Friday, December 12, 2008

Crafty Creations

I found some ladies in my area to scrapbook with, which has been really great because it's something to do with non-church people (and by that I just mean people who aren't members of my internship congregation), and it's got me scrapping again. I'm several years behind in my scrapbooking, because I haven't had time to do it regularly since I started seminary. So hopefully I can make some progress this year. The following pictures are two of the layouts I made recently.
I have also continued my knitting. I'm making a lot of progress now. Unfortunately, I can't post pictures yet of what I'm making because I'm giving them as Christmas gifts to people who might read this blog. ;) I'll take pictures of my finished products and post them after they're been received as gifts.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ecumenism, etc.

If you read my sermon in my previous post, you saw that I was able to attend a gathering at St. John's Lutheran Church in Summit, NJ (which is up north, not too far outside NYC), at which the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) spoke for about an hour about the "state" of the ELCA, and then answered questions from attendees. There were church members and pastors from all over the state there. One of the parishoners from my internship congregation went with me. We both appreciated the opportunity, and were impressed by Bishop Hanson. Though I was able to meet him once before at an event in Chicago for Fund for Leaders scholarship recipients, this was the first time I heard him speak at length in person. I wish I could've recorded it. It's obviously too much to write about here, but the biggest blessing for me was probably that I was re-energized for ministry and renewed with hope. Appropriate for this season of Advent. ;) I also got to ask him a question, and spoke with him briefly after the event. On a related note: the Bishop was part of a tv special that aired last year around Christmas called "In God's Name" which featured 12 of the world's "most influential religious leaders" and it will be available on DVD as of December 16th. I thought the documentary was fascinating, and that Bishop Hanson represented the ELCA (and Christianity) very well, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

The theme for the December issue of The Lutheran magazine is ecumenism (different denominations working together). One of the reasons I chose to attend the Lutheran seminary in Philadelphia (as opposed to one of the other 7 ELCA seminaries) is because of their emphasis and value placed on ecumenism. Many students that attend the seminary come from other denominations and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to learn with and from them. I wanted to highlight a few quotes from this month's articles...

"Maybe there needs to be both a fading of lines and a coloring of lines. When we look at the great brokenness in the world -- disease, poverty, climate change, slave labor and all that diminishes the human soul and body -- it seems that the great witness of the church universal should be to join together to be God's healing power in the world. But we need not become an institutional body called The United World Church. Perhaps instead we become the church by learning, growing and rejoicing in whatever church body we call home. It's good to have a home. But a home isn't nearly as rich if it isn't in blessed relationship with its neighbors." Tim and Chamie Delkeskamp

"In a world in which unity too often becomes the demand for uniformity and diversity becomes the occasion for distrust and divisions, we are bold to declare that both unity and diversity are God's gift. ... In every context throughout the ELCA, let us ask, What can we be doing with others for the sake of the gospel and the life of the world?" Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson

Along the lines of ecumenism, the area clergy association (which is not just Christian pastors, but regularly includes a Rabbi and Iman as well) has been meeting to plan for a gathering to celebrate the life and dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It has great potential to include many faith groups as well as civic groups. I look forward to seeing how it all comes together.

Monday, December 8, 2008

2nd Sunday in Advent Sermon

(I pray that this may be a blessing to you this season.)

I’ll admit it. I went shopping the day after Thanksgiving. For the most part, I don’t get wrapped up in all the consumerism that has seemed to highjack the season. But I do enjoy giving gifts to my parents, so I decided to take advantage of the sales and go looking for a few things. I wasn’t really in any kind of hurry, so I just kept in mind the things I was looking for and watched as people hurried all around me. I saw customers annoyed and frustrated as they searched the racks and waited in lines, and felt sympathy for exhausted employees who were obviously making efforts to be friendly and patient. This is the day that sort of unofficially kicks off the Christmas season in the secular world, and yet I was surrounded by so much negativity. And that’s only the beginning. This is a season of stress for many people. Finding the right gifts, sending cards, baking dozens and dozens of cookies, preparing for a big family meal, going to parties. It’s so easy to get caught up in the rush. Or for others, maybe those who have lost a loved one, or who are struggling with addiction, or suffering from abuse or illness, this season just brings depression. It truly makes me sad to think that a season that should be filled with joyful anticipation is often consumed by anxiety or anger or depression.

We can be easily consumed by negative thoughts regarding all that is wrong in the world. We worry about the state of our economy. The price of gas. Having a steady income or being able to get good health care. A relative who is sick. A friend that we had a fight with. Whether someone we love loves us back. Whether we should invite someone to church. If the church will meet its budget. If the church is fulfilling its mission.

And yet, in this wilderness of worry, we hear a voice crying out, Prepare the way of the Lord! We have the promise of a Savior. We have hope. Because while we wait for the coming kingdom of God, we have been baptized with the Holy Spirit to share God’s love and do God’s work in the world.

As we heard in the reading, the Gospel of Mark does not begin with the birth story of Jesus. It begins with a man, John, telling people to get ready. This particular Gospel shares the perspective that we need to listen and be prepared. John prepared the people of that time through proclamation and baptism. He proclaimed repentance and forgiveness, and the people confessed and were baptized.

The Gospel of Mark ends similar to its beginning. Jesus sends his disciples out to proclaim the good news and to baptize the people.

And today, in the Church, the good news is proclaimed through the Word of God and through the sacraments of communion and baptism. We hear and experience this proclamation together as a gathered community in Christ, and we are sent out to proclaim the good news to the world. To call out into the wilderness, Prepare the way of the Lord! To proclaim that in the midst of frenzy there is peace, that in the midst of pain there is love, and in the midst of sorrow, hope.

Yesterday I went up to St. John’s in Summit to hear Bishop Hanson, the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, speak about the Church. He told a story about a time when he was at a public library waiting to use a computer. At one computer sat a Jewish man, and at another was a Muslim woman. He knew their respective faiths because of what each was wearing: the Jewish man wore a yarmulke on his head and the Muslim woman had a large scarf covering her head. And he thought, when this man or woman turn around and look at me, how will they know that I am a Christian? His initial thought was that we need some Christian head gear. But as he thought further about it, he realized that as Christians, in our baptism, we are marked with the cross of Christ forever, and that is all the head gear we need.

We are baptized in Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit to join with John by proclaiming the good news and crying out into the world, Prepare the way of the Lord!