Table Talks

P.J. O’Rourke once said, “Everyone wants to save the world, but no one wants to do the dishes.”  I could rework O’Rourke’s quote to say, “Everyone wants to live the Christian life, but we just don’t want to put forth the effort.”  And it is an effort.

Greg Williams, reviewing the book The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us by Sarah Arthur and Erin Wasinger writes, “One of the most common critiques of radical Christianity is its root implausibility in the culture of the modern family.”  We are just too blame busy, too high strung, too competitive, and too insecure to model the way of Jesus.  We want to live the Christian life, but how when the culture of the modern family doesn’t allow it?

I think it’s about doing the dishes.   It’s not particularly challenging work, but it takes discipline to keep from living in a mess.

This fall I want to practice Cross Generational Ministry using the “Faith 5” model.  “Faith 5” is a way to act in church that’s not particularly challenging, but it takes discipline.  The 5 of “Faith 5” is Share, Read, Talk, Pray, and Bless.  Church Council begins our meetings with “Faith 5.” We share highs and lows.  We read an appointed Bible verse, often from Sunday’s lessons.  We talk about how that verse speaks to our lives often in relation to our highs and lows.  Then we pray about what we talked about.  And finally we bless each other.  We go around the room and bless our neighbor in a way we are comfortable.  We can spend a solid forty five minutes practicing “Faith 5,” and we still complete the meeting in two hours.  More importantly, we connect to each other as we chart the vision for Prince of Peace.

Rev. Rich Melheim says that we need to do the business of the church, before we do the business of the church.  Perhaps it’s all about doing the dishes.

We will have two opportunities to practice Cross Gen Ministry using the “Faith 5” model as we now begin the fall season.  Instead of formal Sunday School, we will offer “Table Talks.”  Our youngest to our oldest at Prince of Peace will be invited to sit at table and practice “Faith 5.”  Rich Melheim says, “here the wonder of the child meets the wisdom of the elder.”  While most of our days are about dividing the generations to their respective places, this will be an effort to bring our generations together.

The second opportunity is an invitation to share a meal on Wednesday September 27th, to explore ways that we can connect and covenant with each other to share our faith.  I know, culture will tell us that such a model is implausible, we are too busy, and this sounds too weird, and maybe a little too risky to do church in this way; but I really believe it’s about doing the dishes, having the discipline to really practice the faith.

I’m telling everyone that I am both terrified and excited about the fall.  Terrified because I don’t know exactly what this will all look like.  But maybe that’s just the point.  Maybe we can offer a new model of passing on the faith that really connects us to Christ and each other, and really does make a difference in the crazy lives we lead.  And that can be very exciting.

It’s time to do the dishes.

 

Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands

Easter 6                                                                                                                                      May 21, 2017                                                                                                                               Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands

 

1.

In 2014, Dr. Christopher Ahlman traveled to St. Petersburg State University in Russia, to work with organ students at the university.  Students were to bring a piece to play, Dr. Ahlman would then work with them to help them master their performance.

One young student played Martin Luther’s hymn, “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands.”   The student played the hymn thoughtfully and slowly.  But to Dr. Ahlman, the piece sounded like a funeral dirge.

After she finished, he asked her, “During what liturgical season is this hymn to be  played?”  It became clear that her knowledge was limited to the hymn’s title.  “I suppose,” she answered, “it is a Lenten hymn, or maybe a piece for Good Friday.”

Dr. Ahlman than recited the first stanza to this student.  Yes, the first line is all Good Friday, “Death held our Lord in prison.”  But then Dr. Ahlman continued, “But he hath up arisen, and brought our life back to us.  There we must gladsome be, Exalt God and thankful be.  Alluluia!”

“This is an Easter hymn!”

With that Dr. Ahlman sat down at the organ and pulled nearly every stop there was to pull, and played the piece for this student loudly and joyfully.

“Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands” is Martin Luther’s Easter hymn.  I find the music challenging.  Nevertheless, let us sing this morning with Easter in mind.

We sing stanza 1

 

As Doug and I talked this week about Luther’s Easter hymn, he made the comment that the hymn is theologically dense.  It is deep.

Remember Luther’s Christmas hymn, “From Heaven Above?”  Luther wrote this for his children who would take turns singing the joyful story during the family devotions on Christmas Eve.

This is not a children’s hymn.  Just look at the title, “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands.”

In this hymn Luther takes on the Doctrine of Atonement, the cosmic battle between sin and redemption, where God works out our salvation.

This Atonement explains that God doesn’t simply wave a magic wand and say “Abracadabra,” to forgive our sins.

No, God paid a price; that price were the strong bands of Christ Jesus’ death.

 

So, as Luther delves into his hymn with stanzas 2 and 3, he takes sin seriously.   Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.”

So stanza 2 begins, “No man yet Death overcame.  All sons of men were helpless.  Sin for this was all to blame.”

On the cross Jesus takes on our sin, he takes responsibility for us at our worst, he bears our punishment, and dies our death!

Stanza 3 continues, “Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, into our place descending.”

Here Jesus puts our sin to death.  “Away with all our sin hath done.”

We sing stanza 2 and 3.

 

If the story ends at Good Friday, it is tragic.  This hymn would be a funeral dirge.  But Sunday’s coming!

Stanza 4 is the center of the hymn.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ now takes center stage. It is based on 1 Corinthians 15, the resurrection chapter.  “Death has been swallowed up in victory.  Where O death is your victory?  Where, O death is your sting?”

On Easter Sunday sin, death, and the devil; have been defeated.  Luther celebrates in stanza 4.              “Off victorious came Life.   Death he hath quite upswallowed.   How one death the other ate.  Thus Death is become a laughter.”

In the resurrection Jesus empties hell and treads upon it’s shuttered doors.  This allows creation to laugh at death.

We sing stanza 4.

 

ELW hymn 372, is the German Easter Hymn “Christ is Arisen.”  Throughout the Middle Ages this hymn led the Easter procession in Germany.  Luther loved this hymn and based his Easter hymn on it.

But ELW 372 has roots in an 11th century chant, ELW 371, “Christians, to the Paschal Victim.”

Stanza 5 shows the affect this 11th century chant still had on Luther.  Here Luther speaks of Christ as the Paschal Lamb.  This was the lamb sacrificed for Passover.  We know the story.  This lamb’s blood was placed upon the doorposts of the Israelites, allowing the angel of death to pass over their homes, sparing them the death of their first born, while leading to their release from Egypt.

On the cross, as our paschal lamb, Jesus releases us from the bondage of sin.

Luther writes, “His blood on our doorpost lies;  Faith holds that before death’s eyes; The smiting angle can do nought.”

Because of Christ’s blood, shed on the cross, the angel of death passes over us.

We sing stanza 5.

 

Stanza 6  is all Easter.  The strong bands of death have been broken.  God accomplishes our salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Luther writes, “Hearty the joy and glee is,  that shines on us from his face.  His light in our hearts makes shine: The night of our sins is over. ”

We sing stanza 6

 

In his Easter hymn Martin Luther masterfully makes the point that Easter is meaningless without Good Friday.  When we seek to avoid the cross, we miss the depth of God’s love.   Don’t forget John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”  The story of salvation is not a flippant act.  God’s work to restore creation forces a duel with sin, death, and the power of the devil.  They don’t go down without a fight.

The Doctrine of Atonement explains God’s work.  Freedom isn’t free.  A price is paid.  The price is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In this season of Easter we keep the feast by partaking in the feast, which of course is the Eucharist.

Luther concludes.   “Christ himself will be the food,  Alone fill the soul with good;   Faith will live on nothing other.  Alleluia.

Let us keep the Easter feast by singing stanza 7

Easter 4

Easter 4                                                                                                                                         May 7, 2017                                                                                                                                       From the Daily Mass, To the Daily Mess

 

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

 

1.

Ask the people who know me best, and they will tell you that I am one who loves routine.  I feel my best, I’m most productive, I’m most at home; when I maintain a rhythm to my day.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that I work hard to maintain my routine.  But it has it’s down side.

In my home I’m known as Mr. Saturday Night.  That does not mean I like to party on Saturday night.  Actually it is a joke, for I’m known as being no fun on Saturday night.  My routine is to stay home and go to bed early.

Yes, when you’re a person of routine, when you seek to maintain a daily rhythm; you’re not known for being spontaneous, in fact there is even a danger of being known as boring.

But this morning I ask, can holiness be found in the mundane?

 

2.

I’m drawn to the familiar words of the 23rd Psalm this morning, especially the very last verse.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

Do we feel this goodness and mercy every day?  Are there some days when you feel like goodness and mercy are not following you around?

The beloved psalm ends,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Do we dwell in the Lord’s house my whole life long?  Are there days when you feel like you are dwelling in somebody else’s house?

I feel like the psalmist is calling us not to be boring, but to find a daily rhythm.  If goodness and mercy is going to follow us every day, we have to see God in the everyday occurrences of life.

 

3.

I don’t know if I would have fit well in the early church.  There is too much excitement in the book of Acts.

In our first lesson this morning we hear about what’s happening.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.

The early church is not mundane.  Last week as Peter preached his Easter sermon in Jerusalem we were told how 3,000 people were baptized in one day!  About all I handle is Benicio’s baptism this morning.

At the end of our lesson this morning we hear:

And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

This is what happens when there are many signs and wonders being done in the church.  My guess is that people would come to church not knowing what to expect.

 

4.

But it didn’t last.

I enjoy reading Daniel Clendenin in his blog Journey With Jesus.  This week he wrote how the prevalence of all these signs and wonders gradually began to wane in the church.  And as all the dreams, and visions, and miracles became less vivid, Clendenin writes that the institution of the church became more defined.

He calls attention to the early church father Hippolytus of Rome, who in 235 wrote: “The miraculous visions and direct communications with the Spirit ended with the Revelation of John in  the year 100.  The spirit works differently now than in apostolic days.  God speaks clearly, sufficiently, and reliably through the canon of Scripture, the creeds, and the clergy.”

Maybe this is why I feel quite at home in the church.  We’ve settled into a routine.  As you come to worship you know that today’s service looks pretty much like last week’s service.  I don’t think anyone came expecting signs and wonders this morning.  And perhaps this makes us a bit boring, the established church might lose some of the awe; yet God’s presence in the liturgy is no less real.

 

5.

And what’s true in church is true in life.

The 16th Century Spanish mystic, Teresa of Avila said, “The Lord walks among the pots and pans.”

We might look to experience God on the mountain top, or at the ocean, or in a walk through the forest.  And it’s true.  We all have our mountain top experiences, but they don’t happen every day.

Most of life is routine.  We might wonder if there can be anything holy about cooking dinner.  Maybe if you love to cook.  But can there be anything holy about cleaning up after dinner?  Doing the dishes?

But if goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives, if we really do dwell in the house of the Lord our whole life long;  then God is in the mundane.

Even if your life is exciting, most of life is lived in the daily rhythms; in our cooking and cleaning, in walking the dog, in the daily commute.

 

6.

This explains why Celtic prayers are popular.  The Celtic tradition is known for simple prayers by ordinary people about everyday life.   These prayers show us how we meet the sacred in the mundane.  The Celts have prayers for getting dressed in the morning and going to sleep at night.  They have prayers for waking up and lightning the morning’s fire.  They pray for birth and death, healing and protection, farming and fishing, and even for milking the cows.

Daniel Clendenin writes, these are not prayers of the institutional church, they are not ecstatic utterances of miraculous visions; but they are dignified, and eloquent.  They speak to the ordinary yet sacred stuff of life.

 

7.

In our gospel this morning we hear how Jesus comes to bring us abundant life.  It’s what the psalmist refers to as the green pastures.  It is the place where our souls are restored.

Yes we all need a little excitement in life.  We all need to experience signs and wonders that inspire awe.

But for goodness and mercy to follow us all the days of our lives, to dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long, this morning start seeing the holy in the mundane.  Know that God is present in the routine.  Join Teresa of Avila, and see God in the pots and pans.

 

Amen

 

 

Let Your Light So Shine Transfiguration Sunday

1.

In the last Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry attends the wedding of two dear friends, Bill and Fleur.  We read that Fleur is magically beautiful.  Her beauty eclipses everyone around her.  Men are left speechless, and women seethe.

But at her wedding Fleur wears a tiara that holds a different sort of magic.  The tiara transfigures those around her.  Unlike most weddings, where the bride is the center of attention; at this wedding everyone around the bride appears to glow.  The tiara shares Fleur’s beauty.  The wedding guests do not understand how they never noticed their beauty before.

 

2.

We often make Jesus the center of attention in the Transfiguration.  It’s hard not to.  On the high mountain Matthew writes:

and Jesus’ face shone like the sun.  His clothes became a dazzling white. 

Jesus takes on his heavenly nature.

But there’s guests up on this mountain.  Watching this miracle are Peter, James, and John.

Jesus is not wearing a tiara this morning, but like Fleur in Harry Potter, I see his transfiguration sharing his glow with his three guests.

Of course, this transfiguration is not about beauty, it’s not even about appearance; Jesus’ transfiguration is about being encountered with the power of the divine.

And we see how this is traumatic.

It’s like sun glare.

We know this is a problem this time of year.   The sun is rising and setting right when we are out on the road.  Suddenly the sun is in your eyes and you are blinded.  You can’t see the road.  It’s scary.

This morning Peter, James, and John are blinded.  It’s why Peter wants to pitch tents.  He wants to cover the glare.  He wants to be able to see, to understand, to have some bit of control over what is happening.

 

3.

Notice that while Peter speaks, God interrupts.

While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them

Strange, isn’t it?  I’ve heard of dark clouds.  I’ve heard of storm clouds.  I’ve heard of fluffy clouds.  But have you ever heard of a bright cloud?

Maybe it’s enough of a cloud to take away the glare.

Remember that in the Bible God  is in the clouds.  Here again, as this cloud overshadows these three, God speaks.  We haven’t heard the voice of God since Jesus’ baptism.  And here God says the same words.

This is my son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!

 

4.

Our Old Testament lesson has Moses on Mount Sinai.  A cloud covers that mountain too.  It doesn’t say if the cloud is bright, but we hear how the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai; a glory that is like a devouring fire.

Moses, of course, is on this mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the law and the commandments.  At the end of the lesson we hear:

Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain.  Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

After those forty days and forty nights, do you remember how Moses appeared when he finally came down from the mountain?  He looked like the guests at Fleur’s wedding.

Moses came down from Mount Sinai.   As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin his face shone because he had been talking to God.

Moses’ face was so bright he needed a veil to cut the glare so the people could talk to him.

 

5.

As the bright cloud overshadowed Peter, James, and John; and as the voice of God spoke; these three are knocked to the ground and overcome with fear.

But as terrifying as this mysterious encounter with the divine is, it also is very tender and comforting.

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

Next these three disciples come down the mountain with Jesus.  Jesus tells them not to say anything about what they just experienced, but I can’t help but feel that the people on the ground could see it in their faces.

Matthew doesn’t say it, but Peter, James, and John had to shine like Moses.

 

6.

Can people see the divine in your face?  Does our encounter with God show in our appearance?

This is the first Sunday in a month we are not reading the Sermon on the Mount in our gospel.  But I want to return one more time to that sermon.  Remember when Jesus told the disciples, “You are the light of the world?”  Do you remember what the disciples were to do with that light?  Don’t put it under a bushel, it cuts down the glare of the divine.

I wonder if this is what we try to do with God.  We believe in God.  We want God to comfort.  But we don’t want God to shine too bright.  Sun glare is blinding.

I have to admit that too often I’m like Peter.  I want to cut the glare.  I want to manage God so that he fits neatly into my world.

But C.S. Lewis in The Lion, The Wicth, and The Wardrobe  reminds us that God is not a lion needing to be tamed.

7.

The Transfiguration is more than just a show.  The Transfiguration reminds us that God is beyond our control.  God is beyond our imagination.  But this God still God encounters us like he encounter Peter, James, and John.

Anna Carter Florence, preaching professor at Candler School of Theology, writes:

“When the God moment sprints into view or flashes across our path, when the bright       cloud overshadows us and knocks us to the ground, we need to soak it in.  The Transfiguration floods our eyes.  It probes into the corner of every shadow.  It beckons   us to see what God is doing in our midst.”

Like the guests at Fleur’s wedding, we need to take on the divine glow and shine like Moses coming down from Sinai.

Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount:

Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

We include this in our baptism service when we light the baptismal candle from the Christ candle.

The Christian life is not about cutting the glare, the Christian life is about letting the world see Jesus in our face.

 

Amen

 

 

Come and See

2nd Sunday after Epiphany                                                                                                       January 15, 2017

 

When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?”

 

1.

I went shoe shopping on Monday.  Shoe shopping is different from other shopping.  When I shop at the hardware store I’m looking for specific nuts and bolts.  When I shop at the grocery store I have a list, I know exactly what I’m looking for.  But when I go to the shoe store, I have an idea of what I’m looking for.  On Monday I was looking for a dressy/walking shoe, but I had no idea about price, style, or fit.

The first store had two clerks, one serving another customer, and the other just kind of hanging out.  I anticipated this one to ask, “What are you looking for?”  But he didn’t.

I know I could have asked him for help, but again, I didn’t know exactly what shoe to try, because I didn’t know.

I’d just wait for the other clerk.

Soon the other customer left, and I expected him to now approach and ask, “what are you looking for?”  But he didn’t.  He too seemed distracted.

I felt awkward.  Perhaps it was me.  So I left.   I went to the next store.  The clerk immediately welcomed me and asked, “What are you looking for?”

I’m looking for a dressy/walking shoe.

He immediately responded, I’ve got just the shoe for you.

 

2.

I’m interested in how Jesus’ ministry begins in each of the four gospels.  In Matthew Jesus begins with a sermon, The Sermon on the Mount.  In Mark Jesus begins casting out a demon.  In Luke Jesus teaches in the synagogue.  But in John, Jesus begins his ministry asking a question.  The first words he speaks in John is question.

He asks John the Baptist’s two disciples,

“What are you looking for?”

John’s gospel is going to be about asking questions, asking deep questions about faith.

When Jesus asks these two about what they are looking for, he’s really asking them, “What are you searching for?”  What is it that gives your life meaning and purpose?”

 

I don’t want to compare the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to shopping for shoes.  Still, when we look at these two disciples of John the Baptist, like me in the shoe store, they don’t really know exactly what they are looking for.  They’re following Jesus, but they don’t really know why, at least not yet.

 

3.

Know that these two are disciples of John the Baptist.  John had a following before Jesus came to Judea.

James Carroll, in his book Christ Actually, reminds us that Judea was living under Roman occupation.  He states that John the Baptist was part of a Jewish counter culture seeking release from the Romans.

We know how John fled Jerusalem and the temple.  He know how John became anti-establishment.  We know how John, in fact, criticized those in religious circles who had accommodated to Roman ways.  In Advent, remember, his call was to repent.

Carroll states that John would have the Book of Daniel in his hand, a book that proclaims God’s victory over the Babylonians in the end times.  John sees that same happening with Israel’s deliverance from Rome.  God would deliver Israel through an apocalypse, through forces outside of the world.

So, the two disciples in our gospel this morning are following John and this movement.

 

4.

But now Jesus appears in the story.  Carroll writes that John the Baptist was the most charismatic Jew of the age, and that’s what attracted Jesus to John.

But John the Baptist is confused.

Twice John the Baptist introduces Jesus as the “Lamb of God.”

Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

But notice too that twice John the Baptist acknowledges,

I myself didn’t know him.

 

While Jesus is attracted to John’s rebuke of the religious establishment’s accommodation to Rome, Jesus will not embrace John’s apocalyptic tone.  Jesus’ ministry will not be about escaping the world, but about God becoming flesh within the world.  God enters the world not in end times, but in ordinary times.

James Carroll writes that now with Jesus, the focus shifted from a future longed for, to a present to be responsible for.

 

In our gospel it is understandable, that these two disciples of John don’t know now, exactly what they are looking for.

Is John the Baptist the faithful way?  Or is Jesus of Nazareth the faithful way?

And so Jesus asks:

“What are you looking for?”

 

5.

These two disciples answer Jesus with a question back.

Where are you staying?

The Holiday Inn?

A strange question until we understand that the question is really theological.   These two are asking Jesus, “Where do you dwell?”  “What is your core?”  “Who are you Jesus?”

And Jesus answers,

Come and see.

Jesus doesn’t tell these two, “I am the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  He doesn’t say. “I am the Messiah.”  Nor does he say, “I am the Son of God.”

Jesus simply invites.

Come and see.

The only way to find what we are looking for, to answer the deep questions, to connect with the eternal; is to begin walking with Jesus.

Faith is relational.  Faith is experiential.

The way of Jesus seeks not to escape the world, but to engage with the world.

 

6.

Picture the people in your life who are meaningful to you.  The people you care about.

Know that to everyone of them, you could ask,

What are you looking for?

Humanity seeks to connect with one bigger than oneself.  Humanity seeks the eternal.  Humanity seeks some anchor, some foundation, which guides life.

I’m convinced that every soul seeks God in some way, shape, or form.

Remember St. Augustine’s prayer,  “Our hearts our restless until they rest in you.”

 

Everyone is looking, but they don’t know exactly what they are looking for.

 

As people of faith, our response to a searching humanity, is not “Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  Jesus didn’t say that, John the Baptist did.

Instead Jesus says, “come and see.”  Come and try out the Jesus way.  See that a life of faith is not about escaping the world, it is about diving into the world, and the needs of a suffering humanity.

Our family and friends, and the world in which we live is not looking for a sermon to find God, they are looking for an invitation.

The good news of the gospel this morning is that these two disciples of John,

came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.

We hear that one of these disciples was Andrew, who invited his brother Peter.  As we continue reading John we see how Jesus attracted his own following.  And near the end of John’s gospel we will hear the prayer of Jesus on the night before his death.

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

To be one in Christ, is to be one in God, and that is where we find what we are looking for.

It all begins with,

Come and see.

Amen

 

Extraordianary

First Sunday of Advent

November 27, 2016                                                                                                           Extraordinary

 

O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

 

1.

Last Sunday a few of us at Prince of Peace attended the Interfaith Luncheon sponsored by our neighbors at the Institute of Islamic Studies.  Over three hundred people filled the banquet hall at St. David the King Roman Catholic Church.

It was a diverse gathering.  Our Muslim hosts welcomed Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Hindus.  I think every religious body in our community was there.  In addition there were politicians, business leaders, police, and school administrators.   Our local mosque was able to gather our community like no other event I know of.

It was extraordinary.

 

2.

The theme of the luncheon was: “Celebrate Mercy, Compassion, and Love.”  Under that theme tables were asked to engage in conversation.  Faith communities were intentionally assigned to different tables to encourage fellowship with those of a different creed.  Our table had Lutherans, Presbyterians, Muslims, and Hindus.  How often does this happen in our world?

I was the facilitator.  At first conversation was awkward.  Though neighbors, we were still strangers.  But as we grew comfortable, our conversation became honest.

Two of the couples at our table lived in Skillman.  One was Muslim.  The other Hindu.  They both expressed their fear of the last two weeks, and the response of some to the results of the presidential election.  Both couple’s children had been harassed at school.  Though the children were born in this country, though the families were American citizens,  and though they had been attending their school for years; since the election, some of their classmates were embolden to tell these children to “go back to where they came from.”

Samira, the Muslim mother, is surprised by all of this.  They had never experienced any discrimination or harassment until last week.  She told us, “I was always proud how our community seemed to respect and honor the diversity.”

But now they are afraid.  She wonders what it means to now be a Muslim in this country.

 

3.

As the one wearing the clerical collar, I sensed the table looked to me to respond.  I felt somewhat inadequate.  I also was surprised and disturbed that these incidents happened so close to home.   I emphasized the importance of the luncheon and the support these families received from us.  I promised to take this story back to our Ministerium where we would seek a unified voice in condemning such acts.

The families appreciated my words, but I don’t think it made them feel any safer.  Though I was heartened after lunch when Samira thanked me and offered her contact information, inviting me and our congregation to grow the seeds of friendship that had been sown.

I was so grateful for this gesture, that in light of everything swirling around us on the national stage; locally, those of us around that table can still seek common ground and support those feeling most vulnerable in these days.

These are extraordinary times.

 

4.

Appropriate, I think, that today is the first Sunday of Advent; because this is a season that breaks the ordinary.

We share the Revised Common Lectionary with the Roman Catholic Church, but we name the Sundays differently.  While Lutherans call the Sundays of summer and fall the “Sundays after Pentecost,” the Roman Catholic Church calls them the “Sundays of Ordinary Time.”

After incarnation, after resurrection; the Sundays in July through November become ordinary.

But this morning Lutherans and the Catholics agree that today is the “First Sunday of Advent.”  Once again the church calendar points us in the direction of the incarnation; of God again breaking into our world and becoming one of us.

Maybe we all should name this Sunday the “1st Sunday of Extraordinary Time.”

 

5.

Our Isaiah text this morning is extraordinary.

The prophet says:

In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.

And from that mountain comes the instruction:

God shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares; and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

 

These words of Isaiah inspired great works of art, but the problem is that we can’t take him seriously.  It’s because most of us most of the time are still living in ordinary time.  Ordinary time is real time, actual time.  It is the time we experience now.  And in this time, hate and aggression towards those who are different, has bubbled to the surface.  It is the time of what I heard at the Interfaith Luncheon.  It is the time of fear.

In ordinary time we might wonder how peace stands a chance?  It is all too clear how swords and spears continue to proliferate.  In ordinary time these words of Isaiah seem almost absurd.  Experience teaches us, “this will never happen.”

 

6.

But this is why we come to church today.

On this first Sunday of Advent ordinary time has been taken over by God’s time, and the words of the prophet call people of faith to live it’s vision.

Ralph Klein, professor of Old Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, says that God’s time is not linear.  We are not progressing towards to some future ideal, where if we just give it another generation or two, all will be well.  Ordinary time we will never arrive to the vision Isaiah offers.  Instead, Klein says, God’s time breaks ordinary time, where Isaiah’s vision rushes in, to transform us, and invites us to live, today in Isaiah’s vision.

We can’t prevent the racism and Islamaphobia being unleashed within our community.  It is the reality of living in ordinary time.

But as people of faith we can allow God’s future to rush in and transform our life today; where at least we as people of faith can seek to beat our swords into plowshares, and our spears into pruning hooks.

 

Barbara Lundblat, retired professor from Union Seminary in New York, speaks about reading this biblical vision backwards.  She says Isaiah is not a Pollyanna prophet, reciting poetry that doesn’t deal with reality.  No, Isaiah proclaims the truth of God’s intent.  And while we are still burdened by aggression and violence, the readers of Isaiah are invited to embrace his vision, to take the instruction that comes from the mountain of the Lord, and to shape our weapons of destruction into instruments of agriculture that contribute to the abundant harvest.

O house of Jacob come, let us walk in the light of the Lord, today!

 

7.

I am challenged to walk in this light, as I seek to respond to my neighbors who sat around the table last Sunday afternoon.

There are dark forces unleashed in this world that I can’t push back into a bottle.  But I can promise as a person of faith in Jesus Christ, to embrace the vision Isaiah sets forth, and to commit walking in that path.

On this first Sunday of Advent the cycle of ordinary time is broken.  Now we are living in extraordinary times.  God’s future is rushing in.  The Christ Child is transforming how we live.

Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

 

 

Amen

Thanksgiving Message

Thanksgiving Service                                                                                                               

November 20, 2016

 

So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.

Dear friends, grace, mercy, and peace be with you all.  Amen

 

1.

I do not take for granted where I stand tonight.

A Lutheran pastor,  in the pulpit of our neighboring Jewish congregation.

I’ve been invited,  welcomed, and honored to preach among this diverse gathering.

Picture those places around the world where such an event would be prohibited, perhaps even threatening.

I give God thanks for this community  that respects diversity and welcomes me and all of us to this house of prayer.

 

I do not take for granted the luncheon  that I, and some of you, attended earlier today.

A luncheon hosted by our neighbors at the Institute of Islamic Studies.

I stand in awe that the faith communities in our home, can gather in a Roman Catholic parish, break bread, seek common ground,  and honor what we all bring to the table.

Picture those places not far from here, where people of religious faith seek no understanding of those who are different, and at times even feel emboldened to spout hate and fear against those of a different creed.

I give God thanks for the Institute of Islamic Studies, for their invitation,  and for all who gathered this afternoon, to seek our common heritage as the children of Abraham.

 

Finally I do not take for granted our country  that grants us the privilege to vote, though I needed to be reminded of this on election day.

I woke that morning concerned about the contentious election cycle.  But I had little concern about casting my ballot.

I only wondered if there would be a line at the polls.

Later that day I was reminded of the privilege we hold as Americans.

Prince of Peace is a polling station.

People flowed in and out of our church all day.

But I was struck by one family.

After their vote, they gathered outside the door,  by the “Vote Here” sign,  and together in front of the American flag, they took a selfie.

I saw the exact same scene outside the municipal building  as I drove to the post office later that afternoon.

By the look of these families,  I’d say they were first generation citizens.

And by the smiles on their faces,  I’d say this election was less about the candidates,  and more about their privilege to vote.

I hold on to these two scenes post election.

While I’ve heard a few voices say that they are ashamed to be an American,  we need to remember that whatever the rancor of the campaign, or the result of the election  we still must be thankful for our privilege to vote.

 

2.

As we turn to the Deuteronomy text this evening,  it is clear that thankfulness  involves more than just a verbal acknowledgement,  some action is called for.

For Moses it is first fruit giving.

He reminds the people that as they inherit the land,  and enjoy the abundance of the harvest;  the people are to take the first fruit of that harvest,  and offer it back to God.

Moses instructs the people to say:

So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.

Thankfulness involves an offering.

 

Our Lutheran stewardship emphasizes that we do not give God only our leftovers.

No, we give God the first harvest.   And believe that God will provide enough to live on with the second.

Thanksgiving is an act of faith.   The faith of first fruits giving.

 

3.

In Deuteronomy these first fruits  are just that,  fruit and vegetables.

In our faith communities,  these first fruits are dollars.

Our offerings come from our financial resources.

But I wonder tonight if I can expand our understanding of first fruits giving.

 

Our Christian tradition speaks of the fruit of the spirit.

From Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

Whatever our faith tradition,  I wonder if the fruit of the spirit can be our offering tonight.

Blessed by our diversity,  blessed by our ecumenical spirit,  and blessed by our democracy;  we can take this abundance,  and offer to God the first fruits.

Where there is hate, we offer love.  Where there is despair, we offer joy.   Where there is violence, peace.    Where there is anxiety, patience.   When people are mean, we are kind.   When people are harsh,  we are gentle.   When resources are scarce,  w are generous.   here there is a lack of faith,  we offer faithfulness.   And when there is a lack of basic civility, we offer self control.

We come tonight as thankful people.

But as we thank,  we act,  offering not just the leftovers of our blessings.

We offer our first fruits, for the sake of the world.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

Bold Inviting

22nd Sunday after Pentecost
October 16, 2016
GO

I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.

1.
In Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town, a young woman, Emily, died during childbirth. In one scene, town folk gather in the local cemetery for her funeral, but Emily is not quite ready to depart this world. She convinces the Stage Manager, who is a kind of Godlike figure, to go back to her life for one last earthly experience.
She chooses her 12th birthday party. Expecting joy, Emily feels only pain, because she now sees life from the perspective of her death. She can’t understand how everyone at that birthday party seems to take life for granted. At the close of the scene Emily laments:
“Oh earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you! Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?”
With that the Stage Manager answers:
“No.” He then pauses and adds: “The saints and the poets, maybe they do, some.”

2.
Tom Long in his commentary on 2 Timothy writes: “When we look at life from the end, what counts changes. The town folk in Our Town, caught in the swirl of life, could not appreciate what really counts.”
But as the Stage Manager comments, “maybe the saints do.”
Why would that be? Why would people of faith understand what really counts? It’s because we have a story. We have a story that matters. We have a story that touches heaven with earth.

If you back up in 2 Timothy from our lesson this morning, the writer of this letter shares with Timothy other stories that are being told in Timothy’s day. In 2 Timothy 3 Paul writes about people who have become lovers of themselves and lovers of money. He talks about the all of the boasters in the world, the arrogant, the abusive, the disobedient. He talks of those who are lovers of pleasure as opposed to those who are lovers of God.
This is what happens when we let the stories of this world dominate, and drown out the story of Jesus. Now in our lesson this morning the writer of 2 Timothy warns his student:
For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.

3.
So many stories of our day tempt us to turn away from the truth and wander away into myths.
One dominant story being told today is that our identity is revealed through brand loyalty. We are what we buy.
Listen to car commercials. They no longer tell us how well the car is manufactured. Instead, they tell us what kind of person we will be when we buy their car.
I’m struck by Subaru commercials because I drive a Subaru. These commercials tell me that I am an outdoors person, a progressive, someone concerned for others and the world.
Maybe these ads work. I’m struck every time I drive Hannah to adoption camp. All the parents dropping their children off have something in common. Despite the obvious. I’m struck by how many Subaru’s. I never see that many Subaru’s in one place.
It’s a part of our story. My car tells me who I am, never mind that I had to stick $1100 into my Subaru this week.

The writer to Timothy speaks about people having “itching ears.” “Itching ears” listen to stories that we want to hear. Stories that suit our own desires. Stories that often come into direct conflict with the story of Jesus.
We listen to the dominant stories of our world that tell us:
“you are not enough” “you should be afraid”
“winning is everything”
But the questions that needs to be asked is, are these stories sufficient? Do these stories speak to our deepest needs and concerns? Or do they leave us searching?
Like the town folk in Our Town, do we fail to see the wonder of the earth? Do we fail to see what truly matters? Do we take life for granted?

