Book Review: Dear Church by Lenny Duncan

Let me start out by saying that I feel ill-equipped to offer much of a commentary on the topic of race. Yes, I have attended a multi-day anti-racism training and I have read various books on race relations, but I will never know what it feels like to be a person of color in the church or in our nation. I grew up in a predominantly white town and have lived for a majority of my life in predominantly white towns. The two congregations that I have served have each had one person of color as a member.

The congregations that I have served are exactly the ones that Lenny is writing to in Dear Church: A Love Letter From a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. I know that to do anything I must stop and listen to those that have experienced discrimination and told to go back to where they came from. I can be present with them and attempt to be a representative of God.

Lenny’s call for a revolution will make many in the church uncomfortable and we will begin to hear the denials of racism stack up. I believe that everyone has at least a bit of racism within them and to begin this conversation we must repent of it. Lenny has allowed himself to become vulnerable in the sharing of his own experiences and his call to action. He is a pastor on the front lines that is truly willing to put his call on the line to do exactly what Jesus.

There are parts in the book that I do not fully understand and yet I am willing to listen and change my own practices if it means that I am able to preach a more inclusive gospel. As he states time and time again, Jesus loves everyone, and if we are to live into our true calling as Christians, we should too. This is a must read so that we can come to an understanding of where the church is today so that we can move into the future. If the ELCA, as the whitest denomination in the U.S., does not confront our heritage and enter the conversation, we vary well may not be around in the near future.

A Glimpse of Pentecost

May 26, 2019 (Memorial Day Weekend)

John 14:23-29

I met David during my last J-Term class of seminary. J-term is the 2-3 week period in January before the spring semester starts and the classes offered are usually intensives on a certain topic. The class in which I chose to enroll was Gathered at the Table. A two-week course, led by the then director of education for ELCA World Hunger, where the first week was spent on campus in class learning about how the ELCA was combatting world hunger and how we made our voice heard, and the second week was spent in Washington D.C.

David was passionate about caring for the homeless of Washington D.C. and ensuring that they had every opportunity available to them to step out of homelessness. Why was David so passionate? Because he himself, traveled the United States from Phoenix to Las Vegas, to Dallas and then Chicago, then from New York City to eventually landing in Washington D.C. as a homeless man. He found himself homeless at the age of 29 due to schizophrenia.  He kept moving around the country to find a place where he may fit in, while living on the streets. He always tried to keep up his appearance so that he did not appear homeless. However, he told us that in Washington D.C. he started looking the part and probably looked like the person he used to cross the street to avoid encountering. It was in Washington D.C. that David met people from the National Coalition for the Homeless. The coalition was a voice for the homeless and helped him get off the streets. They advocated for him and assisted him in finding an apartment. They were a voice for him when his was silent. Once he got back on his feet, he started working as a member of the National Coalition for the Homeless by talking to groups like ours and ensuring the voice of the homeless are heard. He had become an advocate.

Jesus promises to send an advocate, the Holy Spirit, in his place when he leaves. This advocate will teach us and remind us of Jesus Christ and how we are to live into the grace and love of God in this broken world. David was living this out in his life and carrying it to the next step and following in the steps of those that had lifted him up. How are we being an advocate for our brothers and sisters around the world?

This is a tough question that some do not want to even be bothered with. It requires us to dig deep into the heart of the gospel and listening to what Jesus teaches. Some choose to walk away while others simply go through the motions. Judas Iscariot has chosen the latter. He has walked away from the promise of Jesus to fulfill the plan that was set in place from the very beginning. Judas himself would suffer in the motion of eventually handing Jesus over to the authorities. He has stepped away from the truth of Jesus Christ and set into motion the passion that would pull all of us into the greater story.

As Jesus spends this last night with his disciples, he leaves some challenging thoughts for them to discern as they choose or choose not to follow him. He challenges them when he says, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” What exactly does it mean to keep the words of Jesus? Have we been listening to his teachings from the very beginning? The disciples must be pondering some of these same questions. They have been traveling with Jesus for the last three years and now he starts to point out what separates you from God. Note, this does not mean that God does not love us, but our own lack of love for Jesus separates us from knowing the truth that is found in the word.

We not only do this with Jesus, but we do it with those that choose to get close to us, to know us, and want to be in a relationship with us so that we can build community. God works through various relationships to draw us closer to Jesus. As in David’s case, it can take some time to wake up to those that are speaking out on our behalf and reaching out with a love that is reflective of God’s love for us.

Jesus knows our hearts!

Jesus knows that we get lost!

Jesus seeks us out because of these very truths. Jesus will leave the ninety-nine behind to find just the one that is lost. That is the very thing that an advocate does. An advocate speaks up on behalf of those whose voices are getting ignored. As Jesus prepares to enter the passion journey that will lead him to the cross, he promises the disciples that he will send an advocate in his place. This advocate that he speaks of is the Holy Spirit! This is a glimpse of the Pentecost that is to come, and the Pentecost that we will be celebrating in two weeks. The Holy Spirit will continue to be a teacher for the disciples and remind them of Jesus’ words. The Holy Spirit will assist them as they are left wondering where to turn next as Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection begins to set the tone for the ministry to come and their calling to share the good news.

The Holy Spirit is our advocate as well. The gospels teach us how to live out this Christian life and follow in the steps of Jesus Christ. We are God’s hands and feet in the world. David began to learn this as he finally opened his heart up to those in the National Coalition for the Homeless as they advocated on his behalf. He in turn, heard the call to do the same for those that are still on the streets and wondering where their next meal will come from or how they will warm up on those coldest days and nights.

So, I return to my original question. How are we being an advocate for our brothers and sisters around the world?

Are we being bold and carrying out the gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ, as he has called us to do?

There are many things that we can be advocates for. We can choose to advocate for those that hunger and support various organizations, such as Bread for the World or ELCA World Hunger. We can support our ministry partners in Haiti and assist in their care and teaching of those that need it the most. We can speak out against gun violence and the deaths of our sisters and brothers in schools, places of worship, and workplaces. We can be a voice for the environment and the care of creation. We can walk alongside immigrants and those seeking refuge and asylum.

We advocate because we are Easter people. We follow and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Following the gospel is not always easy and it means going against the grain at times. Maybe you feel called to a particular cause to advocate, maybe you are praying for the Holy Spirit to guide you.

As Jesus prepares to leave the disciples, he promises them an advocate. Our hymn of the day, Come Down, O Love Divine, speaks of that advocate. In verse 4 we hear, “No soul can guess love’s grace till it become the place where in the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.” It is this advocate that comes to reside in us in love and grace. May we be a reflection of that advocate to share love and grace with our sisters and brothers around the world.

Let us pray. God, creator of all things, you promise to send us an advocate, the Holy Spirit, to teach us and remind us of Christ in our midst. May we be open to your words of love and grace as we reach out to share your gospel with our communities and remain strong in our faith as we speak a gospel that seems counter-cultural at times. Amen.

God’s Grace is Sufficient


This past week was my first visit to Houston. It is an incredibly large town and yet while we were at the NRG Park Complex, it seemed very secluded from the rest of the city as our food choices were limited to food trucks and concessions. Which honestly, is not too bad unless you are vegetarian, and your daughter must eat gluten free.

Transportation around town also provided a challenge since we did not have a vehicle. We chose to utilize Uber. It was in these Uber trips that we were able to experience a little of the diversity of the city. Victor’s family came from Mexico before he was born, and he drove to make extra money to support his family. Asomgyee came to the United Stated from the United Kingdom and was a professor at a local college earning extra money during the summer. Desta was our Uber driver on Friday after we decided to eat a nice dinner out before heading to NRG Park for the evening. Desta came to the United States from Ethiopia and is now a United States Citizen. He grew up in the Lutheran church in Ethiopia and now works with the youth of his church in Houston.  All three of them commented on the number of buses that they had seen around town transporting the 31,000 ELCA youth and how incredible it was that we were present in Houston.

I loved hearing their stories and was able to see God’s grace working in each of them. Not only is God’s grace sufficient, it reaches beyond all boundaries and changes everything. In this grace, we experience unending love that resonates in hope for the future.

The disciples were challenged when Jesus sent them out for the first time. He gave them authority over the unclean spirits and urged them to go out and heal. Imagine the apprehension that they had when first given this task. Many of them not too long ago had been out fishing in their boats. They had witnessed the coldness that Jesus received from his own community he grew up and they had to be wondering if he has trouble with those he knows, how can we bring healing to those that do not even know us.

They were placed in unfamiliar surroundings and instructed to do the things that they would not have even dreamed of just a couple of years before. Have you ever been placed in these circumstances? Maybe it is a new job that you have just started. Perhaps it was going off to college and leaving the familiar behind. It may have even been when you found out that you were going to be a parent for the first time. The apprehension can come to us in many different venues and yet we are not alone when we enter these places.

The youth and adult leaders that went to National Gathering were presented with many things to be apprehensive about and questions arose about our place in the world as the church of Jesus Christ. We got to meet new friends, which can be overwhelming when there are over 30,000 people. We heard from speakers with some challenging words on tough subjects, from immigration to hunger, self-harm to addiction, and what it means to be transgender to how race shapes who are you. Remembering, that the theme of the Gathering was, “This Changes Everything!” Let’s take a brief look at the week that was experienced by our group and over 30,000 youth and adult leaders.

Each of the speakers spoke to the love that they found in the church. The people that embraced them and helped them through their rough times. The stories that they shared are stories that we can relate to. Those that shared of their own personal struggles and challenges realized that they were broken and that there is nothing wrong with that. They found out that they are loved, and they were able to find hope in the gospel of Jesus.

Their brokenness is no different than ours. Each of us have our own cracks and bruises. Our own scars and hurts. It is to this brokenness and weakness that Paul writes to in his second letter to the Corinthians. He had his own brokenness and weakness and he confessed to them. It is in this that he hears God saying, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

There is an unbinding hope found in those words. When we find ourselves bound by our own brokenness, Christ is there waiting for us with a message of grace that cleanses everything clean. It is this grace that changes everything. We cannot do any of it on our own, but through Jesus and his love poured out for us on the cross. We are changed by his love forever.

Let us pray, Lord God, you come to us in ways that we are not even aware. We may see you in others, or in those things that surround us. Through it all, we desire to be changed. To live lives that reflect your love and compassion. May we experience your call, love, hope, and grace that changes everything. Amen

Love Changes Everything!


June 24, 2018

Mark 4:35-41    


The wind picked up and the smell of rain hung in the air as the disciples began to fight the waves that battered the boats. They would soon be drenched by the rain that poured down. Through it all, Jesus remained sleeping in the stern of the boat.

While the storm in our story is physical, we can be battered by storms of all types as we live our lives. The storms ebb and flow as we interact and learn how to live into relationships and community. We can be a witness to the storms that others encounter as we stay in touch with the news.

There are times as a pastor that I struggle to discuss current events. However, I would be failing in my calling to share the gospel and would be complicit to current events if I did not speak to the instances of actions counter to God’s Word in our world. You would have had to be completely unplugged this past week or two to miss the news around the separation of families at the borders of our country. We can argue about specifics, but it is true that families have been torn apart and in the midst of it Jesus weeps.

I’ll admit that the immigration process in the United States is far from perfect. However, nothing justifies separating a family. Doing so, closes our hearts to the sharing of God’s love with our neighbors. When we open our hearts to Jesus, he calms the storms and reminds us that we are not alone.

The storms that the disciples encounter in our gospel text are not the first. While we cannot know for sure, I don’t think that I would be far off from saying that they experienced many other adversities. Life is full of adversities and I am sure that they had experienced deaths and sicknesses where they came to God in their despair. Not only did they encounter those storms, they traveled with Jesus and would occasionally enter villages where they were not welcome. If you recall, Jesus himself was not welcome in Jerusalem and Mary and Joseph had to escape with him to Egypt as refugees. Imagine what would have happened if Jesus had been separated from his parents.

In the storm, the disciples are overwhelmed with a sense of fear. A fear that encompasses their very beings that entices them to call on Jesus. The fear that welled up is not an uncommon emotion. That fear is also visible in the book of Job and our reading from it this morning as God calls out to him and more less asks him, “Who do you think you are?” Job’s fear pushed him to a point that he was not thinking right and thought he could do everything on his own.

Humanity is not too different than Job. Many times, the first inclination is to do it on our own and question those that tell us differently. I know that I have fell into this camp on more than one occasion. We look beyond what God has to say and the call that Jesus has placed upon our hearts as disciples. The fear that pushes us to do so wells up in the storms that disturb our comfortable lives.

There are many children that know nothing but storms. The overwhelming majority that seek safety in the United States are doing so because they are escaping their own deaths. Rosa, 9, and Juan, 12, came from the same village in Honduras. They reported that a gang running in their neighborhood was known to kidnap children, kill them, and sell their organs on the black market. The gang was also known to kidnap children, cut them open, put drugs in their bodies, sew them back up and use the bodies as containers to traffic drugs. Both children said their teachers in Honduras would warn the students about this gang and instructed children to interact with nobody during their walks to and from school. Both children said they knew children from the neighborhood that had been kidnapped and never seen again.[i]

In the meantime, we argue about who should and should not be allowed into the country. We argue over the wrong questions. Instead of being welcome and walking alongside those that are seeking a place to feel safe, they are separated and placed into detention centers, which Michigan has its own share. Battle Creek, Monroe, and even Port Huron all have certain levels of detention centers.

The ELCA is working to walk with these children. To show them that they are loved and not treated like animals that are put into a cage. AMMPARO, or Accompanying Minor Migrants with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities, is a commitment by the ELCA to walk with children that are forced to leave their homes because of violence, the threat of death, and other issues that rob them of their childhood. Because of AMMPARO, both Rosa and Juan are now doing well in transitional foster care, have been connected to legal services, and have been found eligible for relief.

Through the love of Jesus, the ELCA is reaching out to change their lives for the better. I had an opportunity to meet Mary Campbell, the director of AMMPARO, a couple of weeks ago as we toured Southwest Detroit with the Immigration Team of the synod. We shared opportunities of how we could connect with one another in ministry. Our youth and adult leaders going to National Gathering this next week will have an opportunity to learn more about AMMPARO and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. Just yesterday I received notice from Samaritas, that they are seeking support and homes to house some of these children that have been separated from their families with the goal of reuniting them with their parents. This is God’s Work in our world today through our own hands.

Through the love of Jesus, change can happen. It is here that we find the theme of the National Gathering: This Changes Everything! When we come to talk and meet each other with open minds, arms, and hearts, Jesus becomes a part of the equation. It is here that we learn to talk with love for our sisters and brothers and fear starts to vanish. The storms that we had previously encountered are calmed and we find Jesus right beside us, where he has always been.

The disciples also discovered that Jesus changes everything. They knew who to turn to when the storm started battering their boats and the ones that had gathered near them. They may not have fully understood what Jesus could do, but they had faith in him and knew that somehow, he would be able to calm the storm that had engulfed them.

Jesus continued to approach storms throughout his ministry with the disciples and he knew how each one needed to be addressed. Welcoming Jesus into the storm is where true change began to happen. The change did not first happen in the weather that rocked the boats, but in the hearts of those that came to Jesus. They had placed their faith in him.

Jesus chose to weather the ultimate storm to show his love for all of humanity. He did not approach his death on the cross lightly and at times had reservations about it. However, he made the decision to be battered by storms that filled the disciples first with fear. On the other side of the storm, the Resurrection, the disciples are reassured that they do not enter their storms alone. Through Jesus they encountered the ultimate love and hope. A love that changes everything.

Let us pray. Life changing God, you give us everything we need when we need it. We do not walk alone in our storms and we give thanks for you accompanying us. May you be with us as we learn to accompany those that seek refuge and your love. Amen.


[i] AMMPARO, 40 stories for the 40 Day Bible and Prayer Challenge, Resources/AMMPARO#ForSynodsAndCongregations