29 May 2006

Vacation, Teaching & an Apology

We're leaving in a few minutes for a trip to the North Shore - YAY! Camping is such fun, and it will be good to take some time off.

Over the next two months, I won't be 'preaching' on Sundays. Since the ELCA has chosen to develop a new worship resource, we'll be doing a worship study called With the Whole Church on Sunday mornings. You can find information about it at the Renewing Worship website.

I'll still post something every Sunday related to our conversation, but it won't be the sermons some of you are used to seeing. At the end of July we'll be back into a 'regular' worship & preaching schedule.

I do want to issue a slight apology for yesterday's sermon. I hope I didn't offend anyone who is a member of the Roman Catholic church, as I do have a great deal of respect for them. In talking about my frustrations with our differences, I neglected to mention the other thought I had at our meeting in Moorhead: how far the RC church has moved to even consider these conversations with American Lutherans. It's a pretty impressive thing for the RC church to be willing to set aside a few thousand years of tradition to consider how we are indeed united in Christ, and I don't mean to belittle that in any way at all. I may disagree with a few doctrines, and I certainly don't agree with the RC church regarding the ordination of women, but what unites us is Christ and Christ alone, and I do rejoice in that unity and I do appreciate the work that many Roman Catholics do in order to make Christ known for the sake of the world.


28 May 2006

Sermon for Easter VII: "Unity and the Church of Christ"

Preaching Text: John 17.6-19

Hearers of God's Word, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Let us pray: We come to you seeking the truth, Lord. We wish to know the truth about what makes us one. We need to know what it means to be Yours, and how You can be glorified in us, Your Church, with all our sins, all our separations, all our pride and idolatry. Show us the truth of unity, Lord, under Your Word. Your Word is truth, O Lord. Lead us into the truth. Amen.

On October 31, 1999, representatives from the Vatican and from the Lutheran World Federation met in Augsburg, Germany to celebrate a momentous event. For the first time since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation were going to formally apologize to one another and revoke the mutual condemnations that had existed between the two churches since the Diet of Augsburg, which took place in the same city nearly 500 years earlier. Since the day Martin Luther first began criticizing Roman Catholic theology and tradition, conversations between Catholics and Lutherans have been fraught with tension because of how often we had disagreed and how poorly we had done it. Since the end of the Roman Catholic Council of Trent in 1563, a mutual condemnation had existed between the two churches over the doctrine of justification.

Justification is how we theologians describe the state of being 'right' or 'justified' with God. For almost 500 years, the Lutheran Church and the Catholic church had condemned each other over how we believe we are justified. Lutherans insisted that justification occurs "by grace through faith, apart from the works of the law."[1] Roman Catholics insisted just as strongly that works play a part in justification. These and other differences led to a breaking of fellowship between Catholics and Protestants, a separation that continues to this day. But on October 31, 1999, representatives from the two churches gathered to sign a Joint Document on the Doctrine of Justification. With great fanfare and not a small amount of soul-searching, the document was signed, attesting that the mutual condemnations over justification were no longer in effect, that the disagreements which had separated these two churches were no longer quite so powerful, and certainly not so hurtful.

This week I was privileged to attend a meeting in Moorhead between Roman Catholics and members of the ELCA. This is not the first time this group has met, but it was the first time I was able to attend. We met to discuss a new document, The Church as "Koinonia" of Salvation. The document is the result of the tenth round of conversations between Lutherans and Roman Catholics in America, conversations that began in 1963 and will continue next year and into the future.

It was an interesting experience, being gathered into a room with people of a different church. Being Lutheran in Minnesota can lead to a little bit of tunnel vision, as many of you should know. Ecumenical discussions here in Barrett tend to be very short and decidedly one-sided. J When you're surrounded by so many people whose lives of faith are ordered in the same way as yours, you develop ecumenical blinders whether you want to or not. This kind of familiarity may not breed contempt, but it certainly breeds a narrow perspective that needs to be broadened every once in a while.

We began our discussion with a review of what Roman Catholic-Lutheran dialogues had accomplished over the past 43 years. That list of accomplishments is pretty impressive. In the last half of the 20th century, American Christians have moved from viewing each other with outright hatred to working together in many areas. As we've become more open to engaging each other, we've worked together on public policy, social justice, relief organizations, and many other forms of mutual ministry. The ELCA and the churches who came before her were part of that conversation, and I'm proud to be a representative of the most ecumenically-driven denomination in the United States.

As we discussed The Church as Koinonia of Salvation, we found much on which we agree. One sentence that stood out for many of us was this: "Lutherans and [Roman] Catholics each experience the church in a geographically local, face-to-face assembly where the word is preached and sacraments celebrated." That's something on which Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, and any other Christian can agree. (yes, John, even Baptists!)

But as our discussion drew to a close last Wednesday, we saw more examples of how far we have yet to go to truly be "one, holy, universal and apostolic church." The issue of Lutheran ordination raised its head because the Roman Catholic church traditionally describes Lutheran ordained ministry as having defectus ordinis, a "lack of order" due to the separation from bishops and the Pope during the Reformation. In an attempt to ease the condemnation against Lutheran pastors, one paragraph of The Church as Koinonia of Salvation reads "we recommend that defectus ordinis as applied to Lutheran ministries be translated as 'deficiency' rather than 'lack.'"

I don't know about you, but hearing that my church is only deficient rather than outright defective is being damned by faint praise. I do know that I suffer from an inferiority complex a rather common Lutheran ailment, I'm told. Hearing someone refer to my fellow pastors and bishops as 'deficient' just gets my hackles raised. This wasn't the only moment during our dialogue that I felt this way, either – but it was probably the worst.

