Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Approaching Election

Reflections on the upcoming Election, Politics and the Church
Here are some thoughts and opinions of mine as we approach the November election. I thought some of this might help Cathedral members and friends understand me a bit better.

During Seminary I became very involved in what today would be called justice and rights issues. This continued for a few years after seminary, but in 1977 I experienced a conversion experience. In brief, Christ became more clearly my Lord and Savior. Naturally, this touched most aspects of my life. One of these had to do with my involvement in political activism. It isn’t that I suddenly came to see these issues as wrong or unimportant. It was more personal for me. I came to see that my involvement in them was motivated by anger and at times hatred. I knew that love and especially the love of Christ were not my motives. Further, I realized that I tended to see those who differed from me as bad or evil. I needed to step back from all this.

In addition, as I have aged and hopefully matured, I have become a lot more circumspect about politics. I am more inclined to look for the truth on both sides of issues. I have grown too in my conviction that pastors would do well to maintain a more independent and non-partisan position regarding candidates and political parties. We need to be able to minister to all our people and there are always Christians of good conscience on all sides of political divides and all parties. None of this means that I lack political convictions or even passion, I just am very concerned about maintaining the Church’s ability and mine to speak to power no matter which party or person happens to hold it.

I call myself an independent and have many times split my ballot voting for folks from different parties. Since 1980, for those interested, I have voted for the person elected President all but twice. I will leave this for you to guess where I may have gone wrong.

Here is one matter about which I have plenty of conviction. After the 2004 election, the IRS threatened to take away the not-for-profit status of All Saints Parish, Pasadena based on a sermon preached just before the election. Like many in the religious community, I reacted immediately to this interference and threat to the Church’s, or any religious communities, right to free speech and the ability to comment on political matters. Then, I listened to the actual sermon.

After that, I found myself on the IRS’s side of the issue. In his sermon, the retired Rector of the parish, not only took sides in the election, but essentially explained how Jesus would vote. Telling Christians how Jesus would vote is presumptuous and manipulative. This is the worse kind of blurring of the boundaries of Church and State. For me, for a pastor to try to tell folks for whom to vote is an abuse of our power.

Having said all this, here are a couple of observations about this election. Both candidates for president are right, we need a change in direction as a nation. Either will bring change. The most important change IMHO needed is how we carry ourselves in our relationship to the other nations of the world.

As Reporter Brian Williams has stated, I believe that both Senator Obama and Senator McCain are outstanding leaders and persons of character, and either would serve our nation well. I think that demonization and character assassinations do not serve us well. Such attacks undermine the basic truth that for the health and well-being of our nation, after the election, we will need to come back together. After the election, the person who is president will be added to our prayers of the people. He will be President of all the people. We can only pray that the person holding this office will always remember this.

I believe it is the duty of all Christians, as well as all citizens, to vote and to fully participate in our political process. So, don’t forget to vote November 4th!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sermon on September 28th - Family Sunday

(I don’t usually preach from a manuscript, but last Sunday, I did.)


Outside of Jerusalem rests the tomb of a young man. For centuries now Jews, Christians and Muslims have come to the tomb to throw stones and offer prayers of bitterness. Who could generate such universal reaction?

His name was Absalom. He was the favored son of David who created upheaval in his father’s household, tried to subvert his father’s rule, and finally led a rebellion and civil war that almost cost David his life.

The people who gather for such prayers demonstrate the universal pain of families that come apart. The bible is full of such stories and most of the families portrayed in Scripture qualify for the term dysfunctional!

Perhaps this is one reason that the story of the prodigal son remains so universally loved. The prodigal returns and receives the love of the father. Meanwhile, however, his older brother fumes in resentment.

This morning’s gospel reading gives us another view of family behavior. Jesus used it to show how people who once were outcasts could find their way back to the Father’s love. At the same time he showed that some who say the right things have the wrong motives in their hearts.

I had a friend who used to like to twist the familiar phrase “home is where the heart is” into home is where the HURT is. Each time he would say it, the rest of us would both smile in recognition and grimace in the plan truth.

I once say a cartoon that showed a large auditorium. Over the stage hung a large banner with “The National Organization of People from Functional Families.” The auditorium had about five people scattered around in it.

Families, of course, can be places of love and sources of strength to their members, but we all know from these examples that families are often the source of our greatest pain. Knowing this, I’ve often asked myself as a pastor, what the church can do about this.

Why do families and family members need the church?

The Church is called in Scripture the “Family of God.” At the core of this description are three cardinal values to comprise our family. Simply said they are

Most human families start out with the value of love. But love itself can become twisted. Love can become conditional – I love you only if you live up to my expectations. Love can become manipulative – If you love me, you will do what I want. Love can go sour when a family member goes in a different way. The message is clear, we love you but not if you choose to act that way.

This is where the church as the family of God has something significant to add to all of us. We are after all a community not only of love, but also of acceptance. When we are truly the church, we accept people as they are; who they are, unique. It doesn’t matter if this uniqueness is the result of different talents or strange quirks. If folks are baptized they are part of our family.

And further, we are a community of forgiveness. We start with the assumption that everyone is a sinner in need of forgiveness. And as Alina reminded us two weeks ago, we are to forgive others as we have been forgiven.

Jerry Cook was the pastor of a very large Four Gospel Church in Portland, Oregon. He had a large church with lots of programs, bible studies, and a terrific youth ministry. Then one day he began to think about the behavior of his members. He became uncomfortable with the typical church chatter. He became convicted that as good as his church was, it wasn’t really the family of God, but a group of people with similar values.

Finally, he decided to do something about it. For one full year, he preached sermons with only three themes: Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness. He said strait out that biblical knowledge and theological true are important, but it was more important to God that his family lived out love, acceptance and forgiveness. It took a while, but a church that had been largely suburban and white began to change.

Some members where surprised when street kids started attending.

Others were shocked when the church became integrated.

Some even left when lots of single people started attending including Gay and Lesbians.

What was once a nice church became a dynamic community that transformed its neighborhood and became a remarkable witness to forgiveness and reconciliation.

Love, acceptance and Forgiveness are the core values of the family of God.

Golf in the Kingdom

Thursday afternoon the weather looked ideal. I had been spending too much time in the office and I had not been able to play golf for over two weeks. So, I took off and headed north to Ridgeview Ranch.

They had an opening for a single person. I was matched up with two nice business men who were making up a round for their golf league. We headed out just after 4pm and we knew that we wouldn’t be able to play a full round. I played extremely well and headed to the back nine just two over par.

Mostly I was putting very well thanks to an off hand comment by Johnny Miller during the Ryder Cup about judging break. I put in three putts for par that were over 15 feet. We finished the tenth hole and my playing companions who were having a tough day decided to head to the club house for a beer.

I went along alone paring the 11th after holing with another long putt for a par. Then I approached the 12th hole which is a medium par three. I stood in the twilight looking at the pin that was near the front of the green. I took out my Sky Caddie (given to me by two friends who understand) and calculated my distance. I was just at 140 yards from the pin. I took out a nine iron. For me, a nine iron hit well will go 145 yards. I figured it was late in the round and given a front trap, better to be long than short.

I hit the shot well and it flew directly at the pin. In the gathering dark I could not see how close I was. For a fleeting moment, I thought it might have gone in. I suddenly realized that I didn’t have any witnesses to vouch for me if it did. I drove the cart path around the green and realized that I had hit it pretty much my full length and was five paces above the hole with a down hill putt. No problem, I thought to myself, because I had already holed several of these.

Then to my alarm I realized that it had gotten just too dark to be able to read the putt. I was thinking to myself that the best strategy would be to just hit it firm right at the hole. Then, I paused and looked around me. The setting sun made a golden sunset and the surrounding houses added a luminescent to the scene. It must have been just perfectly 70 degrees. A small gentle breeze was blowing. I stood there taking in this absolutely perfect North Texas night. I remembered that I had just shot one of my best front nines ever.

I took a deep breath and offered a short prayer. “Thank you Lord for the gift of this day, the beauty that surrounds me, the joy and pleasure in a round played well, and most of all for good friends, who not only share a love for the game, but also are kind enough to help me enjoy it more.“

With that I picked up my ball. The birdie putt had by now been transcended by the beauty of the moment and a heart that was full of thanksgiving. I drove my cart slowly to the cart barn. I knew that there would be many more chances for birdie putts, but few moments in which everything comes together. In golf, just as in the rest of life, sometimes it does.