Monday, October 20, 2014

At Your Service

Last week at our weekly staff meeting, Tonya Johns led the devotions. She shared the following posting on a weblog called "The Better Mom." I share it with you for this week's posting.

I thought I’d outgrown that kind of pettiness.

But there I was on weary feet, in a sticky kitchen, mind swirling through the two hundred tasks I’d checked off my list and the dozens of to-do’s yet undone.

And self-pity whispered innocent little questions like, “What am I — the household servant?” and “Why are people not falling all over themselves in gratitude around here?”

Earlier in the day, my motivation had been good…

I expended extra energy to bless a friend.
I provide wholesome entertainment for the kids by dismantling our leaky pool and assembling a new one.
I took my special needs son on a long-anticipated excursion, weathering his seizure and nasty fall along the way.
I cooked dinner, gave a haircut, ironed church clothes, and…, and…, and…
But somewhere in the middle of great intentions, I allowed pettiness and immaturity to sneak into my heart.

Ummm, applause, anyone? A pat on the back?

Do any of you realize I’ve set my own important projects aside to serve you all?

God greeted me and my endearing attitude the next morning with John 13:3-5:

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Wait. What?

Jesus knew who he was and the importance of his calling SO he took the towel and basin and washed the disciples’ feet?

Shouldn’t it read “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power… so he asked one of the disciples to be the servant and wash everyone’s feet?”

If anyone had “more important” things to do, it was Jesus. His calling, who he was, everything about him should have disqualified him from the role of servant.

But no, he “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).

Me? I’m just like the disciples, hoping to pawn the dirty jobs off on someone a little further down the ladder. And if I’m forced to do it because no one else will, you’d better believe I want a little recognition.

But Jesus is so breathtakingly different. Everything about him is astounding.

He is the Creator, the King of Kings, and yet he stooped to wash filthy, smelly feet.

He stooped under the whip… under the weight of the cross… under the burden of my sin.

He humbled himself.

He knew his identity in his Father, and knew that serving didn’t change his standing… serving pleased his Father.

Oh, what a challenge to my warped perspective.

Serving isn’t about doing something “important.” It’s not about glamor, recognition, novelty, or gratitude. It’s just following the example of the One who served me. It’s an opportunity to offer myself as a living sacrifice.

Serving isn’t beneath me; it’s a privilege.

And even though I’m the one who belongs in the role of foot-washer… who merits nothing… my dazzling Savior sees my service and promises to reward it. Every unrecognized act of love, every sacrifice, every gesture of humility is applauded by him.

Unbelieveable. And so empowering.

Thank you, Jesus, that you came to serve and redeem my sinful heart. Please enable me to serve my family, friends, and even the unlovely through your grace. Thank you for the privilege of being one of your household servants.

*Can you relate, friend? How do you fight the temptation to grumble as you serve your husband and family? Maybe you have a go-to verse? Let’s help each other out — share!! :-)

Blessings and grace to you as you continue serving,

Jennifer
(http://www.thebettermom.com/2014/05/30/)

--

We love Jesus by serving others. Seems to fit, doesn't it!

Peace,
Pastor Charlie

Monday, October 13, 2014

Senses

We are making final plans for our trip to Israel in a couple weeks (yes, the trip is still on). We are working on a packing list, coordinating connections and group information, and getting all the things done that need done before we leave. I am excited about the trip, and looking forward to gathering people in our group together for an experience of a lifetime. The blessing of coordinating a trip with a company that has done it for decades is that the details are spelled out ahead of time. The company tells us what we need to know, where we need to be, and what we need to bring. Our job is to show up, and hopefully do it on time!

So my responsibility for the trip as trip coordinator is to keep people on time and on task. I am the one to remind the group what time dinner is, what time to be on the bus, and where to put your bags. How will I know these things? Because I will be paying attention to our tour guide, and simply relaying the message to the group. I guess that is kind of like preaching, isn't it? The information I share from the pulpit is not my message, but God's message. I am just the one conveying the message that I have heard to others.

