Commenting on country music, Willie Nelson once said, “Country music has 3 chords and the truth.” Indeed the attraction of country music is that it tells authentic stories to which we instantaneously relate. Country music great Tim McGraw sang one such story:
“I was in my early 40s With a lot of life before me And a moment came that stopped me on a dime
I spent most of the next days Looking at the x-rays Talkin’ ‘bout sweet time.”
I asked him,
“When it sank in That this might really be the real end How’d it hit you
When you get that kind of news? Man, what’d you do?”
“I went skydiving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying”
And he said
“Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you’re dying”
“I was finally the husband
That most of the time I wasn’t
And I became a friend I would like to have
And all of a sudden going fishin’
Wasn’t such an imposition
And I went three times that year I lost my dad
I finally read the Good Book, and I
Took a good, long, hard look
At what I’d do if I could do it all again
I went skydiving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying”
And he said
“Someday I hope you get the chance To live like you were dying.”
Why does it take a bad prognosis from an oncologist to get us to live consciously? Why does it take a tragedy to get us to place a priority on the things that truly matter? I was at a pastors’ meeting where we discussed the grim future of the church. “The church will be very different in 25 to 50 years,” we all concluded. We were not feeling very hopeful. Then one pastor piped up and said, “I wish we had another 9-11.” That’s a sobering thought.
The Lenten Season is about living like you’re dying and the enlightenment and the wisdom that come with such clarity. To live like you’re dying puts everything in proper perspective. If you live like you’re dying, then certainly three things will become immensely important now.
If you lived like you’re dying, then your relationships become important. Jesus says we are to be lights as he is the Light. He notes that one does not a ignite a lamp to place it under a bed, but one places it on a stand, so that all in the house can be illuminated. Be a light to the people in your life, especially to your family. Too often our families are veritable battle grounds of unhinged emotions. It doesn’t have to be that way, however. Just as we restrain our emotions at work, we should do the same at home. Let your words be light and life. Say today to your loved ones what you would want say to them on your death bed. We procrastinate in doing this because of two false assumptions: we think we have time; and, we let life happen to us. We’re not proactive about our time. Jilma and I attended the funeral of a family friend. At the repast, his son spoke honestly about his deceased father. Never have I witnessed such an honest, heart-wrenching eulogy. I guess it wasn’t really a eulogy. He spoke about how mean and abusive his father was to him, his brother and his mother. They witnessed how their father was celebrated by others outside the family as being a nice guy; yet, to his family, he was a terror. That has to be the height of hypocrisy: one who is more concerned about what people think of him than actually being kind and generous to his own family, where it really counts.
When you live like you’re dying, then God’s Word becomes important. Heaven and earth will pass away, but not one word of Jesus will ever pass away. As the Son of God, he is the word of the Trinity. He is the power, for by his word the universe was spawned: “Let there be light.” Indeed on your deathbed you will cling to God’s Word. I have ministered to many people on their death beds. My practice is simply to read the Word of God. I read the Psalms. I read the birth of Jesus. I read the death of Jesus. And, I read the resurrection account of Jesus. As I read, in some I have seen a smile come over their faces. On one occasion, as I read to a bedridden woman, she began to writhe back and back. She screamed and tore at the wires that connected her to the various monitors. The nurse had to give her a sedative. It was a weary sight. If the Word of God may be something to which you might cling on your death bed, then maybe it’s a good thing to familiarize yourself with it now.
One final thing becomes important when you live like you’re dying: the Righteousness of Christ. Jesus says that our righteousness has to exceed that of the Pharisees. His righteousness certainly does. Rest in the righteousness of Christ. He is your joy and satisfaction. His righteousness is the garment that covers you perfectly from sin.
The Lenten Season of the Church Year challenges your to live like you’re dying. When you live like you’re dying, your relationships become important, as do the Word of God and the righteousness of Christ.
Pastor's Page - February 2020
The story is told of a man who was eager to meet his soon-to-be son-in-law. His daughter had gotten engaged unexpectedly. The eager man told all his friends at work that he had a whole list of questions to ask the young man. On Saturday morning after meeting for the first time, the man invited his daughter’s fiancé out for a cup of coffee. As they began to talk, the father asked questions that were weighing heavily on his mind. “Do you have a job? I know you just finished college and all, but how do plan to support yourself and my daughter?” The young man responded, “Well, God will provide.”
The father then asked his second question: “Where do you intend to live? Do you have a house or an apartment all lined up?” The young man said with much conviction, “God will provide.” The father waited a few moments before asking his third question. “Son, do you have any money? Any savings? Anything put aside?” The young man looked his future father-in-law right in the eyes and said, “God will provide.”
The following Monday at work, the man’s friends were eager to know how his meeting with his future son-in-law went. The man smiled and said, “I kinda like the kid. He thinks I’m God.”
Can we, like that young man, believe that God will provide for all our needs? Such a faith is an antidote to the worry that wreaks havoc in our bodies. Faith, moreover, is not directed toward what you can do. Money in the bank does not prove you have faith; it shows you have discipline and wisdom. There are a lot of people who don’t care a whit about God who have garnered great wealth through the application of discipline and wisdom. Bennie Hinn, a prosperity preacher who was big in the 90s, has decided no longer to equate the gospel with prosperity. He regrets the many years that he deceived people with the idea that God wants to make them rich when they give their tithes and offerings to his ministry. Through that deception he enriched himself. But, he has been convicted. He wants to preach a faith that is directed to the big things. Money and wealth are not the big things of life.
Faith must be directed to the impossible things that God challenges us to do. For such things, the appropriate prayer is: “Lord, increase our faith.” What are the big things that are the proper objects of faith for which we need an increase in faith? We need an increase in faith when God is silent. The prophet Habakkuk had a problem with the silence of God in the face of evil. He says in his book, “How long must I cry for help and you don’t hear? I cry violence, and you do not save.” Habakkuk witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. He saw unthinkable horror: the rape of women, the slaughter of children, the maiming of the innocent. It’s impossible to believe in God in such circumstances. No Sunday school faith will answer the painful question of the silence of God amid evil. Many surrender faith because they cannot square a loving, all-powerful God who allows evil to run rough shod over the weak. A member of our congregation had a conversation with his son about this very issue. His son said it is hard to believe in a God who is silent in the face of evil. “Look at all the evil!” He said. “How can I believe in God?” His father responded, “Look at all the good despite the evil.” The silence of God demands an increase in faith. Habakkuk has such an increase when he goes to stand in his fortress. There he will wait and hear what God tells him. His fortress is his prayer and reading of God’s word. He will engage those until his faith is increased to deal with the silence of God. Indeed, an abundance of good comes to those who wait and pray.
We need an increase of faith to drive out fear. Power comes from self mastery. This is the lesson that Paul teaches the young pastor Timothy. “God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and self control,” he writes to Timothy. Self mastery needs an increase in faith, because the most difficult battle is with one’s self. Anyone who takes Christ seriously enough to pray on a regular basis knows this. When the self is not mastered, there is fear. When the self is mastered there is more freedom, the power to love. “I never knew there was so much power in telling myself ‘no’” a recovering addict told me. “I thought my power was doing my own thing without anyone’s constraints or restraints. I discovered there is no real power and freedom in that.” Why did Paul emphasize mastery over fear to Timothy? Unlike Paul, Timothy was not a man of the streets. He was not like the rough and tumble Paul who had to be knocked off his high horse on the road to Damascus. Timothy was quiet and unassuming. The quiet and unassuming, we think, are beset by fear and diffidence. They are wary about breaking the rules, violating traditions. Paul had no such concern. Fear had so beset Timothy that he had stomach problems. Paul, accordingly, recommends that Timothy drink a little wine to calm the anxiety. Most of us are like Timothy: we were nurtured in the faith. Fear is our constant companion. We are not bold like Paul; we are cautious like Timothy. But, in this postmodern world people prefer cautious and an easy hand. A bold Paul is not heard. It is the easy, pastoral approach of Timothy that speaks today. It is the loving, mystical John who speaks today. We, like Timothy, need an increase in faith to overcome our fear and realize that we are gifted for such a time as this.
Finally, we need an increase in faith to forgive. Forgiveness must be a hard thing to do because many don’t forgive. In community, we hurt each other. That is inevitable. Hurt is going to happen, because temptations to sin are sure to come, as Jesus tells us. But, woe to the person through whom sin happens. It would be better if a millstone were hung around his neck. Jesus’ conclusion: “Pay attention to yourself.” Pay attention to how you treat people. Pay attention to how you talk to people, especially the people from whom you expect nothing. Yet, what keeps the community alive and vibrant is forgiveness. If your brother or sister sins against you and asks for forgiveness, forgive. That takes an increase in faith to do, which Jesus is glad to give you through Word and Sacrament.
It had to pain your heart to hear the tragic story of the Dallas, Texas police woman, Amber Guyger. Guyger entered a man’s apartment and killed him. Being overworked and tired, she thought she was in her own apartment. She was in the wrong apartment and killed the occupant of the apartment because she thought he was an intruder. This story is one of those complicated situations that needs the wisdom of Solomon. At the sentencing, the brother of the man shot dead said that he had forgiven the erstwhile police woman. He didn’t want her to get any jail time, in fact. As a sign of his peace and forgiveness, he asked to give her a hug. After handing down a 10-year sentence to Amber, following the example of the brother of the victim, the judge came down from the bench and hugged her as well. That’s the power of forgiveness. It calls forth our better angels.
We ask the Lord to increase our faith when God is silent. We ask the Lord to increase our faith in our battle with ourselves. We ask the Lord to increase our faith to forgive and move on. The Lenten Season of the Church Year, which begins on Ash Wednesday, is a most propitious time to ask for an increase in faith. Lent is an old Anglo Saxon word meaning “to increase, to lengthen.” With the coming of spring, there is an increase in warmth in longer days. During Lent, let us pray, “Lord, increase our faith.”
Pastor's Page - January 2020
The story is told of a woman who went to a psychiatrist complaining of anxiety. She said, “Every time I lay down on my bed I get this terrible fear that there is something underneath the bed.”
“Wow,” responded the psychiatrist. “I’ve never heard of such a phobia. But, like all phobias it can be treated. It will take 20 sessions.”
“OK,” responded the woman. “How much is each session?”
The doctor responded, “It’s just $150 dollars a session. Trust me: it is well worth it.”
When the woman didn’t return to the psychiatrist, he gave her a call. The doctor asked, “How come I didn’t hear from you. I thought you were willing and eager to tackle your anxiety?”
“Well,” responded the woman, “When I came home and told my husband about the cost of the therapy, he thought we could save money. He just cut the legs off the bed.”
Would to God that anxiety could be treated so easily. In our nation anxiety is out of control, especially among the youth. The New York Times recently reported on a Pew Research Poll that found that 70% of teenagers surveyed cited mental health concerns as their major challenge. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that the suicide rate is at the highest level since World War II. Hopelessness among the young is especially troubling. In an era of unprecedented prosperity and opportunity, people’s happiness and well-being are certainly not commensurate with that prosperity.
It is always risky to ferret out one factor of human behavior and make it the all-controlling factor over others. Anxiety, nevertheless, has always been a problem. We are born into it and we live in it. We enter another year, 2020, the year of clarity Pastor Greg said in his sermon on the First Sunday after Christmas. The clarity we seek is how to cope with anxiety. Here’s clarity: God is the antidote for anxiety.
Anxiety is a byproduct of being human. You sometimes have a gnawing feeling that you’re not right. You’re preoccupied. You’re not all there. If you have felt that way, then you’re in good company. That is how Moses felt. He had another vision of his life: it was life in the power center of Egypt, in the lap of luxury. Fleeing Egypt after killing an Egyptian who mistreated a Jewish slave, Moses landed in the desert of Media. There he tends sheep. That is a boring and monotonous job for a man with his skill set spawned in the high culture of Egypt. He is a fraction of the man he used to be. All that is left is his doubts and fears. Yet, amid his doubts and fears, the Lord reveals himself to Moses in the burning bush. The Lord tells him that he has heard the cries of his people in slavery. God is ready to do something about it. God is ready to send Moses to stand before Pharaoh to release his people. Moses’ response reveals the profound doubt that he has about himself: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” Later Moses proffers one excuse after another why he is not equipped to do what the Lord asks. God’s response to Moses: “I shall be with you.” And, “This is my name: I am who I am.” That response says it all: the antidote to the generalized, personal anxiety that plagues us all is that God is with us. His revelation is his power, for the revelation of his word is the vehicle of his presence among us. Moses was to take the name of God in his confrontation with Pharaoh. That name quelled his anxiety, enabling him to be stand boldly before the Egyptian king. We carry that same name with us when we cross ourselves. Before an anxiety-provoking meeting at work, cross yourself in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When visiting a loved one in the hospital, cross yourself. The name invites the reality of God which quells the anxiety.
Anxiety, moreover, is not only the personal variety that gets generated as we face the challenges of life. Death is also a source of anxiety. We can accept the fact that we shall die. However, apropos to the anxiety produced by any discussion of death is how and when we die. We when I was a boy, I recall telling my mother I wanted to die before her because I couldn’t bear the thought of her dying before me and having to live without her. She corrected me on that. She said that nothing is more painful to a mother than having her children die before her. Dying out of order is painful. The ancients thought of it as a cursed circumstance. Like all humans, the Sadducees in Jesus’ day had anxiety about death. But, they refused to see the solution in the resurrection. They could not believe in a living God who was active in bringing life from death.
The resurrection life of which Jesus speaks is not like this life. If you understand the next life as an extension of this life, then there will be anxiety, for the conditions of this life conspire to produce anxiety. It is never comforting to me at a funeral to hear people extrapolate from what a deceased loved one enjoyed in this life and suggest that is what that deceased loved one is doing now: “He is playing golf in heaven.” The resurrected life is radically different. We really have no way to talk about it except to say that Jesus defeated sin, death and the devil and has thereby granted us entrance into the next life, where we shall be like the angels who cannot die. Who are considered worthy to attain the resurrected life? Those born of God. You have been born of God through water and Spirit; therefore, you are God’s child. Loving parents take care of their children. God cannot do any less than the most exemplary parent. Child of God, your spiritual birth in the waters of Baptism quells anxiety about death.
Finally, talk of the end of the world provokes anxiety. According to some politicians, there are 12 years left on earth if we don’t radically alter how we live, radically cut carbon emissions. Indeed the world is a finite quantity. It will end. The issue is when. Nobody knows, least of all pecuniary-compromised politicians. In Second Thessalonians, Paul speaks of the lawless one who exalts himself above God.
Paul’s image of the end is certainly anxiety-provoking. Yet, in another breath he speaks about always giving thanks for having been chosen the first fruits of those to be saved. Jesus saves us, comforts our hearts and establishes them. Jesus saves, comforts establishes us in the Eucharist, the viaticum for the anxious journey of life that we’re on. The Eucharist is the thanksgiving feast through which we thank God for Jesus’ victory over sin, death and the devil. When we partake of the Eucharist, we share in that victory. The only response is gratitude. Gratitude is a powerful thing. An article in the Harvard Medical Journal notes, “Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health and deal with adversity.” Everything we do in worship is in gratitude to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The feast of thanksgiving culminates in the Eucharist, the tangible antidote to anxiety.
There is your clarity for 2020. There is the antidote to anxiety that is bound to come in 2020: 1) it is saying the name of God over yourself by crossing yourself (Word); 2) it is remembering your Baptism through which you have been born of God; and 3) it is partaking of the Eucharist, the feast of thanksgiving that makes you happy.
Pastor's Page - December 2019
A wise person once said, “If our greatest need had been information, then God would have sent us a teacher. If our greatest need had been technology, then God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, then God would have sent us an economist. If our greatest need had been pleasure, then God would have sent us an entertainer. But, our greatest need was forgiveness; so, God sent us a savior.”
The words of the angel Gabriel to Joseph concerning the Christ Child come to mind, “His name will be Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” That is the message of Christmas. And, that is a message for all people.
I have a friend who has gotten on a kick of referring to Jesus as Yeshua. He no longer refers to our Lord by his Greek name (Jesus), but his Hebrew name (Yeshua). He is convinced that everybody in Jesus’ day referred to him as Yeshua. He thinks that the name Jesus is the product of Greek imperialism and hatred toward Jewish people. The reality is that Jesus lived in a bilingual world, actually a multilingual one. In Jesus’ Palestine, Hebrew would have been used as a liturgical language in the context of worship. Aramaic would have been the everyday language and several folks would have had some facility in Greek and Latin. Jesus would have been comfortable with both his Greek name as well as his Hebrew one. Indeed one can refer to Jesus as Yeshua or “Joshua,” which is what both the Greek Jesus and the Hebrew Yeshua mean. The point is that Jesus is a savior for all people, for the Jew and the Greek, the Roman and the German, the African and the Persian. Indeed wherever the Gospel has gone into the world, people have transliterated Jesus’ name into their languages, tweaking it for their linguistic comfort. All this expresses the universality of the Gospel: Jesus is the Father’s gift of forgiveness of sins for all humanity. “He will save his people from their sins.”
Forgiveness is our greatest need. We tend to make other things our greatest need: finances, love, communication or professional enrichment. Those things are important in the pantheon of being human; there is, however, a hierarchy of needs, and forgiveness is at the top. And, if anything other than forgiveness becomes our greatest need that God addresses, then that changes the nature of theology, the church, and the nature of worship. More importantly, the need for forgiveness is a need that all humans share despite their varied circumstances, and that need has eternal ramifications, for through forgiveness we are brought into a loving relationship with God.
Today, we hear sermons about time management or some other modern and postmodern quandary perceived to be our most felt need. God the Father, however, knows best. God knows what trips us up in life, namely sin. It would be the height of absurdity for God to deal with anything other than sin, death and the devil, spiritual realities over which we have no power. Being incompetent in your career will not damn you. The mismanagement of time and money will not damn you. That being the case, the ultimate purpose of worship, then, is the context wherein to meet your savior from sin, death and the devil in Word and Sacrament. Worship is not free therapy. It is not a session on life enhancement. It is place where Jesus meets you to heal, forgive and empower you through the Holy Spirit in God’s chosen media of Word and Sacrament.
We are entering the season of worship with Advent and Christmas. Once again, we shall sing with the angels, Gloria Deo in Excelsis, “Glory to God in the highest.” Indeed glory to God in the highest, for God has done the unfathomable: God has become one of us. In the Christ Child we have a savior who has accomplished wonderful things for us. “For unto us is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is Christ the king.”
Pastor's page November 2019
War is hell!” General William Sherman said that during the American Civil War. In making that statement, General Sherman may have referred to war generally. Or, he may have referred to trench warfare specifically. Trench warfare is a military tactic traceable to the American Civil War. During World War I, moreover, trench warfare was common on the Western Front. The land between the trench lines was called “no man’s land.” In describing “no man’s land,” Wilfred Owen, an English poet and soldier during World War I, said: “No man’s land is like the face of the moon: chaotic, crater-ridden, awful, the abode of madness.”
The in-between spaces of life are like no man’s land. The in-between spaces of life are fraught with anxiety. What are the in-between spaces of life? It is one phase of your life ending and another beginning. In that transition, you have the feeling of being neither here nor there. The place from which you came is familiar; the place to which you are going is unfamiliar. Anxiety, fear and doubt accompany you along the way. Maybe your in-between space is an illness. Before the illness, you had health and vitality. Now, however, you are entering a phase of diminished physical capacity. You are uncertain. You are vulnerable in the in-between spaces of life.
Throughout the Bible, of course, there were many people in the in-between spaces of life, in the haunting place of no man’s land. What wisdom can they convey to us as we find ourselves in the in the in-between spaces of life?
When he wrote his first letter to the young pastor, Timothy, Paul was in the consummate in-between space: he was in prison. Yet, he writes his companion Timothy to encourage him in ministry. There is no self pity in him. Paul tells Timothy no soldier gets caught up in civilian matters. His focus is on the battle that he wages. In that battle, there are casualties. The demonic attacks. They use depression to discourage. Some get martyred. Some get thrown into jail.
Amid it all, moreover, Timothy is to remember Christ Jesus risen from the dead. Jesus is proof that that God is faithful. In the in-between spaces we prove to be all too human. We prove faithless. God, however, is faithful! In the in-between spaces know and trust that God is faithful. God sustains you. God will work the good even in the in-between spaces of life. In fact, the in-between spaces may invite you to reflect on where you have been and where you are going. As you reflect on where you have been, you can see that God has been faithful. If God is faithful in the past, then God will be faithful in the future, for Jesus Christ is the same today, yesterday and forever. Hence, the in-between spaces need not spook us. They invite us to be open to the new thing God is about to do in our lives.
Luke 17:11 notes that Jesus was walking between Samaria and Galilee. He was in no man’s land. The inhabitants of no man’s land were lepers. They were discarded to the periphery. However, in their darkness they ask Jesus to heal them: “Jesus, master, have mercy on us!” As lepers they were forced to live in the in-between space of darkness. It is in those very dark crevices of forgotten and neglected space that Jesus as light of the world deigns to enter. The priests never went there, as the story of the man who fell among robbers along the road to Jericho illustrates. Jesus tells them, “Go show yourself to the priests!” The word of Jesus is powerful. It penetrates the no man’s land of leprosy.
In-between spaces can be isolated. The healing word of Jesus penetrates those spaces. We get ourselves into in-between spaces of sin. We become impure in our isolation. We cry out in repentance: “Jesus, have mercy on me!” Blessed are those who mourn. Such a cry Jesus will not ignore. No in-between space is beyond the reach of Jesus. You are not by yourself in your in-between space.
One final person in an in-between space of life was Naomi. The book of Ruth relates her story. Naomi was in the in-between space of widowhood, poverty and migrancy. Her life was ripped from under her. First her husband died. Then her two sons married Moabite women. That was highly offensive, as offensive as blacks and whites marrying in the 50s and 60s. She had to be displeased with her sons’ choices of brides. Then they died. She is left alone with the Moabite wives of her sons. She tells them to return to their own people. But, one refused to abandon her. That was Ruth, who would become the grandmother of King David.
Ruth clung (Hebrew: davca) to Naomi. That is a rich word in Hebrew. Historically, Jewish mystics have used it to describe the mystic clinging to God at every moment of her and his life, so that they know that they know that they know that God is their refuge and strength. Like Ruth, in the in-between spaces we have to cling to God, for God is the faithful one who will never let us go.
