Until Then…

My Problem with Halloween 

Sorry to be a buzzkill, but I’m not a big fan of what Halloween has become in the US.

I love its history as a day to remember the joke God played on the powers of evil through the resurrection.  It’s fine for small children.  One of my favorite memories is walking around our neighborhood with a couple other Dads as our children went knocking on doors.  But since adults and Walmart got into it, the whole thing has gotten out of hand.  I don’t want to have my teeth cleaned by a witch or do my banking with a clown.

Of the $9 billion Americans will spend on Halloween this year, the money for candy alone would provide 1.5 million homeless and extremely poor people with three hot meals every day for a year.  And that doesn’t include the added trips to the dentist after they consume all that sugar! (You’ll find the disturbing statistics here.)

“A Day I Peculiarly Love” 

By contrast, I’m a big fan of All Saints’ Day which John Wesley called “a day I peculiarly love.”  It’s the day we remember those who have gone before us and are now present with us in the “communion of All-Saintsthe saints.”

Charles Wesley taught us to sing:
“Let saints on earth unite to sing
with those to glory gone,
for all the servants of our King
in earth and heaven are one.”

It’s also the day that points toward the promise of that day when God’s Kingdom will fully come and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  It reminds us of the promise that though “now we see in a mirror, dimly, then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

“Until Then” 

When we call the names of those who have joined the saints around throne (Revelation 7:9-17) in the past year, I’ll be remembering my mother. She used to sing an old gospel song that says:

Until then my heart will go on singing,
Until then with joy I’ll carry on,
Until the day my eyes behold the city,
Until the day God calls me home.

As followers of the Risen Christ, we are called to live now in ways that are consistent with the way we believe things will be then. Jesus’ parables are clear that the question is not “When is Jesus coming again?” but “What will I be doing when he gets here?”  The question is not “When will Jesus vision of the Kingdom of God be fulfilled?” The question is “How am I participating in that Kingdom among us right now?”

  • We care for the environment Now because Then the renewed creation will be the place where God will be at home with God’s people. (Revelation 21:3)
  • We work for peace Now because we know that Then swords will be turned into plowshare and spears into pruning hooks and people will not learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)
  • We work to overcome racism and ethnic conflict Now because we know that Then Heaven will be filled with people from every race, tongue and nation. (Revelation 7:8-9)
  • We invite others to follow Jesus Now because we know that Then every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Philippians 2:10-11)
  • We care for one another in Christian community Now because we know that Then God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. (Revelation 21:4)
  • We feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners and seek economic justice for the poor Now because Jesus said that’s the way every nation will be judged Then. (Matthew 25:31-46)

Writing from a Nazi prison cell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer declared:

“There remains for us only the very narrow way of living every day as if it were our last, and yet living in faith and responsibility as though there were to be a great future…It may be that the day of judgement will dawn tomorrow, and in that case, though not before, we shall gladly stop working for a  better future.”

Go ahead and have fun on Halloween.  But remember that it is just the dark night before the dawn of the new day of resurrection.  Until then, keep on keeping on!

Grace and peace,




Busy With What?

Wishing Jesus Hadn’t Said That   

Some folks call my wife Marsha, the nickname she acquired in college, but her parents named her Martha. And it fits!  She really wishes Jesus hadn’t said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.  One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41)

Martha_and_Mary_by_He_Qi_ChinaMartha was busy in the kitchen fixing supper for Jesus and his disciples while Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.”  She had good reason to ask,  “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to prepare the table all by myself? Tell her to help me.”  (My Martha has been known to say something like that to me!)

It helps to notice that Martha’s story comes immediately after Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan with it’s closing command, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37) That may be the story Jesus was telling when Martha came in from the kitchen. The back-to-back stories paint the picture of the basic rhythm of the Christian life.  It’s the balance of being and doing; prayer and action; listening to Jesus’ words and doing what Jesus tells us to do.

Jesus’ word to Martha is a hard word for hyperactive, do-it-now, get-the-job-done Americans to hear.  Our tendency is often to “go and do likewise” rather than to “sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to what he is saying.”

We Methodists are generally “go and do likewise” people.  Our version of a familiar nursery rhyme goes:

Mary had a little lamb,
She also had a sheep.
She joined the United Methodist Church
And died for lack of sleep.

Busy With Prayer 

Yesterday was the day when the Episcopal Church remembers Vida Dutton Scudder. Her life demonstrated the rhythm of  intense social activism and vibrant spirituality. She wrote, “If prayer is the deep secret creative force that Jesus tells us it is, we should be very busy with it.”  

It led me to think about what it means to be as busy with prayer as I am busy with so many other things in my life.  Here’s what I wrote in my journal.

O God, I want to believe that the best, deepest, strongest thing I can do in response to what I see in the world around me, my concerns for the United Methodist Church, and my deepest hopes for my children and grandchildren is to be busy in prayer….spending quiet time in your presence so that your Spirit can shape my thinking, transform my convictions, inspire my hopes, and be alive in my relationships.

Prayer doesn’t mean pounding on the door of heaven to present my list of demands to you, but living in humble openness to the often unnoticed way your Spirit enters into our world and our lives, often in ways we never would have asked or demanded.

Busy with prayer means being soaked in scripture so that the Spirit who inspires the written word can make it a living word in us.

The Cure for Our Anxiety

Don’t miss the way Jesus told Martha, “You are worried and distracted by many things.”  So much of the tension and anger of our times is rooted in anxiety and fear.  It’s when we are busy in prayer that we discover the peace Paul promised when he wrote:

Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7) 

The promise is that if we are busy in the spiritual disciplines of prayer and reflection on scripture, we will experience a peace that is beyond human understanding.  Then we will be ready to “go and do likewise” with a calm courage, gracious patience, and relentless hope.

What if the only effective way to be busy doing things is by being just as busy in prayer? At least it’s worth trying!

Grace and peace,


P.S.  When my wife read this blog to approve of my use of her as an example, she said, “I still wish he hadn’t said that!”