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

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Pentecost Story remixed

As we get ready to celebrate my favorite Sunday of the church year, Pentecost, here is my paraphrase of the Pentecost story from Acts 2:1-18.  Feel free to use it in your church as long as you give me credit for the work. [Written by David Eck ©2012.]

When the festival of Pentecost had arrived, the disciples of Jesus were gathered together in one place.  Then, unexpectedly, the Spirit/wind/breath of God began blowing like a hurricane and it filled the temple.  Like a roaring wildfire out of control, the Holy Spirit was spreading everywhere. God’s breath began to reside in each of the disciples and they began to speak in languages they had not known before. 

[Spanish] Todos fueron llenos del Espíritu Santo y comenzaron a hablar en otras lenguas

[Swahili] Wo-te wal-i-jaz-wa Ro-ho Mta-ka-ti-fu wa-kaam-za ku-se-ma kwa lu-gha nyin-gi-ne

[German] Und sie wurden alle mit Heiligem Geist erfüllt und fingen an, in anderen Sprachen zu reden

The Spirit enabled them to do this. 

There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem at that time, from every country in the known world.  The noise attracted a big crowd.  They were bewildered because they each heard the disciples speaking in their own language. The crowd was amazed and said, "They're ordinary working people from Galilee!  How can they communicate with us?  We can understand every word they are saying even though we are from countries around the Persian Gulf and further east, from the Celtic lands, from North Africa, Arabia, Crete and Rome, as well as from districts nearby."

But others made fun of the disciples and said, "It looks like they've had a few too many drinks!"

This was the cue for Peter to stand up where he could be seen.  He shouted to the crowd, "My Jewish brothers and sisters and everyone living here in Jerusalem, if you listen carefully, I'll explain to you what's going in.  We haven't been drinking: it's only nine in the morning!  What the prophet Joel said is coming true:

"In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.  Your sons and daughters will be moved to speak for me.  Your elders will envision a bright, new future.  Even those who are oppressed and enslaved, will be filled with my Spirit and speak my words."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Finding Your Voice

"And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability."  [Acts 1:2-4, NRSV] 
     Does this sound like a dignified, orderly event to you?  Not a chance!  The story of Pentecost is filled with power, motion and even confusion.  The Holy Spirit was busting out all over the place.  Those first disciples could not have contained it even if they tried.
     This is the description of the beginning of the church.  So what happened?  When did we decide to douse the fire of the Holy Spirit and only allow it to blow though committees, task-forces and the like?  
     Don't get me wrong, I whole-heartedly believe God uses religious institutions and governing bodies for good.  However, it is also true that we Lutherans are sometimes afraid to let the spirit wind blow freely in our midst.  We are afraid to try something new, to move in a new direction or to speak with prophetic power against the injustices of our society.
     Perhaps the story of Pentecost challenges us to find our "language," to speak our truth so that world may know the love and compassion of Christ in all of its forms.  Have you found your voice, yet?  Do you feel the Holy Spirit flowing freely in your life?
     This week, it is my prayer that the Pentecost story will empower all of God's people to speak a word of grace to those who need it the most.  Don't be silent.  Find your voice.  Embody love, hope, mercy, forgiveness, joy, and peace.  The world really needs to receive what you have to offer so don't be an smoldering ember.  Be a raging wildfire!
Happy Pentecost!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Power From On High

"See, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."  [Luke 24:49]
     Each and every one one of us yearns to feel God's power working in and through our lives.  Each and every one of us desires to be Spirit led; to have a Holy GPS system that will help us to navigate the twists and turns of life.  Each and every one of us longs to be "clothed with power from on high," just like those first disciples.
     Every once in a while, we get a glimpse of this wonder-working power:  An illness we've been battling is finally healed.  A confusion we've had in our minds suddenly becomes crystal clear.  A financial crisis we've been facing is lessened because of an unexpected check that comes in the mail.  A sign we've been praying for appears in bright neon colors, leaving no doubt what we need to do next.
     Each and every one of us longs to be "clothed with power from on high," just like those first disciples.  But before this power can come to us there is always a time of waiting, and we don't like waiting!  We don't like the anxious, expectant times between crisis and resolution, between panic and peace, between prayers sent and prayers answered.  We want to be "clothed with power from on high" but we want it now, right this instant. No waiting in the check out line.  No "please take a number and we'll get to you when it's your turn."
     We all want to be "clothed with power from on high," but until it comes, the waiting can be excruciating.  Those of us who have had to endure difficult life circumstances know exactly what I'm talking about!  But if we listen carefully to our gospel lesson for this coming Sunday, we hear that waiting is a part of our spiritual path.  Like it or not, times of waiting serve an important purpose in our lives.  They can be times of rest and healing.  Times of renewal where we discern where God is leading us next.
     We should not be anxious about times of waiting in our lives, because the story of Ascension reminds us that God's Spirit power is about to break through and change our lives forever.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Circle (2014)

     The Circle, Der Kreis, is an absolute must-see that is part drama, part documentary.  It tells the true story of Ernst Ostertag and Robi Rapp who fell in love in Zurich in 1958.  Ostartag was a school teacher and Rapp was a hairdresser and drag performer who meet while participating in the gay magazine and social organization The Circle.  The story shows how tolerance can quickly lead to persecution and violence.  It serves as a warning to the modern LGBT movement in America that has made many strides while voices of extreme hate threaten to try and derail the equality movement.
     My husband and I could not take our eyes of this film.  It is a riveting and dramatic story that is well acted and seamless in the way it transitions from dramatic recreations to interviews with the two men at the center of the story.  Even if you're not a fan of subtitles, please watch this film anyway. I haven't seen anything like it in a long time.  Brilliantly done.  We were able to stream it on Netflix.

Friday, May 01, 2015

All Tangled Up

"I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing." [John 15:5]
Have you ever seen a grape vine growing in nature?  It's not anything like the ones you see growing at the Biltmore Estate!  It's not orderly and neat and clean.  In fact, it looks like a disorganized mess with branches growing in every direction.  You can't tell the vine from the branches.  They both form an intimate, organic whole.
However, don't let the mess fool you!  These branches can produce some of the sweetest grapes you'll ever taste.  I've seen wonderful bumper crops of fruit growing from these wildly twisted and tangled vines.  The grapes they produce provide a feast for the birds as well as a host of other woodland animals.  They may not produce a fine, subtle Pinot Grigio or a deep, complex Merlot, but God uses and blesses them just the same.
If nature is a reflection of the character of God then this is most certainly good news for us!  We are called to be Christ's branches. We are called to "abide" in an "intimate and organic" relationship with him.  Sometimes in this relationship, we will grow like the grapes at the Biltmore Estate, all neat and orderly.  Other times our branches will twist and turn wildly in our connections with others and in our connection to Christ the vine.
The good news of our gospel for this coming Sunday is that if we abide in Christ we will bear much fruit no matter which way our branches grow!  We will produce a bumper crop  that will feed the world with Christ's love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, peace and joy.  So take heart my "tangled" friends.  There is hope for us yet as we remain connected to Christ the vine.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday Sermon: Being Right vs. Loving Others

1 Cor 13, Matt 5:38-48, Deut 6:1-9  David Eck

     How many of you are familiar with Abiding Savior's Mission Statement? It can be found in our church's brochure as well as on our web site. This Mission Statement was adopted back in 2012 as part of our discernment process toward becoming a Reconciling in Christ congregation. In case you're not familiar with it, let me read it to you: "We are a diverse church united by a deep love of Jesus and a heart for service in the community. We are dedicated to being a sanctuary (safe-haven) for all of God's people."
     A companion piece to this Mission Statement is our Welcome Statement, part of which you'll find on the front page of your bulletin. It's the cross with the circle of beads around it. It is always accompanied by the words "United in Christ.  Welcoming All." The full color version, which you'll also find in our church's brochure as well as on our web site, also has nine beads below the logo. They spell out specifically what we mean by all.
     We decided to place them in alphabetical order to emphasize they are all equal to each other. We don't favor one over another. All are important. Those colored beads are: ability, age, ethnicity, gender identity, language, life circumstances, marital status, race, and sexual orientation. Trust me, we thought about these beads for a LONG time because we wanted to be 100% inclusive. We didn't want to leave anyone out.
     The whole idea behind our Mission and Welcome Statements is that the "deep love of Jesus" is what holds us together as a church. If we try to put anything else in the center of the circle, the whole thing falls apart.
     Now, it won't come as any big surprise to you, but there are other Christians out there who think we're heretics for defining our church this way. For them the important thing is that we believe all the "right things" about the Bible and Jesus. If we don't believe the Bible is inerrant, we're not really Christians. If we have a position on an ethical issue that happens to be different from theirs, we're apostate. If we welcome everyone, then we have no principles at all. We're standing on a slippery slope that leads to gates of hell.
     I think you get the point. But we should never be apologetic or shameful for the way we define ourselves as a church. We've chosen love over being right, and relationships over beliefs. In a world where people are saying all kinds of crazy things in the name of Jesus, I wouldn't want to define our church in any other way!
     Two weeks ago Jen Ownbey and I had the opportunity to hear Jay Bakker speak at a local LGBT conference. For those of you who don't know the name, Jay is the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, whose broadcasting empire crumbled many years ago. Their fall had a tremendous impact on Jay. For a number of years he engaged in some pretty self-destructive behavior.
     But those days are behind him now. Jay not only got his life together, he also heard the call to become a pastor. He now lives in Minneapolis where he is the pastor of Revolution Church. He preaches a message of radical, inclusive love that is quite different from what his Daddy used to preach.
     His talk at the conference was anchored on an insight from 1 Corinthians 13. But it's not the verses people are usually drawn to. In fact, it's the ones that many brides and grooms omit from the reading on their wedding day: "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly,  but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."
     His observation is that we see in a mirror dimly. In other words, there is no way we can comprehend the mind of an infinite, omnipresent God. When we claim we know what God is thinking, or how God feels, it's foolish at best and dangerous at worst. It gives rise to childish behavior where the Bible is used as a weapon, rather than being the message of love it was intended to be. It gives rise to hatred, judgmental attitudes and intolerance toward these who have different opinions about God and the Bible.
     He basically said it's time for the Church to grow up. We need to get beyond our 6th grade understanding of the Bible. We need to stop echoing what our pastor taught us and study the Word for ourselves. And, most importantly, we need set aside our need to be "right" and focus on the way we love, as individuals and as the Church.
     Paul concludes 1 Corinthians 13 with the observation: "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." Love is the most important thing. It's more important than faith or having the "right beliefs" about Jesus, whatever they may be. It's more important than hope, because doubt is not the opposite of faith, it's an element of faith. Love is the most important thing.
     As Jen and I heard the rest of his talk, we both realize how much he sounded like what we believe at Abiding Savior. The deep love of Jesus is the most important thing. It is the glue that holds the church together. If we could learn to love more deeply, and serve others more compassionately, we really could be the light of the world Jesus wants us to be.
     Unfortunately, this is not the attitude of many Christians these days. Lutherans have been deeply divided and outwardly hostile toward one another regarding issues of sexuality and theology. This hatred comes from both sides of the debate.
     In the larger Church there is the war of words surrounding "religious liberty" laws that have been enacted in states such as Indiana. Conservative business owners believe they have the God-given right to discriminate against anyone if it violates their deeply-held religious principles. While these laws are specifically aimed toward gay and lesbian couple swho are planning weddings, the laws are too broad to prevent greater discrimination from happening. The vitriol I hear from "good Christians" who support these laws is shocking. So much for all that "love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" stuff Jesus was talking about. I guess there was an exceptions clause in the gospels I wasn't aware of!
     But Progressives are just as bad. They are returning hate speech for hate speech. And some of these conservative business owners have even received death threats form progressives. Both sides are behaving badly. And it hurts our witness as the Church of Jesus Christ. Is it any wonder people are leaving the Christianity in droves? There are times when I hesitate to call myself a Christian, because of what it implies. I would rather be known as a follow of Jesus, so that I'm not confused with the crazies.
     The reason why I share this message with you this morning is that I believe Christianity is at a crossroad. If we cannot get past this childish behavior, and learn to be a faith of radical, inclusive love, I'm afraid we're going to become more and more a minority voice in our culture. People will look at us like we're some sad, outdated institution that needs to be placed on the dust bin of history.
     I'm not willing to go there without a fight. I hope you aren't either. We stand for something at Abiding Savior that I believe is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. We proclaim unashamedly that we've chosen love over being right, and relationships over beliefs. I wouldn't have it any other way!
     Last week in Sunday School our class looked at several passage from Paul's letters that describe what the early church looked like. My favorite among these was Colossians 3:12-17. Here's a portion of what it says: "Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other.  As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity."
     Friends in Christ, we are called to clothe ourselves in love. Compassion kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience are fine attire as well. But love fits us perfectly. It is what we were created to wear. Garments of hate and self-righteous indignation are ill-fitted for citizens of the Kingdom of God. They are not only painful for our souls to wear. They also hurt those around us as well.
     So, the challenge is before us, Friends in Christ. It's up to us to show the world around us a different kind of Christianity that what is being portrayed in the media these days. We must be known, first and foremost, as people whose spirits radiate a deep love of Jesus. This is the power we possess that can and will change the world.  AMEN.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Prayer to the Four Directions

We used this prayer at Abiding Savior this past Sunday during our celebration of Earth Day.  I thought I'd share it here as a resource for others. 


Almighty God, Great Spirit who created the heavens and the earth, the land and sea, and all creatures that dwell therein, we praise You for Your might and power.  We praise You for Your love and mercy.  Guide us as we spend this time together in prayer, reflecting on the directions, colors and creatures You have placed all around us in order that we may learn more about You and Your will for us.

First, we turn our thoughts to the EAST and to the color RED.  We remember CETAN LUTAH, the Red Hawk, the messenger who is keen-eyed and observant, fearless and swift-moving.  He reminds us that we, too, need to be keen-eyed and observant, looking for opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.  We need to be the messenger, fearless and swift-moving, so that all people will come to know You as we do.

As we reflect on the color red, we think of the sun which rises in the East and reminds us that each new day brings with it a new beginning, a chance to start again.  We think of the red poppy, the newt, and the bricks which form this building we worship in.  We think of the crimson petals of a rose, red clay, and the sweetness of the wild strawberry.  We also think of blood, the life-giving force which flows within us.  And we are reminded of how, in our greed and anger, we shed the blood of our brothers and sisters in war and domestic violence.  We are reminded how we rape the land of its resources and needlessly waste and exploit Your Created Order.  Help us to heal ourselves, our land and all of creation as, together, we reflect in silence on the color red…

Almighty God, Great Spirit, we now turn our attention to the SOUTH and to the color YELLOW. We remember TATANKA, the buffalo who, in generations past, brought us sustenance and life, shelter and warmth.  When we think of the buffalo we are reminded to embody a spirit of thanks and praise for all You have provided for us as we journey here upon Mother Earth.  We thank You for our families, our possessions, food, shelter and clothing.  May we always be grateful for these gifts and generously share out of our abundance with those who have nothing.

As we reflect on the color yellow, we think of the great golden bear and the buttercup which remind us of the wonderful diversity that exists in Your creation.  We think of fields of grain, ripe for harvest, and golden ears of corn, sweet and delicious.  We think of daisies, daffodils and sunflowers which adorn Your creation with much beauty.  When we think of yellow we also think of caution, and our need to seek Your wisdom as we journey here upon Mother Earth.  Guide us in our travels as, together, we reflect in silence on the color yellow…

Almighty God, Great Spirit, we now turn our attention to the WEST and to the color BLACK.  We remember SHUNNKA WAKAN, the black horse, symbol power and strength.  We are reminded that You are our power and strength.  You carry us through life upon Your back much like the horse carries us upon its back. You are always there when we need You.  We take great comfort in knowing that Your strength will always be with us.

As we reflect on the color black, we think of the beauty of obsidian rock, the charred logs of a campfire, the darkness of night and the black panther.  We think of the crow, the black snake, and ants.  We think of tar, the unexplored regions of a cave, and the sparkle of the blackberry.  We are also reminded of the thunderclouds which bring with them both lightning as well as life-giving rain.  The thunderclouds remind us that we, too, have the power to kill or to heal.  Help us learn to make the right choice as, together, we reflect in silence on the color black…

Almighty God, Great Spirit, we now turn our attention to the NORTH and to the color WHITE.  We remember WANBLEE, the bald eagle, a symbol of leadership, power and vision.  The bald eagle reminds us of our need to be leaders, filled with power and vision, so that all Your people, Red, Yellow, Black, and White, might learn to live together in peace and harmony.  As the bald eagle soars high in the sky, may we, too, soar above the chaos and confusion of this world and see it the way You see it, with eyes of hope and truth.

As we reflect on the color white, we think of the snowy owl, the polar bear and the snowshoe rabbit.  We think of billowy clouds, dogwood blossoms, and the wool of a sheep.  We think of the dove, the sea gull, the egret and the snowy-white hair of our elders.  We also think of winter, the season of dormancy, when much of creation is silent and sleeping.  This reminds us that all life upon Mother Earth has an end.  But we are still filled with hope because we know that one day the spring will come and that those of us who believe in Your Son, Jesus, will never perish but will have eternal life.  It is this hope which fills all the directions we travel with joy and makes all the colors You created a thing of beauty to treasure and celebrate.  Together, we reflect in silence on the color white…

Almighty God, Great Spirit, guide us through al the directions we travel in life and may we always celebrate the wondrous colors and creatures of your creation.  In Jesus' name we pray.  Amen.

This prayer was written by David Eck.  It is based on a traditional Native American prayer form I first learned from Rev. Solbird Moccasin, who served the ELCA congregation on the Cherokee, NC reservation.  Information on the various animals was taken from Mother Earth Spirituality by Ed McGaa, Harper Collins Publishers, 1990.