Saturday, March 28, 2020

Sermon: Can These Bones Live?

Can these bones live?

         Here we are, the final Sunday of our Lenten sermon series where we’ve been, at least in a broad-brush stroke kind of way, re-telling the overarching story of the first Testament—Hebrew Scripture.
         Re-telling the first 11 chapters of Genesis, where the priests and poets away in Babylon, faced with strange stories of all sorts,
oppressing, violent, enslaving, arrogant, exclusive, stories…
told better stories, truer to the God who continued to be faithful to them, stories that allowed them to survive and to continue to trust in God.
Stories of liberation, kindness and courage, peace, humility, and inclusion.
         Retelling the tales of the Patriarchs and matriarchs,
the dysfunctional family who God makes a promise to,
who God blessed, to be a blessing to others.
         Retelling, re-membering, Moses,
 the Mediator between God and the people.
         Retelling the sordid-sacred history of the Kings of Israel and Judah
—how in the eyes of God everything looks different.
         Retelling, finally, today,
the prophets and their revelation of judgment, lament, and hope.

         We left the story of Hebrew Scripture with the centralization of worship & leadership in Jerusalem,
the Kingdom splitting,
the North’s dispersion by Assyria,
and eventually the Southern Kingdom’s exile in Babylon.
         The exile, an event that looms so large that it permanently altered the imagination of God’s people.
The Babylonians destroyed the temple—God’s house!
What now?
For a WHOLE generation all those who could read and write were taken away to Babylon and those who remained in the land were colonized and sorely abused.
         Yet, from this time of terror and uncertainty, there came an era of ferment,
a great outpouring of Holy Writ
—the joining of the traditions of God’s people up to this point
—scripture itself
—Hebrew Bible itself.
After all, when everyone who can read and write is stuck in one place with nothing to do but long for that which is absent
Folk singing songs to one another like the 137’s Psalm:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion…
How can we sing the songs of the 
Lord while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.

May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.”

         When you get people of such passion and pathos gathered together,
surely God is going to do something! …………
(perhaps there is a lesson here for us, as we dwell in our little exiles?)

         And one such strain of imagination and interpretation of the exile, was that of the prophets. The prophets who preached Judgment, lament, and hope.
         “You all have broken the covenant with God
—that promise that even that trickster Jacob couldn’t break…
Your injustice and idolatry, your wanton and wayward ways… your abandonment of God has made God abandon you.”
         “Look at the beautiful city, once so full of people—now she sits alone, she weeps bitterly at night, no lover to comfort her, all her friends… enemies.”
         Have you read Jeremiah 30 or Isaiah 40?
         “Comfort O’ comfort my people… I hear the screams of panic, the day that is awful beyond words, but you shall be delivered! Your shackles shall be smashed, you prisoners shall be freed!”

         Yes, the prophets with their judgment, lament, and hope
—God’s gift to them in an impossible, incomprehensible, time…
         Perhaps, none were more effected by the horror of the Exile, than Ezekiel...
Poor Ezekiel—born in times of prosperity—only to see his people’s continual decline.
Poor Ezekiel—witness to the siege & slaughter of Jerusalem.
Poor Ezekiel—taken as a ransom, kidnapped, with the royal family and the priestly houses and brought to Babylon.
Poor Ezekiel—who witnessed his wife’s death, and used his method of grieving as an example to the people
—"stiff upper lip all!”

Ezekiel who warned the people with signs—Holy bug-out-bags and burnt facial hair.
Ezekiel who knew God as a spurned lover, as well as a mama lion caring for her cubs.
Ezekiel who castigated the people as price gougers and murderers, idolaters and adulterers.

         Ezekiel, who when he heard of the temple’s destruction, received a vision of God’s throne like none had seen before him,
the throne burst forth from the temple
—God’s glory following after the people as they were taken away into exile
—even there they were not abandoned!

