Life as the Un-Dead

“Life is for the living. / Death is for the dead. / Let life be like music. / And death a note unsaid.” -Langston Hughes

Some of us are overly-fascinated with death, and some of us try to ignore it altogether. But, like taxes, it is a certainty (although I do know a guy who has apparently avoided taxes for a while, but I’m not so sure how that’s going to turn out). Oh, I can hear you from the other side of the page: “Come on now Pastor Bob, it is finally Spring, so can we talk about something a little more cheery than death?” A fine idea, dear reader, and I shall get there soon enough, but according to my weather app, it is currently 32 degrees out, and the lawn is still under a blanket of bright white, so we’ve got at least a little more winter to endure. Not to mention the fact that just this morning some of us said farewell to one of the dearest of souls you’ll meet.

Even with our cultural obsession with youth and physical beauty, the language of death pervades: “My car battery died…my phone died…the game is now in sudden-death…” And you can’t go to the movies or turn on a show without some sort of life-or-death struggle on full display (like Black Panther, or This Is Us, for just two examples). So, for as much as we’d like to avoid it, death is here to stay. Or is it?

Christianity is all about God’s free offer of eternal life, so I find it incredibly ironic that our favorite symbol is a means of grisly death: the cross. Many of us wear a tiny one around our necks. I carry a little one in my pocket most days. Just this morning we sang about “The Old Rugged Cross.” But can you imagine how horrified we would be if our neighbors or weirdo relatives centered their religion around an electric chair, a guillotine, or even a noose? “Oh, our dear sweet niece Sally, we’re so proud that you’ve passed this milestone in our faith, so we got you these lovely electric chair earrings. Look, they even light up!” The symbol we cling to isn’t far from that, except that it has been sanitized and gilded over the last 2,000 years.

So why would our eternal-life faith emphasize a grisly-death so much? Perhaps because death is baked into the nature of reality. Yet there are hints of hope everywhere. Have you ever noticed that nature itself goes in cycles of life, death, and resurrection? Summer, fall, winter, and spring. Daytime, evening, night, and sunrise. Full moon, waning, new moon, and back toward full. Plants thrive, fruit, drop seeds into the earth, wait in the darkness, and spring to new life. Or a tree falls and its nutrients are returned to the earth for the new growth to thrive. History repeats itself, as our families, communities, and institutions reflect the same cycle: growth, abundance, decline, death, and then a new start. Stories and legends of life, death and resurrection abound. The phoenix rises from the ashes. This is all well and good for the world around us, but it seems we’re stuck in the death part of the cycle. Will it ever end?

There is hope, but there’s only one catch: you’re going to need some help. In fact, you’re going to need a whole lot of help. Like many of us, I’ve sat in far too many waiting rooms and beside way too many hospital beds, dreading what the doctors might say next. I’ve been to a lot of funerals, and the dearly departed always stays dead. After a while you come to realize how helpless you are on your own. But help is always there. Some might call it a Higher Power. Some might call it Divine Intervention. But his real name is Jesus.

The day we call “Good Friday” was the beginning of the end of death itself. When Jesus (God himself in the flesh) died a grisly death on the cross, he died the ultimate death for us. Humanity can’t break the cycle of death on our own. In fact, we got ourselves into this mess, and continue to do so, when we turn from God, who is the author and source of life. We’re stuck in the cycle of death without hope for resurrection on our own. But God loved us so much that he sent his son Jesus to die the ultimate death, to break the cycle and bring us into resurrection life. Whoever receives this gift of eternal life by believing in Jesus is welcomed home into life as the un-dead. Our bodies may die, and we continue to experience life in a broken world. But those who trust in Jesus have a present and eternal hope, and have a new life to live now and forever. Our souls will live forever, and someday hopefully soon Jesus will return to bring resurrection life to all his people, and all of creation too.

Death itself has been defeated for us. This is what makes Good Friday so good, and Resurrection Sunday even better.

Bob Wiegers is the Pastor of First Baptist Church of Bennington, which is honored to host this year’s Bennington Community Good Friday Service on March 30 at 7pm at 601 Main Street. Many area churches will be participating, and all are welcome to join us.



Easter Week Services

banner-header-easter-cross-161188.jpegMaundy Thursday (March 29, 5:30pm)
A very special service in conjunction with the Turning Point Center’s monthly recovery dinner and FBC’s Mercy Street service. We are welcoming our friends in the community to join us. FBC members are invited to bring potluck food for the meal together. We will also have a worship service around the table featuring communion and acoustic music. All are welcome!

Good Friday (March 30, 7pm)
We are continuing the tradition of the Bennington Community Good Friday Service. Multiple church communities will be participating, and we are honored to host. Join us in worshiping our Savior!

Easter Sunday (April 1)
Easter Breakfast potluck starting at 8am. All are welcome!
Worship Service at 9:30am to worship our resurrected Savior. Featuring a baptism service and welcoming new members, and special music.
Easter Egg Hunt after the service.
Bring along your friends, family, and neighbors!

Is Jesus Crazy?

As we head toward March, our grumbling about the cold, the rain, the ice, and the snow is growing like the piles of oily snow in the parking lots. Friends down South send pictures of things in bloom and rejoice with the start of Spring Training, while my backyard is a sheet of treacherous ice, which I carefully navigate to collect the eggs before they freeze. It seems that Vermont’s favorite winter activity is longing for it to end.

And yet every four years we get to take a little pride in being people of the ice and snow, as the Winter Olympics show the world just how awesomely we can ski, skate, and ride. According to VPR, we have 13 Vermonters at the Olympics, and 15 more with close ties. That’s easily the best athlete-per-capita ratio in the country. I haven’t yet met Shaftsbury’s Andy Newell or West Dover’s Kelly Clark, but watching them fly over the snow leaves me in awe, and makes me wonder just how they do it. There’s got to be raw God-given talent, innate drive, a ton of hard work, incredible skill, untold support and sacrifice, a certain level of genius, and, just maybe, a whole lot of crazy. To be elite, the best-of-the-best, in just about anything, you’ve got to straddle that line between genius and crazy, right? With all due respect and even awe, when I take a step back, it does seem a bit daft to dedicate my life to wildly spinning in circles 15 feet in the air over a huge trough of icy snow. That’s the glory of genius: it takes the insane and makes it into a thing of beauty.

When Jesus walked a warmer slice of earth roughly 2,000 years ago, lots of people thought he was insane (you knew I was getting to Jesus eventually, right?). Just as he was getting popular, healing lots of people and teaching vast crowds, those who were closest to him went to seize him, thinking he was out of his mind. After all, how could this kid who grew up down the lane be saying and doing these things? He must be crazy! His opponents accused him of being demon-possessed. How else could we explain the obviously supernatural works that are happening right before our eyes? He must be from the devil! Even his own mother and brothers tried to extract him. We’ve got to protect the family name! Jesus was having none of it though. (You can read the account for yourself in Mark 3:20-35).

(By the way, I’m sensitive to the fact that I’m using the words “crazy” and “insane” quite a bit here, and I do so somewhat hesitantly. Those who suffer from mental, emotional, and spiritual trials should not be simply labeled and tossed aside. Indeed, Jesus came to bring healing, and he still does, in many different ways. I know this first-hand.)

Was Jesus the classic misunderstood genius? Perhaps. But perhaps he came to redefine genius, sanity, and insanity. Jesus surely had talent, drive, hard work, skill, support, and sacrifice too, but when you consider his whole life and work, the word “genius” suddenly sounds insufficient. So maybe Jesus IS crazy, in a certain sense. In this insane world, maybe the truly sane one will seem crazy to us. In this world turned upside down with darkness, and even the demonic, maybe the one who is true light and has the true Holy Spirit will seem devilish to us.

Thankfully Jesus doesn’t leave us in our insanity and darkness. The very reason he came to earth was to make all things right again. The world had gone crazy and he came to make it good again. How did he do it? By living the only truly sane life and submitting himself to be killed by the crazies, so by his sacrifice we could be healed. The world was going to hell and he came to bring us back to heaven. How? By being defeated by evil on the cross. Yet that defeat was turned inside-out at the resurrection, and now evil is on its death bed and on its way out. The one they called insane is really the only truly sane one. The one they thought was the devil is really the one who came to deliver us from evil.

So as I sit and marvel at a perfectly executed Double McTwist 1260, I can say with confidence that I’ll never do anything like that. I’m far too old, unathletic, and uncoordinated for such adventures. I’m not nearly crazy enough to try that. So while I can make some guesses safely from my comfy chair, I’ll never really understand what it takes to be the best of the best, especially in snowboarding.

And yet I long for greatness. I long for sanity in the midst of a crazy world. I long for true light in the spiritual darkness. I long to belong. Don’t you? Do you hear his voice when Jesus, misunderstood and even opposed by those supposedly closest to him, opens his arms and says to the riff-raff, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:34-35) What a promise, made by the God of the universe, come to be with us as a human called Jesus of Nazareth. He’s the only truly sane one in this insane world, and he has come to make all things right. He’s the only true spiritual light in these spiritually dark times, and he’s come to light the way. Like the Prodigal Son in Jesus’ most famous story, we too are called to come to our senses. Jesus is welcoming into his family all who will repent, believe, and follow him. That’s the glory, and genius, of Jesus: he takes the insane and makes us into works of beauty.

What’s in a name?

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Good old Bill Shakespeare asked a pretty good question a while ago: “What’s in a name?” I didn’t think about names much until I was faced with the daunting task of naming a child. As we considered what to name our first child, I finally realized that I myself was named after not just one, but both of my parents. I am slow on the uptake at times, but even I could tell that my dad (Bob) and I (Bobby) had the same first name. (By the way, you’re only allowed to call me Bobby if you knew me before high school. Or if you bribe me with chocolate). But I never did realize that my middle name (John) is the boy version of my mom’s name (Jane). I was nearly 30 when I finally realized that I bear the names of both of my parents, and somehow that was a big part in setting me free to be who I really am.

