Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Songs to Use for Something, Sometime--Chance the Rapper--Everybody's Something (Parental Discretion)

So I know I know, every once in awhile I come around and post something, I say I am going to be doing it more often and as we all know that never happens.  So, I might write sometime or I might not.

So I have had this playlist going on my iTunes for some time now called "songs to use for something sometime."  When a strong strikes my fancy for some reason I drop it in this playlist and there it sits. "Everybody's Something" by Chance the Rapper has been sitting in this folder since I first heard it.

If you aren't familial with Chance, he is a Chicago based rapper, who instead of signing with a major label keeps working on his own projects and releases them for free.  The latest project he was a part of is called Surf which is by a group called Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experience.  If you haven't heard this album yet you better stop reading and head over to iTunes, datpift or wherever and give it a listen.  It has some fantastic stuff on which has already maybe it into my playlist.

Chance came onto the scene big time in 2013 with this mixtape called Acid Rap, it is still out there for free if you haven't heard it.  It is a rather busy, hectic album that showcases his various styles, flows and his hometown.  This track called "Everybody's Something" is off of that mixtape.  As I posted in the title of this article, this track is NSFW and requires some parental discretion.  The video below is the official video but does not have the last verse from BJ the Chicago Kid.  The second video includes the whole track.

The hook on this track, as it is supposed to, gets right to the heart of the message Chance is looking to send.  It doesn't mix any punches or beat around the bush, it just comes at you with this reminder that no matter who you are, where you are or where you are going, you mean something to someone. 
                                  "Everybody's somebody's everything.  I know you right.  
                                                    Nobody's nothing, that's right"

The hook might not take us into too much detail about reason or need for these words of reassurance but through the bridge and verses we get a better picture.  On his two verses Chance, weaves lines about gun violence, drug use, his city of Chicago, racism and I am sure other references that I've missed, but these don't seem to be verses just about others experiences but his own.  It is on the hook of the track that Chance lays out that he knows that he is loved because there have been people in his life that have helped him through the dark times, so in turn the connection that seems to be made is that if he can be loved then so can everyone.  If he means something to someone else then we all must mean something to someone. 

"I know somebody, somebody loves my ass 
cause they help me beat my demons ass"

My mind has been a wash over the past few weeks, with news of riots in my hometown of Baltimore, shootings here in my current home of Portland, a death in my congregation this week, the jury decision in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev case, the earthquakes in Nepal, seeing the Avengers over the weekend and everything else that dominates our news media.  Maybe in my mind I simplify things too much, or maybe I don't get the depth of the issues or maybe I am unwilling to vilify another, but I do not understand how life became so expendable, so unredeemable, or so quantifiable.  It is not just that we have become numb to violence and death in our society, but that we can so distance ourself from that life that we can see it as nothing or unredeemable, or some sort of justice is being done by the way we are treating a fellow person.

My mind keeps coming back around to these words from Chance, and the retribution that is in them, reconciliation, the grace, redemption.  When I see death on the news, I think of whose child died, or our next military campaign, whose husband won't be home or as a jury convicts whose mother is being torn away from her family.  There is a great depth that can be found in this track that would take days to unpack.

However, for me, right at this moment, the message that I hear, that resounds in my ear is one that is a lot simpler than that.  It is a message of the value of life, the importance of human relation, and the promise from God that we will never be alone, that there is nothing that can separate us from Christ love.  For me, deep in this song, we hear the message that Christ calls us to love ourselves, love one another, to pray for those that persecute us and to remember that we are all God's children and have value in God's eyes.  It causes me to slow down when I see someone on the street, causes me to reflect on who they are and who loves them, it causes me to think twice before I comment on Facebook or twitter, it makes me remember that the person I see on the news or being vilified is someones son, daughter, mother, father, sister, brother, but more importantly a child of God.

So before we cast the first stone, lash out in hate, or don't consider the life that is being taken we need to remember who we are and who cares about us and in turn who cares and loves the other.  If you feel that you are alone, or that you aren't anything to anyone, I am here to remind you, that you are something to someone, that you do matter to someone, if you know it or not.  If you don't know who that person is, it can be me, know that you matter to me, but more importantly know that you are God's.

If you do need someone to talk to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always open 1-800-273-8255

Friday, February 20, 2015


So we have some updates to share!  I am working at a church in a Pastoral role here in Portland.  It is not a call but it is a foot in the door, a chance to work with a congregation and helps me keep up my training.  I am serving as a Pastoral Intern, for lack of a better title.

