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

 

Your Life and Your Money

Money Pic

Mark 10:35-45

Many people cringe when their pastor begins to talk about money.

The story of our faith tells us that, in the Beginning, God created everything that we see and that God created it all to be “good.” In his explanation of the 4th Petition in the Lord’s Prayer, Martin Luther reminds us that, when we ask God to “give us this day our daily bread,” God responds to our prayer by providing food, drink, shelter, shoes, clothing, our homes, faithful rulers, good weather, peace, good health, good neighbors, and even the gift of money. Signs of God’s faithfulness are all around us; in fact, God’s continuing love and faithfulness is what keeps us alive.
And so, a natural question emerges: “How do we respond to God’s faithfulness?”

In today’s reading (Mark 10:35-45), James and John ask an interesting question. They have been following Jesus for some time. They have seen Jesus perform miracles and heal the sick. They’ve heard Jesus talk about Heaven and they decide that they want special seats in Heaven; and so, they ask Jesus to give them those coveted places.
But Jesus surprises them.

Jesus describes being a Christ-ian as being a person who serves. Following Jesus is not about honor and prestige, and being great and visible. Following Jesus is not about power and authority and getting your own way. Christ-ians follow Jesus by living lives that are dedicated to loosing bonds and setting people free. Christ-ians untie bonds and help people move toward “wellness.” But, in a busy world, we don’t have enough hours in the day to support every good cause, do we? In a busy world filled is many obligations, we can’t set everyone free, untie all of the bonds that we want to untie, and help all of the people that we want to help move toward “wellness.” But, what we do have is a “vehicle” that we can use to do just that.
What would happen if you began to look at money as something that someone else gives to you in exchange for a part of your life that you can never get back?

That’s the truth that this week’s message, “Your Life and Your Money”, lifts-up. Our lives and our money are intimately connected. And our money is a “vehicle” that we can use to do things that we, otherwise, wouldn’t have the time or the physical ability to do.

We may not have time or the physical ability to visit the ill and the home-bound people in our community – but, through the “vehicle” of money, we can offer a part of our lives to restore people who are suffering and lonely to wellness by supporting the ministry of a person who makes those life-changing visits. We may not have the time or the physical ability to feed hungry people in our community – but, through the “vehicle” of money, we can give-up a part of our lives as Christ-ians to untie the bonds of hunger and place food on people’s tables by supporting the work of a local food bank. We may not have time or the physical ability to fight the raging battle against addictions in our communities – but, through the “vehicle” of money, we can give-up a part of our lives as Christ-ians, so that people who are battling addictions have a safe place where they can gather in supportive communities to fight their battle with the help of other people. We may not have time or the physical ability to rebuild homes after a hurricane has destroyed them – but through the “vehicle” of money we can restore hope and rebuild homes, and we can provide help to those who are traveling through one of the most difficult times in their lives.
When we give money to the Church, we offer a gift-of-life that will be used as a “vehicle” to restore people, to untie bonds, and to bring God’s people to a better place in life that’s marked with both health and wellness.

Money that’s given to the Church isn’t just used to support an institution or social club. Money that’s given to the Church isn’t just used to pay ongoing expenses, so that the doors of an aging building can remain open for another week.

The money that you give is a “vehicle” that we use to share our lives with others. Money that we give to the Church in thanksgiving is a “vehicle” we use to share time and energy and life with folks who need to be restored and who need to be brought to a better place in life in the name of Jesus.

Looking at Life Through Clean Windows

dirty window

James 3:13-4:3

Clara was a woman who was never afraid to speak her mind.

She would rock back-and-forth in her rickety, old chair carefully observing things that were happening all around her. Clara’s grandchildren sometimes arrived at her home with spots of ketchup and mustard on their shirts. Clara always noticed when her grand-kids’ shoes weren’t tied, when Johnny had a hole in the knee of his pants, when the mug of hot coffee that her daughter brought to her didn’t have enough cream in it, and when there was dust on the piano. And that’s why Johnny wasn’t surprised when she got going.

“Hey, Johnny,” Clara said, “look at those sheets hanging on Esther’s clothes line! Aren’t those the dirtiest sheets you’ve ever seen?” “Just look at those filthy things! They just look like a bunch of dirty rags!”
And Johnny sat there as his grandma went on and on and on and on….

There wasn’t anything wrong with the sheets. And, after a few minutes of listening to his grandma’s newest complaint, Johnny got a little, quirky smile on his face and said, “Hey, Grandma, when was the last time you cleaned your windows?” “You’re seeing all of those dirty spots because you’re looking at Esther’s sheets through your own dirty windows.”
We’ve probably all had times when we looked at the world and at other people through our own set of dirty windows.

We’ve all been told to stay away from certain “kinds” of people and we do it. We’ve all had time when we’ve heard rumors about other people; and, suddenly, we discovered that we could never look at them in the same way. We’ve all been hurt or disappointed by others; and, when that happens, we decide that other people are “bad” and that they will never change. We usually believe that when people do things that are wrong they will always be people who do things that are wrong. And, that’s it. Period.

In this week’s message, “Looking at Life Through Clean Windows”, we take some time to explore the ways that we look at each other. St. James leaves us dangling between a “fractured” world filled with conflicts, disputes, greed and anger – and a world that is filled with Godly gentleness that’s born of wisdom. St. James tells us to “be doers of the word and not just hearers” (James 1:22) and to live lives that point others toward the Christ that we love and serve. But, sometimes, the ways that we “see” other people can stop us from doing that. Sometimes, the spots on our own dirty windows keeps us from seeing the goodness in others and causes us to interpret things in unhelpful ways.

