Saturday, May 28, 2016

Year C, Proper 5, Galatians 5:11-24: Unlikely witnesses

We all have, I suppose, and ideal model of who a pastor should be.

Likely, one who has tried to destroy the Church by executing Christians, doesn't fit the model.  Stephen probably would not have voted for Saul to become his pastor.

Yet one cannot bear witness to that which one hasn't experienced.  And so it is only those who have truly experienced the grace of God, and their own need for that grace, who can bear witness to it.

One of the things I regret about needing to leave my last call, was that my departure came at a time when I most needed, and experienced, the saving grace of God.  I had been self medicating with alcohol for some time and it finally caught up with me.  One of my last sermons was on Christmas Eve.  I shared with my congregation that it was one thing to have preached about the savior who has come into our world, and another thing to recognize how deeply we personally need that savior.

Paul was keenly aware that he, as one who had tried to destroy the Church, was the least likely to be called to build it.  He understood his calling to come from God, and not from other humans.  There is likely a good reason for this.  Who in their right mind would identify Paul as a person fit for the ministry of the Church of Christ?  His behaviors were frowned upon in this establishment.

Throughout my struggles with being bipolar, and since leaving the active parish ministry, I struggled with my 'fitness' to be a pastor again.  Can one who struggles, and will always struggle, with a mental illness be an effective pastor?  I find a certain irony in the fact that five years ago, while I was still drinking heavily, I was nominated to be the bishop.  And today, as I'm in recovery, I'm trying to discern with my bishop whether or not I am fit to return to any parish ministry.  I'm pursuing that option because I do believe that I am more capable now, than ever, to bear witness to the Gospel because I've experienced it so profoundly in my own life.

And yet I wonder, if I were on a call committee, if I'd vote for myself.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."

I recently filled out the mobility papers, called in our Church the Rostered Persons Profile.  The question wasn't asked, but if it were I wonder how it would be answered by pastors.  "How have you experienced the grace of God in the context of your own weaknesses and failures?"

Now there are questions that invite one to present one's self as a spiritual giant.  But there is not a place for one to share that they are totally unworthy to be a  pastor and entirely dependent on the grace of God.

If God called only the most capable and well qualified to enter the ministry, the our confidence would be in the pastor and not the Gospel.  That's what I believe.  It is precisely the undeniable humanity of all who are called to this office, our weaknesses and failings, that allow us to point to Christ and not to ourselves.

Its not just about pastors, either.  Ask a layperson about their bearing witness to their faith and sharing the Gospel with others, and many will say that they just don't feel qualified.  Which is the point Paul is making.

It is not because we are worthy that we can bear witness to God's grace.  It is precisely that we are unworthy, and dependent on that grace, that we can bear witness to what we have been given.

God's power is made perfect in our weaknesses.

There's an interesting conversation to be had in their somewhere with a call committee.

Year C, Proper 5, Luke 7:11-17: Rise!

"Wait for it!"

I suppose we could say that much of what is recorded in the Gospels is meant to prepare us for the afterlife and the promise of the Kingdom of God.  It is not really meant  to give us hope for the here and now.  "Young man, I say to you, rise!"  "Talitha Cum".  "Lazarus, come out."

Oh how I wish Jesus had been present, and willing, to speak those words to my parishioners on many occasion during the course of my ministry.  You see, Jesus did not just promise that there would be a resurrection of the dead at the end of time.  Jesus raised the dead.  The widow in Nain received her son back.  Talitha was raised, and her parent's 'gave her something to eat.  Lazarus was raised, and to this side of eternity.

But Alison wasn't.  Nor was Paul.  Nor was Jazz.  Or any of the other children I've buried over the course of my ministry.  A year into my ministry, I buried three children in the course of 4 months.  And this in a congregation of only 100 people.  That's not what "youth ministry" is supposed to be.  And it quickly brings home the reality and tragedy of death.

