Saturday, November 26, 2016

Vitality of Mission

Romans 12:4 & 5
"For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another."

Since my ordination, I have been called to serve a variety of congregations.  Each was unique.  And they all varied in size, and to a degree, vitality.  My first call was to Our Savior's in Thompson Falls.  The average worship attendance was 62 per Sunday.  I thought it was a "small" congregation, but the truth was it proved to be a medium sized congregation.  During my time in Thompson Falls I also served Trinity Lutheran in Hot Springs.  About 10 people, mostly elderly, came on a Sunday.

In my second call, I went to Eastern Montana to serve American Lutheran in Baker.  There the average worship attendance was about 150, but this was also augmented by the fact that we broadcast over the local radio station and our services were followed by people throughout much of SE Montana. During the time in Baker we formed a parish with two nearby congregations, Peace in Plevna, and St. Elizabeth in Ekalaka, with an average of 40 & about 15 in worship.

My third call was to Sandpoint.  First Lutheran had an average worship of about 175.  A major endeavor while in Sandpoint was to build a senior housing ministry.  The magnitude of this endeavor can be measured by some basic stats.  First's annual budget for the congregation was slightly over $200,000 annually, the mortgage payment on the senior housing was about a million dollars a year, with an annual operating budget of three million plus.  

And my current call is to serve Peace Lutheran in Otis Orchards where on a given Sunday approximately 20 to 25 people are in attendance at worship.  

As different as each congregation was, they shared one thing in common.  They were all part of the larger body of Christ.

Some observations:

  • The vitality of these congregations was in no way related to the size of the congregation, but rather to their sense of mission and purpose.
  • Expectations and self image were often related.  Some of the smaller congregations fell prey to judging themselves against larger congregations, and felt bad because they could not sustain the types of programming typical of a larger congregation.
  • The difference between the larger congregations and the smaller congregation was not related to their mission, but rather to the means by which they fulfilled their mission.
  • Larger congregations function programmatically.  Smaller congregations function relationally.
  • The larger the congregation, the more dependent it was on pastoral leadership.  I had far more authority in the larger congregations to direct their day by day activities.  In the smaller congregations decisions were often made by the congregation as a whole, not during a formal meeting, but during announcements at worship.
  • The financial commitment, and personal commitment overall, is often much higher in the smaller congregations.  For example, one of the smaller congregations reports an annual giving rate of $1,800 per confirmed member.  One of the larger congregations reports an annual giving rate of $440 per confirmed member.
  • In the smaller congregations there is a delicate balancing act between wanting to grow, and yet also at the same time, wanting to retain the intimacy that has been so important to them.
  • The burden of a full time pastoral salary package is the albatross around the neck of small congregations.  In my experience, one of the single most important steps a small congregation can take to revitalize its ministry is to secure and budget for pastoral ministry at an appropriate level for the size of the congregation.  Related to this is that pastors in small congregations often feel 'underemployed'.  Without a full spectrum of programs to fill their days, they don't know what to do.  Simply being their pastor, a relationship, is the norm.  Pastoral functions are minimal.
  • One of the highlights of my ministry was when, in Ekalaka, 10 people were baptized one Sunday, including three generations of one family.  Evangelism can and does happen effectively in small congregations.
  • Whether in a small congregation, or a large congregation, relationships are key to ministry.  Forgiveness is experienced in a relationship, not a program.
  • Small congregations often suffer because of discontented clergy, who desire for their own ego needs (and need for a livable wage) to serve in larger parishes.  
"And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love."

If these are indeed the abiding gifts of the Spirit, and if love is the greatest gift of all, then the size of the congregation in which these gifts are manifest is irrelevant.  To love and be loved in a community of faith that is large, or small, is to experience the Gospel in its fullest.  Each congregation, whether large or small, has a mission as part of the Body of Christ.  That mission is NOT to attempt to be something they are not.  A small congregation cannot function as a large congregation, nor can a large congregation function as a small congregation.  Yet each has a mission to which they are called.

Being at peace with who you are, and the mission to which you are called, is probably the single greatest factor in determining the vitality of a congregation.  

And finally, when compared to the whole of the Body of Christ, all congregations are basically 'small group ministries'.  

Friday, November 25, 2016

Year A, Advent 2, Isaiah 11:1-10, The Remnant

Isaiah 11:1-2

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

Grief and hope.
A stump, yet with a shoot coming out of it.
A branch growing where once there was a tree.

The problem with living the new life that is ours in Christ Jesus, is that the first reality with which we must contend, is how much of our former self has been lost.  

One of the hardest themes in the Old Testament to embrace is that of "the Remnant".  Isaiah writes in Chapter 10:21-22 "A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness."  That the people will one day return from Exile is a good thing.  But, only a remnant.  

Small consolation to those interned in the Nazi concentration camps, that a remnant would one day survive, and be set free.  

On a lessor note, we live with the reality of a declining Church.  During the Baby Boom years the church appeared to be thriving.  Churches built.  Education wings were full of kids.  The future looked bright.  But only a remnant returned.

And yet there is hope.  A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.  

In the wake of the holocaust, the nation of Israel was reborn.  

And perhaps much of what we've come to love about the Church must be pruned away, that the Church might re-emerge to bear witness in a new day.

Were I a Jewish person, I might interpret this passage from Isaiah as pointing to the rebirth of Israel.  As a Christian, I've been taught to see it as a prophecy regarding Christ as God's messiah.

In either case, there is a promise that what is to come will be greater than that which has been lost.  

But first we must grieve that which is lost.  

When a spouse dies, especially a young spouse, there is so much grief over all that has been lost.  Life as we envisioned it comes to an end.  And yet, there is so much of life  yet to be lived.  So much goodness yet to be experienced.  There is reason to hope.  

This is the tension associated with the theme of the "Remnant".  Can we cling in hope to the promises of God, even as we experience debilitating grief over what is lost?

In Ezra 3 the following experience is recorded as the temple was being rebuilt where once the old temple stood:

"And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away."

The people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of people's weeping.  A remnant shall return, but only a remnant.  A shoot shall come out from the stump, but there is that stump.  Mixed emotions.  

And a test of our faith.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Year A, Advent 1, Isaiah 2:1-5, “Imagine”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
It was 1971 when John Lennon captivated a generation with his song, “Imagine”:

“Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today. . .Aha-ah

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace. . . You. . .

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world. . . You. . .

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one.

Lennon’s beautiful lyrics are hardly the stuff of which good “Christian” music is made.
But there is a lot of truth to what he writes.
“Imagine all the people, living for today. . .”
Karl Marx coined the phrase that religion is the opiate of the people.  Promise people that one day they’ll live in paradise, and they will no longer strive to improve their lot in life today.  Why work for peace, if we believe that it will only be achieved in heaven???  And that it will be ours if we just wait for it.
Lennon goes on to identify countries, religion, and possessions as the three primary factors that lead the world to fight wars.  He’s right.  It’s been that way since the beginning.
Were it not for borders that divide nation against nation,
Were it not for the bigotry associated with the dogmatic beliefs promoted by religion,
Were it not for the materialism that motivates so many of us with the desire to possess more and more,
There would be little to fight for.
And, in the mind of a dreamer,
                The world could live in peace.

“You may say I’m a dreamer
                But I’m not the only one. . .”
No, Lennon’s not the only one.
Actually, he’s got a lot in common with another dreamer, Isaiah.

“they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.”

Isaiah will pick up this theme again in Chapter 11:

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
9 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.

Imagine a world in which people no longer preyed on one another like ravenous animals with insatiable appetites.
                Is it so hard to believe that we could live together without devouring one another?
Imagine a world in which the desire to possess material things was not something to die for.
                Is this so hard?  The Lakota people lived with no concept whatsoever of personal possessions.  All things were held in common.  In the early church, people sold everything that they had, everything was held in common, and each received according to their need.
Imagine a world in which people no longer believed in “my God” as opposed to “your God”, but rather that all were one.  That our belief in God resulted in our commitment to love all the more, not fight to the death.
Imagine that dreamers like Lennon and Isaiah were not idealists whose visions would never come to be.
Imagine a world, where everyone lived in perfect harmony.
To quote Paul McArtney and Stevie Wonder’s song “Ebony and Ivory”: 

“We all know that people are the same where ever you go
There is good and bad in ev'ryone
We learn to live, we learn to give
Each other what we need to survive together alive

Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord why don't we?”

