Bonhoeffer

My first encounter with Dietrich Bonhoeffer was certainly abrupt. I was a teenager who was badmouthing a camp counselor, when an adult leader (now a pastor and dear friend of mine) upbraided me for talking behind another’s back, and reinforced it with a quote about cheap grace and community from Bonhoeffer. From then on, I’ve been hooked. His feast day is April 9, 70 years ago today.

This Second Sunday of Easter, we are commemorating the witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer at both of our services by welcoming to our pulpit our own Clifford Green, who is one of the world’s foremost Bonhoeffer experts, and a retired Lutheran pastor.

Bonhoeffer, who is as close to a saint as we have in the Lutheran church in the 20th century, was a Lutheran pastor and scholar from Germany whose life and writings have been hugely influential in the recent history of our tradition. Bonhoeffer was a key leader in resisting the Nazis through his formation of the Confessing Church over and against Christians who were aligning their theology and church life with Hitler, eventually being martyred by the Nazis in Flossenbürg concentration camp in 1945.

Bonhoeffer has been important to me, in many ways, because of his enduring relevance to the world around us. His own experience of extremism, and how Christians might both resist and flourish in such a time, is of utmost important to our current age. His own experience teaching Sunday School in the Bronx and his conception of racial justice, recently outlined in Reggie Williams’s Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus, remains visionary, especially after a week in which another black man was killed by a police officer. Bonhoeffer’s conceptions of discipleship, life together in community, and the centrality and costliness of God’s grace, remain the foremost articulations of Lutheran theology in recent history.

I hope you’ll consider taking some time this Sunday to join us and hear about the life and relevance of Bonhoeffer. I have a sneaking suspicion it will be worth it.

Shush...

One of the most striking features of all this snow is how the world comes to a standstill and quiet. Living in a noisy world, that runs itself ragged 24 hours a day, it is easy to miss what voices speak loudest to us when we turn off the noise.

For me, Lent has always been an opportunity to turn myself and my voice off for a bit, to stop listening to my own voice, and to enter into a period of daily fasting, silence, and prayer in order to hear God’s voice in fresh ways. Often during Lent, I am more aware of my own flaws, my need for humility and repentance, and the voice that calls us forth to life and life to the full.

How might you find some of that space, even if for just a short moment each day? Maybe it’s turning off the radio for a bit, or working out without headphones, or saying a prayer over lunch. Whatever it is, that quiet in Lent is essential for our relationship with God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “…it is only completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman ( a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian.”

It is in the quiet that we learn to have faith, to make less of ourselves and much more of the God who comes to us in Jesus. To live in this world, we need to make space and quiet to hear God’s voice.

One of the ways you might try this practice is by coming to our midweek soup dinner and Holden Evening prayer. During our midweek worship this year during Lent, we are going to be hearing from a variety of difference wise and spiritually rich voices during our reflection time, from Dietrich Bonheoffer to Henri Nouwen. We have selected these voices in the hope that they might stir up something in our hearts and minds during worship. Will you join us? Thursdays at 630p for dinner, with worship to follow.

Vaccinating the Body of Christ

The news these days are exhausting. It seems like every day brings a new crisis to the forefront, a crisis du jour if you will. Most of this year, it has been the frightening terrorism of ISIS. Last week, we experienced a blizzard of unseen proportions, dropping nearly three feet of snow outside our apartment in Lawrence. This week, though, has seen the emergence of a puzzling crisis: the Disneyland measles outbreak

About twenty years ago, Susan Sontag wrote in Illness as Metaphor that “Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick…Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”

Now, yes, I am married to a primary care doctor, and yes, this is a public health crisis, and the science is clear, but what I really find interesting about this crisis, is what subtly lies underneath, about what it reveals about our human spiritual crisis in these days.

I was listening to All Things Considered last week on WBUR, and there was a public health expert, who half-kidding, noted that to find the hotspots of anti-vaccination fervor you follow these steps:

  1. Look at a map of where the Whole Foods are located
  2. Place a pin down where there is a Whole Foods
  3. Draw a ten-mile radius around the pin

The point being, and this expert was only kidding a bit, that anti-vaccination is largely found amongst white, highly educated, and wealthy advocates.

To me, what’s more obvious, is that when we are white, highly educated, and wealthy (like many of us at St. Paul), that those feelings of being in control and being free is so important, that we are willing to risk the health and lives of others, for the sake of being some sort of adjective. Vaccines, designed to protect, become oddly reversed as a possible threat to freedom and “natural living.” In reality, it is only our privilege that allows us to consider not vaccinating.

A couple weeks ago, I preached a sermon on bodies and belonging, and the same sin that has deeply troubled our sexuality is also at the root of this crisis: the deep seated belief that the highest good is that we are free to do whatever we want to our bodies. This continuing belief in total freedom, not only fails to take seriously human failings, but continues to create crises wherever it goes.

When we view this world as a place where we can make decisions about our lives without regard to the impact to our neighbors, we have failed to heed Jesus’ own words that the greatest commandment is to love God, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We have failed to hear from the apostle Paul that our bodies are now God’s temples, and that they are now for the sake of the world.

But, we, in the Church, have a word to offer this anxious and terrified world, even on the matter of something as “secular” as vaccination, because we know what it means to take seriously communities and bodies.

We should remember that the Body of Christ needs all of its members to function. We should remember that the boundaries between us, according to Paul, have been eliminated by the work of Jesus. And if those two things are true, then we live our lives for the sake of others, even our precious kids. Equivalently, that’s what vaccination is about; not just our own health, but the health of so many people who don’t have health, who have diseases and cancers that make them vulnerable. We vaccinate not just for our own health, but for the sake of our neighbor and our friends.

I am reminded of the story in Matthew when Jesus is brought a paralytic man by his friend for healing, yet it is the faith of the friends that saves the man, not his own. You might say that it was their faith, their vaccination, which helped to save the health of the paralytic man.


Like the friends of the paralytic man, the Christian life is one that is lived for the sake of the world, for our neighbors. As Martin Luther once wrote, to be baptized is to become a “little Christ.” What ol’ Martin meant was that when we are baptized, our lives, become like Christ, poured out for the sake of the world.

So, brothers and sisters, for the sake of the vulnerable world around us: let’s vaccinate all those little Christs.

Vicar Eric

 

I Love to Tell the Story

This week, I picked up Tim Townsend’s recent book Mission at Nuremberg, which is the story of Henry Gerecke, a Lutheran (Missouri Synod) U.S. Army Chaplain who served in both WWII, and as the chaplain to the 21 Nazi’s who were incarcerated, tried, and executed at Nuremberg. It’s a remarkable story, a story about grace, forgiveness, and humanity, and I’m not even that far in yet! It’s a reminder of the stories that exist across generations and how important they are to be both told and heard.

One of the gifts of the vicar’s role at Saint Paul is the chance to eat lunch with the seniors regularly, to visit with them in their homes, and to share life with them. They are a remarkable group, with many stories, pictures of previous eras here at St. Paul, and lots of good laughs. It’s something that I will be grateful for many years after I have left this place.

This week, we are burying two saints of the church with big stories, one who was relatively new, and another who was a fixture of this place for more than forty years. On Tuesday, we had a funeral for David Frank, who served in both WWII and in an engineering role at Nuremberg. It was a moving service, and served as a reminder those those who were witnesses to a period of history that was marked by never-before-seen tragedy: concentration camps, the use of nuclear weapons, and threats from many sources. This Saturday, we will have another funeral, this time for Randi Carlson, a Norwegian immigrant, who along with her husband Carl joined this place more than 40 years ago. It’s both an honor to be with that generation and such a loss to all of us as they are dying.

I am deeply struck by the impact that they have borne on the identity and life of this community.

When we come to St. Paul, it is a rare community of depth that spans over ninety years, something unheard of anywhere else. It also makes clear one of the challenges of a community that is in the midst of growth, as ours is. It is easy to worship with many that you have never talked to, don’t know their names or their stories, simply because they differ from us in some way. And in our culture, it’s a particular challenge to move from personal and private religion, to the hard work of being in a community with others. When I was in college, I served as president of Lutheran Campus Ministry at Ohio State, and one of the things that I struggled with, even as an extrovert was making myself open to meeting and developing deep relationships with new people, because it was uncomfortable.

It’s not easy, I know that.

But these relationships, between the young and old, between families, are how our faith is transmitted and how God’s presence through the Holy Spirit is made known among us. When we are struggling, doubting, or falling away, it is these people who believe on our behalves, who pray on our behalf, and who represent God in our midst.

One of the things that I have been working on this year is developing spaces for faith outside of worship: in the home, between generations, and amongst our young folks. It’s what my project is focused on, so keep an eye out for more information as we move into the Spring.

All that being said: my challenge to you this week is to find someone after worship that’s of a different generation than you: if you’re young, someone older, or vice versa. Stay for coffee hour, ask them whom they are, where they are from, why they’re here, and get to know each other. They might be new, they might be long time members, but I’m guessing you’ll be surprised by the conversation.

Another great option is to sign up for the Gather Groups coming this spring. Sign up sheets can be found in the Narthex or by contacting Ross or Taryn Walsh.

Who knows? Maybe it will be the most important thing you’ve done so far this year.

Vicar Eric

The Epiphany of the New Year

The New Year is here (actually, it already started, on the first Sunday of Advent)! Many of us will celebrate with our loved ones. New Years for my family of two often looks like this: feasting, watching Ryan Seacrest pretend to be Dick Clark, falling asleep before the ball actually drops in New York City, and getting up in the morning to watch our beloved Buckeyes play in another important football game. Most of all, the New Year is marked for many of us by new goals, new resolutions, new ladders to climb on our life journeys.

Then comes the disruption of Epiphany. It’s a disruption of massive proportions, a season in our church year that bids us to drop everything and follow the light, like these strange Magi from Babylon that we hear about in our gospel reading this coming Sunday. It asks us to travel long distances, to venture into the unknown, and most of all, to transverse the wildernesses of our lives. And, if we’re honest, most of those wilderness places are the exact sort of things that we make our resolutions, in the best of intentions, to avoid: our decaying bodies, our restless lives, and the things we don’t particularly like about ourselves.

And in the midst of those wildernesses, those oft failed resolutions, comes an unveiling, a showing of light into the darkness, revealing the reality that only by coming to our own end and discovering the new beginning of the cosmos, the coming of God’s kingdom, through this little baby boy in Bethlehem do we find true freedom and true resolve to face the messy world in front of us.

In fact, new scientific research is showing that diets that involve denying ourselves the things we really enjoy: that extra glass of wine or beer, a piece of pie here and there, and the such, actually is what ruins diets. It’s only by experiencing limitations on portion sizes, that diets work, and we actually end up experiencing the freedom and health that is desired.

That’s why one commentator writes that Epiphany is less about Emmanu-El, God-with-us, as it is about Emmanu-Adam, which means something alone the lines of the Man-with-us, the one who shows us what true humanity, reconciled and restored to God, looks like.

So, this Epiphany, if you’re tired of making resolutions that just end up driving you a bit bonkers when they get left unfulfilled, come and hear about the revelation of the one in whom all resolutions are fulfilled and overcome. God with us, and man with us: Jesus.

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