The Lord be with you!
Und mit deinem Geiste!
Lift up your hearts!
Wir erheben sie zum Herrn!
This is how over 100 people started the Communion Prayer for our German Christmas Service last Sunday. A few times a year we have multilingual events whereas Holy Communion is usually celebrated once a month. It so happened that our Adult Sunday School class worked on the topic of Holy Communion as well. When I stop by towards the end of their time I sometimes get to attend the final round of conversation and sometimes there are issues they request my input on. Communion was such an issue and their question was: Who can receive Holy Communion?
The short answer is: Everyone!
The main reason for that is simple: Holy Communion is nothing but the Word of God made accessible to those who wish to receive it. It has the same message that every sermon has: God loves you. Everyone is invited to hear the Word of God in the sermon, so everyone is invited to eat and drink the Word of God in Communion as well. Bread and wine are tangible sermons.
Some traditions have tried to limit access to the table by excluding those who are not considered worthy. By that standard nobody would be allowed at the table because we are all sinners. Jesus had Judas at the table of his Last Supper knowing full well he would betray him. He was not excluded but on the contrary Jesus has consistently dined with sinners. That includes you and me. That is also the reason why on Communion Sundays the order of our service includes a Prayer of Confession followed by the Assurance of Forgiveness. We need to acknowledge our sinfulness because it actually makes the Lord’s Supper all the more important.
There used to be a variety of age limits on the participation in Holy Communion. The argument usually went like this: Children do not grasp the meaning of Holy Communion. Yet understanding is not a prerequisite for participation: Family Ministry brings Communion to people in retirement homes and I can assure you that some of the residents do not even recognize that they are holding a cup of grape juice in their hand. What they do understand though is the feeling that there is a group of people that cares for them and that is after all what communion means – being together with one another and with Jesus Christ.
I have read two pastoral autobiographies lately. You would say they could not be any more different:
1. Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor is about him starting a family-oriented home town church in suburbia at a time when his baby boomer generation was just moving into their starter homes.
2. Nadia Bolz-Weber found her call to ministry later in life and is kind of a poster child for the postmodern, meaning-making, downtown hipster church culture.
To me the secret to their successes in ministries has more in common than meets the eye. Behind the obvious cultural differences they do the exact same thing: They open their lives not only to friends and parishioners but the broader public. They are low-boundary people.
I cringe when church functions are invited into their homes. I get uncomfortable when the privacy of church members is at risk when pastor talks too much. I worry about the example they set for colleagues to the left and to the right. If this model of doing pastoral ministry were the norm most pastors, including myself, would not be any good. People who open up that much intimidate me.
Wow, did you see what just happened? I opened up! All I set out to do was to write a book review for Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber. And now here I am becoming more like her. At first I was appalled by the book, but reading what I write about it, I must admit: You cannot argue with its transformational power. I guess I am one of those Accidental Saints, too. I guess everybody is to a certain extent.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
The Rosenberg City Council has invited me to give the invocation for tonight’s meeting. World AIDS Day is held on December first each year. This is a time when we remember people who have died from AIDS-related illnesses and people who are living with HIV; a time to give thanks for the progress that has been made and to reflect on what still needs to be done. It is an opportunity for people around the world to unite to eradicate AIDS and show support for people living with HIV. It is a time to commit anew to ensuring that no one is left behind.
The Ecumenical Council of Churches provides a beautiful World AIDS Day Liturgy this year. So I will adapt the Prayer of Confession that was originally composed by Rev. J.P. Mokgethi–Heath, Church of Sweden, to fit the occasion at City Hall tonight and offer the following prayer:
God our Creator, we confess that we have not looked upon all whom You have created with the same love and celebration as You have. We have not affirmed all Your people as having equal worth and equal dignity. We have stood by as others have been humiliated and cast out; Creator God, Have Mercy on us.
