Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Pastor Knecht's Christmas Letter to the Congregation

December 2017

The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 NRSV

Dear Family and Friends of Holy Cross,

It is my great pleasure to wish you a merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.   I pray that you may know the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ as we rejoice in the message of his coming.

The verse quoted above is a traditional reading for Christmas day.  The Gospel of John has a very different Christmas story than we are used to.   The true meaning of Christmas is shared in a very direct way. His account begins at the start of creation and shows how God was working to save the world from the beginning of time.   Jesus is the light coming into our dark world.   He is the redeemer sent to bring home those who are in darkness.  He is our Savior, the true light, which comes into the world for all people.

This year many will find our world to be a dark place. Our comminutes have become divided over politics and culture.   Many may feel threatened or that their way of life is in jeopardy.   Now more than ever people need to know about Jesus who by his coming death and resurrection overcomes the divisions of our world.  They need to know that God dwelled among us and knows what we are going through.  Most of all, people need to know that Jesus has given people who have faith in him the gift of eternal life so that they are not held captive to fear, but free to live in hope.

We invite you to join us at Holy Cross this year as we celebrate of the coming of God’s Son.  Our Christmas Eve schedule is as follows.

Sunday December 24th       10AM Sunday School Christmas Pageant
                                            11AM  Live Animal Nativity and Fellowship
                                            5PM Christmas Eve Candlelight Communion

I wish you and yours all God’s blessings this Christmas,

Pastor Knecht 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Showing up for Christmas

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. (Galatians 4:4-5 NRSV)


The saying goes, ninety percent of life is just showing up.   Indeed, showing up is a good way to explain what God has done in the story of the coming of Jesus Christ. God showed up to be with us in our world.  Jesus would be called Immanuel, Hebrew for the "with us" God. 

One simple thing that I have  through life learned is that people show up because they care. Some of the most powerful moments I have seen are when someone shows up to something important to me when I did not expect that person to be there. Likewise, some of life's greatest disappointments are when someone I counted on to be there for me failed to arrive. To show up or not, is a vote about whether we care or not. 

The people who really care are those who have the love to show up not only when they approve of things, or are comfortable, but those who show up when they are disappointed or know that arriving will bring mixed feelings.  This is the kind of showing up modeled in the coming of Jesus Christ through the miracle of the incarnation. This kind of showing up has a word to describe it, forgiveness.


What compels someone to show up in situations that are not easy, or even dangerous? How can we forgive those who have hurt us? The Gospel clearly shows that the motivation of this kind of thing is always love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:16-17 NRSV) Love is that which bridges the gap caused by sin in our relationships with God and others.

I am asking you to consider remembering those who showed up in your life when times were bad, and especially those who showed up after your actions had hurt them. These are those that love you.  These are those who have compassion for you. Compassion in popular parlance is synonymous with empathy.  In theological terms, compassion is much more; it sticks to its root meaning in Latin, to suffer with.  To forgive means to accept suffering for love, the person offering forgiveness always suffers a bit to extend it.  So yes, forgiveness hurts. The bible reminds us there is no forgiveness without some sacrifice. "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Hebrews 9:22 NRSV)

The word compassion is a great shorthand Gospel summary.  God has empathy and decides to come and show up to be with us in our time of need.  Even though our need has been created by our own failures, mistakes, and lashing out, God still shows up. This is love. This is the meaning behind the hope of Advent and the promise of Christmas.

Be blessed
Pastor Knecht

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Rule of Grace

Where Do You See God's Grace? 

This entire year throughout the world people have remembered, celebrated, and discussed the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.   The central tenet of the movement was a renewed understanding of God's saving grace.  Simply put, God acts first to bring us to him.  We don't act first to approach God.   This truth is revealed in the letter of Paul to the Ephesians "he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." (Ephesians 1:9-11 NRSV) The reformers asked the tough question; are our church's practices consistent with the person and work of Jesus Christ.   This is the critical question for our time today.   Are our actions reflecting the love shown to us in the life, death, resurrection and love of Jesus Christ.

A couple of key points to remember are:

1. God decided to love us by sending Christ, we had no choice in the matter. 

2.  Christ did the work of cross and resurrection without our help.

3.  God asks us to be gracious to others in the same way God has been gracious to us.

These points are summed up in Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.... For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, (NRSV)  

The Rule of Grace 

Intentional Christian communities often live by a rule.  The most well known being the Rule of St. Benedict.  The monastic rule is less a series of commands than a formula.   It is a way of going through the day in which one encounters God.  Time is measured through prayer and worship.  The time is allotted for meaningful work, meditation, tending relationships and rest.   It is through following this rule that communities hope to walk with God and be a blessing to their neighbors.  Like one would expect living in a mixed up world with mixed up people, sometimes this worked and sometimes it did not.   The times it did work was when the communities were guided by the higher rule (or as Paul would say the more excellent way).  This higher rule is one that binds all Christians.  We are to follow the Rule of Grace; we are to be a gift for the world, giving gifts to the world.

Using the above definition of the Rule of Grace, I would like you to think about applying it in three ways.   First, as challenge or command to be a person who is gracious in his or her dealings.   We are called to be people who understand that God's grace is not limited to spiritual things.  The material blessings we have, home, food, leisure, job, community and the natural beauty of this world are all evidence of a gracious God's provision.

Second, that we use the Rule of Grace as formula to guide how we should look at things, solve problems and contribute to the life of our community, country, and world.  When dealing with an issue we ask how does this stand in the light of God's grace.

Finally, we let the Rule of Grace rule our hearts and minds.  We approach God in prayer and understand that though we may try to earn, build or work grace, that is not what gives us dignity and salvation.  That has been already given by God through the person and work of Jesus Christ.   Being people of grace we humbly understand that it is our Lord who ultimately in control.  We are therefore freed from fear of sin, death, and rejection, because we know that God is good and God loves us. 

The World Needs People of Grace 

One things that seems to unite all sides in the debates raging in society today is a lack of graciousness. Partisans from all political, social and religious groups  have decided that demonization and judgement of their opponents (or convenient targets) is the only way to achieve goals.   Our Lord did not act like this, God gave grace precisely when it was not deserved or earned.  This changed the world.   Being people of grace is good news not just for us alone but for those who interact with us on a daily basis.  This is not just about us.  Grace is God's gift to the world.   So I am asking you to live by the Rule of Grace and let grace rule your life.

Be blessed
Pastor Knecht

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Holy Cross to participate in the Homeless Sabbath Weekend December 17th

Community Access Unlimited, Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, Family Promise of Union County, Gateway Family YMCA, HomeFirst, Iris House, Monarch Housing and the Union County Interfaith Coordinating Council are asking us to please join them for this year for a “call to action” on the second annual Homeless Sabbath Weekend December 15-17, 2017, on behalf of all people who are homeless in Union County. We at Holy Cross are pleased to be a part of this ministry! So we will remember the homeless in worship and show how our church is working to house those in need in our area.

What Can I Do for My Homeless Neighbors?

Donate – Union County has a full continuum of services for the homeless provided by non-profits. Even a small contribution can help their clients find a place to call home;

Volunteer – all the non-profits need volunteers to help in their work to end homelessness. Every age,skill and talent are needed;

Attend -- the Homeless Persons Memorial Day Vigil December 21 st 7PM at the First Presbyterian Church of Cranford to help remember our neighbors who died due to lack of housing and supportive

Engage – talk to your family, your neighbors, your co-workers and elected officials about homelessness in Union County and how we need to work together to end homelessness. To achieve

that goal, we need to change the conversation and focus on the needs of our neighbors;

Form a homeless ministry - Begin discussions that focus on what more your congregation can do to end homelessness.

Please share this with your neighbors and encourage them to join you in worship with us on the 17 th orthe vigil on the 21 st.

Thank you in advance for your participation.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

What's our Pitch?

"Perception is reality" the old saying goes.  Changing how people see things can give them new incentives to  change directions and live a better life.  Transforming a world view can lead to all kinds of behavioral changes. If advertisers can make a pitch to make us think that we need something and then we go and buy it then they have done their job. I really don't need a smartphone, but somehow I have come to think I can't live without it. Their pitch worked.

The more perceptive among us may argue, is this not what we do when we get up to preach every Sunday?   Are we not working with a Biblical text to encourage our audience to see the world and God in different ways? Yes, we are. We are making a pitch.   This is one of the most important things we do when gather together in Christ.  We lift up the truth of God's Word so that people can open their minds and hearts to a different way of seeing the world.  This means seeing God and our selves through the lens of faith.  St. Paul wrote in Romans 10:17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. (NRSV)   We are using words to change reality.

As the Gospel does this, however so does the world.  Part of the reason we are where we are as a society today is that people have made their own pitch and many have believed it.  People have heard the pitch men and pitch women of the world claim that only material matters, or only what is practical is important, or it's all someone else's fault,  or they are not as deserving as you, or we are exceptional and others are not, or you can have whatever god you want.   The devil knows how to make a pitch, he's been doing since the garden.  The devil suckered Eve, and she suckered Adam.  Viral marketing is much older than we think.

However, the Word that Jesus is Risen, changes things for real.  The Gospel, that we can be part of the kingdom, has the power to renew our lives for the better.    Our most precious gift is the promise of the Gospel.  There is a single common humanity. Jesus became human to prove God is with us in our humanity.   Instead we believed the pitch of world and put him to death.   God raised Jesus to prove, that we will not be let go so easily.  God will love us no matter what.  We can be with God and others in wholeness and peace, even into eternal life.  We can love others by giving them hope.

Yes, we do give a Pitch, but this message does not belong to us exclusively, it is the province of God.  So our most important work at Holy Cross is tending to life of the Gospel in our congregation.  Proclaiming it to our neighbors, while living it out ourselves.   Our preaching will continue to be vital.  So I will do my best to make sure it sourced, prayed over, and worked at.  Because we are are making the Pitch we must remember that every word we speak matters.  We must keep in minds that  this is really not our Pitch, but God's, and its heart is: John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (NRSV)

We in the church will always hope in the Gospel. We will need to demonstrate the truth of our pitch by living it ourselves, so we need to feed the hungry, pray for the sick, uphold the dignity of those despised by society, and make a commitment to use our words intentionally  Indeed this is the day the Lord has made, and we are called to be glad in it.

Be blessed

Pastor Knecht

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Re-Making God's People: Back to the Sources

When I walk into a library I head straight to the new book section and look for the latest history books.   One of the ways that I can tell if  book is worth my time, is checking to see if there are notes in the back or at the end of the chapters.   Any non-fiction book without recorded sources is worthless.   If you don't know the sources, how can you be sure that the author isn't  just making stuff up?   By examining the sources one can also find clues about the presuppositions and possible agenda of the author.   All of this together can help the reader discern whether or not the history portrayed in the work is a plausible explanation of what happened.

A concern for good sources was at the heart of the Protestant Reformation.   Luther did not come to advocate for change in the church just because he felt like it.  He examined what was going on in the church in his day and then compared it to his study of Scripture and the writings of the church fathers and arrived at an informed conclusion that the church had strayed from God's intention for it   Much of what Luther argued for was simply that people ground their faith life in the good sources that God provides for us to live a full life of faith.   So rather than merely celebrating the past why don't we learn from it?  The Reformation taught us that they only way the church can truly meet the needs of the people today is if it stays grounded in the sources revealed by God throughout the history of God's people. 

