A Note From Pastor Betsy's Desk...
This isn’t original, and Peter Steinke, who wrote the book How Your Church Family Works, quoted it and admitted he didn’t know where it was from anywhere.
Then Jesus took his disciples up the mountain, and gathering them around him, he taught them:
“Blessed are the meek; Blessed are they that mourn; Blessed are the merciful; Blessed are they that thirst for justice; Blessed are you when persecuted; Blessed are you when you suffer; Be glad and rejoice for your reward is great in Heaven.”
[I’m sure you recognize this. It will be the gospel reading in worship soon.]
Then, Simon Peter said,
“Are we supposed to know this?
And Andrew said,
“Do we have to write this down?”
And James said,
“Will we have a test on this?”
And Philip said,
“I don’t have any paper.”
And Bartholomew said,
“Do we have to turn this in?”
And John said,
“No one else had to learn this.”
And Matthew said,
“Can you say that again? I was checking a text.”
And Judas said,
“That’s all well and good, but what does this have to do with real life?”
And one of the religious leaders asked to see Jesus’ lesson plan and marketing strategy.
“Where are your objective in the cognitive domain? Is this all measurable and attainable?”
And Jesus wept.
Check your own response when you hear Jesus’ words. Do you strive to find an exception, a “yeah, but…?” Do you find a way to dismiss the command these words imply for you? Do you place Jesus’ words high in a spiritual world only, above the “real world”—especially the world of power and politics around us? Do you start looking for ways to “Ace” the test, even though Jesus said nothing about a test? How do we hear Jesus teachings over this Epiphany season?
Perhaps this year something new will happen when you hear these words. Is it possible?
God, help us to see your blessing when we are the ones who mourn, who suffer, who are persecuted for righteousness sake, when we are called upon to be merciful, or forced to accept circumstances in meekness. Even more, help us to be glad and rejoice, because in all these things you have opened our eyes to behold you in our meek, persecuted, suffering, mourning, burdened with injustice neighbor, in whose eyes we behold the very kingdom of heaven.
Do you have a child or grandchild who will be ready for First Communion or Confirmation classes anytime in 2019? Do you wonder if a child in your life is ready, or how you would know? Contact Pastor Betsy soon so that we can plan together or request a “Pastor Call” on your pew card.
It’s a New Year, time to update Old Information! A number of Newsletters, mailings, and emails are returned to the church office every month. If your mailing address has changed, or you are temporarily away, the post office charges us an additional fifty cents (plus the cost of the original mail) for each piece of mail returned to us. We cheerfully pay this because it gives us a way to keep in touch. Until March 1, a copy of our present directory information will be in the narthex and the hallway. Please check that the information we have for you is current.
If you wish to receive mailings from the church via email instead of “snail mail” the savings further multiply, and you are the first to receive mailings from the church. Each time we send email, a dozen or more are returned by that nasty “Daemon.mailer.” Please check your email address while you check your directory information, or give us email if you have not prior to this.
We want everyone who wishes to stay in touch with St Paul’s to be able to do so easily. Many good things are happening here all the time, and we want you to know about them. If, however, you no longer are interested in receiving mail (the Forward Newsletter, email) please drop us a quick email or phone call so that we don’t wind up in the circular file of your life.
YOU can help us improve communication AND save some dollars, and THAT makes Sense/Cents!
Please thank all the bakers for their delicious cookies and support for Sights and Sounds—Debby Shelby
Thank you for everyone whose extra efforts filled our Advent and Christmas season with beauty and joy:
Gail and John Grangaard—Sights and Sounds
Greta Blegvaad—managing help for the Community Advent Dinner with Holy Trinity
Everyone who served, set up, cleaned, and otherwise made the Community Advent Dinner and give away happen, providing so much more than a meal to over 150 men, women and children.
Matt Hummel, Josh Ice, the Covenant Choir, the Jubilate Ringers, and all the special musicians who beautifully lifted our hearts and spirits in worship and praise throughout the Advent and Christmas season.
Teri Beamer and Denise Crews; John Jordan, and everyone who helped set out decorations, set the table for communion, and clean up and restore afterwards.
Diane Ganz, Juli Rauch, Matt Hummel, Sheriena Fuller, Carys Williams and Ryleigh Jones, Tim Jordan, Joe Stamper, and all the children who brought us the story of “Sleep in Heavenly Peace” for this year’s Christmas program (written by Pastor Betsy)
Caroline King for donating the Fontini creche, and those who helped set it up, including the youth.
And all the people who came to find the Christ Child and returned home rejoicing and telling everyone what God has done!
Many people gave a little—or a lot—more, and our worship gave us all so much more. Thank God for you.
As the 2019 Council was installed January 6, three new members were added: Joe McDaniel, Alice Beamer, and Denise Crews. Mandy John was re-elected for another term. Leaving council after fulfilling their terms are Don Miller, John Jordan, thank you for your willingness, your service and commitment!
You have shown us how we are blessed to be a blessing!
The mailboxes for council, staff, groups and committees have been rearranged to make it easier for everyone to locate who does what (but not necessarily where or why). Good things come to those who stick their hands in boxes! Find yours, and check it often if you have one. Idea: What a simple way to thank a church leader, group, or worship leader with a quick note. There’s a saying among the best school teachers: “Catch them doing good.” Church leaders need to be caught doing good too—as Paul writes, we need to use our gifts to build one another up into the whole body of Christ.
Looking Forward in Worship
We emerge from the Christmas season into seven weeks of Epiphany this year. Yes, that is longer than usual. In fact, it’s about as long as Epiphany can be. The liturgical calendar sets the weeks of Epiphany between the last of the twelve days of Christmas (which are AFTER Christmas!) and the beginning of Lent (this year, March 6). Epiphany serves an important role in continuing what was introduced during the Christmas season, focusing on the means through which God is made known in the world in Jesus Christ. Each Sunday worshipers glimpse again the totality of Christ through the readings, hymnody, ritual, and fellowship. Each Sunday Christ makes himself known bodily through the bread and wine of the Lord’s supper. Christ also makes himself known in baptism through the water and word that claims new daughters and sons. We make Jesus known in our daily lives as our eyes are opened to see ourselves as brothers and sisters to Jesus and to one another. Martin Luther King Jr. day, Women’s History month, Black History Month, the conversion of Paul and confession of Peter, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity—whether by accident or by design, these observances draw us to pay attention to Jesus answer to the young lawyer who asked “And who is my neighbor?”
I Saw it Somewhere…
Interesting sites to visit this month:
Livinglutheran.org features articles from the Living Lutheran print version, background stories, and much more. A great way to “up periscope” and see the church at large.
Seeds Monthly—a monthly e-newsletter with new and helpful resources, events, ideas for ministry and more. Formerly called Seeds for the Parish, a print resource offered for leaders of congregations. Sign up at ELCA.org/subscribe. While you are at ELCA.org you can check out Bishop Eaton’s latest letter, Lutheran Disaster Response activities, the latest in church news, find out what the ELCA is doing with young adults Global Mission volunteers, and much more.
In January and February, Pastor Betsy will be leading Heart and Soul on Sunday mornings, 11:00-12:00 in a series called “Foundations of Hate.” We will look at how the bible—both Jewish and Christian—has become a platform for hate through many generations, a platform from which some have launched campaigns of violence and terror, We will look at how the relationship between Jews and Christians from the first century forward spun out into anti-semitism throughout our shared history. Discussion will also include how hate builds, propagates, and proliferates in our own time. Drop is for thought-provoking discussion!
Peace on the journey, Pastor Betsy
My favorite lines from the Christmas stories in Luke and Matthew:
Mary: But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)
The important question for Christians, examining ourselves, our faith, and our world is “What does this
mean?” (The good Lutheran question!) That is, “What is God at work doing here, and what is my part?”
Mary knew that something upset the usual order and balance of her world long before the world could see
evidence of the tiny life within, even before she could feel the stirring. How can something as small as 8 cells
change so much in a mother’s body and world? Ponder, indeed. Well might we ponder the intimations of
God at work in us.