I particularly remember Alison's death.  A fifteen year old, killed when she and a friend took a 66 Mustang for a joy ride one afternoon.  She was thrown from the car at high speed, her head striking a tree 12 feet off the ground.

I preached at her funeral.  "Talitha Cum".  "There are lilies blooming at the foot of the cross."  (It was November, but next to the cross outside our church, an Easter lily was blooming.  True story.)

There is a certain 'finality' about death.  We preach these resurrection stories at funerals, but leave out the part about Talitha, the young man from Nain, and Lazurus, being restored to THIS life.  I would declare that Jesus promises "resurrection, NOT "resuscitation".  Death has its say.  And then, in the world to come, resurrection happens.  But very few funeral processions have been interrupted by resurrection.

And then privately, parishioners would take me aside.  And they would tell their stories.  Following heart surgery, Dick's heart stopped, "flat lined".  But though he was unconscious, still with the breathing tubes in, and with his eyes taped shut following surgery, he witnessed the medical team called in during the code, working on him.  It was an out of body experience.  The next day he recognized the nurse who had straddled him on the bed to work on him.  She wasn't near as big as she had appeared when she was pounding on his chest.  Dick believed he died, and was brought back to life.

Emma died on the operating table.  It was Jesus who sent her back.  She had a hard time speaking about that experience.  But she clearly believed that she had left that operating room, and was at the gates of heaven, before Jesus came to her and told her to go back, it wasn't time yet.

And then I remember Joanne.  She didn't die.  Thrown from a car, down a rock embankment, yet found on the side of the road, paralyzed.  Her grandfather approached me after it was over.  "Pastor, it was difficult for me and Gary (his son-in-law, and Joanne's father) to get down to the car over all those rocks.  We could see the rock where her head hit, there was blood on it.  And then we wondered how she  got back to the road.  And so I tried to follow a 'blood trail' back to the road where she was found.  Pastor, I've tracked many an elk through the woods, I can pick out a drop of blood on the forest floor, but on all of those bare rocks I could not find even a single drop of blood, from the car, all the way up the embankment to the road.  And she had a nasty gash in her forehead and was bleeding enough to obscure her sight.  How do you explain that?"

Is it possible that death is not so final, nor life so absolutely predictable, as it seems at times?  Are angels real?  Does God still intervene?

Of course many will seek more rational explanations.  Following the accident, Joanne had a burst of adrenaline and a healthy dose of survival instinct and climbed up those rocks prior to the damage occurring to her spinal chord, and prior to the bleeding becoming so severe that it dropped on the ground.  But Walt couldn't accept such an explanation.  Gary didn't talk about it much as he remained puzzled.  How, I don't know, but I choose to believe that God still acts.  And on occasion, robs death.

But what do you say to Bob and Laurie?  Alison wasn't saved from death.  Or to Paul's parents?  Or to Jazz's mom.  Or to any of the countless others for whom death comes too soon?  That God just didn't care enough to help them?

I can't answer such questions.  I know we will all die one day.  But it does appear, if you give any credence whatsoever, that some people 'die' more than once.  Some people are given a second chance at life.

I wonder how close I've come to death, and if I would have died had it not been for God's grace.  I know one time, my "angel" was a truck driver who realized I was asleep at the wheel, and pulled up alongside of me and blew his horn to wake me up.  75 miles an hour down the freeway, asleep.  And  yet I lived.

One thing I'd like to ask Jesus about, when I can, is just how many times over the course of my life did he save  me from death.

We might all be surprised by that answer.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Year C, Proper 4, Galatians 1:1-12 Of boldness and timidity

What I lacked in righteousness, I made up for in timidity.

"God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners.  Be a sinner and sin boldly.  But believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world."

The Synod gave my wife a calligraphy wall hanging with this quote from Martin Luther on it.  I kind of chuckle every time I see it.  "Sin Boldly" simply does not describe either Karla or I.  I imagine that the most rigorously honest confession we could offer would probably bore a confessor to death.

