Hard Knots and String Figures

Jacobs Ladder

Psalm 147:5: Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.

I don’t know if you know what a string figure is or a hard knot. I learned how to do string figures from my mom, who was pretty much in favor of inexpensive and indestructible things for my brother and me to play with. String is long-lasting at least, although I found ways to destroy it, as I did with many things that were more expensive.

I would be trying to make “Jacob’s Ladder” (my favorite) and have a hopeless tangle of string after about the third step. I would take it to my mom, who could untangle the mess and hand it back to me, knowing I could be back in half an hour with a worse tangle. She was very patient about this (she told me she enjoyed taking knots out of things), and she got to be very good at untangling knotted strings, even the dreaded “hard knot.” I heard about hard knots so often that you would think I would know what one was. But I didn’t . I had to look it up, and found out that a hard knot is one that can’t be undone with one hand.

Oh. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t get my hard knots undone and had to take them to my mom. Mystery explained.

It seems to me that God gives us our lives, and while matters should be as pure and simple as a length of new string, we try to make complicated figures with what we have been given and end up with a knotted, tangled mess. By ourselves, we cannot fix this situation. We find, however, if we call on God, God will take what we have done and untangle it, hard knots and all. We are able to do this only through the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has undone the hard knots of sin and death.

Praise be to God for fresh new string and for God’s power which untangles it when we have it all in a snarl. Amen.



Back to the Future


Isaiah 11:6: The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.

I don’t know if you were here for the closing program for this year’s Summer Music Camp, but I hope you were. The children sang, played hand chimes, manipulated puppets, and performed a musical that they had put together in just five days. It was an impressive display on all accounts, and several people said it was the best camp we’ve ever had , and I would agree.
The parents of some of the campers had come to the camp themselves, and that was a reminder of the excellence of the program and the dedication of those who worked with them. The campers learned about working together, about being in front of an audience and about achieving something they could be proud of.
I thought, as I watched the campers doing their final program, that these are the children who will take over from my generation.They experienced the love of God and the importance of treating each other well during the week. In the final analysis, though, it’s not just about the songs or the puppets or chimes or the music, although those are important. It’s also about carrying on a long tradition that will benefit the next generation and encourage them to share the Gospel in their turn. Some might say that they’re only children, but Jesus said that it is the children who set the example for us. The road that he traveled will lead us all through this life and into the next. Praise God for creative works, for being together and working toward a goal, and for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord, who has redeemed us and leads us on to eternal life.

Lies and Statistics



Matthew 5:37: “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

I don’t know if you’ve heard what Mark Twain said about lies and statistics, but it’s something I can’t repeat in its totality here, so if you don’t know, ask a bass. They’ll tell you.

Anyhow, I was thinking about statistics since, as you know, I love baseball although sometimes it seems the game is more about statistics than anything else. I think we are all familiar with measures such as batting average, runs batted in, or earned runs, and know that these figures are all measures of how well a player is doing. But did you know that in all, there are about 130 statistics that are kept in baseball, many of which most fans have never heard of? For example, there is the EQA or the equivalent average, which measures a player’s batting average not counting park and league factors, whatever those might be. Then there’s the FPOM or the first pitch outs made, which counts the number of outs earned when the batter ground or flies out on the first pitch. And finally, there’s the VORP, the value over replacement player, which calculates a player’s overall value in comparison to a “replacement-level” player.

Other sports have their statistics as well, but I was thinking that we also have them in choir. If you figure that we give two and a half hours a week for say 50 weeks a year (including special services and rehearsals), higher math tells us that is 125 hours a year. If you’ve been in choir for, say, 50 years (I’m not naming any names here), that works out to 7600 hours total, or about 950 work days, or around six months. Now of course, the time that professional athletes put in is for their job. It is not our “job” to sing or rehearse. We do it out of a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving to God, who created us, who created music, and who fit us for fellowship, growth and praise. And it was God who saved us from our sins through the death of Jesus Christ, our Savior. And that single sacrifice is the most important statistic of all. Amen.

Small Signs


Printing Press
1 Kings 9:11-12: A great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. (Elijah’s encounter with God)

I don’t know how you entertain yourself on a long airplane flight. There certainly are a number of options. You can try to sleep unless you find it impossible to do so, as I do, crammed into such a claustrophobic space. So, since I couldn’t sleep on the last flight we were on which lasted nine hours, I read, worked crossword puzzles, stared into space, and watched movies—three of them—and that helped. The film that made the biggest impression on me was Post, which was about the struggle within the Post whether or not to publish the Pentagon papers and risk imprisonment for Katherine Graham, owner of the paper and Ben Bradley, the executive editor.
Of course, the paper did publish the documents, and once that decision was made in the film, there was a telling scene near the end, Down in the basement of Post building where the presses are, the head of the printing department thumbs a green button, and huge machines begin printing that edition. The next scene is the office of Howard Simons, managing editor of the paper. As the presses start up, rather than hear them since he is a number of floors up, he looks at a glass with pens and pencils in it as it begins vibrating. It is then that he knows that the decision has been made and the paper is being printed. What he notices is a small sign of an important decision.
I believe that the signs of the presence of God are like this—not loud and thunderous, as Isaiah found out—but rather small and quiet, so that we have to be paying attention to know they’re there and to understand what they mean. I pray that we might be listening and watching for the small signs of God’s presence, and that we follow those signs wherever they may lead. May we listen for the still, small voice and watch for the jar of pens and pencils vibrating on our desks. Amen.


What’s Up, Pops?