         Ezekiel, faced with the people dispersed by death and by distance, was asked a challenging question:
         “Can these bones live?”
         Plucked up by the hand of God and placed at the scene of the slaughter
—those killed by the Babylonians, the wrecked remains of his nation
—mass graves.
         “Can these bones live?”
         Dusty remains of aunts and uncles
—his own wife even,
all picked clean by birds and by time,
the decades since they were first separated.
         “Can these bones live?”
         They were so dry!
         “Can these bones live?”
         He spoke to them,
spoke the horror he had held in, so silently, so long,
speaking those things he never got to say,
spoke of the loss and the void in his heart!
         “Can these bones live?”
         They rattled and gathered together
—united as one again,
bone to bone,
muscle to muscle,
tendon, flesh, skin, all together…
         “Can these bones live?”
         There they were, the very people of God before him
—standing their, inanimate, un-animated, without spirit!
         “Can these bones live?”
         There they all stood, exiles and the exhumed, one in the same
—the wholesome, holy, spark of life snuffed out by sorrow,
standing, yes, but cut off from the breath of God.
The survivors as well as the slaughtered, tired and lifeless.
         Then there was a breath! There was Spirit!
         “Can these bones live?”
         The whole people of God, called out of the grave, united again,
just as spirit and skin and tendons and muscles and bones united again
—they too, no longer cut off!
The people shall return!
The exile shall end!
         And, not them alone.
         Ezekiel saw again the throne of God, hovering in the sky
saw it again, this time returning, holiness had been torn from the people, the temple was abandoned… but the glory of God, God’s fullness, Ezekiel saw, flying back, returning!
Because these bones live!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Free Books!

Hey all, your friendly neighborhood author, Chris Halverson, here.
There is a plague our there… everyone is stuck inside with nothin' to do but read… so, starting tomorrow (the 23rd) I’ve made all my books on kindle free to download for the next five days.
Richardless? Free!
Silicon Soul? Free!
The Chaplain’s Cat? Free! (Yes, I am Harry Stoneguard)

Saturday, March 21, 2020

In the Eyes of God

As you may remember, for these 5 Sundays of Lent, we’re going to, at least in a broad-brush stroke kind of way, re-tell the overarching story of the first Testament—Hebrew Scripture.
         Where last we left, the people were re-living exodus after exodus
—like some family system that re-plays intergenerational trauma, reacting to things without even knowing the thing is a thing
—the grandfather eats sour grapes, the granddaughter’s teeth are set on edge… 
(I imagine, when this is all over, and even when we’re a couple of generations removed…
 we’ll still have children washing their hands to the theme song of the Golden Girls,
people will be shamed for buying too much Toilet Paper even then,
and hand shaking will be seen as socially unacceptable
these things stick with a peoplewe need to be careful about the habits we develop in this time of distress, it’ll hang with us and our children and children’s children)…
In the case of the Hebrews, they would:
forget God,
be defeated,
cry out to God,
and God would send a Judge who would unite the tribes
—a mini-Moses to deliver them… over and over again and again, this pattern.

         And this goes on until the Judge/Prophet Samuel
—he goes through the same Judge cycle with the people,
and then his sons, unjust men that they were, seek to claim his mantle, to become the new Judges over the people… and the people respond by crying out for a king…
         “Make us like every other nation, give us a stable leader who will cut through the uncertainty…”
         Samuel is wroth, he harangues the people:
“You want a king? I’ll show you a king!
They’ll take your young men and conscript them as soldiers, they’ll take a second tithe from you—you’ll give 10% to God and an additional 10% to the King, so that they’ll have fancy courts and all the trappings of the monarchy…”
         And then, strangely, God steps in and says, “Chill… it might feel like they’re rejecting you Samuel, but in fact they’re rejecting me… and yes, they’ll eventually cry out against their king in the same way they used to cry out against their enemies… but that’s how it’ll be.”
         And so began the Israelite experiment in Monarchy. They choose, the first time out, with their eyes, chose in the way humans tend to choose, they chose the biggest tallest man around—Saul!
Let us pray…

