Category: kingdom of god

Sermon: That’s Me In the Corner

Galatians 1:13-17; 2:15-21 and Luke 18:9-14
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Losing My Religion Sermon Series
May 21, 2016
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

Click here to listen to the audio.

It’s been about two years since our congregation voted to become an Open and Affirming congregation, meaning that we openly welcome Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered persons into the life of our church.  I think that’s a good thing, but over the years even long before our vote, I’ve been wondering about the quality of the pro-inclusion argument.  Whenever I’ve seen people argue in favor of LGBT inclusion, the main thrust goes like this: Jesus hung around undesirable and marginalized people and so should we.  

 

I get what this message is trying to say, but it feels sort of a flippant answer and not really delving into the question.  Too often, people cherry pick Scripture to find some verse on inclusion and maybe throw in that the rest of society is more accepting of gays and so should we.  But the thing is, it really doesn’t answer the deep questions that issues like this bring up.  Who belongs to God?  And why?  How are we accepted by God?

 

In today’s text, Paul is teed off.  Something is taking place that has hurt the Gentiles who came into the faith.  A leading founder of the church was exhibiting a two-faced behavior.  A delegation from Jerusalem is stirring up dissention.  Paul has to say something to put things right.

 

The problem here is similar to what we talked about last week.  A group of Jewish Christians have come to Antioch to persist that any Gentile Christian must be circumcised to be part of the faith. In some way they are being pushed by events in Jerusalem.  A nationalist movement is coming to fore in Jerusalem and demanding people follow a strict interpretation of the law.  This group is causing trouble especially with the church which had started welcoming Gentiles.  Peter who was in Antioch, knew what was going on back home. He had made it a habit to eat meals with the Gentile Christians.  Eating a meal with someone is a sign of a close relationship.  When, Peter sees these Jews from Jerusalem urging for purity, Peter decides to stop eating with the Gentiles.  Peter probably believed he was doing this to keep the Jewish Christians back home safe from persecution.  But he did it at the expense of the Gentiles who now made to feel like second-class Christians.

 

Paul is seeing all of this and he is mad and calls Peter out.  He rails against what Peter has done and how it led to other Jews to engage in the same hypocrisy.  This is when Paul goes into sharing what really matters in the faith.

 

Now in the past, this passage has been seen in a very simplistic terms.  Pastors tend to see this as Paul repudiating the Torah and saying that all we need is to just believe in Jesus.  In this view, it sets up Judiaism is the wrong faith and that Christianity is the good faith.  But at this point, the church was still a sect within Judaism. Paul and Peter and others didn’t see themselves as starting a new church, but probably more as reforming Judaism.  Paul’s words in chapter one shows he was a faithful Jew and didn’t see himself as leaving the faith.

 

So Paul isn’t arguing for a new faith, but and expansion of the old faith.  Paul is talking about covenant.  If you can remember way, way back to last September, God establishe a covenant with Abraham and the whole Jewish people.  God and Israel would be in a covenant relationship.  So in this way, the covenant was focused on one specific people, the Jews and these Jews would perform works like circumcision. These works were not done to please God, but were a sign to show that they belong to God.  So when Paul says in chapter 2, verse 16 that righteousness doesn’t come by following the law, but faith in Christ, he is not saying what you think he is saying.  The law was a way to mark you as a Jew.  But Christ’s death on cross means that this mark is no longer needed.  Righteousness was no longer limited to nationality, but was for everyone.  

 

When Paul talks about faith, it is again tempting to believe this is about mental assent.  If you really believe in Jesus, then you’re in.  Believing in Jesus matters, but the real nugget is what Jesus has done, not what we have done.  Yes, we should believe, but it is not about beliving in Jesus as much as it is to realize that God in Christ has already done the work.

 

Paul is talking about freedom.  We are not bound to a covenant that is only for one group, but a covenant for everyone. We are not bound to believe enough in Jesus to be saved, but realize that we are saved by God’s actions through Jesus on the cross.

This is why Galatians is called a book about freedom.  We are freed from the different barriers to be able to live as community who realizes it is free in Christ.

 

So, if I was going to talk about LGBT inclusion today, I would say something like this:  they don’t have to give up their sexuality in order to show they belong to God.  Instead, they are free by faith, not mental assent, but realizing that God has already done the work to make them, to make me belong because of what was done on a cross on a hill a long time ago.  Inclusion in Christian terms is not about trying to be hip or trendy or being on the right side of history.  It is about knowing that we, all of us are free. It is knowing and trusting that God has done the work of inclusion because of the work done on the cross.  This is why we are Open and Affirming.  

 

Our second text from Luke, is the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.  You see how the Pharisee comes before God.  He stresses he has done all the things that show that he was a faithful Jew.  Then we see of the Publican or the Tax Collector.  He doesn’t really want to be there.  He doesn’t even look up to heaven and pleads for mercy.  If you remember, tax collectors were not seen as upstanding people because of their work with the Romans and because they could rip people off.  The publican can only rely on the grace of God.  Unlike the Pharisee, he couldn’t talk about all that he had done.  He knew he didn’t have anything that could make him righteous accept the mercy of God.

 

In a few weeks, we will be gathered at Loring Park in Minneapolis with our fellow Disciples churches, First Christian-Minneapolis and Plymouth Creek Christian Church.  We go there not to show how hip or “woke” we are, but to witness to a God that loves all of us, that God became like us and died on a cross for us.  Because of this means everyone is welcome.  I am welcomed, you are welcomed because we place our trust in God and we share that good news with others.  

 

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon: “When the President Comes to Church”

Luke 4:14-30
Mission First: Gathered Series
Second Sunday of Epiphany
January 15, 2017
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

If Donald Trump showed up at the door of this church, would you let him in? Just hold that thought for a bit.

A few years ago, I was involved in helping the church I was at in sponsoring a refugee family.  We worked with the Minnesota Council of Churches which has a good record of helping people from around the world settle here in Minnesota.  We learned that we were going to sponsor a family coming from Somalia.  This is not unusual; Minnesota has been a leading destination for refugees from Somalia, which has been dealing with a civil war for almost 25 years.  Now, most of the people who come from Somalia are Muslim.  This tends to be the dominant religion in that part of the world.  I didn’t think much of this fact until I got an email from a woman who was a member at the church.  She was upset about us helping these refugees.  It wasn’t because they were African.  She was upset because…you guessed it, they were Muslim.  As much as I and the Senior Pastor tried to talk about the need to help these people who were simply looking for a home, she was resolute she thought these people could be trouble.

 

Now, we did go ahead and sponsor this family and helped them acclaimate to American society.  But I was dumbfounded that someone was more worried about a person’s faith than they were about helping a family find a safe place to make a life.

 

Another story.  About 20 years ago, I attending a Baptist church in Washington, DC.  Back then, the church was made up of both liberals and evangelicals.  A minister that had been involved with the church was asked to serve on the pastoral staff.  She was more than qualified for the position, but there was an issue: she believed in the inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church.  In the 1990s this was still a controversial issue in this Baptist denomination.  During a meeting to discuss the issue, another woman rose to talk.  She was from the evangelical faction of the congregation. She admitted that she and this pastor didn’t agree on this issue.  But she also had a relationship with the pastor and counted her as a friend.  She urged the congregation to call this pastor and they did.  Here were two women, who were on different sides of an important issue and yet they maintained a relationship, they respected each other.

These are two examples, one positive and one negative.  There are those who are willing to reach out to those who are different backgrounds and beliefs, and there are those who think that there are good people and those who seek to harm others. It seems at times that we as a society are less willing to be friends of those who are different from us.  Our society has learned to segregate themselves into groups where we can be with others that think just like us.  We start to think that the other side is not simply wrong; but somehow dangerous to the very social fabric.  

 

Churches are no less different than the wider society. It’s becoming less and less common to see liberals and evangelicals in the same congregation.  Both sides look at each other as apostates, not really Christians.  We see ourselves as doing God’s work and the other side?  Well, not so much.

 

I’ve not done such a good job at spelling out our current sermon series which is based on gathering.  The church is a gathered community.  It is gathered by God.  But what does it mean that we gather?  If it is God who gathers us in, then who is part of the community? Who is not?  

 

Today’s text has always been an odd one for me.  Jesus is back home in Nazareth and he’s asked to read scripture at the town synagogue. He gets up and reads from Isaiah 61.  This is Jesus way of announcing his ministry and his mission statement. He tells the crowd that he is the Messiah, the Lord’s annoited.  He is here to preach good news to the poor, to liberate the imprisoned and the oppressed and to give sight to the blind.  

 

Now, the people didn’t really get that he was connecting himself to this passage, until he adds to the passage that what was promised in Isaiah is being fulfilled as the people are listening. Everyone is astounded at what they have heard.  Some were proud, some were questioning.  One the surface, we think this is about what they had just heard.  But Jesus could sense people’s hearts.  Something wasn’t right, the people were missing the point.  He knew they were more interested in him performing more miracles than they were about taking this passage to heart. So, that’s when Jesus took what could have been a nice experience and pushed it a bit further. He tells them that he knows they want him to produce the signs that took place in Caperneaum. But he warns them by telling two stories.  First he talks about how the prophet Elijah helped to feed a poor widow and his son in the town of Zarapath.  If you can remember from a few months ago when we learned about this passage the town of Zarepath is outside of Israel.  Jesus is saying that there were other widows who were dealing with hunger because of the draught, but Elijah was sent to help this foreigner.

 

Then he shares another story.  The prophet Elisha healed a Syrian general named Naaman from leporesy even when there were others in Israel who suffered from leporsy.

 

All of this riled up the people and they set to push Jesus down a cliff to his death.  Jesus is able to slip away, but it seems like he would not be coming to Nazareth for the holidays anytime soon.

 

So, why were the people so angry?  What made them so enraged that they wanted to kills Jesus? These were not unfamiliar stories, so what caused them to go mad with anger?

 

Just as Jesus was telling them that he was the Messiah, he was telling the crowd that this Messiah wasn’t coming just for the Jews, but for everyone.  Those tales were nice to say that God could care for some outsiders, but Jesus was pushing them.  God wasn’t just being nice to Gentiles, this was part of God’s plan.  No one group was special, which is how the people in the synagogue saw themselves.  But Jesus is going farther than this.  Jesus is not playing favorites.  Mary sung that things were going to be flipped upside-down and here is the proof.  Those that felt they were special, that they were God’s favorite, were no longer sitting so pretty.

 

Jesus would end up living out what he preached that day.  He would meet with Samaritans and Roman soldiers and a host of other folk that probably wouldn’t be welcomed in that synagogue.  Jesus was on a mission and he wasn’t going to be boxed in.

 

It’s easy to look at this and think that luckily we aren’t like these people in this passage.  I hate to tell you, but we are.  We aren’t any better than the townsfolk of Nazareth.  We might say we welcome everyone, but there is always someone that we don’t want coming into the doors of our churches.  We don’t want people of other ideologies in our churches or maybe someone from a different social class.  We say we have open arms, but too often we act like bouncers for the kingdom of God. Jesus was called to be servant to all, not just the people of Israel.

 

As I said earlier, it is God that gathers the church.  It is God that gathers this church. What does that mean for us and are we ready for who God gathers to this church?  I’d like to believe that I would be able to welcome all, but would I welcome everyone.  Would you?

 

The church is called to be light in the world.  God is building God’s kingdom with us.  What the world needs to see in this church and in all churches are communities that are willing to reach out to people regardless if they are not of the right group.  We need to be able to come together in prayer and worship with people that we might not always agree with.  

 

So, I come back to the question I asked at the beginning: if Donald Trump showed up at the door of this church, would you let him in?

 

There is a church that is actually dealing with that question or something like it. The Washington National Cathedral is hosting the inaugural prayer service for the President-elect.  The Cathedral has a history of hosting inaugural worship services, so this is keeping in line with that tradition.  But the idea of allowing Donald Trump into the doors of the grand cathedral has upset many people around the nation.  The Cathedral is part of the Episcopal Church and the Bishop of the Diocese of Washington has tried to explain why they are hosting this service at this time.  I want to share what Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde said about opening the doors of the church to the next President:

 

First, I want to acknowledge the anger and disappointment that our decisions have engendered. And to say that I’m listening, because the spiritual principles that move many of you to protest are essential for the work that lies ahead. While I do not ask you to agree, I simply ask you to consider that we, too, acted on spiritual principles. Those principles, while they may seem to conflict with yours, are also essential for the work that lies ahead.

The first spiritual principle, which always characterizes the Episcopal Church at its most faithful, is that we welcome all people into our houses of prayer. We welcome all because we follow a Lord and Savior who welcomes all, without qualification. Welcoming does not mean condoning offensive speech or behavior; it does not mean that we agree with or seek to legitimize. We simply welcome all into this house of prayer, in full acknowledgment that every one of us stands in the need of prayer.  

The second spiritual principle that informs my decision is that in times of national division, the Episcopal Church is called to be a place where those who disagree can gather for prayer and learning and to work for the good of all. I am alarmed by some of Mr. Trump’s words and deeds and by those who now feel emboldened to speak and act in hateful ways. Nonetheless, I believe in the power of God to work for good, and the capacity of our nation to rise to our highest ideals. As President Obama said in his last speech, our nation’s future will be determined by our resolve to “restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.” I ask the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington to join me in dedication to that purpose, in faithfulness to Christ and as ones who cherish the gift of democracy.

 

Jesus’ mission on earth was to minister to everyone.  While the crowd in the synagogue thought God was just for them, Jesus was pushing the boundaries and saying that the love of God is for even those we deem outside of the love of God.  If we are honest, we will admit that this is a hard teaching and one we’d rather ignore.

 

Would Donald Trump be invited here?  That’s a question you need to wrestle with so I’m not going to give you an answer.  I pray that we can be like Christ, to get outside of our comfort zones and welcome everyone to God’s kingdom.  Even when we find it difficult.

 

Would Donald Trump be invited here?  Thanks be to God. Amen.

Life in Black and Blue

Crime is increasing
Trigger happy policing
Panic is spreading
God know where we’re heading
Oh, make me wanna holler
They don’t understand

-Inner City Blues, Marvin Gaye

Screen-Shot-2016-07-07-at-5.25.05-AMFor the second time in two days we have heard of another police shooting of an African American.  Tuesday saw the killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA and last night Philando Castile in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights.  While all of these kind of shootings have bothered me, the Falcon Heights shooting hit closer to home and not just because it was only a few miles from me.

What makes this one more real to me is that Mr. Castile could have been me.

What has been unnerving and infuriating is that as far as we can tell, this was a regular guy.  He worked in the lunchroom at a St. Paul Montessori school.  When he was pulled over for a busted tail light, he told the officer that he had a permit to carry a concealed weapon. He seemed to be  doing the right thing.

And he still got shot.

From what we know, he did all the right things one should do as a concealed carry holder and as an African American and he still ended up dead.

My husband wrote an anguished Facebook post about the shooting and her fears that I could be pulled over and killed for no reason by someone this supposed to keep the peace.  The thing is, I can’t tell him not to worry.  I can’t tell him that as long as I am careful that nothing will happen.

The thing is, having Aspergers, I tend to miss social cues.  What if I miss a social cue and the officer draws a gun? Can I trust the police to do the right thing?  What will happen the next time I’m pulled over?

I never used to be scared of the police.  I can remember sitting in elementary school in Flint, MI back in the 70s and being taught that the police were there to help.  I’ve believed that since then, but the steady drumbeat of police shootings has eroded my child-like trust and replaced it with fear, and the police should not be the people I fear.

The sad thing is, these killings will continue.  Too much of white America doesn’t see this as a problem.  Many mistakenly believe that the shooting victim deserved it.  None of this means it can’t change, but until people can see the injustice happening, until it tugs at their own sense of fairness and justice, the values that we as Americans believe in, a lot of whites in America will remain unmoved to act.

Lord Have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

Adventures In Church Planting: 2013 (REPOST)

Writer’s note: I was going to write another post about church planting in Mainline churches, and I still plan to, but I think this post sums up a lot of what I am feeling still. One update: I am not leading the new church team anymore.

The Clockwork Pastor

As most of you know, I’ve been the head of a new church ministry in my Region.  There have been some good and not so good developments in the area of church planting last year, though for the most part it was a down year in many ways.  The good news is that our group got bigger as a few more people expressed interest in being involved.  The so-so news is how I’m leading.  I want to give people the chance to step up and take part, but I have to balance that with the need to just get something done.

church planting quoteThe not-so-good things is the fact that a lot of potential church plants just died on the vine.  One planter looked like he was going to plant a new community in the eastern suburbs of the Twin Cities.  Things seemed to be moving ahead and then he back out…

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