Scripture Alone 

We come to know God's Word through the gift of the Scriptures contained in the Bible.  It is the primary source document of the faith.   Luther translated the Bible into German so more people could read it for themselves.   The reformers argued that the Bible should be read so that people can search for Christ.  In the scripture we find both Law and Gospel.   We learn about where we need God in our life and how we might amend our ways.  We then come to know the love and grace of God to help bring us to a place of healing and reconciliation.   Scripture helps us discern between what is God's Word and what is our witness (or opinion).  While our witness is vital and many Christians should give witness to God more than they do, it is of secondary importance to the Word of God which brings life. Scripture is an objective source to gauge our life of faith.  So the lesson of the Reformation is to take Scripture seriously, read it daily, pay attention to the context of section you are reading, and don't use little snippets of it to merely prove your argument.  The Word is not Bible trivia; it is life and death. Read it and live. 

Faith Alone 

Our well being will not be determined by what we do, but by whom we trust.  Disciples of Jesus Christ really don't believe in self-help,  they believe in the God of grace who provides help.  Our customs, practices, responsibilities, and actions find their true value only when they open our eyes to faith.   Our trust that God's promises are truly for us, is the only outcome that Grace requires.  While we may want this thing or that thing to happen in our lives, or we might want to change the world, in the end what will matter will be who we are walking with in trust.  We do not find our center in an identity, organization, religion, country, political party, clique, club, or the achievements we place on our resume, but in the loving arms of God.  Salvation is more than mere self-esteem; it is a trusting relationship with God and neighbor.  Therefore the Reformation teaches us to tend to our faith life, to move forward in trust, and to look for God's work in the world. 

Grace Alone

We have not been given life, hope and salvation because we have earned it in any conceivable way. Jesus did not die for me because I am such a great guy.  We are all good and bad mixed up, simultaneously saint and sinner, virtuous one day and deplorable the next.  God chose to send the Son because God loves the world.   If we deserved it, it would not be Grace.   There is no double entry accounting Excel sheet in the sky with my sins in one column and and brownie points in the other. God knows us way better than that and God has chosen to love us through Jesus Christ.   Our preferences tastes are often confused with the means of Grace; we feel that people need to worship the way we like it, read the things we think are important, act the way we want in church, and increasingly these days hold the political views that make us comfortable.  Grace has little to do with a world's concept of happiness, prosperity, or acceptance.   It is a validation and verification of our God given identity as beloved children of God created in God's image, often in spite of the culture's rejection of us.

Christ Alone

The Gospel of the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is our story.   It is not merely a series of facts; it is the life giving hope that informs every aspect of our life.   We called by the Holy Spirit to live a life "in Christ".  It is in Jesus that we move and have our being. How are our actions, beliefs and emotions seen in the shadow of the cross? Can we look at others the way Christ looks at us?   When we look to Christ we see the fullness of God and the truth about our world both good and bad.  Christ will at times challenge us (Law) and other times  uphold us (Gospel) but as the Resurrection reminds us, Christ will never abandon us.  The actions of our church, Word and Sacrament are given so that we can come and meet (commune with) Christ and our sisters and brothers.   Christ is the mediator and bridge between the divine and human, and often the bridge between divided human beings.

These four, Scripture, Faith, Grace and Christ are the sources of our common Christian life.  The history of the faithful is a story of a dance between wandering away from the sources and through the work of the Spirit, finding our way back to them.  My prayer for you is that your ideas find their true source in the Word of God, that your life is lived while drinking from the source of Faith, that your dignity and worth is watered from the source of Grace, and that you find God through Jesus Christ.

Keep the Faith.
Pastor Knecht 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Dave's 95 Theses

A Devotional Exercise

The 500th anniversary of the reformation is this October 31st.   On that date in 1517, Martin Luther posted 95 theses for an academic debate discussing the fundraising practice of granting indulgences used by the Roman church at the time.    The issue he raised in this debate was the spark that enabled the Reformation of the church to quickly spread throughout Europe and transform the theological, historical, political, sociological, economic, cultural and artistic landscape of western civilization.  

As my way of commemorating this milestone, I decided to come up with my own 95 theses.   (A word of warning, mine are a lot more random and less focused than Luther's) Basically, I tried to say 95 things about my faith.   Each one is sourced with a biblical reference to show that the statements I made spring from up from the wellspring our faith and are not my mere opinions.   I would not call them facts either, because other people of faith will read these verses and come up with different conclusions than I have.  What they are is my humble attempt at a witness to the work of our Lord Jesus Christ and the challenges he calls us to consider. This was harder than I thought it was going to be, and I hope that by sharing it can be a blessing to you. 

1. Since Jesus is the way the truth and the life, Christians are called to act as if Jesus meant what he said and that his words truly matter. John 14:6

2. Jesus doesn’t belong to me; I belong to Jesus. John 10:11-18

3. Jesus understands me because he is human. Galatians 4:4-5

4. Jesus can save me because he is God. Colossians 1:15-16

5. Jesus’ humanity means that God can identify with anyone’s life situation, classification or identification. Jesus’ divinity means that these things can be transcended. Colossians 3:11

6. God wills that we can rejoice in the life given to us no matter what happens. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

7. God is acting in today's world. Psalm 121:4

8. We are called to love God above all and to love all people as we love ourselves. Matthew 22: 27-40.

9. Consuming religious services or products is no way to be confused with actual discipleship of Jesus Christ. Mark 8:34

10. There is a single common humanity created in the image of God. Upon this fact all teaching about salvation rests. Genesis 2:27

11. Religious, political, cultural, gender and racial classifications do not affect anyone’s value in God’s eyes. Galatians 3:28

12. Diversity is a tangible expression of God’s good creation. Colossians 1:16-17

13. Monocultures lead to destruction. Genesis 11:6

14. Those who equate a political, cultural, gender, religious or other humanly created identity with actual faith in Jesus Christ betray the Gospel, divide the body of Christ and torture the consciences of the faithful. Revelation 7:9

15. Those who hold a different political, cultural, religious or other identity than ourselves are to be treated with love, dignity, and respect. Matthew 5:43-48

16. Using degrading or abusive language to put down or gain advantage over a person of different political, cultural, gender, religious or racial identity is in all circumstances sin. Matthew 5:21-26

