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Worship each Sunday @ 10AM

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CHRISTMAS EVE AT TRINITY!

 Christmas Eve Worship at Trinity Lutheran 11 AM Service of Candles and Carols with help from our choir and musicians 5:30PM Service o...

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Why Pray at All?

This week at Trinity, we will consider Matthew 7:7, the verse that tells us to ask, to knock, to seek.  Some of us may say, "I already tried that, and my prayers weren't answered."

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat has an interesting perspective on prayer, which I first discovered a few years ago in this article:  http://zeek.forward.com/articles/117998/.  She says, ""Jewish tradition forbids asking God for the impossible. For this reason, we don’t pray for rain during the dry season; the laws of nature are what they are, and our prayers can’t change that, so our liturgy guides us to pray then for dew instead. We can’t 'wish away' climate change. That isn’t how prayer works."

I wish more Christians had this view of prayer.  I see far too many people viewing prayer as a version of Santa Claus for grown ups:  I will pray fervently, and the cancer will go away.  I will pray enough, and a job will come, and it will be a good job that pays lots of money, and I will finally be happy.

But what does that mean if the outcome is negative?  Do I need to improve my prayer techniques?  Does God not hear me?  Does God not like me?  If I prayed harder, could I have affected the outcome?

It's crummy theology, and that's one reason why I don't like it.  But that leads us to a different question:  why bother to pray at all?

Why pray?  Different theologians have different answers.  One of my favorite theologians, Marcus Borg, admits that he's not sure of how prayer works, or if it works, but he does it the way that he practices other good manners.  And he does it because he's willing to admit that he doesn't know everything:  "I myself have no clue what the explanatory mechanism is, and I am content not to. And this leads to my final reason for continuing to do prayers of petition and intercession. To refuse to do them because I can't imagine how prayer works would be an act of intellectual pride: if I can't imagine how something words, then it can't work. To think thus involves more than a bit of hubris" (The Heart of Christianity: Discovering a Life of Faith, page 197).

I like the views of my all-time favorite theologian, Walter Wink, who reminds us again and again that God will not intervene in this universe that gives us free will unless we ask God to intervene: "This is a God who works with us and for us, to make and keep human life humane. And what God does depends on the intercessions of those who care enough to try to shape a future more humane than the present" (Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, page 301).

Rachel Barenblatt's article shows me a similar strain of thought in Judaism:  "The kabbalistic tradition teaches that God withdrew God’s-self in order to make space for us and for our free will. Free will means that we can choose to harm, or we can choose to bring healing. And when we act here 'below,' our actions are mirrored 'on high.' When we act to bring healing to our world, we arouse the flow of healing within transcendent divinity too. This is one of the deep kabbalistic messages of the Tu B’Shvat seder."

I've always believed that my actions can change me.  I have an atheist friend who says she envies me my belief. I argue that my beliefs come because of my practice, and that she could enter into spiritual practices, and she would be a different person in a year. She proclaims not to believe me, but she also refuses to try my experiment. Marcus Borg, in The Heart of Christianity, says "We become what we do" (192).

But Barenblatt's idea says that my actions not only change me, but they change the planet, which I desperately want to believe.  And yet, my actions seem so piddly.  Can my recycling really help heal the deep poisoning that we've been seeing?  I'll plant a tree, as there is room in my yard, but I know that the planet needs so many forests of trees, and I am one small person.

Barenblatt's idea gives me hope.  God wants our buy-in, our participation, and then God will meet us more than halfway.  God has many more resources than I do.  I'm willing to partner with the Divine.  I like the idea that my actions not only change me and the planet, but they also change God.  Suddenly, every action has a weight that I don't always see.

Maybe that's my problem with the prayer that I watch so many practice.  For example, we smoke and then pray for the lung cancer to be healed.  It's rare that the body works that way.

Yet, if someone I loved had lung cancer, I'd pray those prayers anyway.  Much as I'm committed to a universe based on the principles of free will, I want to allow room for miracles.  I want a world where God and my fellow humans can bring about healing of all sorts--the kinds of miracles we need today.

So, I will do as Jesus tells us.  I will ask, I will seek, and I will knock.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Judge Not

The text for Sunday, July 23, 2017:  Matthew 7:1-5


This famous text has Jesus telling us not to judge, followed by the example of taking the speck of dust out of our own eyes before we try to remove the logs out of the eyes of others.  Along the way we're reminded that we'll be judged in the same way that we judge others.

Some of us should shake in fear at those words.  But this morning, as I read them again, I thought about the way I judge others and the way I judge myself.  Frankly, I'm much harder on myself.  I give others the benefit of the doubt as I remind myself that I can't possibly understand every aspect of what's affecting them.

Meanwhile, in my own head, I hear a chorus of voices that remind me of all the ways I'm not living up to my full potential, of all the ways I've let everyone down.  You might think I need some therapy, and you might be right, but I suspect I'm not alone in this.  I know many people who are far more gentle with each other than they are with themselves.  Just listen to how people talk, and you'll see.

With that in mind, let us return to the text again.  This text is not about the way we should judge.  No, I believe that Jesus is telling us not to waste precious time in judgment.

It's a variation of what one of my most beloved yoga teachers told me long ago.  She caught me looking at a fellow student when I couldn't hold a pose.  She said, "Don't compare yourself to your classmates.  It won't help.  Focus on your own body."  It's wise advice in a variety of contexts.

When we judge, we're comparing.  Maybe we're comparing to a standard that we feel everyone should be attaining.  Maybe we're comparing ourselves to our larger society.  Maybe we're finding ourselves superior.  Maybe we come up lacking.

It's not helpful.  It's not a good use of our time.  Jesus reminds us again and again of our main task:  to love each other and to love God.  Judging doesn't get us there.

Life is very short, and judgmental behavior robs us of many joys.  Let us resolve to stop judging each other.  Let us resolve to stop judging ourselves.  Let us look at the world with a different set of glasses:  let us look through the lenses of love.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Wealth and Treasure, Rust and Moths

The reading for Sunday, July 15, 2017:

Matthew 6:19-34
Any time we see stock markets wobble, I think about various Bible passages that talk about wealth and where we place our trust.  The one in Matthew is one of the most famous.

Money--and the power and status that it brings--is a powerfully seductive thing. Once, when facing reduced circumstances because of my spouse's job loss, my Charismatic Catholic AA friend acted as if I'd had a death in the family.

I shrugged and said, "I think having too much money is spiritually dangerous."

You wouldn't think I'd have to explain that to her, but I did.

If we have too much money, we tend to think of ourselves as capable and smart and able to go about our lives on our own. We think we don't need God. And soon, we begin to worry that we don't have enough money, and we lash ourselves to our jobs, jobs that require ever more of us, so that we can ensure we have enough money. But we'll never have enough money.

We will never have enough money. We will never be safe and protected by having enough money.

The only way to win that game is not to play.

When markets tumble, I'm reminded of how much faith I've put in my money, of how I've stored up for myself treasures on earth, where moths and rust and thieves and worldwide economic downturns can take it from me, and I can do nothing.

Most spiritual traditions warn us not to rely on our monetary wealth.  Let us try to follow the teachings of Jesus, who reminds us that God knows what we need.  The passage at the end is one I suspect I will spend my entire life trying to follow:  "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Let us strive not to worry at all.  Let us learn to trust God ever more fully.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Walter Wink Books Worth Your Time

If you were at church this morning, July 9, you heard Kristin reference the work of Walter Wink.  Here's more information about his work.

I'm happy to see that the work of Walter Wink is still in print.  I find his writing very easy to understand, especially for a theologian delving in deep.  If you want to read the book that had such influence on me, it's Engaging the Powers:  Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination.  Chapter 13 gives a list of historical times when nonviolent resistance has worked to overcome oppression on a geopolitical scale.  Chapter 9 contains the information on The Sermon on the Mount's section on turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile and giving up our clothes as resistance texts, not let people walk all over us texts.

Wink has also written a shorter (and less expensive) book which looks like it covers similar territory:  Jesus and Nonviolence:  A Third Way