Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Church Family’ Category

In 30 days I will be leaving the congregation I have had the privilege of serving for the past 17 months in Chicago.  This transition is among the best, as I am fortunate to begin my internship year as a candidate for ordination in the ELCA.  It is thrilling to think in a few weeks I will no longer be an admin but taking the first steps as a congregation’s vicar.  While I am so looking forward to the time ahead, there is a part of me that is not quite ready to let go of a community that I love so dearly.

This congregation is pretty amazing.  Just yesterday as I was walking back from the local produce store, I bumped into a pastor who serves a different church in Chicago.  In the brief few blocks we walked together, we chit-chatted about my seminary (where his wife works) and the respective congregations that we serve.  When I mentioned I would be leaving Chicago soon and that it was time to let go, he said, “That St. Luke’s, they know how to make people excited about ministry.  It seems I’m always hearing about the great work they do in Logan Square.”

There was not much I coulettinggold say to that comment but to agree.  St. Luke’s does make people excited about ministry.  They welcome the stranger, serve as a voice to the voiceless, comfort the grieving, empower every person, and live a life of honesty in their mission and their worship.  I cannot help but feel proud of this community for being such a strong witness of faith, which is why it is a bit of a challenge to say goodbye.

A few years ago I was in a similar position when I left the UCC congregation I served in Cleveland to head to seminary.  That transition was also a mixture of emotions, as that environment is what nurtured my call to ministry and set my feet upon this path.  I remember telling Pilgrim when I left, “we will find the perfect replacement for when I’m gone.”  Now as applications for my current position continue to arrive, I see several emails and cover letters attesting to how this potential candidate will be the “perfect fit.”

I hope that fit has been found for that congregation in Cleveland, and I hope that we will find the perfect fit for this community here in Logan Square.  The irony of it all is that I began both of these positions when I myself was not the perfect fit.  I began Pilgrim to make ends meet, hoping to return to a life working in libraries.  I began at St. Luke’s knowing I would have to balance my seminary obligations of field placements, foreign languages and a clinical pastoral education unit.  On paper, I was not the perfect fit.

Yet, these environments were the perfect places for me.  I needed Pilgrim to show me a progressive congregation so I could see that there was a place for me in the Church to do bold ministry.  I needed St. Luke’s with their healthy leadership and mentoring pastor to support me and affirm my call in the stressful and uncertain midst that is the seminary process.

These places were the perfect fit because they embody what it means to Christian, to have a passion for sharing God’s love in the world.

It is hard to let go of a community that has nurtured me so deeply.  As I begin the process of saying goodbye, I remember that had I not left my last perfect fit I never would have discovered this one.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The following was an article written for the September 2012 Divinity Digest for Divinity Lutheran Church of Parma Heights, OH. 

When I started the entrance process for ordination and began filling out my seminary paperwork, Pastor Doug gave me some very sound advice – you can never have enough practice.  At the time, he was referring to preaching.  I was surprised to learn that Pastor Doug practices his sermon each week prior to Sunday.  I myself have really appreciated the model he set, a model which has only served to evolve my own preaching style.

Every time I write a sermon, I have an idea on how it will sound, what emotions will be evoked, how the Spirit will speak to our community through the words I wrote.  I sit at my computer at my kitchen table, reading the final draft aloud.  There have been a few times I’ve called my parents from my apartment in Chicago, “Hey, Dad, how does this sound?”  When I get up to the pulpit to practice, though, it usually sounds a lot different.  Hearing my voice in a large room, hearing the difference between emphasizing in a normal speaking voice verses a public speaking voice, I realize that my expectations change through practice.

This summer, I “practiced” ministry of a different sort.  I spent the summer working as a chaplain intern, a role that fulfilled my clinical pastoral education (CPE) unit.  In seminary last fall, I took a class on pastoral care where we role-played pastoral encounters with each other.  For example, one time I played the role of an unemployed single mom who just found out my child had cancer, and my friend and fellow seminarian played the role of pastor and offered support.  The role-playing was helpful, pointing out natural strengths and weaknesses that accompany such situations.  Role playing gave us a safe space to take a risk and see if we could emotionally handle what is needed to love someone in the midst of great pain and uncertainty.

