Tuesday, April 25, 2006


I'm up way too late again. I wonder how many blog posts start that way? I'm at a house in Nag's Head in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Funny how God takes things that stand for pain and suffering, like the cross, and turns them into banners for victory. You see I came here for my honeymoon for my first marriage. Neither of us knew what we were doing. We had no business getting maried...both trying to fix ourselves through someone else's affection.

I've been divorced from her for 11 years now. Really its almost a dream of a memory at this point. I'm now married to a partner God has called me to be with. I have two beautiful children, and I am sitting here listening to thunder roll past this incredible beach house I am sharing with friends from seminary for a week. Nag's Head has become a sanctuary of sorts for me.

I don't know that all this has much to do with finding Christ in the unfortunate, except for the fact that we in this group express such deep affection for one another that Christ's presence is undeniable. Members of this crew have in the past year born children without leave or support from the congregations they serve, changed calls to begin new ministries, experienced miscarriages and supported friends and loved ones who battle with cancer. Our lives are better for the knowing of one another.

There was a discussion tonight, rather tongue and cheek about a "half empty glass" comment that I made. Camille said that if you get a smaller glass you wont notice. Chad said that it just meant that I had consumed what I was given. Clint said, "When the glass is finnished, open another beer." We all agreed that we have been given abundant joy, and that is a bottomless cup.

Tomorrow morning, Shawn, David, and I will be interviewing the moderator of the PC(USA) for our podcast. If that aint abundance, well...


Friday, April 14, 2006

My Heroes

So, the gang from the POJ who went to New Orleans are back safe and sound. Praise be to God! So, now I'm off to find the next example of proclamation in action! Happy Easter, one and all!

Gulf Coast Mission Trip Update #4

Gulf Coast Mission Trip Update – Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Our third day of work started without event. Breakfast was
bagels and fruit, and we got an early start. Having
finished work on Mike’s Mom’s house, one group got
started working on Katherine’s house – again untouched
since August 29. It was an emotional start, as the
homeowner, her teenage daughter and her mother were present
to see everything they owned scattered around the house in
ruins. The youth showed a great deal of compassion and
helped to get started on the clean up effort. This family
had a lot of belongings, and the group had to literally
shovel things off the floor to get into a room. By the end
of the day, the floors were cleared and progress was being
made on deconstruction.

LuAnne’s house is almost finished. A small contingency
stayed to work on removing the ceiling and the floors. To
look at the before and after pictures is fascinating –
they have removed everything down to the studs. LuAnne will
be able to get contractors in now and rebuild. (Though,
contractors are few and far between, many not as honest as
they could be, either.)

After a long day of work, we returned to the church where a
contingency had clearly not worked hard enough – they felt
the need to spread mulch for the church as a thank you for
hosting our group. Everyone showered and cleaned up, then
we joined the JCPC Community Dinner. They have a free
dinner for the Metairie community every Wednesday night, and
it is a wonderful opportunity for people to get out, have a
good meal (most are still living in FEMA trailers in their
front yards, so cooking is not as easy as it once was), and
to connect with each other. We wore our green tie-died
shirts and had a good time mingling with the other guests.
Many of the youth made new friends to play on the playground
(4 year old Alexis and her little brother). We had the
opportunity to hear different people’s stories and talk to
the residents. One resident wanted to thank us, so she
played Easter Bunny and brought us chocolate Easter eggs to
put on everyone’s pillow.

The rest of the evening was “free time” so, a group
headed to TCBY for ice cream while a smaller group prepared
an impromptu birthday party for one of our group. After
evening devotions, we sent a tired group to bed.

An update for the parents: the leaders have decided that
since it takes a LOT longer to travel than we originally
anticipated, we will leave Thursday night rather than early
Friday morning. This will bring our ETA up to about 7 or 8
pm on Saturday evening. The youth will be calling you to
give you updates on our progress. (Not to worry – our
drivers are taking naps this afternoon and preparing for the
drive – safety is our priority!) This is the last of the
updates, since we will be home soon. Thursday will involve
finishing up LuAnne’s house in the morning, working on
Katherine’s house all day, and doing a little bit of final
clean up work on a fourth house in the afternoon. Thursday
evening we will join the JCPC congregation for Maundy
Thursday worship, then pack up and head home. Look for a
group of enthusiastic but tired teenagers when we return!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Gulf Coast Mission Trip Update #3

Gulf Coast Mission Trip Update – Day 3 (Tuesday)

Another early morning saw us moving and ready for a day of
hard work. The breakfast crew treated us to strawberry
and/or chocolate chip pancakes, so we were well fed and
ready to go. By 9:00 each group was on their work sites.

The group at LuAnne’s house had finished removing personal
belongings and began removing walls and floors. The smell
was much better, until the floor in the basement came up.
Those N-95 masks have been a definite necessity! All that
remains in this house is to finish removing floors, remove
the ceiling and empty out the garage. We expect to finish
this house up on Wednesday.

The group at Mike’s Mom’s house finished their work
today. The walls have been removed down to the studs. The
ceilings and floors have been taken out, and all the
deconstruction debris removed. We even trimmed back some
trees. This work group is looking forward to the
opportunity to start from scratch with an “untouched”
house. They will get their wish tomorrow!

The groups both stopped work early in order to get back and
clean up for our outing. (We originally were going to take
the evening off Wednesday, but we were invited to the
community dinner at JCPC Wednesday night, so we happily
changed our plans.) The youth showered in record time, and
in their spare time debated which was harder to remove – a
full refrigerator or a hot water heater with the valve
broken off – it was a draw! It is amazing to see how much
energy these youth have after working for a day to keep
playing as hard as they work!

We loaded up the bus and the Durango and drove down to the
French Quarter, passing the Superdome (which plans to reopen
in September!) and downtown New Orleans. The French Quarter
was relatively untouched, so most businesses are still in
operation. Due to minimal tourist traffic, many places are
not open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, though. We ate dinner
at the Café Maspero, a great little sandwich and seafood
place. Everyone was able to find something to eat and
enjoyed a lively meal. After dinner we wandered the French
Quarter, checking out every little tourist shop on the way.
A detour took us to a section of Bourbon Street, and after a
very brief taste of the unique culture, we moved back toward
Decatur Street. Our evening ended with a stop at Café
Dumond for their famous beignets and coffee. We got back to
the church in time for evening devotions and bed, ready for
another day of work.

The spirit of the people has been dampened but not crushed.
They are determined to rebuild New Orleans, and this is most
evident in the French Quarter. Life is going on for the
city and they are moving on. We were greeted with thanks
even from strangers on the street who found out why we were
here. Any continued notice of their plight is greatly
appreciated, and they welcome any who come to help with deep
gratitude. It has been moving and heartening to talk with
people along the way

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Gulf Coast Mission Team Report #2

Gulf Coast Mission Trip Update – April 10, 2006

Our first day of work began early this morning. After eating breakfast and preparing our lunches, the vehicles were loaded and we headed to Lakeview at 8:30. Unfortunately, the mini-bus acquired a flat tire, so we were down to two vehicles for the day.

One group went to the home of LuAnn, a two story brick house that had flooded up to 18 inches in the second story. LuAnn’s house had not been touched since August, and it looked like everything would have to go. The first piece of furniture removed was an old piano, followed by tables, chairs, sofas and a refrigerator. Not only was there furniture to remove, but all of LuAnn’s belongings had been scattered around her house in the flood. Almost nothing could be salvaged after sitting in the flood waters. The workers were suited up in Tyvek suits with gloves,safety goggles, masks and boots. It was difficult to recognize individuals, they were so covered up. Many of the youth renamed each other and wrote their new names on the back of their overalls. Spirits are high today.

The second house belonged to Mike’s mother. Work had been started on this house, so most of what was done involved removing countertops, walls, and fixtures. The ceiling was torn out after lunch. Debris was piled in the front yard where trucks come by almost daily to remove debris, appliances and furniture. Some trees were trimmed back as well.

The day was warm and the sun bright, but the team worked hard despite the heat, the odor and the dust. They seem to be quickly recovering from the “gross” factor. We have taken over 500 pictures combined so far of all the damage around the city, as well as memories of the fun times we are having in the midst of the work.

After a long day of work, the team returned to the church at 4:30 to shower and rest. We made it through the first day with only minor injuries (one bruised thumb from an
overenthusiastic hammer and a little bit of sunburn). While waiting for showers, the youth made good use of the playground, entertaining themselves grandly.

We ate dinner together (the “healthy group” made chicken, green beans and homemade mashed potatoes) and then spent about an hour just hanging out. A trip to TCBY for
frozen yogurt was a major expedition with 22 people, but it was fun. Evening devotions rounded out the evening, and we were in bed by 10:30. The youth have been spending a lot of time talking among themselves and processing their experiences. It has been emotional and exhausting, but they have also had a good time working together. This group has bonded very quickly and works very well together. (We have
15 youth from 6 different churches).

