Posted in advent, Christmas, Life

A wonderful, beautiful, minor key.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

At noon and then again this evening at our midweek Advent worship services, I realized that all the hymns I picked out were in a minor key.

Songs in a minor key sound sad, melancholy, foreboding and desperate. And yet, I love the minor keys. They sound so real, passionate and gutsy. They don’t soar like major keys, lifting our hearts, but dive deeply, into the depths of our souls.

Really? At Christmas? The “most wonderful time of the year” which is designed to be “merry and bright?” Whoa, big guy, it’s not Christmas yet. It’s Advent. It’s still a time of reflection, repentance and even desperation. Good thing. We need help.

Like an endless line of dominoes, those in the public eye are falling to allegations of inappropriate sexual misconduct. A seemingly endless obituary of innocent victims shot at concerts, in schools and on the street floods our eyes with tears and minds with fears. Smartphones connect us with more people than ever, yet we sit home lonelier than ever. Rockets take us closer to Mars, and bring nuclear weapons closer to our homes.

Jesus steps into that world. He was condemned for inappropriate contact with people you weren’t supposed to be near. He was innocent, yet condemned and executed. Surrounded by crowds, he ended up on the cross alone. He spoke of leaving this world, which was coming to a violent end.

Anyone see a connection here? First, there’s nothing new under the sun. We’ve been struggling with these issues for a long, long time. Second, we can’t seem to fix the problems. They keep coming up over and over again. Third, our fears of the end are legitimate. This world will not last forever.

Thank God! This is not what He intended, nor what we were created for. We need a new heaven and a new earth. Soon. Churches like ours that observe Advent pray long and hard for that. We know that is our only hope.

But at least we have hope. We have something to look forward to. As a musician I know that if you raise the third just one half step, you will feel the lift of a major chord, and it never fails to thrill me. I love those hymns, so close, so achingly close to a resolution, a major key, and new life.

Posted in lessons, Life

I think I know someone who could do that.

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Thinking about guns, people who have guns, and people who use guns, I started thinking the other day. I wondered if anyone in my circle of acquaintances, friends and parishioners fit the profile of a mass shooter. Do I know anyone who could snap and start to take lives?

I did a little bit of non-scientific online research. Multiple sources report that 13% of Americans over the age of twelve are taking antidepressants. Three percent of the population is bipolar. In my county, there are between eight and twelve arrests for domestic violence every week. Over fifty percent of adults who have some kind of mental illness are not being treated for it.

I believe there is a good chance that I know someone capable of being the next shooter of innocent people in a crowd somewhere. No, I don’t have anyone particular in mind. But I do know some really angry people. I know a few who are really bitter about the hand life has dealt them. I know others with really short fuses.

I also know that each of us is capable of any number of atrocities against humanity — or as we pastors like to call it, sin. The first sin mentioned in the bible outside of the Garden of Eden was murder. Cain killed his brother Abel, in a dispute over worship styles (Genesis 4). Obviously it didn’t take much to flip his switch. King David arranges for Uriah to be conveniently killed in battle, so he can have his wife, who he has already slept with and impregnated (2 Samuel 11). When a Samaritan village didn’t receive Jesus, disciples James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven to eliminate the entire population, an ancient version of a drone strike on an enemy village (Luke 9:51-55). And by the way, these weren’t tax collectors or sinners or atheists or devil-worshipers. These were believers. They were God’s people. Yikes.

Whether it is a senseless mass shooting on a college campus or a movie theater or a concert venue, it’s a reminder of the evil in this world and the evil in me. I like to think that I am a cut above those who would abuse children, strike their spouse, or steal offerings from a church. But I’m not. And you know that’s true, because pastors have done all those things. And more.

Every headline about violence reveals the dark, disgusting underbelly of our world, our nation, our community, and people just like you and me. This is a nasty place, and we are nasty people. And Jesus became one of us, like us in every way, experiencing anger, despair, pain and death. When the Bible says that he who knew no sin became sin for us, it means that he became that dark, nasty, disgusting underbelly. He became the mass killer, the suicide bomber, the violent father, and the abusive spouse. He became us, so that we could be something different. So we could be like him.

Maybe some laws will change because of what happened in Las Vegas. Maybe not. Maybe people will turn to God for help and for hope. Maybe not. Probably not. In the book of Revelation, no matter what disaster is poured out on the earth, people still refuse to turn back to God.

But in the midst of all this, who’s on the throne (in control)? Who got hit and killed in the violence of this world? And who says, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled?” Jesus.

I not only know someone capable of doing horrible things. I also know someone who brings light to the darkness.

Posted in Grace, Ministry

Advent begins

I wasn’t really sure what to expect in worship today. It was the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of a church season I dearly love, from the Advent wreath and candles to the blue of the paraments. But it was also the Sunday after Thanksgiving, so I thought a lot of families might still be out of town or traveling back in time for work and school tomorrow. Even our organist was out of town, having sequenced all her music on the organ for our traditional service.

Though quiet, it turned out to be a moving morning for me. I focused on the Righteous branch of Jeremiah 33, who we know as Jesus. Our hope is found in the promise of his coming, just as it was for Jeremiah’s audience for whom invasion, destruction and exile were inevitable. Don’t let anyone fool you with the nice words, “Everything will be OK.” Both Jeremiah and Jesus tell us it won’t. Things are bad and getting worse, but we have a Savior who is coming. And that is why we have hope.

Rather than getting swept away in the hurried culture of Christmas preparation, the quiet assurance of Advent has already made an impression on me. I “get it” in a way that I don’t think I did before. I’m getting off the ride and spending some time focusing on the Son of God who came and is coming. Who was here and will be back. Who somehow gives me hope.