The Grace to Ask
We began the Epiphany season with a question, followed by another question, followed by a cryptic answer: “What are you looking for?” (Jesus); “Where are you staying?” (Two would-be disciples); “Come and see” (Jesus). Questions are an important, even an essential part of the journey of faith. Questions are ultimately relationships. Within those relationships, especially ones based in safety and love, we can also find space to grow in understanding as we ask questions. As an example, think of the toddler who discovers her world in such a large part through the myriad of “Whys” she is allowed to ask. Each query and each patient answer (even if it is for the umpteenth time) gives her safe space to wonder, to ponder, to understand a little bit more.
The Bible is full of questions. Throughout the whole of Scripture, there is an explicit understanding that our relationship with God will involve questions, a lot of them. The Psalms are filled of many, “Why?” questions, mostly directed to God. There are plus or minus 980 questions in the Greek New Testament alone, mostly in the gospels where people meet and talk with Jesus. As I mentioned in a recent sermon, the gospel of John in particular seems to revel in the prospect of questions. The great scholar, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel declared, “We are closer to God when we are asking questions than when we think we have the answers.”
The season of Lent invites us to abide with questions. This year the Lectionary provides us with many questions, some from God, some from the Devil, and some from Jesus or the people with whom he interacts. Lots and lots of questions this Lent – questions that invite us, like that ever curious toddler to explore, ponder, and experience our faith in new ways.
We will center our Lenten worship around the theme of, “Ask.” Both on Sunday and Wednesday worship, we will center on a theme of questions to ask:
Ash Wednesday Unspoken Questions
1st Week in Lent Questions that Divide, Questions that Bond
2nd Week in Lent Simple Questions
3rd Week in Lent Questions for the Curious
4th Week in Lent Questions That Change You
5th Sunday in Lent Limit Questions
We invite you to, “Come and See” and explore together the freedom we have in Jesus to question. It’s all part of the journey we have together in Jesus’ grace.
Last night (December 21) we hosted the annual Fiesta de Navidad, a Christmas celebration for all the participants for Lunch for the Soul, which includes the day workers, their families, and the members of
each of the four congregations that work together in this ministry. The worship was lively. Led by Jeremy and Jesse Colón from Riverside Presbyterian, we sang many familiar Christmas songs (verses alternately sung in English and Spanish) and heard a clear proclamation of the Christmas message given by Pastor Edwin Andrade from Riverside.
The dinner, the work of many hands, was a marvelous gathering of food and fellowship, with our Fellowship Hall filled with delicious smells and buzzing with conversation. Enjoying fantastic tamales, I
looked around the room. Not long before, most of us were strangers to one another, many from very
different backgrounds and social situations, but now we were eating and talking, enjoying the food
and the company together. Jesus was fond of using a large meal to explain the Kingdom of God, emphasizing the mixture of all sorts of people at the table. After last night, I can understand that fondness a little bit more.
A little over a year ago, we hadn’t heard about the ministry of Lunch for the Soul. A little over a year ago, a phone call invited us to become a partner and so, for a little more than a year we have been working with three other congregations hosting weekly lunches for the day workers in our community. For a little more than a year now, the Spirit has blessed us as we share God’s love with our siblings, and they share it back to us.
The Holy Spirit has a wonderful way of calling us to new, exciting things. As we begin a new calendar year, I pray that we keep our hearts and minds open to hear new calls to ever more new and wonderful ways to be part of the Kingdom of God in our community and our world. We never know where it will lead us in Jesus’ name.
Faith is trust in a promise,
The promise is a person,
And the person is Jesus Christ.
My mentor in seminary, Rev. Dr. Duane Priebe, taught us those lines as an easy way to define what faith is. The lines build from the more abstract concept of faith to the specific, embodied relationship in
Jesus Christ, which is important to remember as people of faith. What we believe in, and where we find our center, is much more than a set of theological dogma or denominational rituals. It is always and ever the person and the work of Jesus the Christ for us. Those last two words are especially important. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was God’s way to reach, embrace, and reconcile each one of us and all of us together. More than a philosophy, more than a set of ideals, more than a way of good thoughts and deeds, our Christian faith is the trust we place in the relationship Jesus has with us.
Advent is upon us, and Christmas will soon be here. The season of Advent is a season of hope and preparation to mark and celebrate God’s entrance into our existence as a human being – the person Jesus. It is easy to lose sight of all this in the explosion of lights, music, and scheduling that surrounds us and envelops us this time of year, so this is my annual plea for us to take some time to stop, breathe in, and remember the person who came and continues to fill us in Jesus.
Enjoy the season of hope and celebration,
In the fall, it has become a sort of tradition in congregations to begin talking about stewardship. That conversation usually focuses on money, budgets, and giving. While that is certainly a reality of congregational life and a big part of our stewardship as Christians, it does leave out the fact that for us as a follower of Jesus, the concept of stewardship embraces a lot more than just one season of the year and a lot more than our finances. Someone has said, “Stewardship is everything we do after we say, “I
believe.” In other words, when we talk about Stewardship, we are not only talking about money and finances, but the fullness of our discipleship, faith, and ministry. How we use these gifts is our “spiritual form of worship.” (Romans 12:1)
• As we take care of our bodies, our schedule, our talents and abilities – we are being stewards of the gifts of God.
• As we work or study in our given vocations in life – we are being ministers of God, through the healthy use of our industry, our relationships, and our giving back to our community.
• As we care for the earth, for creation, and for all that God has made – we are helping to fulfill God’s original mandate to Adam and Eve to care for the things God has made; both to. honor the Creator that made them, and so that future generations may be blessed by their benefits.
As we share a regular, proportional gift of the financial resources we have – we are giving in thanksgiving for the great and gracious love of God in our lives, we are supporting the ministry of not only our congregation, and our community but the work and ministry among people we may never know. As Christians, we acknowledge in faith that everything belongs to God the Creator. We have been entrusted with taking care and using wisely those gifts we have been given. In all we do, in all we share, in all we give back, we are making a faith statement: “Trusting in God’s abundant mercy and supply, we travel in faith and courage, sharing and loving as has first been given to us, so that all may be blessed in Jesus’ name.”
As a people of faith at this congregation, we do prepare a budget that enables our mission and ministry in Jesus’ name here at Holy Cross. That budget is also a faith statement – it is our collective vision of where we think God is leading us forward in the year to come. It is a faith statement that also needs a collective funding, with all of us contributing in an amount that we feel God is leading us to share. How is the best way in which to support the mission of Holy Cross with our finances? I suggest the following:
• Make it prayerful. This is part of acting your faith in God and your support of God’s work. Take time to pray about how much you want to give.
• Make it proportional. One of the best ways to give to the congregation is to make a personal commitment to give a certain percentage of your income for the year. The Bible holds up a tithe or 10% as a model, but many of us may feel that we are not yet able to give that amount. So, set your own percentage, something that fits with your financial reality, and then faithfully commit to giving that throughout the year. If this is a new practice for you, you may want to start with a much lower percentage – 3, 4, or 5% and each succeeding year, see if you can increase that bit by bit.
• Make it periodic. Find a regular pattern for your giving such as: weekly, monthly or quarterly. This helps to establish a faithful practice of giving in faith.
Our faith in Jesus and our membership in our congregation are certainly more than money and budgets. But the reality is that our money works to make the church go and our giving is a necessary faith practice that reminds us that, as the Psalmist says, “The earth is the LORD’s and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” (Psalm 24:1)
It is a privilege to walk and work alongside you in Jesus’ name.
As the last of the fireworks echoed in the summer evening, the gathered crowd began to pack up lawn chairs, blankets, and backpacks to return to their cars and head home. Thus completed a tremendously successful Fourth of July Celebration in our Holy Cross parking lot and lawns. This year, bolstered by Jeremy’s wonderful concert, the tasty fare from a local food truck, and a variety of our own home-made ice cream, we had one of the best gatherings in many years, with many of our members – and many more of our neighbors – enjoying the beautiful night together.
Coming out of the COVID shutdown, there is much that is exciting at Holy Cross right now. In June, we welcomed seven new members into our Holy Cross family. Most of these new members had watched our worship services via Facebook live before they came to visit in person, which gives us some insights
as to how we might use technologies that we acquired during COVID to enhance our ministry together.
In partnership with three other congregations, we continue to reach out to the economically vulnerable in our community through the weekly ministry of Lunch for the Soul. During our presence at last month’s Reston Pridefest, we heard from many people who were thankful for the churches that were represented there, sanctuaries of safety and affirmation for our LGBTQ+ neighbors.
As your pastor, I want to thank you for your faithful support that continues to make this all happen. Your gifts of time and service and your ongoing financial contributions are the ways we express the Kingdom of God in our community and in our congregation. These gifts are part of the ministry you do that is expressed in the Greek word, liturgia (work of the people), which is the people of God working together to spread Jesus’ love and welcome in our world.
As we continue into the summer months, please remember your financial giving to the work at Holy Cross. Please continue to support and enable the exciting things that are going on here. As we work together in Jesus’ name, we continue to live out his call to “make disciples” and to proclaim the good news to those we meet.
The Council and I have just finished reading and discussing the book, Canoeing the Mountains by Tod Bolsinger. The book is an invitation to rethink and reshape how we work as congregations, recognizing that the world and the culture have changed drastically over the past generation or so. Many of the ways we assumed things worked (and, consequently how we trained pastors and church leaders to lead) have become increasingly less effective. In the past, we operated around the accepted idea called “Christendom,” a concept that recognized that Christianity was either a major or the prime factor in determining how the greater culture operated. In reality, that has not been the case for a long time.
So, what is next?
Bolsinger’s book takes on the extended metaphor of the Corps of Discovery, led by Lewis and Clark. Sent out by President Jefferson to explore the recent Louisiana Purchase and to travel to the Pacific Ocean, the Corps set out confident in the belief that they would be able to travel by water the entire way. No one told them about the Rocky Mountains, because no white people in the East had ever heard of them. The harsh reality became abundantly clear as the leaders stood at the crest of the Continental Divide in Lemhi Pass, Montana. Instead of the anticipated short portage to a new westward heading river, they saw miles and miles of mountains ahead. Their old information was not going to work to get them to the Pacific. They had two choices: go home or go forward. As we all know, they chose to keep moving and thus, helped to change the history of the United States. They also gave us a leadership paradigm for working together in unexpected situations, especially where what used to work isn’t going to make it, but nobody really knows exactly what will. Bolsinger writes that the group didn’t truly become the Corps of Discovery until they moved forward from Lemhi Pass.
In the past two years, we at Holy Cross have experienced many of the same adaptive changes that helped Lewis and Clark move forward. We’ve traveled together and learned new ways that none of us had ever done, and we thrived through it all, perhaps because of it all. While the Pandemic is not over fully, we are beginning to emerge from our quarantines and virtual-only worship experiences a changed people. Who will come back? What do we do next? What’s our path?
Like Lewis and Clark, we move forward, confident that the core mission of the church remains the same as it has always been: to bear witness to Jesus Christ and his saving work for all; to gather and nurture people in a relationship with Jesus; and to be a welcoming, safe place for all people in Jesus’ name. The Pandemic gave all churches an opportunity to pause and re-evaluate how they have been doing things, and to dream about what the future might look like. What has become abundantly clear even before the Pandemic, is that congregations need to adapt to the new realities of how our world is today. The past was wonderful, perhaps, but it is not where we are called. Jesus calls us into the future, into the unknown, and where He will be.
It’s time to be creative, time to try different things, even if they don’t work. This will take time. It will take courage. It will take faith. And it will take grace. In my heart, I believe that the best days for Holy Cross lie ahead of us. We will be people of faith, people of hope, and people of discovery – moving forward with Jesus as our guide and grace as we seek the best way to live out our calling as the people of God in his name. How we do this, and where we go next is where the Council and I will begin to spend much or creative energy.
If you have ideas and suggestions, perhaps things that you have seen in other places, please let me or other leaders know. We are all in this journey together!
It begins with ashes. Small flakes of dust that mark a cross, reminding us of our mortality, of our connectedness, and of our found-ness. Dusty flakes fall from forehead to face, recalling the Spirit’s breath, the mighty wind/ruach (Heb. ַוּח֣ רְו (that breathed life into us and all that lives. Grounded thus to Creation and Creator, we hear:
“Remember this, dear child, it is the dust from which you are made. It is a sign of my handiwork and my call and claim for you: You are my beloved, and you are mine.”
So fortified, we begin our yearly journey of rediscovery:
• remembering who we are, and to whom we belong;
• realigning our life’s direction (the essence of what “repentance/metanoia,” (Grk. μετάνοια) is all about;
• renewing our relationships – with God, our neighbors, the Creation, and ourselves.
We have gathered (in-person and by screen). We have heard. We have pondered. We have prayed for ourselves and a world when we both are:
• too disconnected,
• too ungrounded,
• too off the path.
And so, the One, the One who chose to come and to walk with us, talk with us, and share with us the humanity that we all share. That One made it happen, sharing a brokenness with us and yet not defeated; sharing pain with us, and yet not overcome; sharing death with us – even death on a cross – and yet not destroyed. It is that One, who like a waiting, watching parent is always yearning to:
• embrace and enfold us,
• empower and extoll us,
• restore and renew us
to life again, and again, and again until that day when all there will
be is life, and light, and love. Forever and ever, Amen.
It is that One, that precious One who has fully connected us back to where and to whom we fully belong. In this faith we continue in our journey – until that day when he will fold all things fully into the New Creation – as creatures of promise, ambassadors of love, and heirs of the Kingdom (Kin-dom) of God.
From ashes to empty tomb, our journey is embraced by love.
The peace of Christ be with you all,
As I write, it is late February, and I am facing my usual post-deadline, deadline to complete my portion of The Quest so Teresa can get it to print next week. This week, however, feels different. As I ponder
what to write, the world around us seems even more chaotic as Russian forces invade Ukraine and global peace seems to be realistically at risk.
As I ponder, I am sitting at my sister’s home in Wisconsin looking out the window where the bright sun, brisk air, and snow-covered woods create a peaceful, beautiful landscape. Somewhere nearby, the resident pileated woodpecker is ardently pounding away on one of the hardwood trees and, as dusk approaches, the deer will soon come out seeking something eat. It is a tranquil scene, and it would
be tempting to retreat into the beauty of what I happen to see out my window and forget what our Ukrainian siblings are currently witnessing out of theirs.
You’ve probably heard me describe the liturgical season of Lent as a journey, and so it is on many levels. Most obviously, it is the observance of Jesus’ journey to the Cross. But it is also our journey of repentance, reflection, and remembrance as Jesus calls his followers to take up the cruciform life in his name, continually reevaluating and renewing our relationships with God, Creation, our neighbor, and ourselves. There is a teaching or catechetical layer. In the early years of the Church, Lent served as the journey of preparation for those taking on the Sacrament of Baptism, which was performed on Holy Saturday during the Easter Vigil. Finally, there is also a broader journey at work as well, as the life, death,
and resurrection of Jesus serves as God’s gracious embrace upon the whole of humanity’s journey on earth. Jesus identifies with all of who we are, all of what encounter, and all of what it means to be
The layers of the Lenten journey are deeply grounded in the human experience. It is not a journey that promises a departure from the realities of the world, but one that is precisely the opposite: a journey in and within a world that is sometimes fraught with peril.
The Lenten journey is Jesus’ call for us not to escape the world but to, surrounded by grace and held fast in faith, walk through the path with our heads held high knowing that the One who calls us is
greater than the circumstances that surround us.
