Death

June 14, 2017

Years ago I had a friend pass away from a sudden and unexpected heart attack; he was in his mid 50’s. Naturally his death was a shock and the events that surrounded the days, weeks and months afterward were painful.  But it could be that nothing was more difficult than the phone call I made several days after he died.  I called his office to speak to his secretary (also a friend) and see how she was doing.  She was not back to work yet so the phone recording came on.  She had not yet changed the message so my friend who had died and was already buried “answered” with a pleasant message about no one being there and to leave my name and phone number and he would call back as soon as possible.  I hung the phone up with what I’m sure was a stunned look on my face and began to openly weep in my office… alone… thankfully.

This past week I discovered that my cell phone keeps all of my text messages. I guess I actually knew that but what I didn’t know was that they were taking up quite a bit of memory space.  So I spent 15 minutes scrolling back through several years of texts marking them for deletion.  In the process I came across two “conversations” with folks who are now deceased.  Can I just admit how strange that was?  And can I also tell you that going to my phone list and hitting the “delete” button for their names was agonizing.  My father died 15 years ago and I still have his number saved in my phone.  Is that odd?  I don’t really know.  I just know that it has something to do with the permanence of death.  Taking those small but final steps in saying “goodbye” for what might be all eternity is excruciating.

“Have you no hope?” some might ask. “Where is your faith?” comes from another direction.  “What about the resurrection of the dead?” a third voice chimes.  And last “What about Jesus?”  Listen.  On most days I believe in all of that… for myself.  I cannot speak to the faith of others very well.  When we talk about faith we are talking about “heart language” to a great degree.  (Yes, for sure our heads have to be engaged as well.)  Knowing or reading the heart of another is a quagmire of façades, confusion, feelings and best intentions.  I barely know my own heart on many occasions let alone the true desires and intentions of another.  I have known way too many “great Christians” who have abandoned the faith… if they ever actually had any.  Sadly, I suspect we will not find some of the “finest Christians we have even known” in Glory.  And conversely… well, you get it.  Why?  Because God is a God of the heart!  He does know us.  He sees through our façades.  He knows the truth about our “best intentions.”  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  Is that frightening?  Sometimes it is.  Does God know my brokenness?  Of course, He does… even I know about that.  And anyone who knows me, knows I’m broken.  But God knows every chasm and minute, hair-like crack hiding behind the façade I put out there for others to see.  Does God know my sin?  YES!!  And like my brokenness, so do others.  But He also knows all the shades of darkness in my soul.  No one else knows that.

Do I have hope in the resurrection… yes. Do I have assurance for others… no, because I cannot know their hearts.  Thus I often find myself in the midst of a theological quagmire.  There is “hope” and there is “fear and uncertainty.”  “Hope” for those who confess Christ.  “Fear and uncertainty” for those about which I’m unsure.

Occasionally, I get asked to do funerals for folks I don’t know. Families who have no connection to a church have a loved one die and a minister gets called in; one who is totally unfamiliar to them.  These are difficult circumstances for all pastors.  How do we provide “hope” in the midst of sorrow when it seems that grandma, dad or whomever had no semblance of faith?  I cannot say with any integrity, “Have ‘hope’ because your loved one is in the presence of Jesus.”  So, what do I do?  Well, I don’t know about other ministers, but I preach the Good News of Jesus making no comment on the eternal abode of the deceased.  I allow the family to decide what they want regarding themselves and their loved one.  I don’t know if that seems cruel and insensitive, or not.  I really don’t.

Honestly, I started this rumination 2 weeks ago and I don’t know how to end it. I just know that the death of a loved one can be daunting.  Assurances, in some cases, are hard to come by.  In the end we all leave ourselves in the hands of a loving and merciful God.

Hypocrisy

May 24, 2017

I was once asked to give the opening presentation at a weekend for parents who were looking for some help or direction with raising children. I began with something like this:

“There are at least three groups of people who know more about raising your kids than you do.

  1. People who have never had children.
  2. People who had children 40 years ago.
  3. People whose children are the most misbehaved brats on the planet.

There may be others but few will be more outspoken then the three above.”

This same principle of naiveté also applies to those who want to tell me about what it means to be a Christian. I’m talking of course about those who have no clue about the Faith, but of course, they think they do.  You know… those who quit coming to church years ago because “Church goers are just a bunch of hypocrites”; or those who quit coming because they didn’t like the pastor.  Meanwhile, that pastor left 10 years ago.  Or those who have had a few too many and want to spout off about their thoughts on God.

