Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sermon for Gaudete Sunday

Real Joy in the Midst of Suffering
Many liturgical traditions historically referred to the 3rd Sunday of advent as Gaudete Sunday; this designation came from the early church and marked the halfway point of Advent when Advent was longer than it is now. This is taken from the Latin meaning to rejoice, joy is the typical theme of the day. Zephaniah is a strange prophet to be hearing on a Sunday named after Joy. His book of prophetic oracles is probably the darkest and gloomiest of all the Old Testament prophets. Also one of the shortest its 4 and a half chapters of dismal judgment. Luckily today we hear the half of a chapter which isn’t.
As a matter of fact today’s readings all come from books of the bible that may not be the first to come to mind for a day we call Rejoice Sunday. Our psalmody like last week doesn’t come from the psalms but from the prophet Isaiah who is known as much for his words of judgment and gloom as he is for his words of joy and hope. Then you have Paul’s letter to the Philippians, a letter written from a cold hard prison floor. Even the Gospel from Luke this morning doesn’t come across as entirely joyful. John the Baptist was a fiery preacher who wasn’t known for his joyful disposition. He began his message this morning by calling his listeners a “Brood of vipers”. I’m sure nobody would be rejoicing if I began my sermons by calling you all snakes.
But yet these are the lessons today and they do indeed have something to say about what it means to find joy in the fulfillment of God’s promises. Paul writes to the new Christians in Philippi.
Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Remember that this exhortation was written from prison. Paul knew what it meant to know the joy and peace of God in the midst of human pain and suffering. Zephaniah ended his oracles with the final verse we heard today.
Zephaniah 3:20 At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.
It seems that even the gloomiest of God’s prophets couldn’t ignore how wonderful God’s promises were. Perhaps real joy isn’t the absence of sin, shame, pain, or death. But is the awareness of God’s presence in the midst of all of it. Rejoice brothers and sisters God has promised to be present and that is what we rejoice in.
I think our ability to “rejoice in the Lord always” is what allows us to live as God’s children should in this fallen world. One thing we hear a lot during advent is “do not fear”. The angel Gabriel said it to Zechariah, Mary and, Joseph when he brought his messages to each of them. This week in this context of rejoicing we hear it as well. Zephaniah tells his hearers not to fear because God is with them, Isaiah says that he will not fear because the Lord God is his strength, Paul tells the Philippians not to worry.
Does fear disappear because of faith in God? I don’t think so, but I do believe that the joy that comes from awareness of God’s presence empowers us and enables us to embrace life without being frozen by fear. On Wednesday night we watched the Nativity Story. There was a scene where Joseph was telling Mary about his visit from Gabriel. He told her that the Angel said do not be afraid. Mary looks at him and said “well are you afraid?” Joseph’s answer was an unqualified well yes I am and Mary was able to also able to speak of her fear. But because they knew that God has promised great things they were able to carry on with their journey. Now I can’t imagine how terrifying it was to be told they’re going to be the parents of God’s only son, and that they would have to travel to Bethlehem while Mary was pregnant. The pressure must have been enormous, but yet their awareness of God’s presence a presence made real to them by Gabriel’s visits kept their very real fears from immobilizing them.
Brothers and sisters I don’t pretend to know all the fears that are gripping the hearts and minds of all of you but I know they are there. The reality of illness and very real health concerns of us and our loved ones, the uncertainty of a trying economic downturn, and strife in our personal relationships can all be sources of fear in our daily lives. As a congregation we are asking some very difficult and scary questions about what lies ahead for the ministry of Zion (Immanuel) Lutheran Church. Brothers and sisters it is moments like this that we must stand in our advent joy and hear the angel saying to us. Do not fear; rejoice for God is with you.
It’s important to remember that Paul doesn’t say rejoice in all things but Rejoice in Christ at all times. We don’t boast in our trials and tribulations but we boast in our God who is with us in those trials and tribulations. As Christians we don’t show of our scars and pains like they’re jewels in our crowns. But we thank God for his scars and pains which he acquired in his love for us. Brothers and sisters do not fear; rejoice for God is with you.

