Should Worship Challenge You?

Luther Pic

This week, the clashing symbols at our worship services couldn’t go unnoticed.

We celebrated Reformation Sunday, as Lutherans, and the great hymns of Martin Luther were vibrating in the air. But, in the midst of the celebration, there was also a flickering candle in front of our altar that had been lit in memory of the eleven innocent people who were senselessly killed in the massacre at the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill exactly one year earlier.

We celebrated the life, ministry and teachings of Martin Luther – a man who boldly and with great courage nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. And yet, we remembered that Martin Luther vehemently attacked the Jews with words like these: “We are at fault in not slaying them. Rather, we allow them to live freely in our midst despite all their murdering, cursing, blaspheming, lying and defaming; we protect and shield their synagogues, houses, life, and property. In this way we make them lazy and secure and encourage them to fleece us boldly of our money and goods, as well as to mock and deride us, with a view to overcome us, killing us all for such a great sin, and robbing us of all our property as they daily pray and hope.”

We remembered that modern-day Lutherans have openly denounced these horrible words of Martin Luther. But, we also remembered that Adolph Hitler used the words of Martin Luther to convince the German people that Germans have always felt that the Jews should be “removed from society with no less mercy than a doctor cuts a cancerous tumor from someone’s body” – ultimately firing suspicions and fears that led to the Jewish Holocaust.

Even our altar was covered with red paraments that remind us of the Holy Spirit that continues to reform the Church even today; but, paraments that also remind us of the blood of those who have been killed because of their religious convictions.

Should worship challenge you?

I guess that I would respond by saying that if you’re attending a church where you are not feeling challenged and confronted from time to time, you need to find a new church.

The Bible continues to remind us that we are sinners, and that we want to continue to believe what we believe and act in the ways that we act because there is no fear of God before our eyes (Romans 3:18). But, the words of St. Paul remind us that God is at work in our lives to transform us and to restore a sense of peace in our relationship with God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Set free by the love of Jesus, we can “fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12) and find peace with God (and with each other) in a world that God created with wonderful diversity.  Set free by the love of Jesus, we can join hands with others and be “good moral neighbors” in a world where hatred, racial and religious supremacy, and oppression need to be confronted by the Word of God and by the Church that’s called to proclaim that Word.

Abraham Lincoln once said, as he gazed across a muddy field that had been transformed into a cemetery after the battle at Gettysburg: “It is for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”

If the death of those who were slain in the massacre at the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill has called us to reflect upon the ways that we think about others and about new ways that we can work together to make our world a better place, those who were senselessly slaughtered (as they were worshipping) did not die it vain.

But, before we can begin to move in that direction, we need to allow the words of pastors and those who teach in the Church to challenge us and to even confront the ways that we think and behave. And, as long as that continues to happen, we will be challenged during worship services and we will continue to be called to be a part of the solution – not a part of the problem.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

 

The Tree of Life Massacre – One Year Later

Yard Sign

It’s hard to believe that it’s been one year since the unconscionable slaughter of eleven innocent worshipers at the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill (a part of the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). I’m reminded of my first feeble attempt to “do something” and to “take a stand” after a senseless tragedy that left me both numb and speechless each time I see the sign in the front yard of my home.

We have been challenged to think and to reflect in the last year. Many of us have grown and have been changed as we took a more honest look at ourselves in the mirror and as we’ve wrestled with what we believe about other people. Faith leaders in the Pittsburgh area have traveled for many miles – coming from churches, mosques, synagogues and temples – to join in both open and honest conversations that have helped us to better understand each other and the faith traditions that we represent. God has been at work in our communities to challenge us, to soften our hearts, to open our ears and hearts to the voices of others, and to stretch both our patterns of thinking and faith.

The last year has, also, been a time when leaders and members of spiritual communities in Southwestern Pennsylvania have worked hand-in-hand to create a Statement that we, as leaders of different faith traditions, believe expresses the principles and beliefs that we can embrace together. I am providing a copy of this newly released Statement to you, and am hoping that you will take some time to read it, to reflect upon it and even to pray about it. We, as faith leaders in Southwestern Pennsylvania, believe that our faith traditions challenge us: to recognize the dignity and worth of those around us; to speak boldly and clearly against racial supremacy, demonization of those from other cultures and religions, and the violent acts that grow from those bitter roots; to stand in solidarity with minority and marginalized communities; and to repent from our own complicity in words and deeds that have expressed individual and systemic bigotry, racial and religious supremacy, and oppression.

We have committed ourselves to building more loving communities and neighborhoods that uplift the oneness of humanity and the worth of every individual, and that bind us to one another as moral neighbors in both trying and peaceful times even as we continue to both recognize and accept the fact that we believe many different things about both God and our world because of our different faith traditions.

I am now presenting this Statement to you hoping that you will take some time to read it, to ponder it, to pray about it, and to allow it to both challenge you and lead you toward the new kind of life that God calls us to embrace in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Living Faithfully with One Another

As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to interpret and draw guidance from sacred texts and traditions.

The sacred texts of the world religions all affirm the created dignity and worth of each individual and our sacred responsibility toward those in need. As we interpret our own sacred traditions in preaching, teaching, meditation or prayer, we will lift up these values.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak and act in support of the dignity and worth of each person.

With sacred texts and traditions as our guides, we reject the theories and rhetoric of racial supremacy, the demonization of those of other cultures and religions, and the violent acts which grow from these bitter roots. We embrace the right of all people to worship (or not to worship) according to the dictates of their own consciences, and we expect the government to respect this freedom.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak and act in solidarity with those in need.

We turn with compassion toward those in our midst who have the greatest cause for fear and insecurity. We stand in solidarity with all marginalized and minority communities, especially those who have been targets of injustice, discrimination, prejudice, and hate. When any of us are attacked in word or deed, we promise our support, help, and protection.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak truth to those in positions of power.

Our voices must be spoken and heard in public discourse. We seek to bring the perspectives of sacred traditions to bear in our shared public life. We call upon and remind elected, appointed, and professional leaders throughout our community to uphold and enforce the values of justice, fairness, nondiscrimination, and dignity.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to high standards of self-reflection.

We call upon ourselves, our faith communities, and our institutions to acknowledge and repent for complicity in words and deeds that express individual or systemic bigotry, racial or religious supremacy, and oppression. We are committed to growing in wisdom and inclusivity as we learn from one another.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to live abundantly, joyously and harmoniously with one another.

We will work resolutely to strengthen the ties that bind us to one another as moral neighbors in both trying and peaceful times. When and where we disagree in our understandings, we commit to acknowledge, listen to, and value the perspectives of others even as we respectfully present our differing opinions.

We covenant to create, expand and nurture a community of mutual support throughout Southwest Pennsylvania. Seeking Divine help and guidance, we commit to building the beloved community, a neighborhood of neighborhoods that lovingly uplifts the oneness of humanity and the worth of every individual.

October 3, 2019
Pittsburgh, PA

When Your Prayers Seem to be Unheard

Provision

We’ve all asked God to intervene in our lives, haven’t we?

Some people ask for God’s help when they’re looking for a new job. Other people have asked God to help them win the lottery. I’m sure that we’ve all had times in our lives when we’ve asked God for the gift of healing – either for ourselves, or for someone that we love. A woman told me that she once asked God to provide a parking place for her at a local shopping mall, so that she didn’t have to walk through the snow when she went there to finish her Christmas shopping.

Jesus once told a story about a widow who had been treated unfairly. She asked a judge to help her, but he didn’t. And so, she started going to the Courthouse to plead her case every time the judge came to work and every time he left the building at the end of the day. But, the widow didn’t stop there! She started following the judge home and beat on his door in the middle of the night. And the same thing happened night after night after night, until the judge (who really didn’t care about God or even about people) caved-in and granted her the justice that she sought.

Have you ever felt like you were beating on the doors of Heaven, but that God wasn’t listening to you?

Maybe you didn’t get the job that you asked God to provide? Maybe you didn’t win the lottery and couldn’t pay your mortgage? I remember a time in my life when I prayed and prayed and prayed for young man who had brain cancer – and he died. What if God does not provide a parking place for you at the shopping mall during the busy Holiday Season and you have to walk through the snow – just like everyone else?

Many of us think that prayer is about asking God to give us the things that we want; and, when we don’t get what we want, we get mad at God. “Where was God?” we sometimes say when bad things happen. “If I’ve prayed every day for a young man who had cancer and he died,” we might ask, “then what’s the use in praying at all?”

As I’ve journeyed through life and as I have matured as a Christian, I’ve come to see that prayer is about far more than asking God to give me something and, then, expecting it to miraculously happen. God builds our faith as we pray; and, sometimes, God gives us the strength we need to face things in life that we can’t change. God helps us to see things in different ways when we pray and God promises to journey with us even when things are going dreadfully wrong.

St. Paul once wrote (Romans 8:35-37): “What shall separate us from the love of God?” “Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” And St. Paul answers that question by writing: “No! In all these things we are far more than conquerors!”

That’s living faith!

Faith is not about learning how to make our God jump through hoops. Faith is not about “doing something” to catch God’s attention; and, then, expecting God to bless you beyond your wildest dreams – even though that’s what the Prosperity Gospel proclaims.

God promises to journey with us through thick and thin. God promises to bless us with the gift of faith when we need it the most. God promises us that we will never be left all alone, and that God will never let go of our hand in the midst of a raging storm.

That’s the God that I meet and that I spend time with every day when I pray.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

The Cost of Discipleship

blog pic

I am a person who likes to know how much things cost.

I look for the sign at the gas station because I want to know how much gasoline is going to cost me and if I can get it cheaper somewhere else. I sometimes order from the right side of the menu in a restaurant because the cost of a meal can determine what I’m going to eat. I seek an estimate before I hire someone to do a job and I want to know how much a hotel is going to charge me to stay overnight before I book a room.

I am a person who likes to know how much things cost.

But how much things are going to cost isn’t always easy to figure-out. How can you figure-out how much it’s going to cost to be a parent? How can you begin to estimate the cost of being a son or daughter when you become responsible for a parent’s care? I have to admit that I had no idea of what it would cost both me and my family when I invited a Bishop to place his hands upon my head and ordain me.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous pastor who was martyred by the Nazis during World War II, once wrote: “When Christ calls a person to come and follow Him, Jesus calls that person to come and die.” Jesus once said that people who want to be His disciples must learn to deny themselves and to take-up the Cross and follow Him. (Luke 14:27)

Jesus continues to call us to set aside some time to pray each day and to read our Bible in a world where some Christians believe it’s alright to say things like: “I hear what you are saying, but I’m just not that type of Christian.” Jesus continues to call us to come together in worship in a country (the United States) where only about 15% of the people who say that they’re following Jesus set aside time to worship and pray each week. Jesus calls us to join hands with those who are feeding the homeless, to stand beside women and men who are survivors of abuse and sexual assault, and to provide safe places where people who are fighting their addiction to drugs or alcohol can find people to support them. And Jesus still calls His disciples to stand in solidarity with those who are very easily pushed-aside by those in positions of power and by those who are not afraid to use their power to benefit themselves, their friends, and their heirs.

But, as we pay the cost of discipleship, Jesus also blesses us.

How can you ever describe the feeling of warmth that fills your heart when a young man who lives almost 1,000 miles away asks you to help him put into words what he believes about God as he prepares for his Confirmation? How can I ever begin to describe what it feels like to watch a young man that I visited in jail (as a teenager) pull life back together and grow into a wonderful husband and father? I often look back and am truly honored by the fact that my father trusted me during a time in his life when his friends were gone and when he had even lost the ability to fully care for himself.

Yes, the cost of discipleship is going to challenge you to set some things aside in order to do other things that aren’t always going to be easy to do. But, the only other alternative is to simply soak in the luke-warm waters of life and never allow God to challenge you.

May God bless you as you continue to walk your journey of faith and as you figure-out what Christ’s call to discipleship means to you. Discipleship calls us to do thing that we never imagined we’d ever do. It challenges us to reach beyond the places in life where we feel “safe” and to engage with people that we’re tempted to just ignore. We’re going to laugh, we’re going to cry, we will see life from the top of the mountain, and we will most certainly have times when we’re weary to the bone.

And that’s what happens when we find ourselves following Jesus and living-into God’s plan for our lives. So, don’t keep calm! Go change the world!

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Click here to learn more about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s – “The Cost of Discipleship”

 

Food for Your Soul

Bread and wine

Many people are watching what they eat these days.

Doctors tells us that we need to eat more fruits and vegetables. I suspect that most of us know that it’s not good to eat a slab of bacon every morning, or to make potato and corn chips a regular staple in our diets. But what are you feeding your soul?

A lot of people seem to be confused about what their souls need and a lot of churches are scrambling to provide what people want in larger portions. Many churches are focusing upon the marvels of technology, and they’re filling their services with flashing lights and loud music. Most pastors know that folks in their congregation want a service that lasts about an hour each week. Many pastors try to accommodate special events by trimming other parts of the service. And sadly, in an effort to provide what they think people are searching to find, many churches eliminate – or seldom celebrate – Holy Communion.

It’s easy for us to forget that we live our lives of faith from Meal to Meal to Meal.

At the Table of the Lord, God creates a space in our lives where company presidents and the people who work for them kneel beside each other. At the Table of the Lord, God creates a little “snippet in time” when people who are homeless and people who live in a mighty mansion are offered the exact same meal in the exact same portion. And then, God sends us back into a world where hundreds of people compete with each other every time a new job is posted. God sends us back into a world where people are not at all reluctant to push other people out of the way as they climb to the next rung of the corporate ladder. God sends us back into a world where people build their identity by defining life as “us versus them” – “insiders versus outsiders” – “people who are just like me versus people who simply aren’t.”

Living a life of faith isn’t easy. Living a “Kingdom Life” that bears testimony to the fact that God has given ALL of us value and worth and that lifts-up the fact that EVERYONE deserves to be honored and cherished as a Temple of the Holy Spirit isn’t easy in a world that’s built upon competition and getting ahead of other people. And that’s why the life of the Church is built around a Meal. The Bible tells us that, from the very start, the earliest Church was built around gatherings where people shared Bread and Wine.

God forgives us and renews us and strengthens us at the Table; and then, God sends us back into the world as people of faith. And, with a new set of eyes and with a heart that has been filled by the power of the Holy Spirit, God sends us into the world as people of faith who have been given a little glimpse of how the Kingdom of God really works and who are called to point other people in that direction. And when we grow weary, God brings us back to the Table to be forgiven and renewed and strengthened again. Jesus calls us to live our lives of faith from Meal to Meal to Meal.

You see, the Church is built and is sustained by the Meal. Holy Communion continues to be food for our souls in a world that’s so filled with consumerism and searching for the greener grass that many people are losing touch with what their souls are searching for in a world where life’s never easy.

Jesus continues to build His Church around a Meal that’s meant to strengthen us and give us a glimpse of God’s presence in the world. Holy Communion is a little “snippet in time” when Jesus provides a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

Let’s eat!

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Standing Before God

ZZZ - Psalm Intro and Response

Throughout the months of July and August, we’ve been focusing upon God’s plan for our lives and for our world. We all know that our world is far from perfect. And yet, we live as people who look forward to that Great Day when God will wipe away the tears from our eyes and when there will be no more suffering, or pain, or sorrow, or mourning, or sickness, or hurt or pain. And, if you recall, we’ve referred to that Age of Perfection – to “What our world is yet to be” – as Olam Haba.

Well, this last message in our summer series reminds us that one of the most important things that we can do as we’re living our lives in the GAP that stands between “what our world is right now” and “what our world is yet to be” is remain deeply engaged in what’s happening in our world and continue to do the things that we believe God is calling us to do. In Christian circles, we refer to this challenge as God’s call to be engaged in mission.

In Psalm 82, we are drawn into a courtroom and that One who’s seated behind the bench speaks to us both clearly and directly:

How long will you continue to judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?”

And the command of the One who’s seated behind the bench is just as clear: “Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

Mission keeps God’s people connected to other people in life-giving ways.

Picture a group of teenagers pounding nails, mixing concrete, and painting walls in the homes of people who need their help. Picture women crocheting hats for women who are fighting cancer, and other people walking through the streets of a busy city taking meals to people who are homeless. Can you imagine the joy that fills a woman’s heart when a pharmacist hands her a bottle of medication that she couldn’t afford a few hours earlier, or when a family realizes that the water in their home is running again? Mission keeps God’s people connected to other people in life-giving ways. Mission reminds us that God calls us to bring justice to the world, to maintain the rights of the lowly, and to rescue the weak and the needy. 

We all talk about the fact that we’re living in tough times these days. And, as we come to the end of this series of messages, I want to remind you that it’s people just like you who are changing our world and who are helping it to become a better place.

And so, here’s a challenge:  This week, I’d like to challenge you to think about one way that our world could become a better place. Think about something that could help our world to become more like what you think God wants it to be like. And at some point this week, go out and DO SOMETHING that you think would help to move our world in that direction. That’s mission! And you might even discover that it’s God’s deepest calling in your life!

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Stronger Together!

something-new-graphic

I can’t think of any words that describe the last few months of our ministry at Christ’s Lutheran Church better than the words: “Stronger Together!” We’ve been devoting a lot of time to developing partnerships with other churches and organizations, and the seeds that we’ve planted have already sprouted and grown into fruit-bearing trees! God has been doing mighty things in our midst and we have some exciting stories about how God has been at work in our congregation to share with you today. So, here’s what’s been happening….

Flea Market

In June, our Social Ministry and Outreach Team sponsored yet another successful Flea Market that drew hundreds of people from our local community together. Many of our partners in ministry at Christ’s generously donated items that were sold, while other partners carefully sorted and priced the items before the “BIG DAY” arrived. We had partners who supplied baked good, other partners who cooked hot dogs and sold cold drinks. We had still other partners who worked on the day of the event collecting money from hundreds of people who arrived searching for their treasures, and yet others who packed-up what remained unsold at the end of the day. People who joined together as partners with a common cause raised more than $2,000 that will be used to support life-giving ministries throughout our community.

As the month of June drew to a close, it was time for the young people from Christ’s and their adult sponsors to travel to Lorain, Ohio for our long-anticipated Mission Trip! We spent a week digging holes, pounding nails, pouring cement, painting walls, talking with people that we’d never met, worshipping in a church building where we’d never been, reflecting upon our own journey of faith, and learning what it’s like to be more deeply engaged in mission. We learned that people don’t have to travel to a strange land to be a missionary – because Lorain, Ohio isn’t all that different than Murrysville, Pennsylvania. We learned that people who serve as missionaries often face tight budgets and don’t always have the money that they need to do the things that they want to do. We learned that when we are willing to step out of our own “comfort-zone” we can learn things about life and other people that we’d have never known it we didn’t do that. And we learned that, sometimes, there’s a difference between what people need us to do for them and what we want to do for them (I remember a conversation with one of the women we were serving who wanted the steps on her deck to be placed in a different location, so that it would be easier for her to bring her groceries into the house – and there was a little bit of angst because the “plans” that were drawn for her deck indicated that the steps were going to be built in a different location).

Mission Trip 2

Mission Trip

We had a lot of fun. We learned a lot about life. We had many opportunities to reflect upon our faith. And again, it was all made possible because of partnerships that were forged between people who joined hands. Many of our generous partners at Christ’s contributed the money that we needed, and a few of our partners worked tirelessly to bring it all together. NextStep Ministries forged connections that we couldn’t have built by ourselves in Lorain, Ohio; gathered the tools that we needed; identified the locations where we worked, secured the necessary permits, and prepared our meals. The Avon Lake Presbyterian Church provided a place where we could leave our belongings, shower at the end of the day, gather for meals and worship, and sleep (when I wasn’t blasting Podcasts in the sleeping quarters). Once again, partnerships bring explosive results and open new doors to life-changing ministry!

And then, before we even had a chance to unpack the suitcases that we had taken to Lorain, Ohio, it was time for another adventure with Vacation Bible School. Once again, an army of partners at Christ’s was raised and rallied – and kids, from our congregation and from our local community, came out of nowhere. We sang songs and played games. We talked about the wonderful world that God has created, had a blast working on crafts, and filled our bellies with snacks every day. We even had a surprise development this year! On Monday, it took me a little bit longer than I had anticipated to get to the Fellowship Hall to say the prayer before the snack. Well, on Tuesday, the kids decided that they were not going to sit around and wait for me. And so, one of the kids stood up and said, “I’ll say the prayer today!” And every day after that, one of the children stood up and volunteered to say the prayer before the snack was served. Awesome! Another display of partnership! A great team of people coming together with a common goal and purpose – making great things happen together!

VBS

Now this story’s a bit tricky (and we can’t share a picture because of confidentiality issues), but it’s a real gem! Last Spring, our Outreach and Social Ministry Team had an idea and decided that it would like to reach-out to people in our community who are presently living their lives in the role of a “caregiver.” As you know, being a caregiver is not easy and we, at Christ’s, don’t have the resources (or the expertise) that we need to be able to offer the kinds of support that caregivers both need and deserve. And so, once again, partnership became something for us to explore. Our Outreach and Social Ministry Team contacted the Westmoreland County Area Agency on Aging and discovered that the agency offers a 6-week class for caregivers called Powerful Tools for Caregivers. And Voila…! We were ready to move forward. But, then, there was another challenge. How could we work together to enable people who are caregivers to attend the classes, particularly if they are a sole caregiver who needs to stay with their loved-one nearly 24-hours each day? And we found the solution in yet another partnership with the United Way through its Open Your Heart to a Senior program. Well, I’m happy to report that these vital partnerships (another example of our ministry bringing people and organizations together) is working well. We have 12 people enrolled in the class (the maximum number of people who can be enrolled) and we have four more people on our waiting list – ready to attend our next class!

And finally, yet another exciting partnership is blossoming at Christ’s Lutheran Church! This summer, we formed a new partnership with the Northside Common Ministries – a ministry that is supplying food to people who are facing hunger and homelessness in our area. The Northside Common Ministries is devoted to taking meals to people in our area who are homeless. Meals are packaged and delivered to the distribution site; and then, they are hand-delivered to people who are homeless by people who are committed to reaching-out to children of God who are caught in a quite difficult situation. Together, we have supplied food containers and flatware. Several of our partners in ministry have joined in the distribution of meals. And a group of our partners in ministry gathered on August 10th to prepare 66 meals that were distributed to people facing homelessness later that evening. This wonderful new partnership is yet another example of the fact that we can do far more when we join hands with other people who share the same kind of hopes and dreams that we have for a better world.

Food Packers

And so, as you can see, it’s been a busy summer! It’s been a summer where we’re stretching our wings in some new ways, where we’re exploring some new types of ministry, and where we’re seeing God work through the power of partnerships that we have formed with other groups of people in our community. Please keep your eyes open as we move into the Fall and as we continue to share the stories of other things that we’re doing. There are so many different ways that you can be a part of what God’s doing at Christ’s Lutheran Church. And there’s a special place for everyone – including you!

In God We Trust

In God We Trust

Every piece of money in the United States contains the phrase: “In God We Trust.”

A pastor from Pennsylvania first suggested that we add that phrase to our coins in 1861 to ensure that God would protect Union soldiers during the Civil War. The phrase was removed in 1907 by President Roosevelt because he believed that printing the words “In God We Trust” on our money was an unhealthy mingling of God and mammon. President Eisenhower approved adding the phrase to all of our money – both coins and paper bills – because he believed that it was important to draw a sharp distinction between the faith of the American people and the godlessness of the Communists. And, by 1983, Supreme Court justices ruled that the phrase, “In God We Trust,” didn’t need to be removed from our money because, by that time, the phrase had lost all religious significance.

And yet, even in 2019, we struggle to make sense of what those words mean. Some argue that America was created to be a Christian nation, while others argue that our Founders created our nation to be a place where the government was prevented from choosing a particular religion. Christian Nationalists continue to teach that America is a Christian nation even though people like Thomas Jefferson created their own Bibles by retaining only the portions of the Bible that they believed were helpful for moral instruction, and even though people like Thomas Paine set the Bible aside in favor of personal spiritual experience.

And so, what do we do with passages like Psalm 33 that contain the words: “Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord“? How do we live, as people of faith, remembering that it is ordinary people, not God, who have drawn the lines in the dirt that separate counties, states, and even nations that exist in the world today?

The psalmist reminds us that “from where God sits enthroned, God watches over ALL the inhabitants of the earth.” The prophet Micah also reminds us that, as God watches over ALL the peoples of the earth, God sends messengers to reminds us that one of our most holy callings in life is to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)

The psalmist tells us, in Psalm 33, that the hope of a better future isn’t going to be found in trusting people who call us to build bigger armies, and who challenge us to find new ways to be bigger and stronger than people who live on the “other side” of the lines that we’ve drawn in the dirt. The psalmist tells us that the hope of a better future isn’t going to be found by silencing people who don’t think about life in the same ways that we do, and by continuing to separate ourselves into smaller and smaller pieces – until we get to the point where even all the King’s horses and all the King’s men can’t find a way to put us back together again.

Instead, the psalmist challenges us to envision God as a God who’s watching over ALL the nations of the world. The psalmist challenges us to rediscover a level of the soul that God has placed inside of us that connects us to every other living Being.

“In God We Trust” in a mighty statement.

How can we use that statement as something that binds us together as people who are called to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly in the presence of God in a world where people are using that phrase to separate us and to drive deep wedges between us?

Click Here to Listen to This Week’s Message

 

While Journeying to Paradise

ZZZ - Psalm Intro and Response

Christians talk a lot about Paradise.

We look forward to the day when the New Jerusalem will come down out of Heaven and when God will, personally, wipe the tears from our eyes. We long for the Day when there will no longer be any pain and suffering, mourning and sorrow,  or crying and grief. And we, sometimes, disagree about how that Great Day will come. Some folks invest a lot of time and money reminding people of the Day of Christ’s return. Others speak of God’s Kingdom in the world today – slowly transforming everything into what God wants it to be. And, of course, in the last few weeks, we’ve been focusing upon “Olam Haba” – “What our world is yet to be” – while keeping in mind that the words “Olam Haba” don’t appear in the Bible even though the concept has been discussed and debated by the rabbis and theologians in the Christian tradition for thousands of years.

We look forward to the Great Day when the promises of Christ will be fulfilled; but we, also, need to live in the world today. So let’s keep things practical in the same way that the writer of Psalm 15 did so many years ago.

The writer of Psalm 15 begins by reminding us that we are sojourners – travelers – who are moving from one place to another. The psalmist reminds us of the days when the people of Israel worshiped God in a tent that was located in the Wilderness. The psalmist then goes on to speak of the days when God’s people worshiped in the Temple – before it was flattened like a pancake by the Babylonians and then, again, by the Romans. But, much to our surprise, the psalmist doesn’t write about cultic practices and about how we should worship as we travel from “where we are right now” to “where God wants us to be in the future.” In fact, the rabbis even warn us against using Psalm 15 as an “Entrance Quiz” to determine “who is welcome” and “who is not welcome” as we gather in worship.

