The blog of a lutheran pastor, writer, and political animal.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sermon: Have you Met the King?

Have you met the King?
         He is our creative and eternal king.
King from the beginning to the end and everywhere in between, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
         He is king over the empty canvas, king above the terror of chaotic waters—with word and will He brings order and the possibility for all good things out of that empty chaos—even the empty chaos we find in our lives!
         He is, he was, and he will be
—he’s not leaving, not going anywhere
—I know it’s hard to believe in the face of the world as it is, but it’s true.
Empires pass away, 1,000 year kingdoms last barely a decade, reform efforts fail, their blind spots having unintended consequences, promises and threats by tyrants of all sorts, even those by benighted bags of benign buffoons, they are not long for this world.
         But, his Kingdom, has no beginning nor end, for wherever the King is, the Kingdom is
—His presence is his reign
—and he is the King who is Alpha and Omega, beginning and end—so his kingdom will have no end.

         Have you met the King?
         No, not the leader of a misguided Terrorist attempt at a Theocracy, the quote un-quote “Islamic” State Da’esh. A kingdom put together atop a pile of dead bodies.
         No, not the leader of any of those Kingdoms or Empires you are familiar with
—after all it’s like St. Augustine says, “Kingdoms without justice are robbers and Empires are simply piracy writ large.”
         No, He’s not even a president or prime minister of a democracy or republic
—filled with horse traders and graft
—where even our greatest heroes, once elevated lash themselves to power, and lash out against those who defy them.
         No, none of those kingdoms, beastly as they all are, none of them are from the King
—but a humane kingdom—a Kingdom coming from one like a human being.
A peaceful kingdom—one originating and finding it’s completion in one like the Son of Man.
That’s his Kingdom!

         Have you met the King?
         He wields power in a way completely different from anything else we’ve ever experienced.
He is king in the most unkingly of ways… yet more kingly than we’ve ever seen.
         His invasion into this world is a disarming call to arms, complete with an upside down army, and a misfit militia.
He conquers by offering his other cheek when attacked, going the extra mile in order to militate and facilitate redemption!
         His Kingdom is not of this world—it is an otherworldly invasion by pacifists,
conquest by moral authority alone,
standing up against all other kingdoms by kneeling and washing feet.
War Horse—Donkey.
Victory—Sacrificial Death.

         Have you met the King?
         He frees us! Standing up to the powers of this world, seen and unseen, he breaks the bonds they have bound us with—he shames and shatters all would be lords and would be kings and princes—all those who cling to the status quo, because it amplifies their status—all of them, all of us,
shattered and transformed.
         With his death he frees us from death—the wheels of the machinery of death are clogged by his blessed body.
         The gears that grind the world up with hate for hate and backbiting and all kinds of catastrophe for the soul—are gummed up and taken out of commission.
         All false kings flee in fear from the king who comes, who gives his life loving in the face of hate, dying to lead us away from murder, committing his spirit to his father from the cross that our souls might be washed clean.

         Have you met the King?
         It would be enough for him to stop it all
—stop the totalizing systems in their tracks, to give us the freedom to take another path.
         But it doesn’t end there—he doesn’t end this King of Ours. There is resurrection!
There is new life,
the creating out of nothing,
order out of chaos,
out of death life,
out of slavery redemption.
It is his and it is ours—freely given by our Lord, our King—freely given—see it?
See him?
Alive again and on the move—on the move in your life, right now!
Death doesn’t hold him, death doesn’t hold you!

         Have you met the King?
         He holds you and molds you, and is making you his brother, sister, sibling, kin
—his family.
         He, King of witness,
He, King of Testimony
—he Son of God, points, points to his Father.
         He points us to our father
—the Heavenly One, pointing to He who is to be praised.
         The King, our Great High Priest, ordains us and makes us priests as well… gives us the responsibility and joy of connection to God. Connected like the Priests of old… Called to this great connection, given a real responsibility.
         Sages, all of us, held tight to the bosom of God.

