Sermon On Our Time in NOLA

For this week’s sermon, I did something a little different. I had help. Lots of it.

I asked some of the youth that went to New Orleans last week for the Youth Gathering to come up and be a panel to help talk about what we saw, heard, and experienced. I think it’s pretty safe to say, it had a lasting impact on them.

Rather than try to post the text of the sermon, I figured I’d post the audio. Give it a listen. It’s safe to say the experience still echoes even though we’re back home.

Our text for the day was Ephesians 2:13-20.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

That being said, you can find the sermon here.

[I can’t post it on the blog because WordPress doesn’t support DivShare. It’s just too awesome.]

I hope all of you who preached on your experience in New Orleans were met with clear eyes and full hearts.

Cheers,
Eric

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What Do You Get When You Cross a Lutheran & a Crack House?

You get these two videos that have been dominating my brain this week.
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Excellent words from Nadia on the first night of the Dome when we were in New Orleans. Both Megan and I turned to each other after we heard her give this talk and were stoked to be Lutheran — as lame as that sounds. I hope you enjoyed her talk.

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Bit of a different talk, but equally effective. A lot of times we look for the church to be a refuge away from the “evils of the world.” What I really like about Pete’s video is that a lot of what we do, as the church, is we create more dependence on ourselves. People need to come to us for certain things. We have ministries that give people a fix rather than helps identify our brokenness so that we don’t need that fix.

Great points from two great minds.

So watch these videos when you get a couple of minutes. Let me know what you think of them. Pass them on, if you’d like. I think they are some profound words for us.

Cheers,
Eric

The Dark Knight Rises & The Power of Silence

Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.” – The Dalai Lama

Christopher Nolan is one of my favorite living film directors. He’s done MementoThe PrestigeInception, and the three newest Batmans. His movies always make me think, leave me in suspense, and freak me the heck out. The more I think about it, the things that freak me out most in his movies is the use of silence. In some of the suspenseful, crescendoing scenes in movies, we have been conditioned to expect the music to build up along with the anticipation. But what Chris Nolan does is he often uses silence to do that build up for him.

And it’s terrifying.

For those of you who have seen Dark Knight Rises [and if you haven’t, this won’t be too much of a spoiler] but when Bane is about to come out onto the football field, when he’s walking through the tunnel, don’t you expect some kind of chaotic build up to the frenzy that would take place when he enters the field? Instead, literally all we hear is the voice of a little boy beautifully singing the Star-Spangled Banner. I’ll save the lecture on nationalism in the face of imminent destruction for another day.

The point is, whenever destruction happens, we flock to sounds and chaos and noise. Whenever I’m home alone and scared, I turn on the television just so there’s some background noise going around. Anything but silence.

And when something as terrible as the shooting in Aurora happens, we hurry to make noise. We blame parents. We  blame the media, the internet, rap music. We blame the shooter’s parents, we blame this generation’s parents, we blame all parents. My particular brand of noise was against guns. But we make noise all the same. Anything but silence.

It reminds me of a passage from the Book of Job. After the initial round of sufferings against Job — call it evil’s shock and awe campaign — three of Job’s friends come to him and see that he’s in terrible distress and sadness. Here’s what they do:

12When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their head. 13They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

Initially, they make noise. But then they settle into silence. This is the response of the faithful. Immediately after the tragedy in Aurora, a pastor made sweeping declarations that all non-Christians who were killed in that theater are going to hell. I wish he would have just kept silent. That kind of noise is despicable on top of incredibly insensitive.

Why can’t we simply do as Job’s friends did? See people who are suffering and sit down and weep with them? 

We don’t have to explain away their problems, or get them to laugh to escape their pain.

People yelling louder won’t change the fact that 12 people went to a movie to be entertained, and didn’t come out of the theater alive. Dozens more came out injured.

Lest we forget the shooter. We forget that someone became so broken and jaded against the world that he felt the only thing to do was to take tear gas and guns into something as innocent as a movie theater and start shooting.

Certainly as more details emerge, and more evidence comes to light, these conversations need to happen. We need to talk about available mental health resources. We need to talk about why this kind of thing happens.

But for now… we need to recognize, as Chris Nolan does, that there is power in silence. We need to learn to sit with victims of senseless violence and say that it’s terrible and senseless and appalling.

And weep with those who weep.

Cheers,
Eric

Penn State & False Idols

“Every one of us is, even from his mother’s womb, a master craftsman of idols.” – John Calvin

It seems like this Penn State story just won’t die. Every week there is a new angle to take, or another press conference to cover. First, we had the Sandusky verdict. Then we had the release of the Freeh report. Then the statue was taken down. Now, the sanctions were issued by the NCAA . At some point in this process, I am sure many Penn State fans were hoping for some sort of vindication for the longstanding face of the football program, Coach Joe Paterno. But at every turn, those fans are disappointed. The Freeh report concluded,

The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims….

Not good. What it says is that the most powerful people in at the University, and apparently that region of Pennsylvania — University president Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and coach Joe Paterno — did absolutely nothing to protect the dozen or so victims from a child sex predator. They exhibited an incredible lack of empathy by failing to inquire about the safety of the victims, and even allowing Jerry Sandusky to have continued access to official university facilities right up until his arrest.

If this had happened at any other University, the statue would’ve been torn down like it was the statue of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad. But the residents of the — now, fairly ironically-titled — town of Happy Valley, PA have protested tooth and nail every repercussion of these incidents.

This leads to the question, what is it about Joe Paterno and the football program at Penn State that makes covering up 12 years of sexual abuse okay?

I think the answer to this lies in what many have called the “cult-like worship” of Saint JoePa. For so long, Joe Paterno stood as this irrefutable figure, a pillar of exemplary class and work ethic. He was held up and idolized for hundreds of thousands of Penn State students, alum, and fans. For many, the statue of Joe Paterno outside of the football stadium still stood for this reputation for always doing the right thing. The only problem is, for most people outside of the reach of the Happy Valley kool-aid, that’s not what that statue represents anymore.

And that’s the thing with false idols — they always disappoint.

Early on in the Hebrew Bible — Leviticus for those following along — it says that we are not to turn to idols or make cast images for ourselves. And what’s a statue if it isn’t a cast image? Even though we can think of Leviticus as washed up and having no place in society — which some if it is — this part still hits the nail on its head. For the people of Penn State, the JoePa statue gave meaning and identity to the school and its students.

This is why people in the early days of the Israelites made idols. They couldn’t find God so they created statues and idols to be God’s place. But when we try to pinpoint God’s placement, it often doesn’t work well for us.

But we buy into this all the time, don’t we? We chase things that we feel will give us meaning — the newest technology, a nicer car, a bigger house — but they never do. That’s because it’s a sign of success, but it’s hollow. There’s nothing backing it except pride and desire for approval. There’s no faith. There’s no compassion. There’s no justice. There’s no love.

There’s just the hollow feeling that false Gods leave on their way down.

Cheers,
Eric

Devotions from New Orleans: “Eyes Wide Open”

Well, today is our last day of the Gathering. We’re getting ready to receive our benediction back to our everyday lives — whether that’s school or work. The hard part about leaving a place like New Orleans and experiences like the Gathering is keeping the momentum going. I think it’s safe to say we’ve all had some considerable highs this week when it comes to our faith and our time together as friends and as children of God. So how do we keep that momentum going? Today’s song can hopefully help us with that.
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The line that continually sticks out to me in this song — and it’s the prayer I have for us as we come home — is this:

“God, bruise the heels we’ve dug in the ground, that we might move closer to love.” 

I think our everyday lives can be so polarized by who we are and who we want to be. We live in a very dualistic society. Democrat or Republican. Christian or non-Christian. Cool or uncool. Rich or poor. Gay or straight. The list goes on and on. But the prayer that keeps echoing for me as we prepare to leave this place and go home is that God would bruise the heels that we’ve dug in the ground against each other. Against our neighbors and against our friends.

Because the only thing worth moving toward is love.

What are the things that keep your heels dug in? What are those issues or those things that keep us from loving people? How can we loosen the grip our heels have and move closer to love?

These are the questions we’re pondering today. May it be so.

Cheers,
Eric

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