Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Remembering 9/11

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 was a Sunday in 2011.   I wrote this article for the September 2011 Newsletter.

A MESSAGE FROM THE PASTOR

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ten years ago, Robin was early in her pregnancy with Henry.   I was working in offices at the Port of Elizabeth in New Jersey commuting an hour each way from our home in central New Jersey.   My sister lives in Westfield, New Jersey and commuted to Manhattan daily.   My good friend Michael live and worked in Brooklyn, and his girlfriend Jayne worked sometimes "in the city", that is Manhattan.  Ten years ago, the day started off normally.   After 9/11, it was very different.   I could talk for hours about that day.   I could tell you about the phone call from Robin that told me about what was happening.   I could tell you about running around the warehouse and looking east where I could look over the Hudson River and see the twin towers belching smoke like two factory smokestacks.   I looked again after the first one collapsed, and a heavy could of dust and smoke completely obscured the other.   The skies completely void of any commercial airline traffic were disturbingly eerie.

We finally heard from my sister whose commute had a subway stop underneath the World Trade Center.   When her train had come up on the Manhattan side, the conductor tol them that this train was going no further into the city and was returning to NJ.   She went with it.   At my office, we watched a Spanish-speaking network.   It broadcast from he Empire State Building while the major English-speaking networks could not broadcast sin their towers were at the top of the WTC.   At mid-day, I went home down the Garden State Parkway.   Curiously, there was little traffic heading south.   And except for the occasional fire truck or EMS vehicle, noting at all was heading north to the city.   Everyone living in and around New York City on September 11, 2001 has a story to tell about that day and the way life became afterward. 

There had been a well-publicized story of people trapped on an elevator; they had gotten the door open, but had to dig through ten layers of drywall to break out of the elevator shaft.   For months (years? still?) my sister carried a bottle of water and a Leatherman knife/tool in her bag when she went into the city.   I had business travel to Paris during the whole era of "freedom fries" and the "axis of weasels" as the US began to move the war from Afghanistan to Iraq.  I go off the plan with both fists cocked.   But the Parisians I met were gracious, kind, and proud of their home--one of the most beautiful cities in the world.   Years later in a chaplains' group discussion, a discussion facilitator asked us to raise our hand if we were part of a minority.   My friend of mid-eastern descent raised his hand.  The facilitator asked if that really counted.   My friend replied, "you better believe it did on September 12th."   Ultimately, Robin and I knew no one that died that day, but we knew people who knew someone who died.   And everyone knew someone that knew someone that had been lost. 

An internet bulletin board for ELCA clergy has been batting around "what to do" regarding the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  Some pastors want to talk about our violent world.   Some want to make prayer remembrance liturgies for church that Sunday.   Some want to be critical of American responses.   Some want to talk about forgiveness.   But I think I know what I will do that day.    I will come to church that morning.    That evening I will watch a bunch of programs about 9/11.   And sometime that day, I am going to call my sister.

In Christ's Holy name,
Pastor Lance


Sunday, September 8, 2019

Who dare say they know the will of God?

It's a legit question.   Click HERE to listen.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Of Jerks and Kings

This one was a lot of fun.   If you've been following my Facebook page, we've had some parking lot drama at the church, and it served as a perfect sermon illustration.  Thanks, Holy Spirit!  Listen HERE

Sunday, August 25, 2019

THOU art LOOSED!

In this story about Jesus healing the bent woman, our place in the story is where Jesus addresses the the woman herself.    There is a blatant Jordan B. Peterson quote in the sermon and I didn't give him credit, but I'm doing so here.   Click HERE to listen.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

There is more than one way to have our sin cling to us...

And when we won't set it down, it keeps our focus in the wrong direction.
Click HERE to listen.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Churchwide assembly says we have a Patriarchy problem

Most likely to die in a workplace accident? Men. 
Most likely to suffer substance abuse? Men. 
Most likely to be victim of a violent crime? Men. 
Most like to be incarcerated? Men. 
Lower life expectancy? Men. 
Most likely to drop out of school? Men. 
Most likely to commit suicide? Men. 
Most homeless? Men. 
Most likely to die in war? Men.

Fellas, if this is a patriarchy, we stink at it.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Maybe I was wrong

**Updated to correct typos**

If you read my blogpost titled "Pffft", you know that I said the ELCA CWA decision to declare itself "a sanctuary church body" was basically an exercise in puffery.    In our church's polity, no congregation is bound by one of these statements (called "memorials").   And without binding authority, it basically just ends up being an opportunity to pat ourselves on the back for being the right sort of Christian.

But that was before FoxNews chimed in. 

Now, a little background.    A parishioner had come up to me in the narthex Sunday morning.   I wasn't aware of the FoxNews piece, and I do not know if he was.   But he was upset by the decision.  I reiterated my position saying it means "nothing".  He responded, "oh, it means EVERYTHING."  Now he didn't convince me that it was EVERYTHING, but I certainly was convicted.   It didn't mean NOTHING.   It meant something.

On Sunday morning, a FoxNews panel chided the ELCA for its decision to declare itself a "a sanctuary church body".  The panel was one sided, no one from the ELCA was represented, there was obviously no understanding of ELCA polity and there were often points that were just wrong.    I'm not going to offer all the correction.   That's not the point.  But I wondered, since when does FoxNews give a hoot about the ELCA?

By yesterday evening, I was seeing posts circulated by earnest pastors trying to explain what this all meant.    That Lutherans have a long history with refugees.  Etc. Etc.  Etc.   By this afternoon, I saw a local colleague had done the same to his congregation and posted it on Facebook.    In it, he makes very reasoned arguments in a warm pastoral tone and goes through the memorial line by line.   But why was he having to do it at all?

And then the SOMETHING came to be realized.  It's no surprise to anyone that the illegal immigration debate looms large in the USA.  I don't have to go down the list of recent stories that are related to immigration.   But, of course, one of the stories is the ongoing resistance of entire cities to assist ICE in the enforcement of immigration law.  These cities are known as sanctuary cities.   By now you are thinking "Lance, didn't you notice that?"   And, of course, I did.   But that is not the something.    The SOMETHING is that the ELCA had come together on one of the most highly charged national debates and in those three words "sanctuary church body" declared "THIS is the side we are on!" No nuance.   No calls for seeing both sides to an issue.   No respect for varying opinions out in the congregation.  Just BOOM.

Gosh.  Even in the days of the sexuality debates of 2009, the church presented all the sides and said, "okay, yes, we have many differences on these issues, but they don't have to be church dividing." (they were, of course, and the body count from that decision was enormous)  Nevertheless, that was decade ago, nuance mattered.    Apparently it doesn't any longer.  For the progressive ELCA  being "woke" matters.   Being on the "right side of history" matters. 

I keep wondering what it must be like to be Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton.   She was re-elected for another 6 year term on the first ballot.   That almost never happens.   She seems even-keeled,  kind of nerdy and certainly not interested in the church as cultural warrior.   Even her first election seemed to promise a calmer ELCA, an ELCA less interested in devouring its own tail.  Six short years later and she has her little church body is getting ravaged on FoxNews.   It's not a job I would want.  She's going to hear it, too.   There's a lot of Trump supporters in those Lutheran heavy states that won him the election.   They are going to be heard.   But wokeness has a terrible side effect, it makes you deaf. 

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Pffft!

If you listened to last Sunday's sermon on Ecclesiastes 1 ("Vanity of Vanities. All is Vanity"), first of all, thank you.  I listened too.   I thought I had some good points, but sounded more disjointed to me that I thought.  I'd like to have another shot at it. But secondly, you will recall that the word that gets translated into "vanity" is the Hebrew word "abel".  Other translations have used words like "meaningless" (NIV), "useless" (GNT), "futile" (NET).   Because the word is related to the idea of breath, I choose to translate it as "pffft". 

Our ELCA Churchwide Assembly is meeting this week and the press release for August 7 came out with a pretty shocking headline--"ELCA Churchwide Assembly declares ELCA sanctuary denomination".  What's that mean!?! (if you can't tell from the previous paragraph, the answer is going to be pffft.)


Sanctuary is a biblical idea.  In Numbers 35, we read:

When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, select some towns to be your cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone accidentally may flee. They will be places of refuge from the avenger, so that anyone accused of murder may not die before they stand trial before the assembly.  These six towns you give will be your cities of refuge. Give three on this side of the Jordan and three in Canaan as cities of refuge.  These six towns will be a place of refuge for Israelites and for foreigners residing among them, so that anyone who has killed another accidentally can flee there.
In a land where the standard rule was "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth", being guilty of accidental manslaughter was a tricky concern, and this provision seems to suggest that there was no sense in having two families fatherless over an accident.  Get to one of the specified cities and get something worked out.

Declaring itself a "sanctuary church" draws up images of an immigrant family seeking refuge at an ELCA congregation as a brave alb-clad pastor stands at the door with the procession cross shouting out to ICE agents "YOU SHALL NOT PASS". 


So this is the first paragraph of the press release:


In a key action this afternoon, the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted to approve a memorial that declares the ELCA a sanctuary church. This is the first North American denomination to declare itself a sanctuary church body. As a sanctuary church the ELCA is committed to serving and supporting migrant children and families in communities across the country.

