Saturday, October 24, 2009

What is Reformation Sunday, Anyway?

[Tomorrow is Reformation Sunday. Below is a little essay about Martin Luther and the Reformation, which I've written and rewritten, sometimes presented as a sermon, other times as a bulletin insert, and more recently, as a blog post, for a total of about twenty-five years now. I hope you find it helpful.]

He was born in November, 1483, in the German principality of Saxony. His father was a one-time coal miner who, through hard work, had risen to middle class status, the owner of several mines. His mother, who would exert so much influence over the boy was, in the custom of those times, a full-time housewife and mother.

His name was Martin Luther. From an early age, he exhibited great intelligence and many talents. As time passed, he would become an extraordinary preacher, theologian, and musician. These pursuits were far from his father’s intentions for young Martin. Hans Luther wanted the boy to become a lawyer in order to care for him and his wife in their old age.

That, in fact, was the trajectory on which Martin’s life was moving when a shattering experience intervened.

He was heading back to the university he attended when a ferocious thunderstorm arose. A lightning bolt knocked Luther to the ground. Understandably terrified, Martin cried out to the patron saint of miners. “Saint Ann,” he said, “save me; I will become a monk.”

I once told this story to Father Seavey Joyce, who served Saint Ann's parish in the same small town (Frankfort, Michigan) where I did my seminary internship. Seavey listened and wearing an impish smile, said, "I guess that goes to prove that even saints make mistakes." (He was kidding because Seavy also told me once that he was sure that one day the Roman Catholic Church would name Luther a saint.)

But of course, it wasn't Saint Ann who’d made a mistake. It was Martin Luther. In fact, in his moment of terror in the thunderstorm, he made several mistakes. Mistake one: Calling for supernatural help from anyone other than the God we know in Jesus Christ. Mistake two: Making a deal in the hopes of placating what Luther thought was an angry God. God doesn’t make deals.

But Luther became part of a long tradition of people who have done the right things for the wrong reasons.

In the Old Testament book of Genesis, for example, we find the true story of a young dreamer named Joseph. His father, Jacob, doted on the boy while virtually ignoring his ten other sons. Resentful, Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery and then took the coat their father had given to him and spattered it with blood. They showed it to Jacob. He concluded that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

The brothers had done the wrong thing. But it turned out that, unbeknownst to them, they played into God's plans for Joseph. Joseph was set down a difficult road that ultimately led him to become, in effect, the prime minister of Egypt, second in command after the Pharaoh. In that position, Joseph oversaw the storing of crops during seven bumper years in anticipation of seven years of famine, a famine that affected the entire Middle East.

Ultimately, Joseph was able to use the stored crops to save the lives of his very own family members and many others. Later, he was able to tell his brothers that when they sold him into slavery, "You meant it for evil. But God meant it for good so that many might be saved." Joseph's brothers had somehow done the right thing for the wrong reasons.

In the New Testament book of Matthew, we find the story of people who came to see the Christ Child. We call them "wise men." But they were really little more than astologers, people who made horoscopes and superstitiously believed that stars foretold occurrences on this planet. It's the sort of the practice that the Bible condemns completely. We're to depend on God and on nothing and nobody else. Yet, these wise men who followed the stars for the wrong reasons, at the end of their journey, came to the right conclusion: This baby was the Savior of the world.

Martin Luther’s entry into the monastery for the wrong reason turned out to be very right, indeed! I don’t think that his father ever forgave the young Luther for taking the vows of a monk and "abandoning" his family. When, several years later, Luther also was ordained a priest, his father, Hans, expressed the belief that Martin’s call might not have come from God, but from the devil.

Martin Luther, in fact, was a deeply disturbed young man, probably neurotic. He felt himself utterly and completely guilty of sin. He couldn’t imagine that a morally perfect God could or would forgive him. At times, Luther hated God. He believed that God was playing a vicious game with the human race: Demanding moral perfection and when none of our race were unable to attain it, gleefully sending us to hell.

Noting how disturbed Luther was, believing that a fully occupied life would crowd out his worries and fears, and recognizing how intelligent Luther was, his superiors decided that he would study to become a doctor of theology. He would teach at a new university being started in the Saxon town of Wittenberg.

At first, a new regimen of work, which included administering fourteen monasteries, pastoring a local church, and teaching at the new university, did nothing to assuage Luther’s loathing of God and of himself.

