Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Family Separation - A Personal Statement

I need to comment on the family separation policy that is currently playing out at our southern border. Despite a so-called presidential directive thousands of families have been broken apart and young children have been warehoused across the nation. This is simply intolerable and disgusting.  On this we should all agree and I find it stunning and simply amazing that there are those who continue to defend this practice.  This practice is indefensible.  This is not a democrat vs. republican, liberal vs. conservative issue.  We are talking about the welfare of thousands of children and the integrity of refugee families. There is no “agree to disagree” here.

But yet the excuses and lame defenses continue. All of the ones I have seen have several things in common: they consisted of simplistic statements or were repetitions of out right lies and not only they were given in a self-righteous and sometimes hostile manner. One gets the sense that these apologists for crimes against humanity have simply stopped thinking for themselves and are just going through the motions of regurgitating what they have read or heard. I don’t know why they bother because they sound foolish and downright ridiculous given the seriousness of the issue. We are talking about the lives of children and families.

In my studies of ancient (and modern) paganism one of the most profound things I have learned is the focus on action. "You are what you do."  How you act in the world, how you relate to others, how you treat others, how you work towards the greater good (or not) defines who you are and your character as a human being.  In fact the ancient rites that were undertaken as part of the Eleusinian Mysteries were all about assessing one’s actions and relationships and behavior within the context of the community and recommitting oneself to work for the benefit of the community.

Those of us who claim the be Christian need to recognize that this emphasis on doing is really not so far removed from a Biblical understanding of faith. In the Bible – in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament – faith is not about what you think, or your attitude about God or Jesus, or your “personal relationship with Jesus,” or even about believing you will go to heaven when you die. Faith is about how you act in the world, how you relate to others, how your treat others, how you contribute to the community.  If you “believe,” if you trust in God, if you confess the name of Jesus then it needs to be reflected in how you act and how you treat others and how you live in this world.  Medieval Scholasticism and Enlightenment Pietism has internalized the concept of faith and personalized Christianity to the point where many, many seem to think that the beginning and end of their religious commitment is all about my relationship with Jesus and that nothing else matters.  Sorry, that is a cop out and is completely unbiblical. Faith is about what you do, not what you think or how you feel!

And ripping children from the arms of their parents is not representative of any faith that I know of. It is an act of hate and violence that is must be condemned. In fact hate of all kinds is not acceptable. Hate is born of fear and it all stems from a selfish focus on me and mine! As people of faith (used in the broadest sense of the word) I believe that we must reject this hate and fear in no uncertain terms and embrace love and acceptance, especially of those who are different from us.  

So – to those who are perpetuating this crime against humanity – either as active participants or cheerleaders: I don’t want to hear your excuses, and your half-truths and your lies. You need to look at yourself seriously and re-examine your values and your so-called faith.  If your faith permits the destruction of families and the abuse of children then we do not share the same faith, because the faith I look to is one of love and acceptance and a celebration of human diversity.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Sermon – 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 – November 2017

Sermon – 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 – November 2017

14For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
16From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
First and absolutely essential to understanding Paul is his focus on the Cross and Resurrection.  This is absolutely the key to understanding Paul’s letters.  It is the key to every single thing that Paul says – it is the key to faith and the key to salvation. It is the Key to what it means to live in Christ, and to the believer’s relationships with God and with one another.  The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, God’s Son, is the foundation of Paul’s theology.  So – here, in my words, is how Paul understands the New Creation:

God’s incredible creation as described in Genesis 1 to 3 has been undermined and is abused by those to whom God has given the gift of creation; abused by those to whom God has also given the gift of the responsibility to care for the gift of creation.  God’s incredible and incomprehensible love has been and is rejected by human disregard, selfishness, greed, violence and hate.
Initially, God called Israel and gave Israel the responsibility of being God’s representatives or “ambassadors” in the world in order to set the creation right – to restore wholeness, well-being or Shalom.  But Israel failed – they fell into the same human behaviors and traps that everyone else had fallen into.
Therefore in Jesus, God enters into this world, and at the same time God enters into human disregard, abuse, selfishness, greed, violence and hate in the Cross. God takes all of that on in the Cross and then overcomes and destroys their ultimate power in the Resurrection.  The seemingly overwhelmingly destructive powers of human self-centeredness are burst apart by the resurrection – so while these powers appear formidable, ultimately their power will crumble before the power of God’s love.
In the Cross and Resurrection (they go together BTW) God has brought forth a New Creation!  And it is into this New Creation that we are baptized – It is this New Creation that gives us both our Identity as Christians and our agenda. 

