Friday, January 29, 2010

About Love..... Thoughts in anticipation of Epiphany 4

Paul has been talking about Spiritual gifts and in the last two weeks we have learned from Paul that – 1st – We have all as Christians been given gifts from the Holy Spirit; and 2. That these gifts are given to us, not for our own use, but to build up the community; and 3rd – that no gift is better or more important than another. All are needed. The more public gifts (preaching, prophesy, tongues) may be more visible but they are not more important than the quieter gifts (prayer, consolation).

This Sunday we come to one of the most famous passages in all of Paul. Many of us may have had this passage from I Corinthians 13 read at our weddings. This passage is certainly a beautiful passage and very appropriate for weddings. And so we may have an impression of this text as being only a wedding text. But, in its context it really has little to do with marriage. It is specifically linked to the discussion on spiritual gifts that preceded it. Paul is saying, bluntly as usual, that when all is said and done, no matter what gifts you have been given, no matter how important they and you are – love must be at the root of everything you do. You might be the best preacher in the entire church, but if you do not preach from a sense of love then it is like a noisy gong; you might be the best Christian counselor in the community, but if you do not counsel from a sense of love, then it will be like talking to a clanging cymbal. The ministry to which we are called must be rooted and grounded in love.

Paul then goes on to very pointedly address the behavior of the Corinthians: “Love does not envy,” but the Corinthians do; “Love does not boast,” but the Corinthians do; “Love is not puffed up, does not insist on its own way,” but the Corinthians do. We might insert ourselves for the Corinthians and recognize that St. Paul is making it clear that one danger that Christians need to be aware of is the temptation to cloak self-interest in self-righteousness.

What exactly is love? Love is a broad subject and covers a lot. But for Paul it is clear that perfect love, agape love is manifested in Jesus. If we look to Jesus we will see God's love in action. In Jesus' healing, teaching, preaching and dying God reaches out to us in love, and this love is light in the darkness. Let us pray that God would teach us to love and empower us to recognize and use the gifts God has given us for others; and that we will always be rooted in the love of Gos in Christ, Jesus our Lord.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Celebrating Peter and Paul

For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord's brother. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie! Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, "The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy." And they glorified God because of me. Galatians 1:11-24

Within two weeks the Liturgical calendar provides us with the opportunity to celebrate both Peter (The Confession of Peter, Apostle – January 18) and Paul (The Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle – January 25). And so in honor of these two Apostles I would like to share some reflections on them. They lived at the same time – though Paul was clearly the younger of the two. They were both very important in the establishment of Christianity. At the same time, as recounted in Galatians (and in the book of Acts) they did not always agree. In fact, that is putting it nicely. But it is hard to get a complete sense of their conflict as we really only have Paul’s side of the story. It is obvious in the letter to the Galatians that Paul is responding to something in particular that has him pretty upset. The issue is the Jewish laws regarding circumcision and the Jewish dietary laws. Do we follow these laws or not? And what about when there are Gentiles present, can we eat with Gentile believers who would be ritually unclean? Paul minces no words. He is forthright and verbally brutal in his response. We are saved by God’s grace. We are not saved by following the dietary laws. And he doesn’t care who disagrees with him. His position is, well, those who disagree with me are wrong – period! James, Peter, Barnabas, whoever. They are simply wrong. In the text quoted above he begins by establishing his credentials. And during this he makes it clear that he knows and has experience with Cephas (Peter). Even so, Peter is wrong on this. We should not allow the rather watered down account of this conflict as recorded by Luke in Acts to affect our interpretation of this conflict as recounted directly in the letter to the Galatians by Paul. There are strong feelings here and there is evidence that this was a major breach between these apostles.

So what is the big deal? And who is right? We look back on this conflict, shrug our shoulders and go “ho-hum” – who cares about the dietary laws. This is a non-issue for us now, and it is hard for many of us to understand the intensity of this conflict. So perhaps we should take another issue and insert it here – say, for example, the resolutions that were passed at the last CWA. This is an intensive debate that is in the process of splitting our church. All that seems to matter is being right. And being right seems more and more to be equated with being the “true” Christians.

