Browsing articles tagged with " Romans"
Sep 19, 2017

A Study for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

In October I will lead a special Sunday School Series highlighting the lasting impact the Reformation has on our lives today. On four Sunday mornings, October 1st, 8th, 15th, and 29th at 9:00 am we will explore radical changes in the way we think about God, Salvation, the Bible, Sin, Predestination, Saints and Sinners. Martin Luther started fundamental reforms by publishing his 95 theses on October 31st, 1517.

If you are able to read your Bible today, thank this medieval monk. Luther popularized the idea that the church should speak the language of the people. No more Latin Mass, no more Bible that only the learned priest can read, but local language for local people. As a matter of fact Luther valued the Bible so much that he declared “sola scriptura”, only the scriptures are the guiding norm for our faith life. He was up against a church hierarchy that took itself way to serious.

One would think that we have learned that lesson. Unfortunately not so. Pew Research just published a study showing that 52% of US Protestants say, “Christians should look both to the Bible and to the church’s official teachings” in order to find God’s truth. The church is overrated once again.

There is a lot of work left to do after 500 years of teaching a theology that values God’s ways more than human ways. Luther clarified the biblical message of salvation very poignantly by distilling it it to the simple fact that we are saved “sola fide”, by faith alone. Yet Pew Research also found that the same 52% of US Protestants say, “both good deeds and faith are needed to get into heaven”.

Please join us at St. John’s United Church of Christ those Sunday mornings. No registration is required, no prior knowledge is necessary. You don’t have to commit to anything beyond these four sessions. Because one thing should be clear: There is nothing you could possibly do to earn a place a heaven.

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.

Nov 3, 2015

The Decline of Veterans Day

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!

Mar 28, 2011

Habakkuk 2:1-20

Today’s Reading is Habakkuk 2:1-20.
The second half of Habakkuk 2:4 is quoted by some of the earliest Christian writers. Although this passage is only three words in the original Hebrew (וְצַדִּ֖יק בֶּאֱמוּנָת֥וֹ יִחְיֶֽה׃) Paul the Apostle quotes this verse twice in his epistles, in Romans 1:17 and again in Galatians 3:11. In doing so, Paul extends Habakkuk’s original concept of righteous living at the present time into a future life. The same verse is quoted in Hebrews 10:37-38, where Habakkuk’s vision is tied to Christ and used to comfort the church during a period of persecution.

One needs to keep in mind that a צַדִּ֖יק is not just a good guy or a nice person but a title given to personalities in Jewish tradition considered righteous, such as Biblical figures and later spiritual masters.

Feb 19, 2011

Romans 12:1-21

Today’s Reading is Romans 12:1-21.
Paul once again uses the image of the church as the body of Christ but also proves to be a real judoka: He asks the Romans to endure the most horrible of persecutions and still keep smiling. The last verse reveals his intention though: “conquer evil with good”.
Or in Judo terms: “Pull when your opponent pushes”.
Here is a fantastic example of how that works:

Jan 4, 2011

Romans 10:5-17

Today’s Reading is Romans 10:5-17.

Verses 5-8 remind us to not focus on a distant future or fate or a place up in heaven or down in hell but to only look and live right here, right now. Jesus said the same thing in his sermon on the mount: “So do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. There is no need to add to the troubles each day brings.” (Matthew 6:34)

Verse 12 makes clear that God’s salvation is for everyone, no exceptions. A modern-day version of “Jews and Gentiles” would include people of all races, gender identities and faith traditions. Radical inclusion is the only option for a faith community truely based in God’s extravagant love. Once you start to reject certain people, this is what you get:

Verse 17 has been the sad basis for one of the silliest exclusions churches have erected: It was held that the hearing-impaired could not be saved because they were not able to acoustically perceive the good news. Our little human minds cannot even begin to grasp the all-encompassing love of God: No exceptions!

Jan 3, 2011

Romans 6:1-23

Today’s chapter is Romans 6. Here one can find the core of Paul’s theologia crucis. There is no celebration of the great human mind or our capability to create our own destiny but quite the opposite: Think of yourselves as dead (Verse 11). It’s all about acknowledging you’re lost – and for that matter found. It’s all about acknowledging you’re dead – and for that matter resurrected already. Take on Christ’s death, pretty much like Jesus describes it in Mark 8:31-38. His resurrection has already happened for you!

Jan 2, 2011

Romans 5:1-21

Today’s Passage is Romans 5:1-21

Verse 1 brings us right back to the fact that we are saved by faith alone.

Verses 3-4 reminds me of a sermon I preached on May 30th 2010: Peace with God. It is about the exercise aspect of the Gospel: Kids practicing their endurance and a friend of mine getting ready for the Iron Man.

Verse 16 stresses that we are saved without deserving it: We are not able to earn, add or take away from salvation. It is freely given. Good news!

Verse 20 has a logic that has blown great minds: The bigger our sin the bigger God’s grace. Martin Luther is known for his down-to-earth quotes. Here are some very good one based on our verse:
“A happy fart never comes from a miserable ass.”(Uncommon Travel Germany)
“You did not burp, you did not fart, didn’t you like the meal.”(Guardian)
“Sin boldly!” (WikiQuote)

Jan 1, 2011

Romans 1:1-17

It is still not final whether I am really gonna use this blog for the journey or my profile over at YouVersion where I have posted today’s reflection on Romans 1:1-17:

Verse 16 is a reminder that God’s covenant is first and foremost with God’s chosen people of Israel. Us Goyim, especially the Roman sort, come as a secondary addition to God’s first love. God’s one and only covenant is extended to include even us.

Verse 17 is a reference to Habakkuk 2:4 and helped shape the Reformation concept of sola fide.