The struggle is that it is easy to dream and write songs.
But the reality of the world is another thing.
Generation after generation has hoped for peace.
And with every hope there came disappointment.

Isaiah’s vision of a peaceful world came just before Israel was to be destroyed at the hands of its enemies.
And generation after generation has fought wars ever since.  No one wins in war.  Everyone loses.  But we fight on nevertheless.
World War I, the Great War, was to be the “War to end all Wars”.
And yet barely twenty years passed before World War II, an even greater war. 
There have been efforts to find a way to avoid wars.
The League of Nations failed.
The United Nations has been used as a justification for armed conflict instead of an alternative to war.
And need I even mention that the conflict between the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim people of this world continues to fuel conflicts as it has throughout history.
Three great religions.
All claim Abraham as our Father.
Muslims even believe that Jesus was a prophet, and he is mentioned many times in the Koran.  (Did you realize that???)
And yet we fight one war after another.
Is there any reason to hope?
It would be very easy to give in to despair.
To believe that the world will never achieve a lasting peace.
The Soviet Union and the United States managed to avoid all out war during the Cold War era, but that “peace”, if you dare call it that, was achieved only because of the fear of mutual destruction if ever the bombs started to fall once again. 
Living in the fear of a nuclear holocaust is not peace.
Dr. Bob Stivers, one of my college teachers, was teaching us about the book of Revelation.  One of the things he had concluded from Revelation and its portrayal of the final battle between good and evil and the end of all times, was that in this life, even to the end of the world, we would never be free from conflict. 
To dream of a utopian world, is merely that, a dream.
It is not possible.
And perhaps he is right.
And perhaps Isaiah, and Lennon, and McCartney and Wonder are merely the “dreamers” of their generation.
But I’m not willing to give up the dream so fast.
Peace is not merely a dream of the idealists in our midst, it’s the vision that God has laid out before us.
It wasn’t Isaiah’s words, or his dreams, that we heard about today.
This is the Word of the Lord.
And if God can hold out before us a vision for peace, doesn’t that mean that maybe, just maybe, it is possible??
But there is another thing to consider.
Even if we can never achieve the peace that Isaiah, or Lennon, imagine,
                The quest for peace is its own reward.
We do not lose, just because we don’t achieve a permanent and lasting peace in the world.
We only lose, if we give up the effort. 
We may never be able to love and forgive as God loves and forgives, but that is what we strive for. 
If we lose the vision, the dream, of a peaceful world, where nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore”,

           Then we will have truly lost.
You see, it is the journey toward peace, and justice, and equality that is as important as the final goal.
It is the striving to love as God first loved us that is as important as finally achieving that perfection.
The alternative is to simply stop trying.
To give up hope.
And with that, to give up believing that God can do what we cannot do.
Imagine the world God imagines.
And live the dream.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Year A, Advent 1, Matthew 24:36-44, Wait for it. . .

"For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near."

There is that moment.  A slight pause.  And then it happens.  Anticipation.  Hope, often mixed with a little fear.  Sometimes a lot of fear.

We were on a trip to the national youth gathering.  After an incredibly long journey on a bus full of kids, we stopped for a day at Six Flags in St. Louis.  One of the rides I went on was called "The Batman", a high speed roller coaster.  You strap in.  Slowly the cars start moving.  Up and Up.  Then, that moment.  You see before you the tracks starting to turn downward, and you know, that soon and very soon, its going to happen.  

"Has anyone told you that you have a heart murmur?"  Those words began a journey.  Visits to doctors.  One after another confirming a mitral valve failure.  "Is this something that we will just watch and that some day will have to be taken care of?"  "Oh, no, this needs to be dealt with now."  I entered the hospital.  Everyone who talked with me, asked the question, "And what are you here for today?"  Then to a room, being shaved from my neck down to my ankles.  (Except for the hair on my arms, which was left so that the nurses could tape the IVs and so that removing the tape would be so pleasurable.)  Wheeled down a corridor.  Say goodbye to Karla.  Into the room.  And then the moment.  The anesthesiologist sitting beside my bed, studying my chart.  "Let me give you a little something to help you relax. . ."

