For my ministry I have two different uniforms: My Prussian robe is my Sunday best that connects me to the deep and rich roots of our tradition. One weekend per month I change after church to put on my uniform as a United States Army Reserve Chaplain. It may look like two separate ministries that are at odds every now and then. In reality though it is one ministry, endorsed by one body. The United Church of Christ connects me with my congregation and endorses me for military chaplaincy. Serving in two worlds comes with a unique set of challenges and benefits:
It is challenging for me: Last year I had to miss my wife’s and our middle daughter’s birthday. Besides the monthly drill, reservists also have annual training during the summer which lasts from two to three weeks. This year I missed our big family trip to Germany because of it. It is a big commitment that cuts substantially into family time.
It is challenging for the congregation: Some things can be scheduled well in advance like finding supply preachers to fill the pulpit while I am gone. But then there are pastoral needs when people need a visit and they know it is not going to happen. Or when someone dies and the memorial has to be conducted by another supply preacher.
It is beneficial for me: Serving in the military besides full-time church ministry keeps me on my toes. It makes me more efficient in my planning and I welcome the change of pace that comes with serving in different settings. It makes me a better pastor since serving both uniforms offers unique experiences that you cannot get anywhere else.
It is beneficial for the church: My congregation views its support of my military ministry as a service to our service members. They take pride in the fact that they allow me to be there for our Soldiers in need. The large veteran population in our church finds it easier to open up about the time when they served and oftentimes I see men in their 80s revisit their Korean war demons for the first time. When budget time comes the board members are appreciative of the fact that the Army provides me with continuing education and a comprehensive benefit package which equals added benefits for the church.
Serving both as a local church pastor and an Army Reserve Chaplain is something God calls me to do and by entering a covenant with me the church has agreed to make it their call as well. In return they get a well-balanced pastor.
Agreement is a step away from specter of conflict, towards possibility of peace. This is the good deal we have sought pic.twitter.com/JY9YSZrPQs
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) July 14, 2015
The so-called Iran nuclear deal is a good deal. For years I have retweeted President Netanyahu‘s calls for tougher negotiations. He is still not content but I am. Here is why:
Time: In almost all provisions the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action will be in effective for at least ten years. While some critics call that too short let’s be honest: What in life last longer than ten years? Just compare your own life to where you were ten years ago. In my estimation that is a significant amount of time.
Inspections: They will be ubiquitous and very thorough. Hiding a nuclear arms program will no longer be possible.
Sanctions: Lifting sanctions at the front end instead after good behavior is a classic carrot and stick approach: You behave, you can keep your carrots but once you start cheating we will get the stick out again in no time. That builds positive incentives.
Use of force: If all fails the international community now actually has a tool in its hand that allows for military action. Judging from the experience with Iraq and its non-compliance in the years leading up to Operation Iraqi Freedom it seems wise to have that stick available. Should inspections not be satisfactory Annex I, para. 78 states:
“If the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities or activities
inconsistent with the JCPOA cannot be verified after the implementation of the
alternative arrangements agreed by Iran and the IAEA, or if the two sides are
unable to reach satisfactory arrangements to verify the absence of undeclared
nuclear materials and activities or activities inconsistent with the JCPOA at the
specified locations within 14 days of the IAEA’s original request for access, Iran,
in consultation with the members of the Joint Commission, would resolve the
IAEA’s concerns through necessary means agreed between Iran and the IAEA. In
the absence of an agreement, the members of the Joint Commission, by consensus
or by a vote of 5 or more of its 8 members, would advise on the necessary means
to resolve the IAEA’s concerns. The process of consultation with, and any action
by, the members of the Joint Commission would not exceed 7 days, and Iran
would implement the necessary means within 3 additional days.”
Politics: Now the real good news is in the composition of the Joint Commission: Outside of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action every step would require the UN security council to come to an agreement that would not be vetoed by China or Russia. According to Annex IV, para. 1.2:
“The Joint Commission is comprised of representatives of Iran and the E3/EU+3
(China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United
States, with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security
Policy), together, the JCPOA participants.”
That means in order to establish non-compliance it only takes an agreement between the EU, France, Germany, UK and US. This majority is what makes me most confident in the JCPOA.
You can find all the documents of the agreement with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and SecurityPolicy.
