Category Archives: Articles

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

Article: Looking in the Mirror

Stephen Paddock- Las Vegas, 58 dead
Omar Saddiqui Mateen-  Pulse Night Club (Orlando), 49 dead
Seung-Hui Cho- Virginia Tech, 32 dead
Adam Lanza- Sandy Hook Elementary, 27 dead
Devin Patrick Kelley- First Baptist Church (Texas), 26 dead
And the list goes on…

I looked in the mirror the other day and I saw the problem…

Not me per se… but my gender. There is a serious problem with the male gender in the United States of America. Some have coined the term “toxic masculinity.” I tend to agree with this term. If I doubt it, all I have to do is look at the list above. Or maybe the list below…

Harvey Weinstein (movie producer)
John Besh (chef)
Mark Halperin (journalist)
Kevin Spacey (actor)
Louis CK (comedian)
Dennis Hastert (former Speaker of the House)
Anthony Weiner (former congressman)
And the list goes on…

The first is a list of the names of the shooters responsible for the deadliest shootings in U.S. history. The second list contains the names of people who have been accused and/or convicted of sexual harassment or worse.  Notice that there is not one woman on either list.

There is a clear pattern of toxic masculinity in our culture. I am not an expert in sociology (although I did major in sociology in college) or in psychology, but there is too much repetition for this to be random or a coincidence.

For most our history, we have existed in a white, male dominated society. This is slowly changing (thankfully). However, as unstable men perceive this loss of status and power, some of them go to extreme measures to exercise the ultimate personal power…they take the lives of others. Of course, each shooter has a story and what appears to be unbridled hate, but at the heart of it is either a loss of status or lack of power in their lives. Instead of cherishing human life, there is a desperate attempt to kill in one final act of masculine power. Once again, these are all men.

On the other end of the spectrum we have a list of men who had lots of power and status (and money). What did they do with that power? They abused it by sexually abusing others. They treated others as objects to be possessed and used. Instead of seeing individuals as equals, they view others as instruments of personal pleasure. This is an abuse of power and an abuse of sexuality.  Once again, these are all men.

I fully admit to not being an expert in this, but I can see there is something terribly wrong. I’ve developed a pretty good eye over the years when it comes to sin.

I am reminded of a man who did not act like this… Jesus. He once said this, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:44-45

As followers of Jesus, we are reminded that our destiny is not about the accumulation of status or power. As a matter of fact, the opposite. We are tasked with being servants if not slaves… people of no power or status. I know I am preaching to the choir on this, but I believe this needs to be clear in the hearts and minds of Christians, specifically men who follow Jesus.

Even St. Paul when writing about Jesus said this,

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant…
Philippians 2:5-7

Jesus wasn’t just telling us from on high how we should act. No! He lived it out! As God, he has all the power (and status) one could ever want or need, but Jesus did not exercise his power so that he would be treated with deference and reverence. Nor did he use his power for his own gratification. No, he became a servant for our sake. A gentle, suffering servant who is the King of kings and Lord of lords.

My hope and prayer is that when I look in mirror next, I see Jesus looking back at me and not a reflection of the toxic masculinity that seems so prevalent in our nation.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

 

 

 

 

Article: Principalities and Powers

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:10-12

 These are the kind of verses that Lutherans don’t talk about very often. As a matter of fact, they tend to avoid them. Why? I think there is a general discomfort talking about the devil. Why? I don’t know.

Jesus acknowledged there is more than human evil in the world. Do we believe the words that come from the lips of Jesus? I certainly do. By the way, this is a slippery slope. When we start doubting the words of Jesus, where does it end? Soon, we could be doubting the resurrection and Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. As far as I am concerned, there is more than human evil in the world. There is a devil and demons. I trust Jesus on this one.

Of course, the danger in acknowledging the devil is that we start to blame our own bad behavior on him instead of taking responsibility for own actions. We are really good at the blame game. “The devil made me do it.” Or, “I wouldn’t have done this if that wouldn’t have happened, it isn’t my fault because I didn’t start it.”

In Ephesians, St. Paul accepts the fact that there is a devil too. He goes on to write that our real opposition is not from humans (flesh and blood). Then he goes on to name that rulers, authorities, powers and spiritual forces of evil are the real enemy. In English, one might assume that rulers, authorities and powers could be of human origin. That is a fair assumption. However, in Greek (the language it Ephesians was originally written in) those three titles have a spiritual (evil) component.

What does this mean to us? Doesn’t this seem overly dramatic? I am not so sure. Just as Christ has great interest and is active in our world, so is evil. As God brings love and harmony, the devil sows hate, discord and chaos. It seems to me there is evidence of hate, discord and chaos in our world. We don’t need to go beyond our borders to see that. By denying that evil is active in the world, we give it free reign.

What is our response to all of this? St. Paul tells us to stand firm. He goes to use the imagery of wearing the “armor of God” which is: truth, righteousness, peace (of Christ), faith and the word of God.

Here is where we find strength:

Truth—naming evil when we see it and naming good when it is present.

Righteousness—knowing we are made righteous by Christ and are in relationship with Him.

Peace—we don’t fight fire with fire. We fight fire with the waters of baptism.

Faith—we trust Christ for all things and not in ourselves.

Word of God—The book that show us that love wins in the end.

Open your eyes and stand firm!
God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

Article: Reformation Sunday

What a week! Not in the way you think… I’ve been sick. Yes, I did do some sightseeing with Rachel when she wasn’t at her conference, but overall, I have felt yucky. Really yucky.  Nova Scotia is beautiful, but I bet it is prettier when I am not sick.

I am starting to feel better, but I am dreading the flight tomorrow (Friday) because I am still congested and my ears are still plugged up. I struggled with this on my way to Canada.

I feel a little like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. I want to click my heels and say, “There is no place like home…” And then magically be transported home. I know, wishful thinking.

I am looking forward to being home because Sunday is Reformation Sunday. Not just any old Reformation Sunday, it is the 500th Anniversary of the events that led to the Protestant Reformation.

We are going to hear Jesus say, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 

There is a reason this is the chosen reading of the day. At the heart of the Reformation there is the question of truth. Seriously. If you boil all the theology surrounding the Reformation it all comes down to where one finds truth.

Even the Roman Governor who held Jesus’ life in his hands asked Jesus this question, “What is truth?” in response to Jesus’ words, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” 

 The pursuit of truth is nothing more than discovering what is real and what is not. I believe this is more important today than it ever has been. Truth is now seen as subjective. People now believe “what is true for me, may not be true for you.”

The heart of the Reformation and the work of Martin Luther (and many others) tell us that truth matters. Believe it or not, there is only one truth not many.

Please come to church this Sunday to hear about truth and why it matters to us more than ever.  Besides, we all get to sing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

See you on Sunday…
Pr. Ben

 

 

Article: Being Right

It seems that everyone in the world is consumed with idea of “being right.” If you doubt me, just go look at Facebook, Twitter or your favorite flavor of cable news. Everyone is right and talking over each other.

Sure, there is still a difference between right and wrong, but we even argue about that.

The problem with “being right” and seeing yourself as the only enlightened person in the room, social media or dinner table is this: we feel justified to treat those who are “wrong” with contempt.

It fascinates me (and saddens me) to see people treat others so badly just because they are “wrong.” There is something lodged down deep in our hearts that tell us that “being right” is the highest ideal above anything else including love. It stands to reason if we are right, the other person is wrong. If the other person is wrong, we are within our rights to treat them terribly because they are bad people too. Most likely, that person feels the same about you and will engage in the same behavior. It is a lose/lose situation.

Now if a person is not a Christian, they can do whatever they want as long as it is lawful. There is a lack of civil discourse right now but I do not believe that I have the right to impose my values on someone who does not believe in the Prince of Peace and the Lord of Love. In other words, I am addressing the Christian community, not society at large. Besides, I would be pretty arrogant to think that I have sway over that many people including those who do not believe that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Within the Christian community (the Church) we too have succumbed to the theology of “being right” and the associated bad behavior that comes out of this mindset.

Let me be as clear as I can. We still need to be vocal about behaviors and actions that hurt others: sexism, racism, ageism and discrimination of any kind. We also should be vocal when “the system” oppresses “the least of these.” When it is within our power to do so, we should work to educate and change the things that are repressive. A firm “no” is appropriate when dealing with these types of issues.

However, just because we might be right occasionally (don’t fool yourself thinking you have cornered the market on truth 100% of the time) that does not give the Christian license to treat other people with contempt and scorn. Demonizing other people does not solve problems. That does not mean you must agree with the other person either.

When St. Paul talked about the 3 most important characteristics of being a Christian, guess what did not make the list? That’s correct, “being right” doesn’t crack the top 3.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1Corinthians 13:13

 Love is the highest ideal. That is a huge declaration for Paul who is an intellectual. Even he sees that love is more important than intellect or even faith. Wow.

No one is advocating for conflict avoidance and sugar coating everything. We can disagree and be agreeable. When that is not possible, we do not need to lash out with name calling and angry rhetoric. Giving ourselves space from someone we disagree with is preferable to “burning relational bridges.”

Gracious God, help us to follow you and you alone. We are reminded in scripture that having divided loyalties is unhealthy. Come to our aid once again and hold us closely. Let love drive our interactions with others and let our thirst for justice keep us moving forward. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

 

 

 

 

Article: Am I My Brother’s Keeper

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” 

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Genesis 4:9

 This comes from one of the oldest stories in the Bible. The story of Cain and Abel. If you haven’t read this story, take the time to read it. You can find it in the first book of the Bible in the fourth chapter.

I am not going to look at the whole story, just the verses above because I believe it is a question worth exploring.

Most of you know that Cain kills his brother Abel because he is both jealous and angry that God accepted Abel’s offering.

Before Cain can hurt his brother in any way God comes to Abel and tries to help him think through his emotions before he does something rash. In other words, God cares and gives Cain the opportunity to reflect on what is going on inside of himself before he takes it out on his brother.

Needless to say, Cain doesn’t reflect.

Knowing what happened to Abel, God casually asks Cain, “Where’s your brother?”

Cain gets all snarky on God (who already tried to help him once responds)—“I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” I think you probably could a “Geesh God” at the end of that statement.

That is the question, isn’t it? Even for us. Are we responsible for others?

The answer is both “yes” and “no”.

First the no. We are not responsible for the words and actions of others. We can’t control others and it is an unhealthy endeavor to think we can. Whether it be through manipulation or intimidation. Every individual is responsible for their own words and actions. Even God did not try to control Cain.

Yet, in this world we see all sorts of unhealthy behavior where people try to get other people to do what they want. Whether it is bullying, codependent or passive aggressive behavior, all of it is an attempt to manipulate others.

However you want to look at it, we are not responsible (nor should we be) for the words and actions of others no matter how close you are them relationally speaking.

BUT…

We are called by God to be responsible for the care of our brother. In this story, the word used is “brother.” (Because they were brothers.) This call for care is not limited to family. Jesus unambiguously clarified the question, “Who is my neighbor and should I care for them” in the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.

Although we are not responsible for the words and actions of others, we are called to care for the world around us.

In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther addresses this as he explains the meaning of the Fifth Commandment…

“You shall not kill.”
What does this mean?
Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not endanger our neighbor’s life, nor cause him any harm, but help and befriend him in every necessity of life.

 I know I am not telling you anything new here. Maybe I am reminding myself as I see all the pain and suffering over the past several weeks (hurricanes, Las Vegas shootings, the North Bay fires). Instead of spending time being angry, we should use that time and energy doing what we can to help others.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben