Oct 17, 2017

Sermon: Don’t Let The Church Tell You What To Do!

Listen to last Sunday’s sermon here:

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Oct 9, 2017

Never Promise What You Can’t Keep


October 14th 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of my ordination to Christian ministry. I have served full time for fourteen years, but in Germany ordination is not granted until a few years into your ministry. How is an ordained person different from a non-ordained person? As far as God is concerned there is no difference because every Christian is a priest to the LORD. Ordination is a promise that professionals make to the church. For my tradition it is summarized in the Ordained Minister’s Code. It has wonderful guidelines for ministry and life in general:

The Ordained Ministry
I believe that God calls the whole Church and every member to participate in and extend the ministry of Jesus Christ; that the privilege of witnessing to the gospel in Church and society belongs to every baptized Christian; that God empowers the ministry of the Church and its members by the Holy Spirit; that the Church nurtures faith, evokes gifts, and equips its members for service; and that God calls certain of the Church’s members to various forms of ministry in and on behalf of the church.
I have been called by God to be a minister of the Lord Jesus Christ and ordained by the United Church of Christ to preach and teach the gospel, to administer the sacraments and rites of the Church, and to exercise pastoral care and leadership.
I will seek to witness to the ministry of Jesus Christ.
I will preach and teach the gospel without fear or favor. I will speak the truth in love.
I will administer the sacraments and rites of the Church with integrity.
I will diligently perform the work of ministry which I have agreed to perform.

Partnership in Ministry
I will nurture and offer my gifts for ministry to the Church. I will seek to call forth and nurture the gifts of others in the Church and join their gifts with mine for the sake of the mission of Jesus Christ and the health of the Church.
I will seek to understand, support and interpret the diverse ministries of the Church and its members as carried out throughout the world. I will stand with those who risk personal well being because of actions taken in response to their Christian convictions.
I will work cooperatively and collegially with those whom I serve in the particular ministry to which I have been called.
I will stand in a supportive relationship with my colleagues in ordained, commissioned, and licensed ministry, offering and receiving counsel and support in times of need.
I will be an advocate for fair standards of compensation for all ordained and lay employees of the church, particularly in the place where I serve.
I will be a responsible participant in the life and work of my Association, Conference, and the United Church of Christ.
I will be a responsible representative of the Church Universal and participate in those activities which strengthen its unity, witness and mission.I will seek the counsel of the Conference or Association Minister or the Association Committee on the Ministry should divisive tensions threaten my relationship with those with whom I minister.

The Ethics of Ministry
I will regard all persons with equal respect and concern and undertake to minister impartially.
I will honor all confidences shared with me.
I will not use my position, power, or authority to exploit any person.
I will not use my position for personal financial gain, nor will I misuse the finances of the institution which I serve.
I will not perform pastoral services within a parish or for a member of a parish without the consent of the pastor of that parish.
I will deal honorably with the record of my predecessor and successor.
I will not, upon my termination and departure from a ministry position, interfere with nor intrude upon the ministry of my successor.

Growth in Ministry
I will encourage and participate in the regular evaluation of my ministry.
I will seek to grow in faith, knowledge and the practice of ministry through intentional continuing education, study and devotional life.
I will cooperate with my Association in the periodic review of my ordained ministerial standing.

Commitments to Self and Family
I will live a life which honors my commitments to my family.
I will honor my need for time for physical and spiritual renewal, recreation and vacation.
I will honor my family’s need for privacy and time together.
I will be a responsible steward of my personal and family finances. I will honor and accept responsibility for all debts which I incur.
I will attend to my physical well being and avoid abusive behaviors and abusive use of substances.

Relying on the grace of God, I will lead a life worthy of the calling to which I have been called.

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Oct 3, 2017

Fear not! #LasVegas #MassShooting


At least 59 people were killed in Las Vegas on Sunday. The event has been called the biggest mass shooting in modern US history. It is appropriate to pray for the wounded, the families of the dead, and all those who do the hard work of helping the community recover. It is also important to enact measures that reduce the likelihood of mass shootings like this. One response though is not correct: being afraid.

The Jason Aldean concert was a happy time. So were the Eagles of Death Metal show in Paris and the Ariana Grande performance in Manchester. Music is full of blessing and joy. Fear has no room there. As Luke reminds us, “in that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.'” And from there the choir of the heavenly host proceeded to give a concert of Hallelujahs, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” Where there is singing there cannot be room for fear.

But is the world not getting more dangerous by the minute? All these mass shooting all the time. It seems to be so dangerous in America right now. The reality is that your chance of dying in a mass shooting is smaller than in other Western countries. In the US you are less likely to be injured or killed in a mass shooting than you are in Finland, Norway, or Switzerland. This is obviously a dark moment for everybody involved. But in the midst of this pain the message of the Psalmist is still true, “even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.”

