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.

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.

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

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Christians in the snow

Hi church - I've seen lots of posts about how to stay safe and get what you need in anticipation of a big snow storm.

Here are a few thrown together thoughts about how you can act out your faith during a snowstorm:

1) If you anticipate you'll have special needs this weekend, let someone know.  This is not the time to be proud.  Loneliness, hunger, thirst, cold - we're all susceptible.  If you're afraid of experiencing one of those during what could be a debilitating snowstorm, let someone know you need to be checked on and cared for.  Email me if you don't know who else to tell.  I'll do my best to get you some care.

2) Call people you know who live alone, who are frail, who might rely on delivery services like Meals on Wheels or grocery deliveries.  Check in on them and make sure they have what they need to get through a couple of days.

3) Elderly or disabled neighbors?  Neighbors with small children who can't be outside in cold for long? Let them know ahead of time that you'll shovel their walks for them.  This will be a huge relief. 

4) Snow days are no fun for a lot of people, including people who won't get paid if they can't get to work, people who don't have enough money for heat, people who have nowhere safe to sleep.  If you are lucky enough to enjoy your snow day, consider giving an extra gift to a local organization that helps people in need.  In our area, Annandale Christian Communities for Action and Bailey's Crossroads Shelter are both worthy places to give. 

5) If church is cancelled, (I'll make the decision on Saturday by noon), use the hour on Sunday morning to pray, read the scriptures and sing.  You can find the texts here. But don't feel the need to be super holy about it.  Snow days are a super-sabbath.  Hang out in your pjs.  Make pancakes and enjoy one another in the name of God!  Sleep in, rest up.

6) Speaking of super-sabbath...don't try to keep up your normal pace and by all means, stay off the roads.    Remember, emergency vehicles still need to get through.

7) Play.  I firmly believe that God smiles when we laugh. If you are in a position to relax during the snow day, get out in the snow and enjoy it. Go for a walk, through a snowball, make a snow angel, take in the wonder of the silent stillness that a big snowfall creates.

Be safe and stay warm - God bless all your days,
Pastor Sarah

Monday, December 21, 2015

Before the Christmas Pageant - We are the stories we tell.

(This was my introduction to the Christmas Pageant at Peace Lutheran, Alexandria VA, Dec 20 2015)

A few weeks ago I was in a training session about discipleship. What's that, you ask? The great commandment of the resurrected Jesus is to go and make disciples.  Since then, one of the purposes of church is to do that with every generation: make modern disciples who will follow the ways of Jesus.  In this time and place, we can’t assume people learned discipleship at home or in church as youngsters.  We have to teach them.  Hence, the training.

In the session, we searched for a word to use for “disciples-in-training.”  It’s too long, too church-y, and just kind of weird.  People brainstormed words around the table:

Mentee. Student. Apprentice. Novice. Fledgling. 

We all burst into giggles when someone said below his breath, “Young Jedi.” 

Ahhh, Young Jedi, prepared to follow Jesus you will be. 

Our confirmation students would probably better understand what we’re doing with them if instead of calling them ‘confirmands’ we called them Padawan.

For those who don’t know, those are Star Wars references.  That’s a movie.  And the reason I bring them up isn’t because I’m a super fan – I’m not - but because it's very clear that Star Wars has influenced a lot of people’s lives.  With the release of the most recent episode, the anticipation was at its highest.  People dressed up in costume, memorized their favorite parts, and even reenacted famous scenes.

What a weird thing to do?  To get SOOOO into a story that you would dress up and reenact it?  Why would you do that?

Indeed. Why?  It must be because that story means something. 

Stories give meaning to our lives; they help us understand our larger context and give us connection points to previous generations.  As one South African saying goes, “We are the stories we tell.”  We are the stories we tell and even more we are the stories we repeat.

As I prepare to spend time with family in the next weeks, I plan to be intentional about listening to their stories, especially the ones I’ve heard before, because those are probably the ones that matter most. I’ll hope people have the grace to listen to my stories too.  Though it costs nothing, listening to another person's story may be the most precious gift I give this Christmas.

All our stories are best understood against the narrative of that larger story that holds us all together.  As we tell our stories, we may even be able to see ourselves in light of that great story: a story of good and evil, innocence and corruption, complex father-son dynamics, ancient wisdom passed on to the hope of the next generation, empire and rebel, an underdog team of misfits, sin and forgiveness, justice and mercy, the need to save the child, the hope that the child will save us.

This is not Star Wars, of course.  This is the story of Jesus and it’s the story that makes us who we are.

We can't get enough of it.  We tell it and read it and sing it and write books about it and make sure our children know it.  We listen to older generations reminisce and we marvel as younger generations catch its spirit. 

We become superfans. And yes, we even dress up in costume and act it out. We are the stories we tell.  Now let's hear from our youngest disciples-in-training as they tell us the greatest story of our lives.