David Zahl presents a lively discourse on what we turn our attention to in the present time. What is it that leads us away from God and what do we treat as our priorities today.
If you have never heard of the term seculosity before, it is because it is of Zahl’s creation. “What’s more, there does seem to be a discernible difference between grounding your hope in something material and something spiritual. Blanketing both groups with such a loaded label could come off as patronizing. Which is why I am proposing a fresh term seculosity. I’m using it as a catchall for religiosity that’s directed horizontally rather than vertically, at earthly rather than heavenly objects” (xxi).
As we get overwhelmed in our daily lives, there are many areas that get prioritized over our dedication to Christ. Zahl ventures into the areas of parenting, work, technology, politics, and much more as we have turned these into our own type of religion. He even ventures into how we co-opt the church and what we have made it to be that is far from the vertical faith that God has originally called us.
Zahl includes a great sense of humor that brings the discourse to heart and one that the reader can relate. While he points to the things that create seculosity, he does conclude the book with “What to ‘do’ about it.” His argument is not that we are less religious than we have been in the past, in fact, we may be more. We have just turned our religion to things that are not the God of creation. He points to the unique position we have as offering the grace of God. However, amid the grace, we are also sin and are broken. To repent of this and be awash of the grace of God is a hope that nothing in the secular world can offer.
the recurring themes from our lessons this morning. Could living our lives be as simple as
stripping everything away to whether we are living in fear or if we are living
in faith? Do we know how to name fear, and do we know how to name faith?
Sometimes fear is very evident and can be seen in the faces of little children. This past Thursday I had the opportunity to meet Alice whose husband was deported after following the legal process for nearly two decades. She shared how her five-year-old granddaughter had developed a fear of police after her grandfather had been taken. She would scream and cry while they were in the car whenever they saw a police officer. To combat this fear, she had a friend dress up as a police officer come over to their house and teach her that the police are not people to fear. She wanted to make sure that if she was ever in trouble, she knew that she could go to a police officer for help. For some, that feeling of safety and freedom is hard to find in this earthly world. That is when we turn towards God to catch a glimpse of the hope that resides in Jesus.
There is an
absolute freedom in the reign of God which calls us to live in faith and to
banish fear from our lives.
It can be
easy to let fear control our lives. It has happened over and over again. As we
turn to history, we can look at the rise of the Third Reich and Nazi Germany. Fear
in the face of Hitler gripped Germany, while many people knowing what was
happening, chose not to raise their voices. Many of those people were Lutheran!
The fear also went the other direction as the reich created a fear of those
that were different, resulting in nearly 11 million people killed during the
Holocaust, simply because they did not fit the model picture of what the
leaders thought humankind should look like. Fortunately, the rest of Europe and
America stepped up to this manufactured fear of the other and fought to bring
peace and freedom to Europe.
It is easy
to co-op the gospel to your own making and we have seen it done in our own
country through slavery, segregation, opposition to suffrage, and even to our present-day
treatment of the stranger and neighbor among us.
Fear is not
new. Fear has shaped humanity from the very beginning. Fear gripped Abram as he
was afraid that he would not have any heirs to receive the blessing of the Lord.
He was fearful of what would happen to his possessions after he died. What
would happen to those things that he had been promised? He was fearful it may
go to a slave born within his house.
gripped the disciples as they think about the difficult call that Jesus is
continuing to make for them to follow. They worry about what is coming next and
how they are going to live in their lives with Jesus. Jesus’ ministry is
changing things and that change brings the unknown. Change can easily heighten
our sense of fear.
surroundings change, our sense of direction is thrown out of whack and it can
be easy to get lost. Do we become complicit to the negative changes around us
like history has done in the past, such as Nazi Germany? Do we embrace the change that lifts up all of
God’s creation and pray for it as the in-breaking of the reign of God?
toward the freedom found in Jesus, we must acknowledge our fear.
well aware of our fears and says, “Do not be afraid.” Our first response may be
Jesus! Sometimes that is much harder than what you suggest. Change is
difficult. The unfamiliar can scare us. When we venture into the unknown our
knees begin to quake and buckle. And in the midst of it, you tell us, “do not
be afraid!” Yet, somewhere amid our fear we can begin to find just that tiniest
seed of faith. That is all it takes. And, each one of us has that seed within
us, even when it does not feel like it.