The Bible is full of reminders to fear not:
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” (Genesis 15:1)
But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.’(Isaiah 43:1)
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:30)
“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” (John 12:15)

Let that ring true in our time and place as well:
Do not be afraid, Las Vegas!
Do not be afraid, Paris!
Do not be afraid, Manchester!
Do not be afraid!

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Sep 19, 2017

A Study for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

In October I will lead a special Sunday School Series highlighting the lasting impact the Reformation has on our lives today. On four Sunday mornings, October 1st, 8th, 15th, and 29th at 9:00 am we will explore radical changes in the way we think about God, Salvation, the Bible, Sin, Predestination, Saints and Sinners. Martin Luther started fundamental reforms by publishing his 95 theses on October 31st, 1517.

If you are able to read your Bible today, thank this medieval monk. Luther popularized the idea that the church should speak the language of the people. No more Latin Mass, no more Bible that only the learned priest can read, but local language for local people. As a matter of fact Luther valued the Bible so much that he declared “sola scriptura”, only the scriptures are the guiding norm for our faith life. He was up against a church hierarchy that took itself way to serious.

One would think that we have learned that lesson. Unfortunately not so. Pew Research just published a study showing that 52% of US Protestants say, “Christians should look both to the Bible and to the church’s official teachings” in order to find God’s truth. The church is overrated once again.

There is a lot of work left to do after 500 years of teaching a theology that values God’s ways more than human ways. Luther clarified the biblical message of salvation very poignantly by distilling it it to the simple fact that we are saved “sola fide”, by faith alone. Yet Pew Research also found that the same 52% of US Protestants say, “both good deeds and faith are needed to get into heaven”.

Please join us at St. John’s United Church of Christ those Sunday mornings. No registration is required, no prior knowledge is necessary. You don’t have to commit to anything beyond these four sessions. Because one thing should be clear: There is nothing you could possibly do to earn a place a heaven.

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Sep 12, 2017

Don’t Text and Drive


“I’m single-minded in pursuit of you; don’t let me miss the road signs you’ve posted. (Psalm 119:10, The Message)

When you are texting while driving you are 23 times more likely to cause an accident. While some people may be natural multi-taskers, driving requires single-minded focus. That’s why Texas has a new law in place now that bans texting while driving. Sometimes people just need to be reminded to focus.

God has the same problem. Sometimes we miss the road signs God has posted. We get distracted and lose focus. That is true for individuals as they get busy with work and family. The same is also true for the church itself. Sometimes we lose focus. When I browse the websites of the bigger churches in our area I find one thing they have in common. They all have one clear and precise focus. One is all about music. Another is all about changing your life. A third is all about enjoying yourself on Sunday mornings.

What we can learn from that is pretty simple: “Do one thing and do it well!” When you are driving, do just that. When you are focusing on your spiritual life, pay attention to where God is calling you. The church cannot be everything for everybody. Your spiritual life needs a focus. But please remember: There are other drivers sharing the road. They have different goals, they drive different makes, models, and colors. Every journey is different and that is okay. Just make sure that you are intentionally focused in single-minded pursuit of where God is calling you.

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Aug 1, 2017

On Evolution and how not to read the Bible

I am a huge fan of the Big Bang Theory, both the TV show and the actual theory. On the TV show Dr. Sheldon Cooper is a theoretical physicist who at times has to deal with his Bible-thumping mother from Texas. Sheldon’s mom represents a character that only exists in pockets of American society that in many ways disconnect from contemporary discourse. No, creationism, young Earth theory, intelligent design or whatever name people may give their brainchild is not based on Biblical theology or scientific reality.

As a theologian I am most interested in how people approach the Bible and I guess that is really at the core of the creationism debate. Let me be clear: The Bible is not a handbook! It does not tell you how to live your life. It does not tell you how the world came to be and it most certainly does not replace scientific research and study. When you want to find out how the universe came to be, you should ask Dr. Sheldon Cooper and not his mother.

Let’s start in the beginning: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,” (Genesis 1:1 NRSV). Of course, children take this literally and I cannot blame them. I did as an eight-year-old. I also had a He-Man action figure that could literally fly. The story of the seven days of creation to a child may well be about how the world came to be. But as critical thinking evolves in our brains it should be the latest in adolescence that we leave our childish thinking behind, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11 NRSV).

Hopefully our youth get a decent Christian education that enlightens them that the Bible is not one book but rather a library of all kinds of literary products that has evolved over 1,000 years in three different languages on two different continents. The seven day narrative at the beginning was written by priests during the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BCE. The narrative has a very clear purpose: Its climax is to set aside the seventh day as a Sabbath to God. Or in modern English: Pastors are telling their flock to go to church on Sunday.

Priests are really good at doing religious stuff. Scientists are really good and doing scientific stuff. They can talk to each and find differences and similarities in their respective fields. After all modern science is a brainchild of middle age scholasticism. But the truth is that God wants us to be experts in our field and respect other experts in their fields, “Let every man abide in the same vocation wherein he was called.” (1 Corinthians 7:20 GNV). An argumentative shortcut does not do justice to either Biblical theology or scientific reality.

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Jul 26, 2017

To our transgender Soldiers, their Families, and Allies

As an Army Reserve Chaplain I am but a small wheel in the big machinery of the Big Army. But I am posting this to support you today. For years you have had to live in hiding. Just over the last year you were finally officially recognized as valid members of the Army Family. All echelons have undergone training to implement full integration. The trainings that I have helped facilitate showed some of the expected reservations especially around shower questions. This can and will be worked out as it is in militaries around the world.

Today you are under attack again and that is by your boss, our commander-in-chief:

Now to be clear: No policy changes were officially published. So far this is just an individual expressing their opinion. Don’t lose hope! As Soldiers you have memorized the Soldier’s Creed that reminds you, “I will never accept defeat. I will never quit.”

Most importantly: don’t quit on life! Too many allies have approached me sharing stories of their transgender battle buddies dying from suicide during or shortly after basic training. The President of the United States telling a group of Soldiers that they are unwanted or somehow deficient endangers lives and undermines military readiness.

If you need somebody to process your reactions to today’s attack on you, please reach out to your chain of command and your chaplain. Your command is trained to be helpful in the transition process. Your chaplain is there to provide you with the spiritual support that you need. For my tradition I may boldly proclaim that you you were created very good. God affirms your true identity.

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Jul 3, 2017

Brexit 1776? – Happy Independence Day!

#Brexit1776
Well-meaning, patriotic, happy American friends share this meme a lot these days. There are indeed a couple of things that the American Declaration of Independence and the British vote to leave the European Union have in common:

1. People want to rid themselves of perceived oppression.
In 1776 the thirteen colonies made their case against King George: “He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.”
In 2016 the British electorate did not really know why they did not want to be part of the European Union anymore. As a matter of fact it wasn’t until after the vote that Brits started googling “What Is The EU?”.

2. People are concerned about the status of migrants
In 1776 the biggest concern for America was and ought to be: How can we get the most people here and make them citizens as quickly and as smoothly as possible? The king of England is hurting us by putting up a fence around our borders: “He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”
In 2016 the overall British sentiment was: “We don’t want no refugees!”

If you have to parallel the Brexit of 2016 to an event in American history, I propose 1620. The pilgrims were one group of migrants who formed what later became the United Church of Christ. They declared their #Brexit1620 by leaving Britain and finding a new home in America.
In 2017 the United Church of Christ declared itself an Immigrant Welcoming Church. At #UCCGS the pilgrims’ sons and daughters remember what it means to be a refugee.
July 4th is not a Brexit but opening your welcoming arms to those oppressed by ruthless empires: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

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Jun 27, 2017

A Meditation on the Rainbow

June is LGBT pride month. It stems from protests against the injustice and violence that patrons of the Stonewall Inn had to endure in 1969. We have achieved a lot of progress since. But even in 2017 it still makes sense to wave the rainbow flag boldly. Throughout history its message has been violated. Nazi Germany marked gender-nonconforming people with a pink triangle and gassed them to death alongside the Jews with the star of David on their chest.

The Bible knows the rainbow to be a symbol that God will sustain all of creation no matter what:
“When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:16)
It just so happens that among God’s creatures are also human beings. It also just so happens that 3.8% of the US population identify as LGBT. Now mind you, these are only the people who have had their “coming out”. God’s covenant extends to 100% of living creatures.

For the sake of stability and orientation we make our lives easier by grouping people into certain categories: Nazis labeled Jews, Communists and Perverts. Now we know that gender identity is not as easily labelled as we once thought. What does it mean to be a woman or a man? One is strong, the other is weak? One goes to work, the other stays home? One is emotional, the other is rational? One cooks, the other watches TV? One cleans house, the other mows the yard? One manages the kids’ activities, the other has a hard time remembering what grade they’re in? Wow, my wife is a great man, and I am great woman, or vice versa! Life is much more complex than black or white, male of female, liberal or conservative. Life is a rainbow. There are all kinds of creatures in God’s world. All were made beautiful and “very good.” We may give them labels like Straight or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender. Or they may not fit any category and be truly Queer.

That’s what the rainbow is all about. We are not all the same. We are all different. We all have a unique color. We all belong in a particular stripe of the rainbow. But then these stripes overlap. Pure red overlaps with yellow and forms orange between them. Yellow overlaps with blue on the other side to form green. Purple combines red and blue. Where do you fall on the rainbow? What does it mean to be a man or a woman for you?

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May 31, 2017

Chaplain’s Corner: June is Pride Month

The Department of Defense recognizes June as Pride Month. The month of June was chosen for LGBT Pride Month to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which occurred at the end of June 1969. Since then our country has made lots of progress. So:

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