Have you met the King?


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sermon: Birth Pangs

A Russian airliner blown from the sky, 224 dead.
         A Suicide bombing at a funeral in Baghdad, 26 dead.
         Twin bombings outside of a mosque in Beirut, 41 dead.
         Coordinated attacks on restaurants, a concert venue, and a soccer game attended by the president of France. Well over 100 dead.
         Kids hanging from nightclub windows, mourners and worshippers turned into victims, a plane full of people… gone.
         For that matter, an earthquakes and a Tsunami is Japan and Earthquakes in Mexico and California.

         So too, around the time of Mark’s Gospel
—Saccari in the street stabbing soldiers,
the siege of Jerusalem,
the destruction of the temple—those large stones ripped away
And the dispersion of the residence of Jerusalem.

         The good news, in a strange way, is that this is only birth pangs. That we are living in an already-not-yet time.
         In the face of world ending actions, we know the End of History is found on the cross and enfolded in the loving arms of Jesus.


         Terror and wars, and earthquakes and famines—these apocalyptic events. They destroy the body and weigh on the soul.
         But, these large, newsworthy events, are not the only ones that feel like the end of the world.
         There are personal tragedies too—Cancer attacking the body, Alzheimer’s the mind, the death of a loved one or end of a relationship, depression and despair eating at the soul.
It can feel like the end of the world.

         For that matter, there are times when a community comes to an end point.
         I think of our discussion at Pub Theology last Tuesday—the topic was the South Plainfield, Plainfield, Edison United Parish (SP/P/Ed-UP) and how we can work together to further the Gospel in our respective towns—but quite quickly the consensus became closing down St. Stephen and merging with either Our Saviors or St. Paul’s.
         Talk about Apocalyptic—end of ministry, end of community. (Me that evening)
         And these experiences that feel like the end of the world, can cause us to act like the end of the world is upon us—to buy into a story that says join those wars, respond in such a way that you can end the world on your terms!
         Yes, the danger is apocalyptic thinking
—making every move a saving throw,
every excursion in life a battle of good against evil.
         It’s easy to be co-opted by such messages
—Just do this one last thing and everything will be alright.
         Think of the variety of culture wars and political programs the Church has put her name to
—assuming if only this law was passed,
if only this person would be elected,
 if only we did this one thing, then it all would be better, we will have saved the world.

         For that matter The First World War was fought as the war to end all wars—but it only gave rise to an even greater war.
         The Cold War was fought with the belief that a win would be, to quote one of the great thinkers of that generation, “the end of history,” that liberal capitalist democracy would be the utopian end—no other power or ideology could possibly arise, if only the Soviets were defeated… How’s that working out for us so far?
         Provocatively one expert on the current so called “clash of civilizations” suggests that the best way to win an apocalyptic war, is not to fight one.
         That is, if your opponent sees themselves as noble religious knights and martyr of old, but you treat them as common criminals, you refuse to validate their story or sink down to their level
—after all the best way to slaughter a pig is to be a human and treat it like a pig, not get down in the mud and wrestle with it.

         Similarly we Christians must see all these things
—all the world ending experiences, be they global, local, or personal
—and understand them as the birth pangs. To not get caught up by them, to not let them get in the drivers seat of our souls, but instead to:
cling to the cross,
to hope,
and to each other.
         If we read Jesus’ words today in the larger context of Mark’s Gospel, we realize he is constantly pointing toward the cross
—he tells us we’ll find all these signs and the Son of Man himself—at the Cross.
In a strange way, history curves and finds its completion on the cross, even as it continues on.
         Yes, these horrors, war, earthquake, famine, were all historical realities in the life of the early Church, but they were all simply birth pangs compared with the birth of the Son of Man and the birthing of our freedom and adoption through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  
         This curve of the arch of history swoops towards our savior even as it still continues on.

         No lie, it’s a strange place along its path that we find ourselves. We find ourselves at the goal of life, Jesus Christ, and yet also still along the way toward that same goal—filled with hope that our end is the same as our beginning of the faith, caught in the embracing arms of Jesus.
         We find ourselves in between the already completed movement of history and the not yet completed reality of history.

         Found in this in-between space
—this already-not-yet place
—we cling to the reality being birthed, that we already know is ahead of us, because it is also behind us and with us now, Jesus Christ, in whom we find our confidence and our hope in all times, and even when it seems to be the end of time.

         We find him in the past, and as the goal of our future… but we also find him here and now. In this community, the Church, where at our best we poke and prod one another to the good
—we can encourage one another in our weakness, and provoke one another to love.
         Yes, in this particular community
—in the physicality of it
—in the down and dirty reality of it
—Here being birthed in our brotherhood, is Christ Jesus.
         In the clamoring complications of community, the ongoing physicality of just showing up, so we can be gracious burs in one another’s saddles, bees in each other’s bonnets to quote one late great saint here.
         What I’m getting at is that story I’ve told too many times already—after my first horrible, rotten, no good week of internship
—witnessing a murder, getting mugged, getting my mail stolen
—that the Sunday after all of that, when I knelt at that communion rail there at St. John’s Pimlico
—I finally understood why we Lutherans make a big deal about the real presence—about the physicality of it—because there are so many physical things that can cause us harm, that can end our world
—and so, that fleck of bread, that sip of wine
—that too is the end of the world, a physical reminder that all the rest—it’s birth pangs!
         So too, this community meeting together, a physical reminder of the limits of all those world ending things, a reminder that the end has been birthed, is birthed, and will be birthed again. We are a reminder to one another that: Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Four Theses on Grace

1. Grace is not fire Insurance
a. The Pastoral concern about Indulgences.
b. Grace can be heard as “fire insurance.”
c. Modern people worry more about meaning than death.

2. Grace is not material blessing
a. Some fill this meaning void by preaching material prosperity.
b. This has consequences as serious as the sale of Indulgences.
c. The way of the cross and the testimony of the martyrs deny this understanding.

3. Grace gives life true meaning
a. We live our whole lives in response to the gift of Grace.
b. Grace is costly.

4. God acts, what are you going to do about it?

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Saturday, October 17, 2015

A Libertarian(ish) solution to gun violence

I grew up in Wyoming, my dad owned the kinds of guns that could, in about 3 seconds, shred a herd of Antelope or ATF agents hopping out of black helicopters.
I (sort of) get both hunting and non-hunting gun culture.
I get the 2nd Amendment being ingrained into America’s basic understanding of Freedom, and intrinsic to the covenant between We the People and the State.
At the same time, lessening or even ending gun violence is a truly worthy goal.

So, here is my proposal for gun ownership accountability:
1. All gun owners must be members of a well-regulated militia.
2. Militias are liable in civil court for all damages done by guns and bullets connected to members.
3. Militias may not declare bankruptcy.

            Essentially Militias would become insurance pools. It would be in their best interest to encourage safe choices, regulate member’s gun purchases and sales, and reject folk who pose a danger to our society.
            Some Militias would probably have a pretty low bar for membership and fees—for example the “Revolutionary Era Musket Collectors and Skeet Shooting” Militia. The “Hey, Bob, look what I can do with a modified Bazooka and a Watermelon!” Militia would probably have a much higher bar for entry and fees.
            Think about it, even the NRA, generally not amenable to regulation of guns, could make a killing! They have a mailing list, a reputation, and would have the greatest membership pool from which to draw.
            One of the things many gun-folk aren’t fond of is the idea of a centralized organization forcing people to make particular choices. This scheme would be decentralized, voluntary, and rely on the free market for regulation.

            And, I would hope, make gun deaths less likely.

