Sola Fide – Faith Alone

Matthew 22:15-22 (34-46)dawn_martinluther
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (2:1-8)

 

Picture with me the most evil person you can. Historic or not. The most evil.

Got them in mind?

Okay, now, if, on their death bed, they have a change of mind and soul, and had faith in Jesus – would they go to heaven? Even with having not one single good deed their entire life?

If you answer yes – you may be Protestant.
If you answered no – you may be Roman Catholic.

The 500th Anniversary of the start of the Reformation is this October 31st. And it is from that time we get the phrase ‘Sola fide,’ faith alone, and salvation through faith alone is the a root of the division among Protestants and Roman Catholics.

But back in 1517, there was no division here in the Western church. But there was a monk named Martin Luther who was thinking that no matter what he did, he wouldn’t get into heaven.

He could never be good enough.

Martin Luther was from a middle class family in what is now Germany. At his parents’ wish, Martin went into law to be a lawyer. But it’s not where his heart lay. He was obsessed with religion. But the clergy couldn’t marry and carry on family names and lineages. Lawyers could. Clergy gave up their lands. Lawyers did not.

One day, Martin, as a young man, was caught in a thunderstorm and lightening was hitting the ground all around him. He felt his life flashing before his eyes- quite literally. So he cried out to Saint Anne – save me! Pray to God for me! If you save me from this storm, I will be a monk! I’ll stop running away from religion! And the storm subsided. Martin wasn’t injured. So several days later, he left law school and joined a monastery.

To say his parents were happy is a bold faced lie.

Martin still loved studying, and read everything he could to do about religion.

“Many Christians of the late Middle Ages had a great fear of demons and devils, and were terrified of ending up in hell. Mortality rates were high and life was very uncertain due to disease, accidents, childbirth and wars. Luther shared those fears and his first years in the monastery he was tormented with the idea that all men were hopeless sinners in the sight of God and unworthy of salvation… Luther followed all the requirements of the cloister – prayer, fasting, living a spartan life – but carried everything to such an extreme that his superiors were worried about him.

He wore out his confessor with marathon sessions of confessing, going over every thought in detail, then starting again from the beginning. His confessor, Father Staupitz,” – think of that for a moment. His name is Stop-Itz! And stop-it is just what he told Luther. He said, “Look here, if you expect Christ to forgive you, come in with something to forgive- parricide, blasphemy, adultery -instead of all these peccadilloes.” ((https://www.uncommon-travel-germany.com/martin-luther-biography.html))

And still the weight of feeling unworthy before God weighed so heavily on Martin Luther.

See, the church taught that when one was truly sorry for their sins, and confessed them, a representative of God could forgive those sins.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Then a person had to pay back to debt they owed God for the sins. Every sin carries a different weight of debt, and priests sometimes kept books with lists of sins and what the debt was for that sin.

Lie? Pray 10 Hail Marys with your rosary.
Kill someone? Time to go on a Crusade and offer your life in return for the life you took. Or pay for someone else to go on a Crusade in your stead.

Other ways of paying off debt, for yourself or on behalf of others (like, say, your son or daughter), was to go view or touch relics. Relics are an item a holy person owned, or a piece of that holy person. By being in their presence, it’s like some of their holiness could wear off on you. And you could pray to them, or to other saints, to intercede for you. To talk with God on your behalf. And to negotiate to lower that amount you owe for all those sins.

And you could visit holy sites, pilgrimages.

And you could give money or land or even your children to the church.

But was it ever enough? How could you be sure you were going to heaven and not hell?

It wasn’t ever enough for Martin Luther.

He wrote, “Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, ‘As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!’ Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience.”

He realized that even if he sat doing nothing, he was still sinning. Sloth. Or he was thinking unholy thoughts. Or he could have been doing something charitable and he wasn’t.

And he couldn’t pay off the debt of Original Sin.

And always feeling like he was a worm, and nothing, and never good enough for God, and feeling God was punishing people in life and in death, made the monk Martin Luther begin to hate God.

Could anyone make it to heaven? Luther was beginning to think the answer was no.

He wasn’t the only one. Perhaps pastorally, somewhere between Jesus and Martin Luther, the church had begun to teach about Purgatory.

Where would a death-bed confession from an evil person send that soul? The church 500 years ago likely would have answered “Did that person receive forgiveness for their sins after confessing faith, and their sins, and asking for forgiveness? If yes – they had Final Rights… then they died without sin… but with a MAJOR debt. So they are not perfect enough for heaven, but may be given the opportunity to choose purgatory versus hell.”

Everyone Luther saw was going to purgatory because everyone was sinning. Purgatory is where those sins are purged, removed, and soul made fully clean. It was hell, but temporary hell versus the hell of eternity.

So how long does someone end up in temporary hell? It depends on what the living on earth do for the departed. Praying for the dead, giving offerings in their names, lighting candles for them, or getting Indulgences. These are given by clergy as a remission, a payment, of some of the time owed. Sometimes it was wrote out as “The name signed below is given an indulgence of 40 years.” Meaning, it was worth as if the person had lived 40 years as a good Christian.

Remember – we are talking about teachings 500 years ago. Modern Roman Catholic ideas on purgatory and indulgences and heaven and hell are, of course, 500 years more advanced and changed and refined. Just as none of us -I hope!- today preach and think just like Martin Luther… who really hated farmers and Jews, among many other categories of people.

Anyways – hell below, heaven above, and purgatory in between is how Martin Luther’s world understood things. The sinful and unrepentant below, the sinful but repentant in the middle, and the sinless and united with Jesus above.

If you answered that if someone has faith in Jesus before they die, that they’ll be in heaven… regardless if the whole rest of their lives they were evil…Then you’re thinking like Martin Luther in his later years.

After decades of beating himself up, Martin Luther read the works of Saint Augustine, from 300 AD. And he read the book of Romans extensively. Older Luther wrote, “I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, ‘In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’’ There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’

Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory. I also found in other terms an analogy, as, the work of God, that is, what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us strong, the wisdom of God, with which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God. And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word ‘righteousness of God.’ Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise.” (Luther’s Writings 34:336-337)

Martin Luther had discovered “sola fide,” Faith alone. The righteous live by faith.

Faith alone, in Christ alone, means God alone gives grace, gives salvation.

No one is good enough for heaven. But God chooses to look at us as if we are Jesus, if we have faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. No works, no deeds, no payments, no prayers, nothing we do on Earth, or in purgatory, will ever cleanse us of all sin. But God loves us anyways. And we can receive this gift of love, which we cannot lose, if we accept Jesus as our Savior. Jesus stands in for all that sin debt.

Martin Luther was so happy and released from his torment that he told EVERYONE about his discovery. We’re going to talk next week about how not everyone thought Martin Luther’s sharing was caring.

This week – we’re looking at sola fide. At solo, only, alone fidelity, faith, or trust.

Luther’s revelation is that NO ONE is good enough for heaven. NO ONE can get to heaven on their own merits. You can’t be a good enough person to stand in the presence of God. Somehow, in someway, you’re always carrying sin. Not a single person living or dead besides Christ is sinless.

But… Jesus promises us life with God, and reunion. So how is that possible?

It must be, Martin concludes, that even though we are sinners, and guilty – God chooses to look at us as if we are Jesus.

And we have to trust this.

No dogmas, no creeds, no teachings, no indulgences, no special prayers get us into heaven. Nothing we do gets us there. This is God’s gift and in faith we receive it through Christ.

That also means there is no one more or less holy, more or less worthy. You either have faith, and receive the gift offered to you – or you don’t and reject the gift. And if received… there isn’t an organization to heaven.

You can’t be the first or the last in heaven. We’re equals. The greatest sinner and the greatest saint are all equals.

So, you might think like Paul – and ask – why should we ever live a life of love and charity then, if love and charity don’t give us rewards?

Some Protestants answered, like the Methodist, that good works are our way of becoming holy and ready for heaven while alive.

But Luther’s answer was we can’t be perfect. Instead, good works, faith works, are our response to God’s love. It is our work to bring the Reign of God closer. It is our voluntary choice to walk closer to God’s Way.

So Jesus, today, in our scripture, tells us to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.

What belongs to God? Our hearts, souls, and minds.

What more we give is out of love and in response to God’s love. It is not required. It is not demanded. It will not earn us Heaven because Heaven is already gifted to us – and we cannot get “more” or it or “less” of it.

So… it is a lie that you have to tithe to be Christian. It is a lie that you have to give money to a church to get into heaven. It is also a lie that willing money to a church safeguards you a place in heaven. Churches promising you a place in the afterlife that have a price tag attached are churches abusing your faith and… working as a cult.

God wants your hearts, souls, and minds. If you choose to support your church, that is your choice. It ain’t giving you more heaven.

It is a lie that if Betty gets 100k likes on Facebook God is going to heal her. Betty is a precious child of God and God wants to best for her whether she gets 100k digital thumbs up or none. Facebook pages doing this gather up all your likes, and then sell the page that used to belong to ‘Betty’ to another business, who changes the name, and then fills your Facebook feed with their advertisements. (Because you clicked ‘like’ on the page when it was for Betty.)

Don’t give Betty a thumbs up. Give a local charity money, or time, or donations if you feel moved to compassion.

What about the posts and messages saying “FORWARD IF YOU LOVE JESUS! Forward to 10 people in 5 minutes to prove you love the Lord!”

Nothing you post, don’t post, forward, or don’t forward, proves your love to God. Don’t get trapped in the guilt and in the manipulation. Don’t start thinking your deeds – or lack thereof – predicates, determines, whether or not you’re heaven-bound.

Salvation, peace, unity, reunion with God is through faith alone.

Trust.

Trust you are loved.

And let that trust, that love, guide your actions.

Let your deeds be faith deeds. Deeds you do out of your faith – not guilt deeds, or shame deeds, or hoping-for-more-heaven-deeds.

You’re good enough. Right now. You’re good enough tomorrow and tomorrow and eternally. God loves you. Right now.

No signing on the dotted line, honking, cross-wearing, movie-watching, radio-station listening, political candidate support or anything else required.

Just faith.

The classical Protestant belief is that faith alone is all that is required.

Amen.

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Why Rejoice?

Indonesia VolcanoIsaiah 25:1-9
Philippians 4:1-9

Why rejoice? How can we rejoice at a time like this? Is it right?

Think of this year. What a year. A terrible year of tragedies, and world disasters. A year of record breaking fires, earthquakes, and hurricanes. A year of genocide, and threats of nuclear war, and civil war. A year of racism and homophobia and hating immigrants. And our year is not over.

What a year. Families destroyed. Friends lost. Voices silenced. Homes burned and flooded and flattened. Hopes burned and flooded and flattened. And our year is not over.

There is literally a hurricane headed towards Ireland right now.

Think: Santa Rosa this week. Las Vegas last week. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands before that. Then Mexico’s earthquake, Texas’ hurricane, the genocide in Mynamar, the starvation of 20 million in Somolia, Yemen, South Sudan and Nigeria. And constantly – terrorist attacks in Europe, threats of war in North Korea, Syria, Palestine…

Was last year better? Or wasn’t it a terrible year too? Was it this bad?

A shroud is cast over us. A mourning shroud, like a suffocating sheet, and depression settles in.

And anxiety. Fear. And even “an inexplicable gloom, inexpressible longing for unnamable things, weeping for that which is not yet lost.” ((Harano))

A post-traumatic stress disorder even though most of us haven’t experienced these things personally. But vicariously, by listening to the stories of others, and watching television, and the news, we know – and we mourn – and we hurt.

We have empathy fatigue.

It’s almost like a new horrific disaster happens and we look at it numbly, and then go about our lives numbly…

Because numbness doesn’t hurt like caring does.

It is like we gradually lose our compassion when always faced with trauma. Big traumas- working in hospitals – or little traumas, like working with school students with rough home lives year after year – or daily trauma… like caring for loved ones with chronic illnesses.

Hopelessness begins to settle in. And a decrease in experiences of pleasure, constant stress and anxiety, sleeplessness or nightmares, and a pervasive negative attitude. Feeling dour. Feeling cynical. And resistant to help others who are suffering because no one is helping us. And what would helping this one person do?

There’s a million more crying for aid.

We are caring people. Called to care. Called to cry with those who weep.

It’s because we’re caring that this secondary trauma sets in.

Because we weep.

Because we love.

At all times in the world, in all ages, there are great and horrible things happening simultaneously. In Isaiah’s time, in Jesus’ time, in our time.

To survive empathy fatigue we need Sabbaths. Times of rest. Times of pausing to do some emotional self care.

We are called to weep, but we are also called to share in one another’s joys. To praise God together. To be happy for one another.

We are to weep with the world. And we are to rejoice with the world.

We are to hold both tender emotions together, in tension. And balance time of sorrow with time of joy – sometimes… maybe all the time… sorrow and joy are both present. It is okay to feel good too. This doesn’t negate the bad. We don’t need to feel guilty. Emotions are like breaths – best in and out, up and down. Feeling both the good and the bad.

Today, let’s do a little self care with scripture and with stories of good. Stories of the simple things that bring joy. Stories of hope and joy. Do ourselves some self care so we will be ready for whatever tomorrow brings.

ISAIAH JOY

Isaiah’s writing comes to us in a time of sorrow. He could easily just focus on the pain alone, and in some verses, he does. The country is weak and powerless. Around them large superpowers fight and war and their little land is caught in the middle – being burned and destroyed over and over again. Nearby is a city that keeps watch – a guarding city – but not protecting the Isaiah’s people. This city is Assyrian, and tries to keep the land for Assyria. For a hundred years Isaiah’s people have been subservient to Assyria, and pay it steep taxes in food and animals and people to just not be annihilated.

Now, suddenly, Babylon has defeated Assyria and leveled the military outpost city.

What will tomorrow bring? No one knows. Will Babylon come and destroy Jerusalem? Or will the Judeans be free?

Isaiah chooses to take the moment to point out : what seemed impossible has become reality. And he invites his people to take time to rejoice in their freedom – however fleeting. Time to appreciate what they have – right now in this moment.

“O Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you, I will praise your name;
for you have done wonderful things,
plans formed of old, faithful and sure.”

Wonderful things. Like creating the beautiful sunrise we saw this morning. Like painting the sunset we will see this evening. Like matching golden rod with purple asters and the music of crickets and grasshoppers when the birds’ songs are south for the winter.

Faithful and sure plans. Like planning to never leave us stuck in sin, or wallowing in death. Like being certain to always be beside us. Love us. Forgive us.

Isaiah considers the nearby military outpost, and how it is destroyed. Even though the Judeans did nothing. He is in awe. And he praises God more,

“…strong peoples will glorify you;
cities of ruthless nations will fear you.
For you have been a refuge to the poor,
a refuge to the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.

Strong people who need nothing will still glorify God. And the cities of ruthless, cruel, malicious people will not glorify God, but they will fear God because God is the refuge for the poor. God favors the poor over the rich.

And God is refugee for the needy in their distress. God hears our cries and holds the powerful responsible to help the powerless.

And God is a shelter from the rainstorms and shade from the heat. In God we find our homes. Our eternal homes.

So the strong praise God for leadership and aiding the strong in helping the weak.

And the selfish fear God, for God judges against them as they harm the poor, needy, homeless and weak.

Isaiah continues,

“When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm,
the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place,
you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds;
the song of the ruthless was stilled.”

In other words, when the ruthless, the evil-spirited people rained troubles and were an oppressive heat…. God provided shade, protection, over God’s people and sent cool winds to silence the voices of evil.

Cool winds in heat. Rain in droughts. Smiles. Kindness where you didn’t expect it. Flowers through concrete and the fast friendships of children. Birds on the wing and someone holding open a door for another. Things happening daily but which give us glimpses of how God is right here, living with us, giving us the power to do good and care for one another.

Isaiah pictures God as a victorious king who invites all people to a rich feast. The very best feast described in the Bible with aged wines and red meat and the tastiest food.

Then God, personally, will destroy the shroud of sorrow, the blanket covering our joy.

And God, personally, will wipe the tears from every face.

And no one will be shamed or disgraced or lesser. We are all equals.

And God, personally, will swallow – destroy, devour – death once and for all.

And the waiting for God will be worth it. “This is for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Remember: Isaiah writes this when he does not know what tomorrow will bring. When there are rumors of war.

But he rejoices in the present moment and keeps alive hope. Hope for the beautiful full reign of God on Earth as God reigns in Heaven.

PHILLIPIANS JOY

Paul also could be focused on misery. He also does not know what tomorrow will bring. And he also chooses to balance his sorrow with times of joy.

He is in prison. Christians are being persecuted, kicked out of their communities, killed. Often by their own relatives. And he hears of how the new churches are fighting each other, he could give up. Paul could get exhausted with caring.

But he takes joy. And urges the churches and us to take time for joy and goodness – even in the middle of pain – too.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!”

All though the letter to Philippians, Paul is speaking of joy. He opens his letter with the “remarks that he is “constantly praying with joy” (1:4); he goes on to mention “joy in faith” (1:25) and wants the Philippians to “make my joy complete” by having the same intent and mind (2:2). In chapter 4:1, Paul calls the congregation in Philippi “my joy and crown,”… we too probably need a periodic reminder to “rejoice in the Lord.”
… It may be stating the obvious, but the joy Paul has in mind is not superficial; it has little in common with the obligatory laughter of invisible (non-existing?) audiences in TV sitcoms. There is a difference between something funny and deep joy, which has a lasting effect and the power to change us…

So what is there to rejoice? Real and lasting joy comes from the confidence that, no matter what happens, we are inseparably connected to God… ((Dr. Eberhart https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2148))

“And since we are beset with anxieties that get in the way of rejoicing, Paul tells us to pray in everything, bringing everything, no matter how trivial or how insurmountable, to the God who loves us. We cannot generate freedom from anxiety by our own efforts; the attempt only pushes the anxiety underground, where it festers and leads to secret despair. But Christ will meet us at the place of worry, because Christ has descended to the depths of human despair. Therefore God has become for us the God whose peace “guards” our minds and hearts.

[Lastly] Paul tells us to focus our minds on what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise…Paul is holding two realities in view at the same time.

Yes, there is the immediate reality of a world in which human beings are constantly at war somewhere, betraying one another, brutally suppressing each other in order to get ahead, and so forth. This was true of the Roman Empire, and it is true today. Every day we hear and see a culture that focuses on what is false, dishonorable, unjust, impure, and shameful. We begin to think that to act hopefully in such a world is unrealistic.
But Paul also sees another reality, and it is the reality that holds the future. That is the reality of God’s redemption, already here and still drawing near. Training our minds to think of this reality, and thereby to act with hope, is a daily mental discipline. For such a discipline, we need to experience the counter reality of God’s rule in the midst of tangible human relationships. Paul offers his own relationship with the Philippians as just such a tangible counterweight to the temptation of despair and futile thinking.

…Paul promises that the outcome of these habits of heart and mind is “peace that surpasses all understanding.” Written from jail, by a man under threat of capital punishment at the hands of a brutal and corrupt regime, these are extraordinary promises. Rome was always at war somewhere on its borders. The so-called Pax Romana was anything but for Rome’s subject peoples; Tacitus, a Roman senator who served in Rome’s far-flung provinces, wrote bitterly, “They make a desolation and call it peace.”
But Paul sees a different reality alongside the violence and duplicity of Rome. The small and struggling Christian congregation in the Roman colony of Philippi is itself a kind of “colony,” a separate polis with a more powerful Lord who alone has defeated death. Confident, therefore, in the ultimate victory of the God of peace, he encourages us to have quiet minds and hopeful hearts.” And to find time for joy.  ((Dr Eastman https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1011))
OUR JOY

Yes. Terrible things are going on. And yes. We care. And yes, we mourn. And yes, we are going to act and pray and help. But to prevent burn out, to prevent empathy fatigue, we need self care too. Time for joy and laughter.

So let us turn to our joy in our present moment… take a breather. Think of something this week that brought you joy. And let us share.

Think of the county fair.

Think of your family and friends.

Think of your pets.

Your fall garden.

The book you read, the show you watched, the phone call you had.

Let us share, one by one, as we feel so moved, something small or large that brought us joy this week…

I will begin if I may: Wednesday I heard my daughter squeal with pure delight in the kitchen. I went in and found she had dumped a bag of rice on the floor and was doing snow angels in the rice. I could have gotten angry, I could have complained – but she was having so, so much joy. She told me, “Mommy~! Snow!”

So I sat down and did them with her.

My joy is in choosing to see the spilled rice as my daughter does – as wonderful snow.

–sharing—

Amen.

Expected Justice, but instead, Bloodshed

Isaiah 5:1-7
Matthew 21:33-46


Isaiah writes:

For the garden of God is God’s people.
We are God’s pleasant planting of produce.
God expected us to produce justice fruits, but instead, we hurt one another.
God expected us to follow God’s ways, but instead, we made others victims.

And Jesus continues, “The kindom of God will be given to the people who produce the fruits of the kindom.”

When the religious people heard these words, they were so angry they wanted to arrest Jesus. But they were also scared.

When we hear these words, do we picture ourselves as the good vines who produce good fruit and inherit the kindom? Or do we picture ourselves as the wild vines that have forgotten God?

This week has made me think many of us have forgotten our cornerstone. We have forgotten what we are to measure our life by. And in its place is an idol called the gun.

I’m not going to advocate either extreme on this hot button issue. I’m not interested in banning all guns, or permitting all guns. I’m not interested in debating home-grown or international terrorism nor nitpicking the whys someone chooses to go on a murder rampage.

Instead, I want to talk about what is going on here, and what this means to a faithful Christian congregation. You see, I think we can produce the good fruit or the bad with guns… and it depends on our cornerstone. Depends on what we are using to guide and measure our live by.

First: What is going on here? Gun Law Scorecard ranks the states on their gun laws, deaths by guns, and the accessibility of weapons and ammunition. We get a “D” grade.

12 people die out of every 100,000 Ohioans a year due to gun shots. ((cdc.gov)) Some of these people are intentional. Having access to a gun means one is more likely to commit suicide by a gun. Some of these are intentional against other people – gun homicides. And many are accidental.

See, we permit concealed carry into daycares, airports, school buses, colleges, churches, and elementary class rooms. And you can open carry just about anywhere. But nowhere is there a requirement that you have to be TRAINED in how to use a gun. Yes, you have to be trained to have a concealed carry license. This is a good thing. But there is no training required for open carry or for gun ownership.

Common sense? Gun safety? Keeping toddlers away from guns? None of these are prerequisites for gun ownership. All you have to be is over 18, and not convicted of a violent felony or a drug felony.

This means that we hear of terrible situations where a little girl went for candy in nana’s purse, and accidentally shot herself with nana’s gun. A little boy found a gun in his parents’ room, thought it was a toy, and killed his brother. In both of these cases, no rules or laws were broke… but yet, every 63 minutes a bullet hits a child here in the USA.

A plethora of guns means a plethora, many, accidents.

Owning a gun doesn’t mean you own gun sense. But we don’t require all gun owners to go through education courses.

I know I sure never was allowed to fire the .22 growing up without an adult educating me. I was taught. But many are not.

And we as a society are not requiring gun courses of people who purchase firearms.

Also here in Ohio, we don’t require a background check on private sales. So, I – with a clean background – can buy a gun from any store, and then sell it to anyone I please. It doesn’t matter if that person I sell to has a long history of gun crimes. He or she can still legally buy the gun from me.

We also don’t permit local governments from passing gun laws… such as if Fairfield and Licking Counties decided that to sell guns in our counties, you must have a gun selling permit from the state, so that the state knows who you are selling guns to in case one of those is used in a crime. Nor would we limit how many guns are sold at once — if someone wanted to buy 50 assault rifles, (that is, rifles designed to fire rapidly, hold many bullets, designed for infantry use, and accurate at 300 yards) she could do so. And also buy all the ammunition to go with those rifles at the same time. There is no waiting period here to get guns. Just walk in — no matter how furious you are — and walk out with a gun. Will shooting the person you’re angry with seem like a good idea in three days? In Ohio, that option to cool off and think is not automatic. ((gunlawsscorecard.org)) Ohio is among the top 7 suppliers of crime guns because it is so easy to get a gun here and give it to another. In both West Virginia and Michigan, we are the number 1 supplier.

Nutshell – want to do a crime? Come to Ohio and buy your semi-automatic mass-murder assault rifle guns from flea markets. There will be no record. And if you kill everyone at the scene of the crime, no witnesses, right?

I support gun ownership. I think we need guns, especially in rural areas, for hunting and for defense. However, I do not support private ownership of military guns – guns that leave such wounds and trauma that there’s nothing left of a deer to eat. Or that shoot 500 rounds a minute, thereby killing your entire family with an accidental pull of the trigger. I support guns for fun – .22s and bbs and airsofts.

Armor piercing ammunition is not for fun and does not belong in the hands of the general public.

Bullets designed to “take down a man,” as one advertisement lauds, shouldn’t be what we’re packing. Even in self defense situations, it is not the default that we have to kill someone to be safe.

I believe, however, no gun laws will change. Time and time again, we have a mass shooting… which once was six people dead, and then 10 Amish school kids and then a whole elementary school, then a movie theatre, then a dance club, now a country music show with hundreds injured and 58 or 60 dead… and there is an outcry for change for a month or so… then we forget. Worse, we let already existing gun laws to slip or be repealed. In three months, gun lobbyists — who make their money by swaying politicians to make it easier to buy guns — will be back in local, state, and national offices donating money and promising votes if more guns are sold. In a month, there will be signs combining gun ownership with a patriotic duty, advertisements for Black Friday steep discounts so you can give the gift of “protection,” by rebranding the ability to murder hundreds in a minute as something you and I need to feel safe in our homes. Already, there are advertisements promoting gun sales.

This is the Columbus Dispatch last Thursday. Here are all the articles talking about the victims of the Las Vegas shooting, and here – published beside them – a full page advertisement for guns. ((Columbus dispatch 10-5-17)) 

dispatchgun

Second: what does all of this mean for us, a congregation of Christians? Rev. Susan Thistlewaite accurately states – for many of us, we worship the God Gun.

See, worship is when we give our time and attention to something. When we are devoted to it. Sacrifice and change our lives for it. Wear its images and symbols. Promotes it beliefs. Live and preach its teachings and ethics. Live and die for it.

Many people worship guns.

Time and attention. The advertisement of the Dispatch alone shows how gun sellers clamor for our time and attention, our money. The more time and attention we invest into a hobby, the harder it is to step away from the hobby and take a honest look at it. Once you are several hundred dollars – several thousand dollars – invested into guns and gun accessories, clothes, and ammunition… it gets very hard to step away and think straight about guns. All this time and attention lead to devotion.

Devotion. Am I ever willing to step back and question my loyalty to guns? If we are never willing to question gun ownership or laws, even in light of scripture calling for justice and an end of bloodshed, then the gun is more our god than the God of the world.

Sacrifice. We are paying the lives of children, elderly, men and women, sacrificing them time and time again for our Gun Idolatry. Whenever someone dies by a gun, their death is considered ‘justified’ for the ‘right to bear arms.’ Maybe our Gun God is demanding too many innocent lives. Maybe we have replaced the Commandments of God with the 2nd Amendment.

Change our lives. The Idol the Gun preaches “They Are Coming For Your Guns.” They are not and cannot. Private citizens own 79 guns for every 1 gun the government owns — this includes all cops and the military. There is no way “the government” can “come” for the USA’s guns. They may start a buy back program to have less guns on streets- but there won’t be a military vs. civilian wild west showdown. The Idol is lying. But we are changing out lives to live ready to go to war with our own country, our own neighbors and family.

Wear its images and proselytize. Do I wear signs of my god? Logos, caps, t-shirts, bumper stickers, public displays of loyalty. What facebook things are you posting? What phrases are we repeating? Do we say ‘GOD GUNS AND GUTS’ or ‘MY OTHER AUTO IS A 9MM’ or ‘I PLEAD THE 2nD’? What we publicly support, publicly advertise, we are proselytizing – attempting to make disciples out of others.

Teachings and ethics. Do the ethics of the Bible match up to the ethics we are living and preaching? “Keep honking I’m still loading” does not seem Biblical. I seem to remember the Bible says something about forgiveness and compassion. “Trespassers will be shot, survivors shot again” does not seem like the same teaching as “welcome in the stranger, for in doing so, you may unknowingly welcome in an angel.”  Helping strangers and loving one another is a different set of ethics and teachings than the ones advocated by Gun Worshipers.

The Gun Idol tells us that it is the source of our peace. An armed society is a polite society. Yet, those with guns in their cars are 44% more likely than those without guns in their cars to instigate road rage incidents… and states like our own with Stand Your Ground laws, like our own, have a 10% increase in homicides than states without such laws. Guns make people feel bolder, and more aggressive. Guns are not where our peace comes from.

Live and die for it.

The Gun God preaches “Guns Don’t Kill People – People Kill People.” Yet people with easy access to guns are much more likely to kill other people with guns. States with the highest number of gun ownership see the highest number of gun murders. In fact, it is so tied that for every 1% increase in private ownership, there is a 1% increase in firearm homicides. The Idol attempts to make itself exempt from all blame.

The Idol says keeping a gun at home keeps you safer. For every home defended by a gun – and I am in one such home – there are 7 assaults, 11 suicides, and 4 accidental shootings by guns. Half of all homes with guns and kids keep one of those guns unlocked. The gun tricks us, lies to us, and says I will only hurt others and not you and your loved ones. Having a gun about does not make us safer just by default – just because there is a gun. Guns are not our shepherd and do not guide us to green pastures.

Guns are a tool. Tools can be turned against their owners. Tools can hurt their owners. Tools are items. Objects.

Impersonal. Nameless.

Tools are not our identity.

We are the disciples of the Good Shepherd, the God of Peace, Hope, Joy and Love. We following a living God, a person, who has a relationship with us.

Not an item made by mortal hands.

Not an idol.

Who’s Country is this?

Isaiah today talks about how God planted a vineyard called Israel and loved it very much. But the vineyard refused to yield good fruits. Instead, even with all the tender care of God, it was wild and unruly and forgot God. God expected justice and righteousness from the vineyard, but got instead bloodshed and heard crying.

Jesus continues the story. He says God sent people to the vineyard to collect those good fruits – prophets with messages – but the people murdered those sent by the owner of the vineyard. One after another – murdered them. God sent God’s own child, and the people chose to murder the child – saying – if we kill the child, we will be able to do just as we please. We will inherit the earth when we get rid of God and God’s messengers.

Jesus then reminds us that someday, God will return to the vineyard. The Messiah comes again. And the kindom of God belongs to those who produce the good fruits of the spirit. The fruits of righteousness, justice, forgiveness, and love.

This isn’t NRA country, as they advertise. This is God’s country. This is God’s world.

So here we are. If we do not change a single gun law, there will be another mass shooting in a few months. The time between them is reducing. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. We want a different result – an end of this violence – but we do the same thing – decry the act, and forget, and change nothing.

How are we going to respond? By continuing to worship and promote the God of Guns, or by serving the God of Peace and Unity?

 

What we do to the least we do to Christ. And what are we doing doing to the least, our own children, and ourselves, and our God by teaching guns and violence are the answer? What are we doing by holding up guns as what it means to be American? To be Christian? What are we doing by ignoring the plight of our  nation’s violent, abusive relationship with guns?

I will own a gun. I will not worship the Gun.

I will not live and die by my gun. I will live and die by my God.

I hope, whether you own a gun or not, you do not pray to a gun for your salvation.

Amen.

 

Additional Sources consulted…

 

https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/10/03/las-vegas-gunman-stephen-paddock-used-a-perfectly-legal-device-allowing-him-to-fire-400-rounds-per-minute/23230992/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2017/10/03/america-is-exceptional-for-its-unique-deadly-gun-culture/?utm_term=.e0ee61116f6d

https://twitter.com/Calebkeeter/status/914872808110510080/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nytimes.com%2F2017%2F10%2F02%2Fus%2Fjason-aldean-vegas-shooting.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/03/opinion/rosanne-cash-country-musicians-nra.html

http://www.theonion.com/article/americans-hopeful-will-be-last-mass-shooting-they–57093?utm_content=Main&utm_campaign=SF&utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=SocialMarketing

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/when-we-worship-the-god-of-fear-the-idolatry-of-gun-culture/

https://churchplants.com/articles/6455-the-top-7-gods-americans-worship.html

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/01/pro-gun-myths-fact-check/

Clean Water is Life

Exodus 17:1-7

maria_pr_valentin_47-edit1_custom-316168977226453a3a91d20085eb3365e2901f07-s1300-c85
Puerto Ricans getting water from drainage pipes. Photo by Maria Valentin for NPR

Matthew 21:23-32

Rev. Anathea Portier Young quotes the Israelites, ““Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:7). What proof and signs can persuade a thirsting, frightened people that God is with them and leads them in the wilderness?

If God is the God who saves, who gives and sustains life, then God in their midst and in their inmost parts must provide, at the very least, that which is necessary for survival.

One hundred hours. That’s the oft-cited statistic for how long a human body can typically survive at “average” temperatures without access to water. Today’s Sinai Peninsula,” where the Israelites are wandering, “averages 82° Fahrenheit in May and 91°F in June. For those same months, average high temperatures are 95°F and 104°F respectively. In such extreme heat and with exposure to sun, the timeline for survival shortens” by half.

“Now we’re down to fifty hours. Exertion — such as walking long distances in the day time, carrying one’s belongings, tents, and small children, and wrangling livestock along the way (compare Exodus 17:3) — shortens the timeline further…”sustained high sweat rates can reduce estimated survival time without drinking water to as little as seven hours, or approximately the time it takes to walk twenty miles.” One long, day’s march on an unusually, but not impossibly, hot, June day was all it would take to finish God’s people. Because they had no water.

So if God is with them, in the midst of their inmost parts, the very organs, blood stream, and cells that require water for nutrition, metabolism, temperature regulation, waste removal, shock absorption and more — why is there no water?” ((https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3432))

It’s 90°F in Puerto Rico right now. And raining. It feels like it is 102° with the humidity.

There is no public power. And there won’t be any for months.

Some people have generators.

Their generators are out of gas.

The gas stations are out of gas.

No AC. No ice. Not even fans… and sweating in 102 degrees.

Water is life.

The Israelites plead with Moses – they are going to die without water.

The Puerto Ricans are pleading with the world – they are going to die without water.

Lucky Puerto Ricans have access to springs or well water, like we have here at the church. But how much water are we going to get without electricity? We don’t have many hand pumps many more. They don’t have many hand pumps either.

And what happens to our bathrooms? A week with no shower, no flushing the toilet, no washing hands, no washing clothes, no brushing teeth, no… watering the animals?

Puerto Ricans are living out of bottles of water or small springs or open rivers. Last month they were people just like you and I – American Citizens living normal lives. Today they are fighting for every second of life.

No gasoline for generators means stores close. No place to buy water. Not like there is any left, anyways.

You may have heard on the news there are 9000 shipping containers in the ports of the island. That is correct – but they were there before Hurricane Irma and Maria hit. They have shoes, TVs, computers, and things businesses and people ordered before the hurricanes. Not a single container of food,  medicine, or diapers is left.

Let alone water. What is in the stores does not satisfy.

No gasoline means no way to travel but by foot to get to a spring. And wait in a long line. And carry that water back jug by jug.

Nothing but spring water by foot means every elderly person is at the pure mercy of neighbors and friends and family and strangers to help them survive.

Baby formula made with river water – unfiltered, and can’t be boiled because the wood is all soaked for fires and there is no gas for electricity or a stove.

Dysentery. Dehydration. Death is settling into the cities and villages and rural houses of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Clean drinking water is life. The Bible was written in a time and place where people understood that so innately and KNEW what it meant to face times of water shortage.

We are blessed here in Ohio with an abundance of fresh water.

But if we were hit with a 50 mile wide tornado — which is what the hurricane was like — many, many of us would have issues getting drinking water after a week or two of no power, no gas, no aid.

Moses pleads with God, “What shall I do?!” And God answers – step out and act.

Jesus sits today and tells the people it’s not our words God wants, but our actions.

Pray for the world and ACT for the world.

See the need and donate funds.

See the injustice and cry out for those who are silenced.

See the hurt and offer your help.

Come to the table this morning thinking of Christ’s words: come for what satisfies – not 9000 boxes of shoes and TVs and books – but food, and drink, community and Christ. Think of those who sit with us taking communion sweating in churches, thirsty, on hot islands. We are all one body. They are the Body of Christ just as you are the Body of Christ.

Come, let us recommit ourselves as rainbows of hope after storms for our hurting world.

Amen.

To be or not to be?

Jonah 3:10-4:11 Tennant_and_Tchaikowsky_as_Hamlet_and_Yorick
Philippians 1:21-30

“To be or not to be; that is the question” is a famous phrase from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, and is spoken by Hamlet. He asks – what is better? To live; or to die? Back and forth Hamlet goes, considering the pros and cons of living or dying.

In our scripture readings today, both Jonah and Paul are considering living or dying, too. Considering if life is worth the effort to keep fighting for every second.

The word of God has come to Jonah and told him to go to the home of his enemies, to warn them if they don’t repent, God will destroy them. Instead, Jonah runs the exact opposite way. And runs and runs. And each encounter he has with death – storm, whale, desert – he doesn’t die. Finally he delivers the message half-heartedly to the city of Ninevah. Instead of killing him, as what happens to most prophets, the city immediately changes their way.

He’s the most successful prophet.

And yet, Jonah gets very mad, for now God won’t destroy the town. Jonah complains to God – “This is why I didn’t want to come! You, God, are too merciful and loving! You should kill me now! It’s better I die than I live.”

I wonder, what is too much for Jonah, so much that he wants to die. Is God’s mercy too much?

God’s care for the righteous and the unrighteous too much?

God’s love for all people too much?

I wonder if Jonah wants to die because he’s saved his enemies. When he goes home, what will his neighbors and friends say when they hear that the Assyrians are doing just fine, even after all the murder they did to the Israelites, because Jonah went and preached to them.

I wonder if Jonah wants to die because he feels his life has no meaning whatsoever. He knew from the very beginning that God wouldn’t kill all these people. So what was the point of even going?

God asks Jonah, “Is it right for you to be so angry?”

Jonah doesn’t answer, but goes out of the city, makes a little tent, and sits to watch and hope that the city doesn’t keep up their changed ways… or God changes God’s mind again. Jonah wants God to destroy Jonah’s enemies.

As Jonah sulks, God causes a bush to grow and give Jonah shade. Jonah goes from very angry to very happy. The next day, a worm eats the bush, there is no more shade, and now it is hot and windy.

Jonah tells God, again, to kill him. This time because he is suffering from the heat and dust.

God asks Jonah – is it right for you to be angry about the bush?

Jonah replies: “Yes! Angry enough to die!”

God replies back, “You didn’t plant the bush or cause it to grow. It just appeared and disappeared. I made people, and cause them to grow, and they’ve been here a long time. Shouldn’t I be concerned about Ninevah, with its 120,000 people who don’t know right from wrong, and all their animals?”

The book doesn’t record Jonah’s reply.

Maybe Jonah replied once again, “Yes, angry enough to die!” This would mean Jonah thinks God should be so angry when someone hurts people that God would be willing to die.

Or maybe Jonah’s answer is again, “I knew you wouldn’t harm them. Just let me die.” Jonah continues to sulk and miss God’s point and message of universal love.

I read, that for Jonah, life is cheap. He’s willing to give his life up out of anger over a bush; and he’s willing for innocent people and animals to die because he doesn’t like their leaders.

God, however, says life is not cheap. God tries to show Jonah again and again that even a bush has worth. People have much, much more worth.

Not a sparrow falls without God knowing. And we are worth many, many sparrows.

There are no lives that are truly meaningless. Somewhere, somehow, every person is called to bring good into the world. Some do this like Paul, with eagerness. Some do this like Jonah, begrudgingly. But we all have the call, the invite, to deep meaning and purpose to our lives.

Even so, death can be a sweet thought.

It is for Paul.

Paul is pretty much sitting on death row. He is accused of sedition, of encouraging others to be more loyal to someone other than Caesar… and he is very guilty. So guilty, he is STILL preaching against Rome through his letters to the young Christian churches. This letter today is addressed to the church in Philippi and full of messages such as “don’t be intimidated by your opponents” and they may destroy your body, but not your soul.

Paul also writes about considering death. How can you not contemplate death when you can feel it coming closer and closer?

Paul writes, “I don’t know which I prefer” living, or dying. To paraphrase, he says: If I die, I know I’ll be with Christ – and that is far better than any day here on earth. But if I live, I can help you all and encourage you. I guess, living or dying, I am with Christ. And living or dying, I gain.

Since I don’t know if I’m going to die and see Christ, or be released and see you, give me this comfort: live your lives in a manner worthy of the Good News of Christ. So whenever I hear about you here in Rome or there in heaven, I’ll hear you are standing firm together and striving together in the faith of the Gospel.

Paul is considering his death because it literally may be this afternoon, or tomorrow, or in years. But he can feel its presence. And he has decided – he is ready to die. Death no longer scares him. He welcomes death, even.

Have you ever met someone who is ready to die? It is unnerving. Every creature has a survival instinct that makes us fight tooth and nail to survive, to live. We abhor death, and avoid it, or try to make it pretty and sanitized. We say euphemisms – she passed away. He is in eternal sleep. They went to heaven.

Death is taboo.

But Paul is welcoming it. And sometimes, people we love welcome death too.

Someone I love recently told me she is ready to die. I wanted to protest and tell her I want her to see my daughter grow up. I want her to always be around in my life because she’s always been in my life. I want to know so much more about her childhood and have a million conversations I’ve put off or not yet even considered. I want…

And I realized, all my protests against my loved one dying are because of things –I wanted–.

I paused in our conversation, and I considered her life, and what she wanted.

She wants her parents, and siblings, and even some children, who are all long dead. She wants to converse with friends about times no one else alive remembers. She wants to be less lonely.

She wants to be in less pain and misery. Every day there is more of both as her body slowly dies and she knows there will be no more better days… only worse and worse days trapped in this fragile flesh body.

She wants to pass with dignity and grace.

If she gets her druthers – at home and in her sleep. Who wouldn’t want to go that way?

And if that’s not possible, then in a nursing home where there are people to care for her without being a strain on her family.

And she is ready. Ready to die.

I am not ready for her to die.

When I worked at Children’s Hospital, sometimes doctors or nurses or chaplains asked parents, “Who are you doing this treatment for? For your child, or for yourselves?”

Is it in the child’s best interest to do another round of chemo that likely will not work but which will make them very, very sick. There is a slim chance it will save their life… but the evidence in this case shows it is much more likely the child will spend their last month in misery. Is it better to go for this tiny slim chance, or is it better to have the child go home and die with grace and dignity?

What does the child want?

Dylan Thomas wrote a poem called “Do not go gentle into that good night.” The refrain is “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” He tells wise men, good men, wild men and grave men to fight for every single second of their lives and not to die gently, peacefully. The last line is addressed to his own father who he pleads for any blessing, any word — just don’t die and rage instead against death.

Who did Dylan write the poem for, and who was he considering?

His line to his father is: “Curse me, bless me… I pray.”

Sometimes, the most loving thing to do is to accept the person we love, that we are going to miss more than our own lives, is ready to die. Accept their choice, and help them go gently into the good night. Help them die in the manner they choose. Love them, as they let go bit by bit, of this world and step into the next.

Love them, and support them, when their wishes for their lives, and deaths, are counter to our own.

Love them, and support them, and know that death is hard work and as they go about the hard work of dying, we are called to be Christ for them. To walk along side them. To be their advocates, to give them agency, to give them dignity, and to help them depart to Christ.

It is actually a blessing when our loved ones jar us with mentioning their preparations for death. That panic we feel tells us how much we have left undone. Moves us to have those conversations we have put off and do those things we always said we’d do someday.

It is a blessing, because we can work on ourselves accepting our loved one’s desires… and when they ask for the permission to let go, to stop fighting, and go home… we can take their hands and say, “Well done, Good and Faithful servant, enter now into the joy of your Lord.”

“It’s okay to die.”

We know it is okay to die because it is not the end of God’s story. It is not the end of ourselves. Death is not the final word – there is a resurrection and a victory.

So… Is it better to be or not to be? That is not the question. The question is: In who’s interest am I acting? Whom am I considering? How can we face this transition together?

Amen.