The Fruit of Camp

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*note: since the campers were made uncomfortable in the first camping experience, I thought I would put myself in an uncomfortable position and preach without notes. While this was my thoughts put down, my actual sermon may differ. You can always find recordings at www.tlcrichmond.org .

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself our sins to set us free for the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Trinity Lutheran has had great connections to the camps of the ELCA. From Michi-Lucha, which was recently sold, to Stony Lake many great memories have been made. Some of you may even remember a couple of the other camps that once existed in Michigan within the Lutheran church. For an extrovert, camp can be a very exciting and feeding place. For an introvert it can be quite overwhelming and takes time to adjust to the different setting. For someone that is introverted, it was nice that I had down times to read and work on my sermon.

I have to go back a long way to remember the first time that I went to outdoor camp. In fact, it was the only time I had went to an outdoor camp as a child. It was for Seventh Grade camp in junior high and we left on a Monday morning and returned Friday afternoon.  I remember mostly the hikes that we went on and the salamanders that were everywhere in the woods. I also remember doing some skill building and trust style games, much like the campers did this past week at Stony Lake. It is in these activities and games that relationships are built and friendships are made.

It is in these relationships that God encourages us to be one and to live in community. It is in the letter to the Galatians that Paul is trying to restore his relationship with them with a little corrective action and get them back on the right track in following the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In our fifth week of Galatians, Paul’s concerns move to an instruction on the flesh and the Spirit. We can equate living in the flesh, fulfilling our own personal desires, to the sin that we live in and the actions that we participate in that are counter-productive to God’s desire for us.  The struggles and challenges come in the freedom that is given to us by God. The freedom to make our own decisions and usually making mistakes along the way. This seems to be the one thing that we are good at as humans. It is in those mistakes that we are able to learn and be corrected. It is in the mistakes and miss-direction that the Galatians make that Paul steps in to correct. His letter is a reminder to them of the grace of God and that nothing is required by us to receive that grace.

While the grace of God is completely free, we still manage to turn to the works of the flesh to accomplish our own deepest desires. This is true in all facets of our lives and can even be seen at camp. From the anger that arises when we think that people are not listening to us, to the quarrels and dissensions that occur when we have differing viewpoints. This was made most evident at camp during the low-ropes courses as our group was faced with certain challenges and had to properly communicate with one another to accomplish their goal. These are great opportunities to learn team-building skills, as well as learning to communicate with each other. It takes time though and it does not always happen the way that you want it to, especially when two leaders have differing opinions and everyone wants to talk at the same time. In the freedom that we have, it is also important to listen and work together in community.

Paul’s message this morning focuses on this very aspect and encourages the people of Galatia to bear fruit of the Spirit. As children of God we are all given the fruit of the Spirit, and it is a matter of how we discern it in our lives and how we choose to share it with our sisters and brothers. Let me tell you, it is amazing to see confirmation students grow over the course of a week and display many of these gifts. The love that they had for camp was incredible; the disappointment that happened when one of them realized that it was Thursday and that we were leaving the following day showed this love for new friends and Stony Lake. Joy could be seen all around as they worshipped and sang, laughed and clapped. Peace was central to our conversations in Bible Study as we discussed what it meant to forgive and the peace that it brought to one’s heart when forgiveness occurs.

While patience at times was hard to come by, especially on the way to camp, “Are we there yet?” or “How much longer?”, it was learned in the low-ropes courses as they had to listen to one another. The kindness that they showed one another in the words of encouragement was wonderful and I truly appreciated it when it was given to me while I was up on the high-ropes course.

Generosity shined through those that help support our campers by giving money and helping send them to camp to grow in their faith. And that faith being tested and them learning how to take a stand for something that they believe in. Gentleness was learned by the end of the week in their communication with one another as they got better in talking to each other and explaining to each other the best way to accomplish their goals. Self-control is central to interacting with the community at camp as they showed they can act appropriately and be respectful of everyone around them.

Camp brought a week of revelations for the campers and I hope a week of awareness and change as they learned how to stand up for those things that they believe in and learned about doing justice in our world. It was a week that the Spirit was moving in and through everyone. Paul’s words this week speak to our week of camp as we are reminded to live in the Spirit and let it guide us.

I wish that I could bring a little bit of camp back for all of you to experience. It definitely is renewing and a great reminder that we are remade in Christ everyday through the grace of God.

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What Good is the Law?

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Galatians 3:23-29

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I have to admit that it was kind of fun to leave everyone hanging on the ledge last week, letting you wonder where the sermon would jettison off to this week. As Lutherans, knowing that we are justified by faith through the grace of God is the amazing story we have to share with the rest of our community. The grace of God requires nothing of us, and yet we should be compelled to go out and serve our neighbors and those in positions that are not able to have their voices heard.

We should be standing up against the mass shooting that happened last weekend in Orlando. There are so many facets that were engaged within that act of extremism. We need to reach out to our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community to provide love and support, showing that God’s grace is much bigger than anything else out there. We need to be open to conversations and start conversations as to how we can ensure that this extremism does not take over our faith and divert our attention from the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. A gospel that speaks of love, not hate. This is the grace of God speaking to our world today.

Within this grace, does Paul completely throw out the law? He does not! Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message relates the law to something like a tutor:

The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger and distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for. But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God.

In our own Lutheran Confessions, Martin Luther and the other leaders write to the questions of the law. In the Formula of Concord, it states, “We believe, teach, and confess that the law is strictly speaking, a divine teaching which gives instruction regarding what is right and God-pleasing and condemns everything that is sin and contrary to God’s will.”

The law does have a place in our day and age. As can be seen in our justice system and the court of law, it is used as an external discipline against the unruly and the disobedient. It is also through the law that we are brought to a point where we recognize those sins that we commit and thus ask for forgiveness. The law can also act as a guide for us in which we can orient and conduct our entire life.

I know many seminary students and fellow pastors now that viewed the process that we had to go through as being part of the law. It is a process that seems to have many steps to it and you wonder if it will ever end. As you discern your call to ministry with the help of your congregation and synod committee there are evaluations you have to fill out and take, such as a psychological evaluation. Once we are entered for candidacy, we start seminary and must meet all of their requirements. In the midst of this we must be endorsed so that we are ready to go out and serve in the church on an internship. Once we have successfully completed that then we must be approved for ordination by the seminary, as well as the candidacy committee from our synod. Keep in mind this is all before we even have the opportunity to start looking for a position within the church. Faith keeps us going in the midst of all of it, yet at times it feels an awful lot like the law.

I also can recall a time when I was on internship and about half-way through I had a site visit from the internship coordinator at the seminary. I was doing a great job of following the law! I had a nice checklist of the things that must be completed for internship and I was able to look at it daily as I had it posted by my desk. Thanks to Jane, she reminded me that grace was prevalent throughout the entire process and that faith also played a great role in the internship experience. From that point on I was able to stop doing what it meant to be a pastor, and start experiencing who a pastor is. Sometimes it is much more important to just be.

It is through the law that we are brought to our faith. It was the law that Paul was brought up in and we know according to his own credentials, he knew the law very well. It was in the grace of Jesus Christ coming to him where he experienced the true light for the first time. The law could only bring him so far. It was his faith in Christ that raised him up to be a leader and now Saint of the church.

May you let the law orient and guide you through life. May you let it bring you to your faith in Christ Jesus. It is in Christ that we are called to experience the grace of God. It is in Christ that we are made one. We are made one with everyone, male or female, gay or straight, black or white, abled or disabled, saint or sinner. May you live more fully into that oneness this week.

Feed by M.T. Anderson: A Review

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I have to admit right from the start that this is not a book that I probably would have picked up on my own without a little persuasion. That persuasion for me was listening to M.T. Anderson speak at the Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College. He shared his vision for writing stories and I decided that I would pick up something to get an introduction to his style.

I am assuming that Feed is a little unique in the fact that the vocabulary he chooses to use is slang for the future time when he is writing. The feed is a endless loop of information that is sent to you by an object that is implanted within your body and guides and directs you to whatever it is you want to buy, do, watch, etc. I am reminded of the current social media feeds that we have today in various forms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat. His one line in the book that resonated with me was, “Because of the feed, we’re raising a nation of idiots. Ignorant, self-centered idiots.” The more we immerse ourselves in the technology and step away from real life relationship and community the truer this becomes.