         So Samuel anoints Saul
—that is, sets him aside for a particular task
—and then Saul defeats the threats at hand… and things go well, until Saul keeps back some spoils of war and refuses to execute a fellow king—a professional courtesy I suppose…
         And that is where we find Samuel in today’s reading
—as we read of his search for a new King, reluctantly looking at brother after brother, “Ohh, this one is tall too, he’ll do… but no…”
Until the little shepherd David comes along…
God sees something different in him, God sees with eyes unlike those of mortals,
So Samuel secretly anoints him King… even as there is still a king in Israel, Saul.
         Saul, whose house David joins,
Saul who stays back as David defeats Goliath,
Saul whose son and daughter both fall in love with David…
Saul’s story fast becomes one of decline, as David’s story becomes one of flourishing.
         And eventually David is cast out of Saul’s court and exiled from his country
—but continues to rise, even as he joins the ranks of Israel’s enemies
—and then turns on them and becomes King of Israel, anointed a second time, this time in public…
anointed even as he laments the death of Saul’s house
—laments the one whom his heart loved, Saul’s son Jonathan.

         And the northern and southern tribes question if he should be king of the north or the south—and David responds, “Why not both.” And is anointed a third time!
         And David proceeds to centralize power, both religious and political, in Jerusalem, a strange capital in neutral tribal territory
(not unlike our District of Colombia, which isn’t attached to any state).
And God returns the favor, centralizing the throne in the family of David, promising it to them forever…
no more moving the monarchy from family to family… 
         After this, David declines just as Saul did,
there is the infamous rape of Bathsheba and the plague that followed,
the brutal infighting between his 19 sons,
Amnon’s rape of Tamar
and the death of David’s favorite son Absalom
—all this ending with David again lamenting
David, a king anointed and filled with sorrow…
Anointing and lamenting…

         He is followed by Bathsheba’s son Solomon… his mother gained him the crown by “reminding” an Elderly and confused David of an oath he’d never made
—this unuttered oath was to establish Solomon as King instead of his older brothers… and so it was,
Solomon, the wise—famed for his judgments that touched on the essence of every case at hand
Solomon the builder, of public works and temples
—building using slave labor, just as the Pharaoh of Moses’ era had… its what Kings do, as Samuel rightly warned…
         Solomon known for his 1,000 wives, and by his end, his many gods….
         And after this, the Kingdom splits
—for Solomon’s son embraced all the worst aspects of Samuel’s prophecy about the hardships of Kingship.
—10 tribes go north, the Kingdom of Israel…
2 tribes—go south, sticking with David’s heirs, the Kingdom of Judah… 
and Judah and Israel parallel one another
—sometimes allies sometimes at odds, even at war,
paralleling one another for two centuries until Israel is overthrown, the 10 tribes dispersed by the Assyrians… followed 135 years later by the overthrow of Judah by the Babylonians.
         Thus ended the history of the monarchy….

         And so what, we might ask, shuttered away in our homes.
- As I mentioned at the start
generational trauma is a thing. We as a nation, in this moment that is truly frightening, we need to be careful what we make normal
—it might stick with us for a long time,
let us meet every challenge with a kindness that later generations will long remember and emulate.

-There is also just the grand length of history, because we’re in the middle of it, we won’t see our place in it rightly,
but there will be a time when people look back and write of this and make sense of the scope of it all.
If you ever feel especially anxious, try writing a letter to yourself from the future, when this is all over…

-Also, there is an adaptability to human life and our life with God
worshipping at the Shrines of Abraham and Isaac, or only in Jerusalem…
There are consequences to all of it—trade offs, just as we experience today displaced from physical worship, but never an abandonment by God.

-Finally, as all the scriptures today make plain, things looking different to God, 
the little shepherd boy, a better king…
in our gospel reading
(John 9, read it when you get a chance), the blind man is the only one who can really see…
This is always God’s story
—God in the last place we’d think to look
—fishermen not philosophers, on a donkey not a war horse, cross not throne…
in this time, let us look with eyes from below, so that we might see like God above.

Noon Prayer: Testing Facebook Live

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Blessed to be a blessing

Blessed to be a blessing

         For these 5 Sundays of Lent, we’re going to, at least in a broad-brush stroke kind of way, tell the overarching story of the first Testament
—Hebrew Scripture.
         As I said last week, the first 11 chapters of Genesis (the History before History) are pulling we the reader to chapter twelve, pulling us to the promises of God made to Abraham and his family…
         God promises them Land, Descendants, and Prosperity…
         If an economist was to describe these blessings, they might call it “Land, Labor, and Capital.”
         Or, if a therapist was describing them, they might call ‘em “the cause and ground of bad behavior and maladaptive family system dynamics.”
         What I’m saying is, while God gives these gifts to Abraham and his kin-folk to be a blessing
—in fact, the whole underlying point is that God blesses them to be a blessing to others—declaring the world good through them, a new act of creation
—yet things fall apart rather quickly…

         This is as good a time as any to remind you all that just because you find something in the Bible, doesn’t mean it is to be emulated, doesn’t mean the thing is good or right… sometimes bad examples are more instructive than good examples!
         While scripture tells a better story about God and God’s intentions for the world, as we looked at last week, it still is decidedly realistic about the human condition.
         I remember in 4th grade when all the Church of the Nazarene children were describing the bible to me as having God’s perfect plan and being filled with nothing but uplifting stories
—I sat down and started to read it cover to cover—got about a third of the way through the book of Numbers and was so scandalized I had to stop!
         You get all these moralizers complaining about rap music and video games, Hollywood and half-time shows
—they don’t hold a candle to this family we follow in Genesis, Abraham and his kin… it’s got everything: sex, Violence, incest, sibling rivalries, and murderous fathers—this is Game of Thrones level stuff! All you need is dragons and ice zombies!

         But Genesis is ultimately about God’s promise
—I bless you so that you might be a blessing—this promise we read here in chapter 12—God’s promises, and o’ so human responses…
-With Abraham and his extended family there is an attempt at faithfulness—an opening negotiation of relationship with this God…
-With Jacob we get a trickster who constantly tests the promises of God—what would it take to break what God has offered my family? Truly an unfaithful response.
-Then, there is Joseph—God is continually faithful, even in the cruelest times, ever faithful—in Joseph’s story we see the promise redeemed.
Abraham’s attempt, Jacob’s testing, Joseph’s redemption. That is the story of God’s promise, blessed to be a blessing.


         Abraham is the first to hear God’s promise and receive God’s blessing. Land, Family, Prosperity…
         He goes, immediately!
—and I don’t think most of us can truly understand what he is giving up
—he is willingly becoming a Sojourner, no longer under the house and protection of his extended family
—there is such risk in this, and yet immediately he sets off
—what faith, what trust, truly a courageous and good response to God’s promise…

         Yet he sets off, and ends up in Egypt—he takes a detour…
you see, this becomes the see-saw relationship between he and God
—Abraham endangers the blessing
and God heightens the promise.
-He leaves the promised land—God reminds him of his blessing.
-He decides his nephew Lot (God help us) will be his heir, then his servant Eliazar of Damascus will be his heir, not whoever God has in mind—God reminds him of his blessing.
-Abraham rapes Hagar and makes their child Ishmael his son and heir—God reminds him of his blessing
-God shows up and promises a son—Sarah, Abraham’s wife, laughs. God reminds him of his blessing.
-Eventually they have a son, Isaac—and the next thing you know, Abraham attempts to take the life of his first son, Ishmael and his mother Hagar… God sees what an evil thing Abraham has done to her and her family and expands the blessing, blessing Hagar and her son Ishmael.
-Then Abraham tries to take his second son, Isaac’s, life! Such a scary action that it kill’s Sarah…

         Then you have Isaac—he’s passive the whole time
I swear whatever Abraham ended up doing on the mount of sacrifice never really left Isaac… All he is able to do is re-digs some wells his father had neglected, marries Rebecca, and then they plays favorites with their two sons.

         Their two sons, Esau and Jacob…
Jacob, who steals the blessing of prosperity by trick, who ruins every familial relationship he runs across, and who is driven out of the land because of his trickster nature—Prosperity, Family, Land—all won and lost based on his unfaithfulness, yet still left standing on the basis of God’s promise.
In fact, God gives Jacob a new name, Israel, and with that new name a new claim to the promise.

         Then, finally, we reach the story of Jacob/Israel’s son Joseph, who awkwardly
—arrogantly even
—describes to his family how the blessing is his
—the story, too, of his brothers leaving him to die in a well and telling a lie to their father about his death
His brothers go on to commit genocide on account of a Romeo and Juliet type situation between their sister and a local guy
…the story of Joseph’s continual humiliation and rise
—sold into slavery, blessed.
Imprisoned, blessed.
Forced to perform the impossible for Pharaoh, blessed.
         Eventually things work out such that he gets to see his family again, even his dying father, Jacob—they are able to reconcile, they all are blessed on account of him…
In fact, Genesis ends with Jacob relinquishing a final blessing of prosperity to his children, the family all together at Jacob’s deathbed, the family buying a plot of land—owning land in the promised land for the first time—prosperity, family, land…
         At the same time,
-Their prosperity is attached to Pharaoh’s good pleasure.
-Their family is together free… but along the way Joseph created the institution of debt-slavery, which will come back to bite their descendants in the book of Exodus…
-and while there is a tomb in the promised land, the people are all in Egypt.

         God’s promise is that his people are blessed to be a blessing—often poorly done,   yet even in this messiness
-Abraham the Sojourner finds a home,
the barren Sarah a child,
Hagar and Ishmael, cast away yet land in God’s loving arms, blessed as well.
-Jacob the trickster with a bad reputation given a good name!
-Joseph an arrogant dreamer who is humbled.
A truly messed up family, given a chance to forgive each other before their father dies. All the while, Blessed to be a blessing. 

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Telling a Truer Story

Telling a Truer Story

         In today’s Gospel we read about two competing stories, the devil’s “If/Then” story and Jesus’, “Because/therefore” story.
         The devil’s story he is telling Jesus is that Jesus has to earn his Sonship—that Jesus’ Heavenly Father will only acknowledge that relationship if
         If you transform stones to bread, then you are God’s son…
         if you temp angels by throwing yourself off a high point, then I will be your Father,
         and if you conquer the world, by whatever means necessary—even worshipping the devil—then my inheritance is yours!
         But Jesus tells another story—Jesus tells a better story in Matthew’s Gospel—because/therefore
because his is the Son of God, therefore he will feed the 5,000, the 4,000, and the 12 at table—feed them with the bread of life.
         Because he is God’s beloved son, therefore he will reach the heights by preaching the sermon on the mount, be transformed on the mount of transfiguration, and die on mount Calvary.
         Because he is God’s heir, therefore he will teach and tell parables about his Kingdom, and it shall have no end!
         And here’s the thing—Jesus isn’t the first to tell a better story
in fact God’s people have been telling a better story from the beginning.
         In these five Sundays of Lent, we’re going to, at least in a broad-brush stroke kind of way, tell the overarching story of the first Testament—Hebrew Scripture. Tell of:
-the History Before History,
-God’s calling to the Patriarchs and Matriarchs,
-God’s ongoing provision to his people during their wilderness wanderings,
-the drama of the Kingly era,
-and finally the prophetic hope the people held onto even in Exile in Babylon.
         Not the whole story, for sure, but a thread that is intimately woven into the story of Jesus, whose death and resurrection we prepare for.

         The first 11 chapters of Genesis are the history before history, the prologue, the set up
—the weight of the book is on Abraham and those who come after him, that’s the focus… but the poets and priests putting together the story of God
—these faithful folk telling a better story,
telling a truer story
—were captive together in Babylon, far from home,
with nothing but a pen and their God to get them through in the hostile and bitter land…
a land where they were constantly bombarded, saturated, constantly told tales that were, “if/then” tales.

1.      “In the beginning there was grave violence among the gods, the world was created and is sustained by subjugation and terror, tearing a monster to piece is the only way this world exists at all…
if we continue conquering, subjugating all before us,
then some stability and peace may be bought with blood and sustained upon the back of those not like us.”
         To this the Hebrews responded, “No! There is a better story! God created with a word, no struggle, only goodness!
Because God created the world and declared it good,
Therefore, there is enough, we are enough, we are blessed.”

2.      “The gods created humans as slaves, humans to work themselves to death producing sacrifice for the gods.
if we follow the practices of the gods and force those weaker than us to labor without rest
then we too are like gods, knowing good and evil.”
         To this the Hebrews replied (as we see in today’s reading), “No! There is a better story! God created a gentle world with limits to labor, and the joys of family and relationships. The world as it is, is off kilter on account of human hubris and disobedience—this isn’t as it should be.
Because God gave us a good garden and relationships,
Therefore, our oppressor’s evil practices are not good—they are fallen.

3.      “We Babylonians, because we live in cities, fed by unending agricultural achievement, are the height of humanity, all other peoples who do not submit to our urban empire are lost and hardly human. If you don’t believe it, look to our mighty towers, the Ziggurat, proof of our greatness!
If we impose our ways upon these backwards shepherds,
Then, the whole world will embrace our technological wonder, and be uplifted, or at least look up at our grand buildings, our architectural achievements.
         Again, the Hebrews respond, “No! Haven’t you heard, the first murder was predicated on this kind of thinking—Abel the shepherd was killed by his settled farmer brother Cain, who went on to founded the first city, and all of this eventually led to the towers of Babylon… oops, I mean the tower of babel…
Because, God’s blessing and ongoing faithful is what determines greatness and goodness,
Therefore, we can take or leave any particular human arrangement and assumptions about greatness and hold onto God’s blessing alone.

4.      “When humans rebelled against the gods they were all drowned, except for one particularly strong and crafty guy, Gilgamesh, who seduced a goddess to find the date at which the deluge would begin, and kept himself alive. When the flood was finished, the gods realized they would starve without we human slaves, so when Gilgamesh made a sacrifice, the gods swarmed the meal like flies, in fact their shimmering fly wings were the first rainbow!
If we impose our will upon others and are a particularly strong and crafty people,
Then, we are descendants of Gilgamesh and godlike, a unique people.”
         And one final time the Hebrews tell a truer tale, “No! God is not a god of violence, in fact, the rainbow signifies that, he has put away all violence! For that matter, Noah’s sons fill all the earth; ultimately we are all siblings, all one humanity.
Because, God always strives to stay with us, even in our unfaithfulness
Therefore, violence isn’t the way of the world and all the earth shall be blessed!”

         Faced with strange stories of all sorts, If/Then stories, oppressing, violent, enslaving, arrogant, exclusive, stories
         God’s people told better stories,
stories truer to the God who continued to be faithful to them, stories that allowed them to survive and to continue to trust in God.
Because/therefore storiesstories of liberation, kindness and courage, peace, humility, and inclusion.
           I pray that we people of God too, faced with plenty of bad stories, if/then stories
tell better stories,
stories that describe the God who is always faithful, because/therefore stories.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Calling is Loud, the Work is Quiet

          On the surface of things, there is a contradiction, or at least a tension, between the words of Joel and the words of Jesus.
          Blow some trumpets—don’t toot your horn.
          Call, assemble, bring even newlyweds out of their bed chambers, to pray in the streets—don’t do your prayin’ in public.
          Shout, Weep aloud to be seen—don’t look dismal…
          A tension too, every ash Wednesday—don’t disfigure your face, as we do so with Ashes…
          But Jesus and Joel are doing different things—Joel is calling his people to repentance… Jesus is watching works of religion done wrong.
           So too, these ashes, they are a call to your Lenten Discipline
—they are not the discipline itself.
          Imagine if Joel had been quiet about God’s call to repentance, or if Jesus had encouraged the crowd to be loud about their works
—surely Joel would have endangered Jerusalem and Jesus encouraged hypocrisy from the Mount of Beatitudes…
A quiet call and a loud work… does not work.
          What these perennial pieces of scripture are telling us, is that: The call is loud, the work is quiet.
          The Call is Loud, the Work is Quiet.
          On Ash Wednesday we are called out of idolatry:
-shaken from the many ways we forget our God,
-called to extasy, that is, called out of ourselves,
-called to recognize, at least in a small way, the needs of our neighbors.
          We heed this call through the works of
prayer—to remember God, fasting—to move beyond ourselves, and
alms—to remember that our neighbors matter.
These aren’t one and done, get a photo-op and get out, kind of things, but instead the quiet work of a lifetime, which we practice more intentionally in these 40 days.

