Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Celebrating (Inter)/Independence!

We hold these truths to be self-evident...

Thomas Jefferson, along with a committee of five, penned for us an enduring document that has seared itself onto our collective conscience.  When he wrote that 'all men are created equal' he spoke of a fundamental belief that has guided the activity of our nation from its inception.  Whether we believe ourselves to have faithfully lived up to this ideal over the passage of time or not, nonetheless, it stands as a beacon that lights the way forward as we strive to live in accord with our most lofty goals.

As we gather this weekend for worship, we are well aware that the Bill of Rights forbids the United States Congress from making any law establishing any religion or restricting the free exercise of our faith.  As a result we are grateful that the law of the land protects our freedom to gather, worship, and even to publicly share our faith with others.  There are many nations scattered across this globe where this is clearly not true.

Yet as much as we value this ideal of independence and freedom, it is the Good News spoken by Jesus that reminds us that we are created to be interdependent alongside one another as well as with God. Not one of us is an island, and it is the Word that became Flesh that is constantly calling us into a community formed around the principle of grace.  It is this community we call the church where we are able to ‘bear one another’s burdens’ as well as ‘make our joys complete.’ 

So, I invite you to take a moment to join in corporate worship this weekend.  This is the place where independence and freedom comes face to face with interdependence and law to make a more ‘perfect union’ called the church.  It is in the midst of this interaction that the holy enters in... or so I believe.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Father's Day

To my son and my daughter who made me a dad...

Happy Father's Day to all the dads and their sons!

Father's Day has traditionally meant the day that dad can relax from the many duties of being a father.  For some this may mean a lazy day fishing at the lake, and for others it might mean watching the final round of the US OPEN golf tournament on TV.  For some it may mean someone else stands over the Barbecue today.  For most dads this is a day to enjoy the fruits of our labors as we revel in the gift of family.

We are reminded by Jesus that this day, the sabbath is intended to be a day of rest.  That God did not intend for every day to be consumed by our labor, but that rest is necessary to our nature.  Resting on this the first day of the week is one of the ways we show our trust in God; that we are not what we earn because life begins as a gift.  Indeed the sabbath is a model for how we might look at each and every day.  I appreciate the Hebrew understanding that the day actually begins at sundown.  The implication is that the day begins with the gift of rest and that our labor does not earn us this but is in response.  Gift begets the gifting of others through our effort as well as our talents.

As we gather in worship on this Holy Trinity Sunday, we are reminded that God is like a good father.  He provides for us and he protects us.  He listens to us as he guides us.  Most importantly, he loves us not because we deserve it, but because we are his children.

Jesus was asked by his disciples to teach them how to pray, and Jesus began by saying, 'Daddy, Holy is your name.  May you reign, may your rule be evident in our world today, just as we expect in heaven.'    We know this as the Lord's Prayer.  This, however, was a significant departure from his contemporaries understanding of how God should be addressed.  In ancient Judea God's name was so holy that it was not something to make common.  Jesus wanted us to know that God is more than the great unknown, but has chosen to become familiar with us through his love.

I hope that this Father's Day is a day of celebration in your household as we remember the love that holds us together.  Whether our relationship with our father was good or bad, whether we feel we are fulfilling our expectations as a father or not, may we remember that today of all days, that God our Father loves us and may that be enough.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus. - Romans 8

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Mission Trips...

This summer we are sending several of our youth on mission trips to Haiti and to Mexico.  There they will encounter a culture that is different from ours, they will experience hardships and joys that might be foreign to their experience, and hopefully they will see Jesus.

I'm aware as we move from the planning to the participation phase of these trips that it is far too easy for our vision to be corrupted.  It is our human nature, even in the most altruistic circumstances, to start thinking about what's in it for me?  For those who have gone before, they want it to be just like last time.  For those who have never gone, they're motivated by the stories of others, and hope for something like that for themselves.  The truth, however, is that it is never the same.  The reality is that   unless we leave our expectations behind we are surely to be disappointed.

This, however, is not simply an issue for those going on a mission trip, but it is what we in the church wrestle with all the time.  If we had a good experience, we want the church to remain unchanged, at least until we become bored with it.  If we had a bad experience we forever judge the church by what occurred.   It is easy to come to church looking for what's in it for me, rather than hoping to be pushed beyond what is comfortable.  As one who works in the church, I must admit, I want people to leave with their expectations exceeded.  I wonder what it would be like if we expected the church to make us upset and angry, and we walked out far more frustrated and upset than we expected?  Does Good News always need to leave us feeling good, or can it be like a mirror before our face questioning our superficiality and challenging us to get just mad enough that we won't sit quietly in the pews?

The world is filled with stories of woe, and if we simply comfort ourselves without being pushed to do more, I believe we have missed the point. Whether we are overseas or close to home, I for one hope the gospel will make us uncomfortable enough that we will not stand on the sidelines any longer.  I hope we all can see ourselves as missionaries.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

In Memorial...

In memory of my dad and all those who have served...

It was after the incredible loss of life on both sides during the American Civil War that a day was set aside to decorate the graves of those who had fallen.  What was once known as Decoration Day has come to be known as Memorial Day in the United States.

This is a day when we as a nation pause and give thanks for those who made the ultimate sacrifice to sustain our liberty and preserve our nation.   This is a sacred trust that goes beyond party affiliation, economic status, or ethnic identity.  As a people of faith, we too share our gratitude for the freedoms that are ours today because of the sacrifice others have made along the way.

Within our Christian tradition there may be times when we might debate how best to respond to the tyrannies inflicted upon us by the principalities of this world.   As Lutheran Christians we recognize that the world is broken and that people of faith can rightfully seek different paths toward the resolution of the evils we face.  Yet, it is on a day such as this, that we rush to join hands in common bond as we honor those who willingly bore the burden and stood tall to face down our fears.  They are our fathers, our brothers, and our sons.  They are our mothers, our sisters, and our daughters.  They are our heroes.

Today we remember all who have served the cause of justice, liberty, and of freedom.  Today we honor those who have given their life, and we dedicate ourselves once again to strive for justice, to demand liberty, and to work for freedom.  Today we, the people of Peace, pray that all who have perished in this cause may rest in peace.  May their deaths be not in vain, but may their lives point to a future peace for us all.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Life and...

This past weekend I was engaged in a charity ride around Sedona, AZ for the National MS Society.  It was a grueling ride with lots of sharp climbs and steep descents.  High temperatures and high winds just added to the suffering.  But it was all for a good cause!

This was all put in perspective when I came to a rest stop up on the plateau outside Cornville and saw several emergency vehicles.  A rider had been struck by a vehicle and had been whisked off in a helicopter to Flagstaff.  Later that night we found out she didn't make it.

Now there were many places along the route where one might have expected an accident to happen.  The route was difficult and the roads often were narrow and well-trafficed.  This, however, was not one of those spots.  Signage was up warning drivers of the riders along the road, visibility was great and while narrow, the road was plenty wide to accommodate riders and drivers alike.  Yet, it did happen.

Now I know that we ride in these charity events to ease the life of another, and they all involve negotiating donations for the sake of the organization sponsoring the ride.  Yet in the middle of a steep climb, it's hard to look beyond our own suffering.  As the heat bears down on us on the road it is easy to feel sorry for oneself.  As the miles ahead seem endless and the wind blows in our face it is tempting to just give up.

Yet it is our suffering that connects us to another human being.  It is the pain we shared that became the common story that bonded unique individuals into a collective gathering.  It is in our own experience of struggle and the helplessness that inhibits us, that we discover the wonder of grace.   Everyone of us knew that it could have been any one of us, but for the grace of God.

So coming out of Cornville that day, climbing up a mile long 7% grade road, I tried to remind myself to be thankful for the suffering.  The suffering connects me to the needs of others, but in addition it reminds me I am human.   It creates within me empathy for those other humans out in the world, even the ones who strike down good deeds doing cyclist.

Ultimately, suffering connects me to grace of God found in unlikely places.  Rather than running (riding) in fear of it, I believe it may not only lead to a deepness of life, but a grater breadth of experience as well.  My suffering leads to trusting in the promise that he is there in the middle of the mix.

