Saturday, February 15, 2020

From the Mountaintop

From the Mountaintop

          Like Moses before him, Jesus is still up there, on the Mountaintop
—giving God’s Law to God’s people
—placing before us standards that rightly seem impossible. In fact, more than one Christian has taken a look at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and concluded, “Man, we’re all going to hell, aren’t we?”
Impossible, yet Jesus is speaking a community into existence, answering our yearning question:
“What does the Kingdom of Heaven look like?”
What is it like when God reigns, when the Kingdom comes near,
when we can peer through the key hole,
crack open our dim cell and see the light,
see the world as it should be,
see God’s image shining forth from other people, alive and on the move!
          We hear our calling to a high ideal, Jesus calls to us from the Mountaintop; he dares us to imagine.
          It would be enough, to my mind, if we could hold back murders, right?
 If such tragic acts were deterred to the point where they were no longer a worry for anyone… that would be enough…
but Jesus calls us to something more, to a community where anger and insults and having anything against another, is as serious as murder!
          Who here is without anger?
          For that matter, how can we not look at our world and see the fruits of anger—hatred, racism… prejudice of all sorts, and not despair.

          As some of you know, every year a group from the New Jersey Synod makes a trip to Bosnia Herzegovina—to support their Peace Camps, and to bear witness to the ethnic cleansing that took place there in the ‘90’s and still shapes the lives of so many.
          One of the stories that stuck with them, was of a Serbian family who decided to stay in a Muslim majority city, even when their fellow Serbs besieged it. During the siege the family was harassed by their Muslim neighbors, two sons were killed, and soon enough all that remained of the family was a mother, a father, and a pregnant daughter-in-law.
          And the Daughter-in-law had the baby, but was too starved by the siege to be able to nurse her…
thousands of babies died in these types of siege situations
—but their neighbor, a Muslim man, had a hidden cow, and every night for 442 days he dodged Serbian snipers to bring a liter of milk to the family for their baby girl.
          Now… this isn’t one of those happy ending kind of stories, the hidden cow was eventually slaughtered to feed soldiers, the Muslim Neighbor became homeless and the family was eventually displaced and became refugees in a Serbian city…
          But for those 442 day, for that one little girl, for that barrier their neighbor broke for the baby’s sake, the Kingdom of Heaven had come near—hate had not won.
          In the face of the impossible pressures of the World, we are freed from anger and hate
—freed for a reason,
freed for reconciliation!
 The Kingdom calls us to be repairers of the breech,
we are called to be reconcilers and to be reconciled!

          Jesus doesn’t stop there—he’s kind of on a roll! He heightens the seriousness with which we are to take our sexual and romantic relationships and pursuits.
          If you look with lust—lose that leering eye.
          If you are prone to unwanted touching—tear that hand off.
          If you do not stop using other people’s bodies for your pleasure—you will burn.
          In this Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo era—God help us…

          For that matter, Jesus holds marriage as an unbreakable bond in this life.
          At Pub Theology this last week, I talked about the changes I and three other editors made to the new edition of “Minister’s Prayer Book” which originally came out in the fifties.
One of the major changes was how Pastors ought to talk about family in prayer
—not only did single and LGBT folk need to be included,
but also we needed to acknowledge that these days marriage is a coin flip—50% of them end in divorce, and so blended families and divorced folk needed to be reflected in the prayer life of Lutheran Pastors… this is the relational landscape we live in.
          And, I need to say this to you all as your pastor, because a flat reading of Jesus’ words about divorce can frankly slaughter souls.
—there are good reasons to get divorced.
If you are divorced you are no less a beloved Child of God.
          With that said, friends, please know that Christ has freed us for respect, fidelity, and consent.

          Then there is Jesus’ command regarding oaths—any untruth uttered is from the Devil.
Vows not kept, drag God’s creation and name and reputation, into the Devil’s hands.
          In a society that sees itself more and more as “post-truth”,
-Where social media siloes truths into consumable bits that feed our own biases,
-a society that has embraced, what some Philosophers call “emotivism”,
( that is, facts and values are seen as personal preferences and knee-jerk emotional reactions are seen as of greater value than the actual study of the subject at hand )
-where reality gives way to a Will-to-Power and truth has been so soundly eroded…
          In such a society as ours, we must acknowledge there is something truly diabolical afoot.
          And more than that, we ought to hold fast to Christ’s calling—he has freed us from falsehood and called us to be truthful.
          From the mountaintop, Jesus dares us to imagine
—imagine a world where God’s name is not manipulated by liars…
instead every word spoken is the truth!
Every promise fulfilled,
a world where we can trust each other again!
          From the mountaintop, Jesus dares us to imagine
—imagine, a world without cat-calls, without unwanted touches, without sexual abuse
—where the #MeToo movement is unnecessary and abuse of authority for sexual fulfillment is unthinkable…
Where every marriage is entered into with the best of intentions and those intentions are fulfilled.
Where marriages lead to the flourishing of both partners!
          From the mountaintop, Jesus dares us to imagine
—imagine anger ended, all enmities and insults offered up on the altar of reconciliation
—siblings embracing.
Prejudice, envy, and intolerance transformed into love and friendship and understanding.
          Dare to imagine.

