Aug 252017
 

TGIF

… and today our brother, Michael, is having surgery.  So, first things first…

Strengthen your servant Michael, O God, to do what he has to do and bear what he has to bear; that, accepting your healing gifts through the skill of surgeons and nurses, he may be restored to usefulness in your world with a thankful heart; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

We live in a world in which we can all grow tired and, at times, discouraged. Our lives are turbulent.  The politics of the day are frightening.  The state of the Church is concerning. We can easily grow tired of the demands made upon our time and, indeed, our attention.  I will readily admit that there are times that when I read that I’m to love God with my heart, soul and mind and my neighbor as myself, it just seems like one more demand that I cannot fulfill or an unattainable goal.  It is at these times, I have to remind myself what the love of God really means.

You see, I found, some time ago, that love cannot be demanded or commanded.  This is the final and ultimate impossibility in the summary of the Law.  Love can only be invited by loving.  From the beginning, God has loved his creation and has loved us.  As God is out of time and above time, his love for us is likewise eternal.  While that love is spread over the pages of the Old Testament from the  account of the creation through to the prophets, in Christ God has written that love large, most especially on the Cross.  Yet, even in this, his love extends beyond time as Christ is the lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world.

In all the demands of life – family, work, study, celebration, sadness and all the rest – we are called to receive and return God’s love; to love him as he loves us; to put his will and the interests of our neighbor ahead of self-will and self-interest, and not to count the cost. Such love is only possible because he is with us.

God is with us.  These are comforting words, and they are meant to comfort, but not only to comfort.  The Incarnation means more than God coming down and becoming man, as wonderful and as awe-inspiring as this truth might be. We were created for something more and the Incarnation is the ultimate promise and seal of that “something more”.   “God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ… and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in heavenly places…” Or, more simply, Jesus said, I “will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” 

The serpent in the garden was even more subtle than we know.  He told a lie so close to the truth that it’s not surprising we fell for it.  You see, man was indeed created to be “like God”.  God created us in his image and likeness.  When we turned from him, however, we lost the image, the reflection, the semblance of God, and we could not recover it for ourselves. God himself restored it in Christ.  Those who bear the name Christian are called to be like him, to be and to become what God created us to be.

Now comes the big question – “What is our part in all of this?”

Firstly, it is to listen.  Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, “We merit the beatific vision by our constancy in listening… As the sense of sight is not yet ready, let us rouse up our hearing; let us exercise it and take in the truth… for the hearing, if it be loving, alert and faithful, will restore the sight”.

Secondly, is to receive.  Augustine wrote, “Give what you command, and command what you will.”

Lastly, is simply to say “yes” and “amen” to his Word – to the Word which we hear and receive; and to the Word made flesh.

As believers, the current moment is filled with hope and meaning, no matter what we are encountering, because this current moment is parenthetic.  It is parenthetic because we are looking back to the works of God – the birth in Bethlehem, the Gospels, the Church and our own redemption – but we are also looking forward, praying, “Even so, Come Lord Jesus!”, knowing as we pray that we have already been found by the one we seek. Moreover, in the current moment, Christ is with us.

As Thomas Merton wrote, “A man knows when he has found his vocation when he stops thinking about how to live and begins to live.”

So, in this turbulent life, may God help us in the seeking; and in the finding; and in the living.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

Aug 242017
 

Shalom

“And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.’ ” (Luke 19:41-44)

Shortly before the birth of Jesus, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied: “because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

Jesus is our sunrise. The Evangelist John wrote: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4). Jesus gives light to our dark, dead souls, to guide us out from under the shadow of death and into life by the way of peace.

God in Christ visits us with a message of peace. On the night of Jesus’ birth, a company of angels appeared to a few shepherds outside of Bethlehem, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)

The birth of Jesus was God’s visitation to His people. Jesus would be the way in which God would make peace with sinful human beings. In His righteous judgment, God condemned the sin of Adam and Eve, who ate the forbidden fruit, and justly barred them and their children from the tree of life. Yet, in His great mercy, God promised salvation (or peace) by a second Adam, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and made His cross a life-giving tree for all who trust in Him. Jesus accomplished peace with God for us, as a gift to be received by faith.

“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.” (Rom 3:1-2)

The Jews were given the Torah and the prophets. Jesus, himself a Jew, was the ultimate Divine communicator. He bore witness to His peace-making ministry through miracles and by fulfilling the Old Testament prophesies of His coming. Whether it was His early claim to being Israel’s Messiah prophesied in Isaiah 61 (see Luke 4:16-21), or His later claim to being Israel’s returning King enacted from the pages of Zechariah 9 in His final ride into Jerusalem (see Luke 19:28-38), Jesus telegraphed to His people that this was the time of their visitation. Therefore, Paul wrote of their advantage.

How then did the Jews squander their advantage and miss the time of their visitation? It was not due to a lack of knowledge, hope or zeal. The reason was that His people rejected “the things that make for peace!”

 The Jewish leaders sought peace in the wrong things. They believed their election meant peace; their piety and magnificent temple meant peace; their arrangement with Rome meant peace; and their Messiah, when He did come, would bring peace by the sword.

To the Jewish leaders, Jesus appeared to have brought anything but peace. Jesus rejected their claim to election on the basis of ethnicity; He condemned their piety as hypocritical and their temple as a den of robbers; He prophesied that their “peace” with Rome was a mirage, destined for disaster; and He offered peace, not by a metal sword, but by the sword of His Word and ultimately His blood.

Jesus came across as a trouble maker, not a peace maker. Therefore, the Jewish leaders chose their version of “peace” over the peace offered by God in Jesus: “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:48) Jesus wept because He foreknew the catastrophe which would consume His people in just a few decades time.

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor 1:25)

According to the wisdom of man, Jesus and His cross appear weaker than the human empires; loyalty to human government appears to be a better bet than loyalty to a poor, itinerant, foot-washing Messiah (if the goal is securing wealth and status); and, of course, human reason appears far more trustworthy than faith in the Word of God.

But the appeal to empire, human government, and reason are man’s vain attempts to secure peace on our own terms. We want physical peace and peace of mind. But such peace is illusive. Our bodies are all dying from one cause or another. Who can guarantee us tomorrow? The powers of empire and government cannot shield us from sin, which dwells within our very own hearts. Our wisdom has made us more efficient at killing one another, but has not made us more efficient at making peace. Some people attempt to fashion peace in forgetfulness or distraction, through drugs, alcohol, sports, video games, sex, etc. But, in the end, we cannot achieve lasting peace for ourselves.

“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” (Gal 6:14-16)

Real, durable, lasting peace is only available in Christ. It is not the kind of peace which the world offers (or even understands). We cannot work for this kind of peace; it must be received as a free gift through faith in the Prince of Peace, who won our peace with His own precious blood.

The peace of Christ is the forgiveness of sins; it is reconciliation with God; it nullifies divisions based on gender, race and ethnicity in us who share in one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of us all; it is salvation; it is new creation and everlasting life; and it is the fruit of the Spirit dwelling in us, who works through us, to proclaim peace to our neighbors.

Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” (Luke 9:20)

Where God’s Word and Gospel are rightly proclaimed and the Sacraments are rightly administered, God in Christ visits us! Let us not miss nor neglect the time of our visitation by trusting in false messiahs. Jesus has a question for each of us: “But who do you say that I am?” May the Holy Spirit grant us the faith by which we might join with Peter and the saints of all time who confess: “The Christ of God.” Amen.

Shalom! Amen.

Aug 232017
 

The recent happenings in Charlottesville, and even more so, much of our nation’s reaction to it has stuck in my craw.  There was some rather atrocious activity that took place that night, culminating in the terroristic murder of a manned car driving into a bunch of people.  Sadly, so much of the reaction across our country to these horrific events was seemingly and loudly driven by partisan politics. 

With much greater concern of not giving ground in our political battles, there has been continued focus on the wrongs of the “other side”.  Rather than leaving our political conflicts on the sideline and for a moment focusing through a lens that seeks understanding and healing and reconciliation in light of this ugly incident, we dug even deeper into our severely entrenched political positions.

Let me speak first to my politically conservative friends.  We are never going to make any headway in convincing those different than us of our positions or in bringing about any substantial understanding, change, or reconciliation if everything is always followed with a “Yeah, but”.  Especially when we intensely target the subject that follows after the “Yeah, but”.  We might admit that President Trump or some conservative organization did or said something wrong, but then when we immediately follow it up with a “Yeah, but” (Yeah, but Hillary; Yeah, but Obama; Yea, but the Democrats).  Subsequently, we then put all of our energy into the subject following the “Yeah, but”, and we convince no one that we are serious about recognizing or being concerned with the misdeeds of Trump or conservatives.  Worse still when we don’t even want to admit to the obvious wrongs committed by Trump or other Republicans or conservatives and instead ignore them like they don’t even exist or deflect from them or significantly minimize them.  The worst yet when we are so blinded by partisan politics that we can’t even recognize obvious wrongdoing as being wrong in the first place.  These types of actions and attitudes only add to the already existing ugly divisions in our country and will do nothing to make it a better place or in bringing about sorely needed healing and reconciliation.

Speaking specifically to Charlottesville, Trump was right when he said there was violence and blame on “many sides” or “both sides”.  But his choosing to combatively focus on the many sides or both sides narrative has been disastrously unprofitable in bringing about any good or healing or unity in this country.  He has managed to inflame the bad and accusatory feelings between opposing sides and has set the unprofitable example which many others have followed.

Yes, there was violence on both sides of the rally in Charlottesville that fateful night.  However, the whole environment was imposed by a collection of white supremacists and racists who chose to publicly rally together.  A rally that was about much more than just a monument, but where these reprehensible people would be demonstrating their beliefs of supremacy and hatred toward other races.  Yes, there were others there who may not identify as supremacists, but their choice to band together with the supremacists leaves them just as culpable.  There were no “good people” there that night on the side of “Unite the Right”.  When a group of bullies gets together to make a public display of their intimidation and spewed hatred and then in the ensuing expected skirmish one of their own murderously runs over a bunch of people with a car, my goodness, yes, they are the chief ones to blame for the unruly happenings.

Of course, there were counter-protestors there that night who opposed these hate mongers and, yes, some took part in violent actions.  Seemingly, included among the counter-protestors were some who have connections or affiliations with Antifa and/or Black Lives Matter (BLM) groups.  However, many were not violent and were bravely and righteously opposing these white supremacist groups, including potentially some from the aforementioned groups.  If we are going to place a primary focus on those who were responsible for the happenings, it must lay with the white supremacists and those who joined with them.  There have been other events and circumstances where liberal protestors or Antifa or BLM have been mainly responsible for the awful things that occurred and in those cases we can rightfully put the focus on those groups and fittingly call them to account.  However, Charlottesville was not one of them.  And trying to draw an equivalency in this circumstance does not work because it would be a false one.  Far and away, the white supremacists were at the helm of initiating this destructive chaotic event and they committed the worst of the violence.  If you cannot see these things, I would submit that this is a case where you are blinded by partisan politics.

And don’t even go down the line of trying to place a focused blame of the events on the police, or the media, or the Charlottesville city government, or some former Occupy Wall Street organizer, or some other conspiracy theory.  Some of these elements very well may have been contributing factors to the overall ugly events, but the main responsibility for the hateful and violent environment and behavior resides with the white supremacists and those who joined with them.  Full stop. 

Furthermore, white supremacy has a long and terrible history in our country, one that predates even the founding of our country.  White racism has caused far more harm and suffering throughout the history of our country than all other racist people groups combined.  Therefore, we should have a greater sensitivity to it.  Other people groups which have exhibited some levels of violence and/or racism, such as the Antifa and BLM of today, or historically like the Black Panthers, in many ways have formed in reaction to the injustices imposed upon them and others by white supremacy and other elements of white culture.  Their violence and racism is not be excused by any measure, but at the very least, there should be more empathy and understanding for why they exist in the first place.

Finally, even if we personally have absolutely nothing to do with white supremacy and racism, the sad truth is that these white nationalist and supremacist and racist groups are claiming to be our fellow conservatives.  Heck, their rally was even called, “Unite the Right”.  Since Donald Trump’s election, many of these groups have seemingly felt more emboldened to make their presence known in society.  All the more reason why Trump and the rest of us who would consider ourselves to be political conservatives need to send a strong, consistent, and unequivocal denouncing message to these groups and the rest of society that their beliefs and behavior are abhorrent and that we completely reject the notion of accepting them into our groups.  All the more so for those of us who are Christians.  Many of these white supremacist groups would claim to be Christian and to be promoting Christian values.  We need to firmly proclaim that white supremacy is disgusting and antithetical to the Gospel and Christianity.

When any proclamation of condemnation of white supremacy is given, it cannot be quickly followed with a “Yeah, but”.  It immediately loses its effectiveness when it does, and it comes across as disingenuous to the many who are already skeptical of us.  Consequently, there is opportunity lost for mending and bringing people together.  It is not the Antifa or BLM who are claiming to be a part of us or to represent us, it is the white supremacist groups.  More so than condemning any other group that is on the “other side”, we need to clearly denounce those who would allege to be part of us.  Doing so sends a remarkably more effective and peace-seeking message to those who may be at odds with us.

Now let me speak more briefly to my politically liberal friends.  What happened in Charlottesville was terrible and as already stated, the primary responsibility and blame lay with the white supremacist groups and the other so-called conservatives who chose to join with them.  But please don’t act like all the counter protesters were completely innocent victims, because they were not.  Many of the counter protesters may have been innocent in spirit and behavior, but plenty of documented evidence shows that there were others who were not.  Whether they be connected to Antifa or BLM or were just acting out totally on their own, there were quite a number of counter protesters who were guilty of unnecessary and ugly violence toward the other side.  This was far from any kind of Martin Luther King-like nonviolent resistance and demonstration.

Going beyond Charlottesville, please don’t pretend like there aren’t other events where those who would identify to be on the Political Left act hatefully and violently.  Sometimes even in racist ways towards white people.  Where sometimes Antifa, or BLM, or whatever left-identifying group, are the main culprits for the harm and damage that occurs.  When you refuse to acknowledge or make excuses for or greatly minimize the violence and harm caused by these groups, it only serves to infuriate those on the other side of the political divide.  Even if you don’t have anything to do with these groups and don’t support their activities, if all you ever do is place blame on Donald Trump or Republicans or other conservative groups and don’t renounce or even acknowledge the wrongs done by those who would claim to be on your side, it only serves to deepen the chasm of the divide in this nation.  And just like my earlier exhortation to my conservative friends, if you cannot see the significant wrong that these groups or people sometimes commit, I would submit that you, too, are blinded by partisan politics.  And through it all, the possibilities for greatly needed healing and reconciliation grow even dimmer.

Now to all of us:  I am a firm believer that we are more effective in making things better for everyone if we place a greater focus on dealing with the problems caused by our own side rather than on those by the “other side”.  This does not mean that we can’t ever speak out or take action on problems being caused by those who are in opposition to us.  Sometimes it may be very appropriate or necessary to do so.  But I really do think we can more times than not make a greater impact by focusing on problems that are closer to home.  We have a much greater opportunity to work with and change for the better those with whom we have more in common and are closer within our circles and in some cases already have working relationships.

Sometimes we may say something like, “I don’t even have a racist bone in my body and I have absolutely nothing to do with any supremacist or racist group”.  But when that supremacist group is saying, “Hey, look at us, we’re a part of your group”, it can go immeasurably further in building up good credit with those on the other side who are skeptical of us if we are willing to denounce that supremacist group without a, “Yeah, but”.  Or if we are willing to call out wrongs done by President Trump, or President Obama before him, without always adding on a, “Yeah, but” that then dominates our focus.  Better yet, if we can sometimes be the one to unequivocally call out the blunders of our favored President or favored political group without first being cornered to do so and with no followed up, “Yeah, but”.

If we could more regularly start taking actions like these and committing to a mindset of concentrating more often on problems that are closer to us, I so greatly believe we would have a greater overall impact in solving problems and in uniting us as a country, in uniting us as believers, in uniting us as human beings, and in bringing more of the healing and reconciliation that we so greatly need.  We know that ultimately we will not be able to bring about any kind of panacea.  That will only ever be accomplished by Jesus Christ.  But with God’s help, we just may be able to make things a bit better within the circles we reside.  And if more people were to do so the same within their circles, the growth of good among increasingly overlapped circles could bring about who knows what kind of positive impact upon our churches and communities and nation.

When thinking on these problems, our greatest focus should be on problems that are caused by those the absolute closest to us.  And that would mean looking at ourselves and our own personal problems first before anyone else.  An exercise that I’m often not very good at.  But after seriously and diligently starting there, our focus successively expands outwards to the groupings most close to us and then beyond.

And above all, for those of us who are disciples of Christ, our first focus and filter should always be through how God would see these things and how we think He would have us to act on them.  What is just and right?  What will bring healing and reconciliation?  How can we act to love our brother?  To love our enemies?  To point people toward Christ?  These things should come through our thoughts and actions far before we concern ourselves with making or winning any political points.

I could be wrong about my belief of placing a greater focus on the problems closer to us.  But honestly, the way we are just screaming louder and more often about what is wrong with the “other side”, I find it hard to believe I could be in error on this concept.  The way our political and cultural atmosphere has grown increasingly more caustic and vile and divided these past few years certainly hasn’t proven me wrong.  Could it really make it any worse by placing a greater emphasis on problems caused by those closer home to us rather than on those caused by those further away?  I say we give it a try.  What say you?   

Aug 222017
 

God seriously loves you!

A pastor hooked on porn…

Monumental woes…

Trumps evangelical advisory board…

Wrong gospel, wrong life…

Charlottesville, Exodus, and the politics of nostalgia…

Uncovering my churches KKK connections…

Saved by faith and hospitality…

The illusions of church infallibility…

The problem of excommunication…

The real reason churches have a millennial void….

Gently abused faith…

Pastor, that’s not your wife…

Taking Christ off the cross…

John Wesley on how to preach the Gospel…

Where Augustine goes off the rails…

Grace and racial division…

The evils of the sex trade…

Will Korean Christians survive fire and fury?

Why did Jesus demand perfection?

On Kierkegaard…

Religious belief in Central and Eastern Europe…

Aug 222017
 

1. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34–39 ESV)

There was a day when I thought the only application of this passage was that believers and non believers would be set against one another, even inside the family structure.

Today, I believe that further application can be made to believer against believer where competing versions of Jesus shaped by political ideology rip even the closest of relational structures apart.

I do not recognize the Jesus that many worship, nor would I worship a god like him.

They do not recognize the One I know, nor would they worship Him if they did…at least not now when their god seems to have grasped political power and given it to them.

Why does the church seem to be so diminished?

Because we no longer worship the same God together in spirit and truth.

We have taken His name in vain and then applied that name to a multiplicity of idols that suit us and we sing their praises on Sunday morning and on social media..

We will share in the historic fate of all other idolaters who have left the kingdom of God for the kingdoms of men.

2. Still, there will always be a remnant. May God find us worthy.

3. Our expectations of life in the kingdom will rarely match our experience of living in the kingdom. Suffering always surprises us. It should never surprise us…

4. The eclipse was a portent of nothing eschatologically. Will anyone who said it was repent? Of course not…being an end times wonk means never having to say you’re sorry…

5. If you don’t believe that the Beatitudes apply to the church, the church is bereft of the true foundation of discipleship. I will not hear you any more…

6. Real fellowship in Christ always begins with the mutual display of scars…

7. If you only love those who agree with you, you don’t love anything but the reflection of your self in them…

8. If you only love people to convert them and reject them when they refuse…see #7…

9. I do not scorn those who seek signs and wonders…I do scorn those who think there is a formula to produce them…

10. My only hope is that God’s grace is much broader, deeper, and freely available than I’m willing to give myself and others…

 

Aug 212017
 

We All Have History

“Why can’t they just get over it? It all happened such a long time ago.  Everyone has moved on, why can’t they?”

I heard this comment in the last week.  It was not, however, about African-Americans; nor was it about Southerners clinging to the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy.  The comment had nothing to do with the removal of monuments, anti-Semitism, or people that are homophobic. 

The comment was made about people who have been hurt by churches or church leaders and who can’t seem to move on with their lives.  

You see, we all have a history of things that we have done and, indeed, things that have been done to us through the course of our lives. That personal history has a continuing impact upon people’s lives, albeit in different ways.  Some of us drag the hurt and injuries with us throughout our lives.  The scars are always on display for anyone who wishes to look.  Others of us bury the hurt deep within ourselves.  The distant pain is only manifested when an event, or a comment, triggers the reaction.  A few of the more fortunate survivors of such harm attempt to integrate what they have gone through into the broader scope of their lives, using it as a basis of understanding in helping others who have gone through the same or a similar experience, or, indeed, to show compassion for those who  are still in harm’s way.

If, perhaps, we can understand our reactions to our personal history, it may help us in areas that extend outside the church as well.  My mother, who turned 90 this year, was born in the South but brought up in the North.  One of her earliest memories is being in the back of her father’s car traveling through a small Southern town.  Her father had slowed the car and suddenly turned around to say, “Don’t look… shut your eyes.” But it was too late.  There had been a lynching in the town square, and my mother had seen the crowd inflicting yet further indignities upon the body of an African-American man hanging from a tree.  She remembers the incident clearly to this day.  Some years later, being newly married, she was visiting her in-laws in north Florida.  Her second day there, she made a big mistake.  She was talking to Hattie, my grandmother’s African-American cook, in the front yard.  When they turned to go into the house, Hattie turned to go round the house to the back door.  My mother immediately said, “Don’t be silly, come in here” and held open the front door for her.  She walked in to make her way to the kitchen, but my grandmother was in the hall way.  She slapped Hattie in the face and told her to go outside and use the back door.  Then my mother was lectured about “how we do things in the South”, after which she left the room crying.

Now, this was my mother’s history and it shaped her perceptions and her actions for years to come.  For instance, in my father’s company there were a number of African-American employees.  When company parties were held in our home, they were always invited – an unusual situation for a suburban white family in Ohio in the early 1960s. This was but one way in which my mother’s history shaped her values and perceptions.

Yet, there was another history at play and my mother understood this to be the case, not perfectly, but at least in a small way.  Hattie, the cook, had children and, I imagine, grandchildren who are likely alive today.  The story recounted above is also part of their history.  It most likely became a story that was passed down through the years affecting perception and subsequent action, not only of Hattie, but of others as well. Did the African-American man lynched in that small southern town have a family, or descendants, or brothers or sisters?  I do not know. I do not know how it may have happened or how it was recorded, but surely that horrific incident became a part of the history of a family, a community and, indeed, part of our own history as a nation. Yet, even though we may not know about what took place in that family in an objective manner, we can be certain that the history of that outrage belongs particularly to those who personally experienced the pain of what took place.  

In his ministry on earth, Christ seems to have been particularly concerned to include, to understand and to reach out to those with a different history – the Samaritan woman at the well with a moral and religious history that set her outside the “norm”; the Roman centurion, whose loyalties obviously lay elsewhere, with a servant who was ill; the woman dragged from a house and about to be stoned having been taken in the act of adultery… the examples are varied and many. Additionally, we might note that he does not take issue with their history (although he is aware of the history) or their perceptions, but he deals with the need of the moment. 

All this is to say, many of us may not fully comprehend the visceral reaction to Confederate monuments expressed by some, but our own histories should allow us to have some measure of compassion and understanding. I am not Jewish, nor was I a witness to the parades of storm troopers in Berlin in the 1930s. Yet, while we may not fully comprehend the fear engendered by marchers shouting anti-Semitic slogans in a torch lit march in Charlottesville, our personal histories might allow us to reach across the divide and seek to alleviate the anxiety of those who, through families and friends, have such a history.  Our own personal histories, if given the opportunity, at the very least, might engender in us some sense of active empathy. Our own experience might even lead us to reach out in love to those with a different history that we can only vaguely comprehend.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

Aug 202017
 

Last week that I was opposed to taking down the Confederate memorials for a number of reasons…and I want to talk about one more.

I was having a conversation with one of my closest and dearest friends this morning…and she put words to what I’ve been feeling lately.

She’s been struggling with the public outcry over Robert E. Lee for this reason;

Robert E Lee embodies to us all that was noble and Godly and honorable. We were brought up to pattern our lives after his wisdom and compassion. Whether or not it is true of him is beside the point…it was the ideals and the example we followed.

For generations of Southerners, Lee was an archetype of what it meant to be a true to your Southern heritage.

He embodied nobility, courage, chivalry, resolute faith in God and country, and the family values that mark those who believe in such things.

Racism and white supremacy were not part of those shared values…because while Lee was a real person, he became a archetype of what a true child of the South was supposed to be.

Some would say that it is impossible to separate the real Lee from the archetypical one, that all that matters are his actions and his words that furthered the oppression of African Americans.

I’m not so sure.

We can and we must recognize the racial inequality that has been part of this country from the beginning.

We must stand against the evil of racism wherever and whenever it rears its demonic head.

However, I think it unwise to decree by fiat that all symbols and archetypes have the same meaning to all people in a very diverse and divided country.

My friend was born and reared in the South and Lee means something completely different to her than he does to this native Oregonian.

To her, Lee is an archetype of the same values that I hold dear, just with different archetypes to model.

This conversation about the Confederate memorials is not a conversation at all without the voices of those who have similar feelings as my friend.

They are denied their voice because to speak from the heart would only result in shouts of racism.

They are not racists, but traditionalists.

They will be silent, but angry, stripped of the outside symbols,but unchanged in the heart.

They are capable of recognizing the grim truths of the Civil War and still finding that which was noble in the men that fought it.

If they are denied a voice and only offered a knee jerk reaction , then rest assured that you will receive the same someday when your archetypes fall out of favor…

Aug 192017
 
God of our times, our years, our days.
     You are the God of our work,
      of our rest,
      of our weariness.
Our times are in your hands. We come to you now
     in our strength and in our weakness,
     in our hope and in our despair,
     in our buoyancy and in our disease.
We come to pray for ourselves and for all like us
     who seek and yearn for life anew with you and from you and for you
We pray to you this day, for ourselves and others like us in our greed.
     We are among those who want more,
          more money, more power, more piety, more sex,
          more influence, more doctrine, more notice, more members,
          more students, more morality, more learning, more shoes.
     Be for us enough and more than enough,
     for we know about your self-giving generosity.
We pray to you this day, for ourselves and others like us in our disconsolation.
     We are not far removed from those without,
          without love, without home, without hope,
          without job, without health care.
     We are close enough to vision those who must
          check discarded butts to see if there is one more puff,
          who must rummage and scavenge for food,
          for their hungers are close to ours.
     Be among us the God who fills the hungry with good things,
          and sends the rich away empty.
We pray to you this day, for ourselves and others like us who are genuinely good people,
     who meditate on your Torah day and night,
     who are propelled by and for your best causes,
     who are on the right side of every issue,
     who wear ourselves out in obedience to you,
          and sometimes wear others out with our good intentions.
     Be among us ultimate enough
          to make our passions penultimate,
          valid but less than crucial.
We are your people. We wait for you to be more visibly and palpably our God.
So we pray with our mothers and fathers, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
We wait for your coming with all the graciousness we can muster.
Amen
Walter Brueggemann 
Aug 192017
 

Matthew 25:14-30

The Parable of the Talents

14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property.

  • We need to take note that this was his property – not company or communal.
  • This is about stewardship – not about money – but what you do with what you have and why.

15 To one he gave five talents to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.

  • God has expectations of us according to our ability. People have different capacities in their gifts.
  • Billy Graham can preach to more people than I ever will. He was given the world and I was given this class. The expectation for faithfulness is the same for both of us.

16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more.

  • This first guy was clear about the gift given him because he understood who the master was.
  • This would be like someone hearing a call to be a (fill in a vocation) and going out and doing it.

17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more.

  • Ditto for this guy.
  • Note that there is nothing that indicates that the number mattered at all – “why did he get five and I received only two?”
  • A good example for Nike – Just Do It.

18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money.

  • Obviously, this guy is going to be the point of the parable.
  • This is not a class on investing – this is a teaching on being faithful to the end.

19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them.

  • What imagery do we see here? The master returns and does his accounting / bookkeeping.
  • What did we see in the parable above about the virgins? The master / bridegroom returns to take care of the business he had promised – and we will see the same with the parable below at the end of the chapter.

20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’

21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

  • They each appear for their accounting.
  • Note that God rewards by calling him faithful and based on that faithfulness he is given reward.
  • I would imagine “the joy of your master” would be heaven.

22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’

23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

  • Same thing, same compliment and reward – for being faithful.

24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed,

  • This guy has a preconceived view of God as one who gives you what “you deserve.” In that case you will get what you deserve.
  • The God you believe in will be the God you have.

25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’

  • I think he was thinking “at least I didn’t lose his money; I am able to return his one talent.”
  • For practical purposes let us look at ourselves as being this 3rd servant – we are the believer who has been given and been equipped by the Lord to go out and invest himself in others.
  • “I am not going to tell my neighbor about Jesus because I may offend him.”
  • “I am not going to talk to someone about a deep and difficult theological / moral / ethical question because I may turn them off and they may leave the church (abortion – same sex marriage etc.)”
  • “I am afraid I will do more harm than good because I do not know enough.”

26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?

  • There is no ‘good and faithful servant’ for this guy.

27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.

  • We get hung up on the 5, the 2, and the 1. We wonder why he got 5 – what quality did he possess that made him qualified for 5 while the other guys has qualities that they were worthy of less.
  • The point here – the main point – the only point is faithfulness with what you have and you have put to use what has been given.
  • What has God given you? Everything! In his Son Jesus Christ, in his suffering, death and resurrection, he put his name on you in holy baptism, he gives you his word of forgiveness,
  • He speaks that word of forgiveness in his absolution, in the sermon and he gives you his body and his blood.
  • We must be faithful in those things – be faithful in them and trust them.
  • Jesus is the savior, he died for you, rose for you, he has given you the benefits of his Calvary dying – trust him – be faithful.

28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.

  • It is so important to use Jesus properly that for those who do not, it is taken away.
  • What does it mean to have good use of Jesus, or put the talents to use?
  • ) Jesus died for the forgiveness of sin and I am a sinner. Let me think this through – well let me use Jesus for my forgiveness, for my life and for my salvation.
  • ) This is the point of being a disciple – being faithful with what you have been given as a disciple.
  • ) Our job is to teach people how to use Jesus properly –
  • ) No, you put Jesus to work in your life “yes I am a sinner, thank you Jesus that you died for me – help me to believe that.”
  • ) What is the opposite of that? You do not bury Jesus in the ground and say, “no, Jesus’ death does not count for me.” – People do say this when they say “God cannot forgive me for what I have done.”
  • ) and the proper answer from us is? – he can, he does and in fact he has already done it.

29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

  • What can this mean?
  • Again we see Jesus making the separation.
  • This guy is an unbeliever.

30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

  • Ouch! Cast into outer darkness just for breaking even? The master goes off and left his servants with no instructions and expected them to do the best thing.
  • I can see why the 3rd guy was terrified …but that is because we get lost in the details of the parable.
  • OK, well this is where Jesus my buddy, Jesus my co pilot gets a bit awkward.
  • But, once again, there is a hell – and people end up there.

 

%d bloggers like this: