Jan 30, 2018

The Moon is bleeding, a groundhog can tell the weather and where is God in all this?

What a Week! #SuperMoon2018 #GroundhogDay #ScoutSunday #Souperbowl

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Big things are about to happen in the sky: The Super Blue Blood Moon Wednesday Is Something the US Hasn’t Seen Since 1866. Early Wednesday morning (Jan. 31), a Blue Moon, a total lunar eclipse and a supermoon coincide to create a rare lunar event that hasn’t been seen in North America in more than 150 years. (SPACE.com). Ever since people have gazed at the heavens they have found meaning there – the Sun as a God, the constellations as fortune-tellers. What happens in the sky affects us here on Earth big time. How is your sleep in a full-moon night?

As human beings we are part of the natural ecosystem and we suffer and prosper alongside the rest of creation. We adjust to nature’s rhythm because it is our own. Halfway between the winter solstice in December and the spring equinox in March we ask a groundhog what the weather is going to be like. Since 1792 the Farmer’s Almanac has had all kinds of other folklore and wisdom. Also the Almanac reveals an inconvenient truth: Punxsutawney Phil gets his predictions right only 39% of the time. And while everybody understands that the moon is not literally bleeding, let’s not forget the fact that the upcoming Super Moon is not so super after all: the last supermoon and lunar eclipse combination happened on 27 September 2015 and the next one is just around the corner on 21 January 2019.

Maybe things in the sky aren’t as big as they seem. Maybe our entanglement in natural processes is overrated. Prophets have warned about that for thousands of years:
“And when you look up to the heavens and see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, do not be led astray and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples everywhere under heaven.” (Deuteronomy 4:19)
There is something oddly comforting about being subject to cosmological powers. If our fate is in the stars we are not really in charge. Well, the God of Israel does not allow much room for that kind of thinking: Do not let the sun, the moon and the stars guide you! It is much more important to focus on what is going on down here on Earth among God’s children. When people are hungry, feed them! When children need direction, educate them! Next Sunday at St. John’s UCC you will have opportunities to be part of both: We will be kicking off our month-long food-drive as well as celebrate Scout Sunday. So don’t let the stars tell you how to live but instead, support Boy Scouts so they can camp out under the stars! Don’t let some cosmological fate determine people’s destiny but bring food donations and turn people’s lives around!

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Jan 5, 2018

Links to my kids

Dear children,
the time has come. You got Chromebooks for Christmas. I got my first computer in third grade. I did not have internet then. Your world is different now and that is why we have been talking about media competency, the chances and risks of all types of media for years. Let me recap the rules really quick:


Now you have access to most of the internet. There is a lot of wonderful stuff out there and here is a short list to get you started:

reference
Wikipedia – a lexicon that explains pretty much everything
Thefreedictionary – how to spell stuff

office
Word Online – here you can write like on mama’s or daddy’s computer
Outlook Email – friends and family all over the world are excited to read from you

reading
Hoopla Digital – free audio and e-books from our local library
LCISD – your school district has all your educational links

listening
Moth Radio Hour – the funny stories you love on the radio
Ask me another – your favorite quiz show on the radio

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Jan 3, 2018

Are you one of the Wise Men?

This week the church will be celebrating Epiphany. Epiphany is when the wise men from the East finally arrive to see the newborn king. No, they don’t go to the stable in Bethlehem but a house without a city mentioned. The story tells us that they came “from the East”. A lot of times in the Bible that refers to what is now the Baghdad area. It was a long and dangerous trip. For 1,000 kilometers they were just following a star not really knowing where they were going. It takes a lot of dedication to follow a star down to 300 meters below sea level and back up to almost 900 meters. Yes, Google Maps shows the wonderful details of the journey.