Elderly Man

1 John 3:1: See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.

I don’t know if you remember that I wrote about the general anonymity of the gym I go to, and how pleased I was when someone greeted me.
Well, it happened again, and I was somewhat surprised at what a hip-looking young man said to me. I was coming out of the locker room when he smiled and said, “What’s up, Pops?” I don’t remember what I said because I was first of all surprised by the greeting and secondly taken somewhat aback by being called “Pops.” I don’t think I look that old, and the word “Pops” sounds like something from a bad ‘70’s sitcom.
But as I thought more about it, I realized that most of us of a certain age feel younger than we are, and maybe we assume we look the same way. The greeting reminded me that I am as old as it says on my driver’s license, and I’m all right with that. I’m also all right with the greeting. There was a measure of recognition and even respect in what the young fellow said, and I’ll take that any day.
The point of all this is that God wants us to recognize God for who God is. And we’re called on to address the Father with terms of respect and affection. Jesus said to address God as “Abba,” which means “Daddy.” You can’t get much more respectful and affectionate than that. Praise God for being approachable, for wanting God’s children to come and be a part of his Kingdom, and praise God for the love that called God to offer his son, our Lord Jesus Christ, as a sacrifice. Amen.

Come as You Are

Come as You Are

Mark 13:32 : “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.


I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a come as you are party or, what’s worse, been invited to one. I have gone to exactly one in my lifetime, and that was one too many. In case you don’t know what a “come as you are” party is, it’s an alleged party where the person hosting the event calls several friends and says, “I’m having a party! Come on over!”

At least one of the friends might say, “I can’t come looking like I do. I just finished cleaning out the refrigerator!”

“That’s just fine! It’s a ‘come as you are’ party. Whatever you’re wearing will be great!”

These social events had their origins in this country as ‘come as you were’ parties. I don’t know why they called them that, but the idea was still to drop everything and come to the party no matter what you were wearing.

As I said earlier, I went to one such party in eighth grade. I couldn’t drive, so I should have been suspicious when my friend Laura called and said, “Come on over! I’m having a party!” How was I to get there?

“But Laura,” I answered. “I’m doing some painting for my parents and have paint all over my clothes.”

“You’ll be very colorful,” she answered, and put the receiver down. My mother heard the conversation and said, “I’ll drive you.” Her ready assent meant that she was in on the conspiracy. She generally resisted driving me anywhere since it generally meant I would spend money once I got there.

So, I showed up at Laura’s house with five or six other victims. We sat in a circle in her family’s rec room, stared at each other and didn’t say anything. Obviously, we had few social graces, but strangely enough, but we felt awkward not wearing party clothes on. The situation didn’t improve when Laura’s mom served flat no-name cola and invited us to dance to the Guy Lombardo record she put on. We just sat there.

Our parents were supposed to be back to pick us up in an hour, and, for once, we sat there and prayed they would be early. They weren’t, so we said our polite good-byes and went home where there was fresh Coke to drink and rock and roll on the radio.

Laura went on to become a successful, competent adult. I think I was permanently scarred by the experience.

It occurred to me that, throughout the Bible, God shows up unexpectedly time after time, and those were the best kind of come as you are parties. Jesus came to a family no one would have expected, and he did all kinds of unexpected things with the least likely people. You know the story. And one day, because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins, we will be called to the biggest and best and eternal party beyond what anyone could think of. And at that unexpected feast, we won’t be drinking no-name cola or listening to Guy Lombardo. Praise God for continuing to come to us unexpectedly and for the unexpected gift of his son, our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Batting Out of Turn


Score Card

Lamentations 3:23-25: The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

With a few exceptions in this choir, I don’t know if you like baseball or know anything about it or could care less about it, but you probably know that I am a Washington baseball fan. Going back as far as I can remember, I listened to the hapless Senators lose on the AM radio, and I still prefer the radio version today. Sometimes if I want to see what’s happening as well, I’ll mute the television and still have the radio on.  This also gives me an unexpected advantage: there is a seven-second delay with the television, so I can hear what’s going to happen before television watchers see it. As advantages go, it’s not much, but it amuses me and makes me happy.

I’ve listened to and watched hundreds of baseball games and read a fair amount about the subject, so I’d say I know something about the game, but not everything. If you want to talk to someone who probably knows more about the sport than anyone I know, talk to Larry Crowder, who has coached or played in thousands of games. Every Sunday, he gives me his read on the Nationals, and he’s always right about what happened and why and what they need to do to win consistently.

Larry also knows the rules of the game. I know the main regulations, but I heard about something recently in a major league game the other day that I didn’t expect. In a Mets-Reds game, the Mets came out in the first inning and had the first two batters strike out. The next player hit a ground rule double, and with the cleanup hitter coming up, things were looking good. But it turns out the player who hit the double had batted out of turn because his manager had given the umpire the lineup card from the day before. So the player at the plate (who was batting in the correct order) was called out without batting. It didn’t seem fair, but those are the rules.

Major league players are professionals earning big bucks and should know what they’re doing, so when I first heard this, I thought it was a rare event in the major leagues. Not so. Going back to 1881, it has occurred about 400 times. Shows what I know.

My expectation that big league players are infallible is, of course, misguided. The very definition of being human includes making mistakes. When we reach the age of accountability, we are expected to do what we know to be right. Of course, we don’t, and so, we commit sins. There is no way to appeal an umpire’s decision in this case and not suffer the consequences, but God is both judge and savior, so our sins are forgiven when we accept the reality that Jesus Christ died on the cross to erase our sins. Baseball is a game, but our lives and the lives of others are serious business, and we can accept God’s gift or throw our lives away. Praise God for the gift of love and forgiveness, and for setting us free, even when we bat out of turn. Amen.