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

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lent Is In Trouble

Lent began yesterday - Ash Wednesday - with services to mark its beginning, and ashes to mark our brows. We are reminded that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. We enter into this season willingly, but why?

David Lose is the the president of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. He is a gifted writer and theologian. My entry this week are his words on Lent.

The Trouble (and Blessing) of Lent by David Lose

Let's face it. Lent is in trouble.

Let me explain. Most of us have favorite holiday seasons. For some it's Christmas, with the family get-togethers and presents. For others it's the Fourth of July and summer, filled by a sense of national pride and beach vacations to boot. But each year at just about this time, it strikes me that very few of us would pick Lent, a season that seems to most of us as grim as the weather that usually attends it.

Think about it: crossing off days on the calendar until Ash Wednesday; leaving work just a little early, saying "I've got to get my Lenten shopping done;" advertisements on billboards and television reading "only 12 more days 'til the day of Ashes;" or little kids going to bed, asking their parents, "How much longer 'till Lent is here?" It just doesn't happen.

The trouble with Lent, I think, is fairly clear. It's buried right in the heart of the primary reading for Ash Wednesday, from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6: "And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Sigh) Actually, you don't have to read the whole verse, as the brunt of the problem of Lent is in the first four words, "And when you fast...." 

And when you fast?! C'mon. Except for the occasional crash diet before summer vacation, who fasts anymore?

And there it is in a nutshell, you see, the trouble with Lent: it feels like this strange, weirdly anachronistic holiday that celebrates things we don't value and encourages attitudes we don't share. No wonder that each year fewer and fewer churches observe this age-old (fourth century!) tradition -- it's too old-fashioned, too "Roman," too medieval for many contemporary Christians to handle.

So let's face it. Lent is in trouble. I mean, even among those traditions that do honor the season, rarely is there the same kind of enthusiasm or expectancy which greets Advent. Notice we don't sponsor Lenten Adventures for our kids; we don't have an Adult Lenten Dinner and Party. We don't pine to sing Lenten hymns ahead of time. Lent is in trouble.

I don't know, maybe it's that there are no presents at the end, and no fun and games along the way. Or maybe it's that Lent asks us to give up things. I mean, my word, haven't we had to sacrifice enough already to get our kids through college, to save for retirement, to put that new roof on the house, thank you very much. Why should we give up anything more for Lent?

Or maybe it's the themes of Lent that trouble us. Penitence. Sacrifice. Contemplation. These are the words of Lent, and I, for one, have a hard time believing they were popular even with the Puritans (you remember, the folks that actually held competitions to see who could resist the greatest temptation or avoid the most pleasure) let alone now.

Lent, I'm telling ya, it's in trouble. And so each year, as I listen to my non-Lent-observing friends knock it as "works theology" and my Lent-observing friends complain about it as a pain in the @&!, the same question inevitably demands loudly to be answered: Why Lent? I mean, who really needs it?

But you know what? Each year, whatever my feelings approaching Lent may be, the same answer comes whispering back: I do. Just maybe, I need Lent. Just maybe I need a time to focus, to get my mind off of my career, my social life, my next writing project -- and a hundred other things to which I look for meaning -- and center myself in Meaning itself.

Just maybe I need a time (is 40 days really enough?) to help clear my head of the distractions which any involved life in this world will necessarily bring and re-orient myself towards the Maker of all that was given for my pleasure and which I have let become merely distracting.

Maybe I need the opportunity (and perhaps deep down I crave the chance!) to clear my eyes of the glaze of indifference and apathy which comes from situation after situation where I feel nearly helpless so that I can fasten my eyes once more on the almost unbearable revelation of the God who loves God's children enough to take the form of a man hanging on a tree.

And maybe, just maybe -- and this takes the greatest amount of imagination of them all -- just maybe Lent really isn't mine to do with whatever I please. Perhaps Lent isn't even the Church's to insist upon or discard at will. Maybe Lent isn't any of ours to scoff at or observe. Maybe Lent is God's. Maybe Lent is God's gift to a people starved for meaning, for courage, for comfort, for life.

If it is, if we can imagine that Lent is not ours at all but is wholly God's, then maybe we'll also begin to recall, at first vaguely but then more strongly, that we, too, are not ours at all, but are wholly God's -- God's own possession and treasure.

Seen this way, Lent reminds us of whose we are. The "sacrifices," the disciplines, these are not intended as good works offered by us to God; rather, they are God's gifts to us to remind us who we are, God's adopted daughters and sons, God's treasure, so priceless that God was willing to go to any length -- or, more appropriately, to any depth -- to tell us that we are loved, that we have value, that we have purpose.

