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Why is the Mainline Losing Young Adults?

April 14, 2014

On Saturday, Methodist pastor Alan Bevere wondered why mainline churches are losing their young adults.  This was my response.

This is probably going to be a future blog post, but I will offer a few observations. First, mainline churches have done a poor job when it comes to campus ministry with one exception: the Lutherans. When I was working for the local Presbytery, there was one church that was heavily involved in campus ministry at the University of Minnesota, but it was on the conservative end and therefore not given much attention. That church is in the process of leaving the denomination. There is another church nearby that could have a bigger presence and we will see if it does anything. I think that there has been some presence at that church in the past but not much. But most mainline denominations have not invested in campus ministry, which has to be a way to keep kids in church.

Which I think leads to number two; a lack of young adult ministries at the judicatorial level. The big downtown and suburban churches like Hennepin Avenue UMC in Minneapolis (where I work now) or Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago, have thriving young adult ministries, but that is because there is staff dedicated to that sort of ministry. However, small churches don’t have the resources to reach out on their own. Middle judicatories need to either create resources to help small churches do effective ministry, or work to gather churches in one area to pool their resources and do ministry together.

There is also no talk about young folk as they enter careers. Michael Kruse is better at explaining this, but there needs to be some way that the young Christians learn of the importance of vocation. We pastors have to help them see the connection between their work and their faith.

Finally, there needs to be more expansion of Americorps type programs. The Lutherans have Lutheran Volunteer Corps which again is a breeding ground for new leaders. A few Presbyterian Churches in the Twin Cities are coming together to operate something similar.

Okay one more thing. Mainline churches need to make the main thing the main thing. Too often what we offer is something that is watered down and frankly no different than what is heard at a Democratic party convention. Young people are wise enough to know that if this is what they are getting in their churches, then they don’t need to come to church. They can get their politics from a plethora of places that do it better. We are called to make disciples, not Democrats.

 

On the Babylonian Captivity of the Mainline Protestant Church

April 10, 2014

“Be in the world, but not of the world.”

partisanshipThat was a phrase I heard a lot when I was growing up.  In my evangelical upbringing, there was a stress about living where we are, but not follow the ways of the world.  According to the phrase, we are to follow Jesus and not gods of this world.

Around the time of seminary in the late 1990s, I started hearing talk about”empire.”  The empire was something that challenged the authority of God.  In mainline/progressive churches, talking about empire was their version “not of this world.”  The thinking is based on the depiction of the Roman Empire during Jesus’ time.  It was an all encompassing entity that demanded loyalty and worship.  The empire tends to be used also to describe a modern Rome; namely the United States. In this view, Christians are to resist the power of empire which are rather great.

There is a lot of talk about how we should not fall for the lies of the world/empire and follow Jesus.  But most our talk is just that, talk.  While we denounce the world/empire, we have basically got in bed with the Ceasars of this world.  It’s been well recorded about how evangelicals had a Vegas-style wedding with the GOP.  What is less well-known- especially to those on the inside is how progressive Christians have swallowed whole left-wing politics.  It’s dressed up in churchy language of course, but it’s still a melding of Ceasar and the church.  Many progressive Christians are engaged in politics that is basically left-liberal politics and what I think is very disturbing is that they seem to be unaware that they are just as captive as their conservative sisters and brothers.

None of this is to say that conservatives are any better- they aren’t.  But progressives are not innocent.  Both sides have bought into the conservative/liberal mentality that has become a hallmark of our polarized American society.  Methodist pastor Allan Bevere shares how the church has become captive to the political system:

I immediately think of the (United Methodist) General Board of Church and Society that belongs to the first group, while United Methodist Action (affiliated with the Institute on Religion and Democracy) is an expression of the second group. The former group sounds less Christian and more like the Democratic Party, while the latter group sounds less Christian and more like the Republican Party. Indeed, when I read the anything from either group, I often struggle to see the decisively Christian theological presence in their arguments.

