August 15, 2016

Joy in the Journey: May the Lord Be Ever in Your Favor

You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes’ race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.

I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 The Message (MSG)

RioThe Olympic fever has caught up with me, and I for one could use a good nap. Long after everyone in the house is asleep, the blue glare of my television is bringing me the stories of athletes from all around the world. This is what I love most about the Olympics, the personal stories of young men and women who have persevered to make it onto the global stage of athletes and patriots. Admittedly, I do not have a strong fascination with many of the summer sports, except for when the Olympics roll around every four years. For instance, I never watch swimming, fencing, equestrian riding, bicycling or Judo; however, I am hooked. While I love watching competitors compete, my heart often breaks for the ones who fall, stumble, or make an error worthy of the dreaded “points deducted.” It is not just the competitors that I love; I am also an eager watcher of all the people involved with this historical event. The body language of the athletes, spectators, officials, and the coaches fascinate me.

Now do not get me wrong, I could complain about the secrets of the Olympics. There certainly is a dark side. Allegations of performance enhancing drugs, the use of professional athletes, the emotional trauma of performing at all costs to the body and psyche of athletes. There is a long way to go in making the Olympics fair and humane. Actually, there was even a point when I was watching the images last night, in which I felt like I was watching a scene from the Hunger Games. It was very eerie and made me realize that there will always be room for improving the games, the treatment of athletes and the whole process of friendly competition. It is not always so friendly.

The analogy of Olympic athletes and our general human condition is not lost on me. The scripture from 1Corinthians speaks about the athletes that compete and only one wins; their metals fade and tarnish. It is a danger that we all must over come; we cannot put our worth in our physical ability, our mental status, our career, our education, or our job, or our bank account. What happens when the race is over? What happens when we reach the pinnacle of success by worldly terms and are replaced by the younger, stronger, newer commodity? What is our worth?

The only prize worth striving for is the race, the walk and the journey toward kingdom living. It is something that has value beyond compare. The prize: eternal life, unconditional love, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, redemption and peace. These are things that gold cannot buy, and cannot tarnish, and that have no value unless it is given away. Love after all is the perfect prize!

May 16, 2016

Joy in the Journey: Pentecost 2.0

Pentecost2.0The other day I was sharing with some of my congregants about how excited I was for this Sunday’s worship service, you see it is Pentecost Sunday.  I continued by saying that it is one of my favorite church holidays. The reaction I received was one of confusion or disbelief, or maybe it was skepticism.  Being known as one of God’s frozen chosen denominations, Lutherans are somewhat leery of anything having to do with divided tongues of fire, speaking in tongues or heaven forbid putting our hands in the air and waving in delight and praise. “But it is the birthday of the church!” I exclaimed. It is a day of celebrating the unity of all people, who are diverse in nature, yet one in God! This was the day when God communicated through the Holy Spirit the one language everyone understood.

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. . . And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Acts 2: 4-6

I listened to a podcast by theologian and author, Brian McLaren and he talked about the division of the church and how there are  two distinct and very polarized ideologies in Christianity today, and the harm it is doing to the Body of Christ. He went on to say that on the conservative side there is an idea of a very individualized spirituality. This way of thinking is very inward seeking and sometimes comes off as dividing people into categories of holiness. The more liberal side of the church is most interested in justice issues, poverty, oppression and social issues and worldly troubles. What the world needs McLaren says, is Pentecost 2.0. We need an inner spirituality that does not judge but one that propels us into service of all people.

What if the Holy Spirit entered into us and we understood our whole life to be Spirit infused? What if teacher, doctors, farmers, cashiers, janitors, cooks, stay at home parents, woke up every morning knowing that the Spirit of God is propelling them/us to take care of the needs of others without question.  What would happen if we served one another without questioning faith, motive, background, sexuality, history, education, political party, affiliations or any other bias that we inherently view people we encounter? What if we started listening to people and seeing people as God sees people? What if we first looked into the mirror and started with our own self? Sometimes beginning with our own stuff is the hardest place to start. But if we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, then we must do the hard work of admitting our failings, admitting our own sinful nature, asking for forgiveness, receiving forgiveness. And then with the Spirits help, go and forgive others.

According to Luke, this was the last commission of Jesus to his disciples, “repentance and forgiveness is to be proclaimed to all the nations.”

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Luke 24:45-49

Yes, I cannot wait until Sunday! Pentecost 2.0 will be preached, the church will be alive with the Spirit!  People will be wearing red, the color of the day. There will be Lutherans who will proclaim that the Holy Spirit has landed, and she will not be going anywhere soon! Thanks be to God!

 

March 19, 2016

Joy in the Journey

Holy Week, the Good the Bad and the Ugly

Palm Sunday is tomorrow, March 20. The stories that are told, in church communities, begin with Jesus’s triumphant entry into the Holy City, Jerusalem, on a donkey. Throngs of people waving palms, throwing coats on the path, shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna! Glory be to God in the highest!” The scene takes place during Passover. Expectations are high with hope, family and friends gather like a big homecoming, a family reunion of sorts. Jesus has arrived on the scene and people are thrilled that he could be the One they have been waiting for, the one who would redeem them, save them from powers that continually enslaved them into poverty, oppressing and repressing them, continually denigrating their very spirits.

Blessed be the King who comes in the name of the Lord; ‘peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.” Luke 19:38

Tensions begin to rise as the Pharisees, and the chief priests start fearing for their abolition of authority. Jesus is the one who could overturn status quo, and begin a real revolution. If the people start believing Jesus is the Son of God, it could mean that the powers of corruption would be dashed against the stone walls of Jerusalem. Something must be done. Closed door meetings began to happen; whispers, conniving, conspiracy plots for murder, marketing professionals were hired, and the washing of hands commenced throughout this holy week of Passover. Jesus spends the week, healing the sick, overturning tables of greedy vendors, preaching hard truths, and being a compassionate friend, while also finding a way to organize a big meal for his best friends on Thursday. (This sounds like the life of a pastor today.)

last supper image

This season before Easter is the perfect time to rehear stories that lead up to Easter and Resurrection Day. Our county is blessed to have many churches and communities who host Maundy Thursday services, or reenactments of the Last Supper. Our community, Roots of Life, hosts a community Seder Meal at Forest Park Inn. We tell the story of Passover, in the Jewish tradition, and remind people of the Passover Story and the role Jesus had during his Last Supper. After the traditional story, we feast on Brisket, potatoes, and roasted spring vegetables, slurp matzo ball soup and of course there is dessert. Just RSVP to pastor@ROLcommunity.com, there is no cost.

On Good Friday, there are plenty of opportunities to engage with the story of Christ’s death. At noon on Friday, Our Lady of Grace has an outdoor reenactment of Christ’s journey to the cross. As part of my discipline as a Christ follower, I believe strongly that we must engage with the story of the death of Jesus so that we may try to understand what it means to engage with the living Christ on Easter. First Presbyterian Church is hosting a community Good Friday Service at 7:00, they are co-hosting with First Christian Church. Roots of Life, along with many other church communities also have Good Friday services. I urge you to engage in this Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through Resurrection Day. Check out your favorite churches’ website and see what style fits your personality, or try someplace new. Come in as a stranger and leave as a friend, is how most church communities want to welcome you. There is a place for everyone! May your week be filled with the peace and joy that only god can give.