Tuesday, December 5, 2017


            In Mark 13, the Gospel reading for today, Jesus spoke of a time in the future when the trials and tribulations of mankind will be resolved. In verses 24-27 he said: But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send his angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of the earth.” The time will come, Jesus said, when the Son will come and gather his people together to receive his eternal blessing.

            Jesus went on to say in the same passage that no one, not even the Son, knows when this will happen.  Therefore, he advised, “be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.”


            Frances remembered that when she was a teenager in Hoquiam she one day was walking to a dreaded dental appointment, looked up at the foreboding clouds and thought, “this would be a good time for the Lord to return.”  In a sense she was expressing the hope that the church was born with, that the time predicted by the prophets would come, the time when:

·         Wars would cease, and peace prevail;

·         When evil and sin is replaced with love and justice;

·         When pain and tears give way to joy and singing;

·         When this old house of an earthly body will be taken away and we will be given, as Paul said, “a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Cor 5:1).

The church was born with this hope and one of the primary means of reminding ourselves of it is the Lord’s Supper. In 1 Cor 11:26 Paul wrote: “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  We don’t always think about the last words, “until he comes.”  At this table we often stress his death for us, and all that it means, which we should, but we cannot forget these last words.  In that small phrase, “until he comes, our hope is summed up. Think about it.  If the Son were not to return, what good did his death do? But Jesus knew he would return and his word to us was: BE ON GUARD, KEEP AWAKE. FOR YOU DO NOT KNOW WHEN THE TIIME WILL COME.”

But the time will come. He will return. We anticipate his coming. And in the meantime, we proclaim his death until he comes.

Monday, November 6, 2017


                I visited another church last Sunday in order to hear my brother, Gilbert, preach.  He was filling in for the pastor who was gone.  I went because the thought had occurred to me, ‘at our age this may be my last chance to hear him preach a sermon.’  It did not surprise me when he started by saying, “this may be the last sermon that I preach.”

                In the the sermon he spoke about his granddaughter, Haley.  She is a recently married young woman now but when she was about four or five years old, he said, she loved to go out after a good rain and play in the mud.  Not just tromp around in puddles, but get down in the mud, scoop up handfuls of it, roll it into shapes and play with it.  Before long, her clothes were muddy, it was on her legs and face, and even in her hair. Then her mother would come out with a big towel, wrap it around her, carry her in and put her in the bathtub.  Soon she was clean all over and ready for the next adventure.

                When Saul came into Damascus after being blinded by the heavenly vision of Jesus, he was met by a man named Ananias who said to him, “Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16).  Saul was dirtied by twisted thinking, hateful passions, and destructive actions. He needed a good cleansing and he found it in his baptism.  He experienced what John described in 1 John 1:7, “If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.”

                Don’t we all need a good cleansing?  Paul thought so.  He said in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned – all are dirty – and fall short of the glory of God.”  In our baptism we are connected with the cleansing blood of Jesus.  But what then?  The next time it rained, Haley found another mud puddle and so it is with us – we are soon dirtied again with sin.  Fortunately, there is another connection with the cleansing blood of Jesus.  Paul identified it for us when he wrote these words about the Lord’s Supper: “The cup which we drink, is it not a sharing in (a participation in) the blood of Christ?(1 Cor 10:16).  Why would he say this?  It may be because Jesus himself, at the last supper, said: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sin” (Matt 26:28). At this table we can hear Jesus saying to us: you are forgiven, you are clean.



Monday, September 11, 2017


                Frances and I celebrated our 68th wedding anniversary on Sept 2nd, a week ago yesterday.  “Celebrated” may not be the right word because we didn’t go out to dinner or to a movie.  We didn’t even go to Barnes and Noble or the library like we usually did in the past. We watched the Oregon football game on TV and let that record win be our celebration.  The game was about over when Frances said, “When this ends, lets talk about what we remember of this night 68 years ago.”  We didn’t wait.  I turned off the sound and we began to reminisce.  Some things came to mind quickly but we realized there was a lot that we had forgotten.  Talking about it helped to resurrect some long-buried memories.  Each of us remembered things the other did not and it helped to remind each other of what we did back then.  Probably, if we had done this kind of reminiscing regularly over the last 68 years we would remember even more today.

                Last Sunday in church I began to reflect on how what we did relates to what we do here each Sunday.  I think Jesus must have known how easily we forget and so ordained this service of communion and remembrance.  Besides going through this simple service, it also helps that we don’t have to remember by ourselves.  It helps that we come together and tell the stories about his life and teachings, and most of all about who he was, what he did for us, and how he continues to be with us.

