Browsing articles in "FAITH"
Dec 21, 2015

Let’s Destroy the Death Star

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The holiday season is supposed to be jolly and merry. Let me tell you that it does not always work out that way. As a matter of fact there are more deaths this time of year than any other. The sun setting so early leaves us in darkness. And the pressures that come with expectations for the festive season add to the burden.

There is a reason that most major religions have a festival of light in the winter season, because light and hope are in short supply when it is dark and cold all around us. You may call it Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Christmas. The point all these festivals make is: Light a candle in the darkness.

Dr. Martin Luther King Junior expressed it most beautifully:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.

In 2015 I have worked on five suicides. On the Army Reserve side of my ministry two Soldiers killed themselves. On the local church side I know of three families who had people commit suicide. The military has an aggressive strategy where us chaplains regularly teach suicide prevention and suicide intervention. In the church we do not have such a thing. But since 2015 has been so deadly I intend to change that. I will speak up about suicide on a regular basis. You may call it my new year resolution: In 2016 I will work harder on training the church in suicide prevention and intervention.

Yes, you read that right: Suicide can be prevented. It is not a tragedy that strikes from the outside but it is human behavior that can be changed. It can be done. It is hard but possible. And to get one thing out of the way: Suicide is not a sin! The person who kills themselves is not bad for doing so. When the Psalmist talks about walking through the darkest valley, that is where that happens. If you cannot find a way out of the dark you may end up killing yourself. Yes, you too, as you read this right now.

If you feel that happening to yourself, please snap out of it and ask for help!
If you see that in a family member, friend or coworker, wake them up and show them the light!

In the epic battle between the empire of darkness and the rebellion of light the good guys always win. The death star will be destroyed. And make no mistake, I am not talking about a galaxy far far away. That struggle is happening right here, right now, in every heart.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.

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Dec 8, 2015

Who can receive Holy Communion?

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.

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Nov 18, 2015

Praise the Holy One

When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed

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Nov 11, 2015

Serving all God’s Children

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Veterans Day
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.

Professional Chaplaincy
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.

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Nov 3, 2015

The Decline of Veterans Day

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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!

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Oct 27, 2015

The Quick and the Dead

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!

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Oct 15, 2015

What must I do?

Flip your Bible open on a random page, point your finger on a random verse and read it out loud.
How would you feel if you had to live your life accordingly?

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Oct 14, 2015

We are marching in the light of God

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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.

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Oct 7, 2015

Let’s talk about money

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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.

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Sep 23, 2015

Who is the greatest?

Who is the greatest Christian?
Do we measure that by letter grades or percentage?
Is there a final exam on judgment day or does your Karma count like a GPA spanning all your life?

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