Sermon: David: The Unlikely Rival

After defeating Goliath David became the unlikely hero. However, after his victory, someone became envious and David found he had an unlikely rival.

Article: The Problem at Our Border

On Monday, May 7th, a decision was made to separate children from their parents at our southern border if they attempt to cross our southern border illegally (which is a misdemeanor).

There is an estimated 2000 children (updated number) being held in facilities along the US-Mexican border.

Some would say that if someone breaks the law, there are consequences. Others would say that this is a deterrent to stop further illegal immigration.

It may be legal to separate families, but it is cruel.

I would ask, do two wrongs make a right? (Families crossing the border illegally + families being separated by law enforcement = a just decision).

There are other ways to handle families who cross the border illegally that does not involve separation. I am not advocating for open borders. I am calling for compassion.

When I reflect on the story in the gospel of Matthew of when Joseph and Mary fled with baby Jesus  because of King Herod’s jealousy, I am glad to hear Jesus was not separated from his parents when they arrived at the Egyptian border.

You have heard me cite this verse before because it speaks to this issue clearly.

 “Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.” Exodus 23:9  Also see Leviticus 19:33-34

How do we love our neighbor as ourselves while still having boundaries? I am not convinced separating families is loving or even “tough love.”

Our Presiding Bishop released a statement with other religious leaders regarding this issue. Below is that statement.

Recently, the Administration announced that it will begin separating families and criminally prosecuting all people who enter the U.S. without previous authorization. As religious leaders representing diverse faith perspectives, united in our concern for the wellbeing of vulnerable migrants who cross our borders fleeing from danger and threats to their lives, we are deeply disappointed and pained to hear this news.  

 We affirm the family as a foundational societal structure to support human community and understand the household as an estate blessed by God. The security of the family provides critical mental, physical and emotional support to the development and wellbeing of children. Our congregations and agencies serve many migrant families that have recently arrived in the United States. Leaving their communities is often the only option they have to provide safety for their children and protect them from harm. Tearing children away from parents who have made a dangerous journey to provide a safe and sufficient life for them is unnecessarily cruel and detrimental to the well-being of parents and children.   

 As we continue to serve and love our neighbor, we pray for the children and families that will suffer due to this policy and urge the Administration to stop their policy of separating families.   

 His Eminence Archbishop Vicken Aykazian
Diocesan Legate and Director of the Ecumenical Office
Diocese of the Armenian Church of America

 Mr. Azhar Azeez President
Islamic Society of North America

 The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera
Bishop of Scranton, PA
Chair, Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs

 Senior Bishop George E. Battle, Jr.
Presiding Prelate, Piedmont Episcopal District
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

 Bishop H. Kenneth Carter, Jr.
President, Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church

 The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop Episcopal Church (United States)

 The Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer
General Minister & President
United Church of Christ

 The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

 The Rev. David Guthrie
President, Provincial Elders’ Conference
Moravian Church Southern Province

 Mr. Glen Guyton
Executive Director
Mennonite Church USA

 The Rev. Teresa Hord Owens
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

 Rabbi Rick Jacobs 
President
Union for Reform Judaism

 Mr. Anwar Khan
President
Islamic Relief USA

 The Rev. Dr. Betsy Miller
President, Provincial Elders’ Conference
Moravian Church Northern Province

 The Rev. Dr.  J. Herbert Nelson II
Stated Clerk
Presbyterian Church (USA)

 Rabbi Jonah Pesner
Director
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

 The Rev. Don Poest
Interim General Secretary

The Rev. Eddy Alemán
Candidate for General Secretary
Reformed Church in America

 Senior Bishop Lawrence Reddick III
Presiding Bishop, The Eighth Episcopal District
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

 The Rev. Phil Tom
Executive Director
International Council of Community Churches

 Mr. Jim Winkler
General Secretary & President
National Council of Churches USA

 Senior Bishop McKinley Young
Presiding Prelate, Third Episcopal District
African Methodist Episcopal Church

 

 

Sermon: David: The Unlikely Hero

We continue on in the series about King David’s early years. Most of us know the story of David and Goliath. However this old and well known story has something to say to us today.

Article: Radical Welcome?

 

Take a look at the table above (if you can read it). It shows the difference between being an inviting church, an inclusion church and a radical welcome church. These are just labels and have no official designation or meaning but their descriptions found just below in “The Message” line tells us a lot. I think it begs the question, “What kind of church do you want to be?” and “What kind of church are we?”

An “Inviting” church might be very friendly to all, but there is an expectation that any new comers that decide to stay will be assimilated in to the dominant identity (and culture) of that congregation. For many Lutheran churches that is white and of Northern European descent. Lutheran churches that take this approach tend to stay mostly white.

An “Inclusion” church wants to be more diverse. They make an effort to welcome people of differing backgrounds but there is no real change in how the church “does church.” This type of church has good intentions but does not have the capacity to change how it can truly incorporate and value others from differing cultures but of the same faith (Lutheran/Christian). These churches struggle to retain people of differing cultures because value is still placed on the dominant culture of the congregation (white and northern European).

A “Radical Welcome” church not only works toward being more diverse but they also value what the “other” brings to the congregation. As the note says in the table, a Radical Welcome church says, “Bring your culture, your voice, your whole self—we want to engage in true mutual relationship.” This type of church is intentional about incorporating the gifts and values of those who are not of the dominant culture of the congregation.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (of which we are a part of) has been struggling with this for many years. One can look at this issue in many ways. I think it is valuable for us to think about how welcoming we are… after all one of our core values at Bethel is “hospitality.”

If the expectation is, “everyone is welcome but in the end we expect you to be like us” we are going to be more like an “Inviting” church and less like a “Radical Welcome” church. If we are going to connect with people on a deeper level in Silicon Valley with all of its diversity, it may be worth our time to think about how receptive we are to the cultural differences of others (including some of our current members) and how to lift up those differences in a positive, affirming way.

I have zero expectation that everyone should be alike within the Body of Christ. Yes, we all share the same identity as the children of God but how do we also recognize and value those who bring different ways of practicing their faith within the Lutheran expression of Christianity? I don’t have the answer to that today but it is worth asking the question and pondering for a while.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: David: The Unlikely Choice

We begin a new sermon series on the early life of King David (before he was king). There are many things to learn from the life of David. We begin with God’s unlikely choice of David as future king.

Article: Principles

I ran across this phrase and it resonated with me. “It is always easier to fight for ones principles than to live up to them.”

 This appears to be true from what I can see. What do you think? There is a war of words going on in our country and compromise is nothing short of a curse word. Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporter who brought the Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration to light believes our nation is in (what he terms) a “cold civil war.” It is a war of words and there are two distinct sides. Each side is trying to either tear down the other or win converts. It isn’t working.

Human beings (us) are more concerned about what others are doing than doing the harder work of defining our own principles and striving to live up to them. We are much better at trying to impose our will on others than the hard work of self-reflection and self-discipline.

The issue itself doesn’t really matter, it could be anything. It is the behavior not the issue(s) I am talking about and it is the behavior that I want to address.

It is a fool’s errand to think we can make someone do (or believe) something if they don’t agree. Yet what do we see? People getting louder and louder about something they are passionate about wrongly thinking that if they are more brash than the “other side” they will either give in or give up. In the end, it will only cause further alienation.

The Christian church in America (not just the Lutherans) is declining because many outside the Church views us  as being hypocritical in our moral pronouncements on certain issues and people even if we aren’t doing that. This hurts all of us but most of all it hurts the cause and mission of Jesus which is all about love. But it is not just that. The world sees the Church acting poorly as individuals and wonders why we don’t live up to our own moral judgments and/or why we are so full of hate and exclusive.

Even if we aren’t doing those things at Bethel, we are lumped in the churches that do. This is hard to overcome.

Did you ever notice that Jesus never made anybody do anything? He never forced his will on anyone. Sure, Jesus instructed the disciples and even sent them out to share the good news of God’s love but he never, ever forced them to do it. He didn’t make the rich young ruler sell everything he had and give it to the poor so that he could follow Jesus and inherit eternal life. Nope, Jesus let the decision rest in his lap and this man decided to walk away. Jesus understood free will better than we do.

Why is it that the Church (in general) and some Christians tend to act more like Darth Vader of Star Wars in trying to impose their version of Christian moralism on others rather than letting people choose for themselves whether or not they want to experience the life changing love of Jesus? There is a big difference between imposing a moralistic ethic on people and loving on them in Jesus’ Name…I’m just saying.

All I am trying to make clear is this, maybe we should worry more about ourselves as individuals and trying to live up to our own principles than trying to impose our moral framework on others.

Let’s just be kind and compassionate.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

 

 

Sermon: Jesus is the Key to Our Humanity

It is Holy Trinity Sunday but what does that have to do with ever increasing lack of humanity in our world. A lot actually. However, we must turn to the person of the Trinity that came to us to understand this. Yes, it is about Jesus.

Article: The Pentecost of Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal was quite the human being. Born in 1623, Pascal’s mother died when he was 3, and his father moved the family from Clermont-Ferrand, France, to Paris, where he homeschooled Blaise and his sister.

By age 10, Pascal was doing original experiments in mathematics and physical science. To help his father, who was a tax collector, he invented the first calculating device (some call it the first “computer”).

With this last invention, he had made a name for himself (at age 19!) and began his richly diverse scientific career. He tested the theories of Galileo and Torricelli (who discovered the principles of the barometer), culminating in his famous law of hydraulics.

He wrote important papers on the vacuum (not the cleaning your carpet kind), on the weight and density of air, and the arithmetic triangle. He developed the theory of probability, which is still used today. He invented the syringe, the hydraulic lift, and is credited with inventing the wristwatch and mapping out the first bus route in Paris. See I told you he was quite a person!

Yet he was also a committed Christian (Roman Catholic). He spent many hours studying the Christian faith in the same way he studied the things mentioned above.

It is one thing to be knowledgeable and quite another to know God.

One evening in 1654 he met God and this is what he wrote about the experience…

The year of grace 1654.

Monday, 23 November, . . .

 From about half-past ten in the evening until about half past midnight.

 FIRE.

 The God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob.

 Not of the philosophers and intellectuals.

 Certitude, certitude, feeling, joy, peace . . .joy, joy, joy, tears of joy. . .

 Renunciation, total and sweet.

 Complete submission to Jesus Christ. . .

He recorded the experience (called the “Mé-morial”) on a piece of parchment, which he carried with him the rest of his life, sewed inside his coat.

Can you imagine? A moment so profound that you write it down and carry that piece of paper with you for the rest of your life. This moment “rocked his world.”

It was not (in his words) a philosophical or intellectual encounter. It was way more than that! It was an intimate, emotional, up close confrontation!!!! Blaise Paschal encountered the God of Pentecost! He experienced the grace, tenderness and power of the Holy Spirit.

On Sunday we will again hear the story of the giving of the Holy Spirit to that small group of believers as found in Acts 2. My hope and prayer for all of you is that you feel the touch of that same Spirit promised to us. It is good to hear the story again but it is better to experience the Holy Spirit in our lives.

When you believed, you were marked in Christ with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:13b-14

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon: The Ascension of Jesus: Boring or Amazing?

At the end of the season of Easter we remember the ascension of Jesus. Compared to the resurection this might seem a little boring. However there is a message for all of us in this last encounter of Jesus.

Article: Thank You

 

I am extremely grateful for all the kindness shown to me and my family last Sunday. If you were not at Bethel on May 6th, let me fill you in. It was my birthday and we had a party at church. Not only that but we also celebrated the 20thanniversary of my ordination. The actual date of my ordination is the 24thof May but we combined these two events on Sunday and we had one big party at Bethel.

I also convinced my father (who is a retired pastor) and my son Carl to come out and join us for the weekend.

I figured this would be a low key affair. Church, lunch, birthday cake and then go home. I had told the staff (the party planners) that I didn’t want anything more than lunch. As it turns out the bishop wrote a really nice letter that was read during our worship services (with a fake llama delivering the letter at the 10:45 worship). The celebration continued at lunch where we served hamburgers and sausage to about 200 Bethel members and friends. That is a lot of people! Once again I am humbled by the turn out.

I figured the party was wrapping up when Tom, Patricia, Amanda, Dawn and Dave (Bethel’s program staff) came forward and said very, very nice things about me. I prefer them to talk behind my back because they embarrassed me with kindness.

Later on, Rachel and my father relayed all the nice things Bethel members said about me to them. I am floored by your thoughtfulness.

On our way home, Rachel opened the cards I received and read them to me (I was driving). Wow. I am not sure I am worthy of your love. Seriously.

I am so moved by your kindness and I wonder to myself if you really meant those things? (I know you do.) I think I am ok and I can hold my own in the pastor department but I am not sure if I am things you said to me and about me. I always feel like I could do more yet you assured me that what I am doing is enough. Thank you.

I do feel loved by you. I am deeply touched. I am not perfect but I do try hard to be a leader, caregiver and shepherd. Thank you for affirming my call to be a pastor these past 20 years. I will always cherish this day and that I shared it with you.

I am grateful for your love and I am thankful to be a pastor in the ELCA and more specifically… I am joyful that I am your pastor at Bethel.

With love,
Pr. Ben