Monday, February 03, 2020

What people are saying about "Minister's Prayer Book"

As you can see by my excitement at getting an early Editor's edition of Minister's Prayer Book: An Order of Prayers and Readings, I'm kinda excited about thing.
I just thought I'd share with you all the reviews:

"Ministers, like all Christians, need to pray. Yet they often need help to pray as they yearn to do. Generations have found this classic a faithful companion through each week, through the Christian year, and through the dimensions of pastoral vocation--all in conversation with Scripture and the church's wisdom. This affectionate update freshens language and expands sources to reflect ministry in our time, when ministers are more diverse but prayer is as urgent as ever." --Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
"Minister's Prayer Book has supported me and countless others for many years. Its organizing principle of Scripture, prayer, and meditation is fundamentally right. This pastoral guide now reappears in a thoughtfully updated version, its classical structure intact but with the addition of new prayers and contemporary voices. It is a reclaimed treasure. I will be using it again on a daily basis. It belongs in every minister's hands--and heart." --Richard Lischer, Duke Divinity School, author of Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discovery
"After four decades in ministry, I still find that one simple practice has grounded me on the best days and the most challenging days. Reading a daily devotion, drawn from holy Scripture and a rich array of theological writings and prayers, has been my practice for many years. This revised version of Doberstein's Minister's Prayer Book, enhanced by new selections and fresher language, holds a treasure trove for pastors, deacons, and all Christians. Open it and see." --Patricia J. Lull, bishop of the Saint Paul Area Synod, ELCA
"Here, prayer and preaching are grounded in God's down-to-earth gospel, not in mystical flights of the soul. With Luther and Bonhoeffer, Doberstein guides the minister 'to know the blessings of God's word, heard personally in all its severity and love.' This revised edition is a gift to a new generation." --David L. Tiede, professor and president emeritus, Luther Seminary
"If you find prayer difficult, this book is for you. If you find prayer easy, this book is for you. If you are dry in prayer, you will find this book a font. If your prayer flows, you will find fresh streams. New, old, and ancient prayers have been carefully selected and brilliantly arranged, well-suited for both rookie and veteran ministers as a resource in their service to others and even more so in the enrichment of their own prayer life." --Matthew Riegel, bishop of West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod, ELCA
"As a young pastor, I searched in vain for a faithful and effective devotional book compatible with Lutheran theology, liturgical rhythms, and the fast pace of ministry. This resource fulfills that ministry-long search. Updated with contemporary writers and the introduction of women's voices, this revision of a classic provides adaptable methods and materials that support today's demanding, uncharted ministries in mission. It engages a foundational gift of the Reformation: spirituality solidly grounded in God's word. I heartily recommend it and will use it for pastoral formation with the seminarians I teach." --Mary Sue Dreier, professor of pastoral care and missional leadership, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary of Lenoir-Rhyne University
"This revised edition makes a devotional classic available to a new generation of ministers. Those of us who have found the riches of the Minister's Prayer Book to be helpful in all phases of our vocation will find it now has been coordinated with the Common Lectionary and has brought new voices into its collection of readings. It meets the many challenges specific to ministry with the rich spiritual resources of every age--including our own." --H. George Anderson, presiding bishop emeritus, ELCA 

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Sermon: Imagine


            The Sermon on the Mount is essential to Matthew’s Gospel
—without it, the many description of the Kingdom of Heaven are incomprehensible, or at least unsettling
            This speech is Jesus’ Moses Moment…
            Just as Moses went up the Mountain and received the 10 commandments
—the boundaries given by God to regulate relationships in that community of now masterless men and women
—slaves freed, but now asking that fundamental question, “Freed for what?”
            Just so, Jesus spreads out a vision of the beloved community,
of his mission and ministry,
of God’s Kingdom coming near!
            He calls on us all to imagine a better world, imagine a truer and blessed way to be human,
to be God’s people,
to be present to God, who is already present to us…
            Jesus calls us to imagine.

