Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Month: December 2010

The Strange Delight of the Christmas Story


Year after year, I continue standing in astonishment before the strange delight of the Christmas story. The days grow shorter. The nights grow longer. The bleak midwinter chills the heart. The world slumps back into darkness. When darkness should be the strongest and dreariest, the Light of Life breaks into our world.

GK Chesterton once said, “Any one thinking of the Holy Child as born in December would mean by it exactly what we mean by it; that Christ is not merely a summer sun of the prosperous but a winter fire for the unfortunate” (The New Jerusalem, chap 5). He acknowledged the symbolic power of celebrating the birth of Jesus during the coldest, darkest season.

The cold days and long nights only serve to magnify the clash of impossibilities bursting out from this ancient tale. Shepherds hear angels sing. Wise men follow a star. A virgin gives birth. Light overcomes darkness. Good conquers evil.

The broken fragments of a world gone wrong are bound in the babe in the manger. Jesus, God with us, arrives under the song, “Peace on earth. Goodwill to man.”

As we hear the story, sing the songs and give the gifts, we may wonder if this story is simply too good to be true. Did God really bring peace and goodwill? If we’re really honest, we begin by questioning our own life in our own little world. Darkness and defeat often seem to thrive.

Hatred flourishes. People ache. Children suffer. We struggle to understand why. Dostevsky speaks to the heart of our questions in Ivan Karamazov’s response to his brother Alyosha as he considers faith in God in light of children suffering.

“It’s not God that I don’t accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return him the ticket.”

Some of us may also have been tempted to “return the ticket” in the face of our own suffering or the suffering all around us. Evil invades everything, corrupting the world and blocking the light of God’s love.

Searching the dense fog of darkness enveloping our news, our culture and often our lives, we seek answers to the problem of evil. TF Torrance once suggested that our search for answers even in Scripture may find limited results. The evil of evil is so pervasive that it infects everything–even our thoughts.

Scripture never offers a comprehensive theory of evil or an exhaustive defense of God in the face of evil. Rather, it acknowledges the presence of evil. In the paradise of Eden, evil appears. It even shows up at the Nativity.

Right after the miraculous birth of Jesus, we encounter the troubling story of Herod’s slaughter of innocent babes. Evil appears at the very beginning of Jesus’ life. We could almost tell the whole story of Incarnation through the lens of evil. From his birth to his death, Jesus is attacked, threatened, sought and eventually killed by evil humans.

Now pause and think about that for one moment. Throughout the whole story of Emmanuel, God with us, evil is present. God comes to us in the person of Jesus. He suffers from evil attacks and eventually is killed by evil.

While the Bible doesn’t completely explain the presence of evil, it does reveal a God who enters into the struggle against evil in this world. He never, never, never abandons us in evil. From the suffering children to the despairing saints, He is present.

He is present in our brokeness. He is present in our suffering. He is present in our dying. He is present in our death.

In the wondrous Nativity story, we behold the baby Jesus. We behold the Lord who has entered into the evil and pain and struggle of a world bent back upon itself. Even in the joy and promise of peace, we see the threat of a darkness coming to destroy Him.

And yet, the light shines out brightly. The angels rejoice. The shepherds kneel. The wise worship. We behold the glory of light overcoming darkness. From birth through life to death, every moment of Jesus’ life is act of redemption. He is redeeming all human existence. He is redeeming all creation.

He enters into our fragmentation and takes that division into His love, redeeming and reconciling the world to the Father. He dies under the power of evil and rises again defeat the power of evil, defeating death and taking our humanity into the glory of the Godhead.

So even as he enters our struggles and suffering and evil, by His grace we enter His righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. In Him and through Him we incarnate the light of glory in all this world.

It has not fully been revealed what we will be or what this earth will be, but we know death and evil and all darkness will be completely eliminated and love and hope and faith will prevail.

So we rejoice in this wondrous birth that reconciles the opposites and reveals the Father. We rest in His faithfulness in the midst of our messy world, our messy lives. We bring our opposites to the stable, to the cross, to the throne.

There we discover a Savior who is at the right hand of the Father praying for us! In Him and by His Spirit, we can rejoice even in the midst of suffering, we can know love even in the midst of struggle, we shine out as lights in the midst of dark universe.

