Article: What’s in it for Me?

A volunteer is a person who can see what others cannot see; who can feel what most do not feel. Often, such gifted persons do not think of themselves as volunteers, but as citizens – citizens in the fullest sense: partners in civilization. President George H.W. Bush

 There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed. President Woodrow Wilson

 My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. President John F. Kennedy

 Above is a small smattering of quotes by some of our presidents about service. Service by its very nature is about looking out for someone other than yourself. Service of any kind is noble.

It warms my heart when I think about all the acts of service that Bethel engages in throughout the year but especially during Advent. We continue to contribute to the Lord’s Pantry at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and we have collected many items for West Valley Community Services. We also sponsored many children through Help One Child and are working toward providing Christmas for several men in a group home named Casa Unida.

Every time we individually participate in service we are pushing back against individualism and selfishness.

I suppose we could debate whether or not whether or not selfishness and individualism has increased over the past 40 years in our country because that isn’t something we can measure. Anecdotally, we are not as close to our literal neighbors compared to 40 years ago and certainly, we can agree that civility is waning.

I am reminded of a scene in one of my favorite baseball movies: Field of Dreams.

Ray Kinsella is a farmer outside of Dyersville, Iowa who hears a voice that tells him, “Built it and they will come.” Along with that voice from heaven he sees a vision of a baseball field in the corn field next to his house. He listens to the voice and against all reason (including financial) he builds a baseball field. Shortly after that, long dead baseball players show up to play baseball in his field including members of the 1919 “Black Sox” team who were banned from baseball for supposedly throwing the 1919 World Series.

After a while, Ray (the owner of the field) gets frustrated about wants to see where these baseball players go after they are done playing baseball (presumably heaven).

Ray Kinsella: I want to know what’s out there! I want to see it!

Shoeless Joe Jackson: But you’re not invited.

Ray Kinsella: Not invited? What do you mean I’m not invited! That’s my corn out there, you guys are guests in my corn!

Terence Mann: Ray…

Ray Kinsella: No wait, I have done everything that I’ve been asked to do! I didn’t understand it, but I’ve done it; and I haven’t once asked ‘what’s in it for me?’

Shoeless Joe Jackson: What are you saying Ray?

Ray Kinsella: I’m saying… what’s in it for me?

If you haven’t seen the movie and you love baseball, take the time to watch it. I cry at the end… every time.  No spoiler alert here, but Ray does get something out of it that is wonderful.

Ray Kinsella asks a question we ask ourselves (sometimes subconsciously) when we look at any issue, “What’s in it for me?” This question gets in the way of a way more important question, “What is good for the community and my neighbor?”

When we stop thinking about and acting on behalf of our community, it will fall apart. Community is something that must be nurtured for it to flourish. If everyone is in it for themselves, there is no community. A bunch of people living in proximity to each other may mean they live in a city but it doesn’t automatically mean they live in community.

I am overjoyed that Bethel not only tries to help the community but actively wants to build community among those who attend (guest or member).

How do we do that as individuals in our neighborhoods, our towns and in our nation? It is not an easy task.

But let us take the words of Jesus to heart…

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28

God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

 

 

Sermon: Holiday To-Do List: Wrap Someone in Love

We continue remaking our holiday to-do list. If we are going to be fully present in someone’s life, we still need to wrap that presence in something. We wrap it in love. When do something else happens. LIsten in and find out what that is.

Article: A Voice in the Wilderness

Advent isn’t complete in the Lutheran world if there isn’t at least one mention of John the Baptist. What’s funny about that is this: John the Baptist has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus yet he always seems to make an appearance in Advent. Sure, there is the story in Luke that points to the fact that they are loosely related but ultimately John the Baptist has nothing do with the birth of Jesus (Spoiler Alert: John the Baptist was not in Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth).

Although I am not preaching on John the Baptist this year, I am giving him a shout out here (I feel obligated to do so, otherwise it is not really Advent).

Most years we hear John announcing that the Messiah (the Savior) is about to arrive and people should get ready. Often this paired with a prophecy from Isaiah 40. Here is that prophecy:

A voice of one calling:
“In the desert prepare the way for the Lord;
make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God.
           Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
            And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the
Lord has spoken.”
            A voice says, “Cry out.”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.
            The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
            The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God stands forever.” 

Not all of this ends up in the gospel story about John the Baptist (just the first part) but I find it interesting and thought provoking.

I mentioned the first part to the children at church last Sunday. When a king comes to visit a town would spend money on capital improvements. After all you want to put your best foot forward.  You fix the roads so that as the king’s carriage comes to town, he has a smooth ride.

But in this case, it ain’t Santa Claus who is coming to town… it is God.

It makes sense to get ready for God’s arrival. Not with a fresh coat of paint or filling potholes with asphalt… but by readying your heart (that’s what Advent is for).

The “voice” who is to announce God’s coming in Isaiah 40 asks a great question, “What shall I cry?” (As in, I am the town crier who brings late breaking news to a community.)

God’s reply is most interesting. (Scroll back up and read it. I’ll wait.)

Tell the people they are like grass. Here one day and gone the next. Grass may have a season of green, but it will eventually turn brown. It is as if God is saying, “Just so you know, people are not steadfast and do not have longevity, but I Am and I do.”

Wow. We are like grass. God is not. The best of us are like lilies that only last a few weeks at most and God is the gardener.

When we put our trust in anyone but God, we are putting our trust in someone who is like us: temporary, fallible and in need of God’s mercy and grace—myself included.

I can’t help but look at the headlines and think—what a bunch of dried up grass. Today a Senator resigned over sexual harassment allegations, a Representative from Arizona just announced his resignation over the same issue this evening (Thursday). As you know these aren’t isolated incidents.

The point is this, these people are our leaders and they (in a general way) represent us. Yet they are grass too and for some the grass is no longer green. It is disheartening but it is a reminder to me that I need to look somewhere else for leadership in my life.

I guess more than ever, I need John the Baptist to be calling out and telling me someone better is coming and his Name is above every name. His name is Jesus and He is a leader I can look up to and He will never disappoint. And when I let Him down, I can go to Him and ask for forgiveness. He will pardon anyone who asks.

Jesus is my favorite King and I want to live under His rule.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

 

 

 

Sermon: Holiday To-Do List: Be Present

The season of Advent has begun and the countdown to Christimas is underway. Instead of buying too many presents, let us be fully present in the lives of others.

Article: When is Enough, Enough?

Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Matthew 6:24

 Several years ago, before his death, Millard Fuller the founder of Habitat for Humanity addressed the National Press Club on public radio, on which he recalled a workshop he conducted at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary with 200 pastors in attendance.

 The assembled pastors quickly pointed toward greed and selfishness as the reason the church never had enough money to accomplish its mission in the world.

Millard then asked this seemingly innocent question: “Is it possible for a person to build a house so large that it’s sinful in the eyes of God? Raise your hand if you think so.”

All 200 pastors raised their hands.

“Okay,” said Millard, “then can you tell me at exactly what size, the precise square footage, a certain house becomes sinful to occupy?”

Silence from the pastors. You could have heard a pin drop.

Finally, a small, quiet voice spoke up from the back of the room: “When it is bigger than mine.”

This gets to the heart of an important theological question, “How much is enough?”

Does the answer vary based on the individual? What may be enough for me might look like “too much” to some and “not enough” for others? Yet it is Jesus who instructs us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” and Saint Paul who instructs Timothy, “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” That is a lot less than my concept of enough.

The pursuit of “more” is nothing new for humanity. The problem is that very few of us ever cross the threshold of “enough.” The biblical word for that threshold is called contentment. When it comes to money and possessions, will we ever be content?

I can’t help but think of corporations who are in the business of making money. I have no problem with that at all. That is how they stay in business, right? I buy things from corporations that I want (but not necessarily need). They provide the things I want and I am willing to give them money for their products.

I was curious and l looked up US corporations with the largest cash reserves. Here is what I discovered: the top 17 corporations in the US with the largest cash reserves have over $800 billion ($800,000,000,000) in the bank. That’s just short of a trillion dollars. Individual cash reserves of these corporations range from $261 billion to $12 billion. Good for them, they earned it. It is their right to do with it as they wish, it is their money. Besides I helped contribute to some of those savings accounts.

BUT… I am concerned when I hear voices of individuals from our Capital that say these corporations do not have enough money. Moreover, they say these corporations need more money to invest in the economy even though they already retain a large amount of money in reserve already. At the same time, there are people in our country who struggle to make ends meet.

I am not interested in debating possible tax policy but I point it out because it is a real life and current example about “more” and “enough.”

It is not money itself that is the issue. It is a tool. It is the love of money that is the issue.

Is this just human nature and we are helpless? Yes, it is our nature to accumulate. After all, our ancestors were hunters and gatherers and they hoarded resources because they weren’t always sure where their next meal was coming from. Unfortunately, that behavior became ingrained in humanity. Are we helpless? Absolutely not.

We can turn to God and God’s word for help. Once again in 1Timothy, Paul instructs Timothy in this way, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” 1Timothy 6:17-19

 When Paul says “Command those who are rich…” he is talking about us. Yes, I know we can look at other people and say, “They are rich, not me.” Compared to the people of Paul’s time and most of the world today, we are all rich.

Paul isn’t scolding the wealthy because they are wealthy. Not at all! He is reminding us that we shouldn’t put our trust in money because it is untrustworthy. Remember 2008?

Instead we put our trust in God who promises to take care of us. Once again, this isn’t about taking care of your household or having money. It is when we trust our assets above God- we have a problem. When we start to believe we don’t have enough and we need more for our own security our faith in God wanes.

Don’t miss the word of hope at the end of this passage. “…be generous and willing to share…” This is not a self-serving comment by Paul. He isn’t advocating that Timothy tell the people to give to Paul. Instead, Paul is telling us that the antidote to the accumulation of more is to give away. Replace the mindset of “more” with “less.” When we give, we become more like God, because God is a generous giver.

I am thankful for the generosity of Christians everywhere but especially at Bethel Lutheran Church. Your love of Christ shines through your relationships, your service and your giving.

As we begin our journey to the manger to see the Christ child, let us be generous in all that we say and do.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Christ the King: I am a Goat

We end the church year with Christ the King Sunday. I talk about the parable of Jesus in Matthew 25 where the King separates the sheep people from the goat people. Which one are you? I think I am a goat. It may not be as bad as you might think.

Article: The Next Reformation

When people talk about developing a “long-term approach” to something they usually are not talking about the next 500 years. That seems a little too long for most of us. Yet with Christianity and even Judaism, every 500 years or so there is a reformation of sorts. If not a reformation a major shift in how organized religion operates.

Just take a look at our own history (biblical and otherwise) in roughly 500 year increments…

1000 BC- The Temple of Israel is constructed in Jerusalem which became the capital city and a major shift in how Israel worshipped.

500 BC- The temple is destroyed and Israel goes into captivity

0 BC- Jesus arrives and changes everything

500 AD- The fall of Rome and the beginning of monastic communities

1000 AD- The first split of Christianity between the Roman Church and Orthodox Church

1500 AD- Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation

2000 AD- ????

Phyllis Tickle puts it this way, “Every 500 years, Christianity reboots. Christianity goes into its attic, pulls everything out, and has a massive rummage sale. Every time this happens, Christianity emerges stronger than before—lighter, faster, cleaner. Rather than losing steam, it speeds up, becomes more resilient, more intense, more compelling.

 What always emerges (also called the Great Emergence) is a profoundly new form of Christianity, which proceeds to spread across vast new areas of geographic and demographic space—with radical implications for politics, science, industry, social structure, and technology.”

 Wow. Unfortunately, we are in the beginning stages of this new reformation or “emergence” of Christianity. This is the most difficult time in any shift, because things are uncertain and we don’t know how these transformations will impact us. It is a liminal period for the church. We aren’t what we used to be and we don’t know what we will become. We are like a caterpillar who has gone into the cocoon, we are changing but we aren’t there yet.

At Bethel, we have talked about the symptoms of the old model of church not working as well anymore. We have seen a decline in attendance of our own membership. Meaning, people still come to church, just not as often or every week. Also, we are trying to figure out why there are less young adults attending church than 20-30 years ago. There are other things as well, but these are the two visible signs that we have discussed openly at Bethel.

Asking the questions, “How do we grow younger” and “what will compel people to worship on a regular basis” is the realization that we need to engage in the beginning of this new reformation.

In another article, Tickle is asked this question…

 Q: What will mainline denominations need to do to survive and thrive? 

“If one were going to put one adjective to the Great Emergence (new reformation), and thereby one adjective to emergence Christianity, one would say ‘deinstitutionalized.’

 I’m Episcopalian, and I hear with the same sorrow as my fellow Anglicans that we’re shutting parishes every month now in the United States in the Episcopal Church. That’s alarming.

 It’s not just that Christianity is changing. It’s the whole culture. Have you looked lately at the number of Rotary Clubs that aren’t anymore or the number of Kiwanis Clubs that aren’t anymore? American Legion? VFWs?

 Institutionalization is being leveled. One of the characteristics of emergence thinking (the next Reformation) is there’s a flattening out.”

Thought provoking, isn’t it? Like the Protestant Reformation, it wasn’t an overnight event. It took 20 plus years for the roots of the Reformation to set in and many more years for the fruit of the Reformation ripened.  For us, the seed has been planted but we do not know what is going to sprout out of the ground.

What is important at this point is that we are engaged in the conversation and asking questions even if we don’t know the answers. Sticking our heads in the sand is not an option if we want the church to be around in 2050. Many churches in the past 20 years have closed for various reasons including not addressing the cultural and religious changes in our society. I am sure more churches will close because of the unwillingness to sail on the winds of change.

What do we do? First, don’t panic or worry. Christ is still in charge of the Church. Although Christ doesn’t change, the methods and ways we minister to others will evolve. I am not sure we would be comfortable going to church a thousand years ago. Things change but Christ doesn’t. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8

 We don’t need to have everything figured out or have a complete church makeover either but we do need to keep asking questions and looking to Christ who will His Church through the next Reformation and beyond.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

 

Sermon: What is Beyond Our Gaze: Hell

This is the second of a 2 part sermon series on eternity. Today we hear a little bit about      H-E-Double Hockey Sticks. We have nothing to worry about as the children of God.

Article: Thanksgiving

A week from today, it will be Thanksgiving Day. Can you believe it? I can’t. Time seems to be accelerating the older I get. Blink twice and it will be Christmas! Not really, we have to celebrate Advent first, after all we are Lutherans.

I know people think we have been celebrating Thanksgiving annually since the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony. However, the actual yearly commemoration of Thanksgiving began in 1864 when President Lincoln proclaimed a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens,” to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.

Thanksgiving was later moved to the fourth Thursday of November to accommodate extra shopping days before Christmas on the years there is a fifth Thursday.

What are you doing for Thanksgiving this year?

I know that some of you will be…

Traveling to be with family.

  1. Hosting family at your home.
  2. Getting together with friends
  3. Having a quiet day alone.

Whatever you will be doing, I hope you sense God’s blessing in your life. Rachel and I will be spending the day together and I am always thankful when I spend time with her. We will also take time to call our parents as we do on all the holidays. We definitely know we are blessed and who provides those blessings.

Where ever you are and whatever you might be doing on Thanksgiving (we might go see a movie) I want you to remember this, “You are an Aspen tree.”

I know what you are thinking, “I just witnessed Pr. Ben lose his mind.” Hold on, let me explain.

The Aspen tree is not just an Aspen tree. An Aspen tree grove in the wild shares the same root system.  An Aspen tree grove is not only the oldest living organism on Earth but it is also the largest.  The oldest Aspen tree grove is found in Utah and is estimated to be 80,000 years old and can weigh up to 6600 tons.

We as the church are like a grove of Aspen trees. We are connected and we are one. We share the same roots because we have one foundation in Christ. No matter where you are and who you are with this Thanksgiving, we are connected and always will be. I am thankful to be connected to you.

If you are in town this Wednesday evening at 7pm, come to Bethel and we will worship together. We will stand together like an Aspen grove and give thanks to the One who watches over us and provides all we need.

Oh, and bring a pie if you can, Aspen trees love pie. Especially pecan pie.

God bless you and I hope you have a blessed Thanksgiving,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: What is Beyond Our Gaze: Heaven

As we approach the end of the church year in two weeks, Pr. Ben is taking a look at eternity today and next week. First up: Heaven. Listen in and hear about what the Bible says about Heaven.