And so, how do we live as we are journey toward Paradise?

The psalmist is clear. “Do what’s right and speak truthfully from you heart.” “Tame your tongue and use words to build people up.” “Be a person whose life is clearly marked with honesty and integrity.” “Live your life with a spark of hope in your heart and honor other people by treating them fairly in a world that’s often marked by heartless attitudes.”

Have you ever though about why God put you on the earth?

How would your life and your relationships with others change if you focused upon the fact that you’ve been put on the earth to learn how to love?

The promise of “Olam Haba” continues to point toward better days. The vision of “what our world is yet to be” can ignite a spark of hope in our hearts and send us into the world as people who point other folks toward the light at the end of the tunnel in a world that’s often both challenging and cruel. And isn’t that what Christian ministry is all about? Isn’t Christian ministry about going into the world and doing God’s work with our own hands – after we’ve captured a vision of “Olam Haba” – “What our world is yet to be” – in times of prayer and worship?

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When in Doubt – Just Love People

ZZZ - Psalm Intro and Response

Last week, I had a great chance to talk with children about diversity.

I began by looking at the story of Creation and by remembering that, in the Beginning, God created our world to be a place filled with many different things. God created the sun and the moon, the birds and the fish, trees and even worms. And then, to top it all off, God made people and filled them with the Spirit that gives life. And God was happy!

But we need to remember that God didn’t only make a lot of different things. God made a lot of different things that are different than each other. There are blue birds and red birds and yellow birds – but they’re all birds, aren’t they? There are people with brown eyes and blue eyes, with long hair and short hair, with darker skin and lighter skin – and there are even people who speak different languages and who are born in countries all over the world. But, when we get back to the basics, we’re all people, aren’t we? We all want to be loved, don’t we? We all want to know that we’re going to be safe as we move around in the world. We all want to have food to eat when we’re hungry. And we all just want to be happy, in one way or another, don’t we…?

But, sometimes, we’re not happy.

Even though God was happy with the diversity that fills our world, people don’t always find it easy to be happy and celebrate the diversity that surrounds them. Kids sometimes pick their friends based upon the kind of clothes that they wear, or the type of shoes that they wear. Adults, sometimes, put up walls when they see people who are different than themselves because they’re scared and want to fee safe. The sin in our lives encourages us to divide and separate our world into more and more disconnected pieces. And when that happens, it makes God sad. It makes God so sad, in fact, that God even decided to do something about it.

God sent Jesus into the world to remind us that “it’s all about love.” The Bible tells us that, in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free. The Bible tells us that faith and the love of Jesus level the playing field and help us see that differences and diversity can be embraced and celebrated as a part of the goodness of the Creation. The Cross of Jesus brings us together! And, if we ever doubt that the words of Jesus are true, all we need to do is remember Easter. God raised Jesus from the dead on Easter to show us that Jesus is right! It really IS all about love!

And that’s the message I shared with the children at Vacation Bible School. It’s a message that reminds us that God loves us just as we are and that God, also, calls us to extend that very same love to each other. Our differences and all of the diversity that surrounds us can encourage us to divide the world into smaller and smaller pieces, and to build more and more walls to keep other people away from us. Our differences can tear our world apart and create more challenges and problems than we’re facing right now. But there’s another path. The “Jesus Path.” We can learn to embrace and celebrate diversity. We can learn again, with the help of Jesus, see other people through the eyes of God! And when we do that, we’ll be taking a big step toward helping our world to be a better place — the kind of place that God wants it to be.

So, let’s try that, this week. Let’s work together to begin transforming our world into a better place for all of us by embracing the goodness of the world as God made it! Olam Haba – “what the world is yet to be” – is closer than we’d ever imagine. And we can even get a little taste of it — when we go into the world and when we allow love to win!

CLICK HERE FOR THIS WEEK’S MESSAGE