Better than Real?

Spring has sprung where I live in Lincoln, Nebraska and many trees are filled with white, purple, and pink blossoms that point to new life in the days, weeks, and months ahead! Unless you are allergic, I’d imagine that you, like me, are celebrating the bright symbols of fruitfulness. The trees really are quite beautiful.

You can imagine my surprise then, when I saw a beautiful blossoming tree with it’s perfect flowers that, even at 10 yards away, looked a little too perfect.


Upon closer inspection, I discovered that it was indeed too perfect. Lo and behold, in downtown Lincoln is a sculpture of a tree that is masquerading as a flowering emblem of life and yet, it’s just a pretty amalgam of plastic, metal, and lights.

I can imagine the artist pitching the design:

Think about it: at Christmas, we’ll put white lights on it, illuminating a perfect silhouette of a tree that has shed it’s leaves. In the spring, we’ll string it with cherry blossom lights that will look so real that people will think that they’re in Japan or Washington DC! At night we’ll turn the lights on and then it will be even more engaging! And…no one will be allergic to these flowers! It will be better than if it was real!

Or that’s how I would have pitched it. Better than real. Except that, it’s not. Bolts are no substitution for roots and plastic isn’t better than the fragile feel of a flower petal, no matter how you spin it.

                                    tree, base                      Tree, blossoms

I couldn’t help but think about how frequently I have been like this tree. I have made editorial decisions about how to present myself, based on what I think others would like to see. Perhaps I’m afraid that my real self isn’t desirable or will cause others problems. I doubt I’m alone in this. We may hold back our beliefs, thoughts, or feelings because we are afraid that others may judge us, reject us, or not like us.

Unfortunately, there is a big problem with this. At the very least, it’s dishonest, but I think that it’s even worse. It actually shows a pretty significant lack of trust. When we don’t trust others with the gift of our authentic selves, we are showing too little faith in one another. And, we are thinking too little of ourselves. To put a finer point on it, I also think that it denies the work of God in our lives and in the lives of others that God has brought alongside us. Sharing the authentic gift of ourselves is really at the heart of the privilege of what it means for us to love one another, which is the second command of Christ, second only to loving God. Sharing authentically then of who we really are is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.

The plastic/metal/lighted tree is pretty. But at the end of the day, it’s not real. I’ll take the risk, the beauty, and even the possible sneezes during allergy season any day. Real is always better.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A Lenten Reflection: What we give up, what we gain

Ash Wednesday

On Ash Wednesday, I was invited to preach at Southwestern College in their Chapel service. This, of course, was exciting as it is both my alma mater and the place where I served in ministry for 9 years. From the text of Luke 9:18-25, I shared about how we are called to give something up, and yet we gain more than we lose.

Lent involves two primary things: Confession and Repentance. In my sermon, I shared about how poignant this is for me and my family this year. Also, I shared that in the confession of Christ, we also must give up our expectations so that we might more fully embrace who Christ is and what the life is that he has for us. As we repent, we must give up something of great cost, that is our very lives. But, what we gain in confessing and repenting is worth far more than what we lose. Thanks be to God, and may we be ever mindful of this reality.

You can listen to my sermon, here. You can also find the archive of other SC Chapel sermons here:

Posted in sermon | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Today in Transition: From Winfield, KS to Lincoln, NE


It seems that the only thing unchanging is that things change.  After living in Winfield, KS, USA for 15 of the last 20 years, it seemed that actually, nothing changed.  I moved there 20 years ago this fall to attend Southwestern College.  My time at Southwestern has been marked by being challenged spiritually and intellectually, receiving life-long friendships, and ultimately, was the context for my call to ministry.  None of those things have changed in these last two decades.

And yet, things do change. 

I found out at the end of March that I would be moving to Lincoln, Nebraska to take a position with the United Methodist Church in the Great Plains Annual Conference (which includes Kansas and Nebraska).  This would mean that I would be leaving 9 years of ministry at my beloved Southwestern College.  When I consider the 3 most essential forces that have shaped who I am, it is my belief that Jesus really is who he said he was, my family, and Southwestern College and her people. 

Saying yes to this new position with the conference meant saying “see ya later” to my spiritual home, my relational network, and meaningful work.  Oh, I know that I’m being dramatic—my spiritual home can’t be bound to a physical address, my friends and family who love me and take care of me still love me, and I have more meaningful work ahead of me.  But give me a minute here, I’m grieving the loss of the relationships that I’ve had with a place and a people for more than half of my life.  (Boohoo, sob, sob.  Okay, I’m better now.)