In the in-between spaces, moreover, we need to cling to others in community. Ruth and Naomi formed an indissoluble community. Hence, they were of profound comfort to each other in their mutual crises. When in the in-between space of life, cling to others in the community of Christ. The church is not merely a social organization; it is the place of the mystical union of Christ with his body, the church. Christ promised to be present where two or more are gathered in his name. The church that signs itself with sign of the cross, hears Christ’s word and partakes of his body and blood in the Eucharist is a divine institution; it is a holy place. All the church’s faults are overwhelmed by the love of God in Christ Jesus, for the church has been bedraggled with the love of God in Christ Jesus. The love of God and the wisdom of God seep out from us all too flawed human members of the church. This love and wisdom are worth clinging to in your in-between spaces of life.
Pastor's Page- October 2019
The story is told of a troubled man. He approached a wise man saying, “I’m distraught. I feel lost. I don’t know who I am. Can you please show me my true self?” But, the wise man looked away without responding. Then, the man began to plead, to beg even. Still, the wise man gave him no answer, once again turning his head away from the man. Finally, giving up in frustration, the desperate man turned to leave. As the man was leaving the wise man called out his name. “Yes,” responded the man.
The wise man said, “There it is. There’s your true self.”
The moral of the story: paradoxically, the true self is found by giving up the search for it. There is no perfect self waiting to be had if you would try hard enough to find it. Ironically, the search for the true self leads to the false self. I remember in high school a friend and I prepared to go to a party. We talked about how we would be at the party. We talked about the attitude we would have toward certain people, how we would act. “I’m just going to be me; I’m going to be cool, laid back,” he said. I agreed. It goes without saying that we didn’t enjoy the party because we were in our heads. Because we were in our heads, we missed out on what the occasion was offering.
The false self is the fictive world we create about ourselves. It is ego. The false self is our self-created devices to earn people’s Iove and admiration. We use this same modus operandi on God, attempting to earn God’s love and admiration. This is a futile attempt. We must die to ego. Jesus puts it in very stark terms when says we must hate our father, mother, brother, sister, even our own life. We must die to the fictive world of the ego. The real you is what finds you. It is Christ in you. When Christ finds you, your true self, then there are some things you learn.
First, you learn that “God is your life and length of days,” as Moses says in Deuteronomy 30:20. You become keenly aware that your life is dependent on God. You come to understand that your life is not merely your own. You come to understand that all possibilities for life come from God. On the contrary, the ego is self-centered; better yet, it thinks it is self-generated. If one’s life is self-generated, then there is no sense of connectivity to others, least of all to God, whom we cannot see.
Second, when your true self in Christ finds you, you learn to live consciously. You become keenly aware of every moment of your life. If you want to lengthen your sense of life, then become conscious and aware. In Luke 14:27, Jesus demands that we pick our cross and follow him. That is the cost of discipleship. Then our Lord goes on to explain what builder does not first weigh the cost and the supplies needed before building? Or, what general will not first sit down and strategize how to face an invading army? Accordingly, those who follow Jesus must be keenly aware and conscious of their discipleship. Bearing the cross is to be profoundly aware and conscious. Why? The cross brings pain. Pain makes you profoundly aware. What is the pain that makes us profoundly aware? It is the paradox of being both saint and sinner. It is the paradox of being flesh and spirit. Life under the cross is living with this paradox. The pain that this paradox produces never goes away in this life. It impels us to seek solace and rest in Christ. Pain hitches us to Christ. The devil’s play house is unconscious living. At the core of any addiction is unconscious living; it is the attempt to forget pain brought on by the anxiety of life.
Finally, when your true self in Christ finds you, you learn that appeals motivate you, not commands. Paul told Philemon he had the authority to command him that he give up his slave Onesimus to him. Instead, he appeals to him. He appeals to his heart, knowing that he will do the right thing because his heart is rightly motivated.
I remember a phrase in the 70s that went like this: half of Americans would fare better in the Soviet Union in tyranny because they don’t appreciate the freedom that they have. And, half of the subjects of the Soviet Union would fare better in America because under tyranny, they have come to appreciate freedom. That logic can be applied to Christians. Many Christians have no idea what freedom in Christ is. Some cynically know that pastors cannot command them to do anything. So, they don’t lift a finger to help the church; they constantly take, never considering that they ought to give back in thanksgiving what they have received. Your true self in Christ cannot live with that limited, cynical logic. The true self gives and receives. Indeed to always give and never receive is masochism. To always receive and never give is sadism. Your true self in Christ is not satisfied with that option.
At Crossroads Retreat Ministry, we have a banner that reads: “Lord, teach me to receive, because you teaching someone to give.” Give up the search for your true self! Christ, your true self, has found you. Will you now pick your cross and follow him to the abundant life that he so desires for you to experience?
Pastor's Page- September 2019
Emily Dickinson, the great American 19th-century poet, paid an homage to the moon with the following words:
The moon is distant from the sea,
And yet, with amber hands,
She leads him, docile as a boy,
Along appointed sands.
He never misses a degree;
Obedient to her eye,
He comes just so far toward the town,
Just so far— goes away.
Oh, Signor, thine the amber hand,
And mine the distant sea,
Obedient to the least command
Thine eyes impose on me.
The moon has been a source of wonder ever since our ancestors first gazed at it. They crafted poetry and stories about the moon. They based calendars on the moon’s rotation. 50 years ago on July 20, the world held its collective breath at the vision of men in space suits walking on the surface of the moon. Occurring at the end of the turbulent 60’s, the walk on the moon could not have happened at a better time. The walk on the moon provided a telling metaphor. We were invited to look up from the chaotic 1960s to a transcendent hope. From the perspective of the moon, the political and social strife of the 60s seemed small.
Throughout the Bible, amid trying circumstances, the people of faith looked up to God. The psalmist prays: “I look up to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord.” In Psalm 3, the psalmist calls God a shield, “the lifted of my head.” John says in the book of Revelation, “I looked up. Behold a door was standing open in heaven.” Like the psalmist and John, keep your head up. From the perspective of a raised head to heaven, to God, problems seem to diminish.
Abraham did something risky in his day. Following the revelation of God, he left his tribe in Mesopotamia. He left what was familiar to him and Sarah. People in those days did not do what Abraham did: they did not leave home and family. But, faith compelled him to leave. He believed that God would make him and descendants into a great nation. He packed up his possessions and followed God’s lead. Can you imagine the conversation between him and Sarah as he proposed to her that they would leave? “You heard God say what? You want to take us away from our friends and family to go where? Are you crazy?!”
They left. Many years came and went. They were still roaming. They had not found a permanent land. They had no child. You better know that Sarah reminded Abraham of his so-called vision that was yet unfulfilled in their old age. All the productive years of their youth were slain at the altar of this vision. The vision placed them in stressful situations from which they had to lie to escape. The vision was paid for by Sarah’s fertility. When women are stressed, they become less fertile. How did God encourage Abraham amid the delays? On one occasion God took Abraham outside in the night and invited him to look up at the night sky. “As numerous as the stars, so shall your descendants be.” On another occasion Abraham was at the Oaks of Mamre. The Oaks of Mamre were a sacred place. Abraham was in prayer in a sacred place. He was constantly in prayer given the precipice along which he walked. During prayer, Abraham looked up. . . He looked up. . .He looked up. He looked up and saw three men. They were God. In the presence of God, he wants to serve God. Abraham shows hospitality to God. He cares for the three men. He sets water before them to wash their feet. He sets food before them. The point of story: God says next year Sarah would have a baby.
Keep your head up? Like Abraham, go the sacred place to meet God. Where is the sacred place? It is the Eucharist. The Eucharist , in fact, begins with a dialogue. The celebrant says, “The Lord be with you.” The congregation responds, “And also with you.” The celebrant says, “Lift up your hearts.” The congregation responds, “We lift them up to the Lord.” You are lifting your heart to the Lord who is present in the Eucharist. All troubling circumstances of your life diminish in the presence of Christ at the Eucharist. From the perspective of Christ the King, all problems seem small. That is a lesson Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus, had to learn.
Recall that Jesus attended a dinner at his good friends’ home. Their home was his place of rest. As Martha labored in the kitchen, Mary sat the feet of Jesus, soaking up the wisdom that fell from his holy, mellifluous mouth. Martha was troubled by the fact she was left alone to do the work. She complains to Jesus. Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, you are troubled about many things.” It wasn’t being alone in the kitchen that troubled her. She was already anxious and troubled about many things. Being anxious and troubled was her disposition. Martha, then, lived life with her head down. The circumstances of life controlled her. She chose to do things complaining. She did everything that way. She was one of those who lost sight of the forest because the trees. She was spooked about everything. She forgot whom she was serving. The details of dinner so swamped her that she was not mindful of whom she was serving. That was how she approached everything. She was the consummate drama queen.
Keep your head up! It makes you mindful. The key to more joy in life is to be fully present to what you are doing; yet, you are not fixated on it, attached to it, defining yourself by a single experience.
Paul had an amazing ability to keep his head up. Through his many toils for the sake of the gospel, he never lost sight of the big picture: to promulgate the word of Christ among Gentiles so that they become mature in Christ. Paul suffered imprisonment, beatings and sufferings to mature the body of Christ. He understood that his sufferings were of redemptive value. That is what hope works. What’s big picture of hope in your life? You will live. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, you will experience grace to grace, glory to glory. Your life will end well and continue beyond its terminal point on earth.
When I was a little boy, I had the idea that the crescent moon was the tip of finger nail of God. I thought that it was always pointing in the right direction. I figured that if I followed the fingernail of God, I would always go in the right direction. A child’s fancy became a lifelong reminder. To this day, I look up at the moon. When it is a crescent moon, I think, “The finger nail of God.” But, now I know it is a metaphor. It is a symbol. Because now I know that God’s finger is in my heart. It is not out there. It is in me. I am invited to lift up my heart to where Christ Jesus is seated in power. When I do so, I shall go in the right direction. Keep your head up!
Pastor's Page- July 2019
There is an African parable about an eagle who thought he was a chicken. As the story goes, when the eagle was an eaglet, he fell from the safety of his nest. A chicken farmer found the eaglet. He brought him to his farm. He raised him in a chicken coop among other chickens. The eaglet grew up doing what chickens do: he pecked about on the ground. The eagle became renowned in those parts: he was an eagle who acted like a chicken.
A scientist, an ornithologist to be exact, came to the chicken farm to see for himself what he had heard about the eagle who acted like a chicken. As an expert on birds, the ornithologist knew that the eagle was the king of the sky. Yet, when he saw the eagle strutting around the chicken coop pecking at the ground, he was amused. The farmer explained to the scientist that the eagle was no longer an eagle. He was a chicken. “He has lived among chickens and has been raised to believe he is a chicken,” said the farmer.
The ornithologist knew there was more to this great bird than the possibilities inherent in the chicken coop. He was born an eagle; therefore, he had the heart of an eagle. The ornithologist took the great bird and set him on the fence surrounding the chicken coop. He said: “Eagle, you are an eagle! Stretch forth your wings and fly!” The eagle moved slightly. He looked at the man. He, then, glanced down at his home among the chickens. It was there he was comfortable, as it was familiar. He jumped off the fence and pecked at the ground like the other chickens. The farmer responded, “I told you he was a chicken.”
