Thursday, May 2, 2013
What an exciting time to be in the church and with the people. There are so many opportunities available to us as leaders and it is a matter of finding the ones that will impact our communities the most.
My congregation has the awesome opportunity to host Dr. Rich Melheim on June 3. He is going to share some family systems strategies with some leaders in our congregation as well as others that are interested in creating a positive influence with their families. Check it out at www.faith5.org
To top it all off though, Rich has just released an excellent new book, Holding Your Family Together. You can find it at www.holdingyourfamilytogether.com
I have had the opportunity to peruse most of the book already and it has some wonderful insights into holding families together and some incredible neuroscience insights which gets us thinking and engaged in family changing conversations.
Creating strong healthy families is going to have a positive impact on our communities and it will open doors for deeper conversations and involvement.
I challenge you to invest some time in your family as you deepen the relationship with your children and ultimately with God.
April 28, 2013
After church last Sunday I had the opportunity to travel to Pokagon State Park in Angola, Indiana. Over 80 of my colleagues gathered to share in our experiences as first call pastors that have been in the parish for three years or less.
As a group we ventured deep into this Sunday’s readings and how they speak to us in today’s society. We were grateful for having three Bishops with us and listening to where they hear the church being called in this world of uncertainty, yet they were full of hope. Dr. Fred Neidner of Valporaiso University was the keynote speaker and he led us on a journey through Acts, relating it to our time in seminary onward to areas known and unknown that may find it hard to hear our message.
In Acts, Luke brings us into the world of first century Jerusalem and beyond as we are told of the outreach that is occurring as the disciples begin to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Luke continues the story from his gospel into Acts by sharing the immediate days after Christ’s death and resurrection, which comes to a climax in Pentecost. However, this is only the beginning of not only great things to happen, but also some grave things.
Persecution in the early church will begin to grow as was evident a couple of weeks ago in our story of Saul and his conversion to The Way and his renaming as Paul. The persecution is not perpertrated just from those that are on the outside. In today’s lesson we hear of those questioning Peter in his reaching out to gentiles and calling them in the faith. He is nearly raked over the coals for his actions, but steps up and more loudly proclaims the Word of God.
He shares the vision that came to him while in a trance-like state. “There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But I replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.””
Poor Peter. He has got to be getting a bad rap by this time. The Lord needs to tell him three times to do this. If you remember, this is not the first time that it takes Peter three times to fully understand the word of the Lord. First he denies Jesus three times, and then just last week we read in scripture how Jesus asked him three times whether he loved him or not. Peter appears to be a little dense and it takes him a few times to fully understand the word of the Lord. Therefore, those times when we brush God aside and it takes us a while to listen, we should be rest assured in the fact that Peter led the way for us.
Over Peter’s concern of eating animals that are profane and unclean, God insures him that “What God has made clean, you shall not call profane.” If you are not familiar with Jewish dietary laws, this is what Peter’s concern revolves around. In Leviticus, the Hebrew people are told that, “You may eat any animal that has a split hoof completely divided and that chews the cud.” Certain fowl were forbidden, as well as certain types of seafood. Remember though that Jesus came to make all things new and it is here that we abound in the Grace of God and these restrictions are wiped away.
Now, what does this have to do with gentiles? Remember, the gentiles were the outsiders of first century Israel. They were looked down upon and they had very little, if any standing in the life of the Jewish community. Yes, many of them had powerful positions, but the Jewish people believed they did not have any position in God’s Kingdom.
We are so quick to divide ourselves to this day. No matter where you look at the world today you can find division within society which breeds nothing but hate. In India, society is broken down into different castes and are therefore assigned a position in society and it is nearly impossible to move outside of your family position. We divide ourselves into the haves and the have-nots. We have divided ourselves into groups based on gender, race, ability, sexual preference, religion, age, and national origin. While we have made great progress in rights for people within these groups there is still a long ways to go.
We are called to a revolution which brings people together in community. Peter brought a revolution to first century Israel when he reached out to gentiles. It was in God’s command that he reached out to those that had not yet known God and share with them the same Love that he shared with those in the Jewish community. Peter appears to be breaking the rules that were present in that day and age, but that is what Jesus did, and it is in his steps that he follows.
