Thursday, February 28, 2008
During this season of Lent, we devote time and effort to examining ourselves and our sin. One definition of sin is to miss the mark. Saul misses the mark. He is heading in the right direction, he is aimed at the bull's eye, but lands off target.
Sometimes our sin consists not so much of the acts in which we turn directly opposite of God, but of those situations in which we are heading the right way, but don't get there.
Being almost right isn't the same as being right. Being better than others isn't the same as being good. Read the story of Saul for yourself. Consider its lesson for you and the way that you conduct yourself in the days to come.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Last week began with the news that Frieda's father had died, in South Africa. She tried to find a way to get home to be with her family. In the end, she could not. As we hugged her and enveloped her in our prayers, we understood that what she wanted most was to be with her family.
On Wednesday, Leslie shared news of the death of her high school's friend's father, while skiing in CO.
Thursday, our extended community of Alumni experienced the death of Darrell Atlman. Father of Chris, Darrell came to Clemson in the fall of 2006 to cook a pig for our USC Game tailgate.
While Laura and I were away for that funeral, our college-age sons had to deal with the death of our dog, Cleo. She had been with us for eleven years. She was the kind of dog who pushed the borders between human and animal.
There is an old film series titled Begin with Goodbye. It instructs viewers to understand that each new beginning contains the seeds of an eventual good-bye. A favorite pair of jeans wear out; the college years come to an end; friends move away; loved ones die. We prepare for the big losses by careful attention to the little losses.
This year has challenged our campus with way too many losses. We have had deaths from unknown heart conditions, tragic deaths in house fires, and accidental deaths. The Clemson homepage once again as a ribbon of support for a sister institution where a lone gunman brought horror to a classroom of students. We will never (nor should we) become prepared for such losses. But we might learn to deal with them.
The promise of Christ is that nothing will separate us from the love of God. During college years, it sometimes seems as if it is life (living the wild and crazy life of a college student) which will separate us. But it does not. And neither will death. God continues to love, even in the midst of death. That is why we gather for funerals, in our churches. As a witness against any suggestion that such times are void of the presence of God.
I pray that your encounters with death will be few and far into the future. But they will come. When they do come, be prepared to say good-bye. Be prepared to give thanks for all that you have received. Be prepared to call upon the faith which has sustained you throughout your life.
Funeral – Darrell Altman
February 24, 2008
Perhaps I ought to offer a few words of introduction. I am Chris Heavner, the Lutheran campus pastor at
My involvement in this afternoon’s service is also a testimony to the ability of this man, and his wife, to reach across the miles and invite into relationship God’s children living in distant lands. I am honored to be here, as I am sure are all those gathered this afternoon.
I would like to read from Romans, Chapter 8:
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage…..
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …..
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
My preferred answer to that question is found in the Book of Job. There, the voice in the whirlwind reminds us that God is God and we am not. God doesn’t tell us this, as a way of saying that we have no right to ask. God tells us this so that when we are slammed up against the limits of human existence we can hold on to the hope that such limits do not exist for God. God is able to do, what we are not able to do.
The songs we learn as children are probably the most helpful. When we sing, “Jesus loves me,” we always come to the concluding line which reminds us, “They are weak, but he is strong.”
None of us knows what we are doing when gather for a service like this. We don’t know how to do this? What we do know, is that God’s spirit is interceding for us. We don’t have to “fake it,” not even for the sake of those looking to us, or looking up to us. We can openly admit, and proudly proclaim, “I don’t know.” And then we can be quick to add that our God does know. We may not understand, but we pray to a God whose understanding is not bound by the same limits. Nothing, in our whole life has ever separated us from the love of this God - - and we speak with confidence when we say that this won’t, either.”
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Some "churches" have a formal statement of what it means to "be the Church." These would typically include sections which explain why this particular church is The Church. We don't have such a statement, in our church. We view the organization which brings followers of Jesus together as essential structure, but never as a divine one. The church to which we belong is a human creation, with human weaknesses.
