Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Thursday, December 12, 2019

From the Rector

This is not a political statement.
This is your priest dropping a marker in the soil.

Our government recently declared that Judaism is a different nationality, for political purposes.  This is dangerous, and has life-threatening precedent.

Jewish people born in America are Americans. They are not another nationality.  When the government says they are a different nationality, that is a dangerous thing.

We have seen governments do this to the Jews in the past, and it does not turn out well.
Our government claims they do this for their own good and protection.
We have seen governments make that claim in the past, and it does not turn out well.

In case we think it is only words, we have the shootings in Jersey City just last week to remind us that it is not just words.

The Jewish people are God’s chosen people. And they have never stopped being God’s chosen people. Christianity is grafted onto Judaism, not the other way around. We are welcomed into the Jewish faith as Christians, not the other way around.  The Jewish faith is the foundation of our faith.  And without the Jews, there is no Christianity.  Our own Lord and Savior was a Jew.  We recite the Psalms because they were the prayers that Jesus prayed.  We Christians are adopted Jews.

I say all this not as an opinion but as a matter of life and death. It is not okay to say that American Jews are a different nationality than other Americans. It is not okay to say that American Jews have a different leader than other Americans.  The Jews who live in America are Americans.

To deny this fact is dangerous, and there are people we all know and love who are put in danger by such claims.

Americans are Americans, no matter what our government says.  Our Jewish brothers and sisters are Americans, no matter what our government says.  Don’t believe anyone who says otherwise, because we’ve seen where this road leads, and we must not walk down that road again.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Tigers Prayer Service

Massillon Tigers Prayer Service
November 2, 2019
Hebrews 12:1

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

What a week you all have had!  So much going on.  It makes me tired just reading the schedule, to be honest.  And all week long there have been people yelling for you and yelling at you.  I would guess it all feels pretty overwhelming, and might even make you ask yourself, “Wait.  Who’s the person who’s actually playing this game today?”  And . . . that’d be you.  No matter how much people encourage you do play well, it’s still going to be you out there on that field.

And I’m guessing everyone you ran into this week had some piece of advice for you, from how to play the game, to what to eat this morning.  Just because some of all that noise is helpful, doesn’t stop it from being noise. And you all know that everything is going to get a lot louder this afternoon.   And that’s why I want to tell you this:  The annual service here at St. Timothy’s is a chance to just stop all the noise for a minute.  A chance to sit and rest in the presence of God and one another.  For this time here today, it’s okay to just be silent.  To give yourself time to think and reflect and just sit, without taking notes, or yelling back to me, or bracing yourself for somebody running into you at full speed from the side.

A few minutes ago, I read to you that verse from the letter to the Hebrews:  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, in the faith and on the field.  Some who have played on this team before you, like our own John Muhlbach.  And some who are destined to simply watch the game, like me.  But you are also surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, and who cheer you on from a different place.  Some cheer you on from another part of the country, and some cheer you on from another place entirely.

But there’s another part of that scripture verse that I want to be sure you notice.  The writer says, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”  The race marked out for us.  Because, sure, all those other people are cheering you on, happy to tell you what this game meant for the team in their day.  But today’s game is not their game; it is your game.  Today is the race marked out for you.  No one else will play this game, on this day, against that particular team . . . who shall not be named in God's house.

This game is yours alone.  But you are not alone.  That’s the thing that I hope you’ll remember today.  This game is yours alone.  But you are not alone.  Go Tigers!


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Burial of Beverly G. Hess

Beverly Hess
October 15, 2019
Isaiah 61:1-3
Psalm 23
2 Corinthians 4:13-17
John 6:37-40

Jesus said, “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”  In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I don’t know much about Beverly Hess.  I only met her once, and it was the day before she passed on.  But when I met with Bob and their sons at the funeral home last week, the funeral home director said she was amazed by how young Beverly looked, and I agreed with her.  Then Bob told us that she took good care of herself, even though she hadn’t actually seen herself in umpteen years.  And I got to thinking about that in connection with something else.

From what many people have told me, Beverly did a lot of the needlepoint work on our beautiful cushions here at St. Timothy’s.  And I mean A LOT!  Such painstaking work, created through hours of hard work and concentration, but easily overlooked by those who don’t take time to notice.  And of course, in the last years of her life, Beverly herself was not able to see the lovely designs that she herself had given us.  Beverly probably could have told us which ones were the most challenging, which ones took the most time, which ones she was most proud of.  And even though she could no longer see them, we can, and do see them.