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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sermon: The Pious Rich, Young, Ruler

The Pious Rich, Young, Ruler

         One of the things they teach you to never do in a sermon is to merge the gospels, to conflate Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is from such conflations that we get too-busy Christmas Scenes—mangers with Magi and Shepherds and Angels tripping over one another. That’s always the danger in conflating Gospels.
         But, it is worth breaking that rule occasionally. Today, it is worth conflating the descriptions of this man who kneels before Jesus in Mark’s Gospel with those of other Gospels. When details from Matthew and Luke—that he is young and a ruler—are added, and those details are rounded out with his admission that “I have kept all these since my youth.”
         Let us conflate all of this in order to end up with a more complete idea of who this man is and what this man is giving up, let us think of him, at least for today—at least for the next 10 minutes or so of sermon—think of him, as The Pious, Rich, Young, Ruler.


         Just before this Pious, Rich, Young, Ruler plunked down before Jesus, Our Lord had let it be know that the Kingdom of God must be received like a child—receive the Kingdom like a child.
         To this, the Pious, Rich, Young, Ruler responds, “What must I do.”

         Hear this brothers and sisters.
“I buy into the system of buying and selling, of earning
—coin and credit for good and service. What can I do to earn this inheritance?
         Might I build a magnificent building of inescapable opulence. Might I purchase a piece of that pie in the sky with long nights, skipped Sabbaths, and bone weary business?
         How might I earn an inheritance?

         Hear me again my siblings in the faith.
“I am young, filled with so much life. It seems like, by sure willpower, by my strength, by my plucky idealism I can wrestle from the hands of God this great prize, eternal life—that I’ve been told I will receive.
         After all I’m so full of life that I’m half way there already, I’m so optimistic, so naïve, that I believe I’ll never quit, I’m already eternal. Yes, with my great vitality I can wrestle away those things that you ask me to receive.

“From my position, from where I stand, as a man who is in command, I just want to know what words I must say, what order I must give, that I might be captured by God’s promises?
         I’ve seen Pharaoh order men to bury themselves in his tomb when he died—and he died and they did it. Yes, rulers know how to get things done, how to be in control, how to be in charge—yet this thing you offer—it captures me!

         One last time—in case you’re not hearing me.
“I am a very religious man. Dotted every I crossed every T. I’ve been more Pious than Peter, more zealous than Paul. My Spirituality has more practice than an Olympic athlete—yet the Kingdom of God, all of this, is simply provided!
         I can quote line and verse, speak with the tongues of angels, have the Bishop on speed dial, and pray so hard my knees bleed—yet at the end of the day, God simply provides—Providence provides!”

         Yes, all those things we invest ourselves in
—all those things that become the building blocks of our identity
—our possessions, health, power, and piety
they mean bupkis
—they don’t have anything to do with inheriting the Kingdom of God
receiving relationship with God our Father
being captured by God’s amazing grace
—having it provided to us because we are beloved children and our loving parent knows we can’t do it on our own.
Inheritance is always unearned,
you can’t wrestle away what you’ve already received,
you can’t command when you’ve been loving captured,
 and practice does no good when the perfection you seek is already provided.

         Face it brothers and sisters, all those things we strive with and for—they’re puffs of smoke.
         We are left naked before the face of God. Stripped of all our pretentious and brittle armor/
we come face to face with God, and are surprised to find that we are already clothed with Christ.
         That alone is of any import
—that alone, Christ’s work for us
—Christ alone
—Christ alone is our identity
—alone our center, core, the soil from which meaning grows.

         Found in him and with him, defined only as Christians, only as followers of The Way
—we are brought to a new place, threaded, like some blended camel, through a needle, through the power of Christ.
         From this new place everything is different
—we are richer in our poverty,
healthier in our sickness,
powerful in our weakness,
and pious in our ungodliness.
Wrapped in Christ all those things we lost are gained:
House and family and livelihood transformed into
—Siblings in the faith gathered, our only Father God, our only job mission.

         And coming through that needle will happen again and again, because we are stubborn and those things we’ve left behind, those things we ‘ve said are of secondary importance will pull and tug at us
—Idols don’t like it when they are smashed.
         Yet we are pulled through
—pulled through the needle by the loving God we find in Christ Jesus to a wide life,
a whole family spread open before us,
wide with a God we can address as Abba,
wide and long the path we follow,
following after Christ.


Monday, October 05, 2015

Latest sermon: A Reflection on Psalm 8:4


On Being Sami Part 2, or On Being White-ish, or Internet Community is Always Weird

            You might remember in the first part of this post, talked about finding out my dad’s side of the family is Sami.
            That was just sort of a curiosity, though I did ruminate a little on why various Scandinavian and Russian governments discriminated against the Sami (to the point of sterilizing them up until modern times). And I also found it interesting that they have more genetically in common with Native Americans and Asians than Europeans.

            I did also think a time or two “huh, I guess I’m part Asian. I don’t suppose I can claim person of color status to improve my oh so white denomination’s stats?”

            But it wasn’t really a thing to me, until, I made the mistake of goggling, “Sami Mongolian.” Don’t do it. It is horrifying.
Apparently Neo-Nazis have a big problem with Sami. Here are a few choice things they have to say about us:
“Pure Saamis are fine as long as they stay in their territories.”
“Are they subhuman? Let’s just say I wouldn’t marry one.”
“I would personally execute the entire Sami-race given a chance. While smiling.”
“First we deal with the Jews, then the Negroids, then the Sami.”
            So that’s kinda messed up.

            That said, most of the posts were on a white supremacist online forum. And, strangely enough, it was like any other online forum I’d ever seen—I mean the subject was eliminating… well me… but it was still the same! I actually came close to feeling bad for one of the forum moderators.
            I think I have to give an example to get you to see the humor (I’m conflating posts here):
Moderator: There are only like 70,000 of these Sami alive, we should actively seek to eliminate them.
B: But, they look white to me… Renee Zellweger is one, and she’s hot. I don’t want to kill hot chicks.
Moderator: Ni**ers can be hot too, but they still need to be eliminated.
C: B Brings up a good point, Mrs. Zellweger looks Aryan. How can we know who ought to be killed?
Moderator: It’s simple, there are measurements you can do with a Caliper.
C: Wait, we’d need to touch their heads?!? I don’t think I’m up for that kind of thing. Could we get them to do it themselves? Or could we wear gloves?
D: Yeah, and like, this is going to involve a lot of work, isn’t it?
Moderator: Of course! It takes our whole self, our whole lives sacrificed to the white race for the white race.
D: Can I just do it, like once a week, or something. I kinda have other stuff going on.
Moderator: What could be more important than winning the race war and saving Europe for the Nordics and the Aryans?
D: Well, there is a new Halo coming out…
Moderator: You are all horrible at being white people!!!

            Where were these kind of Nazis in World War Two?
mean, imagine it:
“Well, there is this really important meeting at a beerhall tonight—this Hitler fellow is going to speak, but I don’t think I’m going to go, I’m going to play my Xbox instead.”
“I was going to round up the Jews in town, but one of them was really hot, so I let them all go.”
“Gassing people, nah, I’d have to touch their bodies, I’m too much of a germaphobe to do that.”

            So where am I going with this? I guess, the whole being part Sami seemed like just sort of a curiosity to me—hey we’ve been passing as white for 1000’s of years, isn’t that strange. Then when I saw people threatening us collectively, I actually feel more Sami.

            Also, this whole thing points out how bizarre "race" itself it. I mean, if I'm not "white" because of measurements of my head, yet am as pale as the white horse in Revelation... and if I'm not "European," even though my dad's ancestors arrived in Scandinavia before the Scandinavians... then clearly all our categories are just strange whims with monstrous consequences. 

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