I hope and pray that the family of that woman will be able to experience God's grace in their heartache, and I pray that I will be able to extend that grace to others even when they do not meet my expectations (and vice versa!).


Monday, May 12, 2014

Unknown God...

The text this week is from Acts 17   Paul gives his take on the 'Unknown God.'

Now this is an interesting text for me.  Paul is distressed by all the 'idols' in the city of Athens.  The Athenians want to cover all the options and so they even dedicate a temple to an 'unknown god.'  Now I can understand that God is beyond our comprehension and that any claim of full disclosure is pure folly.  The Athenians, however, weren't simply saying that God is bigger than anything we can imagine, but that there just might be a god out there that we don't yet know. So in an a attempt to appease him/her they develop a shrine just in case.

Rather than show his disgust with these idols, Paul goes the opposite direction.  He tells the Athenians that they must be highly religious.  Then he goes on to give them a picture of this foreign God he knows but is unknown to them.

Interestingly, he doesn't dive into a discourse on the nature of the incarnation, nor does he talk about Christ crucified.  Instead he speaks to what we know as natural revelation.  Natural revelation is the stuff people talk of when they look at a beautiful sunset and say 'there must be a God.'  Natural revelation is when you begin to reflect upon the complexity of life and the intricacy of our biological systems, and you admit that there is some sort of 'intelligent design' going on here.  Natural revelation is one way in which the love of God is revealed to the world and can encompass more than the Christian faith.

On the other hand, we Christians speak of specific revelation.  Specific revelation is what we experience through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  In other words, Jesus is the short cut through which we see the nature of God.

To put it another way, Jesus is the 'App' for God.  We can get on the web (Natural) and find the love of God, or we can get to the love of God immediately by using the Jesus App (Specific).  While we must admit that God's fingerprints are over all of creation, nonetheless, we don't have to look too far to see just how messed up the world has become.  Jesus on the other hand does not even voice a complaint against his persecutors, but instead we hear in his dying words the promise of forgiveness. This captures divine love in a nutshell.

In this passage from Acts, Paul is wanting the philosophers to agree that all creation reflects the touch of divine love.  Jesus is the perfect example of that divine love.  The key for Paul, however, is not whether we agree about God at this point, but whether we agree about the nature of God's love.  If we agree that the one who created all that exists and all the peoples of the world did so as a reflection of divine love, and that we are the offspring of that love, then there is only one thing left for us to do...

Love one another!

Or as a friend of mine once put it; all of scripture points to three purposes for humanity...

  1. Friendship with God
  2. Friendship with God's Creation
  3. Friendship among God's offspring
So, Paul makes an argument in Athens for a world view that is contrary to that of Rome.  In Rome, right and might are the principle coins of the realm.  Paul argues for a parallel empire that is built upon genuine love of one another as a reflection of the love that God has shown through creation and ultimately through Jesus.  Which empire sounds best to you?


Monday, May 5, 2014

Taking a Bite out of...

Malaria!  It's not sexy is it?  Who worries about malaria?  Well, quite frankly the people who live in sub-Sahara Africa do!  Over 1,170 children in Africa lose their life to this disease every day!  That is 50 children every hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year...

Not only does malaria kill, it is the number one reason children are not in school throughout sub-Sahara Africa.  With all those days out of school, it has an impact on the economic vitality of the various nations affected.  Like mosquitoes, this is a situation that continues to breed nothing but more problems.

Yet, it is not hard to fight back.  Malaria vaccine is available at a price.  Mosquito netting is inexpensive and can easily be made available.  All that is needed is a hand up from folks like us.

A few years back, at the urging of our sister churches in Africa, the ELCA choose to make this a big deal.  We are in the process of raising 15 million dollars to help eradicate malaria in Africa.  It's not something that will make big headlines back home, there are no Hollywood stars speaking on TV, but it is big news to those communities decimated by the impact of this disease.

If you would like to help as we put the bite on this disease, you can go to the ELCA website or Peace Lutheran Church website to make a donation, because it's little things like this that make a big difference as we live out the vision of God's reign of peace.