Last Memorial Day I was asked to be a pulpit supply for Holy Trinity Lutheran here in SE Portland.  After the service, while talking with some of the members I was offered a few more Sundays  to come and preach.  Seeing as I had no other commitments, I jumped at the opportunity.  As the summer progressed into the fall, I found myself leading worship at Holy Trinity for multiple Sunday's a month.  Later that fall,  through a conversation with the council, we discovered that there was going to be an opportunity for part-time Pastoral work.

After discussing the possibility with Colleen, the Synod and the congregation we worked out a contract for me to serve Holy Trinity as a Part-Time Pastoral Intern and take care of pastoral duties around the church.  This is not a call for a variety of reasons, but I am helping them to discern for the future for the congregation, take care of the spiritual needs of the congregation
and follow the guide of the Holy Spirit.

Thank you for your prayers and support along the way and I will keep you posted over the coming months.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Come and See

I am not going to be preaching this weekend but I wanted to pass along some thoughts I had regarding the Gospel for this week.

The reading for Sunday is from John 1:43-51 and is one of my favorites, not because one of our characters here is Andrew but because of how Jesus calls the disciples.

When Jesus calls the disciples on the beach he says "follow me," it is as simple as that, follow me is the command.  Nothing more and nothing less.  Jesus reaches out to people with an invitation to come and see what this is all about.  For me this feels the opposite from what many invitations are in our society today, especially from the church.

I feel what I have witnessed from the church is not an invitation to come and see but rather a question of what do you believe, can you prove it and does what you believe line up with our beliefs.  Jesus does not call down to the beach and tell them to "believe in me" but rather "follow me" it is not until the end of the Gospel that we hear a profession of faith from the disciples, only after they lived, loved and traveled with Jesus did they come to believe and understand who Jesus was.

Things do not begin with a demand of faith but rather with an invitation to come and see!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Epiphany Reflection 2015

Until just a few years ago I had only given passing thought to Epiphany (the day when the wise guys showed up).  I understood the event and all but the significance did not sink in until recently.  As I was reading this morning from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals (the prayer book from Shane Claiborne) the Psalm of the day jumped out at me.

Psalm 33: 1-6
Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous: it is good for the just to sing praises.
Praise the Lord with the harp: play to God upon the psaltery and lyre.
Sing for God a new song: sound a fanfare with all your skill upon the trumpet.
For the word of the Lord is right: and all God's works are sure.
God loves righteousness and justice: the loving-kindness of the Lord fills the whole earth.
By the word of the Lord were the heavens made: by the breath of Gods mouth all the heavenly hosts.

A few weeks have now passed since we gathered on Christmas Eve to celebrate Christ's birth.  It was a night filled with singing the old comforting hymns, gathering around the table for a meal, and witnessing the light of the world scattering the darkness.  As the church emptied that night and everyone went home we were on the cusp of a new day, Christmas Day. 

There were presents to open, family to see, traditions to fulfill on that day and days to come.  However, as the days past we began going back to work with a brief pause for New Years. By now we are settled back into our offices, schools, roles and lives, while Christmas feels like weeks ago.  

Bam, Epiphany happens.  This is the day that the Lord has made and this is the day that we recognize and remember that Christ didn't come into the world for just us gathered in that church on Christmas Eve.  These wise guys that show up came from a distant land, from a far far far away place bearing witness to the Savior of the World.

We hear in the Psalm for today that we are to "sing for God a new song, sound a fanfare"  This is a day that should break us out of our post Christmas slumber, the post holiday routine and remind us that this child came not just for us but for the whole world!  This child is for the whole world and all people.  That for me is the significance of the day and the reminder for me that this day is not like any other day.  No day is like any other day because we are constantly being made new and the world is constantly being renewed.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Constantly Reforming

Constantly Reforming
Oct. 26th 2014
Matthew 22:24-46
20th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church SE Portland

Grace Mercy and Peace to you

Happy Reformation Sunday.  Today, is the day we celebrate our history in the church, we celebrate our history of being reformers.  Today is the day that we reflect on the work that Luther did all those many years ago, 497 to be exact that set the Protestant Reformation in motion.  

He was moved to speak up and speak out because of verses from Romans likes these…If one is under the law they will never be able to get out from under it.  There is no possible way to live in the law and be justified by ones own measures.  

There is something else and something more that just this law…there is a God of Love.

Luther found the God of love and the God of righteousness.  He found a God that was loving, forgiving and full of grace.  You see Luther was tormented by his past, by his sins and his short comings haunted him.  While he was still a priest in the Catholic Church he would wear out priests during his confessions, he was known to have finished confessing, leave the confessionally booth and immediately return because he remembered sins that he had not confessed.  

He was tormented by his sin and the thoughts of a God of vengeance and judgement.  

However when he dived into the writings of Paul and the Gospels he found a God of love and redemption.  A God that was a loving rather than a condemning.  Justification for Luther was found in that redemptive and saving act of Jesus on the cross.  

It was in that redeeming act that the world was no longer kept in check by the law but rather the world was freed by grace.  No longer are we being held captive by the law but rather we are freed by the Grace of God.  

However, what does this freedom mean?  We hear Jesus in the Gospel this week speaking about being freed by the Son and that the truth will make you free.  However, this is was foreign concept to the audience that Jesus was addressing and is very different from the notion of freedom that we have in our society currently.  

You see in our society today we understand freedom to be something that allows to us to do and live as we desire.  It allows us to be able to speak, act and live in a certain way, where besides some of the basic tiers and tenants of society is more or less open.  

However, what Jesus is getting at is a new freedom in Christ and a new freedom in the world to live for the world and in service to one another.  Jesus does not simply say that you are my disciples if you believe, but he said that if you continue in my words then you are truly a disciple of Christ.  This is not a yes I’m saved and I can do whatever I feel, but it is a yes I am saved and for a purpose.  

It was these very words from Christ that spurred Luther to continue to push and work towards reforming the church.  He did not want to sit idly by the wayside but to push to make the church truly the Body of Christ and to continue to live into the calling of Christ, to be His disciples.  That is why he sought to reform the church.  

We are a part of this heritage and I do believe that we are still a reforming church, we are a church of the Reformation.  The Reformation did not end 400 years ago but we are a church that is constantly being called by the Gospel, to be disciples and constantly calling us to act on that new freedom we have in Christ.

This week I came across an article that is one Lutherans take on what the 95 thesis would look like to the church today.  I feel that it touched on some interesting ideas that I wanted to share with you today.

The first idea is that we are called to live a life of repentance.  We are called to speak when we are wrong, acknowledge our shortcomings and ask for forgiveness.  It may be counter to our society today, which seems to be me focused, individualist and not looking to admit wrong doing.  

However, the life of a Christian is one that is called to repent and to seek that healing that comes with forgiveness, this matters not just between us and God but between each other.  It matters with those people that we interact with on a daily basis.  

We cannot live a buffered life that is removed from one another and removed from God.  We cannot move through life not acknowledging and realizing our sin in the world.  We must seek that repentance.    

Repentance, is the second idea and that this focuses us on the importance of being in the world, entrenched in the community that surrounds us and not trying to live above or beyond our communities.  

Repentance will lead us to a deeper relationship with one another, one that is not looking to one up each other or best each other but to look towards the future together and to work for the betterment of the world.  

The Reformation sought to create new forms in the world, these new formations correct the wrong habits that we have sunk into.  The work now of the disciples of Christ is to create those new habits and formations which will form a new way to work in the world.  

This like learning to play an instrument, memorize a speech, shoot a basketball or anything that is learned, requires repetition and a community to grow in.  Christ modeled the way in which we are called to live, the scripture reveals to us the ways in which we are call to live.  These are lives of worship and service, and that is our calling as disciples to learn, to grown into those lives.  
We are not being held accountable by the law but we have been freed by the Gospel to grow into being disciples of Christ, this freedom reforms our lives, church and world to continue in the worlds as Christ taught us.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Whose Face? God's Face

Whose Face? God's Face
October 19th 2014
Matthew 22:15-22
19th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church SE Portland

Sometimes there are just things that seem to line up too perfectly to be accidental…arn’t there?  There just seems to be too perfect of a coincidence in their occurrences.  Sometimes they are small events that are easier forgotten or passed over but sometimes they stick out in your mind. 

I remember over the summer working at camp there was a day when I was fighting off some sort of head cold and was having a long morning with a couple of campers that were seemingly disagreeing over everything.  However, it was on that day that “Reptile Man” was coming to visit as a special event.  Usually we had a special event once a week and they would have a time slot of about 30 minutes.  However “Reptile Man” went on for nearly and hour and 15 minutes.  I had know he was coming for weeks but did not know that his arrival would be on a day I needed some extra break time.  

Sometimes these coincidences happen on a big scale when things just seem to line up and a connection is made that makes us stop and recognize the moment as being unique.  

This past week was one of those moments for me, as I was preparing the scripture for worship for this morning.  I will pull back the curtain a little bit and let you see a bit of my sermon writing process.  I usually read though the readings and the Gospel and then spend sometime walking, thinking pondering, folding laundry while the texts roll around in my head.  As they were rolling around my head this week I ended up walking out to the mailbox and sitting there waiting for me was our ballots for the up coming election.  And the Gospel seemed to sound a little stronger in my ears after that…

In our Gospel reading this morning, two groups of people come together to attempt to trap Jesus with their difficult question.  It is a very difficult question for Jesus to answer.  If He says that one should not pay taxes to Caesar then He would be considered an enemy to the empire and would be tried as a revolutionary however, if He said that one should pay taxes then He would lose a large chunk of His followers and give power back to those in the Temple.  

So this is a tough question and a tough spot.  But this like our modern discourse and conversation seems to be way the conversations are heading.  This is a dishonest question, and like many questions that are asked of ourselves or others it does not serve any other purpose than creating discord or division.  Honest questions are ones that seek answers, conversation, prayer and a path for the future.  This, however is not an honest question.  The Pharisees and Herodians did not want to know what Jesus thought on the matter they just wanted to trap him in his response.  

I am sure that you get these types of questions all of the time. I know that I do especially when someone finds out that I am training to be a pastor.  We hear dishonest questions all of the time…what is your view on taxes, gay marriage, immigration, war and millions of other topics.  These questions seem to only lead towards categorizing people and putting them in boxes, conservative, liberal, democrat, republican, fundamentalist, literalists, racist. 

There is something deeper and more important than these dishonest questions, and that is what Jesus is getting at the heart of.  Governments ebb and flow, come into and out of power…we can have a whole separate conversation about the relationship between the church and the state in christian ethics.  However, Jesus is not pointing to continue the discourse of dishonest questions but rather to point to our heavenly father and the honest questions and the honest truths.

The coin that was provided to Jesus in this moment is a visual aid that serves a beautiful point.  When Jesus asked them who's face is on this coin he is then also asking whose image do you reflect? to whom do you belong?  

We hear in Genesis 1:26 “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”  

did you catch that?  “let us make humankind in our image.”  So the image that we are bearing is God’s because we are made in the image of God.  

So there is no doubt as to what Jesus is meaning, give yourselves to God because you are God’s.  It is God who claims us and made us, knows us, loves us and redeemed us.  Being God’s is whose we are and who we were created to be.  There are three remarkable things that happen when we realize this and what it means for our lives.  

The first is that God will never leave us, abandon us or forget us.  We are God’s and there is anything that can change that or separate us from that.  Jesus made that clear on the cross.  

Secondly, it means that we belong to God and so then we belong to the people of God, the Body of Christ.  We are a part of this body, this group of believers, that lifts us up and supports us, this body that joins us in prayer, conversations, work, love and service.  So we are a part of this body and that helps us to find our identity and live out our calling in the world.  

Finally, it means that as a part of our calling, our identity is giving back to God.  That is one of the many joys of the faith.  We wrap our lives in worship and service to God.  

This does not all occur or happen here in this one hour block on a Sunday morning but through all of our life.  The way we work, our interactions, or conversations and questions, all of our existence and our lives are wrapped into this life of worship because we are God’s, we have God’s image on us and in us and our lives are lived in service to God.  

So with that being known we can move past these dishonest questions and move towards those honest questions…how are we growing as disciples, how are we encouraging one another in their faith, how are we supporting the community, how can we serve the world and take care of those in need.  We can now move onto the honest questions…


Monday, November 17, 2014

Cheap vs. Costly

Cheap vs. Costly
October 12 2014
Matthew 22: 1-14
18th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church SE Portland

So maybe it is just me, but sometimes when I am hearing pieces of scripture containing long stories I kinda gloss over the details.  So let me be sure that you heard this crazy scene that just occurred.  There was this King wanted to throw a banquet feast for his son who just got married, he sent out the invites to all of the prominent people in town and the invites were all rejected.  

So first off the King was rejected, I don’t know what you know about Kings but one rule of thumb, never reject the King.  So once the King was rejected he sent a second messenger to invite the guests to the wedding.  If you can’t read through the lines this is essentially the King begging people to come to the wedding.  

And once again the people turned him down…but that was not the end.  Not only did they turn away the messenger but they killed him.  What happened to don’t shoot the messenger?

So this really made the King angry, you know at the beginning of the day all he wanted to do was to do something nice for his son and invite people to the wedding feast.  So the King deployed the troops and they waged war with the people that rejected the invitation and killed the messenger.  

So yes, you heard that correctly the King murdered his own people and turned his troops on his people.  So once all of this destruction had occurred, the King invited the regular townsfolk to the wedding feast…were the sterno’s burning the whole time? was this war the same day as the wedding?  Was the banquet still the same day?

So, phew we made it to the end of the story right?…nope we have a bit more of this crazy story.  After of all of this there was a man who did not wear the correct wedding garb and the King in his final act in this scene threw out the man from the wedding feast.  and scene.

So yes this is one of the stranger parables that we have been given but we are told that this is a glimpse into what the kingdom of heaven.  So there has to be something that we can look into and take from this parable.  There are common themes that we hear throughout scripture, wedding themes, heaven being a giant wedding feast,  and all being welcomed to name a few.  

However, If you were reading this in the community of Matthews day this parable would have a few additional points of contact for you.  The destruction of the city by the King would serve to remind you of Jerusalem being destroyed in 70ce by the Romans.  Additionally the elite rejecting the invitation to the wedding feast and ultimately killing the messenger would call to mind the prophets of old being rejected and killed. Finally, the wedding feast being open to all would remind the listener of the opening of the church to the Gentiles. 

We are still left, however, with people refusing to come to the banquet and with a man having been thrown out.  We have several groups of people or individuals that have been left by the wayside, rejected or kicked out of the party.  

There are those that hold too closely and tightly to their allegiances and will not allow themselves to look past what they have going on in their world to see the banquet and accept the invitation.  They are holding too fast to the world and the ways of the world to see this grace and salvation that is available.  It is available to only them but to all.  They do not want to remove their personal allegiances to align with those that are different from them under the blanket of grace and forgiveness.
The custom for weddings was that the host chose the attire for the wedding which also meant that they had to provide the clothing they desired.  So this means that the man who was kicked out was not kicked out because of not having the right attire, or status, or anything else but because he rejected the clothing that was provided to him.  He rejected the free gift and thought that he did not need it, or thought that once he was into the banquet it did not matter how he acted.  

This gift of salvation is a gift freely given to all of us, and being a part of this faith and this church is for all.  There are two things that come out of this reading that I feel is important for us as the church today.  The first is that all have been welcomed and included, people from all walks and points in life, they are called to be a part of this body of christ.  It is not just those invited, or called first, or those that have been here their whole lives.  

Rather, all are being called in real time, in the here and now to come and join the body, it is an open banquet that is for all of us and everyone is invited.  As at the wedding feast everyone from the streets from around the town were called into the feast to join.  That is a part of the mission of the church and a part of what we are called to do is to open the doors and invite everyone in.

Secondly we cannot rest on being at the banquet already, or think that the way we live our lives is not important or does not reflect this gift we have been given.  This is what happened to the man who felt that he did not need the garment.  There is a higher standard and something more we are being called to.  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer the 20th century Lutheran Pastor/Theologian had a way of explaining this very concept.  He spoke and wrote often about cheap vs. costly grace.  Cheap grace is exactly what it sounds like, it is grace that when one receives this grace and salvation it means nothing to one’s life.  This grace is inexpensive and well cheap.  Cheap grace does not change lives, it does not mean anything and is just a placeholder.  

On the other hand Bonhoeffer speaks of costly grace, grace that means something, grace that matters.  Think of that hymn amazing grace….it is grace that changes lives and transforms lives.  It is a costly grace because it is only available because of Jesus redemptive act on the cross.  So it is a costly grace because it matters for our lives.  It is not just a time to sit back and rest on what we have.  But it is a costly grace that calls us to use our own lives and because of this grace we live in a new way, we live into this calling of grace to shape our lives around the gospel and reflect that grace to the world.  

Our reading this morning from Philippians gives us some landmarks for ways to live into these new lives of costly grace.  We are called to Rejoice in our days and let that show in our lives, we are called to display that gentleness to the world, we are called to pray and make all things know to God, to engage in that holy conversation with one another.  Finally we are call to do that what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing and commendable, do these things and continue to follow that calling of the Holy Spirit.