Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Retiring for the Fourth Time

            I have loved being here at Atonement for the past couple of years.  My preaching in this place has become a part of my life.  You have nourished me with your wonderful Christian activity.  This is a powerful parish and I want you to continue in the same way to do the good that you continue to do.  You are the ministers of this parish. 

            We had a fabulous experience last week.  We were celebrating Rosie’s 80th birthday and we went down to Station Square to take a ride on the Ducky Tour, the boat/trucks that go around Pittsburgh and sometimes get on the rivers.  The rivers were too high, so it was only a land journey.  Before we got on the boat, we were all standing around waiting.  Our granddaughter Lindy was watching her phone with a Facetime call from our youngest daughter Heather, her mom.  We thought it was wonderful to include her in this way since she lives in San Diego.  Rosie noticed that Heather seemed to be bobbing up and down while she was talking. We thought maybe she was in a car or something.  All of a sudden, Heather came upon us and we discovered that she had flown back east to help us celebrate Rosie’s birthday. 

            On Wednesday, Rosie and I will fly out to San Diego to spend a week with Heather.  We have been looking forward to this for some time and it will mean a lot to us to be able to do it.  We will come back home after a week out there and we will continue to live in our home and get into a summer routine.  I thank God that I have had the opportunity to be with you all of this time.  You have helped me in so many ways.  We are fortunate people to have been here at Atonement.

            In our Gospel this morning, Jesus continues to tell his apostles about what is to come; how he is going to be with the Father. They don’t really have any understanding of this at all. He tells them again that he will not leave them without company; that the Holy Spirit will be a part of their lives from that moment on.  He says that those who love him will keep his commandments and that they will be loved by the Father and will not be alone because the Spirit of Truth will be a constant part of their lives.  This is true for us also.  We have celebrated Easter, have once again celebrated the feast that helps us to remember our resurrected Lord.  As he told his disciples, Jesus did not leave us orphaned and alone either.  When we keep Jesus’ commandments, we also have the presence of the Spirit with us.  And those commandments can become an excellent foundation to our way of life.  Jesus outlined them in his Sermon on the Mount, but gave us the ultimate key when he told us to Love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls and minds, and to love our neighbors as a person like ourselves.  That sums up the commandments that our Lord gave us.  This is what creates peace and hope in the world.

             It isn’t always easy to do.  Loving difficult people is always a problem.  We all have had that experience.  I had a man in one of my parishes who frequently yelled at me.  It was sometimes about something in a sermon, sometimes, just something that was bothering him.  It was always difficult talking to him.  Years later, I got a long letter from him explaining to me that he had been fighting alcoholism and that he wanted to apologize for his behavior.  It was gratifying to me to read that letter.  The simple fact about loving one another that we can’t always do it ourselves is just another indication that what God wants for us all is community; the joining together of all of us to create loving relationships in this world.

            This is something that Atonement has learned to do very well.  You take care of each other when you have problems.  The coffee hour downstairs after church is a wonderful place to share our lives and to listen to each other.  It isn’t only a place to taste the latest goodies, it is a place to continue the community that we celebrate around this altar.

            The most important part is that we take this expression of community with us into our lives and work to care for the people whom we meet.  That is why the outreach efforts of this place mean so much.  There is an old saying that it doesn’t matter so much what we say, but what is important is what we do.  Our religion is what we say.  Our outreach is what we do because of it.

            Religion can be a very complicated activity.  That is why there are so many denominations in this world.  That is what prompted the split in the Diocese a few years ago.  It was a time when some people tried to make rules for everyone else.  Our liturgy is helpful to our faith, but it is not the essence of it.  Love is the essence of our faith. When Paul was in Athens, he told the people that they had a monument with an inscription that read “to the unknown God”.  Paul told them that he came to tell them about that God, who made Heaven and earth.  He quoted the Greek poets who said about God that in him we all live and move and have our being.  He then told them about Jesus who came and gave his life for all of us and then rose from the dead to assure us of eternal life.

            The essence of our faith is how we live our lives; and living our lives with the love that we have been taught by our Lord is all that we need to do.  Accepting and caring for the people whom we meet in this life is what we are sent to do as our ministry.

            Yes, I’m retiring for the fourth time in my life, but I won’t be far away.  As I have told some of you, I will be here when you need me.  In the meantime, continue to be one of the best parishes in this diocese and do all that you can to make sure that this world is full of love.

