Monday, July 15, 2019

They are Home: The Commander in Chief must not act like this!

            Donald Trump’s latest tweet, telling four congresswomen of color to go home, just hit me so hard. I’m in tears… and I’m a white guy, I can only imagine how this feels to folk who have regularly been told, “go back to where you came from.” 
            I am struck that the Commander in Chief would speak like this, that the president would say such a thing about members of congress. 
            For whatever reason, his actions take me back to my childhood as a NATO brat. We occasionally had drills about getting nuked or overran by the Communists. We were told to find our parents, or failing that, to find adults we trusted. The two adults I decided on were Dr. Omar and Rob. 
            The Commander in Chief of the United States Military was not only attacking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and Rep. Ilhan Omar—he is also saying Rob and Dr. Omar aren’t really Americans. They would die for this country! For that matter, “The Squad”represents and serves nearly three million Americans… that’s 5 of my home state of Wyoming… that’s a lot of Americans!
            What kind of President uses his bully pulpit as a bullhorn for the worst impulses of our country? What kind of President injects that kind of hate into our nation’s veins? What kind of President holds millions of citizens in such low disregard, and states it publically?
            What kind of Commander in Chief insults 40%of the troops he commands?

A prayer for “The Squad”:
            Lord God, our President’s words are endangering the lives of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and Rep. Ilhan Omar, please shield them and protect them, please keep them safe. Do not let them be demonized, do not let them be used to scare people, and do not let the evil done to them have its intended effect. 
            Instead Lord, take “The Squad” and use them to do good for this nation and prosper all who live herein. Strengthen them daily for their vocation as Congresswomen. 
            Dear Lord, be kind to them. In Jesus name. Amen.

A prayer for everyone who has been told to “Go Home”:
            There is no rest, until we rest in you, and yet… and yet Lord, this nation can be a place to be and be safe for a time. Lord, it is not so. Millions of your children are insulted, denigrated, hated. Please heal the wounds inflicted upon them. Please make it so such hatred may never again be used against them.
            Also, please turn the hearts of those who have attacked them, turn them from their sin that they might be transformed. 
            Make of our imperfect nation a home. In Jesus name. Amen.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Sermon: Four lenses on the Good Samaritan

         What is the purpose of a parable? It is a sacred story we chew on until it begins to chew on us. Its purpose is to transform our imagination and our souls. To help us know God’s will, lead lives worthy and pleasing to Christ, and bear fruit. Parables plant seeds in our souls.
         -They pull us into the story,
         -lay bare basic and fundamental questions,
         -ignite out moral imagination,
         -and tell us something about God!
         Story, questions, morality, and God—those are some of the ways parables shape us.

         Parables pull us in
         You’re wonder why you’re here?
         Well… you’re at my Inn…
         I guess you didget knocked around pretty badly… maybe you don’t even remember. A guy brought you in and paid me to take care of you. He’d already set your arm and washed out your wounds… brought you here on his donkey—walked the whole way here with you thrown over the beast like a sack of grain.
         He told me he saw you there and it hit him right in the gut—seeing you dying there on the road. He felt like he had no other option but to help you…
         A Priest? Nooo!
         You remember a Levite coming toward you… I don’t know why you’d remember that—I guess you did get hit on the head pretty bad.
         Who was he? I don’t know… just some Samaritan.
         Who beat you up? Who do you think beat you up? Zealots of course… Saccari—Knife Men, they took your money to continue the fight against Rome… it’s like they say, “Sometimes to Save God’s People you need to steal from God’s people” and “Wanna save the temple? Kill a Pilgrim.”
         Weird times we’re live in… right? You should get some rest.
         Yes… parables pull us into the story, and they also ask some tough questions of us…
         This last Pub Theology we talked through two questions: What keeps you up at night?And What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
These questions are designed to get behind our defenses and get to the meat of things, what’s at stake for you? What’s behind your actions and all the masks you put up? What are your most base motivations? And your greatest hopes and dreams?
         And so too Parables, they cause us to ask those big questions. Like Jesus’ parable today: 
         When everything falls apart, who do you hope will be there?
-Surely those revolutionaries liberating the land for Rome will keep us safe… except they are the ones who assaulted and stole from me…
-what about the Temple and its priests, surely they are safe… yet they walk by… 
-what about the Levites, they have a much more distinguished pedigree than Zealots or Priests… they too leave me here to die…
         They’ll all let you down!

         The other question raised is similar:
         Who do you hope will NOTbe there when everything falls apart?
-This leads to the question, who is my enemy?
I imagine most of us would answer no one, or at least no one we would name out loud…
-we’re kinda like those scenes in every Crime Procedural, right? “Who would have motivation to murder her?” “No one… she had no enemies.”
-So, it might be worth flipping things, “Who sees me as an enemy?”
         And once you get there, you have an image of who you would not want to be there when everything falls apart—then you get this strange answer by Jesus—They’ll surprise you!