Before I can talk about what saying goodbye mean, let me talk about what saying hello means.  Saying hello to my new position with the Great Plains Annual Conference means moving to a state where I had only been twice (a third time, but that wasn’t on purpose—just driving through).  It means serving Christ by working in the Great Plains Annual Conference to help recruit and develop new clergy.  It means working with a program that is helping young clergy transition into ministry well with an eye toward a life-long fruitful ministry.  It means moving to the really amazing town of Lincoln, Nebraska (says the woman who has only scratched the surface of the city and has yet to experience it in winter…but people survive here, so I’m sure I’ll be okay).  And it means being open to the work that God wants to do in my life in a really profound way.

If this is what I am saying yes to with this move and this new ministry, why would a person even hesitate a minute?

Well, you may have your reasons, but my reasons were that it’s a little scary setting out in a new city by oneself.  I’m an extreme extrovert and yet, it’s often difficult for me to go somewhere by myself if I don’t know how I fit into the context.  Besides being scary, moving is also hard work.  Some of the work is physical, like packing (endless boxes of what I’ve come to identify as mostly unimportant) but much of the work is emotional (endless decisions about which house to buy, where to put that lamp, and whether or not I should renovate the kitchen, which feels important, but probably isn’t in the long run).  And yet, taking into consideration the scary and hard parts of moving, it was surprisingly easy to say yes to this move.

It caught me by surprise that I could go so easily because it would mean that I would have to leave.  Duh, you say.  But I’m a pretty determined (read: stubborn) person and so I can usually figure out ways to make things work, even if the odds are against it.  So, perhaps, I was trying to figure out a way to go and yet not really leave.   My friends (bless ‘em) helped me get in on this plan.  They also helped me in incredible ways to celebrate despite their sadness over me leaving (thanks for that, friends).  But, they preciously devised ways of talking about me commuting to work in Lincoln and prayed with me “thanking God for the opportunity to be used in ministry…and whatever.”  The prayers reminded me and my community that when we say yes to following Christ, we say yes to going, to staying, to blooming where we are planted, to sacrifice, to abundance.

Something that has come up several times for me in the moving process is John Wesley’s Covenant prayer.  It’s a powerful prayer of submitting one’s life to Christ, to experiencing the fullness of life in Christ, and of walking with confidence into an unknown future.  I first encountered this prayer just prior to seminary and I’ve encountered it again since then at several important junctures.  The words of it have resonated in my head and heart nearly every day for the last two months.   

I am no longer my own, but yours.

Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;

put me to doing, put me to suffering;

let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,

exalted for you, or brought low for you;

let me be full,

let me be empty,

let me have all things,

let me have nothing:

I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things

to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

you are mine and I am yours. So be it.

And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.

So, I’ve covenanted with God that I’ll go, or I’ll stay, wherever I’m called.  Whereas it meant Winfield, KS for 15 of the last 20 years (with a wonderful Wilmore, KY interlude of 5 years), it now means Lincoln, NE.  It is a goodbye of sorts to the really incredible life I had in the amazing little town of Winfield, KS, with an spectacular church, generous friends, awesome students, etc. (Exaggerate much? Actually, no.)  But somehow it doesn’t feel like goodbye.  My new reality has yet to sink in, but God’s gracious hands have moved me along to this new address.  I’ve found some familiar things that remind me of “home” and found some exciting new things that stir my heart.  I’m unpacked, getting settled, and preparing my heart for starting work this week.  My work is forever going to be shaped by my time in Winfield, in Wilmore, and now in Lincoln.

Despite all of the evidence to the contrary on my blog, I process things best with words.  I often don’t know what I think until I write it or say it.  I’ve had some opportunities to process this transition with words with others, but for some reason haven’t been able to write much about it.  I did, however, take pictures as I was experiencing the “Last times…” in the finals months.  Again, at the risk of being dramatic, I have found that when words failed, the picture captured something for me that I just couldn’t articulate.  So, until I have more words, I’ll just savor the images that God has emblazoned on my heart and look at the pictures one more time.

Transitions are not easy.  But they are a part of God’s enduring call on our lives.  We are in good company when we set out and leave home (or go home) as a part of God’s call.  I think of Abraham (excuse me, Abram), Joseph and Joshua whose lives were uprooted by a call to find a new home, one that was often fraught with difficulty, but also great blessing.  I also think of Ruth and Naomi, Samuel, and Jeremiah who had to be brave and say and do things that required courage in order to be obedient to God.  I think of Esther and Deborah who were in positions of power and who God used to further God’s purposes.  And of course, Peter, Paul, and Mary (the people of the New Testament, not the musicians—I’m not that old) were bold, faithful, and called to do difficult things.  I see bits of my own transition as I contemplate their transitions.  But the thing about transition is that it is always change.

So for today in transition, I’m looking at pictures on my phone and in my heart that show me that I can trust God for the future by celebrating his presence in the past.  And that is more than enough.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Word to our Graduates


Well, graduates, you’ve done it!  You’ve done what only about 30% of Americans over age 25 have done!  You’ve earned a college degree.   We already knew that you were special—you chose to be a Builder.  But let me remind you that this accomplishment, as prestigious and important that it might be, is only just the beginning.

You’ve been trained well, you’ve worked hard, you’ve learned some really important skills—like the point when you absolutely MUST begin writing a paper in order to finish on time, how to find quality research for that paper, how to make a kickin’ presentation, and maybe even the best angle for your selfie to accentuate your face.  You’ve come away with relationships that have nurtured you, challenged you, and hopefully shown you that you are stronger than you thought you were.  You have finished one really important goal, but today, or tomorrow, rather, another one begins. 

Tomorrow is when you decide who you’re going to be when you’re not a student anymore.  Oh, I understand, some of you will still be a student.  You’ll go to grad school and you’ll get to keep marking your days and weeks in assignments completed, in books read, in tests passed.  But the time will come eventually when you must set your own deadlines for things.  When your boss wants the project completed by Monday but you already had plans all weekend.  When your paycheck doesn’t quite cover that new wish-list item.  And maybe when it doesn’t even quite cover that electricity bill.  When that happens, and some version of it will happen, here’s what I want you to remember:

You are a Builder.  That means something.  It means that you know how to build.  It’s not the kind of building that we do with a hammer and a nail, but it’s the kind of building of a meaningful life, professional credibility, and relationships with people different from you.  The idea of building these things may seem daunting to you right now.  In fact, I hear some of you saying, “Come on, Ashlee!  Give us a couple of days to celebrate before reality has to set in.”  I know, I know…it may seem harsh of me to remind you of difficulties that lie ahead even as you’re trying to forget the difficulties that you’ve just endured, but I offer these words that President Merriman read actually as an encouragement.  They’re words that were penned by the Apostle Paul when he was in prison.  He told a group of Christians this:  “I’m sure about this:  the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus.”  In other words, keep building.  You’re not done yet.

Most of you lived in Cole or Wallingford Hall when you were a first year student.  You loved it because all your friends were right there.  You could always find somewhere to go to hang out with someone.  You didn’t have to be alone.  But by your second year, you were ready to move to Broadhurst, or Reid, or one of the apartment buildings.  Why is that?  Well, it seems that all of your friends were always right there.  People were always coming into your room to hang out with you.  You could never be alone. 

Here’s my point:  we have to learn to build in our lives.  Moving from a residence hall to an apartment gives you the change to figure out how to live with 3 other people.  It forces you to learn how to cook.  Or at least learn how to make friends with people who cook and then pay for the food.  But even if you did stay in Cole or Wallingford for all four years of college and you were graduating here today, we would have kicked out you tomorrow.  This is an important metaphor for your lives right now.  In some ways, you’ve outgrown your life here.  The challenges that you’ve navigated, quite well, in most cases, have given you skills, aspirations, new visions, and a frontier to conquer.  We would love to keep you here forever, and some of you we will get to keep a little longer, but I’m reminded that you come here, to leave.  College is one of the only times when that’s true.  We’ve built, or at least help you build your first solo house.  The one where mom and dad aren’t there all the time.  But now, we think you’re ready to build your house without us

You see…as the passage reminds us, a good work has begun in you.  A really good work.  It’s one that has set you up for success.  You’ve been loved by your families, your friends, your professors, and yes, I even dare say your administrators.  You’ve been pushed to think more deeply, to write more grammatically correctly, and to speak more persuasively.  And you’re here celebrating today, as well you should. 