of Hebrews reminds us of what faith can look like. “Now faith is the assurance
of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Abraham learned what
it meant to have faith. He found the freedom that is in the grace of God. As he
listened to God and released all of his fears, he began to truly understand
what God had been calling him to from the very beginning.
the seed of faith in the disciples that are following him, “have no fear little
flock.” Jesus continues to nurture those seeds within us through the freedom
that is given to us to follow and obey his word. Our faith, as it grows, begins
to drive the fear out. There is an absolute freedom in the reign of God which
calls us to live in faith and to banish fear from our lives.
history the faithful have been lifted for us to remember. Today we remember the
faith of Clare of Assisi. Clare was friends with Francis of Assisi before he
heeded the call from God to rebuild God’s church. Clare faithfully followed in
the footsteps of Francis. Clare learned what it meant to give herself
wholeheartedly to living into her faith. Her faith led her to found the Order
of the Poor Ladies. Fear was not on her radar and the example of her faith
lives on today as we remember her.
faith are both powerful entities. The question is, which one are you allowing
to direct your life? Will you live into the fear of the unknown, the fear of change,
or the fear of those that are different? Or, will you embrace your God-given
faith to bring the reign of God closer to all of God’s creation?
I leave you with a prayer from Clare,
you most gentle Jesus…
Give me a
lively faith, a firm hope, and perfect charity,
“There is no
longer Greek and Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave
and free; but Christ is all and in all” (Col 3:11). Feel free to add what other
divisions we may witness out there to this list. Simply put, Jesus tells us
that there is no difference among God’s creation.
We are the
ones to make up the differences. We have created the idea of race. We have
created the concept of political parties. Those that have and those that have
not. We have made our own categories of what we think is right and what we
think is wrong. Evil creates differences and tries to separate the people of
God through means like the two mass shootings that have happened in our country
in the last 24 hours, in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. Yet, Christ is in
all! This can be hard to comprehend in times like this.
When I woke up this morning my hear broke even more after hearing of the Dayton shooting in the early hours of the morning. How often does this have to happen for people to raise their voices and a difference is made. We create differences that are not their in God’s eyes.
reign there are no differences and we encounter the grace of God in ways that
are beyond our current understanding.
The rich man
in Jesus’ parable likes to set himself apart and above others so that he can
live prosperously. In other words, he is taking more than his daily bread that
we pray for in the Lord’s prayer. Now, wealth is not a bad thing!
is the person in the crowd asking Jesus to tell his brother to split the family
inheritance that provokes the telling of this parable. The person in the crowd
is most likely the younger of the two and thus according to Jewish inheritance
traditions would not receive much. He wants what he believes is due to him. The
rich man is not much different. He has done well farming his land and has been
blessed with an abundance of crops. Instead of ensuring that those in the
community are cared for, he is just going to build a bigger barn.
We are good
at building places to put our stuff. We buy bigger houses so that all our stuff
can be contained. If we cannot buy a bigger house than we buy a storage unit so
that we can collect more stuff. While George Carlin could be profane at times
in his standup comedy, his social commentaries were many times spot on. His
routine on our obsession with stuff is about as absurd as the rich man tearing
down his barns to build even bigger barns.
In some form
or another, we have probably all done it at one point though. We got a bigger
car because we needed. We got a bigger house because we needed. We rented a
storage facility because we needed it.
Instead of a
new life in Christ, we can easily get wrapped up in the material stuff of the
world. The person that asks Jesus for a share of the family inheritance is more
concerned for himself. The rich man is more concerned about living the good
life and stockpiling so that he can eat, drink, and be merry. They are
concerned with worldly richness, not being rich toward God.
addressed some of the same concerns to the communities he has preached. In the
letter to the Colossians he reiterates the importance of Christ and the freedom
that now exists. This freedom should be lived as a new life in Christ and not
of the world. Paul’s letter was written nearly 2000 years ago and sometimes we
get caught up in his choice of words.
We are blessed to have the opportunity to worship together this morning where some of our siblings around the world do not have that freedom. We are blessed with a great abundance that we quite often take for granted. More importantly, we must remember that we are not blessed because of where we live, but because we are children of God. We are created in God’s image. In this we should be reminded that there are no differences or division in God’s eyes, only the ones we have created in our own. For Christ is in all and in God’s reign there is no difference and we encounter the grace of God in ways that are beyond our current understanding.
Let us pray.
God of unity, you are Christ in All. May we be open to seeing that in our
neighbors and strangers alike. May we worry less about our worldly wealth and
focus on the wealth that can only be found in you. Amen.
Let me start out by saying that I feel ill-equipped to offer much of a commentary on the topic of race. Yes, I have attended a multi-day anti-racism training and I have read various books on race relations, but I will never know what it feels like to be a person of color in the church or in our nation. I grew up in a predominantly white town and have lived for a majority of my life in predominantly white towns. The two congregations that I have served have each had one person of color as a member.
The congregations that I have served are exactly the ones that Lenny is writing to in Dear Church: A Love Letter From a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. I know that to do anything I must stop and listen to those that have experienced discrimination and told to go back to where they came from. I can be present with them and attempt to be a representative of God.
Lenny’s call for a revolution will make many in the church uncomfortable and we will begin to hear the denials of racism stack up. I believe that everyone has at least a bit of racism within them and to begin this conversation we must repent of it. Lenny has allowed himself to become vulnerable in the sharing of his own experiences and his call to action. He is a pastor on the front lines that is truly willing to put his call on the line to do exactly what Jesus.
There are parts in the book that I do not fully understand and yet I am willing to listen and change my own practices if it means that I am able to preach a more inclusive gospel. As he states time and time again, Jesus loves everyone, and if we are to live into our true calling as Christians, we should too. This is a must read so that we can come to an understanding of where the church is today so that we can move into the future. If the ELCA, as the whitest denomination in the U.S., does not confront our heritage and enter the conversation, we vary well may not be around in the near future.
As a child,
I could not wait until Christmas break came upon us. It meant that Christmas
was usually less than a week away and the excitement that built up in my family
home was almost uncontainable. At least among myself and my younger siblings. The
excitement that my parents exuded would at times be present in raised voices
because of the anticipation of getting everything ready to host Christmas Eve. Four
of my older siblings would return home with their families and the house would
nearly be bursting at the seams.
had to get her Martha on, at least a week or two before Christmas Eve. The
amount of Christmas treats that she made was incredible. She would plan for
dinner on Christmas Eve, which usually consisted of ham and various sides
topped with all those wonderful treats that she would make. Over the years, as
nieces and nephews were born, and then they began having their own children,
Christmas Eve became a good type of chaos. Unless you were my parents because it
could easily become overwhelming.
I could see
my mother and Martha agreeing on the hecticness of having a houseful of people.
Martha’s anxiousness that appears in Luke’s gospel could be expected as she
wants to make sure everything is right for Jesus and his disciples. We have no
idea how many people came into their home. I am sure that it was Jesus and at
least the twelve closest disciples, but nothing rules out that this group could
have contained the seventy that Jesus had sent out earlier to share the peace
of God and cure the sick. It is the hospitality that Martha is showing now that
he had told the disciples to look for.
Martha have chosen to be hospitable in their own ways and sometimes the better
part is to pause and listen to the Lord.
It is not
hard to find a sermon that puts Martha in a bad light. She appears to be
self-obsessed because she must do all of the work while Mary sits at the feet
of Jesus. Mary has stepped out of the norm as she chooses to listen to Jesus
and his teachings. Much like the Samaritan last week that stopped to help the
stranger, which in Jesus’ time would have been viewed as counter-cultural, Mary
chooses to sit at the feet of a male teacher. This was nearly unheard of in
first century Israel and if the right person had seen it could have possibly
got Mary in trouble.
teachings and actions move well beyond expected norms. Martha is uncomfortable
with Mary’s actions and raises her concern to Jesus. She is anxious and wants
help. Jesus does not necessarily tell Martha that she is wrong, but let’s her
know that Mary is in the right place at the right time. She has chosen the
better part. She has released any concerns that she may have so that she can
fully turn her attention to their guest, Jesus. We do not hear Martha’s
response, but I would like to believe that she began to fully understand what
Jesus was talking about in this moment. Martha was serving where she felt
called to serve at that time and so was Mary. We each have our own calling that
connects us to the body of Christ.
