Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Strength Enough to Have Enough

Philippians 4:13 -- "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" -- is one of the more popular verses in Christian circles. It's an easy-to-understand, bumper-sticker-ready, spiritual-pep-talk kind of verse. "Set your sights high, because if Christ is with you, no task is too difficult!" 

At least that's what I thought, until I was reading the full passage today and when I connected that verse with the verses immediately before it, I had a light bulb that was just like Inigo Montoya's words to Vizzini: "I do not think it means what you think it means."

So here's the full passage, and consider that Paul is writing this from prison: "I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:10-13)

Paul isn't saying he can conquer the Roman Empire single-handedly or perform a miraculous healing (though I don't put anything beyond the power of God). Paul is specifically saying that Christ gives him the power to be content. At peace. Joyful. To find comfort in having enough

I know being content is something I struggle with often (usually in the realm of wanting some home improvements or a more reliable car), so this insight really hit home for me. This verse is still a good reminder to find strength in God for difficult tasks, but being content at all times? That would be a welcome miracle indeed.

"It's just enough to be strong in the broken places." -Jars of Clay, "Faith Enough"

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Good News or No News?

Note: This post was originally written for my church's newsletter. 

“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” -Galatians 3:28

As I sit to write this column, the church-wide assembly of our national church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), has elected a new presiding bishop: Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. Bishop Eaton has the distinction of being the first woman presiding bishop for the ELCA (or any of the denominations that merged into the ELCA).  Roughly two months ago, the Southwest California Synod of the ELCA elected Rev. R. Guy Erwin to be their local bishop, making him the first openly gay and first Native American bishop in the ELCA. 

Much has been made of both of these “firsts” in the media, but what strikes me is that the “history making” aspects of both elections were only side notes to those who voted and were elected. After all, neither was elected because of their “minority” status, but because they are qualified and wise spiritual leaders who speak eloquently and passionately about God’s church. As one person said simply of Bishop Erwin’s election, “He was the best candidate.” 

On one hand, these elections should not be news because of course there are qualified candidates for this ministry who happen to be women or LGBT just as some happen to be straight, white men. On the other hand, they show that we as the church are still struggling to live out Paul’s words in Galatians above that it is Christ’s claim to us that matters more than our claim to a gender, ethnic, or other identity. We are Christians first and foremost. 

This is not a new struggle. In Paul’s day, there were heated arguments about whether uncircumcised Greeks could be Christian (Galatians 2), whether wealthy socialites were more Christian than slaves (1 Corinthians 11-13), and even whether a Christian who sins could still be part of the church (1 John 2). Given the chance, humans will always look for ways to create hierarchy, while God continues to practice radical welcome and grace.

As the church and the world continues to struggle with our sinful tendency to divide and focus on differences, the fact that our congregation has chosen to declare that we are welcoming to all people is a powerful witness. We should be proud of the fact that we have chosen to take a stand for inclusion. We feel convicted by the Spirit to say that being a diverse church strengthens our faith as we all learn and grow together.

Until the day where these elections are not newsworthy, we should be proud to say, “Yes, my church elects woman bishops and gay bishops, because we believe that God calls all people to new life and God uses every person God calls to do God’s work -- even me and you.”

“We are the beautiful letdown, the painfully uncool; the church of the dropouts, the losers, the sinners, the failures, and the fools.” -Switchfoot, “The Beautiful Letdown”