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