The next day the ornithologist took the eagle atop the farm house. Once again he said, “You are not a chicken. You belong to the sky, not the earth! Stretch forth your wings and fly!” Again the giant bird looked at the man. He then looked down at the chicken coop. He, then, jumped from the man’s arm to the chicken coop below. The farmer smiled contentedly.
The next day the ornithologist took the eagle and the farmer to the foot of the mountain. They could not see the farm or the chicken coop. The ornithologist held the eagle on his arm. He pointed high into the sky where the bright sun was beckoning. The scientist shouted: “You belong to the sky, not the earth. Stretch forth your wings and fly!” The eagle stared upward. He straightened his large body. He stretched out his massive wings. With the mighty screech of an eagle, he flew.
That parable was told in colonial Africa to inspire Africans to decolonize their minds, to cleanse their minds of the negative images of themselves that the European colonizers foisted onto them as a justification to take their land. African indigenous, Christians had to hear that they were more than what their colonizers defined them to be. Christianity, in fact, is spreading like a wild fire all across Africa as Africans discover their true image of God in Christ. The largest Christian churches are now in Africa. The largest Lutheran churches are not in Germany or America; they are in Africa. As the West gives up on its faith, Africa has taken it up and is thriving. As they come into who they really are in Christ, African Christians are full of joy. Their material circumstances are meager, but their joy is full. Their joy is their power. There is no greater joy than coming into who you really are in Christ. Why peck like a Chicken when you can soar like an Eagle?
Jesus is the joymaker. As the joymaker, Jesus empowers you to be who you really are. There is no greater joy than being who you really are. Jesus takes you out of chicken circumstances and empowers you to soar to great spiritual heights. How?
Jesus says in the Gospel of John that his disciples had not asked anything in his name. Why? They did not know the power in Jesus’ name. In order to come to know the power in Jesus’ name, they had to get into circumstances where they would learn the power of Jesus’ name for themselves. As long they have Jesus in their midst, they would rely on him. To the extent that they did, they did not grow. Their life circumstances would expose their nature. Their life circumstances exposed fear and trembling, doubt. Their circumstances exposed the fundamental anxiety that we all struggle with. Amid those circumstances would they run and hide, cowered by fear? Or, would the circumstances impel them to pray in Jesus’ name. At the beginning of
each worship service, we cross ourselves in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy. That name of God invites the reality of God. The reality of God comes with the name. Sometimes, you have no words in given circumstance. It is best to cross yourself inviting God to give you wisdom, lucidity, enlightenment. Luther commented what imminent dangers he avoided by crossing himself. The disciples would be cast into darkness. They would learn to pray in Jesus’ name. That is joy.
Jesus answers prayer in his name. He answers such prayer to give us joy, not just joy, but complete joy. Complete joy is joy for the moment. My Ph.D. graduation last month was festive, colorful, very moving. Everyone was given a program that shared the biographies about the speakers. They shared information about the graduates: their previous degrees, etc. Instead of being in the moment, I found myself reading the bio of the speakers while they spoke. Throughout the ceremony, my colleague in Hebrew Bible also gave his full attention to the program. He had his head down, engrossed in the program. When I glanced at him, I said to myself, “Enough of this madness! Enjoy the moment!”
The complete joy that Jesus is talking about is full joy for the moment, not joy for tomorrow, not joy from yesterday, but joy for the moment. It was like the manna with which God fed the Israelites. It was food for the moment. The manna was not to be stored; when they did store it, it spoiled. God is a God of the moment, right now. There is no such thing as getting enough grace to sustain you for some amount of time that you designate. You cannot store up grace to such an extent that you can forego Word and Sacrament for a stipulated amount of time. You constantly need grace when it offered. “Give us this day, our daily bread.” Amid the anxiety of life there is a complete joy, a full joy.
Jesus, the joymaker, would enable the disciples to know the Father for themselves. Jesus derives great joy when we come to know his Father as he knows him. Jesus’ purpose was to introduce us to his Father. The Father loves he told Nicodemus. The Father is Spirit he told the Samaritan woman at the well. We are born of the Father; we become spirits like him. What does that mean? We have a future. We shall live. There are pockets of spiritual light in us that darkness cannot comprehend. If we have a secure future, then we can die with confidence. We can surrender ourselves to God in life and in death. We can get to the place where we are above it all, soaring with eagles. John’s Gospel is symbolized by the eagle. We spiritually soar.
Are you in chicken circumstances? Are you pecking at the ground seeking a mere pittance of food? If you do not pray in the name of Jesus, then you are in chicken circumstances. If you do not know your spiritual nature that enables you to soar above sin, death and the devil, then you are in chicken circumstances. If you are ignorant of power of prayer, the power in the name of Jesus, then you are in chicken circumstances. There is no joy in being in chicken circumstances because you are more. You are to soar like an eagle. Jesus, the joymaker, empowers you to soar. With Christ soar above sin; soar above the death; soar about the devil. You are an eagle. There is your joy.
Pastor's Page- May 2019
Will Rogers, the American actor and humorist, once said: “If you ever injected truth into politics you would have no politics.” The political landscape is rife with promises made but not kept. In 1916, two years after Europe was engulfed in World War I, President Woodrow Wilson ran for re-election promising he would keep America out of Europe’s war with itself. 34 days into his second term, Wilson signed a declaration of war against Germany.
While campaigning in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson promised: “We are not about to send American boys 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys should do for themselves.” Two months after Johnson was sworn into his second term, 3,500 troops landed in Danang, Vietnam. Three years later over half a million troops were stationed in Vietnam.
Little wonder we are cynical about politicians and the whole business of politics. Too often promises are made only to be broken. Broken promises, however, have proven very costly.
Recently, I met with four Lutheran pastors from another denomination. We got into a conversation about how to inject politics into sermons. We discussed whether pastors should shy away from being political and taking political stances in sermons. They wanted to take a political stance about the immigration issue because their colleague, a Lutheran pastor was arrested and detained by ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They were troubled by the ignominious way she was taken out of her home in pajamas before her screaming children. Apparently, she was brought to America as a child. She got educated, eventually attended seminary and got ordained. They were troubled by their colleague’s treatment. Yet, they felt taking a political stance would cause divisions in their congregations, but they felt impelled to say something nevertheless.
Though politics can feel like a cynical game, politics has real-life consequences. People get hurt; people lose their livelihoods and lives. Politics indeed is a matter of life and death; therefore, it should be taken seriously. Truth is at the center of whatever we take seriously.
We take the promises of God seriously because they are grounded in truth and they are of eternal validity. You can trust the promises of God, because God cannot lie or deceive. The truth of God is grounded in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The resurrection of Christ is the clarion call that whatever he promises, he fulfills. A promise from the mouth of a politician is untrustworthy. A promise from the mouth of Jesus is most trustworthy. What is the promise Jesus gives? It is the Holy Spirit.
As a congregation gathered around Word and Sacrament, we need the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the continuing voice of Jesus.
Jesus told his disciples that he had many things to tell them, but they could not bear what he had to say. Accordingly, like any good teacher his teaching method was process oriented. He dispenses wisdom and insight when his disciples are ready. When they prove themselves faithful in the smaller things, Jesus gives them bigger things. The Spirit would lead them and guide them to the bigger things, the greater things of enlightenment. Their office, a divine office, is blessed and empowered by the Spirit. As they engaged their work, they had access to power through the Holy Spirit. I recall a church that interviewed pastoral candidates. They asked about the quality of the prayer life of the pastors they wanted to call. They wanted to know how much time they spent in the word for their own spiritual edification. They wanted to know the amount of time they spent in prayer. Some of pastors they interviewed were taken aback by such an intimate question. But, the church wanted to know how they cared for themselves, how did they get power to do the job, how they got enlightenment. They knew that the pastoral office was a divine office imbued with power from the Spirit. And, for that reason, it was attacked, at the frontline of spiritual warfare. They wanted to know whether the pastor they called was getting access to the power to pastor. It was a totally legitimate investigation on the part of the congregation.
Not only pastors, but you also have a need for the continuing voice of the Holy Spirit, to which you have access through the word and prayer. When the word is confirmed by your heart through the unction of the Spirit it has real power. When you hear something down in the heart, you move; your total being gets enlisted to move. Just because you can play the notes does mean you can make music. You make music when your skill is so developed that you feel the notes and then interpret them with your total being. My brother’s cello playing used to fascinate me. I knew he was making music when he moved his hands vigorously and moved his body to the music. The music had so captivated him that he moved his body to and fro. Watching his physicality while playing was as compelling as the music he played; actually, it added to the experience. The movement was a joy to watch. So the continuing voice of the Spirit gets us to move.
The Spirit is not only the continuing voice of Jesus in the church and in your life, the Spirit is also the Paraclete, your constant companion called to stand along side you. As our constant companion, the Spirit reminds us to breathe: to breathe in the power and life the Spirit bestows through Word and Sacrament. The power and life produce the joy that transcends your circumstances. I accompanied Jilma during the birth of our sons. We did the Lamaze method. My role was to deflect her fixation on the pain of the contractions by getting her to focus on her breath. She was to breathe in deeply and watch her breath. That is essentially what the Holy Spirit does. The Spirit standing along us, reminds us to breathe in the life and power. To the extent that do, we have joy.. This Pentecost, we pray with church universal anew: “Come, Holy Spirit!” The Holy Spirit in our lives is the promise kept by Jesus.
Pastor's Page - May 2019
In Memoriam: Martha A. Mueller
Culminating on Easter Sunday, the Resurrection of Our Lord, God ended our observance of Holy Week with an exclamation point. The exclamation point was Martha’s transition from this life to eternal life in Christ Jesus. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was present with her to shepherd her beyond her thoughts and fears to eternal life in him. She did not die alone. Her death occasioned a holy assembly of angels and saints, presided over by Jesus, the Good Shepherd. He kept his promise to her made in the waters of Baptism that she was a child of his Father, born of his Father through the cleansing waters of Baptism, where her sins were forgiven, death was destroyed and the devil and his minions were defanged. Her prayer together with the Church Catholic of all time and in all places—“deliver us from evil”—was answered, as she was delivered from the chaotic and entropic realities of sin, death and the devil that weigh us down in decaying bodies. Everything Jesus accomplished objectively for humanity through his birth at Christmas, his life in Galilee, his death at Calvary, his resurrection at Easter, his ascension to heaven before the gaze of his disciples, his session at the right hand of the Father and his giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was given subjectively to Martha in her space and time in the waters of Baptism blessed by the performative word of Jesus. His performative word continues to be efficacious because it was spoken by not merely the son of man born of Mary but by the Son of God born of the Father. Martha progressed from grace to grace all the days of her life in her joys and sadness, victories and defeats, in the buoyancy and randomness of life.
The above was Martha’s theology. I have articulated it in lofty terms in keeping with the woman of dignity that Martha was. Her theology was informed by her Baptism. If theology codifies the values for which you are willing to die, what is really important to you, then Martha’s Baptism was the center, radius and circumference of her life. It was the guiding principle of her intelligent, systematic mind. Martha’s Baptism animated every aspect of her life. She did not have to tell you that. You saw it; I saw it. After worship, before she exited the holy space of St. Luke’s sanctuary, I sometimes caught a glimpse of Martha walking down the center aisle from the organ to the baptistery. She would stand silently before the baptistry, touching it as she spoke a silent prayer with her eyes closed, but the eyes of her spirit wide open to Jesus. In her final instructions to her family, she asked that the baptistry be placed at the head of her casket. She also asked that a pall be placed over her casket, which is symbolic of our baptismal clothing in Christ.