Its not that I haven't had either the opportunity, nor the temptation, nor the inclination to sin.  Its just that in most cases I lacked the confidence, the boldness, and perhaps the intestinal fortitude to 'go for it'.

I think my sponsor in AA was looking forward to hearing my fifth step as I was the first pastor he had ever had sponsored.  Alas, there were no tantalizing and juicy tidbits to share.  Like I said, its not that I was/am so righteous, as much as it is that I am quite timid.  A friend once shared that she skipped "Senior Skip Day" lest she would get in trouble with her teachers.  That about sums it up.

The part of the traditional confession of our Church that I can really relate to, though, is where it said "sinful thoughts and desires that I do not fully understand but which are fully known to Thee".  Ok, there you got me.  I may not have 'sinned' near as often as I could have, but deep down there is a part of me that wishes I had.  Some of my ability to resist temptation also has to do with obliviousness.  "I bet if we took this exit we would find a hotel."  Confession:  It took me over twenty five years, and the help of the people I was going through chemical dependency treatment with, to recognize how overt a proposition this was.  I am getting better though.  When Karla and I traveled to Russia, before we had been there twenty four hours I had received multiple offers.  I actually recognized them for what they were.  Its hard to be oblivious to the statement "Would you like to have sex with me?"  Thankfully the two Russia words I had mastered were "spesiba nyet".

"God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. . ."

"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age."

And from Romans 8:  38 "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

And from 2nd Corinthians 5:  "17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation;"

Push me to the wall and ask me to confess my faith, and my understanding of the Gospel, and you will hear me reference Romans 8 and 2nd Corinthians 5 more than any of the passages that deal with atonement.  The promise that God will make all things new, of reconciliation in the context of a world that is too often estranged, and of the love of God that is so great that "nothing" in all of creation can separate us from it-- these epitomize the Gospel for me.  And the Gospel is all about God, not about me.  It is God making all things new, God reconciling the world, and God's love that define the Gospel.  I am but the recipient of it.  

God loves and accepts me as I am, even the 'timid sinner' that I be.  This is the Gospel.  "Sin boldly" if you must, but know that whether you are a timid one or a bold one, you will always be a beloved One.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Year C, Proper 4, Second Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 7:1-10: "Such Faith"

"As I stood there at the foot of his hospital bed, there was a part of me that desperately wanted to reach out and touch him, even his toe, and declare with complete confidence, 'Be healed!'"

"Such faith" I believe is largely lost among us.

More on that, but first, an observation:  In spite of nearly 500 years of evangelical preaching in the tradition of the reformation, and for that matter, nearly 2000 years of hearing the Gospel, we still cannot get over our obsession with sin, morality, and the works we do.  Works righteousness is alive and well among us.  "He is worthy. . ."  Even as we proclaim the "Gospel" we do so within the context of behaviors that are right or wrong.  Our focus is almost exclusively on what we do, and forgiveness is proclaimed as the remedy for our sinful actions.

And yet as we read through the scripture, those grace filled moments that define the Gospel often have nothing whatsoever to do with our "works", but often with our "situation in life".  Healing is central to the Gospel Jesus lived.  How much of his time was spent devoted to this?  What if instead of "Confession and Forgiveness" being the standard rite for the beginning of worship, we considered focusing on healing?  The "Gospel" for one who has Stage 4 cancer does not focus on their "works", but on their need for healing.  But we are more confident in God's willingness and ability to forgive, than we are in his willingness and ability to heal.

"Go." and he goes.  "Come." and he comes.  "Do this."  and he does this.  Such faith.  Dare we to believe any more that Jesus does indeed have the power, not only to forgive, but to heal?

Do we dare believe that reconciliation is possible with those from whom we are estranged?  Dare we believe that the lonely and isolated in this world might, through the Gospel, find love and community?  That wars might cease?  That liberation is the work of God's hand.  That the goodness of all creation might be restored?  Dare we believe that Jesus has the authority to say "Go.",  "Come.", and "Do this."  Do we have such faith as to lay hands on the sick and heal them in the name of Christ Jesus?

