Monday, July 28, 2014

Virtual Bible Study: Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

As I prepare to preach this Sunday, I invite you to be a part of my sermon preparation.  These are the four readings which the Revised Common Lectionary assigned to this Sunday:

Isaiah 55:1-5

Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21

Romans 9:1-5

Matthew 14:13-21

Take a few minutes to read through these passages.  Because the Isaiah 55 and the Matthew 14 readings may be very familiar to you, read through these two passages a second time to prevent the "I know this story" bias.

As you read these passages, what catches your attention?  What word/phrase/image sticks with you?  Did anything catch you by surprise?  In the familiar stories, did you pick up on a detail which you did not notice when you have read this passage in the past?

Please share your answers to these questions, along with any other insights, in the comments section here on as a comment on my Facebook page.  I will respond to all comments and ask follow-up questions.  While I have some thoughts which I will share during the discussion, my main interest here is to read and hear your thoughts and opinions on these passages.

So how do these passages speak to you today?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Creation, Creationism, and....Aliens?

Yes, aliens.

Ken Ham, one of the leading proponents of Creationism, recently wrote a blog post on whether aliens exist and why we keep searching for aliens.  Ken Ham's main point was that all that Earth is special among the universe which God created; therefore, we should not expect to find created life elsewhere in the universe.

What has drawn a great deal of attention to Ken Ham's post, however, is this statement:
And I do believe there can’t be other intelligent beings in outer space because of the meaning of the gospel. You see, the Bible makes it clear that Adam’s sin affected the whole universe. This means that any aliens would also be affected by Adam’s sin, but because they are not Adam’s descendants, they can’t have salvation.
Many are seizing upon this statement to say that Ken Ham has condemned aliens to Hell.  Ken Ham has responded by saying, in short, "Well, aliens do not exist; therefore, they cannot go to Heaven or Hell!"

I agree with Ken Ham in part.  I do not believe that aliens exist in the universe.  Too many things must line up in the absolutely perfect way and must remain aligned for too long of a time for life to spontaneously develop elsewhere in the universe.  Then, too many random proteins must link together without contamination from other proteins to form DNA.  I just cannot believe that this randomly happened once, much less multiple times around the universe.

Could God have created aliens?  Of course!  God can create whatever God wishes to create.  As a proponent of Intelligent Design, I proclaim that all that exists on Earth and, by extension, within the universe was created by God.  However, we have nothing to show or tell us that God has created life elsewhere in the universe.  While I am open to the possibility that life could exist elsewhere in the universe, I am not holding my breath and waiting for us to discover it.

Here is where I disagree with Ken Ham: if aliens do exist, I believe that aliens can have salvation.  I believe that God will act to redeem all forms of creation, including any alien life forms that may exist, at the end of the age.

Will everything and everyone enter into the New Jerusalem?  God tells us through the Bible that this is not the case.  We can argue as to how wide open the gates of Heaven will be.  I believe that the Lord will bring into the Kingdom more of Creation than we might expect, but I cannot say with any certainty who or what will or will not enter the New Jerusalem.

I also admit that I could be wrong in everything I have said in this posting.  Where do you agree or disagree?  What has you clapping in support or pounding the table and screaming "I object!"?  Leave your response in the comments and let's see where the discussion takes us.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Israel, Palestine, and the Pursuit of Peace

The newest phase in the conflict between Israel and Gaza is on the minds of many.  By "on the minds of many," I mean to say that many people are discussing the conflict through Facebook posts, tweets, and comments.

Some people believe that Hamas has provoked Israel into its latest offensive.  They point to the continuing rocket attacks and the tactics of hiding weapons inside schools and hospitals as justification for laying the blame at the feet of Hamas.

Others believe that Israel is acting unjustly in this latest offensive.  They point to the civilian casualties and the previous sanctions against Gaza to say that Israel has caused this conflict.

Good luck getting these two viewpoints to reconcile.

While I have my opinions concerning this issue, I know that sharing them in this forum will do nothing to settle the issue.

For the purposes of this post, I will state this: for a state of peace to exist between the two sides, both sides (including the leadership of both sides) must want this state of peace to come into existence.

Perhaps this is what we can pray for when we see #PrayForPeace.  Rather than pray for a non-specific peace, pray that the leaders of Israel, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority (PA), and other organizations in the area will want peace and will work together for peace.  Until these leaders want peace, we will not see peace within the region.

For what else or who else can we pray?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Video Describing Holy Communion

This is a video of an Episcopal bishop discussing the sacrament of Holy Communion, aka the Eucharist.  While Lutherans may not practice adding water to the wine (which is depicted in the video), Lutherans will agree with much of what is presented here.  I invite you to watch the video and share your impressions.  Did the video open up new ways to see the sacrament?  Did the bishop say anything with which you disagree?

Hat tip: the Rev. Stephen Friedrich, who shared it on Facebook.  I found the video because he posted it.

Friday, July 11, 2014

And Yet They Prayed

I have watched several of the World Cup games this past month including almost every game played by either the United States or Chile (BTW, congrats to both teams for advancing out of the group stage and giving good showings).  The most poignant moment for me, however, came at the end of the semifinal game between Brazil and Germany.

If you have been following the World Cup, you are likely wondering how a 7-1 blowout and worst defeat in World Cup semifinal history could hold the most poignant moment unless I am thinking of Klose's record-breaking 16th goal in World Cup games.  However, that is not the moment.

The moment came after the final whistle.  Brazil's embarrassment has just mercifully ended.  Most people would want to do the obligatory shaking of hands, hide their faces in towels, and walk to the locker room as quickly as possible.

But several of Brazil's players did something very different.  They dropped to their knees, bowed their heads, prayed, and crossed themselves before congratulating the German team and mourning their own loss.

How could they pray?  They just lost by six goals playing a sport in which four total goals in a game is "high-scoring."  They were the favorites to win it all.  They had not lost a "competitive" (read: major tournament) game at home in nearly 40 years!  They had every reason to be dejected and ignore or blame God for the loss.

And yet, they prayed.  On the field.  In full view of hundreds of millions of people around the world.

We will likely never experience a similar emotional experience, but we will be tempted to ignore or blame God during our times of trouble or embarrassment.  When it happens, can we include in the story, "And yet, we prayed"?

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day

Today we celebrate the public announcement that the thirteen British colonies in America declared their independence from England and began to form their own nation.

This weekend, many congregations will sing patriotic songs as part of their worship service as their way of marking this holiday.

But, when we gather for worship, we gather to worship the Lord, not our nation.  Therefore, I offer this hymn as an alternative to songs like "My Country, 'Tis of Thee."  This hymn is "This is My Song, O God of All the Nations."

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Challenge to the Church (and Sports Fans)

As the World Cup continues in Brazil, soccer fans are making their case for why they are the best of all sports fans.  Fans of each sports clamor for this unofficial title of the best fans in all of sports.

Well, the bar was recently raised by a group that does not get as much credit as they deserve: hockey fans.

Gino Odjick, a professional hockey player who spent the majority of his career with the Vancouver Canucks, recently announced that he has a terminal illness and may have only a few weeks to live.  In his open letter to fans, he stated that he wished that he could hear hockey fans chant for him one last time.

NHL fans who remembered Gino as an enforcer heard this last wish.  Many fans gathered outside of Odjick's hospital in Vancouver and rallied in support of a retired but not forgotten hockey player.  Emotions were high as Gino came outside of the hospital to greet the fans who gathered and chanted his name one more time.

I ask you to look at your congregation.  Who within the congregation is suffering from a terminal illness?  What is their wish at this time?  And how might the congregation come together to fulfill that wish?