“My Pawp”

The day before yesterday, I read this to the family and friends gathered to grieve the loss and celebrate the life of A. B. Manley. For the rest of my life I will miss him.

I wish I could stand here today on behalf of the family and capture every detail of the man we are here to remember and celebrate. But I know I have neither time nor composure to do all of their respects and memories justice. So instead, I’d like to capture a bit of my own personal experience from my borrowed time with the man I knew as “Pawp.”

For those of you who don’t know me, I am Jonathan Hart, one of Al Manley’s grandchildren. He had been my only living grandfather since 3rd grade, and we were closer than most people I know are to their grandfather. For that gift alone I will be eternally grateful.

I’ll just go ahead and admit that I was raised an only child and received the usual spoiling thereof. But while the family made occasional comments and warnings about this, no one seemed to feel strongly enough to do anything about it. At Christmas and birthdays it was mainly the fault of my mother and grandmother, but other family pitched in. Usually not Pawp. His name would be signed on all cards and tags next to my grandmother’s and I would be quite doubtless that he had no part in picking out the exact model Bat mobile with all its various components. But as the family knows, Pawp never feared a spoiled loved one…nor a spoiled dog, for that matter, evidenced by the continual giving of table scraps along with the pretend scolding to follow. Pawp did not investigate all 55 items on my Christmas list and expend the energy to meet every wish.

INSTEAD, virtually every one of the countless times I would go over to spend the weekend, I would wait for it. It might not be within the first hour or two, nor perhaps even the first day. But at some point, Pawp would pull on his Members Only jacket over his tucked in plaid shirt and slacks…and jingle the familiar keys. I would look up pretending to be confused through his bifocals into those age-softened Choctaw Indian eyes and wait for the words. “Son, I need to go to Walmarts. You woanna go wi’me?” I would quickly stop sword fighting my invisible opponent with my grand-mother’s wooden spoon or halt work on my cardboard space shuttle to hit the road with Pawp. While he could find a reason to go to Walmart or Lowes pretty much any day of the week, he would make up some special excuse to go when I was there.

He would pretend not to know where his one needed item was or he would pretend to have several things to look at knowing that I would love nothing more than a solid 15-20 minutes in the aisle of action figures. He would always eventually come moseying in from one side of the aisle taking his time to get to me, smiling and peering at the package in my hand and say, “Did you find the right one?” As I would nod beaming he would scrutinize it as if he was actually comprehending what in the world it was and confirm, “So this is it, huh? Well, we better get it and go.” Each trip he would make a five-dollar investment into what my Uncle Michael estimates was my $5000 collection of action figures. And this kind of investment for all those he loved was absolutely characteristic of my Pawp.

I’ll never forget the day Pawp pulled over the white extended cab automatic 96 Chevy S-10 pickup on Cottage Hill Rd and said, “Alright, it’s your turn. Take us home.” At that moment I realized that Pawp entrusted his life into my hands. He taught many of the family members to drive, and I believe he would have given his life for us to learn how to drive because he almost did…several times.

I honestly think he was the most patient man I’ve ever met. He was also kind and saw the best in people. He never had a bad thing to say about anybody unless it was a joke, and then he felt guilty over it for days. And likewise we don’t know of one bad thing anyone’s ever said about him. Family came first, and he never ever ever passed up a chance to say or express in some way how much he loved each and every one of us.

And we’ve been saying goodbye for as long as I can remember. Because Pawp treated each parting as if it might be the last, standing in the driveway waving and shouting things at the car window blowing kisses only to go inside once the car was out of sight. He leaves a legacy of love, kindness, patience, gentleness, compassion, joy, discipline, and commitment.

Oh Lord, make us thankful for all these and many other blessings for your sake and in your name. Amen.

(The prayer in bold at the end is how I chose to close, a prayer Pawp said before every single meal at such a speed few could distinguish the words. He would always chuckle and reply, “He knows what I’m sayin’.”)

Poem of the Day April 22, 2012

Three men shared death upon a hill,
But only one man dies;
The other two—
A thief and God himself—
Made rendezvous.
Three crosses still
Are borne up Calvary’s Hill,
Where Sin still lifts them high:
Upon the one, sag broken men
Who, cursing, die;
Another holds the praying thief,
Or those who penitent as he,
Still find the Christ
Beside them on the tree.

—“Upon a Hill” by Miriam LeFevre Crouse

Martin Luther’s Daily Prayers

LUTHER’S MORNING PRAYER

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.

LUTHER’S EVENING PRAYER

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day; and I pray that You would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Your hands, I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.

Post Easter Beacon article

Greetings Saints!

HE IS RISEN!! I hope you had a terrific Easter and that you were able to know the power of Jesus’ Resurrection (Phil. 3:10). I write to you on Monday, the day after Easter. And we have cause as a church for celebration. In the Beacon two weeks ago, Pastor David posed an exciting challenge to us – to invite people to our Easter services, pray for people to come, and to “think about what the SUMC Campus would look like with 2,000 people.” Yesterday was Easter, and we had 1,836 people here to worship the Risen Lord! I don’t share this to boast in numbers, but to praise God for leading people here to encounter Him.

The power of our God is that in Him life springs from dead things. We celebrated yesterday God’s greatest example of bringing eternal life for all humanity out of an empty tomb in victory, conquering for us sin and death. And this has always been the essence of Christian faith. This is why in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, even Old Testament figures like Abraham are lifted up as examples of Christian faith. Long before Christ, Abraham had faith that the one true God could bring life out of the empty tomb of Sarai’s womb. And He believed God for what He said He would do enough to follow Him anywhere. May God burst forth life from our empty tombs!

Grace and peace,
Pastor Jonathan

Easter Sermon notes – “Seeking the Living”

Luke 23:55–24:9 (NLT)

55 As his body was taken away, the women from Galilee followed and saw the tomb where his body was placed. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and ointments to anoint his body. But by the time they were finished the Sabbath had begun, so they rested as required by the law. 1 But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 3 So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes. 5 The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.” 8 Then they remembered that he had said this. 9 So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened.

In Winnie the Pooh, Pooh and Piglet take an evening walk. For a long time they walk in silence. Silence like only best friends can share.

Finally Piglet breaks the silence and asks, “When you wake up in the morning, Pooh, what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” says Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully.

“It’s the same thing,” he said.

That silly old bear that so many of us love is always trying to find happiness in a full stomach, a bee hive, or a jar of honey. Piglet is the wee character who seems to point us toward something more substantial.

Today’s sermon title is “Seeking the Living,” and unlike Piglet, the women in the passage we read a few moments ago were probably not wondering what exciting thing would be happening to them today. They were in mourning. They had spent Friday watching their religious Teacher and dear friend whom they loved and followed loyally be nailed to a cross to die for nothing he did wrong. They had followed the dead body all the way to the tomb, they saw how it was laid, and they knew how to get back to it and how they would find it. They went home and prepared burial spices to bring back. Then, they spent Saturday at home to observe the Sabbath, a holy day of rest in their religion. So they got up Sunday morning and the reality they thought they were in was violently shaken. A new reality began to threaten the old…

*TELL THE STORY*

Luke opens his resurrection narrative with the tomb open and the body gone.[1] And empty tomb and absent body does not mean that Christ was raised. It means we have a predicament. But what gives us faith even today that this really happened is that the women had this encounter with two angels and the risen Christ himself appeared to people before ascending into heaven. “The burden of the Christian proclamation was on the experience of the risen Christ by his followers”[2]. This is why we preach resurrection – people experienced it. And people experience the resurrected Christ today…among the living.

“Understanding and obedience are not the first responses of Jesus’ followers.”[3] They were first perplexed, and then amazed. Then, when they went to tell the others disciples about it their story was met with cynicism and unbelief. Perplexity, amazement, cynicism, and unbelief – these are the natural human responses to what we celebrate today. I can relate! I mean, no of this is making any sense…until the women remember. They remember what Jesus had told them. They sought the Son of God who called himself the “Bread of Life”…in a tomb. And the antidote for their miscalculation was remembrance.

“The faith and the witness of the women consisted of three elements: the discovery of the empty tomb, the word of the two messengers, and their remembrance of the words of Jesus.”[4] “Faith does not usually move from promise to fulfillment but from fulfillment to promise. Remembering is often the activating of the power of recognition.” BAM! If they had remembered and Jesus had not fulfilled, they would have no reason for faith, and neither would we. This proclamation (24:6-7) was to produce repentance and the forgiveness of sins (24:47).[5]

Many times if you read in the Gospels of people hoping to find Jesus you will find they are approaching him in hopes of receiving human restoration – they have a problem of body or spirit and they want him to minister to them. The women in our passage are seeking Jesus to minister to him, to bury him with honor because even in their confusion and grief, they still acknowledge him as their Lord. But they quickly discover, due to their lack of understanding, they are looking in the wrong place. This is a human pattern. We’re “looking for [life] in all the wrong places.”

We look for the living among dead things. We desire to feel alive, to know our lives matter, to find meaning, to feel love in our relationships and energy in what we do. But where do we often look for all that? Do the places and things we look to have anything to do with Jesus who died so that we could know God the Father? Do we look to the God who made us and breathed life into us and gives us the blessing of breath each minute and each day we wake up? Or do we look to money, social status, sports, physical beauty, power, pleasure, or substances like drugs or alcohol? Or do we mourn the loss of the glory days or that time we felt really alive? Maybe if we could just go back there. Do you know what we would find? An empty tomb. As we chase all those things, don’t we just find pain, heartbreak, and a terrifying emptiness? This whole pattern doesn’t just exist outside of churches either. Do we fill ourselves with activities, ministries, and programs until we wonder why we’re burnt out when these things should be providing life since they’re of God…instead of plugging into God Himself? Do we revel in the place or time Jesus used to be, not realizing that it’s an empty tomb and he has gone somewhere else? Church people are not immune to this kind of mindset and behavior.

We look for life among the dead. Even if we believe in Jesus or say we do, I know I can speak for myself when I honestly treat him as if he is not alive. Or maybe he is alive, but he might as well be dead sitting off in heaven somewhere away from me and my problems. So I say my cursory prayers or go through the motions. And then I go on seeking life in other things. But what if we treated Him as if He was risen and alive! How much could we begin to talk down to our problems if we could tell them that Jesus Christ is Lord and God raised him from the dead! Therefore, we don’t even have to fear the power of evil or death itself. So why in the world would we fret about this irritating little problem? It’s nothing compared to our risen Lord! Not even death could hold him. And death is the biggest problem of them all is it not? I mean, after death there’s not much else to worry about.

But Jesus is risen. The Resurrection is the most crucial belief in the Christian faith. That may surprise you. Maybe you thought it was Christmas, the time when we celebrate that God was born a baby in a feeding trough. Maybe the image of the cross flashes in your mind summing up all that Christ stood for and came to accomplish. But the reality is, without the resurrection, the cross is just another hangman’s noose. Just another man died that day, albeit a great teacher and maybe even prophet. But if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, what he said would happen didn’t happen, he didn’t conquer the power of sin and death for us, and he certainly wasn’t really God if he was able to die and that was the end of the story. The Resurrection is the most powerful and crucial belief in the Christian faith.

1 Corinthians 15:

12 But tell me this—since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? 13 For if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. 15 And we apostles would all be lying about God—for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. 16 And if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. 18 In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! 19 And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.” “54…‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ 55 ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’”

You and I can’t really plan to meet the Risen Christ because we never really know when or where He’s going to show up. But you can be sure of this, He will show up. If you believe, He will show up. And the attitude you need to meet him is the attitude of Piglet, “I wonder what exciting thing is going to happen today?” We can choose to look for the Living One among the living and not among dead things. At the risk of criticizing Winnie the Pooh, there are more important things to live for than breakfast. And some of us are looking for sustenance, energy, fulfillment, wholeness, healing, fullness, LIFE. And today we are reminded more than any day of the year that we must seeking life from the Living One and the things of Him.

I want to invite you this morning to ask a simple question – “What is my honey jar?” I know that may sound like a strange question to ask on an Easter morning church service, but what is the thing or place to which you seem to automatically go to find something of life. What stands in the place regularly of you coming to Jesus for life? And can you realize today that it’s an empty tomb? I offer you a chance this morning, perhaps a better time than any, to realize that Jesus is not in a tomb somewhere, but that He is risen. He is here with us today in spirit and he is waiting for us to come to him for life. Maybe this all sounds a little crazy to you but you’re willing to try to engage. You’re willing to take a step as long as I will tell you exactly how to do it. So here goes. The band is going to come up and we’re going to close this glorious Easter service with a time of worship. And as they come I’m going to lead a prayer. You can say this prayer with me in your seat. The prayer is a spiritual step. You can step out spiritually in the direction of God and He promises to meet you. But then as the band plays our altars will be open. You are welcome to come and take a physical step. Literally, COME to Jesus here at the altar as a physical symbol and statement that you want to seek him among the living this morning.

So, I’m going to pray. And I invite you to pray along with me as we seek the Living One where he is.


[1] Craddock, Luke. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching; p.281.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Green, The Gospel of Luke. NICNT; p.834.

[4] Craddock, p.283.

[5] Ibid., p.282.

Thomas Oden says…

The cross had to be carried and endured before it could be preached. Jesus came to become the sacrifice, not clarify the concept of sacrifice. He did not come to teach about the cross, but to be nailed to it. He came that there might be a gospel to be preached.

Thomas Oden, The Word of Life, p. 344

Bedtime Prayer

In today’s sermon we looked at how Jesus’ final words from the cross in Luke taken from Psalm 31 are thought to be a bedtime prayer Jewish mothers would teach their children – “Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.” I want to offer a modified expanded version of a contemporary equivalent we say with Noah each night before bed.

Now I lay me
Down to sleep
I pray the Lord
My soul to keep

If I should die
Before I wake
I pray the Lord
My soul to take

But if I should live
Another day
I pray the Lord
To guide my way

Thank you Jesus
Savior Friend
And now at last
We say, Amen.

His mother added a simple melody so we could sing it. I consider it a masterpiece.