Archive for March 2015
Blogging my thoughts:
Powerful corporations are usurping first amendment rights, according to recent law studies. (See the NY Times article: “Corporations Take First Amendment Rights and Apply It Liberally.”
“Corporations are not people and money is not speech” say the signs of the protestors.
In the schema of J. Habermas’ Life World and the Two Systems, (See My Mini-Lecture) corporation and money are part of the hierarchical economic system, while people and speech are part of the life-world. And the economic system exists for the sake of the life-world and not vice versa. People and speech do not exist for the sake of the economic system. In this sociological schema, money is the currency of the economic system, while language is that of the life-world. That corporations become people and money becomes speech represents a colonization of the life-world by the economic system, threatening the freedom and value of ordinary life.
With this “imperial free speech,” the corporations get protection for financial purposes, while the speech of students, prisoners, pacifists, and whistle-blowers get short shrift. According to the article, the Roberts supreme courts is especially culpable in this regard. This article by Adam Liptak has much more evidence than I have presented and it is more nuanced, but this schema by Habermas depicts the distortion of the first amendment in bold relief.
 New York Times, 3/24/2015, p. A14.)
Jesus Writes the Law of Love in our Hearts, Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 22, 2015 at Christ Lutheran Church in El Cerrito, CA
Fifth Sunday in Lent, March 22, 2015
Jeremiah 31:34 Psalm 51: 1-12 Hebrews 5:5-10 John 12:20-33
Jesus Writes the Law of Love in our Hearts
Once I had a ball-point pen in the shape of a cross. It was one that probably advertised a church. I mention it because I think that Christ-on-the-cross writes God’s law into our hearts. In the new covenant, after we broke the old ones by our unfaithfulness, Jesus wrote the law of love onto our hearts, because he was so extremely human. With one part of his story after another we see that he was right there with us and alongside us. He steals right into our hearts before we know it, and shapes our lives in a wonderful way.
How does he touch our hearts? Well, consider Abraham Lincoln. He was born in a log cabin and goes to the White House, which endeared him to us. Jesus! Jesus is born in a stable to an unwed mother, who has to lay him in a food trough to make do for a cradle. We are talking about the Christ, the anointed One of God. How does he get anointed? A woman, who is a sinner, rushes in, bathes his feet with her tears and dries them with her hair and pours the oil over his head. Because the oil was perfume, its fragrance filled the house everywhere, just like her story is told everywhere as part of the Gospel. Now once I watched the anointing of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and believe me, it did not resemble the anointing of Jesus.
The story of Jesus is extravagantly human. He rides a donkey into his capitol, Jerusalem. Once when I ministered in Berlin, the Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches met there. I watched all the church dignitaries arrive chauffeured in stretch limousines, Mercedes Benz, incredibly expensive cars. Then the bishop, who ordained me, Kurt Scharf arrived in a little gray, VW, with his daughter driving him!
Jesus gets a crown of thorns, a silly reed stuck in his hand for a scepter, and they mock him: “Hail King of the Jews!” It does not stop there. Then his thrown is a cross upon which he dies – even though he could have torn the whole world up had he wanted to with legions of angels. But he was constrained by love. That’s why he can write God’s Word, all God’s commands and promises on our hearts.
Not only that, but we have learned to love and trust him, so we invite him into our hearts, saying, “Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. There’s room in my heart for you.” Even though there was no room in Bethlehem’s inn and even though “foxes have holes and birds have their nests, Jesus had no place to rest his head.” So come, Lord Jesus, make your home in us!
Jesus never seems to have written anything, except perhaps when he wrote something on the ground to save the adulterous woman from getting stoned to death, like no one in Afghanistan saved that poor woman from the mob that claimed she had burned pages of the Qur’an! What brutality justified by so-called religion! And the one in Jesus’ time may have been a so-called “honor killing.” Why wasn’t the man being dragged out to be put to death? Maybe Jesus wrote, “You hypocrites. You’re blaming the woman for the violence you did to her!” But what he said was, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
If Jesus did not write, we know that his disciples could not stop writing about him. Jesus had written about God’s love and forgiveness with big letters on their hearts. And as God’s Word, begging to be written and heard, he got into their hearts and into our hearts, so that we can say, “God is our God and we are God’s people.” We don’t need to be taught. The Master, the Holy Teacher is right in our hearts. The High Priest, the Melchizedek, meaning in Hebrew, the King of Righteousness, is the king of our hearts – and we have all come to know him, from the least of us to the greatest. And to know him is to love him. God has taken us in accepted us and forgiven our sins and even promises to remember our sins no more, to quote the Prophet Jeremiah.
