The thoughts and writings of a second career ELCA Lutheran pastor starting his second call in Oklahoma.
Formerly an inner-city recreation director and a high school football coach.
My thoughts are my own and do not reflect those of important people or organizations.
Here is the text from my sermon on March 12, 2017. The lesson is Luke 13:1-9, 31-35.
Last Monday was a day of remembrance for me.
Thirty-two years ago, on that day, on March 6th, I
had a cold. I know this because my cold caused me to sleep in my room at the
fraternity house I was living in at Alma College. Normally, I would have slept
in the unheated attic, along with most of my fraternity brothers. The attic
would be whatever temperature it was outside, and we would see who could stay
up there and endure the cold.
We were in college, but that doesn’t mean we were smart.
I had a cold that day, so I slept in my room, along with my
roommate. Around 7 am, we heard someone’s alarm clock going off. We assumed
that someone got up early, or had hit snooze and had gone to take a shower, and
we complained about their insensitivity.
Then our door was broken down. It wasn’t someone’s alarm clock.
It was a smoke detector. The house was on fire, and we were oblivious to it,
until someone realized we hadn’t gotten out of the house. If I had been in the
attic, I would have gotten out minutes earlier, when most everyone else was
awoken by the smoke detectors. Instead, Pat Byrne broke down our door to get us out.
Actually, he didn’t break the door. Ours was one of the room that still had a
wall standing, and we went back into the wreckage days later. He snapped the
deadbolt in half.
If you are ever the last ones to get out of a burning house, it
is good to have an all conference defensive end come to get you. Fortunately,
everyone survived the fire; only two people had minor injuries.
I’ve also survived two car accidents in which both vehicles,
mine and the other car, were totaled. I’ve been hit by cars twice when I was
growing up. I almost fell off of a cabin cruiser into Lake Huron, and held onto
the hand rail long enough for others to pull me back on board. My dad and I
were on Saginaw Bay the day that the Edmund Fitzgerald sank, the storm caused
us to take hours to get back to shore. Only years later, I found out how scared
my dad was that we wouldn’t make it.
I know I’m on bonus time. Anyone of these incidents, and
probably more I haven’t realized, could have ended my life.
In the first part of today’s lesson, Jesus is asked about a
tragedy that had happened. For some reason, Pontius Pilate took the blood of
some people from Galilee and mixed it with the blood of animals they had
sacrificed. Jesus also mentions a recent incident about eighteen people dying
from a tower collapsing in Siloam. Jesus assumes the crowd wants to know if
these people had sinned, and that their deaths were punishment for their sins.
He tells them the victims of these incidents were not terrible sinners, but
unless those that he is speaking to repent, they too will die.
When a tragedy occurs, there tend to be three schools of
thought. One, they got what they deserved. Two, God is punishing us for
something. Three, God let this happen to undeserving people. It’s their fault.
It’s somebody’s fault. It’s God’s fault.
Think about a tragedy, any recent tragedy. Lord knows, there is
a wide selection to choose from.
In the aftermath of the disaster, someone will blame the
victims. They shouldn’t have been there. They shouldn’t have done whatever they
will say God is trying to get us to change our course, to call us to repent, by
showing us what could happen if we do not repent, and continue in whatever
sinful behavior this person thinks we are persisting in.
Or others will wonder where God was in this tragedy, and why
God didn’t stop it from happening. This theory becomes more prevalent the
closer to home the tragedy strikes, and the closer connection one has to those
who are effected by the tragedy. Because, if we know those involved, we are
pretty sure they didn’t deserve it, so it is either that God did it, or God
didn’t stop it.
I would like to propose another option.
People die. Things break. Nature is uncontrolled.
We are beings that will be on this world for a relatively short
time. Some way too short. But our time on earth is limited. I saw a sign Friday
with a morbid, but valid point. Play with
your kids today, because tomorrow you are one day closer to death. While
that isn’t greeting card material, it is absolutely true. Today, we are all one
day closer to dying. It is a fact.
Many people, when they are confronted with their mortality,
create a bucket list – a list of things they want to do before they die. These
come from a sense of urgency, often because they have been told that their
number of days that remain are small, and countable.
But we don’t know if the number of days that remain for us are
in the tens of thousands, or in the tens.
