Music invitation and update from Jung Jin

New Season & New Plan for Choir!

Regardless of where you find yourself today (this week, this month), know this: September marks the beginning of a new season, and with that comes an invitation to change, to experience something new. Our choir will be improved by a creative method. It is originally from one of the choir member’s ideas and our pastors and I agree with this wonderful idea. The purpose of this is to lessen a commitment and encourage new member to join the choir. Here’s what we plan:

Full Choir: Sing every other week, with easier, more accessible selections (→ Love to sing but aren’t the most musically talented? Come rehearse every week and join us for the full choir weeks.)
Soloist and/or Small Ensemble: Sing (or perform) once a month, with little more challenging pieces (→ Accomplished musician, but time-limited? Sign up for a solo or small ensemble work.)
“Pickup” Choir: Sing once a month. Anyone and everyone who likes to sing can join. No commitment for the weekly rehearsal, you can just show up on Sunday morning. We will meet at 9:20 am. (→ Love the choir, but your schedule is too tight?  Participate when you can and don’t feel bad about missing when you need to.)

Perhaps you’ve been out of choir for a while… perhaps you can’t sing weekly during the academic year… this new plan will be the perfect opportunity to share your gifts of music and to be around other people just like you! If you’re in the congregation and want to contribute, choose the way that suits you best. We’d love to welcome new people who want to try it out!!!

-Jung Jin

First Day, First Priority

A sermon by Pastor Bernt

August 21, 2022 – On Luke 13:10-17

Sabbath is connected to Exodus: the Jews were enslaved to the Pharoah; he made them work harder and harder. But God released the slaves. And God gave them a commandment: the seventh day of each week would be an “anti-slavery” day; a day of rest: Sabbath. And not just rest for you, but rest for your servants, your animals – even, at times, the land itself.

There would be lots of related laws, even including release from the slavery of financial debt. But basically the Sabbath was at least one day a week when everything could be different – and God wanted for us freedom from bondage, equality, rest and delight – always.

The rules were important. When there’s urgent work to do, employers may not give time off unless they have to. Or, cancel debt. But Sabbath wasn’t about the rules so much as the remembering: we were slaves, now we’re not! Let’s celebrate! The rules aren’t intended to constrict, but to set free. The Sabbath should be a day that’s life-giving.

The controversy in today’s gospel is between to Jewish teachers. One – Jesus – heals a woman on the Sabbath. The other teacher objects: “Isn’t healing work? Is it allowed? Are we taking a day off here or not?” Jesus is saying: “She’s healed from bondage to an oppressive spirit. Isn’t being set free from slavery what this day is all about? Isn’t that what I’m all about – and God?”

When some of us were kids, everything was closed on Sundays – and not just the restaurant Chick-fil a, but movie theaters, clothing stores. It was in part a legacy from our Puritan past. They had some very strict sabbath laws: like having to spend all day in worship or bible study. To some people the word “sabbath” could mean: “Just, stop! Shut it down. Get serious.”

Isn’t that what some people think Christianity is all about? “Settle for a strict, dutiful, dull HALF-life now so that some day when you get to heaven you can spread your wings like an angel.”

But that’s wrong. Think of the woman Jesus heals: she’s bent over – living that half-life. I like to imagine her folded forward, her face against her shins, like some kind of odd toy. More compact, so she can be stored away and shipped off to heaven.

But Jesus won’t have it. He doesn’t want her to be half-alive, constricted. On the Sabbath, he unfolds her so she can stretch out, fully alive.

And what about us?

A theme we’re introducing this year is “First Day.” At the close of the Sabbath was the First Day of the week, a new day, when Christ was raised from the dead. The First Day – Sunday – is like the Christian version of the Jewish Sabbath. Kind of like how the Jews have Passover, and around the same time every year the Christians have Easter, which they used to actually just call “Passover.” Passover, Easter, related but different.

The First Day – also called the Lord’s Day – is like our Sabbath. Only, the Puritans made it a somber day. In the early church, the First Day was joyful – I’ll get to that.

When you hear “First Day” think “first in priority.” As in, “what are our priorities in how we spend our time?” Is that the best way to put it? Priority sounds like “what I’m supposed to do.” But it is about liberty: what am I permitted to do?

I could say: “you ought to prioritize going to church, first and foremost,” but it’s bigger than that. There are so many demands being made on your time. So many claims being made on your schedule, your attention. What kind of time do you want more of? What do you want permission to do? Aren’t we like the ox Jesus describes, tied up to the fence, just wanting to get over and get a sip of water?

What binds us? Maybe we’re expected to work too many hours? Or we have this inner compulsion to work hard, to achieve? We want that straight A life – especially for our kids. So we’re shuttling them around more than we’d like. Or we have addictions. Or we just stress – as a verb; I’m stressing but I can’t find much to do about it. My question is: can we, as siblings in Christ, find more ways to support each other in these struggles? Give each other permission, to put first priorities first? I’m not sure what that would look like.

And what about captivity to social media? Imagine hearing this gospel story as a contemporary account. “A woman bent over? She must be looking at her phone. She’s doom scrolling. Or she’s refreshing her inbox. I see people walking around like that all the time.” Not that smartphones are evil. But they’ve become a symbol for all that holds our attention captive – and a symbol for the business of Silicon Valley. But Jesus sees her. He sees this woman bent over and he says to her – as to us – “You are set free from your ailment.” Ok. Now what?
But imagine the story another way. The land is – under – occupation from Rome, It’s – under – oppression from the demonic powers. The woman is bent over because she’s – under- a heavy burden. The evil spirit is basically riding on her back. Who’s carrying the heaviest loads in our society? Probably not many of us. But people all around us – who are forced to work multiple jobs just to survive. People burdened under racism. People in the criminal justice system. The incarcerated.

And Jesus sees them. He sees the people folded over and says to them – as to us – be free from your ailment. Ok. Now what?

What are we freed for? What’s the First Day for? OUR Sabbath: Sunday – and, each new day?

We can explore together this year – but start with this one woman. She’s healed in the synagogue: that word just means “house of assembly.” She stands now as an equal in the assembly: she can see their faces; they can see hers. One First Day priority and permission is just to get together. Church means assembly. But I think also of home and the custom of family gatherings, Sunday dinners: “put your phone away at the table!” After a long Covid isolation, it’s good to be with people. For children to be with the elderly and all in between. We’re also challenged to find ways to meet those carrying the heaviest burdens, across social class and race and ethnicity.

So now – we hear that when this unfolded woman stands stands straight – she praises God. Take that word “praise.” The mood is celebratory. The First Day – Sunday – is a Feast Day.

Last year when we did adult classes on these topics, I was intrigued to learn that in the early church there was a law against kneeling for prayer on Sundays. You would kneel or even go prostrate on weekdays: in a spirit of penitence and humility. But Sunday was supposed to be a festive resurrection day. So you stood to pray and sing and all the rest – yes, even during Lent. One theologian said: “don’t show signs of anxiety or deference.”

How’s that for a First Day priority or permission? That we’re festive? Maybe that means wild dancing, or maybe just a happy nap. In the New Testament, when Christians gathered, it was about feasting. There was a sharing of food and gifts, including money, with people in need. There was gladness and beauty: music and other art, enjoyment of creation – in bread, wine and water. What kind of festivity do you crave? What about people in our society? Who do we want to share our company and food and gifts with?

Finally, when the healed woman sings praise – of course it’s praise directed towards God. A First Day priority is getting to spend time with God, hearing God’s word and responding in prayer.

I imagine the woman praising God for the presence of Jesus at the synagogue that day. But also praising God for the Sabbath itself: the gift of this special day from God, one whole day every single week that’s all about being redeemed, set free.

It makes me think about religion as a whole, what it’s about. What’s Christianity about, simply put? As I was saying before, maybe it’s not about living a half-life being shuttled toward heaven.

You might say Christianity is about the moral code. It’s an ethical, spiritual way of life.

You might say Christianity is about the message: “God loves you, unconditionally. Your sins are forgiven.” And getting that message across to people.

But you might also say, it’s about the gift of a day. In more ways than one. It’s the day promised to us. The prophets were always saying: “On that day … On that day” and they’d describe a day that would come when justice would be done and people saved.

It’s about the gift of a recurring festival day. People say “if only I had one extra day!” You’re busy all week but you’ve been given this one day: the First Day of the week, for meeting and feasting and worship. Here it is – it’s yours – take it! Enjoy!

And it’s about the gift of each new day, when we wake up, alive, yet again. Including this very day. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus often says “today. On this very day, salvation has come to your house.” When he began his ministry, he read from the prophet Isaiah: “Good news to the poor. Release to the captives. The oppressed go free. The year of the Lord’s favor.” And when he finished reading, Jesus said: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” For you too. Thanks be to God.

Summer 2022 Photos

First Day: gift, practice, theme

Fall 2022 and beyond

A couple years ago, First Lutheran celebrated 100 years of ministry.  This year, staff and council are proposing we celebrate our first day.

It was on the first day of the week – in biblical time, Sunday – that the women discovered the empty tomb and met the risen Christ (Matthew 28:1). It was and is a new day unlike any seen before: a resurrection and a feast day, the dawn of new creation. 

So now- as early on – the basic thing Christians do is gather on Sunday, the First Day.  With busy schedules and long commutes, it’s our primary time together.  How can we make the most of it? At church as at home, what does it mean to receive this day as a gift and find new life in it?  Can it truly be for us a feast?  Sharing one another’s company, food, prayer, gifts, good news and all with gladness?

Beyond Sundays, what does it mean to be First Day people?  Liberated by the resurrection to live each day as our first?  

So let the people of First Lutheran be about the First Day, as a gift, a practice and a theme.  At this point, we’re thinking of two areas of focus:

  1. Let’s focus on the Sunday experience.  Since the pandemic, we’ve been slowly building new in-person experiences of learning, worship and fellowship – a work in progress.  What are we building towards? The First Day is a feast day.  It’s not about burdensome obligation or even solemn observance, but doing the following well: 
  • Assembling: across generations and diverse backgrounds
  • The gospel: claiming each and all as God’s beloved
  • Prayer: and praise in response to God
  • Sharing: of food, company, gifts
  • Joy: in the beauty of festivity, arts, creation.

2. Let’s support each other in a First Day approach to life:

  • The First Day is first in priority.  There are so many claims on our time, from work obligations to emails.  Are we – and other people in our society – finding time for what gives life? Like feasting, beauty and sharing in other First Day activities?
  • The First Day is a new day.  Early Christians compared it to the first day of creation, when God said “let there be light.” Despite ongoing problems and our fears of the future, we can be hopeful. “Just as Christ was raised from the dead … so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6)

More information will come soon …

Pastor Bernt

Struggling to say something about shootings

By Pastor Bernt

We have to ask why he did it, but there’s no satisfying answer.  Same for the question: why isn’t more done to prevent shootings?  We’re caught up in some kind of doom (as E. Bruenig grimly describes); we’re captives.  The following words from Ephesians 6 seem fitting: “our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood … but cosmic powers of this present darkness, spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places.”  In this dark cloud suffering, violence and poverty are openly inflicted on the most vulnerable people, even children. 

And yet, we’re Easter people – we know that in Christ: “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.” So what?  So Ephesians 6 encourages us to “stand firm.”  I take this to mean, first off, not giving in to despair – keep living.  Soon after hearing about the Texas shooting, I took up my mandolin and opened up Bach’s double violin concerto – which I’m working on with my son Isaac.  I spent a few minutes on a couple measures where my fingers won’t yet go where they’re supposed to.  I wonder: the way a composer like Bach reaches after such ordered, life-enriching beauty – might it be the precise opposite of what the wickedly violent do? 

Then my kids wandered into the living room, from a mediocre day at school and pretty good first day at work (home from college).  We said hello and joked a bit.  It all felt totally ordinary – but also sane – and that feels right.  The author of Ephesians says (ch.6) that “standing firm” means “getting armed,” but not with actual weapons: rather with all the overlooked gifts of God in such short supply these days: peace, truthfulness, healing, hope – and Spirit, breath.

Clearly more must be done.  Lots of people offer prayer – but that can be a way to  “tempt God.”  Satan tells Jesus: throw yourself off the temple and make God catch you and Jesus says “don’t put God to the test.”  Don’t ask God to intervene (catch me) as a way to get out of your responsibility (not jumping). Tempting God; using prayer as a way to avoid action and change.  More can be done – even tried (gun access?) – to prevent the atrocities.  

When I’m truly at the limits of what I can find to do – that’s where I need prayer.  Maybe lament. I searched through the Psalms and a few seemed to resonate, challenge and comfort me:

Psalm 11:

In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me,

   ‘Flee like a bird to the mountains;

for look, the wicked bend the bow,

   they have fitted their arrow to the string,

   to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart.

If the foundations are destroyed,

   what can the righteous do?’

The Lord is in his holy temple;

   the Lord’s throne is in heaven.

   His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind.

The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,

   and his soul hates the lover of violence.

On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulphur;

   a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.

For the Lord is righteous;

he loves righteous deeds;

   the upright shall behold his face.

 

Psalm 12:

Help, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly;

   the faithful have disappeared from humankind.

They utter lies to each other;

   with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.

May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,

   the tongue that makes great boasts,

those who say, ‘With our tongues we will prevail;

   our lips are our own—who is our master?’

‘Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan,

   I will now rise up,’ says the Lord;

   ‘I will place them in the safety for which they long.’

The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure,

   silver refined in a furnace on the ground,

   purified seven times.

 

Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,

   a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,

   though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

though its waters roar and foam,

   though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

       There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

   the holy habitation of the Most High.

God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;

   God will help it when the morning dawns.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;

   he utters his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord of hosts is with us;

   the God of Jacob is our refuge.

    Come, behold the works of the Lord;

   see what desolations he has brought on the earth.

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;

   he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;

   he burns the shields with fire.

‘Be still, and know that I am God!

   I am exalted among the nations,

   I am exalted in the earth.’

The Lord of hosts is with us;

   the God of Jacob is our refuge.

          Selah

 

  • New Revised Standard Version

 

Spring 2022 Photos

Music Update

by Jung Jin Kim

I can’t believe it, but I have already been here almost three months. For the last three months, I have really been moved by our choir’s great singing. I thank you all for a warm welcome. I am especially impressed by the dedication and openness of the whole choir. Even though we are a small number right now, our choir has a lot of potentials. Also, our vocal range is incredibly wide. Everyone is already musically well-trained, and so talented. 

With the coming of the Spring, I pray that 2022 will be a year of restoration, rejuvenation, revival. My goals are as below.

Restoration 

Choir Gathering: On February 3rd,  eleven members of the choir met and discussed about the plan and filled out a survey. 

Choir Cleaning Day: On February 8th, several volunteers came to church and cleaned out the music library and choir folder slots. We sorted out all the old anthems too. Robin Holbrook is willing to serve as our new music librarian. She will also make sure that the online music database is the most up-to-date version. I want to send a big shout-out to her devotion.

First Choir Rehearsal: On February 10th, we resumed our Thursday’s choir rehearsal.

First Singing in the Worship: On Ash Wednesday, we sang our first anthem for this semester. 

Rejuvenation 

Lots of Great Music Planned: Our choir rehearsals are all about having fun, singing, and getting back into the swing of things. 

Various Repertoires: Music is a joyful and meaningful part of our worship services. We’ve practiced 16th-century motet and 21st-century gospel music in the same rehearsal.

Weekly Choir Updates: Every Thursday morning, I’ve sent a weekly update email to the choir. 

Providing more Written Documents: With a one-person operating system, there might be confusion. To better information, I prepare a more written version of the documents. (Thursdays: Take Note , Sundays: Music Focused Order)

Wearing Robes: On March 13th, we restarted to wear the choir robes. It looks so nice!

Extended Rehearsal Time: Since March 17th, we extended our rehearsal time. (Thursdays – 1 hour and 30 minutes, Sundays – 30 minutes) 

Revival

Trying to Find an Intergenerational Opportunities: Isaac just joined us!

Including Various Instruments: If possible, I want to include various instruments. Please let me know if you want to make an ensemble with the choir.

Organ Music: I will keep providing top-notch organ repertoires for every worship service.

Vocal Warm-Up Packet: We always want to improve our vocal quality. I plan to collect various vocal warm-up examples from several books and build a packet for the choir. We will do it with purpose. 

Invitation & Recruitment: We are always looking for new members. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you are interested or if you know someone who wants to join us.

Sometimes people come to worship and the music opens their hearts and minds in a way that nothing else can – so that they can hear the scripture and sermon and worship. I encourage the choir to keep up the good work!!!

Spring Intergenerational Events

by Pastor Kate

(Image above: from our Valentines’ Day Event)

Exciting Intergenerational Events coming up this Spring and Summer!

We have been so lucky as a church community, living with Covid, to be able to do more together as a church! Since the summer, we have had so many nice gatherings, celebrations and chances to serve and share with others. Doesn’t it feel wonderful? Well, we have more opportunities for fellowship, fun and important events in the making for this spring and summer! Our Sunday School teachers, Intergenerational Ministry group, and others are making plans that we are excited about and hope you will join in the fellowship and service with us!

Easter: We invite youth of all ages to be a part of an Easter Vigil skit about Jonah and the Whale. We will rehearse on both Sunday April 3rd and April 10th from 11:00- 1:00 pm ( lunch provided). Please contact Pastor Kate if your youth would like to participate in the telling of this important story!

Annual Pancake Breakfast ( hosted by John King and our church youth) and Easter Egg hunt on Easter morning.  More details to come!

Intergenerational Service Event “ Bees, Butterflies and God’s Creation”  at church on Saturday, April 23rd from 10-12:30pm ( including lunch). We will be celebrating Earth Day with a focus on the stewardship of our natural environment. Be on the lookout for more information. If you would like to be involved in helping plan this important and fun event, please contact Pastor Kate (pastork@flcpa.org) or Carol Larsen (clarsonca@yahoo.com).

Mt.Cross Camp is visiting First Lutheran on Sunday, May 1st! Adam Erickson, the executive director will join us in worship where he will preach and share fun camp music with the kids. This is the time to ask questions about what is going on at Mt. Cross and offer our support.

 June 12-17th is a special week set aside for churches in the Peninsula and San Francisco. There are week-long overnight camp options available for youth. For more information about what the camp has to offer, you can go to mtcross.org and learn more.

Some other possible plans in the making include honey tasting, a service project involving an animal theme, and a lemonade stand on August 20th. We are also looking into a possible work day at Mt. Cross!

 Please do reach out to Pastor Kate or Carol Larsen if you have any ideas, time,or energy to share!

Take good care,

Pastor Kate

Getting Forward Together

By Pastor Bernt

It’s not the same as getting “back” together, as there’s no going back to the pre-pandemic world.  Our lives have changed in many ways these past years: loved ones lost, moves, new health realities, new routines, (speaking personally) kids off to college.  But there’s a “forward” together momentum around church that’s energizing: wonderful new staff with Rosamia and Jung Jin (bios on the website), new members (see elsewhere in this newsletter), people stepping into new roles such as planning inter-generational events or leading adult forum – and an encouraging recent congregational budget meeting.  

There’s great things happening that go unseen.  The other day I was around when John and a friend were finishing an asylum application for a recent immigrant (with connections to families we’ve helped before) who was fleeing terrible violence.  We got to stand together in our newly renovated fellowship hall, praying over her and the finished application.  Thanks for your support of this ministry.

These days I’m really appreciating the “together” moments on our journey “forward together.”  It’s wonderful when we can join even small gatherings together in the same space: a visit to someone’s home, a shared potluck, sitting together out front on the patio. Zoom continues to be an amazing gift allowing participation for those who don’t live close by or may have health concerns.  We’re actually going to consider a more permanent zoom setup for the sanctuary.   But I got used to being isolated and it’s such a gift to find even small ways out of it.  The best parts of church may be the most simple: being present and available to each other, any ways we can. When you’re able to join one of our in-person gatherings, do so! 

Holy Week – the central worship experience of the year – is all about getting forward together.  Forward: in that the week is all about a movement from the cross to the empty tomb, from loss to gain, fear to love, despair to hope, death to new life – in Christ, for each and every one of us.  Let it also be a together event: join us, at some or all of the services, on zoom or in-person, in the pew or up front and in fellowship.