The Handbasket In Which We Find Ourselves

The Handbasket In Which We Find Ourselves

First of all, I know this will sound like a conspiracy theory to be dismissed and laughed at, but let me first encourage you to watch the following video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmW19uoyuO8

Paul Ryan is Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, second in line to the presidency of the United States of America.

Why do leaders of our nation oppose real health care reform? Because of the basic life philosophy that informs and motivates every decision and choice they make.

Objectivists are politically active in the following issues:

  1. Opposition to initiatives meant to curb Climate Change
  2. Repeal and Replace Obamacare
  3. Opposition to single-payer health care in America
  4. Tax cuts for the wealthy

Objectivism – The philosophy of Ayn Rand summarized (copied and pasted from https://www.aynrand.org/ideas/overview ) as:

 

ADVANCING YOUR POTENTIAL

Ayn Rand wrote volumes urging people to be selfish.

What? Aren’t people already too selfish? Just do whatever you feel like, be a thoughtless jerk, and exploit people to get ahead. Easy, right? Except that acting thoughtlessly and victimizing others, Rand claims, is not in your self-interest.

What Rand advocates is an approach to life that’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. Selfishness, in her philosophy, means:

  • Follow reason, not whims or faith.
  • Work hard to achieve a life of purpose and productiveness.
  • Earn genuine self-esteem.
  • Pursue your own happiness as your highest moral aim.
  • Prosper by treating others as individuals, trading value for value.

At the dawn of our lives, writes Rand, we “seek a noble vision of man’s nature and of life’s potential.” Rand’s philosophy is that vision. Explore it for yourself.

Objectivism, a philosophy for living on earth.

COMMON BELIEFS THAT AYN RAND CHALLENGES

“YOU ARE YOUR BROTHER’S KEEPER”

We’re not born, Rand says, with inexplicable duties to serve God or society. We only have one life, and the good is to live it. Learn to pursue your own happiness by discovering the life-promoting values it requires. Think rationally and don’t bow to authority. Join with other people when you have real values in common and go your separate way when you don’t. Don’t try to be your brother’s keeper or to force him to be yours. Live independently.

“LOVE IS SELFLESS”

We love what we personally value and admire. A “selfless love” is a contradiction in terms: it would mean you have no personal stake in the object of your love. The truth is, romantic love is profoundly selfish: it’s a union of mind and body that both people pursue for their own happiness. And it’s profoundly demanding. To quote a famous line from The Fountainhead: “To say ‘I love you’ one must know first how to say the ‘I.’”

“MONEY IS THE ROOT OF ALL EVIL”

Life requires production. Today’s standard of living, with our computers, cell phones and life-saving medicines, far outstrips the wildest dreams of the past. All this wealth had to be created by individuals — and money is what enables production. “Money is your means of survival,” a character in Atlas Shrugged warns. “The verdict you pronounce upon the source of your livelihood is the verdict you pronounce upon your life.”

 

 

For background and a summary of what objectivism is, see the following links

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Objectivism_(Ayn_Rand)

https://www.theobjectivestandard.com/what-is-objectivism/

And, here is a link to Source Watch that documents the following:

“Since 2002, the Ayn Rand Institute has given out more than 1.4 million free copies of Ayn Rand novels to teachers in North America. The novels AnthemThe Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged have been sent to 30,000 teachers in 40,000 classrooms. The Institute figures that given the expected three-year lifespan of a book, more than three million people will be introduced to her books and ideas.”

Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged are the holy scriptures of Objectivism.

https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Ayn_Rand_Institute

 

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LET’S BE HONEST ABOUT WORSHIP

I’ve been a pastor now for nearly 28 years. I’ve survived the “Worship Wars” and witnessed much of the upheaval that has taken place as “Christendom” has given away to whatever we call it now. I’ve read the books, listened to speakers, participated in conversations, discussions, debates, arguments, and am gearing up for the no holds barred Mime Wrestling Smackdown over worship styles.

Some background: I love to chant the liturgy, I also play guitar, electric bass, trumpet. I have played with praise teams, and polka bands for worship. I enjoy worship in all its fullness and diversity.

Really the answer is simple: It’s ….. wait for it ….

First a story about my maternal grandmother. She came into the world as a Methodist, and even though she spent the last 30+ years of her life worshiping at a Lutheran Church she was still at heart a Methodist. She frequently querried, “Why do Lutherans have to do the same thing every Sunday?” And she knew this because she was not only in worship EVERY Sunday; but, at age 70 when her Lutheran Church needed a secretary she volunteered to be the temporary secretary until they found a full time replacement. BTW, she retired from that position on her 80th birthday.

POINT #1: My grandmother worshiped every Sunday at a church whose liturgical worship style she didn’t particularly like.

At age 84 my grandmother moved from the little house across the street from the church to a Senior Living Apartment. It became harder for her to get there but she continued to attend worship every Sunday. The true revelation came after I was ordained and installed in my first call. Mom and grandma drove from Minnesota to southern Nebraska to visit me for a week and attended worship at the church I was serving. When I first told my grandmother I was going to become a Pastor she gave me one command, and only one: “You may sure to speak loud enough so that everyone can hear.”

After that one and only time my grandmother ever heard me preach, I was nervously standing at the back of the sanctuary greeting worshipers and waiting for my grandmother. When she came out, I asked the question that was foremost in my mind, “Did you like my sermon?” She smiled and replied, “I heard every word of it.” actually I spoke so loudly she even turned her hearing aid off and could still hear me.

She never said whether or not it was a good sermon. It took me the longest time to understand that interaction and what it really meant. And it was not until 27 years later that I finally understand the full significance of what she said. You see, she never even considered judging the sermon for content, delivery, effectiveness, style, or any of the metrics preachers and parishioners use to evaluate worship.  She went to worship every Sunday to worship God. She didn’t go to “church” (a noun), she went to “worship” (a verb.) Because worship was not about her, it was an act of devotion to God.

POINT #2: My grandmother worshiped every Sunday because it was not about her, it was about God.

The next thing that brought the truth of Point #2 home to me was when grandma could no longer attend worship because she didn’t have a way to physically get there, the person who had been bringing her was no longer able to do so. I could tell she was disappointed but she consoled herself with being able to watch worship services on TV. When I asked her about this she commented, “At least with the TV I can turn it up loud enough so I can hear the preacher.” I came to find out that for the final 10 years of her experience worshiping at her little Lutheran Church in Lester Prairie, MN, she hadn’t been able to hear a word the pastor said.

Now stop to ponder the significance of that statement: For 10 years my grandmother worshiped every Sunday without being able to hear a word of the 500 or so sermons that were preached during that time.

…..

POINT #3: My grandmother worshiped as a Spiritual Discipline, because she knew that worship was a central part of what it means to BE a Christian, despite the fact that her physical hearing disability prevented her from “Getting anything out of the sermon.”

My grandmother chose to worship God regularly, it was part of the fabric of her life. She never asked questions like “Should I go to church today or stay home and read the newspaper?” She never refused to worship God because the service wasn’t designed according to her specifications.

Could she have chosen to do other things on Sunday morning rather than worship God? Yes. Did she? NO.

POINT #4: My grandmother worshiped every Sunday because she chose to do so.

And why did she choose to worship every Sunday? Because worship was important to her, it was a priority, it was the thing she put on her calendar before anything else.

Another story to help in understanding this issue:

When I served in Randolph, NE there were four men from Ohio who came every year to hunt pheasant on the farm of one of the members of the church. And every year they got up early Sunday morning and went out hunting, but they came back in time to clean up and attend worship on Sunday morning, every year. Why, because they chose to. Why, because it was important to them, a priority.

(I understand fully that nurses and others have to work on Sundays, and so for some of us our options and choices are limited. If you have no choice of where to spend your time on Sunday morning then you have a different issue to address regarding your Spiritual Practice of worship.)

Every one of us has 24 hours in a day. I know people who will move heaven and earth to watch “Dancing With The Stars,” or have the schedule of their favorite football/basketball/baseball/etc. team in their Google calendar the minute it is available. Their tee times are sacred, and opening day of fishing season is a high holy day.

So, Let’s be honest about worship. If you are in worship on Sunday morning, it is because worship is important to you, because God is important to you, it is a priority in your life, you make the time to attend worship. If you are not in worship on Sunday it is because you choose not to worship God. You can come up with all kinds of excuses why you make the choices you make, but in the end it comes down to priorities.

Some people impact our lives forever

This weekend I was at my sister’s house and saw an old picture of our dad pinned to the bulletin board. (The picture was pinned to the bulletin board, not dad.) Almost immediately tears began welling up in my eyes. I turned to my sister and said, “I really miss dad.” She replied, “Mmm hmm.”

We stood there for a brief time looking at the picture. She explained that it had been taken the weekend of our brother’s wedding, and she remembered that morning because someone had short sheeted their bed the previous evening.

Lynn went to finish making breakfast and I walked over to the light and looked closer at dad. He was standing talking to my sister, her husband and our family friend Bob Booth. As I stared at the picture I remembered that the last time I saw Bob was at mom’s funeral, it meant so much to see him there.

But my focus was on my dad. I could almost hear what he was thinking from the expression on his face. And right then the only thing I wanted was to be able to talk to him, or more importantly hear him share some of the wisdom I cherish so much t this day.

The thing you need to know, is that picture was taken 29 years ago, and dad has been dead now for almost 27 years. Some people may ruin or brighten your day with a word or action. Some people have a more lasting impact upon our lives that may or may not fade with time.

Then there are people like my dad who make a profound difference which only grows and becomes richer with age and the passing of time. The world would be much better off if there were more people like my dad. If I can be half the man he was I will have done very well in my life.

Following Christ has a Cost

Matthew 10:24 ff

Garrison Keeler was describing Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church and proudly talking about how diverse their membership is, he said, “We have both Norwegians and Swedes.”

We laugh, but the age old prejudice of those neighboring Scandinavian cultures caused sometimes insurmountable obstacles. Far too many communities continue to be divided by ethnic heritage, race, and other categories into which we pigeon-hole people. Those are just a few of the ways we hinder the work of Christ in the world.

In Chapter 9 of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is working miracles of healing. He heals a man who was paralyzed, gives life to a girl who was dead, heals a woman, two blind men, and casts out a demon from a man who was mute and gave him back the power of speech. The people were amazed, “But the Pharisees said, ‘By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.’”

This is the context for our Gospel lesson for today in which we hear Jesus make some troubling statements; specifically, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He goes on to talk about families that will be divided one against another because of him; and it disturbs us to think that Jesus would do that.

But Jesus is not describing his intent or purpose, he is warning his disciples and us of the consequences of following him. Because when we give our hearts to Christ, the Holy Spirit transforms us into new people, we are called to a new way of life, and those who have not had that transformational experience fear the change that living a Christ-like life brings. And they fight against it. This was certainly true for those of Jesus day who understood Jesus to be the Messiah. Many of them gave up everything to follow Jesus, because the Pharisees and other religious leaders rejected Jesus and demanded that the people do the same.

The more Jesus preached and taught, the more they resisted. And when Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, and cast out demons they came up with outlandish ways to explain why those were bad things. They were afraid of what they could not control, and the number of people following Jesus was growing daily.

Sadly things have not changed. Though no-one is being put to death in our country for believing in Christ, it still happens in other parts of the world. Yet the divisions are still real, and have major consequences for families and relationships.

But the saddest thing of all is when the church perpetuates division among Christians.

One of the most memorable experiences I have had as a pastor happened the day I visited a gentleman in the hospital who was facing open-heart surgery. I arrived and greeted him and his wife. He introduced me to his two older brothers and their wives who were also present. As we talked, he shared his fears and misgivings about the upcoming surgery, but also his firm faith that God was with him and would watch over him during the surgery. All six of them joined in affirming that truth.

I asked if there was anything specific I could do for him, and he asked if I would bring him Holy Communion in preparation for his surgery. I replied that all I needed was to retrieve the elements for the sacrament and I would gladly do so. When I returned the room was quiet and the brothers were looking back and forth between themselves. As I prepared the things I had brought one of his brothers asked, “Could I have communion too?” I explained what Martin Luther wrote in the Small Catechism that we are rightly prepared and worthy to receive the sacrament when we believe the words, “Given and shed for you.” He said, that’s what I was taught in confirmation class all those years ago. “But,” he said, “when my wife and I married over 50 years ago I joined the Missouri Synod.” I replied, “That’s not a problem for me if it’s not a problem for you.” He laughed and indicated that he would like to receive the sacrament.

Then the other brother asked if he could also have communion. I said, “You heard our conversation, if you believe the body and blood of Christ was given and shed for you, you are welcome to receive the sacrament.” He shared that when he had married his wife 50 years earlier he had joined the Catholic Church. Again I said, “That’s not a problem for me if it’s not a problem for you.” we laughed and he said he would like to receive the sacrament.

As I read scripture and prayed with them the tears began flowing from their eyes, because for the first time in over 50 years the three brothers were able to share in Holy Communion together. And their gratitude showed on their faces and in the money they pressed into my palm as they shook my hand (over $100 which I donated to the chaplaincy department of the hospital.)

Christ calls us to break down the walls and unlock the doors of division, prejudice and pride that get in the way of our experiencing the true joy of life in Christ.

Respect

I grew up in a home with parents who didn’t always agree, but did always respect each other.

My mom was a registered Republican, and my dad was a registered Democrat. They both felt voting was one of the great privileges and sacred responsibilities of living in our nation, so they exercised that right at every opportunity. However, every time an election rolled around my dad, who was an unapologetic wise guy (I once saw him shake Hubert Humphries’ hand and the count his fingers to make sure he got them all back), would say to mom, “Marlys we’re just going to go and cast our votes for the opposite party and cancel out each others votes, why don’t we stay home this time.” To which mom would reply, “Bob, I’m not that stupid.” Then dad would get that little smile on his face and the gleam in his eye, and mom would smile back defiantly.

This oft repeated drama taught me a number of things: Stand up for what you believe in, and make sure you vote even if you know the wise guy in the next booth is voting for the opposing candidate. The other thing about my parents, is that they were each willing to cross the aisle and vote for someone of the opposite party if they believed in what that candidate stood for. You see they voted based on their core values and beliefs, and one of the strongest of their core values was love for one another, even in the face of disagreements.

Both of my parents were good faithful Christian people. Yet they saw things differently.

The decline of civility and respect in public discourse and even in casual conversation diminishes us all. When our identity and sense of self is defined by the small parcel of things that divide us, then we are all losers.

I have people in my life that I cherish, that I respect a great deal, and whom I enjoy spending time with. They are each the wise guy in the next booth voting for the opposing candidate. The strength of those relationships is that there are far more, and more important things that unite us, than separate us. We have a mutual respect and choose not to let the minor differences destroy our relationships.

I choose to love and respect those who differ from me, because my life is sweeter and fuller because of them.

Heeeeeeere’s the Holy Spirit

Sermon for June 8, 2014

Texts – Acts 2:1-21, John 20:19-23, 1 Corinthians12:3b-13

I find that Lutherans talk mostly about Jesus. As Mark Allen Powell puts it, “We’re very Jesusy people.” We claim to be Trinitarian in our theology, and defend that label proudly. But when it comes to the topics we like to preach about and study I think the breakdown looks something like this:

God the Father              7.65%

God the Son (Jesus)     92.3%

God the Holy Spirit      0.05% (and then only in a whisper)

Maybe it harkens back to the days when we referred to the third person of the Trinity as the Holy Ghost, and we’re afraid of ghosts. But I think it is more because of the unpredictable nature of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is very hard to put in a box which we can tape up and label with a Magic Marker.

The work of the Holy Spirit is also hard to boxify. Calling, enlightening, and sanctifying. Comforting, teaching, and guiding. Gathering, enlivening, and sending. And the only picture we have of the Holy Spirit is of a dove on Jesus shoulder. Even the Hebrew word ruach (pronounce the “ch” as though you are clearing your throat) has three basic meanings: wind, breath, and spirit. The Holy Spirit is really hard to pin down, just like wind or breath. And we don’t like things w can control.

Yet, without the Spirit we are lost. In his explanation to the third article of the Apostle’s Creed, Martin Luther writes:

I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.

I wish the new translation had kept the word “sanctifies,” what a windy breathy word that is. And it is a nebulous word that more accurately befits the work of the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is breathed into us by Christ in the upper room with the disciples. With the Spirit is also given the power to forgive, a power normally reserved for God. But since God the Spirit is with us and within us so is the power of the Spirit at work in us and through us.

And there are other gifts that come with the Holy Spirit, it’s like the haul some people get on their birthday. Gift upon gift, upon gift.

There’s speaking in tongues, preaching, teaching, discernment of spirits, compassion, love, joy, generosity, hospitality, baking lemon marangue pies for the pastor (and many others too numerous to mention here.)

In 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 Paul writes,4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” All these many and varying gifts are from the one Holy Spirit who calls all people to use their gifts to serve the one Lord, God. And it is the same God whom we are called to serve that makes those gifts active in our lives.

For many of us, the fear comes from the fact that God chooses which gifts we will have and we are given no say n the matter.  The gifts come from God, we are given the power to use them by God, in the service of God. In no way are the gifts meant to be ours to use for our own purpose. As a matter of fact, Paul goes on in vs. 7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

God gives me specific gifts by the Holy Spirit to be used for the sake of the community. And God gives you specific gifts by the Holy Spirit to be used for the sake of the community. When we use our gifts in concert with one another then we truly become the Body of Christ  as God envisioned us to be. It is then that we become like the disciples witnessing in the streets of Jerusalem to the amazing and wonderful acts of God, to the praise and glory of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Glorifying God

Sermon for June 1, 2014; Seventh Sunday of Easter

Texts: John 17:1-11, Acts 1:6-14

During the 1988 winter Olympics in Calgary Michael Edwards competed for Great Britain in the 70m and 90m ski jump. Better known as “Eddie the Eagle” he qualified to represent his for country in ski jumping because he was the only one who entered from Great Britain. Eddie came in last in both events. His performances were heart-stopping, not because of the grace or perfection of his jumps, but simply because he didn’t break his neck. People around the world were glued to the TV wondering if “The Eagle” would land or not. He had his moment of fame and glory as Great Britain’s record holder in ski jumping.

Every child has dreams of what they will be when they grow up. Many athletes devote hours each day to training single-mindedly hoping to achieve a level of performance that will bring them glory, win them the gold. The benchmark is the “10,000 Hour” rule. It is believed that in order to truly master a sport or any other activity of life you must spend 10,000 hours of focused intentional practice. That can be achieved by spending 4 hours a day, every day, for 7 years.

That’s what it takes to achieve at the level where true glory dwells, at least in this world. You stand on the top step, wrap yourself in the flag and have the gold medal placed around your neck, and all eyes are on you.

Jesus is gathered with his disciples in the upper room following the last supper, and he prays about glory. (John 17:1b-4) “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.” And following this prayer Jesus went to the Mount of Olives to be betrayed, arrested, and crucified.

That doesn’t sound very glorious. As a matter of fact, rather than glory many people throughout history have viewed the cross as Jesus’ failure to accomplish the glorious work of God here on earth. But on this last Sunday in Easter, we are in the midst of the most glorious events recorded in scripture. And none of them could have happened without the cross.

I’m talking about the resurrection and Ascension which are behind us, and Pentecost which is before us.

In Acts 1 we read the account of Jesus meeting his disciples (and there were more than 12 of them there) on mount Olivet and giving his final words (Acts 1:8) “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Following this they watch as he ascends into heaven and they are left to carry on the work Jesus began. We are told they dedicated themselves to prayer and fellowship as they await the next step in the adventure to which Jesus called them.

Christ has called us to be part of that same adventure, that same journey. We are commissioned to also be Jesus witnesses to the ends of the earth. And we are called to start right here in Clear Lake. In my June newsletter article I wrote about encountering a man at a local convenience store, he commented to the clerk that he wasn’t going to church because he is not welcome there. I interrupted and told him that he would be welcome at Galilean Lutheran. He queried, “Are you sure?” I replied, “I’m the pastor and I know you are welcome there.”

The cross of Christ stands as God’s invitation to all people, no matter how sinful, to be gathered into the Body of Christ. And it is in this body, the church, that we live out the grace and love of Christ on communion with God and one another. This is what we mean when we proclaim our mission: We are Galilean Lutheran Church: Growing in, Living out, and Celebrating the Grace and Love of Christ Jesus our Lord.

As part of living out this mission God has given us, we will be having conversation on June 22nd following worship about approving a welcome statement for us to include on our website and in other outreach communications. It reads:

We, the members of Galilean Lutheran Church, affirm that Christ has made us one body with many members, all sharing in God’s wondrous grace and unconditional love. We celebrate both the human variation and inclusive unity of God’s family. Following Jesus’ example, we embrace all of God’s people, regardless of ethnicity, physical and mental abilities, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or economic circumstance. With welcoming hearts, we invite you to join us in worship, fellowship, and ministry.

Thanks be to God for calling us to this amazing adventure and journey in Jesus Christ.

Scot

Thoughts on Starting a Blog

I enjoy reading a few blogs, but I try to be discriminating in my choices. I want content that will be uplifting and encouraging, too many blogs seem to be filled with rants about how unfair life is, they are just depressing. I like blogs by people I know like my friend Allan Stellar http://paradisefrommyporch.blogspot.com/ even though sometimes he rants he’s my friend so I can overlook that.

Though I like to read what others write it seems a bit narcissistic to start my own blog. But the idea came up again at our church council meeting, “You should write a blog.” So I asked the Wednesday morning Bible Study group, “If I start a blog, what should I write about?” There was silence (no crickets chirped, but I could imagine them in my mind.) Finally someone said, “I think stories of your experience as a pastor would be good.”

That set my mind going, in 27 years I guess I have accumulated a few stories that would be worth telling. I have been blessed to know some living saints in my life, some of them have transitioned to their heavenly home in the bosom of our Father, and some continue on the journey of this life. The stories of their faithfulness and love deserves telling, as a testament to the Holy Spirit who is their guide and strength.

I have been witness to and participant in some events that cause me to laugh out loud at their remembrance. And I am blessed to have been used by God in ways that still take my breath away.

To that end, I humbly submit this first post.

     Self: OK do I sign my name as if it is a letter, or what?

     Reply: Allan doesn’t.

     Self: He’s really good at this blogging thing. Guess I’ll follow his example.

     Reply: OK, just don’t get in the habit of following his example. 🙂

     Self: Heheh, for sure. 🙂