Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
When I started at Redeemer in late August 2010 I was a brand new, first call pastor. I came to you with experience as a high school teacher, a missionary and a hospital chaplain … but being the solo pastor of a congregation was new to me, and it felt new. I danced with uncertain steps. Over time, with your help, with God’s help, my steps became more certain and sure, more in time with yours and with the Spirit.
Now I find myself facing a situation that is new to me in ministry: leaving a call. It feels new. I am dancing with uncertain steps. But you are dancing with me with grace and love and support. And I can feel the Spirit guiding me, keeping time when my steps falter.
When I leave, your dance will continue. This congregation is full of amazing dancers. Redeemer is blessed with strong lay leaders, with remarkable staff members, with musicians that inspire. The congregation is growing in numbers and, even more importantly, in faith development and discipleship. I expect this growth will continue, not just when a new pastor is called, but in the interim and transition period, too.
Redeemer is a congregation that takes delight in gathering for worship and fellowship. Redeemer is a congregation that provides opportunities for people of all ages to grow in faith and service. Redeemer is a congregation that goes out into the community and the world, building relationships and serving God alongside its neighbors.
Redeemer, by the grace of God and with your help, is going to rock the heck out of this pastoral transition dance.
Perichoresis is a Greek word we use to describe the relationships within the Holy Trinity. You can hear how the word “choreography” is related to it … this idea that, within God, there is a constant turning, a dance of Father, Spirit, Son. We believe God is always in community, and we believe that interrelatedness is always moving, changing … dancing.
Thank you for teaching me how to be a pastor. Thank you for dancing with me, with God, with each other and with the wider community.
May God continue to bless your dance. It is such a beautiful one.
With great gratitude,
At the synod assembly in Green Bay yesterday
We discussed some of the questions that groups all around the ELCA are discussing
As part of the Called Forward Together in Christ process.
Basically a denomination-wide survey of our values, ideas
And thoughts on who we want to be as a church.
One person went to the microphone and made a joke about change,
And how change in the church is essentially a dirty word.
We all laughed,
But I’d just read a Tweet from a friend at another synod assembly,
Who had the perfect response,
So perfect it was like we were having the same conversation
Separated by a time zone.
My friend wrote:
It isn’t change that people are afraid of.
Change in and of itself isn’t something to fear, and we know that.
It’s an essential and often exciting aspect of human life.
But part of change is loss,
And that’s what we’re afraid of.
My neighbor, Bill, understands that.
He’s a retired UWSP faculty member, and through a series
Of meetings while walking my dog,
He and I have become friends.
When I told him I was going to Luther College to be a pastor there,
He said, “Of course, and you must, but hearts are going to be broken in this.”
Every day Bill publishes a new blog post, and
the next day the title of his blog was
“Losses I don’t want.”
Bill knows that it isn’t change we fear. It’s loss.
“You can expect to lose a friend if they are elderly.
You have cancer, heart attacks, strokes and such lurking around,
Trying to steal your friends.
But what if you are just minding your business and dusting and
Keeping the grass cut and you strike up a friendship with a neighbor.
A nice neighbor whom you respect.
He is not elderly but WHAM!
His worth becomes apparent to Warren Buffet or the United Arab Emirates
Or the Association of Retired Persons.”
At this point, I was pretty sure Bill was talking about me, male pronouns
And Arab Emirates aside.
Bill’s blog continued a bit, then concluded like this:
“It helps a little to remember that suffering is ennobling,
That I accumulate gift points in paradise for pain visited on me that I bear.
It helps a little that people of worth to either organizations or individuals
Are needed elsewhere and get to go where they are needed.
But that consolation is a little weak.”
In the face of loss, pretty much any consolation you can get or give
Is going to be a little weak.
Especially consolation that tries to claim that loss is somehow a good thing.
That it is good for you,
That it’s ennobling or character building.
St. Paul understands that.
At first it might seem like he doesn’t, based on our reading from his letter to the Romans today.
At first, it might seem like Paul is saying that suffering is a good thing.
But Paul doesn’t think it’s that simple,
And I know this because the following IS NOT a simple sentence:
“And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Paul’s point isn’t that suffering is good.
Paul’s point is that our hope in Jesus is so good,
It’s good enough to sustain even in the midst of our suffering.
Our hope in Jesus does not disappoint us,
Even when everything and everyone else has.
At Synod Assembly we were led in Pow Wow worship by
The Lutheran Church of the Wilderness from Bowler Wisconsin.
One of the most powerful parts of service for me was hearing a woman
From the Stockbridge-Munsee reservation read that lesson from Romans.
It would be racism of a truly terrible sort to say to an American Indian,
“You know, I bet the suffering of your people has really
Been character building for you.”
But an American Indian can claim the words of Paul as their own truth and
Say: “Hope does not disappoint us.
God’s love has been poured into our hearts,
And the Holy Spirit has been given to us.”
Hope does not disappoint us.
I’m not afraid of change.
But I am afraid of loss.
And I am afraid of disappointing people.
I think that’s a human thing.
Jesus understood that.
According to the Gospel of John,
He took a long, long time to say goodbye to his disciples.
You may have noticed we’ve had essentially the same reading every Sunday
For quite a few Sundays in a row,
And I believe we’re going to get at least one more from this series next week.
Verse upon verse upon verse of words of consolation,
Words of encouragement,
Words of hope.
Jesus knew the disciples were going to need it.
Jesus knew we were going to need it.
And after many, many, many verses
Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you”
But he acknowledges that many of his disciples have, at this point,
Their minds wandered about 50 verses ago.
And there’s a good chance that the ones who are still paying attention
Still won’t really “get it.”
But that’s OK.
The Holy Spirit is coming.
Jesus doesn’t have to say everything in one sermon.
There will be consolation in the Spirit.
There will be hope in the Spirit.
No matter what suffering, what loss may come,
Hope will not disappoint us.
In the children’s message I asked the kids to use a physical action
To help them remember where Jesus is,
And where the church is.
I want to remind you all of two more physical actions I’ve shared in the past
That seem to fit with what we’re talking about today.
**Parker Palmer on heartbreak: if your heart is hard when it breaks, it will shatter. If it is soft, it will open, leaving you with greater capacity to love than before.**
**Greek Orthodox symbol for the Trinity: bring thumb and first two fingers together when you make the sign of the cross. God is always is community, and we are made in the image of God. That is why we yearn for community, and that is why we are never truly alone, we are always with God, and in community with each other.**
May Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Bless you now and Forever.
Sermon on the Third Sunday in Lent, February 28, 2016, the Rev. Anne Edison-Albright preaching. Today’s text: Luke 13:1-9.
It’s something that was said before and has been said many times since then.
But when I heard people say,
“They deserved it,”
After Hurricane Katrina,
It made me mad.
Really, really mad.
To respond to that storm and its terrible aftermath
With public statements about
God punishing New Orleans for its sins …
Who would do that?
Well, it seemed like a lot of people were,
Certainly John Hagee, a megachurch pastor out of Texas,
Got a lot of press for it,
And I remember thinking,
I hope no one is taking this seriously,
And I hope no one thinks Christians really think this way.
And I wanted to say, “You know, not all Christians
Believe that natural disasters are God’s way of
Punishing America for its sins.”
But that “not all Christians” defensiveness,
That self-righteous anger,
That smug judgment on my part,
That doesn’t actually help.
As personally satisfying and cathartic as it may be.
And I imagine Jesus entering the conversation,
And getting right in between me and John Hagee and saying,
Knock it off, both of you.
You both need to repent.
That’s essentially what Jesus is saying to the crowd in our Gospel lesson today.
Jesus speaks about two current events,
Two situations where lives were lost in terrible ways.
One, an event where people from Galilee were murdered by the occupying government.
The other, an event where a tower fell, crushing the people below.
From Jesus’ response, we can imagine that some people in the crowd
May have been wondering out loud what those Galileans did
To deserve their fate.
And maybe others in the crowd were thinking,
“I’d never say something like that.”
And Jesus says to the whole crowd:
“Hey, judgmental people
And you, too people judging the judgmental people,
Do you think the Galileans who died were any more sinful
Than any other Galileans?
Do you think the people who died when the tower fell in Siloam,
The people who just happened to be standing there
When the tower fell,
Do you think they were more sinful than the people who’d stood in the shadow of
That same tower safely the day before?”
Jesus tells the whole crowd to repent,
That we all fall short,
We all need God’s grace and forgiveness,
And we are all going to die someday.
Deserving it or not has nothing to do with it.
It’s going to happen.
To repent means to turn,
And so Jesus tells the crowd, urges the crowd,
To turn away from sin and toward God
Away from hate and toward love
Away from death and toward life.
Not because it’s going to prevent a building from falling
If you happen to be in a place where a building falls,
But because that turn will be life-giving.
It will give us joy to live life fully in this world,
And with God in the world to come.
To make that turn, that repentance, possible,
Jesus promises that God will not cut us down and throw us away,
Even though we are fruitless fig trees.
Instead of saying, “These people are hopeless. I’m done.”
God says, “These people need better soil and more time.
If I love them, they will bear fruit,
They will share my love with each other.”
To understand God’s love, and to see that love at work in the world,
We have to believe that no one,
Is a waste of soil.
People are not expendable.
And God doesn’t give up on anyone.
That love can give us the courage we need to
Take a hard look at mass incarceration,
And at the way people with drug addictions are treated (or not treated)
In our society.
The planet we live on is not expendable.
God’s creation is good,
God’s creatures are good.
God wouldn’t throw it away,
And neither should we.
Dan Dietrich is going to talk after worship today
About what it means for us as Christians
To be good stewards of the earth on a personal level,
And to also work for systemic change on a policy level as well.
I started out today talking about Hurricane Katrina.
If you think back, over ten years ago now,
To all of the injustices that disaster brought to national attention
In a new way, in ways that we are still unpacking today:
Systemic and institutional racism,
Rising economic disparity,
Tensions between communities and police,
Corruption in government at all levels,
The failure of both federal and nonprofit relief agencies
To act quickly and competently and invest in long term solutions.
The role of climate change in making the storm itself so powerful
And the role of ecosystem damage, soil erosion,
And water mismanagement that made the levy break
And disaster aftermath so terrible.
When you remember all of that going on in New Orleans and
The Gulf Coast at the time of Katrina
And think about how it’s all still playing out in our country today,
It becomes necessary for us to assert,
As boldly and directly as Jesus did to that crowd
As they worried about their world and their current events,
We, like Jesus need to assert and claim the truth,
That God did not, has not and will not give up
On New Orleans,
Or on Flint.
God hasn’t abandoned Hesston, Kansas
Or Mason County, Washington.
God hasn’t forsaken the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Nigeria,
The places and people we’ve forgotten about,
And places and people we haven’t heard about yet.
God hasn’t given up on Syria,
On refugee camps in Calais,
On the land we call Holy.
God isn’t going to give up on you, either.
You aren’t expendable.
You aren’t a waste of soil,
You are so precious to God.
God isn’t going to give up on the people you love,
Or on the people you hate, for that matter.
God’s persistence in fig-tree growing is remarkable.
Thanks be to God.