My head is not right.  Bipolar they call it.  When I sit down for worship in the fits of depression, the last thing I want to hear about is 'my sin'.  In those moments I'm much more focused on the 'wrongs' God has done to me, than the wrongs I have done.  And how quick I am to believe that this is an incurable life long malady, and how little hope I have that full healing can occur.  It can be managed, perhaps, but healed, no.  "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."

A charismatic Christian that I am quite fond of took me aside one day and shared that she had discerned in me the gift of healing.  And that I needed to use that God given gift for the sake of my parishioners.  "No you don't, your not putting that onus on me." was the response deep in my heart.

You see, I am much more comfortable telling people that we cannot pray ourselves out of our own mortality, than I am saying, "Rise, take up your mat and walk, for your faith has made you well."  Oh, I have stood at the foot of many a hospital bed, like the seminary professor that I quoted above, and wished, just wished, that I could lay my hands on them and heal them.  Would that Jesus had given me that authority.  It is the fear of failure, or perhaps better put, a lack of hope, that prevents me from even trying.  The focus is admittedly on my own inabilities.  But it carries over to a lack of faith in what Jesus can do.

When a couple in my parish had not one, but two children born with spinal muscular atrophy, desperately I wished that I could call upon the name of Jesus and heal those children.  But they died according to the timeline of that disease's progression.  All very predictably.

"Such Faith".  Does it exist anymore?

There is part of me that would like to conclude this meditation with a wonderful story of healing and hope, and the promise that this is possible for all of us, if we but believe.

But instead, perhaps because of my own struggles for healing, I'm simply left with a question.  Can we still believe that the God who commanded light to come out of darkness, who breathed life into the dust of the earth, can say "Be healed", and we will be healed?

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Year C, Trinity Sunday, Psalm 8: A little lower than God


3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;

The earth itself is but a speck of dust in the vast cosmos, and infinitely smaller than that, we humans, here but for a most fleeting moment, arise out of the dust and have the breath of God breathed into us by the power of his Spirit.  A little lower than God.  

Of all that could be said about human creativity, and the capacity we have to work our own wonders, there is one thing above all that stands out in the face of the vast universe.

We have the capacity to love,
We are loved,
And in the loving and being loved,
We are created in the very image of God.

The most glorious stars and galaxies cannot say that.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Eternal and One
seeking fulfillment
by loving dust.

A miracle.

Year C, Trinity Sunday: Sharing the Glory

"Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, .  . I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do."  John 17:1&4

". . .we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings,."  Romans 5:2&3

I have good news for you, and bad.  The good news is that we will share in the glory of Christ.  The bad news is that Christ entered into his 'glory', finishing the work God gave him to do, on the cross.  

Seldom, I suppose, do Christians envision "being with Christ" as "being with Christ, on the cross".  "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."  Matthew 16:24

In Lancaster County, the Amish respond to the shooting that killed the children at their school by offering forgiveness to the killer.

Martin Luther King, first in a jail, and finally in a pool of blood on that balcony in Memphis, following the path of suffering for the sake of others.

In my own case, the most transformative Spiritual experience occurred in the psych unit after hearing the words "Dave, you are an alcoholic."  In the midst of all the suffering brought on by that disease, I encountered Christ, and found hope.  

Many a Kingdom has been advanced by crusades and conquests, but never the Kingdom of God.  

"Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life."  Romans 6: 3-4

There is no rising, without the dying.  There is no sharing in the glory of God, apart from the cross.  This is an inconvenient truth.  THE inconvenient truth.

Its not that suffering ought to be sought out for the sake of suffering.  Suffering enough will touch each of our lives without our seeking it.  

But it is the case, that in the midst of suffering, we will encounter the Christ -- for there he is, in the midst of it all.  We may not recognize him.  We may even feel he's abandoned and forsaken us.  Even Jesus expressed those sentiments from the cross.  But he is there.