Another hospital.  Different reason.  Years of dealing with depression.  Too much drinking.  The door slammed behind us as I was wheeled into the psych ward.  A flurry of activity.  And then, the night.  That long night of anticipation.  What was going to happen, would happen soon.  Simultaneously not soon enough, and far too soon.  But it would happen.  The night was far gone, the day is near.

We come together in waiting.  

Advent.  Coming.  Advent.  Anticipation.  Advent.  Fear.  Advent.  Hope.

A remembrance of a prior coming.  So long ago.

An anticipation of what is yet to come.  Soon, but how soon, we don't know.

Will it be the beginning.  Or the end.  Truth is we don't know.  We just know that its coming.

For a while we will eat and drink, and plan for tomorrow.

And then comes the moment when we realize that planning for tomorrow is impossible, for that day is near and at hand.  Just a moment more.  Wait for it.

Stand there, be still, and behold the salvation of your God.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Year C, Proper 29, Christ the King Sunday Jeremiah 23:1-6, So you wanted a king, did you. . .

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
A reading from 1 Samuel, Chapter 8:
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, "You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations." But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to govern us." Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, "Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.  Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you.  Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them."

 So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king.   He said, "These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you:  he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots;  and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.  He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.  He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers.  He will take one- tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.  He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work.  He will take one- tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.  And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day."

 But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, "No! but we are determined to have a king over us,  so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles."  When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord.  The Lord said to Samuel, "Listen to their voice and set a king over them."

Garth Brooks sings a song I like.
The chorus is:
“Sometimes I thank God
For unanswered prayers.
Remember when you’re talking
To the man upstairs
That just because he doesn’t answer
Doesn’t mean he don’t care.
Some of God’s greatest gifts
Are unanswered prayers.”

I find myself wondering today,
What life would have been like,
What life would still be like,
If God had simply steadfastly refused
                To grant Israel’s request for a King.
Would we have sung Garth Brooks song?
Would that have been one of God’s greatest gifts?

Israel’s demand for a king didn’t work out so well for them. 
·         First it was Saul, a handsome man.  But he was disobedient.
·         Then there was David.  As great as he was, he had Uriah killed so that he might take Bathsheba for his wife. 
·         Solomon was wise.  But in his wisdom, or lack thereof, he took on 700 wives and 300 concubines, and then he, in the end, allowed his wives to introduce pagan worship practices into Israel.  God wasn’t pleased.

It gets worse from there.
From the Prophet Jeremiah we hear these words:
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: 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.”
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

Enter Jesus.
We crucified him. 
It was Pilot who acknowledged who he really was on the inscription that hung over him on the Cross.
“This is the King of the Jews.”

I had a parishioner in Sandpoint, Frances Newell, by name.  She was a character.
She’d devoted much of her adult life to studying the scripture. 
And she’d wait anxiously for my visits so that she could depart the knowledge she’d gained on me.
When I’d arrive to give her communion, her Bible would be laid out before her, and often there would be notes on the table as well.
She wanted to get her message across.
Her conviction was that the Church had abandoned the message of Jesus.  That we had been led astray.  And that it was her mission in life to call the Church back to be faithful followers of Jesus.
It all boiled down to just one thing.
The Kingdom of God.
It was all about the Kingdom.
And it couldn’t be about Jesus,
                If it wasn’t about his Kingdom.
Jesus was, is, and always will be the King.
He wasn’t a rabbi,
                Or a pastor.
He wasn’t a spiritual advisor, or even a healer, though he certainly healed people as well.

First, and last, Jesus came as King.
“The Kingdom of God is at hand!” was the message he brought. 
And Frances made clear her conviction that when Jesus spoke about the Kingdom, he wasn’t talking figuratively.  Nor was he talking about the far and distant future.
The Kingdom of God is at hand. 
And Jesus was, is, and always will be the King.

“Democracy is ungodly!”  Frances would declare.
There is nothing godly at all about a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, because, to be blunt, “the people” are sinners.

Probably one of the most regrettable things Jesus said regarding the Kingdom, was in response to Pilate:
“My kingdom is not from this world.”
Frances would say that “Yes, the Kingdom is not from this world, it is from God.  The Father gave the Kingdom to the Son.”
But we have dismissed any talk about the Kingdom of God being relevant to this world at all.
And that is the problem, Frances would say.  That is the problem.

