All posts by Ben

Sermon: Plot Twists (Unexpected Jesus)

What does the movie “The Empire Strikes Back” and the hymn “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” have to do John the Baptist and unmet expectations? Listen in and find out about Biblical plot twists!

Article: Let’s Talk About Sin

21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! 

 So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.  Romans 7:21-25

Sin. It is the reality of our existence. Selfishness, envy, anger, control, neglect, denial, hate, injustice, judgment and the list goes on. Our life is a struggle between what we want and what God calls us to be. St. Paul who wrote a letter to the church of Rome (quoted above) writes a lot about sin. When an author of Bible devotes a lot time to one topic, I tend to pay attention.

Even Paul admits to the struggle in his life. Think about that… someone we refer to as a “saint” struggles with sin like we do. It’s as if he is saying, “my heart tells me to do one thing and mind another.” Paul is expressing the human condition as a Christian. We are both “saint and sinner.”  That is it in a nutshell for all of us. This is who we are.

Sin is not a side item in God’s agenda, is it? When the Son of God came to earth, what was his primary mission? To die so that we may be forgiven. Essentially God decided long ago that blood was the currency of forgiveness to show humanity the cost of sin and rebellion. It costs lives. In the Old Testament, many innocent animals were sacrificed to provide forgiveness. In the New Testament, God sacrificed himself so that His blood would cover our sin.

Sin matters to God because it causes a break in our relationship with the people around us and a break with God. We are created for community and sin gets in the way of God’s purpose for humanity.

Earlier in Paul’s letter to the Roman church he talks about being a slave to sin and a slave to righteousness. He wasn’t talking about individual sins or good deeds but patterns of behavior. Paul understands that we will always struggle with sin in this life. Instead he wants us to look at the bigger picture. Are we on a journey toward righteousness (life with God) or on a path to greater darkness and selfishness (sin and separation)?

If humanity was good at following directions, we wouldn’t need Jesus… just the 10 Commandments. We discovered that we couldn’t help ourselves. We just can’t. God already knew that and sent his Son Jesus to do what we couldn’t do ourselves. He would bring: forgiveness, love and a new path to follow.

St. Paul reminds us of this when he wrote…

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. Romans 8:1&3

 Forgiveness is ours because of Christ. Paths of righteousness have been opened to us if we choose to walk with Jesus.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Video: Make Friends

“Make Friends” is an initiative of the Elijah Interfaith Institute, an

interfaith organization with offices in Israel and the United States. In

a press release, organizers said the project’s mission is to counter

the idea that people view each others’ religions with distrust or

disdain ― and to potentially even reduce violence conducted in the

name of religion.

Sermon: The Escalation of Rhetoric

This past weeks event of violence near our nation’s capitol were not committed in a vaccum. We are seeing the fruits of years of incivility. Is there a way to change this trajectory? Yes. Words matter.

Article: Are We Very Religious?

The craziness of my life caught up with me this week. I have the flu. It is June and I have the flu. The sound we make at home when something doesn’t go right is, “Mlahhh.” (Think of Snoopy from Peanuts when Lucy is mean to him.) Needless to say, this has been a “mlahhh” week. Rachel and I often text that phrase to each other instead of words like, “Ugh.”

I am not going to describe the symptoms of the flu, I am pretty sure you already know what having the flu feels like. It is yucky. I am hopeful that I will feel normal by Sunday, but if I do not, I will still be at church! After all, I have a sermon to preach, sacraments to administer, eat doughnuts (donuts?) with dads and go to the homecoming concert of Common Ground. You should go too, it is a wonderful production! It is at 7:30pm Sunday night in the sanctuary.

Yet, even though I am sick, I keep moving forward and continue to think about God. For example, on Tuesday I asked Rachel (Mrs. Pr. Ben) if she would consider us “very religious?” I don’t even know why that question popped into my head, but it did. Her response was interesting. Rachel said, “Yes, people would view us as very religious.”

I suppose she is right. People would see us as being very religious. Please don’t roll your eyes at me, I’m sick. Cut me some slack. Hear me out…

Most people would say, “I hope they are a very religious family because Ben is a pastor. He is supposed to be religious and Rachel too for that matter.” Yet, I don’t see myself or my family as “very religious.” Please keep reading—I don’t want you to jump to conclusions. There is plenty of time for that after you finish reading the article.

The reason I don’t see myself as “very religious” is this: I live my life in faith. I don’t think about being religious or acting in a way that people will perceive as being religious. I am, for the lack of a better word, just being me. I live within the context of God’s grace and I respond in faith by the things I say and do. I do not expect others to live like me nor do I judge non-Christians by the same measure I judge myself.

I am free and not bound by specific religious behaviors. However, I am free to pray, think about God, worship and engage with fellow Christians. I do these things because I want to not because I have to. If that makes me religious, then so be it.

Sometimes, I think the Pharisees (religious authorities of Jesus’ day) saw themselves as very religious and looked down upon those who were not. They took pride in how much they knew and they also took great delight in shaming others who were not as religious as they were.

I’ll pick following Jesus and being free over being a Christian Pharisee any day of the week.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: When Welcome is More than Welcome

When we get to self-absorbed we have less patience for others. The remedy for that is to be a person of welcome. It may mean more than just saying hi to others…

Article: Who is Welcome?

On Wednesday night at our “First Wednesday Speaker Series” we watched the documentary “A Time for Burning.”  The documentary is a 1966 film which explores the attempts of Pastor Youngdahl of Augustana Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska, to persuade his all-white congregation to reach out to black Lutherans on the city’s north side. The film was directed by San Francisco filmmaker William C. Jersey and was nominated as Best Documentary Feature in the 1967 Academy Awards. The film was commissioned by the Lutheran Church in America.

It is a thought provoking documentary even though it is fifty-three years old. On one hand one can watch it and then say, “look far we have come.” I don’t. When you look around the church on Sunday morning, what do you see? It is still mostly white. I am reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”

Pastor Youngdahl in his attempt to bring Lutherans together by having voluntary cottage meetings with both white and black Lutherans, he was forced to resign. Many people from his congregation essentially said, “The pastor is moving too fast. The timing is not good.”

To put it bluntly, those were lame excuses. It was not too fast and the meetings were completely voluntary. No one was being forced to do anything. This is what “power” does. It tries to stop anything that it is not comfortable or status quo. “Let’s just keep the peace and not upset the apple cart.” Power tries to preserve power. Letting others who are different into the system constitutes a loss of power.

But the Church and the Gospel are not about power. As a matter of fact, Jesus always sided with those who were without power and on the outside. People like: fisherman, tax collectors, prostitutes, the sick, the poor, children and foreigners. The people of power hated Jesus and saw him as a threat. People like: Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, the Roman Governor and the Chief Priests.

Jesus loved and cared for people who (in the opinion of those in power) were outside of God’s love. These people were sinners and therefore unloved by God (according to the power people). When people see others as less than human or unloved by God because they are “sinners”, there is an effort to keep them “contained”, marginalized and outside the Church.

We have seen the Church change its mind about sinners, power and outsiders over past 2000 years. It began with allowing Gentiles to be recognized as Christians. For many years, American Christians justified slavery and the oppression of our black brothers and sisters with the Bible. We even changed our minds about women serving as pastors. Today we struggle with other issues of inclusivity that threaten to split some churches or at least cause some to leave.

In the documentary, we saw that the mayor of Omaha (a white man) was more progressive and inclusive than the white churches of that community. It is sad for me to see the government ahead of the church when it comes to equality and that seems to be the case today for many churches.

It is not our job to decide who is worthy or welcome. We are all unworthy and we all continue to sin. In other words, we are ALL in the same boat. Our job in the church is not to judge sin. Our calling is to love and point people to Jesus. If we mistakenly think we can stop sin in our neighbor we are delusional. Think about it, we can’t even stop sin in our own life!  Only Christ can heal brokenness.

The Church should be a place for ALL people. Not some people or people like me. We need to stop using sin as litmus test for who is granted admission to the church. Using that yardstick, none of us are welcome.

The Church in the United States still wrestles with the sin of racism. Some more than others. That is not the only issue that excludes.

In the documentary, the children of the parish had no problems making friends with people who are different than themselves. Today it is no different. Our children lead the way as well. Let us listen to them. It is quite possible that they may teach us something about the grace and love of Jesus.

I highly encourage you to watch this documentary.

God bless you all,
Pr. Ben

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon: Every Miracle has a Message- Pentecost

Today is Pentecost Sunday. The day the Holy Spirit was given in a mighty way to the early church. But what does it mean for us in 2017? Listen in and find out.

Article: Life Together

Well, I thought this would be a quieter week. Let me re-phrase that. I was hoping for a typical week. You know, be gone for four days and you hope to get back into your routine. Not so much.

The good news is that our house finally sold. That is a big relief even though we took a loss on the property. However, we are glad that chapter in our life is over. (Bethel, you are really stuck with me now!)

Right after we returned, we learned that Rachel’s step-mother was in the hospital and close to death. She passed away on Wednesday evening.

Rachel is already in Chicago for her mother’s (Memaw) retirement party. Rachel will now extend her time away until next Tuesday. I will now be traveling to Chicago on Sunday evening and then drive to Western Illinois (Galesburg, IL) so that I can preside at funeral. Yes, I will be doing the funeral. My father in-law told me that Bonnie asked if I would preside at her funeral. I am very touched and I am honored to do so.

Also, I will be able to stay at my parent’s home and possibly see my son Carl too. All in 36 hours. Rachel and I will drive back to Chicago on Tuesday morning to catch a flight home.

So much for a typical week this week and next. Being bored is not overrated and if I could apologize to my grandparents for all the times I said, “I’m bored” I would.

Rachel and I have not only been busy but we also have been on a roller coaster of emotions. I don’t say that to play on your sympathies. Far from it. I am telling you because I want to be transparent.

With all that going on in my life, we also will have a joyous Sunday at church! We have two students confirming their faith and there is a baptism too! If that wasn’t enough we are remembering the giving of the Holy Spirit to all believers! This is the kind of Sunday that a pastor finds very fulfilling if not exciting.

What do all these things have in common? Christ Centered Community. Life will have ups and downs. Sometimes all at once! Yet when things aren’t going well, I get strength from other Christians. Specifically, I draw strength and support from the people of Bethel (you). When there is something to be joyous about, guess who I want to celebrate with? Yep, the people of Bethel.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Romans 12:15b-16a

 That sums it up for me. To live in “harmony” means we should listen to others make sure you are in the same key! Without listening, there is no harmony. If anyone wants to experience the joy of being in community the first step this: Realize that life is NOT all about you. That doesn’t mean that others shouldn’t listen to you. Not at all. It does mean that if we are doing all the talking we are missing the joy of doing life together.

But it all comes down to this…I couldn’t get through life without the love and support of my church family. I know with your love and support- “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: The Joy of Bethel: Generosity

We finish our sermon series on the joy of Bethel talking about generosity. Generous Giving is the highest commitment one can make but it also has the capacity to bring the most joy. Listen and discover why the culture tells us something different.