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Posted Friday, April 14, 2017 - 4:49pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

"And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it." (Mt. 28:2 NRSV) 

I remember my mother pinning an Easter hat of some sort on to my older, maybe 8 or 10 year old, sister Jan one Easter morning in preparation for church. It's just a glimpse of a memory, stored away because it was unusual, or maybe meaningful, or perhaps because it was associate with family joy (or resistance - who knows anymore?) But when I was little, Easter was all about Easter eggs, dressing up, and a nice ham dinner with my cousins. There was also a story about Jesus coming out of a cave or something and being raised from the dead, but I'm not sure I knew what that was all about. Still, to this day I don't fear death and I have an abiding confidence is God and the goodness of life. This is what I was taught, and "Teach a child in the way they should go . . ."

Today, of course, I am older - 61 years old. I'm a professional religious person. I have studied theology and deconstructed the the Bible. I stand on the shoulders of 2000 years of contemplation and prayer around the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. So do you. Our lives are different. Our world is different. Our questions are 21st century, seven billion people, techno-advanced, bio-sphere collapsing, alternate facts forays, into the unknown. To say that differently, I am no longer a child and I don't read the Bible the way I used to. 

The Gospel of Matthew's story of the death and resurrection of Jesus is unique. There are a lot of earth quakes in it. Have you noticed that? In Matthew 27, as Jesus breathes his last, there is an earthquake, and Matthew says the graves of the saints were opened up and they come out. After Jesus is resurrection, two days later, these same saints wander into town and start talking to people. I've never heard a sermon on that. I wonder what they were doing all of Saturday?!

And then, of course, there is this angel descending from heaven on Easter morning. Apparently angels don't descend from heaven without breaking the sound barrier and causing shock waves all over the place. I'm sorry to bring this up again, but three days ago another payload from above descended on Afghanistan and did much the same thing. I apologize for my brain, but it puts these two things side by side. One story I like. The other I don't. I don't believe Matthew had the mother of all bombs in mind when he wrote this Gospel, but there you go. I'm not Matthew and this isn't first century Palestine.

Matthew did have the military in mind, though. I mean, at the end of chapter 27 Matthew clearly tells us that the religious leaders go to Pilate to request an armed guard at the tomb of Jesus. They're afraid the disciples will try and come steal the body. And, when this angel descends from heaven - the earthquake and all - these Roman guards faint in fear. The women at the tomb are okay, but the army guys turn white and keel over -"like dead men" Matthew says. Nothing personal, here, against our fine men and women in uniform. I didn't write the Gospel. It's just the story. I'm sure these men had names and feelings and family and all. In the real world that matters! Here, though, they just represent an abusive, power pushing super power - the Roman Empire. I'm pretty sure that's right. I suppose Matthew could have left all this out, but he didn't. I suppose I could leave it out, too, but - well, there's my weird brain thing again. This part of the story pops out at me. Like the prophet Jeremiah if I don't say something it just gives me heartburn.

So, read Matthew 28 for yourself. The angel descends, the earth careens off to one side, the soldiers faint from fear (so would I!), the women survive okay, and then apparently the angel just sort of steps over the soldiers and says to the women, "Do not be afraid!" Why doesn't the angel tell the soldiers not to be afraid? They seem to be the ones in need of triage! But, of course, the story isn't really about people here, not as individuals. The story is about power. Who has it, how it is to be used, where do we find it, and who's it for? 

The Bible is clear. The power is God's. It is used to give life. You find it in Jesus, and it is for the healing of all creation.

I think that's worth repeating. The Bible is clear. The power is God's. It is used to give life. You find it in Jesus, and it is for the healing of all creation.

And that's why we have colored Easter eggs, and little yellow chickens, and soft white bunnies and jelly beans. Because the message is about life, and joy, and hope and a future and a world in which everything matters. Or maybe that's not why we have all of that stuff, but this is the message. Life matters. Life matters to God. Your life matters to God, especially.

Now the rest of the story. The angel tells the women to go tell Jesus' disciples that he's alive and they should regroup in Galilee. Galilee, not the center of anywhere. No-wheres-ville. Galillee. Home. And so the women go, and Jesus finds them on the way and tells them the same thing. So they go some more. And at the same time the soldiers wake up and go give a report to their superiors. A cover up story is put in place. (Some might call it a lie.) People are paid off and frankly this part of the story is neither new, nor old, nor very interesting. We know all about this stuff. For some reason, though, Matthew wants to remind us about it. "Praemonitus, preaemunitus." That's Latin like the abusive, lying, power mongering Roman super-power people spoke. "Forewarned is forearmed." Just sayin'.

Finally, Jesus meets all the disciples in Galilee as promised. But that, boys and girls, is a story for a different day. Who would like to pick a treat out of my Easter basket as you return to your seats?

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke

Posted Friday, April 14, 2017 - 7:43am in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

"And from my contrite heart with tears . . ."

Sunday, this past Palm Sunday, I was struggling with "letting go" of my worldly fears and concerns as I sought to prepare myself for Holy Week. We had sung "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" in church and the phrase "Content to let the world go by, to know no gain nor loss . . . had visited my soul in a big way. I decided I needed to deal with my spiritual unrest and committed to sing this hymn to myself each day during Holy Week - just a small, simple, discipline. "Beneath the cross of Jesus, I long to take my stand - content . . ."  Saving the world is so not my job. "Get over yourself, Bishop!" Your spiritual turmoil is precisely what this week seeks to address.

And yesterday the United States drops the biggest, non-nuclear bomb in history on Afghanistan, purportedly attacking ISIS. There is no declared war, no congressional conversation or permission, just the"Mother of All Bombs" proclaiming that might makes right and because we can, we will. I know this is not about me, but I just have to say that I don't feel my piety has been well rewarded.

"I tried not to worry about this stuff, Jesus. I gave it over to you. How is this okay?"

That's a sad reaction, I know. It may be wholly inappropriate in fact, but I really don't know how to feel. So, this morning, "from a contrite heart with tears . . ." 

"Contrite" means "broken, remorseful, affected by guilt." This is a church word. The Psalmist writes that their sacrifice to God is "a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." I hope that's true, because today I'm all in. It's all I've got, that and my tears. I suppose this is how one is suppose to feel on Good Friday. Can't say as I like it very much. 

The hymn actually goes, "And from my contrite heart with tears, two wonders I confess, the wonders of his glorious love, and my unworthiness." That's an updated version you'll find in modern day hymnals. The Old English is "the wonders of His glorious love, and my own worthlessness." Either way, though, whether I'm confessing "unworthiness" or "worthlessness," it doesn't strike me as much of a "wonder." God's love is a wonder. God's love given to a nation which would do such a thing is a wonder. God's love shown to me in the spiritually bankrupt confusion of not knowing how to feel or respond around all of this is a wonder. And maybe my realization of all of this - if that qualifies as "worthlessness" - is a wonder. I'll confess that. Confession is a wonder. I don't know how to go further than that, though. Not today.

And so, because I've asked for it, that is what I get to be content with. Jesus, dead, murdered, crucified, on the cross, flotsam in the maul of principalities and powers, my own face in the mirror with tears, powerless, confused, jetsam to Jesus' flotam, by promise perhaps actually "lagan" (for those of you enamored by maritime law.) The future is yet to be revealed.

It is Good Friday. I believe my confusion and tears are at least appropriate to the season. Tomorrow is a day about which the Scriptures are totally silent. I will be, too - contrite.

Posted Sunday, April 9, 2017 - 3:47pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

"Content to the world go by, to know no gain nor loss ..."

There have to be guardians. Guardian angels, maybe, or scud missiles. Perhaps we need more police, or sanctuary congregations. It's not safe. Syria is not safe. Egypt is not safe. Many feel the U.S. is not safe. Refugees, religious minorities, people of color, sexual minorities. So many feeling exposed, at risk. The first Palm Sunday was that way. God's people felt marginalized, oppressed, unsafe, uncertain.

This morning in worship we processed with palms, sang, prayed and read the Passion story from the Gospel of Matthew. During communion we sang, "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" and these words struck me, "Content to let the world go by, to know no gain nor loss ..."

"Can I do that?" I asked myself. Something is not right. There have to be guardians. Am I a guardian? It feels like American Christians have been called to a new level of watchfulness and action these days. Maybe it's just me. 

Palm Sunday is a short parade leading to a week long march to the cross. It is a week that, for most of my life, I have just stopped for, letting the story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection wash over me. This is the first time in 61 years the story has challenged me with trust. "It's not safe." "I don't dare let my guard down." "There is too much at stake, too much in flux, too much happening behind the scenes."

"Content to let the world go by ..." 

I am not content. I wish I were, but I'm not.

Walking home from church today I decided I will sing "Beneath the Cross of Jesus" first thing, everyday this week. It's a very little thing. It's not going to save anybody's life. My own, maybe. And as I sing I know what words I will hear, every day as I march to Golgotha with Jesus. "Content to the world go by, to know no gain nor loss ..."

I'm okay knowing "no gain" for awhile. I'm richly blessed - plenty of padding. But I'm worried about the "loss. I'm not sure what I'm worried about losing, though. Jesus loses everything this week - to gain the world. .Maybe he'll help me figure it out.

Posted Wednesday, April 5, 2017 - 8:29am in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

 

American Lutherans have stayed close to their ethnic and national roots. However, there are plenty of American Lutherans who are not white, European or whose primary language is something other than English. Let’s look for a moment at the ‘other half’ of the story!

The first Lutheran church in the continental United States may have been founded in 1699, but Danish Lutherans arrived in the Virgin Islands 33 years earlier. The story
of Lutheranism in the Caribbean Islands is much different than that of the mainland. Danish Lutherans were quick to minister with, and to, slaves and indigenous peoples. This was not so true on the mainland.

Although many Caribbean Lutheran congregations were begun by Europeans or Americans, most members today are predominantly local people—Virgin Islanders, Guyanese and Surinamese, Puerto Ricans, and others. They worship in Spanish, English, French, and other local languages. Danish Lutherans did not keep their lantern under a bushel – No!