In her excellent blog posting, Episcopal Priest and Theologian Sarah Dylan Breuer asks the question: “So who was the nasty heretic who should have been kicked out of the church, or at least out of all positions of leadership: Peter or Paul? Who is it who's not a real Christian: Peter or Paul?” Well? Most of us would be hard-pressed to choose between these two apostles. So perhaps we need to look carefully at our ways of dealing with conflicts on matters of faith and start by recognizing that God is bigger than all of us. “If Peter and Paul can disagree passionately about something that Paul and perhaps even both of them thought was about the very "truth of the gospel," and if we can celebrate them both as apostles of Christ and heroes of the faith, why does it seem to happen so often in our churches today that any serious disagreement about an important matter of faith becomes an occasion to condemn one party as not only completely wrong, but outside the bounds of Christianity itself? And don't say that the difference is that money and property weren't at stake then; when famine befalls the Christians in Jerusalem, at least some of whom seem to have been on Peter's side of this conflict, Paul spends no small amount of political capital to get churches he founded to take up a collection for their sisters and brothers in Christ in Jerusalem. (Take note – those of you who advocate withholding benevolence). So, Who should have been expelled from the first-century communion of churches: Peter or Paul? Whose witness to Christ was superfluous? Whose ministry was not needed? And if these are silly questions to ask about Peter and Paul, what makes them any less silly to ask about any of our sisters or brothers today? Amen!

Sarah Dylan Breuer – SarahLaughed.net – Blog entry June 8, 2007
http://www.sarahlaughed.net/lectionary/2007/06/proper_5_year_c.html

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pastoral Reflections - January 10 - "CHURCH"



All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.  
 Acts 2:44-47
Since September I have written reflections on the name of this congregation.  The official name is the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Peace, which we usually shorten to Peace Lutheran Church.  This article will be the 2nd to last in this series and I am focusing on the word: “Church.”  Next month, the word “Lutheran” will conclude the series.
What is a “church?” I think we often associate the word “church” with the building or physical property of a congregation, but the New Testament understanding of church pre-dates any dedicated church buildings.  The New Testament uses the Greek word Ecclesia for the community of Christ and it primarily refers to the assembly of believers.  The passage from Acts above defines how the early communities of Christ saw the “church.”  They had all things in common, they cared for each other, they broke bread (which is a code phrase for celebrating communion together), and they spent time in the temple praying and offering praise to God.  The songwriter Jay Beech puts this definition in his song entitled “The Church Song” (he is also paraphrasing Luther):
The church it is the people, living out their lives. 
Called, Enlightened, Sanctified for the work of Jesus Christ.
We are the church, the body of our Lord.
We are all God’s children, and we have been restored!
You can go to worship, but you cannot go to church.
You can’t find a building that’s alive no matter how you search…..

Peace Lutheran Church is not the wonderful building at 303 N. Mulberry.  The building is rather the wonderful facility where Peace Lutheran Church worships and learns and serves. Peace Lutheran Church is the people – the assembly of people who are the membership of this congregation.  God calls the people of Peace to worship, to learn, to pray, to serve and to praise God on a regular basis.

When we celebrate Baptisms we ask the parents and sponsors to make some very specific promises.  These promises are repeated and re-affirmed during confirmation.  In other words, we have all made these promises before God: to live among God’s faithful people; to make a commitment to commune and worship regularly, to learn the Lord’s Prayer, the Creeds and the 10 commandments, to regularly enter into the study of the Holy Scriptures, to proclaim Christ through word and deed by caring for others and working for justice and peace.  This is the calling of the community of Christ – the church.  This is our individual and our community calling.  As we enter into a new year and a new decade – 2010 – may God empower us to reaffirm our baptismal and confirmation vows so that we might be strengthened for the work that Christ calls us to do: namely to be, as Luther said, “Little Christ’s” in the midst of our communities and lives.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Epiphany

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the LORD will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Isaiah 60:1-3


In April of 1980 I traveled to Caracas, Venezuela, where I lived and worked for two years. The first impression I had of this expansive and teeming Venezuelan capital city, as we cut our way through the darkness en route from the airport to the city, were all the lights! Thousands upon thousands of little bright dots completely engulfed both sides of the large mountains, which surrounded the highway and continued down to surround the city. What were these lights that flickered so gently on the hillsides, but were so overwhelming in quantity, I wondered? Then, suddenly we entered into a tunnel and we emerged right into the center of the city. Now bright neon lights and flashing billboards replaced those little flickering lights. These lights now had a message – they were signs for General Electric, Bayer, Pan-Am, Minolta, Ford and so on. They pretty much obliterated the little lights, which had been so numerous before, and soon I had forgotten all about them. But later that night, as I lay in bed trying to make sense of the day I wondered about those thousands of little lights that I had seen flickering in the darkness before we had entered the city. What were they?

