Friday, July 30, 2010

More Proof Christians are a Mixed Bag

William Wilberforce, Renewer of Society, July 30, 1833

He campaigned for tirelessly for the abolition of the slavery and the slave trade.  Every year for 18 years he introduced a measure to do away with slavery.  Every year it was defeated.  He kept introducing it.  He would not back down.  He would not shut up.  He would not go away. Finally days before his death,  all slavery in the British Territories was outlawed.  A year later 800,000 slaves were freed.

Wilberforce also campaigned for the welfare of animals.  He founded the royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

And yet he opposed unions and women's rights.  He was probably one of those moralistic do-gooders, common to the Victorian age who looked down on many of the people he worked to "help" and often much of the "help" was not so helpful. 

That's Christians for ya.  A mixed bag.  God love em.

Sorry - Christ and his Church is a Package Deal

Ho Hum Anne Rice has quit the church.  Honestly I was always a little wary of her conversion to begin with.  Which is really uncharitable and hypocritical of me considering what I am about to say about her renunciation of the church.

Anne Rice is disillusioned with the church.  She was expecting Christians to act like Christ.  They won't and so she's out.

"I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group"

Anne Rice is looking for some kind of ideal Christian community.  Aren't we all?  But if we are honest we'd realize we could not be part of that ideal community because we aren't particularly good followers of Christ either. I don't see how her stance is any different than those "judgmental" Christians who want to exclude gay and other sinners because they don't belong in the ideal community.

Anne Rice needs to read "Life Together" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer .  I love this quote:

"He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial"

The church has disappointed Anne Rice and now  her solution is to cut herself off from it and just hang with Jesus.   But Jesus calls us to community.  Not a perfect community, but a community of sinners.  You don't get to pick what sinners you will be associated with and which ones you won't.

I hope Anne realizes that.  When and if she does, she's welcome  back because like the old joke says, there's always room for another hypocrite in the church.

Friday Five - Love the One You are With

Today the gals over at RevGalBlogPals are asking for 5 things you like about where you live.

Since I don't think this is really any secret anymore I'm going to just say this - my congregation is leaving the ELCA.  I really can't say more about that now (although I expect I will when all the dust settles) other than I am not going to leave the ELCA so I'm looking for a new call.  And I'm quite open to leaving the Midwest so I'm more in a "what do I hate about living here and will be happy to leave" mentality so it's probably a good spiritual exercise for me to get back into the "count your blessings" way of thinking.

1.  Seasons - although I love some more than others, I do love the rhythm of the change of seasons, and the wonderful sense of hope and anticipation when you see a crocus pop out of the snow, or a tiny bud on a brown seemingly dead tree.

2.  The People.  Last year I left my wallet at the pizza place and the waiter found it and kept if for me.  My sister from California (where I'm from as well) told me I need to offer him some money as a reward.  I had a hard time convincing her that would be highly insulting to him.  It was the same thing when I needed to borrow a truck to move my son's bed home.  She wanted me to pay someone to do it.  It was hard for her to get that offering money would be insulting and would not be accepted anyway.  As it happened the folks who loaned me their truck would not even let me pay for the gas I used.    That's the way it should be.

3.  My bishop Steven Ullestad and all the Northeastern Iowa Synod Staff. They have handled these difficult times with grace, patience, and theological integrity.

4.  Iowa Pork Chops.  Impossibly big, cheap and juicy and tender.  You can't even get these in Wisconsin.  And sweet corn, off the truck, picked a couple hours earlier.

 5.  The Ames Figure Skating Club  I've had a great time skating and working with these folks - it's a small, friendly club, they skate and they bring their kids to skate for the fun, recreation and sportsmanship and love of the sport.  It's been such a joy to work for this club because when you ask people to help, they do, cheerfully. 

Bonus - What I don't like  Hmmm...I think I'll just say winter and leave it at that.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Spontaneous Gesture to make a Stranger feel Welcome or Outrageous Sacrilige?

 " was a spontaneous gesture, one intended to make both the dog and its owner – a first timer at the church — feel welcomed"  is how the vicar, the Rev. Margurette Rea explained handing a communion wafer to Trapper, the dog of a newcomer.  ONE person complained and now Christians all over have the their panties in a twist because a dog ate the Body of Christ.
I'm not advocating a regular inclusion of animals in the celebration of Holy Communion.  HOWEVER.  Anytime Christians are upset at the idea that the wrong people and/or CREATURES are receiving the Body of Christ, I see a problem.  This man was a stranger, someone who had been hassled by police in the past for sitting on the steps of the church.  He was invited and included.  The pastor's instinct was to include Trapper, who was very important to  this man.  I say the pastor's instincts were right on.  Welcoming the stranger always trumps protecting the rituals of the church.
Besides, the way I read the Martin Luther's Small Catechism, Trapper did not even receive the Body of Christ.  He received a wafer.   "It is not the eating and drinking that does these things [bestow forgiveness of sins, life and salvation] but the words "given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins" along with the eating and drinking... that make up the sacrament"  For Lutherans, handing a dog a communion wafer is not giving him communion.  I have often handed a small child who reached out his hand to me at the communion rail a wafer or piece of bread without the words.  It's a gesture of welcome.  It's supposed to be what we are about.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

No Such Thing as Too Much Grace - Part Duex

This month's Newsletter "from the pastor"

No Such Thing as Too Much Grace

If there is one thing I know for sure and  will stake my present life and my salvation on, it is that grace is true and sure and the only thing in this world and the next that we can depend upon.

If there is anything in my ministry that I am sure about~ it is that I cannot go wrong as long as I proclaim God’s love, acceptance and forgiveness for all people, won through Christ’s life, death and resurrection –a gift that can only be grasped through the gift of faith.  Anything good we have in this world or are promised in the next is a sheer undeserved gift from God, given to us out of God’s love and generosity and has nothing to do with anything we can say, do, argue, or even believe on our own.

I believe the problems we encounter in this life are not because we hear too much about grace or depend too much on grace, but because we do not hear enough about grace, nor do we depend enough upon grace.

When we turn away from grace we fall into two traps.  Both these traps are waiting for us when we turn into ourselves.  The traps we fall into when we turn away from grace are arrogance and despair.

We fall away from grace when we turn into the arrogance of thinking we can save ourselves.  We can do this so easily even when we are reciting by memory the beloved Lutheran phrase of “saved by grace through faith”.   We want to help God along and depend upon our own strength or morality, or our certainty of our being right on certain issues.

We can get away with this for awhile because we all have sins that are easy for us to avoid and so we can easily say “I don’t ever commit THAT sin” Or we have sins and temptations we easily catch and can boast “Well at least I REPENTED of THAT sin” .  There are some issues that are clear to us and we can sleep well at night knowing we have taken the correct position.  There are religious doctrines we accept easily and so assure ourselves that our faith is sure.   

But then there are the sins we commit over and over.  Sins we hide or rationalize and refuse to repent of for so long that we have convinced ourselves they aren’t even really sins.  At least not sins as bad as someone else’s.   There are issues and moral dilemmas that seem to have no clear or satisfying answer.  There are questions  to  which we never seem to find any certain answers.  There are doubts we have about God and God’s will that lay under the surface of the certainty we present to the outside world.

The more we deny these resentments, sins and doubts, the more we turn away from God and into ourselves, trying harder and harder to justify ourselves – often becoming more and more judgmental of others because if we can only convince ourselves and the rest of the world that at least we are not as sinful as those other people, we won’t be so convicted of the sin we know lies within us.

It will not work.  It will lead to despair.  We will either become hypocrites, closed to God, yet condemning others for their sins while denying our own, or we will give in even more to sin and deny God entirely. 

Or we can just give up and admit we are sinful as the next guy. We sin every day.  We do not repent of our sin.  We do not trust God.    We could very possible be totally wrong about everything about which we fought so hard to convince others of our rightness.  In this moment of surrender comes the good news – God loves you.  Period.  Even in your sin.  Even in your uncertainty.  Even if you are dead wrong.  Even in your lack of faith.  Trust THAT.  Faith is trusting that God loves you.  Period.  Unfaith adds a but. “God loves you but you have to believe thus and so, but you have to confess FIRST, but you have to do this or that….”  None of those buts are faith.   Faith is trusting that God loves you.  Period.  No buts.

I can hear the “but” coming “BUT” isn’t this just a free pass to sit around and do nothing?  No because grace is what empowers you to DO something, not because you have to, because you want to, because you can.  Those who trust grace do things.  They feed the poor, they forgive their enemies, they try to avoid sin that leads them away from God but they trust that grace will put them back on track when they do stray.  Those who trust grace worship God out of love and gratitude and joy, not out of fear and obligation. 

The body of Christ is built up and sustained by God’s grace, not fear and obligation.   The Gospel is spread by those who trust God’s grace.  The Kingdom grows through God’s grace.  We need to hear more about God’s grace, not less. If I never get anything else right in my life, if I mess up everything else, I stand convinced to my soul that Grace is everything.  Here I stand.  I can do no other.  Amen.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Princess Olga of kiev - Another Fascinating Woman from history

The Orthodox celebrate her feast day on July 11, but she shows up today with her grandson Vladimir (who was killed on this day) in the LBW

It was her grandson Vladimir who is responsible for converting Russia to Orthodox Christianity but it was certainly Olga who planted the seeds.

Olga was born in 890 to a Viking family .  She married Prince Igor  who was the son of Rurik known as the founder of Russia and they ruled Kiev which is made up of the modern day nations of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Poland.

In 945 , when Igor was murdered by a slavic tribe who got tired of paying tribute, she became regent for her son.  They sent messengers suggesting that Olga marry their prince.  She declined and killed the messengers.  She had 20 matchmakers who had been sent buried alive.  She asked for better ambassadors and when they showed up she scalded them to death in a bathhouse.    She went to the land of the people responsible for killing her husband for a feast in memory of her husband, got them all drunk and had them killed, and burned down their town.  Do not mess with Olga!  She was an effective, if ruthless ruler.

Sometime after her son came of age and took over as ruler she became interested in Christianity and visited Constantinople.    It is said the emperor Constantine was quite taken with her and proposed marriage.  She was baptized and asked Constantine to be her godfather and afterwords said she couldn't possibly marry him because she was like a daughter to him.

There is nothing about what led her to embrace Christianity.  Perhaps all the vengeance and violence brought her no peace and satisfaction for her husband's murder.  Perhaps the innocent lives she took lay on her conscience and in the end it was only the promise of grace and forgiveness that could bring her peace.  Or perhaps it was as is told that when she saw the splendor of the  Hagia Sophia Basilica she figured they must have the best god.

Olga never was able to persuade her son to convert to Christianity but he was not against the new religion and did not hinder anyone else from converting.  And you have to believe she was a significant influence on her grandson Vladimir who did become a Christian and was responsible for bringing Orthodox Christianity to Russian.  In 1547 the Orthodox Church declared her to be a saint equal to the Apostles.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

No Such Thing as Too Much Grace

Grace is really hard to get.  What a mean trick of sin that it keeps us from grasping and clinging to this gift.

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him —provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.
Colossians 1:21-23
We who were once estranged and hostile in mind have been reconciled sovthat now we, who should be filthy and despicable, are presented before  God holy and blameless and irreproachable.
What astounding amazing good news of God’s love grace and forgiveness.

 And what a tragedy that sin and this harsh broken world has turned us into such cynics that we don't don't believe it.  It can't possibly be that simple.   It's too easy.  "You shouldn't say that to people, Pastor because people are going to think that it is a free pass"  No free passes in this world.  You only get what you deserve.

But nobody gets what they deserve in this life.  Most of us with healthy self-esteems think we probably deserve a lot better that what life has dealt us.  Most of us think we deserve the good things we have. We've worked for them --we earned them.  Nobody likes to acknowledge the gifts we've received,the good things that came because we were just plain lucky or even at the expense of others.   If we dare take a good hard long look inside we will see that we don't really deserve anything good.


And yet we are promised to be presented before God holy and blameless and IRREPROACHABLE.  That'sright IRREPROACHABLE - so why are you reproaching others or yourself when Christ himself has declared us irreproachable?


There must be a catch. 
There must be something we have to do. 
Surely we have to prove that we are worthy of such amazing grace. 

There is a catch.  Do not waver from this promise.  Cling to this promise.  Trust this promise.  Do not go looking for other ways to make yourself worthy.  Do not shift from this hope that is promised in the Gospel to some other hope, some other promise, some other lie that there is any other way you can appear holy and blameless before God other than clinging to this astonishing gift that he has given us for no other reason than his boundless love for us.  God loves you.  Period.  That is the gospel.  Believe it  or die.

My hope is built on nothing else but Jesus blood and righteous. 
No merit of my own I claim, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. 
On Christ the solid rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.

Friday, July 9, 2010


I just love sunflowers.  I had a whole bunch of them in my other house but when I moved here 5 years ago and planted them none of them came up the first few years.  Last year I had a couple and this year I was gifted with a BUNCH of volunteers. 

This is not a sunflower - it's a Rudbeckia but it's a cool picture.  I took all these myself.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

"Drink Deeply with Delight"

"Madonna and Child" Gerard David  1490

"Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom"

Father Anonymous over at Magdalene's Egg has some interesting reflections on tomorrow's lesson from Isaiah.  I'm going to the zoo today so I'm not doing any thing challenging tomorrow.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What I love about summer

I'm a little late for the RevGalBlogPals Friday Five - Hot fun in the summer - Five things you love about summer but I still want to share some of my favorite summer things

1.  Sunflowers

2.  The Garden- Fresh Spinach & Romaine Lettuce!

3.  Sweet buttered Corn on the Cob

4.  Sun Tea

5.  Gin &Tonic