Martin Luther, the 16th-century Church reformer once explained the 8th Commandment using these words: “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead, we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything that they do in the best possible way.
How would our lives and our relationships change if we started to do that?

This week, try to find the good in other people. Try your hardest to interpret the things that other people do in the best possible way. Ask God to help you to clean your windows, so that you’re more able to see others in the ways that God does – knowing that when you are “Looking at Life Through Clean Windows”, you’re going to be happier – you’re going to have more friends and deeper relationships. You may even find that when you live your life seeing the goodness in others and accepting other people just as they are, other people will begin to see you and to treat you in the very same way.

God, Me, You and Them

Martin Luther

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood to be received by faith.” ~ (Romans 3:22-25)

We commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation this week.

A monk named Martin Luther had been struggling with a question that many of us have asked ourselves at some point: “How can I know that things are right between God and me; so that I can know that, when I die, I’m going to Heaven?”

Luther tried his best to make sense of how God responds to the sin. Luther struggled to understand how we can live with hope and peace in our lives knowing that, even when we’re trying to do our best to please God, we still fall short. And Luther also struggled to make sense of how Jesus fits into the picture. If Heaven is something that I earn by being a good, kind and loving person, why do I need Jesus? And on the other hand, if Heaven’s something that I earn by being a good person, how can I know that I’ve been good, kind and loving enough?

But something else was happening….

Faith was intensely personal. People were obsessed with Heaven and Hell, and their fate in the afterlife. And the Church was willing to help. In fact, the Church was telling people that they could take a big step in the right direction by purchasing indulgences – pieces of paper that indicated that a withdrawal had been made from the “Treasury of Merits” (an overflowing bank account that contained all the good deeds that had been done by the Saints in every Age). And that was the solution! But, Luther didn’t buy it (literally).

“God, Me, You and Them” is a message to encourage you to think about God’s relationship with you and with everyone else in the world. The Bible tells us that God sent Jesus into the world because sin is incredibly destructive. The Bible tells us that God sent Jesus into the world because He wants us to know that He loves us, and that His love is a love that’s always ready to welcome and embrace us. And that’s true for other people, too.

The Lutheran Reformation was about more than indulgences. And the Reformation of the Church is still about more than indulgences. It’s about the fundamental relationship between God and the world. Jesus came into the world because God loves you, and Jesus came into the world because God loves me, too. Jesus came into the world because God cares about people that you love and cherish, but He also came because God loves people that you find hard to love. Luther reminded us that God’s love is all about “God, Me, You and Them”. Luther reminded us that God’s love in Christ is extended to everyone. God’s come into the world through the life, death and resurrection of Christ because He has a better plan for us than what we’re seeing right now. God’s come into the world, in Jesus, because God loves us even when we’ve fallen short; and He’s willing to lift us up and dust us off and send us in a new direction with another chance.

“God, Me, You and Them” is about recapturing the heart of God’s message to the world in Jesus Christ. It’s about moving beyond the “God and Me” type of thinking that causes me to focus all of my attention upon my own personal salvation – while forgetting about the fact that Christ came into the world because God loves everyone.

 

 

Read Through the Bible – Weeks 15/16

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Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible”

But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the ways I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ears, but they walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.” ~ Jeremiah 7:23-24

I suspect that we’ve all had times when we’ve lived in the way that God commanded us to live, and I suspect that we’ve all had times when we drifted off course. We read and digest God’s Word, and we pray for God’s guidance and direction. We have times when we drift away from God because we don’t listen, because we walk in our counsels, and because we can even be drawn off course by our own stubbornness and rebellion. But how do we get back on course and find “peace with God” after we’ve gone astray?

Many people believe that “peace with God” is achieved by returning to obedience. We’ve been told that we’re supposed to confess our sins, repent and change course. Even God’s Word tells us: when we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins. (1 John 1:9) But if we seek “peace with God” by trying to live in the right way, how can we know when we’ve done enough? If “Judgment Day” is a day when we’re going to stand in front of a great, big scale in the sky with all of our “good deeds” placed on one side of the scale and all of our “bad deeds” placed on the other of the scale, how can we know – with 100% certainty – that the scale’s going to tip in the right direction?

St. Paul struggled with that idea as he was making sense of what it means to be baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  St. Paul made some big mistakes along the way, and he was present at the stoning of Steven. (Acts 7:54-60)  Paul was severely and continuously criticized throughout his ministry because he persecuted the early Church. (Galatians 1:13) Centuries later, the German reformer, Martin Luther, struggled with the same issue – “How can I ever be ‘good’ enough to find peace with God?” And that question is what, ultimately, led Luther to post his 95 Theses on the doors of the Castle Church.

When we’re not perfect and when we make mistakes (even when we’re trying our best to do differently), how do we find “peace with God”?

St. Paul’s answer is simple: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are made right by God’s grace as a gift through redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23)

“Peace with God” comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ. “Peace with God” isn’t found by somehow returning to obedience and by find a way to “get it right” this time. We find “peace with God” when we discover that we’re the recipients of a gift from the hands of God that comes to us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ!

And now, here are your readings for the next two weeks:

Week 15

Sunday: 1 Corinthians 13-14 – Monday: Exodus 5-8 – Tuesday: 1 Samuel 21-25 – Wednesday: Psalms 42-44 – Thursday: Job 29-30 – Friday: Jeremiah: 12-16 – Saturday: Mark 9-10

Week 16

Sunday: 1 Corinthians 15-16 – Monday: Exodus 9-12 – Tuesday: 1 Samuel 26-31 – Wednesday: Psalms 45-47 – Thursday: Job 31-32 – Friday: Jeremiah 17-21 – Saturday: Mark 11-12

Blessings!