My sabbatical begins in a couple of weeks and I make no apologies for looking forward to the “time out, time off, and time away.” It’s almost as if my soul senses the approaching leave and I realize how I am more spiritually spent than I ever knew.
For more than a century, the majestic statue, “Liberty Enlightening the World,” better known as the Statue of Liberty has towered over Bedloe’s Island (now Liberty Island) in New York Harbor as a symbol of the many freedoms we enjoy in the United States. Many of you have been to the island and have toured the national park associated with it. As you are aware, the famous statue was a gift from the people of France in appreciation for America’s contributions to the spirit of independence that lies deep in every human heart,
One of my favorite games as a child was “May I?” You probably remember the game. You would position yourself in one place and at a distance would be another person, whose role in the game was to give you commands as to the steps you would need to take to close the gap between the two of you. The person would invite you to take either a “giant step” or a “baby step.” Obviously, everyone on the receiving end relished the giant steps. The “catch” of the game was that before you took the assigned step, you had to respond, “May I?” If you gave the right response, you were allowed to take the step assigned. If you didn’t, you had to go all the way back to the starting point. Needless to say, only the patient souls made it to the other side. The impatient ones inevitably found themselves in an embarrassingly constant cycle of retreat.
After the culmination of a season of preparation and celebration such as the one we recently shared from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, our tendency is to pause and catch our breaths for a moment before pressing on. I would be the first to say that we all deserve such a rest. So many in our church were so heavily invested in the multitude of ministry going on during this time, and our church was most definitely better for it. Consider the choirs and the cooks, the servers and the singers. Thanks to all who had a part in making these last days so productive.
I’ve been reading a lot lately about how a preacher should go about dealing with the message of resurrection. You’d think that after having preached 40 years, I’d have the Easter message down. But the challenge for me in this season of the year has always been not so much what to say but how to say it. In other words, the Easter message is so familiar and the Easter crowd is always so large (swelled by the numbers of people who tend to come only that one Sunday in the year) that a preacher feels compelled to “prove” to everyone that the Resurrection of Jesus actually occurred! But somehow, “proving Easter” always seems to leave everyone a bit unsatisfied, both preacher and congregant, much like tasting an Easter dessert that everyone has been bragging about but that doesn’t quite seem to live up to its billing.
Mircea Eliade was a Romanian historian of religion who taught for a number of years at the University of Chicago. Eliade’s most famous theological work, titled The Sacred and the Profane, is a treatment of that unique perspective enjoyed by people of faith, which enables them to tell the difference between ordinary experiences (profane) and supernatural ones (sacred). Sometimes in life, he contends, we believers simply find ourselves captivated by a “wholly other” phenomenon that represents an almost indescribable encounter with the divine.
In one of my previous churches we had a significant internationals ministry. Because the community was the site of a major university, people came there from all over the world. Our church, consequently, was one of the first churches in Baptist life to establish a conversational English ministry, which enabled us to minister to individuals from virtually every religious background on the planet.
Spring Break is a welcome time for many families. The demands of everyday life, whether they arise from work or studies, take their toll and the mid-semester break brings a measure of relief that always seems to come at precisely the right time. Well, perhaps the “rightness” of the time is something sometimes up for debate.
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned a Robert Frost poem in this column. Today, I’ll share the one other poem I remember having to memorize back in high school, a poem by Joyce Kilmer, titled “Trees” You probably remember how the poem begins as well. “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” That vivid line has been coopted in countless ways by numerous groups. But perhaps the best job of revising Kilmer’s poem for other purposes I’ve seen was what one church published in its weekly bulletin, which they titled, “The Perfect Church.”
One thing you see virtually everywhere you go in the Holy Land are the ruins of an old church. The vast majority of these churches date back to the Byzantine period in the fifth and sixth centuries when the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and Christian churches, no longer scorned and persecuted, began to be constructed everywhere. In virtually all of these churches there is some type of mosaic design on the church floor that displayed the Gospel in some artistic way. Archeologists have uncovered portions of many of these mosaics and they reveal an era when Christianity ruled the world. The most impressive mosaic piece in this region is the famous Mosaic Map in the St. George Church in Madaba, which contains the oldest surviving cartological description of the Holy Land.