Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bishop N.T. Wright Reacts to Recent Episcopal Actions

Anglican bishop N.T. Wright has, over the past few years, become one of my favorite authors. Biblical scholar, historian, and explainer of Christian faith, Wright has responded to recent actions by the Episcopal Church in the US to ordain practicing homosexuals and to consecrate same-sex marriages. I fully endorse what Wright wrote for a British newspaper.

Good Background on Gospel Lesson

Usually, I present a few background thoughts on the lessons for each upcoming Sunday. Ironically, given some of what is going on in the Gospel lesson from Mar, I haven't had the time to do that this week. So, here are great background insights from Pastor Ed Markquart.

Friday, July 17, 2009

"Babies shouldn't have to pay the price..."

Below is a press release sent out today about the next big community service project our congregation is taking on:
[for immediate release]

The ongoing economic crisis and recent state funding cutbacks have given impetus to a project designed to see to it that the parents of local infants and toddlers have food and diapers for their children.

Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan is teaming with the Logan Health Department and the Hocking County MRDD for a Drive-Through Community Baby Shower. It happens on Saturday, August 22, from 10am to 2pm, when residents are asked to drop off baby formula and disposable diapers at the back door of Saint Matthew’s building facilities. Saint Matthew is located at 258 East Hunter Street in Logan, the church with Noah’s Ark in the yard.

The donated formula and diapers from the Drive-Through Community Baby Shower will go immediately toward helping infants and families served through the Logan Health Department’s WIC program and two programs of the county Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities: Help Me Grow and Early Intervention.

All of those programs receive state support. But that support has been drastically reduced in the recently approved state biennial budget. This, in turn, has reduced the numbers of children and families who can be helped here in Logan and Hocking County.

The Servanthood Team at Saint Matthew felt, says Saint Matthew pastor Mark Daniels, “No matter how one feels about the cuts, our babies shouldn’t have to pay the price.”

So, the Servanthood Team, led by Saint Matthew member Becky Webb, hit on the idea of the Drive-Through Community Baby Shower.

“People won’t even have to leave their cars when they drop off the formula and diapers,” Daniels notes. People will be asked to pull up to the back door of the Saint Matthew facilities, where members of the congregation will be waiting to take donations. There will be no preaching and no Bible tracts, just people coming together to share God’s love in a practical way for infants right here in our own community.

In addition to Webb, the Saint Matthew Servanthood Team includes Fran Funk, Cindy Garrelts, Jim Kalklosch, Dee McLain, Christa Myers, Ann Daniels, and Kelly Taulbee.

Individuals who have questions about the Drive-Through Community Baby Shower on August 22, are urged to contact the Saint Matthew church office at (740) 385-2272.

I could be wrong

Whenever I teach classes that deal with the Bible or life issues from a Christian perspective, I tell people that at the end of the final session, I could say, "...or not."

That's because I know I could be wrong. It goes with being human.

Recently, I've shied away from writing much about the issues this post addresses. That stems in part from a weariness I feel with the sexuality issues that have often dominated the agenda of Christian churches in North America. Other reasons include an awareness of a stifling political correctness that I know will cause some to dismiss me as a bigot; a genuine desire not to offend or hurt people I love and respect--from clergy colleagues to blogging confederates, from friends to relatives; and a more general desire to avoid unpleasantness.

But the recent actions of the Episcopal Church-USA, the impending recommendations of the ELCA's sexuality task force, and reactions to my post on this week's Episcopal vote have incited me to respond. I did so specifically to a comment over on my Facebook account, presented in multiple parts there because of word limits. Here, slightly amended, is what I wrote there:
1. God loves all people, as evidenced in Jesus' death and resurrection. Jesus died for sinners.

