Article: A Life Saving Ring

Do you have a class ring from high school or college? The tradition of having a class ring began over 200 years ago as a way to proudly remember the academic institution you attended.

However, one class ring saved a person’s life. In Max Lucado’s book, A Love Worth Giving, we hear how a ring became the difference between life and death…

“By all rules, Skinner was a dead man.” With these words Arthur Bressi begins his retelling of the day he found his best friend in a World War II Japanese concentration camp.

The two were high school buddies. They grew up together in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania—playing ball, skipping school, double-dating. Arthur and Skinner were inseparable. It made sense, then, that when one joined the army, the other would as well. They rode the same troopship to the Philippines. That’s where they were separated. Skinner was on a rescue mission when Bataan fell to the Japanese in 1942. Arthur Bressi was captured a month later.

Through the prison grapevine, Arthur learned the whereabouts of his friend. Skinner was near death in a nearby camp. Arthur volunteered for work detail in the hope that his company might pass through the other camp. One day they did.

Arthur requested and was granted five minutes to find and speak to his friend. He knew to go to the sick side of the camp. It was divided into two sections–one for those expected to recover, the other for those given no hope. Those expected to die lived in a barracks called “zero ward.” That’s where Arthur found Skinner. He called his name, and out of the barracks walked the seventy-nine-pound shadow of the friend he had once known. He writes:

“I stood at the wire fence of the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp on Luzon and watched my childhood buddy, caked in filth and racked with the pain of multiple diseases, totter toward me. He was dead; only his boisterous spirit hadn’t left his body. I wanted to look away, but couldn’t. His blue eyes, watery and dulled, locked on me and wouldn’t let go.

“Malaria. Dysentery. Pellagra. Scurvy. Beriberi. Skinner’s body was a dormitory for tropical diseases. He couldn’t eat. He couldn’t drink. He was nearly gone.”

Arthur didn’t know what to do or say. His five minutes were nearly up. He began to finger the heavy knot of the handkerchief tied around his neck. In it was his high-school class ring. At the risk of punishment, he’d smuggled the ring into camp. Knowing the likelihood of catching a disease and the scarcity of treatment, he had been saving it to barter for medicine or food for himself. But one look at Skinner, and he knew he couldn’t save it any longer.

As he told his friend good-bye, he slipped the ring through the fence into Skinner’s frail hand and told him to “wheel and deal” with it. Skinner objected, but Arthur insisted. He turned and left, not knowing if he would ever see his friend alive again.

Skinner took the ring and buried it in the barracks floor.

The next day he took the biggest risk of his life. He approached the “kindest” of the guards and passed him the ring through the fence. The guard asked, “Is it valuable?” Skinner assured him that it was. The soldier smiled and slipped the ring into his pocket and left.

A couple of days later he walked past Skinner and let a packet drop at his feet. Sulfanilamide tablets. A day later he returned with limes to combat the scurvy. Then came a new pair of pants and some canned beef.

Within three weeks Skinner was on his feet. Within three months he was taken to the healthy side of the sick camp. In time he was able to work. As far as Skinner knew, he was the only American ever to leave the Zero Ward alive.

The ring elevated his position in the camp. The ring secured healing. The ring brought provision. 

This is an Easter Story! Arthur’s ring saved Skinner’s life in the same way Jesus offered himself for our troubled and broken souls. 

Skinner attempted to refuse the very ring that would ultimately save his life. We too at times turn from Jesus. Like Arthur, Jesus didn’t give up! 

This Easter, embrace the life giving and soul refreshing gift Jesus has offered you… a fresh start.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Travelogue: From Tabor to Jerusalem- Jerusalem (Palm Sunday)

We arrived at our destination…Jerusalem. It is Palm Sunday and we discover false expectations and a false narrative that runs counter to what Jesus is about to do for humanity. What false narratives do we tell ourselves? Is there anything we need to let go of?


Article: This Week is for You

We are just a few days from the beginning of Holy Week. We will remember: 

  • Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (he is from Nazareth),
  • how Jesus disrupted the business of the Temple (called the cleansing but he didn’t do any cleaning)
  • how Jesus taught daily in the Temple courts (outside the Temple building) 
  • Jesus celebrating Passover (the Old Covenant) with his disciples and establishing a New Covenant (Holy Communion)
  • Jesus’ arrest and trial (a kangaroo court for sure)
  • Jesus’ crucifixion and death (by the Roman authorities)
  • Jesus’ burial in a borrowed tomb (thanks to Joseph of Arimathea)
  • Jesus’ glorious and unexpected resurrection

Jesus did all of these things with you in mind. Yes, that’s right. He was thinking of you. Don’t forget that you are “fearfully and wonderfully madeWhen you were woven together in the depths of the earth, God’s eyes saw your unformed body.” Psalm 139:14-16Like Jeremiah the Old Testament prophet, “Before God formed you in the womb He knew you, before you were born God set you apart…” Jeremiah 1:5

Jesus knew long before you did that you would be a part of His family one day. He knew this before you were born. “In love God predestined us to be adopted as his children through Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 1:4But we aren’t members of a club. No, we were invited to be changed by this love! For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…” Romans 8:29

You are more favored by God than even Jesus’ disciples! “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29

This coming week… Holy Week is all for you. 

