Monthly Archives: February 2016

Seeking and Being Thirsty for God

Sermon preached by Pastoral Intern Wasihun Gutema

Seeking And Being thirsty for God

Psalms 63: 1-8


One can see from this section that David was under pressure. While under pressure he set his priorities. His priorities were seeking after (v.1) and being thirsty for God. David had a problem from his son during his reign and uncertain documents depict that this part of the book of psalms was written sometimes when David was fleeing from his son Absalom.

While feeling his son, he came across a wilderness where he penned down this psalm. He was in the wilderness but not in a spiritual wilderness. He was connected to God even in a wilderness.  We all are living in a pressure filed world. We all are having our own personal wilderness. It looks very difficult to look for God in the wilderness but David was craving for God in the wilderness. He says I seek for you (V.1).

We seek what is hidden or we seek what we need. Do we seek God? Is it because God is hidden that we seek or why does David say “I seek for you.” Seeking in this text is a reference to be in the presence of the face of the Lord. It means having access to God. God is omnipotent and cannot be hidden. God is always present and David was seeking a God who was present and in the presence of David himself. Continue reading


Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

swing low.jpg

Sometime prior to 1862, Wallace Willis was overheard singing the song “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” while working at the Spencer Academy on the Choctaw Indian Reservation in Oklahoma.  Being originally from Mississippi, the Choctaw Nation adopted the practice of owning slaves and brought them to Oklahoma during their relocation.

Willis was inspired by memories of the Red River in Mississippi, likening it to the Jordan River, and he wrote lyrics inspired by Second Kings chapter 2 verse 11:

“As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.”

The spiritual song “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” was written by a slave that was not only a captive in the South, but one that experienced the removal of the Native Americans from their land to Oklahoma. Although several spirituals contain hidden meaning on how to escape to the North, some scholars believe that the song is simply an anthem for eternal life beyond the circumstances of oppression, slavery, and displacement. According to one scholar in a BBC interview, “This fits into that group of spirituals that say ‘I would rather die than be here. Lord, just come and take me right now.’

150 years later, on the steps of the statehouse in Columbus, Ohio, a well-known Black Lives Matter activist committed suicide after years of emotional strain from: a lack of progress drawing attention to police brutality, media scrutiny, and infighting among allies.   One of his last facebook posts was a screenshot of a threatening email he had received that promised to “make his life hell until he kept his mouth shut.”  Dozens of other activists have shared similar stories of depression, anxiety, and insecurity.  Wallace Willis may have shared the same feelings, and so even today it is easy to understand why he hoped for a chariot sent from heaven “coming for to carry him home.”

This song may not have been written out of a hope for a better life on Earth, but it still is a song of hope:  hope for a reconnection with a higher power.  We can only imagine the life that Wallis had to endure, and there is no doubt that for some people his life is still a reality.  We see it in places like the Central African Republic, where violence and war have generated 450,000 internally displaced people, many of which are orphaned children.  And we see the same hope in places like Flint, Michigan, where it took 19 months for state officials to address lead poisoned water that threatened the health of people already struggling with poverty.

As a treaty requirement after the Civil War, African American slaves, including Wallace Willis, became citizens of the Choctaw Nation.  These former slaves were known as “Choctaw Freemen.”  Willis lived the rest of his days in Oklahoma, where his unmarked grave is still located.

Obviously the Lutheran tradition is not to simply remind the oppressed in the promise of eternal life alone, as Wallis reassured himself with this particular song.  But God calls us to do everything possible to relieve oppression in this world, in accordance with the gospel.  What we are assured of with the image of fire in second Kings and the song lyrics, is the presence of God in our life and death.

God Is Not Magic


Lent 1C – God Is Not Magic

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

Luke 4:1-13

February 14, 2016


Throughout Lent, we’ll be taking a special look at the psalms.


Martin Luther said that the book of psalms might well be called a “little Bible”

– a handbook for faith –

because like the Bible in miniature,

the book of Psalms explores the highs and lows of faith

and everything in between.[i]


There are times when the psalmist sings with joy;

and there are times when the psalmist cries out in pain.


The overarching message of the psalms is that no matter what…

whether we are at the mountaintop

or at the base of the pit,

God is there.


The psalms bear witness to the promise that

God is with us.


Today we turn to Psalm 91.

It’s one of many ‘refuge’ psalms.

“I will say to the Lord, “my refuge and my stronghold;

my God in whom I trust.”


At times all of us are refugees of a sort…

at times all of us search for safety and shelter from trouble.

This psalm is meant for us in those times.


But it’s hard to hear this psalm in recent months

and not think of specific groups of refugees.

This psalm is meant for us in a different way too.

Continue reading

Ashes to Go


ashes to go

On Wednesday morning, shortly before sunrise, Scott Ponsor, Cassi Smith and I  walked to the Braddock Road metro stop, set up our sign saying what we were about, and waited…


For about fifteen minutes no one seemed to notice that we were there. Or if they did, they averted their eyes and walked hurriedly by to catch their train.


