by Pastor Bernt
It’s a good opportunity to look back on what’s happened since Advent, and to look forward to the forty days of Lent leading to Easter. Maybe “happy” doesn’t seem to be the right word for Lent, but (thinking of our forums on happiness this Fall) I find myself looking forward to the simple joy of drawing closer to God and one another, even if the way of Lent leads through the wilderness and the cross.
But first: December and January! They whirl by fast. I want to pause, to notice and appreciate some of what we’ve seen:
A full house at the St Lucia Festival. Angela, Margaret and so many others make it fun (dancing!) and beautiful. This is one event that seems to be drawing neighborhood kids and families (and not just Swedes …). A few visitors also came drawn to what they felt to be timely theme of “Peace” at Lessons and Carols. One of you appreciated that this wasn’t a “cookie cutter Lessons & Carols service.” I enjoyed hearing how Luçik had the saxophone quartet accompany the choir.
Most of you do experience one of our beautiful Christmas Eve services. But some of you may not have noticed that at 8:30 recently, there were two services where not just most of the liturgy but all the music was led by youth. Angela and Todd’s son Sam did an inspiring job improvising bluesy gospel on guitar!
I am grateful for what Rich Schwerin and Julie Weiss have done to lead us outdoors, and more recently in leading us in assembling relief kits for Lutheran World Relief. John Allured has taken up new roles with the synod, and works hard to help us find ways to be a welcoming congregation in this new era of immigration policy. Don and Jill Knuth, for his birthday, shared the entire book of Revelation with engaging music and original art to an assembly of scholars and engineers from around the world. Kate and I were inspired to witness this Christian witness.
We could go on. I know folks don’t always like the attention. I also know there’s so much excellent and steadfast work that goes unseen. Just one of many possible examples: Joyce and Vince have committed great time and energy wading through complicated new responsibilities as Financial Secretary and Treasurer, as we transition to new software, managing another rental house, new forms of giving and so on.
Transition: that’s a word I associate with Lent. The forty days of Lent recall the forty years Israel spent in the wilderness, a transition between the thrill of deliverance from Egypt and courageous steps forward into the Promised Land. I try to remind myself that we as a congregation are just several years into a major transition, from a long pastorate to a clergy couple, to changes in the Silicon Valley, and lots of smaller transitions that can be … big! Recently, Julia Ball moved out of state. I’m appreciating what she did here, and working on ways to keep the kids involved at the Easter Vigil in her absence.
And then there’s also all the changes in our personal lives, those your pastors know about and those we don’t. And, in our country! In the between-state of the wilderness, Israel was “tested,” learning to trust God in all things. They found joy even before the reached their destination. “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,” we hear in Psalm 25 (the first Sunday of Lent).
I appreciate your faith in God’s love and in this community. From the numbers I’ve seen so far, it appears we have met our goal of increased giving for 2017. We are finding our way forward in compassion for people in need, witness to the gospel of Christ, inspiring music and worship. God goes ahead of us, leading the way.
I am always excited at this time of the year. I enjoy the cooler days, the smell of baked goods and fireplaces, the kids’ excitement for Christmas, and all the other nice things that come with the season. At the same time it’s a stressful time of year with all the added pressures and expectations that come with The Holidays. We all get busy with planning, travelling, shopping, cooking, baking, cleaning, wrapping, decorating, going to choir rehearsals, planning special services and pageants and parties. It is all worth it in the end, but still stressful and exhausting.
Then add to it all that we are living in truly stressful and even scary times! We need only turn on the news, grab a headline, or get on Facebook or Twitter to see and hear how angry, fightened, and bitterly divided people are in our country and in the world. There are National Security threats, political threats, threats to people’s human rights, awful violence, devastating natural disasters. It takes work to find stories and events that bring hope and a glimpse of peace in the world we are living in.
This recap doesn’t even include our own inner turmoil, our own experience of fear, sadness, worry, our feelings of being overwhelmed, our daily struggles. Again, all you have to do is get online or go to the self-help section of a bookstore to find the many suggestions and answers to finding calm and peace in ones life. Whether it’s prayer, meditation, watching funny movies, yoga, therapy, getting outside, or finding comfort talking with a loved one, so many methods, so much advice encourages us to cope with our own traumatized personalities and experiences in life. The many cures suggest the scope of the dis-ease.
During these challenging and stressful times, how do we find and experience peace at church? How do we be a church that helps us all and every one who walks in the door experience the peace and comfort that comes in God’s love and grace for all of us?
How do we make this a practice? How do we be a church that regularly practices kindness, forgiveness, patience, and understanding both with ourselves and each other? When we do this, we do better finding it outside in the political realm, in our work, in our school, walking down the street.
We cannot share peace, love, and kindness with others if we don’t experience and practice it with ourselves and all whom we encounter.
Our church experience should not be stressful. It is meant to be a place (both physical and communal) where everyone gets to experience something more powerful and comforting than anything in the outside world.
So, as we enter this busy season of Advent and experience the strain that often accompanies it, my hope for us all is that we look for and to what is most important, focusing on the hope and peace that comes with welcoming Jesus into our broken lives and the broken world we live in.
Blessings and Peace,
For worship on Reformation Sunday 2017 we used Luther’s own German Mass (in translation), a service he put together for use among those without much familiarity with Christianity. Our service bulletin included explanatory notes in the margins – you can see it here:
Here’s a recording of the full liturgy:
Here’s a recording of the sermon: