A Pentecost Moment: How do we respond? And Where is God in all this

A Pentecost Moment: How do we respond? And Where is God in all this

As we celebrate the Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit in the church calendar. This year it is marked with disruption of all sorts. From Protests and Covid-19 to Violence. It may seem like the world is falling apart. I have been overwhelmed with much of what is going on and I found it difficult to offer any meaningful reflection that wasn’t steeped in anger or frustration. Some of you may feel the same way. I have been focusing on listening and observing so that I can respond with grace and wisdom.

The most difficult thing to witness these past few weeks has been seeing the lack of compassion and understanding from our fellow citizens. From people getting violent or angry about wearing masks, the stay at home order, the continued violence against minorities from Asian folks being blamed for the COVID-19, and then the incidents of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. This is not the country I want to live in or thought we lived in. It is certainly not the Kingdom of God.

As Lutherans in our Baptismal Liturgy asks us to profess our faith, reject sin, and confess the faith fo the church.

One part in particular states: 

Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God? We renounce them

Do you renounce the parts of the world that rebel against God? We renounce them.

Do you renounce the way so sin that draws you from God? We renounce them.

ELW Affirmation of Baptism Liturgy

Given all the racism, violence, and other sins we see around us TODAY. We cannot remain silent. We must Renounce Sin when we see it. We must take an active role in renouncing racism, violence, and greed. 

We must also confess that we have been a part of it. That maybe we have done a poor job of living up to our promise to renounce the Devil and all the things that defy and draw us away from God. I know I certainly have. There are subtle ways in which I discriminate or judge my neighbor based on appearance or prejudice. I get stuck in the trap of greed and hoping more money will solve all my problems or thinking violence and anger is the only way forward.

But despite our failures as Lutherans, we are also reminded of God’s grace. Martin Luther’s explanation of the third article fo the Creed. In the Small Catechism states:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.

Luther’s Small Catechism

We are continually called to Grace and given the Gift of Grace. The church is the place we are daily called, gathered, forgiven, sanctified, and sent out. And it is the stirring up of the Holy Spirit that makes it possible. One of my Franciscan brothers gave the wonderful image of a glass of milk with chocolate sauce sitting at the bottom. We have been given the wonderful gift of grace and it needs to be stirred up. Just like that syrup needs to be stirred up to make Chocolate milk. It seems that the Holy Spirit is stirring things up in us and in the world around us. We are asking ourselves some difficult and challenging questions. What things are stirring up in you? Discomfort, pain, new ways of looking at things, excitement, or more questions than answers.

I will share with you just a few questions I have been pondering lately:
Given all that is happening? Do I have a vision for what God’s Kingdom might look like? What do I do with my anger and frustration so that I can love my neighbor instead of being suspicious? Am I part of the problem? Am I racist?  If people can worship online, why come to church? How do we respond to racism in way that is grace-filled? How do we as a mostly white congregation listen to the experiences of minorities? How might this shape our worship or understanding of scripture? What does meaningful worship look like? How can we use the technology we are using to be better connected? How have we let money get in the way of loving others? Personally and in the church. Where are you, God?

Experiencing Communion when Apart

Experiencing Communion when Apart

As Lutherans, the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion (sometimes called the Means of grace) are an important part of how we experience God’s grace and presence in our lives.

During this time of pandemic and social distancing, we have not been able to experience the presence of Christ in Holy Communion as we did weekly during our normal Sunday Worship.

In the meantime, I encourage everyone to read through this section from Martin Luther’s Small catechism that reminds us of just what Holy Communion means to us.

What is the sacrament of Holy Communion?

It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself.

Where is this written?

The holy Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul, write this:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread: and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to His disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.

After supper, in the same manner, He took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Take, drink, all of you. This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you and all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this, often, in remembrance of Me.

What is the benefit of such eating and drinking?

That is shown us in these words: Given, and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins; namely, that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?

It is not the eating and drinking, indeed, that does them, but the words which stand here, namely: Given, and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins. Which words are, besides the bodily eating and drinking, as the chief thing in the Sacrament; and anyone that believes these words has what they say and express, namely, the forgiveness of sins.

Who, then, receives such Sacrament worthily?

Fasting and bodily preparation is, indeed, a fine outward training; but he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: Given, and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.

But any that does not believe these words or doubts is unworthy and unfit; for the words For you require altogether believing hearts.

In light of this as Lutherans, we believe that Christ is really and fully present in Holy Communion, that we receive grace and forgiveness when we partake, and we receive all this through faith.

In the spirit of receiving Holy Communion and receiving all its benefits through Faith. I would like to share with you the practice of Spiritual Communion. It is essentially a prayer asking for Christ’s presence. It is a Roman Catholic practice that I think fits our Lutheran understanding of the sacraments. It is not meant to replace Holy Communion but strengthen our desire for Christ and sustain us until we can receive the sacrament again. Spiritual Communion is a prayer that acknowledges Christ’s real and full presence in Holy Communion and reminds us that we can receive that same grace and forgiveness we receive in the Bread and the Wine during worship. Some of you may find this particular practice hard to wrap your mind around. In that case, it may not be for you and that is ok.

The means of grace are concrete ways for us to know God’s grace and forgiveness. Spiritual Communion is one way to receive this free gift of grace in the absence of our ability to assemble and receive Holy Communion in worship.

The purpose of Holy Communion is for Christ to show and reveal his presence in our lives. Christ promises to be with us in the Sacraments and also when pray for his presence.

So how do you practice Spiritual Communion?

Find a quiet place. Think about what it means for Christ to be present in your life. Think about what it means to receive Christ in Holy Communion. Think about Christ being present with you.

Then use this pray

My Jesus,
I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Communion.
I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You.

 It can be prayed in the midst of your daily work, lifting up your thoughts to God.

The ultimate goal of our lives should be communion with God and an act of spiritual communion can help a person draw closer to that goal.

Grace and Peace.

How Long oh Lord?

How Long oh Lord?

Psalm 13

Prayer for Deliverance from Enemies
To the leader. A Psalm of David.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain[a] in my soul,
    and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
    my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

But I trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

As the weeks go on with COVID-19 and the many ways it has halted and altered the world around us. I wonder myself, “How long, O Lord? Have you forgotten me?” I wonder how long it will be before we have in person worship again. Or how long it will be before we can all receive communion together.

I also wonder as I look out at the world. We have seen extraordinary kindness but as things continue, I am starting to notice and dwell on the bad. The bullying, the name calling, the injustice, the poor, the hungry. It is overwhelming.

This Psalm has only 6 verses. The first 4 verses linger in the sense of little hope and comfort. It is ok to voice and be in that space. It is never good to avoid pain, loneliness and sorrow. Maybe need to to just sit with those things for awhile. 

However, we cling to hope we find in God. We don’t have dwell in the land of sorrow or defeat. We can cling to the promises we find in Jesus. That He is the way, the truth and the life.

Advent is Coming

Advent is Coming

Advent is coming, its marks the beginning of our church year. This Advent is particularly unique and eventful as I await the birth of my own child. 

The Birth of a child is a special thing. I am reflecting on how much love and attention our baby has already received and they aren’t even born yet. We are so thankful for all the gifts and well wishes. It certainly makes me think the Jesus came to us as a child for a reason. For Christians, the birth of Jesus is not an afterthought. The birth of Christ is the beginning of the Good News that “God is with us”. John 1:14 tells us “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”  The announcement and birth of a Child has a unique and special way of creating and nurturing community. Just look at all the people who gathered around Jesus when he was born. Mary, Joseph, Angels, Shepherds, Animals, and Kings. The focus of each one shifted to adoring and loving this child. Their needs seem to be put on hold and a generous spirit of caring to flowed forth toward this Mother and Child.

We have a lot of hurt and division happening in the world, and yet we celebrate grace and truth that comes in the Christ Child. Through this child we are called together. When we focus on loving Jesus we quickly understand that through Jesus we are loved by God and we are called to a greater purpose by God’s light in the world. This love is meant to be shared with the world and bring redemption. Advent is the season we celebrate and prepare for the Good News found in Jesus.  

We celebrate advent using several colors. In some traditions the color of Advent is blue as a symbol of hope and Jesus’ royalty. In other traditions purple and rose symbolize the coming Kingdom and the need for repentance as we hear from John the Baptist and Jesus: “Repent for the Kingdom is at hand.” Both are true. Jesus brings hope, but he also reminds us that God comes to shake things up in our lives. 
We celebrate Advent not just to remember the hope of God’s people waiting for Jesus long ago, but also as God’s people who wait for Jesus to come again now. We are still waiting!

Caitlin and I preparing for our own child with lots of fear and excitement. We know that you share in the experience as well. What will baby look like? Will it be a boy or a girl?

I invite you to reflect upon a waiting, or any other period of waiting in your life. What was it like to anticipate change? How might that be similar to us as we wait for Jesus? While we wait for Jesus, know the Holy Spirit is with us and beside us, guiding and preparing all of us.

This year we will have our Soup and Service on Wednesday’s during Advent. The theme we are looking at  Saints sharing the spirit of Advent: St Nicolas, St. Lucy and Katharina Von Bora (Katie Luther) Let’s find out together.

I hope that this Advent and Christmas, Christ makes himself known to you in a meaningful way. Caitlin and I look forward introducing baby and sharing stories and photos. Have a happy and blessed celebration here in our community and with your family.

What does a Pastor do?

What does a Pastor do?

A question I often get asked is “What does a Pastor do from day to day?”

The most obvious thing is preparing a sermon each week. Every pastor is different in their process. I typically read through the assigned weekly scripture reading at least a half-dozen times throughout the week. I might copy by hand the Gospel lesson as a way to slow down my brain and meditate on the words. I spend time throughout the week, praying, thinking about current events, writing down my thoughts about the Scripture,  reading commentaries, and then reading through my notes aloud. Usually, by Friday I have a strong sense of what my sermon will look like. I will write an outline and review it until I preach it. As someone told me once “A Sermon isn’t done until it is preached.” When I preach, my prayer is that you hear God’s voice. Sometimes the sermon might be challenging you, other times it might bring comfort, but I strive to communicate the love of Jesus no matter what. My prayer is that my preaching makes you more aware of how God might be speaking to you in your daily life.

Throughout the week I usually have a variety of meetings in which I provide guidance and prayerful reflection. I spend a fair amount of time thinking, planning, and writing to prepare for each meeting. Much of the conversations at these meetings center around how God and our community are best served through our efforts here at Community. I spend time brainstorming about how we can impact our neighborhood. I am often looking ahead to the seasons of our church calendar so to provide meaningful worship experiences from year to year.

Additionally, I work with our teams to plan our regular liturgy, collaborate on Sunday School plans, and have conversations about our food pantry and looking at what the council and I would like to accomplish together in the future. I am continually learning what God is up to in this place. I learn just as much from you as I hope you do from me.

One of the most important daily tasks is my time spent in prayer and reading Scripture. Serving God as a Pastor is a privilege. Learning to love God more helps me to give my best as I lead this community. I typically go through the directory and pray for folks by name. Spending time in reflection and listening to God is a priority for every follower of Jesus, but even more so for pastors. As Martin Luther states “Prayer is like breathing”.

One of the things I value most is getting to spend time with my flock. On Sundays, I learn something new about our community every time I lead worship. I occasionally pop in on some of the various team meetings or Bible studies. I make phone calls or go to your homes, or you might even come by my office. There are also other times when I am called upon to support you through a surgery or illness, the death of a loved one, or when people are just struggling with life. I have the privilege of sharing the gifts of the communion table to those who are homebound as well. I value hearing your stories. I hope that my presence reflects God’s presence to you. I am often amazed by how much I see God’s grace through each and every one of you.

I also represent our small community to the wider community through my involvement with other churches in our local Ministerium, particularly at the many Ecumenical prayer services and service events. I also meet with my Lutheran colleagues and churches across our Synod and the ELCA. This gives us a connection to the wider church and provides me and our church with additional ideas, resources, and support for our ministry of sharing the Gospel of Jesus. 

It is a privilege to be your pastor. There are probably numerous other things I do: like help with the website or Facebook, assist with clean-up around the church. I make the annual climb to the attic to get Christmas decorations down. These tasks would probably fall into the “other duties as assigned” in my letter of call. Of course, the biggest task that I am called to is to love God’s people to the best of my ability.