            May God bless you all.  You are one of the best things that has ever happened to me. We will never forget our time at Atonement. 

                         

Monday, May 15, 2017

Fear and Grieving

             Fear can be a terrible thing.  It can interrupt our day, make anything that we are doing more difficult.  It needs to be confronted and put to rest, but often that is a very hard thing to do.

            Jesus disciples were haunted by fear after their Lord was arrested, condemned and crucified by the religious authorities and by Pontius Pilate. The gospel for today is an earlier conversation, but it describes all of this.  It is a clear statement by Jesus that we will follow him into eternity.  His disciples didn’t understand that.  Notice that he begins his conversation with them by saying do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me; words said to his disciples because of their obvious fear.  I can understand how they felt.  Their Lord was talking about leaving them and they were afraid of what would come next.  How would they be treated by the Sadducees and the Pharisees?  Would they be caught?  Would they then face death? 

            After the resurrection when they were all behind closed doors as the gospel said, for fear of the Jews.  It is then that the resurrected Jesus appears to them and showed them his wounds, but he was obviously present.  At that moment, their fear turned to joy and they knew that their work was not in vain and that they would continue the work that they had all started together.
           
             I love this morning’s gospel.  I want it to be read at my funeral.  It speaks eloquently of the truth of eternal life and the incredible mercy that Jesus offers to all of us after our death.  It has the obvious intent of confronting and allaying our fears.  It isn’t necessary to be afraid of dying.  It is a perfectly natural thing that we will all experience.  The difficulty that it presents is that of leaving our family and our friends and not being with them anymore.  That is why we grieve.  Grief is an important emotion.  It speaks clearly of the love that we have for each other and the loss that we feel at the time of death.  Our grief is why we come together at funerals to care for each other.  Our compassion and caring goes a long way to overcoming the worst of our grieving.  I have seen that happen countless times in my ministry.  When families gather to mourn a death with their friends and relatives, it makes a profound difference.  Surprisingly, the most frequent sound that you will hear in a funeral home is laughter.  It comes from people telling stories about the deceased and sharing their own personal moments.  That is a beautiful thing.

            What Jesus is telling his disciples is that his ministry won’t be over, even if he dies.  He tells them that they will go into the world and do greater things than he has done.  That he will be with them always and that they will never be alone.  The key to this is what Jesus calls belief.  Believe in God, he tells them, believe also in me! He goes on to tell them that even if they don’t believe in him, look at the works that he has done and to believe in them.  He tells them that they will go on to do greater works than these.  And so they did.  There are many stories of the disciples healing and bringing life to people who had no hope. 

            After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter begins to confront the Pharisees about the way that they are treating people.  He is no longer afraid of them.  This became true of all of Jesus’ followers.  Eventually, they all died, but before that, they formed and developed a wonderful Christian community that spread the word of God throughout the countryside. 

            In the Epistle today, we have the story of the stoning of the first martyr Stephen with Saul, later named Paul, holding the coats of the stoners.  With his last breath, the dying Stephen prays to God not to hold this sin against any of those who are killing him.  We all know what happened shortly after to Saul, how he was stopped on the road to Damascus, blinded and called out by the risen Christ when he says to Saul:  Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?  The blind Saul, then renamed Paul was sent into Damascus to see a man named Annanias who cured him of his blindness and set him on the course that we know so well through his letters.  Paul the apostle who had never met Jesus in the flesh became a powerful promoter of the Christian cause.

            That is how the church continued down the centuries.  We are the latest edition of the followers of Christ.  We are sent into the world to make life better for those whom we meet.  God loves all of us and all of them.  What we do for them is the nature of Christian ministry.  Making fear go away is a great part of our work.  Believe in God, believe also in Jesus.  That is the key both to this life and the next.

            

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Our Good Shepherd

               I’ve always loved the Twenty-third psalm.  It is so deeply personal and talks about the Love of God in such a wonderful way.  I remember when I was a kid wondering what it meant by telling me that when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death that I would fear no evil because God is with me, his rod and his staff comfort me. That is good news, but to a kid, I wasn’t sure of what it all meant.  As I got older, the message got a little clearer. I came to understand that this means that God meets us in the world where we live, where terrible things sometimes happen and that we are not left only to hurt by what happens to us.   When I had surgery, and wasn’t sure how it was going to come out, I remember praying that psalm and finding comfort in it.  Eternal life didn’t mean much to me when I was a child, but it came to mean a lot to me as an adult.

