An ELCA pastor shares his thoughts about the Bible, spirituality, the world, and LGBT issues.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday


   Today is Good Friday. It is usually a "low attender" in churches across the country. Why? I believe the answer to this question is that we are uncomfortable with suffering and death, whether it occurs in our life, in the lives of our loved ones, or in the life of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
     It is very tempting this Holy Week to jump from palm branches to Easter lilies, from parades to empty tombs, from Hosannas to Alleluias. However, Good Friday reminds us that we cannot do this. We must travel this journey. We must make our way through this dark and fearful story because there cannot be a resurrection before we have a crucifixion. There cannot be new life before we face the stark reality of death. There cannot be an empty tomb before we have a dead body to place in it.
     We in the LGBT community know this journey well. We, too have been mocked by others and called names because of our sexuality. We have been betrayed by those we thought were our loved ones. We have been denied full membership to many churches and discovered many closed doors in the secular world as well. We have suffered because of intolerance and hatred. And, yes, some of us have even died. We know the Good Friday journey well and there is much about this story that we can relate to.
     Don't be afraid of Good Friday. Listen to its story carefully and enter into it deeply. Ultimately this day is a day that not only ends with a dead body, but also holds the hope for resurrection and new life. Those of us who have gone through betrayals, denials and the like, know that this is not the end of the story. We, like our Savior, have also experienced God's Easter power working through our lives. New life and new opportunities have come our way in unexpected and surprising ways.  Dreams and hopes for a bright future have been resurrected. Stones that once blocked our way have been removed. Have hope my LGBT brothers and sisters. Christ's story is our story and with God's help we can turn the Good Friday experiences of our lives into Easter Sundays!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday


     Today is Maundy Thursday. The word "maundy" is an old English word meaning "commandment" or "mandate." The over-arching theme of this day is Jesus' new commandment to "love one another as I have loved you." Maundy Thursday is the day when we remember Jesus' last supper as well as the story of Jesus washing the disciples' feet as an object lesson in servanthood.
     Perhaps the most powerful part of this worship service, which occurs in many denominations, is the stripping of the altar which occurs at the end of the worship service. Several years ago a friend of mine, who is a Jesus-loving Buddhist, wrote a poem about his experience of this liturgical action. I couldn't have said it better myself:

Maundy Thursday Altar Stripping

Without the Dying,
we have no Resurrection.
Release everything.

Our altars are stripped.
Emptied of differences,
nothing is hidden.

Words and symbols gone --
In utter stillness resounds
"LOVE ONE ANOTHER"

     This Holy Week may we be stripped of all our differences. May we pull down all the walls that separate us and be brave enough to put Jesus' command into action: "Love one another." I still have the hope that the church will, one day, get this one right. I still have the hope that we will be able to move beyond our L, G, B, T, Q or S and see everyone as a beloved child of God.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm Sunday Sermon

POURED OUT - Palm Sunday
Zech 9:9-12, Phil 2:5-11, Matt 21:1-11
4/13/14  David Eck

I have decided to follow Jesus [3X]
No turning back, no turning back.

I. Today is Palm Sunday.
—We gathered in the parking lot
—And blessed our palm branches.

We marched to the church with joy in our hearts
—As we sang “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.”

We heard the wonderful story from Matthew’s gospel
—Where Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem
—While the crowd paved his way
—With cloaks, branches and shouts of “Hosanna.”

As we try to imagine ourselves
—In this celebratory scene,
—We find it’s very easy to say
—“Yes!  Yes!  I HAVE decided to follow Jesus.”

I’m with him on the road to Jerusalem!
—I’m marching in the parade!
—I’m paving my palm branch!
—I’m shouting “Hosanna!”

Then, next Sunday, we will return again
—To this very same place,
—Dressed to the nines
—With the scent of Easter lilies filling the air.

We’ll sing joyful “Alleluias!”
—And scream at the top of our lungs
—“Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!”

As we try to imagine ourselves
— Going to the tomb with Mary Magdalene
—And encountering the presence of the risen Christ,
—We find it’s very easy to say
—“Yes!  Yes!  I HAVE decided to follow Jesus.”

I believe Jesus rose from the dead.
—He is my Savior and Lord forever!

II. But what happens in between
—These two celebratory events?

What voices do we hear
—After the “Hosannas” are history,
—And before the “Alleluias” have begun?

The answer, of course, is that there is
—An angry lynch mob with swords, clubs and torches.

There is a kiss of betrayal
—And a three-fold denial.

There is a mock trial
—And a person who receives a guilty verdict
—Before he can prove he’s innocent.

There is a scourging, a crown of thorns,
—And disciples fleeting the scene.

There is a cross and a dead body,
—And we DON’T like to talk about these things!

The truth Holy Week proclaims
—Is that it’s easy for us to say
—“I have decided to follow Jesus”
—When things are going great.

It’s not so easy…when we find ourselves
—Surrounded by the Maundy Thursday
—And Good Friday experiences of life.

It’s not so easy…when our friends
—Throw us under the bus,
—And we feel like the whole world
—Is plotting against us.

It’s not so easy when we find ourselves
—In the midst of suffering, scheming,
—Betrayal and abandonment.

If we are going to sing those words
—“I have decided to follow Jesus,”
—We need to know what we’re signing up for.

We need to read the fine print
—Before signing the contract!

Holy Week reminds us that following Jesus
—Is NOT about a never-ending supply
—Of “celebrate good times, come on!”

Holy Week reminds us that following Jesus means
—We’re going to have to die to something
—Before new life can emerge.

Do you hear what I’m saying?
—We’re going to have to die to something
—Before new life can emerge.

III. One of the things that drives me nuts
—About televangelists is that they’re
—Always talking about self-improvement.

Take for example, the book titles
—Of a certain mega-church pastor
—Who will remain nameless:
—“YOUR Best Life Now”
—“It’s YOUR Time”
—“Become a Better YOU”
—I sense a pattern here!

I guess it’s hard to sell a book entitled
—It’s Time For YOU to Die”
—Or “God Knows What’s Killing YOU”

I think the last one is pretty clever.
—I think I might write it some day!

Holy Week reminds us
—We are NOT constantly self-improving.

We are NOT a piece of software
—That keeps being upgraded
—To a bigger and better version of ourselves.

There is no Pastor Dave 2.5.
—We are who we are,
—And there are parts of us that need to die.

You see, we don’t need a Savior
—Who promises to bless us all the time
—Because we’re “good little Christians”
—And we “deserve” it.

We need a Savior
—Who can hold up a mirror to our faces
—And tell us, “Child, you need to stop doing this,”
—Or “Child, you need to stop thinking this way”
—Because it’s killing you.”

IV. The gospels clearly proclaim that
—No one is continually getting better and better.

Instead, we live our lives in cycles
—Between Good Friday deaths
—And Easter Sunday resurrections.

We die to self and we rise again.
—We die to self and we rise again.

Martin Luther called this being
—Simultaneously saint and sinner,
—Which pretty much describes us in a nutshell.

No one is 100% saint.
—No one is 100&% sinner.
—Instead, we’re this curious, confusing,
—Frustrating and maddening combination of both.

The good news Holy Week proclaims
—Is that even when we find ourselves
—Playing the part of the judgmental Pharisee,
—Or the mocking Roman solider,
—Or the betraying Judas,
—Or the denying Peter,

Jesus is willing to die for us
—EACH AND EVERY TIME!

He enters into all the places of our lives
—That are broken, wounded and flawed,
—And leads us to a place
—Where resurrection and new beginnings are possible!

This is the good news of Jesus Christ!
—It’s quite a different message
—From the self-help/self-improvement philosophies
—That are taught in some corners of Christendom.

V.  My favorite passage that speaks to this truth
—Is Hebrews 4:15-16.
—I’d like to read to you
—The Voice’s translation of the text
—Because I think it brings a beautiful clarity
—To the author’s words:

“For Jesus is not some high priest
—Who has no sympathy
—For our weaknesses and flaws.

He has already been tested
—In every way that we are tested;
—But He emerged victorious,
—Without failing God.

So let us step boldly to the throne of grace,
—Where we can find mercy and grace
—To help when we need it most.”

The author of Hebrews is reminding us
—That Jesus understands us
—Better than we understand ourselves.

He knows every flaw, every weakness,
—Every quirk, every vulnerability.

And yet, he was willing to give his life for our sake.
—He was willing to go to the very gates of hell for us
—Even though we don’t deserve it.

And because of this, because of this,
—We have experienced mercy and grace
—In overflowing abundance.

We can trust that not matter how hopeless
—We may think we are,
—Jesus doesn't think were hopeless in the least!

He is there to transform us
—And conform us into his likeness
—Again, and again and again.

This is the power of the story of Holy Week.
—We should not be afraid to journey through
—Each and every experience of it;
—The happy moments as well as the ones
—That cause us to tremble, tremble, tremble.

This week has so many things to teach us
—If we’re willing to watch and listen.

VI.  So, as we gather today
—With shout of “Hosanna”
—And Palm branches waving in our hands,
—Let us not forget what lies ahead.

Let us not be afraid to ask ourselves the question
—What do we need to die to
—Before new life can emerge?

What attitude or behavior is dragging us down
—And robbing us from experiencing
—The love and grace Jesus offers us
—In overflowing abundance?

So, if you’re REALLY ready
—To follow Jesus this morning.
—If you understand the journey requires
—Some soul-searching and sacrifice on our part,
—Then sing with me…

I have decided to follow Jesus [3X]
No turning back, no turning back.

AMEN

Friday, April 04, 2014

"Always My Son" Video Resource

Here is something new I recently discovered.  The organization is called the Family Acceptance Project and they are producing a documentary entitled "Always My Son" which tells the story of a Mormon family with a gay son.  Here's the trailer for the film.  It looks really good.  I'll keep you posted.  If anyone knows if it's already available to watch or purchase, let me know!  CLICK HERE  for link!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Seven Last Words: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."

"Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."
Rev. Sandi Rice, guest columnist

     Trusting God to keep us even unto death is an incredible challenge.   Actually it may be more accurate to say that trusting God to keep us in everyday life is an incredible challenge.    It takes faith to place of lives into God’s hands.  For if we do that, it means we are relinquishing control over our own lives and destinies, and trusting in an unseen God to have control.  

     Scripture state that “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation underneath everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we cannot see. “   – This is so hard to grasp…it is almost as if we have to have faith to have faith.   But that is exactly the example that Jesus gave us on the cross.  In his last words he shows us that life’s ultimate end is to trust God with all of who we are, right here right now!   Thankfully we don’t have to wait until we are at death’s door to know that assurance.
     Our Christian tradition informs us that Jesus’ death on the cross was to give us life – and not just a mere existence, but life abundant.   So here in the darkest hour of Jesus’ life, we are shown not only how to have incredible faith, we are also given the gifts of hope and grace.  We do not have to face life or death in our own strength.  It is our legacy of faith that we are never alone – for Christ has gone before and is with us always.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Seven Last Words: "It Is Finished"

"It Is Finished"
     People have a love/hate relationship with being "finished."  But if we're completely honest with ourselves, it's a lot of hate and very little love.  After having sat through eight glorious Harry Potter films, I didn't want them to be "finished."  I would gladly go to the multiplex time and time again until we reached Harry, Ron and Hermoine's adventures in the Hogwart's Nursing Home for Senile Wizards!  Perhaps you feel the same!  Endings are difficult, because then comes the ominous question "What's next?"  It's a question that's a little bit scary as we stare into the future, not knowing what it will bring.
     As Jesus hung on the cross, he said "It is finished." you may find it comforting to know that the word "finished" in the original Greek means more than "the end," it also means "complete."  Jesus had completed what he came to do.  Everything was as it should be. The truth of the Passion story is that Jesus had to die before he could give birth to something new.  The cross had to come before the empty tomb.  Death had to make an appearance before new live could emerge.
     Perhaps what we learn from this sixth Word from the cross is that endings serve their purpose.  We must trust that God always, always, has something else in store for us when our lives are surrounded by death and dead ends.  Sometimes we have to be "finished" so that God can birth a new thing in us.  Therefore, let's not be afraid of endings.  Let's embrace them as a part of life and trust that God has something wonderful planned for us on the other side of being "finished."

Monday, March 31, 2014

Seven Last Words: "I Am Thirsty"

"I Thirst"
Rev. Sandi Rice, Guest Columnist

     One of the more powerful statements that Jesus made from the cross was a statement to his own need.  He was thirsty – and in his dying moments he called out to have that need met.

     It is hard to ask for what we need.  Sometimes we find it next to impossible to ask, even our closest loved ones, to help us in meeting our needs.  But what amazing opportunities are missed when we fail to ask for what we need? 
     What is it tonight that we are thirsting for?  What incredible needs are present in our midst that we don’t know because no one is asking?   Scripture tells us that “we have not because we ask not”.  How true that is.
     But having to admit that we have needs makes us incredibly vulnerable – and let’s be honest, most of us don’t like feeling vulnerable, or helpless, or to feel incapable of meeting our own needs.  And so we will do anything we have to, to make sure that we are not seen in such a light – needy and helpless!
     But we are…we all have needs – we all have times in our lives when we are simply incapable of meeting our own needs.  That is why we have one another – The Beloved Community.  We are meant to be here for one another.  We just have to be willing to ask for what we need.