Friday, June 26, 2015

President Obama's Eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney

What a wonderful, powerful eulogy that President Obama gave today at the funeral of Reverend Clementa Pinckney. And his observation that we are all sinners to whom God extends grace and we are left to decide how we will receive it was right on. I also loved his sometimes off-key rendition of 'Amazing Grace.' His use of Hebrews 11:13 at the beginning of the speech was wonderful.

Presidents must, in times of national tragedy, function--in a phrase I once heard Reverend Billy Graham use of Bill Clinton--as kind of national pastor. President Obama did that today, reaching out to all Americans, seeking mutual understanding and respect under the grace of God. 

You don't have to like the President's politics to appreciate the words of healing and hope he shared today.

Do you like chilis and coneys?

Don't usually do this. But about a month ago, we were visiting an antique shop in Grandview, a Columbus suburb, when I noticed a new business had opened in the corner of the same strip mall. The place sold carry-out coney sauce and chills. One of the owners noticed me looking her storefront over and popped out and with a friendly manner, handed me a brochure. I kept it in my car for a return visit.

I went back to JC's Just Chili yesterday and sampled practically all the menu. Then I bought some of their coney sauce and their gazpacho, an item they're offering for the summer months. (I love gazpacho!) It all tastes wonderful!

Most of the menu is gluten-free, important for me. And JC's has some reasonably healthy choices. No additives are used. And, did I mention that it all tastes wonderful?
J.C. and Charlane Lasmanis, the proprietors, who I met yesterday, have a great story. (Charlane is the friendly woman who handed me the brochure.) They've spent their lives following God's leading in the establishment of schools and helping other people. They were even led to Columbus from Indianapolis--where they were for a time after spending thirty-three years in Washington, D.C.--and to starting this business. They're living out a truth that God revealed to them several times as they contemplated the next venture in their lives: It's never too late.

But their amazing story aside, if you're in or visiting the Columbus area, try their great food. And if you're planning a party or a business gathering, consider treating yourself and others to chowing down on JC's Just Chili. Did I mention that it tastes wonderful?

1 Christian pastor's thoughts on the Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling

A few moments ago, I received an email from a parishioner asking me for my opinion on the announcement of the US Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage. This is how I responded:
My basic take on the question of state-sanctioned "marriage" has always been the same. The state's interests in the domestic partnerships people establish--be they heterosexual or homosexual--boil down to three, I think: (1) The control of disease (hence, blood tests being required for marriage licenses); (2) The acquisition and disposition of jointly held property; (3) The custodianship of children.  
While there is some overlap in the Church's and the state's interests in marriage, the Church is primarily interested in marriage as something instituted by God for male and female to live in union and to raise children to prepare them for adulthood and more importantly, to know the God revealed in Jesus Christ. 
Try as I have to see it differently--and I have tried, because it would certainly make my life easier if I could go along with the current trend and not buck society, I cannot call a homosexual union a "marriage."  
This is why I could never in good conscience, deliberately violate the will of God by performing a "marriage" between persons of the same sex. In God's eyes, from all the evidence I have considered through the years, such unions are not marriages.  
But having said that, I can't get too worked up over the Supreme Court's ruling. Homosexual unions are a matter of fact. "Legalizing" them will afford the state the opportunity to take care of the three interests I listed above.  
Now, if for example, the State of Ohio, were to tell clergy that we must honor marriage licenses issued to gay and lesbian couples who want us to preside over the marriages or risk losing our "authority to solemnize marriages," I would voluntarily give up that authority.  
To my mind, pastors only seek authorization from the state to solemnize marriages as an additional service to the couples over whose weddings they preside. The Church's interest (and the pastor's) is in the covenant a man and a woman make with God in the formation of their marriage and in God's blessing of that union. It is far more important that couples be married in the eyes of God than in the eyes of the State.  
If the State gave pastors such an ultimatum then, I would simply advise couples that I would preside over weddings in which they would pronounce their vows in the presence of God and of witnesses and so have a marriage recognized and acknowledged by God. I would further advise them that if they wanted their marriage to be legally recognized, they could go to the court house and take care of the State's requirements there.