                Every time a storm like Harvey or Irma hits we hear inspiring stories about people who risked everything to save someone else.  We remember these stories and people for a while, but all too soon they are forgotten – unless there is a committed group who regularly tell the stories again and again.

                The church is such a group.  Sometimes we think the church exists to serve us, to help us be better persons, to inspire and guide us.  And it does that.  But first and foremost, it exists for one reason: to remember Jesus Christ and tell his story. 

Paul reminds us of this when he writes in 1 Cor 11:23-26, For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you; that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same manner, he also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes.


Monday, July 24, 2017


               I am sure that we are all familiar with the phrase, “sponsored by” – You can fill in the rest. A stadium or team sponsored by a major corporation; a television program sponsored by a big company or, on public television, by a charitable foundation.  In an earlier time Kings would sponsor artists, singers and poets.  And we all know that “sponsored” means “paid for.”  I came across the story of a young German man who used the term in a unique way.  It seems that his Oma (OH-ma), German for Grandma, bought him an automobile, his first car.  It was a gift of love and a sacrifice for Oma to buy this car.  In honor of her gift, to remember her gift, and so others would recognize the gift, he put a bumper sticker on his car that read “Sponsored bei Oma.”  In other words, “Paid for by Grandma.” (Clinton J. Holloway, Lest We Forget, 65, Nashville, Cold Tree Press)

               As Christians, maybe we should all wear a sign that says, “Sponsored by Christ.”  Paul said in Rom 6:19-20, “Do you not know that … You are not your own, for you have been bought with a price.”  There is an old Gospel hymn that says:

Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it! Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb; Redeemed thro’ his infinite mercy, his child, and forever I am.

               From the very beginning the church has been singing about being paid for by Christ.  In Revelation 4 and 5 John describes a throne and the one who sat upon it held a scroll in his hand that was sealed with seven seals.  No one was found who was worthy to open the book and John began to weep greatly.  One of the 24 elders told him to stop weeping because the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has overcome and he can open it.  Then John looked, and perhaps expected to see a ferocious lion, but instead he saw a Lamb standing as if slain, who came and took the book out of the right hand of him who sat upon the throne.  At this the four living creatures, representing the animal and human world, and the 24 elders, representing all of the church, sang a new song, saying:

Worthy are you to take the book and to break its seals;
For you were slain, and by your blood you purchased people for God
From every tribe and tongue and people and nation. 
And you have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God;
And they will reign upon the earth.

               As we come to the table today we remember that this is our song, our story, our claim as well.  We are all “sponsored by Christ,” paid for by him. 

Monday, July 3, 2017


1 Corinthians 10:14-21

               Last Sunday Ron described a significant communion service he attended at one of the Selly Oak colleges in Birmingham, England.  It started me thinking of some memorable services Frances and I have attended in England and other places.  I remember the first time that I experienced a one cup communion.  My first thought was that this could not happen in our germ conscious culture.  A very meaningful service we experienced was in the Church of England Cathedral in down town Birmingham.  The action of going to the altar, having the officiant hand the elements to me and say, “the body of Christ for you,” and “the blood of Christ for you,” left an indelible impression on me.

               Frances found a communion service in the Lutheran Church of Madison, Wisconsin especially memorable, not because we went to the altar.  That was different than our usual Christian Church experience, to be sure, but what was really different, and in her case unexpected, was that the cup contained wine and not grape juice.  For one who had never tasted wine that was memorable.

               Two unforgettable services we were in occurred overseas on tours to the Holy Land.  One was sitting on stones in the ruins of ancient Corinth within a few feet of where the Apostle Paul had stood before Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, who refused to act on the complaint against Paul by Jews who opposed him.  There we listened to a reading about the Lord’s Supper from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

               The second was in Jerusalem in what is called the Garden Tomb.  In a beautiful garden setting there is a tomb cut out of the rock wall with a huge round stone rolled away from the opening.  Although it is not the actual tomb of Jesus it evokes feelings of majesty and mystery and helps one more easily recall the miraculous event that took place 2000 years ago.  It is a memorable experience to sing, hear the scriptures and share in communion there.

               These and others have all been memorable.  But one that I had was not just memorable.  It was life-changing.  After one ordinary service in the chapel of Phillips Graduate school in Enid, Okla. I would no longer take communion in the same way.  I learned as a teenager in the Milwaukie Christian Church that the reason we had the Lord’s Supper weekly was because we wanted to be a New Testament Church; we wanted to restore the essential faith and practice of the New Testament church.  The original church had the Lord’s Supper weekly and so should we.  I still believe that.  However, it did not occur to me to ask a more significant question: why did the early church do it every week?  Then, in seminary, I chose to write a term paper on 1 Cor 10:14-22.  All of my research, my struggle with the meaning of the text over many weeks came together at the end of the semester when I attended that chapel service.   The key word in the text is Koinonia, a Greek word translated variously as fellowship, sharing, communion, or participation.  Paul uses it here to express the deepest spiritual relationship between Christians and Christ and with one another.  Here, in the Lord’s Supper, we share in the blood of Christ, we share in the body of Christ.  Here we participate with Christ in his sacrifice and we participate with one another in Christ.  Here we meet Jesus Christ and renew our vow allegiance to him. 

               Whether it is here or in some far off exotic location, in a small plain building or a magnificent Cathedral, with long-time friends or among people you hardly know, whether the liturgy is simple, like ours, or laden with tradition and complexity, every time we partake, the meaning is the same.  We are here to meet Christ, to share in his sacrifice, to renew our loyalty to him, and to do it together with fellow Christians. 

Monday, June 5, 2017


               Memorial Day began when General Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, officially proclaimed May 30, 1868 to be a day of Memorial for soldiers who had fallen in the Civil War.  Through the years, in addition to a special day, we have added numerous monuments, walls, and other types of Memorials that have been erected in Washington D.C. and throughout the country in memory of those who have fallen in a terrible conflict.  These memorials serve to remind us of a great price paid for our freedom.

               However, when it comes to the origin of memorials, I think I am right in saying that the very first visible and continuing memorial ever given was given by God Himself when he said to Noah in Genesis 9:12-15:

This is the sign of the covenant which I make between you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between me and the earth … and I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

               For Noah the rainbow was a memorial sign.  In a sense it spoke to him with a twofold message.  It was both a reminder of something terrible that had happened – the flood and its total devastation – and it was a promise to Noah and all flesh that life would continue in the future.  It was a symbol of hope.  It inaugurated a covenant that promised life.

               Like the rainbow, this table and these elements also present a twofold message.  They are a memorial, a reminder, of the terrible price that was paid by Jesus on the cross.  In a sense, we and potentially, the whole world died with him in the flood that engulfed him because he became sin on our behalf and died on our behalf.  This simple service keeps that reality alive. 

               But it is also a promise, a message of hope – the promise of forgiveness, of new life, and of salvation and the beginning of a new and lasting covenant. 

               As a rainbow in the sky speaks of both the terrible price paid for sin and at the same time promises life, so our communion tells us of what Jesus did for us and at the same time promises abundant life both here and hereafter.

               Jesus summarized it succinctly when he took the bread and said, “this is my body given for you,” and then the cup, saying, “this is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

Monday, March 13, 2017


               We live in a divided, polarized society which disturbs many of us, and it should.  But I’m sure you realize this situation is not new.  It’s happened before, even in the church.  For example, in 1809 the divisions and competing factions in the church were so damaging and pervasive that a Presbyterian Minister, Thomas Campbell, called them a sword in the body of Christ “rending and mangling” it into pieces.  He and others went on to found a movement for unity that eventually became the Christian Churches.  He made that statement in a document that became a guiding force in our churches called the Declaration and Address in which he challenged the sectarians in the church to unite.  Listen carefully to the first two propositions.*

               Proposition One: that the church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one, consisting of all those who in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the scriptures …

               Proposition Two: That although the church … must necessarily exist in particular and distinct … (congregations), locally separate one from another; yet there ought to be no … uncharitable divisions among them.  They ought to receive each other as Christ has also received them to the glory of God … .  In saying this he simply wanted to implement what Jesus prayed for.

               Two thousand years ago Jesus saw the danger of division among his followers and prayed on the night before he was crucified, “Father, I pray for those who will believe in me …, that all of them may be one, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

               A few years later the Apostle Paul saw division threatening the church at Corinth and that, furthermore, their sinful divisiveness went totally against an essential aspect of the Lord’s Supper.  He said in 1 Cor 10:16-17, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?  The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?  For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.”  That one bread of life is Christ himself.  We have one bread, one body, one table that’s big enough for all.

               In this time of polarization we lift up the vision of unity as we partake of communion.  In the past some churches have used just one cup and one loaf of bread to do it.  In England some Christian Churches still do it this way.  For most of us it is enough to let the individual wafers and cups symbolize that unity and to imagine a table big enough to include all who, as Campbell said, “profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the scriptures.”

*Declaration and Address and the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery.  Indianapolis: International Convention of Disciples of Christ, 1949.