 But as you leave, I can’t resist letting you know that even as we’re moving you along in the next steps of your life, we’re praying desperately Paul’s prayer that he prayed for the Phillipians.  God, may these students become mature in their love for others.  May it be richer and deeper.  May they be able to know what is most important in life so that they can spend their lives building that which is most important.  And may they do the right things, things that bring God glory, not just working toward a degree.  So, Builders…you’re not done building.  Just come back and visit every now and then. We wish you all the best and we trust you into God’s able hands.  Until we meet again, know that the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job.  Thanks be to God.  Amen! 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

A word to my students and former students…


For the past 9 years, I’ve celebrated the End of Year Banquet with the Discipleship team at Southwestern.  It’s always been a great time of sending off our seniors, thanking our Shepherd team (of leaders), and celebrating our year together.  We held our banquet on Friday night for this year and it held a lot more meaning since I’m leaving Southwestern.  I don’t usually give a speech (thought it occurred to me that I didn’t need to wait until I am leaving to share all of my thoughts), but I realized that I had a few more things that I wanted to say to the team of students that I have identified as such a significant part of my calling for the last 9 years.  So…I started writing a few notes down and it turned into a plea to them (and an apology).  I’m sharing it here, because part of what I discovered in wrapping things up here and in writing these thoughts is that I realize how fleeting the college years are.  I have had nearly 200 students who have been on the Discipleship team in the 9 years in which I’ve been the director.  Most of them were here on campus for 4 years, and I suppose that a part of me is wishing that I could share with them a few more “words of wisdom.”  This is a great number of students, and I’ve so privileged to have been a part of their spiritual lives.  I wish that I could sit down with each of the 200 students and tell them a few things.  Since I have a blog, I decided to share it here.  So…if you’re a Disciplesheep, grab a Diet Coke, make some brownies with frosting, pull out an old T-shirt, and read the following.  Even if you’re not a Sheep, you might find a few things of interest below.  I hope so.  

The Discipleship Banquet is one of my absolute favorite things to do every year!  The opportunity to have you all in one place at the same time, the fellowship that I see between you, the stories shared, the people celebrated, the sacrifices that it took to make it to this place.  It means so much to me.

This time is so special as we send the 4th year team off with love!  We celebrate the way that the 3rd year team has led us, we look at the freaked out faces of the 2nd year team when they think about how they will be the ones running the show next year, and we initiate the 1st year team into some of our traditions.

I have a few things that I really want to say as this time comes to an end.  First of all, don’t squander the opportunities in Covenant Group.  I often see the following:

  • 1st year sees one another as classmates—they didn’t to pick who else is in the group, but they keep showing up all year long.
  • 2nd year sees one another as teammates—they’ve been together for a year, know others strengths, weaknesses and quirks.
  • 3rd year sees one another as friends—by this time, many people are often roommates with one another, they’ve likely gone on a mission trip with one another, they enjoy being together.
  • 4th year sees one another as family—this means that they may joke or fight like brothers and sisters, but through it all, they love each other.

Now, I say this and it’s true for the most part.  However, every year there is someone who doesn’t feel like they “fit in” with the rest of their team.  I would even say that it’s true of the team sitting here in this room.  The feelings of not fitting in with the rest of the team may have been fleeting, or, they may have loomed large over your head all year and it’s still looming.  I have a few things to say to you all about this.

  • Here is what I say to ALL of you:  if one of you feels this way, it’s your job to speak up.
  • To the person who feels like an outsider:  I know it’s hard, but speak up and tell others that you’re struggling.
  • To the person who feels like everyone loves each other and there can’t possibly be someone who doesn’t feel connected, I say to you:  make it your mission to see that is true.  Ask everyone in your group how connected they feel and do what you can to show that everyone DOES feel the same way you do.
  • And to the person who sees the outsider but hasn’t spoken up about it:  you may be in the best place of all to draw someone in.  I pray that you’ll do it.

What’s at risk if you don’t live out the “Family” dynamic?  Well, a lot, I’m afraid.

I’ve watched over the years as students make choices to join Discipleship, participate (sometimes marginally, sometimes fully), step up in their tough 3rd year, and even stick it out in their senior year when things are really crazy.  I’ve seen people respond differently.  Some absolutely count their D-ship experience as one of the most formative things about college.  For others, it was something they enjoyed, but it didn’t form them.  And even for a few others, it felt like a commitment that they kept, but their heart was far from it.

I suppose that this experience is not dissimilar from how many people experience their faith.  There are Christians who follow Jesus passionate, love him sacrificially, and give themselves over to the painful process of becoming a disciple.  There are Christians who participate as long as they’re being fed.  And there are Christians that show up, serve here and there, but seem to be joyless in their faith.