That is the basic understanding, but then Paul goes on to raise and address a couple important questions. He actually raises more questions than we have time to focus on, but the principal question that jumps out at me for us is this:

• Do we willingly take on this gift, this identity – or do we push it away?  Do we gratefully live into the gift of New Creation – or do we reject it by trying to modify it so we can, as they say “have our cake and eat it too.”  So we can experience the benefits without taking on any of the responsibility?

It is not enough to say we accept that we are a New Creation in Christ!  The issue is: Does our life and the way we live our lives reflect this new identity?  Do we stand against the abuses of creation that happen all the time? We do stand against the exploitation of our environment and the exploitation of other peoples?  Do we stand against violence and hate in the way we live and act and relate to others?

This is where we get to what Paul calls The Ministry of Reconciliation.  So, do we take on this ministry of reconciliation that is what it means to live into our status as a New Creation in Christ?  Do we work to bring about healing rather than division; love rather than hate; forgiveness rather than retribution; hope rather than fear?

Taking on the identity of the New Creation in Christ means that ultimately we are called to be Ambassadors of Christ – we are representatives of Christ’s love in this world!  Whenever we speak or act our words and our deeds must reflect God’s love – God’s grace – God’s forgiveness!

• So, here is the question I would like to invite you to ponder and pray about: Do you believe in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus - Do you believe that you are a New Creation? If yes, how is it reflected in your lives?  How do you live into this identity?  Do you live a life that embodies the ministry of reconciliation?  Are you an effective Ambassador?

Our calling to be a New Creation in Christ begins here in this space with Word and Sacrament and fellowship and then goes out beyond these 4 walls into the worlds in which we live and touches the people with whom we encounter in our daily lives.  Do they experience God’s New Creation in Christ, through you?

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Reflections from the Pastor

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations  Matthew 28:20

I had planned to use this space for some reflections on the Eclipse and the beginning of the school year.  But the events of the last few weeks have been so disturbing that I feel that I cannot ignore them and must address them in some way.  The white supremacist/neonazi demonstrations in Charlottesville, VA seem to be a culmination of a wave that seems to be sweeping the country.  That these demonstrations resorted to violence and that at last count several innocent people were killed is both tragic and deplorable. It seems to me that this needs to be a wake up call for us all.  I don’t like to think of myself as racist.  But because of my upbringing and the experiences I have had in my life I know that there is inside of me a tendency to sometimes react in ways that are in fact racist.  In fact, we all struggle with this whether we are aware of it or not.  Anthropologists called it “ethno-centrism” and it is a human characteristic.  But when unchecked and when fear, resentment and anger are added to it then it can transforms into racism and can lead to violence. We must all take it upon ourselves to examine our attitudes and priorities and make an effort to address this within ourselves.  Something as simple as catching ourselves before we make a statement that generalizes another race or religion or makes fun of another race or religion might be a good place to start.

I want to make it clear, in case there is any question: I stand firmly for equality and justice and against racism, anti-semitism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism or anything that belittles, excludes or victimizes other human beings in any way. My faith and Scripture teach me that we are all God’s children and that the diversity of culture and race and even religion is one of God’s great gifts to us. We have so much we can learn from others, we are stronger as a church, a people and a nation when we embrace this gift of diversity.  I invite you to join with me in making a commitment to follow God’s call to us to reach out and embrace all those who are considered “other” no matter who or where they are.

Below are excerpts from Pastoral letters by our Synod Bishop John Roth and then from the ELCA Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton:

First from Bishop Roth:
“We must be absolutely clear and unambiguously forthright here.  We the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) stand against all forms of racism. Let me quote from the ELCA social statement “Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity and Culture”: “Racism—a mix of power, privilege, and prejudice—is sin, a violation of God’s intention for humanity.  The resulting racial, ethnic, or cultural barriers deny the truth that all people are God’s creatures and, therefore, persons of dignity.  Racism fractures and fragments both church and society.”
“Lutherans confront racism with law and gospel.  Condemning racism as sin is a word of law.  In traditional Lutheran terminology, this is the second use of the law: that word of God that condemns sin and sinners.  We need to hear this word of law.  The hope is, of course, that ultimately this condemning word of law will drive a person to contrition, to rejection of racism, and to redemption from this sin through Christ. 

Creating and enforcing civil laws that protect people against racism is also a word of law.  In traditional Lutheran terminology, this is the first use of the law: that word of God that supports orderly community and just government.  This is a word of God demanding an end to racial violence, an end to racial intimidation, and an end to racial discrimination and marginalization. 

Finally, there is the hope of the gospel.  Martin Luther King, Jr., interpreted the Civil Rights Movement of nonviolent love not simply or even primarily as political action on behalf of oppressed blacks, but as redemptive suffering, living out Christ’s love for white, racist enemies, to redeem America’s soul from the sin of racism.  Ultimately, we trust not in being able to proudly congratulate ourselves on not being racist (a theology of glory), but in the grace of God through Jesus Christ, that it is Christ’s righteousness and not our own by which we are reconciled to God and to one another (the theology of the cross).” 

And the Last word from Bishop Eaton:
“The ELCA is a church that belongs to Christ and Christ’s church universal, where there is a place for everyone. The job of Christ’s people today is to celebrate the diversity of God’s creative work and embrace all people in the spirit of love, whatever race or ethnicity, economic status or gender.”

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Lutheran Theology 101

As you all know by now this year – 2017 – is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  Specifically it is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg.  As I stated in an earlier article, (see below) even though we trace our faith heritage back to that moment in time there are plenty of other events yet to come.  Even so, the events in history that we call the Reformation have certainly shaped our world and our culture and our nation, and continue to do so.
Over the summer I am taking the opportunity during worship to focus on various theological issues that became a part of Reformation or Lutheran theology. For many of these Luther capsulated them in a brief saying – such as “Justification by Grace through Faith;” or “the Priesthood of all Believers,” "simil justus et peccator," or “Theology of the Cross.”  There are others.  These sayings were designed to make these concepts and understandings available and comprehensible to Christians of all walks of life, but after 500 years they have become encrusted and to some extent just as confusing as the scholastic theology they challenged.  But they are important.  So, during my sermons I will be raising some of these and discussing them in ways that I hope bring them alive and make them relevant and applicable to our lives now. 
The first point I want to make which is absolutely essential is that each and every one of these are rooted in the Bible.  Luther didn’t invent them.  They come directly from the text.  “Theology of the Cross” is rooted in the passion narratives of the Gospels; “The Priesthood of All Believers” is rooted in I Corinthians 12.  And the foundational theological plank or “Justification by Grace through Faith” is rooted in Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 3 in particular.   Here is a portion of that passage: 
21But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets,22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus… 28For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.”
As is the case with most of Paul, there is a lot going on here.  Paul has spent the first two chapters laying out human sinfulness – or the human inclination to put him/herself in the center of their universe, thereby shutting God out and replacing God with him/herself.  Oh no, we want to argue, but stop and think carefully about that.  We are all guilty of this.  Paul (and Luther’s point) is that we do not need to feel guilty or spend hours in self-centered penitential rituals, rather we simply need to recognize it and own it so we can move forward, and it is God through Christ that enables us to move forward.  Because we have been “justified,” “made righteous” which doesn’t mean that God is pretending that we’re innocent.  No, we are sinners – we are self-centered – we regularly put our own needs first.  This in and of itself breaks our relationship with God, but it is God who takes the initiative and restores us to relationship.  This is what it means to be “justified” or “made righteous:” We have been restored to relationship with God.  How?  Through God’s grace.  And “grace” is a word that encompasses all of God’s gifts to us.  God’s grace includes God’s unconditional love, God’s unconditional forgiveness, God’s never failing presence with us in the midst of all of life.  Grace is the box that contains the gifts God is so anxious to bestow upon us.
And since the gifts are unconditional all we need to do it to be willing to accept the gift; the receive the gift.  And that is faith.  Faith is not mentally accepting a bunch of theoretical truths.  Faith has little to nothing to do with our attitudes and opinions.  Faith is action – faith is reflected in how we act, how we relate to others.  So there it is – We are justified by grace and we receive it through Faith! And this means God in Christ restores us to relationship through God unconditional love and forgiveness and we receive this gift through living lives that reflect God’s gifts of unconditional love and forgiveness and presence, and this is what faith is.
This is the primary theological plank of the Reformation, it is also central to Paul’s understanding of what it means to be Christian.  And ultimately it comes down to how we live in this world and how we relate to others – all others!
Blessings for the remainder of the summer!