One more thing about Frances’ message.
It’s not just that we should elect a “Christian President”, there have been many.
Her point is that we should not, as Christians, submit to any earthly ruler. 
Jesus is Lord, and no other.

I used to dread my visits with Frances.  I didn’t like getting brow beaten every time I came.
But with time, I’ve come to believe that Frances had many things right.
Oh, I don’t think that we as Christians are going to overthrow the United States government and replace it with a theocracy.
No, not happening anytime soon.

But this I have come to believe:
·         When Jesus came proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand, he didn’t mean that one day in the future it would come to be.  He meant now.
·         To say “Jesus is Lord” is also to say that no one else is.  You cannot simultaneously declare that “Jesus is Lord”, and that “Caesar is Lord”.
·         I am becoming convinced that there is no such thing as dual citizenship in the Kingdom of God.  You cannot serve two masters.  Either Jesus is our King, or we willingly submit to the reign of the earthly rulers. 
·         If “Jesus is Lord”, then in the end, it really doesn’t, or shouldn’t, matter who is the kings of this world are.  In declaring  “Jesus is Lord” we are submitting ourselves to the reign of Christ.
·         And finally, one of the most important things we pray for, in the Lord’s prayer, is “your kingdom come.”
In the small catechism, Martin Luther explained this petition.  He writes:
What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.
How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.

Christ the King Sunday.
Food for thought.
God never wanted to give us an earthly king, in the first place.
And when that didn’t work out, he gave us his Son, that Jesus might be our King.
An earthly king.
Or Jesus.
The choice is yours.
Just know that only one can save us.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Year C, Proper 29, Luke 23:33-43, Kingdom NOW

My pastor, (bless his heart!), loves to ask rhetorical questions.  One Sunday he asked us, "Well, do you know what this Kingdom of God looks like?"  With every bone in my body I wanted to stop him, and simple say "Yes, Pastor, actually I do know what the Kingdom looks like."  You cannot read the Bible without getting a picture about what the Kingdom is like.  Its Jesus' central message.

From Micah 6:8

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

From Matthew 22:37-39

'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. ' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it:'You shall love your neighbor as yourself. '

And then, there is the vivid imagery from Isaiah 11:6-9

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
    the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
         and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
     their young shall lie down together;
         and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
         and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
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.

We could fill in the cracks with the Parables, or Jesus own actions such as declaring from the cross, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing."  

And of course, one mustn't forget the words he read as he began his ministry:
From Luke 4:18-19, where he reads from Isaiah:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
         because he has anointed me
                to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
         and recovery of sight to the blind,
                to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

"Yes, Pastor, I do know what the Kingdom of God looks like."

"The problem is I just don't see it on a day to day basis."

I love the fact that following every presidential election in our country, the liturgical calendar quickly shifts to the celebration of Christ the King Sunday. It's a reminder.  A very poignant reminder.  We are in good hands.  Jesus' hands.

The choice is ours.
We can put off till tomorrow our hopes for the Kingdom of God.
Or we can live in that Kingdom, now.

One does not need to die, in order to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

Loving God and Loving Neighbor was never intended to be a future goal, but one that could be set aside for today.

There is no need for us to continue to live out our lives in predatory ways, feeding off one another.  We need not hurt or destroy one another, even now.

Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  On earth.  Today.  As in Heaven.  

Moses was only able to see the promised land from afar.

But Jesus leads us into the Kingdom now.  

"Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."  

Today, now, fulfilled, do you hear it?  Can you see it?  Will you live it?

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Year C, Proper 28, Luke 21:5-19, “Heck of a Week”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen

Well, it’s been a heck of a week.
One of the nice things about having Minnesota roots is that you have a whole vocabulary to deal with life.
Minnesota talk, they call it.
And thankfully, it gave me the words to describe this week.
You see, that phrase, it’s been a “heck of a week” in Minnesota talk covers a multitude of things.
To say it’s been a heck of a week may mean
                That the Vikings finally won the Super Bowl.
                That your dog died.
It’s been a heck of a week.