So let us rejoice in the birth of the baby while we worship the Lord who will bring all things into submission–even death.

The Surprise We Cannot Grasp

This image by an unknown Fleming artist (circa 1515) captures the common medieval theme of Jesus born in the ruins of Solomon's palace, the fallen House of David.

The lover surprises his beloved with a ring and question. The friends shout, “Happy Birthday” to their unsuspecting companion. The parent transforms their home into a Christmas wonderland for the waking child.

Surprise breaks into our world and opens us to something deeper, something richer, some wonder that is just beyond our grasp. In this moment of surprise, of love expressed, of celebration, we are raptured into a brief moment of sheer joy. The glory, the beauty, the delight of this passing moment wounds us with longing to experience yet again.

Recreating a moment of surprise is almost impossible.

Chesterton once suggested that at Christmas we seek to recreate that first Christmas experience when the wonder of the day captured the heart of the child. But that wonder so often eludes us. How do you create a wonder-filled surprise?

As we approach Christmas morning, as we step toward the birth of the baby Jesus, as we anticipate relaxing and rejoicing with family, we long for this surprise, and yet we are already preparing for disappointment. The hopes of Christmas so often disappoint and even repel.

Thus for many, Christmas is just another day, or worse, it’s a time a depression and loneliness, when our own lack is magnified. If the Christ child really did come, if peace on earth really is true, why do we still live in the dark?
As that question resounds within me, I think of the prayers of the church from yesterday and today. Last night the church sang out the “O Antiphons” chant,

O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming.

And tonight the church cries out,

O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel, controlling at your will the gate of heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

Both prayers focus on different aspects of the House of David. The kingdom of David came as a promised hope to the people of Israel. This small Palestinian nation looked to King David and his descendants as the promise of God in their midst to protect them and extend their rule and fulfill the hope of Abraham to become a blessing for all nations.

Israel’s prophets saw kings of the earth flocking to Mount Zion for wisdom. David’s house would grow up as tree or vine of Jesse that would extend to all nations, bringing the rule of the Lord, the order of the Lord, the fulness of the Lord to a world in desperate need.

But the tree fell, the vine was burned. When Babylon burned Jerusalem to the ground, the fall of the House of David was not simply the crumbling of a great dynasty, it was death of hope for Israel and ultimately for the world. It was the disappointment with no respite.

Imagine the agony of Isaiah, Jeremy or Ezekiel when they behold the plans of the Lord. Is God abandoning His people? Is God abandoning this earth? By allowing the fall of the House of David, He has forsaken His plan of redemption for all creation. The darkness that resides where the Temple once glowed will eventually quench all light.

Darkness, darkness and more darkness.

Then by sheer surprise, the Spirit of God prompts Isaiah to write the following song:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
(Isaiah 11:1 ESV)

In his song, he sees a stump. The tree has long since been chopped down. The stump is the very image of death. The House of David is dead. The stump of Jesse cannot grow, cannot shelter the earth, cannot provide. It is dead.
But suddenly a tiny green shoot springs forth from the dead stump. This tiny shoot changes everything. Life grows up in the place of death? How can this be? The Lord resurrects the House of David. Hope is not lost.

And by unspeakable wonder, He comes down; He enters history; He establishes a throne that cannot, will not be overturned. Not even death can stop His rule.

As we look toward the babe in the manger, we are beholding the shoot springing forth from the stump of Jesse. This tiny babe, this frail babe, this dependent babe who rests in the arms of Mary and Joseph, is “God with us.”

He will restore the throne in unexpected, surprising ways. He will rule in life and death. No foe is beyond his rule, not even death. In His rule, Jesus enters into the tombs, takes hold of dead humanity and raises us up into the life-giving presence of the Father.

This is the surprise that we still do not grasp. But every time we catch but a glimmer, we are overwhelmed. It is the surprise that cannot be contained in our Nativities, our Christmas songs, our Santa games. It is the surprise that keeps breaking out of all the ways we try to share it and contain it and grasp it.

It is the surprise we simply cannot grasp. Christ has come and in coming, he enters into our low estate and even into our death and has raised up to life and life and life.

So we return again and again and again to the wonder of this birth, this babe, this light that penetrates all darkness. If you know the darkness of depression, of disappointment, of death. If you know the darkness of this anguished earth, come with me to the Nativity.

