Monday, January 10, 2011

The Sins of the Parents Deuteronomy 5:9

"I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me." (Deuteronomy 5: 9)

Initially a sense of injustice arises when reading this text from a Western perspective. It seems unfair that God wouild punish the children for the sin of their parents. But, if sin is thought to produce consequences rather than disjointed punishment, it makes sense. We are often sowing the seeds of the next generations destruction. This text describes how things are in the currency of sin.
A Congresswoman was shot down in the recent sorrow and shooting in Tucson. Truly it produces grief. But then there are the children. 9 year old Christina Green, elected to her student council, came to hear the Congresswoman speak. An innocent event. Yet it was she too who would bear the consequences of our times. This grandchild of a Major League pitcher and manager, along with the other victims of this shooting, are the bearers of our sins, we of this generation.
Our recent travels through the American political landscape have led us into the provinces of hatred, slander, and threat. One party has shamed the other and escalated the violence of political currency. Hating one another, we hate God who made us all. Put one into the "crosshairs" of political war and we are all targets. The consequences of travel into hatred, even for a brief moment, cannot be undone and draws us in. And it is the children, the next generation, that feels the real brunt of such attitudes and actions.
We tend to believe we can get away with just a little slander, just a tinge of hate in the guise of winning an election or furthering a policy. We disguise our attempt to slander another, cloaked in the camoflage of honorable goals.
But God will not have it. God will not save us from evil of our own making, and so the consequences. Someone, somewhere will be a tool of these inflamed times, these "harmless" words. They will load bullets, real ones, into guns and children will not rise from the death they wield.
The love of Christ, the same love reflected in the Buddha, the wisdom of Tao, the words of the prophets of old, that is enemy love, can stop the cycle of revenge that threatens us around the world. I heard such love in the prayers this week at my church in Sunday worship. Prayers not only for victims of the bullets, but for the shooter who was just a tool who showed us the real consequences of hatred. Let us pray that we can recognize what we do and stop it, in the name of God, in the name of our children.

Monday, October 18, 2010

"Making Less of Our Leaders" John 7: 25-44

People are trying to decide who Jesus is...this man who has power to heal, speaks with unusual authority, and keeps his word. He attends the Festival of the Passover after telling his brothers not to expect him. He is not the socialite who throws out a casual "see you at the Passover," but never really intends to find you there. This year will be a different Passover for those who do meet up with him there. It is to be a stage for his teachings. His words are not imprisoned in a synagogue, kept out of the outside world. The world is, after all, to be the context for his words, accessible to anyone. We are not told the content of his teachings there, only that they are from God and they have caused some to plot against his life.

Jesus will confront those who are obsessed with the application of individual Mosaic Laws but who are blind to the presence of God's Spirit. Though the leaders hate him for this he remains out in the open, untouched, unafraid.

The Pharisees want to discredit Jesus by questioning his origins. He is from Galilee, they say, reason enough to ignore or resist him. Galilee was not messianic territory. Jews were big on genealogy. Where and who you came were prime credentials. Galilee was of no repute, was far from Jerusalem, and known for its zealous rebels.

These arguments are recapitulated in modern American politics as public figures posturing for elections, want to discredit the President by questioning his origins....his race, his birthplace, his religion. "He is not from here," they cry across the media. These claims are only made more insistent when the truth is spoken for there are those for whom the truth is inconsequential to their cause. If this happened to Jesus, we should not be surprised if the same counterfeit claims confuse the people in this age.

The Pharisees were right as far as they went....Jesus was living in Galilee, a haven for the insurgents of his day. That was enough to discredit Jesus in the eyes of many. But they needed to dig more deeply for the real truth of who Jesus was. His birthplace was Bethlehem, cited as the Messianic home in Isaiah the prophets words. And Jesus' family tree, if they had troubled to trace it, would have led to Jesse, the grandfather of the great King David. The final covenanting promise of a great king that would bring peace, a land, and a future would have rested now with Jesus. (2 Samuel 7:11).

What would looking more deeply into the origins of our leaders reveal? All power comes from God. The Pharisaical attempts today to label opponents with damning false evidence may get temporary traction. Probing at the surface for foible and folly may confuse the people for the moment. But such is not of God who knows the heart and who promises are true and eternal.

In the reign of God there shall be no need to bring others low in order to raise ourselves high, for we will discover the real truth that all are heirs, "sons and daughters" of the King. Come quickly Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Keeping Count: John 6: 1-15, 27

People are drawn to counting things. Numbers quantify and measure and from that they provide a certain sense of control. We measure the temperature on an outside thermometer and then dress to gain some control over the environment. We count the cost of an object and judge its value. We even quantify the heavens by the speed of light, distances by light years and use the formulas of relativity to probe the realm of God's heavenly creation.
During WWII Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of England, used statistics to exaggerate British prospects in the struggle against Nazi Socialism, and so hoped to control and elevate the all important morale of his countrymen. We tend to trust numeric reports.

Of course, numbers create as much anxiety as they do control. The disciples counted all the loaves and fishes that were gathered to feed the hundreds gathered on the hillside to hear Jesus speak. They became certain that there was not enough for all to eat and wanted to beat a retreat, letting each one take care of themselves.

"Everyone has a number," Jake, the young Wall Street newcomer says to his boss. "What's yours?" In other words, how much is enough? When is scarcity no longer a threat? What is the number of success? "More," is all Josh Brolin says as he plays the long experienced broker in the movie "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." A contemporary brokerage firm commercial these days asks the listener the same question, "What is Your Number?" Every retiree is meant to be challenged to give an answer to the queries of how much is enough.

"Don't waste your energy striving for perishable food like that, " Jesus teaches his disciples after they have miraculously provided bread for all to eat. There is no number that is adequate to the extinguishing of our perceived needs. "Throw your lot in with the One God has sent." (John 6: 29).

Jesus is not a number. Unlike the disciples of old and of so much fundamentalist religious speculation today that wants to quantify salvation and control God, Jesus wants us to throw our lot in with him. When you see him you see God, he would explain. Bet it all! Things change then.

Instead of checking my biking computer to measure the length of today's ride, throwing in with God reveals the gratitude in me for the abundant breath of life felt as I inhale that which no number could provide. Each day God restores our bodies, souls, and lives in ways that are more than enough. "I am the Alpha and the Omega." In God all things have being. Still today no one can count the stars or measure the heavens. There is a God and we are not it. Throw your lot in with Him.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

An Offering

Well, so far I have two people who have become "followers" of this literary adventure. My followers seem to be my son and one of my best friends. That suits this "pious pastor" just fine. I'm getting tired of writing sermons, teaching classes, or creating desk letters whose intent, finally, are to please. It feels right to do something for its own sake. To write, I suppose you could say, as an offering to God with no personal gain at stake. An offering nearly no one will know about.

I once attended a retreat led by Martin Prechtl, one of the most profound experiences in my life. He spent years living among the native residents of a lake region called Atitlan in Guatamala. He told us stories that were part of becoming a man in that culture.....and I cried at times from the depths of my soul as the words reached out, drilled into my being. He advised each of us to make an offering. It was to be something that we had made with our hands, a personal best you could say. Then, when it was complete, we were to take it out into the forest, a wild place, a place of nature, and to put our creation there...that is to offer it up to the divine. A branch, a cave, floated down a river, buried in the earth....I suppose there are many ways such an offering would be made. But, it would be for no personal gain or benefit.....purely and simply an offering of ourselves as a recognition of the beauty of life. (Martin's book is called "Long Life, Honey in the Heart.")

Something kept me from it. I think it was and is the strong drive to always give something that might be recognized. Prechtl's offering "without a why" has a hard time winning over the offerings that are little more than trade-offs...always something to be gained. Almost no one that I know gives anonymously or offers divinely.

I did listen to someone who had decided they would send in their church giving in the that was really membership dues that paid the bills. Then he decided that he would put another offering in the worship service that had no connection to budgets, personal projects, or self satisfaction. That would be his real gift. I wonder if he even left off his name for this more divinely inspired offering.

Anyway, this "Pious Pastor" is writing this as my offering....screening out rather than factoring in who would read this contribution to God. It is only a start. Doesn't feel like my best. I still feel the call to make something with my hands that I can put up for the creation to observe and perhaps the creator. That feels like real "piety." And, I think that day will come.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Warming Up

It seems I had joined the 95% of the population that starts a blog but
only writes one posting. That was only a temporary setback. The "Pious
Pastor" is back. I'll need to have a more widespread distribution of
these comments to make this interesting.

The ELCA statement on the ordination of homosexual individuals in
committed relationships has finally hit "home" for me. A friend called
to ask if I had heard the news about a congregation I had served some
years ago. They have taken a congregational vote and decided to withdraw
from the ELCA in protest for that decision and for "heading in a
direction" that the congregation disapproved of. I suspect that the "L"
word is a part of the criticism.

I have only experienced successive mergers in my life with the Lutheran
Church. I watched seminex and the LCMS continue to "duke it out" and
rather took for granted that the ecumenical energy of the LCA and ELCA
constitutions held, not only for our desire for union with other
denominational expressions, but grew out of a sense of our own unity. No
more. Now it seems we have a "great church fight" of our own. Or at
least a "skirmish."

Knowing that sexuality is an organic force "beyond human comprehension,"
I've wanted the church to suspend judgement on such things until such a
time as our understanding is more complete. In the meantime it seems
right to give the "benefit of the doubt" to those who want to become
servants of Christ in this church. Might we be acting too quickly in
this regard? The church is for the ages and makes decisions on God's time.

We are usually so far behind the secular curve. We protest wars only
after they are well underway. We speak out on "climate change" without a
unifying voice or congregational disgust with the status quo. We miss
the boat when called to be irate about health care justice, prison
reform, treatment of prisoners of war, or other issues of the day. We
are silent about government gridlock. Nowhere does Jesus analysis of
Herod as a cunning fox, his commentary on politics as usual, prompt our
churches to social ministry or call for reform. Where would everyone go who
was unhappy with the "direction" of the church on all these other issues?

Friday, July 31, 2009

Beginning Piety

When I was only three or four years into Lutheran ministry, we had our synodical official, then called the Synod President, over to our home for lunch. He had attended a confirmation service with a dozen or so teen agers affirming their baptisms in this traditional Lutheran rite of passage. During the lunch conversation, he used the word "pious" as a descriptive adjective assigned to me. I don't remember having a response. I never did ask him what that meant or what prompted such a comment, but I took it as a compliment. To be described with characteristics of piety, an unofficial moniker, seemed somehow to fit for me. Thus the name for this "blog," The Pious Pastor.

I looked up "piety" in Webster's Dictionary. On the plus side it read "marked by or showing reverence for deity and devotion to divine worship, showing loyal reverence for a person or thing; sacred or devotional as distinct from profane or secular.

If that's what the synodical official had in mind, I could buy that. The divine, known through mystery, has been a personal inclination of mine to say the least. A devotion to divine worship may go a bit too far, but when worship is "divine" I'm for it. Too many times it is trite, rote, unspired, and obligatory. These days worship has too often become a matter of personal style and taste in music, liturgy, or atmosphere rather than a high priority commitment of participants. That's not kin to divine.

Or if loyalty and reverence was his reference, I'd like to think that I could be described as one who would "stand by you" and be willing to be subservient to a greater cause or a higher order.

On the other hand, Webster's had a definition of pious that came more from the "dark" side. This authority on words further added to the piety label, "marked by conspicuous religiosity, a hypocrite...a sham with self-conscious virtue."

There's plenty of that kind of piety around today without me wanting to add much more of it. I hope that's not what the "president" had in mind and he thought he was slipping by a criticism under the veil of compliment. If so, it seems he succeeded.

Anyway, being subservient and loyal, I thought I would accept this early personal description and use it to author this blog. "The Pious Pastor." Some of my thoughts on the church, the state of religion, pastoral ministry, and divinity I hope will be arising out of devotion to the divine. It is hard, when commenting on such things, not to be hypocritical. So, the reader may find a comparison between what I say and what I do to cause the "hypocrisy-meter" to rise some.

My early intention was to try out this form of cyber communication for the people of the parish I am now serving. But if this seed lands on other soil and bears fruit I will be equally and piously pleased.

The Pious Pastor