Saturday, November 30, 2019

Neither shall they learn war, anymore. Year A, Advent 1, Isaiah 2.1-5

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
“I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
I'm gonna study, study, war no more
I ain't gonna study war no more
Ain't gonna study war no more
I ain't gonna study war no more”

650 Billion dollars.
That’s more than the next seven countries combined:
China, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and France.
650 billion dollars spent on the military.
CNBC reported last year:
  • The U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan have cost American taxpayers $5.9 trillion since they began in 2001.
  • The figure reflects the cost across the U.S. federal government since the price of war is not borne by the Defense Department alone.
  • The report also finds that more than 480,000 people have died from the wars and more than 244,000 civilians have been killed as a result of fighting. Additionally, another 10 million people have been displaced due to violence
To put that in perspective, the human cost of the wars that we fought in response to the 9/11 attacks has now exceeded 250 people, dead or wounded, for each person killed on 9/11.
Financially, what that means is that since 9-11 each one of us has contributed approximately $18,000 toward that war effort.
During that period of time, then, my wife and I together with my children account for $108,000 in spending on those wars.
On an annual basis, our government spends $2,000 on the military for every man, woman, and child.
He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Isaiah also says in Chapter 11:
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

There are many markers that Christians have used to determine “genuine” Christianity.
When the Roman empire required people to declare “Caesar is Lord!”, the early Christians refused and instead confessed “Jesus is Lord!”  This witness cost many their lives, and for a while defined ‘genuine Christianity’.
Throughout the first centuries of the Church one of the sources of division was the understanding about who Jesus was.
The Nicene Creed was adopted in 325 and amended in 381.  This creedal statement became the enduring marker of the Orthodox Christian faith.
The Bible.
All Christians lift up the Bible as God’s word.
But how we interpret the Bible, what passages are most important, what passages can now be ignored, and all sorts of similar issues divide us.
For many, the approach a person takes to the Bible defines whether they are a genuine Christian or not.

Similarly, social issues become defining for many Christians—what is our response to:
·         Abortion
·         Homosexuality
·         Poverty
·         Immigration
·         Healthcare
·         Justice
·         Gun control
·         Drug and alcohol abuse
·         And Civil Rights, just to name a few.
I had a college professor who once mused that all of the divisions among Christians today were the result of the questions they asked during the medieval period.
He said that it might make more sense to define denominations today based on their positions on these very important issues.
What is the true Christian Church?  For many people that is defined by the position that a Church body takes on these various social issues.

He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Although all of these things I have cited are important, today I’d like to lift up this issue from Isaiah.
An end, not only to wars, but to the education of warfare.
Imagine, for example, a world in which no one knew how to make a nuclear bomb, anymore.
Imagine a world in which our sons and daughters would not be sent off to die in a foreign land, fighting for a cause no one understands.
Imagine a world in which the government spent the tax dollars on programs such as healthcare, as opposed to the military, because it cared more about healing than killing.
Imagine a world in which no country would seek dominance over the other because they all submitted to the reign of God.
Is peace impossible?
And for people of faith, is there a disconnect between living in a land that considers itself to be founded on Christian principles, BUT which at the same time maintains the most lethal military force in the history of the world.
It’s the name of our congregation.
Ironically, our congregation was founded in part due to some conflicts within the other congregations in the Valley, back in the day.
A while back, someone commented online how ironic it was to see “Peace” and “Lutheran” in the same name.
We have become known for our struggles and the controversial issues we’ve dealt with.
What got lost in all the debate and the fall out was the official position that we could be one in Christ even as we disagreed on these issues.  It was called “reconciled diversity”. 
It was an effort to lift up ‘Peace’ as the defining quality of our Church. 
It didn’t work very well.  Many people left because they disagreed. 
Peace among Nations.
Peace among congregations and Churches.
And peace between people.
It all starts with that last one.
Can I so love my neighbor that I can give up any desire to prevail in a conflict and instead seek to live in harmony and peace?
If we are ever going to experience peace among all nations, first we will need to learn how to live at peace with our own families.
A marriage ought not to be a war zone.
A brother, a sister, is not an enemy.
Children ought not to revolt against parents and neither are parents to dominate their children.
Not learning warfare anymore begins at home.
It’s learning instead the way of Peace, of Shalom.
And peace is not just the lack of conflict, but healing and reconciliation. 

