability but not Momma. That was the deal. And it was the very best she knew how to do.

To all of her critics, and there were many, Gladys would say, “Walk a mile in my shoes.” I’ll wager that few could have done so with as much grace and love as Gladys did.

Now you’d think that this family would not be very close. And if you thought that, you’d be wrong. This is truly a matricarchal clan. The women in this family are inseparable. They have a bond so strong that I’d even call it a sixth sense. When one of them is in trouble or sick, they all instinctively know it. They all have it, even down to the granddaughters and great granddaughters. Sandra, thats the one I’m married to, can feel her mother thinking about her miles away and know to call her on the telephone. She’ll say out of the clear blue, “Something’s wrong with Momma, I can feel it,” and, sure enough, she’ll call and Momma was in need of her.

We men in the family know we are the outsiders here. In this clan, the men come and go and are rarely missed. But these Lankford women are bonded with a love that is stronger than steel. And Gladys was the glue that kept them together. You never heard from Gladys’ lips the words “I can’t.” Can’t wasn’t in her vocabulary. She had strength. She had determination. She had Moxy.

In the last twenty years of her life, Gladys found the joy of knowing God. Her faith was strong. She tried to pass this faith down to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Gladys knew her heart was right with God. She believed that when her time to go came she would be ready. In her last days, struggling for every breath, she told us she was not afraid to die. She was ready to go.

Today the baton of matriarch passes to one of the daughters. Who will pick it up and carry on. Only God knows which one and He will tell only with the passage of time. It may skip a generation and it may be up to one of you granddaughters to be the glue that binds this family together. But in any case, this family is worth holding together.

One thing we’re going to do. We are going to tell the stories of Gladys, over and over again. We’re not going to forget her. Don’t be surprised if you see us laguhing even at the cemetery. We’ll be telling both the funny stories and the sad stories. And Gladys will live on in our memory of her. Don’t be afraid to bring her up in your conversations with us. Don’t be afraid to make us cry. We want her to be remembered. We want to know how she blessed you and we’ll gladly tell you how she blessed us.

Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And he that liveth and believeth in me will never die. Do you believe this? Gladys did.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Message from the Valley

I am sorry that I have not been here for some time. I have thought of you all and remembered you all in my prayers.

On Saturday morning Sandra's mother died. She was 81 and had been sick for two years. She was in the hospital this time for three weeks. She told us a few days before she went that she was ready to go.

Please remember Sandra and her family in your prayers.

I have been married to Sandra for 38 years and have known her mother for 40 years. I loved that woman. She asked me several months ago if I would preach her funeral. I promised her that I would, and I am. But it's going to be the hardest funeral I have had to do. Please pray for me and the rest of the family.

The funeral is Tuesday (tomorrow) at 2:00 PM, EST.

God's blessing be with you all.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Sunday 3/12/06 Year B - Lent 2

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm 22:23-31
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38
Luke tells us the story of a young Jesus who sat for three days in the Temple listening to the elders, the chief priests and the scribes. What an impression that must have made on his young mind. Did he know that the path he had chosen for his ministry would lead him into direct conflict with those same elders, chief priests and scribes?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Sunday 3/4/06 Year B - Lent 1

Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

In the Gospel passage, there are three paragraphs. In the first paragraph, Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan river. It tells of the voice which came from heaven. Unlike the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke, Jesus is the only one to see the clouds split and hear the voice of God. The words of God, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased," is meant for Jesus' ears only. I take this as Jesus' call.

The second paragraph tells of Jesus being driven into the wilderness, not by the devil, but by the Spirit. Alone in the wilderness for forty days, Jesus goes through a discernment process. One can imagine his questions: "Father, what is it that you would have me do?" If I am to be the messiah, how will I go about it? What kind of messiah would you have me be? Matthew and Luke provide an alegorical story of the discernment process in the temtations of the devil. In many ways, these same temptations stare us in the face during our own discernment.

The third paragraph shows Jesus following his period of discernment coming out of the wilderness proclaiming the good news of God. "The time is fulfilled." "The Rule of God has come near you." "Repent, and believe in the good news."

Here we have in three short paragraphs the calling, the formation and the beginning of the ministry of our Lord. He is the standard. Our task, though it may be impossible, is to imulate Him in all that we do.

Today's Prayer

My Lord, God, have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O LORD, you know it completely.

You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.

If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,"
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you,
for I am fearfully and wonderfully made...

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Lord, we make our prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. Amen

Psalm 139

Friday, March 03, 2006

Please Come

Steph at Narrow at the Outset posted, on the Forty Days to Forever prayer blog, this song by Nicole Nordeman, and I wanted to share it with all of you:

Oh, the days when I drew lines around my faith
To keep you out, to keep me in, to keep it safe
Oh, the sense of my own self entitlement
To say who's wrong or won't belong or cannot stay

'Cause somebody somewhere decided
We'd be better off divided
And somehow despite the damage done
He says, 'come' ...

There is room enough for all of us, please come
And the arms are open wide enough, please come
And our parts are never greater than the sum
This is the heart of the One
Who stands before an open door and bids us, 'come'

Oh, the times when I haved failed to recognise
How may chairs are gathered there around the feast
To break the bread and break these boundaries
That have kept us from our only common ground
The invitation to sit down
If we will come ...

There is room enough for all of us, please come
And the arms are open wide enough, please come
And our parts are never greater than the sum
This is the heart of the One
Who stands before an open door and bids us, 'come'

Come, from the best of humanity
Come, from the depths of depravity
Come now and see how we need
Every different bead on this same string
Come ...

There is room enough for all of us, please come
And the arms are open wide enough, please come
And our parts are never greater than the sum
This is the heart of the One
Who stands before an open door and bids us, 'come'

Prayer Request

Please pray for Sandra's mother who is 82 years old and battling congestive heart failure and pneumonia.

Father, once again you lead us through the valley of the shadow of death. Watching another human being suffer unto death is so hard, give us your strength. Watching Sandra struggle to be brave and to be there for her mother, Lord, she needs a double portion of your spirit. In the words of Reinhold Niebuhr, give us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change. In the name of Jesus your beloved one I make this plea. Amen

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Today's Prayer

Father, the evidence that "men loved darkness rather than light," is all around us. We have not loved you with our whole heart and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are told that the movement of the butterfly's wing can change the course of the mighty hurricane. Lord, let my simple acts of kindness reap a whirlwind of love and acceptance across this earth. Let Christians everywhere unite with love and compassion for your children and may peace on earth be finally realized. Amen

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

There's a widness in God's Mercy

by Frederick W. Faber, 1854

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in His justice,
Which is more than liberty.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Are more felt than up in heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings
Have such kindly judgment given.

There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Savior;
There is healing in His blood.

There is grace enough for thousands
Of new worlds as great as this;
There is room for fresh creations
In that upper home of bliss.

For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.

There is plentiful redemption
In the blood that has been shed;
There is joy for all the members
In the sorrows of the Head.

’Tis not all we owe to Jesus;
It is something more than all;
Greater good because of evil,
Larger mercy through the fall.

If our love were but more simple,
We should take Him at His word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of our Lord.

Souls of men! why will ye scatter
Like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts! why will ye wander
From a love so true and deep?

It is God: His love looks mighty,
But is mightier than it seems;
’Tis our Father: and His fondness
Goes far out beyond our dreams.

But we make His love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify His strictness
With a zeal He will not own.

Was there ever kinder shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Savior who would have us
Come and gather at His feet?

For a better understanding of His grace, please watch this video

Thanks to RLP for this link.

Ash Wednesday

Father, there is so much about your love, your acceptance, your grace, that I don't understand. During Lent's forty days let me meditate on your love, your acceptance and your grace. Let me learn your love by loving the unlovable. Let me learn your acceptance by accepting the unacceptable. Let me learn your grace by realizing that I am not worthy to receive it, yet you have given it, even to me. Help me to understand that without your love I am unlovable. Without your acceptance I am unacceptable. Without your grace, I would be separated from you forever, oh perish the thought. Forgive me when I fail to show your love. Forgive me when I fail to show your acceptance. Forgive me when I fail to let your light of grace shine through me. In your name. Amen.