First of all, it's a little confusing.   We are one headline and three sentences in and we've called ourselves a sanctuary denomination, a sanctuary church, and a sanctuary church body. For those of you who do not understand when someone accuses the ELCA of too much jargon, this is exactly what they mean.   (click here for a hilarious send-up of ELCA jargon from 2009)

You would think for a "key action" and the bold step of being the first North American denomination to declare itself a sanctuary denomination/church/church body there were be something a little bit more meaty than being "committed to serving and supporting migrant children and families in communities across the country".  Any hows? Any direction?  Any finances committed?  Pffft.


Religion News Services reported that there was also a march including 570 assembly members from the convention center to the Milwaukee ICE office where they taped 9.5 theses onto the office door.  (9.5...see what they did there!???  Get it?!?)
Every bit as dramatic as this, but with a tape dispenser

Lutherans have a tradition of helping refugees.   I support those agencies.    I urge my church members to support those agencies.   They do good and Godly work.  Had the memorial commended these services in their ministry, I'd not be here ranting.   But this "key action" is frustratingly pffft. 


All the more frustrating because after that paragraph in the press release there was more news to be discussed from the day.    (Yes, the key and history-making action got all of three sentences)   In the other news, the retiring Secretary of the ELCA, the Rev. Chris Boerger was quoted saying "'We still have 3.4 million members,' he said. 'We are not an insignificant church.'"  I'm sorry, Pastor Boerger, but as the adage goes "when you have to tell someone you are the boss, you are not the boss."  I've said before and I'll say again--since its formation, the ELCA has only grown smaller, older, poorer and whiter.    And I mean no offense to the small, old, poor and white readers.  Of Catholics, Evangelicals, and Mainline denominations, it is the mainline decreasing the fastest.   And, of the mainline, we are one of the front runners of decline. 


Like the dog of Proverbs 26:11, we just seem to be unable to resist the temptation to gather together, make nonsense statements, and act as if it matters.   

Pffft.


















Sunday, August 4, 2019

Money to burn

Why always talking about money?  uh, I guess because the Bible does.   Click here to listen

Friday, August 2, 2019

Everyone Dumps on Martha

I'll be honest.    This sermon was two weeks ago and I scarcely recall it.    Not my best effort, but maybe you can find some Good News in it.    Click here to listen.

The Lord's Prayer

Sometimes you get in the pulpit and you say a little prayer "Holy Spirit, I'm going to need your help."  And it happens!    Click here to listen

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Evangelism Game Plan for the B Team

Enjoyed last Sunday off, but happy to be back in the pulpit today with a great passage to preach on.  Listen HERE.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

A real Demon of our Time--Moral Therapeutic Deism (It gets defined)

It was a fly by the seat of the Spirit sermon this morning, but I really ended up liking the message and many others did as well.   Just goes to show what happens when we preachers get out of God's way.  Listen here

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Three-in-One?  One-in-Three?   Can we make sense of that?   I'll posit yes and no.   This sermon is based in a lot of the work I did WAY back in seminary for final approval.   The topic was the Holy Trinity and it scared a LOT of people who did not have the benefit of studying under the great David Yeago.   For the savvy Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary grad, it was a walk in the park. 

It's one of my longer sermons, but my prayer is that you will learn more about God and find it worth it.   Listen here.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

A bittersweet day as we congratulated two of our High School Graduates. It got pretty emotional. Emotional enough make one forget the Sermon. LOL! If you wanted to listen again, click.here.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Sorry it has been so long.   I had misplaced my recorder, but knew it was in this church, so I refused to buy another.    This passage is one of my favorites, so I had a lot of fun with this sermon.   Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.   Listen here

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Fighting the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell

I gave this sermon last night at a Service of Healing involving 4 area Lutheran Churches. I didn't have my recorder with me so I gave it again to my empty sanctuary.
Not recorded are the two bible readings. The first is Exodus 17:8-16 and Ephesians 6:10-18. It is suggested that you read those passages first to better understand the sermon.

To listen, click here

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Fifth Sunday in Lent sermon

I wish I had pledged this Lent to do a better job posting my sermons.   Click here

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The covenant with Abram

I heard a sermon on this by a Austin pastor named Todd Stewman.   It was amazing.    I used a lot of his work for this one.    His work was much better.   To listen, click here

There your heart will be

Ash Wednesday's sermon.   Click here

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Transfigur-what?

The Transfiguration is a strange story.   Click HERE to listen

Luke's beatitudes

The Beatitudes from Luke have a different spin.   Click  Here to Listen

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Another Sunday, another sermon

What does it sound like when a preacher decides to take his sermon in a different direction at the last moment?  Click here to find out!

Monday, February 4, 2019

A famous passage often used at weddings, but this time we have 1 Corinthians 13 in the context of a Sunday worship.  Click here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

A week late.

January 13's sermon on the Baptism of our Lord.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

February Newsletter Article--Speaking about Abortion

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!
 
If you thought things were both culturally and politically disturbing in the US in 2018, I’m sorry to say 2019 seems to be following the same pace and direction so far.   Perhaps the most surreal moment to date was watching the galley of the New York State Legislature cheer the passing of a bill that expanding abortion by removing the 24 week limit, expanding the reasons for late-term abortion from the mother’s life to the mother’s life or health, and expanding the types of medical personnel who can perform abortions.   While the pro-choice people applaud it, and the pro-life people denounce it, to me it just seems so extreme.  There is no compromise in bill like that.   Later, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law.  
 
I do not speak about abortion much for a few reasons.  We live in a culture that frowns on men speaking on the matter (unless it’s a full-throated embrace of the pro-choice position).   Secondly, I don’t have any first hand experience on the matter (although I know that many readers will have been involved or adjacent to involvement regarding the decisions surrounding abortion).   Thirdly, since I don’t talk about it often, there is a high chance I would talk about abortion in a clumsy, unproductive manner.  So I have understood that, in America, the best-cast-scenario would be the politician's quote that abortion ought to be “legal, safe, and rare”.  If I had to deal with the issue pastorally, I would do all I could to dissuade an abortion.  Others will be working on “legal and safe”; I will be working on “rare” when I can.  
 
Yet, in the surrounding news that unfolded after the NY legislature, I came across a woman who does speak about abortion with grace, love, and gentleness.   And she has a rare perspective.   She survived an abortion.  I don’t mean she had an abortion and lived.  Rather, I mean in the 1970’s her biological mother underwent a saline injection designed to abort her.   Her name is Melissa Ohmed and she survived.    She’s got lots of stuff out there because she is a pro-life Christian , so google her or look on YouTube for her talks or get her book You Carried Me: a Daughter’s Memoir.   Her story is fascinating.  And as she tells it, time and time again, she mentions forgiveness. 
 
It’s a sure sign that a thing creates feeling of guilt and shame if it can be marched about in Washington, but in real-life only talked about in hushed tones.   I’ll never be a NY legislator.   I’m not likely to see a day when the debate is settled.   But I can tell of God’s forgiveness in Christ Jesus.   I can speak about abortion that way.
 
Peace in Christ,

Pastor Lance 
A sermon about the Scriptures

Monday, January 21, 2019

Recorded to an empty sanctuary one Monday morning.   Couldn't find my recorder on Sunday!

Special shout-out of thanks to the Soundcloud listeners.   When I started putting my sermons online, I always "any number more than zero of listeners is a SUCCESS".

Monday, January 7, 2019

January Newsletter--A brief reflection on 10 years of ordination and call

Grace and Peace to You from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

On January 3, 2009—surrounded by family, friends, colleagues, role models, and a bunch of people whom I scarcely knew and who called themselves members of Our Saviour Lutheran Church---I was on my knees and ordained as a minister of the church of Jesus Christ. Moments later I was installed as pastor of Our Saviour Lutheran Church. Yes, it has been a full decade. Except for marriage and fatherhood, I think it is longest single experience of my adult life.

It’s strange. I know of only one other in my graduating class who is at her original call. Many are their second or third calls. Some have left ministry altogether. Some have moved away from parish ministry and serve the church in other ways. Some have the left the ELCA and serve in other church bodies. And I have been here all the while. It is such a blessing because I feel like I am serving Christ in a way that not many pastors get to serve. Serving in one congregation for a decade makes me I feel like I am gaining a wisdom that many pastors do not get to achieve. I am not sure I can explain it and people seldom ask me for it, but I feel that way.

One of the secrets to serving a long term is for the pastor to actually like the people. I don’t recall the movie, but I recall a scene where a young man tells Jimmy Stewart (I think it was) he wants to marry a young woman. Stewart asks, “well, do you like her?” The young man enthusiastically responds, “Oh, yes, I love her”. Stewart rubs his chin and says, “I didn’t ask if you love her. I asked if you like her.” I can’t tell you the number of pastors I’ve met who behind closed doors really don’t seem to like their people. I am sure they would say that love them in some abstract sort of way. But it sees apparent to me that they don't have any real affection for them. A pastor has to appreciate quirks, moods, and differences. And when you do, it makes being a pastor a joy.

I don’t want to use this article to talk about how unique pastoral ministry is. Jesse Corbett used to say that he’d rather be a roofer than be a pastor. Me? I’ll stick to pastoring. I’ve had a lot of different work experiences, and I know every vocation has its ups and downs. I also know that having to sit down and think about a sermon when you are not in the mood feels an awful lot like the salesman having to make cold calls when he’s not in the mood for it. I just think being a pastor has a fascinating combination of joys, challenges and frustrations.

Thank you for letting me serve and thank you for helping me as we serve the Lord together. Peace in Christ, Pastor Lance+

Epiphany Sermon

St. John Chrysostom warned preachers to not seek out flattery after preaching.   Yet this one received some good feedback.  So f you like it, keep it to yourself.  😜