Friday, November 20, 2009

NE IA Synod Takes a Step Back Towards Orthodoxy and Confessionalism

On November 14th the Northeast Iowa Synod Council voted on and adopted two resolutions in regards to CWA and the Sexuality/policy changes. The 1st one was in regards to the Synod's Bound conscience. Affirming the actions of the last couple Synod Assemblies the Synod voted to uphold the 1990 Documents "Vision and Expectations" and "Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline”. And recommends the Bishop and candidacy committee to do the same.The second resolution states that the Social Statement is in direct violation of the ELCA's confession of faith and memorializes Churchwide Assembly to repudiate the actions of CWA 2009 on that basis. We are the first Synod to take any sort of constitutional actions and regardless of Secretary Swartling and the Church council's reactions and responses this was a huge step. The resolutions can be read below.

WHEREAS, The 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA has adopted 4 Recommendations on Ministry Policies (CA09.05.23; CA09.05.24; CA09.05.26; and CA09.05.27), and

WHEREAS, CA09.05.23 states “that in the implementation of any resolutions on ministry policies, the ELCA commit itself to bear one another’s burdens, love the neighbor, and respect the bound consciences of all”, and

WHEREAS, CA09.05.27, in the 2nd “RESOLVED” states “that this church, because of its
commitment to respect the bound consciences of all, declare its intent to allow structured flexibility in decision-making regarding the approving or disapproving in candidacy and the extending or not
extending of a call to rostered service of a person who is otherwise qualified and who is living or
contemplates living in a publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationship”, and

WHEREAS, the 5th “WHEREAS” introducing CA.09.05.27 states,” other members, congregations, candidacy committees, and synods of the ELCA acknowledge those gifts and skills for ministry, but believe that this church must maintain an expectation of celibacy for any gay or lesbian person, whether or not that person is in a publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationship, and thus believe that this church cannot call or roster people in such relationships” and

WHEREAS, the use of “structured flexibility” is portrayed in the “Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies” as presented to the Churchwide Assembly on lines 488 – 498 of the Pre-Assembly Report in the following manner:
"To choose structured flexibility does not imply that same-gender-oriented people in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships would be able to serve everywhere in this church. The existing discernment processes for approval and call already assume that synods, bishops, candidacy committees, rostered leaders, and congregations will make decisions in keeping with their own conscience and convictions. If structured flexibility were added to the process, this assumption would still protect any congregation, candidacy committee, synod, or bishop from having to violate bound conscience by approving, calling, commissioning, consecrating, or ordaining anyone in a publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationship. Similarly, a structured flexibility process would protect the decisions of a congregation, candidacy committee, synod, or bishop who concludes that mission would be served best by approving or calling a particular candidate or rostered leader who is in a publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationship." (bold added), and

WHEREAS, it is evident from these portions of the materials adopted and presented at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly that the “all” whose “bound conscience” the actions of the assembly have committed the ELCA to honor include “synods”, and that this “bound conscience” includes the ability to choose not to approve, call, commission, consecrate, or ordain someone in a publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationship, and

WHEREAS, the “bound conscience” of the Northeastern Iowa Synod can most clearly be determined by the actions taken at synod assembly, and

WHEREAS, actions of the Northeastern Iowa Synod Assembly in 2004 (SA04.06.9), 2005 (SA05.06.38), 2007 (SA07.06.33, SA07.06.36, SA07.06.38 & SA07.06.41), and 2009 (SA09.06.15 & SA09.06.18) have declared the position of the Northeastern Iowa Synod to be that “Marriage, an institution ordained by God, is the life-long union of one man and one woman for the creation of human life and for their mutual love and care… Sexual intercourse is part of the vocation of marriage and is misused in any other context” (SA04.06.9); have opposed any changes in the church’s teaching concerning marriage and sexuality (SA04.06.9, SA09.06.15); and have opposed any changes in the ELCA’s standards for pastors and other rostered leaders as expressed in the 1990 documents “Vision and Expectations” and “Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline” (SA05.06.38, SA07.06.36, SA07.06.38, SA07.06.41 & SA09.06.18); therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the Northeastern Iowa Synod Council, recognizing the past actions of the Northeastern Iowa Synod Assembly as evidence of the Northeastern Iowa Synod’s strongly-held views with respect to the approving, calling, commissioning, consecrating, or ordaining of one in a publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationship, determines that the standards for rostered ministry as outlined in the 1990 documents, “Vision and Expectations” and “Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline” shall remain in effect for the Northeastern Iowa Synod, and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Northeastern Iowa Synod Council encourage the Northeastern Iowa Synod Candidacy Committee and the Office of Bishop of the Northeastern Iowa Synod to continue to abide by such standards for rostered ministry in the Northeastern Iowa Synod during the period leading up to the 2010 Synod Assembly, and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Northeastern Iowa Synod Council recommends the following Continuing Resolution to the 2010 Synod Assembly of the Northeastern Iowa Synod:

S14.02 A10 In addition to the standards for ordained ministers in the current “Vision and Expectations” as adopted by the ELCA Church Council, this synod shall continue to maintain this expectation from “Vision & Expectations” (1990) in its candidacy process and in its standards for pastors and other rostered leaders:

Ordained ministers, whether married or single, are expected to uphold an understanding of marriage in their public ministry as well as in private life that is biblically informed and consistent with the teachings of this synod. The expectations of this synod regarding the sexual conduct of its ordained ministers are grounded in the understanding that human sexuality is a gift from God and that ordained ministers are to live in such a way as to honor this gift. Ordained ministers are expected to reject sexual promiscuity, the manipulation of others for purposes of sexual gratification, and all attempts of sexual seduction and sexual harassment, including taking physical or emotional advantage of others. Single ordained ministers are expected to live a chaste life. Married ordained ministers are expected to live in fidelity to their spouses, giving expression to sexual intimacy within a marriage relationship that is mutual, chaste, and faithful. Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships.


WHEREAS, the 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA has adopted the social statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust”, and

WHEREAS, in Part IV (lines 620 – 628 in the Pre-Assembly Report) this statement reads:
The historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions have recognized marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman, reflecting Mark 10: 6–9: “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one put asunder.” (Jesus here recalls Genesis 1:27; 2:23–24.), and

WHEREAS, in Part IV (lines 740 – 744, as amended, of the Pre-Assembly Report) it reads:
Recognizing that this conclusion differs from the historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions, some people, though not all, in this church and within the larger Christian community, conclude that marriage is also the appropriate term to use in describing similar benefits, protection, and support for same-gender couples entering into lifelong monogamous relationships, and

WHEREAS, the statement then goes on to treat these two positions and the variants within them as of equal validity, on the basis of the “conscience-bound beliefs” of those who hold them (Part IV, lines 809 – 868 of the Pre-Assembly Report), and

WHEREAS, on this same basis of the “conscience-bound lack of consensus in this church” (lines 452 – 453 of the Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies in Part V of the Pre-Assembly Report) the resolutions on ministry policies (SA09.05.23 – 24 – 26 & 27) were adopted, and

WHEREAS, neither the Social Statement nor the Recommendation on Ministry Policies present an argument based on Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions and with the aid of sound reason either to reject what is admitted to be the position of the historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions based on Scripture or to accept a position which is admitted to be contrary to the historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions, and

WHEREAS, the Confession of Faith of the ELCA (Chapter 2 of the ELCA Constitution) commits the ELCA to accept the canonical Scriptures as the authoritative source and norm of our proclamation, faith and life, and to accept the confessional writings of the Lutheran Church as a true witness of the Gospel and valid interpretations of the faith of the Church, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the Northeastern Iowa Synod Council, repudiate the decisions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly in adopting the social statement “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” and the 4 Resolutions on Ministry Policies (CA09.05.23 – 24 – 26 & 27) as violations of the Confession of Faith, Chapter 2 of the ELCA Constitution, and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Northeastern Iowa Synod Council memorialize the ELCA Church Council to repudiate these actions as violations of the Confession of Faith, Chapter 2 of the ELCA Constitution, refuse to implement these actions, and begin the process to overturn these decisions at the 2011 Churchwide Assembly

Monday, September 21, 2009

a few thoughts

This isn't a sermon so some may say this is the first time i am actually blogging.