One might think the Caribbean story is unique. However, it is the actually the United States story that is unusual. Most places the Lutherans have gone (Africa, Asia, South America, the Middle East) the church planted there has taken on the grace, beauty and identity of indigenous populations. For whatever reason, colonization happened differently in the United States.

As American Lutherans celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation we do so with peoples of all tongues, territories and tribes around the world. Half of us are not of European dissent. And, as American Lutherans celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, we might do well to recognize that the population of the United States also increasingly represents peoples of different tongues, territories and tribes. What a gift!

It may be time to become “Danish” once again - time to engage ministry with, and to, people different than ourselves. The Reformation, after all, was not about who we are. Rather, it is about who God is for all the world. Rejoice!         

With you on the journey,

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke

Posted Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - 1:23pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

March 29, 2017

I am currently in Washington D.C. with 20-some other ELCA bishops, and a similar number of ELCA Churchwide staff members, D.C. based ELCA Legislative Advocates and partner ministry people. Tomorrow we will all head out to talk with various members of congress (or usually their staffers) about out Immigration and Refugee concerns. Yes, this focus has been fueled by President Trump's Executive Orders and governmental action around these issues.

Tomorrow I will be visiting with Oregon state senators and representatives - or again, mostly likely staff members of theirs. I'll be in the offices of Sen. Merkley, Sen.  Wyden and Rep. Schrader. I anticipate that the people I visit will be on much the same page as our church. The question, then, is how to make the best us of our time(s) together.

As a rule in Advocacy it does not serve anybody to spend time on concerns that can't be leveraged. Were I here on climate concerns I might want to speak to "leaving oil in the ground." But, the current administration and congress wants to pump all they can. So, what do you talk about? I met with a 25 year staffer for the EPA over breakfast today, and we talked about this. What one would talk about is how to pump oil mindful of who might be getting hurt and how one minimizes negative impacts of such a practice. That's just reality. (What he and I, and a few others actually talked about, though, was how to make the voice of faith more present in the climate and environmental conversations!)

Overall our agreed upon, ELCA message for tomorrow is "Welcome and Protect.

  • How do we continue to Welcome Asylum seekers and Refugees to the country? The current Administrative cap on Refugee welcome for 2017 is 50,000 individuals. This is down from the 110,000 proposed by Pres. Obama before leaving office and well below the 100s of thousands we have welcomed in the past. In fact, a cap of 50,000 refugees is the smallest number ever for the U.S. since formal refugee programs have been established. "Is this something you, Senator, can help speak to?"
    • In this conversation I will speak to common religious values held by all people of faith - and values held by out country for 200 years.
    • We are all immigrants. Not so, of course - some of us our indigenous Americans and some arrived here as slaves - but as a Lutheran church we remember and value our immigrant roots. We deeply value the immigrant stories of others. I have some personal stories of Oregon, Latino immigrants and their current struggles in hand - always good for advocacy. And, I have my family story as a German/Lutheran immigrant.
    • "Welcome," however, is not largely under the control of Congress. It is the president that has set the 50,000 person cap. So . . . moving on.
  • Protection. How do we protect children and families, those fleeing from Mexico and Central America, those in detention or transition in U.S. boarder facilities, or those already in the country? This would include families whose members are of mixed documentation status, Dreamers, etc. etc. We know most people coming north from Central America are fleeing, and experiencing, vicious gang activity in cities, drought and climate induced weather events in agricultural communities, drug cartels, sex trafficking and extortion. How do we know this? We know this because we talk with these people, because we have relationships with sister churches in these countries, because we have taken the time and energy to travel to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to see for ourselves. These are the stories we as a church can share.
    • There are a number of existent laws designed to protect families seeking asylum, or more specifically to protect children and the integrity of families seeking refugee status. "Can you, Senator, help us see that these laws are followed?"
    • We know that the countries in question have virtually no ability to repatriate people our government expels and "sends back home." "Can you, Senator, work towards a robust International Affairs Budget that helps such countries and through peaceful means help the citizens of such countries be safe and not have to flee?"
    • How can we help speed up processing for families who have been 'stuck' in the U.S. transition system for going on two years now? "Senator, can you help us give this issues some visibility?"

Because I know, or at least suspect, that those I talk with will be on the same page one other question I will have for them is, "How can I - how can we as a church - help you in your work?" Part of the answer, I know, will be through sharing our stories from 'on the ground.' Congress can't do their work if we don't talk with them. 

Attached here are some of the documentation we, present here for these few days, were given for background reading. There was more, but I though these might be of interest to you.

My personal goals as I do this work, and return home, will be:

  1. Refer to Asylum Seekers and Refugees by these very words, for this is just what they are. "Illegal Immigrants," "Mexico's rejects," "People we don't want here," is neither honest, respectful or morally acceptable. Nobody wants to leave their homes, their people, their farms or their families. People fleeing from Central America do so for love, for the love of their children and their families. They are courageous individuals. I am going to work more intentionally to re-frame the conversation.
  2. To increasingly connect Oregon Synod congregations with the ELCA AMMPARO program. More to come on this!
  3. To continue to help facilitate the work we do as leaders around sanctuary concerns.

Thank you for your prayers for those of us in D.C. this week. Thank you to those we answered my "What shall I say to them?" question from a prior post. A lot of you said, "Don't let them build the wall." (Or something to that effect.) This decision would seem to rest in the hands of our president more than our congress. Funding will be a "separate ask" from the White House following the adoption of a 2018 budget. I'm not totally sure how that works yet. But, as one Central American voice with us this week said, "If my children were starving, or their lives were at risk, I wouldn't let a wall stop me." Whether we agree with such a sentiment of not, it is easy to see the truth of this for so many others. A wall won't solve anybody's problems.

Blessings,

Bp. Dave

Posted Tuesday, February 28, 2017 - 3:54pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

My original intend with this Reformation insert series was to parallel inserts created by Augsburg Fortress. Their inserts are historical. My goal has been to ask similar questions about what Reformation means in our world today. I’ve inquired about your “inner monk” and the birth of the “Reformer” within you.

The spread of Lutheranism through Europe is a fascinating historical study. The Reformation remained a social /political/theological reform. Sweden, Denmark and Norway all engaged the Reformation through the work of students who had studied with Luther in Germany. In Slovakia Jan Hus had pre-dated the Reformation and had himself influenced Luther. So, for Slovakians what had gone around came around again.

So, how did the Reformation spread? What can we learn?

·        The Reformation spread through education and thoughtful reflection on the faith.

·        The Reformation spread through the sacrificial work of individuals, like Argula von Grumback who put her life at risk to speak truth.

·        The Reformation spread through unleashing the gifts of all - men, women, children, musicians, theologians, farmers and friars.

Here is the lesson for us today. Lutherans value education, scholarship, teaching, learning and mentoring. We are not afraid of scientific truth, political realities or changing paradigms. In Christ, we are the changing paradigm. “Can we talk?” That’s all Martin Luther ever wanted. But his request was never for mindless or baseless conversation. He was a doctor of theology, an academic. If our world has lost respect for the educated, we have work to do!

Lutherans also value commitment and the voice of individuals. But again, we do not value the mindless utterances of biased or prejudicial politics. Reformers have always spoken truth just for truth’s sake. We know the Spirit will take us forward from there.

And yes, men, women, children, refugees, voices from other faith perspectives, care for the earth. To proclaim, as both Lutherans and the Bible do, that God has become incarnate in our midst means all these voices can carry the Divine.

We will teach. We will risk all. We will value every person and every creature. This is how the Reformation spreads.

Blessings!

Bishop Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod - ELCA

 

Posted Thursday, February 16, 2017 - 9:23am in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

 

A Pastoral Letter on Faithful Resistance

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod – Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile." Matthew 5:38-48 NRSV

 

Resistance is Christian. Violence is not.

Welcome, hospitality, compassion and care are Christian. Walls are not.

Joy, hope, anticipation and confidence are Christian. Depression disengagement and spiritual desinigration and not.

Christians around the world are reading Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount’ this month. Sunday, February 19, 2017 many of us will reflect on these words: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer…”

The notion of “turning the other cheek” is often understood as pointless passivity. Nothing could be further from the truth. “Turning the other cheek” is active resistance to abusive powers in a social/political context of violence and military occupation. If this doesn’t sound familiar to you, you might find “The True Meaning of Turning the Other Cheek” by Marcus Borg interesting. This article is a simple, one page, reflection on these words. Borg’s article rests on the work of Walter Wink in his 1992 book Engaging the Powers. A 1998 article by Wink, “Jesus’ Third Way” gives you more than Borg, but less than the whole book if you wish to pursue this further.

Resistance is Christian. Violence is not.

Christians often call the work of speaking truth to power, laying the consequences of oppression bare, and political/social commentary “prophetic.” The work of the prophet is hard. It is generally misunderstood or resisted, often resented, and usually deadly. Jesus was a prophet, and he was killed for it. Mahatma Gandhi was a prophet. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a prophet.

Christians also call our proclamation of hope, salvation, life and love “the Gospel.” “Gospel” is a Greek word which means “good new.” Jesus proclaimed the good news of God’s love for all people in a world that privileged a few. We are called to do the same. And Jesus died for bringing light to the darkness. That is confusing, but Christians must remember even the good we would do can put us, and others, at risk.

These past few weeks, pastors and church goers have asked me as their bishop “How should we now be?” We have seen marches, Facebook in flames, and executive orders from President Trump. We have fled the news, laughed at Saturday Night Live satire, prayed, and hungered for insight and sanity.

President Trump’s January 27, 2017 executive order banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim nations has been found to be unconstitutional by federal judges. ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has issued a pastoral letter questioning this action in light of our Lutheran/Christian values and commitments. Other faith leaders have done the same. Even a four month ban on immigration has devastating effects on non-profit organizations and church institutions that seek to help oppressed peoples. The ban, first of all, hurts those most in need. As a side consequence, it costs the jobs of those who do this work and deeply weakens our capacity, long term, to do it. That, and apparently, it’s just plain wrong.

Bishop Eaton’s letter is one way we “turn the other cheek.” It unmasks the broader consequences of an ill-conceived action and demands deeper engagement.

