Archive for April, 2014

Oh My Stars

April 29, 2014

It is with no little amount of fear and trepidation I read that my first cinematic crush, Star Wars, is being rebooted, and that many of the original cast members will be returning for the next installment, Episode VII.  

I used to think that it was a sign of getting older that movies I remembered from my youth were being re-made.  However when franchises can reboot within a startlingly short amount of time (Spider Man, anybody?), perhaps it’s not simply about me getting old, but about attention spans growing shorter and shorter.
Still, the original Star Wars movie remains eternally etched in my subconscious.  If they’re assembling the original cast members, I only hope it isn’t going to be a disaster.  

 
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The Elephant in the Room

April 29, 2014

I love the conspiracy basis behind many discussions about faith (or lack thereof, which I still maintain is faith of a different stripe).  Those who believe differently don’t simply believe something different, they have an Agenda.  Their belief can’t truly be belief, it must be something else, something more sinister, thereby justifying the moral indignation and outrage of those whose faith is contradictory to theirs.  

Consider this essay about how Christians force atheists to pretend they’re Christian.  
The author’s conclusion is that religion requires reinforcement and indoctrination in order to sustain itself, therefore Christians must force others to pretend to believe the same way they do in order to maintain their own faith.  Forcing unbelievers to pretend to believe is the sole crutch supporting religion, and if we knock that crutch away, religion will collapse and disappear.  Christians (though I presume the author would be equally vitriolic against Jews or Muslims or Buddhists, even if it’s not politically correct to use such examples) are therefore selfish, fearful, malicious people inflicting intentional harm on those who disagree with them.
Well, glad that’s all been cleared up.  Guess I’ll hang up my collar and my torture tools now that I’ve been exposed.  Sheesh.
This ‘argument’ is so ridiculous on so many levels that it’s laughable.  After all, Christianity has been systematically targeted for eradication in large parts of the world for decades (consider the former Soviet Union and China, most obviously).  The result has not been the forecast elimination of Christianity.  Instead, Christianity is found to be alive and well when harsh government edicts and punishments are removed.  Systematically removing any and all cultural supports for religion and punishing people who exhibited religious beliefs and behaviors did not cause Christianity to disappear.  If anything, it seems to invigorate the faith so that it explodes into view again as soon as possible.  
But there’s a more important aspect of this ‘argument’ that bears a lot of examination, hopefully by the author as well.  The argument essentially demonizes every Christian (or again, any other religious person).  Christian parents are bent on torturing and warping their children.  Christian educators are bent on doing the same.  All motivations are selfish and cruel.  There is nothing admirable or good involved here.  It is the gross perpetuation of a sham.
All of which denies, ignores, or is grossly ignorant of the basic tenets of the Christian faith (and you could make the same argument for other religions).  I don’t doubt that there are some malicious parents, teachers, priests, drill sergeants, employers, whatever out there who enjoy making others suffer and wield their religion as a way to cause suffering.  Those people are broken and I’ll grant the author’s outrage as justifiable to a degree.
But the rest of those Christian parents, educators, pastors, drill sergeants, employers?  What do they believe?  They believe in a God who created everything and is restoring everything and that the choices and beliefs we espouse in this life make a real difference not only in this life but for a very long time beyond it.  As people who love the people around them, they want nothing more than for these people to be ‘in on’ the blessings of proper relationship with this God.  In other words they want the best for their children, students, congregants, soldiers, and employees.  They’re trying to pass on to them the very best and most important and valuable thing they own, their faith and understanding of the world and this God.
If I didn’t believe with every fiber of my being that the Biblical describes the world and myself and our predicament and the beautiful solution that has been provided to my own screwed up nature, I wouldn’t ‘impose’ it on my children.  But I do believe it completely.  It matches the world around and within me more perfectly than any other religion or philosophy or science.  I want my children to be able to see and experience this for themselves, and as the parent charged by God, nature, and (for the time being at least, the State) with raising a healthy child, I will continue to bring them up in the faith until they are no longer my legal or real responsibility.  
That means they will come to church.  We’ll pray together.  We’ll talk about the mysteries of the faith.  We’ll examine life through this lens of faith together, in the hopes that when they no longer are required to go to church simply because we are their parents, they will do so because they know this God and his love for them.  
According to this author, this makes me a monster.  Yet I’m only doing what I presume this author will/would do/does with their own children – seek to teach them the best that they can, to give them the best that they can, to equip them the best that they can for a life that will, by the grace of God, extend beyond their own.  
I don’t have to call atheists evil.  I can disagree with them (and I do).  I can pray for them (and I do).  And I can seek to share, inasfar as they will let me, why I believe and why I pray they will someday as well, as I would hope they would seek to constructively share with me, rather than just call me names.