Disciplesheep, please don’t get to the end of your 4 years here and find yourselves in the last category!  I beg of you!  I often say to the 3rd year team, if by the end of your time here, you know a lot about how to run a great program but you don’t know what it means to follow Jesus better, I have failed.  I will confess to you all that there have been times over the last 9 years when I have failed…and failed miserably.  There are alumni out there that I owe an apology letter to…I was too self-absorbed, or busy, or fearful to call it like I saw it and offer a word of loving correction to what I saw happening.  Since they’re not here, let me say this to you all:  don’t get tempted by the structures, the events, the extras that you lose what is at the core of what this program is all about.  Here’s what it’s all about:

  • Love God.
  • Love Others.
  • Serve the World.

That’s it.  I pray that you love God—with your head (that’s why I have you take classes), with your heart (that’s why we meet with covenant groups to grow in intentional relationship), with your hands (that’s why you learn skills by serving on a committee), and with your overall health (that’s why you have an opportunity to have a mentor).

I pray that you love others—your covenant group, your committee, your Shepherd Team, your seniors, your Director, your Campus, your world.  This is why the Fishers of People team exists—to show us how to reach out to our campus.  It’s also why the Social Team exists—to draw us together, help us enjoy one another.  The team that laughs together, knows one another, trusts each other, and cares will go to the moon and back in Christian love and sacrifice.

I pray that you serve the world.  This is why we have a Hands and Feet team and a community partner of an agency or organization in town.  This is why the Kingdom Committee invites us into prayer.  This is why we go on mission every year.

I confess to you all that I have failed in many ways during my time here.  Don’t worry, I don’t beat myself up too badly…God didn’t call me to be successful, he called me to be faithful, and I have been in most ways.  But here’s the point:  y’all, this program is special.  This opportunity to gather each week, to set aside time to pray, to intentionally share, to build trust, to grow, and to even get a scholarship and school credit for it…it’s SPECIAL!  I’ve perhaps failed the most because I’ve neglected to remind you all of that.  Please hear me now if you’ve never heard me before:  this is an opportunity to experience more love—from God, for God, from others, and for others.  It’s an opportunity to grow in your understanding of holiness.  You may not have much appreciation for holiness at this point in your life, but I do.  J  Holiness is the thing that makes us look more like Jesus.  It’s the way that my life can be poured out on behalf of a hurting world.  It’s the goal of “being perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.”  It’s not holier than thou, it’s not perfectionism, it’s taking steps to willingly lay down my human earthly desires and take on the mind of Christ, do his work in the world, and experience a peace of Christ that satisfies.  It is my hope and prayer for you and for the world, that we would be the people that God has called us to be.  It’s more than that, though.  It’s that we would allow the Holy Spirit to ruin our lives for God.

The other thing that I would say at this time has to do with your involvement in the local church.  I get it.  Most churches don’t get you very well.  They don’t help visitors engage well, they don’t have many opportunities to connect with you now or just after college, the sermons or the music may feel a little irrelevant.  However, let me offer you a challenge:  if you don’t like it, maybe it means that you should keep searching for another church who can engage you better, but it may just mean that you need to step up and help them make some changes!  You guys graduate from here with a boatload of great experiences.  They may not be that visible to you right now, but if you’re here in the program for at least 3 years, you’ll have the opportunity to lead your peers (maybe even some older than you), run a meeting, keep a budget, learn about communication, verbalize your faith story, write and lead a devotion, write and lead a bible study, and help to meet a need in the world.  This is gold, people!  You have valuable experience, perspective, and wisdom.  Add humility to the mix and what you can do in the world—especially in the CHURCH world—is unstoppable.  You need a Christian community through which you can live out your faith and the Church needs you and the gifts that you bring.  It’s a win, win.  You can start this now by connecting with a church—even if it’s not perfect—and opening yourself up to what God wants to do through his Body here on earth.  And then, when you graduate, find a place and plug in.  Don’t withhold the gifts that you have to offer Christ and the world.

Well, this is a whole lot of pressure—on you to receive my passionate plea in my last days here at Southwestern, and for me to say everything that I want to say.  But it’s actually not.  I really think that what it can be boiled down to is this:  I love you.  God loves you.  Now go and rest in that knowledge.  Be good to yourself—receive the Grace that God has offered you through Jesus Christ and extend it to others.  That’s the other important part—love one another.  Love the people in this room, but love the world, too.  Jesus said it in John 17 (his Farewell Discourse) that the world would know that he came from God by the unity of the believers.  It’s so true.  I pray that you would be unified in him.  The world without hope need to be reminded of that truth.

