Archive for August, 2016

1 Kings 3:5-15

August 31, 2016

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.” 

Then Solomon awoke; it had been a dream. He came to Jerusalem where he stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. He offered up burnt offerings and offerings of well-being, and provided a feast for all his servants.” 1 Kings 3:5-15

Solomon is becoming the third king of Israel. The first, Saul, started out OK but then started slipping. He was disobedient to God and often became depressed and withdrawn. Eventually God picked David to replace Saul. David was a honorable person and was torn regarding Saul’s leadership. Saul became jealous of David and paranoid that he would lose his kingdom to him. Under Saul, and later under David, most of the time Israel was battling its enemies, always seeking to consolidate their territory.

When David died, Solomon became king. By that time, Israel had become a secure and increasingly successful tribe. Their success flourished under Solomon’s leadership.

In today’s text, the initial secret of Solomon’s success is explained. He asked God to make him a wise and discerning king. This was a very wise request and God honored it by saying that Solomon would also gain great power and wealth.

Wisdom is a great virtue. To be wise is to possess great understanding and make good choices. To be discerning is to be able to tell the difference between options and choices. Solomon’s wisdom served him well in the first years of his reign. He did remarkable things. Israel flourished under his leadership.

By the end, though, Solomon’s wisdom was buried under the trappings of his success. Solomon became wealthy beyond measure – and the wealthier he got, the less wise he acted. He became a great collector, collecting far more than he needed. More chariots and horses. More foreign wives and other women who all brought their foreign idols and gods into Solomon’s palace. All of that led to a sudden and dramatic downfall in the lives of the people of Israel.

After Solomon died, the kingdom was split between two of his sons and Israel never again saw the prominence that they enjoyed under Solomon. Solomon’s excesses proved harmful to himself, to his family, and to the people he served. He remembered the gift of God’s wisdom but he forgot the part about “If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments…”

Let us pray: Dear Lord, Solomon prayed for wisdom and you answered his prayer in a dream. Wisdom is a gift that we all need but we realize that wisdom is a gift we receive over a lifetime of learning and experience. Keep our minds and our hearts open to life that we might become wise. Let love be the key principle in our discernment. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Genesis 18:1-8

August 30, 2016

“The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground.

He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”

And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes.” Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.” Genesis 18:1-8

What happens at your home with you have first-time guests coming for dinner? You make sure the house is clean and orderly. You prepare a meal, a special meal, something other than what you might normally have for dinner. Then you wait for their arrival.

When the doorbell rings you greet your guests at the door. You smile, even laugh, as you shake their hands and welcome them into your home. You might say something like “Did you have any trouble finding the place?” They might say “You have a beautiful home.” Then you step back away from the door.

You let them know where the bathroom is. You offer them something to drink. You might show them around a bit in the main rooms where you’ll be together. You sit down for a conversation as the final details of the meal are put together. Then you share food together at the table. Afterwards, you spend some more time talking until it is time for the guests to leave.

What you might not be aware of is that through all of this you have been practicing the informal rules of your culture’s sense of “hospitality.” If all goes well, you don’t even notice what you are doing. But if the guests are rude, let’s say that as you show them around they ask to see what is in your closet, or if at the table they say, “I’m sorry but I really don’t like how this food tastes”, you will have a sharp and sudden sense that the “hospitality rules” have been broken!

When Abraham greeted these three strangers he was carefully following the hospitality rules of his culture. He rose to greet them, bowed in respect, cared for their needs, provided food and water. This was “desert hospitality” at its finest. In the stark arid world of the desert, such hospitality was often a matter of life and death.

The rules of desert hospitality went beyond providing food and water. In welcoming someone into his home the host was also assuming responsibility for their safety and the well-being. This was a very serious matter and it was taken seriously for thousands of years. Thus the idea of showing hospitality to strangers, of seeing to the needs of foreigners and wayfarers, appears again and again in the Bible. It was written into the laws of the Torah. It was spoken by the prophets. It was practiced by Jesus.

Remember this the next time you receive Holy Communion – that Jesus, the Host of the meal, has welcomed you into his home, has provided you food and drink, and now assures you of his continued protection.

Remember this as well as you read stories in the news about how international refugees or undocumented workers are treated. Hospitality remains a matter of life and death for many people. And, as we heard yesterday in Hebrews, by showing hospitality to strangers we might have entertained angels without knowing it.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, Abraham welcomed three strangers with kindness and respect. That could have been dangerous but he did it anyway. As we seek to do your will in our lives, give us opportunities to welcome and engage people who are very different from us. Help us treat strangers with respect. Bless those who depend on the hospitality of strangers as they seek new lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

August 29, 2016

“Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.

Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

This past Sunday we kicked off a new year of learning in the life of Faith Lutheran Church. No matter how long it has been since I was in school (no, we didn’t have the Internet or cell phones), my body clock still clicks in with the beginning of a new school year. And we also started a new year of confirmation instruction which has long been one of my favorite things to do as a pastor.

This year we will focus on the major themes of the Bible, from the beginning to the end. I am hoping, by the end of the year, that all of the people involved in confirmation, both children and adults, come away with a new appreciation for the scope of the Bible and for listening regularly to what God has to say to us.

Today’s reading is from the New Testament letter we call Hebrews. Hebrews is basically a long sermon. It is called Hebrews because it is filled with themes that would have been very familiar to a first century Christian audience with some experience of, or familiarity with, Judaism. No one knows who wrote it. Quite likely, the first readers were also people who had experienced some of the rejection and hardships – note how it asks that we remember those in prison and those that are being tortured – that the first Christians knew very well.

Notice also that the readers are encouraged to be faithful to their wives, and to not be greedy about money. Those are also very good words for us today given our fascination with sexuality, the sexual temptations of the Internet, and the constant focus in our culture on money and materialism.

It is interesting to me how differently I read these words today compared to how I might have read them when I was in middle school. Back then, dedication to Christianity meant that I wouldn’t have been able to have any fun. Much of what I was really interested in seemed “against the rules” for Christians. But today they sound entirely different in my ears.

I look at the all of the ways that people are divided from one another, how we are so quick to put others down, how uneasy we are about people who are different from us – and Hebrews challenges us to show hospitality, not hostility, to strangers. Wouldn’t this be a much better world if we did more of that? In the same way, strong and healthy marriages are good for everyone. Being content with what we have rather than always feeling like we need and want more seems a much more peaceful way of life. To do good in our lives, and to share what we have…who can complain about that?

Maybe the Bible is onto something. Maybe it does have something to say to us about the best possible ways for us to live our lives.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, thank you for those who have shown hospitality to us, who have welcomed us and taken us under their wing. Thank you for those who have been there for us when we have been down. And thank you for the relationships in our lives and all the ways that you take care of us. May we in turn share what we have been given with others, that life might be better for everybody. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Genesis 2:1-3

August 26, 2016

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.” Genesis 2:1-3

People who study public education have noticed the remarkable advances that have occurred in the past twenty years in Finland. Finnish students have moved from the bottom to the top in assessments of academic improvement. The United States is stuck in the middle. Why? That is what everyone is trying to figure out. This is one paragraph from the above linked article:

“Teachers in Finland spend fewer hours at school each day and spend less time in classrooms than American teachers. Teachers use the extra time to build curriculums and assess their students. Children spend far more time playing outside, even in the depths of winter. Homework is minimal. Compulsory schooling does not begin until age 7. “We have no hurry,” said Louhivuori. “Children learn better when they are ready. Why stress them out?”

How is it that children are learning better when they play more, when they are given very little homework, and when their formal education is delayed until they are more physiologically equipped to learn? How is it that teachers are more effective when they spend less time in the classroom, when they are freed from focusing on preparing students for standardized tests to spend more time giving individualized instruction?

The answer is the power of Sabbath rest.

Athletes are beginning to understand this. You don’t get stronger when you are lifting weights. Lifting weights, or any other type of athletic exertion, actually tears you down. The improvement comes when you are recovering. Eating the right foods and getting plenty of rest rebuilds your body and prepares you for the next period of exertion. Without such rest and nutrition, you quite literally burn yourself out. Rather than getting stronger, you get more brittle and injury prone.

Rest is holy activity. And when we rest, we need proper nutrition. Thus it is that we set one day aside to gather together in public worship, to be fed with the Word and the Meal. In this we connect to God, the Universal Power Source. Worship is not a sign of our weakness but of our strength. Worship rebuilds our communal connective tissues. It gives us resilience and courage. Doing yard work on Sunday morning does just the opposite – it binds us ever deeper into a world intent on appearances, keeping up with the Jones’, worrying about what the neighbors will think, and disconnecting us from the rest of the family.

Too harsh? I don’t think so. Not only does this creation story end with a day off, God cares enough about our need for rest that it made the list of the Ten Commandments. Check those out again – show me where getting high scores on standardized tests, winning football games, or getting a high paying white collar job are commanded of us?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, thank you for the gift of rest. Every day and throughout the day, encourage us in setting aside time for play, for quiet, for pondering, for imagining, for recovery. I pray that everyone reading this will make time this weekend to attend a public gathering of people seeking to center the meaning of their lives around you, your Word, and your Meal. And in those gatherings, let your love guide us that we not miss the point of Sabbath rest which is your desire to give us salvation, healing, wholeness, and life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Luke 6:1-11

August 25, 2016

“One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?”

 Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?” 

Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.” 

On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. 

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.” Luke 6:1-11

When we watch the contentious interactions that Jesus had with religious leaders around the observance of the laws of the Sabbath we do well to remember that no one was trying to dishonor God, to destroy traditional practices, or to damage the faith of the faithful. Everyone was doing the best they could within their own sense of what counted as the “best”. That matters.

The Pharisees came at Jesus from a place of suspicion. They were “watching” him. They were watching him in the same way that journalists attend political rallies or listen to political speeches – they look for words, phrases, and ideas they can pounce on in order to attack the speaker. The attack is waged from the point of view of the journalist. That becomes the story. The Pharisees do the same thing.

So do we. We all carry our own sense of right and wrong that has been informed by our own particular education (both formal and informal), histories, life experiences, and prejudices. We “watch” each other, waiting for the other to slip up so we can pounce. We might not pounce physically or even obviously but we all carry an internal guest list and the capacity to cross names off.

Jesus also “watches” very carefully. But notice what he sees as he does so. He sees his disciples plucking the heads of grain to snack on as they walk. Such gleaning was completely accepted, and even expected. It was an ancient form of stopping at a convenience store on a long road trip. He saw hungry friends having something to chew on.

Jesus was well aware of the Sabbath restrictions on working. He just thought that extending those laws to prevent hungry people from eating missed the deeper, and defensible, point of the Sabbath.

Jesus also saw a man with a withered hand enter the synagogue. The Pharisees also saw the man. In their minds, his affliction was a sign of God’s punishment. In Jesus’ mind, there was good to be done and he did it. What better time than the Sabbath to restore a person to wholeness?

In the end, one man left that day rejoicing that God rescued him from the bondage of tying his sandals with one working hand. Another left with more work to be done. And still others left plotting how to punish Jesus.

Here’s the simple question for us – who is our Lord? Whose example will we follow in our lives? Who will we trust in the interpretation of the meaning of religious rules, practices, and traditions?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, let us never lose sight of keeping the main thing the main thing. Of seeing that your love, poured out in Jesus, drives us to compassion and care rather than condemnation and criticism. May we also see those in need and do what we can to provide relief and release. May we never lose hope that you alone can restore us to wholeness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Isaiah 58:6-14

August 24, 2016

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 58:6-14

Here is what I don’t like about many modern so-called “study Bibles.” I know that people love them and I know that they sell like hotcakes. But I worry that people put more trust in the notes on the bottom and the stuff on the sidebar that they ignore the plain and obvious words of the Bible itself. So there is that.