The problem is that both groups that Bishop Carter identifies suffer from their own version of civil religion. James Hunter defines civil religion as “a diffuse amalgamation of religious values that is synthesized with the civic creeds of the nation; in which the life and mission of the church is conflated with the life and mission of the country. American values are, in substance, biblical prophetic values; American identity is, thus, vaguely Christian identity” (Hunter, To Change the World, p. 145). As Hunter rightly notes, the religious right wants to keep America Christian (as they understand it) and the religious left wants to make America Christian (as they understand it). And since both sides are more decisively Democratic or Republican than decisively Christian, the former is unable to apply their concerns for life and hospitality to the unborn, while the latter cannot apply them to immigrants and gays and lesbians. But a consistent ethic of life and hospitality “represents a continuum from conception to death, from the individual to the creation, from interventions in and support of the lives of unborn children and their pregnant mothers, trafficked and enslaved young people, endangered coal miners, incarcerated young men on death row, tortured prisoners of war, the dignity of the aged, and the fragile ecosystems upon which we all depend” (Carter).

As long our UM boards and agencies and organizations (official and otherwise) and we individual United Methodists are nothing more than extensions of the Democratic and Republican Parties, we will not only continue to be selective as to who receives the hospitality of Christ through us, we will also fail to be the alternative to the world that the church is designed to be. One can’t be an alternative when one simply parrots the prevailing political polarities. Until we embrace a consistent ethic of life, our ethic of hospitality will be inconsistent. We will continue to be inconsistent as long as we sound more like the politicians in Washington D.C. than the carpenter from Nazareth.

 

The problem in mainline/progressive circles is that we can’t really tell the difference between liberal politics and prophetic witness. We tend to think that if someone speaks out against a conservative policy, they are somehow in the same league of Old Testament prophets like Amos. Frankly, if we are nodding in agreement with what the “prophet” says all the time, that person is probably not a prophet.

But as I said before, this captivity is very subtle. I don’t think people are deliberately trying to neutralize the church, but that is what is happening here. We might tell ourselves that the work for a higher minimum wage is part of God’s plans of salvation, but is out work for God or the Democratic party?

I don’t think the answer here is for Christians to withdraw from politics. We have to be able to engage the world around us. But the answer that has elluded me all these years is how can church leaders raise Christians who understand the political landscape and seek to help Christians make choices based on their faith. It’s too easy for churches to just capitualte to the wider culture. What I think is needed is some room for the pastor to help people discern what it means to believe and act in this culture. It’s going to mean thinking long and hard about issues seeking a way that will help the least of these. It might also mean having to deal with someone that has a different ideology. It means working together to work for healing and wholeness with someone you might not agree with. It would mean really asking God to lead us instead of using God a political cheerleader.

I don’t have all the answers, let alone the vision of this change in the church’s public witness.

Sermon: “To Be Continued…”

April 9, 2014

A Year A Palm Sunday sermon from 2011.

“To Be Continued…”
Philippians 2:5-11 and Matthew 27:11-54
April 17, 2011 (Palm Sunday)
First Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

About a 10 years ago, I was driving down I-35W from Edina to Minneapolis. All of the sudden, the traffic just stopped. Now usually if there is a traffic jam, the traffic slows down, but it rarely just stops. I looked at the other lane and it was devoid of any traffic…at all. It was a little odd to see a freeway not have any cars on it at all, especially at the middle of the day.

Screen-shot-2010-03-12-at-11.12.33-AM-550x318Just then, a caravan of black cars made its way down the empty lane. One of those cars was a limousine with flags donning the hood. It occurred to me that what had just passed me by was a presidential motorcade. Then-President Bush was in town to make a speech in Eden Prairie and as is the case whenever the president is in town, all roads leading from the airport to the location where the president will be are shut down totally to offer he or she protection.

Frankly, I think it’s kinda cool that as president you don’t have to worry about traffic jams. Ever.

Now, I understand why one would shut down roads in order to make sure that the leader of our nation is protected from threats. But all of these measures are a reminder of the power of the Presidency. When the President walks into a room, please stand up. Sometimes it’s even followed by music, “Hail to the Chief.”

Even in a democracy, there are trappings of power. It just kinda comes with the territory.

Today is Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter where we remember Jesus entering into Jerusalem, not in a motorcade but on the back of a humble donkey to cheering crowds. So, we all get palm fronds and wave them back and forth as a reminder of Jesus’ tripumphant entry into Jerusalem.

