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.
Not too long ago, I was invited to speak at a Senior Center Forum on the topic, “An Attitude of Gratitude.” Gratitude, that ability to be thankful, is certainly an important and healing component of who we are as God’s people, but it can also be a difficult thing to conjure up if we are overwhelmed by other things in our lives.
What we have come to know as “the holiday season” – roughly Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day– can be a tough time for many people. It’s a time where we often hear a lot about being grateful, or thankful or joyous. It is also a time when many of us may find it hard to feel that way. In the winter, our access to natural light gets less. Our bodies naturally react to the decreased light by slowing down – literally depressing. We may feel sluggish. We may feel sad. Being joyful or thankful does not seem like the natural thing we want to do. This time of year can also be difficult for those who have experienced loss in their lives. The memories of family members who have passed or of a family that once was whole or of people who are far away, can all make this an emotionally dark time for us as well.
When you, yourself are struggling with grief or depression or just feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all, it can be particularly hard when there is almost a demand in our society that you be upbeat and joyous. The data, however, shows us that a lot more of us are hurting than we think or let on. While the society around us may seem to be happy, joyous and full of gratitude, it is also a fact that reports of depression, feelings of loneliness, domestic violence and even suicide all peak in the months of December and January.
So how can we can we remain grateful even in the midst of the darkness that may surround us? I suggest starting by taking stock of the gifts we have received and the people that are and have been in our lives. When people first come into a 12-Step recovery program, they are often at the lowest point in their lives. One of the very first practices they are taught is to begin to write down, each day, something for which they are grateful. It seems counterintuitive to ask people who “have hit their bottom” to be grateful, but each day is a baby-step to healing.
We can also remember to allow ourselves to feel how we feel and to remember that others we meet may also be going through a tough time. There is no need for guilt or shame. Our pain, our grief, our brokenness are real parts of who we are. But they are also not fully who we are or what we may become. As people of faith, we also trust that the Light is greater than the darkness and our dark places are not the only definition of who we are. In the dark, love remains.
For my presentation at the Senior Center, I offered up a working definition of what an “Attitude of Gratitude” might look like:
It is not the denial of the suffering, pain and loss we have experienced, but the personal decision to look through these events into a larger realization of:
what we have been given,
what we have been allowed to achieve and
the people we have loved and who have loved us
all of which has made us who we are today.
While, by no means complete, I pray that this humble attempt may help us find a new way in which we can give thanks. May we be gentle with ourselves and one another. May we be sensitive to the complexities this time of year may bring to us and to others. And may we be truly grateful for all that we have received, even if it is just one thing this day.
God’s blessings and love to us all during this Advent and Christmas.
Not so long ago, I received a note from an old friend in which she
thanked me for being an inspiration in her life and for being a
witness to Jesus for her. I was pretty shocked to say the least:
first, because I had not seen her in over 30 years and second
because, I had absolutely no idea that I had been any kind of
influence to her.
That is a grace moment – God using me, in spite of myself, to help
It got me to thinking about all those people who have been
important for my faith. Some of those people have died. Many are
still active in my life. Some, like my note-writing friend, are still
alive, but I haven’t really talked to them in a long time. In each
case, these people have been used by God to touch my life and I
I think about many of those people at Holy Communion. When we
gather at the Table, I am often reminded that we do so
surrounded by a great “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).
Theologians tell us that in the great mystery of the
Resurrection, when we gather for communion, we join all those
saints at the Table. When we celebrate The Feast, we do so with
us a host of people who have touched our lives and strengthened
our faith along the way—literally a myriad of mothers, fathers,
grandparents, friends, siblings, Sunday School teachers, pastors,
neighbors, etc., who have shared with each of us, through word
and example, what it means to be a follower of Jesus. These are
the saints in our lives. These are the ones who have passed on the
faith to us. These are the ones who still mark us and influence us
For those I am thankful. Is it any wonder that another word for
Holy Communion, “Eucharist” means, “Thanksgiving”?
Who have been those saints in your life? Who was there with
patient prayers, or faithful instruction? Who mentored you along
the way, or cared enough to make certain that you did not get
lost? Who laughed with you in your triumphs, and cried for your
tragedies or mistakes? Who was that solid example of integrity
and grace? Who were and are those saints that are the faithful
cloud of witnesses in your life?
November 1 st is All Saints Day, and on Sunday, November 3rd, we
will observe All Saints Sunday. Take time to thank God for all the
saints—past and present– that God has given to bless your life.
Take time as well to ask, “How is God using me to be that saint for
someone else?” In some ways, we may know how we share Jesus
to some people, but I suspect that in many ways, we will never
really know just how brightly God is shining through us to
positively touch another person. And that, my friends, is living in
And for that, I am thankful.