Maybe what I have heard most over the years is something this, “You can’t judge other people!” And then in a sarcastic, smarmy, self righteous voice, “And you call yourself a Christian!”  And if they are really smart they might reference Matthew 7.  Or at the least they will reference verse 1.

1Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

It only takes a cursory look at these verses to realize they are about hypocrisy, not judgment, i.e., don’t be a hypocrite! If you have sin in your life, don’t judge others for the same thing.  Get your life together before casting aspersions on others.  These verses are not proof texts regarding judging!

Let me ask maybe a different question. Do you believe that forgiveness is a practice commanded in the Bible?  For sure it is!  Matthew 6:15  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.  And numerous other verses I might add.

Here’s the question. How do you forgive or what do you forgive, if there is not a judgment made about the other person’s behavior?  What do you forgive if you have not made a “judgment” that the other has “sinned against you?” With no judgment there is no need for or grounds for forgiveness. Imagine in a courtroom the judge saying, “Your penalty is life imprisonment.”  Someone then questions why there is a penalty at all.  What does the judge say if there has been no judgment of guilt made?  He can’t say anything.  That’s why courts have to make a judgment.  There is no court if there is no sense of judgment.  There is no declaration of guilt or innocence if there is no judgment.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that your judgment or mine is infallible.  After all, just like secular courts, we can make mistakes.  But we cannot live life without making judgments… constantly… regularly…. repeatedly….  I would also say that for Christians our judgments need to come from loving and kind hearts.  WE ARE NOT THE WORLD!  Get it?  WE ARE NOT THE WORLD!  If you don’t hear anything else today hear this:  We are not called to judge as the World judges.  We are called to judge as God judges… from a position of love.

How are you doing with that?

In Honor of Mothers and Fathers day: Words we didn’t appreciate as children but we do now.

May 15, 2017

“Close the door… were you born in a barn.”

“Say ‘please’.”

“Go say hi to your aunts and uncles.”’

“Money doesn’t grow on trees.”

“Get out of the shower!  30 minutes is plenty long enough!”

“Don’t chew with your mouth open.”  And it’s close cousin… “Don’t talk with your mouth full.”

“Yes, you have to go see your grandparents.”

“Say ‘thank you.’”

“Yes, we’re going to church.”

“The grass needs to be cut today.”

“Get your elbows off of the table.”

“Eat your vegetables.”

“Someday you’ll understand.”

“You think that’s funny??? We’ll see how funny it is when…”

“Put something nice on… you look like a slob.”

“Don’t you make me pull this car over!”

“Shut the refrigerator door!  Are you trying to air condition the house?”

“This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you.”

“Make your bed.”

“And clean your room while you’re at it!”

“Are the dishes done yet?”

“Use your manners.”

“Get that smirk off of your face.”

“Turn the lights off!”

“Be home by _____________ o’clock.”

“You’re not going anywhere until your homework is done.”

“Did you practice today?”

“No, we can’t afford that.”

“Get a summer job.”

“You can walk there.  When I was a kid, we walked everywhere.”

“When I was a kid…”

“Be in before the streetlights come on.”

“’I’m sorry’ doesn’t cut it buster.”

“Finish what’s on your plate.”

“You are restricted for ________ days, weeks, months.”

“What are you going to do with your life?”

“Go outside and play.”

“I don’t care if it’s ‘in style.’”

“Did you do your chores today?”

“Eat your (peas, crust or some other disgusting thing) it will give you curly hair.  (Or it will put hair on your chest).”

“Go get the paddle.”

“No, we don’t do allowances.”

“I don’t care what Johnny’s parents say.”

“I was your age once.”’

“How many times do I have to tell you?!”

“If Johnny jumped off of a bridge…”

“Go take a bath.”

“NO!”

There have to be hundreds more.  If you want to send them to me that would be great.  williamL392@comcast.net

I hope some of these put a smile on your face.  Have a blessed day.

