Book Review: Shameless by Nadia Bolz-Weber

In her latest book, Nadia Bolz-Weber, opens up a topic that many in the church attempt to stay clear from. While the entire basis of our life on earth is contingent upon our ability to have sex, it has often times been a taboo subject within the church. Many times the church has went to extremes to steer clear of the topic or at its worse, to speak of the evils of it.

I did not grow up in the church and therefore was not too aware of the purity movement that happened within it. I heard a few things along the way, but at that time it didn’t affect me so I did not pay too much attention. It is the purity movement that she directly addresses in the beginning of her book and bringing to the forefront the harm that is has caused over the years.

Like many of her other books, she brings in many stories from her parishioners that help support her thesis. She also speaks of the holiness of being with God and each other. As she compares the two she says that “holiness is about union with, and purity is about separation from.” I believe that it all comes down from this as we are a holy people that are called to live with union with one another.

To attempt to say what is holy and not holy of others is in direct competition with God. God has created each of holy. Every sing part of our bodies. To be with another person in being welcomed into a holy experience. There is nothing that we should be ashamed of. We should not let others make us feel any less.

There is no shame to be felt in our bodies. “God is made known: in the miracle of our infant bodies, so recently come from God that you can smell God on their heads; in the freedom of our child bodies as they were before shame and self-consciousness entered into them; in the confusion of our pubescent bodies and the excitement of our teenage bodies as they become familiar with desire; in the fire and ice of our young adult bodies as they connect with each other; in the goddamn mind-blowing magic of our baby-making bodies; in the wisdom in our aging bodies; and in the so-close-to-God-you-can-smell-God beauty of our dying bodies.” God wants us to be one with our bodies and to know them intimately as they are created in the image of God.

This is a tough message to share as we have avoided the conversation for far too long. It is about time that someone like Nadia brings it the forefront. She has also included some great resources for individuals and congregations to reach out and learn more.

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Review: Your God is Too Glorious by Chad Bird

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With thanks to Englewood Review of Books for the opportunity to review this title

Does the notion of God being too glorious make you shudder? Surely, it is not possible for God to be too glorious. It is God that has created the world and every breathing plant, animal, and creature that resides on it. It is God in Jesus Christ that gave up his life on the cross so that we may see what the love of God means for us and the life everlasting that flows from it. It is Jesus that is resurrected on the third day to conquer death once and for all. How can this be too glorious?

The gospel of John is all about the glory of Jesus and lifts it up for all too see! As I picked up Chad Bird’s newest book, I questioned exactly what he meant by the title. It seems at first a little off putting. That is, until you read the subtitle, Finding God in the Most Unexpected Places. This begins to shed a little light upon the main title. Using both stories from his personal life, and those of friends and acquaintances, Bird descends into the thesis that we do make God too glorious. Bird’s offering could be compared to Walter Wangerin Jr.’s latest offering, Wounds are Where the Light Enters. While Wangerin has many titles and years of experience to his repertoire, Chad Bird does an excellent job of standing right up there with him.

Bird’s stories are ones that can bring tears and an ache in the heart for everything that has happened to the people in them. Since the time the apostles began spreading the good news across the countryside of Israel and into the Diaspora, God has slowly been lifted to a place where the ordinary person cannot even think about reaching. It was Martin Luther that sensed this in the early sixteenth century and brought God back to the people in a Bible that could be read by the common people. God was not something that was outside of their grasp, only to be born by clergy, but a God that is with them in their daily lives.

As Bird presents throughout his ten easy to read chapters, God is awesome and wonderful. However, we have made God too glorious, where we have chosen to remove God from our daily lives and reserve God only for Sunday mornings. We have thought at times during the last millennia that God is not of this world, but only created the world. Yet, God is of this world and was present with us in Jesus Christ and continues to be present with us through the Holy Spirit and Christ guiding us. It is time that we begin to see God in the people that surround us and events that happen to us during the week.

Yes, God is extraordinary. Yet, this does not keep God from being in the ordinary events and occasions that occur daily. Bird discusses how God is present with us at times on “unseen altars” (pgs. 52-55). These “unseen altars” are present all around us. Perhaps even in the room where you are sitting to read this review. Those altars he says, “Look like a rocking chair where a mother cradles her crying infant to her breast. . .. look like a John Deere driven by a farmer who pulls a plow to ready the earth for seed. His cap is stained with sweat. His callused hands are the résumé he has. . .. look like a taxi, honking and weaving its way through the labyrinth of New York City traffic. They look like an outpost in Afghanistan, where a Marine holds a rifle in his hands and dreams of holding his three-year-old daughter again. . ..” As ordinary as these contexts may seem to us, they are not ordinary for God. In each of these contexts, God is present.

Many times, we find ourselves in situations that appear hopeless and we think we just have to ride them out. Yet, the awesome God that chose to enter this world in a newborn baby, walks with us this very day to guide us through those times that we feel lost or stagnant. It does not look glamorous where God decides to reside in our lives. It truly is the lowest points that God uses to show us that we are made for much greater things. The church is no different. We think we need to make everything glitzy to attract and grow congregations. However, God is present in the ugly and unpleasant. As Bird speaks of the seminars that are always claiming to solve all the church’s problems, he says, “The subtext of every one of them was the same: what you’re doing now is not enough. Not relevant enough. Not revolutionary enough. The time has come to recreate and refine the church’s dull image.  What she desperately needs to do is sexy herself up. What the church desperately needs, however is the ecclesiastical equivalent of a boob job and memberships at God’s Gym. She needs more flat tires” (pg. 131).

These flat tires we encounter along the way, in our personal and communal lives, is where the work of God becomes most evident. Unfortunately, while God is present, we choose not to see God in the times that are great, and everything is running along smoothly. It is in the flat tires that God is visible, and we open our hearts to the glory of the creator and savior of the world. Bird shows the visibility of God in these flat tire situations which then can prepare for those times when we feel as though we are on top of the world.

Welcome to Your Deserted Place!

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In February of 2005 I went off to a deserted place.

It was a locale that many people would have dreamed about going to and wished that someday they may be able to make the trip. However, for me it was a deserted place because those that I loved and cared for were not with me. You see, it was a work trip, or at least paid for by my employer at the time. This deserted place that I speak of was St. Marteen. I will admit that it was gorgeous, and once my stomach went back to where it was supposed to be after I thought we were going to plunge into the ocean when we landed, I took time to enjoy the Island.

This deserted place also provided the opportunity for me to reflect and discern the future. It was in this deserted place that I heard God speaking to me and the call to come and be part of Jesus’ flock. I would say that I was Christian before this, but it was in this time away that I heard God calling me to become engaged in a church community. Little did I know that 13 years later I would be standing here preaching to you as a called and ordained minister in the ELCA.

In our gospel lesson from Mark, Jesus calls the disciples off to a deserted place so that they may take the opportunity to rest. This is not just a sabbath for them. This is an opportunity for them to reflect on everything that Jesus has called them to do. Just a couple of weeks ago, we heard how Jesus sent the disciples out, two by two, so that they may bring healing to those with unclean spirits and anoint with oil.

This was not easy work, and I am sure that the stories that they had to share with Jesus when they returned were amazing. Imagine sitting in that close circle of disciples and hearing of everything that took place over the period of time interacting with the sick and bringing hope and healing in the name of God.

We hear of Jesus going off to pray on his own and that may be what we first think that he has in store for the disciples. However, deserted places are not always good places. Jesus was tempted for forty days in a deserted place. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness and desert for forty years. Deserted places are barren and quite often there are few signs of life. The deserted place that Jesus wants them to encounter is a place of contemplation. It is a place to discern their calling in the greater ministry of Jesus Christ.

The disciples must be overwhelmed. There are people everywhere that are coming to see Jesus and the moment they seem to get away, the people start following them along the shoreline and meeting them as soon as they come ashore. Truly, a sabbath may is needed. Yet within that sabbath is a time to reflect in a deserted place that does not distract.

It is so easy for us to become distracted in the twenty-first century. Probably more so then it was in the first century. We have television and the news to steer attention away from the things that matter most in our lives. We have smart phones that have seem to become our best friends because we can not step out of the house without them. On those phones are games and social media apps to keep us busy for hours on end, at least until the battery dies.

Not only do we have those modern-day distractions, as Americans we tend to overwork ourselves.  We place great emphasis on the material things that can be purchased with those dollars that we earn in those jobs that we pour our time into. Did you know that compared to European countries, Americans work the most hours? Including all employed, Americans work on average 25 hours/week compared to the British at 21 hours/week, the French at 18 hours/week, and Italians at 16 hours/week. In Germany full time workers work on average 35 hours a week and received 24 paid vacation days.

A firm in New Zealand decided to shorten their work week to 32 hours/week from 40 hours/week. You know what they found? Their employees were more productive working just four days because they were more focused and intentional.

Perhaps working long hours and spreading ourselves thin is why America has been a world-leader. What is it costing us to be so? We have become fatigued and are easily distracted by the news and by the material things that are advertised around us daily. We work long hours and take short vacations. Sometimes to get away and enjoy sabbath or simply live into the deserted place and contemplate is counter-cultural.

I am sure that Jesus and the disciples were looked at oddly as well. However, that does not matter to Jesus. It does not affect his decisions or actions. Alone, in Jesus’ words to get away to a deserted place, is a sign of re-creation. It is an opportunity for the disciples to be restored in heart, body, and soul so that they can go and walk with those that need their love and compassion.

It is a chance for them to get away with Jesus and listen for how the Spirit is working in their lives, and by chance get a glimpse of what the future may hold for them. It is a promise that God will be with them in this ministry that they have been called. A calling that is overwhelming. A calling that requires them to stop and seek out a deserted place to be with Jesus and be reassured of the calling that has been placed upon their hearts.

Do you have that place that you can steal away to and be restored? A place where Jesus invites you to that is not only refreshing but also life-giving. It may be a place as simple as your favorite chair in a home office or family room. It may be a local park where you can walk and breath in the beauty of nature and experience God in all of creation. Maybe it was during your last vacation where you were able to experience a sense of peace and love that is unique to that locale.

Wherever that place may be for you, Jesus is calling you away to there. Welcoming you to your deserted place. He wants you to come away with him and be restored and be reminded of his love for you. A love that was bared on the cross in his death. And a hope that is revealed in His resurrection.

There will be times when we are overwhelmed and are required to work an unreasonable number of hours. We want to ensure that there is a roof over our families’ heads and food on the table to prevent hunger.  Those are exactly the times that Jesus wants us to come away with him, even if it is just on that car ride home. It is even in these little moments that we can hear God’s love for us and the wonderful things that God has in store.

Let us pray. Restoring God, we give thanks for the calling you have placed on our lives, even if we have yet to fully discern it. May we continue to see you in the little moments and be intentional in stealing away to our own deserted places to be renewed. Amen

God’s Grace is Sufficient

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This past week was my first visit to Houston. It is an incredibly large town and yet while we were at the NRG Park Complex, it seemed very secluded from the rest of the city as our food choices were limited to food trucks and concessions. Which honestly, is not too bad unless you are vegetarian, and your daughter must eat gluten free.

Transportation around town also provided a challenge since we did not have a vehicle. We chose to utilize Uber. It was in these Uber trips that we were able to experience a little of the diversity of the city. Victor’s family came from Mexico before he was born, and he drove to make extra money to support his family. Asomgyee came to the United Stated from the United Kingdom and was a professor at a local college earning extra money during the summer. Desta was our Uber driver on Friday after we decided to eat a nice dinner out before heading to NRG Park for the evening. Desta came to the United States from Ethiopia and is now a United States Citizen. He grew up in the Lutheran church in Ethiopia and now works with the youth of his church in Houston.  All three of them commented on the number of buses that they had seen around town transporting the 31,000 ELCA youth and how incredible it was that we were present in Houston.

I loved hearing their stories and was able to see God’s grace working in each of them. Not only is God’s grace sufficient, it reaches beyond all boundaries and changes everything. In this grace, we experience unending love that resonates in hope for the future.

The disciples were challenged when Jesus sent them out for the first time. He gave them authority over the unclean spirits and urged them to go out and heal. Imagine the apprehension that they had when first given this task. Many of them not too long ago had been out fishing in their boats. They had witnessed the coldness that Jesus received from his own community he grew up and they had to be wondering if he has trouble with those he knows, how can we bring healing to those that do not even know us.

They were placed in unfamiliar surroundings and instructed to do the things that they would not have even dreamed of just a couple of years before. Have you ever been placed in these circumstances? Maybe it is a new job that you have just started. Perhaps it was going off to college and leaving the familiar behind. It may have even been when you found out that you were going to be a parent for the first time. The apprehension can come to us in many different venues and yet we are not alone when we enter these places.

The youth and adult leaders that went to National Gathering were presented with many things to be apprehensive about and questions arose about our place in the world as the church of Jesus Christ. We got to meet new friends, which can be overwhelming when there are over 30,000 people. We heard from speakers with some challenging words on tough subjects, from immigration to hunger, self-harm to addiction, and what it means to be transgender to how race shapes who are you. Remembering, that the theme of the Gathering was, “This Changes Everything!” Let’s take a brief look at the week that was experienced by our group and over 30,000 youth and adult leaders.

Each of the speakers spoke to the love that they found in the church. The people that embraced them and helped them through their rough times. The stories that they shared are stories that we can relate to. Those that shared of their own personal struggles and challenges realized that they were broken and that there is nothing wrong with that. They found out that they are loved, and they were able to find hope in the gospel of Jesus.

Their brokenness is no different than ours. Each of us have our own cracks and bruises. Our own scars and hurts. It is to this brokenness and weakness that Paul writes to in his second letter to the Corinthians. He had his own brokenness and weakness and he confessed to them. It is in this that he hears God saying, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

There is an unbinding hope found in those words. When we find ourselves bound by our own brokenness, Christ is there waiting for us with a message of grace that cleanses everything clean. It is this grace that changes everything. We cannot do any of it on our own, but through Jesus and his love poured out for us on the cross. We are changed by his love forever.

Let us pray, Lord God, you come to us in ways that we are not even aware. We may see you in others, or in those things that surround us. Through it all, we desire to be changed. To live lives that reflect your love and compassion. May we experience your call, love, hope, and grace that changes everything. Amen

The Sabbath is for Us!

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June 3, 2018

Mark 2:23 – 3:6

 

Many of us may know the 3rd Commandment, but are we following it? Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Rolf Jacobson, professor at Luther Seminary, thought this seemed a little too polite and rewrote the commandment for us living in the present:

What is wrong with you people? 168  hours in a week is not enough for you? I ask you to set aside just one day so that you can rest up long enough to be renewed for the coming week, and what do you do? Double overtime, 80-hour work weeks, and super centers open 24/7! How are you ever going to slow down long enough so that you can gather together in Christian worship and sit still long enough to hear the Word that I have to share with you? Stop! Listen!”[i]

I know, probably a little too in-your-face, yet it attracts our attention. Jesus reminds us that “the sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (v. 2:27). The sabbath is created for us. For those that are overworked and underpaid. For those that are so stressed out they get ulcers and high blood pressure. For those that don’t know where to turn. The sabbath is created for humankind. It is a time to rest and be renewed so that we can reset and go back out and be God’s hands and feet in the world, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ through our words and actions.

Do you remember when the people of Israel received the Ten Commandments? After Moses led them out of the land of Egypt. A land where they had been enslaved and did not know what rest looked like. In the commandment to rest on the sabbath day, the Israelites were not only instructed to rest, but also their servants and animals as well. It was meant to be a day of renewal for all of God’s creation.

