Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Week Highs and Lows

Holy Week is a roller coaster of activities and emotions. The celebration of Palm Sunday, the wonder of the Lord's Supper, the agony of Jesus' arrest, trial and crucifixion, and the incredible joy of Easter make for a week of highs and lows, joys and sorrows. In light of this, I have two things to share in this week's blog - a reading and a video.

This is a reading we often use for Good Friday services is Isaiah 53, written a few centuries before Jesus walked the face of the earth. Isaiah's words are fulfilled in Jesus, the one who comes to bear the cross for you and for me.

Here are the words of Isaiah 53 from Eugene Peterson's transliteration, "The Message."  

Who believes what we've heard and seen?
    Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?
The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
    a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
    nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
    a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
    We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
    our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
    that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
    that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
    Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who've wandered off and gotten lost.
    We've all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we've done wrong,
    on him, on him.
He was beaten, he was tortured,
    but he didn't say a word.
Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered
    and like a sheep being sheared,
    he took it all in silence.
Justice miscarried, and he was led off—
    and did anyone really know what was happening?
He died without a thought for his own welfare,
    beaten bloody for the sins of my people.
They buried him with the wicked,
    threw him in a grave with a rich man,
Even though he’d never hurt a soul
    or said one word that wasn't true.
Still, it’s what God had in mind all along,
    to crush him with pain.
The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin
    so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life.
    And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him.
Out of that terrible travail of soul,
    he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it.
Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant,
    will make many “righteous ones,”
    as he himself carries the burden of their sins.
Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly—
    the best of everything, the highest honors—
Because he looked death in the face and didn't flinch,
    because he embraced the company of the lowest.
He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many,
    he took up the cause of all the black sheep.

On a lighter note, I wanted to share a video I came across. There is nothing better than kids sharing the story.  Enjoy!

God bless you and yours this holiest of weeks!


Pastor Charlie

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Invitation to Holy Week

I am looking forward to Holy Week. That may seems surprising to hear from a pastor, as this is the busiest time of the year, even more so than Christmas. I guess the reason that look forward to this time of year is that I appreciate the invitation to participate in the story once again. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and we keep running through Easter Sunday.  We journey with Jesus as he triumphantly enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We gather with Jesus and his disciples around the table where Jesus washes his disciples feet, gives them a new commandment, and institutes the Lord's Supper. We see the anguish of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying to his Father in heaven. We watch Jesus as he is arrested and is taken through the mockery of a trial. We feel the weight of the cross on his back, the pain of the nails in his hands on Good Friday. And we await the dawn of new day as we gather on Easter Saturday for the Easter Vigil, knowing something incredible is about to happen.

I invite you to join in the journey and participate in the story. Come and immerse yourself in the messages, the sights and sounds, the community gathered together for these worship-filled events. Come and journey to the cross and the empty tomb.

At the Far Hills campus this coming weekend, our Palm Sunday worship will conclude with a dramatization of Walt Wangerin Jr.'s story, "The Ragman." Wangerin is a Lutheran pastor, a gifted author and preacher, and a great story-teller.  "The Ragman" is a powerful story that demonstrates Jesus' great gift of compassion, suffering and dying for you and for me. In addition to being a great story, the dramatization of the story will be done with life-sized puppets made by Epiphany member Shirley Wasser and operated by members of our Puppet Ministry team. I love this story, and have used it in sermons and devotions over the years. You don't want to miss this.

I hope and pray you can join us in the days to come.  

We stand on the threshold of Holy Week.
It is not for us now
to rush ahead to Easter. 
As easy, as comfortable, as uplifting as that would be,
we miss the true joy of Easter
if we do not understand
and come face to face
with the true pain and sorrow of Jesus’ suffering and death –
the passion of Jesus Christ.

In the days to come,
we travel not just as bystanders of Jesus’ sacrifice,
but participants in the passion. 
For on the cross,
Jesus does not die alone
no –
the sins of the world –
of you and me,
past, present and future,
are put to death
and with them,
our sinful selfish desires
and our replacements for God. 

It is necessary
for us once again
to undertake the surrender
to Jesus
of all of our false expectations and selfish hopes.

It is necessary for us
to watch as our sin
burdens him
and bears down on his head
like a crown of thorns.
It is necessary for us
to see him die
as the Lamb of God
who absorbs the sin of the world and bears it away.
It is necessary for us
to suffer patiently
the dark night of sorrow and death,
if we are to enter the brilliant new light of Easter
and receive the gift of eternal life
offered to us in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
(Copyright © 1996 Edwin D. Peterman. All Rights Reserved.)

May we walk with Jesus to the cross. 
The passion begins.

Pastor Charlie

Monday, March 31, 2014

Job Description for Associate Pastor

Some people have asked what we are looking for in the next Associate Pastor here at Epiphany. When trying to answer that question, the church council and call committee wanted to give some general guidelines, but also be open to where God is leading us.

