Friday, August 18, 2017

Restraint of Tongue and Pen

Photo courtesy of Anna Golladay
I've had a difficult time this week digesting current events. Actually, I feel sick in the pit of my stomach.

Over the past decade, through trial and error (mostly error), I discovered the virtue of practicing restraint when it comes to reacting to people and situations. Developing a better filter for my thoughts has kept me from inflicting you and others with the raw response that often wants to jump out of my mouth or get sent in an email (I don't tweet). It took time and a desire to be a better person to learn to pause. I'm a work in progress.

Now, perhaps, I have a tendency to over-correct. I'm cautious and judicial in my expression of personal views on and interpretations of matters in the public square. I suppose it's my tendency toward self-preservation that fosters this approach. That, coupled with a desire to be well-regarded and accepted.

However, the events of this week and this past year have so sickened me. Yet, it's not about me. I like to think that I have let go of self-absorption (this often needs to be a daily task) and have asked God to remove the desire for self-preservation as the rule of my life. I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to walk with Jesus. I have heard the call to take up my cross and follow. That call to faithfulness -- to that long obedience in the same direction -- necessarily will lead to those things that Jesus warned would be encountered along the way: ridicule, rejection, suffering, etc.

It is such an easy thing to confess the sin of others. When we reflect on our own inner nature and attitudes while engaging in healthy self-examination, we need to be honest. Our attitudes toward others are conditioned by the very culture in which we live -- the culture that formed and normed us. While we say that we have all sinned and fallen short, it's not enough to settle for such a generic confession. Specifically, to one extent or another, we have all participated in creating, maintaining, and permitting the very situations that have come to a head this past year. They have been there all along. There just seems to be little to no restraint anymore. Clearly this is a time for repentance. 

As fellow members of the body of Christ, we confess that when one member suffers, the whole body suffers. We're in this together too. 
“We recognize that the kind of violence we witnessed in Charlottesville last weekend is very real and affects all of us,” said ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton. “We need to stand up against racism and anti-Semitism, show up for and advocate with others. Jesus, who makes visible those who are invisible, is already there. We need to show up, and we need to listen in each of our communities." 
A pastor in Morgantown, West Virginia, The Rev. Jerry Kliner, STS, developed a litany last year in response to the request of Presiding Bishop Eaton for congregations of the ELCA to commemorate the anniversary of the racially motivated murders at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. He shared it this week in response to the demonstrations and violence in Charlottesville. He contends that "Racism is not “those people’s” problem…it is OUR problem." I agree. I am a racist. In that I stand by silently as others are judged by the color of their skin, I participate in racism. When I hear someone tell an inappropriate "joke" and say nothing, I am guilty. When the church rests in its status of privilege, settles for being largely monochrome, or when it remains silent while others are suffering, we need to repent.

In addition to my sermon this Sunday, we will also confront racism with the use of the Litany developed and shared by Pastor Kliner. Together may we pray for our own transformation, the healing of our country and that our elected officials would lead with humility, faithfulness, and courage grounded in a passion for service.

Thursday, June 29, 2017


Stick-to-itiveness is one of the more inelegant words in the English language, but I have a special fondness for it. I heard the word a great deal when I was young, mostly, as I recall, from my mother. . .
. . . Years later I learned that the church has a fancier word for the same thing: perseverance.        - Eugene H. Peterson*
On a recent Saturday morning I drove to the church to gather some things that I needed later that morning for a graveside service. When I arrived at the church parking lot, I encountered a group of familiar faces who were preparing to begin work on picking up trash along route 997. (It wasn't on my radar and I initially thought that I had forgotten some meeting or church event.)

These folks had gathered for a regularly scheduled service work event. I learned that this mission to clean up along route 997 has been going on for approximately 25 years. Four times a year a group assembles and sets out to do the thankless job of picking up the discarded "souvenirs" of thoughtless travelers. You might be amazed at the quantity of debris that is collected in short order. When the bags of trash are gathered together, there is ample evidence of our society's careless approach to its habitat. The big catch is always the one in early Spring once the thaw of snow and ice reveals the months of wintry refuse and detritus. 

As I arrived that morning, the group was preparing to take a photo by the church sign at the entrance to the parking lot. I offered to serve as the photographer so that everyone could be included in the picture. Either before or after the photo was taken (I can't remember which) we gathered together in a circle for prayer. We gave thanks to God for the new day and the opportunity to be of service. We asked for God's protection and strength for those who were serving and were reminded that it is God who sends us out to care for the earth that has been entrusted to our stewardship.