          The Call is Loud, the Work is Quiet.
          Know thyself, calls out the Philosophers, and they must call loudly, for we would do anything to avoid even a few moments self-reflection:
we’ve invented a overabundance of distractions
—bright screens and enough electronic chirps to dwarf any orchestra,
Demagogues and Celebrities…
All just to keep us from being alone with our thoughts for five minutes
—we need to hear this call, a call to self-examination, a recognition of our own culpabilities and neurosis… and needs.
          Called to the long work of mending relationships, making amends, repairing the breach, to works of repentance… as well as kindness and self-care.
          The Call is Loud, the Work is Quiet.

          How can we look and see how people treat one another, the vicious selfishness, the rebellion against God, the stripping of His good creation, commodified without care… how can we see it all, and not cry out?
          But the healing this world needs!
Contending with evil within and without,
our vocation to woo the trembling goodness of this world from its hiding place,
the kind of quiet sacrifice that it takes to even just do no harm!
          The Call is Loud, the Work is Quiet.

          The mark of ash, the cross, soon to grace your brow, it calls to mind your mortality, calls you to remember you are dust and to dust shall you return.
          Our Lenten Journey, our Journey with Jesus these 40 days,
heading toward resurrection and Easter,
through the symbol of death...
that’s the kind of journey which requires work not found in headlines, nor often praised by people…
it is death and resurrection.
          The Call is Loud, the Work is Quiet. Amen.

Friday, February 21, 2020

An Introduction to Praying Through Minister’s Prayer Book

Preparing the Book:
Minister’s Prayer Book recently came out. Once you receive it I recommend you get two book marks, one to keep track of where you are at in the Prayers and Readings for the Church Year section, and another to keep your place in the Order of Prayer for the Days of the Week section. Additionally, it might be worth dog-earing page 151, which begins the Prayers of Preparation for Ministry and each of the daily anthology sections, found on pages 199, 233, 261, 291, 313, 351, and 369.

            The Prayer Book recommends the following:
Morning: Invitation to prayer, morning prayer, psalm, lesson from the lectionary, meditation and free prayer, prayer for the week, benediction.
Noon: Invitation to prayer, hymn for the week, text for the week, lesson on the ministry, prayer, benediction.
Evening: Invitation to prayer, confession, psalm, lesson from the lectionary, reading from the anthology, evening commendation, intercessions, evening prayer, benediction.” (xv)
            I pray a modified version:
Morning: invitation to prayer, morning prayer, lesson from the lectionary, prayer for the week, brief passage for meditation, free prayer, benediction.
Noon: invitation to prayer, profession of faith, lesson on the ministry, noon prayer, benediction.
Evening: invite, confession, lesson from the lectionary, reading from the anthology, intercessionsevening prayer, commendation, benediction.
            This way to pray flows more closely to the ordering of the book. For example, praying the prayer for the week after the lesson from the lectionary saves you the distraction of flipping back and forth from the Church year and Order section. Similarly the reordering of prayer in the evening follows the order the prayers are found in the book. Additionally, adding the profession of faith to noon prayers and eliminating the psalm reflects the content in the prayer book.
            On the other hand, the reordering of my daily practice may wrinkle Luther’s meditation, tentatio, oratio  way to pray. I’m still thinking and praying through that question.

Happy praying!

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