One final thought:  Even the Risen Christ bore the open wounds of the cross.  "Follow me."

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Year C, Pentecost: Sighs too deep for Words. . .

Of all the questions that I have been asked by call committees, the one that has frustrated me the most is "Tell us about your personal life of prayer."  My problem is that the moment I talk about my "personal" prayer life in the context of a call interview, it is no longer "personal".  It becomes a basis for judging my qualifications for being a pastor.

Much of my prayer life is routine.  We have always been in the practice of saying grace before meals.  "Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest and let these gifts to us be blest.  Amen"  A variation that we prayed when we were first married, because it was Karla's families prayer is "Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, and let us and all that Thou has given us be blest.  Amen"

I pray for my children.  Simple prayers, mostly.  Keep them safe.  Help them through difficult times.  I pray that they might find that special someone to spend their life with.  With regards to that last one, I have also prayed for their yet unknown partner.  I can't remember who it was, but I do remember someone telling me that since their children were born, they prayed not only for their child, but also for the one, still unknown, that would become their son/daughter in law.  And so I do.

As a pastor, prayer is as much proclamation as it is intercession.  The "words" matter.  In my personal prayer life, they don't so much.  I don't like to have to think to pray.  Part of my practice of prayer is to pray from the heart, without going through the head.

I've also prayed the hymn book.  With my tuba.  I play the hymns and let them be my prayer.

Tell us about your personal prayer life.  Ok, this much I'll share.  But there are other aspects of my personal prayer that I have shared with no one, nor do I ever imagine that I will.  There are some things that are too sacred to share, and so I will not. . .

And then, at the most difficult times in my life, I simply sigh, or groan, if you will.  And in that sighing the Spirit intercedes for us.

Pentecost.  Speaking in tongues.  But perhaps more important than the speaking, each one heard in their own language.  I have come to believe that to pray in the Spirit, is often to pray without Words, directly from the heart, without going through the brain.  Its not that I'm anti-intellectual.  Those who know me know that logic, and reason, and being deep in thought are very much a part of who I am.  Its just that in the thinking, we often go astray.

And so, a prayer without words, a melody, silence, listening, sighs.  And the Spirit intercedes for us.

There is a universal language, I believe, and that is the language of the heart.  A sigh never needs interpretation.  Laughter needs no translation. And love transcends all.  Language of the Spirit.

And through the Spirit God speaks to us, wherever we are, and opens our ears to hear.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Year C, Easter 7, John 17:20-26: "That they may all be one"

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
I think there is no greater joy for a Mother, than to be able to gather her children, all her children, under her wings, like a hen gathers her chicks, and in doing so celebrate being a family.

At least that’s the way it was for my mother.

For my mother, this gathering focused on the lake place that Mom and Dad had purchased on Flathead Lake in Montana.  They had purchased the “cabin” in the years leading up to retirement.  It was a small two bedroom home, the first home that they had owned.
And in the years that followed Mom and Dad remodeled and remodeled, adding a boathouse with three additional bedrooms above, and expanding the cabin.

Driving all of this was not Mom and Dad’s personal needs for more space, but their desire that the cabin would be the home to which all their children would return.  And their hope was not only that we would return to visit them, but that we would continue to return to the lake, long after they were gone, and that as we all gathered at the lake, we would continue to be family. 
In order to facilitate this dream, they set up their estate in a trust for the family, with instructions on how the place was to be managed, with a clear vision that this would be our gathering place.
40 years have passed since they bought the cabin, and a year and a half ago, Mom died.

I wish I could tell you that the dream was fulfilled.

The truth is that logistics and personalities have largely thwarted that dream.
It was one thing to envision the six of us kids all coming home to the lake, but the “six” of us soon grew to include spouses, and grandchildren, and now great grandchildren.  There simply is not enough room for us to all gather there.

