Back in the 1950’s, there was a popular television show, Father Knows Best. I don’t remember much about the show other than the opening theme song and the credits. But the title reflected a belief that I held, then rejected, and finally came to realize again that my Dad, Harry Monroe McDougald, most of time, did Know Best. Now, as a father and grandfather myself, more than 60 years later, I have come to see that being a father is much more difficult than my dad, Robert Young, Andy Taylor, or Ward Cleaver made it seem. And you know guys sometimes we are right; just sometimes. I often wished that God had given us a list of specific spiritual rules for being fathers—something like a set of ten commandments for dads—so we could just tick them off one at a time. Instead, Jesus talked a lot about his Father, his Father’s “kingdom” or “house”, if you will. His usual way was not direct, but in what must have seemed at times like a code, for he was constantly having to explain and re-explain these parables of the Kingdom.
I did learn a couple of things. First, I experienced from my Dad, grandfathers, and other men who served as father figures in my life—some who are still active—that we may never recognize how important TIME spent with sons and daughters may be. Charles Adams, the 19th century political figure and diplomat, kept a diary. One day he entered: "Went fishing with my son today--a day wasted." His son, Brook Adams, also kept a diary, which is still in existence. On that same day, Brook Adams made this entry: "Went fishing with my father--the most wonderful day of my life!"
Second, what we are looking for is not so much a father who ‘knows best’, but a Father who ‘forgives best’. My Dad was not perfect. I wonder a bit when I see someone post on social media that their dad was “the perfect dad”. But some of my most vivid memories of my own father are framed by circumstances of forgiveness and acceptance, usually fairly quickly after I had messed up. I’ve shared this story before about the father in Spain who had become estranged from his son. The son ran away, and the father set off to find him. He searched for months to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Javier, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father.” On Saturday 800 Javiers showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers.
I hope you know that the Eternal Father has the same message for you.
P.S. By the way, THANK YOU, Harry Monroe McDougald, for all the time and acceptance you showed this son of yours!
It was almost 57 years ago, June 9, 1963, that I witnessed up close and personal what frustration turned to anger, of what racial inequality looked like. I was with my father, who managed the Howard Johnson’s in Lexington, North Carolina. Lexington was a textile and furniture manufacturing town not too far from Greensboro, where a couple of years earlier a lunch counter sit in happened and captured the attention of the world.
I was 10. I lived in a mostly white world. The only African-Americans I knew were the cooks, dishwashers and clean-up crew at the restaurant. They were friendly enough. My father was driving one of them home that evening, because he was afraid to walk, or catch a bus, because there had been trouble that day on Main Street. Some African-American teens, frustrated with the slow progress of integration in public facilities had gone “across the yellow” line. I don’t remember the name of the street, but in ran a block or so off Main Street. Main was where most of the shops, the movie theatre, and a couple of the best places to eat were located. The “yellow line” was painted on the South side of this particular street. Blacks were not supposed to cross the line, unless they were going to work uptown. These teens crossed that line, not to work, but to visit the Red Pig, the matinee at the movie theatre, and a few other stores.
By that evening a group of concerned citizens had taken action. With clubs, baseball bats, and perhaps guns, they had gone to the south side of the street to send a message to these teens, and anyone else on that side of town who might think about “crossing the yellow line”. We got to this street, where the cook said, “No need to go any farther, Mr. Mac, you get back home”. My dad got out to witness a crowd of African-Americans, all angry, some crying, many shouting. To my 10-year old mind it seemed to me that all they really wanted to do was to feel safe. Shots rang out. Twenty feet away a falling man groans, then another man with a camera and note pad hits the pavement. The man with the camera was wounded. The other man was still, dead.