I’m so grateful for the privilege of knowing you all!  Each of you!  Some it’s been a brief time and for others it may feel like forever!    BUT, I am a richer person for having known each and every one of you.  As I wrap this up, I just want to say, if you get nothing else, Love God.  Love Others.  Serve the World.  If you get this, you get everything.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Season Finale–My last Chapel at Southwestern College

Last Chapel, April 14

I announced several weeks ago that I had taken a position with the Great Plains Annual Conference as the Clergy Recruitment and Development Coordinator, effective this summer.  While exciting, it’s bringing a significant season of my life to an end.  I am wrapping up my second stint at SC with 9 years working in Campus Ministry.  To increase the intensity of this, I have spent 15 of the last 20 years here at Southwestern either being a student or working here.  And yet I’m sensing God’s call in my new position in an undeniable way, so it’s been exciting to experience God’s enduring call.  I preached for the last time as the Campus Minister (I’m hoping that they’ll give me an invite from time to time) last week.  Here’s the manuscript that I wrote.  I more or less preached it as written (with a few extra bits thrown in–at one point, one of my friends reportedly leaned over to another friend and said, “She’s just going to say whatever’s on her mind isn’t she?”  I suppose that’s the freedom in the “last sermon,” right?).  Anyway…here are some of my final thoughts to Southwestern College on the eve of my final weeks here.  The audio of the sermon is here


We’re finishing up our series:  The Gospel According to Popular Culture.  We wanted to have an opportunity to cultivate an awareness of where God is active in the world around us.  As I was thinking about how to end our year together, I thought about how TV shows come to an end:  The Series Finale.  As shows come to an end, we grieve what we are leaving behind in not being able to gather for the reunion of the lives of people who feel like our friends.

Take the show Friends for example.  Over the 10 seasons of it, I resonated the most with Monica and cheered on Ross and Rachel through all of their “breaks” and reunions.  I could sing along with Phoebe to Smelly Cat and laugh at Joey and Chandler.  I even had a “Page a day” Friends trivia calendar in Reid 204 during my senior year.  I will never forget the closing scene of Friends when they all turn in their keys to Monica and Chandler’s apartment.  It was incredibly moving.

Dramatic shows tend to really get me hooked, though…especially if they’re clever.  I got totally wrapped up in a show called ALIAS starring Jennifer Garner and man, I really thought that Sydney Bristow was saving the world!  She was a double agent for the CIA and what she thought was a black-ops team of the CIA but discovered WASN’T, and she solved international crises, personal crises, explored family secrets, and even showed how she was the one who was in a special prophecy.  I would get so wrapped up in the show that I had an inclination to pray for her!  That is some crazy stuff, y’all!  I would literally have to remind myself that it wasn’t real.  I have to admit, however, I was so disillusioned by the way the final season was ending that I can’t even remember the finale!

The TV show, however, that I was most wrapped up in and the Finale that I most anticipated was the TV show LOST.  LOST captured my attention the entire 6 seasons and I was waiting to see how it would resolve in the last year.  I don’t remember a series finale having more press and pressure than the LOST finale.  It was an ambitious plot with many layers of story (parallel universe, smoke monsters, characters names for philosophers and scientists, actual historical events, love, etc.).  Perhaps, however, LOST will go down in infamy for its finale, though.  Whereas each season finale kept the audience returning for more and more speculation and delight, the finale left everyone:  confused.  Various theories abounded and the writers had the gall to say, “The ending is open for interpretation.  However you want to interpret it, interpret it.”

I don’t know about you, but I want to know how the story ends.  Even if it’s not “happily ever after,” I at least want to know that my beloved characters have some kind of future together.  There’s always hope for a reunion show, right?  We tend to want to see shows resolve well and explain those mysteries that have been confounding us.  Did anyone catch the How I Met Your Mother finale?  I won’t spoil anything, but the whole entire show was based on answering that question of how Ted Mosby met his two kids’ mom.  The show took some twists and turns, hid some Easter Eggs along the way and then resolved into an ending that no one would have expected!

Without telling you the ending, I think that the show did 3 things that we want in a Finale.

  • We want resolution—to have our questions answered.
  • We want to feel like an insider—with little nods to running jokes and classic HIMYM humor.
  • We want to know that our beloved characters are going to be okay—we want to be able to predict/speculate on what their future might hold since we won’t get to witness it.

We get so attached to the stories, their questions, the characters, the lessons they’ve learned, the jokes—all of it!  We want…no, we NEED, to know if Ross and Rachel end up together, if the castaways get off the island, and how Ted Mosby met the mother of his kids.  Ultimately, I think our interest in the Series Finale is that we realize that we’re about to be left alone with just the story as it’s told.  Do we have all the information that we need in order to be satisfied?  Can the story stand alone?

As we approach Easter, we’re approaching the Series Finale in the Life of Christ.  I wonder if the disciples wanted the same things that we want out of a Finale:  resolution on their questions, to feel like an insider, to know that everyone is going to be okay.

I imagine the writers of a hit TV show in the meeting room talking about all the things that they have to cover in the final season of a show.  Which loose ends must they tie up?  Which characters can just disappear without much notice?  Which questions MUST they answer and which ones can they leave hanging?  In our story, Jesus is like the writers and he’s finishing up his final teachings before the end of the show.  It is particularly apparent in the Gospel of John.  There is a section starting in John 13 that is called the “Farewell Discourse.”  It is John’s version of the Last Supper—you know—the one that Leo daVinci painted and we often understand to be a Passover meal celebrated on Thursday evening of Holy Week.  In the “Farewell Discourse,” (John 13-17) Jesus is doing and saying everything left on his list to do and say in his final day.  Hidden in the middle of this text is our passage for today.  And I think that it has some Easter Eggs in it for us.

We all know what Easter Eggs are, right?  The things that we’re going to hunt on Sunday morning that have little surprises in them.  Well, a couple of years ago I heard the term “Easter Egg” being used to identify insider knowledge about a TV show, or even a website.  Facebook famously had several Easter Eggs that you could do to insert random pictures, change your language to Pirate or Upside Down English, etc.  LOST was constantly hiding little treasures into their shows—clues for astute observers to find.  In these cases, the Easter Eggs are extras—hidden gems that are mostly just for fun.  But as I looked back over the Farewell Discourse, it struck me how the teaching in John 13-17 is basically all the things that Jesus wants to make sure that they remember.

  • He washes their feet (John 13)
  • He calls out the person who will betray him (Judas) and the person who will deny him (Peter) (John 13)
  • He tells them that he is the way, the truth, the life (John 14)
  • He answers their eschatological questions:  they will have a home with him in heaven (John 14)
  • He says that in order for them to grow as a disciple, they must remain in him (John 15)
  • He gives them a new commandment:  Love one another (John 15)
  • He promises the Holy Spirit (John 14-16)
  • He predicts that they will have trouble (John 16)
  • He says that he’ll be back (John 16)
  • He prays for them (John 17)
  • He prays for you (John 17)

The passage that we read is what ties them all together.  Remember what I said was important about a good finale?  It’s something that gives us resolution, insider knowledge, and reminds us that our characters (and we as audience) will be okay.  This sermon is Jesus’ finale and he wants them to know that it’s not an unhappy ending.

He wraps up the story by telling them that they won’t have to figure things out by themselves.  He will be sending them the Holy Spirit.  Different translations use different words:  the Companion, Another Counselor, or the Comforter. He tells them the hard truth that they will endure difficulty—be kicked out of their religious community, or even killed.  Jesus is leaving them an Easter Egg so that when they feel threatened, they’ll remember that they’re not alone.

Can you imagine being the disciples?  They have spent all this time with Jesus, have seen miracles that he’s done, listened to his teaching, even gotten their feet washed by him.  He’s supposed to be the Messiah, the one who was sent by God to save Israel!  And now, he’s giving some teaching that sounds suspiciously like his last will and testament!  He tells them that though troubles come their way, the Holy Spirit will be there to teach them the way of truth.  Perhaps the way that Jesus will save Israel will look differently than they had expected.  Perhaps salvation is individual rather than national.  Perhaps Jesus hides his other Easter Eggs in teachings like “Love one another,” “I am the way, the truth and the life,” and “Serve others as you see me serving others.”

These are the Easter Eggs that we can find when we read this story.  What does it mean for you to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide you in all truth?  Have you recognized the Easter Eggs that Jesus left behind?

You have figured out by now that this is the last Chapel in which I get to preach as the SC Campus Minister.  I was tempted to make a list and tell you everything that I had left to tell you guys, but I refrained (mostly).  :) I decided that Jesus’ list from the Farewell Discourse was probably better than mine, anyway.  But I do have two bits of advice for you that I think bear repeating, if you haven’t heard me say them before.

The Holy Spirit is how God communicates with us.  He is the voice of God.  God’s voice is sometimes still and silent and sometimes overpowers us with such conviction that we wouldn’t even consider doing something another way.  The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us as we live as God’s hands and God’s feet. I remember learning as a child an illustration of how we are connected to God.  We are the lamp, God is the light that shines from us, and the Holy Spirit is the cord.  Only when we are plugged in to God through the Holy Spirit can we shine God’s light.  It is your job and mine to cultivate practices when we are able to hear the Holy Spirit over the voices that take up residence in our heads and hearts.

This brings me to my second bit of advice that I have for you.  It is my contention that Jesus has left us a number of Easter Eggs in our world today.  A number of them have been left through his word—the things in the Farewell Discourse that I mentioned earlier.  I think we could study God’s word and then go and do it for the rest of our lives.  It’s not easy, but when we give our lives to following Jesus, we truly can find life.  The secret is that we find life by giving it up.  It’s not easy, but it is good.  How can you cultivate practices that allow you to hear and recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit in your Life?  How will you identify the Easter Eggs that Jesus has left behind for you?

I think that if we all lived our lives plugged in to the Holy Spirit and living out the teachings of Christ, the world would be a different place.  Southwestern College would be a different place.  We might find the ways to speak words of life into the people who are around us making choices that lead to death.  We might feel less entitled and more empowered to be a servant.  We might say I love you to people who need to know what it means to be loved and accepted and not ignored and overlooked.  What if we all lived our lives letting the Holy Spirit lead us?

I preach this sermon with a little fear and trepidation.  You see, as you all know, the Holy Spirit has led me away from Southwestern.  It’s nearly unfathomable to imagine not being with you all when classes start in August.  This August will be the first time in 20 years (plus 13 years of elementary, middle and high school) that I won’t go back to school—either for myself or for my job.  I honestly don’t quite know how I’ll handle it.  I will likely wander over to one of the universities in Lincoln, Nebraska where I’ll be living and sit in on a worship service or their move in day, just to soak in the excitement, anxiety, possibility, and sweat that represents a new year.  I preach this sermon saying that the Holy Spirit leads us and guides us—sometimes into difficulty.  And yet, it’s still the best thing for us to do.

I considered calling this sermon “Series Finale,” and based on what you’ve heard so far, you might think that is a better name for it.  But I’ve actually called it “Season Finale.”  A Series Finale implies that a show has met the end.  That we’ve been given all the information that we’re going to be given and that it’s over.  However, on a Season Finale, we know that it’s a cliffhanger.  A complication has been introduced—perhaps even one that seems to cut off some options.  But, in the Season Finale, we also know that there is hope for the story to continue to be told.  We can still seek the resolution of our questions.  We are still insiders to the Easter Eggs in the story.  And we can have hope that everything is going to turn out okay for the people that we love.

As Lent is wrapping up and we are heading toward Easter when we will celebrate the resurrection of Christ, we are heading not toward a Series Finale, but a Season Finale.  We can assume new life in Christ and that the Holy Spirit goes with us.  As I’m considering the Season Finale of my life at SC as Campus Minister, I’m recognizing that the Holy Spirit is leading me and when I feel lost, I can pick up the Easter Eggs that Jesus has left me all along the way.  I hope that you find them, too.  God, may it be true.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace for the Great Plains UMC


This last week, the clergy of the newly formed Great Plains annual conference joined together for an Orders and Fellowship meeting.  We had a speaker, some workshops, some worship, and a great deal of fellowship.  I had fun seeing colleagues and friends from all over the two state area.  Unbeknownst to me (perhaps others knew about it), the chairs of each of the orders were making a statement about the following two questions:

1.)  How do we live in the tension of upholding our covenant to follow and uphold the Discipline of the UMC while disagreeing with some positions of the Discipline?

2.)  How do we respond with grace and love, both corporately and personally when a colleague decides she/he can no longer live within that covenant?

Given the recent conversation in the UMC, the elephant in the UMC was named and it seems that we are going to begin to (try) to find unity in the bond of peace in the midst of great conflict.  After each chair of the orders made their statement, Bishop Jones made a statement, too.  It’s found here.  

On Thursday morning, Rev. Dr. Nanette Roberts of Grace UMC, Olathe, preached a powerful sermon, not without it’s provocative statements.  They announced that the video would be made available at some point.  I assume that it will eventually be found here.

So…it seems that we are going to have a conversation, or at least the door was opened for a conversation in the open, about where we as the Great Plains will be standing on pastors upholding the Book of Discipline.  Being a peacemaker and a prophet often don’t go hand in hand.  What will we do?  Who will we become?  How will we show love to each other in the conversation?


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment