I am a Lutheran Pastor offering reflections on what it means to be faithful in a changing world.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Three Pastors and a Waitress

A story that made it into my Christmas eve homily occurred just a day before. I was at Bob Evans with two other pastor friends wondering how we can say something in our sermons about a story that many people know well. Then I saw a waitress that I have gotten to know throughout the past year. She was not waiting on our table, but came over to say hi. I asked her, "is this your first Christmas as a Christian?" With her face lit up like a Christmas tree her reply was "yes!" She went on to share how many people have told her that they just want to survive the holiday and with her heart breaking she would say to them, "don't you get how wonderful this all is!?!?!?" That was the message to Christians who are so familiar with the story, allow ourselves to hear this for the first time. She invited us pastors (shepherds) to hear this "good news of great joy for all the people". "The grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all!" May we be filled with the joy of the shepherds in Luke's Christmas story, for after they see and hear this Good News they go out and share it! Not much has changed in the 21st century. Three shepherds (pastors) pondered how they would (spiritually) take care of their flocks on Christmas. God still sends us messengers (angels) to bring us "good news of great joy for all the people." This waitress doesn't hesitate to share what she sees God doing in her life, why should any of us?

Posted via Blogaway

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Discipleship, Suffering and the Good News

Following Christ does not remove us from the world. “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” (Mark 8:34) In this description, discipleship is not a picnic, sacrifice and suffering is involved. Picking up your cross does not save you, the Good News is that Jesus picked up His cross and saved us! In response to the grace and victory won for us on the cross, Christians are called to pick up their cross and follow so we may point others to the Cross of Christ. “...Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Why do Christians, good people, even children suffer? Jesus never said we would be removed from the world, in fact as the church, the body of Christ he gives us to the world and we are the earthly means through which the forgiving presence of Christ is present in the world. Followers of Jesus Christ, no matter the age are not immune to tragedy whether it is a tornado, cancer or violence. It is due to sin that we miss the mark and turn from God and seek to put our faith and trust in ourselves. We turn our backs often from the promises we have in Christ through the Holy Cross and are seduced by the finite and often false promises of our broken world. Many tragedies happen as a result of us putting ourselves first, but certainly not all. For example, whenever the market crashes and people suffer due to their own greed or directly and indirectly from the greed of others. That is a result of someone(s) putting themselves before God. Unfortunately innocent people suffer as a result and that is an injustice that the Scriptures speak much about and God seeks to make things right (read Mary’s Song of Praise in Luke 1:46-55). To say that all tragedies happen as a result of humanity’s absence from God is too simple. Generally speaking humanity’s absence from God (sin) is the reason for many tragedies in the world. We break the first commandment, we essentially break them all. So much of the heartache and tragedy in the world is due to our inability to be faithful to our God. If we don’t keep God at the center then it is easy to put our neighbor in harm’s way or literally kill him, or screw over our neighbor (steal) or literally screw our neighbor’s spouse (adultery) etc... However, many disciples have been martyred not because they were absent from God, but because they proclaimed who God in Jesus Christ is, and a broken humanity killed them, not God. A faithful person that dies from cancer didn’t die due to a lack of faith. God is ever present with that person and their family. God didn’t kill them, cancer did. A tornado takes the lives of many which included children in Oklahoma. God didn’t kill them, a tornado did. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) We are all sinners, we all deserve to die and will die (some sooner than others), but as Christians we believe that death does not have the final say over us. I don’t know why absurd tragedies happen in life, but I do know that Christ is with those who suffer. I know this because we worship a God who chose to suffer by taking up the cross. The church, the body of Christ is at the ground zero of every tragedy we see in this broken world. Whether it is 9/11, a tornado, hurricane, school shooting, tsunami, a hospital room, prison, shut in, food pantry, soup kitchen or homeless shelter Christ is present through His church. In the wake of tragic events I ask myself “why” as well and declare the tragedy to be absurd, mourning the loss of human life. Then God calls us as his church to remind the world that he is there in the midst of this darkness. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 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.” (Romans 8:38-39) The Good News is that ultimately tragedy doesn’t win Jesus Christ does! As people who are marked with the cross of Christ forever, we are a people of hope in a world in which suffering is a part of life.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The church is in the Wild

Human beings in a mob
What’s a mob to a king?
What’s a king to a god?
What’s a god to a non-believer?
Who don’t believe in anything?

We make it out alive
All right, all right
No church in the wild

Lyrics from the song “No Church in the Wild” Kayne West with Jay-Z featuring Frank Ocean

A couple months ago the tune to this song got stuck in my head.  Rap music has never been my genre of choice when it comes to music, but I heard this song played a lot and wanted to know the name of it and discovered that this song had some theology in it. 

I will warn you, this song is very colorful and there is a reason I am not going into all the words of this song.  However, as colorful as it may be it does lament the wild that seems to be our world at times or for some a constant reality.  Perhaps, “no church in the wild” could be lifted up as a lament psalm of sorts as it asks the question, “I’m wondering if a thug’s prayers reach.” There seems to be a genuine thirst for God when questioning the existence of God while at the same time wondering if one’s prayers are heard.

In a song that is played in pop culture, questioning the existence of God and critiquing (to put it nicely) organized religion; Christians should take this lament seriously and ask how we could minister to some of the pain described in this song. 

Saying there is “no church in the wild” is flat out unchristian.  There is no place the church will not go!  If our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ descended into hell (or the dead) then what we proclaim each week is that there is NO place in this universe our God will not go to save us. And guess what?  There is no place on earth our God won’t send His church. 

In Scripture we discover how God was with the Israelites in the wilderness and we know that God is with us when we find ourselves in the wilderness.  As a missionary church and congregation we must prayerfully ask where God will send us next so those who find themselves in the wilderness may know the God who is revealed to us in Christ.  What’s a god to a non-believer?  Who don’t believe in anything?  A question we ask ourselves more and more in a post-modern age.  How do we share the Good News of Christ and talk about the love of God to someone who doesn’t believe in anything?  We share the Good News by serving the needs of those who find life to be in the wilderness, we be the Church in the wilderness! 

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Word of Hope from Rev. Mark Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

These words from bishop Hanson serve as an Easter message in a time of darkness. A few weeks after Easter Sunday faithful Christians may wonder how the disciples, after encountering the risen Christ could be afraid of a dark and broken world.

We now find ourselves a few weeks after Easter Sunday afraid in the wake of the bombings in Boston. Bishop Hanson proclaims a living word of hope in the darkness we experience today.

A message from our Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson. http://t.co/FiPn6MEOrw

posted from Bloggeroid

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Same Good News in a Changing World.

St. Paul in Galatians 1:6-7 writes, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”

Why are we attracted to perversions of the gospel or messages that compete with the good news of Jesus Christ?  Maybe we want to be gods, and deep down we resent the fact that we need a savior.  This is why we are attracted to different gospels, and messages that compete with the gospel in our world today because we want to be our own savior. 

Our mission here at St. John Lutheran Windfall has always been to reach out to others with the gospel.  This doesn’t mean that we have always done it perfectly or haven’t been distracted by other things in effectively carrying out this mission.  The body of Christ is both holy and sinful; we are going to miss the mark from time to time.  Though I believe that our gospel centered mission and outreach is growing and will continue to grow.  May we be centered in prayer that as we continue to bloom and grow in Christ that our service inside and outside our congregation will always have the Good News as the cornerstone of any ministry, program, gathering or event that we offer. 

I say all of this because it seems that many in our society are scared because things are changing.  We see change in many vocations, in education and in the church.  For example, the post office can’t function the way it always has because of the change in how we communicate with one another.  This doesn’t mean all the changes we are experiencing are bad, many things will just be different and many are afraid because we don’t know what all of this will look like in the end. 

As for the church in North America as part of the mainline protestant demographic everyone is experiencing membership decline and fear what the future will bring.  This creates the perfect scenario where we would be tempted by “other gospels” to survive and not be faithful to the message that has served as the rock of the church for over two thousand years and our congregation for 177.  Throughout the gospel we are told “Do not be afraid” and are in fact comforted with Good News! 

In a changing world with empty promises, competing messages and false gospels may we be faithful to the gospel, may our mission always be centered in the gospel, may we not be distracted by fears of change or survival, but comforted in the good news that Jesus Christ, who was crucified and whom God raised from the dead, is Lord over all creation and let’s continue to share this Good News with others and one another. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Look to the Cross in a Violent World

"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." John 3:17

The recent turmoil in the Middle East that resulted in the killing of  four Americans including a U.S. Ambassador causes fear and uncertainty to security and stability in the world. Once discussion over the political ramifications settled down I listen to my leaders hoping to be comforted. I deplore the senseless violence human beings engage in, and the desire to be immersed in its perpetual circle.  I look to God for security and comfort in times like this.

What I want is for God to rid the world of those who participate in evil acts that harm or take the lives of others. However, when I look to God I find him in Jesus Christ crucified on a cross. Christians not only look to the cross but proclaim Christ crucified. We speak about a God who is vulnerable, who seems weak through a human point of view. This is a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others (1 Corinthians 1:23). The cross in an instrument of pain, suffering and death that Christ has used to save us. Lutheran Christians are adamant about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross that declares us innocent of sin and brokeness.

As another Reformation Sunday approaches our witness to the world is still relevant.  Lutheran Christians are a religious tradition centered on the cross of Christ.  We believe in a God that does not want to participate in the perpetual circle of violence.  On the cross, Jesus Christ puts an end to sin, death and all evil.  I quickly realize that my initial desire to rid the world of people who cause harm would include me ("If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?" Psalm 130:3).  I also realize that It is the desire of our God for all to be saved (John 3:17).  I continue to pray for victims and all those affected by violence and warfare throughout the world.  I also pray for those that are responsible for the violence.  As people of faith the only weapon in our arsenal is the good news of Christ Crucified in a dark and broken world.  This message may seem like foolishness to some and serve as a stumbling block to others (1 Corinthians 1:23), but for people of faith, it gives us hope. Through the Cross the circle of violence is destroyed and life is eternal. God defeats evil with love and wins for us life through his death.  "For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength." (1 Corinthians 1:25) Thanks be to God!

Friday, August 3, 2012

2012 ELCA Youth Gathering serves as a Lutheran Revival

"Citizens with the saints" was the theme, and throughout the week, we practiced Justice, Discipleship and Peacemaking.

This was certainly a mountain top experience that is extremely hard to put into words.  Imagine a gathering  with over 33,000 youths and adults from Lutheran congregations all over the country being one loud voice in the Mercedes- Benz Superdome, and collectively embodying our call to ministry in the city of New Orleans.

This Youth Gathering  invited us to see the church and the world more clearly through a "Lutheran Lens".

We are a church that defines itself by what we are FOR and NOT by what we are against.

We are a church that is radically inclusive proclaiming that this Good News of Jesus is for ALL people.

We are a church that needs to be reminded of our sinfulness and brokeness, but get to hear how our God continues to forgive us, renew us and uses us to be the body of Christ in the world.

We are a church centered in Word and Sacrament, reminded of our baptism, marked with the cross of Christ, fed and nourished and the table.

Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber is the Pastor of the House of All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado.  Grounded in Lutheran theology and tradition, Pastor Nadia made a theology of grace and Christian vocation accessible to people of all ages at this Youth Gathering.  She knows what it means to be a Saint and a Sinner at the same time.  Here is the video of her speech!

Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber at 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering