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.)

 

Remember Your Baptism

Now retired, I am going through some new experiences as a pastor who served congregations dating back to the 70’s.    That’s a long time ago!   In particular, I remember and continue to miss the congregation I served the beginning of my ministry, the First Presbyterian Church of Davenport, Iowa.  This is the church where our daughter Emily was baptized (April 12, 1981).   I will always remember this day.  Standing as a parent I was asked by the pastor the name of my child.  I answered with confidence – “Susan”!  Everyone started laughing.  I couldn’t understand why everyone would laugh at such a sacred time.  The pastor leaned in and asked: “Isn’t your daughter’s name Emily?”  An Associate Pastor in that church, I’m glad I was standing with my daughter as a dad instead of pastor performing the baptism.  “Susan” is our daughter’s middle name.   I have no idea why my brain told me give the wrong name.  I now wonder what kind of holy-mistakes my nerves would have caused me to make if I was actually doing the baptism of my own daughter?  I will always remember this baptism!

Another church I that will always be close to my heart – the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, MI.   I served this church as pastor from 1985 until my retirement in 2013.  Through Facebook, I recently experienced the birthday of a member of this congregation who just turned 30.  I will call him BJ.  In looking at all the people wishing him a “Happy Birthday”, I realized with a smile on my face that this church continues to be BJ’s “family’.  All the congregations I have been blessed to serve through the years of ministry are members of this family.  And this is the truth:  I remember your baptism!

Honestly?  I remember BJ’s baptism because one of the cherished files I keep is a written log of all the baptisms I have performed throughout my ministry.  I often find myself looking at this log of baptisms.  I don’t remember the actual day this young man, as an infant, was sprinkled with sacred water with the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit”.   I don’t remember what he was wearing or what I was preaching.   I do, however, know he was baptized the same day another baby was baptized.  I remember the parents of these children who continue to be active members of Christ’s family.  By the way, BJ was baptized on September 20, 1987.  He is still an active member of he Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church.

BJ and all those baptized on the chancel steps of the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church and churches around the globe are members of the huge family named “Christian”.  This 30 year old man, BJ,  is now a police officer.  I am sure proud of him and all of his accomplishments!  I thank God for the opportunity to watch him grow as an active member and officer in the church I once served.

And my point?  REMEMBER YOUR BAPTISM!   Remember who it is who pronounced faith in Jesus Christ prior to your being sprinkled with sacred water–your parents.  Remember who continues to hold you and protect you–God.

This Holy Week, remember who lived and died and rose from death to be our Lord and our Savior.

 

I’m glad I’ve gotten back to writing in this blog.

Birthday-December 7, 2016

I just turned 65.  Medicare is in place.  Now on a fixed income, Social Security and Pension checks will be arriving.  It has always been hard to imagine this day.  With a host of health issues, I have learned to live life one-day/week/month at a time.   Blessings abound with my anchor and beloved wife, Nancy. 

emily-and-tommy-073015In 2010 I was blessed to officiate the wedding of daughter Emily to a wonderful young man Ken.   A true miracle baby and blessing to us all was the birth of grandson Kenneth Thomas in January of 2013.  We will never forget the rough time both baby and mother had in bringing this young miracle baby into the world.  Tommy will be four in January.   

Moving to Rio Vista California  six months ago was a momentous occasion.    WE found a beautiful home in a 55+ community called TRILOGY.  While leaving our home of Saginaw after thirty years, getting close to our California family was the right thing to do. 

011Professionally, part of me regrets not making it a full 30 years as pastor of the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church.   Going on disability after almost 40 years of ministry was the right thing to do.  

 

My heart will be with the church I most recently served, the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church, as they celebrate 150 years of ministry and service in the year of our Lord 2017.  I wonder if any celebrations are being planned!  Under the leadership of a new pastor, Jim Williams, I know this church will be faithful to the end in serving God with energy, imagination and love.   

I now focus on living life to the fullest with our California family.   Grandson Tommy gave me some special birthday hugs this past weekend.  Christmas, with my sister Susan coming to be with us, will be a special holiday—the first chance she has had to meet her great-nephew Tommy. 

All in all, life is good.  Thanks for all the birthday greetings.  My heart-felt prayers are with all who have a chance to read this.   

Thanksgiving Vows 2016

007As a Christian and an ordained officer of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I affirm the sacred vow affirming:  “Jesus is my Lord and my savior.”  Through over half a century of life on this earth, I continue to grow in accepting all that this affirmation means.

 

American FlagNext to placing my life in the arms of God……I affirm as an American and citizen of these United States this sacred vow, the fundamental principle found in the Declaration of Independence:   “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

 

II. Church and Family-“Christ in My Life”

At this junction, I want to share some of my thoughts about my early faith development.  I didn’t have a ZAP-BANG conversion or experience when I suddenly believed in Jesus Christ.   I learned of Christ over time.  My affirmation in affirming Christ was more a process in building up to a point of being able to say “I believe”.   I continued and continue to struggle with what it means to believe in Jesus Christ.  What I recall are a variety of experiences throughout my teenage years that brought me God and belief that Jesus was, for me, the living Christ.  Feeling the presence of God and learning of Jesus from scripture, in the context of the church, brought me into this relationship with what I describe now as the “living, vibrant presence of Jesus Christ.”

The Sermon on the Mount found in ancient New Testament scripture, was the basis, from what I recall, in accepting Christ in my life.   I recall a Sunday worship service, fidgety as usual, thumbing through the Bible looking for a text I had remembered the preacher use in a previous service.  Thumbing brought the Bible, I found the text I was looking for, Matthew 7:7:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  NIV

It was at a later time, perhaps that same day, I found myself sitting in my bedroom looking, once again, for this verse.  Hoping to remember it, I went looking for it once again.  I liked what this scripture said about God opening doors.   I suppose I was carrying with me some questions looking for some doors to open in revealing what God would have me do in searching for some answers in my life.
Active in the church youth group, we had regular camps and retreats.   My parents were always open to my attending these church-related events—they kept me out of trouble.   Living in the Denver area, many of these retreats were in the mountains.  One of my favorite activities during some of these retreats was worship when we were asked to go off by ourselves for a few minutes of private prayer and mediation.  There would often be scripture or a question we were asked to contemplate.  We would then come back to discuss our thoughts in a larger group.

One recollection was a warm day, fresh air, with the sun coming up over a grand mountain.  Pine trees covered the hillside.  Majestic mountains could be seen all around.  There was a small stream separating me from this majestic view on the other side.  I found myself trying to imagine what it was like for Jesus to stand on this mountain preaching to the crowds – a sermon on a mount:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you

This leads to part of the story I’ve never shared before — questions I would ask over and over again:

Who am I?

What am I going to do after graduation?

Do I leave home?

What does God have planned for me?

Will I fall in love and find the girl I will marry?

There was some pressure from my mother to live at home and attend a local college.   This was one reason why I made the decision to find a college away from home.  My mother, a teacher herself, wanted me to be a teacher.

I had in the back of my mind being a music teacher.  I liked to sing.  I played the baritone.  I even took a class one summer on “Music Theory” – one of the most valuable classes I ever had during High School!

I also had in the back of my mind the idea of becoming a minister.  I was clueless as to how this could be done.  College was going to have to come first!

What I new for sure was the fact that I had loving, forward thinking parents who would help me with whatever I wanted to do.  I never felt the need to worry about money – that was my parent’s job!  I also knew, somehow, that God was going to be part of whatever decision I made!  Perhaps a bit naive, but I thought everyone carried God with them in making important decisions!

I had some close friends with me on this spiritual journey.  Casey and Darrel and Doug – we were best friends and “partners in crime”.   There are some things we did as teens that probably shouldn’t be mentioned in this journal.

Casey and I went to the same church.  As a group of friends, Casey and Darrel and Doug and I did lots of things together.  We played handball and tennis.  We would see movies together.  We enjoyed going camping.  It was on these camping trips we would explore our closet beliefs and what we would do with our lives.  All of my friends, seeing how active I was in the church, affirmed my thinking that ministry might be the right thing for me.

How close were these friends, my peers, my earliest spiritual advisors?  Later in life, December of 1976 or six years after we graduated from High School, these good friends would all make the trip to Pittsburgh for my wedding.   As I write this, Nancy and I will be celebrating our 40th Wedding Anniversary.  Our daughter Emily just turned 36!  J

Rather than get ahead of myself with my writing, I want to back up and describe a particular retreat when I was in high school. While on this retreat I again found myself on the side of a hill preaching to the trees.  Sound goofy?  I could imagine my friends laughing at me…..but when I told them what I as doing, they took me seriously.  I was discovering, with the affirmation of good friends, that I had a voice and heart for preaching.  I started to think I could be a pretty good minister.

Two things came to the forefront in my thinking.  Ministry, for me, would need to be grounded in relationships and experiences.   I can see now that I was beginning to develop my own theological  approach in becoming a “process theologian” – God’s love is known through the processes that evolve and grow with us as we live through various stages in life.

I don’t remember the day or time.  I do, however, remember that I was attending a “Young Life Camp”.  It was a cold winter day.   There were dozens of youth from churches around Denver gathered in a lodge listening to a guest speaker.  We were sitting on the floor with pastors from our various churches sitting or standing around the edges of the room.

While I don’t remember the specific theme that day, I know that this speaker was going to ask us to consider, privately, dedicate our lives (give our lives) to Christ.  The powerful moment came to me:

This speaker asked us to bow our heads in prayer.

We were instructed to keep our eyes shut.

We were also asked to raise our hands if we were ready to give our lives to Christ.

I raised my hand.

Later that day my pastor, I think it was Dr. Blackstock, came to me and said he noticed I raised my hand.  I had a brief conversation with him about my contemplating ministry as a possible career.  He told me I should plan a visit with the senior pastor, Rev. DeYoung, about my feelings.  He also totally floored me in sharing:

“You were the only one to raise his hand

when asked to give /  dedicate your life to Christ!” 

Whew!  I was the only one!  This powerful experience would remain with me the rest of my life.  I never saw this as a “thunder-bolt experience” with flashes of God’s spirit swirling around me.  It was a quiet experience – me and God – and a decision – a decision to continue exploring what it would mean to give my life to God.  My life would never be the same!

 

 

 

I. Church and Family-“I Belong to God”

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I’ve given my life to the church.   I also know that this wouldn’t be possible without the support and encouragement of family!  This is a first of many entries under the theme:  Family and Church!   

I thank myimg_2854 parents, Sanford and Helen Cundiff, for being parents who made sure church was part of my life.  Born in 1951, my parents introduced me to the church through baptism on April 15, 1953.  I was baptized in a small chapel by Dr. John M. Pattison at the First Presbyterian Church of Cheyenne, Wyoming.  While born in Cheyenne, our family soon moved to Denver.  I was only three or four years old.   I had an older brother, David, and a younger sister, Susan.

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It was in Aurora, Colorado where my parents introduced me to another Presbyterian Church—the First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, Colorado.   I belonged to this church until I was ordained.

 

 

When we moved to Colorado we initially lived as a family of five at the Ranger Motel on Colfax in Aurora.   My dad was busy helping to build our first Colorado home.  That motel is still located on Colfax.   I remember, in our downstairs room, the pay-television.  If I recall, we had to put a dime or quarter in a small machine on top of this television order to get thirty minutes of programming.  This was much like the machine that controlled a vibrator on the bed. 🙂

This motel was across the street and of block away from the First Presbyterian Church on Kingston Street..  As a family, we were active in this church.   I have always been a Presbyterian!   While we never really talked about it, this Presbyterian church was an anchor for our family.  With my family and this church I discovered early in my life, to borrow from some creeds, “that I belong to God”.  Church became for me, through this First Presbyterian Church of Aurora, a second home.

I attended Sunday School classes and youth fellowship.  I sang in the youth choir.  I remember, as a fifth grader, shooting a rubber band at my dad who was a Sunday school teacher.   Everybody learned that he had quite the voice when it came to showing his temper.  I may not remember the lessons taught in those Sunday school classes, but engrained in my heart was this sense that I belonged – and family church were the core of this belief.

While we moved into different houses that my dad helped to build, this First Presbyterian Church remained my church home until I was ordained in 1977.  I remember the long Saturday morning sessions in confirmation class – and learning and memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism—confirmed in the mid-60’s.

I was introduced to worship leadership with the Rev. CVR DeYoung.   I would read scripture and sing an occasional solo with the choir.  Oh yes, private music lessons and choir under the direction of Ken Graham were an important part of my life in belonging to the church.

Rev. DeYoung and Rev. Meanor, the Assistant pastor, were always giving me opportunities to help lead worship.  This was unusual in the 60’s in Presbyterian Churches!  Rev. DeYoung once took me to his office on a Sunday morning.  Opening the closet door he pulled out a black and blue tie.  He had me pick one.  The paisley one I was wearing wasn’t appropriate for a worship leader.    I learned many things in leading worship.  For example, I must always sit with both feet flat on the floor in front of me.  These pastoral mentors saw what my parents always knew – I was a wiggly, squirmy kid always on-the move.   They also saw some potential in my becoming a leader in the church.  They may have been wondering:  “Would I become a pastor?”

From early in life, I learned that I belonged to God.  I was greatly influenced to be open minded, if you will, a progressive thinker.  I also learned to accept others from where they were in their faith journeys.  These teachings came from both church and family.  I had people around me, family and friends and mentors, who helped me recognize a “calling” to be an ordained pastor.

Now forty years after ordination I am turning 65.  Thanks to my mom and dad for introducing me to the church through baptism.  Thanks to the church for giving me a life-long sense that I belonged to God.  In retirement, I now have time to write about this journey – and what better place to write than in this blog.  There will be more to come!

If the Answer is “Yes.”

Words to help guide and inspire us in electing the next President of the United States.

Hold to the Good

I have resisted the temptation to weigh in more than I already have on the Donald Trump phenomenon because we are saturated. Television news and the newspapers can’t keep their eyes off of him and I confess that I watch the 7:00 a.m. news because I don’t want to miss the latest outlandish thing he has said or done. I am changing my mind about writing because I heard a superb sermon yesterday by the Rev. Shannon J. Kershner, at the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. Shannon skillfully inverted the traditional interpretation of Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow and unresponsive judge who finally gives the widow the justice she is pleading for simply to make her stop asking and go away. Shannon said that maybe God is not the judge here. We are the judge. God is speaking through the widow, persistently urging and pleading to us for justice…

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