Category: fellowship

Social Media Isn’t Everything

image0011I miss college.

To be more specific, I miss that part of college where I would have long talks about politics with people.  We would sit in someone’s dorm room and talk about different issues.  There were arguments about different things, but they weren’t mean.  At the end of the day, we still got a long with each other.

Social Media has done a lot of good, but I think one of the bad things is that it has killed those long dialogues.  Facebook at times seems like a place where people strut around sharing opinions and memes that are mean-spirited.  People cheer calling the other side foolish or even evil.  With Facebook, there is no nuance. There is no civility.  What there is present is mostly people with chips on their shoulders.  People with different views look at each other with contempt.

Don’t get me wrong, Facebook and other social media are wonderful tools.  I’ve reconnected with old friends in High School in college.  But I think they make it too easy for people to stay in their little silos where they never have to encounter someone with a different way of thinking. A lot of the issues of the day, from health care to same-sex marriage, are reduced to simple posts where people show they are on the “right side of history,” or what have you.  Facebook especially has at times made us dumber.  We no longer have to think about all the greys in the issues we dealing with.  We no longer have to see the other side as nothing more than people who hate your side.

I would love to have discussions on politics again.  I would love to disagree with someone and yet see them as a real human being, who loves and cries.

I miss those college days.  My fear is that I may never see anything like them again.

Update: I forgot to mention that fellow pastoral colleague Trevor Lee has a similar point to be made on certain Facebook memes.

Sermon: “The Interactive Church”

I preached this on the Fourth Sunday of Easter in 2008, which is also called Good Shepherd Sunday.

Acts 2:42-47, John 10:1-10
April 13, 2008 (Good Shepherd Sunday)
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

I’ll admit it; I’m a geek.

friendsbreakbreadSome of you know I wrote the main article in this month’s church newsletter. It’s called “Church 2.0.” I talked about how my job as a communications specialist for the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area has used my knowledge of blogs, social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace has changed how we communicate with each other.

I’ve been working with blogs and social networking sites for several years and they have helped me create new relationships that would have been impossible in the past. I’ve made true friendships over the Internet with people from across the nation. Heck, I even met my partner Daniel through an online dating service.

What I find interesting is how this information revolution is changing society and what clues it has for the church, especially the mainline church and specifically, Lake Harriet. As I just said, this brave new world of blogs, podcasts and interactive web pages, is forming relationships where none might have ever existed. I am reminded that Tammy Rottschafer the Associate Pastor here at Lake Harriet has reminded me over and over that being church is about relationships. God may just well be calling us as a faith community to be more of an “interactive church,” a place that connects and relates with each other, with the outside world, and with God.

In the Second chapter of Acts, we are given a brief description of the nacsent church. It was just after the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples as flames of fire. Peter testified about Jesus and the scripture says 3,000 joined this new community that day. The passage that was read today, is about the day-to-day life of the church after that day. It’s a short passage, but I think it packs a wallop. The devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship, they held all things in common and helped those in need, the broke bread together, had glad and generous hearts and praised God. The result of all this is that their community grew daily.

While this all happened long ago, I see a lot of today in this passage. This is a church that is interactive. Like working on a weblog, there are people relating to each other. This passage isn’t telling us that we need to be exactly like this church, but it does describe what the church should be about.

The church is called to be a place where we are devoted to learn to be a follower of Christ. The church is a place where we have fellowship with each other, where we care and love each other. The church is a place where we realize that our material possessions are not the goal in our lives, but to use what we have to help those in need, especially those in our community, but also those outside of it. The church is a place where we come together and break bread in table fellowship together, realizing that it is Christ that calls us to the table regardless of who we are. The church is a place where we are happy in Christ and are generous to friends and strangers.

Notice it doesn’t say that a church needs to have a pastor that will bring in more people, or have an awesome sound system, or a brand spanking new building. What IS needed is a visible faith community living in the light of Christ.

You know, as compact as this passage is: being a journalist by training, I could sum this up in about five words: “the church is about hospitality.”

If you read this passage over and over, what becomes apparent is that this new church was a place where people where caring to each other and to strangers. They fellowshipped, they broke bread together, they helped each other. They were caring with each other and people noticed. That’s why their community grew and grew.

As many of you know, I was the pastor of a new church for several years. It ended up closing or as I like to say, it was shelved for the time being. For a long time, I was lead to believe that to be a growing church, you needed to do things that would attract people. So, we had these innovative services that were supposed to pack them in and it didn’t. I remember wondering what I had done wrong. We were an open and affirming community, meaning we were openly welcoming of gays and lesbians, and yet that didn’t do a lot to bring people in.

What I learned from that experience is that I failed to really have relationships with people. For many people who had been burned by the church because of their sexual orientation, it didn’t really matter if we were Open and Affirming if we didn’t have relationships and chats over coffee with gay and lesbians and be Christ to them.

This church is going through change and getting ready to start a new journey as a church. I don’t know if I am in a position to offer words of advice, but I will any way. Remember that being church is not about having some hotshot pastor or big programs. It’s about relationships, it’s about hospitality. It’s about what we do during prayer time here and on Wednesday evenings, when we pray for our friends here in church and around the world. It’s when we give flowers on the table to someone in the hospital or a stranger as a sign of friendship. It’s when we pack food packets that go to feed the hungry. It’s when we welcome people regardless of sexual orientation even if we don’t understand it all. It’s about developing relationships with those who cross our path and showing them Christ in our lives, not to convert them (the Holy Spirit does that), but to be a living witness of who Christ is.

Today is what has generally been called Good Shepherd Sunday. We read from John 10 where Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd. We read from Psalm 23 which talks about God being our Shepherd that is always with us. In the past, I always looked at this passage as being about God being the shepherd and that we sheep are to be good followers. But I now see it as God in relation with God’s church. God cares for us and looks after us in ways we can’t imagine, because God is in love with us; God has a relationship with us. As a community that is loved by the God of the universe, we are called to care for one another- not because it’s something we have to do, but because it’s who we are. And when people see us living as a Christ-led, hospitable community, they will take notice.
The response we sang during the call to worship is by the hymnwriter, Marty Haugen. The song is called “Shepherd Me, O God.” The refrain says, “Shepherd me, O God; beyond my faults, beyond my needs, from death into life.”

Lake Harriet has some experience with death, with dying to old ways and to what we once were. In fact, many might even feel like we are dying now. But this song should be our prayer: that God will lead us, beyond our faults and needs from death into being the Easter people that we are.

Take heart, my friends. Know that God is with you, raising us up from death into life. And along the way, make friends, be hospitable and welcome everyone, everyone to this Table. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon: “But We Had Hoped…”

Luke 24:13-35
Third Sunday of Easter
May 4, 2014
First Christian Church

Mahtomedi, MN

 

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

 

The_Road_To_EmmausThese are the words of John Wesley, known as the founder of the Methodist Church.  Wesley was going through a time of doubt and depression and while sitting in a church in England he had an encounter with Jesus.  He felt “strangely warmed” as he said.  He went into the service full of despair and left feeling he could place his trust in Christ. When most people hear this story, they focus on the whole warming of the heart.  What we tend to forget was that Wesley came in to this church a broken man.  He didn’t come in with much hope.

It was a little over ten years ago that I worked as a chaplain at a nursing home in Minneapolis.  This is one of those requirements you have to do before getting ordained.  Clinical Pastoral Education is a time when your faith comes face to face with life.  You have to figure out how to be Christ in a very vulnerable moment.

