The story is told of two cats walking on a narrow path toward each other. When they came near each other, neither of the two was willing to let the other pass. They stood facing each other and began aggressively hissing at each other.
"You let me by first!" screamed one cat. "No! I was here first," responded the other. "No, I must be first because I am bigger." "No, I must be first because I am more beautiful." "No, I am wiser than you; you must, therefore, respect me." "I am stronger."
The screams turned into a fight. The cats scratched, clawed and bit each other. As they rolled around, a wiser cat arrived on the scene. He looked at them and began to laugh. The cats stopped fighting and looked at the wiser cat in bewilderment.
"Why are you laughing?" The embattled cats asked. "I'm laughing at you and your behavior. You are wasting your time; you are hurting each other just because you won't let the other pass. The path is wide enough for each of you to pass. Why are you fighting?"
"It's a matter of honor and power," the cats responded. The wise cat was amused. He said, "Someone who is strong and self-confident doesn't feel the need to show such strength to others. That person feels good about herself/himself. Others feel their strength and respect them. Life is beautiful: there is good food; there are wonderful things to do and enjoy. Yet, you are scratching and fighting over perceived slights. Is it really important who passes first? Are the scratches and cuts worth it? Is your fighting practical? Is it rational? Open your eyes and grow up. Look at all the other animals laughing at your irrational behavior."
The two cats were dumbfounded. They had nothing to say. The words of the wise cat made sense, but their subconscious, programmed behaviors and habits were too strong. It was not easy for them to change. Question . . . Did the two cats stop fighting?
Programmed behavior, habits and the subconscious are powerful. They cause wars among nations, tribes, families and clans. We especially reckon with their power at the beginning of the New Year when we purpose to change our lives. We make New Year's resolutions to alter our programmed behavior and habits that trouble us. The New Year emboldens us to change. That is indeed a good thing. People driven by change show they're self aware. Self awareness is fundamental to growth in faith. Repentance drives us to be more self aware. Nevertheless, the subconscious, habits and programmed behavior prove to be resistant. We bemoan with St. Paul that the good that we desire to do we find ourselves incapable of doing. We number ourselves among those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, the ones whom Jesus blessed. So, have at it: resolve to limit yourself to one cookie. That is admirable. But, if you fail on that resolution, then get back up. To fall is all too human; to get back up is divine.
Start 2018 in the grace and love of God that are yours in Christ Jesus. He is the power to change the subconscious and the programmed behavior, for he can penetrate the stacks of defenses and rationalizations cluttering the heart.
All that God would ever expect of us in 2018 is not to beat ourselves up. Life is hard enough. Keep on fighting, getting back up in the love and grace of Christ Jesus. Victory will come. If not in 2018, then certainly another time. We are a people that is hopeful, never giving up. Happy New Year!
Pastor's Page - December 2017
In his classic work "The Chronicles of Narnia," C.S. Lewis says that winter without Christmas would be unbearable. Indeed Christmas and winter belong together, especially in those parts of the country where they wish for a white Christmas. There's something incongruous about longing for a white Christmas in subtropical Southern California; yet, the lengths we go through to replicate in this climate that ideal pairing of Christmas and winter as experienced in the colder climates of our country and Europe. The other day I saw a house decked out with long, fake icicles along the front of the house and fake snow on the bushes and lawn. The house looked as if it was taken out of a winter wonderland postcard from Aspen, Colorado. Hovering in the background of the house was a 75⁰ sun catalyzing a brilliant, blue sky. The house looked out of place; it was the epitome of incongruence. But, I must concede that it wasn't as bad as Christmas lights on palm trees.
Fake icicles and snow in Southern California and even Christmas lights on palm trees bespeak something significant about us humans: the culture we create and pass onto succeeding generations is hybrid. Culture is a mixture of many things. Christmas is the mixture of many traditions. If ever there were a multicultural phenomenon, it would be Christmas. Throughout history, the story of Christmas has impacted people from ethnicities too many to number. Each gave something unique to the phenomenon of Christmas.
At the foundation of our celebration of Christmas, moreover, there really is a winter experience, a winter experience for all humans, be they in Southern California or Northern Minnesota. There is a common experience of an existential winter that makes appropriate the coupling of that winter with Christmas. Winter is the season when nature lies dormant. The deciduous trees lose their leaves and hyperactive animals hibernate. Winter can be harsh. Winter is the death of nature. Metaphorically and actually, we experience the death of nature on several levels: in nature, in ourselves and in those whom we love. How could we ever bear this harsh winter of life without Christmas? This winter without Christmas would indeed be unbearable. Christmas in the winter, however, holds out the reality that God is with us in the winter experiences of life. God became a child in Christ Jesus to save us from the harsh reality that causes death, namely sin. The angel Gabriel told Joseph to name Mary's child Jesus, for he would save his people from their sin. Sin is the source of the winter of our discontent. In the waters of Baptism, the Holy Spirit brings us into close proximity with the Christ Child, who in his birth at Christmas, opens up the reality of our bring birthed into eternity after the winter of this life is over. Until such time, in the meantime winter is cold; it is lonely; nevertheless, Jesus accompanies us through this life, giving us the spiritual viaticum that we need as we travel through this dark winter.Indeed winter without Christmas makes this life unbearable. Winter with Christmas makes this life a winter wonderland.
Pastor’s Page - November 2017
The great American poet, Maya Angelou, once said: "If you don't like something, then change it. If you can't change it, then change your attitude." Reformations and revolutions were spawned by people who changed their attitudes long before they made an impact on the world. Sometimes, such people would signal their attitudinal change by changing their names. Through such a name change, they would turn their back on whatever legacy that they might have inherited in their given names.
In 1934, racism in America was an intractable, ubiquitous monster. Many had died trying to change it. Amid such futility, some sought to change themselves. One such person was Rev. Michael King. In 1934, the 35-year-old King took a trip to all the significant, historical sites of Christianity. For all intents and purposes, his trip was a religious pilgrimage. His trip took him to key sites in the Holy Land and Europe. It was, however, his pilgrimage to the various sites associated with the life and legacy of Martin Luther in Germany that changed his life. He saw himself in Martin Luther. In fact, he so identified with Martin Luther that after returning home from his pilgrimage, he changed his name from Michael King, Sr. to Martin Luther King, Sr. He also changed the name of his five-year-old son from Michael King, Jr. to Martin Luther King, Jr. He would go on to have a dream.
Indeed throughout the Bible, there is precedent for people changing their names or having their names changed. God changed Jacob's name to Israel. Jesus changed Simon's name to Peter. Saul jettisoned his Jewish name and called himself Paul. When Michael King changed his name, he was declaring that there was more to him than being African-American. When God changed Jacob's name, he was declaring that there was more to Jacob than his sinful life of deception and deceiving. When Jesus changed Simon's name, he signaled that he was more than his impetuous personality. When Saul changed his name, he signaled that he was more than a murderer of Christians.
Today we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation of the Church. It is "500 Years and Counting." It is 500 years and counting because the name and legacy that spawned the Reformation are still relevant. What are the name and legacy that produced the Reformation?
It is the name Jesus. His name is the only name under heaven through which people are saved. Jesus' legacy comes with the name. The angel Gabriel told Joseph to call the baby in Mary's womb "Jesus," for he will save his people from their sins. Indeed Jesus liberates people from sin. We are enslaved to sin not only because we commit sin; we are manacled to sin because we are born into its clutches. Sin is a negative spiritual reality from which no one can save oneself. How do we know that? The Bible tells us so, specifically the law. The law condemns us; the law tells us that we are in slavery. In slavery, you have no identity. You belong to your owners, sin, death and the devil. Your personhood belongs to them. The products of your personhood belong to them. In slavery, you have no legacy; you have no family; you have no story, no history, no language. You have no life, for it can be snuffed out of you at the whim of the owner.
Jesus is our emancipation proclamation. He who knew no sin became sin for us. By his life, death and resurrection, the Son has made us free. As a consequence, we have the name and legacy of Jesus. There is power in Jesus' name. It is the power to forgive us of our sin and grant us eternal life with him and all the saints. Jesus imbued his name with power when he said, "Ask anything in my name and I shall do it." As it is bundled with the name of Jesus, we also have the legacy of Jesus. The legacy of Jesus is the abundant life with his loving Father tucked in the security of the Holy Spirit.
It is the name and legacy of Jesus to which Martin Luther was committed. They freed him from his own entanglements with sin. God used him to reconnect the Church to the name and legacy of Jesus. In Luther's day, other people's names and legacies became more important than Jesus. As the people in Jesus' day prided themselves in being the children of Abraham, obfuscating the God who gave their ancestors the true bread from heaven, so in Luther's day people prided themselves in being Franciscans, Augustinians, Dominicans and Benedictines. Jesus was a victim in the fight over their traditions. For Luther, there is only one name and one legacy that matter: Jesus! It's still about Jesus.
