Reflections by Vicar Mark

An ongoing series of informational entries

September 2017

Note: this article was written August 19th and reflects my feelings, emotions and response to the events of August 12th - 19th.

This has been a tough week.  First, the fallout from Charlottesville, VA continues to weigh heavily on me.  The comments by Trump are appalling and beyond belief.  Congress has criticized and condemned the actions of the alt-right and the words of the president.

I watched the video of the Friday night march at University of Virginia. I watched the video of the car driven by Jame Fields into a crowd of people killing Heather Heyer and injuring many more.  I saw the KKK, Neo-Nazis, supremacists, and others spouting an ideology that saw millions of innocent people killed and for which thousands of British, French, Canadian and American soldiers gave their lives to stop.  One man was interviewed said he had no problem being violent.  These are people who profess to be Christians and that this is their understanding of the Christian way of life.  They profess violence instead of compassion, hate instead of healing, and the eradication of people unlike themselves instead of nurture and support for the least of the creation.

Then there is the pain of a mother and father saying goodbye to a daughter in the prime of her life.  Heather Heyer gave her life standing up to racism, hatred, and bigotry and doing so peacefully.  I cannot imagine having to go through that if that was my child.  My heart aches for them.  I admire the courage of Susan Bro to find light in her daughter's death with one for her final comments, "Equality is when you see a person not a label."

I am angry; angry that those who espouse hate and bigotry feel the have the right to marginalize people unlike them.  I am in disbelief that our president does not have a moral compass to repudiate without question their actions and behavior.  I feel depressed by the lack of empathy by our political leaders for those who were hurt and for Heather Heyer's family; I hear words but not action.  I am ashamed; ashamed at how those I know outside the United State must think of us.  Lastly, I am ashamed because I find it more comfortable to watch others protest this evil than to stand in solidarity, arm-in-arm with them on that line.

I am deeply troubled on many fronts.  One front is the lack of a forceful response by our political leadership to these people who promulgate these ideologies of hate, division, and white supremacy.  A second is the indifference and ambivalence that I have seen display by people with whom I am in contact.  One such person said of the people in Boston, MA on Saturday afternoon who were marching in the streets of Boston against these alt-right groups and their message, "Don't they have something else better to do?  How can they just take off to do this?  Don't they have jobs?"

Lastly, I am troubled by my response, or better put, non-response.  I am forced with the question: "What sacrifice have I made in this fight to end hate, racism and division of ethnicity and race in the United States?"  Where and how have I taken a stand?  The disciples dropped everything, work, family and friends, to follow Jesus and many if not all of them paid the ultimate price of death at the hands of the Roman government for their faithful discipleship.  Perfect and without sin, no, but faithful followers to the end, yes.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, I am convicted of the need for me to do two things.  

First, I have signed the statement of Lutheran Clergy and leaders rejecting White Supremacy, Terrorism and Violence.  A copy is posted on the bulletin board on the first floor.  

Second, I am planning on participating in the National March for Racial Justice on September 30th.  If anyone would like to join me, I am signing up through the Lancaster YWCA which is planning to take a bus to the event.  I ask that you keep me in your prayers as I travel to Washington DC.  Too often, I have stayed where it is safe, in the spectator stands watching others.  Like Luther before the Council of Trent, I am compelled to take a stand and be a voice for those without.

October 2017

Matthew 25:31-46 is a challenging passage as one thinks about standing before Jesus on the day of Judgement.  How do each of us measure up?   Will we be put in with the sheep or in with the goats? Origen, an early church father who lived from 185-245 AD, worried that people would interpret this passage to mean that salvation was only achievable through charitable works.  Scholars are divided on how to look at this passage.  One way is to interpret this passage as describing the final judgment of all people, Jews, Christians, and non-Christians and the criterion for judgment is love and compassion to the “least of these.”  A second interpretation has this passage referring to the treatment of Christians to the “least of these” fellow Christians.  A third avenue for interpretation is that this passage looks at how individuals and nations have treated Jews during times of tribulation. An example of this is how did people and nations treat Jews during the Holocaust.  A final view is how did non-Christian nations and people treat disciples/missionaries as they spread the Gospel.

I will confess that I am not one who sees himself as one of the “least of these.”  I can, thank you, take care of myself.  Asking for help is far from the easiest thing for me to do.  In the week since I was hospitalized, I have been drawn to this passage and what does it mean to minister and render aid and assistance to the “least of these.”  As a patient in the hospital, I am now one of the “least of these.”  To be perfectly honest, I DID NOT enjoy being one of the “least of these.” It was a humbling experience.  I needed a nurse to tend to my IV and administer the antibiotics, I needed someone else to tend to the cleanliness of my room.   It was the responsibility of a nurse’s aide to change the linen and make my bed every day.  Most often, it was the nurse’s aide who emptied the urinal that I frequently filled since my liquid intake and output was measured.   Someone cooked my food and a dietary aide delivered and removed my tray.  I went from being “Needed” to being “Needy” when I was admitted to Ephrata Community Hospital.

As I have contemplated my stay at ECH and my recovery the week of September 11-17, God has revealed several truths from this experience to me.  First, it is okay to “need.”  I had a condition that could not be solved except by an outside intervention.  No matter what I did, my condition would not improve without outside intervention.  That outside intervention came not just from the care rendered by those employed by the hospital.   Outside intervention came in the visits I received from a whole host of people, the prayers that were lifted up, the cards that I received, and the meals that were cooked for me after I was discharged.  I needed all of that and more to return to health.

Second, outside intervention came from God; with God, all things are possible and with God, my healing became possible.  This was a grace experience; My hospitalization was a grace experience in that I was reminded that salvation comes from God alone through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I NEED God.  I NEED Christ on the cross. I can’t achieve eternal life by anything I do. 

On Sunday, September 17th, I went to see the musical, Oratorio Luther, The project of a Thousand Voices.  The producer of the show reminded those of us in attendance that the Good News of the Gospel can be summed up in four words: Jesus instead of us.  In short, I cannot heal myself.  I NEED the cross.  You NEED the cross.  Everyone everywhere NEEDS the cross.  All of humanity is NEEDY, in need of the cross.

Third, healing is not just physical and mental; healing involves the spiritual.  I have heard this any number of times from chaplains but to experience it is entirely something extra special.  I felt a warmth inside me knowing that people from many places were praying for me to return to good health.  God was divinely active in this process.

I am truly blessed to be a part of St. John Center Lutheran Church.  All of you have a special place in my heart.

October 29, 2017

"After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”    

Revelation 7:9-10

On October 31, the Christian community marks the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation.  On this important occasion, we are reminded that Martin Luther’s challenge to the church in his day was to proclaim a word of grace for ALL people. God’s word is that Creation and all God’s creatures matter.  This word stands in distinct contrast to much of the divisive and bigoted stances embraced by many in our world today.  Those who would dismiss the Reformation as an event of history past are so terribly wrong!  They are so terribly wrong because the same Gospel word of grace of Martin Luther’s day challenges so many of today’s cultural ills. 

I believe that God’s grace is for all “tribes, and peoples and languages.”  We are all children of God!!  There are NO distinctions between people whatsoever!!  In Christ, all lines in faith, race, ethnicity, gender, ability, or sexuality are blurred to nothing.  Moreover, WE are called to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:28-31, Luke 10:25-37, Leviticus 19:18).  That means we, each

one of us, are to work for the well-being of ALL people.

December 3, 2017

Today is New Year’s Day for the Church.  Another church year has passed: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Reformation Sunday, All Saints Sunday.

Time has flown by.  Time marches on.  It is hard to believe but I have been serving here at St.John Center Lutheran Church for five months. Where has the time gone?  I was looking at my schedule for December and it is packed.  Christmas seems like it will be here in a finger snap.

So much to do in so little time. 

Themes of Advent are preparation not only to remember the Incarnate Christ who took on flesh and lived and participated in the world but also to anticipate and wait for Christ’s return.  Our Gospel lesson for today is in the genre of apocalyptic writing. Often, we associate apocalyptic writing with the “end times.”  Perhaps we would be better served in thinking of apocalyptic literature as expecting the revelation of God’s reign in our time. 

One of my favorite songs is by Twila Paris, "God is in Control."  Love the song.  It is a good reminder that God is in control of all time.  In this setting of “time”, God is reminding us that God transforms time and that God is directing time toward all that is good and perfect and true.

December 10, 2017

If I say “McDonald's”, many of you would immediately think of the golden arches logo of the fast food chain and their thousands of restaurants that dot our country.  We can put an immediate picture in our minds that quantifies the products, the ideals, and the values for which we think McDonald's stands. The same goes for Wal-Mart, Sheetz, Yoder’s Country Market, Eastern Lancaster County School District. James’ middle school baseball coach asked the players,

“What is your brand? If someone says your name to another, what picture of you comes to that person’s mind?”  His point to the team is that a person’s values, ideals and morals do matter.

How we live the values, ideals, and morals that we hold dear to us paint a picture of who we are to other people and they will judge accordingly.  Are we on the inside what people see of us on the outside?  Gets to one of the points of the Gospel lesson for this Sunday: What is the truth about who Jesus Christ is? What is the brand of Jesus Christ?  The writer of the Gospel of Mark gets right to it that Jesus is the Son of God.  But where is this revealed to us? Is it in Mark 1:1?

NO!!!! It is revealed to us by an outsider, the centurion at foot of the cross on which Jesus is hanging and his proclamation, “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39).  The true picture of who Jesus is found in his death on a cross and resurrection from the dead three days later.

March 4, 2018

On Wednesday, February 14th, we, the people of the United States, experienced another mass shooting at a school. Seventeen people, lost their lives for no other reason than being at Marjory Douglas High School in Parkland, FL to educate and to be educated. Again, the debate rages about the legitimacy of the sale of assault rifles, the ability of people with mental health issues to purchase any sort of firearm, whether or not teachers should carry firearms in schools, etc. Again, political leaders offer their thoughts and prayers, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan says we should count our blessings, and the Florida legislature votes to have no discussion on the issue of gun violence in the days after this latest incident of extreme gun violence at a school. Wayne LaPierre, president of the NRA, speaking at a gathering of The Conservative Political Action Conference on February 22nd said “The right to bear arms is not bestowed by man but granted by God to all Americans as our American birthright.”

The debate always gets centered around the 2nd amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the ability to control who can own a firearm. The gun rights people advocate that there are to be no restrictions on the ownership of firearms of any type. At the other end are those who advocate for controls on the purchase of firearms based on the incidences of gun violence in the United States, the severity of the injuries, and the cost to society. There seems to be no meeting in the middle on either side and the NRA’s deep pockets funding of political candidates for elected office as a way of advocating for free and unfettered access to firearms only fuels and inflames the feelings on both sides of the conversation over what constitutes responsible gun ownership.

I would like to advocate for a biblical option of looking at gun violence. Many if not all of the people in the debate on what constitutes responsible gun ownership profess to be Christians and believers of the Bible as the inspired Word of God. Instead of looking to what the U.S. Constitution says about gun ownership in the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, I advocate that the discussion be centered around what the Bible has to say and in particular, I would like to consider the 5th commandment.

To fully understand not just the 5th Commandment but all ten, one must understand his or her relationship to God. First and foremost, humanity is created in God’s image AND humanity is blessed by God as recorded in Genesis 1:26-31. Second, our English translations of the Hebrew and Greek renditions of the Hebrew Bible are inaccurate on how we are to treat the gift of creation God has given us. Often, we read in Genesis 1:28 that we are to “conquer” or “subdue” the world we live in and we are to be “masters” over it. The Greek word, οικονομοσ, and pronounced oy-kon-om-os, is the word used in the Septuagint, the Greek Hebrew Bible. This is a person who acts in the property owner’s absence and as if the owner of the house was the one giving the directions. If we as Christians and believers that God is Creator and therefore the owner of creation, humanity is God’s appointed οικονομοσ of it. We are to care for Creation as if God was here tending to it in the flesh. Lastly, Genesis makes clear that God wants us to enjoy Creation, to find pleasure and happiness by inhabiting it.

Often, we think of The Ten Commandments and whole of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, & Deuteronomy as a bunch of laws and regulations, many of which do not apply to us because we are Christian not Jewish. I would like to suggest that instead of thinking from a point of legalism, we think of them as God’s way of insuring that humanity enjoys what God has created to its fullest. God gave us these commandments and laws not because he wants to sit in judgment over us but because GOD LOVES US!! The Gospel of John says the same thing about Jesus: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3:16). Instead of laws and regulations that limit what we can do, can we think of them as boundaries like a fence around our yard? What does a fence do? It is designed to keep what is inside safe and from harming itself from what is outside of it. Why do we put a fence up? Because we want things we care most about to be safe like our children and our pets.

The Ten Commandments or “The Decalogue” are found in Exodus 20:1-17; the first three commandments define our relationship with God and the next seven define our relationship with each other. The fifth commandment is short, “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13) and very explicit. Martin Luther had pointed words on how we are to understand this commandment. In the Large Catechism, Luther writes “We are to leave our own house and go out among the neighbors in order to learn how we should live among them, how people should conduct themselves among their neighbors Therefore neither God nor the government is included in this commandment nor is their right to take human life abrogated…Therefore, what is forbidden applies to individuals not to government officials.…The meaning of this commandment, then, is that no one should harm another person for any evil deed, no matter how much that person deserves it….Therefor it is God’s real intention that we should allow no one to suffer harm but show every kindness and love.” (Large Catechism, The Ten Commandments, 180-194, Pages 410-412, Book of Concord). From Luther’s Small Catechism, he writes, “You are not to kill. What does this mean? Answer: We are to {respect} and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs.” (Small Catechism, The Ten Commandments, 9-10, Page 352, Book of Concord).

My plea and desire is instead of debating the 2nd amendment that we consider the sanctity of life and how can we best preserve that sanctity and make our cities, towns, schools, neighborhoods and country a safe place to grow into the fullest that God wants. According to Luther’s interpretation of the 5th commandment, I see nothing that could be construed that teachers should carry firearms while attending to their responsibilities as educators. I see nothing that supports the ownership of assault style weapons by the masses; rather that is to be left to those who have been called to guardians of civil authority. I see nothing in Scripture or in the expounding on it by Church Fathers or reformation leaders by Martin Luther that says owning and arming more people is the solution to ending gun violence. Rather, as a response to God’s love for us, we should be strengthening our legal system to keep firearms out of the hands and houses of people who are not mentally competent. Instead, we should be helping these people to find treatment options so they return to being productive people in our communities. Young people who are bullied need to be protected and helped; those who perpetrate actions that demean and denigrate a person’s value need to be disciplined and counseled. We should be strengthening and enforcing our legal system to prevent people, male or female, who threatens another with harm as a result of domestic violence with the ability to have a firearm. The sanctity of life is not found at the end of a gun barrel. Unfortunately, we live in a world inhabited by sin and the devil; owning and possessing a firearm is a fiction of self-preservation and Satan is sitting back and enjoying himself at our expense.

As baptized Christians, we are called to be lights in a dark world of sin. We are called to let our light shine before others so they may see our good works. In the days following the school shooting in Parkland, FL, I see a lot of shining lights in the voices of the students and the parents of the victims of Marjory Douglas High School. Instead of hearing and listening to these voices, there are those who would rather silence them as being opposed to their political agenda. I invite you to let your light shine. Let your voice be heard that the sanctity of life as found in the 5th commandment should be our first concern rather than the supposed liberty of unfettered firearm ownership without responsibility as defined by those who support the 2nd amendment.

Vicar Mark W. Fischer