I had not long to wait for an answer. For the next morning I saw for the first time that in the place where the millions of lights had dotted the mountainside the night before, there now stood the barrios; little shacks, made of corrugated aluminum which made up the slums of Caracas. There were literally thousands upon thousands of them surrounding the city. These barrios, I later learned, were “home” for the majority of Caracas’ four million inhabitants and they were everywhere. Whatever street I drove down, whatever window I looked out of, whatever neighborhood I lived in, whatever town I visited in the interior, there they were - the barrios. From Los Palos Grandes to the Andean Mérida; from El Silencio in the center of the capital to the Caribbean island Marguarita; from the upscale apartments in Bello Monte to Ciudad Guyana on the edge of the jungle, the flickering lights of the poor could always be seen burning through the darkness.

My last morning in Caracas came on the day after Christmas, December 26,
1982. I arose early that morning in order to catch a 7:30AM flight to New York. It was a hectic morning to say the least. The taxi had forgotten to come and I was very anxious about the day. But finally the taxi came, and as I settled into the cab and drove out of this city, which had been my home for the last two years, I turned and looked back at the city for one last time. Dawn was just beginning to break and the sky was awash with a beautiful pinkish glow. Against the horizon the shadows of the barrios were now barely visible; but they still had their lights on! The neon signs and flashing billboards had been turned off at the first crack of daylight, but the little lights of the poor shone on into the dawn heightening its illumination!

For me the memory of this image has always been an experience of Epiphany. Isaiah says that when the LORD arises there will be no need of a sun or moon because God will shine brighter than both. And in this brightness we will see God. Ultimately Epiphany is about seeing. Living in a world of darkness we see what we want. We see what props up our own view of the world or our own experiences of God and we ignore or do not see those things or people that would challenge our world views. We don’t see the poor, we don’t see those who in need, we don’t see the environmental damage we are causing, we don’t see the hurt and pain of those who we exclude from this or that. We see what we want. But the promise of Epiphany is that because of the light of God all will be illuminated and we will see! We will see clearly!

Epiphany! Hope! Emmanuel ! Christ with us - all of us! For it is in the midst of the darkness that we encounter our Crucified God! It is in the darkness where the light of Christ illuminates the faces of the hungry, the homeless, the abandoned - and it is
from out of this darkness that Christ brings the dawn. Even on a lonely morning on a vacant highway in what felt like one of the most abandoned places in the world, the sweet gentle stillness of that lonely Venezuelan morning was, for me, pregnant with the presence of God. Happy Epiphany!


Friday, January 1, 2010

Jan. 1, 2010 - The Holy Name of Jesus

And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Jesus’ name was given to Mary by the Angel during he annunciation.  We sometimes put Jesus together with Christ as though Christ was his last name.  But Christ is not a name – it is a title.  Christos is the Greek form of the Hebrew word Messiah.  And in the New Testament when the title is used it always appears with an article: Jesus THE Christ.  Jesus’ name is simply Jesus and to that occasionally he is identified as Jesus, son of Joseph or Jesus of Nazareth for his home town.
The name Jesus itself was a common name at that time and in some places in the world today it still is.  Jesus is actually the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua.  And the name Jesus/Joshua means God saves or God is our Salvation.  Choosing the name Jesus/Joshua was no accident.  Who is the other important Joshua from the bible?  Well, when the children of Israel have concluded their wanderings in the desert and they are poised to enter into the promised land, Moses hands over command to his young protégé Joshua, and Joshua leads the invasion into Canaan.  The name Joshua/Jesus would have been associated with the promise of God’s deliverance; with the taking of the Holy Land and self-determination.  It would have been associated with military power, strength, strategic brilliance and so forth.  This is of course what the people of 1st century Palestine were expecting God to send – a military Messiah – like the 1st Joshua who would organize and unify the nation of Israel and drive the Romans out of the land.
Well, God sent Joshua – just not the Joshua they were expecting.  This Joshua/Jesus is non-violent; he cares for all people – even Romans and Samaritans and non-Jews.  Through this Joshua/Jesus, God saves by reaching out in love and grace especially to the weak and the lost, to the poor and the forgotten.  Jesus is God incarnate come into our broken world to redeem it from within. Jesus means God saves and that God is with us, no matter what. God is no longer hidden. God saves through Jesus. 
The name of Jesus is your name, too, given to you at your baptism, carried by you in your words and actions, bringing you to eternal life. It is the name that goes with you everywhere.  And so, on this New Year's day – the first day of a new decade, we look ahead to what the name of Jesus calls us to be – the risks we can take, the support we can share, the resources we can give and the ministry we can do.
In the name of Jesus +