            The Lord is my shepherd is a breathtaking statement.  Thinking of the whole human race as a flock of sheep is helpful.  Particularly when I think that Jesus is the shepherd.  I love the stories that we hear of our Lord’s ministry during his life; how he raised Lazarus, healed the man born blind, gave the Samaritan woman at the well back her life and her community.  If that is the shepherd that takes care of me, then I am satisfied beyond conversation.  Notice that the people whom Jesus met were not perfect people; they all had bad experiences.   

            There are other kinds of shepherding.  When Rosie and I were driving through the Native American tribal areas in the Southwest, we would occasionally see a herd of sheep being led by a dog.  No shepherd was present, only a dog.  The sheep obviously trusted the dog, but all of this worried me.  It just didn’t seem very safe.  You and me, as the sheep of the Lord are not led by a dog, but by the Son of God who came that we might have all that life can offer and who by his death and resurrection has given to you and me the forgiveness of our sins and the certainty of eternal life.  I can’t imagine a better gift for all of us.

            In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear how the followers of Jesus, after their grief at his death and their surprise at his resurrection were still able to continue his ministry in the life of the people who became the church.  They met together, pooled their resources and made life better for everyone. Some people have said that this sounds a lot like communism, but if it is communism it is created in the best way, to help people who have nothing to live their lives to the fullest.  This certainly worked because more and more people came to be baptized and to join them in their work.  This is the real story of the church; how it began and how it continued.  That it has had times of strife and trouble in its long life is not surprising, given the nature of humanity; but we have the continuing promise of our Lord that the things that we want the most: forgiveness, salvation and eternal life with God will be ours; and they are ours because of the relentless shepherding of our Lord Jesus who gave his whole life to insure the care of the people whom he met on this earth.

            Our mission as Christians is to continue this ministry.  To make available to people who have little or nothing the hope that Jesus brought to earth.  We need to show by the way that we live our lives that the promises that our Lord made to all of us mean something to us.  All of us have sinned and fallen short.  There is no argument about that.  We are not excluded from the love and the promises of God because of our sins.  Our sins are forgiven and our crooked road is made straight for us by the incomprehensible love of God.  I have watched as people in prison have come to understand that new life is possible for them even after committing horrible crimes.  The largest problem that we have with the people who are in prison is our prison system.  We call it the Department of Corrections, when it is not that at all, it is the Department of Incarceration. Or even better yet, the Criminal Justice system. The people who are incarcerated are constantly made to understand that they are criminals – that they have lost their claim to humanity by the crimes that they have committed.  I was appalled to see what Arkansas tried to do by executing eight prisoners before their supply of one of the drugs expired at the end of this month.  Humanity doesn’t leave when people enter prison.  Correction and forgiveness is the goal. When I have seen forgiveness work miracles in the prison system it is because somehow the inmate has come to understand that forgiveness means that the crimes are no more, the only thing left is the promise of living a life in the peace of God. 

            That is what we are asked to do by our Lord.  As his sheep to follow him into this chaotic world and to help those who are here and wounded by all that it is that happens that they are loved by their God and by all of us.  When we do that, we extend the sheepfold infinitely and help our neighbors to understand the incredible totality of God’s perfect love.

           

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Power of the Eucharist

      There is a wonderful prayer that I say every Sunday when I am behind the altar celebrating the Eucharist.  It starts by recalling the moment in the Last Supper when Jesus took the bread, held it up and told his disciples:  This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.  After supper, he took the cup of wine and said to them:  Drink you all of this. This is my blood which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  As often as you drink it, do this in remembrance of me.  This prayer has been with us for two thousand years, helping us to understand that when we receive the bread and wine of the Eucharist, we are receiving the body and blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

            Eucharist is an important moment in our worship.  In this place, it is available for any of you.  You don’t need a ticket to participate.  God’s love is here and now and it is for all of us.  We don’t need to be a part of a special group to receive it.  All of this is made clear by the Gospel of Luke in the story of the two travelers on the road to Emmaus who meet a man on the road whom they don’t know.  They are a bit astounded that he doesn’t seem to know what has gone on in the last couple of days – how Jesus the prophet was betrayed by the religious establishment, given over to Pilate the governor, tried and crucified.  Now they say that some women have said that the tomb is empty and that they don’t know what has happened to Jesus’ body.  The stranger went on to explain the scriptures to them and point out every place in them where the Son of God is present.  When they get to the place where they were going, the stranger seems to want to continue his travel, but they invite him to come and to break bread with them.  Jesus does so and in the context of the meal, breaks the bread and drinks the wine and all of a sudden, he is made known to them as the risen Christ.  He then disappears and they go on with their lives, amazed at what they have seen. 