This year, our common Lenten journey will have as its focus The Apostles’ Creed. Martin Luther set up his Small Catechism with a specific order in mind, flowing from the demands of the Law into the Promise of Grace. After the harsh requirements of the Ten Commandments in the first section, in the second the community responds not with despair but with a statement of belief (credo) in a just and gracious God expressed in The Creed. It is a confession and proclamation about a God who has created all things, who is compassionate and loving in making a saving way for us, and who remains connected to us in our daily life. It is a statement of faith about a God who understands the complexities and brokenness of our journey and promises to remain faithful with us along the way.
The violence in Ukraine is just beginning as I write these words and it may be something different by the time you read them. We are and will continue to be praying for the people of Ukraine, for the leaders of the worlds, and ultimately for peace. We will continue to profess a faith that calls us into the world and not out of it, to be the healers and the peace makers, the ones who feed and clothe, the ones who strive to forgive as we have been forgiven.
Our Lenten journey is a microcosm of our journey of faith throughout our lives. We are reminded of God’s connection to us and all Creation, we are reminded of God’s grace for all people in Jesus, and we are reminded and sustained by the Spirit’s breath and presence in our lives along the way.
With you in the Journey,
WHY I ALMOST NEVER SAY THE CREED IN WORSHIP
(AND WHY IT’S THE MOST SACRED POINT IN THE SERVICE FOR ME)
I don’t really know when it started, but I almost never say the Creed during worship. The amazing part is that this moment has now become for me one of the most sacred moments in worship. The original reason I stopped was to be certain, more prosaic than intentional: the pause gave me a break. The Liturgy of the Word takes up the first half of worship – Confession and Absolution up to the Sermon – after which I am often a bit spent, both physically and emotionally. Thankfully, just at that point the assisting minister takes over, leading the congregation in the Confession and of the Creed and the Intercession of the Prayers. So, it became a convenient time to rest, giving me a bit of time to catch my breath and prepare for the next great apex of the worship, the liturgy of the Table.
Somewhere, somehow, however, it began to evolve for me. I began to listen. Really listen. Being quiet allowed me to hear more deeply what was happening around me and what I heard was the voices of the congregation. Voices, so many of which I could distinguish and recognize. Voices of people with whom I had walked alongside in both darkness and in light, in conflict and in reconciliation. Voices. The voices of this particular people in this particular place, but also more than that – they are and are the voices of the whole Body of Christ. In that moment, those voices became something more. They became for me an embodiment of grace for me. Pastors are trained to give. We are called to be present within a community of faith as, in The Apostle’s words, “ambassadors for Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:20) We give care, we lead worship, we are the “theologians-in-residence,” we build relationships within our faith community and the community at large. We are not trained very well, however, how to receive. For example, we are typically busy with leading worship, and so we often find it difficult for us to actually worship ourselves. We give sermons, but rarely hear them. Unless we are blessed with a multi-preacher staff, or attend the occasional big church event, we don’t often hear the gospel for us, especially from the physical presence of another Christian, something Dietrich Bonhoeffer called, “a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” (Life Together, pg. 29) It is an ongoing and essential vocational challenge, therefore, to find those ways in which you as pastor can also be gifted and fed.
That is what the listening to the Creed has become for me. As the congregation recites the Creed, I bathe in the proclamation of a faith that washes over me. It is a faith that is larger me, but one that now embraces me intimately in the voices of those I know, the ones that know me, and the echoes of the “great cloud of witnesses” of unknown siblings – past, present, and future — in the Body of Christ. We together – with all our foibles and idiosyncrasies, vanities, and humilities – are the presence of Jesus for and with one another. The congregation assures me of that each time I hear the Creed spoken.
It is an affirmation that the One who holds us fast is greater than the sum of all the problems we face, problems that we aren’t meant to face alone, but within just such a community of grace. It reminds me too that once in a while it is important, not, essential to stop and listen to God’s voice spoken by those you know, and who know you, all of us bound together by the love in Jesus that knows us and keeps us in that grace.
Thank you for being the living voices of God for me.
An Advent Prayer
Come, O Come, Emmanuel and hear my prayer.
The inundation of life roars about me,
clamoring to cut off light
and love from
Tempests blast within and without,
an unrelenting affliction of noise
that strikes deep opening wounds,
obstructing the light
stealing to steal my sight of you.
Come, O Come, you Emmanuel
come and be among us in this place,
in anxious chaos,
in noxious division,
and all that seeks to make waste my soul.
Come, O Come, and bring your light!
Warm a heart made cold by bewilderment,
illumine a mind opaque with grief.
Take on my flesh
with your saving embrace
Come, O Come, dear Emmanuel, come and bring your joy!
Restore in me, I pray,
the joy of a presence unvacated,
a promise true and steadfast,
and an embrace never slackened,
but held dear in love.
Spark within renewed light
to flame anew, transforming dark caverns into cathedrals of praise to you.
Come, O Come, holy Emmanuel, and help me rest in your gift of grace.
A Season of Thanksgiving
In November, we traditionally spend time being intentionally thankful, a pause and a celebration to remind us of the blessings we receive every day. While I enjoy Thanksgiving, I also know it helps me to have such reminders, both big and small, throughout the year. It may be the spontaneous smile of a baby at the grocery store, the fall sky as it is framed by the brilliant displays of trees in their autumnal glory, or a long and delightful phone conversation with a family member who is far away.
It is all too easy to walk through life looking down and looking inside, focusing on the problems I have rattling around in my mind or my heart, nursing the regrets or resentments I carry, or dwelling on all that I don’t have. We all get to those places. During these times, perhaps especially during these times, I find the grace of God comes to wake me up in wild and unexpected ways — sometimes subtle, sometimes profound – calling me to look up and look past myself to the multitude of gifts with which I have been so richly blessed.
When describing why it is important to be regular in our worship, Martin Luther focused not on our obligation or duty to God (guilt), but on the gifts that await the believer there (blessing). We forget, Luther teaches, that God loves and saves us unconditionally. We hear it one Sunday and then go out into a world that is full of the din and rattle of messages and experiences that work to tell us that isn’t so, that we are not beloved and that we are only as good as what we produce. Each Sabbath, we are invited to hear again the eternal love story God has with us and to rejoice.
In closing, allow me to tell you how thankful I am to be you pastor and to be so embraced within this community. Your unexpected outpouring of cards and gifts for last month’s “Pastor Appreciation Sunday” was one of those holy God- moments that serve to remind me how truly blessed I am. Thank you.
I pray that each of us has a wonderful Thanksgiving and that the joy of that time spreads to the rest of the year as we journey together thankfully in Jesus’ name.
A Community of Intentional Welcome
Not too long ago, I happened to attend worship at another ELCA congregation. After worship, as we began to empty out of the sanctuary, I noticed some of the members of the congregation speaking to two other people. They were visitors that day and appeared to me to be a mother and her teen-aged daughter. While I wasn’t able to catch all of their conversation, I was able to hear this statement from the mother: “When we saw the rainbow flag, we said, ‘This looks like a place that would be safe for us.’”
It was June, Pride month, and the congregation had hung a homemade Pride flag on their fence nearest the street in support of their LGBTQ neighbors. But for these two people, that was signal enough that this would be a congregation where they would be safe that day.
Since then, I have wondered a lot about the back story of those two visitors and what brought them to that particular congregation on that Sunday, but I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter their situation, they were two of my siblings in Christ looking for refuge, grace, and sanctuary in the face of an overall religious context that is often just the opposite. On that day, because of that congregation’s intentional sign of welcome, they found a safe
place where they knew they were welcomed and embraced.
This example helps to illustrates why I feel that we at Holy Cross should move forward with an intentional welcome to our LGBTQ siblings:
To be intentionally welcoming and affirming, and to be sensitive to the fear and caution many LGBTQ people and their families have regarding entering a church building.
As a congregation, we have been examining a proposed welcome statement, one that intentionally welcomes all people, particularly those who have all too often found that congregations’ “all are welcome” does not, in fact, include them. Adopting such a welcome statement would also allow us to apply to be a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) congregation, something that I think we should pursue. “Reconciling in Christ” is a designation that indicates that a congregation is intentionally welcoming and affirming to people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, or Queer (LGBTQ) as well as being committed to engaging in education and dialogue that furthers racial understanding.
Being an RIC congregation allows them to be put on a searchable database, so that people seeking a church can see which Lutheran congregations in their area have gone through the process of being designated “Reconciling in Christ.” It helps many to know that this is a safe place for them. It also allows LGBTQ allies to find congregations that share their intentional values of welcome and safety.
Furthermore, it says to us as a congregation and to our local community, as a whole, that we are a faith community that is seeking to end racial discrimination.
There is a justice element to this move, in that it speaks intentionally to ourselves, and to our wider community that we believe Jesus’ love embraces and affirms all people, that all forms of discrimination are not part of who we are at HCLC, and that we are ready to act on that. There is also a strong evangelistic element aspect, proclaiming to ourselves and our neighbors (many of whom have given up on church and organized religion) that we are a community of faith that values all people and that we are serious about being intentional in that welcome. Sociologists and other people who study contemporary culture inform us that especially among people born after 1981, church is often seen as overly restrictive, judgmental, homophobic, and indifferent to creation.
They are often turned off from church before they even come in. So, they don’t. They’ve moved on.
Being a church that is designated Reconciling in Christ signals that we are different from the congregations that many people have experienced. It is a sign that they are safe. Like the mother and daughter I saw in June, many people would love to connect with a congregation that shares their values and openly affirms all people in love.
As we move to adopt the welcome statement at our annual meeting in November, I would urge us to vote to move forward in being officially designated a Reconciling in Christ congregation.
As always, it is my honor to serve with and among you.
Dear Friends in Jesus,
A recent article I read used a term that describes what many of us may feel right now: “emotional whiplash.” Not that long ago we were, individually and collectively, seeing a light at the end of a long COVID tunnel, only to have our hopes dashed as the variants run rampant. According to the article, health care providers are noticing huge upticks in reports of depression and anxiety, particularly among the vaccinated whose hopes for going back to normal have
been crushed by the new resurgences. As I wrote last month, it is more than discouraging. Last May, I assumed that at our August meeting, the Council would vote on whether we felt safe to take masks off in worship. Instead, we voted on an updated policy on mask wearing.
As we continue to move forward, I would list three suggestions that may be helpful for our overall health, both as individuals and as a congregation.
First, it is okay to recognize and admit our frustrations, grief, and anxiety. These are not indicators of weakness or lack of faith. They are natural, God-given human responses to a situation that is chaotic and over which we perceive that we have little control. After 17 months of altering every aspect of our lives only to see it all start over again, we are tired, and we are afraid. Recognizing that we are certainly not “back to normal” is a starting point in giving ourselves and one another a little latitude when our minds and hearts feel overwhelmed at times.
Second, it is important to be aware of how this general anxiety marks us and our decision making. As the article states, we have been hypervigilant for some time – in prime “fight or flight” mode. That is natural. Where it begins to get unhealthy is when our anxiety feeds into our perception and decision making, pushing them farther from what is real. In other words, we may be prone to overreact. We also may find ourselves less willing or able to listen to someone else’s point of view, straining relationships, and hampering healthy planning processes.
Third, maintaining a sense of deep hope helps protect us from despair and degeneration. Drawing on his own experience in the Nazi concentration camps, the great neurologist and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, made the concept of hope a key component of his teaching, writing, “Those who have a ‘why’ for living can bear with almost any ‘how.’” We are Resurrection people, a people claimed, called, and being continually reformed in the promise of a Jesus who has overcome the power that seek to separate us from God’s love and care. Jesus is our center. Jesus is our hope. Especially as a Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl (1946) community of faith, we will need to seek ever more diligently to center that hope in our lives to maintain our focus in the days and weeks ahead. We go forward in hope. We go forward in mission.
We go forward in love.
In Work with You,
Dear Friends in Jesus,
The past two months have been an exciting time as we have regathered for in-person worship. Thanks to all those who have worked to make that transition as easy as possible. From the Altar Guild returning to assist with the preparation for worship, to Sam and Bob who have worked on improving and moving our technical equipment to more of a permanent location (Sam, in particular has spent many, many hours at the church doing the installation of new wiring and other upgrades), to the others that find volunteers and serve to help make worship possible. It has felt like we were entering a period of normalcy once again.
The news regarding the recent rise in cases of the Delta Variant of the COVID 19 Virus, however, is now putting yet another uncertainty into our plans just as we begin to prepare to resume our typical programmatic schedule. It would be tempting to say that everything will be fine as we move forward, but it’s important to maintain policies that protect as much of our congregation as possible. And so, like so much of the past year or so, we will need to await what comes next and be attentive to how we faithfully and safely respond.
All this is beyond frustrating, to be certain, and none of us have experience or training in facing a pandemic that wants to creep back into our lives. What we can do is be as patient as we can, forgiving with one another as we have been forgiven, flexible as we are able, and trusting as grace gives us the ability in the guidance of the Holy Spirit and good reason.
We are a resilient people. The past months have shown that we are strong, capable, and generous. Whatever the next few months bring to us, we will, with Christ as our center, journey forth on paths yet untrodden, knowing that we are not alone and that our hope remains in the love that God has given to us all in Jesus.
In Service with You,
Dear Friends in Jesus,
Thank you to all who welcomed us back from our time in Alaska. Shelly and I enjoyed our time visiting friends and family and experiencing the Beauties of Creation in both familiar and new locations. Shelly is now here with me in Virginia and will be able to stay until the end of July before she heads back to begin her last year of working for the Anchorage School District. Next May, we will begin the process of moving her down here on a more permanent basis! Until then, thank you again for the many people who offer prayers and support during this time of necessary separation. It means so much to us both!
Dear Friends in Jesus,
In the calendar of the church, we are transitioning from the season of Easter into the season after Pentecost (sometimes called, “Ordinary Time”). Generally speaking, the first half of the liturgical year (Advent-Easter) focuses on the life of Jesus, while the second half (after Pentecost) emphasizes the life of the disciples of Jesus, or us as the church of Christ. While the first half of the year covers all the big events and holidays, such as the birth of Jesus at Christmas, the visit of the Magi at Epiphany and the events of Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost, the rest of the year is markedly devoid of such big events. As such, it reflects the longer and more “every day” pace of the life of the believer and the community of faith. It also serves as a call to be the active witnesses of Jesus’ work, as we live it out in our daily lives.
As we begin the journey into this long, green season of the church year, a couple of topics will be before us soon and both center around the idea of hospitality. First, we will be coming to a decision as to when it is safe and prudent to return to full worship including singing) in the Sanctuary. The sudden declaration by the CDC recently has taken many groups and agencies off guard a bit, and we want to be certain that we are doing what’s best for all concerned. While many of our members are now fully vaccinated, many more (especially our youngest) are not. Jeremey and I have asked the Council to take the lead on determining a policy regarding returning. We asked for the help of some of our members with medical expertise and I want to thank Jo Roe, Carol Shaffer, and Lori and Wayne Newcomb for the help in preparing their report to the Council presenting some of the scientific and medical considerations. We will also need to weigh not only the scientific parameters (can we open?) but also the theological and ethical questions – should we open, and if so, to whom? That is the especially important aspect of hospitality on Jesus’ name. Please stay patient as we move forward. The Council is planning to vote on a process at their June meeting.
A second topic on which I would like us to begin discussion is that of becoming a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) congregation. A Reconciling in Christ congregation is one that is committed to full hospitality: welcoming all people regardless of race, gender, marriage status, sexual orientation, or gender expression. It is a congregation that believes all people are God’s children, and all God’s children are welcome in God’s house. To become an RIC, a congregation adopts a welcome statement that explicitly welcomes all people and is willing to learn about and advocate for siblings that are in groups or identities that the society at large often ostracizes. Why become a RIC congregation? For many people in the groups I have described, church has not been a pleasant experience. Some experienced verbal abuse or condemnation from the pulpit. Some were even physically assaulted to “make them right.” Still others have been kicked out and excommunicated from the churches in which they grew up. Becoming a RIC congregation is an indicator that we are truly a safe place, a sanctuary from the hate. All churches say that they are welcoming, but to a person that has suffered abuse from a church that may not be enough to trust. A RIC designation says, we’ve had the talks and done the work – you are safe among us.
I included the draft of a welcome statement that was adopted by the Council in May as a proposal for adoption by the congregation. When I return in July, I would like to begin a process of conversations around this welcome statement. Until then, let us prayerfully consider together the words and the import of this statement.
A Statement of Welcome
Holy Cross Lutheran Church joyfully affirms and celebrates that that every person is a beloved child of God. We welcome all who are seeking God’s boundless love and sustaining grace into full community with us at Holy Cross. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we commit ourselves to breaking down barriers and systems that divide God’s children and to building a community where all are recognized as part of Christ’s new creation. In that light:
We welcome you, and you are safe with us…
Whatever your race, ethnicity, or heritage.
Whatever your relationship status.
We welcome you, and you are safe with us…
Whatever your sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or gender expression.
Whatever your socio-economic status.
We welcome you, and you are safe with us…
Whatever your age and life circumstance.
Whatever your physical and mental ability.
You are a beloved child of God, you are valued, and you are welcome here.
What a wonderful Easter worship we were blessed to have! The weather held and we were able to have 89 people gather in person (with about another 30 attending via Facebook Live). After over a year of not being able to have a large number of people together for worship, it was such a joy to see almost all of us together again. It was also an emotional time for us all, and an encouragement of how, in the not-too-distant future, things might be getting back to normal. As we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection and promise of new life, we can also begin to look forward to the beginning of renewed life as a congregation.
Having our vision renewed as to what may be, it is time to plan and prepare towards when it might be. To that end, I have asked President Sam to begin to gather a Task Force that can draft some perimeters as to when the science dictates the safest threshold to fully gather for inside worship (including singing, which seems to be the sticking point that would prevent much of the gatherings for worship) and a policy regarding how we proceed into that new normal. We hope to get some folks with some medical and scientific expertise, who can help us all navigate the recommendations of the CDC and others regarding safe gatherings.
The Staff and Worship Committee are also exploring some options for the interim period, which will likely be some months. One thought is holding monthly or bi-monthly outdoor worship services such as we did for Easter. These services would likely be on one or both of our current Holy Communion Sundays. For now, we are planning to have Pentecost Sunday (May 23) as such an outdoor worship, but have yet to determine a plan beyond that. We hope to be coming out with a summer worship plan soon.
On a personal note, I continue to be blessed and encouraged by the people of Holy Cross. Your generous spirit, your dedication to mission and ministry, and your warm hospitality makes it such a joy to be among you (even as we are, for a time, mostly physically distant). The Spirit is alive and working among us here, forming and reforming us as God’s people for this time and in this place.
Thank you all for what you do to make Holy Cross a place of grace and love in Jesus’ name!
A SPIRIT OF GENEROSITY
How do you measure generosity? What does it mean to be a generous people? In church, we are used to hearing and talking about giving and usually in terms of percentage – how much of a percentage of my income do I or should I set aside for the work of the Lord?
That giving is important. It is most important to us faithful givers because it is a spiritual disciple that helps us think beyond just our own needs. It is important to the life of a congregation because it literally allows the lights to stay on, the staff to be paid and the ministries of a faith community to flourish. While that is important, even necessary for all concerned, generosity is something different.
Most of the definitions I have seen of the word generosity point to an inner essence, almost a spiritual quality. More than action alone, generosity is something inside a person or a community that informs every action. Even the word’s origin points to a sense of being: Latin generositatem “nobility, excellence, magnanimity.” Generosity, therefore, is not so much what we do as it is how we define ourselves.
As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be a generous people or to put it in another way, are called to live out who we already are in Jesus Christ. By his life, death and resurrection we have been reborn, refashioned and as The Apostle says, made part of a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Martin Luther calls this the “happy exchange” where Jesus takes our broken, incomplete, sinful nature and replaces it with one that is redeemed and made whole by him. We are the people of “nobility, excellence, magnanimity” because Jesus makes us so.
So, my original question is (intentionally) flawed. Generosity is not really something you can measure; it is just something you are. My second question is more to the point. What does it mean to be a generous people? From my experience, a generous congregation is one that, first and foremost, claims and celebrates the grace of Jesus that has been freely given to them and all people. We serve a most generous God! Second, it is a people that find joy in that first point, a joy that enables them to see the world as God sees it: broken but beautiful. Third, it is a community that celebrates the nobility God has given them by giving freely, joyfully and thankfully, to others – no questions, no
strings, no judgment. Fourth, it is a recognition that it is not about money. It becomes a way of life, a path of discipleship. I see that generosity here among us at Holy Cross. I feel the joy and the gratitude. I experience your nobility of spirit and your true love for others. In this contemplative season of Lent, let us together celebrate that holy generosity among us and pray for a refilling, a renewal, of that Spirit in this place.
While we are all glad to have 2020 behind us, it is clear that this new year will continue to present us with challenges and opportunities that none of us could have imagined a year ago. It is very encouraging to see that the COVID-19 vaccine is developed, distributed and now being given to people throughout our area, the nation and the world, as a whole. The proverbial light at the end of a long, dark tunnel can now begin to be seen. It will still be many months, however, before we are back to normal life and activities as a congregation.
During this time, the leadership of our congregation will continue to be needed to help provide the structure and continuity of our community. Thank you to those who have been able to call and otherwise connect with other members during this time – this is an invaluable gift for keeping us together and helping all of us feel embraced during this time of separation.
As we have heard many of the last months have been for us a time of survival and adaption, as we have done our best to meet the situation of a global pandemic with grace and courage. It has often felt like trying to swim in a tsunami — always struggling, always working just to stay afloat. We have done well. Our leadership has done well. Our worship team has done well. And our members’ support has been outstanding.
With caution, I would suggest that we have found a groove that seems to work all right. We are not overwhelmed by the tide as much and we are far less panicked. This is the time that we can once again begin to look into the future and see where we think God’s calling is leading us. As I pray and think and listen, here are some ideas and questions that have come to me:
• How can we better connect with our families, especially those with young children?
• How can we better connect with one another as a community?
• Who is not at the table right now? Whose voice is not being heard?
• How can we better affirm, proclaim and advertise that ALL people are welcome here and that Holy Cross is a community of inclusion and affirmation; celebration and incorporation for all of our siblings in Christ?
These are some of the agenda items that I want to champion for the year ahead — to move from survival to thriving, from reaction to proactive love in Jesus’ name. It is my prayer and hope that we can also make this our common agenda and our common work together, so that our actions match our words and that we together can work to share this wonderfully beautiful love that has been so richly bestowed upon us in the Beloved.
Beloved Siblings in Jesus,
We generally begin each new year with a certain hope and
excitement, celebrating the ending of the past year and
anticipating the one yet to come. We often use the turning of
the calendar as a time to collect thoughts, contemplate our
situation, and resolve new pathways and actions for the future.
If this past year has taught us anything, however, it is how
precarious our plans and resolutions can be. A year ago, I am
certain none of us anticipated the global reach of the situation
we have found ourselves during the year that was 2020. How
then do we face 2021?
We all know uncertainty is the very definition of the future, yet
this past year has really emphasized that, hasn’t it? We have
been reminded, in a very powerful and sometimes tragic
fashion, that we humans are not always in control of everything.
That is nothing new. Humanity has often found itself humbled
but in our lifetimes, these last few months have been beyond
anything we have experienced as a global community.
It would be easy and understandable to resort to pessimism.
The Promise given to all Creation at Christmas, however,
reminds us that God is passionately, intimately, and positively
connected to us for all of time – past, present and future. The
Incarnation is God’s loving embrace for all life. The path may be
uncertain, the way rocky and even perilous, but the faithfulness
of God to be with us remains true.
In the midst of winter as we are, there is always the hope of
new life and the warmth of spring. Even now, there are signs of
positive change in the face of the pandemic. As I write, the
vaccines are beginning to be administered and we are starting
to see a glimmer of light after a long, gloomy journey. How long
it might take to “get back to normal” is anyone’s guess, but I
believe that we will be able to gather, together again sometime
in the not-too-distant future.
As Resurrection people, we are a community of hope, new birth,
and life from death. As a community formed in this Promise, we
greet the new year with the hope that comes from a power
greater than our own. No matter what the new year will bring,
we will face it together – supported and embraced by the one
who walks among us in Jesus Christ.
Peace to us all,
Reflections on Isaiah 40
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her
That she has served her term; that her penalty is paid
That she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.
How often we need comfort. When we were younger, a scraped knee or a broken heart often meant that we could rest and weep in the comfort of a parent’s lap, in the warmth of their loving embrace. Now that we are older, who will comfort us? Who will hear our cries and wipe our tears?
This year in particular – with its pandemic and uncertainty, conflict and strife – we offer ourselves for God’s arms of comfort. Our scrapes, our heartaches, and our tears: we wrap them all in the loving arms of the One who loves us.
A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed and all people will see it together.”
In the uneven places in our lives, in the dry and crooked paths we all too often find ourselves, come, Lord Jesus.
The mountains seem too great, where we travel the rough road is too difficult for us alone. Come, Lord Jesus.
Lift us up. Lift us up in your power and your peace. Hold us tight so that we may be refreshed. Set us free to run with hearts renewed in your love.
A Blessed Advent to us All,
Rejoice and Give Thanks
Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:4-7
These words from Paul’s letter to the Philippians have been a favorite for believers for centuries, inspiring Christians to remain focused on gratitude and joy. This passage is also often included in The Day of Thanksgiving worship service, which is perhaps why it came to my mind as I pondered what to write for our November Quest.
There are times, however, where these words may seem a bit off, even discordant with what we are experiencing in our lives. Certainly, in this year, it may be really hard to feel a lot of rejoicing or thankfulness. Stress and depression are at all-time highs in our society.
Rejoicing always? Do not worry about anything? Is Paul one of those Pollyanna, Ivory-Tower sort of Preachers who wants us to ignore the realities and brokenness of this world? Used incorrectly, or taken out of context, these words could sound as if God doesn’t care about our pain and suffering, but I don’t think that is Paul’s aim here.
As he writes, Paul is literally chained in a prison, knowing that it is likely that he will not leave there alive. The Apostle had seen his share of triumphs and setbacks. He had been shipwrecked and almost drowned, beaten many times, jailed many times, survived assassination attempts, and personal betrayals. He had been maligned, rejected, and libeled. While he survived the jailing from which he writes to the Philippian congregation, he
would eventually be executed for his faith. He knew pain, disappointment and suffering in a very intimate way.
It is through this darkness that he dares to rejoice, dares to give thanks. It is during these times that he relies on “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.” It is God’s faithfulness and presence, in the midst of pain, from which we can draw hope and the courage to see grace.
Martin Luther called this faithfulness of God, “The Theology of
the Cross.” In Jesus, God is intimately acquainted with the wholeness of the human experience and identifies with our suffering in a personal, intimate way. Because God is a God who suffered, Luther taught, God does not abandon us while we suffer, or judge our doubts and struggles, but comes to us – sometimes in hidden ways – to assure us of a love that cannot die.
This year, our Thanksgiving Day may be a bit more muted and have less people around the table. We will still have a Pandemic, still have societal strife and possibly still not know the results of the election. But we do have a Lord and Savior that understands, who loves, and who promises not to ever leave. For that, we can rejoice and give thanks.
Peace to you all,
As I write this, it is mid-September and this morning I felt a chill in
the air and wondered, “Should I wear a sweater vest today?” I
guess this former-Alaskan is getting acclimated to Northern
Virginia! The onset of autumn always brings changes, both happy
and sad. The long days of summer and the warmth of the sun and
beaches begin to come to a close. The resumption of school and
church activities allows us to come back together in community.
Of course, this year the blessings of regathering has been delayed
or dampened, giving us opportunities to discover new ways to
keep connected with one another. Our Wednesday evening
outdoor worship, “More Days for Praise” has been one wonderful
way in which we have found a way to safely see, visit and worship
with one another again. As the days grow colder, Jeremy and I are
planning ways to move that experience inside. Since we have no
singing, we are confident, given the materials we have researched
on group gatherings, that we can maintain a safe place for
worship. Stay tuned, as they say.
This autumn will also bring a very contentious election season, no
doubt ramping up the levels of collective angst, division and
anxiety with which we have as a nation have already been
struggling. My caution for us all (myself very much included) is to take care.
Let us take with care the words that seek to divide and
incite emotions. Both as we hear and read, as well as when we
speak and write, let us together seek to find words of care,
understanding and love. It is too easy to be brought down by all
the din of anger or to get sucked into the maelstrom of endless
debates. Let us, as followers of the Prince of Peace, be
emboldened to be peacemakers and caregivers.
May we also find ways to take care of one another and our
neighbor. In my little over a year with you, I have again and again
been impressed by how much Holy Cross is a place of caring. It is
more challenging now to share that love when we can no longer
easily be in one another’s company. We are missing those
spontaneous moments of checking and saying hello that allow us
to keep in touch with one another. Especially during this time, let
us be intentional in our care for one another. I would encourage
you to write, call or find a socially safe way to visit with someone
else. Each month, both Shelly and I get a letter from one of our
members. It’s usually just a collection of jokes and funny stories
and we revel in their humor and in the love with which they were
sent. Simple acts often mean so much.
Finally, take care of yourself. It’s okay to not be okay, especially
since almost nobody is these days. We are all overwhelmed. We
are all overcome with feelings of powerlessness and that worry
that we are not doing enough. It would be strange if we weren’t.
Let us be patient with ourselves, forgiving to ourselves and care
givers for ourselves. Jesus was a human being and although he
was the Son of God, still needed down time, quiet time and even
naps! As followers of Lord of Love, let us remember to love and
care for ourselves.
For as long as I can remember, September in church life meant
the intentional coming back together as a church community after
a long and hopefully abundant summer. Most of us remember
Rally Day Sundays, which marked the official beginning of a
congregation’s programmatic year. Obviously, things will be
different this year. We won’t be physically gathering together for
some time. We are not closed, however. We still are the church.
We are still the Body of Christ and the Body of Christ is always
We will be doing things differently this year and we are finding
new ways to keep connected with God, with one another, and
with our community at large. In this issue of the Quest, you will
see a number of opportunities for worship, fellowship and service.
We are exploring new ways to celebrate and refresh our
community of faith until we are able to truly “rally back” and
gather together in person again.
During this very complicated and difficult time in our world, we
need the strength and comfort of a God who is greater than our
problems and who has promised that nothing in all of Creation
can separate us from God’s love. We need each other as well. So
much of our current situation forces us into separateness and
isolation and it is far too easy to feel alone and overwhelmed by
everything that is going on.
Keeping the connections between members of our congregation will continue to be a top priority for our leadership team and we are actively looking for more and more ways to make that happen.
We are all in this together, and if you have ideas on how we can support one another, please let me or someone of Council know.
Blessings to you all,
A year ago, I began the journey. It was Monday, July 15, 2019 that
I entered the doors of Holy Cross Lutheran Church for the first
time as your pastor. It has been a wonderful, eventful year and
through it all, I have been surrounded by your love and support. Thank you.
Through all the complexities of settling in, of adjusting to the
reality of a new state, to the reality of living apart from Shelly and
my family most of the year, you have been there. In the various
events of the year — weddings, deaths, births, a sabbatical, and
even a pandemic — we have journeyed together.
It has been quite a year, but I am so happy that I have been here
with you along the way. It has been and remains an honor,
privilege, and blessing to be called to be among you as your
pastor! Holy Cross is a congregation that is alive with Jesus’ love
and acceptance for all people, a place that takes seriously and
joyously Jesus’ call to all those who seek a safe, grace-based
community in which to find peace. We are travelers on a great
journey, welcoming others to join us along the way.
One thing the experiences of this first half of 2020 has taught us is
a clear reminder that we do not know what the future holds. It is
clear that things will not be “normal” for some time. As I have
written before, we all are learning in new ways about community,
unity, and ways to care for one another. Together, we are God’s
people for this time, in this place. Using a reference from the book of Esther, Bishop Ortiz often reminds the pastors of our synod, “You have been called to a time such as this.” That is where we are as God’s people in the world today: seeking to be faithful in the face of uncertainty.
There is a prayer that I love, taken from both the Morning and
Evening Prayer services, that seems to sum up where we are
today and, more importantly, whose we are in all things:
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we
cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils
unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not
knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and
your love supporting us; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Whatever the path, I am grateful to be traveling with you and
pray that our mutual care and ministry continue to honor the One
who calls us all, embraces all, and strengthen us in all things along
P.S. Thank you for the wonderful celebration of
our one-year anniversary together! The prayers, cards, well-
wishes and the ROCKS! What a beautiful day surrounded by your
love. I so am blessed to be your pastor!
I’ll share a little secret. Sometimes, when a pastor is up against a
pending (or overdue) deadline for a newsletter article, she or he
may be tempted to look through the archives to see what had
been written for this month in some previous year. It happens.
Well, this year isn’t like any other year in my experience. Were I to
peruse July articles from years past, there wouldn’t be anything
there about a global pandemic, about church buildings empty
during the week, or about the inability to gather for worship in
person. I’ve never been here before. You’ve never been here
before. We are all learning a new way to live and to be in the face
of circumstances that can easily overwhelm us. We’ve never
personally faced times when the most basic aspects of our society
– school, work, buying food – have been impacted to such a
degree. Most of us cannot remember a time when fear was such a
component of our life together and it has been a very long time –
possibly fifty plus years– that we’ve witnessed the breadth of
unrest, division, violence, lament, and anger we have in our
society at this particular moment. It can so easily feel hopeless.
We truly live in interesting times. Each day, we are living in this
new reality and learning what it means to be people doing the
best that we can. We don’t have many road maps for this journey
that we are on, so we must all the more affirm and rely upon the
grace of Jesus Christ for us all.
It is, to me, very comforting that Jesus does not demand you or
me to be perfect: to be strong at all times, to have all the answers,
or even to always be in a good mood. If anyone does, Jesus
understands what it is like to be a human being in difficult times.
The great news of the gospel is that Jesus promises to be there
with us, especially in those times when we just can’t see a way
out on our own.
Perhaps, in the face of things we don’t always understand, I can
share some not-so-random thoughts, hopes, and prayers:
• Trusting in God’s grace, may each of us, in our own
way, remember what grounds us – the promise of
Jesus to be with us in every circumstance.
• Claiming God’s grace, may we remain gentle with
ourselves, gentle with our friends and families, and
gentle with those whose actions we may not always
understand. We are all going through a lot these days.
• Enlightened through God’s grace, may we, as a
congregation, continue to be a place of hope and
healing for us all.
• Empowered by God’s grace, may we can find ways to
connect, support, and assist those who need our help,
both serving as the hands and feet of Jesus to our
neighbor and seeing Jesus in those we serve.
Thank you all, for all that you do. Thank you for your support, your
strength and your endurance.
With you in service,
ORDINARY TIME IN EXTRAORDINARY TIMES.
In June we begin the long, “green” season of Pentecost,
sometimes termed in church lingo, “Ordinary Time.” Given what
we are experiencing today, however, nothing seems very
ordinary, does it? In Virginia, some parts of the state have
opened-up a bit, which may cause us to yearn even more for
things to get back the way they were. When can we get back to
normal again? When can we worship together, like we used to?
When will we be in “ordinary” times again?
To be honest, there are no real clear answers to these questions.
If we are learning anything these days, it is that these days are
presenting us with extraordinary changes and challenges. What
has become clear to me and to our leadership at Holy Cross, is
that safety should be our chief concern as we move forward.
While the government may give a green light at some future date
for churches in our area to open up for “normal” worship, that
still may not make it the right thing to do for the safety of
everyone in our congregation. When it is safe, we will gather.
Until then, the leadership is exploring options on a month-bymonth
basis. For now, we will continue an on-line presence. Later,
we may look at some sort of outdoor worship, where we can
gather in physically-distanced safety. At this point, we just are not
Believe me, I, like you, long to be together again. I miss you all. I
miss singing and worshipping together. I miss Holy Communion. I
miss those all-so-ordinary things that are so extraordinarily special, particularly when we are prevented from doing them for a
In extraordinary times, the church has always adapted, shifted,
and met the challenge. We are not the first of Jesus’ followers to
suddenly find the world around them vastly different from before.
We are not the first believers to find themselves unable to
worship together due to circumstances beyond their control. We
certainly are not the only people of faith who have cried out to
God, “when will things be normal again?” Through it all, the
faithfulness of God has carried us through. Through it all, the love
and grace of God – those precious, essentially ordinary aspects of
God’s nature, have nourished us through the extraordinary times.
In a conversation today, I tried to describe these extraordinary
times by using the image of walking through a cave with only a
candle as our light. We can see just a few feet ahead and as we
travel we are surrounded by darkness and uncertainty. Yet we
walk step by step, not certain what lies ahead but only in the light
the illumines our way. That is where we live and breathe and have
our being today. We don’t know the exact way or the precise time
when this part of our journey will end. What we can trust is the
presence of the One who has promised to walk with us and be our
light – a light that the darkness cannot overcome.
We will gather as a church together again. We will gather again to
celebrate the extraordinary-made-ordinary that is the promise of
Christ to gather with us in Word, in The Meal, in Baptism, and in
the Assembly. When that will happen is unclear, but we trust in
the promise of its fulfillment in our midst.
Until then, let us continue to be the Church: the Body of Christ in
the world, ordinary people living in extraordinary times doing our
best to live out the presence of Jesus in our lives.
Peace to you all,
Scattered, Not Shattered
We have slogged through quite a month together (yet separate),
right? This past week, I have been remembering my article in
January, as we got ready for Jeremy’s sabbatical. If I recall, I
mentioned that we would be challenged to “use different
muscles” as we adapted to that change. And we did. And it was a
blessing and we came through it stronger.
As it turned out, however, we had only just begun! There is no
doubt that this past month has been a challenge at the level that
none of us could have predicted. Individually and as a society, we
are facing a deadly virus that has changed almost all of our daily
routines. We fear for our health and for the safety of those we
love and to make matters worse, during this time of stress we are
prevented from doing the very thing that seems the most natural:
gathering, together. As a church, we are learning what it means to
be the Body of Christ that has been separated by circumstances
beyond our control. Talk about new muscles!
The word “congregation” literally means a gathering. Yet, as a
community of faith, we have been prevented from coming
together in what Luther called in his Smalcald Articles, “the
mutual conversation and consolation of brothers and sisters.” We
have been scattered, but we have not been abandoned. In that
same writing, Martin Luther reminds us that the gospel is the
presence of the crucified and resurrected Christ in our
community. When the Word is proclaimed, Christ is present.
When the sacraments are administered, Christ is present. When
the community is gathered, Christ is present. Here is the gracious promise – when we are able to receive just one of these methods,
we still receive the fulness of Christ in our midst. Holy Cross may
not yet be able to gather, but the power and assurance of Jesus
Christ remans and holds us together.
We are indeed exercising new spiritual muscles, learning new
methods and models about being the church, and through you,
the work and the message of the gospel continue to be a blessing.
• Thanks to you, we gathered $1,370 for Herndon Middle
School from our Lenten Appeal. As you know, those funds
will assist their efforts to help many of their students
whose families struggle to have the basics such as
adequate food and clothing.
• Thanks to you, we have provided an enormous amount of
food and difficult to find paper products to the various
agencies that help people on our community.
• Thanks to you, our congregation’s finances are stable and
even though we are not gathering in person, your mailings
and electronic giving are making a huge difference.
• Thanks to you, our music and worship life continues, and
we are all learning a bit more than we expected about all
sorts of technology and being “virtual”.
We are a generous congregation. We are a congregation with
strong lay leadership and many folks who are willing to pitch in
and help. We are a congregation that truly loves each other, seeks
to care for our neighbor and is resilient in the face of change. It is
I am blessed to be your pastor, and I am inspired and nurtured by
your work and your support. None of us know when we will get
back to “normal” or what that might even look like, but I believe
that with all the “using new muscles” that we have been doing
together, I know we’ll be in pretty good shape.
“May you live in interesting times.”
The old proverb seems apropos for where we are today. We are
indeed living in a season of great uncertainty. Just in the past
week, what seemed to be the things we could count on, such as:
the schedule of our day, the ample opportunity to greet and
gather with friends, and the joy of worshipping with one another
in the place we name “sanctuary, have all gone away for the most
A few days ago, through the wonder of the internet and a meeting
program called Zoom, I gathered with Bishop Ortiz and 57 of my
colleagues in rostered ministry in our synod. We gathered for
worship and for discussion. We gathered for community.
Together, we listened to and prayed through the March 22nd
Gospel reading, John 9. It is the story of a man born into
blindness, and Jesus’ healing light. It is a story of many, blessed
with physical vision, who are unwilling to see God’s new and
wonderous grace in their midst.
Jesus calls us to be open to God’s presence in our time, to be
open-minded and open-eyed to God’s amazing love and grace, no
matter what things look like around us. Bishop Leila reminded us
that we are now seeing the church in new ways, that the situation
in which we find ourselves has given us the opportunity to witness
God’s work in and among us, despite what our typical
expectations might be.
We are living in interesting times. We are living in troubling, scary
times. But we are also living into what it means, in Christ, to be
the people of Jesus in all times. I am abundantly thankful for each
of you. I praise God for Jeremy, Teresa, Deb, and the whole
leadership team at Holy Cross. Through their work, we are finding
new ways to reconnect with our congregation, especially through
our on-line check-ins, devotions and worship.
Our on-line efforts cannot be the only way we help one another,
however. Please take time to reach out to one another through
phones, emails and texts. Pray for each other, asking for God’s
peace and hope for each of us.
Finally, take care of yourselves. Today, we pastors, and other
rostered leaders heard clearly and passionately from our Bishop
to take care of our own needs as well as those of others. I pass
that on to you as well – be gentle with yourself and with those in
your home. We are all stressed. We are all afraid. We all need to
be assured and reminded that we are loved. Spring has begun,
and I hope we can all go outside and enjoy the flowers and the
trees and pause to give thanks to the Creator of us all.
We live in interesting times, but we are claimed and loved by the
God of all time.
“As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.”
Matthew 4: 18-23
In many ways, it is not an easy time in our history to “be the church.” Sociologists and folks that study these things tell us that the demographic shifts in our culture are growing away from organized religion (actually, all organized groups in general). Many in our society distrust, even fear churches and the people that attend them. They often see us as judgmental and closed-minded, too quick to divide people into “the good” and “the bad.” Of course, we know that not all Christians operate in this way, but to those on the outside, it’s hard to tell the difference. People are far more likely to claim to be spiritual but not religious and they are certainly not attached to any particular denomination or congregation. According to some experts, church attendance across all denominational lines is at an all-time low in our country. It’s easy to get discouraged and fearful for the way forward.
When Jesus called his first disciples, his request was pretty simple: “follow me.” He did not say what that following would cost them, where it would bring them, or what troubles lay in store for them. He simply asked them to follow. It was not easy for them either, to follow Jesus. They gave up their families, their home, and their vocations for a new call. They followed into uncertainty, trusting in the One who called them.
The church is not dying, but we may be transforming into something new. The church will survive, because Jesus is in the midst of us. We are Jesus’ Body here on earth and we have survived 2,000 years of change. God is the God of the present and the future, of resurrection and new life. While it is natural and tempting to focus on what is going wrong, Jesus calls to trust that, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”
Some of the way ahead means emphasizing what we do best: Preaching the Word. Sharing the Sacraments. Being an open place that is safe and welcoming. Bringing food to the hungry. Being a sanctuary for those who hurt and a feeding station for those who need strength for the week ahead. Some of the way ahead will mean trying new things, being more open to the needs of our community and listening to their concerns.
We are in an ongoing process of reimagining and rethinking how we do things at Holy Cross. We are looking for new ways to be a part of our community, different avenues to be the presence of Jesus to our neighbor. We are exploring new connections with our schools, especially the Middle School, seeking to hear how we can assist them in their mission. We are looking into ways that our congregation can be even more open, more welcoming, and more inclusive to all people. We are, especially through Jeremy’s sabbatical, seeking to enhance our worship and music ministry, particularly with an eye to invite new people into our congregation.
Thank you. Thank you for being a congregation that is supportive, open, and willing to try new things. Thank you for being a community that welcomes others in our midst, that seeks to be a positive force in our area. Thank you for being a place where people find hope and healing in recovery groups, where new neighbors can learn English, where young men are mentored and trained to be men of integrity in Boy Scouts, and where people who are hurting can find Good News. Thank you for your generosity. You make this happen. Through your financial giving, through your dedication to the programs and the building, through your trust and your attitude of service. All of this is what it means to be a church. No matter what the future might bring, no matter what changes we may face, Jesus will continue to lead us and call to us, “Follow me.”
Time of Rest and Reflection
New year. New decade. New challenges. New opportunities. January often allows us the chance to assess, plan, and look forward and can be the same with congregations as with individuals. This new year also brings us a new twist at Holy Cross as Jeremy has begun his well-deserved sabbatical leave. It will seem strange not to have him present leading us in music, but we are thankful for the volunteer leadership of Marcia, Becky and Suzanne who will keep our spirits soaring with song! Sabbaticals are a time of rest and reflection. Taking some time off to sort out, refresh and rethink is one major goal of a sabbatical. It is also an opportunity to stretch out, to try new
things and exercise new “muscles”. Often, the change of routine and of action leads to a new vitality and new way of thinking about the time ahead.
While Jeremy is on a formal sabbatical leave, we at Holy Cross are going to be doing our own bit of rethinking and redoing as well as doing our best to fill in the gaps in Jeremy’s absence. This is how we will be utilizing “new muscles”, trying new things, seeing things differently and looking forward together.
In my experience, such a shake-up, even for a few weeks, often revitalizes a congregation. As we change up from the routine, it allows us to be reminded about what we love at Holy Cross. It allows us to have a hand at being part of our common mission in a different way. It also allows us to appreciate the gifts the Spirit has blessed us with – those we have come to know and love, and those that emerge in the new time.
During this new time of sabbatical, my prayer for us is that we be open to the Holy Spirit’s promptings as we see and do church in different ways; that we remain patient with each other and with the different ways of worshiping together; and that we listen closely for the Spirit’s whispers of promise as we are lead into dreaming, planning and doing new things in God’s name in the years to come.