Today’s message: ‘Who will proclaim him?’

Microphone and digital audio image

We have come through major storms this week in the Delaware area and they arrive in the midst of a year of upheaval, with losses and griefs on so many levels.

It’s important to remember that Jesus has Good News for us all. But is it getting through — to us and to others? Interim Pastor David Mueller talks about this in today’s sermon “Who Will Proclaim Him?”

Join us again for a prerecorded worship service, which allows us to gather virtually during this time of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic when our building remains closed. Thanks to John Lasher, director of music and worship, for preparing these videos — especially this week when he was faced with loss of power and other storm-related challenges.

Also participating today are Brian Schmidt, worship assistant, and this week’s virtual choir: Dave Herrmann, Allen Kirk, Myrna Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell, Paige Stebner and Teresa Stebner. Allen Kirk brings special music.

You can access our prerecorded service using the YouTube link below. The text of Pastor Mueller’s message is also available below.

“Who will Proclaim Him?” (Romans 10:5-15)

Interim Pastor David Mueller

If one were to get down to basics and seek the very heart of Lutheran teaching, what I believe we would find is the extreme importance of the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. The Law, we believe, instructs us as what to do and not to do. We also believe that we fail, sometimes miserably, to do the right and avoid the wrong. The Gospel, we believe, is about what God has done in Christ, and invites us to believe in Christ and the forgiveness of our sin.

In our second lesson, Paul wrote: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Paul went on to assure his readers: “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” The only qualification remaining is that we grasp — we don’t just believe — that Jesus existed and did what we are told about him, but that we take him to heart, literally inside of ourselves, resulting in confidence.

The Reformation produced three “solas” or “only:” sola scriptura, sola gratia and sola fide. We do not get our truths from vivid imaginations but from Scripture, where we learn that we are saved only by God’s grace, which we apply to ourselves only by faith. Ideally, we cherish and live by these solas.

A question we must go on to address is once saved by grace through faith, what does the Law mean to us? The Law is what David the Psalmist invites us to meditate upon day and night (Psalm 1:2). The Law is that basic guidance we learn to rely on living in keeping with God’s purpose. We learn to keep — not for fear of punishment, not in order to obtain God’s favor, which we already have in Christ, not to impress people around us with how righteous we are, but with joy to behave as God’s redeemed people.

“Love God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind and your neighbor as yourself” remains a summary of the commandments or Law; it is the “Great Commandment.” We must never use our freedom in Christ as license to do whatever we please, but what pleases God and helps rather than hurts others.

In my travels in circles where Christians and Jews are learning to appreciate rather than denigrate each other, one of the phrases or practical statements of belief on the Jewish side is “deeds and not creeds.”

If we Christians confess our creeds but do not follow up with deeds, we are not only violating our calling, but presenting ourselves hypocritically to others. Please understand that I cannot speak for Jews as to what the equivalent of creeds may be for them. I must speak for Christians, not only about what we believe but about what our beliefs invite us to do. I know without doubt that our faith teaches us nowhere (in Scripture) to hate Jews or for that matter anyone else. It is never: Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, love yourself and hate your neighbor.

I get idealistic at times or perhaps guilty of very high expectations of myself and other Christians when especially it comes to fulfilling our mandate to love all. I must say at this point that genuinely loving others, especially unlovable others, is as hard as it gets. It is utterly impossible for us to conjure up enough stuff within ourselves to pull off “in-spite-of” unconditional love, so here again we depend upon, have faith in and seek empowerment from God’s Holy Spirit.

No one can ever in this life get to the point of saying, “I made it; I am fully righteous, I do everything I am supposed to do and do it well, I have no further growing to do. If only the rest of the world is like me.” We live in a constant state of grace, that is, in falling short of God’s glory but having still his love and forgiveness.Interim Pastor David Mueller

Now here is the real problem: if we are not in constant relationship and communication with God, we very quickly slip into bad habits, former faults, secret sins and spiritual malnourishment. I have real concerns for people, young and old, who have left the Church. What are they feeding on?

As we feed on God’s will and word both in our private and corporate lives, as we gather for worship together (again sometime soon we hope), our faith remains and our capacity to care about others grows. What about those no longer among us?

I am at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church as Interim Pastor for now. As all of you know, I am far from perfect, make mistakes, get tired, wish I could do more and the like. Thank God I am a “temporary shepherd.” You need a new, different and younger pastor. WHO will proclaim Jesus among you? WHEN will she or he be named, installed and able and willing to minister with you?

There is much to do and the doing of it effectively is far more difficult and complex than it used to be. People are no longer flocking to churches. Going out after them must be done with great sensitivity and sincere love and care.

Support and encouragement for the now “mystery pastor” will be absolutely essential, ministering WITH the person is what will need to occur if growth in depth of existing members and breadth of new members is to happen. Actually, we must all consider ourselves not just members but disciples-in-process.

“How are they to call on one [Jesus] in whom they have not believed?” All the people out there are the new mission field, must hear the name and possibly come to believe in Jesus.

“How are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?” One of the real issues these days, unlike times past, is that so many people once knew and loved the name of Jesus but opted to hear of him no more. New approaches, new but faithful language, new creative ways of touching the world around us must be found, but always while speaking the name “Jesus.”

“How are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?” Your Pastor will minister with you, proclaiming the good news to you and through you. The proclaiming of the Pastor must result in the proclaiming of the people.

“How are they to proclaim him unless they are sent?” Dear Lord, real and righteous God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, send soon to us your choice of our new shepherd. Use us in this meantime to prayerfully consider all that goes into finding and welcoming a new pastor and knowing in faith who it is that You wish for us. Whoever she or he is, may we know and celebrate “how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”

Amen.

Midweek Extra: Jewish-Christian relations, with Rabbi Peter Grumbacher

Rabbi Peter Grumbacher and Pastor David Mueller

Interim Pastor David Mueller has a very special guest for today’s St. Mark’s Midweek Extra — longtime friend Rabbi Peter Grumbacher.

Rabbi Peter Grumbacher
Rabbi Peter Grumbacher

The men met years ago while serving next-door congregations in Wilmington — Mueller at Concordia Lutheran Church, Grumbacher at Congregation Beth Emeth — and their friendship has grown and produced many fascinating conversations and encounters for Jews and Christians over the years.

Interim Pastor David Mueller
Pastor David Mueller

 Some at St. Mark’s will know Rabbi Grumbacher from the 2018 trip to Israel he co-hosted with Pastor Mueller. Others will know him from the class the two men have co-taught on interfaith relations with Sister Jeanne Cashman at the University of Delaware’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Wilmington, where they were affectionately known as “The God Squad.” You can read about that collaboration in this 2017 News Journal article.

In this informal-but-substantive conversation, these two men, who have invested their lives in faithful service to others, discuss Jewish-Christian relations, Israel, the United States and the need for education and respectful dialogue.

You can watch their exchange on our YouTube channel here:

 

 

 

 

Today’s message: ‘What about the Jews?’

Jerusalem, Israel
The photograph above shows a view of Jerusalem, a city of pivotal significance for Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. In today’s prerecorded worship service, Interim Pastor David Mueller’s message — “What About the Jews?” — reminds us of the Jewish roots of our Christian faith and challenges us to “enrich and correct our beliefs and practices toward Jews.”
“It may seem silly to raise this, but contrary to the suspicion of some, Jesus was not a German or Scandinavian Lutheran, not even a Caucasian but probably a dark-skinned Palestinian Jew,” he says.
Join us for our prerecorded worship service, led by Pastor Mueller, John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, and Worship Assistant Judy Stadler. Also participating are this week’s virtual choir — Allen and Myrna Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols and Cheryl Powell — and soloist Dave Herrmann.
The link to our YouTube channel is below, along with the text of Pastor Mueller’s sermon.

“What About the Jews?” (Romans 9:1-5)

David E. Mueller, Interim Pastor

“Bloom where you are planted” was an expression of the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the Summer of 1977, I was called to Concordia Lutheran Church in Wilmington to serve as assistant pastor and executive director of CONTACT Wilmington, the 24-hour crisis intervention hotline founded by Concordia. I followed Carl Sachtleben, who would later become pastor at St. Mark’s.

