Thursday, September 7, 2017

What's your Luther Movie?

Next Tuesday PBS will be presenting the film,  Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World and I will probably stream it sometime after it comes on line.  I have seen two previous films dramatizing Luther's life.  I remember the countless screenings of the the Film Martin Luther (1953) in the church of my childhood.  The reels were brought out with care and shown on the congregation's 16mm projector.  In 2003, the film Luther starring Joseph Fiennes was released as an independent film with funding by Thrivent. We held DVD showings at the church I was serving at the time and for a few years we watched it during confirmation sessions.

These three films are all in the same genre.  With wardrobes that that appear to be made from draperies that have come from the sale bin at Bed, Bath and Beyond, and a location that eerily looks like Epcot, the actors enthusiastically speak the dialog in British English to underscore the immense seriousness of it all.  With my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, I would like immagine what a more creative reboot of the Luther story could be.

1. Reformation: The Final Frontier (space opera) 

The Diet of Worms would be set on a space station in geosynchronous orbit of the planet Worms, which is named for the the giant creatures who burrow under the sands of its surface.  House Habsburg holds the Diet in the Zero-G court room   When asked to deny his writings Luther says "Here I stand!"  Von Eck the papal cyborg with a positronic brain, in laconic inflection, simply states "Sir, you are floating"

Losing the debate on a technicality, Luther screams "Eck!" in his best Wrath of Kahn voice as he is whisked away by a recognizable action star and his fuzzy alien sidekick to the Wartburg system. When Luther expresses doubt about the structural integrity of the getaway vessel, the swashbuckling pilot replies "It's the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. I've outrun Imperial starships!"


2. You've got Beer (romantic comedy) 

Katie and Martin are set up on a blind date by a couple of colleagues from dissolved monasteries. Although he arrives with flowers, Martin's oafish nature grates on Katie. While Katie's concern for minutia drives Martain crazy as he with increasing intensity constantly tries to get her to listen. They leave the Bierstube despising each other.  

Throughout the film they keep running into each other at awkward moments.  As Martin and Katie go on series of dates with other prospective partners they begin they realize something is missing.  Katie's fashion conscious male friend tells her to suck it up and get her man.  After many ups and downs the film climaxes with a wedding montage scene with a romantic pop song in the background. The film ends with Katie, Martin and their golden retriever living happily ever after. 

3. West Saxon Story (musical)

Come on! If they can make a musical about the failed parisian revolution of 1830 why not the Reformation? The Sharks (Roman Catholics) and the Jets (the Reformers) battle it out in dance on the Wittenburg Markplatz.  The forbidden love of Marty and Katherine gives plenty of  opportunities for heart wrenching solo vocal performances.  Can you say "Oscar and Tony!" 

4. Weekend at Marty's (bromance farce) 

During an alcohol fueled party with loud Funk music in the background Phillip Melancthon storms into Charles Vth"s bedroom and startles Marty and Katie from their embrace to let them know that they can't wake up Fredrick the Wise.   

With Fredrick dead the entire reformation is in jeopardy.  Phil and Marty decide to grab a pair of sunglasses and a wheelchair and drag Fred from party to party throughout the Holy Roman Empire.  With so much low brow humor, one countless acts of physical comedy, no one will remember the plot anyway.   Would love to cast Vince Vaughn as Luther and Adam Sandler as Melanction, or we could just hand the project over to the producers and cast of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. 


5. Night of the Living Peasants (zombies!) 

The evil arch-villain Thomas M√ľntzer camps out in Southwest Germany and develops a potion that turns good Christian peasants content to serve both their temporal and heavenly masters into flesh eating zombies.  Camped out in a Thuringian pub, Luther and gang crack jokes and kill zombies in all types of creative ways.   When Luther sees zombie Martin Bucer riding in from Strasbourg, he tries baptizing his old friend in a desperate frenzy to save him. As Bucer regains his senses and returns to his normal annoying self,  the gang breaks out the liturgy and some fire hoses. Germany is saved!


Ok, so you've seen these movies before.  That is the point of this post. I have seen this Luther movie before.  "That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; (Ecclesiastes 3:15 NRSV) The best way to commemorate the Reformation will be figure out how to be the faithful church in the future, because if you studied the Reformation, you know that is what it was all about.  A Film about the diversity of our church today would be much more exciting.

Be blessed.

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

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 resourses, 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.   It 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


Friday, November 18, 2016

An American Heresy: The Myth of Innocence and Abortion

The Myth of Innocence and Abortion

The so-called pro-life movement has always represented a contradiction to me.   There is much advocacy for the rights of the unborn.   I regularly see billboards with photos of babies in the womb along the highways and catchy slogans on bumper stickers on the backs of cars.   My Facebook feed was filled with the so-called po-life telling me that if I didn't vote for Trump millions of babies would die.

But what I did not see was any compassion or concern for human beings once they were born. The political so-called pro-life movement is one of the most active opponents of providing health care for all in our society.  They oppose the biblical mandate of helping the sick on the ground that it would enable the unwashed masses to get free abortions.  At the same time many so-called pro-life advocates actively support the death penalty.
Only about one-in-ten (11 percent) Americans hold a “consistent ethic of life” position, opposing legalized abortion and capital punishment. In fact, in the general public, there is no significant correlation between attitudes about the legality of abortion and views on capital punishment. Fully two-thirds of Americans overall say they favor the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, compared to only three-in-ten who say they oppose it. Support for capital punishment is virtually identical to the general population among Americans who say abortion should be illegal (69 percent) and among those who identify as “pro-life” (69 percent). https://www.onfaith.co/onfaith/2011/09/15/like-rick-perry-most-pro-life-americans-ok-with-death-penalty/15543
Let me be clear at the risk of alienating my progressive friends, I believe that abortion is evidence of our bondage to sin.  I would love to see a society where there are no abortions.  But to risk alienating my conservative friends (I probably already done so have by the title of this post), I would also like to see a society where there is no death penalty and where the sick are cared for regardless of their ability to pay.   I advocate that the centrist, historic, and apostolic witness of Jesus Christ calls for the consistent ethic of love for all that are alive.   My biblical sources for this view are the red letter words of Jesus himself contained in Matthew chapters 5 and 25.  

What troubles me most is the the result of the inconsistent ethic of life of the so-called pro-life movement, is a world where more abortions happen because of their actions.  Abortion rates have long been linked to the health of the economy. 
Abortion numbers go down when the economy is good and go up when the economy is bad, so the stalling may be a function of a weaker economy,' said University of Alabama political science professor Michael New. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1346113/US-abortion-rate-rise-years-decline-economic-recession-blamed.html#ixzz4QN9znxBl
How is this so? This happens because by having a capitalist health care system that sees health care as a commodity rather than a public good; we give an economic incentive to abortion over childbirth. Most people who who hold a so-called pro-life view see no reason to change the nature of our market based health care system, but this is what the reality of it  actually is:
Planned Parenthood estimates that in the United States a medication abortion costs between $300 to $800 and an aspiration abortion (in the first 12 weeks) between $300–$950. http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/health-info/early-abortion-options/
If you don't have health insurance, the average cost of prenatal care is about $2,000... The costs of childbirth can be steep. The charge for an uncomplicated cesarean section was about $15,800 in 2008. An uncomplicated vaginal birth cost about $9,600, government data show.www.webmd.com/baby/features/cost-of-having-a-baby
If we care about reducing or eliminating abortions we would work to fix the economic incentives, instead the so-called pro-life movement works to criminalize women and those who feel called to help them. My suspicion is that criminalizing abortion will only drive it underground and put more people at risk. www.efc.org.uk/young_people/facts_about_abortion/unsafe_abortion.html

There are two reasons the so-called pro-life movement behaves the way it does.   One is just good old fashioned selfishness.  By advocating positions that conform to the views of the majority of Americans regardless if they are biblical or not, they hope to obtain influence, political power and monetary donations for their causes.  Cultural accommodation is good for the religion business, which sells things rather than change lives.  Cultural Christians espouse the concerns of businessmen rather than disciples selling prepackaged cheap grace in the forms inane music and sappy devotionals at Walmart prices (see Bonhoeffer, the Cost of Discipleship).

The second reason is theological, as the so-called pro-life movement embraces a dualistic theology which sees human beings as being born innocent.  This ideology maintains that while in the womb the baby is completely innocent.   Once born the child can choose good or evil.  If the child chooses evil then he or she is no longer innocent and his or her life is forfeit.  According to this world view. criminals can be executed because they have chosen evil.   If mothers abort a pregnancy they are killing the innocent and liable for judgment.  If that same mother brings the baby to term but advocates the killing of criminals or enemies in war she is still considered innocent.  The problem with this is that people who hold this view call it Christian.  It is not: it is the ancient Iranian heresy of manichaeism. It has more in common with the ideology of the so-called Islamic state than it does the teaching of Jesus. The so called pro-life movement is really a pro-innocence or pro-purity movement. When humans attempt to usurp the Lordship of Christ and judge who is pure or not by their own criteria it always ends up being demonic.

A genuine Christian pro-life movement would advocate for the elimination of abortion not because babies are innocent, but simply because they are alive and that life is the province of God and not human beings.  It would also realize that the mothers and fathers of these children are created in the image of God as well and have intrinsic value in God's eyes just as much as babies do.  It would not seek to outlaw and criminalize abortion  and its providers but to work with allies on all sides to help people avoid being trapped in situations where there are only bad choices.

For both Christian scripture and tradition teach that there is no such thing as innocence. From the womb to the tomb, people are always good and bad mixed up. Every individual has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (see Romans 3:23) Also, there is no such thing as a completely pure or innocent person, even babies. (see Psalm 51:5)  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. (see Matthew 5:38-42)  This call for love, forgiveness, and mercy will only have meaning  if we address the structures in our society which make it easier for people to choose death over life.  It will only embrace the truth if it realizes that people rarely get the luxury of choosing between good and evil in a broken world.   Most times we make choices and hope they hurt as few people as possible. (see Romans 7)

Always expecting people to make the right choice while giving them no help or incentives to do so is cruel and unjust.   A consistent ethic of life  will provide for others in need at every stage of their lives no matter if they are considered pure or impure by society. (see Luke 6:27-36).   Jesus did not go to the cross because we were good; he went because we are loved, and God chooses to forgive us despite our sin. (see Romans 5:6-11).  A consistent Christ based pro-life stance would be based on building relationships of forgiveness and trust rather than winning elections and triumphing over political foes.  A consistent ethic of life would also save more lives than the unjust system we now have. Not only babies, but mothers.  Not only mothers, but the sick.  Not only the sick but the imprisoned.  Not only the imprisoned but the strangers.  (see Matthew 25:31-46).   A consistent ethic of life would also help our world look a bit more the way Jesus envisioned it could be than America does today.


Friday, October 21, 2016

The Only Point of the Church is the Gospel


 A World Undone?

These past few months seem to be strange times for our church and Christians in general.   As write this we are in the midst of a national election that is bringing up powerful emotions in everybody.   Some of us fear a Clinton presidency will bring about the end of all that they hold dear.   Others of us fear a Trump presidency will bring about a police state to our county that will be complete disaster.  Indeed, others of us lament the loss of civility and the possible ending of relationships if people knew how we really feel.  No wonder mental health professionals are speaking of “election anxiety”.    Like the emotions generated by 9-11 and the economic meltdown of 2008, this anxiety seems to be affecting large numbers of us. 

What is a Christian to do?

Lots of voices in the culture are crying for me to as a pastor speak out.  The caveat is that this is only if it is for their particular side, other opinions are greeted with disdain and if I disagree any legitimacy I may have is automatically called in to question. In North Carolina during the past few weeks both Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s purse who supports Donald Trump and ELCA Bishop Timothy Smith who criticizes Trump’s views on women, immigrants, and Muslims used the following quote to argue for supporting their respective views.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
                                                                                                           -Martin Niemoeller

You know it gets serious when people quote a pastor who spent World War II in a concentration camp, worked with Dietrich Bonhoeffer to make a place a for Christians who refused to belong to a church that accepted the “Aryan Laws” and spent the postwar years trying to get Germany to grapple with how their society went so wrong.   Both of these pastors from North Carolina are telling us Christians to be engaged and to speak out, but what should we actually speak?

I will answer with another quote, this one from missionary and theologian Leslie Newbigin:

The business of the church is to tell and to embody a story, the story of God’s mighty acts in creation and redemption, and of God’s promises concerning what will be the end.   The church affirms the truth of this story by celebrating it, interpreting it, and enacting it in the life of the contemporary world.”[1]

In short, we exist for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  

As scripture will tell us, this is whether the times are favorable or unfavorable.   If Hillary Clinton wins the election and Donald Trump loses, we live out the gospel and help a wounded society.  If Donald Trump somehow pulls out a surprise victory, we witness Jesus and work as Christ's ambassadors to a broken world.  In addition to telling the Gospel story, Newbigin uses the word embody so the gospel does not devolve into a mere ideology.   The actions he describes should look familiar to those who walk on the path of discipleship.   Celebrating as when we gather for worship or fellowship in what the bible calls koinonia, it is God’s people gathering to live out the truth that we are one common humanity in relation to God.    Interpreting, such as when we read the Bible and show how God’s story meets our story and the world we live in, and we grapple with how best to navigate all these relationships.   Finally, he speaks of enacting the Gospel in today’s world, which means small acts of love which add up to become grace for the afflicted.

This is not just a Spiritual Thing about the Next Life

When we embody the Gospel, we start to live as if the Kingdom of God is already here.   We welcome those world deems as unclean, we feed the hungry, visit the sick and those imprisoned sharing words of hope and deeds of love that bring spiritual, emotional, physical and intellectual comfort.  We do this because this is what Jesus did in the story of our sacred Scripture and because this is what Christ does today through those inspired by the Holy Spirit who serve their neighbors and world.

Because the Gospel is holistic it will always be political.   Jesus was political; handed over to the Romans and executed with a sign in three languages saying “the king of the Jews”.   His interrogation in John 19 is all about politics, “so you are a king” replies Pilate.  

There will be those extreme secularists who will argue we have no voice or are just a voice among voices.   Fundamentalists will say that we have nothing to say outside of those who already belong to their tribe.  Only if one becomes indoctrinated into their rigid culture and adheres to their litmus tests of purity is one given a voice.  Christ will call us to a different situation outlined in Scripture in such places such as Matthew 25.   Our razor to cut to the heart of the matter will be to ask questions such as how does the politics of the world affect God’s children?  It asks also questions like, who has the most authority? Or, who is most vulnerable?

In Christ Alone

The real heart of the matter in this toxic emotional environment engendered by the power politics of today is to ask the question where does my loyalty as a follower of Jesus Christ ultimately lie?   The biblical witness, and the witness of the faithful agree; it is to Christ.   Faithfulness to Christ is not synonymous with patriotism, and is certainly not synonymous with loyalty to a political party.   Conservative Evangelical leaders who have made political party loyalty a litmus test for authentic Christianity have created a pernicious heresy completely antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Liberal or progressive Christians who castigate those who espouse conservative views conform to the same worldly attitude.   The prevalent attitude of our culture was captured succinctly by journalist Matt Taibbi.

Lie No. 1 is that there are only two political ideas in the world, Republican and Democrat. Lie No. 2 is that the parties are violent ideological opposites, and that during campaign season we can only speak about the areas where they differ (abortion, guns, etc.) and never the areas where there's typically consensus (defense spending, surveillance, torture, trade, and so on). Lie No. 3, a corollary to No. 2, is that all problems are the fault of one party or the other, and never both. Assuming you watch the right channels, everything is always someone else's fault. Lie No. 4, the reason America in campaign seasons looks like a place where everyone has great teeth and $1,000 haircuts, is that elections are about political personalities, not voters.” [2]  

This is not the way of Jesus Christ; we are called to stand against such thinking. A person who has as their ultimate concern the furtherance of the Gospel will see the world differently than many.  This person will also realize that my faith relationship with Jesus Christ may lead me to have different concerns than they do and that we can disagree in love.  As I once heard Shane Claiborne say, it is how we disagree as Christians that really matters.  

The world may not view this perspective as legitimate, but I have met many Christians who hold views that cross firm party lines.   One can find a follower of Christ, who opposes abortion and the death penalty, who cares about the empowerment of women and worries that our jobs are going overseas, who is ready to welcome the refugee but worries about the size of government.  In fact, if as a disciple of Jesus Christ your views conform perfectly to a candidate’s or political party's, I would ask you to go back to your Bible and think about things a bit more.


Hope for the World

My hope is that like the group that gathered around Jesus our church will have people across the political spectrum who will work together for the love of God, neighbor and world.  If you will vote for Trump, we invite you to be with us.  If you will vote for Clinton we ask you to join us.  If you are frustrated with the process, we really want to include you in our walk with God.  We have no choice but to do this because we exist only for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Be blessed

Pastor Knecht




[1] Newbigin, Leslie, Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship (1995, Grand Rapids MI Eerdmans) 76.  Emphasis added
[2] Taibbi,Matt “The Fury and Failure of Donald Trump” http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/the-fury-and-failure-of-donald-trump-w444943 accessed 10-20-2016.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Fear and All its Friends

Psalms 55:1-2
Open your ears, God, to my prayer;
don't pretend you don't hear me knocking.
Come close and whisper your answer.
I really need you. (MSG)

When I heard of the bombings in our area last weekend I felt afraid.   Not afraid of riding the train, or what might happen to my children, friends or family.   I had no fear of terrorists running amok.  I was afraid of our reaction, what fear will change in us.  So I gave thanks to God for the two homeless men who found the bomb at the Elizabeth train station and reported it to the authorities before anyone could be injured.  Indeed, I was even more relieved when a suspect was arrested.  It was blessing to move on before fear could be stoked further.

Listening to an interview with film director Antoine Fuqua later in the week, I heard him begin his remarks about the unrest and conflict over the shooting of black men by police officers by saying everyone is afraid, black men, the police, the rest of us as well.  Mr. Fuqua is right, and a large part of the dysfunction in the relationships between the differing groups of our society is due to the fears that each group has.

These fears are real. Black men have a radically different experience of American life than I do, and these experiences have led to very real and indeed rational fears.  It is not one incident that has sparked these fears but the repeated daily negative experiences people of color have in America. Police officers also have very real and understandable fears.  Service in the police is a very dangerous calling in our country.   They are repeatedly placed in the most stressful situations that happen within our communities. It seems however that in certain areas (particularly in regards to race)  that we are unable to listen to and understand our neighbor's fears. The problem seems to be that dealing with our own fears crowds out our ability to grasp the fears of others. Therefore with our empathy blocked, situations escalate.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that fear has seemed to become a preferred method of communication for many of us.  Since the invention of the printing press, media has used fear to sell newspapers.  What is different today is that in our social media age the boundary between the media and the general public has been blurred.   If I post on my twitter or facebook account stories in the news, or my opinions of events, then I have effectively joined the media.   We have met the media and it is us. So when I repost an article highlighting a particular fear, I am embracing, validating and spreading that fear.  By embracing that fear I may be closing myself off to understanding the other. The more I broadcast my own fears, the less I am able to listen to you.  The more I see other people's fears shouted from the rooftops the less able I am to feel that others will understand me.  Perhaps this is why FDR famously said they only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

The only way I know to go forward is to follow the advice of St. Peter "Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7 NRSV).  Indeed it is in times like these that our faith matters most.    When we trust in who is God good enough to offer us salvation without condition (grace), it gives us a foundation to stand upon when dealing with our fears.  When we pray, the first work to be done is within our own souls.  It is to remove the veil of fear so we are able to receive God and love our neighbor.   If we cannot empathize with their fear, we cannot love our neighbors.  Furthermore, if I cannot empathize with someone else's fears, why would I have the nerve to think that they would even stop to give me the time of day?

When we are better able to understand each other, we are better able to meet together and work towards solutions grounded in justice.  So the idea is simple, ask God to help you deal with whatever fear you have today so you are more able to love others and understand that you are loved yourself. As with most simple ideas the practice will be harder than the concept.   Perhaps you will be impatient or angry with me because I am really not offering a solution to anything, but just asking you to pray.   Prayer is not a solution in and of itself,  it is a means to work toward that solution hand in hand with God.  Prayer is never the finish line, but is always the start.

I am hopeful because I know that around the country and around the world there are people of Christ who are in prayer about what is going on today.   One of the underreported facts about what is happening in our country now, is that in every city where there has been unrest these past few years churches and faith communities have been on the front lines trying to do the very hard work of getting people together to work on ways to move forward towards mutual respect, dignity and justice. When these folks go to those front lines they are just as fearful as you and I, but their prayers help them move forward to build solutions.  So answer the call to prayer perhaps all you have to lose are your fears.

Be blessed


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Why I Give: A Witness


Giving is spiritual act,  it is also a deeply personal one.   How and why we give is a critical part of how we relate to God and the world.   People give for a variety of reasons. Sometimes I need to ask people to give, so think it is important for those whom I ask to know a couple of things about me.

First, is that I give, a Christian congregation is a community and as a servant leader I am called to do my part.   Since our capital campaign Mei and I have been giving approximately 12% of our income to Holy Cross for the work of  the ministry.  We also help out in the wider community and give to causes and ministries outside the church.

Second, is why I give.  This is helpful because we can all learn from each other when we share our stories and motivations for giving.   So the following are some heartfelt reasons why I give.

1. To Learn to Trust God 

The most important reason I give is to remind myself that God is good, and that God will provide for me and my family when I take the risk to give.   My witness is that so far God has proven faithful.  While I would always want more financial security, more opportunities, and yes even more stuff, God has always met every actual need we have actually had.   Often we have been surprised by a timely gift or opportunity that met a need we were worried about.   It has not always been easy, a giving lifestyle means making intentional choices every day.   My witness can also tell you that making these hard choices is not so bad in the long run.   So what if my kids don't have smart phones and tablets, they read books, play sports, make art, and do well in school.   Yes my cars are getting old, but they still work just fine.  No we don't go out to eat much, but we like home cooking better anyway.  Being able to give has deepened my relationship with Christ and I have had tangible signs that God is walking with me through both the good and bad of life.


2. To Lead the Community 

A key part of what I do is help people examine how to live a life in relationship to Jesus Christ.   Giving financially has been a key discipleship practice since the formation of the first Christian community as recounted in the book of Acts in the Bible.  In order to really teach something one must know how to do it.   One of the things that helps lead and teach others is my own experience of giving.   Over the years I have given in many different ways,  these help remind me and show to others that everyone has a different situation.  You may need to give in a different way than I do.  I give financially in at least three ways:  direct withdrawals from my bank account monthly,  in kind gifts of things the church needs, and occasional extra contributions.  You may need to give weekly, monthly or yearly and that is OK.  The most important aspect of giving that I teach is that it be done in prayer.   Lots of people have told me they do not electronically give because writing the check has become a prayerful act for them, and that is a beautiful thing.  Financial giving should not be done in isolation but in combination with our other faith practices.


3. To Live Faithfully  

I don't know about you, but I have trouble asking people to give if I am not willing to do so myself.  I would feel awful if I was merely taking from the community without contributing to it.   I see the contributions of many faithful people at Holy Cross and I am inspired to serve.   I am blessed to be part of community that is so generous, and I do not want to take that for granted.   My giving makes me more of a part of the congregation because I have a stake in it.   My giving also helps me take my faith life more seriously.   I am more likely to pray, serve the poor, worship regularly, talk about my faith because I give.   My desire to give comes from my faith, but it also reinforces it as well.  God gives us the chance to give because it can strengthen faith and people can find joy and peace in doing it.

There will be times when we can not give financially, and it is important to remember that giving is not a goal in itself, the goal is a strengthened relationship with Jesus Christ, and that it will be blessing for us and the world. If giving gets in the way of this then one should pray about giving in different way. St Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:7-8:

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. (NRSV)

Faithful giving is motivated by a desire to be a blessing to others.  Like the perfect love of God described in 1 Corinthians 13 it never demands repayment.   It is not an investment that demands return,  it is grace given freely.  The model is God's own son Jesus Christ who gave it all for the sake of the world.  This is something we are unable to give back, but that we are able to pass on.

So my only request is that you prayerfully consider your own financial giving so that you can bless others the way God has blessed you.  We at Holy Cross will be asking people to support our work, but we hope that by doing so you can deepen your own discipleship walk with Jesus.

Be blessed

Pastor Knecht