Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Dating of Easter

Easter is early this year. Easter is always the 1st Sunday after the 1st
full moon after the Spring Equinox (which is March 20). This dating of
Easter is based on the lunar calendar that Hebrew people used to identify
passover, which is why it moves around on our Roman calendar.

Based on the above information, Easter can actually be one day earlier
(March 22) that is rare.

Here's the interesting information. This year is the earliest Easter any of
us will ever see the rest of our lives! And only the most elderly of our
population have ever seen it this early (95 years old or above). And none of
us have ever, or will ever, see it a day earlier! Here's the facts:

1) The next time Easter will be this early (March 23) will be the year 2228
(220 years from now). The last time it was this early was 1913 (so if you're
95 or older, you are the only ones that were around for that!).

2) The next time it will be a day earlier, March 22, will be in the year
2285 (277 years from now). The last time it was on March 22 was 1818 So, no
one alive today has or will ever see it any earlier than this year!

We verified the above on Snopes. Seems accurate.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

This about says it all


***NOTE: At this time - there are HUNDREDS of church cancellations in southern Wisconsin. Because of the high number of church cancellations, there are just too many to list. Please call your church for information.***

This is a quote from the NBC 15 web page. We postponed our Sunday services until Wednesday at 7 p.m. But of course, that makes the rather grand assumption that the roads will be navigable on Wednesday.

And you know it's bad when the malls close.

Blessings to all in these days, please pray for those who drive, walk, and work in these conditions.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Lutheran World Relief Community Quilt - Alternative Gift Catalog

The Lutheran World Relief Community Quilt

We just completed our family community quilt in anticipation of Easter! Yeah!

Jesus Lifted Up Like the Serpent

One of the more enigmatic sentences in John immediately precedes the most famous. 3:16, For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son... we know this one. But it is preceded by "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."

You have to go back and read Numbers 21 to get the context. The Israelites are complaining about their free food in the wilderness. God sends serpents among them to kill them. Then when Moses prays, he commands Moses to set up a serpent on a pole. Whenever someone bitten by a serpent looks at the pole, they live. God therefore functions as both the one who kills and makes alive, who sends the snake that poisons and the snake that kills.

Possibly the most surprising part of the Numbers event is that God uses the same thing--a serpent--to kill and make alive. Who wants more of what already ails them?

This allegorical interpretation that Jesus employs should help us understand "for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son" in a new light. But it will help to go by way of an extended quote of Luther to get the full drift (from WA 5:195. 41):

Whoever would be righteous must first become a sinner; whoever wants to be well, good, and like God as a Christ-like member of the church must first become sick, bad, perverted, devilish, even heretical... as Paul says: 'Whoever among you would be wise must first become foolish in order to be wise.' Let this statement stand, for it is God's will in heaven that He has intended through foolishness to create wisdom; through wickedness to create the good; through sin to create righteousness; through folly, even through sickness to create health; through heresy to create churchliness; through unbelief the believer; and through the form of the devil to create godly people. You ask "How?" It shall be answered briefly and quickly. You cannot become before Go someone that you would like to be if you first have not become before yourself and before others the kind of person He wants you to be. God does intend, however, that you should become before yourself and others what you really are--namely, a sinner; bad, sickly, perverse, and devilish. Those are your names. Those are the things that you are in truth and they are your humiliation. As soon as that happens you are already before God what you wanted to be: holy, good, true, straight, and pious. On this basis you become a new person before yourself, others, and before God. Why are you surprised? Why are you bothered when you displease yourself and others? Because if you don't displease them, then you can't please God.

It helps our argument in this case that a serpent on a stick is later in the bible a sign of idolatry rather than trust in God. "Even heretical," Luther writes. It is God's command that Moses follows in putting the serpent on the stick. Look at it, and be healed.

Who wants to look at their sin in the way Luther presents it here? Isn't it bad enough the sin already bit us? Are we to look to it for our cure as well? And yet, Christ became sin for us, he is there on the cross lifted up and dying. We have been bit by sin, but we have only one recourse, to look to the very outcome of sin--death of the Son of God on the cross--as the healing for our sin.

The Suspended Middle — Lutheran Forum

The Suspended Middle — Lutheran Forum

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Ten Practices in the Ethic of Just Peacemaking

A contemporary appraoch to just peacemaking has sometimes been organized into a list of ten "practices" (see Gary Simpson's War, Peace, and God or Glen Stassen, Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War). This is a helpful list, because it contextualizes just war thinking within the broader trajectory of a theology for earthly peace (Simpson, 79).

As you think of ways your congregation, an organization you belong to, a political movement, etc., takes action within one of these ten practices, feel free to post your insight or example here in the comments.

Taking peacemaking initiatives:

1. Support nonviolent direct action;
2. take independent initiatives that reduce threat;
3. use cooperative conflict resolution; and
4. acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness

Advancing justice for all:

5. advance democracy, human rights, and religious liberty; and
6. foster just and sustainable economic development.

Strengthening the cooperative forces of love and community:

7. work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system;
8. strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights;
9. reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade;
10. encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Book of Faith Synod Resolution for readers to consider submitting in their synods

Whereas pastors at their ordination vow to be diligent in their study of the Holy Scriptures;

Whereas all parents and sponsors of children covenant to place in their hands the holy scriptures and nurture them in faith and prayer,

Whereas all the baptized when they affirm their baptism promise to hear the Word of God,

Whereas the ELCA has begun a Book of Faith Initiative inviting everyone to join the conversation, to make a commitment, and to become part of the initiative (see http://www.elca.org/bookoffaith/overview/) .

Be it resolved that the clergy of our synod commit themselves to living in and from the Word of God in their preparations to teach and preach, as well as personally in their daily devotional practices, so that as they commit themselves regularly and increasingly to hearing, reading, studying, sharing, and being engaged by God's Word, they lead by example in faithful service and holy living.

Be it further resolved that all voting members of this synod assembly covenant together to begin a practice of daily biblical study and prayer,

Be it further resolved that all congregations of this synod join the Book of Faith Initiative in order to become more fluent in the first language of faith, the language of Scripture, in order that we might live into our calling as a people renewed, enlivened, and empowered by the Word.

Be it further resolved that the bishop of our synod—who “as its pastor, shall be a teacher of the faith of this church and shall provide leadership for the life and witness of this church”—lead this initiative personally and through collaborative programmatic work with congregations of the synod;

Be it further resolved that we become a “Book of Faith” synod.

In joining the Book of Faith Initiative, your congregation or organization (and our synod) is committing to becoming more fluent in the first language of faith, the language of Scripture, in order that we might live into our calling as a people renewed, enlivened, and empowered by the Word.

(this is the draft of what we are submitting to our synod assembly- feel free to use and adapt, but please let me know if you will be using it, and in which synod)

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday Reading | Isaiah | Repenting of How We Speak

Isaiah 58:1-12

58Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. 2Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.

3“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. 4Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. 5Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. 9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

It seems seldom commented on, but worth commenting on, that Isaiah has an additional strong ethical concern in this passage to the ones most commentators point out. There is certainly concern for the poor, the widow, the oppressed worker, and the orphan. That goes almost without saying, and is more frequently noted. But Isaiah is equally concerned with this list:

a) The pointing of the finger
b) The speaking of evil
c) You fast only to quarrel and fight
d) Not to hide yourself from your own kin

The writings of the New Testament are also quite concerned with these sins of the mouth, these sins against community and relationship. James has great concern for the damage the tongue can do. Many of the instructions in Paul's and other letters deal with things like:

a) hypocrisy
b) slander
c) gossip
d) division in the church
e) Speaking that which will build up
f) not grumbling about each other, but rather,
g) praying for each other
h) and most importantly, maybe, confessing sin to each other, and
i) forgiving each other

One might also note that Jesus did not find the Pharisees to be greater sinners than other people, but rather, their great weakness was hypocrisy and show, so the language they used for worship ended up functioning as a cover for their sin, whereas those who were known sinners (though not greater or lesser sinners) were in a better position because their sin had already been named and they had no language to cover it with.

Maybe a good way to make this clear is to consider the greatest commandment. It is, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself." If we change this just slightly to focus on the language we use, it would read, "Worship and pray to God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind; and speak as well of your neighbor as yourself." The language we use towards God and towards our neighbor are inextricably linked. When we begin to gossip and speak ill of our neighbor, our worship of God is weakened. When we lack faith and stop trusting God, our speaking of our neighbor will be less faithful as well.

I find the following verse especially convicting. Isaiah writes, "You fast only to quarrel and to fight." Is it possible that we get involved in battles over how we worship, what we do in worship, how we organize church, etc., and in so doing a lot of energy is expended that could be spent on caring for the poor and building up our neighbors, fellow Christians, and family? Is it even possible that we get in these fights on purpose, and get distracted by our method of fasting, as a way to avoid direct communication with God, and forgiving communication with our neighbor?

The restoration of the church and of Christian community in Christ is promised to look like those last few verses of the above quote from Isaiah--a restored city, strong bones, a watered garden. The church (and individual Christians) that will lead the way and shine like this will lead through repentance. It will begin with the language used between church members and in worship; it will result in the care that church shines on the poor, the oppressed worker, the widow, and the orphan. It will burst forth in praise of God, who has given us the Word made flesh, a Word breathed and enlivened by the Spirit. It will end in us speaking well of and directly to each of our neighbors, always speaking the truth in love.

On this Ash Wednesday, let us take these words of Isaiah to heart, trust in Christ as the authentic Word, the Word that should guide all the words we speak to each other and to God. Let us turn from our sin, repent, and seek Christ's forgiveness.
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- --

Ash Wednesday: Ash Wednesday by TS Eliot

Ash Wednesday: Ash Wednesday by TS Eliot

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Commending the Lenten Discipline — Lutheran Forum

Commending the Lenten Discipline — Lutheran Forum

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson does a commendable job of presenting Lenten disciplines as a Christian practice.

Lenten Discipline | Behavioral Covenant

This is excerpted from Psyche and Spirit, a web-based journal of brief clergy wellness articles for busy pastors. We are inviting our congregation to consider signing this covenant as part of their Lenten discipline.


There is meant to be a healing power in Christian community, but often it is a source of wounding as well. Part of what shapes our behavior and helps us keep each other in line is the agreements we have about how we will act. Many businesses have behavioral agreements that help with things like gossip and triangulation. Here is a copy of the behavioral covenant that I worked up to help promote civil behavior in congregations. Many of our readers have reported positive results from the use of such covenants.

Congregational Behavioral Covenant
by Arden Mahlberg

As members of the Christian community of _________ Church in __________, ________, we, being sinners and falling short, agree, with the help of God, to relate to each other through Christ, and thus hold ourselves and each other to:


Listen to each other. "Let everyone be quick to hear and slow to speak..." James 1:19. Dietrich Bonhoeffer has stated: "The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them." Life Together p. 97


Respect the Privacy of Those Who Confide. "A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret." Proverbs 11:13


Challenge each other with the truth. Be willing to confront when it is important. "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love." Ephesians 4:15-16


Deal with people directly; don't complain to others. "If one of my followers sins against you, go and point out what was wrong. But do it in private, just between the two of you." Matthew 18:15. If someone complains to you about another member, help that person follow this principle.


Strengthen each other. "[Speak] only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (Ephesians 4:29) Likewise, the test of true fellowship is to "make the individual free, strong and mature," not "weak and dependent." Bonhoeffer, p.88


Be gentle with one another. "My friends, you are spiritual. So if someone is trapped in sin, you should gently lead that person back to the right path. But watch out, and don’t be tempted yourself." Galatians: 6:1


Do not speak ill of others in the fellowship. "Do not grumble about each other or you will be judged, and the judge is right outside the door." James 5:9


Do not judge each other. "Some of you accuse others of doing wrong. But there is no excuse for what you do. When you judge others, you condemn yourselves, because you are guilty of doing the very same things." Romans 2:1


Pray for one another. James 5:16


Confess One's Wrongs to Another. James 5:9


Forgive One Another. "Give and it will be given to you." Luke 6:38


Freely participate in the Body of Christ according to our gifts and talents. "Freely you have received, freely give." Matthew 10:8


(Add items important to your situation.)

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