Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Lent Is a Time for Truth

Lent is a time to speak, hear, and live the truth. I mean the truth about who we are and who God is. I suppose that we ought to be doing that all the time, but, I think, they only way to make that happen is to take some special time to concentrate our attention on the truth about us and God.

The truth about us is that we are wonderfully formed and deeply loved, but also tragically and, sometimes, intentionally nasty to ourselves, our neighbors, the creation, and God. We call this last bit sin and it involves being determinedly self-centered in an unhealthy way. These are truths about us that we don’t want to acknowledge or admit. In fact, it takes an enormous amount of energy to hide this from ourselves and others. It can be exhausting. The only way to address this sin is to hear the truth about us, speak the truth about us – we call it the beginning of repentance – and then focus on the truth about God.

The truth about God is what gives us the courage to hear and speak the truth about ourselves. During Lent we watch Jesus as he makes his way to Jerusalem, where he will be arrested, suffer, and be killed. This is another thing to which it is hard to pay attention. It is sad. It is a little grisly. It is frustrating that no one seems to help Jesus. The deep truth, however, is that Jesus goes this way so that we might hear the truth of the deeply loved part of who we are. It shows us the limitless extent of God’s love, as God, in Jesus spends God’s life for us. That is a truth that redeems the truth about our nasty streak. Trusting that truth is the conclusion of repentance. Believing we are forgiven because of Jesus is the joy of repentance.

Living the truth helps us to pull the truth into us and invites it to stay. Ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday helps us live it. Living the truth involves serving all others and advocating for all others, because they also are deeply loved by God, even though they share our nasty streak. Taking extra time for prayer, devotions, weekday worship, and Bible reading helps us live the truth. It may even inspire us to live the truth all the time. Have a blessed Lent.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Winning the Cultural Lottery

I don’t play the lottery. Largely, because I don’t find gambling entertaining, but
I am also aware that I have already won a big lottery. I was born white, male, and healthy into an affluent family in the United States of America in the middle of the 20th century. That was a chance occurrence that has “paid off” for me. I didn’t earn it and I don’t deserve it, but winning this lottery has given me social, cultural and political privileges that continue to pay dividends for me.

It is very unusual that I ever walk into a place and don’t receive a genuine welcome. People assume I am honest, trustworthy, and safe. When I am pulled over for speeding the officer gives me a relaxed smile. There are lots more examples. Not every person gets that kind of reception. I don’t have to prove my honesty, it is given to me because of my cultural and ethnic background. Most of the time I don’t even think about it. I have come to assume I will have this privilege wherever I go. When I am not accorded this privilege, I am shocked and offended.

It is important for me to remember that this privilege comes purely as a matter of chance. My culture and ethnic background are not superior to that of others. I don’t own more of this country, because of this cultural privilege, than any other American. I don’t have a greater right to these assumptions about me because I am white. My identity is not tied tightly to this privilege. I am not defined by this privilege.

Our principle identity is as child of God. We are defined by the grace and mercy that we have received from God. We didn’t earn this or deserve it either, but God is more generous than our culture is, so this is given to all people. This identity and worth is not something that can be taken from us. All we can do is enjoy it and follow God’s lead and live with all others as brothers and sisters in Christ. Part of following God’s lead is refusing to allow anyone to tell people of color that they don’t count as much as white people count; that their culture doesn’t count like white culture counts; or that they don’t belong in this country as much as white people do.

This is not just a political issue. Jesus spent way too much time with people who, to other people, weren’t supposed to count for this not to be a major Jesus thing. God made a creation in which diversity is a survival trait for all living things – humans included. White supremacists tell lies about God when they say that God made the white race better than others, or that God has blessed their culture with more enlightenment or truth than others. We cannot let others tell these lies about God. And we cannot let others tell these lies to God’s children of color in the hopes that it will break their hearts and allow white people to exploit and exclusively hold on to special privileges that they didn’t earn and don’t deserve.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Nolan Lives in a Home that Is Church, Too

Meet Nolan. Nolan’s father grew up in the congregation I serve and Nolan’s father and mother were married here. They don’t live in town anymore, but one of Nolan’s sets of grandparents is still here, and his parents have a lot of friends here as well. In fact, Nolan was back a few weeks ago when his parents were baptismal sponsors for a little girl named Brynley. Nolan’s parents know Brynley’s parents very well, and they were a good choice for being godparents. 

So, Nolan came with his parents to the baptism and I noticed that he was carrying around a well-used white “blankey”. It was a little gray rather than white and there were a few strings hanging out. These are the marks of a well-loved blankey that brings comfort and security to a small child. Parents, in general, appreciate these kinds of comforting objects as much (or sometimes even more) than children do. His parents let me know that this was the baptismal prayer shawl that Nolan had received when we was baptized a couple of years ago right here at Bethlehem. It was a companion for him and, as you can see from the picture, he takes great delight in it.
It is wonderful that this gift will always be identified by parents and grandparents for him as his baptismal prayer shawl. It is great to have him associate this gift with the gift of the Holy Spirit and God’s call to him to be God’s beloved child. It will help him figure out that baptism is a really good thing.
Our congregation’s theme this year has been “Home is Church, too”. By that, we mean that God and church are not restricted to the congregation. Our homes are places where God works mightily to form our faith and bring us grace and truth. I am so pleased that Nolan’s folks didn’t store the baptismal shawl away. I’m glad that they offered him this symbol of God’s presence in his life as his every-day blanket. In ways that Nolan can receive it, they have let him live in God’s promises of baptism. They have affirmed that their home is church, too.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Easter Barges In

Bartholomew was with the rest of the disciples in that dark upper room in Jerusalem. The air was thick with more than dust; it was heavy with fear and depression. It was three days, now, since Jesus had died; three days since any of them had been outside. They had all wanted to go to Calvary, not to hoot and howl like the mob, but just so Jesus might catch their eye and feel a little less alone, but they feared they, too, would be caught and killed. That fear added to their depression, Bartholomew thought, and he instinctively looked in the corner where Peter huddled. He noticed that someone had put a blanket around the figure, so full of shame from his denial of Jesus that he was barely conscious.

Suddenly, there was the coded wrap on the door that signaled a friend. The door was unlatched and three women burst in with the daylight. Excited and out of breath, they stammered out the news – the tomb was empty. Jesus was alive again and he would meet the disciples in Galilee! The disciples were stunned, “What?”, “How can that be?”, and “But he was dead!”. So quickly doubt began to snatch the hope the women had brought. What if it’s just human hysteria? What if they were just trying to cheer us up? What if it’s a cruel joke?

“But, what if it’s true?”, said Bartholomew, “What if Jesus lives again? Why, then, it’s off to Galilee for me! Soldiers or not, doubts and all, it’s off to Galilee for me!”

“And it’s a new chance for me”, came the words from the blanketed form in the corner, whose eyes now burned bright and clear. Peter's voice was alive and hopeful, “To Galilee.”

So the story does not end with Jesus crushed beneath the combined weight of personal pride, religious arrogance, and political paranoia – beneath all human sin. It takes all these and fashions a new beginning in which the grace of God lives anew, forgiveness lives anew, righteousness lives anew – in which Jesus lives anew. Living anew, he comes to meet us. He comes for us. So hang the doubts, hang the fears, hand the depression. Pack them and bring them along to our Galilee, for when Christ comes to us, alive and kicking, he adds something new: faith, hope, and love. The grace of God is part of our life and it’s a new chance for all of us. Easter Blessings to all.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Who Says Grace Is Always Happy?

Grace has always been such a happy word for me. Grace. It brims and even overflows with hope and joy. I saw a little plaque in a friends bathroom that I really like. It read, "Grace is getting what you don't deserve. Mercy is not getting what you do deserve." Not bad. The grace of God is God giving us peace when we have been part of the chaos. Grace is God's gift of forgiveness when we are so clueless that we don't even realize that we need it. Grace is God's loving presence when we will probably just be annoyed to imagine that we want it. Grace is God keeping God's promise to love and care for us when God knows we will crumple those actions up and toss them away. From my perspective, grace is a fabulous deal. Grace is happy.

And then we come to Lent. My perspective is forced to change. My perspective switches to watch Jesus go to the Cross. Conflict. Harassment. Abandonment. Suffering. Death. All so that we might be inspired enough to finally detect the grace of God. All so we might be able to see that God gives God's life without regard for our worthiness or tragic lack thereof. All, and only, because of the loving character of God.

Grace goes deeper than happy. Grace goes deeper than joy. Grace goes to the self-giving heart of God.

Suddenly, Lent happens to me. It is full of grace. It is not so happy, but it is much more meaningful.It is much richer. It is much more powerful. Lent, and grace, sometimes  happens to me and I am better for it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Not So Random Adults in Our Lives

Mr. Frear lived in the neighborhood when I was growing up. In fact, he was the first 
resident in the neighborhood. His full name was Dana W. Frear. His wife's maiden name
 was Chase. My family lived on Chase Drive, which was parallel to Frear Drive, which
 were connected by Dana Drive. You get the idea. We all lived on land that his family had 
once farmed. Mr. Frear had retired many years ago from teaching agriculture at the 
University of Minnesota in St. Paul. He was hard of hearing, could not see well and 
walked with a cane. Mr. Frear also had a foundation structure that used to support a barn 
before a tornado took it out  a long, long time ago. 

When I was around 12 years old, some neighbor boys and I were messing around one 
summer with too much time on our hands. We were exploring the old beat up foundation. 
I grabbed a huge, steel ladle that was just lying there and broke one of the windows in the
 foundation. Long story short, I ended up paying for the window. But, Mr. Frear didn't want
 my folks paying for it (not that they would have), so he hired me at the astounding pay 
rate of 60 cents an hour to do odd jobs and lawn work. He kept me on after the window 
was paid off. I mowed the lawn and raked leaves. Once or twice a year, i would take a 
red coaster wagon and haul the gravel that had been washed down the steep driveway 
back up and redistribute it where Mr. Frear wanted it. He taught me how to put a 
galvanized pipe hand-railing around the exterior of his house - partly to give him support 
and partly so that he wouldn't get lost as his sight became worse and worse. I planted his 
garden and weeded it. 

I occasionally did some inside work during the winter, but most of the frosty season was 
spent shoveling the driveway, sidewalk, and the path next to the galvanized pipe railing. 

In addition to the work and learning about pipes, gravel, soldering, and why you should 
probably not break windows in what look like abandoned foundations, I had an important 
adult in my young life. He taught me a lot. I don't know that he was a friend, but he was a 
kind and thoughtful mentor. He was like a piece of history and often talked about "the old 
days". He subtly tried to instill in me a healthy attitude towards life and respect for others
 - lest I spend the rest of my life smashing other people's windows, i suppose. We were, 
at least fond of each other, even though we never did "fun stuff" together. I lived about 
seven hours away from my grandparents or any other relatives, so I think he became a 
surrogate grandfather to me. 

In junior high and high school, I got real jobs. I would occasionally stop by and find out 
how things were going with him and get a short course in how to be a kind and thoughtful
 sort of person. The last time I saw him, I was one of the pall bearers at his funeral. 

Mr. Frear was a great mentor. I'm not sure 
that he intended to be, although he had 
the heart and experience of being a 
teacher. It came naturally to him. I 
remember him with affection. So far, 
I haven't broken any more windows --
 intentionally anyway.