Thursday, February 25, 2010

From Death to Life - Meditation 1 for Wartburg Parish Lenten Services

They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.  St. Mark 10:32
They were on a Journey!  The disciples may not have realized it when they agreed to follow Jesus, but they were in for quite a trip.  Many of the disciples thought they were signing up for something that would bring them all kinds of immediate personal benefits.  Jesus is the Messiah, so it stood to reason that those closest to him would receive some important rewards when Jesus made himself known and expelled the Romans. So finally, here they are, on the road towards Jerusalem, but it wasn’t going well.  Jesus keeps talking about being crucified and dying and being raised.  And when Peter tried to “correct” Jesus’ understanding of what it means to be Messiah, Peter got into a lot of trouble.  And at every turn it just seems that these poor disciples can’t do anything right.  Jesus is getting more and more frustrated and put out with them.  In the passage quoted above, Jesus and the disciples are finally nearing Jerusalem.  But this is far from the experience that the disciples had dreamed about.  Mark’s description is very vivid: Jesus is out in front walking towards Jerusalem confident and with boldness; the disciples are straggling behind, afraid and confused.
I have had several opportunities in my life to take some major trips.  There was my trip to Caracas, Venezuela in the early 80’s where I ended up living there for a couple years.  And then a few years later I had the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land: to Egypt, Israel and Jordan.  Both of these trips had a profound effect on me.  I learned a lot about myself and it was my experiences especially in South America that led me to seminary and ordained ministry.  That was not where I was expecting to end up at the end of that trip.  But there it is.  Our life journeys can lead us into some strange and unexpected places. Sometimes we might we are led kicking and screaming – sometimes we are anxious and willingly led.  But we are on a journey.
Lent is a time to assess this journey.  Where are you?  Where is God leading you? What kinds of things is God trying to teach you?  Are you like the disciples, straggling behind, afraid and confused, not sure where you are going; or are you moving confidently on the way? Our congregations are on a journey as well.  In a few days the Wartburg Parish will officially start up and this will change us and lead us all in a new direction.  I cannot tell you where I think it will lead us, because I do not know.  This is new for us all.  But one thing I can say for certain is that I know that God will be with us and that God will continue to transform us during this journey. 
The disciples were focused on the death part of Jesus’ predictions, which is why I think they were so resistant.  Maybe they just didn’t understand the “raising again” part.  But the promise is that God will lead us from death to life; that no matter what, we are headed towards God’s promise of new life – for us and for our congregations.  What do we do?  We are called to pick up the cross of Christ, to bear the cross into our peculiar corners of the world – which means that we are called to bear Christ’s presence.  Luther said that we are to be “little Christs” in the midst of the world.   And we are to follow our Lord, confident that Jesus will be with us each and every step of the way.
In the few weeks that follow we will focus on this journey – specifically as it relates to our congregations.  What does it mean that our congregations are called to follow Jesus.  As we move forward on our Wartburg Parish journey, what are the implication for the maintenance, the ministry and the mission of the congregations of the Wartburg Parish.  I will call it the 3-m’s – Maintenance, Ministry and Mission.  Everything we do in our congregations falls into one of those categories.  So what is the implication of our new Wartburg Parish journey on those 3-M’s.  This will be the focus of the meditations in the weeks to come – but first, next week we will focus on prayer.  For we need to be constantly in prayer as we move forward on the journey.
May God bless your journey – as we all together in Christ – move from death to life.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Musical Hope in Haiti - Holy Trinity School

My good friend and former colleague Dr. John Jost who is the director of choral activities at Bradley University has been working in Haiti for many years building a music educational program.  The school that John helped found was completely destroyed.  Even so, I want to share with you a letter I received from John and also below are several news clips about the school.  Of course basic needs - like food and water and shelter come first - but we are all human beings and we need the arts to channel our creativity to give us a voice of expression and to provide hope.  I will mention that I had the honor and opportunity to teach oboe to a young man from Haiti during the last couple years.  I am very happy to report that Gerald Jean survived and will be going to Brazil to study oboe in the near future.

Here is the letter from John:

Dear Friends,

Thank you for your concern about Haiti - many folks have contacted me. The earthquake was devastating. The Holy Trinity School complex, which houses our music program, was totally destroyed, presumably with all our instruments and equipment, as was the magnificent Episcopal Cathedral and convent. We have heard that almost all of our musician friends are alive, but apparently there was a rehearsal going on at the school and people were pulled from the wreckage. The school buildings and concert shell at our camp in Leogane appear to have been destroyed as well.  Tens of thousands in Haiti are dead or missing, and there is rubble everywhere.

There has been good news.  CNN had a clip about a distraught mother whose 10-year old son, Marc Valens, had been taking violin lessons at our school when the building collapsed.  No one seemed to be able to get to him.  Marc is also a member of the boychoir, very talented and just a great all-around kid.  Later it was discovered that he left the school with another boy before the earthquake and is fine. We now know that one member of the boychoir did not survive – most of the others are accounted for.

One of my first Haitian violin students, Romel Joseph (who is blind but still managed to study at Juilliard as a Fulbright Scholar and now runs a school in Haiti), was trapped in his house for 18 hours but survived with two fractured legs and a fractured left arm.  He was able to get to a hospital and they are giving him a good prognosis.

If anyone wants to help, probably the best way to contribute at this time is through the Red Cross, whose workers are doing what they can amid the chaos and distress, through Doctors Without Borders, Partners for Health, or any other organization you might be aware of that has offices in Haiti.  Basic human needs come first.  I believe these organizations are doing what they can, though the situation is a logistical nightmare and will be so for a long time.