Why am I telling you all of this? I'm telling you all of this because Jesus Christ, our Savior, prays for the unity of His Church – He prays that we may be one as He and His Father are one. I'm telling you this so that you might understand that our failings in ecumenism are not the failings of Jesus Christ Himself. I'm also telling you this because our ecumenical success stories aren't ours to claim, but evidence that the Holy Spirit is still at work in the Church. I'm telling you this so that you won't place your Christian hope in the work of pastors, bishops and popes, but rather in the love of God the Creator, the grace of Christ the Savior, and the power of the Holy Spirit to move the church where it needs to go.

In John 17, we have a picture of an intimate conversation between Jesus and His Father, a picture of prayer at its best. Just after this prayer, Jesus was betrayed, arrested, tortured and crucified, but He isn't praying for Himself any longer: He's praying for His friends. Jesus prays for His friends because He knows that once He is no longer physically present with them, being united in Christ will be much, much more difficult. Jesus knew that the church would begin with a betrayal: Judas handing Jesus over to be crucified. Jesus knew that the church would be broken almost from the beginning, because Jesus was present at the moment of creation, when the world was first broken by sin. Jesus knew that His friends would need help to keep going, that they would need to be guided and provoked by the Spirit to keep the faith. Knowing all of this, Jesus prayed that His friends, the earliest members of His church, would be united in the love that Jesus and His Father share with the Spirit. It is this unity, and no other unity, that holds the church together today, and it is this unity, and no other unity, that we pray for today.

While the 'official' dialogue in Moorhead last week may not have been as fruitful as I had hoped, I found that there were some things that genuinely made me feel like we were all part of one church. I was the only Lutheran at my table; I was joined by three priests and two members of a Roman Catholic church in Warren, MN. Over lunch and during some planned discussion time, we found common ground on many things: our frustrations with certain parts of our celebrity-worshiping culture, our gratefulness for the privilege of ministering to our friends and neighbors, the funny things that happen when you become part of a Christian community and live with sinful, broken, joyful saints who aren't perfect but are loved perfectly by our one God. We may not have been the great theologians who crafted The Church as "Koinonia" of Salvation, but we experienced koinonia by breaking bread together and sharing our hopes and fears in that short time together. We were unified by our great love for Jesus, not by our great accomplishments in the realm of ecumenism.

We have talked these last few weeks about the complete joy of abiding in Jesus' love, and notice that Jesus mentioned that complete joy again in verse 13 of today's reading. Jesus said, "I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in and among themselves." The joy for which Jesus prays doesn't come through parading through the streets of Augsburg, proclaiming to all the world that we Lutherans and Catholics don't hate each other anymore. The joy for which Jesus prays doesn't come through agreeing that bishops must be installed into the historic episcopate, and it doesn't come through refusing to be installed into the historic episcopate. The joy for which Jesus prays comes to the church by His Spirit, a gift we cannot earn and a reality that is already present, whether we like it or not.

When Jesus prayed that His friends might be one as He and the Father are one, He wasn't asking His friends to establish one church that would adopt every practice and every tradition together for the rest of eternity. Jesus was praying that His friends would love each other deeply, becoming united through bonds of love. Jesus was praying that His friends would serve the world that disagreed with them, becoming united through their dedication to selfless service in a world that would often be hostile to them. Jesus was praying that His friends would look at each other and see a sinner for whom Christ gave His life, becoming united through His salvation alone.

I don't think we will see a time in our lives when the Church of Christ is truly united in practice and tradition. I think the disagreements are too deep and too far-reaching to be healed by anything we can accomplish. But I also think that the Church is already truly united under its Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and I think that this is the only unity we truly need. We Lutherans believe that "it is enough for the true unity of the church to agree concerning the teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments."[2] Where Jesus is preached as the good news of salvation, where Baptism and the Lord's Supper are proclaimed as the means of grace to a world broken by sin, we are already united, and it is the work of God, marvelous to our eyes and joyous to our hearts. This is truly unity in the Church of Christ: to gather with our brothers and sisters of every time and place to praise the One who makes us One. God be praised: we are One in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.

[1] Romans 3.28

[2] Augsburg Confession, Article VII.

26 May 2006

Marathon Breakdown part 1

So, here's the story of my first marathon. The Fargo Marathon (26.2 miles? Uff da!) was May 20th, a week ago tomorrow. Just got our pictures finished today.

The Fargo Marathon starts at the Fargodome on the NDSU campus in north Fargo. The course runs south through downtown & several residential areas, loops around a golf course south of I 94, crosses into Moorhead and runs through downtown and some residential areas, then crosses another bridge over the Red River before winding through the area around NDSU and finishing inside the Fargodome.

The morning of the race I was pretty pumped and really not all that nervous. I had been training since January and figured that after doing a 20-miler in cold, wind, rain and hills around Barrett, flat ol' Fargo was going to be a piece of cake. I wasn't entirely right, but I wasn't entirely wrong, either.

We (Kris, her mom Annette & yours truly) got to the Fargodome around 7:15 that morning. I found a place to stretch and started warming up. I use a pain relief cream called Biofreeze, and did it ever work that day - no knee or ankle pain until almost the end, and that's saying a lot for me. Here I'm stretching, putting on the Biofreeze and trying to figure out how in the hell the timing chip is supposed to go on my shoe. You know, first marathon stuff. Notice also that I came to represent - that's my Husker running cap I'm wearing, the same one I've been wearing on my runs for almost five years. Ain't it a beauty? You wouldn't believe the number of times I heard "Go Big Red!" on the course. It was freakin' sweet. Gosh.

I did finally figure out how to get the chip on my shoe, but I did it wrong. The red tie is supposed to hold it on the shoe, but I looped the damn thing around itself & attached it to nothing. So I tied it through my laces and hoped that would be good enough. When you go over the starting line, a magnetic reader remembers your race number and starts your personal clock, so hefty boys like me who start in the back of the pack don't get the added two or three minutes it takes to actually reach the starting line after the gun goes off.

One last hug and kiss from my sweetie before I go to the starting line. Again, I'm reminded that I'm a lucky guy. What kind of woman marries a guy who wears running shorts like that?!?!?!?!?

And we're off! It was almost perfect at the beginning of the race - cloudy and 48 degrees with just a little drizzle. The only ominous part was the north wind that hit me as I moved out of the Fargodome toward the start; the final 16 miles were mostly going north, and a wind in your face is bad news at that point.
I should tell you that there are few things in life that are cooler than the start of a marathon. Music, cheering crowds, anticipation - it's pretty intense. Rumor has it my wife started crying just a bit. I think that's pretty awesome.

I felt really strong in the early part of the race, like most first timers. I had set a goal of around 5:00 for the marathon, which meant my early pace should have been about 12:00 per mile. Imagine my astonishment when I ran as slow as I felt I could and started hitting splits of 10:00 per mile. At mile six, Kris and Annette were surprised to see me coming almost 15 minutes ahead of schedule. But I felt like I was taking it really easy, and so I kept going. My 10K split was 1:02.

"Movin' right along [tcha tcha tcha, tcha tcha tcha]...footloose and fancy-free..."

Here I am at mile 10, the point at which the race turns north. My plan was to get to mile 10 at two hours, but I was still on my 10:00 mile pace and so I got here at 1:40. But my breathing was easy and it was still just a fun jog - a really, REALLY long, but fun, jog. Kris & Annette seemed to really enjoy their tour of Fargo, too - apparently they had time between this meetup and the next at mile 17 for Annette to go get a latte. Then they wouldn't let me have any coffee after the race. Meanies. :-(

At Main Avenue the race crosses from Fargo into Moorhead, the first of two times over the Red River. There was a cameraman sitting on the bridge, I guess, although I swear I never saw him. Anyway, he took these two pictures, right about mile 15.5 or so. We had been winding on golf car paths & bike trails along the river for almost four miles, doing lots of short but steep hills and many small but sharp curves, and it was nice to get back onto flat pavement for a while.

Marathon Breakdown part 2

At mile 16 we moved over the Main Avenue Bridge into Moorhead. At mile 17 or so I passed the house where we stayed the night before - the tan house just in front of me in the picture. Thanks to Shauna for the guest house - it was really cute and much better than a sterile, boring hotel room!

I still felt really good at this point, and I was hitting 10:00 mile pace, which is unfathomable to me. I figured I'd be doing well to maintain 12:00 miles, and here I was, pushing right along at a 4:20 marathon pace. The best part is that I was just having a ball doing it, too - and I think that was the most important thing for this race.

At mile twenty I still felt pretty good. Tired and beginning to ache in my upper legs from the constant muscle contraction, but everything seemed to be going well. At this point I figured I could walk it in if I needed to, and I still didn't know what this 'wall' everyone kept hitting was all about.

Unfortunately, I was about to find out. I hit the wall HARD at mile 21. My feet just stopped working, basically - I felt like I was running on wooden feet & legs made of hard rubber. I tried to get a Gu down for extra energy, but it was far too little and far too late. All the treadmill workouts took one toll out of me - my feet weren't tough enough for 26.2 miles of pavement & asphalt. But I knew I could walk and still be in before my goal time of 5:00, so I wasn't too terribly worried. And luckily, I found inspiration all around me.

So here we were outside the Fargodome, just .2 miles from the finish, and here's where I MUST tell you about Ryan. We hooked up around mile 22 when we were both just about done in by the wind and the wall, and we kept each other going for the last four miles. For me there was nothing cooler than pairing up with a complete stranger in order to get the job done. Thanks, Ryan, and I hope your trip back to Eau Claire was a good one.

FINISH LINE!!! My actual time was 4:33:06, about 45 minutes to an hour faster than I had hoped to run. Too bad the folks who photographed the event couldn't see to get a shot of this - Annette took this picture from the stands. Kristin, of course, was in the bathroom. Natch.

I gotta admit, this moment felt pretty freakin' good - about as good as anything has felt since the day we got married.

As Annette was taking this picture, I noticed the tingling in my feet was moving into my hands & face. About five minutes later I was having trouble speaking and could barely stand up. So, it's off to the medic tent for this first time marathoner!

Dawn, the volunteer nurse, and Greg the doctor were very kind and explained to me that they thought my electrolytes were seriously messed up and I needed to lie down, take an IV and see if I could keep from losing what little I had left in my stomach. So I followed orders. Within the hour I could feel my hands and feet again and my speech had cleared up. They kindly supplied me with a banana & some Gatorade, and soon I was back on my feet and ready to head for home. By the way, it occurs to me that there were a hell of a lot of marathoners who came to the aid station asking for Tylenol or Advil. What the @!#$? You train for three months to run 26 miles and you can't be bothered to pack an aspirin? Lame - really lame.

You know I couldn't leave without a picture with the two friendliest medical folks you could encounter - they were really great. Patients at MeritCare are in good hands with these folks - they were two of the many great volunteers that made the Fargo Marathon an incredible experience.

So, that's the story of my first marathon - and I couldn't be happier about it. Now if I can just get my toenails back I'll be just fine. :-)

23 May 2006

RLP on "The Da Vinci Code"

I was going to say something this week about The Da Vinci Code, but RLP has already said pretty much what I wanted to say. The only thing I will add is this short comment. Let's all take a deep breath and remember where we found The Da Vinci Code: in the fiction section. 'Nuff said, huh?


21 May 2006

Yes, I finished!

Fargo Marathon, Scott Johnson, runner #1089:
Time: 4 hours, 33 minutes.

Toenails: losing one, possibly two.
Knees: Achin'
Feet: Swollen.

Feelin'? Just dandy, thanks.

More details and pictures very soon - for now, I did it! :-)


Sermon for Easter VI: "Complete Joy"

Preaching Text: John 15.9-17
Beloved in Christ, grace and peace be unto you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

In the gospel reading today, Jesus says, "As the Father has loved Me, so I have loved you; abide in my love…I have said these things to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete" I wonder if the disciples heard that sentence the same way I do today.

We could look at the life Jesus lived as evidence of the kind of love the Father has for Him. Jesus was born under questionable circumstances. Mary & Joseph may have believed the message of the angels, but everyone who knew them probably suspected that Mary was guilty of immorality at best and adultery at worst. As Jesus became a man, He was sent out into His ministry with no fanfare and few words of encouragement. The Gospel of John says that "[Jesus] came to what was His own, and His own people did not receive Him."[1] He wandered the land between the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, and the Dead Sea for three years. He was often homeless. He was often surrounded by friends who did not understand Him. He was often surrounded by crowds of people who cared little for His teaching – they only wanted Him to heal their illness or just feed them for one more day. In the end, Jesus returned to the place where He knew He was needed most: Jerusalem, the center of Jewish life in Jesus' time. He taught in the Temple. He walked through the city, healing the sick, the blind and the lame. He confronted the people who had turned the Temple into their private empire, and in angering them with His prophetic word, Jesus signed His own death warrant. Jesus was crucified for many reasons, but one of the most compelling reasons was this: He opened the grace of God to all people, and the religious authorities, the ones who had spoken for God for centuries, would not have it so.

This is the love the Father bears for Jesus? This is what Jesus would give to His disciples? This is the gift of the church to Her children? Yes – this is the great gift that the Father has given to the Son, and the gift the Son has passed on to us, His friends: the gift of complete joy.

Jesus did many things during His time on this earth. Jesus walked among the poor and needy, and shared the burden of their poverty with them. Jesus came into the lives of the sick and the blind, the deaf and the lame, hearing their cries for healing and wholeness. Jesus met the outcasts and the Gentiles, the whores and the drunks and the tax collectors, all people who had never been welcomed by the church, and He welcomed their company. But in all this, Jesus did more than just listen to the people who came to Him. Jesus did His Father's will and gave Himself to them, completely and unreservedly, and in so doing Jesus entered into the complete joy of His Father's love.

This is the other side of the love the Father bears for His Son, Jesus. God the Father trusted Jesus to serve His brothers and sisters, to heal the sick, to preach good news to the poor, to welcome the outcast and the Gentile, even to raise the dead. God the Father trusted Jesus to speak a prophetic word to the church, to call the righteous and the holy to turn away from saving themselves and turn toward saving the world. God the Father trusted Jesus to pour out His life and His love for others – and God the Father knew that in doing all this, Jesus would find complete joy, as a branch finds joy in drawing its life from the vine and bearing fruit. And so this is what happened: Jesus did His Father's will, loved the world with reckless abandon, and great and complete joy was His.

Last week we read John 15.1-8, and we talked about the vine and the branches and what it means to abide in God's love. This week we see how one may abide in the love of the Father – through bearing fruit. When branches and vines are working together as they are intended to do, there is a unity and mutuality that leads to an abundance of fruit. The vine and the branch do not focus on what they receive: they focus on what the fruit they may bear if they work together. And so Jesus and His Father do not focus on what they receive from one another – they focus on the fruit they bear by working together: the fruit of creation, of God's children, forgiven and set free to serve in the world. Jesus' complete joy comes from obeying His Father's will; and Jesus' complete joy will also be in us when we obey our Father's will. Complete joy does not come from receiving great love: complete joy comes from giving great love.

George Bernard Shaw once said,
"This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."[2]

Saturday night, Kristin and her mother and I went to a concert by Peder Eide in Fargo, and Peder pretty much said the same thing when he said, "I don't want to get to the end of this life and say, 'Well, that was kinda cool.' I want to get to the end of this life and say, 'WHHOOOAAAA, that was awesome.'" The joy that Jesus wants for us is a joy that comes from throwing ourselves whole-heartedly into this life and love that God the Father has created.

You heard in the children's sermon today how our friends are found in our love for them. I have been convinced that the measure of joy in our lives will be determined by the height and depth and length and width to which we love. The more unreserved our love, the more complete our joy.

Is this dangerous? For heaven's sake, YES! We become vulnerable to rejection, to ridicule, to a lack of return for our love. But we knew that already, because we know what happened to Jesus when He loved as His Father loved: He was crucified. Knowing this, we know that complete joy is different than complete happiness: deeper, more powerful, but also more dangerous and more uncertain. But God has not called us to be certain or safe or even happy: God has called us to love, and to discover in that love the complete joy of doing the will of God.

Paul Tillich once wrote:

"[Joy] is not a thing one simply has. It is not easy to attain. It is and always was a rare and precious thing. And it has always been a difficult problem among Christians. Christians are accused of destroying the joy of life, this natural endowment of every creature. The greatest of the modern foes of Christianity, Friedrich Nietzsche, himself the son of a Protestant minister, has expressed his judgment about Jesus in the words, "His disciples should look more redeemed." We should subject ourselves to the piercing force of these words and should ask ourselves, "Is our lack of joy due to the fact that we are Christians, or to the fact that we are not sufficiently Christian?"[3]

Tillich warns us that a final danger in all of this is that complete joy can become as much a pursuit as works righteousness or overzealous piety. We can make complete joy our goal and make it into an idol, just like the Vikings or the Packers or the Cornhuskers or that new car or that bigger snowmobile or being thin or being muscular or running 26.2 miles. But this isn't the way it works. Notice that when Jesus asks His disciples to follow His commandments, He doesn't call them servants anymore. He actually calls them "my beloved." The disciples are "the ones Jesus loves." Jesus asks His beloved friends to love one another as He has loved them, so that His joy may be in them, and that their joy, like His, may be made complete by giving great love to one another. The complete joy of the Father's love for Jesus is given to all of us as we love as Jesus loved, as we serve as Jesus served, as we live as Jesus lived, as we pour ourselves out for the sake of the world. The moment we see another person as a means to complete joy, we lose both the person and the joy. How, then, can we experience compete joy? Philip Yancey offers this answer:

"What would it mean, I ask myself, if I too came to the place where I saw my primary identity in life as "the one Jesus loves"? How differently would I view myself at the end of a day? Sociologists have a theory of the looking-glass self: you become what the most important person in your life (wife, father, boss, etc.) thinks you are. How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible's astounding words about God's love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?[4]

What God sees in you is a beloved child, a beloved friend of Jesus, one who is loved so much that God would give His own life to spare yours. What God sees in you is a creature that God loves, and that love gives God complete joy. We who are baptized have been claimed by that love, and now that our lives have been so claimed, we need not fear what others may think of us – we only need to love the world as God has loved the world, and our joy will be complete. "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone that loves is born of God, and knows God." May God's love for you make your joy complete in loving one another. Let us pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, you wish that we would love like You do, so that our joy may be complete.

But love like Yours is impossible for us, without Your help.

Fill our hearts with Your love.

Fill our lives with Your indwelling Spirit.

You say we are Your beloved friends, the ones You love;

burn Your love in our hearts so that we will respond with complete joy. Amen

[1] John 1.11

[2] George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Epistle Dedicatory
Irish dramatist & socialist (1856 - 1950)

[3] Tillich, Paul. The New Being © 1955, Scribner & Sons.

[4] Philip Yancey What's So Amazing About Grace?

18 May 2006

Last Pre-Marathon Post

Okay, it's two days until the marathon.

*deep breath* *exhale*

I'm feeling pretty good, actually. Trying to stay off my feet as much as possible so that my feet can rest up for the pounding that is soon to commence. Of course, the bloodmobile is here at the church today, so part of me wants to go out and socialize for the whole afternoon, walking and talking until my throat hurts and my feet are sore. Can't - do - it, - must - resist...

I promise, not one nasty foot picture will be posted here post-race. I may put up a picture of me crossing the finish line or something like that. My toenail has fallen off and a new nail is slowly pushing its way onto my toe, so all is well. We'll see what happens after 26.2 miles.
Would you believe my beloved has scheduled a dentist appointment for me tomorrow? She says it was the only time they had available - I say she has a sick sense of humor.

If I don't update by Sunday night, you'll know I dropped dead somewhere near the Troll Bridge in Fargo. In lieu of flowers, send donations to the campus ministry of your choice. :-)


just getting a post in here

14 May 2006

Sermon for Easter V: "Our Loving Abode"

Preaching Texts: John 15.1-8, I John 4.7-21

Lord Jesus Christ, You say to us that we are to remain connected to you, as a branch clings to the vine. Fill us with the ever-flowing life that comes through Your Spirit, that we may bear fruit as a branch bears the fruit of the vine. In Your holy name we pray. Amen.

The word translated "abide" in our readings from John & I John today is used in 34 separate passages in the four gospels. Of those 34, 23 of them are found in the Gospel of John. "Abiding" is a big deal for John. The first question the disciples asked Jesus, even before He called them to follow Him, was "where are You [abiding]?" When people followed Jesus because He had the power to feed thousands from just a few loaves of bread, Jesus asked those people to seek the Bread of Life, the bread that endures, the bread that abides for eternal life – the bread that only Jesus could offer. When the Temple officials came to ask Jesus who He was, Jesus said that those who would abide in His word were His disciples, and that as the Son of God Jesus has a permanent abiding place in the household of God. Finally, Jesus said in John 12: "I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me should not abide in the darkness."

But what does it mean to abide? I'll be honest: the last few times I've used the word have been at funerals – when we sang the hymn "Abide With Me." "Abide" is not a word that is commonly used, maybe because it is a complex, nuanced word in a world that doesn't appreciate complexity or nuance. So, to get a sense of what Jesus is asking when He says, "Abide in Me as I abide in you," let's look at the ways "abide" gets used in the fourth Gospel.

First of all, to abide is to have a home or a shelter. This is the question Jesus' first disciples asked Him – "Rabbi, where are you abiding?" Now there could be a lot of reasons why those disciples asked Jesus where He was staying. They might have been wondering who was providing a home for this traveling teacher. They might have wondered if He was hanging out with the 'right' kind of people. They might have been hoping to invite Jesus to their own homes or wherever they themselves were staying. Or they might have been simply making sure that Jesus had a place to stay; a roof over His head and safety for the night. Whether they were checking Jesus out or whether they were concerned for His safety, these first disciples wanted to be sure that Jesus had a place of shelter, a place to abide while He taught, a place He could call His own.

But shelter isn't the only thing Jesus needed. To abide is to rest – to stay until you're prepared to go out again. Shelter and rest are two very different things. A shelter keeps the rain off your head while you endure the storm – a place of rest provides towels to dry your hair, a warm room to drive away the chill, and a place of sanctuary until the storm has passed. Jesus abides in many places in John, with friends and disciples, resting until He is prepared to go out into the world again. In John 2 Jesus abides with His mother, brothers and disciples near Capernaum for a few days. In John 10, Jesus abides for a few days near the place where He was baptized. While he is resting, He receives word that His friend Lazarus has died. Before raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus abides across the Jordan for two more days. A place to abide is a place to find sanctuary, to recharge and renew yourself, to take on supplies for the journey ahead of you. Jesus knew how important it was to find time for rest and renewal – and so He found places to abide when He knew he needed rest.

As we abide in places, finding rest and renewal, we also give life to the places where we abide. To abide is to dwell – places are filled with the life that abides within them. A hotel room is not a place where a person abides, because a hotel room shows no sign of being changed by the life it holds (unless you're a member of Led Zeppelin, but let's not go there…). A home, however, is changed by the person abiding in it – a home becomes filled with the life within itself. In John 14, Jesus tells His disciples how His Father abides within Him, doing works through Jesus, changing Jesus' life simply by the relationship Jesus and His Father share. Jesus also promises the disciples that the Spirit who will soon come to them will abide in them, filling them with the kind of life that only the Spirit can bring.

And it's a good thing that we are filled with that life, because to abide is to endure – to stay even when there are forces urging you to look for something better. When the people came to Jesus for bread, thinking that all He had to offer was one meal, Jesus invited them to seek bread that would abide, that would endure, a bread that would fills them and gives them life far more deeply than bread could fill the stomach. The crowds once asked Jesus if He was the Messiah, because they had heard that "the Messiah abides forever," and Jesus invited them to walk out of the darkness and abide in His light.

When the word "abide" gets used, all of these things go with it, and so we don't hear the word much because it's too hard to pin down, too hard to isolate and define absolutely. "Abide" is a living word, if you will. So how do we understand what Jesus means when He says, "Abide in Me as I abide in you?" When you've got so many different ways to understand the word, which one do you choose when it's your God who's saying it to you? The simple answer is, you take all of them, and even more besides.

When Jesus asks us to abide in Him, He is definitely asking us to seek our shelter in Him. Jesus is asking us to consider no place our home unless He is there with us. Jesus is also asking us to consider every place where He may be found our home – even if the 'right' people are not present and all the 'wrong' people are. Jesus is also asking us to invite Him into our own places of shelter – to take Him with us wherever we may go.

When Jesus asks us to abide in Him, He is asking us to find our rest in Him. Augustine, who some consider to be the first great theologian and poet of the church, once said that "our hearts are restless until we find our rest in You, Lord." Jesus is asking us to make time for Him to refresh and renew our souls – to see how Sabbath was indeed created for us as a gift from God. Jesus is asking us to continue to be filled and fed by His Word, by His Spirit, by His Father's love for creation. Jesus is asking us to remember that we need rest and renewal as much as we need the work that rest and renewal makes possible.

When Jesus asks us to abide in Him, He is asking us to allow Him to dwell within us. Eugene Peterson translated John 1.14: "The Word became a man, and moved into the neighborhood." Jesus wants to move into your neighborhood. Jesus is asking you to make the house of your life His home, and not some perfect McMansion where the woodwork is unscratched and there are no stains on the carpet. Jesus is asking you to allow your lived-in, scuffed, broken-in life to be a place filled with His presence. Jesus wants to be there when we're vacuuming the floors, when we're washing the dishes, when we're paying the bills. Jesus wants to be there when the air conditioning breaks and when we leave windows open and let the rain fly all over the bathroom. Jesus wants to be part of everything that makes the house of your life a home.

When Jesus asks us to abide in Him, He is asking us to endure, to cling to Him when it seems like someone's got a better offer. Jesus is asking us to not be fooled by a life that is a mile wide and an inch deep. Jesus is asking us to look to Him for life – and to trust that the life He offers is the only real life there is. In a world that lives shrouded in darkness, where we often choose the darkness of our sin instead of the light of God's grace, Jesus asks us to trust that the light He offers will heal us and keep us, and that clinging to the light He offers is the only real way out of the darkness.

But how do we know that we abide in Jesus and He abides in us? Simple – we love. John's letter today links abiding in love and abiding in God, and so to abide in Jesus we abide in love. You've heard the song this morning: "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God." But John continues: "God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us."

God abides where Jesus' name is confessed, and Jesus' name is confessed where God's people abide in love. Gail O'Day says:

To live as the branches of the vine is to belong to an organized unity shaped by the love of Jesus. For the Fourth Gospel, there is only one measure of one's place in the faith community -- to love as Jesus has loved -- and all, great and small, ordained and lay, young and old, male and female are equally accountable to that one standard. [1]

So, here we are: a community gathered and shaped by the great love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Here is our loving abode: the place where we find shelter, the place where we find rest and renewal, the place where we are filled with the life of God, the place where we learn to endure when forces tempt us to abide elsewhere. Here is where we find Jesus – here is where we find love – here is where we abide.

All of this comes out of one verse from John: "Abide in Me as I abide in you." But the power to abide doesn't come from us – the power to abide comes from Jesus Himself, and it is His gracious offer that makes all of this possible. Even "Abide With Me," that great song I mentioned earlier, is ours only because Jesus offers it to us. "I am the vine," Jesus says, "you are the branches." Life flows from the vine to the branches, and they in turn produce the fruit of the vine. If we are the branches, and Jesus is the vine, then the life that flows to us from Jesus is absolute love and unconditional grace, and the fruit we bear are all those things we do that show that we truly abide in Jesus and He abides in us. Here in this place, in this church gathered in the name of Jesus, we are the branches reaching out into the world around us, bearing fruit so that our neighbors might "taste and see that the Lord is good." Amen.

[1] O'Day, Gail R. The New Interpreter's Bible: John © 1995 Abingdon Press, Nashville. p. 760

13 May 2006


October 2001. Eric Crouch is destroying the Missouri Tigers on TV, including a 95 yard touchdown run that actually started in the opposite end zone. But I'm not watching anymore. I'm on the deck of my brother's apartment, crying my friggin' heart out while my friend Cindy is holding me and my best friend and soon to be ex-brother-in-law is sitting on my other side. Instead of watching the destruction of the Tigers, I'm watching the destruction of my first marriage.

This is not about that destruction, though - it's about the kind of weeping I did that day. I don't know that I've ever as an adult experienced the depth of grief that I experienced then. I'm talking deep, wracking, soul-wrenching weeping that held me in its grip until it was done with me. I was powerless under the strength of such sorrow, and looking back it frightens me how out of control I was in that moment. I don't know what my friends thought, but I know that it couldn't have been easy to be there in that moment. As always, our friends show us the strength of their love by their willingness to endure discomfort in order to share grief with us.

I'm not crying like that today. Indeed, the only thing that made me remember that moment was a new post at reallivepreacher.com - you should go read it (look for the post about Mr. Rogers). But I'm thinking about it and I'm grateful that God allows us to grieve, because once that cleansing, purifying bout of weeping was done, I was emptied of my own power to control my circumstances and placed into the hands of a loving God who carried me through the next year. Did I always know it? No - but looking back I can see that even when I stumbled I was never out of reach of the One who stayed with me through the storms of grief.

Crying is a gift of God. I started to say that I hope I never weep like that again, but I can't say that, because to deny that moment would also be denying the healing and growth that came after. Genuine, authentic love is vulnerable to crying, to weeping, to sorrow, and if I leave behind the bitter I will also leave behind the sweet. Instead I pray that I will never, ever lose the capacity to mourn - for if I do I will also lose the capacity to be a child of God.


11 May 2006

Fun with my iPod

Put a shuffle playlist on and go through the songs one by one to answer the questions. Go ahead and copy and paste and do it in your own blog!

How am I feeling today?
"In A Mellow Tone" - Duke Ellington
(Hey, I could do a lot worse!)

Will I get far in life?
"Pride and Joy" - Bonnie Raitt, from the Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute album
(umm, does that mean I will have a long, illustrious career like the übersexy Ms. Raitt, or that I'll go down in flames like SRV?)

How do my friends see me?
"Easy Street" - Peter Mayer
('Every night I pray to God above me / to send His love along with lots of money / 'cause in my heart I feel Him callin' me / to Easy Street'
Sorry - this was the "How do Benny Hinn's friends see him?" song...)

Where will I get Married?
'The King of Love My Shepherd Is' - St. Olaf Choir
(Yeah, doesn't make sense to me either. A great hymn, though...)

What is my best friend's theme song?
'God Is Not A Secret' - Newsboys
(Huh. Matt, any new evangelism opportunities you haven't shared with me?)

What is the story of my life?
'Without Jah, Nothin'' - P.O.D.
(Okay, true, but the only thing remotely reggae/latino about me is my birthdate, 5/5)

What was high school like?
'Harlem Congo' - Chick Webb
(Maybe, for me - and nobody else understood. Any wonder I stood out so much?)

How am I going to get ahead in life?
'Acoustic Medley' (My Redeemer is Faithful and True/His Eyes/Waiting For Lightning/When You Are A Soldier/Heart's Cry/His Strength Is Perfect) - Steven Curtis Chapman
(YES, but it's not so much getting ahead as living well.)

What is the best thing about me?
'The Class of 57' - The Statler Brothers
(I KNEW that loving the Statler Brothers was a good thing! In your face, Donna!)

How is today going to be?
'Live This Mystery' - Michael Card & John Michael Talbot
(This pretty much describes EVERY day of my life...)

What is in store for this weekend?
'Almost Persuaded' - The Statler Brothers
(Oh, shit - and Kristin's leaving town tomorrow. Think I'm in trouble...)

What song describes my parents?
'Say' - PFR
(Not really, but the line "I hear You calling to me" reminds me when I was late for dinner as a kid...)

My grandparents?
'Scribbling In The Sand' - Michael Card
(Not exactly, but it's a great sentiment - the protection of Jesus for the woman about to be stoned for adultery)

How is my life going?
'Salt Peanuts' - Dizzy Gillespie
(uhhh, what?)

What song will play at my funeral?
'Step By Step' - Rich Mullins Tribute Album
(Oh, if only - I gotta make sure Kristin sees this...)

How does the world see me?
'A Child's Garden of Dreams; Movement III' - David Maslanka
(Ohh, great - freaky modern music about a child's fatalistic nightmares. That's just wonderful. SO glad I'm in youth ministry...)

Will I have a happy life?
'All I Need' - Storyhill
(Amen - my beloved & I make each other as happy as we can be!)

What do my friends really think of me?
Symphony 1, "Lord of the Rings" Mvt. 4, 'Journey In The Dark: The Mines of Moria & the Bridge of Khazad-dum' - Johan de Meij
(Let's just not go there, okay?)

Do people secretly lust after me?
'Miracle Child' - Newsboys
(Just like Jeremy, no kidding, and no cheating! The actual lyrics don't work, though...)

How can I make myself happy?
'Ants Marching' - Dave Matthews Band, "Live in Central Park"
(AWESOME!!! If I ignore the lyrics & focus on the groove, you betcha. Kris HATES when this song comes on while I'm driving, because I have a tendency to use the accelerator and clutch as drum pedals...)

What should I do with my life?
'This World' - Caedmon's Call
('This world has nothing for me / and this world has everything / all that I could want and nothing that I need' Hmmm. I suppose so...)

Will I ever have children?
'Here Come The Bastards' - Primus

What is some good advice for me?
'Your Love's An Attitude' - Chicago
(uhh, thanks...)

What is my signature dancing song?
'Symphony No. 1, "Lord of the Rings" Mvt. 5: 'Hobbits' - Johan de Meij
(A mug of beer, a pipe filled with Old Toby, and friends to celebrate my eleventy-first birthday? What could be better for my kind of dancing? Weird that this piece came up twice, though)

What do I think my current theme song is?
'Satisfied Land' - Storyhill
(COOL! Almost any song that mentions Nebraska could be my theme song...)

What does everyone else think my current theme song is?
'Razor Love' - Neil Young
(Okay, love can cut awfully fine and close to the bone - but didn't we already know that? 'You really make my day with the little things you say...' I can dig that.)

What type of men/women do you like?
'Disappear' - Jars of Clay
(Totally - this song describes exactly how I felt when Kris & I first met. "I'd really love to know / I'd really love to climb / way into your heart /and see what I could find...)

09 May 2006

Marathon Update & other stuff

I'm now two weeks out from the marathon & feeling okay. I've struggled to get back into the swing of things after my last 20 miler - lots of joint pain and 'dead legs.' But this week things seem to be better, so I'm back to training again. Yesterday Kris & I went for an hour-long bike ride and really enjoyed it. The weather is so nice here right now - it's a shame that the whole year can't be like May and September!

I mentioned my toenail a few weeks ago - here's a picture I took at the time with my old SLR camera:
The nail has now fallen off, and I haven't had any more problems since I found some socks that fit me better. I'm finally starting to lose some weight, too - don't know why it's taken so long, but my clothes are fitting better and I'm not nearly as tired as I once was. Now it's a matter of getting plenty of sleep over the next few weeks to maximize my energy for the big run. Can't wait for the big day!

Friday was my birthday - can I really be 32? Seems impossible. Kris got me a round of golf at Tipsinah Mounds north of Elbow Lake - did I marry out of my station, or what? :-) She also bought us some salmon fillets and so on Friday night, after we walked a short nine holes at Red Rock Golf Course, we had grilled salmon, potatoes and I had some Chunky Monkey ice cream for dessert. After supper we had drinks with some friends and went to a dance at the Barrett Pavilion.

Unfortunately, we couldn't stay long at the dance because I had to be at our Synod Assembly at 8:00 on Saturday morning. I am a member of our worship planning team and also led the liturgy at the Saturday morning worship service. It was a nice service, led by two fantastic musicians from Alexandria. Thankfully, Assembly was much less frustrating this year: we accomplished our business and went home quickly. The only disappointing part were our speakers - both the Bible Study and the keynote were less than I had hoped they would be.

Our cats have been entertaining us lately. Reggie has developed a habit of following Kris around, waiting for her to play with him. He's becoming quite the hunter, also. The other day while I was home writing my sermon, a squirrel decided to try and get to our birdfeeder on the front porch, by way of the window screen. Of course, this attracted Reggie's attention:As you can see, life is kinda nutty around here. :-)


04 May 2006

Dear Pastor,
i am very saddened to see how you spend so much of your time and energy trying to please M-- X-----, M-- Y-----, and M-- Z-----. Shame on you, seeking money and vanity. You should bee helping the sick and the poor. Shame on you!!

Shame on you!!

Dear Unsigned,
I am saddened this morning. I'm not saddened by what you think of my choice of company.
I'm not saddened that you think my associations have to do with money and vanity - though I don't deny that I am as subject to these temptations as any other person. I'm not saddened that you think I don't care for the sick and the poor, though I disagree with your opinion. No, these are not the reasons I'm saddened and, frankly, very pissed off this morning.

Why, then, am I saddened and very pissed off? Because you're a coward. You left this note in the door at the church, with no name attached, for someone else to find, read, place in my box and wonder just who you are and what I'm doing to piss you off. Now you've left me with two options. One, I can try to ignore this piece of unsigned character assasination, though it cut me to the bone the moment I read it. Two, I can waste my time thinking about whether or not you're right, when deep down inside I know you're not, and thereby spend the time I COULD be caring for the sick and poor fretting about your opinion of me.

I won't do that. I would have welcomed the chance to speak with you openly about the ways I've disappointed you. I would have gladly sat and shared coffee with you as you told me how I've let you down. You might even be right, though I will say in my defense that I enjoy the company of X, Y, and Z and will continue to be friends with them regardless of your opinion. But we could have at least discussed the issue. But you chose the coward's road, walking in darkness when we could have shared the light of conversation about these things.

Your letter has disappeared into my correspondence file. There it will remain, until someone else takes a shot at me to remind me that sin holds us all in bondage, and I'm sure that day will come. Whatever wounds have kept you in hiding, please know that I welcome the opportunity to ask God to heal them, but I don't work in secret, and neither does God. The light of day is the best cure for wounds such as these. You have my prayers.

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Scott

01 May 2006

Missing dates...

I realized this morning that it had to be over a year since I started my first blog on LiveJournal. I realized this because I remembered blogging when Larry Meyer died last April, and Saturday was the one-year anniversary of his death. I checked the archives and realized I missed it by a few weeks - my first blog posting was on 5 April 2005. You can find my previous blog on the links section to your right.

I've really grown to love this little space - it's a chance to keep up with folks near and far, and maybe spread the gospel if God is willing to use me in such a way. In the future I may even add podcasting, but this will be quite a ways down the road. For now, I'm just going to keep on keepin' on for all my fans - I hope all three of you are enjoying yourselves. :-)

Speaking of missing dates, you may remember I posted about calendar abuse and forgetting appointments a few weeks ago. In a somewhat ironic twist, I committed what can only be considered an act of latent PDA-cide last week. I hurried out to my car, running late as usual for our text study meeting in Alexandria. I set my PDA on the roof of my car, opened the door, threw all the stuff in my arms inside, started the car, backed up, and promptly drove over my PDA when it slid off of the roof. *squish* Oops. The only thing the display screen showed me when I tried to power up was the tread of the tires on my car.

So, in the week since I've gone 'unplugged' I've missed two birthdays (one nephew, one best friend), Administrative Professional's Day, and I'm not sure what all else I've forgotten. Of course, having purchased the base model Palm Zire 31 the last time I needed a new PDA, I had to go to eBay to get a replacement - but I did find one, for substantially less than I would have paid for a comparably equipped state o'the art Tungsten. This much, at least, went well. But it would have been much cheaper to replace my coffee mug or a book or something - as usual, the zone of random destruction that surrounds me has eliminated something truly valuable and almost irreplaceable. This is life with Eunie's boy Scott. *sigh*