Monday, May 18, 2015

God's Got a Grip On Me

Last Saturday, we gathered at Epiphany for the funeral of Susan Krueckeberg. I thought I would share some of my message for this week's blog.

Hear again the word of the Lord - Lamentations 3, a modern translation:

I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember— the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember, and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:
God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.  How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).  He’s all I’ve got left.
...Why? Because the Master won’t ever walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly. His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.
(selected verses from Lamentations 3 – The Message)

On Sunday, May 10th - Mother's Day - the Gospel lesson was from the 15th chapter of John. In that lesson, we hear Jesus tell his disciples a couple of important things before he leaves them:
#1.  Love one another. Just as I have loved you.  #2. Remember, I chose you, not the other way around. 

After preaching on this text, I stopped in the office to check messages. Norm had called. I could hear in his voice that things were not good. Sue was back in the hospital and in ICU. I made my way over to Kettering and met with Norm and Scott and Stacie and Sue, and heard that things were worse than not good.

After three and a half months of good days and not so good days, hopes and fears, steps forward and backward, there was nothing more that could be done. We prayed together, cried together, and started to make plans for this day. The grip on hope seemed to be slipping. How difficult it is to have hope when there seems to be no sign of hope anywhere!

BUT - I believe that is where God meets us. For when we have no hope, the only thing that remains is God’s promises. I love you. I chose you. You are mine. Forever. For long ago in the waters of baptism, God made a promise to Sue. God said, this one belongs to me. And while our grip may be slipping, God’s grasp of grace will never let go. It is HOPE in this, as Paul reminds the church in Rome, hope that does not disappoint us. (Romans 5)

You see, Jesus came to help us see that it is God’s grip on us that is so much stronger than our grip on to God. A grip so strong that nothing, not even death can release God’s embrace. For this reason, we gather in this place, and remember God’s promises, and place our hopes and fears in God, and in God alone. 


The sermon hymn that followed was "Precious Lord, Take My Hand."
When my way grows drear
When the darkness appears



Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

Precious Lord linger near
When my life is almost gone
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

And the night draws near
And the day is past and gone
At the river I stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home



Peace,
Pastor Charlie




Monday, May 11, 2015

The Guy with the Sign

Every Monday Morning, at the corner of Alex Bell Road and Far Hills Avenue, you will find a man standing on the corner with a large sign. It is a message of hope and encouragement, and it changes every week. Today the sign read on one side, "You Are Loved" and on the other, "There is Always Hope." The man standing at the corner waves and smiles at everyone he can. Every Monday I that I see him, he makes my day.

A couple months ago, the Dayton Daily News ran an article about this man. I commend it to you to learn about this man and his reason for doing what he does.

Man’s signs lift moods | Dayton, OH

Today (I am writing this on Monday), I decided I would watch the people's reactions to the guy with the sign instead of focusing on him. What fun! The smiles, the waves, the woman taking a picture of the guy with the sign with her phone as she drove by. What a great way to start a Monday!

What I appreciate about the guy with the sign is that there is no ulterior motive, no negative statement, no strings attached - it is a grace-full message. It is for you. It is a gift.

Hmmm. This sounds somewhat familiar, doesn't it? A grace-full message - no strings attached. A message of hope and love. I hope and pray that is what we share each week in worship, as well as in our welcome and sharing in all we do as a church.

God loves you! A lot! So much so God gave Jesus to us to show us how to live, how to love, how to forgive. Jesus loved the unlovable, touched the untouchable, and forgave the unforgivable. Jesus emptied himself of all the trappings of heaven and was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. On the cross he took our sin upon himself. This one who knew no sin became sin, so that we might be made right and clean and whole in the presence of God. On the cross he died.  But death could not contain Him. The tomb is empty and life wins. All this is yours as a gift.

If that doesn't make your day, I don't know what will.

What is the message you would share?

What kind of reaction do you think you would get?

Peace,

Pastor Charlie

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Walkout songs

Last week, I had the chance to go to a Cincinnati Reds game, and enjoy the surrounds, sights and sounds of the ballpark. Even though the home team lost, it was still a good time. Sitting in the upper deck on a sunny day, I got a bit of a sunburn, but have received no sympathy from anyone about that.

Times have changed at the ballpark (not just the prices!). Back in the day, it used to be that a batter would walk up to the plate to the sounds of an announcer saying his name and maybe, if you were lucky, his position. It was all so formal, almost solemn. "Now batting… third baseman…Aurelio... Rodriguez."

Things are different nowadays. On the big screen in Left Field is all the the information in the world about the player coming to bat - more than one person can comprehend in the time that person is at bat. And now, when the batter comes to the plate, the baseball players get their own walkout or walk-up songs - the song that is played when they come to bat.

What song would you have as your walkout song? What song would you have played when you step to the plate for your first major league at bat? Oh the choices are endless, aren't they?

And what walkout songs would Jesus have used for his ministry? There are definitely different songs for the different aspects of his ministry, and many of our hymns focus on that and would fit the bill.

I encourage you to think of what songs are the songs that would define you and your faith journey.

Care to share what those songs might be?

Peace,

Pastor Charlie
(short blog today - at a Continuing Ed event this week)

Monday, April 27, 2015

One Baptism

Last Sunday after church, a couple of people stopped me to ask about Baptism. Let me tell you - one of the great joys I have as a pastor is when I am asked a theological question (especially the ones I can answer!). Both of the questions had to do with the line from the Nicene Creed - "We believe in one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins." The question both of the people who approached me asked had to do with conversations they have had with friends or family members who attend other churches that require the new members to be re-baptized, or baptism by full-immersion (all the way under the water). How do we respond to someone who tells us we haven't been properly baptized, or the baptisms we received are somehow not complete or up to the standards required to join a certain church?

The simple answer I offer is this - Baptism is a gift of Grace - God's gift to us. This is God's doing, and not ours. God is the one who acts. The water, together with God's Word is all we need. The pastor, the parents and the one being baptized are all instruments in making this happen, but God is the one who acts.

So if we are told that we need to be baptized again, does that mean that God didn't do it right the first time? I am confident God doesn't make mistakes! A woman in a previous church I served used to say there is one word that is NOT in God's vocabulary - that word is "Oops!" Again, Baptism is God's doing, and God is capable of doing what God has told us God will do!

Back in 1997, the Evangelical Lutheran Church adopted for guidance and practice a document called "The Use of the Means of Grace." In it, we read these words:
Baptism is Once for All. A person is baptized once. Because of the unfailing nature of God’s promise, and because of God’s once-for-all action in Christ, Baptism is not repeated. In the Large Catechism, Martin Luther expounds on this: Baptism is a sign and testimony of God’s grace, awakening and creating faith. The faith of the one being baptized “does not constitute Baptism but receives it….” “Everything depends upon the Word and commandment of God….”(The Large Catechism, Baptism, 53.)

Re-baptism” is to be avoided since it causes doubt, focusing attention on the always-failing adequacy of our action or our faith. Baptized persons who come to new depth of conviction in faith are invited to an Affirmation of Baptism in the life of the congregation. (The Large Catechism, Baptism, 47-63.)

I have heard people say that Baptism isn't very meaningful to them because they were baptized as an infant, and I would like to be baptized again so they can remember it. My response to that is it is okay to affirm the baptism. I would even be willing to go down the river (once it warms up - or maybe we could go to the beach this summer!) and join you in the water and we can affirm your baptism - remembering what God has already done for you.

The Confirmation Service we celebrate each year is an Affirmation of Baptism service. It is an event in which the young men and women who have been in Confirmation classes for over two years stand before the church and claim the promises their parents and sponsors made at the baptismal font their own. They affirm their baptism.

So what happens if someone is not sure if he or she has been baptized? This happens more often than you might think. Again, from the Use of the Means of Grace:
There may be occasions when people are uncertain about whether or not they have been baptized. Pastors, after supportive conversation and pastoral discernment, may choose to proceed with the baptism. The practice of this church and its congregations needs to incorporate the person into the community and its ongoing catechesis and to proclaim the sure grace of God in Christ, avoiding any sense of Baptism being repeated.

In these occasions, I have invited these men and women to the font and I baptized them. What if they were already baptized? God understands. There is grace in that as well, isn't there? 

One Baptism is all we need. God acts, and we are forgiven.



If you are interested in reading more about Baptism, as well as other means of Grace, you can download the ELCA document using this link:

http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/The_Use_Of_The_Means_Of_Grace.pdf



Peace,

Pastor Charlie


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Rain

We have had some rainy days lately, haven't we? A few nights ago, it was warm enough to have the windows open, and even though it was raining, there was no wind, so we could keep the windows open through the night. The sound of the rain and the smell of the wet grass and fresh air brought back memories of rainy nights.

I remember rainy nights when I was growing up, watching the shadows of the trees outlined on the shades when the lightning flashed. I remember rainy nights in a canvas tent, wondering if we would be wetter inside or outside. I remember rainy nights as a camp counselor, wondering if the rain would stop before it was time to make our way to the dining hall for breakfast the next day.

We often curse the rain when it means a our outdoor event is postponed, or grilling outside is not possible or the grass we thought we could mow is now going to be a foot taller before it is dry enough to tackle. My first summer as a camp counselor, we had 11 days straight of rain. 11 days! At first, it was frustrating. But over time, we came to accept it for what it was. In those 11 days, we learned how to be creative in moving outdoor activities inside, including camp fires and cookouts, and we also learned it was okay to be outside in the rain (as long as there was no lightning!). We told the kids that "rain is the essence of life." I am not sure they understood that, but it was a good line. We also made sure it was an opportunity to remember that we are baptized children of God.

We don't always appreciate the rain, but I have a feeling that come August, when the lawn is brown  and the flowers are wilting, we are going to wish for rain to come. We may even wish for some cold winter days, but here in April, I don't think we are ready to do that just yet! We only need to look at our neighbors in California who are experiencing mandatory water restrictions to understand how precious the rain can be.

Rain is one of those things we can appreciate or we can allow it to irritate us. The truth of the matter is, we cannot control it. What I am saying is that we can decide how the rain can control us, and our attitude. And if I take that a step further, that could be said about a number of things of which I have no control. How do I permit (give permission?) these things to control me?

From The Message (Eugene Peterson), these words from Matthew 6:

 25-26 Jesus said, "If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.
27-29 “Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.
30-33 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.
34 “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes."

Baptized children of God - let it rain! It is the essence of life! Rain or shine, God is good. All the time. All the time, God is good!

Peace,

Pastor Charlie


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)

Peace,
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

Amen!

Peace,

Pastor Charlie