            You’ve seen how the kingdoms of this world are ruled
—the proud and powerful push their way through, the inexhaustible engorge themselves on all that we might inherit from God…
            Let it not be so, though there is a danger in embracing spiritual poverty
—revealing our weakness and need,
it makes us so vulnerable…
            …But imagine…
            Imagine the exhausted and empty,
the tired and the humble,
receiving the good God continually offers in abundance
—not on account of their worth, but on account of their inheritance, their worth before God because they are His children, his very image! 

            You’ve seen how the sad and suffering are often avoided
—comfort doled out sparingly because it seems like sorrow is catchy…
            And I suppose, in a way, it is,
when we mourn with those who mourn, we can become downcast, and also can be confronted with our own deeply buried sorrows and those we thought we’d overcome, but are in fact always part of us.
            Imagine though, every heart that hurts held and made whole again,
the comfort of companions, fellow mourners available, grief shared,
every tear wiped away.

            You’ve seen the boastful and greedy grow prosperous because they’ve put themselves first and stripped the earth of her bounty.
            In a world known for being nasty, brutish, and short, gentleness seems anathema
—if, at base, the world is an every person for themselves
limited supply, kind of place
—then of course taking a chance on meekness is self-defeating.
            But imagine
            Imagine that the goodness of this world also goes to the downcast, seeming unworthy, who prefer a gentle world and a generous heart.

             You’ve seen injustice fill the hearts and minds of so many,
that wickedness is the common currency of corruption
that often a will to power overpowers the rule of law.
            And again, if scarcity is the only lens through which we can understand the world—then yes “I got mine who cares who I bribed or badgered to find sustenance” is a logical way of being…
            But imagine.
            Imagine a world where those hungering for equality find trees bearing just such fruits, and those who thirst for justice, they are met with fountains sparkling clear, clean of corruption
streams of justice,
waves of righteousness lapping upon a warm and inviting shore.

            You’ve seen cruel people crush anyone who would oppose them,
rub salt in wounds and inflame any hurt with hateful poison.
            And my God! What a risk if we don’t do the same…
            Kindness to enemies and those whose motives are hidden to us
so often it comes back and bites you, it is more trouble than it is worth…
            Imagine though
            Imagine a world where tit for tat is transformed into mercy for mercy, for Mercy’s sake. Where we can be a little less on guard,
a little more open,
where forgiveness is the norm!

            You’ve seen people of ill will work their wiles on the world,
blinding us all to the image of God in our neighbor and the Heart of God, which is love.
            To be fair, the other option risks naiveté, being gullible...
            But I want you to imagine…
            Imagine the little ones, those who seek after God with an abandon,
imagine they are never abandoned, but instead dwell in the house of the LORD all their days
—sit at the feet and on the lap, of Jesus,
are embraced by the Spirit!

            You’ve seen those who make war and spread rumors of war,
who see force as the first, last, and only option,
who say such clever things as, “It is a joy to die for the fatherland.”
You’ve seen them claiming all kinds of good, using violence to set themselves up to be something, or at least safe.
            And in a world so often violent, who would not stick to self-defense, to peace through superior firepower, to mutually assured destruction.
            Yet Imagine
            Imagine children of God from all around the globe,
from every neighborhood and nation,
working for peace,
living peacefully together, transforming swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks, pistols into spades, and bombs into baby carriages...

             Imagine… imagine… imagine…
            And soon enough, soon enough you will face persecution
—for there is surely push back to the Kingdom of Heaven,
to God’s Reign.
            As your thirst for righteousness is transformed into active pursuit of it
—those who prefer wickedness, injustice, and inequality, will push back…
for following Jesus threaten their idols,
their cherished ways of life
—you, even when you only imagine the Kingdom, challenge the world as it is, with the world as it should be!
            Pushback, because we see with our own eyes the way the world works...
pushback, as well, internally
—our own hearts divided, captured by the world as it is…
we so often betray this vision,
the imaginative possibility put forth by our Savior.
            We betray it internally, in the church, in society…
            And yet…
            And yet, these blessings, this prophetic imagination give to us by Jesus
—his blessings are an imperative,
a calling forth of a reality that is already here,
even when we don’t see it…
            Ultimately, dear church, Jesus’ blessings,
the Kingdom of Heaven,
will come…
we only hope, seek, pray, imagine, that His Blessing and the Kingdom will come about among us.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Our Faithful Best Guess

