Second Sunday of Advent
Reign of Christ
When I was a teenager, I had the opportunity to travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina as part of a youth trip to our companion Synod. There we helped paint and clean up a congregation called San Timoteo Lutheran Church. One of the leaders of the church took us teens on a tour of the church. He showed us the fellowship hall where a stage was set up for the annual Christmas and Easter pageants. He showed us the sunny courtyard that connected the fellowship areas with the worship space of the church. Finally, he showed us the sanctuary itself. The humble sanctuary could seat maybe 75 people, the concrete walls were largely unadorned. The pulpit was also made of concrete that anchored it directly into the foundation of the church. Our guide suddenly became very somber. He walked briskly to the pulpit and said, “I need to show you all something over here.” He then proceeded to lift up the white and green parament that was draped over the edge of the pulpit revealing a centimeter-wide hole gauged into the cement. He told us that in the 70s and 80s the Argentine government had pursued a national campaign to rid the country of political dissidents- people they considered socialists or merely unsupportive of the ruling regime. At this time people appeared to simply disappear. About 30,000 people disappeared during what would later be called the Dirty War. A mother would be out getting groceries and never return home, a university student would leave the library for class and never be seen again, an electrician would leave for a job and disappear. Our guide told us that the pastor of San Timoteo and many members of the congregation were vocal opponents of what was happening in their country. Some members of the church joined the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo where mothers whose children had disappeared gathered en masse to walk in silent protest in front of the capitol building. Pointing to the hole in the pulpit, the man told us that one day, in the middle of a Sunday worship service, a half dozen soldiers marched into the sanctuary and without a word, fired a spray of bullets into the congregation. Incredibly, no one was killed, but the bullets left their mark on the worship space and in the hearts of the congregants.
Jesus Christ was arrested by the religious authorities and brought to the secular governor, Pilate, for questioning. Jesus was being charged with sedition. People called Jesus a king which tends to upset people currently ruling as king and sitting on their own throne. They don’t like the idea of someone else trying to take the power and authority that they believe rightfully belongs to them. Governor Pilate asks Jesus of Nazareth, “Are you king of the Jews?” Jesus eventually answers him, “My kingdom is not from this world.” Some have heard Jesus’ answer as an excuse to make our faith in Christ an exclusively private affair. Some have heard Jesus say, “My kingdom is not from this world,” and heard a blessing to separate ones private and public life- to keep faith and politics separate. This declaration has been heard as a handy excuse to keep silent in the face of wrongdoing, to willingly participate in the greed and violence of our nations, and to ignore the systematic oppression of our neighbors. Many have heard Jesus’ words as permission to do whatever we want as long as in our private beliefs we believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
The congregation of San Timoteo could have avoided their church getting shot up if they had believed in this separation of inner spiritual life and outer Christ following. They could have stayed safe if they had kept their heads down and not believed that Christ’s saving work is antithetical to corrupt governmental powers that glory in greed, violence, and acquisition of iron power. They could have avoided conflict if they believed that faith in Christ and politics of life should be kept separate. The people of San Timoteo, however, courageously believed that Christ makes a difference in the world. Christ has something to say and acts when God’s people are abducted, tortured, murdered, and disappeared. The Christ followers of San Timoteo came back to church the week after the soldiers shot up their sanctuary because they believe that Christ’s kingdom opposes the kingdoms of our world. Continue reading
Day of Thanksgiving
I know that tomorrow is Thanksgiving, but I want to first talk about two other holidays that practice giving thanks. The Jewish holiday of Purim occurs usually around mid-March and it celebrates the events of the book of Esther. In this story, Haman, an official to the king of Persia had conspired to trick the king into killing all the Jews of his kingdom, but he was thwarted by Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai. Esther and Mordechai risk their lives to save their people from genocide. The book of Esther itself specifies how God’s people are to celebrate and give thanks for this salvation and blessing, “[on] the days in which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday… they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor…” (Esther 9:22). Today, Purim is celebrated with a reading of the entire book of Esther, noisemakers to blot out the name of the villain, Haman, festive costumes, candy, feasting, and following the command to give to anyone who asks for help.
Eid al-Fitr is celebrated by Muslims around the world at the conclusion of the month long fasting period of Ramadan. After fasting for a month (dawn to dusk each day) for the purpose of redirecting the heart to focus on God, practicing self-sacrifice, and remembering those who are without basic provisions of life, Muslims break the fast on this celebratory day called Eid al-Fitr. Muslims recite prayers asking God for promised forgiveness, mercy, and blessing. Then, they give Zakat al-Fitr, a special charity offering to help those who are poor.
For Jews, Muslims, and Christians, our days of Thanksgiving and celebration always lead to the practice of sharing our blessings with those in need. We all recognize the blessings we have received from God, give thanks for those blessings, and finally share those blessings with all in need. Continue reading
Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
It sounds like the end of the world. Jesus speaks to his disciples and describes a truly apocalyptic vision of the world. Each and every stone of the mighty and holy Temple of God will be cast down. There will be false messiahs who claim they will save you but really bring about greater evil and destruction to the world. There will be wars and rumors of wars. There will be natural disasters like earthquakes. There will be famines in which a great number of people will be in danger of starvation. There will be betrayals among supposedly devout religious people. There will be great suffering. The world itself will seem to be ending.
In many ways this description that Jesus gives us sounds completely strange. False Messiahs, the world consumed by war, violence everywhere, the earth falling apart, people starving, every supposedly good institution losing its moral compass. On second thought, maybe it doesn’t sound so strange. It sounds too familiar. For many of us, when we read these apocalyptic sounding texts, we tend to imagine them solely as future events. We tend to see them as predictions of the end of the world. They are viewed as clues to prepare us for the end times. While it is true that Jesus is describing future events, he is also describing the past and the present. The truth is, the world always seems to be ending.
Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Super spy, Jessica, just uncovered a truly nefarious plot. Dr. Death was ready to implement his plan for world domination by releasing a global toxin that would take away free will from all its victims. With just a gentle suggestion, Dr. Death could convince anyone to serve him. He also raised an undead army as a backup plan. SuperSpy Jessica had to stop him and save the world, but she knew that she couldn’t do it alone. She needed help. She needed to assemble a dream team of individuals with talents and resources to fulfill on this incredibly high stakes and dangerous mission. She put together her team:
Todd, the part-time bank teller who watches too much television.
Leslie, the unemployed, single mother of three.
Janelle, the kindergarten teacher with untreated chronic back pain.
Joseph, the middle aged, overworked social worker with clinical depression.
The fate of the human race rests in the hands of this brave group of heroes. They are our only hope for freedom. They are our only hope for salvation.
Sounds ridiculous, right? Continue reading