We are still confronted with many of the issues today that Peter was challenged by nearly two-thousand years ago. It is in watching people step out and step into service with people that a change of heart comes through seeing the Spirit at work in the stories of strangers, and being able to recognize that same Spirit working within our lives. It is in those stories that our hearts are changed. Stories are powerful and they invite us into communion with one another. Jesus knew this and did so by sharing parables. It is through his parables that disciples were multiplied and hearts were changed.
Today’s Acts reading with the pairing of the gospel reading from John bring about a call to love and reach out to all of God’s children. No one is left out from this community!
In John’s gospel today we are called out in a new commandment in which Jesus gives to his disciples. That commandment is to, “love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We are almost overwhelmed by the amount of love in these two verses. Jesus is talking of agape love, which is a love for all people, as in saying I Love You!
We can point to many people that have reached out in this agape love in the hope of revolutionizing culture and bringing equality to all. These people have learned how to go and stand with people in their fights and believes. It is easy to go out and do things for people, but to stand with people in their struggles takes a community that rally’s around common believes. As a church called into service by Christ, we must be that community that stands with all people in an agape love that breaks down all boundaries.
I believe that Martin Luther King Jr. said it very well when he said, “Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people…It begins by loving others for their sakes” and “makes no distinction between a friend and enemy; it is directed toward both…Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community.”
While accepting the Nobel Peace in 1964 in proving that violence was not required to bring about change Dr. King also said that (humanity must), “Have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”
Let us remember Dr. King’s words as we come to the table in a few minutes. Everyone is welcome at the table! We will be singing one of my favorite communion songs which celebrates our joining together in community. The first verse goes: “Let us go know to the banquet, to the feast of the universe. The table’s set and a place is waiting; come, everyone, with your gifts to share.”
Peter comes to us today in Acts to call out any discrimination that may have been happening nearly two-thousand years ago and it began a revolution which welcomed everyone to the table. We continue that revolution today. As followers of Jesus we are called to carry forward that message of love. This message of love is so important that Jesus was willing to go to the cross and die. It is in this Easter season that we celebrate the resurrection and acknowledge that through our struggles and challenges, the love that Jesus commands us to wins every time.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
A banner taped to a window declared what might be called Houston Oasis' creed. It pointedly says "we think," not "we believe":
"People are more important than beliefs.
Only human hands can solve human problems.
Reality is known through reason, not revelation.
Meaning comes from making a difference.
Labels are unimportant.
Everyone should be accepted wherever they are as long as they are accepting in turn."
What follows is my response to their posted creed. I am not doing it to knock the Atheists. In a way I am doing it to better understand my own faith. I believe that it is in dialogue with one another that we are able to understand and come to respect one another.
The leader is a former Lutheran pastor and the service is very similar to what one may see in a church on any given Sunday. I find that there are some points here that I can see where they are coming from. However, for us faithful servants of Christ, we like to leave room for the Holy Spirit to work in and among our lives.
I encourage my members to be thinkers. That is how we get knowledge. However, in that time we are thinking and reflecting we are also able to put our faith in the great Mystery of God. We do not know everything and that is why we have times of doubt and this is where very powerful questions can develop.
Yes, people are more important beliefs. Not all beliefs are the same though and I believe that Jesus Christ did not fail to show respect and love to all those that he encountered. It is in his steps that we must follow, and unfortunately those that received the most press claim to be followers, yet fail.
It is true that human problems can be solved with humans hands. And, OH BOY, we have created so many human problems. As a pastor in the ELCA, we celebrate that it is "God's Work. Our Hands." It is through God that we are able to accomplish so many great things.
Yes, reason appears to be more prominent in today's society. It is through reason that we are able to come to an understanding of certain issues and relationships. Revelation is does not come to everyone, but it is through our faith that we allow that happen and are open to the possibility.
Meaning does come from making a difference. We are called to make a difference because of the example that has been set before us in Jesus. Jesus made a difference and he was not always popular. It is in the difference that he made that we understand the meaning of salvation through him and the grace given to us by God.
Labels are unimportant. I am no more important than the members in my church that I pastor. I am called as their leader to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. As a pastor I preside over various worship and life steps, but it is not me doing any actions on my own. It is all done through God and it is God that the action occurs.
Lastly, yes EVERYONE SHOULD BE ACCEPTED! Since, labels are unimportant, we are all children of God and it is in this that we find grace and are forgiven for any sin that we may partake. By accepting one another we are able to love one another. It is in love that we are able to conquer any challenges that confront us. It is love that Jesus offers us.
As a Lutheran, I believe
Monday, April 15, 2013
This morning I would like to talk about ‘nones.’ Not really about the flying kind that Sally Fields portrayed either.
Did you know that I was a ‘none’ at one time. Maybe some of you were ‘nones’ as well. I was raised a 'none' and considered myself spiritual, but not religious. We would have dialogues in our house about religion, but never acted out that faith in a community. When I asked my mother what we would be if we attended church, she would say Protestant.
In our story from Acts today we are presented with The Damascus Road experience. Paul is persecuting the early church, both men and women (shows something about women being a presence in the early church). However, why is Paul persecuting? He was taught by a great Rabbi in the synagogue and knew the Torah, probably inside an out. However, I am not sure he was fully listening to God. He was still continuing to figure it all out.
What’s old and is once again new. Paul’s own life will mirror Jesus’ life to some extent. Jesus' and Paul's ministries begin right after their Baptisms.
Paul is not whom you would pick out to be a leader in the early church after the persecutions and deaths that he oversaw. It is Paul though that is called by God to proclaim the good news to the Disciples.
Growing up a 'none,' I felt the same way in my seminary classes and felt much like Paul being called from the life he was leading to something completely different. This past week I have enjoyed reading two blogs from former 'nones' that are now great leaders in the church.
Rev. Emily Heath, United Church of Christ
I am a Christian, not because I was told by family that I needed to be one, but because the faith spoke to me in a way nothing else did.
How radically different my journey to faith had been vs. everyone else in seminary
Christians are baffled as to how the church should speak to this alien group. They confuse us. They challenge us. And, if we are really honest, their very existence threatens our sense of security.
Top 5 Things I learned from being a “None”
- Being a none is not always a bad thing. Sometimes new Christians can bring fresh ideas to the church. (Just ask St. Augustine, or former Archbishop of Canterbury George Cary, both of whom became Christians at a later age.)
- ‘Nones are not Godless heathens in need of our salvation. They just have not connected with a faith group yet
- Not looking for a big conversion experience. I never had that. It is a continuous process
- Don’t assume that they always know how and why certain things are done in a church, or the creed or the Lord’s Prayer
- Don’t dumb it down, to make it easy 1
Organized religion has failed to adapt to a changing culture. We are focused on the past instead of looking forward into the future where God is calling and pulling us to. It is the younger adults that are classifying themselves as ‘nones.’ Currently, according to the latest Pew Forum research, 20% or 45 million American adults classify themselves as ‘none.’ Of that group, 2/3 of them still believe in God. That is a huge number.
Bishop James Hazelwood, New England Synod
Bishop Hazelwood was baptized at 21 after being invited to be a counselor at a Lutheran camp.
He states that we have several responses available to us as the church. Denial, Whine, Blame or Engage. The first three are unappealing to me, though I recognize they are the easier options. I prefer to engage with the challenge before us.
I also believe that we in the church have much to learn from engagement with the nones. There is a biblical precedence for all of this; his name is Jesus. Yes, I see the tax collectors, sinners and outcasts as a form of 1st century "nones." They most likely were people who embraced their faith, but they certainly did not believe they were welcome and embraced by the church of their day.
As a pastor he spent 25% of his time with the “nones.”2
I believe that myself, Rev. Emily Heath, and Bishop Hazelwood all are not what the church expects as leaders. We questions the status quo and bring innovative new thoughts and positive energy to a church that at times cannot find its way. The church is struggling, which is evident by the number or people attending, yet the number of people that believe in God is still quite high.
God has called us, just as God called Saul from his life of persecuting those following in “the way” of Jesus.
So, as we venture into this new realm, what are we called to do? We speak of having a conversion experience. Certain people can recall a specific time in which God called them to follow them. It was the occurrence of Martin Luther almost being struck by lightening which got his attention. I wish I had some great conversion story like that to share.