         I’ve been struck this last week by the enormities of what so many of us are dealing with, either directly or, more often, in the faces of our friends, family, and neighbors.
Sickness and declining health,
desperate financial straits,
being stuck in bureaucracies that crinkle the soul,
and on and on. 
         I wonder, what can we do? The only answer I can come up with is:
Our faithful best guess.
Our faithful best guess.
         It would be easy to give up in the face of all these things.
 In fact, I think there is a story being told by the World that claims:
         For anything to really change, for anything to really matter, it has to be done by big and important people and institutions with grand designs and buckets of influence and a slick logo. 
         That, however, is not the Christian story
—a babe in a manger,
a woman returning from a tomb with some news,
a dozen or so people huddled together in an upper room,
they each transform the world for the good… 
         That’s our story, and it is a true one.
We each, and even more we together, have a grand power. We also, as Christians, have a calling. We’ve been adopted into God’s family at our baptism, and so we follow in Jesus’ footsteps in order to become more like him, more like the one who is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…
         More like him,
-loving and joyous in the face of sorrow and hate,
-peaceful and patient as war and haste rule the day,
-kind and good and faithful and gentle and self-controlled, while their opposites pile up in so many ways. 
         This is no small thing, to be a small Christ to our neighbors.
         No small thing, for entropy is the rule… what do I mean by Entropy? Simply this, left to their own devices, things fall apart; if no one expends the energy to maintain and care, there will be neither maintenance nor care.
         No small thing, for those to whom we extend tender care and kind interest are fellow human beings,
not some nebulous other;
they are marked with the image of God.

         It is for that reason we ought to be profligate,
wasteful and reckless,
with our generosity.
         Yes, our generosity will be abused at times, but in the face of a world poorly abused, people so often cast aside like trash,
so be it—better ten fake beggars receive bread than a truly needy one starve or be forced into sin,
better to lend a listening ear to an ungrateful gabber than withdraw that ear and the desperate go unheard and despair. 
Yes, there is risk in the Christian life
—we’ll make mistakes,
we’ll embarrass ourselves in failed attempts at faithfulness, but keep on, continue the race dear siblings in the Spirit.
         Keep on, because it is all a best guess! We walk a path with only modest lighting, but that’s okay
—we know the path ends where it began, in Jesus Christ our Lord.

         And if it is a best guess, destined for occasional failure and misunderstanding,
then we ought to follow Luther’s understanding of the 8th commandment by giving everyone’s words and actions the benefit of the doubt. 
Hope that everyone is doing the best they can…
Not everyone is, I will openly admit that,
but act as if they are for, who knows, maybe by your example, you will convert them to kindness.
…      This best guess of ours, and believing that other people are doing the same,
it is so freeing!
—do the best you can, and then let it be.
You did what you could, you acted as faithfully as you could with the information you had at hand, don’t lose sleep over the rest. 
         Remember the promise of Sabbath! The world is capable of turning without you for a day, there are other faithful folk doing their faithful best as you rest.
         Our faithful best guess! For through Christ and in the Spirit, God has:
-forgiven us and freed us from overwork, faultfinding and anxiety,
-been generous with us so that we too may be generous beyond expectation,
-empowered us to be Spirit People in the face of Fleshy indifference and decay,
-and made us Children of God and followers of Christ, so that we might find power in weakness.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Behold Jesus, the Lamb of God

       Behold Jesus, the Lamb of God.
         Behold Jesus, the Lamb of God. Behold the Lamb…
One of the curious features of John’s Gospel is that there is no Last Supper—because the Last Supper was a Passover meal, and John wants to make crystal clear that Jesus is killed at the same time as the lambs are slaughtered for Passover, not because it makes chronological sense, but because Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
         When John the Baptist points to Jesus, he points to a Universal Passover, a cosmic Passover, a whole world…
(this is the God-So-Loved-the-World Gospel after all) a whole world Passover.
Just as death passed over the first born in Egypt and God brought the people out into the promised land—so too this Lamb of God, this Son of God, liberates the whole world, frees us from Sin and connects all of creation to God.
         This Lamb of God, Jesus, marks creation out for life, not death! Calls the world out of death into new life!
Think of those images of joyful kangaroos and their joeys, gathered together to drink from the first rain since the bush fires down in the inferno formerly known as Australia. Life, not death!
The Lamb of God marks the whole cosmos for life!