I get frustrated with the church. I get irritated when the church makes stupid statements or fails to move in the direction I believe it should be moving. But I am grateful for the ability to separate the church of which I am a member from The Church. The Church is that collection of individuals, known only to God, in which all the faithful from any number of differing traditions, is bound into what is truly the Only Holy catholic Church. I hope that my participation in a particular church will better prepare me for my membership in that Church. When I no longer feel it does, I will make some changes. But I remain involved in my church because it is my best hope of being in regular contact with fellow members of The Church.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
The nations (the people of the world) know what they know of God as a result of the way the people who follow God live their lives. The nations (your classmates and friends) form impressions of what God must be like based on the things that you say, and do. God's name, on this campus, is interpreted by what it is that we, God's followers, do.
What do those who watch you come to believe about God?
Ezekiel 36 says that God has grown weary of the impression left by the way ancient Israel was living. Ezekiel 36 says that God is going to act in a new and decisive way. God is going to "sprinkle water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you."
Would that God would give us this new heart now. Would that we were already in possession of this promised spirit. Perhaps that our words and our actions would more accurately reflect our desire to love and serve God.
There is an often repeated prayer, in our worship booklets, which goes something like this: "You, O Lord, are always more ready to give than we are to receive." Might this be coupled with Ezekiel 36 to suggest that God is ever ready to give us this new heart/spirit, but that we are unprepared to receive it?
Consider this day how it is that those around you see God. Is God's name honored by your words, by your actions. Make it an expressed petition in your prayers that God would continue to offer to you a renewed heart, a renewed spirit. One which would allow you to more faithfully reflect your love and devotion. Then we can rejoice together, at the expressed desire of our God: "You shall be my people, and I shall be your God." (Ezekiel 36:28b)
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
This morning I read from Isaiah 65:24-25. It called to mind the first time I ever preached in my life. It was during my years as a 4-H club member, in North Carolina. I preached on 4-H Sunday, using Isaiah 11:6-9. Each of these passages speak of a time when "the lion shall graze with the lamb," a time when there will be no killing and no blood shed.
I download the world news on my PalmPilot and read stories from the BBC in those in-between moments of my day. On Sunday there was a bombing in Kandahar City, the deadliest attack in Afghanistan since 2001. 100 persons died. There are reports of Sudanese bombers targeting refugee camps in Darfur. It is estimated that 200,000 have died in that conflict, millions have been displaced. I don't even know where to start, with regard to Iraq. President Bush is in Africa. Visiting Tanzania, just south of troubled Kenya, he also raised concerns about the polling process in Zimbabwe.
As I prayed this morning, I continued to remember the things I typically remember - prayers for my little girl living in Germany and working with the churches in Eisleben; my ailing mother and my sister who loving cares for her; for the fathers of Chris and Jenny and Ashley; for the work of Lutheran Campus Ministry, at Clemson but also these days I remember Diane Dardon and LCM at Northern Illinois University. This morning I also spent considerable time praying for peace - for the peace of God. Praying that it might come to this world, praying that it might come to this world as a gift from God's people. Praying that I might have the ability to hope and to expect that such peace is possible.
I invite you to join me in praying for this peace.
Monday, February 18, 2008
They came back, last week. And yesterday they were there again. Trying to remember whether enough years had passed for graduations to have occurred, I came up with names but no dates for that earlier exchange. Stationed at the exit door, I was looking for them when worship ended. I wasn't expecting to be handed a note, with an email address, asking for a copy of my sermon.
I don't want to read too much into this exchange. But as I lay down to sleep I found myself thinking of the casualness with which Sunday worship is approached. It is a gathering time for many. A time to be with long-established friends. I have often said that one of the traits of our style of worship is that we expect everyone to be back next week. We don't push for this particular Sunday to be a watershed event, to be the day on which a decision is made.
But anytime we gather around God's Word and God's sacraments, there is the very real possibility that God will act. There is the very real possibility that God's promises will change lives. Sunday is an encounter with that which has the ability to make all things new. Why does it surprise us when it does?
Regular habits of praying, reading our bibles, attending worship are highly encouraged. Being part of an on-going community of faith is a desired way of life. But let us not forget that each individual encounter is itself an opportunity for God's will to be accomplished. In each encounter, we are being changed, altered, reborn. Sometimes, some of us are just more aware of it.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Second Sunday in Lent - Year A
February 17, 2008
John 3:1-17, Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
One of the things I miss about living in
I wonder what the offerings would be like for today. Second Sunday in Lent, and the appointed Gospel text is Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. John Chapter 3, the half-chapter with what might arguably be the most quoted of all Bible verses – at least the most quoted here in the south. I wonder where my colleagues are going, in the sermons they are preaching, as I am trying to make my way into this one.
Our position on the liturgical calendar might influence some. It is the Second Sunday in Lent. With this in mind, some may look upon Jesus’ words as a call to action. Will they hear his “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, ‘Except a man be born again, he cannot see the
Somewhere, I am sure, there is a long explanation for why John, chapter 3 was selected as the appointed lesson for the Second Sunday in Lent, of Year A. Somewhere. And I am sure it makes perfect sense to ….. someone. However, I would have to say that its placement here has the potential to cause more than a little bit of confusion.
Lent is all about making things right. Lent is a time to examine our commitments and our dedication. It is a period of time when we pay particular attention to our expressions of piety – to our acts of sacrifice and service. It is a time to take a good, hard look at the outward signs of our inward thoughts and consider whether they are in accord with one another. This is what Lent is about – and I am a big fan of Lent. I think we need to devote, at least 40 days each year, to such self-examination.
But just don’t give me John, Chapter 3. At least don’t give it to me without explaining why you are giving it to me. Because the all-too-popular interpretation of John 3 makes it way too easy to fall into predictable (and potentially disastrous) ways of thinking.
It goes back to that reading of John 3:3 – the one I chose to share from the King James translation. It goes back to a misinterpretation of these words in which they become a warning (almost a threat) that UNLESS we be BORN AGAIN we will not even be allowed to see the
The primary purpose of Lent is to get us ready for Easter. And the clear message of Easter is God’s eagerness to do for us that which we cannot do for ourselves. Nicodemus is right, we can’t enter a second time into our mother’s womb. How then are we to be born again? But, our Father in Heaven, our Father from above, may pour out upon us a spirit of renewal, a spirit of hope, a spirit of re-birth. Jesus, who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, makes it possible for us to be re-born. It is made possible by the God who so loves the world that he will give his only Son. All this he does so that everyone may not perish, but have eternal life. It is that simple. It is that wonderful.
And yes, news this wonderful can be hard to believe. So hard that some will find it difficult (maybe even impossible) to believe. And that is a real pity. This is what really breaks God’s heart. Because God did not send the Son into the world to bring condemnation on anyone. God sent the Son, in order that the world might be saved through him.
I think the reason John, Chapter 3 is read on this Second Sunday of Lent is so we will be reminded of how easy it is to get it almost right but not right. Nicodemus is a leader of the Council. He is a well-respected man among the religious folks of his day. He obviously has a great interest in Jesus, because he comes to Jesus in order to ask questions. He displays a deep respect for Jesus, but he isn’t quite ready to accept Jesus’ words. He gets it partially right, but in the end he doesn’t get it all.
I think we have this reading at this time of the year so that we might be encouraged to avoid this same pitfall. So that we might not get close, then miss the mark. And we do miss the mark, when we allow those few misinterpreted words to dictate how it is that we understand the whole of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus.
I was re-listening to a lecture this past week on the conflict between Martin Luther and the Anabaptist. The Anabaptist were a group who split off, more technically form the Reformed wing of the Reformation. They believed and taught that baptism is an outward sign of an inward conviction and therefore one can only rightly be baptized after a confession of faith. Luther would have none of this. He insisted that Baptism is itself the regenerative event through which it is possible for us to have faith. Luther’s insistence (always) was that if we have to do anything, even if we claim it is only to believe there will forever be this doubt in our lives that we have not truly been saved. Our only hope out of the endless circle of self-examination and self-doubt is to throw ourselves on God’s mercy and depend upon God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Which is exactly what the scriptures tell God has done.
