Archive for November 2016
First Advent November 27th 2017
Isaiah 2:1-5 Psalm 122 Romans 13:11-14 Matthew 24:36-44
Ending and Beginning
Happy New Year! You know that the secular year might begin with January first, but our church year begins today on the First Advent. In antiquity calendars were usually set at the beginning of the reign of a king. For example, in that way we would say in the eighth year of the presidency of Barach Obama. But notice how even our secular calendar is anchored in the birth of Jesus Christ. We used to speak of B.C. and A.D. – meaning Before Christ and Anno Domini, that is, in the year of our Lord 2016. Now those abbreviations have been changed to BCE – before the common era and CE, the common era. But what has not changed is the fact that the birth of Jesus Christ still marks the turning point in our western history and his advent is still what we celebrate today in the four Sundays before Jesus’ birth.
At the beginning of this church year we will experience a real transition at Christ Lutheran Church. My Co-Pastor has already removed most of her books from the shelves of our office. Next Sunday will be her last and I will end on Christmas Eve. But through it all, be assured that Christ is really present here with you and Christ is the Good Shepherd, the real pastor of CLC and so you will continue to be in good and holy hands. So the Nativity of Christ, the Messiah is at hand! Stir up your hearts! The first candle on the wreath has been lighted!
Let our transition here at CLC point to the deeper turning point in our lives and history, the end of the world. Jesus said that not even he knew when that day and when that hour of the end of time would come, when the end of history would take place.
But you and I know that our time is limited and thus we have to make it count. That becomes very clear when you are at the end of a call, a job, or a responsibility and you have to make your time count. You have to also realize that even if you are young and still in the midst of life, a night can come in many ways in which no one can work. So on this day, the beginning of the new church year, let’s make resolutions that we entrust to Christ within us to carry out; therefore we want to wake up, come alive, get ready, and be prepared.
For our citizenship is in heaven and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil. 3:20) “For here on earth we do not have a lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14) So let us be faithful unto death so that we receive the crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10)
Thus here on earth, those of us who follow Christ, seek to do God’s will as it is done in heaven – in that lasting city, that commonwealth of heaven, where our swords are beaten into pruning hooks and nation shall not lift up sword against nation and neither shall there be war any more, in the reign of the Prince of Peace.
Robert Goeser, for whom I was a long time teaching assistant at the seminary used to say: we certainly do not know when the world will end – only God knows – but let’s live our lives with an end-of-the-world intensity! And really, even though we are talking about something much more profound, when we die, that spells the end of the world for us. And each ending that we experience points to that fact.
We co-pastors will be ending our ministry among you, but you will be beginning with a new intentional interim pastor, who will prepare you for the advent of a new pastor. So keep watch, be awake, alert, be prepared, get ready with an end-of-the-world intensity.
With the four advent Sundays we can speak of four real advents: the advent of the Messiah that Old Testament people looked forward to, the advent of Christ that we look back upon, the advent of Christ when he is born in the cradle of our hearts, and the advent when he comes to judge the quick and the dead. (I guess the first two are really the same, except for our perspective.) In Greek the latter advent is usually called the Parousia. In Latin, advent is the same word, the coming, the arrival of the king of kings, lord of lords, the Messiah. In our first hymn we asked ourselves, o how shall we receive him? How will we be able to meet? Our Matthew lesson assures us that for that rondez vous we will not be able to make an appointment. That has always been a question for me when I make a visit. Do I have to make an appointment or can I just drop in as your pastor. I once lived with a family that provided hospitality by the rule of no hospitality. Things were always in order, so that all kinds of preparation was not needed so that someone could visit. And a pot of coffee was always ready. You were allowed to open the door and take something out of the refrigerator as if you were home. In my family of origin, we had a long driveway and when we saw someone coming, everyone went into emergency mode, went turbo in the few minutes before they would knock on the door to get the house into a relatively, half-descent, and presentable order.
But in the Parousia on our First Advent, we point to a visit of far greater significance. In our sending hymn we will sing: “mountains transcending, then Christ descending, shall bring unending salvation!” So our pastoral transition at CLC and speaking about visits can’t hold a candle to that Parousia to come, which is the end of all endings and the beginning of all beginnings.