I must admit
it is easy to forget that. It is easy to forget that everything we do affects
those around us. It is easy to forget that our own actions have consequences,
either good or bad. It is easy to get caught up in the anxiousness of making
sure our checklists are completed. It is easy for us to get caught up in our
work (even if it is the work of the church), in school, with finances, in our
relationships, in our time management, in the events of the world, and even in
our aging. In all those things, are we preaching the gospel, or is Jesus just an
part of this is to pause and sit at the feet of Jesus. To listen to his
teachings and be fully present to his word. This is the kingdom of God that has
came into Martha’s home and Mary has chosen the better part for her of sitting
and listening. Perhaps Martha has even chosen the better part for herself if
what she is doing is a proclamation of God. For her to project her expectations
upon Mary is not what Jesus expects in the kingdom.
We are each
called to serve the Lord in various ways and sometimes we must break out of the
barriers that fence us in. The Good Samaritan visibly showed this last week by
loving his neighbor and caring for his wounds. Mary shows her love for God by
sitting at Jesus’ feet and hanging on his every word. While Martha gets caught
up in her anxiousness, her act of doing may be the best way that she can
express her love for God. The Samaritan and Mary have both broke through the
fence of the norms of their day.
can point to times in our own lives where we have welcomed God into our midst
in our lives and the lives of those around us. Jesus helps us break through the
barriers that fence us in and welcomes us and walks with us in love. To love
others as we love God requires us to break through those barriers. Jesus sets
us free! It has happened many times throughout the last couple of centuries as
we have confronted the evils of slavery, racism, sexism and homophobia. Not to
say that we have fully came to a full reconciliation of any of these, but we
have made our voices be heard as we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus
sets us free to open our hearts, minds, and souls to embrace all of God’s
sets us free so that we can love the strangers and refugees among us. Jesus
sets us free to love our Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and atheist neighbors.
In that freedom we are given the chance to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen
to his words. The words that bring us closer to him and our lives in the
So, let us
continue to be hospitable and embrace all of God’s creation with love and
compassion. Let us listen to Jesus for what is the better part in our lives.
Let us pray.
Loving God, you walk with us and in that we can be empowered as faithful
witnesses. We give thanks for the faithful witness of those that have gone
before us, those in our midst, and those that will follow. May we be bold in proclaiming
your good news and share your love beyond all boundaries. Amen.
Now that I
have done it twice, returning to college after being out of classes for some
time can evoke a tiny bit of anxiety. I began seminary a decade after getting
my undergrad degree, and last fall I began a spiritual direction certificate
program at Loyola University Chicago. This anxiety really can happen at any
grade level, kindergarten, entering middle school, or starting as a freshman in
high school. Once you get into class, it can get better as you get to know
people and then you get the syllabus.
is great because it has everything you will need in it for the year and what
the expectations of the teacher or professor are. One of the first things that
I usually turn to in the syllabus is the assignments that are due over the
course of the semester. This past spring semester I looked at the syllabus for
one of my classes and read that one of the assignments included group work.
Now, I like
people and I like working with people. However, this was an online course. How
were we going to do group work? Also, there is that part of me that feeds into
our cultural urges to be individuals and rewards those that are strong enough
to do things on their own. There is little foundation in this, but
individuality as become a large part of our society.
