Sunday, November 28, 2010

Scripture genres

Our adult Sunday school class has been studying Making Sense of Scripture by David Lose. One of the exercises focused on think of scripture in terms of genre. A text has a different meaning whether it is poetry, letter, etc. The class broke into smaller groups to retell Luke 15:11-32 in different genres—supermarket tabloid and fairy tale. Here are the fun results (my best attempt at transcribing the handwritten poster sheets):

Squandered his money on lurid living and loose women.
Dad is ecstatic at return of wayward ways and throws a block party with finest food.
Older son refuses to attend party for jackass brother.
Father tries to sooth ruffled feathers with love, apparently to no avail.
Is younger son’s conversion true, or was he just hungry and returning to Daddy with his tail between his legs? More of the story continues at www dot the bible revealed dot com.

Decide which is the Good Son
Once upon a time, Father had two sons. The young son got bored with chores and wanted his money now. The younger son thought life wasn’t entertaining, and told his father he wanted out. Father tried to dissuade the son, but eventually gave in.

He was feeding hogs, and one turned to a witch and said, “Get yourself together or I will turn you into a pig and send you over a cliff.” The son was defeated and said, “I must apologize and make amend before my father will accept me.” He got home and Father was so glad to see him; he accepted him back and gave him a part and fine clothes. The older son was PO’d, saying, “I stay here and sweat and get nothing; he is a jerk, leaves, spends all and now wants back and now gets more.”

Father is the Good Fairy and welcomes all together and tries to convince older son that this was OK. The Older son does not hear any of it. He becomes estranged from his his brother and very distant from Father. But Good Fairy came and waved a wand and the brothers started working out their differences before the brother died. And they lived happily ever after. The end.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

An Advent video

Here is my newest experiment in video creation. The brown bear with the white eye patch seems to be a wise liturgical theologian. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

Tonight I’m wearing my great-grandfather’s cufflinks. I think I inherited them by default. My aunt said I was the only one of the male cousins who would ever wear a shirt that would use cufflinks. His name was Parelius, and came from Norway by way of Philadelphia, and lived in South Dakota before settling and farming the prairies of western Minnesota. He died in the 1940s, when my mom was just a small girl. I don’t know much about him, but I have his cufflinks. A wandering Norwegian was my ancestor.

That’s on my mom’s side. On my dad’s side, we’ve traced the genealogy back to Colonel Morgan Morgan (creative name, right?) He came from Wales and is thought to be the first white settler in what is now West Virginia. A wandering Welshman was my ancestor. When curious about family history in high school, I looked him up in the big ol’ encyclopedia in the basement, and it said that is cabin had special slots in the walls, convenient for shooting at Indians.

We all have stories—our personal stories, family stories, national stories, church stories. Some parts of our story we want to remember and cling to, like my cufflinks. Others we might be embarrassed or ashamed of, and would rather forget, like my ancestor’s marksmanship skills. For better or worse, they are a part of who we are.

The ancient Israelites remembered. “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor.”
They remember Abraham packing up and heading to a new land.
They remembered their ancestors being led out of slavery in Egypt traveling in the wilderness, going into unknown territory, trusting God.
They respond to God’s goodness with offering—first fruits.
They gave as offering not next-day leftovers, but the best of what they had.
They recognized that their possessions did not belong to them, but to God.

Today we also remember another group of people traveling in the wilderness, going into unknown territory, trusting God. Our American Thanksgiving Day is framed through the perspective of a certain 17th-century religious sect. The Pilgrims were Separatists who disagreed with the Church of England and traveled across the ocean to a place they called Plymouth. 1621, they celebrated what came to be known as Thanksgiving, to which they invited the Wampanoags, a Native American tribe, who had helped them settle and plant new crops in the new land.

When doing a small group Bible study this year on the book of Judges, I have started to realize that the nation-forming narrative of the people of Israel entering into the land of Canaan seems very similar to the nation-forming narrative of European settlement into the United States.

Both groups fervently believed that God had led them into a new land.
Both created rites, rituals, ceremonies, and traditions to commemorate their entry.
Both discovered that there were already people there: distinct and unique groups with their own vibrant cultures.
Israelites met Canaanites, Amorites, Philistines.
Europeans met Wampanoags, Iroquois, and Mohawk.

This week, I came across an article by Rev. Robert Two Bulls, an Episcopal priest in California who is a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He writes: “Every year when Thanksgiving Day approaches, I feel without fail a growing consternation inside me. I attribute this feeling to the inevitable emergence of the whitewashed historical record of this day and to the sudden attention that America directs toward the Native American Indians. It is an awareness that wakes up every year after Halloween and then will go back to sleep when the last scrap of turkey is devoured.”

Like with most narratives, there are parts of the Thanksgiving story that I wish weren’t there:
The Wampanoag town had been wiped out by smallpox.
Squanto, the man who helped the Pilgrims, only knew English because he had been previously captured and sold into slavery in England.

On the other hand, there are parts of the Thanksgiving story I really like and want to lift up:
The Pilgrims trusted in God throughout a time of difficulty and hardship.
They gathered together in fellowship around food and community.

If we really believe that God is Lord of the Universe, Sovereign, and Eternal, like we just proclaimed on Christ the King Sunday, then we realize that God is with us, in the midst of our human suffering, as well as our human joys.

Just as God hears the shouts of Thanksgiving from the Pilgrims, so too does God hear the cries of lament from the Wampanoags.
Just as God hears the thankful prayers of the Israelites, so too does God hears the sorrowful songs of the Canaanites.

I believe that often our times of feeling the most thankful are those times where we’ve experienced the deepest tragedy.

Martin Rinkart was a Lutheran pastor in Germany dur­ing the Thir­ty Years’ War. His town had many refugees entering the gates. The Swed­ish ar­my sur­round­ed the ci­ty, and fa­mine and plague were ramp­ant. Eight hund­red homes were de­stroyed, and the peo­ple be­gan to per­ish. Eventually Rink­art was the on­ly pastor left—doing 50 fun­er­als a day. Rink­art left the safe­ty of the walls to plead with the Swedes for mer­cy. The Swed­ish com­mand­er, im­pressed by his faith and cour­age, low­ered his de­mands. Soon af­ter­ward, the Thir­ty Years’ War end­ed, and Rinkart wrote the hymn we’ll sing later tonight. One funeral is hard enough. I can’t imagine fifty.
After seeing all the terror of war, he was still able to pray:
Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices.
Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices.

I acknowledge that on holidays like Thanksgiving, it can be difficult to have ever-joyous hearts when there are people who aren’t at the table. The Thanksgiving after my dad died, my mom decided not to cook a turkey. My sister was back overseas, so it was just Mom and me. Instead we went with “Dorothy,” a woman from my mom’s circle from church. Her husband had died decades before, and her kids were far away. Mom didn’t want her to be alone. The three of us went to Buffet King and had Chinese food.

Thanksgiving really isn’t about the food. My memories of turkey and stuffing also include memories of kung-pao shrimp and Mongolian beef. It’s not about having the perfect sweet potato pie or cranberry soufflĂ©, but about togetherness, memory, and the presence of God.

Tonight our Thanksgiving meal is not mashed potatoes or crab Rangoons, but bread and wine.

We celebrate Thanksgiving not because we want to glorify and romanticize the Pilgrims, but because this national holiday gives us an opportunity to do once more what we as Christians do week after week—give thanks to God. We eat. We pray. We remember.

I realize that our American Thanksgiving Day is not traditionally a Church holiday, though giving thanks is certainly part of what we do as Christians.

Christians have many names for this meal of Christ’s Body and Blood (Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, Divine Office, Mass, and Eucharist)
The word Eucharist literally means Thanksgiving. When we receive Christ’s body and blood, we take and eat with a spirit of thanksgiving for all that God has done for us.
Every time we take Communion, it is a Thanksgiving Dinner. Thank you, God.
Every time we take Communion, it is a act of memory.
“Do this in remembrance of me.”

We remember.

I have a story. You have a story. Each of us has a story. Some parts we want to cling to, others we long to forget. But tonight we remember. We remember that our story is not just our story. God is a part of it.


Thanksgiving Wordle

A Wordle of tonight's sermon:


Thanksgiving Day is not a Church holiday. It’s actually a national holiday, but the idea of giving thanks to God is a very Christian one. It’s part of who we are as people of God. I sat and counted that in a typical setting of Holy Communion, we mention giving thanks quite a few times in each service. For example:
“The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.”
“We offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us—our selves, our time, and our
possessions, signs of your gracious love.
“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise…”

In fact, another name for Holy Communion, Eucharist, actually means “thanksgiving.” In reality, every Sunday is a thanksgiving day. Tonight we will be having a Eucharist service at Amazing Grace at 7 p.m. to celebrate Thanksgiving. Sing hymns of thanks to God, and then stay for some fellowship time together eating some pie.

I realize that I am not always as intentional as I should be in being thankful. I take so much for granted. Here is a start of my list of things I am thankful for as pastor at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church:

Faithful people gathered around God’s word
A congregation that can disagree with one another with grace and civility
Resilience in the midst of lots of change and transition
Health insurance
A secretary who takes care of the details
A musician who approaches the piano with creativity and energy
A council president who I don’t thank enough
Confirmation students who ask me tough questions
The chance to collaborate with neighboring congregations for confirmation
Children who play on our swings
A presiding bishop in the ELCA who is willing to take risks
Angel Food Ministry
A Life after Loss group that has strengthened people experiencing grief
The list could go on and on…
Thanks be to God!

(Adapted from my column in the November 2010 newsletter of Amazing Grace Lutheran Church).

Friday, November 19, 2010

A cutesy stewardship bear

My preaching in October had a strong stewardship emphasis. This Sunday, we have a budget forum to get us ready for our December 5 congregational meeting. This little guy pretty much sumarizes what I've been saying about stewardship in four weeks of sermons. We don't give in order to gain favor from God, but we give in response to God's love.

Who are Lutherans?

I have been experimenting with videos, and put together a clip about what Lutherans believe. Much of the text is from the church website and brochure, but it's fun to see it in a different form.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Christ as king?

This Sunday is Christ the King Sunday. We crown the end of the church year by thinking about Jesus as the true authority in the world.

I often struggle with the image of Christ as King. In the United States, we don’t have a king. However, I don’t know if I like the image of Jesus as president, either.

Yes, Jesus is powerful, mighty, and worthy of praise. Crown him with many crowns—potentate of time, ineffably sublime. His name is wonderful. But our human language is so limited in ways to describe who God is and what God does.

Jesus is a different sort of authority.
Jesus is not a king in the Disney-movie-castle-and-moat sort of way.
Jesus is also not a dictator yielding oppression and injustice.
Rather, the power of Jesus is the power of the cross—the power of Love.

Imagine what it would look like every Christian in America put loyalty to Jesus above all other things, even country and family.

In the spirit of eating with tax collectors and sinners, our residential zoning laws might do less separating us into rich neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods.
In the spirit of sharing with our neighbor, the poverty and hunger situation in our country might be different.
In the spirit of turning the other cheek, we probably might not even need a military.

You can the see how transformative and counter-cultural it is for us to pray week after week:
“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, ON EARTH as it is in Heaven.”
The Kingdom of God is not pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die-by-and-by.
The Kingdom of God is Jesus’ vision of how we live here and now!
Yes, we trust God’s promises of the resurrection of the dead and eternal life, but we also trust that God is transforming our world as we speak.
We fervently pray that God’s Kingdom come—on earth as it is in heaven. What a radical act it is to pray for the fruition of God’s reign!

Even though the United States fought a Revolutionary War to not have a king, we do have a king.
We have a Christ who is the King.
He is not king in a materialistic way or in a power-hungry way.
His garments are not ermine robes or sequined jumpsuits, but a purple cloak.
His crown is not of jewels, but of thorns.
He is not born with a silver spoon, but in a lowly manger.
Jesus is not a god of preemptive strikes, but of preemptive love.
When people say, “King,” we expect castles and moats and other regal things.
But we don’t get what we expect.
We get something better. We get King Jesus, meeting us at the cross.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bless these stones...

On Sunday, we blessed and dedicated our remodeled space. We processed outside during the last hymn so we could have a view of our new roofs, ramp, and siding. The logistics of signing while walking was a bit tricky, however. We used a modified version of the General Order of Blessing from the ELW Occasional Services book, including the 1 Corinthians text that was used when one of our original buildings was dedicated in 1984. Of course, we happened to do this on the Sunday when the assigned Gospel reading talked about the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, when not one stone is left upon another.

Here’s the text of our rite:

P Friends in Christ: Today we give thanks to God and we seek God's blessing as we gather to dedicate the results of this building remodel project to the praise and glory of God:

C C New roofs shelter us with grace.
Rock siding is a sign of beauty.
A new ramp and refurbished restrooms help us be more welcoming and accessible.
A remodeled youth building is a recommitment to Christian education and youth ministry.
Thanks be to God!

A A reading from 1 Corinthians:
For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:9-11).

P Let us pray. We give you thanks, O God, creator of the universe, for your abundant gifts. By your holy wisdom all things have been made to reflect your glory, for the sustenance of life, and for the use and delight of your living creatures. Send your blessing upon us and upon this remodeled space, which we set apart today to your praise and honor. May warmth and welcome fill this place. May it be a home for the community and a haven for the stranger; a safe place for laughter, for tears, and for wonder; and a center for acts of service and deeds of love; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

P Almighty God bless us, and direct our days and our deeds in peace. Amen.

A Go in peace. The Lord is near. C Thanks be to God.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Preaching on Social Issues

This month, an essay I wrote got published in the Journal of Lutheran Ethics. You can read it online here:

It's part of a series called Preaching on Social Issues. When I preach, I often prayerfully wonder how to address issues in the world around me. The question is not if, but how. I think of Linus of Peanuts fame, "There are three things we don't talk about in public--religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin." As a preacher, I need to walk a fine balance between talking about politics too much and not being relevant.

I realize that the Gospel itself is very political. The teachings of Jesus confront the powers of the world. My job as a pastor is not to tell you how to vote, but to put the context of our world into dialogue with the Biblical reality as I proclaim how God's Spirit is at work.

Here's a Wordle of my article:

Scripture by heart

I've been spending this week working on memorizing the Gospel. I know that God is still speaking even if I read the text on Sunday, but I feel more in touch with scripture when I can speak the words from my mind. I've found that when I know the scripture, my sermon is more engaged with the text. I've found that when I practice Biblical storytelling, the congregation hears rather than simply listens. The problem is that it is a lot of work. I need to be more intentional in thinking about the text by heart.

Here's the process I used this week:
Read the text.
Print it out onto hand-held strips of paper, in three-verse segments.
Keep reading the little parts, slowly putting them together.
Walking outside while speaking the text, eventually without the paper.
Typing the text without having it in front of me.

This is a discipline that I love, but it's easy to let it slip away (sort of like blogging). Eventually, I'd love to do this every week, but I'm not quite there yet.

Getting ready for building remodel dedication

It's been a while since I've posted here...

Back in May, we as a congregation voted to do some construction. "Pardon our dust; we're remodeling" was the sign on our marquee most of the summer.

A refurbished youth building provides a comfy place for Sunday school.
New roofs prepare us for a rainy day--literally.
Remodeled restrooms and a less-sloped ramp are steps toward being more welcoming and accessible.

In response to our financial generosity and thanksgiving to God, it makes sense to do some sort of blessing service and prayer of dedication during regular Sunday worship. The challenge was finding a date. I would rather not do it on Reformation or All Saints, but it would be good to do it before Thanksgivng and Advent. So, November 14 was chosen and put on the calendar.

Sometimes the assigned lectionary can be surprisingly ironic. Talk about juxtaposition:
After we have just spent lots of money from our building fund on construction that includes rock siding, in Luke 21, we meet Jesus near the Jerusalem temple, adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God. He fortells destruction: "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another. All will be thrown down."

Sometimes the Bible challenges us. Sometimes we are confronted by words of Jesus that push us and make us wonder. As a preacher, I know that my job is to proclaim Gospel--good news. I'm supposed to say what God is doing, not what we need to do.

As I prepare to preach for tomorrow, the phrases that strike me the most are:
"This will give you an opportunity to testify."
"The end will not follow immediately."
"I will give you words and a wisdom that your opponents will not be able to withstand or contradict."

We live in uncertain times, as did the early Jesus followers. I don't know what the future holds. Instead, I trust God to give words and wisdom.