I worked at Luther Hall, which was a transitional care facility.  Some of the people I met were only there for a few days after a surgery.  Others were there for a longer stay.  I remember one of my first visits was to stop by the room of a patient.  He was unconscious and this family was all around him.  The man had a brain tumor it didn’t look like he was going to make it.  However, the wife kept saying that he was going to get better.  This was hard for me.  I couldn’t just be frank and tell them he wasn’t going get better.  I couldn’t  pray that he would be miraculously healed.  I was facing a moment where there seemed to be no hope.  I did the best I could to not do something that would offend them.

How do you minister to someone when there is no hope things will get better?  Those events happened thirteen years ago and I still don’t have a really good answer.

The this story about the Road to Emmaus is an fascinating story.  We hear a story about two disciples and we don’t really know much about them.  We don’t even know why they are walking to this town.  What we do know is that they are heartbroken.  This is only a few days after Jesus was crucified and now on this day they have heard the story of an empty tomb.  These two people were crushed by the news.  First their friend was killed by Rome and now there isn’t even a body left to mourn.  Their emotion is distilled down to a few words: “But we had hoped.”

The two believed that Jesus was going to come and redeem Israel, that he was going to free Israel from Roman occupation.  Now, that wasn’t going to happen.

But we had hoped…how many times have we echoed those words?  But we had hoped to have twins.  But we had hoped to keep my job.  But we had hoped we would not lose our house to forclosure.  But we had hoped to see our child graduate.  But we had hoped it wasn’t Alzheimers.  But we had hoped he wouldn’t walk out on his wife.  But we had hoped.  Those four words pack a punch.  It tells us all that we need to know; hoping for something, excepting something better and to not have those dreams come true.  Ernest Hemingway was once challenge to write a story with only six words.  He responded: “For Sale: Baby shoes, never used.”  Everyone of us has dealt with some kind of heartbreak, failure or loss.  But we had hoped.  It is one of those mainstays in life.

As these two men walk, another stranger starts walking beside them.  Jesus had joined the the two men.  Even when we don’t feel there is hope, when we think nothing will ever get better, Jesus is there.  But it’s hard to see that when you are mired in despair.  It’s also hard to walk with someone who is in pain.  How many of us don’t know what to say when someone levels a bombshell of pain on you?  I can tell you it’s not easy.  It’s uncomfortable.

A little later, the two men invite Jesus to stay with them the night.  They sit down to have a meal and Jesus blessed and broke the bread.  It was then that they knew Jesus was there.  It was at that moment, hope came alive.  Jesus was there all the time and they have to go and tell the other Disciples.

As Christians, we gather every Sunday and have communion.  It’s easy to just go through the motions.  I’m pretty sure we don’t expect much to happen as we eat a cube of bread and a thimble of grape juice.  But the thing is, the Lord’s Supper is a reminder that Jesus is with us now.  Communion is a reminder of what Jesus has done, but it is also a powerful reminder that Jesus is with us now, even when we can’t sense God.  Christ walks with us even when we don’t know. Because we are humans that tend to forget God is with us, we need this holy meal.  We need to know that when say “but we have hoped” Jesus responds by breaking bread and revealing that God has been with us all along.

This is the reason we need church.  Evangelical theologian Scot McKnight was recently interviwed about them importance of the church. He call the church a “kingdom society where God’s will is done as a result of Christ’s redemption.  It is being part of a community that we learn about how God operates and where we can see Christ in each other, as well as in bread and win.

When they realize they were talking to Jesus, the disciples ran and told the others.  We are called to go and tell others that Jesus is alive and is with all of us.  The result of breaking bread with Jesus, as we do every Sunday is to go and tell the good news.  There will still be heartache, at least on this side of heaven.  But we can tell others that Jesus is with us even when we don’t know.

As we continue our journey this Easter season, let us know that Jesus walks with us- even when we don’t feel it.   And let us go and tell the world. May our prayer be this passage of the well known hymn, “Let us talents and Tounges Employ:”

 

Let us talents and tongues employ,

reaching out with a shout of joy:

bread is broken, the wine is poured,

Christ is spoken and seen and heard.

Jesus lives again; earth can breathe again.

Pass the Word around: loaves abound!

 

May it be so.  Amen.

Listen to the Sermon

Where’s Jesus?

This past Saturday was the day that the members of First decorate the place. The hallways are decked out in wreaths and garlands, Christmas trees are found in the lounge and in the sanctuary. This year’s decorations will be memorable because this is the last Christmas at our current location. In a few weeks, we will take buses and start worshipping at SpringHouse.

One of the things that are always interesting are the manger scenes. Like most folks, people tend to decorate the mangers with all the central characters; the wise men (even though they weren’t at the manger), the shepherds, Joseph, Mary and yes, Jesus. One my favorite mangers at church is one that is basically made for kids. The characters are all dolls and you can imagine a kid picking it up and squeezing it. That manger scene is a bit different. One of the young mothers set it up in front of the communion table. Mary and Joseph are there at the stable, but you have the shepherd on the steps leading down from the chancel and the wise men are all the way in the back of the church near the narthex.

What missing is Jesus. There’s no baby Jesus to be found.

The young mother explained to me that it’s not Christmas yet, so the characters in the birth story are still aways off. As Christmas draws closer, they will move in closer and closer. What I was fixated on was the fact that there was no Jesus. She did a good job of hiding Jesus, because I could not find the baby Jesus any where in the sanctuary. Where’s Jesus? Where indeed. Advent is about waiting and expectation, but I wonder if sometimes it’s also about this scary feeling that hope will never come, that things will never change. Recently, I found out that a friend of mine lost their job. This person and his partner are facing an uncertain holiday season, not to mention and uncertain future. I am reminded of my own struggles of being fired from a job several years ago near Christmas. That season was not one for the recordbooks. It’s in those dark times that people feel that hope is not present and that Jesus is nowhere to be found. We might pray and pray and for whatever reason, it feels like the phone line is dead.

Where’s Jesus?

Isaiah 61 tells the returning Israelites that hope is on the way. The holy city of Jerusalem that had been destroyed decades earlier, would be rebuilt better than ever. It’s a great story and would be even better if it just stopped there. But we learned that some of the background reveals that Jerusalem was never rebuilt in the way the writer of Isaiah 61 said it would-at least not in their lifetime. And yet, this passage is still one of hope. Actually it’s not just about hope, but also about faith. We have faith that hope will prevail even if we can’t see it. As I said earlier, one of the Christmas trees is located in the lounge. It’s decorated with lights and an angel at the top…and socks. We’re collecting socks to donate to the Minnesota Council of Churches Refugee Services, to help newcomers have warm feet in the winter, since most of them are coming from tropical countries to chilly Minnesota. I think that in Advent we learn that Jesus can take the form of…well, socks. It’s hard when you are in pain or suffering to see Jesus anywhere, but maybe we can have hope that Jesus is the giving of socks to the stranger, or in the kind word we give to someone grieving or simply standing by a friend as they battle cancer. Maybe it’s in these small acts that we have hope and faith that God is here with us…and maybe it’s where Jesus is found.

An Uncertain Trumpet

Several years ago, I was at a local GOP convention through my work with Log Cabin Republicans.  As I was going about meeting folks, I realized that a gentleman from a church I used to belong to was a delegate to the convention.  It was nice to see him, but it was also interesting since this man never talked about politics in church and as far as I can tell, still does not today. 

It was interesting that I never knew the man’s party affiliation.  It never came up in discussions.  He’s always been a straight arrow dealing with financial and legal issues facing the church.  Politics just never came up in most conversation.

I share this because I am reminded by a post by Episcopal blogger Fredrick Schmidt about American Christianity and where it intersects with today’s politics.  More and more, I want to be like this gentleman that I know, keeping politics out of the life of the church.

