sojourner, hearer, & follower of Jesus

Category: Justice (Page 1 of 2)

Amazing Things! – Gospels in 90

The people saw the mute speaking, the lame walking, the maimed made whole, the crippled dancing, and the blind seeing; and the people were amazed, and they praised the God of Israel.

Matthew 15:31 (The Voice NT)

There is a little chorus that I learned as child called “When the People of the Lord” it says: “When God’s people worship, amazing things happen! There’s healing, liberation, blessing, there’s healing, liberation, God’s presence made known!”

So far in our journey through the gospel according to Matthew we have seen some amazing things! Angels bring “messages” from God, a “savior” born like the rest of us, strangers recognizing what community of promise does not, a baby who is a threat to the powers of the day, a prophet of the Lord after years of silence, a showdown between a savior and the evil one, everyday people (including sinners!!) being called to follow a great teacher, healings, exorcisms, restorations, feedings, liberations . . .

Sometimes in our reason-oriented society we might be convinced that no amazing things like this could happen today. We’ve reduced the presence of Jesus as a catalyst to becoming nice, happy, comfortable, and “feeling good.”

Today I am reminded how powerful and life changing the presence of Jesus is!

I often remind the congregation to expect something when we gather, that the creator of the universe will indeed be present in our worship, that the presence of Christ proclaimed in prayer, song, and homily will be made real in Eucharist. That grace abundant will outpour and amazing things will indeed take place in and through our gathering.

So what would it look like for us to recover a sense of joyful expectation for God’s presence in our worship and in our everyday life?

If discipleship is about our participation in divine life through our surrendering to the Lordship of Christ, what are the effects of that discipleship in our community of believers, in our homes, and in the marketplaces we inhabit?

Exciting journey indeed . . .

Joseph the Dreamer – Gospels in 90

After the wise men left, a messenger of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.

Messenger of the Lord (to Joseph): Get up, take the child and His mother, and head to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you it is safe to leave. For Herod understands that Jesus threatens him and all he stands for. He is planning to search for the child and kill Him. But you will be safe in Egypt.

So Joseph got up in the middle of the night; he bundled up Mary and Jesus, and they left for Egypt.

Matthew 2:13-14 (The Voice)

I’m so thankful that Joseph is attentive to dreams. He obviously is familiar with this way of communication with God. This time his dream was of utmost importance and he took action immediately.

I’m sure he had many questions, concerns, and fears. Imagine being woken up by a dream that told you that your family was in mortal danger. You had to get up immediately in order to save their life. I can feel my heart trembling, my gut wrenching, my eyes wide open in the middle of the night. Without delay he woke them up and got them on their way.

Once again we have evidence of how dangerous this birth was to the powers that be. The ruler wanted this child eliminated so that there would be no threats to his power. It turns out that Jesus was indeed dangerous, he was going to question the structures of power and the ways of life all around him. Jesus would also threaten the religious authorities of his day, pushing them to remember the core of their tradition, their reason for being God’s people. All this is truly dangerous work, haven’t you heard not to engage in conversations about religion and politics?

I wonder what it would mean for us to ponder how life transforming and dangerous to the “status quo” Jesus still is? What would it mean for us to follow this savior? What difference does this savior make to those of us who claim him as Lord today?

I am thankful for dreams. Time and time again they are used to speak, show, and make clear. I am also thankful for dreamers . . .

We Are A Thought in God: A Christmas Eve Reflection

This is the Christian’s joy:
I know that I am a thought in God,
no matter how insignificant I may be –
the most abandoned of beings,
one no one thinks of.

Today, when we think of Christmas gifts,
how many outcasts no one thinks of!
Think to yourselves, you that are outcasts,
you that feel you are nothing in history:

“I know that I am a thought in God.”
Would that my voice might reach the imprisoned

like a ray of light, of Christmas hope –
might say also to you, the sick,
the elderly in the home for the aged,
the hospital patients,
you that live in shacks and shantytowns,
you coffee harvesters trying to garner your only wage
for the whole year,
you that are tortured:

God’s eternal purpose has thought of all of you.
He loves you, and, like Mary,
incarnates that thought in his womb.

Archbishop Oscar Romero from The Violence of Love

Nativity with Mary, Joseph and the New-Born Christ by J. Le Breton 1933

As a pastor I have the honor and privilege to walk alongside people at different times of their life. There are times of celebration – baby’s being born, the news of a promotion, graduations, and weddings. Then there are the difficult times, when life seems to be going downhill, when it turns on us and our hearts are broken, when illness takes over, despair comes near, sin and death knock at the door . . .

It is at those times that the good news is most needed.

Christmas in the Christian tradition is the answer to the good news needed in our broken world. It reminds us year after year that sin and death is no longer our inevitable path, the child born in Bethlehem becoming the sign and symbol of God’s purposes for the created order.

Gift giving becomes the reminder of God’s gift of his Son. At its best it should become a catalyst for our difference making in the world. Like God gave us his Son, we then give of one another to the work of salvation, to the world of justice, peace, and hope.

Christmas is most understood by those who long, hunger, and desire for a better day. What a gift it will be to them if something changed, if there was hope after all, if justice would come; as Romero reminds us “God’s eternal purpose” thinking of them.

As we gather in our churches tonight, as we gather with family, around trees and gifts, may we not forget the message of salvation to us and to the world. And may that message become incarnate in us; incarnate – an essential aspect of our identity – so that we can become difference makers in our world.

We are a thought in God so the savior we have been expecting is here!

Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 (CEB)

Rapture Fail

It should not surprise us that another attempt at figuring out, reading the tea leaves, guessing, has failed. It seems that from the very beginning people connected to the Christian faith have been tempted to figure it out, to give a date, to make sure that people have an opportunity to prepare. We might begin our exploration of this phenomenon in the New Testament where in the book of Thessalonians where its author tells the church:

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.

(Thessalonians 2:1-2, NRSV)

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

From the very beginning, there has been a hope, a fear, a mystery around events leading to the end of time.

This latest “prediction” has brought about much press, mockery, and satire. It is embarassing that each time it is mentioned, the word “Christian” is connected to it, as if all Christians were somehow connected to this latest false prophet.

This morning my main concern is not about the Christian tradition getting a bad name (after all we have done that to ourselves many times). What is rolling through my mind is that we are people who believe that God will make all things right in the end through Jesus. The Christian hope includes an understanding that death does not win, evil is not victorious, nor illness, nor pain, nor poverty, nor injustice. Someday there will be an end to things as we know it and a new day will dawn, a renewed creation, a new heaven and a new earth.

My prayer is that in the midst of another crazy false prophet, we in the Christian faith don’t easily give into the desire to reject Christ’s final in-braking in the world. Maybe occassions like this one could become another reminder to take the words of our liturgy seriously when we pray, gathered around table,

By your Spirit makes us one with Christ, one with each other, in ministry to all the world. Until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet.

(The Great Thanksgiving, Word and Table I, The United Methodist Hymnal)

There will be no rapture . . . but Christ has promised to come again, to make all things new. May we as God’s people continue the work of God’s kingdom, deepening our discipleship, gathering to be empowered by the Spirit, being agents of God’s Spirit for the transformation of the world, Maranatha! (Our Lord, come!)

My Response to Bin Laden’s Death

I joined the many others who watched with surprise the news that Osama Bin Laden had been found and killed. It was almost unreal, the face of terror for almost a decade was now gone. What would our response be?

I can only speak about my response. I say this carefully and humbly knowing that we all respond to things very differently. My feeling last night (and as I continue to reflect on it today) has been sadness.

I am saddened that thousands have been the victims of the madness of one mastermind.

I am saddened that fear continues to influence so much in our world.

I am saddened that many lives have been lost in search of a madman.

I am saddened that in the end this inevitable act does not mean that justice has been done.

So I am struggling today, I cannot celebrate, although I can understand why some might feel jubilant. I am struggling today, I cannot celebrate, although I understand why some think justice has been done. I am struggling today, I cannot celebrate, but I can pray for the world, for the common good, for people of faith, for God’s kingdom to come.

