A Pastoral Letter to an Abused Woman (Repost)

(I first posted this over two years ago. With the recent attention to Domestic Violence, I thought it was appropriate to repost.  The church should certainly be speaking to issues such as this.  As I say at the end, it was not written to any particular person or situation.)

Dear Child of God,

First, and most important, the abuse is not your fault.  It doesn’t matter what you have done or haven’t done, the abuse is not your fault.

Your abuser’s behavior is HIS responsibility.  HIS sin is between him and God.

No one “deserves” to be hit or used sexually or even verbally assaulted.  Nowhere in the Bible are husbands, boyfriends, or anyone else given a mandate or permission to abuse you.  You do not deserve to be hurt.

Which is why the first thing to do is . . .


If you are being abused by your boyfriend, terminate the relationship NOW.  Get out.  Get away.  Get safe.

Of course he promises that things will be different once you are married.  Of course he promises to change.  Of course he tells you that if YOU would just change then he could stop hitting/belittling/raping you.

Run the other way!  You CAN do better.  God loves you and wants better for you.  No matter what your experience may have been, not every man is an abuser.  Marriage is a sacred bond instituted by God.  Do you want to base that bond on an abusive relationship?  Do you want to bring children into the world with someone who is abusive?  Get out of that relationship and don’t look back!

But what if you are an abused wife?  What if you have already entered into that sacred bond?

My counsel is the same.  Get safe.  If that means going away, leave.  You know better than anyone if it is possible to be safe in your present situation.  If you’re not safe where you are – and a realistic evaluation will probably  tell you that you’re not – then go to a friend’s house, go to a relative’s home, go to a shelter.  Or better yet, get him to go live somewhere else for a while if you can.

Get safe.  Get out if you need to.  Not necessarily out of the marriage – not yet – but get out of the place or situation where your abuser can continue to hurt you.

Now, there are those who will throw bits and pieces of Scripture at you trying to convince you that God desires you to stay in the place where you are being abused.  “God has you there for a reason,” they will say.  Or, “There are only two Scriptural reasons for ending a marriage, and abuse is not one of them.”  These folks often have the best of intentions and are usually simply misguided.

“God hates divorce,” they will say.  Yes, that is a direct quote from Scripture . . . and I agree, that is indeed what it says in Malachi: “God hates divorce.”

But God loves YOU more than God hates divorce.  How can I say that with assurance?  Because I know that God loves you with a love that is INFINITE.  God loves you so much that God sent God’s only Son into the world to die for you.  Jesus died so that you could have new life RIGHT NOW.  He died so that you could look forward to eternal life with Him.

Jesus died because He loves YOU.

God loves you with a love that is without limits.  Certainly, if your marriage ends because of your husband’s abuse, God will grieve for that.  But God hasn’t, and God won’t, stop loving you.  God won’t stop renewing you. God won’t stop forgiving you.

A God who loves you that much does not want you to be abused.

Yes, marriage is sacred.  But that sacredness has already been violated – by your abuser.

Throughout history one of the sins of the human institution that is the church has been to use Biblical directives to excuse men who are abusers.  The church has told women who are being abused that they must stay with their husband no matter what because, after all, he’s the head of the household.

How sad.

The Bible directs husbands to love their wives as Christ loves His church.  Christ’s love is, above all, sacrificial.  An abusive husband is displaying the opposite of Christ’s love – rather than absorbing pain on your behalf (sacrificial love) he is inflicting that pain (abusive “love”).

And the truth is, the Bible calls on husbands and wives to submit to each other.

By his abuse, your husband has broken the promises he made to you on your wedding day.  He promised to love you, to cherish you, to take care of you.  It is he who has been unfaithful – unfaithful to the promises he made to you, and unfaithful to the promises he made TO GOD.

Some will say, “But what about forgiveness?”  Well, certainly we are all called to forgive those who hurt us.  Sometimes that takes a very long time.  But, God does not require you to be a doormat . . . or a punching bag.  Forgiveness is not the same as opening yourself up to be hurt again.

Forgiveness is also not the same as letting someone off the hook for the consequences of their behavior.

The primary consequence needs to be your getting yourself safe.

If you have kids, then it is exponentially more important to get to safety.  “He doesn’t abuse them,” you say, “It’s only me.”  But how long before the same ticking time bomb that showers you with shrapnel detonates with your children?  Even if your children are not being physically abused, it is at least emotionally abusive for them to live in a situation where mom is being hurt by dad.

What are your children learning?  What are they going to take into their own relationships and into their own marriages?  Is your little girl learning that “love” means being abused?  Is your little boy learning that men are supposed to hurt women?

Jesus taught and demonstrated how much He loves children, and He warned about harming them.  Get them to safety!

Let me be clear, I’m not telling you that you should necessarily jump directly to divorce.  No.  Get safe, then perhaps by the grace of God your husband will repent.  Perhaps he will make the complete change of heart and mind God desires him to make.  Certainly pray for him.

But do not even consider reuniting until he has taken concrete steps and made tangible changes.  One such step is a spiritual commitment demonstrated through action.  Another is counseling.  Why counseling?  Can’t God change him?  Certainly, but God works through human means all the time.  Someone who has a physical illness needs both prayer AND medical treatment.  An abuser needs both prayer AND counseling.

Make sure that YOU get spiritual support – and counseling – as well.  This is also vital for your children.

The unfortunate truth is that your husband may not choose to change. He may continue to push away the forgiveness and new life that God offers.  You cannot control that.  Ultimately, the best available option may be termination of the marriage.  That is sad, that is a tragedy, but because we live in a fallen, sinful world sometimes there is not a “good” option, only the best of unfortunate, imperfect options.

No, divorce is not God’s intention.  But it is not “the unforgivable sin.”  It is a tragic reality in our sinful world where two sinners (we’re all sinners!) come together in a sacred union.

Thank God we live by Grace, not by Law!

Never forget that God loves you.  God loves you not matter who you are, no matter what you have done.   You are forever God’s child, and, like any loving parent, God does not desire that God’s daughter be abused.

Christ’s peace,

Pastor Dave

(I did not write this letter to any particular person, but I hope it might be some comfort to those in an abusive situation.  I would appreciate feedback, including suggestions for improvement.)

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Convert Them or Kill Them!

phil-robertson-hannityOn Sean Hannity’s Fox “News” show the other night, they were talking about ISIS. That’s certainly an important topic – ISIS is destabilizing the Middle East, killing and torturing people indiscriminately, and doing their best to drag the US back into combat in Iraq.

So the Hannity show needed someone to address the ISIS crisis. I can imagine the production meeting:

PRODUCER ONE: “Who can we get that’s an expert in Middle East policy? Someone who understands the political realities, and also has a grasp of Islam and its various sects?”

PRODUCER TWO: “How about a State Department official? Or a scholar?”

PRODUCER ONE: “Maybe . . .”

HANNITY: “How about a guy who makes duck calls?”

BOTH PRODUCERS TOGETHER (obsequiously): “Brilliant!”

So Phil Robertson was invited to hold forth on ISIS. He brought his Bible.  (“I never leave home without my Bible and my woman, Hannity.”)  He quoted Scripture, pingponging around the New Testament in a display of prooftexting that made my head spin.  Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, it’s just not how my particular tradition uses the Bible (because we believe things like context are important).

He presented himself as a minister who was speaking for Christians and maybe even for God.

And then he said, “I’m just saying, either convert them or kill them. One or the other.”

Here’s my question . . . is that really much different than ISIS telling Christians in Iraq, “Convert to Islam or die”?

Some might say the difference is that ISIS has brutally carried out its ultimatum. But while the duck call-guy is not personally threatening anyone, he is advocating on a national “news” show that the most powerful armed forces in the world “convert them or kill them.”

There is no doubt that ISIS is an organization that does brutal, despicable, evil things.  I’m not smart enough to know the best way to deal with ISIS. I am thankful that we have people who are qualified to make those decisions.

But “Convert them or kill them” cannot be our mission. Not as a country, and not as Christians.

It’s not the job of the government, or the armed forces, to convert anybody.  Maybe “killing them” is the only effective way to deal with ISIS, but the goal is not to convert them, but to stop them. That may mean getting them to surrender or retreat or laying down their arms.  Duck-guy’s strategy would be to keep bombing and shooting until they say they love Jesus.

And sure, Christians are commanded by Jesus to spread the good news. But Jesus never even hinted that we should kill people who don’t convert.  Christians have done that kind of stuff in the past – in the Crusades, in the Inquisition, and so on – and I thought we all agreed that “convert or kill” was not an acceptable evangelism strategy.

Here’s the bottom line – lots of Christians are critical of Muslims who don’t repudiate Muslim extremists. We need to get our own house in order, and distance ourselves from Christian extremism like “convert them or kill them.”  If we don’t, then the extremist voices of hate will continue to shape how Christianity and Christians – and Jesus – are viewed by unChristians.

(You can watch the interview, or read a transcript, at the Fox “News” website here.)


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Eulogy for the Simpson Family Vacation

The Simpson Family at Gullfoss (Golden Falls), Iceland, 2004

The Simpson Family at Gullfoss (Golden Falls), Iceland, 2004

There was something . . . incomplete about our summer vacation this year. We spent a relaxing week at beautiful Deep Creek Lake, Maryland.  But there was something missing . . .

CCI09022014_0009My 23-year old son.  Philip had entered the working world and had no vacation time. He couldn’t come with us.

On one of our last nights at Deep Creek, as I lay in bed I realized that an era had come to an end. The Simpson Family Vacation was probably a thing of the past.

CCI09022014_0003You see, since my daughter Autumn (now 17) was very young we have taken two Family Trips each year. I know she was an infant when we started because I remember trying to cram her baby tub into the trunk of our compact car along with the suitcases when we went for a driving trip in Vermont. It was one of those trips where we stayed somewhere different every night, so I had lots of practice “fitting” (smashing, pushing, cursing) that bright blue plastic oval-from-hell into the trunk.

CCI09022014_0006One of the trips each year has been to Florida between Christmas and New Years, when we stay with my sister in her house that’s walking distance from the beach.

Every summer, we’ve headed out on a variety of adventures. We’ve been lots of places – from Utah to the big cities of the Northeast to Iceland and England – but the best thing about the trips was that we were TOGETHER. There is nothing like a family vacation to get on each other’s’ nerves in new places, to experience fresh disagreements instead of the same old disputes, and to find out that dad likes to get up and going on vacation when everyone likes to sleep in.

CCI09022014_0012I wouldn’t trade any of it.

Even though things often went wrong.

I’ve lost my wallet in at least two states and a foreign country. But it’s always come back. How else would we have gotten to visit the Stratford upon Avon Police Headquarters? That was the day before I flattened a “tyre” on the too-big, not the compact car we ordered when I rammed a curb in Bath.

Earlier in that trip next to a beautiful lake in Iceland, I was dive bombed by an angry arctic tern. She gave my head a good peck as I foolishly tried to snap her picture while the rest of the family wisely took cover in the car.

CCI09022014_0010Weather hasn’t always been perfect. According to the car thermometer, it was 116 degrees the day we hiked and rode horses in Zion National Park. We ended up in Disney World one year on the Fourth of July when it was well over a hundred with Florida humidity only made worse when the park got so crowded they stopped letting people in (“That almost never happens” said a Mouse employee in a cheery voice that implied, “Aren’t you lucky!) At the other extreme, we about froze in June the day we went to Mount Rushmore on my son’s “we’ll go anywhere in the US since you’ve graduated from high school” trip (he wanted to see “The Heads.”)

Simpsons at the RanchThen there was probably our best vacation – a week at a ranch in Wyoming where we learned to ride horses and herd cattle.  But early in the week Autumn was struck with altitude sickness at an 8000-feet-above-sea-level ranch in Wyoming where we spent a week. Thank goodness she had just gotten off the horse when she passed out; it was scary enough on the ground.

CCI09022014_0001Yes, Simpson Family Vacations have presented plenty of challenges. Maybe that’s part of what’s supposed to happen on Family Trips – you learn you can, together, get through whatever life throws at you.

It was usually the unplanned and unexpected that highlighted the trips. Often that involved animals. We didn’t expect the prairie dog town beside the road to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming to be more memorable than the tower itself. We didn’t plan to spend a day in CCI09022014_0011Custer State Park near “The Heads,” but we saw more buffalo and other animals that day than we had in any zoo visit – and they were in the wild. We didn’t even know the massive “Best Friends Forever” Animal shelter existed before our Grand Canyon trip, but our unplanned visit there to see so many abandoned dogs being cared for was inspiring fun. And feeding the turtles who lived in the pond next to our Outer Banks vacation rental was the prime memory of our week in a rented Hatteras house.


Even disappointments were memorable. Like the whales we didn’t see on the “guaranteed whale watching excursion” out of Reykjavik. The “Puffin Island” we sailed past was pretty cool, though. Also disappointing was  the several-days of driving and hiking through the Maine woods searching for a moose; the only one we found was Lenny the Chocolate Moose at a candy store.


CCI09022014_0016Perhaps Our Best Day Ever was the day we went to Legoland in England as part of a game show winnings financed trip. The weather was perfect and I hadn’t lost my wallet or flattened the tyre yet. Phil got to fulfill a lifelong (13 years) dream to visit the land of the Legos, and 7-year old Autumn got her “Driving License” in an electric car on the left side of the road at the Legoland Driving Academy. But the highlight CCI09022014_0013of the day was probably the farmhouse B&B we blundered into – not only were there a variety of farm animals available for petting and feeding, but there were two dogs that needed walking. Autumn still remembers walking those dogs probably more than anything else about England.


When you take a Family Trip, the whole exercise becomes about possibility. Memories of discoveries made become family keepsakes to be taken out and enjoyed as much – or perhaps moreso, because they are always available – than the souvenirs and pictures.

Maybe we couldn’t always really afford to take those trips, but they are some of the best money we ever spent. They’re a big reason all the WWTBAM and Jeopardy! money is gone. A financial planner would have probably told us to stay home a few summers.  But, yeah, like the commercials say . . . priceless.

CCI09022014_0005I’m writing this not just to share these memories, or to preserve them for myself, but to encourage other families, especially parents with young kids, to get out there. Not only have we gotten closer, but Philip and Autumn have experienced different places and people. They discovered they love the wide open spaces of the west. Hopefully the horizons of their dreams are similarly larger.

Make big plans, but allow time for the simple and the surprising. One year we rented a cabin on top of a mountain in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee. The view was awesome, we took day trips to hike up mountains, play in streams, and explore towns. But our most vivid family memory of that week is the fun we had in a tire swing that hung from a big tree next to the cabin.


That’s an image I’ll keep with me always . . . I have a feeling that even when I’m older and not sure what I did yesterday, I’ll remember swinging in that tire with my family.

So, yes, I’m sort of grieving. The Simpson Family Vacation may indeed be a thing of the past. But I – no, WE – have the memories. They are ours. Together.


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I Won’t Try to Convert You . . . Because I Can’t

Talk IconWhen I get a notification that someone has liked a post or has decided to follow The Unexpected Pastor (which you can do with the “Follow” button on the right, by the way), I usually check out their blog. The other day, someone known on WordPress as “hessianwithteeth” became a follower of this blog. Hessianwithteeth appears to be atheist or agnostic. (It is awesome that folks of many different beliefs – and unbeliefs – read The Unexpected Pastor!)  

Among the intriguing posts I read on hessianwithteeth’s blog was one called “Should We Attempt to Convert Others?”  I found it a balanced piece that was fair to both Christians and unChristians.

The post struck a nerve with folks; there were the seventy-some comments from all kinds of perspectives. Of course I had to add my own (slightly modified here) . . .

 I believe what happens when we try to “convert” other people is that they become commodities, simply objects of our perceived will and overestimated powers of persuasion. Whether Christian or Atheist, entering into communication with someone simply to convert them is the antithesis of relationship.

Rather than trying to convert people with other beliefs (or non-belief), how about if we try to get to know them? Try practicing empathy rather than beating them over the head with our right-thinking. Perhaps in the context of relationship they’ll come around to the way of thinking we believe is right, perhaps not. But in the context of relationship we might just learn something about how other people think and feel and believe (or not), and even about ourselves.

I don’t believe I can convert anyone, anyway. I don’t have that power over other folks. Once I remove that fallacy from my interactions with others, especially unChristians, then I can have actual relationships with them. I trust that the Holy Spirit will take care of the converting (or not).

One of the reasons I was an unChristian for so long before I embraced Christianity was the in-your-face “Christians” who seemed to be only interested in me as a trophy for their wall of conversion (metaphorically).  I didn’t want to be a part of all that . . . and I certainly didn’t want to encourage it by letting it succeed. Since I’ve been a Christian, I have met atheists with the same unproductive zeal.

Let me be clear here on my own blog – I am not saying that Christians should not practice evangelism. Evangelism means sharing the Good News, specifically the Good News about Jesus. Sharing the Gospel – hopefully not just, or even primarily, in what we say but especially in how we treat (love) others, especially those who are “other” (different in any way than ourselves) – is not the same as interacting with someone with the sole agenda of somehow converting them.

We Christians believe that conversion is the Holy Spirit’s work, not ours. So let’s relax and do our job – treating everyone (yes, everyone) with the grace and love we believe we have received from God.

So, Christians, atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, whoever  – I know you’re out there – what do you think about hessianwithteeth’s question? Should we attempt to convert others?

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Some Thoughts about Depression and Suicide

In Memorium

In Memoriam

(Yesterday after the “normal” sermon about the book of Ruth, I spent a few minutes discussing a couple of things I felt called to share.)

While I was away on vacation, Robin Williams died. It was amazing how much his death by suicide touched a nerve in people – Facebook blew up, Twitter blew up, and the news was full of reports about what happened. I was saddened by his death – he was a tremendous actor and a very funny comedian.

There were lots of good things that were said in the wake of Robin Williams death, but there were a some misconceptions that were shared, particularly by Christians, that I believe are important to address as a pastor.

First – some said or wrote that if Robin Williams had been a Christian he never would have had depression in the first place. I honestly don’t know what Robin Williams’ faith was, but that is a silly statement regardless.

Christian people – committed Christians, believing Christians, Christians who live out their faith – do deal with depression. Depression is no more a sign or a result of a lack of faith than are cancer or a broken leg. Depression is a disease, an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. Being a Christian does not inoculate a person from depression.

Certainly, as is the case with other illnesses, prayer helps.

But in the same way God has given us doctors and nurses with skills to treat heart disease and arthritis and so on, and has given us medications that also help, God has given us resources to treat depression.

For a Christian to receive therapy or take anti-depressant medication is NOT a sign of a lack of faith any more than it is for a diabetic to take insulin.

Implying as we sometimes do that “if you just had more faith you wouldn’t be depressed” or “if you prayed/went to church/ read the Bible more,” only adds to the guilt and hopelessness experienced by a person with an illness who needs treatment.

Another things folks said and wrote after Robin Williams died is this: “If he only knew how much he was loved then he wouldn’t have been depressed. He wouldn’t have killed himself.”

Now, I’m never going to preach that love isn’t important, or that God’s love – both directly from God and shared by Gods’ people – is not the greatest thing in the world. But depression makes it tough for folks to experience that love. The way I think about it is the same way a diabetic can’t process sugar without help, someone who is depressed can’t process positive things in life – including love – without help. Another analogy might be color-blindness – someone who is depressed is like someone who can only see gray, and it’s not their fault or anybody else’s fault.

Not anybody else’s fault . . . Depression is not the fault of family or friends – it’s an illness. We only make folks feel guilty when we imply “They should have been shown more love” or whatever. And that’s especially the case when suicide results from depression.

As humans, we try to figure out why a person does something harmful, and it’s only natural that we speculate when someone commits suicide as to why they did it. But that’s not what the survivors need – they are already beating themselves up enough. What the survivors need isn’t speculation and judgment – they need support and love and perhaps mental health treatment, for a time, themselves.

I’ll preach about this more sometime, but I just need to say this about suicide – Suicide is not “the unforgiveable sin.” Some churches have taught that, but it says that nowhere in the Bible. It’s a tragedy and it is certainly not what God wants his children to do. So yes, it is a sin. But we are forgiven by grace, not by what we do or don’t do – the blood of Jesus is enough to cover even a tragic thing like suicide.

Finally, if you might be depressed – there is help! It’s a sign of strength, not weakness, to ask for help when you need it. Not only is it a blessing to serve, it is a blessing to be served. One of the things that made Ruth a Woman of Valor is that she boldly got help for herself – and Naomi – when she needed it.

As your pastor, I can always listen but I am not a professional counselor. Just like if you came to me with symptoms of another illness, I can refer you to someone who God has given the skills, talents, and training to help you heal. I will certainly support you through your treatment.  I am blessed to have a wife with a counseling background – I think we are blessed as a congregation – and she is always happy to listen as well if you’d rather talk to a woman, and she can also refer you to professionals who can help.

And if you feel like hurting yourself, tell someone. Tell me, tell a friend that you know will get you help. God loves you and has given you a gift of life. God has stuff for you to do even if you can’t see it right at the moment.

Finally, I say this to our Confirmation students every year when we talk about suicide, but it goes for adults as well as middle schoolers: If someone ever says anything to you about hurting themselves, take it seriously. Don’t keep a promise not to tell someone. They may get mad at you, you may even lose a friendship, but that’s always better than losing a friend.

(Preached at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church of Millersville, August 24, 2014)

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Hail To The Redskins – and Farewell

redskins jerseyPicture a buck-toothed 5th-grader with a crew cut and Husky-sized pants. It’s winter 1973 and he’s on his way to school in Richmond, VA. That’s a burgundy and gold jacket he’s wearing. If you look close, you’ll see that those pants are held up by a belt with a shiny Washington Redskins helmet-shaped buckle. The white notebook he’s carrying has a rendering of that same helmet on the front. If you look inside, on page after page Redskins helmets are painstakingly (and crudely) sketched in #2 pencil at the top and around the edges.  If you’d asked him the time, he’d have looked at the Redskins watch on his wrist.  At home was his most prized possession – an autographed black-and-white 8×10  of Redskins quarterback Billy Kilmer.

And if it was Sunday and he was on the way to church, he’d have on his burgundy Redskins clip-on tie pinned to his chest with his Redskins tie tack.

That kid, of course, is me. I’ve been a Redskins fan longer than I’ve been about anything but a Simpson. January of 1973 was magical. The ‘Skins finished off their 11-3 season with a trip to the Super Bowl where they suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Miami Dolphins.

The next summer my family would move to Jacksonville, Florida. I was sort of concerned about leaving my friends behind – but devastated to think I wouldn’t be able to watch my team on fall Sundays. To my joy and exaltation we found that the CBS station in Jacksonville showed Redskins games.

You see, long-time Redskins owner George Preston Marshall had worked diligently to make his franchise the South’s team. So the Redskins television network extended down through the Carolinas and Georgia into Jacksonville.

One of Marshall’s strategies for southern domination was to keep the team colors, as Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich famously wrote, “Burgundy, Gold, and Caucasian.” The Redskins were the last NFL team to integrate (in 1961), and only because of pressure by Attorney General Robert Kennedy. (Another famous Povich line – “Jim Brown, born ineligible to play for the Redskins, integrated their end zone three times yesterday.”)

By the time I became a fan this was just painful history. The Redskins I knew were an integrated team that would become the to win the Super Bowl with an African-American quarterback. (It is not true that a reporter asked Doug Williams before that Super Bowl, “How long have you been a black quarterback?)

As I grew up and moved from place to place, rooting for the Redskins was a constant in my life. Honestly, one of the reasons I ended up in Maryland is because I wanted to read the Washington Post each day not just for its excellent coverage of world events, but because it extensively covered the Redskins year-round.

I have traveled to five different NFL cities to cheer on the ‘Skins, and I was on the Season Ticket Waiting list for years before I finally got the letter saying I could buy home tickets. (Unfortunately, in the meantime I had taken up a vocation that required me to be busy on Sundays, so I had to decline the invitation.)

On recent fall Sunday afternoons, I have donned my Chris Cooley and then RGIII official jerseys to watch every game on television, sometimes on TIVO if I can’t see them live. I know every word to “Hail to the Redskins,” and have sung it after touchdowns even if I was  by myself.

As I sit writing this in my church office, I can see the vintage Redskins cap on the shelf above my desk and the Redskins Santa that permanently sits on my window sill. In my home office is more burgundy and gold paraphernalia.

But I won’t be buying any more. There will be no more Redskins gear for me.

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?” (Matthew 7:3, NLT)

I am so good at pointing out insensitivity and barriers to inclusiveness in others. I’ve written blog posts that called out racism, sexism, and gay-bashing. It is easy – and oh so satisfying – to point out where others fall short.

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NLT)

The Golden Rule does not require sympathy. Jesus commands us to practice empathy, to walk in the shoes of another; to exalt with our neighbor in their joys, and to weep with them in their sorrow. That is difficult, and it is much easier to rationalize doing what we want to do even when it causes someone else sorrow.

The Washington football team name is causing some of my neighbors sorrow. For too long I have excused my insensitivity – “It really honors Native Americans,” or, “Not all Native Americans are offended,” or, worst of all, “I have a right to root for who I want to and the the team has a right to use whatever name they want.”

But Jesus calls us to give more consideration to our neighbor’s plight than to our rights.

If my neighbor is offended, then I need to take a look at what I am doing. I am called to compare my conduct and decisions to that of Jesus Christ . . . Do I really think Jesus would be singing “Hail to the Redskins” if he were around today knowing that it hurts some of his children?

If we hold on to traditions and attitudes that offend, then it ultimately damages our witness to the only truly offensive thing that we are supposed to hold on to – the Cross. (In his epistles, Paul writes about how the cross is offensive to the world because of the whole idea of an innocent man being put to death for the sins of the world.)

So, I have decided not to support the Washington football team with any more of my money – through team merchandise or tickets – until the name is changed. I will publicly, beginning with this blog, let folks know how I feel about the team name. I will try not to use that name in writing or in speech. It is very unlikely to change anything the Washington team does, but it is what I need to do to live congruently with what I believe and teach.

Some will appeal to “tradition” as a reason for keeping the name; when that “tradition” includes a legacy of segregation and a clearly racist former owner – who named the team! – those appeals ring hollow.

While I was driving yesterday, I was listening to a sports talk program out of DC. Former Washington football players Brian Mitchell and Doc Walker were talking about the name. Even though they were speaking about the team they loved on the radio station owned by Daniel Snyder, the current team owner, they both spoke in favor changing the name. “I know what it feels like to be discounted and dismissed,” Doc Walker said (both Mitchell and Walker are African Americans). He said his change of heart came when he met a Native American on an airplane and asked him what he thought of the name. Hearing that man’s offense changed Doc Walker’s mind.

