Monthly Archives: April 2016

Sometimes – there’s God – so quickly

blanche and mitch

In the middle of Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche and Mitch kiss and Blanche exclaims, “Sometimes – there’s God – so quickly!”

It’s my turn to lead our Confirmation class this week. I’ve been struggling with how best to present the 3rd article of the Apostles’ Creed – the one about the Holy Spirit.

“Sometimes – there’s God – so quickly!”

That’s the Spirit I think. It’s the breath of God which tells us that a particular moment is holy. It’s the force of God which gives us a passion for justice. It’s the presence of God which speaks to our conscience. It’s the flame of God which gives us courage. It’s the spark of God within us which helps us see the spark of God within others.

It comes by surprise. We don’t plan it. We can’t control it.  And it can breeze by so fast, that sometimes we miss it.

“Sometimes – there’s God – so quickly!”

When life gets so hectic that I find I’m missing the Spirit – missing the sense of God in my life –  I try to remember to pause and pray for openness and awareness. Just that.

May the Spirit in her power and gentleness take you by surprise today.

In Christ,

Pastor Jen

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Love in the Community of Christ

Sermon by Wasihun Gutema

Good Shepherd Lutheran Church

Alexandria, VA

April 23, 2016

John 13: 34-35

Jesus had his own people through the centuries.  These are the people who follow him amidst all the crises that encounter them.  Even in the situation where a choice is tough, Jesus had those who committed to continue with him. There are people who always choose Jesus even in the ugly situation of life. There are people who better understand and committed to Christ even when a painful cross is waiting. For those who are committed and decided not to look back, for those who do not bargain over Christ, Christ has a new word, a new commandment, a new instruction which looks difficult but easy to carry as Christ himself gives the grace. Such people are always there when even members of their group close the door and go, prioritizing the things of these worlds over Christ (John 13:31a). Continue reading

The Beloved Community

Reflection for Vocation Sunday by Good Shepherd Seminary Candidate Jen Moore

The Beloved Community

 

At first glance, my resume seems disjointed. I have a degree in Architectural History, and worked as a community organizer before heading up recruitment efforts for the Lutheran Volunteer Corps. I also managed a membership network for TimeBanks USA, a nonprofit which helped community groups and social service agencies establish networks of mutual exchange. Most recently, I have simultaneously worked as the communications coordinator and office administrator at Faith Lutheran, as a choir director here, and as a pet sitter. It’s enough to make a life coach cry!

The only way to make sense of these seemingly disparate choices is to understand them through the lens of community. My interest in historic architecture lies more with the stories of people who inhabited the built landscape than in the features of the landscape itself, which is why, when I studied successful revitalization projects, I would feel righteous anger on behalf of displaced communities. As a Lutheran Volunteer, I channeled that anger into community organizing, believing it was more important to preserve neighbors than to preserve buildings. As an LVC staff member, I touted the benefits of intentional community in organizing for justice. When I began to recognize subtle ways in which programs like LVC helped to perpetuate structural racism, I found refuge in TimeBanking, which gave structure to ideals like equality and cooperation. Even in my current work, I find fulfillment in the moments when, through my communications, or through music-making, a part of community that had begun to unravel gets woven together again. In my professional life, I have consistently been drawn to work that leads to meaningful community, in part because I have always been lucky enough to be a part of such communities, but mostly because it’s in community that we experience God’s love mirrored in one another.

So where do all of these seemingly random but thematically related jobs lead, you ask? I have been asking myself that same question for many years! I have tossed around plenty of options – advocacy, social work, more community organizing, even politics – but the one option I was pointedly ignoring was the one option that was pitched to me repeatedly. Many times. By MANY different people. That option is pastoral ministry.

At the risk of sounding irreverent, if there were an internet meme to describe my call story, it would probably read, “I don’t always respond to God’s call, but when I do, it’s usually with a rude gesture.” I won’t bore you with the incredibly long list of signs and wonders that have pointed to this call, but I would like to highlight one that is just plain ridiculous. At some point, maybe in college, but likely as a Lutheran Volunteer, I took a personality test. When the results were mailed out, the evaluation included a list of possible career matches. Right there, second on the list, it read “Lutheran Pastor.” I’m not even kidding. It doesn’t get much clearer than that!

In spite of this, and a long list of pastors and other church-y people suggesting it, I didn’t want to see myself as a pastor. I had an arsenal of excuses – “The church is racist and patriarchal!” or “My husband’s in school!” or “The church is stagnant!” With very few exceptions, the churches I had encountered did not treat the weaker and more marginalized members of the body of Christ as indispensable (1 Cor.12:22). If anything, these churches held the poor at arm’s length through their charitable giving, using money to create distance, making the church a refuge for the comfortable. I enjoyed being in worship and fellowship with other Lutherans, but I didn’t believe that the church was where I would find radical, change-making community. I believed that a career in pastoral ministry was tantamount to selling out.

Then, suddenly, my life turned upside down. In 2009, my husband, Noah, and I bought a house, and less than a year later, our seven-year-old nephew accidentally set fire to his family’s house and severely injured his sister. She spent the next eight months in the hospital, and he spent the next two years living with us. To say that we were unprepared would be a gross understatement. It was devastating. Josh came with a tremendous amount of emotional baggage, and not much else. Caring for his physical, emotional, educational and legal needs stressed our finances and our marriage to the breaking point. I left my demanding but “important” job to work at a Lutheran church so that I could be more available and less stressed out. I did feel like a sell-out.

A few months after Josh finally moved back home, Noah lost his job, beginning a three-year slide into financial ruin as our lifestyle truly unraveled. While he languished in a deep depression, I took on one, then two, extra jobs, with the occasional odd job in my “free” time. Last autumn, when it became clear that we were going to lose the house, we put it up for sale. After five months on the market, it finally sold. We went to closing one day before foreclosure proceedings were scheduled to begin.

As terrible as the last several years have been, I am grateful for them, because, like Paul, I feel like my eyes have been opened to Christ’s presence in my life. In the midst of this dark and desperate time, this community at Good Shepherd has been like a lifeline. In her autobiography, legendary social activist, Dorothy Day, wrote: We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. God’s love is RIGHT HERE in every ear that listens to my never-ending litany of woes, in every cup of coffee that’s poured out in welcome, in every bag of clothing that we ever received for Josh, and in the countless gifts and gestures of support that we have received. God’s love is made perfect in us when we come together in community to serve one another and those beyond our church walls. That’s a pretty radical notion.

And so, I’ve come to see my arsenal of excuses not as reasons to run away from God’s call to pastoral ministry, but to embrace it. Yes, the church struggles with racism, misogyny, self-absorption and a whole host of other sins that undermine community, but so did Paul, and so do I. God comes to each of us on our personal Damascus roads to use both our strength AND our brokenness to serve, connect and heal the Body of Christ wherever we find it. We just have to get over our fear of being uncomfortable if we are to build the beloved community that God calls us to be. Pastoral ministry is a way for me to walk with my community through that locked door, out of the fishing boat, away from the shore, and out into the places where God’s people are waiting.

On Friday, I received an offer of admission to the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia to begin a Masters of Divinity program starting in the fall. <applause?> I. Am. Terrified! But I know that God will continue to use me to build his beloved community, and I am deeply grateful for all your support.

 

Pointing to Jesus

Sermon preached by Good Shepherd Seminarian Josh Wullenweber on the text: John 21:1-19

I come to you in peace from God our Father and from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ… Amen.

 

Now I’ve never had the opportunity to have breakfast on the beach, but I can relate to having meals at the dinner table.  I have so many fond childhood memories that surround meals at the dinner table. One reason probably has to do with the fact that I was a chunky kid and thoroughly enjoyed supper time. In all seriousness though the true reason being the uninterrupted quality time we spent together each night.

 

For my family the dinner table was used as a place to share not only in a meal, but it was a place to reconnect a place to share experiences and to talk about our day.  No matter what was going on in our lives, no matter how busy we were it was at the dinner table that we came together and spent time as a family.

 

School was of course a hot topic, we were always asked what we did that day or what we learned.  I seem to remember the answer usually being nothing, but no matter the topic more importantly it was a place where our parents checked in.  They made sure everything was ok in our lives and it was one place we felt their love.

 

The same is true for today’s Gospel message. We find Peter and the six disciples sharing one final meal together with Jesus.  Sharing in the peace and love of Christ one final time, but before the meal what are the disciples doing?  They were fishing.

 

At the beginning of the 21st chapter of John we find the disciples at the Sea of Galilee.