Opinions

May 12, 2017

It’s been a while since I wrote one of these… lots of reasons but none of them earth shattering. So with that being said…

I’m not a tattoo guy. Never have been.  I spent 4 years in the Navy where tattoos were practically invented and I didn’t have any inclination to permanently scar my body.  But, that’s just me I guess.  I realize it’s just a fad like bell bottoms and long hair were “back in the day.”  Of course, when the fad was over I just threw my bell bottoms away and got my hair cut… not sure what some of the tattoo folks will look like 20 years from now.  I read recently that 25% of people with tattoos are getting them removed.  I’m also occasionally struck by people who can’t seem to get together enough money to buy food but they somehow manage to spend thousands of dollars on tattoos.  Can you say “bad life choices?”

I especially don’t get the overzealous people with tattoos all over their body and faces. Really?!  Can you say “mental issues?”  Listen, I understand tattoos for the most part.  It’s what people are doing and most of us are followers and faddy.  (Not fatty… but that too.)  Just please don’t make the claim that you are somehow an “individual” a “trend setter” or an “art display.” You are not.  Well, depending on what one calls “art” but that is another conversation all together.

Someone is going to say, “Who do you think you are to make judgments about others?” Um… I’m actually allowed to have an opinion.  Not only am I not a tattoo person, I’m not a beach person either.  Is that okay?  I suspect it is.  That being said I am occasionally forced to get sand all through my belongings, my eyes, my bathing suit, my mouth and my food to satisfy a craving that Ellen gets.

Here’s the problem. We have been taught by our culture that it is not possible to care about people or love them if we disagree with their choices in life.  Many have drunk that Kool-aid.  It is a lie!  A bold faced, manipulative, destructive lie.  Those who believe that, among many other things, have never had children.  I do not agree with some of the decisions my kids have made but I love them beyond words.  And Ellen and I don’t agree on all things (this tattoo thing is one of them) and yet I’m pretty sure we love each other…. Well, until she reads this maybe.

Don’t tell me who I love and who I don’t love. Is it true that some (maybe even many) have chosen to not love those they disagree with… YES!  Of course that is true.  And if you are a Believer and in that category you are in sin!  But it does not have to be that way.  Don’t get me wrong.  We do not have to like or love all “practices” but we must love our neighbor as ourselves and we must pray for our enemies.  Pretty sure Jesus said that.  And it is absolutely true that on occasion we need to tell people that we love… “NO!”  To not tell them that is sometimes the cruelest thing we can do.  So assenting to the behavior or practices of others is not always loving.

All of that being said, I think I shocked Ellen and my kids the other day when I told them that I saw a tattoo that I liked and approved of. There were actually two.  One was a mother who got a copy of her daughter’s birth mark tattooed onto her hand.  The other was a mother and father who got matching birthmarks on their legs to copy the one their child was born with.  I was brought to tears.  Now those are worthwhile scars to attach to your body.  Just my opinion.

Forget Easter!

April 8, 2017

Every 30 years or so I go clothes shopping whether I need to or not.  I recently wore out my corduroy bell bottoms with the really cool cuffs at the bottom.  (FYI… the word “corduroy” literally means “kings clothing.”  I’m all about that!)  And my paisley shirts were getting a bit raggedy as well.  Sooooooooooo… it was time to hit the clothing aisles at my local textile establishment.  Well, okay… Walmart.  I should mention that it’s not that I’m opposed to being stylish (well, okay it is partly that), but it’s mostly about the fact that I despise shopping for clothes!  What a monumental waste of time.  I know, I know… “Clothes make the man” blah, blah, blah.  I guess I’m not much of a man… or something.  I have known men over the years that have never bought their own clothes… that chore has been given to, or commandeered by, their wives.  Not sure how that’s possible but Ellen… um… I have a request.

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a bit.  Just a bit.  It’s actually the “clothes make the man (or woman)” proverb that I would like to pursue a bit.  I realize of course that it is somewhat of an over generalization, but the idea, of course, is a two-fold notion.  First, that folks make an opinion of us based on our outward appearance.  And second, that we actually behave to a certain degree based on what we are wearing.  For the most part a tuxedo calls for a whole different way of comportment than does… say… sweats.  Or a formal gown generally encourages a different attitude than spandex yoga pants.  In church, we (sadly, in some cases) base our reverence and the respect of others toward God, on clothing.  The idea is something like this: If you don’t dress “appropriately,” i.e., according to my standards, then you are not showing proper respect for God.  Forget the notion that gossipy, judgmental people are showing even LESS respect for God!  But I digress…

I suspect that most of us need to take some time to look into the heart of another before we make judgements about who or what they are.  I know… it’s hard to see someone’s heart.  And outward appearance and behavior are certainly an indicator of inward values and attitudes… but not always.  For a moment let’s proceed as if outward appearance/behavior is THE indicator of what’s inside.  How should Christians then appear to the world?  Note I didn’t ask how we should appear to one another but, “How should we appear to the world?”  What sort of values and behaviors should we exhibit that will unmistakably brand us as “Christ-ones.”  Where is the place that we should drive our stake in the ground and say “I will not be moved from this spot?”

