Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Confessing the Sin of Racism

This came out of a desire to take a hard look within myself to where I have let myself be blind to the sin of racism. The impulse arose from a conversation the NJ Synod had at our synod assembly on racism. In our randomized small group conversations, it became pretty obvious that a few of us were pretty clueless as to what white privilege really is. I found myself in deep need of forgiveness on the day after the shooting at Emanuel in Charleston. For me, white privilege means that I will never have to be afraid of being killed while leading a Bible study because of who I am or the color of my skin. 

Much of the following litany comes from confession portion of night prayer/compline, individual confession and forgiveness, and our baptismal liturgy, all from the Evangelical Lutheran Worship book. The first part is the closest thing I could find to what I was looking for, which is why I put this together.  I also included the "exorcism" and profession of faith portion of the baptismal liturgy, because it felt natural to both confess our sins and reject the demon of racism. Please borrow, steal, change, and use this as you see fit. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has invited us to participate in an ELCA-wide day of remembrance and mourning, and this could act as a supplement. 

Prayer of Confession

For the racism which denies dignity to those who are different, Lord, forgive us:
Lord, have mercy.

For the racism which recognizes prejudice in others and never in ourselves, Christ, forgive us:
Christ, have mercy.

For the racism which will not recognize the work of your Spirit in other cultures, Lord, forgive us:
Lord, have mercy.

(from the United Church of Canada, www.united-church.ca/bfw/resources.shtm)


Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Holy and Gracious God –

I confess that I have sinned against you, this day and every day. Some of my sin I know, but some is known only to you.

I confess the conscious and unconscious ways I participate in evils of racism.

I confess that I am a complicit participant in the structures and institutions that grow oppression, injustice, and prejudice against some of your children in this country and around the world who have darker skin than I do.  Instead of searching for a new future, I choose the status quo.

I confess that I willingly have listened to and believed the media which paints our brothers and sisters in broad strokes, saying that people who seem different are “crazy” or “dangerous.”  Instead of seeking openness and understanding, I give in to my fear.

I confess that I do not take responsibility for the fact that at one time in this country it was legal for one human being to own, rape, and use another human being. I confess I forget to see the generational damage and repeating repercussions of this truth.  Instead of remembering, I choose blame.

I confess that talking about white privilege makes me feel uncomfortable, and so I allow myself to forget that it exists, even though my ability to do so proves its existence.  Instead of seeking the bright day of truth, I choose blindness.

I have been silent when I have been called to speak.  
I have stayed my hand when I have been called to act and reach out.
I have been afraid when I have been called to love.

In the name of Jesus Christ, who heals, loves, and gathers all people, I ask for forgiveness. Deliver and restore me, and bring to me your peace.


Cling to this promise: the word of forgiveness I speak to you comes from God. By water and the Holy Spirit, God gives you a new birth. Neither death nor life nor angels or demons nor painful past or uncertain future can rip us from this promise. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God forgives you all your sins. Through his violent death at the hand of hate and sin, Jesus defeated the powers of evil in order to bring us together as one people. Now, as the beloved people of God, may Almighty God strengthen you in all goodness and truth and keep you forever in eternal life. Amen.

 Profession of Faith

 I ask you to profess your faith in Christ Jesus, reject sin, and confess the faith of the church. Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?

 I renounce them.

Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God?

I renounce them.

Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?

I renounce them.

Do you believe in God the Father?

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Summer of Bread: Wednesday, June 24

Week 1   -    Wednesday, June 24

Say a prayer before your meal.  Then read aloud the background introduction and text, followed by one or more of the discussion questions.

Introduction: In John’s gospel, the miracles of Jesus are called “signs,” because they reveal the character of God. As such, they remain within the mystery of God and cannot be brought under human control.

John 6:5-11 
When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.

Discussion questions (choose one or all!! 10 minutes or hours!) *indicates questions that might be suitable for younger children

1. Have you ever followed someone or done something where you lost all track of time and forgot to do things like eat or sleep? Why were you so drawn in?

2. How do you feel fed by Jesus? How have you seen other people used by Jesus to feed and care for others?

3. *God tells us to share with one another. How do you feel when you are asked to share? How do you feel when someone shares with YOU?

4. Have  you aver faced a task that felt so incredibly overwhelming? (like feeding 5,000 yourself?) Who or what helped you? Prayer? A friend’s encouragement?

The "Summer of Bread" is Coming!

This is a small group/family lead, self-directed resource for weekly devotions and Bible-based discussions on readings from John 6.

Every three years the Revised Common Lectionary cycle, from which we have our weekly scripture texts in worship, has a five Sunday series in August from John 6. In John 6 Jesus reveals himself to be the Bread of Life for his people. Jesus as our bread of life can have many connections to our daily lives: eating, fellowship, communion, stories, and being fed in more ways than just physically. Summer, with all its random schedules and vacation and camps and work and play, can still be a time when we can be fed by one another and by God’s word.

Every Wednesday, wherever we may find ourselves – at the shore, at home, at Panera Bread – we can gather with our families or with friends in order to feed one another and ruminate and “chew on” Jesus’ words together. We can also do this by ourselves. In doing so, may these words be a source of life for you this summer.

Begin together with a word of thanks over your meal. Then, read the texts; next pick one, some, or all of the discussion questions to talk about. Some are better suited for discussion with small children (indicated by *), but all ages are invited to participate. Take 10 minutes or an hour or more – this is your time with your family, friends, or yourself to have a taste or chew on these passages. Feel free to NOT get through all of them, and to ask other questions and discuss other thoughts that the text brings up for you.  

You are welcome to write down your group reflections and email them to the church. Or use social media with #summerofbread15 on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. During August they will be included with the bulletin so that the banquet of connection and reflection can continue to overflow!

What I am posting on this blog is the "e"-version. So that if you didn't get a devotional yet or misplaced it or didn't bring it to the beach/park/roller coaster/mall food court/little league game, you can still access the materials and participate. I will post each devotion on the Wednesday that we have assigned them. This is a holy experiment, so any feedback is welcome!

Pastor Lydia, Pastor Egan, Mike Schmidt
St. Paul Lutheran Church, East Windsor, NJ

Monday, June 22, 2015

Compelled and Propelled by the Holy Spirit

June 21, 2015., just a few days after the murders of nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston S.C. 

Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

If you do a google image search for “Jesus calms the storm,” most of the pictures that will come up for you will probably look something like this: a some-what moonlit night with a mildly foamy sea, a little rain falling and the disciples looking a bit worried. Jesus is usually at the very front of the boat,  “King of the World” style, looking calm or maybe bored. Like he’s saying to the waves, “Let’s just simmer down, ok? Please? Ok, thanks.”

And then I saw an image, a painting by Daniel Bonnell, that truly captured how this week felt for me and for many people, I think. The moon is shining, but it’s like it’s pulsating in an ominous red sky. The water is sweeping and black and churning and takes up about most of the painting. It’s hard to tell if you’re looking UP at the moon from the bottom of a whirlpool or across at these ridiculously high waves. As I looked more and more at this picture, I felt something similar to what the disciples might have felt, something that I have only (fortunately) only a few times in my life: while sitting in the basement during tornado warnings as a kid, or on the eve of hurricane Irene and Sandy. It’s a kind of dread you can almost taste.

Then I realized… where’s the boat in this picture? Where is Jesus, where are the disciples? The boat is super tiny, in one corner of the picture, on the top of one of the steep waves, with Jesus and his out-stretched arms really hard to make out against the red sky.

This week, like in this painting, it seems like a distinct possibility that the storm just might win. This week it seems that the winds and waves and rain and darkness are stronger.  The winds of injustice and violence … the waves of fear and hate….. masked by the stinging, cold rain of blindness and apathy.  All threatening to capsize us, especially on a week like this one.

I am referring of course to the events of this week in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine African American church members, including the pastor, were killed by a white gunman during a Bible study Wednesday night at Emanuel AME Church. This church, one of the oldest African American church in the US, has a long history of involvement in the civil rights movement, this house that proclaims the love and freedom of God’s kingdom was desecrated that night by the kingdom of hate and violence. Nine people died because one man acted on his prejudice and racism, and because he had easy access to the means to do it. It seems unimaginable that we live in a world where people are still targeted based on the color of their skin. And that we allow the means of such destruction to be within such ready reach.

And so that storm rages on. And at the same time, other storms rage, often just below the surface. In the outside, put on the brave face, don’t fall apart, don’t ask for help, even if inside you might be drowning. The storms for you might come in the form of being swamped and going under financially, due to unseen expenses. It might be that a family member is struggling with a mental illness or depression.  It could be that someone you know is addicted to painkillers and now they have turned to heroin because it is cheaper and incredibly easy to get, and the road to recovery is difficult and lacking in enough resources.

These storms take on endless forms, but in one aspect they are all alike: in our every storm, that little figure of Jesus in the boat does not seem to be doing us much good.

In fact, when the storm starts for the poor disciples in the boat trying to cross the lake, Jesus is curled up, asleep! Snoring away on a cushion! It seems pretty understandable that the disciples are pretty P.O.ed at Jesus right about now. After all, it was all Jesus’ idea in the first place to take this crazy trip across the lake, in the dark, after a long day, to a place they didn’t want to go.

The other side of the lake is where THOSE people live. Those people, who look differently. Those people, who cook and eat differently. Those people, who act differently and dress differently than us. Why in the world would Jesus want to go over there? And why do we have to go with him?
After all, we certainly have a hard enough time worrying about our own, those we love, the things happening are right in front of us. Why should we concern ourselves with what’s happening on the other side of the lake, other side of the country, other side of the tracks, anyway?

We could easily ask ourselves, along with the disciples, “Who the heck IS this guy, anyway?”
In that storm painting I talked about earlier, you can’t see the other side of the lake. You can’t see these poor, frightened disciples.  In fact, you can barely see the boat. But what you can see, starkly against the freaky-red sky, are the outstretched arms of Jesus.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has one job to do: to usher in the Kingdom of God. Only that kingdom is not going to look like we expect. God’s kingdom just might involve that big weed that I pulled from the side of the road which got a place of honor, where we usually place our Easter lilies, right? This kingdom might be more like a shrub – not to a might cedar or an impressive sequoia, but instead to an invasive plant that no one wants but spreads like crazy. It just might involve Jesus bringing together different kinds of people– people that will be related, not by blood, but instead by doing his father’s will.

God’s kingdom just might have something to do with Jesus endlessly reaching out to people, to stretch his arms out to encompass and heal and teach and welcome any who come to him – even stretching so far and wide as the beams of a cross, stretching so wide as to even reach beyond death and the grave. All so that you, me, the mustard seeds, and the people across the lake can be included.

And that makes the powers in this world that defy God shake in anger and terror. These powers, forces, institutional structures, and ways of sin that pull us away from God will do everything in their power to throw every obstacle they can in your way: send you people to discourage you and tell you to lighten up when you say their racist joke isn’t funny. They will make it easier to choose blindness to institutional racism and white privilege. They will send us messages through the media that paint certain people with broad strokes, saying they are lazy or dishonest or loud or rude or even that their language is “out to take over our country.” They will make it SO EASY to want to believe them.
And the closer we get to Jesus and the more we try to live as part of God’s Kingdom come near, the worse this storm will actually get. It will get bigger and uglier, until it consumes our entire view, like it seems to in the storm painting.

But we’re not out there in the storm by ourselves. Jesus is in the boat with us. Jesus is the one calling us out into the lake, steering us in the right direction, not us. Jesus is the one who is in charge of whether the boat sinks or floats, not us. Jesus is the one who has command over the wind and the waves, not us. Jesus is navigating us, not us, making sure that we will get where we’re supposed to go.

As we can see by the world around us, we often wreck what we try to control. And we can’t control the storms that are bound to crop up as we follow Jesus’ lead. But God is steering us toward a future of love and freedom and peace, where are of God’s beloved children are loved, where we don’t have to remind ourselves that “black lives matter,” because we will remember that all lives matter.
We’re part of Jesus’ armada of peace, crossing the lake to the people on the other side, and that is bound to make waves. But fear not, the Lord is with you. He will calm our storms and give us peace. Amen.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Prayers in regard to the heroin epidemic

I am part of our NJ Synod Substance Abuse and Recovery and Engagement team, which lead one of the break out sessions during synod assembly. My role was to pray at the beginning and end of the session. This kind of thing is not exactly covered in our red pastoral care book, so here is what I came up with. I hope it can be helpful. The heroin epidemic is not just for the inner cities and urban areas. Kids with sports injuries can be prescribed opiate pain killers, and heroin is a cheaper and easier to get alternative. A shot of heroin now costs less than most 6 packs of beer ( $5-7). See more information on the NJ heroin crisis here.

Holy God, there are so  many forces in this world that defy your will and draw us away from you. This world is in the sway of the devil and all his empty promises everywhere we turn. We and the people we love are in the grip of these empty promises, one way being in the thrall of heroin addiction. Save us, Lord. Rescue us, Lord. Comfort us, Lord, Strengthen us, Lord. Encourage us, Lord. Be with us Lord. Amen. 

Loving God, We thank you for this time of learning and fellowship and blessing one another. You have strengthened and equipped us in mind, body, and spirit to be a resource and representative of your loving presence to our families and friends suffering from all aspects of heroin and drug addiction. Send us out into this broken world that you love to be your agents of peace, strength, and comfort. Amen. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

"Thanks, God! I had an AWESOME time!"

Trinity Sunday, May 31, 1025

Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A while ago I clipped this comic from the Sunday newspaper and pinned on my bulletin board in my office, because I knew someday it would be perfect for a sermon. And that day is today, Trinity Sunday 2015! I'm also wearing my Trinity earrings, which you can't really see right now. You also can't see this comic, so I will describe it for you.

It’s a panel from Family Circus, with the Mom and Dad and the four kids all leaving church one Sunday after the service is over. In the dark shadows of the sanctuary, you see people getting up from the pews and putting on their coats by the light of the stained glass windows. The pastor is off to one side, shaking hands. The doors has been thrown open, and the family is just passing the threshold into the bright sunshine outside. But just as they walk out the door, their young son Billy waves and shouts back into the dark church: “G’Bye God! Thank you!… I had a very nice time!”

Aww isn’t that cute, and kind of funny. Now that church is over, he is being so polite and thanking God for the nice visit, like what you do for a visit to your grandma or your great aunt. Billy thinks that CHURCH is where God lives… how precious.

Another young man, one named Isaiah, also encountered God in a dark sanctuary. But that is pretty much where the comparisons between Billy and Isaiah end. For Isaiah, the temple was not filled with nicely dressed church-goers ad pretty stained glass windows. Isaiah saw a sanctuary that was filled with the hem of God’s robe, filled with smoke, and filled with angels called Seraphs flying around. THESE were not chubby, naked baby angel variety, but instead they had six wings, handle hot coals, and use loud voices that cause the whole temple to shake as they call out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts! The whole earth is full of his glory!”

Seraphs look really... scary!
And poor Isaiah is in the middle of all this, in the smoke and the shaking and the giant hem and the lofty throne and the scary angels and the noise – he too, like Billy, spent time in God’s house, but Isaiah did not say “Thank you, I had a nice time!” but instead “Woe is me! I am lost!” When he met God, Isaiah thought he was going to DIE.

Last week Sylvia mentioned one of her favorite funny stories in the Bible about the way Moses met God, by seeing God’s behind as God went by. Like most of the best humor, this funny story is based on something serious. Moses didn’t ask to see God’s behind because it would be funny for us to read thousands of years later. It’s funny, because fully encountering the Lord Almighty face to face is too intense for most people to handle. For Moses, it was easier for him to see God on the slant than directly. Sort of like how our eyes can’t look at the sun for very long. If you do, the back of your eye will literally get sun-burned, and you can go blind from the intensity.

It is no wonder, then, that in the midst of the awesome presence of the Lord in all God’s glory, directly in the midst of the divine, Isaiah cries out in utter terror, not “Holy, holy, holy” with the angels, but instead, “Woe is me, I am lost!”

There are forces at work in the world that are both beautiful and terrifying, forces that we have no control over, that have both the power of creation and utter destruction, things beyond us that control life and death on this planet and beyond.

And Netflix is a GREAT place to binge-watch shows about these kinds of things. You name it, Netflix probably it– shows about extreme weather, Black holes, dinosaur extinctions, the inner lives of Bengal tigers, earthquakes and volcanoes, the world after people ….

Speaking of burning one’s retinas, I guess my confession for today is that I probably watch WAY too much Netflix. One of these science that I watched shows informed me that top scientists predict a billion years from now our Milky Way galaxy will collide with our nearest galaxy neighbor. When that happens, our planet would either be hurtled into the outer reaches of space… or flung headlong into the center of the two colliding super-massive black holes. And that’s exactly where the show ended. End scene. Roll credits. …

In that moment I felt about 2 inches tall. At least, in comparison to galaxies hurtling around in space, spinning around and colliding in the night sky. Woe is me, I am lost! Who are we that God notices us at all?

Did you know, though, that these science shows also say that we are MADE UP of that same stuff as stars? The some of the stuff that makes us US could only be created inside these huge suns, burning up gas and spitting out the burned-up stuff life is made of.  We are put together out of stardust. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

From the day we cry out at our birth to the day we take our last breath, these bodies of dust can do such wonderful thing and such terrible things, often to ourselves and to one another. We too, like the forces of nature beyond our control, have the potential to create and destroy, to make things that make this world ugly or beautiful, to both hurt and to heal.

And perhaps the most amazing and truly awesome thing of all is the one who creates us this way, the one who formed the galaxies and time and molded us from stardust, who created the weather and the wild animals, this wild and untamed and unpredictable God, THIS God wants to see US face to face.
When we do see God face to face - watching the edge of a thunderstorm roll in, seeing the Rocky Mountains for the first time, keep vigil as a parent takes their dying breath, or being part of the birth to you first child - when we see God here, there, and everywhere around us, it make us cry with Isaiah, “Woe is me! I am lost.” I am lost, I feel so small and fragile, and I am overcome with wonder and awe and terror.

The truth is, we would probably rather see God’s backside in such moments. Or perhaps we would prefer turn away from it altogether and show God OUR backside, instead. It is all just too much for us to understand: this whole Father, Son, and Holy Spirit stuff, angels and burning coals, and smoke and fire and serpents and burning bushes, being born from above and the wind blowing where it will… a man named Jesus who calls God “father” …the Father sending to us his spirit to accompany us… a God that loves the whole world so much that he gave his only Son, so that whoever in believes him may not perish but have eternal life… a God who sent his son not to condemn us but so that the world would be saved through him… it’s too much for me. I am lost.

Surely God has made a mistake. Surely God doesn’t want anything to do with ME. I am person of unclean lips. “Every word I’ve ever said is tainted.” (The Message translation of "I am a person of unclean lips") And the people all around me are the same way- my friends, family, neighborhood, city, country, the world even. Tainted words. People of unclean lips. “Who are we that God should think about us and care about us?”

And yet, God asks us a question, spoken like a stage whisper, meant to be overheard by us. This question God asked Isaiah, and also asks of US - “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
Who will go into this world full of people of unclean lips, of people who would rather show God their backside, who for whatever reason don’t or won’t or can’t believe?

And out of our mouths, almost like a reflex, were words we ourselves were not expecting. It’s as if we have been prompted by the unseen spirit blowing through us. We can’t help ourselves: “Here I am, Lord. Send me!”

As it turns out, Billy’s nice visit with God didn’t end at the door of the church. I just found another cartoon panel, which seems to take place just after this first one. The family is now OUT the door of the dark church, out in the sunshine, and Billy’s sister Dolly points at the path beneath their feet and states, “Grandma says THIS is where our religion begins – when we come out of the church.”

Isaiah’s time in the temple was only a visit. He was not meant to stay there forever with the smoke and the shaking and the flying seraphs calling to one another. He confessed, he was forgiven, he was cleansed, he was blessed, and then he was sent out with a word to his people on behalf of the Lord of Hosts.

You have confessed. You have been forgiven. You have been cleansed, you have been blessed, you have been fed. And now too YOU are sent out with a word to God’s people on behalf of the Lord of Hosts. Now THAT I think, is pretty AWESOME! Amen.