One of the most important things is to realize that "Love and Peace" is not just some “hippy” ideal of kids on pot, but the vision of God himself for our world.
When I consider the prospects of Peace in our world, I both despair and hope.
I despair because we simply cannot seem to break our addiction to the making of war. 
The United States has been engaged in military conflicts 93% of the years since its founding.  There have only been about 20 years total that we were not involved in any military interventions and wars.
That causes me to despair of any hope for peace.
But the other side to that is that peace begins with me.
I have learned over the years that I do not have to resort to conflict, I can choose peace instead.
If I have been wronged, I can choose to forgive.
If I have experienced hatred, I can choose to love.
I can seek healing and reconciliation, not vengeance and retribution.
That gives me cause for hope.
But more than that, much more than that, is the promise of God.
God promises us that one day he will bring peace to the earth and reconciliation to all people.
I may despair of the possibility that we humans will ever learn to live in peace, but God promises that that day will come, not because of our efforts, but because of his.
And so we wait.
And we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Gathering, Year C, Christ the King, Jeremiah 23.1-6, Luke 23.33-43

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
At the heart of our theology there remains an incongruous fact.  Kings don’t belong on crosses.  And to see in that suffering and dying in the most degrading way the redemption of the world is to see a whole different reality from what would be natural and expected.
Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who sentenced Jesus to death declared “This is the King of the Jews”.  In doing so he was likely mocking both Jesus and the Jews.
“Here is your King, naked and hanging from a cross.”
And adding to the incongruity of it all, we, as a matter of faith, believe that it was there on the cross that Jesus achieved the final victory.
That condemned to die, he destroyed death.
That just when all seemed lost, the lost were found.
That in response to this unforgivable sin, crucifying the Son of God, all sins were forgiven for his sake.
None of that makes sense and yet it is the very core of our faith. 
And nothing is more central to the message of Jesus, than the “Kingdom of God”.  That was his proclamation.  “The Kingdom of God is at hand!”
And with those words on his lips Jesus set about the work of gathering God’s children into the fold, like a shepherd gathers the sheep, that they might live forever in the Kingdom of God.
And following his death and resurrection Jesus would send his disciples out to the four corners of the earth to gather people from all nations.  It is work that continues to this day.
When we declare that our God given purpose of our congregation is to “welcome, love, and serve all in our local and global community” we are setting ourselves to the task of Kingdom building.
I was reading this last week some observations about the differences between the conservative church bodies and the liberal ones.
In today’s highly polarized climate, you can tell whether you are in a liberal church or a conservative one by the way they describe themselves.
This person went on to observe that if the church emphasizes that “All are welcome” it is a liberal church.  Meanwhile, conservative church bodies often describe themselves as “bible believing” which often times translates to believing certain passages of the bible, more than others.
In this regard, though I certainly believe the Bible, I’m unapologetically a liberal Christian for I do believe that all are welcome, that Jesus came to save all sinners, and that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
At the center of this message is the recognition that when we say “Jesus is Lord” and declare that the “Kingdom of God is at hand” we are making an absolute claim.
Jesus is the only Lord.
He is not merely a king among kings, but the Lord and ruler of all.
His Kingdom extends, not only to the end of the earth and includes all people, but to the farthest reaches of the universe.
And for you, this King died.
But not just for you alone, but for all he died.

If Jesus is King at all, he is King of All.
We live at a time when the world is fractured and divided.  Animosities run high. 
When I was in Russia one of their observations of us as Americans was that we wondered why the world doesn’t like us, but it was clear to them, that we didn’t even like each other.
Well there is just no getting around it, we live in polarizing times.
Judy shared an article with me from CNN in which the author talked about just how polarizing our society has become.  His basic point was that not only are we divided and diverse, but we are becoming more and more segregated as a society.
People are moving, and liberals end up in certain communities and conservatives in others.  The red states are becoming redder, and the blue states are becoming bluer.
His point was that as we become so segregated, the conservatives all talk to themselves and become more and more conservative, and the liberals likewise entertain themselves with the notion of how far to the left they can move.
And we grow farther and farther apart.
The divide is deep.
And the divide is real.

And yet for all the differences, there is one Lord and Father of us all.
If we believe in the Kingdom of God;
If we believe that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life;
Then when we encounter another person, even if they are vastly different from us, our assessment should be that “this too is a person for whom our Lord did choose to die.”
Recognizing that, that around the globe and throughout our communities and our families are those for whom our Lord died, we are to go about the business, the Lord’s business, of gather them in.
One of my favorite hymns is by Marty Haugen:
“Here in this place new light is streaming
Now is the darkness vanished away
See in this space our fears and our dreamings
Brought here to you in the light of this day
Gather us in, the lost and forsaken
Gather us in, the blind and the lame
Call to us now and we shall awaken
We shall arise at the sound of our name

We are the young, our lives are a mystery
We are the old who yearn for your face
We have been sung throughout all of history
Called to be light to the whole human race
Gather us in, the rich and the haughty
Gather us in, the proud and the strong
Give us a heart so meek and so lowly
Give us the courage to enter the song

Here we will take the wine and the water
Here we will take the bread of new birth
Here you shall call your sons and your daughters
Call us anew to be salt for the earth
Give us to drink the wine of compassion
Give us to eat the bread that is you
Nourish us well and teach us to fashion
Lives that are holy and hearts that are true

