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Showing posts from 2011

Cradle to Cross

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 Luke 1:46b-55
It is finished.
Dare we hear, in Mary’s Magnificat, echoes of Jesus’ last words in John? If we consider Holy Scripture as God’s creative word which acts on us at every encounter, our attention to reverberations across the Gospel can bring us closer in tune with the breadth of God’s plan.
In Mary’s song of praise in Luke 1 she sings not of the great things that will come to pass because of the birth of the Savior but of that which is already accomplished: God has shown strength with God’s arm; God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; God has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. Her words signal the fulfillment of God’s salvific work, affirm her obedience to God’s plan, and testify that God is in solidarity with all who suffer, just as do Jesus’ words from the cross.  
We read this, we hear it, we may even know it to be true, but do we accept it our h…

Equal justice

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“The earth is the Lord’s
and all that is in it, the world and those who dwell therein.”
“Get out of my state.”
Juxtapose Psalm 24’s first verse against the sentiments behind Alabama’s harsh new anti-immigration law, HB 56, and it’s easy to see that hate, not love, is ruling the day. 
Although a federal judge in Montgomery just blocked enforcement of the law’s provision which prevents immigrants from renewing required permits on manufactured homes – which could have forced illegals to abandon their homes starting next week -- passage of the law in June was a major victory for the Federation for American Immigration Reform; its legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute, whose legal counsel, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, authored the bill; and the Center for Immigration Studies, which provided research to support the legislation.
These entities can sugar-coat the truth in any way they like, but there is no escaping the reality that the purpose of HB 56 is to drive illegal immig…

On Temporal Authority

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The news media has been humming the last couple of days with reactions to what appears to be a historic Supreme Court case about whether a religious institution can be held accountable by civil discrimination laws for firing of an employee. 
The case of former teacher Cheryl Perich vs. Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Church and School (the school, affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, now functions under another name) turns on whether the “ministerial exemption” -- a decades-year-old doctrine that precludes courts from interfering in matters concerning a religious institution and its ministerial employees – can be applied. If a person is called to work in a ministerial function, is that person exempted from civil rights laws that we now accept as standard in all other walks of life?

The justices seemed stymied by the case for the time being and will not render a decision until the spring. But one section of the proceedings caught my eye:

“Justice Stephen Breyer explains that Perich …

True Prosperity

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 They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper.                 (Psalm 1:3)
What exquisite imagery the psalmist brings to us on behalf of those happy ones who "have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful!" 
This provides the faithful with such a simple, clear prescription for how to live. We need only ask of whatever we do, say or undertake, "Is this rooted and grounded in love" (Ephesians 3:17) -- the love of God, which has been "poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Romans 5:5)? Does it draw its inspiration and nourishment from these deep waters of the living God?

If so -- and we will always know the answer if we observe honest self-examination -- then we need have no worries. Even if we note an immediate lack of results, we can be assured that our minis…

Holy Listening

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The political quarrel these past few days about the jobs speech President Obama wants to give before Congress offers yet another example of unseemly behavior by our nation's leaders. Both "sides" are equally responsible and the outcome is unfortunate. Who wants to give up the NFL's first game of the season for a policy speech, especially when the Green Bay Packers are involved? (Of course, video recorders render this comment obsolete but still there is the thrill of being there, live, with something that is as important as the football season's first kickoff.)

The controversy reminds us of the importance of what can be called holy listening. For those on the spiritual path, the best way to discern a course of action is not through aggression or confrontation but by sitting quietly and and simply being with God, in an open yet alert mind.

This involves completely clearing one's mind of all chatter. We may use our aural sense to accomplish this, since it is th…

The NALC and Bonhoeffer

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The newsletter from the new North American Lutheran Church reporting on its recent convocation here in Ohio appeared in my mailbox this morning. I subscribe because it is important to know the full breadth of any conversation.

Reading the lengthy reports, I was once again chilled by the negativity that runs like an angry torrent through everything the NALC writes about itself. This denomination is not for something as against something - specifically, the 2009 vote of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to open the ministry of the church to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in committed relationships. This single issue constitutes the rock upon which the NALC is attempting to build its church (see Sunday's Gospel reading, Matthew 16:13-20).