For Martin Luther King, Sr., exposure to Martin Luther changed his life. Martin Luther so opened up King's life that he could see more in himself than the color of his skin. What did the elder King see in Luther? He saw the courage of Luther in facing the Goliath of an all-powerful, tyrannical church which proffered its traditions as the media to get right with God. But, once Martin Luther discovered the truth of faith in the atoning work of Christ Jesus, there was no returning to the rags of works righteousness.
King, moreover, faced the Goliath of racism. The evil of racism, any "ism" for that matter, is that it makes people one-dimensional. Luther occasioned King to discover that he was multi-dimensional. King, in fact, had become so multi-dimensional that race no longer mattered. He went all the way to Germany to find a mentor in Martin Luther. Through Luther, he could see more in himself. God uses people like Luther to lead people to deepen their relationship with Christ. We need mentors to grow us up in Christ. If King could find in Luther a mentor, so can you. Is there a Goliath in your life that seeks to make you one-dimensional? Luther's life and legacy is a clarion call that you need not limit yourself, especially to sin, death and the devil.
I became Lutheran in the mid-sixties. The relationship between blacks and whites was not good back then. There was strife everywhere. After moving from riot-torn Los Angeles, my parents moved to the safe haven of Pomona. We joined the appropriately-named Peace Lutheran Church in Pomona. My family was the only African-American family in a congregation of about 150 people. My siblings and I used to be embarrassed about being members of our church. We were shy about telling our friends that we belonged to an all-white church in those days of racial unease. But, my Lutheran church, bearing the name and legacy of Martin Luther, changed me. The common, communion chalice did it. We all drank from the same common chalice in those days. It was a visible sign of our unity in Christ. Whatever issues that we struggled with personally, whatever fears and sins that we brought to the altar, whatever the idiosyncrasies we possessed or possessed us, whatever ethnicity, the common, communion chalice from which we all drank made all those things shrink in size relative to the presence of body and blood of Christ in, with, and the bread and wine.
Indeed I am indebted to my Lutheran church for making me multi-dimensional. But, I had to go to seminary to learn that our Lutheran Church had long done outstanding work among African-Americans. Martin Luther King, Sr., did not have to go the Germany to be inspired by the name and legacy of Martin Luther. In the opening decades of the 20th century, right there in Alabama he could have discovered Luther's name and legacy in Rosa Young. She believed in education for African-Americans. She believed that it was the best way for her people to thrive a generation or so after slavery. She enlisted the aid of Booker T. Washington, who also believed in education for the oppressed people of African descent. Booker T. Washington connected Rosa Young with our church, the forebearer of Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. Under the auspices of the Lutheran Church, Rosa Young founded Lutheran schools and churches throughout Alabama and Louisiana. In our church, we have given the Lutheran Rosa Young the title: "The First Rosa." The name and legacy of Martin Luther inspired Rosa Young as it would inspire Michael King, Sr. several years later to change his name to Martin Luther King, Sr. Martin Luther's name and legacy gave Rosa Young, you and me a greater appreciation for the name and legacy of Jesus Christ. As long as the Lutheran Church continue to connect people to the name and legacy of Christ, it will indeed be "500 Years and Counting."
Through humor, Garrison Keillor has brought to light Lutherans and their culture:
Praise heaven, I believe. Praise heaven, I believe.
I'm a Lutheran, a Lutheran guy; it is my belief, I'm a Lutheran guy.
We may have merged with another church, but I'm a Lutheran 'til I die.
We are a modest people, and we never make a fuss.
And it sure would be a better world, If they were all as modest as us.
We do not go in for whooping it up, Or a lot of yikkety-yak.
When we say hello, we avert our eyes, And we always sit in the back.
We sit in the pew where we always sit, And we do not shout Amen.
And if anyone yells or waves their hands, They're not invited back again.
Episcopalians are proud of their faith; You ought to hear them talk.
Who they got? They got Henry the 8th, And we got J.S. Bach.
Henry the 8th, he had six wives Trying to make a son.
J.S. had 23 children, And wives? he had just one.
Henry the 8th'd marry a woman And then her head would drop.
J. S. Bach had all those kids, Cause his organ had no stop.
Praise heaven, I believe. Praise heaven, I believe.
I'm a Lutheran, a Lutheran; it is my belief, I'm a Lutheran guy.
Episcopalians I don't mind, But I'm a Lutheran til I die.
Martin Luther would have loved that little ditty by Garrison Keillor, especially the double entendre referencing the fecundity of Bach, who, among other things, was a great organist and composer. I was tempted to delete that double entrendre, but out of deference to the earthy humor of Luther, I left it in. I know that Luther would have gotten a laugh out of it--perhaps even Bach himself.
Speaking of Luther and Bach, as we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, and as we reflect on the legacy of Martin Luther, it is good, right and salutary that we consider the relationship between Luther and Bach, who, arguably, is the greatest manifestation of Luther's legacy. No Luther, no Bach; no Bach, no Mozart, no Beethoven.
Johann Sebastian Bach, the father of Western music, lived in 17th century Germany. Though 200 years apart, Luther and Bach attended the same Latin school (elementary) in Eisenach. During his school days there, Bach could see Wartburg Castle; it was a vivid reminder to him of the year-long residence of the hero of Germany. The castle belonged to the Elector Frederick the Wise who, after Luther's bold stand in the city of Worms in not recanting his teachings, secretly carted Luther away to his castle for safekeeping. Bach adored Luther. His adoration for the reformer is best expressed in his music. I recall a professor in seminary saying that Bach's music is Luther's theology put to music. Luther, the brilliant theologian, was a good musician. He had a great appreciation for music. He said, in fact, that next to the word, music deserves our highest praise. Bach, the brilliant musician, was a good theologian. He immortalized Luther's theology in music.
Inspired by Luther's hymns, moreover, Bach wrote over 200 cantatas. He penned a cantata for just about every Sunday of the Christ half of the Church Year, which includes all the major festivals of the Church Year. So, there's a cantata for every major festival. Following Luther's example, Bach wanted music to be the centerpiece of Lutheran worship. At the top of his cantatas, Bach wrote the letters J.J., which mean Jesu juva, Latin for "Jesus help me!" He ended his cantatas with the letters S.D.G., Latin for "To God alone be the Glory." Indeed we live our lives asking constantly that Jesus help us. Both Luther and Bach were consummate prayer warriors, calling on Jesus to help them in their anxieties. At the end of our lives, we pray that like Luther on his death bed, we, too, may be empowered to confess: "To God alone be glory." Indeed God is the glory into which we die.
The greatest legacy of both Luther and Bach is the singing church, the musical church. Every time we sing with joy the appointed hymns and pray the appointed psalms, we keep their legacy alive, though it is not actually theirs. 500 years later, they would gladly say with us: "It's still about Jesus."
On October 31, Lutherans around the world will commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, an occasion that will mark Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church on October 31, 1517, inviting debate among theologians over various theological issues. Little did Luther know that his academic ritual would catapult into the reformation of the Western Church. Indeed once the figurative Pandora's box was opened, there was no controlling where the reformation would go. Once they are spawned, revolutions take on a life of their own. Andreas Carlstadt, for instance, took the reformation in a radical direction where Luther refused to go.
Andreas Carlstsdt was a colleague of Luther on the faculty at Wittenberg University. He was bookish and learned. He lacked, however, Luther's charisma, creative genius and certainly his pastoral gifts. Like Luther and the rest of the faculty at the Wittenberg University, Carlstsdt was committed to the reformation of the Church. After Luther's courageous confession at Worms in 1521, where before Emperor Charles the Fifth he refused to recant his teachings, he was surreptitiously carted away. He remained in hiding for over a year at the Wartburg Castle. It was during Luther's absence away from Wittenberg that Carlstadt's radicalism revealed it had no boundaries. He removed his priestly and professorial clothing and donned the raiment of peasants. He performed the first "reformed" mass. He tossed out of the church the candles, the sacred statuary, the altar and paraments; he removed all vestiges of Catholicism. Carlstadt wanted a pure church. In promoting that pure church, he started from scratch, as if 1500 years of history had not happened. He wanted to sever people's emotional connection to that history and start afresh. In his pursuit of a purified, utopian church, Carlstadt was not led by wisdom. Indeed in his enthusiasm, he trampled on many toes, not caring whose feelings he hurt. Utopian revolutions are whimsical children.
Luther heard at Wartburg what Carlstadt had done at Wittenberg. He was troubled. He made plans to return to Wittenberg to restore order and establish a semblance of balance. Luther refused to engage a war on history. He had no problem with the church universal over its 1500 years of history, for throughout that history Christ came into sharper focus. The Holy Spirit was active in that history bearing witness to Christ. Being the incarnational and sacramental theologian that he was, Luther valued history, especially those times and places where God met humans. The whole 1500 years of the Church's history bore witness to God's epiphanies in history in Word and Sacrament, even amid the ugly episodes of history. History, then, is not merely a boundary where we stop. It is a boundary that invites us to go beyond it to meet Christ, as we learn wisdom from history in its divers manifestations.
In the American public square, we see the spirit of Carlstadt is very much alive. In America today, we see a war on history, displayed in the removal of the monuments dedicated to that history. From whence comes this war on history? I believe that we live in a Godless society. In a Godless society, everything gets politicized, even history. In a Godless society, this life gets absolutized to utopian dimensions, as this life takes the place of God. As the thinking goes, it is important to get this life right through various human techniques, for it is the only life that we have. After death, there is nothing: no forgiveness, no redemption, no eternal life. Hence, there is an impatience fueled by anxiety that this life is all there is; so, the West is hellbent on getting it right. There is no room for the mistakes of history. There is no room for disagreement, no patience for the slow process of political debate in the context of free speech.
Moreover, in a hyper-politicized world spawned by the absence of God, everything becomes debatable, especially history; nothing is left to the chance that it might contradict the utopian narrative, for that narrative, as flimsy as the fig leaves with which Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves, is what unifies the Godless society. Not buying into the utopian narrative, the politically incorrect is surrendered to the grand inquisitor of political correctness. In a Godless society, then, perfection is sought in the political process to fill the void of an eternal God. Perfectionism, unfortunately, is tyranny's child. The spirit of Carlstadt is indeed ever with us.
The only way to deal with the Carlstadts of the world is to prick a hole in their utopian bubbles, their utopian narratives. We must insist that life is a mixed bag: life is beautiful; life is flawed. We agree with the wisdom of Paul: all people are sinners in need of the redemption of Christ Jesus. This life cannot be perfected either by religion or by politics. We must insist that there is wisdom in history and it must be ever before us, not as a boundary at which to stop, as though they were all evil back then and we are now the enlightened ones. Such thinking neglects that enlightenment is built up over many lifetimes of people who refused to see society's history or their own personal histories as boundaries at which to give pause. Instead, we must see history as a boundary at which something new can begin as we learn from both its exhilarating and painful lessons. We are never free of history and the past that it represents, for the possibilities for the present evolve from that past. Standing at the beginning and end of history is Christ; he is the light amid the darkness. He is the resurrection and the life. He is the culmination of our corporate and private histories.
Pastor’s Page - April 2016
The apocryphal story is told of Jesus’ appearance to a certain fisherman.
“I am Jesus. I died and now I am alive, raised by my Father.”
“No, you’re not Jesus. Please leave – you’re scaring the fish,” said the old crotchety fisherman.
“I see that you’re full of doubts like my disciple Thomas. What would you have me do to prove to you that I’m Jesus?”
“Walk across this river,” said the angler.
So Jesus starts walking across the river. After a few steps, he begins to sink and soon disappears under water. Later, he swims back to shore. “Ha, there you are,” said the fisherman. You’re not Jesus, the savior of the world. Jesus can walk on water.”
Jesus responds, “Well, I used to be able to walk on water until I got these holes in my feet.”
A little Easter humor to remind us of a few truths about Easter. First, Jesus was raised by the Father. It was his body that he showed to his disciples and especially to Thomas, whom he invites to place his hand in his pierced side. His resurrected body became the source of peace for Thomas and the other disciples and to the many others, including Paul, to whom Jesus appeared.
Some speak of the resurrection in spiritual terms, as though Jesus’ appearance to his disciples was an inward, psychological experience, not in any way objective. The evidence of the empty tomb and his appearances to hundreds of people whose lives were radically changed prove that his resurrection was indeed objective and real. He showed them his body: his hands and feet injured by the nails that the Roman soldiers drove through them. Nothing other than this Easter miracle can explain the miraculous change in the apostles, enabling them to emerge from their hiding places of fear to preach the gospel that has changed the world.
Also, Christ’s injuries assure us that in connection with Jesus through Baptism, we shall live. Death is not our final word. Christ’s resurrection is our promise that no bodily injury, no mortal wound will separate us from the love of Christ. As he was raised, we shall be raised. According to St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, because of Christ’s resurrection we shall be given a spiritual body. If ever there was an oxymoron, then spiritual body is certainly one. That makes no sense. What it means is this: as we have a body in this life to relate to the people and conditions of this live, so we shall be given a spiritual body to relate to the conditions of the next life. Paul cannot conceive of existence without a body, because a body is a sign of dependency on God and interdependency with others. The resurrection of Jesus – the actual raising of his body – assures us of this promise. God is moving history in such a way in Christ Jesus that his resurrection continues to influence human history and the whole universe, so that God will be all in all.
Pastor’s Page - March 2016
There is a Peanuts cartoon in which Lucy and Linus are walking along to school, having a conversation. Linus confides to Lucy that he wants to be a doctor when he grows up.
Lucy: “You, a doctor! Ha! That’s a big laugh! You could never be a doctor and you know why! You don’t love mankind!”
Linus: “Oh, but I do love mankind. It’s people that I can’t stand.”
Indeed there are many who like the idea of doing something more than the reality of doing it. A wise pundit once counseled Americans not to elect as president the candidate who had a childhood dream of being president. Such a person may have a romanticized view of the office, enamored more so with the idea of being president than the reality of performing the office.
Like anything else in life, the presidency has its many moments where the reality of the job does not square with one’s ideal conceptions of it. So much of church work is especially susceptible to that. We can wax brilliant about our vision and mission. We can articulate Jesus’ passion for humanity and how we as a church continue to share in that passion. But, when it comes to putting that passion into practical garb, the reality always seems to fall short of the ideal. Disappointment is par for the course in the life of the church.
Disappointment is what the first disciples of Jesus experienced on that first Good Friday. The crucified Jesus shattered whatever hopes they might have garnered in their three years with Jesus. Each had his own hope, which he began to articulate more boldly the closer that Jesus approached Jerusalem to meet his fate. James and John had the temerity to allow their mother to ask Jesus to seat them at his left and right when he came into his kingdom.
All the disciples harbored hopes like that. Jesus taught that the one who was to be great among them had to be the others’ servant as he was a servant. His teachings, however, often went over their heads.
Yet, never did they want to see their Lord on a cross, which was a cursed thing for Jewish people. The Jews and the Romans crucified upstart political leaders to give a clear statement to the populace that their movements landed in abject failure. Jesus on the cross was a great failure, a great disappointment.
Nevertheless, it was here in the disappointment of the cross that our faith would have its beginning, for it was here that God negated the negative and thereby produced a positive that launched Peter, James and John beyond their Good Friday tears. Good Friday proved to be an inadequate horizon for hope. Good Friday was a horizon of despair. If Good Friday were the final chapter, then we would be a people most to be pitied.
There is, however, a lovelier horizon in which Good Friday makes sense. Before we get to that lovelier horizon, we have to traverse the 40 days of Lent.
What to do when reality does not square with the ideal? What to do with disappointment? Does the Lenten Season have any answers to those questions?
Lent returns us to the cross, the biggest disappointment in history. For the people who taunted Jesus on the cross, he was a disappointment, for he never came down from the cross. However, for the Father of Jesus, God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to himself. God worked a good for all of humanity from the cross of Christ.
Lent disciplines you to traverse your journey with hope that in the horizon of any cross in your life there is an empty tomb. Lent does this by inviting you to die to yourself and open you up to God’s infinite possibilities. With such a God living with us, how could we not feel hopeful in all circumstances of life?
Pastor's Page - February 2016
The month of February is the month of love. Romantic love is celebrated on Valentine’s Day. Patriotism, or love of country, is celebrated on Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays. And, on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, we experience divine love in the cross of Jesus. Throughout the month of February, we bask in love. “Love makes the world go round.” “What the world needs is love.”
Ironically, the month with the fewest days is the month that occasions us to celebrate and practice the value that goes the longest in bettering our lives. Love is at the center of our mission statement, of which, we should remind ourselves: “The Mission of St. Luke Lutheran Church is to Make Loving Disciples.” That is our corporate mission. Each of us, how-ever, has to embrace that as an individual mission as well. It is futile to make loving disciples at church and not do so at home with our spouses and children. First and foremost, we must strive to make our relationships more loving. Every so often, I listen to Dr. Laura and Dr. Phil; and, over the years, I have culled information from them that might be of benefit to us in creating loving relationships at home. The following list offers some tangible, self-evident ways to be more loving to your significant other. In the parentheses, I illustrate how Jesus practiced that principle in his relationships.
1) Great relationships require time investments. (Jesus spent three years with his disciples.)
2) Practice surrender. Find out what your partner wants and needs and offer it. (Jesus asked some whom he healed what they wanted. He gave it to them. He offers his life for us.)
3) Own your thoughts and behavior—the importance of the will and choosing to do the right thing based on values (Jesus said of himself, “I lay down my life of my own will.”)
4) Talk is important. (Jesus had a private conversation with Nicodemus.)
5) Sometimes a loving intimate touch is more important than talk. (Jesus touched those whom he healed.)
6) Sexuality lives in your inner child—play and laugh. (This does not apply, though you can imagine Jesus being playful in the appropriate context and with the appropriate people.)
7) Instead of arguing, reflect your partner’s feelings back to him or her. (Jesus did not argue with the Jewish leaders who caught the woman in adultery.)
Pastor's Page - January 2016
Psalm 90:1-12, attributed to Moses, is a sober way to begin the New Year. It puts life into perspective. The great liberator prays:
Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You turn men back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.” For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. You sweep men in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning—though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered. We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan. The length of our days is seventy years - or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass away. Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you. Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (New International Version)
Pastor Robert Wolff, former pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Chino has apparently taken verse 12 of Psalm 90 literally. At a pastors’ circuit meeting several years ago, he said to me, “Happy 5th Anniversary, Tim. Today is your 5th Anniversary as pastor of St. Luke.”
“How did you know that, Bob?” I said.
“Right here in my book. I write down all the significant dates that I experience. When I attend a pastor’s installation or any special day in the life of the church, I write it down in my little book.”
Pastor Wolff’s “little book” is rather strange. Indeed he has a record of all the significant worship services that he has attended over his professional career. More than that, he has marked the number of days that he has lived. He can give you the exact number of days that he has been on God’s planet. “How many days have you lived?” On that day back in July, it was over 23,000. Every morning when he arises, he marks that day as another that the Lord has given him as a gift. He numbers it. And, at the end of the day, he writes down the highlights and lowlights of that day.
“How long have you been numbering the days of your life?”
“Ever since confirmation,” Pastor Bob said.
“Why have you done this?” I asked.
“The Bible tells me so.”
Would to God that we all would get to that place where our actions are informed by the word of God. When Pastor Bob told me, “The Bible tells me so,” I thought of that song that we all sang as children: “Jesus loves me; this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” The heart that is open to the wisdom of God is the heart that is open to hear the word and to obey it in simple, childlike trust.
None of us has any idea what 2016 will bring us. All that we can do is number our days and reflect on what that day has brought us in God’s grace and love. To properly number our days in 2016 is to begin each day with thanksgiving and to end it therewith. Such an approach to numbering our days opens us to receive the wisdom that we need for the days ahead. God bless your 2016 .
Pastor's Page - December 2015
Paul Coelho, noted author of religious and spiritual books, tells the story of a seagull that was flying over a beach. She saw a mouse. She swooped down from the skies and asked the rodent, "Where are your wings?"
Each of them spoke a different language. Hence, the mouse did not understand what the seagull said. But, the mouse noticed that the animal standing before it had two big strange things protruding from its body. "It must suffer from some disease," thought the mouse.
The seagull noticed that the mouse was staring at her wings and said quietly, "Poor thing! He was attacked by a monster, which left him deaf and without wings." Filled with pity, the seagull took the mouse on her beak and swept him away for a ride in the skies. "At least this will provide my poor friend with a cherished memory," the seagull thought to herself as she flew higher and higher. Then the seagull deposited the mouse on the ground.
Soon after his experience, the mouse was a very unhappy creature. He had flown up in the sky and seen a vast and beautiful world. As time passed, however, the mouse grew used to being a mouse again. He began to think that the miracle that taken place in his life was but a dream.
Christmas is "the most wonderful time of the year." We need all the wonderful and miraculous moments that the season affords. At this time of the year, we thereby step out of our normalcy, as every sense of our bodies feasts on the beauty of the season. Yet, too soon the season is over and we return to our mundane worlds of schedules and routines. We soon forget the joys experienced during this wonderful time of the year. Like the mouse in the story, we grow morose, having to return the monotony of our quotidian lives.
But, must there be such a dichotomy between the celebration of Christmas and every other day of the year? I suspect that if one were a merchant, then one would welcome a stark contrast between Christmas and the rest of the year. What better way to motivate people to spend than to show them the deep chasm between the holiday season and the rest of the year. What better way to manipulate our emotions.
Christmas as the celebration of the birth of our savior defies such cynicism, however. We believe that God became a man in Christ Jesus, which means that our every moment in our bodies has profound meaning. The key is to be fully present during the most wonderful time of the year and all the days subsequent to Christmas. Experience! Don't think. Get out of your head during Christmas and all the other days of the year and meet God in the present, your breathing present. Breathe in the season and experience the joy erupting in your body. Actually, intentionally breathe in any moment and feel the joy of being birthed in God. Rest in the completed work of Christ and experience Christmas every day of the year, every moment of life.
When you are standing in the long lines, breathe. When at the Christmas dinner you feel a rush of melancholy, breathe. Take three deep breaths (one for each person of the Trinity: Father - Son - Holy Spirt) and be in the moment. Rest fully in the reality: "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
Pastor’s Page - November 2015
The story is told of two men walking through a field, when, all of a sudden, an enraged bull spotted them. They darted to the nearest fence. The angry bull chased them in hot pursuit. It was soon apparent that they would not make it. Terrified, one said to the other, “Pray, Man! We’re in for it!”
The other answered, “I can’t! I’ve never prayed in public!”
“But you must! The bull is gaining on us!”
“All right,” said the other huffing and puffing. “I’ll say the only prayer that I know, the one that my father used to pray at the dinner table. ‘O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us thankful.’”
There are many things for which to be thankful. Being chased by an enraged bull is certainly not one of them. The epistle reading on Thanksgiving Day is Philippians 4:4-7. Paul says in that classic text, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
As Christians, we are a people of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving informs our prayers. To pray with thanksgiving is to pray with confidence as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, whose fundamental ministry is to infuse us with joy. Our core ritual — Holy Communion — is also informed by thanksgiving.
In fact, another name for Holy Communion is Eucharist. Eucharist is a Greek word meaning thanksgiving. As we remember all that Christ has done for us, we do so in a spirit of thanksgiving, ever confident that Jesus carried his cross to Calvary for us. Greater love has no than to lay his life for his friends. The only response to such a selfless act is thanksgiving. Indeed we are a people of thanksgiving.
Inasmuch as we are such a people, does that make the observance of a national day of thanksgiving superfluous, which is what some quasi Christians? Of course not! There is indeed a place for thanking God for our country, for it is the place wherein we are free to actualize our gifts for the good of ourselves and others. Our country makes it possible for us to be fruitful; and, for that, we are most thankful. There are many things for which to be thankful and our nation is certainly one of those.
Another question: do we thank God for everything? First of all, Paul is not telling us what to pray for, but how to pray. How you pray demonstrates the focus of your mind.
Jesus teaches, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Who are the pure in heart? They are the ones who have the right focus; they focus on God. Because they do, they see God in everything. Let me amplify further. Latter in Matthew, Jesus says that the eye is the lamp of the body. If is darkened and ineffective, then the whole body is made vulnerable. If the eye, the lamp, is fully functional, then there will be a source of light for the whole body.
The spiritual eye has light if it suffused with the light of Christ. The light of Christ comes to you in Word and Sacrament. To seek first the kingdom is to seek Christ in Word and Sacrament. You know that your seeking has yielded great fruit when there is an abundance of love, peace and joy in your life. Prayerful words spawned by love, peace and joy is how we should pray. Love, peace and joy in the kingdom are ever present in all the circumstances of life.
Indeed we are not thankful for the tragedies that occur in life. I heard a counselor say that for a woman to be healed of the trauma of rape she has to get to the place where she is thankful to God even for the rape. Of course, that is pure foolishness. That is masochistic.
So much falsehood gets passed off in the cloak of pious language. We must be critical of platitudes masquerading as truth. Amid life’s tragedies, nevertheless, Christ is present to bless and empower you and that is a process between you and God in Christ Jesus. Over time as you engage the mourning process, God will speak the perfect word to you in your affliction. Amid a tragedy, it is futile to ask why. The question why never yields satisfactory answers. It leads to bitterness and anger.
In the face of tragedy, we should ask how God will get us through the tragedy. God, ever faithful, will be present, right next to you as friend, to aid, comfort, heal and over time to give enlightenment. “Yea though I walk through valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” Wherever God is, there is always peace love and joy.
Pastor's Page - October 2015
The story is told of a Christian, a Jew and an atheist who stood in line to be executed during the French Revolution. The Christian laid down first on the guillotine. Before the executioner pulled the lever, he shouted, “My God will save me!” The blade swooshed down, stopping just short of his neck. The executioner, believing that God had performed a miracle, let him go free.
The Jew laid down on the guillotine. Like the Christian, he shouted, “My God will save me!” After the lever was pulled, the blade fell just short of his neck. The executioner again let him go free, believing that God had done a miracle.
Finally, the atheist laid down on the guillotine. He examined the guillotine. He found a rock in the gears and said to the executioner, “Well now, here’s your problem. . .”
The moral of the story: There is a time and place to be skeptical.
Pundits have noted the emergence of what they call The New Atheism. Unlike the old atheism of the 19th and 20th centuries, new atheism is less interested in being tolerate and accommodating to religion. New atheism is less an intellectual movement and more a political one espousing a secular, humanist agenda. The new atheists are critical, skeptical and intolerant of all religion, viewing religion in general a scab on society. They fault religion for the world’s problems. The key proponents of the new atheism are: Roland Dawkins, author of The God Delusion; Sam Harris, The End of Faith; and Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great. The following motifs are found in the writings of the aforementioned new atheists: 1) faith is a matter of false propositional belief; 2) the cure for faith is science; 3) science is the opposite of faith; 4) religion is doomed; and 5) faith is the most wicked force on earth. Madame O’Hare and other old school atheists never spoke of religion in such absolutist and strident terms. Their battle was over the separation of church and state. The new atheists want to toss religion out of the public square.
Old atheism or new atheism, new atheist Roland Aronson, professor at Wayne State University, in some candid remarks reveals the weakness of atheism. “Religion is not really the issue, but rather the incompleteness, the tentativeness, the thinness and the emptiness of today’s atheism.” He goes on to say, “Giving thanks has been central to religion and secular culture needs to be enriched with the equivalent.”
Indeed giving thanks is central to our faith as Christians. We believe that everything that exists is an outflow of love from God for which our only response is gratitude. God has given us so much in creation, redemption and sanctification. We are thankful not just during the Thanksgiving Holiday, but throughout the year. In fact, the chief ritual of our worship is Holy Communion. Another name for communion is Eucharist, which is the Greek word for thanksgiving. Gratitude demonstrates that we humans are not the center of the universe, which is a lesson that secular atheism is incapable of learning. This is why it is so empty, tapping around blindly for something material to give ultimate meaning. That is a vain pursuit.
Pastor’s Page - September 2015
The story is told of a man who did not return home after work on Friday afternoon. He stayed out the entire weekend hanging out with his friends, spending his entire paycheck on wine, women and song. When he returned home, his angry wife greeted him as he walked through the front door. She yelled at him for over an hour. Finally, his wife stopped her tirade and simply asked her husband, “How would you like it if you didn’t see me for three days?” Her husband replied, “That would be fine with me.” Monday went by and he didn’t see his wife. Tuesday and Wednesday came and went with the same result. Finally, on Thursday, the swelling in his eye went down just enough, so that he could see his wife out of the corner of his left eye.
In the case of the poor fellow who stayed out all weekend, seeing was certainly believing. In our world, seeing is believing. The state slogan for the state of Missouri is The Show Me State. That slogan derived from tough-minded Americans on the edge of the frontier for whom seeing was believing. They refused to chase after pipe dreams in the west without evidence of gold and riches to be had west of the Mississippi.
We demand hard evidence before we believe; and, rightfully so, because there are many in the world who are out to rob, maim and pillage. Though seeing is believing is the proper attitude to have in the world, it is not so relative to God. Jesus tells Thomas blessed are those who do not see his resurrected body and they nevertheless believe. This demonstrates the miracle that faith is. It is truly a work of God. We marvel at people who believe after having gone through tragedies that by all worldly accounts should have caused them to lose faith in God; yet, they hang on because of the greater power in them that keeps and preserves them in the faith. If you are to approach God, then you must do so through faith. Paul says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”
Among other things, the church is a school of faith. We learn: relative to God not seeing is believing. The prophet Habakkuk teaches that the righteous shall live by faith. Faith is not seeing. Faith is not having any evidence. Faith is trusting what God says, despite what the evidence of the five senses may say. Speaking of the prophet Habakkuk, he lived what he preached. His life and the life of his people were a struggle. There was much evidence that demonstrated to them that God did not care a whit about them. He says desperately, “How long shall I cry for help and you will not hear?”
At this moment of his life, things were not coming up roses and he spoke honestly about it. He laments.
The Old Testament is attractive to us because of this honest openness to God. The Old Testament saints are cast in a light that we understand only too well inasmuch as we struggle like them when things seem so contrary to faith. We can relate to insecure Abraham. We understand a Jacob who tries to get ahead by any means necessary. We can indeed commiserate with Moses’ physical disability.
Nevertheless, in the midst of their struggles, God never gives up on them. They are a work in progress and God moves along with them in their stages of growth in faith, in trusting God despite the evidence to the contrary in their own lives. When they struggle, they keep two truths before them:
1) God is God. God is in control. God has ways of the working that we cannot understand or comprehend; and
2) They belong to God. No matter what happens in life, they and God are always one.
That is also our comfort as we face the challenges of the coming year. When we attend our yearly congregational meeting, we must realize that our ministry belongs to God. We belong to God. Therefore, God is in control. Knowing that, we have faith that everything will work out well. Indeed, we have come this far by faith.
Pastor's Page - July 2015
"A Moment of Reflection and Prayer on Charleston"
(Presented on Sunday, June 21, the Sunday after the shooting in Charleston, South Caro-lina at Emmanuel African Episcopal Methodist Church.)
God's hidden ways trouble us; they baffle us; they make us marvel; God's hidden ways make us angry; they make us doubt; they make us fear. Indeed God's thoughts are not our thoughts. God's ways are not our ways. The conundrum that we each face is squaring an all-powerful and loving God with the presence of evil. The shootings in Charleston, South Carolina have once again left us feeling ambivalent about God and God's ways in the world. Upon hearing the news, you no doubt felt a welter of feelings and you still do. What happened there cannot get any more evil than that. The deranged gunman sat in the Bible study for an hour before gunning down nine people. In fact, he sat next to the pas-tor. It is all so troubling that a sacred space was violated by evil. This morning you cannot help but feel ambivalent about God's ways in the world.
Yet, you know and believe that God is in the process of destroying evil. It began at Calvary and continues now and will culminate when the chaos monsters are defeated once and for all in a new heaven and new earth where there will be no sea. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is our strong hope that evil will be destroyed.
In the meantime, until that new heaven and new earth come to fruition, we have the cup as the place to meet God. In the cup of the Eucharist, the redeeming God heals us, comforts us, and enlightens us. We experience the power of God in the cup, so that we are not overcome by evil. Instead, we overcome evil with the good. Take your pain to the cup; take your fears to the cup; take your doubts to the cup. There you will meet out redeem-ing Lord who works the good out of evil. Through the cup, God empowers us to overcome evil with good. This work is never done in vain.
Let us pray: Father, Christians throughout the world are being attacked. Our hearts are saddened by the latest assault on your body in the city of Charleston where Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Rev. De-Payne Middleton-Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Sussie Jackson, and Ethel Lance, were martyred for the faith. Only you can reach into the depths of our feelings and comfort and empower us in ways that enable us to keep hoping, and reversing evil with the good. Empower your whole body throughout the world to speak against hatred in its deadly avatars that dehu-manize and terrorize. Lead us once again to your cup where you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, together with your angels and saints, will form around us the cloud of witnesses to accompany us during our earthly sojourn. You have crushed the head of satan, and you are working to bring all things under yourself, so that you may be all in all. Bless, em-power, and comfort the families of those who were martyred. Bless, empower and comfort their spiritual brothers and sisters at their local congregation and throughout the world, who are undergoing their own battles against evil. In Jesus name, we pray. Amen.
Pastor's Page - June 2015
The story is told of a man who liked to take naps during the sermon. Every time his pastor stepped into the pulpit to begin his sermon with a prayer, the man would close his eyes during the prayer and never open them again until he heard his pastor finished talking. Of course, his pastor could see that he slept during his sermons; so, the pastor asked the congregation while the man was sleeping, “All who want to go to heaven, please rise.” Every one, of course, stood up except the sleeping man. Then at the top of his voice, the pastor shouted, “All who wish to go to hell, stand up now!” Awaken from his slumber, only the sleeping man stood up. He looked around and noticed that he was the only one standing. He, then, said: “I don’t know what we’re voting on, pastor, but it looks like you and me are the only ones for it.”