While this may have been the intention of the sabbath, this is not necessarily the way that the people of Israel viewed it in the 1st century. Jesus was not afraid to call them out on this fact either. He did not step out of his way to make sure he did not cause any waves. He did what he was called to do. He came with love and compassion that encompassed his entire ministry. When writing of the sabbath, N.T. Wright says that,

“It had become a weapon. It had become a sign of his fellow Jew’s commitment to a fierce and exclusive nationalism. Along with other badges and flags, it spoke now not of Israel as the light of the world but of Israel as the children of light and rest of the world as remaining in darkness. And this attitude, as so easily happens when religion and nationalism are wedded tightly together, spilled over into popular attitudes even towards fellow-Jews. For many groups, it wasn’t enough to be a loyal Jew; one had to be a better loyal Jew than the other lot. And in this no-win situation the whole point of the commandment – celebrating God’s creation and redemption, past, present and future – had been lost sight of. The rule mattered more than the reality.[ii]

This is where the Pharisees are when they keep watchful tabs on Jesus, hoping that he makes one wrong move, in their eyes, so that they can set the train into motion that will ultimately lead to the cross. The Pharisees believe that they have the only answer when it pertains to God and Jesus is stepping out of their preconceived notions. This is not only a challenge to their understanding of God, but it could impact the entire world!

We are now two thousand years removed from 1st century Israel, yet as humanity, we are not too far removed from the same sins. We continue to lift up our own righteousness over others and believe that we know everything. In the past couple of years, we have heard from the so-called evangelicals and their belief system that has drastically changed from the likes of Billy Graham. We have the word evangelical in our name, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. To be evangelical, we share the promise of the good news of Jesus Christ. To be evangelical, means that we should be excited around worship and the sharing of not only our faith, but the ministries we are doing. To be evangelical means welcoming all people in no matter where they are.

The evangelical that you hear of today, has nationalism so tied up within it that it speaks to the understanding of today’s gospel lesson that N.T. Wright comments. Our struggles and challenges that we face as part of the body of Christ, are not much different than the struggles and challenges that Jesus and the first disciples experienced two thousand years ago.

Jesus knew that whatever he chose to do on the sabbath would be criticized. He knew that the leaders of the synagogue and the Roman authorities would be keeping close tabs on him. He knew that they would be looking for ways to catch him in violation of anything they came up with. So, you might as well be bold in what you do.

First, he stands up for his disciples that are gleaning on the sabbath. To glean, means that they are picking from the harvest that was left behind. This was also a Jewish law. Those harvesting were to leave ten percent of their crops for those that are not as unfortunate. Almost like a 1st century food pantry. Jesus’ disciples were not doing anything wrong. They were not working. They were gathering what was needed to feed themselves. Again, as Jesus enters the synagogue, he challenges those that are watching by healing the man with the withered hand. What he does is not against the intention of the sabbath, yet the authorities have made their own rules and are looking for anything to squash this movement of Jesus.

The actions of Jesus’ disciples and the healing by Jesus that takes place in these passages are ones that are meant to highlight the sabbath. The disciples are being renewed and replenished in their well-being through the gleaning of the grains of wheat from the field. Creation is being fed and renewed! Again, in Jesus healing the man with the withered hand, he is restoring creation. He is bringing a sign of life to a man that has been seen as less by those that pass him by. Jesus’ love and compassion that shows through this gospel lesson is one that we can learn from today.

It is hard to find Jesus in the midst of our disagreements and bickering with one another. When we take up sides, we leave little room for Jesus and the Holy Spirt to work in our midst. We have become a society that is overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the options that are available to us and in our reaction to draw back, we go to extremes and strip everything away. In this stripping away, we manage to strip away Jesus as well.

We leave little room for Christ in our gathering because we think we know what it is right, and we do not need him to show us any different. And it is in this that we disregard the sabbath and become overwhelmed.

The sabbath was created for us too! The sabbath is meant for us to be renewed in the saving grace of God. The sabbath is meant for us to be reminded of the waters that we find in the baptismal font that wash over us and make us new. The sabbath is meant for us to be fed by the body and blood of Jesus Christ so that we may go out into the world and continue to be the hands and feet of Christ in a world that so much needs to hear of the saving grace of our lord and savior.

Let us pray. God of the sabbath, you have created a time of rest and renewal for us to find strength in you. May we take time, when we need it, to sit in the silence and welcome you into the craziness of our hectic lives. May our sabbath, whenever it may be, renew and refresh us to continue in the calling you have placed in our lives. Amen.

 

[i] Rolf Jacobson, Crazy Talk, pg. 150

[ii] Tom Wright, Mark for Everyone pg. 30

Shepherding God’s Creation

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April 22, 2018, Earth Day

John 10:11-18

These are the sounds that you would hear out in the field if you were watching over the flocks. The bleating of sheep. Possibly the sound of bells. The birds chirping. All the sounds of a glorious creation that has been given to us by a loving God. A creation that we have been entrusted, and a creation that is vulnerable to the demise of our own greed.

Today is the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day!  While, as humanity we have been entrusted to care for the creation since the beginning, we have not always done the best job. We have taken from the earth with reckless abandon and have in just the past century began to realize the affect it has had on our environment. The call to care for creation first came to us in Genesis.

Today has also been known throughout the church as Good Shepherd Sunday. We hear in the Gospel, Jesus’ promise that he knows each one of us and has laid down his life for us. This promise flows over to creation. Martin Luther once wrote that, “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” We are surrounded by the living Gospel. The good news that surrounds our lives.

The discourse that we enter this morning is a continuation of Jesus’ response to why he healed the man that was born blind. The Pharisee’s were questioning Jesus on why he chose to heal the man on a sabbath day. We do not get to hear the entire dialogue but come in from the point where Jesus says he is the good shepherd.

The sheep are not always left in the care of such a loving shepherd. As Jesus points out, the hired hand could care less what happened to the sheep. He cares more about his own safety and ensuring that he is protected from harm then he is about the wolves that may come to harm the sheep. The hired hand does not have a vested interest in the well-being of the sheep. Other than perhaps a paycheck! The hired hand does not love and have compassion as the good shepherd does.

When it comes to the care of creation, too many of us are apathetic. We simply do, without thinking about the consequences of our actions. We are no better than the hired hand that Jesus speaks of in the gospel lesson. When we take little to no vested interest in our communities and the care of them and the ecological resources, we are far from being a shepherd. This is part of the statement that Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton, released for Earth Day:

As members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), we share a deep love for all of God’s creation and a profound responsibility for it. Made in the image of God, we are called to continue what God is already doing for the earth (Psalm 104), enabling it to flourish. God assigns humans to care for the earth as God does, in loving servanthood. (Philippians 2:7, Genesis 2:15).  

 Daily we witness the evidence of a rapidly changing climate. At the same time, we also witness in too many instances how the earth’s natural beauty, a sign of God’s wonderful creativity, is defiled by pollutants and waste, resulting in ecological crisis. As a member church of The Lutheran World Federation, we affirm “that the global ecological crisis, including climate change is, human-induced. This is a spiritual matter. As people of faith, we are called to live in right relationship with creation and to not exhaust it.”[i]

We find an overwhelming grace in Jesus as the good shepherd. Jesus has taken on death like no one before him. In his willingness to lay down his life for all of humanity, we encounter a grace that the world had yet to experience. In the image of Jesus as good shepherd, the Pharisees are offended because they come to realize that they are the hired hands in the story.

Jesus as the good shepherd is an image that we are all very familiar and one that speaks a message of welcome. It is as a good shepherd that Jesus welcomes all into his flock as his body and blood are given to us at the Lord’s Table. In this simple, yet complex act, we become one with the body of Christ and are encouraged to become shepherds ourselves.

It is a good thing that Jesus only called himself the good shepherd. Imagine if he would have called himself the “awesome” shepherd, or the “extraordinary” shepherd. These would have been big shoes to fill and ones that we would have been overwhelmed to even think of stepping in to. However, good is an adjective that seems doable. We can be good! We can step up and learn to care for others the way that Jesus did. We may not always get it right, but to be good is much easier than to be “extraordinary!”

How about we start to see if we can be a good shepherd when it comes to caring for the creation that has been entrusted to us since Genesis. Heather Bennet, Executive Director of Blessed Earth Tennessee, wrote a piece for Rethink Church on caring for our environment and points out the six “R’s” of living sustainably. Perhaps you have heard of some of them.

 

  • First, REFUSE. If you don’t need it don’t buy it. If you don’t need it don’t take it. This includes food.
  • Second, if you can’t REFUSE then REDUCE. Reduce the amount you need.
  • Third, if you can’t REFUSE or REDUCE then REUSE.
  • Fourth, if you can’t REFUSE, REDUCE, or REUSE then RECYCLE. Recycling is probably the most popular, but recycling is energy intensive. Think about the transportation, energy and water involved in the process.
  • Fifth, if you can’t REFUSE, REDUCE, REUSE or RECYCLE then ROT. That’s just an R word for compost.
  • Sixth is pretty special: REST. This one is not dependent upon the others. Every week practice REST. When we rest, we’re not driving or engaging in commerce. We’re probably going to enjoy some time outside. For Christians, this day would include spending time in God’s word and in God’s creation.[ii]

 

When we begin to think about how our actions affect creation, we start to embody the image of a good shepherd. It is something that is very doable.

Jesus comes and reveals himself to the disciples and us as the good shepherd. A shepherd that is willing to lay everything down for the life of just one of his sheep’s.  Let’s not just simply follow as a sheep. May we be so bold to be a shepherd for others that are lost and lead them to the way of not only caring for creation, but in the truth of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Bishop Eaton concludes her statement:

In grateful response to God’s grace in Jesus Christ, this church carries out its responsibility for the well-being of society and the environment. Our “concern for the environment is shaped by the Word of God spoken in creation, the Love of God hanging on a cross, the Breath of God daily renewing the face of the earth.” Our concern is, then, propelled by hope and guided by principles of justice.  We find our hope in the promise of God’s own faithfulness to everything God has made. We seek justice for all of creation in concert with God’s creative and renewing power. We do so understanding that we have the ability and responsibility to act together for the common good, especially for those who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

 

Let us pray. … Christ, the good shepherd, may we find hope in your relentless ways to bring in all of humanity to your flock. We give thanks for being called to be your hands and feet in spreading that good news for all to hear. May we spread the good news through our actions in caring for creation and in our love that we model from your love of us. Amen.

 

[i] http://www.elca.org/News-and-Events/7922

[ii] http://www.rethinkchurch.org/articles/changing-the-world/spirituality-and-environmental-care

 

God’s Promise of Forgiveness

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March 18, 2018

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Every Master of Divinity student in the ELCA is required to take CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). Usually this occurs after your first year of seminary. During CPE you become a chaplain, usually in a hospital setting, and care for patients as they encounter various health related issues. I had the opportunity of completing CPE at The Ohio State University Medical Center.

CPE is just as much a part of learning who you are as it is practicing your pastoral skills with patients and residents. One thing that I learned during my ten weeks in the program was that I could stomach many things and was actually quite intrigued by the process of surgery. I was honored by having two different patients let me be in the surgery room while they underwent surgery. The second surgery that I observed was an open heart surgery. I was assigned to the open heart surgical floor and wanted to walk with a patient from the time they entered the hospital through their surgery. Standing in the surgery room, all I could think of was this lesson from Jeremiah, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Now, I realize that this is a very literal interpretation, however, it is the heart that gives us life, and to witness it working outside of the body is an awe-inspiring experience.

God makes a new covenant with the people of Israel, unlike one that they have seen. In this covenant, God will write the law on the people’s hearts and the people will know God and sin will be remembered no more.

There is much that comes before this passage from Jeremiah this morning. We have already heard of three, if not four, different covenants that God has made with the people of Israel during this time of Lent. From Genesis to our reading in Jeremiah this morning, they have spread over many generations and millennia.

We have learned how the people of Israel, from the time of Noah, Abraham, Moses, and now to Jeremiah, have done a poor job of keeping the covenants that God has made with them. They have sinned and have fallen short of the Glory of God. As Jeremiah speaks to the people of Israel, it is no surprise that the covenant God made with their ancestors had been broken. This “old” covenant projects a God that is all powerful and shows little vulnerability. As we have heard these past few weeks, the people of Israel feared God and they would rather deal directly with Moses or another go-between. Yet, sin enters the picture and they are all left wondering where God is in the midst of their own self-loathing and denials. When they think they have followed the covenant, they quite often fall short. The people have not followed the law of God as it was given to them over and over again.

We are fools to not think that this happens today. We have violated the law many times under our own doing. From the very beginning, humankind was given the great gift of creation to care for and protect. Quite often, we fall short of our calling to care for creation. Woody Bartlett encourages us to,

Consider ways that Western humans currently exploit the creation. We walk as if with hobnailed boots on the “fragile earth, our island home.” Through a rapaciously consuming lifestyle, we overuse the earth, leading to global warming, habitat destruction, species extinction, and the general fouling of our nests. We violate the law of God given in Genesis to “till the garden and keep it,” as we threaten to undo the law of God established with Noah and all of the creatures of the earth after the great flood. (Feasting on the Word, Year B Volume 2, 127)

We look beyond one another instead of looking at each other. We fail to listen to one another’s ideas because surely we have the right answer. We are great at this in the church. Did you know that there are over a dozen different Lutheran churches within the United States because at one point or another we disagreed on various issues. If the church cannot fix its own brokenness, how can we expect the world to repair itself. We carry these arguments beyond ourselves and pit our beliefs against those of other faith traditions. Instead of learning to live together and be in conversation we put up walls and segregate ourselves.

Fortunately, God knew what would happen if the people of Israel were left to their own devices. What started in the Garden of Eden carried down to the people of Israel. The sin that pervades the life of humanity is not easily vanished and it is because of this that we receive a “new” covenant from God in the passage from Jeremiah. This “new” covenant could be a precursor to Jesus Christ. In this “new” covenant, God is the grain that dies and bears fruit.

To have the law written on the hearts of the people meant different things for different people. The desire for God, is to be in relationship with all of creation. By having the law written in the hearts of the people, it creates a faithful community that is present for one another as they journey through life. It creates a community for a people that had been broken and lost their spirit while in exile. In the law that is written on their hearts, they get to know God in a deeper and more meaningful way. God has now allowed vulnerability into the equation as God not only gets to know the people, but the people get to know God. “for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” And what is even better yet, is that God, “will forgive their iniquity, and remember sin no more.”

This is a story that we witness ourselves in Jesus Christ. We get to know the law first, and through that we encounter Jesus Christ. This is the reason that Martin Luther sets up his Small Catechism in the order that he does. We encounter the law in the Ten Commandments and find grace in the Lord’s Prayer. The promise of forgiveness that comes to us in the word’s of Jeremiah, is one that speaks to our own baptisms and the forgiveness of sins that occurs in the water. The same forgiveness that we encounter time and time again in our weekly confession and forgiveness. The same forgiveness that washes over us in our repentance.

The covenant that is made to the people of Israel and the house of Judah is one that carries over to this day. For all of creation. It is a covenant that is fulfilled for us in Jesus Christ. It is a covenant that is written on our hearts from the very beginning to the end of the age. A deep knowing that is already present within us and is just waiting for us to be open to dwelling in it.

The covenants that God has made with the people of Israel can guide us today. The covenants are promises made to the people. In these promises the past five weeks, God has promised commitment in the midst of temptation. In uncertainty and times of challenges there is a promise of new life. God has promised to be with us in community to draw one another together. In the midst of that community we are also called to repentance to experience a promise of healing. All of this culminates in the days to comes as we begin to approach the cross and Holy Week. It is in the upcoming services that we have the opportunity to walk with God and to have God walk with us. To be open to a knowing and loving God that has written the law on our hearts. It is in our hearts that we experience the light of Christ and the truth that leads us to a resurrected life.

Let us pray. Forgiving God, we come to you this Lenten season to repent of those times we have turned away from you and failed to be bold in our faith. We give thanks for being in relationship with you and for your love that beats in our own hearts. As we continue on our path in this season of Lent, may we be guided by your light. Amen