2. All people are sinners, in need of the salvation Christ offers to all people. Jesus, of course, told Nicodemus that God so loved the world that whoever believes (that is, trusts) in Christ will have everlasting life with God [John 3:16]. Trusting Christ means entrusting our lives--past, present, and future--and our sins, which we renounce, in Christ's hands. The Gospel of Mark records only one sermon by Jesus: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent [that is, turn away from sin and turn to God, and believe in the good news [the gospel, the good news about new life through Jesus]" (Mark 1:14-15].

3. God extends grace to all. But not all are willing to let go of sin or the world in order to take Christ's offer. Jesus also told Nicodemus, "God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through
Him. Those who believe [trust in Christ, not their own righteousness, virtue, strengths, personalities, or beliefs] are condemned already, because they have not believed in the Name of the only Son of God" [John 3:17-18]. God doesn't force Himself or His will on anyone. More on that momentarily.

4. Christians are called to extend love and justice to all people. Micah 6:8 says, "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?"

I take God's call to be just to be more than a matter of interpersonal relationships. Followers of the God made known to Israel and to all the world through Jesus Christ are called to work for justice for all people. This is why I favor civil rights for all people, including gays and lesbians.

5. But the actions of the Episcopal Church-USA and the recommendations of the ELCA Task Force on Sexuality do not involve civil rights issues. Basically,
both allow, in different ways, for two things to happen: the ordination of practicing homosexuals and the performance of marriage ceremonies for homosexual couples.

The call to any ministry of the Church is not a right. It is a privilege conferred on an individual by Christ's Church acting, it believes and prays, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Nobody has a right to be a minister.

Marriage is, depending on the Christian tradition of which one is a part, either a Sacrament or a rite of the Church. The Bible clearly teaches that marriage is to be a heterosexual pairing. In Genesis 2, the Bible speaks of the complementarity of male and female, then says, "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).

The Scriptures never consider the possibility of legitimizing homosexual behavior. Two of the ten commandments, given by God to protect us from ourselves and one another, assume heterosexual marriage. (The
Fourth: "Honor your father and your mother" [notice the two genders seen as foundational to the family]...The Tenth: "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife..." [addressed originally to men, equally applicable to women relative to their husbands; again heterosexual marriage is assumed].)

Attempts to find justification for homosexual relationships in the Bible, such as those posited by Anglican bishop Spong are fanciful, the equivalent of Elvis findings.

In short, the Church should be a firm advocate for all people's civil rights, but it is called by the Lord to tell people the truth. And the truth is that homosexuality is a sin, contrary to the will of God. (I have often hoped and prayed that I didn't have to say this because it's so countercultural, so contrary to what mainstream society says these days. But as Christians, we have always been at our best when have been countercultural toward the world and obedient to

5. The Church should be welcoming to all people. All people, including me, are sinners in need of a Savior. The Church should not be stingy about sharing the hope we have in Christ. 1 Peter says, "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do so with gentleness and reverence" [1 Peter 3:15].

We have love to share and we should. We're to extend the same call to others that Christ has extended to us; Jesus says, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

The Church should also serve all people. Jesus says that on the judgment day, those who have allowed His grace to transform them will, almost without their realizing it, become great servants of the poor, neglected, and despised. Those who have ignored their neighbors will be unaware of their hardness of heart (Matthew 25:31-46).

But the kingdom of God, capable
of including all manner of sinners is incapable of including any sins.

This doesn't mean that only the sinless need apply. That would leave all of us outside of God's kingdom. (I myself would be disqualified and not just for sins of my distant past. Even today, by thought, word, and deed, by the wrong I've done and the good I haven't done, I have sinned.)

It means that as we welcome all people, we also need to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), supporting all who seek to grow into the people God has made us to be in living what Martin Luther called, "daily repentance and renewal." This is the lifestyle intimated by the psalmist when he prayed, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).

What the Episcopal Church-USA has decided and what the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is being told by the Sexuality Task Force is that it's OK for
churches and individuals to decide that there's one sin--the expression of sexual intimacy outside of marriage, the subject of the Sixth Commandment--with which they need no longer wrestle. They no longer need the correction or help of God in overcoming this one sin.

Not only is it arrogant to toss the will of God aside, it's also loveless toward our neighbor. For the Church to give license to sin is a direct contradiction of Christ, Who says, "It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble" (Luke 17:2).

6. Not only is it loveless to withhold the truth about sin from people, it also represents avoidance of our Christ-given responsibility. Jesus tells the Church, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19).

It is the responsibility of the Church to proclaim God's forgiveness, offered through Christ, to the repentant, and to withhold it from the unrepentant.

7. The Church is a fellowship of recovering sinners. This can be good news for the 2-3% of the adult population who, Masters and Johnson, the sex researchers, tell us are oriented to homosexuality. It's also good news for those of us who are oriented to other violations of the will of God--whether addiction, heterosexual adultery, covetousness, thievery, materialism, arrogance, injustice, unkindness, or whatever. In the fellowship of the Church, we meet a gracious God Who, as someone has said, loves us as we are, but loves us too much to leave us there.

It is the height of injustice and lovelessness for the Church to proclaim what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called a "cheap grace," a grace without a cross, forgiveness without repentance, discipleship without a commitment to embracing Christ's will. A Church that doesn't share
"the whole purpose of God" (Acts 20:27) to which it knows it, given our human limitations, is doing God and the world no good.

[UPDATE: If you're on Facebook, you'll find a very interesting, respectful discussion of this issue taking place. It's here.]

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

This Will Tear the World Anglican Communion Apart


Update on Pastor David Wayne

Here is the latest on the health situation of fellow blogger and pastor, David Wayne. Please keep him in your prayers.

Love IS for Losers

I agree that's true. See here. (Be sure to read here.)

Questions About Cheney Role in CIA Program

Okay, I have a few non-political, that is non-partisan, questions about an alleged Bush Administration cover-up of a CIA program that, if implemented, would have authorized killing foreign leaders.

My questions go beyond the legality of such a program or about whether it was right for the former administration to conceal it from the Congress.

I hope that those more steeped in constitutional law than I am can answer my questions.

First, this question: How did Vice President Dick Cheney, who reportedly ordered the cover-up, come to exercise such authority? As a practical matter and one of history, I understand, of course, that Cheney, at least for much of George W. Bush's first term, exercised tremendous influence in the White House and in the administration. But so far as I know, except when the President is incapacitated, the Vice President possesses no executive (or operational) authority. If these reports are true though, Vice President Cheney exercised power which, I believe, belongs only to the President. Am I reading the Constitution correctly?

My second question then, is this: If Mr. Cheney exercised executive power, what would that do to his argument that he wasn't required to maintain records of his activities as the law stipulates for members of the executive branch because, he said, the Vice President is not part of the executive? (Cheney's position was rejected by at least one court.) If not a member of the executive branch, by what possible authority could a Vice President claim to be able to exercise executive authority?

As I say, these aren't partisan questions. If Joe Biden, Walter Mondale, Al Gore, Spiro Agnew, or Richard M. Johnson were found to have exercised executive authority, it would lead me to the first question, at least, and had any of them asserted, as Cheney did, that he was not a member of the executive branch, it would also raise the second.

Any ideas?

[UPDATE: The use of the term "foreign leaders" was unintentionally misleading. I apologize.]

Monday, July 13, 2009

Maybe not

It's become an accepted piece of conventional wisdom. The United States, it's said, is at risk of falling behind the rest of the world because of continuing shortage of scientists and engineers. Maybe not.

Singing for Their Supper


When Christians Shouldn't Be Content

From the daily email inspiration provided by my colleague and friend, Pastor Glen VanderKloot...

OnLine with Faith

July 13, 2009 Issue 508a

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WELCOME to the daily issue of ONLINE WITH FAITH.
ONLINE WITH FAITH is a ministry of Faith Lutheran Church,
2313 Whittier Avenue, Springfield, IL, 62704, Glen VanderKloot, Pastor.

We encourage you to worship and be involved in a local congregation

If you have any questions, comments, or prayer requests
please be in touch with us at

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Thought for the Day

While it is one thing to be content with what we have been given,
we ought not to be content when others do not have.

We ought not to be content as long as there are those
who do not have enough food to eat
or a place to live
or clean clothes to wear
or someone to give them support –
and we ought not to be content as long as others do not know Jesus.

Pastor Paul Olson

Romans 12:20 NIV

On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.”

Lord, never let me be content when there is poverty all around and people in
need. Amen


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Overcoming the Evil Within Us

[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this morning.]

Mark 6:14-29
As a preacher, I have to tell you, I sometimes wish I could avoid some passages of Scripture. I’d rather not face our Gospel lesson for this morning, for example. But because I made a rule for myself, to always preach on the most difficult passage of Scripture appointed for a given day, I'm preaching on it. With its account of John the Baptizer’s execution, our lesson from Mark is so laced with evil that it’s disturbing.

But when I think of it, what I see in today’s Gospel lesson is a lot like what I see in life on Monday through Saturday. As wonderful as life is most of the time, there are things I’d rather not face. These are the evils—like the inhumane things that human beings sometimes do to one another—that, when you learn of them, make you wonder, “How could this have happened? How can people be so cruel or sadistic?”

And I’m not talking just about murders or holocausts. I’m thinking also of the everyday evils, the cutting, harsh ways in which we all can diverge from the clear will of God to love God and love neighbor: The husband or wife who ignores their spouse. The parent who discourages a child. The child who is disrespectful of the parent. The customer who berates the hapless clerk at the store. None of us want to be mistreated. Yet, often we can find ourselves subjecting others to the very disrespect or callous disregard that we hate to receive!

We all are sinners, of course. That’s the burden Jesus came to share with us, the weight He took on His own shoulders on the cross so that all who turn from sin and trust in Him will have life with God forever. As Christians, we’re called to do daily battle with our sin, which, if ignored, is a wall between God and us, between life and death. We’re called to keep grabbing the strong, outstretched hand of Jesus Christ so that the power of sin and death over our lives can be destroyed by God’s powerful grace and deathless love. That isn’t always as easy as it seems it should be.

Most of you have undoubtedly heard about the frog in the kettle. A frog haplessly plopped himself into a kettle full of water that set on a stove top. Shortly after he got there, someone turned on the burner underneath the kettle. The frog, being a cold-blooded critter, adaptable to the world around him, didn’t realize he was being boiled to death.

Only insane people set out to be evil. Yet, like the frog in the kettle, sometimes people who should know better, are capable of evil, of cruelty to others. We allow our kettles--our environments, the world and the people around us--to dictate how we will act and react in everyday life.

Herod Antipas was a man who should have known better than to fall into evil. He had been schooled in God’s will through a thorough knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, what we know as the Old Testament. On top of that, Herod had good political reasons for avoiding evil: Though his family had no legitimate claim on the honor, they had for generations held themselves to be Israel’s royal family. It was so important to Herod Antipas to be seen as the “king of the Jews” that he had undertaken to build a new temple on Mount Zion, the same spot in Jerusalem where, a thousand years before, King Solomon had built the first temple. Both spiritual training and political common sense should have kept Herod from evil.

But our Gospel lesson for today tells us that Herod perpetrated a horrible evil: Ordering the execution of John the Baptizer, whose crime was speaking the Word of God.

How that happened, a story you know well, comprises most of the lesson. It comes in what the moviemakers would call a flashback. Herod gets reports about the miracle-working ministry of Jesus and is convinced that John has come back from the dead. We’re then told about the night Herod threw a birthday party for himself, how the daughter of his wife—the wife he had stolen from his brother, had danced for him, pleasing Herod a lot, how—probably a little more than drunk—Herod had promised the girl anything in exchange for the dance, how she had asked her mother what to ask for and was given the chilling reply, “The head of the prophet of God on a platter,” and how, in spite of what Herod knew to be right, he complied with the girl’s expressed wish.

It was an act of evil equal to anything you might hear about tonight on the Eleven O’Clock News. But unlike those news items, I believe that Mark’s flashback can help us to avoid falling into evil ourselves.

It does this by helping us to see that evil happens, first of all, when we want what we want more than what we want God wants. That was Herod’s problem. He wanted to be respected more than he wanted to honor God.

That can happen to us, too. Years ago, a man came to see me and explained how he bilked his company for thousands of dollars and got himself fired. I tried to understand how this otherwise upright man fell into this evil. “Did you tell yourself that the company was dishonest, so you could justify stealing from it?” I asked him. “No,” he told me. “I just knew what I wanted and saw stealing as the way to get it. I just forgot all about God.”

Evil also happens when we’re more concerned with how we appear than with who we are. Herod kept his vow to his wife's daughter because he didn’t want to seem like a welcher to his guests.

A pastor I worked with while I was in seminary taught me a valuable lesson. One week, he made a huge mistake, one that the congregation needn’t have known about, not a sin, but a failure to make a deadline which cost the church some money. The first thing that pastor did the following Sunday morning during the announcements was stand up and apologize. If that pastor had worried about appearances, he wouldn’t have said a word. But he was willing to admit his imperfections and gained credibility for it.

Evil happens when we ignore the Word of God. Herod, in spite of the judgment against his actions he could hear in John’s preaching, liked to listen to it. He knew that John’s words were from God. Yet, at his birthday party, he turned a deaf ear to God’s Word.

It’s pretty clear then, that to avoid evil, we need to keep God’s will foremost in our priorities, be more focused on our character than our status, and more attentive to God’s Word than we are to the push to selfishness that exists within us and around us.

But that still leaves us with a question: What’s in it for us?

At the end of our Gospel lesson, after all, Herod was still alive, still on his throne, and John’s body was taken away by his disciples for burial. Herod had caved into evil. John had remained faithful to God.

What’s in it for us when we resist evil?

Of course, there’s the obvious answer…and the true one. Those who faithfully seek to follow the God we know in Jesus Christ will, in spite of our sins and failings, spend eternity with God.

But there are more immediate rewards for those who commit themselves to keeping hold of Christ’s hand and resisting the temptation to sin. They’re mentioned in our lesson from Ephesians for today. We’re given, we’re told “every spiritual blessing.” Herod went to bed on the night he killed John the Baptizer knowing that he had killed an innocent, that he had done evil. That reality, I believe, haunted him and he felt utterly alone. (In fact, one of the words for sin in the New Testament Greek has the idea of being so turned in on oneself so far that one is alienated from God and everybody else. When we allow evil to control us, we are alone with our sins.)

Unlike Herod Antipas, John the Baptizer lived and died with the certainty that, even in the midst of things he couldn’t and didn’t fully understand, in resisting evil, in seeking to follow God faithfully, he had a Lord, a Friend, and an Advocate Who would never desert him, not even beyond the gates of death. The simple truth is that God is present for all who want God around.

She was dying and I visited her in the hospital. "Are you angry with God?" I asked her. "I was at first," she answered honestly. "But then I remembered that He's right here with me. Somehow that helped me."

It can help us too. It makes resisting evil worth it. Amen

From Pastor Jaynan Clark: A declaration of independence?

[The following was written by Pastor Jaynan Clark, president of the WordAlone Network, a group of Lutheran pastors and congregations working to reform the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, calling it to fidelity to the Word of God, a central teaching of the Lutheran movement. Clark is currently on leave from call, no doubt devoting herself to the work of WordAlone these days. For background on her thoughts, you may want to look here.]
I am hopeful that everyone reading this had a fun and safe celebration of the 4th of July, Independence Day. It has historically been a day when accidents happen and people are injured, fires are set and often all the damage was without intention but still severe.

This year we as a family experienced a dangerous close call while entertaining our friends' small children. Their two small boys were in awe of my two large boys' ability to pull off quite a fireworks display with a rather small bag for an arsenal. One tightly packed firework after being ignited was met with the exclamation of an innocent 9-year-old boy, "That was the coolest thing I ever saw in my whole life. This is the most fun I've ever had."

My exclamation was, "Thank God for a thick dock and a large lake." The firework in question, once lit, continued to blow and entertain until it tipped off the edge of the dock into the water. Approaching the now submerged "bomb" to check it out, I was met with glowing green water and a sequence of repeated explosions that blew water through the dock and into the air in a variety of colors. A potentially very dangerous accident. No one was hurt but all were surprised and--moments later than the 9-year-old--even entertained.

It is quite common knowledge that we celebrate our independence as a nation with explosions, fire, noise and smoke. Why is not such common knowledge. I suppose one could parallel it to the wars that seem to always precede independence or just the need to entertain and do it with a flare. Regardless of the reason, the parallels to our current situation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are not a stretch.

The nature of everyone's sin in the wake of the fall can be described as our declaration of independence from God. In order to be our own gods and run our own lives, we act out in many ways that are all covered by the Ten Commandments. There is nothing new about sin. We want things to be our way according to our own desires and to be lords of our own lives. It doesn't take an explosion of intellect to see how destructive that is in the larger context of community and society. If everyone wants to "have it their way," then what about the other? It is the definition of irresponsibility resulting in anarchy.

Our situation as a Protestant church along with other floundering denominations is a testimony to exactly this. When the leadership of these churches declares independence from the authority of the Bible, from the history of the church and its teachings, from the age-old social and cultural norms for the family as the foundation of society, then we can expect nothing other than anarchy.

The issues before us regarding human sexuality are mere firecrackers contributing to the much bigger, out-of-control firestorm that is burning down the very forms and foundations of Christian faith and its teachings. To fail to recognize the present devastation and not to acknowledge the embers that have taken flight, advancing the wildfire, is to contribute to the disaster.

June 30, a pastoral letter was released by the presiding bishop of the ELCA. It is posted at It "exploded" on my computer screen and I was less than entertained.

The bishop rightly turns to the biblical text, repentance and forgiveness of sins and the promises of baptism. However, I am more than a little confused by his latest release. The ELCA churchwide's treatment of the authority of Scripture in relation to human sexuality, in all of its studies and drafts and social statements, has thus far avoided the language of sin, sinful behavior, need of repentance and forgiveness and instead talked about tolerance, acceptance, inclusion and blessing.

We in the WordAlone Network have tried to talk about the issues of sexuality in light of the church's historic understanding of sin, repentance, forgiveness and newness of life. We have been criticized for applying such categories, for in so doing, we are said to be self-righteous, judgmental, fearful and archaic in our expressions of the faith. Likewise, others ask, do we not realize that "god is doing a new thing" in the lives of those practicing a variety of sexual expressions. To not accept that new work of god is to be accused, consequentially, of apparently standing in judgment, fear and being destructive of the church's progressive role in society and mission.

For the young and innocent, a variety of sexual expressions may be viewed as cool and new and even freeing, for they don't realize the danger and impending destruction. Those who are crying out--in warning to the young and uninformed not to approach the explosion, but to stand back and not get too close--appear to be fearful or over protective or just unable to relax, and go with the flow.

But appearances of celebrations are deceiving and what is blowing up across the Christian church are the sights and sounds of independence as declared from the one true God and Father of us all. We are not witnessing a celebration, but a dangerous and destructive phenomenon that is sweeping across not only the church but also all of society, fueling a firestorm that mistakenly is identified as the fire of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit.

Do not be deceived, for the one Holy Spirit of God does not move apart from and contrary to the Word of God no matter how high-ranking are the voices trying to convince you of such. This is a matter of sin, repentance, forgiveness and new life--old language--rightfully applied to an old sinful world in need of holy reform and renewal.
[by Pastor Jaynan Clark, president of WordAlone Networ]