February 2016’s Letter from the Pastor

To the churches of Medina and Streeter, the loyal children in the faith we all share:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior, together one with the Holy Spirit.

 

If there was one word that could drop a Lutheran dead in their tracks it would be the word Evangelism. Often times that word carries a connotation of young men going around door-to-door unashamedly asking the residents, “Do you know where you are going if you were to die tonight?” For a variety of reasons this act of evangelism has never really gained traction within the Lutheran Church as a whole, and I would assume the same has held true for our specific Lutheran churches throughout the years as well. The truth is we, Lutherans as a whole, seemed to have become very content with sitting back and waiting for “new” people to come find us, and join our ranks as contributing members. As such, living out our calling as Christians to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) has unfortunately fallen to the wayside. However, in the 5th chapter of their book Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations, authors David Poling-Goldenne and L. Shannon Jung make the claim that one of the reasons the churches in their study of effective rural congregations are effective and vital, is how they approach evangelism.

What is surprising here, however, is that the way they go about evangelism is not in the way that one would expect. These rural congregations that have shown themselves to be effective are not going about evangelism as a program of the church, or as a function of a specific committee within the church, but instead is an integral part of everything the church does, and it begins for them with relationships. Poling-Goldenne and Jung write, “Not one of the congregations in the research study reported going door-to-door proselytizing. Instead, the focus is on helping the people of the congregation to invite others from within their natural webs of relationships: their friends, relatives, neighbors, and business and school associates” (61). The people in these vital rural congregations are engaging in evangelism simply by sharing their faith with the people they are already having conversations with on a day to day basis, and then inviting them into a relationship with the church. The understanding here is that the relationship with the church is not just a relationship with a building or the people in the building but with Christ Jesus himself.

In these vital, effective rural congregations evangelism becomes the work of every single person. While the pastor of these congregations serve as the chief evangelist, through preaching, teaching, and encouragement, the pastor is not and probably will not be the most effective evangelist in the church (61). The most effective evangelists are those who are sitting in the pews; from those who have been life-long church members, all the way down to those who are just beginning their faith journey. What these churches have discovered is that the most effective people to be inviting others into a relationship with Jesus through the church is the youth. But it is important to recognize, here, that they become such effective inviters by having a good model from the adults in their lives.

The main take away I took from this chapter on Discovering Hope is that there is no cookie cutter way to approach evangelism other than sharing the faith and relationship that we have with Jesus through our church with those around us. We cannot take what works in Fargo, for instance, and assume that it will automatically work here in Streeter and Medina as well. The only constant between effective churches, in regards to evangelism, is that it begins and ends with us sharing our faith with others. For us, the Lutheran churches of the Medina-Streeter Lutheran Parish, it begins with how we end each and every worship service. Living out our call to be God’s shepherds, doing God’s work daily. And not just saying those words, but actually doing it in our everyday lives.

Grace be with all of you,

Pastor Ryan

January 2016’s Letter from the Pastor

Greetings to you all, in the name of our Lord and Savior, our Emmanuel, the Christ child Jesus.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!

As we begin this new year of 2016 we are given a chance to reflect upon the year we have just left behind and look ahead to the year that stands before us. As is common among people worldwide, this is the time to look at where we are in our lives and see what areas we need to improve in our lives and which parts we should probably consider getting rid of all together. These resolutions give us an outline for how we want the next year of our lives to go. The same practice should be done within organizations as well, including churches. As we continue on in our series of Discovering Hope we are given the opportunity to do just that.

Last month we focused on the foundation of building hope and vitality in our rural and multipoint parish: worship. This month we get to build upon that foundation. At the end of Matthew’s gospel we are given words from Jesus in which he implores his followers, and us as well, to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (28:19-20, NRSV). The apostle Paul echoes this commission from our Lord by speaking to the growing church in Colossae saying, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:16-17, NRSV).