And there’s a connection to God in that.  Because each individual is made in the image of God.  Every single person walking this earth has been stitched together through God’s own creativity and handiwork.  Every person who has ever lived is a unique creature put on this earth to live out their days.  And then, each and every person is returned safely into God’s hands when they have breathed their last.  And here’s how I know:

Because Jesus said, “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”

Of all the people in this room, I probably know the least about Beverly Hess.  I can’t tell you about significant moments in her life, or about the times when she and I did things together, or about the great meals we shared.  Most of you could probably tell me all sorts of important stories and facts about this remarkable woman, and I hope you will continue to tell them to each other for years to come.  I do however have one important thing I can tell you about Beverly, and it is the most important thing of all about her . . .

Beverly George Hess was a baptized child of God.  Claimed as God’s own, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Water was poured over her head, and probably shockingly cold water at that (knowing how priests used to be about such things).  She might have screamed out at that moment, or she might have been cooing quietly in her blanket.  I don’t know the details of her baptism, or her confirmation, or her life in the church throughout her years.  But I do know the most important thing about Beverly’s life in the church, and it is this.

She was claimed as God’s own beloved in his baptism.  And in being claimed as God’s own, the Father, through the Holy Spirit, gave her to Jesus—body and soul.  Completely.  In Baptism, Beverly was given over to Jesus, and in Jesus she lived out her days, whether she knew that or not.  And here is the reason that is important . . .

As we just heard, Jesus said, “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”  We can no longer see God's beautiful handiwork in knitting Beverly together; but God can, and God does.  Though Beverly is lost to us, as we continue our earthly pilgrimage, she was never, and is not now, lost to God.  Jesus does not lose what is his.  We are precious in his sight, and he holds us tightly throughout our lives, even when we don’t notice that we are being held.  Beverly was given to Jesus in Baptism.  Just as you were given to God in your Baptism.  Jesus is holding on to Beverly, and Jesus is holding on to you.

Jesus said, “This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”  May we all trust in the promises of Jesus, and live our lives knowing that, just like Beverly Hess, we too will be raised up on the last day.


Saturday, September 14, 2019

The Burial of George M. Cazan

The Burial of George M. Cazan
September 14, 2019
Wisdom 3:1-5, 9
Psalm 121
Revelation 21:2-7
John 10:11-16

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

One of the challenges of being a priest in parish ministry is trying to figure out what people really think.  As you can probably guess, this was never a problem with George Cazan.  I never had any doubts as to what George Cazan thought about things, or where he stood.

Three years ago, St. Timothy’s held a “Meet the Rector” event the month before I officially started here.  Among the people who waited in line to greet me was George Cazan.  As he held my hand, he looked in my eyes and said, “These people need a shepherd.  And I believe you are that shepherd.”  Then he leaned in close and whispered loudly, “DON’T SCREW IT UP!”  And I guess I did okay, by George at least, because if he did think I screwed it up, he definitely would’ve told me.

And, speaking of shepherds, in the gospel reading we just heard, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  And he also tells us that the hired hand runs away because he does not care for the sheep.  And what happens to the sheep?  The wolf snatches them and scatters them.  Of course, these images are metaphors, but we easily understand what Jesus means.

I am quite certain there have been times in your life where you felt like a wolf was snatching you up.  Where things in life made you feel scattered and separated from your flock or family.  There are wolves in this world, and you and I face them all the time.  And one of the scariest of those wolves is the one we call “death.”  Death is the wolf that eventually comes for us all.  And every time we lose someone we love to that wolf, we gather the flock together, as we are gathered together right now.

And as a flock, we look to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to help us.  We know we need a shepherd—someone to protect us from all the dangers of living in this world.  And sometimes we get so scared and worried, so fearful of the uncertain future, that we find ourselves leaning in and whispering loudly to Jesus, DON’T SCREW IT UP.

But that wolf of death does not have the last word.  Because as we heard from Revelation this morning, “God will wipe away every tear, and death will be no more.”  Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  And we live our lives between those two points, beginning and end, all the while, living within the loving embrace of God.  And there’s more.  Because even in death, we continue where we have been all along: safely enfolded in the arms of the Good Shepherd.

I have been thinking these past days that maybe the reason George Cazan was so concerned about our parish having a shepherd is because he spent so much of his own life shepherding people.  Watching out for those who might be at risk of being attacked in schools and classrooms.  Shepherding singers to lift worthy praises to God in this space, and others.

George loved music and beauty so much that he dedicated his life to pulling it out of others.  Finding the places where people could be safe and could shine their light.  Nothing was too big, too high, or too dramatic for George.  And God deserves exactly that!  The widest, most glorious expressions of beauty and art, given back in thanksgiving to the Good Shepherd, who creates us, redeems us, and will pull each one of us out of the jaws of death.  That is truly something to sing about.  And I fully believe and trust that George Cazan now sings with choirs of angels around the throne of the Good Shepherd, with a clear, strong voice, no doubt all the while trying his best to steal the show.
Let us pray . . .

