Sunday, August 18, 2013

It Is Fun To Be In the E-L-C-A!

       This week the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) elected a new presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, who is currently serving as the Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod . She also happens to be the first woman bishop ever elected in the ELCA (Or any of the ELCA predecessor’s bodies). It is an historic moment, and one that I greet with great joy. To some it might seem that we are making progress or growing into the future. I believe we are simply going back to the way it should have been since the beginning of the Church’s founding.
          Jesus had women disciples. Jesus taught woman, was supported by woman, and Jesus listened to women. Jesus allowed Mary to sit at his feet and be taught just like a man, Jesus ministry was bankrolled by women, Jesus had women who followed him (remember they are the only ones with enough guts to go to the tomb, and then became the first to pronounce the resurrection), Jesus spent an afternoon listening to the women at a well (She too became a proclaimer of the Gospel). 
          Paul tells us that in Christ there is “no male and female”. I believe that in Paul’s churches women spoke and were leaders in proclaiming the Gospel. The early church was a dynamic place where anyone with the gifts proclaimed the sacred mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. My wife and I named our daughter, Phoebe, who is mentioned in the book of Romans by Paul.  “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.” We gave her this name partly so she will remember that within the body of Christ she is equal to everyone else, and her proclamation of the Gospel is equally important.
          Somewhere along the way the church got knocked off course. It no longer mattered what your gifts were only the plumbing. Women were barred from leadership in the Church, and we all suffered for this sin. We all were less fed because we only heard about Jesus from a certain point of view, and Jesus became about conquering and killing others different from us.
          In seminary half of my classmates were women, and I can remember multiple occasions in class thinking how blessed I was to have women in our class. I was thankful to God for their presence and their voice. It made me a better pastor, a richer theologian, and a deeper thinker. The ELCA (and its predecessor’s bodies) has been ordaining women for 43 years. In that way this day seems like it took too long. We should have had a presiding woman bishop long ago. It seems that progress is always too slow. But what it took the church over two thousand years to do was not going to be undone in a short time. I pray for the day when we have no more first in our church. We have no more first woman bishop, or first openly gay…or first person of color…instead we have a dynamic church that uses the gifts of its entire people for the building up of the kingdom of God. What a day that will be.
 There will be some other Christians who will think that this is merely the “liberal ELCA straying from the doctrinal purity of the true Church.” I can only say that I am a proud pastor of the ELCA. I am proud that we are trying to be a Church that judges our leaders by the only criteria that should matter, are they faithful stewards of the mysteries of God. Do they love the people they serve? Do they have compassion for all of God’s children? Do they love their neighbor as themselves? Do they know and preach the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ? Everything else is about human divisions that we invent to make ourselves feel superior to others. So let our Church celebrate one more time when we grow closer to the Holy Spirit and it’s moving among us.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Our Call Stories

Friday was the ten year anniversary of my ordination.
I hope this morning you will indulge me a little as I talk about my calling and the events that led up to my ordination.
I have said many times that I was a rebellious youth.
I had my time to go off where demons dwell.
Because of this I never thought I would be a pastor.
But when I was sixteen our church had a youth service and since I was the president of the youth group I volunteered to preach.
After that service people in the congregation came up to me and said that I should consider being a pastor.
That is how it starts for all of us.
Someone we know tells us that we have a gift for something.
It plants a seed.
Anyway, around this time something else significant was happening in my life.
I was spending my summers at camp calumet as a counselor.
It was significant because at camp other people would tell me I had a gift for understanding and explaining bible stories.
My senior counselor would often read the Bible story to the kids and then say, “and now Jon will tell you what it meant.”
This is how it goes…we realize in ourselves certain talents.
When I was in college my work study job was in the chapel.
I was involved in religious life on campus.
I wanted to bring together Muslims, Jews, Christians, and others to pray and listen to each other.
I became passionate about religion, and about opening ways of understanding and peace among different religions.
This is how it works for us we find things that we care about that we are passionate about and feel called to do something about.
My late mentor and friend Nils Johnson was the chaplain my sophomore and senior year.
He knew about the world, about history, and current events.
He taught me lots about being a Christian engaged in the world.
In Nils’ office talking about issues in the world I grew to be passionate about my faith and how I could help others in the world through that faith.
That is the way it works someone takes our gifts and passions and mentors us.
After College I didn’t go right to seminary I tried other things.
I thought that I would find some other way to live my life besides ministry.
I did other things but none of those things brought out my gifts and passions the way that I felt when engaged in ministry for Jesus Christ.
I eventually realized that this is what God was calling me to do.
But I was still wasn’t completely sure.
I was living in Maine with a friend from camp (Now Pastor Dave Dalzell from
 Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Laconia, NH).
I was working at a home for abused and neglected kids.
I came home and Dave said, “Hey I think I am going to go to seminary.”
And I said, “Great I’ll go too!”
Isn’t that the way it should work.
We find people who we have something in common with, who shares our passions and we work together.
It was actually about 10 years of thinking about it before I actually went to seminary.
But I will tell you I have not regretted one day.
I love being a pastor.
It is one of the great joys of my life.

But my story is not just about me.
I would encourage all of you to think about your own paths, your own lives.
What has brought you to this place?
What has made you the person you are?
What are your passions and gifts?
Who have been the people who have encouraged and mentored you?
What is your call story?
Because we all should have a call story.
We should all have some way that God called us to do what we do now.
Our vocations are about more then what are we going to do to make money.
They are about how we serve God and our neighbors.

In our Gospel story this morning we are told that, “this very night your life is demanded of you.”
Every day we get up and go to work we should be thinking about how our lives serve God and our neighbor.
How does God use our passions our gifts to benefit the world?
You don’t have to be a pastor to serve God and others.
You only need a heart that is filled with God.

The man with the barns in Gospel this morning you know what his problem is?
It is not so much that he made lots of money.
It is not so much that he was smart about saving for a rainy day.
It is that all he thinks about is himself.
“What should I do?”
“I will do this…”
“I will store up my grains.
“I will say to my soul…”
His vocation is not about serving God and others it is only about serving himself.
And our vocations our callings are not about serving ourselves either.

Think about it.
Let us say that your gift is making money (This is not my gift and one of the reasons I am pastor).
There is nothing wrong with making money.
But why are you making money?
To buy more things.
To get more things.
For safety and security?
What if it was so you could give money away to help those in need?
What if you made more money so you could give people good high paying jobs, so they could support their families?
What if you made more money so that you could support your family?
What if you made money only the glory of God?
First of all I think that God doesn’t give us gifts to be wasted so God would not have given you that gift if God had not wanted you to use it for the good of the world.
Second, I think that you would love your work better if you saw in it some greater purpose.
The same can be said for just about any vocation we might have.
You can feed the world if you are good with food.
If you are good with computers you can change minds and mold the future.
It is not so much what we do, but the reason for why we do them.

Because this very day God wants something from us, God wants us to serve our neighbors, to love each other, to welcome the stranger, to take care of our families.
We can’t do those things if we are stuck in the “I” statements.
Instead we should work on making them we statements.
We will have enough.
We will live well.
We can have ample goods.
We together can eat, drink, and be merry.
God gave us all gifts and passions so that we can serve others and in that serving honor God.

I am thankful this day for these last ten years.
I am thankful for all the people who congratulated me, or who have said something nice about my ministry.
But I was telling my wife this week that I felt odd about celebrating it too much.
Mainly because I feel that others in their daily work don’t get those kinds of positive affirmations.
I mean a plumber doesn’t have people at his work celebrating his ten years of being a plumber.
And the thing is that we should.
Because  plumber, a banker, a teacher, a salesman, a janitor, a garbage collector…or whatever, does just as much for the kingdom of God as a pastor.

I know that when my pipes are broken in my house I don’t call the pastor to come and pray that God will fix them.
I call a plumber and thank God that he has the ability to do it.
I thank God today for all of the people in their vocations who are called to serve and make this world a better place to be.

So even though I appreciate you’re celebrating my ordination with me.
I want us to leave here this morning celebrating all the people who live out their callings to serve God.
This morning I want you to think about the ways that God has demanded of your life, and how you feel called to live out those demands.
Because this very day our lives are demanded of us.