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May 2017 Pastor's Pen

Love the sinner, hate the sin. It's a phrase we all have likely heard, especially in faith circles. When it's said, it's supposedly meant in love. Trying to show someone the error of their ways, seeking to help them to escape the eternal torment of hell. Yet, for many, those words are not received as loving words, as words meant to point to a loving God. Instead, for many those words leave behind a question, “Why does God hate me?”
In my wandering around the internet, I came across an article (https://www.nytimes.com/…/seth-stephens-davidowitz-googling…) about the things people search for on the internet. When it comes to God, the number one question is: 'Who created God?' Then comes, 'Why does God allow suffering?' The third question is, 'Why does God hate me?' When Google looked into the way people finished the internet search, 'Why did God make me_________?' The results are heartbreaking. The number one word was 'ugly', then 'black', then 'gay'. Other common words were: short, stupid, fat. It makes me cry.
 
Whether we like it or not, whether we want to face it or not, those internet searches are in many ways a rephrasing of the question, 'Why does God hate me?' It breaks my heart, and forces me to admit that there are way too many incorrect and damaging ideas about God. And the damage being done isn't to God, it's to the least among us. The church may teach that we are all sinners that have failed in doing that which God desires, but, it also declares and affirms that each of us is created in the image of God, that each of us is loved unconditionally.
Somehow, that message, the one of love and being made in God's image has not been heard by many. Instead what is heard is that God is judgmental, that Christians are hypocritical, that God has favorites – with some being made beautiful, and others ugly. With some being made gay, and others straight. And that that difference was a punishment of some kind.
 
The thing is, God doesn't play favorites. God isn't the one who labels and excludes, who determines who is in and who is out – it's us human beings. We are the ones who have divided people into categories, who have created societies where a person’s physical appearance or their being a part of a specific demographic group is what is important, rather than the content of their heart, the character of their lives. A practice and message that contradicts the message we see in the Bible over and over again.
 
The message of Scripture, from Genesis through Revelation is that God has come into the world to reconcile all people, that God's love is for all people, that God's grace is freely given to everyone. It is the mission and calling of the church, both as an institution and as individuals of faith to spread the message of God's love and grace far and wide. We must do all we can to counter the damage done by the poor theology that has resulted in so much pain and unhappiness in others.
 
If we can do that, even just a little bit, it could bring the hope and peace that may cause people to change their Google searches from wondering why God hates them, to: “Why does God care for me so much?” and “Why did God make me so beautiful and beloved?”
 
With the Greatest of Hope!

Erik

May Pastor's Pen

Pentecost is Sunday May 15. It's the day in the church year when the church is decked out in red. It's the day when fire and wind are common images. It's the day the church celebrates and remembers God's gift of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples gathered in Jerusalem. We recall how the Holy Spirit appeared as tongues of fire floating above the heads of the disciples. We are amazed by the power of language and tongues that was given to the disciples; and how that gift enabled the Gospel to be preached and heard by thousands.
 
But, Pentecost is more than just a day, it's a season. The season of Pentecost begins on Sunday and continues until the Sunday before the beginning of Advent in November. It's the longest season in the church calendar. Why? Because the gift of the Holy Spirit marked the beginning of the church, and Holy Spirit continues to be present in the church, guiding it and strengthening it.
 
The initial gift of the Holy Spirit equipped the disciples for the sharing of the Good News. Through the power of the Spirit, walls were broken down, people from different cultures, who spoke different languages were united as one. In the years that followed as the church grew from Jerusalem out across the Mediterranean people from all walks of life, all cultures, all languages, all genders, people who had held all sorts of differing religious perspectives, came together as the church. Empowered and equipped by the Spirit, not only for the sharing of the Good News, but for the continued breaking down of the barriers that divide us one from another.
One of the truths that we in the church are especially aware of is the central role and power of love in our lives, and in our faith. God's love for us shown in Jesus, and our calling to love our neighbors as ourselves. Loving is often difficult, it's tough to do it on our own. Yet, we are not on our own. One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is empowering us to love. When we are open to the Spirit, we are open to love. When we open ourselves to receive God’s love, then we abide in God’s love, and we allow God to love through us.
 
There is plenty of division and animosity in our world. The wounds of exclusion run deep in our culture and in the church. But God shows no partiality. The Holy Spirit breaks all our boundaries. In Christ there is no slave or free, male or female, black or white, gay or straight. All are one in Christ, and all are acceptable to God. When we follow the lead of the Holy Spirit, we can become agents of reconciliation.
 
All we need is love. But we also need to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit to help us break down the barriers and divisions we create among ourselves. We have to be open to the dangerous, provocative, unsettling work of the Holy Spirit. We have to be willing to be transformed. Jesus calls us into friendship in order to bear the fruit of the work of the Holy Spirit – to love as God loves – in order to be salt and light and to be agents of reconciliation in our struggling world.
 
With the Greatest of Hope!

Erik

Pastor's Pen September

A few months ago, we put a rainbow on the lectern in the sanctuary and on our church sign. I'd like to take the opportunity to explain why.
 
We put the rainbow on our sign as a declaration of welcome; yes, to the LGBT community, but that welcome is much broader. Many folks have a story where the church has hurt them, betrayed them, made them feel unlovable, caused them to doubt whether they are loved by God. Single parents, divorced couples, mentally or physically disabled folk, to name just a few have experience hurt.  The damage that has been done by churches and by people claiming to be followers of Jesus is astronomical. And it continues.
 
Which is why the rainbow is important. Because I dream of a world where no kid wonders if God loves them or not. I dream of a world where no person shies away from a community because they don’t know if they can be authentically themselves. I dream of a world where we don’t have to put a rainbow on our sign as a public witness that God unconditionally loves ALL people because it’s just a given, that of course God welcomes all.
 
I dream of that world. I think God has been dreaming for a long time about that world. Every time I see rainbows, I think about the covenant made to Noah, after the flood. In the story, God hangs the rainbow in the sky and tells Noah never again will that damage happen. From there on out, God was all in. No matter what, God promised that nothing would come between God and people again. And that sign, that boldly colored rainbow, would remind both God and Noah of that.
 
The rainbow on our lectern and on our sign is meant to proclaim that same message. It proclaims a message that every person (not just gay, lesbian, bi, and trans folks), needs to hear and know: God’s church is open to all. No qualifiers. No conditions. Just come as you are. That’s the core of what Jesus knew and taught.
 
Gay or straight, white or black or brown, tall or short, fat or skinny, poor or rich, extroverted or introverted, left-handed or right handed, child or adult, democrat or republican, abled or disabled, whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you are beloved, both just as you are and as who you are growing to be day by day.
 
The rainbow matters to me because it shares a message every person ought to hear: you are loved by God and by a gathered group of Jesus following folks who strive to be bold enough, crazy enough, to affirm and celebrate the worth of every single person.
 
May we ALL be bold enough to proclaim that.
 
With the Greatest of Hope!

Erik