What we see from these texts is that we are to make disciples, but in order to make disciples we ourselves must first be disciples. This is done, starting with the foundation of worship, and then building upon that foundation through bible study, devotions, prayer, etc. Making discipleship a priority in the life of the congregation and the people therein. In our book of focus, focus Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations, the authors, David Poling-Goldenne and L. Shannon Jung, make this point by using the analogy of a dead car battery. They say, “Jump-starting a discipleship focus in a congregation is not unlike turning over a near empty or dead battery in a car. The battery must be connected to a power source that is running and fully charged” (47). In short Poling-Goldenne and Jung are saying that in order to make disciples we must be fully charged disciples ourselves. This is done through worship, but also through intentional daily devotionals, prayer, spending time in the scriptures, and continually learning from God through bible study. The congregations that participated in the study for this book saw the greatest revitalization when they began “turning up the temperature on Bible study, learning, and discipleship” (47).

This, however, can be a stumbling block for some congregations and the people therein. A common misconception is that once you have completed the requirements for confirmation, a person no longer has to spend time learning and growing in their faith. In this sense confirmation is more like a graduation. But the truth is learning and growing in the faith is a lifelong process, and it is difficult to learn and grow without actively engaging in some sort of faith formation. Worship is a great starting point, but that is only about 1 hour a week. Worship should then be seen as the starting point, followed up then with Bible Studies, Devotions, Prayer, or other such daily or weekly faith formation practices.

Now, it is one thing for me as your pastor to be fired up about discipleship and discipleship formation programs, but my enthusiasm in this area can only go so far. It also takes enthusiasm from lay people within the parish that want to be a part of the programs currently going on or to actively seek out new ways in order for this to occur. As Poling-Goldenne and Jung point out, “While pastors have a significant role in shaping this culture, clearly it doesn’t necessarily begin or end with the pastors. Indeed, in each of these settings, lay leaders carry the vision deep into the congregation” (48). Currently, looking at the landscape of the churches of the Medina-Streeter Parish, it appears that most of the faith formation is happening for the people in the congregations between the ages of five and eighteen. We do have our WELCA bible studies in each church, and in Medina we have the MOPS group that has started and a weekly text study trying to get off the ground. And in each church we have people who receive quarterly devotional materials through the Christ in our Home publication. Now, don’t get me wrong, these are wonderful programs to have and we should continually strive to make them as accessible and meaningful for as many of our adult age people as well. But, I can’t help but wonder, is there more we can do in order to ensure that we are fully charging our batteries when it comes to discipleship?

This book offered some great insights into some new ways that we as a parish can consider implementing. Not necessarily changing the way we are doing things now, but looking at ways in which we can build upon the foundation of what we have already started to build when it comes to discipleship. As we begin this new year, let us as a parish do so by making a resolution to get more active in our formation of our discipleship and use that to help us continue to grow and be a vital rural and multipoint parish. As you go about setting your personal resolutions this year, I would strongly encourage you to think about what a resolution for your own faith formation and discipleship would look like, and how that could help you in fulfilling Jesus’ great commission to make disciples of all nations, while also keeping in mind that Christ will be with you, even to the end of the age.

In Christ,

Pastor Ryan

December 2015’s Letter from the Pastor

To the churches of Medina and Streeter in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace and Peace to you.

Over the last few months we have been exploring what it means to have a vital congregation/parish and to discover hope for our future. As I write to you this month, I do so at the beginning of the season of Hope, which is quite fitting seeing as though the focus for this month is the chapter about building community and hope from our book of focus Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations by David Poling-Goldenne and L. Shannon Jung.

When I think of the main setting in which the mission of the church gets carried out, there is one particular setting that raises above all others. If you were to ask yourself in what way does the church mainly go about being the church, I am sure that this one setting would come to your mind as well. Yes, you guessed it: worship. When we gather for worship it is the time when the most people of our church community come together to carry out our mission as God’s shepherds doing God’s work daily. This really should not come as any surprise since as this chapter of the book points out in various places, for most if not all churches worship is a high priority for the people’s life together (36), since it is the time when the greatest number of people gather for Christian Education (39), and to be lifted up in spirit and encouraged on their journey of faith (40).

As I read through this Chapter about Worship as a way to Build Community and Hope in vital rural congregations I could not help but reflect on our own worship practices here in Streeter and Medina. I could not help but read our own congregations into the stories that were shared in this chapter. There was one statement made that particularly made me say to myself, “Hey, that is us!” The statement reads, “Almost all of the congregations in the research study offer worship services patterned on the rubrics of their denomination’s primary hymnal, but often with a great deal of freedom in the choices of liturgy and song” (37). If you were to compare our worship service with that of the services laid out in our hymnals you would find a great deal of similarity. But you will also find that as the seasons of the church year change, so does the language of our liturgy. We do this to ensure that our worship remains accessible to people who come to worship as well as keeping our worship services alive and full of life.

