Pastor's Note


Enculturation & Acculturation

Cultural Literacy is a term defining our ability to understand & participate fluently in a given culture. A culturally literate person knows customs & traditions. Based on my experience for example, I know not to motion to a South Korean person with my palm facing up. I know never to use a thumbs up sign in Nigeria, (unless you really mean it!) or to shake with my left hand when visiting Kuwait.

In America I became culturally literate through the process of enculturation. Which means I grew up as a member of a cultural majority. Enjoying all the fringe benefits of a system designed to reward my participation and help me set boundaries, a system that as the member of a cultural majority I experienced as fair, just and balanced.

A member of a cultural minority experiences their life through acculturation. Lacking privileges, facing systemic challenges in a society where participation is not rewarded and boundaries become roadblocks. – where the world is experienced as unfair, unjust and out of balance.

And based on how we perceive culture we develop allusions and prejudices – myths about the world we live in. For example about 72% of people above the age of 55 think the Millennial generation has entitlement issues. But it’s funny that 65% of Millennials think they are entitled too! But in reality, the heart of the issue lies in a timeless tradition we’ve all experienced, of a younger generation developing new cultural standards… for their world… not ours.

Following the Rules

In our story today the religious elite come down from the home office in Jerusalem, to try and talk some sense into this millennial age Jesus. And if you listen very carefully you can almost hear them saying,
“That’s not the way we do things around here…” “I mean the rules are all written down…” “This is the way we’ve always done things Jesus…”

And the Pharisees would definitely consider themselves culturally literate. In first century Jerusalem they know the laws of Moses, but they also know the oral law, the human traditions passed down over centuries that they follow. Not to gain eternal life, but because they were God’s people / In order to form a closer relationship with God.

And just to be clear, the Pharisees didn’t suffer from OCD. This hand washing was a ritual hand washing they were speaking of. Hand sanitizer hadn’t been invented and Louis Pasteur wouldn’t be around for another 1800 years. These were orders originally directed at the priests in the temple. But through human tradition this had become a rule placed on every devout Jew.

Jesus didn’t avoid hard conversations

But their question is really less about hand washing and more an indictment of Jesus and his inability to follow the rules and maintain the status quo. Placing himself, in their eyes, above the law. And despite the many images we have of Jesus, let’s not lose sight of the fact that he was never one to turn away from hard conversations, or hesitate to call out the hypocrisies of his world. He was just as likely to kick over a table as he was to hug a little lamb.

Especially when those self-identified religious elite were getting in the way of God’s mission for the world – a mission Jesus outlines in another argument with the home office, saying… “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and all the prophets.” Mt 22:37-40

Everything from “In the beginning… up to present day, hangs on this.” That sounds almost like a mission statement.  And Jesus turns the tables with his reference to Isaiah in our story, calling the Pharisees hypocrites for placing human traditions above God’s commands. In no way does Jesus deny the validity of the laws of Moses, rather he rejects the interpretation which has turned into a means used to pass judgment and alienate… placing people outside the reach of God’s love. And to the religious elite gathered in the temple he says, “Let anyone among you who is without sin… be the first to throw a stone.”

A Big & Bold Mission

Well, like Jesus, the people of Good Shepherd are engaging in some hard conversations of our own. We have a waypoint team made up of lay members from both our campuses, Some of you… members of our board… looking at our mission as God’s people. Our purpose in the world today. What is our current mission? Do you know it? It is “We invite and welcome all people to worship God, grow in the Holy Spirit, and serve others in Jesus’ name.”

If you are the slightest bit culturally literate about America today you know this is a BIG & BOLD mission to invite & welcome ALL people. A community acting in such a way would be counter cultural to say the least. And like Jesus, we are not shying away from hard conversations. If you received the latest edition of our The Messenger this week you know as a congregation we are embarking on a mission of discovery.

The Reconciling in Christ task force is exploring to what degree our congregation extends a welcome and a message of belonging to ALL people. And with our modern ears when we hear talk like this our minds immediately go to “are we open & affirming to the LGBTQ community?” But listening to some of the eulogies that were given this week – both for Aretha Franklin and John McCain – made me realize how far we’ve strayed from the idea of ALL in our world today.

How the only thing comparable to the breadth and depth and far reaching scope of God’s love for us. Is the way as God’s people we chose to divide & alienate one from another, placing human traditions above our call to LOVE God and LOVE neighbor.

What do we mean when we say “All”…

What do we mean by the words, “We invite and welcome ALL people?” Are all conservatives welcome here? All progressives, or socialists? Heaven forbid all independents!!! Don’t tell Pastor Chris I said that…

And we make light of it but is true, do all those groups feel welcome here and a guest who is any of the above…Would they walk away saying, this is a place I can belong… this is a place where despite what I might experience out in the world… this is a place where I know I am safe.

Does ALL include non-NORWEGIANS? Non-SWEDES or Non-GERMANS? Widows? Single Mothers? Orphans? Black, white, Asian, immigrant… undocumented immigrant? Whom do we consider unclean in our world today?

Does all include gay and lesbian, or transgender children in our congregation. Those who have been divorced or committed what humans call “Cardinal Sins” People with Mental Health struggles or physical challenges. Those who have been irreparably hurt or damaged or betrayed by the church, because current events show us they are out there too. And what about Vikings fans? I mean let’s get real here this morning…

What’s really in our Hearts?

In this passage Jesus warns us about blind consumption of culture, & conformity to standards and traditions. He calls us to question the received framework that surrounds us…. What’s really in our hearts on a daily basis??? I don’t know if that’s a question any of us wants to truly answer.

Today our media feeds us with unwashed violence, allowing us to participate in all the theft, murder, adultery and wickedness we can handle, LIVE! We consume news, blogs, videos & articles to fit specifically what’s in our hearts. And all the hand sanitizer in the world won’t wash away the violence and division at our fingertips & no law can protect us from the darkness in our hearts.

Like the microscopic germs in Pasteur’s theory they have the power to come in and take over and spoil the entire mix. But just as damaging is our silence in regards to participation in a culture that uses human traditions & laws to discriminate & judge  & alienate members of the body of Christ. St Paul, in Romans, discussing other human traditions wrote If your brother or sister is being injured by what you consume you’re no longer living in love.

We invite and welcome ALL people to come & experience the love of God

In this passage Jesus shows us how our cultural literacy as children of God is defined by and resides in our hearts. That we are to Love God with all our heart and soul and mind, And that we are to love our neighbor… love ALL people exactly as we ourselves would like to be loved. As if they were our brothers and sisters because in the kingdom of God they are.

And given my life experience, at the very least I can assure you as your pastor, with all of the sins I have committed & commandments I have broken in my life… I will be the last one to cast a stone, I will be the last one to judge. Because this isn’t a story about Jesus vs the law. It is a complete re-calibration of how we order and participate in our culture.

And as Christians we make choices daily regarding how we participate in society. The foods we eat, the stores we shop, our concern for creation, or the ministries we support… it is an important aspect of our faith. But I think today, Jesus would still be focused on what’s in our hearts. What are your opinions, your prejudices, what is the subconscious narrative running through your heart & mind & do you wash up before feeding it? This passage is a call to share God’s love so that everyone is a cultural majority.

Where boundaries and barriers are broken down. Where pride and prejudice gives way to love and humility and openness. Where we honestly and openly stand with outstretched arms to proclaim. We invite and welcome ALL people to come & experience the love of God.


  1. Mark Renner on September 5, 2018 at 4:09 pm

    “Everything from “In the beginning… up to present day, hangs on this.” That sounds almost like a mission statement. ” And it looks like a cross. If we are “Cross cultural” the recognition begins with our common human condition of standing before the cross of Christ hearing, “Father, forgive them… They are clueless.” Yes to inviting all to “come as you are.” No to being conformed to any culture without the inward transformation of mind. No to any demand to accede to any other standard of righteousness, civil, social, or otherwise. No to the “it’s all good” lovelessness that allows the clueless to remain so. Yes, to a word that asks each, “You have been forgiven…now what will you do with your new freedom?”