The Beatitudes – Vision and Challenge

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One of the things that I am constantly amazed at is how the Church or Christianity is usually placed in the narrow, weak, small-minded, etc category. To me the simple facts are usually just the opposite. It is the church that requires disciples of Jesus to a) look up and see with eschatological or eternal eyes, b) recognize your real pitiful condition and c) look for salvation from outside yourself and d) start living that eternal reality here and now even though the kingdom has not been completely revealed. Each of those elements takes more courage and greater vision than anything those who attack the church have ever tried.

Everything the world tries to do can be condensed to getting you to narrow you focus to something you think you can control. As long as you don’t ask the big questions or get outside of a comfort range, then you can fool yourself in a high self-esteem. Christ says blessed are the poor in spirit which is point a and b. If you look up with eyes that see beyond your immediate plot you should recognize just how poor and pitiful we are. You can recognize that and run back immediately to your little plot. The Christian recognizes it and confesses it – I am a poor miserable sinner. Which takes more vision and courage – retreat into the seemingly safe self, or confession? Which is more limiting – finding yourself in within a much larger plot, or going back to your small one? The world wants you to stay so small that you don’t even think you need anyone else let alone a savior. Christianity says its hopeless absent God’s action in Christ. Which takes more courage: trying to keep everything in your own hands, or turning your very life over to someone else? And then Christ says go be merciful, be pure in heart (read as seek God first), be peacemakers. You know what happens to those kind of people in this world. But Christ says his disciples do these things. These are what my blessed people will look like.

It is one of those truisms that the world will throw at the church that only weak people need religion, or that the church is for those who are small minded. That truism is demonstrably false. It is those attempting to follow Christ, to live out their religion, that are given much larger vision and challenges. It is much easier to run back to the deceptive safety of one small plot. But running back to that small existence casts away the blessings. Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

10 most searched bible verses, some practical wisdom and just heart-rending story

Have you ever wondered what the 10 most looked at bible verses are? Well, thanks to the internet we now have a real good idea. Here they are. I somewhat agree with the original observation. With two caveats: 1) Many of these verses already have law/sin/weakness embedded in their understanding and 2) most of them are so common I’m somewhat surprised they needed to be looked up. I guess I might have expected some less well known passages to show up just because people needed to find where they were.

Families used to be local. You knew the family of everyone you knew. Churches gave a formal way to express sympathy – we have all sat on that mourners bench. Kids would learn this stuff from observing mothers. Many of those things are no longer true or are very strained. If you find yourself fumbling for words or actions when someone dies, this is a good short practical wisdom guide.

And this is just a really touching story.

Do you have a church?

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A few remarks by people in bible class afterward were interesting feedback. This seem seemed to strike harder than I would have expected. Not that the notes that struck were not there, just that I would have expected a slightly different reaction.

Protestantism and Lutheranism in particular are very polar – either this or that. When you are talking about discipleship or responding to the call of Christ, that isn’t always helpful. Modern protestants have become very able to reduce the gospel to one dimension – believe the right thing. Faith Alone. The dramatic flattening of the gospel in many churches isn’t all Paul’s fault, because Paul is never that one dimensional, but Matthew and the gospels help. The call comes to different people in different ways. The gospel is that it is from God’s guidance and never more than we can handle. That simple faith in the right things – for me encapsulated in the creeds – is the general call given to all humanity. Repent, the Kingdom is here!

But the life of Faith may contain individual calls that go beyond that. They are part of the individuals call to follow. They are part of separating out the disciple of the Kingdom from the admirer.

That title questions – Do you have a church? – is from a story used in the sermon. It is important to ask. Do you have a community of people responding and guided by the call of Jesus, or a club of Jesus admirers?

[Another deeper point not touched on in the sermon directly, but broached in bible class and always floating in Matthew is: are the disciples the embryo church or are they the apostles? When you hear the call to be fisher’s of people, is that given to the entire church, or to the ministers? Same in Matthew 28:18-20. Is the great commission to the church as a whole, or those who normally baptize and teach? It is not as clean as we’d like it. Although I’m sure that many would not like this, how you answer that question is probably a bigger difference today between Rome and Protestants than justification. And that also has an impact on Do you have a church? Rome traditionally said Protestants didn’t. Now we are just imperfectly in communion. Is there a church structure – an ecclesiology – that acknowledges the ambiguity?]