The conversation the NALC has been having since its official founding a year ago is that the ELCA is wrong on this issue - not just wrong, but dead wrong. Can one ever hope to have a genuine Christian convers…

Humanity Versus Ideology

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The foundation of the Roman Catholic Church's ban on the ordination of women and married priests continues to show signs of stress. Today's New York Times carries the account of a body of US priests who signed a statement supporting a fellow cleric who participated in an ordination ceremony led by Roman Catholic Womanpriests, whose 120-plus ordinands the Vatican has declared to be excommunicated.

The move follows two similar expressions of support within the worldwide Catholic church for overturning the historic ban. Last month 300 Austrian clerics stunned church authorities with a seven-point pledge that includes actively promoting priesthood for women and married men. And in Australia the National Council of Priests vigorously defended the bishop of Toowoomba, who had issued a pastoral letter saying that, facing a severe priest shortage, he would ordain women and married men “if Rome would allow it.” The Vatican's response was to force the bishop's resignation.

I…

Go and Do Likewise

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If you worship in a community which uses the Revised Common Lectionary, perhaps you've noticed something unusual about the first reading during the season of Easter. Whatever happened to the Old Testament? It’s been replaced by Acts ever since the Sunday after Easter, so that we can live more fully into the life of the early Christian community immediately following the Resurrection. We will continue to explore that book through Pentecost on June 12, before we go back to the Hebrew Bible for our first reading – all the way back to Genesis I, in fact, on Trinity Sunday (June 19).
This arrangement of the lectionary not only allows us to have the great Pentecost reading for the first lesson on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-21) but also invites us into the spirit of the lives of the earliest Christians through one of my favorite passages in the Bible. We heard this on the Fourth Sunday of Easter (Acts 2:42-47): 
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to t…

Gospel light

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Hyssop
"Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart." (1 Corinthians 4:5)

It is fascinating to ponder how even the most worldly media serve to reveal the truth of the gospel. Consider three stories from today's news about how YouTube and social networking sites reiterate the truth that Christ's light reveals things hidden in darkness and discloses their true purposes.

The first is a heartfelt plea by the mayor of a ravaged Japanese coastal town for help. He had never used YouTube but in desperation turned to this medium as a way of broadcasting the town's need for essential supplies which had so far been unavailable. The response to the video, with nearly 250,000 views, has been overwhelming.

At the other extreme is the common example of users of Facebook and MySpace who carelessly reveal information that is harmful or hurtful to …

Humility and Loss

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Life is best defined not by accomplishment and success but by disappointment and heartbreak.

If this strikes you as a shocking or needlessly depressing statement, consider the qualities of great or unexpected success. The happy person might say that it is "a dream come true," that "it all seems so unreal," that "I can't believe it really happened," or that "I have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming."

Consider, now, the deeply disappointed or bereaved person -- someone who has lost their job, their house, a loved one. There is no dream or fantasy involved, just an awe-ful reality that dogs the person's every move and fills each waking breath. There is no escaping it, however one might wish to try.

Why isn't it the other way around? Why can't success be our reality and heartbreak our illusion?

There is a simple and sure answer. Whereas in success we stand alone at the top of our little self-made mountain, filled wit…

Humility and Grace

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The sacrifice acceptable to God  is a broken and contrite spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God,  you will not despise.                                     (Psalm 51:17)
How often do we approach God, when we do approach God at all, in the attitude of a broken spirit? Most of the time we go about our lives in a swaggering, self-centered way. After all, this is the attitude which spells success in the business world. Be confident to an extreme; be aggressive in your sales pitch; believe in yourself and in your mission; don't show signs of weakness; never admit to uncertainty.
Perhaps this way of living has netted you a neat six-figure salary and dozens of hits when you test out your fame on a search engine. But the sheer truth is that at the core of our being lies a broken spirit, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. No matter how hard we might work to project the appearance of perfection, we all fall short in God's eyes. There are as many different ways in which we fall i…

God Loves

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Why do bad things happen to good people?

It is an age-old question and one we are no closer to understanding than when Rabbi Harold Kusher published his searching book on the subject 30 years ago. In the town where I live many people are surely wondering that today after the death of a beloved fifth-grade teacher in a car accident yesterday on her way home from school. And the question presents itself with terrible force after natural disasters on the order of this past week's earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the horrific aftermath of which is too much for most of us to comprehend.

Anyone who is a sincere student of Holy Scripture knows the answer is surely NOT divine retribution, as the mayor of Tokyo recklessly asserted and Glenn Beck had the poor judgment to also suggest (from this same link you can hear Rush Limbaugh mocking the Japanese refugees). What we do know is that God is there with us in the depth of our loss, in our darkest hour, never forsaking us, always loving us…

A Broken and Contrite Heart

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Is there a more exquisitely intertwined set of readings assigned by the Revised Common Lectionary than those for Ash Wednesday? In the faithfully liturgical congregation with whom I am privileged to worship, Bethel Lutheran Church, we initially encountered Psalm 51 with its ardent expressions of penitence:

"Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity...hide your face from my sins...create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me...sustain in me a willing spirit...," and, movingly, "the sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise."

We then turned our ears to the prophet Joel, who in Chapter 2 calls us publicly to this attitude: "Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love," and affectingly instructs us in the nature of our penitence: "Rend your hearts, and not your garments." We are not to make a publi…

Civility

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"There is a river whose streams make glad...."
For anyone who has been frustrated the past few years with ultra-conservatives in the political arena whose only purpose seems to be to incite and inflame, it is heartening to note that the tide of public sentiment has turned against their hate-filled invective.

Compare the soaring strains of President Obama's Tucson memorial speech, the truths of which resonate more deeply with the passing of time, to the hollowness of the rhetoric advanced at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, summed up tartly in Frank Rich's NYT opinion piece this past weekend.

The qualities of hope and confidence in the human spirit which reside at the heart of his presidency are embodied in his lyrical quotation from Psalm 46 which opened this speech: 
"There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at b…

The Whole Armor of God

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Now is the time for the Egyptian people to "Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against the enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, aginst the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:11-12)

In this case, the two would seem to be one. Perhaps it is hyperbole to say that Hosni Mubarak is the devil, but what else would the masses seeking freedom from his oppressive rule think, when their peaceful protest was turned upside-down by armed, well-organized hired pro-Mubarak thugs who arrived en masse in Tahrir Square yesterday in buses and on camels and horseback to begin firing on the protesters and creating chaos (and then to hear that the government was accusing the protesters of creating that chaos)? All this is well documented by independent news sources. It is a dark time for those w…

The Righteous Will Be Remembered Forever

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"....the desire of the wicked comes to nothing." (Psalm 112:10b)

This verse from the end of Psalm 112 is reiterated in various ways throughout the Book of Psalms. We are witnessing its truth once again in the unfolding events in Egypt. The repressive 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak is about to be overthrown by a popular uprising which seeks freedom, justice and the right of the people to protest and express themselves. Whatever glories Mubarak envisioned as being his political legacy will be swallowed up by the revelation to the world, through these events, of the true nature of his regime.

Nobel Prize laureate Mohamed EdBaradei has emerged as a powerful spokesperson for the uprising.

“This is the work of a barbaric regime that is in my view doomed,” he said in today's New York Times. “They are completely desperate. We have been walking in a peaceful demonstration. This is our basic right. And I hope the pictures will be everywhere to see how barbaric, how pet…

Foolishness is Wisdom

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From Psalm 15, appointed for this coming Sunday:

"O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart...."

Has there been a better public example of this in recent memory than Kansas City Royals pitcher Gil Meche, who just walked away from a $12 million contract because he believed he was not holding up his end of the bargain? This fine story details his decision to simply walk away from the incredible wealth that was due him under the terms of his contract, because his contributions to the team, he contended, were not worth it. The story, one virtually unheard of in the suffocating wealth of professional sports, offers a heartening reminder of the indelible power of truth-telling. Of course, Meche is hardly destitute, having already taken in $40 million from the Royals to date. But it's a far cry from Mo Vaughn of the Mets, who made $15 million in 2004 even though a…

Goodness is stronger than evil

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It is impossible to come to terms with the horror of this past Saturday's shootings in Arizona, for there is no way to comprehend such an act. But thoughtful reading of news reports since then has affirmed the truth proclaimed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:5: "Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, for he will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart."

In this case, many of the "things" in question have been known to those who follow Arizona politics closely but are now being articulated on the national stage. These include the general political climate in Arizona, a state with a long and troubled history of opposition to the celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday; Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's harsh anti-immigration stance; the state's scarily permissive gun laws; and the ways in which conservative talk radio in Tucson has fanned the flames of anti-immigra…