Monday, November 14, 2016

Psalm 98 – “Praise the Judge of the World”

Pentecost 26C (First Sunday after presidential election)                                    November 13, 2016
Psalm 98 – “Praise the Judge of the World”
In the Name of Jesus.   Amen.
My friends, my Christian family:  we have work to do.   Even in the weeks immediately following a tempestuous, almost brutal campaign  season, followed by the election itself, here is the work Paul, in Romans 12, says is ours; as followers, not of Trump or Hillary, but as followers of Jesus, every day, in every situation:
Be sure your love is true love.  Hate what is sinful.  Hold on to whatever is good.   Love each other as Christian brothers & sisters.  Show respect for each other.   Do not be lazy but always work hard.  Work for the Lord with a heart full of love for Him.   Be happy in your hope.  Do not give up when trouble comes.  Do not let anything stop you from praying.   Share what you have with Christian brothers & sisters who are in need.  Give meals and a place to stay to those who need it.   Pray and give thanks for those who make trouble for you.  Yes, pray for them instead of talking against them.   Be happy with those who are happy.  Be sad with those who are sad.   Live in peace with each other.  Do not act or think with pride.  Be happy to be with poor people.  Keep yourself from thinking you are so wise.   When someone does something bad to you, do not pay him back with something bad.  Try to do what all people know is right and good.   If it is possible, and so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
I have no doubt, no doubt at all, and I suspect you would all agree, that we would have seen the same reactions, the same despair, the same protesting in the streets, the same vitriolic Tweets and FB posts as we have seen this past week – no matter who had won the presidential election.  Peoples’ opinions and commitments on all sides have been far from casual; they have been, and remain to be, intense, passionate, take-no-prisoners.
We avoid talking about “politics” with our friends and families and fellow church members because we are afraid of the possibility of being judged, or worse, alienated from one another; that despite all of our experiences together and our overall love for the Lord and for one another for years, even decades, we will give “politics”, one election, the power  to destroy those relationships.
But, living saints of Faith Lutheran Church, we are so much more than Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, Independents or Progressives; we are so much more than citizens of the United States of America.  We are Christians, citizens of the world God has made and loves (according to John 3:16), we are Christians, little Christs, Jesus’ hands and feet we love to say, God’s work/our hands we love to write, now, here; followers of the Son of God who lived and taught, forgave and healed, suffered betrayal and death not only by the power of Rome, but by his own people; God-in-Christ who descended to the dead, and rose from the dead by the power of God.  More than anything else, we are citizens of God’s eternal, perfect, just and gracious Kingdom.  And so Psalm 98 assures us that no matter what, we and all of creation have reason to sing together with joy, to clap our hands, because God comes to rule the earth, and “God’s judgment will be what is right for the world, and just to all people.”
The problem is:  we don’t know when that day will come.  But we do know from Scripture, in the meantime, what our work, our privilege, is. 
Democracy, probably the closest human expression of what is “right for the world and just
to all people,” is only as perfect as the people to whom it is entrusted, yes?  So right away, we know that it, like all human creations, while it may be our great hope, will always be flawed.  And so we may wonder in this complicated world with so many telling us what to believe and who to be faithful to -- what is the “right” thing to do?  The prophet Micah tells us:
The Lord God has told us
what is right
    and what God demands:
“See that justice is done,
let mercy be your first concern,
    and humbly obey your God.”
..and we might want to add today, “No matter who is the leader of any country.”  I’m not sure that we clergy and teachers of the Christian faith as understood by Martin Luther, have done enough teaching and preaching about Luther’s insight that we are at once in, but not of, the world, echoing a portion of Jesus’ priestly prayer where he prayed for us before his passion, saying, in John 17: 
I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours…I gave them your message, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but I do ask you to keep them safe from the Evil One.  Just as I do not belong to the world, they do not belong to the world.   Dedicate them to yourself by means of the truth; your word is Truth.  I sent them into the world, just as you sent me into the world.  And for their sake I dedicate myself to you, in order that they, too, may be truly dedicated to you.
The world we are in, we have discovered in a profound and painful way this past week, is terribly broken.  Not only are people in general angry and divided, Christians are angry and divided among ourselves.  I, and other pastors and Christians I know, have received many vitriolic posts on FB and even e-mails, from other Christians, friends over politics .  We have become so “of” the world that we fail to remember and proclaim that our true and ultimate ruler, our highest allegiance, is to God, in Jesus.  Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth (1 Corinthians 11).  I am going to substitute some modern names to describe a somewhat similar situation in Corinth at the time:
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.  For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.  What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to [Trump],” or “I belong to [Hillary],” or “I belong to [Sanders],” or “I belong to Christ.”  Has Christ been divided?  Was [Trump] crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of [Hillary]?... We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to those who don’t know God.  But Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God to those people God has called—no matter what our heritage.  Even the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God – dying on the cross -- is stronger than human strength.
No president, no human being, is capable of “healing our nation” as so many of us want and yearn for.  Only God can do that.  Only Jesus can break down the dividing walls we so passionately build and re-build between ourselves.  And how does he do that?  Miraculously, or perhaps foolishly in the eyes of some, Jesus works through us who believe in him, who honor him, who seek to pattern our lives after his.  And as we just heard, “Even the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.”
Where do you think Jesus is right now?  He is in the middle of this mess of ours.
And what do you think Jesus is doing here, in this mess?
“Jesus came not to condemn this world, which he so loves, but to save it.”  (John 3:17)
In my mind’s eye, I picture him hanging on the cross on Golgotha, now placed squarely on Main Street, USA, still bearing our sin, literally dying to conquer it, to save us, all out of love.  Thanks be to God, I also picture him raised from the dead with all of our walls and all of our sin in shambles, destroyed of its power to rule our lives forever.
Times of struggle and division like this may be among the hardest times to live out of our faith in Jesus’ vision and will for a world reconciled in him.  But we know who is ultimately in charge – and it is no mere mortal.  And we know what to do because Scripture tells us very directly:
The Lord God has told us
what is right
    and what God demands:
“See that justice is done,
let mercy be your first concern,
    and humbly obey your God.”
That is our work, to figure out how to do that in the real world, in real time – and then do it.
Living in Christ – in, but not of, the world, we can also proclaim with the Psalmist:
…sing together with joy before the Lord,
because he comes to rule the earth.
and His judgment will be what is right for the world
    and just to all people.

Come Lord Jesus; let it be so.  Amen.



Pastor Joan Gunderman, Faith Lutheran Church, Swanburg, MN

Monday, November 4, 2013

LIGHT

I’m praying, meditating, facing our big picture window which looks out over Gilbert Lake.  The sun has just risen over the horizon and, after what felt like an unbearably long, ash-gray and rainy week, it is pouring forth light over all the wet, chilled creation.  Including me.

As I do my body prayer – "I am washed in the living waters of Christ.  The cross of Christ goes before me; the light of Christ surrounds me; the risen Christ lives in me" – the radiance of the sun’s light surrounds and warms me.  For the moment, I am in deep, deep peace.

I am praying for a friend’s brother, stricken with a brain tumor which, though surgeons tried to remove it, is drawing him closer and closer to death.  I see Jacob, wrestling with a stranger (who he identifies later as God) all night long, demanding a blessing before he lets go.  Then I see people bringing, often carrying, their loved ones to Jesus for healing.  I hold my arms out in front of me, holding my friend’s brother in this morning light.  Not only the light of the sun, but the Light in which there is no darkness at all.  Usually, if I hold my arms out, whether straight in front of me or to each side, they get tired, achy and, though my arms are empty, it feels like I’m holding a great weight.  That wasn’t happening as I stood, holding him in the light for some time.

Slowly, the light dims.  Without opening my eyes, I assume the light of the sun is being diminished by a passing cloud, or that the deadening gray is moving in yet again.  However, after a brief moment, the light not only returns, but becomes brighter.

And so I remain there, holding my friend’s brother in what feels like sheer holiness.

To my surprise, the light begins to get even brighter.  We are being soaked in it.  How can this be?  How can the sun out-brighten itself?  Even with my eyes closed, a few tears emerge from the sheer brilliance of it. Opening them just enough to peek, I see that the sun has now risen high enough to be shining off the lake, intensifying both the intense glow and the warmth of the Light.

I simply held him.  In the Light.  That’s all.  I don’t think I have ever personally experienced, both in body and spirit, someone else being blessed.  Someone struggling, wrestling through a dark night like Jacob, like my friend’s brother.  Jesus assures him,  “I will come and take you to myself, that where I am, you may be also.”   Eternal morning.  Eternal blessing.  Eternal Light.

“And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever." 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Lenten Lover

I am a Lenten lover. Quieter, reflective worship and hymns, more intentional listening for God, a simple yearning to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak and be embraced by his light, the warmth of his love, his healing. During Lent, I seem able to sit in the presence of God and pray in a way that seems more like conversation, rather than the on-the-go, drive-thru prayers that often characterize my prayer life.

On-leave after a rather tumultuous Call, I am studying to be certified as a Spiritual Director/Companion/Midwife, feeling a strong call to that ministry; one which has been affirmed by others. I absolutely love it.

On a personal retreat, entering a period of meditation, I decide that on a mental mountain top there would be few distractions, nowhere to go, no tyranny of the urgent calling me away, all making it easier to listen for God -- just like Jesus did.

But there seems to be an obvious “no” to that, and I find myself, instead (in my imagination, or “in the Spirit”?) in a crude cell. The cell is unusual in that it is at street level in an ancient town on a narrow, busy, dirt street with people walking by. One entire wall of the cell is iron bars facing the street like a shop window. I can see everyone. They can see me.

“Why am I here? Why is my freedom being restrained in this cell?”

“You are in bondage to sin and cannot free yourself.

“Of course. In bondage not only by my own sin, but by the sins of others. I understand that, and I am looking to my spirituality classes to set me free.”

“No you do not understand. Your spirituality classes will not free you. Only I can free you.”

There it is -- the reason I’m a Lenten lover. These weeks of introspection, of deep realization that we are, truly, imprisoned by sin and unable to free ourselves -- all of that may seem, at a glance, shadowy and depressing. No wonder we want to hurry to Easter baskets and cuddly bunnies and egg hunts in an effort to comfort ourselves. More study, working harder and longer, 24/7/365 availability not only doesn’t free us, it may in fact restrain even more our freedom to not only know the doctrine, but to experience “Only I can free you.”

And oh my, what glory then to receive the Easter news: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He is risen!” The real miracle is not that Jesus/God freed himself from bondage. That probably wasn’t too challenging for the Creator of all life. The real miracle is that he frees us, over and over and over again. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Monday, August 9, 2010

THINKING

(Episode 1)

Twelve years old. Weekly Saturday morning Confirmation class, 1964. Pastor (the only name the kids ever knew for him) in black pants and black clergy shirt, looking like little less than God Almighty. He strode commandingly, back and forth, back and forth, in front of 45 anxious, insecure adolescents, lecturing. We sat in those hard, wooden, straight-backed chairs with the little 12”x12” writing arms attached, textbooks and written homework open. Even when we went on weekend Confirmation retreats at the Lutheran Bible Camp, the set-up was exactly the same. Nothing in the least bit casual about Confirmation. Better read that textbook, and take notes in class. Lots of notes. There would be a final exam at the end of the year. If you didn’t pass -- “B” or better -- you wouldn’t be Confirmed. “C” allowed one to take the exam again. Oh joy.

As he paced and lectured, he asked a question without even looking up. Being absolutely certain I knew the correct answer, I raised my hand. Since he wasn’t looking, and no one else raised their hand, I finally and quite confidently announced my answer.

“NO!” he said as he turned on his heal and pointed his amazingly large finger directly at me. Then he held his Bible straight out at arm’s length and looked me straight in the eye. I withered inside like a grape into a raisin as he said again, “NO!” Turning again on his heal, he asked the class the question a second time. No one dared raise their hand. This was remedied by our having to listen to the same lecture a second time. All of it. When this was completed, every single one of us knew The Right Answer.

Miraculously, when the final exam came, I correctly answered enough of the questions about the Bible and Lutheran doctrine, and could recite out loud the whole of Luther’s Small Catechism (including the meanings, of course), that I was confirmed as an Officially Approved Lutheran.

At age 13, “being confirmed,” as we called it then, was all about The Right Answers. It had very little to do with belief, or faith, a growing relationship with Jesus, or flat-out awe toward God. Actually, for most of us, it was really all about the rite of passage into the adult world by being allowed to wear girdles, nylons, and high heels (girls); and a man’s suit and tie which the boys had to learn to tie properly themselves (boys) -- most of which was hidden by the modest uniformity of white robes with wilting red carnations pinned firmly on front. On Confirmation Day, we were told that we were now adult members of the church -- though we were still treated like pesky kids and couldn’t vote on any church matters. Nevertheless, we were in the congregational big leagues.

Actually, just the high school Luther League.

This is typically when Lutheran kids and their families stop coming to church. Parents are confident that, now being an Officially Approved Lutheran, their kid’s got religion. Parental duty fulfilled.

(more to come)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

SAYING SHALOM

Shalom -- (Hebrew) Completeness, wholeness, health, peace, safety, tranquility, prosperity, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.

Yesterday, I finished moving out of my office, with the help of wonderful friends. I can't begin to describe how painful, emotional it was; I have poured my heart and my health into the congregation, whom I still love.

As we packed, we came upon things like photos from my Call Interview almost 5 years ago -- the Call Committee and I on a pontoon boat on Gull Lake, everyone looking windblown and eager; a day which felt more like a family reunion than a job interview. Photos of the many baptisms I did, babies clueless but families radiating such joy; pictures of weddings, confirmation classes. And precious little gifts from members, drawings from children...

When all the packing was done, it was time to say my final shalom to the building. I stood in the dishwasher room where I had worked elbow-to-elbow with members scraping and cleaning and loading dishes into the huge dishwasher. The Celebration Center where we had so many significant events, from Annual Meetings to the Bluegrass Gospel Concerts to the legendary rummage sales to congregational fellowship events. The Chapel rooms where I did so much teaching of both adults and kids, and participated in or led meetings, meetings, meetings….

Then on to the hardest place of all -- the sanctuary. With my arms full of the last batch of “stuff” I would load into my car in a few minutes, I walked slowly down the center aisle toward the altar as I did every Sunday for over 4 years. I stopped in front, bowed my head, and prayed for the congregation, as I also did every Sunday for over 4 years. I walked around the altar to face the congregation, and saw with my heart all of the people I had come to love sitting in the pews, looking forward toward the altar with expectation on their faces. The choir loft, where the choir and soloists proclaimed the Gospel to me every week. And the steps in front of the altar, where I first began doing Children's Messages, even though there were very, very few children in worship when I first arrived. After a few months, the number of children at worship began to grow, children who came barreling down the aisle for their special Message (and some wiggle time), some snuggled around me, some keeping a shy distance, but all eager and expectant.

Standing behind the altar, I spoke, slowly and deliberately, the opening Greeting/Blessing to the congregation which was gathered that day only in my heart:

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”

Their response echoed, “And also with you.”

I moved over and stepped up into the pulpit, where the Lord had used me continually to bring the Word of Life to worshipers in such a way that often surprised even me. As I gazed around the sanctuary, I blessed the congregation with the Benediction:

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord look upon you with favor…
and give you peace.”


Hardly able to make myself leave, I walked out of that Holy Space. I locked the church door, got into my loaded-down car, sat there for a few moments until the tears stopped so I could see the road, and drove away.

Today, I am simply resting in the great lap of God, who promises in this morning's First Lesson: "As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you" (Isaiah 66:13a).

Tomorrow? Tomorrow I move forward on this unpredictable journey of life and faith, dancing in the faithful, loving light of God.

"O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord." Amen. (ELW, Vespers, p. 317)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

SATURDAY

The disciples were together.
The doors were locked, because they were afraid…
John 20:19 

Jesus’ closest friends and students of grace were in anguish. Jesus, who not only embodied the “fullness of God,” but who had also embodied the fullness of being human, was dead. Dead and buried. Buried in a borrowed tomb like any Jewish peasant. Crucified with relish by the same people who, just a few days before, had welcomed him as a hero -- healer, teacher, miracle worker, with power over demons and oceans.

Though Jesus had raised and restored the already decomposing Lazarus from the dead; and had repeatedly told his disciples that he, also, would rise from the dead, such extraordinary possibilities weren’t even on their radar. They had just had a disastrous dose of “the real world,” after all. It would seem that even God was no match for the power of Rome, especially when coupled with the power of the Temple leaders’ rigid dogma and underhanded politics. From where they sat, there was no reason to wait expectantly, to prepare for the Easter that Jesus assured them would come.

Saturday was the day Jesus lay dead, the day the disciples hid out in a locked room, frightened that they might be next; the day their whole world had shrunk to just that room, filled with grief and hopelessness. There was no secret way out. Who knew how long they would be there?

************************
People continue to have “good Friday” experiences, no matter what the cause -- divorce, death of a loved one, loss of employment, the doctor saying "terminal," a tragic accident -- when the trap door you didn’t know you were standing on suddenly opens and you find yourself falling, alone, into a very dark place. Hopelessness and dread cling to you like the dankness of a cave.

Saturday is the day the freefall comes to a stop. You land. Hard. Wounded, you look for a way out with what little energy you have after such a terrifying fall and landing. You see no doors, backlit by the sun, promising release. And if there’s a secret way out, that is not evident either. You lose all motivation, all hope. It seems to make more sense to get used to the darkness than to continue looking. Your whole world shrinks to that lonely, dark place.

Saturday is that long, hopeless, grieving day between good Friday and Easter. And Saturday can last a long, long time.

************************** 
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. 
Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.”
John 20:19-21

When our world becomes that small, that dark, Easter just doesn’t seem possible.We lose all sense of expectancy that this will ever get better, that anything will ever change. Instead of being reassured if someone says “God is with you. God bless you,” we begin to wonder if God is around at all. Even later that day, when Mary assured them that Jesus was not only around, she had actually seen him, talked with him -- the disciples didn’t budge.

Instead of them having to find their way out of that room and go somewhere to find and see Jesus, Jesus comes to them in that small, dark place. Suddenly, unexpectedly, he is there, where they are. Easter came to them, and not in measure with their faltering faith. This is not the chocolate bunnies and jelly beans easter. Jesus comes precisely into their grief, their hopelessness. Rather than saying to them, “What’s the matter with you? I told you I would rise again,” he says, “Peace be with you.” Then he shows them his own wounds. Wounds from falling and crashing into a dark, solitary space -- often called hell. Wounds from having made a way out for us when there was no way. Wounds that looked an awful lot like their own.

Only worse.
 ********************** 
 The Lord lifted me out of the pit of despair… 
He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked.
Psalm 40:2 
And so it is true:

Saturday is the hardest day of our lives.
Saturday can last a long, long time.

Easter comes.

Easter searches us out in the deep darkness. Jesus comes to us when we are least prepared for him…

…and loves to raise us from the dead.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

REDISCOVERING MOTHER’S DAY

The idea of an annual Mother’s (Peace) Day originated with Julia Ward Howe, remembered primarily as the poet who wrote the words for “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Born in May, 1819, Julia was an abolitionist and, with her husband Samuel Gridley Howe, co-published the anti-slavery newspaper The Commonwealth. She was a committed Christian, also active in the peace movement and the women's suffrage movement.

In 1870, Howe became outraged by the ravages of the Civil and Franco-Prussian Wars. Believing that women had a particular sensitivity and understanding of the human costs of war, Julia called upon women everywhere to stand up for peaceful resolutions and negotiations rather than violence and bloodshed. In an effort to draw this into public conversation and commitment, Howe issued a proclamation:

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

From the bosum of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

In 1872, the first Mothers' Peace Day Observance was held on the second Sunday in June, and the meetings continued for several years. Her idea was widely accepted, but she was never able to get the day recognized as an official holiday.
After she died, other women took on the cause of establishing a Mother’s Peace Day, notably Anna Jarvis, an Appalachian woman whose own mother was an inspiring community leader involved in reconciliation efforts between Confederate and Union neighbors.

In 1907, the first Mother’s Day was celebrated in West Virginia. In 1914 the second Sunday of May was finally declared an official national holiday, “Mother’s Day,” by President Woodrow Wilson. It had taken 34 years, but Julia Howe didn’t live to see it.

Anna did. The day was intended to be spent first in church, and then at home with everyone writing special letters to their moms. In the spirit of Julia Howe, people were to be particularly mindful of mother’s teachings of “charity, mercy, and patience.” People wore red or pink carnations in honor of their moms if their mothers were living, white ones if they had died.

But Anna also lived to see this day, dedicated to peacemaking and world peace, quickly overtaken by commercialism. The greeting card industry jumped in, and Anna was appalled that anyone would buy a Mother’s Day card rather than write a letter themselves. Florists exploited the sentimental symbolism of the carnations, and made a fortune selling more and more every year. By 1924, just 10 years after establishing Mother’s Day as a federal holiday, Anna was so offended by the commercialization which had taken over the Day that she began to petition Congress to abolish it. It was no longer anything close to what it was intended to be. In 1930 she was arrested for disturbing the peace at a Mother’s Day carnation sale. She spent the rest of her life and finances fighting the holiday.

Today, Mother’s Day is one of the most profitable commercial holidays for florists, greeting card publishers, and phone companies. The emphasis on mothers’ roles in peacemaking and world peace has long since vanished.

Anna died in 1948. She had no children.

Sources:
http://www.history.com/
http://www.newsadvance.com/, article by Anne Gibbons, chaplain at Lynchburg University
http://www.chiff.com/