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

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon: Want to be a Saint?

Today is All Saints Sunday and I spend some time explaining what a saint is and how we all can be saints. In the process, I confess to two crimes I committed while I was traveling. You don’t want to miss this confession.

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

 

Sermon: Reformation 500: Truth

The sermon series comes to a conclusion today on Reformation Sunday. We hear about the heart of the Reformation itself and the words Luther used to stand up for truth.

 

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

 

 

 

 

Sermon: Reformation 500: In Luther’s Words- Why Take Communion?

We continue to look at the words of Martin Luther. Today we examine who is worthy to come to the Lord’s Supper. St. Paul seems to say one thing, Martin Luther says something else. Listen in and hear how we reconcile the two possible points of view.

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

 

 

Sermon: Reformation 500: In Luther’s Words- Do Not Be Alone

As we continue to hear the words of Martin Luther, we are reminded to surround ourselves with Christians when we are feeling down and want to stay in bed with the blankets over our heads. Listen in as I explain why it is important to stick together in times of trouble.

Article: A Shared Reflection from Las Vegas

As most of you know, I am one of the directors of a summer camp experience called Leadership Lab. 17 years ago, my youth director and I took a group of youth from Las Vegas to Leadership Lab. Ever since then, students and staff continue to come to Leadership Lab for a week of faith development and inspiration. Selfishly, I am proud of the legacy of that decision to drag students halfway across the country to attend the summer camp that I have been a part of since 1985.

One of those students, Keri Ann Triunfo wrote this after the tragedy in Las Vegas this past week…

Early this morning, in the wake of tragedy, I went outside to see an orange sky. The wind blew with harsh determination, causing the air to feel cold. It was as if nature itself was in mourning, and I couldn’t help but feel as if God was angry.

When suffering strikes our nation like it did last night, it’s easy for some of us to believe that God is punishing us. That he has taken up his hand against us in wrath and vengeance, like Sodom and Gomorrah. Las Vegas especially, has been likened to that ancient city by some. But those people don’t take into account the innocent women and children exploited here. Where is their justice? Why are they punished? They don’t take into account the brothers and sisters in Christ who are faithfully serving the Lord with their families and churches in this city. No, this massacre was not an act of God. 

The God we serve sent his son Jesus to us, to become a part of humanity. To share in our weaknesses. To feel our pain. To feel sorrow, frustration, fear, joy, love, and even to experience death. Matthew 5:45 tells us that The Lord makes the sun rise and rain fall on both the just and the unjust. Truth be told, bad things happen because our world is broken at the seams. We are broken people. But our Father has not abandoned us.

When these things happen, it’s important for us to remember that the function of the Holy Spirit, is to be our Helper. Our comforter, advocate, intercessor, counselor, and strength. 
In these times of despair and uncertainty, I urge you to remember that our God is not one of wrath, but of compassion, mercy, and love.

So, when I say that I feel God’s anger, I believe it is his empathy on our behalf. I believe he is beside the families, and loved ones of those whose lives were needlessly taken in a moment. I believe he is with the first responders and off duty authorities that risked their lives to protect civilians. He is with the civilians that dove into harm’s way to protect the people beside them, and assist the wounded. He is with the ones that had to watch in horror as countless others were killed or maimed before their eyes. God is here amidst the heartbreak and fear, sharing once again in our sorrows, and in our frustration

Romans 8:38-39 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Very moving, very thoughtful and very faithful. Please keep all people affected by gun violence in your prayers, including the people of Las Vegas and beyond.

God bless,
Pr. Ben