17. Followers of Jesus are called to love, care for, and provide acts of mercy for those of different, religious, political, cultural, gender and racial classifications than themselves. Luke 10:37

18. The church should care for its own as well as serving others. James 5:13

19. We are to witness Jesus Christ to all people without exclusion. Matthew 28:18-20

20. God understands your fears and will not discount them 1 Peter 5:7

21. People are always good and bad mixed up. Every individual has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23

22. There is no such thing as a completely pure or innocent person. Psalm 51:5

23. If we claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, we must learn to forgive others as God has forgiven us. Matthew 18:21-35

24. If we are truly followers of Jesus Christ we must commit to living a life where we do not continue to sin. Romans 6:1-4

25. When we sin, followers of Jesus Christ are not to hide the truth, but bring our situation to God and other people for healing and forgiveness. 1 John 2:1-2

26. We are called not to kill because life belongs to God. When we make allowances for killing for any reason we subvert God’s will. Leviticus 17:10-12 & Exodus 20:13

27. War, capital punishment and abortion are always expressions of humanity’s bondage to sin. Christians should work to minimize their occurrences while demonstrating love, forgiveness and mercy to both those who commit and are affected by these actions. Matthew 5:38-42

28. A commitment to God means providing for others in need at every stage of their lives. Luke 6:27-36

29. A commitment to God means a commitment to the poor. Galatians 2:10

30. A commitment to God means a commitment to the sick. Matthew 25:35

31. A commitment to God means a commitment to the hungry. Matthew 25:35

32. A commitment to God means a commitment to the homeless. Isaiah 58:7

33. A commitment to God means a commitment to the imprisoned. Matthew 25:36

34. A commitment to God means a commitment to the refugee. Leviticus 19:9-10

35. A commitment to God means a commitment to the immigrant. Deuteronomy 26:5

36. If you give to others to make yourself look better; you may be doing more harm than good. Matthew 6:2-4

37. No one is entitled to grace; it is always a gift. Ephesians 2:4-6

38. Good works do not make good people. Galatians 3:10

39. People are created to do good works. Ephesians 2:10

40. People don’t get credit from God, only grace. Romans 3:21-26

41. Debts to God are not satisfied but forgiven. Colossians 2:12-15

42. In the end, love and justice will amount to the same thing. Galatians 5:13-15

43. In the end, Christ is the only judge who matters. Revelation 20:11-15

44. Good works may not save us, but they reflect our faith, spread the Gospel and let our neighbors know that they are loved. James 2:14-17

45. God is completely free to act in any way that God chooses. Isaiah 45:7

46. God is not subject to any theology, interpretation, expectation or abstract concept. Isaiah 45:7

47. Collective human actions stand under God’s judgement as much as individual actions do. Amos 2:6-8

48. Only God decides what justice ultimately is. Isaiah 28:17

49. Worship without a commitment to justice is not worship at all. Isaiah 58:6

50. How our actions affect the most vulnerable in our society is the most important criteria for making moral decisions.. Isaiah 10:1-2

51. Worldly prosperity or success is not necessarily a mark of genuine discipleship, evidence of faithfulness or of God’s special favor. Matthew 5:1-12

52. Our weaknesses, hurts and faults make room for God in our lives. 2 Corinthians 12:9

53. No individual has the exact same spiritual gifts as another. 1 Corinthians 12: 4-6

54. Exploiting the work, bodies or assets of others violates the will of God. Isaiah 65.25

55. Those who rejoice in the troubles of others damage their relationship with God. Proverbs 17:5

56. Suffering for remaining faithful to the teaching of Jesus Christ is a mark of genuine discipleship and evidence of faithfulness. 1 Peter 3:13-16

57. Our practices of faith are virtuous when they seek communion with God and hope for our world. Matthew 6:1-16

58. Our faith practices are required to be understandable to all and welcoming to everyone so that each person we encounter has an opportunity to hear the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 14:21-25

59. Our houses of worship are to be called be houses of prayer and not market based institutions. John 2:16

60. A genuine life of faith is lived in community with other people. 1 Corinthians 12:27

61. Disciples of Jesus Christ are called to be a blessing to the local communities where they live. Jeremiah 29:7

62. Leadership in the body of Christ should be focused on service rather than power. Luke 14:10

63. Leadership in the body of Christ is to be shared among all the faithful. 1 Peter 2:9-11

64. Leadership in the body of Christ requires exemplary conduct. 1 Timothy 3:1-12

65. Leaders of the body of Christ should expect to be called to pray for others at any time. James 5:14

66. Where your ultimate concern lies, there is your god, no matter whom you may confess to worshiping. Matthew 5:19-23

67. Like individuals, the church is both good and bad mixed up. Acts 15:1-11

68. A complete Christian life includes worship, community, education, and service to those in need. Acts 2:42-47

69. Faith belongs in the home just as much as the church. Acts 2:46-47

70. Government led prayer is not sanctioned by Jesus. John 18:36

71. Praying for our government is commanded by scripture. 1 Peter 2:11-17

72. A disciple of Jesus is to be part of the public life of his or her country. Romans 13:7

73. Demons cut off people from the rest of the people of God. Mark 5:2-5

74. Healing requires social inclusion. Mark 5:19

75. Sexuality should be expressed within a boundaried relationship 1 Corinthians 7:9,36

76. Every follower of Christ is a priest. 1 Peter 2:9

77. Jesus was a victim of mob violence. Mark 15: 11-15

78. Jesus was killed with the help of the law of the land. John 18:30

79. The Holy Family were refugees Matthew 2:13-15

80. The Holy Family was homeless. Luke 2: 7

81. The Word of God is much more than Bible trivia. Hebrews 4:12-13

82. If it has to be proven, it can’t be faith. Hebrews 11:1

83. Jesus was killed because people who knew better did not stand up for justice. Luke 23:24

84. Jesus did not go to the cross because we were good; he went because we are loved. Romans 5:6-11

85. Compassion that leads to physical and tangible acts of assistance to the vulnerable and rejected is the norm for expressing our faith. Matthew 25:45

86. Persecution is not an excuse for withdrawing compassion, if it were, then Christ would not have died for us. 1 Peter 2:21-25

87. One can’t love God without loving other people. 1 John 4:20-21

88. No one can count the number of all who are saved. Revelation 4:11-14

89. Those inside the church need to hear the Gospel just as much as those outside of it. Revelation 22:16

90. Of course divorce is a sin, which means it can be forgiven. Matthew 19: 7-9

91. Renewal through Christ is not a one time event, but a lifelong process. 2 Corinthians 4:16

92. Being wealthy is not evidence of competence or superiority. James 5:1-6

93. Neglecting to address the physical and tangible needs of the vulnerable and focusing exclusively on the spiritual is sin. James 2:14-17

94.The best prayers are when we pray from our inner voice. Matthew 6:5-6

95.Jesus is inviting you to be in relationship with him. Revelation 22:16-17

Friday, June 9, 2017

Annual Message to Holy Cross

God is good all the time and the movement of the Holy Spirit has been manifest among us as our congregation has experienced a year of both fruitfulness and transition toward new missions and ministry.  God has been at work with, among and on us.   

God's Work With Us 

Acts 2:39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” (NRSV)

We have been faithful in mission to those in need in Springfield.   Our food ministry continues to serve over 30 clients in the immediate area.   We have searched out how God brings healing and renewal to those in crisis by contributing to the work of the Market Street Mission by providing worship monthly on the fourth Sunday of the month.  We have been able to raise awareness for those without homes in our area through the interfaith vigil, housing summit, and candidates night.  Our nursery school has experienced a substantial increase in enrollment for next year which is a wonderful blessing to us and those in the area it serves. 

We are also blessed to have the opportunity to work with Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey (LSM) as they plan to use Holy Cross for its Lutheran Senior Life ministry to Union County.   This will relieve us from many of the burdens of maintaining a large facility while providing a way for us to minister and bless a wider circle of people in our community. God sent Jesus into the world to walk with those in the world.  As as an expression of Body of Christ in this place we are called to do the same thing.   The Holy Spirit is clearly calling us to continue this work as it is how we represent Christ to our community.  

God's Work Among Us 

(They) soon understood that “they were not simply there to learn new techniques of preaching and instruction” but (were) initiates into a new manner of being a Christian (which)… required spiritual nourishment: prayer, Bible study, and meditation on the essential matters to expand the moral imagination. (Marsh; Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer P. 231) 

God has been at work among us to build our community. We have baptized, communed, confirmed, and led people to renewed lives of faith.   We have welcomed new people into our congregation from diverse backgrounds, and walked with those who have been with us for a long time through life's changes.  One of our elders, Eric Kussman has been approved as a candidate for ministry in the ELCA and is currently serving an internship at Zion Lutheran Rahway. 

We pray for the coming year for God to lead us to build up our worship opportunities so that more of us can experience a new life in Christ through Word, Sacrament and Community.  Our worship attendance has been down due to a variety of factors and we will need to find ways to keep our life together vibrant and growing.  We also pray God will call a few people to step up and help with our our Sunday School and Youth ministries.   As secularization takes root in our society we need to be there for the next generation so that they may have an abundant life in Christ and not just an ordinary life according to the worst of the world.  We are hopeful that the restructuring of our ministry through the partnership with LSM will afford us more resources to help bring new people to Christ and revitalize the lives of the faithful. 

God's Work On Us 

Matthew 6:19-21 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NRSV)

One of the things that has grieved me during my tenure at Holy Cross is that our facility has drained so much of our resources in the effort to keep up with its requirements.  This has had a corrosive effect on our mission.  It can at times lead us into the thought we need to reach more people so that they can come and help us pay for this wonderful facility and by counting the numbers we can trumpet ourselves as a success.  In the end the congregation like so many in our world today wakes up and finds that they have stored treasures on earth rather than in heaven with God.   

The Holy Spirit has been leading us address this for many years.   With the initial approval by the state of New Jersey for the Lutheran Social Ministries project, it is looking like we will find a way to repurpose our facility to be a blessing to others and ourselves.   It is my prayer that then we can build a ministry that leverages our resources for the benefit giving people a new life in the Spirit.  In a sense I am asking that we leverage the temporary for the eternal. It is my hope that freed of the burdens of facility care we can move on to a more intentional and vibrant care of souls, outreach, and discipleship.   There will still be sacrifices, but they will be more clearly seen as happening for God's purposes rather than our own. It is clear that God has a plan for Holy Cross, it is not the plan many of us expected to have happen but perhaps that makes it more exciting!  God is indeed at work with, among and on us, so we can be both hopeful for a blessed future and joyful for a meaningful present.  In summary we are blessed each and everyday to have the privilege of following Christ and I look forward to seeing what God has in store for the coming year. 

Respectfully submitted in Christ, 
Pastor Knecht 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Coexistence: A Cop Out

A Terrifying Concept

I have always loathed this bumper sticker, for a while I couldn't put my finger on why.    I actually enjoy talking with people of other faiths, or even those with no faith at all.   I learn about people, our world, and myriad of other things by engaging my neighbors with a different take on things than I have.   I have participated in interfaith dialogues, worship services and mission initiatives,  I have read about and often researched religions different than my own including Judaism, Islam and Buddhism.  In this effort, I have found things to admire and things that I am not comfortable in every religion I have read about.   Each religion also has it's painful history as do those attempts to build atheistic societies.  I continually find evidence that we are all good and bad mixed up,  so why can't I just follow the herd, slap a sticker on my car and simply coexist?

The short answer is: I am a follower of Jesus Christ and that means coexistence is never enough.  My problem with the sentiment behind coexistence is its passivity.   Coexistence is an apathetic concept however you look at it,  morally, politically, sociologically, and biologically.  By apathetic I am using the concept as expressed by the 20th century Japanese Christian Theologian Kosuke Koyama.  He describes apathy in relational terms as refusing to connect to the other.  So when I coexist, I go about my day and walk right by you, ignore, avoid, or even hide from you.  What happens to you is not my concern.   It is the logical extension of the 20th century heresy "I'm Ok, you're Ok."

The Story of Jesus Christ is all about connecting to the other.   God wanted to connect to the world, so God became incarnate in Jesus to live with, walk with, eat with, laugh with, cry with and ultimately suffer with and for humanity. Koyama will describe this idea of connecting as "passionate." Koyama will not limit this concept to mere enthusiasm, but take it to its biblical roots.   To be passionate means specifically to love your neighbor enough to suffer for her, it means to risk pain for his well being.

To coexist literally means to simply exist alongside others.  It is deaf to the call of Justice.  In biblical terms love and justice are basically the same thing.  So in the late 1930's lots of Christian Germans coexisted with their Jewish neighbors as they were rounded up in the middle of night, packed in boxcars, separated from their families, and taken away to die.  Perhaps these people who embraced coexistence were not guilty of crimes that could be prosecuted in a court of law but they were devoid of love, which is even more terrifying.

The More Excellent Way

The only way will ever improve the quality of life in our communities is if we connect and engage with our neighbors.   We will need to take interest in our neighbors.   We will need to laugh with, cry with, walk with, eat with, have awkward moments with, and ultimately suffer with our neighbors who are radically different from us, religiously, ethnically, politically and culturally.   We are to become incarnational in our communities and passionate about our neighbors they way the good Lord has done for us.   We are called to be passionate toward our neighbor and that means relating with them, learning from them, sharing with them, and ultimately watching out for their well being as if it were our own.   The biblical word for this is Love.  It is both a virtue and a command.   The more we are able love the healthier we will all be.

In biology there is the concept of symbiosis.   This explains how separate organisms actually thrive and grow better when connected.   Ecosystems with high degrees of symbiosis are more healthy, resilient, and thriving then where organisms simply coexist.  So Christ's call to love is not only about improving the lives of others, by loving others we tend to our own well being.  

The allure of coexistence and its sister concept "tolerance" is that it seems so easy.  We will avoid pain by not bothering with the other and can salve our consciences that we are not causing the problems of the world.  However our spiritual procrastination will only allow the the divisive elements of our contemporary way of life to continue to infest our families, communities, nation and world.  In answer this problem Christ calls us to seek the narrow door and the harder road so that we can move beyond coexistence into compassion.   Our spiritual journey will then follow the course set by Christ who came to bring love to the world.

Be blessed
Pastor Knecht

Thursday, May 4, 2017

When God Gets in the Way

The Dream of Babel 

Recently I while in prayer I was thinking about some dreams that I held when I was younger that didn't pan out the way I had hoped.  These were both personal and professional; for some of them, I worked hard and dedicated myself diligently to bring them to fruition.  However, as I reflected on the family, friends, and life situation I actually have today, I thanked God that these dreams were dashed. The implications of their fulfillment would have been disastrous for me and those I love. By standing in the way of my dreams God actually saved me.

Normally, we don't like to think about God this way.   Many times we pray for God to give us the things we ask for.  We hope for the god who will give us what we want and we think it will be for the best, but this god as candyman theology may not work out so well in the end.

Provocatively, the Bible also shows us that this God who stands in the way, deals not only with our individual wants, but also the collective wishes of our culture.   In Genesis 11, creation is just getting back on track after the flood and the people gather in Mesopotamia to say “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” (Genesis 11:4 NRSV)

With all due respect to my Sunday School teacher back in the day, the problem with the dream of Babel really wasn't that the tower would reach heaven.  There are actually two problems revealed in the text.   The first is the self promotion "make a name for ourselves" the second is the fear of being scattered upon the earth.  I know that it might be hard for us to see these as problems at first, one may ask what is wrong with making a name for oneself?   Or, shouldn't we try to keep everyone together?

Perhaps some of the excesses in our culture can help us see the problem with our dreams of Babel.   In our current age, self-promotion is regarded as a crowning virtue, our political leaders,business executives, celebrities and sadly even some church leaders who we look up to embrace these values. However the extreme cost of self promotion lies at the heart of many of our ills.   Our leaders in government, business and society can often put their privilege before their responsibilities of service to others.  There are those who use their positions in government or business to create systems that are self-perpetuating and do nothing for society at large.

The left fears inequality and the right fears moral decline, but both are driven by the engine of self promotion. Consider the teenager trying to be cool and get more likes on whatever social media platform is hip these days.   They may be willing to risk bodily injury, sexual humiliation, or emotional shame to be popular.  Others will indeed look to perpetuate these evils on thier peers to show how worthy they are of clicks, likes, and attention, thus the vulnerable are exploited for the amusement of the cruel.

The second problem of Babel, the fear of being scattered upon the earth, actually contradicts God's command at creation and after the flood, where people are called to fill the earth. It manifests itself today in the suppression of genuine diversity.   By this I do not mean the pop-liberalism of the Pepsi generation but the actual hard work of working toward the dignity of those who are genuinely different than us.  The dream of Babel, of everyone speaking the same language, working on only one goal to say "hey we're great" is actually the nightmare of the monoculture.  Biologists will tell you that the weakest ecosystems are those that are monocultural. They have little resilience and are prey to disease and even slight environmental changes.  

No wonder God looked down at Babel and said  “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. (Genesis 11:6 NRSV) So God confuses the languages thus multiplying them.   This creates a diversity of humanity that is able then to multiply and fill the earth.  God stops the dream of Babel dead in it's tracks for the good of all. Humanity is richer, more resilient, and a heck of a lot more interesting.