CONTACT had the support and involvement of all sorts and kinds of people of faith, who I came quickly to respect and honor. Concordia’s building in those days was located at Washington and Lea, next to the Wilmington Music School on the one side and Congregation Beth Emeth on the other. While Concordia and the Music School shared spaces and had a good working relationship, there was no relationship with Beth Emeth. But I had been planted there, so I needed in time to do some blooming. Thankfully, their then-young assistant rabbi was also interested in blooming. To put a long and really special story short, Rabbi Peter Grumbacher and Pastor David Mueller became close friends and colleagues, both of us having accepted senior positions in our respective religious institutions.

Pastor David Mueller, the Rev. Dr. Kamal Farah and Rabbi Peter Grumbacher
Interim Pastor David Mueller (left) with the Rev. Dr. Kamal Farah and Rabbi Peter Grumbacher during a 2018 visit to The Galilee.

This relationship and its various expressions gave me all kinds of opportunities to engage Jews on pastoral and reciprocal levels, including involvement in the Delaware Chapter of The National Conference of Christians and Jews, a half dozen national Jewish-Christian conferences, dialogue experiences within both congregations and three jointly led pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

Especially these days but beginning earlier, certain “Christian” groups on the one hand have held up the Jews as having a special place in the heart of God. On the other hand, some of them as well as most other Christians have held the Jews responsible for the killing of Christ, giving much of Christian history an embedded anti-Semitism and all too often, violent treatment, the obvious and tragic worst of which was the Holocaust.

In our day, Christians have a chance to enrich as well as correct our beliefs and practices toward Jews.

The ninth to 11th chapters of Paul’s letter to the Christians of Rome offers us biblical assistance in our renewed appreciation of our Jewish roots. We encounter a portion of his heart-felt issues beginning today in Romans 9:1-5.

Historically, the statement by a relative few in Matthew 27:25 — “His blood be on us and on our children” — has been cited as an excuse. Too many “Christians” have used this passage and other issues to hold all of Judaism then and now accountable for the death of Christ. To blame a whole people for the guilt of a few is hardly the righteous thing to do. In a real way, it is not surprising that Jews have had negative feelings about Christians. Besides, Christian theology holds that all people, including us, are responsible for the death of Christ.

Paul goes a completely different and a very passionate direction. His introductory statement here emphasizes this: “I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit – I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart…” about “my own people.” (Romans 9:1)

A great deal of study has been done on Paul’s history and beliefs. He was of the tribe of Benjamin and had been a Pharisee, a militant hater of Christians, prior to his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. He came out of his conversion not exchanging hatreds, but still cherishing his Jewish roots. His sentiment for “my kindred according to the flesh” was deeply rooted and authentic.

As an aside here but a pertinent one, on a trip to the Holy Land decades ago, I walked into the Children’s Museum at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Center in Jerusalem, where the names of the million children slaughtered are softly and reverently read at a pace that takes nearly a year. The name I heard when I made my initial few steps was “Rosa Rockenstein.” My paternal grandmother’s maiden name was “Emma Rockenstein.” I knew that I am a quarter Jewish “according to the flesh,” but it really hit home in a powerful way that day.

Listen to Paul when he committedly proclaims, “They are Israelites and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises.” He leaves little, if anything, out here. It is all theirs. Everything significant in the will of God is theirs. We Christians are secondary, “grafted in” later. The Jews are the true and first children of God and we are adopted ones.

I was the appointed Lutheran delegate at a Jewish-Christian workshop held in Baltimore decades ago. Curiously, I was appointed by then Bishop Nafke of the Delaware-Maryland Synod. Even though I was in the Missouri Synod in those days, he knew of and trusted my involvement with and commitment to Jewish-Christian relationships.

At the conference, a Jewish historian, whose name escapes me, began his words to us by stating: “We don’t need you Christians! You are just another Jewish heresy, but you Christians need us because you came from us and your history is grounded in our history.” Those words enriched and did not disturb me because in a real sense it is true. Paul knew it back then and we need to know it now.

“According to the flesh, comes the Messiah.” (9:5) It may seem silly to raise this, but contrary to the suspicion of some, Jesus was not a German or Scandinavian Lutheran, not even a Caucasian but probably a dark-skinned Palestinian Jew.

About any of this there can be no question. Clearly, if we stick to Jesus as a Jew, following and at times elaborating Jewish law and teachings, Jews and Christians have much in common.

Paul, however, refers to Jesus as the Messiah (savior, anointed one). Jews do not believe that! There are plenty of others, including Muslims, who have few issues with Jesus but many with “The Christ!” Who are we — who have we been — to take such violent issue with the very people of Jesus?

