Thursday, July 18, 2019

Jesus Loves the Little Children

A Room with a View

Last week I was able to spend some time at Camp Bashore Boy Scout Reservation with Troop 134 and approximately 350 other scouts, including my son, Rowan, and Luke Davies. It's been almost 40 years since my first experience of summer camp at Bashore. I was a member of Troop 45 in Lebanon at the time. It was at Bashore that I first experienced the gut-wrenching feelings of homesickness. It wasn't that I missed the physical building of our house, but the familiarity and company of family - my mom and dad, and brothers. I was reminded of that this past week when I witnessed the tears of several young boys during the first meal in the dining hall Sunday evening. Needless to say, we all made it home in one piece.

When I returned home I was struck by the images of children inside chain link retention pens (cages) at our southern borders that have been in the news. Far from fake, these children are children loved by Jesus. They are children we are called to love. What must their feelings of homesickness be like?

No Crib for His Bed

When I was growing up, my maternal grandparents were instrumental in getting me and my brothers to participate in Summer Vacation Bible School at their church, Mt. Wilson Church of the Brethren. I can't tell you now the specifics of the instruction, but I can recall the atmosphere of care and nurture in that community of faith.

On one of those Summer evenings, I learned the song, Jesus Loves the Little Children. You probably know it too.
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red, brown, yellow
Black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children
Of the world 
Jesus died for all the children
All the children of the world
Red, brown, yellow
Black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus died for all the children
Of the world. 
Jesus rose for all the children
All the children of the world
Red, brown, yellow
Black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus rose for all the children
Of the world
As the Church, we balk. We hesitate. We fear even talking about this crisis openly. Maybe we dismiss it as something out of our purview. It's political, after all. We don't want to offend anyone or upset the bliss of our collective indifference.

This Sunday a theme that runs through our lessons is that of hospitality. Welcoming the stranger is not an optional activity of the body of Christ. In fact, over and over, it presents itself as one of the chief ways that we live out our shared faith in the Christ. For once, we were lost, and now we are found. We have been welcomed so that we can welcome others. That's how it works. That's how God works. We are necessary to the mission that God has for the world to bring about reconciliation.
"But know that to serve God is nothing else than to serve your neighbor and do good to him in love, be it a child, wife, servant, enemy, friend. . . . If you do not find yourself among the needy and the poor, where the Gospel shows us Christ, then you may know that your faith is not right, and that you have not yet tasted of Christ's benevolence and work for you."    -Martin Luther

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Pentecost


This Sunday, June 9 is the the Day of Pentecost (Greek: "Fiftieth Day")  It is a principal festival of the church year, celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples fifty days after Easter. The reading this Sunday from Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:1-21) recounts this event.

In Judaism, the fiftieth day after Passover was celebrated as an agricultural festival, known as the feast of Weeks (Exodus 43:22; Deuteronomy 16:9-10). The Christian Pentecost was celebrated by the late fourth century. Pentecost is the final day of the Easter season. The festival commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit and the Baptism of 3,000 converts.*

Take a few moments and watch biblical storyteller Elizabeth Adkisson telling the story of Pentecost on this video:


As you listened to the stroy, what did you notice? What part did fire play in the telling? Both unity and diversity are evident in this stroy. What examples of unity did you hear? What about diversity? Does the presence of diversty leave no room for unit (or, the other way around)? Do we see one as an obstacle to the other?

I've been thinking about the image of fire recently. Fire can be both the most terrify thing and the most comfortable.  What is your expereince of fire? 


In the 4th century, St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, wrote the following in one of his sermons:
It is the divine way to be seen, or to be described, under the appearance of fire. Moses had seen fire in the bush. The bush was on fire, yet it was not burnt. So the Lord might show us by this mystery that Christ would come to cast light on the thorns of our body, that he would baptize in the Holy Spirit and in fire, and that he would give us grace and destroy our sins. And Gideon, when he was about to defeat the Midianites, commanded his three hundred men to carry burning torches in their pitchers. Our bodies are pitchers, formed from the clay of the earth, that burn with the fire of spiritual grace and bear witness with the voice of confession to the passion of the Lord Jesus. Also in the Acts of the Apostles the Holy Spirit descended upon the faithful in the image of fire. This is a fire which, as with gold, makes what is good better and devours sin as stubble. As the Spirit is the light of the divine countenance, so also is the Spirit the fire that burns before the face of God.Ambrose  [Ambrose, in Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, II, p. 13.]

