Jul 25, 2016

Run for the White House 2016

fort bend votes
Have you seen enough Convention coverage yet? Well, here’s part of a speech that you could have heard today, or was it at last week’s convention?

“Welcome to our convention!
If this party wins the White House come November we will be in good shape. In recent years the other party has hurt hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans by clinging to their ideology.
Can you imagine what America would look like if our party held the presidency? We would be able to set things right so that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness mean something.
Do you remember when the other party was not as nasty in their attacks on us as they are these days? It was a more civil America, where reasoning counted for something. Comprise was not a bad word but the way of getting things done. Now they are so dug into their trenches that you can barely talk to them.
What kind of America do you want? One where our ideals are upheld or one where they have the last word? With one of our own in the White House America has always been better off. The other party has consistently hurt us in the long run. Generations after generations suffer from the hurtful policies they put in place.”

What matters for us as Christians is what policies best reflect kingdom come! If Jesus were to come back today, what kind of America do you want him to find? One where God’s love is lived out or one where political ideologies rule the day? As Christians we cannot be strict followers of one ideology or another. We can only seek the best human equivalent of God’s intention. And parts of that will be found on both sides of the aisle. None of them are a perfect match of heaven. Politics is a human endeavor. As such it is flawed. But it is necessary to seek the best solution. The key is participation in the process.

We can do this! But it takes your vote. Make sure you are registered to vote. Make sure your friends, neighbors and coworkers are registered to vote. If you are not sure you can search for yourself and everybody else in the Fort Bend County Voter Registration Database. If you have a relative or acquaintance who is not listed in that database by October 11, 2016, they won’t be able to vote come November. Now go and do what is most reflective of God’s love to the best of your flawed human knowledge!

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Jul 20, 2016

Shooting for the stars

swissarmyknife
This is my Swiss Army Knife. There are many like it but this is mine. It says Porsche on one side because the car dealership my dad used to work for sold cars of that make. Also it has a bad dent in it so I can’t get the toothpick out anymore. I have had it for most of my life and that’s what happens. Along life’s journey we get dinged and bruised and move on regardless. This is my Swiss Army Knife.

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This is Apollo 11. Around this time of year in 1969 they took off to humanity’s first mission to the moon. They had with them all the tools they needed to be successful. Buzz Aldrin even brought along a communion set and celebrated the Lord’s Supper on the Moon. What tools would you need to sustain yourself spiritually for a trip to the moon? What skills would you need to stay in touch with the Divine if you were to spend a whole year on the International Space Station like Scott Kelly did from 2015 until 2016? Going forward this question will only grow bigger: What source of strength do you find in yourself that keeps you sane on a one-way trip to Mars?

Most of us don’t have to plan for extended trips to space. But the question remains: What tools do you need in your pocket to make it through the day? What kind of spiritual Swiss Army Knife do you need in your heart and mind?

For a long time Christians have found it helpful to memorize the Lord’s Prayer. I think of it as the long blade of my spiritual Swiss Army Knife. I can carry it with me wherever I am on life’s journey. It is helpful in many different situations. But then it’s only one piece of equipment among many others that I need in order to make it through the day or all the way to Mars.

Jul 10, 2016

Caring Neighbors

I had the nicest sermon planned out for this Sunday. It tied in beautifully with today’s passage of the Good Samaritan. It would have been about a neighborhood up in arms because the women’s center wants to build a low incoming housing unit in the area. The kids of these battered women would have attended the nice middle class elementary school. I would have compared the women that were beaten by their men to the poor fellow in the ditch that Jesus is talking about. I would have compared various neighbors in their rejection with the priest and the Levite. Their refusal to help comes from a similar place. It would have been a nice, challenging sermon.

But I am not going to talk about that today. It has been almost a month ago that 49 LGBT persons were shot dead in Orlando. Now this week happened: Tuesday morning in Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Alton B. Sterling was shot while being arrested. Wednesday evening in Falcon Heights, Minnesota: Philando Castile was shot during a traffic stop. Thursday night five Dallas police officers, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa, were killed by a sniper.

Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in response to the question: “Who is my neighbor?” That is still a very valid question in our day and age and so I want to take Jesus’s lead in telling the story as if it were meant for us, because it is:

A person was mugged in the street and is lying in the ditch, badly wounded. It just so happens that we are talking about a young black man in his early twenties. Now by chance a well-intentioned white person happens to come down that road. Do you even stop your car? After all, this fellow is probably a gang member. Maybe there are still more bad guys around. One of his kind will come and help him for sure, sooner or a later. You may slow down. But the odds are you are not going to stop.

A person was mugged in the street and is lying in the ditch, badly wounded. She is all dressed up: short skirt and high heels. Chin bone and chest give away that this woman was born a man. Here pulls up a minivan with a soccer mom with the kids in the car, doing the right thing for her family. Will you stop? She and her husband are working hard to keep their marriage strong and raise their kids with good values. She wants her kids to be normal, raise a family similar to the one they have now. Being exposed to this trans person would confuse or even scare the precious little ones and mommy herself would be very uncomfortable. The good mother hits the pedal and presses on.

A person was mugged in the street and is lying in the ditch, badly wounded. His uniform is soaked in his own blood. This police officer was certainly trying to do the right thing and keep this community safe. Along comes a young black man in his twenties. Seeing the officer in the ditch he has flashbacks of that horrible night when his nephews were caught in the crossfire and shot by police a few years ago. It feels like yesterday. Actually seeing this bleeding officer it feels like right now. What if they find me bent over his dying body? I better make a run.

A person was mugged in the street and is lying in the ditch, badly wounded. He just came back from the mosque, his stomach full after breaking the Ramadan fast. His long beard is drenched in his own blood. A good Christian man comes by while he is doing a food drive in the neighborhood. You know we need to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We collect canned goods for children in need in our own neighborhood and we send Christmas presents to those kids in Africa with their big teary eyes. I would really like to help that guy in the ditch, because I am a very loving and caring person. But honestly I can do more good by collecting some more cans from my neighbors. And by the way: It was people like him who blew up the World Trade Center and keep killing our Soldiers in the Middle East. Why do we need Muslims in our neighborhood anyway?

There are so many reasons not to help. Life is complicated. Answering the question: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus yells NO IT’S NOT COMPLICATED! Your neighbor is the person lying in the ditch!

Every day people shoot each other dead. The main reason is fear. Fear what would happen if I were to stop and help that person in the ditch. Making the world a better place involves taking risks. If we allow fear to put a lid on love we will just continue to blow each other up.

In 1963 Martin Luther king said, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”
Amen.

(In collaboration with the Rev. Mirjam Haas-Melchior)

Jun 28, 2016

A decent respect to the opinions of mankind

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The Fourth of July is often interpreted as a breakup story: Abusive mother Britain hurting her children in the colonies. Eventually the kids hit puberty, become rebellious and as soon as they find the willpower and strength they move out. The Declaration of Independence lists a host of grievances, abuses and usurpations of power. Having listed all the wrongs they had to endure our forefathers “solemnly publish and declare, that these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States”

But guess what: Moving out of your parents’ house after graduation does not disconnect you from them emotionally or culturally. They are still relatives. You still relate to them. Case in point “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” still uses the same tune as “God Save the Queen”. You cannot not relate to family. You may become rebellious and cut them off but that only cements the relationship. The Declaration of Independence naturally addresses “our Brittish brethren”.

Israel’s forefathers share a similar story where Abram and Lot go separate ways. Genesis 13 lists a host of grievances, abuses and usurpations of power. Having listed all the wrongs his shepherds had to endure Abram said to Lot, “Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.”

Despite their physical and economic – political if you will – separation Abram and Lot remained together it what the Bible calls “covenant”. The mutual bonds of a covenantal relationship do not go away just because you declare independence and create your own nation. Our forefathers wrote the Declaration of Independence showing “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

The goal of the Declaration of Independence is to remain well connected to the world community: to share reason and power and passion with them, to strengthen the covenant of humanity. Like Abram we are going to be over here on this pasture but we will join the world community in all its major organizations and stay the closest and strongest ally of “our Brittish brethren”. May this 240 year old document continue to inspire us to show “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind”.

Jun 14, 2016

Support Houston Pride

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The General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ issued a statement mourning the loss of those murdered, calling for prayers for their families, and expressing horror and frustration over how commonplace this kind of tragedy has become. The incident happened early Sunday morning June 12, when a gunman killed 50 people and injured at least 50 more in a crowded gay nightclub in downtown Orlando, in what law enforcement is calling an act of terrorism.

For us in the Greater Houston Area it becomes evermore important to support the Houston Pride Week. When terror strikes America rallies together and stands up united. The Houston LGBT Pride Celebration® is still scheduled for Saturday, June 25, 2016 in Downtown Houston. Pride Houston® will be honoring those who lost their lives in Orlando, FL — and around the world in our fight for equality — prior to the start of the Houston Pride Parade®.

Here is the text of Rev. Dorhauer’s complete statement:

“The United Church of Christ mourns the tragic loss in the aftermath of what is now believed to be the largest mass shooting in the U.S. We are mindful of the many family members whose grief will be deep, and will linger for some time. We lift every one of them up in prayer.