The truth is when it comes to people looking for a primary place for spiritual growth, the worship service is what the deciding factor is often. Now some churches will go to great extents to make sure that they have the best worship services around, by offering the best music, the best sermons, and the most entertaining worship experience.

However, according to Poling-Goldenne and Jung offering the best of everything is not what people are looking for. They instead argue that “the key is neither style nor content, but instead doing whatever they do well and with feeling” (37). This is to say that a church does not need to reinvent the way they worship in order to be a vital congregation, but instead need to take a look at how they worship, how the people in the pews like to worship, and work at doing that worship well and full of feeling. Which, to toot our own horn a bit, I believe is what we do in Medina and Streeter.

But this is not to say that we should rely on the fact that we are doing this well now and stop putting the effort into it. The way in which we worship should be full of life, as well as life giving, which will continue to happen as we make our worship a priority in our community. One of the best ways to make sure this happens is to get people involved, who have a passion for what happens in church on a Sunday morning, in order to plan out what our worship looks like. If this is something that you are passionate about please come talk to me.

Churches in every community, especially rural communities, are places that act as “lighthouses of home in their communities” (40), and “creating hope appears to be a major priority” (41) for those churches that desire to be vital. They create this hope by being a place that is “warm, family-like, informal, spontaneous, relational, and fun” (36-37). Simply put they are welcoming of all people, “becoming a ‘family’ to those who are searching for connections and friends” (41). This is primarily done through the churches worship experience.

While this is something that I believe our church communities are already doing well, it is important that we are diligent in making sure that we continue to make our worship experience a high priority, “making worship the best that it can be within the realities and limits of [our] setting” (43). A time and a place in which hope can be built and a vital community can be discovered and strengthened.

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all during this Advent season of Hope, Joy, Love, and Peace!

 

In Christ,

Pastor Ryan

November 2015’s Letter from the Pastor

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Medina, Streeter, and beyond: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you were to be asked what the key component of a vital church would be, what would you say? Would it be worship? Would it be Evangelism? How about a stable budget?

While all of these components are important to a strong and healthy church, they are not the key component of a vital church, at least not according to David Poling-Goldenne and L. Shannon Jung, the authors of our current book of focus Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations. No, according Poling-Goldenne and Jung, the most important component to a vital congregation is Prayer. In the second chapter of Discovering Hope, the first chapter to actually speak about components of a vital church, their thesis is “Prayer is a crucial ingredient for effectiveness in congregational mission and ministry” (32).

Poling-Goldenne and Jung give multiple examples of congregations around the country who been very intentional about their prayer lives which in turn has led them to a revitalization of their church community. When talking about one such church in the town of Verona, New York, they wrote “They prayed and studied the Bible; they listened, let go, and ultimately let God guide and direct their ministry focus and priorities” (26). In these instances prayer is seen as the source when it comes to tapping into God’s power and God’s intent for our lives individually and our life as a church community (27).

This got me to thinking, how many times when it comes to ministry do I focus too much on my own agenda, and the way I think ministry should be carried out, and forget about turning to God in order to discern what God’s agenda might be for that particular ministry? In asking myself that question I had to be quite honest and say not too often. As a broken, sinful human being, too often do I rely on my own agenda and plan instead of seeking out the wisdom and guidance of God when it comes to ministry.

This question that I asked myself is one that we should all be asking ourselves, especially if you have been called to be a leader of this church community in one way or another. How often do you spend time in daily prayer, seeking God’s guidance, not only for your personal life, but for the vitality of our church community? While some, I am sure, will be able to truthfully answer by saying a lot of time, there will also be those of you who would have to honestly answer like I did, and say not enough time.

In the Gospels of Luke and Matthew our Lord lays out for us the ultimate model of prayer: recognizing who it is that we are praying to and has the power to answer prayer, admitting that we should be seeking God’s will instead of our own, asking God for the things we need, seeking God’s forgiveness in the places where we have sinned against God and our neighbor, and imploring God to bring us through every time of trial that arises in our lives. Jesus then goes on to explain that when we are persistent in our prayer, our Father, who is good and gracious, will answer our prayer according to God’s will.

This is all to say that if we want our church community to be vital and strong then prayer should be the central focus. We, all of us together, should be praying regularly and intentionally for the vitality of our church. When we pray regularly and intentionally we allow ourselves to get out of the way and let God in for God’s will to be done through our ministry.

So what would that look like for us as a community to focus on prayer as a way to have a vital church community? That question is going to be answered differently by everyone who takes the time to prayerfully consider that question. For me personally it means that I need to spend more time every day in prayer. I have made myself a goal to spend 5 minutes every day I am in the office, praying for the people in this church community and the role they play in its ministry. It also means that I will be more intentional about encouraging all of you to spend more time in prayer as well as giving you more opportunities to let your prayer requests be known. Most importantly this will mean beginning every gathering that takes place within the church or for the church in prayer; asking specifically for God’s will and intention for its ministry to be made known.

As Poling-Goldenne and Jung point out, “A praying church is a vital church. A vital church is a church meeting the needs of its members and a church in mission to its neighbors” (32). Let us focus on prayer and let God revitalize our mission to our neighbors and to our world.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit!

Pastor Ryan

October 2015’s Letter from the Pastor

To the churches of the Medina-Streeter Lutheran Parish: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This past summer our synod of the ELCA, the Eastern North Dakota Synod, held an event at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota specifically aimed at Rural and Multipoint Parishes within the synod. The event bore the name Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Your Congregation. Recognizing that this was a conference that would most likely benefit our Rural, Multipoint Parish, I invited members from each church to attend this conference with me to gain ideas in order to do what the name of the conference suggested; to build vitality within our congregations and parish. Out of this conference came many great ideas that I hope to be able to utilize in various ways throughout the coming months and years.

One of the take home ideas came in the form of a book each congregation, or multipoint parish, received by attending the conference. Over the next few months it will be my goal, through this avenue of monthly newsletter articles, to share with you the insights gained from this book that bears a similar name to the conference itself. This book, written by David Poling-Goldenne and L. Sannon Jung, is entitled Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2001). Through each chapter of this book, the authors take us through stories of hope within churches in rural America that have found vitality, all the way down to the possible mission the audience can have within their own congregations to discover hope for the future. It is my intention to lead us through these nine chapters in the coming months.

In the opening chapter, entitled Stories of Hope: Finding Vitality in Rural America, we are invited and welcomed on a journey of discovery. The first stop on this journey was to lay out the problem most congregations in the rural setting face; that is a general sense of despair. Rural congregations that find themselves in despair, according to the authors, will generally have these sentiments running through its voices: “We are too small,” “We have no young people,” and “We just can’t afford our pastor.”1 With these sentiments in mind the researchers set out to find out what the real experts of rural setting vitality had to say on the subject; the people who have experienced it first-hand. What they came up with was a collection of stories that highlight some “best practices” from the field for the field; from those who have done it in the past for those in similar situations who are willing to learn from those who have been there before.2

But why rural America, one might ask about the focal point of this study? The authors explain that this is because “rural congregations are now found in agricultural, mining, logging, ranching, open-plain, recreation, and small-town settings—or any combination of the above— in just about every state in the nation.”3 Not to mention that, not so coincidentally, congregations in the rural setting make up more than half of the congregations affiliated with the ELCA. And so in the opinion of the authors, “Rural congregations matter! They are the church … There is power, hope, and great potential in rural congregations!”4

To conclude the first chapter of their book, the authors give three examples of congregations that have shown vitality within their context of rural America. They admit that there could be dozens of these stories to be told, but these three best represent that power, hope, and great potential of rural congregations in their eyes with the recognition that “borrowing another congregation’s activities or programs is not a recipe for long-term success, but in the stories and examples you will find principles, ideas, and models that have worked in rural settings.”5 What all three of these stories have in common are congregations that refuse to cave in, embracing new ideas like starting a rural crisis and support group, refining tradition like celebrating “Rogation Sunday” in which local farmers bring their tractors, combines, and trucks they use in their life and work and seek God’s blessing, and finding a niche that is unique to them and their context like being intentional about their focus on prayer and Bible Study.6

In the next two chapters, which we will look at in depth next month, the authors explore what role prayer and worship play into building a vital congregation, especially in rural America. Until then, may the words of our mouths, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in the sight of our Lord; the source of our strength and our redemption.