Not in the dark of buildings confining
Not in some heaven light years away
But here in this place the new light is shining
Now is the kingdom, now is the day
Gather us in and hold us forever
Gather us in and make us your own
Gather us in, all peoples together
Fire of love in our flesh and our bones
Fire of love in our flesh and our bones

Another hymn, familiar to us all sings the same message:
In Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South or North;
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.
There is nothing more radical about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, than it's radical inclusiveness.
And that is neither a liberal or conservative agenda, but a God thing.
It was not a liberal that died for all.
Nor was it a conservative that so loved the world.
But rather the Lord our God, crucified and risen.

Nadia Bolz-Weber, one of our Lutheran pastors writes:
“Matthew once said to me, after one of my more finely worded rants about stupid people who have the wrong opinions, "Nadia, the thing that sucks is that every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of it." Damn.”
― Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

If I might be so bold as to add something to what Nadia said, it would be this:
That not only is Jesus on the other side of a line that we draw between us and others, he is working to erase that line and tear down that wall. 
In the book of Revelation, there is a vision of the Kingdom of God and the holy city Jerusalem.
One of the things that is described is the great wall that will surround the City.
But it also speaks about the gates.
Popular mythology talks repeatly about St. Peter at the gate of heaven, deciding who gets to enter and who does not.
But in Revelation, in the description of the holy city Jerusalem, there is one sentence that is truly insightful:
Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.
The reason they will never be shut is because God’s entire purpose is to gather us in, not to shut us out.
Jeremiah writes:
It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the LORD. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back.
These words of Jeremiah may refer to God’s gathering his people together and bringing them back from their time of exile in Babylon.  That’s the historical setting.
But it also speaks to the end of time and the Kingdom of God.
God will gather his people from the four corners of the earth, and then, unite them under his gentle and loving reign as King.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Relentless Love, Year C, Pentecost 23, Luke 21:5-19

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Some of you may be familiar with Eugene Peterson, a Presbyterian pastor and scholar, writer of many books, and translator of the Message Bible.
Last week I ran across the following on Facebook:
“Eugene Peterson’s son Leif said at the funeral that his dad only had one sermon—that he had everyone fooled for 29 years of pastoral ministry, that for all his books he only had one message.
It was a secret Leif said his dad had let him in on early in life.  It was a message that Leif said his dad had whispered in his heart for 50  years, words he had snuck into his room to say over him as he slept as a child:
“God loves you.
God is on your side.
He is coming after you.
He is relentless.””

I love that message.
It is truly the heart of the Gospel.
We’d do well to write it on our hearts and cling to it, throughout all our goings in and coming outs.
Let it be the first thing we think of each morning.
Let it be the last thing we remember each night.
God loves you.
And as a lover God wants only the best for you.
And God is on your side.
                How many times have we envisioned God has an adversary, not an advocate?  Someone to fear, not love?
God’s on YOUR side.  Remember that.
God is coming after you.
The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of my favorites.
Of course the story line there is of the wayward Son who left his Father’s house to go to a distant country, where all sorts of adversity befell him.
Finally, coming to his senses, he returns home to repent before his father and beg to be accepted as a slave and servant.
His Father, however, had been waiting and watching for him, and when he saw him ran to greet him, embrace him, and welcome him home.
All that is very familiar to us.
But I think there is one thing Eugene Peterson got right, that the parable had wrong.
“God is coming after you.”
God doesn’t just wait and watch, hoping that you yourself will decide one day to return home.
God is actively seeking you out and pursuing you wherever you roam, and God will simply not rest until he finds you.
Which brings up Eugene Peterson’s final point:
God is relentless.
God will not give up on anyone as lost.
God will not give up on anyone, period.
God will not give up.
Not until all of us are in his arms and embraced by his love.
“God loves you.
God is on your side.
He is coming after you.
He is relentless.””

In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus speaks of the future in ominous tones.
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.”
Hearing stuff like this can make us quiver with fear and anxiety about what is coming.
What does the future hold and can we endure.
This last week I wrote the following in my blog:
One irreversible change that has occurred globally is the interaction between diverse cultures and people.  The world is becoming smaller.  And our experience of one another is expanding.  Advances in communication and travel have brought the world closer together resulting in an experience of diversity never before imagined.  When I grew up in Irene, SD, our town was comprised almost exclusively of Norwegian Americans.  The next town over was Danish American.  And so it was across the Great Plains.  During the time of homesteading ethnic groups settled together.  Interaction with other groups and communities was very limited.  The result was a sense of homogeneity.  Irene was Lutheran and exclusively White.

