31 October 2008

2008 Running Goal

In the sidebar on the right you'll notice I've got a running report - this comes from the nifty training log at Runner's World magazine's website. It's a neat tool - I've got most of my running routes mapped so that all I have to do to keep track of my times & distances is enter what I've done that day. As of today, October 31, I've got 480 miles on the year with two months to go. That means if I get 60 miles in both November and December, I will have run 600 miles in 2008. Since I have yet to meet my goal of breaking 4 hours in a marathon, this one will have to do for the year. I do hope to continue shuffling along and eventually break that 4 hour barrier. But I might have to give up some beer and ice cream to do it, and I'm not sure it's worth the suffering. :-)

It's pretty cool how the miles add up after a while. And how much I'd missed being a regular runner while we were adjusting to Alanna being in the house. The last two months have seen steady improvement in both regularity and distance, so hopefully I can keep that up over the winter and really push on when spring rolls around.

Friday Five: Positive Potpourri

Will Smama has the Friday Five from RevGals this week:

Greetings friends! It's been awhile since I've contributed to the posts here at
the revgalblogpals website, but I agreed to step into the Fifth Friday of the
Month Friday Five slot.

So here I be.

As I zip around the
webring it is quite clear that we are getting BUSY. "Tis the season" when clergy
and laypeople alike walk the highwire from Fall programming to Christmas
carrying their balancing pole with family/rest on the one side and turkey
shelters/advent wreaths on the other.

And so I offer this Friday Five
with 5 quick hit questions... and a bonus:

1) Your work day is done and the brain is fried, what do you do?

Stay at the office and do some posting on the Husker bulletin boards at the Lincoln Journal-Star website. Because, let's face it, with two girls under the age of two at home, there ain't no rest at home until at least one of them is asleep.

2) Your work week is done and the brain is fried (for some Friday, others Sunday afternoon), what do you do?

Fridays I try to get home and go for a walk or something similar with Kris & the girls. Sundays, if I'm lucky, I get two hours to read through the Sunday paper. I'm not a napper, so Kris takes my preacher's nap for me and I read the paper, IF the girls are both asleep. Hasn't happened much lately.

3) Like most of us, I often keep myself busy even while programs are on the tv. I stop to watch The Office and 30 Rock on Thursday nights. Do you have 'stop everything' tv programming or books or events or projects that are totally 'for you' moments?

Anytime my beloved Cornhuskers are on TV. Anyone who knows me knows better than to interrupt anything Cornhusker. Beyond that, we love our new DVR because we can just wait until we've got time to catch anything else. I do like to read, also, but lately that's been a struggle since I'm getting home after 10:30 several nights a week and that doesn't lead to quality reading. I also love to do yard work, but again, with our girls it's sometimes impossible to do what I'd like to do.

4) When was the last time you laughed, really laughed? What was so funny?

Last night, at Theology on Tap, when I asked D why he keeps coming back to our faith community, and he immediately answered, "Guilt." :-)

5) What is a fairly common item that some people are willing to go cheap on, but you are not.

Beer and/or coffee. Life is far too short to drink cheap versions of either one. Also, shoes. I've paid over $100 for each of the last three pairs of 'work' shoes I've bought (black & brown Dr. Marten's boots and a pair of Born dress boots), but they are all at least four years old and showing no signs of wearing out.

Bonus: It's become trite but is also true that we often benefit the most when we give. Go ahead, toot your own horn. When was the last time you gave until it felt good?

This is going to sound a bit weird, but I've been doing much better at pastoral care since I moved to this new call, and it feels good. Pastoral care is NOT something I do well; I've always been far more of the "preach and teach" pastor, and I've learned to be honest about that so that folks understand who I am and why some things they might expect from a pastor are difficult for me. But a few of our students have come to me for 'counseling,' and I've found myself able to do it, and do it well, I think. Not that I'm going to be looking for a chaplain's call anytime soon - I'd no more ask people to let me do that than I would ask them to let me remove their appendix. But it feels good to know that something I've always considered a weakness is improving, even if it'll never be my strong suit. So, no, it's not "giving until it feels good," per se, but I think it fits the spirit of the question. Besides, it's my blog, right? :-)

28 October 2008

Reading Day

I'm spending the morning slowly but steadily digging "out from under" in my office.

Every once in a while, when things get particularly hectic, the stuff on the desk piles up as I spend my time working on other stuff. I realized this morning that today would be a great day for getting to the pile, hitting the "tasks" list on my PDA, then spending the afternoon catching up on my reading.

One of the great privileges of ministry is the fact that I'm expected to be well-read. Newspapers, journals, books - all of them contribute to the ministry I'm carrying out here. And, since corralling two girls under the age of two doesn't leave a lot of time (or energy) for reading at home, my study here is where I get that reading done lately.

Granted, it's not Tolkien: it's work. But it is work that feeds me, leaves me challenged, invigorated and enthusiastic. And I get to do that today. Hurrah for reading!

27 October 2008

First Stupid, Now Sleepy

I did a stupid thing Saturday night.
After an exciting Cornhusker victory over Baylor, followed by a great night in our campus ministry's concession stand at Jack Trice Stadium on the Iowa State campus (right across from sections 13-16 on the West Stadium side - we're the ones who sell brats and burgers), I came home and was just too jacked to sleep. Was still too worked up after finishing my sermon at 1:30 A.M., AND after doing a lot of Husker browsing until 3:30 A.M. Got to sleep around 4:00 and was up at 6:30 with Alanna.
All day yesterday I felt pretty good. It was Reformation Sunday, so lots of energy was not hard to come by. We spent the afternoon lazing around the house and the evening doing church stuff: joining a local church for a Halloween potluck, then heading back to the Center for the movie "Luther" starring Joseph Fiennes, Sir Peter Ustinov and Alfred Molina (Not a bad flick - you should watch it). I got home, read the Sunday paper, then fell asleep at 10:00, but not "exhausted" as I might have imagined.
Oh, no - that was today's big treat.
All day I've felt like an absolute zombie. The weather isn't helping much: cloudy, windy and cold. I hear there's snow to the north of us. In all, it's hard to fight the urge to just crawl into bed, especially when the girls are napping nicely, at the same time, for the first time in a couple of weeks.
I thought that as you got older, you learned better than to do things like this. Apparently, the only thing that's happened is I've lost the ability to go without a good night's sleep.
*sigh* That's just great.

26 October 2008

Sermon for Reformation Sunday - "Grace, Faith & Freedom"

Today, a history lesson. Several, in fact. In late October 1517, a young priest and professor of Old Testament in Wittenberg, Saxony, wrote out 95 statements regarding the sale of indulgences and posted them publicly for debate. Legend has it that he posted the list of statements, commonly known as "theses," on the door of the Schlosskirche / Castle Church, where many public announcements were posted. Legend may or may not be true. What is true for certain is that this one priest was caught up in a web of courage and circumstance that led to a changing of an era.
What do you know about this thing we call "The Reformation?" Well, since this is a campus ministry, it seems that perhaps a pop quiz is in order. So, here goes.

1. True or False: Martin Luther was the first person bold enough to stand up to the Church and demand reform.

2. Martin Luther was a member of the _____________________ Order.
a. Augustinian
b. Benedictine
c. Jesuit
d. Franciscan

3. True or False: The Reformers were unified in their determination to change the church and their beliefs about how it should be changed.

4. The four "solas" or "alones" of the Reformation are __________ alone, ____________ alone, ____________ alone, and ____________ alone.

5. The tune for "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" was:
a. a common drinking song.
b. a Gregorian chant melody.
c. written by Luther himself.

6. Luther was sent to college in Erfurt to become:
a. a schoolteacher.
b. a miner.
c. a priest.
d. a lawyer.

7. True or False: Once the Roman church agreed not to persecute Protestants, everyone was free to choose whether they would be Protestant or Roman Catholic.

8. The Reformation ended:
a. when the Augsburg Confession was presented in 1530.
b. when Luther died in 1546.
c. when the Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648.
d. it hasn't: the Reformation continues to this day.

9. True or False: In 1999 the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic church signed a Joint Document on the Doctrine of Justification, which outlined significant areas of agreement regarding the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ and a revoking of condemnations between the two churches that had stood for nearly 500 years.

10. The greatest and most important change brought about by the Reformation is:
a. translation of God's Word from original Latin, Greek and Hebrew to thousands of languages around the world, making it accessible to every ethnic group known to humankind.
b. worship in the local language, making an understanding of God's presence in the sacraments possible to all who come and see.
c. the revelation of the "priesthood of all believers," a major theological tenet of the Protestant church from that day to the present.
d. all of the above.

Why Reformation? Why spend a Sunday commemorating what was, in many ways, the darkest, bloodiest and most misunderstood era in the body of Christ? Is it a feast to commemorate Martin Luther? NO. Reformation Sunday is not about Luther – at least, not specifically. What we commemorate today is rather the gifts God revealed to the whole church through the work of the Reformers.
First, GRACE. Jesus says, "Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the Son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." We cannot come before God this day on the merit of the things we do. The power that brings us here today is not dependent upon our good works, our moral clarity or our own spiritual ideas. What brings us here today, to gather before God in worship and praise, is the grace of Jesus Christ alone. No other power in heaven or on earth can free us from our bondage to sin, death and the power of evil. No other power in heaven or on earth can heal the wounds we cause to ourselves, to each other, and most importantly, the wounds we inflicted on the Son of God when we demanded his death rather than accept God's forgiveness. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2.8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…" The church at times over the centuries has buried the power of grace under the weight of our good works: today we celebrate the means by which God has used reformation to restore the power of grace, calling us in and gathering us together when no other power or person could have done it.
Second, FAITH. Paul also writes in Romans 3, "…we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law." Again, at times throughout history, our church has fallen victim to the false belief that God's law can save us from our sins, that if we just work hard enough, live well enough, all will be right and every reward God has for God's people will be ours. Those of us who've been working through the book of Job in our weekly Bible study know how that worked out for Job – the upright man who was so conscientious he offered sacrifices for his children on the off chance that they might have sinned. Through the work of Reformers of every age, God has reminded the church again and again that our works cannot save us – the gift of salvation is already ours in Jesus Christ, the blessed Son of his loving Father. And here's an important distinction: even faith in Jesus can become an idol if we're not careful. Some would have you believe that you must pray a certain prayer or attain a certain level of belief before you are saved. Folks, if the Reformation taught us anything, it is that the power of superstition and fear are constantly at work, even in the places where God would meet us in faith. In Christ you have all you need, and the only thing that can sever that relationship is your refusal to acknowledge the gift God has already given to you in Jesus. "Since all have sinned," Paul writes, "[we] are now justified by God's grace as a gift." In other words, you and God are okay, right now: believe it, because it's true.
Finally, FREEDOM. On this day we celebrate the gift of freedom, and not in some über-patriotic blather about 'spreading democracy' or some such nonsense. When we children of the Reformation talk about freedom, we mean true freedom, bestowed upon us by God and by God alone. In the grace and mercy of Christ you and I have been set free from the tyranny of sin, death and, especially, self-delusion. We are free from any demand the world can place upon us to justify our existence, because by grace through faith we have been convinced that we are God's beloved children, and we need no other rationale for our existence. Think of a child beginning to question her parents about how she came to be: how will good parents answer their child's questions? "Well, we loved each other, and we wanted a child to love also, and so in our love and God's care you were born." Some of you may not have had earthly parents who feel this way about you, but I can promise you that you have a heavenly parent who does love you, even more deeply and passionately than all our words can describe. If we are assured of this love, what power in heaven or earth could harm us? AND, since that great love has swept us up into itself, we are now free of every chain this earthly life might attempt to throw upon us. But here is the final great gift of this freedom: we are now free to live, not for ourselves, but for the loving God who created us and our brothers and sisters who surround us. As Luther once wrote, "Although I am an unworthy and condemned [person], my God has given me in Christ all the riches of righteousness and salvation without any merit on my part, out of pure, free mercy, so that from now on I need nothing except faith which believes that this is true. Why should I not therefore freely, joyfully, with all my heart and with an eager will do all things which I know are pleasing and acceptable to my neighbor, just as Christ offered himself to me; I will do nothing in this life except what I see is necessary, profitable and salutary to my neighbor, since through faith I have an abundance of all good things in Christ.
Friends, we don't come to this day to celebrate a rebellion – we come to this day to celebrate a renewal. The reformers believed that the church, reformed, is always being reformed, and so we gather today as reformers ourselves, the spiritual descendants of all those who have gone before us. We give thanks for all those whose work has changed the church and called us back to faith in Christ, and we joyfully bow our necks to take up the yoke and continue the work all of God's reformers have begun. Brothers and sisters, my fellow children of the Reformation, your lives have been swept into an ongoing story of grace, faith and freedom: God bless you as you continue the work of Reformation from this day forward. Amen.

Eine Gut YouTube Video fur Reformation Sonntag

Just a few folks you might know will be celebrating today - take a listen!

One FYI, however: Garrison Keillor is NOT Lutheran - he's Episcopalian. He just plays a Lutheran on National Public Radio - sometimes with painful accuracy...

25 October 2008

Tussle on the Turf

NU Graduate Assistant and 2007 Team Captain Brandon Rigoni takes on NU Wrestling Coach Mark Manning. Manning had five attempts to stop Rigoni reaching the end zone.

Folks, this is why you love Nebraska sports.




24 October 2008

Another Unfortunate Headline (Seriously, Is ANYONE Checking These Things?)

From ELCA News:

"ELCA Radio Ministry Features Head of John Deere"

I'm thinking it's a good thing it's not the ELCA video ministry - Peter Marty interviewing a 122 years-dead cranium wouldn't look good...

Friday Five: Movin' On Up!

This week's Friday Five comes from Singing Owl:
My daughter, her husband, and their toddler, Trinity Ann, are moving from Minneapolis, Minnesota to our place. It's a long story, but the short version is that they will be loading a Ryder truck on Saturday, and on Sunday afternoon we will unload it into a storage unit in our town. They will move themselves, their two cats and their BIG dog into our place. Yes, there will be issues, but this Friday Five isn't really about that. (Prayers for jobs for them and patience for all of us are most welcome, however.) This post is about locations. My husband has lived at 64 addresses in his life so far (16 with me) and he suggested the topic since we have moving trucks on our minds.
Therefore, tell us about the five favorite places you have lived in your lifetime. What did you like? What kind of place was it? Anything special happen there?
If you have lived in less than five places, you can tell us about a fantasy location.
Okay, so here goes with my five favorite places:
1. Lincoln, Nebraska.
I lived in Lincoln for seven years; outside of my parents' farm, the longest I've lived anywhere in my life. Lincoln is a city of approximately 300,000 these days, a bit less, perhaps, but it's just the right size for me: big enough to have just about anything you need, small enough to maintain a sense of community. Also, it's the home of: my alma mater, the University of Nebraska - Lincoln; Cornhusker football; my favorite coffeehouse, The Mill; the best prime rib in the country at Misty's Steakhouse; and much, much more, including several friends who stayed in Lincoln after graduation or moved back. Great town, great people, we're hoping to move there someday (but not in a hurry, thanks!)

2. Wakefield, Nebraska.
My hometown. The Baseball Capital of Nebraska. Home to the two-time defending Class C-2 Football Champion Wakefield Trojans. Home to one of the largest egg production complexes in the world, formerly known as the Milton G. Waldbaum Egg Company. Home to my family's church for four generations, Salem Lutheran Church. Home to the Little Red Hen Community Theatre, one of the best community theatres in a town of 1,400 in the country, IMHO. Again, great town, great people - even my wife likes coming back to this small farming community in beautiful, somewhat hilly northeastern Nebraska (and you all thought Nebraska was flat? Pshaw - that's just the interstate!).

3. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota.
Commonly known as "The Cities" to those who actually live there, it's a wonderful metropolitan area that is underrated in terms of music and artistic venues. I had the privilege of befriending a trumpet player in the Minnesota Orchestra due to some Nebraska ties, and for three years I had comps to the Orchestra for just about any show I wanted. Kris and I took in the Orchestra on one of our first dates - obviously it was impressive! For someone interested in arts and culture, I think it might be even better than Chicago on the whole: the Guthrie Theater, two very accomplished orchestras, several art galleries, a good jazz scene headlined by the Dakota, the University of Minnesota, and many other items that I never got the chance to peruse in three years living there. And as many of us like to say, it's Minnesota, where the Lutherans are dense! (You decide which interpretation to take on that one...)

4. Ames, Iowa.
We've lived here in Ames for almost eleven months now, and we like it very much. It's like Lincoln distilled down just a bit: 55,000 people, with many of the same amenities in a geographically smaller area. Parks and recreation here are outstanding, as are the public schools and the Iowa State University campus. Opportunities abound for family functions, and we've got most of the stores anyone could need, with more shopping opportunities 45 minutes south in Des Moines and its suburbs. It's a perfect location for us as a family: we're 4 hours from my hometown, 4 hours from Kristin's sister in the Cities, and 45 minutes from the airport where friends and family can fly in for a visit. And we're not too far from Lincoln, either. Look for this one to climb the ranks the longer we stay here.

5. Barrett, Minnesota.
We loved much about our 4 1/2 years in Barrett. It's 30 miles west of Alexandria, on the southern edge of Minnesota's "Lake Country." Barrett is a town of 350 wrapped around 500-acre Barrett Lake, and in the fall it's about as picturesque as you could want:

In addition to being a beautiful small town, Barrett is home to West Central Area Schools, a consolidated area school system that is one of the best rural systems I've ever seen. We would have been very happy if Ainsley and Alanna had gone to school at WCA. Our former congregation, Peace Lutheran Church, is the only church in town and takes its "parish" responsibilities seriously, contributing much to the community throughout the year. I would also be remiss if I failed to mention Prairie Wind Players, the best community theater in Minnesota pound-for-pound. There is no reason a town of 350 should be able to produce the quality productions one can find at PWP, but 25 years of dedicated work has produced some stunning work. I had the privilege to appear in several plays in my time in Barrett, and I enjoyed each exerience immensely.

That's the "Movin' On Up" edition of this week's Friday Five!

23 October 2008

To Boldly Go Where No Copy Editor Has Gone Before

Here's what I read in last night's edition of our local paper:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — William Shatner is setting his phaser to stun against his old "Star Trek" co-star George Takei.

In a video posted on Shatner's Web site Wednesday, he lashed out at Takei for not inviting him to his wedding last month. The 77-year-old Kirk said Takei, who played Enterprise helmsman Sulu, apparently harbors a grudge against him that kept him from being invited to Takei's nuptials.

"The whole thing makes me feel badly," Shatner said in the video. "Poor man. There is such a sickness there. It's so patently obvious that there is a psychosis there. I don't know what his original thing about me was. I have no idea."

Oops - you can't make this stuff up!

Wednesday Night Reflection: "Remember"

Jeremiah 31.31-36: The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, master');" onmouseout="return nd();"> says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

I had a terrible day with my girls yesterday.

Since I'd been out of town at our Synod Theological Conference Sunday night through Tuesday afternoon, I stayed home yesterday to watch the girls and catch up on some home chores. But the catching up didn't really happen until our nanny came at 2:30, and here's why. First, Ainsley refused to sleep at naptime. She decided, instead, to jump off her bed onto the floor for a few minutes, then empty out a drawer onto the floor. Wash, rinse, repeat. For 45 minutes. Why, one might ask, would Daddy allow this to go on for 45 minutes? Because Alanna has suddenly developed an aversion to heretofore-beloved swing. She fell asleep in my arms three times, and each time I put her into the swing, she promptly went into "meltdown" mode and was screaming bloody murder by the time I reached the top of the stairs to check on Ainsley. I wound up holding one screaming three month-old and consoling a screaming toddler who wanted to be held but couldn't be. For 20 minutes. Not fun.