Healing in American Christianity has a somewhat bitter flavor in my mind. The stereotypical TV preacher was perfectly depicted and ridiculed by Genesis in their 1991 music video “Jesus he knows me”. A sad affair where show and business mingle. That said there is room for healing services in the church. The United Church of Christ even has an Order for Healing for Congregational Use. Our next healing service will be held on August 9, 2015. Here is an introduction, taken from the Book of Worship with a local Rosenberg twist:
Services of healing have a biblical heritage appropriate for the full life of a local church. Anointing and the laying on of hands are acts closely related to the covenant of faithful love between God and Israel and between God and the church. In scripture, monarchs are anointed, prophets commissioned, the Holy Spirit conferred, the sick healed, and the dead raised in acts of faith accompanied by anointing with oil, the laying on of hands, or touch in another form. The symbolism of touch has survived almost universally among churches in the laying on of hands at confirmation and ordination. The power of touch in healing is finding renewed acceptance as is the unity of the total person.
In the New Testament, faith, forgiveness of sins, and healing are frequently inseparable but distinct aspects of one experience. Out of mercy and compassion, God works to bring about reconciliation that restores peace between God and humanity, among individuals and communities, within each person, and between humankind and the creation. Guilt, anxiety, fear, broken relationships, and the loneliness of alienation all contribute to human sickness. Healing, in the Christian sense, is the reintegration of body, mind, emotions, and spirit that permits people, in community, to live life fully in a creation honored by prudent and respectful use.
In this healing service, four themes are intertwined: God’s word, growth in faith, forgiveness of sin, human touch.
At St. John’s United Church of Christ our healing service is part of Holy Communion: Together with the confession of sin and the assurance of pardon the whole person is strengthened to approach the Lord’s table with a sense of integrity.
In scripture, God’s word reassures us of the Creator’s love and compassion. Jesus’ acts of healing, the healing ministry of the New Testament church, and contemporary experiences of healing all testify to the health and fullness God makes possible in human life.
Faith in the inclusive sense of trust and belief in God’s unmerited goodness is an integral cornerstone of the New Testament understanding of healing. Individuals and communities of believers nurture each other in their mutual growth in faith. God does not promise that we will be spared suffering, but does promise to be with us in our suffering. Trusting that promise, we are enabled to bear the unbearable and recognize God’s sustaining nearness in pain, in sickness, and in injury.
Forgiveness of sin is often closely associated with healing in the New Testament. The connection of forgiveness and healing affirms the psychosomatic unity of individuals recognized by modern health sciences. It admits the importance of openness and honesty to every relationship of love. It sets health in the context of relationships restored by confession and forgiveness.
In the New Testament, touch plays a central role in the healing ministry. The power of touch is recognized, whether in the anointing with oil, the laying on of hands, or the less formal gesture of holding someone’s hand or touching a wound. Jesus frequently touched others: blessing children, washing feet, healing injuries or disease, and raising people from death. Jesus also allowed himself to be touched, washed, embraced, anointed. To allow oneself to be touched is an act of openness. To touch another is an act of acceptance in which a person transfers something of oneself to another: love, affection, protection, strength, power, acceptance. Touch in the healing ministry embodies the embrace of God for the redeemed creation when in the mystery of last things God will make all things new.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be once again invited to lead the Rosenberg City Council in a prayer of invocation tonight. As always you have a full agenda and tonight you are making two presentations that I want to reflect on for a moment: Our Lady of Guadelupe Catholic Church is being recognized for the beautification of their property and the month of July is recognized as Parks and Recreation month in the City of Rosenberg. The Bishop of Rome just a few weeks ago released his ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’ celebrating the beauty of mother Earth in a similar attempt. Let me share the first couple of paragraphs with y’all and then lead into Francis’ prayer that can be found at the end of his encyclical ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME:
1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.
2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.
Remembering our beautiful city parks that survived recent flooding and celebrating America’s independence with a fun filled evening at Seabourne Creek Park, let us pray:
“All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.”
“Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that ‘all men are created equal’ and ‘endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,’ they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which this Nation was built.”
In his dissent to the Supreme Court Decision to establish marriage equality in the entire United States, Justice Thomas quotes the Declaration of Independence. How, from that quote he comes to opposing equality is beyond me and the majority of the people in this country as well as its Supreme Court Justices.
I have made it my habit to read the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July. Usually this old document has something to say that is relevant today:
In 2012 pushing for immigration
In 2014 keeping Texas clean.
In 2015 celebrating marriage equality.
What exactly are those rights again that all men are equally created with?
Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness!
Who are those men that were created equally?
“Men” have been substantially redefined since 1776: The term now is understood to mean women and people of color as well.
How does one pursue happiness?
Marriage is one way in which my wife and I pursue happiness. All Americans have had that right since 1776.
I am fixin’ to attend the United Church of Christ General Synod 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio, June 26-30. Every two years delegates and visitors from all over the country convene for the business and celebration of our wider church family. A reunion of sorts representing 1,000,000 people. Like many attendees I will post regular updates using the hashtag #GS2015. Back in Germany the national setting of the church has a similar event that just concluded a couple of weeks ago. Here is a report that has been shared via the World Council of Churches:
Tens of thousands of people from Germany and beyond have converged on the city of Stuttgart for a five-day festival of faith, debates, music, worship and culture. Open-air services in different parts of the city marked the start of the German Protestant Kirchentag, or church convention, which began on 3 June and continues until 7 June.
The event is Germany’s biggest Protestant gathering, taking place every two years in a different German city. It brings together tens of thousands of participants, including personalities from political, economic and national life. The Kirchentag was founded in 1949 by Protestant lay people to strengthen democratic culture after the Nazi dictatorship and the Second World War. The Kirchentag also serves as a major forum for debates on such matters as nuclear power, climate change, and the financial crisis. Alongside such discussions, it offers opportunities for worship, music and culture. The event features 2500 individual events in Stuttgart.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, German President Joachim Gauck underlined the role of the Kirchentag in motivating people to tackle the major issues of the time. “Poverty, injustice, lack of peace, intolerance and environmental degradation affect people in many parts of the world,” said Gauck. “Those who live by faith do not want only to be spectators in the face of such developments. They are looking for responses that will help them to act.” Gauck was a Protestant pastor in the former East Germany and became active in the 1989 protests against communist rule that led to the unification of Germany the following year. Alongside Gauck, Chancellor Angela Merkel and former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan are scheduled to address the gathering.
Almost 100,000 people are registered for the whole of the five-day meeting. The assembly takes place this year under the biblical theme “That we may become wise,” based on a verse from the book of Psalms (90:12). The president of the 2015 Kirchentag, Andreas Barner, underlined the need for wisdom in “how we deal with each other, how we deal with our natural resources, and with our world.” At the same time, he said, “The sustainability of our society depends on the extent to which we develop the ability to create and to preserve peace.” Barner, a Protestant layperson and business leader, referred in particular to the continuing reports of people drowning in the Mediterranean as they try to reach Europe from North Africa. Such deaths must come to an immediate end, he said.
The Kirchentag has strong ecumenical links in Germany and beyond, with more than 5000 international guests at the Stuttgart meeting. They include a high-level delegation from Korea and large groups of participants from Indonesia and Nigeria. On 6 June, the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, will take part in a day of events linked to the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, launched by the WCC following its 2013 assembly.
We have houses evacuated in our city of Rosenberg and the Brazos River still threatens to endanger lives and property. Whenever the National Weather Service issues a flood watch or a flood warning people are sure to compare it to the situation with Noah. It so easy to compare any inconvenient water to that which killed almost all life on planet Earth. Not only natural disasters trigger that comparison but also the reference to the sin that presumably caused it.
Any natural disaster will have some preacher up in arms proclaiming the end is near because you-know-who did this-or-that. I am writing these reflections in a much calmer situation: The weather forecast looks dry for the next week. The crest of the flood is here and turned out less disastrous than originally expected here in Rosenberg. And most certainly has nobody preached of fire and brimstone denouncing the sin that led to our flood warnings. So in a very stable situation after the flood has passed, the rainbow is out and we are all safe and dry, let us take a sober look at what actually caused the Great Flood for which Noah built the Ark. That story is to be found in Genesis 6:1-8:
When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, ‘My spirit shall not abide in mortals for ever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterwards—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the sight of the Lord.
Yes, you read that right: demigods roaming the Earth, Sons of God having babies with human mothers, just like it was the case with Jesus and Mary. Only in this early incarnation God did not approve and vowed to undo that.
The Flood was not caused by human sin!
The Flood was caused by demigods abusing their power.
Let that sink in for a minute:
God is not in the business of punishing people!
God is in the business of making amends for what his sons messed up!
God is a loving parent cleaning up after his kids!
Thursday May 14, 2015, is Father’s Day. At least in my book. Since I live both the US and German cultures I get to celebrate two Father’s Days on different dates. This upcoming German variety has a powerful customary expression: A bunch of dads going on a hike without family – basically taking a day off from fathering. Instead they pull a little red wagon full of beer and get wasted in public places. It has been a tradition for over 100 years. Honestly I have never celebrated that way but it is a cultural icon you should be aware of.
All this daytime drinking is possible because German Father’s Day also happens to be a national holiday. The way most of us think about German culture it is totally within the realm of possibility to dedicate a national holiday to drinking beer in the park but actually it is a major Christian holiday: Ascension Day! Yes, churches do have a hard time filling the pews on a holiday where the guys prefer hiking. But at least the theme for the worship service is pretty clear: “Jesus goes back to his heavenly father”. So Ascension is truly Jesus’ Father’s Day. That’s the way it always has been. For almost 2000 years!
Then I moved to the US and this whole connection is gone because in America we don’t join those two celebrations. So I had to look at the more serious implications of Ascension. How do you celebrate Jesus going back to heaven when it is not linked to a Father figure waiting for him up there?
Jesus Christ is no longer among us. He is not dead, he is risen after all. But he is still gone, ascended into heaven. How do you maintain a long distance relationship like that? Ascension poses a challenge: There is this huge gap that remains between God Almighty, creator of the universe and us little creatures down here on Earth. For a brief time in history we had Jesus walking among us, preaching, and teaching, and healing. Then: Ascension! Pouf! He disappears just us quickly and unexpectedly as the angel had appeared to Mary announcing his birth to begin with. God’s presence among us is fleeting at best. Maybe that’s the takeaway from Ascension Day: God the Father will always be hiking through the Garden of Eden whether we see him or not and he’s got our back no matter what.
When I bake bread I use 1 1/2 cups of water. The bread turns out just right with a yummy crust when I follow my simple recipe that I developed a few years ago. Like any good recipe it doesn’t work if you don’t follow the measurements. You need to understand what 1 1/2 cups are. A half a cup is a fraction of a cup. The bottom number is called denominator. Of all the fractions the denominator tells you which numerators belong together.
Churches are the same way. We are all one and the same body of Christ that starts with water: the water of Baptism. After that things got messy and we divided ourselves into different “churches”. Ultimately we are all numerals on the same scale but we set ourselves apart.
Luckily we in the United Church of Christ hold on to the concept of the denominational church. We share a common denominator, a shared family name for all our more than 5000 congregations: United Church of Christ.
As the body of Christ is symbolized in a loaf of bread so the church is carefully crafted with a recipe that has worked from day one: Be in covenant with one another and have structures in place to live out that covenant. A local church works closely with its sister churches in the same Association – in our case the Houston Association. The Associations work together as a Conference – in our case the South Central Conference. And we all share in the missions and ministries of the National Setting. Every “level” of church life has its unique flavors and responsibilities but ultimately we are all numerators of the same denominator.
Our Conference Ministry, the Reverend Douglas Anders, ministers to our churches in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. He will be giving the Sermon next Sunday, April 26 in our 10 am service at St. John’s United Church of Christ. Ultimately being part of a denominational church is about relationship: recognizing kinfolk and sharing time, talent and resources to make the world better as a whole. Because ultimately that’s where the whole thing is headed – that one day there won’t be separate denominators anymore but the one Body of Christ: 1/1
Preparing for Sunday Services leads me to the following seven websites every week. Maybe you also will find it handy to have them all linked in one spot:
A sermon preparation resource designed for use with the Revised Common Lectionary.
Lectionary-based services for Sundays, festivals and special ecumenical or UCC observances.
A wide variety of resources for study and liturgy based on the 3-year Revised Common Lectionary cycle.
Liturgical resources for the coming weeks.
The Oremus Bible Browser.
Enter the Bible
A wealth of resources from Luther Seminary to help you grow in your faith, add depth to your Bible studies and truly discover the people, places and events of the Bible.
The leading website for academic Bible study. It provides free access to the original Bible texts in Greek and Hebrew, published by the German Bible Society, in addition to English and German Bible translations.
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