O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty, and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Burial of David M. Seffens

The Burial of David M. Seffens, 8/17/19
Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm 23
Revelation 21:2-7
John 6:37-40

Jesus said, “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never turn away.”

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

This is a very difficult day, for all of us.  But let me start with this.  The first time I was arrested as a teenager, I spent the night in jail in Corning, NY.  My parents were devastated, and had to drive 3 hours to pick me up the next day.  It was humiliating for everyone.

And if, by chance, that was the last thing I did, well, that’s all anyone would ever say about me.  Oh, George Baum?  He was the guy who got caught with burglary tools in his pocket at a hospital in Corning, after a $2 door stop went missing.  That’s how I would be remembered, for my worst moment . . . up to that point.

We naturally look backwards to define ourselves and others.  We explain our identities by looking to the past.  Here’s my degree; here’s where I served in the military; here’s my Eagle Scout badge.  Obituaries and resume’s are by definition an accounting of the past.  They look backward.  We naturally look to the past to tell who someone was.  We ask, “Who were they?”

But God always looks forward, not backward.  The promises we make in church are always forward, never backward.  The priest asks a couple who is about to be married, Will you love, comfort, honor, and keep each other?  Before a person is Baptized, the priest asks Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons?  And the candidate says, I will, with God’s help.  We always ask “will you.”  We never ask “have you.”  It doesn’t matter how you got here.  It matters where you’re going.  Again, God always looks forward, not backward.

We have lost someone dear to us.  And the reason we lost him is connected to the reason he has been in the news these past few months.  And yet, David Seffens remains a child of God, just like you and me.  I would not want for my worst moment to be the reason I am remembered.  And neither would you.  But again, God always looks forward.

And so, today, I want us to focus on the future.  On what redeems all of us.  The most notorious sinner and the most grace-filled saint are all redeemed because of Jesus.  And whether we live good lives, bad lives, or—like most of us—lives with a healthy dose of each, our redemption and our hope is the same.  And hope is about the future, not the past.

And here is why we have hope:  Jesus said, “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never turn away.”  And, as we also heard, “this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” 

Whatever you have done in your life, whatever you will do, Jesus does not give up on you, just as Jesus has not given up on Dave Seffens.  In Jesus, nothing will be lost, no one will be lost, all will be raised up on the last day.  Jesus says so himself.  And you and I live our lives looking toward that future, where all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well, because God will have swallowed up death forever.


Saturday, June 22, 2019

Luther 500 Festival, Wittenberg, Germany

Luther 500 Festival, June 2019
Exodus 33:14-23
Romans 6:3-5
Luke 23:39-43

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Remember your baptism.  Has anyone ever said that to you before?  Remember your baptism?  Maybe you do remember, if you were baptized as an adult.  But given that most of us here are Lutheran (with an occasional Episcopalian thrown in for seasoning), I’m guessing that most of us were baptized as infants.  Without going into the theology behind the justification for baptizing people who have no idea they are being baptized, I just want to raise an obvious question.

We are told: Remember your baptism.  Great.  But can you remember a thing you never saw?  And what is it to remember a thing anyway?  Although we tend to  connect remembering to memory, there are other aspects of the word.  And we can see that by separating it into the prefix “re” and the root word “member.”  In the simplest terms, to remember something is to put it back together.  To re-member something, which is the opposite of dismembering something.  Which is a gross thought, so let’s not dwell on that.  To re-member a thing is to bring it back into being.  Give it form. Bring it back to reality.

In the United States, there was a time when people said, “Remember the Alamo,” in order to inspire the troops.  And, here in Germany, during the 30 Years War, people said, “Remember Magdeburg,” for a similar reason, and to create a similar reaction.    In those cases, calling people to remember something meant reminding them to consider the implication or the danger being faced, and inspire people to violence and vengeance.  Bring the previous slaughter of our people to mind, and see how that makes you feel.  Now go and do likewise.  Remembering is powerful stuff.

For Jewish people, being remembered is life itself.  As long as you are remembered, you are alive.  The Hebrew scriptures are full of references to being remembered by God.  Since God is eternal, being remembered by God is to have eternal life.  Forget me not, oh God.  So many of the psalms talk of seeking God’s face, of asking that God would not forsake us, or turn away from us.  Remember me, oh God, turn your face toward me, and do not forget me.

We want the face of God turned toward us, and not away from us.  And yet, no one can see God’s face and live.  The only one to have seen God was Moses, but from behind, and through a bush, and shielded by a rock.  (Ex. 33:18-23)  We cannot see God’s face, but we still want it to be turned toward us.  Because to be remembered by God is the pathway to everlasting life.

Remember your baptism.  Having memory of your baptism is impossible if you were an infant at the time  But the act of re-membering it—to bring it back into being, bring it back to reality, give it form and purpose—that we can do.  And we do it in this way:  By reminding ourselves that God remembers your baptism.  God’s face was turned directly toward you as you passed through the water.  Not through a bush behind a rock from the back.  No God’s face was turned fully toward you as you were baptized by name—and in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  On that day you were claimed as God’s own.  Forever.

And for that reason, like the thief on the cross, we too can turn with confidence to Jesus and say, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And Jesus does, will, and always will, and you too will be with him in paradise.

May God give us each the strength to remember that our baptism is remembered by God, the same God who will never leave us nor forsake us.


Sunday, May 12, 2019

YEAR C 2019 easter 4

Easter 4, 2019
Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, today is what we call “Good Shepherd Sunday.”  The fourth Sunday of Easter is always called Good Shepherd Sunday.  And, in January, when we celebrate St. Timothy Sunday here at St. Timothy’s, we will also have a gospel reading with Jesus saying that he is the Good Shepherd.  So, twice a year, every year, there’s an opportunity to talk about the Good Shepherd.  Which is why this time, I’m going to talk about something else.

Dorcas.  That’s kind of an unfortunate name—to our American ears, at least.  In Aramaic, her name is Tabitha, which means gazelle, which is lovely.  But, when it gets translated into Greek, she becomes Dorcas.  We press on.

If you look over to your left, you’ll see our lovely window, depicting Dorcas and the widows.  It’s unclear at first glance whether this is Dorcas after she was raised back to life, or if it is Dorcas distributing clothing to the needy before she fell ill and died.  However, as with all good art, further study provides additional clues.  The woman on the right is carrying a basket of pomegranates.  In Greek mythology, the pomegranate is tied to the myth of Persephone and the arrival of spring, which is the rebirth of the earth each year.

For Christians, the pomegranate is a symbol of the resurrection and the hope of eternal life.  The pomegranate is associated with the Resurrection of Jesus and his followers, rather than the annual resurrection of crops.  If you look around the room, you will see lots of pomegranates and lillies in our stained glass windows.  These are symbols of resurrection to new life, which is why we decorate the Altar with lillies at Easter.  So, yeah, the overwhelming pollen at Easter can be rough, but something would be lost if we just put bowls of pomegranates up there.

Back to Dorcas.  So, given that the woman with the pomegranates is holding the hand of the woman in blue, it seems this is after Dorcas has been raised from the dead.  And the woman in front of Dorcas is showing the widows and orphans the tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made, as a reminder of why Dorcas was so beloved in the community.  There is one man depicted in the window, on the left side, holding a shepherd’s crook.  (I got nothing on this guy.)

So this window was donated in 1905 in memory of Emma Dielhenn.  My German instincts tell me to pronounce that name as Deel-hen.  But this being Ohio, the name is pronounced Dillon, at least here in Massy-own.  And, just a few blocks from here, you can find Dielhenn Avenue, which is named for the Dielhenn Petticoat Co., which employed many city residents. In 1908 the “Dry Goods Reporter” declared that Dielhenn Petticoat was America’s leading petticoat specialist.  So, you can see why our Dorcas window—featuring a woman who was known for making robes and clothing—is dedicated in memory of Emma Dielhenn, right?  Here endeth the history lesson.

Now back to the text.  Tabitha, or Dorcas, was known for her acts of charity, and is one of the first female disciples mentioned by name, after the resurrection.  She fell ill and died.  Her friends gathered together to prepare her for burial, and they call a prominent pastor, Peter.  He comes right away when he receives word.  And then, those who gathered and are in mourning tell stories and share mementoes of Dorcas’ time among them.  It sounds very much like what we do today, doesn’t it?  When someone we love dies, we gather together, share stories, call the pastor?

Then Peter sends them all outside, and he kneels down and prays.  We don’t know the content of his prayers, or what he was asking.  But eventually, he turns to the body and said, "Tabitha, get up.”  And, as we heard, she opens her eyes, sees it is Peter, and he helps her up, calling the saints and widows, showing her to be alive.

SO many interesting things about that little section!  First, we specifically heard, “he turned to the body and said . . .”  Luke, the writer of Acts, makes it clear that she is not in this body.  It is just a body.  This is not Dorcas.  This is a body.  And then, he calls her by name, and she rises from the dead.  Now I won’t stand here and tell you that I understand all this, where she went when she wasn’t in the body, or how calling her by name brings her back to life, but I will say that this sounds a lot like what will happen to each one of us when the new heaven and new earth are proclaimed.  Jesus will call us each by name, and we will rise with all the others to a new life.

