promise


{This is the last in a series of forty Lenten reflections loosely based on ideas suggested by mugs found in the Kellam kitchen cupboard. As I wrote on the first day, this exercise was designed only for my pleasure. The discipline of writing each day has taken a couple of hours out of the 24, and has further frayed the already worn edges of the pages of J. I. Rodale’s The Synonym Finder. I know I’ll miss this daily practice, but I will be glad to have the time for something else…like springtime.}SONY DSCThe first mug I wrote about was a commercially-produced coffee cup with the name “Jeff” on it, along with a kind of greeting card verse about what “Jeff” means. Now, on the last day of these forty days in Lent 2017, I turn to another mug with my name on it. It’s the companion to one with my wife’s name similarly inscribed. We were given these mugs by the Bick family when we left Richmond, Virginia after some 27 years. The Bicks were our neighbors and members of our church. I trust that they did speak for all our Richmond friends by expressing their love. We still treasure the mugs and the message.

Does that mug “fit” this day? Does it have context? Today, the Saturday between Good Friday and the Day of Resurrection, is certainly “the day between the days.” This last day of Lent is non-descript for most Presbyterian-types. We know it has deep meaning, but we don’t pay much attention to it, as we await tomorrow’s sunrise service, with its shivering little congregation gathered amid tombstones in the church cemetery hoping the sun will actually be visible on what is predicted to be a rainy day. And then later, in the church itself, we will sing lustily (pardon the expression) and find ourselves accompanied by brass players and pipe organ. We will hear the Good News of the Gospel (pardon the redundancy) proclaimed, add flowers to the bare wooden cross, and break out the Lenten-hid alleluias (pardon still another parenthesis, but that word shouldn’t have been typed/seen/spoken/sung until tomorrow. Sorry. OK, enough with the pardons!)

But today is just Saturday. Some call it “black Saturday,” because of the solemn mood of sadness or defeat that followed the day of crucifixion. Others refer to it as Holy Saturday, or Easter Eve. Many years ago, Joan and I participated in our first Easter Vigil, a three or four-hour service that chronicled the Biblical story of “salvation history.” There was music, drama, graphic and fabric art, the reading of Scriptures, with prayers and accompanying liturgy rich with spiritual depth. It was a powerful service, difficult to transport back home from the conference we were attending. But many Christian communities around the world do something similar on “Easter Eve,” some even longer services, most shorter; but all designed to keep the rich meaning of God’s grace and love and Presence in focus, so worshippers could move from Good Friday to Easter knowing the all-important context of what some refer to as cross and crown.

So, I’ve been writing about mugs, have I? But this series hasn’t been about ceramics, fair trade coffee, favorite teas, or how to use drinking vessels as marketing tools. The context has been Lent, a time of preparation, of anticipated spiritual growth. As days lead from the ashes of that first Wednesday to the dust of the Emmaus Road, some of us added mid-week gatherings of worship and/or study; many used Lenten devotional guides such as the one on the Kellam dining table, Walter Brueggemann’s A Way Other than Our Own*; Lenten disciplines included service projects, lectio divina, labyrinth walks, special music, and giving up Mountain Dew. All in the context of the Lenten journey of Jesus, a wilderness time of testing and surviving, a prelude to his life’s symphony of compassion, outreach, healing, and teaching. His was a life and death by which we measure our time on this God’s earth.

[* Brueggemann’s take on this day: Saturday is that in-between day of stillness and doubt and despair when time stands still in lethal flatness.]

In relying on mugs to get me started writing each day, I’ve kept context in mind. The context of the season, the context of following Jesus, the context of my own day-to-day existence. Some days are, sadly, a big waste of time. Or, seem like it to me. I make that confession as I fall asleep those nights. “Forgive me, Lord. Didn’t do much for you or your people today. Wasted time and gifts. As the Psalmist prayed, ‘Put a new and right spirit within me,’ and offer me another day.” On those other days, my personal context is that of being and serving in a community of faith, and some opportunity pops up unexpectedly. Or, maybe it’s a family thing, where I find unconditional love so vital and energizing, that my prayers at night are full of thanksgiving. We all have some context in which we find ourselves– or are found.

Context is the weaving together of things that yearn to be connected. My life and someone’s need; my gifts and someone’s lack; my lack and their gifts. Faith and life. Daily living and revelation! Our purpose and the Shepherd’s guidance. Mugs and Lent. The context of a neighborhood, politics, (don’t get me started), local church or national denomination, the cloud of war or threat of terrorism, a child’s trusting eyes. Temptations, sin, dark thunderhead clouds hanging over. Context.

So, I wrote about mugs in the context of Lent. But more, in the context of my life. And if you have read some of these reflections (to call them meditations may be too generous), you know a lot about the man whose name is on the mug at the top of this day’s blog. You know something of my family, my church life and ministries, where I’ve lived and places I’ve been, what I believe, and — heck, even the name of our everyday china!

But, again, I haven’t been writing for you. I’ve been writing for me. I may know who you are. WordPress tells me who’s “following” my writing here, and others have happened by and sent private responses with names attached. But I’m guessing that if this writing stays “up” in some Internet cloud somewhere, I have no idea who you are. That said, the question is, do you know who you are? Now early in my 70s, I’m getting there. Knowing who I am, that is.

Today, the context is somewhere between the shadow of yesterday’s cross and the rising sun of tomorrow’s Light of the World. I have to admit, that I have had more than my share of that Light already. Grace has encompassed me. Love has surrounded me. Read that mug again! And God has gifted me with a strong family from which I have come and a beloved family I have helped to nurture. My wife, my children, and now my grandchildren. Wow! Plus, there was that Call…my vocation… full of exclamation points! (<There’s one now.)

The Apostle Paul once quoted a Greek poet as he preached a sermon in Athens. He referred to God as the one “in whom we live, and move, and have our being.” There. That’s context. I am content in that context.

Yet, there is still tomorrow!

There is a new context that awaits, something downright cosmic, earth-shattering, mind-blowing, a whole new song to sing…there is tomorrow!

There will be Easter!

 

 

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{Lent, forty days of meditative preparation for the Easter celebration…and these written reflections inspired (if one can say that) by mugs I see each day in the Kellam kitchen cupboard. Crazy, I know.}

Look… this mug is dated: 1989. I was hosting the “B-103 Jazz Brunch,” oDSC07385n Sunday mornings in Richmond, Virginia. Somehow this mug, promoting a jazz album by sax player Kirk Whalum found its way to me, along with the CD “The Promise.” The contemporary sound fit right into my format, so it got a lot of play, and Whalum, only into his third recording at that time, was becoming a well-known sideman and “smooth jazz” artist.  To be signed by Columbia was a big deal, of course, and to have a mug! Well.

Now, here I was a minister competing with myself, with one of me leading worship in a Richmond church and one of me on the radio at the same time, playing jazz. One Sunday, a parishioner who had just been listening to the Jazz Brunch in the car on the way to church asked me how I could be two places at once, I explained that in church I was on tape. Maybe one of the tunes I had played that morning was “The Promise.” It would have fit right in, theologically speaking. Because one of the primary influences on Kirk Whalum as he grew up in Memphis was “gospel.”

In the liner notes of that CD, Whalum wrote:

“The Promise”: If you will choose Me, I have already chosen you. Receive my love and I won’t reject you. It’s that simple. (see Ephesians 1:3-12 for more details)

Another cut on the album is entitled “I Receive Your Love.” In the context of the cited scripture text, the tune isn’t about a romantic relationship, but about accepting the unconditional love of God. And a third tune on the CD is called “Ma Foi c’est Ma Vie.” Translated, “My faith is my life.” While the Jazz Brunch wasn’t a religious show at all, Whalum’s music surely added a sacred element to the weekly proceedings.

All these years later, Whalum has played with the greats, recorded some classics (it’s his sax we hear on Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”), won Grammy Awards, and recorded four collections called “The Gospel According to Jazz,” featuring jazz interpretations of traditional and contemporary gospel tunes.

I titled this reflection “Promise,” based on the Whalum CD and the mug, but the word is full of meaning in the Christian faith. Whalum connected the word to that passage from Ephesians, but “promise” is a theme that has roots going back to the rainbow covenant that followed the Flood in the book of Genesis. Covenant (agreement), assurance, prediction…while the word “promise” isn’t specifically cited in the Hebrew Scriptures, the meaning is there. Offspring to Abraham and Sarah, a land to Israel, a world to God’s liking as seen by the Prophets…promises kept.

In the New Testament, there is assurance that the ancient promises are both fulfilled and being fulfilled, and the word promise is present both as noun and verb.

We all grew up hearing and making promises. “Promise me you won’t run into the street again!” “Promise that you won’t ever smoke,” a parent says to the child. “Promise me you’ll quit smoking!” the child says. Some of us said the Scout oath. Some made wedding vows. And some have made a loyalty oath or baptism promises. If someone swears, it is either promise or profanity, isn’t it? And breaking a solemn promise is profane.

Early in his career, someone must have told Kirk Whalum that he had great promise, meaning that his talents would lead, most certainly, to success as a musician and as a person. Each life has certain predictors, for better or worse. One promise we might make to our children, to our communities, to ourselves, is to encourage and empower the best use of talents and abilities in service to others. Lent would be a good time to reflect on how to live up to our promises to one another. Especially if we have accepted the love of God as described in Whalum’s tune “The Promise.”

One more note about that promotional mug, maybe irony, or just a smile. Here is a CD with some religious sensibility, some theological notes in the music aDSC07386nd the printed insert. But on the reverse side of the mug, is this: “Sax in the Morning.” OK. It’s the clever side that will appeal to the jazz deejays who have the mug on their desks for staff to joke about. It’ll grab attention, and maybe draw eyes to the other side that shows the album info.

Sax in the morning? On my Jazz Brunch? Perfect. But we all know that sax is great anytime! The promise is sure.