Super Bowl 50 Takeaways

8 02 2016
Because I am going to forget. Because there is really no earthly reason for me to remember. I am going to record that the Denver Broncos won the 50th Super Bowl.
Ha. I just saw it last night and still I had to stop and think for a minute.  
I am already forgetting.
What I do remember though, and I thought about it all during the game, was seeing the first Super Bowl game 50 years ago, which would have made me 9 years old.
Nine years old! Here was a direct thread back, teased from the mass of tangled threads a life becomes.
The reason I remember the first Super Bowl, is that the Super Bowl was the first thing I saw on a color television!
A family from church invited us over. This was also the very first Super Bowl party I ever went to as well, come to think of it. Wow. Who knew?
I got the shock of my life in front of that color television. I saw that the Green Bay Packers were not green, as I’d always assumed they were. The Green Bay Packer were gold. The color of cheddar cheese.
I sat in front of the television, marveling, and very upset.
Why the hell did they call them Green???
I spent the entire first half in utter disbelief. Trying to reconcile this new reality with the world as I knew it. Feeling it slip away before I was ready. We would go home to black and white television and a world where the Green Bay Packers wore gold.
No. This could not possibly be. There must be some mistake. I could accept that the Kansas City Chiefs wore red. Yes, that was a bit of a surprise too, but I could accept it. But a team from Green Bay had an obligation to be green.
Color television was a mixed blessing. It was wonderful and rich. I luxuriated in the lavish splashes of color, seduced by this new reality. It was like scales had dropped from my eyes.
But there was something false too. Color television presented a reality clearly in contrast to the world I assumed I lived in, and told me that the things I counted on to be true could be wrong. And I figured if you can’t trust that a team called the Green Bay Packers wore green, what could you trust? Even though it was right before my eyes.
Last night, as I watched the Broncos play the Panthers, I thought about how many times that process had been repeated over these 50 years. The reality I assumed contradicted, shown to be foolish and naive. And how I resisted the things I learned so I could stay in a world where Green Bay is green.
Or where we can enjoy a Super Bowl without thinking about CTE brain injury and the unsettling knowledge that these men are quite probably destroying themselves for my amusement tonight.
Suddenly, it isn’t all that amusing….
Fifty years ago, I had to accept the fact that The Green Bay Packers weren’t green and move on.
During that time, I learned that too many of the heroes of my childhood, Kenny Stabler, Frank Gifford and a host of others, went on to become hollow shells of themselves, destroyed by the game we loved.
As I watched the Broncos and Panthers, like I watched the Packers and the Chiefs 50 years ago, I knew something had to change, even though I may not have been ready for it to change.
Fifty years, and the stakes have only gotten higher.
Because the Green Bay Packers are gold and always have been, and it seems we’re learning that about a lot of things these days.

What It Means To Be Confessional

15 01 2016

1-sunny-spring-landscape-michal-bednarekAs Lutherans, we are guided by our Confession of Faith and the theological understandings that flow from it.  We are a Confessional Church.

* Justification by grace through faith.

* The Bible as both Law and Gospel.

* The Primacy of the Word of God as the standard of Christian life and witness.

This is just the short list of things we confess as Lutherans.  When they are applied correctly, they are an invaluable guide for living a faithful life.

However, they can just as easily be misused to drain creation of its awe and wonder, and leave us with a God that fits neatly into tidy categories.

And so, it’s important to remember; Confessions, Doctrines, Statements of Faith are all starting points for our understanding of faith and life.  This is where we begin, and as we explore the unknown, what we discover adds depth and dimension to what we confess.  It is an ongoing dialogue.

What we confess grows, changes, deepens, evolves as a result of what our confession leads us to encounter.  And as our confessions grow and deepen, so does what we encounter as a result!

This is the life of faith in a nutshell.

Confessions are not conclusions.  Doctrines are not litmus tests of orthodoxy.  Statements of Faith are not walls that divide the true believers from the heretics.

We do well to remember that our Confessions as Lutherans are about immortalizing our questions, not about institutionalizing our answers.  They are about opening our eyes and hearts to a world where the stars shout, the wind whispers, the rivers, mountains and seas declare, the overwhelming presence and glory of God.

Epiphany, A Season Of Scandal And Surprise

8 01 2016

This Sunday is the beginning of the Epiphany Season.  A season of surprise, of clarity and insight.  A season in which we see clearly, the majesty and wonder of God, no matter how briefly.  The scales fall from our eyes, the curtain is drawn back, and what we see takes our breath away.

The magi have come and gone on Epiphany Day (Jan. 6), and our focus turns to Jesus, rising froKhleo_Baptism_2012 (4)m the waters of baptism to be revealed as the Son of God.

We often don’t appreciate the radical nature of this act.  It was a controversial decision for Jesus to be baptized.  John doesn’t want to do it.  Baptism was a humiliation for the one baptized and a dangerous social and political statement that eventually cost John his life at the hand of Herod.

Yet even John is left speechless when none other than Jesus, presents himself for baptism in the muddy Jordan.  Even John, the rabble rousing, fire breathing prophet of God’s judgment who preached the necessity of that baptism, is scandalized by God’s radical self identification with the poor and with those who have lost their way.  The losers, the sinners, all the wrong people in every sense of the word.

What Jesus says by his decision to be baptized was that God was not out there somewhere and it was up to us to find our way to God by pure thinking, correct believing, and clean living.

God was HERE in the midst of the messiness of our lives.  In our hopes AND our disappointments; in our pride AND in our shame, in the things we embrace as well as those we turn away from and reject.


Jesus baptism says that God is with us in ALL of it.

Today we are more apt to embrace the winners, celebrate those who have, and demean those who have not and worse, see them as holding us back.  Refugees are turned away.  Women and children are being rounded up and sent back to face the violence and threat of murder in Central America even as these words are being written and read.

So it is even more important for us to stand in the river with Jesus, to be reminded of our need of grace, and our obligation to extend that grace to a world that, like John himself, can’t quite believe what it’s seeing when none other than God shows up one day and says “Yes, I’m one of THEM too.”

The Heart Of Christmas

3 12 2015

It’s an article of faith to decry the secularization of Christmas. Has been for a long time. The “war on Christmas” as it is called lately, gets trotted out as people take offense at wishing a generic “happy holidays” and plain red holiday coffee cups.

But even before that it was the commercialization of Christmas. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” turned 50 this year. I can’t believe it. Charlie Brown and his lonely quest to restore something of the sacred to the blaring, narcissistic spectacle that modern day Christmas can so easily become.

We all know that Linus is talking about more than that scraggly little Christmas tree when he says, “…all it really needs is a little love.”

And that’s the paradox about Christmas. On the one hand,Christmas has all but swallowed up Thanksgiving, and is eyeing Halloween. On the other hand, there is something terribly fragile and vulnerable at the heart of Christmas that can easily be lost.

When I began ministry, one of the big battles I found myself conscripted to was preserving the integrity Advent. Being a pastor was sort of like being on border patrol this time of year. In seminary I was taught it was my job not to let any undocumented Christmas carols slip across the border of Advent.

What a dumb battle.   For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why it was a bad thing to hear “Silent Night” or “O Come All Ye Faithful” playing on the mall sound system, or even when you’re in the grocery store getting paper towels.

What clearer sign that people are hungry for that fragile and vulnerable heart of Christmas?   That somewhere inside, there is an awareness of what we’re missing this time of year, even if we can’t exactly put our finger on what it is anymore.

Instead of capitalizing on the opportunity, we in the church take on the role of petulant scold. As a result, you will hear “Silent Night” everywhere but in worship, and when the church is finally ready to sing Silent Night, everyone else has already moved on.

So the outcome of preserving the integrity of Advent and by extension, Christmas, is to effectively reduce “Advent” to the realm of “killing time until Christmas.” Time which then gets filled with a million tasks.

The rich time of mindfulness and wakefulness that stands at the heart of Advent is overrun by stress and exhaustion. We stagger into Christmas and collapse in a gigantic pile of discarded gift-wrap and glitter.

But here is what Advent really about! Advent is when we are reminded that we live in a perpetual state of Advent!   The attentiveness and watchfulness that marks the Advent season is the way our faith calls us to live our entire lives. Watching for the immanent presence of God, who continually arrives in the rough, forgotten, dirty places of the world, and whose presence is marked by both scandal and a star.

Watching and wakefulness is not “killing time.” These are how we go about “participating” in the immanence of God’s coming when and where we least expect it. Advent tells us that by paying attention, staying awake, we are actively part of the ongoing incarnation of God.

I can’t help but think that we in the Church miss a tremendous opportunity to connect with people who are longing for that fragile heart of Christmas every year at this time.  To name it and lift it up.

That’s one reason we’re participating in Refugee Sunday this year in Advent. Because Advent tells us that a heart full of fear cannot receive the birth of Jesus. Isn’t that the first thing the angels declare on Christmas night? Before anything they say anything, they say “Fear not.”

Nothing’s changed.

That’s the way God still comes into our world. As difficult as it may be sometimes, we all need to keep at least a little manger of compassion available. Because Charlie Brown was right, all it really needs is a little love. That love has been with us in the manger all the time.

Preaching In A Polarized World

20 11 2015

Source: Preaching In A Polarized World

Preaching In A Polarized World

20 11 2015

Topical preaching has never been an easy for me. I’ve always been leery of reducing the Gospel to just one more opinion in a cultural landscape littered with opinions. In today’s polarized political culture, that’s more likely to happen than ever before.

I like to think that in preaching, we reach for a deeper truth, defined poetically, or artistically if you will. A truth that is compelling for what it is; truth that moves us to live up to the best of who we are as children of God. Not one that leaves us comfortably in our opinions. Which for me is the definition of political truth.   The trade off you make to gain voter support.  In that world, appearance trumps substance.

I know, I know, my bias is showing. Yes, my model for ministry has always come from the poets, writers and artists of our world. That’s the well I draw from in preaching and ministry. To me, theology and ministry is far more art than political science. Though, leading an institution certainly demands political skills. No one wants to hear a poet at a council meeting. I’ve learned that the hard way, and I think I’ve worked hard to develop those skills.  Not always successfully, I admit.

When I made my ordination vows, I promised to faithfully proclaim the Gospel under the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, not to faithfully toe a “party line.”

So, here is the bind that I find myself in today. To preach the Gospel faithfully places me squarely on one side of the political divide against the other.

The core Gospel message of welcoming the stranger, living by faith and not fear, acting with compassion while embodying for others the mercy that we ourselves have received from God; is anathema for huge segments of our population. Ironically, the population that most identifies itself as Evangelical Christian.  Go figure.

I have been overly sensitive I think, to the charge of being politically biased over the course of my ministry.  That has led me to shy away from topics at the expense of faithful proclamation of the Gospel.

But here’s the thing. When the Gospel sounds like partisan propaganda for the other side, maybe that’s the time to reevaluate the side you’re on.

In any case, the Gospel and the teaching of Jesus speaks clearly. Whether we pay heed has always been another story.


19 11 2015



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