An Abundance of Things?!?

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Luke 12:13-21

Grace and Peace to you from our Triune God. Amen.

In less than two weeks I will have the opportunity to travel to Orlando for the Annual Chapter meeting of the Order of Lutheran Franciscans. I am looking forward to meeting people that I have only got to know through our Facebook cloister and reconnecting with some great friends that I have already met in person. It will be a time of renewal and spiritual formation. It will be a time with God at San Pedro Retreat Center and a time of reflection. Each of us are called to live a life of abundance with God, and this is the way that connects with me to do so.

During this time with my brothers and sisters in the Order of Lutheran Franciscans I will take the vows of the Order as a novice. I have been on a journey with the Franciscans since January of 2015 and was excited to see the little publicity we received a couple of months ago in the Living Lutheran magazine. As I agree to the General Rule of the order, I will be making the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Keeping in mind, that these vows are interpreted in different ways depending on what your life looks like.

As we listen to our gospel lesson this morning from Luke, we hear of the rich man with so much abundance that he has to tear down one barn and build a much bigger one so that he can store up all of his harvest and live off from it for years to come. I am reminded at this point of the vow of poverty that I must make when I enter as a novice in the Order of Lutheran Franciscans.

Of all the vows that I have to follow, I will admit that it is the vow of poverty that I have the biggest challenge. I admit that I like things. New things. Shiny things. Things that promise to make life easier. Things that will help me be better or do better in my hobbies, like running. I also have a fondness for books. If you look in my office, that is just a small fraction of my collection. The rest of them take up close to three – six foot book shelves in my home office. I also like my collection of shoes, from my Vans for every liturgical season, to my running shoes, to the other random shoes that I own. I honestly do own more shoes than my wife!

So, as I come to the vow of poverty, you may possibly see why I struggle a little. As Franciscans, we are called to live lives of simplicity and when I look in my closet or on my bookshelves I wonder how I could possibly part with any of them. I can now see how the rich man struggles with where he is going to put everything. I struggle with where I am going to put all of my shoes!

I like to call all of my books and shoes a collection. This makes it sound a little better. Maybe this is me just trying to justify those things that I own. I admire those that can live simply with just the basic needs. Doing so allows a person to step away from the non-stop advertising and media blitz that we encounter on a daily basis that is constantly selling us stuff. I recently read a book by M.T. Anderson titled, Feed, in which people had an electronic device implanted in them that provided them with a constant stream of news and advertisements.  The scary thing is that something like that is a possibility.

I believe one of Jesus’ main points he is trying to make with the parable of the rich man that he shares is, what are we holding in our lives that is taking the place of God? What is our idol? Do I regard my shoes and books as an idol? I would hope not, and I think that I could easily part with them if I had to. The rich man, however, wants to store up everything he has so he can live easy the rest of his life. If you read the parable again, you will notice there is no mention of anyone else. Just the rich man. His foremost concern seems to be for himself.

Through the parable, Jesus is reminding the disciples that one’s life does not exist in the abundance of possessions. Therefore, the two brothers arguing over the inheritance is of no concern of Jesus. He attempts to guide them in the correct way and turn them away from their greed and their reliance on abundance.

We all place an importance on certain things in our lives. We store up with the hopes of reaching a certain point. What are you storing in your barn? Are you building an abundant life with God?

One way to do that is through our sacraments. This morning we will have the opportunity to celebrate a baptism that marks a commitment to follow God. We will also have the opportunity to come forward and receive communion at the Lord’s Table. It is in these sacraments that we are continually fed by Jesus Christ and enter into a relationship and build upon the abundance of God in our lives. May you live richly into the life that God is calling you to live.

 

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Reading for the Common Good by C. Christopher Smith: A Review

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Chris Smith does a wonderful job of showing the connection between books and our everyday lives. The way that they shape our communities and churches and the impact that they can have on the growth of individuals. The encouragement he gives to promote books and discussion makes one want to go out and start a book club to start seeing the impacts in their own communities. It is a wealth of information that is easily a return to book to see what you can glean from it in additional readings.

The notes I took and highlighted were numerous. Here are some of my favorites that I thought I would share:

“Reading plunges us into the interconnected reality of creation, showing us our connectedness to people in other places and other times, reminding us how words on paper have the capacity to give shape to our everyday lives. Through language we are continually creating and refining reality. In our churches, we have the privilege of doing so together in ways that are attentive to the compassion, the justice, the healing and all the fullness of Christ. Our calling as God’s people is to be community shaped by the incarnational sort of learning. This is the very heart of discipleship, the way God has chosen to bear witness to the healing and reconciling of all creation.”

“So in addition to interrogating Scripture, we must allow  ourselves to be interrogate by it. And in allowing it to ask questions of us, we allow it to shine the light of Christ on our lives and to guide us toward deeper faithfulness to the way of Christ.”

“Thomas Merton has written that a person “knows when he has found his vocation when he stops thinking about how to live and begins to live.””

“In prayer and contemplation we begin to understand that our identity is not to be found in our differences from others– in our superiorities and in inferiorities– but in our common humanity.” Parker J. Palmer

“Neil Gaiman emphasizes that literacy — and especially reading fiction — is essential because it builds our capacity for empathy. “You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. [In reading fiction] you’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changes. Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more that self-obsesses individuals.””

“We need to be attentive to the bonds that link us to people in other places and to the work of deepening these bonds. Reading is a vital tool in this process of linking ourselves to other places.”

“Love itself is knowledge: the more one loves, the more one knows.” attributed to St. Gregory the Great

Ask, Search, Knock

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Luke 11:1-13

Grace and Peace to you from our Triune God. Amen.

When I read the headlines day in and day out, the thought at times pops into my head, what good does prayer do? We pray for peace among the nations, yet there are continuously nations at war with one another and nations that are ripe with their own internal struggles. We pray for the safety of our police officers and the equal treatment of all people, yet we know that all people are not treated fairly and that too many of our public servants are dying or getting wounded in the line of duty. We pray for love to overflow in all aspects of life, yet if you read the news, love seems to be the one thing that is lacking in this nation and world.

At times we may feel like the friend knocking at the door asking for three loaves of bread and being turned away. We are too much to be bothered with at this point and wonder if God is going to get up and answer the door and comply with our simple little request. What truly are we looking for in prayer? Do we just want a quick fix? Are we hoping that everything would be healed and love would rule the world, not evil and fear? This is all great, however, it does not quite work like that. We are called to follow Jesus in all steps of his life and one area, which Luke especially emphasizes, is his prayer life. Jesus not only teaches us to pray, he lived a life of prayer, with and in relationship with God. The disciples are well in-tune to this and that is why they turn to him to ask him to teach them to pray, and to this day we lift up his teaching as the foundation of the Lord’s Prayer.

Throughout Luke’s Gospel, we have a myriad of examples of Jesus’ prayer life. For one, he can and does pray when and where he is called to in any time and moment. Secondly, the prayers that he lifts up to God can be viewed as a conversation. In the midst of ministry he chose to withdraw himself to deserted places to pray. He goes to the mountain to pray and at least once that we read, spent the night in prayer. He prayed before he chose the disciples that would follow and proclaim the good news once his task was completed. He prayed before meals, such as when the 5000 were fed and before his final meal with the disciples. He prayed the night before he died asking for the cup to be removed from him, the responsibility of following through with the plan that was set out in front of him. It appears that even Jesus’ prayer at this moment is not answered. God’s will be done, not mine. As you can see, Jesus is persistent in his prayer life, even when his wants are not being observed.

Prayer is an opportunity to enter into relationship with the Triune God. By beginning that conversation in prayer, we are able to start living toward the will of God. Jesus teaches us this morning that we are to ask for what we need. If we ask it will be given to us. Now, let’s be realistic as well, God is not going to give us that Lamborghini that we have been eyeing from afar. Nor is all of our debt going to disappear just like that. By being in relationship and having an open conversation, we are guided by God into action to possibly make some of those dreams come true.

Jesus teaches us to search and we will find. Sometimes, we do not know what we are looking for and only stumble upon it while searching for something else. Through relationship with God our prayer lives have the ability to open up and see things beyond our wildest imaginations. Lastly, Jesus teaches us to knock and the door will be opened, even if we have to be persistent. In early Jewish times, a good translation for persistent would be shameless. Do not be afraid to continually go back and ask for what you need. Be shameless and bold. I imagine Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory at this point. {Knock, Knock, Knock, Knock} “Penny!” {Knock, Knock, Knock, Knock} “Penny!” {Knock, Knock, Knock, Knock} “Penny!” If nothing else, he is persistent and shameless.

It is through our perseverance that we start to see the difference that prayer can make in the lives of those we are in relationship with and can greatly grow our relationship with God. Even Paul tells Timothy to “pray without ceasing.”

Prayers are being answered in our nation and world today. Progress is being made. A BBQ was held last weekend in Wichita, Kansas as Black Lives Matters activists and local police officers sat down to have conversations and share a meal together. The outpouring of support coming from around the world in light of recent violence abroad in Nice and Munich, as well as following the recent shootings of innocent people and police officers in this country.

Jesus prays for us and is hoping that we will continue to knock on that door. As we enter into conversation through prayer, let us listen to where we are being called to go out and act and share signs of love in a world that cannot receive too much.

Vacation Reading: A Review

A few weeks ago, before going on vacation, I ventured over to the library to see what I could find that was not so much theological and give my mind a rest. It seems that my mind seems to track that way anyway and was able to make theological connections with the three books that I read.

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My first selection was from Neil Gaiman, whom I have come to admire after reading some of his other works. His imagination and ability to dive into the depths of the human soul are wonderful. The Ocean at the End of the Lane was no exception and he weaved the same mystical magic into it as he does in American Gods. It was a quick read that keeps you turning the pages. Many things are at work in the book as some hot topics are approached, from adultery to the deep down desire to help one another. I would definitely recommend this to anyone that is looking to get away for a short period of time and immerse yourself in another timeless tale.

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My other two selections were a little older than Gaiman’s offering. In Kelby’s Whale Season, the book revolves around this mysterious man that shows up in Whale Harbor on Christmas Eve claiming to be Jesus. The story unfolds from there and the reader slowly gets to know about this mysterious man and the many other people that get wrapped up into the story. It went in directions that I was not expecting and was both laugh out load funny  and sobering at times. While this is the first book from Kelby that I picked up, I would not hesitate to pick up another one of her books.

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The cover and inside flap drew me into this book. As I said, while trying to steer clear of the typical pastor reading, I was still drawn to books that had some aspect of God in them. It did take me a while to get into Kyle’s book, The God of Animals, and even at that point I had to strain to keep my attention towards it. As a father and her daughter deal with the day-to-day operations of their horse farm many other aspects come into play. A sister that gets married and leaves and a mother that never leaves the house. While I did want to keep reading to see what happens in the end, for it was still laborious at times. I would not steer people away from it, however, it was not quite in the style of writing that pulls me in.

Are You Listening?

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Luke 10:38-42

Grace and peace to you from the Triune God.

As we packed up our campsite last weekend we discussed what we were going to do for lunch since it was about noon and we were starting to get quite hungry. We decided that we would stop at McDonald’s in Gaylord on our way home. This sounded like a great idea and when we pulled into the parking lot I noticed a tour bus on the other side of the lot. Come to find out, it was a group of Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts on their way to Mackinac Island to serve as guides. The line in that McDonald’s wrapped around the dining room. Needless to say we decided that our hunger would have to wait until we came to the next McDonald’s.

The employees were doing as much as they could and as fast as they could, it was just that they were overwhelmed by this influx of customers. For any of you that have worked in the restaurant business or retail, you can relate to how frustrating and nerve-wracking this can be. I bring this up because I believe that Martha could have related to the McDonald’s employees that we encountered that day. If you recall a couple of weeks ago, Jesus was traveling with the 70 he had called to go out and serve after they returned to him. At this point in the gospel, it makes sense that they are still with him and when over 70 people show up at your home after traveling, they are most likely quite hungry. Martha does what comes natural to her and that is to provide hospitality to those that have showed up on her doorstep. It is no wonder that she gets upset that Mary is not in the kitchen helping her prepare food for all of their guests to eat. Instead, can you believe it, Mary is at the feet of Jesus learning from him. Yet, could this be seen as a form of hospitality as well?