            The other thing that strikes me about this story is that it begins by saying that two of Jesus’ disciples were on the road to Emmaus. One of them is named Cleopas.  Cleopas is not a name that I am familiar with and it suggests to me that our normal understanding of twelve disciples may need to be expanded a bit.  Jesus had the last supper with the twelve that we know, and this post resurrection supper with two who may have been left out of some of the other stories.  This is unimportant, but it tells me that the number of the disciples has grown and continues to grow.  It also amazes me a bit that none of the women are mentioned as a part of those who attended the Last Supper.  Elsewhere in the story, the women are prominent, certainly at the crucifixion and at the resurrection, it is the women who made the most difference.  The men had drifted away.  But here are two new men who carry the story of meeting the risen Christ on the road with them as they get on with their lives. 

            All of this is why the Eucharist is such an important part of our worship.  It is the celebration of the presence of Jesus Christ, the Son of God in our midst and in our lives.  As I suggested to you last week, facts are lacking, then and also in this story.  It isn’t a provable concept.  It involves faith and belief.  The two men on the road to Emmaus had a life changing experience.  That is evident from listening to the story; and always what I hope your receiving the Eucharist is also.  Here we are in a worshipping community that has promised to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbors as persons like ourselves.  I can’t imagine a more welcoming community to be a part of.

            Our lives don’t always go well.  We all experience ups and downs and sometimes great grief as our days go on.  Here is where we can find comfort and compassion when we need it and also joy and fellowship on a regular basis.  You all bring important talents to this community.  You have the ability to listen and to share your lives.  That makes a difference.  We bring with us our joys and our failures with us when we come to this place to worship.  That always gives us a basis for conversation.  When we share our lives with each other, I hope that compassion and mercy are the major part of our response to each other.  When we do that, God’s infinite love is present among us.  There is nothing more wonderful that we can share.
           
       

Monday, April 24, 2017

Faith Conquers Fear

            I hope that your Easter was joyful.  Rosie and I had our kids, grandkids and our two great grandkids at our place for a wonderful dinner created by all of them.  Rosie made the sweet potatoes!

            That is such a day of celebration.  We have not only our Lord’s resurrection, but also the beginning of Spring, with great weather and the promise of more.  I am certainly ready for it.  Winter and cold are not my favorite things.  I love sitting on the patio and reading under the awning and feeling the breeze in my face. 

            What I love about our lessons as we get into the Easter season is that this season certainly isn’t over.  In the lesson from John today, Jesus’ disciples are all gathered in one room when all of a sudden, Jesus appears to them.  They are astonished.  Notice how the passage begins:  When it was evening, the first day of the week and the doors of the house where the disciples met were all locked for fear of the Jews… Here they are in their fear, waiting for who knows what.  Their Lord has been crucified and they are afraid.  But all of a sudden, their Lord is present.  He showed them his hands and his side and the disciples rejoiced.  He said to them:  Peace be with you! And as the Father has sent me, so I send you.  This is the beginning of the church.  He breathes on them and says Receive the Holy Spirit.  And he sends them out to forgive the sins that they find.

            Thomas isn’t with them.  When he came back to them, they told him, “we have seen the Lord!”  Thomas. told them “unless I see the marks of the nails on his hand and put my finger in them and put my hand in the wound in his side, I will not believe.” 

            A week later, they were all gathered again and Thomas was present.  Jesus again appeared to them and spoke to Thomas:  Here, put your finger in the wounds in my hand and your hand in the wound in my side.  Do not doubt, but believe! Thomas said, “my Lord and my God.”  Then Jesus says the most meaningful thing of all.  Do you believe because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen me, yet believe! That is you and me that Jesus is talking about..  We have only our faith to show us the presence of our Lord in our lives.  We haven’t seen his wounds or his body lying in the tomb.  All that we have are the scriptures that tell the story and the testimony of the followers of his who so firmly believed.  That faith is what we take with us into our lives to help us to deal with all of the things that happen to us; to celebrate our joy and to dry our tears because of our distress.  The truth is that our Lord is at our side and we are blessed when we believe that.