From our practice, I thought I would have a flavor for how similar situations would play out in real life with real people.  But this summer, as I sat with an unemployed single mom who found out that her 18 month old daughter needed to be withdrawn from life support, the classroom practice paled to the experience before me.

Becoming a pastor requires a lot more than learning Hebrew (something I’m doing in class this fall) or understanding the perspective of one Gospel author over another.  Becoming a pastor requires a lot of practice, a lot of time living and working in emotionally and spiritually challenging situations and then returning to a classroom, peer advisory group, or supervisor to stop and reflect on the work that has been done.  Even in the moments when you feel that you have provided the best care you could at the time, it is important to recognize where you could have been more present, more attentive, more compassionate, less focused on your own reactions.  It is important to realize the limitations of humanity.  You have to learn to let go your expectations that prevents you from being the most honest vessel of the Spirit that you can possibly be.

This is no easy feat, and takes a lot of practice.  This summer I spent 300 hours working as a hospital chaplain, providing direct pastoral support to patients, their families, and the staff who care for them.  I spent 200 additional hours reflecting in a classroom on how effective my care actually was.  This is in addition to the countless hours reading and studying about pastoral care.  A lot of practice in 11 weeks.

This is still not enough practice.  In the upcoming school year, I am assigned to yet another type of practice, working in a congregation.  Different from the administrative role I continue to hold for St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square, my contextual education at St. John’s Lutheran of Wilmette, IL, will help me continue developing my pastoral care identity.  This time will further practice my ability to lead Bible studies, confirmation classes, and worship leading abilities.  Different from my paid role at St. Luke’s that I can set aside at the end of the work day, my time at St John’s will be coupled with classroom time to reflect on my ministry and learn what was helpful and where I can continue to grow.
Pastor Doug was right – you can’t have enough practice.  I now realize this practicing ministry needs to be balanced with intentional reflection.  Becoming a pastor means becoming honest about what worked and what didn’t, what parts of your ministry were centered on your own needs rather than the greater good of the community, and learning how to get out of your own way in order to be the most honest vessel of the Spirit that you can possibly be.

Wishing you God’s Peace & Blessings,
Tina Heise, Seminarian

Read Full Post »

Tonight a dear friend of mine pointed out that as a non-Christian, it can be somewhat confusing to understand what being a Christian actually means.  At the time, I responded by saying that the one thing that stretches across the board is that Christians believe God was made present on earth in the form of Jesus the Christ.

I’ve been wondering what other connections there can be, but really, I can’t think of another.  Some Christians believe in a virgin birth, others don’t.  Some believe homosexuality is a sin, others don’t.  Some people believe in a physical resurrection of the body, while others believe that Christ was resurrected in the minds of the disciples.  Some believe baptism is necessary for salvation, others do not.  Don’t even start asking about when is the right time to be baptized, have a first communion, begin tithing, hold worship services, or take on leadership roles within the church.  The differences are astounding.

The incongruity of what it means to be Christian can be confusing to say the least, and at times rather damaging.  It is no surprise to me why when someone has had a negative experience in one Christian tradition they become a bit skeptical of others.  Whose to know what’s different and what’s the same?  Is it worth taking the risk?  A few years ago, when I began my seminary process, a friend I had for almost a decade cut ties with me.  Her experience in her own Christian upbringing was painful and oppressive.  When I brought up anything Christian related, she could only see it through that lens.  This lens, and the inability on both of our parts to work around it, resulted in the loss of one of the more formative relationships I had during college.

I think it is also challenging because while our traditions throw around faith catch phrases that claim to be universal, what they mean to the individual changes constantly.  Not too long ago my mother told me that I used a lot of water imagery in my work, an observation that was entirely true.  At that time, I was working through my astonishment that God would call someone as flawed and damaged as myself to be a leader for the church.  While I still don’t understand and continue to feel unworthy, at the time the notion of being washed clean and born anew allowed me the strength to begin this journey that is becoming a rostered leader of the ELCA.

Now, especially as I come to the end of spending the summer working as chaplain intern at a hospital, the image of the body and blood speaks to me.  Before, it was a comforting, distant image, one filled with allegory and the image of many people clasping hands like that of a paper doll chain.  It was a joyous, emotionally detached image.

It feels very different now.  Now that I have washed the blood of another out of my clothes, now that I have seen grown adults shrink away at needles and children with IV’s peppering their arms and vents in their noses, it feels very different.  I also write this being in the midst of a frustrating time within my own body as I await yet another surgery, a time where I have had only a handful of days within the past 7 months that one part of me or another hasn’t been bruised, bleeding, or in pain.  I have become increasingly aware that the body is a fragile thing, something that should be held sacred and preserved, protected while alive and laid peacefully with dignity and respect when its life has passed.

The image of the body and blood is no longer safe for me.  The paper dolls grasping hands have been tossed aside.  I am no longer innocent in understanding the magnitude of how blessed a healthy body can be, or how the image of body and blood can be a haunting and painful thing.

I think that on some level this is why many Christians feel called to use such imagery to describe our church.  It is a blessing when we are united together, working as a healthy extension of one another, not only standing side-by-side but working as one cohesive entity.  There is also deep pain when our connection to one another is damaged, infected with jealousy, hesitancy, or distrust.  It may seem easier at times to walk away then to go through the rehab of rebuilding into a new entity that will never be without the memory of it’s illness.

After this summer, when I hear people describe the church as being the body and blood of Jesus Christ, I can no longer forget how fragile a body is, or its strength of resilience. Body and blood are now loaded words for me, causing a tension within my heart that I am happy to hold.  I am glad they are loaded, glad to be reminded that being in community is a gift that is as sacred as the life coursing through our bodies, fragile and strong all at the same time.

I doubt that I will ever find appropriate words to describe what it means to be follower of Christ that will fully embody everyone’s beliefs.  We will never know when the words that we hold sacred will be a loaded statement to another.  I am glad to embrace the ambiguity within those words, holding them close to my heart.

Read Full Post »

In three days I am packing up my home for the third time in the past year and moving to New Hampshire to begin my CPE training.

Looking around my house, my home kind of matches my head.  There are stacks of clothes and books in almost every room, little lines of organized chaos.  I know in what container everything will be packed by the time I leave on Thursday morning, but right now, all I see is clutter. 

I am so grateful for this ride that is the seminary experience.  Even still, as I drove my closest campus friend to the airport this morning for her own CPE journey, I realized that I am nostalgic for a little stability.  I have changed so much since moving to Chicago last August.  My theology is different, my preaching is different, my writing is different, my body is different, the way I communicate with my loved ones is different.  In seminary, every day is an opportunity for transformation  While it is exciting, this fast paced change can be intimidating at times.

CPE will be twelve weeks of even more change.  These weeks will be spent learning how to provide spiritual care within the context of a hospital setting.  I’ll be working with people of all faith traditions in all walks of life whose lives transition as a result of life-changing medical moments.  Some people will be expecting the changes their health situation brings, like a senior who has been preparing for the end of this life.  For others, like those in a car accident, change will be unexpected.  CPE will teach me to how to faithfully be with people from all edges of the spectrum.  In that process of learning, my expectations of what it means to be a pastor will become something very different then how I understand it to be today.

The irony is, I begin my CPE unit exactly one year after my final day of employment at the congregation which opened my heart to a life of pastoral ministry.  It is also ironic that one year later, I learned that this congregation is also transitioning in its life as I transition in mine, as I learned via a social media announcement this morning their senior pastor has accepted a call to a new congregation. There is a part of me that wishes I could go back to that parish and we could wade in these unsure waters together.  But in my heart, I know that our simultaneous transitions need to travel on separate currents to end up where we need to be.

There is no shame in acknowledging that these currents feel uncertain at times, and that our uncertainty has us reaching for the familiar.  We all crave stability in times of change.  I know right now I am searching amongst the stacks in my home and head , searching for some metaphorical life preserver that will ease the fear of the ambiguity of what is to come.  It is natural for us to quake when we feel the tide of our lives shift directions, even when that change will bring goodness, knowledge, and peace.

But in these moments when we wade, not quite understanding how the water laps at our feet, we should remember that we were called into a relationship of security through turbulent waters.  We were called into a life of faith through baptismal waters, waters that while appear gentle in the font yet powerfully remove the bondage that comes from being victims of a fallen humanity.  Such waters brought a change so strong that we went from being dead in sin to alive in Christ with a few drops and the seal of a cross upon our head.  It happened quickly, in the blink of an eye, and in that blink gave us a life preserver that will never waver no matter how strong the current.

The tide is changing.  Who we were yesterday will inform how we will move tomorrow, but not determine who we’ll be tomorrow.  A change is coming.  Praise and thanksgiving to the One who equipped us to brave the storm through the waters of our baptism.

Read Full Post »

The following sermon was preached at Divinity Lutheran Church of Parma Heights, OH in May16, 2012.  This sermon was based on Acts 10:44-48, 1 John 5:1-6, John 15:9-12

As children of God, our lives are split between two realities.  Salvation is here, but not yet.  We are the resurrected people, but we are still waiting for the end of days.  Our Messiah is dead, yet still lives.

The Gospel of John focuses on the tension that many theologians call the “two kingdoms.”  Luther was a big fan of this notion, and our confessional heritage spends a great deal of time helping us reconcile the polarities of our faith.

Lutherans celebrate that we are called into a life of faith.  We recognize that without God calling us into relationship, we would not have our faith.  Since we have been given the gift of faith we are called into a life of service, both to God and to our world around us.  Our faith is entirely ours, but only because it has been given to us.  Our faith is that of two kingdoms.

We are nearing the end of the Easter season.  I just learned recently that during this season, our first lesson is always from the book of Acts.  Our lectionary is structured in such a way that the first lesson is always about the history of our church.  During most of the year, our first lesson is from the Hebrew Scriptures, most often referred to as the Old Testament.  We read those passages to help us learn about how God worked in the pre-Christ world, and the tradition that formed as a result.

We study Acts during the season of Easter for the same reason we read from the Hebrew Scriptures – we are trying to understand another chapter of time within our church history.  The book of Acts shares how the Jewish community began to adapt their heritage from the impact of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  Looking at our Acts passage today, we see a mention of the circumcised people, meaning the Jews.[1]

Acts is a book shares how through Christ, the two kingdoms of the Jews and the Gentiles unite.  Yet, many scholars and people who read Acts and other New Testament scriptures see the division between these two communities, and focus on the rising tension between the two.

How many of us feel that we are caught between two tensions, two kingdoms, two aspects of our lives?

This past week the United Methodist Church held their General Assembly.  While at this assembly, they began their first church-wide discussion about whether or not they would call openly gay, transgendered, or bisexual people into rostered leadership.  Their discussions sounded very familiar to that of our own denomination in 2009, and the Presbyterian Church USA in 2011.

As one can imagine, the United Methodist Church engaged in discussions that contained a great deal of tension, a great deal of controversy.  Two sides of the aisle emerged, two groups of people with two different thoughts, two kingdoms trying to strive for what they feel is the most truth representation of the Gospel.

In the ELCA, we continue to adjust to this division of understanding.  Churches have left our synod and denomination because they felt conflicted on where the church should stand on such a controversial issue.  Often, same passages of scripture and confessional doctrine are used to represent one side of the aisle or the other.

It is hard to engage in these discussions because we all just want to do what is right.  We all want to follow God’s will the best way that we can.  We all want to know that we are making the right call, and that we can somehow, some way, bridge that gap that separates this earthly reign from the reign of the heavens.

During the season of Easter, we read the book of Acts to help us remember that building a church and forming the right doctrine really isn’t about us.  Moving the church forward requires us to release a part of ourselves and make room for the Spirit.

In the passage directly before our lesson today, Peter is telling the Gentiles that the disciples had been commanded to preach that Jesus had been ordained to judge the living and the dead, and that people will receive the forgiveness of sins through is name.

Much like the justice conversations that have been occurring over the last few years, this was really controversial news.  This news did not match how the Jewish community understood their faith to unfold.  Peter was really connecting with the Gentiles, but making no headway with the Jewish community.

Suddenly, the Holy Spirit fell upon the conversation, and all who heard the word understood that it was true.  Not only that, but they could also communicate with each other in a way that they hadn’t been able to before.  Suddenly, they not only were hearing each other, but they were working for the same cause.

Before that moment, no one would have thought that the Gentiles would have been invited into a life of faith as the Jewish community had.  No one would have thought that anyone outside the Jewish community would have benefited from the Messiah of the chosen people.

Yet in that moment, the Holy Spirit called the Gentiles into a life of faith.  The Holy Spirit made room where the human limitations of faith could not.  Peter recognized this and asks:

“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”[2]

Peter is asking his followers, “Who are we to place limits on who should be baptized when the Holy Spirit is clearly telling us that these people have been chosen by God into a life of faith just like us?”

He is asking, “Which kingdom has the right to decide who experiences the grace of God?”

It is a futile question.  We all know the answer to which kingdom has the right to decide.

The non-futile question we must ask ourselves today is how do we invite the Spirit into our hearts and minds so we can faithfully hear God’s decision?

One answer is found within the epistle of John.

The letter first reminds us that we are loved by God, and that out of respect to that love, we should follow the commandments.  The letter reads:

“For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.[3]

Once again, we are confronted with two kingdoms.  To make change in this world, we must adhere to laws that are not of this world.  We must follow the commandments to love others as we love ourselves, to honor the Sabbath, to not commit trespasses of morality, to honor those around us and their possessions.  If we ever hope to make change in our church, in our world, we must live by guidelines that are not of this world.

This message is re-solidified in our Gospel passage, where Jesus reiterates that to truly show our love for him, we must love one another.  We must keep the commandments.[4]

Jesus takes this message one step further.  He tells us that when we keep his commandments, we are no longer servants but friends.  We are elevated into a place where we are freed to engage in tough conversations.  By keeping the commandments, our hearts are in put into a place where we can, like the crowd in Acts, hear the truth with the Holy Spirit.

I read recently an article where a pastor explained his frustration with people referring themselves as children of God.  For him, referring to ourselves as children places us in a sort of “arrested development” state, a state that allows us to sit back and wait, hoping that God will speak to us when we need to be spoken to.

This same pastor argued that we should continue to see God as a parent – a mothering Father who will forgive us when we fail, support us in our struggles, and comfort us when we ache.  But he urged his readers to view themselves as adult children relating to their Holy Parent, rather than a toddler waiting for Daddy to scare away the monsters under the bed.

I know that for myself, my relationship with my parents has greatly enhanced since I have become an adult.  Now that I hold myself accountable for my actions, I am freed to be honest with them in a way that I never have been before.  Most of our conversations have a level of equality that leads to an understanding of truth that I had never considered when I was a child.

And yet, I am still their child.  It was only a few weeks ago that I had some struggles with my auto-immune disorder, lupus, and I called my mom in the middle of the day.  As a loving parent, as a parent who values my adult nature, she hopped right into her car and drove six hours to Chicago to be by my side.  As an adult, I connect with her more intimately than I ever did before, and it is because of that intimacy that the testimony of her action was so powerful.

In our Gospel and Epistle today, our texts support that we should engage our faith as adults.

We are called into our adulthood when we are given the responsibility to engage in the commandments and to follow the scriptures.

We are called into adulthood when we engage in challenging conversation that we would rather have a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy about.

We are called into adulthood when we celebrate that our high school seniors are now making life choices that are our equal.

We are called into adulthood when we parent our own children, or when we respectfully celebrate holidays about parents when we are unable to be a parent ourselves.