         Hard questions with strange answers… all fuel for your moral imagination.
         “Go and do likewise.”
         What a command—show mercy, as mercy was shown in that story.
         This parable is a calling to love our neighbor as ourselves, and recognize that our neighbor is an incredibly broad category… It crosses class, race, creed, gender, politics—all of it.
         Condition yourselves, friends, to be vulnerable enough to be movedwhen you see someone in distress
—vulnerable enough, too, to let others see your distress…
         When you are moved to pity, when you feel it in your gut—respond to it!
         -Folk in Louisiana pummeled by Hurricane Barry—be moved!
         -A slew of girls raped and silenced by men with money and power—be moved!
         -Family and neighbors struggling with the disease of addiction—be moved!
         -Men, women, and children in standing room only cells, concrete for a bed, no showers, the stench overwhelming our Vice President—be moved!
         -Border patrol agents and police officers that didn’t sign up to be social workers, community organizers, and childcare specialists, but they end up getting used like customer service—be moved!
         -Kids and young men shooting each other and making everyone unsafe, because they themselves feel unsafe—be moved!
         -My God!
Our neighbors are everywhere!—be moved!

         Parables burn morality into our souls, but they also enlighten them with the presence of God!
         Think back just a few minutes, to when I put you in the place of the man who fell into the hands of robbers. What do you suppose that experience says about our relationship with God?
About the interplay between the human and the divine?
         There is a grave vulnerability and helplessness there
—we humans spend so much time trying to ignore it, but there it is, in a fundamental sense, we are powerless.
After Luther died they found in his pocket a slip of paper that read, “We are beggars; this is true.”
And we are—not only beggars, but surely beggars.
         We receive grace from God who has brought us into His loving care by Jesus…
Jesus who showed up in the most unlikely of ways, and continues to do so—God hidden in the opposite…
God, a Samaritan!

And that might shock you, because we are like that man, unconscious of our own rescue, perhaps we catch movements of it,
vaguely remember a priest coming by,
maybe you are shocked by the Samaritan who found us,
maybe the oil and wine—like a Holy Sacrament—leaves an impression…
sacred story reminds us that you’re care has been paid for, and the Spirit reminds you still more that the Son was moved with pity, moved to love you!

What is the purpose of a parable?
It is a sacred story we chew on, until it begins to chew on us.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

I just want footnotes

What do you people want anyway?
I just want footnotes
You want open borders and roving gangs of MS13 in our streets!
I just want footnotes
You want every pregnant Mexican to have a free cell phone!
I just want footnotes
You want gas station attendants chopped up and left for dead!
I just want footnotes
I just want footnotes!
“Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” ended the footnotes.
I just want footnotes
A 1 next to Arino’s name indicating he fled religious and ethnic violence
A 2 pointing to the American children losing their fathers
A 3 for the Massie, Timesela, and Kawuwung families, all fatherless
I just want footnotes!
There are people who we brought here with our blessing
There are people who came here with winks and nods from the State Department
There are people who came here lined up outside the INS building after 9/11
There are people who came here who needed medicine and doctors
There are people!
Not bad hombres, but fathers and mothers… children!
When you eliminated the footnotes you opened it all up to chaos
I just want footnotes!
Footnotes saying Religious Persecution
Footnotes saying Fleeing Civil War
Footnotes saying deportation to home country will be dangerous
Footnotes saying deportation to home country will be deadly
Footnotes noting his connection to America
Footnotes noting he is a United States Marine
Footnotes noting that she is a minor!
I just want footnotes!

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Sermon: Paul’s Second Letter to the Galatians

Paul’s Second Letter to the Galatians (the second half of Paul's First Letter to the Galatians)

          Dearest Christians in Central Turkey. Let me continue to remind you of the Gospel which I preached to you.
          Truly you are Abraham’s children, heirs, who now are receiving the promised inheritance through Jesus Christ. No longer must you hold onto the guard rails of any identity marker to make this promise plain—you are in Christ, and that’s it! You are part of God’s people!
          Yet I should not be shocked that you want to go back… after all when God brought the Israelites out of Freedom under Moses and they traveled through the wilderness to the promised land… along the way they wailed and whined and wanted to go back to Slavery, back to the fleshpots of Egypt.
          And so too, these people who came preaching to you all after me are luring you back to the fleshpots. It might be more comfortable to rely on your identity as male, free, or Jewish (or I might add…Elite, rich, young, straight, citizen, or white)—or at least, those preaching a false gospel would make you feel more welcome, once you conformed to all those identities—but you all are free of that, you all are a member of the Messiah’s family. You, yes you in particular who are hearing these words, you are Free!
          I know it’s hard—after all look at Abraham, he wasn’t able to trust God’s promises, he was promised land & children, and the first thing he went out and did was try to force the issue… he continually leaves the land and does everything he can to mess up the lives of his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren—always with a sense that he was going to make the promise happen… it already happened!
          So too with these preachers of a false gospel—they want you to force the promise God made to us through his son Jesus by adopting identities that aren’t the identity Child of God! They want you to circumcise yourself, or accept second class citizenship in the Kingdom of God.

          But I Paul, tell you this much, if you do what they say, the Messiah means nothing to you! Once you give in on that one little thing, everything else changes… the dividing walls come back up, exclusionary identities will become normal to you again—know this, neither cutting the flesh nor not cutting the flesh is of any avail, but rather faithfulness made actual through love avails much!
          You all were running the race perfectly when I left you, but now you’ve run smack into a concrete wall. I am confident you will find your way around it and back to the scandalous cross of our Lord Jesus!

          I guess what I’m saying is, it was to bring us into the realm of freedom that Christ set us free. So stand you all’s ground, and don’t get locked up again!
          You all were called to freedom! But don’t let that freedom be turned into a place the Flesh will ambush you all from!
          Instead, be captured by love of one another. After all, the whole of the Law was spoken in the sentence: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself!”
          You know the other option don’t you? Acting like two rabid dogs, snapping at one another, threatening to devour one another—It seems like you all are going that route—good luck with that—you’ll swallow one another whole.
          Look, here’s how I’d teach you if I was there in person: Lead you all’s daily lives guided by the Spirit—in that way, y’all won’t end up acting all impulsive and be tricked by the Flesh into doing It’s desire.
          Because the Flesh is actively inclined against the Spirit, and the Spirit again the Flesh.
          Check it out, these two Powers, the Flesh and the Spirit—are opposites sides, at war with one another—and in the confusion of that war you all don’t actually do what you wish to do!
          But if, in the daily life of your community, you all are being consistently led by the Spirit, then you all don’t need the Law to fight your battle against the Flesh.
          When the Flesh claims you as an occupied territory it’s really obvious.
          The effects are sexual—for example: fornication, vicious immorality, and uncontrolled debauchery.
          They are spiritual—for example: the worship of idols and belief in magic.
          They are publicly embarrassing: bouts of drunkenness, nights of carousing, and the like.
          Most worrying they are destructive to community: instances of irreconcilable hatred, strife, resentment, outbursts of rage, mercenary ambition, dissensions, separation into divisive cliques, and grudging envy of the neighbor’s success.
          In this regard, I warn you all now, just as I warned y’all before: those who practice the like will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
          By contrast, when you are rightfully claimed by the realm of the Spirit it’s obvious too—because you bear the fruits of the Spirit. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faith, gentleness, self-control. The Law, the other option in this fight against the Flesh—even the Law which oppresses you all as much as the Flesh, doesn’t forbid these kinds of things! And remember, those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the Flesh, together with its passions and desires.
          If we live in the Spirit—and we do!—let us carry out our daily lives under the guidance of the Spirit.
          For example, if someone falls, restore them with gentleness, you too could just as easily be tempted as they were. Bear one another’s burdens—that’s how you do that love thing that fulfills the Law of Christ! Live that out by giving your neighbor the benefit of the doubt, while taking responsibility for your own actions. Imagine if we all did that!
          Those fruits of the Spirit and Works of the Flesh you are planting, they will come to full bloom—that’s a warning and a promise friends. So, in this planting season let’s work for the good of all, especially those who are members of the family of God.
          And on that note, I write one final time, in big ol’ letters, about that issue. You are members of the family of God whether you’ve been marked in the flesh by circumcision or not. Do not boast in the flesh, boast only in the Cross of Jesus. Because of the Blessed One being crucified on the cursed cross, all the divisions of this world are scattered, including the distinction between Jew and Gentile, because a new creation, a new world, is here! That alone matters!
          If you trust that to be true, I bless you with God’s peace and mercy! The Grace of our Lord Jesus the Anointed be with your spirit, siblings. Amen!

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Sermon: Rejection Road

         Did you see those horrifying pictures of 2-year-old Valer-iaand her father Oscar? They’d traveled 1,000 miles from El Salvador seeking safety and plenty. They reached a bridge crossing to seek asylum, and were rejected before they could even be interviewed. So Oscar made the decision to ford the Rio Grande, and they drowned together.
         A tragic consequence of rejection.
         And today’s Gospel is full up with rejection.
-Jesus turns his face toward Jerusalem, where he will be rejected
-We are reminded that the Samaritan religion rejects the Holiness of Jerusalem.
-For that reason the Samaritans reject James and John
-These Disciples return the favor by rejecting the Samaritans
- Jesus then rejects his disciple’s violent inclinations
-Next Jesus rejects a would be follower
-And finally Jesus twice insists that all other things must be rejected so that the Reign of God might be proclaimed!
         Today we follow along a path of rejection, a rejection road.