Donald Trump won the Presidency.
Heck of a week.
Hillary Clinton lost after leading in the polls right up to the election.
Heck of a week.
And so now we anticipate and try to guess what kind of President Donald Trump will actually be.
Will he, together with the Republican congress be able to usher in a new era of conservative legislation, and accomplish some long term goals?
Or will moderation temper the day?
Donald Trump met with President Obama and two things came out of the meeting.
Trump has said repeatedly since that meeting, that President Obama, “is a good man.”
And secondly, he indicated that there may be some compromises on Obamacare, having expressed a willingness to keep some of the more important provisions in place, even as they try to fix the problems.
Gee, could he end up being more moderate than his opponents fear, or his supporters hope?
What kind of a President might he be?
Well, I know exactly what type of President he’ll be.
“He’ll be a “heck of a President”!”

Covers it all.

Meanwhile, the nation is anxious.
Tensions are mounting.

Some on the right, such as extremist groups like the Klu Klux Klan, see the Trump election as a great development and a sign that White Supremacy is back in vogue.
Their followers have committed any number of threatening, intimidating acts.
A conservative friend of mine referred to this as the activity of a bunch of criminal thugs.  And notice, he said, “I said criminal.”  It’s always wrong, no matter who does it.

And then on the left, protests are mounting.
And some of those protests have developed into what would best be described as riots.  And I would say, “Always wrong, no matter who is rioting.”
It’s been a heck of a week.

And then we read this morning Jesus’ dire prediction of the trials that are to come.
“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." Then he said to them, "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.
“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.
Now, before we get all bent out of shape, fearing that the end is near, a little historical perspective is in order.
Jesus’ prediction came in response to the disciple’s awe at the beauty of the temple in Jerusalem. 
His prediction was that it would be destroyed.
It was.
In response to the continuous insurrections of the Jewish people against the Roman Empire, the emperor Nero dispatched an army under the command of Vespasian to put down the insurrection in 70 AD.  It was then that the Romans destroyed the Temple, leaving no stone upon another, as punishment for the Jewish people. 
In response to other rebellions, Rome finally had enough and destroyed the Jewish nation in 135 AD, dispersing those Jews who were left throughout the Roman Empire, and banning Jews from Jerusalem entirely. 
It wasn’t until recent times, 1948 to be exact, that the Jewish state came into existence again.
Also, during this time of trial, Christians were cast out of Judaism.
The result of that was that the Roman Empire no longer considered Christianity to be an acceptable religion, but a cult.
Christianity was then illegal; Christians were persecuted, martyred for their faith, crucified or thrown into the coliseum to die at the hands of the lions and gladiators. 
These were the times that Jesus predicted.
And yet, it seems that generation after generation must face similar times of tribulation.
Wars come and go.
Civil unrest raises its ugly face from time to time.
Natural disasters strike.
And betrayals abound.
Another night on CNN.
It’s just the way the world is.

What is important
                Is not Jesus’ predictions about what is to come,
But Jesus’ admonition about what we should do at those times.
“This will give you an opportunity to testify.”
This will be an opportunity to bear witness to our faith.
This will be a time when Christians can, with the help of God, show the world a different way.

Two things stand out for me.  And my prayer is that whatever the future may hold, that we as Christians may exhibit to the world these qualities:
First, from Micah 6:8 –
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
And the second, is the Great Commandment that Jesus lifted up for us—
“’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. ‘ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it:'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
                (Matthew 26: 37-39)

I am certain that there will be difficult times ahead, in part, because life is never easy.
I am certain that there will be political unrest and upheaval, because that is the nature of our times.
What I hope for is not that these things won’t happen, but rather that we might be faithful members of the Body of Christ through it all.
Justice, Kindness and Mercy.
Love for God,
                And love for our neighbor.
These are the things to which we are called.
This is the agenda for us, as a Biblical people.

Today, there are both great hopes and grave concerns about what a Trump presidency might mean.
But the real question before us is not what kind of president Donald Trump will be, but what kind of people we will be.
What about the poor?
Or women?
What about our gay and lesbian friends and family members?
What about the foreigner living in our Land?
Or the person of color?
What about the most vulnerable in our midst?
Can we do justice, love kindnes, and walk humbly?
Can we, amid all the political strife and unrest find it within ourselves to love our neighbor as our self? 
If we cannot be the type of people God is calling us to be, then it doesn’t matter who our president is, we will have failed.
But if we can respond faithfully, in this time, and every time, then love will have triumphed and grace will have prevailed. 
And that, my friends,
Will be one “heck of a day!”