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Rummage Sale Season
“The Right Reverend Mark Dyer, an Anglican bishop known for his wit as well as his wisdom, famously observes from time to time that the only way to understand what is currently happening to us as twenty-first-century Christians in North America is first to understand that about every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. And, he goes on to say, we are living in and through one of those five-hundred-year sales.”

Can we talk?
– Joan Rivers

Sometimes I wonder whether we have lost the ability to talk. I don’t mean the ability to form and speak words. I mean the ability to talk – really talk – with others.

Think about all the “conversations” about race, politics, or religion that you have heard or participated in recently, on TV, at public meetings, in church, on Facebook. It appears to me that, on the whole, we are pretty good at making demands, spewing projectile perspectives, yelling, interrupting, accusing, labeling, and making sweeping assertions about whole groups of people or about how the world ought to work. But we are not very good at conversing, especially when the stakes are high. At least, I don’t hear much genuine conversation going on around the very difficult issues we face together as the body of Christ and in the world, issues like racial tension, violence, politics, religious perspectives, sexual identity, even the future of the church.

They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.

Mary Magdalene, first report from the empty tomb [John 20:2]

She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus…supposing him to be the gardener…

Mary, weeping outside the tomb [John 20:14-15]

Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

On the road to Emmaus, the first Easter evening [Luke 24:16] This life is so new, so fresh, so unexpected that no one sees it for what it is: world changing, life transforming resurrection. People just like you and me squint at the new life through old lenses, lenses clouded by long-held assumptions and colored by fear, yet rendered obsolete the moment Jesus shed the shroud and left the tomb.New life rises from a stone-closed tomb and it goes unnoticed, unrecognized, unappreciated. The first visitors to the empty tomb assume that the body has been moved or stolen. One of them thinks the just-risen Jesus is the gardener. Others ask the traveling companion who comes up alongside them if he’s the only one who doesn’t know what awful things happened to Jesus in Jerusalem…and it turns out the companion is, in fact, Jesus.

We are Easter people. We live on the far side of the resurrection of Christ. We proclaim for seven weeks: Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed! Yet we so often walk through our days as if Jesus were still lingering in the tomb. Resurrection life is afoot in the world and, squinting through old lenses, we so often miss it.

Thankfully, this Risen One is persistent. He keeps coming up alongside us to give us new lenses to see the new life he offers. A sip of wine and a bit of bread…water and Word washing over us…forgiveness offered or received…a friend living in recovery day by day…a simple sunrise or the complexity of a relationship restored…these and so much more are signs of resurrection and new life afoot in the world, so easy to overlook or mistake for something else. In, with, and under the mundane matters of our drudging days the Risen One comes near again and again to speak our name, open our eyes, stir our hearts, take our hands, and lead us out of dark tombs into resurrection light.

This Eastertide, may God’s Spirit open our eyes wide with wonder to see new life coming near, open our hearts to receive it with hope and joy, and open our hands to share it with all we meet along the way.

Christ, our companion, hope for the journey,

Bread of compassion, open our eyes.

Grant us your vision, set all hearts burning

That all creation with you may arise.

[Susan Palo Cherwien, “Day of Arising,” ELW 374]

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!

This week, Indiana’s legislature passed a bill, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 101), which is now in the hands of our Governor, Mike Pence. He has said that he will sign this bill into law. This act would allow private parties — including businesses open to the public — to invoke a religious defense in legal cases involving refusal of service. Many folks think that this legislation is focused particularly on protecting refusal of service to gay and lesbian people. The implications of this legislation certainly include, but also reach far beyond, this particular community.

This paragraph is found in the social statement, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” adopted by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

While Lutherans hold various convictions regarding lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships, this church is united on many critical issues. It opposes all forms of verbal or physical harassment and assault based on sexual orientation. It supports legislation and policies to protect civil rights and to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, and public services. It has called upon congregations and members to welcome, care for, and support same-gender couples and their families and to advocate for their legal protection.

In the spirit of these shared commitments, the day after this legislation passed in the Indiana House, I wrote and submitted this letter to the Indianapolis Star newspaper:

What is religious freedom? Is it free range to do whatever we want, regardless of the possible negative consequences for others? Is religious freedom the “right” to use our business enterprises as shields from people and circumstances that we think might taint our own moral purity? Is religious freedom the unmitigated permission to impose our own moral codes on others and to keep them at a distance so our own moral purity won’t be compromised? Not according to the Christian scriptures, the very scriptures invoked by some supporters of the misguided and so-called religious freedom legislation.

At the heart of Christian faith is the good news that in Jesus Christ we are forgiven and saved by grace (not through our own moral purity or works). By this amazing grace we are set free from trying to keep ourselves pure and holy and are called, rather, to follow Jesus into the dark places no one else will go and to love and serve – to touch, eat with, and welcome as Jesus did – those whom others turn away or whom the powers that be push aside.

The apostle Paul put it this way in his ancient letter to the Galatians (chapter 5): “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

This is the religious freedom Christians are called to embrace in their daily, workaday lives and in the businesses they run.

The Rev. Dr. William O. Gafkjen

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