Come Share the Spirit — Joel Swan

Good morning!

This week, it’s my turn. In all honesty, I thought I was safe. Pastor Anne helped me volunteer to be the Spiritual Leader for the Building Campaign. She has that special way of helping people volunteer. Once I learned that the Spiritual Leader merely had to get others to give inspirational talks, I was breathing easy. But somewhere along this journey, I decided that maybe I did have something to share

I grew up in a small town south of Boston going to a Methodist church. All of my family went to church together, because in those days, Sunday was a day for families. It was my favorite day of the week. I would watch the Davey and Goliath show, walk to church, listen to the sermon and sing all those great Methodist hymns. I’d walk home still humming them many times.

Once home, we’d have a big Sunday dinner and then visit with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Once in college, going to church often meant going alone. More times than not, I found that it didn’t feel like the same service. They didn’t do things the same way. Sometimes, the Gloria Patri had a different tune and other times, they didn’t even sing the Doxology!

After college, Sharon and I were married in her family’s Catholic church and we moved to Texas. For a few months, we alternated between different Catholic and Methodist churches in and around Dallas trying to find the right church for both of us. I never felt at home. Little by little, I just stopped going.

Fast forward a few years, and we moved to Gloucester and started raising our family. We decided that our children would be raised Catholic. It saddened me as they moved through the various stages of their faith, celebrating first communions and confirmations, knowing that it was something I couldn’t share with them.

And then, it all started to change. You see, Sharon and my daughter Meredith had known Miranda and little Rebecca from their times together swimming at the Y. Sharon attended the dedication of Rebecca’s Playground and upon coming home, suggested that maybe this was a church I could attend. We joked a little bit about how even though the church was Lutheran, I always did like that Davey and Goliath show. I put it off for a few weeks and then decided to visit and see for myself. I didn’t expect much at first.

The outside of the church looked very much like many of the other churches I had visited on Cape Ann. I came early and sat in the parking lot for a long time, trying to decide if it was really worth taking a chance. Besides, I didn’t know which door to go in. As some of the newer members can attest, going to a new church for the first time can be a little unsettling. I decided to try the front side door and timed my walk so that I could go in with a crowd. I tried to walk in as if I knew where I was going. That’s when I met Ken Brink for the first time. In the way that only Ken could, he noticed me coming in, introduced himself and began ushering me in the right direction. With that twinkle in his eyes, he told me that he would love to talk with me after the service was over.

I made my way to one of the pews in the back, which are better to hide in and sat all the way on the right end. I’m glad I did because those lovely ladies that followed me in really seemed to want the other end. (By the way, they still let me sit in their pew.) I started to feel a little more comfortable, especially when I recognized one of the hymns listed in the bulletin. But then, the confusion started. The bulletin was listing pages as LBW and WOV but the pastor was talking about green books and blue books. (This was before we had green, blue and red books). Then there was her spiel about individual cups and the common cup. But this was the middle of the month.

Growing up as a Methodist, we only celebrated communion on the first Sunday of each month! I started to wonder if it was too late to sneak out the back door. But those ladies to my left were keeping an eye on me. And then there was that Ken guy with the twinkling eyes.

So here we are, four or five years later. My time here at Saint Paul has changed my life in more ways than I can even begin to count. I became an usher, after making the mistake of cleaning up the pews after church one Sunday. (Some woman named Joanne suggested that I was “usher material”.) I learned more about the Bible by helping to lead a couple of Bible studies. Pastor Anne suggested that I should volunteer. It all started to come together for me a couple of years ago when I was volunteered again to help wash feet on Maundy Thursday. That was most likely the first time I had truly experienced grace, truly shared the Spirit.

Many Sundays, you’ll find me down back, helping to usher people into the church. All too often, I’ve seen the look on people’s faces after they’ve struggled to climb the few short steps at the side entrance, only to see that there are still more steps to go. This has been especially evident during many of the memorial services of the past year. Building the Dream will fix this problem.

There is a liveliness to this congregation which is not always visible to visitors. Then again, that might just be a result of the Finnish roots of many of the members. The openness of the new addition will help that liveliness bubble out onto the street. The redesign of the entryway will practically invite passers-by to join us.

My hope is that this Dream of ours will not only make the church much more accessible but that it will become a place that we use more often during the week. I sense that we’re moving in that direction. There are new families joining almost weekly, the Sunday school program is expanding. We should be able to hold more adult and youth programs and perhaps we can even start up a Men’s Ministry. Things are going to change. Some whom have been at Saint Paul most of their lives might feel uncomfortable with the changes. I’ve already heard of one member remark that he “didn’t know many of the people anymore”.

But think about that. What a wonderful problem to have. As Stan said, “What an opportunity!”. I’d like to leave you with a reading we read almost monthly in the Methodist church whenI was growing up. It’s has taken on a new meaning for me since coming to Saint Paul.

A reading from the third chapter of Collosians. As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

For now though, I’ll continue to help at the back of the church welcoming people at the door, always looking for that person that just might need a little ushering into this great family at Saint Paul.I don’t have that twinkle in my eyes yet but some day, just maybe, I will.That twinkle which seems to say “Come on in! Come Share the Spirit!”

Stan Feener’s Temple Talk on 4/15/07

The really interesting thing about opportunities is that we very often don’t recognize them! Or what they potentially represent! And, even if we did, we are more than likely to make excuses rather than face them squarely. I know this very well since I’m as guilty as the next person. But, sometimes, personal choice is not an option.

As a case in point, I was late for an 11:00 service in my pre-choir days when I was literally accosted by Mike Stoffa as I ran through the kitchen. He informed me, in his no-nonsense voice, that a reader was needed immediately and that he had chosen me! I protested vainly, with the strains of the opening hymn in my ears and Mike holding a bulletin toward me, his eyes beseeching me to save the world or at least the upcoming service! Grumbling about a lack of choice, thinking that both life in general and Mike in particular were very unreasonable, I gave in and that was the first step in a journey that has brought me here today for, once committed, there was no turning back.

There is, of course, a Biblical parallel in the Parable of the Great Banquet which is told in the 14th chapter of Luke. You may know this story and the excuses with which the invitations to a sumptuous banquet were turned aside: “I just bought a field and I must go and see it, please excuse me!” I’ve just bought five yoke of oxen and I’m on my way to try them out, so I can’t come!” I just got married, so I can’t come!” All reasons that may have sounded plausible to their authors but rang false to the ear of their potential host, just as mine did to Mike on that long ago Sunday.

So, you may now well ask, what is this banquet that Stan’s talking about? What is the opportunity? I haven’t received any invitation to a feast of some kind, so I can’t be guilty of turning anybody down!

Well, as I see it, this building project represents just such an opportunity, an opportunity to help us grow and make us a bigger family. This church has already given us a larger family, ready to meet our needs, and, most importantly, it binds us together so that we can more easily fulfill Christ’s mandate: “Go ye into the world and make disciples of all the nations!” Completing this project will literally open us to friends and strangers alike – welcoming them into this special community of Christ of which we are a part, where we experience friendship, good fun, good times, fellowship, sorrow and comfort and a special sense of belonging.

And, make no mistake about this, we are blessed to have many current congregants here because they recognized the unique spirit of community that exists here at St. Paul. They wanted to explore it for themselves and, in their turn, share with us. Making us more accessible to the world at large is a key element to encourage those decisions. Our new members bring us continued vitality and growth and it is exciting to contemplate what our future may hold.

So I ask you to accept the challenge, to give cheerfully to this special opportunity – welcome back old friends and prepare to make new ones but, most of all, do it because you love this place and these people and are excited by the future we can build together. Be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us, remembering St. Paul’s admonition: “(Now) it is required that all who have been given a trust must remain faithful.”
In short, as Mike may have put it if he were here in my place, there’s no good excuse to turn me down, we need you now!

Grow in Christ, serve the Lord always. Amen & Thank You!

Capital Campaign — Pastor Lane’s Sermon

Planning Weekend
March 25, 2007
St. Paul, Gloucester, MA
John 12:1-8
Rev. Charles R. Lane

The Holy Gospel according to St. John, the 12th chapter.

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

This is the gospel of our Lord.

Greeting.

I saw a six year olds jaw drop a last winter. Here is how it happened. I don’t know if the Boston Red Sox do this, but each winter the Minnesota Twins have what they call the Twin’s Caravan. Twin’s players break up into small groups and head for the cities and towns of the upper Midwest. It is obviously a marketing trip, but baseball fans, especially the little one, love it.

I’m in the Rotary Club in my town, and two Twins players paid us a visit. After their program, they announced that they would give out autographed baseballs to the club members who could guess their batting averages from the previous season. I got one of those baseballs. It’s not that I’m such a fan, but one person guessed a batting average at .310. The player gave a thumb’s up, calling for a larger number. The next guess was .312. The player turned his thumb down, wanting a smaller number. My fellow Rotarians aren’t too bright, because I was the first one to figure out that there is only one number between .310 and .312.

So I left with an autographed baseball. When I was 6 that would have been a prize kept under lock and key. Quite honestly, I don’t have much need for it now. So I started thinking of 5 and 6 year olds I knew. Immediately a family from church came to mind. They are huge baseball fans, and I knew the six year old, named Thomas, was one of the biggest. So I called his dad and set it up that I would arrive and present the boy with this autographed baseball. When I gave him the ball and told him whose autograph was on it, the little guy’s jaw dropped. Thirty seconds later, it was still in the same position. He was thrilled. I was more thrilled. A couple days later I got a thank you note from him – and my joy was complete.

As I read this morning’s gospel, and thought about what Mary did, I thought about little Thomas. I thought about him, because Mary had also had a jaw-dropping experience, and it was far more jaw-dropping than what happened to Thomas. Mary had experienced what we can only imagine – her brother, dead for three days, was brought back to life. That would make your jaw drop. And in response to that, Mary becomes extravagant. She spends way too much money on perfume, and in a reckless act of servanthood, she anoints Jesus’ feet and wipes his feet with her hair.

This act only makes sense in response to the jaw-dropping good news, brought into her life by her Lord and Savior.

The marvelous reality of our faith is that you and I have experienced this same jaw-dropping good news. In fact, my claim to you this morning is that you have experienced it in no less magnitude than Mary and Martha and Lazarus did. You have experienced the jaw-dropping good news of the gospel.

As a way of thinking about this, think with me about the words of Martin Luther, who said that we are captive to sin, death, and the power of the devil – and Jesus has freed us from this captivity. You would be captive to sin, except that Jesus died on the cross so that your sins and mine might be forgiven. Each week you come to this sanctuary to hear the marvelous news that you have been washed clean of a week’s worth of dirt by the God whose love for you is unwavering.

You would be captive to death, except that Jesus rose from the dead, and you have God’s promise that someday you will too. Death has been called the last and final enemy, but we know that that is not true. Someday your life here will end – but your life will not end. Through Jesus, you will have the last laugh at death, and you will be raised to live with Jesus forever.

You would be captive to the power of the devil, doomed to leading a life that is just one meaningless event after another. Jesus has changed all that by placing you in a community of God’s people and allowing you to be a part of his great purpose for life.

Is your jaw starting to drop? I wouldn’t recommend it, but I wonder if we shouldn’t go through life with our jaws like this, marveling at the magnitude of God’s blessings.

The jaw-dropping gospel of Jesus Christ has come into your life. In response to that jaw-dropping gospel, the only fitting response is a sort of extravagance that matches Mary’s. As we begin together our journey through “Building The Dream”, extravagance in response to the jaw-dropping goodness of God is a fitting starting point.

There is something about extravagance that can fill a room with its sweet aroma, just as surely as Mary’s perfume filled the room so long ago. There is something about generosity, fueled by the incredible generosity we have experienced from our God, that can make life a delight to live.

The call is “Building The Dream” is the call to this sort of room-filling extravagance, this sort of life-delighting generosity. You people of St. Paul Lutheran Church have the wonderful opportunity to fill this room with the sweet aroma of extravagant giving, and to fill your lives with the incredible joy of generosity. “Building The Dream” isn’t just about improving your church home. It is also about changing your life together as God’s people.

