“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.