Wednesday, March 09, 2011

This Is Gonna Be The Best Lent Ever!

My partner Daniel likes to make a few of what I call, "Ash Wednesday Jokes."  On what is suppose to be this very serious day, he always says something like: "This is gonna be the best Lent ever!"

I find his joking hilarious because it's so odd: making a joke on a day when jokes don't seem to make sense. Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent and that brings about images of ashes and pastors telling people that they are dust and to dust they will return.  It's also a time when we try to "give something up for Lent," or fast a few days during the season.  Lent is a lot of things, but levity is not one of them.

But the thing is, Daniel is right.  We should look at Lent not as a time of sadness, but with hope and expectation.

Yes, a day like Ash Wednesday and indeed the whole time of Lent is a time to remind ourselves that we are sinners, that we fall short of the mark and that we make a mess of things.  But it is should also be a time when we are reminded of God's grace and the fact that even though we fall short, we are forgiven by God.  Christ's death on the cross and his later ressurection freed us from the consequences of sin.

The epistle for Ash Wednesday talks about how through Christ we are made righteous.  Kind of an odd text for Lent, huh?  But the thing is, we need to be reminded of that as much as we do our sin.  We are made free in Christ.  Hope is not lost.

Paul's second letter to the Corinthians also has in it a bit of a lenten discipline.  Because we are free in Christ, we are called to be reconciled to God.  We don't try to live as God's people so that we can become God's people; we try to live as God's people because we are God's people.

So, maybe this Lent we should remember that we are God's.  Maybe we should remember that yes, we are sinners, but we are sinners saved by grace.  Maybe Lent should be as much a time for joy as much as it is for introspection.

Maybe it should be the best Lent ever.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Integration and the Church

When it comes to building a truly diverse church both mainline and evangelical Protestants do a really bad job about it.  Most churches are still mainly one racial group.  However, a church in Germany seems to be trying a different approach that just might work:

In Bonn, Germany, there is a church called Centrum Lebendiges Wort which has chosen a different approach. Rather than set up a mini-church, they offer interpreting, free of charge, at every Sunday service. The English speakers attend the same service as the German speakers, as do the French speakers and the Chinese speakers. The pastor still preaches in German, but while he preaches, four interpreters at a time interpret his sermon into other languages. They have even gone as far as having multilingual worship: at CLW you find yourself worshipping in German, English, French and even Chinese, all within the same service. Of course, there is much more to a church than Sunday services, but let’s stop there for just now.

What are the drawbacks of this approach? Well, it isn’t cheap. Simultaneous interpreting equipment (sound-proof booths, transmitters, receivers, microphones, headsets) will set you back a good few thousand pounds (or dollars, or Euros). Similarly, interpreting is not an easy skill to master, even for people who speak two languages fluently. Worship in three or four languages takes more effort than worship in one.

Nevertheless, it seems undeniable that this approach is much nearer to integration than creating a mini-church or, worse, not bothering to reach people from other cultures at all. It also seems a lot nearer to what we see in Acts 2, where people from all over the world heard the gospel in the same place, at the same time.

A Question About Kids and Communion

Recently, I've faced a question at church about children and communion.  We had some issues where young kids (about 5 years old) wanted to take part in communion.  The mother talked about how this little one really wanted to take part in communion.

In the Disciples of Christ, kids usually get baptized around age 11 or 12 and usually then participates in communion.  But these days, kids really want to participate sooner and many people think it's important to not exclude kids from communion, even if they have not been baptized yet.

For me, this is an issue that I struggle with.  On the one hand, I hear the  pleading voice of children who want to be included and how could I not?  On the other hand, I grew up (in my Baptist upbringing) learning that one had to wait until baptism to take part in communion.

Historically, people did not have communion until they were baptized usually during Easter vigil. Of course, just because it was done in the past, doesn't mean we should do it today.

So, I want to ask a question: what are the theological reasons for including kids, regardless of age or being baptized, in the Lord's Supper?  Also, was the older way of waiting until a certain age just about people hating children or was there a reason for it?  Has something changed or have we just become more enlightened?

I would lean towards including kids, but I want a reason that's more than "let's be inclusive."  Inclusivity is important, but I want to know why we should do this.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Sunday Sermon: February 27, 2011

“Seeking God in a Shattered World”
Matthew 6:24-34; Isaiah 49:8-16
February 27, 2011
First Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

This was one of those weeks that no body told me about when I was in seminary.

If you have not heard, the church building was hit twice this week by vandalism on Monday and then again on Wednesday. Someone decided to throw some bricks in the windows in the Fellowship Hall. As many of you know, these aren’t the only two acts of vandalism that have taken place recently. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve counted six incidents. It started with someone spray painting the words, “No God!” on our church sign on First Avenue. Then we started getting the broken windows.

I have to hand to Max Hurlocker, the Property Chair and our Office Manager Chris Wogaman, who were busy making calls to repair the windows, call the police and our landlord, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Since Bob was out of town, I stepped in to do…well not a whole lot, but to at least provide a listening ear. As I sat in on a meeting on Tuesday with representatives from the Institute and the alarm company I could hear some the questions coming from our members. They all boiled down to one simple question: why? Why was someone targeting us? What did we do to deserve this?

Having someone vandalize your property once is bad enough, but then it happens twice in the space of 48 hours, it can be downright unsettling and produce a lot of worry. You don’t feel secure anymore. You wonder if it will happen again or if it will get worse.

It’s funny that this is all taking place as the Lectionary texts deal with Jesus’ Sermon the Mount. Last week we hear the call to love our enemies and this week Jesus tells his followers not to worry.

I’ve heard people say that the Sermon on the Mount is basically a guide to living an ethical life. But if Jesus was trying to make a living as a self-help guru, then this is an epic fail. Jesus is asking us to do the impossible. Love some jerk who throws a brick into our building? Really? Don’t worry about things?


The Sermon on the Mount is impossible to follow. The fact is, we will fail in trying to live by it. And yet, here it is, here Jesus is, calling for us to not worry about what we are going to eat or what we are going to wear.

If it seems odd to hear this in the aftermath of vandalism, it’s even harder to hear it in this current economy, where people worry constantly about keeping their homes and their jobs. Jesus tells us not to serve God and money, but let’s face it: we worry about our finances. We have debts and mortgages and bills to pay and we wonder if we will always be able to pay them.

We could just ignore this passage and go on with our lives, and in many ways we do that anyway. How many times have we heard this passage and just move on? It’s a nice saying, but it has no bearing on reality.

But we can’t ignore this passage. It does speak to us, even as it calls us to do the impossible. Jesus calls us to trust that God will take care of the details. As the old Stevie Wonder song goes, “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing.” Matthew 6:33 says, “seek first the kingdom of God.” Some versions use the word “strive” instead of “seek.”

Either way, we are being asked to try to strive to live as God calls us to live in this world. The Sermon on the Mount is a step-by-step guide on how to live a good life, but it is a way , a rule of life, of how the followers Jesus should live. We are following a high calling from God to be a peculiar people in the world even though we will fall short time and time again.

I don’t blame people for worrying about all the vandalism. That’s a natural response. It also makes sense to do what you can to prevent from happening again. I think we are always going to worry about things.

The concern is when our worry about things gets in the way of striving to be God’s people. A broken window should not deter us from reaching out to our neighbors. It should not prevent us from giving out bus cards to those who are homeless or poor. It should not stop us from feeding the poor or finding ways to shelter those without homes. Despite the worry, we seek to be a faithful community that shares God’s love in word and in deed.

You all know that I’m a bivocational pastor. I work as the Communication Director for the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area. This week, I was asked to take pictures for an open house at Kwanzaa Presbyterian Church, which is located in North Minneapolis. As the name suggests, it’s an African American congregation. One of the co-pastors there is Alika Galloway, and she took about an hour to talk about all the various ministries going on at the church and there is a lot. There is an after-school program that provides a lot number of African American kids who live in poverty and meal and a stable place to learn and play. There is also a program called Northside Women’s Space which is done in conjuction with a researcher from the University of Minnesota. The Women’s Space simply offers a refuge for women who work in the sex trade. Many of these women live chaotic lives where they face abuse from pimps and johns. This space, housed in one of the congregation’s buildings gives these women a place just to be and even give them some help.

All of this takes place in a part of town that is not the safest. I would guess there is a lot of worry that takes place at Kwanzaa. But yet, they seem to strive for God’s kingdom, feeding those who are hungry and giving hope to the outcast.

As I was getting ready to head to the church, I had to make a phone call to the congregation. I got their voice mail and heard Alika’s voice. Towards the end of the recorded voicemail message Alika said “It’s True, it’s true, it’s true. God loves you, God loves you, God loves you.”

That’s a message that people in North Minneapolis need to hear, especially if they live in poverty and feel that no one cares for them. They need to know that someone cares for them, and as the passage says today, if God cares for the lilies and birds, God cares for these folks. Kwanzaa makes sure that the residents of North Minneapolis know that by saying it and doing it.

It’s also a message for us. In the midst of our own worries and struggles remember that “it’s true, it’s true, it’s true. God love us, God love us, God love us.” Thanks be to God. Amen.