Thursday, January 12, 2017

My letter to Rep. Pallone

Dear Rep. Pallone
            I am a 33 year old man with Pulmonary Atresia with Ventricular Septal Defect. I am one of the first people to survive this condition passed age 3 or so. In fact, I’ve been told it is the audio of my heart that medical students listen to in order to know what we sound like.
            I am writing this to you as a letter of encouragement, please continue to stand for the 57 million Americans with pre-existing conditions and all those who need good laws in order to have good healthcare.
            I’ve been blessed, I was covered under good insurance as a kid, because my mom worked for the Department of Defense, the VA, and NATO and they made sure my pre-existing condition was covered. Now days, I am a Lutheran Pastor and I have insurance through the Church, I’m happy with it, and because it is a national plan connected with a national Church, it will follow me from congregation to congregation. But, I know not everyone with a pre-existing condition can be a Lutheran Pastor.
            On top of that, there was a period of time during seminary, before the ACA was passed, when I was covered by inferior insurance. I’d been told, when purchasing the insurance, that my heart condition was covered (they wanted to sell me the policy, right?), but when I went for my every-other-year heart check-up I received a $10,000 bill, nothing covered because everything to do with my heart was “pre-existing.” $10,000 was 80% of my income that year (I was a Vicar at an inner-city church in Baltimore). I had to plead poverty once I found out my insurance company would not cover it.
            It is a painful and embarrassing thing to skip out of paying what you owe. Everyone in the hospital was gracious once it was clear what had happened and that I wasn’t trying to pull one over on anyone, so it sort of worked out that time.
            But, these days, I only pay 10% of my income for health insurance as Pastor of St. Stephen here in New Jersey, because I have good insurance. I am happy to pay my fair share, and so glad that no one discriminates against me based on this condition I was born with.
            I have to admit, I am deeply afraid for my fellow pre-existing condition folk, that this protection will be taken away if the ACA is repealed. I hear Trump’s point person plans to replace the ACA with a non-taxable savings account and the ability to transfer insurance across state lines. Neither of these will do anything for the 57 million of us with pre-existing conditions. Maybe it is just my Lutheran sense of Sin with a capital S, but I am damn sure if companies are given back the right to discriminate, they will.
            Please understand me, I want to pay my fair share. I want to do right by my doctors who keep me alive. The ACA gives folk the possibility to do that—the alternative doesn’t.
            Again, thank you so much for fighting for me and the 57 million.
Chris Halverson

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Sermon: The Church is the Multi-colored Wisdom of God

         Friday was Epiphany, the end of the Christmas season, the time when we celebrate the coming of the Magi to Jesus bearing gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrr.
         This act itself, is interesting, some countries celebrate it in a Halloween type fashion, sending out kids to neighbors dressed up in beards and robes to receive pieces of fruit.
         But, this story isn’t really the point—some chaps, probably Persians, following a star and finding the baby Christ—that’s not the point, the story has to be cracked open for us to understand
         In today’s readings, it is Paul who gets us there
—Epiphany is about the Revelation of the great mystery of God. What was once hidden to many, God’s faithful presence for the whole world, is revealed to the world.
In other words, Grace for all people!
God’s bounty is without boundary. Whoever you are, through Christ, you have access to God, be confident in that! Be bold in that even!
And it is the Church’s calling to receive, and to be, this multi-colored Wisdom of God, this variegated, diverse, multifaceted, face of God for us, Jesus Christ our Lord.

         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 grace 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.

         It’s like that famous velvet painting of dogs playing poker…
we all know dogs would be horrible at poker
—they have a tell, their tail
—when that thing starts wagging the whole table knows that its time to fold.
         God too, has a tell.
         God too, is pretty obvious about the cards he’s going to play—his grace for all hand of cards is laid out for us.

         Think of it—In the beginning, that famous poem in Genesis tells, God created one ancestor for all of us.
         Abraham was a pagan, 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.
         Every time particular people are excluded we have a Rehab, Ruth, or Bathsheba who break 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 in 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.

So, by the time God lays all His cards out on Epiphany—it shouldn’t be a revelation—of course it is, strangers from the East acknowledging the Christ Child, signifying that all have access to God through him.
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!

All that to say, 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 to, once we realize God’s great mystery is Grace for All peoples, we see it everywhere in scripture, and hopefully in our lives together.

And that’s where the rubber hits the road, the church must always be aware that we not only receive this great revelation—grace for all people—but we also embody it.
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 Grace of God.

We can not 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 your too young or too old,
you just don’t fit the mold.”
No, we live out the reality that first found usGrace 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.”
As a rule I don’t preach on the goings on in heaven, because speculation atop speculation is often specious, but hear clearly what Paul is saying,
“When the Church holds onto, and lives out, the Epiphany Revelation—Grace for All—that shakes heaven, even angels quake!”
Some read this to mean all those evil forces that defy God, those powers we renounce in Baptism, are put on notice that they can’t separate people any more, because God is on the move.
Others read it more gently, that every nation, every people, have their particular guardian angel and these angels now know they can retire, because Christ cares for all people.
Or, and this is my take—and what I’m leaving you with, Paul is simply being motivational here,
“Live out the great Epiphany Revelation, Grace for All People, within your 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