This morning’s sermon was a communal sermon, focusing on Mustard Seed faith at St. Paul Lutheran Church. The congregation helped tell the story. The painting below is The Mulberry Tree by Vincent Van Gogh–a mulberry tree appeared in Jesus’ parable this morning from Luke.
This is a teaching on true contentment. It comes from knowing who we are, and the Lord we follow. I never thought of Jesus as particularly content, at least as I understood contentment. But, then, considering the question in relationship to the prophetic voice of Amos, Psalm 146, Paul’s teaching to Timothy, and Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, contentment becomes something like contemplation in action, or prayer in action, or faith active in love, simultaneously resting in God, and active in love of justice and mercy in the world. The whole message is in the old spiritual, “Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.” God’s love is so high we can’t get over it, and so low, we can’t get under it.
St. Paul Lutheran Church has long enjoyed a solid relationship with our Lutheran outdoor ministry, Camp Calumet, in Freedom New Hampshire. As one of the pastors in our Synod, I had the opportunity recently to be a chaplain and a co-leader for a Camp Calumet Lutherhostel in Freedom, New Hampshire, called “Let There Be Light.” The other leader was my good friend, Dr. Kevin Luhmen, an astrophysics professor at Penn State. He has occasionally attended St. Paul when he’s in the area, so some of the congregation know him. Kevin and I have been friends for many years, and our conversations often revolve around theology and science. We decided to see if we could offer a program at Calumet and Judy Hakanson Smith, of Calumet, helped us put it together. Our goal was simple: we wanted to put the most recent research with regard to the beginnings of the universe, time, star formation, life on earth, in conversation with faith. Naturally, in such a conversation, climate change also became part of our discussion, especially as we considered the history of the evolution of seas and the emergence of life on earth.
Kevin and I were delighted by the participation, the questions, the theological musings, and the wonderful program. Among our participants were another astronomer and geologist, a chemist, a mechanical engineer, and an oceanographer; all of us were people of faith. The ancient quest at the heart of theological inquiry, “faith seeking understanding,” was alive and well in our midst. I would say, for me, the four days circled around wonder at the astonishing creativity of God, the beauty, complexity, and sheer vastness of creation, and the preciousness and rarity of life. We came away with a sense of Earth’s unique beauty and possibility, with a renewed desire to protect and love this planet.
You can find out more here
This morning, we returned to our 10:00 a.m. hour. Remy and Zoe Blazzard opened the service with a Prelude on violin and cello, and a quartet of men from the choir sang for the Psalm, today. Eva DiLascio led us in worship on the piano. It was beautiful outside, with the wind just starting to pick up from the remnants of a tropical storm. Inside, we were filled with the sweetness of the Spirit. Here’s the sermon for this week.
We are in our fifth week of spiritual practices for tough times. This week’s spiritual practice is “Deep Listening.” So far, each week we have tried something, and then come back the following week to report on our experiences. After gratitude, we practiced generosity; then patience, which needed two weeks (at least!!!!), and then this last week, we practiced joy. It’s a challenge to remember joyful things in the midst of trials and troubles, but joy is one of the gifts of the Spirit, and it’s also something we can offer as people of faith to a world in need. This week’s “Deep Listening” is one of my favorites. Here is what we will be doing. We invite you to practice along with us!
Spiritual Practice—Week V
Deep Listening: this is a phrase we can use when referring to compassionate, non-judging, empathetic listening. Deep listening includes all the other practices we have tried so far. Gratitude, for example, is part of listening: we feel grateful for the opportunity to be with someone we are listening to. Generosity, we offer the person our time, without judgment, without denial, without interrupting. Patience is present, as well, in deep listening, for we wait attentively as the other person talks, or whatever it is we are listening to, God, nature, a symphony; we listen without being distracted, and when someone stops speaking, we don’t offer our opinions, or advice, just our empathy, and perhaps we may ask clarifying questions, to make sure we understand. Joy comes into play, because when one person understands another, joy rises up—it is a wonderful experience to be listened to. Take time to check in this week, 4X each day, to see how we have been listening. When did I listen? How did I listen?
Deep listening includes listening to ourselves. For example, we could listen in to ourselves for a few minutes, listening to our bodies with self-empathy, with acceptance, listening in to our thoughts, perhaps, and offering them quiet reassurance. Can we listen to ourselves with self-compassion? Take a few minutes to sit quietly, or if you are in the middle of the day, just take a quick time out, and notice how your body is feeling. Where is the tension? What thoughts are going through your mind? What are you needing? Take the time to listen to what your body is saying, and to offer compassion for yourself, or acceptance, whatever it is, whatever feeling it is; just pay quiet loving attention to those feelings, or tensions, or aches, or thoughts will help us hear ourselves better. In turn, when we have listened to ourselves deeply, and are more attuned to ourselves, our feelings and thoughts, we are better able to listen to others more deeply.
