Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Greater Miracle?

crucifixPalm-Passion Sunday – The Greater Miracle?

Mark 14:1-15:47

March 29, 2015

Sometimes I wonder…

which is the greater miracle?

Is it Easter Sunday – the resurrection?

Or is the bigger miracle really Good Friday – the crucifixion?

There’s a phrase I’ve heard a number of  African American preachers use…

The phrase is, “ may be Friday…but Sunday’s coming.”

It may be Friday…but Sunday’s coming!

It may be dark and hopeless, but look for the resurrection,

look for new life,

look for Sunday- wait for it!

Today though, we’re not waiting on Sunday.

We’re pausing on Friday – Good Friday.

Jesus is on the cross.

What is good about Good Friday?

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Choosing To Forget

photo (1)Lent 5B – Choosing To Forget

Jeremiah 31:31-34

March 22, 2015

Many of us at Good Shepherd have been reading

Desmond Tutu’s book on forgiveness during Lent.

Well, actually it’s not a book on forgiveness,

but rather a book on forgiving.

It’s full title is “The Book of Forgiving: The fourfold path for healing ourselves and our world.”

Desmond Tutu was of course the chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in S. Africa

after apartheid…so he knows something about forgiveness!

He shares horrendous stories of the atrocities in S. Africa

as well as his own personal story of growing up in a home where there was abuse,

all with the hopes of convincing us, the reader

to share his belief that no one is beyond forgiveness….no one…

not the rapist, not the liar, not the terrorist…

no one is beyond forgiveness.[i]

If we can’t forgive on the basis of the humanity of the other person,

Tutu says, forgive because it is a gift to yourself!

One of the exercises in the book is to find a stone,

about palm-sized, that has some meaning to us…

maybe it’s the shape, or the texture, or the place we found it.

When we find our stone,

we are encouraged to carry it in our non-dominant hand for the space of a morning – about six hours,

not setting it down for any reason during that time.

I don’t think anyone in any of our study groups

managed to hang onto the stone for a full six hours…

Here we’ve had it only 20 minutes or so…

Was it hard to hang onto?

                What did you find most difficult doing with the stone in your hand?

Take a good look at the stone

you picked up this morning.

Hold it in your hand,

move it around,

is it heavy or light?

are there sharp edges on it?

what color is it?

is it smooth or rough? round or flat?

As you look at the stone,

think of someone who needs your forgiveness.

Maybe it’s a friend or a relative or an ex;

maybe it’s a colleague or a boss;

maybe it’s a corporation or a government;

maybe it’s God.

After you receive holy communion,

before you go back to your seat,

consider dropping your stone…dropping your grudge…and maybe it’s just for today…

but for a moment, let it go into the baptismal font.

Hear it splash; watch it drop to the bottom;

and then feel something different –

feel a new freedom!

Stretch out your fingers and feel what it’s like

not to carry something you really don’t need.


Three of our 2nd graders are receiving their first holy communion today.

Jack, Lillie and Ben have learned that one of the promises

we receive in this meal is the promise of forgiveness.

The good news of today is the absolute promise of forgiveness…

We hear this good news in God’s words from Jeremiah.

We taste and touch this good news in the bread and wine of his meal.

Frankly, this is one of the few parts from the book of Jeremiah

which brings good news!

Jeremiah is called the ‘weeping prophet,’

and he’s often weeping because of the destruction God

is bringing down upon a sinful people.

Jeremiah writes during the time of the exile..

The people of Israel have been defeated and taken off into captivity into Babylon (modern day Iraq).

After 29 straight chapters of doom from Jeremiah,

the part of the book we read from today is called the “book of consolation.”

Finally Jeremiah stops wailing…

and he says that God has a message of comfort and hope.

He says that God has compassion on them.

God’s heart has been touched by their suffering.

…And God forgives them.

Even though the people have turned from God

again and again.

They’ve been ungrateful.

They’ve gone after other gods.

They built that golden calf

and made alliances with pagan nations.

God is still grieved…

(Jeremiah says that God is as grieved as one whose spouse has been unfaithful

“though I was their husband” God says)

God says, nevertheless, despite what they’ve done,

“I will be their God and they shall be my people.”

The people may have given up on God,

but God has not given up on God’s people.

Look at that last verse in Jeremiah in your bulletins once more…

God says “I will forgive their iniquity

and remember their sin no more.”

God chooses to forget.

God chooses to erase the memory of how the people have wronged God.

You know, there are some things…some slights I’ve had in my life… I wish I could forget.

Jamie Wood?

Jamie Wood stole my pencil box in 2nd grade…

Now why in the world do I still remember that?

It certainly is not helpful – to me or to him!

And then there the painful words I’ve heard

that I just can’t seem to erase from my mind.

The phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me,”

just isn’t true!

John Gottman, a relationship expert,

says that we human beings need to have five positive interactions

to balance a single negative interaction.[ii]

If we say something in anger that is hurtful to our partner,

if we criticize or give him or her negative feedback,

our partner will only remember the negative things,

unless the positives far outweigh the negatives by a ratio of 5 to 1!

We human beings just don’t forget!

Ironic isn’t it?

One of our greatest fears is that we might lose some of our memory as we get older,

but memory is not helpful in all things.

When what we remember are the hurts in a relationship,

too much memory is actually a burden!

Out of love, God chooses to forget.

Out of a desire to hang on to a relationship, God chooses to forget.

Look at that stone another time.

Is it worth holding onto?


[i] Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu, The Book of Forgiving, p 58, 126.


An Eye Opening Experience

privilegeAn Eye Opening Experience

(written by Corinne Baker, a member of Good Shepherd)

Two weeks ago, here at Good Shepherd, I participated in Today’s Dream: Tomorrow’s Reality, a workshop held by WELCA to help build anti-racist organizations []. Racism, as defined in the workshop, is a system of advantage based on race.

The workshop discussion centers around a video where white men and women share and reflect on their personal experiences with white privilege. Most of us have probably participated in at least one workshop or read something about racism from the perspective of being aware of discriminatory actions or helping people who are discriminated against. This is a very different conversation. White privilege is a power structure that still feeds racism. Certainly less than in the past, but still today.

I don’t think of myself as racist, but I know I have prejudices, seemingly innate and hopefully internal-only responses in some situations, even though I don’t want to. And I know I benefit from the societal system by being white.

The workshop experience is one that has stuck with me. It’s a hard topic to think about let alone talk about. But a very important topic. In the back of my mind, I’ve been searching for a more concrete way to respond to events like the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Gardner and Tamir Rice and the persistent, systemic problems they represent, as well as the 50th anniversaries of important civil rights milestones. I feel a certain calling to this—continuing to think through, talk about and take action in ways that can help alleviate racism from the perspective of white privilege.

The workshop is being held again at the DC WELCA annual convention [!events/c507], Saturday, April 11 at the Village at Rockville (formerly the National Lutheran Home). I’m planning to go again and would love to carpool if others are interested.

Among many powerful examples of the importance of this conversation, this work, two have been forefront in my mind for a few weeks.

The first is from a recent PBS Independent Lens program called Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People[]. An African American woman, perhaps in her mid-30, is remembering when, as a 6 year old child, she realized she was black. With that realization, this: she didn’t want to be black.

The second is from the workshop video. A white woman recounted an experience that has stayed with her—at a conference where an African American presenter described waking every morning and remembering ‘I am black’. In sharing this experience she asks: How many of us ever think ‘I am white’?

Did It Have To Be Snakes?

serpent crossLent 4B – Did It Have To Be Snakes?

Numbers 21:4-9

John 3:12-21

March 15, 2015

Bethany Hamilton was in the news yesterday.

She’s a surfer and she made the news

because she’s now six months pregnant and still surfing.

That’s not why Bethany is famous though…

Bethany is famous (and her life story made into the movie “Soul Surfer,”

because when she was 13, she was attacked by a shark while surfing.

She lost her left arm…

and yet conquered her fear and went back to surfing once again

becoming a professional surfer (yes, there is such a thing!).

You’ve heard the saying..

‘get back on the horse again…’

When you have a fear,

psychologists say that the best way to conquer that fear

is not to avoid it – but to confront it head on.

So when you have a fear of flying…

part of the healing is to get on an airplane.

When you have a fear of heights,

you work with someone and gradually make your way up to the sky again.

And when you have a fear of snakes….

you guessed it… you look at them…right at them…

(Did it have to be snakes?)

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Making a Meaningful Difference

pledgeMaking a Meaningful Difference

This is “pledge week” at National Public Radio. It’s not my favorite week to listen to the radio, but I learned something. I learned that people commit time, money, and energy to places and causes they know make a meaningful difference in the world.

I just happen to believe that Good Shepherd makes a meaningful difference in the world. Maybe we don’t talk about that enough. Here are some ways your investment in the ministry of Good Shepherd made a difference this week:

  • We provided a noon meal for ~60 homeless men and women.
  • We held a memorial service for a 39 year old former resident of Guest House, a home for recently-incarcerated women.
  • We gave a young father some toothbrushes and soap from our collection for Lutheran World Relief because he was in immediate need.
  • We gave a homeless man $50 Giant gift card so he could purchase his medication.
  • We mailed 41 flyers of invitation to seniors in our community to come to Young in Heart – a ministry which will provide morning prayer, lunch, and a trivia game with Giant food store gift cards as prizes.
  • We hosted a workshop on ending racism.
  • We made plans to meet with families of 5 children who will be baptized in the coming weeks.
  • Our first communion class learned that Holy Communion is a meal which leads us to share with others.
  • Twenty-two members of the congregation took part in small group discussions about Desmond Tutu’s book The Book of Forgiving.
  • Two members of our congregation were officially registered into the process of seeking ordination in the ELCA.
  • We heard a powerful story about forgiveness shared by one of our teenagers at the midweek Holden evening prayer service.
  • We received a note of thanks from Mayor Bill Euille for our work with Hunger Free Alexandria.
  • Our youth Sunday School class began a discussion on struggles of faith with their families.
  • We received an order of ice melt – ensuring that we’ve had the final ice/snow of the season. J

These are only some of the things I know about!

Please know that your support is greatly appreciated.

I hope and trust that the work of the church reflected your values this week as we provided comfort for the grieving, fed the hungry, shared with those who are poor, worked to end racism, prayed for forgiveness, struggled with questions of faith, learned about sacraments, and visited the sick – all in response to the gift of love we’ve received in Jesus Christ.

Thank you!

In Christ,

Pastor Jen

Awkward is Good

TDTRAwkward Is Good

The 2014 movie “Dear White People” is a satirical look at racism and the blind spots of well-intentioned Caucasians. NY Times reviewer A.O. Scott says that the film has many awkward moments – awkward enough to want people to talk about racism afterwards – and that’s a good thing.

Tomorrow at Good Shepherd, we will have an opportunity to talk about racism.

Laura McDowell and Sheri Swackhamer will lead us in conversation at a “Today’s Dream: Tomorrow’s Reality” (TDTR) program. TDTR is an initiative of the Women of the ELCA formed to help build anti-racist organizations.

During our morning together, we will relate our conversations to current news events, including the events in Ferguson, MO which led to a Department of Justice investigation. The investigation report was released this week and it offered scathing criticism of law enforcement agencies in Ferguson.

What do we do about it?

One thing we can do is to learn more about ourselves and our own conscious and unconscious associations with race. I imagine there will be some awkward moments tomorrow morning. If those awkward moments create conversation, that’s a good thing!

Join us from 9:15am-Noon!

In Christ,
Pastor Jen

Is Your Cross Big Enough?

subversive crossLent 2B: Is Your Cross Big Enough?

Mark 8:31-38

March 1, 2015

Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me.”

Twenty-five years ago in El Salvador

the military took a cross into custody….

They had arrived at Resurrection Lutheran church in San Salvador

looking for Bishop Medardo Gomez.

He and others in the Lutheran church of El Salvador

were declared subversives for doing things

such as running a refugee camp for those fleeing the civil war,

and teaching the poor radical notions about justice and human rights.

Bishop Gomez wasn’t there when they arrived that day.

But the military didn’t leave empty handed.

They arrested 15 people…and they also took into custody a cross…

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