Today? I don't remember yesterday. I don't mean that I've forgotten what happened: what I mean is that it doesn't have anything to do with how I treated our girls this morning. We love our children, and in that love their less-than-stellar moments aren't what we remember.

This coming Sunday is Reformation Sunday for those of us in the Protestant vein of the Church. While I have a deep love for all things Luther, and while we will indeed celebrate Dr. Martin's part in the incredible events of his time, Reformation Sunday is not about the reformers. It isn't even about the period we commonly call "The Reformation," although of course that time does figure into what we say and do each week in worship. What we celebrate, primarily, is the ongoing reformation of God's church: the continuing revelation of the gospel in ways that surprise, transform, and equip us for the times in which we live. We do not celebrate a period that ended 400 years ago: we celebrate the work of the Spirit which continues to reform the church today.

Our reading from Jeremiah is one such example of what it is we celebrate. In Luther's time, the church (and by that I mean "WE the church") had come to believe that God was continually angry at sinners, and our primary means of grace was propitiating our angry God through acts of penance and, frankly, superstitious practices like buying indulgences and donating huge gifts to the church (which would earn grace in return). But the Spirit revealed to the reformers that God is indeed merciful, beyond our understanding. One of my former seminary professors says that Jeremiah's words reminded him of being told not to play ball in the house as a child. Of course, he did play ball in the house, and soon a vase that was a wedding gift to his parents lay at his feet, shattered beyond repair. God looks at the pieces of that vase, at the damage we have done to ourselves and to our relationship with God, and chooses grace for our future. "I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sins no more." These are not the words of a furious tyrant who must be appeased: these are the words of a loving parent who knows full well the sins of the child - but God our loving parent chooses grace and forgiveness, and we, God's children, can do nothing to earn that love or make it more than what it already is.

Instead of our sin, God remembers the love in which we were created. We do not fear an angry, judgmental tyrant who must be appeased. We are loved by our Creator, who calls us to remember the ways in which we have been loved in the past. This is the great gift of the ongoing reformation of the church: the call of God to remember, always, that in our baptism we are the children of God, and if children, then heirs according to God's promise.

Remember, always, that God remembers you: not because of the sins you've committed, but out of love for the child of wonder, the child of God, that you are. Amen.

18 October 2008

Sermon for the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost - "The Ultimate Bailout"

Reach into your pockets and pull out your change. If you have a purse, open it up and pull out a coin, please. Everyone needs to have some money in their hand.

Look at your money very closely: is there an inscription on it that claims the image presented is an image of God? No? This is what was inscribed on a Roman denarius in Jesus’ time – the claim that the emperor was divine, a god – and so money was printed bearing the emperor’s image.

There are days when I’d prefer that our money would be printed with some kind of indication as to how we worship it. At least then we might be a little more honest with what truly captivates our lives and demands our attention. Let us pray: Almighty God, you ask only that we give to you what is right. Help us to see the truth of what you ask, and to entrust what is right into your care. Amen.

The Rev. Fred Craddock tells a story about a friend of his who once worked as a missionary in China. At the time, it was common for missionaries to be under house arrest, and this particular man was no exception. Finally, soldiers from the Chinese army came to tell him he could go back to America. He and his wife rejoiced – their family would be free again!

There was a catch, however: the soldiers said, “You can take 200 pounds with you.”

“Well, they’d been there for years. Two hundred pounds. They got the scales and started the family arguments: two children, wife, husband. Must have this vase. Well, this is a new typewriter. What about my books? And they weighed everything and took it off and weighed this and took it off and weighed this and, finally, right on the dot, two hundred pounds.

The soldier asked, “Ready to go?”


“Did you weigh everything?”


“You weighed the kids?”

“No, we didn’t.”

“Weigh the kids.”

In a moment, typewriter and vase and all became trash. Trash. It happens.”

Images and values and demands are volatile: they have a tendency to shift and change and evolve faster than we can imagine. Look at the massive swings in the stock market over the past few weeks, and remember that these aren’t cash transactions taking place: they are speculation on the relative value of certain companies and industries, the rise and fall of what we think they’re worth. As a general rule, most of us love children: as a father, I can tell you that when the child in question has my curly red hair and blue eyes, or her mother’s nose and dark hair, I find it hard to think about anything else at the end of the day. Everything is in flux, and everything is negotiable, even your own life.

Don’t believe me? Let’s see if we can’t do an exercise in valuation this morning. How many of you have nickels in your hands? Okay – find someone with a nickel, and trade nickels. How about quarters? Trade quarters. Anyone with a $20? Come up here and give it to me. J

Now – those of you who came with your boyfriend or husband, raise your hand. Come up here and trade with each other. You won’t? Why not? Isn’t one husband the same as another? Do you mean to say you are partial to your spouse? My goodness – Jesus wasn’t partial, so why are you?

The Pharisees made one little mistake in trying to trap Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. They assumed that Jesus was impartial. They assumed that Jesus cared as little for people as he did for money. They assumed wrong. For Jesus, the image of Caesar on the coin is not the issue – it is the image of God in Caesar himself that matters, as it is the image of God in Caiaphas the high priest, Joseph of Arimathea, the other Temple authorities and everyone listening to Jesus speak. When it comes to the image of God within us, Jesus has an extremely partial heart. A coin is a coin is a coin, but each and every person is a work of the hands of Christ – Jesus is as partial to individuals as He can be.

God, we discover, is impartial to stuff. As the Rev. Craddock noted, stuff is trash when compared with people we love. God was impartial to the coin bearing Caesar’s image; God was very partial to Caesar himself and how Caesar governed his people. God was impartial to the possessions and estates of Cyrus, the king of Persia; but God was very partial to Cyrus’ role in freeing the people of Israel to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. God was impartial to the idols and false worship that once ruled the church in Thessalonika, but God was very partial to their true worship after meeting Paul, and Paul showed God’s partiality by thanking the Thessalonians for their faithfulness in the face of persecution.

Partiality is part of the deal when it comes to Christ’s regard for creation. The value that Jesus sees in each and every individual life is not determined by anything but the image of God within us. Images have no power without that extremely biased, partial value. You’re all familiar with the swastika, the symbol of the Nazi Party: did you know that prior to the rise of the Third Reich, the swastika was a holy image for Buddhists and Hindis across the world? Images have no power without the partiality of those who see them, and Christ himself has an extremely partial regard for all of God’s image-filled children: even the Pharisees, the Herodians, even Caesar himself.

With that partiality comes value and identity. I once played a game in my former parish with German coins as tokens, because I knew those coins had no value in America. I wouldn’t do the same if I were playing the game in Germany. Germans are partial to the Euro because there is a demand for them; Americans are partial to quarters for the same reason. But in Germany and in America, people have a value that far exceeds any coin. Trade a quarter for a quarter and you come out with the same thing. Trade Joe Plumber for Jane Six-pack and you don’t have a deal, because Joe isn’t the same as Jane. The demand for each of us is different in different circumstances, and each of us is valuable for different reasons to different people. The question is: why are we so valuable to God, which part is God going to demand from us, and what is God willing to pay?

“Give to God the things that are God’s,” Jesus says. God is demanding something from us – and isn’t it funny how we assume this means money. Even before God, money has a tendency to capture our attention. Instead of angels dancing on the head of a pin, many of us are trying to figure out how to pay the bills, keep gas in the car, get a few drinks on the weekend and maybe throw a bone to the church once in a while. But money isn’t the issue here.

The issue isn’t your time or your possessions, either. How would you figure the value of your time in our faith community? Hours worked? Lives touched? Walls painted? Floors cleaned? Psalms memorized? Bibles given away? When would you give or do enough to satisfy God’s demands? How would you know? Is God more partial to one person’s reading and another person’s singing? Who determines the value? These questions are often the distraction which takes us away from the true demand God is making of us.

Here is God’s demand, which goes far beyond a denaius! God is simply not interested in bargaining for you piece-by-piece – God wants the whole pie or nothing at all. In poker terms, God is asking you to go “all in.” Christ is extremely partial toward you, because your baptism marks you as a member of Christ’s body, every last molecule from the day you were washed in that water to the day you die. Like those coins from Roman times, you’ve been marked with the image of God, and when Jesus says, “Give to God the things that are God’s,” well, that doesn’t leave much room for discussion, does it?

Just as Caesar demanded his denarius all those years ago, God is now issuing a demand for you. You belong to God; you are God’s own child; you bear God’s image in yourself; you cannot be exchanged for anything or anybody else. God is extremely partial toward you, and this partiality comes with a promise: “Come, take the righteousness I bring, the promises of grace and mercy I give to you, and give me all that you are – body, spirit, possessions and everything else. I am willing to demand your stuff in order to get your life, for your life is worth far more to me than your stuff. But the gift I give in return is far more than I take, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. You are my own, I will have you, beloved child, and there is no price I am unwilling to pay, even the price of my own life.”

Demanding? Yes. Reckless? Yes. Foolish? Yes, to the tenth power. Here is a fool’s bargain presented to us, the ultimate bailout: Christ’s own life given, not at cut-rate prices, but for those who didn’t want it in the first place. We would rather pay the denarius than accept the free gift – and so God bends to our demands and plays by our rules. God demands all that we have, and then returns it to us with the added gift of Christ’s own mercy, the gift God wanted to give all along. Baptism is the contract and the Lord’s Supper is the reminder that payment has been made on our account. The bargain is so outrageously unfair that if you were the buyer, you’d walk away from the bargaining table laughing at the demand. But because you are the recipient of this foolish bargain, this outrageous price paid for your life, my advice to you is simple: take it – take the deal at face value and run. Tell your friends, tell your family, tell your neighbors: God is giving away heaven for a song, and the bargaining table is right here. Amen.

16 October 2008

Bailout: The Sermon

Finished the sermon this afternoon. Title: "The Ultimate Bailout"

Hey, when you've got good material, you go with it, right?

Since I finished early, I also took the time to finish a food post I started last week. You'll find it below.

The Food List

LutheranChik posted this on her blog, and I thought it looked pretty fun. "It's a list of food and drink that someone -- I forget who -- thinks we all need to taste before we die. The boldfaced items are things that I myself have actually eaten."

1. Venison. LOVE me some deer sausage...
2. Nettle tea.
3. Huevos rancheros.
4. Steak tartare.
5. Crocodile.
6. Black pudding/Blood pudding/Blutwurst. First time was on an Aer Lingus flight to Dublin, by accident ("What is this? Hmmm. Salty and good, whatever it is...") Didn't have it again until a three week stay in Germany in 2003. Still good stuff but, as LutheranChik notes, "enough cholesterol to infarct an elephant."
7. Cheese fondue.
8. Carp.
9. Borscht. But I don't remember what I thought, so I'll need to try it again.
10. Baba ghanoush.
11. Calamari. Chewy rings of deep fried deliciousness.
12. Pho. What, pray tell, is pho? Vietnamese soup of sliced rare beef and well done brisket. I DO NOT EAT RARE ANYTHING.
13. PB&J sandwich.
14. Aloo gobi. Not sure even after I looked it up on Wikipedia.
15. Hot dog from a street cart. How, exactly, have I not done this yet?
16. Epoisses. "A pungent unpasteurized cows-milk cheese." Whatev.
17. Black truffle.
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes. Berry wines from Carlos Creek Wineyards in Alexandria, MN: sweet summery goodness.
19. Steamed pork buns. Think I had this at a dim sum restaurant in San Francisco. We ate a lot of weird shit that day. Good, but weird.
20. Pistachio ice cream. Eww, eww, eww. Ice cream should be vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry, with chunks of real nuts and stuff mixed in if you like, but NEVER pistachio.
21. Heirloom tomatoes.
22. Fresh wild berries. We had several mulberry trees around our house on the farm where I grew up. Have not tried wild blueberries or blackberries, but I hear they're tremendous. Hope I get to someday.
23. Foie gras. Never ever ever.
24. Rice and beans.
25. Brawn, or headcheese. Not that I know of, and I don't think my mom would have been that sadistic.
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper. A cousin of the habanero, apparently. Considering spicy oriental cuisine can make me break into a sweat, I don't think this one's likely to happen.
27. Dulce de leche.
28. Oysters.
29. Baklava. But I hope to someday soon: it sounds delicious.
30. Bagna cauda. A hot dip from the Piedmont area of Italy, made of garlic, anchovies, olive oil, butter and sometimes cream. You dip vegetables in it, apparently. Sounds yummy to me.
31. Wasabi peas. Hope to, though - love horseradish and I hear it's similar.
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl. Good stuff, that.
33. Salted lassi. Blech. You don't want to know.
34. Sauerkraut. Ja, Ich liebe!
35. Root beer float.
36. Cognac with a fat cigar. Someday...
37. Clotted cream tea. Never ever ever.
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O. Vodka, Everclear, Schnapps - whatever we could mix with it. Ten years ago, in the Cape Cod. Ahhhh, the Cape Cod, home of unscrubbed bathrooms, flying forks and Trash Can Punch. Those were the days...
39. Gumbo.
40. Oxtail.
41. Curried goat.
42. Whole insects. No, nay never!
43. Phaal. Hottest curry dish in Indian cuisine? Not on your life.
44. Goat's milk.
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$130 or more. Uh-huh. Like that's gonna happen on a campus pastor's salary...
46. Fugu/Pufferfish. No, but it's the main topic in one of my favorite Simpsons episodes.
47. Chicken tikka masala. Chicken in a curried tomato sauce. Interesting, but haven't tried it yet.
48. Eel.
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut. All together now: "mmmmmm, doughnut..."
50. Sea urchin.
51. Prickly pear.
52. Umeboshi. Japanese, pickled ume fruits. I'd try it.
53. Abalone.
54. Paneer.
55. McDonald's Big Mac Meal. But I prefer the Doublecheeseburger meal, complete with the McGurgles and the McHeartburn.
56. Spaetzle. The Black Forest Inn in Minneapolis makes good spaetzle.
57. Dirty gin martini.
58. Beer above 8% ABV. Well, duh.
59. Poutine. From Wikipedia: "Poutine is a dish consisting of French Fries topped with fresh cheese curds, covered with brown gravy and sometimes additional ingredients. The freshness of the curds is important, as it makes them soft in the warm fries, without completely melting." Again, how have I not tried this yet? God bless the Quebecois...
60. Carob chips.
61. S'mores.
62. Sweetbreads. Nope - even though Dr. Lecter mentions sweetmeats in The Silence of the Lambs, one of my favorite books/movies of all time (though, to be accurate, he was talking about human sweetmeats...).
63. Kaolin. This came up as a type of Chinese clay. I hope things aren't so desperate that gourmets are now recommending dirt - that might prove un-tasty.
64. Currywurst. Seriously? Currywurst? Sounds intriguing, but I doubt I'm going to get it any time soon.
65. Durian. A fruit with such potent odor it's been banned from hotels in Southeast Asia. Next!
66. Frogs' legs.
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake. Yes, yes, yes and YES. Deep-fried heaven, all of them!
68. Haggis. Someday, laddie, someday...
69. Fried plantain. No, but would Bananas Foster count?
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette. Nope - try to keep my intake of hog innards to hot dogs, thank you very much.
71. Gazpacho. But not since the last time Ex-Mom-In-Law made it for us. Mmmmm...
72. Caviar and blini.
73. Louche absinthe. I hear that Absinthe is coming back. Why, exactly?
74. Gjetost, or brunost. I'm pretty sure my Grandma Johnson served this for Christmas several times.
75. Roadkill. No, no, no, no...
76. Baijiu. Gesundheit. (Thanks, LC)
77. Hostess Fruit Pie Not for several years, though - WAAAYYYYyy too much sugar.
78. Snail.
79. Lapsang souchong. "Smoked tea." Sounds interesting, but no.
80. Bellini. Sparkling wine & peach puree. Sounds yummy.
81. Tom yum. Sounds like authentic Hot & Sour soup, as opposed to what we get Stateside. I'll pass.
82. Eggs Benedict. But I don't really care for it.
83. Pocky. Thin shortbread Chinese cookies.
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. Again, campus pastor salary? Not likely.
85. Kobe beef. See #84.
86. Hare.
87. Goulash. Both the American mac-and-beef-and-tomato-sauce version and the authentic stuff. Good eats.
88. Flowers. Not sure what it was, but I know it was flowers in a salad, once. Unremarkable, actually.
89. Horse. Had my shot several times in Germany. Hear it's a delicacy. No thanks.
90. Criollo chocolate. Apparently some incredible type of cocoa. I like the good stuff, but haven't heard of this one.
91. SPAM. For some reason, SPAM was our meal whenever the power went out in the winter as a kid. I don't ever remember eating it at any other time. But I have since, and I generally like it.
92. Soft shell crab.
93. Rose harissa. North African hot sauce. Yikes!
94. Catfish.
95. Mole poblano. I've eaten enough Mexican to be sure I've had this at least once.
96. Bagel and lox. Nope - just the bagel.
97. Lobster Thermidor. Never eaten lobster - too much work!
98. Polenta. Ground cornmeal paste. Actually big in certain parts of Minnesota, but I never got the chance.
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee. One of the few types I haven't tried. This, and the stuff that cats poop out. Might try the former someday, but not the latter.

Bonus round
Most unusual food you've ever eaten: Has to be Lutefisk. Can't believe this didn't make the list, actually - is it really that bad? I don't care for the stuff myself, but it's definitely a distinctive food. Another one I'm surprised didn't make the list is Rocky Mountain Oysters. This one I've avoided, since I grew up on a farm and, ahem, "harvested the crop" several times with my dad - but it's a food that should be on the list, absolutely.

This one takes a while, but if you wanna, consider yourself tagged.

15 October 2008


I got interrupted today.

I meant to spend some time reading today, especially early in the day when it was so gloomy, dark and I had a serious case of the Blechs. But then I got interrupted. First it was Pastor Ron asking me about closing the windows in the sanctuary, which I hadn't figured out how to do just yet. Then it was my wife calling me to see if I could figure out what that smell was in the wall of our guest bedroom. Finally it was one of my students needing an interview for an English class.

All these interruptions - they kept me from the fun part of ministry, which is my reading and my study and my theological work. Darnit!

Except that today, the interruptions were the ministry. Without Ron's interruption, we'd have wasted money heating a room that was open to the cold outside air. I went home to discover that three mice had died in the drywall of our guest bedroom, but now we've got a chance to clean and air out the room before my brother and his friends arrive for the game this weekend. And spending the time in the interview gave me a chance to think over some of the particulars of our work at the Lutheran Center that I hadn't considered just yet.

Today's interruptions were common, ordinary interruptions, but they could have been much, much different. It could have been a call from a parent for me to be with a student after receiving news of a loved one's death. It could have been one of my students asking for help dealing with a break-up or a serious mistake or sin they needed to confess. It could have been someone calling to ask for my help with a ministry opportunity too important and good to pass up.

In the Bible, most of the people called to serve God are interrupted in some way or another. Abram and Sarai were the Ancient Near Eastern version of a farming family when God sent them 400 miles west to the land of Canaan. Moses was a shepherd when God called him back to Egypt to free the people of Israel. Peter, James and John were fishermen when Jesus called them to be his disciples. And once the call to that ministry came, the interruptions didn't stop: in fact, they became more frequent. Jesus was constantly being interrupted by the needs of the people around him. Jesus usually ignored or rebuked the disciples' complaints about interruptions; I think he knew all along that interruptions are where real, transforming ministry takes place.

We make time for things in our faith communities, not so we can get closer to God, but so that we can see how close God is to us already. We take time in worship to open our eyes so that, in the midst of crisis and confusion, when the interruption is serious and threatening, we have the faith and courage to believe that God is here among us, that Jesus has not left us alone, that the Holy Spirit empowers and sustains us through all of life's interruptions. We are learning, right here and now, to see that God is concerned with the very common, planned-out, everyday matters of life, and if this is so, then God is also deeply concerned with those interruptions that take our breath away, that leave us weeping for joy, or for sorrow. As you plan this week, as you work, as you are interrupted, know that God is with you in your work, your studies, your play, and those unforeseen things which interrupt your life - and all of them matter, deeply, to the Creator who loves you, the Son who saves you, the Spirit who sustains you. Amen.

Bad Blogger Guy - BAD!

It's another rainy day - so why am I not in New York City?

Bonus points to those of you who heard the horn line behind that lyric from Chicago. beedlee dee dee, beedlee dee dee...

This has been a rough week, even though nothing has happened which should make it rough. I'm not sure if it's the weather, some new late-night campus ministry stuff catching up with me, or perhaps I'm overdoing it in other ways, but whatever it is, it has culminated in 24 hours of wanting to do nothing but curl up with a mug of hot chocolate, a good book and one of my grandmothers' quilts, and read until I fall asleep. Unfortunately, that ain't gonna happen today, and probably won't happen for quite a while. I even had to cut my workout short at the gym this morning because of a splitting headache, and I HATE not being able to finish a workout.

The good news? Nebraska plays at Iowa State this weekend. We've got end-zone tickets with my brother and his girlfriend. Should be fun.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need a cup of coffee. And possibly 10cc of raw adrenaline.

12 October 2008

Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost - "Honesty and Honor"

This is an incredibly complex parable to address in a full sermon, much less a shortened version as we’ll have this morning. My preaching professor said this week that this parable is “PG-13 at best;” it’s harsh, judgmental and full of stumbling blocks for those of us who like easy answers, black and white situations.

Today I see two things I’d like to note in what Jesus says about the kingdom of heaven. The first touches on the king’s anger, specifically verse 7, where the king burns a city to the ground. The king’s anger comes from more than one offense. The first, ignoring and outright rejecting a royal invitation to a banquet, is at the very least in poor taste, if not an act of treason, but this is an offense against the king, and if you look closely, you see that the first offense goes unpunished. It is the second offense, the torture and murder of the king’s messengers, that raises the king’s anger. One commentator noted that “the king’s anger rises out of the king’s love for his people.” [1] If the king is indeed an allegorical stand-in for God the Creator, then the message is clear: God’s love for God’s people extends to God’s messengers, also, and the way we mistreat and refuse to heed those who bring God’s word to us angers God far more than our personal rejection of God’s invitation to relationship. And note the king’s resolve also: there WILL be a banquet to honor the king’s son, it will be attended by those who the king deems worthy of such an honor, and the king, not his people, has the final word on who is worthy to attend the banquet and who is not.

The second point deals with that worthiness, specifically in the case of the man found without a wedding robe at the feast. If we had time and the inclination, we could do a cultural study on the tradition of feast garments in 1st century Palestine and the offense that may or may not come from a guest not being appropriately attired. But as we’ve noted before with these parables from Matthew, this is NOT simple moral instruction with an easily supplied answer. As is almost always true in our life together, the presenting issue is not the issue here – this is far more than a “What Not To Wear” problem. Sorry, Clinton and Stacy, but we won’t be needing your services here today. The issue is a matter of deeper importance, a matter of honesty and honor.

There’s no moral to the story here. This isn’t a dog trotting over a bridge with a bone in his mouth. This is the relationship with God being shattered, and also the means and lengths to which God is willing to go to see to it that the relationship is restored. But there is also judgment here, and a description of our need for repentance, lest we find ourselves cast away from the banquet to which God has invited us. One of my former colleagues from Minnesota coined the phrase “works wrong-teousness” for stuff like this. We cannot become righteous through our works, but we can certainly find ourselves on the outs with God due to our works.

So, what are we to do with the ill-attired wedding guest? A few questions came to mind this week. First question: why didn’t someone else offer to help him find appropriate clothing? Are we really so perverse that we let those around us walk into danger and don’t lend a hand up? Sometimes we are indeed that perverse, and apparently this is one of those times. Second question: why didn’t the guest simply admit his offense? Maybe he didn’t have the money to purchase a proper garment. Maybe he didn’t have time to return to his home to get it. Whatever the reason, an honest confession would most likely have brought about a far different response from the king. But silence and a refusal to address the issue put this man outside the good graces of the king, and so we are cautioned against the same offense.

As I said, this parable addresses the need for honesty and honor: honesty on the part of those who have offended or even rebelled against the king, and honor on the part of those who respond to the king’s summons. Honesty, then, becomes the first step of our repentance. As my friend Tripp noted this week, “I know what that feels like. I know what the outer darkness feels like. I have wept at night. I have gnashed my teeth in fear and anxiety and in the simple knowledge that I have hurt someone. I know this state. And I know that the only way to get back into the wedding banquet is to atone...to stand before the king …and say "Yes. I did this. It's my fault and I own it entirely…I did this. And I wish to be different. May I come to the banquet?” Then we are called to honor the gracious invitation of the king, to acknowledge the invitation and come to the feast with the best of who we are.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians ends on this note of honor. All that is praiseworthy, pure, compassionate: in other words, everything that is the proper attire of a guest at a feast, these are the things for us to pursue, now that we have been invited to the banquet. The wedding robe is not a requirement for admission to the banquet. Remember, the guests had already been seated when the ill-attired man was questioned. No, the wedding robe is a means by which the feast becomes more of what the king intends: a great celebration, filled with joy and laughter. We have been invited to a great feast honoring the Son – let us clothe ourselves in whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy, and come to the table. It doesn’t matter if we rejected the first invitation. It doesn’t matter if others may not think we are worthy to be here. All that matters is the king’s invitation and our thankful response, friends: come, let us eat, for now the feast is spread. Amen.

[1] Rolf Jacobsen, from “Sermon Brainwave.” http://www.workingpreacher.org

11 October 2008

Proud Of My Boys In Red

Nebraska 31
Texas Tech 37

So, why am I pretty happy?

From 52-17 last week vs. Missouri to coming within a play or two of defeating the #7 ranked team in the country? Yeah, I'm pretty happy.

Not "rip my clothes off and go running through the streets naked" happy (which has to be a relief for the neighbors), but "my boys are showing progress" happy.

I've said more than once that the new Husker regime under Bo Pelini reminds me of Oklahoma in the first year under Bob Stoops. Considering the success Oklahoma has had in this decade, that's not a bad place to be.

Being a Husker fan means understanding that the game is more than just the score. True, there are no "moral victories," and Coach Pelini doesn't even like to consider the idea. But to improve, to struggle, to refuse to lay down, to give 100% from kickoff to the final play, that is what it means to play for Nebraska - and my boys left it all out on the field today. They lived out the Husker creed: "Not the victory, but the action. Not the goal, but the game. In the deed, the glory."

Huskers vs. Iowa State next week. In Ames. Gonna take me one game off from our Campus Ministry concession stand and watch this one in person. Should be fun.

Keep the faith.
Go Big Red!

10 October 2008

On the Road Again with the Friday Five

Mother Laura took time from planning for the AAR meeting in Chicago to give us this week's Friday Five:

1. Does your job ever call for travel? Is this a joy or a burden?
I do travel for campus ministry, and thus far it's been a joy. We have a yearly CM Staff conference and I definitely enjoyed meeting my new colleagues in Nashville this spring. In a few weeks I'll be driving to Chicago for new staff orientation, and in between I've been planning retreats and our trip to the Lutheran Student Movement National Gathering in Chicago over New Year's. Spring Break trips and other service trips will also be part of our ministry here. I enjoy meeting new people and exploring with students; the only burden is recruiting these busy students for trips; they never have enough time.

2. How about that of your spouse or partner?
Kristin also travels in her work as a Youth Ministry Director. She'll be doing mission trips every summer and likely will be heading to the ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans this summer (last estimate had some 25,000 kids registered). She enjoys travel also, but for different reasons than I do.

3. What was the best business trip you ever took?
I'd have to say my three week trip to Germany my senior year of seminary. Yes, I know, it's technically not a "business" trip, but I learned more about myself and managing completely foreign situations than I ever imagined possible, and it's made me a much better pastor, so I'm going to count it, and will this sentence ever end? :-)

4. ...and the worst, of course?
Probably the Senior High Gathering I went to a few years ago. Two high school kids who just wanted time away from home, sharing a room with four boys from another town who didn't really want to get to know me, a dreadful conference that wasn't particularly well planned, the WORST praise band I've ever heard (and that's saying a lot, because pretty much every praise band I've ever heard has been only marginally more enjoyable than disemboweling myself with a melon baller), and to top it off, Kristin miscarried our first pregnancy while I was gone. Not a good weekend at all.

5. What would make your next business trip perfect?
1. No flight required.
2. Comfortable private room with a bath tub big enough for a good long soak.
3. Good beer.
4. Time for golf.
5. Good food.
6. Good beer.
7. Good company.
8. A comfortable bed.
9. Access to a park for my morning run.
10. Good beer.
11. A great audiobook to pass the travel time.
12. Did I mention good beer? :-)

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Pictures are from the aforementioned trip to Germany in 2003. From the top: Me in the woods west of the Castle Church in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg (the church where Luther posted the 95 Theses), a plaque identifying the location of the Berlin Wall, the altar and choir of the Castle Church, a statue of Martin Luther outside a church in Erfurt, a shot of me at the Wartburg, where Luther stayed for almost a year following is refusal to recant at the Diet of Worms. Good times.

08 October 2008

The Wednesday Reflection: "The Rebel Jesus"

Text: John 11.45-57

I’m going to go home tonight to a warm house, where my wife and daughters will be safely asleep in their beds. I’ll get a beer out of the fridge, go downstairs to my chair, and sip that beer while I read for a bit before heading off to bed. I like living in this house. I’m comfortable here. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to it – and with the economy going the way it is right now, that’s not just an idle worry for many of us.

Maybe you’ve got your comfort level arranged here, too. After seven or eight weeks of classes your dorm room or your apartment is as set up as it’s going to be. The loan money hasn’t run out yet, so you’re still eating more than just ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese. You know where to go in Ames for good pizza, and where to go for cheap movies. This is something we all do: we build a life that brings enjoyment and comfort, adding in established rituals like “Wednesday Night Pizza” or “Sunday Night Supper.” No one likes to be uncomfortable.

Here’s the thing, though: following Jesus brings about some tough challenges to our comfort. The Pharisees knew it: it was the reason they plotted to kill Jesus, so that his rebellious nature wouldn’t upset the apple cart of religious comfort the church had built around the Temple. Following Jesus was what led the Orthodox to split from Rome and Luther to post the 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church. Following Jesus was what brought the Puritans to America, Bonhoeffer to plot against Hitler and Dr. King to lay his life on the line for a people hungry for justice. It seems to me that Jesus is rarely interested in maintaining the status quo, because it is so easy for us to stop growing and changing and falling victim to the idolatry of “we’ve always done it that way.”

Someone once said, “When you say ‘Yes’ to Jesus, you say ‘No’ to everything else.” It’s not easy, following Jesus, because saying “No” to everything else includes saying “No” to my house, my car, my Cornhuskers, even my wife and my kids. To all these things, which are indeed good, Jesus says, “Wonderful, but let’s keep them in their place, shall we? I am the One who saves you, and I tell you your comforts are far less important than the mission into which I am sending you.”

This reading from John’s gospel brought to mind the song “The Rebel Jesus” by Jackson Browne. True, it’s a Christmas song, but the message of comfort overshadowing Jesus is true today, also. As you listen, may the rebel Jesus reveal to you the love he bears for all of us, and the call to seek first the kingdom of heaven, in which we find the greatest comfort of all: the love and mercy of God the Father, Jesus the cherished Son, and the Spirit who calls us together tonight. Amen.

“The Rebel Jesus” by Jackson Browne

All the streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants' windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
While the sky darkens and freezes
Will be gathering around the hearths and tables
Giving thanks for God's graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus

Well they call him by 'the Prince of Peace'
And they call him by 'the Savior'
And they pray to him upon the seas
And in every bold endeavor
And they fill his churches with their pride and gold
As their faith in him increases
But they've turned the nature that I worship in
From a temple to a robber's den
In the words of the rebel Jesus

Well we guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why there are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

Now pardon me if I have seemed
To take the tone of judgement
For I've no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In a life of hardship and of earthly toil
There's a need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus