Your Blog Steward

My Photo
Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am a pastor, teacher, educator, who lives theology. I am actively searching for ways to participate in the life and being of the God of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. I cherish conversations which challenge and engage the ideas I present, and although I think they are pretty good...everything can be improved (well,...except maybe heaven.) I have an MDiv from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and a PhD in Systematic Theology from Luther Seminary, St.Paul, MN. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment. I look forward to our conversations.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Going Back to Where I Began, part 1

I keep a couple of acquaintances as Facebook friends because they have extreme political views, and in a couple of cases they are total opposites. Recently, my FB feed had one friend decrying giving a made-up sports award that means nothing in the real world that I actually live in to Caitlyn Jenner, and the very next post was from a friend who found it inspiring and thought it was great. This is our world.
We don’t see eye-to-eye on anything these days. Given the unlimited and intractable scope of the internet, and surely everything is up for debate. Even more than that, people will go to battle it seems just to see that their view on a subject “wins” in the court of public opinion.
Thank God for Jesus Christ. My favorite verse of scripture comes from First Corinthians as Paul writes:
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. It is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? Since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. “Jews” demand signs, “Greeks” desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, stumbling block to “Jews” and foolishness to “Gentiles,” but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and wisdom of God. God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
                                                                           1 Corinthians 1.18-25
In other words, God is more reliable than Facebook. Or Twitter. Or Snapchat. Or whatever else has been developed since I wrote this sentence. Way back when, long before smartphones, computers, or even electrical circuitry, God thwarted the plans of the clever. It’s no different now. We just seem to have more people who claim to be “clever.” God is still thwarting them.
You see, to believe in Jesus Christ is to believe that in dying you live, in serving you love, and in laughing you conquer death. As our lives get bombarded with sound bytes from one debater after another; as we scramble to limit and filter the messages we receive, as well please remember the gift you have received from God. That losing isn’t the end of the world, that light shines in the darkest of rooms, and that you have more value to God than you realize. The world may not seem to love you, but God does.

If you need proof of that love, just look at a cross. Remember your baptism. Share holy communion with a stranger. That’s all the wisdom you’ll ever need.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Recent Sermon: Why do you know what you know? Why do you have what you have?

The sermon that follows here is truly a one-of-a-kind. I am preaching before First Lutheran Church in Blair, NE, right before their annual meeting. Like all congregations, the people of Blair are better than the believe they are, and probably not as good as they think. That famous quote from St. Augustine comes to mind: "Do not despair, one of the criminals was saved. Do not presume, one of the criminals was damned." Good stuff.

The setting for this worship is a L.I.F.E. Center, and you can see the trombone player left it there. We have a wonderful worship Ensemble that brings life and music that that worship, and it has been one of the great treats of this job to be part of the music here. I've worked with many, many gifted musicians in my pastoral career. Mr. Vince Krysyl is a true delight, and you never know what he's going to write for a worship service.

Anyhow, don't assume you know why God gives you a gift. Sometimes, that answer is quite a few years down the road. When I'm in the pulpit, I often think, this is what I've been trained for." But for most of that training, it never occurred to me that I would wind up in a pulpit. Where might your gifts lead you in God's mission to create a trustworthy world?

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Recent Sermon: A Challenge

The sermon that follows is a challenge to make lemonade from lemons. The goodness of God is our constant source of life and love, and how wonderful it is to be surrounded by that goodness, especially when things aren't going so well.

This sermon is pretty self-explanatory, except for a few things. Our Children's Ministry Director, Nikki O'Neil had our Sunday School kids play kazoos for us that morning. Watching 30 kids play kazoos in worship is about as good as it gets. I wish we had that on video.

The City of Blair was destroyed by hail in June 2014, about 4 months before I got there. Estimated property damage was over a billion dollars. That's a lot for a town on 7990. A year later people are just now getting repairs done. (Our congregation's roof is being replaced as I type.)

You see a lot of my Lutheran liturgical tradition here. I'm in a cleric, which I wear a lot here at this place, but many of you have worshiped with me for years, and never seen me in a cleric. They are "adiophora" (not essential) in terms of our salvation, and I take that seriously in this case. We chant Psalms in worship, in this case Psalm 23. My sermons always try to be about the promissory and trustworthy nature of God, in spite of our struggles and lack of available evidence sometimes that God is either one of those.

For those wondering, I do preach extemporaneously. The only note I had in front of me was the words to Psalm 23. It is a style I have come to trust over the years, although it is not the only style of preaching I do. It is my preferred style however.

 How do you trust in God's goodness? Where is the pasture the goodness of God calling you to these days?

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Recent Sermons: Being Vulnerable in an Angry World is scary

High School Graduation. Looking back without anger. Responding with love and forgiveness when anger is directed at us. Where you have received forgiveness or given forgiveness over the past few weeks?

This is one is trying not to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. We struggle to let God create our garden so we can live with God. We am I so afraid of vulnerability?

Charleston, South Carolina, June 2015

(On Wednesday, June 17, 2015, nine Black Americans where shot in a congregation in Charleston, SC. The killer (allegedly, although he left witnesses) is a White American, and there is evidence that the killings were racially motivated. The alleged killer spent 45 minutes with the congregation in Bible study, and there is a rumor that he almost didn't follow through because the people were  so nice. Not nice enough apparently. May their families find peace, and may their deaths not be in vain.)

How do I preach in a world where people kill others because they do not like the color of someone's skin? What sense does it make to live in a world where so much hatred resides, and because in the USA we allow people access to firearms, that hatred can often have tragic consequences? What to preach? How to preach? Why preach?

The sermon that follows gets to what I believe is the cause of racism: fear. Racism is an excuse to be fearful, and to not trust God in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit has taken care of you and will continue to care for you. The alleged killer was afraid, and rather than trust God, he trusted himself and his gun, and nine people died from his fear. More than cowardice, he blasphemed the Holy Spirit, in theological language, and made himself "God." He was wrong, as all people are who live in fear, and use racism, class-ism, sexism, and any other "ism" to justify their actions. (Living in fear isn't the problem, it's using the "isms" to cover up that fear.)

To trust in God is to trust in God, like the 9 who were killed trusted in God. And although they died, we would be remiss to think their trust in God was misplaced or lacking. They still live with God, although in a way we on this planet don't get to see. They may have been some of the greatest martyrs for the Christian faith in the last 1800 years. They didn't choose to be martyrs, they might not have wanted to be martyrs, and it may seem rather wasteful to think of them as such. But if you're going to have faith in a God who died on a cross, you shouldn't be surprised if you should die in a cross of sorts too. This doesn't mean we have to go seeking out such death, but we don't have to act surprised when it happens either.

Because I preach on the Revised Common Lectionary, the text this sermon is based on comes from the gospel of Mark, chapter 4, right at the end. I didn't pick the text, and truth be told I didn't pick this weekend to preach either, but my colleague went on vacation on Saturday. I hope somebody hears some gospel in this sermon, and I hope it's just not the white folks either.

One last thing: our quarterly healing service fell on this Sunday as well. This worship is a time for people to offer prayers, blessings, communion, lighting a candle of memories and hope, and quiet reflection on the presence of Jesus in their lives. Jesus is actively working to heal and make us whole. In my mind it was the "perfect storm," and what follows is my journey across the sea.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.