Tomorrow morning we will get up and do it all over again! (Though we do get a little reprieve – we are headed to the French Quarter after work for some sight-seeing and dinner.)

Grace and peace,
Marianne Turner
Associate Pastor for Education and Youth
Bon Air Presbyterian Church

Gulf Coast Mission Team Report #1

After a mere 20 hours on the road from Richmond, the Gulf Coast Mission Team from the Presbytery of the James arrived in Metairie, Louisiana. Our trip was fairly eneventful,though quite interesting with stops in every state along the way (except Mississippi - it was too late!). We finally reached our destination, the John Calvin Presbyterian Church in Metairie (a suburb of New Orleans) at 1:16 local time. An exhausted group quickly unloaded the vehicles, pumped up some air mattresses, and quickly fell asleep.

Sunday morning brought the opportunity to sleep a bit later,and we gathered with the congregation at JCPC for a lovely Palm/Passion Sunday worship service, where we were greeted enthusiastically and thanked profusely for our presence. This congregation of 300 has established itself as a base of operations in Metairie, greeting teams of worker from as far as York County, Pennsylvania. The church works in tandem with the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance program, helping over 20 families since October.

The afternoon began with a quick lunch and orientation to the program, as well as an update on the current situation in New Orleans. Over 300,000 people are still displaced from Hurricane Katrina, which struck August 29, 2005. Many areas of the city are still without power or water, and hundreds of thousands of homes lie untouched since August. A tour of New Orleans showed areas of complete devastation, homes without roofs, homes collapsed, cars overturned, and piles of debris everywhere. Many neighborhoods are unable to move forward due to concerns about rebuilding possibilities and new building code requirements that have yet to be set. Business are beginning to open in some of the affected areas, and people are slowly returning to rebuild their homes and their lives. Everywhere we looked, people were living in FEMA trailers in their front yards while completely removing everything from their houses -usually stripping them down to the studs.

Though actual work will not begin until Monday, we prepared our tools and supplies (thanks to everyone who donated tools, supplies, and money). Because we are a larger group(23 total), we will actually work in two different homes, both in Lakeview (an older neighborhood on the shores of Lake Ponchartraine). Both houses will require complete deconstruction - removal of all contents (appliances, furniture, personal belongings, carpet, etc.) and walls and ceilings. Work begins at 8:30 in the morning!

Though we have not yet begun our work, our eyes have already been opened to the desparate need for help and hope in New Orleans. Seven months later, many things remain unchanged. Many people have left for good, and others wait to return. People who are just like us have lost their entire home and all their worldy possessions. It will be an emotional but fulfilling task we undertake. Pray for us as we endeavor to bring help and hope to these people.

Grace and peace,
Marianne Turner
Associate Pastor for Education and Youth
Bon Air Presbyterian Church

More from New Orleans

You may have read some of the earlier posts about friends I have in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. I started working with a friend named Sonya in Metairie and some other ministers in our presbytery to field a team of youth to go down there during Spring Break. God has provided the leadership and a crew of 15 youth and 10 adults from 6 congregations is down there right now. I'll be posting thier emails so you can get a first hand account of their experience.

I'm disapointed that I could not convey to my youth and their families the opportunity of meeting Christ in the need of others. I am disappointed that leisure and convenience trumps human suffering. At the same time I am aware that these brave souls have gone into dangerous territory where there is much disease and opportunity for personal injury. I am also guilty of this same transgression, as I can not justify going on the trip without my youth given that Treva and I have a 2 yr. old and a six week old at home with no extended family in the area to offer support.

It seems only fitting to me that they do this at this time of year. Our moderator, Rick Ufford-Chase, was recently quoted as saying, "The only way to the resurection is through the cross and suffering. Jesus makes this clear. He will suffer, and anyone else who gets it will suffer too." The joy of the resurection is ours, friends. The joy of the cross is ours as well. Pray for my friends and colleagues.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Decently and In Order

A group of minister friends I met in seminary are now publishing a blog and a podcast about all things Presbyterian (USA), the church and pop culture, and other random topics from a slightly Reformed perspective. You can find the links on this blog or you can find the podcast through iTunes.

Its a boy!!!

