• This is the week our third grandchild will be born!  Jie and I will be heading up to Lisle on Thursday.  The doctors will be inducing labor for Scarlette on Wednesday.  We know her gender... but not her name yet.
  • I enjoyed the Ash Wednesday service this past week in our church.  It had been a rough day trying to deal with some folks who had bad attitudes and behaviors that matched.  And I was tired... and getting really grouchy... and probably just like the people who were aggravating me... and then we went into the Ash Wednesday worship.  And we all came out with ashes... and we all were reminded that what we have in common is much more profound than how we differ.  And it was a grace.  And I slept well that night.
  • Reading David Sacks, his 2003 book, Letter Perfect:  The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet From A to Z. It is the history... and insights into each letter of the alphabet:  the kind of book that will give me material for future Sunday letters.
  • Next week is our annual Civil Rights trip to the south... this year to Nashville and Atlanta.  We have 30 people going, the largest group I've ever led on this trip.  The pilgrimage will be from March 19-23.
  • I'm continuing to form a community of resistance to the way the church (and the United Methodist Church in particular) has been veering more and more legalistic these days.  While encouraging people not to leave the denomination (unless the pain is too deep) several of us are pulling people together who want to work to make a difference:  not just "talk" but action. If you are interested, click here to check out the website.  It will probably not have all the pages and links up and running until early tomorrow (March 11) morning, so please check back regularly. 

March  10, 2018
Month of March:  Just Like the Book of Revelation
March is such a confusing month.  In the past week, I've tried to avoid sliding in the ditch on an icy road...thought it was summer because singing birds woke me up that morning... gone to sleep with thunder and lightning...not seen the sun peek through the clouds for 48 hours straight... tried to find my sunglasses because the brightness hurt my eyes... enjoyed the outside without a coat... gone outside and wished I had long underwear...
It doesn't help that I'm also teaching a Bible study class in Revelation.  Like the month of March, the book of Revelation is all over the place. In one verse we are all singing together and having a good time, celebrating that we just made it through many dangers, toils, and snares... and the next verse we are ducking dragon-fire and hoping that the four horsemen of the apocalypse will not find where we are hiding. The month of March and the book of Revelation seem to have a lot in common.
March has always had somewhat of a multiple personality disorder. After all, we say that it comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb.  It seems appropriate that any month named after an ancient god of war (Mars) might be a bit over the top. It got that name, in part, because springtime was when the armies would rouse from their winter hibernations and head out for new conquests. The Anglo-Saxons called this month "Hraed Monath," which means "rugged month."  
In recent years, climate change seems to have made March even more erratic.  I drove to Champaign yesterday for a funeral (for Matt Peter's grandfather) and my car got pounded by rain the whole way... without a break.  It rained throughout the graveside ceremony.  And then the rain pounded my car for the entire hour drive back to Mattoon. And when it stopped raining the wind started.  It whistled through the chimney so bad that Earl-the-Cat couldn't get his evening nap in.
While recent months of March are starting to worry me, the book of Revelation is my comfort. The purpose of the Bible's last book is in its name:  "reveal."  It is a brilliant artistic essay that gives us a glimpse into what the heck is going on in the world.  

Do you remember how things are in late autumn, when all the leaves blow off the trees ...and you can see things that were there all along ...like squirrel nests ...and your neighbor's bedroom window ...but you couldn't see them before because of all the tree leaves?  That what the book of Revelation does, it blows everything away, including our categories of time and social order ...and we can see things we didn't see clearly before ...such as evil ...and God's power to outwit and outmuscle evil.  In order for us to see the true nature of both evil and good, the book of Revelation blows everything out of our way:  kingdoms and kings, sun and moon, mountains and oceans. Time itself melts as the bizarre text unfolds.  

It is in Revelation's artistic deconstruction can we be comforted:  we  are  being gaslighted after all... by those who try to tell us that things aren't so bad ... that it's just our anxiety and not real... or to worry about.  But in the book of Revelation, we can see that things are, in fact, much worse than even our pessimists have been predicting.  

But the optimists have also underestimated their projections.  Revelation informs us that God's work is much ...much more about justice and goodness and renewal than we have been hoping.  And it doesn't need to wait for heaven.  It is coming to a neighborhood near us...very soon.
Those who see Revelation as a timeline into the future have its literary genre wrong ...which explains why their prophecies are so kooky. It's not a peek into future history ...it's the dismantling of history ...and time ...and place.  Everything in Revelation has already happened.  Everything in Revelation is happing right now.  And everything in Revelation will happen to our grandchildren in the future.  It's all happening, all the time.  
And so I am comforted. All the time there is war and famine and earthquake.  All the time there is death and injustice.  All the time there is dehumanizing violence.  I  knew it!   

But all the time there is also comfort, and love, and joy, and song, and beauty.  All the time there is the power of prayer.  All the time there is the defeating of death and sadness.  All the time there is a coming together of people who have hope... and for good cause.  
March is like Revelation indeed.  Every weather possible shows up in March.  It is all the time snowy, sunny, windy, waking up to birdsong, waking up to ice, stepping in mud, trying not to step on crocus, keep a pair of long underwear in the car...keep a pair of shorts in the car.  

But if it  is  climate change that is causing March to get more and more out of hand, and if humans are the  least bit responsible  for this mess, then the book of Revelation reminds us that we are more evil than we want to think ...and God has a way of keeping hope alive for our grandchildren ...more than we may want to know!

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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