Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A tribute to Ward Sessing

Last week I received the very sad news that Ward Sessing passed away.  His funeral will be this Saturday at Presbyterian Church of the Way at 11:00 a.m.

I first got to know of Ward when I served as the pastor at Community Presbyterian Church in Plainview.  He was known in the Presbytery as an architect who had particular skills in designing churches.  Our congregation was talking about re-designing our building, so we invited Ward to come talk to a group of us.  He made the two hour drive to Plainview.  The drive must not have done much for him because Ward immediately told us that our church should buy the three lots of property adjacent to the church.   Certain thoughts went through my mind—thoughts that I couldn’t share as a pastor at a meeting.  But toned down the thoughts were like “thanks for driving from the Cities to tell us what to do something that we can’t afford.”  

That was Ward—willing to state the truth as he saw it—even if people didn’t want to hear what he had to say.  

I’ve always enjoyed honest people, so Ward and I quickly hit it off well.  When he became the moderator of the Presbytery he invited me to speak about the ministry at Plainview.  As the moderator he did his work with grace and a sense of humor.  Every time he addressed the Presbytery as the moderator he would say something like, “it’s always a pleasure to be with you.”  

He had the task of moderating the special meeting where the Presbytery voted to ordain Paul Capetz.  It was a difficult and contentious meeting.  Ward did it with grace and a sense of humor.  He later told me that he slept for two days after that meeting.

Ward was a big supporter of the new church development called Chain of Lakes.  When I first started as the Organizing Pastor I needed a place to stay.  Ward was able to secure the church house at Presbyterian Church of the Way and convinced their session to let me stay there.  It was a big help for me at the start of this ministry.

Ward’s lasting legacy to Chain of Lakes will be the hundreds of hours he put in to help secure a piece of property.  Before we started I told him I would be willing to get down on my hands and knees to beg him to be the leader of our first group.  He laughed and said that wasn’t necessary.  At our first meeting he, Dave Nyberg and I drove around the area looking at listings from a MLS print out.  We finished our meeting eating hamburgers and drinking a beer at Millers on Main.  We never could have dreamed that a little more than a year later the Presbytery would unanimously approve the purchase of a 8.9 acre parcel of property at the northern edge of the Lakes Development.  Ward’s leadership was a significant reason that this purchase happened.

When cancer struck Ward, he faced it liked he faced all his projects—with an upbeat attitude and a realistic assessment of what could happen.   As he did with others, Ward came to visit me when he closed his office because of his health.  He talked about what he wanted to accomplish, the treatment plan that he had chosen, and we shed some tears about what was happening.  We prayed together putting our trust in God who knows much more than we do.

I last talked to Ward about ten days before his passing.  He had already shared publicly that he had stopped taking treatment, so we didn’t talk about his health.  He was thrilled about going to church at Presbyterian Church of the Way on Easter and the wedding of his son.  

The world does not shine quite as bright because of Ward’s passing.  None of us understands why a person at age 57 and in the prime of his life is suddenly taken.  We can give thanks for all of the qualities in him that we loved.  Ward, it was always a pleasure to be with you!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Remembering Cesar Chavez

Twenty years ago today Cesar Chavez died in Arizona—the state where he was born.   He was in Arizona doing what he did his entire life—fighting for farm workers.  In this case he was participating in a law suit against a powerful lettuce company. 
I had the privilege of working with Cesar in two parts of my life.  First as a Volunteer in Mission for the Presbyterian Church when I worked for the farm workers in California and Chicago from August 1986 to October 1987; second when I left seminary to help out in California from June 1989 to August 1990.
Cesar was one of the most remarkable people I ever met.  He never gave up fighting for his people.  His resilience was a leadership trait I learned from him.  He was resilient as he faced a system that was almost impossible to break.  Until Cesar no one had ever successfully organized farm workers in California. 
His fighting was always non-violent.  In the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Cesar taught that social change could successfully happen when coupled with non-violent resistance.  His boycotts threw fear into the growers of fruits and vegetables and the owners of supermarkets.  I know—I saw the fear in their face when we would suggest a boycott.  He taught middle-class America that change could happen through people’s pocketbooks.
His 36 day fast in the late 1980’s was one of the most remarkable acts of personal heroism I ever witnessed.  I wasn’t working for the UFW during the fast, but shortly after got connected to his movement during my first year of seminary in New York City.  My roommates and I organized fast chains at the school and passed out thousands of leaflets in front of grocery stores in Manhattan. 
The movement Cesar began continues to this day.  Farm workers all over the country continue to benefit from what he started. 
On the anniversary of his death may all of us re-commit ourselves to helping and empowering low-income folks and in particular the thousands of farm workers who pick the fruits and vegetables that all of us enjoy.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Reviewing 42

