31 August 2013

God Pause for Saturday, 31 August 2013

Saturday:  "When Peace Like A River" ELW #785
1 When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
2 Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.  
3 He lives -- oh the bliss of this glorious thought;
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

4 Lord, hasten the day, when our faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trumpet shall sound and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
God reminds us that even in pain, sorrow and death we cannot be separated from the One who loves us.  There are harsh realities in this broken and sinful world:  some have much but will not be generous, while others go hungry and fall into despair.  We are helpless to stop sinning and helpless to fully heal the brokenness of this world.  Yet it is not so with God.  Whether peaceful and content or wracked by doubt, sorrow, fear or guilt, in Christ we all have assurance that it is well with our souls, and that the day will come when all of God’s children will live in peace in the presence of the living God, full of sight and praise, faith made real and sins washed away.

Lord, we travel rough seas in this life.  Our sins shake us to our very bones.  This broken world surrounds us with reminders of how often we have failed you.  Yet you promise mercy.  Renew our faith in the assurance of your righteousness and mercy, that it may be well with our souls.  Amen.

30 August 2013

God Pause for Friday, 30 August 2013

Friday:  Luke 14.12-14
12He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  
Parables are hard work, especially oblique ones like this.  The first temptation is to spiritualize the parable, to interpret “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind” as people who are all those things in spirit.  But this is the Gospel of Luke, where the Beatitudes are specifically NOT spiritual.  In Luke, Jesus says “Blessed are the poor.”  Period.

There’s two things going on here.  First, Jesus is exposing the way we use people and keep track of favors owed, love expressed, etc.  Our relationships are not to be commodified.  Second, Jesus is reminding us that if it’s accounting we’re after, it’s not our friends who matter:  it’s God.  Want to put a good mark in the ledger of righteousness?  Invite those who can’t repay you.  Period.

But it’s the last four words that hold my attention.  “The resurrection of the righteous.”  All the accounting in the world can’t make us righteous.  That’s what Jesus does for us.  So stop keeping track of the poor and the rich, the lame and the healthy, the blind and those who can see.  See the people around you, all of them, as God’s beloved children, because that’s how Jesus sees them.

Mighty God, rip away our selfish and short-sighted weighing of relationships.  Show us the world through your cross, where all your children are made righteous in your love alone.  Amen.

29 August 2013

God Pause for Thursday, 29 August 2013

Thursday:  Luke 14.1, 7-14
“On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely…  7When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.  8“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.””
I don’t know about you, but when we invite people to our home, we usually have an idea about where everyone’s going to sit.  It’s our house, after all, and usually the invitation is in celebration of someone or something that’s going to have the place of honor.  Maybe it was different in Jesus’ time, but I figure the guests sorting themselves out has always been a serious breach in etiquette.  Part of the pleasure of providing hospitality is honoring one’s friends, neighbors and beloved guests:  it just won’t do to have them squabbling over the choice seats.

Notice, however that Jesus doesn’t reorder the seating arrangements.  It’s not his place.  He’s not the host.  It’s a parable:  a story told alongside reality.  Here the seating is unimportant.  In the kingdom of heaven, God IS the host, and we the guests:  time to stop fighting over who gets to sit at the head of the table.

Merciful God, forgive us when we fight for what is not ours to determine.  Have mercy on us when we bicker over our place in your world.  It is enough to be in your banquet hall:  humble us, and help us to enjoy the feast of love and grace you offer.  Amen.

28 August 2013

God Pause for Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 (NRSV)
1 Let brotherly love continue.
2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body.
4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and adulterous.
5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never fail you nor forsake you."
6 Hence we can confidently say, "The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?"
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith.
8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.
15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
In the Nooma video Rich, theologian Rob Bell states, "I have a car. Eight percent of the people in the world have a car. Ninety-two percent of the people in the world see you and me driving in our cars...and they think, 'Rich.'" It is hard to realize exactly how much we take for granted. Yet we never seem to have enough. We don't show hospitality. We put people in prison and forget about them. We dishonor our bonds of marriage & family. We chase salaries and can't get away from advertising designed to create "needs" we never realized we had. Truth is, we seem always to have operated in the same way. But so has Jesus. The Christ who is the same yesterday and today and forever forgives us our current sins of excess and covetousness just the same way he always has. Then he sends us out to do good and share—the sacrifice that pleases the God who has blessed us with so much.

Loving God, you entrust us with so much—help us to share with others for the healing of your world. Help us to open our clenched hands and live for the world you love. Amen.

27 August 2013

God Pause for Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Psalm 112:1-6 (NRSV)
1 Praise the LORD. Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments!
2 His descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3 Wealth and riches are in his house; and his righteousness endures for ever.
4 Light rises in the darkness for the upright; the LORD is gracious, merciful, and righteous.
5 It is well with the man who deals generously and lends, who conducts his affairs with justice.
6 For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered for ever.
I saw a t-shirt a few weeks ago with the words: "I came into this world with nothing, and I've still got most of it left." It's funny, but the words were far truer than I think the person who wore it realized. We "have" far less than what we think we have if we believe God entrusts the world to our stewardship rather than our ownership. The righteous who fear the Lord are wealthy and rich in life and grace, not necessarily in abundance of possessions. To be generous and just is to remember Who has created all things and to Whom all things must return. God gives us the commandments to restrain us individually so that the community of believers might flourish. To delight in God's commandments is to delight in being part of God's world, to be rich in connectedness to one another, to be a light in the darkness of greed and envy.

Generous God, we ask your Spirit to dwell in us richly, that we might live generously and justly. Amen.

26 August 2013

God Pause for Monday, 26 August 2013

I was asked to write the "God Pause" devotions for Luther Seminary this week.  I'll be posting here as they're published.  If you'd like to subscribe (you should:  yours truly being the exception, they're consistently good little devotions for the day), point your browser in this direction.
Proverbs 25:6-7 (NRSV)
6 Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence or stand in the place of the great;
7 for it is better to be told, "Come up here," than to be put lower in the presence of the prince.
My fourth year in college I was fairly certain I'd be playing principal euphonium in the Wind Ensemble, the best concert group at my college. I met two good freshmen players during auditions, and told them I thought they were good enough that one of them would be playing with me. Little did I know they would both be better players and I would be playing bass trombone instead. Humility is a funny thing: you never know you need it until you get it. That's why it's passive: we "get" humbled far more often than we "are" humble.

Mighty God, humble us gently. Even at our most gracious, we're often far too sure of ourselves. Make us certain only in you and proud only in being claimed by your Holy Spirit for work in your world. Amen.

23 August 2013

A Fully-Packed Friday Five

We are 90% done with the pack-em-up-and-move-em-out week here are our hacienda. One daughter is moving to her first apartment, the other daughter to her dorm for her freshman year of college. Not gonna lie, it was an adventure these last few days!

As a part of the process, we let our daughters manage their own packing (with our input and support.) Part of that educational experience (for all of us) was letting them figure out how to create their own organization, make choices, and consolidate what they were packing. And also pack carefully enough so that they could still get everything in the car -- and in the dorm/apartment!

It made me realize that there are some elements to packing and moving that are learned, and some that are innate. So let's talk "packing or pack rat?" for this week's Friday Five.

21 August 2013

Should've Known Better

Someone posted a link on the ELCA Clergy Facebook page earlier this week.  I followed the link.  Read the article.  Read the comments.  Then I posted a comment of my own.  Then this happened:

Sermon for 18 August 2013

14 August 2013

We Should All Be #ChurchNerds

I got up excited this morning.  Today was the first day of school for our girls:  Ainsley is a 1st grader and Alanna will start pre-Kindergarten tomorrow.  In addition to this momentous occasion, the third ballot for Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was to be held in Pittsburgh at 7:00ish CDT, and thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I could follow via streaming video even though I'm halfway across the country.  So I sent this out:

12 August 2013

Churchwide Assembly 2013

It's that time again:  Lutherans from around the United States are landing in Pittsburgh for the 2013 Churchwide Assembly.  Church nerds like myself are sitting at home pining for the day when we get our chance to join in all the fun.  
The theme for our 25th anniversary and this year's Churchwide Assembly.
Click here for the ELCA Churchwide Assembly page.
This year there's more import to what we do, for two reasons:

09 August 2013

After Ten Years

Bishop Rolf Wangberg, me, Prof. Dennis Everson at my ordination
Salem Lutheran Church, Wakefield, NE.
Today is the tenth anniversary of my ordination.  I'm amazed to think it's been that long already, and at the same time I give thanks because after ten years ministry still feels like the thing I've always been meant to do.  Here are ten things I've learned in ten years as a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: