Tag Archives: Martin Luther

Priesthood

Read 1 Peter 2:1-5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And You have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:10)

empathy-1It is always hard dealing with the changes and the challenges that life throws our way. Just when everything seems to settle, the smoke clears, and life seems to be going the way we expect it, that is the moment another catastrophe or unexpected tragedy hits us. In the midst of that, we are left behind scratching our heads, beating our chests, and crying out to God for an answers as to WHY these things happen.

Of course, there is no answer to the question, “why”, that would ever satisfy us in moments of tragedy, loss and grief. Honestly, even if there was a REALLY good reason as to why, it would do us no good in removing the pain we feel. The fact of the matter is that we spend our lives building relationships, growing to love and care for people and, in the midst of that, time flies by and life happens. Before we know it the people we love, the homes we have made, and the lives we have built seem to come crashing down all around us with little or notice whatsoever.

As a person who has served as a youth pastor, a senior pastor, and a chaplain in a Continuing Care Retirement Community, I have seen people I have grown to love and deeply respect go through tough illnesses, life-altering/life-threatening accidents, and terminal diseases. I have sat with youth who are suffering depression, whose parents are going through divorce and a host of other issues. On the one hand, it is what I do and I am thankful to God that I get to serve in such a capacity as I know it means the world to those who are in need of pastoral presence and prayer.

With that said, pastors and chaplains are human too, and we also find ourselves struggling to process the tragedies, the trials, the loss, and the grief that life throws our way, even when we are simultaneously offering our support and presence to others who are going through the same exact process. What’s more, as a human being, I have had my share of losses that are not connected with my vocation. I have lost family members I was close to, I have lost friends, and I have lost my own self-identity at points. I have struggled through illnesses of my own, I have suffered depression, and I have had my share of life-threatening accidents that, one day, I may very well suffer more consequences from.

It is in that very human experience that we have ALL been given a tremendous gift and a tremendous responsibility. As humans, we are are able to relate with others as result of our own personal experiences. We are able to be there for others because we can understand what they are going through, even when our own circumstances don’t match theirs entirely. It is in our humanity, that we have been given the power to relate and to empathize with people.

I recently was shown a YouTube video that nicely sums up the difference between Sympathy and Empathy. Sympathy is feeling sorry for people from a distance. We keep that distance to prevent ourselves from being in the darkness, the loss, the grief, the suffering with the people we are sympathizing with. Empathy on the other hand, is being present with people in the midst of their despair, joining them in that despair and shouldering that despair with them so that they do not suffer alone.

This is certainly what pastors, myself included, do in our ministries; however, this is not a roll that is specific only to pastors and clergy but a roll that all people are called to partake in. God, in Jesus Christ, suffered in all the ways common to the human experience, empathizes with us, and helps us to shoulder the things we are struggling with. So to, God calls us all to minister to one another in order that no one suffers alone. The Gospel, and the Bible as a whole, witness to the priesthood of all believers. We are all ordained by God to minister to one another and, in that ministry, we are to be a people of empathy, not sympathy.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The priest is not made. One must be born a priest; must inherit [the] office. I refer to the new birth—the birth of water and the Spirit. Thus all Christians [are] priests, children of God and co-heirs with Christ the Most High Priest. – Rev. Martin Luther

PRAYER
Lord, put in my heart your compassion and your empathy so that I may share in the suffering of others as I bear witness to your presence in their lives and in their struggles. Amen.

Ekklesia

Read 1 Corinthians 12

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.” (Acts 2:44-45)

riformaIt was October 31, 1517 a German Augustinian monk marched toward the door of All Saints’ church in Wittenberg, Germany. In his hand he held a finely crafted document, inked in Latin, that outlined grievances he had with a certain practice with the church. It was on the eve of All Saint’s Day, and on the door of All Saints’ Church that this monk nailed that document to the door with the hope that it would spark a debate among church leaders within the Roman Catholic Church, and with the ultimate hope that it would spark the church to be more responsible in it’s practices and more faithful to the Scripture on which those practices are based.

Yet, instead of a debate, Martin Luther inadvertantly started a war, for the “95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulences” was not just challenging of theology, but also of Ecclesiastical and Papal power. While Luther was simply trying to look after the Spiritual well-fare of the church and its flock, Pope Leo X was trying to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and took Luther’s challenge as a threat to both his authority and his legacy in building such a magnificient structure to house the body of the Apostle Peter. Leo was not going to allow an upstart, German monk stand between him and that legacy and thus, according to some accounts, Pope Leo X told his officials that “Luther is a drunken German.  He will feel different when he is sober.” In two sentences, the Pope had ordered Luther to be tried and, if he did not recant, be excommunicated and executed as a heretic.

I would like to say that from that point on the Protestant church went on to model what it means to put Scripture over ecclesiastical hierarchy and structure; however, that is not the case either. While Luther tried to responsibly interpret and live by Scripture, and while he tried to provide a Scriptural model for the church, it still became about hierarchy, doctrine, power and structure. Others, beside Luther, rose up to found church communities and their authority over them. King Henry VIII broke from the Roman Catholic Church only to turn around and make himself the “Supreme Head of the Church.” John Calvin founded his reformed church in Geneva, Switzerland and went on to rule that church with an iron fist, even to the point of having those who were viewed as threats executed (e.g. Michael Servetus).

How did Christianity end up so far removed from its founder? How did the church (Greek: ἐκκλησία or ekklēsia) go from community of mutual love and sharing to an institution of power, authority and corruption? Many today, when they hear the word “church”, think of the organization, of the institution, and of a place of worship. Many are disillusioned by the tainted, complex and often hypocritical history of the church and many have turned away because of it.

I would love to say that I don’t have that view of the church, but even I find myself sitting under the shadow of the steeple. Even I find myself within the hierarchical structure of the institution and/or organization. Also, to be quite honest, even the earliest church had some structure and some hierarchy. Those things are not inherently bad and are needed in order for people to feel a sense of belonging, purpose, and place. There will always be the people who are called to lead and those who follow their leadership.

The truth be told, we are all both followers and leaders in our own right. That was the initial understanding of the church and it is the understanding we need to revert back to, if at all possible. Let us not be a people who seek the organization, but a people who are vital organs within a living organism. Ekklesia is not an organization; rather, it is the very living, resurrected body of Christ. Christ died for all and gives grace to all who receive it. Those who receive it are called to do the same in mutual love and mutual care. Organizations breed competition for power and authority; on the other hand, organisms thrive on unity and working in unison, with no one more important than the next regardless of their role. This is what it means to be the church.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one…” – Jesus of Nazareth (John 17:20-21a)
PRAYER
Lord, I am a part of the living, resurrected body of Christ.  Use me in a way that promotes unity, grace, love, and acceptance. Amen.

Sanctuary

Read Hebrew 6:11-20

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19a, NLT)

SacredHeartJust the other day I had an opportunity to stop and see the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ with a group of friends. The building was brilliant and awesome. I am huge fan of gothic architecture and this particular cathedral takes the cake in New York/New Jersey Metropolitan area. Yes, I have visited Saint Patrick’s Cathedral; however, the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart stands on its own without other buildings taking away from it’s immensity and beauty. The saints and gargoyles guard and protect the building and, standing at it’s base, the building ironically reminds me of Martin Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” This place, even on the outside, feels like it would be a sanctuary on the inside.

So, naturally we decided that we would take a walk inside to see its beauty from within; however, as we approached the doors and began to pull on them, we found them to be locked! Bummer. We really, really wanted to see the inside of it…but we were barred from entering. This took me by surprise as every Roman Catholic church I had ever been to had always been open for people to come in, pray, meditate, confess, etc. Yet, these doors were locked and we were not able to enter into the sanctuary within.

When talking with a fellow colleague the following day, I was reminded that the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart was located in Newark, which is a major city that has, whether right or wrong, been known for it’s crime. Now, I am not sure if that is the reason the doors were locked or not, and another colleague pointed out that if we went one of the other side doors and knocked someone would have let us in, but the fact remains that the doors were locked and that was enough to turn us away.

While I am certainly not blaming the cathedral caretakers for locking the doors, I see a powerful metaphor here that can illumine our own lives. According to Paul, our bodies are to be God’s temple. We, as God’s children were created to be sanctuaries. The church, not the buildings but the people of Christ, was called to be a sanctuary of hope, healing and wholeness for all who seek refuge; however, often times, the church finds itself weathered and beaten. We find ourselves being reshaped by the experiences of the world that surround us in our daily lives and, as a result, we become more like a locked fortress than an open sanctuary.

What’s important to stress here is that the church is not called to be a fortress; rather, the church (meaning the people of Christ) are called to be living and breathing sanctuaries. We are called to be open. If we look at the aforementioned hymn by Martin Luther, we will notice that GOD is our fortress. GOD strengthens and fortifies our hearts so that they won’t be changed by the weathering and beating that the storms of the world so often cause in us. The fact of the matter is that if we have become fortresses on the outside, it is because the world has hardened us on the inside.

We are called to be LOVE on the inside. If we have faith in God, if we trust in God to be our fortress, then we have nothing to fear in remaining open as a sanctuary for others. God will not abandon us and God will protect us from the weathering that tends to lock us up into stone fortresses. All we need to do is remain open to God, who will lead us to be open sanctuaries for all who are weary and heavy laden. Have faith in God and be the sanctuary you have been called to be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus of Nazareth, (Matthew 11:28 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, re-enter into my life and secure me in your love. Give me the peace and the foresight to open myself to others in the same way that you have opened yourself up to me. Amen.