Read with me the 16th verse from Romans 4: For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace. It is on God’s grace that we depend; not on our own effort or merit.
No doubt, many will be reading John 3 today and warning frightened congregants that unless they believe, they are going to hell. What a mistake. The words Jesus speaks to Nicodemus are not a threat, they are an invitation. An invitation to live in the assurance that all the transgressions we so carefully identify during these forty days of Lent will not separate us from the love of God, nor from the salvation of our Christ. An invitation to receive the birth from above, the birth which comes from our Father above, the birth which occurred on the day we were baptized.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
I also think it is the perfect day to address Sacraments. Sacraments are those expressions of God's grace which remove the need for us to imagine. Sacraments are those expressions of God's love for us which become tangible. We don't have to wonder whether God loves us - we can feel the water on our heads and know that God accepts us as daughters/sons. We can taste the wine and know that God feeds us. We don't have to wonder whether we are saved, God has saved us and there might even be some photographs lying around the house.
Most of us will spend some portion of this day wondering if. If we will be honored with a card; if we will be remembered by a classmate; if someone will single us out and say to us, "You are my Valentine." But we do not need to wonder if we are loved. We are. We are loved with a love which can never be doubted. We are loved with a love clearly demonstrated by the gifts of water and bread.
If we allow ourselves, we will remember that this day's full name is Saint Valentine's Day. This is no secular holiday - it is a day in which all the world longs for and attempts to mimic the actions of one who experienced the love of God and set out to share that love. Let us help the world in accomplishing what it so desperately wants to accomplish. Let's teach the world what it means to love. Let's share with the world how wonderful it is to be loved with a love which can never be doubted and to be nourished by the One whose love stands behind all other love.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
The scriptures brought me back to this, this morning. Continuing in the same Psalm from which I quoted yesterday, Psalm 32:10 reads:
but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.
Walking streets of gold in some jewel encrusted city sounds appealing, but it does not overshadow the blessings which come my way as a result of God's steadfast love. God's love is with me now; God's love allows me to experience life and the world as a wonderful existence. My excitement of what lies ahead is informed by my experience of the goodness which has already come to me.
When asked what salvation is, my first and most heartfelt response is to say that it is the assurance that God loves me and the confidence that God will love me throughout all eternity. Informed by the visions in The Revelation, the end toward which all the saints are moving is the opportunity to surround the throne of God, casting our crowns before him, and singing his praises. When I get to "heaven," that is what it will be like for me. It is an eternal opportunity to thank God and serve him.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength dried up as by the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity.
I said, 'I confess my transgressions to the Lord.'
and you forgave me the guilt of my sin."
Why do we not confess? There is a multitude of reasons. Most often noted would be a fear of God's wrath. We are fearful of the consequences of our sin, so we seek to hide it. As if not acknowledging it would make it go away. A prayer is my prayer book speaks of those sins which we have so craftily hidden from others that they have become hidden even to ourselves.
But hiding does not make them go away, or disappear, or cease to weigh upon us. Instead, they take advantage of the damp, dark place, festering and infecting so much of what lies around.
One of the Lenten disciplines is confession. Lent is a time to examine our lives and our actions and to bring to the surface those things which have been hidden below. It is a time to acknowledge our guilt and turn to God. It is a season for bringing to an end the wasting away of our bodies and spirits.
Monday, February 11, 2008
The temptations offered him still appeal to us: demonstrations of God's providence, feeding the hungry, and living in a world were every one and every nation looks to God. The temptations he faced are the temptations which often turn us aside.
We all too often think of temptations as evil offerings. While it may be appropriate to speak of being tempted to steal, or lie, or cheat, the temptations which get to the core of our relationship with God are those in which we choose between the way of God and our own way. The temptations most to be feared are those in which we are lured away from God's Word.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
On the one hand, it is a glorious experience - to be actively involved in the liturgies of the Church. Liturgies which move us through the harsh realities of life and connect us to the eternal goodness of our God.
Difficult, in that this liturgical rite involves reminding those who come forward, "Remember you are ashes and to ashes you shall return."
Some of those attended last night's service have had busy schedules. As a result, we hadn't talked for a while. Not sure what has been going on in their lives, I looked into smiling eyes which seemed to be saying, "Hey Pastor Chris. It is good to see you." Then I rubbed ashes on their face.
The life-story of some of those attending last night's service is well known to me. I know of their pains and heart-breaks. My desire is to offer them a word of hope, a word of encouragement. What I gave to them was a charcoal stain.
I keep reminding myself that the imposition of ashes is a reminder that we are dust, offered by a community whose faith assures us that dust is not all that there is. That our hopes will be realized and our smiles transformed to true joy. But it is tough. I guess this is part of my Lenten pilgrimage.
As we move through these days of Lent, may we all remember and be reminded that in Christ we find that hope is not possible to find on our own. In him, our souls find their rest.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
We place ashes on our heads this day as an indication of these same emotions. We confess our sins, we acknowledge our guilt, we admit that we fail to live the lives God would have us live.
God's hope for us is that we would live in harmony with those around us. God's hope for us is that we would understand ourselves as brothers and sisters, united in our struggles. God's intention is that we should think of others before thinking of ourselves. We have not realized this hope. We must confess our shortcomings.
God's intention is that we would care for the least among us. God's instructions are for us to give to the poor, and pray for those who would harm us. This is not the way we talk. This is not the way we act. There is a need to admit our guilt.
Our loving Father welcomes us as children, asking that we live under the wing of His gentle care. We rebel, refusing to listen to Him. With contrite hears we make our way back to him.
The practice of placing ashes on our heads is a symbol of our desire to be made clean. Most of us have never made soap. We might not realize that soap can be made out of ashes. Interesting how something so messy can become an agent of cleansing. This practice reminds us of this. It is a desire that our dirtiness might be transformed into a thing of purity.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
On this day, the last day of light-hearted activity, we eat up the leaven in our homes (no cakes during Lent) and we exhaust our desire to laugh (feast of fools.) On this day, we make the change and transition in our lives which will allow us to devote increased attention to our identity as disciples.
It is helpful to establish a Lenten discipline. Helpful, not required. Helpful in that having an additional routine reminds us of the season and the events toward which our liturgical calendar is moving us. Not required in that Christ has paid the price for us and we must never allow ourselves to think that we are earning merits by way of our sacrifice.
The best discipline is to increase our time for reading scripture. The discipline most likely to enhance our Easter is a deeper knowledge of the texts which share Easter's affect on the world.
However it is that you will mark these days, mark them well. Preparation will make the celebration more than an observance. Preparation will allow Easter to come alive in our hearts as well as on our calendars.
Monday, February 4, 2008
We are experiencing that now. Yesterday's observance of Transfiguration Sunday means that Lent is just around the corner. The events are about to get serious as we are making our way to Jerusalem and the events which will unfold there. Christmas isn't that far behind, on our calendars, but it is fading fast in our liturgical life.
I wonder if the desire to know more of Jesus' childhood may arise from a mistaken confusion of him as some sort of a hero. Part of the process of lifting someone up as a hero involves looking at the events of their past to see what it is that made them great. We want to identify the things which contributed to their being strong and courageous. If we mistake Jesus for a hero, we might try to do the same with his life - look for that which made him turn out as he did.
But Jesus is no hero - he is Messiah. What makes him great are not the events of his childhood. What makes him great is God's anointing of him. He is who he is because of how it is that God sees him. He is who he is as a result of his relationship with God.
The same can be said for us. Regardless of the events of our past, no matter what opportunities might have been denied us, we are who we are as a result of the way God sees us. Who we are is determined by our relationship with God.
We spend so much time looking for "heroes." What we ought to be doing is living our lives in appreciation for the new name given to us by our God.