But then, something happened to change Luther’s life and world history. (And, over time, through the Reformation Luther began, my history.) Like most seminarians and priests of his day, Luther had never studied Scripture. He did so now, as he prepared for the classes he was teaching.

In the Bible, Luther found a God different from the one often preached in the Church of his day. He saw a God of grace and love Who reaches out to His children, Who charitably understands their fallen humanity, Who forgives and empowers right living, and promises eternity to all with faith in Him. He saw a God Who hates sin while loving sinners, Who calls all to repent for their sin and believe in His Son, Jesus.

He began to see this picture of God as he studied the book of Genesis in preparation for lectures to his students at Wittenberg. He met this God again in the Psalms. And, perhaps most clearly of all, Luther saw this God in the majestic New Testament book of Romans.

A key passage for him was Romans 1:16-17:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
With his deepening knowledge of the Scriptures and the original Hebrew and Greek in which the Old and New Testaments, respectively, had been written, Luther’s understanding of God blossomed.

Up until this point in his life, Luther, like most of the people of his time, labored under the mistaken notion that righteousness was a state of moral perfection, a status God commanded of us, although none of us could ever attain it.

Now, Luther saw that righteousness is having a right relationship with God and that it can’t be secured by anything we do. He saw that while God does demand moral purity from us and that our sin earns us everlasting condemnation, God Himself took on flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ so that He could die in our place on the cross and all with faith in Jesus won't be condemned. Instead, God gives all with faith in Jesus forgiveness and everlasting life. That's what Romans means when it talks about salvation and salvation as God's gift to believers in Christ. Period.

Realizing all of this now, Luther, who studied in the tower of the monastery at Wittenberg had what was later called his “tower experience.” While studying God’s Word, Luther had an overpowering sense of the depths of God’s love for all of us--including himself. Coming to know that rigteousness is God’s gift which we can access when we turn from sin and entrust our lives to Christ, Luther said, was like having the gates of heaven thrown open to him! The faithful person would try to respond to the love of God given through Jesus Christ, of course. But, Luther knew, we can’t earn God’s love. It’s a gift called grace.

The once-neurotically ashamed Martin Luther became a joyful champion of the new life that God gives to all with faith in Christ. As he grew in the confidence he had in Christ and in God’s love for him, Luther grew bolder in sharing what he had learned about God from the Bible.

On October 31, 1517, he posted 95 theses--or propositions--for debate on the church door in Wittenberg. In those days, a scholar who wished to engage in discussion about important issues posted points on the doors of churches. Church doors were the Power Points, bulletin boards, or blogs of that time.

Luther’s theses were prompted by a common practice in the Roman Catholic Church of his day. The Church then taught that there was a place called “purgatory,” a sort of holding room that the dead supposedly went to between death and eternity. Purgatory was supposed to be a place where people were purified for entry into heaven. To raise money, the Church often authorized the mass sale of pieces of paper known as indulgences. These indulgences allowed people to buy hundreds or thousands of years out of purgatory for loved ones or even themselves.

Luther, certain that eternity was a free gift, was deeply offended by this practice. He would later say that if there were such a place as purgatory and the Pope, as head of the Church, had the capacity to free people from the place, he should do so out of simple Christian compassion and not accept a penny for doing so.

When Luther’s preaching against indulgences began to impact the bottom line on their sale, the Church went after him. At a gathering in the German city of Wurms, before the emperor, Luther was ordered to recant, or repudiate, all of his writings. He refused.

Ultimately, he came under what was known as an “imperial ban.” That meant that both the Church and the powerful Holy Roman Empire, a confederation of principalities and nations, agreed that if any one saw Martin Luther, he was to be killed on sight. Luther was labeled a heretic, a perverter of the Christian faith.

For the balance of his life, Martin Luther remained steadfast in proclaiming the God we see in Jesus Christ, the God of grace and God of glory. Among Luther’s last words were, “We are all beggars,” an acknowledgement that none of us is better or more important than others in God's eyes and that all with faith in Christ are the recipients of God’s charitable gifts: forgiveness and new life. We cannot earn them, but thank God, He loves to give them to those humble enough to surrender to Christ! Luther died in 1546.

We celebrate October 31 each year as Reformation Day because on All Saints Eve, Hallowed Evening or, as we call it, Halloween, in 1517, Luther’s 95 Theses began a major reformation of the Church. That reform movement goes on to this day. We celebrate the Sunday closest to October 31 each year as Reformation Sunday.

Martin Luther learned and then taught from God’s Word that our relationship with God and our freedom from sin and death don’t come from our works or from doing proscribed acts of ritual, religious or otherwise. These things come to us freely from a God Who, in Christ, shows us that He isn’t our enemy, but our very best friend.

Sometimes Mainstream Media Doesn't Bother with Facts

I'm not a mainstream media basher. By and large, I have great respect for the media. But I do have a pet peeve with some in the media, particularly columnists, who, enamored of a story, fail to get all the facts. Take a trivial, but evocative example appearing in newspapers all across the country today.

In Newsday, Verna Gay has a column about Soupy Sales, the comedian who passed away yesterday. (I'm not linking because Newsday is moving to paid subscriber access and a link would be pointless for most readers.) For people of my generation, Sales was a kind of comedic dadaist whose antics both hearkened back to Vaudeville and Seltzer and foreshadowed the stand-up hilarity of Steve Martin. Gay's fond remembrance of Soupy was well-deserved.

But, for the column's topper, Gay tells an apocryphal story as though it were factual. Gay wants you to know how influential Sales was, even on those revolted by his work. The story goes that a young Fred Rogers, freshly minted from seminary, was at his parents' home. They had a TV set and the young Rogers had never seen TV before. According to Gay's story, Rogers saw Soupy Sales' pie-flinging antics and, horrified by the unkindness of it all, decided right then and there to go into television.

Nice story, right? It puts the mousy, religious, naive Rogers in his place while elevating Soupy as a proponent of chaotic comedy.

The problem is that it can't be true. Or, at most, it can only be partially true.

Fred Rogers already was involved with and appearing on television before he went to seminary. In fact, while presiding over his own show at WQED in Pittsburgh, he spent eight years pursuing his Master of Divinity degree on a part-time bases. (Depending on the seminary, it usually takes a minimum of three years to get a your M.Div. That's if a person is a full-time student.)

Despite the implication of Gay's article, Rogers was also already married and had two sons, in addition to being a TV personality, when he graduated from seminary. When he did, in light of his already-established career, Rogers was called and ordained by his fellow Presbyterians into a pastoral ministry of creating television programming for children.

So, Gay's story told as if it were absolutely true, isn't.

It's a minor point. But it's the kind of thing that makes a mainstream news consumer wonder sometimes, whether in reading or listening to straight-up news accounts or commentaries: If a reporter botched this story about which even I know better, how many other stories get botched about which I don't and can't know better?

Facts are important. Even the little ones that are missed undermine media credibility.

No matter what your politics've got to love this.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Moment of Surrender

Bono: "A great gift from God, this song."

By the way, when does Bono get his Nobel Peace Prize?


I never cared for Halloween while growing up. The costumes were OK--I usually was a hobo. (One year, I went in drag to the school Halloween party, leading to somewhat embarrassing results. I talked about it in a sermon here.)

But my taste in candy, the collection of which is a real object of the holiday, was limited. I liked Hershey bars, candy Kisses, Milky Way bars, and Tootsie Rolls. That was pretty much it. (Today, Milky Ways are too rich for me and it's probably been ten years since I ate one. I picked up a Tootsie Roll offered to customers at the tellers' windows of our local bank a few weeks ago and was glad when I finally got the thing chewed and digested...probably my last Tootsie Roll. I doubt of the thing is fully digested yet.)

If baked goods--cookies, cakes, breads, snack cakes, and pies--were what people had given away on Beggars' Nights when I was growing up, I would have been a lot happier. I can also guarantee that, as a result, in adult years, I would have become the subject of a reality TV series, Rescue of the Morbidly Obese Twinkie Inhaler. (It may have become a Halloween classic.)

The other reason I never cared for Halloween is the holiday's emphasis on ghosts, ghouls, witches, graveyards, and monsters. That stuff creeped me out. I remember that I was the only member of my Cub Scout den who didn't watch Chiiler Theater on Columbus' Channel 10 every Friday night. "Hey, stay overnight at my place. We're all going to watch Chiller," one of the guys would say. "That's OK," I'd answer and come up with some excuse about a prior commitment I had from 11:30pm on Friday through 1:00am on Saturday...when I was ten years old. (I'm pretty sure that the other guys knew I didn't have prior commitments.)

I did stay up to watch Chiller one night. WBNS presented a double bill, each film considered, by some, to be great movies: Frankenstein and The Mummy. I already considered myself a sort of film aficionado (I doubt that I knew that term, which I'm sure I heard used for the first time years later by a sports radio host), so I had to see these classics.

But I arranged to watch them lying between my parents in their bedroom. It didn't matter if they fell asleep while Boris Karloff improbably chased down people able to run while he ambled, slowly dragging one foot behind him, in The Mummy. I knew that as long as my parents were with me, I wouldn't get done in like the little girl with the flowers in Frankenstein.

So, between the emphases on being frightened out of one's mind and the bags of candy I never ate, Halloween has, for me, always been something more to be endured than enjoyed.

Now, comes yet another reason for indifference to Halloween: Its hypersexualization. Young women, who should be confident in themselves, instead put on shows for young men, betraying a need to be validated by men, rather than believing in their own intrinsic value. "Girls like to get attention from guys, and guys will gladly give it to them," says one female, a junior at Ohio State, in an article on "sexing up Halloween" that appears in today's Columbus Dispatch.

In willingly putting on a sex show, these young women both devalue sex and elevate it to a place far outweighing its importance. That shouldn't surprise, I guess. It fits right in with a generally sex-obsessed culture.

Back in the 1970s, when I myself was a student at Ohio State, I entertained the notion that the fledgling women's movement, with which I was sympathetic, would finally drive a stake in the heart of the objectification of women. I thought that women would be seen as equal and serious human beings, not as sex toys or masseuses for the male ego.

But the opposite has proven to be the case. Today, we find younger children dressing in sexually suggestive ways and, consistent with patterns historian Christopher Lasch first identified in the late-1970s, we see people extending their adolscent hormonal obsessions deep into adulthood.

Don't get me wrong. Unlike candy or monster movies, I like sex. Also unlike those aspects of Halloween that have perennially bored or frightened me, sexual intimacy is, I believe, the invention of God. And when the gift of sex is used as intended by God, it can be as God implicitly describes it in Genesis, "very good."

As I read the Scriptures, which I believe are the inspired Word of God for humanity, I see three functions for sexual intimacy:
  • a sign and seal of the commitment of husband and wife to one another
  • an opportunity for a husband and wife to bring pleasure to one another
  • and, sometimes, a means by which a family may be created
Sex was never meant to be a thing in itself, but a wonderful subordinate reality. Not an object, a gift along the way of married life.

But, with our human penchant for misplaced priorities, we've allowed sex to become more like a god than a gift from God. We have both cheapened it and, in many ways, from porn to slinky Halloween costumes, monetized it.

It bores me and it saddens me. It even frightens me.

[UPDATE: Over at The Moderate Voice where I linked to both the Columbus Dispatch article mentioned here and this post, a commenter apparently thought I wanted to limit or eliminate people's freedom to wear sexy Halloween costumes. That person wrote:
Halloween isn't just for kids anymore. If adults (male and female) want to dress up sexy to attract the opposite sex, isn't it their right to do so? Doesn't bother me too much, since I'm neither a social conservative nor a prude. Not surprising that some Americans will be in an uproar, the Victorian roots of this nation makes it inevitable. I for one approve of the more sexually [sic] openness of Europe.
I responded:
No one is arguing about people's rights. At least I'm not. Of course, people have the freedom to choose to wear whatever they wish.

I just find it interesting how we sexualize so many things and then monetize sexuality.

Our absorption with things sexual seems disproportionately obsessive to me.
To observe trends is not the same as advocating a curtailment of people's freedoms.

By the way, I find a lot of the efforts to break the Victorian envelope sort of boring, tedious, and redundant. The envelope got broken a long time ago. Few things are really shocking, taboo, or countercultural any more. A lot of people who think they're being daring are really only repeating the supposedly daring acts that have been done continuously in recent decades. That's why I think the sexualization of Halloween--like the sexualization of almost everything else in the culture--is "boo-ring," a yawner.]

Ethiopia Requests Food Aid as OxFam Unveils Long-Term Famine Prevention Program

Here. The human race, generally, tends not to want to act in its long-term best interests, reacting to emergencies rather than proactively avoiding or planning for them. So, it's anybody's guess as to whether OxFam will be heeded. But the fact is that drought need not lead to famine, as tragically, it so often has in Ethiopia and elsewhere.

A new book...

...about one of the greatest sporting events ever. If any single athletic contest deserves a book, it's this one.



"It's not proof...

"...but it's compelling evidence of something very interesting." Charlie Lehardy hits another home run. He remains one of my favorite bloggers.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"...sometimes we're in a mess because the Lord really is with us"

Sage advice from United Methodist bishop William Willimon to his flock in northern Alabama. But it's good for all to know: Being a Christian doesn't exempt us from the messiness of life. Christ never claimed that it would. Sometimes faithfulness is a sure predictor of trouble. In fact, Jesus does promise that faith in Him will bring us trouble in this world. But He also promises to be with us always...and to give us life with God forever.

That last promise can give us a different slant on the things we may go through in this life. Not fatalism, but faith, confidence that God is with us even when we're taking it in the neck because we believe and seek to be faithful to Christ. "I consider that the sufferings of this present time," the first century preacher Paul, a guy who knew something about taking it in the neck for his faith in Christ, "are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18)

If you're looking for a trouble-free life, devoid of conflict, inconvenient truths, and occasional rejection, don't set out to follow Christ. Jesus isn't, as someone has said, "Mister Rogers in a bath robe."

Dare to follow Jesus and your world is apt to be turned inside out. But if you stick with following Jesus, you learn that all the pain associated with being so turned is worth it because in being turned toward Christ, you're also turned toward the only One capable of giving you life and hope.

By the way, here's the passage to which Willimon refers.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Called to Be a Priest...Yeah, You!

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

Hebrews 5:1-10
One of my favorite passages in Scripture, on which Martin Luther used prominently in the development of our Lutheran tradition's "priesthood of all believers," is First Peter 2:9-10. It says of we believers in Christ: “ are...a royal order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Beautiful language, but what exactly does it mean for you and me to be part of “a royal priesthood”?

Before his retirement, William Harkey worked in marketing by day. But his real job, as is true of all believers in Jesus Christ, was to be a priest. In a wonderful book called How to Share Good News Without Being Obnoxious About It, Harkey tells about a time when he was living in the Chicago suburbs.

Two doors away was a neighbor who, he said, “was icy. I was friendly. A curt ‘Hi’ was all I could ever get out of him. One day, I noticed him in his backyard, practicing his golf swing. It was almost professional. It was beautiful.”

Harkey says that he himself had always been a terrible golfer. Here was a chance to connect with his neighbor! He strolled toward his fence and asked if the neighbor could give him a few tips on his swing.

“In a matter of minutes,” Harkey says, “he was coaching me like a club pro. Within weeks, we were teeing off together. Around Christmas time [they had become such good friends]…” Harkey says, they were talking about faith issues and his belief in Christ.

Bill Harkey was acting as a priest. He genuinely, authentically befriended someone and that friendship led he and his friend to genuinely, authentically share their ideas of and experiences with God together. Harkey was even able to talk with his friend about Christ.

Are you living out your call to be a priest in your everyday life?

Our second lesson for today, from Hebrews, which points us to Jesus as our great high priest, reminds us of what makes a priest a priest.

A priest, first of all has a purpose. Our Bible lesson says that, “Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.”

Back in Old Testament times, priests at the temple in Jerusalem offered sacrifices for the people’s sins. They recognized, as Paul would put it in the New Testament, that "the wages of sin is death." Knowing that sin deserves death, the priests would offer stand-ins--sheep for those who could afford them, doves or even cereal offerings for those who were poorer. These stand-ins took the punishment for the sins of people who wanted to renounce their sins and turn back to God.

These days, as I mentioned last Sunday, we don’t need such sacrifices. Jesus was our stand-in when He died on the cross. All who turn from sin and believe in Jesus Christ have forgiveness of sin, God’s presence and power in their lives today, and life forever with God.

Our priesthood involves representing God to others and representing others to God. That’s why we’re involved in so many of the ministries of service and love here at Saint Matthew.

Being priests may also entail taking the time to befriend and value crabby neighbors, allowing them, through us, to experience the friendship and love of God. We do all this because we’re priests with a purpose. Our purpose is to connect God and people in the Name of Jesus.

A second thing that makes a priest a priest is sympathy. A priest, our lesson tells us, “is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness.”

That phrase, deal gently, translates a single word from the New Testament Greek, metriopatheo. It has the idea of laying aside our own emotions in order to feel what other people feel, to put ourselves in the other person's shoes. This is what Jesus does for us. It's what He calls us to do for others. And Hebrews mentions two groups of people with whom we are especially to make the effort to deal gently: the ignorant, those are folks who wander haplessly into sin, and the wayward, those who sin despite knowing better.

Of course, as Christians we can’t mince words about what God calls righteousness and what God calls sin. Jesus tells us that we have a sacred obligation to exercise what’s called “the office of the keys,” conferring God’s forgiveness on the repentant, withholding if from those who don’t repent. “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus says, “and God in heaven will allow whatever you allow on earth. But he will not allow anything that you don't allow.”*

Priests know though, as Paul writes in the New Testament, that it’s the kindness of God that leads to repentance. We follow a Savior of Whom this same book of Hebrews says, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus went to a cross for us because of His sympathy for us. We’re to display that same sympathy for others.

Pastor Gerald Mann says that sometimes the mission of the Church is to clean up the rotten reputation given to God by Christians. I don't know why it is that Christians so readily fall into self-righteousness, looking down their noses on others. But it's wrong. One of the few bumper stickers I would ever consider putting on my car is the one that says, "Christians Aren't Perfect; Just Forgiven."

Christ endured the cross so that He could sit at the right hand of the Father and when our prayer requests come to heaven, He can turn to Him and say, "It's okay, Father. She's with Me. He's one of My own." Christ, our high priest, shows us sympathy.

I had totally bungled things. A member of another pastor’s congregation, a person I’d experienced as credible and levelheaded, had spoken to me with complaints about the pastor. He said that his opinions were also those of others. I was just out of seminary and didn’t have any sense. (As opposed to my status today: twenty-five years out of seminary and still no sense.) I went to the pastor to tell him what this person had said, not divulging the person’s name.

Without intending it, I conveyed the idea that there was widespread disaffection among the people of that church. Yes, I was trying to be helpful. But I think that I was also feeding my ego, playing the role of Superman.

Within hours, the pastor had composed a letter asking the congregation to tell him, since there was widespread unhappiness with his ministry, if it were time for him to go. I was shocked! When he read this letter to me over the phone, I put down the receiver and ran to his office.

I asked him, “Would it help you to know who was saying all of these things about you?” He said that it would and when he learned the person’s identity, he laughed and said, “He was born with a lemon in his mouth and a list of grievances as long as your arm.” He tore up the letter.

Then, he and I went to talk with his wife. You see, he had called her immediately after speaking with me and she was furious with me, sure that I was part of some cabal to run her husband out of the ministry. I apologized profusely (and genuinely) for the heartbreak I’d caused them both.

You might rightly have expected them to keep me at arm’s length forevermore. But they completely forgave me. They remain good friends. They have sympathetic spirits. They know all about what it’s like to be human and so they don’t hold grudges. Their demenor reflects Jesus, our great high priest, who knows exactly what it’s like to be human and is willing to be the advocate and Savior for all who turn from sin and turn to Him.

A third thing that makes a priest a priest is call. Our lesson tells us that a priest “does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God” and points out, “Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’”

In gratitude to our Lord, you and I are called to use our lives to glorify God. People who dedicate themselves to this call lead useful lives, lives that point others to God for help and hope, lives through which God gives help and hope to people. That’s why the leadership provided by our servanthood team this year has been so important. They’ve held up the central importance of our call to be priests of Jesus Christ!

At our last Church Council meeting, we set a new date for our congregational Friend Day. It’s a time when you and I will bring the non-churchgoing neighbors and friends we’ve invited to be with us to worship God and hear the Good News that we all can be made new when we turn from sin and trust in Jesus Christ.

Friend Day will be on May 2
. It’s not too early to begin praying about who you will invite to be with us on that day.

And it’s never too early to claim your role in Christ’s priesthood of all believers. We can claim that role because, in Christ, we have a purpose, because we have sympathy for other sinners who need the forgiveness and grace of Christ as much as we do, and because we have a call from God. Amen

*This rendering of the passage is from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).

No Retirement from Discipleship