Joseph: [Mary’s] husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace,
planned to dismiss her quietly. (Matthew 1:19)
Joseph had a right. No one would have blamed him. He could even have demanded that Mary be stoned to
death. “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” That’s what Jesus said about the woman
caught in adultery (John 8) The one who cast the first stone was the one whose honor had been
besmirched—a brother, husband, fiancée. Maybe Jesus’ words came from Joseph’s heart, from Joseph’s
lips long before. Joseph set aside his right. He stepped down from his privilege. While Mary opened her
womb to the Christ, Joseph opened his heart and imagination to God’s rule of mercy and righteousness.
The Shepherds: The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it
had been told them. (Luke 2:20)
They beheld the glory of the heavens opened wide. They heard the songs of angels. They came to the
baby born in a manger and believed. Then they went back to work. We too witness the opening of heaven
coming down to us in earthly things: water, Word, bread, wine, and our fellowship with one another. Then
we go back to work, but now to do all those same things as people freed by love, for the sake of the world, in
the name of the one who came down because God so loved this world.
The Magi: And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by
another road. (Matthew 2:12)
The coming of Jesus changes our path. We who have beheld wondrous visions do not hit the same road or
carry the same load we followed coming to this Nativity. Jesus born for us and in us goes all the distances
away from these scenes of his birth. To Jerusalem. To Calvary. To another road on the way to Emmaus,
where disciples’ eyes behold him in Resurrected glory, in the breaking of bread. To all of our roads where
Jesus continues to travel with us, our Emmanuel, God with us.
Herod: When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; (Matthew 2:3)
The image of him sitting nervously and guarding his throne and claim stirs me. Jesus’ coming upsets the
world’s sense of privilege and order. Mary sang about it in the Magnificat. And Herod is nervous, as well as
he should be. When I feel anxious about the affairs of the world (which is often) I think about Herod,
nervous on his throne, and I pray more fervently for the coming of the Prince of Peace who sits calmly and
assuredly on the throne at the right hand of God. Come Lord Jesus. Maranatha.
Blessed Advent Wondering,
Some things must be said, because the very voicing of them changes us. Some things must be said, because in the word shared we become a common people—belonging to one another. Some things must be said, because words shared shape our very souls. Winston Churchill And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…grace upon grace. Gospel of John Words matter, whether they are said or not said. Texting and email have taught us that words without the context, words that are disembodied from humans can be easily distorted and cause unintended harm. Words shared flesh-to-flesh embody them in human experience, our stories, our emotions, our needs. How many ways can you think of to hear the word “Mom?” Think about all the inflections that move that word from “anybody’s Mom” to “My Mom.” Think about all the inflections that can be given that word—to beg and wheedle, to shout anger and frustration, to endear, to alarm and alert…it goes on. When someone says “I’m a Mom too” whole experiences unfold in our imaginations, even if we don’t know the person. Words shared make us belong to one another.
God’s Word adopted the grammar of human flesh. Through God’s Word, we belong to one another. We are a communion. Communion is another way to say “Church” without walls. Communion expands our belonging across time and space, across culture and nations, those living and those who have gone before and will ever live beyond us. When we communicate, we take a place at the table we share and we begin to belong to one another. One of the questions from the Listening Post Report asks, “What would it look like if people could discuss, disagree, and move forward together in spite of—and through-- disagreements?” Wonder over that as you gather around your holiday tables. Wonder over that when the dreaded topic no one wants to talk about is carefully avoided—or not. Wonder over that as the deeply divided politics of our time bring fewer and fewer voices to the table.
God Wonders. Jesus is God’s wondering, God’s conversation with humanity. God questions “What would it be like if…..” heaven and earth could be reconciled? If we belonged to one another and together we belonged to God? If communion, communication, coming to the table were possible for all people of every tribe and race? If discussing and disagreeing moved us forward in understanding, compassion, and belonging? What would happen if we talked together in all seriousness and joy, believing that Jesus entered the human conversation as Word, the Word that we can trust, the Word that changes everything, the Word that heals, restores, hopes, and leads to abundant life with all the human family at the table, the Word that reveals grace upon grace? If Jesus is God’s Word, how does that change Our Word?
Blessed Advent Wondering, Pastor Betsy
A common theme that surfaced in the [Listening Post] interviews was a general lack of effective communication across the congregation, as well as examples of unhealthy communication practices which lead to mistrust and discord amongst congregation members.”
As we approach a season when angels seem to be flying everywhere bearing good tidings of great joy, these words provoke us (or should provoke us) to ask about how we are communicating with one another, and if we are doing the best job we can to communicate the Good News with one another and beyond the boundaries of St. Paul’s. I’m going to dwell on this topic for several newsletters, and welcome conversation about it.
The very first thing I want to say is that “Communication” is not to be confused with “Publicity.” To publicize is to make public. We use whatever technology and media available to put out a word that anyone can see and choose to act upon or ignore. It is directed to everyone, but in such a way that everyone can see it and choose whether or not it applies to them. Billboards, newsprint, electronic signs, advertisement, posters are all publicity. Publicity is everywhere, and many of us have learned to simply tune out the deafening barrage of it. Some people will toss this very newsletter in the recycling bin without reading it. Why? Did we fail to make it as attractive or engaging as we could have? No. You will toss it because it has nothing that speaks to you. You either know everything that is in it through other channels or you no longer have a connection to the news (or people) in this letter.
Communication, on the other hand, is a two way street. It depends on a message being given and a hearer to whom it brings news. The angels didn’t just announce “Gloria! Jesus is born!” and get attention because they were louder than the sheep. “To you” they said. “To you we bring great tidings.” “To You a savior is born.” This message is for everyone, but not without being to you. Why does this matter so much to building healthy communications here? Because this kind of communication holds us to mutual accountability in a way that mere publicity does not. As the sender of a message, I have accountability that the message is given in a way that can be heard and understood by the recipient. I have a relationship with the recipient that helps me know how they “get” communication. The message is matched to the recipient’s needs, attention, interest, limitations, technology, language and more. Without this, it is merely take-it-or-leave it publicity. Jesus comes in human flesh because that’s how we best “get the message” of God’s love.
One of the unhealthiest things we do at St. Paul’s (and in most organizations) is communicate in isolated groups the Listening Report called “silos.” We talk about someone or something, without including those outside our personal friendship/small groups/circles in a way that can be helpful or useful to the mission of the congregation. Throwing out a casual opinion (often negative) others in the group can be counted upon to add layers to the comment, and then the message is “caught” by leaders, pastors outside of the context of personal relationships as something “They” think or say. The devil’s workshop is busy turning this mysterious “They” into mischief. “They” become more powerful and not at all accountable “They” take over the reins of leadership. “They” do everything, or “they” do nothing. Those who receive the message need decoder rings or lemon juice to reveal the hidden voice. “They” may be the timid voice of a single person, or group of people who fear no one will listen to such a small voice as theirs. Or maybe the message originates in the timid heart afraid of hurting feelings or doing harm, unaware of the greater harm that is being done.
Communication=commune, communion, common, being with. To communicate is to make a courageous step towards another, to be with them, to walk together, to discover this amazing communion of saints and sinners who call St. Paul’s their home, and the human flesh Jesus became and welcomes still. To YOU, Jesus comes, to YOU Jesus brings health and healing, salvation and joy.
Peace on the journey,
The tonsured head of St. Francis peaks out just over the window sill in my office. Sometimes a bird will
pause to rest on it. I think the real, flesh and blood St. Francis of Assisi would be amused. Of course,
this one is a concrete casting. To the butterfly, it is a mineral lick. To the bird, it is a place to rest safe
from predators. To me, it is a lovely reminder of the Other reformer in October, the first in our minds
being Martin Luther of course. God called Francis to reform the Church in a time when it lost its way in
the clutter of excess, wealth, and corruption. Francis was well known for being the King of Revelry at the
time, funded by his father’s wealth as a cloth merchant. His cronies were disbelieving of his change, not
least because they missed the lavish parties he once invited them to. Francis embraced his call to “Lady
Poverty” when he heard the voice of Jesus say to him “Repair my church.” He followed that voice literally
and figuratively, beginning with his own life. He sold an expensive bolt of luxurious fabric from his
father’s warehouse in order to rebuild a church ruined by war, and began to feed and clothe those whose
lives had been shattered by war while people like his father had grown wealthy. Outraged, his father took
him before the Bishop for theft. In a dramatic showdown in the church, in front of God and everyone,
Francis divested himself of every stitch and token of his father’s wealth and walked out into the streets
naked. Thereafter he covered himself only in the rough cloth of the poor.
The apostle writes “We have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to
God and not to us.” (II Cor 4:7) In every age the earthen vessels we craft to carry the power of God’s
word into this world become crusted with our own wealth of resources, hoard of hurt, golden nuggets of
human wisdom and the manufacture of traditions. It’s hard to see the humble clay vessel through the
encrustments. Francis reminds us that God’s treasure is carried in a human womb, God’s deep investment
in mortal flesh and life. Mortal flesh is vulnerable, but in deep compassion God gives life and healing to all
the created world. We remember Francis’ compassion and companionship not only among the human
poor, but all created life—which is why we often bless animals when we commemorate Francis in October.
As we seek together the insight and wisdom we need for the future following the Listening Post report, it is
clear we need to hear for ourselves Jesus’ call to Francis: “Repair my church.” Be mindful that we do
have the treasure in earthen vessels—frail, easily chipped, earthy stuff. Hold one another in loving
kindness and compassion, as God holds you. Do not be afraid to take off the layers with which we comfort
and insulate ourselves at the expense of the mission Jesus gives us. Take care and effort to distinguish the
value of the vessel is the treasure that it carries, not its adornments and refinement. Review Francis’ famous
prayer “Make me an instrument of your peace...” on ELW pg. 87. Most difficult of all, set aside the
language and conviction that it is our church we are called to repair. It is Jesus’ church, called into being
not by our works but by the work of the Holy Spirit, upon whom we can depend to call us into mission,
gather us fellowship, give light to our path, and make of our lives a holy testament to God’s work and
grace. When it seems impossible, hold tightly to Jesus’ promise that those who dare to lay down their lives
and take up his cross will gain their lives. That promise embraces Jesus’ church as firmly as it holds each
one of us.
Peace on the journey,
Lord, teach us to number our days, that we may apply ourselves to wisdom. Ps. 90:12
There are things I wish I had known about sooner in life, or even known that I needed to know. Getting older is one of them. Oh, I knew all about the aches and pains and inevitability and the organ recitals. I had a front row seat living with my grandmother every summer when growing up. I wasn’t fully prepared to care for my parents already in my 4th decade, however. Even though I spent most of my career with folks somewhere in the “Third Thirty” of life, when I went through it with my parents I was feeling my way in the dark. When do you know you are in your “Third Thirty?” Depends on how old you think you will grow to be, and that part of the equation isn’t in our hands to solve.
Talking about aging is perceived as too depressing so we brush it off and hope it goes away like a rainy day. The consumer world knows there is gold to be had selling the bill of goods that we can resist aging. The language we use about aging suggests that we are at war with it, rather than looking to age wisely. When we talk about ourselves as an “aging” congregation, there is more than a tinge of sadness and fear about that.
10,000 people a day are turning 65 years old as the boomers start into their Third Thirties. Many of those folks raised families in their religious tradition because they saw it as the responsible adult thing to do when you grow up and have kids. Quite a lot of those checked out when they saw that their responsibility was fulfilled—kids confirmed, graduated, moved away. An increasing number of funerals that I lead are for people who did just that. St. Paul’s remains their spiritual home, often for multiple generations, and they come back to it in a time of grief.
What’s missing in all of this is that the third Third holds possibilities for deepening spiritual growth and vibrancy—both for individuals and as a community. Life’s hardest challenges hit us when we round third base. We don’t even know what we don’t know, and sometimes only know when we look back over it wistfully.
The prayer of the psalmist embraces the idea that in numbering our days there is more than despair and grief to be gained. Numbering our days can be the goad we need to order our days and deeds wisely, but it is also the hint that life can flourish because we number our days. (Wisdom=flourishing in the psalmist’s world. Foolishness=you get what you get)
Read on in this newsletter for invitations into three pastoral initiatives coming this fall. The first is a series of meeting (“classes?”) to discuss aging into the Third Thirty, which will include both resources from the community and spiritual reflections. The second is a group I am forming for people interested in writing their spiritual autobiographies as you round third base. The final is that I am forming a very small steering committee of people to take the broad view of ministries already in our congregation and the community with the notion to build connection and vibrancy with those who are aging or think they might ever be.
Peace on the journey,
St. Paul’s youth are amazing! With 32,000 of our newest best friends we traveled, gathered, played, served,
sang, clapped, danced, ate, included, advocated, learned, belonged, were filled with grace & hope & love,
claimed, snacked, sweated, engaged, drank lots of water, squished together, rocked, prayed, exchanged,
offered, appreciated, reflected, slept (a little), and stood in line (a lot!). We were energized and exhausted.
We were Church with a capitol “C”! We are preparing an event to share some of our experiences and
gratitude for the congregation’s support and appetite for youth breakfast all this time.
Some “Pastoral “Observations:
Youth want meaningful opportunities to serve. The Service Day is consistently one of the most
anticipated components of the National Youth Gathering. Our youth descended upon the Abiding
Faith Congregation in Kirby, Texas to paint, mulch, plant & clean. Abiding Faith is a new mission
congregation gifted with a church building from a congregation that closed. There was a lot to do!
Youth appreciated dynamic speakers who did not talk down at them but engage them as the
Church here and present now. They were stirred by stories from other youth who endured
experiences like their own or others they knew: eating disorders, depression, assault, feelings of
worthlessness and much more. They honored the courage of those who told their stories and
listened for the hope, grace and love that brought them through.
Youth sang and swayed and flashed the lights of their cellphones to music many couldn’t imagine
hearing “back home”. With no less enthusiasm, they joined in on golden oldies like Amazing
Grace, Great is Thy Faithfulness and Peace Like a River but transposed and re-set with visuals,
dance, instrumentation and rhythms of their generation.
Youth are strengthened when they see they are not alone: the only Lutherans, Christians, people
with differences, uniqueness and alternative lives, not a “standard-issue” of identities and
It was abundantly clear to me that our youth live in a world with very different premises, assumptions and
givens than the world I grew up in. We will not be able to make this generation in our own image. The
generations alive today are more diverse than when we first heard the term “Generation Gap”. The hot
button topics for many congregations-----sexuality, gender, racial & cultural diversity are more likely to be
embraced and accepted by this generation as a matter of course. Our youth also encounter strong forces of
hatred and prejudice as “blowback” increases in society as a whole. I heard more youth taking positions of
resistance to situations of injustice and hate and more likely to do so when they feel isolated or hopeless.
People sometimes look at me as though I have three heads when I say I have great hope and respect for
this generation. Sitting with 32,000 of them has only strengthened me in this conviction. I believe in their
courage and hearts of compassion. They will do it “their way” like old hymns sung with new instruments and
in new keys. Some will judge them and despair of what is coming next. Others will love them and be eager
to see what they bring now & next. I’m choosing that! Given fortification and hope, they bring energy for
change to the plagues of our society and resistance to the hatred and it may just make them our next
Walking with you,
p.s. Matthias, Ella & Sheriena, thanks for letting me come!
It was a lot of fun being a kid in the sixties. I remember Vacation Bible School every summer. Naomi Benson (of blessed memory) taught us to sing Onward Christian Soldiers, in her somewhat screechy voice. Every kid had a project kit, and there was always something we didn’t get to and I enjoyed taking all the leftover stuff home. The Church Picnic was a big deal too. Soda (that’s what we called it where I lived) was free, watermelon and ice cream as abundant as the kids running everywhere. There was always a poster contest, and one year I won. The Good Shepherd Bible Story book, illustrated by Frances Hook, was my prize and it still sits on my shelf today. Our church was a mission church affair—concrete cinder block, electronic organ, situated on a large corner on the outskirts of town, ripe for the rapid development that was everywhere. When I became too old to be a kid in class, I started teaching the music for VBS—the very position once held by Naomi Benson. We sang songs like “Kids of the Kingdom” and “If I were a Butterfly” instead. Mrs. Benson now had a daughter-in-law and grandchildren, and she brought them and encouraged me.
