Personal, Pastoral and Political

I’ve been pondering about my presence on social media lately.  Interestingly it was the Women’s March that prompted it.  I did quite a bit of thinking before attending the march, sorting out my thoughts.  On the way to NYC my 17 year old daughter, along with some of the other people we went with, asked, “Why aren’t you wearing your [clerical] collar?”  I answered,  “Well, I’ not going to this march as a pastor.  I’m going as a ‘regular’ person.”  They responded that they thought it would be a great message to wear it and show that the Church was supporting people, but I told them that I didn’t think it would be appropriate.  If I were going with a church group that would be different, but in this case I just didn’t think it was right.  Not for me anyway.  (I saw many pictures of pastors at the marches and I have no judgment about the decision they made – I did what was right for me.)

Since then I’ve had a few occasions to reflect on the distinction between what I do as a pastor and what I do as private person separate from my calling/occupation – as well as my presence on social media as a person and pastor. The United States’ 2016 election has especially brought this to the forefront since I have become more vocal than I have probably ever been  in my whole life.  My mother has reminded me a few times recently that I’m a “pastor,” and although I’m not quite sure what she means when she says this, I guess she means that as a pastor perhaps I shouldn’t be so loud about my political views.

There are no clear-cut rules for what a pastor can and cannot do or say politically, although there is a LAW regarding non-profit organizations (which churches are).  A church cannot endorse any political candidate or party, which I wrote about in this post before the election.  As I wrote then, I completely agree with this.  But other than this law, there isn’t a lot of guidance.  Through my years in ministry (this year I’ll celebrate the 22nd anniversary of my ordination), I have come up with some guidelines for myself, which, like all things in life, are still a work in progress.

1.  I will never stand in the pulpit and endorse anyone EVER (even if it wasn’t against the law I’d still think it was wrong).

2.  As a pastor I’m called to serve people of all political leanings.  I have parishioners who are solidly liberal and those who are firmly conservative.  I know there are people in my congregation who voted for different parties.  I am pastor to all of them.  And as their pastor I love all of them.  Even if we may not always understand one another perfectly we ARE called to love one another.  And on the personal side I am not one who lives in an “echo chamber.”  I have friends and loved ones who vote and think differently than I do.  This is good for me and them.  Being with and relating to people who think differently than we do helps us clarify what we believe and at the same time learn from each other.  I have been challenged at times, made to expand my thinking, and even proven wrong and admitted it. Sadly, I think this kind of give-and-take is sorely lacking in our current political climate and both the left and the right are to blame.  We have to find a way to talk WITH one another instead of “over” and “past” each other, and foster relationships rather than making excuses to not like each other.  I take Jesus’ call to love my neighbor seriously, and that includes my liberal neighbor, my conservative neighbor, my socialist neighbor, my libertarian neighbor and my non-political neighbor.

3.  As a “regular person” I am, however, entitled to have political/personal opinions/beliefs and express them.  For me, it is ALSO the case that my opinions/beliefs are grounded in my faith in Jesus.  As a Christian, Jesus calls me to love my neighbor, care for the sick, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, provide for the orphan and widow etc… (John 13:34 and Matthew 25:31-40).  Sometimes these issues are brought up in our national life as Americans – and when they are, I will do my best as a disciple of Jesus and as a pastor to stand for what he has taught and commanded.  To say as a “pastor” I shouldn’t speak up (or get political) when I see injustice done to my neighbor is to ask me not only to neglect my vocation as a pastor, but my call as a Christian.

4.  Social media is great and awful at the same time.  For example, when I set up my Facebook account there were very few guidelines for pastors and professional people on how to do this.  Now, my denomination (ELCA) gives very helpful guidelines, but it’s hard to go backwards.  My denomination recommends that pastors not “friend” people in their congregations, and I understand that completely.  Sometimes social media is a good outlet to vent with friends (especially those far away) – but parishioners may not feel comfortable reading their pastor’s rants or not want to know so much about their pastor’s political or personal views.  I haven’t really gotten any pushback from my congregation because I have been with them for a long time and I (hope!) they know I love them and that our relationship is based on more than posts on social media or political/personal views.  But I would’ve done things very differently if I had known then what I know now.  If I go to a new congregation I will create separate professional social media accounts to give both my parishioners and me some space from each other while still cultivating a supportive sharing dialog.    It’s a new world that we’re all still trying to maneuver, me included.

I have a feeling this isn’t the last time I’ll be pondering on these things.  I think everyone could stand a little reflection on where our views/beliefs come from, how we can best live them out, and how we relate to those with different views.  How do we proclaim what we believe in love?  How do we love our neighbor with whom we disagree?  What are the lines we cannot cross?  And even then, how do we love our enemies?  I’m still working on this, sometimes getting it right, sometimes failing.  That’s discipleship.

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, 2017

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, year A (preached 1/15/17)

first reading:  Isaiah 49:1-7

Psalm 40:1-11

second reading:  1 Corinthians 1:1-9

gospel reading:  John 1:29-42


Last week as we read about the baptism of Jesus his encounter with John the Baptist was front and center.  This week, we get to hear the declaration of John, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  But John and Jesus don’t actually speak in our text this morning.  John talks about Jesus, and Jesus talks to others.

When Jesus does speak, he speaks to two of John’s disciples – who based on John’s testimony, decide to “check Jesus out.”  It’s THIS encounter I want to focus on this morning.

John was with two of his disciples when they saw Jesus.  John again called Jesus the “Lamb of God.”  As a result, those two disciples followed Jesus.  Jesus sees these two following him, so he asks, “What are you looking for?”

Instead of answering Jesus, they ask him a question in return:  “Where are you staying?”  At this Jesus answers, “Come and see.”

Jesus’ question “What are you looking for?” and moments later, his answer to them, “Come and see,” form the foundation of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

Each one of us can be asked, as we walk through these doors on a Sunday morning, “What are you looking for?”  The question is a good one.  It get to the heart of why we’re here.  How many of us, me included, have Sundays when we get up, get dressed, get in the car, pull in the parking lot and plant ourselves in the pew, without thinking “Why?” or “What for?”

What ARE we looking for when we follow Jesus?  What ARE we looking for when we worship?

artist unknown

artist unknown

And when we really think about it, is what we’re looking for what we actually find?  Is the Jesus of our dreams the Jesus of reality?

I think sometimes not.  I think sometimes we expect Jesus to be a lot more “macho.”  I think sometimes we expect Jesus to be a lot more “successful.”  And when I say “we” I’m not just talking about you and me, I’m talking about Christians everywhere and throughout history.

Sure, we DO have a vision of Jesus victorious over the cross, the King of heaven, the one who we confess shall come again to judge the living and the dead.  But he is also the same God/man who walked and talked, ate, slept, cried and died.

Jesus is no superman or Rambo.  He didn’t come to earth to beat other people down, or to give us earthly riches, power or prestige.  As one of my former pastors used to say, “God is not our heavenly Santa Claus.”

Ethiopian - artist unknown

Ethiopian – artist unknown

Jesus ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father, only AFTER being betrayed, beaten and killed on the cross.   Jesus is the God/man who DIDN’T save himself – and by NOT doing so, has saved each one of us.

So… if we follow him or come to worship so we can be powerful or successful or find answers to every question we have in life, we will NOT find what we’re looking for.

But…

if we’re looking for a savior who can carry us, who will be our companion and strength and guide through all of life, whether we succeed or fail;

if we’re looking for a savior who will gift us with heaven despite our sin and failures, who has prepared a place for us not because we deserve it, but because he is LOVE;

if we’re looking for a place to gather where we can be accepted as a saved sinner/saint, and accept others as the same…

well then – to that Jesus says, “Come and see.”  This is discipleship in a nutshell.

Jesus said, “Come and see,” and those two men “came and saw.”  And once they “came and saw” they started to witness, “We have found the Messiah.”

Following Jesus, being a disciple, is as simple and as hard as that.  We follow, we see, and we witness to what we have seen.

Scholar Robert Kysar highlights this order.  “The risk of the journey (come) necessarily precedes the experience of seeing.”¹  It’s true.  We who follow Jesus ARE on a journey – a journey of faith where we don’t know what’s around the corner, even if we DO know the ultimate destination.

We come along for the ride with this savior, not knowing exactly where we’re going or what will happen. We often can’t see where God has been working in our lives to get us through things, how we got from point “A” to “B” until we get to point “C.”  Discipleship is an amazing act of trust given to us through faith.

Following – being a disciple – coming and seeing, then leads to witness.

Andrew (one of the men who “came and saw”) responded by searching out and saying to his brother, “We have found the Messiah,” and then “brought [him] to Jesus.”  Our calling as disciples, once we have come and seen, is to give that invitation to others.

We hear “come and see.”  So, we “come, and see.”  Then we tell others to “come and see.”

No matter what our station in life, our mission as disciples is the same.  Tomorrow we will honor The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   A man of courage, who preached the love and JUSTICE of Jesus, who knew his life was constantly in danger and yet kept preaching Jesus’ gospel of equality and loving neighbor anyway.  Today we read about the call of some of the first disciples, who would also preach to many, and whose testimony we still hear.

Thousands heard their words – yet our call – yours and mine – is the same as theirs.  We may not have the audience or the influence they did and still do, but our call is just as important as theirs.

It is the call of the disciple who preaches to hundreds as well as the disciple who shares with just one – telling the love and forgiveness of Jesus for every person –

“We have found the Messiah.”

“Come and see.”

AMEN.

Name of Jesus (Circumcision of our Lord), 2017

Name of Jesus (Circumcision of our Lord), preached 1/1/17

first reading:  Numbers 6:22-27

Psalm 8

second reading:  Galatians 4:4-7

gospel reading:  Luke 2:15-21


This morning’s gospel reading begins with the story of the shepherds, which we read on Christmas Eve, and ends with the event of our special commemoration today – the naming and circumcision of our Lord.

Along with the story of his birth, the story of Jesus’ circumcision places him in a specific place and time, and in a specific culture and faith.  Our God is not a god that comes to us out of context.

Jesus was born into a family that was under Roman rule – a brutal oppressive government which he would experience personally.  As a child, Jesus and his family would have to flee Israel to Egypt, because King Herod wanted the newborn king the Wise Men spoke of, killed.  Herod wanted no threat to his power, and would go to the extreme of killing all the baby boys.  It was a death sentence, that through the family’s fleeing to Egypt, Jesus escaped.

But Jesus did NOT escape the death sentence of the crucifixion – another brutal, cruel fixture of the Roman Empire. A very long and agonizing way to die.

But Jesus wasn’t just born into a specific time in history, he was also born into a specific faith and culture.  He was born a Jew.

His Jewish identity formed him from the time of his circumcision to the time of his death.  Marked and named on his 8th day, a trip to the Temple itself when he was 12, sitting at the feet of the rabbis, quoting from the Hebrew scriptures from the beginning of his earthly ministry until its end on the cross, honoring the Sabbath, celebrating Passover – Jesus was a Jew.

Why is it important that we remember Jesus being born, living, and dying in a specific time and place?  I mean, isn’t he our savior for ALL time and place?  Isn’t he OUT of any particular context?

Well, certainly Jesus was more than a first century Jew.  He came in a specific context, but he most definitely TRANSCENDS time and place.  He was not just the savior for his first disciples – he is our savior for ALL time.

But context DOES tell us something.  It tells us that God didn’t cut corners when Jesus came to be with us.  God put Jesus right into the thick of it.  God didn’t pick a time when it was easy to be Jewish, or when it was easy to be a non-Roman.  God chose to come to us as a persecuted religious minority, as a member of a population that was exploited and victimized.  Indeed, God in Jesus became exploited and victimized for you and me.

This is incredibly important, because you and I do NOT have a savior/God who is unable to understand our lives. Because of the context in which he was born and lived and died – even though VERY different from our context in 2017 – Jesus experienced all the same things we do, and even some things we’ve been lucky NOT to have experienced.  Jesus felt happiness, sorrow, love, pain, grief, doubts, confusion, success and failure.

He lived in a real family with real family tension.  Remember the story of Jesus’ parents losing him when they went on the pilgrimage to the Temple, and his response to their worry?  “Why were you looking for me?  Didn’t you know where I’d be?” (Luke 2:41-52)  Such a typical adolescent reaction, it even translates well now!

His first miracle at Cana, when his mother wants him to do something about the lack of wine – he has a testy response to her request, but he listens to her anyway. (John 2:1-12)  And from the cross, he makes sure that Mary will be taken care of after his death, when he says to the beloved disciple, “behold your mother.” (John 19:27)

Jesus GETS it.  He lived a REAL life, in a real family, in a real culture.

The Incarnation is “God WITH us.”  Not just with us in some overly spiritual fashion, but with us eating and breathing, walking, talking and sleeping.

So when we’re frustrated with our lives, when we’re in pain, when we feel we’ve been betrayed, when we’re frightened, when our bodies are broken, when we grieve, Jesus is truly WITH US because he’s been there too.

He is not just a god of earthly triumph, sent to praise and reward the strong and powerful.  Jesus is God come to lift up the fallen, heal the broken, forgive the sinful and bring life to the dying.

That’s an amazing comfort, a tremendous source of strength, a guiding light.

Our God comes to be with us, experience everything we experience, and to conquer it all – even death – so that we ARE never, and WILL never be alone or forsaken, so that we can be with him as his own – forever.

Ethiopian icon, artist unknown

Ethiopian icon, artist unknown

AMEN.

Christmas Eve, 2016

Christmas Eve, 2016

first reading:  Isaiah 9:2-7

Psalm 96

second reading:  Titus 2:11-14

gospel reading:  Luke 2:1-20


On Friday, the actress Carrie Fisher had what was reported as a “cardiac event” on an airplane and the internet blew up.  Some of the comments were very clever and creative, but ALL of them had the same theme:  2016, you’ve been awful, and we refuse to let you take any more from us!

Of course, we don’t have that kind of control over time or illness.  Only that we could…

But 2016 has been rough.  Lots of famous people are no longer with us.  We’ve watched wars play out on television.  Terrorist attacks.  Deep political divisions surround us and even include us.  Hate crimes.  Uncertainty and even fear about the future.

Some people have wondered how we can  celebrate and have a “Merry” Christmas in the midst of it all.

But to ask, “How can we celebrate in the midst of human suffering and violence and even death?” is to fundamentally misunderstand the whole point of the Incarnation – of God becoming a human being.

Sure, we all like happy Christmases – family gathered around, presents under the tree, good food, smiles and laughter.  But that’s not what makes the perfect or even a “good” Christmas.  REAL Christmases are often far from what media and advertising or our own expectations say they should be.

Real Christmases are stressing over the menu if you’re the cook, getting the presents wrapped, finding just the right gift, having money to buy presents.  Real Christmases involve the pain of hanging ornaments that remind us of loved ones who will be missing from our tables.

Real Christmases involve ambivalence over sharing that same table with “certain” relatives who make us bite our tongues to keep the peace.  Real Christmases often get tied up with end of the year reflecting over what we could’ve done better, how we could’ve BEEN better.

Here is the irony of it all – the things we thing “ruin” Christmas, or make it difficult to celebrate are the very reasons we have Christmas in the first place.

Have you had an awful year?  Are you in a BAD mood?  Are you seeing little reason for joy?  Are you grieving?  Are you sick or struggling with how your body isn’t working the way you want it to?  Are you feeling burned out stressed out, like a failure, worthless?

Then Christmas is for YOU!  Christmas is PRECISELY for you!

The “good news of great joy” has nothing to do with parties or menus or liking everyone around our table.  The “good news of great joy” has nothing to do with feeling bubbly and “Merry” or being healthy or like we’ve got our lives perfectly together.

The “good news of great joy” is that God comes to us in the middle of everything that ISN’T perfect, together, peaceful or merry.  The “good news of great joy” is that God comes to usGod is WITH us -in the messiness of life.  God comes to us, is WITH us in our sin and in the sin of the world.

This year reminds me a lot of the classic cartoon “Charlie Brown Christmas.”  All the characters are lamenting, and Linus has to stop and remind everyone about what Christmas really means.

Christmas isn’t a new car wrapped with a big red bow in your driveway.  Christmas is “a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

Christmas is the gospel, pure and simple.

God came to be with us in Jesus.  God came to be with us because we sin.  That’s right, we sin.  We are human beings filled with imperfections in the way we see and treat ourselves and one another.

God came to be with us because God LOVES us.  God does not want to leave us in our sin.  God came to be with us in Jesus so that we are saved from that sin eternally, but also so that we have a loving companion in the here and now.  That “child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” is our great teacher, our Prince of Peace and our savior.

  • Jesus is with us when our Christmas is perfect, but most especially when it is not.
  • Jesus is with us when we’re feeling on top of the world, but most especially when we’re feeling defeated.
  • Jesus is with us when it’s easy to love those around our tables, but most especially when we’re feeling wounded and when WE’RE the ones who do the hurting.
  • Jesus is with us when our bodies are strong and healthy, but most especially when we are feeling weak and vulnerable.
  • Jesus is with us when our society feels secure and stable, but most especially when we live in times of uncertainty and even chaos.  For Jesus is just as much with you and me as he is with the people of Aleppo, or south Sudan, or Venezuela, or anywhere else in the world or down the street where people are living in fear and violence.

In some circles people like to bicker over the use of the phrase “Merry Christmas” over “happy holidays.”  I don’t like either.  Because they both miss the point of Christmas – the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.

The Incarnation isn’t about being “happy” or “merry.”  The Incarnation is about God coming to be with us even as we are BROKEN.  I think “Blessed Christmas” works much better.

Because this is what Christmas truly is – a blessing – a means by which we are blessed with the greatest gift God could give:  Jesus.

Blessed Christmas to each and every one of us.

AMEN.

2nd Sunday of Advent, 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent, year A, preached 12/4/16

first reading:  Isaiah 11:1-10

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

second reading:  Romans 15:4-13

gospel reading:  Matthew 3:1-12


Way back when I was in seminary, my dear friend, Violet, preached a sermon whose main point has stayed with me for over 20 years now.

She began her sermon by talking about “four letter words,” and their power.  She got a few chuckles, including from me, because Lord knows there have been times in my life when nothing else seems to fit a situation except a four letter word or two.

But then Violet shocked all of us, when she said the four letter word she was think of – the four letter word that hold such great power is… HOPE.  HOPE wasn’t even in the top ten list of four letter words I was thinking of!

What Violet was illustrating is exactly what our readings today also show us – that in the midst of very trying, practically impossible circumstances, HOPE is the power that gets us through.

hope1In our first reading we have a vision of hope despite a bleak reality.  The prophet imagines the shoot coming out of the dead stump of Jesse – King David’s line will be restored, and what a wonderful time that will be.  The peaceable kingdom as it’s popularly called.  The wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the kid, the calf and the lion, the cow and the bear, all living together; little children playing with snakes – no more pain or destruction.

Our psalm is a prayer of hope for an earthly king who will bring justice, who shall “defend the needy” and “rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.”  A prayer that under this king “the righteous flourish” and “there shall be abundance of peace.”

Our second reading from Romans speaks it plainly.  St. Paul even uses hope as a blessing:  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

He wrote these words to a community with struggles from within and without.  The Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians were having a hard time accepting one another.  It wouldn’t be the first time a church has suffered from factions within.

Yet, in the midst of their division, Paul reminds them that the scriptures were given to us so that “we might have hope,” and that our God is a “God of hope.”  His wish for those in the Roman church, is that these competing factions “welcome one another” and “abound in hope.”

The hope in the gospel is less clear.  When we look at the surface of it we see a lot of judgment.  John the Baptist calling the religious leaders poisonous snakes, and warnings about the wheat and the chaff.  I see hope here in John’s warning for the big shots not to be presumptuous.  We are ALL called to repentance.  No one is better than another.

You and I have as much right (or NO right) to God as the richest tycoon or the holiest saint.  I don’t know about you, but that gives me a LOT of hope.  Through faith, through repentance, through our baptism into Jesus, I, a poor penitent sinner receive grace and mercy.  Our pedigree or social station has no bearing on whether we are “good enough” or NOT “good enough” for the kingdom of heaven.

When confronted with the times, it would have been easy for our biblical writers and prophets to despair.  And certainly in the Bible there are those moments – and sometimes the moments last for DECADES.  But despair does NOT prevail.

HOPE is a four letter word in the face of despair.  Instead of capitulating or simple cursing our circumstances, hope speaks a TRUTH to those circumstances.  Hope looks at reality and says, “Yes, I acknowledge you, but I will not give IN to you.”  THIS is the power that hope has – the power to carry us.

hope3

When seen this way, hope is one of the ultimate acts of defiance.  Hope is resistance.  Hope gives us strength to carry on and to ACT.  This is what we mean when we say hope is a four letter word.

We look at the growing darkness around us.  Winter is fast approaching.  The solstice is in a few weeks, when we will experience the “shortest” or “darkest” day of the whole year.  Into this darkness comes the child of hope.  The one of whom John the Baptist spoke – more powerful than him, or any one of us.

This hope is THE light that shines in the darkness, THE light the darkness cannot overcome.

THIS hope, gives US hope.  This hope lifts us up when we are weak and breathes in us the power of the Holy Spirit. This hope gives us hope even when we know we will fail.  This hope gives us the strength to even work for a thing that we know we will never see.  This hope has given people through the centuries courage to stand up against all odds – martyrs, prophets, teachers – all regular believers who had hope.

It’s so easy to find that perfect four letter word to curse.  But for God, the perfect four letter word is word that actually brings energy and passion and a vision for justice and righteousness – the peaceable kingdom, the righteous king, the ability to “with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

How could the people in the prophet Isaiah’s time have imagined a new king from the dead line of David?  How could the psalmist dare imagine a king who would defend the poor and needy?  How could Paul possibly think the Jewish and Gentile Christians would find a way to live together?

How can we, you and I, find a way to make it through all the challenges that come OUR way from within and without?

We see the coming baby in the manger, the savior on the cross, the risen Lord for US – and we have HOPE.

AMEN.

Rising from the rubble

Last month I took the trip of a lifetime – at least for me.  As a 50th birthday present my husband gifted me with a Lutheran Church nerd’s dream – a “footsteps of Martin Luther” tour.

What surprised me though was that of all the things I saw and places I went, what moved me the most had really no direct connection to Martin Luther at all.  It was in the city of Dresden –  specifically, the Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady). The Frauenkirche had been one of the focal points of the city until it, and much of the Dresden, was destroyed in the allied firebombing of February of 1945 during World War II.  Only two small sections of the building remained upright.  And while some of the city was rebuilt after the war, the East German government which had control over Dresden decided to let the church remain in ruins as a memorial against war.  Here is how the church looked for FORTY FIVE years.

Frauenkirche ruins, 1967. photographer unknown

Frauenkirche ruins, 1967. photographer unknown

translation: The biggest puzzle in the world. photo: Penny Davis

translation: The biggest puzzle in the world. photo: Penny Davis

Before the Berlin Wall came down and Germany was unified, there was talk of rebuilding the church, but after the Wall came down, plans moved forward rapidly.  The people wanted the Frauenkirche back!  And not only did they want to rebuild it – they wanted it rebuilt exactly the way it was – and they decided to use as many of the original stones as possible.  In the square around the church, each stone was examined to find out if it was still structurally sound, and then marked so it could be determined the place it once held in the building. In the picture on the right, our guide was showing us a magazine cover story from the time that illustrated just how complicated a process it was.  Can you imagine the effort put forth to do this?  I was amazed.  More than amazed.  I was utterly moved by the determination and devotion of the people involved in this massive project.   It is a testament to the people’s faith and persistence that this building would rise from the ashes and rubble to proclaim God’s glory.  A literal resurrection.  I was speechless before I ever walked in.  The picture below is what the Frauenkirche looks like today.

467-dresden-frauenkircheBecause the church was made of sandstone, which darkens as it ages, you can easily tell the original stones that survived the bombing.  The dark stones are original, put back in the places they once occupied before the bombing, while all the lighter stones are new.  In a few hundred years we won’t be able to tell the difference, which is at once joyous and sad, in my opinion.  The healing of wounds is a wondrous achievement and gift, but to stand tall with scars is a testament to strength and faith.  I’m glad that the church has a museum which tells the story of its destruction and rebuilding as well as a monument in the worship space itself, which will continue to tell its story, long after the war torn stones and those crafted afterwards are indistinguishable.

The inside of the church was also rebuilt exactly as it had been, or as close to “exact” as humanely possible.  While its Baroque style wouldn’t usually move me, it was impossible for me NOT to be moved by the incredible attention to detail, the bright pastel colors, and the stunning dome.  I entered, like most of the tourists, and took picture upon picture.  I AM that tourist.  But I am also a person of faith.  So after walking around respectfully and quietly (as did all those present, we were in a church after all) – after taking it all in, I sat in a pew to pray.

474-dresden-frauenkircheI prayed in almost every church I visited on this trip, except when we were ushered through quickly by tour guides. But the Frauenkirche was the end point of the tour that day.  There was nowhere I had to go.  So I sat – and prayed – and sobbed.

I sobbed for the thousands who died in the firebombing.  I sobbed for the horror of war and the lessons stubborn humanity has yet to learn.  I sobbed for 45 years of ruins and rubble.  I sobbed for the struggle and perseverance of the people under the East German government.  I sobbed for the sheer tenacity of the people determined, not just to rebuild, but to rebuild it as it was.  I sobbed for those who did not live to see this house of God rise again.  And I sobbed for my own life’s pains, that in comparison seemed so small.  Yet I also sobbed for the backbreaking work I have done (and continue to do) with God’s grace as my strength, to rise from the rubble and stand.

492-dresden-frauenkirche

the Frauenkirche’s original spire

In that sobbing moment, the Frauenkirche became a symbol for me, a symbol of the resurrection.  Of course the resurrection of Christ is God’s power pure and unaided, while the Frauenkirche’s resurrection was the work of the people – but it was work inspired and empowered by God.  Indeed, I felt God ALL around me in that place, in a way difficult to explain, and in a way I have felt in very few other places in my life.  It’s as if the space embraced ALL the pain and joy of human life simultaneously.  I honestly did not want to leave, and I didn’t for a long time.

Near the church’s exit is the monument I alluded to a few paragraphs above.  It is the original spire which adorned the top of the steeple.  It’s a twisted mass of metal, melted and crushed by the heat and debris of those February days in 1945.  At its base, people leave candles which say “peace be with you.”  There can be no more profound sentiment with which to leave this sacred space than peace; a deep well of God’s peace despite all the horror that happened there.  In addition to this peace of God, I also left the Frauenkirche with a new commitment to “worldly” peace – a resolve to bring an end to rubble and ruin, to the evil we humans are capable of inflicting upon one another.  For both the peace of God and worldly peace will never condone evil – indeed, the hope of peace inspires us to work for peace.

The Frauenkirche has changed me, profoundly.  I believe I’ll be figuring out the “how” of that change for the rest of my days…

Christ the King, 2016

Christ the King, year C, preached 11/20/16

first reading:  Jeremiah 23:1-6

Psalm 46

second reading:  Colossians 1:11-20

gospel reading:  Luke 23:33-43


On Christ the King Sunday we remember Jesus as our King.  We sing songs of Jesus being triumphant over the grave.  In our prayer of the day we spoke of worship and glory, thankfulness, GREAT glory, abiding, and divine majesty.

When we think of kings (or queens) we think of royalty.  When we think of them being crowned, we imagine those things listed above and much more.  I think about Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953. Now THAT was a glorious spectacle!  Robes, gowns, crowns, trumpets, jewels, inspiring music, and parades.

But Jesus’ coronation was nothing like this.  Too often when we talk about Jesus being our king, we DON’T remember what his coronation was like.  When we talk of Jesus being victorious over the grave, we can skim over the grave part and go straight to victory.  And it’s easy for us to do, since over 2,000 years separates us from the event.

Indeed, Christ the King Sunday is the ONLY Sunday outside of Holy Week that we make ourselves look at it. Because it’s painful, and honestly, from a human perspective, it’s embarrassing.

Christ being our King involves a horrible, humiliating, painful death.  Christ being our King involves not only weakness, but political powerlessness.  Christ being our King goes counter to EVERYTHING the world values.  And we only need to look at the crucifixion itself to see that.  Crucifixion was a particularly humiliating way to be put to death, and it was excruciatingly painful and SLOW.

Jesus’ coronation is contrary to what we would think or want from such a ceremony.  This was no great successor to David, as we read in our first reading from Jeremiah – a “righteous branch,” who would “reign as king and deal wisely,” who would “execute justice and righteousness in the land.”

Jesus’ coronation was nothing like the psalmist imagined, from God who “breaks the bow, and shatters the spear, and burns the shields with fire.”

Even when we read as we do from Colossians today, that Jesus is the “image of the invisible God the firstborn of all creation… when thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him,” and the image we paint in our minds is nothing like the reality of his coronation.

THIS was the reality.

  • “The people stood by, watching.”
  • “The leaders scoffed at him.”
  • “The soldiers also mocked him.”
  • “One of the criminals… kept deriding him.”
Crucifixion of Jesus, by Hans Tubingen

Crucifixion of Jesus, by Hans Tubingen

He didn’t have a royal robe, or gown.  He was stripped.  He didn’t have a scepter to hold, his hands were nailed to a beam.  He didn’t have a gold crown embedded with jewels – he had a crown of thorns fashioned for him out of scorn. He didn’t have adoring crowds cheering while he waved from a balcony – he had crowds chanting, “Crucify him!” And he didn’t have a parade, the people just stood or sat there WATCHING HIM DIE.

This is not a pretty picture – it’s not glorious, not majestic, not regal.  It’s gory, pitiful, and pathetic.  “HERE is your King!” (John 19:14)

Indeed, the ONLY person in this whole event that comes close to even getting it, is a person who we would probably be scared of if he walked through our doors.  The ONLY person who came close to comprehending the truth of who Jesus was, was a CRIMINAL.

And not just someone accused, or someone unfairly convicted.  This man ADMITS he has done something deserving the death penalty.  As he rebukes the other man dying with Jesus he says, “And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds…”

The world is turned upside down.  The “good” guys are the bad guys, and the REALLY bad guy is the wisest, most faithful one of all.

And what does Jesus say to this hardened, death row, shortly to die criminal?  “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

THIS IS Christ our King.  A King who looks past everything the world thinks is great, fine and wonderful. A King who strips away all the false faces we put on for the world and sees to our soul.  A King who is more moved by the plea of a broken heart than by the proclamations of the powerful.  A King who says, “Power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

In Jesus, God takes every definition of power, privilege, majesty and glory and turns it on its head.  THIS is what kingship is to God, and this is what Jesus told us his kingdom is all about.

In Matthew 20:28 Jesus tells us, “the Son of Man came not to be served but TO serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  And Jesus told us WE are to like that too. “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slaves.” (Matt. 20:26-27)

And his new commandment (John 13:34), “that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Christ the King Sunday is an important reminder to us of the kind of king we follow and the kind of subjects/disciples we are to be.

  • That OUR king is a king who is all about love – love for enemies, love for the criminals, love for the unlovable, love for you and me.
  • That OUR king was willing to give himself over to death rather than have US suffer that fate.
  • And that OUR king calls US to the same path of love and life – love manifested in service to him, and one another.

AMEN.