For some the answer to that question is based on social issues, i.e., you must uphold this social cause lest you are not a believer.  Or you must be of a certain political party.  For others, it’s based on their church traditions, i.e., you must be affiliated with this church, or you must believe a certain limited doctrine (the emphasis is on the word “traditions” like “no dancing,” or “no drinking”).  I realize there are fine lines with some of these things.  I mean there are certain doctrines that ARE essential in order to be Christian.  Proper theology of The Trinity, for example.  Again the question is, “How should we appear to the world?”  What should they see when they look at Christians?  I think the simple answer is this… the world should see a group of people who have this moniker;  “We will ‘out love’ you in the Name of Jesus Christ.”  What do you think of that?

A few verses to consider:

1 John 2:10

Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.

 1 John 3:10

This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

1 John 3:11

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.

1 John 3:14

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.

1 John 3:18

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

1 John 4:7

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

1 John 4:8

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1 John 4:20

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

There are numerous other verses in 1 John with a similar sentiment.  I know that some might say, “Well, these verses are intended for Christians toward Christians.”  Then they need to visit:

Matthew 5:43-44

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

Mark 12:32-34

32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

We are clearly called to be the people of “love.”  And yet we seem to have grown so far from that.  The Church and Christian people have a reputation in the World but it is not as the people who will “out-love” others.  We need to profoundly change that opinion of us.

Let me make a somewhat offensive statement.  Until you/we/I have made a radical commitment to begin to love the world… love our enemies… love our neighbors… love those who are hard to love…  then I wonder if we ought to even bother with Easter?  Because without love… we have missed the point anyway.

Good bye (finally)

March 31, 2017

The story I want to mention today is true to the extent I can remember it. I don’t recall dates or names so they will have to be fabricated.  This was actually written 7 years ago but is as fresh to me as if it were yesterday.

It was sometime in 2000 I received a call from Karen. I didn’t know her, nor did she know me.  Her unusual request that day came as a result of the following story.  It’s the story of Karen, her father Thomas and the search for her grandmother and his mother.  Thomas was the oldest of 5 children.  When he turned 10 his mother gave birth to the youngest of the clan and within a few months took her own life.  Her death (likely from post-partum-depression) took place in 1938.  Because Thomas’ father was financially unable to care for his 5 children, they were placed in orphanages.  Thomas did not see or hear from his younger siblings again until he was in his 20’s.  He was transferred from one Foster home and institution to another, while the younger children were kept together in a single orphanage.  Because of the stigma of suicide in the 1930’s and the age of the children, there was no viewing, funeral, or public burial.  As a matter of fact, Thomas was never told where his mother was interred.

Thomas married and his wife gave birth to Karen in the 1960’s. When Karen grew into adulthood she became curious about her past and began to question her father.  He told her the above story.  They made a vow together to find his mother’s grave.  Tragically, Thomas was diagnosed with cancer and died before they discovered his mothers’ resting place.  Karen continued the search.  She knew her grandmother was buried somewhere in the McKeesport PA area, but that includes many cemeteries.  Eventually she called Mt Vernon Cemetery in Elizabeth Pa and was told her grandmother was in fact buried there.  This brings us to the phone call between her and I.  She called me because our church is beside the cemetery.  She asked me if I would do a “funeral” for her grandmother who was laid to rest in 1938.  She said that it was possible that only she and her sister would attend but they would like to pay their respects to their grandmother and have some closure on a painful time in her family’s past.  We agreed to meet at the gravesite on a Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m.  I honestly had no idea how to do this service.  I arrived at 9:45 and Karen and her sister were already present.  She mentioned to me that she had told other relatives about the funeral but she did not know if any would attend.  At 9:50, a car pulled up to the site and 6 people got out.  Karen gasped.  “That’s my cousin from West Virginia.”  A few minutes later another full car arrived.  Again Karen was dumb founded.  “That’s my cousin from Erie PA.”  By 10:00 there were 20 of us gathered for the service including the last living child of the diseased woman; the daughter born in 1938, months before her mother’s death.  The part played by the minister was not particularly novel, but eventually the family was given the opportunity to share thoughts.  Karen told of her vow with her father.  But there wasn’t a dry eye when the lone remaining child of the deceased woman slowly approached the grave with tears running down her face and said, “I never really thought I had a mother, but now I know I did.”

