We Have Some Healing To Do

Visit a Ragamuffin Church

Visit a Ragamuffin Church

The following was written last summer. I was reflecting on the recent purchase of a car and how people tend to look at finding a new church in the same way. I also made an ask that people looking for a new church community look for a “dead” church where they can be of service instead of finding a church that fits their needs. Of course, I say this as the pastor of a ragamuffin, “dead” church. I hope it is of help.

Keep reading at my Medium page…

Table Talk: It’s Enough

Table Talk: It’s Enough


Then the Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand. Let all the others go to their homes.”
-Judges 7:7

Dear Friends in Christ,

One of my favorite Bible stories is found in Judges 7. Gideon, a man that was afraid of his own shadow is called to lead the Israelites against the oppression of the Midianites. In the preparation for battle, 33,000 men show up. God tells Gideon again and again that there are too many people. Gideon keeps whittling down the number for his army until there were 300 men left. Then God tells Gideon that their weapons would be trumpets and jars. Now, the Midianites had a large mighty, army. How in the world were 300 men with nothing but some musical instruments and clay pots are going to beat this mighty army?

We learn that God was with the Israelites and God would hand them the victory. That’s what happened. The trumpets and the smashing of the jars in the middle of the night scared the Midianites and they ended up fighting themselves until the big army was no more. The story of Gideon’s puny army is a reminder that God can use the smallest things to do “a mighty work.”

First Christian of St. Paul is a small church, maybe even tiny.  Our culture tends to put its faith in bigness and we suspect the small.  It’s easy to look at our church and think of all the things we can’t do, especially when we have a big church a mile or two down the road.  We don’t have enough people. We don’t have enough money.  We don’t. We don’t. We don’t. 

(Being a small church doesn’t mean people aren’t invited to join and be a part of our congregation.)

Of course, there are limits as to what a small church can do, but there are limits to what anyone can do.  When we think that we can’t do something at church, think about something: why do you go to First Christian?  You go here for a reason and you’ve stayed.  If you are here for a reason, then there have to be others out there that might want to come to this church. So, instead of trying to wish we were bigger and better, work at making this church a place you want to be at because when we do that, we are welcoming others who might need a community like this.

What does being enough in God look like?  Let’s look at it through our offerings. When we give our offerings on Sunday, we are giving our money to help do mission in our world. Your offerings have gone to support our worship ministry which helps us meet God in the Word preached, the songs sung, and in the weekly Lord’s Supper. They have gone to help our sisters and brothers through our Mission Partners like Feed My Starving Children and the Mahtomedi Area Foodshelf. They help us go beyond borders to support the ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The giving of what we receive has allowed this small church to take part in God’s mission in the world.

At the end of the day, we are enough. Gideon teaches us that we are enough because God is enough.  God has a history of using little things to do great things. If God can use 300 soldiers to go against an army of thousands, what can God do with us? I truly believe God can and will use First Christian Church to be a witness in Mahtomedi, the Twin Cities, the United States, and to the ends of the earth.

In God, we are enough.  Let’s just let God work through us as we give our offerings, take part in communion, and worship together.  Let us have faith in a God that can take the little things and do great things.

Godspeed everyone.

Dennis Sanders, Pastor

Dear God, help us to remember that we are enough.  Even when we are small, we can do mighty things in your name. Amen.

What Do Epiphany and January 6 Have in Common?

What does January 6 have to do with Epiphany?  What does a day where we talk about mysterious strangers from a distant land visiting Jesus have to do with the day where a mob attacked the US Capitol?

Epiphany has a lot to do with January 6 if we really look at the Epiphany story.

We remember the story from our childhood, where Wise Men from the East follow a star. They come to Jerusalem and to the royal palace to ask the King where is the King of the Jews?

That bothered the king.  Herod was the king of Judea, put in his role by Rome.  He in turn supported great building projects that showed off this backwater part of the empire.

Since he didn’t come from the line of David, his rule was somewhat illegitimate, and he probably was aware of this fact.  So much so that he would lock up or kill members of his family!  When the Wise Men come and ask where the King of the Jews was, Herod was upset.  Someone was coming for his throne.

