PREACH IT PASTOR — RACISM / NATIONALISM

A preacher without a pulpit, I am compelled to share a ‘Facebook Public post‘ from a colleague, The Reverend Susan Sytsma Bratt.   Preach it!  Teach it!

With all the ugly hatred, racism and nationalism emerging from this weekends Charlottesville crimes and a Trump Administration that panders to this abhorrent behavior, this is my way of using this blog as a pulpit. I also thank Dan Saperstein, Presbytery if Lake Huron Executive,  for pointing me in the direction of this post.

These words from Rev. Bratt:

There is much to say in the wake of the last 24 hours where more hatred has taken root and sprouted up publicly in Charlottsville.

Tonight, I turn back to Scripture and the Belhar Confession as I prepare to lead worship tomorrow.

To be a member of any Christian church is to be an active witness to Christ’s reconciliation in the world. It’s not just for Sunday morning, but has a place in our daily lives. It shapes how we vote, when we march and use our power to protest, and how we seek to know and love our neighbor.

Faith isn’t private, but public. Not individual, but communal.

The Belhar Confession was written by the church to work to overturn the systemic evil and sin of apartheid and institutionalized racism in South Africa.

The opening lines say this:

“We believe that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another (Eph. 2:11-22); that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain (Eph. 4:1-16);
that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted (John 17:20-23);”

Full text is worth reading and studying. Presbyterians, this is our newest Confession.

Here:
CONFESSION OF BELHAR
1. We believe in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for the church through Word and Spirit. This, God has done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end.

2. We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.

We believe

• that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another (Eph. 2:11-22);

• that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain (Eph. 4:1-16);

• that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted (John 17:20-23);

• that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways: in that we love one another; that we experience, practice and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another; that we share one faith, have one calling, are of one soul and one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope; together come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ; together are built up to the stature of Christ, to the new humanity; together know and bear one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ that we need one another and upbuild one another, admonishing and comforting one another; that we suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this unity (Phil. 2:1-5; 1 Cor. 12:4-31; John 13:1-17; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; Eph. 4:1-6; Eph. 3:14-20; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 1 Cor. 11:17-34; Gal. 6:2; 2 Cor. 1:3-4);

• that this unity can be established only in freedom and not under constraint; that the variety of spiritual gifts, opportunities, backgrounds, convictions, as well as the various languages and cultures, are by virtue of the reconciliation in Christ, opportunities for mutual service and enrichment within the one visible people of God (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:1-11; Eph. 4:7-13; Gal. 3:27-28; James 2:1-13);

• that true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition for membership of this church.
Therefore, we reject any doctrine

• which absolutizes either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation;

• which professes that this spiritual unity is truly being maintained in the bond of peace while believers of the same confession are in effect alienated from one another for the sake of diversity and in despair of reconciliation;

• which denies that a refusal earnestly to pursue this visible unity as a priceless gift is sin;

• which explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church.

3. We believe

• that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ, that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker, that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Cor. 5:17-21; Matt. 5:13-16; Matt. 5:9; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21-22).

• that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit has conquered the powers of sin and death, and therefore also of irreconciliation and hatred, bitterness and enmity, that God’s lifegiving Word and Spirit will enable the church to live in a new obedience which can open new possibilities of life for society and the world (Eph. 4:17–6:23, Rom. 6; Col. 1:9-14; Col. 2:13-19; Col. 3:1–4:6);

• that the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation, hatred and enmity;

• that any teaching which attempts to legitimate such forced separation by appeal to the gospel, and is not prepared to venture on the road of obedience and reconciliation, but rather, out of prejudice, fear, selfishness and unbelief, denies in advance the reconciling power of the gospel, must be considered ideology and false doctrine.

Therefore, we reject any doctrine

• which, in such a situation, sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.

4. We believe

• that God has revealed himself as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people;

• that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged;

• that God calls the church to follow him in this, for God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry;

• that God frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind;

• that God supports the downtrodden, protects the stranger, helps orphans and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly;

• that for God pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and the widows in their suffering;

• that God wishes to teach the church to do what is good and to seek the right (Deut. 32:4; Luke 2:14; John 14:27; Eph. 2:14; Isa. 1:16-17; James 1:27; James 5:1-6; Luke 1:46-55; Luke 6:20-26; Luke 7:22; Luke 16:19-31; Ps. 146; Luke 4:16-19; Rom. 6:13-18; Amos 5);

• that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;

• that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.
Therefore, we reject any ideology

• which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.

5. We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only head, the church is called to confess and to do all these things, even though the authorities and human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence (Eph. 4:15-16; Acts 5:29-33; 1 Peter 2:18-25; 1 Peter 3:15-18).

Jesus is Lord.

To the one and only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be the honor and the glory for ever and ever.

Note: This is a translation of the original Afrikaans text of the confession as it was adopted by the synod of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa in 1986. In 1994 the Dutch Reformed Mission Church and the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa united to form the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA). This inclusive language text was prepared by the Office of Theology and Worship, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

 

Pastoral Rant in thinking about Trump, God, and the future….

This upcoming election has taken me into a dark place.  This upcoming Presidential election has taken me into a dark wilderness.  Where is the Promised Land?    Donald Trump has taken me, spiritually, into this dark space.   I fear for our nation.  I fear for our children and grandchildren!  I fear that the ways of the world we have enjoyed may come to an end!   Or can faith in an almighty power – GOD – help us recapture a path through this wilderness?  Can faith in the living Christ help us walk a path that leads us through trying times?

 I.  LIFE IN THE WILDERNESS—WITHOUT GOD

Donald Trump in his campaign to become President is projecting hatred and fear into the lives of people from coast to coast.  With all the struggles of the world surrounding us, Trump is giving uimple answers without serious solutions.   He is saying he is the “parent” who will make America great again!    How?  We don’ know.   I don’t hear the slightest hint that Trump knows what he’s doing.  In my opinions, he doesn’t have any credible leaders surrounding him.  We hear more deceitful lies than anything else.  And there are his taxes!  Trump won’t let anybody see his tax returns.  What is he hiding?

Tony Schwartz, the ghost writer of “The Art of the Deal” says:

 “Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true.” 

I need to hear Trump answer questions without dancing around avoiding serious answers.   I want to hear the truth.   I want to hear serious answers to questions about how our next President will lead us for the next four years!

I wonder what America will look like if Trump becomes President.  I sense our nation will become divided, once again, by race and religion and class.  People around the globe will no longer trust us.  Who knows what will happen with Donald Trump’s index finger just a few inches away from that button that can destroy the globe?   How are our global partners to relate with a nation that reaches a point of no longer caring for the globe?  Is this great experiment called “America” failing?  Are we losing our constitutional anchor?  If Trump is elected, what will happen to the ideals of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”?

Some have suggested that Donald Trump is on the road to becoming another Hitler.  I share this fear that Trump will become a Hitler-like global leader—and he may not even recognize this is the road he is leading us down.  Another topic for debate!

Donald Trump is fueling fires of hatred and fear.   People of many different walks of life are listening to this negative rhetoric.  Trump has created a ‘Cult’ with millions drinking from the cup of hatred, violence and division.  From the wilderness, I wonder if Donald Trump is leading us toward another civil war?

II.  FAITH IN GOD LEADING US THROUGH THE WILDERNESS

From a spiritual dark place, I now search for ways to think about this election knowing God is always with us.  What hope emerges from faith?  Scripture?  God?  Christ?  With my training as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian tradition with over forty years of experience, what do I/we as women and men  who believe in God need to teach?  Preach?  Where is God’s love and hope?  What are some of the biblical themes that can help us work with all this broken world throws our way?  With the help of some colleagues, several themes come to mind.   I acknowledge this is a rather short list of just a few of the positive things that emerge from scripture that can help women and men of faith live through these troubling times.

Preaching / Teaching Ideas:

1.  Let’s teach and preach advocacy for non-violence in managing conflicts.  Perhaps we also need to become non-violent “activists”, like Christ,  if we are to find our way through  darkness and wilderness periods In life? 

2. Let’s teach and preach “truth to power”.  I for one will re-read some of what Walter Wink has to say on this subject.  Where is the divine presence of Yahweh or Allah or God in our world?

 3.  Let’s recapture what it means to preach, without fear, the gospel of God’s love for all people of all walks of life—even those we may feel are our enemies.

I also lift up one of my favorite texts:  Philippians 4:6-7

“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hears and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Each and every day, I commit myself to affirm God’s presence as a source of light in times when darkness consumes me.   On those days I fear this American Experiment is going to fail, I need to look to God for hope for God’s Will to prevail.  God (or whoever we believe is our divine foundation) is always going to travel with us leading us toward those things we believe God promises all people…..love and peace and hope and life and liberty and joy and freedom  —  and happiness!

Ending this rant I come back to an ancient, confessional question and my personal answer:  What is the Chief End of Humankind?   My chief end is to give glory to God and to find ways to enjoy God (and life God has given me) forever!

 

I Wonder…..HOW DO WE CURB ALL THE VIOLENCE?

In hearing about another school shooting in Roseburg Oregon (October 1, 2015), I feel compelled to write down some thoughts. In not putting NRA friends on the defensive, I wonder: How do we curb all the violence?

I agree with the President that this issue of violence and mass shootings needs to be discussed by the candidates for President.   My question for the candidates: What would you do as President do to curb all this gun violence? BE SPECIFIC!

  1. The Constitution (second amendment) gives the right for all citizens to “bare arms”. At the same time, I wonder if the National Rifle Association, with all of it’s resources (lobbyists and financial resources) could take a more proactive stance in helping to address this national crisis?   Specifically, what could NRA do with all of its resources to help limit access of weapons to those who are mentally unstable?
  2. I admit that this is a stretch in my thinking! I am fully aware that pain medications (opiates) have been killing people who over use or abuse them. Those of us on pain meds are now experiencing a government that places major restrictions on those of us who need these meds. I am getting used to these restrictions. I am wondering if there shouldn’t be some intervention or limited access to some of ammunition used in certain guns?
  3. We have a congress that likes to spend millions of dollars holding hearings on a host issues they feel are important the safety and well-being of Americans. When are we going to hold our congress accountable in doing some work to help curb all this violence—especially when it comes to helping with the mental illness issues that seems to exist behind all this violence?

Finally, I have been careful to blame guns or gun ownership for all the violence. At the same time, guns are used with the most deadly of school shootings. We need to lift our prayers for the victims of these shootings. We also need to “hit the pavement” in finding ways to address this violence.

Doors Open Wider!

The doors of Presbyterian Church, with a recent decision to allow for same sex weddings, have just been opened wider for those in the LGBT community wishing to be married.  While I join with Presbyterians from around the country celebrating our becoming a more inclusive church, we must also remember the need to be pastoral toward those in the church who, in heart-felt ways, disagree with this decision.  Let’s be honest!  Many in the church have strong feelings that this was a bad decision.

From a pastoral letter written by Rev. Jim Browne, the General Presbyter for the Presbytery of Lake Huron—the Presbytery of which I am a member:

What this means is that anyone authorized to perform a marriage and lives in a state where this is legally possible will be able to officiate at  same sex weddings as well as traditional weddings, between a man and a woman. The pastor still is vested with the authority to decide whether a particular wedding is wise and should go forward. The Session which is still given the responsibility to control the use of the building still retains the right to authorize the use of the building for a particular wedding, or to refuse it. The rights of the pastor and of the congregation, vested in the Session, will remain unchanged from before.[1]

Rev. Browne calls upon those in our beloved church to be “gentle with one another”.   I like this!  While some, like myself, want to celebrate this change in our church constitution, I also know some of my best friends at the core of their being are in disagreement with where the church when it comes to this issue of marriage.

I am proud to be in a church that wrestles with difficult questions – always putting Christ at the center of our deliberations.  We are grounded in scripture recognizing there can be varied interpretations when it comes to how God’s Word inspires and guides us in making difficult decisions–living our lives as faithful Christians.

It comes down to this for me:  The door is now open wider for those in the LGBT community who wish to join in worship in Presbyterian churches knowing they are fully included as participants in the sacred institutions, like marriage or holding ordained office–institutions and offices we hold near and dear to our hearts.

Note:  Rev. Grady Parsons, the Stated Clerk and spokesperson for the Presbyterian Church shares an excellent letter showing how decisions on the issue of the inclusion of the LGBT community has evolved since the 1970’s—a short letter for those interested in learning more about how the PCUSA came to this decision. 

http://oga.pcusa.org/section/ga/ga221/message-stated-clerk-grady-parsons-marriage/

[1]   Bi-weekly News of the Presbytery of Lake Huron, March 18, 2015

JIM WALLIS BLOG ON ISIS

Jim Wallis’ Blog, God’s Politics, is a must read in understanding why so many young people, some from the United States, are drawn to the ‘dangerous theology” in describing the war with ISIS. This article points to all the miss information being fed to us by Bill O’Reilly and Fox News slamming Obama (no surprise) in defining this conflict with ISSIS as a “Holy War”.

Bill O’Reilly, Fox News’ top-rated political pundit and talk show host has devoted a great deal of attention to ISIS atrocities and what he believes the Western response should be. Unfortunately, while O’Reilly rightly condemns ISIS as evil, he frames the conflict as a “holy war” that ISIS is waging against the West, Christians, and anyone else who does not share ISIS’ extreme views. O’Reilly defined his “talking points” as “Judeo/Christian philosophy versus the Jihad.” According to O’Reilly, “this is now a so-called holy war between radical jihadists and everybody else including peaceful Muslims … The holy war is here. And unfortunately it seems the President of United States will be the last one to acknowledge it.” While it’s a common Fox practice to turn everything into a partisan issue against President Obama, O’Reilly is also spreading a very dangerous theology.

I found Wallis’ five points helpful especially when it comes to our call to take responsibility in helping young people understand why it’s so dangerous for young people who are getting swallowed up with the “cult like” propaganda being fed them.

This is the link to the Wallis Blog:

http://sojo.net/blogs/2015/02/26/5-things-know-about-isis-and-theology-evil

HAS THE CHURCH BECOME “TOO COMFORTABLE”?

Has the church become “too easy”, “too comfortable”?  Has the church lost its relevance in the promotion of social change? To quote from Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, “If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.” 

I thank Diana Butler Bass for posting on Facebook (10/8/14) a portion of Dr. King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.”   From Dr. King’s Letter:

“I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen….

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. . . Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.” But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future.”