Jesus our Redeemer, in Your life on earth you lived the inclusivity you preached. You reached to the margins of society and drew all to salvation through Your sacrifice on the cross. We confess that we have not lived your inclusivity. Day by day we encounter people whom You have redeemed and walk past without recognizing the dignity you have bought for them; Redeemer God, Have Mercy on us.
Holy Spirit our Sustainer, You breath life into all around us. Your breath fills us with life and draws us to want to praise You. We confess that our community has not been a welcoming place for all. We have associated with those we feel comfortable with and been apathetic about the countless people who have felt barriers to entry, barriers to full citizenship; Sustainer God, have Mercy on us. Amen.
As a United States Army Chaplain this Veterans Day I celebrate all my brothers and sisters in the service, past, present and future. As a Christian Minister I also recognize November 11 to be Saint Martin’s Day. But then again, these two commemorations are really one: Saint Martin is the Patron Saint of Soldiers after all and the US Military Academy at West Point has a St. Martin Chapel for a reason.
Saint Martin’s Day
Martin of Tours was a soldier in the Army of the Roman Empire. One day as he was approaching the gates of the city of Amiens (modern-day France), he met a scantily clad beggar. He impulsively cut his military cloak in half to share with the man. Eventually Martin became a Saint and his cloak has been venerated as a relic in the Roman Catholic tradition. The priest who cared for the cloak in its reliquary was called a cappellanu, and ultimately all priests who served the military were called cappellani. The French translation is chapelains, from which the English word chaplain is derived.
Even though this is a reflection for Veterans Day and Saint Martin’s Day really what pulls it together is the Chaplaincy. The bearers of Martin’s cloak are no longer limited to the Armed Forces but you can find spiritual caregivers in Healthcare, Law Enforcement, Congress, Prison and even the Corporate Sector.
Serving all God’s Children
As I honor our Soldiers, Sailors, Airwomen, Airmen and Marines today I am reminded that they all serve all Americans. And I mean literally all the great diversity of people in the United States. The same is true inside the service where Department of Defense Directive 1020.02E states: “All Service members are afforded equal opportunity in an environment free from harassment and unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.”
Saint Martin did not care who the beggar was or where he was on life’s journey.
Martin shared his cloak with this child of God.
Veterans Day events are growing fewer and smaller every year. Those who show up are more faithful and committed than ever. Veterans organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion are scrambling to keep local chapters operational. As a pastor I enjoy having military honors at the funeral of a veteran but in our community the American Legion cannot even get enough people together for a 21 gun salute. This is a problem because more often than not this time-honored tradition will just have to be skipped.
The decline in veteran culture and organization has one simple reason: The size of the American military has been shrinking for decades. The total number of service members is only half of what it used to be through the 50s, 60s and 70s. From over 3 million we are now down to 1.3 million people on active duty. That is a good thing. We do no longer have wars that are a clashing of the masses, killing tens of thousands in one battle field. We utilize more technology and that means we put fewer bodies in harm’s way. We are keeping American lives safe and fewer families are affected by the horrors of war.
But under the condition of the fallen world that number will never reach zero: “But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain!” (Romans 13:4) And that means that brave men an women will have to pick it up for all of us. We only want to send as many to war as we need to but when they come back we pledge our sacred honor to them as they pledged their lives to us. That gets harder the fewer there are. So the decline in veteran culture and organization is both to be mourned and celebrated at the same time.
Happy Veterans Day!
What if there is no big difference between the living and the dead? First off: There is a huge difference! If you have ever lost somebody you know the void, you know the pain and you know that nothing can ever fully replace them. When somebody dies life changes for the rest of us in a dramatic and sustained way. The day of their birth or their death will remain special. The holidays make obvious that the seats at the dinner table are now arranged in a different way. Nothing is the same anymore.
But again: What if there is no big difference between the living and the dead? All it takes is a change in perspective. Most people die within a century of their birth. That is our nature. But if we look at death from God’s eternal perspective things change dramatically:
“For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.” (Psalm 90:4)
What if our lives, what if all of human history, what if all of time and space just last for a blink of God’s eye? A few generations up or down the family tree turn into nothing. Ages become seconds. Every person that has ever lived and ever will live can be together in one moment of God’s time.
All Saints Day tries to stress that unity of both the living and the dead.
Is that supposed to tell me that my pain is irrelevant?
– No! Grief is our human reality here and now for us who are left behind.
Is that supposed to mean that my parent, spouse or friend is not really gone?
– No! Death is as real as life is. But when we say that we hope for the Resurrection to Eternal Life it is only fair to assume that this is already a reality for some of us.
All Saints Day is an invitation to relate to the ones you have lost both in loving remembrance of a shared past and hope for a future reunion. And maybe in God’s eyes both are taking place at the same time: Right now!
With our St. Martin’s Day Celebration fast approaching it is time to get your supplies ready to build your lanterns. We will gather on November 12th at 5pm to build them. Then it’s stew supper at 6:30 followed by a skit and finally our lantern procession. Please RSVP on Facebook.
The most common one is based on a box of Brie cheese. Detailed instructions are over at UK-German Connection.
Another easy way is to use a two-liter soda bottle or a milk jug as your body. Since it’s transparent to light all it needs is stickers as decoration or like this found on Pinterest.
A great source for more lantern patterns and craft suggestions is Heiliger-Martin.de It has instructions with images so don’t let the German language deter you.
Every other day I run two miles at five o’clock in the morning. I have to do that because I need to be in shape for the Army Physical Fitness Test and I want to do it because I have always enjoyed exercising. Also I believe God calls us to take care of our bodies. Every muscle, bone, joint and organ is a beloved creature of God just as the whole body is. In recent months we have had multiple occasions in the church were staying active came up: Several people share about their experiences on their early morning walks. We have learned that getting your heart pumping can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Strong legs can prevent falls. Being in good physical shape helps you withstand the stresses of surgery better and makes recovery faster and easier. Exercise is a spiritual practice. It is taking care of God’s creation: Yourself!
Here is how Genesis 1:28-31 speaks to this issue:
“God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”
Martha Grace Reese in her 2008 book “Unbinding Your heart” interprets this as a call to combine physical and spiritual exercise:
“[T]hese powerful stories show God’s joy in what God has brought into being. God is still creating. We can join God in that joy and care-taking. Today, take a ‘Prayer Walk.’ Choose a place – whether in nature, a shopping mall, your office, the library, the grimy bus station downtown, your own neighborhood or someone else’s. Walk through it slowly. Try to see it with God’s eyes. Feel God’s love for the place, the growing things, the people. As you walk, bless the houses, or rooms or paths. Bless the people who will go in and out of them, their families. Pray for God’s healing, guidance, protection. Pray as you feel the Spirit moving you to pray for anyone you see. What did you notice?” (page 128)
Maybe we ought to start a walking group at the church. Maybe we need to walk around this neighborhood and bless all who live in it. Maybe we need to stay in shape together, because after all: It is easier to get moving when you do not have to motivate yourself alone.
Congress pulled it off this time. There is no government shut-down even though the new fiscal year is here and a budget is nowhere in sight. Spending bill after spending bill keeps our country stuttering along. As a church we are charged to be a witness to the world. Not only through our words but especially through our actions. And at St. John’s United Church of Christ we do have a budget for every year, we pay all our bills when they are due. We increase care for the elderly and educational opportunities for all. We do not leave the next generation with a pile of debt. We update the infrastructure of our facilities before huge repairs become due. That is our way of showing the world how to prudently manage your affairs in a Christian spirit. That is a powerful witness to young people learning how to budget and congressmen and congresswomen alike: Make a plan and stick with it.
Granted, our affairs are not nearly as complex but still we need to do all the things we need to do. And we always want to do more and better. It is a miracle how the generosity of our givers allows us to do more good for more people. The math is pretty simple: We are about 180 members. Our budget is about $180,000. That makes an average giving of $1,000 per person per year to keep us going. A lot of giving happens through the offering plates on Sundays. So let me break down the math even further. If everybody makes it to church 50 Sundays a year and gives $20 each time, we make budget. That is of course an average and reality looks very different. But it illustrates that it can be done.
But your generosity is not limited to that. The Endowment Fund and the Memorial Fund receive generous contributions above and beyond our budget. But please keep in mind that these are additional giving options. Our first and primary ministry is to serve God’s people here and now. Jesus said: “Let the dead bury their dead” (Luke 9:60). While the maintenance of our assets and gifts on behalf of passed loved ones are very much appreciated, primary effort has to go into our active ministries in our community and around the world.
The problem in Congress is that they are willing to let the whole budget process collapse over one or two line items. As a United Church of Christ congregation we value unity over separation. We come together across ideological spectra and send a powerful witness every-time we create and meet a budget: All God’s children need all of us to pitch in and to do our part. That is the stewardship God has entrusted us with – not only over the church, but the world.
“Father Abraham had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham. I am one of them and so are you.” Are you humming along yet? Right arm, left foot…
This is not only a nice little children’s church song but also a very profound truth that speaks to three major religious events that are all happening today:
1. Pope Francis arrives for his first visit to the US.
2. The Hadjj attracts millions of pilgrims to Mecca.
3. Yom Kippur reminds Jews around the world of God’s forgiving grace.
Why should I as a Protestant care about the Pope?
The Bishop of Rome is a fellow Christian! All our denominational split identities mask the truth that there is only the one holy, catholic church. Now in Rome they think they perfectly embody it like nobody else. And as Protestants we cannot recognize that. But the way the Roman Catholic Church symbolizes and lives unity of a global Christian community is a beautiful witness in the body of Christ. As a Protestant I care for the witness of our Catholic brothers and sisters because we are called to work together toward unity in the body of Christ. We share a common Baptism and we are sent by one Lord to serve all God’s children. We are called to work together and be one.
Why should I as a Protestant care about the Hajj?
Pilgrimages are one of the oldest and most profound spiritual exercises there are. The once-in-a-lifetime journey to Mecca is a beautiful symbol of people putting a lot of effort into their faith life. Jihad means making effort for God. As Protestants we talk about free grace all the time and that is true. But the huge amounts of time, money and effort every able-bodied Muslim is supposed to invest in this journey is a powerful expression of dedication. Like our Muslim brothers and sisters we are called to make an effort for our spiritual well-being.
Why should I as a Protestant care about Yom Kippur?
The Jewish Day of Atonement has a clear message: People can change. Yom Kippur symbolizes getting rid of our sins and starting afresh. A new start with a clean slate. Our trespasses are forgiven. You think the Reformation invented that? Think again! The power of God’s forgiveness has always been important to God’s people. When we are reminded that God forgives, then we are free to forgive ourselves and others. The blame game ends: I am okay. You are okay. God loves you. I love you. We can all change for the better. And we will be in need of change again next year for Yom Kippur.
Father Abraham has many sons. Many sons has Father Abraham. The three most important sons of Abraham that we need to understand as siblings in faith are Jacob, Isaac and Ishmael. As Christians we subscribe to the lineage of Isaac. Abraham was almost prepared to give his son’s life to honor God. Ultimately the early church saw Jesus’ death as a reflection of Isaac’s sacrifice. As sons and daughters of Isaac it does not matter whether you are the Bishop of Rome or just a regular Joe. As Christians we are all children of Isaac. The Jewish people are descendants of Israel which is another for name Jacob. And Jacob is Isaac’s son. Families are complex: Abraham had another son: Ishmael and eventually Islam develops in his lineage. As Jews, Christians and Muslims not only do we all serve the same God but we are also part of the same family. And when family members have special days you celebrate with them.
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