At some point we will regroup and figure out what to do about the music program - the program has been a tremendous source of encouragement in Haiti and will be again.  We mourn for the teachers and students who may not have survived the calamity. But even though 50 years of investment in buildings, equipment, instruments, Haitian music manuscripts, and art work is gone, it all lives on in the lives of two generations of Haitian students and teachers and the scores of volunteers who have helped over the years.  Music has always been vitally important in the lives of Haitians, no matter how rich or poor, and will continue to be so in the future.

Your concern, thoughts, and prayers are appreciated.

John Jost
Bradley University
Co-Director, Holy Trinity School Summer Music Camp

From CNN  
From NPR 
From ABC 

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sunday - Feb. 14 - Happy Transfiguration Day!!!

Last week our Gospel story told us how Jesus had called Peter, James and John to be followers and disciples. At the end of that text we learn that they left their nets laying on the shore and followed Jesus. And if they thought they were now in for an easy time they were sadly mistaken. It had been a whirlwind. Following Jesus, doing crowd control, having long sessions into the night with Jesus, miracles, feeding the 5000 and then Jesus sends them off on a “trial run.” And so we now arrive at chapter 9 and Jesus selects these three to accompany him t the mountain to pray. Finally – a vacation – a break from the intensity!?! Nope. If that is what they were thinking they would be disappointed. First they have to climb to the top of the mountain and when they get there they are so exhausted they can’t keep their eyes open. (The exact same thing will happen in the Garden of Gethsemane.) And when they do awake what they see is beyond description. They catch a glimpse of God’s glory as Jesus is transfigured – his clothes dazzling white, his face shining (like Moses in the Old Testament lesson) and Jesus is talking about “his departure” (actually in Greek he is talking about “his exodus!”)

Throughout the Old Testament in particular the mountain is the special place where one can experience the presence and glory of God in a unique way. Moses encounters the burning bush and later receives the 10 Commandments on Mount Sinai (also known as Mount Horeb). Elijah takes refuge on the same mountain and they encounters God as the “still small voice.” Jesus now climbs to the top of a mountain to pray and experiences God’s presence in a unique way. But this will be the last time. As Jesus and these disciples descend they will now begin the journey towards Jerusalem – towards crucifixion and resurrection. Now believers will encounter God in the cross of Jesus.

Do the disciples have any inkling of what is to come? Yes. Right before this episode of the Transfiguration Peter has made his confession that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus clearly explained that this means crucifixion and they are to pick up their cross and follow. They didn’t get it! And here on the mountain as they experience this moment of God’s glory they want to hold on to it as long as possible. Peter wants to put up tents so they can stay here forever. But it is not to be. Jesus has a journey to make and so do these disciples, and so do we. As much as we would like to hold on to certain moments we must move forward for we are on a journey as well. But because of the cross Jesus comes to us in the midst of our journey. We don’t have to climb mountains, Jesus comes to us here in the midst of our journey.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Pastoral Reflections - February 3 - Lutheran

This is the last article on the name of our Congregation. To recap – the full name of the congregation is: The United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Peace. I have taken each of those words and written a brief meditation on them. They have appeared in Peace newsletters and can be found posted on my blog (see below for the URL). The last word is Lutheran. This word defines our denominational affiliation, but it means more than that. It is, of course, derived from Martin Luther, who was the 16th century reformer who challenged the Medieval church and laid out the theological foundation for all of Protestantism. Luther himself didn’t think much of having his followers use his name. He understood himself as a Christian and, at least at first, was not looking to replace the established church of the time. It was only when the Medieval church proved to be completely unwilling to even debate issues and went as far as to condemn him as a heretic that he accepted the inevitable. I might mention that soon other reformers began to emerge and one of the reasons we have so many denominations today is that Luther was fairly antagonistic towards many of them – the Anabaptists, Henry VIII, Zwingli and Calvin in particular.

While it is interesting to delve into all the historical background the most important thing for us is that by calling ourselves Lutheran we trace the roots of our faith understanding back to Luther and accept his interpretation of the Gospel. I hasten to add that Luther based his interpretation on Paul and Augustine (primarily the former). The three legged stool of Lutheran theology is contained in these Latin phrases: Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura:
We are saved by the grace of God alone -- not by anything we do;
Our salvation is through faith alone -- we only need to believe that our sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who died to redeem us;
The Bible is the only norm of doctrine and life -- the only true standard by which teachings and doctrines are to be judged.
Also, for Luther, the Word of God was Jesus Christ himself (John 1) and all of scripture needed to be read through the filter of the Gospel of Jesus.

Are Lutherans the only ones who believe of this? By no means! It is probably unfair and untrue to call this Lutheran theology. It is Christian theology. But, it is the focus or the foundation for what we as Lutherans believe. Other Christians hold to these beliefs as well. The differences between us and other Christians have not so much to do with the substance or the content of the beliefs as much as it has to do with the priority and ordering of the various parts of Christian belief. Lutherans place sola gracia at the foundation. Others believe in this as well but may not have it as central a belief as Lutherans do. It is important that we understand that the days of seeing other Christians as not as good as us because of these differences are now over. We can learn from others and we can participate in ministry with other Christians.

For me personally I was drawn to Lutheranism as a young man because of this emphasis on Grace. The legalism and judgmentalism which I felt were a part of other Christian groups of which I had been a part just seemed wrong and not in keeping with the Gospel. Grace makes sense to me and is very, very meaningful to me. We are saved by Grace; we experience God’s gracious presence in all that we do; and God’s grace calls for a response of service. This is what we believe as Lutherans and it is an important witness to our culture which is not always so gracious.

Finally, in seminary I had a professor who suggested that we needed to see Lutheran theology in general – and justification by grace in particular – not as just a theological doctrine – but as a way of life. Grace is a way of life. It is the way that Jesus related to the world and it is the way that we are called to relate to others and to our communities. Amen!