Indeed there are some places most conducive to nodding off to sleepy bliss. For some, worship is such a place. In my first parish, a woman told me, “Pastor, you have a soothing voice. It has a calming influence on me. When I hear it, it makes me sleep.” Of course, that is not the kind of thing a pastor wants to hear, especially a fledgling one just out of seminary. Though sleeping during worship is never appropriate, resting certainly is. We attend worship to rest up, to get served by God through word and sacrament and find therein our Sabbath rest for the challenges that we face during the week. The proclamation of forgiveness, hearing God’s word, singing it, and having that word applied to each of us in the way that the Holy Spirit deems necessary is free therapy. Sabbath rest is in inverse proportion to the psychiatrist’s couch: the more rest you experience in God the less time and money you expend on psychiatrists. So that you can really rest up and get free therapy, there are three ways to rest up.
First, confession is a way to rest up. Hebrews 4:6-7 says, “Since therefore it remains for some to enter it (God’s rest), and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David so long afterward, in words already quoted, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’” Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to experience what God deigns to give you. The creator of the universe is kneeling down to serve you, to speak to you. If you heed his voice, you shall be forgiven. Forgiveness is fundamental to true rest because sin is what causes disquiet of soul and disease in your being. Paul says that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We live in a diseased, sick and depraved world as a result of the unrest caused by sin. God’s solution is to forgive sin through Christ Jesus. Jesus is the beginning of true Sabbath rest. The way to enter his forgiveness is merely for the asking. If you ask in all sincerity informed by faith, which God knows, then you shall be forgiven. God wants to give so much just for the asking. God does not place any conditions on that asking. You can, therefore, cease the self-condemnation. You can lay aside the guilt that racks the mind and keeps it in unrest.
A second way to rest up is to sit in the finished work of God. Hebrews 4:3 says, “For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, ‘As I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter my rest,’ although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.” All God’s works were finished from the foundation of the world, for it was there that they were conceived and planned. Whatever God conceives and plans it is accomplished. The old theologians used to say that God is actus purus. What they meant by that was that there is no potentiality in God that is not actualized. God actualizes everything that God has in his mind. We humans have a lot of thoughts and plans that remain unactualized. We have dreams and ideas that often go unactualized. We are not God. God will accomplish what God purposes. God is God. God is spirit and God is love. God will express love in an unlimited and lavish way. God’s seminal act of salvation in Christ Jesus was before the foundation of the world. Hebrews encourages us to rest in Christ Jesus, to rest in his lavish love displayed in his life, death and resurrection. Paul tells us in Ephesians chapter one that we have been seated in the heavenlies with Christ Jesus. We are to rest in the completed work of Christ, whose work at a specific time and place has eternal significance and value. It is of eternal value; therefore, you can trust it most implicitly. Now you rest up by sitting in the finished work of Christ Jesus. This is a call to a contemplative approach of life where you sit and rest in Christ.
The final way to rest up in worship is to engage the word. Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” You engage the word, so that you can distinguish what are your thoughts and what are God’s.
There is nothing more burdensome than to play God. I like the Twilight Zone episode wherein a man got the chance to play God, to listen in on what God hears. Of course, he could not bear the burden. He nearly cracked under such a weight. We think that our thoughts are God’s thoughts. We commit religious evil when we try to foist things on people by saying, “Thus saith the Lord,” when it was really, “Thus saith I.”
I learned that lesson right here at St. Luke when we had the debate about purchasing an organ several years ago. I gave the impression that not to purchase a pipe organ was to go against God’s will. Rightfully, a couple of people corrected me on that.
Throughout history, many have committed that sin not without devastating consequences. Many were persecuted, maimed and tortured in the name of God. There are many who cannot get around this dark side of our religion. The word is a two-edged sword. It is meant to separate and distinguish God’s thoughts from ours. That sounds painful. But, it is actually quite relieving not to play God for ourselves or others.
There was an old rap song that said, “Man is in conflict with nature; that is why there is so much sin.” Indeed, often, we are in conflict with our own nature, trying to play God, deifying our takes on life and making God play our apologist. If we truly engaged the word, then we could really rest up by not having to play God. We play God when we judge people. We talk as if we know all the pertinent facts about a person to lock them into our assessments. Relieve yourself of the burden of judging. Rest up!
Pastor's Page - May 2015
The story is told of a wise man who was standing by a river. Just down the way there was a group of family members shouting at each other in anger. The wise man turned to his disciples and smiled. He asked them, “Why do people who are angry at each other shout?” After thinking for a few minutes, one of his disciples piped up and said, “We shout because we lose our calm.” The wise man responded, “But why shout when the other person is right next to you? You can say what you have to say in a soft manner.” His disciples thought further. They gave other answers to his query that were not satisfactory.
Profoundly, the wise man continued, “When two people are angry at each other, their hearts are at a great distance from each other. To cover that distance they must shout to really hear each other. The angrier they are, the louder they have to shout to make up the great distance between them. What happens when two people fall in love? They certainly do not shout at each; on the contrary, they speak softly to each other because their hearts are very close. The distance between them is nonexistent. As they continue in love, they get to the point where they do not speak; they whisper. Finally, they do not even need to whisper. They can just look at each other and communicate their love across any physical distance because their hearts are so close.”
We can apply that story to our relationship with our divine Beloved. Recall the story of Elijah who won a great victory over the false prophets of Baal. On Mount Carmel, the prophets of Baal and Elijah stood around an altar for a contest to determine whose God was real, whose God really heard prayer. Elijah challenged them to pray to their God to do a miracle, to cause fire to come from the sky and consume the sacrifice on the altar. The prophets of Baal prayed and nothing happened. Elijah prayed to God and the God of Israel did a great miracle, proving that God alone was living and hears prayers. For his great victory, Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, threatened to kill Elijah. He had embarrassed her prophets of Baal. So, Elijah fled. He was angry at God. He was so angry at God that he demanded that God to take his life.
God does respond to Elijah’s anger. He provides the prophet with comfort food. After eating and still angry with God, Elijah tells God that he had been faithful all his life. Why should his victory bring him great sorrow and isolation? The prophet no doubt shouted at God in anger. He ex-pressed a full range of emotions. God tells the angry prophet to exit his cave and stand on the mountain. God wanted Elijah to experience God’s glory. God passed by. First, there was a terrifying wind that broke rocks into pieces. God was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake; God, however, was not in the earthquake. Then there was a fire, but God was not in the fire. Then there came a whisper. The prophet wrapped his face with his arm, for God was in the whisper. God spoke in the whisper, telling the prophet what to do next. Empowered, Elijah went on his way.
God speaks to us in a whisper in Christ Jesus. This whispering is indicative of the close connection that we have with God. Our hearts are joined to God’s heart in the power of the Holy Spirit. For many of us, the Old Testament is a closed book because God comes off as angry, vindictive and punishing. Yet, in that same book there are indications that God is more than a vindictive and punishing God as the story of Elijah demonstrates. The whispering God is the loving God, the God who cares. This God is preeminently revealed to us in Christ Jesus. It is God who bridges the distance caused by sin and makes a way to us in Christ. Daily God makes a way to us in the power of the Holy Spirit through word and sacrament. On Pentecost Sunday, we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit 50 days after the resurrection of our Lord. On this Sunday, let us celebrate with great rejoicing our loving God who is heart-to-heart with us in the Holy Spirit.
Pastor's Page - April 2015
On April 14, Abraham Lincoln awoke in a good mood. Several days before at Appomattox, General Robert E. Lee, commander of the South, surrendered to General Ulysses Grant, commander of the North.
For the first time in five years, Lincoln had some breathing room, breathing room in which to think and plan. But, before any serious thinking on the future course of the nation and its reconstruction, Lincoln wanted to laugh. He wanted to try to put behind him the tragedy of a war whose outcome was always in doubt.
He thought a night out at Ford’s Theatre would provide the appropriate venue for some needed diversion. Lincoln, however, received strong indications that he should not go out that night together with his wife, Mary. The Grants were supposed to accompany them to the theatre, but they cancelled. Just after a meeting earlier in the day, Lincoln’s secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, begged him not to attend the play. He was afraid of rebel retaliation.
Later that afternoon, as Lincoln and his wife took a carriage ride through Washington, Mary told him that she was not feeling well and thought that they should not attend the play in the evening. Lincoln responded that he, too, was tired and queried whether they should go out. William Crook, Lincoln’s private bodyguard, pleaded with the president not to go to Ford’s Theatre.
As fate would have it, the president and his wife attended the play, “Our American Cousin.” During the third act, Lincoln held Mary’s hand. They drew close to each other, which they rarely did during those tragic five years of civil war and the death of their beloved son, Willie, who was most like Lincoln in wit and intelligence. They relaxed. They laughed.