Her Baptism, moreover, invited her to go deeper into Christ as she learned to rest in her Baptism in her contemplative practice. Like Mary, she became quite the contemplative, sitting at the feet of Jesus and hearing him say deeply in her heart that he loved her, that he had always loved her, even when she felt unloved and unappreciated. It was what she needed to hear as she was cast all too soon in her life into the role of caretaker of her younger siblings. There was a time in America when most Americans were poor, when most families struggled to make ends meet. Older siblings of such families had to pitch in to help their families survive, as both parents worked odd hours to put food on the table. Having to fulfill the role of proxy parent to her younger siblings at a young age, Martha missed out on important teenage rites of passage. She was like Martha, the sister of Lazarus, beset by many worries about the family, as she was front and center to her parents’ struggles with each other. A huge weight was placed on her at an all-too-young age. College and graduate school were her refuge; music was her comfort; music was her prayer. But, the consciousness of not being appreciated dogged her; it was the hidden script of her emotional life. Her needs did not matter when the family’s survival was at stake. Those were the words that filtered what she would go on to experience. It was in contemplation she began to unpack that hidden script. It was in contemplation that she laid it bare. It was a painful process on the road to full acceptance of herself. For us who practice deep, contemplative prayer, our regret is that we did not find the practice sooner in our lives. But, the joy experienced in contemplative prayer soon vanquishes all such regrets. The joy of the moment is too beautiful to hang onto any guilt from the past. Accordingly, Martha’s contemplative prayer was a mere soupçon of the full appreciation and love she now feels in the presence of Christ Jesus. What was hinted at in contemplative prayer has become for her a full blown experience of eternal joy and bliss in Christ Jesus and all the saints in the light.
In paradisum deducant te angeli;
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres,
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat,
et cum Lazaro quondam paupere
aeternam habeas requiem.
May the angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs receive you at your arrival,
and may they lead you into the holy city of
May the choir of angels receive you,
and with Lazarus, that poor man,
may you have eternal rest.
Pastor's page - April 2019
An unknown author tells the story of a man who fell into a pit and couldn’t get himself out.
A subjective person came along and said, “I feel for you down there.”
An objective person walked by and said, “It’s logical that someone would fall down there.”
A Pharisee said, “Only bad people fall into pits.”
A mathematician calculated how deep the pit was.
A news reporter wanted the exclusive story on the pit.
A self-pitying person said, “You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen my pit.”
A fire-and-brimstone preacher said, “You deserve your pit!”
A psychologist noted, “Your mother and father are to blame for that pit.”
A self-esteem therapist said, “Believe in yourself and you can get out of the pit.”
An optimist said, “Things could be worse.”
A pessimist claimed, “Things will get worse.”
Jesus, seeing the man, took him by the hand and lifted him out of the pit.
Jesus demonstrates what we need: we need someone to save us. We need someone who saves us not with words, philosophies and creative perspectives that enable us to justify ourselves. We need someone who can save us from realities from which we cannot save ourselves. Relative to that, we need real action, not another “ism.” Mercy is grace in action. As grace in action, Jesus is the epitome of mercy. He has mercy on us who have fallen into a pit from which we cannot save ourselves. Jesus saves us from the pit of sin, death and the devil by his life, death, resurrection and session at the right hand of God the Father.
We have spent the Lenten Season confronting our sin. We know it is an inherited baggage for which we must nevertheless take responsibility. The other day, the vicar and I got into a conversation about inherited, familial features. He told me he was spending the Lenten Season reflecting on the inherited traits of his family that trip him up. He noted that every family has inherited issues that linger for generations. He called them generational curses. That got me to thinking about the vestige that I carry from my own family. I looked at my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and cousins. I looked at the things at which they are gifted and the things that are the source of constant, emotional conundrums. I looked at their successes and their failures. I looked at their coping skills and how they handle the stresses of life. Indeed some of the things they struggle with I, too, struggle with. We inherit the good and the bad from our families. Because we inherit traits from our families, however, does not absolve us of the responsibility of taking ownership of our inherited baggage.
God does not care, moreover, what station of life into which we are born. God cares whether we grow where we are. God desires that we live our lives, not someone else’s. Repentance catalyzes us to grow. At the last women’s retreat at which I worked, a woman spoke to me about feeling guilty about not being extroverted enough to witness boldly to the people into whom she came into contact. She was the consummate introvert. I told her extroverts have their way of expressing their faith and introverts have theirs. “You need to discover what is the spiritual expression commensurate with how you are gifted. Jesus had an extroverted Peter and introverted John.” Repentance produces growth that leads to self awareness and actualization. Repentance is grounded in the resurrection of our Lord, for it unlocks the benefit of the resurrection as an invitation to live a radically new life of peace, love and joy.
Pastor's page - March 2019
The story is told of a woman who came out of her house. She saw three old men with long white beards sitting in her front yard. She did not recognize them. She said, “I don’t know you, but you must be hungry. Please come in and have something to eat.”
“Is your husband home?” they asked. “No,” the woman responded. The men said, “Then we cannot come in.”
In the evening when her husband was home, she told him about the men. Her husband then said, “Invite them in.” The woman went outside and invited the three old men into their home. “We don’t enter a house together,” the old men said. “Why is that?” she asked.
One of the old men explained. “His name is Wealth,” as he pointed to one of his friends. “This is Success and I am Love. Go and discuss with your husband which one of us you want in your home.”
The woman entered her house. She told her husband what Love had said. Her husband was overjoyed. He said, “Let’s invite Wealth into our home.” His wife disagreed and insisted that they invite Success. Their young daughter heard her parents debating which of the three old men to invite into their home. She said, “Wouldn’t it be better to invite Love into our home? Our home would be filled with love. Don’t you want our home to be filled with love?”
Her parents agreed. They both went outside and asked, “Which of you is Love? Come, be our guest.” Love got up and starting walking toward the house. Then the other two, Wealth and Success, followed love. Surprised, the woman said, “I only invited Love into our home. Why are you all coming in?”
The old men replied together, “If you had invited only Wealth or Success, the other two us would have stayed out. Since you invited Love, wherever he goes, we follow. Where there is love, there is also Wealth and Success.”
Indeed, great things follow love. Love is foundational to us as humans. Without love, we atrophy and die. Love is not only foundational to us, it is foundational to God. “God is love,” says the Bible. We are connected to our loving God through faith in Christ Jesus, who is love incarnate. Faith and love go hand in hand. There is an essential mutuality between love and faith.
Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten Season of the Church Year. It is our intent throughout the 40 days of Lent to lengthen the love of God in in our hearts. Lent derives from the Old English word Lencten, meaning “springtime.” The word also has derivation from the West Germanic word Langitinaz, meaning “long days.” It is during spring that days get longer. Longer days with more sun are welcomed in the colder climates, as the sun unveils the earth’s bounty of new life.
Accordingly, more of the Son of God in our hearts produces a rich spiritual bounty. We lengthen the light of Christ through fasting. We put away something to replace it with more contemplation on the word, more prayer, more alms, more of Christ in the Eucharist—indeed more love—so that the loving light of Christ warm our hearts from the coldness of sin. Indeed, many wonderful things follow love.
Pastor's page - February 2019
James Polk, our 11th president, 1845 - 1849, was successful by every measure with which one might judge a president. Upon entering office, he had four major goals. He pursued an aggressive foreign policy which caused the United States territory to grow by a third, as under his presidency our country realized its continental presence from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. He annexed Texas. The Republic of Texas declared its independence from Mexico in 1836 over the issue of slavery. American immigrants into Texas refused to surrender their slaves in the Mexican territory that had outlawed slavery in 1829. Polk successfully executed the Mexican-American War, which yielded to the United States California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, southwestern Colorado, and southwestern Wyoming. And, Polk’s aggressive posture compelled the British to accept his offer of dividing the Oregon Territory at the 49th Parallel. The Oregon Treaty signed in 1846 added Washington, Oregon, Idaho, parts of Montana and Wyoming to the United States. President James Polk was our most successful president, accomplishing all he did even in one term of office. He proved himself to be an effective executive. The presidents whom we honor on Presidents’ Day would die for Polk’s record of accomplishments. Most of our presidents were at best mediocre in office. I would concede, however, they were all excellent in their private lives before taking the oath of office of the presidency; in office most were not effective leaders. Only a few were. One of the few successful presidents was James Polk.
For all his objectively-measurable accomplishments in office, James Polk is not the beloved president. Abraham Lincoln is the beloved president. James Polk grew the territory of the United States. Abraham Lincoln saved the United States from self-destruction. The war against self is the greater war to wage and win. Granted, Lincoln’s martyrdom cast him into a special class in the pantheon of American presidents. Yet, the war with oneself can be vicious and ugly, leading to many martyrs. Internecine fighting is the worse; rarely is there a negotiated peace. An Internecine fight is a war of attrition. So was the American Civil War. The war-weary face of Abraham Lincoln was illustrative of America at war with herself, the fight deep in her soul. It was America fighting against herself, fighting over how to implement her foundational value of freedom. Does freedom grant people the right to use their freedom to hurt others? Lincoln responded with a resounding no. We love and admire Lincoln because he challenged us to face the demons inside the soul of America, not merely the demons that we perceive in others as a rationalization to take their land. The war inside is the greater war. Emir Abd el-Kader, the Muslim Algerian leader in the fight against French colonization in Africa in the 19th century, whom Abraham Lincoln admired, understood that the internal war in the human soul is greater than the external war against other people. The Sufi mystic gave up fighting against the French to wage the war in the human soul.
Paul says something similar when he says in Ephesians that our fight is not against flesh and blood, but principalities and powers in high places. The mentors and leaders who enlighten us in how to successfully wage war with ourselves are the ones that we love and admire most. They challenge us to define success in such a way that it includes mastery of self. Sadly, I do not see enough self mastery in the public square. What occurs in the public square is symptomatic of what is happening in the American soul. Self mastery has a unique language: speaking the truth in love. During this month when we commemorate our national heroes, the people who master themselves are the true heroes whom we should emulate.
Pastor's page - January 2019
The story is told of an eight-year old boy who approached an old man in front of a wishing well. The boy looked up into his eyes and said, “I hear you are a very wise man. I would like to know the secret of life.”
The old man replied, “I’ve thought about that all my life. The secret can be summed up in four words.
First, think. Think about the values you wish to live by.
Second, believe. Believe in yourself to live by the values you think about.
Third, dream. Dream about the things you can accomplish based on the values you think about that you believe in yourself to live by.
Fourth, dare. Dare to make a reality the things you dream about based on the values that you think about that you believe in yourself to live by.”
Summing up, Walt Disney said to the little boy: “Think, believe, dream and dare.”
What a gift from a wise man! We need more wisdom. We have great intelligence. We have great knowledge. We know more about more things than ever before. We lack wisdom, however. Our politics today proves that we lack wisdom. To provide a commonwealth for all Americans, we seem unable to put the best interests of the country ahead of political partisanship. We need more wisdom in the public square.