May we respond to each other honestly, humbly, and lovingly. May God’s people, who continue to celebrate this season of Easter, may reflect on what our loving response should be, to each other, to the events happening around us, and to the way forward, as a people of resurrection!

Bible in 90 – Day 74: Few Workers . . .

[Jesus] said to them, ‘The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest.’

Luke 10:2

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

There are so many needs in the world. So much hope to harvest, so much healing needed, so much good news to share! Most of us sitting in our comfortable homes can not imagine how ripe the world is for Good News.

Most of the time I hear this passage in connection to the call to ordained ministry in the church. Who is God calling to tend our congregations?

Fortunately, that is not what Jesus means here. He is talking about bearers of healing, hope, and love in the world. The harvest, the need for healing, hope, and love is larger than imagined, the workers – those willing to be the bearer of that healing, hope, and love in the world – are few.

What are we to do?

We must ask God for the workers. The “workers” are not select people from the disciple pool. The “workers” are people who have responded in discipleship. You see sometimes we tend to read this passage as if this work was the work of a select few, ordained people, educated people, or very involved lay persons.  This is not the case!

I believe that the workers needed are disciples of Jesus, all of them. If we respond, we are responding not to be served but to serve, to be about the harvest of God’s work in the world.

Imagine the harvest if all who claimed Christ as their Lord and Savior responded to their relationship as worker in the harvest. Imagine how transformed our world would be!

The harvest is plentiful . . . may our baptism become our initiation into harvesting for the kingdom!

Bible in 90 – Day 72: Sell Everything

Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him. He said, ‘You are lacking one thing. Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.’ But the man was dismayed at this statement and went away saddened, because he had many possessions.

Mark 10:21-22

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

Many of us come like this man, ready to hear from Jesus the “magic” words to eternal life. We have been good people, have followed the commandments, have attended religious services, have acted in moral ways, are we ok? Have we done what is needed to go to heaven?

Jesus must look at us like he looked at the young man, like we look at our children when we realize that they don’t get it. He looked carefully (attentively) and with love, Jesus realized what was missing in this person’s life.

We are so attached to our things. Most of us would not consider ourselves rich by any stretch of the imagination yet we do have many things, most of us are wealthy compared to the rest of the world. Our stuff becomes our security, our identity, our reason to live. Living an abundant life has become for many of us living with more things, shiny, beautiful, new things. We still long to be good with God, we still want to know that our eternity is secured but truth be told, our actions show that our true source of security is not God but the stuff we have.

Today’s scripture reminded me that our security and our eternity belong to God. All of us have heard the expression “you can’t take it with you” but most of us live with an attitude that since we can’t take it with us we might as well hoard it in this life.

Are we willing to sell it all and give the proceeds to the poor? Are we willing to put our security, our eternity, in God’s hands?

Today there seems to be much conversation about the poor. Issues around healthcare, immigration, unionized labor, and education are constant reminders to us about the plight of the poor. Yet these issues do not seem to bring us to dialogue instead they divide us.

I wonder what would happen if we practiced this “giving away” and “trust” in our society today? Maybe the rich in our society could share what they have, not take huge bonuses, lower their salaries, raise wages of their lower level employees, and trust that in the end their business will prosper. Maybe our governments both local and state, and national could put priority on the poor, their needs and their struggles and we together (isn’t government our collective whole?) could find ways to help each other live fully without fear?

Then there is the church, aren’t we called to be about giving, sacrifice, and helping the least of these? Shouldn’t the poor be at the top of our list?

Jesus is looking at all of us who live in prosperity and asking us if we are willing to give it all away and follow him. This seems impossible but as Jesus himself tells us:

It’s impossible with human beings, but not with God. All things are possible for God. Mark 10:27

Bible in 90 – Day 68: Here Comes the Kingdom!

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the desert of Judea announcing, ‘Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!’ He was the one of whom Isaiah the prophet spoke when he said:
The voice of one shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’

Matthew 3:1-3 (Common English Bible –CEB)

The ashes are still crusty on my forehead. The message of mortality and the words of forgiveness still ringing in my ear. The taste of the bread of life still present in my mouth. The desire to be willing to continually change my heart and life is fresher than ever.

Yesterday I said that Malachi  teased us by suggesting that other prophets were coming. Now we read of such a prophet, he looked like one, ate like one, and acted like one. This one quoted the prophets of old and called all who would hear to a new life. This one did not speak of exile, but still called people to a new home.

The kingdom of heaven was drawing near. The anointed one had already broken into history and now this seer was making the path straight, taking all possible hindrances away so that the one to come could have full impact in the world.

So change of heart and life (repentance; thanks CEB for this fresh translation of a powerful word) is possible because the way has been prepared. It was prepared for those who first heard and its prepared for us who hear it time and time again today.

Proclamation of this ancient story still prepares the way. Specially for those who are still living without knowing God’s love. Those who have yet to experience crusty ashes on their foreheads and the message of gracious forgiveness, and grace-full new beginnings.

For those who are still in the margins, those who are the victims, those who are living as slaves of sin and death, those that are hopeless, need preparers of the way. They need for those with crusty ashes on their forehead to tell them that “here comes the kingdom!”

Bible in 90 – Day 65: Stop Worshipping

I loathe, I spurn your festivals,
I am not appeased by your solemn assemblies.
If you offer Me burnt offerings–or your meal offerings–
I will not accept them;
I will pay no heed
To your gifts of fatlings.
Spare Me the sound of your hymns,
And let me not hear the music of your lutes.
But let justice well up like water,
Righteousness like an unfailing stream.

Amos 5:21-24

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

Sometimes we are so comfortable sitting in our pews singing our songs, praying our prayers, and hearing our “good” sermons. While we are in the comfort of our worship a whole world hurts, in need of good news.

Imagine if a stranger came into our midst and called us on our pious hypocrisy? Would we listen?

I’m sure it was not easy to hear. After all worship is part of our call as people of faith. It is important that we worship, in our praise to almighty God we are continually transformed as God’s people for the life of the world.

So the problem is not worship but using worship as an excuse not to respond to the needs of the world. When worship becomes a tool of isolation and empty piety.

I’m afraid this can happen in our churches without our realizing it. Little by little our community becomes self-centered, we become comfortable with each other, and become resistant to what is happening outside our walls. Without any structure to call us back to our mission, soon we convince ourselves that the maintenance of our rituals is the reason why we exist.

The prophet calls all of us to our task. Stop singing, stop praising, stop gathering, remember why you are here to begin with!

Worth by Numbers

Everyday as part of my devotional time I read a short quote from one of my heroes in the faith, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. I find it amazing how relevant his words are for the church today:

Brothers and sisters, we don’t measure the church by the number of people, nor do we measure the church by its material buildings. The church has built many temples, many seminaries, many buildings. The material walls stay, become part of history. What matters are all of you, the men and women, the hearts, the grace of God giving you truth and the life of God. Don’t measure worth by counting how many are the crowd, count the sincerity of the heart with which they follow this truth and the grace of our Divine Savior.

(from Through the Year with Oscar Romero: Daily Meditations, pg. 30)

©2010 Todd Rossnagel

In United Methodism we are going through a period of reflection and reaction on the continued “decline” of our denominations. In many of our Annual Conferences (mine included) we have been given the task of being more attentive to measures of effectiveness. I have joined others, not in a rejection of measures, but in asking if we are measuring the right things.

If we are to be about the work of discipleship making for the transformation of the world then I think we should be measuring not just the numbers of people in our pews (average attendance), or those entering the journey of faith (professions of faith), or those who go on a mission trip (missional engagement), or what percentage of money we have paid toward’s apportionment. None of those things give us effective measures of our mission, “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

What if we measure our transformation levels?

Disciples living out the way of Jesus make a difference in the world. All that loving, all that justice, all that compassion, all that grace is indeed measurable.

Archbishop Romero reminds me of something else: being a faithful disciple of Jesus comes at a price. I wonder how many of us are willing to pay it on behalf of the transformation of the world?

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