Monday, April 30, 2007

The Secrets of a Long Life

I had dinner with friends last Wednesday night. Beth, one of the new folks at Mount Vernon Place, Nathan, one of our interns at the church, and I went to the Hermitage in Alexandria for dinner with some of the church members. Lois, Howard and Gilbert all live at the Hermitage, a large retirement community owned and operated by the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church. While I often enjoy breaking bread with friends around the dinner table, Wednesday was no ordinary night. It was rather extraordinary due to the individuals with whom we shared the evening.

Lois is 93. She is the Finance Committee Chairperson of our church, along with the treasurer of the Social Concerns/Serve Ministry Team and the treasurer of most of the Sunday school classes. She is a retired economist who spent most of her working years at the Department of Agriculture. She has a quick whit about her and is not afraid to say anything. She tells it just like it is. Lois was one of my loudest critics when I arrived at the church in the summer of 2005. I'll never forget the day she walked into a meeting and explained to the group that the reason she was late is because the nurse would not let her go because her blood pressure was so high, "knowing she was about to see her pastor." She is now one of my favorite people, and she has already volunteered to be the maid of honor at my wedding (no exact plans yet - don't worry - I'll announce that later).

Howard is 98. He has a dog named Rebel who is the center of his life. Some church members share how it was Rebel, not Howard's wife, who got to sit in the front seat of the car when they would go on trips. Howard is also long retired and is quick to share with you his secrets of the stock market. He is one of the most kind hearted individuals I have ever met. He has a generosity of spirit about him, and his constant prayer request is for "God to make me a better Christian" - though Howard's walk of faith is one we can all emulate. Howard and Lois are the best of friends - the kind of friends who tell each other exactly what they think, ride in to the church together (they both still drive into downtown DC), and spend a lot of time together.

Gilbert is 97. He is a retired attorney who spent most of his career at the Department of the Interior. He will not allow us to visit the Hermitage now without going to his apartment for a little while. He has nearly 100 ties -- both long ties and bow ties. He has memorabilia from his work at the Interior all over his walls. And, he loves showing pictures to visitors of his beloved wife who passed away several years ago. Gilbert taught Sunday school faithfully at the church until just recently. He loves to show the desk where the lessons are pulled together, and his work notes are filled with careful exegesis of different passages and texts. He is pretty remarkable.

Following dinner and apartment tours last week, we were joined by several other members of Mount Vernon Place. Richard is the adopted son of many of the members. He has a weekly routine of playing games at the Hermitage before taking ice cream to one of the member's homes, a woman I call "precious," in Northern Virginia. On Wednesday, the games and the ice cream were brought to us. We all played several card games, with the only one I had heard of before being bridge. There was a homemade board game brought, too, called "Waa Hoo." The games belong to Ruth D. a phenomenal 91 year old who is the biggest cheerleader Mount Vernon Place has ever had. She is the one who set up the card tables on Wednesday night, brought in extra decks of cards, and taught us all how to play the games. She is amazing!

And somewhere in the midst of our evening, I learned a few of the secrets to living a long life.

1) Take time to play. Play games. Play with your grandchildren. Play with your friends.

2) Eat ice cream with friends, and add a few Girl Scout Cookies on top if you have them.

3) Invest your time, energy and resources in a church. All of these individuals have pictures of their Sunday school class on display in their apartments. Their church has been the center of their lives for the last 40 - 60 years. They have and they continue to faithfully support it with all that they have. They have watched it swell to over 4500 members and shrink to less than 100 members. Still, they keep coming. They keep studying the Bible together. They keep praying together. They keep playing together. They keep worshipping together.

4) And while I did not ask her for her secret, I think Lois would tell you that one of the secrets to a long life is to find a favorite restaurant and to go there every day for lunch. Take a book with you. Drink a martini with Beefeaters gin before you eat anything. Follow the martini with a bowl of soup and then eat whatever you want.

It's a good life -- a good, long life!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Resurrection Story

Students from Georgetown University gave the Mount Vernon Place congregation a tremendous gift on Saturday afternoon. Through a class called "Theater as Social Change," six Georgetown students created and performed a play on the rich and wonderful history of Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church.
Anita, James, Jenn, Julia and Murphy were truly outstanding in their various roles. They took us to Washington as it was during World War II. They enabled us to experience the heat of Washington summers and to imagine what it was like to be pregnant without air conditioning. They expressed the life-giving hospitality and welcome that have been extended from the church since it was built in 1917. They took us to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech at the Lincoln Memorial. They gave us sounds from the riots of 1968. They enabled us to see how much we have done since the church began 157 years ago and how much more there is to do in the future, leaving us absolutely convinced that God is not finished with this church yet.

All of us have a story to tell -- a story of success and defeat, a story of being full and a story of being empty, a story of life and a story of death. There is power when we tell our stories -- when we remember the past, recall God's faithfulness at every twist and turn, and forge on to the future.

Thank you - Anita, James, Jenn, Julia, and Murphy for telling our story in such a beautiful, powerful way. Thank you Sam, Karen and Carol for providing leadership for this class. You made us laugh. You made us cry. You made us remember. You touched us in a profound way. We are so grateful for the privilege of being able to hear our story.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


I have had a crash course in real estate development since arriving at Mount Vernon Place in the summer of 2005. Each week, I have learned something new about the selling of property and the construction of buildings as we go through the process of redeveloping the church's property. New words and phrases have been added to my vocabulary often - things they do not teach in seminary.

Last summer, I learned about Retroplate - a polished concrete that will be installed in different places in our new church building. The product can be found in several apartment buildings in Washington, is very durable, and environmentally friendly.

Last month, I learned about "GMP." GMP stands for "guaranteed maximum price." It is a number given to us by the folks at Clark Construction -- a number that is much larger for the historic renovation than we thought it would be when we first started the conversations about restoring Mount Vernon Place two years ago!

The word for this week is "frit." Do you know what frit is? Neither did I.

Frit is a type of glass that is used in office buildings all over the city. It is basically a patterned glass with the patterns designed to provide some privacy in the room to which it is installed. Frit keeps our eyes from seeing everything. The examples of frit that I was shown this week have lines or dots on the glass that can block out anywhere from 30 - 50% of the glass' viewing area.

Our developer has proposed that we use frit on the windows of our new fellowship hall so that people coming into the new office building cannot see everything that the church is doing in that large space. The frit will allow people to see some things - but not everything.

While frit is a new word to me, and I cannot point to any frit in my home or in the buildings that I regularly go in and out of, I believe that we see frit all of the time.

Last year I was having a conversation with a young person who was yearning to be more fully known. She said to me, "You know, in Washington, you are whoever you say you are."

She's right. The most common question asked at happy hours in this city is "What do you do?" It is the Washington question. And you are whoever you say you are. "I am a lawyer." "I am a White House staffer." "I am a lobbyist." "I am a legislative assistant." "I am a pastor." (The last response always begs a second question - "You're a what?")

We are whoever we say we are. Very few people want to learn anything more than what we do or who we work for. Very few people allow the conversation to extend to the point where we share more than what we do from 8:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m. We tend to keep the eye from seeing everything or the ear from hearing more. We are good at revealing only so much, keeping things very superficial. And still, on the inside, we are yearning to be more fully known. We are yearning for more transparency -- for more of us to be seen and known.

The Cheers' cliche still says it all, "Sometimes we want to go where everybody knows our name. And they're always glad we came."

While there may be frit on the new building at Mount Vernon Place, we are trying to foster a community where there is no frit. We are working to become a place where all people are welcome to come just as they are -- where they don't have to hide anything, preventing people from really seeing who they are. We are striving for a community where people can come and share all of their burdens, their joys, their frustrations, their dreams, their fears, and their deepest longings - and be accepted in spite of it all.

I long for a place where the rich and the poor gather together, where the hungry and the full break bread together, where those who have no one and those who have everyone laugh together. I pray for a community where people don't have to cry out "I need to be known, accepted, and loved," because they immediately encounter individuals who are eager to ask more than the question, "What do you do," while offering acceptance and love to everyone.

I catch a glimpse of such a place every time I gather with the Mount Vernon Place congregation. When I am with the people who I am privileged to be in ministry with, I see a man who is 98 and a baby who is 8 months old. On Sunday mornings, I see people at church who have everything that they want and sometimes see people whose only belongings are in the bags on their backs. I see people who have severe mental and physical illnesses and individuals who are a picture of good health. I see people who believe everything that is proclaimed from the pulpit and people who doubt everything that is said. I see individuals who have shared their dark sins with me and individuals who tell me they have never done anything wrong. I see people who were born a few miles from the church and others who were born thousands of miles away on the continent of Africa.

We're far from perfect at Mount Vernon Place. Still, I catch a glimpse of God's kingdom every time we gather. And as we strive for perfection, I pray that we will continue to be a place where people can be seen -- really seen -- where the barriers are broken -- where people can be fully human -- and loved and accepted -- in the midst of it all.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Imagine Peace

I was walking down 7th Street in Chinatown yesterday when a large banner caught my attention. The sidewalks were busy, and not many people seemed to notice what was hanging on the side of the Verizon Center. Still, the words on the sign caught my attention:

The sign was designed by Yoko Ono after September 11. It has hung in different places around our nation. Its words are most appropriate for a nation that is mourning. I am not sure when it was first hung at the Verizon Center - if it is something that went up a long time ago or just this week - but the words make me imagine peace - they make me imagine a world that is much different than the one in which we live. The words are yet another call to prayer for me.

Gracious and loving God,
we pray for the people of Virginia Tech
and the entire community of Blacksburg, Virginia.
Our hearts are raw and aching in the wake of the tragedy that occurred on Monday morning.
We cannot imagine such a thing happening on a college campus in a quaint community.
We cannot imagine any one person having the capacity to take so many innocent lives.
But now we do not have to imagine it - for it has happened.
Violence has rocked a campus, ending the lives of 32 individuals --
men and women who you created in your image.
Men and women who you know by name and who you are so familiar with that you even know the number of hairs on their heads.
We pray for the families of those who have died.
We ask that you would comfort mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers,
grandpas and grandmas, boyfriends and girlfriends, fiances and friends.
Speak tenderly once again your words of eternal life.
Where there is mourning, bring comfort.
Where there is darkness, bring light.
We also pray for the family of Cho Seung Hui.
Please bring comfort to his parents in Centreville, Virginia.
Bring them peace when no answers can be found to their questions.
Protect their business and surround them with love.
We also ask that you comfort the entire Korean community.
Be with them in this time of loss and hurt.
And, Lord, we pray for the entire community of Virginia Tech.
A place called, "Hokie Nation" is now closed for the week.
Please bring comfort and healing during this week.
Allow the individuals who study, teach and work there to find peace in the midst of despair.
Allow people to question, recognizing that answers are hard to find.
Allow people to doubt, only to find your still, small voice in the midst of the doubting.
And in the midst of this loss, may people find you and your promise for eternal life made possible through the life, death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus.
Please also be with college students, administrators, faculty and staff around the world.
Make our places of learning a haven of peace and safety.
Grant parents peace when they send their children to college.
Place a barrier of protection around every student.
You have said, "blessed are the peacemakers."
Make us all peacemakers on this day and in the days to come.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Why I Believe in Handgun Control

The 7:00 news has ended, and I have watched Brian Williams report for 30 solid minutes on today's tragedy at Virginia Tech. My heart is aching. The pictures and the stories have made me sick to my stomach. I cannot imagine being one of the parents -- a mother who sent a son off to Virginia Tech in the fall -- only to sit at home tonight wondering why I have not yet heard from him. I cannot imagine being one of the students in the classroom where a semi-automatic weapon was reloaded in front of my eyes in order for more shots to be fired. I cannot imagine being the president of an institution that has faced a day like today -- a day on which his employees will be scrutinized forever because of the emails they sent and the gates and doors they closed or failed to close. Again, my heart is aching, and my prayers are with the entire Virginia Tech community and the town of Blacksburg.

There are a couple of statements that caught my attention from tonight's broadcast. One of the statements is about how the gunman reloaded his weapon and how his weapon held more shots than it would have been able to hold had handgun control legislation not expired a few years ago. The other statement made tonight with complete confidence is, "One thing is for sure. A situation like this one will happen again." This statement is backed up by the spokeswoman at the White House who was quick to say, "The President believes in the right to bear arms." Perhaps the NRA was already concerned about what impact an incident like this one might have on their level of power in Washington.

