Thursday, May 29, 2014

Worthwhile Redundancy

Consider for a moment the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are given, activated, and unleashed in the course of a so-called average week in the life of our congregation. There is nothing average about it. It’s extraordinary, amazing, significant, and extravagant. God is good and God is gracious. 

The thing is, you and I have grown accustomed to such beauty. In many and various ways it has become to us ordinary and normal. 

As the air temperature increases as we enter summer, so has the frequency of my visits with my children to a favorite ice-cream parlor. The last time we were there, I enjoyed watching my son Rowan marvel at the variety of flavors. Life is too short to settle for Vanilla. 

If God is the ice cream dipper, we are being served sometimes Black Raspberry, sometimes Mint Chocolate Chip, sometimes, let’s be honest, Rocky Road. There are various gifts given to each of us. Not any one of us is gifted in the same way as any other. We get to share our unique gifts so that the rich diversity of abilities, skills, and passions can be used to the Glory of God in our mutual ministry. What do you think? 

Maybe we should put up a big tent and invite the surrounding neighborhoods together for an ice-cream social as an excuse to reflect more publicly on the will this Gracious Gift-giving God of ours has for the community in which we all live. 

Since the leadership retreat was held earlier this year, we have had several opportunities to explore together ways in which we are challenged and called as a congregation. There were two information sharing sessions following worship before Lent. After the potluck supper on the Second Sunday of Easter we took some time in small groups to connect the dots and further analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as we anticipate the next several years ahead. 

Since that time, a task force was convened to digest the results for presentation to the church council at their June meeting. Stay tuned for further updates and to learn ways in which you can participate in the visioning process as it moves forward. 

Although I do not know for certain, I do anticipate that we all will have more concrete results and initiatives to consider in time for our annual meeting. Or, if the Holy Spirit provides, perhaps we will have a special congregational meeting sooner. 

So, please keep all this in your prayers. And the next time you go out for ice cream, take a moment to consider the various options. 

Ascension of the Lord

Today is the fortieth day of the Easter season. The Church celebrates Christ's ascension to heaven (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11). Today is one of the principal festivals of the church year. This festival has been included in the church's calendar since the fourth century.

Prayer of the Day  
Almighty God, 
your only Son was taken into the heavens 
and in your presence intercedes for us. 
Receive us and our prayers for all the world, 
and in the end bring everything into your glory, 
through Jesus Christ, our Sovereign and Lord, 
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and forever.

In today’s gospel the risen Christ ascends into heaven and his followers are assured that the Spirit will empower them to be witnesses throughout the earth. The disciples were told to not gaze up into heaven to look for Jesus; we find his presence among us as we proclaim the word and share the Easter feast. We too long for the Spirit to enliven our faith and invigorate our mission. 
Luke 24:44–53 
Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high."
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

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Cyril of Alexandria wrote regarding the Ascension of Our Lord, "As man then, Jesus appeared before the Father on our behalf, to enable us whom original sin had excluded from his presence once more to see the Father's face. As the Son he took his seat to enable us as sons and daughters through him to be called children of God. So Paul, who claims to speak for Christ, teaching that the whole human race has a share in the events of Christ's life, says that God has raised us up with him and enthroned us with him in heaven. To Christ as the Son by nature belongs the prerogative of sitting at the Father's side; this honor can rightly and truly be ascribed to him alone. Yet because his having become man means that he sits there as one who is in all respects like ourselves, as well as being as we believe God from God, in some mysterious way he passes this honor on to us."

Illustration:  The Ascension of Christ, by Salvador Dali

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  Romans 8:26-27

Being deeply rooted in prayer in powerful. I'm looking forward to the Faith Formation Forum this Sunday at 8:45 AM. The topic is The Power of Prayer.  Lynn Fry has planned well for our time together.  After an introduction and a few words from me, we will be invited to take part in various forms of prayer together. Certainly the hour together centered around this topic will be meaningful. It is also hoped that our encounter will stir us into wanting to explore the rich and diverse discipline of prayer as key to a faithful and fruitful life as a child of God. I encourage you to come on Sunday and invite a friend or neighbor to join you (and with us).

This is a statue of Martin Luther in the yard of Luther Place Memorial Lutheran Church in Washington DC.  I visited there this past Tuesday to gather information for a bus day trip to DC I'd like to arrange for our congregation sometime in the next year. Luther Place Memorial Church is well known for their ministry with the surrounding community as they address issues of homelessness, hunger, and advocacy.

If you can guess where I took this picture, let me know. It was taken on the same day as my visit to Luther Place Memorial Church.

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Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 25, 2014

Prayer of the Day
Almighty and ever-living God, 
you hold together all things in heaven and on earth. 
In your great mercy receive the prayers of all your children, 
and give to all the world the Spirit of your truth and peace, 
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, 
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and forever.  Amen

Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:8-20
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Spirituality and Religion

While worship is the central activity of our Sunday mornings as a congregation, we also have a wonderful opportunity to avail ourselves of time together in conversation and learning. At 8:45 AM each Sunday, consider taking part in Faith Formation. There are classes for all ages and room for more of you. Below is a brief article submitted by Brenda Hefner that highlights what is going on in the fellowship hall each Sunday:

The Faith Formation Forum is starting a 7-week session using the Animate Faith DVD program.  This promises to be not just your usual Sunday School class.  The materials are designed to raise questions, flip established answers and assumptions upside down, and to stick in your head for months and even years to come.  Session guides include Nadia Bolz-Weber and other contemporary Christian theologians who are challenging us to think in new ways. 

In week one, we heard Brian McLaren say “Sometimes, when I hear people speak about God, I feel like an atheist.  The God they speak of I don’t believe in: a God who loves Christians but hates Muslims; or a God who pours luxuries on the rich but consigns the poor to poverty; or a God who cares about human souls but doesn’t care about conserving and protecting our beautiful, fragile planet.  So if you ask me, “Is God real?” I first have to ask, “Which God are we talking about? And what do you mean by God?”

This Sunday, we explore the topic of “Religion: Spirituality is Not Enough” by Lillian Daniel.  In 2011, Lillian wrote an online devotional called “Spiritual But Not Religious: Stop Boring Me” that went viral.  It drew strong agreement from some, vehement disagreement from others.  View it at Spiritual but not Religious.

Don’t miss this opportunity at 8:45 AM in the Fellowship Hall!  (Coffee and Tea provided)

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Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 18, 2014

Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, your Sun Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. 
Give us grace to love one another, 
to follow in the way of his commandments, 
and to share his risen life with all the world, 
for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and forever.  Amen

Acts 7:55-60
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
1 Peter 2:2-10
John 14: 1-14

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Jesus Gate

Jesus declares: I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. [John 10:9] To what extent, do you suppose, is this a scandal? Perhaps at first hearing, this claim sounds comforting and gracious. Upon further reflection, however, maybe it comes off as exclusive and even pretentious. Naturally, you and I wound never admit to that in the context of community. Maybe, though, we are reserving a bit of skepticism or even suspicion when we consider the implications of what Jesus says here. Can't we just co-exist, as the bumper sticker exhorts? Why is it necessary to be so specific? 

Elsewhere, Jesus claims to be the way, the truth, and the life. "Nobody comes to the Father except through me." [see John 14:6ff] 

Or, consider this one from the gospel according to Matthew: "For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it." [ see Matthew 7:13-14]

I suspect on this "Good Shepherd Sunday" we would rather focus on Jesus as the Good Shepherd rather than Jesus as the gate. It sure would be more fun to preach! Imagining Jesus as a kindly shepherd is comforting in stressful times. (Besides, wouldn't it be more in keeping with the theme of Mother's Day?)

Take a few moments to read over the scripture passages cited below. What do you think? How does it feel to be compared to sheep? Are we willing to live by the vision set before us? Can we make it our own?

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May 11, 2014

Prayer of the Day
O God our shepherd, 
you know your sheep by name 
and lead us to safety through the valleys of death. 
Guide us by your voice, 
that we may walk in certainty and security 
to the joyous feast prepared in your house, 
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, 
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and forever.

Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Hearts Burning

by Janet Brooks Gerloff

It must have been a difficult walk. It was a seven-mile trek that Cleopas and a companion made together on that first day of the week. It was "that" day. It was the day of the resurrection of Jesus. Cleopas (not one of the headliner disciples) had decided to leave Jerusalem. He and his traveling partner were debriefing the events of the weekend.
"While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him."  [Luke 24:15-16]
Jesus wasn't invisible. The two simply didn't know that it was Jesus. He must have looked like anyone else you might run into while on a walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Jesus was traveling incognito.

How much like Cleopas and his companion are we? Do we recognize Jesus in our midst? Can we see Jesus in our fellow travelers? Do we notice Jesus in our neighbor? Is Jesus recognizable in the other, the different, the unfamiliar, the outsider, the immigrant, the lonely, the least?

Maybe our expectations are setting us up for disappointment. What do you think? Where do you recognize Jesus these days? Where do you think he shows up to encounter us?

The gospel reading for this coming Sunday, the third Sunday of Easter, is Luke 24:36b-48. Take some time to read over the passage in the days ahead. Pretend you are the travel companion of Cleopas.  What do you see? What do you hear? What do you say? What do you confess?

Rembrandt, Supper at Emmaus (1628)

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Third Sunday of Easter
May 4, 2014

Prayer of the Day
O God, your Son makes himself known 
to all his disciples 
in the breaking of bread. 
Open the eyes of our faith, 
that we may see him in his redeeming work, 
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, now and forever.

Acts 2:14a, 36–41
Psalm 116:1–4, 12–19
1 Peter 1:17–23
Luke 24:13–35