I can think of no better example of faithfulness than the band of brothers and sisters who have assembled four times a year for the last 25 to tend to this task of picking up trash. 

In 1980 Eugene Peterson published a book entitled A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. In this book, Peterson explores the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) and  teaches lessons on discipleship and encourages us to grow in joy, service, humility, and community. The work of the St. Luke Road Crew over the years reminds me of this book's title. And it offers us all a wonderful witness of what faithfulness in discipleship looks like. Being gathered together, equipped, and then sent out in service, is what it's all about. Our call to embrace Christian discipleship may take many forms and expressions. How might we find encouragement for our mission in the example of the St. Luke Road Crew? 

Over the years, I bet the turnout from time to time has not been a robust as these pictures document. Nevertheless, they persisted to gather and be sent out. We, too, as a congregation, as the body of Christ, are called to persevere: to gather together, be equipped, and then sent out to serve in the many and various ways we can in the midst of an often careless and thoughtless society ever in need, not of our judgement, but of our care, compassion, and love.

* Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, (Downers Grove, Illinois, InterVarsity Press, 2000)p. 125.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Sharing the Light

I took a hike the other day. I went to a favorite and familiar place and walked along a trail that came alongside a creek flanked by tall trees that stood like sentinels.  The sun was overhead shining down through the canopy of branches and leaves with bright shafts of light that were greeted by the lowly plants along the bank of the creek.  One, bathed in the warm light, stretched out its leaves and raised its flower head to seize the moment of relief from dark and damper days.  

Hungry for light. Thirsty for warmth. The plants and I stood there beside the living water -- renewed, grateful.

We hunger for the light. We are thirsty for the warmth of assurance in the midst of a cloudy, confusing, and conflicted world beset by change and decay.

Daily we hear news rife with scandal, we discover another limitation of body or mind, we are reminded of impending consequences.   

We hunger and thirst for God. 

Blessed are they that come to know that the hunger in us is God’s hunger for us.  
Blessed are we who come to believe that the thirst in us is God’s thirst to love, to welcome, to bless, to heal.  

Pentecost Sunday
June 4, 2017

Prayer of the Day
O God, on this day you open the hearts of your faithful people by sending into us your Holy Spirit. Direct us by the light of that Spirit, that we may have a right judgment in all things and rejoice at all times in your peace, through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Today I attended the first day of the annual assembly of the Lower Susquehanna Synod. This afternoon we were reminded of the deep hunger and thirst that exists in the world and that God is looking to the Church to attend to this. We are called to be God's mission to love and bless the world.

On average, we learned, a Lutheran invites someone to worship once every twenty-one years, If current trends continue the church faces a crisis of survival (as we know it) in the next 5 to 10 years. In the last 30 years, the average Sunday worship attendance in our churches has decreased by over 50%. This is not a sustainable trend. 

Rooted in the Word of God, we are called to reach out beyond our comfort zone and witness to the Light of the World. Will the Church rediscover an urgency to faithfully follow Jesus in lives of service and commitment? Can we together share the light of Christ?
What impediments exist that cause us to stumble?

I would like to initiate a deep study and exploration of the Acts of the Apostles. Prayerfully consider your willingness to engage in such a study with me. Let me know if you would like to learn more. Once I hear from several of you, we can determine a time and place to make a start. I look forward to hearing from you.  email me at: or call 717-253-0322.

Thursday, May 4, 2017


Laurent De La Hyre, Community of the first Christians

Last Monday evening with a group of engaged brothers and sisters who had gathered for a collaborative committee meeting, I shared a time of reflection on a passage from Acts of the Apostles. We listened together to Acts 2:42-47.  It recounts activity of the early church just as it was beginning to come into being following the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. From the sound of it, the church was off to a great start. Focusing on first things first, it faithfully gathered and was attentive to four core things: the Word, the Meal, fellowship, and prayer. 

After reading this passage together twice, once from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and the other from The Message, we reflected aloud on what, in our hearing, had struck us as significant or meaningful. Here are some of the responses:

life together  
absence of conflict
God acted
daily worship
eating joyfully 
The unity and intimacy of the early church as depicted here seems almost too good to be true. Indeed, as one of the respondents noted, it appears utopian (an interesting word). Properly defined, Utopia refers to an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect. (The word was first used in the book Utopia [1516] by Sir Thomas More.) Synonyms include: paradise, heaven (on earth), Garden of Eden, nirvana, etc.

Perhaps few would use the word utopia to describe the current state of affairs which characterizes the church of the 21st century - rife as it is with scandal, misplaced priorities and the confusion of success with faithfulness. As we have lost sight of our original state of blessing in the garden that was Eden, so too have we "progressed" beyond the original blessing of the church as it came into being in its early years. If Christ is the new Adam, then when was the moment in the church that we thought we should be like God, knowing good from evil? When were our eyes opened to discover our own nakedness? 

The Fall and Expulsion from Garden of Eden, 1509-10

Is there any hope of recovery? Can we return to the clarity of purpose and mission that propelled the churches at the beginning to be about the task of making Christ known?

Toward the end of this passage from Acts, we read: 
They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.  (Acts 2:46-47 The Message)
If indeed we seek to recover such exuberance and joy, we need to seek first the kingdom by doing those things which are core and basic to our identity as children of God. Entitlement won't work here where faithfulness is both prologue and postlude. God has a way of not discriminating. We were created in original blessing and we have been called to be a new creation in Christ as his body the church.

Edward Hicks, The Peaceable Kingdom, c. 1834  
One of 62 versions of The Peaceable Kingdom painted by Hicks, 
a Pennsylvania artist and preacher in the Quaker tradition.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
    Isaiah 11:6-9 (RSV)

Friday, March 31, 2017

Despair to Hope

It can be a long journey. From a place and circumstance of despair, we are hesitant or maybe even reluctant, to realize that hope is a possibility. Even if we reflect on the specifics of our own context, let alone the apparent unraveling that surrounds us, we can find our selves rather quickly encumbered and rendered still.

However, maybe it is precisely from a position or in an attitude of stillness that we need to be in order to hear. Listening to the creative and redemptive voice of God amid the noise of our world is no easy task. Discerning the bluster from the Truth takes care. Being intentional and proactive in our minding of our relationship with God is a discipline to which we are called -- summoned -- by the One whose desire is for our hearts as beloved children.

I wonder sometimes often why I hesitate to publicly speak to the confusion that I hear all around us in regard to what is clinically referred to as current events. Three days a week I spend time exercising at the gym on an elliptical machine and other instruments of torture. On the wall in front of the line of machines are multiple television monitors. Of the three television screens in my field of vision, one is tuned to ESPN, the other to HGTV, the third one -- the one in the middle -- to either FOX News or CNN. Needless to say, perhaps, it all depends on who gets there first as to what news channel prevails on that middle screen.

On a recent trip to the gym I noticed ESPN got the boot as both FOX and CNN were live, side by side, allegedly reporting on breaking news. I began my normal exercise regiment on the elliptical machine to warm up and spent the next half hour in a vortex of jabberwocky. It felt as if an alternative reality was at hand.

Polarization is convenient for those who operate with a worldview that is black and white, left and right, in or out. It's easy and, dare I say, the lazy person's fail-safe. But for the rest of God's creation functioning well within the creative tension of diversity and beauty, there is greater life to be found amidst the wideness of God's mercy.

My point here is that it would be too easy to slip into despair over the state of our world today. It simply seems too much and far gone at times. Yet, as citizens of God's Kingdom in Christ, we remind ourselves, that we do not loose hope

The reading from Ezekiel this coming Sunday, shares with us a vision of a valley of dry bones. God asks Can these bones live? Is there hope in the midst of despair? The answer is found in the realization that what the apostle Paul refers to as a slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory . . . because we look not at what can be seen, but at what cannot be seen (check out 2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

 The Vision of The Valley of The Dry Bones 
Gustave DorĂ© 1866

April 2, 2017

Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, your Son came into the world
to free us all from sin and death. 
Breathe upon us the power of your Spirit, 
that we may be raised to new life in Christ
and serve you in righteousness all our days, 
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, 
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and forever. Amen.

Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45 

The Raising of Lazarus 
Duccio, 1310–11

Friday, March 17, 2017

Who is Worthy?

This Sunday's topic for our Faith Formation hour concerns the question: What is Worship?
The presentation and discussion will be the third in a series of four on the subject Mission and Worship. Whether you have been present for the first two or not, you are certainly welcome to attend this Sunday. I suspect the topic will be of some interest to everyone as we look to the future of our worship life as a congregation.

I didn’t get anything out of worship this week. Have you ever heard anyone say something like that? Have you ever felt that way too?  Let’s examine together what our primary purpose is when we assemble for the weekly gathering around Word and Sacrament. Is it appropriate to think of worship as a two-way street? Does God have an ulterior motive behind calling us together? Do we have any ulterior motives?

If each of us took a moment to write down an explanation or definition of worship, we would have a variety of answers and responses. While there is no doubt great diversity in perspective, I suspect there would also be common ground upon which we could all stand.

I find it interesting to note the differences in images found when I do an internet image search for worship and then liturgical worship. The first search returns results such as the following:

The latter search provides results similar to these:

What comparisons and observations do you make of this?

Keeping the broader picture in mind -- that of worship's relationship to mission -- I am anticipating a lively and thought provoking exchange as we gather together this Sunday at 8:45.

Looking ahead a bit, we can begin to anticipate the culmination of the season of Lent as Holy Week draws close and we look to the The Great Three Days.  Lent is often descried as a journey with Jesus into the wilderness, into ministry, into Jerusalem, and onto the cross. We have been on this path, leading us to Holy Week and the Great Three Days: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Vigil of Easter (These three days are also referred to as the Paschal Triduum).

Our Maundy Thursday service will be held on Thursday, April 13 at 7:00 PM.  A Good Friday afternoon meditation on the Way of the Cross will be held here at 12:00 Noon. In the evening, there will be a Good Friday Service at Scotland United Methodist Church at 7:00 PM.

New to our congregation this year will be the observance of the Vigil of Easter. This will be an ecumenical effort with our full-communion partners of the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church. In addition to Pastor Bruce Gowe from the Scotland-Fayetteville Charge of the UMC, we will also welcome the Deacon of Trinity Episcopal Church in Chambersburg and the District Superintendent of the UMC. The Vigil will be hosted here at St. Luke on Saturday, April 15 at 9:00 PM. We are anticipating several baptisms to be celebrated that evening as well.  This is the night!

Here are some other items of which you should be aware:

Groundbreaking Announcement:  The 2020 Vision building project will commence with a ceremonial groundbreaking immediately following worship on Palm/Passion Sunday, April 9. At the conclusion of the closing hymn we will be invited to gather outside near the bell and memorial garden for the brief rite of groundbreaking.  Please plan to be present for this important milestone in the life of the congregation.

Construction to Begin:  Barring any last minute snags, R. S. Mowery Construction will begin work on our project on Monday, April 17, the day after Easter Sunday. As work begins, please continue to check for updates on the website, Facebook, and bulletin announcements. Every effort will be made to communicate developments and progress.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Going Up

High Rock, Washington County, Maryland

Have you taken a break lately? When was the last time you intentionally stepped out of the rush and momentum of everyday life for even a few hours? If you are like most people, you have been in perpetual motion for too long. Even if your lifestyle is characterized as sedentary, you can still find yourself marking time in a largely routinized manner. While routine can be a good source of comfort, it can also foster spiritual sloth. Ouch! Yes, I do mean to prod a bit and encourage you to consider taking heed of the invitation to be intentional, proactive, and responsive to our call to retreat from the daily grind. It's for your own good.

It just so happens that this coming Sunday is the observance of the Transfiguration of our Lord.  Just days before we enter into the discipline of Lent, we hear the account from the gospel of Matthew of Jesus taking a break to go up a high mountain.  He's not alone.
Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.  (Matthew 17:1)
Mosaic in Church on Spilled Blood, 
St Petersburg, Russia, 19th century

What happens while they were there is dramatic, clarifying, and inspiring. Take some time to read the passage for yourself as you anticipate our gathering on Sunday (Matthew 17:1-9).
Maybe your inclination is to stay there, up on the high mountain. Who could blame you? It is no wonder why Peter wanted to preserve the moment and set up camp. Ultimately, however, we learn that they came down from the mountain. We do too. But then that going down, going back, the re-entry into the ordinary is a choice, a decision, an act of discipleship because we are following Jesus. We are following with a renewed sense of purpose, identity, and mission.

Have you taken a break lately? When was the last time you intentionally stepped out of the rush and momentum of everyday life for even a few hours?

Next Saturday morning, March 4, from 8:30 - noon, come away for awhile. Avail yourself of the gift of retreat. Sister Thelma and Sister Jo Ann of the Tau Hermitage will be our guests as they lead our Lenten retreat. These retreats have been a rich source of blessing and spiritual strength for those who have participated in the past. I encourage you to attend this time. You won't be disappointed. All I ask is that you let me know if you are coming so we can have enough materials prepared ahead of time.

Meanwhile, this coming week merits your attention and intentional participation. Ash Wednesday will provide the chance to gather to be encouraged for the beginning of our Lenten observance. The Ash Wednesday Liturgy will take place at 11:00 AM and 7:00 PM. I'm planning to be at the new Starbucks on Norland Avenue for Ashes on the Go and conversation from 1:00 to 3:00 PM as well.

The Transfiguration of Christ:, Middle of the 12th century. 
Part of an iconostasis: Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai (Egypt)