Saturday, January 30, 2016

My Sermon for Donald Trump

There is an old story about a preacher who was told that a president was to be in his congregation on Sunday. I think the version I heard used President Andrew Jackson as the person, but regardless, the point of the story is this. One of the church leaders says to the preacher, “President Jackson is sitting in church today, Pastor. What are going to say?”  To which the preacher replied, “I am going to say, ‘Andrew Jackson is a sinner.’”  In the era of President Jackson it may have been possible to really preach that message, because it is unlikely too many people would ever find out about it. I mean, CNN was not around in 1829. But what about today, in the era of 24/7/365 news?

What if Donald Trump, in one of his campaign stops, dropped in on Hope Church in Sheboygan, WI one Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. this spring, what would I say? Well, of course, I would welcome him as our guest and offer him one of our gifts (a really nice travel mug), because, what else do you give a billionaire who may become president? What you offer Mr. Trump is what you offer everyone else who passes through your threshold. I would offer Mr. Trump the Peace of Christ. When we got to the time for confession of sins I would pull out my Andrew Jackson story, and then I would say, “Donald Trump is a sinner. Bill Te Winkle is a sinner. Each of you here is a sinner.” And as we moved to celebrate God’s love in offering us assurance of our pardon from our sins, I would say, “God forgives Donald, and Bill and each of you. Now, sin no more.”

And as we moved to the sermon, I would abandon my text and preach on Romans 3:21-24. (You should read it now). And here is the conclusion to my sermon for Donald Trump: “Mr. Trump, it doesn’t matter whether you say 2 Corinthians or 2nd Corinthians. The church is snobbish when it makes a big deal about petty things like preferred pronunciations. I apologize for our brothers and sisters at Liberty University who laughed at you. But, I did hear you say that you don’t really need to pray for forgiveness. On this you are wrong. You do need to ask for forgiveness, just like everyone else. Your behavior, no matter how good it is, will not earn you salvation. It’s not like running for President, where you need to display qualifications for election. You are elected by God because, in spite of your sin, God wants you. When it comes to your relationship with God, I offer you John Calvin’s three-word sermon: ‘humility; humility; humility.’ Mr. Trump, God loves you just as you are, and so do I. The grace by which you are offered that love is not for sale. There is no deal you can make to acquire it. You cannot “earn” grace, no matter how good you are.  Will you receive God’s gift today?”

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Rejection or Hope Deferred?

I don’t handle rejection well. Sometimes I can see it coming, but it is still hard to accept the reality of not being wanted, of not realizing what I want. Sometimes I do not see it coming. That’s the worst, when my work, my plan, my personality, is rejected and it is a complete surprise to me.  I wait for an answer to my request, anticipating that this is exactly what God wants for me, but then the letter comes: Rejected.  This past week I was rummaging through some old papers in my endless effort to clean my mess in our basement and I found a rejection letter from several years ago. I don’t know why I saved it. I tried to re-read it, and it was oddly painful all over again.

Later that day I followed a Twitter link from Anne Lamott. (If you don’t know Anne Lamott’s work, find it. She is will really stir your thinking!) She provided a link  to a poem her pastor published, which ends like this:

“But I’ve found within another word, an eternal point of view.
It speaks of blessing; it speaks of truth:
‘Man’s rejection is God’s protection.’

 Mama used to say. So, I’ll incline my heart to this truth, empowered on my way.” (Rejection A poem about hopes deferred. Veronica R. Goines ©Presbyterian Church (USA), a corporation)

Rejection. Protection. You choose the word you want to keep in your heart.  It is one thing to say that God is watching over us, guiding us on the way. It is another thing to believe what we say when the wheels come flying off of our lives.  I know that when I look back on the letter I re-discovered that God was in fact protecting me from myself, if not others, when I was rejected.  The ensuing years since that rejection have been a blessing, a truth I treasure.  Do you harbor in your heart the pain of a past rejection? Are you struggling with a current rejection?  Pray today that God would open your eyes to see in it God’s protection; a hope deferred. Be empowered on your way.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Joy of the Journey of Forgiveness

Philomena was innocent and pregnant. Her family gave up on her, sending her to a nunnery. She survived a breach birth of her son without medication. She survived the more painful moment of watching her small son being sold by the nuns to a couple who purchased him in an unplanned adoption.

For fifty years Philomena searches for her son.  The movie bearing her name tells the story of her journey. It is a journey of exploration, for her son, yes, but also for forgiveness. Forgiveness of her sin; of those who abused her; forgiveness of herself.  I don’t want to tell you more, because I want you to find and watch this movie.

But there is one speech from the movie I want to give you to ponder this day. It is spoken by another character to Philomena, near the end of her exploration, as she returns to the nunnery:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.” T.S. Eliot (Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 1980, p. 808)

To truly forgive as God forgives us requires us to go on a journey. We need to explore the people and the places which are the burden that weighs us down. So heavy a burden are anger and hate, yet a burden we somehow prefer to carry every day for all of our lives.  Yet when we put it in our minds to take the first step of the journey of forgiveness, then we have finally begun to experience joy. Joy, as C.S. Lewis says, is not happiness. The surprising joy that is found in forgiveness removes the heaviest of burdens from our shoulders and allows us, at the end of our journey of exploration, to know the people and places that hurt us “for the first time.” Start your journey.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

I Will Not Wish You 'Good Luck'

On January 1 one of the first emails I read said this: “In this New Year may good luck and good fortune always be with you.”  I wanted to reply and tell them to take it back, but I didn’t. It was from an organization I belong to and, I figure, someone told them they had to say something to the members on New Year’s Day, and the website editor had run out of creative ideas for the year, so what we got was a wish of “good luck.” 

Well, dear readers, I am not wishing you “good luck” this year because I do not believe in luck.  I am going to study “luck” this year, but for now, here is what I know:

  1. I do believe that there is God and that God made the Universe.
  2.  I do believe that “God does not play dice with the universe.” (Albert Einstein) By this I mean that God’s Laws of Nature explain much of what happens in life.
  3.    I do believe in Miracles, defined as occurrences for which there is no scientific or mathematical explanation, but are rather explained by the Hand of God.
  4. Therefore, I do believe in the Providence and Sovereignty of God. Thus,
  5.  I do not believe in luck, good or bad.
  6. I do not believe in fate, good or bad.
  7. But, I do believe that some of life’s experiences are explained only by “Mystery”; meaning, that when we stare into the Unknown what we see is hidden Light.

This means that your New Year is not subject to ‘luck’ or ‘good fortune’.  Your New Year is subject to outcomes which science and mathematics can predict and explain, and even in these explanations you can find the Providence of God. There will be outcomes you cannot understand, outcomes which no one can explain.  This is not evidence of God playing dice. It is evidence that God is wiser and more loving than the laws which God coded into the Universe. When the unexplained seems like love to you, then praise God for the miracle. When the unexplained seems like something other than love to you, pray that you can accept, for now, the Mystery: behind the Unknown is Pure Light.