And that is also a danger I recognize in writing daily devotions. (Or just about daily devotions given that I didn’t write one on Monday this week) I worry that people skip over the Bible reading to get down to whatever I say. I hope that doesn’t happen. And I certainly hope that it doesn’t happen today.

Isaiah is a major book of the Jewish Bible. It is absolutely foundational in that it reflects the experience of Israel before, during, and after the Babylonian Exile. In that it captures the heart of the faith. It was incredibly important to the life and ministry of Jesus. It is quoted frequently in the New Testament. If it was the Word of God to Jesus then it certainly ought to be the Word of God to us.

Why do I point that out? Because when voices in the Christian church speak up against injustice, point out evils of oppression, argue on behalf of feeding the hungry, care about finding indoor spaces for homeless people to sleep, challenge Christians to begin every week in corporate worship, or questioning those who constantly apologize for the morality of looking out for our own self-interest – the church is not being political, it is being Christian! It is being who we are because of Whose we are.

That is what it means to be a “repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets to live in.” Israel had just come out of a horrible time in their history and the writer of Isaiah was self-reflective enough to ask “What was our part in what went wrong and how can we order our lives so it doesn’t happen again?” That stance is so much healthier and helpful than playing the blame game or the victim game or the vengeance game. It also works much better as a job description for the church and a prescription for what ails us in our common life in the world.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we pray for enough. Enough for all. Enough and not too much for anyone. We pray today, in the middle of the week, that we might have the grace to keep the main thing the main thing in our lives. To discern your voice, your still small voice, sounding forth through the din of the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Exodus 20:8-11

August 23, 2016

“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” Exodus 20:8-11

There were two drugstores in my hometown. They took turns being open on Sunday. Virtually everything else was closed. As a kid, that officially made Sundays the most boring days of the week.

Most of the businesses on our main street closed at 5:00 PM. Except on Thursday nights when they were open until 9:00 PM. That made Thursday nights the best nights of the week.

Did those old blue laws (so named, according to Wikipedia, because the word blue was used in the 17th century as a disparaging reference to rigid moral codes and those who observed them) keep the Sabbath any holier? Was our country any less violent, racist, greedy, or materialistic back in the day?

The Thor was the first electric-powered washing machine. It was introduced in 1908 by the Hurley Machine Company of Chicago, Illinois. The Thor was a drum type washing machine with a galvanized tub and an electric motor. A patent was issued on August 9th 1910. The first washing machine I remember in our house wasn’t much more advanced. You had to wring the clothes out by hand. I once tested the wringer with my finger. The wringer won.

People used to wash their clothes when they were dirty. Maybe once a week for the clothes that sat next to the skin. Maybe never for sweaters and outerwear. Now we wear it once and wash it. (Actually I don’t and Kelley thinks that is disgusting but I grew up having to wash my own clothes and old habits die hard.) Are we any better off now when we wash everything immediately?

I remember one phone mounted on the kitchen wall. If no one was home, it didn’t get answered. Now I sleep with my cell phone as my alarm clock. Does this make me a better pastor?

Henry Ford was a revolutionary when he suggested a 40 hour work week, down from 48 hours. He wasn’t the first to recognize that productivity went down with too many work hours. No doubt those accustomed to 10-16 hours a day, six days a week, welcomed the change…and no doubt those who paid their workers resented the cost. Today I don’t know anyone who works 40 hours a week. Instead, I know people who get to the office at 6:00 AM in order to get something done so they can work until after 7:00 PM so the traffic dies down for their commute home. Has this added to our quality of life?

God creates us. God knows best. God knows that rest is as holy as work. And when we rest, God wants to have some time set aside to spend with each other around hearing God’s Word, being a part of the life of a community, and remembering what matters in life. Is that really too much to ask?

Just because the stores are open doesn’t mean we have to go shopping.

If you are too busy for worship on Sunday the problem isn’t Sunday.

And if a service that starts at 10:50 AM doesn’t leave room for you to sleep in, then you were out far too late on Saturday night.

I’m just saying….

Let us pray: Dear Lord, thank you for setting aside time in our lives for rest. Thank you for the holiness of rest and the holiness of work. Thank you for opportunities to remember that we are human beings, not human doings, and that we do have the freedom to manage our time with balance and care. And please forgive those of us who have to work on Sundays. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

 

Hebrews 10:23-25

August 19, 2016

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:23-25

When we read a passage of scripture like this one I trust that we have the same reaction. We think, “Wow, the more things change, the more they stay the same.” This passage was written nearly two thousand years ago and yet it could have been written yesterday.

In the face of all of the bad news that constantly streams into our lives, all that we hear about terrorist attacks and natural disasters and economic uncertainty, the writer encourages us to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.

When Christian leaders wonder what the heart of the faith is, when even Christians seem so divided, when we look out into the culture and wonder where the faith fits, the writer reminds us to keep it simple. “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds…”

When we look at the life of a local congregation, what people actually do with their time, from Sunday worship to finding opportunities to bring people together in groups, the writer cautions us to “not neglecting to meet together…” Which is a challenge today just as much as it was already a challenge in the 1st century, “as is the habit of some…”

And still, to “encourage one another” which is very different from shaming and blaming.

All of this is so timely…until it gets to the idea of “all the more as you see the Day approaching.” And then you can almost hear the brakes squealing to a stop.

In the 1st century the work of the church felt like rushing someone to the emergency room because the End was right around the corner. There was no time to waste. There was a deep sense of urgency. No one wanted to be that lazy servant surprised when the master of the vineyard showed up. Clearly people like Paul expected Jesus to usher in the end of time before the end of their lifetimes. But it didn’t happen.

So it is that in large segments of the Christian church today it feels more like encouraging people to brush, floss, and remember their annual check-ups. Any sense of urgency feels like it is attached more to the survival of the “church as we know it” rather than urgency to do what followers of Jesus are called upon to do. Which is to do what Jesus did.

We will have a funeral this morning at Faith Lutheran Church. In this I am reminded yet again that life on this earth does not last forever. I am reminded, and I will remind those attending, of the hope of eternal life made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Of Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

But then he goes on to say, “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

There it is. A word from the Lord. Just what we need to hear, just when we need to hear it.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you have welcomed us into your life. We are your hands, feet, eyes, ears, and heart. Inspire us, not with fear or shame but with faith, hope, and love. Help each of us do our part and encourage us with the certainty of your promises. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

1 Corinthians 1:10-17

August 18, 2016

“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.” 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

There were two campus pastors where I went to college. One was a live wire, the life of the party, the guy who wore a goofy hat at football games and got the crowd into the game. He also said my name when he gave me Holy Communion in chapel. The other was quiet, quoted poetry in his sermons, and was a little older. I was always a bit disappointed when the older pastor preached or when I found myself in his line for communion. I completely understand why the Corinthian church became divided amongst those who preferred one pastor over another. It is human nature. Fallen human nature. And it is dangerous.

It also is a door that swings both ways. Lots of Christian leaders are attracted to being the voice in the front of the room, the person who tilts every meeting in their own direction. Lots of Christian communities have been severely damaged by egotistical or narcissistic pastors desperate for the attention that comes with the job. Or two pastors vying for the hearts and minds of the congregation.

The truth is that there is a little humility and hubris in all of us. We seek relationships that work and that often means gravitating toward some while finding others grating. But pastors and parishioners do well to remember that it is not all about us and our needs, our preferences, or our positions.

Paul says that the antidote for over-doting is the power of the cross of Christ. The focus is on the Word, not on the one called to proclaim it or those gathered to hear. The power is in the gospel, the declaration of God’s love, the new found freedom and response-ability to follow, to serve, to heal, and to pass it on to the next person.

Whether it is divisions within our own congregation, personality conflicts amongst members, or divisions between denominations, the underlying unity of the church is the power and work of the Holy Spirit. We all do well to remember who we work for and Who works within and amongst us.

By the way, I once went to my favorite campus pastor to talk about a very painful issue in my life. His counsel was awful. He was a great guy but he didn’t know what he was talking about. And, when I was in the darkest moment of my years in college, it was the older pastor who rearranged his schedule to give me an hour. THAT conversation changed my life. And later he was the one I talked to while trying to decide between the seminary and law school. I guess we know how that turned out.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, it is natural for us to be inclined toward some leaders over others. And there are times when that is completely appropriate. But we recognize the danger when we find ourselves over identifying with human leaders over you. Forgive us for that and heal us from the inside out so that we can hear your Word regardless of who speaks it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Acts 14:1-7

August 17, 2016

“The same thing occurred in Iconium, where Paul and Barnabas went into the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks became believers. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who testified to the word of his grace by granting signs and wonders to be done through them. 

But the residents of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. And when an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, the apostles learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country; and there they continued proclaiming the good news.” Acts 14:1-7

Today is August 17th. I have no idea how many shopping days we have until Christmas but I’m willing to bet right now that the Christmas season will once again feature a ridiculous outcry against some practice that strident voices will see as an attack against Christianity. Last year it was red coffee cups. Seriously.

Christian leaders in many places across the world are arrested, tortured, and killed. Christian communities in Africa and the Middle East are targeted for burning, raping, and killing. People die for their faith every day. I’ve read that a Christian is killed because they are Christian once every five minutes. And we get bent out of shape over red coffee cups?

When a politician in the United States says that Christianity is “under attack” they could very well be right. But that attack is not being waged by laws protecting the interests of minorities (which quite rightly are exactly the sort of care for the oppressed that Jesus calls us to), it is being waged by Christians themselves who deny the cross by choosing comfort, convenience, and control over sacrifice, service, and sanctity.

Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium because it was a large, cosmopolitan, and important city. Then they went to the synagogue to tell the story of Jesus. The result? Some came to believe, others began to plot the beating they wanted to give to the men they accused of stirring up trouble. NOTICE it was those who stood in opposition to the faith who resorted to violence to shut those faithful voices up.

History has proven that earthly opposition cannot stop the Christian movement. It is not violence directed toward Christians that compromises Christian mission but violence done by Christians that does. How many times have we heard voices that reject Christianity run down the long litany of heinous Christian wars and abuses? Perhaps not enough. Because if we did we might come to more quickly recognize when we are doing it again.

Christianity is exploding in China. The spiritual vacuum that has been created by growing awareness of the hollow promises of communism is being filled by Christians who are more than willing to bear the cross of sharing the good news with friends and family, gathering in small home churches, risking the oppression and dangerous consequences that entails.

In the United States? Our church properties don’t pay property taxes. Clergy get a nice deal by not having to pay income tax on their housing allowances. Church members get to deduct their charitable contributions from their income taxes. The police come to our property when we call them to help us, they don’t show up to harass or arrest us. Parents bring children to be baptized with no intention whatsoever to actually raise them in the faith. And the average Lutheran invites a friend to church once every 16 years.

Have we lost the ability to recognize the difference between being privileged and persecuted? Christianity “under attack” in America? Please.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, we are always tempted to look for the easy way out, to close our eyes to that which we don’t want to see, and to portray ourselves as victims when in fact we are just the opposite. We want the crown without the cross. Today we pray for those who are willing to lose their lives in order to find them, for those who remain faithful in the face of dreadful and terrifying oppression. May their witness light a fire in us, that together we might reflect your love as the light of the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.