I've been away from the blog for a while, but I have a good excuse (other than the fact that this is totally narcisistic). Anyway, God gave Samual Scott Sasser to our family on February 16, 2006. He is happy and health, as is his mother, Treva. His big sister, Zoe, loves him and is adjusting well to concepts like sharing and not stepping on his head. As for me, words can't describe my joy.

We Want To See Jesus

“We Want To See Jesus”
The Rev. Zachary S. Sasser
Chester Presbyterian Church
April 9, 2006
Palm Sunday

Statement before scripture reading:
Our text and our theme for worship today are so familiar that it is easy to take them for granted. Most of us know this story so well we could recite it, which for the average Presbyterian is a pretty big deal. In the reading of this passage I want you to consider the issue of perspective. (John-Charles Holmes- 8:30, Kristen Carter- 11:00), a member of our confirmation class will be reading the majority of the text, but I’ll read verses 16-19 given that the author injects a parenthetical statement in these verses interpreting the events as they are unfolding. As this passage is read, I want you to pick a character and do your best to consider the story from that person’s perspective. Consider the sights, sounds, and smells. Consider the feeling of anticipation. Consider the way in which the crowd joins in and praises a man on a donkey like he was a king on the shoulders of servants. You might be one of the disciples. You might be a person in the crowd who has come to celebrate Passover. You might be someone who saw or heard about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead just days before in Bethany. Perhaps you are one of the Greeks who know of God’s activity but do not as of yet know the one true God of the universe. You could even be the donkey, who knows not why he serves but serves because he is in the right place at the right time.

Scripture Text:
John 12: 12-26
The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord— the King of Israel!’
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!’
His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him. So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. The Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!'
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

When I was a boy I remember fondly a series of books with the theme, “You were there.” My favorites were the “You were there at the Alamo” and “You were there in the Crusades,” and I would read them over and over again. The authors used first person accounts to put you in a particular event in time. It was more story than fact, and that was the point. They wanted you to feel like you were part of the event that they were describing. They wanted the
story to become your story. And so it is with the familiar story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This is not just a familiar story that we read time and time again. It is our story. It is the place where the fullness of humanity comes out in search of the fullness of God.

Did you find yourself in the crowd when the scripture was read? Were you a festival goer... someone who comes out on the High Holy Day and somehow is not surprised that God has shown up because that’s who you came to see? How about one of Jesus’ fans... someone who is really impressed with all the healing and miracle stuff and wants to support this guy as long as you can do it from a distance? Maybe you are a member of his inner circle... his “posse” as the youth might say in jest... a disciple who does not quite get the point but is willing to turn to Jesus for leadership and who knows that something greater is to come from all of this. Maybe you are even a Pharisee... afraid that if everyone truly follows Christ your level of control and your status of importance could be compromised. Of course you could be one of the Greeks... not really knowing what is going on but knowing that this Jesus offers something that you have not found anywhere else. Maybe you thought of another character along the way... a child who shouted “Let’s get some palm branches!”... a laborer who knew the uneven bumps of the street and threw a garment down... or even the donkey who bore the burden because it was who he was to do so. I’ll admit it’s hard for me to see the perspective of the donkey without thinking of a certain cartoon character, but the men at breakfast last Wednesday threw that out and I can’t deny its connection with the bigger picture.

You see, the thing that I struggle with about the narrative part of this story is the idea of the lordship of Christ. We live in a time and place totally removed from the concept of a king who can tax us beyond our means, burn our crops, conscript us into military service, or even call for our death. A king or lord is someone who has absolute power over his subjects’ lives. And this king, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the opposite of what they expected and in many cases even wanted. And so it makes me wonder, what did it mean to them to call him “King of the Jews.” What were they really expecting... a warrior king? A mighty leader who could right the wrongs by his command? A man who would be beaten, whipped, and left to die on a cross? What did it mean to your character? Where did seeing Jesus in this parade and hearing of his arrest connect with this person’s need, and is it any wonder that this crowd turned in a matter of days from singing “Hosanna!” to shouting “Crucify! This man is not what I wanted. Give us Barabas. He may be a thief, but he’s one of us.”? What does it mean to you, with your knowledge of the resurrection, to say that Jesus Christ is lord?

Four years ago at the Massanetta Middle School Conference one of the leaders took a video camera and interviewed participants asking them the question, “What does it mean to you to say that Jesus is the light of the world?” Just for fun the leader flagged down a passing truck to ask a local resident this same question. The gentleman he asked was polite enough to spit into his cup before answering, “Well, I guess that means he controls it.” In a pure and simple way, this man has defined what Christians throughout the centuries have struggled with... the idea that God is in control but has given us free will... the idea that faith is both active and passive at the same time... the idea that our best guess is that God has something bigger in mind for the world we are living in, even while we struggle to determine our own destiny.

