We're officially the subject of the local paper op-ed. You can find this letter to the editor in the Radford New Journal. Our Steering Team is already composing a response. You'll find that in the RNJ soon enough.
There's plenty of reasons from financial, logistical, social, and even foreign policy perspectives that suggest resettling refugees is not only something that we're able to do well, but that it's right thing to do as a community. My purpose here, though, is expressly theological.
Matthew 25, some of Jesus's last words before his crucifixion, remind his listeners that what "you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me," and conversely, "when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me."
Every human is created in God's image (see Genesis 1-3), no one more so than any other. We're all deserving of care, assistance, and relief from tragedy (see Amos 5), no one more so than any other. We're all sisters and brothers of Jesus (see Matthew 25), and when we offer compassion to those on the lowest societal strata, we serve both them and Jesus through them.
This applies not only to Christians, but to people of all faiths and no particular faith. This applies not only to Americans, but to people who call other countries home and whose nations have been wrenched away by violent extremists. The call of Jesus sends us to embrace not just those who are like us, to relieve not just those who share our religion, to support not just those who are our allies, but to pray for those who persecute us, to overcome evil with good. What better response is there to a destabilized international community, caused in part by our own government's actions and in part by other governments who seek to seize and retain power, than to face that evil with the good of relief for the refugees created by such violence?
As I told a concerned citizen on the phone last week, it isn't my job as a pastor to just protect Christians. It's to offer good news in word and deed to all people. I'm not called to love Christians more than others, but instead to offer Christ's love to all, with whatever needs they bring, whether Muslims (or Christians) from Syria, Buddhists (or Hindus) from Burma, or Christians, agnostics, atheists, and all others who already call the New River Valley their home. So, we'll continue to work with partners like Beans and Rice and Bobcat Backpacks to provide relief to the hungry here. We'll continue to work with the Women's Resource Center to provide a place of safety and a new start for victims of relationship violence. We'll continue to welcome refugees. We're financially able to do this as a community. We've got connections in the housing and job market already lined up. We've got a community that believes its welcoming, and an opportunity for them to put that into practice.
Most importantly, as people of faith, we've got sisters and brothers of Jesus who've become the least of these due to circumstances beyond their control. Bound together in the God who created us all, we share spiritual DNA with these people, Before us, Jesus lays a harrowing reminder: what you do and don't do for the least of these is your very same response to me.
In the words of one of our forebears in faith, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
This post originally appeared on friartucker.org.
This image came across social media today. It hit a chord with me, so I shared it as well. Even more than the quote, though, what struck me was the responses it received. Multiple people shared that they needed this encouragement, that they ought to make this their mantra.
Worry holds us all hostage at times. Worry plagues us with potentials fit only for horror films. Worry handcuffs us to the worst of all possible outcomes even though those tragedies will likely never see the light of day. Worry's not productive, except that it produces more of itself. Worry just inspires more worry. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy of despair.
So why do we give in to it so often? Our overactive imaginations can serve such greater purposes than worry. The church needs our imaginations. The world needs our imaginations. Our neighbors need our imaginations. Jesus tells us not to worry, for today's responsibilities need our attention.
Think about it this way. We're so often dumbfounded by the needs that face the world and seem to have no idea how to creatively engage the problems in ways that might be productive. Solutions seem to escape us at every turn. Yet, somehow we imagine unfathomably improbable ways that our lives might fall apart. Our imaginations, that creative part of us that might serve to solve the problems that face our world, instead dwells on ways that things fall apart.
I recently watched the movie Tomorrowland. While the film wasn't a universal success (50% from critics and audiences alike on Rotten Tomatoes), the premise kept me enthralled throughout. If the best of us, the dreamers from every walk of life, focus on the good, then our future is not just bright, it's fantastic. However, if we presume death and destruction, then that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that doesn't just occupy our minds,but our vocations, our creativity, our innovation, everything that should produce good instead spirals toward death.
In other words, worry is a misuse of imagination. In Christian parlance, if we're focused on hell rather than heaven, if we're bent upon destruction rather than God's coming kingdom, then we've not only missed the point, but we've also distorted our God-given creative gifts and turned them toward death rather than life. Of course, we can't help our reactions to bad news, but we can direct our time, energy, and focus. Do we focus on the worry, or the solution, to the problem that we're facing?
Be creative, friends. Be imaginative. Don't let worry cloud your hope, but instead, give yourself permission to innovate toward life. That sounds a lot like resurrection to me.
This post first appeared on friartucker.org.
This blog originally appeared on 2/15/16 via friartucker.org.
This week in my sermon I spoke about fasting as "saying no to some things, even good things, so that we learn to say yes to God in new ways." This was born out of a recurring discussion I have with college students, young adults, and people of all ages who've experienced the church as an organization of "no."
Are you a woman and want to be a pastor? Too many have heard "no."
Are you gay and a Christian? Too many have heard, "not possible."
Can I dance? Or drink alcohol moderately? Or like rap music? "No way." "Nope." "Not really."
As the church, we've become known as saying no, when Jesus was a megaphone of affirmation. Can this Samaritan woman experience God's grace? Can the Gentiles be healed? Can the unclean be loved? Jesus' refrain rises each time, "Yeah." "Yes." "YES!"
Now, this doesn't mean that Christians have no ethic by which to live. We surely do. But it began as a positive ethic, based in the active love of God amongst us seen in Jesus Christ. Known for including the outcasts, supporting the poor, healing the sick, welcoming all in need and embracing anyone, regardless of race or sex or ethnicity, as siblings in Christ. As a church, we've got to move actively to this identity. We must become known not for what we deny, but for who we embrace, beginning of course with Jesus and extending to all people.
On a daily basis we're faced with the opportunity of response, whether affirmation or of negativity. When we say "no," perhaps the plumbline we ought to use is whether that "no" opens us up to a "yes." For instance, the "no" of fasting opens up space in our lives to increase our experience of God. Rather than rely upon chocolate for our comfort, we rely upon the Holy Spirit. Rather than rely upon social media for connectedness, we rely upon the Triune God. For a time, we can so "no" to things so long as they open us to new opportunities to engage with God, for positive experiences with our fellow creatures.
There's so much in the church that we affirm. We need to make space for that affirmation, and learn to see how that way of saying "yes" in concert with Jesus might help us to see God differently, hear God's word differently, and see God's work in the world differently. If we make space to say "yes," then we might just see our Creator's affirmation of creation, in others, and even in ourselves.
One of the great joys of a pastor is when personal passions meet ministry opportunities. This happens for me in a number of areas here at CLC. The ability to contribute to the music ministry along with Michelle, Maggie, and Nick always brings a smile to my face. The opportunity to preach and preside in worship, to help facilitate interactions between God and those in attendance, fills my heart each week.
Campus ministry, though, gives me perhaps the most excitement. The blessings I received from campus pastors and professors while in college inspired me to bring the same kind of presence to college students throughout my time as a pastor. So far, we've approached this through Highlander Lutherans via small groups, retreats, and inclusion in the worship life of CLC.
A new opportunity arose in the past month. I've accepted an offer to join the Adjunct Faculty at New River Community College to teach religion courses, beginning with an online course in world religions this spring. It's hard to describe the joy I feel at this opportunity, but here's my best effort.
The most difficult part of my own vocational discernment (which is a theological way of saying deciding what God was calling me to do with my life) arose as I felt a deep call to the ministry of the church and the ministry of the academy. More simply, I felt drawn both to serve as a pastor and to pursue a doctorate and become a professor. With the advice of mentors and friends, I decided to pursue ordination right after my time at Duke Divinity School and hoped that I'd one day return to the academy.
Yet, every step along the ordination process brought academic service to the church into the conversation, not at the exclusion of pastoral roles, but alongside them. To paraphrase one mentor, the role of a pastor is Christian formation, and education in the classroom provides a profound opportunity for growth in the image of God.
Because I wanted to foster this potential future (Michelle would tell you because I'm a glutton for punishment), I began to pursue other opportunities to stay in touch with the academic community. I completed a second, research-based master's degree while finishing my required coursework for Lutheran ordination. As soon as I graduated, I began to write book reviews for Currents in Theology and Mission, an academic journal meant for pastors and practical theologians. I began to rewrite my thesis and explore the potential for publication.
Once Highlander Lutherans began to take off here in Radford, a number of people connected to Christ Lutheran asked about opportunities for service at New River Community College. NRCC's campuses bookend Radford, with one on our west in Dublin and one to the east in Christiansburg. Since our church sits right in between these campuses, it seemed that the Holy Spirit might call us to some kind of impact on the students, faculty, and staff of NRCC. An email to Graham Mitchell, who oversees religion courses at NRCC, opened us to this opportunity for further engagement.
This both connects CLC with the work of education in our community as well as enables me to further exercise a passion that's grown in me for years. I'm so thankful for the opportunity to work with the people of CLC, their deep desire to positively impact the New River Valley, and this new chance to partner with other organizations to benefit Southwest Virginia.
Greetings in Christ!
Starting this Sunday at CLC, we embark upon a new series called, “Who is Jesus? Who are we?” As we continue our walk through this crucial time in the Gospel of Mark, we focus upon Jesus’ identity and, from that place, how Jesus shapes the church.
Yet, not all may find this kind of focus exciting. At least two reasons come to mind. First, we all already think we know who Jesus is, which is all fine and good until you ask a dozen people on the street to give a one sentence description of Jesus. Then you’ll get twelve different outlooks, twelve different perspectives, and maybe even twelve different Jesuses.
And, of course, we already know who we are, don’t we? Many of us, myself included, can get pretty huffy when someone tries to tell us what to do or who to be, or in other words, when someone tries to shape our identity. But, how often have we wondered if we are at the right place in life? How often have we daydreamed about doing something else, going somewhere else, being someone else? How often do we question our own identities?
This series is important because we don’t know ourselves nearly as well as we think we do, and we don’t know always know what to think of Jesus either. So, each week, we’ll leave with a better understanding of one part of Jesus’ identity and one part of our identity as Christians. Each sermon will offer a simple reminder phrased something like this, “Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and we are His Sheep.” Don’t worry, that’s not one of the upcoming readings, so no spoilers were given!
If you’ve got questions about these things, or perspectives that you’d like considered, please call Pastor Andrew at the church office or send him an email. In preparation for this, spend some time in prayer with God and conversation with one another, asking what you’d like to learn about God and yourself as a person of faith.
Greetings in Christ!
Today, classes start at Radford University. Students have already been at it for a week at New River Community College and Virginia Tech. Across the country, people of all ages are once again inhabiting the life of a student.
When I started my year of Lutheran study at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Brent Driggers brought a powerful word during our orientation. He reminded us that the life of a student wasn’t just a holding pattern until we hit the real world, that we weren’t just biding our time until we got jobs. God calls us to be students. Education is a vocation that we pursue, one that deserves our attention and our effort.
As the streets fill with students, many who for the first time enter the hallowed halls of Sharkeys and fill the Kroger parking lot, we as a church must remember that we’re called to support the God-given vocations of all people. We’ve got precious few months to bless the people from our own back yard and across the country who come to study in the New River Valley.
This doesn’t just mean supporting Highlander Lutherans, though that’s certainly a big part. How do we as “townies” make welcome these people called by God to live with us in the NRV? How do we support their vocations? How do we provide opportunities for education, for relaxation, for reflection, for Sabbath? How do we pray for them?
When you have the opportunity this fall – and trust me, if you leave your house, you’ll have the opportunity – find small ways to bless the students, faculty, and staff of our institutions. When you find a new person at the park or in the checkout line, ask if they’re connected with RU or another one of the schools here. Ask what they study and why they chose to come here. Give them our church’s contact info and let them know we’re here for them while they’re here in the New River Valley. Buy them lunch. Pray for them. Wish them well. As their vocation is to be a student, or staff person, or professor, ours is to bring the love of God to our neighbors in higher education. Let’s take that commission seriously and make a difference for the communities at RU, NRCC, and VT.
Greetings in Christ!
Recently, a host of memes appeared on Facebook and Twitter that intrigued me. Set on a background of Jesus teaching discipleships, the text said, “Stop sharing memes that say ‘share and you’ll be blessed.’ God is not your fairy godmother and that isn’t how it works.”
I have to admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for this sentiment. Too often we seem to think that we can manipulate God into doing exactly what we want. Sharing hashtags or forwarding a viral image that magically garner blessings from God.
But we’re still left with a much larger question: How does it work? How does faith work? How is Jesus involved in our lives? If we can’t cast a social media spell, then how do we garner God’s favor? Here’s how: When we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). That’s how it works. Jesus gets involved in our lives by making us righteous despite our unrighteousness.
We don’t accrue favor from God. We don’t earn blessings. Instead, God offered us favor on the cross and in the empty tomb. We find our blessings in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
But that’s not where it ends. Faith works when that blessing becomes active in our lives, where our behavior becomes a gracious response to our gracious God. In the words of James 1, where we become “doers of the word.”
Posting memes isn’t doing the word of God. Feeding the hungry, giving to those who ask, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting prisoners, embracing outcasts, forgiving offenders, actively seeking justice, loving our enemies,
and a host of other countercultural behaviors? That is how it works. That is how faith works. We don’t garner God’s blessings with those actions. Instead, we point to God’s blessings every time we live the word of God, showing others the active love of God at work on their behalf.
The next time someone invites you to share a meme and be blessed, remember that you’re already blessed, and to perform works of mercy in the name of Jesus Christ who blessed you. That’s how it works, and that’s how God is working to bring the Kingdom of God to this place.
Greetings in Christ!
This week, we turn to the posture of guidance. This may seem a bit strange. Is guidance truly a posture? Who is giving this guidance? Who is receiving it? Where do I fit in?
We all ask that question. Where do we fit in? At work? At school? In our family? In the great scheme of things? We want to know that we have a role and a responsibility, a purpose within our contexts. Guidance helps us to answer this question.
Sometimes, to our great surprise, people search us out for guidance. They see in us a skill, experience, or wisdom that they value. Others often see with better clarity the ways that we may offer guidance, the gifts that we have to share. When others seek out that input from us, our ability to offer guidance helps us to see a bit more clearly about how we fit into the grand scheme of things.
At other times, much more often, we need guidance ourselves. At the end of John 6, when the Bread of Life teachings caused many disciples to leave Jesus’ side, Peter speaks for the small smattering that remained. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” In the midst of life’s difficulties, whether struggles at work, problems at home, or battles with faith, we need guidance from the outside, from someone with the experience, the knowledge, and the compassion to point us in the right direction.
Of course, this begins with our Creator, our Lord Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit. We may seek God’s guidance through prayer, through scripture reading, through devotional practices and meditation, all of which provide valuable access to guidance. Yet, we may also find God’s guidance in our network of relationships. People in the congregation, our elders in faith if not elders in age, each have different experiences of faith that may provide guidance for our own journeys. People in the community know how to navigate the political and business spheres in ways that could guide our future decisions. In each of these conversations, with God at the center and faithfulness as our goal, guidance may help to reveal to us where we belong, our identity as a child of God in this place. We all need guidance in our lives, both as givers and receivers.
Greetings in Christ!
As we embark on this series of faith postures, we look first to wisdom. In Ephesians 5, Paul offers a few words about wisdom to the community: “So be careful to live your life wisely, not foolishly.” Deep stuff, huh?
Though Paul elucidates a bit about what he means here, he talks at length about cultures mores, about the social standards of community life. We might say that Paul talks about Ephesian street smarts. This suggests that wisdom is not necessarily a heavenly knowledge, but instead an earthly cognizance of how to live a faithful life in the world.
In other words, the wisdom we seek in faith is that attentiveness to how we ought to live life. It’s knowing and naming that our behaviors affect not only ourselves, but others around us, and that the decisions we make help to shape the world in which we live. Wisdom is something like self-awareness, or in today’s buzz words, mindfulness.
If this is such a simple concept, why then do we see so much foolishness in our day to day lives, from others and ourselves? Wisdom isn’t just knowing that our deeds have reactions, but choosing to act in wisdom as well. Most people know that we shouldn’t post verbal attacks and inappropriate images on social media, yet Twitter and Facebook remain full of brutal evidence of cyber bullying. Most people know that driving twenty MPH or more over the speed limit is a danger to life, and yet so many high speed accidents take life away.
Wisdom is not just about knowing the good, it is about doing the good. Perhaps Paul’s words, to live your life wisely and not foolishly, are more poignant that at first glance. We need that reminder, not just to be wise, but to live wisely.
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