Monday, January 5, 2015

Begin Again

Over the course of my seminary studies, I was blessed to serve as minister of adult education and programs on staff at Riverbend, a large non-denominational church here in Austin. Dr. Gerald Mann was a wonderful mentor and enthusiastically supported my preparation for pastoral ministry. He founded that church on a simple proposition, a defining truth revealed in the Gospel: “No matter who you are, no matter where you’ve been, or what you’ve done, you can begin again.” Countless people have found hope in that message; a lot of people who could not, or would not, hear much else “church” had to say.
Our celebration of the birth of Jesus is, at its heart, a celebration of new beginnings. The hopefulness and encouragement of Isaiah’s messianic prophecy rings out again in the clear air. “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” (Isaiah 11:1) From the old, from what is past, new growth emerges. I hear the echo of Seneca, the Roman philosopher: “Every new beginning comes from some other new beginning’s end.”
Now is an opportune time to reflect on what may be coming to an end in our lives; what has served its purpose and run its course, and perhaps consider the space this creates for new possibilities. Now might be a great time to claim the promise of new beginnings that God holds out to us: to turn the page in the unfolding narrative of our lives, to start a new chapter, to write large on a clean sheet … to begin again, holding to God’s promise that in Christ all are made new.
For the God of the good old days is the God of good new days ahead!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

"Wars and rumors of wars..." - Mark 13:6

In our Tuesday Morning Bible Study, we’re exploring the “Inter-Testamental Period,” the roughly 500 years between the ages recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures and where the Christian Witness takes up.  It’s a fascinating time – the empires of Assyria, Babylon and Persia, Alexander the Great and Greeks, the rise of Rome – and it’s an age of virtually constant warfare, throughout the known world. 
Once again the clamor for war dominates the newsfeeds of our place and time.  New enemies – or more accurately new generations of ancient enmities – flash across the world stage and our television screens.  Civil wars, oppressions, incursions, invasions, campaigns of terror and horrific atrocities, in living color; violence in high  production values, all designed to instill fear and to provoke a violent response.
The prevalence of war and the threat of war seems a constant state of human affairs that stretches back beyond our recorded history.  Forever, we have been at war.  It pushes me toward despairing that humanity could ever peacefully co-exist.  And I’m torn, by what I believe in the face of what is:  by the central calling of God to unity and peace, compassion and forgiveness, in the face of combat, mass murder, beheadings.
The church-wide organization of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America espouses the tenets of “Just War” doctrine ( and I get it; an ethical framework that says sometimes war is justified and necessary to achieve peace.
Jesus recognizes the fear among his followers as they look at what is going on around them, and seeks to make sense of the senseless violence of his world:
“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”  - Mark 13:6-8
He seems to indicate that something different is coming, that war won’t be forever, that this is all leading somewhere.  So I pray, for those who will be crushed in the grinder of war once again … combatants and innocents; our own, and our enemies, alike.  And I wonder when we will finally embrace the terrible paradox of war … that violence has always and only proven to do one thing:  perpetuate more violence.  And I wonder when we will have the courage to pursue peace in a new way, the courage to not respond in kind, to refuse the “default state” of human conflict – as Jordan’s King Abdullah poignantly said:  that “someone, somewhere would leave the last blow unanswered” and break the endless cycle of war.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"I was thirsty..."

  “I was thirsty

    and you gave

    me something

    to drink.”  - Matthew 25:35 

There is no denying the vast disparity of wealth and opportunity in this country.  I come face-to-face with it every time I pull up next to someone standing at an intersection, asking.  Physically, he’s an arm’s-length away.  Socioeconomically, he’s so far off as to be almost invisible.  The stark difference between our experiences of life could almost make us unrecognizable to one another.  I think of how I might look to people of great financial wealth, even as I wonder how I must look to this one on the roadside, asking. 
I have struggled with how to be helpful.  I’m done handing out cash to people I don’t know.  But I am convicted in these times by the gravity of what Jesus says to me:  “As you do to the least of these, you do to me.”   My calling, our calling, is to see the face of Christ in the suffering.  It is to realize that the eyes of Christ stare at us from the faces on the roadside … the panhandlers, the homeless veterans, the mentally ill and physically disabled, pregnant women, dispossessed men, the young and the old. 
I’m not naïve; I know the problems that put these people on the street are complex, with no easy solutions.  And I am working in my own ways, individually and collectively, to tackle these problems.  But I’m called to act in the moment, too; to bring immediate relief where I can.  That’s why I am so grateful to the kids of Abiding Love for making relief kits.  There is so much I can’t do by the side of the road.  But I can share some comfort with a fellow traveler.  It will take all of us to make systemic changes that will eliminate poverty and homelessness in this country and, by God, we need to be about that work in earnest!  But there is something I can do, in the moment – even just a cup of water for a thirsty soul – and, yes, a smile and a word of encouragement.  To say, You matter.  You are a child of God and a person of dignity and value, just like me, and what happens to you matters.  You, looking at me with the eyes of Christ, standing on the roadside, asking.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Creating Space for Grace!

From Pastor Brad

Interior demolition was well underway as I walked through the Activity Center. But even in the chaos and clutter, with piles of debris scattered round, the space was beautiful … airy and open, full of fresh possibilities, sunlight streaming in through the upper windows. And it occurred to me that no one had seen this “view” of this space in more than thirty years! I imagined the excitement of the people of Abiding Love the last time these massive steel girders and wood framing were visible, as the structure was first being built. 

I thought of how exhilarating it must have been to be moving forward with construction, filled with anticipation of all that would happen in this new gathering place for a growing faith community. I thought of the decades of faithful worship, the baptisms and the burials, the service and support, the families – those still with us and those that have passed on … all that had filled this frame with life! I thought of the Spirit at the center of that life – steeped into the very concrete and timbers – the Spirit that wisely and faithfully guided that early community, and continues to guide us today. 

The work going forward on our campus is an investment in ministry, the continuation and expansion of a rich tradition of spiritual life that will reach out and bless others throughout Austin and around the world, for decades to come. We are continuing a great legacy of creating space for grace. I feel that same excitement, that same exhilaration that gripped this community all those years ago. I marvel at all that lies ahead of us in the time to come. The words of the prophet ring in my ears as God proclaims, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you … to give you a future filled with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) 

So here’s to the next thirty years of mission and ministry and community life at Abiding Love, sharing God’s love and creating space for grace in a world that is hungry for something true and lasting.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Living Resurrected Lives

“United with him in a death like his …

  united with him in a resurrection

       like his.”         (Romans 6:5)


The Gospels are filled with stories of people whose lives are transformed by their encounters with Jesus.  The ailing and the afflicted, the wayward and the sinful, the wealthy and powerful, the poor and destitute, all experience profound renewal and deliverance.  In a very real sense, they undergo a death to new life.  They experience the death of what is old and false so that what is true and vital and lasting might be re-born in them.  They go on to live resurrected lives, transformed by the power of God in Christ. 
The apostle Paul says this is foundational to understanding the power of God in our own lives.  Revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus, God is about the transformation of the world.  The crucifixion and death of Jesus is emblematic of the death of everything that is false and cut off  from God.  As Paul says, “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Romans 6:6)  And, just as “we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” 
Irenaeus, one of the fathers of the early church said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”  It is in the journey through the death of the false self and the resurrection of our authentic, true selves that we are set free to be the people God created us to be.  It is through this death that we become fully alive.  And God’s invitation is to live from there, from that place of resurrection.  It is to live resurrected lives, no longer burdened by guilt and shame of the past, nor fear and foreboding of what the future holds.  It is to live as the people of God, raised to new life in him, and following God’s calling to transform the world.
Beginning with the celebration of Easter, we will be focusing on stories of transformation.  We will explore the stories of people who were renewed, reborn, resurrected by encounters with the living Lord.  And we will engage God’s calling on all who will believe to live resurrected lives for the sake of the world today.


Friday, January 31, 2014

Be Still

Be Still and Know
– Psalm 46:10

My New Year’s resolution this year elicited a range of reactions, from hearty laughter to plain puzzlement.  Last year, it was “to wear brighter colors,” and that actually turned out pretty well.  I’d grown tired of the standard batch of personal improvement resolutions that I was habitually making and promptly breaking over the years; it was making me a little cynical.  “Brighter colors” seemed like something I could run with.  This year, it’s “to be quieter.” The laughter was from my mother and others closest to me.  The puzzlement was from most everyone else who asked.  But this one may turn out to be the most beneficial in years.  
It arose out of a personal observation of how “noisy” I am.  Not so much outwardly, but inside.  It’s alarming to me how much is going on in my head, nearly all the time.  Layers and convolutions of thoughts and imaginings and looping “tapes” about things present, things past and what may be coming next.  Perhaps I’m being overly confessional, but I don’t think I’m alone in this … challenged in trying to “do life” effectively with this din going on in my head.  So I’m trying to be quieter, inside.  I have resumed an ancient practice and time-tested discipline of centering prayer:  periods of silence – as regularly as I can manage – when I gently let my mind grow still and simply rest in God’s presence.  Our contemplative worship gathering – Evensong – is a wonderful opportunity for this, as well.  The candlelit quiet of our sanctuary, steeping in God’s Word, the beauty of Taizé chant music, periods of silence, the bread and wine, shared simply – all invite me into that place the Psalmist knows:  the place where the One says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  
I am better for this.  I am stronger, and clearer, for spending intentional time resting in God, by myself and in the shared contemplation of Evensong.  Whenever we will get still, and turn and open ourselves, the One from whom all blessings flow is right there to embrace us.  You can do this, too.  We can do this together.  Evensong is every Sunday at 5:00 pm.  And we can talk about the simple methodology of centering prayer any time you’d like.  And I’m going to stick with the brighter colors; that seems to be working, too.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ich glaube an Gott, den Vater

One of the Reformers’ great contributions to the history of Christian faith was translation of Biblical and liturgical texts into the plain language of the people.  John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, Huldrych Zwingli, Martin Luther and others shared the conviction that Scripture belonged in the hands and the hearts of common people, for it was there that God sought to plant and nurture God’s truth.
As Luther translated the Apostle’s Creed into vernacular German, he used “glaube” to render the Greek and Latin references to believing and belief.  The word actually comes from the proto-Germanic “ga lauban” which means “to hold dear;” literally “to love.”
At the root of our profession of faith – when we say “I believe in God the father…” –  we are in truth saying I love God, I love Jesus Christ the begotten one, I love the Spirit of God that blows through the universe, and I hold the Trinity dear.
Some of the most treasured stories from the Christian narrative are of the Nativity of Jesus.  We might wrestle with the disparities and differences between the Gospel accounts.  We might be challenged by the historicity of various events they depict.  We may even find some aspects of the stories hard to believe, in a contemporary sense.  But the Christmas stories remain some of our most cherished.  Through the years and seasons of life, we hold them dear. We come to love them.
In our enlightened age, believing has become entirely confounded with the idea of “mentally accepting something as true;” in religious terms, as a settled matter of doctrine.  Yet in Old High German, and Saxon and Old English, this same term originally meant “trust,” even “loyalty” to an idea; a pledge of faith.  To believe is to embrace truth at ever deepening levels, trusting that faith itself is a gift from God.
As we make the journey of Advent together, we will be delving deeply in these Nativity stories.  We will be seeking not so much doctrinal correctness and historical factuality as re-connection with believing as “beloving.” We will embrace the old, old stories in new ways that have the power to return them to us in their original brilliance, so that we might hold them dear and share them in love.