That’s why the crowd we imagined ourselves in eventually called for Jesus’ death. And our character either joined in or deserted him. Its easy, post resurrection, to pass judgment on these folks, but I think we all know that we are just as guilty. At some point we all participate in the move from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify!”

Maybe not intentionally, but each of us are in some way part of the need for Christ as well as we are the offered presence of Christ. In a church this active that may be a tough sell, but we are part of the 30% of the earth’s population that use 80% of it’s natural resources. Our collective power as the United States of America does as much to keep other nations from developing as it does to provide relief, and we have the resources to feed the world but instead use 80% of our grain to feed cattle and other livestock because you make more money from selling beef than from feeding hungry people. And we are partners in this because we elect our officials and our economy is a free market that responds to our choices. Right now our congress is debating the naturalization of migrant workers who support our economy by doing the jobs our citizens will not, and we in Chesterfield County have not fully resolved how we can be neighbors and fellow citizens with the Hispanic population in our midst.

Of course this is just my opinion of the way things are, and I have left out many of the wonderful things about being an American Citizen and a resident of Chesterfield County to prove a point. We live after the resurrection, and we do not have to deny Jesus or call for his death in order to save our own skins. In fact, the opposite is now true. You see, people still want to see Jesus. You do... I do... everyone you meet does, whether they know it or not! There is a space in us that we can try to fill with accomplishment and pride but that only makes it deeper and wider because only God fits there and adding other things just stretches it out.
Rick Ufford-Chase, moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), visited Union-PSCE in Richmond a few weeks ago, and here are some things he had to say about the way the church is called to respond to the Lordship of Christ. “We are going to have to stop doing mission by proxy. It can't be done by a check. It can't be done by standing in the pulpit on Sunday morning and preaching where we should be. Everybody is going to have to participate, and the mission begins as you leave out the doors of the church on Sunday.” Moderator Ufford-Chase is not saying that the elderly or the very young are irrelevant. He is saying that we need to rethink the term “mission.” He gets a little clearer and little more personal when he says, “We have to live mission rather than go one week a year. Are we willing to become God's truly Pentecostal multi-cultural church? Classism in our churches makes it uncomfortable to welcome new immigrants [and perhaps visitors in general]. I ask people: 'What makes your church special?' The number one answer is: 'We are very friendly.' Forgive me, friends. If we are so friendly, why are we a dying church? Jesus calls us to be friendly with those no one wants to be friendly with in our community.” As if already heading off the defensive comments he concludes, “There's no way to the resurrection than through the cross and suffering. Jesus makes it clear. He will suffer and anybody else who gets it will suffer, too.”
We are not a dying congregation. Our presbytery is one of the few in the denomination that is showing constant growth, and this congregation is a substantial part of that growth. Hallmarks of our attitude and personality are seen in the leadership our youth offer, the plans being made to hold a mission fair next fall, and the goal of the Mission Committee to get every member to participate in at least one program or action of extending Christ’s grace in the coming year. Even in our youth and adult mission trips we do not think of these efforts as a way to become involved in mission, but rather it is an expression of who we are.
And though it feels great to be a part of this congregation, it is just as easy to be a Pharisee who fears change and wants to create order rather than be ordered by God as it is proclaim the risen Christ here in this place. You see the session just reviewed a study on our area, and there are potentially 19,000 people who are underserved by the church universal in Chesterfield. They come from a wide range in age, income, and education. They are searching for meaning and looking for a place that feels like home. Can you hear them? Can you hear them saying, “Sir, we want to see Jesus. Ma’am, we want to see Jesus.” Can you hear them in you place of work? Can you hear them in your school? Can you hear them in your neighborhood?
As we journey to the cross this Holy Week, let us not be so dazzled by the joy of palms and the glory of Easter that we forget to spend time at the cross. Let us dance with palms in the air not like actors playing a part but more like Ebenizer Scrooge who danced in his own funeral procession, knowing that his past life of worthless struggle was over. Let us take note of the phrase in our bulletin, “The end of worship, the beginning of service.” And let us give honor and glory to the one who came not to be served but to serve. And let us go and do likewise, to God’s glory, now and always! Amen.