In the parable of the fig tree, a landowner and his gardener
are discussing a fig tree. For three years since it has been planted, the fig
tree has been given everything that it need to bear fruit. As of yet, it has
not. The landowner has had enough. He tells the gardener to rip it out. The
gardener asks for one more chance, for one more year.
That’s my other option. Life happens, and where life happens,
death is sure to follow. But rather than blaming God for either causing, or not
preventing, tragedy, what if we give thanks to God for the second, and third,
and fourth, and more chances that we are given.
I know I would not be here today if not for the grace of God,
my father drilling into me to always wear a seat belt, for the sturdy
construction of two General Motors automobiles, my father’s quick hands and
sure rowing ability, as well as the explosive power of number 99, Patrick
Byrne. And I wouldn’t be here without the love of my mother, the wisdom of two
other wonderful women who mentored and guided me, the blessings of dozens of
friends, and the insight of a couple of little old ladies of the church.
So I choose to focus on the unknown number of days ahead, and
not on the missed out days of the past. Yes, I would have loved for my dad to
have lived to see me graduate from Seminary and see me ordained. Yes, I would
love to still have my mom around. But I trust in God’s promises that I will see
and be with them again. Because I will have all eternity for them to brag on me
and tell me how proud they are.
And I choose to focus on taking these bonus days to focus on
trying to repent each and every day of my life; to turn away from myself and
turn back to God; to turn away from my will and turn back to God’s will. Each
day I ask, “Lord, what wouldst thou have me do?” and each day I try. At the end
of each day, I ask for forgiveness for not loving the Lord my God with all my
heart, with all my mind, with all my strength and all my soul, and my neighbor
as myself. Then I try to do the same thing tomorrow, and for each of the
unknown number of days I have left.
Jesus knew how many days remained for him, and he went to
Jerusalem, knowing his life would end there. But he went hoping that many
would, because of his words and actions, be moved to repent.
If we can focus on the days ahead and not the days behind, if
we can let people know it is not too late to repent and keep repenting, if we
trust that there are days beyond the days that remain, then we are doing the
work of our Lord. And blessed are the ones
who come in the name of the Lord. AMEN.
-->This letter was sent this week to members of the ONE in Christ Lutheran Parish in Wisconsin. February
14, 2018 Grace
to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, After
much prayer, thought and consideration, I write to inform you that I have
accepted another call, and will be leaving the churches of the ONE in Christ
Lutheran Parish after Easter Sunday. The Covenant Lutheran Churches of Oklahoma
City, Oklahoma have voted to call me to be their pastor, and I have accepted
that call. Several
times, I have shared with quote from the Apostle Paul when he encountered the
Risen Christ on the road the Damascus. It is the quote from one of the chapel
windows at the Seminary in Gettysburg, and I have had it tattooed on my left
forearm. Paul asks, “Lord, what wouldst thou have me do?” I include that
question in my prayers several times daily. I now feel that this is the time for
me to follow the answer that Christ gives to Paul in Acts 9:6, “Arise, and go
into the city.”…
Here is my last article for my newsletter for the ONE in Christ parish.
Ponderings Thank you for the
opportunity to serve you, and to serve God in this corner of the kingdom. I
hope that these churches are in a better position now than when I arrived. I have two final
requests for you all, weighing in with my final two cents. You can use them or
disregard them. One is on page 5, a
request to continue the internet and
social media work that we started. The second is about
the short and long-term steps that you will be doing. In his message, Kaj
Petersen writes that the first step of the call committee is to create a
profile of this parish that prospective pastors will receive. Please, take your time
and be honest when you work on this. Describe the church and parish that you
truly are. Do not describe the church and parish you think that you are. Do
not simply tweak the profile I received seven years ago this week. You are not
those churches. The priorities of Our
Savior’s and Emma…
One of the things you will learn about me is that I am a Bible nerd, which can be good if you are a pastor. Each of the four Gospels tells the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, from a different perspective. John’s Gospel is the most unique. One of the characteristics of John’s Gospel is that in it, Jesus tells no parables. But the description of Jesus as the Good Shepherd comes close, and may best be looked at the way parables are analyzed. Parables are used to describe the indescribable. Jesus used parables to describe a type of love that humanity cannot understand, and so he uses ordinary, everyday items and situations to try to allow us to have a glimpse of…