Yesterday afternoon Amy, Hannah and I drove through the rain to see “42” at the East Bethel Theatre.  For all of us starved for spring watching this baseball movie was like eating at a high class buffet. 
On the way to the movie I warned Hannah about the use of the “N” word in the movie and why it would be said so often.  It didn’t register to her that people would use language to demean an entire race of people.
The movie quickly introduced Branch Rickey, the cigar-smoking general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers who was ably played by Harrison Ford.  Rickey—whose Methodist faith was mentioned more than once, wanted to do something right for baseball.  He looked for an opportunity to bring an African-American onto the Dodgers.  His motivation to bring Jackie Robinson into professional baseball, though, was more than just a way to achieve racial justice.  He saw the hire of Jackie Robinson as a way to get black fans in Brooklyn into Ebbets Field.  “Money isn’t black or white,” He snorted.  “It’s green.”
Rickey knew the backlash that his decision would provoke.  He looked for someone who wouldn’t fight the battle on the racists’ term.  “I want someone who won’t fight back on their terms.”  He found that person in Robinson, deftly played by Chadwick Boseman. 
“42” presented Robinson as an athlete—not someone who wanted to break the color line.  The portrayal of his naiveté about the challenges he would face in breaking the color-line in baseball was refreshing, but also hard to believe. 
The movie did share some painful scenes of the effects of segregation.  In one scene Robinson and his wife were forced to ride a bus to spring training in Florida because a white ticket taker figured out a way to keep them off a plane; an another the manager of the Phillies heckled Robinson without mercy when Robinson came to bat; in another Robinson was awakened and quickly driven away when the threat of a mob seemed imminent. 
For the most part Robinson was able to laugh off these acts of racism quite easily.    
When I got home after the movie I went on-line to read the story of the 1947 World Series between the Dodgers and the Yankees.  I was intrigued to find out what happened to the Dodgers after they won the National League pennant.  The movie didn’t’ inspire me to pick up a biography about Robinson and learn more about the cultural impacts that he made when he broke the color line in baseball.
I love baseball, but I wanted more politics in “42.”  This was a feel-good movie, and I felt good when it was done.  However I couldn’t help but wonder what Spike Lee would have done with the story.
Still—watching baseball being played in old-time parks full of green grass was certainly worth the time during this late Minnesota spring.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Does this prayer share your view of God?

Does the following prayer express your view of God.  We'll be praying this prayer on Sunday at Chain of Lakes during worship.

Lord, we confess that sometimes we are afraid of how you view us.  Bad things happen in our lives, and we believe that you are part of it.  We think that you would rather teach us a lesson than love us.  We’re timid with you even though you invite us with open arms and an open heart to be with you.  We don’t trust that your picture of us is a beautiful canvass.  Help us; deepen our faith; strengthen our trust. 

If you would like to receive this blog via E-mail, sign up by putting your E-mail address in the box on the right section of the blog.

Blessings on your day!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Responding to Boston--It's a Marathon

My heart has been full this week after hearing of the bombings at the Boston marathon.  I’ve run two marathons myself, so I can appreciate how hard it must have been for folks finishing 26 miles of running to suddenly run for their life.
I received an E-mail today that contained some powerful words from a blog written by Steve Garnaas-Holmes at 
"People say, “Be strong.” We will, yes, we will. But the world does not need strength. What the world needs is kindness. The world needs people who have the courage to be gentle, even when those around them are full of rage and despair and violence, who refuse to join the world’s bitterness. The world needs people who choose love over fear. That’s the only thing that will actually change the world.
It’s not easy. Love is not quick, and does not produce immediate results. It’s a marathon. It takes dedication and training and a lot of commitment. It’s not for the faint-hearted. As Gandhi said, if you are too cowardly to be nonviolent, by all means take up arms to fight for justice. Love takes guts. It takes faith, confidence that a greater love is at work even when we cannot see it. And it takes patience, like a marathon — the willingness to go the distance, to keep at it when your body cries, “Quit!,” when your mind thinks of better things to do, when pain and weariness make you want to give up —it takes guts to keep going anyway. The Via Dolorsa is the toughest race. To share in the world’s pain and sadness, and still keep up hope and love — that is the world’s oldest marathon. The good news that we do not run alone. Nor do we run on our own energy: we are moved by the desire of God for the healing of the world."
Love does take guts.  Would you take a moment to pray for everyone willing to run that marathon journey.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Chris Tomlin Burning Lights Tour

Last night the Club 20-40 group from Chain of Lakes went to hear Chris Tomlin’s concert at the Target Center.  The concert is part of Tomlin’s Burning Lights tour.
We tried to get a group of twenty to attend the concert as that would have gotten us a discount on tickets.  But when we found out the Target Center put a $12 surcharge on every ticket we ended up with a smaller group.  Our tickets were $37.
Our tickets were two rows from the top of the Target Center.  When Tomlin did a shout-out to the people sitting the top of the arena, I shouted out, “our noses are bleeding!”
Despite the cost of the tickets and the placement of the seats, the concert was terrific.  Keri Jobe started out with a half hour of music.  Her songs were understated and beautiful. 
The energy level skyrocketed higher when Chris Tomlin took the stage.  In reading some on-line articles I discovered the he sees himself as a worship leader as much as a performer at a concert.  This identity shone through last night.  He often stopped singing to let congregation sing—and we felt like a congregation singing for God. 
For anyone who loves Praise and Worship musical genre last night’s concert was like being in heaven.  As we sang I could imagine that this was what heaven will be like—singing from the top of our lungs in love and appreciation for God. 
Chris Tomlin is in a category by himself in terms of worship music popularity.  According to Christian Copyright Licensing Institute (CCLI) every between 60,000 and 120,000 churches are singing This songs.  This means that between 20 to 30 million people are singing his song.  Tomlin has the number one most-song and five of the top 25 according to CCLI
Most of the 18,000 seats at the Target Center were full last night, and I’m guessing that almost everyone there had sung a Chris Tomlin song.  We sang many of his well-known songs and many from his new Burning Light CD.
The singing and the lights and the atmosphere was electric.  It felt like the Holy Spirit anointed the entire evening.  When we left almost everyone had a smile on their face.  We were in a worshipful setting—it seemed that almost all of us left in a different place than when we came.
I hope that many of my Presbyterian friends will continue to embrace Praise and Worship as a musical genre for worship music.  Given the intensity of last night’s concert it’s obvious that many in our culture want to sing this music and when they do will sing at full-throttle.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Easter is our Defining Story

We had a wonderful Easter at Chain of Lakes.  For me Easter worship is a year unto itself. This year Kristel Peters, the fabulous Music Director at Chain of Lakes, and I poured over our Easter service.  We edited it a number of times.  When we evaluated the service this past week we looked at it like detectives looking at a scene from every angle. 
Since Easter I have continued to reflect on what it means to have the Resurrection be our defining story.  The following is an excerpt from the Easter sermon I shared about the difference between having our lives by Good Friday and Easter.  To watch the complete sermon go to:

At our small group this past week we talked about the idea of a defining story.  Adam Hamilton talked about how a defining story is the root narrative that shapes the way we look at the world.  The idea of a defining story is not unique to him.  A Defining story forms our response to the situations of our life—how we handle success and failure.   It shapes how we handle adversity and how we reach out to people who are suffering. 
The question I’d like all of us to reflect upon this week is this.  Do we want our defining story to be Good Friday or Easter? 
Good Friday is a very special day for me.  This past Friday morning I got up with my wife, Amy, and we went to pray at 7:00 a.m. at a prayer vigil at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church where she works.  Next year I want to have a prayer vigil at Chain of Lakes Church.  This past Friday I was singing the spiritual, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord” throughout the day.”  It’s a special song for a special day.

(During the sermon I went ahead at this point and sang a verse of "Were you there")
But let’s be clear.  Good Friday is not our defining story.  For if the story of Jesus had ended on the cross, you and I wouldn’t worship on Easter.    
Jesus’ sacrifice was one of the greatest sacrifices in the history of the world, but it’s not a unique sacrifice.  Many leaders throughout history have given their lives for a cause.  If the story ended there we would remember Jesus, but we wouldn’t come awake to all that is possible. 
If Good Friday was our defining story, we would accept the world as it is.  .
If Good Friday was our defining story Robbie and Alissa Parker [parents of Emilie Parker who was killed in the Newtown shootings] wouldn’t have met with Peter Lanza, father of Adam Lanza
If Good Friday was our defining story you and I wouldn’t work so hard to build a new faith community.  We would be content with strangers remaining strangers. 
Yesterday we had an Easter egg hunt, and it was a big success.  We started something yesterday that can continue.  You know what the forecast was for yesterday morning?  Rain.  I was awakened at 4:00 in the morning to the loud clap of thunder.  I had my doubts about whether we should do the Easter egg hunt.  Who wants to take their kids to an Easter egg hunt in the rain?  A Good Friday person gives in to doubts.  We aren’t Good Friday people. 
Because of the encouragement of others on the Chain of Lakes Steering Committee we went ahead with the Easter egg hunt.  A lot of people came.  The Easter bunny, who I discovered is very cool, came.  The Steering Committee organized the event.  When the Easter egg hunt was over we all gathered in a circle to pray and we couldn’t help but say, “Yay God.”
If Good Friday was our defining story we would give in.  We would give in to cancer, Mental Illness, even evil, and death.  We would say that this is how life is meant to be and we can’t do anything about it.  To accept Good Friday as our final story is to accept fatalism.
If Good Friday was our defining story we wouldn’t be hearing Mary or Peter’s story today.
But we are—hearing their story.  We’re hearing their story because of 17 words.  They are the 17 words that the angels said to Mary and the other women who understandably thought that Jesus’ death was the end of the story.  The 17 words are a short phrase that describe the resurrection.
 “Why do you look for the living among the dead.  He is not here.  He is risen.”
These words are our defining story.  Through them we come awake. 
Coming awake means we aren’t afraid of our own death.  Death doesn’t frighten or really concern us because we know that death is not the end.  When we die we have an entire eternity to enjoy with God. 
Coming awake means when the doctor tells us we have cancer or another disease we aren’t ultimately overwhelmed.  We certainly have difficult moments.  But we will do everything we can to live and if we don’t live, we know our disease won’t have the final word on our lives.   
Coming awake means that when our difficult family relationships inevitably erupt we don’t accept that this is how it has to be.  Instead we will do everything we can to repair relationships, reaching out in love even when we don’t have a clue how it will turn out. 
Coming awake means we never give in to the skeptics who say that people in 2013 aren’t interested in God or the church.  Or even to Presbyterian skeptics who don’t believe a new Presbyterian church can thrive.  Instead we believe that God wants and is calling vital churches to exist who at their core believe in the resurrection and whose defining story is shaped by these 17 words. 
May Chain of Lakes Church and every church always be a community whose defining story is shaped by the resurrection!