Martha is so distracted with the water she is boiling, vegetables she is preparing, bread that needs to be baked, that she has overlooked the possibilities of the moment in front of her. As she brings her concerns to Jesus, she seems to be more concerned about getting her job done then hearing what Jesus has to say in his teachings.

How often do we find ourselves in the same situation? A situation where we put blinders on and forget about everything else around us. Now, I am not saying that to be focused and intentional in our actions is a bad thing. What can lead us down the wrong road is not paying attention to our surroundings and breathing in the life of those people around us. Not knowing what it is that motivates them and what touches their hearts. Not only being with them in times that we celebrate, but also being with them in their darkest of days. Allowing ourselves to be present in a way that allows us to connect with community and build relationship.

There are times that we are called into action. Called by circumstances that happen around us. Called to be God’s hands and feet in this world that at times seems to be falling apart The good Samaritan was called into action in last weeks gospel in helping the half-dead man along the roadside. The continued violence that we have been experiencing in our own country, leaves us wondering where God is in all of this and how we are called to act upon it.  We hear of violence happening in other countries, where just this past Thursday a truck driver drove through a group of people gathered to celebrate Bastille Day in Nice, France killing 84 and injuring hundreds more. We witness groups, like Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, being vocal and wanting their voices to be heard. We have rhetoric going back and forth between political parties as we are  getting closer and closer to election season. There are so many voices at times we wonder who it is that we should truly listen to.

As we hear of all of this violence, I have to admit, part of me wonders if it truly is any worse than say 50 or 100 years ago, or if the way we communicate today through social media, hearing news instantaneously, just makes it appear worse. One thing is for sure though, and that is that we are not loving our sisters and brothers as we should. While there are times to be called into action and stand beside our brothers and sisters in protest, there are also times that we may just have to shut-up and listen.

This is the route that Mary takes as Martha and her welcome Jesus into their home. She sits at the feet of Jesus listening and breathing in all that he has to say. She is not distracted by those things that can wait. She knows where God is calling her to be at the time and that is sitting and listening.

It is in Jesus’ reassurance to Martha, and his loving guidance, that there is only need of one thing. That one thing is to be in relationship with Jesus and for Mary at this time it is sitting and listening and for Martha it may very well be preparing food and serving others. How can we follow Mary’s example in the midst of everything that is happening around us? We need to be able to listen and not be quick to judge. This goes for those on either side of a debate. Once we listen, and pray for God’s guidance, then and only then should we act and raise our voices to be heard.

As you attempt to decipher the news from the past couple of weeks may you sit in silence and listen. Listen to your sisters and brothers that have been affected and pray for them and pray for God to guide you in the right direction. For as Jesus says this morning, we are only in need of one thing. Christ has given up his life for us and shown us what it means to live into a new creation. May we take his example and let it guide our lives as we listen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom in Christ

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Galatians 6:1-16

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.

For the past six weeks we have been walking with Paul as he shares his concerns with the people of Galatia. His concerns for the miss-direction they have taken in their journey of faith and their willingness to so easily drop the truth that Paul had shared with them when he first visited. Once again he shares his story with them on how he was on the wrong path and does not start following Jesus until Jesus actually appears to him.

If you recall, the main struggle that Paul is confronting is the fact that the Galatians have started following a different teaching that put an emphasis on the works of the law. the law does have a purpose as it leads and guides us in our lives, however, it is in our faith that we turn to God. Grace comes to us as a free gift. There is nothing required of us and nothing that we must do to receive that grace. Thus Paul’s argument arises against those that believe to be a follower of Christ you must also be circumcised; of course, this goes back to Judaic law. Remember, the Galatians are Gentiles, and would not have followed through on this Jewish practice shortly after they were born.