Should I stay or should I go? This is the question that I have heard many fellow pastors, Lutheran laity, and entire congregations ask over the last month. Initially my response to the question was you need to discern what God is calling you to do, but as for me I am not being called to leave the ELCA. This claim has been based less on any great thological ponderings and more on a personal experience about five years ago. When my endorsement was postponed by the New England Candidacy committee (Yes I am living proof that Orthodoxy can come out of New England) many friends and family questioned their motives, they asked the same question I was asking "Is my theological orientation the real reason behind this decision?" Naturally such questions led me even then to question a call to ordained ministry in the ELCA. I grew up Roman Catholic and my wife was raised LCMS so despite the fact that I had come to love the ELCA both Heather and I were able to think about, talk about, and pray on the possibility of calling another church body home. It was in this time of prayer, wilderness time I have been known to call it, that I heard God's call more clearly than I have before or since. We were worshipping at my In-Laws' LCMS church and during communion I was on the kneeler praying and God said to me "I have called you to the ELCA, it won't be easy but I will not leave you"I have felt God's call before but this wasn't a feeling but a voice in my ear. So I have felt obliged to tell people that until God tells me just as clearly that I can and should leave I am obligated to stay in the ELCA. I was mostly comfortable with this answer.
That was until a couple weeks ago. You see I am a pastor who feels strongly that part of my call is to connect the local congregation to the wider church. I strive to do that by supporting and particapating in synod events. It was in this spirit that I brought 16 people, youth and their families, to the Jesus, Justice, Jazz Tour co-sponsored by Wartburg College and the NE IA Synod. This was a concert by the same musicians who headlined the Youth Gathering in New orleans and the proceeds were slated to go towards Hunger Relief, a cause all Christians can get behind, right? As the concert went on there seemed to be almost as many references to sexual orientation and homophobia as there were hunger and poverty. I started wondering if I can belong to a church body that can't come together to do the work of the Gospel without making it about sex. I know I can't equate the antics of 3 idependent musicians with the ELCA, but one can't read the latest statements of Lutherans Concerned and Goodsoil without wondering if this experience will be representative of the trajectory the ELCA is going in. Will the ELCA be a denomination that an orthodox pastor and congregations can survive in only by playing the role of the ecclesial ostrich, sticking its head in the sand while the world goes by around them. I would argue that this tragic act of self-isolation is akin to congregationalism at its worst and is an alternative that any Lutheran who claims orthodoxy and the evangelical catholic perspective should abhor. So ultimately if the ELCA becomes a church body that leads it's most traditional/orthodox/confessional voices down that route it can't be a church body in which I call home. Unfortunately despite all this language about bound conscience and bearing each other's burdens the signs tell me that this is where we are headed. So how do I answer the question with which i started this post? Do I stay or do I go? I can't answer it with the certainty that I once did, which pains me greatly. My best answer at this point is that God is calling me to wait and see. To wait and see if the ELCA truly becomes a place hostile to what I have to offer, to wait and see if the policies that are put in place post CWA truly create a church body in which I can truly offer a safe place for orthodox and confessional Lutherans, and to wait and see if any real alternatives come to bear, right now the alternatives are all to congregational for me. Waiting and seeing always consists of prayer, dialogue, study, and more prayer. I hope that someday I hear God's voice in my ear as clearly as I did that Sunday morning and Roselle IL.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday's sermon