When we turn
towards the gospel lesson, Jesus sends the seventy disciples out ahead of him
in pairs! Jesus repeatedly ensures that the disciples are not on their own and
reminds them that not one of them is greater than another. We too are sent, supported
by Christ, and called to work alongside each other for the kingdom of God.
disciples traveled with Jesus they were consistently challenged by his
teachings and he stretched them to think beyond themselves. They argued among
themselves about who was greater and if they could sit at the right and the
left hand of Jesus. To me, it sounds like the individualism that we are
concerned about today existed two thousand years ago. Throughout history, wars
have started and continue to erupt when leaders and countries think that they
are better than others.
disciples sent out ahead of Jesus were given the task to start healing and
proclaiming the word of the Lord so that the communities were ready when Jesus
arrived. Jesus knew that they would not be totally successful in their mission
and when they came back with great stories of the demons listening to them and people
being healed, Jesus was quick to rebuke. For it was not them personally doing
any of this work. It was God working through them. How easy this can be to
forget. Imagine the inflated egos that some of them may have had when they
returned with such great news for Jesus and he popped their bubble.
How easy it
is for praise to be quickly taken in a negative direction. If allowed, it can result
in the same inflated egos. Once their ego has been inflated, some people will
do whatever they can to maintain it, including misleading others and going to
the extremes of corruption. I am sure that we can all think of instances when
this has happened in the corporate world as well as in our own government and
especially other governments around the world.
It is easy
to get wrapped up in our own way of doing things and want little help from
others. Especially if we know the way we are doing it is the right way! It
becomes easy for us to turn others away because things will get done the way we
want them to get done, whether it is right or not. This happens in many areas, like
school, to the operation of our cities, corporations, and government. Believe
it or not, it can even happen in the church!
very beginning of creation, this was not God’s intention. We were created in
the image of God to be in relationship with one another. Less than a month ago
we celebrated Holy Trinity Sunday and lifted up the relationship of the Trinity
and how Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work with one another to guide and lead us
in our lives. We are not created to back bite and try to one-up one another. We
are not created to take advantage of others. We are not created for our own personal
successes that lead to inflated egos.
created to be in relationship and to live into community. We are created to
support our siblings and to share the same love with them that Jesus shared
with us. Do you think those seventy disciples that were sent out, did so
reluctantly because they had to go out in groups? I personally doubt it,
because I am sure there would have been a clarification from Jesus why they had
to go out in twos if they had questioned him. It was their boastfulness that
got them in trouble when they returned.
there to support one another and be reminded that they do not have to go alone.
This is a great reminder for us as we try to go our own way with little support
from others. We all know that things come together much better in relationship
and in community with one another. However, we are pulled away from this when
we think we know better. In Jesus we have a reminder that we are not alone, and
we do not have to proceed on our own. No matter what it is we face we are encouraged
to surround ourselves with others.
week I had the opportunity to attend a benefit dinner for Ded Rranxburgaj and
his family at Central United Methodist Church in Detroit. Due to an eruption of
war in Albania in 2001, Ded and his family moved to the United States and
applied for asylum. They followed all the rules and a couple of years ago Ded
was threatened with deportation. His wife Flora, who has MS, has a medical
exception, and their two sons are not in danger. As a community Central United
Methodist has provided them sanctuary for roughly eighteen months as Ded awaits
a court ruling. They could not have done this all on their own and if it were
not for the church community, this family would have been split apart. This is
community supporting one another and imitating Christ.
entered this world in a time when the Jewish population was tolerated in the
Roman Empire, but he suffered at the very hands of that empire. When we come to
the table and take communion we eat and drink the very being of Christ. May
this loving welcome that Christ invites us to be open to all of God’s creation
and may we carry that love out to those that are living amid injustice.
repeatedly ensures that the disciples are not on their own and reminds them that
not one of them is greater than another. We too are sent, supported by Christ,
and called to work alongside each other in the kingdom of God.
Let us pray.
Sending God, you have sent us out into the world to share the love and grace of
Jesus Christ. May we bring peace and comfort to those that are sick and in need
of healing, and may we bring your word to those places that we see injustice.
Growing up I would say that I had the greatest freedom I could
imagine. Probably the only thing that could have made it better was if my
parents had been millionaires. Still, I would usually receive what I asked for
within reason. Of course, it helped that I am a white male that lived in a predominantly
My parents gave me the freedom to make many of my own
decisions and befriend whomever I wanted. I had the freedom to choose to attend
Central Michigan University and the freedom to discern and decide to go to
seminary and become a pastor.
Some of these freedoms may come to us because of where we
live. As we approach Independence Day, it is important to be reminded of the
roots of our country and the many struggles that we have been through and will
continue to go through. We give thanks for the freedom that has come to us
through the sacrifice of many generations, however, we must remember that the
ultimate freedom we encounter is not our American concept of individuality,
autonomy, and self-determination.
As Christians, in Jesus Christ we have been given the gift of
freedom. What we choose to do with that freedom is reflective of our life in
Christ. You have a choice!
If you read in entirety, Paul’s letter to the Galatians, it
will not take too long to figure out that Paul is not too happy with the
community that has started following Jesus in the city of Galatia. They have
been arguing amongst themselves. They have been bickering about the proper
practices that they should be carrying out as followers of Christ. They have probably
used not so kind words for one another as they have failed to live fully into a
new community. One of their biggest arguments has erupted over the necessity of
It was disagreements like this that threatened to tear apart
the early church. Paul’s letter was a response to all that was happening. It came
to a point where he even wrote, “If however, you bite and devour one another,
take care that you are not consumed by one another” (vs. 15). Perhaps Paul
needs to write a letter to our modern times, or we could simply use the Letter
to the Galatians.
The arguments and disagreements that Paul writes to are not
any different than those that we have today. We turn on the news and we view
what this one group did to another group just because they did not agree or
simply did not like them. We witness it to an extreme in the violence that we
encounter in our culture. We witness it on Capitol Hill in our elected leaders
and their failure to work together for the common good of the people. We see
arguments over whether we should care for our neighbors.
One of the biggest places to see this occur is on social media
where people seem to think that they have more freedom to say anything they
would like since they are not in front of those that they are criticizing. The
thing that has amazed me is that there is an ELCA Clergy group on Facebook and
it seems that even pastors feel they can let all their nasty out on one another
through social media.
All of this is part of the nastiness of the flesh that Paul
writes about in our lesson from Galatians. The flesh that he is referring to is
our self-oriented selves that disregard others and turn inward to our own
personal desires. Now, desires are not a bad thing. It is a matter of what
light that desire manifests itself. The flesh that Paul writes of pulls us away
from our life in Christ. Once we are pulled away, it can be easy to stay in
that and thus we must be intentional in repenting and turning back towards God.
So, the freedom that is given to us in Christ can be seen as a
two-edged sword. We have the choice to follow the desires of the flesh or to
follow the leading of the Spirit. We are given the freedom through the grace of
God to follow or not follow Jesus. Wow, how very overwhelming that can be at
times and we know that we have all fallen short of the glory of God and following
completely in the way of Jesus.
In the freedom found in Jesus Christ we are showered
abundantly with the fruit of the spirit to live out the lives he has called us
to live. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against
such things” (vs. 22-23). When we live
with this fruit, it does not mean that we will not have conflicts and that
everything will be just the way we want it to be. When we live into this fruit,
it means that we live into relationship with one another and approach each
other with love and respect. Imagine what would be of this world if we kept the
fruit of the Spirit near us and did our best to live out that fruit daily.
Psalm 16 concludes, “You show me the path of life. In your
presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures
forevermore” (vs. 11). The path has been laid down for us in the life of Jesus
Christ and the freedom that he has given to us through his death on the cross. “And
those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and
desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us
not become conceited competing against one another, envying one another”
As Paul comes near to the end of the letter, he re-emphasizes
the importance of the love found in Christ. We are reminded that love is to be
given away as Jesus gave away his love for all of humanity on the cross. It is
a love that blankets us for all of eternity. It is the love that comes to us and
the same love that we have within us to give away to others. To follow Jesus
Christ means to live fully into the freedom he has given us by giving away the
very love he has given us. A love that is meant to be shared with all.
Jesus has asked each of us to come and follow him. What is
Let us pray. Great and gracious God, you teach us to walk in
the way of Jesus. We pray that we are not tempted to walk alone desiring the works
of the flesh, but that we are open to the Spirit weaving through our lives and
communities to guide us in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Amen.