However, the truth is that I did not and most people are in the same category. It is in this realization that maybe, just maybe, we are not called to convert people. Yes, we are called to make disciples and baptize them. Yes, we are called to be teachers and leaders. Yet, should we expect a huge conversion experience if we have not experienced it ourselves.
What we need to do is enter into conversation and not worry about conversion. It is in our conversations that we build relationships and that we build a mutual respect for one another. The ‘nones’ are out there and outnumber us a community of believers. Just as Jesus reached out to the ‘nones’ of his time, we must do the same showing the love of Christ and entering into conversation.
Christ did not go to the cross on Good Friday with the expectation that all would be well when he died. He was part of humanity. We are people that sin, some more boldly than others, and at times find it hard to understand how God would still love us. It is in the grace of God and through our faith in God that we find salvation. It does not matter if we were ‘nones’ or cradle Christians. God’s work on the cross erased all those barriers so that we are joined together, brother and sister, sister and brother for all eternity.
Monday, April 8, 2013
If any of you are in the job market, I am sure that you are familiar with the typical interview questions. I have had my share of interviews since high school and as time goes on I believe you begin to understand yourself more fully as you begin to reflect on many of those questions. One of my favorites was always, what are your strengths and weaknesses? I believe I have encountered this questions in one form or another in all of my interviews, including my call to ordained ministry.
Jesus did not interview the disciples for roles in his ministry, he just called them and asked them to follow. Jesus sensed something in them and knew that he could trust them to carry the Good News forward after his death and resurrection.
However, in today’s gospel they are behind locked doors not knowing where to turn and are still stunned. I am not sure this is the response Jesus was hoping for. Their level of anxiety was at an all time high and I am sure that they were not sure where to turn from here.
All of a sudden Jesus appears in front of them. He is sticking to his word and promise, however they seem to have forgotten what Jesus had told them about his return. Jesus uses their senses to bring them into the moment.
First he offers them words of Peace, just as we do every Sunday morning. He then gives them the gift of the Spirit. He did not breath on them, He breathed into them, just as God breathed life into the world.
The end of our reading is not the end of the Gospel, but an end to the story that we are told today.
My peace I leave with you, my peace I give you
When Jesus breathed on them what did it smell like? Was it sweet with the scent of springtime? Was there something of heaven in it, beyond ordinary experience? Or was there still the smell of the wine and the food he shared with them three nights before? Or maybe the disciples smelled what they recognized from all those meals back in Galilee--fish and olives and bread perhaps.
Surely they go forward from here, right? NO, because a week later they are behind locked doors again as Jesus appears once more. The disciples are shuttering themselves from the outside world. Even in the second week after Jesus has come to them they are behind locked doors and not going forward much.
Their belief has not reached a level of maturity. Then Thomas is back in the picture after being out doing who knows what. It is here that Thomas fully understands the Resurrection for the first time. I believe he gets it before many of the others do. It is in his simple proclamation “My Lord and My God!”
It is at this moment for nearly the first time in two weeks that Thomas feels truly alive and realizes that it is God that is with them and it is through God that he has been called to serve.
When do you feel alive?
What energizes you?
What are your weaknesses?
This is not just a Story of believing and unbelieving. Believing is a relationship. What is at stake in this relationship? To Thomas that relationship died on Friday and it took Christ standing in front of him for his eyes to be open.
This story is not about Good Friday or Easter Day or earlier the evening of the Second Sunday. It marks our opening to new stages of faith and church life.
As a community we welcome those in with struggles and questions. We do not always have the right answers, or any answers at all. However, what we can offer is a caring and loving heart in which we welcome in the stranger just as Christ does. For All are welcome in this place to find a new creation and a life which energizes.
The disciples were surprised by their encounter with Christ in that upper room. Christ breathed the Spirit and new energy into the disciples. While they were still reluctant it was in Thomas’ proclamation of “My Lord and My God,” that true belief is first acknowledged. Jesus did come to the cross, but that is not where our story ends. May you encounter the risen Christ in your life and be renewed in an energy which allows you to share that Love with everyone around you.
Monday, April 1, 2013
How many times have you listened patiently to someone tell you of what has happened over their vacation? Don’t worry, Allegan is now on spring break and I am sure you will get to hear some of these stories. Maybe they went golfing and shot a hole-in-one. Maybe they went fishing and caught a fish “this big.” Maybe they met some famous celebrity or athlete and got to have dinner with them. Maybe they traveled to a big city and had all of their tires stolen off their rental car in the middle of the night and found it sitting on pallets.
