Archive for October 2016
Reformation Sunday October 30th 2016
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 Psalm 46 Romans 3:19-28 John 8: 31-36
Heirs of a Divine Inheritance
Mark sang our Justification by Faith song from our Luther Musical. What a musical experience! Thank you so much! Mark, you have found your vocation as a singer, which I’d say that you received from your Opa and Oma, your grandparents, Rudolf and Gertrude. They too expressed their exuberant joy by singing like song-birds. When my father was a soldier under the Kaiser, the commander would order my father to start the singing for the marching company: “Krey, Lieder anstimmen!” “Krey start the singing!” he’d start right on pitch and he’d know all the words. Then as a young pastor supplying at a church, he heard a beautiful voice up in the choir, went up to see who it was and later married her. So here Mark is their heir as you can tell. More to come at the coffee hour, if you have the time. (Mark and I gave a concert of fourteen of the songs from out Luther Musical.)
In the song, Luther tells about his change of heart, his change of mind, the change of his way of thinking. And that is also the challenge for us – we who are believers today also need a change of heart and soul in a reformation of the church. Luther wrote the words that Mark sang when he was already an old man looking back at what had started it all.
Bibles were hard to come by in those days. Laity were even forbidden by priests to read them. Luther found one chained to a lectern at the university and read and reread it. He said that the Romans passage that we heard today was the climax of the whole Bible. We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God – not just some of us while others are righteous. There is no way that we can identify with the righteous and call others sinners. We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and we all have nothing to go on but God’s mercy. If we think we’ve got it, we don’t. When we become aware of our sinfulness then God can forgive us.
I remember way back in my family of origin not being able to sleep because the lights were still on, because my older brothers were studying deep into the night. On one of those nights, it must have been three in the morning, one of my brothers broke down crying at his desk. “What’s the matter?” my other brother asked him. “Nothing.” He said. “I was reading a psalm and it got to me. It made me feel so blessed.”
Have you had that kind of an experience with the Word? Psalm 126 really touched me that way once. Luther had that experience with Romans 1:17: “For the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Suddenly God changed from being a monster in the sky to being his sweetest friend, who in Christ died on the cross for him, that is, to save his life. How would you be able to thank a friend, who like a body guard, stepped up and took a bullet aimed at you, so you would not be killed. Then later you discovered that you were his beneficiary in his last will and testament, and were now the heir of his whole divine inheritance? After your “Good Friday” grief and his resurrection proclaimed, wouldn’t you call that good news? Wouldn’t you jump up and down for joy, like you were still a child? Or would you ignore it, like Bob Dylan, the Nobel Prize? I think not. (Yesterday I heard he’s celebrating and accepting it.)
So why aren’t we like cups running over, overflowing with joy and happiness at our marvelous fortune? We are children of God with our places around the Table of the Lord! The good news for you and me is that we are in Jesus Christ’s will and we stand to inherit the divine fortune. “Believe it and you receive it. If you don’t believe it, you won’t.” In German, it’s, Glaubstu so hastu, glaubstu nit, so hastu nit. It’s yours to have if you believe God and trust God with all your heart.
You were living a lie and you became alive in the truth! You could not stop being a curse to everyone who had the misfortune of relating to you and suddenly you changed into their blessing. Everybody has to be trouble to somebody and God says, “You can be trouble to me. I’ll stick with you. You’re mine, I’ve called you by name, you’re not heavy, you’re my child. I’ll bear with you until you are born.”
Jesus takes all our sin and exchanges it for integrity deep within. That’s our inheritance. Jesus’ dying makes us his heirs. That’s what’s called the new testament, which in this sense of the words does not mean the second part of the Bible. Jesus’ last will and testament has your name and mine on it so all our inadequacy, all our sin, all our failings, our disorientation and the meaninglessness of our lives are taken by him, and in exchange we get the life of Jesus Christ, a life that this world has stood amazed in for over two thousand years. Just imagine! We receive all that grace and truth!
Jesus gets short-changed and we make out like bandits. My teacher Timothy Wengert explained the marvelous exchange this way: before he married his wife she drove a brand new BMW and he drove an old broken down wreck. After they were married, he drove the BMW and she drove the old wreck. It was a marvelous exchange! From Jesus we get the divine Attributes of God, he gets our corruption, our sorry presidential campaign, our racism and divisiveness, and we get the peace that passes all understanding.
