Monday, March 31, 2008

Baseball, Failure & Life

Ahhhh... Opening Day 2008. The Indians beat the Sox in a nail biter. The Crew ruins the Cubs' Wrigley opener by first blowing their lead in the ninth and then taking the "W" in the tenth. The Tigers lost earlier in the day. The Yankees were rained out. The Dodgers shut out their arch rival San Francisco Giants. Boy its good to be seeing all this again.

For seven of the year's twelve months baseball is played on fields from Seattle to Miami. New stars emerge in the clutch. Old heroes retire; unable to get that punch behind their fastball. Dynasties continue when teams make the playoffs for the tenth season in a row. Upstarts show their talent and chemistry by beating out the favorite the final week of the season. And when it's all over one team out of thirty is called the World Series Champion.

But before those bottles of champaign are popped open, 162 games need to be played in the regular season. Day after day after day baseball teams take the field. The very best of them will loose over 60 games. The worst team ever actually won 40 baseball games in 1962.

You win some, you lose some, and along the way you learn a thing or two. Tomorrow is new opportunity to show your stuff. Today you may make three errors, but tomorrow you are right back at shortstop. Today you might hit two homers, but your team still loses. (Sorry Jim Thome.) Baseball is a game. That's true. But it is a whole lot like life in one very important way: no one is perfect for even the MVP of the league fails more often than he succeeds. Last year's MVP Jimmy Rollins reached base only 34.4% of the time.

So make today count. Embrace your God given gifts. Use them. Live life. And when you fail always remember you'll step up to the plate again.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Christ is Risen

I've never been a big fan of Easter in March. Something just doesn't seem right about it. The weather is too cold. The world still seems dark. It moves Lent up too early. I'm never ready for Easter in March.

This year's Easter is the earliest it has been since 1913. And the next time we have Easter on March 23 or earlier will be in 2228. That's right... 2228. Not 2028... Twenty-TWO, twenty-eight!!! Easter is so early this year that the SECOND Sunday of Easter will also be in March. I'm not ready for this.

I bet the first Easter was in March. After all in John's telling of Jesus' Passion Peter warms up at a charcoal fire during the night while Jesus is on trial. Do they have many cold evenings in Jerusalem in April? But the clincher for me that Jesus must have been resurrected in March is the fact that no one is ready for it.

In Matthew's Gospel Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph come to Jesus' tomb the morning after the Sabbath unprepared for what they were going to see. This despite the fact that Jesus foretold his crucifixion and resurrection to his followers. The guards are not prepared either. A good solder is ready for anything... but they sure were not ready for the earth to quake and for an angel to descend from heaven to roll away the stone of the very tomb they were guarding. They were not ready for that. Frozen in fear all the guards could do was shake a little.

Of course these aren't the only people who were not ready for the angel's message. Where are the Twelve? Where are the people who heard the Sermon on the Mount? Where are the 5000 he fed? No one is ready to hear the news that "[Jesus] is not here, for he has been raised (Matthew 28:6)."

And then when Jesus just suddenly appears to Mary and Mary saying "Greetings." Oh boy! They dropped to their knees and worshiped him. Can you imagine? You go to the tomb looking to see a dead body and you end up being greeted by him. And what does Jesus say? Essentially he is saying: "Good morning. Nice to see you. How ya doing?" They weren't ready for that. It must have been March.

So are you ready for Easter... or is it too early? Did you know you were going to be greeted by Jesus this morning? "Hey there. How are you doing? What a beautiful March morning! I need you to do something." Ahh... Jesus wants us to do something. Matthew says that Jesus wanted Mary and Mary to tell his disciples what happened and that he would meet them. And you know, Jesus is still calling his followers to tell others about the good news.

I can hear Jesus calling you right now: "I want you do something for me. Tell people about my resurrection. Tell them about the hope it brings to the world. Tell them that I love them and that their loved ones will live again."

Ahhhh but it's early isn't it? You're not ready for this. You weren't expecting a call to come with your good news and marshmallow Peeps this morning. But here it is, right in your lap. Maybe next week you say? I know what you're thinking: How about next year when things calm down a little at work? I will be ready for Jesus once the kids graduate and I finally have a little more free time. This Easter with a calling from Jesus stuff is just too much too soon.

Yes its March 23 and it seems way too early. But guess what? He is here. The tomb is empty and Jesus has just greeted you with a smile and a hug. Are you ready to worship your Lord? Because tomorrow has just arrived. Believe in the good news and tell the world! Don't wait till 2228.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Christ is Dead

In Luke's Gospel Jesus assures one of the bandits who was crucified next to him that "today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43)." Today we both will be taken away from this world. Today we will be dead.

I used to interpret this promise as meaning that Jesus and this bandit will be in heaven that day. But Jesus does not say that the two of them will be in heaven together today, rather "today you will be with me in paradise." The witness of the Gospels and other New Testament texts tell us that Jesus died that day. On the third day, the morning after the Sabbath, Jesus is resurrected. And then forty days later Jesus ascends into heaven. Forty days later! Jesus was not in heaven on that first day, nor was the bandit. However they were in paradise.

If Paul was able to help us understand the tree yesterday there is a good bet he will be helpful in us understanding the "paradise" Jesus and the bandit entered when they died. In 1 Corinthians Paul describes people who have died as having "fallen asleep." When Jesus and the bandit died that day their existence did not end. They did not perish. Instead, they entered a state similar to being in a good heavy sleep. It is paradise because they are in the presence of God. It is paradise because God is holding them in his Almighty arms. Time passes without a care.

Tonight, Holy Saturday, we celebrate that God raised Jesus from the dead. He awakens from this gracious state of sleep to live as a new creation. Paul says that all who are united with Christ will awaken from sleep as well. He explains this in 1 Corinthians 15 by comparing Jesus to Adam again, just as he did in Romans 5. "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a human being. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor 15:20-22)."

Tonight Jesus beats death forever as he leaves the state of sleep and once again lives. We don't know when. We don't know how. In the first century Jewish world a new day began at sundown. The first Easter Sunday actually began when the sun set the night before. At any time that night God gave Jesus new resurrection life. In a traditional Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday a new paschal candle is lit by the flame of a new fire. It represents the new life given to Christ that first night.

Jesus' resurrection life at Easter is our good news as well. As Paul said in both Romans and 1 Corinthians we all are connected to Jesus' death and resurrection. A promise of resurrection life is given to all of us. Jesus is the first fruits, but the day will come when all who sleep in the arms of God will live again. The day will come when we all will gather together, resurrected children of God, at the great feast in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus will be there. The bandit will be there. The loved ones you have lost over the years will be there, resurrected from the dead. You will be there too. We who are united with Christ will be given the same resurrection life he lived at Easter.

"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:3-5)."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Were You There When They Nailed Him to the Tree?

There is a passage in Acts where Peter gives a speech to Cornelius and those in his home about the gospel. Within the speech Peter describes Jesus' crucifixion this way: "We are witnesses to all that [Jesus] did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree (Acts 10:39)."

Why would Peter say they hanged Jesus on a tree when we know that Jesus was crucified on a cross? Peter knows this. Luke, who wrote Acts, also knows this and describes the crucifixion in great detail in his Gospel. So why bring up "a tree?"

The tree is symbolic of many things in the Scriptures. At times Jesus is described as the the Son of David, a new branch sprouting from the stump of Jesse (David's father). In the Gospels Israel is sometimes compared to an olive tree that is not bearing fruit. Will the olive tree be chopped down if it continues to bear no fruit?

But the most famous tree of all the Scriptures is the Tree of Knowledge between Good and Evil found in the Garden of Eden. God set boundaries in the Garden, allowing the human couple to eat of any fruit in the garden, expect from this special tree. "Nor shall you touch it, or you shall die (Genesis 2:3)." And that, of course, is what happened. Through Adam and Eve's disobedience... through the instrument of a tree... death entered the world.

Jesus changes everything though. Through Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross death no longer has dominion over us. He defeats death on the cross so that the morality we all face will not be the end of our existence. We will live again just as Christ lived again.

So why call the cross a tree? Paul helps us discover an answer. Paul compares Jesus and Adam in his letter to the Romans. Jesus stands in contrast to Adam for it is through Adam that death enters the world for everyone, but it is through Jesus that salvation is now offered to all. "Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all (Romans 5:18)." Poetically we can take that comparison beyond just Adam and Jesus by also comparing the instruments through which this all happened. Through the tree in the Garden mortality raised its ugly head, but through the tree in Golgotha salvation and the promise of eternal life is now available for all God's children.

So on this Good Friday remember how Christ twisted the tree of death into a tree of life by giving up his life upon pieces of wood.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


It is ironic that the meal of remembrance that Jesus gave to his disciples at the Last Supper divides those who believe Jesus is Lord. Jesus institutes Holy Communion as a gift of grace. Through the meal you participate in Christ's body and blood. Through this remembrance meal you are united as one. But of course Christians around the world today don't participate as one around the Lord's Table. What a shame.

Only twenty years after that original Last Supper an apostle of Jesus felt the same way I feel right now. He was Paul, and he was disappointed by how the remembrance meal was dividing the church in Corinth. "When you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and to some extent I believe it (1 Cor 11:18)." He says this is unacceptable. He reminds them of what he was told Jesus said at his Last Supper. He scolds them for turning the remembrance meal into a 1st Century kegger. He scolds them for not waiting for all the believers to be present. And then Paul gives us words that should shame Christians of 2008: "So then, brothers and sisters, when you come together, wait for one another (1 Cor 11:33)." Show hospitality when we gather for this remembrance meal. After all its is more than a remembrance it is a gift. "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ (1 Cor 10:16)?"

Tonight is Maundy Thursday, which means "commandment" Thursday. When John describes the Last Supper in his Gospel he emphasizes Jesus' call for his followers to be servants and to be selfless in showing love. Jesus, the Lord, the Messiah, the Son of God, demonstrates this by washing the feet of the Twelve. He gives them a new commandment at the end of the meal: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another (John 13:32)."

Love, service, and hospitality is connected with the Last Supper and consequently connected to Holy Communion. This is why Paul is so flabbergasted by what has happened in Corinth. He writes them in order to set them straight. It's is why it a disgrace that this remembrance meal acts as point of division today in 2008.

Ultimately when I think about Holy Communion, and all those who have gathered at the table throughout the centuries, I cannot help but think of Jesus feeding the crowd of thousands during his ministry. It's an event so important it is described SIX (6) times in the four Gospels. The central message of these mass feedings is that Jesus feeds them all. No one is turned away. No one is forced to go fend for themselves for food. In Holy Communion Jesus tells us to come and eat with him. You are welcome. You are invited to be united with my body and blood. Come... you are welcome. Send no one away! Praise be to God for this amazing meal. I pray I see the day when all Christians will gather together around the table without a thought of turning any of God's children away.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Tears of _____

I've been sick all week. It started Sunday night with a fever and complete exhaustion. I had the flu. Monday and Tuesday I did nothing but sleep, moving occasionally from sofa to bed and back to sofa again. At some point on Tuesday Valerie told me that Brett Favre retired. That didn't help me feel any better.

Packer fans, like myself, knew it was going to happen eventually. But you never really believed it would actually happen. But it did this week. I didn't cry when I heard the news. And as the week went on I didn't pay much attention to the things on the news about Favre. After all he was the source of so much grief at times. All those interceptions, including his last one. The yearly will-he-or-won't-he questions about his retirement the past five years. I came to the conclusion in my mind that its time to move on. At some point during the week I heard that Favre's press conference would be on Thursday to announce his retirement... but I did not see it... nor did I even consider trying to see it.

Something happened to me, though, this morning when I got to the Sports Section of the Chicago Tribune. I was only about 5 sentences into Mike Downey's touching column describing Favre's press conference before I was fighting back tears. A sort of "Field of Dreams" moment right there on my couch. And I felt awful because I should have known better. Brett Favre, the coolest, most sincere, most unpretentious person in all of professional sports was retiring. Yes, I was crying now.

Downey described a Brett Favre looking like a regular ol Joe in an un-tucked shirt and blue jeans breaking down almost at the very start of his announcement. Not looking for praise, not looking to impress, but being himself, Favre told the world he is walking away. He was that way every day in his career. In his victories he was himself, a regular guy. In his losses and interceptions he never made excuses and was always, always genuine. When his father died he let us cry with him. When his wife got cancer he let us cry with him. When his family lost so much in Hurricane Katrina he still was himself. Completely exposed, true, honest, emotional and sincere: that was and is Brett Favre.

So even as I type this I am tearing up. But I do feel joy as well. While I know I wont see any more of his amazing touchdowns, I also wont have to see another of those uniquely Favreian interceptions. And I know he is not going to disappear. I look forward to many decades of Brett Favre, the emotional and sincere regular ol Joe, either working as a broadcaster or a commentator. Fox better sign him NOW.

Will there be any tears when the Packers retire #4? Or how about when Favre ends up in Canton? You bet. I'll have my Kleenex handy.