30 November 2007

Bah Humbug Friday Five

WillSmama had the Friday Five at RevGals today - and I've never played a better one.

[Insert bitter pre-Advent Christmas kvetching and grumbling here.]
Please tell us your least favorite/most annoying seasonal....
1) dessert/cookie/family food
Okay, I'll admit it - I despise lutefisk and always have. I tried it several times as a kid and just never developed a taste for it. For those of you who don't know what lutefisk is, suffice it to say that it is a piece of cod that passes all human understanding.

2) beverage (seasonal beer, eggnog w/ way too much egg and not enough nog, etc...)
Yeah, eggnog. Why, again, are we drinking raw eggs mixed with milk and booze?

3) tradition (church, family, other)
My annual "Society for the Preservation of Advent" rant. Usually makes its appearance sometime about now, after which everyone will breathe a big sigh of relief and start looking forward to the Christmas Program. Grrrrr.

4) decoration
Big floppy snowmen/candycanes/Santa Claus/reindeer on people's rooftops or front lawns. Actually, most anything outside of white lights makes my inner aesthete want to urp just a little bit.

5) gift (received or given)
No particular gift here, but my least favorite thing relating to gifts is hearing how much the average person spends on Christmas gifts. Frankly, it's obscene. Beloved and I are trying to plan for future Christmas celebrations with forethought so that Ainsley understands that gifts are not the prime motivator for the celebration of Christmas. We'll see how that goes...

BONUS: SONG/CD that makes you want to tell the elves where to stick it.
Oh, where should I start? Little Drummer Boy? Up On The Rooftop? ANYTHING by Kenny G or Celine Dion? Dreck, all of it, I say! DRECK!
But, A Confession:
I do love Mannheim Steamroller, most likely because they're an Omaha product and I grew up in Nebraska. Go figure. Even the inner aesthete can't get enough of those synthesizers. Go figure...

28 November 2007

Bad Band!

This was just too funny to pass up. While looking around ESPN.com for information on the search for Nebraska's next football coach, I saw the following link:

Rice band director apologizes for halftime show.

Classic.

27 November 2007

Overwhelming

RLP posted about Web 2.0 and included this video - it is, without a doubt, more than a little intimidating, but exciting at the same time. I've had some thoughts about what the Internet "means" and how it works for a couple of years now, but never to this extent. Might be time to spread my wings a bit and do some investigating after we get settled down in Ames.

Anyway, here's the video.

Slainte!

I would have thought German, given my passion for good beer, Volkswagens and Wagner. But that's not me, apparently:

Your Inner European is Irish!

Sprited and boisterous!
You drink everyone under the table.


Thankfully, I was at least aligned with great music and another European nationality known for their beer. By the way, those are not my legs in the picture.

Making the Move: The Letter

Having announced my resignation in church, I thought that perhaps I should share my letter of resignation here.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 1:3-6

25 November 2007

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I come to the writing of this letter with both joy and sadness. I have been offered a call as pastor of the University Lutheran Center at Iowa State University in Ames, IA, and after a period of prayer and discernment I have decided to accept that call, effective in early January 2008.

I have felt a strengthening pull toward campus ministry for the past two years, since the death of my own campus pastor, Larry Meyer, in April 2005. When Ainsley was born this past January, it seemed that the time to consider a move had come. But Kristin and I did not come to this decision lightly or without a fair amount of surprise. When I applied to the ELCA campus ministry roster earlier this year, I expected a fairly long period of interviews, due to the somewhat limited number of calls available in campus ministry. We also wanted to move closer to either my family in eastern Nebraska or Kristin’s family in western Oregon, which limited our options even further. We knew we wouldn’t stay in Minnesota forever, but we were in no hurry to move. God, it seems, had other plans in mind.

Our tentative schedule is to end my time in Barrett on Sunday, January 6, 2008 and move to Ames the following week, with installation at the University Lutheran Center on January 14th. I have informed the council of this decision already, and this public notification of the entire congregation will be followed with a copy of this letter in the December newsletter, which will be mailed tomorrow.

It has been a great privilege to serve you as your pastor these past four and a half years, and this new adventure brings bittersweet emotions for me. Kristin and I are excited to be moving closer to family and friends in Nebraska, and I feel my gifts for ministry will be well-suited to a campus ministry setting, but we have made many lifelong friends here in Barrett and we are grieving as we begin to say goodbye. You took me in when I was a young, enthusiastic, wet-behind-the-ears seminary graduate and turned me into a pastor. You shaped and molded me into someone who is just beginning to discover the honor and deep joy of the office I hold in this church. You let me make mistakes and learn from them. We didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but we’ve walked together along the road of discipleship and I’m thankful for the times we pulled each other back onto that road when one of us went astray.

Kristin and I both love the passage from Philippians I quoted above. In it Paul expressed both his joy in a once-shared partnership and his trust that ministry would continue because God is always involved, even when partnerships come to an end. We will hold you in our prayers, and ask that you hold us in your own, so that as this partnership comes to an end, your work and our work making Christ known for the sake of the world will continue to grow through the power of the Holy Spirit.

You have been so good to Kristin, Ainsley and me; the words “thank you” just don’t seem to be enough. But it’s what we have, so we offer them in great love.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Scott

Making a Move

So, I haven't been posting much lately due to some big stuff going on. When you're running around covering all your bases, time to blog gets sacrificed (as well it should) for the higher purpose of tending to the ground that's been entrusted to me here. But today I can take a bit of a breath and stop the running for just a moment.

I can also share the big news: I announced to my congregation on Sunday that I've been offered a call to the University Lutheran Center on the campus of Iowa State University in Ames, IA, and when the call officially comes I will accept it. It was a terribly bittersweet moment in a bittersweet week for Beloved and I. We have made many friends here, and we both have good ministry relationships in our congregations and communities. I hate to think of leaving behind the youth groups we both love, the community theater group we've supported in many ways, the school district we think is one of the best in Minnesota.

But this new call brings us three hours closer to my family in eastern Nebraska, and it's a campus ministry call. I've felt that campus ministry was a logical place for me for quite some time, and the pull toward that type of call only intensified after my own campus pastor, Larry Meyer, died in 2005. It seems that most of the people who know me agree: the reaction so far has been very positive and very much "well, of course you'll do well in that type of ministry." Guess I've not been real coy about that particular dream; at least, not as much as I'd thought I was.

So, we're off on a new adventure. My final Sunday in Barrett will be January 6th, and we'll move to Ames the following week, where I'll be in place by the start of the semester on January 14th. It's a big move, and it's complicated by our hope to purchase our first house, but it's exciting and scary and sad all at the same time, as most moves are. Hopefully this will be the last one for quite some time.

Last but not least, don't look for this on my car anytime soon:




I'll be a Cornhusker until the day I die, even in foreign Big XII towns like Ames. Born Red - 'Nuff Said. But if you see me pulling for the local boys when there's no conflict of interest, think well of me - it's hard not to root for the hometown teams.

25 November 2007

Sermon for Christ the King Sunday - "The Blasphemy of a Crucified King"


Let us pray: Father in heaven, be with us today as we gather under the sign of the cross. It is the mark of Your kingdom and the symbol of your steadfast love and forgiveness. By the power of Your Spirit, strengthen us through that cross to be children of Your kingdom, where mercy and grace rule eternally. In the name of Jesus, your holy Son, our King, we pray: Amen.

Robert Farrar Capon is an Episcopal theologian with a remarkable ability to sense and describe the peculiarly American problems with the Jesus presented in the Bible. Here’s what he had to say about the Messiah we would likely prefer:

The human race is, was and probably always will be deeply unwilling to accept a human messiah. We don't want to be saved in our humanity; we want to be fished out of it. We crucified Jesus, not because he was God, but because he blasphemed: He claimed to be God and then failed to come up to our standards for assessing the claim. It's not that we weren't looking for the Messiah; it's just that he wasn't what we were looking for. Our kind of Messiah would come down from a cross. … He wouldn't do a stupid thing like rising from the dead. He would do a smart thing like never dying."[1]

What blasphemy reveals the true nature of God? What king allows scoffing, mockery and derision in his presence? What death reverses itself upon its perpetrator? Have we grown so accustomed to the story of the crucifixion that we have forgotten its scandal? Its offense? Its demand upon our souls for a reaction? We gather today to confess that the Messiah who comes is not the Messiah we expect – nor do we welcome Him as we ought. There is blasphemy here – but it is not found in the One put to death for blasphemy. There is a king here – but His deeds of power bear no resemblance to the deeds of those around us who bear similar power. There is crucifixion here – but the death brought about by that crucifixion is ultimately not the death of the one crucified, but the ones who crucify Him – and would do it again if they had the opportunity. Here it is, then: the blasphemy of the crucified King.

First, the blasphemy. The definition of the word is: “irreverence toward something sacred or inviolable, or the act of claiming the attributes of a god.” To blaspheme is to speak something of God which is not true, in our Christian definition of the word. There is indeed blasphemy here in our reading this morning, but it comes from the lips of the ones watching the crucifixion unfold, not the crucified One:

“He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Messiah of God, His chosen One!”

“If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”

“Are You not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

This is the blasphemy, though the blasphemers didn’t know it at the time. It wasn’t that they had mis-identified the Messiah; they didn’t know what to do with a Messiah who suffers. They didn’t know how to handle a Christ who chooses the agony of the cross over the power of a legion of angels. They didn’t know that it was possible for God’s Son to feel pain, to become vulnerable, to die at their own hands. So they blasphemed. They insisted that Jesus couldn’t be God’s Son, because the Messiah wouldn’t choose such a path. They believed it was blasphemy for such a thing to happen.

Second, the king. In Jesus’ time, and in most of recorded time until our own, the only king who would allow scoffing, mockery and derision in his presence was a king who’d lost control. No king would allow himself to be betrayed, beaten, marched through the streets and executed – only a king who had lost all power over his people would be subjected to such a thing. So Jesus became the King of the Jews – placed on the throne by enemies who did so only to cast Him down from it. The triumphant entry into Jerusalem that served as His coronation quickly became the revolution that followed His refusal of the throne and its trappings. Kings do not reject their power: they use it to protect themselves and, secondarily, their people. Kings do not suffer abuse, insult and injury: they punish it for fear that it might inspire others to revolution. Kings do not go willingly to their death: they fight against it, escape from it, struggle to free themselves and reestablish their power until their final breath. This King of the Jews rejected every sign of His office save one: the crown of thorns that His enemies used as a last insult against a reign He never intended.

Third, the crucifixion. Deuteronomy 21.23 says that “anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” The crucifixion becomes the final insult against any hope that Jesus actually might be the Messiah, the Christ, God’s anointed Son and Savior of the world. No savior would allow Himself to become cursed, would He? Could there be any redemption for any child of God if the Messiah died? What hope is there for the strength and power of God if the Son of God dies upon a cross and God the Father does nothing to stop it? There is no power in a crucified God, is there?

The blasphemy of the crucified King. Throughout Luke’s gospel, John and Mary and Zechariah and Simeon and many, many others testify to the reversal that God would bring about through the coming of the Messiah. What we didn’t know is how Jesus would bring about that reversal. Instead of striking down the proud and powerful in vengeance, Jesus made their pride and power worthless through his humility and weakness. Instead of raising the weak and downtrodden to the power and pride of their former oppressors, Jesus healed their wounds through His compassion and care. To all who came to Him, rich and poor, strong and weak, blind and deaf, seeing and hearing, Jesus reversed the expectations of this world from the inside, the soul, where the image of God lives in us all in every circumstance. We rich are God’s children, even though our wealth prevents us from seeing our frailty and weakness. We poor are God’s children, even though our poverty may prevent us from witnessing how God provides daily bread in many ways.

Was it blasphemy to ask Jesus to save Himself? Yes, without a doubt – because Jesus did not come to save himself, but to save the world before saving Himself. Is it blasphemy for the Messiah to give His life for the sake of the world? Is it blasphemy for the Christ to go willingly to the cross rather than exert power to protect Himself? Is it blasphemy for the Son of God to be vulnerable, able to be hurt, deeply wounded, even killed? If it is blasphemy, let it be blasphemy – because it is blasphemy God has chosen as the means of salvation. Better blasphemy that saves than pious speech and action that condemns us to damnation. The true nature of God is love, inspired, reckless, determined love that will not be denied, even by death – and if that love blasphemes our expectations of what God ought to be, then it is good blasphemy, for it saves us in our sin.

Was it kingly for Jesus to go willingly into scoffing, mockery, derision and death? Not by our expectations – but perhaps it is our expectations which need to be reversed. We’ve seen those who rule struggle and fight and cheat and conspire to retain their power in recent days. Presidents declare martial law to protect their rule. Elected leaders compromise their beliefs and the charge to govern wisely to protect their seats. Candidates for office plant questions in press conferences and refuse to allow dissident voices in their cabinets. And who is it that suffers? It is the people who live under the power of those who rule only to maintain their grip on power. But God chooses the path of forbearance and steadfast love. Is it kingly for God’s Son to be beaten, crucified, killed? If it is, then we have a King who truly cares for His people. The test of dignity and grace does not come when the crowds are cheering and calling your name in praise: the test of dignity and grace comes when the rabble are screaming for your blood and hurling insults like stones against you. Only a King who deeply loves His people would bear such pain and suffering for their sake – do we not, then, have a king worthy of worship?

Finally, the crucifixion. What was it that died upon the cross that Friday? At the time, we would have said it was a human being who died – and indeed, Jesus was fully human. He really died that day in Jerusalem. But that wasn’t the final word on the matter. That death was reversed by the power of God, and what took its place was our expectations of who God really is and how God really works in the world. As Martin Luther once said,

This is clear: He who does not know Christ does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil. These are the people whom the apostles calls "enemies of the cross of Christ", for they hate the cross and suffering and love works and the glory of works. Thus they call the good of the cross evil and the evil of a deed good. God can be found only in suffering and the cross, as has already been said. Therefore the friends of the cross say that the cross is good and works are evil, for through the cross works are destroyed and the old Adam, who is especially edified by works, is crucified. It is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his good works unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his [own] but God's.[2]

We want to find God in power and majesty and absolute right, rewarding the pious and punishing the sinful. We want a King who fulfills all our expectations and, of course, rewards us by rescuing us out of this humanity that traps us. What we receive instead is a King who reverses all our expectations, who lives in the same humanity because it is God’s good creation, who blesses us, not with salvation from being human, but with salvation as human beings. Christ the King comes to reign in peace and love, not through power and might, and the blasphemy of the crucified King is the means by which His reign begins. Let us, then, praise this crucified King and swear to Him our allegiance and faith and love, for He has accomplished all this for us and for the world He loves beyond all our understanding. Praise be to God: long live the King. Amen.



[1] Capon, Robert Farrar. Hunting the Divine Fox, © 1974 by Seabury Press

[2] The Heidelberg Disputation, Article 21, Explanation.

23 November 2007

Post Thanksgiving Day Friday Five

Ah, the day after Thanksgiving--groan! Fortunately, I love Thanksgiving leftovers.

Thanksgiving is the American holiday when the greatest number of people travel somewhere else to celebrate. I am posting this from my son’s home in Minnesota where we are recovering from the food shopping and the preparations and the meal and the clean up. It is difficult to think of anything requiring much energy today, and I am enjoying my sweet baby granddaughter, so I will keep it simple.

For those of you not in the USA, I apologize for the nationalistic tone of
this Friday Five!


1. Did you go elsewhere for the day, or did you have visitors at your place instead? How was it?
We drove to my parents' farm in Nebraska, where we had a great Thanksgiving Supper with the whole family: myself, my younger brother and his family, my youngest brother and his girlfriend, my parents and my Grandma Janke.

2. Main course: If it was the turkey, the whole turkey, and nothing but the turkey, was it prepared in an unusual way? Or did you throw tradition to the winds and do something different?
Because my mom worked yesterday morning, we decided to just keep things simple, so we didn't do a "whole turkey" dinner. Mom had a turkey roast ready for heating, we kids brought pies and Butterfinger dessert, and we made potatoes and green bean casserole and dressing yesterday afternoon after everyone arrived. Someday when we host Thanksgiving we'll do something wild and crazy, but simple is great, too. In our house, it's the family stuff that counts; the food is just, well, extra.

3. Other than the meal, do you have any Thanksgiving customs that you observe every year?
Those of us who have the day off will sit down later this morning to watch the football game between the University of Nebraska (my alma mater) and the University of Colorado. When I was a kid, the day after Thanksgiving was reserved for the Nebraska - Oklahoma game, but money and conference regulations interrupted that wonderful tradition about fifteen years ago. It's not the same, but it's not so bad, either. And it could be worse: my baby brother has to work today.

4. The day after Thanksgiving is considered a major Christmas shopping day by most US retailers. Do you go out bargain hunting and shop ‘till you drop, or do you stay indoors with the blinds closed? Or something in between?
You wouldn't catch me within throwing distance of a mall or a store today. I don't care how good the bargains are - I'm too stuffed to move and I re-he-he-he-he-HEALLY don't like the Christmas shopping crowds. Last year I did all my gift shopping online and it was wonderful - think I'll do the same this year.

5. Let the HOLIDAY SEASON commence! When will your Christmas decorations go up?
Most likely the day that Kristin and I have our traditional "It's Christmas - NO, IT'S ADVENT" argument, at which point I usually wind up feeling like a Scrooge and put up the first of the decorations as a peace offering. "It's beginning to sound a lot like Christmas..."

22 November 2007

Simply Thankful

I don't have much for which to be thankful this year, do I?




Yeah, 'nuff said. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

21 November 2007

A Sermon for Thanksgiving 2007 - "Abundant Joy"

Preaching Texts

The most incredible celebration I've ever experienced was in August 2004. My wife and I had been married for three months, but we delayed our honeymoon in order to fly to Germany for her exchange-brother Sven's wedding at Hohenstein Castle outside of Coburg. We drove to the castle the day of the wedding, where we checked into our room and enjoyed the view of the rolling Bavarian countryside. At 3:00 we witnessed the official wedding service at the chapel just outside the castle walls, followed by hors'd' oeuvres and champagne in the courtyard until the feast began.

At 6:00 we were escorted into the dining hall and served the first course, with wine and beer glasses that never ran dry. The second course was served at 7:00, the third at eight and the dessert at nine – a four hour feast. The food was exquisite, the wine superb. But the reason we will never forget that night had very little to do with food and drink. What made that night unforgettable was the incredible experience of being with a group of people who were experiencing and sharing abundant joy.

Now, I speak only a little bit of German – just enough to get into trouble, I like to say. My wife, Kristin, speaks even less, and that little bit very poorly. But thanks to some new friends who sat across the table from us, we were able to laugh and cry with our friends Sven and Eva as they toasted, ridiculed and celebrated the gift of each other and the new life together into which they were embarking that night. The shared joy in that banquet hall was so strong it was almost palpable. You could feel the abundance of love shared among the friends, even when you couldn’t understand a word of what was being said, and the food and drink didn’t matter: we could have been feasting on pizza and Mountain Dew and it would have been just as joyful.

I’ve thought of that feast often in the three years since we’ve seen Sven & Eva. I’ve wondered why it is that our shared life as God’s children isn’t more like it. Those of you who read The Lutheran probably saw the article in the September issue about the happy and sad Danes in Ringsted, Iowa: frankly, I thought the whole thing was sad. Joy, it seems, is an elusive quality for us, and not just recently: in the 1800s the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was so unimpressed by the lives of the people he knew growing up in a pastor’s household that he lost his faith. He once said that “[Jesus’] disciples should look more redeemed.” I’m pretty sure that he was right.

Paul Tillich, a German theologian who emigrated to America in the 1930s, once said, "As Christians we know our inner conflicts about accepting or rejecting joy…We know that we should be free for joy, that as Paul says, "all is ours," but our courage is inferior to our knowledge. We do not dare to affirm our world and ourselves; and if we dare to, in a moment of courage, we try to atone for it by self-reproaches and self-punishments, and we draw upon ourselves malicious criticism by those who never have dared. Therefore, many Christians try to compromise. They try to hide their feeling of joy, or they try to avoid joys which are too intense, in order to avoid self-accusations which are too harsh. Such an experience of the suppression of joy, and guilt about joy in Christian groups, almost drove me to a break with Christianity. What passes for joy in these groups is an emaciated, intentionally childish, unexciting, unecstatic thing, without color and danger, without heights and depths."[1]

A life without joy is not the life to which we are called. A life without joy is not the life for which we were created. A life without joy is not a life lived in the image of our Maker. When God finished the creation on the sixth day, how did God describe God’s work? “God saw everything he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” The creation is a cause for joy in the mind and heart of God – and thus it should be in ours as well. We were created out of the joy of a gracious and loving Creator – and thus our lives in that creation should be lives filled with abundant joy.

In joy God the Creator has given you this life, this day, this hour, this breath. You are, in the words of Psalm 139, wonderfully and fearfully made in God’s great love. So Paul’s words, then, cannot ring falsely in our ears. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice.” Each breath is a cause for rejoicing, for God has made you and shaped you and provides for you in ways we cannot begin to understand or fully appreciate. So, then, knowing that we cannot express our thanks to God, respond by seeing the same joyful creation in those around us: as Paul says, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” Your neighbor is a gift of God, even when she doesn’t realize it. The stranger you meet at the gas station is, like you, fearfully and wonderfully made. The friend in the pew behind you that you haven’t seen in a while? Joyfully made in God’s image: shall we not, then be gentle with one another so that we might reflect the love in which God created us?

Paul continues: “The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” In other words, Paul says, “You are not alone. God hears your prayers.” In the book of Romans Paul puts it another way: “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Even the groans of our darkest night are known and understood by our gracious, loving God. He is not distant or absent: God is as close as your next heartbeat and will never leave you or forsake you.

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Paul gives a reminder that we have far more for which we should rejoice than we imagine. Is there darkness in this world? Yes. Does sin threaten us with despair and denial of faith? Absolutely. Will death take us in the end? Of course: just today our congregation said goodbye to another brother in Christ whose life had run its course. But these things are not ours to fight or command: our strength is not equal to the fight against sin, death and the powers of darkness. But there is one whose strength is more than equal to that fight, and it is His promises, His grace, His steadfast love which gives us the promise of abundant joy. It is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who has already fought the battle against sin, death and despair, and through His forgiveness we need not fear these things ever again. If anything in this world is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise, it comes from our Lord Jesus, the Word who was in the beginning and through whom all things are made. He is the promise of abundant joy, in whom you and I may rejoice always – and again I say, Rejoice!

Last night I was in a Bible study with some members of our congregation and we were talking about the lives of those who we considered our “elders” in the faith. One of the people in our group said something I’ll never forget. When talking about the elders who had inspired her own faith, she claimed it wasn’t their words that convinced her, but their lives. "You see their faith working," she said. That, friends, is what abundant joy looks like: faith that works so strongly in the lives of the saints that it’s visible to the people around them. When the people came to Jesus for bread, he didn’t criticize them because they were looking in the wrong place – Jesus criticized them because they asked for far too little of Him. “Why seek the food that rots,” Jesus said, “when I can give you so much more?”

It’s a scary thing, asking God to fill us with the abundant joy that Jesus promises, because it changes everything about us. Instead of coming to church for just enough religion to get by, we begin to hunger and thirst for a deep faith that impacts every moment of the day. Instead of being filled with just enough happiness to get through the day, we begin to sense a deep, awe-inspiring, overwhelming joy at the sheer wonder of the life God has given us. Instead of looking at the church building or the financial report and wondering, “How are we going to keep the congregation going,” we begin to look around and see an opportunity for ministry around every corner and in every conversation. Whether it’s donuts and coffee in the cafĂ© or a four-course meal in a castle in Coburg, the moment is abundantly joyful because God is in it and we know that it all comes to us as a gift.

This is our service of Thanksgiving tonight. We gather together to remind one another that it is God to whom we give thanks, for the food we eat, for the friends we love, for the air we breathe. But I hope your Thanksgiving celebration tomorrow is filled with more than turkey and cranberries – I hope your Thanksgiving celebration is filled with the abundant joy that comes from seeing the hand of God in all that surrounds you. I hope you look around you, whether you’re surrounded with your families or enjoying a quiet meal alone, and sense that your life itself is a gift from God, and I hope you’re filled with such abundant joy that you feel like your heart might burst. If you do, don’t suppress it, don’t compromise it, don’t be scared of it: just let it come. The promise of abundant joy is given to you by a loving God who is happy to receive your tears of Thanksgiving. Just follow Paul’s advice, and rejoice in the Lord, always. And again, I say, rejoice. Amen.



[1] The New Being. Tillich, Paul. Ch. 19: "The Meaning of Joy" http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=375&C=32

18 November 2007

Sermon for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost - "Pain, Suffering and Enduring Souls"



Earlier this year some a small furor erupted when the private diaries of Mother Theresa were published. It was discovered that Mother Theresa, the champion of the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India, the tiny woman who had given her entire life in service to God and God’s children, had struggled to sense the presence of God throughout her life. She once wrote to a spiritual confidant, “"Jesus has a very special love for you. [But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak ... I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand."[1]

It is so hard to think that such a faithful person would struggle so much with her faith. There is a constant desire within us to eliminate all struggles and alleviate all discomfort. We want our security assured, our lives to be constantly improving without sacrifice, and our institutions to be permanent and everlasting. We like our saints clean and our sinners clearly identified, so that we can be found with the first and avoid the second. But like my friend Nate’s dad always says, “wish in one hand, spit in the other and see which one fills up first.” Wishing for security and permanence in the stuff we create ourselves just isn’t going to work – and Jesus knew this was true. He never pretended otherwise, and neither should we. Let us pray: Loving Savior, you remind us that the things we create, even in service to You, are not eternal: only You are eternal. Forgive us when we follow astray, when we wish for things that cannot be, when we put our hopes for eternity in stuff that will wither and die. You also promise us fulfillment beyond everything for which we could hope: keep that hope alive in us today, and help us build our endurance and our trust in you. Amen.

When we read the gospels, we would do well to know and remember that each of the gospels were written many years after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and each of the gospel writers addressed their audience in their own way when writing their accounts of the story of Jesus of Nazareth. They were a few generations removed from the actual eyewitnesses who lived with and learned from Jesus, and in those generations other world events happened which needed explaining. The destruction of Jerusalem was one of those events.

The Jewish people revolted against Roman rule in 66 A.D., after a group of Greek citizens sacrificed birds in one of the Jewish synagogues and the local Roman commander did nothing to stop them. The Romans sent Vespasian, who would eventually become the emperor, to put down the revolt, and he did so quickly and with great destruction.

The siege of Jerusalem, the capital city, had begun early in the war, but had turned into a stalemate. Unable to breach the city's defenses, the Roman armies established a permanent camp just outside the city, digging a trench around the circumference of its walls and building a wall as high as the city walls themselves around Jerusalem. Anyone caught in the trench attempting to flee the city would be captured, crucified, and placed in lines on top of the dirt wall facing into Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of crucified bodies encircled Jerusalem by the end of the siege.[2] This is how the Jewish historian Josephus described the final destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple:

The roar of the flames streaming far and wide mingled with the groans of the falling victims; and, owing to the height of the hill and the mass of the burning pile, one would have thought that the whole city was ablaze. . . . With the cries on the hill were blended those of the multitude in the city below; and now many who were emaciated and tongue-tied from starvation, when they beheld the sanctuary on fire, gathered strength once more for lamentations and wailing. . . . Yet more awful than the uproar were the sufferings.[3]

The gospel of Luke was written about thirty years or so after the destruction of Jerusalem. Many people reading Luke’s account remembered the second Temple’s destruction, or had heard about it from their parents or grandparents, so when Jesus said, “the days will come when no one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down,” they knew it was true; they had lived in such times.

There is a fair amount of debate as to what Jesus was actually saying when he warned his listeners about the times that were coming. Was Jesus actually talking about the end of creation and the coming of the kingdom of God? Was Luke inserting a discussion of the First Jewish War in the story of Jesus?

However, we find, if we are honest with ourselves, that such questions are a distraction at best and a leading astray at worst. Whatever the circumstances may have been when Jesus said these words, and whatever the circumstances may have been when Luke set them within his narrative of Jesus’ life, the words ring true for all of us, including we ourselves in our present circumstances. Has there ever been a time in humanity’s history when nations have not risen against nations? Has there ever been a time without earthquakes, famines and plagues? Whenever we look at our history, we find bloodshed, persecution and death written into the very story we live, and if Jesus was right about these things, then we must admit that He was right about the rest of His warning as well. “They will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to religious authorities and prisons…You will be betrayed even by parents and siblings, by relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.” This is what happened to Jesus himself. It is what happened to the disciples who followed Him. It is what happened to believers in Luke’s time and in all the years since. It is what is happening today. Why? Because these are signs of the end? No: because we cannot live without persecuting one another. Because we are both martyrs and executors, religious authorities and witnesses, those who testify and those who cannot bear to hear the truth spoken.

I’m convinced that Jesus warned his listeners about what was to come knowing full well that at some point in the future we would read these words and realize that we have both suffered for our faith and caused suffering because of our lack of faith. Jesus didn’t give these warnings as a means of knowing when God would bring about the end of the world: Jesus gave these warnings because He knew the sinfulness within us and the consequences of living a life of faith in opposition to that sinfulness. Jesus could see the grandeur of the Temple, but He could also see the emptiness within us that drives us to find faith and hope in things that perish instead of the true faith and hope found in a relationship with the living God. So Jesus warned His own listeners, Luke’s audience and we today that buildings crumble, that nations make war upon nations, that religion can easily become intolerance and persecution, that families turn upon one another, that life is always a struggle between what is right and what is easy. Jesus also made a promise: true life comes as a result of living faithfully and with great trust in God and in God alone – that the Spirit comes to strengthen our faith for the long haul, wherein we become truly human and more real than we could ever hope to be on our own.

When I was in seminary, I was required to spend a summer working in a hospital as a chaplain, a program called Clinical Pastoral Experience. For me, and for most of my fellow chaplains, the growing edge was learning to endure with our patients as they lived through their experiences in the hospital. Our supervisor described it as “descending into the depths” with our patients, alluding to the psalmist in Psalm 130 who writes, “Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord.” Sometimes we were called to help people go further into the abyss than they wanted to go, because as we avoid the struggle and pain we experience, we prevent ourselves from truly being healed. It is impossible to be fully healed while pretending we were never sick in the first place, and it is the same for those who seek signs to escape or explain away suffering: until we stop trying to escape our pain, we will never know what it means to be fully healed.

When Jesus told His listeners that the days would come when the Temple would be destroyed, He was asking them to be willing to live in faith through whatever would come. This is why He said, “make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance.” We’ve all seen and heard enough public speaking to know when a particularly eloquent phrase or well-parsed statement can cover the ugly truth hiding beneath the words. But Jesus doesn’t want us to hide from the ugly truth: He asked his listeners, then and now, to look the present square in the eye and trust that God holds the future in control and that no present darkness can take the light of the kingdom of God away from us. Will life be a struggle? Absolutely. Will things ever be permanent? Not ever. Will friends turn against us, will loved ones leave, will we hurt and suffer and wonder where God is in all this mess? Without a doubt. But, Jesus says, this is how we know we are truly living: when we can see the suffering all around us and remain confident that God will have the final word, that pain and sorrow and even death cannot take us beyond the reach of our loving Creator, who sent His Son to show us the enduring way through suffering and death to a life that is truly life.

In 1944 a young Jewish boy named Eliezer Wiesel was taken from a Jewish ghetto in Sighet, Hungary to the Auschwiz-Birkenau death camp, where he watched his mother and sister walk off into the night and never saw them again. He wrote a book, Night, which describes those days in harrowing detail:

"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never."[4]

Wiesel has gone on to become one of the world’s foremost peace activists and one of humanity’s most eloquent witnesses to the ongoing work of surviving the worst of what we do to one another. We think of people like Elie Wiesel and Mother Theresa as living saints, yet we see how they struggle with faith and God in the worst and darkest times of their lives. Should it be any different for us? Let us, then, live this life with enduring souls, confident not in our temples, our strength, our security or our wealth, but confident only in the lovingkindness of God our Creator, the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, our Savior, and the constant presence of the Holy Spirit, living and moving and breathing within us even when we can barely live and move and breathe for ourselves. Endurance is the willingness to go on in faith, sisters and brothers: let us endure together and find hope for our future in Christ alone. To God be the glory and honor and praise, now and forever: Amen.



[2] Jews, God and History by Max I. Dimont.

[3] Josephus, War of the Jews VI.271-275, as quoted in The Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Luke by David Tiede. © 1986 by Augsburg Publishing, Minneapolis. p. 359.

16 November 2007

Friday Five: Think About These Things Edition

Songbird has the Friday Five this week:
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8, NRSV)

Friends, it's nearly Thanksgiving in the U.S. and it's the time of year when we are pressed to name things for which we are thankful. I want to offer a twist on the usual lists and use Paul's letter to the church at Philippi as a model. Name five things that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent or worthy of praise. These could be people, organizations, acts, ideas, works of art, pieces of music--whatever comes to mind for you.

Clearly, Molly the Blogging Dog belongs on such a list. Thanks to jo(e) for the great picture of Molly.

1. This week's sign that I'm now a parent: carrots & cheese in my daughter's hair don't bother me at all:

2. My English Teachers: Mrs. Heier, Mrs. Sundell, Miss Boeshart and even our local English guru/janitor/resident Baptist sojourner, Mr. Zdrazil, without whom I would not have identified the horrendous grammatical error in the following paragraph, lifted as is from amazon.com:
It was the cruelest of times. Under Herod's torturous reign, families struggled to survive and yet, in the midst of utter turmoil, a young woman's faith is put to the test. Join Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) and Joseph (Oscar Isaac) on an incredible journey of hope and discovery. Epic in its scope, yet intimate in it's portrayal of this historical family, this "wonderful film" (Bill Zwecker, Chicago Sun Times) is "a family feature that will be cherished for years to come!" (Greg Russell, WMYD-TV, Detroit).
I'll be waiting to see who catches the error first - post it in the comments!

3. The ugliest birthday cake I've seen in a while, lovingly crafted by yours truly:



I mean, dang, that thing is hideous. In celebration of my wife's Eugene, Oregon roots, I attempted to bake a yellow cake with green frosting, which is complicated by said wife's lactose intolerance. You know, you can only do so much with vanilla cake mix, vanilla frosting and green food coloring. But it was a great birthday surprise nonetheless. Note that Ainsley gave Mommy a birthday card, too!

4. Our local high school musical, "Annie Get Your Gun" Opening night was last night and the kids were fantastic, as was the pit band if'n ya don't mind a bit of chest-thumping. I've had SUCH a blast playing with these kids over the past few weeks. Watching this group of seventy-some high school students work their tails off to put on a complicated, lengthy, demanding production (and do it really well) has reaffirmed my agreement with Garrison Keillor's statement: "Nothing you do for children is ever wasted."

Now if I could only get "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" out of my head!

5. Nebraska quarterbacks Joe Ganz and Sam Keller. These guys were in a neck and neck battle for the starting job until the middle of August, when Keller was picked as the starter for the season opener. It's been a rough season for my beloved Huskers, but these two men have shown more class handling that rough season than anyone could have dared to hope they would show. Through success, failure, injury and rivalry, they've remained respectful of each other, their coaches, their team, the program and the entire state, and that, folks, is why sports can be really, really wonderful sometimes.

Somewhat Negative Bonus: I had a negative to contrast with all the positives here, but I decided not to think about it anymore. :-)

Positive Hometown Bonus: The Wakefield Trojans, my hometown high school, won the Nebraska Class C-2 Football Championship today, for the second year in a row. Go, Trojans!

15 November 2007

A Public Service Announcement

Since we're starting to see Christmas advertisements already, we at the Society for the Preservation of Advent figured it was a good time to post a link to this excellent sermon by Fred Gaiser of Luther Seminary about St. Nicholas and our bondage to Christmas.

You're welcome.

13 November 2007

Monday Meme +1

My sister-in-law sent me one of those "curious facts" emails last week - maybe it'll do for a meme this morning:

1. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE? : The song “Watching Scotty Grow” was popular when my folks were expecting me.

2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU CRIED? I think it was at my Grandma Johnson’s funeral

3. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? Yup.
4. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCH MEAT? Roast beef

5. DO YOU HAVE KIDS? One – a baby girl
6. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON, WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU? Given that I often prefer my own company to that of others, I suppose the answer would be yes.
7. DO YOU USE SARCASM A LOT? Does the Pope wear Prada?
8. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS ? Yes

9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? I'd rather go sky-diving.
10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL? Wheat Chex
11. DO YOU UNTIE YOUR SHOES WHEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF? Always.
12. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG? Not as strong as I once was (300 lb. bench press)
13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM? Mmmmm: Phish Food…
14. WHAT IS THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE? Huh? There’s people? J
15. RED OR PINK? Definitely red.
16. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF? My beer belly – but not enough to stop drinking beer, of course.
17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? Larry Meyer – my mentor and good friend.
18. DO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO SEND THIS BACK TO YOU? Sure – why not?
19. WHAT COLOR PANTS AND SHOES ARE YOU WEARING? Olive green camping pants and black slippers.
20. WHAT WAS THE LAST THING YOU ATE? A bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats.
21. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? Celtic music
22. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE? Forest Green.
23. FAVORITE SMELLS? Fresh-baked bread.
24. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE? I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you. Muuaahahahahahah… Actually, it’s one of three different people and I honestly can’t remember which one it is!
25. DO YOU LIKE THE PERSON WHO SENT THIS? No, but she’s family (kidding!)
26. FAVORITE SPORTS TO WATCH? Football & Hockey
27. HAIR COLOR? Mostly blonde these days, when I’ve left enough to be seen.
28. EYE COLOR? Blue.
29. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS? Every day.

30. FAVORITE FOOD? A good rib eye steak, cooked medium to medium well on a charcoal grill.
31. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? Scary movies – definitely more real.
32. LAST MOVIE YOU WATCHED? We Are Marshall
33. WHAT COLOR SHIRT ARE YOU WEARING? Red.
34. SUMMER OR WINTER? Autumn, please!
35. HUGS OR KISSES? Kisses.
36. FAVORITE DESSERT? Butterfinger dessert.
37. MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND? Being a blog, this question and the next are sort of, well, moot.
38. LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND? ??
39. WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING RIGHT NOW? The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
40. What's ON YOUR MOUSE PAD? Ummm, my mouse?
41. WHAT DID YOU WATCH ON T.V. LAST NIGHT? Last week’s episode of Heroes so I can watch this week’s episode while running on the treadmill tonight.
42. FAVORITE SOUND? My daughter’s laughter, followed closely by The Cornhusker Marching Band playing “Hail, Varsity!”
43. ROLLING STONES OR BEATLES? Can I say U2?
44. WHAT IS THE FARTHEST YOU HAVE BEEN FROM HOME? Wittenberg, Germany
45. DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL TALENT? I can crack nearly any joint in my body whenever I want.
46. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Wakefield, Nebraska.
47. WHOSE ANSWERS ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO GETTING BACK? Anyone else who wants to play
48. WHAT TIME IS IT NOW? 8:31 AM

11 November 2007

Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost - "Threatened by Resurrection"

Our gospel reading for this morning comes from the last section of Jesus’ teaching and ministry in Jerusalem. In fact, this question from the Sadducees was the last question anyone asked Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Jerusalem has been described as a one-industry town: the Temple was as much a part of Jerusalem as the casinos are a part of modern-day Las Vegas, and like the casinos, Temple business was a part of everything that happened in Jerusalem. The Sadducees ran the Temple, so their power in Jerusalem was strong. But power and the games we play to hold on to power are worthless in the kingdom of God, so Jesus refused to play the game when the Sadducees came calling. There is no hypothetical “god of the dead;” but there is a God who is concerned for the living, and that God, Jesus said, is here with you right now. Let us pray:

Strong and mighty Lord, forgive us for the meaningless trivia and petty idolatries that seduce us and pull us away from Your goodness and righteousness. We try to hold on to power: You come bearing life that is truly life, in the kingdom to come and also right here and now. Destroy whatever distracts us from Your good life, so that we might live with You in goodness and mercy all of our days. In Your strong name we pray, Amen.

How many of you remember the children’s song, “I Just Wanna Be A Sheep – Baaaaaaa”? You know the verses, then:

I don’t wanna be a Pharisee / I don’t wanna be a Pharisee /

‘Cause they’re not very fair, you see / I just wanna be a sheep – baaaa!

I don’t wanna be a Sadducee / I don’t wanna be a Sadducee /

‘Cause they’re all so sad, you see / I just wanna be a sheep – baaaa!

Cute, for sure – but not very accurate. It may or may not be important, but as we enter our time together this morning, let’s take a moment to talk about Pharisees and Sadducees – it will be worth our investigation.

The Pharisees were a small sect within Judaism in the time of the New Testament. They are mentioned by Josephus, the Jewish historian who worked for the Roman government around the time of Christ, but other than Josephus there’s not much outside the New Testament to tell us who they were. The Pharisees believed that the Law, or Torah, came in two forms: the written Torah, preserved in the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy in our Bibles); and the oral Torah, additional teachings based on the Torah as interpreted by elders and scribes all the way back to the time of Moses. The Pharisees believed these interpretations of the Torah were binding on all Jewish people, not just the priests, and they believed in strict observance of the Torah, both in its written form and in the oral form, which they described as “the way,” or “halakh” in Hebrew. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, the eventual judgment of all people by God and in angels and spirits.

The Sadducees, on the other hand, were an even smaller sect within Judaism at the time of Christ. Josephus also mentions them, but like the Pharisees there’s not a lot of evidence about who they were and what they believed. We believe that the Sadducees were what you’d call the priestly aristocracy[1]: the Temple and much of its profit kept the Sadducees in power. During the last period of Irael’s freedom, about 160 – 60 B.C., the Sadducees were the “ruling party” because the Hasmonean dynasty respected the priests as the representatives of the people and the workers in the temple. When the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Romans, the Sadducees disappeared along with it. The Sadducees believed that Jews were required to observe only the written Torah, and they did not believe in angels or spirits, the judgment or the resurrection of the dead.

So when Jesus came teaching forgiveness and mercy, instead of strict observance of the Law and separation from the world around oneself, the Pharisees got pretty worked up. They had put all their trust in the belief that God had appointed Israel as a separate people, a nation that needed to focus on keeping away from the riff-raff and undesirables around them; but Jesus said, love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you, pray for those who abuse you. Jesus told the Pharisees to serve the foreigner and the outcast and the tax collector and all those people they had been so scrupulously avoiding for so long. And when Jesus came teaching that the Temple should be a house of prayer, not a den of robbers, the Sadducees found themselves confronted as well. Jesus attacked the very things upon which the Sadducees had based all of their power and social standing, and so in today’s reading from Luke the Sadducees tried to mount a challenge to what Jesus was teaching.

Some of you might have heard of the Gordian knot. Legend has it that a knot binding an old king’s chariot in the town of Gordium was blessed by the gods, and the one who untied the knot would be the king of the Persian Empire. According to the legend, Alexander the Great came to the town of Gordium in 333 B.C., and when he couldn’t untie the knot, he took his sword and sliced it right through the middle, thus “untying” the know. In some ways, the legal dilemma the Sadducees presented to Jesus was a Gordian knot – seemingly impossible to untie. But Jesus didn’t just cut right through the Gordian knot the Sadducees presented; Jesus used their own weapon against them – the Torah. In Exodus 3.6, God said to Moses “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” The Sadducees came to Jesus intending to trap him with the logical impossibility of the resurrection of the dead, but Jesus used the Torah to spring the trap and expose it.

But is this really about resurrection? Were the Sadducees genuinely concerned about the marital status of a woman who somehow managed to outlast a string of seven brothers? Of course not – the presenting issue is never the real issue. The issue for the Sadducees was power and control, like it was for the Pharisees, like it was for Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar in the book of Job, like it was for Job himself, like it is for us. Power and control are what we’re fighting to maintain, but Jesus says “The God of the living and the dead is in control – and the sooner you believe this, the sooner we can stop this charade and get down to what really matters.”

I mentioned Job just a minute ago – it’s worth our time to go to the reading from Job for today and consider its impact. Job was a man of great character; he is described by both God and Satan as a “blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” But Satan argued that Job had reason to be so blameless and upright: after all, hadn’t God surrounded Job with every blessing imaginable? Take enough of those blessings away, insisted Satan, and Job will curse you to your face. And so it happened. Job lost all of his property, his children, and eventually his health. He became a man so pitiable that when his friends came to console him, they could only sit in silence with him so that he wouldn’t be alone. And if they had stopped there, things might have been okay. But even in the face of such unbelievable suffering, Job’s friends and even Job himself couldn’t leave power and control alone. Job’s friends started to insist that Job must have done something to deserve such punishment, while Job insisted otherwise and pleaded his case before God. Finally, we arrive at today’s lament from Job 19, where Job insisted that someday a Redeemer would find justice and fairness for his plight.

If we were telling this story, of course, that’s exactly what would happen. But Job doesn’t end like that. God does finally respond to Job’s complaints, but God never apologized and God never suggested that what happened to Job was fair. Job wanted vindication and revenge: God never allowed either one to happen. And at the same time, God said that Job was right about his situation and Job’s friends were wrong to try to find the cause of all Job’s suffering. Finally, God did restore good health and fortune to Job, but not as a vindication of Job’s suffering: God just up and did it because that’s what God does.

It’s a remarkable story in many ways, but what it draws out of our Gospel reading today are the issues of power and control. Like Job, the Sadducees were trying to assign fairness and justice to a situation which is dictated by neither of them. Like us, the Sadducees were trying to show Jesus how manifestly unfair it would be to resurrect the dead with no regard for what that might do to the social order. The Sadducees were threatened by the resurrection because they couldn’t control it and it wasn’t fair. Are we so different?

Life is not always a question of what’s fair and right. Yes, if you don’t steal you’ll never go to jail for robbery, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never get cancer or lose a house to a fire or something even worse. God Himself admits at the end of the book of Job that the creation isn’t fair. But life is good, and God has intended for life to be good, both now and in the life to come which God has promised.

The good news today is that resurrection does happen, even in the church! If we’re threatened by the resurrection, as the Sadducees and Pharisees of Jesus day seem to have been, it’s our problem, not God’s – and yet Jesus takes the problem upon Himself because it’s the only way to cut through the Gordian knot of our sinful bondage to power and control. “No, resurrection isn’t fair,” Jesus says, “but it’s yours nonetheless: what are you going to do with it?” Will you reject the gift because it threatens the life you’ve so carefully constructed? Will you turn away from God’s goodness because it offends your sense of who you are? Will you refuse the invitation to graceful living because of the company you might be forced to keep? These are the kind of things that God stirs up in us when God gets busy with resurrecting the dead and calling sinners to be saints. Resurrection threatens every power in our existence because it’s the one thing we cannot control, but only experience and, in the end, accept or deny. Resurrection is not always pretty, and it’s certainly not fair, but it is good. More importantly, resurrection is what God promises, and belief that God will deliver on that promise in the life to come makes the effects of that promise happen right here, right now. As we believe that God will raise us in the life to come, so we feel the power of the resurrection in the life we have now, and the more we believe, the more we surrender to its power and live the life God has always wanted us to live. The hope of the resurrection to come breaks all power and control over the live we live now, and that hope cannot be denied to those whom God has called through the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ.

So, today you are threatened with resurrection: how will you respond? Will you, like the Sadducees, insist on what’s fair and right and just and miss what is good? Or will you let the hope of what God has in store give you the goodness God wants for you now? I pray you’ll surrender to the God of the living who lives within you right now and promises grace and mercy in this life and in the life to come. And as the apostle Paul once wrote, “may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.” And all God’s people said, “AMEN.”



[1] Dictionary of the Bible, John L. McKenzie, S.J. © 1965, MacMillan Publishing Company. p. 758

10 November 2007

Passion, Pride and Character

This was the scene in Lincoln today:





76-39 over the Kansas State Wildcats. Joe Ganz's numbers: 30-40 for 510 yards and several touchdowns. Over 700 total yards of offense. A big win and much needed balm in the final home game of this tumultuous season. Just so everyone remembers what's been going on, here's what happened last week:





Yes, that's Kevin Cosgrove leaving the field in tears after the worst defensive performance by a Nebraska team. Ever. Anyone in Lincoln still want to complain about Kansas running up the score last week? Didn't think so.

Maintaining a sense of perspective has always been one of the most difficult aspects of being a Cornhusker born in the glory years of the Osborne era. Folks like me, who are too young to remember the lean years before the Bobfather arrived and turned the ship around, think that Nebraska fans have a right to 9 wins and a major bowl game every year, and that the coaches and players are letting US down when those rights aren't ensured. Well, folks, here's the truth: none of us have made it particularly easy for the Callahan era to be successful. The best you could say is that we reserved judgment; the worst that we undermined a group of guys who've poured everything they have into this program for the past four years.

Sure, the contract buyouts will be large, but don't you think the guys on that staff would trade every last dime for the kind of success we once took for granted? You don't leave the field in tears if you're just phoning it in - and whether you like the Callahan staff or not, we've all gotta admit they left everything they had on the field. Arrogant? Perhaps - but perhaps that arrogance is the flip side of the passion the current staff has for the game of football and the dreams they had for a Cornhusker resurgence. Maybe they will get pink-slipped after the Colorado game, and maybe that's for the best, but please, folks, can we regain the humanity and decency that was once THE hallmark of this program? Teach your kids what it means to be a Cornhusker:
Not the victory but the action.
Not the goal but the game.
In the deed the glory.

To illustrate, a final picture:


Thomas Rice is a fifth-year defensive end from Lincoln. Until today, he'd never played a down in his five years at Nebraska. Not one kickoff or punt return. Not one snap. But today he got called up, came in, and tackled an opposing receiver for a one-yard gain. That's passion. That's pride. That's character. That is the essence of what it means to be a Cornhusker. I don't care if you're 0-11, 5-6 or 11-0, character matters more than victory and somehow we've lost sight of it this year. Here's hoping we can get it back and truly "restore the order" in the near future.

09 November 2007

Friday Five: Extravagant Unbusyness

Here's the Friday Five from Sally at RevGalBlogPals:
I am writing in my official capacity of grump!!! No seriously, with the shops and stores around us filling with Christmas gifts and decorations, the holiday season moving up on us quickly for many the time from Thanksgiving onwards will be spent in a headlong rush towards Christmas with hardly a time to breathe.... I am looking at the possibility of finding little gaps in the day or the week to spend in extravagant unbusyness ( a wonderful phrase coined by fellow revgal Michelle)...

So given those little gaps, name 5 things you would do to;
1.to care for your body
2. to care for your spirit
3. to care for your mind
4. to bring a sparkle to your eye
5. to place a spring in your step

Enjoy the time to indulge and dream.... and then for a bonus which one on the list are you determined to put into action?

Oooh, I'm already working on it! Beloved is off to a young women's gathering in the Twin Cities, so I get to spend the day with the Child. We're going to do some visits and see if we can't have lots of fun today!

I suppose that'll be #4 on my list, so here are the others:
1. Run. Hopefully our little one will go down for a nice long afternoon nap so I can get a good run in on the newly-repaired treadmill in the basement.
2. Play with young people. I'm in the pit band for our local high school's production of "Annie, Get Your Gun" and I'm having a blast. These kids have such great energy and enthusiasm for doing what they do - it's energizing for me and shows me that the generation growing up after me knows what it means to have joy and passion, to the contrary of much grumbling by those who won't take the time to understand them.
3. Catch up on the news. I usually read the newspaper front to back on a daily basis, and remembering some of what I read does tend to exercise the mind. If I lived in or near New York City, I would ROCK the Cash Cab!
4. See above.
5. Sleep. Just friggin' sleep, facryinoutloud!

Now, I'm putting all of them into action at some point today, but the one to which I'll commit right now is #5. No late night blog catchups - they can wait until tomorrow morning!