         Behold Jesus, the Lamb of God. Behold the testimony of the SpiritLook at the evidence given by John
—it is as if he is at a trial and testifies:
“I didn’t know the defendant, but the Holy Spirit identified him in a line-up. And I trust the Holy Spirit. She is a trustworthy witness to the invisible God made visible in Jesus Christ.”
She abides
—she remains, with him.
         It should be a comfort for we who have our doubts, who find it hard to hold this whole faith thing together sometimes
John didn’t see it, save for the Spirit’s revelation…
         Behold Jesus, the Lamb of God. Behold, He in whom we may abide.
         “What are you looking for?” He asks these disciples of John, now following after him, these would be disciples of his.
Take a moment:
         -Ignore all pretense,
         -be honest with yourself,
         -trust that the question isn’t an opening line to sell you something
         -don’t worry about giving a good solid theological answer…

—What are you looking for?
         Jesus will sharpen this question as things go along.
         Who are you looking for?” he asks the detachment of soldiers and guards gathered behind Judas on Good Friday.
         “Who are you looking for?” he asks Mary at the tomb that first Easter.
         Your deepest desires—your truest longings—will be found there, here, in the Life and Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
The whole story is where you will find your story, where you find what you are looking for
—with Jesus
—abiding with him, through it all.

         “Where are you staying?” Where do you abide? They ask him… 
         John’s Gospel is filled with people conversing with Jesus, but only scratching the surface
—Nicodemus, confused about the mechanics of entering a mother’s womb a second time,
the unnamed Samaritan Woman at the Well, concerned first about buckets and fresh watercourses,
while Jesus offers God’s Spirit and the Water of Eternity.
         These disciples ask the question, “Where are you staying,” and the unspoken answer is,
At the bosom of the Father—I abide in the very heart of God.”
         But that would mean nothing to them
—Just as John can not see that Jesus is the Lamb of God, save through the witness of the Spirit,
so too the disciples…
and so Jesus simply says, “Come and see.”
         “Abide with me.”
         Go on this journey with Jesus, be with him for his life, death, and resurrection
—discover what God is up to,
join the Passover throng through desert and water
—God’s ongoing loving work for creation,
a risky adventure,
curiosity and fear balanced there,
being present with Jesus.
         “Come and see.”

         Behold Jesus, the Lamb of God. BeholdHe will call you by your true name.
         Andrew is astonished at his afternoon with Jesus
—did you catch that he’s already become his disciple
—following after him
—imitating his actions to becoming like him.
He says to his brother, Simon Peter, essentially the same thing Jesus said to him, “come and see.”
         There is this whole line of testimony
—a cloud of witnesses gathered
—the Spirit tells John, John tells Andrew, Andrew tells Peter, and on it goes,
the good news that God is on the move, that all of creation is being freed through him—and this life giving liberty includes Peter.

         In Ursula Le Guin’s fantasy series, “Earth Sea” there is a whole magical system based on names—everything has two names, one that is known to everyone, and one that is kept hidden, because if that name becomes known it can be influenced magically, because that name touches upon the essence, interior, the true self.
         And Le Guin didn’t pull that idea out of thin air
—it is a common belief, nick-names and name changes were once a common way to know the character of a person—Just think of Sarai and Abram becoming Sarah and Abraham, Jacob becoming Israel, Saul becoming Paul
—in some fundamental way, these people are changed, are becoming more fully their true self…
         Now, you’ve probably heard some Christians talk about Naming and Claiming things in Jesus’ name… well, we Lutherans have good grounds to suggest that the pattern ought to be reversed. Jesus names and claims Peter (Cephas in the Aramaic) and calls him by a new name. Calls him on a journey that will transform him, will make him more fully his true self. Just as we are claimed by Jesus in Baptism for our faith journey, Peter is claimed by Jesus.