It is in engaging our adulthood that we overcome our arrested development and achieve an intimacy with God through the power of the Holy Spirit that we could never imagine.  Living into our commandments helps us to bridge the gaps between our earthly reign and the reign of the heavens.

Amen.


[1] Acts 10:45

[2] Acts 10:47

[3] 1 John 5:3-4

[4] John 15:12

Read Full Post »

The following sermon was preached at Divinity Lutheran Church of Parma Heights, OH, at the Easter Vigil Service on April 6. It was based on the text of Mark 16:1-8

My niece and nephew love to play Hide-and-Seek.  Just last night at bath-time, four year-old Phoebe hid from her two year-old brother Alex when he wasn’t looking.  She hid in the most stealth of places, behind a curtain, her little hot pink socks pointing out underneath the fabric of the curtain, which was shaking with the force of her giggles.

Once Alex realized Phoebe was missing, he got a little flustered.  He started walking around the living room, “Phoebe?  Phoebe?”  As his search grid became wider, his started to look more and more bewildered, his voice getting louder and louder, “Phoebe?  Phoebe?”  He looked over at me with big fearful eyes, afraid because he couldn’t find his sister.

I pointed him over to the corner window.  Once it sunk in that she was hiding in plain-site, he could not wait to pull back the curtain and “find her.”  Together they laughed and laughed at this miraculous discovery, and my mom and I laughed with them.

The fun as adults watching children play games like Hide-and-Seek and Peek-a-Boo is that we know there is never any real threat.  We know that the missing person will be found.  We can enjoy in the experience of the discovery because we know the ending to the story.

Looking at this passage from Mark, once again we have the privilege of being the informed observer.  We know that there is no real threat to the Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary the mother of James.  We know that the man in the tomb who speaks to them is an angel telling of a resurrection.  We can enjoy the experience of the discovery because the good news of this message is as obvious to us as a four-year-old hiding behind the curtain.

But for Mary, Salome, and Mary, this news makes them very, very afraid.

Fear is an important part of Mark and is what propels this gospel towards the cross.  Time and time again throughout we see that people are afraid of divine miracles that test their faith.

For instance, after Jesus stills the boat on the sea, he asks the disciples, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  Later, there are three times when Jesus foretells the crucifixion, and each time the disciples had questions about what Jesus was saying but were too afraid to ask.  Perhaps most significant to Easter, the chief priests and scribes searched for a way to crucify Jesus because they were afraid of his teachings, and later when trying to trap him as they questioned him about John the Baptist, those same priests and scribes were afraid of the crowds.

We must also remember that as Jesus performs divine actions throughout Mark, he tells people to stay silent.  We see incident after incident where Jesus casts out demons and heals the sick, and each and every time he instructs the formerly afflicted to “tell no one what has happened here.”  And yet, the healed cannot compel themselves to keep such actions a secret.  They share the miracles, and the attention that comes from these miracles eventually results in Jesus’ crucifixion.

It is ironic that the one and only time in this gospel when someone is specifically told to share a miracle that has happened, Mary, Salome, and Mary cannot do it because they are afraid.

It is hard to acknowledge the times when our fear stands in the way of being courageous in our faith.  This was most certainly true for the translators of Mark.  We have learned that in a few sources translated after the fourth century, the Gospel of Mark suddenly has a different ending from the original source.  This new-and-improved ending has all sorts of reassuring images of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene and the disciples, and the ascension to heaven.  This new ending was to reassure fourth century people that their faith was placed in the right place.

The original intention of the Gospel of Mark does not want us hide from the notion of fear.  The original ending, while at times unsettling, is important because it speaks so honestly of what it means to be a person of faith.

Faith is a scary thing.  Our faith is arguably the most personal thing we have, but it does not come from our own making.  It is given to us as a gift from the Holy Spirit, and it is what calls us into relationship with God.  This gift of faith is what brings us to the table at Holy Communion, and is the gift of faith that justifies us through the waters of baptism.

Tonight we celebrate the baptism of our newest members of the body of Christ.  Somewhere along their journey to the font, they experienced a means of grace.  Somewhere along their journey, the Holy Spirit gave them the gift of faith, and today they will be justified through the waters of baptism.

It is so fitting for us to celebrate baptism on this Easter Vigil night.  We were born into the world victims of a fallen humanity.  Through Christ’s death on the cross we are freed from the bondage of that sin that comes from a fallen humanity, justified to engage in the relationship of faith.  In baptism, we can most intimately experience the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is through baptism we travel the journey of death from the bondage of sin to live forever a life where sin no longer holds us captive.

Through baptism we are justified by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, without the fear that if we do not complete a certain quota of good works our justification will be taken away.  It is in thanksgiving of this fear that at our baptisms we pledge to exhibit our faith the best way we can.  We recognize the truest way to exhibit faith is complete good works like caring for the earth and loving our neighbor.

In baptism, we publically accept this gift of faith and we commit ourselves to a relationship with God that is eternal.  This is a life changing moment, and can make even the best of us a bit fearful.  This is why we celebrate baptism together in community.  We support one another in this commitment because it is easy to be fearful when accepting the magnificent blessing of salvation.

The challenge comes in living out our faith.  It is hard to be bold in our faith at times when we feel shaken.

Today’s lesson of Mary, Mary and Salome is the perfect example.  They were afraid to accept this turn their faith journey took.  They believed in the teachings of Jesus.  They loved Jesus.  They were dedicated servants to his ministry.  It was faith that brought them to the tomb.

But while the stone of the physical tomb had been rolled away, the stone of their fear kept them silent.  They didn’t know how to handle this shocking revelation that so greatly impacted what they understood their relationship with Jesus to be.

Every time I have read this passage lately, I have been reminded of a song by Mumford and Sons.  The song opens, “Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine.  Together we can see what we will find.  Don’t leave me alone at this time, for I’m afraid of what I’ll discover inside.”

When we encounter stones that redirect the pathways of our faith journeys, it is easy to be afraid and to feel alone.  We are not alone.

In baptism we are adopted into God’s family, given a family wider and broader then we could ever imagine.  In baptism we are adopted into a relationship with a mothering Father who stands fast with us in times of strife.  In baptism we are adopted into a relationship with a Son who died on the cross for our salvation.  In baptism we are adopted into a relationship with a Spirit who is as close a confidant as the most tenderhearted sister.

Because our baptismal family is so large and broad, we will experience transitions in our faith at times when we least expect it.

Four years ago, I did not know where my faith would lead me.  Four years ago I was working as a librarian, and while feeling loved by God, did not feel overly connected to the idea of the church.

Four years ago, I stood at a baptismal font with my niece Phoebe.  As I watched the waters of baptism justify her sweet, infant face, I began to weep.  I remember later when I returned to my seat my aunt joking that I cried more at the waters of Phoebe’s baptism then Phoebe did herself.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that moment of baptism reactivated my awareness of my gift of faith.  Within six months I was no longer a librarian, but working part time as a secretary for a church.  Six months after that, I was the director of that same church, overseeing the outreach ministry and living a life of service.  Six months after that I first began discerning my call to ordained leadership, and six months after that I was accepted as a pastoral candidate for our synod.  Six months after that I applied to seminary, and now I stand before you with almost a year of seminary under my belt.

With each and every faith transition I have been afraid.

I was afraid that day at the font of someone else’s baptism because I knew then that despite turning my back on my faith at times, God never turned away from me.

I was afraid because I knew that I am not a perfect person.  I have tattoos, I swear, I battle a cigarette and food addiction, I have let my loved ones down, spent more money on myself then I gave to my neighbor, have ignored the homeless on the street corners, have lied, have doubted, and yet, there I was.

Hearing the Holy Spirit call my name at someone else’s baptism.

Hearing the Holy Spirit say to me, “Tina, child of God, you have been sealed by the cross of Christ forever.”

Hearing the Holy Spirit say to me, “No matter what, I love you, and believe in you.  Be in relationship with me.  Do not be afraid.  Live out your faith and be in relationship with me.”

It was at someone else’s baptism that I was able to start the process of rolling away my stone.  It was at someone else’s baptism that I realized I wasn’t alone.  It was at someone else’s baptism that I re-discovered what was inside, and it was at someone else’s baptism that I learned the joy of being afraid.

It was the fear of my faith transition that gave me the strength to ask my baptismal family to stand with me as I began living out my faith journey, and they have not let me down.  Being true to my faith and my individual sense of calling and sharing that with my church family has been more of a blessing to me then I can ever begin to put in words.

I am so grateful that tonight our family will grow again, and to see how the Spirit will work through their lives.  I feel privileged to bear witness to the Spirit calling their names into a relationship of faith, and supporting them as they are sealed with the cross of Christ forever.

I am so grateful for such spirit filled waters, and I can’t wait to discover how the Holy Spirit will speak to me tonight at someone else’s baptism.

Roll away your stone.  I’ll roll away mine.  Together we can see what we can find.  We are not alone at this time, even when we are afraid of what we will discover inside.

Amen.

Read Full Post »

This past week has provided me with two powerful worship experiences.  On Sunday, I was officially installed at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square, the parish where I serve as their administrative assistant.  On Monday, I was part of a healing service that I helped plan with my dear friend.

When you spend as much time in chapel as seminarians tend to do, it can be hard to have your spirit feel fed.  I know for myself worship has felt an awful lot like business this semester.  I’m taking a course on worship, and I find myself examining the execution services;  Did the pastor hold her arms out when she greeted the congregation? Is the sermon based on the lectionary?  How does the assembly dispose of the left-over sacramental elements?  Add to these questions that fact that I have spent the last six weeks scouting congregations to complete my field work at next year, and it can be hard to set aside business and just worship.

So imagine my surprise when I was nurtured at the two services that were actually supposed to be work.

I had never planned a worship service before, and I was more than a little terrified for Monday.  I was fortunate to be working with someone I trust a great deal.  We planned this service with the intention that we would create awareness for sexual and domestic assault survivors.  This is a subject that hits very close to home.  In my own healing and work with survivors I have longed to be a part of service that did not back down from naming the evil that is assault.  I give thanks to my friend who knows that finding a voice for survivors in worship is important to the ministry of our church.  I also give thanks that our preacher on Monday was a pastor who did not try to dress up “sexual assault and domestic violence” with ambiguous and flowery words but to name it as it is.  Because we were able to name the evil, we created a space where people felt safe to come forward and receive healing for all sorts of pain, assault and beyond.  As I and three others sang “Grace Like Rain,” almost every person in the assembly went to prayer stations and were anointed.  I felt my knees buckle at the magnitude of our communities openness to feel God’s love for them.  The Holy Spirit was truly present in that place, and in that moment there was no doubt that the gospel reached our community.  I will carry the feeling of that day in my heart forever.

I will also carry the memory of being installed at St. Luke’s with me forever.  I loved working for Pilgrim UCC, loved how I was stretched and grew within that community.  I learned that God was calling me into pastoral ministry because of Pilgrim, and there will never be a time when I will forget that it was that environment that nurtured the journey I am on today.  But standing up in front of a new body of believers and committing myself to service in them in light of the scriptures and our shared Lutheran confessions solidifies my sense of vocation in a way that I cannot explain.  God has called me to the Lutheran church because God wants me to bear witness to our confessional doctrine that we are justified by grace through faith in Christ without works righteousness.  I can live out that vocation and discover what sort of leader I am being called to be in a Lutheran church in a way that I cannot live out in a different denomination.  It is one thing to say theoretically that I will uphold Lutheran confessional doctrine, but it is something else entirely to make that promise publicly before God and witnesses.  Making such promises makes my position not just a job, but a relationship.  It is humbling to realize that I have been invited into this relationship, and that God will continue to invite me into relationships in future communities.

It is a miraculous thing to be a part of a profession where doing your work enriches your spirit, and I give thanks that I can experience such miracles.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »