Sunday is coming! ELCA Churchwide Assembly 2019: Highlights so far…

Normally I write a little blurb on the coming gospel reading to get ready for Sunday morning. This week I want to do something a little different.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is meeting for Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee, WI (August 5-10) and the decisions being made thus far have been notable.

The ELCA is committed to being a public church. We continue to live into that vocation in a variety of ways and it is not always an easy process.

These are some of the actions of the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly thus far:

Rev. Elizabeth Eaton was elected on the first ballot to serve a second six year term as Presiding Bishop of the ELCA. She was elected Presiding Bishop in 2013 at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh, PA. I had the privilege of serving as a voting member from the New England Synod that year, and voting for her. 🙂 I have also had the honor of meeting her in person a few times, including as our first interview on the 2 Bald Pastors Podcast with Pastor Joe McGarry and with our young people at the 2018 ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston, TX.

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and ELCA Church Council Members presented to the African Descent Lutheran Association a Declaration of the ELCA to people of African Descent. Rev. Lamont Wells, President of the African Descent Lutheran Association offered a response.

The Assembly vited and adopted the ELCA Social Statement: Faith Sexism and Justice: A Lutheran Call to Action.

The Assembly voted and declared the ELCA to be a Sanctuary Church Body, and members marched to an ICE detention center in Milwaukee.

The Assembly voted and adopted the World Council of Churches “Thursdays in Black” campaign against gender based violence.

The Assembly voted and adopted “A Declaration on Inter-Religious Commitment: A Policy Statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America” with close to forty leaders from ecumenical and inter-religious partner communities on stage.

The Assembly voted and adopted a resolution to mark June 17 as a date to commemorate the Emanuel Nine – the nine people killed at Mother Emanuel Methodist Church June 17th, 2015 in Charlotte, SC. I signed the petition prior to the vote.

Here were a few of my reasons for supporting this action:

1. I want to participate in healing deep wounds in our churches and communities. There are many wounds among us.
2. The ELCA has direct connections with both the shooter at Mother Emanuel in Charleston (who grew up in an ELCA congregation) and the victims who are not only fellow human beings but some of them also happened to be ELCA students and ministry partners.
3. The more I hear “pastor, we don’t need to do something like this” the more I think, “Yep, we really do.” The ELCA is 90+% white and that is a huge problem – both practically and theologically. We have to own the hard truth of how insular we are if things are ever going to change or improve in an age where most people look at churches with suspicion, cynicism and even disdain.
4. We can’t and won’t truly be able to speak hope to the culture until we go inward and start working on our own stuff – and we have a lot of stuff to work on around race, gun violence, mental illness, social justice, the politics of division and blame alongside how we engage challenging issues within the ELCA as a whole and in our congregations in particular.
5. At least in my mind, heart and soul – this commemoration day feels like the right thing to do.

Will having a day set aside to repent and remember fix it all?  Of course not. But simply plodding on doesn’t seem to be working either – the violence of the past week around the country makes that clear.

There is of course much much more to do than this – but we can at least start with the Emanuel Nine.

If you’re an ELCA person, I invite you to join me in signing this petition. We can do a lot better. This is but one small step among many more steps we can all take together to be church.” – Geoff Sinibaldo, Facebook, August 8, 2019

More to come.

I invite you to continue to pray for the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee, WI and for our voting members from the New England Synod.

Sunday is indeed coming.

PGS

sinibaldo.wordpress.com

Sunday is coming! “Bigger Barns” Luke 12:13-21

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” (Luke 12:15a)

What if this parable is not really about storage?

The challenge in this parable about the rich man and his barns presents itself as an attack against planning, saving, and investing in the future. It is shocking and surprising. Shouldn’t we take steps now to get ready for the future? It seems more ‘foolish’ to us not to be prepared than to be proactive like he is doing.

We have many things to plan for in our lives: uncertainty in the global economy,  school, housing, retirement, etc.  This man seems to be not only successful in his business, but is also someone who has assessed his assets carefully and managed his risks accordingly. Shouldn’t he be commended? Aren’t these things we aspire to ourselves? Why do you think Jesus is giving him such a hard time?

The problem is not our barns. The problem is not our things. The problem is greed.

Jesus says, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Greed is like a consuming fire. The more it burns, the more oxygen it takes form the air and the more fuel it burns. Greed suffocates relationships and destroys communities. Greed believes in scarcity, thrives on fear and turns people against one another.

Reading verses 17-19 carefully, the rich man uses the words ‘I’ and ‘my’ a total of ten times. He is neither grateful nor generous but consumed by his greed. He thinks about enjoying his life in the future at the expense of isolating himself now by his need for more. His wealth has become his identity: ‘a rich man’ (notice – he has no other name), and it has led to being cut off from everyone else. In this story, the man has no relationships.

Jesus asks, “What good is all of this stuff if you were to die tonight?” (my paraphrase of Luke 12:20). Jesus could take a good look at us, and ask the same.

A parable like this asks us to reflect upon several questions:

(A new self-storage facility being built)
  1. What is our relationship with our stuff? To what extent do we possess our things and how much do things possess us? How much is too much?
  2. How much have we made our lives about ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘my’ rather than others?
  3. What things are you storing? Why? No really…Why? What are you saving it for?
  4. What could it mean to be ‘rich toward God’ (Luke 12:21)?
  5. How might the rich man – find redemption in this parable? How might we?

Remember – Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). For him (and his followers who are slow to catch-on) this is a one way journey. Jesus is going to the cross. He has been inviting people to join his selfless movement of restoration, love, hope and mercy who are willing to say goodbye to their attachments and responsibilities (Luke 9:57-62). He has been sending those who are willing to go out into the community to rely on the hospitality of others and face rejection (Luke 10:1-24). He has been expanding the people’s understanding of ‘neighbor’ to include both any person in need and anyone willing to help (Luke 10:25-37). He has opened himself to those who are willing to receive and follow him (Luke 10:38-42). On a one way journey to the cross Jesus has no need for more storage.  Neither do his followers. His life is being demanded of him – right now. Their lives might be demanded of them soon too. With that reality in mind – what might this parable mean to we who are a lot more settled twenty centuries later?

Perhaps we are not as settled as we think we are.

PGS

Conversation with Cliff Ravenscraft

Joe has Cliff Ravenscraft on today’s podcast episode.  

Cliff Ravenscraft a business mentor, life coach and motivational speaker. Cliff mentors coaches, consultants and thought leaders through the transition from their unfulfilling day job into their own responsible and profitable online business so that they can live the life of their dreams and do the work they feel most called to do in this world.

Today Cliff and Joe talk about Cliff’s life in ministry and the importance of mindset.  They talk about the need of being a part of a supportive community and they talk about Cliff’s upcoming conference Free the Dream

http://www.freethedreamconference.com
http://www.mindsetanswerman.com/free

Sunday is coming! “Teach us to pray” Luke 11:1-4

“Teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1)

God. Its me.

You are the author of all that is. Are you there? Are you real? Are you listening?

I want to do the right things which I think is what you want me to do. Too often I get in my own way; or in the way of others; or even in your way. Help me turn to you for guidance rather than to my selfishness for answers.

Every day you give us more than we need. I don’t believe it is enough. I worry about what I don’t have or what I might lose. Teach me to be grateful for your abundance. Move me to share. Push me to serve.

Too often I keep grudges. I pick at my scars to keep old wounds open. I carry resentment. I am burdened by shame. I linger in guilt when I should move on. Help me to live burden free. Teach me forgiveness. Heal my pain. Show me how to let go. Create in me a clean heart that overflows with compassion. Cover me with your mercy and peace.

Keep me and my loved ones from trouble. Please stand with me when I am afraid or tired and everything feels lost. Bend my arrogance and pride into trust and confidence in you. Remind me that your never ending love always wins. Amen.

-Do you pray? Why? Or why not?

-Where? When?

-What do you pray for?

-How do you know God is listening?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “The one thing that can make all the difference” Luke 10:38-42

“There is only need of one thing.” (Luke 10:42a)

If we are honest, it seems that most of us would probably side with Martha rather than Mary at this dinner party with Jesus. We know well from our lives that there is much work to be done, our calendars keep us busier than we might like to be and we could use all the help we could get. We might even see others with contempt when we do not believe they are pulling their weight like Martha did, complaining that Mary is sitting there lazily while all the tasks rest on her shoulders. We might also roll our eyes in disgust, wondering what Mary was thinking by sitting at Jesus’ feet like that – as though she was one of his male disciples sitting beneath her teacher. Martha probably thought Mary was embarrassing herself by either defying or not understanding her place and neglecting her duties. Martha might have even been a bit jealous wondering why she was stuck providing generous hospitality while her sister got away with just sitting and listening to Jesus. Perhaps Martha secretly wished that she was the one enjoying the company of their house guest instead of her do-nothing sister.

Yet Jesus commended Mary (not Martha) for choosing to do “the better part” (Luke 10:42). Why? I wonder if Jesus’ response has more to do with our attitude than the work that Martha was doing, or the breaking of social mores that Mary was pushing. After all, a good part of following Jesus is hospitality, serving and being attentive to the needs of others from the places we are; whatever our status might be. At the same time Jesus is the constant leveler – showing us again and again our common humanity and worth beyond our social constructs and culturally enforced hierarchical identity roles.

In this scene, Martha is disgruntled, complaining, and resentful. Mary is present and attentive. Martha asks Jesus to make her sister help. How often are our prayers about asking God to make someone else do something rather than change either our perspective or something within ourselves? How does Martha’s complaint contrast with the next passage, where Jesus teaches his disciples to pray what we call the “Our Father” or “Lord’s Prayer” (Luke 11:1-4).

Perhaps Luke is simply showing us what a difference our attitude makes. One can do amazing things, achieve a lot to make people’s lives better, and check all the boxes of what others may expect from us; but if we are bitter about doing it, lack gratitude, humility and/or a servant’s heart – we have missed the joy of being in the presence of Jesus.

Before this dinner party (Luke 10:38-42), Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51); and in doing so was preparing for the difficult times that were coming. He sent his disciples out two by two without any resources – to teach them how to receive kindness from others and remain dependent on God (Luke 10:1-12). They joyfully returned telling their stories, receiving Jesus’ blessing and were eager to do what came next (Luke 10:17-4). In doing so, their community was strengthened and they grew deeper into Christ’s mission. When confronted by a lawyer with the question, “who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29), Jesus told a story of man who fell into the hands of robbers and left for dead (Luke 10:30-37)… in the parable Jesus tells, two religious people (who we would expect to help) passed by the injured man, leaving him on the roadside. Jesus did not explain why they did not stop, but is it possible that they are “distracted by many things” just like Martha? Only the Samaritan (the most unlikely scum sucking neighbor possible) was attentive, alert, able and willing to see and help that stranger on the roadside. His heart for others helped restore the injured traveller to health. In the same way, Mary was attentive to Jesus, sitting and listening in her home, while Mary, the Priest and the Levite missed that opportunity without the eyes to see “the one thing” right before them.

There is a lot to be burdened by and distracted by in life. Paying attention, getting over ourselves, not worrying about what others are doing or are not doing through comparison to our efforts, remaining thankful and generous, and staying focused on what God is doing right before us can change everything.

In the love that Jesus gives us – we receive others openly with happy hearts in a hospitality that can be shared and enjoyed. The burden of work we need to do feels lighter. People are welcomed and included by our attentiveness to them. Community is strengthened and grow. Then when trouble comes (as it always does); we will all be better equipped to face it together.


Attentiveness is everything.

-What distracts you?

-What resentments are you carrying?

-How might a thankful heart help change how you see others?

-Where in your life could you be more present with people?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “The surprise of the scum sucking loser” Luke 10:25-37

But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.” (Luke 10:33)

There is an edge to this parable we often overlook in our hearing of it. We have come to know “Good Samaritans” as do-gooders to strangers or as caregivers to those who could otherwise not afford the help they need.