We smiled and said, “Good morning,” but far more people were interested in greeting the guy at the station handing out the free daily newspaper than us. It was cold and we started to wonder if this endeavor was worth the time and effort.


But then, stepping off the bus, Caroline saw our sign and came rushing over. “Really?” she said. “I can get ashes here? Thank you! Thank you!”


I took some ash with my thumb, made the sign of the cross on her forehead, and said, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Caroline choked up, turned her head quickly away, said “Thank you” one more time, and went into the station to begin her day.


Caroline was just the first. Over the course of two hours, nearly 75 people came to receive ashes. There were a handful of members of our church, but most people we had never met before and may never see again. And yet, there was a connection in that brief intimate moment, making the sign of the cross on the forehead of a stranger.


We live in a part of the country where it is difficult to make connections. Commuting to and from work can be lonely business. We’ve learned not to make eye contact; we’ve learned to listen to music or look at our screens as we wait for the train to get moving again.


On Wednesday morning, I think Caroline was grateful for connection – for connection with God on this holy day, but also for connection with others who noticed her, who cared about her, who were willing to reach out to her on her way to work. She and the others we met will not quickly forget this morning.


Neither will we.


In Christ,

Pastor Jen



The Glory We Can See

greyhoundTransfiguration C

Luke 9:28-36

Exodus 34:29-35

February 7, 2016


My brother Gary tells this story

far more often than I do!


It was a cold February morning.

I was behind the wheel of our old green Chevy station wagon,

driving the two of us to school.

It was a beautiful winter day – the sun was shining

and the snow at the side of the road was glistening.


We arrived at the intersection with the high school,

and I turned right onto East Street — East Street – facing directly into the sun.

As soon as we turned, the sun’s rays bounced off our frosty windshield,

completely blinding me.


Somewhat in a panic

(my brother remembers slightly more panic!)

I shouted, “I can’t see! I can’t see!”

The car bounced off the curb of the median strip.


By the grace of God, somehow I managed to pull into the parking lot.

By the grace of God, somehow I managed not to hit anyone or damage the car.

And by the grace of God, somehow my father never found out!


Whenever I hear these stories of transfiguration;

of Jesus in his dazzling white apparel,

of Moses’ face shining so brightly in the presence of God

that the people can’t look at him unless he puts on a veil…

I think of the blinding light of the frosted windshield that morning.

Continue reading

Black History Month – Resisting Invisibility

OscarsSoWhiteI haven’t paid a lot of attention to black history month over the years. I’ve seen the books highlighting prominent African American men and women on display at the library. I’ve noticed advertisements for special lectures or films. But I haven’t really engaged with these opportunities before.

I’m proud to say that the anti-racism committee at Good Shepherd is hosting a number of educational activities for the community beginning this month.

In a blog for the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Chicago, ELCA pastor Rev. Ronald S. Bonner Sr. writes that black history month is still significant. Many of us are familiar with the stories of at least a handful of black Americans. We can easily talk about Rev. Martin Luther King Jr or Frederick Douglass…or Oprah. But what about the contributions of Toussaint L’Ouverture (liberator of Haiti) or Ms. Ursula Burns (first African American woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company)?

He says that black history month is a “concretized and rooted effort from black people to resist being made invisible by a larger society that needs to maintain a cultural superiority and refuses to fully accept the wealth of contributions by Black Americans.”[i] Not sure if that’s still the case in 2016? Rev. Bonner encourages us to read the tweets from #OscarsSoWhite .

Put these dates on your calendar and tell your friends!

Wednesdays in Lent: Holden Evening Prayer with stories of the spirituals; soup supper at 6pm beginning February 17

  • February 10, 12:10pm and 7pm: Ash Wednesday
  • February 17, 7pm Holden Evening Prayer, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” Cassi Smith
  • February 24, 7pm Holden Evening Prayer, “Wade in the Water”/Harriet Tubman, Sue Cottrol
  • March 2, 7pm Holden Evening Prayer, “Steal Away”/Nat Turner, Andrea Ponsor
  • March 9, 7pm Holden Evening Prayer, “Go Down Moses,” Wasihun Gutema
  • March 16, 7pm Holden Evening Prayer, “There Is A Balm in Gilead,” Corinne Baker

Sunday, February 21, 9:45am: Guest Speaker Dr. Edna Medford, Chair of the History Department at Howard University and incoming President of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History speaks in our lounge

Sunday, February 21, afternoon: Join us opening weekend at the Potomac Yards theater to see the film “Race” about the life of Jesse Owens; time will be announced when available – we’ll be attending a matinee and gathering for those who would like to talk about it afterwards

Sunday, February 28, 7pmPub Theology at Bilbo Baggins, 208 Queen Street in Alexandria; topic for conversation will be “Racism and the church”

Saturday, March 19, time to be determined: Take a tour of the Alexandria black history museum, including special exhibits related to the PBS series “Mercy Street”; suitable for children in grade 4 and up

Sunday, March 13 at 9:45am and Sunday, March 20, 7pm: Book discussion of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, a work which has drawn attention to racial injustices in the United States penal system

Please join us! Make it a part of your Lenten discipline.

In Christ,
Pastor Jen