For me, it hasn’t been one event or one conversation, but rather a gradual feeling of conviction that I needed to be consistent in my walk of faith. Some will blow this off as “Political Correctness” – I’m not even sure what that means, but screaming “political correctness” seems to be a convenient means of dismissing the consideration of others’ feelings when it would impinge on our “rights.”

This is simply one way for me to live that Golden Rule I am so good at preaching to others; one way to deal with that log in my eye rather than the specks in the eyes of others.

 If you missed the powerful commercial funded by Native Americans that aired during the NBA Playoffs, you should watch it here.

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Better Than an Arc Reactor – A Superhero Pentecost Sermon

Iron Man

(You can hear this sermon here. It’s based on Acts 2:1-21.)

Late this week I read an excellent blog post by Pastor Ed Strietelmeier about Superheroes and Pentecost.

I was going to preach about something else on this Pentecost Sunday, but it seemed like it was a lot more fun to preach about Superheroes.  That’s how the title of this sermon became, “Better than an Arc Reactor.”

Who knows what superhero has an Arc Reactor implanted in his chest? [Iron Man].  We’ll come back to Iron Man and his Arc Reactor a little later.

Spider-ManEvery superhero has an origin story, right? Peter Parker was just a normal teenager until  what happened?  [Spider Bite]  That’s right, he got bitten by a radioactive spider and then he got his spidey powers. He became . . . Spiderman.

Captain AmericaSteve Rogers was rejected from the army when he tried to go defeat the biggest bully of all in World War Two. But he was selected for a secret program and injected with Super Soldier Serum (say that three times fast!) and he became . . . Captain America.

SupermanKal el was just a regular baby on Krypton until his father rocketed him to earth and he became . . . Superman.

the incredible hulkAnd David Banner became the Hulk after he was exposed to gamma rays.

What does all this superhero background have to do with Pentecost? Remember, Peter Parker, Steve Rogers, Kal El, and David Banner were just normal folks.  In fact, they were far from being anything like a superhero, they were pretty much nerds.  (I have the authority to speak about nerds when my favorite thing to do is to play on a trivia team and here I am preaching about superheroes.  But SOMETHING HAPPENED in the life of each of them, and they were TRANSFORMED. They became superheroes.

And that is the story of Pentecost!

Stay with me . . .

last supperLet’s look at the disciples. Remember them – a long way from superheroes.  They were the unlikely men that Jesus chose to be his closest followers and students. If you’re like me you read the Gospels and see what the disciples say and do and wonder if maybe Jesus had made a terrible mistake.  Those guys misunderstood Jesus over and over, they fought about who was the greatest among them right when Jesus told them he’s going to die, one of them betrayed him and another denied him three times. And then, even though Jesus told them over and over he was going to die, they were shocked and surprised when Jesus was arrested and killed.

They were just as surprised when he rose again on Easter!

The resurrected Jesus was with them for 40 days. Then he took them up on top of Mt. Olives and told them he was leaving them but the Holy Spirit would come on them, just wait for it.

They still didn’t get it. One of them asked him, “NOW are you going to establish your kingdom in Israel?”

They didn’t understand that Jesus had commissioned THEM to take the kingdom of God into the world.

Then he ascended. We talked a little bit about that last week. He took the cosmic elevator away from them and they stood there watching until an angel told them to stop looking up – someday he’s coming back.  The implied message is . . . ‘You’ve got work to do.”

So they waited as Jesus told them to do. They don’t know – they can’t know – what this “Holy Spirit coming on them” business is about. Ten days pass. During that time they hung out and prayed together. There were others with them as well including Jesus’ brothers, his mother, and other women.

And they wait.

Ten days after Jesus’ ascension, 50 days after Easter, it’s Pentecost Time – one of the three big festivals of the Jewish Year.  Jerusalem is filled with Jewish pilgrims from all over the Roman Empire, wearing different clothes, practicing different customs, speaking different languages.

PentecostThe disciples were gathered in one place. You know the rest of the story because I just shared it with the young people – wind, tongues of fire, instant Berlitz language courses for the disciples.


Peter – the same Peter who out of fear denied even knowing Jesus – Peter stands up and begins to preach perhaps the most powerful sermon ever! Preaching to all those folks gathered in Jerusalem.


Now, there are some who see and hear all this and reject the whole thing – “Listen to them babbling on. Those guys must be drunk!” (I’ve never been convinced by Peter’s response that “We can’t be drunk it’s only 9:00” – I’ve known some folks . . .).

But THREE THOUSAND repented and were baptized that day!  Christianity goes from 12 disciples plus Jesus’  brothers and a few women to 3000+ IN ONE DAY!

Those who heard and were baptized were TRANSFORMED!

What was it that caused the sound of the wind and the tongues of fire? What transformed the disciples? What transformed Peter? What transformed those who were baptized?

Wrong questions!  It’s not a matter of WHAT did all that transforming – it’s WHO transformed all those folks?

You already know the answer because it’s Pentecost – The Holy Spirit.

Peter and the others gathered there became superheroes that day – no longer were they ordinary people, but now they had Holy Spirit Power – they had the Holy Spirit living in them.

Think about it – God moved into each of those who were gathered on that first Pentecost. Their bodies became Temples of God. The first evidence of that power was their polyglottic speech.  (That’s your superhero word for the day – polyglottic.) They began to speak in different languages that they had never known before.

That was a GIFT of the Holy Spirit. That was their first Superhero power!

They had the power of God living inside of them. The greatest power of all!

But, as Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben told him after Peter had become Spiderman – “With great power comes great responsibility.”

No longer could the followers of Jesus huddle together behind closed doors. No longer could they keep the Good News about Jesus to themselves. They had the responsibility to share it. More than that, they HAD to share it.  They couldn’t help it.

David Lose, a pastor and seminary professor, says that the Holy Spirit wasn’t given to the church on Pentecost  to solve problems, but rather to create a new one. . . how do we get the Good News about Jesus out into the world?

So, what do you think? Have you ever thought about the first followers of Jesus as superheroes? I mean, superheroes have great power and what greater power is there than GOD – God living inside of them! But it wasn’t just those first followers in the upper room – no, as soon as those 3000 believed and were baptized, they got Holy Spirit Power as well!  3000 more superheroes that day!

And I bet some of you already see where I’m going with this – there’s about 200 of us gathered here this morning, almost  all of us baptized, which means that God has poured out God’s Holy Spirit into us . . . so here we are, gathered together a bunch of superheroes . . .

The AvengersYES, WE ARE THE AVENGERS!  Superheroes called together for a common mission – for the Avengers it was to defeat Loki (in the first movie, anyway). For us, it is to share the Good News about Jesus.

Wait a minute, Pastor Dave, I can hear some of you protesting. I get that I have the power of the Holy Spirit within me, but I don’t have any super powers. I can’t fly or shoot webs out of my hands or throw a magical hammer or any of that stuff. I can’t even speak another language.

But you do have Holy Spirit Powers – Super Powers if you’ll give me the grace to call them that this morning. They are called Gifts of the Spirit, and we all have them. They are listed in the New Testament in several different places – they aren’t just things like preaching and teaching, but include hospitality and service and encouraging. Generosity is a gift of the spirit, and so is mercy.

Like the Avengers, superheroes who had different super powers and learned to use them together, we gather as God’s church with different gifts of the spirit, all of them necessary for our God – given mission.

Perhaps the greatest gift of the Spirit, though, is one that we all share. That is FAITH. Remember, as Martin Luther wrote,” I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”

He goes on to write that it is the Holy Spirit that calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the church. We can’t be the church without the Holy Spirit.  That’s why Pentecost is sometimes called the birthday of the church.

Our Mission Statement at this particular church is to “Gather, Grow and Go.” I still remember the meeting of the Mission Statement Team where we came up with that – or more exactly when the Holy Spirit inspired us to come up with that. It was written up on a white board, and we thought it was great, but somebody, I don’t remember who, said, “It needs more.” And that person reminded us of the POWER that enables us to serve in mission together.

And that’s how the four most important words were added to our Mission Statement, how it became “EMPOWERED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, we Gather, Grow, and Go!”

We’re a Holy Spirit church because there is no other kind of church.

I’m going to close with another superhero example. Now we’re going to get to the Arc Reactor.

Ironman is Tony Stark, who was a wealthy arms manufacturer.  He went to Afghanistan to sell missiles and he was captured by terrorists. In captivity he constructed the first Iron Man suit. It was powered by an Arc Reactor.

The Arc Reactor was also the thing that kept Tony Stark alive. He had been wounded by the terrorists and the Arc Reactor eventually implanted in his chest was the power that kept shrapnel from entering his heart and killing him.

tony stark arc reactorSo picture Iron Man, picture Tony Stark, with that Arc Reactor glowing in his chest. Keeping him alive.

That is the Holy Spirit for us. God in our hearts, giving us life.

We were dead in sin, and we are now alive in Christ. It is the Holy Spirit in us that is our life source, as the people of God and as the church.

Holy Spirit power – it’s even better than an Arc Reactor.

Happy Pentecost!

(Preached at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church of Millersville on Pentecost Sunday, June 8, 2014.)

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