Jesus is the Answer
But What is the Question
In seminary we had a running joke that the harder the questions got all we had to do was remember back to our Sunday School days when the answer was always Jesus, granted this didn’t always work with our professors, but we often tried it anyway. I was reminded of the Larry Norman song of the late 60’s entitled Jesus is the Answer. Sometimes the Christian faith seems like a strange episode of Jeopardy where we all know the answer, but are all guessing what the question is. I think this was the problem Peter and Jesus’ disciples faced as well. In today’s gospel we see Peter had the correct answer but never really understood the question. He knew that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Christ but failed to acknowledge that he really had no idea what that meant. Jesus turned the disciples’ expectations of their Messiah on their heads, and he continues to do that to this day.
What is the question? Is it anything our heart desires? Can Jesus be all things for all people? I was at a meeting of church leaders when I heard someone say “My Jesus would not say that” in reaction to one of the harder sayings of the New Testament. The problem I have with this is it allows any understanding of Jesus and his gospel to be the right understanding. People pick and choose the Jesus that makes them most comfortable ignoring the aspects of Jesus, his life and ministry, that may make some shiver, that may force transformation. Jesus becomes some politically correct love guru that would be more at home in a self help seminar than a church. The truth is that throughout Mark’s Gospel geography is hugely important. Caesarea Philippi was the urban metropolis, the center of diversity to the Roman world. You could by lunch from a street vendor and then turn around and buy a god from a vendor across the street. There were gods of all kinds to be bought and sold on the streets of Caesarea Philippi, God’s that hung around one’s neck and Gods that you stuck in your back pocket, gods of fertility and storm gods. It is in this type of deity potluck where Jesus the love guru and ambassador of political correctness may have felt home. If that is indeed who Jesus Christ really was.
Brothers and sisters a self help guru would never say something like
Mark 8:34-38 "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? 37 Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."
Guess what friends, our Jesus said this. The call to pick up your cross and follow isn’t a call to comfort but to discipleship. The call to lose our life isn’t a call to self neglect a call to sacrificial love. Jesus is asking all of us to renounce things in our lives that would keep us from fully embracing the God who has created us, redeemed us at the cross of Christ, and called us in Baptism. For Peter that included a false politicized understanding of what and who the messiah was. For us that may include a overly domesticated and comfortable view of Jesus Christ the self-help guru. But yet for others, it may include an image of Jesus Christ the legalistic moralist who calls not for obedience and faith but perfection. Like the love guru this understanding of Jesus is a distortion of the God-man who took our sins to the cross, bearing our burden so we could bask in his glory.
This is the first of three times in which Jesus predicts his own death in Mark. But he predicts something else as well. Peter was so distraught about the death and suffering that he missed the next part. Peter heard crucifixion and refused to hear resurrection.. Jesus Christ, our savior doesn’t only die for us, he lived and lives again for us as well. It is only in that light that we should hear Jesus’ call to lay down our lives and follow. It’s not only a call to self sacrifice, but a called to be filled with the Holy Spirit and transformed by the Glory of the crucified and resurrected Lord.
Laying down one’s life and carrying one’s cross isn’t just a matter of losing things. But it culminates in a gaining of the life that God wants. When Peter lays down his human understanding of the messiah he doesn’t all of a sudden forget there is a messiah. Instead his understanding of messiah is transformed transforming him in the process.
Mark 8:35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.
Brothers and sisters the God of Jesus Christ isn’t just another God pedaled by street vendors to be bought and discarded at a whim. The God of Jesus Christ has bought us by his own precious blood and promised to never discard or forsake us, even in death and suffering he carries us through to new life and resurrection. Who do you say that I am? Jesus you are the Son of God, fully God yet fully man, and redeemer of the world. That’s who you are. Let’s pray
Lord God you have told us to lose our lives to save them. Help us see when the things of the world draw attention away from embracing all you command and offer. In Jesus Christ's name we pray.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sermon on Mk 7:24-37 and James 2

We All Belong

I remember one Sunday in Chicago Heather and I decided to visit a church where our friend’s mother was the pastor. It was a little bit of a drive being in the far southern suburbs, an area of Chicagoland we never spent a lot of time in. After finally arriving at the church we were a little late, we found some mostly empty pews. As we approached the place in the service where the choir was going to sing we noticed that everybody sitting around us was giving each other sheet music. They than proceeded to stand up while the rest of the congregation remained seated, some turned to look at the group of standing choir members that we happened to be seating in the midst of. That is right we somehow managed to show up late to this church where nobody knew us and sit ourselves right down with the Choir. I wanted to disappear I felt so foolish, like an outsider who just ruined any chance of welcome I may have had. The congregation was friendly and welcoming but that did little to subdue my feeling of non-belonging.
The woman Jesus confronted in today’s Gospel had every right to feel that way. She was a gentile woman asking Jesus for help, being a gentile she had no right aprproaching a Jewish rabbi, being a woman in that world she had even less right. I am sure as well that having a demonized daughter made sure she was even marginalized in her own community. This is a woman who was an outsider by every possible definition, yet she crossed all those boundaries and brought her need to Jesus Christ. Even when Jesus Christ challenged her she didn’t shy away but offered a confession of faith that any disciple would be proud of. This outsider knew who Jesus was and came to him in faith despite it being against the rules of society.
Just a week removed from Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees where we are faced with the dark truth that insiders often create stumbling blocks for themselves and others we are confronted with the flip side of the same coin. In Jesus’ words and the woman’s words we are reminded that in God’s eyes there are no such things as insiders and outsiders, haves and have nots, and us and them. Yes the life and work of Jesus Christ was initially for those labeled as God’s chosen people, which ironically included those Pharisees he is always rebuking. But the grace and glory of God as we have come to know in the incarnation is to great to be lavished on one small group of people. The grace that is offered in Jesus Christ is made available to all people regardless of whatever side of whatever line they may be on.
As a matter of fact Jesus came because throughout the history of humankind we have proven ourselves again to need that life-changing grace of God. Perhaps it is safe to say that in God’s eyes we were all outsiders and have-nots. Between the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus we have become insiders and the haves. We have been welcomed fully into God’s presence and been given the gift of God’s Holy Spirit. The healing that we see in today’s Gospel lesson, both the exorcism of the daughter and the healing of the deaf man was more than a healing of individuals, but communities that have been destroyed by divisions created out of sin are restored and made whole.
In the 2nd reading James the brother of Jesus speaks to what happens when a community of disciples let human partiality take root. Not only are we sinning but we are actively damaging the Gospel. When the church shows the partiality that the world shows, creating groups and cliques the church isn’t acting as the Body of Christ. As Gentiles we need to be grateful that the promises of God were and are for everyone. As baptized Christians we should feel compelled to take pause and think about ways that we have indeed participated in a system of brokenness and partiality, and thank God that Jesus came to fix what was broken and draw us all to God.
In such an individualistic and polarized society I think we need to really reflect on how radical God’s word is. Sin is not only separation from God but also isolation from one another, distortion and brokenness of community. Last week at Immanuel we baptized a baby boy Iver Neal Ellingson, this week at Zion we witnessed Cathy Larsen and Adam Roethler reaffirm their baptisms, claiming God’s promises for themselves and officially joining our fellowship. Brothers and sisters today readings about the impartiality of God’s grace and the universality of his love made incarnate in Jesus Christ give us an amazing opportunity to reflect on what membership in our local congregation and in the Holy catholic church mean, remembering that when Lutheran say catholic it is always a lower-case c and means universal. We are doing more than officially acknowledging their presence on the pew beside us. We are welcoming them as blessed Brothers and sisters in the Glorious Presence of God. We are receiving them as fellow sojourners on this journey to which God has called us all in baptism. We are being blessed by the gifts that they are in our community a faith. A community torn and broken by sin and yet restored and transformed by Jesus Christ. I want to leave you today with not an answer but a question, in a world full of us and thems, haves and have nots, insiders and outsiders, how do we live in that world while living for a God who shows no partiality?

Saturday, May 30, 2009


Reclaiming the Holy Spirit

Pastor and theologian Wilhelm Leohe once compared the church to a river flowing through time. He emphasized that the church wasn’t a territorial or local establishment but all of God’s people in all times and all places. He went on to talk about mission as simply the movement of the church through time. Wherever the church was being the church in the communities and places it was called to mission was being done.
I was reminded of Leohe’s work as I prepared for Pentecost this week. Pentecost is a funny day. We often refer to it as the birthday of the church but it never quite garners the hoopla of Christmas or Easter, it hasn’t made the mark on secular calendars like the other two. Even liturgically it is often seen as simply a transition between the season of Easter and the lull we call ordinary time or time after Pentecost. I have heard Lutherans refer to Pentecost as the one day we talk about the Holy Spirit; as if we need to shift our focus of Jesus Christ to be able to talk about the 3rd person of the trinity. In the contemporary church it often seems like talk of the Holy Spirit is reserved for those communities who participate in seemingly supernatural faith practices such as faith healing and speaking in tongues, things that are usually alien to mainline liturgical communities like ourselves.
Brothers and sisters, the Holy Spirit shouldn’t be alien or foreign in a Lutheran Church. Some of you may remember Martin Luther’s explanation of the 3rd Article of the Creed from your years of confirmation. Let me refesh your memories.

“A. I believe that I cannot come to my Lord Jesus Christ by my own intellegence or power. But the Holy Spirit call me by the Gospel,
enlightened me with His gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true
faith, just as He calls, gathers together, enlightens and makes holy
the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus in the one, true
faith. In this Church, He generously forgives each day every sin
committed by me and by every believer. On the last day, He will raise
me and all the dead from the grave. He will give eternal life to me
and to all who believe in Christ. Yes, this is true!

I strongly believe that that the church must reclaim the importance of Pentecost and give it back it’s rightful place alongside Christmas and Easter as a major festival of the Church. Because as goes our connection to the Holy Spirit so goes our ability to call Jesus Lord, and as goes our sense of being called so goes the mission of the church. The Holy Spirit isn’t about speaking in tongues although that may be edifying for some Christians. But first and foremost God gifting us with the Holy Spirit is about calling and empowering us to be the Body of Christ. This is why the third article of the Creed groups the church and the Holy Spirit together, this is why Pentecost is both the day God first gifted his children with the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the Church; and I would go so far as to say this is why in large parts of the American Church an inability to talk about and sense the leading of the Holy Spirit has led to disastrous failure in focusing on mission. I believe that actively remembering that God has gifted the whole church with the Holy Spirit would lead to much renewal in many congregations.
Brothers and sisters the Pentecost story that we read an Acts isn’t a one-time event that happened to people a long time ago in a faraway place. It’s a story we relive at baptisms when the Spirit calls a new believer and every time we gather to do the work that God has called us to do. My friend David Barnes graduated from Seminary a few weeks back, he has been called as a Mission Developer in the Baltimore area, his first call will be funded entirely from the Synod and he is called to build and develop a congregation entirely from scratch. Heather and I are among David’s prayer partners and through the call of the Holy Spirit are connected to this congregation to be. A few years ago this community had the awesome opportunity to invest in and/or pray for a new mission start in this Synod New Hope in Farley, this serves as a reminder that we are not an isolated community whose story begins with immigrants to the American Shores in the mid to late 1800’s. But our story begins the same place that all Christian communities of the past preset and future. That is with a God who made us, loves us, and calls us to be the church flowing like that river that Wilhelm Leohe speaks about from the source, God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit until we reach the river’s mouth and spill into the Glory of God.
Brothers and sisters the Holy Spirit is nothing less than the God of Life living and moving in us. Empowering us to do amazing and wonderful things as ________ Lutheran Church a part of the Body of Christ. It’s easy as a congregation to get wrapped up in our own needs and struggles that we forget we are a part of something so much grander. Only when the Holy Spirit is reclaimed can we remember who we are. How do we reclaim the Holy Spirit? It begins by talking about it more than once a year; I challenge all of us to spend some time in intentional prayer asking for the leading of the Holy Spirit in the lives of these churches. And I want to challenge us as a congregation to spend more time in communal prayer, when WELCA meets every meeting should begin an end in prayer, when I meet with bible study groups I am going to try harder to cultivate deep prayer, in the near future I will provide opportunities for us to gather for the sole purpose of prayer. Because brothers and sisters a praying congregation is a living congregation, a Spirit filled congregation is a congregation doing mission and part of something great. Please pray with me.

