Saturday, October 21, 2017

Service

The Washing of Feet, by Ghislane Howard

One of my favorite hymns is The Spirit Sends Us Forth to Serve.  The words were written by Delores Dufner, OSB. It is hymn number 551 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship.  Here are the four verses for your consideration:

The spirit sends us forth to serve; 
we go in Jesus' name 
to bring glad tidings to the poor, 
God's favor to proclaim.

We go to comfort those who mourn 
and set the burdened free: 
where hope is dim, to share a dream 
and help the blind to see.

We go to be the hands of Christ, 
to scatter joy like seed 
and all our days, to cherish life, 
to do the loving deed.

Then let us go to serve in peace, 
the Gospel to proclaim. 
God's Spirit has empowered us; 
we go in Jesus' name. 


I'm going to risk sharing the following observation: The word Service has come to mean and refer to so many things and actions that it no longer means much of anything. We pay it lip service (see, there it is again) to such an extent that it's ability to communicate is rendered impotent; at least, that is, when it is stripped of context.

Take a look at the following images regarding service. It each case the term is used accurately in its context. Yet, there are various implications.






So, when we explore the nature of service from our perspective as Lutheran Christians in Franklin County, we will add to this word's resume. 

Grounded in a solid discipline of Listening, and nurtured and refined in Discernment, we are called to engage in a level of Service. We are sent to serve as authentic persons who have experienced the Love of God in Christ Jesus and who now can't help but incarnate this Word in the life and world around us. This is the ideal response and action.

Take a few moments to consider your own call to service. How have you used the word to describe the actions in your life? More than mere busyness, service is something we steward. And like most stewardship, ours can be faithful or not.

Who are we sent to serve?  

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Discernment


I came upon the following thought about discernment somewhere (I can't remember where, so I can't provide proper attribution). Maybe the church is implicated in this example of misuse. What do you think?
Several times we have actually used the word "discernment" to describe what we were doing. Though I suspect that we thought of it more in terms of planning and preparing. Discovering and doing the will of God is different from measuring and implementing our own. 
Figuring out what God wants you to do (and become) can be frustrating. Rarely is the process quickly accomplished. Sometimes I think of it as a period of gestation that seems to never come to fruition. Despite many idiosyncrasies, we are faithful when we strive forward. 


In 1 Corinthians 12:10, St. Paul shares the following: to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. Here, the ability to distinguish (discernment) is considered a gift of the Spirit. Sometimes we may think of the need to choose between two options, one good the other bad, one left the other right. Such dualistic thinking is convenient if not clear and simple. Yet, most of the time it is simply not that clear and simple. If it were, there would be little need for distinguishing and discernment.


At various points throughout life, the implications of our decisions change. Consider some of the first major decisions you made in your life. Were there other options at the time? What were they? Did you choose wisely? Do you regret any decisions you have made? If you do, can you remember what led to the decisions you made? Did you take time for discernment or was your decision more impulsive?

Considering the need to engage in ongoing reformation and renewal, having the willingness to accept God's will for your life is before us. This Sunday we will explore some of the questions raised above and some, perhaps, that we haven't yet considered. Your experience and participation is crucial for the vitality of our time together. Consider sharing a moment in your life that you have engaged in discernment.


19th Sunday after Pentecost
October 15, 2017

Prayer of the Day
Lord of the feast, 
you have prepared a table before all peoples 
and poured out your life with abundance. 
Call us again to your banquet. 
Strengthen us by what is honorable, just, and pure, 
and transform us into a people of righteousness and peace, 
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Amen


Readings and Psalm

Isaiah 25:1-9 
The feast of victory

Psalm 23 
You prepare a table before me, and my cup is running over. (Ps. 23:5)

Philippians 4:1-9
Rejoice in the Lord always

Matthew 22:1-14 
The parable of the unwelcome guest at the wedding feast

Friday, October 6, 2017

Listening


At times it has been a steep learning curve. Learning to listen more and speak less has been a discipline that I have had to intentionally practice. However, it is becoming easier the more I practice it. Never will perfection be reached. I will have to be content with progress.

Communication is often considered to be concerned only with "getting the word out" by whatever means necessary. It's more of a two-way street, isn't it? Communication's less obvious component is listening. When you look at someone listening, the perception is that they aren't doing anything. And we all know how much value is placed on not doing in our culture of perpetual motion and persistent noise. 

Here are some definitions of listening (listen) for our consideration. The first is from Webster's Dictionary. The second is from an article I read somewhere (can't remember where). And the third is a definition of the Greek word frequently translated as Listen. 


Definitions of Listen

listened; listening \ˈlis-niŋ, ˈli-sᵊn-iŋ\
archaic :to give ear to: hear
1:to pay attention to sound 
listen to music
2:to hear something with thoughtful attention :give consideration 
listen to a plea
3:to be alert to catch an expected sound 
listen for his step

Listening is the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process. Listening is key to all effective communication. Without the ability to listen effectively, messages are easily misunderstood.
ἀκούω (akouō) to attend to, to comprehend, to understand

This third example, from the Greek, is beautifully and pointedly evident in the following passage from the gospel of Matthew:
Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" (Mathew 17:4-5)
Reformation of our interior and individual life is predicated by our capacity and willingness to practice listening for God. Our relationship with the Father, through the Son, is dependent on the mutuality and divine dance of love, mercy, and grace, that looks to listening as life support.
  • As we anticipate our time together on Sunday morning, take some time to reflect on a few questions: In the past week have you intentionally spent time listening?
  • To what or to whom do you listen?
  • Do you listen only to what tickles your ears?
  • Do you thirst for satisfaction?
  • Would you be content with not getting in the last word, but rather receiving the Word?


18th Sunday after Pentecost
October 8, 2017

The Prayer of the Day
Beloved God, from you come all things that are good. 
Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit to know those things that are right, 
and by your merciful guidance, help us to do them, 
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Amen.

Lectionary Readings
Isaiah 5:1-17
Psalm 80:7-15
Philippians 3:4b-14
Matthew 21:33-46



Friday, September 29, 2017

Reformation: A Look Inward and Forward



This coming Sunday in the Faith Formation class, I'll begin teaching a series of sessions entitled Reformation: A Look Inward and Forward. For four consecutive Sundays, we will be invited to explore the dynamic implications of our legacy as a church that is a reform movement, continually being called to transformation and reform.

October 31, 2017 will be the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. As good Lutherans, maybe we think it is an occasion to be celebrated. Well, let's look at it another way. What if we commemorated the event without getting too much in party mode over a schism in the Body of Christ. Further, rather than dwelling on the past, let's consider what the future may hold for this reform movement. Do we have a goal in mind? If so, what is it?

Here is another matter for consideration and some related questions: What does reformation look like for each of us individually, as brothers and sisters in the community of the church? What has been our experience of Christ's grace? How has it shaped our living? Are we in need of a reboot?  

This first session on the horizon for this Sunday will serve as introduction and prelude for the three weeks to follow. Take some time, meanwhile, to ponder the thoughts and questions shared above. If you develop questions of your own, bring them with you and share. I trust that the Holy Spirit will guide and empower our prayerful and thoughtful time together. Everyone is welcome.



_______


17th Sunday after Pentecost
October 1, 2017

Prayer of the Day
God of love, giver of life, you know our frailties and failings. 
Give us your grace to overcome them, keep us from those things that harm us, 
and guide us in the way of salvation, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Amen.


Readings and Psalm

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 
The fairness of God’s way

Psalm 25:1-9 
Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love. (Ps. 25:6)

Philippians 2:1-13 
Christ humbled to the point of death on a cross

Matthew 21:23-32 
A parable of doing God’s will

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

Perseverance

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.

Amen.

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: cakfrye@gmail.com or call 717-253-0322.