Thoughts on Holy Week and Easter

Luke 24:1-12    1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen!

After this, Luke tells us that when the women told the rest of the disciples, those who had not been there considered their witness to be “an idle tale”.  For the past 200 years or so, many who hear the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection cannot believe it to be anything other than an idle tale. Yet, this is the message we proclaim! Not only do we proclaim it to be true – we insist that somehow this truth impacts our life, as well as all of creation.  A pretty bold statement, to be sure.  How do we make the connection between Jesus and the needs of a world 2000 years later? Why does this message make a difference?

These are questions the church attempts to answer all of the time, but during the season of Lent, followed by Holy Week (Passion /Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday), we try to tell the story most clearly. Through the readings, the sanctuary art, the hymns of the season help us reflect on these things:

  1. That God’s creation was “very good” and that God had a special role for human kind within creation. This role included being in an intimate, loving and obedient relationship with our Creator.

  2. Stubborn, willful, we decided we could do better on our own, so we wandered off from God, separating ourselves from him. That state of separation is what we in the church call “sin.” Because we live in that separation, our actions and our attitudes often (always?) fall short of God’s intent for us.  Guilt drives us even further from our Lord.

  3. This doesn’t sit well with a God who loves us beyond our capacity to comprehend. Refusing to be separated from us, God took on flesh in Jesus Christ, became one of us, submitted to human sin – dying because of that sin -- in order to bridge the gap we ourselves made. We call this gap-bridging, “forgiveness of sins.”  This is the good news to which we bear witness, for our own sake, for each others’ sake and for the sake of the world.

    But why does this make a difference? A partial answer is this: that when we experience forgiveness on such a divine scale, we are freed from trying to hide our sin from God. All of the energy & effort we have spent covering up our failures, hiding from consequences, justifying our behavior to ourselves and others – is now available for other things! Good things! God pleasing things! Things like: care of creation; seeing to the well being of those who are hungry, homeless or hurting in anyway; proclaiming to others who haven’t heard of God’s forgiving heart, that it is there for them as well.  As we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, such things become our privilege, our joyful duty.

                Of course, we need to be reminded from time to time, when the cares of the world, even our joyful duties become too large a burden on our hearts. Thus, the gift of worship: God’s gift to us; our gift in response to God. A dance of Holy Joy. So come – come to worship as often as you can to experience the dance. Come to the feast – take the song from this place to those who still long to hear. And, I encourage you to experience the whole story:  Begin with the contemplative tones of Lent, followed by the powerful rumblings of thunder and rolling stones of Holy Week. All of this, so that the crescendo of Resurrection explode in our hearts with delight! Then, we’ll be able to declare with all of the hosts of heaven: Christ has risen! He has risen indeed!

     

     Pastor Mary

This Preacher and Politics

It certainly is no surprise that with November elections just around the corner, political debates rage hotly. Candidates, not content to debate the issues on their own merits, resort to character assassination and name calling. Social media is ablaze with pictures of angry politicians, and overly simplistic memes supporting various views. The whole political atmosphere has a tendency to make folks heart weary, cynical, anxious or apathetic – or some combination of those things.

 And while Christians aren’t “of” this world, we are certainly in it, and we are both affected by the politics of our times, and also called to affect them through living and voting informed by our faith. 

So, what do 21st century U.S. Christians do when it comes to social and cultural issues, that are also matters of faith  and living? How does a Lutheran preacher, who likely pastors congregants spanning the entire political spectrum, speak to such heavily weighted issues as: (no special order!)

·        Gun control

·        Immigration

·        Marriage equality

·        Divorce

·        Abortion

·        School bonds

·        Human rights

·        Climate change

·        Living wage proposals

·        Voter registration requirements

·        Public assistance programs

·        Potty privileges

·        Transportation issues/ bus, etc.

·        Prison reform

·        Mental health care

·        Defense budgets.

·        Violence in homes and streets.

·        Racism

·        Ageism

·        Sexism

·        Foreign Policy

·        Economic issues 

Like many of you, I have strong opinions on some of these issues. I find others quite complicated, and many of them are interlinked. The only way I know to link my faith with my political practice is to prayerfully, and as fully informed as possible,  both by world events and my understanding of scripture, exercise my right to vote.

 As far as ministry goes, I will never tell a congregation who or what to vote for from the pulpit. I will however, frequently point out that when biblical prophets spoke of “justice”  it was usually w/ regard to economic stability for the poor,  and proper treatment of widows, orphans & foreigners.

I don’t hesitate to note that Jesus pointed to God through his acts of healing, forgiveness and inclusion of the outcast. You will often hear me say that Christ showed us that relationships are more important than rules. And I will strongly encourage every voting eligible person to prayerfully consider the issues and exercise one’s right to help change the community and the world we live in for the better.

 Over time, some people have taken risky personal & public stands, because they perceived that their faith in God both called them to it, and gave them strength for it. Their willingness to be agents of change, has indeed tilted the world: Jackie Robinson, MLK Jr., Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, etc.

What the Holy Spirit calls each of us to might not be as public, or as extravagant, but may still feel risky to us. It might look like politely refusing to ignore the racism of a beloved cousin’s not so funny joke. Or voting to tax ourselves in an already stretched economy, in order that our children and grandchildren and our neighbor’s kids have food security, a decent education, and adequate health care. Maybe it is welcoming the marginalized, who for whatever reason, had previously found church and church people to be hostile and unsafe to be around.  

Whatever it is, we remember human efforts matter, and that we are called in Christian freedom to be of service to our neighbor in order to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is both our duty and our joy to do so.  

However, we must also remember it is not our efforts that will bring ultimate healing to the world.  Our efforts merely point to Jesus. It is Jesus himself who promises to make all things new!  And in fact, what he does is not turn the world upside down, but turns a wonky world upside right again!

 So my friends, exercise your rights: vote. And exercise your hearts: vote according to the love you know Jesus has for all. Then, whatever happens, trust God to be with us through it all!

Pastor Mary's Musings

Pastor Mary’s Musings

Luke 10:2  He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

 It is that time of year again! God, in his abundant provision, has seen to it that the fruits of the fields and the orchards and our gardens are beginning to ripen. All at once, it seems!  And even though I myself planted rather haphazardly, nonetheless, I have found myself gathering in more tomatoes, squash and greens than I can eat while fresh. Additionally, I have been generously gifted with some excess from others’ fruit trees! So, not only must the food be harvested, it must be prepared and preserved so that it is available for the garden’s winter rest. So, in between laundry, family time, and on-going ministry, the canning pots have been bubbling, the dehydrator blowing, and the freezer freezing. We will be able to taste the Lord’s goodness all winter in my house, and still have some to share.

 Well, it is no different in the church! The Lord is causing great things to grow and come to fruit right here at United Lutheran Church, and it might be so much as to feel overwhelming. Being heaped on our spiritual table are even grander ministry opportunities AND ideas for how to fund them. These ministry and funding ideas go beyond the generous and sacrificial offerings of our own church family, and will be inviting many others in the community to participate in the harvest for the sake of the Gospel and the future of those we serve.

 I am so excited by all the potential we have for inviting others to “taste and see the goodness of God!” (Psalm 34:8)  Yet, we all know that what some experience as exciting, others experience with anxiety. This is understandable. But it isn’t helpful to dwell on the fear. While excitement and urgency can spawn creativity and action, anxiety and fear have the opposite effect. They can shut down useful action and paralyze us spiritually, intellectually and practically.  Sometimes, well-meaning comments inadvertently trigger fear. When this occurs, how do faithful Christians respond? A faithful response could come from of God’s own Word on the matter. We remember that part of the purpose of the fellowship of the believers is expressed in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians (5:11): to “encourage one another and build up each other.”

            We can help do this by following Paul’s instructions to the Philippians: “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”( 4:8) When we are caught up in what is true and pure and otherwise positive, we’ll be less likely to drown in a whirlpool of the negative. After all, as Paul reminds us in II Timothy, “God did not give us a Spirit of timidity, but of but rather a spirit of power and of love.”

 The true key, of course, is not that we are focusing on “The Power of Positive Thinking,” but rather, we focus on the Source of our power: Jesus, whose Spirit is our gift in baptism. When we keep our eye on JESUS, when we ignore all voices but the Voice of our Shepherd, we cannot lose our way! And we will be provided with all we need to do what he calls us to do! And for this, we rejoice and give thanks!

 In His Service,

Pastor Mary!