In recent years this Sunday has also had another name: Passion Sunday. Because in some cases people don’t come to Maunday Thursday or Good Friday services there was a fear people would go from the celebration of Palm Sunday to the celebration of Easter and miss that whole suffering and death thing that happens between the two events.

So, today instead of reading the traditional Palm Sunday texts we went with the Passion Sunday texts.

In planning for this Sunday, I kept reading Paul’s letter to the Phillipians. It’s not the kind of text one would expect to hear on a day like this, but in some way it is exactly the kind of text we want to hear today. As Jesus starts down the road towards Easter, we have to stop at the Cross. Paul wrote this text to remind us all of who Christ was and how Jesus lived and died on this world and how we are called to do the same thing.

Paul writes these words to the Christians in Philippi and they are in a jam. They are facing persecution, worried about Paul who is inprisioned, and to leaders in the congregation are bickering with each other. In the midst of all this turmoil is these words about how Christ being equal to God, but knowing gave up his status and position to become a servant even to the point of death. And then he talks about how all of this made a difference in our lives and to top it off Paul calls us to imitate Christ and learn to lead lives of service towards others.

In verse 7 we see the Christ “emptied himself.” In Greek it means to make void to become nothing. It means that Christ set aside the position and power that he had to become a servant, and he willingly became a suffering servant for the sake of others. Now, none of this should be used as a excuse for someone to do violence towards another, but it is a reminder that as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to set aside our standing and status to serve others.

Kara Root, a colleague who is pastor of Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis recounted a story in the early history of the church that is a wonderful example of being emptied for others. Two major plagues hit the Roman Empire in the years after the church began. It was during these times that Roman doctors literally headed for the hills. Basically, anyone that was not sick, took off and let the sick and dying fend for themselves. Everyone did this; except the Christians. They were the ones who took care of the ill. Why did they do this? Why did they put themselves in harm’s way when they could have ran off as well? Kara notes that they did this because they saw those sick and dying as the sisters and brothers and decided to be in service to them.

In recent weeks, I’ve seen how this community of faith, a community that is not unlike the church at Philippi- filled with chaos and wondering about its future- show a willingness to be a servant to others.

A few Saturdays ago, I get a phone call while I’m at the airport in Mexico. It’s Bob and tells me of our sister Paola and what was happening with her. I did what I could, though it would have wait until I arrived in the States, and so did Bob , but what I saw is how this community rallied to Paola’s aid. They offered clothing, food and even a place to stay. That’s an example of servanthood, setting aside our needs to help a sister in Christ who really needed just the basics.

The act of servanthood by Jesus was something that set us free from the powers of sin and death as my Lutheran friends like to say. Our own servanthood is not only a way to pay homage to what God did in Jesus Christ, but it can also free people. Helping an immigrant, or feeding someone at a soup kitchen or giving someone a shelter who doesn’t have one, being a servant to these folks can give someone life.

I’ve shared with some of you the stories I have of my time in China back in 1999. For those who don’t know, I had the opportunity study abroad during seminary in Hong Kong and mainland China. There are a ton of stories to share, but I want to share this story about a parade. We were visiting these small villiages in remote southwestern China. One day as we walked towards on such villiage we saw that the townspeople had lined the streets to greet us. What had started as a little walk to meet the villiagers turned into a parade. We had become instant celebrities.

But maybe what was even more memorable was the fact that the people in this villiage, actually in every villiage, made us food and wanted us to eat with them. Believe me when I say that I ate so much rice, that it took a while before I wanted to eat it again. It meant a lot to them that guests were arriving and they did what they could to welcome us and make us feel at home. They didn’t have much, but they gave what little they had for our enjoyment.

This coming week, we will go through the busyness that is called Holy Week. It is so easy to just go through the motions or even just forget about it and not listen to the stories. The story of Jesus in the last week of his life is one that we need to listen to again and again. It’s not just something we have heard before, but this story, this act of service and love has made a difference in our lives. For the love of God, let us go out and do likewise. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon: Dead Man’s Party

April 8, 2014
tags:

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Fifth Sunday of Lent
April 6, 2013
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN
Zombies-RunIt’s finally happened- I get to preach a sermon about zombies.

Popular culture has had a fascination with the living dead. The television show, The Walking Dead, is a hit series. Zombies have made it to the big screen as well: World War Z, Warm Bodies, Shaun of the Dead to name a few. Cities around the world host Zombie Walks where thousands of people, walk, I mean shamble around town dressed up in their best zombie gear. In 2012 about 7000 people took part in the Zombie Pub Crawl in St. Paul. Zombies are the in thing.

So, what is it about zombies that fascinate our culture? Maybe it’s a way of dealing with death. Maybe it reflects our fears of illness, especially the fear of some virus threatens humanity. Maybe it’s about the how thin is the wall between civilized order and chaotic violence.

Zombies remind us of the permanence of death. In a culture where we like to prize youth and health, zombies remind us that none of us getting out alive.

We have a fascinating text today. It’s probably not a passage that you’re familiar with. Well, actually you have if you know the song “Dem Bones.” You know the shinbone connected to something bone? It’s based off of this passage.

The prophet Ezekiel has a vision where he is in a valley filled with bones. Now this is even worse than a zombie. There is no body, just bones. Death is all around. There is no hope.

Now, you need to understand the background of this passage. Ezekiel is a prophet. He is called by God to be God’s spokesperson. Some prophets like Amos or Micah, would preach about the injustice done to the poor in Israel. But Ezekiel is different. He is a prophet to a nation in exile. Ezekiel was in the first wave of Israelites that were forced to leave their homeland for Babylon. There would be another wave of deportees a decade later, where the Babylonians invaded and destroyed Jerusalem. It was in that second invasion, where the temple in Jerusalem was also destroyed. So, the people of Israel were without land, without their temple and without a king, since he was deposed in the first wave. These forced immigrants felt that their culture was dying if not dead. And they had good reason to fear this; a century earlier, the Northern Kingdom of Israel was also invaded and a chunk of their people were taken. These Jews began to intermarry with the local population and basically dissapeared. So those who were now in exile began to believe that they were cut off from God; there was no hope whatsoever.

But God has a different message and God uses this vision to communicate that to Ezekiel. God asks Ezekiel if these bones could live. I can imagine the prophet shrugging his shoulders and saying to God, “only you know, God.” God tells Ezekiel that he will knit the bones together, adding muscles and then skin. God was going to make these bones live. Soon, the valley is filled with bodies. Just one problem: they didn’t breathe. Here we go with the zombies again. Then God calls the “ruach” or breath or spirit and the bodies begin to breathe. Life has come where there was death.

The situation for the Jews seemed hopeless. They felt like bones. But God is saying that they won’t remain bones forever. God will raise them up and lead them back home. God is what brings life to what was once dead.

When I think about this passage and the message it brings, a few hopeless situations come to mind. I think of my hometown of Flint, Michigan that is reeling after the collapse of the auto industry in the area. And I also think of this congregation. This is not a slam against the church, but one could think that a congregtion with just a few members has no hope. Best to close and move on. But I do think that God’s message of renewal applies to us as well. That’s if we realize that what brings new life is not of our own actions, but it comes from God’s Spirit. It is in God that the bones of this church are being knitted together. It is in God that muscles and tendons are attaching themselves to the bones. It is God who places the skin on our frames. And it is God that breathes life into this community of faith to be a living witness in St. Paul and to the ends of the earth.
The dry bones tale reminds us that God doesn’t forget God’s people. We are remembered by God. We are restored by God. What we as a community must do is have eyes to see and ears to hear where God’s Spirit is at work; in our lives, in this faith community and in the world. Let’s look for life and trust that God will bring us from death into life. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon: “The Lord Is My Shepherd….at 35,000 Feet”

April 2, 2014

Psalm 23
Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 30, 2014
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

I can be a nervous flier.

My fear of flying hasn’t stopped me from getting on a plane on a regular basis. I’ve flown international flights to Europe, South America and Asia. You are really dealing with your fears when you take a 15 hour flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong.

800px-Icelandair_Boeing_757-256_Wedelstaedt

A Boeing 757.

I think the reason I am able to get on a plane and go up into the air is because I’m fascinated with any kind of trasportation. When it come to planes, I love to learn about the different kind of aircraft, and getting wrapped up in seeing if the plane I’m flying; like if I’m on an Airbus A320 or a Boeing 757. It also helps that I I use a little physics to remind me what keeps the plane in the air, that and a short prayer as the door of the cabin closes and the plane backs out of the gate.

I’m not sure where this fear of flying came from, but I have to wonder if going to see a movie on the Hindenburg blip was what did the trick. I got scared when you see the blimp coming in for a landing in New Jersey and then seeing the aircraft incinerate in a few minutes. Mom probably shouldn’t have taken me to the movie. There was no sex or violence in the film, so I think Mom thought it would be okay. And it might be for other kids…but it wasn’t for me.

You know, the funny thing about my nervousness of flying is that it is really one of the safetest ways to get from point A to point B. New equipment and safety measures have made flying a piece of cake. I know that my fear is irrational. It’s really irrational when you compare it to the thing I do everyday; get into a car and drive. Far more people die in automobile accidents than they do in plane crashes.

I think the reason flying worries me is the fact that I am not in control. I get into a flying tube that travels at hundreds of miles per hour and about 4 miles above the earth. I have to trust the pilots and autopilot to make sure I get to point B…alive.

The car is a different story. I am the one driving. I am placing my own life in my hands. I am in control.

Or am I? I am starting to think that my control is a just an illusion. There are other drivers around me and one of them could end up hitting me, through no fault of my own. I can’t prevent the other car sideswiping me.

Psalm 23 is the most familiar passage in all of Scripture. We hear it everywhere. We hear it so much, we tend to forget what it says. When I was preparing for this Sunday, I didn’t plan on preaching on this passage. I mean, everyone knows this passage. It’s too easy for us pastor-types to ignore this passage that is so widely known. The reality is that we have heard Psalm 23 so much, we don’t listen to it. And we should.

The passage talks about God as a shepherd, actually as one who shepherds. The shepherd is the one who takes care of the sheep, protecting them from harm and leading through our journey. Right there in that first verse we see the words “I shall not want.” As a kid I didn’t know what that meant. Why would you say God is your shepherd and then say you don’t want him? I’ve since learned that it means that God is enough. God is all we need. Of course we are humans, so we are always in want. We want more money or a bigger house or what have you. Trusting that God is all we need is something to aspire to, but know that we are always tempted to place out trust in other things Why? We want control.

While this verse tends to evoke calm images, the God in this passage is an active God. God is shpeherding, God is the one restores or turns our souls to God. God is the one that protect us through the dark valleys of losing our job, or getting the cancer diagnosis or divorce. We are persued by God with goodness and love for our whole lives. This God is busy- working for you and me.

During this time of Lent, we are reminded that God came in the form of a human being-Jesus Christ- to demostrate that God indeed is the Good Shepherd. In Jesus, we see God active, teaching and preaching and healing, turning our hearts towards God.

Learning to trust God is a process. We will move forward and then backward. If Jesus’ own disciples can waver between trust and doubt, so will we. But maybe in our own journey in trusting in the Good Shepherd, we can tell others of the saving work of Jesus Christ. People learn about the Good Shepherd for our words and actions. This is what Jesus did, and then his apostles and now us. We go and tell of what God has done in our lives; a God that is with us through lush pastures and dark valleys.

Later this week, we will remember the assination of Martin Luther King Jr. There was a lot of talk about that event in 1968 last year on the 45th anniversary. I’ve always been fascinated by his last speech. It’s been called “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” and it was given a church in Memphis, Tennessee. He was there to support striking garbage workers. The mountaintop speech is interesting because it seemed so prophetic. I want to share what is probably the most heard part of that speech, at the very end

It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us. The pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with on the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.

And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

As Rev. King was heading into his dark valley, he knew that God was with him. I have to believe that he could only do what he did because he believed God was his shepherd.

I want you do something this week. Please look at Psalm 23 again maybe today, maybe tomorrow and think on what those words me. How is God a shepherd to us? What does that all mean for our daily lives?

The Lord is our shepherd. We are actively loved by God. And it’s enough. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon: “Eau? Oh!”

April 2, 2014

John 4:4-42
Third Sunday in Lent
March 23, 2014
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

Life in a small town is interesting. I grew up in a city that had about 150,000 in my childhood and I was only a short distance from the Detroit Metro Area with a population of 4 million. So as a city kid, life in a small town is not something I’m familiar with.

Hope, North Dakota. Population: 258.

Hope, North Dakota. Population: 258.

My partner Daniel, on the other hand grew up in small towns. He was born in a small town in Saskatchewan and grew up in the small towns of Hope and Kindred, North Dakota. One of things I’ve learned is that in a small town everyone knows everything about you. I learned this for myself when Daniel and I were dating. I was driving from Minneapolis to Grand Forks. Now the rule of small towns tends to apply to small states. I was on Interstate 29 getting close to the Grand Forks when I was pulled over by the state police. I got a ticket from probably the nicest trooper ever. A few minutes later, I was at Daniel’s place. He walked out and said in an apologetic voice, “I’m sorry.”

I was perplexed. Daniel then told me that he knew I got the speeding ticket. I was astounded at this. How in the world did he know?

It turns out that Daniel’s sister was on the highway and saw a blue Volkswagen Jetta pulled over. She called Daniel and said that she thought I had been pulled over.

I remember Daniel smiling and telling me this is what it means to live in small town.

The thing about being in towns and cities far away from large urban areas is that you really can’t hide. Thing that you have done are going to be found out.

In this passage today, we have Jesus and the disciples on a trip. The first verse says that Jesus had to go through Samaria. Samaria was a region home to Samaritans, a group of people that had a mixed Jewish-Gentile heritage. Now, when we hear the word Samaritan, we think of the parable Jesus told about the Good Samaritan. While we might think Samaritans are good stand-up folk, that wasn’t how Jews saw them. The two groups despised each other. Most Jews would avoid Samaria on trips. Jesus, however doesn’t. As the passage says, he had to go through Samaria.

At some point, Jesus and the disciples stop at a well. The disciples go on into an unnamed town to get some food. The writer of John says it was about noon.

So as Jesus is reclining in the noonday heat, a woman makes her way to the well to draw water. I’ve been in Louisiana in the summer when the sun is high in the sky and it is hot. People tend to stay indoors to esacpe the heat. But this woman was out, getting water for the day. Jesus asks the woman for water and the woman was shocked. Jesus was a Jew and a man and a Rabbi. She was a Samaritan woman. Why in the world would he be asking for water?

So begins a conversation between the woman and Jesus. Jesus talks about living water, which interests the woman. At some point Jesus asks the woman to go and bring her husband back. The woman was worried when Jesus asked that question. She couldn’t tell him the truth. She simply tells Jesus that she has no husband. Jesus responds that she is correct that she has no husband, in fact she had five former husbands and the current man in the house is not her husband.

Now this is a pivotal moment in the story because it reveals something about the woman. Were you wondering why this woman was getting her water at midday. In visiting places in hot climates like Spain, Puerto Rico or the American South you learn that people tend to do their main work either in the early morning or in the evening; times when the temps are cooler. This woman went to gather water at noon. Why? It could be that the time she drew water indicated that the town treated her as an outcast. Dealing with the extreme heat of midday was easier than dealing with stares from the other women. This is a small town and she couldn’t hide.

So, this woman had to be thinking that Jesus was going to treat her same way that the other townsfolk do, with disdain. She’s ready for the lecture and it doesn’t come. Instead Jesus keeps right on talking. He talks about the need for worship that is honest and about the Messiah that will come to save the world. It’s then that Jesus reveals himself to the woman.

The passage is not clear about what the woman did or didn’t do. All we know is that she had a lot of husbands and that the man she was living with now wasn’t her husband. All we know is that the small town that she lived in knew everything about her and forced her to get her water at noon so she wouldn’t have to deal with the townsfolk who treated her with contempt.

But when Jesus points out what has caused her being an outcast, he didn’t shame her. He kept right on talking and later revealed himself to her.

The townsfolk knew all about her and used that to keep this woman isoloated. Jesus knew everything about her and continued the conversation.

One of the things you learn as a pastor is how many secrets your congregation has. We see people with smiling faces that tend to hide the domestic abuse, or the alcoholic or the scret affairs. None of us can bear being open because we fear that our honesty will cause us to be shunned like the woman.

The wonderful thing about this story is that Jesus knew everything about this woman. And yet, he remained in relationship with her. When she says that Jesus knew everuthing about her she was basically saying that Jesus knew all about the embarassing aspects of her life and still loved her.

The reason this is such a wonderful story to me is that it reveals something about God, and maybe even a clue as to how God’s church should act. The God we have is one that loves us passionately. This God will sit and talk with a woman at the risk of God’s own reputation. We have a God that knows everything about us and loves us anyway.

As God’s church, can we engage our friends and family? Can we offer them the living water of Jesus even if we know everything about them? Can we live honest lives, exposing our own shortcomings and know that God loves us anyway? Can we be Christ to others around us, loving them because they are God children?

In someways it was wonderful to be welcomed by Daniel after getting my ticket. It made getting a speeding ticket not seem so bad.

As we encounter the watering holes, bars, coffeeshops, offices and churches in our lives where people gather. May we be Christ to others. May we offer them the wonderful living water of Jesus. May we love them no matter what. Thanks be to God. Amen.

On the WorldVision Retraction

March 28, 2014

World-Vision

Most of the people who read this blog know that I try to understand and respect the views of evangelicals and conservative Christians.  I came from that background and even though I’m a mainline Protestant, the theology that made me who I am is the evangelical faith of my youth.  Because of that and because I think God calls us to love our enemies, I want to give these folks some leeway even on issues that could affect me, primarily on issues of sexual identity.  I know and understand that we don’t see Scripture in the same way, so I think toleration should be the case as long as we respect each other.

However, when the other side is disrespectful and downright mean, all bets are off.

By now, most of us know that WorldVision, the evangelical relief and development agency, lifted a ban on hiring persons in same-sex relationships.  This was less of a “let’s celebrate marriage” guesture as much as it was “we need people who can help” or pragmatic move.

When I first saw this, I was happy.  I’ve always respected WorldVision for its work and I hoped it would signal a change in evangelicalism where gays would at least be tolerated.

Well, after a flurry of responses, including a number of nasty ones, WorldVision reversed it’s policy yesterday.  Via “YoRocko,” the head of the relief agency threw the gay community under the bus:

“What we are affirming today is there are certain beliefs that are so core to our Trinitarian faith that we must take a strong stand on those beliefs. We cannot defer to a small minority of churches and denominations that have taken a different position.”

I’m checking my copy of the Nicean Creed to see where it says “don’t hire homos.”

While it is upsetting that WorldVision flip-flopped, what is truly maddening is that there were people who were so mad that they decided to not give to the organization anymore.  Really?  You were going to not help the world’s poor because of what WorldVision did?

I know that people sometimes withhold funding for various reasons.  But this just seems out of whack.  WorldVision is an organization that tries to alleviate the suffering of the poor among us.  I’m pretty sure when Jesus talked about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 I’m pretty sure it didn’t read, “I was gay and you shunned me” as a good thing.

The people who threatened WorldVision were threatening the poor in my view.  They cared more about who someone sleeps with than they do helping the poor and hungry.

I know that there are those who will say that they are defending an important institution in traditional marriage.  I understand that, but did people read some of the awful communication directed towards WorldVision? Look at the quote below:

Quote“Committed the children to the grace of God?”  Are you freaking kidding me!  Sorry kids, WorldVision committed a sin, so you’re on your own.  God be with you!

I know my tone here has been more harsh than…well, ever.  I don’t like to rant on this blog.  I also don’t want to offend my evangelical friends. However, I believe a line was crossed here.  I will defend someone their right to believe and practice their faith, even if it doesn’t mesh with my interpretation.

But I can’t support this.  This is just wrong.  You don’t hurt kids to prove a point.

I understand why WorldVision had to backtrack; they were going to take a hit to their finances which would hurt their good work.  I really don’t have a beef with them.  Some of the supporters of WorldVision are another story.

I remember my mother commenting about one of her brothers that was living with a woman that he wasn’t married to.  (He did later marry this woman.) Mom wasn’t crazy about that, she thought it was a sin.  But she still loved her brother.  She had her values, and love was one of them.

I wish that were the case with some WorldVision supporters.

 

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