All of us bear multiple names. Not only our given names and family names, but also place names and work names.  For some reason our society doesn’t put much stock in names, but I’m starting to realize there is wisdom and power in paying attention to my names.  I’m realizing “Bob” doesn’t quite tell my whole story (not to mention the fact that it can mean a haircut, or fishing tackle, or a sponge with square pants). Like many of us, I’m an American, a Vermonter, and a Benningtonian. I’m proud to bear the names of the places I love. I’m also, to varying degrees, a New Jerseyite, Floridian, and Tennessean, and a wee bit of Mainer (I spent some time in Massachusetts too, but couldn’t quite take that name on myself. Sorry Mass friends. Go Pats!) I’m also a Husband, Father, Son, Brother, and Friend, and I’m glad my identity is wrapped up in my relationships. And I’ve been Barista, Editor, Computer Programmer, and now Pastor. These vocational names shape who I am and what I do, but they don’t quite put a name on my core identity. Throw in Musician, Animal-lover, and Photographer, and we’re getting closer to naming who I really am.

As a committed follower of Jesus, I bear the name of Christian. This is, in fact, my primary identity, and I am very glad for it. But here’s the thing that’s been bugging me lately: have you noticed that the name of “Christian” can mean many different things? Perhaps you’re familiar with some of these possible meanings of the name Christian: someone whose parents were Christian; someone who was once baptized, or confirmed, or married; someone who tries to live by the 10 Commandments and/or Golden Rule; someone who is an American; someone who is an adherent to a certain flavor of politics or philosophy. For whatever reason, the name Christian has become muddled and confused. So let’s borrow a quote from a favorite movie: “You keep using that word…I do not think it means what you think it means.”

It may be too late, but I’d like to go back the beginning of the name “Christian,” and reclaim what it really means. It originally meant “belonging to Christ” or, if you don’t mind, someone on Team Jesus. So I’m not a Christian because my parents are. I’m not a Christian because I was baptized when I was a baby. I’m not a Christian because I went to a Christian school. I’m not a Christian because I try to be a good person. I’m not a Christian because I’m an American. I’m not a Christian because I go to church. Every last one of these things happens to be true, but none of them is what makes me a Christian.

What makes me, and perhaps you, a Christian is far less complicated than all that. I’m a Christian simply because I belong to Jesus Christ. Not because I don’t kick the dog or cuss (much), but rather because he has graciously forgiven me and given me a new start. Not because I try to do good, but rather because Jesus is making me good by his love and grace. Not because I’ve done or said certain religious things, but rather because Jesus has given me a relationship with himself. Not because the country I live in, but rather because God has welcomed me into his heavenly kingdom. Not because the family I come from, but rather because Jesus has adopted me into his eternal family. Not because I’m doing my best to live a good life, but because God has raised me from spiritual death into new life.

Christians are named Christians because we belong to Jesus, and so we follow him. Not perfectly of course, and too often not even very well. But we continue onward and upward, because he gives us the faith to respond to him when he says, “Repent, believe in the gospel, and follow me.” (see Mark 1:14-18) We are named after the one who loves us best and names us his Beloved.

So, again, what’s in a name? Everything. What’s in your name?

Bob Wiegers was named Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Bennington VT a couple years ago, and continues to strive to live into that name.


Why should I be baptized?

Why should you be baptized? Why should you be a member of First Baptist? These are deep questions, but with deep spiritual significance, but the answers start simply: for your spiritual growth and encouragement. They are a “means of grace” for all believers: they are a powerful way God’s blessings come to us.

Baptism is our opportunity to declare to the world, to the church, and to ourselves that we belong to Jesus. Jesus commanded the church to “make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). When you go under the waters of baptism, the church declares that you are indeed a Christian: you are “buried with [Jesus] in baptism” (Colossians 2:12), and when you rise up out of the waters of baptism you proclaim “you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God.” (Colossians 2:12) The scriptures make clear that baptism itself doesn’t save us: we are saved only by faith in Jesus. Yet it is through baptism that we affirm our faith, obey our Lord’s command, and identify with our Savior. It is a rich blessing to do so.

Similarly, church membership is how we formally identify ourselves with the local church. Why is this important? The short answer is that we cannot live the Christian life alone. We need each other! When you join the church, you make a commitment to love and serve God and others with this group (or “body”) of believers, to support its worship and work. Likewise, the members of the church are committed to you and your spiritual growth. The pastor and leaders of the church promise to care for you in prayer and teaching and discipleship. When difficulties arise, we bind together in love and seek to strengthen our faith together. In all of this you have the comfort and privilege and assurance of knowing that you are indeed part of the true Christian church both now and forever. This is one of the primary ways God blesses us and grows our faith as we look to him together.