My father and I have long argued about guns and the right to have them in our homes. When I worked on Capitol Hill in the mid-90s, Dad would send money to the NRA while I would send money to Handgun Control. We stopped sending money when we realized that our contributions were cancelling each other out.

I cannot imagine why anyone in this country needs a semi-automatic handgun. I cannot imagine why anyone needs to own a military style assault weapon. Why on earth should these guns be allowed in the homes of individuals in this country? How long do we have to go as a nation before we see how dangerous these weapons are? Could handgun control have prevented the death of 32+ people today?

One of the 10 Commandments is "Thou Shall Not Kill." Jesus made it very clear that we are to put away our swords. He came preaching peace and forgiveness. He came asking people to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecute them.

God, grant us the courage to follow your commandments. Please be with all individuals in positions of authority and power. Help us to live as people of peace. And please bring healing and comfort to the Blacksburg community on this night and in the days to come. Amen.

Jeep for Sale?

It was quite the morning. I overslept as I had set my alarm for 6:15 p.m. and not 6:15 a.m. Oversleeping during the week is not a big deal. It is a big deal on Sundays, however! I got ready in a hurry and walked out into the pouring rain. My car was parked a block away from my apartment building, and it was finally in sight. I could hardly wait to get inside of it and out of the rain.

As I got closer to the car, I realized that my rear view mirror had fallen off. It has fallen off before, so I was not that concerned. I then noticed a little steam coming off the hood, and then I started to hear the engine. The engine was running. The car was exactly where I had left it -- where I had turned it off and locked the doors -- but the car was running. I then walked around to the passenger side and found the window completely down with rain pouring in. I peaked inside and noticed that the entire key shaft had been torn off. Someone had broken into my car and successfully turned it on. They could not drive it, however, because it had a Club anti-theft device on the steering wheel.

It was quite a morning.

I first called Craig. I then called one of the church's interns to let them know I would be late. And then I phoned the police department. They told me not to get into the car so I stood there -- in the pouring rain.

I soon watched as a police car approached. It was not the car sent for me -- but the officer quickly pulled over and came to my aid. Officer Sarah from the 3rd District was amazing. She was calming and helpful, telling me how easy it is to get into Jeep Cherokees. She then invited me into her car while she collected all of the necessary information. Meanwhile the other officer stood outside, continuing to take notes on my car. The two then followed me downtown to the church, so that I could park it somewhere off the street. And one of the officers showed me how to turn the car off with a screwdriver, reassuring me how easy it is to steal Jeep Cherokees. My car could be turned off and on with a screwdriver!

The people who got my car started did not take anything. They left an expensive pair of sunglasses, several CDs, and my clergy robe. They simply wanted one thing -- to be able to take my car for a joy ride until it ran out of gas. The likely criminal is a young person -- a teenager -- trying to prove himself to his friends. They call it a game - a game that is won when a car is entered, started and stolen.

I call it a call to prayer.

God, please continue to be with all of the people in my neighborhood. Be with the young people who hang out on street corners and huddle around the city blocks. Be with the two young men who threw eggs at my car several weeks ago and with the individuals who successfully got my car door open and the engine started without a key on Saturday night. Reveal yourself to them and to me in a powerful way - in the kind of way that enables all to see what is right and what is wrong.

And God, help me to see where the church can step in when society is falling short. Help us to pray for the neighborhood in which we have our being and the city we are called to serve. Help us to befriend the young and the old, welcoming on the inside those who are too often on the outside. Help us to take an active interest in young people -- especially young men and women who walk too close to the edge. When families have failed them, help us to befriend them. When no one else wants them, help us to love them. Amen.

I am tempted to sell my car and start using Flexcar. Please let me know if anyone is interested in a 2000 Jeep Cherokee 4w4. After the shop completes the $2,600 repair bill, it is going to be in top-notch shape, ready to roll!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Callings and Claims

I have heard a lot about callings this week. Our Wednesday Bible study group started a study on Jeremiah this week, and the prophet's call is outlined in the very first chapter of the book:

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.' Then I said, 'Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.' But the Lord said to me, 'Do not say, 'I am only a boy'; for you shall go to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the lord. Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth: and the Lord said to me, 'Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."

Jeremiah is a boy - still the Lord calls him, telling him that he was consecrated for service in God's kingdom before he was even born. Jeremiah does not know what to do or what to say, still the Lord touches his mouth, giving him exactly what he needs to be a faithful leader.

These are powerful words, and I love reading about the calls of the prophets, the disciples and anyone else in the Bible. But my favorite thing is to hear about how God is calling someone today.

On Tuesday evening, I gathered a group of seminary students in my home in order to talk about their call and the places in which God might call them to serve upon their completion of seminary. Three young adults in their 20s and 30s told the story of how God had set them apart. For one person, it was a difficult ending to a relationship that enabled her to first see God at work. For another person, it was a transforming time in college and in a ministry setting in a far off land that enabled her to see God at work. And for another person, something began to happen in junior high that allowed him to see how God had given him specific gifts that could be used in the church. They were amazing stories, and I felt as though we were standing on holy ground as each story was told.

The stories were received by a seasoned leader in the church who responded by telling stories of what a remarkable privilege it is to be a pastor. He told stories of forgiveness -- including one story of how he forgot a wedding but the bride still forgave him! He told stories of how members of his congregation continued to affirm his gifts, placing a phone call to him each year after he was reappointed to be their pastor to say, "I'm glad your back -- I'm glad that you will be my pastor for another year." And he told stories of a person whose life was almost over. When the person was asked about whether or not he was ready to go on to heaven the person responded, "I cannot imagine any place better than this one."

This month marks the 11th anniversary of my call to ministry. In April of 1996, I was a young Senate staffer who was spending my days in the office of U.S. Senator Tom Harkin. I liked what I was doing Monday - Friday, and I was planning to attend law school in the fall of 1997 as I wanted to pursue the dream of having a public office of my own. I had every intention of being a United States Senator myself. But something happened...

In April of 1996, I was invited to serve as a chaperone for a group of young United Methodists from Washington and Baltimore on a trip to New York City. I had never been to NYC before, and I loved the city. I had never been around such raw, vulnerable young people - people who were willing to share with me whatever it was that was on their hearts or in their minds. The excitement of the city combined with the words of these young people started me thinking about what it was that I wanted to do with my life. By Saturday, I had decided that I did not want to go to law school anymore but instead wanted to move to New York City or work with young people for the rest of my life. And on Sunday, my pastor offered a closing prayer, "Dear God, thank you for this trip and for the safety you have given to us. Thank you also for the ways in which you can use experiences like this one to call people. Please be with the individuals who you have called this weekend as they seek to discern your will for their lives."

It was like a bolt of electricity. I had been changed in an instant. I did not go to law school the next year but enrolled in seminary instead. And, I have not looked back once. I, too, cannot imagine anything better than this life.

God, please be with those individuals whom you have called as they discern your will for their lives.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Signs of Resurrection

We celebrated Easter at Mount Vernon Place yesterday. Easter is my favorite Sunday of the entire year. It is a day on which we always get to welcome into the midst of our congregation several visitors -- from here and there and everywhere. It is a day on which we get to get out of bed extra early for a sunrise service at 7:00. It is a day on which we get to see children running around with a sugar high -- the same high I'll have later tonight since I just bought half-price Cadbury eggs! And, it is a day on which we get to proclaim boldly the most amazing story of our Christian faith -- He is Risen! Christ has conquered sin and death and offers us new life, making us a new creation!

I have seen signs of the resurrection often in recent days. Last week, I went to Ground Zero for the first time while in New York City. So many thoughts went through my head as I stood there, looking at the big hole on which a memorial will one day stand. But it was something at the fire station across the street from Ground Zero that caught my attention. Words painted on the side of a fire truck reminded me that he is risen.

I shared the words with the congregation yesterday, reading the names I saw painted on the truck out loud. They are the names of six men -- six fire fighters -- who died on 9/11. However, the message painted underneath their names does not say, "Sorry it's over" or "It is finished." The message painted beneath their names says, "Till we meet again."

This promise of meeting again is impossible without Christ. Without Christ, everything is finished -- over -- complete. Without Christ -- we all perish only to be buried in the ground. But with Christ, we have the assurance that we can live eternally -- that we can meet again -- because he has gone to prepare a place for us and will one day bring us to him. What a blessed promise!

Dennis, our neighbor that often sleeps on the church's lawn, has also given us a sign of the resurrection. At some point last week, a tree in the church's yard was adorned with a variety of little things and little people. There are two dolls with clothes on hanging in the tree and a variety of smaller toys all over the ground. When I asked Dennis about the things, he said, "Easter is coming. You'll have lots of children here on Sunday."

An almost two-year-old boy found the tree yesterday and stood looking at it in pure delight. This same child reminded us of how wonderful new life is as he kept us entertained during the Sunrise Service. The child is a new creation, and Dennis offered a new creation in the tree that once again points towards Christ.

There was one more sign of resurrection today -- a sign that did not delight me but did make me laugh. I was getting out of my car at the church and looked down to see sprinkles of wet white stuff all down the front of my coat. The birds are out again -- they are chirping in the early hours of the morning and sitting in trees above cars all over the city. I hear it's good luck to have a bird poop on you. I'll just call it another sign of new life -- a sign of resurrection.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Solutions at Saks

I spent last weekend in New York City. Out of all of the cities in the world, New York is one of my favorites. It is certainly the most amazing place that I have ever been to in the United States. I love the diversity of people, the excitement coming from the streets, the beautiful buildings, and the hustle and bustle. I also love the shopping -- from the street vendors who sell everything from hot dogs to Pashmina scarfs to my new, $17.50, "Gucci" watch.

My mother also loves to shop. Whenever she is visiting from her small community in Southeast Colorado, we always spend time shopping. New York shopping is very different than Washington shopping, however. In Washington, we spend time in my favorite discount stores -- stores like Filene's Basement. In New York, it is great fun to look around at the large department stores -- stores where you do more looking than buying.

We arrived in New York on Thursday morning, checked into our hotel, and set out for Fifth Avenue. We stopped first at the American Girl Place -- a place that was enough to send my niece into pure delight and me into pure amazement and regret. I had never been to a place with a hair salon for dolls (what is this world coming to?). We then walked across the street to Saks Fifth Avenue.

We had only been inside the doors of the store for two minutes when a woman said, "Hello! Welcome to New York. Where are you visiting from? Please come over. I have a solution for your lips." She proceeded to welcome us to her makeup counter, pull out three chairs for each one of us, and introduce us to one of the new product lines -- a line called, "Solutions."

The woman tempted us to the counter because she promised to have the perfect lipstick for us. An hour later, she had showed us a solution for my oily skin, the wrinkles beneath my eyes, my cracked lips, and my blemishes. An hour later, she had convinced us that we needed the solutions she had to offer. An hour later, we had spent more money on makeup than we ever thought we would. An hour later, we felt absolutely beautiful because she had given us the right solution -- she gave us exactly what we needed, sprinkling the experience with warmth and hospitality.

It all started with the words, "I have a solution for you."

Today is Good Friday. It is a day that always leaves me in tears, wondering how on earth God could love all of us so much that God would send his only Son to die upon a cross. Today is a day on which the Son of God was nailed to a cross for the atonement of our sins -- so that we could be made "at one" with God.

Today, we remember the most amazing solution this world has ever seen. Since the Garden of Eden, people had been stuck in the mess and rubble of their sins. Death was inevitable. Life was scarce. There seemed to be no way out. There was no way out until some 2000 years ago when Jesus, the Son of God, was born into the world. He came announcing solutions for all of our needs.

Too much darkness around you? The light -- my light -- shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never overcome the light.

Afraid of dying or mourning the loss of a loved one? I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me - even thou they die - yet shall they live!

Wondering how on earth anyone could ever love you after all that you have done? I am the Good Shepherd, and the Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. The shepherd even leaves all 99 sheep behind in order to go after the one sheep that is missing.

Do you want to see a different kingdom than the kingdom controlled by the rulers of this world - a kingdom in which the powerful always win, a kingdom ruled by sword and not peace? The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. I welcome everyone -- especially the people no one else wants.

And this is just the beginning of his solutions. He brought a solution for all of our deepest needs. He has a solution for all of our heavy burdens. He has a solution for our longings and our fears. He has a solution for exactly what we need.

Yes, it's Good Friday. It is a day on which a solution -- a painful, awesome, beautiful solution --was created -- for you and for me.