Reading Ramblings – May 4, 2014

April 27, 2014
Date:  Third Sunday of Easter, May ,4 2014

Texts: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-14; 1 Peter 1:17-25; Luke 24:13-35

Context: The season of Easter continues for seven weeks, until Pentecost, a Jewish festival celebrated 50 days after Passover.  The Gospel reading continues to focus on the events after Easter morning, while the other readings flesh out the implications of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth for you and I today. 

 

Acts 2:14a, 36-41 — Peter could have told the crowd anything.  He seemed to have them in the palm of his hand, convicted of their horrible guilt in crucifying the Messiah.  This was the point to press for personal gain.  Or perhaps this would be the logical place to emphasize a moral life, living ethically according to God’s revealed will, stressing personal effort and exertion as the response of guilt. 

But there is nothing more to be gained, and nothing left to be done.  Christ has done it all, and has given it all to us.  There is nothing but to confess that we are hopeless without him, and to accept his name on our hearts through baptism.  This is the heart of the Gospel.  Nothing else can be added to what Jesus has done.  We are free to respond in obedience, but this is almost irrelevant.  Christ has conquered all.  Believe.  Live.

Psalm 116:1-14 — A beautiful summary of what God has accomplished on our behalf through Jesus Christ!  Verses 1-2 extol the Lord’s goodness, then verses 3-4 explain the predicament—nothing short of death itself.  Verses 5-6 declare what the Lord did, he rescued the speaker from death itself, not because of any merit in the individual, but solely because of the Lord’s grace and compassion.  The result is that the speaker can rest, he no longer needs to fear or be anxious.  Verses 8-9 again state how the Lord has saved the speaker, and verses 10-11 state the speaker’s role in all of this—trust and faith in the Lord.  What is left to be done?  Nothing but to praise God and honor him in our lives!

Luke 24:13-35— Jesus’ appearances continue.  We only know who one of the two are on the road to Emmaus (Cleopas, v.18). Verse 13 indicates an association with the followers of Jesus.  They weren’t Apostles (as per v.33), but close enough to gain access to the Apostles to share the miraculous news of what they experienced journeying to and once arrived at Emmaus.  Jesus knew these men, and they certainly knew him.  But they did not know him to be the Messiah (v.19), indicating that he was a mighty prophet instead.  They know the events of the day that have thus been reported, but they are confused to say the least. 

These followers of Jesus had plenty of ideas about him, but none of these ideas perfectly matched who He was.  Not merely prophet, not merely wonder-worker, not merely crucified, not merely the redeemer of Israel.  Jesus is only recognized once He breaks the bread.  Verse 16 asserts that there is an active hiding of Jesus’ identity.  Only in the breaking of the bread are they allowed to truly perceive him for who He is.  Where is it that we can expect to meet and recognize our risen Savior?  At the table He himself sets for us at his altar. 

From the beginning the followers of Jesus have given place of honor to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  It is not a casual meal.  It is not something open and available to just anyone who decides they want to join it.  It is not an affirmation of human solidarity and community.  It is to be the recognition of the presence of Jesus himself.  Not symbolic.  Not representative.  Not picture-language.  Rather the living Son of God comes to us in with and under the bread and wine.  We eat and drink his flesh and blood, and whenever we come into the presence of God, we must acknowledge it.  Failure to do so puts us in harm’s way, as per 1 Corinthians 11:27-30.  You won’t hear many sermons these days about the risk of receiving Holy Communion improperly, even in those churches who limit access to the Lord’s Supper because of this risk. 

But when Christ comes to us, our response is to be as those people who heard Peter preach the first Pentecost sermon.  We must repent, recognizing our sinfulness and inadequacy and throwing ourselves on the mercy of God the Father through God the Son, as prompted by God the Holy Spirit.  There is a long tradition of doing this specifically through confession and self-examination prior to receiving Holy Communion.  We don’t simply show up Sunday and remember at the last minute that it’s Communion Sunday!  We are to have given prayerful thought and consideration to what—and who—we will receive! 

While private confession & absolution with the pastor ahead of time, combined with a declaration of intent to receive Holy Communion may no longer be common practice, we should take to heart the awesomeness of what we receive.  Our God comes to us.  He brings forgiveness of sins, and each person would do well to remember that this is what they receive with the bread and the wine.  It is not the only time or place where forgiveness is offered, but it is the only time that forgiveness becomes tangible, that we can taste grace, as it were. 

Receive it in awe and joy and wonder, and for that you must truly accept that you do not receive simple bread and wine.  The bread is broken, and our eyes should be opened just as the eyes of those two men in Emmaus. 

 

Theology & Scooby Doo

April 26, 2014

Growing up with these cartoons, and now watching my children devour the originals as well as all of the subsequent spin-offs and modified shows, this essay hit a soft spot in me.

I’ve often mused (because I have nothing better to do, obviously) that Scooby Doo is a snapshot of our culture.  The series began with the kids stumbling into events well out of their league.  But tenacious curiosity triumphed over fear and terror, allowing the gang to unravel mysteries time and time again.  In later iterations of the show, there isn’t even a pretense of belief that any of the odd creatures and events they encounter might be real.  The assumption has become that it’s a cover up for something and someone else.  Initial fear is still there -we can’t control that primal response to the unexpected – but the entire premise is that in overcoming fear and applying our minds, logic and reason will show without a doubt that the supernatural doesn’t exist.  
We can explain everything, given enough time and clues.
I like this essay a lot, though I don’t agree with his conclusions.  Yes, greed and power are traditionally behind the occult, the desire to personally be like God (or more accurately, to displace God and be God) that has been at the heart of sin since Eden.  But Scooby Doo is alleging that these ‘demons’ are nothing more than the playing out of our own issues.  The demons aren’t real, because all of these motivations come from within.  I believe that Scooby Doo really does mirror our cultural insistence that we can explain and control everything.  Our human frailties set us up to do wrong, but that wrong will be conquered by application of the intellect.  
If we just think properly, we can expunge the ‘demons’ from within us, even the age-old demons of desiring to be God.
In which case, Scooby Doo is wrong, just as modernism and the scientific mindset that is both it’s ancestor and offspring is ultimately flawed in this assumption.  We can and should explain a great deal.  But that doesn’t necessitate that there is nothing inexplicable, nothing beyond our ability to understand, nothing supernatural, whether angelic or demonic.  
But that would wreck the model that has made Scooby Doo a success for over 40 years, so I can’t really expect them to change!

Smug

April 26, 2014

I waited in the checkout line the other day.  Normally, this is a quietly gratifying time for me.  I benevolently look over the atrocious food selections of other people, grateful that my purchases are all natural, sometimes organic and occasionally locally-sourced.  

The way God intended food to be.
I don’t fault the other people around me.  Lord knows they’re busy.  Some of them don’t know any better.  They haven’t received the many blessings that I have in my life, perhaps.  They can’t be blamed.  I smile at them, musing with great internal satisfaction and giving thanks to God for all He has given me.
But not the other day.
The other day I had three different types of potato chips, a 12-pack of Coca Cola, two quarts of ice cream and a package of hamburger buns.  There was nothing natural at all in my selections.  I grimaced, noting the woman in front of me casting her eyes over my selections.  She had some sort of granola yogurt thing and some fruit.  Very natural.  Healthy.  
I wanted to justify myself.  I wanted to explain that these weren’t all for me.  That we had company and this and that and the other.  I wanted to justify my selections so badly I literally had to bite my tongue.  I’m biting it still, wanting to provide for you, dear reader, evidence that I’m not really like that.  
But I am.
Only by the grace of my wife do I eat relatively healthy.  I wouldn’t eat nearly as well without her guidance.  While I don’t buy much of that stuff, I still like it even though I know it’s terrible for me.  It is who I am.  I am really like that.  
Transition to application
I suspect we’re all like this to varying degrees.  We want to be known for our best attributes, our shining moments, our instances where we’re firing on all cylinders and being the stand-up people we know we should be.  But the danger lies in assuming that those moments – and the good will that they often generate from the people around us – are the whole story.  It’s easy to presume that that’s really who we are, better-than-average folk.  And when we’re caught in the midst of sin, in the act of being less than we know we should be, we want to justify.  This isn’t the real me.  I’m not really like this.  Our smugness devolves into defensiveness.
I need to be saved from my delusions of grandeur, and I suspect one or two others might as well.  Perhaps even one of you, dear readers.  This is the hope of the resurrection.  That the good person I like to think myself to be, I am declared as.  Made into.  Not by my efforts, to be sure.  Those are still shot through with sin and artificial flavors and all nature of genetically modified weirdness.  I carry this dual identity until I die – 100% natural, organic, grass-fed, and at the same time about as plastic and fabricated as a $3 bill.  
Only in the miracle of Easter morning and the resurrection of the Son of God from the dead do I have the assurance that one day I will have only and exclusively the first identity, and that my secondary (more pronounced) identity will be burned away.  I won’t have to juggle this dichotomy forever.  I will have peace, because I already have forgiveness.  Not because I justified and explained myself adequately, but because the Son of God came to do what I could never do on my own.  
He Is risen! 
He Is risen indeed!  Hallelujah!

Easter Vigil

April 25, 2014

Worship – despite the arguments of some – is an evolving, living thing.  It changes over time in certain respects, while hopefully always retaining core elements and aspects that we are not at liberty to change (without the risk of altering what we believe, or think we believe).  

Most often this evolution comes in the adding or elimination of different worship services.  While many traditional congregations still celebrate some sort of worship on Maunday Thursday and Good Friday, far fewer continue the ancient practice of worship on Easter Saturday.  This worship was often referred to as the Easter Vigil.  It could be a rather long affair, and it also was a common time for baptisms to occur.  But over time, this worship has fallen out of mainstream practice, probably as people decided that they were too busy, or that expecting people to come to worship four days in a row was unreasonable.
This past Easter Saturday I had the opportunity to participate in a vigil service at Grace Lutheran.  The service began outside just after sundown around a small fire pit.  The Christ candle was lit from this fire, and then individual candles were lit from the Christ candle.  We then followed the Christ candle as it was carried from the courtyard into the sanctuary.  Over the next 75 minutes or so, there were a variety of Scripture readings.  About half-way through the service, the dimmed lights in the nave were turned on.  We received Holy Communion and departed.
The imagery at play here is this.  The Jewish day begins at sundown.  Jesus’ tomb was discovered empty shortly after sunrise on Sunday morning, which means that between sundown Saturday night and sunup Sunday morning, Jesus departed from the tomb.  This service symbolizes meeting Christ as He emerges from the tomb, and as such it anticipates the more common sunrise service that many congregations still enjoy, which corresponds to the women arriving at the tomb Sunday morning.
I think next year I’d like to conduct a vigil service at my congregation.  Does your congregation do this?  Have you participated in one before?  What aspects of it are memorable or meaningful to you?

Apologies

April 25, 2014

Holy Week was busy, and this week has been busy in recuperation.  Thanks for your patience, and look forward to a flurry of posts in the next few days as I try to catch up on all the random thoughts and items that have crossed my brain recently!

Reading Ramblings – April 27, 2014

April 20, 2014
Date:  Second Sunday of Easter, April 27, 2014

Texts: Acts 5:29-42; Psalm 148; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

Context: The season of Easter continues for seven weeks, until Pentecost, a Jewish festival celebrated 50 days after Passover.  The Gospel reading continues to focus on the events after Easter morning, while the other readings flesh out the implications of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth for you and I today. 

Acts 5:29-42 — This reading picks up in the weeks after Pentecost, as the body of believers continues to grow and spread, facing the Jewish authorities with a problem they thought they had gotten rid of in crucifying Jesus.  The disciples who were once timid and fearful for their lives are emboldened by the Holy Spirit, willing and able to teach and testify to the Son of God even if it means suffering.  Suffering—while we don’t search it out—is not our ultimate enemy.  Life involves suffering, and in this situation the suffering is on behalf of the Gospel, so that the disciples are able to give thanks and glory to God for their suffering. 

Psalm 148 — This psalm of praise is rooted in the reality of God’s creative power.  All creation is called to praise God because He is the maker of all creation.   Such praise would be difficult, however, were not creation to be restored to the glory it enjoyed prior to the fall into sin in Genesis 3.  This psalm anticipates the response of creation once again, when all things have been restored to their proper glory and function, a direct result of the death and resurrection of the Son of God, to be fully realized in his Second Coming. 

1 Peter 1:3-9 — Peter begins his letter in praise of what God has done through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is the good will of God the Father to bring people to faith in God the Son through God the Holy Spirit, thereby granting them forgiveness, grace, and the eternal life that flows out of proper relationship with the Creator.  We are to rejoice in this, even though we do not experience it fully yet.  Suffering is not the disproof of God’s intentions towards us, rather suffering is an opportunity to have our faith grown and strengthened.  Our eyes are fixed on the day of our Lord’s return, trusting that God will do what He has promised to through Jesus.  Jesus’ resurrection is our proof and evidence of God’s promises, and so we can endure the suffering of this life (as the Apostles endured their suffering in Acts 5) knowing that Jesus is victorious over every power that sets itself in opposition to him.  We may suffer and even die at the hands of those powers now, but those powers possess no real power at all because Jesus has conquered even death itself. 

John 20:19-31— Jesus has instructed his disciples to go to Galilee to meet him there.  However He does not keep them in suspense.  Easter evening He appears to them in Jerusalem as they met behind locked doors.  The fantastical reports of the women, and later of Peter and John, are now substantiated firsthand for all of the disciples except Thomas. 

Jesus’ message is powerful.  Peace.  Instead of fear and uncertainty, they are to receive peace.  Instead of huddling in fear, they are to be sent.  We often think of peace and peacefulness as a lack of activity whether positive or negative.  But here peace is equated with carrying out the Father’s will as directed by the Son. 

They go empowered for their work, further adding to their peace and confidence.  They receive the Holy Spirit so that they are able to pronounce forgiveness to people.  No longer is forgiveness attained through the blood of animals.  The blood of Jesus has bought forgiveness once and for all.  Jesus is therefore able to delegate that authority to his disciples.  To this day the most important work of the Church is announcing forgiveness of sins to those who place their hope and trust in Jesus the Messiah.  This is serious work.  If the Church does not do this, the implication is that people remain in their sins.  They have no forgiveness, no peace, no hope. 

Sometimes we are inclined to relegate the blessings of Jesus’ resurrection to the end of our lives.  We look forward to the Get-Out-of-Hell free card, and the promise of eternal life.  But the implications of the resurrection are to be enjoyed here and now as well.  We have forgiveness.  Grace.   Not just for those things that we know of that we’ve done wrong.  Not just for those things we’ve done wrong and have overcome.  But forgiveness here and now, where we stand.  As we come in faith before our Lord and plead our weakness, our brokenness, our hopelessness apart from him, we are assured of forgiveness and grace. 

What a blessing this is to the troubled heart and mind!  And how easily we dismiss it almost before we consider it.  How easy it is to let our minds wander during Confession on Sundays, and to let the words of Absolution float over our heads while we check out what so-and-so is wearing today.  We hear it so often, we begin to quit thinking about it. 

Forgiveness is the heart of the Gospel message, and the Church must always remain the place where no obstacle is placed in the way of forgiveness.  Where repentance is taught, modeled, and received, and where forgiveness is announced and assured and embodied.  This is Christian freedom!  Not the freedom to indulge our sinfulness without fear of repercussions, but the freedom to let go of our past sins and guilts and to begin new lives in God’s grace.  Lives where we can be sent as agents of forgiveness and grace to the people around us. 

 

The Day In-Between

April 19, 2014

In-between times are hard.  Even a short period of in-betweenness can feel as though it stretches out for eternity.  How to fill the time, speed the clock hands faster from one event to the next anticipated one?  As a child life seemed a constant avalanche of in-between times.  Adults were so slow, time was so slow, and there was so much good stuff waiting ahead if only time would move faster!

As an adult, I don’t have many in-between times any more.  It seems as though I’m wondering how the time passed so quickly, how I could already be at the Next Big Event.  I haven’t even finished cleaning up from the Last Big Event.  If only the steady gaze of the digital clock would blink a bit more often.
Easter Saturday is one of those rare in-between times.  Not as though there isn’t plenty to do, but it’s a breathing space between the ruckus of the past week and the celebration tomorrow morning.  After mad-dashing everything, Saturday seems oddly out of step with the mayhem of Holy Week.  
For the disciples of Jesus, of course, this was a day of mourning.  Their rabbi and friend was dead.  The one they thought was going to usher in a fabulous new era for God’s people was publicly executed by the very foreign power they had hoped He would displace.  What had gone wrong?  What had they missed?  What could all those amazing healings and feedings and resurrections and teachings have meant, if He could so suddenly be gone from their midst.
And if it could happen to him, the same people who saw to his death would have no trouble bringing about the disciples’ deaths.  
Through the blessing of hindsight, today is not an in-between day of fear and dread.  I don’t have to hide out behind locked doors for fear of being arrested.  I know what tomorrow brings.  I know the end of God’s Story, even if I’m vague on the particulars of future chapters of my own story.  I know what happened on the cross.  I know what happened at the empty tomb.  I know that by faith, I’ll be in that great family reunion snapshot of Revelation 7.  
In-between, I have a lot to do.  I’ve been blessed with a lot to do.  People to love and be loved by.  Scraped knees to clean.  Intellectual rabbit-holes to dive down over coffee or tequila.  Good news to proclaim, both to those who already know it but are as prone to forgetfulness as I am, as well as those who may never have really heard it before.  There’s no shortage of things to fill my days, and perhaps the biggest struggle I face is remembering that these things are important and have meaning, precisely because I’m in-between. 
For those who don’t believe or don’t know that this is in-between, I can’t imagine how frustrating things might be at times. We put so much time and effort into so many things that don’t matter in the long run.  Working with older adults, I recognize this.  So much money and time and effort going into things that we let slip from our hands in the final moments without a second thought.  
Each day has to have meaning then.  If this life is in-between the glory of the resurrection and the Promise of the Son of God’s return in glory, how to find meaning?  So many people struggle with this it seems.  So many young people who should be anticipating lives full of excitement and joy instead are numbing themselves with alcohol or drugs or any number of other things in an effort to fill the gaps, to pass the time.  Except that they don’t seem to be passing the time towards anything.
Without a larger narrative, without a firmly set place in a large story that is unfolding gradually but surely to a definite end, what’s the point?  Why bother working?  Why bother loving our neighbor?  Why bother with anything other than intermittent moments of numbness or pleasure?  What’s the point of going on?  It would seem that many people – perhaps an increasing number of them – are realizing that without God, there isn’t a point.  The only honest alternative is to face an utter meaninglessness of life, as this  very good essay (with thanks to Gene Veith’s excellent blog and reference) point out.  
The Christian life can struggle somewhat with all of this as well.  We can become confused and distracted.  We know that this is an in-between time, but it’s the only kind of time we’ve every known.  Maybe it is all about the nicest car and the biggest house and the hottest spouse and the perfectly educated and trained children.  Maybe those things are important, even if it means missing out on the smaller, less emphasized in-between moments of community and time together and looking out for those around us.  
This is the in-between time.  It isn’t pointless.  We are directed by and towards not just something but someone.  Our meaning is inherent, not store-bought.  It is infused into our selves and everything and everyone around us.  Perhaps this in-between time is a gift to rediscover and remember that very thing, to better prepare us for who is coming.  How will you spend your in-between day, and your in-between life?  

Covenants

April 18, 2014

I’ve been playing phone tag the past couple of days with someone interested in possibly joining us for worship.  I like those sorts of phone calls, but they’re also a source of angst.  People that call with questions about possibly coming to church are sort of an interesting situation.  If they’re calling a Lutheran church, they have some sort of clue (usually) what it is that they might be dealing with.  In other words, they didn’t call the community church up the road or another denomination.  They called the Lutherans, which indicates a familiarity with Lutheranism.  But if they’re calling to ask more questions, then there are agendas at play, most likely.

It might have to do with worship style.  It might have to do with whether or not we’re “confessional”.  Today, it had to do with whether we’re affiliated with Reconciling in Christ.  I didn’t have time to look it up, so I simply said that no, we weren’t, but that we welcomed all people to worship.  Which is true.  I don’t care what your affiliation or persuasion or point of view is, everyone is welcome to join us to hear the Word of God.  
When I was able to look up RIC afterwards, it confirmed my hunch.  It’s an organization committed to furthering the support of alternative sexuality lifestyles in the Church, and particularly the Lutheran church.  You can join the organization by signing a covenant with their organization.  I was curious, and read through it.
Paragraph 1 – nothing very problematic here.  I can affirm everything in this paragraph.  However, I find it interesting that it avoids a lot of key Lutheran language, particularly terms like confession and repentance and forgiveness.  It emphasizes reconciliation – what does that mean to this group?  Reconciliation means that something was separating us from God – what is that thing?  It’s sin, of course.  And sin is a state of being contrary to God’s intended state of being for us.  It requires acknowledgment of our guilt, confession of it, repentance and the desire to live anew, and acceptance of the forgiveness of God.  Christ calls us to repentance and into forgiveness and grace.  None of that is indicated here, though.  It sounds as though Jesus’ primary concern is that we be honest with ourselves about who we are and live that identity out as honestly as possible, without considering whether that identity may not be pleasing to God or not.
Paragraph 2 – Again, good stuff here by and large, but again vague and non-specific.  Equality in Christ comes through confession and repentance and forgiveness.  It comes through recognizing that Jesus came to die and rise again for us because we are sinful and that it is our duty to identify our sinfulness and seek to die to it each and every day.  We can only come to the foot of the cross in that mode – in acknowledgement that He is our Lord and therefore He dictates what is and is not sinful.  We do not.  We are one body at his table only in this spirit of confession and forgiveness and grace, not aside from it.  God’s welcome extends through confession of sin and repentance, not aside from it or without it.  
Paragraph 3 – Reasonable still, though dangerously vague.  Is my church welcoming and inviting?  Of course!  Do I want anyone and everyone to come through our doors to hear the Word of God?  Of course!  But they’re going to hear the Word of God, and that may shock or offend them, as it often shocks and offends me.  Which drives us back to confession and repentance and forgiveness.  I am not free to include people that refuse the Word of God as the source and norm for their definitions of right and wrong.  As such – 
– people of every background and heritage are welcome, because God is the creator of all peoples, languages, skin colors, accents, etc.  
– people of all sexual orientations and identities are welcome to come and hear the Word of God, which will guide them into evaluating their orientations and identities to see if they are in keeping with the Word of God.  
– people of all relationship arrangements are welcome to come and hear the Word of God and what it has to say about their arrangements and whether or not those arrangements are pleasing to God.  If those arrangements are not pleasing to God according to his Word, then inclusion into our community of faith will involve honest efforts to change those arrangements, supported and encouraged by our community.
– people of all abilities are welcome to come and hear God’s Word.  Faith is not an intellectual exercise that requires a certain cognitive level. 
Final Paragraph – Follow not just in the steps of Christ, but in his words and teaching, which include the words and teaching of all of Scripture.
The phrasing is all generic and vague enough that, if the intentions of this organization weren’t more clearly obvious.  I could sign off on a covenant like this in good faith, but I strongly suspect they would not be at all happy with what I  preach and teach in this congregation.  Their people would definitely be welcome here to hear the Word of God, but they would find out that we take the Word of God seriously.  Sin is called sin here, whether it’s gossip, cheating on your taxes, living with your boyfriend, or engaging in an alternative sexuality lifestyle.  
I doubt that the person who called will be coming to worship.  They would be taking a big risk.  From their perspective, the risk is not being affirmed and encouraged in a particular belief or lifestyle.  From my perspective, their risk is the same as mine every day – being confronted with the living Word of God that convicts me of my sin, drives me to confession, comforts me with forgiveness, and bids me to go and sin no more.  
That’s a really big risk for every single person.  The most important risk and the most necessary risk in all our lives.  If God didn’t spare his own Son for you and I, He is not going to allow us the luxury of claiming that sin is acceptable.  That’s never a pleasant thing.  We all prefer to see our sin in less stark terms.  Which is why we need to hear the Word of God over and over and over again.  The only covenant that matters is the one written in Jesus’ blood.  No other covenant matters, and nothing can be added to His.