If I could go back to the way things used to be, it would be just like that.
I couldn’t have known then what I know now. Things were changing even then. All the verities we took for granted before then were up for review. The picture of a good life wasn’t what it once was. Questioning authority wasn’t just a bumper sticker, it was an ocean tide sweeping over every institution in our country. People looked less and less to the church for community, moral compass, and respectability.
While I was immersed in what I think of as my idyllic childhood, there were others who were left out of the picture of the good life. My golden age wasn’t so golden for them. I heard the word “ghetto” and the phrase “War on Poverty” but that was always somewhere else. The fiftieth anniversary of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy stirs my memory of that time as an intrusion informing my young mind that the world I enjoyed was not shared by others, and some dared to shake and rattle the Way Things Are and it cost them their lives.
The church that I loved was already going through a similar groundswell of challenge and change. The LCMS divided over questions of authority and bible. That was my church. Our congregation hosted seminary students in the middle of it all, both sides. That was my awakening that things would quite possibly never be the same, and I was confused trying to make sense of it all. Our pastor—the pastor who confirmed me—left.
Little did any of us know that church attendance all across Protestant America would peak in 1967, and until this day has not approached that same level. Little did any of us know that others would clamor for a place at the table of The Good Life and make their own tables if we would not welcome them at ours. Little did we know that what we remember as the Golden Age of How Things are Supposed to Be was not everyone’s Golden Age. There is no way to stuff it all back into a bottle. Watching the endearing things little kids do or say , I’ve often commented “Don’t you wish we could bottle that?” Turns out that the bottle is an hourglass, and the sands won’t come to rest—and never have.
Of course, I grieve over things that will never be the same, just like I’m sure you do. All the more, I rejoice over things that have come to be that my very good imagination could never have dreamed. It helps me to
look at the things I cherish in that Golden Age memory and notice what is important about them—then look at ways those same things continue to take flesh today. Naomi Benson is a blessed memory now, but there are new Naomi Bensons—chronologically gifted folks with gray hair who step up to the plate and encourage the young. I would love to see kids running everywhere. It’s not going to happen in the same way it once did, or in the same numbers. More kids were 8 years old in 1968 than in 2018. We cherish the picture of Jesus welcoming the children onto his lap. Jesus still welcomes children onto our laps. The pictures I grew up loving of Jesus welcoming the children were always white, well-washed and groomed polite children. I have learned to love a different picture now. What has changed isn’t Jesus or children’s hygiene. It’s the eyes of my heart that have changed.
Jesus told the disciples “The fields are ripe, but the laborers are few.” The fields are no less ripe now than they were then. The laborers are still few, and getting fewer all the time it seems. So just how is it that the Holy Spirit managed to call, gather, enlighten, and make a holy people into fellowship of the Church over all these years? Answer that. Every age of the Church is Golden. And challenged. And endangered. And a glorious opportunity for gathering in the sheaves.
Walking with you,
Two congregations, quite near to one another, produced media to promote their church. One invested in a very large vinyl banner to hang down their carillon bell tower. In very large bold letters, it read: ALL Are Welcome Here. A short distance away, another church produced a small, glossy slick black trifold leaflet. In white letters it read: still church. A member of the congregation brought me a photo of one, and a copy of the other. As these items sat on the corner of my desk, they seemed to be having a rather vigorous conversation.
"ALL are welcome at this church. No matter where you are from, what you wear, or who you love. Come in."
still we are the church. still the same. still family. still music. still men. We are still here.
ALL of that sounds pretty boring and still to us.
still the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. Everything may change, but we are still.
ALL of the needs in this rapidly changing world, and you are just sitting…still????
everything is so loud and changing and crazy, there is …still…just one reliable thing.
ALL of God’s children belong, even the ones who can’t sit still in your pews!
you try to be all things to all people, and in the end you accomplish nothing. There is only one thing, one way, one God.
We’re ALL about that grace, about that grace, about that grace from Jesus’ face.
still there is a price to pay for your sin. you must pray to him, confess your sin, ask him to forgive you, accept him as your savior and he will save you and give you eternal life.
Jesus already has done ALL for us on the cross. Jesus gave us ALL so that we might give to one another.
You can’t just sit still! You have to realize, just realize…you have to ask, you have to be open.
Open, yes, to sinners! If we were to sit perfectly still…Jesus still saves us and love us and forgives us all our sins. You don’t get to pick and choose the sinners.
Your problem is that you let yourself be blown around with every wind and trend that comes your way, so you are too ready to abandon ALL that God has taught us in scripture. You say ALL are welcome, and you let the devil in the door. You are exactly what you say, all messed up.
Your problem is that ALL that matters to you is having everyone just like you. You are still church…still dying, still stuck in your ways, still sitting around patting yourself on your backs, still stoning the prophets God sends to you. You are exactly what you say, still church.
ALL ARE WELCOME!
But can we still be church…if….if….they do?
ALL ARE WELCOME!
and STILL THE CHURCH!
Called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified, not by our own understanding or strength, but by the Holy Spirit, stirring us from stillness into restlessness, stilling us from fear and anxiety in God’s presence.
ALL! Still? ALL!! Still. All. STILL!
Walking with you,
‘This changes everything." Ever have something like that happen?
On first impulse, it makes me think about all those times when someone does something that is just that one thing that can’t be tolerated and it provokes a stern response. The red line that can’t be crossed. So when I saw that this is the theme of this year’s youth gathering in Houston, I had to take a step back
This changes everything. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God." God’s grace and mercy have intervened at just the point I would have drawn the line in the sand, and I am the one who is saved.
This changes everything. When we left home for the hospital where my son was about to be born (25 years ago this month!) I turned to Jim and said, "Everything in our lives is about to change, no matter what happens in there. Take a deep breath." Indeed, nothing in our lives was the same after that. Not always easier, not always harder.
Definitely different. When he was born, something new was born in us too: parents. I have no regrets whatsoever. My joy in being a parent is one of the deepest rivers in my life. I thought I knew, in a broad outline sort of fashion, what this change would be like. I knew nothing. I continue to be surprised and delighted, and entirely hopeful about what may come next. I also honestly confess that fear and anxiety and worry filled that moment on the way to the hospital. I knew things would be different, and I wasn’t in control of the difference. I couldn’t know in what ways how it would be different. Faith and hope in God is all that can give me confidence and free me for the joy ahead.
This changes everything. We don’t usually know when an event is going to become a trend, or in what ways something we might consider insignificant at the time is going to change everything. Most often, it is like looking backwards with a mirror. Shaky. Fiddle with it until you focus. Move it around a little to get your bearings to understand what you are seeing. The first witnesses of the resurrection certainly experienced that. What were they seeing? It took a bit of wrestling to understand what they saw and reconcile it with what they knew. Jesus opened the scriptures, showed them his wounds, and declared peace. The leap to understand what might come next was utterly beyond reason and disjointed from their experience and culture. THIS would require an act of God. In fact, an utter gift of God. An outpouring gift of God in the Holy Spirit.
This changes everything. We stand at exactly that kind of moment at St. Paul’s, together with the whole Christian church as we have always known it. I can’t name one moment or one event that started it all, but we stand in a moment that is a lot like when Mary Magdalene stood facing a gardener early in the morning on the first day of the week. A lot like when two followers on a road walked a distance with a stranger, while he explained scripture to them. And a lot like when he broke bread, gave thanks, and gave it to them and suddenly their eyes were opened to see that indeed, everything they thought they knew about life, the universe, and everything was now subject to revision.
This changes everything. Please respond to the invitation to the listening post with thought, prayer, and deliberation. Pray for God’s spirit to open our ears and our hearts to listen to one another and to hear the flutter of a heartbeat that isn’t just our own—but God’s own spirit, stirring us to receive The Gift that changes everything, even our own hearts and lives.
Walking with you,