In Christ,     Pastor Ryan

P.S. If you would like to order your very own copy of the book Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations you may do so by calling Augsburg Fortress Publishing House (800-328-4648).

 

1 Poling-Goldenne, David & L. Shannon Jung. Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2001), 15.

2 Discovering Hope, 16.                                                      3 Discovering Hope, 17.

4 Discovering Hope, 19.                                                       5Discovering Hope, 24.

6 Discovering Hope, 21-23.

August 2015’s Letter from the Pastor

Grace and peace to you all in the name of our living Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

If you have been in church over the last two or three weeks, or if you plan on being in church in the next three or four weeks, you will inevitably be hearing gospel texts from John chapter 6 that focus on bread. More specifically on Jesus as the bread of life. Now, I may not be preaching solely on these texts over the next few weeks in what could be considered a sermon series, but it is important for me to point out the central theme within these texts and what that theme means for us as a worshiping community.

When we talk about Jesus being the bread of life there is always one connection made to what we do in worship; the sacrament of Holy Communion. In this article I wish to highlight one aspect of Holy Communion that I find very important to talk about.

In the gospel text assigned for Sunday August 2, the people in the crowd following Jesus ask a very interesting question. They ask, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”[i] This question that the crowd poses to Jesus is one that is often asked among worshipping communities. It is also a question asked in regards to the sacrament of Holy Communion as well, although phrased a little differently as, “how often should I receive Holy Communion,” and “what must I do to receive it worthily?”

As Lutherans, we have a hard time with these questions, because one of our chief theological claims is that there is nothing we must do to receive the grace of God freely given to us. However, there are steps that can be taken to make sure we get the most out of the sacrament of Holy Communion in which God bestows the grace of God on us. In the fifth part of Luther’s Large Catechism on the Sacrament of the Altar, Luther outlines who exactly is to receive the sacrament and indirectly how often it should be received.

In this section Luther begins by stressing that as a gift of God “no one under any circumstances should be forced or compelled”[ii] to receive the sacrament, but rather should want to come to the sacrament willingly. Luther later states that those who should come to this holy meal are those “who feel their weakness, who are anxious to be rid of it and desire help”[iii] and that these people “should regard and use the sacrament as a precious antidote against the poison in their systems.”[iv] Luther goes on to point out that if you are one that does not feel your weakness or are not anxious to be rid of your weakness, then you should probably spend some time in scripture examining your life in regards to how you measure up to the standards God has for your life. For in Scripture you should undoubtedly find that as a person of flesh and blood you are a slave to the works of the flesh. In Galatians 5:19-20(NRSV), St. Paul outlines just what those works of the flesh are: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissentions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” The point Luther eventually comes to make is that if you do not feel the pull of any of these things, and more, on your life, then “the more reason you have to go to the sacrament and seek its help and remedy.”[v]

This leads directly into our discussion of how often we should be receiving this Holy Sacrament. Luther states although no one should be compelled to take the sacrament, on the other hand “Christ did not institute the sacrament for us to treat it as a spectacle, but he commanded his Christians to eat and drink it and thereby remember him.”[vi] For, when Christ said “‘as often as you do it,’ [implies] that we should do it frequently….being bound to no special place or time.”[vii]

A common debate within many churches is honestly how often to the sacrament of Holy Communion should be administered. There are some that say that by receiving the body and blood of Christ too often makes it lose its meaning; that it becomes too ordinary. On the other hand the argument can be made that the sacrament of Holy Communion should be ordinary because that is a testament to what God does; God comes to us in the ordinariness of our lives. I am personally of the opinion that, as a person who recognizes my sinfulness on a weekly basis, if not a daily basis, being able to receive the body and blood of Christ in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion would be a freeing experience. For as Martin Luther said, “We must never regard the sacrament as a harmful thing from which we should flee, but as a pure, wholesome, soothing medicine that aids you and gives life in both soul and body.”[viii] I know I for one would love to be able to receive that medicine and have a renewed life in both soul and body on a weekly basis.

Ultimately, as with all things liturgical, which literally means the work of the people, how often we receive the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion is up to you all. It is my hope and prayer that you will prayerfully consider what this sacrament means to you, and be in conversation with one another about the frequency in which you desire to receive it.

Grace be with you all.

Pastor Ryan

[i] John 6:28 NRSV

[ii] LC 471:42

[iii] LC 474:70

[iv] Ibid.

[v] LC 475:78

[vi] LC 471:42

[vii] LC 471:47-472:48

[viii] LC 474:68

July 2015’s Letter from the Pastor

Greetings to the people of the Medina-Streeter Lutheran Parish, my brothers and sisters in our common faith in Christ Jesus our Savior.

As we begin the month of July we once again take an opportunity to celebrate freedom. Some of you may be heading to the lakes, others may be heading to see family, and still others may just be enjoying some time at home. But no matter where you are (or were) when the 4th of July rolls around, I am sure that you will undoubtedly be celebrating freedom in some form.

However, I can’t help but wonder, in our celebrations of freedom, if we actually hold to be truth the freeing words that our forefathers wrote when declaring freedom from British rule. In the Declaration of Independence our forefathers wrote that, “All [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” But do we actually believe that all people are created equal, and thus have the same right to freedom as everyone else?

With the events that have monopolized our news feeds over the last year and a half about Charleston, Baltimore, Ferguson, and others, I am beginning to think that we as a country say we believe in the equality of all people, but in reality our actions speak to the contrary. In a conversation that I had with a friend following the events in Charleston a few weeks ago I came to realize that this is a national issue, but it is also an issue right in our own communities as well. In our conversation this friend made the point that people in these communities do not think they are racist because they “allow [people of different races and color] live in their community.” Upon further reflection of this statement I could not help but notice that this statement is in fact racist. Why do people of different color or race need to be allowed to live in the community? Shouldn’t they just be welcomed? And not just welcomed, by trying to assimilate them into our customs, but by taking an interest in theirs?

This conversation got me thinking about how there are probably other comments that we make which we do not readily see as racist, but in fact they are. In an internet search on this topic I have come up with a couple such comments.

One such comment is one that I hear all the time: “I don’t see race. I only see the human race.”[i] While this sounds like a nice thing to hold to be true, it actually does more harm than good. The fact is we need to see race, because race exists. God has made each and every person unique and that includes their race, and God saw that it was good. To say you don’t see race is to ignore the fact that racism exists, thus perpetuating the problem even further.

Another comment that I hear people say, especially if they spent time in a high school in a bigger city, or in a larger public university, is: “I’m not racist. I have black friends.”[ii] It sounds good in our heads to applaud ourselves for saying that we have friends who are of a different color or race. But in reality a statement like this only adds to the false notion that people of color only exist as mere accessories.

There are many more examples of these sort of comments that people in every community around the country and around the world use to claim they are not racist, but in all reality the comments themselves are racist. There is really only one sure fire way to not be racist, and to not perpetuate racial injustice, even if it is unintentional. That sure fire way comes to us from God’s Holy Word.

In Martin Luther’s Large Catechism he explains the Eighth Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” in this way, “Therefore God will not have our neighbor deprived of his reputation, honor, and character any more than of his money and possessions.” To say it more precious, Martin Luther explains it this way in the Small Catechism, “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”

In Scripture we are given a clear example that our neighbor is not just the people who look like us, or who come from the same upbringing as us. No, in the parable of the Good Samaritan[iii], Jesus makes the point that our neighbor is anyone who is in need of our help and support. Which coincidentally is all people, black, white, or anything else, rich or poor, well-educated or not. Jesus also tells us in Scripture that the second greatest commandment is that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. And so the only real way to be sure that we are not aiding the spread of racial injustice is to speak of and act toward all people in the way that we speak of and act toward ourselves.

As children we learn the simple guideline that we are to do unto others we would want others to do on to us. In our time of racially motivated acts of violence this is the message that we as a community of Christian believers should be having a conversation about. As I said in my sermon on June 21st it is only through these conversations that these “storms” can be calmed.[iv] Consider the conversation started.

In Christ,

Pastor Ryan

[i] http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/clueless-things-white-people-say-racism/

[ii] http://mic.com/articles/96144/11-things-white-people-should-stop-saying-to-black-people-immediately

[iii] Luke 10:25-37

[iv] If you did not get a chance to hear this sermon you can listen to it on the parish website: medinastreeterparish.org