We too get altogether born anew, like the gates of paradise opening up for us too. The whole scripture receives a new face, showing us God’s resplendent grace.
Now good works are not an obligation. We can’t help doing them because God does them in and through us. We no longer live but Christ lives in us.
The power of God and the strength of God makes me strong, forgives my wrong, sets me free, knowing to whom I belong!
We receive God’s wisdom and God takes our ignorance in exchange. God’s wisdom makes us wise. Your intelligence is not fixed; it’s elastic. When I taught in the community colleges, I would joke: as a kid I must have been very intelligent. My mother called me sonny. My I.Q. was 20/20. They would first cover one eye and then the other. I acted as if I thought that was an I.Q. test. Forget I.Q. tests! Pray to God who will make you wise, so you’ll be able to tell the truth from lies, and the lying liars that tell them.
The glory of God is that by which God glorifies us – when we understand real humility and God’s salvation saves us, by dying for us to live. God is dying for us to live!
We often talk about liberation theologians today and we forget that Luther proclaimed the Freedom of a Christian in face of the Babylonian Captivity of the church in his time. We talk of de-colonializing the church today. And we forget that St. Paul wrote: “For freedom Christ has set you free. Stand fast, therefore, and do not submit to the yoke of slavery again.”
The Reformed Churches following John Calvin say that they completed the Lutheran Reformation. My Professor Robert Bellah used to say there was the Reformation and the High Reformation, which he felt described John Calvin’s. But Calvin’s Reformation does not complete Luther’s Reformation. No, when the Catholic and Orthodox churches have come together with us, and when we convince the Jews that they should be Jews for Jesus, and convince our brother and sister Moslems, that not Mohammed, who was short on love and forgiveness, but Jesus is the prophet, and what’s more, the Son of God, whom we should worship: then the Reformation will be somewhat more completed to the glory of God. let’s pray for God’s Reformation on this Reformation Sunday. And what good would God’s Reformation be, if it passes our congregation, CLC? May we also embark on the renewal of our faith-life, so we become a beacon of God’s light on this little hill in El Cerrito. Amen.
Blessing the Pets: October 2nd 2016: Time after Pentecost
Genesis 2: 18-22 Psalm 104 Matthew 6:25-33
Our Old testament lesson shows how Adam named all the animals and how none was found to be his helper until God formed Eve as flesh from his flesh and bone from his bone. And there Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden with all the animals around them. I argued that people ate meat right from the beginning, but if you read the creation story, you will see that they only ate plants. They were vegetarians. Eating meat came about because of hunting and animal sacrifice. Animals really helped human beings: just think of sheep, cows, poultry, and horses. But mostly dogs and cats helped in becoming companions or pets. Adam named all the animals. When my little brother came home from school one day, he told my mother, “Good thing you call me Semmie, because everybody in school calls me that.” Recently he dished out another insight as well along the same lines, “Birthdays are very healthy: the more you have the longer you live.”
Psalm 104 is beautiful and you should read it. It is also found in early Egyptian literature and either the Psalmist got it from Egypt or both the Psalm and Egyptian poem from an earlier source. The animals are the works of God’s hands and from God’s hands God feeds them all. Jesus in his anxiety-free mindfulness invites us to take animals as our examples. Those converted to become tame, to even become pets, as well as some of them who even have beautiful natures in the wild. Like “the birds of the air neither sow or reap, nor gather into barns and yet the Father in Heaven feeds them.” Jesus says to “first consider the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness and all the things that we need will be added unto us.” When we put those material things first, everything becomes subtracted from us. The Russians, for example, chose prosperity over democracy, and now they have Putin without prosperity or democracy. Our values and ideals have to come first.
Tuesday October 4th we celebrate St. Francis, who in his poems, the Little Flowers, celebrates animals. The birds would gather round and flutter on him. He reconciled a man-eating wolf with a village the wolf was tearing up and filling with fear. St. Francis confronted the wolf with the evil of his ways. Demurely the wolf let St. Francis take him into the village, where they reconciled and the people agreed to feed him so that he would not harm them. Perhaps St. Francis converted the wolf into a dog. How did he communicate with animals? St. Francis would say: “Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words.”
Living the Gospel that way entails blessing animals and anticipating their conversion. I was reading about the reverse, when animals become wild again. Dogs in that case will form themselves into packs. A pack of such dogs on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation killed the mother of a student that I was reading about. We know that pet pigs have become feral and there are feral cats as well.
I have heard stories of feral people. A Black woman whose parents were share-croppers down South told me that when they were children and their parents left them by themselves to go out and work in the fields, a wild White man would come out of the forest, break into the house and eat anything he could find, even eating the flour and leaving the kitchen in chaos. When the parents came home they would punish the kids, not believing that a wild man had come in and had eaten everything and left the mess.
When animals convert in the love and care of people, they can well become examples the way Jesus sets them before us. Just think about seeing-eye dogs, service dogs, or comfort dogs that help on children wards in hospitals and bring joy to seniors in assisted living homes.
The love of a dog for its owner is legendary. Some faithful dogs die on their master’s grave. A goat became the seeing eyes for a blind old horse and when the horse died, it too died. A dog took care of a motherless fawn and when it grew up into a mother doe, it continually returned from the forest with its fawns to visit the dog. Did you see that program on TV about inter-species relationships? What family member is half-way as happy to greet you coming in the door as your dog? Jumping up and down, emotionally overwhelmed with your return. Cats, of course act like they don’t care. But just be away a few days and they’ll show how much they miss you.
What I have recently found very interesting is that horses can bring about the conversion of teenagers. A Native American Lutheran church uses horses to bring troubled girls around who have returned from reform school. In their learning to take care of their horse and learning to ride them, the horse ends up healing the wayward soul with its emotionality. They told about one intoxicated Indian who fell off his horse and the horse waited over him until he awoke again. The emotionality of horses and also dogs, for sure, can help heal the wounded emotions of youngsters and the elderly alike.
I receive many, many requests for donations. One request came from an organization named Cal Farley’s in Amarillo, Texas. When I read their material I realized they too were using horses to do therapy on youngsters like the Oglala Indian church in the Dakotas. After a stand-off, a very rebellious and alienated youngster finally started caring for her horse, feeding and brushing it. Then somehow converted into a caring and responsible student, hardly able to leave the horse barn and the care for her horse. Animals that do not block their emotions with their intellect, may have greater emotional intelligence and more intense concern than some of us human beings.
There are wonderful emotions in a well-taken-care-of horse or dog, emotions that can heal our souls when they are wounded and hurt. That’s why we love our pets and they and we are converted by the Gospel. Did you know that even flies respond to our feelings? They sense our hostility if we are bothered and want to kill them. When I get a plastic cup and place it over a fly and slip a sheet of paper under the cup, capturing it, and then take it outside and let it fly away again, it seems to sense friendship. I’ll cup spiders like that and take them outside as well and let them go in a bush. The Dali Lama even allows mosquitos to bite him, but he complained that they don’t seem to appreciate it and thank him. I think that birds even felt that same friendship from St. Francis and they gathered around him for their conversion.
Laboratory animals used for scientific experiments and animals in factory farms are tortured and abused. In slaughter houses animals are dismembered even before they are unconscious and have died. We have to repent of that abuse and cruelty perpetrated on animals, because it spills over among us and around us. It could explain some of the cruelty and murderous pathology that people perpetrate on each other in our society. Let’s make a stand with the love we have for our pets, letting God help us convert to the Gospel life with them, because this little blue planet has become Noah’s ark and what a sorry place it would be and what an impoverishment we would have if we didn’t preserve and care for all God’s animals, God’s creatures, the wonderful works of God’s hands. Amen.
We had many dogs, a parakeet, pictures of cats, turtles, and other pets, all brought forward for blessings: I bless you in Jesus name, so that you come to no harm and walk, run, play, (go fetch in the case of dogs), and live in the Holy Spirit of the Gospel. Amen.
We had no communion on our Sunday for Blessing our Pets, but I noted how often a pet will also provide communion among people, as strangers will bend down to pet the animals and have a conversation about it with the owner, without even being able to help themselves. In that way pets help us relate with each other. Of course, in real communion we receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord.
But in the word of Isaiah, “The ox knows it master and the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” (Isaiah 1:3) Thus animals responded to Jesus before people did.