There was nothing to be said after that. I am deeply grateful to Karen for allowing me to be a part of such a significant time in the life of her family.  Honestly if I never have to do another funeral in my entire life, I will be good with that.  I’ll be VERY good with that.  I don’t know how funeral directors do it; always surrounded by grief.  But I do know this – sometimes funerals are healing.  Sometimes they bring relief.  Sometimes they are a celebration.  And I know that pastors are deeply privileged to be a part of those moments in the lives of families.  I hope I never forget that or take it for granted.

Below is the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians written by the Apostle Paul.  Take a few moments to read it.

1 Corinthians

The Resurrection of Christ

15 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

The Resurrection of the Dead

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

29 Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? 30 And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? 31 I face death every day—yes, just as surely as I boast about you in Christ Jesus our Lord. 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,

“Let us eat and drink,     for tomorrow we die.”

33 Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 34 Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame.

The Resurrection Body

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?     Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Celebrate Easter! He is Risen!

Easter

March 20, 2017

Like most of us I remember many events from my childhood. Some of them related to Easter.  But before we get to that, a little background.  I spent four of the finest developmental years of my life in High School living in Hampton Township PA.  I made friends there who influenced my life forever and many of them remain close and dear to me to this day.  Across the road and up on a hill overlooking our isolated neighborhood was a large field surrounded by woods.  There were many occasions when my friends and I hung out there.  You know, doing kid things and on occasion doing things that we were not supposed to be doing.  I’ll let you imagine, but we slept out there on occasion, we played with fire there, we… oh wait I can’t tell you that….  I have no idea who owned that piece of property.  We never saw anyone up there.  It was our own somewhat private “playground.”  It is no longer accessible today that I am aware of.  The woods were bulldozed years ago and there is at least one large home where “our” field used to be.  Well, back to Easter.

My memories of Easter as a young child are all mixed together. I remember few specific moments… mostly just common events.  Things like new clothes, flowers, bonnets, pictures, candy and even church, which was a rarity by the time I came along.  With the advent of high school came some radical changes in my living arrangements, and my family (what was left of it) had no, none, nada, involvement with any church.  Sunday was just another day and Easter was just another Sunday.  That being said, several of my friends in the neighborhood and I became involved in Christian faith through a local (non-church related) youth group.  To this day, many of us remain actively involved in churches and ministry.

One year (maybe when I was a senior) a friend suggested that we go up on the hill mentioned above, into the field and have our own Easter Sunrise service. That sounded strange but fun.  For reasons that I don’t recall, I was asked to “preach.”  The morning came and we trudged up the hill.  I think there were only 5 or 6 of us.  Unbeknownst to any of us, the friend who suggested the service had gone up the day before and erected a very tall Cross in the middle of the field.  We held our service there.  It was simple, short, and ill prepared.  Sort of like my sermon that day.  But it is the finest memory of Easter that I have.  There is something about being with special friends in the shadow of the cross that’s life altering.  Even now my eyes are teary as I recall that morning all those years ago.

My friend who built the cross and who suggested the service died of a sudden and unexpected heart attack a number of years ago. I had not seen him in a long time.  If he were living, I would call him and remind him of that day.  I would also tell him that it is one of my most cherished memories and I would thank him for the part he played in making it happen.  I wonder, are there people you should call and tell about the impact they have had on your life?  Seriously.  I have never heard of anyone calling someone with that in mind and being rejected or laughed at.  Mostly their efforts are met with humility and gratitude.  I would greatly encourage you to make that call, send that email or text, or even snail mail.  You will not be disappointed.

I pray that you have an amazing Easter with those whom you love. If you are not a church goer… hey, give it a try.

In loving memory of Doug Walter

And eternal gratitude to:

Dave S.

Linda H.

Shelley C.

John C.

Nancy S.

Meagan B.

Jim T.

And of course Ellen.