“Sic semper tyrannis!” shouted John Wilkes, the lead actor, as he stood behind Lincoln and shot the fatal bullet behind the president’s right ear. The next morning, President Abraham Lincoln died.
I have often wondered why in magazine advertisements for wristwatches invariably the hands are pointed at 10:10. The reason for that could be as simple as 10:10 am/pm is the least stressful part of the day. I would like to think that watches in magazine advertisements are pointed at 10:10 out of deference to Abraham Lincoln. It was at 10:10pm that Lincoln was shot on April 14. Perhaps that is a way to commemorate America’s favorite president.
Also, I have often pondered whose idea it was to make the dreaded tax day April 15, the day on which Lincoln died. How cynical! In any case, on April 2015 America will commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the death of Lincoln. Just after Lincoln died, Edwin Stanton, the same man who warned him not to go out on that fateful April 14, said in earshot of friends and colleagues standing at Lincoln’s death bed, “He now belongs to the ages.”
As a martyred president, Lincoln became influential in death, as his martyred status became currency in political debates. Lincoln’s martyred image was evoked for everything from civic responsibility to paying taxes. And, for those who study his life, he is a most fascinating person that still intrigues us.
If Lincoln belongs to the ages, then Jesus belongs to the eternal ages. Like Lincoln, he was martyred in April; in fact, Jesus died on April 3, 33 according to some scholars. Unlike Lincoln, he got up from death. After three days Jesus arose from the dead. As the living and reigning Lord, seated at the right hand of the Father, he continues to influence the universe. As Paul says, he must subject all enemies under his feet. Then he will hand the kingdom over the Father, so that God may be all in all.
Every Sunday we commemorate Christ’s death and resurrection. His memory and his virtue as a force field continues among God’s people gathered around Word and Sacrament. Every Sunday is Easter Sunday. Nevertheless, it is most apropos to set aside a day to fully celebrate what God has accomplished for us in Christ Jesus. On Easter Sunday, we greet each other: “Christ is Risen!” The response: “He is risen indeed!”
Pastor’s Page - March 2015
The story is told of a farmer who wanted to dig a well to water his farm. After digging for some time in a place recommended to him by water diviners, he found no water. He was frustrated. He had dug only 15 feet.
Along came another man who laughed at the farmer for digging there. He pointed to another place and said, “Over there is where you ought to be digging.” The farmer went to that spot and dug and dug. In fact, he dug for 30 feet. Still, he found no water. Very tired, he took the advice of an old neighbor who assured him that there was water at yet another location.
After being frustrated by his neighbor’s advice, finding no water, the farmer sat forlorn on the porch. His wife came out of the house. Seeing his crestfallen face, she said, “Where are your brains?! Does anyone sink a well that way? Stay in one place and go deeper and deeper there.” The next day, refreshed and renewed, the farmer spent all day on one hole. He found abundant water.
We live in a world of religious seekers. Seekers hear of a phenomenal outpouring of the Spirit up in Canada. They swarm up there and learn to howl like animals. They hear an Orange County preacher pronounce, “Live a purpose-driven life.” They flock to his church, giving him 15 minutes of fame. After a month of purposeful living, they return to their helter/skelter ways of living. They hear the pecuniary-minded televangelist taunt a 100% return on the money (10% tithe) that they give to his ministry. Lured by such returns, they “sow seeds” into the televangelist’s ministry expecting a financial windfall. Soon, it dawns on them that the only one realizing such a wind-fall is the televangelist exploiting his/her vast audience. As the Bell Curve suggests and every televangelist knows, there is always 10% of an audience that still believes that Elvis is alive.
Indeed we live in a nation of seekers. Church growth experts encourage congregations to make their worship “seeker friendly.” “Tone down the theological talk,” they say. “Get rid of the vestments and candles. You may even consider jettisoning all religious symbols, especially the cross at the front of the church.”
Many, however, in our Christian community need to hear the frank talk of the farmer’s wife, “Stay in one place and go deeper and deeper.” We need to hear that as well.
That is what we hope to accomplish during Lent. We intentionally slow the pace and dig deeper and deeper into God’s word where we are. I commend a tool to you that can help you with going deeper and deeper. It is a spiritual practice called Lectio Divina, “Divine Reading.” It is an ancient way of praying from the 4th century A.D. Martin Luther knew of it and may have used it in his prayer practice. Add it to your Lenten journey.
Before you sit down to pray, choose a verse from the Bible on which you may want to pray. Set the Bible next to you within arm’s reach. Lectio Divina has five phases. You can do it for as long as you want:
Phase One (Relaxation): Sit with both feet on the floor and your hands in your lap. Inhale and exhale measured breaths. That’s it, breathe slowly and deeply without hyperventilating. What you inhale, you exhale. Mentally tell your body to relax. Where you sense stress in your body, tell that part of your body to relax.
Phase Two (Reading): Staying in one place, pick up the Bible and read aloud and slowly the verse that you chose. Read it 7 times. Pause between each reading to let the words sink into your heart.
Phase Three (Meditation): During the reading you were drawn to a word, a phrase or maybe an image. As you resume taking measured breaths with your feet on the floor and your hands in your lap, try not to move. Mentally say that word to yourself. As you inhale, mentally say the word to yourself. In the case of an image that you might have seen during the reading, concentrate on that as you breathe.
Phase Four (Prayer): Now mentally ask God why you were drawn to that word, phrase or image. What’s going on in your life that may have prompted a focus on on word? Ask questions of God, and wait for answers. God will answer in your voice. Have a dialogue with God.
Phase Five (Contemplation): After you have sufficiently prayed, now rest in God’s grace and love. Enjoy being in the moment: take in the sounds about you. Be fully present in the moment.
Pastor's page - February 2015
The story is told of a young woman who went to her grandmother and told her about her life. She explained to her how things were so hard and that she did not know how she was going to make it. She wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed to her that as soon as one problem was solved a new one would pop up.
Her grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each under a high fire. Soon, the pots came to a boil. Into the first pot she placed carrots. Into the second pot she placed an egg. And, into the third pot she placed some ground coffee beans. She let the pots continue to boil. She never said a word. Twenty minutes later, she turned off all the burners. She took the carrots out of the pot and placed them in a bowl. She took the egg out of the pot and placed it also in a bowl. Finally, she ladled the coffee beans out of the pot and placed them in a bowl.
Turning to her granddaughter, she said, “Tell me what you see.”
“Carrots, an egg and coffee,” she replied. Her grandmother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did. She noticed that they were soft. Her grandmother asked her to take the egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, the grandmother asked her granddaughter to sip the coffee. She smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. She asked, “What does it all mean?”
Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity: boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrots went into the water strong, hard and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, they softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile before going into the boiling water. Its thin, outer shell had protected its liquid interior; but, after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were placed in the boiling water, they changed the water. The granddaughter’s eyes brightened.
“Which are you?” the wise grandmother asked her granddaughter.
Indeed before hitting the boiling water of adversity, some are like the carrots. They are hardened in their world-view, which sometimes has no room for God. They are firmly ensconced in their intellectual and emotional systems, thinking that such systems will give them security and wellbeing. Along the way, life happens. Adversity, ever inherent in life, softens them and makes them flimsy.
Others are like the egg. The adversity of life has the opposite effect on them: they get hardened. They may have at one time faced life with optimism and broadmindedness. They got hardened, however. I believe that God must have a special mercy for the jaded, frustrated idealist, people who really wanted the best for the world but got shut down.
Who are people like the coffee beans? Who are the people whom the adversity of life does not embitter, but better?
You do not have to go very far to find them. They are right in our midst at St. Luke Lutheran Church. In my mind’s eye, I can see several people who are like ground coffee beans. There is no whining in them. At one time, there may have been appropriate lament about their circumstances, but they did not stay there. They got back up. A sweet, powerful aroma follows them. They have become signs of hope for us who have fallen on hard times, heralding to us that difficult situations and circumstances need not harden us against life’s beauty or soften our moral fiber in acting forthrightly on behalf of Christ’s kingdom of peace, love and joy.
It is love that gives the ground coffee beans among us their sweet aroma. They are wounded healers having been ground down by the circumstances of life. Yet, whenever adversity touches them, they explode with the most pleasant aroma, blessing instead of cursing; loving instead of hating; listening deeply and compassionately instead of standing on a soapbox of absolutism and dualism.
Both Jesus and Paul teach us not to be overcome by evil; instead, we are to overcome evil with the good. The ultimate good is love. That is a clarion call not to let life’s circumstances change our core.
The cross of Jesus overcame evil with the good. During this month of love, let us reflect on the power of God’s love in Christ Jesus as we continue our commitment of making loving disciples who are not overcome by their circumstances, but who overcome all such circumstances with a good and loving disposition. Life really is in how you see it: how you see it informed by this loving disposition.