I share this story not because it changed me in that moment into a person without bias, or racism. I am a white, son of the South, after all. I was reminded of it this week in a conversation with a church member about the frustration that still exists, the anger and fear that must flow out of hearts that almost always just want to feel safe. I share this to remind myself how little things have changed. What can I do, to help, now? What might we do together, as a congregation do to help, now? Pray about this. Let me know where those prayers lead you; share those with each other. Reach across the “yellow line”, while it is not painted on any curb, it is still is there, in our community. Do this not as the so-called concerned citizens, but in love and the fellowship of the Spirit.
Note: This is a revised version of something I wrote and preached about a couple of years ago. Please don’t take me literally when I say things like ‘get out’, etc. But I do think we need to be, phased in, or not, about the business of being the church!
This Sunday is ʻPentecostʼ. Pentecost is a day to remember the coming of the Holy Spirit to the church following the Ascension of Jesus. We read in Acts 2:2 – “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” It always raises in my mind this question, If the Holy Spirit is indeed like a “violent wind,” like an untamed hurricane, or a sudden and destructive tornado, what makes us think we want it in our lives? Growing up in the Methodist Church we sang a song that goes, “Breathe on me Breath of God.” Itʼs a comforting image; like a baby sleeping on your chest, or a wife or husband curled up, dozing at your back, breathing a sweet gentle breath. Or, have you heard this one? “Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me, Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.” Or, do you know this one? “Thereʼs a sweet, sweet spirit in this place, And I know that itʼs the spirit of the LORD.” Comforting songs about the “Comforter”—songs that give you a sense of peace, just as Jesus said when he breathed the Spirit upon the disciples in the Upper Room on Easter evening. But as you read what happens in Acts 2 on that day of Pentecost, you get a different feeling than the songs I remember growing up.
Reading it again, I donʼt think the Spirit is always all that sweet and gentle. Indeed, I think the Spirit is a lot like how my Aunt Sarah (my Dadʼs youngest sister) told me a story about “Mama Mac, my paternal grandmother. “Mama left the house one day with orders for us to do our ‘chores’. We got busy with others things when: suddenly, from the kitchen door there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire room where we were sitting . . . and the name of that wind was Mama Mac, and she was not happy! She came home unexpectedly and instead of finding her children busy with the tasks she had left them to do, she found them sitting around doing nothing. Mama Mac roared into the den, the fly swatter in hand. We quickly scattered to finish the jobs she had given us earlier that day!“
But this is a different time you say. We have been, in this time of pandemic and turmoil in need of that gentle breath of God, that “Sweet, Sweet Spirit” that I sang in church growing up! At a time when many of us are at least cautious, if not still shut in and away from the world, perhaps a dose of “mighty rushing wind” and “tongues of fire”, those phrases used to describe the outbreak of the Spirit on that first Pentecost is needed to move us back out into the world and to the tasks we were given by Jesus as he left us.
It was fifty days after Easter and the disciples had done very little in that time but hang out with Jesus, spending some quality time with their Risen Lord. Then he left, really left, ascended into heaven left. (As we preached about last week!) And before he went, he told them to get busy, he told them in Acts 1: 8, “you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth.” And then he ascended. After he went up, angels came to them and said, in essence, “Quit standing around. Get busy” (Acts 1:11). But, they really hadnʼt been doing anything yet. And as our story opens, they were all together in one place, “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting .” And, as the rest of the story tells us, that wind gave them a job, and the ability to do the job, and then it drove them out into the street so that they would get busy doing that job. Which is why the Holy Spirit, the mighty and powerful wind of God, is more like an Mama Mac than any sweet baby or gentle lover.
And, as we prepare to mark Pentecost in 2020 the Holy Spirit is after us:
It has been an information overload week for many pastors/preachers I know, of all persuasions. Email, Facebook posts, and texts focused on Governor Reeves “Safe Worship—Guidelines for In-Person Worship Services” that was released on Tuesday. As expected, there has been the full range of responses from ”Now we can go back to church”, to “Eight pages of fine print that still don’t make me feel any safer”. Some have had ‘emergency’ council, deacons, or session meetings; others are ‘waiting on the Lord’.
Perhaps you have thoughts on the subject? If so, feel free to share them with me, or any member of our Session. One of the best things I saw this week came from our neighbors in the Mississippi Presbytery. In their ‘guidance’ on the subject of ‘reopening churches’, here are two questions they asked Sessions and congregations to consider:
These will be a focus of our Session’s next stated meeting on Wednesday, June 3rd. In addition to your input to the Elders, please be in prayer as they consider the ‘when and how’ of resuming face to face activities, particularly worship. Meanwhile, if you are open, we are looking for those who would like to offer their gifts to assist with our video worship services.
This weekend marks two months since we have met “in person” on Sunday for worship and fellowship. We are not certain when we will be able to resume what we once considered our normal routines, but there are hopeful signs.
In this “in between” time there are some things I want to encourage you to do. First, and some of you are already doing this, make a connection with someone you have missed. This is not limited to “church members”, although that would be a good starting point. Second, let your own needs, and those close to you, be known. Not simply as prayer concerns, but as a way of sharing with one another and caring for one another. I know that there are safety guidelines, but within those limitations, reach out. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8).
For some reason—perhaps it is coincidental to this being the weekend leading up to Mother’s Day—My Mom loved, mainly because she loved my Dad, and at 92 still watches Gunsmoke. Perhaps in honor of her, but probably because as I get older I become more like my Dad and Mom (It happens!), I’ve become a fan of some of those ‘Westerns’ that Mom and Dad loved. As I worked on the sermon for this Sunday (May 3rd) I‘ve caught myself tuning in to “The Big Country” and “Nevada Smith”. (Lonesome Dove is still my favorite!) In between the soaring musical themes and sweeping vistas of the West...As I studied about a ‘good Shepherd’...not on cowboy heroes...it gave me a chance to think about the difference.
Behold a hero of the West: The Cowboy.
He rears his horse to a stop on the rim of the canyon. He shifts his weight in his saddle, weary from the cattle trail. One finger pushes his hat up on his head. One jerk of the kerchief reveals a sun-leathered face. A thousand head of cattle pass behind him. A thousand miles of trail lie before him. A thousand women would love to hold him. But none do. None will. He lives to drive cattle, and he drives cattle to live. He is honest in poker and quick with a gun. Hard-riding; slow-talking. His best friend is his horse, and his strength is his grit. He needs no one. He is a cowboy—our hero!
Behold a hero in the Bible: The Shepherd.
On the surface he appears similar to the cowboy. He, too, is rugged. He sleeps where the jackals howl and works where the wolves prowl. Never off duty. Always alert. Like the cowboy, he makes his roof the stars and the pasture his home.
But that is where the similarities end.
The shepherd loves his sheep. It’s not that the cowboy doesn’t appreciate the cow; it’s just that he doesn’t know the animal. He doesn’t even want to. Have you ever seen a picture of a cowboy caressing a cow? Have you ever seen a shepherd caring for a sheep? Why the differences?
1-The cowboy drives (wrestles, brands, herds, and ropes) the cattle. The shepherd leads (guides, feeds, and anoints) the sheep. This alone would be enough for most of us to say, “Give me a shepherd!” But it is strange when the church buys into ‘cowboy models’ of leadership and even organization. I knew of an extremely popular and what we would call ‘growing’ church that ‘fired’ their small group minister, because he had not “rounded up” enough small group participants and leaders! Jesus would have failed as a ‘cowboy’ because he started out with thousands and ended up with a handful of scared sheep in the upper room! I won’t even go down the ‘branding’ issue lane: Can you say Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, etc.
2-The cowboy knows the name of the other cowboys. The shepherd knows the name of the sheep. A herd has dozens of cowboys. A flock has one shepherd. The cowboy whoops and hollers at the cows. The shepherd calls each sheep by name.
3-The cowboy leads the cattle to slaughter. The shepherd leads the sheep to be shorn. (And the shepherd himself is “led like a sheep to the slaughter” for His sheep!
