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!

Friday, February 8, 2013

The crazy world in which we live

I know - it has been ages since anything has been posted here. And I have been guilty for weeks of "meaning to do something about it" and getting sidetracked.

This morning, I read this article and it prompted me to write something about it. You see, this is one of the things I have struggled with in ministry. I grew up in a time and place where Sunday mornings and Wednesday afternoons and evenings were sacred times - reserved for church, confirmation, choir practice, and all other things associated with church. No ball games, no practice (or if there was, it was voluntary and you could be excused for confirmation class), no school activity dared to interfere with these times which were reserved for church events.

I have struggled with this because part of me very much wants to believe that we have choices, and that our choices say a lot about who we are. I still believe this is true, and this article also shows me that there are other ways to deal with this. Sometimes, we don't really have much of a choice. If we work, and our job sometimes requires us to work on Sunday morning, we really cannot be blamed - after all, if we don't work, we don't eat, we don't pay the rent, or anything else that we need. If we view our job as a vocation (as this article suggest), then we must excuse those who work on Sunday. If, indeed, we take this view, then it is the church that is failing (not the church member who works on Sunday) for not providing an opportunity for that person to worship at some time other than Sunday morning.

While on internship in Alabama, I knew of one church who had many of its members who worked in the service industry in the resorts. In order to provide them with a worship opportunity, they had a worship service on Thursday evening, with Holy Communion, to provide an opportunity for those people to worship.

Kids today are really in the same kind of boat. Sure, they could choose to not participate in sports, but for many, it is a way to a scholarship and a college opportunity that they might not otherwise have. Providing an alternate worship time for them is not only a good idea, but probably essential. If the church is not about meeting people where (and when) they are, then we are guilty of being irrelevant - by our own doing. Those who turn up their noses at anyone who cannot attend church at the "regular" time on Sunday morning cannot complain when attendance is down. Those who want more children in church need to get over the fact that they just aren't going to be there on Sunday mornings.

I remember when I was in high school (many, many years ago), there was a church that starting a Saturday evening service, aimed at young people on their way out for a Saturday night date. The idea was, that if you stay out too late to make it to church on Sunday morning (or because some had to work Sunday morning), that you could start your date with a 5:00 p.m. worship service, followed by dinner and a movie (or whatever your date was going to be). I remember thinking it was a great idea at the time, but have not found many churches willing to take on this kind of ministry. It is even more important today to look at options such as this. Worship is worship, whether it occurs on Sunday, or Saturday, or Wednesday - in the sanctuary, or the fellowship hall, or the pub down the street. God meets us where we are; why can't we as the church do the same for those who need to hear God's word?