Let us pray
         The first stop upon this rejection road is at this Samaritan village. The Samaritans are a group of Babylonians transplanted to Judea 700 some years before Jesus’ day. Foreigners who adopted and then adapted Jewish religion, accepting the Torah and regarding as holy Mount Gerizim…
not Mount Zion, not Jerusalem.
And as such, when James and John come around and tell them to prepare for the Messiah to visit on his way to Jerusalem, they reject them!
         The Disciple’s response is classic. They could just brush things off, after all sometimes those you reach out to do not want to be reached…
 but no, instead they get angry… 
         I would gently suggest that if you are reaching out to someone about good news, torching their village doesn’t really get the message across!

         And I imagine they aren’t the only folk who take rejection too seriously. Did you know the average member of the ELCA only invites someone to church once every 23 years… yet 80% of people say they would attend a church if they were invited to it by someone other than the Pastor.
         Now, that’s inviting someone to church, which is a little different than telling someone about Jesus… yet the concept is the same. Yeah, some folk aren’t going to listen to you—but if we zip our lips on account of the 20% who won’t come if they are invited, if we stop following Jesus because there will be Samaritan villages—we’re in the wrong business and going down the wrong road…
by the same token, if YOU get so offended by someone saying no, that you respond with meanness, like James and John…
Then you’re in the wrong business, going down the wrong road…

You see, telling people about Jesus is a gift not only for the person you preach to, but is a gift for you too… 
         Honestly, the secret blessing of the pulpit is that we get to practice telling people about Jesus every week, and in our telling, our own souls are renewed.
         I won’t go as far as my Pastor over in England, who said, “Every Sunday, I walk up these high steps not believing in God, and only at the end can I even say, ‘I believe, Lord, help my unbelief.’”
         I wouldn’t go that far, but regularly proclaiming—getting to practice the faith, knowing you’ll get it a little wrong, and knowing you’ll have another opportunity in a week’s time or less—it is balm to the soul! It is a gift I wish for every one of you!

         But if you are afraid of rejection—you’re in the wrong business… you’re going down the wrong road and following the wrong Messiah...
         This guy who wants to be Jesus’ disciple is looking to go places, even to Jerusalem… but not the Jerusalem Jesus has in mind…
the man is thinking of a Jerusalem that will be captured by the kingly messiah
—but Jesus is going to the Jerusalem where he will be rejected.
         It’s sort of like the “Great Google Map Disaster” that happened this week. There was some construction on the main road to the Denver International Airport and a whole bunch of people looked up a shorter route on their phone, one that would cut their wait time in half…
and before long 100s of people found themselves stuck in a muddy field…
         So too, Jesus warns the man about the costs of following him
—you’re not making your international flight
—you’re going into the mud and the muck with me…
you are looking for a whereverI’m heading to nowhereto lay my head reality.
Following me is a path to rejection!

         Then Jesus calls on two others, calling on them to reject funerals and farewells to follow him. It sounds incredibly harsh
(for example, I hope Valer-ia and Oscar said farewell to their family and will receive a good funeral, don’t you?), but at base Jesus is pointing to a question of priorities,
and right then, as Jesus heads to Jerusalem,
the one thing that mattered was proclaiming the Kingdom, preaching the Reign of God.
         I think of the do list on my phone. It is color coded by priority. Red, Orange, Blue, and Grey… by the end of most evenings the Red and Orange stuff got done, but some of the Priority Blue and most of the Priority Grey stuff did not.
         Or I think of the ELCA—as we shrink our capacity to do big things is diminished. But we’re no paper tiger, our denomination still has some heft and strength to it… at this point we can still do anything as a denomination
—we just can’t do everything…
it is a matter of choosing priorities.

         And the priority is proclamation of the Gospel—Preaching about the Reign of God!
         The Messiah goes to Jerusalem to be rejected… he calls on all his disciples to prioritize telling people about him, about how through him God rules!
         Imagine what good news this is!
To all the Rejected Ones:
To Valer-ia and Oscar,
to those who have ears to hear, but no one respects them enough to invite them in,
to those battered by religious threats instead of accepted as they are,
to those without a place to rest their head,
to the mourning ones,
to those who did not get a farewell,
to the rejected everywhere!
         He is with you. The Blessed One is rejected too. Therefore, God is with you! God’s footprints are found along Rejection Road. 
         In fact, Rejection Road is transformed into a Kingly Highway… for God Reigns!
         O’ Rejected Ones, God Reigns:
         God reigns, so there isforgiveness.
         God reigns, so the fallen are redeemed, instead of destroyed.
         God reigns, so humility overtakes hypocrisy.
         God reigns, so those who can not repay kindness for kindness or mercy for mercy, still receive both!
         God reigns, so possessions no longer possess us.
         God reigns, so we do good instead of storing up goods.
         God reigns so greed gives way to grace and generosity!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Sermon Sparkler for the Third Sunday After Pentecost

              One of the consistent themes in Luke (as well as its sequel Acts, which moves from Jerusalem to Samaria to Rome) is outsiders, and particularly Samaritans.
              Just a brief reminder of what makes Samaritans outsiders, from Seeing with the Mind, Hearing with the Heart: A Thematic Bible Study on Luke by a Young Pastor and a Not So Young Parishioner:
              “Here are two images to get you thinking about Samaritans.
1) Who do you fight with the most, your brother or the neighbor two blocks down? Your brother, clearly, because you are closer to him; he’s like you, but isn’t you.
2) There is a phenomena called “The Uncanny Valley” in which, at a certain point, the more human a robot gets, the less comfortable humans are with the robot.
              Both of these realities, brother and robot, get to Judaism’s relationship to the Samaritans. They’re too close for comfort; they’re so close, yet “fake,” they’re Gentiles, yet followers of the law.
              So, who are the Samaritans? According to 2 Kings 17, they were originally people from Babylon conquered by the Assyrians. The Assyrians had a particular method of conquest—they conquered a people, plucked them up from their land, and plunked them somewhere else that they had conquered, repopulating the then uninhabited land with other conquered peoples. Essentially they swapped conquered peoples. This policy makes a certain amount of sense—if you’re dropped off in a strange land you have to depend on the one thing you are familiar with, your captors, additionally, guerilla warfare is harder to do if you don’t know the best places to hide.
              So, in this particular case, sometime after 722BCE Israel, the Northern Kingdom, is conquered and the 10 tribes are drug away and dispersed to other territories conquered by the Assyrians. Then, the Assyrians took peoples from Babylon and made them settle in what used to be Israel. As the story goes, these newcomers were having trouble adapting to the local fauna—by that, I mean they were getting eaten by lions. So they made a very practical choice. They converted to the faith of the land, so that the god of the land would stop harassing them with a feline welcome wagon.
              As time goes on, the Samaritans adopt a modified version of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, but not the later books, especially those written while the Judean elite were captured in Babylon. Fast forward five to seven centuries, and you have these “foreigners” living alongside the Jews, who have their own customs, place of worship, and a condensed scripture to which they claim the Jews added. As you can imagine this is a recipe for ill will. And into this breach, steps Jesus, interacting with folk who it is unacceptable to interact with.
              Here is one final note on Samaritans; in the famed science fiction author Isaac Asimov’s commentary on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, he explicitly encourages us to read the parable in light of American race relations; he’s not wrong. In fact, pushing it a little bit, imagine a people taken from their native land, adopting the religion of their surroundings for the sake of their safety, and hundreds of years later they’re still treated as other and as second-class citizens.”
              In today’s Gospel James and John experience the jagged nature of reaching out to those different than you… sometimes they don’t want to be reached. And when that is the case we need to shake it off, instead of getting angry… after all, if you are reaching out to someone about good news, torching their village doesn’t really get the message across. Also, it is worth noting the reason Jesus is rejected here is that the Samaritans believe Mt. Gerizim, not Jerusalem, is the holy mountain. At any rate, today could be a good day to set up Samaritans for the congregation, in two weeks time you can point back to this incident when Jesus describes the Good Samaritan.

*       Who may seem like a Samaritan to your community?
*       How can we practice shaking off rejection as communities of faith who wish to witness to that faith?
*       How are you going to set up the Good Samaritan Parable with today’s sermon?

Our Changing Vocation (A reflection on Luther’s Small Catechism)

              Perhaps it is because I’m nearly half a year into a new vocation—that of husband (not to mention uncle to a passel of nephews and nieces)—that I’ve been thinking again about the idea of Christian Vocation. In regular conversations we use “vocation” as synonymous with job, but what I’m talking about is all our roles and relationships. As Christians the starting point for all these roles and relationships is our baptism; God has graciously made us Children of God. We don’t have to do anything, so what do we now do? An impulse might be to try and “repay” this gift… well, God doesn’t need anything we have, none of our work will make us more Child of God-ish… but you know where we could invest that impulse to work and to give, to repay?
              Our neighbors! I mean this in the most inclusive way possible, anyone we connect to via roles and relationships, everyone from our self to the earth.
              The first relationships we have is with ourselves. Being a person who inhabits a body is something Christians (and humans in general) sometimes forget when thinking about relationships… but that’s where it starts, have you seen a 3-month-old discover that their feet are in fact part of them? That’s definitely the start of a new relationship!!! Jesus at one point says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you don’t love yourself, there is no way you can love any of the other neighbors we have.
              Part of self-love is having a sense of purpose, if you don’t know what you are for you won’t know when you’ve accomplished your calling. According to Luther we are made to be in relationship with God, experiencing awe, love, and trust. Sometimes this impulse to holiness gets misdirected, either by camouflaging our own interests in “god talk” or idealizing people and things that are not God. In both cases we have created idols. Additionally, we are made for praise and thanksgiving. We often have an urge to focus on the negative, but for our own health, if not for praise, it is imperative that we teach ourselves to recognize the good moments and give thanks for them. Finally, we need to remember the Sabbath, keeping it holy. On one hand, this means committing to Holy Time, gathering together in worship of God and engagement with scripture. On the other hand, this means taking time to rest—really rest. In our society where everyone with a cell phone is responsible for every email and phone call, where split shifts and on call work is the norm, this is no easy task, but it is still a holy calling and one that respects the sanctity of the self.
              Our first neighbor we are aware of is often a parent or relative. In our vocation as child we ought to honor these first relationships. They are incredibly formative, fostering an environment of both safety and growth. On the flip side, to various degrees based on our involvement in a child’s life, we find ourselves the recipient of an amazing amount of trust from these kiddos. We are called to raise loving and loved children!
              We also make friends. We ought to treat these relationships with care, for they are precious. Our friends must be treated as ends, not means to some other end.
              In our romantic relationships, especially when they reach the seriousness of marriage, we are called to love and honor our spouses and significant others. We are also called to avoid pursuing romantic relationships that would make it harder for other people to honor and love their spouse.
              Then there are our actual neighbors—not just the metaphor of neighbor to mean “someone who is not me.” We are to help and support them as best we can. We are to help keep their property and interpret their actions and words in the best possible light. All these things are true about our friends as well, but neighbors, unlike friends, are rarely chosen, thus we must be more aware of our worse impulses when it comes to our neighbors. Additionally, as our country grows more diverse, so too will our neighbors (and I certainly hope our friends too). When someone is of a different race or religion than we are it can be harder to empathize with them, this only means we must make an extra effort to do so, to engage our neighbor with  curious and kind eyes, not with suspicious or malicious ones.
              Then we come to the more secular understanding of vocation—our job and those of other people. How do we as a worker, a business person, and a consumer live out our calling to be Children of God? Neither employer nor employee ought to steal from one another or their customer. This can run the gamut from wage theft (employees loose approximately 19 billion dollars a year to wage theft) to time theft (costing employers approximately 11 billion dollars a year) to selling someone an inferior product based on the color of their skin (for example, redlining). Then there is being a consumer—so much of our economy feeds off of people desiring things other people have, just watch a commercial, which is coveting… how do we keep these desires subservient to love of neighbor and ensure we do not make consumer products, and the lifestyles they sell us, into idols? This question ought to be on our mind every time we take out our wallet or log onto Amazon to make a purchase.
              Then there is that age old question of citizenship. We are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20) and yet we live in a particular nation. The question of how these two identities intersect is a complicated one—for example St. Augustine wrote 415,280 words on the subject in his City of God. He faced a falling Roman Empire that everyone identified as a Christian Nation, and had to disentangle what was Christian and what was Roman, in order to assure his people that God had not failed, even though Rome had. In fact, St. Augustine goes so far as to describes the state as nothing more than a big band of pirates! Luther was on the other end of things, the state was protecting him from the Roman Catholic Church and he wanted to affirm the authority of the state over against the authority of the church. So, Luther saw the state as a parent figure; citizens had a duty to honor, serve, obey, love, and respect the state. Then Luther goes on to insist that the state has only one job, to distribute daily bread to both the just and the unjust, since God has already provided it. Two very different visions for two very different situations… and we find ourselves in a state categorically different than both the “Holy Roman Empire”(aka Germany, which by Luther’s day was neither Holy, nor Roman) of Luther’s day and the Roman Empire of Augustine’s day.
              We live in a democracy, where the state rules by “the consent of the governed.” So, our vocation as citizen is a little more complicated than if we were peons ruled by an Emperor. On one hand, our relationship to those in authority ought to be that of respect. On the other hand, the way our system is set up we ourselves participate in that authority and need to act as such. That means in addition to respect and deference toward the state we also need to be informed voters, the gentle voice of Christ among the many competing voices in our society, and engaged with the state to ensure that it, “restrains evil, protects from harm and upholds the common good.”[1]
              We are also, no matter how “cheesy” the phrase sounds, citizens of the world. Between the normalization of global travel and the international reach of the internet, it is no longer enough to consider our relationships with people within our own country. Now we have neighbors everywhere; if we type a lie on the internet in New Jersey it can make a man in Bangladesh lose his job, if we buy products that are unjustly made overseas we are still acting unjustly, if we cheat on our spouse while traveling internationally, we still cheat on our spouse… even if it happened far away.
              Finally, we are earthlings residing on earth—if Genesis 2:7 means anything it means we are intimately connected to this planet, we are called to keep it (Gen. 2:15). With acidic oceans, widening holes in the ozone and shrinking polar ice caps, it would serve us well if we cared and kept this sacred trust more fully.
              Remember, our vocations start from baptism—God has acted first, we are simply living into what he has already done. God acted graciously, and will continue to do so. Even when we fail, and we will, our relationship with God is still there, and so is our neighbor. So when we fall, we are still Children of God and can get back up again and continue to be kind neighbors to ourselves, to our family, to neighbors and friends, in our jobs, as consumers and citizens, as earthlings. In all things we can strive to love God and neighbor.

[1] “Church in Society: A Lutheran Perspective” ELCA social Statement Summary

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Paul’s First Letter to the Galatians

          I Paul, am on a Mission from God!
          I’m an ambassador of Jesus the Messiah and God the Father, who raised him from the dead!
          It is from them that I offer to all you Christians in Central Turkey Grace and Peace!
          I’m blown away at how quickly all of you defected from that Grace and Peace by embracing an alternative gospel… to be clear, there is only one Gospel, any other is false—there is only one message of hope and blessing—good tidings come from God and the Messiah alone!
          There are those who have looked at the Good News I preach and make the claim that it is too easy, that what I preach is people pleasing… believe you me, I wouldn’t be slaving away like this for Jesus if I was people pleasing!
          There are others who claim the Gospel I preached to you is a secondhand gospel—well let me tell you my story.
          I was the most religious of people, so zealous that I turned to violence and persecuted the church… up until God revealed the Church’s head, Jesus, the Son of God, to me, and ordered me to tell non-Jews about Him! This put me in a tailspin and for three years I tried to put it all together, eventually going to Jerusalem and meeting with Jesus’ brother, James. After that I preached in the province of Syria and my home province of Cilicia in South East Turkey. No one said it was a secondhand Gospel then, instead they just marveled that what I once persecuted, I now proclaim.

          Then, after 14 years, I checked in with the Jerusalem Church to make sure the Gospel I was preaching was in fact Gospel. They confirmed it, agreeing that God had gifted me to preach to non-Jews in the same way God had gifted Peter to preach to Jews. They asked only one thing of me, to “Remember the Poor” which of course I already planned on doing.
          This dual mission, I and my people proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” to the Gentiles and Peter and his people proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” to the Jews, turned out to be more complicated than expected—that’s why I have to write this bitter letter to you.
          In Antioch, my home congregation, this tension came to a head. Peter visited and stayed with us and shared meals with us, Jews and Gentiles eating together, no division, for we all are one in Christ—but then other Jewish Christians from Jerusalem showed up, and Peter withdrew from table, and his decision to do so caused all the Jewish Christians to follow his example and eat separately. It was hypocrisy! Whatever you were before Jesus claimed you for his Kingdom doesn’t matter, our old identities are gone, we belong to Jesus the Messiah, Jesus our Lord! Jesus demolished all these dividing walls, if we now build them back up when it suits us, then we are dividing ourselves from him!

          And those who came preaching to you all in Central Turkey after me… they are doing the same thing Peter did… and you all are falling for it! They’ve bewitched you! I preached Christ Crucified to you until I couldn’t preach anymore! And it is like you didn’t hear… Well, let me tell it to you again—you trust Jesus because you heard his Good News—that’s it! Did you receive the Spirit because you changed identity from Gentile to Jew, or because you heard the faith? Don’t you get it, there is no two-step process; no one is a second-class Christian. If you belong to Jesus, you belong to Jesus, full stop! Jesus plus anything is less than Jesus alone!
          I know these people preaching to you today are making you doubt that you are God’s Children, making you ask if God would bless someone like you—I can hear them telling you that you are cursed unless you side with them, because they have Moses’ laws on their side. Unless you change your identity… yet you already identify with Christ—any change after that does violence to your Baptism!
          I used to think like them, insisting to everyone I met that the Law says, “Cursed is everyone hanging upon a tree,” as proof that Jesus could not be the Christ. But he IS the Blessed One—the Blessed One receiving the curse short circuits all curses, so now all may be blessed!
          Let’s use Abraham, all the way back in chapter 11 of Genesis, as an example so you get what I’m saying. God made Abraham a promise, he trusted God and was made right. In fact, God promised to bless the whole wide world through him. As I’ve told you until I was blue in the face, God has made a promise to you through Christ. Trust God. Those who trust like Abraham are Abraham’s kin, through whom the world is being blessed!
          Now, many things have transpired since Abraham, namely the giving of the Law of Moses (which, I might add, doesn’t happen until Exodus 24—way after Abraham). The Law kept God’s people safe for many centuries, but now is being used by your fellow Christians to stifle the blessing of all people and exclude some from their baptism into Jesus Christ.
          So, know this, as many of you as were baptized into the Messiah have clothed yourself with him. Therefore, there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female…
(I imagine you have some different divisions in your day—perhaps costal elite or fly over state, rich or poor, young and old, LGBT and straight, citizen or immigrant, black or white) for all of you are one in Jesus the Messiah.
          And if you belong to him, then you are Abraham’s children, recipients of the promise!

