Saturday, October 25, 2014

20 Theses Derived from the Small Catechism

1.God is awful. (inspiring reverential wonder or fear.)
2.God is worthy of my love and my trust.
3.All nourishing things come from God.
4.God never abandons me.

5.God’s commands and promises are found in the Old and New Testament.
6.They inform and shape my faith life.
7.The sacraments are an example of this.
8.God’s commands are to be read in a strenuously positive way.

9.Humans are radically dependent creatures.
10.Humans are sellouts.
11.We sold out to Sin, Death, and the Devil.
12.Thank God Christ forgives us.
13.Christ my brother bought me back.

14.Humans are still sellouts
15.We’re recovering sinners.

16.The Church is a Sinners Anonymous meeting.
17.We confess together, and when particularly troubled to one another.

18.The Spirit will not leave us.
19.The Spirit’s work is irresistible.
20.The Spirit sustains our journey of repentance and forgiveness.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A few journal entries of my trip to the Holy Land, with commentary

October 8th
            “The North American Church is Cromwell's child.”—One of the things that immediately struck me was how colorful and statue-laden all the churches were. It made me reflect upon the roots of our own church aesthetic. We Americans come out of a tradition shaped by Oliver Cromwell who destroyed much of the church imagery in England.
            “I see the full moon over the sea of Galilee, clouds streaking, lightening flashing… lights on the “other side.” Amazing!... It’s humid air… Jesus among humid air crossing the sea to the other side… the other side.”— Just being there was amazing, and the Galilee especially so. I think about all those boat stories about Jesus, it was right there! Those storm stories, well, I got to see a storm on the Sea of Galilee!

October 9th
            “Magdala has a restaurant and a gas station in it. How banal… no, how real.”—So, the village from which Mary Magdalene got her name was not very pretty… but that too was important to remember, that these are real places, with real hurt and mud and dust and needs. Jesus didn’t show up in a fairy story, but in real life, and dealt with real life!
            “The fifth loaf is in Jesus’ hand… the hand of the priest.”—At the Church of the Multiplication there was a giant fresco of two fish and four loaves… but as we know from our Bibles there were five loaves… and it was explained to us that the fifth loaf was in the hand of Jesus by way of the Presider at Communion… that piece of art was done in such a way as to remind us of our continuity with the earliest followers of Jesus, that we are still fed by Christ, just as the multitudes were then fed.
            “At the Mount of Beatitudes you can be caught up in the blessing, caught up in the calling to be blessed.”—The Mount of the Beatitudes and the Church there were so comforting. It was green, calm, a beautiful view, a deep focus on the famous and powerful words of Jesus found in Matthew 5.

October 10th
            “The Israelis told Bishop Chacour he could return home to Bir’im after 2 weeks, and his Bishop told him he would only serve as Pastor of Ibilin for 2 months… he’s still in Ibilin.”—Bishop Elias Chacour was forced from his home village of Bir’im as a child in 1948. Instead of responding with violence, Elias has worked for peace between Israelis and Palestinians as a Melkite Catholic Priest, as an Archbishop, and as the Headmaster of Mar Elias Educational Institutions, a school in Ibilin where Christian, Muslim, and Jewish children study together.
            “25 conquests of Megiddo.”—The fortress of Har-Megiddo (The Hill of Megiddo… or Armageddon in the Greek) was constantly overrun by one army or another for literally thousands of years… so it should be no surprise that John places preparations for the ultimate cosmic struggle there…where else would someone fight?

October 11th
            “What is Theology in the desert?”—I’ve mentioned before in sermons that deserts are a place where you are stripped bare and end up alone with God… and, even with a bus and water bottles and such, that rang true in the desert around Qumran.
            “Do people make it holy or the place make the people holy?”— In Celtic Christianity they talk about thin places, places where the wall separating the Spirit world and the world of humans is less pronounced. I thought about this idea a lot, as one thing you start to notice at these archeological sites is that Temples, Churches, and Mosques are continually built one atop the other. It makes me wonder if it’s just convenient, or is there something holy about particular places?

October 12th
            “Going up to Jerusalem your ears pop.”—In the Bible it always says people “go up” to Jerusalem… well, you really do.
            “We were lost in Bethlehem and couldn’t find the Inn.”—On our first night in Bethlehem we were dropped off not too far from the Lutheran Center, but managed to get lost. I was kind of freaked out, lost in the West Bank, but Jill, the Pastor of Nativity East Brunswick, reminded me how Biblical it was to not find the Inn in Bethlehem, and that made it better!

October 13th
            “The rocks that would cry out is the resurrection of the dead, a Zombie Choir.”—While on Mt. Zion we saw all these tombs with rocks on them, a common burial practice there going back to a time when you put rocks on tombs so critters wouldn’t get in. Our guide told us this was what Jesus meant when he said the rocks themselves would sing—post-Lazarus, the point was if the Palm Sunday crowd hadn’t sung to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem the dead on mount Zion would have!
            “The explosions? They’re just welcoming you to Jerusalem.”—While we were across from Jerusalem a scuffle broke out between Jewish settlers and Muslim worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque. The exchange there escalated from taunts to home made explosives and gun fire to the Israeli Police stepping in, definitely an eye-opening experience.

Tuesday October 14th
            “I met a woman who can't leave the confines of Bethlehem because she voted in a student election in College!”—I met Angie a Lutheran who works with both the Lutheran center its social ministry arm, Diyar. She voted for the wrong political party her freshman year of college and the Israeli government blacklisted her and she can no longer get permission to leave that little town of Bethlehem (she’s now 29). The amazing thing about her, was the ongoing joy she had in the face of exile in her own home town.
“Christmas Lutheran is the 3rd largest employer in Bethlehem.”—Just a cool Lutheran fact to know! Christmas Lutheran’s outreach is amazing. They serve over 2,000 people in Bethlehem!
            “Remember, the Gospel was first proclaimed in Arabic on Pentecost.” Mitri Raheb—Pastor Raheb is the Pastor of Christmas Lutheran. Sometimes people suggest the Lutheranism there is a second hand because they worship in Arabic… the above is his response.
            “Raheb studied in Germany and showed up in Bethlehem as a first call Pastor the week the 1st Intifada started.”—If I ever talk about my first call as overwhelming remind me of Pastor Raheb.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sermon: How do we exchange Graven Images for the Image of God?

         A week ago Thursday I was in Capernaum, at the house of Simon Peter’s Mother-in-Law (the doorway from which Jesus healed many). A few doors down from that house is a Synagogue from the 3rd or 4th century.
         Now, when you go up the steps into the entrance of this Synagogues there is an interesting feature—you’ll miss it if you’re not looking for it.
         You look down and see two holes, both filled in with modern concrete… well, they’re the place where money was exchanged.
         You see, by then the 2nd Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, so the Synagogue had become the center of worship for Jewish people. And much like churches today, that meant money needed to be collected for the maintenance and ministry of the community… but much like the Temple, that money couldn’t be Roman coins—because those often had images of emperors as gods, so the money was traded in for Jewish coins without those graven images on them.
         In other words, you’d put your roman coin in one hole and exchange it for a Jewish coin from the other hole when you entered the Synagogue.
         And today, that’s my question: How do we exchange Graven images for the Image of God?
         The Pharisees show up in the temple
the Pharisees are a group who go out of their way to keep their people separated from non-Jews
—They want to make sure Jews are different.
         The Herodians show up in the temple
The Herodians are fierce Hellenizers
—they want Judaism to shed it’s differences with other cultures and become just like Rome or Greece.
         They agree on nothing.
It’s like Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Rand Paul of Kentucky
… or the University of Oregon Ducks and the OSU Beavers,
Whatever analogy you prefer—it’s like these two polar opposite groups ended up in the same room together.
We expect a conflict to erupt… but there appears to be one thing the Herodians and Pharisees can agree on…
Jesus is disruptive.
Jesus is dangerous.
Jesus isn’t playing the game
and Jesus definitely isn’t playing it by their rules.
         So they come at him, each from a different direction.
         They butter him up and then ask, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?”
         If Jesus says yes
the Pharisees can say he sides with the Herodians and dismiss him as such. The crowds will see him as a stooge of the empire, someone unwilling to stand up to those who occupy their land.
         Likewise, if he says no
 the Herodians can tattle on him to Herod and do away with him as a rabble rouser who preaches insurrection.
         So Jesus makes sure the crowd knows he’s not really in on this fight between the Herodians and the Pharisees.
He begins “Let me see one of those coins.”
After all, he doesn’t have such a coin in the temple—that’s a no-no, just as you don’t bring graven images into the Synagogue you surely don’t bring them into the Temple…
maybe even Jesus has never owned such a coin—After all, I don’t think Jesus was known for his hording of money.
         He answers in a way that satisfies the Herodians, and goes beyond the Pharisees…
sure coins belong to the image they have on them…
 but the image on us—the image of God—belongs to God.
         Human beings do not belong to Caesar… or his Empire… or to the coins themselves… no, from the beginning we’ve belonged to God. We’re made in the image of God.

         And that brings me back to my question—How do we exchange Graven Images for the Image of God?
         How do we take the broken, or at least incomplete, images we’ve made,
of ourselves,
of our neighbor,
of our highest ideals,
         How do we drop them into that hole and exchange them for the Image of God?
         My answer in short is this, we see images for what they are and we become who we are.

We see images for what they         In Isaiah we read that Cyrus the Great of Persia has just broken the power of Babylon and freed all the people from there—including the Jews who were in exile.
         Now one response to this would be to deify Cyrus, to make him a god—to turn him into a graven image…
Instead Isaiah makes an amazing theological move—he recognizes God’s actions behind the scenes
—that Cyrus rather than being a god, is called by God—anointed by God for his particular task in history.
         Isaiah exchanges the coin of Cyrus’ conquest by recognizing that he is just a man—by making a distinction between creature and creator.
         Or if you want to think in more Lutheran terms think of Luther’s explanation of the 10 commandments—we ought to Love, be in awe of, and trust God above all things—the creator alone is creator, all else is counterfeit coin.

We become who we are.                  In 1st Thessalonians Paul praises the Thessalonians as imitators of both Paul and of the Lord, that is imitators of Christ. They are made in that image because of their joy in the face of persecution and their faithfulness…
these two things point people to the Holy Spirit from whom their Joy comes, and the Lord who is always faithful.
         This is, in fact, the meaning of the earliest place where we find the image of God—Genesis 1, where we hear that God “created humankind in His image, in the image of God he created them, males and females he created them.”
         This isn’t about us looking like God or God looking like us—that God stands upright, has 10 fingers and toes and no prehensile tail.
         No, the point of the Image of God—the Tsella of God—the point of humans, is that we are the marker on the earth pointing out who takes care of the earth—pointing not to ourselves, but instead to God.
We are images of God that point all of creation to God.
         The Thessalonians exchanged graven images for the Image of God when their being
—their faith and their joy—pointed to God.

How do we exchange Graven Images for the Image of God?
We look at the images of Caesars of all sorts and see them for who they are,
just another part of creation.
We strive to be glass, so we ourselves are not seen, but instead God is seen through us,
knowing even that is a gift from God.
We see images for what they are
and we become who we are.