            We hear a lot these days about fake news and alternative facts.  This story about Jesus’ resurrection isn’t about either of these things.  It is about faith.  Faith is belief without necessarily having any facts to prove what we believe.  When I consider all of Holy Scripture, there are many places where facts are obscure and I’m not really sure what it is that happened.  What I hear in the stories is always helpful.  The stories in the bible tell us truth.  Most often, the facts of the story don’t really matter.

             When we were in Jerusalem, we got into a taxi and the driver asked us if we wanted to go to the home of the Prodigal Son.  We thanked him, but declined his offer.  He didn’t know where the Prodigal Son lived, nobody knows that.  It is simply a wonderful story in the Gospel that tells the truth about how it is that God receives the lost back into his care.  There have been many prodigal sons. I’ve been one. Some of you have been one!  The beauty of that story is that   God’s love is eternal and applies to us all.  Where those people lived or if they really lived is not important.  What matters is the truth of what that story tells us all.

            We all struggle with faith from time to time.  When things in our lives go sour, sometimes it is hard to believe that our God loves us.  We blame God when we ought to be looking at other causes.  We humans don’t always treat each other very well.  The other thing that we experience these days is fear.  Fear that North Korea will unleash nuclear weapons; fear that the things that have made our lives better, such as affordable health care may vanish. But God never promised us a perfect ride; only that His Love will remain constant no matter what it is that happens to us in our lives.  Our faith is a solution to our fear.  Faith connects us to the only thing that matters: the great God who loves us completely.  Our church is a collection of people of faith.  Each of us is here to help the other.  That is the beauty of community.

            Those disciples of Jesus, who witnessed his resurrection and saw the wounds in his hands and in his side were sent into the world by our Lord to forgive sin and to make the world a better place for the people whom they met along the way.  That is the same thing that Jesus did during his whole ministry.  You and I are the descendants of those disciples.  Our mission is to do what we can to help those whom we meet in this world.  When we love others, we spread the Love of God farther into this world.  What keeps us going is our faith.  Believe in the Lord with all of your heart, soul and your mind.  When you do that, all will be well.   
            

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter!

            I’ve never experienced a resurrection.  Not that I haven’t wanted to.  There have been a number of times when I have stood beside a casket at a funeral and have looked at the grieving family and I’ve wished that I could somehow bring their loved one back to them.  Grief is a difficult thing to experience.  We all have done it.  Even grieving over the death of a pet is a hard thing to go through. 

            This isn’t a day of grief, it is a day of joy at the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died that horrible death on the cross on Good Friday and was buried in a borrowed tomb.  That death produced grief on the part of all of Jesus’ followers, his family and his friends and we all experienced the loss of our Lord who meant so much to this world.  The message of Good Friday is that the God whom we all worship is dead.  God came to earth in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, and showed us all the love, mercy, compassion and joy that God has intended for all of us.  Our response to that outpouring of love was to kill our Lord and to ignore the consequences of that.

            I have had the experience of walking through the church on Holy Saturday, the day after Good Friday and have smelled the flowers that the altar guild has set out for the following day and I have thought that there was something wrong here.  Holy Saturday is the day that God is dead.  Why are we celebrating?  Yes, I know that time is of the essence and that the Altar Guild really had no choice in their timing. They had to get it all done.

            But now it is Easter.  This is a day to celebrate the beauty of the resurrection of our Lord, the giving back to us of the Son of God who took away the sins of the world and who made so many lives brighter with his love.  Simply listening to the stories that we have told of the mercies that he brought to so many people is enough to help us to see the beauty that God has conferred on this world by the life of his Son. 

            Today, we receive the greatest gift that can be given to any of us:  the certainty of resurrection and eternal life.  When the Irish experience a death, they many times have what is called a “wake”.  This is a time of celebration for the life of the deceased and the certainty that their loved one has attained eternal life.  That is a wonderful idea.  Celebration at the time of death might seem to be out of place, but it is a statement of the truth of our faith.  We will see each other again when we all find ourselves in the arms of God.

            The story that is told in John’s Gospel about the resurrection is remarkable.  Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early in the morning and finds the stone rolled away and the tomb empty.  She runs and tells Peter and the other disciples that “they have taken the Lord’s body away and I don’t know where they have laid him.”  Peter and the other disciple, the one that Jesus loved, ran to the tomb and found it empty.  They saw the linens lying apart, but didn’t understand what had happened.  They returned to their homes. 