The Day of Pentecost
June 9, 2019
Reception of New Members

Prayer of the Day

God our creator, the resurrection of your Son 
offers life to all the peoples of earth. 
By your Holy Spirit, kindle in us the fire of your love,
 empowering our lives for service and our tongues for praise, 
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, 
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and forever.
Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Acts 2:1-21 
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b 
Romans 8:14-17 
John 14:8-17 [25-27] 

* Ralph R. Van Loon and S. Anita Stauffer, Worship Wordbook: A Practical Guide for Parish Worship. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1995), page 67.



Thursday, May 16, 2019

Our Family



The following is a message from a sister congregation in Racine, Wisconsin:

Betty Rendón is a part-time student pastor at Emaus Lutheran Church in Racine, Wisconsin. Last Wednesday morning, Pastor Rendón’s daughter was driving her five-year-old to school from their home in Chicago. She was not two minutes from the house when she was stopped by ICE officers who admitted they were looking specifically for her. The officers arrested and handcuffed her, despite her protests that she is legally protected by DACA and should not be a target for ICE. 

The agents took the wheel of the car and drove them back to the house, where Pastor Rendón’s husband, Carlos, was leaving home for work. The agents shouted at him in English, which he does not speak well, shook him violently, and shoved him towards the car. They ordered him to open the door of the house. Once the door was open, they forced their way in. A group of ICE vehicles with numerous officers then converged on the house and poured inside, brandishing their weapons and pointing them at the family. Pastor Rendón was still in her pajamas. They did not allow her to get dressed, but handcuffed her as she was. Her granddaughter screamed and cried while the officers searched until they found their houseguest, a cousin, who had fled into the basement to hide. They handcuffed him as well. 

Having arrested all of the adults in the home, the officers allowed Pastor Rendón to phone the child’s other grandparents so that they could come collect her. While doing that, she managed to send a short text to the church to inform us that she would likely not be able to preach on Sunday. Pastor Rendón was particularly struck by the celebratory tone of the officers. They were jubilant because they had managed to arrest so many people in a single raid.

Pastor Rendón’s daughter was eventually released from custody and allowed to reunite with her daughter because, in fact, there was no legitimate reason to have arrested her in the first place. The other three family members were taken to the downtown facility in Kenosha, where they were strip-searched and processed. When they left, the ICE officers failed to secure the door, which allowed robbers subsequently to enter the home, ransack it, and steal all items of any value. A neighbor called the police, and there is a police report documenting the robbery.

The family came to the United States originally because Pastor Rendón was once the director of a school in Colombia during the war. The guerrillas attacked her school, assaulting several of her teachers. She applied for asylum in the US, but was eventually denied due to the lack of a police report, although she says everyone in the area knew of the attack. Once her appeals were exhausted, she was issued an order of deportation, but it was never executed. We are at a loss to explain why ICE should have decided to execute it now, just as Pastor Rendón is beginning her doctoral studies in preaching at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Where it Hurts


Paula Modersohn-Becker, The Good Samaritan, 1907.  

Because he was still recovering from having an ingrown toenail removed by the podiatrist, I spared my youngest son the walk home from school yesterday. Arriving a few minutes before closing bell at his school, I noticed another parent in their SUV waiting to pick up their child. Actually, what caught my eye was the condition of one of the  rear tires. It was flat. I got out of my car and walked over to the driver and asked if she was aware that her tire was flat. She was shocked, and for a moment, in disbelief. She got out and walked around the back of her vehicle where I showed her the flat tire.  And then, she thanked me. "Glad it didn't do that last night when I was driving home from the airport!" she said. "Yes", I said, "better here than almost anywhere. Look on the bright side, it's only flat on the bottom."

By that time, our children were released from their day at school and help was soon on the way.