Lord God,
Send again your Holy Spirit to your disciples in this place. Breathe in us so we may be a breath of fresh air to the world around us. Convict us and lead us out of our comfort zones into the future you have called us to boldly and faithfully. And give us life Lord so we may live for you and you alone. In Jesus’ precious and Holy Name.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A sermon on prayer

The Prayer of the Disciples

The image is a familiar one, often used as a punch line of a joke but the discouragement is real. Children against the wall during recess waiting to be picked by one of the kickball captains. Finally we get down to two, one of them will be picked and the other one we be relieved begrudgingly by the other team as the unwanted consolation prize. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine today’s scene from acts in this light. The disciples have one spot to fill and two candidates. Matthias and Joseph are standing against the wall both with beads of sweat dripping from their brow. Knowing that at the rolling of a die one will be given glory and the other will be forced back to anonymity. The truth is friends that even though Matthias won this coin flip we do not hear of him again. This leads me to believe that this is included in the history of the early church not to draw attention to the people but to the process by which they were chosen. And I am not referring to the casting of lots. We need not be impressed by the rolling of the dice or flipping of a coin do decide such an important thing this may seem at best archaic and at worst foolish to a community that holds to democratic values where we enjoy having a voice and a vote.
However I think we’d be foolish if we thought we couldn’t learn anything from these dice throwing disciples. I think the effectiveness in their method was less in the wrists and more in the prayer.

Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”

I think these two simple verses are the key to understanding the significance of what happened in this room. This room of disciples and the apostles called to lead them were so prayerful that even an act as random as a game of chance became something through which God acted and spoke through. The absence of any further information may lead us to assume that the right choice was made, and I believe that shows us that God answered the prayer of this community. A community as we read through Acts that was prayer-saturated. A characteristic that all communities of those who call themselves Christ’s disciples should strive for. Perhaps this can be where our democratic values hinder more than help. In the midst of everybody’s voice and vote we may forget to listen to the one voice that should drown all of the others out, the voice of God. Not that God never speaks through us but I think that it takes much intentionality on our part do be a people who welcome God’s voice to the conversation and seek to align God’s will with our own.
Prayer has been on my heart recently as I prepare to lead a study of the psalms and worked through the Lord’s Prayer in the last few weeks of confirmation. In these past weeks I have become more convicted that one of the ailments in many American churches is an absence of authentic prayer. Christian prayer is so much more than words spoken to God either memorized or extemporaneous. It’s not simply a conversation where we empty our hearts and hope that God is listening. Prayer begins as a conversation but in reality it is so much more.
What is it then you may ask?
Catherine Marshall wrote that
“A demanding spirit, with self-will as its rudder, blocks prayer…. Prayer is people cooperating with God in bringing from heaven to earth His wondrously good plans for us”

Likewise Augustine often prayed
Grant that we might seek never, never to bend the straight to the crooked. That is, your will to ours. But help us to bend the crooked to the straight. That is, our will to yours.

Brothers and sisters the prayer saturation that is modeled by the community in the Book of Acts and is greatly needed in churches today is a deep desire that God’s will is done in our lives in and the work of our congregations. It doesn’t begin with an invocation and end with an Amen. It begins at baptism and never ends. In the life of a disciple Thy will be done isn’t just a prayer petition but the driving force behind every prayer.
How blessed we are that we worship a God who has made himself so accessible; A God who longs to be in conversation with us and calls us to not just worship him but be a part of his saving activity on earth.
Brothers and sisters the last few Sundays we have heard a lot about things we do as Christians. We have heard encouragement to produce fruit for God’s kingdom. Today we are reminded that a lifestyle of prayer, the desire to see God’s will be done is the only thing differentiating our fruit from the work of the world. God’s voice turns the well intentioned deeds of people to the life giving work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Please pray with me.

Lord God,
Lead us and guide us as we attempt to discern your will in the life of _____ Lutheran Church. Keep still our babbling hearts and human desires so they may be touched by your hand and inspired by your voice. We pray this in the name of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.