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Monday, May 31, 2010

Luther site pictures

Kelly and I in the city church in Wittenberg Germany. Behind us is a famous altar piece painted by Cranach. In this church Luther often preached and ordained reformation pastors. And no that is not a 'man purse" I just had a lot of stuff to carry!!

Here you will find me standing between the beer barrels that are in the basement of the Luther home in Wittenberg.  They drink a lot of beer (and eat a lot of sausage in Germany!!!)

Here is the very room where Martin Luther translated the New Testament into German.  This was a against the law and carried a death sentence.  He did this at the Wartburg Castle in Eisenach Germany
Kelly is standing inside the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt, Germany.  That is the very gate that Martin Luther went through as he joined the order.  His friends tried to stop him...he had a promising career ahead of him in law..but his vow in a thunder storm compelled him to become a monk

Walking with Luther--500 years later

If Lutherans believed in purgatory and got time off for visiting 'holy' sites I think I would have gained quite a bit of credit these past two weeks.   I have visited Eisleben where Luther was born and died (even got a chance to see up close and get photos of the burial shroud put on his coffin and then given to his wife Katy.  It is on display at the house where he died and they were taking it out to prepare it for a transfer and new home in the new site that will open in two years.  On the day I visited it was out of the case and stretched out on the floor with paper underneath it.  The experts who were examining it seemed undaunted by my presence and even allowed some photos); Mansfeld where he grew up and went to school (saw the house, school and home church), Erfurt (where he entered the monastery and was ordained a priest); Eisenach (where he translated the New Testament into German and was held safely in the castle Wartburg); Wittenberg (where he is buried and posted the 95 theses on the castle church door); Leipzig; Magdeburg, etc..etc...  ( The picture above is from Luther's house in Wittenberg where you can with many other interesting things see Luther's Larine...I kid you not!!!). 

But the little city that made it all clear was a place called Halberstadt.  Here there is a Lutheran church that has the unusual distinction of owning quite a collection of "relics."  What are relics?  The very things that drove Luther mad!!  People were taught that to venerate (give sacred honor) to these relics would help them gain salvation and get to heaven.  Relics are pieces of bone or other body parts of important Biblical people or saints, items used in Biblical stories, or odds and ends that were used by holy people.  In Halberstadt I saw a finger of St. Nicholas (Don't tell the kids that Santa's finger is on display); one of the stones used to put Stephen the first Christian martyr to death, and a gold covered display case of wood that contained a body part fragment from each of the twelve apostles, John the Baptist, Paul, an authentic piece of the cross of Jesus, and one of the thorns from the crown he was forced to wear!  Holy Holy Relics think of how much time I could have gotten out of purgatory if I only had the right attitude about this.  (You know just in case there's something to that whole purgatory thing).   To be fair these relics date from the 1200's and are quite an interesting window into the piety and practice of medieval Christianity---but could people really have believed that these things were real?

No, I don't think most people did...but here's the clincher....bowing down to a piece of clavicle bone that supposedly belonged to John the Baptist or a tooth from Saint Paul was a whole lot easier than living out the great commission or loving my neighbor as myself.   Luther came to understand that the purpose of the Gospel was to free us from sin, death and the devil and allow us to live out our faith each and every day in love.  Christian faith is contextual and lived out in community--it is not about living in fear or in search of personal salvation.  What do I mean by that?  You as a baptized child of God have been bought by the blood of the lamb--you belong to Jesus!  Or, do you like the medieval indulgence sellers suppose that Christ's sacrifice on the cross wasn't enough and you have to add your own piety to the equation?  No, Christian faith is not about trying to make sure I'm saved, it is living in the confidence of Jesus Christ that I AM SAVED by his perfect grace and free now to live out that faith in love and community.  But let's face it...that's hard.  Easier to join 5 different Bible Study groups, subscribe to the approved Christian magazines,  read all the blogs that lament the current status of Christianity, and attend at least two personal growth retreats a year.   

Here's the point...whether venerating relics (bowing to pieces of bone and skin) or becoming obsessed with the latest Christian books, groups and movements...they both are inherently self centered and turn Christian faith inward and reduce it to a quest for personal immortality.   Here's the good news that Luther rediscovered 500 years ago--you are saved by CHRIST!!!  Christ has done what you never could!  Christ has reconciled you to God through the blood of the cross.   Now....stop letting the Evil one rob you of what Christ has given.   You are free now to live out your faith for the sake of the world.  To actually live your Christian faith.    Salvation having been taken care of we can now concentrate on loving each other as Christ has loved us; loving our enemies, forgiving those who have trespassed against us, being cheerful givers, feeding Christ's sheep, repaying no one evil for evil, sharing what we have......Holy Cow.... it would be a lot easier to just pay a few bucks to venerate some pieces of bone and wood, or for that matter commit myself to a regime of personal piety.   Well, yes it would.  But that wouldn't be living as disciples of Jesus. (Picture above is Luther's grave marker which is located right below the pulpit in the Wittenberg Castle church). 

