Joseph was an Adoptive Dad

(closing thoughts from my sermon this Fourth Sunday of Advent, 2019)

Something hit me this week when I was preparing for this message. I’m sure it is something I’ve considered before, but for whatever reason, maybe it’s just the place I’m at this year, or in this stage of life, something about Joseph jumped out at me and grabbed me.

Joseph was an adoptive dad. Joseph decided to stay and raise a child that was not his biologically. And every time I’ve thought about it this week, and even when I was typing this, it made me emotional.

I know not everyone has the same experience, but I know there are a few of you here. Adoptive parents. And there’s something about choosing to raise a child that is not yours by birth. A child that didn’t belong to you, but you opened yourself up and gave them a family and a home. I realized Joseph was an adoptive dad, like me. Like some of you.

And by opening himself up to being an adoptive dad, Joseph taught Jesus something about love. The love God has for you, is the love Joseph had for Jesus.

I’d like to think that I have taught my kids something about love by choosing to be their father. It takes courage to offer someone love instead of following all the rules.

Jesus would grow up to be motivated by love, he taught about love, loving God, loving neighbor, even loving your enemies. I’d like to think that Jesus learned that love from Joseph when he chose to be his dad. Amen.

“Away from the Manger (Refugee King)”

“Away from the Manger (Refugee King)” written by Liz Vice, Wen Reagan, Bruce Benedict, Greg Scheer, Lester Ruth. © 2018 Cardiphonia Music.

Performed by Clayton Faulkner and Annika Becker (oboe) for Lessons and Carols for Advent 2019 at Faith Lutheran Church, Bellaire, TX.

Download the original chord chart here.

Download my arrangement chord chart here.

Download the oboe/C instrument part I wrote here.

While we were planning for the Lessons and Carols service this year, there was a question as to what should be the carol sung between the last two readings (Luke 2:1-7 and John 1:1-14). It was very providential that I came across this song last week when trying to decide what that last carol should be. It turned out to be quite fitting not only for that spot of the service, but also for the larger season of Advent, and the situation of our world today. One attendee said, “the words were so very appropriate for us to hear with so many babies and young children being held in confinement centers at our borders.”

The connections this song subtly makes are jarring. Jesus was a refugee. His parents were terrified. They were running for their lives. The same is true for immigrants and refugees today. I’m aware of the story of Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, a 16-year-old from Guatemala who crossed the border in Texas in May and died in U.S detention on May 20 from lack of adequate medical care. Carlos crossed the border because his brother has special needs, and he came to earn money to support his brother back in Guatemala. He is the seventh child that has been reported as dying while in detention near the southern border.

“Keep us from Herods and all of their lies,” is the lyric that sets this song apart. It has the bite of Canticle of the Turning’s “Let the king beware for your justice tears ev’ry tyrant from his throne” (Rory Cooney). One of the ways that empires maintain control is through an alternative narrative. Lies feed people the fear that allows for oppression to take place. We should take note when kings and emperors tell us to not treat everyone as a neighbor. They are the lies of empire, not God’s kin-dom.

Some backstory from one of the composers, Liz Vice: “Earlier this year I was invited to a conference at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI to have a conversation about Christmas carols and how most don’t give an accurate depiction of the scene of God coming to earth in the flesh. A group of us gather into a room and reprised “Away in A Manger”. Side note: Since I wasn’t there, you know, at the actual scene of the Christ’s birth, I can only use my imagination with the scripture I’ve read. Matthew 1:18-25 Joseph’s dream to flee/run/ escape to Egypt Matthew 2:13-14 “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

Live video of Liz Vice singing:

Official audio version:

Lyrics:

Away from the manger they ran for their lives
The crying boy Jesus, a son they must hide
A dream came to Joseph, they fled in the night
And they ran and they ran and they ran

No stars in the sky but the Spirit of God
Led down into Egypt from Herod to hide
No place for his parents no country or tribe
And they ran and they ran and they ran

Stay near me LORD Jesus when danger is nigh
And keep us from Herods and all of their lies
I love the LORD Jesus, the Refugee King
And we sing and we sing and we sing
Alleluia

An Order for Missional Living

(Inspired by The Earlier Rule of St. Francis)

  • Prologue
    Blessed be the Holy Trinity, God of relational connectedness: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Amen. This is a way to live on mission for God. It is designed for those who have discerned both an inward and outward call to serve God in rostered ministry. It may be useful to others as well.

 

  • Chapter 1 – Start with Why
    God’s mission is our mission. We are created anew in our baptism and are born into a new mission. Being joined to God in baptism, we are called to help others be joined to God (2 Cor 5:17-21). In reality, all people are already joined to God, even though they may not realize it. Even in small, unnoticeable ways, all people bear the image of their Creator (Gen 1:26). Our mission becomes to help people wake up to their preexistent connection to a God that loves them (Rom 8:38-39). Every thought and action should start with a purpose or mission. Every thought and action should find its origin in God’s mission. God’s mission and purpose is best observed in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

 

  • Chapter 2 – Word and Sacrament
    The words that we share with all people are rooted in the Word, Jesus Christ (John 1:1-2). The message that we preach to people is Jesus, the Living Word. The actions that accompany this message are baptism and Eucharist, the means of grace. These are the tangible signs of God’s proximity to all people. In baptism and Eucharist, we enter into the pattern of Jesus’ life (Mark 1:9-11, 14:22-25). Word and Sacrament are the center of our assembling together. They are the elements necessary to make us church.

 

  • Chapter 3 – Neighbor Ethic
    Because we are Christian, following Christ in word and deed, living out our baptismal vocations as citizens under God’s reign (Eph 2:19-20), we are bound by a neighbor ethic. That neighbor ethic says that we should always seek that which is best for our neighbor, just like Jesus taught and did (John 13:34-35). We show our love for God by loving our neighbors (Matt 22:37-40). “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). This ethic is the central concern of all missional living. Other ideologies like consumerism, colonialism, nationalism, sexism, and racism run counter to this ethic. To have a neighbor ethic is to genuinely wants the best for your neighbor. Either Jesus is King, and what’s best for our neighbor matters. Or the Emperor is King, and what’s best for yourself is all that matters. All people are our neighbor, especially those whom we might find most offensive (Luke 10:25-37). You can’t force anyone into having a relationship with God.

 

  • Chapter 4 – Your Wellbeing
    You will not get rich off of living a missional life. Nor should you endeavor to try to get rich by serving God’s mission. However, you should look out for your own wellbeing. Try to live a simple life, not acquiring an endless amount of possessions. Stay away from debt and predatory lenders. Advocate for a comfortable salary, benefits, and retirement. Be generous with your income, sharing with those who have need. Invest some of your income for the future. Try to maintain healthy boundaries in your ministry. Do not sacrifice the wellbeing of you or your family for the purpose of ministry. Your life does not belong to the church, or other people. It belongs to God and God wants you to be well.

 

  • Chapter 5 – Conclusion and Blessing
    “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:1-2). Living a missional life is above all about living in love. Love is the highest ideal and who God is (1 John 4:8). Glory to the Triune God, who was, is, and is to come. Amen.

An Apology for the Art in #ELCAcwa Worship

Many following the #ELCAcwa this year have seen the image being discussed and heard the apology offered by Bishop-Elect Strickland. Many have asked how such an offensive thing could happen. As the person who selected the images for worship, I want to offer my apology as well. I apologize to you my colleagues, the Churchwide Assembly and Churchwide leaders and most of all to my African American brothers and sisters who were wounded by this. I know that many were troubled, shocked, hurt, and disgusted by the use of the image. Something I worked on was hurtful, and for this I am deeply sorry.

I do not intend to offer a defense of why the image was used, only an explanation that might help shed light. I was searching for images to align with the gospel text of the service:

“for I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you gave me clothing,
I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in prison and you visited me.”
Matthew 25:35-36

This image of someone being visited in the hospital was selected to lift up the African American experience, support their inclusion in representation, and exemplify ministry to the sick. My own cultural situation and lack of knowledge on this genre of art caused me to not see what was evident to others. The representation of African Americans in minstrel art has a painful history. I was unaware, and we did not have enough diversity in our group that vetted and approved the images. I know these issues are being addressed and they will be handled more carefully in the future.

I am fully aware of the place that racism has in my own life. As a white male born and raised in rural south Texas, it is endemic to me in a deep way. At the same time I am deeply invested in anti-racist ways of being. I find Luther’s sinner/saint idea very fitting here. I have the sin of racism embedded in me while I learn to fight and dismantle it.

I want to echo the words my friend Kathy Patrick shared on Facebook: “(this apology) is a clarion call to recognize that we white people in the church have a LOT of work to do to increase our cultural competence, including by diversifying our leadership, so that we can see as we should see. This was not one person’s mistake, it is OUR mistake. We all make similar mistakes every day that injure our siblings of color and the terrible thing is, we do it thoughtlessly because we do not know what we should know.”

I personally intend to do some things differently as I learn and grow from this:

  • I will do some reading to learn more about the history of minstrel art and plays. If you have resources or websites you recommend, please share them with me.
  • I will make sure that any worship planning team that I am part of has a diverse representation of leadership.
  • When I am considering using a piece of art or music for worship, I will ask for feedback from African American colleagues.
  • I will encourage people of color to lead us in selecting images for churchwide events.
  • I will engage in our synod’s anti-racism training.
  • I will explore and lift up the work of African American artists. If you have a favorite, I would appreciate if you shared them with me.

Good Friday Sermon (2019)

Here is the video of the sermon from Good Friday at Faith Lutheran in Bellaire, TX. I pulled ideas from several sources including Rob Bell (myth of redemptive violence) and Richard Rohr (Jesus came to change our minds about God). Sorry for the technical difficulties, we were trying out a new camera.

Misogyny: We like to think we’re past that

We’d like to think that everyone has arrived. Everyone has matured to the point of seeing that equality is God’s design. Women can serve the church equally as well as men (perhaps better?). Most consider the ELCA a progressive denomination. But that doesn’t mean that everyone that sits in our pews are in the same place. This video out of North Carolina is a reminder of that:

And it is great to make a cute video, but even better to follow through and walk the talk. Like this:

Fleshing out what kind of church the world needs

One of my seminary professors recently asked this question. What a fertile question. It gives us a chance to consider the needs of the world. What is the status of our world these days? Where are there hatred, violence, and chaos? Where are there famine, disease, and scarcity? Where are there hopelessness, illiteracy, and neglect?

Our world is filled with these things. Some of them are right under our local noses. Surprisingly you don’t have to drive far to encounter some of these needs. So what kind of church is needed to face the needs of our world?

I think you could say lots of things. You could go lots of different directions and still answer this question in a satisfactory way.

The world needs a church that is loving, so loving that it sees every living thing as part of God’s holistic creation and takes every chance to embody God’s love for the cosmos.

The world needs a church that is adaptive, ready to abandon the old, tired ways of organizational thinking for new ways that bring life and vitality.

The world needs a church that is Christ-centered, focused on the words and ministry of Jesus and how they can bring transformation to our world today.

The world needs a church that is compassionate, never using our status or position in the world to bring harm, but only to bring healing to those who are over-looked.

The world needs a church that is self-sacrificing, willing to give away property, buildings, and money so that others can be better off than they were before.

The list goes on and on. I hope you have your own way of answering the question, because it is an important one. Because really, the question is not about the church, the question is about you and I. What kind of person does this world need? How do I live my life more faithfully for the sake of the world?

My heart always goes back to the sacraments and the assembly. So my answer would be: “The world needs a church that continually gathers around God’s story and table, and then embodies that story and food for the life of the world.” I think telling a better story and sharing food is what the world needs from us the most.