         Behold Jesus, the Lamb of God.
Behold the Lamb—he is bringing the world out of death to life.
Behold the Spirit’s testimony—she points us to Jesus in whom we can see the invisible God made visible.
Behold the one in whom we may abide—he continually calls us to come and see.
Behold your true name—you are children of God.
Behold Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Baptism of Our Lord

      Have you heard about Jesus? Have you heard about his love for all people?
         Through him, the mystery was revealed
—God’s love for all people
—God’s gracious love!
God denies no one a relationship with him
—God shows no favoritism
—whether you are a no one or a someone, whether you’re relatives are just or unjust, no matter what nation you hail from—God does not play favorites. So hear this if you hear nothing else, the Gospel is for you!
         Peter, whom we read about today in Acts, saw this truth first by way of a vision
—that those dietary rules used to keep God’s people safe and separate from everyone else
—were no longer required, instead he was to take and eat, for God had made all things clean through this new thing God was doing in Jesus
—and then Peter met with these folk he’s preaching to today
—people who he would traditionally have been separated from, now gathered together, so they might hear about Jesus.
         In him we are all brought near to God—all face God,
And that can be frightening, there is a terrible awe in that
—creation confronted by creator, log to flame.
Yes, to fear God means to be in awe of God—but awe is no small thing
—we’re in awe of the Grand Canyon,
in awe of the pace of life,
in awe of true love,
in awe of the depths of the ocean and the heights of the heavens,
in awe of God.
         We are brought near God and our obligation to the rest of creation comes into stark contrast
—you can’t love God and hate, or even be indifferent toward, your neighbor,
you can’t love God and trash God’s creation,
you can’t love God and cheat or steal from God’s family
—yes, this connection to God made through Jesus transforms our connection to the whole world!

         This connection that Jesus lives out—from Baptism to the cross, from birth to death even, an ongoing expansion of God’s goodness—Jesus baptized so that all may know him.
Jesus challenging acts of exclusion at every turn,
being merciful to all in need,
expanding the border of the Kingdom of God,
building bridges of kindness in the face of very attempt to exclude.
         Jesus’ death, the inevitable result of radical inclusion, of opening up the Kingdom when so many were invested in keeping the doors of God’s goodness shut.
His death, overrunning every wall by taking on, putting on, all of humanity, becoming all humanity, that all of humanity might know God.
         It is this message that we are to testify to,
That we are to share everywhere we go, so that all people may trust that, in Jesus name, they are forgiven!

         Have you heard about Jesus? Have you heard about his life?
         His life was God’s message for all people, a message of awe toward God and Justice for everyone! 
         His life, a message from God, spoken in a holy whisper, a quiet king—“Peace by Jesus, he is Lord of all.” 
         In his baptism marked as God’s beloved that all might know God’s love.
In his declarations, hope for the least, last, and lost.
In his sacred deeds, healing and reconciliation for all of those who had been marginalized. 
         If Jesus’ life’s work is what Lordship looks like,
if Jesus’ words are what a proper Royal Decree sounds like,
if John the Baptist performs a coronation calling our attention to Jesus being the rightful heir of God… then there can be no other Lords.
         His conquest too, is strange
—there is a grand gentleness to it. Isaiah points to this, as conquering Lord he is the servant,
-no battle cry in the streets,
-no smashing of brittle reeds,
-even the faintest candle remains lit at his making all things right.
He embraces execution and death, is buried like a seed, and from him springs life for all the ages!
         We enter into that royal coronation
—his baptism
—it is our calling to tell all the world,
to point to Jesus as John points to him,
to let all the earth know that in the end, he is judge of the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

         Have you heard about Jesus? Have you heard that he was dead, but now he lives?
         Each of us find ourselves at the cross and the empty tomb, in awe of that, that gentle power that transforms death into life. His life is for all people!
         Does not Baptism drip with death and new life?
Isn’t that what we proclaim through the waters of Baptism?
—we are now clothed with the risen Lord.
We’ve been buried with him and rise too with him!
Wasn’t his whole life an ongoing confrontation with death, and the spreading of life?
         That death—he is killed on a tree…
that phrase “Killed on a tree” overflows with meaning
—all who are hung are criminal,
all who die on a tree are cursed by God (so says Deuteronomy)
Death and curse,
death and sin
—he knows it all, all that we humans are confronted with, and he confronts us still more surely with rightnessblessinglifeThe whole world is being reconciled to God through him!
         How can we not tell the world? He, the one cursed, is the one to judge the cursed,
he, the one killed, is the one to judge the living and the dead.
He always has his arms wide open, now not on the cross, but wide open to embrace us all with forgiveness.

         Have you heard about Jesus? Then tell the good news!
         The Message of Jesus Christ is for all people,
-every ear should hear it,
-no wall should stop it,
-no nation should be bereft of its benefit.
         Tell folk about Christ’s life, how his baptism and our baptism are linked,
how it shapes our life
—better yet, live in such a way that people see Jesus!
         Be like those women, the only ones who remained at the cross and the only ones who came to the tomb—it is because of Mary’s words to the other disciples that we know about the resurrection at all,
that I’m able to tell you about it today
—be like Mary, tell the world about what happened in Jerusalem
—Tree and Tomb which tell the tale!
         Siblings of the faith, as we are gathered in this building, and as we go out into the world, let us bear and be, or at least boldly tell, the saving word of God to the entire world
—forgiveness in Jesus name.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

On Issues of War and Peace

              Upon hearing about the assassination of the Iranian General Soleimani and the talk of tit-for-tat reprisals from both our president and the leader of Iran, I went back and looked at the pastoral letter I wrote to you all when it looked like President Obama was about to invade Syria because they used chemical weapons. I hope and pray this letter is as unnecessary as that one turned out to be, that peace will eclipse all intentions toward war.
              I started that letter with words that loom large in my heart today as well. Kyrie Eleison—Lord have mercy.
              Kyrie Eleison… This is how we start our opening prayer to God in worship—the start of the prayer, in which we pray for peace from above and for our salvation—peace for the whole world.
              And I would ask that you take a moment to pray this prayer from our Hymnal:     

“Gracious God, grant peace among nations. Cleanse from our own hearts the seeds of strife: greed and envy, harsh misunderstandings and ill will, fear and desire for revenge. Make us quick to welcome ventures in cooperation among the peoples of the world, so that there may be woven the fabric of a common good too strong to be torn by the evil hands of war. In the time of opportunity, make us be diligent; and in the time of peril, let not our courage fail; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

              Now, I recognize the current moment we find ourselves in is different than the one we were in 6 years ago with Syria. In this case we killed a general who, during the second Iraq War, snuck rockets into Iraq that could pierce up-armored military vehicles, which killed hundreds of US soldiers. Consequently we are worried about blowback—that US soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan will be targeted and that, if things swing out of control, we’ll be re-invading Iraq to secure a place from which to invade Iran.
              And our faith has something to say about such things. For two thousand years we Christians have been struggling with being faithful in the world as it is, in situations of persecution, famine, feast, might, and war. And those struggles have given us a rich tradition of thought and action, something much deeper than the knee-jerk reactions of TV pundits and political intellectuals.
              In the early days of the Church, Christians were known for being pacifists. In fact, the Society of Friends (Quakers) and Mennonites still are pacifists, they see refusing to go to war as a witness to the world that the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, reigns. Other Christians, such as us Lutherans, follow a tradition that includes Just War Theory, “which requires certain conditions to be met before the use of military force is considered morally right. 
These principles are:
1.      A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.
2.      A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.
3.      A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient--see point #4). Further, a just war can only be fought with "right" intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.
4.      A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
5.      The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.
6.      The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.
7.      The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.”
              Additionally, this Church, the ELCA, in 1995, created a document “For Peace in God’s World” which particularized our understanding of Just War Theory to the challenges of the 20th and 21st century. Here are a few stand out statements:
            “Wars, both between and within states, represent a horrendous failure of politics. The evil of war is especially evident in the number of children and other noncombatants who suffer and die.”
            “Helping the neighbor in need may require protecting innocent people from injustice and aggression. While we support the use of nonviolent measures, there may be no other way to offer protection in some circumstances than by restraining forcibly those harming the innocent. We do not, then--for the sake of the neighbor--rule out possible support for the use of military force. We must determine in particular circumstances whether or not military action is the lesser evil.”
            “From the posture of the just/unjust war tradition, the aim of all politics is peace. Any political activity that involves coercion should be held accountable to just/unjust war principles. They are important for evaluating movements, sanctions, embargoes, boycotts, trade policies to reward or punish, and other coercive but nonviolent measures.”
            And finally, and most solemn, "Any decision for war must be a mournful one."
            And so, I conclude this letter as I did the last one, Kyrie Eleison.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

God’s love is embodied for all people!

God’s love is embodied for all people!

         If you’re keeping track, we’re on the 12th day of Christmas. We’ve been celebrating the birth of Jesus
—such a surprising occurrence, the seeds of the Kingdom of God are planted,
God has skin in the game,
God with us,
God’s story is now told from below.
—You know, Christmas!
         Well, we now reach Christmas’ culmination
         God’s love painted on the sky as the sign of a star.
God’s love revealed to the Magi, the Christ Child.
They follow like sleuths chasing after a clue, and find a great mystery made manifest—God’s love for all people, packed into the child of Mary.
         Because of that child, we know that God’s bounty is without boundary. 
         God willing, this same mystery is also revealed in Christ’s body on earth—the Church… God’s love for all people embodied in us.
         It is the Church’s calling to receive and to be, what the Apostle Paul calls, the multi-colored Wisdom of God, this variegated, diverse, multifaceted, face of God for us, Jesus Christ our Lord.
         The center of Epiphany is this: God’s love is embodied for all people!
         God’s love is embodied for all people!
         It’s one of those things, this revelation, this Epiphany. In retrospect it is obvious
—It’s like looking in your rearview mirror
—it appears closer and clearer, than it is.
In hindsight, God’s love for all people was always floating just below the biblical surface
—you could even say God’s love of all peoples is the worst kept secret in the bible.

         Think of it—In the beginning, that famous poem in Genesis tells, God created one ancestor for all of us.
         Abraham was a pagan from Ur of the Chaldeans, pushed into a relationship with God through no act of his own.
         Moses, the man who brought in laws to separate God’s people from foreigners, had a foreign wife.
         As Matthew’s Gospel makes abundantly clear in the very first chapter, every time particular people are excluded we have a Rehab, a Ruth, or a Bathsheba who breaks this mold.
         For that matter the Prophet Ezekiel has a vision of God on a throne with wheels, because God doesn’t concern Godself only with things happening in one place.
         The story of Jonah shows mercy upon the Ninnevites, foreigners who had shown no mercy to the Israelites.
         Isaiah goes even further and scandalizes us, not only with today’s reading about foreigners bringing people and goods to Jerusalem, but puts onto God’s lips words about Egypt and Babylon being God’s people before God ever dealt with Judah.
         The book of Proverbs is filled with sayings from foreign kings, and the book of Job is about a faithful foreigner.

         God’s love is embodied for all people!
         It was already there, but we look more closely when we see these strangers from the East acknowledging the Christ Child, signifying that all have access to God through him.
         And God doesn’t stop here, this truth triumphs in Paul’s ministry
—his whole mission is creating communities in which Gentiles, non-Jews, foreign people often excluded from relationship with God, are welcomed and given equal authority and affirmed as having equal access to God.
         By the last book of the Bible, Revelation, John is given a glimpse of the court, the political cabinet if you will, of the Lamb, Jesus Christ ruling as King of Creation, and finds countless peoples from all places present!

         Epiphany reveals something that, once revealed, is apparent everywhere; it’s like getting a new car, once you do, you notice that model everywhere,
so too, once we realize God’s great mystery is God’s love embodied for everyone we see it everywhere in scripture.
         And, in this particular time and place,
         -I especially hope love is manifest clearly for our Jewish siblings—as they encounter anti-Semitic attacks in Monsey and Jersey City, and increasingly violent hate crimes across this country.
         -I hope too for the ancestors of the Magi who discovered the Prince of Peace
—in the face of mounting threats of war in their homeland of present-day Iraq and Iran
—I hope peace shall blossom there, not war.
         And I hope we see
 God’s love is embodied for all people
in our life together—in the Church.
         After all, that’s where the rubber hits the road, the church must always be aware that we not only receive this great revelation—God’s love embodied for all people—but we ourselves embody it…
either poorly or well…
to a great extent that’s on us
how we live it out witnesses to that love we find in Jesus…

         We as church, must always be aware of who is being left out,
who has not heard,
who we, in our sinfulness, exclude and even try to separate from the love of God found in the Manger.

We cannot say:
“Hey, you have substance abuse problems, or you are depressed,
I don’t like your politics or cultural dress,
your skin tone scares me or your life is a mess,
Or you’re too young or too old,
you just don’t fit the mold.”
No, we live out the reality that first found us God’s love is embodied for all people.

         In Paul’s day, joint Jew and Gentile Churches were mind blowing and transgressive
—he had to defend non-Jews as:
Part of the Family of God,
Part of the Body of Christ,
Part of the Promise of God.
Co-inheritors, Co-members, Co-Promisees.
He then goes on to say something stupendous and very strange,
“through the church, the wisdom of God in its rich variety (God’s multi-colored wisdom) might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
         Paul seems to be saying: “When the Church holds onto, and lives out, the Epiphany Revelation
 God’s love is embodied for all people —that shakes heaven, even angels quake!”
         In closing, beloved:
“Live out the great Epiphany Revelation, God’s love is embodied for all people, within Christian Community, in all the wonderful diversity God has offered to us, with such vigor that even angels in heaven stop what they’re doing and take note!” A+A