It seems almost impossible to believe, but on an August day 53 years ago, I caught my first glimpse of #25 of the Boston Red Sox. My father had brought my brother and me to our very first major league baseball game. The Red Sox were mired in last place, and there was hardly anyone at Fenway Park that day; indeed they seemed rather disinterested about the whole affair until a young man named Tony Conigliaro stepped to the plate to pinch hit. Suddenly the ballpark was alive with excitement! Right then and there, “Tony C.” as he was called then, became my idol. If ever there was anyone destined for stardom it was #25. And his career moved along splendidly until another August day when he was hit just below his left eye with a baseball.
Tony C. made a courageous comeback, played baseball for two more years, but his career ended at the age of 30. Fifteen years later, he suffered a massive heart attack and was physically and mentally impaired until he died in 1990 at the young age of 45. What a horrific twist of fate that one so talented, who possessed so much promise, should have his life end so sadly. Never does the month of August
come, when I don’t think of that untimely end.
All of which has led me to think today of life, and the brevity of it. The years do pass so quickly; time slips away. And often life comes to a screeching halt far sooner than we would expect or desire. Our church family has a number of such losses in recent weeks. Events like these are tragic and shocking, but they do, at the very least, make us more conscious of our mortality; they have a way of making us
more aware of the friends and loved ones that are so important to us, and they can serve to remind us of the importance of making each day count. As James reminds us, “Life is like a vapor that appears for a little while, and then vanishes.”
Years ago, I read of a photographer who won an award for a picture he had taken. A young woman had been found dead, alone in her car, after an overdose of some drug. Using a wide angle lens, the photographer was able to take a picture showing this woman sprawled across the seat of her car, and through the front window, the adjoining parking meter read, “Time Expired;” a rather dramatic and graphic way of reminding us again of the brevity of life.
Yet, we need not allow this thought to make us fearful or unhappy. For as God’s people, we know some good news; news of Jesus Christ who, by his own violent death at a young age on a Roman cross, took the sting out of sin and death, and brought immortality to light through the Gospel. Thanks be to God, who throws this “rainbow of hope” and victory around our futures.
In Him, Pastor Joel
The Greek word for Gospel, “euangelion,” means “good news.” There are four books in the Bible we name gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And of these four, it is believed that Mark is the first one to be written. Mark is also the shortest of the gospels.
Our Summer Bible Study (each Sunday morning at 9:45) will be focusing on Mark’s Gospel, and this will also be my focus in preaching during July and August. Mark tells the story of Jesus in an “action-packed” manner, which is why we have named our study this year, “The Adventures of Jesus of Nazareth.” Immediately, Immediately, Immediately; Mark uses this word over and over. Mark almost leaves us breathless with the immediacy of unfolding events.
Indeed, the pace and excitement are akin to a modern day action movie. Each week of this series, both in study and in worship, we will pull out another incredible scene and make application for our lives today. Chapter one tells us what to expect; this is the beginning of the good news of Jesus the Messiah, God’s Son. And from there we will hear about the baptism of Jesus, and then the calling of the first disciples!
So in these coming weeks, I hope you will join us for Summer Bible Study and for worship and discover the ways we are all being invited to witness to the good news that we know in Jesus. As Tom Wright says in his commentary on Mark, “Mark has all the zip and punch of a quick, hasty story that is meant to grab us by the collar and make us face the truth about Jesus, about God, and about ourselves. Mark is for everyone!
So, come join us on the first Sunday of July. We will provide a daily reading and study guide from Mark’s gospel. I encourage you to make use of this resource. Or, you might try to read the book of Mark in its entirety before we begin our study. As I mentioned, this is the shortest gospel. It will only take a few hours to read through.
And, I pray that each of us takes time this summer to refresh and renew our spirits. Jesus took time to get away from the business of his ministry to spend time with God. At times, our summer schedules are so full we need a vacation from our vacation. Jesus urges us, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” That is a good word as we begin this summer season. Come and spend some time with Him, and may God bless us, our summer, and our worship and service of Jesus the Christ.
In Christ, Pastor Joel
Seeing the images out of the United Kingdom in recent days has been troubling. The world is an increasingly more violent place. People seem to be less tolerant and gracious. Still, we are those who are called to love.
In the cartoon Peanuts, Lucy stands with her arms folded and a resolute expression on her face, while Charlie Brown pleads with her, “Lucy, you must be more loving. The world needs love. Make this world a better place Lucy by loving someone else.” And Lucy whirls around and in anger strikes Charlie Brown and he flips over backwards. Lucy screams, “Look, you blockhead, the world I love; it is people I can’t stand.”
It is easy to love in the abstract, the world and people in general. Evidently, it is the people around us that we can’t stand. And yet, it is precisely those people around us, the people we work with, go to school with, live next door to, or even sit next to in worship, that Jesus calls us to love.
Love is the mark that Jesus gave Christians to wear before the world, and through the years I have known so many here at Montgomery Hills who have worn that mark well. Jesus called his disciples to “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) Jesus lived a life that embodied such love. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, comforted the hurting, and blessed the children. That which they had received, they were called to share with others.
And so are we. When we love like that it makes a difference, and it makes the world a little different. Earnest Fitzgerald once told a story about a missionary to Kenya many years ago. A resident of the village where the missionary served for 25 years said of him: “When he came to us, there was no light. When he left, there was no darkness.” Love shatters the darkness that surrounds us with the light of Christ. When we take time to listen to someone, or to encourage, lift up, build up, or extend a helping hand to another, we make a difference.
Howard Thurman closes his book, “Disciplines of the Spirit,” by saying: “The experience of love is either a necessity or a luxury. If it be a luxury, it is expendable; if it is a necessity, then to deny it is to perish. So simple is the reality, and so terrifying. Ultimately there’s only one place of refuge on this planet for any person, and that is in another person’s heart. To love is to make of one’s heart a swinging door.”
If we can’t do anything else in our ministry, we can minister to others with love. All we have to do is pass on the same love that has been passed along to us. I encourage us all to look for ways to do that. “Faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest of them all is love.”
With love, Pastor Joel
Pastor Joel Hawthorne