Monday, October 30, 2017

The Reformation

Most of you will be celebrating Halloween tomorrow. It’s fun to dress up (or help your kids dress up), go to parties, eat lots of candy.

Some Christians also celebrate Reformation Day on October 31. It was the day Martin Luther published his 95 theses in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517, criticizing the church in its hypocrisy and corruption. This marked the beginning of a movement that changed the church and the western world to this day.

ALL Protestant churches have their roots in the Reformation. This is worth celebrating: We have direct access to God. We don’t need a priest or pastor or the church to mediate between us and God. We also don’t need to be afraid of God’s judgment. God’s mercy and grace is a gift to us, free and undeserved. 

Martin Luther is one of my personal heroes. He’s definitely not a saint and he wrote a lot of things I do not agree with. (Some about the role of women, some about Jews, some about farm laborers who were rising up against their masters.) But what I appreciate is he brought the word of God to all people, not just the educated and higher class, but ALL people. He taught liberty of conscience, saying: I want to think for myself and believe for myself so I can be certain about what is good and right. I don’t need some human authority telling me that. The only authority I have is God.

And he was a role model in courage. Even though he was under tremendous pressure from the church and the state, he did not recant his teachings. “If you cannot prove from the Bible that my teachings are false, I cannot and will not recant. It is against my conscience. God help me.”

I also need to mention that Luther did not interpret the Bible literally. He knew it was written in a specific cultural context. He was actually very critical of it, even said some books should be cut from the Bible because they didn’t preach the Gospel. His only standard of interpreting the Bible was Jesus Christ.

This is the foundation we as progressive Christians stand on: Jesus Christ, and our own conscience. Our only measure should be: What did Jesus say and what did he do? (Not: What did the Evangelists say that compiled the Gospels? Sometimes we need to peel away at all those layers and get to what Jesus – likely - really said, and what he meant.)

Another important question to ask is: What would Jesus say and do today, if he lived in this day and age?

As children of the Reformation we are free to think and believe for ourselves. This is why there are so many different Protestant churches that disagree on so many issues. My appeal is: Let’s be compassionate and respectful with each other. Let us remain true to what we believe, but give others the same privilege.

Ultimately, none of us know what is right and true. Only God does. All we can do is be faithful to what God is telling us, and be brave in sharing and living it.

So that as Martin Luther said: Soli Deo Gloria. To God alone be the glory. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Courage and Kindness

Lots of things on my mind this week!

I thought about how much fun it is to dance and how we are much too inhibited because we think we’re not good dancers and we’ll look silly. But really, who cares? I LOVE seeing people dance – especially the ones who look silly! They get caught in the moment and move to the music. They’re letting go and enjoying themselves, no matter what other people might think.

I think we all need to dance more, celebrate and just have fun! There’s so much heaviness and darkness in our world. So much division, disrespect and even hatred. One person mentioned that people are increasingly unkind.

Why is that? They’re not bad people. They’re just hurting and that’s why they hurt others. Or maybe that’s the only way they think they will get attention. Maybe they want to be part of a group and so they follow the tone of that group.

We hosted our second Active Bystander training at Trinity yesterday afternoon. Because people are genuinely concerned and they want to learn how to deal with situations of unkindness or even conflict without making them worse. “Moral courage” was one of the terms that was used. What it means is that we are afraid to get involved, we are afraid we might get hurt – but we do the right thing anyway.

It’s ok to be afraid. That’s a natural instinct to protect us. But real courage means overcoming that fear and speaking up anyway.

Rudeness, disrespect and hatred are acceptable these days because the silent majority accepts them. We need to become the vocal majority and show that we do not accept it. We need to stand up for justice, for dignity, and for love.

My sermon yesterday focused on 1 Corinthians 4:1-4. The Apostle Paul calls us stewards. “It is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” A steward is someone who manages someone else’s property. We are stewards of God’s property: Of the world we live in, and the people we live with. They are God’s and God has entrusted them to us.

My prayer is that we may be found trustworthy, and that this world will become a better, safer and kinder place because of us. 

Monday, October 16, 2017


A long time ago I read about a psychological experiment done with toddlers. The result was so striking that I never forgot: They were given a bowl of treats, and then asked to share the treats with a puppy. Their faces were video recorded and later shown to adults. Every single one of them looked happier when sharing the treats than they did when receiving them.

I see this as evidence that God created us as generous beings. Toddlers are closer to who God originally intended us to be because they are not yet corrupted by the world. As God’s children, we are happier when we give than when we receive. It’s just that our materialistic culture trains us to want and crave and desire, rather than give and share.

Getting back to that original mindset is difficult. It requires a major attitude shift.

It requires that we stop living in a spirit of scarcity, and start living in a spirit of abundance. That we stop holding on, and start letting go. The only way to get there is by trusting that there is enough. Enough for us, and enough to go around. Trust that God will provide for us. Trust God more than we trust our own abilities, our paycheck, our banks and retirement funds.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 9, verse 8, Paul writes: “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.”

That’s Faith 101: God will provide you with everything you need, in abundance. And that’s why you can share abundantly in doing good.

I invite you to think and pray this week about what God has blessed you with: What have you received, and what do you receive every day? What makes you happy? What gives you joy? What keeps you going?

I am confident this will take you to a place of abundance. Try to live in that place. Try to live in a spirit of abundance. You will be blessed, you will be happier, and you will give and receive more than you ever thought possible. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Honesty, Humility, and Hope

We celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day this past Sunday. Not Columbus Day. We celebrated the fact that there were people here long before the Europeans ever came. People with a deep, rich spirituality and great respect for God’s creation.

I thought back about my experience visiting the Lakota tribe at their annual Mission Meeting in South Dakota in the summer of 2014.

I remember coming back elated and grateful that I got to see such a beautiful part of God’s creation and meet such beautiful, kind and gentle people. And I came back carrying heaviness and sorrow for all the pain that they have suffered, and are still suffering.

When the white missionaries came, they taught the Bible to the indigenous peoples. They taught it first in their native language, then in English. And because they felt that their own English language and culture was superior to native American culture, they stopped teaching in the native language and only taught in English. So now the Lakota have no Bible in their native tongue. A group of people is currently working on translating it back into Lakota, but that will still take years to complete.

I met a man in his nineties who told me how he and his friends were beaten in school when they spoke Lakota. Others told how their grandparents’ mouths were washed with soap or even bleach when they spoke Lakota. Because of that, there now are very few people left who speak the language. Losing a language means losing a culture, a set of memories and shared experiences, and a means of identification for an entire people.

This is not unique to the Lakota tribe.

One woman said to me: “The white people came, they brought us the Bible, and they took our land.”

The white people thought they were doing a good thing. They thought they were bringing salvation to the Natives. But at the same time, they were destroying a culture – whether Christian or not, still a culture, something that God created – and eventually they tried to wipe out an entire people. They sterilized thousands of women. They took their children and sent them to boarding schools so they would be raised in the white culture.

I think this is a part of American history that we try to deny, because it’s hard to admit that a lot of wrong has been done in the name of Jesus. But I refuse to believe that this is what he meant when he said, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus was bringing good news. Not disrespect and death and destruction.

The people that I met live what Jesus preached and what most of us don’t live: They live forgiveness, humility, and grace. They welcomed us, white people, part of the race who had wronged them and their ancestors – they welcomed us with open arms to worship with them. They told us their stories, but they did not blame us. They did not complain. They just wanted us to listen, to hear their side of the story. They hold no resentment against us.

I’d like to see us treat people of other nations, cultures and religions that way. I’d like to see us forgive instead of seeking retaliation. I’d like us to stop thinking that we are better than other nations. And I definitely would like to see us stop abusing Jesus’ name to justify our judgment of others. We are not better than them. God does not love us more than God loves them.

We have sinned against God by sinning against them.

You may think, what does she mean, “We”. I wasn’t there. I didn’t do anything to them! No, you didn’t. But your ancestors did. It is not your fault, but it is your history and your responsibility. Healing can only take place when we face the wrong that has been done by our ancestors, and learn from their mistakes.

A Prayer for Healing and Hope                     

O Great Spirit, God of all people and every tribe, through whom all people are related: Call us to the kinship of all your people. 

Grant us vision to see the brokenness of the past; help us to listen to you and to one another, in order to heal the wounds of the present;          

Give us courage, patience and wisdom to work together for healing and hope with all of your people, now and in the future.                                       

Mend our hearts and let us live in justice and peace, through Jesus Christ, the one who comes to all people that we might live in dignity.