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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Give Thanks Always and in All Ways

"Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you." [Phiippians 4:8-9, NRSV]

     If there was ever a perfect text for Thanksgiving, this is it. Paul reminds us that the key to being peaceful people is to keep our eyes focused on the blessings God has given us. I've always been a "glass is half full" kind of guy anyway so this text resonates with me big time. It's very easy for LGBT people of faith to focus on what is NOT going right. It's easy to focus on the hateful speech of those who would try to oppress and demean us.  It's easy to focus on the family that has disinvited us from the Thanksgiving table and other holiday celebrations.
     If this time of year is difficult for you, I suggest you follow Paul's advice and focus on the things in your life that are worthy of praise. Sure, there are haters out there but there are more and more straight people willing to speak out for LGBT equality.  Sure some of our families have been mean and hurtful to us, but many of us have created our own families and have surrounded ourselves with positive, caring people who love us just the way we are. [Wouldn't you rather spend the holiday with them, anyway? It's a lot more fun.]
     So my beloved cyber brothers and sisters, my hope and prayer is that all of us will keep our eyes focused on the things in our lives that are honorable, just, pure, pleasing and commendable. It's not only a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving. It's a wonderful way to live our lives and experience the peace and joy God desires for all of us.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Worship Helps: Thanksgiving Worship

Call to Worship
L: From the depths of our being, a song of thanks arises, and we pour out our praise for all of God's gifts:
C: Bread to empower our bodies,

L: Beauty to quicken our pulse,
C: Hope to enlarge our vision,

L: Love to link our lives,
C: Laughter to soften our wounds,

L: Passion to shape our maybes,
C: Community to face our fears,

L: And for this awesome moment to become filled with joy and touched by grace.
C: Let us give thanks to God for all these gifts through our worship this morning.

Responsive Reading
L: On this day we give thanks to God who has rescued us from sin and death and has redeemed us through the outstretched arms of the Crucified One.
C: Gracious God, we give you thanks.

L: We give thanks to God who has blessed our nation with an abundance of the fruits of the earth.
C: Gracious God, we give you thanks.

L: We remember today those who go to sleep hungry while we live in abundance.  We ask that God would give us generous hearts, and the will to work for justice and peace, until no one suffers from hunger.
C: Gracious God, create in us a passion to help our neighbors in need.

Prayer of the Day
L: The Lord is with you.
C: And also with you.

L: Let us pray...Gracious God,
C: We give you thanks.  The harvest is gathered, our cupboards are full, our homes are warm, our beds are soft.  For such abundance some people would weep for joy.  We are no more deserving than they, for we are all sinners.  But even so, it is to us you have entrusted this plenty.  We praise and thank you for your generosity, for the security of hearth and home, and for the privileges, freedoms and opportunities we enjoy.  Remind us daily that what we have is on loan from you.  In Jesus' name we pray.  Amen.
          Copyright ©2013.  David Eck.

Benediction and Dismissal
L: May the God of amazing grace give you eyes to see beauty everywhere, hands to do good to everyone, and hearts to bless all your meet.
C: Amen.

L: Go in peace.  Serve in the name of Christ.
C: Thanks be to God!
         Copyright ©2013.  David Eck.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday Sermon: Risk Taking vs. Playing It Safe

ORDINARY 23  Matthew 25:14-30
11/16/14  David Eck

I. Jesus parable begins with a man
—Who is going on a journey.

Jesus doesn’t tell us why he’s going
—Or where he’s going.
—Apparently it’s not important to the story.

But before he hops into his car
—And heads out of town,
—He summons the hired help
—And places his entire estate
—In their care and keeping.

Not exactly a smart move if you ask me,
—But this is Jesus’ story and not mine,
—So we’re going to roll with it!

The man gives one servant five talents,
—Another two talents,
—And a third one talent,
—Each according to his or her ability.

The important thing
—You need to know about a talent
—Is it’s not skill we do really well,
—Like knitting, sports or guitar playing.

A talent is a unit of money.
—The English word comes from the Greek TALANTON
—Which means “scale, balance or sum.”

In a nutshell,
—It’s a big honkin’ piece of precious metal.
—The Greek version weighted 57 pounds.
—The Roman version weighted 71 pounds.

The heavy common talent used in New Testament times
—Weighted a whopping 130 points
—Which is enough to give anyone a hernia!

So we’re talking about a large sum of money,
—Especially if they are made of gold.

II. But this detail is where most people mess up
—When trying to understand our gospel lesson.

They think it has something to do with money,
—And so this story becomes the basis
—For almost every stewardship sermon on the planet.

The parable is understood as a simple moral lesson
—Regarding how we’re supposed to use
—Our Time, Talent and Treasure
—To share the love of Jesus with others.
—[If you give a little more to the Church
—That would be great s well!]

But, if we know anything about Jesus,
—He doesn’t let us off the hook so easily.
—It’s not really his style to tell simple stories
—That make us feel good about ourselves.

Jesus’ parables are meant to make us
—Squirm like worms on a griddle.
—They are mirrors that force us to look at
—Parts of ourselves we would much rather ignore.
—Today’s story is no exception.

What I would like to do is try to look at this parable
—With a new set of eyes.

If you’re new to the faith,
—And this story is unfamiliar to you,
—You’re actually have an advantage over the rest of us.

You have no preconceived notion
—Of what this story means.
—Therefore you’re more likely to be open
—To what I have to say
—Than those who think
—They already have this parable figured out.

III. The place were I’d like to start
—Is the portion of the story
—That has always caused me
—A bit of discomfort every time I read it.

This is the man’s response to the third servant
—Who buried the one talent he was given for safe keeping.

Jesus says, “Then the one who had received the one talent
—Also came forward, saying,
—“Master, I knew that you were a harsh man,
—Reaping where you did not sow,
—And gathering where you did not scatter seed;

So I was afraid,
—And I went and hid your talent in the ground.
—Here you have what is yours.”

Now I don’t know about you,
—But I think this was a pretty smart idea.
—He knew this master was a bit of a tyrant.

The Voice’s paraphrase of this verse
—Is a little easier to understand. It says,
—“Master, I know you are a hard man, difficult in every way.
—You can make a healthy sum
—When others would fail.
—You profit when other people are doing the work.
—You grow rich on the backs of others.”

Now that’s a description we can understand!
—The guy with all the money
—Is hardly a paragon of virtue!

And so the third servant plays it safe.
—He hides the man’s money in the ground
—So that no one steals it.

Pretty smart, if you ask me.
—This was a common practice in Jesus’ day:
—Burying money in the ground.
—It was a prudent way to secure
—Whatever wealth you had obtained.

The bosses’ response to this third servant,
—Is one that takes my breath away:
—“You wicked and lazy slave!,” he says.
—“You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow,
—And gather where I did not scatter?

Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers,
—And on my return I would have received
—What was my own with interest.
—So take the talent from him,
—And give it to the one with the ten talents…
—As for this worthless slave,
—Throw him into the outer darkness,
—Where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Holy cow!  That’s pretty harsh,
—Especially the weeping and gnashing of teeth part,
—Whatever that means!

This third servant was trying to do his boss a favor,
—And this is the thanks he gets?

O.K. Jesus, what are you trying to teach us here?
—If I bury in the ground what you’ve given me
—Will I suffer the same fate?

What about all that grace, love and forgiveness stuff?
—Did you really man it?
—Or are you just some street thug
—Who is waiting to beat me up
—For playing it safe?

IV. I’ve given this parable a lot of thought
—And this is my conclusion:
—Jesus really doesn’t want us to play it safe.

This parable has NOTHING to do with money
—And EVERYTHING to do with taking risks
—With the real treasure Jesus has given us:
—Love, faith, hope, grace, forgiveness.

We’re not supposed to bury these things
—In the ground for safe keeping.
—We’re supposed to take a few risks
—And try to make them grow.

This is what the first two servants did.
—The one who was given 5 talents made 5 more.
—The one who was given 2 talents made 2 more.

The boss praises these two servants, saying,
—““Well done, good and trustworthy slave;
—You have been trustworthy in a few things,
—I will put you in charge of many things;
—Enter into the joy of your master.”

The moral of the story, friends in Christ,
—Is that Jesus doesn’t want us to play it safe.

He’s doesn’t want us to do what’s comfortable
—And what makes us feel secure.

In hospital jargon, we call this “comfort care.”
—This sounds like a really good thing.
—After all, who would not want to be made comfortable?

However, the term actually means
—The patient is dying, and I think
—This is what Jesus is trying to say
—In the Parable of the Talents.

V. The gospel, the good news
—Of what God has done through Jesus,
—Is not supposed to be safe.

It’s not supposed to make us
—Feel comfortable and secure.

The gospel is messy and confrontational.
—It threatens to upset the way
—We’ve always done things
—And replace our selfishness with selflessness.

It calls into question our need to be served
—And challenges us to serve others.

It asks us to forgive those
—Who have hurt and abused us
—Which I don’t think means
—We’ve supposed to have mushy feelings for them.

Instead, forgiveness means
—We give them over to God
—And let go of the power they have over us.

The gospel calls us to show mercy
—To those who don’t deserve it,
—Because God has shown us mercy
—When we didn’t deserve it.

It challenges us to be peacemakers
—In a world that is becoming
—More divided and hostile every day.

This is what I think the parable of the talents
—Is begging us to do
—In the strongest language possible.

Are we up for the challenge?
—Do we refuse to play it safe
—And take a risk every once in a while?

Do we have what it takes
—To pull our heads out of the sand
—And venture into a world
—That might laugh in our face
—And reject our offer of grace?

This is the kind of stuff we are signing up for
—As followers of Christ.

Remember, Jesus didn’t have it easy.
—He didn’t play it safe.

He took risks and multiplied the treasure of the gospel
—Thirty, sixty, a hundredfold.

This is what is represented
—By the first two servants in the parable.
—He challenges us to do the same.

VI. But I don’t think the story is finished yet.
—Because the parable is incomplete.

There is a fourth servant who is not mentioned,
—But whose story has to be a part of this parable.

So imagine, if you will, a fourth servant
—Who was given 7 talents.

This servant risked it all,
—Trying to multiply it,
—And lost everything in the stock market.

What would the master say to this fourth servant?
—Would there be weeping and gnashing of teeth?

Or would he utter those words we long to hear:
—“Well done, good and trustworthy slave…
—Enter into the joy of your master.”

If it’s true that Jesus doesn’t want us to play it safe,
—I don’t think he would have a problem
—With a fourth servant who risked it all and failed.

In fact, Mark 6 tells a story where even Jesus
—Took a risk and failed miserably:

Jesus “came to his hometown,
—And his disciples followed him.
—On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue,
—And many who heard him were astounded.

They said, ‘Where did this man get all this?
—What is this wisdom that has been given to him?
—What deeds of power are being done by his hands!

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary
—And brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon,
—And are not his sisters here with us?’
—And they took offense at him.

Then Jesus said to them,
—‘Prophets are not without honor,
—Except in their hometown, and among their own kin,
—And in their own house.’

Mark concludes by saying, “And Jesus
—Could do no deed of power there,
—Except that he laid his hands
—On a few sick people and cured them.
—And he was amazed at their unbelief.”

Jesus risked bring the good news
—To the people of his hometown.
—He tried to give them the gift of hope and healing
—And he failed miserably!

So, friends in Christ, this is why I think
—The master in the parable
—Would praise the fourth servant.

Because it’s better to take a risk and fail,
—Than to never try at all.

It’s better to have our gift rejected by others
—Than to never offer it in the first place.

The truth the fourth servant teaches us
—Is that sharing the gospel is risky work.

Some people will take advantage of us
—As we offer gifts of hope and healing.

Some people will make fun of us
—And even be hostile to us.

Like Jesus, we will speak a word of good news
—That sometimes falls on deaf ears.

We will to point them to Christ’s forgiveness,
—And they will refuse to receive it.

But this doesn’t mean we should give up.
—It doesn’t mean we should play it safe
—So that we don’t experience failure.

We are the light of the world.
—We are created to shine.
—Jesus tells us it would be utterly ridiculous
—For us to hide our light under a bushel basket,
—Or, in the words of our parable,
—Bury our talent in the ground.

So let’s be bold, friends in Christ.
—Let’s be willing to be risk-takers!

We hold in our hands the greatest treasure
—The world has ever known.
—The world desperately needs
—What we have to offer!

So let’s go in peace to serve the Lord,
—And offer to everyone we meet
—The love, hope, healing and forgiveness
—We have received from Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sunday Sermon - Waiting For God

LECTIONARY 32A  Psalm 70, 1 Thess 4:13-18, Matt 25:1-13
11/09/14  David Eck

I. I must confess, I’m not very good at waiting.
—I hate going shopping at Sam’s Club
—Where I have to run through the horde of zombie consumers
—Who, for some odd reason, are compelled
—To stare at all the items on the shelves
—As if they’re going to speak to them:
—“Pick me!  Pick me!”

I go into Sam’s Club with a list
—Held firmly in my hand.
—I know exactly where every item is located
—And I fly through the store,
—Dodging push carts left and right,
—Trying to get to the checkout line
—As quickly and as efficiently as I can.

Speaking of check out lines
—I don’t like waiting in them either!
—My karmic destiny is to learn the lesson of patience.

It never fails.  Someone in front of me
—Always needs a price check,
—Or is fishing in their purse
—To find the exact change for their purchase,
—Or the cashier needs the manager’s special key
—To complete the transaction!
—It drive me absolutely crazy.

Perhaps you can relate!
—Perhaps you, too, have a difficult time waiting.

Perhaps you feel your blood boil
—Every time you get behind a slow driver,
—OR when your order in a restaurant
—Takes way too long to get to the table.

Perhaps you scream silently on the inside
—When you call customer service on the phone,
—And are placed on hold for what seems like an eternity.

If none of these things bother you.
—You might not relate to me sermon today.

If you’re ready to shout an “Amen”
—To all the terrors I’ve just listed,
—Then this sermon is definitely for you!

II. American culture, by and large,
—Does not like to wait for anything!
—We want what we want,
—And we want it NOW!

Express lanes, expedited shipping,
—Instant rebates, fast food.
—All of these things are indicators
—That Americans don’t like to wait!

We multi-task,
—We drive our cars like they’re time machines,
—We obsessively check our Facebook page
—To see how many “likes” and comments
—We have on our posts.

I could go on, but the list is endless!

Not surprisingly, our inability to wait
—Creeps into our spiritual life as well.

When we’re suffering, we want it to be over quickly.
—“Can you just give us a pill
—Or 12 simple steps to a happier life?
—Or make that 3 steps,
—Because 12 is entirely too many!”

We want our worship to be done in an hour,
—And heaven help the pastor whose sermon
—Is longer than 15 minutes!

We want to feel God’s presence in our lives
—24 hours a day/7 days a week.
—And when we begin to question
—Where God is when bad things happen to us,
—We think that we’re terrible Christians
—And chastise ourselves for our lack of faith.

All of this brings me to the observation
—That waiting is never easy,
—But waiting is also inevitable.

If there is any theme that ties
—All of our lessons together,
—It is the theme of waiting for God.
—In each reading, there is at least one person
—Who does this poorly.

If we can listen to what the Spirit is saying,
—Perhaps we can learn something
—About the importance of waiting
—In the life of a follower of Jesus.

III. In our first lesson, Amos is talking to people
—Who are waiting for the “day of the Lord”
—With excitement and anticipation.

The “day of the Lord” means
—They are waiting for a time when God
—Will show up as a conquering warrior
—And vanquish all their enemies.

They think they’re well prepared for this day.
—They go to worship. 
—They sing praises to God.
—They make all the right sacrifices in the temple.

But Amos says this isn’t what God is looking for.
—He chastises them, saying,
—You “trample the heads of the poor
—Into the dust of the earth” and
—“Push the afflicted out of the way.”  [Amos 2:7]

Then Amos says the best way
—To wait for the day of the Lord
—Is to “let justice roll down like waters,
—And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

This reminds us that when we are waiting for God
—To set things right,
—There is a BIG difference between
—Asking God for vengeance and asking God for justice.

Amos is telling his people that justice trumps vengeance
—Each and every time.

IV. Turning to Psalm 70, we find someone
—Who is also waiting for God.

It’s quite clear he is being persecuted.
—He is calling on God to rescue him:
—“Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
—O Lord, make haste to help me!”

The Psalmist plea reminds us
—That we often want a quick fix to our problems.
—We want God to answer our prayers
—Immediately and without delay.

However this kind of impatience
—Tells us a great deal about what’s going on inside of us
—When we face trouble and persecution.

Karoline Lewis, Associate Professor of Biblical Preaching
—At Luther Seminary says,
—When we cry out to God for help
—Like the Psalmist did, we
—“Express what is almost unutterable
—The lack of control, the fear of the unknown,
—The worry of whether or not we are ready,
—The anxiety about being prepared for what is to come.

Waiting carries many emotions
—Anticipation, wonder, eagerness, dread,
—Agitation, fear, longing, loss.

Of course, much of our emotional response
—Is determined by that for which we wait.
—Our time of waiting will be experienced differently
—Depending on that which we expect.

Waiting is hard. Yet, my difficulty with waiting
—Is not so much the spectrum of feelings experienced,
—But the fact that I can’t seem to be content with the present.”

So, waiting is hard work.
—It requires a certain amount of patience
—And a certain amount of faith.

Patience is needed because it takes time
—To mend a broken heart,
—To ease a troubled mind,
—To help a crippled spirit soar.

Faith is needed because we have to trust
—That Jesus promises to be with us always,
—Even when we don’t feel like he is there!

V.  Next we turn our attention to the Second Lesson.
—It’s quite clear that the Thessalonian church
—Is experiencing a crisis of faith.
—They ran out of patience
—As they waited for Jesus to return.

They were expecting to see Jesus’
—Second Coming in their lifetimes.
—And yet, their loved ones are dying
—And Jesus is MIA.

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy
—Are quite parental and loving
—In their response to these people.

They remind them of the good news of Jesus
—That has filled them with hope
—Ever since they answered the call
—To be followers of Jesus:

“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again,
—Even so, through Jesus,
—God will bring with him those who have died.

For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord,
—That we who are alive,
—Who are left until the coming of the Lord,
—Will by no means precede those who have died.

For the Lord himself, with a cry of command,
—With the archangel’s call
—And with the sound of God’s trumpet,
—Will descend from heaven,
—And the dead in Christ will rise first.

Then we who are alive, who are left,
—Will be caught up in the clouds together with them
—To meet the Lord in the air;
—And so we will be with the Lord forever.
—Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

Granted, the words of our second lesson
—Depend upon a first century understanding
—Of a three tiered universe,
—Where, Sheol, the land of the dead,
—Is underneath us
—And heaven is above us
—Beyond the dome of the sky.

But these words of hope and encouragement
—Are spoken with symbolism that
—First century Christians would understand.

If Paul, Silvanus and Timothy
—Were writing to the church today,
—I think their words would sound
—Something like this:

“We know you have questions
—About what happens to those
—Who are already dead and buried
—Or cremated and scattered.

But there is no need for you
—To be overcome with grief,
—Like those who think death has the last word.

We believe Jesus died and rose again.
—He told us, “I am the resurrection and the life,
—Those who believe in me,
—Even though they die, will live.”

This is the Truth.
—It comes from Christ himself.
—He also told us, “Remember, I am with you always
—To the end of the age.”

So encourage one another
—When your faith is weak
—And doubt surrounds you like a black cloud.

Jesus is with you now.
—Jesus will be with you always.
—Do not despair, but have hope!

VIII.  Our final stop with morning
—Is Jesus’ parable of the 10 Bridesmaids.
—Without getting into too much detail,
—Maybe the point of the parable,
—Is that waiting for God is hard work.

There are times in life
—When it’s easy for our lamps
—To be trimmed and burning bright.

It’s easy to let our light shine
—When things are going well
—And life is good.

But there will be days
—When we run out of oil;
—When our flame is reduced to a flicker
—Or is snuffed out altogether.

Usually this doesn’t happen overnight.
—All it takes is a little crisis here,
—A bump in the road there,
—And we find ourselves losing faith.

We begin to doubt that Jesus, the Bridegroom,
—Will appear in our lives
—And claim us as his beloved.

Friends in Christ, may this not be the case for us.
—May we keep our lamps full of oil
—And have some to spare in case of emergencies.

May we make worship a priority in our lives.
—May we spend time
—Being encouraged by the Word
—And fed at the Table.

May prayer and praise
—Keep our spiritual lamps burning brightly.
—May our acts of justice and righteousness
—Shine the light f Christ brightly in our world.

It’s easy to suddenly find ourselves unprepared
—And caught off guard when a crisis comes along.

So, keep awake, don’t let your guard down
—And above all, trust that Christ is with us,
—Today, to tomorrow and all ways.  AMEN.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Worship Helps - All Saints Sunday

Call to Worship (The waters of baptism are poured.)
L: We honor the ancestors whose lives call us forward to become who we are.
C: We remember the cloud of witnesses, the faithful of the ages, and the ages to come.

L: Saints and sinners alike, who nurtured and challenged us.
C: The ancient ones we claim, and the ones we don’t.

L: The ancients we know by name, and the names lost to history.
C: We honor the ancestors whose voices are in our throats.

L: We honor the greatest of our ancestors, first born of many dead, our eldest brother Jesus.
C: Amen.
     from The Africana Worship Book,Year B.

Prayer of the Day
L: The Lord is with you.
C: And also with you.

L: Let us pray...God of Resurrection,
C: The great cloud of witnesses surrounds us today and joins us in a chorus of praise.  May we be inspired by their witness and learn from their example, so that our lives may proclaim the faith we have in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer.  Amen.
       Copyright ©2013.  David Eck.

The Remembrance of the Faithful Departed
L: Let us remember with thanksgiving our brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone before us, for they were created by God to offer praise and thanksgiving forever.  God gave them new life through Jesus in baptism, and nourished them through the Lord's Supper.  Now our merciful God has called them to God's nearer presence so they may continue to sing God's praise forever in the church triumphant.
     Therefore, in joyful expectation of the resurrection to eternal life, we remember before you, Eternal One, all our departed family and friends who have gone before us in faith this past year.  We offer thanksgiving for the gift of faith and hold fast to the eternal truth of your promises.
     Especially we remember [names] as well as those who are in our hearts and minds today.  (Pause for silence.)

L:  In the rising of the sun and in its going down, we remember them.
C: In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember them.

L: In the opening buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them.
C: In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer, we remember them.

L: In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember them.
C: In the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember them.

L: When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember them.
C: When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember them.

L: When we have joys we yearn to share, we remember them.
C: So long as we live, they are now a part of us, as we remember them.

L: Let us pray, Eternal God, on this day we remember your Church throughout the world; saints past, present and those yet unborn.  Help us all to grow in our love for you and for one another.  As you have received our brothers and sisters who have gone to their rest in the hope of the resurrection to eternal life, bring us at the last with them into the light of your presence, that in union with all your saints we may give you glory forever and ever.
C: Amen.
     adapted from Yom Kippur memorial service found in The Gates of Repentance.

Invitation to the Table
L: When we gather at the table, we enter the realm of God’s time in our remembering; where past, present and future are one.  We remember the past and are hosted by all those saints who came before us.  We remember the present through Christ’s call to spread the banquet of love to all.  We remember the future in the promise of Jesus to be with us always.
     And so it is that this morning, we remember with love those whose love of God lifted us.  We give thanks for their hospitality, the tables they set for us and the gifts they gave to us, and we set this heavenly banquet at which we give glory to God with them today.  It is through their witness that we have tasted and we have seen the goodness of God.
C: Amen.
      Marica McFee,   

L: We are God’s saints; born anew in the waters of baptism and fed by word and table.  Let us go out into the world and share the joy we have found as the forgiven and redeemed people of God.
C: Amen.

L: Go in peace.  Serve in the name of Christ.
C: Thanks be to God.
           Copyright ©2013.  David Eck.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Luther and Vocation

     This coming Sunday, Lutherans around the world celebrated Reformation Sunday.  A sermon I preached several years ago on this day focused on Luther's understanding of "vocation" which he refers to as Gottendienst or "godly service." Gottendienst is the German word for "worship." Thus Luther is telling his audience that what one does in this world is more than a holy calling or a vocation. It is an act of worship. The importance of everyone having a sense of vocation or holy calling cannot be understated. In fact, Jurgen Moltmann asserts that "next to Word and Sacrament, the recognition of the divine vocation of every Christian in his or her worldly occupation is the third great insight of the Lutheran Reformation."
     What does Gottendienst mean for us? Well, one way I look at it is that God honors whatever work we do, be it great or small. Every conversation, every act of kindness counts. God blesses us whether we mop the floors or construct them. God blesses us whether we preach a sermon or take food to an AIDS patient. God blesses our fight for LGBT equality at a national rally as well as a casual conversation with a co-worker.
     Each of us has a gift. Each of us is called to serve. Each of us has a vocation or, perhaps, it is better to say vocations since all of us have multiple callings to our families, our work places, our community and our world. My point is that I hope we will celebrate wherever God has placed us right this very moment. May we use our gifts in whatever ways we can and keep striving to introduce the world to the Jesus we know: The Jesus who loves us, redeems, and sets us free from the chains of hatred, prejudice and injustice.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Reformation - A Circle Journey

     I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has never felt like they were outside of the circle at some point in their lives.  Then again, I’m a gay Christian geek so I don’t exactly hang out with the beautiful people.  The people I hang out with have been rejected for a multitude of reasons.  Some were told God hated them.  Some were the last ones picked in gym class for softball.  Some were told they were ugly, stupid, etc.  You can fill in your own horror story!  It’s Halloween, after all!
     If you’re the kind of person who understands what I’m talking about, I’m confident that you also long to be inside the circle.  You long to have a place to call home; a place of community and welcome where you can be yourself and be loved with no strings attached.
     Thankfully, I found this kind of open circle in my teen years in a youth group I attended at Berkeley Hills Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh, PA.  I found it again in a small band of “outside of the box” seminarians who, when I told them I was gay back in 1986 said, “Well, duh.”  I found it again in 2009 when the ELCA said I could serve openly as a gay man with a partner!
     This coming Sunday is Reformation Sunday.  One way we can think of Martin Luther’s faith journey is moving from a closed to an open circle.  Luther’s circle journey began when he was a monk in the Catholic Church.  The Church of his time made people feel like God was a closed circle.  The only people who could really approach God were the priests.  The people saw God as distant and mysterious and above all…angry; more willing to condemn than save, more willing to punish than redeem.
     Worship services were in Latin.  Most people could not understand them.  The Bible was also in Latin so they had no access to the Scriptures themselves.  The people had to rely on what the priest told them the Bible said.  No surprisingly, the whole system became very corrupt.
     At the heart of this closed circle was the practice known as the selling of indulgences.  What an indulgence was is  a slip of paper you purchased from the church which forgave you of your sins.  It also helped to shorten your or your loved one’s time in purgatory.  Purgatory was the place the people of Luther’s time believed you went after you died.  It was there that you were purified until you were ready to go to heaven.
     I know it sounds crazy but this is the way the church operated.  The Church made money off of people’s fears.  They led them to believe that God was not forgiving but was looking for an excuse to send them straight to hell.  Not surprisingly, the Church became very rich through the practice of selling indulgences
     Luther, being a monk, was a product of this system.  Tormented by the thought that God truly hated him, he tried desperately to work harder and harder in order to earn God’s love and forgiveness.  One day Luther was reading Romans 3 and saw it with new eyes.  It literally changed his life and would later transform the face of Christianity:
“For we hold that a person is justified (i.e. made right with God) by faith apart form works prescribed from the law.”
     This verse, and those which surround it, were a revelation to Luther.  He finally realized that God was the most open circle of all, far more willing to forgive, save and redeem than the Church had led him to believe.  This began Luther’s crusade to reform the Church which started on October 31, 1517.  He nailed 95 Theses (challenging church scholars to a debate) on the front doors of the church at Wittenburg (community bulletin board).  These theses attacked the practice of selling indulgences and challenged the Church to reform itself.  They set off a debate and controversy that would last for years which eventually resulted in Luther being excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
     His reforms continued and grew, establishing a Church that now has a profound effect on many other denominations even though they might not be aware of it.  Luther came to realize that the way we experience God’s love is through faith.  There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love. It is an open circle offered to all who say “I believe.”
     And so, on this Reformation Sunday I will be presiding at a church that is an open circle.  And I pray that reformation would continue in the Church so that all are places of welcome and hospitality for all of God’s people, including gay Christian geeks!  I will fight for this as ing as there is breath in my body and Christ’s love in my heart.