Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

Today I did something I don't usually do. I went to church.

Well, what I mean is, I went to church where I wasn't the preacher. I don't often do that.

And I did something else I don't usually do. I attended a very traditional, liturgical service in an Episcopal church.

And what a moving service it was.

It was the Good Friday liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer. The written prayers were beautiful. We read Psalm 22 out loud together. Scripture readers read from Isaiah 53 and from John's account of Jesus' arrest, trial, and crucifixion. There was standing and kneeling, and singing a very mournful hymn with no instrumental accompaniment.

This is not my usual style of worship. But on this day, it spoke to me. Deeply.

As did the priest's sermon. She quoted the old hymn, "Were you there?" and asked, "If you had been there when Jesus fed the 5000, would you have given up your 5 loaves and 2 fish--if they were all you had to eat? Would you hand them over and trust God to provide?"

Sitting there in that darkened sanctuary, I had to admit that my honest answer was no.

She asked, "If you had been there when Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple, would you have turned over a table yourself, or would you have run and hid?"

I thought about it. If I'm honest--I would have run and hid.

She asked, "If you had been there when Jesus was put on trial would you have put yourself at risk to stand up for him?"

Again. My honest answer is no.

My devotion for this morning quoted Galatians 2:20 -- "I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." I realized during this Good Friday service that I have a long way to go before that statement is true for me.

And I wanted to weep.

They did something I'd never seen before. They brought a large wooden cross down the center aisle and set it up in front of the church. Then, while the choir sang--with no instrumental accompaniment--worshippers were invited to "come forward to venerate the cross as they feel led." It was a bit uncomfortable. And I think that was the point.

At first I wasn't sure about it. But about halfway through the choral anthems, I found myself walking forward. I grabbed the kneeling pillow closest to the cross, and I bent as low as I could go. I told God what I just told you --that I have not really crucified my old self --that I'm a lot more self-centered than I thought -- that I really love this world and the things in it, and I really don't like the idea of giving away my bread and fish, or helping Jesus turn over tables, or joining him on the cross. My preference? Run away. Save myself. Look out for #1.

And as I knelt there confessing these things, it didn't feel so much like a guilt-ridden prayer for forgiveness as a sense that I was finally being honest. It was painful--but it was also a relief.

And as I walked out of that beautiful old church, I felt closer to God than I have in a long time.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Celebrating the Life of Bob Scroggs

Bob Scroggs. What an awesome guy.

I remember the day I got the call. I was on a personal prayer retreat. Hiking helps me to pray, and on this day I was hiking up to Lovers Leap in Hot Springs, NC. My cell phone rang and I saw that the caller was Lynn Scroggs. The news was not good. Bob was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

That was back in October of 2011. Bob managed to live another 16 months, and during most of those days he was smiling, laughing, caring about people, and witnessing for Jesus. When I would visit him in the hospital or hospice facility, it was obvious that he was the nurses' favorite patient. Everybody loved Bob. You couldn't help it. He was so full of life and joy. So upbeat. So friendly and outgoing.

And he really cared about people. One of the reasons he and Lynne came to Covenant was to find a good place for Josh and Letson Hernandez. Josh and Letson were in Lynn's Sunday school class at another church when they were just 4 and 5 years old. As they grew into later elementary and middle school years, Bob and Lynn wanted to make sure these young men from El Salvador were in an active church with a strong youth group.

Bob's memorial service was this past Saturday. It was great to see the church family come together to support Lynn and celebrate Bob's life. Even in the midst of Room in the Inn and preparations for Palm Sunday and the children's mini-musical, Covenant members worked hard to get the place ready, prepare for a great meal, and put together a beautiful service. (I especially want to thank the Covenant staff members who put in a lot of extra hours last week.)

Last summer I was preaching on the Body of Christ as part of a series on Corinthians. Bob volunteered to come by the church and share some of his positive thoughts on the Body of Christ at Covenant. He not only talked about the church--he talked about life, about death, about his family and Lynn--and about his relationship with Jesus. He explained why he wanted to be cremated: "I've always liked to pester people. This way Lynn can scatter me anywhere, and then whenever somebody gets a speck of dust in their eye, they'll say, 'Oh, there's that Bob Scroggs bothering me again!'"

That clip and other portions of Bob's video were played at his celebration. It was both poignant and exciting to hear him speaking to us "from the grave" like that.

After the service each lunch table was adorned with a unique centerpiece--a Jesus hat and sticks of Bob's favorite (ever-present) chewing gum.

Bob was always so joyful. I am challenged by that. Through all his suffering I never heard him complain. When he would share grim news with me he would always add, "But you know what, I've already lasted ___ months longer than they said I would!" Once when he was rushed to the hospital I went to visit him and I said, "Bob, I'm sorry you're in the hospital again." And he smiled and said, "I'm not! I'm feeling so much better since they brought me here!"

Bob was the epitome of Philippians 4:4--"Always be full of joy in the Lord." As I said Saturday: If Bob can face suffering and death with so much joy, could not you and I go through life with a bit more joy? A bit more gratitude? A bit less grumbling and complaining?

I hope so. That's just one of the things I hope to learn from the time I've had with Bob.
The Scroggs family and me before the service. I wore jeans under my coat and tie in honor of Bob!