Dear Friends, our Stewardship theme this year is Here I Am–Send Me! Each week we’ve been talking about different ways we show up for God, our neighbors, near and far, and the ways we have changed when we have shown up. On the link below is a sermon by one of our ELCA Youth Gathering leaders: Cynthia Carney. Cynthia has been taking youth to the last three triennial gatherings; she loves it, and below is her sermon on her experience. She offered it on Reformation Sunday, October 28th, 2018.
No doubt you are as dismayed and broken-hearted as I am about the recent shooting in Pittsburgh, on Shabbat in the Tree of Life of Synagogue. We have learned that 11 persons have died. These losses are unspeakably tragic. I ask your prayers for the victims’ families, those who were wounded, and for the entire congregation and community of the Tree of Life. I ask your prayers for the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. We opened the church last evening for prayer and mourning in solidarity with them, and with the Jewish community there, here, and around the world. One of my colleagues, the Rev. Maren Tirabassi, a UCC pastor and writer, wrote a beautiful prayer for Pittsburgh based on Psalm 61.
Here is her prayer.
Prayer for Pittsburgh
God, we ask your presence
among the death at the Tree of Life –
for those shocked and mourning —
for the wounded — healers,
for the fearful who shelter in place —
the fragile presence
of phone and internet support,
for those active in policing
in emergency care,
and gathering to offer
emotional support and counseling —
deep strength within themselves.
For we ask, with the psalmist,
that you set them on the rock
that is higher than fear,
become a refuge within and without,
a strong tower, enfolding tent,
and a shelter under your wings
for the aftermath of loss
and the crying to come. amen
Here are some of the verses from the Psalm:
Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
2 From the end of the earth I call to you,
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I;
3 for you are my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.
4 Let me abide in your tent forever,
find refuge under the shelter of your wings.Selah
5 For you, O God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name…
8 So I will always sing praises to your name,
as I pay my vows day after day.
On this Reformation Sunday, perhaps you might also join me in prayers for a reformation of action to change the climate of hatred we find ourselves living in, including the reform of gun laws.
Here is an article from The New York Times, with more on those who died.
On Ash Wednesday, which coincided with Valentine’s Day, as all of us know, by now, there was another school shooting in Florida, in which 17 persons died. Our Ash Wednesday service in the evening was heavy with the knowledge, grief and anger in the wake of the shooting. It was good to put ashes on our foreheads, as a symbol of collective mourning, and also as a confession of our frailty, an acknowledgement of the brokenness so many of us feel regarding the culture of gun violence in our country. I know many of us felt wordless with shock; I certainly did, and in that helplessness, the words of an ancient prophet came as help:
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
6Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
8Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
There were children at the service, on Wednesday night, and I was so very grateful they were there, to be gathered in the arms of prayer that evening. The next morning, a parent in the neighborhood wrote me to say her child was afraid of going to school. She was able to calm her son down enough, and she called the school to find out what the teachers and guidance counselors might be doing for him and other children. She, too, felt frightened by what can happen in the halls of school.
If we want to change gun violence in this country, prayers and thoughts are not enough. Lent calls us to fight evil with good. Gun violence is a clear and present danger to our communities; we are not helpless to change it. It is an evil we can fight with prayer AND action. If you are looking for a way to use Lent as a time of healing and life-giving activities, consider taking action about gun violence, even if it is something as straightforward as calling your national Representatives and Senators, or perhaps registering people to vote. Gun lobbyists get people to vote. Peacemakers better be able to do that, too. Educate, advocate, vote, and get your friends to vote. The church has a public responsibility to speak and act in the matter of preventing gun violence in this country. If you doubt that, please check the Sermon on the Mount. We are Christ in this world, and I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t get behind assault rifles.
If you are interested in getting involved with and helping to work for change, then there are several organizations through which you can do that. Moms Demand Action is one I like; it’s a secular organization, https://momsdemandaction.org, but we have great resources within the church, too. I’ve listed them below with a pastoral letter from our bishops, written in 2013, and sadly, still needed.
Here’s a local organization started in Massachusetts by a MA resident and gun violence activist, John Rosenthal: http://www.stophandgunviolence.org
- “Community Violence,” a social message http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Community_ViolenceSM.pdf? _ga=1.130333711.1614659498.1391546494
- “The Body of Christ and Mental Illness,” a social message
- “Hearing the Cries: Faith and Criminal Justice,” 2013 social statement
- “For Peace in God’s World,” a 1995 social statement
- “Ban of Military-Style Semi-Automatic Weapons,” 1989 social policy resolution
- “Community Violence – Gun Control,” 1993 social policy resolution
This week, on Sunday, January 28th, we will be holding our Annual Meeting, immediately following the 10:00 a.m. worship service. As I wrote the Pastor’s Annual Report, I found myself once more plunged into gratitude for this community. It is no surprise that Annual Reports can become Epiphanies in their own right, a window into the ways God is working among us. As I read through it, I found myself chuckling, rejoicing, praying, remembering, celebrating, planning, thinking, but most of all, thanking God for all of you, who are this Body of Christ. Annual Reports are available at the church office, should you need one. If you see Carol Gray, our Parish Administrator, please say thank you to her for her devoted work last week to edit and produce it. Thanks to all who contributed their reports and for all that we have been this year. Jenn Klopotoski designed the outstanding cover page, basing the illustration on a project she did with the children. (Above). The art is based on the verse from Micah 6:8 so many of us love:
O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Last week, the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, the children worked on another creation based on Jesus’ call of the disciples when they were mending their nets: Mark 1: 14-22. Between the two of those art projects, the Sunday School has expressed something of the core of our self-understanding as a congregation, as disciples. The caption reads: Walking the Way of Jesus, We are Schooled in the Light of Christ.
See you Sunday! 9:00 a.m. for Sunday School; 10:00 a.m. for Worship, and 11:30 for the Annual Meeting.
The readings in Advent always take me to a place that theologians call the “margins.” Between Isaiah’s prophecies and John the Baptist, I get caught up in the fullness of their vision of the Reign of God, the richness of their dreams, the urgency of their prayer. Advent calls us to draw near God, even as the prophets announce that God is already drawing near to us. The Reign of God, John the Baptist cries, draws near in Christ. The yearning for God expressed in Advent, can take us to the margins of our lives, as it took Jesus.
During my sabbatical this year, I spent three months traveling around the country, visiting intentional communities that seemed to me to exemplify the biblical vision of Beloved Community, groups of people whose souls have caught the prophetic vision of the Reign of God, and are striving to live it in community–this is what church is, of course, but these folks were also forming intentional communities to express that vision in their every day lives, sharing homes, resources and a mission to their neighborhoods.
Beloved Community is a term that became popular during the Civil Rights era in the United States, but its history is older, and its modern expression goes back to the turn of the 20th century. Beloved Community is the language for an ideal—or a vision, a metaphor for the reign of God, or the kingdom of heaven—in religious terms, a horizon toward which we move, also a biblical vision, articulated in scripture. The biblical prophets point us in the direction of Beloved Community; Jesus’ teachings do as well, based as they are in prophetic faith, teachings that break into history with transforming love, working within individuals and in communities. Beloved Community can be thought of in a variety of ways: a community of repentance, a community of memory, a community of hope, grace, revelation, love and justice. The modern use of the phrase is attributed to philosopher Josiah Royce, who founded the Fellowship of Reconciliation. In 1913, Royce wrote, ‘“My life means nothing, either theoretically or practically, unless I am a member of a community.” Beyond the actual communities that we directly encounter in life there is the ideal “Beloved Community” of all those who would be fully dedicated to the cause of loyalty, truth and reality itself.'( See: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/royce/). Later the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would adopt this language of Beloved Community, and popularize it in his sermons and speeches, as something that was achievable, rather than a far off horizon of vision. It was a realistic goal: “In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.” For King, the method to achieve this goal was creating a critical mass of people trained in the theory and practice of non-violence. “Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred.” (From The King Center: http://www.thekingcenter.org/king-philosophy#sub4)
The Beloved Communities I visited were all informed by the powerful stream of imagery, theory, teachings, and practice about what it means to create just and loving communities, exemplified in the biblical prophets and in Jesus’ teachings, in Dr. King’s work, and those who came after him. Most were Christian or interfaith communities, and all of them lived close in with people who have been, or may be still on the “margins” of our society. Now, here’s what this has to do with Advent: Jesus lived on the margins–this isn’t a new thought in Christian theology; it’s a foundational understanding of Jesus’ identity. From his birth in a rural village in the out-post of the Roman Empire, to his death on the cross, Jesus makes his home with the “anawim,” the Poor Ones. (See Raymond Brown: The Birth of the Messiah).
This year, because of our divisive politics, and some of the cruel measures being taken against the people Jesus calls us expressly to love, I find myself feeling an even deeper urgency to understand, help, and advocate for those who are being pushed to the margins of security because of poverty, immigration, discrimination of any kind, racism, sexism, classism, disabilities, mental illness, addiction. Anger and prayers about injustice are not enough; faith is active in love. Jesus lives there, in the lives of people who are struggling for justice, truth, and love. Advent can take us into the blessing of those struggles, if we are not there already.
Here is an example. I call it the first principle of the discipline of loving the neighbor: get to know them. In one of the communities I visited, the members simply took regular walks in their neighborhoods, making it a point of learning about the lives, needs, and struggles of everyone who was within walking distance of their communities and churches. What they found, and what we will find, should we do it, are the intersections of our lives. Everyone needs safety from violence. Everyone needs food. Everyone needs shelter. Everyone needs health care. Everyone needs dignity and respect. Everyone needs decent work. Everyone needs love. As they got to know who their nearer neighbors actually were, it expanded their sense of belonging and opened their hearts to generosity and curiosity about their differences and their shared experiences. They discovered, as we may discover, common struggles, our interdependencies, our interconnections. Refugees live nearby; homeless shelters are down the street; food pantries and soup kitchens feed the person next-door–we ourselves may need those same soup kitchens, too; local libraries offer help with ESL classes, and filling out government documents and forms; neighborhood houses of worship host health clinics and homeless families in transition. Soon the word “stranger” became and becomes the word “friend.”
Charles Marsh writes in his book on Beloved Community, “We must learn how to perceive the living God who is building a new world in unexpected places and shapes; indeed, we must learn what it means to enter the new world of God. In short, we must relearn the meaning of being a Christian. For if Jesus Christ is Lord of the church and over all creation, power, and principalities, as Christians believe, then our first order of business must be to learn again how to participate in the gift…But let us not for a moment conceal from ourselves the fact that obedience to this vision–our actual acceptance of what the Bible proposes: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”–is a step into space, “an undertaking of unknown consequences, a venture into eternity.” Christian discipleship leads one into the most passionate worldliness and the experience of life’s polyphony, its beauty, anguish and complexity…in church we are taken up, perhaps even against our will, into a fellowship of astonishing variety and difference. In church, we are taken into “Christ-time” …and given the hope that our fragile and infrequent experiences of reconciliation will one day become an eternal feast” (p. 214-215). May this Advent take us to the margins, out past our comfort, and gather us up into that astonishing world of “Christ-time” and “Christ-love”, toward the unexpected and mysterious down-to-earth ways that the love of God might be born anew in us and in our beloved communities.
Hurricane Irma, following close on Harvey, is making its devastating way across the Caribbean. We are keeping all who are in the path of Irma in our prayers; we continue to pray for those affected by Harvey, and for recovery efforts. Should you wish to help in some way, Lutheran Disaster Response is a good way: Here
in the communion of Christ, we are joined with the trials and sufferings of all. Be with those who endure the wind, rain, and flooding from Hurricane Irma.
Protect those in the path of danger.
Open the pathway of evacuations.
Help loved ones find one another in the chaos.
Provide assistance to those who need help.
Ease the fears of all and make your presence known in the stillness of your peace; Through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
(Evangelical Lutheran Worship: Occasional Services for the Assembly, page 394)
We pray, too, for those affected by floods and mudslides in South Asia, for the those affected by wildfires in California, and all emergency and relief workers, for all suffering from natural disasters.
Last night, at our Peace Meditation, we prayed for the earth itself, holding the world in our hearts, before our mind’s eye, praying for healing, for recovery, for peace. We’ll continue Peace Prayers and Meditations through September, at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday evenings, should you wish to come and pray. We meet in the sanctuary.
Easter arrived April 16th, and as usual, some of us went to Good Harbor Beach for the ecumenical Easter sunrise service. It was a balmy peaceful dawn, and none of us could remember a warmer one. We didn’t even need jackets. The peace of the morning stayed with us for our festive Eucharist at 10:00 a.m. It was a joyful beautiful celebration of our Lord’s resurrection, graced by beautiful music from our choir, organist, and guest musicians Michael Milnarik on tuba, and his wife, composer/pianist Sanae Kanda. The children decorated the altar with flowers, and hunted for eggs in the playground afterwards. For some reason, the lovely peace of Easter has stayed with us, and though so much tumult is around us, we can still breathe in the peace of God. We celebrated the second Sunday of Easter with a baptism, and we’ll celebrate another baptism tomorrow, on the third Sunday. Spring has finally come to Cape Ann with Eastertide; beauty is everywhere, life-giving, soul-refreshing, and spirit-renewing. Last Sunday, we heard about the Easter evening appearance of Jesus to the disciples on the first day of the Resurrection: he breathed peace upon them, and said “receive the Holy Spirit.” And he told the disciples: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:19-23). May the breath of the Holy Spirit renew you and fill you, as a freshening wind from the sea. Happy Easter! For Fifty Days!
Tomorrow is the Fifth Sunday in Lent. The Sunday scripture readings are powerful affirmations of life in the midst of death: the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37:1-14; a heart-searching song in Psalm 130; a consideration of life in the Spirit in Romans 8:6-8, and finally the raising of Lazarus in John 11:1-45. Working Preacher is one of the resources in our church used widely by pastors and congregations in their study of scripture and preparation for worship. It is a wonderful website full of commentaries, reflections, and questions for preaching, and for personal prayer and corporate worship. In our Catechism Study class on Wednesday evenings, we’ve been talking about ways of preparing for worship, for hearing the Word freshly. Working Preacher offers reflection questions for each week of Sunday scripture lessons. Here are the ones for this Sunday. We’ll be using them in worship this week.
Discussion Questions for Lent 5
Whose death have you wept over, grieved deeply? (John 11:1-45)
When was a time you felt God breathing new life into you? (Ezek 37:1-14)
What’s foremost on your mind when you pray these days? (Ps 130)
How do you perceive the presence, work, or impact of the Spirit in any given moment? (Rom 8:6-11)
This week’s Reflect & Connect questions written by Rod Boriack.
On February 19th, 2017–we held a Refugee Sunday at St. Paul Lutheran Church. The Rev. Alice Erickson, a local pastor with long experience in refugee and immigration work preached a marvelous sermon. Here it is! Refugee Sunday Rev Erickson Sermon
During the weeks since, we have sponsored a collection of needed items for NuDay Syria, along with other faith communities on the North Shore. This was successful thanks to the tireless efforts of member Kimberlee Cloutier-Blazzard, and all the members and friends who donated.
For more information, see the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service for ideas about how to take action, and support the lives of refugees.
Sunrise glitters after a snowstorm; every crystal of snow reflects the light. The world shimmers with it. On Epiphany, we celebrate the Light of Christ, that shone for the Magi, that shines in Jesus’ baptism, that shines on us, brighter than a sunrise after a snowstorm. Come and celebrate the great “manifestation” of our Lord in Jesus Christ.