The Associate Pastor will be assigned to oversee the Outreach Lane of our ministry lanes. This is currently what I oversee, and since Pastor Sara's departure, I have also been overseeing the Worship Lane. Overseeing a particular lane does not limit us to just that area, but provides a staff person overseeing the budget and workings of those ministries. We feel that with the outreach opportunities at the Austin Campus, this is a good fit.

The Associate Pastor will focus primarily on the Austin Campus. We feel a consistent presence and focus on Austin is important for its growth and success. Again, this will not limit the Associate Pastor's participation in Far Hills activities, but his/her primary focus will be Austin.  Here is the job description.

POSITION:                   Associate Pastor –  Epiphany Lutheran Church

Position Purpose:      The Associate Pastor is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  The Associate Pastor is to provide spiritual and pastoral leadership to the membership of Epiphany Lutheran Church.  The Associate Pastor will preach, teach and administer the Sacraments.

Primary Focus:           The Associate Pastor will oversee worship and activities at the Austin Road Campus.

Lane Leadership:        The Associate Pastor will be the Outreach Lane Leader.

Supervision:               The Associate Pastor serves under the supervision of the Senior Pastor and the Congregation Council.

Responsibilities:         Subject to review and adjustment in conjunction with the Senior Pastor and Congregation Council, the following constitute the major responsibilities of the Associate Pastor:
 I. Austin Campus
  1. Preach and Preside at least 3 out of 4 Sundays a month
  2. Coordinate with Worship leaders to provide worship opportunities
  3. Oversee the outreach, education and fellowship opportunities
  4. Work with Lane Leaders and staff to coordinate these programs
 II. Outreach Lane Leader
  1. Oversee the outreach ministries of Epiphany Lutheran Church
  2. Approve all budget activities in this lane
  3. Supervise staff and volunteers involved in outreach ministries at Epiphany
  4. Coordinate with staff outreach programs and activities
 III.  General Pastoral Ministry
  1. Preach, teach and administer the Sacraments as a called pastor of the church.
  2. Officiate at special services such as weddings, funerals, etc.
  3. Work with other members of the staff for cooperation, coordination and communication.
  4. Visit the homebound, sick and shut-ins. 
  5. Meet weekly with the Senior Pastor.
  6. Participate weekly in the staff meeting.
  7. Participate in clergy and ecumenical groups in the community

Two more things - First, as we begin the call process, we are open to any possible candidates you might know of who would be a good fit for Epiphany. The candidate needs to be an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in good standing. Please note that there are many factors involved in the process, and simply offering their name does not mean that person will be interviewed. But any suggestions offered will be considered. 

Second, please continue to pray for the Call Committee as they meet and plan for the opportunity to interview candidates. May God bless them in their serving and their deliberations. If you see them, be sure to thank them for their service.

Pastor Charlie

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Call Process - Here is What Is Next

On March 19th, the Call Committee met for the first time to start the process of calling our next Associate Pastor. I am very excited about this group, for I believe they will represent Epiphany well. There was energy and excitement in the air, and I heard them all speak of the hope they have for the future of Epiphany Lutheran Church.

We talked at length about the next steps in the process, answered questions about what they can expect in the coming weeks, and spent a good amount of the time getting to know one another. Pastor Tom Rutherford and I shared our experiences of working through the call process both as those being interviewed and also serving churches calling other pastors. We also have two members on this call committee that served on the committee when I was called here.

The next step in the process is to meet with Ed Williams, which will take place before you read this (March 26). Pastor Williams is Assistant to the Bishop in our synod, and will be working with us throughout the call process. He will walk the committee through the steps ahead and answer our questions.  We will have some homework to do, especially putting together a congregation profile that tells about our church, our history, the community in which we are set, and our vision for the future. We will also begin preparing for interviews.

As we continue on the journey, I ask for you to pray for the committee and those we interview. May God bless the work, and may we listen to where God directs us.

Here are the call committee members.

Peace,  Pastor Charlie




Monday, March 17, 2014

The Greatest

This past Sunday, the sermon focused on John 3:16. I came across this explanation of the passage by Maurice McCarthy, and it was the basis of the sermon. I thought I would share it here as well.

For God - The Greatest One

So loved - The Greatest Degree

The world - The greatest amount of people

That He gave - The greatest generosity

His only Son - The greatest uniqueness

So that everyone - The greatest invitation

Who believes in Him - The greatest simplicity

May not - The greatest certainty

Perish - The greatest possible loss

But - The greatest difference

May have - The greatest possession

Eternal - The greatest length

Life - The greatest gift

What a great outline of this "Gospel in A Nutshell."


Pastor Charlie

Monday, March 10, 2014

Call Committee Established

Epiphany Lutheran Church is in the process of searching for and calling our next Associate Pastor. In February, Church Council met with Bishop Suzanne Dillahunt and Assistant to the Bishop Ed Williams to discuss the call process. The following week, Church Council met again to consider names for the Call Committee. The goal was to bring together a group that would best represent the many facets and ministries of Epiphany with regular Austin Campus participants and a fair distribution of age and gender. Finally, we felt that a youth representative's input would be beneficial to the committee.

We finished our work and gave the Council President, John Dietrich, the task of contacting the people selected to serve. The response to this call has been very positive, and I believe this group will represent us and serve us well.