Our appointed second lessons for the next few weeks are from Romans 9-11 and we will learn much more about the Jews and their relationship with Christians according to Paul. Hopefully, each and all of us can learn to appreciate more fully the chosen and covenant people of God from whom came the Christ we believe and find life in, so that with Jews and all others we are agents of life and love rather than death and hate. Whatever questions remain in us about the Jews, perhaps we can trust that they remain in the heart of God.

In our mid-week experience this coming Wednesday, I will have a very special guest: Rabbi Peter Grumbacher. I hope you can join us as we chat about our relationship and the relationship between our respective families of faith.

Midweek Extra topics: Creative ministry, Christian nationalism

Camera lens view of Interim Pastor David Mueller

Interim Pastor David Mueller has invited St Mark’s members and friends to send him topics, issues and questions for him to address during these Midweek Extra videos. And the ideas and questions keep on coming!

Today’s topics include:

  • Creative ways of developing Christian service during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Christian nationalism

If you have questions you’d like him to tackle, call or email the church office.

Here’s today’s session:

 

Today’s Message: How to Pray

Hands folded in prayer

If you could talk with your Creator — would you keep that appointment? What if you knew the Holy Spirit was interceding on your behalf? How do you talk with God anyway?

Interim Pastor David Mueller looks at prayer in his message today, discussing what it is and also what it isn’t.

Join us for our prerecorded worship service, using the link to our YouTube channel below, which goes “live” at 10 a.m. Sunday. You will also find the text of Pastor Mueller’s sermon below.

Also participating in today’s service are Barbara Sheridan, our worship assistant, and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts.

This week’s virtual choir includes: Dave Herrmann, Allen Kirk, Myrna Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, Fred Meckley, Jan Meckley, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell, Paige Stebner and Teresa Stebner.

“How to Pray” (Romans 8:26-39)

Interim Pastor David E. Mueller

I must admit to having my spirit tested these days as much as any time in recent memory. I like to think of myself as a happy-go-lucky sort of person, who tends to be positive most of the time. I can get depressed, but usually no longer than a day or two. Generally I am happy with myself and am particularly secure as a believing Christian.

The forces attacking us all these days, however, are heavy in the extreme, far too heavy to bear with our typical resources spiritual, emotional, and physical. There is profound political division within our nation, a deadly virus and — at least for now — hotter and muggier than most of us enjoy.

Nothing that I can name then is more important, especially right now, than that we pray without ceasing — that is, regularly. What does that mean? How does it look? What might it accomplish? Please revisit that very special Christian privilege, but before we begin to talk and learn about prayer, let us pray!

Dear Lord, we are being humbled these days and that might just be the greatest benefit of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Allow us to be emptied, forgiven and relieved of all false senses of security. Fill us anew with your love and grace and teach us anew how to pray. In Jesus’ Name, we say, Amen!

Clearly Paul was writing to relatively new Christians in Rome when he shared: “… we do not know how to pray as we ought….” Prayer is such a profoundly beautiful exercise, however, that we might think of ourselves as new Christians. Romans 8 is a jam-packed chapter, but — most important — about prayer.

In Matthew 6:5, we learn what praying is not: “the heaping up of empty phrases … many words.” Also, prayer is not a public but an intimately private matter: “Go into your room and shut the door….” James the Apostle in his letter wrote: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” (4:3) 

There is another even more significant revelation about prayer in all four Gospels.

I will stick with Matthew in 26:36-46. There are several extremely revealing truths within this text.

The Last Supper was finished and Jesus went to Gethsemane to pray. In his first petition, he prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (26:39).

The next petition shows a subtle but real change: “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (26:42)

In his last petition we are told he “prayed for the third time, saying the same words.”(26:44)

We may recall that between each of these petitions, he found his disciples taking a nap.

Most significant, however, is what Jesus said following prayer: “Get up, let us be going, my betrayer is at hand.” (26:46) He was ready to face his reality!

The sign on your kitchen wall or on a bumper sticker piously proclaims: “Prayer changes things!”

The reason I am not so sure about that is that it did not work that way for Jesus. His circumstances changed not; he went to the cross.

Often our prayers ask God to change everything and everyone around us but not us, when all too often what needs to change is us. We may need to face our reality and not escape it!

The pleasures James reports we pray for are not all bad. Praying for family, friends, community, country and the like seem so benign. But praying for any of those can often require an empowerment of us so that we might become more significant agents in the family’s or country’s well-being.

And there is more. Paul in Romans 8 makes a definite connection between the Holy Spirit and prayer. As I have shared several times previously, the Greek word “pneuma” can mean spirit, breath, wind. This time around, the “breath” helps us in our weakness … with “sighs too deep for words.” The “breath,” writes Paul: “… intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

If we allow this biblical truth to set with us and sink deeply into our hearts and minds, what we get is that prayer is spiritual breathing, that is, inhaling the word and will of God and exhaling his praise. When that happens, we are fully alive; when it does not, we are not spiritually alive. So breathe, folks, that beautiful and powerful fresh and clean air of the “Holy Breath.”

So far then we are to admit that when it comes to prayer we do not know what we are doing. We offer many words and so many of those words are about changing everything and everyone around us but not ourselves.

When we pray appropriately, we are breathing the breath of God. The promise which flows from this living exercise is that “… all things work together for good for those who love God.” (8:28)

The primary problem I have and share with many if not most of you is timing. God’s promises are seldom fulfilled immediately. We may have to wait a while or a whale of a long time.

What happens in this at times painful meantime is that we are promised that nothing … NOTHING … NOTHING we can name “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The significance of this in a practical way cannot be overstated. I belong to God in Jesus Christ. I have been called by name, made his own and have God’s promise never to leave nor to forsake me!

So, I or a loved one having a significant medical issue is among all other things an opportunity for me to remember joyfully that I belong to Christ Jesus. That can never mean that I sit back and lend no support to the medical professionals. It never means that in any way I fail to be supportive of the loved one. I still do everything reasonable and potentially helpful that I can, but first and foremost I believe that whatever “this” is cannot separate me from the love of God.

If one loses a job, secular and spiritual resources will tell you that whining and complaining and being dragged down won’t help, but remembering who you are in Christ Jesus can never hurt you in your pursuit of another job!

Given the current shape of things political, the current attack of things viral, whatever else is happening or not in your personal life, breathe easy, breathe in the word, will and wonder of God and breathe out his praise and your faith in his promises. That is exactly what prayer is and if it changes anything for sure, it will change you and you will love the change because it will place you in the best possible position and condition to be an agent of positive change in others.

Amen.

Midweek Extra: Finding joy and making reparations

Interim Pastor David Mueller

Where’s the joy when we’ve got a virus?

Where’s the joy when we’ve got storm troopers in Oregon?

Where’s the joy when we have such animus between various peoples in our own country?

Where’s the joy when we have economic concerns about how we’re going to manage economically and financially?

Where’s the joy?

Interim Pastor David Mueller attends to that subject in today’s Midweek Extra, an informal video discussion of questions sent to him and his thoughts on assorted issues of the day.

He also discusses making reparations for slavery and other injustices.

Have your own questions for Pastor Mueller? Send them to the church office for future consideration.

Thanks to John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, for producing these videos.

 

 

Have you loved a weed today?

Wheat field

If you’ve been gardening during this time of Coronavirus pandemic, you may have strong feelings about weeds these days. Interim Pastor David Mueller has a weed-related challenge for us in his message today.

Join us as we worship by way of a prerecorded video, produced by our Director of Music and Worship Arts, John Lasher, who has worked with Pastor to provide these online services each week.

Also participating today are Cheryl Powell, worship assistant and soloist, and this week’s Virtual Choir: Allen Kirk, Myrna Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, Fred Meckley, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner.

The link below will take you to the video on our YouTube channel. The video goes “live” at 10 a.m. The text of Pastor Mueller’s sermon  is also included below.

“Have You Loved a Weed Today?” (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) 

Interim Pastor David E. Mueller

In a class at Princeton years ago, a professor claimed that many parables of Jesus were intentionally designed to confuse his listeners. Confusion is a state of affairs most people cannot tolerate, which compels them to work their way out of the confusion, to think through all angles until it begins to make some sense.

The perfect example is the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7). “Which one of you, having 100 sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the 99 in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”

Any shepherd, as well as anyone else for that matter, would find this absolutely insane. One cuts his loss of one sheep and continues to watch out for the 99. What on earth was Jesus saying?

With today’s parable, even though Jesus explains it, listeners are left with incredible questions and concerns. I am no botanist, but I have enough yard to know that if weeds are allowed to grow, they take over quickly. Explaining this by speaking of people instead of plants makes thing worse and not better. Evil in the midst of us tends to thrive even as we suffer difficulties at least.

Haven’t many or most of us at one time or another, perhaps more often, asked why God doesn’t do something about certain people, groups or forces that tend to be so effective at causing problems? Why can’t basically good people be left alone to accomplish good things? Why are we constantly confronted by resistance?

Yet again with incredible energy, we are faced with the evil of racism raising its ugly head ironically in the north and not just the south, perhaps in our very midst here at St. Mark’s? How can some people be so cruel, insensitive and selfish as to fight for not wearing a mask when all the research strongly supports wearing one is a main mitigation against the virus?

Is this mere misguidance or is it evil? Where is God in any of this? Must the devil so often prevail so it seems?

Jesus, as a Jew, got much of his teaching from the Hebrew Scriptures. I turn to the book of Ecclesiastes of the Wisdom Literature to seek some assistance. There are at least a few hints herein.

Solomon, traditionally believed to have been the author, says in 7:15: “In my vain life, I have seen everything; there are righteous people who perish in their righteousness, and there are wicked people who prolong their life in their evildoing.”

Ain’t it the truth!

Similarly in 8:14, Solomon says: “There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people who are treated according to the conduct of the wicked, and there are wicked people who are treated according to the conduct of the righteous.”

God, this is just not right!

Both Solomon writes and Jesus says that in the end, the righteous will prevail and the wicked will fail miserably, but what a hell of a meantime this is.

Have you heard about the lawsuits against the poison Roundup? It kills weeds for sure, but evidently has caused many cancers in those who use it frequently. That sort of risk Jesus raises — namely, that we do not want to harm the wheat or good folk as we poison, cut, or in some way kill the weeds. I get that!

In Romans 12,9, we note: “Let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” We are not told here to hate evildoers, but the evil they do.

There are children and families still stuck in cages at our southern border. I hate that! It does no one any good to hate the perpetrators!

There are tens of thousands of good police personnel without whom life and crime would be worse. What of those police who cause unnecessary harm, even death? That is a question for us all these days.

What of those white guys who wave foreign and domestic enemy flags, shout racial slurs, make violent threats, and — all too often — are violent? I hate that!

What of politicians and government officials who fail in their duty to keep Americans safe and secure, physically, financially and otherwise? I hate that!

Speaking of police, Gigi and I were in Venice, Italy, on what we called our “There is Life after Tuition Trip.” After dinner one evening, we walked what there is of streets amidst the canals. We came upon a very drunken Gondolier who was surrounded by six policemen. There were several Carabinieri, military police, and an equal number of Polizia di Stato, civilian police, being incredibly patient with this young man. They spoke softly to him, encouraged him to stop shouting and making a fuss, and seemed prepared to take whatever time it took to wait him out or wear him down. There were no threats, no gestures of force, no drawing of weapons. That has stood in contrast to all too many scenes here in America. I realize that we are not frequently exposed to our police being patient and kind.

There is almost nothing in the words of Jesus that could be interpreted as “do nothing!” If then, weeds or evil people are so near us, what do we do? Hating, killing or harming them in any way is not the Christian way. What then? Love them! How? Allow them to get away with their evil ways? Not really. Come on, Mueller, you are suggesting this, so what do we do?

Love is misinterpreted sometimes. There is absolutely nothing mushy about love here. It is not a weak gesture. It is not passive but active. It seeks to express care for sure, care they probably have not known in their lives or they might not be the people they have become.

“Pray for those who persecute you.” (Luke 6:28) Offer them an example which is their moral opposite! Pray for them! Be Jesus to them, forgive them, show them mercy and grace. Pray for them! Be the redeemed person you are and they are not!

“Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6) Let them see the rejoicing we do in what is good, true and positive. Let us refuse to rejoice in their evil ways. Pray for them! Praying cannot hurt. It can keep us engaged!

Back in seminary with a student body of approximately 400 or so (oh, to have that many today!), there were about a dozen of us who were not satisfied with what we were being taught about certain matters or about important matters about which nothing was being taught.

We set up what was an “inner seminary.” We had retreats, discussion sessions, prayer times. What really kept the seminary administration’s bowels in an uproar, was when we planned a weekend retreat with special guests or held an evening symposium.

We invited Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party to come and speak to us. In the late Sixties, one of their stated desires, not goals but desires, was to get 13 states in the South for themselves. I remember moving from the back of the room right up front where Fred was sitting with several of his companions. When given the chance, I asked if after getting their 13 states, might some small percentage of their own people start to exploit them? His answer was “perhaps, but at least they would be our own people.”

Sadly, two weeks later, he and another Panther were shot and killed by the Chicago police in a raid.

There were then and there are now those white folks who would think of the Black Panthers as a terrorist organization. They did have a violent streak in what could better be called riots and not just protests back then. But we engaged them, sought to understand them, did not have to agree with them on anything. How Fred Hampton thought of a bunch of German Lutherans inviting him to dialogue we will never know.

As Christians, washed in the blood of Jesus, forgiven and freed, loved forever, we cannot allow ourselves to merely become victims of the evils around us. Engaging evil in a careful, caring, intelligent, faithful and prayerful manner is far less risky and potentially far more effective than doing nothing. Jesus engaged the devil and those throughout his ministry who were less than righteous.

Have you loved a weed today? If not, give it a shot! You might just discover a new and possibly righteous part of your Christian self.

The Midweek Extra for July 15

Interim Pastor David Mueller

He called for questions — and you are sending them!

This week’s “St. Mark’s Midweek Extra” — an informal, half-hour video hosted by Interim Pastor David Mueller and produced by John Lasher — focuses on the social statements of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the denomination St. Mark’s is part of, and what it means to be a congregation in the ELCA.

Pastor also talks about Christian sexuality in an increasingly permissive society.

If you have questions of your own, feel free to send an email to the church office.

Here’s the video:

 

Today’s message: ‘The Messy God’

Interim Pastor David Mueller

We gather again today to share a prerecorded service with worship, prayer and a word from Scripture. Our building remains closed in this time of Coronavirus pandemic and we are thankful indeed for the work of Interim Pastor David Mueller and John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, which allows us to continue to meet and share a common experience, albeit from afar.

Also participating in today’s service are Nancy Myers, worship assistant, and this week’s Virtual Choir: Dave Herrmann, Allen Kirk, John Lasher, David McClure, John Nichols, Cheryl Powell and Teresa Stebner. We will also hear from vocalist Paige Stebner.

The link to the prerecorded video is below, along with the text of Pastor Mueller’s message: “The Messy God.”

Also, be sure to check out the new “St. Mark’s Midweek Extra,” which offers a more informal encounter with Pastor Mueller, who offers to reply to questions we submit and also shares his reflections and thoughts on a range of other issues for about half an hour. The broadcast started on Wednesday, July 8, and it is planned as a weekly event, usually arriving online by 10 a.m. You can find last week’s discussion — and all those to come — on our YouTube channel.

“The Messy God” (Matthew 13:1-9, 36-43)

David E. Mueller, Interim Pastor 

You may or may not find it interesting that seminary education in Lutheranism traditionally has included four theological disciplines: Biblical theology (exegetics), history, systematics, and practical theology. I am troubled that far less history is required these days.

I want to center for just a minute on systematic theology, which is like engineering. If the foundation of a bridge has not been built correctly and strongly, it could easily collapse. The engineers have to put the design together in such a manner so that various parts of the bridge support rather than conflict with each other, making the whole a safe and practical bridge.

Systematic theology, which includes our Lutheran Confessions, seeks to make certain that various points of theology, belief and practice fit together and in no way contradict. Systematic theology is structural and quite technical. It is an attempt to neatly package what we believe even if complex.

Along comes Jesus speaking in parables which often defy neatness and order. I will not go through a number of them to prove my point, except to look at the Gospel lesson appointed for today about the sower and the seeds, which, as Jesus reveals when He explains what He first spoke, is really about the word and kingdom of God. God the sower flings seeds all over the place, in hopes that some will fall on good soil, take root and grow.

Seeds cannot and do not germinate on the road with birds eating what is not destroyed by traffic, like the devil coming along and snatching the seeds away.

Seeds cannot grow well on rocky ground either for the soil is not deep enough, which is like a person believing initially until the going gets hard and persecutions and other troubles come along and the person falls away.

Seeds can fall among the thorns and weeds, but get choked by the thorny cares of the world and wealth, yielding nothing.

Finally, seeds grow best on good clean and rich soil. The word is received, understood, the seeds germinate and produce fruit in various measures.

Interestingly, in the appointed Gospel for next week from just a bit later in Matthew 13, the weeds and thorny things are left to grow together.

It is all very messy and doesn’t seem to fit together very well. God does the things God does whether flinging seeds in reckless fashion or allowing weeds and seeds to co-exist.

In the familiar Psalm 23, we hear of cups running over, making a real mess on the table. God can be and often is quite messy.

We do ourselves and anyone else no favors by looking at the various places seeds land and identifying people we know who are like that. Good old Charlie gets very involved in things at the church but can never sustain his excitement. Henrietta simply cannot keep up with the thorns and weeds which end up killing off her many efforts. Mortimer always has his mind on what is best for himself and how he can make a killing. We all know people who seem to fit into these three categories. We can even identify the ones among us who do all the work, take little credit when all goes well and take a lot of guff when things go badly. These characters are all here at St. Mark’s in full and living color.

But what if there is a deeper interpretation without meaning to outdo Jesus here. What if in each of us there are four kinds of soil? What if there are birds which take the seeds in us which have not been smashed by traffic? What if in a spiritual sense we have rocks in our hearts much like stones in our kidneys which can act up? What if we find ourselves so wrapped up in the things of the world that there is no room left for the things of God? What if there is in each of us really good soil? If all this is true, what to do? Move to the good soil and let the word and will of God grow; avoid the other places in our lives where no growth of consequence is possible!

There is a parable in Matthew 21:28-32, where one son said yes when asked by his father to go out and work in the vineyard but who did not show up. The other son said no to his father but showed up and did the work. Which son did the work of the father? Obviously the one who showed up after all. This is a messy business as well because to have said “no” to a father in those days would have been asking for real trouble. It would be nice if sons or daughters always said a loving and obedient “yes” and did the work. But a case can be made that two sons like that or daughters are in each of us, doing some sort of battle. Which of them wins in us? It is like the soil. Move to the good soil in yourself!

I believe I have shared about the Native American grandfather who told his grandson that there were two wolves in each person, a ravenous, angry, dangerous one and a kind, friendly, but protective one. “Which one wins?” the grandson asks. “The one you feed,” said the grandfather.

There is clearly an eternal implication to all of this, that is, what is it that makes life last forever and not just for a while? But there is an immediate temporal significance and benefit as well.

Listen to the Prophet Isaiah in our first lesson as he lists the beautiful things God will do: to summarize, there will be joy, peace, hills singing, tress clapping hands. There will be no thorns but the Cypress, no brier but Myrtle. It is all an everlasting sign that people will not be cut off from the Lord.

Paul in our second lesson (Romans 8:1-11): set our minds on the things of the Spirit and live or on the things of the flesh and die!

As we ask ourselves what we want out of life, we Christians are invited to believe that the word, will and wonder of God is well worth it, while the stuff of bad soil, bad boys and big bad wolves are worth nothing in the end. Believing then and having living faith is setting aside our stuff — whatever it is — and allowing God in Christ to sow His abounding and steadfast love in us, on our hearts and in our minds.

There is clutter like thorns and thistles in us. There are false but formidable forces calling us to destruction. Let Jesus die for that so that you might be good soil on which God sows good fruit! Amen.

St. Mark’s Midweek Extra starts today!

Interim Pastor David Mueller

Here’s your chance to ask those questions that have been bugging you and  listen in as Interim Pastor David Mueller tackles them and shares his perspective on the past, observations on current events and ideas about the future.

We’re calling it “St. Mark’s Midweek Extra” — a half-hour-ish video hosted by Pastor Mueller and posted on Wednesday mornings. This week, Pastor Mueller will discuss “hating the sin but loving the sinner,” explain what led him to accept the Interim Pastorate at St. Mark’s and share some observations about the future of the Church in general and St. Mark’s in particular.

Check it out by clicking the link below. Then send an email to the St. Mark’s office. with questions you’d like Pastor to address in future encounters.