Pastor’s Page- January 2015
The Greek philosopher Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. For Socrates, thinking is what makes humans unique. To not think and thereby examine oneself is to fall into the animalistic state of nature wherein one is driven by mere instincts.
The so-called Socratic method of questioning derives from Socrates’ preoccupation with thinking and reflection. It is a method of questioning oneself and other authorities until one gets at the core of why one does what one does or believes what one believes.
Anyone who takes their faith seriously will spend some time in thought and reflection. Living out your baptismal life invites such thought and reflection because you must become aware how daily you fail to fulfill the first table of the Ten Commandments. You may not have killed anyone, but there have been times when you made someone or something other than God the ultimate concern of your life. You may not have stolen, but you have failed to call on God’s name in the welter of worries that beset you. You may not have coveted other folks’ things, but you have failed to worship God from the heart, making of worship something other than the place to meet God to allow God to serve you in Word and Sacrament.
Serious reflection at the beginning of 2015 will reveal that we are flawed. Serious reflection on God’s word, however, will reveal how much God loves us in Christ Jesus. It is indeed appropriate, moreover, to begin 2015 with examination that invites us to question ourselves, to pull ourselves out of the hovels of self-rationalization, self-justification and self-deceit. Perhaps this examination will culminate in a personal mission statement to guide your life in 2015.
Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century American pastor, preacher and philosopher, had such a personal mission statement hundreds of years before they came into vogue. He looked at it regularly as a way to examine his conscience: daily, weekly, and the beginning of the New Year. His personal mission statement was a set of resolutions:
Resolved never to lose one moment of time, but to improve in the most profitable way I possibly can.
Resolved to live with all my might while I do live.
Resolved never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do if were the last hour of my life.
Resolved never to do anything out of revenge.
Resolved never to speak evil of anyone.
Resolved to study scriptures.
Resolved to ask myself at the end of the day, week, month and year wherein I could possibly have done better.
Looking at how Edwards examined his life, it is little wonder that his preaching inspired The Great Awakening in America in the 18th century. Might the spiritual energy of The Great Awakening given the American Colonists the edge in their revolutionary war with the mother country, England.
When we open ourselves up to God in humility and emptiness, God fills us, enabling us to do even greater works in 2015. Happy New Year!
Pastor's Page December 2014
“Darkness was cheap and Scrooge liked it.”
That is a line from Charles Dickens’s classic work, A Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge, the protagonist in the story, was a miserly man who refused to open his heart to the joy of the Christmas season. In his pursuit of profits, he made life difficult for himself and others associated with him.
He refused to provide for the proper work environment, so that his sole employee could be productive.
He shuns a Christmas dinner invitation.
He shouts at charity workers in the street outside his place of business.
Scrooge only values business and profits. One night, Scrooge has a ghostly visitation. His former partner, Jacob Marley, dead for seven years, visits him. Since his death, Marley’s spirit has been roaming the earth as a punishment for his parsimonious ways when alive.
Like Scrooge, he put business before people, thereby missing out on life. He has come to warn Scrooge and maybe save him from his ways. He tells his colleague that three spirits will visit him over the course of three nights: the ghost of Christmas past, the ghost Christmas present, and the ghost of Christmas future.
Each encounter has special significance for Scrooge as he sees himself from a different perspective. The encounter with the three spirits actually hap-pens in one night. Nevertheless, Scrooge awakens a new man. He opens his heart to life. He comes to understand that darkness is not cheap; it has a cost: one’s soul. In the Victorian Age, the 19th century English-speaking world, ghost stories abounded at Christmas time, of which A Christmas Carol is the epitome. “O tell us a tale of ghosts! Now do! It’s a capital time, for the fire burns blue.”
Historians have long busied themselves with theories as to why ghost stories proliferated in Queen Victoria’s world. Some have noted that the popularity of ghost stories came on the heels of economic changes afoot. The Industrial Revolution drove people out of rural areas into cities, where they competed for jobs and taxed the resources of cities. A byproduct of the Industrial Revolution was urban blight and the sense of anomie that people felt in cities, being disconnected from familiar surroundings. They were in a state of real mourning over the loss of a world they had known. They were on edge: every creak in the floors and walls spooked them in their new, unfamiliar environs. Victorian cities, moreover, were lit by gas lamps. The carbon monoxide emitted from them could provoke hallucinations of shadowy figures lurking about in crowded apartments, castles and churches.
Ironically, technological advances caused ghost stories to abound. The telegraph allowed people to communicate at great distances. The tapping of the telegraph receiver became the warrant of ghosts communicating through tapping noises. The Fox sisters in New York alleged to communicate with ghosts through tapping noises. They were later proven to be a hoax, however.
Spirit photography grew out of technological advances in photography. William Mumler’s picture of Mary Todd Lincoln with the ghostly hands of Abraham Lincoln on her shoulders was all the rage. Technological advances in the Victorian Age did not diminish ghost stories. They aided and abetted them. The proliferation of ghost stories in the Victorian Age demonstrates what humans in all ages have long struggled with: that is how do we grieve, how do we cope with loss, with change? How do we especially deal with the loss of loved ones during the most joyous time of the year?
Christmas and Christmastide are nostalgic times. The music, the food, and the atmosphere cause you to think of Christmases past. There is real pain at this time of the year. Recognizing this, during the fourth Sunday in Advent , usually around December 21, the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice, some churches have a Blue Christmas. They perform some ritual that acknowledges the pain and grieving that some people may be going through at Christmas.
On December 21, we at St. Luke shall have a Blue Christmas ritual for those in a season of grief. If you are still grieving a loved one this Christmas, make an ornament that represents your loved one. Bring it to church on December 21. You may not be grieving but you still want to commemorate a loved one at Christmas, then you also can make an ornament and bring it to church on December 21.
Pastor's Page for November 2014
One day a tiger was hunting in a forest. An unlucky fox was met and caught by the tiger. For the fox, his inescapable fate was clear—death. Despite the danger, the fox thought hard to find a way out.
Promptly, the fox declared to the tiger, “How dare you kill me!” On hearing those words, the tiger was taken aback and asked for the reason. The fox raised his voice a bit higher and declared arrogantly, “To tell you the truth, it’s I who was accredited by God to be king of the forest, potentate over all the animals! If you kill me, then you will be going against God’s will.”
Seeing that the tiger became suspicious, the fox added, “Let’s have a test. Let’s go through the forest together. Follow me and you will see that the animals are frightened of me.” The tiger agreed.
So, the fox walked ahead of the tiger. He walked proudly through the forest. The animals, seeing the tiger behind the fox, were terribly frightened and ran away. Then the fox said proudly, “There is no doubt that what I said is true.” The tiger had nothing to say but acknowledge the result. So the tiger nodded and said, “You are right. You are the king.” Thomas Hobbes, the 17th century English philosopher, said that in the state of nature life is brutish, violent and short. The strongest survives.
Like the fox in the story, humans are without great physical gifts; yet, we possess great mental gifts, which afford us play in the life or death duel of the survival of the fittest. We use our intellectual gifts to subdue the earth and outwit the other animals.
For humans, to extend and preserve life, it is in our best interest to enter a social contract for the protection of our lives and rights. The social contract, however, is a thin veneer that is easily compromised. Any natural crisis, visible and invisible, can rip it apart, thus exposing our essential vulnerability.
In the face of the Ebola virus, our minds split in many directions of medieval proportions, as the media and self-serving politicians exploit our fears. Medieval plagues decimated European and Asian populations. The Ebola virus would never reach such medieval proportions. Human intelligence is getting a handle on this virus and inoculation against it is shortcoming. Nevertheless, the state of nature is an ever-constant threat.
On Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate that Christ is preeminent over the state of nature, both visible and invisible forces. Social contracts come and go, but God’s word of promise is forever.
God’s word, given just after the fall, promises that victory over the chaos monsters of life will be realized in the seed of the woman. Jesus, the son of Mary, is that promised seed. He is Christus Victor. We share in his victory over sin, death and the devil.
The prophet Isaiah visualized the ultimate victory of the promised messiah (Christ) with the picture of the lion lying with the lamb, and a little child leading them. The state of nature will experience peace through a work that God alone will perform in Christ.
Pet Blessing Planned for Sunday, November 23
On Sunday, November 23, Christ the King Sunday, we shall worship outdoors in creation with the animals. We invite you to bring your pets with you to worship with you. We shall have a pet blessing. After the service, food trucks will be available after worship for the purchase of food. Our church will get a percentage of what you purchase.
So, bring your pets and have them blessed. We shall invite the Clare-mont community. It shall be a joyous day on Christ the King Sunday, when we celebrate Jesus as Christus Victor.