Sometimes you begin to think, surely these are just idle tales. People like to exagerate and tell some pretty tall tales when it comes to their vacations or outings. I will tell you that the last example is not a idle tale, because it actually happend to my family when I was younger and we were visiting family in Los Angeles.
Today, we are confronted with either an idle tale, or the greatest story of all time. Jesus Christ is Risen Today! Is this just an idle tale, or is it the Gospel truth? When Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary (the mother of James) and the other women ran back to tell the disciples, we are told their words seem to be an idle tale and they did not believe them. In Greek the word translated into "idle tale," is leros, which is the base for the word we know today as delirious. That must explain it all, the women were simply just delirious. They had been mourning and grieving and simply had a lack of sleep. This must explain what they had seen.
Something in Peter's imagination clicks though and he has to go see for himself. Peter is Amazed! Peter has to see it for himself. We wants proof of what the women have claimed to witness.
When is it that the disciples come to a full recognition of the truth that has unfolded in front of them?
In all four of the gospels, no one comes to understand and believe it right away
How do you come to the point of understanding the mystery?
You, yourself have to acknowledge that moment when you come to understanding the resurrection
We are not alone when at first we reject the thought of the Resurrection. The disciples were questioning it themselves.
Yes, we have a full church today, as I am sure many others around Allegan are as well. But there are still some missing out on this resurrection story. What is the meaning of the Easter Story for God’s people today? For our neighbors? For the community? For the world? The resurrection not only brings us into new life, but calls us out into action
Jesus says to the women, “Where are you looking for Jesus? Why are you looking for Jesus among the dead?”
Christ calls us out of our comfort zone and the familiar. Resurrection cannot be contained, It goes beyond the tomb. At this point the disciples have fallen and reached their lowest low and they feel as though their world is crumbling around them. All of a sudden in Luke’s gospel the women come running to them and confront them with this idle tale.
It is in reading the gospel that we find comfort and realize that people that come to this mystery of the Resurrection finding it hard to believe are in good company.
I Invite the congregation into reflection as you think about what makes believing in the resurrection difficult? What would be possible if it were true?
It is the Gospel Truth and it is here that we experience new life and creation in the Resurrection.
What is the gift that Resurrection is giving you this year?
What do you see when presented with the Resurrection story?
We now enter the Easter season! May you find abundance in the new life that God continually reminds us of in the Resurrection. This week we began our journey with palms, went to the table, to the courts, to the cross, to the grave. It is this morning that we rejoice in the resurrection and the empty tomb. For life does not end at the cross. It is here that we present all our sins and sorrows and are given the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia! Christ Is Risen! What do you see?
Monday, March 25, 2013
Yesterday, we ventured together in a procession of waving palms as we remembered Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This was not the only procession to take place in Jerusalem leading up to Passover. Pontious Pilate most likely entered into Jerusalem in a processional that dwarfed Jesus' by the fact that he was surrounded by Roman military and the gaudiness and self-given glory of the Roman Empire. The Jewish people were celebrating their freedom from slavery during the Passover, and how dare they get any ideas to rebel against the Empire. Pilate could not and would not allow this to happen while on his watch; not to mention who knows what would happen to his life if it did.
We discussed the anger that Jesus may have had towards the future of Jerusalem as he lamented on what he witnessed. He was brought to tears as he came near the town and saw how far some had turned away from God. His processional was a slap in the face to the Roman Empire and he merely rode the colt through all of the death, destruction, richness, and power that represented Caesar.
How often do we today observe these same type of processionals that Pilate and the Roman Empire had become accustom to? They flashed their power in front of those that were weak, hungry, and poor. Jesus' entry into Jerusalem is a turn against the Roman Empire and one that gets plenty of attention of its own which will lead to a week of condemnation and crucifixion. But it is through all of this that Jesus rises in Resurrection and becomes the ultimate triumphator. He conquers sin and death which allows us to follow in his procession the rest of our days.
As we enter this Holy Week, may you encounter the Trinity in ways that you never have, and may you experience Jesus' death and resurrection through the sights and sounds of His Glory.