We are grateful to President Obama for the swift action suspending HIPAA laws so that loved ones can be with their injured spouses and help make decisions about their care — an often overlooked right that many in the LGBT community cannot take for granted.

While it is too soon to speak about motives, the United Church of Christ nonetheless calls upon all leaders of religious and political bodies to end the constant rhetoric that demonizes same gender loving people. Our speech has consequences, and this is not the first time violence has been directed at the LGBT community with very tragic consequences. It is long past the time that we end this, including tolerating what amounts to hate speech and homophobia masquerading as religion. It is also long past the time that America enacts sane gun control legislation. Our souls and spirits cannot abide for long when this kind of tragedy is commonplace; and when no substantive action is taken in response to these mass shootings. Our grief, all too real, is not assuaged by what can be the redemptive act of doing all we can to reduce the likelihood of it ever happening again.”

Jun 7, 2016

Remember!

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“Zachor!” is a Hebrew commandment usually translated as “Remember!” The problem with the Western word “remember” is that it relates to the past: bring back to memory what once was. That is not the intention of the Biblical authors. They want to speak into the present of God’s people whenever and wherever that may be. When the people receive the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai we are not supposed to remember that as history long gone. We are supposed to stand there with them. Remembering in a biblical sense is acknowledging God’s presence in our present time!

As the world remembers D-Day this week, it has to be clear that we do not (only) remember a past event. We have to retell these stories as if they mattered today because they do. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks produced the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” in 2001. It remembers the story of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. Over ten episodes we join the soldiers from their preparations leading up to D-Day to the end of World War II. Along the way Easy Company liberates one of the Kaufering concentration camps which were subsidiaries of Dachau.

As I rewatch Band of Brothers I remember (zachor) that D-Day is not just a response to Pearl Harbor, not just an act of self-defense or retaliation. D-Day is the faithful response to the horrors that Nazi Germany afflicted upon the world – especially the Jewish people. These crimes are usually remembered as the “Holocaust” which is a reference to biblical holistic offerings, where an entire animal is burnt as an offering to God – not just some parts. It is a very expensive and rare kind of offering (Exodus 20:24). Jews prefer to not be remembered as animals slain on an altar. The term Holocaust implies that an offering is pleasing to God which the concentration camps where totally not. The proper term is “Shoah” which means destruction (Zephaniah 1:15). How we remember and what words we use matters.

May 24, 2016

Memorial Day Weekend

veterans memorial armed forces days

This weekend we will remember those who lost their lives serving the people of the United States. In the sanctuary you will see a “Fallen Comrade Table”. This is a common tradition in Veterans’ organizations and at military functions. It is set in a special way:

The white tablecloth draped over the table represents the purity of their response to our country’s call to arms. The empty chair depicts an unknown face, representing no specific Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine, but all who are not here with us. The table itself is round to show that our concern for them is never ending. The black napkin stands for the emptiness these warriors have left in the hearts of their families and friends. The single red rose reminds us of their families and loved ones. The red ribbon represents the love of our country, which inspired them to answer the nation’s call. The yellow candle and its yellow ribbon symbolize the everlasting hope for a joyous reunion with those yet accounted for. The slices of lemon on the bread plate remind us of their bitter fate. The salt upon the bread plate represent the tears of their families. The wine glass, turned upside down, reminds us that our distinguished comrades cannot be with us to drink a toast or join in the festivities of the day.

Please, take this weekend to say a prayer like the following one by the Rev. John Gundlach, former Minister for Military Chaplains in the UCC:
Gracious God, on this Memorial Day weekend, we remember and give thanks for those who have given their lives in the service of our country. When the need was greatest, they stepped forward and did their duty to defend the freedoms that we enjoy, and to win the same for others. O God, you yourself have taught us that no love is greater than that which gives itself for another. These honored dead gave the most precious gift they had, life itself, for loved ones and neighbors, for comrades and country – and for us. Help us to honor their memory by caring for the family members they have left behind, by ensuring that their wounded comrades are properly cared for, by being watchful caretakers of the freedoms for which they gave their lives, and by demanding that no other young men and women follow them to a soldier’s grave unless the reason is worthy and the cause is just. Holy One, help us to remember that freedom is not free. There are times when its cost is, indeed, dear. Never let us forget those who paid so terrible a price to ensure that freedom would be our legacy. Though their names may fade with the passing of generations, may we never forget what they have done. Help us to be worthy of their sacrifice, O God, help us to be worthy. Amen.

May 16, 2016

Confirmed!

baptism window
The window named “Baptism” at St. John’s United Church of Christ

Email has made communication so much easier and faster. On the downside sometimes people just say they never saw your message. When I send something very important I ask for confirmation of receipt. The church has done the same thing with Baptism. Most of us were baptized as babies and do not remember a thing about it. So we created at the brink of adulthood a chance to confirm our parents’ decision to have us baptized as a child. Teenagers say yes to the yes that their parents spoke on there behalf over a dozen years earlier.

What is confirmed in confirmation is not the baby status where you were helplessly held over the font of Baptism. No, here is an emerging person growing into adulthood, firmly standing on their own two feet. What is confirmed in confirmation is change:
I am no longer that little baby, I have grown up.
I do no longer believe like a naive child, but I can think critically.
I am no longer here to do as I am told, but I am capable of laying out my own path.
I am not following Jesus literally anymore as if he were still on Earth,
but I know that he ascended to heaven and I have to listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

The window named “Baptism” at St. John’s United Church of Christ features a dove as representation of the Holy Spirit. It is a reminder of Jesus’s Baptism where a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Baptism holds a message of comfort: I am a beloved child of God. With all the flaws I know about myself. Even from God’s perspective who knows me inside and out. God loves me no matter what.

Baptism holds a message of challenge: Everybody is a beloved child of God, whether I think they are okay or not. No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome to the waters of Baptism.

May 10, 2016

Jesus is here!

pentecost window
The window named “Pentecost” at St. John’s United Church of Christ

Last week I made the case that “Jesus is not here!”
This week – leading up to Pentecost – I also need to say the opposite: Jesus is here!
The Jesus story does not end with Ascension Day. A week and a half later, Jesus’s presence reappears in his Spirit.

The stain glass window that represents Pentecost in the sanctuary of St. John’s United Church of Christ is a reminder that the Holy Spirit is one person of the Trinity and also that it is Jesus’s Spirit as well. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed spells it out with authority: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son”. The most important word here is “and the son” – “filioque” in the Latin original.

The filioque takes all the fluffiness out of the Holy Spirit. This spirit is not just a mover and shaker before and in creation. Yes, the Holy Spirit is also found in creation, but when the church talks about the Holy Spirit we also mean the spirit who has been through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is okay to have spiritual experiences on mountaintops, in yoga studios or family gatherings. But Pentecost reminds us that the Holy Spirit is Jesus’s presence among us.

The window depicts you and me as well: We are fish flopping aimlessly around. We do not no where to find God’s Spirit in Creation. We only know what feels right, what feels good, in short: Naturally we only know what we know. Looking at nature we will remain stuck in our natural self. We are looking for one positive experience after another, an emotional pickup here, some spiritual uplifting there. That is not what the Holy Spirit is about!

Here is the good news of Pentecost: We do not have to be stuck in nature. Jesus’s spirit points us floppy fish in certain directions. We may not be able to follow him literally face-to-face. But Jesus is present in the Holy Spirit when two or three fish are called to flop around together. Not aimlessly this time but following directions from above. Come Creator Spirit! Come!

May 4, 2016

Jesus is not here!

ascension window
The window named “Ascension” at St. John’s United Church of Christ

According to the Apostles’ Creed Jesus Christ “was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father”. That is the ultimate roller-coaster ride. Raised high to the cross, put in the ground, risen back up to the surface and finally ascended into heaven. That last step is usually not celebrated much which is a shame. On Thursday the church commemorates Ascension Day. The message of that day is pretty simple: “Jesus is not here!”

How would the world be different without this holy day?
Imagine we were still in the situation of Jesus’s disciples right after Easter: Jesus had just overcome death. He is back in charge of his revolutionary movement. His power is obviously much bigger than that of the emperor of Rome. The time has come to fight! We have God Almighty on our side and whoever is against anything we think, say or do is obviously wrong. Because: Look at us! Jesus is right here with us. He is our king. We are his people. Everybody else needs to join our movement or be destroyed.

Sadly enough, to many “Christians” feel that way: that they literally have Jesus on their side, that they know what is right and wrong better than anybody else. Sometimes entire churches find themselves in the self-deception that people need them in order to be saved. How liberating the message of Ascension Day rings in that kind of scenario: “Jesus is not here!”

Jesus is not here! The church is not made up of diehards fanatically following the Führer Jesus. Instead the church is made up of regular people, sinners if you will. There is nothing special about us. We do not know what is right or wrong better than anybody else. You can live a full and happy live without our church. We celebrate that Jesus ascended into heaven and is not literally with us. At the same time we pray that “Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”. Even up there in heaven Jesus Christ is still our Lord and Savior. Christ rules over both Heaven and Earth. So our job as Jesus’s disciples is to make this world the best reflection of heaven that we can. And a great starting point would be to recognize that we are not the center of the universe.

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