I imagine such a trip to be a spiritual struggle as well. It takes a leap of faith. The wise men jumped head over heels into a crazy adventure. Our modern-day equivalent could be jumping into a new job or relationship. Do you remember the excitement and the hesitation you felt at such pivotal moments in your life? What would that look like for your spirituality: If you were to open that old book, make prayer a habit, dedicate time and money to God’s work? Would you embark on a 1,000 kilometer journey to find the Son of God? What struggles are you willing to take on? Once you follow the wise men into the unknown desert one thing you will find for sure: Yourself. May that be your greatest Epiphany!

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Dec 26, 2017

Ending 2017 Well


Please don’t ask for a blessed year 2018 until you’re done ending 2017 well. In this last week of the year I want to remind you that moving on to the next year will only be good after you did an honest review of this past year. Lot’s wife is a prime example of someone who is still haunted by the past. After the episode of Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed she still cannot let go and turns back. The consequence is that she is stuck. She turns into a pillar of salt and can’t move anymore at all.

It maybe true that when one door closes, God opens another. But you may not be ready to embrace that change. You first need to finish mourning the loss of the first opportunity. Any change, any transition, needs a proper ending. And judging them as “good” or “bad”, as “negative” or “positive” is not the point. Change is change and transitions are transitions. When someone dies the process of preparing for and going through the funeral helps end things well. When a couple gets married the process of preparing for and going through the wedding helps end things well. Yes, a wedding is not just a new start but also an ending: your single life ends. It’s really a shame that on the occasion of a divorce a lot of people just go through legal battles and miss the opportunity to end things well by going through a blessing ceremony for this part of their lives.

Here is how to end things well: When Israel left the slave house of Egypt, they did not directly proceed to the promised land where milk and honey flow. But God had them roam the desert for two generations. When Jesus died on the cross he did not directly come back to life but was buried and stayed there for three days. There is a pause between the old and the new. And that pause is not just being antsy about what is to come, it is about the reflection of the past: The time in Egypt was an overall horror story for God’s people but in the desert they learned to remember and appreciate that there was more food than they have now. When Jesus was in his grave, the disciples learned to be the church without following Jesus like a guru.

Again, the point is to pause and not just write off experiences as “good” or “bad”, as “negative” or “positive”. If you lost a loved one in 2017 don’t let that be your only memory for this year. If your house got flooded, find another memory as well. If your 2017 is all great because the Astros won the World Series, find something that didn’t go perfect this year. Be grateful for what went well and mourn what didn’t. Only after you have taken your heart through an honest review of 2017 will God be able to reach it with a blessed year 2018.

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Dec 19, 2017

Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas?


If you are interested in a clash of ideologies, this is not written for you. If you think America is in trouble because fewer people say Merry Christmas, this is not written for you. “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Christmas” are not alternatives. It’s not one or the other. Just in the month of December there are XX holidays. So your safest bet it to use “Happy Holidays” most of this month.

With Advent being so late this year, Islam got a head-start in 2017 with Mawlid an Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad on December 1. For Christians the season of Advent covers the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, December 3-24. December 6 is Saint Nicholas Day, the holiday to commemorate one of the cultural roots of Santa Claus. Catholics put an emphasis on the Immaculate Conception of Mary on December 8. Last Sunday you may have seen a parade of horses and many worshipers heading through town. Those were processions held in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a December 12 holiday commemorating an apparition of Mary in Mexico. Our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate the eight nights of Hanukkah December 13-20 this year. A miracle made the oil last to light all eight candles on the candelabra. Remember how Mary and Joseph couldn’t find a place in the inn? The week before Christmas is a week of Posadas Navidenas – their perilous journey reenacted by the Hispanic community. The winter solstice on December 21 is a turning point in the sky and probably one of the objective reasons why so many holidays pile up this time of year.

So far “happy holidays” would have been my seasonal greeting of choice. Now, December 24 changes that. Christmas Eve begins what the church calls Christmastide. The song calls it the 12 days of Christmas which end on Epiphany, January 6. Jesus’s birth, the incarnation of the Word of God, the divine becoming human, is a turning point that starts a whole new season. Advent was preparation, now Christmas means: Christ is born! That’s when I say: Merry Christmas!

But the holiday season continues. December 26 is a day that is remarkable for two deaths: the Prophet Zarathushtra for the Zoroastrian faith and Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian Church. And the wheel keeps turning until the babe in the manger gets martyred himself. When I say Merry Christmas I mean it. When I say happy holidays I mean it.

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Dec 5, 2017

What are you giving up for Advent?


Earlier this year I went cold turkey and gave up on caffeine. Seven weeks without coffee, the entire Lent season from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. The start was rocky and painful, eventually I adjusted. But guess what: A few months later I was totally back on with my coffee habit. It started out slowly. At first I did not drink two pots of drip coffee anymore but just a few shots of espresso twice a day. Then came multiple situations where there wasn’t any espresso, so I went back to drip coffee as well. By now I needed my regular fixes again.

This ended last Sunday. I reminded myself that Advent, just like Lent traditionally is a season of fasting. The two major Christ holidays – Easter and Christmas – each have their own preparatory fast season leading up to them. That’s why we have all these goodies in December. The four weeks leading up to Christmas used to be as strict a fast as the seven weeks leading up to Easter. People weren’t allowed to eat except one tiny meal of bread after dark. And they made sure to make it count. That’s where ginger bread originated.

Pretty soon the originally scarce nutritional boost of the fast turned into a seasonal treat. The bread got sweeter over timer. It got covered in chocolate. It got accompanied by all other kinds of baked goods and voila the indulgence escalated just like my coffee habit. From an innocent shot of espresso to thousands of sugary and buttery calories the original fast is but a distant memory.

To make a long history short: I am giving up caffeine for Advent this year. And I invite you to find something that you can do differently this time of year. Any habit change is good. It doesn’t matter whether you give up something or add something to your routine. Any intentional change helps to focus on the coming of Christ regardless of time of the year. Don’t get me wrong: I will not pass on any goodies, I just won’t have coffee with them.

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Nov 28, 2017

Does God help you with dominoes?

As a pastor I get to visit all kinds of groups and learn what they do. The other day I went to a group who call themselves “mature adults” – dozens of people who get together for an afternoon of games. That afternoon two ladies introduced me to Farkle. All the other tables were playing different versions of dominoes. One of the dominoes tables raised a good question:

Does God help you with dominoes?
I had to leave and I did not want to rush the answer. That is why I punted to the time of this writing. So the very short answer is YES!

God helps you with dominoes: Look at you! God called you out of the house this afternoon. God said get out and don’t worry about dusting or dishes. God wants you to be connected this afternoon and have a good time with people you enjoy being around. God uses dominoes to help you not be home alone. God uses dominoes to help you bring joy to others.

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Nov 21, 2017

Let’s talk religion and politics around the Thanksgiving table

In classic Western movies and children’s games cowboys are the good guys with revolvers in their hands. Indians with bows and arrows are the bad guys who are after your scalp. Thanksgiving is one of the few stories that interrupts that image. Here the natives are good because they help the newcomers. There are other stories where Native Americans have positive images: the love story of Pocahontas or the image of the noble savage who is so civilized and gentle to animals and the natural environment that he becomes a romanticized role model.

One thing that strikes me is that all these stories, positive or negative live off a stark contrast and an oversimplified dualism. Good versus bad, us versus them, white versus colored, civilized versus savage. I would love to think things have changed. But I guess this pattern is too tempting to give up. America continues to be divided between native and immigrant, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, urban and rural, liberal and conservative, turkey or ham on the Thanksgiving table.


The world has always been divided. That is part of human nature. It is the original sin. The emblem of the United Church of Christ recognizes this reality by displaying the globe with lines cutting across the orb. God’s children live divided into different nations and religions. From that divided world rises the cross. It is a symbol that Christ has suffered as one of the least of us, an outcast among outcasts, a Jewish radical crucified by the Roman Empire, a Native American speaking up against occupation, a pilgrim trying to establish a safe haven. The crown on top reminds the church that Christ reigns. That is what the last Sunday of the liturgical year is all about: The reign of Christ. Your nationality, your religion, your education, your wealth, your political leanings, none of that has the final say. None of that is supposed to govern how you live your life, but the person of Jesus Christ. The cross reveals that all the labels that divide us are false idols. This Thanksgiving let us be thankful for diversity and nuanced conversations.

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Nov 7, 2017

Why Do We Celebrate Veterans Day on November 11?

Why do we celebrate Veterans Day on November 11?
Last week I posed this question to a group of community leaders. They did pretty well. They remembered that Veterans Day was initially called Armistice Day. Then it got a little more shaky: Was it to commemorate the ending of World War I or II? A slight majority got it right and settled for World War I.
– A great way to commemorate Veterans Day is to promote peace!

Why did the 1918 Armistice take effect on November 11?
Negotiating and drafting the Armistice took well over a month. So what made them decide to let it take effect on 11/11? This day is dedicated to Saint Martin, the patron saint of soldiers. Saint Martin was famous for using his sword for charity. Martin was a soldier in the army of the Roman Empire and he was stationed in Gaul (modern-day France). One day he was approaching the gates of the city of Amiens, where he met a scantily clad beggar. He impulsively cut his military cloak in half to share with the man.
– A great way to commemorate Veterans Day is to promote charity!

Why should the church care about November 11?
The remainder of Martin’s cloak eventually turned into a relic venerated by the Catholic Church. 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. Nowadays a chaplain is an individual who is ordained or endorsed by a faith group to provide chaplaincy care in diverse settings including, but not limited to, hospitals, corrections, long-term care, sports teams, palliative care, military, hospices, workplaces, mental health and universities.
– A great way to commemorate Veterans Day is to promote spirituality!

Support our veterans!
Remember Saint Martin!
Promote peace!
Promote charity!
Promote spirituality!

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Oct 31, 2017

Do Church Differently

I love church traditions and I enjoy formal structure and I strive under rules and regulations. Today I am reminded though that the church must not become too attached to its traditions, structure and order. Today is Reformation Day. Actually it is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Today the body of Christ reminds itself that we are not about our traditions but that we are the living body of Christ.

Our church service starts promptly at 10 am and ends no later than 11 am on Sunday morning. But we also know that the church cannot limit worship to a particular place and a particular time.

Our church bulletin shows the order of worship that has roots reaching back as far as the first temple in Jerusalem under King Solomon’s reign 1,000 years before Christ. But we also know that meaning-making cannot be limited to ancient words and traditions.

At our church Holy Communion is celebrated once a month. But we also know that spiritual nourishment must be available 24/7.

In our church elected members of the church council do the announcements. In our denomination a pastor has to have at least a master’s degree to be even considered for office. But we also know that everybody must be encouraged to serve God’s children whenever and wherever the spirit leads them.

Events planned for our congregation have to be scheduled way in advance so they can be put on the calendar. Every dollar has to be budgeted, received, spent and posted meticulously. But we also know that stewardship and commitment have to be reimagined.

The stain-glass windows and the organ are the backbone of our sanctuary. But we also know that sacred places pop up wherever people find meaning.

Martin Luther reminded us to become radical again, in the original Latin sense of the word radix, to go back to our roots. The first Christians did not have a bank account or a church newsletter. They worshiped in whatever place was safe at the time. They were constantly adapting to their environment. Over time we have developed structures that make us feel comfortable. The 500th Reformation Anniversary can remind us that the church is not only the building with the sanctuary. The church is not only the congregation of lovely people. The church is first and foremost the Body of Christ. I do not know what the future church may look like. Martin Luther did not know either. But one thing is for sure: It’s going to be radically different as it always has been for thousands of years. God, I trust you have something wonderful in mind and thy will be done.

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