Yes. I need Lent. I need an absence of gifts so that I might acknowledge the Gift. I need a time to be quiet and still, a time to crane my neck and lift my head, straining to hear again what was promised me at Baptism: "You are mine! I love you! I am with you!"

I need Lent, finally, to remind me of who I am -- God's heir and Christ's co-heir -- so that, come Easter, I can rejoice and celebrate with all the joy, all the revelry, all the anticipation, of a true heir to the throne.

And so yes, I need Lent. And to tell you the truth, I suspect that you do, too. You see, if Lent is in trouble, it's only because we're in trouble, so busy trying to make or keep or save our lives that we fail to notice that God has already saved us and has already freed us to live with each other and for each other all the rest of our days. And so we have Lent, a gift of the church, the season during which God prepares us to behold God's own great sacrifice for us, with the hope and prayer that, come Good Friday and Easter, we may be immersed once again into God's mercy and perceive more fully God's great love for us and all the world and in this way find the peace and hope and freedom that we so often lack. 


I would agree - I need Lent. I invite you to join in the journey these next forty days.


Pastor Charlie

Monday, February 9, 2015

Proclaim The Gospel

This past Sunday, we heard Paul's message to the Corinthians, that he will do whatever it takes to proclaim the Gospel. In this translation, the term, "the Message" is used in place of "the Gospel." St. Paul writes:

Still, I want it made clear that I’ve never gotten anything out of this for myself, and that I’m not writing now to get something. I’d rather die than give anyone ammunition to discredit me or impugn my motives. If I proclaim the Message, it’s not to get something out of it for myself. I’m compelled to do it, and doomed if I don’t! If this was my own idea of just another way to make a living, I’d expect some pay. But since it’s not my idea but something solemnly entrusted to me, why would I expect to get paid? So am I getting anything out of it? Yes, as a matter of fact: the pleasure of proclaiming the Message at no cost to you. You don’t even have to pay my expenses!

Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!  (1 Corinthians 9:15-23 - The Message)

Paul is dedicated to sharing the Message no matter the cost. Proclaiming the Gospel/Message is more than getting up and preaching every week. Paul suggests it is more than that. It is a way of life.

We are called to proclaim the Gospel - in what ways does that happen? A quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi is, "Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words." I believe the Gospel/Message is proclaimed by our words and our actions as we live out our lives as children of God, reflecting God's great love and blessings to the world.

At our staff meeting last week, a member of the staff shared the following video clip. I am not doing this to endorse the movie (although I am interested in seeing it), but rather to share the message.

Powerful. I am not sure there is much more to say.


Pastor Charlie

Monday, February 2, 2015

Word of God Speak

This past Sunday, the Gospel text came from Mark 1:21-28. It tells of Jesus beginning his ministry in the small village of Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Here is the text from The Message:

Then they entered Capernaum. When the Sabbath arrived, Jesus lost no time in getting to the meeting place. He spent the day there teaching. They were surprised at his teaching—so forthright, so confident—not quibbling and quoting like the religion scholars.Suddenly, while still in the meeting place, he was interrupted by a man who was deeply disturbed and yelling out, “What business do you have here with us, Jesus? Nazarene! I know what you’re up to! You’re the Holy One of God, and you have come to destroy us!”Jesus shut him up: “Quiet! Get out of him!” The afflicting spirit threw the man into spasms, protesting loudly—and got out.Everyone there was incredulous, buzzing with curiosity. “What’s going on here? A new teaching that does what it says? He shuts up defiling, demonic spirits and sends them packing!” News of this traveled fast and was soon all over Galilee. (Mark 1:21-28, The Message)

Jesus speaks with authority. With all the voices that speak to us, that knock us down and tell us that we are not good enough, we unlovable and unworthy of God's attention, comfort and grace, we need to hear the word of God speak to us.

Even though we have heard the words of God's complete forgiveness and unconditional love over and over again, we often find ourselves still clinging to the thought that there must be a catch, and there should be more we have to do. We don't let the word of God have authority over us.
This struck me when I was doing my daily devotions last week. Here is the reading and prayer for the day:

Reading - Consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Romans 6:11 (NASB)

Prayer - Lord, why do we make excuses for our sins when you have redeemed us with the cross? You died to give us your grace and a new life! We must truly believe that sin has no power over us! Thank you, gracious Lord! Amen.

How true this is. Through Jesus Christ, our sin is washed away. God has forgiven and let it go of our sin, but we often refuse to let go. The authoritative word is one we need to hear again and again, and eventually, it sinks in. I am forgiven. Let the word of God speak to you today.

Some items to share today - the first I used in my sermon Sunday comes from Pastor Vince Garhardy of Australia.

  • When evil whispers in your ear, “It’s no use, you can’t do it, give up!” we turn to the words of Scripture, and there we hear the words of St Paul thunder in our ears, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!”(Phil 4:13).
  • When evil whispers the words, “You’re alone, there’s no one who cares for you, and no one who will stand by you”, Christ's word assures us, “I will be with you always, to the end of the age” (Mathew 28:20).
  • When evil whispers the words, “You’re a failure, no one can possibly love a person like you”, the word of the Lord empowers us to carry on. “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20), we are told. “The mountains and hills may crumble, but my love for you will never end” (Isaiah 54:10).
  • When evil whispers the words, “There is no hope and no help or comfort in the face of sickness and grief, a word comes from Christ, 
  • “I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and they know me.”  “I will never forget you!  I have written your name on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15).
  • When evil whispers in your ear, “You’re going to die and that will be end of you" and terror strikes your heart, Jesus comes with a word, 
  • “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust me.  I have gone to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1-4). “All those who live and believe in me will never die” (John 11:26). 
  • When evil whispers in your ear, “There is no point in praying, don’t waste your time.  You have better things to do”.  The word of the Lord comes to us with authority, “When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I will listen” (Jer 29:12).

Here is a helpful list a friend shared a few years ago on Facebook:

  • You say: "It's impossible" - God says: All things are possible (Luke 18:27) 
  • You say: "I'm too tired" - God says: I will give you rest (Mat.11:28-30) 
  • You say: "Nobody really loves me" - God says: I love you  (John 3:16 & John 3:34) 
  • You say: "I can't go on"  - God says: My grace is sufficient (II Corinthians 12:9 & Psalm 91:15) 
  • You say: "I can't figure things out" - God says: I will direct your steps (Proverbs 3:5-6) 
  • You say: "I can't do it" - God says: You can do all things (Philippians 4:13) 
  • You say: "I'm not able" - God says: I am able (II Corinthians 9:8) 
  • You say: "It's not worth it"  - God says: It will be worth it (Roman 8:2)
  • You say: "I can't forgive myself" - God says: I Forgive you  (I John 1:9 & Romans 8:1) 
  • You say: "I can't manage" - God says: I will supply all your needs (Philippians 4:19) 
  • You say: "I'm afraid" - God says: I have not given you a spirit of fear  (II Timothy 1:7) 
  • You say: "I'm always worried and frustrated" - God says: Cast all your cares on ME (I Peter 5:7) 
  • You say: "I don't have enough faith"  - God says: I've given everyone a measure of faith (Romans 12:3) 
  • You say: "I'm not smart enough"  - God says: I give you wisdom (I Corinthians 1:30) 
  • You say: "I feel all alone"  - God says: I will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5) 

Hear the Good News!

From the musical group Mercy Me, a beautiful song - "Word of God Speak"


Pastor Charlie

Monday, January 26, 2015

From My Point of View

A blessing (one of many) of being a pastor is the point of view I have for every worship service at the altar, pulpit or up in front of the church for worship. I remember a member saying to me, "Pastor, you know we can see everything you are doing when you are up in front of the church." I responded, "And I can see everything YOU are doing when you are sitting in the congregation!" I have been at Epiphany for a little over two years now, and I am getting to learn where you sit, who it is you sit with, and who sits near you. We are creatures of habit, and that's okay. I think you would throw me off if you all decided to sit in a different place one week. (At my parent's church on April Fool's Day, the ushers asked everyone entering the church that day to sit on the opposite side they regularly occupied, wondering how the pastor would respond. Half way through the sermon, he realized something was not right!)

The more I get to know you the more I enjoy taking in the faces I see in church. I love seeing the new parents with the infants in their arms. I think it is great to see the choir and band members sit close to the choir loft or by the praise band or bells, and to see several of the choir members sitting with their loved ones until its time to sing. I am touched to see those who have recently lost a loved one coming to church, and being invited to sit with a friend so they are not alone. I am mindful of those who are hurting, and how the message of God's unfailing love is what they have come to hear. I see visitors and wonder how they are being welcomed (we had a least ONE visitor at each service this past weekend). I look to see how the sermon and service is being received. I can tell when I have lost you and when what I have said has touched you.

Or so I think. I remember one December in a previous church, I preached a sermon, and a man in the congregation whom I felt I could read pretty well by his expressions seemed to have a puzzled look on his face through the whole sermon. His head was cocked to one side and it seemed like what I was saying was not pleasing to his ear. I caught him after church and asked if there was something that I said had offended him or was puzzling him. He smiled and apologized and said, "I am sorry, Pastor, but I really wasn't paying much attention to you today. You see, after we put up the Christmas tree last week here in the sanctuary, I couldn't help but notice the angel I put on the top of the tree is crooked. I was trying to figure out how to correct it." At least he was honest!

From my point of view, what I see is the body of Christ gathered together to do what God created us to do - to love and worship God, and to be fed, strengthened, encouraged and empowered to go out and love and serve others. We gather to give thanks to God for all God has done for us. We gather to realign our lives with God's purpose for us, and to start a new week with a fresh start - forgiven, fed and focused on God.

From my point of view, worship is the foundation of our life together as a church. The church is here first and foremost as a place for worship. And I have found over the years that each Saturday/Sunday, for me (again, my point of view) brings me back to a solid focus of what it means to be the church. We can get bogged down by lots of details, programs, issues and discussions throughout the week, but when we come together, God present, and the good news proclaimed, the journey is so much more manageable - AND enjoyable.

That's my point of view!

Pastor Charlie

Monday, January 19, 2015

I Love to Tell the Story

Last week, my daughter sent me a link to a video. I am glad she did. In the video, a parable of Jesus is shared. What makes it special is that the story is told by young children. Not only that, but the story was taken from the kids' sharing and then acted out by adults in the church. 

I did some searching for more, and came across two more videos that tell the story of David and Goliath. These are great fun!

St. Paul writes to the church in Rome, "Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17)

The reason we know who God is and how much God loves us is because someone has told us. Who is it that has shared the word of God with you? If you have a chance, make sure you thank them!

I will let these videos speak for themselves. Enjoy!

Pastor Charlie

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What A Game

I am writing this the day after the big game - I am seeing a lot of happy, tired faces in the office today! Congratulations, Buckeye Nation on a well-played game and a great season. That may sound strange coming from a Michigan fan, but know that it is sincere. I do have some Buckeye blood in my veins - my grandfather (Mom's Dad) is a graduate of THE Ohio State University. My Dad's parents met at the University of Michigan and they told their kids they could go to any school that wanted to attend, as long as it was the University of Michigan! How Mom and Dad ever got together, I do not know. I guess football was not a part of the courting process.

I am a graduate of Central Michigan University, and I would venture to say that it is highly unlikely that my Alma-mater will ever get anywhere close to winning a national championship. But I still cheer on my school and wear their colors proudly. This is a part of who I am.

In Facebook posts, messages and cheers I hear many people saying, "We won!" But the vast majority of us had little to do in making that victory come about. It may be that we cheered them on at a game. It could be that some of us traveled to games far and near to show our support. It could be that we made a donation to the school or purchased some merchandise whose proceeds went to pay for facilities and staff and equipment and so on. It could be that tuition and student loan payments have been made to the institution that has supported the school. It could be that some of us have had contact with one or more of the players who are on the team and influenced them in attaining their goals. It could be that we show our support through wearing the team colors, gathering with others to watch the games and try to convey our messages of support (or frustration) telepathically through the TV (I imagine the reason the coach wears headphones during the game is so he doesn't hear those comments)!

We won! Yet we can only fathom the dedication and devotion, hard work and countless hours of the team, the coaches and staff and all who work behind the scenes to make this victory happen. Let us not be remiss to offer thanks and praise where it is due. We couldn't have done it without them. This doesn't diminish the feeling of euphoria - it still feels like our victory!

I do not envy the coaches and staff. I am sure that today- the day after becoming national champions, the question is asked, "What about next year?" And while the team looks like it will be very strong next year, there is no stopping along the way. There is work to do to prepare for all the teams that will be working hard to better themselves to take on THE Ohio State Buckeyes in the coming year. Enjoy the victory and the title. It only takes one bad game to turn the tides. Things change. (Who would have thought nine years ago, Urban Meyer would be held in such high regard in Ohio?)

It would be nice to hold on to this victory and the feeling that comes from it forever. Of course, we know there is one victory that lasts forever, and that is Jesus' victory over sin and death. He has a perfect record - undefeated! Through him we can say, "We won!" Or maybe it should be, "We Win!" Jesus' victory is our victory. In the waters of baptism, our sins are washed away, put to death, defeated. And as we come up out of the waters of baptism, we are raised to new life.

Eugene Peterson's transliteration of the Message (Romans 6:2-11)
When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!
That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.
Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.
No, we didn't do anything to earn this victory. This is God's doing. We cannot do it with God! But that does not diminish the victory at all. For this is God's gift to us.

What a game! There will be more victories, and it is likely some defeats along the way. Let us enjoy the victories and endure the losses, knowing that God's victory celebration has already begun, and will last forever! We won! We win!


Pastor Charlie