Paul’s hope is to turn them away from the works of the flesh, which steers people in the wrong direction, and he reminds them of the fruits of the Spirit which should pervade their life. It is in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that they will grow closer to Christ and learn to experience the Christ that is within them. It is in the fruit of the Spirit that we should all be striving. If the Galatians were to follow in these instructions that Paul has set-forth, then they too will truly experience what it means to live into a new creation.

Many of the people that first immigrated to the America’s were looking for something different, escaping from tyranny, and hoping for a new beginning. Isn’t that what we are looking for in a new creation? They sought a freedom that they were not experiencing in their home countries and had the vision to establish that in a new country. Independence Day is our opportunity as Americans to celebrate the freedoms that we have in this country and to recognize those freedoms that we are still working towards. While we are Americans, we also must remember that we are Christians as well and everything that we do should be coming from our lives as Christians. We have already experienced a new creation in Christ through our baptism and it is this that comes first. God does not care what country we are from.

The freedom that we have as Christians exists in our faith and the grace that we receive from God. Remember, nothing is required of us for this to be true. As we conclude our series on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians this morning, we are reminded that we live in the same freedom that he shares with them. The trouble that ensued in Galatia is more times than not the same issue we have in our world today. Those in authority attempting to use their position to control others. This is what happens in Galatia as the teachers that came in after Paul tried to convince them of something other than the true gospel of Jesus Christ that Paul preached.

The freedom that we seek is not always at hand and sometimes we live in opposition to the majority as we follow our Christian faith. For many of us this may be a foreign concept. We did not grow up in struggle and have therefore forgot what it means to be longing for the freedom that comes to us in this country. The same freedom that slaves in America desired. The same freedom that our ancestors longed for when they first immigrated to this land. The same freedom that our ancestors in the bible longed for when they met opposition and struggled against those that persecuted. The same freedom that many people around the world still long for today.

A new creation is everything! It is in Jesus’ death and resurrection that we experience a new creation and it is in this new creation that the grace of God is revealed to all of God’s children. In this new creation the fruit of the Spirit flows for all to absorb and to learn from. By living in the Spirit, we experience the Christ that is within us and should be compelled to share that with our sisters and brothers.

I encouraged you six weeks ago to read all of Galatians to get a deeper sense of Paul’s passion for the people of Galatia. While chapter 6 concludes Paul’s letter and summarizes his preaching, it is not the end. Instead it should be the beginning of conversation for the people of Galatia and us as well. What does it mean to live into our faith and the true gospel of Jesus Christ? I encourage you again to go back and read it and listen to where you hear God calling and speaking into your life.

As you celebrate with friends and family this weekend, give thanks for the freedoms you have in this country. More importantly, remember the freedom that we have in Jesus Christ and celebrate the new creation that he promises and gives. Now as Paul concludes, “may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.” (6:18)

 

Marathon Training Week 5

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The weeks are ticking off quickly as I look towards running the Detroit Marathon in October. I am now 25% through my training program and I am amazed at how quickly the miles add up while training for a full instead of the half’s that I have trained for in the past.

This morning I got my 10 mile long run in and towards the end of mile 7 my legs were starting to feel a little heavy. I was definitely looking forward to the foam roller when I got back to the house and started to cool down. The mornings for the most part have been great for runs and I have put many miles on the trail in the picture.

My easy and tempo or hill runs these past couple of weeks have been going great as well and I am truly looking forward to vacation to get some miles in northern Michigan, where there are more hills than Richmond. My long runs I am continuing to use the Galloway  run/walk/run method as it has helped keep me injury free and helps me go those longer distances.

The weight continues to come off as well, even though I may have been cheating some on my paleo diet. I have insisted that pizza and beer are my cheat foods! I am sure this will not change any during vacation. Exercise and portion control is working great as well.

I am looking forward to joining up with a non-profit to raise money as I train for the marathon. Make sure to keep an eye out for that announcement as I hope to bring some support to a great organization that I fell in love with nearly twenty years ago. In the mean time, continue running!