In our Matthew lesson, those being taken and those left behind have nothing to do with the rapture, according to a commentary, but realizing and knowing that Christ is all important. Nothing can stand in the way between us and Christ. One leaves with Christ, if he calls, as the first priority. Work out in the field, work preparing food, mending fishnets in a fishing boat, not a wedding day, not one’s property can stand in the way. We have to drop everything and leave with Christ the lord of Life, when the time comes.
Noah and his family got into the ark. Those left behind drowned in the flood. When the NAZI war machine was entering Europe’s eastern countries, Jewish farmers were warned, if they did not flee they would lose their lives. Some couldn’t leave their farms, all their property, their life’s work, and so they were killed.
Like a friend of mine who really loves his money. When he contemplated being mugged, he supposed the thief might say, “Your money or your life!” That is too hard a question, he whined!
Let us recite with each other the words of our opening hymn to help us watch, wait, wake up, get ready and be prepared:
O Lord, How Shall I meet You,
How welcome you a-right?
Your people long to greet you,
My hope my heart’s delight!
O kindle, Lord Most Holy,
Your lamp within my breast
To do in spirit lowly
All that may please you best.
(Evangelical Lutheran Worship Hymn No. 241)
Thanksgiving November 23rd 2016
Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Psalm 100 Philippians 4:4-9 John 6: 25-35
We too have conquered and settled into a goodly land that like the land of promise is flowing with milk and honey. Thus we too need to come with our first-fruits and bring offerings to the One from whom we receive all our blessings. Reading the Deuteronomy lesson, we first have to make this confession: “A wandering Aramaean or Syrian, (Aram was Syria), was my ancestor” and we became oppressed and were made into slaves, but God made us into a mighty nation, flowing with milk and honey. Thus we confess that we want to build a wall to keep refugees and immigrants out, that undocumented people in our land are now frightened and fearful, while God says that we are to treat such people well. God watches out particularly for the most vulnerable in the land and the atmosphere after our presidential campaign scapegoated the most vulnerable amongst us. We have to take care of our own, those who are left behind as well, but the fault does not lie with the aliens in the land. A new statistic now states that not one percent but one tenth of one percent of our population owns 99.9 percent of all assets. What is wrong with this picture?
I think the Pilgrims were living out the last verse of our Deuteronomy lesson. “Then you, together with the priests (Levites) and the aliens, who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given you and to your house.” Thus even after losing half on their number during the first long, cruel, cold winter, the Pilgrims celebrated their Thanksgiving Feast with the Indians, who had actually saved them all from starvation. Sadly, this Thanksgiving is one in reverse. Yesterday militarized police turned water cannons on the Standing Rock Indians in 20-degree temperature, hit them with rubber bullets, and tear gas. Let us pray that President Obama can intervene on behalf of the Native Americans. Many tribes are making a stand there and reconciliation would spell putting our Thanksgiving right once again.
When I was ordained by in Berlin, Bischof Kurt Scharf asked me to stand up for the Native Americans in our country. Thank God, when I was asked to join the church wide European Descent Luther Association for Racial Justice, they asked me to be a Liaison to the Native Americans.
The way the Indians saved the Pilgrims that first winter, we now have to stand up for the Indians at Standing Rock. God is watching out for them. Let’s pray that the pipeline can be redirected. It was moved up a mile from the Indian Reservation to avoid the population center of Bismarck. It can be moved again.
Let’s also pray for the thousands of refugees fleeing the war torn Middle East. They have to flee because they are in unlivable and violent conditions. We played a very ignorant and negative role in that whole debacle. Let us pray for them and do what we can for them. My niece is proving help for refugee children and has a go-fund-me campaign going. We have to get our hearts in the right place.
We don’t follow Jesus for material blessings, but spiritual ones. He rebukes those who search for him because they ate their fill of loaves and fish at his feeding of the masses. He bids them to yearn for the Bread from Heaven, which is even greater than the Manna that God provided for the children of Israel in their wilderness wanderings.
What is the one thing needful? That we believe in Jesus Christ our Lord, who is the bread of heaven come to be with us. The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. We thank God, because here in Christ Lutheran Church, we believe in Jesus, who says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
We can be so thankful to God for that promise. But it requires seeking the bread of heaven first, bringing our offerings first, watching out over the most vulnerable in the land first. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and its righteousness and all kinds of material things will be added unto you. When we do the opposite, when we first seek material goods and not that bread of heaven, then all things become subtracted from us.
So we have so much to be thankful for! These two years in which I was privileged to be your co-pastor have been such a blessing to me! That blessing sets my heart rejoicing! Do you know the song taken out of our Philippians lesson?
Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say Rejoice. XX
Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say Rejoice. XX
Rejoice, Rejoice, and again I say Rejoice. XX
Rejoice, Rejoice, and again I say Rejoice. XX
Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say Rejoice!
Pentecost XXVI November 13, 2016 Christ Lutheran Church
Malachi 4:1-2a Psalm 98 2nd Thessalonians 3:6-13 Luke 21:5-19
Did you know that rats were ticklish? Scientists in Berlin did experiments on rats and found out that they love to be tickled in the same spots that we are ticklish in and they follow the hand that tickled them for more tickling and jump up and down, which they call a Freudensprung, giggling, but merely on a higher frequency than we can hear. They’re ticklish under their hind feet and their sides, but not their front feet. But they’re ticklish only in a good mood and when they are playful. When they are in a bad mood they are not ticklish. Isn’t that just like us?
I did not know how to preach today, so I thought I would start with that. I went up to the seminary for worship on Wednesday and many were crying. The young woman pastor who was doing the Eucharist broke down crying in the middle of it and had to take some time before she could continue. From a history-making, woman in the White House, it went to a president elect who is an insult to them.
A saying of my father’s went, Immer heiter, Gott hilft weiter. “Be of good cheer. God will still help us here.” I read the New York Times each morning and I read all the thoughts about why people voted one way or the other. I was careful to read why people voted for the president elect. Some White enclaves in the rust belt are desperate and see many of their people dying, OD’ing on oxycodone or other pain medication. All the factories with their good jobs closed leaving them a very bleak future. So if you see the outcome of the election as a fault, then for some we have to look beneath the fault and see a need.
On the PBS News Hour Mark Shields said that the supporters of the president elect took him seriously but did not take what he said literally, while his opponents did not take him seriously but took what he said literally. Words, however, have an incredible impact on people. In the Epistle of James we are told to tame our tongues, because the tongue is a fire and how great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire. He also writes, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” So we have to listen to one another to overcome our divisions.
But make no mistake, we may be going into a dark chapter of American history. I will not be political in this sermon. After reading all the news, I reread the prophet Malachi, the name meaning “My messenger.” You heard the Prophet Malachi read by Malichi, (the son of our pastor). And I read 2nd Thessalonians through. There is too much in them for this brief sermon.
The gist of scripture, however, is that God will judge us if we do not protect the stranger in our midst, because Abraham was a wandering Aramean, stranger in a strange land. They were required to recite these words as a confession. Believe it or not, Aram is now called Syria and some translations say Abraham was a wandering Syrian, a stranger in a strange land. Let me quote the verses from Deuteronomy:
For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.…
Now legality can be an issue for immigration, but God is not mocked, and God will watch out for the most vulnerable in the land, whom governments are called to protect against the powerful. When they are scapegoated for the sake of power, we are getting into some bad faith that activates hate. Faith becomes active in love; bad faith in hate.
Now some of us White folks are left behind, but blaming women, immigrants, refugees, people of the Moslem faith, Black people, LGBT people is as wrong as it is divisive.
There is even a new division in our country, because being Republican and being Democrat has become a new tribalism. We have to be American first and if we cannot muster that strength to relate to each other, then we have to call upon God to give us the strength. Being Christian makes us brothers and sisters, whose relationship with each other makes civil and reasoned argumentation possible. In my family of origin, we have Republicans and Democrats but that does not stop us from loving and supporting each other as brothers and sisters. Being Christian comes first. One Republican in the family said, “When I die, I want the Democrats on the left side of my grave and the Republicans on the right side so they have nothing to do with each other.” She was joking, of course.
Now something else about division. I finally learned how Hitler’s antisemitism figured into his aggrandizement of power as a dictator. Jews had to be turned in and deported to concentration camps and many had Jews in their families. Anyone with Jewish blood could be turned in and neighbors were to turn in neighbors. Jochen Klepper, a Lutheran hymn-writer, and his wife had adopted a Jewish daughter. When the Gestapo came to their door to take the daughter away, they had all committed suicide. German and Jewish “us and them” divided all the grass-roots power at the bottom, so it all went to the top, providing Hitler with absolute power. According to Lord Acton famous saying, “Power tends to corrupt, but absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Racism with its “us and them” division of our society, decreases grass roots power and makes more power go to the top. A people completely divided then finds itself to be helpless in the face of unjust power.
There are over 400 Native American at Standing Rock who have been arrested. They are standing up against putting the oil pipeline under their section of the Missouri River. It was supposed to go under the river near Bismarck, but that is a dense population center, so they decided to do it in Indian territory. The police write the number of the law they have broken on the bodies of the Native Americans, on their arms, with permanent markers. Have you seen Jews whose arms still bear the numbers they received in NAZI concentration camps? That is not cool.
Now we call the space we worship in a “sanctuary.” But we have to become real and declare it a sanctuary. Meeting Ellen Graves up at the seminary, she asked me to tell you that she is ministering in a Spanish speaking congregation in LA and there are many undocumented members of the congregation, who are afraid that deportation is going to tear up their families and their lives. Let us be a sanctuary. We have to be true to the Word of God. Let’s not be afraid to resist injustice.
You know Martin Niemöller’s famous saying:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
So when they come for the undocumented, we have to speak out and stand up for them. Should bigots try to take down our rainbow flag, we have to stand up for gays and Lesbians, for our LGBT brothers and sisters among us. Right now many of the most vulnerable among us are very frightened.
The Greek Passion is a powerful book written by Nikos Kazantzakis, the same author who wrote Zorba the Greek. In the Greek Passion, a village does a passion play for Holy Week and villagers are chosen to play Jesus, Peter, Judas, Mary, and all the disciples. While they are rehearsing, a disaster in a neighboring village turns those villagers into refugees the flood into the village getting ready for the passion play. The villagers turn on the refugees violently in order to drive them away. The fellows playing Jesus and Peter and John and the others, caught up in their roles, stand up for the refugees and what had been play-acting, becomes for-real as the villagers turn on the actors as well as the refugees. It becomes a passion story, a Greek Passion. We could experience something like that, if we become a real sanctuary, a Christ Lutheran passion, standing up for those to be deported.
So like old Martin Luther said, our conscience is captive to the Word of God, and here we stand in a sanctuary, we can do no other, so help us God. What a privilege to be part of the proud State of California, with Gerry Brown, who studied in a Jesuit seminary, now our governor. Hopefully, like New York has said it would be, all of California could also declare itself a sanctuary.
Do not be led astray, Jesus reminds us, even if times become more apocalyptic. We need not fear. Jesus said every hair on our heads is counted. Today we even know that every cell in one of our hairs contains our whole DNA blue print. Should we have to endure persecution, God will be with us and save us. And do you know, standing and enduring persecution in order to stand in the Word of God, will make us gain our souls. A commentary said that meant we will jump up like those tickled rats, jump for joy, because it will make us become our true selves, our real selves, genuine Christians. To suffer for the sake of righteousness and to suffer standing against injustice, is like the resistance electricity needs to turn into light. So let us shine. Let us shine! Let Christ Lutheran Church be a candle to light up El Cerrito! Thanks be to God! Amen.
 James 3: 5 and 8.
 James 1:19.
 Deuteronomy 10:17-19.
 The Holocaust Encyclopedia: https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007392