Browsing articles from "May, 2016"
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.

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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.

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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!

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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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