Adding to that is the fact that of the six kids, two settled out here in the west, two in the Midwest, and two in Florida.

In addition, my momma raised a bunch of kids that were fiercely independent and strong willed. 
And human nature being as it is, we experience all the interpersonal issues that you might imagine.  Ours is not always “one, big, happy family”. 

My best guess at this point, is that in spite of Mom’s dream that the lake place would be a gathering place for us all, something that would continue to bind us together as a family, it will become a divisive issue.  Already there is talk of selling the place as soon as Dad is gone, but there is not agreement on that. 
In the end, I believe that Mom’s dream will be shattered, and were she still with us, her heart broken.
All she wanted was that we would be One, and remain One.  But that is more difficult to achieve than it is to say.

A mother’s love.
Of all the things that Jesus could have prayed for on that last night that he spent with his disciples, the one thing that weighed heavy on his heart was that his followers would be one.
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”

That this is what he prayed for, (and the high priestly prayer from John, is the longest prayer that we have from Jesus), is an indication that he knew this would be one of our greatest challenges.  His hope was that the love and unity that we shared as his disciples, would be our witness to the world. 
Yes Jesus, our Lord and Savior, must have experienced the pain of “unanswered prayer”.

While he was still with the disciples, there were already conflicts.  They argued about such things as who would be the greatest.
In the book of Acts, and Paul’s letters, we hear about another major disagreement:  whether Gentiles could become Christian, and if so, must they first become Jewish?
And in the centuries that have passed since that time, Christian History has been written, not about the unity that we share in Christ, but about all of the divisions that have shaped the Church.
The early Church’s life was dominated by wrestling with heresies.  Heresies, or false teachings, prompted the Church to adopt creeds which defined “true Christians” from those who were not, and those whose faith was not orthodox, would be banned.

Then there were disagreements about who would lead the Church.  Would it be the Roman Bishop?  As in the Pope?  Or the Bishop of Constantinople?  As a result the Church was divided between the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox.
Adding fuel to that fire were theological controversies such as the question of whether the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father, or from the Father and the Son.  Those three words, “and the Son”, continue to this day to be a source of division between the East and the West. 

And then, near to our heart as Lutherans, was the Reformation.  The Church was divided again, not just between the Catholics and Evangelicals, but even those “reformed Churches” divided time and time again over such issues such as the presence of Christ in Communion, when to baptize, and the role of the Holy Spirit.
Nationalism also came into play.  Different countries formed different Churches.
And Church government came into play.  Should the primary authority in the Church reside with Bishops?  Or Congregations?

And how are we to interpret the Bible?
And what should we do?
And who should we associate with?
Every time a new question arose, the Church divided.

And Jesus prayed:
 "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”

There have been attempts at restoring the unity of the Church.   The “ecumenical  movement” over the last century or so has seen some Churches come back together.  So for example, in some cases,  but not all, Lutherans have begun to set aside their national differences and unite.  German Lutherans will even worship now with Norwegian Lutherans.  But not always.
Our own Church has also pursued ecumenical agreements with other churches that now allow us to worship together with Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Reformed, Methodist, and the United Church of Christ.
Bishop Wells once described this movement within our Church as being like a river that over time had divided into many different tributaries.  Now, those different streams are once again merging together, and slowly, we will all be united again. 

That vision of his sparked no small amount of controversy.  Rather than hope that this reconciliation of the differences that would divide us would be a good thing, people heard Martin’s description of what was happening and thought, “My God, he thinks that we’re going to become Catholic again!”
Perish the thought.

And then, also, in the years since 2009, when our Church decided that gay and lesbian people in committed lifelong relationships could serve as pastors, we have experienced division again.  When that decision was made, the hope was that even though we disagreed on that issue, we could still remain one body.
But it was not to be – most of those who disagreed with the decision left to form another Church.  And so the history of strife and division continues.
Jesus loves me this I know,
For the Bible tells me so,
Little ones to him belong,
They are weak but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus love me,
The bible tells me so.

Karl Barth, one of the great theologians of the last century once stated that the Gospel is simply this:
                That “Jesus loves me.”
And yet something is lacking if we only sing “Jesus loves ME”.
Would that there were a second first,
Jesus loves YOU this I know. . .
And a third verse,
Jesus love us, this we know. . .

You see, what makes all the divisions within the Church so offensive, is that those people, those OTHER people, with whom we have such profound conflicts and disagreements, are also people that Jesus loved enough to die for. 
If we could learn anything from a Mother’s love, or for that matter, from a Father’s love, I would hope it would be this, that they have the marvelous capacity to love ALL their children.  All their children.

Perhaps that verse we are missing is this:
Jesus loves us this we know,
                For the Bible tells us so,
Everyone to him belongs,
                Brothers,  sisters, we are one.
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves you,
Yes, Jesus loves them,
                The Bible tells us so.
As we look back over the history of the Church,
And all the divisions, and strife, and disagreement, there are two questions that we constantly asked which shaped the debate.
                What then, should we believe?
                And how then, should we act?

Perhaps the history of the Church would have been different if we asked only one question, and that is:
                Who then, does God love?

Dare we say “All his children?”

May this peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Year C, Pentecost: Children of God

"but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God," (Romans 8: 15-16)

Where we start will determine where we end up.

I struggle with these texts for Pentecost and the way we have traditionally spoken of them.  Often we have celebrated Pentecost, remembering God's gift of the Holy Spirit on that day, as though somehow the Spirit had simply been resting idle in heaven's back stage from the beginning till Pentecost, and then, as a Johnny come lately, showed up that day in Jerusalem.  Not so.

And even more so I struggle with the theological implications of adoption language.  I do not like it as an image for baptism.  That God "adopts us" implies not only that we have become children of God, but also that there was a point when we were not children of God.  The image of adoption distinguishes between birth parent and adoptive parent.  It opens the door for a profoundly judgmental position that asserts that the baptized, and the baptized alone, are adopted as children of God.  It is as though we were created by another, and then subsequently, claimed by God.  And for everyone that God claims as his own, via the adoption of baptism, there are many more who simply remain 'unclaimed'.  The lost.

I remember Linnea, crying in my office following a funeral sermon that I had just preached.  The sermon was offered at the funeral of a young girl who I had baptized in the emergency room following an auto accident.  She died shortly thereafter.  In the sermon I focused on the promises of God tied to baptism.  I thought it was a rich, Gospel based sermon.  But Linnea cried.  She was filled with deep grief, and to a degree, with anger.

Her second born child died unexpectedly at the age of about two weeks.  Not expecting that Randall would die, they had not had him baptized.  And their pastor simply said "what a tragedy".  The child was lost.  (I tend to believe that if ever there were grounds for charging a pastor with 'clergy malpractice, this would be one of them.)  If baptism is adoption, then the unbaptized are not.  It's a logical position.  And it turns the grace of God and the promises of God into laws that condemn.

I don't like that.

In the beginning it was the Spirit of God that moved over the face of the waters, and was present in creation, breathing the breath of life into all of life.  If we must speak of a beginning point for the gift of the Holy Spirit, the lets talk of the 'ruach', the wind, the breathe of God, his Spirit, that brings life itself to us.  And having received this gift of the Spirit, the very breathe of life, we are born children of God.

One of my seminary professors, a charismatic, was invited to speak at an assembly of charismatic Christians.  The requested topic was the Spirit in the Bible.  He related that the group was surprised because, rather than focus on Pentecost, the bulk of his study was on Creation.

As the Spirit of God rushed through that place at Pentecost, it was a continuation of the work of the Spirit begun in creation.  It is a time to remember that the Spirit of God has been with us from the beginning and remains with us til the end.

And that we are indeed Children of God, because by the power of the Holy Spirit we were created, and filled with the very breathe of God.