Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Signs of New Life

Isn't it incredible how quickly it seems winter turned into spring? Just last month, I was wondering if I would ever be warm again. But the past few days, beginning Easter weekend, spring is sprung! The daffodils, the budding trees and flowers and green grass - such a beautiful, deep color! It is absolutely wonderful.

After Easter services were done, we headed home, got changed and went out for dinner - what a treat that was after a fantastic day of worship, and a powerful (and exhausting) week of services. How wonderful to celebrate the good news of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. How appropriate it is to celebrate Easter in the spring. New life and new LIFE! 

We headed home and got to spend time on the back porch for the first time of the year. My daughter took a picture of me with my dog, Maggie, and her dog, Schroeder, on the porch couch at the end of the day. The caption read, "Christ is Risen. My Dad is not!"

The good news is that even when we are down, and feel like spring will never come, forever in the darkness of uncertainty, gloom and despair, the new day dawns. New life is ours. Today is a new day, and God reigns. Celebrate the victory.  

A poem I have used at several funerals during this season.

Easter Says
Easter says that day will follow night.
However dark and merciless the gloom,
The morning comes, the eastern skies are bright,
And daylight floods each corner of my room.

Easter says that spring will follow winter,
That chill and bareness last for just a while.
The iris blooms; the life-flow soon will enter
The maple trees; the greening world will smile.

Easter says that joy will follow sorrow;
For grief walks with us sometimes as we go.
But tears are for the night; joy comes tomorrow
And seems the brighter for the pain we know.

Easter says that life will follow death.
Jesus broke the grip of death!  He is alive!
And certain as the cemetery path,
Because Jesus lives, my spirit shall survive!

(Lois Blanchard Eades)

Pastor Charlie

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

It is ALL about Jesus Christ

Holy Week and Easter were moving, powerful and wonderful days here at Epiphany. I hope you had an opportunity to join us for one or more of the seventeen services we had from Palm Sunday weekend through Easter Sunday. In and through them all, my hope and prayer was that everyone who came to worship heard about Jesus Christ, and the gift of his life, death and resurrection for each and everyone present. A huge THANK YOU to all who made these services so very special.

In the recent issue of the Lutheran Magazine, presiding bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton, focuses on the importance of Jesus Christ as the center and foundation of who we are as the church today.

Here are her words:

Coming to terms with the times - Creating programs, chasing youth trail telling love of God

When I’m out and about  in the church, I’m often asked what I plan to do to save small congregations, reverse the decline in membership, bring young adults back to church, increase mission support, make the ELCA truly multicultural, boost our relevance in the culture and fix Congress (well, not that last one). I have no plan to do any of that by myself, but I wonder if there is a deeper concern in those questions that requires a deeper answer from all of us.

The world has changed and is changing. Residents of my mother’s retirement community who waited weeks to receive letters from loved ones serving overseas during World War II are now on Facebook and regularly use Skype or FaceTime to visit with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Air travel that was once glamorous and rare for most of us is now, both in frequency and ambiance, a lot like taking the bus. It’s not unusual, even in small-town America, to have Jewish, Muslim and Hindu neighbors or those with no religious affiliation at all. We are in a strange new world and don’t really know how all this will shake out.

We might be tempted to overdo our efforts, to work harder and harder developing innovative programming, reading every manual on church growth, jazzing up our websites, being present on every possible social media platform. Maybe we should discover our congregation’s niche: young adults, theology on tap, justice and advocacy, care of creation, ethnic specific ministry, pet blessing liturgies, urban church, rural church, big church, small church, virtual church, home church. We have done some version of all of this somewhere across the ELCA. And good for us. We need to be brave and daring. God can use our best imagination and innovation.

Or we might be tempted to circle the wagons and hold ever more tightly to what we have left. There is much that is beautiful about our traditions and buildings and heritage. What will happen to all of that if our particular congregation ceases to exist? Who will bury our parents or us? Who will take care of the parish cemetery? This is when congregations begin eyeing visitors for their value as replacement parts.

My daughter and her significant other, who was running for county commissioner, attended a church pancake breakfast where they were swarmed by parishioners who didn’t realize he was a candidate. All they saw were young adults! Potential members! It was an uncomfortable experience.

But why do we want people to join our church? What does church mean to us? When I have asked that question, people often spoke about church as community or family. People talked about the good and important work their congregations carried out to feed the hungry or shelter the homeless. Some said the best thing about their congregations wasn’t programs but people.