Come rehearse, retell, remember the story that is not old but newer and more vital than we ourselves. Let us look, listen and wait for the Good News of God. In our darkness, we will be surprised again and again by a glory that is beyond all we can grasp. We will be overwhelmed by a wonder that cannot be exhausted because it flows out from the one who is Life Unconquerable.

Our Christmas celebrations, our gift giving, our songs and stories are but ways of remembering, rehearsing, revisiting the surprise of His life that sustains. Open your eyes and look out with hope, for He is coming and in Him, you will discover the longing of your weary soul.

We Long for Justice

Tonight the church will chant:

O Sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: Come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.

The Lord delivered His people from the false lord Pharaoh. Not a true father, this Egyptian lord used laws to oppress and control the people. Instead of fathering the people like a true leader, he enslaved them like most leaders.

The true Lord, the true Father, the truly Just One came. He set His people free. He revealed His law to them and called them to walk in His way. The people did not walk in His way, but turned again and again to other ways that enslaved. Even Moses, the great prophet that spoke the Laws of the Lord failed to keep the whole law and could not enter the Promised Land.

Like the ancient Hebrews, we too walk in ways that enslave. We may rightly cry out and even act for justice in this world, but true justice, true freedom, true Shalom flows from the Just One.

Today, we are watching and waiting for the coming of the One who Just and Righteous and True.

And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
(Isaiah 11:3-5 ESV)

As we watch and wait for the coming of the Just One, let us confess our frustrations, our own tendencies to question God’s goodness, God’s faithfulness, God’s justice. Denise Levertov’s poem, Psalm Fragments, may help us give voice to our own anguished longing:

Psalm Fragment

This clinging to a God
for whom one does
nothing.
A loyalty
without deeds.

*

Tyrant God.
Cruel God.
Heartless God.

God who permits
the endless outrage we call
History.

Deaf God.
Blind God.
Idiot God.

(Scapegoat god. Finally
running out of accusations
we deny Your existence.)

*
I don’t forget
that downhill street
of spilled garbage and beat up cars,
the gray faces
looking up, all color
gone with the sun–

disconsolate. prosaic twilight
at midday. And the fear
of blindness.

It’s harder to recall
the relief when plain
daylight returned

subtly, softly,
without the fuss
of trumpets.
Yet
our faces had been upturned
like those of gazers
into a sky of angels
at Birth or Ascension.

*
Lord, I curl in Thy grey
gossamer hammock
that swings by one
elastic threat to thin
twigs that could, that should
break but don’t.

*

I do nothing, I give You
nothing. Yet You hold me

minute by minute
from falling.

Lord You provide.

(From The Stream & the Sapphire, Denise Levertov, 21-23)

O Sapientia

Today the church shifts from looking forward to remembering the coming of Christ into the world, into a family, into a manger. Over the next seven nights, the church across the ages joins in the “O Antiphons” prayers and chants, longing for and looking toward the birth of Christ. (For those unfamiliar with O Antiphons, the hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” follows the seven chant rhythm in its seven verses. Read more about them at Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_antiphon)

So we look and long toward Christmas Day. In one sense we hold in tension a longing for the coming of the Lord in three tenses, present, past and future. Bernard of Clairvaux spoke of three Advents: the coming of Christ in Bethlehem, the second coming of Christ at the end of this age, and the middle coming of Christ in this present moment.

We are waiting for His coming. We join with the Shepherds, waiting in the darkness of ignorance. We join with the Wise Men, waiting in the light of heavenly star. We join with the Church, waiting in the fog of a glass darkly.

Tonight the church sings out,

O Wisdom, O holy Word of God,
you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care:
Come and show your people the way to salvation.

We are waiting for the Creator of all things to come and dwell in the midst of His Creation. The Gospel of John opens declaring the coming of the Creator into His creation:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
(John 1:1-5 ESV)

We are waiting for the coming of the Word, for the coming of the One through whom all things were made, we are waiting for the Life and Light of men.

Yet, we wait in the dark.

