(This is a rough outline of the sermon I gave at the building dedication for The Future Church of Tomorrow)
I've been asked today to speak to the issue of freedom. What "freedom" is for a disciple of Jesus Christ.
In the 16th Chapter of Acts, we read that Paul and Silas travel to the port city of Philippi. There they encounter a young girl, who the scripture says is possessed by demons. The girl, who works as a fortune teller for men who make a living off her misery, follows Paul and Silas for a couple of days, telling all who would listen, "These men are God's servants who have come to tell you how to be saved." Finally, Paul gets fed up. He casts out the demons and the girl is free.
Free of the evil spirits.
Free of men who would exploit her.
Free to get on with her life.
But when the men who had taken a shortcut to make a living found out they had lost their meal ticket, they got angry. So they lobbied the city fathers, used the system, and had Paul and Silas imprisoned. Imprisoned in the deepest dungeon of the city jail.
Imprisoned men, who spent the night, not in despair, but praising God, singing his praises.
"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind but now I see."
A great earthquake strikes the city. The shackles of all the prisoners, bolted into the walls, fall useless to the ground. The prisoners, who have been listening the singing all evening, and the singers themselves can now leave anytime they like.
But strangely enough.... nobody moves.
The jailer, arriving on the scene, thinking all is lost, draws his sword to take his own life, only to be stopped by a voice from the darkness.
"Don't do it. We are all here."
The jailer puts away his sword, and after listening to the prisoners, the peace they've found, for it's peace they've lacked, invites Paul and Silas to his home where all the members of the household are baptized.
"Through many dangers, toils, and snares. I have already come. Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home."
Freedom is boldly proclaiming a message of forgiveness and love to all willing to listen, and offering grace to those who don't.
Freedom is offering liberation to those who are oppressed, while fearlessly standing up to their oppressors.
Freedom is a willingness to do what is right, even if it might mean our liberty is comprimised, but our bodies might be imprisoned, but not our souls.
Freedom is offering comfort, singing sweet words of mercy to those who need to hear it the most.
Freedom is trusting in God to stay, instead of flee when the walls come tumbling down and the shackles come off our hands and feet because there's still work to be done.
Freedom is to offer real justice to those who only know the world's justice, only to realize there is something better for they and their family.
Freedom looks past Jew and Gentile, slave and free, rich and poor, male and female, black and white and red and yellow and every color of the rainbow.
Freedom looks past urban and suburban, denominational and non-denominational, evengelical and progressive, high church and low church.
Freedom knows the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
Freedom doesn't just apologize for the past, but makes the present right, while giving hope for the future.
Freedom demands justice, but only justice on God's terms.
Freedom believes a mother can change her community.
Freedom believes a child can make a way where there is no way.
Freedom doesn't believe a grandmother or grandfather is too old.
Freedom craves a father's love and guidance.
Freedom can take our family out of our comfort zone into the dangerous world of God's liberating, upending love.
Freedom is knowing that there is a father to the fatherless, and a mother to the motherless.
Freedom can speak the truth in love and leave arrogance to the pretenders.
Freedom loves justice and won't rest until all know her warm embrace.
Freedom knows this our moment and won't waste it on old animosities and resentments. Won't waste it on fear and anxiety. Won't waste it on old labels, old divisions, old differences, and old ways of thinking.
Freedom makes all things knew.
Freedom will make new friends, befriend old enemies, and rejoice as the lion lays down with the lamb.
And freedom dictates that today should only be the beginning of something new. A re-dedication of ourselves to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who call us to bring comfort to the afflicted, and affliction to the comfortable.
Together. You. Me. All of us. Choosing this day whom we will serve. Freely.
That, in my humble opinion, is what freedom is.
Let it be so. Let it be so.
Monday, November 10, 2008
1) Great video report on the web site of the New York Times on a public defender working in Miami Dade County, Florida. While I watched it I thought about Brother Esq, who is in private practice doing mostly criminal defense work. Lately, as the birth of his son (Baby Sammy) nears, Brother Esq has been putting in yeoman's hours on a host of cases. His biggest challenge though, recently, has been preparing briefs for a case that his firm picked up that will be appearing before the Ohio Supreme Court. He's been preparing pre-trial briefs and trial briefs and other briefs that he explains to me, but because I'm dumb preacher I don't quite understand. As he nears his one-year anniversary of passing the Ohio Bar, he now drives to court houses across far northwestern Ohio. On any given day you might find him in Fremont, Port Clinton, Bowling Green, Toledo, or Sandusky. He's a member of the Benovolent Order of the Elks now (the lodge is across from his Fremont office) and is getting leaned on by me fairly regularly to start attending the Lutheran Church across the street from the home he and the lovely Melissa purchased earlier this year in Perrysburg
Brother Esq mainly does criminal defense work because while he was in law school he clerked at the Public Defenders office in Lucas County. It was interesting to hear how my very politically conservative brother was affected during those years. His two years spent with people stuck in the system, facing lawyers better resourced with a lesser caseload than he (clerks in the Defender's office, once certified, can handle your case), prosecuting attorneys looking to manipulate the system for their own gain, and judges who want to keep things moving kind of tempered his view of the relationship between justice and the state. In particular, a case he didn't handle but involved the father of a friend of his, was for him an egregious example of how those in power can manipulate the idea of "guilty until proven innocent", particularly if the media has decided they are guilty.