We also need more wisdom in our everyday lives. December 25 was like Disneyland: full of idealism, sights, sounds and wonders, heaven kissing earth. January 6, the Epiphany of our Lord, is a subdued Christmas, full of the realism of everyday life where wisdom is so needed to negotiate the grays of life. Our soul needs both. It needs the brilliant, idealistic Christmas. It also needs the subdued realistic Christmas. Christ is at the center of both Christmases. Our souls need the wonder of Christ. Our souls need the wisdom of Christ.
On Epiphany, the magi bring to the Christ Child gifts symbolic of the offices of Jesus as prophet (frankincense) priest (myrrh) and king (gold). Jesus is a prophet who speaks with wisdom. Jesus speaks with wisdom when he tells you not to worry. Let tomorrow take care of itself. Seek first the kingdom now. Live in the moment now. How? God’s kingdom is a reign of grace and peace, love and joy in your hearts through faith in Christ. Peace, love and joy are always possibilities for you at any given moment. Christ our prophet dispenses wisdom that is mellifluous as incense.
Christ is a priest who reconciles with wisdom. The wise one is able to bring together parties at enmity with each other. Christ our priest brings God and humans together through his sacrificed body. He tears down the wall between God and humans in his body; he who knew no sin became sin for us to fulfill the just requirements of the law. In his body, Christ our priest breaks down of enmity between Jews and Gentiles, making of them one people in his body.
Jesus is a king who rules with wisdom. Compare Christ’s rule with that of Herod. Herod rules with anxiety. He was anxious about his ethnicity as an Idumean; he was not an authentic Jew. He was anxious about the Romans, though he was their sycophantic client. He was anxious about their power. Like people in power, he is anxious about competition. The news of the birth of a potential rival troubled him and all Jerusalem with him. He responds to his anxiety with murder. Murder was the way he dealt with people who troubled him, murdering even those in his own family. For potentates like Herod, they utilize power to exert power over people.
Jesus, however, is a different kind of ruler, king. He shares power with people. In the Sacrament of Baptism, our king gives us power in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit couples power with wisdom, wisdom that is so needed in a dark world. There is no getting around the fact that that you face a lot of gray situations in life. In your heart you face many gray situations, as you battle to defeat the remaining influences of sin in your life. To do that, you need wisdom. Wisdom negotiates the grays of life better than an absolute, black-and-white knowledge.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul encourages us to seek the spiritual gifts; it is most appropriate to desire them. He couples the gift of knowledge with the gift of wisdom. You need both. Knowledge is a special light, a great wonder; yet, knowledge must be applied in such a way that it pays attention to the whole context. Wisdom makes knowledge pay attention to the whole context of a person’s life in the application of knowledge. The wonder of knowledge can puff up, however. Wisdom puts knowledge in its place.
The magi (sages) had a tremendous amount of knowledge. They mastered every intellectual subject from mathematics to medicine. Long before the Enlightenment Age in the 18th century AD made the scientific method the basis of knowledge, the ancient sages were paying attention to the cosmos, studying it and exulting in wonder. The true sages saw the cosmos as revealing the glory of God; consequently, they knew they were small in comparison. You don’t get that impression from Enlightenment thinkers: they studied the cosmos to aggrandize themselves, exploiting nature and the cosmos like a machine.
For the ancient sages, however, study of the cosmos revealed to them their place in it. With all their knowledge, the sages still listened to the voice of God that led them to the Christ Child. The voice of God also led them out of danger. The voice of God was the wisdom of God. The sages exemplify to us that we need both knowledge and wisdom. We need both wonder and wisdom. Knowledge produces great wonders. How could your heart not exult in wonder as you surf the internet? Yet, your knowledge will never outpace your need for wisdom, for wisdom addresses the issues of your heart that your head will never understand.
Pastor's Page - December 2018
“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 of 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 happens 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.
In the closing weeks of the year, our state has suffered twin tragedies in the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks and the recent wildfires. The wildfires are slated to become the worst in our state’s history. The town of Paradise was wiped out: a loss of 7,100 structures, mainly homes. As last count, 88 people lost their lives. The death toll could still rise, as there are people still missing. However you weigh it, this Christmas will be a Blue Christmas for many. How, then, should we celebrate Christmas given the corporate pain that we all feel as we commiserate with those who have lost everything? “There but for the grace of God go I.” That statement invites humility and repentance.
At its core, moreover, every Christmas is a blue Christmas, as we contemplate the reason for the birth of the Christ Child. He was born to undergo tragedy with us and ultimately die for the tragedy of sin and death. Christmas, however, empowers us to handle pain and tragedy not like those who have no hope. We are never free of the possibility of tragedy in this life. But, Christmas empowers us to transcend it, knowing that nothing can separate us from the love in Christ Jesus. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the King.”
Pastor's Page - November 2018
The story is told of a man who was distraught by all the pain and suffering in the world. One day he got so angry about the negative condition of the world that he pounded his fist on the ground. Then, he turned his head towards the heavens and exclaimed to God, "Look at this mess on this planet! Look at the pain and suffering! Look at all the killing and hate! God, why don't you do something about it?!" Surprisingly, God spoke back to him and said, "I did. I sent you."
On November 1, All Saints' Day, we commemorate all the saints, known and unknown, who had a keen sense of their calling in Christ and through that calling did something to better the world. In the process of living their lives they heeded the moral imperative and tried to do something to address the pain and suffering in this world. We emulate them. We thank the Lord for them.
The author of Hebrews says, "We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses." (Hebrews 12:1) We, the church militant--the church that still wages battle against sin, death and the devil, the church that still lives in this mess of a world--are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who comprise the church triumphant. The church triumphant is a collection of people who did something in their own unique way to better the world. It may have been the grandmother who taught her grandchild how to pray. It may have been the faithful pastor who gave of himself tirelessly to his ministry, never seeking accolades from members, knowing that his meat and drink was to perform the will of God in his calling. He knew that the work was its own reward.
The church triumphant, then, is comprised of the unknown saints who have had an impact on the micro world of your life and the well-known saints who have pushed the macro world of human history along the curbed arc toward justice and righteousness, where God will be all in all after Christ has subdued every enemy under his feet. The resurrected and ascended Christ is presently fighting to vanquish all his enemies. To the extent that we are in Him through the waters of Baptism, we, too, are engaged in that fight. That is why we are called the church militant: we fight and suffer with Christ.
It is because we still fight, moreover, that we need a great cloud of witnesses. The great cloud of witnesses is one of the many spiritual resources that we have to engage this world for the better. In the Old Testament, clouds are symbolic of the presence of God, which is God's glory. The presence of God is God's glory. Think about that for a moment. . . .The ancient church sang, Ubi caritas est, Deus ibi est.. "Wherever there is love, God is there." The presence of God is the glory of God. The glory of God is love. A great cloud (love) accompanied the Israelites along the way through the desert from slavery to freedom. Mount Sinai was suffused with clouds (love) when Moses received the law from the mouth of God. The tabernacle, the movable worship center of the Israelites, was the holy place where God met Moses and the priests in clouds (love) of smoke to guide them along the treacherous path to the Holy Land. The cloud (love) is a theophany of God; it is the presence of God. The cloud (love) was symbolic of the nearness of God and the transcendence of God. Along the treacherous way to the Holy Land the Israelites needed a close God; yet, they needed a God big enough to control history. When the author of Hebrews speaks of saints being in the cloud (love), he means that they are in God. The church triumphant is in God. They die into God and they now live in God. We are surrounded by them inasmuch as God surrounds us. This is a great comfort to us as we traverse a difficult way to eternal life.
The tragic killings of our Jewish friends in Pittsburgh is another vivid reminder that evil has not yet been vanquished. The fight continues. As we fight, let us not forget that love is greater than hate. Love is greater than evil. We overcome all evil with love. Hence, we must remain close to the sources of love, for they are our power. They are our support systems as we live in a world where there is so much pain and suffering.
Armies, moreover, need support systems to maintain a position of battle readiness. An army that outflanks its support system will be made vulnerable to attack and eventual defeat. This was the mistake that Napoleon made when he attacked Russia in June of 1812. His army got stuck in the Russian winter. Oddly enough, Adolf Hitler made the same mistake in World War II 129 years later. Might there be a truth about evil in those two illustrations? Evil narrows the possibilities of life. Evil is prone to being stuck in what it obsesses about. Such obsessions produce a narrowing of the possibilities of life, which leads to death. Evil does not have the freedom that love has. Love expands life; evil contracts life.
The church triumphant is part of our support system. We dare not outflank them by engaging this world without their loving support and prayers. They are the cloud (love) of witnesses that signal that we are not alone. We need their support in prayers, in wisdom and abiding fellowship produced by unbreakable bond of love in Christ Jesus.
Pastor's Page - October 2018
I became a Los Angeles Rams football fan when as a young boy my mother bought me a Rams uniform. When I put on the helmet, I was transfixed; I became one with the team that I watched on television. How I loved the Rams' blue and white!
My love for the Rams softened a bit when in 1980 they moved from Los Angeles to Anaheim, because with the move to Orange County came a uniform change; they exchanged the traditional blue and white for blue and gold. There was something Mickey Mouse about blue and gold. I guess that worked in Anaheim. Nevertheless, I remained a fan.
The team broke my heart, however, when it moved from Orange County to St. Louis in 1995. Understandably, they would change the color of their uniforms from their bright, optimistic Golden State hues to more understated, subtle Midwestern hues. They took on Notre Dame's colors. Five seasons later in 2000, the Rams won their first Super Bowl. I recall traveling to St. Louis in 2000. I was invited to preach at the church at which I did my vicarage. When my plane landed at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis, my heart sank as I deplaned and walked about the terminal. I saw Rams gear everywhere. What little attachment I had to the Rams was forever severed that day. I just couldn't square the idea of my childhood team in St. Louis, that they won their first Super Bowl in another city.
"Hope springs eternal," wrote Alexander Pope. My love for the Rams was renewed when they returned to Los Angeles in 2016. This fall, everything is right with the world, as the Rams look like a team poised to go to the Super Bowl. Since the return of the Rams' blue and white, I get a childlike giddiness this time of the year at the beginning of football season. I have gone full circle. Speaking of going full circle, the beginning of fall--actually, the beginning of any season--signals the cyclic nature of life. Trees put on their autumn hues. There is a burst of beauty in the diversity of colors. The season invites us to renew ourselves. It is little wonder that fall has inspired major renewal movements in the Body of Christ. October, moreover, commemorates many saints, including our congregation's namesake, St. Luke on October 18. October commemorates St. Francis, the founder of a mendicant order in the 13th century whose simple teaching of religion as joy brought renewal to the medieval church. Of course, the Lutheran Reformation occurred on the last day in October when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, inviting debate on some theological issues that he thought were important to the health of the church.
Every month is conducive to a certain mood that challenges us to be in conformity with it. October is most conducive to renewal and recrudescence. What does that renewal look like? It is a return to your first love. It is reconnecting with Christ. Renewal in Christ is embedded in repentance. Repentance is the frank confession that you have deviated from what is most important; somehow along the way of life, your priorities got out of whack. Such is life; that happens to us all. Yet, you desire to return to all that is decent, good, kind, and lovely, which is Christ Jesus. Going full circle is always a possibility for us in Christ, for that is the function of love. This October, the month of renewal, may your prayer be: "Renew me, Lord Jesus!"
Pastor's Page - September 2018
"Tame Your Inner Critic"
The story is told of a pastor search committee. They reported to the congregation that they were unable to find a suitable candidate, though one looked promising and should be invited to preach one Sunday.
Here was their report:
Adam: A good man. But, he has problems with his wife.
Noah: His former pastorate was 120 years with no converts.Joseph: A big thinker, but a braggart. He has a prison record.
Moses: He's a modest and meek man, but a poor communicator. He left an earlier church over a murder charge.
Elijah: A powerful man of prayer, but prone to depression.
Solomon: A great teacher, but a serious problem with women.
Hosea: A tender, loving pastor, but our people could never handle his wife's meretricious occupation.
John: He says he's a Baptist, but he doesn't dress like one. May be too Pentecostal: he tends to raise both hands in the air when he gets excited.
Peter: He's too blue collar; has a bad temper, prone to cursing.
Paul: A powerful CEO type, a great preacher, but no tact, known to preach all night.
Timothy: Too young
Jesus: Once grew a church to 5,000, but, then, he managed to offend them all; it dwindled down to the original 12 people. Seldom stays in one place long. And of course, he's single.
Judas: His references are solid, a steady plodder. Conservative. Good connections. He knows how to handle money. The committee recommends that we invite him to preach here one Sunday.
We all have critics. We all have those people who see it as their responsibility to keep us in our places. As any politician, Margaret Thatcher, the great prime minister of England, had her fair share of critics. She once said, "If my critics saw me walking on the Thames River they would say it was because I couldn't swim."
The prophet Ezekiel, Saint Paul, and Jesus also had their critics. How they handled their critics is instructive to us. Each of us has a critic that is relentless in its criticism. It is our inner critic. We must learn to tame our inner critic.
As you face your inner critic, the prophet Ezekiel would encourage you to be strong in your calling. In Ezekiel chapter 2, God called Ezekiel and told him to stand up, so that God could speak to him. Then the Spirit entered him, empowering him to stand up and pay attention.
God tells him that he is being sent to a difficult people, a rebellious people. They are stubborn. Ezekiel is told to say to them, "Thus says the Lord!" That phrase was to be Ezekiel's power, his security, his hard shell against his critics.
When you face your critics, especially your own inner critic, you must be strong in your calling. What is your calling? You are a baptized child of God. You are filled with the Spirit. You are forgiven. You are empowered. Stand up and be strong in that calling.When facing your inner critic, Paul would encourage you to look at the fruit of your life. In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Paul delineates the fruit of his prayer life. He had powerful experiences of God. I suspect that he had to have these experiences to counteract the vivid reminder of his sin. He destroyed families. His sin was cemented deep in his heart. You may ask: "Didn't he become a holy man of God, a powerful man of God?" Funny thing: when the light of truth shines in your heart, you see your sins, especially the ones committed long ago. Though you may be forgiven, former sin may still occasion tears, which is not a bad thing if those tears keep you open to God's forgiving love in Christ Jesus.
Paul, moreover, gives us a litany of his mystical experiences of Christ. He gives this litany in the context of his apostleship being doubted and criticized. He was hounded constantly by critics who never accepted his apostolicity. To authenticate his apostleship, all he could do was point to his many sufferings on behalf of the church and the many people that he birthed into Christ as the fruit of his prayer. Like Paul, tame your inner critic, silence your inner critic by pointing to the fruit of your life. The inner critic does not barter with fact. Its currency is fear, not fact. Call out your inner critic with the following: "God has been faithful in past. If God has been good in the past, then God will be good now in this present conundrum."
I should, however, be fair to the inner critic by saying that the inner critic means well. Every good person has an inner critic. Only narcissistic people and sociopaths are bereft of an inner critic, because they don't care whom they hurt, which they do without the slightest compunction.
Your inner critic wants to protect you. It wants you to be secure into a situation that you control. It gets nervous when you step out of routine. But, the only way to grow is surrender control and walk in faith. Faith will produce fruit that tames the inner critic.
In Mark chapter 6, Jesus faces his hometown critics. They marvel how it is that one of their humble ranks could achieve such brilliance. The way that Jesus handled them was by staying focused on his purpose. Jesus marveled at their unbelief. Then, immediately, he sent out his disciples to extend his work of liberation from the demonic through the preaching of the word. Jesus got back to his purpose. Do you know your purpose? If you know your purpose, then your life will not be derailed by critics, least of all your own inner critic. What's your purpose? You are God's workmanship to do good works. What are good works? Given your context, whatever is good, whatever is lovely, whatever is excellent, etc. Tame the inner critic with good works.
Pastor's Page - July 2018
As we celebrate the 242nd birthday of our nation, a seeming infinitesimal amount of years compared to those of the Chinese, Indian and European nations, let us consider that our nation was spawned amid the fierce competition of nations with imperial designs: Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English. By the 18th century, the competition for the North American continent was especially fierce between the English and French. The Native American peoples and people of African descent played off this competition to gain favorable treatment, though such treatment was all too temporary.
America, moreover, has been described as the first postcolonial nation to break away from the clutches of a colonizing empire, namely the British Empire. America would provide the template, the template of freedom, for other subjugated peoples desiring to throw off the chains of empire. As a case in point, the Vietnamese people in 1954 faced off with their French colonial masters. They used our Declaration of Independence to inform their own statement of independence from French hegemony.
From whence cometh this template of freedom? America has two parents. She is the child of the Enlightenment. Most of the founding fathers and mothers of our nation were influenced by the Enlightenment and the philosophy that derived from it. Two major themes came from Enlightenment thinking. First, reason was a unique light leading people out of the darkness of superstition, bigotry and ignorance. In the 17th century, it was the absolutism of faith, the very Archimedian point of superstition, bigotry and ignorance, which led to the 30 Years War on the continent in the aftermath of the 16th century Reformation. The Enlightenment was a necessary correction to the bloodshed and mayhem caused by the Catholics and Protestants. Many people lost their lives over whose version of the pacifist Jesus was true. Reason became foundational to Enlightenment thinking.
Another important theme of the Enlightenment was the idea that all humans share the same rights by virtue of being human. They are all beholden to a creator who has given them "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Thomas Jefferson expressed these rights as coming from God, not an endowment of government. These rights are universal, available to all humans.
If the Enlightenment is the father of America, then Christianity is her mother. The Bible informs the American consciousness of being a unique nation endowed with the purpose to lead other nations. The story of the liberation of the Jews from Egypt became an attractive analogy that bespoke American liberation from the British imperial power. The Ten Commandments became a source of morality. And, the religious experience of freedom from sin, death and the devil through Christ's substitutionary work also contributed to America's fundamental value of freedom.
Freedom, then, is the meeting place of the Enlightenment and the Christian Faith. America is a continual experiment in the articulation of freedom for all. No other country has changed itself more in ensuring that freedom be extended to its inhabitants. Freedom, then, is uniquely America. Freedom is primary to diversity, economic prosperity or even equality for that matter. However, any cursory view of the political scene today would reveal that freedom is being trampled upon, namely people's individual freedom of expression, belief and freedom to engage in commerce in a way that brings them happiness. People are afraid to express their political leanings for fear of being attacked. As we pray for our nation on its birthday, this present political context must inform our prayers. Let us pray that the political persecution stop. This shaming of Americans for their views is profoundly un-American.
Let us pray for civility, asking that people learn to speak the truth in love.
We must, moreover, move beyond imperial politics, which has absolutized political speech and ideas. The imperial threat to us is no longer outside us in the form of the Spanish, Portuguese, French or British empires. It is an imperial politics that is the threat that is rendering the body politic poisonous. Imperial politics has politicized every aspect of our lives and has had a chilling effect on the exercise of rights in the context of freedom. Secularism replaced God with an imperial politics that is hyper about everything in this life. Secularism offers no bigger picture than this life. If this life is all there is, then how do we not become desperate about it? How do we not become hyper, unable to experience Sabbath rest, letting go and letting God? Imperial politics is the result of kicking God out the public square. The only way to respond to the imperial in any form is to demand the exercise of more freedom. Concomitant with the idea of freedom is the dignity of all people. The expression of freedom while respecting the dignity of others is what makes America the beautiful.
Pastor's Page - June 2018
This June, the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals featured for the fourth consecutive year the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. In this latest NBA rivalry, the Warriors, who play in Oakland, California have won twice and Cavaliers, once. Some are elated about these same two teams playing in the finals, as it is in the spirit of other historic rivalries like the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics; others, however, are tired of the same act.
Rivalries are the stuff that sports history, tradition and mythology are made of. Inevitably, we identify with the same cast of characters. Their personal stories become a source of inspiration when we learn of their struggles, their setbacks, and their triumphs in defiance of those setbacks. Indeed, sports imitate life. The commitment, dedication and focus in sports are translatable to other aspects of life, like excellence in music, academics and wealth building. The internal struggles with self, the doubts and fears, the triumphs and failures, are present in any endeavor in life.
And, it is instructive how athletes overcome their battles with self-sabotage and achieve excellence.
For instance, LeBron James, star of the Cleveland Cavaliers, had a nagging thought that left him crestfallen. At several points this season he doubted whether his team would make it to the playoffs, let alone the finals. "We'll never make it," thought the perennial All Pro. "The team's in disarray, going through a transition." LeBron's sentiments were borne out by several blowout losses to weak teams in the months of December and January. He felt the team giving up, settling on mediocrity. "And I was like, 'OK, I am not settling for that conversation. Now that is ridiculous. Now I have got to get into the playoffs.'"
That sequence of thoughts is what we admire in the great people like LeBron James, no matter their field of excellence: the refusal to give up and settle for mediocrity. The biggest battle is the battle with the internal self, the battle with thoughts. Once negative, debilitating thoughts are called out within oneself, the heroes that we admire achieve great things.
We may not be gifted to achieve greatness with a basketball or a guitar, but we, certainly like any accomplished person, must face our thoughts and call out the thoughts that lead to self sabotage, thoughts that keep us from living the abundant life in Christ informed by peace, love and joy. St. Paul, who loved sports and used sports analogies to illustrate spiritual truths ("running the race"; "boxing in the air," to name a couple), challenges us to take every thought to Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:5). Our thought life is the frontline of spiritual warfare. It is incumbent on us to develop discernment about the thoughts that barge in on us. Also, we must learn to ignore thoughts, preferring to go about our day with a quiet mind. That is possible if we decide to take every thought captive to Christ and choose instead to think about whatever is lovely, true, honorable, just, commendable, excellent, worthy of praise, so that the peace of God in Christ would inundate our every moment (Philippians 4:8,9). Such mental hygiene is the key to excellence in all life's endeavors.
Pastor's Page - May 2018
“A Letter From God"
Good morning. As you got up, I watched and hoped that you would talk to me. Just a few words, such as thanking me for something good in your life yesterday or last week would do.
But I noticed that you were busy selecting the right clothes for work. I waited hear from you, but you never slowed down. I wanted to tell you that I could help you accomplish more than you ever dreamed possible if you would spend some time with me each day. At one point you waited in a chair for fifteen minutes with nothing to do. I waited to hear from you.
Then I saw you spring to your feet; I thought you wanted to talk to me, but you ran to the phone and called a friend. I watched as off to work you went and waited patiently all day long to hear from you. With all your activities you were too busy to talk to me.
I noticed at lunch you looked around. Maybe you just felt embarrassed to talk with me. You glanced three tables over and noticed some of your friends talking to me before they ate, but you wouldn't.
There was still more time left, and I hoped that you would talk. You went home and had many things to do. After they were done, you turned on the TV. I waited as you continued watching TV and ate your meal; but, again, you wouldn't talk to me.
At bedtime you were totally tired. After you said good night to your family you plopped down on your bed and fell asleep. I wanted so much to be part of your day. We could have had so much fun and accomplished so much together.
I love you so much that I wait for a thought, a prayer or thanks. Well maybe tomorrow. I'll be waiting.
Your friend, God
Pentecost Sunday and Holy Trinity Sunday remind us of our intimate connection with God, our friend. The Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus' disciples fifty day after Easter (Passover). The Spirit is the intimate voice of Jesus who harkens us to follow Jesus. The Spirit not only harkens but also imbues us with the power to follow Jesus. The Spirit was given to us in the waters of Baptism to be the source of intimacy with God, empowerment and enlightenment about the Word of God.
The Sunday following Pentecost, we celebrate Holy Trinity Sunday. For most Christians, the Trinity is an abstraction, not intimate at all. The Trinity, however, is profoundly intimate. The Trinity says that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in an interdependent relationship. They need each other. They have a mutual relationship without which they would not be who they are. The Father is in the Son and the Son and Father are in the Spirit. Greek thought speaks of the perichoretic union the persons of the Trinity, which means literally the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dance around with each other in a joyous dance of love. The vibrancy and the emotional vigor of that dance spills over onto all of creation. Creation, then, is a product of love. When we cross ourselves we are joining in on their dance. What we say about God is essentially what we say about ourselves. We, too, live in mutual relationships that complete us. Interdependency is at the essence of who we are. No one is an island.
So, dance your way through life with God: follow God's lead, timing and rhythm. You will indeed have much fun and accomplish much.
Pastor's Page - April 2018
He had a premonition that he would die young. Death was his close companion, as he thought about it often. He was never afraid of being physically hurt; therefore, his father's corporal punishment did not work on him. When at eight years of age he heard that his beloved grandmother had died, he jumped from the second story of the family home intending to join her in death. He did not want her to be alone in death.
As a young man, he and his fellow clergy used gallows humor to quell the stress of their divinely-appointed work. They would practice preaching at each other's funeral. Long before he gave his inspiring mountain top speech on April 3, 1968, for years Dr. Martin Luther King had rehearsed in his mind the content of that speech. Indeed Dr. Martin Luther King's life-long premonition would come true. He was assassinated at the tender age 39, at 6:01pm on April 4, 1968, in the city of Memphis, Tennessee. This April 4th is the 50th Anniversary of his death.
Like King, death is our constant companion. Some of us are well aware of this haunting darkness. Others of us are in denial of its reality, pretending that, if we do not think about it, then we can keep it away at arm's length. Nothing could be further from the truth.
On Good Friday, we looked our mortality in the face. We accepted the reality that we shall die. But, we did not stop at the specter of death. Inherent in the acceptance of the reality death is the challenge: how then, shall we live? In the horizon of the Good Friday is the Easter Sunday empty tomb. It determines how we should live in the face of an imminent death.
Sacramentally, we stand at the cross together with Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary, the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, and John. We stand with them peering at Jesus. As we look at Jesus, we look at our humanity, our own mortality. Jesus' history is our history. All that he went through, we go through. The waters of Baptism have made our close identification with Jesus.
Jesus on the cross is the Crucified God. Wherever God is there is hope, hope that God will do something about sin, death and the devil. God must do something about them, otherwise God is not just and loving. God has done something: the death of Jesus is the death of death. The resurrection of Jesus is the life of life. Christus Victor has vanquished hell.
Because of the death of death and the life of life, like Dr. King you can be so bold as to rehearse your funeral. More than that, because of the death of death and the life of life, you can really live. What does it mean to really live? Dr. King felt that after finishing his Ph.D. he would petition for a pastorate in a college town, where he could perform both his passions: preaching and teaching. For Dr. King that would have been really living. That was what he really wanted for himself. Coretta, his wife, wanted that for him as well.
But, that was not the calling on his soul. The calling on his soul would reveal itself in time and in various circumstances. Though his calling impoverished him, though it tortured him psychologically, nevertheless if he had the chance to do it all over again, he would have followed the calling on his soul, which, of course, was to lead the Civil Rights Movement in the late 50s and 60s. Like King, if you can say that you would do it all again if given the chance to relive your life, then you are living by the calling on your soul. Dr. King knew that death was not the worst thing that could happen to him; not following the calling on his soul was worse. The calling on your soul is found when you face your other. The other you face is death. You face it with resurrection confidence and courage, forging an abundant life of peace, love and joy in the face of the chaos of this present darkness. People who live that way are people of resurrection hope and power.
Pastor's page - March 2018
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 worldview, which sometimes has no room for God. They are firmly ensconced in their intellectual and emotional systems, thinking that they 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. They became jaded. 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 did not bitter, 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 us. The cross of Jesus overcame evil with the good. During this season of Lent, 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 the good, namely the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Parts 2 and 3 of Handel’s “Messiah” will be presented at Bridges Hall of Music, Pomona College, 150 E. Fourth Street in Claremont, from 3-5 p.m. on Saturday, March 10. These beautiful sections share “the rest of the story,” apart from the familiar Christmas portion. Professional soloists Coril Prochnow, soprano, Suzanna Guzman, mezzo-soprano, Matthew Miles, tenor and Wayne Shepperd, bass and chamber orchestra join the Claremont Chorale share the most beloved work in this timeless choral repertoire. Pre-sale tickets are available from Chorale members or at Rio de Ojas, 250 N. Harvard Ave. in Claremont. Tickets may be purchased online at claremontchorale.org. Tickets are $20.00 each at the door.
Pastor’s Page - February 2018
"The Chatter of Chaos"
A Sermon Based on Mark 1:21-28
The story is told of a group of frogs. They were traveling through the forest when two of them fell into a deep pit. When the other frogs saw how deep the pit was, they told the two frogs who had fallen into the pit that there was no hope left for them. However, the two frogs ignored their comrades. They proceeded to try to jump out of the pit. Despite their efforts, the frogs at the top of the pit were encouraging them to give up. They would never make it out. Eventually, one of the frogs took heed to what the others were saying. He gave up, jumping even deeper to his death. The other frog continued to jump as hard as he could. The other frogs yelled at him to stop the pain and just die. He ignored them. He jumped even harder. Finally, he made it out. The other frogs said, "Did you not hear us?" The frog explained to them that he was deaf. He thought that they were encouraging him the entire time.
Words are powerful. They have a huge effect on others. It is incumbent on us to think about what we say before we say it. It might be the difference between life and death. But, there is some thing else in that story of the frogs to which we should pay attention. We have to develop the ability to turn off the chatter of others, to be deaf to it. Indeed in our families we hurt those whom we love with our words. The childhood adage that sticks and stones can break bones but words can never hurt is not true.
You know the power of words. It is for this reason that the Son of God became the word of God. Jesus is the perfect word about the Father. He is a most powerful articulation of the Father. Words are important to existence. They can make us or break us. It should not surprise you that our enemies have a special currency in words. The demonic knows the importance of words to our existence as humans. So, they distort reality with words, lie with them, dispirit with them, confuse and create chaos with words. At issue this morning is whether we can be deaf to the chatter of chaos.
In the Gospel reading, we see that the crowds are amazed that Jesus teaches with authority. The teaching task of Jesus is his most important during the Epiphany Season, for his words bring enlightenment. Enlightenment is necessary in a dark world. Wherever Jesus is, there in that place is enlightenment. John 1:4 says it best when it says that in Jesus is life. That life is the light of the world. As the Son of God through whom the universe comes into existence, Jesus is an abundance of life. Jesus came to give us life and to give it abundantly. God in Christ lavishes us with spiritual life, physical life, intellectual life, emotional life. Jesus is life. That is his authority. He teaches with authority because he is the source of all life. His teaching and life are commensurate with each other. His teaching and life cannot fail to be commensurate because the whole universe is dependent on his faithfulness. His authority is grounded in his faithfulness. He accomplishes what he promises. As the faithful one, we can draw close to the abundant life in Christ and receive light. We receive a light that steers us through the darkness of chaos. Every response to an intensification of chaos is to draw closer to Jesus, who, alone, can enlighten the way along the dark path of chaos.
In the Gospel reading, we see how chaos sneaks up on us. The people were gathered around Jesus. They are in a holy place. A holy place is any place where Jesus is holding forth, for in that place he is dispensing peace, love and joy. Chaos in the form of the possessed man ironically screams out the truth. Jesus is the Son of God who came to destroy Satan and his minions. At issue is how and when the man screams out. He screams out to intimidate, to invalidate the truth. If the messenger is somehow compromised, then the message becomes invalidated. You don't want to associate with it.
That reminds me of something that happened when I was at UCLA. A new ministry wanted to join the University Religious Conference, a collection mainline denominations. They called themselves the Truth Ministry. We struggled over a year whether to let this new ministry join the historic churches committed to ecumenism and interfaith. We finally relented and let the group join. Then the trouble began. Their commitment to their "truth" gave them permission to speak in ugly, unflattering and demeaning ways about people, especially non Christians. If they were the truth ministry sponsored by the University Religious Conference, then they besmirched our name and reputation. We were profoundly chagrined by the Truth Ministry. They had the words of Jesus, but not his spirit, his authority informed by love. That is the chatter of chaos we must be deaf to. Note how Jesus deals with that chatter of chaos. He commands the man to be quiet. He drives the demons out of the man.
We can do the same thing following Jesus, our epiphany light. We can hear the chatter of chaos in our own hearts. We can hear the disorder. In the name of Jesus, we silence it. We drive it out.
I have made the point many times that the frontline of spiritual warfare is our thought life. We are to take every thought captive through the name and authority of Jesus. This battle you must take seriously. Some of you give your mind free reign. You let it go to ungodly places because you think that the thoughts that your mind generates are valuable. Most of them are rubbish. The focused mind is the beautiful mind. Look at the culture in the West that the focused mind has developed. It is the unfocused mind that is trouble. It is the unfocused mind that is vulnerable to the chatter of chaos.
The unfocused mind in worship is prone to the chatter of chaos. If your mind is focused on the purpose you are here, you won't fall prey to the chatter of chaos. You are here to be meet God in the word and sacrament. You are here to experience the peace, love and joy in Christ. After your sins are forgiven and the Spirit shows you the face of Jesus, you become more and more deaf to the chatter of chaos.
I have respect for anyone with the letters Ph.D. at the end of her/his name. I know the blood, sweat and tears that go into that degree. I know the profound focus. My adviser told me that the qualifying exams are the hardest exams that I will ever take in my life. Some of you told me the same thing. That was not a comforting thought. As I studied I heard the chatter of chaos: "Who do you think you are? You can't do this. Give up! You should have done this in your 30s, you old fool." I heard those thoughts. There were times that I felt like giving up. I got the thought; I got the feeling of anxiety roiling in me. But, I didn't stay in that thought. I surrendered it to Jesus and kept going.
Be deaf to the chatter of chaos and keep on focusing on Christ. He is your life and your light. By the authority of his word you loose the grip of the chatter of chaos. By the authority of his word you experience true freedom. Amen.
Pastor’s Page - January 2018
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.