Deep listening doesn’t require us to “say” anything. It does require our openness to hear what’s there. We can practice this way of listening anytime anywhere, even subversively. It’s a form of empathy, and in the words of one of my coaches: “people melt when they receive empathy.” Listening leads to understanding, and understanding opens us to love.
Some aspects of deep listening:
Presence. You need to be there, you need to show up, without distractions. Take time to feel grounded first, to be in yourself and ready to listen.
Empathic presence: an open attitude to the other person, or to yourself, or whatever you are listening to. A willingness to see/hear the world from another perspective.
Quiet attention: Suspend the impulse to judge, to comment, to interrupt, to analyze, to give advice with our own ideas or perspectives. The goal is to hear the other person as fully as possible without our own filters. Listen for the feelings and tones in the other’s voice, listen to their body language. We can often help another person relax by being relaxed while they are speaking, or sitting quietly.
Prayerful attention: As we are listening, invite God to be present also. This doesn’t have to be done outloud; we can do it as we are listening; simply ask for assistance in hearing what is being said.
This summer, we had planned to offer an evening small group discussion based on faith practices. Long before the sad events in our country in Orlando, Baton Rouge, St. Paul and Dallas, and before Belgium, Nice, France, Turkey, and now this week Munich, we had planned to call it “When the Rubber Hits the Road:” Spiritual Practices for Tough Times. In retrospect, we have needed those practices for times which seem to speak more of the harm we do to each other than the good we are capable of doing. The group meets on Thursday evenings. Each week, we focus on a specific faith practice, remembering always that faith is active in love of God and neighbor. The first week, we focused on gratitude. The second on generosity. This week we are focusing on patience. Below is a sample of the format we are using: four times a day, we are checking in on ourselves, following the pattern of the daily liturgical hours prayer: morning, noon, evening, and night. Each person in the group has a practice partner/friend to whom they write occasionally of their experience.
Week 1: Gratitude
Great Website on Gratefulness: http://www.gratefulness.org/
Gratitude is a basic practice for transforming the day.
It consists simply of noticing the causes and conditions for gratitude.
This is a cross-cultural spiritual practice and can be found in every mainline tradition.
In Christianity, gratitude is a daily, sometimes minute by minute activity of giving thanks. It is the root practice for Eucharist, or holy communion, our Great Thanksgiving.
Gratitude is where we start.
Gratitude helps break open our isolation, linking us in interdependence to everyone and everything around us.
Gratitude is the foundation of spiritual growth, spiritual friendship, spiritual happiness.
What are some things in your life for which you are grateful?
Yesterday, the ELCA held a Service of Prayer and Lament at the churchwide office in Chicago. These are the things they prayed and are praying for:
“Praying and lamenting the ongoing violence in our world and across our country…Praying and lamenting the loss of lives due to gun violence and racism…Praying and lamenting for the needs of the whole human family.” If you would like to watch the service, you may do so here.
All of us, it seems, are drawn together now in lamentation and grief.
Below is the sermon I preached the week after the shootings in Orlando. That morning we were baptizing two young children, and I asked the congregation to participate in the great three renunciations of evil, at the beginning of the baptismal confession. If ever there was a week, I said then, to renounce evil, to claim our baptismal identity, to remember who we are and the Lord we follow, that was a week to do it. I feel the same this week. And I’m clinging to the cross, as I’m sure all of you are, too, as an anchor, and a life-line, a scrap of wood in a stormy sea, a raft across death to life.
Tomorrow, we’ll hear the parable of the Good Samaritan: this is the week, if ever there was a week, to ask who is my neighbor, especially when I am called to love him or her as myself. May God help us love our neighbors in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Dallas, and down the street. May God have mercy on our failures to love as we are loved. May God help us make a path of justice and peace through this wilderness of sorrow.
Below is a sermon preached recently by Dr. Pamela Shellberg. Dr. Shellberg has been attending St. Paul for a couple of years, as her travels allow. She is a New Testament scholar, and has taught at Bangor Theological Seminary, in Maine, and Andover Newton Seminary, here in Massachusetts. She is now the Scholar-in-Residence for the BTS Center in Portland. From their webpage: “The BTS Center is a think tank that sponsors educational events, projects, and research inquiries in the fields of religion, spirituality, practical theology, and ministry. Through thought leadership and vocational development initiatives, The BTS Center equips and supports faith leaders for theologically grounded, effective leadership in 21st-century communities of faith and practice.”
You can read one of her blogs here.
Here is the sermon she preached on May 22, 2016. It’s in two parts.
and Part II
WRITTEN BY BISHOP JIM HAZELWOOD FOR NEWS
A LETTER FROM BISHOP JIM HAZELWOOD
This past weekend we held the 29th Assembly of the New England Synod under the theme “No Reservations: A Place at the Table for Everyone.”
On Saturday, we received greetings from Imam Wissam Abdel-Baki and Interfaith and Outreach Coordinator Dr. Mohammad Saleem Bajwa of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts. That same afternoon, Lutherans and Muslims were working side-by-side packing meals to be served in local food pantries.
Throughout the Assembly, a number of people who identify within the LGBTQ community led worship and other exercises.
I left the Assembly inspired by the witness we are making in New England: The Lutheran expression of the Christian faith is boldly embracing of all God’s people.
I then began to read about the horrific tragedy in Orlando, where a man, armed with a “civilian version” of a military assault rifle, murdered 50 people. I am sickened, heartbroken and outraged.
I am shocked, and I deeply lament for the victims and their friends and families who have lost loved ones in this tragedy. I find myself running short of words, beyond those of sorrow and grief.
My insides are turned inside out; specters of death have me down.
I shake with fear, I shudder from head to foot.
Who will give me wings, I ask – wings like a dove?
Get me out of here on dove’s wings; I want some peace and quiet (Psalm 55, The Message)
I am heartbroken that the broad inclusiveness and love we as Lutherans demonstrated toward our Muslim brothers and sisters and LGBT leaders this weekend are potentially marred by this act. Perhaps more frustrating is the way this event is being used to promulgate a racial and religious bias against people in the Islamic community here and abroad.
Once again, we hear calls to ban groups of people based on their religion. This is both outrageous and unconstitutional. At the same time, this targeting of the nightclub in Orlando because of its LGBTQ clientele breaks my heart that still, in this 21st century, we allow God’s children to be denigrated because of their sexual orientation. I am equally outraged that years of scapegoating LGBTQ people by some religious leaders — including in my own Christian tradition — have allowed this community to be abused, and have even directly or indirectly invited violence upon them.
God, put an end to evil; avenging God, show your colors!
Judge of the earth, take your stand; throw the book at the arrogant
God, the wicked get away with murder- how long will you let this go on? (Psalm 94, The Message)
While I support and treasure the Constitution of the United States as a living document – including its Second Amendment – I do not believe there is any case that can be made on moral, cultural or theological grounds for the easy availability of military-style assault rifles. How many times must we endure these kinds of tragedies?
Newtown … Aurora … Virginia Tech … San Bernardino … Charleston … Orlando …
The argument, often cited, that if an armed person were around, they could have stopped the shooter falls apart when the armed assailant is carrying an AR-15. What should we do? Have everyone carry an assault rifle? We are a nation of laws. We are governed by a code of communal loyalty. We are not, nor do we want to be, the wild west or Mogadishu. Can we at least agree that military-style assault rifles should not be available for sale on the open market?
Is this any way to run a country? Is there an honest politician in the house?
Behind the scenes you brew cauldrons of evil, behind closed doors you make deals with demons. (Psalm 58, The Message)
I am a bishop in this church for several reasons. One of them is my clear and unequivocal conviction that all people are Children of God. There are no buts, no exceptions. I deeply value our Muslim brothers and sisters. I love all of God’s people in the LGBTQ community. I believe in the vital role of healthy religion as a voice in the republic, and value living in a place and a land where I am able to articulate that voice. My place in these times is for us to stand with those who can all too easily become the object of derision and scorn, while at the same time lift up that we are not a people of fear; we are a people of hope.
It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when God returned the exiles.
We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune …
And now God, do it again, bring rain to our drought-stricken lives. (Psalm 126, The Message)
The tragedy of Orlando is a symptom of a society increasingly focused on violence as the solution to all our debates. This tragedy will continue if we allow these two communities, Muslims and the LGBTQ community, to be pitted against one another for political gain. This tragedy will continue if we do not take a mature approach to regulating the easy access to assault rifles. This tragedy will continue if we allow hate to be the dominant voice.
Love conquers all, but not the love of sweet sentimentality or the cheap love that asks for nothing. The love that conquers all is a powerful voice in the public square. It is a love that calls for:
Change in our attitudes toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons
Change in our attitudes toward people of the Islamic faith
Change in our gun laws.
For God is sheer beauty, all-generous love, loyal always and ever. (Psalm 100, The Message)
In the name of:
The one who most profoundly embodied that love,
The one who experienced a violent death,
The one who would not let hate be the final word,
The one whose love conquers all,
Jesus the Christ.
Bishop Jim Hazelwood
From Sunday, April 24th: For the fifth Sunday of Easter, the Gospel reading from John 13 takes us back to the night before Jesus’ death. Here, Jesus gives the disciples the commandment to love one another. We often don’t get it right, that loving. Yet, we are called and commanded to it. The good news: we’re not alone with this, for where love is, there God is. “Ubi caritas et amor,” sings the church, “Deus ibi est” A translation from our hymnal: “Where true charity and love abide, God is dwelling there”(ELW 642).