Browsing articles tagged with " John"
Oct 3, 2017

Fear not! #LasVegas #MassShooting


At least 59 people were killed in Las Vegas on Sunday. The event has been called the biggest mass shooting in modern US history. It is appropriate to pray for the wounded, the families of the dead, and all those who do the hard work of helping the community recover. It is also important to enact measures that reduce the likelihood of mass shootings like this. One response though is not correct: being afraid.

The Jason Aldean concert was a happy time. So were the Eagles of Death Metal show in Paris and the Ariana Grande performance in Manchester. Music is full of blessing and joy. Fear has no room there. As Luke reminds us, “in that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.'” And from there the choir of the heavenly host proceeded to give a concert of Hallelujahs, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” Where there is singing there cannot be room for fear.

But is the world not getting more dangerous by the minute? All these mass shooting all the time. It seems to be so dangerous in America right now. The reality is that your chance of dying in a mass shooting is smaller than in other Western countries. In the US you are less likely to be injured or killed in a mass shooting than you are in Finland, Norway, or Switzerland. This is obviously a dark moment for everybody involved. But in the midst of this pain the message of the Psalmist is still true, “even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.”

The Bible is full of reminders to fear not:
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” (Genesis 15:1)
But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.’(Isaiah 43:1)
The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:30)
“Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” (John 12:15)

Let that ring true in our time and place as well:
Do not be afraid, Las Vegas!
Do not be afraid, Paris!
Do not be afraid, Manchester!
Do not be afraid!

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May 23, 2017

Three major holidays that you should not miss this week

Some weeks in the life of the church look so unassuming. What could possibly be special about this week? Well, as pastor I am obliged to give you three perspectives on the next few days that you may otherwise have missed:


The window named “Ascension” at St. John’s United Church of Christ

Thursday, May 25, is Ascension Day. It is a major holiday in the Christian tradition. Everybody remembers how Jesus was born on Christmas and was resurrected on Easter. But the final step of the Jesus story is just as important: his ascension into heaven. Luckily for you we will focus on that story next Sunday at St. John’s United Church of Christ so you won’t miss a thing. Yes, a pastor is a teacher and I am obliged to remind you of the things you need to know about the Christian faith.

Friday, May 26, is the beginning of Ramadan. It is a major holiday in the Muslim tradition. Now you may say that as church that’s none of our business, but it is. Because let’s be honest here: How seriously have you been taking the Lenten fast really? I shared my struggles with breaking my caffeine habit. But can you even imagine what it would be like to not eat between sunrise and sunset for an entire month? Our Muslim brothers and sisters live powerful examples of a spiritual practice that we need to get better at again. Yes, a pastor is a spiritual leader and I am obliged to connect you with practices you need to consider.

Monday May 29, is Memorial Day. It is a major holiday in the United States. Now you may say that as church that’s none of our business. And to a certain extent that is true. Most Christians in the world have never been to the United States and don’t know what this country celebrates on that day. But for people who live here it plays on an important theme that the Christian tradition has also: Reconciliation! After the Civil War both North and South had regional observances for their own war heroes. By the end of the 19th century a nationwide day had reconciled the memorial into one day for all. That is also what our church’s message is in a nutshell: “That they may all be one” (John 17:21) Yes, a pastor is preacher and I am obliged to find the Good News in all places.

This week I challenge you to look for Christ in the heavens above, try a new spiritual practice for yourself, and work towards reconciliation in our country and around the world.

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Dec 27, 2016

Word of the Year 21016: post-truth

I burned my right thumb pretty bad preparing our Christmas dinner. I poured water in a hot frying pan only to have the steam peel my skin off. Not that my mother told me a thousand times that the stove was hot. Growing up I knew better and touched it and got burnt, and touched it and got burnt, and touched it and got burnt anyway. There is a simple truth: When you touch a hot stove you get burnt. Problem is the world is not that simple anymore.

Oxford dictionaries named “post-truth” Word of the Year 2016. The choice speaks to a crisis of mutual understanding of the world. There used to be a shared acceptance of truth. That meant that an overwhelming majority of people agreed on what used to be called “facts”. The truth has not changed. Overwhelming majorities may have shifted but they are still there. What has changed is that every opinion is now valued as much as the next one. That means that in the USA with our over 300 million people we have over 300 million truths. Everybody is free to make their own meaning regardless of the underlying hard facts of reality. What matters is what you think, not what is, or so we tell ourselves.

Since the world is growing ever more complex and complicated, the majority of people seems to throw the hands in the air and give up on facts altogether. People share on social media what feels right, or looks pleasant to them. With the power of Google, Snopes, and the like, fact-checking is so easy but why bother? That’s nothing new by the way. When Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus to death he could only ask, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Everybody told him Jesus needed to be killed, yet he couldn’t find a crime. A few chapters earlier Jesus states: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6). Now that would be easy. What if the truth were just walking around for everybody to see, as a person of flesh and blood? While Christ is the truth we do have the problem that he ascended to heaven and we cannot see the truth born in flesh walk among us.

The challenge comes from Christ who is the truth. There is objective truth. When you touch a hot stove you get burnt. Not caring about facts does not make the blisters go away. But probably 2016 was the year of emotional backlash. We have been governed by reason for a long time. Eventually the pendulum will swing back to the golden median where facts are facts, and opinions are opinions, and feelings are feelings. In the meantime: May God grant me the serenity to accept people within the context of their own realities, the courage to stand for the truth where I can, and the wisdom to strike the right balance.

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Sep 13, 2016

The Sin of Ableism

The games in Rio are still in full swing. China dominates the medal count followed by Great Britain and Ukraine. Team USA currently ranks fourth. Just yesterday U.S. swimmers won three gold medals and smashed two world records.

Wait what? Ukraine in the top three of the medal count? Team USA only on four? Maybe we should take a closer look at our three gold medalists from yesterday:
Rebecca Meyers has Usher syndrome and has been deaf since she was born.
Bradley Snyder was blinded after stepping on an improvised explosive device while serving in the U.S. Navy in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Michelle Konkoly woke up paralyzed from the waist down after she fell out of her dorm room window at Georgetown University.

By now you may have gathered that I am talking about the Paralympic Games. The first organized athletic day for disabled athletes that coincided with the Olympic Games took place on the day of the opening of the 1948 Summer Olympics in London, United Kingdom. Since 1960 the Paralympic Games have been a world class event in their own right.

Back to Rio: All these athletes perform at levels where regular Joes like me do not even have to think we could compare. What exactly do we mean when we classify them as “disabled”? Obviously they are more able to perform than I would be. So by performance standards I am more disabled. Is it the looks of an amputated leg, mannerisms, or just a random perception of normalcy? In most sports athletes are segregated by gender and / or weight. Why is “disability” a label that totally disqualifies you from the Olympics and puts you in a whole different event? The truth is: There is no normal. Everybody is different and everybody has his or her own level of ability.

You could rudely begin the story about yesterday’s gold medalists by saying, “A cripple, a blind, and a deaf jump into a pool.” Mainstream culture is so used to treating differently-abled people differently. Unfortunately there are stories where Jesus is used to reinforce a sense of “normal” versus “abnormal”. When Jesus heals the blind man in some Gospel stories he does so just because people pointed him in that direction. The blind man was comfortable in his life, had his daily routine down, had everything he needed. He never said we wanted to see. He never said he wanted to “be healed”. Why does Jesus impose his sense of normalcy on this poor man? Now he is totally on his own, will no longer receive the support he needs and has to start over in life. He is push into the position of a teenager even though he is a middle-aged man who had life figured out. Now he is truly disabled.

The Gospel authors want Jesus to heal everybody. But when they tell stories like that in effect they make Jesus commit the Sin of Ableism. Then he pretends there is a normal that everybody has to abide by, a standard of health, ability or aesthetics that you just have to match in order to be acceptable. Bekah Anderson warns to not use our Paralympic heroes for Inspiration Porn. Instead she advises to engage with persons beyond labels, “My challenge to the preachers, writers, and storytellers among us, including myself, is this: Stop telling stories for a moment, and listen. Listen, even though the voice speaking to you is slurred. Listen, even though the voice comes through an ASL interpreter or a computer. Listen, even when the voice has been effectively silenced, and honor that loss. Our voices and our silences are sacred. Pray with me that they may all one day find the sacred space they deserve.”

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Aug 30, 2016

What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

I am a white, straight, male pastor in the United Church of Christ. From 2008-2014 I was the only one in the entire state of Utah. All the other UCC pastors were female, minority or LGBTQ. Among UCC ministers it is not unusual that the white, straight, male is the odd one out and I enjoy the ride very much. If you are uncomfortable by now, you know I am writing this for you. The important issue of skin-color and race I will have to address another time. Lately I have had multiple people ask me about “the gay question”. Sometimes it’s worded, “What does the Bible say about homosexuality?”

My initial reaction is usually: “The Bible” doesn’t say anything. Because the Bible is not a book but an entire library with dozens of books in it. They were written over the course of 1,000 years in three different languages on two different continents. The Bible has contributions from nomadic peasants and highly educated scholars. There is no way they all can possible give one and the same answer to a single question.

Overall biblical authors are not very interested in questions of homosexuality. There are a few examples that are told in a matter-of-fact way without raising an eyebrow: King David addresses his lover Jonathan saying, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” (2 Samuel 1:26) The author of the Gospel of John tells of his affection for Jesus, “One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him.” (John 13:23) Yes, the Bible tells stories of men loving men without question.

Then there are negative voices from times when God’s people were under attack. The Holiness Code commands, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Leviticus 18:22) And the Apostle Paul mourns, “And in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:27)
The Holiness Code was written by priests who were deported during the Babylonian Exile. God’s people were afraid they couldn’t keep their cultural identity alive. It is during this period that circumcision and the Sabbath become identifiers of the Jewish people. Deviation from the norm seemed scary because those were anxious times. Similarly, when the earlier church was a minority in the largely hostile Roman Empire, Paul warned to not live like the Romans. Instead he asked the early Christians to remain distinct in their practices.

Today in North America God’s people are not under attack. We are not in a situation where we need to be afraid of the culture that surrounds us. We don’t have to hide our worship services in the Roman catacombs but can be open about our Christian faith. We don’t have to develop a rigid corporate identity because religious freedom is protected. Literally hundreds of times the Bible says: “Do not be afraid”. The Bible says that we need to tell stories of all kinds of love and celebrate them.

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May 13, 2015

Friends Together

You are Jesus’ friend and nobody and nothing can take that away from you.
And you have to regard everyone as a friend of Jesus whether you like them or not.

A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter 2015 based on John 15:9-17.

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Apr 16, 2015

Experiencing Resurrection

On Facebook and in real life bad news spread easily.
Regarding Good News we tend to be like doubting Thomas:

A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter 2015 based on John 20:24-31.

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Mar 26, 2015

Heart Promises

Imagine people didn’t have a defect that you need to fix.
Imagine people didn’t need you to share your wisdom.
“No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,”
for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest”

A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent 2015 based on Jeremiah 31:31-34 and John 12:20-33.

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Mar 19, 2015

Rich in Love

Did God really send snakes to kill God’s people? What kind of parent would do that?

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent 2015 based on Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21.

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Mar 12, 2015

Cosmic Law

The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted. (Mother Teresa)

A Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent 2015 based on Exodus 20:1-17 and John 2:13-22.

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