Acts 16: During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
You likely know I’ve decided to retire October 1st. The confusion seems to be: why? I understand. When I told Council, they were shocked. Maybe even unsure that I had said this. I doubt they heard much after I said “retire.” The part I hoped they (and the congregation when I announced it Sunday) heard was YOU need me to retire. That probably even more begs the question: WHY? I planned to work (God willing) to 70. Yet, my first priority must be the church. What is needed here so the mission of the church may be known and BEAR FRUIT?
For over two (2) years, I’ve felt uncertain on Faith’s future. I’ve prayed: God, what is needed? A perspective for you: I turned down my first call. I didn’t believe that was where God wanted me. I didn’t seek nor ask to leave my ‘first call church’ to come to Faith. The West PA Bishop asked me to look at another congregation and that led ultimately to my calling Denver home. I was asked to look at a Michigan congregation while here at Faith. That wasn’t where I was to be. The question has always been whether it is God’s will that I come, stay, or go. You may not have listened, but you have been answering that question for me.
Secondly, what is the healthy choice for the future of Faith United. The Council has discussed this. We have met periodically with other Lutheran congregations about our collective future. Should we merge or seek a different vision? That has been fruitless. The primary observation from Council and its officers: the pastors are a factor… (and my apologies) and an impediment to meaningful conversation and change. I like my fellow pastors, but I agree with that assessment. Pastoral longevity and “comfort” are NOT always good for a church. It creates lethargy. “Boxes” are formed that become difficult to move beyond. Faith cannot afford to do that. The church cannot serve Christ unless we are moving to where Christ is calling us. It is a necessary discomfort and I know I made everyone uncomfortable. I’m sorry for that.
Thirdly… you are Faith United. Do you understand HOW that makes you different? You have done the trauma of merging. I said this in church; you do not talk about being from ‘Salem’ or ‘St. John’s’—you speak as the people of Faith United. It been about 14 years since the merger. Other local Lutheran churches don’t have that experience. You know how to adapt. Think of that opportunity to move not only Faith United, but teach other congregations.
Fourth, we have missions that changed the life and view of Faith United. You are NO longer a pastor driven church. By God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit, Faith has moved to where members initiate projects, take leadership, suggest books for study, host outside organizations, and act in ways where YOU ARE the chURch. That is what Lutherans teach. It is the gathering. It is the baptized. It is God working among us. Pastors are part of the baptized.
Fifth, if I stayed, important decisions are affected by my presence. Things get framed by what it means to ‘the pastor.’ This is not my church. If useful (but hard) decisions are needed; I should not slow that process. Faith is able to do much. It needs the “next step.” I must love you in a way difficult to see—I must leave. I need to show you a love that means I give you up…the people I truly love.
Some will say my decision is driven by personal needs. I may not change what they think. I admit the pain of Faith’s last “call process” influenced me―how it was VERY long, how it was mishandled by the Synod, and how it was traumatic. I can’t do that to you. I won’t do that. The Synod suggested to me to announce in May or June, but I told them I wanted Faith United to prepare. You know me. I don’t think as many pastors. I do not see the world as others. My theology confesses an active God leading and directing me…directing us. I trust that for Faith. These six months are important. It is a time to listen and MAYBE create a different paradigm for Lutherans. What is our mission? Where is God calling us collectively and as individuals? I need you at church to consider Faith’s future. I took a risk—a risk people may drift away. I know this happened at another Lutheran church when the pastor tried to give the congregation the gift of time to prepare. I believe Faith will use this time. May God guide us.
With blessings, Pastor Joe
Mark 12:30…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
Love is a concept on which fortunes are made— one where the music and entertainment industry play on our emotions for financial success. What is love? Yes, it’s an emotion, but more so it is a reflection of our relationships. In the case of the Mark scripture, it is Jesus’ answer to a scribe on which commandment is primary…or maybe, the best commandment. Jesus cites the “Shema” from Deuteronomy 6:4-5. There, love is more than an emotion; it is the fullness with which commitment is made to God.
In Lent, such “love” also is reflective of obedience. Contrary to all our own inclinations, Jesus will follow what God decides on his death over loving his own life. Love will be a place where the will and purpose of God must take precedent over self -interest and self-will. In the world, we like that concept. It is the sacrificial. It is in caring for children and parents. It is the soldier that falls on the grenade to save his comrades. It is the mother who does not eat so that her child has a meal when little to no food is in the house. In movies, it is that gripping scene where the central character runs into the burning house for his lady love (or some variant on that commitment).
We want love that shows the “nobility of character” to be true. It makes us trust that love is indeed powerful enough to be SELFLESS, to decide despite the risk, and to forget the more comfortable result in favor of what is necessary. That involves seeing what others may not (like that grenade thrown in the foxhole) and taking action. Love does the hard things. Certainly, the cross makes the measure of love VERY HIGH. Yet, love is the calling in Lent. More than fasting and prayer and alms giving, loving others above one’s own interest stands at the center of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. The disciplines are not a self-expression, but a selfless expression of doing without, holding others before God over our needs, giving because it is a natural reflection of Christ working within our lives.
That sounds very theatric. Mel Gibson thought so too and used it in his “Passion of the Christ” to contrast the brutality of our humanity to Jesus’ own humility (and humiliation). Is love always that grand? Can’t it equally be found in something more mundane like getting up for Peter’s Porch. Self interest might be ‘enjoying Saturday morning’ and ‘sleeping in’ after a long week of work. Helping other people is not unusual AND is hardly the grenade thing or cross. Yet, love is the ALL we do and ALL we are—and how we serve. It is our heart bent towards others. It is a soul that allows the Spirit to take form in our work and play. It is a mind that conforms itself to serving God. It is the strength to do what is needed. Love is living as if God is our heart and soul and mind and strength.
As we travel through Lent, will you make that journey for others and with others?
We will be hosting a Good Friday Café (a death café event underpinned by Christ’s death on the cross) to think about our attitudes on death. I think it is a form of love. Is Good Friday just a story? My peer pastors say they don’t do a Good Friday Service because there is little interest. We hold Tenebrae. I think a discussion on our ideas (and maybe misconceptions) of death make Good Friday relevant because we will have our own “good friday” (yes—all lower case) someday. Maybe, it is a day where love and death have a partnership.
With blessing…Pastor Joe
Mark 1:27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching―with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
Notice how people notice. (Yep, meant to say it just that way.) Jesus comes to the synagogue where everyone has expectations on what will happen, the way to understand God, and the manner in which things are taught. That is simply NOT Jesus. He has a way that baffles, engages, amazes, and confounds the conventional. That is (or should be) the Church.
Today, I met with the pastors from Trinity United Methodist and St. John’s United Church of Christ. Our purpose was to vision August’s Denver Day Service. It seems far in advance, but our purpose is to invite the community to something that engages and amazes, though for some it will baffle. We are looking to partner with the Cocalico Education Foundation for that Service. Why? The Service has always been about community. It is about our children. It is about teaching in the school and within our community what it means for churches to care for others before the very congregation who is ‘the Church.’ It asks nothing. We give everything for the sake of children who may never know who is helping them. That confounds what the world teaches.
In our meeting, we also started a discussion on a joint Good Friday event. It’s different. It is off the page, then again it is perfectly in keeping with Good Friday: a “Death Café.” Sort of grim, but in reality, Good Friday is all about engaging death in its most horrible form. Pastor Brad Haws made me smile when he said the Church should have a rule that no one is allowed Easter unless they have been to Good Friday. He means that people can have NO perspective of the resurrection without the cross. In truth, no one escapes “our Good Friday” since the manner of our death is only a factor to the truth we will die. While it may scare some people; undoubtedly, we all have our ideas on death. We have fears. We have “wishes” on how to handle our bodies and celebrate our lives. We all have property that reflects a lifetime of “who we are.” (Our heirs may fight over that property.) How do we understand death? Well, our “Good Friday Café” will be an invitation to discuss our attitudes. It considers things we may have given little consideration. I give thanks to Dorothy Hoyer and Luther Acres who gave me a chance to participate at their “Death Café” event. It engaged and confounded me, but also amazed me how much there was to discuss. I hope you come. Necessity will require we limit how many people who may attend the “Café.”
Ash Wednesday is earlier and so is Easter. Lisa Gaskill and I met on doing an Easter Egg Hunt, maybe at a time where people will say “why then?” For children where Easter is about the Cadbury bunny, is it possible the Church can remind that the “life” is not our passion for chocolate, but a life defined by Easter.
So back to Mark’s gospel. Jesus is just at the start of his ministry. He has so MUCH MORE that will yet create a wonder that many will refuse. Others will grope to comprehend God’s chosen means of teaching and touching humanity. Saying that, I hope more of you will come to Bible and Breakfast and our Sunday Adult Study. The examples above, are the invitation to be amazed regularly about our Lord.
With blessing…Pastor Joe
Matthew 2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
There is a certain comfort in being in this “in between time” of Christmas and New Year. For pastors, many take this week off. The busyness of December needs a reprieve. I understand that. The rest others need this week equally applies to pastors. Congregations likewise may feel stretched by annual meetings, budgets, programs for 2018, new council members, building needs, and a host of things―often little things―that demand attention. It cries for a little peace.
Rest is a place we associate with quiet and well-being. It is peace and a time away from the norm. Yet, as a gathering we equally need rest. That rest is at worship. It is a time to engage that part of the nativity where Luke writes “…and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” Peace is part of the mystery of the season. It is in Christ taking our humanity. It is in the operation of the Holy Spirit. It is in our “sharing of the peace” each Sunday and understanding ALL our conversations and actions (in the church and out) represent Christ. Peace is a reflection of God’s wish for our lives. That which we fear, those things that burden us, all that prevents a relationship with God and others must enter into the “peace that passes all understanding.”
That says that when we are not at peace, then we do not reside in Christ. Our actions bring the chaos which is part of sin. I spoke with a pastor who is helping in a congregation that has faced internal division. He noted how difficult it is to remind and draw people to God’s peace. The church I attended before Seminary had one person who always found some issue. For example, the organist didn’t play “Silent Night” correctly. They disliked the church leadership. It seemed that they took delight in turmoil of every sort. Tough to understand, isn’t it? They brought strife that eventually involved the synod. That was sad! This one person had such certainty that they hurt others for their own sense of wellbeing. They were not agents of peace. Then again, the church is made up of sinners. We will not always show our best qualities. How can these things be avoided?
I have faced many times strife between spouses or neighbors or even people coming to Peter’s Porch. What it precipitates is the hurt the person picks up from their tormentor’s behavior. Emotions are contagious. Anger brings an angry response. Our grief causes others to feel sadness. The effect is WE become the person who has hurt us. We become them. How odd. We become the person WHO destroyed our peace. My counsel is to avoid that trap. Don’t become the person who has hurt you.
Oh, I know that is difficult. Yet, I know too well how one person can make you feel miserable. My sense is they want company. In their misery, they invite us into their darkness. It may be difficult, but I prefer to offer joy. I prefer to show life. I prefer to think by God’s grace and mercy that I am able to show the child whose star gave light to a dark world. I prefer to be an agent of peace and understanding. Yes, I may brood over slights and meanness because I’m human. Yet, I work to avoid their behavior because that is not “sharing of the peace” I wish to offer others.
May you know peace this year…so with Happy New Year, I also say Peace-filled New Year. May we be agents of Christ in a troubled world—a homage better than gold, frankincense and myrrh.
With blessing…Pastor Joe