Legally and constitutionally, I know of no way that one could block--or want to block--gays and lesbians from entering into State-sanctioned "marriages." This is why I'm surprised that the Court hasn't rendered a ruling similar to the one issued today earlier. Jesus' commission to we Christians is to "make disciples," which does not happen by using the coercion of the State, but through the wooing of the Holy Spirit using our witness for new life through Jesus. For Christians to want to use the coercive power of the State to force society to accept and conform to Biblical sexual morality is inconsistent with our call to win people to Christ not with the Law, but with the Gospel.  
Of course, I lament that society has gotten to the point that this day has come, that everyone in America isn't voluntarily acceding to the will and the authority of the God Who loves us all, and accepting that marriage is between a man and a woman.
But rather than fight or complain about the ruling, I prefer to keep sharing Jesus, so that His Spirit and our witness can show [the world] "a still more excellent way."  
That's what I think anyway.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Jesus or a Comfortable Life?

[This was shared during both of today's worship services with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio.]

Job 38:1-11
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
Mark 4:35-41
In today’s Gospel lesson (and really in all our Bible lessons for today as well), Jesus confronts us with a simple question: Do we want Him or do we want to be comfortable? 

Do we want the God we meet in Jesus Christ or do we want easy, trouble-free lives? 

Some of the hucksters on TV sell a brand of Christianity that tells us if we believe in Jesus and stay positive, we’ll be flush with cash, healthy, and successful. 

The problem, of course, is that Jesus never promises any of this to those who follow Him.

Jesus does promise wonderful things. 

He promises that when we repent and believe, we will be part of the Kingdom of God

He promises that when we trust in Him as the only Son of God and the only way to reconciliation to God, we will have everlasting life with God

Believers in Jesus know that we have the presence and guidance of God with us in this life

He will give weary souls rest

He will be with His people always, even to the close of the age

Christ’s people have the hope of the life for which we are made--a life which at present we can only see as through a mirror dimly, a resurrected life in which tears are dried, bodies restored, work is meaningful,* and joy is complete.

But not once does the God we know in Jesus Christ promise that following Him will make us comfortable in this world. 

Not once does He say that decisions will be easy. 

Not once does He say problems will go away. 

Not once does He say that the life of discipleship--of following Him, of sacrificing ourselves and our own comfort out of love and worship for God and out of love for neighbors--those we can see and those we can’t see--will be easy. 

In fact, Jesus says, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Our first lesson for today comes to us from the Old Testament book of Job. It’s thought to be the oldest book in the Bible, recounting events that took place long before Abraham. In it, a man who strives to follow God, who repents not only for his own sins, but also those of his children, is struck down by many of the horrors that the world and the devil can bring to human beings. 

All his property and livestock are destroyed. 

All his children are killed. 

He is stricken with a horrible disease, his body covered with open sores. 

Job had worshiped God and played by the rules. But in one fell swoop, his whole world was decimated. 

Following God had not brought Job a comfortable life. 

Through much of the book that bears his name, Job's friends try to tell their suffering friend that had he been more faithful, these bad things wouldn’t have come to him. He insists he doesn’t deserve his suffering and angrily challenges God to explain Himself. 

At the end of the book, God chastises Job’s so-called friends. Faith in God isn’t a pass to easy street and Job’s distress wasn’t caused by Job being sinful. 

But, as we can see from our first lesson, neither does God explain Job’s suffering. 

Job suffered in spite of being a follower of God because we live in a fallen world in which bad things happen even to faithful people.

In our second lesson, written in about 55 AD, the apostle Paul recounts some of the suffering he underwent not in spite of following and proclaiming the God revealed in the crucified and risen Jesus, but because he followed and proclaimed the crucified and risen Jesus. Paul said that he and his ministry team commended themselves to people in the church at Corinth precisely because they had endured calamities for the sake of their faith in the God we know through Jesus.

He writes:  “ servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” 

Believers in Jesus are called to keep following Jesus even when it’s inconvenient, painful, challenging, uncomfortable. 

When it commands sacrifice. 

When it threatens our reputations, our financial security, our lives. 

Jesus calls us to choose between life with Him and being comfortable.

He does this emphatically in our Gospel lesson, Matthew 4:35-41. 

The incident narrated here comes right after Jesus gives a series of parables describing what the Kingdom of God, the kingdom He is going to die and rise to bring into being. It all begins with a command, which Jesus disciples obey. “That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.” 

Of course, when Jesus issued His command to the disciples, they probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Most of them were experiences fishermen accustomed to plying the Galilean waters at night, as He was now commanding them to do at sundown. 

Following Jesus may often seem a simple thing, comfortable. We don’t know what storms may lay ahead

You know what happens next. Verse 37: “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’” 

We Christians ask a version of that question every time adversity strikes, every time Jesus calls us to do hard things we’d rather not do, uncomfortable things: forgive someone who has hurt us; confront a fellow believer with a hard truth; give sacrificially. “Lord,” we wonder, “don’t you care if we drown? Don’t you care if we lose our comfort? Don't you care if what you're calling me to do could result in killing my reputation, killing my investment portfolio, kill my health, kill me?”

Jesus' answer, quite frankly, is, “No.” The God Who tells us that "whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it," the God Who went to a cross to bear our sins cares more about our character than our comfort

He cares more about our learning to follow Him faithfully than He does about our ease. Our ease can come in eternity. 

For now, our call is to follow even in the darkest, most difficult times.

Verse 39: “He [Jesus] got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’” 

When storms come, we wonder how we can survive. We forget that nothing can separate those who trust in Him from the love God gives through Jesus Christ. Nothing.

A young woman, a member of our church in Cincinnati, was dying. She and her husband had two young children. She gave her testimony of faith during worship one Sunday. This was in 1999. She talked about all the things she hoped to be able to see in this world: her children grown, the new millennium. She knew that she might not see any of these earthly hopes come into being. And it saddened her. She tried to understand. Yet she also told us that she was confident that the Lord Who was leading her through her darkest valley would not only lead her to Himself, but also lead her children. She said that she knew that Christ's Church in which her children were baptized would faithfully share Christ with them, forge their characters by the power of the Holy Spirit, and help them to know the eternity of hope we have in Jesus Christ.

After Jesus had sternly spoken to the disciples, they contemplated in awe-filled fear, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him?” The answer can be found all through Scripture. But I mention just two places. 

In Psalm 104:7, the psalmist confesses of God, “ your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight…” 

Genesis 1:1 tells us that God the Holy Spirit moved over the waters of primordial chaos and brought into being peace, order, and life.

The One Who calmed the storm that so frightened the experienced fishermen sailing with Jesus that night was and is God Himself.

Storms, challenges come and go in this life. 

Jesus will sometimes ask us to do things, to endure things, to sacrifice things, which in our own power, we are incapable of doing. 

But, listen: Whenever we can’t, God can

And after the storm, the God we know in Jesus Christ still stands

And so do all who put their faith in Him

They’re the ones who were more concerned with following Jesus than with being comfortable. I pray each day that God will forge me to be one of their number.

What storms are you going through today? 

What is Jesus asking you to do that you don’t believe can be done? 

Is there a comfortable sin for which you need to repent? 

Follow Jesus and let the One Who can still our storms see you through. Amen

*Work is not a punishment for human sin, as some suppose. Human beings, created in the image of God, are meant to share in His work. But after the fall into sin and the world's subjection to futility, work was marred, along with all human enterprises, by futility. In eternity then, God's resurrected people will be restored to our full function in the new creation and once again fulfill our calling to manifest God's image in work marked by purpose, joy, and fulfillment.