Friday, November 10, 2017

Ten for Ten. Ten reasons it's great to be a pastor, in celebration of my 10 year anniversary of ordination.

I'm in there somewhere.

I was ordained at Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington DC on November 10, 2007, ten years ago today.

In celebration and gratitude, I've written a list of ten reasons it's great to be a pastor.

1) It is interesting, varied work. With a lot of different areas of semi-expertise, it's a decathlon of professions. That's especially energizing if you're a generalist, as I am.  You don't get bored because there's always another interesting thing to work on.  In the last week, I have crafted worship services, drafted a sermon, fundraised, counseled someone, had lunch with an intergenerational group of people, talked intensely about climate change, talked even more intensely about gun violence, helped a 3 year old color a picture, met a new member for coffee, connected a desperate person with social services, facilitated a conflict resolution, plotted how to make our church available for literacy classes, laughed with staff members, looked over architecture blueprints, designed a bible study,  prayed, studied, analyzed budgets, and helped decorate a hall for a huge party.

2) The schedule.  During the week, you have remarkable flexibility.  True, working every weekend puts you out of sync with friends and family.  That can be brutal.  But the flip side is that you can pretty much shape the rhythm of the rest of the week. I haven't yet missed a child's doctor appointment or a preschool drop-off.  I can squeeze in lunches with old friends and arrange appointments with the physical therapist.  Yes, emergencies arise and I sometimes work late into the night or early in the morning. But who doesn't?  By and large, the flexibility is a wonderful aspect of the job.

3) It's essentially creative work. Pastors get to look at the world as it is and then imagine what else is possible.  You have the benefit of thousands of years of tradition to help springboard you into innovating for the future.  Plus, there are all these creative people like musicians and artists and poets and quilters and filmmakers hanging around in churches.  It's fun to work with them and bask in their talent.  In how many professions do you get to hear gorgeous, live music every single week?

4) When the world seems awful, you have a way to channel your lament and turn it into hope.  It's your job to care.  You can actually say "I can't really function right now because my heart is breaking" and it's ok. And then you'll find God stepped in and made it possible to keep going.  You work with a community of people who really believe in goodness and kindness and justice and God's presence.  If they aren't acting that way, you get to gently remind them.  And you can actually mobilize those people to create the kind of world that gives you hope in return.  This is another aspect of the creativity of the work.  It's liberating.

5) Reading. It's ok if I get caught in my office reading a novel.  It's necessary to my work to stay on top of ideas and stories.

6) Writing.  It's ok if I'm in my office writing or just sitting there thinking.  It's even ok if I say "I'm going home now to write."  I get to try to write meaningful, engaging things every single week and people actually pay attention.  (Or they pretend well!).  People I know who are authors, politicians and community organizers have pointed out how special it is to have a ready-made audience for newsletter articles, blog posts and sermons.

7) The people.  People in churches are essentially goodhearted and often a little quirky.  You get to know some very interesting, talented, varied humans and you get to know them well.   As you get to know them, you can't help but love them.  It's basically delightful to have your work be to love people. Also, turns out other pastors are a pretty great set of colleagues.  Smart, engaged, and kind-hearted, my network of clergy friends would have my back in an instant.  If I were ranking this list, this would be tied for #1.

8) You have a front row seat to personal transformation.  You get to see people grapple with tough situations and witness God leading them through.  People invite you into some of the most sacred, intense moments of their lives. You watch grief turn into tenderness, disappointment into a new path, and betrayal into renewed trust.  You see people's sharp edges slowly become soft because they receive the love of God in community.  You watch people grow close to Jesus and you see it making a difference.   I've found it's impossible not to realize I'm being transformed too.

9) Your own faith gets stronger.  It's similar to how people who work at gyms become healthier.  Through bible study, prayer, worship, conversations, sermon prep, and rubbing shoulders with clergy from all sorts of faith backgrounds, you can't get lazy with your faith. My faith has changed significantly in the ten years.  It's more humble and more resilient now. This is not to say there aren't days where faith is absent or long stretches of profound doubt.  Of course there are.  But even those times turn into strength in the end.  This is the other tie for #1

10) You can trust at the end of the day, it's actually not up to you to make your work fruitful.  Yes, as a pastor if you love your work and your people, you're going to have some anxiety about if you're doing well.  But it is in God's hands and it is God's church.  You really can sleep easy, if you've done your best, with that in mind.

That's my list!  I'm sure I could find 10 more pretty easily.  But I'm going to take advantage of the flexibility and get myself a cup of coffee and play with my kiddos.  Deep thanks to the many many people who have made these 10 years what they are.  And especially the two churches I've served: Prince of Peace, Gaithersburg and Peace, Alexandria, with a special shout out to Luther Place Memorial, Washington DC, and Bethesda in New Haven, the two churches that trained me up.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday 2017

From Pastor Sarah (weekly reflection for the congregation).

After I write this, I will go into the sanctuary to pray for our worship over the next three days.
I have the feeling – as I do every year on Maundy Thursday – that I am longing for something that I can’t even name.  Is it wholeness?  Peace? Relief? Beauty? It’s all of these things, and it’s more.
It’s the longing to know that fundamentally, things are going to end up well. 

It’s a longing not just for my life but for every one of God’s hurting, hungry children’s lives.  It’s not just for now but extending far into the future and even into the past. It’s not just for humans but for all of God’s creation.  I look around and see all that’s broken.  I am unsure that we can ever be made well. 

The worship services we’re about to experience allow us to say, with all lament and distress: this is not how it should be. They allow us to express our longings to God and to be utterly real with them. They also allow us to be utterly real with ourselves, our selfishness and our incapacity to change all that is wrong without and within.  God does not ask us to pretend.

But…here’s the most amazing thing.  Once the lament is proclaimed.  Once the worst thing ever possible has happened, what we find on the other side is something more miraculous than we can ever expect.  The longing is met.  The joy comes.  I’m not there yet, but I know, by God’s grace, I will be.

I’ll see you in church,
Pastor Sarah

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.


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.

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,

Ten for Ten. Ten reasons it's great to be a pastor, in celebration of my 10 year anniversary of ordination.

I'm in there somewhere. I was ordained at Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington DC on November 10, 2007, ten years ago today. ...