A Pilgrim Pastor

28 04 2017

I only met him a few years ago.  He was the first person I contacted when I moved into town; selfishly, because I wanted to pick his brain and learn about all that was going on in his church.  I had read an article he had written for some denominational publication, and gracious doesn’t do justice to the way he received my call.  He didn’t know me from Adam, but never the less invited me out for a tour of his church’s facility.  The day I visited we spent a couple hours together; and over steaming bowls of Pho we talked about ministry and all that was going on in the Presbyterian portion of Christ’s body in our nation’s capital.

Jeff Krehbiel was one of those people you aspired to be like!  He was only a year older than me, thus making it odd in the eyes of some to consider him a mentor.  But Jeff’s life, ministry, and personality were so quietly inspiring and contagious, that admiration couldn’t help but bubble up within you when you were with him.

I certainly didn’t know him as well as many who may read this; but the mere fact that he’s been popping into my head every day since I heard of his diagnosis, and that I now find myself bearing a heaviness of heart over his passing,  evidences the kind of Christ-follower that Jeff was.  I only met his wife Cheryl once, and didn’t know the rest of his family; so I cannot comment the personal side of Jeff’s life.  I say that because I don’t want anyone to think that a man’s life is solely defined by his ministry.  But I have only known Jeff in his capacity as a pastor and colleague, and so I will not presume to be able to write about anything else.

Jeff loved ministry; and that is rare today.  The Church is full of pastors who have become cynical and resentful, with hearts that can’t seem to wait for retirement.  But my encounters with Jeff revealed a man who loved what he did; and that was inspiring to see.  Whether preaching or ringing his singing bowl, reading Scripture or providing pastoral care, leading committee meetings or rethinking what a faith community is to be about, Jeff’s enthusiasm for what he did gave me  glimpses of a Jesus who was alive and active in his risen Body, the Church.

Jeff also loved and appreciated the world – the creative work of the holy hand of God.  He loved creation, and he loved all who inhabited creation.  Whether seeking to maintain and simply enjoy . . . ‘the beauty of the earth’, or courageously pursuing the justice of God’ in . . . ‘the living of these days’, Jeff bore witness to ‘kin’dom living.  His life was a testimony to the work and movement of the Spirit — a Spirit far less like demure dove, and much more like a gregarious goose.  And witnessing his way of being in the world motivated me to do what I do with renewed energy and vigor.

But the thing I think I appreciated most about Jeff was his commitment to the ‘renewing of his mind!’  His faith was all about the transformation that is at the heart of the Gospel, and he showed me what it means to actually live out the motto . . . life is not about the destination, but the journey.  What I witnessed in Jeff Krehbiel was man who embraced the continuing education of his mind, and who sought out adventures and experiences, and people and places, that would lead him into those ‘thin spaces’ where his walk with God might be deepened.

As my own journey continues to grow and develop I become more and more certain of what heaven is NOT, and less and less certain of what I think it is!  Never the less, in spite of that mystery, I DO believe it has something to do with an ongoing and eternal presence of all that is right and good and kind and faithful.  And because there was so much in Jeff that was indeed . . . right and good and kind and faithful . . . I am confident that he can and does live on: in me, and in many who knew and loved him.    So well done good and faithful servant!  And thanks for the many ways you pastored this pastor!

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Throw him out! (No not Trump; Jesus!)

14 04 2017

reconciliation

More and more I am becoming convinced that I have a choice to make.  Every day it seems as though I am being asked to decide between the ’empire theology’ that is so prevalent in our nation, or to truly walk in the way of the Christ.

The way of Jesus is the way of peace; never violence.  I am reminded of that on this Good Friday, 2017.  While it was not part of the plan for Jesus to resist the Roman cross, he certainly could have chosen to do so.  But at the heart of the Gospel is love — and so he pushed, challenged, forgave, and even resisted, but he did so peacefully, until the very end.  Even though it would cost him his life, he would never compromise the message that violence is never solved by more violence.  And that conviction would ultimately nail him to a wooden beam.

Yet the nation that I call home is once again taking itself to the brink of war: sending Tomahawk missiles into Syria, dropping the MOAB on Afghanistan; and now beating it’s chest and threatening North Korea with military action if they do not do as we say.  Our elected leaders, from the President on down – and ‘on both sides of the aisle’ – seem to believe that violence is best met with violence, and that the best defense is an aggressive and bombastic offense.

So I have a decision to make.

The way of Jesus is the way of generosity; never selfishness.  This too comes to mind on this holy day, for it is the day that Jesus generously gave his all to the will and way of God — even when that meant losing his life to the powers and principalities of the world. His life modeled a generosity of love, mercy, grace, and peace; all in an attempt to display that all creation exists in the very heart of God, and that we are all one.  Life, and living, are simply not merely about what is best for me, what profits me, or what benefits me!  In fact it’s not about me at all.  It’s about us.  And generosity with all that we have and all that we are, is what our followership is ultimately about.

Yet I live in a nation that, as of late, seems to think that being great is about a return to the days when people thought only of themselves — the good ‘ol days, when we didn’t worry about the poor not being able to afford going to the doctor, when we didn’t need to think about the rights of our Muslim neighbors, or when we didn’t need to think about our gay friends’ freedom to choose who to love.  The selfish, ‘me generation’ mentality, seems to have returned with a fury; and today it’s all about what I can get, what I deserve, and what I am owed.

So I have a decision to make.

The way of Jesus is the way of truth; never fear.   When Pilate asks Jesus ‘What is truth?” — it is as though he is throwing up his arms in frustration, confused by a world where everyone seems to think their opinion is fact.  But for Jesus, there is only one truth!  Jesus!  He — his way, his love, his goodness, and kindness, and compassion, God’s way — is the only truth there is.  And anything else claiming to be is an impostor, an evil masquerading as something that it will never be, that it CAN never be, regardless of how many people may embrace it.  And for anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus, his way is the ONLY way.

Yet I live in a nation where fear is running rampant.  And people don’t even know it! Someone once said that FEAR is “false evidence appearing real”, and that certainly applies to the America we see today.  People are wont to embrace all kinds of theories and ideas, many of which have no grounding in reality, but rather are simply fed by a fear of those who look different, who believe different, and who behave different.  And that fear has led, and will continue to lead, away from greatness; not towards it!

So I have a decision to make.

Will I give in to the violence, selfishness, and fear that abound this Good Friday.  Or will I instead choose the way of Jesus — the way of peace, generosity, and truth?

The answer is actually an easy one for me; for my ability to choose the later comes from the privilege that has been granted to me by the ’empire’ that I am so quick to critique.   I know this.  But Jesus says that “to whom much as been given, much will be required.”  So I will continue to resist, and challenge, and call to account those who would worship another god.  And so too must we all — at least if we really are going to allow Jesus to be Lord.

And if we’re not, well then let’s just throw out the whole “Jesus thing.” Because it means nothing.

His way is very simple; and there is no way for us to weasel out of his commands to be peacemakers, to give extravagantly, and to embrace the truth of his holy way.  We have no choice but to love, unconditionally, all creation; and if we’re not going to do it, then let’s just throw Jesus out with the religious bathwater called American Christianity.

Let’s certainly not show up in worship this coming Easter Sunday; because it would be hypocritical for us to proclaim that he’s alive.  Because he’s not.  If he’s not living in us; then he’s not alive at all.  So our cries of  “He is risen indeed” are empty and hallow proclamations, that mean nothing, and accomplish nothing.  Easter becomes nothing more than a reason for brunch.   And to be honest, who really needs another slice of ham or jello salad?