Herod is wrapped into the bearings of power.  He is in Jerusalem the center of power, he has the blessing of Rome.  When the Wise Men went to see Jesus, they went to not somewhere in Jerusalem, but in the small town of Bethlehem going to a small house where Mary, Joseph and the Baby resided.  It was there that these Wise Men honored Jesus, giving him gifts. No one knew about Jesus.  He wasn’t at the center of power but on the margins. He didn’t have the power of Rome behind him.  Jesus didn’t look powerful.  

On January 6, we are looking back at what took place at the US Capitol.  Former President Donald Trump didn’t want to concede the Presidential race to former Vice President Joe Biden.  He tried every trick in the book to find a way to remain in power.  He tried in the courts and lost almost all of his cases.  He tried bullying state officials in certain states to find votes for him.  That didn’t work.  Now he was trying to persuade (aka bully) Vice President Mike Pence to not accept the certified votes.  Pence refused and that is when we saw what happened at the Capitol.

Donald Trump wanted power. Not unlike Herod, he was insecure. Trump wants nothing more than to be successful and he was willing to do anything, even if it meant weakening our democratic process.  

Donald Trump and Herod were powerful men.  They were tapped into the ways of the world where power can be used to dominate others.  They would do anything, in order to remain in power. For Herod, it meant sending his soldiers into Bethlehem and killing every male-born baby under the age of two.  For Trump, it meant riling up his supporters and pointing them down to the Capitol where they would protest the certification of the presidential vote (and basically riot in the Capitol).

But Jesus is the Servant-King.  When he grows up he will serve others by healing and welcoming people.  Jesus ends up on a cross; the ultimate sign of living for others.

January 6 reminds us that there are still rulers that will do anything to keep their power and they are always threatened by the power of the true Lord, the true King, Jesus Christ.

As followers of Jesus, who do we follow?  Are we tempted by the ways of power, like Herod and Trump? Or are we willing to follow the baby who grows up to be a servant?  Will we look for God in the world’s trappings of power or will we find God on the margins?

I hope you have a good Epiphany.  I hope you will not be tempted by kings and presidents and follow the one who died for us and redeemed all of creation.

#epiphany #january6 #politics #uscapitol

Black Lives Really Matter

Black Lives Really Matter

If I were to say, Black Lives Matter? What would you do?

For some, this phrase seems at least on its face rather racist. White Americans wonder if Black Lives Matter that no one else’s lives matter. Others confuse it with the leftist organization with the same name.

For others, it is a symbol of Black Pride or solidarity with African Americans. In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Black Lives Matter became a phrase used worldwide. One memorable use of the phrase was uttered by Republican Senator Mitt Romney as he joined a march of young evangelicals marching in solidarity.

But what does the phrase mean from a theological standpoint? What does it mean for a Christian to say, “Black Lives Matter?”

I recently interviewed my friend, Drew McIntryre. Drew is a Methodist pastor in North Carolina and he wrote an essay in Firebrand magazine on this very subject. You can listen to the full interview:

If you don’t want to listen to a full hour podcast, you can listen to a 10-minute snippet of the interview:

A few months before I chatted with Drew, I spoke to a mentor, Doug Skinner, about race relations and communion. You might not think these two things go together, but they do.

Finally, I interviewed Chris Mackowski who is the editor of the Emerging Civil War blog. One of the things I was interested in talking about is his experience going down to Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA right after George Floyd’s death. He gives a moving account of seeing this through the eyes of a civil war historian and also witnessing some of the anger that African Americans felt in the wake of another death at the hands of the police.

#blacklivesmatter #theology #methodist #racism

Episode 65: Possession Obsession

Episode 65: Possession Obsession

When I first started the EnRoute Podcast (which was called something else), I tended to do a lot of solo podcasts. But there were a number of issues I wanted to get out there into podcast-land before Christmas. Hence, episode 65 which is called “Possession Obsession” (which is the title of a Hall and Oates song.) The focus of the episode is on my obsessions. I’ve written a lot over the last few years about the downfall of Sears and Kmart. One of the best podcast episodes is about Sears. What all these articles and the podcast below are saying is that Sears isn’t dying because of Amazon or bad decisions in 1986. They might have a small role, but not the main role. The main reason is because of a hedge fund manager that has caused two well-known chains to falter. Listen to the episode below to learn about the story.

But I wanted to come clean about why I’ve written so many articles and made podcasts about these two retailers. What it comes down to is a strong belief in the free market, a belief in the necessity of unions and respect for the working men and women and a dislike about the financialization of America.

I also talk a bit about the media’s role in this story. Save for some business reporters, the media pretty much ignored the story. I explain why.

Finally, I talk about my time as a writer with Frum Forum a news website by David Frum. Frum Forum was started in 2009 and brought a number of writers to talk about forging a conservativism that can win again. Frum was ahead of the curve in making the case for a larger role for the government among conservatives. I make the case that we need to have a website like this today. (You can read a written version over at Medium.)

You can listen to the podcast below, on your favorite podcast app or use the YouTube link below.

Episode 60: We Have Some Healing To Do

Episode 60: We Have Some Healing To Do

It was in the early 1990s and I was sitting in the basement of a church in Washington, DC. The church was having a special board meeting to decide on calling an associate pastor. There was some controversy because the pastor was in favor of LGBT equality and at that time it was still a live issue in mainline Protestantism, especially in the American Baptist Churches, the congregation’s denominational affiliation. You may think you know how this is going to end, but it ended in a way that surprised people. It was an example of a search for common ground which seems so alien to our society today. In light of Thanksgiving, a time when we worry about having political arguments, I’m sharing this podcast episode from March where I share the story of two women and the work of finding common ground. I hope you will give it a listen. You can listen to it on YouTube below and on various podcast platforms.

#commonground #civility #polarization

What Christians Don‘t Get About Economics

What Christians Don‘t Get About Economics

During my time in seminary and the years following, I would hear something from mostly mainline pastors that I didn’t agree with. They would talk about the concept of scarcity and how it was wrong because God is a God of abundance. That would cause me to scratch my head. I knew enough about economics to know that scarcity was not born of greed. Instead, it was saying that there’s only a certain amount of a good and you have to figure out how to best distribute these finite resources.

Why do pastors get this very simple concept wrong?

I got to talk to long-time friend Michael Kruse about economics and faith. Michael is an economist and wants to help Christians understand the “dismal science.” You can listen to it on YouTube and on various podcast platforms such as Spotify. Please give it a listen!

#economics #theology #church

Episode 50: The Problem of Inclusion in Mainline Protestantism

Episode 50: The Problem of Inclusion in Mainline Protestantism

One of the biggest gifts Mainline Protestantism has given to many people is the work of inclusion.  It’s the belief that churches should be places where the walls that separate people by race, gender, sexual orientation are torn down.  Mainline churches were at the forefront of the civil rights movement, welcomed women into roles of leadership and allowed LGBTQ persons to participate openly in church life.

But are there limits to inclusion?  For many years, the Mainline churches were involved in demographic inclusion, like we just discussed above. The goal was to bring diversity into the life of the church, but the basics of the faith, like what is found in the Nicean or Apostles Creed such as the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Trinity, and the Resurrection would be held in common.  But over the last two or three decades, there has been a shift towards what might be called conceptual inclusion.  Inclusion here is not about the role of women or LGBTQ people in the church, but about allowing heterodox ideas in the larger church.  Those ideas would include the views shared earlier like the divinity of Christ or the Resurrection.  

What kind of church does that look like? According to Episcopal Priest Frederick Schmidt, it leaves Mainline Protestantism with no reason for existing.  Schmidt is currently the Vice-Rector of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Nashville. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and academic. Before his current position, Schmidt held the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directed the Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. We talk about the dangers of conceptual inclusion, the loss of religious language in the public square and in the church and what this all means for Mainline Protestantism.

Geoff Mitchell on the Future of Mainline Protestantism

Geoff Mitchell on the Future of Mainline Protestantism

In the 1950s, Mainline Protestants were the largest group of Protestants in the United States. Since then, the churches have seen decline and their footprint in American culture has shrunk. Members have left, churches have closed and budgets shrink. Does Mainline Protestantism have a future? I interview Rev. Geoff Mitchell about this important tradition.

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