The question for the future will be whether we seek to cling to a tribalism that is a remnant of the past, or embrace a diversity of people that reflects the interaction between people of different ethnic, cultural, political and religious backgrounds.  For the Church the implications are straight forward.  We will either seek to maintain the exclusive claims and closed communities of the past or we will learn to thrive in a world that is pluralistic.  Within the Church we will need to become more ecumenical, beyond the Church we will need to address interfaith relationships, and individually we will have to deal with diversity as a 'next door' issue.

I'm actually excited about the prospects for the future.  I believe that the human experience will be richer for the diversity.  But we will have to get over the desire to mandate conformity in order to enjoy it.  Religious communities will not even be able to maintain homogeneity within their own membership ranks.  That's not so bad, unless you’re compelled to fight about it.”
Is diversity something that excites you?
Or is it something that alarms you?

Are you prone to embrace it?
Or to fight it?

When people from every walk of life, and every corner of the world are thrust together there will be conflict.  There simply will be.
There will be wars and insurrections.
Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
Jesus goes on to say:
“You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.”
2,000 years have passed since Jesus uttered these words.  One question is whether those events of which he speaks have already transpired, for example, during the persecution of the Church in the first Century.
Or whether these words warn us of a future that is yet to come.
It is both.
The early Christians experienced these conflicts.
And as we become more diverse as a society, and as the world finds itself brought together more and more by travel and communication, the conflicts are going to intensify.
They will intensify because human nature is to abhor diversity and seek conformity.
Amid all this upheaval, amid all this turmoil, amid all the conflict and trials there are two messages to remember.
The first is Eugene Peterson’s message:
“God loves you.
God is on your side.
He is coming after you.
He is relentless.”
And the second message is like it, but different in a very important way, that is, the message that is so important for us, is also true for our neighbor.
“God loves them.
                God is on their side, as well.
God seeks them out.
                And God will relentlessly continue to pursue them until he can embrace them in his loving arms.”
In other words, “we are in this together.”
There are two things that are very difficult for us to embrace at the very core of our soul:
That God loves me.
And that God loves you as well.
And so we need to remind each other of that message.
Day after day.
Year after year.
God only has one message for us:
“I love you.
I’m on your side.
I’m coming for you.
And I will not give up.”

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Leaning into the future. Year C, Pentecost 22, Job 19.23-27a, Luke 20.27-38

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ, Amen.
When we were young, the span of a human life seemed like an eternity.
As we age, it’s more like the blinking of an eye.
We are growing older.  It seems time passes quicker as each year goes by.
I heard an explanation as to why that is the case many years ago.  That person suggested that we measure time by the span of years we have already lived.
That is, if we are five, waiting a whole year seems like forever because it’s twenty percent of the total span of years we had lived up to that point.
However, if we are 100, a year is only 1% of the total life span that had passed before, and so it seems like a relatively short period of time.
At any rate, whether we are five or fifty, aging happens.
Another thing that happens with age is that the focal point for our hope shifts.
The younger we are, the more our hope is focused on the future that we are growing into in our lives.  It’s a hope for the here and now, for the world in which we live, and for the days and years ahead.
And then as we grow older, we begin to recognize that our days on this earth and the time we have left is drawing to a close.  We look beyond the horizon to the promise of salvation and eternal life.
Two futures.
And we lean into those futures with hope and expectation.
For Job, whose life fell apart in a most devastating way, it was the future that sustained him in hope.  God’s future, that eternal hope.
I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, .  .  .
As my father approached his 100th birthday, he longed for the fulfillment of this promise.  Actually he had misgivings about the length of his life.  On the one hand he felt quite blessed to have lived well into his nineties with relatively good health.  One the other hand, he somewhat envied those who had died, for they were already with Christ, surrounding the throne of God, and living in paradise.
There is another side, though, to our future hope and that is the future that will be on this earth.
That future will continue to unfold without respect to how many years are left in our lives.
It’s a future that will be lived by our children and our children’s children.
Our future in heaven is a gift we receive directly from God.
And the other, the future in this world, is a gift we give to our children.
To live our lives faithfully and in hope means that we lean into those two futures, not neglecting one for the sake of the other, but rather recognizing the importance of each.
To live in hope for the future of this world, is to care for the environment, seeking to pass it on to future generations in better shape that when we first received it.
Our time on this earth may be getting more and more limited, but the future generations that will follow us still need this earth, even if we don’t.
To live in hope for the future of this world, is to care for things such as our government, our schools, and such things as the local businesses upon which our lives depend.  And we do so, even when our own personal, immediate and pressing need has passed. 
For example, even though I am long since past my school years, and my children as well, I am thrilled that in Sandpoint this last week we passed a permanent levee so as to provide stable and sustained funding for the years ahead.  That will benefit my grandchildren, and the others that come behind me.  It’s for their future, not mine.
And also, to live in hope for the future of this world is to nurture the relationships that are so crucial to making our lives meaningful and rich.
One example for me of this came to me when I lived in the rural areas of eastern Montana and elsewhere.
What I noticed was that there was reluctance for most of the farmers and ranchers there to enter into any significant conflict with their neighbors.  The reason was that the quality of their future and the future of their children for generations to come was tied up with those neighbors on the other side of the fence.  They stood by each other because they knew that they, and subsequently their children, would still be standing side by side for generations to come.
To live into the future with hope is to care for the quality of life of future generations without regard to how many years that we ourselves have left.
Yet at the same time we invest in the future in this world, we also look beyond to the fulfillment of God’s promise of eternal life.
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.