It was rare that anyone mentioned God or spoke about an encounter with the transcendent. I don’t believe our people lack faith or don’t know Jesus, but I wonder if we have lost the language to speak about the love of God that has been given to us in the crucified and risen Christ. Maybe we just assume Jesus. Maybe Jesus has become like wallpaper: we know it’s there and everyone can see it, but we don’t have to talk about it.

The best thing about the church, the thing that is uniquely the church, is not programs or people but Jesus. If we as a people, and as congregations, don’t get that right it doesn't matter how many programs we come up with.

In Christ through the Spirit, God has invited us into a deeply intimate and loving relationship with God and with each other. Being church is abiding in that love. We are God’s beloved people gathered around word and sacraments. That’s what gives us life. That’s what shapes us. That’s what sends us out into the world to do justice and to love kindness (Micah 6:8). And this must be the kind of community to which we invite others—not because we want to grow or pay for the boiler or attract young people, but because we have received this incredible life-changing gift and want everyone to be touched and claimed and transformed by it too.

Elizabeth A. Eaton



Pastor Charlie

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Youngest of Four

Back in March, my wife and I made a trip to Iowa for a family wedding. Who gets married in the middle of March in Iowa? My nephew, that's who! His wife is an engineer, and she really wanted to get married on Pi Day (Pi is the number 3.1415..., and so March 14, 2015 was that day!). We were blessed with 70 degree weather, and we were thankful for safe travels and on-time planes and connections.

Family events like this are the only time I get to see my three big brothers. Yes, I am the baby, the spoiled one, the one who got away with everything. I tell everyone that Mom and Dad just kept having kids till they got the perfect one! I can say that, but the truth of the matter is that I was the unexpected child. When Dad heard another child was coming, he mixed himself a martini! And when they found out they were having a fourth child, I know they were hoping for a girl. When the doctor came out of the delivery room, he said, "Fred, it's a boy." My Dad responded, "Oh my - Pat is not going to be happy with you." The doctor said, "Ah Fred, I think Pat is not going to be happy with YOU."

My brothers teased me something awful growing up. Mom said that they wouldn't tease me if they didn't love me. I guess they loved me a LOT! One of their favorite things to tell me is that when they were younger, they were all girls. And when they reached a certain age, they all became boys. It always happened to be my upcoming birthday was going to be the year I became a girl. I guess it is now when I turn 54 that it's supposed to happen.

I love getting together with my brothers and their families. Mom and Dad have been gone for some time now, so this is where I am able to touch the past and remember. It is also a time for us to see each other as parents and grandparents. All of my brothers are grandfathers, and I love to see them in that role. The love and joy they pour out on those children is great to see. In them I can see my Dad's gentle nature and caring attributes.

I know that family members can sometimes drive us crazy, and sometimes the things that we do or leave undone cause rifts that can last a lifetime. But I believe there are blessings from God we receive through family. Support, nurture, love. These are the people who have seen us at our best and our worst, and still call us brother or sister. These are the ones who often are there when everyone else has left us, These are the ones with whom we learned life's lessons. And these are the ones who are often an influence in our children's lives too.

My brothers - I give thanks to God for them!

Pictures from 2011, 1979, 2012 and 2015 (we are in the opposite order in the last one!).


Pastor Charlie

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Caring Community and a Loving God

The story is told of the famous and saintly Mother Teresa of Calcutta who gave an interview during the last few years of her life that illustrates the point well. The reporter noted that religious orders in the west and many churches, for that matter, had been losing numbers. But the reporter also noted that Mother Teresa's order was growing by thousands, so she asks "Why?"

Mother Teresa answered without hesitation, "I give them Jesus."

"Yes, I know, but what strategies do you develop? How do you manage it?" asks the reporter.

"I give them Jesus" is the reply.

"Yes, I know, but can you be more specific?"

"I give them Jesus."

"Yes, we know of your fine work, but there must be something else," says the exasperated reporter."

I give them Jesus. There is nothing else."

This holy woman describes and defines the role, the purpose, and the mission of God's church. To present the love of God in real ways, to present Jesus as a human friend, companion, and guide. To do it in word, yes, but equally, if not more so, to do it in action.

A prime example of this is Epiphany's incredible outreach ministry called Operation Prom Dress. This year, over 170 girls were served by over 80 volunteers who welcomed them, loved on them, helped them find a dress, did up their hair and make-up, took pictures of them, offered food and beverages, and made sure they all knew that they were the reason we were here. One mother said to me, "What I love about this ministry is that there is more than enough." It was a great day, and a great opportunity to share God's love not just in word but in action.

Channel 2 - WDTN came out to do a story on the event. Pastor Jay and I stood behind the camera as they interviewed Tonya Johns, who is the coordinator of Operation Prom Dress. I had tears in my eyes when she told why we do what we do. 