When the simple things fall through the cracks…

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Picture from the article…

In Wayne County, Mich., which includes Detroit, state budget cuts have allowed the medical examiner’s office to bury only half the number of bodies that need to be buried each year, according to Albert Samuels, chief investigator for the office. Mr. Samuels said he has about 185 bodies in storage.

Once Mr. Samuels uses up his annual budget of $30,000, he has to stop burials. “Bodies are still coming in,” he said. “I get into a hole after a while.”

So Mr. Samuels struck a contract with a local crematorium allowing him to cremate an additional 50 bodies last year. The cremations cost $170 each, compared with $750 for a burial.

Meanwhile, he is working to submit the paperwork to the state for five corpses that have been in his morgue since 2008.

The article has several other cities mentioned. What does it say about society when the dead don’t get buried? What is the value of life, or the recognition of what being a human is, when the remains are treated in that manner? What is the old line about how you treat those who can’t stand up? Same week as this story at the other end of life about late term abortionist Kermit Gosnell (Grand Jury Report, Newspaper, Slate – William Saletan)?

Look, I’ve never been particularly romantic, but both of these stories about helpless folks are about how society encourages, condones, enables and turns a blind eye. That seems to be a change.

Even if society didn’t find value in a specific person in life, it usually found value in them as a human being – a carrier of the image of God. And that image would be respected. Can we really say that about our society today? Even Jefferson would write that famous phrase, “all men are created equal, endowed by their creator…” The equality there is not something that comes from ourselves, but outside ourselves; the image of God broken as it may be. When a society decides this is the way to treat the dead and the yet unborn, can we really believe those words; or do our actions tell more about us?

Where have all the good men gone…

If you are of the ’80s generation you have that song in your head, just go ahead and admit it. Now why I used it: this short piece by Heather Wilson who sits on the Rhodes Scholar committee (i.e. selecting them) and has been a US representative. Read Here.

Money quote…

As a result, high-achieving students seem less able to grapple with issues that require them to think across disciplines or reflect on difficult questions about what matters and why.

Unlike many graduate fellowships, the Rhodes seeks leaders who will “fight the world’s fight.” They must be more than mere bookworms. We are looking for students who wonder, students who are reading widely, students of passion who are driven to make a difference in the lives of those around them and in the broader world through enlightened and effective leadership. The undergraduate education they are receiving seems less and less suited to that purpose.

Not that she would listen to me, after all I’m just a humble parish pastor, but I can tell you exactly why she doesn’t get the kids she’s thinks she’s longing for (all the good men…). Our education system is not designed to uncover truth except in the narrowest possible way. It doesn’t even aim at truth, and good portions don’t believe in that word. Absent of truth, the only thing to be passionate about is consumption and power.

The students that succeed wildly in our system are those that learn early that the actual questions don’t matter, just that you are on the right side of whatever the question is for the immediate context. And those students get very good at giving the right contextual answers, posing an ironic stance outside of the classroom (again the right context), and never earning either. Reading widely, wondering and having passion are all signals that you don’t actually get it. They are the very activities that our education and merit system weeds out. The student who stumbles, shows some real passion for the wrong side because she read Plato’s cave and saw a flicker of a shadow of reality gets the A minus. The A minus takes her out of the running for valedictorian, etc, etc, etc.

To find the student she is describing the Rhodes would have to change their sort and put their prestige at risk as the Rhodes would look different that everybody else. To find your life, you must lose it.

Just a personal reflection. The confirmation class knows that I have “answers” to the questions I ask. My goal is actually less to get them to that answer then to get them thinking. If I get them thinking they may never be Rhodes Scholars, but they might be those good men and women. But these 6-8th graders have already fully learned the lesson of right answers in the right context; they are just a little more flip in my class because I can’t grade them. One student in particular has taken to “locking in” his answers. Trying to break that ‘learning is a game’ cynical reaction is necessary.

“Rosebud” – Discipleship Journeys

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The text of this sermon was John 1:29-42. That is two days of John the Baptist’s preaching and the evangelists account of the first disciples of Jesus. By telling us this account -which is starkly different that the synoptic (Matt/Mark/Luke) tradition, the evangelist invites us to ponder our own discipleship journey. Where are we? Are we on Jordan’s bank, but not really hearing the Baptist say there, right there! is the Lamb? Have we heard and are hoping to see? Have we seen and have joined the journey? Have we put the things we have seen into practice?

The connection with “rosebud” is seeing what is really important. Epiphany, the current season of the church, is a season to see. It is a season to ponder what is really important before the trials and tribulations. To find our rosebud’s and to see the rose which is blooming – foretold by Isaiah and seen today within our midst.

In a challenge note, go read John 1:19 – 2:1 and track the days. Keep track of what happens on each day. What day(s) are missing? What day(s) are ours to write our discipleship journeys on? Who revealed Christ to us? How are we part of that chain? How do we extend that witness?

Paragraph of the day…

From William McGurn

After crunching the latest statistics from New York City’s Health Department, the foundation reported that 41% of pregnancies (excluding miscarriage) in New York ended in abortion. That’s double the national rate…The question becomes even more compelling when broken down by race. For Hispanics, the abortion rate was 41.3%—i.e., more than double the rate for whites. For African-Americans the numbers are still more grim: For every 1,000 African-American live births in New York, there were 1,489 abortions…So how is New York responding? Earlier this month, the Chiaroscuro Foundation put together a high-profile press conference that brought the archbishop of New York and the leader of the one of Orthodox Jewry’s most distinguished organizations (Agudath Israel of America) together with the African-American pastor of a large, Harlem church and a Latina who serves as a spokeswoman for Democrats for Life. As the New York Sun pointed out, notwithstanding all this ecumenical focus on New York’s distinction as America’s abortion capital, it elicited nary a peep from the mayor.

Source Material…

Living with a weekly deadline – say something, funny, empathic, meaningful, not to deep, touching, sentimental, strong, filled with good doctrine but full of grace – whether you like it or not, turns the world into source material. I keep returning to Deuteronomy 6:6-7, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” I return to them because they remind me that the words don’t replace life, but fill it up. Likewise, we don’t say I’m going to stop living for an hour and spend time with God. The goal of discipleship is to live with God, to find or better to recognize God in those everyday things, when you walk and when you sit down, when sleep and when you get up.

So to clear out some good stuff I came across, but haven’t completely used. (Windows is telling me I need to reboot and I will lose this stuff on that reboot.)

Being a Chinese Mother [And a slightly scathing rebuttal.]

IBM’s Watson (Oh great, they will replace me yet.)

The Math of Beauty (or why it is better to be Loved and Hated than merely liked.).

A test I actually ran with David (I need to take a video of that and post it.) (Very Cute Funny)

The Anchoress (a very wise woman, even if she is very Roman Catholic) on Authority

Fulfilling All Righteousness

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Text: Matt 3:13-17

I like knowing what I’m going to say in the pulpit before I say it. What that means is that I’m usually over-prepared. But events happen which can make all that preparation if not meaningless, just not what needs to be said. As the day Saturday went along, I new I had to say something about the shooting in AZ. If there is anything that sermons are for or pastors should be able to help with, it is offering a biblical way of thinking about events. The task of discipleship is forming within ourselves, or for pastors with their congregations, the mind of Christ – being conformed to his likeness (Rom 8:29).

And it is exactly in awful and terrible events like mass shootings that the Christian witness makes the most sense. The enlightenment’s only answer to such events is mental illness. That is a form of scapegoating. We don’t understand, so we cast the person out – they are mentally ill. The biblical witness is sin. We are all bent. We all have that within us. It is by grace that we are saved. See the difference? The world’s current answer divides us, judges and doesn’t provide a real answer other than walking quickly past. The biblical answer of sin says no to the division and judgment. And it provides a real answer – repent, we have a savior and a spirit.

The text works. Jesus stood for us in his baptism. Instead of doing what we want to do – divide and judge – Jesus stood with us in the waters of the Jordan. Because of his standing with us, and the Father’s bestowing of the Spirit on him, we also have the Spirit in his baptism. We are not slaves to sin.