Monday, February 26, 2007

Fear and Faith: Lent 2 C Luke 13:31-35

This week in 3 readings we can see God's response to one basic human emotion: fear.

In the first reading we can see that fear has been part of the human relationship with God from the very start. Way back in Genesis 15:1 God told Abram not to fear when he came and spoke to him about the promise that he was going to fulfill on his behalf. The experience of meeting God in the middle of human life elicits the involuntary emotional response of fear.

Abram is not the only person in scripture who was told not to fear.

God and the angels have repeatedly spoken to the people of God saying do not fear. But fear is real for us. Moses in Exodus 3:6 hid his face from God because of fear. Gabriel's words to Mary when she met him included the instruction do not be afraid.

It's easy to say don't be afraid, but we can't escape it. Fear is real. It is an involuntary biological response to the uncertainty around us. Because fear is a basic part of every human being it is also part of walking in faith. We can deny that we have fears, but the the visceral experience of fear is very real. We all know it. We know fear when an unseen dog barks nearby. Its no different when you see the power of God at work in the world and realize your own limits. It is natural to experience fear.

Proverbs 9:10 KJV says that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” To stand in the awesome presence of God is not an intellectual experience or an ethereal mystical experience it is an experience of a whole being to the God who made us, sustains us, and redeemed us through the cross. The majesty of God is beyond our mind's limits; we fear what surprises us and surely we are in for a lot of surprises as we meet the living God in our world.

Faith in God, the awesome one in whose presence we find comfort, is refuge from all the other powers and principalities. The great theologians behind at Big Idea Productions put these exact thoughts into God is Bigger than the Boogie Man in Veggie Tales first episode.

Faith doesn't remove the things that we are afraid of in this world. Sin, death, and the devil are still part of the creation that we live in daily, but faith, given by the Spirit, gives us confidence that God walks with us through the entire journey.

In Psalm 27:1 a poet declared,

“The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold [refuge]

of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid? NRSV
Psalm 27:1.

Jesus, fully human and fully God, would have known the involuntary fears of this world. But fear did not stop him from acting. The Pharisees in Luke 13:31 told Jesus to run because Herod was after him. But Jesus said no.

“tell that fox, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Luke 13:32-33 NRSV

For Jesus fear of what Herod could do to him was not enough to silence him. Fear of the cross was not enough to stop him. The power of faith over fear is clear in his life. Fear doesn't disappear, pain and anguish weren't wiped away, but in the middle of it all Jesus trusted that God's presence was enough to hold him safe through the worst that this world could bring. Sure Fear can grip us in ways that nothing else can; but so can the love of God that holds onto us through all things.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

World Views

Two thoughts about the way I see the world.

Over the past weekend I listened to a summary, on National Public Radio, of the House of Representatives debate on the non-binding resolution regarding the troop build up in Iraq. The part of the summary that I found most fascinating were the recurrent discussions in the debate about Vietnam. Vietnam Vets named their experiences and as I listened I heard them debating not the current war in Iraq, but the Vietnam War of 30+ years ago.
I was born in 1974 and have no personal memories of the war; but I have been surprised how often stories from Vietnam are cited by slightly older people around me as they try to make sense of the War in Iraq. There is no doubt in my mind that America's current world view has been shaped by the experiences of Vietnam: both those of the veterans who were men and women in Vietnam and the experiences of those who were home protesting (or not) against the war. The old views on Vietnam are still there beneath the surface of the current congress and the contemporary cultural debate about war in Iraq.

We as Christians have no unified stand on the war, or for that matter, anything else these days. Even the nature of Jesus and the goals of his ministry and our ministry in his name is up for discussion. Inviting our brothers and sisters in Christ into conversation is all the more important these days. We can in one sense try to see ourselves in neat rows of ideologies or we can see ourselves as part of a common church that needs to have many voices come forward to help make sense of the great issues of our days.
For those who are interested in trying to find their place in the labels. I found a link to nifty theological world view inventory at QuizFarm. Some might say these kinds of inventories are specious but I thought the questions to piqued my curiosity and have got me think Please remember that this is just for your own edification.