This is so rooted in our theological understanding of who our Good Shepherd is and what He offers us in the way of life. Perhaps it is a bit strong to say the cowboy leads the cattle to slaughter. Most of the images we have of cowboys on the ‘cattle drive’ give little indication of where the cattle are going to end up—see stockyards of Fort Worth or Chicago for the final destination. Suffice it to say, they treat the animals differently. Jesus solves the way of how each ‘sheep’ will be viewed, not as some weak or lost and others healthy and worth saving, by telling us stories of the Good Shepherd who goes looking for the lost one while the 99 are safe. We are not a product to be sold, but a people for whom Christ died! This point might help us in how we care for and treat each other; how we approach those ‘outside the gate’.
Aren’t we glad Christ didn’t call himself the Good Cowboy? But some do perceive God that way. A hard-faced, square-jawed ranch-hand from heaven who drives his church against its will to places it doesn’t want to go. But that’s a false image. Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd. The Shepherd who knows his sheep by name and lays down his life for them. The Shepherd who protects, provides, and ‘keeps’ his sheep.
I went fishing the other day, with a church member who shall remain unnamed, and we caught nothing! Perhaps it was the wind, or fishing in a new place, or the ‘bait’ we were using. Perhaps the fish were following the ‘social distancing’ guidelines. But the day was not a waste because it was spent ‘in relationship’. Conversation about life, the future, this anxious time we are going through. I tend to believe I learned more about my father, grandfather and other significant people in my life on fishing trips (fill in your own favorite relational activity here) that in all the conversations that began with “Can we talk?”
For me, this has been the most difficult part of this season of pandemic. It makes doing the relationship thing even more difficult. It means that we have to be very intentional in creating moments where the ‘fishing trip’, the 2 mile walk, the recipe sharing become moments of ‘life sharing’. Think about who you are missing; reach out; provide the proper space/place and medium. Relate—which is what Christ came to do with us!
Three of my great uncles were bridge builders during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. They used to tell stories about working high above the Ashley and Cooper Rivers as they emptied into Charleston harbor. I asked Uncle Wilbert once if he was ever ‘scared’. He said “Sure, but you could hang your hat that somebody was watching out for you”. I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant, but my understanding was that he was talking about ‘trust’. Trust in the men who worked with him, trust in the safety net that was so far below that he said ‘you could not see it. This is what Jesus was speaking of to his disciples in the upper room on Easter evening, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed". In these times of uncertainty we can ‘hang our hats’ on this promise. Even though we may not be able to see, and what we do see is uncertain, Christ is ever present, ready to heal, forgive and save.
John 13: 1-7, 14-17
1It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Matthew 26: 17-30
17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
18 He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.
20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the
Twelve. 21 And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?” 23 Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about
him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” 25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” Jesus answered, “You have said so.” 26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
There is a lot to unpack here, and you are encouraged to reflect on these passages and the others suggested by the PCUSA (Exodus 12:1–4 [5– 10] 11–14; Psalm 116:1–2, 12–19; and 1 Corinthians 11:23–26) as well. A few things that stand out: the focus on service to others, the love for Christ and each other, and memory of Christ’s presence. This ritual of communion was instituted as a memorial to unify all Christians, and every time we partake in it, it is not only a reunion with other Christians but also with Christ himself.
As Southerners, we care about hospitality, particularly related to food. Part of the service, love and memory we offer each other has to do with breaking bread together. Share on our Facebook site a picture of your favorite meal with loved ones. If you have a picture of a meal shared within our church, please post that.
Today is Maundy Thursday and the worship service with a meditation and the communion liturgy has been posted for you to view. The instructions for celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion ‘at home’ are very simple. Prepare some juice and bread (or crackers) and have them available for you to ‘share’ with those watching with you during the portion of the video where we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This will be different. It may feel ‘not quite right’, but let me offer this word of encouragement, “the church is still the church, just ‘dispersed’ in many places”. You may use this video today, or at any time this weekend...as we lead up to Easter Sunday.
You will find the video, this afternoon...
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