Larry

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He came the first time, 20 years ago now, holding a pair of shoes out to me. “Pastor, I need some money. Will you give me $10. I’ll leave these shoes with you.”

Well, there is an actual verse about not taking a persons cloak in pledge. Exodus 24:12

12 If the neighbor is poor, do not go to sleep with their pledge in your possession.

So I helped him. that was the start of a number of visits. He came to the office, he came by my house at times.  There was always a small need.  He had a prescription, but needed a co-pay.  He needed a few dollars for gas to get to a food pantry.  He turned out to wear my size of shoes and pants, so I would save any shoes that were old but not worn out and give them to him.

He did day labor when I first knew him.  He had a series of old cars that somehow he kept running.  Over time he was not able to work due to his health.

Yesterday his partner of 30 years came by in tears. Larry had died on the evening of Thanksgiving.  They were not married, so she did not know if she could see him.  I called the funeral home and we arranged to meet there the next today. She asked for a bible and a prayer, which we did in the parking lot.

Larry was laid out. down stairs in a small room,  under a cover.  He looked calm, as he usually did.

She wanted to know if she could kiss him. Yes she could.

Larry had some family and a few friends who were there, saying good-by.  His brother read a couple of verses from the New World Bible.

What is next?  Larry is in the hands of the Almighty, as is his partner for many years. He on that side and she on this.

She kept saying, “I want to take him home.”

I tried to say that he is home.  “You can take him home in your heart, but he has to stay here.”

If you read this, pray for Larry’s partner, Donna.

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Jesus v. Santa Smackdown

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Yes, this is how I think of Advent. In our present state of missing the point of Christmas, I think of Advent as a way to fight back – a Jesus v. Santa Smack down.

“In this corner, weighing in at well over 200 pounds, and dominating the retail scene from Halloween to December 24 is Santa Clause, also know as the Reindeer Runner…in the other corner is the Lord, trim and already a victor.  This will be a 27 rounder, from November 27 to December 24…”

Advent give you a chance to read and reflect on the history of the Promise from the earliest days (Genesis 3) through the prophets and down to the birth of Jesus (Luke 2).  The story is not over until He returns.  There is a lot there.  So I encourage you to find a reading plan and follow the story.

Here is a place to start –Readings

Here are some more – More Readings

 

“Evangelical” is not about Politics

greekThe word “evangelical” comes from the Greek word for Gospel or Good News.  It was lifted up as the descriptor of the Protestant Reformation – The Lutheran and Reformed churches were gospel centered.  The Gospel they were talking about was that religion and church politics had nothing to do with faith, but trust in Christ does.  Trends and culture can not determine the shape of the church or its message, the scriptures do.  Doing things does not make us right with God, believing the Gospel does.

The word Evangelical in mid 20th Century  America meant all of that, and it meant to distinguish itself from anti-intellectual fundamentalism and religious legalism.  It meant to affirm careful scholarship and intellectual rigor within the fence of faith.  It meant an open engagement with our culture. It meant to be aware of the world outside of our city, state and nation.

Since about 1980, the term Evangelical has become a descriptor of a voting block. some of this makes sense.  To be pro-life affirms that God is the author of life (See Genesis 1 and 2.)  But I would say that has implication for both abortion and healthcare, both end of life and middle of life.  We can hardly be pro-life and advocate random violence on our nations enemies.

But some of this does not make theological sense.  To be pro- or anti – gun control is not a thing found in the Bible – though indirectly we might talk about justice and freedom. Some issues can not be solved in a 140 character Tweet nor with a Facebook like button.

Some evangelical leaders promoted an agenda of Christianizing America through politics.  Now I agree with being informed citizens, active voters and advocates for truth and wisdom within our culture.  But I do not believe we can legislate people into Christendom.  It has been tried many times and failed. (Read up on Constantine, the Holy Roman Empire, the Crusades, the New England experiment, Prohibition, and the Moral Majority.)

This idea inevitably compromises the activist. In order to support a political coalition, we have to partner with and excuse partners that are personally unethical or who advocate things that disagree with our core document.  Hence the gospel is part of the hustle and wheeling and dealing of politics.  In this process it is debased.

We do need to speak truth to our culture.  Anti Slavery laws were motivated in great part by christian concerns for the dignity of human life.  The Civil Rights movement grew out and through churches in the 50’s and 60’s.  While abortion remains legal, the numbers of them has declined from the heyday of the 70s. It was said the life was a blob of flesh, but sonograms (science!) showed otherwise.

So as individuals and people dedicated to causes, let’s advocate and vote.  But as churches, denominations and ministers of the Gospel, let us not baptize the mixed sausage or truth, near truth, half lies and deal making that is the eternal recipe for politics.

Let “evangelical” cause people to think about Jesus, not Senator X, Governor Y or President Z. But let Evangelical Citizens A through Z vote, volunteer, give, advocate, serve, engage, disagree and be like Jesus doing it.

 

 

Sin – a bouquet of words

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Sin is a word without much meaning in our culture.  It seems very old fashioned.  Does anyone understand what it means to “live in sin.”  Do we agree that we “sin in word and deed”?

Here in Wisconsin we have lots of words for winter weather – we could just say cold, but we can also say sleet, snow, heavy snow, blizzard, thunder snow (yes that exists), frost, frozen rain, powder, slush, wet, dry, and so on.  Why so many ways to talk about it? because we have it from mid November to Spring. (Basically from the end of the World’s Series to Spring Training.)

The Biblical words for sin are multiple.  Sin can be transgression, corruption, stain, debt, missing the mark, willful, secret, high handed, wicked.

Psalm 32 has a glossary of sorts:  Psalm 32:1-2

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

The Lord’s Prayer is rendered two ways in Matthew and Luke

Matthew 6:12

and forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Luke 11:4

and forgive us our sins,
    for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

The Bible is the Word of God and it was written by people who were very concerned with a life with God and under his blessing. Hence words that relate to God are common. “theo-logical” – means god (theo) words (logoi).

So while we don’t have “sin” in our cultural vocabulary, we have other words:

unfair, guilty, biased, racist, sexist, specieist, hateful, greedy, crooked, liar, sneaky, selfish, stingy, mean, law breakers, elitist, crude, violent, aggressive, abusive, addicted, willfully ignorant, and verbose to name a few.

So we do believe in sin, but we see it human centered, or centered specifically against ourselves.  We do not see it so much as against God.

Yet, he is not far from us.  We let him sneak back in whenever we talk about justice or fairness.