I want to close this morning by telling you a story. It is a familiar story – one that is associated with Christmas. It is a story I try to read, or see in a play or on TV every December. It is the story of Ebenezer Scrooge.

At the beginning of the story, Scrooge was very rich, and very stingy, and very miserable. In fact, the one who first told Scrooge’s story described him this way, “Oh, but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had every struck out generous fire, secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.”

Most of you know Scrooge’s story. How he made life miserable for his loyal clerk. How he greeted any sort of kindness with a gruff “Bah…humbug!”

Most of you also know how one Christmas Eve Scrooge had three visitors during the night – the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Future. And you know that when Scrooge was visited by that third ghost, and saw what would happen if his present continued unchanged, well – Scrooge was so startled, so utterly scared that he was changed, he was transformed.

When he woke up he wasn’t sure that it was even the same year, much less the next morning, Christmas morning. He found a young lad walking down the street, who confirmed that it was indeed Christmas. Then Scrooge thought of his clerk, Bob Cratchit. Next Scrooge thought of a turkey he had seen at a neighborhood market – the largest turkey he had ever seen. And then he hired the lad to buy the turkey and deliver it to Cratchit, and he hired a cab to take them there, for the turkey was far too large to carry.

And then that first story teller writes this, “The chuckle with which Scrooge said this, and the chuckle with which he paid for the Turkey, and the chuckle with which he paid for the cab, and the chuckle with which he recompensed the boy, were only to be exceeded by the chuckle with which he sat down breathless in his chair again, and chuckled till he cried.”

Quite a transformation – from “solitary as an oyster” to “chuckling till he cried.”

Now please know that your pastor has assured me that there are no Ebenezer Scrooges here. But please also know that I do believe that this sort of transformation is possible in each of our lives – not because we have been scared by three Christmas ghosts – not that, but rather because we have been claimed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

My prayer for you over the next five weeks is that you will have occasion to have your jaw drop. I hope you will experience in a new way the incredible generosity of our God. I pray that your jaw will drop in amazement as just how good God has been to you. And I pray that together you will fill this room with the sweet aroma of extravagant generosity. Amen.

Newsletter, March 2007

From the Pastor’s Desk:

Lent began last week with ashes and a dusting of snow, a wisp of flurries, nothing to get excited about in the way of storms. This morning, early pale sunshine promises a warmer day. The neighborhood on Duley Street is filled already with birdsong, mostly a crowd of overwintering robins, some cardinals, jays, woodpeckers, and the usual crew of cheerful chickadees. The day is busy already, with several telephone calls about parish matters, people in hospitals or hospice, prayers for their health and recovery, prayers that they might have a peaceful day.

Yesterday, visiting someone at Addison Gilbert, I thought again how frail, and nearly transparent, is the veil between this world and the next. Sitting with a family in a hospice room slows everything down, enough so that I become more aware of each precise detail: the pale light outside the window, the cardinal perched on the edge of the hospital roof, the shallow breathing of figure in the bed, covered lovingly by her family with a Red Sox blanket. Such moments open up in the day in unexpected ways, and in that slowing down, the possibility of deeper prayer happens. But it only seems to happen when we slow ourselves down enough, to let the world be and rest. Things go on all around us without requiring our help. Lent brings up those images of rest, Sabbath, deep awareness of holy things. Lent opens a space in our lives for prayer and meditation, waiting on God, sitting at the feet of Christ as he teaches, time to breathe slowly in the freshness of the Holy Spirit.

This year, Lent is a special time, as well, because we are beginning our Capital Campaign to raise funds for the church addition. We’ve been announcing it on Sundays, putting it in newsletters, telling people about it. The Capital Campaign Committee has started working with the ELCA Key Leader Steward, Pastor Charles (Chick) Lane. We have all been praying for this new venture for our church.

At the Annual Meeting, we discussed some of the details of what would be happening this spring. During this season of Lent, we will start the campaign on March 25th. Pastor Lane will preach that Sunday, and meet with us after church for a luncheon meeting. Pastor Lane will lead us through the fund-raising process, and return in April to preach again. I hope as many of you as are able will come on Sunday, March 25th. I thank Richard Babson for volunteering to chair the Capital Campaign Committee, and George Scharfe to oversee the building project. Should you wish to become more acquainted with what is happening, please feel free to give the Church Office a call, or to speak with me, Mr. Babson, Mr. Scharfe, or members of the Council. Most of all, please keep our church in your prayers this Lenten season as we begin this new phase in our life.

In Christ, Pastor Anne Deneen

Newsletter, February 2007

From the Pastor’s Desk: February, 2007
In central Pennsylvania, the Susquehanna River north of Harrisburg runs south between a series of high foothills. The river cuts a winding valley, bluffs on either side. Each succeeding bend reveals beautiful views of long ridges receding in the distance. If one happens to be driving northwest along the river, the sunset is glorious. Red evening light dances on the bare trees. Coal black rocks dusted with snow turn bright gold. I happened to be driving that way last week, on one leg of my journey, when in the distance, up river, I saw dark hanging clouds, blowing south, at a fast clip, the kind you worry about when you see them hovering on the horizon, up here, across the bay. It had all the look of an approaching thunder storm, but we are in the middle of a cold snap, and I realized what was approaching was a snow storm, one of those strange and sudden squalls that can turn dangerous for those of us so foolish as to be driving on a narrow road by a rushing river in the dead of winter.

Within half-an-hour, I and the few other unlucky people traveling were in the middle of a white out. The wind drove the snow across the road in every direction, buffeting my little PT Cruiser. I was the first in a line of perhaps eight cars. We had all turned on our storm headlights in order to see well. I couldn’t see farther than a few feet, and gradually reduced my speed until we were crawling along at about 10 miles an hour. There was no chance of stopping. There was no place to stop: the shoulders dropped away into darkness, and a mountain of rock rose on one side of the road. Time slowed, the intensity of the wind increased. We passed over a bridge crossing the river. Unable to see anything, I could tell it was a bridge from the sound and feel of the road. For once, when driving, I was truly afraid. I was alone, it was dangerous, and cars were following me. I thought about stopping again, even though that was more dangerous than driving.

And then I remembered I was a pastor. And all those people behind me were trusting me not to mess up on the road, because then they would have an accident, too. I had to keep going, though I could only see the road dimly, no matter how bad the storm was. Just then, in the far west, the wind blew apart the veil of the clouds. The sun had long set, but there, still in the sky, was the Evening Star, the only star in sight, shining brightly for only a moment. The clouds closed again. But it was enough to know that ahead, the storm was coming to an end. We only had to make it around a few more curves, and the snow stopped.
It is Epiphany, season of light. May Christ’s star shine brightly in every darkness, at every turn, and guide us all safely home.
Blessings and peace, Pastor Anne

Newsletter

From the Pastor’s Desk:

November again–it’s hard to believe. The winds last weekend blew all the birch leaves away; some of the tomatoes have split open before ripening; we are disappointed harvesters. Bittersweet berries on vines tangle in the field at the edge of Lane’s Cove. Only a few asters are left, and the blueberry bush leaves are turning red. I came around the corner past the Marine Station a few days ago, when the wind blew so hard the waves were heading out to sea instead of toward Crane Beach, green and blue, whitecaps in every direction, sea birds wheeling against the northwest blast. At our house, we are digging out wool blankets and comforters. As the days grow colder, and the evenings grow longer, our cats and dog are taking more naps, curling round and round on the couch before settling in. There’s no doubt the season has changed.

At church, we have entered our Stewardship season–of course, stewardship is all year long, but in the fall, we raise our awareness of stewardship during October and November. This year, the Stewardship Committee has invited us to think of the ways our lives have been shaped by this church community. Each week, we have been telling the story of St. Paul through the stories of our members. We have asked people to consider the ways their lives intersect with the life of the church: how did we come here, what has our experience here been? What ways have our lives been touched by God working in this congregation? Without exception, we have been hearing beautiful stories of faith, from friends and families who are eager to share their experience of this community. Our lives are enriched by listening to what God is up to in this corner of the earth. Stewardship isn’t an abstract idea; in listening to these stories, we see the faces of people we love, who have been supported by the ministries of each of us in the congregation. For me, listening to these stories has become a celebration of the “priesthood of all believers,” and the richness of treasures of faith. There is no scarcity of gifts here, just abundance flowing out and over and through every life. As I write this, one of my friends, Pastor David Thorpe, of Windham, Maine, passes through the room. He sees what I am writing and reminds me that “compassion is the basis of all stewardship.” I know that’s true from listening to you tell your stories of this place. May God’s compassion accompany you and yours this November.

–Anne

May 9, 2006

Landscapes and Prayer:
Recently at a gathering of congregational leaders and teachers,we were asked the question: “what is the image of your spiritual life right now?” Someone in the group asked for clarification, so the leader rephrased the question: “if your spiritual life were a landscape, what would it look like right now?” Once we had that language of landscape to use, members of the group offered their inner landscapes. One person said “an earthquake.” Another said “a whirlwind.” Someone said, “a desert.” Someone else said, “a flowering tree.” Each person then spoke about why he or she chose that image. And then we closed with prayer. As I listened to each of them, I wished I could ask everyone in our congregation the same question. So I am doing it here. If you could paint a landscape of your spiritual life, what would it look like? Is it a place you would like to stay? What happens to that landscape when you bring it to prayer? Where is God in that place? Where are you? Are there passages from scripture that speak to your experience? For example, for the person whose inner landscape is stormy or another image of natural disaster, several passages might come to mind: the rainbow passage in Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 46, Psalm 95, Jesus calming the storm in Matt. 8:23-27, Mk 4:35-41, Lk 8:22-25. I was also struck this year, as I am every year during Easter, how many times Jesus greets the disciples with the gift of peace, especially in the resurrection appearance at the end of the first day. In one Gospel account, Jesus gives peace and the Holy Spirit together: John 20-1923. That lesson was the Gospel reading two Sundays ago. So perhaps another question about prayer and spiritual landscapes might be, what happens in that landscape when we remember the gift of the Holy Spirit, and Christ’s gift of peace?

On another different yet related topic, author Edward Hallowell(“Driven to Distrction”) published another book. This one is for the over scheduled, overdtermined, over-committed, way-to-busy US person in contemporary life called “CrazyBusy.” His thesis is straightforward: US Americans are too busy, way too busy, so busy it’s making us crazy. Our minds aren’t structured for the vast input of information, the technological advancements which speed up our lives, and the emotional deprivations of an overly busy life which limits human contact and hinders human relationships. Get this book. He’s not telling us anything we don’t know already, but he’s pretty practical about how to lessen the sense of the crazy whirlwind of activity. And if you can’t get the book: here’s a one simple thing to do for yourself. Take one half-an-hour out of your day to do nothing: or if that is too unbearable, do something restful: goalless activity, flop down somewhere and look at the clouds. Take a breather, call it a recess–remember those? Think of it as recharging. We aren’t Borgs–machine people. We are organisms that need to replenish and rest. Think of it as keeping the third commandment, if you need a mandate to rest. We need a little sabbath rest every day. The ELCA and other mainline churches have been emphasizing health and well-being during the last year. Good rest, sabbath rest, recreation, doing nothing is necessary to well-being. Jesus was good at doing that, considering the lilies, the ravens, and all. Rest is good. Even God did it.

Holy Week, 2006

This morning the sea is quiet, smooth, and clear as glass, the horizon line between water and sky irrelevant, one dissolves into the other, the lines between things are blurred, everything softened. We are in the middle of Holy Week, tonight Passover begins, tomorrow is Maundy Thursday. All around, the world is waking up for another day of business, cars passing up the hill, a few trucks; people are starting to stir and get ready for work, children to school, dogs to be walked, news on the T.V. or radio, rumors of war and trouble. . .yet this strange and holy time of year time seems carved out of all that activity, a hollowing in the rock, or the smooth interior of an oyster, a mother-of-pearl week, cradled within the hardened ridges of the rest of life. Even as we go about our daily life, the words of the Gospel from Palm Sunday, the Lord’s Passion, carve out their space within the heart, giving our souls time for reflection. Holy Week does grasp us with its own rhythms. It is a different quality of time than any other week of the year. There is a sense of infinitude bearing in from above, a splendid somberness, a gravity, a dignity, and for us, here in the north, Holy Week in the midst of its somberness brings tenderness and beauty, light touches of loveliness, in birdsong and tiny buds on trees. Today, in the middle of the week, we are preparing for those final moments of Jesus’ life, an expectant hush, a stillness before the storm of Good Friday, a tenderness before the suffering.

Earlier today, I passed a book, lying out on the living room table: it’s called “Healing into Life and Death,” by Stephen Levine. Levine and his wife Ondine have worked closely with terminally ill people for many years, and this book, though it was written some time ago, is the fruit of some of their learning. The first chapter begins with a question about suffering asked by a woman in the final stages of cancer. A patient asked Levine: “should I stop trying to heal and just let myself die?” He writes: “Clearly it was a question only the heart could answer. And my heart, knowing deeper, whispered,’The real question is, ‘Where is healing to be found?'” As Levine and his wife began to explore that question with other cancer patients, they began to discover that preparation for dying led to a new opening to life, and sometimes “resulted in a deepening access to levels of healing beyond imagining.” The woman who asked the question pursued healing, and experienced healing, although she died. She experienced a wholeness in the last weeks of her life she had never known before.

Holy Week is our preparation for dying. And it is our preparation for the resurrection: baptism is that process. In those moments of baptismal washing, we are born into Christ’s death and life: we die into life. All over the world new Christians are preparing for their baptisms, confirmands are preparing for confirmation. We’ve been praying for them each week of Lent. Such preparation asks us to open oursleves to life, even when that opening perhaps leads us through death. That is the road of Christ’s compassion, moving into places of loss and terror, with mercy, gentleness, healing, and grace. Many of you have suffered great losses in the last year, and grief is a daily experience. For some of you, the losses are not only those of illness, but of jobs, and homes, land, the trauma of devastation by natural disasters. And we may be asking, as Levine did: where is healing to be found? Holy Week, with all its painful beauty helps us hold our grief and fear. It can be a time of healing for us. We are a people who are gathered by a man on a cross. And we know now, that the sorrow and suffering on that cross was transformed by God, who overturns death into a healing into life. This Holy Week, may God open us to life, and bring us all through into the resurrection on Easter Morning. May these next few days draw us deeper into the mystery of God’s grace and mercy, deeper into the profound comfort and tender strength of God the font and source of all healing. May the baptismal waters of Easter renew our lives.

Katrina Update

Craig Morrill has sent us back pictures from his trip to Mississippi. You can view them in a slideshow here, or download them here.

He reports widespread devastation, and shock still affecting the citizens there. They will need our prayers and help for years to come. Craig is thinking of organizing volunteer trips down there, so if anyone is interested in helping him with that, or talking further about it, please write us at the church email: saintpaul@gis.net Or call, 978-283-6550.

If you would like to donate money to Christus Victor Lutheran Church, you may do so through us, or through Lutheran Disaster Response. Go to the Katrina link icon on our home page and click. In the meantime, please keep them in your prayers. The church is still housing 200 refugees from the storm.

Anne

Stewardship News, as reported in Church Council, and Cougars

This is a public acknowledgment and heartfelt thank you to the members of the Stewardship Committee who spent many hours planning the stewardship campaign, brainstorming about our vision of ministry, mapping plans for the next few years, and inviting members of the congregation to speak in Temple Talks about their experiences of giving and about the life of our St. Paul congregation. Stewardship Chairman George Scharfe, Council President John Bjorlie, Ms. Deb Coull, Vice President Chris Larson, and Treasurer Dick Babson all spoke in church over the last five weeks. Mr. Babson composed a series of inspiring stewardship letters that reflect our congregation’s desire to broaden our ministry, and reach out more to our neighbors. In the last mailing, we sent 107 invitations with pledge cards to come to Stewardship Sunday on December 4th. 81 people attended worship on Stewardship Sunday, despite a snowy morning.

As of today, Tuesday, December 6th, we’ve received the first responses from the Stewardship Campaign. This evening, the Assistant Financial Secretary reported at the Church Council meeting that 42 pledge cards had been received. The 42 pledges total approximatelly 66,000 dollars, less than half of our current budget. In the three years that I have been serving here, I have learned that usually pledges will continue to come in through December. So, in a reminder reminiscent of public television, if you haven’t pledged yet, please consider doing so; you may fill out a card, and drop it by the church office if you wish, or send it in the mail, or even telephone the Financial Secretary, Peter Foster, or Assistant Financial Secretary, Joanne Peterson at the chruch: 978-283-6550. If you did not receive our stewardship mailings or a pledge card, and you wish to make a financial commitment to the life and ministry of St. Paul Lutheran Church, please let us know by calling in or emailing us. The Stewardship Committee are hoping for a large increase in giving this year, as we work toward building a strong future for our church. If you have never attended one of our services, please drop in on a Sunday morning. We are always happy to welcome new friends.

If you would like to make contact with the Pastor, or hear more about us, please email or call the church office: saintpaul@gis.net, or 978-283-6550. Office hours are Monday thru Thursdays from 9:00 a.m to 1:00 p. m. I am usually available in the office in the mornings for pastoral conversations or telephone calls, or by appointment at other times. In the afternoons, generally speaking, I am out on calls and visits.

Cougars:

On my recent visit to California, I was able to take a number of hikes in the foothills of Mt. Diablo, near Walnut Creek. Walnut Creek, Concord, Berkeley, and the East Bay area all have been proactive in protecting large areas of open space, which serve as habitat corridors for wild animals. Cattle often range freely in the open spaces of Walnut Creek, and when you hike the trails, occasionally you must pass through cattle gates. The first time I encountered one of these gates, I saw a sign posted with a series of warnings about encounters with wild creatures, including not so benign ones, like rattle snakes and black widow spiders. “Be careful where you put your hands,” the sign suggested. My favorite one of these warnings instructs the hiker to beware of mountain lions. If you encounter a mountain lion in the wild, do not turn your back; instead make yourself as large as possible, raising your hands over your head, and yelling as loudly as you can. If attacked by a cougar, instead of playing dead (which you do when sighting a bear) you must fight back. If you play dead the cougar will kill you. The first time I read one of these warnings, I think the hair on the back of my neck actually stood up on end. But how nicely frightening it was to walk alone in the hills with a little frisson of fear, to hike in areas where I might actually be tracked by a cougar. As it turns out, they track you for miles, my daughter says, before they attack, and then you don’t even know they’re on you, until they’re on you. One afternoon, coming down Mt. Diablo in the sunset through a thicket of pungent bay laurels (they smell like frankincense) I heard a pack of coyotes making a huge racket not far below. Later, one came trotting up the road, looking completely wrung out, tail drooping, tongue lolling. Either he had been chasing cars up the mountain, or chasing the mule deer. What this has to do with stewardship, I don’t know. But it does have to do with coming into contact with something wild and unpredictable. I thought about what sort of signs I should really put out regarding encounters with God, or the Holy Spirit, or with Jesus Christ, or with what Rudolf Otto called the mysterium tremendum, that holy, nearly awe-ful mystery that makes one tremble. (“Fear him which is able to destroy both body and soul. Matt. 10:28). When meeting with God, does one make oneself as large as possible, and wave one’s hands around, yelling? Or perhaps the warning would have to do with being tracked by a patient and generous spirit, who, once it grasps hold of you, entrances you completely. But I have to tell you, I don’t want to domesticate the Trinity. God’s as wild as a mountain lion–not to be trifled with, and yet there are always those holy wings encircling, eagle’s wings, to be sure, and just as wild as they are gentle. It’s another windy evening, here at the eastern end of the country: mountain lions are wandering in their western savannahs, and here by edge of the sea, cold granite is getting colder, ice is forming, and the ducks have taken to the coves for shelter.
Blessings on this blustery Advent evening, Pastor Anne Deneen