"1 In heav'n above, in heav'n above,
where God our Father dwells:
how boundless there the blessedness!
No tongue its greatness tells.
There face to face, and full and free,
the everliving God we see,
our God, the Lord of hosts!
2 In heav'n above, in heav'n above,
what glory deep and bright!
The splendor of the noonday sun
grows pale before its light.
The mighty sun that goes not down,
before whose face clouds never frown,
is God, the Lord of hosts!
3 In heav'n above, in heav'n above,
no tears of pain are shed,
for nothing there can fade or die;
life’s fullness round is spread,
and like an ocean, joy o’erflows,
and with immortal mercy glows
our God, the Lord of hosts!
4 In heav'n above, in heav'n above,
God has a joy prepared,
which mortal ear has never heard,
nor mortal vision shared,
which never entered mortal thought,
in mortal dreams was never sought,
O God, the Lord of hosts!"

This hymn by Laurentius Laurentii Laurinus speaks to this hope.
Of heaven, and of this hope, it is easier to sing than it is to speak.
We wonder what it will be like.  We question.  We imagine.
Today’s Gospel lesson is an example of the type of questions we raise.
If a woman has seven husbands in this life, whose wife will she be in the resurrection???
This brought back a memory from my confirmation class.
Candance Jorgenson was one of my classmates, and during one of my dad’s lessons on heaven, Candace blurted out “I don’t know if I want to go to heaven!”
And then she talked about sitting in the clouds playing a harp, as not sounding like very much fun at all.  Nor did my dad’s suggestion that we would be constantly worshipping God and singing his praise. 
It’s like enough already.  A worship service without end seems a bit much.
What will we do, what will it be like, who will be there, and such? Questions.
On a more serious note, one woman who I spoke with as she was dying was deeply concerned about this Gospel reading.
A big part of her hope was that she would be with her husband in heaven.
She was deeply concerned that Jesus said: “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.”
To be honest, I didn’t know how to answer that question.
Some of us hope that even death will not part us, do we not????
And what will we do, what kind of relationships will we have?
We will not find hope, though, in the questions, but in the promise:
"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away."

We cling to this promise, ready to be surprised, but trusting in the one who called us to faith, Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord and Savior.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Year C, All Saints Sunday, Ephesians 1:11-23, Luke 6:20-31, Now and Not Yet

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
We believe that we are Children of God, created, redeemed, and sanctified.
And as children, heirs of the promise.
That promise is summed up in these words from Ephesians:
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
To be children of God, and to acknowledge Jesus as Lord of all creation, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, is to make a bold statement about the status quo in this world.
At the level of our faith, we are no longer citizens of this world, subject to the authority of earthly rulers and powers, but subject rather to the reign of God.
Having said that I should acknowledge that Paul does exhort us in Romans to be subject to the governing authorities.
However in Phillipians it is also written that “our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
We live, you see, as citizens of a foreign land, aliens and sojourners in this land, whose sights are set on the Kingdom of God that is promised, and are not content with the status of the world in which we live. 
The Spirit of God is a restless spirit, that leans into the future, God’s future, and claims the promise of what could be and what will be.
H. Richard Niebuhr wrote about the relationship of the Christian to the world in his book, Christ and Culture.
Christ against Culture. For the exclusive Christian, history is the story of a rising church or Christian culture and a dying pagan civilization.
Christ of Culture. For the cultural Christian, history is the story of the Spirit's encounter with nature.
Christ above Culture. For the synthesist, history is a period of preparation under law, reason, gospel, and church for an ultimate communion of the soul with God.
Christ and Culture in Paradox. For the dualist, history is the time of struggle between faith and unbelief, a period between the giving of the promise of life and its fulfillment.
Christ Transforming Culture.  For the conversionist, history is the story of God's mighty deeds and humanity's response to them. Conversionists live somewhat less "between the times" and somewhat more in the divine "now" than do the followers listed above. Eternity, to the conversionist, focuses less on the action of God before time or life with God after time, and more on the presence of God in time. Hence the conversionist is more concerned with the divine possibility of a present renewal than with conservation of what has been given in creation or preparing for what will be given in a final redemption.
Is the Kingdom of God a very present reality, or out there, somewhere in the future?
And what does that mean for our life in the here and now?
One of the things we do as Christians is to relegate Christ and his reign to the future.
The Kingdom of God will one day be, but is not now.
It’s coming.
We hope for it.
Jesus will one day reign over all.
But not today.
Today we live as citizens of an earthly kingdom.
When we do that, we strip Jesus of the power and authority with which the Father has clothed him.
And we. . . can’t do that.
WE don’t have that authority.
But that’s not to say that we don’t often submit ourselves to earthly authorities, and declare our allegiance first and foremost to them.

When I look at the politics of this world, I’m convinced there are two basic viewpoints that govern our convictions and guide our actions.
Roughly, these worldviews correspond to the division between liberals and conservatives, but not entirely. 
But in general, people fall into one of two camps.
The ‘conservative camp’ rallies around slogans such as “Make America Great Again”, and underlying that is a conviction that there once was an ideal time, and our challenge for the present is to reach back into our history to reclaim that which we once had, but lost somewhere along the way.
The ‘liberal or progressive camp’ believes that we are on a mission to make the world a little better, in every way, every day.  It’s a belief that the future will be better than the past.
Using a Biblical image, one group wants to return to the Garden of Eden, the other yearns for the City of God.
The question is where do we find our hope?
One looks back to the nation of our childhood and hopes that we can return to that former time, often forgetting the challenges that we faced then.
The other looks forward to an idealized future in which we overcome the old challenges and wake to an ever better day.
Are your best days ahead of you or behind you?
That’s the question that underlies the politics of our day and which shapes our world view.
But the more significant question is whether the government under which we live has the capacity to fulfill the hope that we cling to.
And related to that, is the question of the Kingdom.
And our citizenship.
And who is our Lord and God.
For all of the differences that plague us, one thing most everyone can agree on is that things could be, should be, better than they are.
But who will make it so?
And when?
Put another way, just ask yourself this question.
“Does your hope for the future lie with the government or the Church?”
I’m not sure that I want to trust either of those as earthly institutions, as both of them have too often been flawed, becoming as much a part of the problem as they are a solution to it.
Perhaps the more pertinent question is a simpler question.
“Who is your Lord?”
And what does that mean for your life?
When you look to the future does your hope lie in earthly rulers like Barack Obama or Donald Trump?
Or in Christ, who is Lord of all creation and far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named?
Of course, as Christians we have no choice but to say that Christ Jesus is our Lord.
That’s who we are.
And yet, which authority do we submit to?
Do we live our lives as ‘good citizens’ of the United States?
Or the Kingdom of God?

When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom, he says:
But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
There is nothing more contrary to an earthly Kingdom, than that first sentence:  Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
As a nation we kill our enemies.
We punish those who hate us, and shun those who curse us.
And, of course, we protect ourselves against those who would abuse us.
We celebrate our victories over others, and avoid at all cost showing any sign of weakness or defeat.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
When we hear such words of Jesus, most of us would conclude that an ideal such as this is simply not wise or practical with respect to governing our country.
If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.”
We may consider ourselves to be a Christian nation, but most of us would say that’s no way to run a country. 
But just maybe, Jesus, whom we declare to be Lord of All Creation, knows something about life in the Kingdom that we don’t. 
One final note:
When I get dismayed about the state of the politics in our land I find myself wishing that there was an option to be a citizen, not of this country, but of the Kingdom of God.
Pipe dream.
But actually, not.  We are called to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God, heirs of salvation, and Children of God. 
We acknowledge one Lord and Father of us all.
That’s the life of faith, a life of being a sojourner, an alien resident of this land, but a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
It is to look forward in hope to the fulfillment of that Kingdom, while at the same time living our lives under the reign of the one true King.
Our God.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Be Still Year C, Reformation Sunday, Psalm 46

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
“Be still, then, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.”
The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.
Those two words, “Be Still”, represent for us one of the most difficult challenges for us and also, an incredible invitation to a life of faith and trust.
Be Still.
Just be Still.
Another similar passage comes from Exodus, the 14th Chapter.
Moses had just led Israel out of Egypt, and they had come to the Red Sea.  As they stood there with their backs to the sea, and with Pharaoh’s army bearing down upon them, they panicked. 
In great fear they cried out to the Lord.
In response to their cries, Moses said:
"Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again.  The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still."
Of course then, the sea parted and the Israelites were delivered out of the hands of the Egyptians and set free.
Stand firm.
Be Still.
And know that I am God.
In Psalm 46 David addresses two of the most powerful sources of threats to the people, natural disaster and the national crisis of war.
In Genesis 1 the state of the universe prior to God’s creative activity was that of a watery chaos, formless, void, and dark.
And to an extent, the threat under which we live in the face of natural disasters is a return to that primordial chaos which reigned upon the earth at that time.
Fear is the result.
Jerusalem was a city that lay in the sites of many an empire.
The nations of the world would rise up against her, and more than once armies would lay siege against her.
Our instinctual response to such threats and the fears they provoke is either to flee or fight.
God invites us to another response:
Be still, then, and know that I am God.
Calm down.
God is in control.

As we journey through this life we face threats in various ways and forms.
The first is the threat to our life that comes as a result of our own mortality.
Life is fragile.
It is a delicate balance.
And it can come to an end in a moment, in the blinking of an eye.
The older I get, the more aware I become of this.
And one of the facts that becomes more and more pronounced for me with each passing year is how many times I have faced issues which might have caused my death.
On Friday morning, driving to work in Hayden for the last time, I reflected on how lucky I was to have made that commute, in all sorts of weather, for four years and aside from a minor altercation with a deer, to have been safe through it all.
A simple thing such as driving can be a threat and end our lives in the blink of an eye.
I’m also increasingly aware of the threat that we face with our health.
I’ve had at least three conditions that, in another day, could have meant my death.
Open heart surgery for a mitral valve failure.
Nearly drinking myself to death.
And last year, a bowel obstruction that just a few decades ago would have meant sure death in a matter of days and weeks.
In the face of all that threatens us, God calls out to us:
Be still, then, and know that I am God

Our nation finds itself in perilous times.
In years past the threat that we faced was from the outside.
Whether it was the Germans or the Japanese in  World War II, or the Russians during the height of the Cold War, the enemy was well defined and, to an extent, easily defended against. 
Today the threat to our nation lies within.
It’s not that the Left is a threat.
Or that the Right is a threat.
What really threatens our country is the growing partisanship and widening divide between Left and Right. 
Even though no shots have been fired it is as though our nation is at war with itself.
And we fear for the future.
Face with these fears, God’s word for us is
Be still, then, and know that I am God.

On another front, natural chaos looms on the horizon and is too often experienced.
Mother Nature seems to be pissed.
Scientists tell us that this is the result of climate change.
And, that matters will get worse, much worse.
Storms will rage and destroy.
Flooding and droughts.
Rising sea levels.
And significant changes to the delicate balance of this world in which we live that may result in a variety of threats to our health and wellbeing.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains shake in the depths of the sea; though its waters rage and foam, and though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
Be still, then, and know that I am God.

Face with all these threats do we fight or flee?
Or do we simply choose to ignore them, pretending they are not here?
For some of us, we have the privilege of responding with apathy and indifference because at the moment we are not under direct threat.
For others, the threat is real and the threat is now.
Category 5 Hurricanes cannot be ignored.
Nor can one ignore it when the family farm is now under water due to rising lake levels.
The dysfunction of our government, and the threat to our democratic way of life do not resolve themselves if we simply turn off the news.
Nor does our mortality go away if we but choose to ignore it for another day.
Faced with all this we can come out fighting.
Or we can flee as fast and as far as we can.
Or we can just stand there.
Be still, then, and know that I am God.
The measure of our faith is not in how we entertain ourselves during the good times, but rather in how we face the most difficult of times.
Can we sit back and simply trust God to be our deliverer, our savior, and our protector?
It seems to me that there are two dimensions of this faith in God.
The first dimension is to recognize that God, and not us, will be the only one to be able to address and overcome these most difficult of threats.
In the midst of it, our response then is to be that of faith, standing firm, being still, and witnessing the salvation of our God.
That is a passive faith in which we place our trust in the God who has promised to save us.
And then there is also an active faith.
It is a bold faith.
It is a faith that believes that God can work through us and bless our labors as we seek to do his will and follow his commands.
It takes faith to believe that we can be agents of healing.
It takes faith to believe that we can be ambassadors of reconciliation.
It takes faith to believe that we can care for this planet upon which our very lives depend.
Most of all, it takes faith to believe that God can and does work through us and through our labors.
May this peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Gimpy Faith Year C, Pentecost 19, Genesis 32:22-31, Luke 18:1-8,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Wrestle with God, if you must, hold fast throughout the night, and when morning comes don’t be surprised that you come up wounded from the battle.  One does not prevail against God and remain unscathed.  Yet cling to the promise, nevertheless.
When I went into ministry, one of my biggest concerns was prayer.
I had idealized notions of what prayer was all about, and very overwhelming sense that other people’s piety afforded them a prayer life that I simply didn’t have.
My sense was that my father, for example, was richly blessed with an ability to pray that escaped me.
He would pray as though God was just around the corner in the next room.  Raise your voice a little, which he did, and God will hear you.
I had heard others talk about their lives of prayer and devotion, and it often seemed like they had an admirable ability to be in conversation with God as though God was their best friend.  The words just flowed. 
This struggle remained with me throughout my years in ministry.
Of all the questions I’ve been asked during interviews by call committees, the one that gave me the most trouble was “Tell us about your personal life of prayer.”
If I had to tell you about it in an interview it was no longer my personal life of prayer.
That was one objection.
But the other was a sense of inadequacy.
I wish I could pray like my father.
But I can’t.
It’s not that I don’t pray.  I do.  You know that.
I’ve prayed with people from birth to the grave.
Sometimes my prayers are eloquent.
Sometimes they are labored and cumbersome.
Still, at other times I’ve felt inspired to pray.
At one such time I composed this prayer, which remains my favorite:
Hold me tight, most precious Lord,
                That I might follow you.
Grant me grace to live each day,
                May I be born anew.
Lift me up whenever I fall,
                And never let me fade
From the grace filled light
                Of your own sight
                That turns the night to day.

Yet prayer remains a struggle.
One of the issues I’ve had to deal with is the philosophical one.
I’ve questioned as a philosopher, the effectiveness of prayer.
My struggles philosophically with prayer are similar to the “problem of evil” that philosophers debate.
If God is all loving, and God is all powerful, then why is there evil?
Evil continues, so either God is not all loving, or God simply isn’t able to stop it.
That’s the problem of evil for philosophers.
My philosophical problem with prayer was similar.
When we pray for something good, like a cure from a deadly disease, and the person we are praying for dies anyway, then we ask why.
Perhaps we didn’t pray ‘right’.  It’s our fault for not praying as we ought.  But what a burden that is for us to bear.  I’ve prayed with moms and dads whose children were dying, and they did die.  Do I really want to believe that the reason they died was because of my inadequacy in prayer???  That if I had just been better at it, they would have lived???  That’s it’s my fault???
Maybe God just doesn’t hear our prayers.
You know, God has a lot on his mind, what with being the Lord of the Universe and all.  Perhaps he just doesn’t have time to worry about my surgery next week. 
Well, if God doesn’t have time to listen, why pray?
Or perhaps, God does care and listen to our prayers, but he just can’t do anything about it.
Babies will die.
Tragedies will happen in spite of our prayers, because God can’t or won’t intervene.
That’s a philosophical problem with prayer.  And it eats away at our faith.
But then there are other times when prayer seems to work like magic. 
Healing happens.
Doors open.
It’s just a clear as day.
And when it’s all over everyone involved just really senses that the hand of God was all over it.
As a bishop of mine once said:
“Dave, this is a God thing.”
Sometimes, you just know that.
As I’ve struggled with prayer over the years there are two passages from the Bible that have become most dear to me.
The first is from Romans 8:
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Over the years, I’ve prayed eloquent prayers, and not so eloquent prayers.  Sometimes I’ve know just what to say and how to say it.  At other times I searched for the right words.
But more times than not, I’ve learned to sigh.
“Sighs to deep for words” has become for me a model for prayer.
And as I sigh, I also cling to the promise that the Spirit is helping me in my weakness and that those deeply felt sighs are actually the Spirit’s own intercessions.

The second passage is today’s Old Testament lesson.
4Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”
There may be a lot of things I haven’t done well with respect to prayer.
But, I can tell you this much, I have spent many a sleepless night wrestling with God.
This story about Jacob is amazing.
He wrestled all night.  All night.
And it was not just another man with whom he struggled, but God.
And having prevailed against God throughout the night he received God’s blessing at the break of day.
With a catch.
A dislocated hip.
He prevailed in his struggles with God, but was left with a limp when it was all over.  It took its toll.
Jacob had feared for his life as he anticipated meeting up with his brother Esau the next day.
You remember the story.
He had cheated Esau out of his birthright, and had been on the run ever since.
Now was the day of reckoning. 
Jacob had tricked his father Isaac into giving him Esau’s blessing, and now he had the audacity to wrestle with God until God blessed him as well.
Jacob often is looked upon as a despicable character, a cheat.
Yet there is another dimension to him.
A faithful dimension.
As evidenced by his wrestling through the night and prevailing, Jacob had a persistent, resilient, and unwavering faith.
He wrestled through the night and prevailed, and for that, God blessed him. 
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus tells us as his disciples to “pray always and not to lose heart.”
And he tells the parable about the woman who persisted in her appeals to the judge for justice, and finally was granted her wish because of that persistence. 
A stubborn, persistent, demanding even, faith.
Do not lose heart.
Do not give up.
Wrestle through the night but never let go.
Never let go of God.
Wrestle with God, struggle with God, but hold fast to God and the promise of his blessing.
That’s the epitome of faith.
To struggle through the night, and to prevail until morning when the promise is fulfilled.
The struggle may not be easy.
We may come up limping as a result.
But in the end God will be faithful to his promise.