We Shall Overcome

Praying for Racial Justice

A few weeks ago pastors and church leaders of the ELCA gathered in Springfield, MA to hold our annual Synod Assembly.  As part of the opening worship we sang “We Shall Overcome”.  This is a protest song that became a key anthem of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.  In between verses of the song we read words from Biblical prophets as well as contemporary prophets to remind us that through our baptism we are called to fight the injustice found in our world. 

I would like to share some of these words in light of the tragic shooting in South Carolina this week.  A shooting that took nine lives including Rev. Clementa Pinckney the pastor of Emmanuel AME church, a seminary classmate and friend to many of my colleagues.

I ask that you say a prayer for the families of those who were killed, pray for the congregation of Emmanuel AME Church, pray for the Charleston community and our nation as we fight for racial justice in our communities around the country.  If you don’t know what to say in your prayer, use the following words as your prayer.

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Happy Ascension Day

The Ascension of our Lord is a feast day of the Christian Church but it is not often celebrated like many other feast days.  The primary reason for this, I believe is because it falls on a Thursday.  Some churches do have a celebration of the ascension on the Sunday following the actual day.

The reason that Ascension is on a Thursday is because the Ascension happens forty days after Easter.  For forty days Jesus spent teaching his disciples about life without him, Jesus assured the disciples that even though he was going going to be with them physically that his presence was always with them.  I can only imagine how the disciples felt, it would have been an amazing to be with Jesus again but  it would have been terrible to know that they were going to lose Jesus again.  Not only did they spend three years with Jesus; learning from him and experiencing amazing ministry but they were able to look into the eyes of the one who died for them and then came back to life and continued to minister to them.

Then on the 40th  day, he ascended in the sight of his disciples.

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Being Promised

If you have not been following along Greg Walter’s book tour please check out posts by Clint, Geoff, and Steve.  Greg Walter is a professor at St. Olaf College in Minnesota and has written a new book entitled Being Promised: Theology, Gift, and Practice.

I was lucky enough to interview Professor Walter upon the completion of his new book.

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1. Existence of a promise:  I have had many conversations with people who question the existence of God. When I have those conversations eventually they lead back to the idea of faith and the assurance that God promises us eternal life and salvation. Is there a way to explain the promises that God gives us in such a way that instills at least some hope and faith?

I think there is a lot to say about the promise creating faith. This means, I think, that God’s promise in the Crucified One invites and opens up an adventure, a risk, which is a willingness to go with it, to see what comes, to welcome whatever shows up on our doorsteps. Because an adventure in a way is not just our going out on a quest of some sort but also is about advent, about that which comes to us, promise can do this, and God’s promise asks for a bizarre and joyous adventure.

The other way to do this is to say that to reflect the God who promises is a lot more interesting than to explore the God who exists. I suppose someone might say that existence is somehow a more basic feature of God to establish before exploring promise, but I don’t know that is so. Because a God who promises is a different sort of God than one who doesn’t risk or wait on faith to be God, as Luther radically puts it.

 2. I have said once or twice in a sermon “God does not break promises” is there an instance from your view point where God has broken a promise? If so, what is it? If not, why not?

In the book I write a bit about the way that God’s promise must be tested. This is a strange way to read Genesis 22:1 — usually we think it is a test of Abraham by God but a promise is always up for grabs, if it is a promise. Many theologians will write things like “God can be trusted because God does not lie” or “God’s promises are true because God’s power knows no bounds.” I think the first is better than the second though it seems that the Binding of Isaac has its fair share of deception on God’s part. Part of God’s history in keeping God’s promise is part of God’s credibility. And God’s promise must be tested because so many tings speak against it. Luther called this the “contradiction of promise” in his late Genesis Lectures.

 3. What is your biggest breakthrough personally by writing this book? What is the one nugget of information and/or inspiration that you would like everyone to take away from reading your book?

I benefited immensely in sorting out promise as gift. Since most human beings implicitly or explicitly understand how gifts work and the dangers and joys of gift-exchange, promise is readily intelligible in those terms. And I think most people seem to get that a promise behaves differently than most acts of giving even if they’re not sure how. In the book I try to show how promise can have an effect on most human practices and ordinary human situations, engendering a kind of impure giving. I don’t think promise can clear up the muck of human life, but I think it provides, in the promise of the Crucified One, a form suitable to that mess.

Don’t forget to check out the posts by  ClintGeoff, and Steve.  If you are interested in the book check it out by clicking the picture below.

How Will it End???

Every great saga has an ending. Think of the series finales of your favorite shows (assuming they don’t get cancelled before they can tie up the loose ends).  Some shows end as if the next day will come, and we just won’t be there to see it. Others end the situation the characters we have come to love move on to other things. Sometimes one of the characters gets a spin-off show. Sometimes the things that confused us all along are brought into a new light as soon as we see the ending.  The Acts of the Apostles ends with all of these things in sight.

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The apparent cliffhanger of chapter 27 and a shipwreck in Malta is soon rectified. The natives show kindness to those stranded on the island, and build a fire so they might warm themselves Things are starting to look like they might turn out alright after all. Yet as any great finale would do, another complication presents itself as we witness Paul bitten by a snake as we go to commercial, not letting him go, and he looks done for.

When we return form the break, the snake has not harmed him, and the natives are impressed. They know he is holy because the snake did not harm him, so they ask for Paul’s help to cure their friend the Father of Publius. Paul visits him, prayers for him and lays his hand upon him, curing him of his ill. As we go to the next commercial the natives have fixed the vessel and given them new provisions as they cast off toward Rome – time for another commercial break.

At the return of the break we see a brief scene as Luke records in his journal the last steps of the journey, to Syracuse and Rhegium and Puteli. Think Indiana Jones. As Luke speaks the voice over we see a map with a red line moving in on their final destination. They land in Rome and Paul is escorted out to meet with the Jewish leaders. Paul presents his case – how he was arrested and handed over to the Romans, how they wanted to release him, but his own people called for his life, and how he appealed to his Roman Citizenship to have a trial in Rome which brought him to this point in the journey. We see the Jewish leaders looking at one another unsure what to do as we head into the final commercial break.

The last scene brings us to the final climax – the Jewish leaders arguing about what to do about this crazed itinerant preacher – who speaks of Jesus as the Messiah, and does signs and wonders, and a few people storming off. But one last speech from Paul, filled with power of the Holy Spirit.

“Go to this people and say, ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn and I will heal them.” (Acts 28:26-27)

We see the rest of the Jews run away, just as we see others start to surround Paul.  Words come on the screen as the cameras pull back detailing that tradition says that Paul was later executed, but for the time being he continues to preach and witness with boldness, as the church now starts to take on its worldwide mission. At the final close we see the city of Rome, the people coming and going amidst the busy day until it fades to black.

But then.

A few more words fade in on the blackened screen…

(Just in case you wanted to know what that bold message was…)

A voice over comes in and it is Paul.

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What’s Your Story?

Remember what Jesus said at the beginning of the book of Acts – right before ascending to heaven? “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). That’s exactly what Paul is doing here. He is a witness, giving testimony to the power of God as seen through his own changed life.

Even before the beginning of time, God has been telling His story. He continues to write His story today in and through the lives of the people who call Him “Lord.” He is telling the greatest story of all through the lives of His people, weaving them into an epic work of art. And although “witnessing” has gotten a bad rap in recent history, all of us as Christ’s followers are witnesses, giving testimony to His grace, power, and peace. We do that with our actions, but we also do that with what we say. Paul demonstrates this in front of Felix and Agrippa.

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Falling Asleep in Church

Admit it – you have falling asleep in church before.  I hope you don’t do it often but maybe one Saturday night you stayed up a little too late, but decided  before you went to bed that you were still going to get up early and go to church.  That Sunday, maybe the air conditioning wasn’t turned on yet, maybe the pastor decided to preach extra long that day and between that and staying up late caused the perfect falling asleep in church storm.

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I am sure you tried to stay away, you really did!!!  But you feel the sleep coming on so you start to doodle on the bulletin to keep moving, but then you feel the pencil start to fall out of your hand.  You realize that you are starting to fall asleep and you quickly wake yourself up.  You look around to if anyone is watching you — you are thankful because no one seemed to notice that you fell asleep for a quick second.  You start to really listen to the sermon and you figure out what your pastor is talking about…..then all of a sudden you fall asleep — the next thing you know the sound of the organ playing the hymn of the day wakes you up.  Embarrassed you look around again and this time Mr. and Mrs. Anderson are looking at you shaking their heads.  You feel like you want to curl up in a ball and just die.  Nothing could be worse.

Well actually,  a young man named Eutychus did die in church from falling asleep.  Eutychus was a young man around 10 years old who falls into a deep sleep during church, and dies…..

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