The Promise of Abraham 

In the narrative of Genesis, the tower of Babel shows how human sin will continue its destructive path thorugh history unless God intervenes. It is the final universal origin story. It sets up God's salvation plan for all which begins in the very next chapter with God focusing on a particular family, the family of Abraham. We read in Genesis 12:3 "I will bless those who bless you... and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (NRSV)

The contrasts with the dream of Babel are informative.   Abraham will be made great by God, he will not do it alone.  His greatness will not be an end in itself but given in order that others may be blessed.  God will work his plan through Abraham's and his descendant's failures perhaps even more than their successes.  What God prevents will be as important as what God empowers. Abraham will mess up often but still walk with God.  It communicates this simple truth; who we really are is not defined by ourselves alone, it is also defined by who we are in relationship with.  It is God's work through Abraham that will create the blessing.   Genesis demonstrates futility of self-promotion at Babel with the fruitfulness and blessing of God-promotion through the life of Abraham and his family.  

It is a call for all of us to tend to our relationship with God and resist the temptation of trying to go it alone.  The Apostle Paul would write in Romans 4:16 "For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of all of us, (NRSV) The Bible teaches us that those who we walk with are more important than our dreams and fantasies and that if we walk with God and those God put in our life well, we too will be blessed.

Keep the Faith,
Pastor Knecht

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Serving Christ in Polarized Times

It is a sad fact that often the church can become bogged down in the political movements of the times.   The reason for this is certain, churches are made up of people and people are political animals.   One recent trend reported by sociologist Robert Putnam is that when there is a conflict between one's politics and the teaching of their religious community, most people will resolve the tension in favor of their political views.  They will leave their congregation and find one where their personal political views can be affirmed.

As one who loves theology and talking about the faith, the fact that for this generation, politics seems to trump theology is distressing.   Yet, looking at how people are coming together these days it is not surprising.   We are all retreating into our bubbles where we all agree that the problems of world are someone else's fault.   There seem to be few of us who want to learn why do other people think differently than us.   Everyone seems to want to talk, prove and sell their point; few want to listen, learn, and change.   Don't get me wrong there are people doing this but they seem not get much press.

Some will advocate that the church follow a hands off rule and never speak of politics ever and attempt to spiritualize everything.  While I certainly understand the impulse, there are two problems with this.   The first is a very practical one, by not speaking up one affirms the status quo.   Now this certainly alright if the status quo is something you feel God is calling you to help maintain.   However, if it comes merely from a wish to avoid any of the hard work of dialog or difficult conversation, one may be actually shut oneself off from where God is calling us all to be.

The second problem is that we are confessing that the Word of God has nothing to say about politics right or wrong.  This reasoning ultimately confesses that God is about the world to come and not about the world we live in now.   This is not what Scripture teaches us,  God's Word speaks to our lives now, it has something to say about our world today. So how do we navigate these polarized times? We do what we always do; look to Jesus.

Historians know that the lists of the names of Jesus's disciples reveal a diverse group of people who likely held opposing political views.  Judas Iscariot and Simon the Zealot may have been part of groups seeking the violent overthrow of the Roman occupation.  Matthew was a tax collector working to uphold same said Romans.  Phillip had a Greek name so may have been from a cultural accommodationist family.  Johanna the wife of one Herod Antipas' (a Roman puppet ruler) court functionaries helped provide resources for Jesus's ministry in Galilee.  Peter Andrew, James & John were working class fishermen. What brought this diverse group of people together was Jesus and the promise that the kingdom was near.

As we enter into Holy Week and read the accounts of Jesus' last days politics are everywhere in texts. The council wants to get rid of Jesus out of fear of the crowd on one hand, and the Romans on the other.  The Roman governor wants to appease the mob at their town hall meeting.  The Pharisees and the Sadducees try to make Jesus a pawn in their fight for supremacy over each other.   Jesus ends up rising above their pathetic petty power plays to reveal the truth about the love of God.

When Jesus enters into Jerusalem he is at first hailed as a political messiah and then condemned as a political sacrifice to appease the Romans, with an ironic political insult nailed on a sign above his head. But notice how many people Jesus ministers too along the way.  He teaches in the temple about the true nature of God,  he reminds the disciples on the last supper they will never be alone.  He heals the ear of a man sent to arrest him,  he makes sure John and his mother Mary have each other to rely on.

Jesus calls us not so much to rise above human politics as to move beyond them with love.  The heart of the witness Christ is to help reconcile our relationships with God and each other.    This politics can never do, because in the end it will be all about a competition for resources, power, or fame.   In the end we serve Christ in polarized times by holding to proper priorities.   We hold to our relationship with God in prayer, we show love to those who differ from us, and we work to protect the vulnerable.   This can be done by conservatives, as well as liberals, progressives, and libertarians.

As a pastor I can only advise that if your politics are grounded in prayer, thoughtfulness, respect for others, and love, it doesn't matter so much where you come out.  It is the process the counts.   If we have healthy ways of discernment, we can hold together a diversity of political views and identities under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.   The reason for this is if we are connected to Christ we will be humble, because Christ is humble.   If we are humble then we are open,  and if we are open, we may see the solutions God has for us staring us right in the face.

Be blessed
Pastor Knecht

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Better than Fairness: Mercy

That's not Fair! 

For all kinds of reasons, when you have children in your house you will undoubtedly hear the phrase "It's not fair!"  Some of the time this phrase is directed at you as the parent, sometimes at teachers, fellow students, and yes like their parents they will take umbrage at some story going on in the wider world. Generally somewhere in the exchange between the parties in the debate a second phrase will follow "life is not fair!"

This is indeed true; human history has a catalogue of unfair events that will never, and can never be righted.  However, the reason for pointing this out is usually not to inform people of some wider existential truth, it is to cut off debate so that the complaining party will get back to doing what they are supposed to do in your eyes.  This common pattern happens in families, churches, towns, schools and yes even nations. Human beings seem to come prepackaged with an innate sense fairness for things we care about, while at the same time an unflappable ability to dismiss the complaints of our neighbors and even loved ones about things if it in any way inconvenience us.

Is God Fair? 

The Bible is quite ambiguous about the concept of fairness. In the Torah fairness for all in the community is repeatedly affirmed.  God will even appeal to Israel's sense of fairness when asking them to do good things.  We read in Leviticus 19:33-34 "When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." (NRSV)   Paul will also appeal to a sense of fairness when asking the churches he supervises to change their ways perhaps most infamously in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 "For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. "(NRSV).

However the Bible will often teach that some things are more important than fairness.   When Paul talks about his own story, he tells of the wrong he did in Galatians 1:13 "You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. (NRSV) Yet he will say with confidence in Galatians 1:15-16 "But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me," (NRSV) Paul was not treated fairly; he was given grace.  He was treated better than he deserved and given the gift of being accepted by a forgiving and loving God. 

That fairness is not always the most important thing in life, may be best demonstrated how Jesus responds to the foreign widow who comes to him to have her daughter healed in Mark 7:27-29 (Jesus) said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter (NRSV)   The woman's trust in the goodness of God makes all claims of fairness irrelevant.   As James the Brother of our Lord would later write in James 2:13 "mercy triumphs over judgment". (NRSV)

Better than Fairness: Mercy 

When Christ calls us to love others he is not calling us to treat people fairly;  he is asking us to be better than fair.   He is calling us to show mercy love and grace, just as he has done for us.  Jesus says in Matthew 5:46-48  For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (NRSV)

Over my 20+ years of ministry I have advocated that we as the church help those excluded by society for example, the homeless, immigrants and refugees.  Sometimes people have pushed back and told me it was not fair.   That may or may not be the case, but my point is that fairness is not the point.  We show mercy to others because God has showed mercy to us through his son Jesus.  I can only say that if I got what I deserved, I would not be blessed, but cursed.   I have been saved by grace, so I hope to be a person of grace.   My confession to you it that my results are mixed,  I have not achieved the perfection Jesus has called me to and that is why I will still need God's mercy each and every day.  If God was just fair, than I would have no hope.  I have hope because God is better than fair, he is merciful. 

Be blessed 
Pastor Knecht 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Test of Our Faith: Compassion

The Matthew 25 Pledge

I recently posted these words on all my social media platforms: "No demonizing, condemning or spreading ridiculous posts! I pledge to defend vulnerable people in the name of Jesus."  This is pledge right out of the words of Matthew 25.  "Then (the king) will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ ( Matthew 25:45 NRSV) The pledge is part of a national movement led by well known Christian leader Jim Wallis.

Normally my non-conformist streak leads me to be cautious about signing on to such things.   It was encouraging to see friends who espouse both conservative and liberal views respond favorably. This one however should be a no-brainer, because it conforms directly to the teaching of Christ in the Bible.   Honestly, I pray that the Spirit can give me the strength to live up to this pledge, because if we take the words of Mathew 25 at face value they are nothing less than the supreme test of our faith.

A Clear Message

It is not my place to figure out whether or not any one of us measures up, however it is my calling to remind you of what the standard set by Jesus actually is: it is quite clear: for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ (Matthew 25:35-36 NRSV) Compassion that leads to physical and tangible acts of assistance to the vulnerable and rejected is the norm for expressing our faith.

I remember in college I had a professor who would actually give out the previous year's test.  The questions on the current test would be different, but the methodology of how to answer them would be the same.  The instructor wanted us to learn how to use the tools he taught to solve the problems.  I believe this is exactly what Jesus is doing with Matthew 25. He is giving us the test not so that we have ready made answers to pass on, but so that we can learn a methodology of discipleship.  More importantly he is giving a roadmap to us about where we can find God.  We find God by helping those in need.

What are the Risks?

I will not sugarcoat the reality of compassion based discipleship.  It is risky work.   Dealing with people who are under the types of stresses that Jesus identifies is difficult and can indeed be dangerous.  Many times we cite safety as the reason not to choose compassion.  This is the rationale for the current refugee ban instituted by our President.  How one approaches this risk to our safety must be a decision reached in prayer and discussion with others in our lives. However, Matthew 25 is silent on any exceptions for avoiding risk,  The king merely states if people have welcomed him or not.

It is is part of  the imperative of Jesus that we can find ways that help others that minimize risks to us and those whom we serve.  However, we often misjudge our actual risks because of our instinct for self preservation can betray us in certain situations.   More importantly, we miss seeing the risks of not acting in the ways that Jesus calls us to.   For example imagine a society where no one fed you when you were hungry, no one welcomed you when you were from another place, when you were sick and you were ignored, and when you were incarcerated had no hope of a visit.  I realize that this is an exaggeration, but the point is the less people are willing to reach out in Christ's name to help the vulnerable, the more the risk will increase that any one of us can fall through the cracks.   If you think that this can't happen to you, I would invite you to look at life a little more closely. Avoiding the risk of compassion may also mean impeding our spiritual growth.   My own life experience is that I have seem God profoundly at work in hospital rooms, rehab centers, and service trips,    These experiences give me hope.  No one finds hope by hiding under a bushel basket.

More than Politics.

Compassion based discipleship requires real relationships.  Slacktivism will not cut it.   Merely sharing a post or asking others to solve the problem (the government, church, society) will not stand up to the Matthew 25 test.  We will have to hand out cups of water,  give out clothes, hold the hands of the sick, look the prisoner in the eye, and yes even welcome the stranger no matter how they are classified by our world. (even if all say they are our enemies).  From my reading of scripture it is engagement with others in need that is the key.   The effort matters more than the outcome.   Jesus doesn't say solve hunger, he asks did you feed me?

We know from the book of Acts (chapters 2-4) that the early church lived into this reality.   This was despite being hounded by both the Roman and religious authorities.  Persecution was not an excuse for withdrawing compassion then nor is it now.   If it were, then Christ would not have died for us.

Be blessed
Pastor Knecht