I’m not suggesting that the church should just not be involved in caring for the poor or speaking out when need be.  But I am saying that our involvement in politics has not as much elevated the body politic as much as it has brought the church down the to level of crass partisan bickering that we see so much of on TV and on the web these days.  The church is mimicking what we see on Fox News or MSNBC and acting accordingly. 

Schmidt is not amused and he calls for Christians to be willing to pursue the truth no matter where it leads:

Christians are no better at navigating the American political landscape than anyone else. The name-calling among them may have a religious ring to it, but it is depressingly similar to the tribal incivility on display everywhere else. And, sadly, when we are commenting on the larger political drama we drop the religious language and we are as nasty and unreflective as the talking heads on Fox or MSNBC. Some of the epithets I have watched Christians use in political observations on Facebook aren’t even fit to reprint here.

For that reason, I am not at all sanguine about Christians transcending the terms of the current debate. That doesn’t speak well for the rest of the claims that Christians make and that’s deeply troubling.
Christians will necessarily commit themselves to a point of view, but they should all be committed to the pursuit of the truth, wherever it leads. They should be tenacious about gathering the facts. They should be scrupulous about avoiding distortion. They should be committed to civil and incisive debate about the issues. They should foreswear name-calling and character assassination. And they should be capable of considering solutions to the problems that face us that lie outside the ideological parameters on both the left and the right. If we can’t do that, we really add little or nothing to the public debate.

But the problem facing the churches is the same that is so common in our society today: our insistence on being right instead of being loving.  Conservative and liberal Christians are sure that they have the answer to public policy questions and the other side is not only wrong, but probably not Christian.  Conservative Christians mimic their big brothers and advocate against tax increases and supporting what they see as “big government.”  Liberal Christians follow their siblings, calling for taxing the rich and for the continuation if not enlargement of the welfare state.  Each side finds a few Bible verses to justify their side and condemn each other.

That said, we also face a far bigger problem: we want to believe that God is on our side and ours alone.  And there we definitely reach for our Bibles as weapons.  Schmidt says we can’t expect the Bible to justify our position:

First, there is probably nothing in the Old or New Testament that can be applied directly and unequivocally to the debates that we are having. Ancient Israel was a theocracy with a king. The early Christian community was a church, not a country. The early church described in the Book of Acts was a minority movement within its own world. Its members did not exercise responsibility for shaping Roman policy. They did not issue currency and they did not elect representatives. So, we live, work, and vote in a completely different environment than those in which the books of the Bible were written.

We can debate the merits of big government, the size of federal budgets, the structure of the tax code, and the advisability of creating a welfare state. But the early Christian community described in the opening chapters of the Book of Acts, in which “all things were held in common and no one suffered need,” is not a model for nation-building and it is not a model for creating a thriving, modern economy. To suggest otherwise is to rely on sloppy exegesis and anachronism. It is logically misleading and romantic nonsense.

What I wish to see in the modern American church is not a bunch of “red” and “blue” churches, but communities that seek to follow Jesus and are engaged in thoughtful discernment of public issues.  I want to see churches think about how best to help the poor, or spur economic growth, or what should be the scope of American foreign policies than just parrot what Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Maddow said that day.  I want to see communities where liberals and conservatives can talk about these issues knowing they don’t have all the answers.  I want to see a church where we are humble about our political beliefs and willing to rest on God’s grace and mercy instead of the Democratic or Republican party platform.

In the end, I’m not asking that Christians never talk about politics or their ideology.  I am asking that we model a different way of being in the world, that we learn to be Christ to each other instead of demonizing each other the way the “pagans” do. 

In some ways, this has made me an uncertain trumpet.  I’m not as willing to sound the horns for battle like I used to.  Yes, I have my opinions and as a political blogger, I do express them.  But as a Christian, I want to exhibit something a bit different.  I want to be about community and love, instead of being right.  Life is about loving our friends and fellow Christians even if we can’t agree with them.  It’s about loving as Jesus love.  That’s a trumpet I want to sound anytime.