Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Lutheran Zephyr

I just discovered this blog and want to pass it along. This post sums up how I sometimes feel at the altar. Follow the LZ at The Lutheran Zephyr


The Gift of Worshiping with my Family

I'm a pastor. I wear the funny shirt, the robe, the stoles. I say the P parts of the liturgy. I sit up front. And I love it.

But one thing I don't love so much is that I no longer sit alongside my wife and children in worship. Before I was ordained, I loved worshiping with my children. Yet I no longer worship alongside them, hold worship books for them, whisper instructions to them, or help them with their Bible story coloring sheet. I do enjoy seeing their faces as they worship from my seat up front, and I cherish the opportunity to declare the forgiveness of their sins, and to place the sacrament in their hands. But still ... I'm no longer there, by their side, holding them, whispering to them, coloring with them.

Tonight I received a special gift as I attended my wife's cousin's wedding (yes, a wedding scheduled on the Monday after Christmas!). There we were, Mommy, Daddy, and our two daughters sitting in the pew together (Naaman, our two year-old son, was more than glad to romp around in the nursery. We were more than glad to let him!). I held my 3 year-old up high so she could see the pastor's gestures as he said the Words of Institution. I took her to the bathroom during the Prayers of the Church. I struggled to hold a hymnal as I held her in my arms. Yes, by doing these things, I wasn't tuned into every moment of the liturgy. But I was participating and praying with my children, gathering with them around the table and at the foot of the cross, held with them within the Body of Christ and surrounded by the sights and sounds of God's people at worship. It was a beautiful thing.

And so tonight I am grateful for this wonderful Christmas gift - the gift to worship as a family. I wouldn't give up my job for anything. I love what I do. But I also love when I get the chance to worship alongside my wife and children. Thank you, Ben and Marissa, for getting married this evening. You've given me a wonderful gift!

Blessings to Ben and Marissa, and to all in this Christmas season.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Day 2009

Amid the Christmas trees, lights, turkey dinners and presents, the Gospel of John engages us on a whole other level. John will not start his account of the Good News of Jesus Christ with a story of birth. John takes us back to God.

John tells us that Jesus, the Word of God, has been part of the divine life from the beginning. The Word was spoken in the process of creation. The Word has long been at the core of the creative power of God. Today, we mark a shift in the location of the creative power of God, this Word. Today, we point to a person, an historical, living, breathing, walking, talking, eating and drinking person and say the Word, the wisdom speaking embodiment of God is present in a child born into the human race.

Today, we celebrate the birth, but we wallow in the mystery of it. God came in flesh. God closed the gap between humanity and divinity. God forever bridged the chasm that separates us from God and one another.

You see, when God takes on flesh, flesh is forever changed. There is a quickening of the very life of God within it. The flesh is reforged, remade and directed towards its original purpose. The flesh is pointed and pushed in the direction of love. We are equipped once again to love the way God loves.

It is the way you love an infant. An infant can’t do anything for itself. An infant is totally dependent on those that care for it. Babies cry, stink, get sick, are messy, sleep strange inconvenient hours and only smile when they are gassy, but we love them, not for their attributes, maybe in spite of them.

This is how God loves, freely, richly, obsessively and in spite of our less charming attributes.

How do I know this? I have seen God in flesh. I sometimes feel that spark in me, that is not me. I see God, alive in the flesh in this world around us, in women and men of faith, in the kindness of a stranger,and in the selfless acts of those dedicated to service.

It all starts in the beginning with the creative love of the Word.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Advent4c2009-Sermon Notes

We know Mary’s story. We remember Gabriel visiting Mary to announce the mysterious turn her life was taking. We remember Mary’s response of belief and obedient acceptance. We remember Mary’s journey and visit to Elizabeth.

Faith and obedience are Mary’s hallmarks.

But then, we apply a veneer to Mary. We project simplicity onto her. We reason that she was a woman in a patriarchal culture. We guess that she had no education, and maybe she was illiterate. We tell her story as a victory in“ spite of all odds” kind of story. By breaking Mary down, the story has more impact and seems more miraculous.

The truth is our thinking about Mary is largely speculation.

Church historian, Jaraslav Pelikan, wrote a very interesting book about Mary. It is titled, Mary Through the Centuries. It explores how Mary has been viewed throughout history. More importantly, it highlights how various eras have elicited a particular view of Mary.

I think our notion of poor, simple Mary has a lot to do with us. Perhaps, we long for Mary’s receptivity, but find it difficult, so we project a reason for her openness. Our lives are so complicated. We know so much. There is much to be overcome for us to fully invest.

That is what we are talking about, being fully invested in faith. Mary places all in God’s hands in her assent to be the chosen vessel. She gives God her trust, her body, her future and her entire being. We suppose only a simple, illiterate, person without station could do such a thing with such ease.

Maybe Mary knows more than we think. She sings a song which captures her submission to God. It is a song similar to a few women that came before her. Miriam, the sister of Moses, celebrates God’s deliverance by singing her song. Deborah, the female judge, sings a song to encourage troops before battle. Hannah sings a song giving thanks for her son Samuel, last of the Judges of Israel and a prophet in his own right.

Hannah’s song should sound pretty familiar:

1”My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory.
2 "There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.
3 Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.
4 The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.
5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.
6 The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts.
8 He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and on them he has set the world.
9 "He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail.
10 The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed."

So is Mary a poor, simple girl overwhelmed by God? Or, is she a young women full of the Holy Spirit, taking her place in a long line of strong servants of God?

The story of Mary is the continuation of an ancient story. It is the story of God calling a people, and creating a world marked by righteousness. It is the story of Miriam, Deborah, Hannah and Mary. It is our story.

We come to it like Mary, a lot of water has passed under the bridge. The water is the story of God’s pursuit of us.

Mary had said the kind of mercy shown to her would be expanded into "generations and generations" (Luke 1:50), and indeed that is what she now proclaims for Israel in Luke 1:55. Israel is "remembered with mercy" which is extended to the generations of Abraham forever. This is how God triumphs--not through violence, the customary pattern of the powers of this world, but through compassion and love. -(Progressive Blogging lectionary study)

Place the obstacles aside. Share Mary’s vision of service full of the Holy Spirit, like many that have come before us.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Looking ahead to the lections for the fourth Sunday of Advent, we encounter Mary. Her story is well known, so there is no need to recount it here. It is enough to consider her response in the form of the Magnificat.

It is most certainly a play on the song of an earlier Mary, Miriam, the sister of Moses. Miriam sang her song on the the “good side” of the Red Sea. Mary sings her song, knowing a new deliverance is underway. This deliverance will be different; her song makes that clear.

With the support of her family and a visit from a messenger, Mary understands God is at work in the facets of her unfolding story. Mary recognizes that the child of her body is the fulfillment of God’s promise. She revels in her role, as she marvels in its significance.

We celebrate her place of honor in being a vessel of salvation for us. Her blessedness is bound together with her humble openness to God. We celebrate Mary, and with Mary, that we might be free to receive God’s blessing.

Sing Mary’s song.

"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Andrew Sullivan on Obama's Nobel Acceptance Speech

The Tragedy of Hope


When I have been asked why I, as a conservative, support this man the way I do, I can only answer: listen to him. What is the philosophy that most affirms "the imperfections of man and the limits of reason"? What philosophy sadly demurs when told that peace is possible on earth, that history is leading to utopia, that war is over, that "freedom is on the march"? And this is the critical distinction between Bush and Obama: Obama is far more conservative than his predecessor. He sees that the profound flaws in human nature affect us as well as them; that we "face the world as it is," not as we would like it to be; that the decision to go to war is a moral and a pragmatic one; that ends have to be balanced by a shrewd and sometimes cold-eyed assessment of means.

For peace to exist, there must sometimes be war. A statesman will sometimes have to bargain with evil men. A statesman will also sometimes have to let evil flourish because he simply does not have the proportionate means to counter it. Human nature is alloyed between good and evil, and evil often wins.

Hope is not optimism. We have little reason for optimism given the first decade of the twenty-first century. Hope is a choice. As much a choice as faith and love.

Friday, December 11, 2009


This is a great article about the health benefits of generosity. It is a very interesting testimony about the complexity of the human and has broad implications for how we exercise our humanity.

A Prescription for Giving

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

John and Jesus

John the Baptist is a prominent character on the Advent stage. In the Gospel reading last Sunday (Lk 3:1-6), John received the word of God, marking his authority as a prophet, and he commenced his prophetic ministry. John utilized material from an earlier prophet, Isaiah, to connect his ministry with the traditional hope of Israel. The content of that hope was Israel’s restoration to a former national glory.

In our Gospel reading for the upcoming Sunday (Lk 3:7-18), the urgency of John’s message becomes palpable. John called the crowds around him a snake pit. He attacked them with threats of the wrath to come. John told them not to rest on their laurels, basking in the accomplishments of others, but to be fruitful and righteous in their own right. Following specific ethical instruction to everyone, then tax collectors and finally soldiers, John pointed beyond himself to the one coming.

I have often heard the ministries of John and Jesus contrasted. Some like to paint John’s message as fire and wrath. Jesus is the opposite side of the coin, love and mercy. There are certainly ways that this appears to be true, but I think this analysis misses Jesus’ statements about judgement. Jesus preaches love and mercy, but never pretends that there are no consequences to the choices we make.

In some sense, I see their differences bound in their roles. John is the forerunner. He is proclaiming the coming of a new reality and is preparing his listeners to receive it. John’s teaching also contains a starting point for ethical transformation. Jesus, on the other hand, takes a prepared people and transforms them into a community. John’s instruction is about individual preparation for the dawning age. Jesus is the creator of a new community, an alternative in contrast to the present order, his own body.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Lord is Coming

I am a fan of tradition. There is something within me that embraces ancient, well-worn paths that meander through history. It has something to do with a sense of continuity. There is a certain comfort derived from embracing the acceptable, time-honored and tested.

Innovation is subject to uncertainty. Trailblazing might lead to a dead end. There is a cost, however, to maintaining the charted course. You might miss a lot, and lose opportunities to engage the unimaginable.

Our annual remembrance of the events leading to the birth of the Christ child is traditional. We share similar scriptures. We sing the Advent hymns. We contemplate similar themes.

What irony that we practice such tradition around one of God’s greatest surprises. No one expected God to enter history as the child of a middle class craftsman. No one expected the King of Glory to be born in such modest surroundings. No one expected all of it to come about so quietly and go almost without notice.

As we engage in our traditional ways of remembering, I hope we will start a new tradition, a new tradition of expectation. God has not lost God’s ability to come in ways unexpected and unforeseen. I hope we will come to expect the unimaginable.