Even in secular society, those with no church connections know what a “Good Samaritan” is. We have “Good Samaritan” laws to protect those who voluntarily help someone in distress or in an emergency. Hospitals, insurance companies and other ministries name their organizations “Good Samaritan” as a familiar way to communicate their mission of helping others. The church I grew up in has a “Good Samaritan” truck that delivers donated furniture to families in need. We equate the term “Good Samaritans” with helpers. Being a “Good Samaritan” is a virtue we strive to teach and grow into as people of faith.

This was not the understanding many of Jesus’ contemporaries had of Samaritans in his time.

Animosity between Jews and Samaritans ran deep in the time of Jesus. Differences in ethnicity, theology, worship, culture, language and geography kept them separate from and suspicious of one another for centuries. Jews traveling from Galilee to Judea (or Judea to Galilee) often would intentionally go the longer way around than take the shorter journey through Samaria just to avoid interaction. The same was true of Samaritans. Samaritans stayed away from Judea too. That a Samaritan was even on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho begs the question, “What was a scum sucking loser like that doing there anyway?”

That a man was beaten, robbed and left for dead on that road by bandits is not a surprise. It was a dangerous road in a desperate time. That the religious people – (a priest and a Levite) didn’t stop to help isn’t that surprising either. Even without the context of who they were and what they represent – think of the countless people we overlook or walk on by for all kinds of reasons.

“But a Samaritan” Jesus says (Luke 10:33).

This scum sucking loser stopped, helped, healed, hosted, empowered, paid, waited and returned.

This Samaritan is the least likely hero because he is a scum sucking loser not be trusted. Not only does he help someone in need, he acknowledges the humanity in “the other” who from his perspective was not to be trusted either. Yet he stopped and acted out of compassion and love rather than fear, blame and prejudice or hate.

“Go and do likewise,” Jesus says (Luke 10:37).

This story points the lawyer (and us by extension) to ask “who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). The common response is to encourage us to become better do-gooders who are actively seeking to make the world a better place by paying attention, seeing things anew, stopping, helping and building relationships with those we might otherwise overlook in a world filled with suffering and pain.

This story also pushes us much further than those really important ways of putting our faith into action. It also challenges us to ask what we might learn about our shared humanity from those we despise the most. It was after all, an out of place, far from home, scum sucking loser Samaritan that took the risk to stop on that dangerous road to help his neighbor in need…not anybody respectable we might like or aspire to be.

-Who are you afraid of? Why?

-Wouldn’t it be a great surprise to learn from a Samaritan, not just what to do when we are not sure where to start, but that the person we hate or fear is our neighbor too?

-What if good news kept coming unexpectedly to us through scum sucking losers like that?

-What might Jesus show us about each other as we all travel this road together?

PGS

Episode 77: Everyday Spirituality with The 2 Bald Pastors

Geoff and Joe followup their conversation with Bishop Hazelwood with a conversation about what Everyday Spirituality means to them.  This is an interesting conversation and takes some twists and turns you might not expect.

Links Mentioned in the show. 

Bishop on a Bike

Dan is the Worst

Everyday Spirituality Podcast by Bishop Jim Hazelwood

Sunday is Coming! “The all too familiar wrong mission of the church (a parable)” Luke 10:1-11

“Go on your way. See I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” (Luke 10:3)

[DISCLAIMER – This is a parable – a story about something relatable to tell a wider truth. I’m not looking for a new call.]

After this, the pastor entered the small town to meet with leaders of an insular congregation for a call interview to become their next clergy-person. The church leaders were upfront that the congregation had needs, and the people of the community who were not members of the church had long lost interest in coming to worship with them. The congregation was aging, shrinking, and they had trouble connecting with young families and keeping them involved.

The chairperson said, “Finances are around here tight. People are leaving or dying off. We’ll never have enough to survive and it is probably some of the newer people’s fault... But we are glad you are here; so do what we tell you, don’t change anything, keep your head down, don’t stir-up any trouble, take any stands or create any controversy. We want to be comfortable and for you to make us feel safe. Work twice as hard as the last guy with less resources and unrealistic demands. Not to worry; we’ll blame you if things don’t turn around soon and become better than the glory-days we all remember when the church was full, money was not an issue and we all got along as the best of friends.

“What is this congregation passionate about?” the pastor inquired of them. The response droned on for about forty-five minutes concerning the cracked and faded beige wallpaper in the room in which they were sitting that was pulling up in the corners.

The pastor re-framed the question by asking what kinds of ministries they were doing that they found meaningful, what service opportunities they participated in, what initiatives to make connections in their town outside of the congregation they were pursuing, what ways they were putting their faith into tangible action in the neighborhood and at home, how were they mentoring/disciplining/supporting one another, and a host of other questions. They collectively responded. “We tried all that stuff once. We don’t have money for it now. We told you, we just need someone to take care of us and keep things the same.” The chairperson then went into a long rant of needing to protect the church’s assets; especially the aging building that was also being utilized by outside community groups that met there and messed with their stuff.

The pastor paused and listened.

An eager member broke the awkward silence, “We do have an ‘all are welcome’ sign,” she said, pointing to a rickety sign that was lost behind a million pieces of dated announcements on a bulletin board. She continued, “it is really important we have that sign, so people who look like us, talk like us, dress like us, and think like us will know they can come here and pay our bills.”

The pastor asked, “How many new people has that sign brought in?” Nobody knew the answer, so they stood around and hunched their shoulders looking for the pastor to tell them, “good job on the sign.” They shot each other glances when the pastor said nothing in response they started talking about the wallpaper again.

They spent the better part of three hours together. Not once did anyone offer snacks or refreshments.

“Let’s get down to business” the chairperson of the call committee said, passing the pastor an envelope. Inside was a number that was half the salary this pastor was currently making. The conversation got tense when the pastor told the group that it didn’t sound like they were all that interested in doing ministry. Their mission was to keep their club going. “But we just got new tablecloths for coffee hour!” one member protested. The pastor then explained that based on both the information they had researched prior to meeting and by walking around earlier that day that there were all kinds of interesting new people moving into town, that the game fields were full of activity, there were some cute shops and places to eat on Main Street, there were parks and green spaces to enjoy and that there were real needs of struggling people in the community that this church could address by collaborating with other local organizations to help.

They looked at the pastor with blank stares.

One member handed the pastor an old photo directory full of names and faces of people that had died or moved away or simply lost interest in this congregation. “What are you going to do to get these people to come back?” he said.

It was time for the evening to come to a close.

The pastor gracefully thanked them for their time, and after exchanging other pleasantries headed for the door. On the way home the pastor called the bishop and said that while the town looked really interesting and there was some great potential for ministry there, this congregation was not a place they would like to consider serving. The bishop later got a letter from the call committee complaining that there were no good candidates for pastors anymore and that the congregation was going to cut their mission support completely until a suitable candidate was found to save their church.

PGS

Read Luke 10:1-11.

Sunday is coming! “3 Reasons not to follow Jesus” Luke 9:51-62

“I will follow you wherever you go.” (Luke 9:57)

“Following Jesus” sounds like a faithful things to say.

It is a much more difficult thing to do.

Jesus gives us three reasons not to do it.

Reason 1. Security.

Jesus says, “The son of man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58b). In other words, following him will not be comfortable. It will not be stable. It will not result in ‘success’ or material gain. It will not be safe. We focus our lives around security and ‘success.’ Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and the cross. Following Jesus often takes us to places where we are uncomfortable and where much is asked of us. Jesus asks for our entire lives, and perhaps even our life itself.

If you seek safety and being comfortable; don’t follow Jesus.

Reason 2. Restrictions.

Jesus says, “let the dead bury their own dead” (Luke 9:60). It sounds cold and indifferent, and shouldn’t the church be doing funerals? But what Jesus is saying here is that we often let others dictate our limitations of what we can or cannot do; or where we can or cannot do. I have a sign on my desk that reads “Everything is Figureoutable.” Too often we don’t believe solutions to our challenges are even possible.

If you want to live within restrictions; don’t follow Jesus.

Reason 3. Disctractions.

J Jesus says, “No one who puts the hand to the plow and looks back will inherit the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:62).  While understanding the past often provides wisdom for navigating current challenges, nostalgia can also hold us captive and keep us understanding current realities and from moving forward at all. Keeping up with what everyone else is saying and doing on your feeds everywhere else while neglecting the people around you in the here and now keeps you from tending to what is more important. Worrying about the challenges of the future without seeing Jesus right in front of you now scatters your focus on your mission and purpose. It is difficult to plow in a straight line if your vision is not kept on the field and you are looking elsewhere. 

If you are held hostage by what everyone else is doing; don’t follow Jesus.

Yet…following Jesus can change our lives.

How?

Jesus “set his face to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).  These invitations into discipleship are all given within the context of immersing ourselves in the very mission Jesus has come to fulfill. Jerusalem leads to the cross – a place where security, restriction and nostalgia lack meaning in the stench of suffering, abandonment and death. However, the cross of Jesus leads to resurrection; where the sweet fragrance of new life blooms. Being on the road with Jesus from death to new life leads to transformation.

Instead of seeking security no matter what the cost to ourselves or to others we are led away from the perspective of scarcity and suspicion that too often consumes us into gratitude and generosity.

Instead of sulking in others’ expectations of who we are or what we do; we are given hearts for service, new passion for justice, and open-minds to see new possibilities that can raises the lives of others.

Instead of clinging to what we remember from the past to save us from our current challenges; Jesus opens us to new futures we could not imagine on our own. Creativity, collaboration and community can cultivate what the Spirit is doing through reinvigorated relationships.

So….do you want to follow Jesus?

It depends on what you seek.

If it is security, restriction and disctractions; stay home.

If it is ongoing encouragement that opens your heart, sees new possibilities, and longs for God’s good future; then press on. Jerusalem awaits and Jesus will be with you.

What is holding you back that you could leave behind?

PGS

Sunday is Coming! “The shocking other side of the sea” Luke 8:26-39

“What do you have to do with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God?Do not torment me.” (Luke 8:28)

This encounter should both shock and surprise.

The setting takes place in foreign territory on the other side of the Sea of Galilee – hardly a place any respectable Jew, rabbi, prophet, or hopeful messiah should be. Yet this is where the mission takes him (and us by implication), and the need for Jesus’ presence is just as present there as in Galilee.

Jesus has an interaction with a possessed man. How was he treated? This man was chained up and and was now living in the tombs. He was exiled from the community; exposed yet locked away and mistreated by those who refused to care or try to understand. His peers were afraid of him and the danger he represented to their well-being and everyday lives. He was literally dead to them, by living in the tombs. Jesus just talks to him like a person, releases him from the physical prison, spiritual possession and exclusion that has defined his life and he sends him back into his community that rejected him to share his story of healing.

The demons are named ‘Legion’ (an interesting word choice). A Roman Legion was 5,000 men. The demons represent not only the sin and evil at work in the world but the oppression of empire that has the world under its thumb. Jesus dismisses both easily.

Legion is sent into the pigs. Pigs represent what is “unclean.” Perhaps what it is happening when Jesus drives them into the sea is that he is also subversively undercutting the distinctions made between Jew and Gentile. Why else would he be on the ‘wrong side’ of the Sea and helping the ‘wrong kind’ of people? Why are we so afraid to go to the ‘other side’ of where we feel comfortable in our own false distinctions of people?

What might people have experienced when this man, now healed from his demons came back into town to share what Jesus had done for him? He not only had his life restored – it was a complete transformation.

What might our lives look like of we started living in a way that witnessed to the transformation Jesus offers us?

What demons are holding us captive?

Where do we complacently still live in those shackles?

In a world where often feel powerless against the power, wealth and systems that hold us captive – what does this story reveal about who is really in charge? What new story can we tell?

PGS