The stories he shared with me during that time, the ones involving petty drug dealers/addicts who would intentionally get arrested when the weather turned cold so they could stay warm in jail, a retarded woman who was arrested for shoplifting when she was just trying to see if the new shoes she was looking to buy felt comfortable walking on the sidewalk, and the tales of an unscrupulous prosecuting attorney who tried to muscle a young law student who wouldn't back down, have convinced me that while our system isn't perfect, its better than most alternatives out there. It also convinced me that defense attorneys keeps us further away from tyranny and governmental oppression than we know.
2) Which leads me to this... why are all the most important jobs so incredibly underfunded? Whether it's public defense offices, social agencies, police and fire departments, public agencies commissioned to keep our infrastructure up and running, or local school budgets, my experience has been the accusations of administrative largess are minimal compared to the impact underfunding is having on how well these basic services function. How strange it is has been to see over a trillion dollars get spent by the Federal Government to bail out banks and corporations that that shareholders and executives together mismanaged, while, for example, our recently re-elected juvenile court judge, Glenn Derryberry, will see thousands of cases this year with a minimal budget and staff.
If the election is any indication, my confusion over the state of the country is shared by many others. The whole theory of large fiscal entities driving the economic engine for us all might sound good in theory, but the interests of these entities don't necessarily mirror the interests of the general public (hence the steady sucking sound of midwestern jobs going all over the world). Even more specific, when we're talking about huge amounts of money, the possibility for greed and malfeasance grows. And how strange it was to have heard Alan Greenspan, of all people, admit that the mistake that these huge corporate entities would self-regulate themselves to protect their shareholders.
Any C+ theology student could tell you that the reality of sin makes this unlikely. The stories deriding the ballooning salaries and bonuses of corporate CEO's have long been a staple in our nation's periodicals, particularly since the Enron scandals. The temptation to walk away with millions at the expense of the company's stability proved too great for individuals to pass up. Why more blame hasn't been put on these folks, and the shareholders who fostered this culture as opposed to the government pushing sub-prime loans is beyond me. And why more fiscal conservatives aren't calling for additional governmental oversight of corporate accounting, trade, and investment practices doesn't seem all that fiscally responsible, or appropriately conservative. Accountability creates efficiency. Lack of accountability creates inefficiency, meaning essential services in our communities remained, and remain underfunded, while the country sinks deeper in debt.
3) Quick note, do remember John McCain saying this:
Well, lo and behold what kind of health care do they have in Ireland, the land of low business taxes and economic opportunity? If you guessed, "Quasi-Nationalized", you would be correct. About 47% of the Irish have private health insurance, while the rest hold a national health card. All Irish citizens are given free emergency health, dental, optical, and aural care. With small businesses and non-profits struggling under the weight of health insurance obligations - or just eliminating the benefit to their employees altogether - a great opportunity rests with the Democrats to do something about health care that will not only improve care, while making our businesses more competitive in the global marketplace.
Of course in Ireland, if you sue somebody, and lose, you have to pay all of your costs, and your opponents, hence far fewer frivolous lawsuits. But If you think those are mutually exclusive ends - government involvement in health care and making business competitive - just listen to John McCain and take a look at Ireland. Apparently it can be done.
4) This fascinating tidbit just in: Beth Riggs, my aunt, and her daughter Allison are in Lima for a visit. They represent the Utah wing of the family. On the first night we were catching up, I happened to ask Allison, who has a couple years of college under her belt, if there was a guy in her life right now. She responded in the affirmative. Guess what his name is?
Alex Riggs. They are both called "Al" by their respective families (who are not related, thank goodness).
Al and Al Riggs. Just think, if they get married, Allison could hyphenate her name: Allison Riggs-Riggs.
This will never stop being funny to me. Never.
5) I like the new look Cavs. I underestimated the value of signing Mo Williams in the off season. I always thought of him as a purely "shoot first" point guard. His emergence, plus moving Delonte West to the shooting guard position - where he not only shoots well, takes the ball to the whole, gets the fast break started, but also plays pretty good D - has made over the Cavs offense. Last year, Coach Mike Brown's idea of offense was to clear out the middle of the floor, give it to LeBron, and say "have at it, big guy." What made this such a waste was that aging center, Zydrunas Ilgauskas is one of the best shooting and passing big men in the game. By moving the ball, and getting it into both Z and LeBron's hands, the floor opens up and the team can score. I've watched them three times this year and there's no mystery as to why LeBron's shooting percentage has taken off. With an open floor and an occasional fast break, he's getting open shots in the paint. Very exciting, and a testament as to how important a good point guard that can initiate the offense is in basketball. Now if they can trade Wally Szczerbiak's expiring contract for one more outside shooter (Michael Redd.... please!?!) this could be the Cavs year.
6) As for the Buckeyes, the new freshman QB is the real deal. Eric the Buckeye is convinced the team needs a new offensive coordinator to get back to national prominance. Then again, Eric the Buckeye has been calling for senior QB Todd Boeckman to be re-inserted to the lineup, so maybe we shouldn't trust him with sharp knives, let alone the offensive future of The Ohio State University.
I mean, come on Eric the Buckeye... why go backwards with a guy who is graduating in a few weeks? The future is now. You gotta run with the future. There's no BCS bowl waiting for this team, and they aren't talented enough, particularly on both lines, to warrant such an invitation. They're going to a bowl named after a franchised steakhouse or financial institution. So let the Terrell Pryor Era continue.
That said, while I do enjoy tweaking Eric the Buckeye, I do think he has a point when he wonders aloud why the Bucks always have a Top Ten recruiting class but the linemen always seem to look slow. We've got a problem in our strength and conditioning staff building linemen a "Three Yards and Cloud of Dust" coach would die for in a "Spread Offense" era. You watch a Texas Tech, Alabama, and even a (gulp) Florida and you see linemen who are fast. The knowledge that Tim Tebow has so much more time to throw the ball makes watching Alex Boone getting spun around like a turnstile that much harder to watch. Until they get this under control there will be no redemption from two national championship blowouts and the drubbing at the hands of USC.
7) Great interview on Charlie Rose last night with Bill Ackman, manager of one of the country's largest hedge funds. While Ackman's comments regarding the contribution hedge funds made toward this financial mess were more than a little self-serving, his take on the cause of the crisis is right on. Financial institutions were over-leveraged (holding a dollar for every 30 or 40, or in Fannie and Freddie's case, 100 dollars they loaned out) and the corporations that issued bonds to insure the risk were over-valued by those rating how solid they were. Hence, while the internet bubble took mostly cash that investors knew was a high risk investment, in this crisis the cash that is disappearing is cash investors thought they were putting into low-risk, AAA rated bonds. This is effecting the incomes of retirees who thought they were avoiding high risk investments.
The upshot of this is that I believe that while in the past churches were one of the few non-profit organization who were largely insulated from a downturn in giving during a recession (thanks to the high level of commitment of their parishioners), this time around we're all feeling the pinch. Remember that the average age of the parishioner in this country in every denomination and non-denominational church has continued to rise over the last twenty years. Part of this can be attributed to the large number of baby-boomers getting older, and part of it can be attributed to the failure of churches to attract younger members (more on that later). But as we become increasingly dependent on retirement income, a collapse in the derivative market that was supposedly solid will be felt more fully. Couple that with the decline in investment income churches will be looking at as their foundations and endowments decline, and maybe the unwritten story thus far regarding this crisis is the inability of churches to assist people in a period of real need.
To date, SUMC hasn't been hit nearly as hard as what I'm hearing other churches are dealing with, but the end to this story hasn't been written yet. Churches, as a rule, tend to receive a large portion of their giving in the last six weeks of the year when congregants are a) making up deficiencies in their pledges and b) taking the advice of their accountant as they review their income tax situation for the year. The surge in giving in both quarters I think will be somewhat muted in many, many churches compared to years past, so we won't know the full extent of this until February when after what is historically a cash-poor month (January, when Christmas purchases come due) we have some idea as to what our overall cash position is.
8) Tremendous interview with McCain last night on The Tonight Show. If you missed it, here it is, and part 3 is particularly poignant as the veteran shares a story from his POW experience.
9) Congrats to Judge Glenn Derryberry on a well-run, honorable, and successful campaign. I thought Glenn showed a lot of grit and class as he built a coalition of both Democrats and Republicans who believed in his candidacy. I was proud to lend my name and effort to the cause.
10) Finally, I had the pleasure of organizing with seven colleagues of mine a forum for the two candidates running for Allen County Sheriff. Since one of the candidates refused to debate the others (don't ask), we hastily organized a forum where the two candidates in separate settings could respond to the issues that mattered to us. It was a particularly rewarding experience because we crossed the spectrum of theology, culture, and race, all along truly working together for the common good. Special thanks to Dave Harris, LaMont Monford, Daniel Hughes, Lars Olsen, Fayne Wise, Frank Taylor, and Steve Blum for a good experience.