In each and every generation we need to fight against the impulse to make Christianity all about me.  Acts of personal piety and growth are not fact I encourage them....but not to the exclusion of actually living out your faith in the world.   And how do we do that?  Be a good and faithful spouse, a good and loving son or daughter, a good and loving parent, a good and loving friend and neighbor.  See you life as being on loan from God and its purpose to share the love of Christ in all that you do.   And for CHRIST'S SAKE (not used in vain, but in praise, prayer and worship) don't obsess with your own salvation--that's the good news, God has already done that.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Worship in Germany

I am writting tonight from Prague, Czech Republic, just a 4 hour train ride from where we are staying in eastern Germany.   Prague is a beautiful city full of great history, food and culture.  We stopped in to worship today at a small catholic parish here in the city, about 5 or 6 people there for worship.  No granted it is a Monday and most folks don't worship on Monday...but still 5 or 6.  On Sunday we worshipped in Gronningem Parish, a little church that has been around for about 400 years and there was a great celebration of 6 baptisms.  It was a great worship, lively song leading, interactive for the kids, a mix of pipe organ and guitar, the pastor was good and engaging---did I mention that besides the 6 to be baptized there were about 12 others of us at worship.   Now numbers aren't everything, but we kid ourselves if we think worship attendance isn't important.  We need to know that we stand with a community, that others share our values and understandings (or are at least open to the same struggles and questions that we all have).   Now was God present on both last Sunday and today in Prague---of course.  But where were God's people?  That is the question that we so desparetly try to address in our own chuches without turning to gimmicks and fluff.   I don't want to have a petting zoo at Easter, or advertise that we serve 'krispy kream' donuts.  Humbug!!  That seems so wrong.  And yet....I don't ever want to lead worship with the anticipation of only 6 or 7 showing up.   Come to worship.  Come to worship to glorify God and to keep our communities strong.  Forgive us if we aren't always cutting edge or speaking just to you.   For myself, I promise to always try and make worship a place where you feel welcome and have an opportunity to connect with Christ both in word and sacrament. 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Worship in Nortre Dame

Sometimes dumbluck is more imporantant than planning and skill.  Such was the case for our first visit to the famous Nortre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  We arrived on a Sunday so after taking in the Louvre for a few hours we decided to take a break and head over for a sneak peak of Nortre Dame (We were going back the next day as a starting point for a city walk that would also take us to the Cluny museum on the left bank).  As we arrived we had to decide which line to enter in....visite or messe?   Well Messe was the winner and we found ourselves in the nave of the great cathedral with a full house preparing for an evening mass.   So, being a preacher and feeling guilty for not having gone to worship previously we decided to settle in for worship.  First thougthts---it was LOUD!  The pipe organ was being played with all it's intensity and I had to chuckle at the comments I imagine the priest would get about the music being too loud!  Ah, the more things change the more they stay the same.  Next there was a beautiful children's choir that sang in the ancient style and truly sounded angelic.  Then there was a lot of standing, A LOT of French, several readings, etc.... your typical mass in the Western Rite, and of course communion of which it was offered to us only in one kind (bread only).    Here in this beautiful cathedral every sense of the human body was employed.  And somehow I think that is an important part of worship--engaging ourselves bodily and spiritually.   So often we think of worship as only a spiriual affair, but the body also needs to be intune.   But here is my insight...not all at once.  There were times that I needed to shut my eyes and just listen.  Other times when I was oblivous to the sounds but transfixed on the sights--the glass, the columns, the statues.   I don't understand a word of French...but it was still worship, it was still relevent, it was still inspiring.   Maybe because I didn't expect to be able to understand anything, I allowed my other senses to be open to the possibilities of encounting God.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Two great taken for granted

Today we spent the whole day walking around London and visiting its famous churches and historical landmarks.   What fun it is to walk into the same pub that people like Charles Dickens, Teddy Rosevelt and Tennyson--not to mention Twain--all stopped in for a pint.  But what was so interesting was touring the two great churches of England:  St. Paul's the fourth largest church in the world and Westminster Abbey which is like a walk in history book.  Two experiences that stuck out.  At St. Paul's (again the fourth largest Christian church in the world) there was a group of about 25 of us that celebrated communion together.   There were thousands of visitors, but only a handful that heeded the call to come and eat the meal of Jesus. The good Lord knows we were on tight schedule, but it seemed almost oxymoronic to be in such a place and not take time for Jesus.   I think the same can be said for life in the world.

Second insight, I've never stepped on so many famous dead people in my life!!  In Westminster Abbey I stepped on the likes of Charles Darwin (I chuckled at how many Christian fundamentalist would have loved to have had the chance!), Chaucer (Cantebury tales), Lewis Carroll, T.S. Elliot, Handel (He wrote the Messiah), Isaac Newton (he actually is buried under his statue...but I might have gotten a hand or at least a finger.   But again here was the amazing thing...people were just WALKING right over these great folks of history, literally walking on top of their grave markers that dot the floor of this great Abbey.  And frankly most never as much gave any of these great men even a "oh it's you."   I wondered if these folks now dead and buried ever thought they would be reduced to flooring.   I personally stopped at as many as I could, tried to step around as much as possible and whispered a prayerful 'thank you.'   Again, I imagine I should probalby do that for the living as well.   Thank you!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

London...what hospitality

What a beautiful city filled with friendly folks.  We have just been hear for half a day but have been overwhielmed by the kindnesss and goodwill of the locals.   Spend the evening walking Kennsington Park and Palace, then dinner at a pub--meat pies-- near the Bank of London  (Rick Steves suggestion.  Had a nice talk with a local policman and couldn't be more pleased with how our first day on the ground went.   Now the fun really begins!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Tagging along on Sabbatical....

Today is the day that Sabbatical begins.  Nothing to share now accept the last minute running around trying to make sure all the proverbial ducks are in a row!  Good back back each!!  We are traveling light.  Tomorrow we head to London via Chicago and Copenhagen!  Stay tuned.