Thursday, March 2, 2017

Lent: A Student of Jesus


On Ash Wednesday I talked about the discipline of Lent.  Discipline comes from a word meaning "pupil."  A discipline helps you learn something.

For students of Jesus' way, a discipline during the season of Lent opens our lives to God's work of transformation. It helps us learn to become what God has created us to be: practitioners of grace, justice, and love.

If you'd like a Lenten discipline but don't know where to begin, I suggest one or both of these:

1) Over dinner each day, reflect on these two questions. If you live with people, you may find it helpful to do this together.
  • How did I give love today?  
  • How did I receive love today?
2) Begin each day with a benediction and end each day with a confession. This is what I'm doing this year. 

Every year as we plan the Ash Wednesday service I remember how much I love these texts.  The benediction at the end of the service energizes me to be who God made me to be. The confession covers it all, from secret shames to the systemic ills and everything in between.In the worship service, we start with confession and end with benediction but I think it's appropriate to flip those two in daily life - starting each day with benediction and ending with confession.

I pray that as I frame my days through this practice, I'll find more patience, resilience, humility and focus.  I hope it will help me be a better student of Jesus.  If you join me in this, I'd love to hear how it works for you.

Blessings on your Lent,
 - Pr Sarah

Start the day with a benediction: Perhaps post it to your bathroom mirror or put it on your car radio dial.

Go forth into the world in peace; 
Be of good courage;
Hold fast to that which is good;
Render to no one evil for evil;
Strengthen the fainthearted;
Support the weak; 
Help the afflicted; 
Honor everyone;
Love and serve the Lord,
Rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit. 


End the day with confession.   I'll print this out and put it on my nightstand.

Confession

Most holy and merciful God:  I confess to you and to the whole communion of saints in heaven and on earth, that I have sinned by my own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what I have done, and by what I have left undone.

I have not loved you with my whole heart, and mind, and strength.
I have not loved my neighbor as myself.
I have not forgiven others, as I have been forgiven.
Have mercy on me, Lord.

I have been deaf to your call to serve as Christ served us.
I have not been true to the mind of Christ.
I have grieved your Holy Spirit.
Have mercy on me, Lord.

I confess to you, Lord, all my past unfaithfulness.
The pride, hypocrisy, and impatience in my life,
My self-indulgent appetites and ways, and my exploitation of other people,
My anger at my own frustration, and my envy of those more fortunate than myself,
My intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and my dishonesty in daily life and work,
My negligence in prayer and worship, and my failure to commend the faith that is in me,
I confess to you Lord.

Accept my repentance, Lord, for the wrongs I have done.
For my blindness to human need and suffering, and my indifference to injustice and cruelty,
For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward my neighbors, and for my prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from me,
For my waste and pollution of your creation, and my lack of concern for those who come after me.
Accept my repentance, Lord.
Restore me, good Lord, and let your anger depart from me.  
Hear me, Lord, for your mercy is great.   Amen.

Monday, June 13, 2016

After the shootings at Pulse.

Dear Church,

I write in response to the mass shooting yesterday at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando.  Like many of you, I am sad, disgusted and weary.  The role for people of faith at such a time is certainly to pray for God's peace, comfort and direction.  It is also to act, remembering that Jesus' faith empowered him to speak boldly and act courageously in the face of what seemed unchanging social norms. He encouraged his disciples to do the same. That's us.

The shooting stands at the intersection of three topics that cry out for our action:

1) Gun Control.  It is past time for our country to act on meaningful gun control.  As soon as I finish this letter I will write to my congresspeople, both national and state, and let them know that I support strict gun control laws. Find the contact information for yours here.   

Though I have long been convinced that our country needs to change laws on gun access in order to solve our national epidemic of mass shootings, I have not acted on that conviction.  Why not?  Partly because I wanted to avoid confrontation with loved ones who feel differently; partly because the thicket of gun control policies confuse me and make me feel stupid when I try to talk about it; partly because the gun lobby seems too powerful to stop; and partly because there are so many other issues to work on.  I suppose I thought that if I could keep my family gun-free, privately lament the way killing machines seem so prevalent, and in my bubble avoid their presence, I would be safe.

I was wrong and I am sorry.  Christians are never worried only about their own safety and frankly, no one is insulated.  The gun laws in this country make unsafe conditions for everyone.  The answer is not more guns. It's fewer and more restricted access.  Obscenely powerful automatic weapons like the one used in Orlando should be outlawed for private use altogether.  There is no need for a hunter or a person concerned with personal safety to have such weapons.  

And regarding all gun ownership, stronger national gun control laws are essential to stopping such killings.  The organization I have found to be the most reasonable and aligned with my values (and I hope God's values) on this is Everytown for Gun Safety.  I have just joined the movement and donated.  We can change this.

2) Public affirmation for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. Peace Lutheran Church has, for decades, been a place of worship for people of a variety of sexual orientations.  It's one of the reasons I wanted to come here as a pastor.  I think it's true - I hope it's true - that the way we enact our belief that all people are loved and worthy of love makes it easy to forget just how much hatred sill exists for people who are GLBTQ.  Again, I live in a bubble of tolerance and naivete on this one.  

The shooting is a reminder that hatred for GLBTQ people is out there, real and dangerous.  The world is not safe for them.  As someone who believes strongly that God made humanity with a variety of sexual orientations and all are equally beloved by God, I will say again and again, this hatred is not holy.  It is not godly.  It is not right.

3) Refusal to stereotype Muslims.   The killer was an American-born Muslim.  I am an American-born Christian, raised in the same religious tradition as Dylann Roof, who killed nine African-American worshipers last summer in a Charleston church. No one, to my knowledge, ever blamed Lutheran Christianity or me personally for his actions. Just like I found his racially-motivated murders appalling, millions of Muslims who stand for peace and love decry the actions of the killer in Orlando.  Read examples here and here

Sure, radical aberrations of Islam exist.  So do radical aberrations of Christianity.  Painting all Muslims with a wide brush destroys our ability to see nuance and variety within such an enormous religious tradition.  At its heart, Islam - and the vast majority of American Muslims - is about peace.  Somehow our society manages to distinguish between me and the KKK.  The same is required for the way we talk about Muslims now.

There is so much more to say on all three of these topics, but I will leave this here. The world needs disciples of Jesus to point to light, truth, love and peace.  I hope this letter stirs you to add your drop of those things to the ocean of need.  

Faith in the living Jesus makes me believe that change in this world is possible. God's kingdom come.

Be at Peace,
Pastor Sarah

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Mission: Possible - I'd tell about Jesus but no one's asking.



From Pastor Sarah – Mission: Possible

Last week I preached about the encounters we can have with the living spirit of God when we take time to listen to people’s concerns.  I told about Professor Lucy who, through teaching film to students craving to find artistic expression and mentoring, was also able to share her faith.  

Rarely will someone ask you about Jesus.  Far more often, they will tell you that they long for a different kind of life; they will share a joy, a desire, a heartbreak: they’ll ask for prayers for healing.  In every human encounter, there is the possibility for the Holy Spirit’s presence to create healing and peace.  Rather than see mission as something that only happens at church or through church programs, we find renewed grace when we see our whole lives as part of God’s mission.  


 Someone sent me this article about an official at the Pentagon who started to integrate his faith with his work. If I'd read it before the sermon, I would have used it as an example. 

Listen to the sermon here.

This week I will preach on a vision that Peter had where God told him to eat animals that were considered unclean.  When Peter protested, God retorted: “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.”  Peter was wondering what the meaning of the vision could be when it became clear.  Some people who weren’t Jewish wanted Peter to come and teach them.  This apparently blew Peter’s mind.  That God would work through people who weren’t Jewish was astounding and it directly contradicted plenty of passages in Scripture that said otherwise.  But, not one to argue too much with God, Peter went to the family and found indeed that the Holy Spirit was with them.  His mind was changed.  His mission was clear.

Questions:
1)      Have you ever met someone who fit in a category you’d been taught to dislike only to find yourself surprised by the encounter?
2)      Do you think God can work through everybody?
3)      Has God ever made your mission crystal clear?
Be at Peace,

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Mission: Possible - Last Week/Next Week

I sense that Peace Lutheran Church - where I serve as Pastor - is on the brink of doing some new exciting things to share the gospel. I don't know what they are yet, but my first step in making them a reality is cultivating a hunger in the church to grow and reach new people.  To that end, I'm doing a sermon series for Easter based on the book of Acts called Mission: Possible.  Here's the synopsis/preview for last week/this week.




Renewal in one’s own faith life is the first step to sharing the good news with other people.  The same Peter who had denied Jesus turned into a bold witness to the gospel.  What happened? He encountered the resurrected Jesus who loved him despite his betrayal.  Jesus forgave Peter, gave Peter a new start, and it made all the difference.

How has Jesus made a difference in your life?  This question is sometimes impossible for people who’ve been in church forever to answer.  It’s critical for our sense of mission to be reminded that we are people in need of God’s love and we’ve got it.  The more we live with the awareness of that amazing grace, the more courage we’ll have to share it with others.

Listen to the sermon here.

This week I will preach on the conversion of Saul.  Saul persecuted Christians and then, an experience of the resurrected Jesus on the road and just like that, he becomes Paul, the biggest champion of Jesus.

It leads to the question: why don’t you think God can change you too?  Adults come up with all sorts of excuses for why we can’t do new things (too old, too set-in-my-ways, too comfortable, too poor, too tired, too many people relying on me, too embarrassed, too afraid).  God can ALWAYS do new things.  If God could change Saul into Paul, God can transform your life too.

Questions:
1)      Is there an area of life you’d love to change but don’t know how?
2)      Do you believe that in the future, you could serve God in a new or different way?
3)      When is the last time you remember having the courage to make a big change?
Be at Peace,
Pastor Sarah