Saturday, November 28, 2015

Advent Article

An article I recently wrote for the local newspaper:

Advent Article for Thanksgiving Edition of the Stanly News and Press (SNAP) 2015
 By Rev. Ray Sipe, Chaplain, Trinity Place    

Why are we waiting?

Thanksgiving is upon us. As we prepare for the big day with lots of food, family and friends gathering together, and preparations for the big game, we may not be aware that Advent is just around the corner, beginning the Sunday after Thanksgiving this year.

For many of us, Advent has become an old churchy thing that no one does anymore. For others, Advent has become a renewed season of waiting, preparing, and for some, a time of soul searching and examination.  Wikipedia defines Advent as “time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas.”

Advent (from adventus, Latin meaning coming) is a time of waiting. It literally is a time of waiting for the second coming of Jesus. This is the time in which we live – the time between the birth of Jesus and his coming again. We celebrate the season of Advent in the church as a time of waiting and preparation – both on the first coming and on the second coming.

As we hear the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary during the season of Advent, we hear both the anticipation of the coming savior as a child in the manger, and of the second coming of the savior, to set this world right and establish the Kingdom of God here on earth.

Our Gospel texts this Advent season come from the Gospel of Luke. We begin with the end times, Luke 21:25-36, and hear Jesus describe the second coming. On the second Sunday of Advent, we hear John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of the messiah (Luke 3:1-6). On the third Sunday of Advent, we continue John’s proclamation (Luke 3:7-18), and on the last Sunday of Advent (Luke 1:39-55) we hear of Mary’s visit with her cousin Elizabeth, and of course, Mary’s Song.

Each of these texts tells of the coming of the messiah, gives us food for thought to reflect on the meaning of the birth of Jesus, and of his coming again. As we scramble through the preparations for Christmas, and end of year, and inventories, and cleaning up the records for tax time, and all of the many other things that occupy our time during December, I invite you to spend just a little time, pausing each day, to consider the coming of Jesus. If you don’t hear these texts on Sunday morning, I invite you to read them on your own, as your own Advent devotion. Instead of reacting to all of the things that are happening around you, take a few minutes to reflect on the birth of Christ, and what his presence means in your life. For additional Advent devotional resources, simply Google Advent Devotions and many will pop up. One of my favorite free resources is available at You can read it on-line or print it. A large print version is also available.

As we watch and wait this Advent season, we pray: Come, Lord Jesus. Awaken your people. Fill us with your light, and bring the gift of Peace on Earth. Amen.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday

It is Good Friday, and as I ponder a sermon for the day, I come back to these words by S. M. Lockridge that I found a few years ago. I find them to be a powerful description of the day.

By S. M. Lockridge

It’s Friday
Jesus is praying
Peter’s a sleeping
Judas is betraying
But Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
Pilate’s struggling
The council is conspiring
The crowd is vilifying
They don’t even know
That Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
The disciples are running
Like sheep without a shepherd
Mary’s crying
Peter is denying
But they don’t know
That Sunday’s a comin’

It’s Friday
The Romans beat my Jesus
They robe him in scarlet
They crown him with thorns
But they don’t know
That Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
See Jesus walking to Calvary
His blood dripping
His body stumbling
And his spirit’s burdened
But you see, it’s only Friday
Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
The world’s winning
People are sinning
And evil’s grinning

It’s Friday
The soldiers nail my Savior’s hands
To the cross
They nail my Savior’s feet
To the cross
And then they raise him up
Next to criminals

It’s Friday
But let me tell you something
Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
The disciples are questioning
What has happened to their King
And the Pharisees are celebrating
That their scheming
Has been achieved
But they don’t know
It’s only Friday
Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
He’s hanging on the cross
Feeling forsaken by his Father
Left alone and dying
Can nobody save him?
It’s Friday
But Sunday’s comin’

It’s Friday
The earth trembles
The sky grows dark
My King yields his spirit

It’s Friday
Hope is lost
Death has won
Sin has conquered
and Satan’s just a laughin’

It’s Friday
Jesus is buried
A soldier stands guard
And a rock is rolled into place

But it’s Friday
It is only Friday
Sunday is a comin’!

Sunday is coming, and the rest of the story comes with it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Of Loss, Grief, and Change

Yes - it has been a while since I wrote anything in this space. The last thing I wrote was about my current schedule and whether or not I could sustain it. The answer is yes, but not easily. Much has had to change.

Many of the recent changes have not been ones we planned for. For example, during the last couple of months of school, I ended up driving a school bus more days than not. I had hoped to cut back on the number of days I drove, but a serious need by the schools I drive for and some loss that meant I needed extra money won out.