  • Jesus reminds you that he is your King on Palm Sunday. 
  • Jesus makes an unbreakable promise of forgiveness to you when he gave us Holy Communion.
  • Jesus showed you the extent of His love by dying for you.
  • And Jesus shows us that we no longer need to fear anyone or anything including death on Easter morning. 

This coming week is a gift for you. Immerse yourself in that gift. God loves you so much.

Speaking of God’s love, Jesus is thinking about you right now as you read this.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Article: Resilience

A kindergarten teacher found an exciting new thing for her Sunday School class. The teacher wrote a song about popcorn, taught it to the children, and had them crouch down on the floor to sing it. At appropriate points in the song, all the children would “pop up.” The teacher soon had them “popping” all over the classroom.

One day, the popcorn song was in full swing, when the teacher noticed one child remained crouching on the floor while the other children “popped” all over the room. “Why can’t you pop like the other children?” 

The little child replied, “I’m burning in the bottom of the pan.”

We all have moments, days, seasons of “burning in the bottom of the pan.”

When those situations arise… they are miserable. By the way, I am suspicious of Christians who smile through the obvious pain. 

Yet even Jesus reminds his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33b

Jesus knew that life sometimes stinks. Jesus’ Good Friday was anything but good for him. 

The question is not “How do I avoid trouble?” Because you can’t. The question is “How do I move through difficult times?”

I can’t answer that for you, but I can tell you what I have observed in myself and other people.

When difficulties arise we have a choice between RESENTMENT or RESILIENCE. 

When we turn to Proverbs 17:22 we see what King Solomon says about the matter. “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Let me be clear, this isn’t about “turning a frown upside-down.” This is about the temperament we bring to all of life. Guess what the word “cheerful” can also be translated as? Joyful. Yes, joy. Joy allows resilience. Joy keeps from getting stuck and joy helps us move forward. Without joy, we become stuck and soon resentment creeps in. 

I was reminded how important it is to choose joy is this week. My father (who some of you know) had a cornea transplant this week. A few weeks ago, he had a cataract removed from the same eye. In about 5 weeks, the same procedures will occur for his other eye. When I talked to him before and after surgery he was joyful. Seriously. My dad reminds me of the importance of choosing joy and to be wary of resentment.  He hasn’t complained about this at all (to me at least). Nor does he complain about the aches and pains of getting older. 

I appreciate the attitude my dad brings to living life. I try (and often fail) to be as joyful as my father. I am thankful I have someone to look to that does not live in the land of resentment. 

God bless you all,

Pr. Ben

Sermon: Travelogue: From Tabor to Jerusalem- Judea

We continue to follow Jesus as he slowly makes his way toward Jerusalem. Today we find him across the Jordan river talking a crowd and then to a specific individual with personal obstacle to following Jesus. We may not have the same obstacle but we have something to learn from him.

Article: An Open Letter from Bishop Eaton

One week ago, a gunman entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and killed 50 people and injured 50 others. These people were coming to worship in peace. An Australian white supremacist committed this horrendous hate crime. I denounce white supremacy and violence against others. 

The Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (our bishop, if you are an ELCA Lutheran) wrote a letter to us after this violent and tragic event. Here is that letter:

Dear Church, 

Today we awoke to the devastating news of the mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. We join in mourning for the people who were killed and wounded, for their families, for the first responders and grief counselors, and for all whose lives have been shattered today. We know that God is present in the midst of their suffering. 

We know that our own Muslim neighbors here in the U.S. are also experiencing grief and fear. Many will wonder whether it is safe to attend Friday prayers today. These are not the kinds of questions that any of us should have to ask ourselves as we seek to live out our religious commitments. Yet, devastatingly, this is also a reality that binds us together as people of faith. As I wrote last November in the wake of the Tree of Life shooting: “Hate-filled violence knows no bounds – whether a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, a Christian church in Charleston, a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh” – and now these mosques in New Zealand. 

Together with our ecumenical and inter-religious partners, we stand shoulder to shoulder in condemning hatred, bigotry, racism and violence whenever and wherever it occurs. We do so because all people are made in the image of God. Therefore, as an act of neighborly love, I urge you to reach out to your Muslim neighbors today and in the days to come to ask how you might offer solidarity and support – joining whenever possible with other ecumenical and inter-religious neighbors. 

I leave you with the words of Psalm 16:1: “Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” This is my prayer – for our Muslim neighbors, for the people of Christchurch, and for all who mourn and are afraid. May we see in this devastation the possibility to be Christ’s presence with our neighbors in this world – to be present in their suffering and to be partners in God’s justice and peace. 

In peace,

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton

Presiding Bishop, ELCA