And then there’s that phrase, “calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive.”  What saints?!?  We had heard mention of widows earlier in the story.  But to what saints was Peter showing her?  It suggests that it’s not just the people in the room, doesn’t it?  Like maybe he’s showing Dorcas to the saints who have gone before?  Or showing her to the saints who will come after?  To me and you?  Again, I have no answers here, but Luke—unlike Mark—was careful with language, so it certainly means more than showing her to the people in the room.

Last week, I didn’t know anything about Emma Dielhenn.  And I still don’t really know much.  But I know that someone dedicated this window to her memory.  And because of that, I learned that the Dielhenns made one of the best petticoats in the country.  But the only reason I know anything at all is because of this window.  So the phrase, “In memorium” there is really most appropriate, right?  By memorializing this window, future generations are remembering and talking about Emma Dielhenn on this fourth Sunday of Easter.

And this window also honors someone named Tabitha, (or Dorcas, in Greek).  There are fifteen sentences about her in the book of Acts.  Out of 31,102 verses in the Bible, she got 8.  Ask most Christians to identify Dorcas in the Bible, and there are not many who could tell you.  Before I started as your rector, I could not have told you off the top of my head who she was without looking it up.  It’s kind of an obscure story, within the context of the whole of our scriptures.

Our beautiful window here focuses our attention on her good works and acts of charity.  The main focus of this window is showing the “tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.”  And that seems right, because we honor her for what she did before her death.  She wasn’t just some random person raised from the dead by Peter.  She was a disciple of Jesus, who used her wealth and privilege to help the people around her who needed help.  And we are reminded of those good deeds when we look at this window.

But that’s not why we know her name.  We only know the name Dorcas because she was raised from the dead.  She did laudable deeds, but we only know about those deeds because of God’s deed of raising her from the dead.  We honor her in the window for what she did before her death.  But we only even know her name because she was resurrected..

The point is not what she did with her life.  The point is that she was raised back to life.  Which is just like you and me.  Some people do great things with their lives.  Get streets named after them, and windows dedicated in their memory.  But lots of us just struggle through difficult lives, just trying to keep breathing, to keep living, to rely on the kindness of strangers.  And in God’s eyes, not one of those people is any less important than any other person.  As we heard in today’s gospel reading, not one will be snatched out of the hand of Jesus.

And at some point, like Dorcas, every single one of us will be just a body.  Waiting for Jesus to turn to us, call us by name, and say “get up.”  And then Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will call all the saints and widows to show them that we too are alive.
Get up—you are alive.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Massillon Ecumenical Lenten Service, 2019

MACA Combined Lenten Service
April 3, 2019
Forty Corners C.O.G.
1 Corinthians 13

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Through this Lenten season, in these Wednesday night services, we’re focusing on 1 Corinthians 13, which is all about love.  The way the pastors split things up, I was fortunate enough to end up talking about love, wrongdoing, and truth.  So you can imagine the other pastors’ jealousy!  Here’s the snippet I ended up with:  Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  (Some translations say “rejoices in the right,” but since the Greek word is alathea, I’m going to stick with “rejoices in the truth.”)

So, I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but there is some political division in our country these days.  Maybe it’s just me . . . and everyone I’ve ever met . . . but we do seem divided.  Like irreconcilably divided.  Each person says the others are doing things wrong, and that they alone have the truth.  And include myself when I say each person says that.  I have the truth, and you are all a bunch of wrongdoers.  Across both sides of the political aisle people point and say, you are wrongdoers; I have the truth.

And in these divided times, I am so grateful that we all come together week after week through Lent to worship our creator and redeemer.  Because I know we’re not all on the same page when it comes to politics.  I mean I’ve seen the bumper stickers!  But for these couple hours on Wednesdays in Lent, we keep choosing to gather together to share a meal, provide hospitality to our neighbors, and raise our voices together in song. There is unity here, and that is good.

When we all gather in our own worship silos on Sunday mornings, it’s easy to begin to think that the other churches are doing it wrong, and that my own church has the truth.  When you compare the worship at St. Timothy’s last Wednesday and the worship experience we are sharing tonight at Forty Corners, they could hardly be more different, right?  And yet, it is the same God we worship, the same risen Jesus we follow, the same Holy Spirit who gathers and sanctifies us.  In God’s wisdom, there are many varieties of worship styles, which means there’s a place for everybody.  The Church is God’s gift to us, with a place for every person of every time and place.  Nobody is “doing it wrong,” and nobody exclusively has the truth.