The first loss was in my ham radio equipment. I apparently suffered a lighting strike that I was not aware of until I realized that my antenna was not working well which soon turned into the radio not working well either. From all reports, the radio suffered severe damage (not repairable without spending more than a new radio cost); and the antenna is also not repairable without spending more than it is worth. Trying to earn some extra money to replace this equipment was part of the reason to drive the school bus more.

Another reason for the extra money was so that I could go to the Dayton Hamvention in Dayton, Ohio. This event occurs every year, but last year and this year were the first opportunities I have had to go with a group (thus saving a lot of money). This year was the first (and maybe only time) that the stars will align and I can make the schedule work out. It was a great trip and a lot of fun. I hope to be able to go again some day.

Then the next loss - my Jeep died. This was a major loss - both in terms of financial setback and grief. I have driven Jeeps for the last 20 years. I have gone places I could not have gotten to otherwise. We have been to Camp Jeep three times (twice in Virginia and once in Arkansas). They were great fun and experiences we will never forget. We have not been for almost 10 years, and I still tell stories from our time there. Not only did the Jeep die, the part was worth more than the value of the Jeep (2004 with 192K miles). Worse yet, I had already been debating some other vehicle because of gas mileage. Since I am doing ministry in three places, the nearest being 12 miles away, and the next 12 miles in a different direction, and the third being another 9 miles past the second place, I am putting on a lot of miles. An average of 2,700 each month. The one problem with Jeep is that they have never improved the gas mileage (I understand that the 2015 will have a fuel-efficient diesel option which gets about 25 MPG, for about $40k), and I really needed to get better than 19 MPG.

Since the Jeep died in the drive-way and I was pretty sure it was some type of computer/electrical failure, I had it towed to the dealership where I have had other service work done (including the new transmission three years ago). The part was almost $1000, plus labor, plus the other electrical problem I had not had time/money to repair, plus the new tires it was going to need. The bottom line was it just needed too much work.

After having tried several other vehicles and realizing that many of them were just too short (no head-room for me) and that others gave no better gas mileage, and yet others had all that but cost way too much, we drove a Dodge Journey (basically back to a station wagon). The size is good, the gas mileage is an improvement, and since it only has 26K miles on it, I should be good for a few years.

I really like the car, but I miss my Jeep. I grieve the loss of my Jeep. There are places I know I can't get to without 4 wheel drive. I have to figure out new storage places and a new way to install my ham radio. The controls are not where they used to be. So much is different. Change is hard. Loss is hard. And yet, this is the way of life.

As I deal with these losses and changes in my life, I understand why change in the church is so hard for some people. Everything around them is changing, and the one thing they think should remain the same is the church. The problem is, the church has to change for many of the same reasons. Some things are too worn out or too expensive to maintain. Some things just don't fit any more. Some things have to change so we can afford other things. Loss of members, loss of income, loss of leadership - all these require us to evaluate how we do things and most likely - we have to change and adapt. There is loss here akin to the loss we feel when someone dies. There is grief here akin to the grief we have when someone dies. There is change - life will never again be the same. But we must remember - it is God who is unchanging, not the church. The church must change, adapt, reform - constantly - or it will die. The same is true with us. I could have gone in dept to repair my much loved Jeep and kept it on the road for a while longer, but how long? What part would fail next? How much would it cost? At what point do I decide that enough money has gone into a vehicle that does not get good enough gas mileage and that is continuing to rack up miles at a high rate?

The same is true of the church. We must adapt and change. We must make decisions based not on how we used to do it, but what can we afford and what will work today. Loss, grief, and change. They are never easy, but they are a constant part of life.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Coming and Going

As I have enjoyed the past few days (snow days) of being able to work from home and not have to drive anywhere, I have given some thought to the questions I have been asked lately about my schedule. As you may or may not know, I am currently doing ministry in three places, plus a couple of other things since full time calls in this area are scarce.

I am serving as the long-term interim pastor at Mt. Gilead Lutheran Church in Mt. Pleasant NC, the long-term interim pastor at St. Martin Lutheran Church in Concord NC, and the part-time chaplain at Trinity Place Lutheran Home in Albemarle. This means that on Sunday, I have a 9:30 a.m. service, an 11:00 a.m. service, and a 4:00 p.m. service. It also means that on Sunday I drive about 65 miles.

On top of those three positions, I also drive a school bus some mornings, and still work on computers and websites. All in all, still not quite full time pay and no benefits. As a  colleague said to me the other night, this is the new church, and we cobble things together as best we can (he also drove buses for awhile -delivering new ones).

As I said, I have spent some time contemplating this situation and have wondered a couple of things. How much longer can I manage this kind of schedule without meeting myself coming and going? So far, I manage to not miss many things (thanks to really good calendar apps) and I still do manage to get some time at home. The other question is how long can the church survive when this is what leaders are forced to do?

I have heard and read many stories of leaders (mostly young with families who have no other skill sets) who have ended up on food stamps and lost their homes because they were either at a church where they could not provide a full salary or they were without a call and could not find one. Long gone are the days when a candidate is trained for the church without cost (most of us carry a lot of student loan debt), and most of us need a decent salary to survive. Even with a call that includes a parsonage, cost of living has increased much faster than many salaries, and most churches are looking at ways of reducing cost - including the pastor's salary, so what are we to do?

One of my hopes was that by taking on the interim position in two congregations, someday we might be able to talk about a two-point parish with a call. That may still happen, but some days seems like a long-way off. Other days it seems like it could happen soon, but the reality is that not many congregation are willing to consider this option. For most, their independence is an issue they do not want to mess with. It is not that they don't like the other church, or that they don't want the pastor to have the income they cannot provide, but the change itself, and not being able to set your own schedule can be an issue. This point came home to me over the last couple of weeks as we discussed the schedule for Lent. One congregation was adamant about doing a soup supper in their own fellowship hall every Wednesday in Lent and not alternating as we have done for Bible Study. It just means that I give up two evenings every week in Lent instead of one. But these are the issues we face as we try to set up new models of ministry.

Most days, I love what I do - even the days that begin at 5:30 a.m. to drive a school bus and don't end until about 9:00 p.m. when I get home from Bible Study. I love the people and I love serving God. However, when I find myself falling asleep while visiting someone, or nodding off at a stoplight, then I wonder again how long this can go on.

Peace be with you all, and pray for all those who work multiple jobs that they might find time to rest occasionally.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent 2013

Advent is almost over. Twenty-two days ago, we began the journey through Advent. While I would have like to have posted this sooner, it has been a busy Advent and I have not had time. 

As part of a local ministerial association, I was asked to write an article about Advent. Since our local newspaper does not make articles like this available on-line, I am going to post it here.

Advent, which literally means “coming,” is the season when Christians prepare for the coming of the Messiah, the Christ. We often sing Advent hymns rather than Christmas carols. The suggested scripture readings for the season focus on passages which prepare us for the coming of Jesus as a baby in the manger, as well as texts which focus on the second coming of Christ. Advent is that season when we are we are most aware of living in the in-between time – that time between Jesus’ birth and his return on the last day.

This can be a difficult time for us, especially as we see all the advertisements for Christmas, beginning even before Halloween is over. It becomes so easy for us to get caught up in the excitement, each day busier than the last, as we try to out-decorate, out-shop, out-spend, and out-party the previous year and everyone around us.

This is why the church teaches patient waiting as part of Advent. We watch, and we wait. We light Advent candles to mark the weeks, and we wait. We sing Advent hymns, and we wait. We decorate a little at a time, and we wait. We use blue paraments to signify hope – hope at the anticipation of the coming Messiah, and we wait. We hear the stories of the Annunciation – the angel announcing to Mary that she will bear a son, and we wait. We hear about John the Baptist, come to prepare the way of the Lord, and we wait. We read the prophet Isaiah and hear the prophecies of the coming Messiah, and we wait.

While we wait, we are called to examine our lives and our priorities, just as John the Baptist called for repentance as he baptized in the river Jordan. While we wait, we are called to bring the message of the coming Messiah to others who may not have heard. While we wait, we are called to remember the poor, and those who are homeless and hungry. While we wait, we prepare for the coming babe in the manger as choirs practice, and pageants are rehearsed; as greens and poinsettias appear in the sanctuary.

Even while we wait, we are assaulted from all sides to spend more, to shop earlier and later, to stand in longer and longer lines to get that “must have” gift at the best possible price. Each year, while we wait, more and more Christmas movies and television shows appear, urging us to begin our celebration of Christmas earlier and earlier. As we wait, we go to parties and eat too much, drink too much, and later we wonder what happened to our self-control.

All this waiting, and yet when Christmas Day comes, we can’t wait to till it is over so we can start taking the decorations down and putting them away till next year, when the season is actually only just begun! The twelve days of Christmas – that time from Christmas Day till Epiphany when we celebrate the coming of the wise men, becomes lost because we have been inundated with Christmas music since before Thanksgiving and we are tired of it by Christmas Day.

This year, join us as we wait, savoring the anticipation of the coming of Christ. Join us as the church celebrates the entire Christmas season, up to and including the Epiphany on January 6. Leave the tree up until then, rather than taking it down on New Years Day. Spend some time this Advent season feeding the hungry, helping someone build their own home, buy a toy or clothing for a child that will otherwise go without, and wait for the celebration of the birth of the Lord, for he has come, and has promised to come again.

Blessings to you during the final days of Advent and into Christmas. In two days we can begin to celebrate in earnest the coming of our Lord and continue for the next twelve days. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What is a pastor to do?

I have recently come from the NC synod assembly, and like many others, one of the conversations was about the "nones."  Here is a post about a synod assembly that took this one step farther - click here.

The question becomes, just how do we as pastors go about reaching the "nones?" Of course, there are some who do not want us to reach them, but I notice that sometimes, once they know we are pastors, we are the first person they come to with some question about church, or forgiveness, or some related topic. They do not want to be in church, but they do want to be able to ask questions.

What format works best? Is it an informal session at the local pub, coffee house, or is it an informal session at your place of worship, such as in informal midweek service, an open coffee hour some evening, or something else? It is clear that these conversations are important. It is clear that many (but certainly not all) of the nones are people who have been hurt by their previous participation in a church (many times a very conservative church) or by what they have seen happen in or to someone in a church.

We are often labeled hypocrites because we talk about leading sinless lives, but yet there are so many sinners in our church. I was once told "I would not go to that church because so-and-so goes there and you know all the things so-and-so has done." We know, especially as pastors, that the church is for the sinners, and that there is always room for one more, but what do we do about the perception that we are all "saved" and therefore sin no more?

This may be one of those places where Lutherans get lumped with a lot of other Christians and we need to let our own voice be heard - especially our belief that we are both saint and sinner. Lutheran believe in the both/and, not the either/or. We know we are saved - "for by grace you have been saved through faith (Eph 2:8)," but how do we articulate this so as to open doors, not shut them? How do we be inclusive rather then exclusive? If we truly believe that God's grace is available to everyone, what language do we use that does not sound like the "insider" language we use in worship?

I guess I am really troubled by the reports from the "nones" that worship is too confusing, too intimidating, too "insider." Why don't we do a better job of leading worship? Why don't we do a better job of mentoring those new to worship? Why don't we have people trained to go sit with the new people and help them follow a worship service?

It seems that most of our problem is that we are still operating like we did 40 years ago when it was assumed that everyone went to church, everyone knew how to read a bulletin and follow a service, everyone knew at least the basics of how to worship. The reality is that none of this is true. We need to assume that every new person who walks through our doors knows nothing about worship, or at least about how we worship. and we need to do everything we can to help that person become familiar and comfortable with how we worship. Be redundant in our instructions. Remind everyone what page the creed is on and why we profess it. Do all the things you can think of to be more user-friendly to everyone who visits - whether for the first time, or the 1000th time. Even our older members will be appreciative of the extra reminders of what page we are on!

Not that I have proposed any grand solution here, but these are thoughts on a Saturday morning after reading the article I linked to in the beginning. Be sure to read that article, as it really opens the discussion and offers some good questions and insights.

Peace be with you!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

It's been a busy spring!

I had thought back during Lent that I would get back into posting more often, but then something happened (doesn't it always?). That was about the time I went from being a part-time substitute school bus drive to a full part-time school bus driver (yes, an oxymoron if I ever saw one. It simply means that instead of driving some days, I now drive the same bus on the same route every day, but still a part-time job).

Along with supply preaching, 12 hours per week at Trinity Place (formerly Lutheran Home - Albemarle), and starting yard work and putting in the garden, life has been really busy. On top of that, I have taught a basic Ham radio class, become a Volunteer Examiner Session Manager for ham radio licensing, and been working with a local congregation  to see if we can work out something for me to be their interim/extended supply pastor (also part-time).

With Ruth Ann being full time and my many part-time jobs, we stay very busy. We also get to keep at least some of the grandchildren every now and then. The oldest was with us the week after Easter, the twins will be here next week, and the triplets come for at least a couple of days each month. After each visit, we are quite glad to go back to our regular, busy days as they require much less energy!

The garden is growing (some pictures on Facebook with more to come). I will post some garden pictures here when I can. These photos are the first roses of spring! We are glad to have a rose garden again, even if it is fairly small. They give us great enjoyment throughout the year! Happy spring!