The Unlikely Conversationalist has a Neo orthodox world view according to this quiz. That means, "You reject the human-centredness and scepticism of liberal theology, but neither do you go to the other extreme and make the Bible the central issue for faith. You believe that Christ is God's most important revelation to humanity, and the Trinity is hugely important in your theology. The Bible is also important because it points us to the revelation of Christ. You are influenced by Karl Barth and P T Forsyth.

Neo orthodox


Reformed Evangelical


Roman Catholic




Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan






Modern Liberal


Classical Liberal


What's your theological worldview?
created with

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Temptations: No Kidding Lent 1c Luke 4:1-13

Desert times and times of great plenty are often the very moments when the devil has the very most opportunity to strike at the people of God. The enemy is always trying wanting always to pull us from God, but in the moments of greatest joy and sorrow he often gets the most opportunity to get us away from God so that we can be most useful for evil and not for good.
How can one person be so certain about the reality of evil? scripture and experience:
Our scriptures make some clear claims about evil and the devil.

  1. There really is a devil. It's that simple. There really is a being in this who wants to tempt us to walk away farther and farther from what God intends for us.
  2. Temptations are as unique as each human being. And Jesus, fully human, was no different in appearance as a target for the diabolical as any of us.
Jesus was guided by the Spirit into a time of fasting. He sat in the desert forty days. He ate nothing and drank nothing. Hunger and thirst were surely companions in the wasteland. But beyond the hunger and the thirst was temptation to something more. Not only the temptation to eat and to drink and to be satisfied. There was another hunger there too. In the middle of the wilderness Jesus had access to power. His earthly needs were unmet. His hunger was as real as his flesh and blood body. He could have easily chosen power as the way out.

The experience of evil tempting us with something other than what God is asking of us is as old as humanity. The key is to understand that the devil knows each of our temptations. The enemy is a master at plying us with exactly what will pull us from God. For Jesus the devil believed the real temptation was power. Fyodor Dostoevsky in Brother's Karamazov invites us into a view of the temptation in a little story called The Grand Inquisitor. The inquisitor knew exactly what would pull Jesus away from his relationship with the Father. But Jesus would not given in. His greatest temptation would have destroyed the triune relationship of Father, Son and Spirit being one by only one choosing power over the others.

The difference between Jesus and us is that we easily surrender our wills. Luther described boldly how the human will is held in bondage to the power either of God or the Devil. We loose control and become the objects of either force not the one in control. The enemy tests us over and over. And we, unlike Jesus, will fail over and over. Faith doesn't save us from ourselves or from our limits. But the love of God releases us from the tempters power again and again so that our sins do not chain us for eternity.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Last week in Ocean Springs, Mississippi

There's plenty of work to do on the Mississippi Gulf Coast today. The pictures are from my own camera and were taken between February 5 and 9, 2007 in Moss Point and Biloxi, MS.

Lots sit empty, concrete slabs or single stair cases are the only remnant of destroyed homes. Tarp covered roofs remind those who see them of the damage caused by Katrina. But most Americans don't see them everyday. Those who live far away we can easily forget about disasters and the people living in devastated homes or trailers after the storm. But not everyone chooses to forget those with the greatest of needs. The church I serve in Minnesota knows the unfinished work first hand. 19 people from our Christian Action Team headed down in February 2007 to Mississippi to work rebuilding homes and lives.

Preparation started long before February. Vacation time was planned, money set aside, and reservations made at Camp Victor in Ocean Springs, MS for February 4-10, 2007. Camp Victor is a cooperative effort of Lutheran Disaster Response, Lutheran Social Service, and Christus Victor Lutheran Church. The facility houses over 200 volunteers who come to rebuild, distribute resources, or support other volunteers who go out making houses livable for the elderly, disabled, and poor of the Gulf Coast. Camp Victor' case workers have waded through over 1000 help requests. 700 families still await assistance. Up to 70 homes are in reconstruction by Camp Victor volunteers at any one time.

Ocean Springs is 1100 miles from Minnesota. Damage could be seen 70 miles from the coast. Pulling into Ocean Springs is deceiving. Business on the main highway have reopened and many damaged beyond repair were leveled. A few blocks from the highway and high ground the total damage is clear. The storm surge knocked out the first floor of many homes near the shore and inundated many homes on the bayous and back-channels of the Gulf. In low-lying towns like Moss Point and Pascagoulah, Mississippi almost every home was flooded and every home needed cleaning out and sanitizing. Those without resources, because of poverty or because their insurance company refused settle, face the greatest challenges. That's exactly where Lutheran Disaster Response gets to work serving the poor and the old who have no other resources. One church can't undo the racial and class inequalities that underlay Mississippi's culture; but we can do our best to help our neighbors, regardless of age or race, to rebuild.

Crews from Camp Victor spread out working on various jobs as close as a block away and as far as 40 minutes drive. Our 3 crews worked on 6 different house installing everything from drywall, to new flours and ceilings. 4 professional builders came forward to lead the effort. Camp Victor requests one well trained person come with every 5 volunteers. Bathrooms needed plumbing and lights needed hanging, new walls were primed and painted; some in the group replaced sewer pipes, doors, and windows damaged as houses shifted in the storm. The key part is that 19 people worked for 40 total hours a piece, that makes for 760 hours in the week. That translates roughly to a gift to the people in Jackson County of $13,300. That's how much FEMA will take off the county's bill in exchange for the volunteer efforts.

As I kid I can remember singing Dan Schutte's song City of God. The lyrics have been echoing in my head since early Wednesday morning.

Awake from your slumber! Arise from your sleep!
A new day is dawning for all those who weep.
The people in darkness have seen a great light.
The Lord of our longing has conquered the night.

Refrain: Let us build the city of God.
May our tears be turned into dancing!
For the Lord, our light and our love
Has turned the night into day!

Early on as I pondered the song I was thinking this is a great song about the mission that the church has in the world today. But a sense of mission alone isn't enough. 19 people can appear on the Gulf Coast and bring nothing good with them, or 19 people can come with a mission and a vision and get some good work done. We have a mission in the church but accomplishing this mission demands vision. This is not the mission of one congregation or one denomination. We each have to understand that mission requires vision. One group going down to the Gulf can only do so much in the face of devastaion. But with a shared vision and commitment to pool resources we can do the very most good for the most people. The church in 21st Century America has begun to rise up to meet those in the greatest need. Those who have been to Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana or Texas know what our own eyes have seen. We know that too many families on the Gulf Coast are waiting to be helped by faith based organizations like Lutheran Disaster Response and many others.

Churches, the flesh and blood Body of Christ, with countless different arms, feet, and faces are the ones filling in the gaps that our government and private corporations won't. Volunteers giving time and donors giving resources make it possible for the hardest hit to go back home. For more information please contact Camp Victor or 228-872-5745. The people at Camp Victor estimate 6-8 more years of work ahead. They need our continued support to make it happen.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Seeing God in Action: Transfigurartion C Luke 9:28-43

Mysteries surrounded Jesus' ministry. Mysterious power gave way to mysterious visions for Jesus' friends. Unexplained actions and wonders happened right before their noses.

Today we are invited into two mystery shrouded high-points in Jesus' ministry in this one short section of scripture Luke 9:28-43.

The first highpoint happened up on a mountain and the second one took place in a deep valley of suffering where the daemonic was at work and God's power in the world was unseen.

The first highpoint must have been something to see. Jesus went up to the top of a mountain with his friends. On top of the mountain Jesus' appearance changed. He was there shining in his glory up on top of the mountain. Two of the ancient prophets, Moses and Elijah, were there up on top of the mountain too.

What a sight. Jesus dazzling white revealing the glory of God not for all the world to see but just for three of Jesus friends to witness. Peter, James, and John were in awe. Their friend dazzling bright like no earthly person could have made him. They were seeing the glory of God revealed in him in their presence. Peter babbled, not knowing what he was saying about booths for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah but the moment of glory was gone as fast as it came. They couldn't hold onto the moment for even a flash of time.

They came down the mountain and kept silent about the whole experience. People living on this side of the resurrection wonder why they didn't tell about what they saw happen to Jesus. Perhaps they'd seen a mystery that defied explanation. Whatever the case, we know they they didn't stay hushed about the experience for the rest of their days.

The second highpoint didn't look so great on first sight. A father met them in the town at the bottom of the hill begging Jesus for help. His son had a daemon and no one could help. Not even the disciples could help. Jesus named his frustrations and the faithlessness of the people but he did not walk away. He heard the father's plea. Mark 9:24 tells how the father even asked Jesus to help him in his unbelief.

Jesus healed the boy ordering the daemon to stop and restoring him to his father.

The mystery of what the disciples saw stands out. We like to solve mysteries, not live with them, but walking with Jesus means living in and with mysteries. We'll see high points and we'll see low points. And along the way we might catch a glimpse of God in glory or in suffering.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Blessed and happy, rejoice the kingdom is yours.Epiphany 6C Luke 6:17-26

Good Morning from Camp Victor on the Mississippi gulf Coast

This morning a group of 19 from my congregation is waking up, as I write, and getting ready to go back to work on the homes of people who've been living in other places or in only a small part of their homes since Hurricane Katrina came through here a 1 1/2 years ago.

Jesus' words in his sermon on the plain make sense this morning. He's inviting us into the tough parts of people's lives and making it clear that He belongs there through us.

Even a casual reader will find hope and challenge in these words. The hope is there for those who God has not forgotten even after the devil, the world, and the worst of human nature has been inflicted on them.

God will bless you people
who are poor.
His kingdom belongs to you!
God will bless
you hungry people.
You will have plenty to eat!
God will bless you people
who are crying.
You will laugh! Luke 5:21-22 CEV

We who live in privelege can, in our time, choose to hide from the tough parts in other people's lives, but Jesus invites us in not to try to save them, but to find our salvation and their salvation in the arms of a crucified God. Jesus came born into the chaos of this world and stayed. Today we follow him into the very same chaos.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Who told you? Epiphany 5C 1 Corinthians 15

Churches have a message that's meant to be told. Its a message about the cross that's never made sense to the whole world but that holds onto those who believe even if they can't make sense of it on their own. Let's face it, the thought of God coming to earth is enough to get believers hearts moving but unbelievers are apathetic about the whole experience. But for believers the experience of God coming to earth changes everything.

Some believers are moved by the fear of meeting God face to face.
Some believers are moved by hope that they might meet God face to face.

Faith, hope, and fear are all steps along the journey to loving God. Paul wrote with a clear understanding of the grace that God had shown for him

Finally, he appeared to me, even though I am like someone who was born at the wrong time. 9I am the least important of all the apostles. In fact, I caused so much trouble for God's church that I don't even deserve to be called an apostle. 10But God was kind! He made me what I am, and his wonderful kindness wasn't wasted. I worked much harder than any of the other apostles, although it was really God's kindness at work and not me. 11But it doesn't matter if I preached or if they preached. All of you believed the message just the same. 1 Corinthians 15 : 8-11 Contemporary English Version (CEV)
It seems like we believers, who Martin Luther said are simultaneously saints and sinners, need to meet Jesus as we are right now both in the cross and in the empty tomb. Paul's language seems a little self-deprecating at first glance, but on closer look he speaks for all of us. Christ came for me and it doesn't matter who told me, what matters is that somebody did.