Friday, January 30, 2009

January prayers

I always meant to post occasional prayer requests here on the blog, but for some reason I've never done it. This is me trying to correct that! I will post here some of the things that I am praying for (not all--trying to respect privacy, too), both to remind me to pray and as an invitation for anyone who would like to join me. (You can share requests in the comments, too.)

Right now, I am especially praying for the youth in our parish who will be participating in the 30 Hour Famine on February 28 (as well as for the people their contributions will help to support and the overall ministry of the parent organization, World Vision). I give thanks for those youth who have already committed to this event, and invite prayers for those who are considering whether they might be called to participate.

If you're unfamiliar with it, the idea of the Famine is that youth (and their adult leaders, so yes, that means me) fast for 30 hours to help raise awareness of world hunger issues. (There will be plenty of water and juice, so it's a fairly healthy fast, although there are other options for folks with health concerns.) They also encourage friends and neighbors to sponsor them, with donations going to help feed and care for hungry families, especially children. If you want to support this effort but aren't local, you can also give to ELCA World Hunger or be on the lookout for youth collecting for the Souper Bowl of Caring at your church this coming Sunday. (Our parish is choosing to stay focused on one of these good causes at a time, but there may be different options depending on where you are.) All of these are great opportunities if you want to give but aren't sure how much you can afford to contribute, because lots of small donations can really add up.

In other news, we offer a prayer of thanksgiving this week along with Steve and Kristi Carnazzo, missionaries who are supported by some of our congregations. They have recently adopted a baby boy, Andre. Like any new parents, I am sure they will appreciate any extra prayers they can get!
~Pastor Sarah

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Snow again

Everyone assures me that we do not usually get this much snow, but really, I'm not concerned. (I did go to school in South Carolina, but I did not grow up there. I was nearly born in a blizzard.) Although I realize I may be eating these words by late April, I actually kind of like snow. I really do not enjoy shoveling off my car every morning, but this is neatly avoided most of the time because I am blessed with a garage.

As a kid, of course, snow mostly meant possible snow days, which was always good. In college, I started noticing the snow more for its own sake. It's beautiful, and extraordinarily complex, when you think about it. A single snowflake is a marvel of God's creation, tiny and perfect and complete. Put a whole lot of them together, though, and they can literally change the face of the world. Rough edges become smooth. Even the deepest valleys are less deep, in a literal acting-out of the Baptizer's cry, "Prepare the way of the Lord!" (c.f. Isaiah 40:3-5).

Have you ever seen a fresh snowfall in the city? Before, everything is brown and grey and ugly. After, even the dreariest abandoned lot has its own beauty. In just a short while, dirty cars and polluted air will turn it to sludge and muck, but for a moment, you could imagine that it will be perfect forever. In Starbuck, at least on my out-of-the-way street, it takes a little longer for the spell to be broken (less cars driving by, not so much smog), which makes the transformation perhaps a bit less obvious--but still, it's there, every single time it snows, softening the edges of my bootprints in my backyard. That, to me, is a perfect image of God's grace: we are covered in God's love like a blanket of snow, made pure and fresh and beautiful, all our sins and imperfections wiped clean. And unlike the snow, which is temporary, God's grace will last forever.
"...though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow..." (Isaiah 1:18b)
By spring, I may feel differently. But for now, whenever I see falling snow, I think of God. Is it any wonder it still makes me smile?
~Pastor Sarah

Monday, January 26, 2009

Blog update

My tentative goal was to achieve 10 posts in the month of January. Will I make it? It's too close to tell! (I suppose if I post about how many posts I've made, that will help. Or is this cheating?)

Fairly shortly (within the half-hour) I'm heading to the Shores of St. Andrew for an educational retreat, and since I tend to post more in the first half of the week than the second (and I'll spend the first half of the week away), that may have some effect on my results.

In a blogging first for me, some of my reflections from last Tuesday actually made it into Sunday's sermon. I understand that some pastors actually post their sermons online, but I am not quite there yet, so if you want to know what I said, you'll have to either ask me for a copy or ask someone else who was there.

As is usually the case with blogs, I sometimes get the feeling that I am talking to myself out here. I'm okay with that (I kind of like talking, and I don't much mind talking to myself), but if there is anybody out there, the occasional comment would go a long way. I have this blog set to allow anonymous comments, so you don't even have to tell me who you are, much less register. I have noticed that I tend to do a better job of updating if I think someone is noticing.
~Pastor Sarah

February newsletter

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people… (1 Peter 2:9a)

We used this verse at the beginning of K.I.C.K. to introduce the idea that we are all God’s saints: God’s holy people, not by our own merits, but only because of God’s great love for us. More recently, this passage from 1 Peter was the theme for our Senior High retreat at Luther Crest Bible Camp. (Perhaps you might imagine how it could relate to the “Frozen Chosen” this month as well.) We explored what it means to be God’s chosen people—what does this tell us about God, and about us?

Of course, that’s one of the points: the writer of 1 Peter isn’t talking to us just as individuals, but as a group, a community of God’s people. (My Southern cousins would just say “y’all” instead of “you” to make this more clear.) Part of our calling, then, is to be that community—chosen, not each of us alone, but as part of a larger family of God’s children. That’s part of what we are about in our parish, every day and every week, as we work and live together both as congregational families and as a parish family, all part of the larger Christian family.

How do we know that we are God’s own people? I invite you to look for the signs in the coming weeks and months. There are so many of them! One is the existence of our parish itself. Another might be the cooperative effort of some women in our parish to provide quilts for Luther Crest, or of young people preparing to go without food for 30 hours to support hungry children, or the faithful service, each and every week, of readers and greeters and ushers, in each of our congregations. Or perhaps we might see signs of God’s people at work in our families, our communities, our schools, or our jobs. God is so busy among us!
~Pastor Sarah

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hey, it's a blog!

I recently found out that apparently Starbuck has a blog as a part of the Horizons program that is currently in process around here. I just actually located it today (does that make me a bad blogger?), but I will definitely be checking it out.
~Pastor Sarah

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Skiing reflections

We had a great time at our retreat at Luther Crest this past weekend. The facilities were perfect, the food was great, and all in all I highly recommend Luther Crest to any group looking to plan a retreat. We had a fantastic group of youth, of course, which made everything twice as much fun.

The cross-country skiing was a lot of fun, which for me means that I only really fell about four or five times (some people have higher standards). Pastor Paul showed us the ropes quite well, and so it is not his fault that I kept falling over sideways. I even got to use my fledgling downhill skills once or twice (on very small hills). It helps that I tend to laugh when I fall (the worst has happened, and it was not that bad, and actually it was pretty funny).

The challenge for me, with skiing, is that I do not like that feeling of being out of control. When I strap on skis and introduce any sort of slope to the equation, I am not in charge anymore. And, like most people, I suspect, I don't like that. I want to be in charge of where I am going, both literally and figuratively.

This, of course, tends to get me into trouble when I try to ski (as in, I don't get anywhere). But it gets me into even more trouble in the rest of my life. Because, really, I'm not in charge: God is. And God's will is going to end up being done, not mine. (That's why Jonah gets so angry in our reading for this week. He knows that God is going to do things God's way, and he does not like it.) But that's what being called by God is all about--it's about God being in control of our direction. And because it's God who is in charge, even the parts where we mess up can be opportunities for grace. So yes, even when we fall over, we may end up laughing. (And yes, like with my skiing, we may need practice!)
~Pastor Sarah

Monday, January 19, 2009

It's a heat wave!

Okay, so it's only about 10 degrees, but that feels pretty good after last week, when we were happy if it got to negative 10. The high is even supposed to be almost freezing by tomorrow.

At times like this, I like to remember that we are connected to a much bigger church than we usually realize. We have brothers and sisters in Christ--even fellow Lutherans--who live far from the cold, frozen land of Minnesota, and it is practically our duty to think of them, right? So, for example, you could visit an actual Lutheran seminary, where there is a 60% chance of snow tomorrow morning, but don't let that fool you (spring starts in March). Or plan a trip to the Coastal Retreat Center in Isle of Palms. (I mean, seriously. Isle of Palms. With a name like that, it's got to be good.)

While we're at it, the entire Caribbean Synod sounds pretty good (if you are visiting their website and do not read Spanish, you can usually scroll down to find an English translation). Or you could visit Frederick Lutheran Church, the oldest congregation in continuous existence in the ELCA, which happens to be located in the Virgin Islands.

Of course, if you're like me and you still kind of like the winter weather, there's always Alaska.
~Pastor Sarah

Saturday, January 10, 2009

It's that time of year...

This is annual report/congregational meeting season. It seems strange to be writing an annual report when I have been here less than a year!

Unless I am miscounting (which sometimes happens), I have been here almost exactly six months. I can't decide if it feels like I've always been here, or if it seems like I just got here. You would think it would be easy to tell the two apart, but not so much.

Our gospel lesson for this Sunday, the Baptism of Our Lord, is Mark 4:4-11. Even though I've never preached it before, I get this weird déjà vu feeling whenever I read it. This was the reading first lesson for the first day camp I ever did, way back in a little town in Ohio called Gallipolis (Bob Evans territory). I had the fifth and sixth grade too-cool-for-camp group, and I really had no idea what I was doing. But it turned out okay, which was a good lesson for me, anyway.
~Pastor Sarah

Monday, January 5, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Today is either the twelfth day of Christmas, or the eleventh, depending on how you count. Tomorrow is Epiphany, when I suppose it would be more appropriate to say "Happy Epiphany", so that makes today the last official day for saying "Merry Christmas!"

Aside from a desire to be contrary, there is actually some point to my insistence on keeping all twelve days. The incarnation is far too big to be celebrated in just one day! When we remember the full Christmas season, we at least make a token nod in that direction. (That there are twelve days is probably significant. The number twelve recalls the twelve disciples or the 12 tribes of Israel, and so has implications of completion or wholeness.) That it's enormously entertaining to go around saying "Merry Christmas" in the first week in January is not insignificant (festivals are meant to be enjoyed), but it isn't actually my primary motive.

So yes, I did say "Merry Christmas" in church yesterday (both of them).
~Pastor Sarah

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Epiphany is January 6th...

...but we'll be celebrating it the Sunday before, the 4th, because Lutherans don't usually have big church services on a Tuesday. Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season (I will finally have to stop saying "Merry Christmas"), and the revelation of the identity of Jesus Christ, that baby born in Bethlehem. It has also come to be associated with the visit of the three "wise men" or "kings".

Actually, anyone who has ever played a Bible trivia game probably knows that there were not actually three wise men. Or, rather, there could have been three, but Matthew doesn't happen to tell us. Three is just convenient to hold the gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Actually, "We Three Kings", for all that it reinforces the "three kings" thing, gets the gifts exactly right:
Glorious now behold him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice

I love this stuff. The point of the three gifts is that they identify the recipient. They tell us who this baby Jesus is. Gold is a gift for a king. Frankincense is an offering for a god. Myrrh identifies a sacrifice, and is associated with death.

But the other things about these gifts is that they make no practical sense. What is a baby going to do with frankincense, really? What use has Mary for myrrh? I suppose they could sell it, especially the gold, but then, why not just give them money? Do these wise men really have no idea what kind of things a baby needs?

Okay, so I kind of like the image of these three (okay, we'll say three) incredibly intelligent, scholarly men (and we'll say they're men), completely and utterly baffled by a tiny baby. Maybe Mary offered to let them hold the baby (he might've been old enough to be toddling around, but that's another topic), and they sat there frozen, as people unused to babies sometimes do, terrified of breaking this tiny, precious thing. I hope he spit up all over their beautiful (though travel-stained) robes, and then Joseph had to change his diaper, and the visitors were just horrified. But still, they gave their gifts, useless and impractical as they were. And despite it all, they were special gifts, beautiful gifts, the kind that gets remembered for two thousand years.

This makes me think about how we try to give back to God. What do we actually have that would be of any use? God doesn't even need our worship and praise. God doesn't need anything. But God chooses to want a relationship with us, and God even graciously accepts our well-meaning gifts. Actually, God even enjoys our gifts, because God loves us that much. He doesn't have to. There's no practical reason why he should. But that's God. Practical? Not so much. A good thing, too.
~Pastor Sarah

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

No, I didn't stay up to post this at midnight. In my family, we have an old New Year's tradition: we go to bed early and pretend it isn't happening. Other traditions involve such foods as collard greens and black-eyed peas, which are supposed to bring good something-or-other in the coming year, and are guaranteed to bring at least one good meal. Since it is difficult to prepare black-eyed peas or collards for one person (and I'm not much of a cook, anyway), I will probably have to invent a new tradition. Does anyone out there have any suggestions?

In other news, today is still only the eighth day of Christmas, which I like even better than New Year's. I am experimenting with how long I can get away with saying "Merry Christmas!". For some reason, people expect you to say "Merry Christmas"before Christmas, but not during Christmas, probably because it feels like it is after Christmas. But I figure, if we are going to celebrate the Incarnation of Our Lord, twelve days is really the bare minimum.

I also like to say "Merry Christmas" in July, which is less of a nod to tradition and more just plain fun. Try it sometime.
~Pastor Sarah