One of the things we will be doing on our trip as a group is to take time each day to check in with each other. Our group of 14 (made up of people from Epiphany, people from my previous church in Westerville, including my colleague there, family and friends) will be traveling with two other groups - about 20 others. I found it beneficial to take time at the end of each day to talk about what we had experienced - what were the highs and lows. I will also ask the question - "Where did you see the hand of God?" That is a question we can ask ourselves every day.

When traveling to some place so unique and different in many ways than where we come from, I want to encourage my group to consider what they experienced through their senses. What did you see? What did you hear? What did you touch? What did you taste? What did you smell?

I know there will be a lot to see, but that isn't the full experience. So it is with worship, yes? Worship is more than what we see and here - it is about touch and taste and smell. It is about experiencing God in all that we are. My role is to encourage us to be mindful of all of this.

I invite you today to be mindful of what you see, what you hear, what you taste, what you touch and what you smell. How is God present in those for you?

And don't stop there. Give thanks to God for the senses.

If you want to follow along on our trip to Israel, I will be posting daily on our trip. I am adding a couple entries a week on the blog in preparation for our trip, lifting up one site from each day we are traveling and giving some background information on it.

The link to that blog is: http://israelpilgrimage2014.blogspot.com/

Peace,
Pastor Charlie


Monday, October 6, 2014

Indentured Servant

In preparing last week's sermon, the terms "servant, slave and tenant" came up in the Gospel lesson. So I did a little research to find out more about these terms, and I came across some interesting information about my own family history, as well as my wife's family history. I did some research via Wikipedia to find out more about my ancestor, John Howland.

John Howland was a passenger on the Mayflower.  He signed the Mayflower Compact and helped found Plymouth Colony. He fell overboard but was rescued by the sailors. I am glad he got back on board, or I would not be here today! At about mid-voyage the ship entered equinoctial gales and under instructions of the ship's master, Governor Carver directed that no one without official authority would go on deck. The ship was in danger and Howland, carrying some emergency message from the governor to the ship's master, was washed overboard.

Howland signed the first written constitution for a representative government 'of the people, by the people, for the people'. After the passengers came ashore John Howland became assistant to the governor over the new independent state created under the compact. The act of Governor Carver in making a treaty with the great Indian Sachem Massosoit was an exercise of sovereign power and John Howland was the assistant.

Howland was an indentured servant and the executive assistant and personal secretary to Governor John Carver and accompanied the Separatists and other passengers when they left England to settle in Plymouth, Massachusetts. John Carver, the first governor of the Plymouth Colony, to whom he was indentured and his wife survived the winter of 1620-21. However, the following spring, on an unusually hot day in April, Governor Carver, according to William Bradford, came out of his cornfield feeling ill. He passed into a coma and "never spake more". His wife, Kathrine, died soon after her husband. The Carvers' only children died while they lived in Leiden and it is possible that Howland inherited their estate. After Carver's death, he became a freeman. In 1624 he was considered the head of what was once the Carver household when he was granted an acre for each member of the household.

My wife's family has a story of indentured servitude as well. George Hempleman was born in Germany in 1732. His father was Lord Hempleman, a rich man with a large estate. George fell in love with Margarette Duffy, a peasant girl, the daughter of one of the peasants who lived on one of the farms of Lord Hempleman. The two knew they would be forbidden to marry in Germany, so they decided to run away to America and begin a new life together. When they reached the ocean, they had no money for the trip to America. So they made arrangements with a company there to carry them to America by agreeing to allow the company to sell them as indentured servants when they arrived in America.

They landed in Richmond, Virginia in 1752. George was sold to a cotton planter in the Carolinas, and Margaret to a tobacco farmer near Richmond. The two did not know if they would ever see each other again, but they planned that they would. The agreement was that they would meet each other after their four years of servitude at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Richmond. This church later became famous for Patrick Henry’s speech delivered there – “Give me liberty or give me death.”
George’s time of servitude was difficult, and his health suffered because of it. Margarette was more fortunate, and she fared better over the years. The family historian, George Whitely writes of their reunion:

Neither had heard from each other until their time of servitude had expired, but true to their promise, each started for Richmond and the little old church. Margarette Duffy being only a short distance from Richmond reached there first, and went directly to the church, attending every service regularly, hoping soon to see her lover return. Finally one cold, crispy morning as she sat watching ever passer through the door, she saw a stout, young German man coming through the door, pause for a moment, look around, seemingly looking for someone that he did not see, then he sat down, and draw from his hands a pair of white mittens, and laid them across his knees; immediately Margarette Duffy recognized those mittens as the ones she had knit in Germany and gave to her lover, George Hempleman. Time had wrought such changes in these folks that it was no wonder neither knew the other, but at the close of the service, those two wanderers were reunited. ("History of the Hempleman Family")

The two were married in that very church soon after their reunion. A side-note – the family settled near the Little Miami River a few miles west of South Charlestown, Ohio in the 1800s.

So how did indentured servitude work? Indentured servitude was a labor system whereby young people paid for their passage to the New World by working for an employer for a certain number of years. It was widely employed in the 18th century in the British colonies in North America and elsewhere. It was especially used as a way for poor youth in Britain and the German states to get passage to the American colonies. They would work for a fixed number of years, then be free to work on their own. The employer purchased the indenture from the sea captain who brought the youths over; he did so because he needed labor. Some worked as farmers or helpers for farm wives, some were apprenticed to craftsmen. Both sides were legally obligated to meet the terms, which were enforced by local American courts. Runaways were sought out and returned. About half of the white immigrants to the American colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries were indentured.

While slavery and human trafficking carry the strong negative images and connotations, as they rightfully should, there is more to being a servant than just those images. God calls us to a life of servitude, to place our trust in God and God's care. And we are more than just servants of God, we are also called God's beloved, and through the waters of baptism, we receive the title of Child of God. And as God's children, inheritors of all of the blessings of God - love, forgiveness, peace and life.

God is good.
All the time!

Peace,
Pastor Charlie





Monday, September 29, 2014

One Hundred And Counting

This week marks my two year anniversary here at Epiphany Lutheran Church. Someone once told me as a pastor in your first year at a church, you can't do anything wrong and the second year you can't do anything right. It is in the third year that ministry moves forward. I don't know how true this adage may be, but I am ready to move forward in ministry in this wonderful congregation.

When I came two years ago, interim pastor Pete Rudowski shared with me that he had started a blog to keep the communication lines open with the congregation and community. I found his blog insightful and helpful in the call process to get a pulse of the congregation and his leadership. When I arrived, I was asked if I wanted to continue to offer a blog. "Sure. Why not!" I thought I would give it a try and see how it would go. Well, today I am writing blog #100.

When I started, I didn't know what I was doing, or what I was supposed to do. Two years later, I am still not sure what I am doing or what I am supposed to do, but I do it. My focus is to share where I have seen God active and alive in my life the past week. It has become a blessed discipline.

I appreciate the comments I receive from people who read the blog regularly. I visited one member who shared with me her appreciation for the blog because her hearing is poor and sermons are hard for her to hear, but the blog she can read. The blog has also been an opportunity for people to share their stories with me. I am so thankful for the many stories people have shared with me about how God is active in their lives.

Maybe we should all write blogs! Maybe taking the time each week, or even each day to answer the question, "Where did you see the hand of God today?" It is a simple exercise, really. And it is a great springboard for prayer. Where did you see God? Thank God for that! Let me give you an example or two. This weekend I saw the hand of God as Pastor Jay stood before the congregation and was officially installed as one of our pastors. The past nine months of discerning God's future for Epiphany Lutheran Church, the formulation of a call committee, the call process and the call to a candidate all came together this weekend. God's fingerprints are all over this, and it is exciting to see. Dear God, thank you for your guidance in bringing Pastor Jay Shailer to Epiphany. AMEN!

Yesterday afternoon, we blessed the pets of many church members and friends. Many dogs, a few cats, and a bird. I even received a thank you note from one of the dogs this morning (I think his owner may have helped). Thank you God for our pets!

This morning, on the way into work, I saw the most beautiful cloud shimmering in the early morning sun. The lingering darkness to the west caused its shadow to be a deep purple. On the eastern side of the cloud, the rising sun sent its rays to brighten the cloud in shimmering white. And in the middle of the cloud, rising to the heavens, a red band of light where the colors met. My first thought was "Can I get a picture of it?" My second thought was to just enjoy it, and give thanks to God for it. Thank you God for your beautiful creation.

100 and counting. Thanks for reading.

Peace,

Pastor Charlie





Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Going Back To Where It All Began

Last Sunday, my wife and children and I went back to the church where I began my pastoral ministry - St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Massillon, Ohio. The church has been celebrating its 150 years of ministry over the past year, inviting back pastors and interns who have served there. I was the 11th of 12 guest preachers on the docket for the year, serving as the warm-up act for the bishop of their synod who is preaching next month. So many memories and emotions flooded through me as I prepared for the trip there, and so many more during our time there on Sunday.

It was great to go back to the place I was called to serve so many years ago. I was called to St. Paul's right out of seminary in June of 1990 as their Associate Pastor, focusing much of my time and energy on youth ministry. What a blessing it was to see some of those kids that were in my confirmation classes and youth group at worship this past weekend. Many of them have kids of their own that they are now raising in the Christian faith.

I started off my sermon by telling them in preparation for coming back to preach, I looked through some of my old sermons that I preached some 20 years ago, and I told them I had only one thing I wanted to say to them - I am sorry! Some of those sermons were not very good! But grace abounds, and over time, I guess it isn't the bad ones that are remembered. Or maybe they were just being nice and not mentioning those.

The memories came flooding in. I remembered baptisms, funerals and weddings, Christmas programs and youth events. I remembered Easter egg hunts and making hardtack candy in the basement kitchen. I remembered youth group meetings and Sunday school classes, confirmation classes and camp retreats, youth gatherings and Bible studies. So many memories from just five and a half years of ministry there.

 What struck me so vividly this past weekend is the influence we have on people that can and will last for years to come. I realized first of all the influence those years had on my ministry. It was at this congregation that I was given an opportunity to serve and try new things, and preach some sermons that were less than stellar, but also some that people still remembered 20 years later (in a positive way!). It was at this congregation my wife and children were nurtured and grew. It was at this congregation that I came to a clearer understanding of what it means to be a pastor. This congregation has had a great influence on me.

I also came to see the influence our ministry can have on others. LET ME STATE HERE CLEARLY - it is not all about ME! As a pastor, I am called to be the vessel by which the Word of God is proclaimed and the Sacraments administered. This is most certainly true. My call is to point to Jesus Christ, and to proclaim Christ crucified and risen. That being said, I was deeply moved by the words of thanks and appreciation from the parents and kids I served. Through social media, especially Facebook, I have been able to keep in touch with some of the members of the church, especially the youth (former youth, I should say), and I am so thankful to see how many of these continue on in their faith journey.

For me, this weekend affirmed how vitally important it is to give our children the encouragement and tools for growing in the faith. At the baptismal font, we make promises to raise our children to grow in faith and in relationship with God and others. What a daunting responsibility. What a great opportunity. We are to be the ones who nurture and teach and encourage our children (God's children) in their walk with Jesus Christ.

St. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, who were arguing over which leader they should follow. This was causing divisions in the church. The people took up sides - some claimed to be followers of Paul and some followers of Apollos, who was a leader from Alexandria that was also a leader of the church in Paul's day. So Paul shared these words with the church:
...When one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.  The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:4-11)

We have been given good news, and good news MUST be shared. Don't think your words or actions are in vain. We plant. We water. God WILL provide the growth. Thank God for the opportunity to work in His vineyard!

Some pictures from our trip back to Massillon.




What a Pulpit - I love preaching up there!



Son Andrew, Wife Lisa, Son-In-Law Brad, Daughter Bethany and Me


Ben is one of the "kids" I confirmed some 20 years ago!



Peace,
Pastor Charlie







Monday, September 15, 2014

In The Band

We needed another guitar player for this Sunday's service. There is a guitar in the corner of my office that has been gathering dust for the past few months. I can play guitar - not with the skill and expertise of many of our Praise Band members, to say the least. But I can play some chords and keep the rhythm for the most part. I was planning to be at the services anyway - why not? 

So I dusted off the guitar and tuned it up. I printed out the music and started practicing. I realized it had been a while - the fingers didn't move as easily as they had years ago, and the calluses on my fingers had long since softened. But I kept at it, and on Sunday, I got to play in the band. I admit, I missed a few chords, got lost more than once, and the chords I played were not always right, but as I often say, "Grace Abounds!" No, it was not a stellar event, and no one rushed the stage or asked for my autograph afterwards (not like that was going to happen anyway!). But it was good to be a part of the band. Together we made music as an offering to God, and led the congregation in worship. 

We all have gifts we can offer - everyone of us. These are gifts from God. We give thanks to God for what God has done for us by using these gifts to share the message of God's great love and forgiveness with others. The American writer - Henry David Thoreau, spoke about the responsibility that comes with our having received talents and abilities from God. He retold today's parable to get at this point:

Once there was a king who had three sons, each with a special talent. The first had a talent for growing fruit. The second for raising sheep. And the third for playing the violin. Once, the king had to go overseas on important business. Before departing he called his three sons together and told them he was depending on them to keep the people contented in his absence. Now for a while things went well. But then came the winter, a bitter and cruel winter it was. There was an acute shortage of firewood. Thus the first son was faced with a very difficult decision. Should he allow the people to cut down some of his beloved fruit trees for firewood? When he saw the people shivering with cold, he finally allowed them to do so.

The second son was also faced with a difficult decision. Food became very scarce. Should he allow the people to kill some of his beloved sheep for food? When he saw the children crying for hunger, his heart went out to them and he allowed them to kill some of the sheep.. Thus the people had firewood for their fires, and food for their tables.

Nevertheless the harsh winter continued to oppress them. Their spirits began to sag, and there was no one to cheer them up. They turned to the fiddler, but he refused to play for them. In the end things got so bad that in desperation many of them emigrated.

Then one day the king arrived back home. He was terribly sad to find that many of his people had left his kingdom. He called in his three sons to give an account of what had gone wrong. The first said, "Father, I hope you won't be mad at me, but the winter was very cold and so I allowed the people to cut down some of the fruit trees for firewood." And the second son said, "Father, I hope you won't be mad with me because when food got scarce I allowed the people to kill some of my sheep." On hearing this, far from being angry, the father embraced his two sons, and told them that he was proud of them. Then the third son came forward carrying his fiddle with him.

"Father", he said, "I refused to play because you weren't here to enjoy the music." "Well then", said the king, "play me a tune now because my heart is full of sorrow." The son raised the violin and bow, but found that his fingers had gone stiff from lack of exercise. No matter how hard he tried, he could not get them to move. Then the father said, "You could have cheered up the people with your music, but you refused. If the kingdom is half-empty, the fault is yours. But now you can no longer play. That will be your punishment." (Henry David Thoreau)

I shared this story in a sermon at my previous church. I know at least one person was listening to me. She stopped on the way out of church and said to me, "I used to play the violin when I was in college, but I haven't played since. The story you shared in your sermon was like God speaking to me, that I need to get out my violin and play for church. Do you think I can play with the praise band?" Yes, yes you can! And she did. And she still does. And what a blessing that was and is to the congregation, and to God! Because she broke out the violin again, this inspired her daughter to take up the violin as well.

I have had other people hear the invitation to use their gifts for the church to give thanks and praise to God. The junior high girl who asked if she could dance in church. While it had never been done before in that church, we made the arrangements and it happened. And what a beautiful dance it was. Then there was the third grader in another church I served who had been taking guitar lessons, and when he heard me mention using your gifts for the church (another person listening to the sermon!), he asked his Mom and Dad if he could play in our praise band. We had to make arrangements for rehearsals with him so it wasn't past his bed time, but we made it work. He was better than most of us, and played a few solo parts in our songs. The local newspaper even ran an article on him!

I share these stories with you to encourage you to consider what you can give back to God in praise and thanksgiving. We do this in response to what God has first given us - ourselves, our time and our possessions - all signs of God's gracious love. What about you? Want to join the band, or the choir, or handbells, or the puppets or the drama team or the sound tech team or...? (I could go on and on.) We would love to have you be a part of the team As one theologian put it, find what brings you the greatest joy, and seek to use it to address the world's greatest need. I believe as a church, we are called to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the message the world needs to hear. May we work together, using our gifts to share the message.

Peace,

Pastor Charlie

Monday, September 8, 2014

Tears

I was moved to tears twice this past week. I am not one who cries often, but there are things that move me to tears, and it happens when I least expect it and sometimes it catches me off-guard. While there was plenty of reason for tears watching football games on Saturday, that was not the cause of my unexpected eye moisture. There were other events, including Pastor Jay Shailer's ordination (a wonderful, moving service) and time with family and friends, and a great kick-off to our youth events for the year, but these didn't move me to tears. No. Instead it was a song and a child.

Last Wednesday, my wife and I traveled down to Cincinnati with friends to see The Piano Guys in concert. I have mentioned this group in previous blogs. The group consists of a piano player and a cellist who play both classic and contemporary music, often blending the two together with precision and beauty. As a former cellist (I played from 4th grade through high school, and a little in college) I have always loved cello music. I have been a fan of cellists from Pablo Casals and Yo Yo Ma to the cellist in the 70's band Electric Light Orchestra. It was a couple years ago someone sent me a video of Piano Guys and I was hooked.

The concert was just the two guys on stage with a grand piano and three cellos which were used at different times for differing sounds. The cellist also had foot pedals that provided different sounds from his instruments, and a foot drum to boot. The different cellos were a traditional cello, a carbon cello, and an electric cello that looked like a piece of black metal bent to look like the outside border of a cello. The group has made dozens of videos, and incorporated several of them into the show as well.

I had a flashback during the concert. I remembered learning to play the cello, with pieces of tape on the neck of the cello to teach me where my fingers were supposed to be. That was the first step. Later as I advanced to more difficult music, it was time to learn different positions along the fingerboard to play higher notes and different sounds. This is a talent I never felt I mastered. I would try to get close, then try to listen to see if I needed to adjust my fingering to make the note sound better. A good vibrato would help as well - wiggle around the note til you find it!

What amazed me more than anything else was the precision and clarity of the music, especially from the cellist. His ability to play that instrument, moving along the fingerboard with ease and confidence gave me the pleasure of hearing beautiful sounds I have never heard before. And when they played the song "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables in honor of all who serve in the military and their families, the tears came. Here is a video of the Piano Guys. I can assure you, the beauty of the song on this video was just as lovely in person as it is here.



There are many things that show us the handiwork of God. Music is one of them, is it not? Thank you God for music!

The second occasion for the tears to flow was at the baptismal font to celebrate and welcome Ella Christine into the Body of Christ - the family of God. I was doing fine until I took Ella into my arms to share God's peace with her, and introduce her to the congregation. In my arms I was holding a blessing of God, whose life was given as a gift from God. And at the font, the promises of God were given to her. What a blessing it is to be the one who shares this message and is the one who administers the sacrament.

There are many things that show us the handiwork of God. The beauty and joy of new life is one of them, is it not? Thank you God for life.

I learned from my Dad that tears are not something of which we should be ashamed. It is a part of who God made us to be. Than you God for tears.

Peace,

Pastor Charlie