Church Stuff-More or less

Does the church make sense or do we make it too hard for people to come in? I think yes and yes and the task then is to make it easier. Maybe for someone out there, this will be the case. I write as a Lutheran (or, perhaps a Lutherpalian) although I might seem out of the mainstream from time to time. That's okay, isn't it? Let's blog on.

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Location: Northport, Long Island, United States

Contrary to what Google will tell you, I have been blogging for several year, right here. Look for Churchstuff-moreorless. life was a hell of a lot easier when you could talk to someone to get help. Now, you can't do it on the telephone, you can't do it on the internet. Life was easier and made more sense because people actually cared. Now they will screw you as quickly as they will help you. Unfuck the world.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sunday's sermon a few days early

This is based on the Gospel reading for Proper 8, Mark 5.21-43:
Though the weatherman might disagree, we are into summer and yet another Independence Day soon approaches...
The Gospel has just been proclaimed, a familiar story...Jesus is heavy into his public ministry and scarcely has a moment alone to recharge his batteries.
His dying daughter.
An unclean woman.
Healings abound.
Does one have anything to do with the other?
Is there a connection between patriotism and the Christian faith?
More specifically, is there some connection between American patriotism and the Christian faith?
Independence Day is about being independent. And we Americans are indeed proud of our so-called independent spirit, our individualism. We speak longingly of the frontier where, when the smoke of a neighbor's chimney became visible, it was time to move on.
But Christianity is about dependence -- dependence on the goodness and grace of God -- and interdependence -- dependence on one another as a body of believers. Christianity is about living in community. It is sometimes said that there is no such thing as a solitary Christian; I have to agree with the truth of that statement except, perhaps, in some very extreme circumstances.
We tend to link the words "God and country" together as if they are somehow grammatically and inseparably joined. However, when we think about it, we know the link isn't always there. An honorable person, a Christian, will, of course, perform their patriotic duties because fellow citizens are dependent upon their doing their part -- but only to the extent the nation's demands do not conflict with God's commands.
The First Commandment forbids us from having any gods other than the one true God -- the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. We are to be loyal to our nation, but as Christians we are not to worship it.
So, we have to be careful when we celebrate nationhood in the church. Some denominations -- I'm thinking of the Mennonites in particular right now -- do not permit a flag in the church. Now the Mennonites I have known are very responsible American citizens, but they are clear on who is being worshiped in the church -- God and not the state.
But, having said these words of caution, I do think there is a clear link between what America is to stand for and what happens in today's Gospel reading from the fifth chapter of Mark. I think we see an intersection of the Gospel and some of our highest national ideals.
The Gospel story begins with Jesus' return from his trip across the Sea of Galilee in which the great storm was encountered and calmed. He gets out of the boat and is immediately surrounded by a huge crowd of people. Just imagine the scene, the masses of people. Imagine it from the point of view of the people in the crowd. You may have been in a similar situation at some time in your life -- in the midst of a crowd of people straining forward to try to see what's going on, to catch a glimpse of the action. You know how difficult it can be to see anything unless you're fortunate enough to be one of the really tall people in the crowd. And you really can't move except in unity with the crowd as a whole. Yet our Scripture tells us that Jairus comes along and steps right up to Jesus, falling at Jesus' feet. I think that says a lot about Jairus' position in the community. He was a leader of the synagogue and the people must've stood aside for him to make his way to Jesus. He was a Very Important Person.
And Jesus takes Jairus' request seriously. Upon hearing about the condition of Jairus' daughter, Jesus "went with him."
But then there's that woman;
that unclean, outcast of a woman;
that woman who is not supposed to be around anyone;
that woman who has, in almost everyone's eyes, been cursed by the very God Jesus represents. She touches Jesus' cloak, and Jesus feels the power go out from him. So he stops and demands to know who touched him.
Jesus knows that her need is greater than just being healed of the bleeding.
She needs to be accepted into the community.
She needs to be assured that she is not cursed by God.
So Jesus stops and listens to her, and calls her "daughter," and tells her to go in peace.
Jesus takes time for the outcast, for the rejected, for the woman pushed to the very margins of society.
That woman is every bit as important as the daughter of a prestigious synagogue leader. For that matter, she is as important as the synagogue leader himself.
Social standing means absolutely nothing to Jesus.
Jesus welcomes all who seek him.
And, at its best, the United States of America welcomes those who seek new life within its borders.
In the harbor of New York City, on a small island stands a lady who waits to welcome the world. Beneath her feet are the words:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Oh! How these words reflect the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They speak words of welcome just like Jesus does. They say all are welcome in this great land, just as all are welcome in Jesus' kingdom.
This is something we can hold up as pleasing to God. This is something worthy of God's blessing.
To the extent that we as a nation live by these words, it is perhaps appropriate to link "country" with "God."
For when we are about the business of welcoming people into community with us, we are doing God's work. That is some of the most important work we do for God. For it is in this welcoming that healing and life comes about.
It is in this welcoming that others can find the eternal life offered by God through Jesus Christ.
The greatness of America is, I believe, largely attributable to its welcoming of peoples "yearning to breathe free" -- Germans, Irish, English, French, Italians, Scandinavians, Poles, Hungarians, Russians. Jamaicans, Haitians, Cubans. Mexicans, Salvadorians, Hondurans, and Ecuadorians. Iraqis, Afghans, and Iranians. We welcomed these people, we continue to welcome these people, into America by allowing them to enter. For this God has blessed us. Sadly, the people of America often do not welcome the newcomers -- we are in fact hostile toward them -- and I think for that reason the blessing is less. The residents of America cannot claim the fullness of the blessing that would have been available to America if we truly opened our hearts to all of the newcomers.
We are to welcome people not just because, as the writer of Hebrews warns, we might be entertaining angels unawares, but because all people possess the image of God. God's people are to be a welcoming people. I can think of nowhere else other than this place, this house of God, this community of believers, for this to be true. We people of Epiphany are indeed a congregation of immigrants. My great-great grandfather arrived in NY from Germany on April 24, 1857, maybe your ancestors did as well. Maybe you came to our country 100 years later or so from a Caribbean island. Maybe you’ve come to the US from a Latin American country post Y2K. Maybe you have more recently arrived from France or Poland. It matters not, for we are indeed a congregation of immigrants and we know what it is like to have been newcomers searching for a welcome.
So, in preparation for this coming Independence Day, I invite you to reflect on your welcoming skills. Our ideals as a nation call us to welcome those from other lands to share in our bounty. But think about welcoming on a more personal level. How welcoming are you to new people in our community? How welcoming are you to our guests or to these new members in our church? Do you greet them at fellowship time and spend some time talking with them? Do you invite them to sit down with you and participate in the refreshments. Or do you just leave that to others? At the potluck, do you make a point of sitting at a table with them and actually talking to them?
Do you do it even if they don't look like your "kind of people"?
Jesus reminds us today that we are not to leave people on the margins, but that we are to welcome them into our fellowship. Let us keep that reminder in our in the front of our hearts and minds as we go out into our world this week.
Our God is a welcoming God. The greatest welcome we can extend to anyone is to invite him or her to join with us at God's table. There is no better way to demonstrate our unity as one people in Christ -- to make the point that in Christ's church NO ONE IS ON THE MARGINS -- than to participate together in the Holy Communion.
As Paul says to the church in Corinth, "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread." In God through Christ Jesus, there is no distinction.
Black, brown, white, or something in between, we who are many are one body.
We who speak English, nosotros que hablamos Español, we who are many are one body, nosotros que son muchos somos un cuerpo.
Male and female, young and not so young, gay or straight, we are one body.
Let us not, here at Epiphany, push any to the margins but, rather, let us welcome each other to the table, the table where God calls us all to be fed by God with the body and blood of the Son, Jesus our Lord. And strengthened by this Holy Meal, may we take the unity that we share here, at this table, with us that we might truly be welcoming people. Amen

Thursday, June 18, 2009

From the Desert

A brother who was insulted by another brother came to Abba Sisois and said to him, "I was hurt by my brother and I want to avenge myself."

The old man tried to console him and said, "Do not do that, my child. Rather leave vengeance to God."

But he said, "I will not quit until I avenge myself."

Then the old man said, "Let us pray, brother." And standing up he said, "O God, we no longer need you to take care of us since we are now able to avenge ourselves."

Hearing these words, the brother fell at the feet of the old man and said, "I am not going to fight with my brother any more. Forgive me, Abba."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Read elsewhere, worth sharing

O Breath of God,
You moved on the face of the waters and created order out of chaos…
Calm our hearts that we may hear you!

You who spoke light into darkness and pushed the shadows aside…
Drive out our fears and make your face shine upon us!

You who wrestled with Jacob and marked him as you Israel…
Dance with us in our clumsiness and teach us your ways!

We re what you make of us
So we give ourselves to you.

We have only what you have given us
So we give it all back to you.

We become only what you dream for us
As we learn…
and over again,
to say “Yes!”

to you…the One
who wrestles and dances
and creates and comforts
and dreams with us
with this world
with all that ever has been and ever will be,

Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday's Devotion from Epiphany

Luke 14. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?...31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? (NRSV)

Counting the cost. When we are looking to buy a home, we figure out how much we can pay and buy accordingly. When it is time for vacation, we don’t just throw some clothes in a suitcase, jump in the car and take off. No, we’ve spent time planning, where to go, what to take with us, how much it will cost. How much will it cost to follow Jesus?
First, Jesus tells us that it will cost us all of our possessions. It will be really hard to follow Jesus if we are dragging a pile of stuff behind us. Surprisingly, perhaps, we only have record of one person being unable to do this. Can you give up all of your possessions?
Secondly, we are told that we must carry the cross. What does that mean? I think I t means that following Jesus does not grant special privileges. If anything, life often gives us an extra helping of bad because we ought be able to bear it. How’s your cross bearing?
Finally, no earthly person can stand between us and Jesus. Parents, siblings, children. None of them. Unfortunately, there is always one who does. Mirror man. Mirror woman.

The cost seems too much to bear, O Lord, and yet you lay it upon us. Help us bear the cross-ours and others-that we might be faithful followers. Amen

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Desert Father used to say...

"In the beginning when we got together we used to talk about something that was good for our own souls, and we went up and up, and ascended even to heaven.

But now we get together and spend our time criticizing everything and we drag one another down into the abyss."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Wednesday's Devotion from Epiphany

Luke 13. 18He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it?...20And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? (NRSV)

Two things immediately come to mind here. Jesus rarely talks about himself but, rather, he talks a lot about the kingdom of God. Secondly, Jesus rarely repeats himself so I guess he thought this was really important.

The kingdom of God is totally unlike that which most of us experience. It can be an eternal place but I think it is, more importantly, the way that we live our lives together. I, along with a few others refer to it as the kin-dom. It is a place of peace, a non-violent place. It is a place where we no longer erect barriers, one from another. It is a place where no poverty exists— poverty of wealth, poverty of health, even poverty of spirit. It is a place where nations beat their swords into ploughshares and the lion, indeed, lies down with the lamb.

The Baptizer was more right than he knew when he proclaimed the kingdom at hand. Somehow I think that they were a lot closer then than we are now. Somehow I think that we have spent 2000 years moving further away. There have always been glimpses of the kingdom, but that is all. What must we do to grow closer?

The kingdom, O Lord, is that thing just beyond our grasp if and when we reach for it. Help us, then, to work to make our world more kingdom like so that we might recognize Your Kingdom when it comes. Amen

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

St. Columba

Columba 521-597

Feast Day 9 June
Columba was born into an Irish royal clan and trained as a priest. He travelled preaching and teaching thoroughout Ireland foundeding several monastries including those at Derry (546) and Durrow (556).

Acording to one legend Columba was condemned by a Synod in 561, possibly due to his part in a dispute over the ownership of a copy of a Gospel which resulted in the deaths of many in the battle of Cooldrevne. Possibly because of the difficulties of separating his family political interests and his religious calling or possibly as a penace he left his beloved Ireland with a group of twelve for exile on Iona, in 563, where he established a monastic community and become the first Abbot of Iona.

Using Iona as a base Columba and his companions travelled widely on mainland preaching to the heathen Picts.

Today many legends and stories still exist about the life of Columba. One of my favourites is found in a " Celtic Miscellany" which has a wonderful 17th Century story about a contemporary of Columba's who went to a hermitage in the wilderness taking nothing with him and whose only companions there were a cock, a mouse and a fly.

    The cock used to wake him for Matins at midnight every day. The mouse would nibble his ear and ensure that he slept no longer than five hours and the fly would walk along the psalter as he read and kept his place until he returned the next time. After writing to Columba about these three, his companions unfortuantely all died and he was left alone.

    He wrote again to Columba telling him that his congregation had died and Columba replied, "Don't think so much about the death of your flock, as misfortune only comes where there are riches".

Columba died on Iona and is buried there, he comemorated in a tiny Chapel in the recently restored Abbey.

Sources: The Life of Columba by Adomnan of Iona , gives a contemporary account of the Legend of Columba about 100 years after his death.

You can find the 6th Century Rule of St. Columba at

Monday, June 08, 2009

Monday's Devotion from Epiphany

Luke 13. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. (NRSV)

Devotion: I cannot read this passage without the tragedy of 9/11 coming to mind It was read over and over in the Fall of 2001. The death of innocent citizens from over 90 nations cannot just be dismissed as the demonic actions of a dozen people. “Why does Billy hate me?” cannot be deflected or blamed on Billy’s ignorance. We must look within.
Jesus is not justifying the taking of innocent life. Far from it. These occurrences are not always accidents but sometimes innocent suffer for others. I believe that all of our actions have consequences, intended or not. Bad things do happen to good people, there is no getting round that. When we are involved, we need to understand why. Why did what we do cause something bad? Why did it happen to me? Not to excuse these actions but to find a way to prevent them from happening again.
The President has been in the Middle East. Some continue to condemn his diplomacy, especially with those who have not been our allies. We have to change, not because others want us to, but because we have been pretty self-centered when it comes to dealing with and Jesus calls us on it.

We need to change, Jesus, but we are afraid it will be a sign of weakness. Help us to see you in the faces of others that we might repent. Amen

Sunday, June 07, 2009

For Trinity Sunday- St. Patrick's Breastplate

Lorica of Saint Patrick

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.
Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation

St. Patrick (ca. 377)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Wednesday's Devotion from Epiphany

Luke 11. 11When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; 12for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” (NRSV)

Devotion: I have to say that it is one of the biggest excuses in the books. Ask someone to do something in a congregation that means saying something, often something original and the response that you get is “Well, uh, uh, what would I say? I wouldn’t know what to say.” Of course not. They are speaking the truth because we Lutheran Christians have gotten fat and lazy. We have never had (except for painful confirmation exams) to put into words what faith means to us. We have never had to verbalize it, let alone share it with someone other than, perhaps, our closest and dearest. We pay pastors to tell us what we believe and why we believe it. So, we politely demur.

Unfortunately (or, perhaps, fortunately) that no longer suffices. Now, more than ever before, the church is at a crossroads. If it hasn’t lost its identity, it is misunderstood. It can no longer depend upon paid professionals telling it and those around it what it believes. Too many of those paid professionals have been tried and found wanting. Too many of them have been found to be the very real human beings that they are.

It is up to you. Stand up, speak up, figure out who God is to you and why it is important to tell someone else. The Holy Spirit will give you the words.

We are a shy lot, O Lord and are not really sure who you are to us and how we might want to share that with others. Open our hearts, let your Spirit come in. Open our mouths and let your words come out. Amen

Monday, June 01, 2009

Monday's Devotion from Epiphany

Luke 11. 33“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar, but on the lampstand so that those who enter may see the light. (NRSV)

When I became active in the church as a teenager, I quickly learned to sing “This Little Light of mine…” It’s a nice ditty, good for kids, VBS and confirmation camp but sometimes I rue that is where we left it.

Nowadays, we only use candles for aroma and more often than not, our lights have dimmer switches that we set down low. Mood things, I guess. Too many of us do that with the Light of Faith, and there are times when, at best, it is a dimly burning wick. Not what Jesus expected, do you think? Lighting our candles and placing them on stands might brighten our rooms, but is that what this is really all about?

Jesus was the Light of the World and it is what he expects of us, as well. Taking a lit candle outdoors even on the cloudiest of days doesn’t seem realistic but, hey, what on the surface that Jesus commands does?

There is a darkness covering our world, darkness threatening to extinguish the spirits of all those we see around us. The good news is that its never too late. Light your candle, take it outside, be a light of the world. The time is now.

Our wicks are trimmed but it hard keeping our candles lit. Enflame our souls and kindle our lights so that the darkness can be again overcome. Amen