And speaking of doing it wrong, let me go to the Greek text for a moment, which every preaching professor tells you never to do.  The original Greek that gets translated as “wrongdoing” is adikia.  And, interestingly, Adikia was the Greek goddess of injustice and wrong-doing. She was usually depicted as an ugly, barbarian woman with tattooed skin. Her opposite number was Dike’ (or Justice) who was sometimes depicted beating her with a club.  Justice beating wrongdoing with a club.  That makes sense.  Wrongdoing and Justice are opposites.  So, in this section of his letter to the Corinthians, we would expect Paul to say, “Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in Justice.”  But instead, Paul writes, “Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth.”

Why is that?  I mean, the opposite of wrongdoing is behaving.  And the opposite of truth is falsehood.  Wrongdoing and truth are not opposites.  Like, we expect someone to say, “I prefer Pepsi to Coke,” but we do not expect someone to say, “I prefer Pepsi to pretzels,” right?  What is it about love that makes it not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rather rejoice in the truth?

This question got me to thinking about the kind of love Paul is talking about in this portion of his letter to the Corinthians.  If we back up a little bit, to the end of the 12th chapter of this letter, Paul is addressing their squabbles and infighting.  That’s the section where he says different believers have different gifts.  Some are teachers, some are apostles, some are healers.  And he finishes that chapter by saying, “And now I will show you a more excellent way.”  (I love that sentence!)  And now I will show you a more excellent way. And then we get chapter 13, all that stuff about love.  But what kind of love?

At the risk of getting a failing grade from my preaching professor, I feel like I need to explain that there are three kinds of love in Greek.  There is brotherly love called philia, from which we get Philadelphia.  And there is romantic love called eros, from which we get our word erotic.  And there is the kind of love Paul is talking about here, which is agape’ love, or unconditional love.  This is the kind of love God has for us.  This is the kind of love that never gives up, never dries up, never goes away.  No matter what.

And so that kind of love, that unconditional love, does not rejoice in the wrong but rejoices in the truth.  Notice that there is no condemnation in that statement.  I think there’s a temptation in the church to focus on what we think God condemns.  If you and I were writing this passage, we might naturally be more apt to say, “Love condemns wrongdoing, but Love does not condemn the truth.”  But that’s not how love works—not this kind of unconditional love at least.  There is no condemnation in love. 

And that’s why there is nothing about condemnation, or disappointment, or rejection in this passage.  There is only love.  We don’t know what love condemns.  Or if love condemns.  But we do know what love does not rejoice in.  And we do know what love does rejoice in—and that is the truth.

In these divided times, let us come together in love and truth.  Let us choose what we rejoice in, rather than what we condemn.  May God give us the grace to treat one another with love, to rejoice in the truth of the Gospel, and to lay down our lives in service to our neighbors.


Monday, February 25, 2019

Benjamin B. Berner

Benjamin B. Berner
February 25, 2019
Isaiah 61:1-3
Psalm 23
2 Corinthians 4:13-17
John 6:37-40

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Jesus says, “this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”

 You are here today because you knew Benji.  Or, perhaps, because you know his family.  In his short 44 years, Benji has touched many lives, and was deeply loved. I never met Benji, but I know some of his family members.  I am grateful that you all are here today to support Benji’s family.  They will need your continued love and support for a long time to come, I know.

In the gospel reading we just heard, from John, Jesus says, “this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”  In Baptism, Benji was given to Jesus, and Jesus has promised not to lose what is his.  Benji was something of a free spirit.  And Benji was baptized.  A free spirit who was claimed as God’s own forever.

A few minutes ago, we read Psalm 23 together.  Many people find Psalm 23 to be the most comforting thing in the entire Bible.  Maybe it’s the pastoral imagery, or maybe it’s because it reminds us that God is with us in the darkest times and deepest valleys of our lives.  Which is true, and worth remembering.

But what I really love about Psalm 23 is the original language of the part that gets translated as goodness and mercy following me.  The Hebrew word that becomes “follow” is actually more like chasing, or hunting down.  God’s goodness and mercy don’t follow us home, like a stray kitten.  No, God’s goodness and mercy hunt us down, like a tiger.  We cannot escape them, even if we wanted to.  God’s goodness and mercy are on your tail, chasing you throughout your life.

But, as we go through life, we all become disillusioned about some things.  I know from firsthand experience that it is easy to find ourselves giving up on God, either because of what we experience in life, or sometimes because of what we experience in the church.  And, although we might give up on God or the church, what matters is that God does not give up on us.  God’s love is relentless and will chase us down.  And when we think we have let go of God’s hand, we find that we are still safely nestled in the palm of God’s hand, the very place we have been all along.  We do not hold onto God:  God holds us.  No matter where our lives seem to take us.