Carlin Heimann – Committee Chairperson
Alyssa Embry - Youth Representative
Adrienne Ausdenmoore
Kirsten Light
Ann Painter
Terri Quick
Lindsay Wipperman
Matt Davenport
Greg Eberhart
Anthony Gilkison
Norm Krueckeberg

The group will be meeting soon to gather information about Epiphany to share with potential candidates and to assemble candidate interview questions. One of the key requirements of serving on this committee is to maintain confidentiality, so please keep this in mind if you don't get a lot of information when you ask a committee member about the process.

I am thankful that these men and women have agreed to serve. I ask you to keep them in your prayers as they begin this journey. And what an exciting journey it will be!

Pastor Charlie

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Remember You Are Dust

Lent is finally here - kind of late, don't you think? A little trivia for you: Ash Wednesday is set by the date of Easter which is forty days after Ash Wednesday, not counting Sundays. Easter is set by the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Share that bit of knowledge with your friends and you will really impress them!

In preparation for our Lenten journey, I share with you a sermon from last year by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber.

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing
. (Joel 2:12)

Today we begin a 40-day period of wilderness wandering. Forty days because that’s how long Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. Even those in our society who have never really observed Lent know that it’s the time of year when us pious people suffer and give things up so God will be impressed with us. So that passage [above] from the prophet Joel – "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning"- seems to set things up pretty well. Fasting. Weeping. Mourning. For those of us who act like Lent is a competitive sport, this text from Joel is a pretty awesome starting place.

But this week, I began to wonder why God says to return to God with all of our heart rather than return to God when we get our crap together. I mean, in Lent we tend to really focus on our behavior, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but if God says return to me with all your heart, I think that maybe the implication is that we give our hearts to a whole lot of things that are not God. So if we think Lent is about giving things up so we can impress God, maybe we should ask ourselves: which is harder – the fasting part or the returning to God with all our heart part?

Because I don’t think that my problem is that I eat too much sugar or I spend too much time on Facebook. My problem - and maybe yours, too - is that I sort of piece my heart out to things that cannot love me back. Don’t we piece our hearts out to the unrequited love of so many false promises and self-indulgences, and doesn't the toxicity of all of it all seem to preserve those little pieces of our heart like formaldehyde.

I mean, by the time I even get to the table of God’s grace, I’ve made lovers of so many things and ideas and hopes and doubts – I’ve given myself to them so completely that there’s so little left. So little to be fed by God’s grace, since my starving little heart is doled out in so many pieces trying to get it’s own needs met.

And so, thank God once a year we gather to speak the truth of how we piece out our hearts, how we sin and fall short, how we rely on every single other thing to love us – everything but God. How we love each other and are loved by each other so poorly with the small leftover bits of our hearts: After we've given most of them, and time to career advancement, and saving the world, and saving for our future, and destroying gems, and buying fake cows on Facebook, and the dull pain of [addictions] and sugar binges, and CrossFit and the next spiritual practice or restricted diet that promises to make us whole. It’s not our time that’s so wasted with all of it…I think it’s something so much more valuable… I think it’s our hearts.

So together again this Ash Wednesday, with the faithful all across the world, we gather all the pieces of our broken selves - all the broken who deserve a break today - pieces of our starving little hearts. And we come again here to be told, of all things, that we are dust and to dust we shall return. The very thing we are trying to pretend is not true. Because I think we give our hearts away because we’re afraid of the limits of our self-hood. So we create endless ways to either avoid our self-hood or expand our self-hood. In other words, we sin. And all of it - and I hate to be so cliche, but basically, when it comes down to it - all of it is about the fact that we’re afraid to die. And as a giving-our-hearts-away-afraid-to-die people, you’d think hearing you are dust and to dust you shall return would be pretty bad news, but not so. Because here’s the thing: in the creation story in Genesis 2, it says that the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

So, yes, children of God…you are dust and to dust you shall return.

But remember this: it is from dust and the very breath of God that you were created out of divine love. A divine love which mends the pieces of your heart back together whenever you return to it. Always, always, always.

And to do this, to gather the given-away pieces of our hearts so that in returning to God, God can make them whole, well, there’s a term for that …it’s repentance.

I used to think that repentance meant to feel so bad about being bad that you promise to not be bad anymore.

But now I see repentance as just returning again to God. Our contemplative in residence, James Wall, tells about how difficult a certain Carmelite nun found contemplative prayer to be, because her thoughts would wander a thousand times during a 20-minute prayer session. She was sure her teacher, Thomas Merton, would rebuke her for such a failure, so she was surprised when instead Merton said that her wandering thoughts were just 1,000 opportunities to return to God.

That’s what Ash Wednesday and Lent is…a thousand opportunities to return to God with all you heart. Returning again to the only thing in which we have any true self-hood …and that is the eternal and divine love of God. The eternal and divine love of God which created you from dust and breath. The eternal and divine love of God to which you will return after your last breath, when again you are dust.

Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. (Joel 2:12-13)



Pastor Charlie