            Mary stood outside the tomb weeping.  Two angels were there who asked her, “woman, why are you weeping?”  She told them that it was because they had taken her Lord away and that she didn’t know where they had laid him.  She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know that it was Jesus, she supposed that it was the gardener.  She said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where he is and I will take him away.  Jesus said to her, “Mary!” Mary said to him “Rabbouni”, which means teacher and she reached out to touch him.  Jesus said not to hold on to him because he has not ascended to the father. Her tears of grief turned into tears of joy. Mary ran and told the disciples: “I have seen the Lord!”

            I can’t imagine a more wonderful story.  Mary’s grief is incredible and when Jesus says her name, Mary! It creates great joy in her where grief had been the only thing that she had been able to feel.  This is the Lord’s presentation of resurrection to all of us in a way that we can take   for our own.  It helps me to imagine that after my death, I will see a strange figure before me who will turn out to be my Lord.  Jesus will turn and say Rodge! And I will know that my life in eternity has started. That is the message of Easter and it is why it is the greatest holiday of our year.  God bless all of you.  Enjoy yourselves on this wonderful day!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

From Joy to Despair and Back to Joy

           Palm Sunday is such an extraordinary day.  When I was at Christ Church, North Hills, we would always dramatize the long Gospel for this day.  Various people would dress up and take parts.  I was always Pilate, or one of the priests who was denouncing Jesus.  I remember one Sunday when Judas came running down the aisle and threw the thirty pieces of silver at our feet and ran away again.  It was a great dramatization of this terrible moment in Jesus’ life; betrayed by his disciples, convicted by the religious authorities and put into the hands of Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor who was certain to have him killed. 

            All of this happens to Jesus after a triumphal march into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey with the crowds throwing palms at his feet in tribute.  They all thought that their days of limited freedom was over and that this great king on a donkey was going to be the solution to all of their problems.  That was certainly true, but not in the way that they thought.  Jesus was coming in triumph.  His triumph was to provide salvation and resurrection to all of the people.  This was much more than the desire of people who had lived under Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Roman rule and had little say about their lives.  Jesus was present to provide for them the kind of life that God had in mind for all of humanity. 

            Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week, with Good Friday preceding the glory of Easter.  We go through this story year by year looking closely at the life of our Lord to again understand the passion that he endured willingly so that we all can look forward to eternal life, even though death is a certainty.  Jesus certainly knew what he was doing, and his disciples also knew what the outcome would be.  When Jesus was preparing to go to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead, Thomas said to the other disciples: “Let us go and die with him.”  Even though the disciples all ran away from the cross, there is certainty that they knew what was going to happen.

            What Jesus brought to all of us is compassion and mercy.  Those are the things that get us through life with all of its difficulties and moments of crisis.  I have watched how these two beautiful qualities can lift spirits and provide comfort, even in the most desperate times of life.  That wonderful old song for children: Jesus loves me, yes, I know, for the bible tells me so is a great tribute to our Lord’s life and his spirit.  I was at a clergy conference one year when our speaker was asked what was the most important thing for us to understand about Jesus.  He sat down at the piano and played and asked us all to sing that simple song.  It was a moment to relish.  He was teaching us about the beauty of love; God and Jesus for all of us, and us for one another.  It is hard to think of another quality that reaches as far.

            Love is what Jesus was doing not only on Palm Sunday, but throughout his ministry.  We have heard stories over the last month in our scriptures about how Jesus took care of the people whom he met along the way; the man born blind, the woman at the well and poor Lazarus dying in Bethany. Every time that he encountered someone with pain or great need, his attention focused on how to heal, how to comfort, how to express compassion.  All of the wonderful stories that we continue to hear about our Lord tells us constantly this story. 

            Our response to this great gift needs also to be to love.  We are living in a very difficult time in our history.  Bigotry, misogyny and other nasty traits seem to be expressed by people everywhere who ought to know better.  There are many people who are hurting and who feel like they are neglected and left behind.  We all need to care deeply about this and to make sure that those people who feel outcast and alone are not left there.  As we go about our lives, we need to look around us and take the needs that we see seriously and to offer our comfort and help to ease the stress, to raise hopes and to help us all to get through the difficult moments.  That is how we serve the Lord, who gave himself completely for all of us.