Jesus says, “this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”  Benji is safely in the hands of God, the very place he has been all along.


Sunday, January 27, 2019

For Holocaust Remembrance Day

This is a verbatum from a hospital visit when I was in seminary.

C1: Well, what a surprise to see you up here!  My name is George Baum, I’m the chaplain who spoke with you the other day?
S1: Yes, of course.  We remember you.
C2: How is your husband doing now?  Did they the surgery work out okay?
S2: He is doing better.  He is strong.  He worked his whole life very hard, so he is strong.
C3: Is he having much pain?
S3: Not too much.  They took out the epidural and he seems pretty good so far.
C4: And how are you holding up?  [I see the bed]  You've been sleeping here, right?
S4: Yes.  I am doing fine. 
C5: It's nice to have the bed here.
S5: And nice to have this room!  My son, he is a surgeon, he got us this.
C6: Oh?  Where is your son a surgeon?
S6: He works here.  In the hospital.
C7: Oh, at Roosevelt?  I see.  Well that's fantastic.  And your husband is not having pain?
S7: So far, he is good.  But, I think women can -- how can I say it?  -- women can take more pain and tolerate more than men.  [Looking toward husband]  But, he is doing well.
C8: That's good.  And you say you’re okay.  It must be exhausting to be living in the hospital like this.
S8: Yes.  But, you know, men and women see things, are built differently.  I am comfortable wherever I am.  He, you know, he wants his ethnic food.  Cabbage, and herring. 
C9: Ah, probably none of that for a while, huh?
S9: No, and that will make him grumpy.  He wants what he is used to.
C10: And now it’s (I look at the tray) Jell-o instead right?
S10: Yes.  I can eat whatever.  Women . . . well, I just say, "fine, have it your way."  Most things, they are little, and I don't want to bother, since I can take more without getting upset than he can.
C11: But then do you feel like you don't get what you need?
S11: No, if I need something I make sure I get it.  (smiles)  I just mean that women can take more pain and suffering.  It is the way it has been since creation.
C12: Well, I saw my wife give birth to two children, and I know I couldn't tolerate that much pain!
S12: Yes.  That is what I mean.  Men are stronger, physically, but women are stronger in other ways.
C13: Do you have more than the one son?
S13: We also have a daughter, who lives in Staten Island.  That will be out next stop.  To see if he can tolerate living there before we go home.
C14: So you'll live with her for a while.
S14: Yes, and the doctor appointments will be easier to make it to from there.  He said he was tired all the time and felt sick.  I said he should go to a doctor to see.  But he waved me off and said no it is nothing.  Well, in October, we had a wedding in New York to go to and I said, "while we're there, maybe you could see a doctor."  So I set up the appointment.  [I was reminded how Garrison Keilor says Lutherans would only visit Hawaii if they could justify it as a business trip that they were going on anyway.]  Then they found that he was anemic and must be losing blood.  So they ordered more tests and they found he had a mass in his intestines that was bleeding all over the place.
C15: Oh my.
S15: So they decided to operate and then they did.  [She shrugs]  But I am an optimist; he is a pessimist.  I can take a lot and still see the bright side.  Not so much with him.  Do you know of Auschwitz? 
C16: [Feeling shocked]  Yes.  Of course.
S16: When I was 17, they took me there.  I have a number.  [She pulls up her sleeve and shows me.]  This is a tattoo.  [This is the first time I have seen one of these; it says A-52]  They just carve it right into your flesh like this.  [Pulls her sleeve back down]
[I say nothing]
S17: I lost my family.  Well, everyone but my father.  They didn't kill him right away.  But my mother and brothers and sister were all killed very early.
[I find this so deeply horrific that I start to cry, but continue looking directly at her, hoping she'll go on]
S18: Then they put me to work.  Are you familiar with [some company she names], the motorcycles?
[I pretend I am]
S19: Well that's where I worked.  I made motorcycles.  [She smiles, kind of ironically, I think]
C17: You never would have expected that, huh?
S20: No.  To be taken out of your life and treated like dirt, lower than dirt, unless you have been through that, you cannot possibly know.  But I worked right next to the crematorium, where they burned the bodies.  The smell of it, all day long.  The ovens.  And I was 17.
C18: [I am overwhelmed by this all.]  That is horrible!
S21: Yes.  But you do what you have to do.  I was able to just keep going because I didn't know anything else to do.
[I have nothing to say, and am still crying]
S22: But there was always resistance.  The people who worked in the dynamite factory, they would take gunpowder and sew it into the hems of their clothes.  And then when they were killed, well there were people who had to sort the clothes into piles from the bodies.  You know, shoes over here, and shirts over there.  And the ones sorting the clothes would cut open the hems and get the gunpowder.
C19: Uh huh.
S23: And they were saving it for the crematorium.  Do you know what that is?
C20: Yes.  Yes, I do.
S24: Well they were planning to blow that up as an act of you know, rebellion or whatever.
C21: With the gunpowder?
S25: Yes.  So one night.  I worked the night shift.  There was day and night so we worked all the time, and I worked at night.  Well one night they did it and blew the building up.  I heard the explosion because my factory was right next door.
C22: Oh my . . .
S26: Well then we were all very afraid.  And we didn’t go to work.  And the guards, they decided to show us a message and they took dozens of people, Jews, and lined them up to kill them.  And I heard the gunshots.  And, do you know the ???
C23: No, I’m sorry.
S27: Well, that’s the Jewish National Anthem.  And I could hear them singing it while they were being shot.
[I start crying again]
S28: And they kept singing as the others were being shot.  [Now she is crying too.]  And the singing, it went until the very end, getting quieter and quieter, until the last one was dead.
[I am so stunned I cannot speak.  We both have tears on our face, saying nothing.  She wipes her eyes and says,]
S29: So, it was just a small thing.  Some people say insignificant.
C24: No, that is one of the most important stories I have ever heard.  I am so thankful that you told me.
S30: I went to Washington and told my story.  Recorded it there at the . . . .
C25: Holocaust Memorial?
S31: Yes.
C26: Do you tell your stories to others?
S32: Well, my grandchildren, they are too young.  I don’t want to scare them.  But the one, she just turned 18.
C27: About how old you were when you were in Auschwitz.
S33: Yes.
C28: So maybe you can tell her when the time seems right?  It’s important that people can hear what it was like from someone they know and who was there.
S34: There are so few of us left.  And someday when we are gone . . . [she stops]
C29: The stories can go on because you told them to your grandchildren, and people like me.  I will tell your story, believe me.  I mean, if that’s alright with you.
S35: Of course.  But it is just one little story.  One person.
C30: And that’s why it’s important.  Because you are a person.
[She smiles.]
S36: People in Auschwitz, when we see each other, it is like an instant family.
C31: Of course it is!
S37: And we share something that other people cannot understand.
C32: No, I can never really know what you all went through.
S38: We grew up fast.  Very fast.  You had to, to survive.
[A doctor comes in and they talk about the epidural and how the patient will need to get up in a chair today.  I wonder at the irony of two women talking about a man’s epidural.  The doctor leaves.]
S39: So, we thought when the war was over, that we had seen the worst.  But it’s not true.  It is as bad now as it ever was then.  People killing in the name of religion.
C:33: Yes.  The Sudan today, but we have plenty before that too.
S40: People say Stalin killed, what 20 million of his people.  And then Cambodia. 
C34: Yes.  It seems it will never end.
S41: No.  I wonder if, after the Messiah comes, there will be peace.
C35: Well, my religion says the Messiah already came, but still there is no peace.
S42: Oh, I don’t want to talk about religion.  That will just be trouble.
[This strikes me as a very odd thing to say, given the conversation she has been having with the chaplain.]
S43: But the evil that people do.  There is no limit, it seems.
C36: No, there is not.  I wish that Hitler had been the worst possible.  But I’m afraid not.
S44: I cannot understand it.
[A physical therapist enters the room and is putting on gloves.  We both stand up.]
PT1: Hello, how’s he doing?
S45: Good.  They already took the epidural out. 
PT2: No, I am here to get him up.
S46: Oh, to put him in a chair?
PT3: No, we’re going to take a little walk.
C37: Okay, I will leave you be now.  Thank you so much for talking to me.  [I put my hand on her shoulder]
S47: Thank you for your visit.  It was kind of you to listen to me.
C38: Really, it was an honor.  I don’t come back to the hospital until next week.  You said he should get discharged on Sunday?
S48: Yes.
C39: Well, okay.  Then, hopefully I will not be seeing you anymore.
[We both smile]
C40: Thank you Mrs. G.
S49: Thank you George.

In order to avoid the assignment of excessively high numbers from the general series to the large number of Hungarian Jews arriving in 1944, the SS authorities introduced new sequences of numbers in mid-May 1944. This series, prefaced by the letter A, began with “1” and ended at “20,000.” Once the number 20,000 was reached, a new series beginning with “B” series was introduced. Some 15,000 men received “B” series tattoos. For an unknown reason, the “A” series for women did not stop at 20,000 and continued to 30,000.