Before you ask, yes I do utilize many of the social media platforms and yes I do sense the time that is drained from my life as I continue to use them instead of doing something productive. They also have some positive aspects that can affect our everyday lives as well. Anderson’s book reminds me somewhat of Dave Egger’s, The Circle. Both dwelling on the way that technology can take over and invade various aspects of our lives, while Anderson takes it to the farther extreme.

It was an enjoyable read, yet it was also very true to life. It is my hope and prayer that we do not fulfill much of his visions.

We Cannot Remain Silent

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Although, that is what I feel I have done since the largest mass shooting in United States history occurred this past Saturday evening. I did not hear anything of Orlando before service on Sunday and therefore did not have an opportunity to include it within the prayers of intercession.

Personally, I am at a loss for words. Not knowing what to say, other than to pray for the lives lost and the families affected by yet another shooting. A shooting in which we are still not fully aware of all of the details. ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton penned a wonderful letter in response, stating that “we are killing ourselves.” We are all created in God’s image and as Paul rightly proclaims in this weeks epistle,

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

To skim through the headlines, it is amazing the finger-pointing that is now happening. Yes, things need to change, however pointing fingers is not going to make that happen. We must use our voices and talk with those that are in power and let them know we want change.  We do not know what is going to work until we try it. Because if we keep on doing what we have been doing, we will continue to witness on average one multiple murder a day in the United States. In the words of Bishop Eaton, we are killing ourselves.

The fact that the extremist that took 49 lives was Muslim should not factor into the equation. If you recall, the shooting that took place a year ago tomorrow in Charleston in an AME Church was perpetrated by someone that was raised in the ELCA. Evil is evil, no matter what your faith tradition is.

I encourage you to reach out. I encourage you to pray for the victims by name; they could have easily been one of us, a family member, or a friend. Most importantly, continue to show the love of Christ that you do so well. The love that knows no label and places no barriers in it’s way.

Night by Elie Wiesel: A Review

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My daughter’s reading list for her freshman year of high school seems to be getting me to read some books that I have been om my reading list.

Weisel’s book is devastating. While it shows the true will power that he had to have to survive the Holocaust and the many camps that he resided, it also raised concerns for the human condition. The condition that as things begin to happen to us we just start to become numb to it and either start to solely focus on ourselves or simply fail to care all together. This is evident in our country today as we become desensitized to the shooting that occur everyday. Hopefully, the 51 people killed in Orlando this past week, will bring the discussion to the forefront once again. Of course every person is a little different and reacts in different ways when placed in different situations.

It is devastating to see Weisel’s faith diminish the longer he stays in the camp. However, I don’t think that we can be really surprised by that, given the amount of evil that pervaded those in the camps during World War II. The fact is, you were always wondering when it was going to be your turn to be selected and face the gas chamber or a firing squad. It is no wonder that you would begin to wonder where God was in all of this.

One of the most moving parts for me was following the hanging of a young child:

Behind me, I heard the same man asking: “For God’s sake, where is God?” And from within me, I hear a voice answer: “Where He is? This is where-hanging here from this gallows…” That night, the soup tasted of corpses.

I believe God was present, every step along the way. However, the evil that pervaded Hitler’s Germany seemed to trump the sense of God in all of the death.

This book should be lifted up and required reading for everyone in high school. It speaks to this present day as we wonder where Christ is in the comments of certain politicians running for office. It seems that all they spew is hate for others and disregard certain people as not worthy of the grace of God. I pray that as we come to election season, love is lifted up and the care for all of humankind is of the utmost importance.

Marathon Training: So Far, So Good

I have now completed two weeks of my marathon training and am 18 weeks away from the Detroit Marathon!

The first couple weeks of training has went more or less as planned. My long runs of 6 and 7 miles went well, although the 7 miler this past Sunday felt somewhat sluggish. to my detriment the 12 mile bike ride the day before did not help. I am looking forward to incorporating cycling into my cross training, however, knowing that I need to build that up as well and cannot go all out right away.

I stunned myself during my tempo run this past Wednesday as I accomplished back-to-back miles under 9 minutes! When my average time is usually over 10 minutes/mile this was great.

Fueling was great and I am relying on Hammer Gels to fuel and Muscle Milk for recovery. I am also still trying to stick with a Paleo Diet, with certain cheat foods, like Pizza and the beer I am drinking right now. Cutting down on sugar has been huge though and lower carbs have also had a great impact.

That is it for now. I am excited the children are out of school for the summer and that means maybe I can attempt to sleep in on Mondays. Until next time…

Nothing More, Nothing Less

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Galatians 2:15-21

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

After an introduction and a defense of his position as a preacher and proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul gets to his thesis in this mornings passage from Galatians. His concern for the people of Galatia is that they are looking to be justified in the law and not by grace, as the gospel of Jesus proclaims. It is this thesis that supports the basis of Martin Luther’s argument against the Roman Catholic Church and is discussed in length in Article 4 of the Apology to the Augsburg Confession.

So, what does it mean to be justified? Thank about what it means when you use the justification setting in a word-processing program on your computer. What does it do? It straightens up the words so that they are aligned on each side of the page. The majority of magazines and newsprint use justification so that you have a nice block of material to read. It looks neat and tidy!

The struggle that Paul and Peter both have as they are preaching throughout their territories is what does justification look like. Does it come to us in the form of the law that the Israelite people received from Moses in the Ten Commandments, food codes, and the hundred other instructions listed throughout the text? Or does it perhaps change when Jesus came to the world, walked with the outcast, healed the sick, ate with sinners, and died on the cross and was resurrected?

There appears to be a power struggle between Paul and Peter as to whose message carries the most weight. Paul could have easily given in, but I believe it is because of his passion that he defends the gospel of truth given to him through Jesus Christ. Exclusionary tactics are used to determine who is in and who is out of the kingdom. There are ecclesial face-offs within the church body and accusations of others caving in to public opinion and hypocrisy.

Does this sound familiar? This is human tendency and part of the public and the church life, whether we like it or not. To think that these struggles only happen today would be wrong. These struggles have been ongoing for thousands of years. It is in the letter to the Galatians that part of this conflict is brought to a head and addressed. They may be trying to justify their actions and Paul does not want any part of it. He is called to bring them back into the fold and make sure that they are hearing the gospel of truth that comes in the form of Jesus Christ. Nothing more, nothing less. It is not Jewish believers versus the Gentile sinners, for the works of the law mean nothing when it comes to being justified.

As people today we attempt to justify the things that we do so that it makes sense in our own minds and the minds of others. We separate ourselves in many ways. We put labels on people and decide to pick one side or the other, whether it be race, sex, class, sexual orientation. You do not have to go back too far in history to see how we attempt to justify those things that in our hearts we know are terribly wrong. We justified slavery by stating that it was okay because there was mention of slavery in the Bible, or it was okay because those that were enslaved ended up living a better life here than they would have in their own country where there was famine and death. This is just to name a couple. The sad thing is that we continue many practices of segregation still today and fail to recognize it.

The problem that occurred in Galatia was that people were finding it hard to believe in the idea of “Christ in us” as Paul describes this morning. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me (2:19-20a).  That same problem is still a stumbling block for us today. We want our facts neat and orderly like the law. We want to know what is the right and proper thing to do and make laws so that we can justify ourselves, making it in our minds seem right and appropriate.

Paul in his letter to the Galatians brings an attitude of knocking down any barriers or walls that we may self-construct. Those familiar with Robert Frost may have read and heard his poem “Mending Wall,” which is about repairing breaks in the New England stone walls. He makes us think about the barriers we erect as humans in self-defeating attempts at protection and purity. In one stanza it reads:

Before I built a wall                                                                                                                                   I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out,                                                                   and to whom I was like to give offence.

It is with this questioning that Paul writes to the people of Galatia. It is in grace that they have been given new life, not any works, and thus the saving grace of Jesus Christ is for all people. Let us live our lives fully following Paul’s words, the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing (2:20b-21).

This message of grace is the powerful gift that we have to proclaim to everyone. Where have you experienced grace in your life? Be bold and share that with those that need to experience the same grace through Jesus Christ.

So, what good is the law? We will find out next week!