What impressed me about that encounter was how grateful the mom seemed that I simply took a moment to talk to her and point out the flat tire. And while this may not be the best example, at least it is a current one of meeting people in the midst of their struggle. The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 is a better example.

Over the next four weeks, I invite you to read and study this parable with me and others in the Adult Faith Formation Class (Sundays at 8:45 AM). We'll consider together the importance of being willing to meet our neighbor in need. What is involved in reaching out to those around us? How can we do this more effectively, faithfully, and intentionally? What is evangelism and outreach ministry? And, by the way, there is more to the story of the mom and her flat tire. I'll share that with you on Sunday.

Where does it hurt? Answering this question is critical to meaningful and substantive evangelism. The Gospel is not icing on the cake; it's balm for healing and hope. So, take a moment to invite someone to join you this Sunday at this first of four classes. All are welcome. No experience necessary!
_______________

Here is a song to enjoy from Molly Skaggs:



The Acts of the Holy Spirit Through the Apostles
In case you want a head's up on the current sermon series during these Sundays of Easter, here is an outline. The first readings each Sunday from Acts of the Apostles will be the primary preaching text. Take some time to read along in preparation for each Sunday by reading not just the designated passage, but the entire book of Acts.

Second Sunday of Easter,   April 28, 2019
Acts 5:27-32
Peter has been arrested for proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. 
His response to the charges of the high priest summarizes the early church’s proclamation of forgiveness of sin through repentance.

Third Sunday of Easter,  May 5, 2019
Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]
Each of us has a story of meeting God’s grace. Saul (later called Paul) was an ardent persecutor of all who followed the Way of Christ. This reading recounts the story of his transformation, beginning with an encounter with Jesus Christ on the way to Damascus.


Fourth Sunday of Easter,  May 12, 2019
Acts 9:36-43
Dorcas was a faithful and devoted woman of charity in the community of Joppa. Her kindness and her work with clothing was well-known, especially to the widows in town. When she fell ill and died, Peter raised her back to life through the power of prayer.

Fifth Sunday of Easter,  May 19, 2019
Acts 11:1-18
In defense of his earlier baptism of pagan believers, Peter demonstrates to the members of the Jerusalem church that God’s intention to love Gentiles as well as Jews is revealed in Jesus’ own testimony. In this way the mission to the Gentiles is officially authorized.

Sixth Sunday of Easter,  May 26, 2019
Acts 16:9-15
A vision compels Paul to move his ministry into Greece. There he meets Lydia, an important person in the business community, whose heart has been opened by God to receive the gospel. Her conversion and baptism provide the impetus for the founding of the church at Philippi

Seventh Sunday of Easter,  June 2, 2019
Acts 16:16-34
The owners of a slave-girl who used her powers to tell fortunes threw Paul and Silas into jail for “healing” her and, consequently, ruining their business. In prison, Paul and Silas bring the good news of the gospel to the jailer and his family.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Seeing Together

For various reasons, it's been months since I last posted on this blog. One of the reasons, now that I look back, is that I have been preoccupied with other things. I'm sure you know what it's like to slip away or out of a discipline because of the demands (real or perceived) of daily life.

Perhaps it is appropriate, then, that we intentionally consider a way to organize and mobilize as we look forward to mission and ministry in the months and years ahead.


Beginning tomorrow morning at 8:45 and over the next four weeks during the Sunday morning Faith Formation class, I will lead us in an exploration and discussion of these six topics. The goal is for each of us to know and inwardly digest these six words and be able to use them as a guide - a tool - in evaluating our direction and discipline. Please take the time to join in this series of classes over the next four weeks so that we can see together grow in our commitment to Christ and the life of mission to which we are called.




Francis of Assisi, renewer of the church, died 1226
Born into the family of a wealthy merchant, Francis gave up his inheritance to serve poor people. He formed the Order of Friars Minor (called Franciscans), who took on poverty and the task of preaching "using words if necessary." Francis had a spirit of gratitude for all of God's creation.

A prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Incredulity

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas 
Caravaggio c. 1601–1602.


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity. 
A Tale of Two Cities (1859), Charles Dickens

Incredulity has haunted Thomas.

Incredulity (in·cre·du·li·ty) noun  the state of being unwilling or unable to believe something.

When I suggest that it has haunted Thomas, I am referring to the way in which Thomas is primarily been remembered as the stubborn one -- as the disciple who couldn't quite get it. He has been characterized as being a bit slow on the uptake. Thomas has been dubbed the doubter. Before he could believe, Thomas needed visceral proof that Jesus had indeed been resurrected from the dead.

Every year on the Second Sunday of Easter, we are confronted with this same scene of the disciples in their safe house, hidden away and wondering what's next. We hear again that Thomas was late to the gathering and so had missed out on the appearance of Jesus. The others told him what had happened and what they experienced, but Thomas wanted to see it to believe it.

I invite you to gather on Sunday morning both for the Adult Education class in the fellowship hall at 8:45 (bring your bible!) and for worship at 10:00. We will study, explore and discuss the passage from John's gospel that relays what transpired on the evening of that glorious day of Christ's resurrection.

May our incredulity be transformed into boldness and joy in the hope, promise, and reality of Resurrection life.



Second Sunday of Easter
April 8, 2018

Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, 
with joy we celebrate the day of our Lord’s resurrection. 
By the grace of Christ among us, 
enable us to show the power of the resurrection 
in all that we say and do, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, 
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, 
now and forever.  Amen.

Gospel Reading
John 20:19-31

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Cleaning House



Realizing that I haven't updated this blog with a new post in many weeks, it occurred to me that it is rather easy to be distracted by a felt need to be respond to everything at the expense of focusing on the One thing. If for nothing else, the last several days have provided an opportunity to reflect and take stock of a period of time that, even in hindsight, is a blur with incidents and other happenings that have limited my ability to be proactive. This is not a complaint, but rather an observation.

Ideally, Lent is meant to afford us with this opportunity of pausing to inventory our lives, to engage in a spiritual housecleaning of our hearts and minds. To this end, I frequently advocate for postponing meetings of committees and councils, if at all possible, until the season is over -- not just to free up time from these activities, but to create time for matters of primary importance and the intentional nurture of our relationship with God. The vitality of our faith depends on it.

Both in anticipation of the recently completed building project, and in these weeks that have followed it, there have been many occasions for sorting through accumulated clutter of papers and materials from past programs and projects. Not everything is a candidate for the archives! During these moments of house cleaning, bags and boxes of stuff were sent to the recycle bin or piled in the dumpster. Cabinets were organized, closets were excavated, and offices were purged of years of accumulated detritus. It  really is amazing to discover what is worth saving amidst all that we think is so important. This process of cleaning house is clarifying. This same process can be applied to our spiritual lives as well.

In the reading from John's gospel this coming Sunday, we hear an account the so-called "cleansing" of the temple by Jesus. This scene is described in all four of the gospels, but only in John's gospel is it included so early in the ministry of Jesus. Upon entering the temple, Jesus encountered a mass of misplaced priorities, profiteering, and manipulation. All this occurred in a place and within a community that had been distracted by the clutter of self-preservation and self-interest. Jesus became angry. With little of what we would refer to as tact and diplomacy, Jesus overturns the tables and drives out the sheep and the cattle. In John's account, there is no reason to assume that Jesus drove out the money changers. They are left to be confronted with the point blank preaching of Jesus. They have not been dismissed as unworthy of correction, repentance and redemption.

Such a surgical cleansing is more difficult than a hasty clearing. When we engage in self-examination, we can be assured that God desires us to allow our unfaithful and sinful actions and attitudes to be expelled. Yet we need to be reminded that we are not driven out. We get to remain. We  encounter God's will and purpose for our lives as His children.

Christ Cleansing the Temple
El Greco, circa 1600

Third Sunday in Lent
March 4, 2018

Prayer of the Day
Holy God, through your Son you have called us to live faithfully and act courageously. Keep us steadfast in your covenant of grace, and teach us the wisdom that comes only through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Amen.

Readings and Psalm
Exodus 20:1-17 
Psalm 19 
1 Corinthians 1:18-25 
John 2:13-22