Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Accidental Saints

This image represents the communion of saints. It seems to me that this may represent heaven, but doesn't it also look like a hopeful vision about life on earth?

Bob Ross was a painter. He had a TV show on PBS called "The Joy of Painting." His specialty was painting mountainous landscapes full of trees. Oftentimes, he would make a mistake and turn it into a tree, a bird, or another part of the landscapes. He called these mistakes "happy accidents."

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran (ELCA) minister in Denver, the founding pastor of House of All Sinners and Saints. She is awesome, not just because of her cool haircut and beautiful tattoos. She preaches and teaches an amazing theology of sainthood. One of her books is called "Accidental Saints." If you can get passed her language (she is brutally and beautifully honest), it is a great book.

As we approach All Saints Sunday, I'd like to share some of what she says with you in the book and reflect with you about what makes someone a "saint." 

But first, let's start with scripture (always a good idea, right!?).    

The word for "saint" translated from the Greek is "ἅγιος" (hagios). It derives from the verb ἁγιάζω (hagiazo), which means "to set apart", "to sanctify", or "to make holy." The word is used 229 times in the New Testament! 

Second, let's look at how the Church thinks about saints in a traditional sense. Officially, Christians believe that all people who are "in Christ" are saints. All believers are saints. Cool, huh!? Whether living or in heaven, your faith in Christ makes you a saint. But what about Saint Augustine and all of them? What's different about them? Well, the Catholic Church "venerates" or "honors" or "canonizes" some saints over others over and above as exemplary followers of Christ. 

Protestants (like Methodists or Baptists or Presbyterians or... Lutherans!....) are all over the map about what it means to be a saint--but it comes down to believing in Christ and modelling Christ-like behavior and Scripture...and it doesn't matter if you are alive or in heaven. 

OK, back to Nadia. Her book is amazing. Here are some things she says:

“Never once did Jesus scan the room for the best example of  holy living and send that person out to tell others about him. He always sent stumblers and sinners. I find that comforting.” 

“Sometimes the fact that there is nothing about you that makes you the right person to do something is exactly what God is looking for.” 

“it has been my experience that what makes us the saints of  God is not our ability to be saintly but rather God’s ability to work through sinners.” 

― Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People

So, if you STILL don't think you're a saint...consider those people in your life, you WOULD consider one. Were they perfect? Were they the best Christian ever? Did they fall short? Did they get angry? Were they a sinner? Did they love God? Did they follow Jesus?...

Like a "happy accident" in one Bob Ross's paintings, saints are accidental. They are not perfect, but they are known and created by a God who loves them. You are part of God's picture. I think God tries or hopes really hard for a relationship with all of us. All 7 billion of us happy accidents. When we try back, we become saints. And by the way, God does not make mistakes ;)

*The church's one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord;
we are his new creation by water and the Word;
from heaven he came and sought us that we might ever be
his living servant people, by his own death set free. 

Thank you, Jesus. May it be. Let it be. Amen.

*United Methodist Hymnal, 547.

In Christ, 


Monday, October 23, 2017

Lawyer Up

Ten Commandments, illustrative wood relief,
from a Catholic Church in southern Poland, 
from Art in the Christian Tradition,
a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

If Christianity were a table or a chair, something that needed "legs" to stand on, the words that were spoken by Jesus in Matthew 22: 37-40 could be one of them. As the religious leaders attempted to piece together a case for Jesus' arrest, Jesus was tested several times. He was questioned about paying taxes to the emperor, about his future resurrection, and then about the law. "Which commandment is the greatest?" a lawyer asks Jesus (lawyers were experts in religious law and also teachers of it). He answers confidently and succinctly: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment." But he wasn't done yet: "And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” These are the legs in which the entire law (stemming from the Ten Commandments) stands on.

This year marks the 500th year of the Protestant Reformation. The movement of reform began around this time in 1517, when Martin Luther hung a list of 95 theses (originally called the “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences) on the door of the Wittenburg Castle church in Germany. Martin Luther was an aspiring lawyer. After enrolling in law school, he was changed by a dramatic encounter with God during a storm. This is an interesting story for another time, but suffice it to say that this proved to be a moment in his life where he was changed. He left law school, sold all of his books, and entered a monastery and began his studies of theology and philosophy.

Back to these theses: they contained a template for discussion and debate, written in a rather tame and academic form. The foundations of the theses centered around 2 propositions standing in opposition to the Catholic Church, which sparked the reform of it: "that the Bible is the central religious authority and that humans may reach salvation only by their faith and not by their deeds" (Martin Luther, 95 theses). The Catholic Church gave much authority to their leadership and did not believe in salvation by faith alone.

The book of James (2:14-16) makes the claim that "faith without works is dead," a motif that John Wesley (the "father of Methodism) would adapt as well. In his sermon "On Faith," Wesley asks the question: "But what is the faith which is properly saving; which brings eternal salvation to all those that keep it to the end?" He answers, saying: "It is such a divine conviction of God, and the things of God, as, even in its infant state, enables every one that possesses it to "fear God and work righteousness."

It is faith that saves us, and the response to such a faith is how we work towards holiness and righteousness. It is not our work that saves us, but our faith, but how we live in the world and treat one another is evidence of that faith in God.

Love God, Love Neighbor. 

When we love God, we will inevitably love our neighbor, for our faith is not quiet, but shows up in the way we behave, in our character, and how we love our neighbor.

In this 500th year of challenging the church to elevate the authority of Scripture as well as the role of our faith in our salvation, let us continue to love God by loving neighbor.


Teach me thy patience; still with thee
in closer, dearer company,
in work that keeps faith sweet and strong,
in trust that triumphs over wrong

*"O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee," verse 3, United Methodist Hymnal, 430

In Christ,


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Testing Jesus

Have you ever put Jesus to the test? I mean really...who doesn't?

Towards the end of the book of Matthew, the gospel records instances in which the religious authorities wanted to test Jesus. He had been travelling around the region of Galilee, preaching the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God on hillsides, dinner tables, and living rooms. He was not the first person to do this. The gospels tell of a previous prophet who preached the same thing-John the Baptist, who announced that the son of God would come. That is where Jesus is unique in his message-he claimed to be the son of God. In hindsight, Christians believe that he was right. But I wonder if we would have believed him then. 

So, they tested him. The religious authorities wanted to provide ample evidence that Jesus was rebellious towards the Roman government. Since Jesus had built a large following in his years of ministry and teaching, his claim to be the son of God was not enough to arrest him, according to the authorities. They feared that a riot would occur. But, if they could prove that he was a potentially dangerous, rebellious man, they could arrest him.

So, they tested him by asking him a simple question: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” He answered: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” He was aware of their ploy. 

Jesus knows when we put him to the test (even if we do not know it ourselves). At the end of this passage, it says "When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away." Jesus' awareness surprised them! Has Jesus ever surprised you in that way? 

Sometimes, when I struggle to find the presence of God in my life, I ask God to just give me a sign, and the discernment to know that it was God. Perhaps you have asked God something similar. Maybe that is testing God...and maybe we will be amazed by God, who is always aware of what we are doing, and sticks with us anyway...


His name is Wonderful 
Jesus my Lord 
He is the mighty King 
Master of ev'rything 
His name is Wonderful 
Jesus my Lord 
He's the Great Shepherd 
The rock of all ages 
Almighty God is He 
Bow down before Him 
Love and adore Him 
His name is Wonderful 
Jesus my Lord

In Christ,