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Early Pentecost sermon: Singing a more beautiful song

Pentecost: Singing a more beautiful song
              Two of the earliest writings in Western Civilization that folk still read from time to time, are Homer’s Odyssey and Apollonius’ Jason and the Argonauts. Both are sailor stories, and both Jason and Odysseus had to deal with a similar, mythical, problem—the Sirens. These were half-bird half-woman monsters who sang songs that led sailors to their doom.
              Odysseus survived his encounter with the Sirens by plugging up the crew’s ears with bees’ wax so they couldn’t hear their seductive song.
              Jason chose a different tact, he had the ship’s musician, Orpheus, play a more beautiful song, so the crew paid attention to that song, instead of the siren’s song.
              And we as Christians have always been surrounded by many seductive voices and songs, and we have a choice to make, we could crawl under a rock and not listen, stuff bees wax in our ears, and at least we would not be tempted—in fact, this is the impulse of the early church prior to Pentecost and has been the de facto stance of many Christian movements throughout history.
              Alternatively, Christians are called to sing a more beautiful song. This is the voice of Pentecost, the voice of so many moments in Christianity that have blossomed and grown fruit!
              There is within us an impulse to take our story and run off into the desert and hide it, separate ourselves from the culture so as not to be contaminated
and the impulse to tell our story so well and so often that the whole culture hears it and is enraptured.
Bees wax or beauty!
              When it comes to Pentecost—The Spirit calls us to sing a more beautiful song!
              The Spirit calls us to sing a more beautiful song!
              Do you hear that song that the Sadducees are singing? Temple! Temple! Temple!
              Do you hear that song the Pharisees are singing? Separation! Separation! Separation!
              Do you hear the song the Zealots are singing? Death to Rome! Death to Rome! Death to Rome!
              Do you hear the song the Romans are singing? Hail Divine Caesar! Hail Divine Caesar! Hail Divine Caesar!
              That is the clangor of the world!
-Trust structures and trust buildings!
-Find self-righteousness in polarization and separation!
-Violence is the solution!
-Make leaders, of any sort, into gods!
              Those are the songs of this world.
              And those Christians holed up in the upper room. They close their ears, like Odysseus’ crew, hang close to one another, just hoping no one notices them, that they are safe, that they won’t be drawn to any of those foreign and unfaithful refrains!
              And then comes another song, the sound of wind, which takes them up like a Saxophone, Clarinet, or Flute. The Spirit plays them with such finesse that their song touches souls from all across the known world: Elamites from out East and Romans from the West, Egyptians to the South and Pontic Greeks in the North.
              To Temple, Separation, Death, and Divinity—the Christians begin to sing a prophetic and saving song:
“Christ is the temple for all people, he is the prince of peace, our Divine Lord.”
              Like Jason they sing a more beautiful song:
              To the Sadducees—Christ is the Temple.
              To the Pharisees—Christ is for all people!
              To the Zealots—Christ is the prince of Peace
              To the Romans—Christ is Divine Lord!
“Christ is the temple, for all people, he is the prince of peace, our Divine Lord.”
              What a beautiful song! What an amazing song! Can you believe that everyone is called to sing it? Sons and daughters, young and old, men and women, enslaved and freed! The Spirit sings through them all!

              And continues to Sing—When we read through the book of Acts—(and I encourage all of you to do that, it is a worthwhile and wonderful read)—we see Paul run up against songs that compete with the Christian song—economic songs, political and national songs, and religious songs—that all are jangling discord next to the true song sung by the Spirit on Pentecost!
              And to those small compromises for economic gain, the confusion of identities that Rome encourages, and idolatry of any sort—the Holy Spirit responds with a more beautiful song
—Justice, only Justice shall you practice!
You are heirs of God, siblings of Christ!
Worship God alone!

              And I wonder today, what Songs the Spirit is calling us to sing?
              Surely our world still sings:
-songs of temple,
-songs of separation,
-songs of violence,
-songs of false messiahs.
              Surely our world still has economic, national / political, and religious songs that seduce us to this very days!

              How do we sing a more beautiful song?
              Sing that where two or three are gathered, there he is!
              Sing that in Christ there is no east or west, in Christ no north or south!
              Sing that he is the Prince of Peace!
              Sing that for him alone every knee shall bow!
              Sing that God’s generosity is our own!
              Sing that the Spirit is poured out on ALL flesh!
              Sing that we have a Spirit of Adoption and are God’s Children!

              Holy Spirit come, that we might sing a more beautiful song!
              Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord!
              Come, holy Light, guide divine!
              Come holy Fire, comfort true!
              Holy Spirit come, that we might sing a more beautiful song!
              Alleluia! Alleluia!