Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Time of Healing

This past Sunday afternoon, we offered a Service of Healing. It was, as far as anyone can remember, a first for this congregation. While the number of attendees was small, the presence of the Holy Spirit was over-whelming.

The service was simple - readings from scripture, prayers, laying on of hands, and annointing with oil for all who wished. Knowing some of the struggles and illnesses that face some of those who came made the service all that much more powerful, and makes one wonder why this is not a part of more churches - especailly Lutheran churches.

There are many references to healing throughout scripture (all quotes from NRSV):
Genesis 20:17 "Then Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech..."
2 Chronicles 30:20 "The LORD heard Hezekiah, and healed the people."
Psalm 30:2 "O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me."
Matthew 8:8 "...but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed."
Luke 14:4 "So Jesus took him and healed him..."

Perhaps the most compelling argument is found in James:

James 5:14-16 "Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective."

I suppose some Lutherans might argue that since Luther was not too fond of the Book of James, that we tend to not pay it a lot of attention, but the simple fact that Luther did not remove it from his translation of the Bible shows that Luther thought there was need for these words, even if they were not among his favorites. For us, in light of the entire New Testament witness, James has a place and should not be ignored.

As leaders of the church (whether you count your elders as lay or ordained), healing is one of the task that we are called to - healing of the spirit, of the body, of the mind. We may not all have the healing power that Jesus gave his disciples when he sent them out, but we all have the power and ability to pray for one another and to provide comfort in time of need.

Some may believe that Sunday morning worship is sufficient for this, especially in churches where Holy Communion is celebrated every Sunday. There is certainly healing available through the Sacraments, but that does not mean we should limit ourselves to this. A Service of Healing allows us to offer a special time where the focus is on healing, where prayers may specific and interactive, and where friends and family members can join in and lay on hands along with the "elders."

Suffice it to say, that our first experience with this here has been so profound that we hope to find ways to incorporate this service into the life of the congregation on a regular basis. It was healing to us; it was healing to those who came. As we are always in need of healing, for some ill or anguish, there can never be too many opportunities provided for God's people to gather in prayer for one another, and to lay hands on one another, and to be healed through the power of the Holy Spirit. As the promise of Jesus is recorded in the Gosple according to Matthew, "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them (Mat. 18:20)." We simply provide the opportunity to gather and pray. God takes care of the rest. Thanks be to God!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Getting away

(This post is a bit delayed – it should most likely have come this time last week, but by then we were out of town with Ray’s family for Grandma Nellie’s funeral.)

"Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves..." Mark 6:31 NRSV

We began last weekend on retreat at Camp Agape with the congregational council. I know that not all congregations have the tradition of an annual council retreat, but I’m convinced that all should! Of course, I’m always a fan of time away at camp (or I probably wouldn’t have remained a Girl Scout leader for over 15 years)!

This weekend away allows time for the council members to get to know each other and learn to work together. We took time for devotions and completed a spiritual gifts inventory. Several people were surprised to learn what their gifts are; realizing the variety of gifts that this group possesses together as the Body of Christ was very powerful.

In addition to a routine business meeting, we also took time to reflect on programs and events that have been part of the church’s ministry in the past and to brainstorm about a vision for the future. The result was some very basic, practical plans for necessities and some more creative plans for the future, too.

We also had some free time to explore camp, enjoy the fellowship of others, and rest. I pray that everyone serving on the council came away from the retreat as excited about the future of our ministry together as I did. And I heartily suggest this tradition to other congregations!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In times of grief

It is in those times of grief, of personal loss, that the pastor becomes the one in need. During that time, roles are reversed and the congregation becomes the one who ministers to the pastor. It is during that time, that the pastor finds out how well he or she has been getting the message of the gospel across. For the congregation, it is a time to realize its role in ministry - to all who are in need. Thanks be to God that this is so!

Why this odd post? My 97 year old grandmother passed away last week. Not that this could ever happen at a good time, but it was the day before we were to leave on a weekend retreat with the church council. We both went, stayed for most of the retreat, then drove across the state to arrive in time for the funeral and then spend a couple of days with my mother. The council was able to spend time during the weekend being on the giving end rather than the receiving end of pastoral care. It is wonderful to see this process work, and work well.

There will be reflections on my grandmother at a later time (not sure that I could do it yet), but suffice it to say that all of her 9 remaining children (out of 10) were there, most of 21 grandchildren, and I have forgotten how many great grandchildren there are, but many were present. Along with the many, many friends in the community, as well as other relatives and so on, it was a full house for the funeral. There were no less than six ministers present (including us). The grandsons served as pallbearers, which included me. It was the one job I had never done during a funeral. I have been in the choir, assisted with communion, preached, presided, ushered, directed, assisted, etc., but this was my first as a pallbearer. Probably a topic worthy of later reflection as well.

One thing that becomes apparent when a loved one dies, especially in the technically and socially connected world as we now live in - you see how many, many friends you have, all looking out for you. I find that I am very, very blessed, as was Grandma Nellie.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

on the 11th day of Christmas...

Seems like just a few days ago we were putting up the Chrismon tree and hanging the garland in the sanctuary! But today was the Second Sunday of Christmas – the next-to-last day in a twelve day season – and now Advent and Christmas are both behind us. Today was a busy day, filled with both finishing up and planning ahead.

After worship, we had a brief meeting with the congregational council, to make some final arrangements for the annual council retreat next weekend. From there we went on to a covered dish lunch with the Junior, Middle, and Senior Youth groups and their families. After short meetings, we moved into a frenzied time of taking down the Christmas decorations, packing them up, and cleaning in the sanctuary and fellowship hall. Before the afternoon was over, we also had a confirmation class!

There were certainly no dull moments between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm today – and we even missed the chance for fellowship with one of the circles. We also missed a last chance this morning to take photos of the sanctuary while it was filled with garland, the Chrismon tree, poinsettias, and the nativity set. Guess we’ll have to wait about 11 months for our next chance at those photos. In the meantime, the church looks ‘normal’ but strangely empty.

So now, we begin looking ahead – to Epiphany; to Lent and Easter; and with the council, to making plans for 2009 and beyond!