A community that cares about them. A God who loves them.

That is what it means to be the church!

Pastor Charlie

Monday, March 16, 2015

Saint Patrick

Tuesday was St. Patrick’s Day. While it is true that the Lutheran church does not hold the saints up in the same manner as the Roman Catholic Church, the saints can still be examples of faith for us, and we can benefit from their witness and example.  Patrick was born in Britain near the end of the fourth century to wealthy parents. At the age of 16, however, Irish raiders attacked his family estate, captured the teenage Patrick, and transported him to Ireland. Like any person taken away from a loving family, however, Patrick was lonely and afraid. It is at this point in his life that he turned to God for comfort and guidance, becoming a devout Christian.

After six years as a slave, however, Patrick began to hear a voice which he believed was God's voice telling him it was time to leave Ireland. Considering he was a prisoner, this was no easy task. But God created a means of escape, and Patrick snuck away from the marauders, walked nearly 200 miles to the Irish coast, and sailed back to Britain.

Years later, though, he received a second revelation from God telling him to go back to Ireland as a missionary. He listened to the voice once again, and the rest, as they say, is history. His mission lasted nearly 30 years, up until he died on March 17, 461.

I came across this hymn/prayer attributed to St. Patrick entitled St. Patrick’s Breast Plate. These words are like the breastplate of righteousness that protects what is at the core of your being and what you hold to be true.   These words emphasize the power of God with us and I find comfort and strength in them. I love these words.

If you are looking for a prayer to start your day, might I suggest this:

I arise today 

Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism, 
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial, 
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension, 

I arise today 

Through God's strength to pilot me: 
God's might to uphold me, 
God's wisdom to guide me, 
God's eye to look before me, 
God's ear to hear me, 
God's word to speak for me, 
God's hand to guard me, 
God's way to lie before me, 
God's shield to protect me, 
God's host to save me.

From snares of devils, 
From temptations of vices, 
From everyone who shall wish me ill, 
Afar and anear, 
Alone and in multitude. 
Christ to shield me today 
So that there may come to me 
abundance of reward. 

Christ with me, 
Christ before me, 
Christ behind me, 
Christ in me, 
Christ beneath me, 
Christ above me, 
Christ on my right, 
Christ on my left, 
Christ when I lie down, 
Christ when I sit down, 
Christ when I arise, 
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, 
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, 
Christ in every eye that sees me, 
Christ in every ear that hears me. 

I arise today 

May the witness of the saints shine light on our journeys of faith.

Here's a short video about St. Patrick.


Pastor Charlie

Monday, March 9, 2015

Subtle Shifts

Greeting to you today! We finally made it to the month of March, and there is hope that spring will soon be here! Humorist and fellow Lutheran Garrison Keillor wrote that every year in Minnesota (and we can relate that to our winter here in Ohio this year), nature makes a couple sincere attempts to kill you, and then we get the month of March, which God designed to show people who don't drink what a hangover is like! I will confess that I took a few days of rest and rejuvenation in a warm climate, and my wife and I have tried our best to bring the warmth and sun back with us.

This week, I want to share with you the following article from the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America - Elizabeth Eaton. This appeared in the February issue of the magazine "The Lutheran."

We are in the middle of Lent — the season of spiritual warfare, or at least really good intentions. Many of us now engage in some form of Lenten discipline. We give up something: chocolate or coffee or FreeCell. Or we add something: Scripture reading, midweek worship or service projects. This seems normal and familiar to us just as the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday or crossing ourselves has become normal and familiar in many of our congregations.

I remember a time when none of these practices would be considered Lutheran by large segments of our church. Too works righteous, too showy, too … Roman Catholic! We didn’t need to, nor could we make ourselves holy or righteous. That was the whole point of justification by grace through faith apart from works of the law (Romans 3:21-28, Article IV of the Augsburg Confession).

We over-corrected. Fasting, prayer, Scripture study, acts of service, imposition of ashes and making the sign of the cross are classical spiritual disciplines that not only have an ancient history in Christian practice but also serve to engage our whole selves in devotion to God. These practices serve to draw us closer to and make us more aware of the love of God shown through Jesus’ death and resurrection that justifies sinners, but they aren’t what justifies us.

As scrupulous as we have been in proclaiming grace and eschewing works in our faith practices, I’ve noticed the not so subtle shift to works righteousness in the work we do as the church. This exists in all three expressions — congregations, synods and churchwide — and all across the cultural spectrum. Jesus’ invitation to repentance and discipleship have become a kind of transaction between us and God where we figure out what we have done wrong, promise to work really hard to be better people, and then God forgives us. What we see as the moral wrongs that must be repented depends largely on our place on the cultural spectrum. The cultural right is preoccupied with private mores and behavior and the cultural left is preoccupied with political rights and the activities of government and business institutions.

Here’s how that plays out. While driving through the Smoky Mountains on a family road trip, I saw a billboard that declared: “No smoking, drinking, card playing, dancing, movie going, swearing ... there is no sin within 7 miles of our church!” Wow. There must not have been any people within 7 miles of that church. That is the works righteousness of the right.

The works righteousness of the left plays out a little differently. If there are enough sit-ins or protests, or boycotts or enough petitions, we could inaugurate the kingdom of God. Then we could extricate ourselves from this bondage to sin. We could build a perfect world.

There is a purveyor of high-end, organic, locally sourced groceries that is the temple of this persuasion. You can buy veal there without guilt because its source of veal is the little calf that, after gamboling across the fields, turns itself in to the butcher and declares (quoting Charles Dickens): “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done.” No. Something has to die so we can live. We are complicit in the world’s brokenness.

We may work for justice or righteousness with the best intentions, and God knows there is plenty of work to do. But Jesus didn't die to change behaviors or political systems or institutions. Jesus died to end the fundamental brokenness and estrangement from God that is the result of human sin, our rebellion against God that infects every aspect of our lives.

Just as Jesus’ miracles in the Gospel of John are called signs that point to the new thing God is doing in Christ, so should our work for justice be signs that point to the new life we have in Christ. We’re pointing in the wrong direction if our work becomes the new life instead of a sign of the new life.

Lent can be a time to ponder this priceless gift. The death and resurrection of Christ has changed everything, a change no human effort could ever bring about.

Subtle shift to works righteousness
by Bishop Elizabeth Eaton - February Issue of The Lutheran


Pastor Charlie

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Peace Be Still

Ah - that is easier said than done, isn't it? There is so much going on, and so many distractions and things that fill our lives and our minds that it seems like trying to find time to be still and silent and at peace is just another thing to add to our daily agenda. I don't know about you, but I find those times of peace to be a blessing. I wish they would be more frequent.

In this season of Lent, we offer this invitation: "Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love." (NRSV Joel 2:13)   I believe prayer is the avenue by which we come to be present with God and learn of God's graciousness, mercy and love. And while it is not a requirement, I believe that peace and silence and stillness can greatly enhance our time of prayer. A quote from Mother Teresa: 

The fruit of silence is prayer 
The fruit of prayer is faith 
The fruit of faith is love 
The fruit of love is service 
The fruit of service is peace. 

My wife and I worked for a year at Koinonia, a Lutheran Church camp in New York State before we headed to seminary. One of the disciplines we had there at the camp was Taize' Prayer every morning and evening. This form of prayer is centered around a good 15 - 20 minutes of silence. At first, this drove me crazy. There was so much to do, and so little time, and here we are spending time in prayer? And during the first few weeks, that time of silence was filled with going through all the things in my mind that needed to get done. It was frustrating. 

But over time, I came to appreciate that time. It became time for me to stop. Yes, there were many things on my mind, but that time became time to empty those things from my mind, place them before God and seek God's guidance for the day to come, and a sense of calm for a night of rest. 

In his book, "Learning to Pray Again," Bishop Michael Rinehart writes this:

Silence is prayer. As a child, I often thought of prayer as talking with God. Even if we embrace this metaphor, if one is talking with another, shouldn't it be at least 50% listening? Furthermore, if the other with whom one is talking is God, shouldn't it be more like 60% or 70% listening? If you were getting golf coaching from Tiger Woods, would you spend most of your time talking or listening? 

In his book On Becoming a Magical Mystical Bear, Matthew Fox points out that most of us learned to pray as children, in a formative stage of our lives when we were dependent on our parents for everything. For this reason our praying can turn into a litany of all the things that we want. We treat God like a celestial Santa Claus. Then, somewhere in adolescence we become arrested in our spiritual development. We never learned to pray as adults. What if we began renewing our prayer life with silence? 

Let God speak. Listen. If you're stuck in your prayer life, then begin with silence. If listening is prayer, and if silence is prayer, then perhaps prayer is communion with God, not just talking. Go for a long walk. 30 minutes. Take no music or reading with you. Just walk. Notice your steps, your breathing. Look at the earth, the trees, the sky. Breathe it in. Let go. Let God be.

Peace. Be Still.

Psalm 46:10 - Be Still, and know that I am God.


Pastor Charlie