Doing Good

Read James 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:10)

9090-42_AL_Elite_Red_lThere is this comedian by the name of Emo Phillips that a pastor I served under used to quote all the time.  Emo is a really tall, lanky, and odd looking guy who, at least on appearance, seems to be quite eccentric to say the least.  Just looking at him you get the immediate sense that this guy is going to be funny.

Emo bases his stand up routines on a lot of different subjects. From politics to history to religion, Emo touched on them all.  I always found his religious jokes to be quite funny, not just because they way in which he presents them, but also because there is a level of truth to what he is saying. Often he’ll start off with something commonly held by Christians, and then go somewhere in left field with it.

One of his stand up routines went something like this. “When I was a kid,” Emo would reminisce, “I used to pray every night for a new bicycle.” After making a praying gesture and looking up to the sky, Emo looks back at the audience and concludes, “Then I realised that the Lord doesn’t work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me.”

While this is funny, it also points to a misconception about Christianity, one that was pointed out in the letter of James.  This very misconception was also something that John Wesley, in his day and age, had to deal with.  In the Protestant Church, most Christians, Wesley himself included, came to the conclusion that we were saved by our faith in Christ…and by that faith alone…that we could not work or earn our way into salvation; however, despite how liberating that revelation of Martin Luther’s is, it also led some to believe that there was no need for good works.

While John Wesley, and Wesleyan Christians since him, affirmed that we are saved by faith alone, it is also safe to say that such a faith would be bear the fruit of good works.  Wesley believed a Christian evidenced “their desire of salvation” by, “in part, doing good of every possible sort” (Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2012, 52). In other words, a person of faith will not sit by the wayside doing nothing to bring the hope, healing and wholeness of God into the world around them.  A faith that does not produce fruit is no faith at all. As James puts it, “a faith without works is dead” (James 4:??).

Have you experienced hope, healing and wholeness in God, through Jesus the Christ? Have you experienced the eternal, unconditional love of God? Have you come to faith in that love? Have you come to faith in Jesus Christ? If so, then you are a transformed person, one who lives by faith…one who serves because of your faith. You are called to life of service, you are called to be the hands and feet of Christ. I pray that, if you haven’t already, you answer that call.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” – John Wesley

PRAYER

Lord, use me as your agent of hope, healing and wholeness and lead me, through my faith in you, to do all the good that I can. Amen.

 

Every Step of the Way

Read Ecclesiastes 4:1-6; Mark 14:26-42

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, NRSV)

Every Step of the WayHave you watched the news lately? It seems like every time I watch the news I see politicians metaphorically throwing each other the bus, buildings around the world that are burning, families that are destroyed due to horrifying violence and other such atrocities. These stories are bombarding us every day, often bombarding us multiple times a day.

It’s to the point where I often find myself questioning what the meaning of all of this really is. Does God really exist out there and, if so, what does that say about God that the world is the way it is? Is life meaningless? Is there any point to all the chaos that people suffer day in and day out? These and so many more questions run through my head and I am sure that I am not alone in that?

As a pastor and a spiritual leader, some people might find it shocking to hear me confess moments of confusion, deep questioning and doubt. Some would say that it must mean that my faith isn’t strong, or that my doubts put into question my calling as a pastor. Many have this notion that in faith there can be no doubt; however, the Bible clearly shows that to be false.

For instance, have you read Ecclesiastes lately? If not, I must suggest that you do read it and that you read all of the twelve chapters that make up the book. It is a fascinating read. The author seriously questions the meaning of life, the point of existing in a world that is so needlessly cruel. What is the point in living out our seemingly trivial lives just to die in the end? To the author of Ecclesiastes, life seems utterly meaningless.

We can also turn to Jesus to find moments of doubt and intense spiritual questioning. The obvious place to look is in the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus questions God’s will. He asks for God to remove his cup of suffering. While the Gospels make this account short and sweet, they do say he was in the garden for hours, praying to God…and the specific prayer that they point out is the one where he asks God to not have him go through with dying.

The fact of the matter is that it is perfectly human to have doubts, because as human beings we do not, in fact we cannot know everything. What is unknown to us gives us reason to doubt, but doubt is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is false to assume that “in faith there can be no doubt.” Rather, it is quite the opposite. It is from the depths of doubt that arises faith. Faith is, in fact, made stronger as a result of, and certainly in spite of, our doubts.

The next time you have doubts, do not chase them away or harbor any kind of unnecessary guilt. Instead, embrace them and wrestle through them like the author of Ecclesiastes did and like Jesus in the garden did. Know that having doubts necessary to building faith and that many saints have had their share of doubts. From Paul to Thomas, from Joan of Arc to Mother Theresa, from Martin Luther to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., many Christians have faced their doubts only to find themselves riding the waves of faith that were produced by the surge of the storm of doubt. You are not alone in your doubts, and your faith will show you that you are not alone in surmounting them. God is with you every step of the way!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” – Alfred Lord Tennyson

PRAYER

Lord, I believe! Help me with my unbelief. Out of my doubt, build up a foundation of faith. Amen.