When Philip and Andrew brought the Greeks to Jesus, – they probably wanted to see him in order to become his disciples, Jesus sees how he is moving the world, because in those Hellenistic days, the whole world spoke Greek. It was the common language. Jesus spoke Aramaic, but all the New Testament writers wrote in the common Greek, the Koiné, about Jesus. Even in Rome, the Greek language was used in the services of the churches in Rome for three hundred years. We still have a vestige of that Greek language in our liturgy, the Kyrie: Kyrie eleison, meaning, “Lord, have mercy!” in Greek.
So Christ is glorified, knowing, however, that it will mean going to the cross, dying like a seed, so that a mighty tree could grow, filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit, in which God’s people could live with the King of Glory in them, drawn by the power of God’s love on the cross, driving the rulers of this world off their thrones, so that as a community, from the least to the greatest, we all know God in Christ and we proclaim sweetly and gently, in a way that fills the world with compassion, “Our God reigns!” Amen.
For God So Loved the World: Fourth Sunday in Lent (March 15, 2015) in Christ Lutheran Church, El Cerrito, CA
Sunday Lent IV March 15th 2015 at Christ Lutheran Church
Numbers 21:4-9 Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 Eph. 2:1-10 John 3:14-21
For God So Loved the World
It is strange to us to think that gazing at a serpent lifted up on a pole could heal people. Some commentators called it a belief in sympathetic magic. Rationally speaking, I think lifting a snake up on a stick makes it harmless, if it is a snake in the grass. The antidote to snake bite comes from the venom of snakes. Go figure. Symbolically, the snakes crawls out of its old skin and comes out with new skin to point to the resurrection, leaving the old self and becoming the new self in Christ, the way we do. Be that as it may, if God wanted to heal people by letting them look at that serpent that Moses lifted up, then God could heal the people through faith that way. In any case, the Medical community still has snakes climbing up a pole as the symbol of their healing profession, which is quite fitting this morning for our healing service. (Healing prayers for people took place at a station in the narthex during communion.)
Luther called the verse John 3:16, the Gospel in a nutshell: “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have everlasting life.”
The God who we believe in is not stand-offish and does not keep a distance from us. God roots for us, cares about us, heals us, and is all involved with us. As St. Augustine says, “God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.”
Our God is full of compassion. God loved the Hebrew slaves for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s sake; for Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Zilpah; Rachel and Bilhah’s sake, to include the wives – and God heard the cries of the oppressed under their heavy, task-masters and sends Moses to tell old Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”
Now in the new covenant, God so loved the world that God sent his Son Jesus so that Jesus could save us from our sins. Now in Lent, the week after next is Passion Week. The passion of Jesus is God’s love story for us sinners. The passionate love of God takes place in Jesus’ dying on the cross for us, because greater love has no one than this than to lay down his or her life for their friends.
The Gospel is the greatest love story ever told, because in the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ our Lord God showed the greatest love, the most passionate love the world has ever known.
We who are baptized participate in this divine passionate love, loving God back and spreading this almighty love to everyone that we relate with, so that they too learn and experience that “God so loved the world, that God gave God’s only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
On the cross we see God’s Son dying for us, but we also see the sunshine of the resurrection, we see God raising up Jesus from the dead. On that cross we may not be able to look upon him, his face is so marred. In the words of Isaiah: “He was acquainted with our infirmities, he was despised and rejected, and held to be of no account. Surely he has borne our sicknesses and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God and afflicted. But Jesus was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the punishment that made us whole and by his bruises we are healed.” We hide in the wounded side of Christ, because all our wounds, sicknesses and afflictions are healed because God raised Jesus from the dead.
So when we participate in the passion of Jesus Christ, we will not perish. We will be awakened to live with God, become alive in God. That is the Good News, which is much better than life-insurance, which can’t overcome death and it kicks in only after we die.
Everlasting life is the wonderful promise of John 3:16. And that promised life starts right here and now, not only after we die and go to heaven. In the words of Athanasius, a church father, the resurrection of Jesus makes our whole life, your whole life and my whole life, a feast without end. In the Middle Ages they had to deal with the plague and a constant threat of death. Martin Luther died at 62 years of age, which was considered very old for back then. They often celebrated the dance of death, painting it on walls and performing it in carnivals, but because of the resurrection, the Lord of the Dance Jesus Christ, leads us in the dance of life. We dance for joy because of our recovery from sickness. We dance in the joy of the resurrection into the wholeness and fulfillment of life, which Athanasius of old called “the feast without end.” Amen.
 Cf. Isaiah 53:3-5.
 Several of my ideas in this sermon come from reading Jürgen Moltmann’s wonderful book: Der lebendiger Gott und die Fülle des Lebens: auch ein Beitrag zur Atheismus Debatte unserer Zeit, (Güterslohe Verlagshaus, 2014). (To translate the title: the Living God and the Fullness of Life: also a Contribution to the Atheism Debate of our Time) For example, the Augustine and Athanasius citations come from his work. Also that eternal life starts here and now as well as the idea that we live toward the fulfillment of life and thus are led by Christ, the Lord of the Dance, into the newness and fulfillment of life.
The Translation of Empires into the Heavenly One
December 23, 2014
Sunday while listening to the first lesson, 2 Samuel 7:1-11,16 (God promising the throne of David would be forever) and then Psalm 89, especially verses 3 (promising the same in a covenant) and of those following some thoughts about the promises of God in the lessons just moved through me. Because it was the fourth Sunday of Advent we sang all the verses of “O Come, O Come Emanuel” in anticipation of celebrating the birth of Jesus once more. We Christians believe and confess him to be the Messiah, the promised Son of David, who will sit enthroned on the praises of Israel forever. (Psalm 22:3) So the lessons affirmed confirmed that Jesus fulfills the promise concerning the oath that God swore to David: “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn an oath to my servant David, ‘I will establish your line forever and preserve your throne for all generations’” (Psalm 89:4)
Robert Bellah’s thought experiment came to my mind, one that he related to us in his Sociology of Religions class. Just think if David had not been God’s darling, did not write psalms, play the harp and dance naked leading the procession of the Arc of the Covenant from Bethel into Jerusalem – (I’m embellishing Bellah’s words), but had decided to conquer the world for the one true God by taking armies and subjugating the peoples of North Africa, conquering even part of Spain, then moving through Asia Minor and even conquering Asia all the way to India, setting up a monotheistic empire. He did not, but remained a peculiar King. That, however, is what Mohammed did.
But the Caliphates, even Suleiman the Magnificent, still merely ruled an earthly empire, which the Stone, not Peter, but Christ, the stumbling block, like every other earthly empire, hit in the legs, breaking its feet of clay, making it come crashing down. (Daniel 2:34) The stone grew and became as big as a mountain filling the earth, (the Prophet Daniel continues in that place).
David was a peculiar King of a peculiar people and the forever throne promised to the Son of David will be a peculiar empire not like those of the world. The way Christ was an Anti-Caesar, it may not even be appropriate to call it an empire. Martin Luther King, Jr. used to refer to it as the Beloved Community. Daniel merely states that no trace of the other empires was left behind, “But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” (Dan 2:35)
But as the empires of the world have translated into their following empires, how will the earthly one translate into the heavenly one, the kingdom promised to David and his line forever? The one Christians confess to be the Messiah was called the Son of David, whom we celebrate on Palm Sunday riding on a humble donkey into Jerusalem, his capitol.
Christianity has not yet solved the political problem. How does the peace that passes understanding and forgiveness that we share privately among individuals translate into one that is public and social? How does peace and forgiveness from our hearts and from our individual relationships spread like a blanket over all the nations of the earth, turning hostility and enmity into “friendship among the nations”? Völkerfreundschaft in German.
Jesus did not conquer his Kingdom with military campaigns, but sent his disciples out on healing campaigns. His reign is not one based on coercion, but on life and the abundant life. Earthly nations usually begin and end up based on coercion and the threat of death. How can that be reversed into the peculiar kind of place that resembles the kingdom of heaven? Here is a sign: when President Obama sent soldiers into West Africa to fight the Ebola outbreak. That means the soldiers are on a healing campaign for saving lives rather than killing our country’s enemies. When we sent our soldiers and our warships to help the poor people in the great Christmas Tsunami, that was another sign and foretaste of the forever kingdom. When one army fights another, it can have little to do with the cross of Christ. But when an army stops killing its own citizens to maintain the tyranny of a dictator and suddenly takes the side of the people, preserving lives and bringing about positive change, then a real spiritual change has occurred. In a political and social sense the army was converted.
Islamization is a distortion of peaceful Islam. But the violent jihad that banks on extreme violence even medieval in nature and massacres non-Moslems or even Moslems of a different persuasion are bringing real embarrassment to Islam. That radical Islamist force of evil, perhaps also a reaction to our Western evil, will inevitably lead to a dead-end in their endeavor.
In so far as Israel represents Judaism in diaspora, it too has implicated itself into a forgivable contradiction. (It’s understandable and forgivable because they are victims creating other victims in a quasi-paranoia.) In their snuffing out the people of the land, the Palestinians, who in a role reversal, are really like the former Jews, whom the Jews in Israel are now persecuting. It is like the majority of Jews here in the United States becoming White and becoming racist, now practicing a form of systematic prejudice similar to ant-Semitism, which they themselves suffered because of. To say this is, of course, to point to the speck in the Jewish eye and meanwhile we have to be mindful that the log of prejudice and racism is in the White European-American eye.
Now our so-called Christian government has just fought an unjust war in Iraq and practiced torture after 9/11, so we share the contradictions of the heart of our faith with Judaism and Islam, if we grant that Christians are still a majority in the United States. Still the theology of grace, the ethos of forgiveness, and a sense of justice that is not filled with revenge, but with kindness and forgiveness, is something that Christians can contribute for the next historical step on the way. We will still never have the kingdom of heaven on earth, but we can achieve greater approximations of justice. Important theological work becomes necessary in terms of allowing these approximations to proceed only on the basis of rationality and law and determining how this is related to the passion of faith. Part of the Christian vision is of the cross, meaning that we continue the passion of Christ, not killing and hurting others for the coming kingdom, but suffering with Christ to pray for the transformation, the revolution of hearts and minds, the heavenly translation of these earthly empires into the heavenly one, in which Jesus, the crucified and resurrected Son of David will be enthroned forever.
 We can be realists operating by rationality and law for completely spiritual reasons.
The Land of Laughter: Second Sunday in Lent at Christ Lutheran Church in El Cerrito, CA – March 1, 2015
Second Sunday in Lent / March 1, 2015
Genesis 17:1-7,15-16 Psalm 22:23-31 Romans 4:13-25 Mark 8:31-38
The Land of Laughter
We are now well into the season of Lent. For a book that my brother Philip and I are writing, I’m translating a sermon by Martin Luther on how to prepare to die. Now that really gets into the self-denial our lesson speaks about today, doesn’t it? It is hard to think about making a will – in Resurrection Lutheran Church in Oakland they just had a lawyer give them a presentation about making one – and it’s difficult to think about where you’ll be buried or cremated, what service you would like to have, what hymns you want the congregation to sing, and so on. Luther says that it is good to think about that when death is still far off and not when it is at the door. At that point you want to share your forgiveness and goodbye’s with everybody and think about God’s grace, the new life you are about to enter through the narrow passage way of death, and the waiting arms of all your loved ones and Jesus Christ and all the saints in light: the grace of life in heaven.
(Now several in the congregation are in their nineties and one man is 99 and one woman 102 years old. I brought up the family of the oldest Wall Street investor, Irving Kahn, who died at 109; one sister, Lee, died in 2005 at the age of 101; another sister, Helen Reichert, was seven weeks short of her 110th birthday when she died in 2011; and their younger brother, Peter Keane, died last year after turning 103. So in our congregation, we have something to shoot for!)
Luther maintains that we are lost when we face sin, death, and hell standing by themselves alone. But through our faith we look through sin and see the grace of God, through death and see life, and through hell we see heaven’s salvation.
When Jesus warned his disciples that he must undergo great suffering and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed and in three days rise again – Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, as if Jesus had an evil spirit.
Peter was looking at suffering and death as if that is all there is and don’t we often look at it the same way? Jesus was looking through his suffering and dying to a healing and wholeness and resurrection that would set our hearts rejoicing. In our prayer for the day this morning we said, “Oh God, by the passion of your blessed Son, you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life.” That instrument was of course the cross. Our prayer continued, “Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ that we may suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ.”
Wow! I don’t think that we have to pray to bring it on. If we follow Jesus, it will come all by itself.
Just look at what Jesus did. He had to rebuke Peter, because we have to confess that we perceive most everything in a this-worldly perspective alone. Heaven for Jesus was more than just a silver lining around death and so he was about to convert the cross from the most brutal Roman instrument of torture and death into the wonderful symbol of love and life, so that many of us even wear it as a decoration.
How is it possible to look through the utter rejection of Jesus by this world and see God’s unconditional acceptance for us in it? How is it possible to see Jesus Christ sitting at the right hand of God in “the Kingdom and the power and glory forever” through that dying figure nailed to a cross? The answer: it’s by faith. It’s by believing in God’s promises.
Watching the casket of a friend lowered into what seemed like a grave 14 feet deep into the ground, how can we see angels, a band of angels bearing the soul of a person to heaven and home? It is by faith. It’s by believing in God’s promises and seeing through sin, death, and hell – the grace, life, and heaven that God promises.
Look at Abraham and Sarah. God musters Abraham and shows him the stars. That’s how numerous your descendants will be. He’s old and Sarah is barren. God tells Abraham that his descendants will be as innumerable as the grains of sand on the shores of the sea. He’s old and Sarah is barren. God changes his name from Abram, a most noble father –- think of Jesus name for Father, Abba – to Abraham, father of a multitude, father of many peoples. And God did not overlook the woman, the way human history through the ages was wont to do. God changed Sarai’s name, which meant “my princess” to Sarah, meaning the mother of nations. You have got to be kidding: Abraham was almost 100 and Sarah was barren.
When everything is stacked up against the promises of God, we have to pray to God to increase our faith and make it strong. Like the poor father prayed for the healing of his son, “Oh God, I believe, help my unbelief.” Help me trust God so much that I overcome my unbelief.
When we keep on keeping on in faith God’s mighty hand can work through us and bring about the blessings of many. Evidence does not help us. There are 2.2 billion Christians in the world today, 1.6 Moslems, and about 14 million Jews, all who refer their faith to Father Abraham. But what are statistics to you and me? God has already fulfilled that promise to Abraham and Sarah, but how does that relate to you and me?
So way back then Sarah laughed. That they should still have a child was ridiculous. She presented her Egyptian maid, Hagar, to Abraham and Hagar bore Ishmael – but that was because Abraham and Sarah could not believe the promise.
Then lo and behold, Sarah really does become pregnant in her old age and bears the son of promise and they name him Isaac, meaning “he laughs,” because Sarah says, “God has brought laughter to me; everyone who hears will laugh with me. And she [continued], Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.” God had the last laugh because God had said it and heaven must have become a land of laughter.
But children of our old age tend to develop mental problems. Not necessarily, of course, but Isaac does not catch on very well on the way to his sacrifice: “Father, we have the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” It does not seem like he can put two and two together, although he was almost sacrificed. Jesus is of course the real Son of promise.
But imagine what kind of suffering turned Abraham into the father of three faiths. Not only does he have to wait 100 years for the promised son. Then Good tells him to sacrifice him. When we are the people of faith there are many obstacles that certainly get in the way and we have to keep on keeping on and pray God to increase our faith all the way through, so we fix our gaze on God’s grace beyond our sin, life beyond death, and heaven beyond hell.
Sometimes I realize that I either take these promises selfishly or I don’t see the promise apply to me, when it comes down to it. It must be selfish to believe that the afterlife is a benefit only for me, and truthfully, believing in heaven is certainly a comfort that keeps me going. But God’s promises are designed as a blessing for multitudes.
For the afterlife begins with our baptisms. The name changes of Abraham, Sarah, Peter, or say Pope Francis, who was Jorge Mario Bergoglio, for example, means that this life lived in the Holy Spirit of God begins right here, while we live in Jesus name.
Can we see through the sandwiches we make for the Souper Center to people with homes, working in jobs that provide living wages, willing and able to put food on their own tables? There are those in all societies who are sick or have mental problems that will need our care. Can we envision a humane way to provide it for them?
I was reading about the heiress Bettencourt, of the L’Oreal estate of 40 billion dollars, 92 years old, with the slogan, “Because I’m worth it.” Somebody stole a whole island from her that she owned. Meanwhile walking through the streets of Berkeley at night the homeless are sleeping on the sidewalks, in the doorways, under bridges, begging for money on the exits of the freeway. Billionaires and the wretched abject homeless are just different sides of the same coin minted in hell.
Can we see the promises that God has in mind for us through all this sin, death, and hell? God will reveal to us the little things that we can do, little loving acts of kindness that God magnifies with grace to continue the love affair God has with all the people that need to be saved.
We ourselves today who are worshipping God here this morning: we have been baptized. We believe the promises of God. And with that we pray that our hearts and souls become one in Christ; that our hearts throb together with the love and compassion of Christ. Worshipping God means living the new life in the light of our faith, in the light of God’s grace. How does our little congregation spread the good news so God makes good news happen even in our neighborhoods?
Jesus had to deal with his disciples, because they wanted to avoid all that suffering. I believe Jesus was talking through Winston Churchill, when that great man said, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” We pick up our cross and follow, but see through it all, the wonderful world of heaven, the land of laughter. Amen.
 New York Times, Obituary Page B15, February 27, 2015.
 Mark 9:24.
 The Souper Center is a Richmond food pantry, in which hundreds of homeless receive meals every day and in which volunteers from our congregation make the sandwiches and serve them once a month.
 NY Times, Feb. 26, 2015, page A1 and A11.