Thursday, May 14, 2015

Is it Finished?

Below is the text from Good Friday 2015 in which I participated in the Seven Last Words Sermon at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta, Georgia.

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30

It is finished.

What did these words mean to the friends and family of Jesus who were standing at the foot of his cross, witnessing his execution? Were the words comforting? Or were they confusing?
These were the last words of the man who said that he came to bring them life, yet he was dying.

It is finished.

All these many years later, these words of Jesus have become overly familiar to us.
We hear them every year as we walk through Holy Week. On Good Friday we remember an equivocal act of love, but on this day that we call good, there is also a tension with which we are called to wrestle or at the very least recognize:
I have been reading and re-reading these words .

It is finished.
It is finished.

But over these past few weeks, when I hear these words, I don’t hear them as a declaration, or a statement of affirmation.
I hear a question.
Is it finished?
Is it finished?

When we stigmatize mental health issues making people who live with mental illness and disabilities invisible, is it finished?

When the planet that humanity was given by the Creator to care for is in rapid degradation because our roles as caregivers are secondary to our roles as consumers, is it finished?

When children of God, freeze to death sleeping on the steps outside of a church because they weren't permitted inside, is it finished?

When violence is glorified in the name of rights, is it finished?

When we refer to people of other cultures, colors, religions, creeds, political persuasion, and sexual identities as those people, is it finished?

When Children of God fleeing war torn countries, or abject poverty, are labeled as illegal because they have the audacity to cross our borders and want what we all want for those that we love, is it finished?

When a nation whose people and leaders claim to worship the Prince of Peace wage war in the name of an Empire, is it finished?

When citizenship in an Empire is valued over citizenship in the Kingdom of God, is it finished?

When we justify our mistreatment and neglect of our neighbors by cherry picking scripture or by turning on the “news channel” of our choice thus allowing vitriol to sooth our collective consciousness, is it finished?

When young black men and women die at the hands of those meant to protect and serve, and those who protect and serve are demonized because they are all victims of a System that functions as if some human lives are more valuable than others, is it finished?

When slavery is as prevalent as it ever was... not only are children of god trafficked in the sex trade, but in this country there is a for profit prison industry that currently has 2 million individuals, mostly men of color, living behind bars, is it finished?

When lawmakers would make laws that allow for discrimination for and the legalization hate in the name of religious freedom and restoration? Is it finished?

When we make politics prophetic and ignore the words of  the prophets?
Word like those from the prophet Ezekiel:
This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

Or the words of Jesus from the book of Matthew:
'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Or the words of Martin Luther from the Small Catechism as he explained the 5th commandment: Thou shalt not kill:
We should fear and love God that we may not hurt nor harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need [in every need and danger of life and body].

Is it finished?

We have come together to remember a man who was executed by the state. Yet, today, men and women are still executed by the state.  Their bodies are strapped to a table so the poison can be  pumped through their bodies until they are dead in the name of justice. I ask you...
Is it finished?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Hey Church: You Do You

I am not a millennial, but I do know a few of them. 
As I am about graduate from seminary, and I am a minister to young adults at the church where I serve, many of the relationships that I have formed over the past few years are with millennials. And I have to tell you that none of the millennials that I know - not even in passing conversation - have ever mentioned that any of the blogs that have been written about them and why they are leaving the Church hold any influence on them whatsoever.
So, we should probably stop talking about millennials like they're not in the room. It's like when you spell something in front of a toddler who you think doesn't know what you're saying, but they do. Guess what, y'all... Millennials can read and they're super savvy with social media. They’re on The Facebook, and they're on The Twitter, and all of those other Instagramy things, and point is they can hear you! Perhaps we should talk to millennials instead of about them.

But what if the fact that millennials are leaving the Church is nothing that we can actually control? What if there is a new Reformation happening? I mean if you read Phyllis Tickles’ book The Great Emergence, apparently God has a garage sale about every 500 years. The last one that happened was THE Reformation (which happened 500 years ago, so we’re due) and the Church ended up looking a whole hell of a lot different than it had in the previous 500 years. And what if the Holy Spirit actually knows what's up and the Church is changing and instead of digging in our heels we could, I don't know, just go with it? So what if we don't have 5000 members, or 500, members in our churches anymore? What would it look like if we stopped making our church buildings, and the way we do worship, idols? What if the fact that millennials aren't going to church because it's just like the way that it has always been? Don’t most college aged people lag in attendance during their 20s? And what about the church being eternal and that whole thing about the Kingdom of God being forever and the gates of Hell not prevailing against it? ( I read that somewhere) No amount of ridiculous blogging is going to affect that in any way shape or form.

So please, for the love of the baby Jesus and all that is holy, stop with the incessant blogging about millennials! Because the truth is, people in every age demographic are finding the Church irrelevant and leaving.

So, Church I have some advice: It's like our mothers used to tell us, people will like you for who you are, or they won't. And that's ok. Just be yourself. So, let's continue to do what it is that God has called us to do. Let's stop trying to be cool, or not cool, or touting high church, or criticizing low church, or whatever for the sake of how we think it will FINALLY make millenials like us and want to be our best friends. And while we're at it, let's stop acting like we actually give a shit about millennials when what we really care about is our own job security (ahem, clergy) and maintaining the kind of church that we like.

We're running around like our hair is on fire, screaming DECLINE! Decline! Decline! Yet no one wants to do anything about decline as we seem more content to write articles about what's wrong with the Church...or more specifically what's wrong with the way someone else does church... or the way to get millennials to come to your church rather than actually engaging this demographic we feel is so crucial to the survival of the Church. Here's the truth: we don't want to change anything, so we'd rather point out what's wrong with millennials than look at our own stuff.

Maybe we could see what it is that the communities around our churches need that our churches can provide. And maybe, just maybe, that has nothing to do with millennials as much as it has to do with loving people for who they are. And maybe we should not just love millennials, but we should love Gen-Xers and we should love Baby Boomers, too. We should love octogenarians, and we should love babies. Maybe we should love our enemies, and we should love everybody with no strings attached instead of worrying about how to get people to come to our churches because that's not love... that's a mindset that that is all about preserving the museum...that's perpetuating a mindset that is all about us.