We deny the darkness of the prisons we’ve built all around us. Surrounded by prisons of affluence, prisons of self-satisfaction, prisons of impatience. These prisons constructed by corrupt human hands are designed to keep out the light.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
(John 3:19 ESV)

We can plan Christmas celebrations in these prisons of darkness. We can sing Christmas songs in these prisons of darkness. We can attend Christmas services in these prisons of darkness. We can celebrate Christ while hiding our eyes from Christ.

Beneath the ring of Christmas bells and dancing elves, we may hear a tin sound, a hollow echo, an empty refrain. By His Grace, we may realize that our mansions of affluence are dilapidated shantytowns, built by the truly homeless who blind to their eyes to poverty, sickness and depravation in their own lives and in the world.

We are dying in the dark and only the Wisdom of God can recreate our discarded images into echoes of glory. During the music and mayhem of the next week, you may hear something that bursts a ray of light into your prison of darkness. Perhaps an offhand comment. Maybe a penetrating story. You might hear an unsettling song.

These gentle nudges are but a whisper on the wind, carrying “the distant sound of the angels’ song praising God and promising peace on earth.”* If you hear this sound, be careful.

In fact, be cautious. Whatever you do be cautious.

For He is coming with Light into your prison of darkness. And His coming is risky.

The babe in the manger died on a cross.

Only the desperate should turn toward Him in His coming. The self-satisfied must run.

For He is coming with Light into our prisons of darkness. And His coming is risky.

His coming unsettles everything. His Light exposes our impoverishment. His Life reveals our deathly paler. His Love manifests the hatred choking our soul.

He is coming with healing in His Wings, but His healing may feel like death.

Don’t ever think Advent is a safe little season of reflection. It stands on the very edge of the creation and destruction of all things.

As we wait and watch for the coming of Wisdom, for the coming of the One through whom all things, all people, all existence is created, let us be wary.

Our days are numbered. We stand at the edge of the end of all things. We stand at the edge of the beginning of all things. It is a thing of dread. It is a thing of glory.

If you are world-weary, battle worn, sick of the stench of your own selfishness, give up. Call off your war against God. Let’s bow before the Lord Creator of Heaven and Earth.

Even now He breathes into our clay forms. Nothing will ever be the same again.

* This phrase comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Advent sermon on December 2, 1928.

Advent-ure

Snowy Backroads in NC

I told Kelly we were going on an “adventure.” We left Saturday morning for an overnight trip to celebrate our 22nd anniversary. We left for adventure. Sunday morning as we turned onto our road, we literally clapped and cried thanks to God for bringing us safely from this harrowing adventure.

What happened? I’ll tell you our story in a moment. First let me take a side route to discuss the word “adventure.” JRR Tolkien understood adventure as a side route off the main journey. An adventure is a “there and back again tale,” whereas a journey stretches toward a final, ultimate destination. In The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins goes on adventure and returns wealthier, wiser, and more powerful. Frodo Baggins goes on journey in The Lord of the Rings. He never returns home.

Kelly and I departed Saturday morning on adventure. We had a vague idea of where we were headed. That’s my favorite kind of trip. Several years ago, we took a trip with Jeremy and Dorry. We had a vague idea of heading toward the coast. As we drove, we finalized plans to Edisto and even booked a room from the car.

I like to start moving, and find out later where I’m headed. So on Saturday, we set out on adventure. A couple days earlier, Kelly’s aunt mentioned that she was traveling to Christmas Town USA in North Carolina. Hmmmmm. My curiosity stirred. I started looking. As it turns out, Christmas Town is really called McAdenville.

I got up Saturday morning and dressed to go. As Kelly was getting ready, I looked up Christmas events in Nashville, Asheville, Chattanooga and even Georgia. She came downstairs, dressed and ready to go.

“Grab a change of clothes maybe we’ll spend the night.”

I like maybes. Maybe I’ll read. Maybe I won’t. Maybe you’ll like this essay. Maybe you won’t.

So we headed out with a few maybes in mind. As we pulled out of the driveway, I turned to Kelly and promised, “We’re going on adventure!” Then I thanked the good Lord for a safe drive and the adventure awaiting us.

When I was looking up Christmas Town USA, I read about Dillsboro, NC. This little town had a Christmas festival planned for Saturday, and it was only a few minutes from Asheville.

“Let’s head toward Dillsboro. But traveling there through Asheville seems boring this morning. Let’s cross over through Cherokee.” On this sunny beautiful Saturday, we drove through the mountains and were treated to creation’s seasonal exhibit of ice crystals hanging from rock ledges. As we drove, memories flooded my mind of hiking the Chimney Tops in winter, the death-defying hike to Mt Leconte in winter, and the magic of sledding at Newfound Gap.

The world around us sparkled in snow and ice, but the day was clear, so we could see far. Not forever, but far enough. We saw layers of mountain ranges, shades of blue and brown and white; trees silhouetted against a sky of blue and white and orange. Though I’ve seen these ranges and views again and again throughout my life, they always surprise. They always provoke wonder. They always compel worship to the good Lord who surrounds us in a world of glory.

As we drove toward adventure, the Lord came toward us and encountered us in the wonder of His creation. Lately, I’ve been thinking about adventure and advent. My gut distinction between the words has to do with motion. In adventure, we move toward an event. We move toward risk. We move toward an experience or activity that may threaten as well as delight.

Advent on the other hand speaks to me of movement toward me. Advent is an arrival or coming that will change everything. Someone moves toward me. When He comes, everything changes. In fact, His coming sends waves of movement through space and time that change everything even prior to His full unveiling or arrival.

During “Advent,” the church watches and waits for the coming of the Lord. We are waiting, watching, expecting, hopeful of His coming to us.

Both words have the same latin source, advenire, which simply means “to come.” It appears to derive from a Latin word that focuses on a jury coming to a trial. There are special customs, places, clothes and expectations associated with their coming.

Even as we wait for the coming of the Lord, we go forward into adventures. Kelly and I went on adventure. For this adventure, the risk was the lack of planning; the openness to surprise; the willingness to change and move based on what we encountered in the movement.

As we came down the mountain, we arrived in an almost vacant Cherokee. We perused a Cherokee gift shop, and oddly enough, I found a book on Cherokee myths and stories. Then we drove over to Dillsboro.

Turns out this quaint little town was only about a square block of stores that put up lights. Nice folks. In fact, I found a bottle of chocolate wine for some odd occasion. But on the whole, Dillsboro looked more exciting on the web than in person. After a quick tour of the stores, Kelly and I decided to keep driving.

“Let’s find Christmas Town!”

To get to McAdenville, we “must needs” travel through Asheville. As we approached Asheville, we faced two choices. “We can turn left and head back home, or we can turn right and head toward McAdenville.”

Or we could forgo the decision and stop in Asheville for dinner.

Door number 3 please.

Kelly and I decided to drive downtown and partake of Asheville delicacies. We took the wrong exit and instead of driving downtown, we were in a dark neighbor with no ramp back onto the highway. Makes me think of another story from another trip, but I’ll tell that story another time.

Most of the time, I love being lost in a city. I figure if I drive around enough, I’ll find something interesting. We took our cues from the movement of cars around us and eventually found downtown. Asheville was too cold and too dark for much exploration, but we did discover a double decker bus bar, and an art gallery that was having some big event featuring all their artists.

One artist painted pictures of clouds. At first, this sounds like a bunch of white on canvas, but his work astounded us. At the bottom edge of every picture, he painted a thin strip of earth: towns, fields, and mountains. The earth images were overwhelmed with clouds bursting with color and movement and white (of course). What was he trying to say? Not sure, but I was stunned by the heavens overtaking the earth.

After this surprising tour, we ate some pizza, bread and a little more bread. Then we decided, “Let’s head to Christmas Town USA!” A couple hours later, Kelly and I pulled into Christmas Town. Well, actually we pulled off the Interstate into the exit lane for Christmas Town.

We joined the line of cars at 9:55 pm. At 10:30 pm we were actually pulling off the Interstate and turning toward the town. At 10:45 pm police cars drove up and down the line, announcing, “Lights go out at 11:00 pm.”

What? We drove two hours and waited in line one hour to miss the whole show? Yikes.

Kelly and I decided then and there, no matter what, we’re driving through Christmas Town. Light or no lights. As it turns out, we drove through at about 11:20 with some lights. Some lights are better then none. And we were determined to enjoy that even if there was only one candle shining out from a darkened house, we’d cheer in delight.