Offering sanctuary is a way some congregations (and cities) now prepare to “give their cloak” as their coat is demanded of them. We will do more than demanded, and through word and deed live into our faith and commitments.

February 9 was Faith Advocacy Day at the capitol in Salem. Twice the number of people showed up than what we have seen in the past. People are already “going the extra mile.”

Meanwhile, we are watchful around issues of health care, education, environmental stewardship and deportation of sisters and brothers who live and work side by side with us in our churches, fields and forests. There are reasons for legitimate concern.

I commend to you a recent op-ed piece by David Brooks, published in the February 14, 2017 issue of the New York Times. It is entitled, “How Should One Resist the Trump Administration?” I understand that not everybody agrees that the Trump Administration needs to be resisted.  However, we in the Church see much that is happening contrary to our Christian values and resistance, as I suggest, is indeed Christian. We resisted much in the Obama Administration as well.

Brooks, a Republican voice, suggests three model of resistance which are appropriate to different kinds of crises. He references Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Benedictine tradition and the leadership for President Gerald Ford who assumed leadership following the Nixon years. I find Brooks helpful as we all grapple with “how to be” in these contentious times.

In Advent Christians prayed that God’s Spirit might “Stir us up,” teaching all to be watchful. Our nation is now stirred and we are fully awake!

Christmas offered us an unimagined gift of Grace and love in Jesus. Let our hearts remain open to all that is holy.

During this season of Epiphany, we have focused on Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount’ speaking of light and darkness, discipleship, formation and new life. We are learning again, in Jesus’ words, to let our “Yes by Yes and our No be No.”

And in a few weeks, we will set out on our annual Lenten Journey to fully invest ourselves and contemplate once again in the cost of true discipleship.

How should we be in these days? We should be as we have always been. Hopeful, watchful, worshipful, humble, faithful, resistant, engaged, welcoming and unwavering.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us:

“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right: “No lie can live forever.”
We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right: “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right: “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne. Yet, that scaffold sways the future and behind the dim unknown standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.” With this faith we will be able to hue out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”


Sermon at Temple Israel of Hollywood, February 26, 1965

Shalom, Salam, Peace be with you!

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke

Oregon Synod – Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
February 16, 2017  

 

 

Posted Thursday, December 15, 2016 - 3:46pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

"I am prepared to lose everything, even life or limb. May God stand by me." “So wrote Argula von Grumbach (1492–1563/68?) from Bavaria, who found Martin Luther’s message of Christian freedom and equality empowering. This noble woman challenged an entire Catholic university in Ingolstadt in defense of Lutheran faith and was a student persecuted for “Lutheran heresy.” This best-selling lay author’s letter-treatises eventually disappeared un­der pressure from male authorities. Luther considered her a valiant hero of faith.” So we read in Augsburg Fortress Reformation 500 materials.

The role of women in the Reformation, and our Lutheran history to follow, is not understood by many. Katie Luther we may know. Argula von Grumbach, and so many women reformers, you may not. Today Lutherans are blessed with women pastors, bishops, teachers, healers and mystics. It has not always been so. Nor, are women spiritual leaders recognized equally even in all Lutheran denominations around the world. The Reformation continues.

Why might women today find the Lutheran message of “Christian freedom and equality” empowering? Answer: Because the world is not yet free.

During my pastoral internship in 1982 I met a German Lutheran trained theologian in her late 70s. She was a member of the congregation I served. One day she told me her story, how she had met an American Lutheran pastor, married and moved to the U.S. Her husband was from a Lutheran denomination that did not ordain women. Almost in passing she said, “Of course, I couldn’t stay in prison forever . . .” so she and her husband had changed churches.

“I couldn’t stay in prison forever!” I remember this woman clearly. She was articulate, often times took me to task after a sermon or Bible class; she clearly felt like her move to the U.S. had robbed her of an essential part of her identity, and her “inner monk” had long ago burst forth as the Reformer.

Lutheran women have been, and are, gifted proclaimers of the Word. They also carry stories of oppression, abuse, marginalization and struggle. In this they keep us close to the very essence of the Reformation.  

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has written, “There is no more valuable investment than in a girl’s education.”  Lutherans would agree!

Keep the Faith!

Bishop Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod - ELCA

 

Posted Thursday, December 15, 2016 - 3:37pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

This is intense. October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nails his 95 Theses to the church door. “Can we talk?” Apparently not. So, Luther continues to agitate.

In October of 1518 and January of 1519 Luther debates with leading Roman Catholic Theologians. In 1521 Luther is ex-communicated. He is also declared an outlaw by Emperor Charles V. (It is during this time of banishment that Luther translates the New Testament into German.) By 1525 some 100,000 German peasants lay dead in the streets. The Reformation had become open revolt. In 1530 Emperor Charles V said “Enough!” Spiritual unrest had erupted into political dysfunction. Yes, that’s how it works.

The Augsburg Confession was written for a meeting called by Charles V. In it, Luther clarified the teachings of the now 13-year-old Lutheran movement. He articulated what it was Reformers and Roman Catholics agreed on, what they didn’t, and what in their disagreements were central and peripheral. Common ground was still not found.

In times of social, political and religious discord defining oneself is essential. “Iron sharpens iron.” As the scriptures say. Mush sharpens nothing!   

As the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation comes to us Lutherans continue to define, refine and contextualize our faith and witness.

·        American Lutheranism has a 78-year history of refugee resettlement and relocation work through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS.) Over these years, we have helped settle over 500,000 refugees. We will continue this work.

·        In 1945 American Lutherans formed a government advocacy effort which today is known as the Lutheran Office of Governmental Affairs. Through LOGA we have under our belt 72 years of advocating for individual and family rights and benefits. Our voice will stay in the debate.

·        And, for over 150 years, Lutheran hospitals have served the sick, counseling centers have worked with families, and adoption agencies have striven for the wellbeing and safety of children. Lutheran Services of America now touches one in every 50 American lives. There is still work to do!

We know who we are, doctrinally, functionally and spiritually. The coming 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation finds us once again in the midst of spiritual unrest and political dysfunction. You know what to do. Do it!  

With you on the journey,

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke

Posted Monday, December 12, 2016 - 11:05am in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.” (Matthew 1:18-25)

Rightly or wrongly I have come to consider the Gospel of Luke to have a more ‘woman centric’ Christmas story and the Gospel of Matthew to be more ‘male centric.’ In Luke one finds a significant conversation between Mary and the angel as the birth of Jesus is announced. There is the Magnificat where Mary proclaims the future and reason for this child’s birth. And, of course, there is the meeting of a pregnant Mary and a pregnant Elizabeth where the pre-born John the Baptist leaps in Elizabeth’s womb as she meets “the mother of her Lord.” We focus on Mary’s story when we read the Gospel of Luke and we revel in her witness. Joseph is a non-entity here.

In Matthew, though, just the opposite is true. Matthew doesn’t talk about how Mary receives the news of her pregnancy, but he spends considerable time on Joseph’s reaction. In today’s world “dismissing Mary quietly” due to her pregnancy doesn’t sound very gallant, but one might appreciate Joseph’s unwilling to lift Mary up to public disgrace. In a patriarchal world exacting such a penalty would have been easy to do. And, standing by Mary’s side as Joseph eventually decides to do will have its consequences. Matthew’s purspecitve is clear – by the standards of his day and age Joseph is an honorable and faithful individual.

Matthew’s theme of “honorable or dishonorable” men begins with the genealogy that introduces the Gospel. When Matthew points out that Jesus was born of “David the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah he just dissed one of the most beloved figures in Jewish history. Read the genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17. Each time Matthew includes a woman’s name it is meant to ask you what you think of the man associated with her story. Yes, Jesus comes from a royal line. No, that’s nothing to brag about. And oh, by the way, what do you think about the guy in office when Jesus is actually born? Three astronomers from a foreign country come to pay Jesus homage. King Herod tries to kill him. Such are the days in which we live! This is the Christmas story according to Matthew.

I write as a male pastor, a bishop, a person who metaphorically might well belong in a genealogy like Jesus’. Apparently, that is nothing to brag about. My prayer is that after I die people won’t reference me by those I abused, overlooked or betrayed. Who I want to be here is Joseph, a man who conducts his life with honor through faith in God. I see Matthew holding Joseph up as an example I might emulate. The world could use a few good men now and again.

If I were to run a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) on myself in light of this story it might go as follows:

·         Strengths – I am a person of privilege, voice and position. I can make decisions, good decisions, and they can make a positive impact in my world.

·         Weaknesses – I am susceptible to male peer pressure and public opinion. Why put myself as risk if I don’t have to?

·         Opportunities – Mary is not the only person at risk in our society who bears God’s holiness. I can do the right thing by helping others bring their gifts to birth.

·         Threats – Like the wise men the powers that be will seek to co-opt me. Laws may exist, or be written, designed to favor the privileged over the marginalized. I could lose my position or privilege and so my ability to do good in the future.

I wonder if Joseph ran through such an analysis as he decided to put Mary away quietly. If so, I am glad her reconsidered in light of the angel’s counsel. I wonder if I pay enough attention to my dreams. I shouldn’t let Herod, power or privilege dictate my behavior. 

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod - ELCA

Posted Wednesday, December 7, 2016 - 9:13am in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

 "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"  Matthew 11:3

John just wanted Israel to be great again. The country had been under foreign rule and domination for centuries. He, with all of Israel, hoped for God’s Messiah, a king, one who would re-establish the idealized Israel of old.

People who live so long under oppression and abuse develop survival mechanism. The Pharisees and Sadducees, for example, had become quietists. Their philosophy was that one should simply keep their own, personal, moral house spotless and stay out of politics. When the new came they believed they would be rewarded for their piety and obedience to God’s law. Both John and Jesus were especially hard on these folks.

At the other end of the political spectrum were the Herodians. They were also Jews, but they were accommodationalists. You did what you had to do to get along with the people in power. You need somebody to collect taxes? Sure. I need a job! You do what you have to do and suffer the social consequences. And suffer they did. People as a whole could not tolerate the realities the Herodians represented.

Zealots aren’t named as such in the New Testament, but you can tell they’re present. The Zealots leaned towards violence and anger. Someone had to take action. A Molotov cocktail here, a midnight raid on a Roman garrison there. Sooner or later those damn Romans would get the message. I suspect a lot of people secretly rooted the Zealots on.

And then not named or obvious, but known to history, are the Essenes. These folks were escapists. They pulled up stakes, ran to the desert, and lived in such a way that said, ‘This can’t get any worse. The Messiah just has to come soon. We’ll give up everything and just wait for kingdom here.’ All I can say about them is “I get it.” I’ve certainly felt that way myself sometimes.

John came out of the desert. He may have spent time with Essenes. We don’t know. What we know, though, is that as he re-engaged society he saw all of the above and found it wanting. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has drawn near!” Jesus was one who answered that call. Through his baptism Jesus made a choice to turn way from the false patterns and practices of violence and despair and turn towards the new day God had promised. He, John believed, was the One!

It is now months, maybe a couple years, later. John is in prison. The movement is not going well nothing has changed. Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" Israel has not become great again.

Or has it? Or is it? "Go and tell John what you hear and see.” says Jesus. “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

“Great” means healing, respect, justice, care, compassion and concern. “Great” means labels are banished, walls of division are torn down, and dead places become full of life.

The Pharisees and the Sadducees were wrong. Personal piety is never enough. We must engage, publicly like Jesus did.

The Herodians were wrong. What you do, what you refuse to do, matters. Personal integrity makes a difference. We have to walk our talk.

The Zealots were wrong. Violence is never the way.

The Essenes were wrong. You can’t run and hide.

The Church must be visible, active, open, listening, caring, receptive, feeding, healing and bringing life to any and all corners of creation marked by death, poverty and abuse.

Go and tell John this.

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod - ELCA

Posted Tuesday, November 29, 2016 - 5:57pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

"In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."  Matthew 3:1-2.

'Confession' and 'repentance' are not the same thing. "Confession" is acknowledging our wrong, or the world's wrong, before God. "Repentance" is a turning away from the power that has captivated your soul! This turning away is for the sake of turning towards - and in the case of Matthew 3 a turning towards God's kingdom which is drawing near.

This Sunday an expected 2,000-3,000 U.S. Veterans will be going to Standing Rock to protect the American citizens there being fired upon with rubber bullets and fire hoses. They will be interposing themselves between 'us and us,' that is between the Water Protectors and local police or National Guard. What have we all come to? This is beyond bizaar, one more wrinkle around these interesting days in which we live. Pray for our Veterans, law enforcement, Water Protectors and the earth's water itself. 

The "those days" Matthew makes reference to, as in "In those days ..." begs definition, doesn't it? I suspect most of us have something to say about "these days," in which the Gospel also comes to us, but Matthew is talking about his days. Usually, though, preachers try to apply the Word to modern day contexts. Perhaps it is enough to say "these days" are hard. They are, aren't they? There is significant turmoil in our world today, and much to be played out over the next several months.

My question for myself this week, though, is "How will I repent?" Or, more specifically, "What am I ready or willing to turn away from?" In a word, I am done letting the country's political angst and chaos dictate my life for me. I'm turning away from FB posts, news saturation, worry, anger and grief.  No more @realDonaldTrump or #FTS devotions. It's not a matter of whether I am for or against. It is a matter of having my life revolve around issues of power and politics rather than the "real" kingdom. This doesn't mean I'm through engaging important issues. Not at all! It's just that I'm moving from "reaction" to "response." My "reactions" are dictated by world events. My "responses" should be born of faith. This is what John the Baptist wants to say to us.

"The winnowing fork is in God's hand ..." Matthew tells us. This is not a new truth. It is not about American politics. Rather, American and global politics, economics, injustices and pressures are what is to be winnowed. Or rather, those of us who participate in the world are what - who - is to be winnowed. So, I am ready to repent. Yes, I believe I am! I am ready to turn away from that which causes me to faint, fail or swear. I am also ready, with God's help, to turn towards that kingdom which puts me to work protecting, feeding and pointing towards another Way. 

A voice is crying out. The Spirit is baptizing. Fruits worthy of repentance are ripening. It is the Advent of our Lord. Thank's be to God!

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod - ELCA

Posted Tuesday, November 29, 2016 - 4:19pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

Martin Luther’s Small Catechism is an amazing gift to the Church. For almost 500 years this little pamphlet has laid out the basics of Christian faith and teaching in a way anybody can understand. “What does this mean?” is a question designed to live in the heart of any inquisitive Christian. It’s all about the basics. If you’re a Christian, memorize the Small Catechism. It couldn’t hurt!

However, we do not live in a Christian culture any more. Our needs are different. What does this mean?  It means a lot! For example, here we are in the middle of Advent, we may find ourselves deeply em-bedded in practices of consumption rather than prayer. Soon it will be Christmas and we may talk about gifts rather than Incarnation. The “unchurched” – not just young people, but individuals of all ages and identity –hunger to talk about over consumption and what it’s
doing to our earth. How the Divine manifests itself in the everyday? People long to explore the mystery of incarnation. Yet, they perceive, rightly or wrongly, that
this is no longer what we in the Church are about.

What does this mean?