4.
As people of faith we have a better story! The Christian story tells us that through our baptism we are told that we are not known by the car we drive, we are known as a beloved child of God. Hence, our story in Jesus Christ tells us that we are more than enough. Our lives are of such value that Jesus was willing to die for us.
And when we truly believe this story, a story that speaks to resurrection, a story that speaks to a power stronger than death, we need not be afraid of losing. In fact, we need not be afraid, period!
Again and again our story tells us in both the Old Testament and the New, “Be not afraid.”

5.
This morning Paul instructs Timothy to draw on his reservoir of faith. It’s the very first verse of the lesson this morning:
Continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.
Paul reminds Timothy of his grandmother Lois, and his mother Eunice you have taught him the faith. He calls on Timothy to remember the lessons Paul has taught. He tells Timothy to remember the Christian story, so that in the midst of all the other stories being told, stories that are life draining, Timothy may draw on the reservoir of faith, and invite others into this faith, boldly.
I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.
To be persistent is to be bold.
6.
Bold Inviting
We talk about being a welcoming church. We talk about hospitality. This is important, but if you think about this it’s about being passive. We can be the most welcoming church in the world, but we’re still dependent on others coming to us.
Inviting is bolder, because inviting is active. It entails going out.
I read this week that two thirds of the word God is Go! Perhaps that should entail two thirds of our work as the church. We need to Go. We need to take our story out to where we live and boldly invite others into the Christian story. So that along with Saints we get it. We draw on our reservoirs of faith, and boldly invite others into the story of our Christian faith.

Home Depot, Wawa, or Someplace Else?

7th Sunday after Pentecost                                                                                                             July 3, 2016                                                                                                                                          The Home Depot?  Wawa?  Or someplace else?

The harvest is plentiful , but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

 

1.

The church talks a lot about hospitality; and rightfully so.  We want to make sure we are a welcome place.  We want to be a good host for the stranger.  We see this as our mission.

But the gospel this morning reverses this emphasis on the church  being a good host, to the church being a good guest.

Of course, if you are a guest, you’ve been sent away from home.  If the church is a good guest, we’ve be sent away from our home, our building.

God doesn’t reap the harvest at home, he reaps it out in the fields.

Maybe we emphasize hospitality at the expense of apostleship.  An apostle, is one who is sent out.

 

2.

St. John’s Lutheran Church in Passaic sought to be more inviting to the immigrant community surrounding their church.  On Easter Sunday they made a concentrated effort to welcome this community with an Easter breakfast.

They put all their eggs into one basket.  They posted invitations on Facebook.  They posted flyers all around the neighborhood.  They placed a big sign on their front yard.  They invited neighbors, friends, and family.

They prepared a feast, working hard to be good hosts.

But guess how many neighbors showed up?  One

Obviously the congregation was dejected.

They also had a problem.  What to do with all the food?

But then someone said, why don’t we take it to the Home Depot parking lot, there’s all these day laborers hanging around.

So a group from St. John’s left their church, and took all the food to where the people were.  They were welcomed.  There was no food left.  A relationship was formed.

 

I don’t know if anyone took bread and wine to the Home Depot parking lot on that  Easter Sunday, but they do now.  In fact every Sunday St. John’s holds a worship service in the Home Depot parking lot for the day laborers.  St. John’s Lutheran Church in Passaic has learned what it means to be sent out, and to be a guest.

 

3.

This is a hard lesson to learn.  The pattern for the church has always been, build a building and wait for people to come.

But this certainly is not the instruction we hear in our gospel this morning.  The Christian faith is about being sent out.

It begins in chapter 9 of Luke.  Jesus starts with his disciples.

The Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God.

Jesus and the disciples didn’t hang around the temple waiting for people to come.

Now in our gospel the mission is expanding.  It’s not the 12 sent out but the 70!

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town he intended to go.

As important as it is to be a gracious host, the gospel this morning is more about being a faithful guest.

 

4.

Christians are sent out.  We’re sent out to speak a word of peace.  We’re sent out to cure the sick.  We’re sent out ahead of Jesus to witness to his presence.

And take note, it’s not easy.

I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.

And it gets harder.  When we travel we prepare.  We all complain about the baggage fees the airlines charge.

But Jesus says, with this mission take nothing with you.

Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals.

To be a guest means to be totally dependent on your host.

 

St. John’s does take breakfast to the Home Depot parking lot, still they catch the spirit of this lesson, as they learn to become vulnerable on another’s turf.

And for them it’s worked.  We’re all inspired by this story.

But as our gospel continues, we see it’s not always this easy.

 

5.

Jesus prepares the 70 for rejection.  Some hosts are not so kind.

It happened to the 12 in chapter 9.

As Jesus and the disciples go on their way to Jerusalem they enter a Samaritan village, and we are told that the Samaritans did not receive them.

This was our gospel last Sunday.  Do you remember James and John’s reaction?

Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?

This is not an example on how to be a good guest.

What does Jesus tell the 70 this morning about rejection?

Shake the dust off your shoes, a symbolic action that says, “we can see we’re not welcome here.”

It’s okay.  Apostleship is not all success.  Often there is failure.  Not everyone is receptive to the gospel.

But Jesus says, don’t seek to destroy the ungracious host.  Just shake the dust off your feet and move on.

 

6.

And so we go, but where?

It’s hard to plan mission, but it’s important to be ready.

 

Across the street from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia is a Wawa.  Some of my colleagues who are graduates of the seminary, bemoan the fact that it seems the Wawa is better known in the neighborhood than the seminary, despite the fact that the seminary has been there since 1864.  As they describe the location on Germantown Avenue in Mount Airy, people often say, “Oh, it’s by the Wawa.”

The seminary could resent this, or they could be sent out as apostles, even if it is only across the street.

Recently the Wawa experienced a robbery.  Thankfully no one was hurt, but understandably the staff was disturbed.  In response students from the seminary who frequent the store, offered a prayer service.

The people at Wawa said “please.”  So the students and faculty crossed the street, they took nothing with them, they entered as guests, witnessed to Jesus and prayed for peace.

 

We’re not asked to go very far, or to do anything heroic.  We’re just asked to be willing to go.  To be who we are.  To do what we do.  To pray, to worship, to feed, to witness.

 

We still need the church.  We need a place for the community to gather; to hear God’s word and to share in God’s sacraments.

But the call of the faith is to go, to be sent, to be a guest who offers Jesus in places that might not know him.

I don’t know exactly where we’re being sent; the Home Depot?  Wawa?  But I do know that our gospel this morning equips us to be ready.

Amen

 

Pastoral Response to Conversation With Pastor

Pastoral Response to Conversations with Pastor

This past winter I made the commitment to engage the congregation in conversation.  I visited a total of 50 members representing 33 families.

The initial motivation was based on our budget shortfall.  I wanted to know what the congregation was thinking.  But I heard little financial talk.  Instead, I heard a desire for Prince of Peace to connect.  Yes, I heard stories that helped me better understand our present situation.  And I certainly got to better know the congregation.  But most importantly, these conversations were about connections, especially the connection between pastor and people.

We are developing a growing partnership that is building trust, and helping us traverse our rapidly changing church landscape.  Walking up the sidewalk to the Urbaneks for dinner one night I thought to myself, “this is really old fashioned.”  The pastor never comes over for dinner anymore.  People are way to busy.  But these visits convinced me that people still do want to meet, people still value this relationship, and people still want to work together with the pastor to help this congregation thrive.

I’ll continue to be in conversation.  Whether we break bread, drink coffee, have a beer, or just talk; these visits will strengthen our bond, and help us work together to be vital.

Thank you for inviting me into your homes, into conversation, and into this developing relationship we share.

So what did I learn?

During my council interview Bob Durie shared Prince of Peace’s deficit for that year, 2013, at $80,000.  Bishop Bartholomew, then Assistant to the Bishop, said that she was surprised I didn’t fall off my chair when I heard the amount.  I was a bit taken aback, but attributed the deficit to the vacancy.  With a pastor in place, the deficit would become manageable.                                                                                                                                    I was naive.  Looking back I didn’t appreciate how tenuous the financial situation was at Prince of  Peace.                                                                                                                                              The pastoral vacancy took its toll.   It was long.  Some left.  The church took a financial hit.  Many extended themselves to keep ministry happening.  But after I arrived, many were burnt out and ready for a  break.

Combine this with the general decline in the church at large, and we can see that Prince of Peace’s struggles were a kind of perfect storm.

Despite this, the mood of the congregation remains positive.  We are hopeful about our future.  We look forward to attracting new people and new ministries.  And we realize we are currently experiencing a “holy discomfort,” to which God is moving us to new life.

In the new year I preached about pushing the “reboot” button, as in God rebooting our church structure.  I like the metaphor, though Joan New said that, “rebooting” the church only gets us back  to where we were, not to where we need to be, some place new (no pun intended.)

I’ve thought a great deal about these “new places.”  What are they?  Where are they?  In my conversations no one “new place” was indentified, but there were common threads which revealed what these “places” might look like.

I often I heard this term “connection.”  The congregation wants to connect more on a social level.  This is not insignificant.  But more importantly the congregation wants to connect on a deeper, spiritual level.  More than once I heard how Sunday morning is not enough.  We need to connect beyond worship.  We need to connect with lasting relationships.  We need to connect on line through a virtual prayer group.  Now there’s a new place of ministry!

I was struck by a comment of Doug’s referring to younger generations.  He said millennials have serious questions about biblical truths, but they are very much searching for the deep relationships that our Christian faith offers.  While millennials remain skeptical of the institutional authority of the church, they very much relish the authentic community that the church can offer.

Another common thread centered on outreach.  From a budgetary standpoint a comment was made that our spending plan was too inwardly focused.  Another comment spoke to creatively getting into the community.  One member shared how other religious groups in our community are proud of their religious faith and speak openly about it, whether they be Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim.  But Christians seem timid amongst this multiculturalism.  We are so concerned about offending other faith traditions, that we remain quiet about our own.  She said the stronger our identity, the more willing we will be to reach out.  I  liked what another member said, “The church is to be the essence of Christ, helping people find Christ as we serve the community in his name.”

While none of these comments named a specific new place the church should be, these common threads of connection, deeper relationships, and focus on outreach all set the stage for a mission centered congregation.  I find this very encouraging.   Prince of Peace wants to be the church.  We’re aware of our challenges, but totally understand that this mission is God’s, and God will see to us, and will equip us to be vital in our ministry.

In conclusion, I add one final comment I heard in regards to all that is going on around Prince of Peace.  “Pastor, no matter what happens, we’re in.”  So am I!

Pastor Froehlke

 

In addition, I’d like to share a few comments of which I took notice.  They might give us some direction as move forward.

  • Move the coffee pot.  We make it too easy to leave church with the coffee pot is in the corner.
  • Do away with the budget. This one’s radical and perhaps unpractical, but is there a radical way to rethink how we structure the church finances?
  • Hold a congregational retreat.
  • Be satisfied taking baby steps into new ministries.
  • Send out a weekly email blast with church communications.
  • Don’t brand ourselves as an institution, but rather as the place to spread God’s love.
  • Don’t throw everything away.  (I like Phyllis Tickle who said every 500 years the church holds a rummage sale where they decide what to keep and what to get rid of.)
  • Our mission is not build the church coffers.
  • Utilize social media more.
  • Have worship in the park.
  • In our multicultural communities, name why Jesus still matters.
  • We’ve left too much to the church staff.
  • Light up the pulpit, it makes a big difference in our ability to hear.
  • Parents in the community regret not having their children grow up in church.
  • We need intensive prayer.
  • Ministry trumps finances.
  • Invite the AA groups to worship.
  • Don’t be too tied to an end result.
  • Hold a healing service more often.