Now at this point in the story “Google Map” let us down. Or least our inattention to the glaring problem in the “Google Map’s” suggested route home. The map suggested we go home via Johnson City. We drove back to the nearest exit off I-40 to the Johnson City route and found a hotel.

At 12:45 pm, Kelly and I ended our big day of adventure ready to sleep late and rest. Then I realized that in the “adventurous spirit” of deciding to sleep overnight, I’d left my medications at home. Since my kidney medications must be taken at regular intervals, skipping was not an option I wanted. Thus we chose to pop up at 6:00 am and resume the adventure home.

By 6:15 am, I was dressed and almost ready to walk out the door. Looking out the window, I beheld a site of glory, of wonder, of dread. A curtain of white snow fell from the sky. Several inches already covered the ground. Kelly scraped off the snowy blanket while I grabbed us some breakfast from the lobby, and we hit the road by 6:33.

After driving for about 15 minutes, we realized this route was not leading us to a main road. Like a couple of winsome children, we rushed headlong into the backroads of a snowy wonderland. We rushed headlong into mile after mile after mile of country mountain roads covered in snow and ice.

We drove into the beautiful, isolated and mountainous Pisgah National Forest–in the dark. At the base of the first hill, my tires started spinning. My car swerved. I held on tight. Kelly prayed.

Up, up, up, up and up. The car inched up the slick mountain. Then down, down, down and down. The car slid and veered down the mountain. Up, up, up and down, down, down continued for an hour. I held on tight. Kelly prayed.

The snow snowed and snowed and snowed.

As I drove, I kept thinking about living fully in the moment. “I’m in this moment.”

“It’s a glorious moment.”

“It’s a snowy, wondrous moment.”

“It’s a shared moment with my treasured wife.”

“It may be my last moment.”

“Lord, I want to enjoy this moment. Lord, I want to survive this moment. If possible.”

We eventually entered Tennessee through Roane mountain. We eventually made it to I-26. We eventually reached I-81, I-40, Alcoa Hwy and finally our neighborhood. “Hallelujah!” Lots of clapping all around.

The drive was so stressful, we both crashed into bed and slept off this adventure.

Life is filled with adventures, side routes. Unlike the great call and journey, these adventures are not specifically the journey that leads to our final destination, but they are “there and back again” tales. We choose some of these adventures, like our trip to North Carolina. Other adventures choose us.

Some adventures are exciting. Some adventures are wondrous. Some adventures are exhilarating. A new job. A new town. A long awaited vacation. Some adventures are terrifying. Some adventures are painful. Some adventures are confusing. A lost job. A disease. A lost relationship.

These adventures are risky, exciting, threatening and potentially rewarding. Whether we chose them or not, they may involve navigating new ground. Finding a new way home again. Discovering people, treasures and knowledge that can help us. As the origin of “adventure” indicates, we move out toward a new place, a new experience, a new relationship.

Some of these adventures may lead us far away. So far away we forget our way home. But in the midst of our chosen and unchosen adventures, someone is calling, coming, moving toward us. In His timing, He pierces our dark confusion with light. He comes with advent hope into the midst of our unsettling and dazzling adventures.

He comes calling. He comes welcoming us. He comes leading us forward on a journey that leads us away from one home and toward another true and enduring home. Even now, He is breaking in around us, around me, around these words.

Jesus is here calling, stirring, inviting. He is meeting us in the middle of our road and leading us on a journey that will end with love inconceivable.

So whether you’re at home waiting. You’re in the midst of high adventure. You’re reeling from an unwelcome intrusion. Look out. Listen. Watch. For He is coming. And He is calling out your name.

Lew Floyd Memorial

My dad acting goofy with his sons: Jeremy Floyd, Lew Floyd, Andy Bickers, Doug Floyd

We gather to remember. Following the rhythm of God’s people from across the ages, we gather, we remember, and we rejoice in the goodness of our God.

Even as we remember the life of Lew Floyd, my father, we are giving glory to God in Christ. For all things are created in and through Christ, and in him we live and move and have our being.

Lew Floyd was a Athlete, Competitor, Adventurer, Artist, Socializer, Dreamer, Joker, Painter, Gardner, Friend, Father and a Storyteller.

Born in the middle of the Great Depression, his life reflected anything but that Great Depression. In fact, he recounted having little memory of struggle and hard times in those raw years. One of the earliest images I remember about my dad is watching a film clip of a two or three-year-old boy feeding chickens. He threw seed on the ground and then threw seed in his mouth.

In the early 1940s, America was busy fighting a war. My dad was busy fixing bicycles, raising rabbits and selling newspapers. He used to recount his experience selling papers on the day America dropped the bomb. He had never seen the word “atom” before, so he stood on the corner shouting, “Read all about it! America drops ate-om bomb.”

As a new optimism took hold in the country during the 1950s, my dad stepped into new possibilities when he graduated from high school. He spent his first quarter at University of Tennessee in Knoxville. After the first day of classes, my dad decided UT was too big and unfriendly, so he got on the bus and went back home.

His mom told him, “Get back on that bus and go back to school!” Of course, he promptly returned to classes. But he ended up winning a football scholarship to Carson Newman and was able to transfer the next quarter. While at UT, my dad served in the Navy ROTC program. Carson Newman did not have a Navy ROTC program at the time, so he wrote the Commander at UT and requested a discharge.

The Commander told him that he had to return his uniform before receiving the discharge. As college life took hold of my dad, he forgot the request and the uniform. Four years later, he graduated from Carson Newman and was promptly drafted into the Army.

Only there was a problem. My dad was still officially in the Navy. When he told the Army, they requested a discharge. The Navy complied. The Army gave my dad credit for serving four years of service, and he entered the service at a higher pay grade.

But before he left, he married my mom. She worked at Sears, and his sister introduced them. My dad always like to say that he got my mom from Sears and Roebuck. They spent their first two years of marriage in Europe courtesy of Uncle Sam.

The 1960s represent a period of dramatic change in America’s history. At the same time, my dad’s own life went through several dramatic changes. He finished his tour of duty and was prepared to settle down to the family business of selling insurance. A friend’s mom suggested he apply to the FBI.

For kicks, he applied and spent the next 25 years serving as a Special Agent in Springfield, IL, Buffalo, NY, New York City, and eventually Knoxville. Eight of those years were spent in the Big Apple, New York City.

This time proved to a pivotal time in my dad’s life. He followed Russian spies by day, and played with us kids in Oradell, New Jersey by night. He told us many stories of his time in the city and his adventures, but the stories I enjoyed the most were the mishaps and funny incidents involving other agents.

Once he told us about a new agent who recently arrived in the city. The other agents encouraged him to eat at a nearby deli because the owner would give agents bigger sandwiches. He stopped in one day and ordered a roast beef sandwich, but the owner was not in and he got a regular sized sandwich. The agent asked for more roast beef on his sandwich, and the lady replied, “That’s the way they come sir.” He promptly pulled out his badge and said, “FBI, more roast beef!”

New York City shaped my dad in some ways, but the greatest impact on his life during this season was at a local church in New Jersey. Him and my mom were looking in the yellow pages for a church when he spotted a church advertising “Air Conditioning” in their ad.

Those two words sounded perfect in the middle of a hot summer. Soon my parents joined this “cool” church. They both experienced a profound encounter with the Lord. Soon their life was defined by serving in various ministries from the church “bus ministry” to the children’s church to the youth group. Their time at First Baptist Hackensack shaped them in ways that impacted the rest of their lives.

In the 1970s, the United States brought our soldiers home from Vietnam. At the same time, my dad and mom returned home to Tennessee. He served at a SWAT team leader, a photographer and eventually a trainer in the local FBI office. My dad also found opportunities to share his faith with the very people he arrested and was known to bring bibles to them while they served in prison.

My dad retired in the 1980s, started a second career in banking and retired from it in the 90s. All the while, he remained active, engaged in life and ministry and full of good humor. He helped start a Sunday School class with a friend Jack Davis. The class became the center of my dad’s focus and energy over the last decade of his life.

In the late 90s, my dad, brother Jeremy, brother-in-law Andy, and me all decided to hike up to Mt LeConte right after Christmas. As the poorly trained hikers we were, we departed for the hike in late afternoon on a snowy December day. We finally reached the trail around four p.m.

Most people appeared to be coming back from the trail as we headed out and up. At first the path seemed fine, but soon we were walking (and slipping) on ice. Daylight was slipping away alongside us. Soon the dark shadow of night was fast approaching.

The trail shifted from a smooth passage over tree roots and rock to a steep climb along the side of the mountain. In my typical less than courageous mindset, I was ready to head back to Gatlinburg and enjoy a good meal! But we pressed on.

Soon a heavy set guy passed us heading down the trail. He stopped and said, “You really shouldn’t go any farther. It’s too steep, too icy and getting too dark.” After he passed out of sight, my dad replied, “Ain’t no fat boy gonna tell me I can’t climb the mountain!”

That one statement captures the energy and fire in my dad’s belly. If you tell him he can’t do it, can’t win, can’t make, he’s sure to give everything to prove you wrong. Thus we trudged upward and onward. I was convinced we’d die on the side of the mountain. But to my amazement, my dad’s drive pressed us all forward, and we made to the top and spent the night up there in a three sided-cabin.

Over the last several years, my dad’s quote became part of the family lore. Even now when facing a hard struggle, one of us will say, “Ain’t no fat boy gonna tell me I can’t climb the mountain!” That one moment (which was so exhausting and overwhelming at the time) has come to be one of the fond memories of time spent with my dad.

As I reflect on that moment, and the subsequent moments and the final moments of my dad’s life, I am reminded of how he lived fully in the moment. When he was serving in the FBI, he was fully engaged. But after he retired, he didn’t sit around and look back, he continued to embrace the moment before him.

We live moment by moment. In fact, every moment is gift. For in every moment we are sustained through the grace and goodness of God.

And in the moment, Christ says “Come”

“Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

In our weakness, pain, suffering and struggles, he calls us to come. In our strength, joy, victory and success, he calls us to come. In the moment, he bids us come.

In the moment, he calls us to love one another. Most of us are born into community. Most of us will die in community. We are created and called to live in community.

In the moment, Christ commands, “Love.”

“Love one another as I have loved you. ”

Yet we are loveless and we waste the moment. We corrupt the moment. We betray the moment through unforgiveness, bitterness, covetousness.

Athanasius said that sin causes a corrupting corruption that infects everything and everyone.

Christ enters the corruption. Bears the suffering. Leads the weary world into death in Himself and life in himself. In Christ, we rediscover love.

We are loved and loved and loved.

In Christ, we learn not simply to live in the moment, but to love in the moment.

Let us love in the moment.

Life is but a series of moments.

Many moments we want to rush through. Some moments we want to slow down. There are painful moments, joyous moments, lonely moments, exciting moments, funny moments, sad moments, mundane moments.

All these moments are gift from our Lord and Father. Just because we may feel pain in this moment, just because we may suffer in this moment, just because we may sit in darkness in this moment, let us not grow deaf to the call of Christ.

Come. Live. Love.

We respond in thanks to the loving Father and seek to obey his command to rest in Christ this moment. To live in Christ this moment. To love in Christ this moment.

We are gathered this moment. We offers thanks to God this moment.

All we have is the moment.

And just a moment ago, my dad was suffering in the hospital.

And a moment earlier, he was hiking Mt Le Conte.

And a moment earlier, he retired from a career in the FBI.

And a moment earlier, he was marrying my mom.

And a moment earlier, he sold newspapers announcing the atom bomb.

And a moment earlier, he was born into a loving community.

Life is a but a series of moments.

And in a moment, the last trumpet will sound,

And in a moment, the dead will be raised imperishable,
And in a moment, we shall be changed.

And in a moment, this perishable body will put on the imperishable,

And in a moment, this mortal body must put on immortality.

And in a moment, Death will be swallowed up in victory.

So let us rejoice in this moment.

Let us be steadfast in this moment.

Let us be immoveable in this moment.

Let us abound in the work of the Lord in this moment.

For our Lord is Faithful, and our obedience to Christ in this moment is not in vain.

In this moment, Christ invites us to come.
You who are weary, you who are heavy laden with burdens and grief, come to Christ.

In this moment, Christ calls us to love.
Beloved let us love one another as God has loved us in Christ.

In this moment, Christ calls us to go,
Let us go out proclaiming the good, good, good news of our Savior’s love for this broken and suffering world.

And in this moment let us say but a momentary goodbye to Lew Floyd.

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