The question of the Catechism is not about calling forth the Reformer. The Catechism is about our common grounding. What is different in today’s world is that the teachings of the faith alone can no longer form our cultural, common grounding. The Church is no longer “the voice” of the culture. We are simply “a” voice.

Let’s talk about Baptism as the Small Catechism does. Yes! But when Luther asks “What is Baptism?” and writes, “Baptism is not simply plain water. Instead, it is water used according to God’s command and connected with God’s Word.” Let’s talk more about that part. What is God’s command for water, and how is it connected, deeply connected, with the incarnate Word? That’s a question that has traction today. Let’s talk ecology, faith and life!

Or, when reading Luther on the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And Luther asks, “What does this mean, ‘Daily Bread?’” saying, “Daily bread is everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, house, farm …” let’s talk more about that part. Luther insists that God gives us our daily bread “Without prayer.” How does that work?

“The basics” for our world today are not to be taught. They are to be discovered. Like the baby Jesus, cradled in a bed of straw, you and I must start again. Listen, love, and learn. 

Blessed Advent,

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke

Posted Tuesday, November 8, 2016 - 5:37pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

The Bible always and forever belongs to God. Whether it be in German, English, or Spanish, it is “the Word” – and as such it comes to us as God wills. Part and parcel with Reformation, Lutherans celebrate Martin Luther’s translation of the New Testament into German. What this is all about, though, is the return of the Word to the people.

Putting the Bible into the hands of just everybody is a dangerous thing. We forget that Luther was among the first to do this. It is dangerous because the Word itself is dangerous. Oh yes, it is! The Word releases the Reformer in us, and when the Reformer appears the powers quake and people become uncomfortable.  Sit down and read the Bible – English is fine. You’ll see that what I say it true.

The fascinating part of the ‘Luther translating the Bible’ story is the trauma he went through in doing so.  The words he picked had to be just right.  There were political, economic and religious themes that challenged him. “How do you say that?” What is the cost of doing so?

Enter the Reformer. Enter trials, confrontations and divisions – all because the Word had been set loose once again.

Fear not! Know, though, that to read the Bible is to translate the Bible. “If they take our house, goods, fame, child, or spouse, they cannot win the day!”  Luther sings in A Mighty Fortress. Fear not. You can do this. 

We cannot read Scripture passively. You are invited to translate the words into 21st century Oregonian, that is to live the Word in a way that makes sense in the here and now. Nobody else can do this – only you!

Translate. Let the Word call out the Reformer in you.

By translating the New Testament into German Luther declared that he trusted the Spirit more than bishops or scholars. With Luther, I trust the Spirit in you. I believe that God will preach through your life, and that your life is vital!

It is not the Reformer who makes trouble. The world just sees us that way sometimes. The Bible both comforts and confronts. It forgives even while it condemns. And truly, Christ gives life even as he bids us to take up our cross.

Today I invite you to embrace your calling as a translator. Let the Reformer loose. Start with the Bible. Just read it. The rest will follow.

With you on the journey,

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke

Posted Thursday, October 13, 2016 - 2:59pm in Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke's blog

So how is your Inner Monk doing? Augsburg Fortress has created a Reformation 500 resource book for congregations with lots of great stuff in it. One offering in this book is a series of bulletin inserts called, “ABOUT THE LUTHERANS.” You have to buy the book to get the inserts (and I encourage you to do so) but I’m also making inserts of my own for you which are designed to be a complement. Augsburg Fortress is offering you some history. I want to ask about the future!

So, how is your Inner Monk doing? “Martin Luther: Monk to Reformer” is the title of Augsburg Fortress’ insert – and mine. On their insert they offer these great gems of insight:

·        “Not long after he (the young monk, Luther) arrived in Wittenberg, he became incensed by the church…”

·        “Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses stirred up a hornet’s nest in the church and began the Reformation …”

·        “For challenging the church and refusing to back down, Luther was called before the Holy Roman emperor, Charles V …”

It was Luther’s “inner Monk,” his sense and practice of God; what he had been taught as a child – and a sense of betrayal that not all was as he had been told – that unleashed the Reformer in him - and oh the cost of letting that Reformer out!

The history of Luther is fascinating. Yet, what good is remembering this history if we don’t likewise listen to our inner Monk, and release the Reformer? It is not Martin Luther who makes us Lutheran. It is the Reformer within.

So let me ask you as your bishop: “What is troubling your soul? What is not as it seems? What were you taught that no longer fits? How do we articulate your Christian faith in a new day?’ What needs to change in the world around you?” We have the coming year to ask these questions.

October 31, 2017 will mark 500 years since “The Reformer” in Luther began to emerge. Oregon arise! This anniversary calls out to the Reformer within you!!

With you on the journey,

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke

Please find two bulletin insert PDF files below.  "Anniversary insert" you are free to copy and use as you wish. "Augsburg_01_MartinLuther"  is posted for display only. No further reproduction allowed without written permission of Augsburg Fortress. 

From Reformation 500 Sourcebook: Anniversary Resources for Congregations copyright © 2016 Augsburg Fortress. Posted by permission for display only. No further reproduction allowed without the written permission of Augsburg Fortress

 

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