We find Peter leading six others out on the water.  Now this seems familiar does it not, is this not the same thing Jesus found them doing three years earlier. You might think that after spending three years with Jesus, learning his teachings and witnessing miracle after miracle we might find them somewhere else.  You might think that the disciples may have made it a little farther they should be out changing the world, continuing Christ’s ministry and witnessing to Gods people.

 

Why are they back on the boat? Why are they back to square one at the same exact spot where Christ found them three years earlier? As I studied the Gospel one thing I wondered about was what the disciples are going through now that Jesus was no longer there.  Were the disciples scared, were they in shock, did they lose all hope, did they feel that God had abandoned them?

Continue reading

Reflection on First Year of Seminary

Shared by Maggie Anderson Peterson, MDiv candidate, Luther Seminary

Awesome, empowering, affirming, life-changing. These are words that I would use to describe my first year of seminary. Every day seems to pose its own new challenge, whether it be a theological, academic, or personal challenge. But rather than seeming daunting, working my way through these challenges has been the most enriching life experience I have ever had, made all the more so because of the outstanding support I have received from my communities.

In my first semester of seminary, I was required to write what amounted to 30 pages of my understanding of the Trinity, the promise of God and how Trinitarian theology affected my call to community. For a brand-new seminarian, it seemed an impossible task. How could I explain the very core tenant of Christian theology based on just a few months of study? How could I possibly put into words the truly awesome relationship between God and humanity? How could I, a simple seminary student, understand the magnitude of God’s promise? But something incredible happened in the wee hours of the night as I labored over my thoughts, and the words detailing God’s promise to me, my calling to ministry, and my relationship with God and the world flowed out of me like the love of God itself. It was a moment fueled by grace and Spirit, and at the very point when I felt most discouraged, I was lifted up by God and renewed in my calling once again. (By the way, I aced that paper.)

Seminary is filled with moments like that one every day, big and small. It’s an incredible rollercoaster of a journey. It’s not uncommon to go from feeling overjoyed to infuriated to awestruck in one day, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s the biggest challenge I’ve ever undertaken in my life, and I could never do this without your support. Thank you for being there for me along the way!

Peace,

Maggie

P.S. Check out my new blog at www.saying-grace.com if you want to read more about my thoughts on ministry!

Casting Out Fear

king friday

Easter 2 Casting Out Fear

April 3, 2016

John 20:19-31

 

Today we begin with a question:

What are you afraid of?

What kind of things scare you?

 

A Facebook friend posted a picture of a spider

that she found on a bedroom wall of her house this week.

People responded in various ways,

my guess depending on how scared they are of spiders…

 

One responded in all caps:  “IT’S A TARANTULA…MOVE IMMEDIATELY!”

Another person was more circumspective and wrote,

maybe it’s a wolf spider?

(Which apparently would be a good thing!)

 

If not spiders,

what are you afraid of?

 

We’ve been taught to fear…

Every day the news reminds us that the world is a scary place. Continue reading

Becoming Prayer

nursing home

Sometimes people tell me that prayer doesn’t work. And to be honest, sometimes I feel that way myself.

My prayers don’t often seem to change the world around me.

But here’s the thing…they do often change me.  I notice things more. I pay attention more. And maybe that’s how prayer is supposed to work. Maybe prayer changes us so that we can respond to the needs for which we pray.

Yesterday I read some ideas of how we can become the answer to our prayers. [i]Check them out. They’re remarkably possible…and I think they could really make a difference both for us and for others:

Praying for peace? Take a break from noise. Turn off things that make noise for a day or a week and spend the time in silence, speaking only when necessary. And remember those in our world whose voices have been silenced.

Praying for an end to loneliness? Go to a home for the elderly and get a list of folks who don’t get any visitors. Visit them each week and tell stories, read together, or play board games.

Praying for economic justice? Laugh at advertisements, especially ones that teach that you can buy happiness.

Praying for more kindness in the world? Go down a line of parked cars and add money to the meters that are expired. Leave a little note saying something nice.

Praying for immigration reform or a more sustainable environment? Connect with a group of migrant workers or farmers who grow your food. Visit their farm. Maybe even pick some veggies with them. Ask what they get paid.

Become the answer to your own prayers.

 

In Christ,

Pastor Jen

[i] www.commonprayer.net by Shane Claiborne and Jonathon Wilson- Hartgrove in Morning Prayer for March 31, 2016.