Friday, February 27, 2009

Prayers: 30 Hour Famine

As I wrote about in an earlier post, our parish is participating in the 30 Hour Famine this weekend. We have a fantastic group signed up to participate--over twice as big as last year's group! This is partially due to last year's participants (who made it clear how much fun they had) and partially due to youth who have invited their friends (proving that yes, Lutherans can invite someone to church).

We also have an excellent team of adult volunteers, some to stay overnight and many more who are coming to help us out on Saturday and on Sunday morning. We have had plenty of support from all four congregations in our parish, and we especially appreciate all those who are praying for us, and who will continue to pray for us through this weekend! Your prayers are what make the difference between a good event and a fantastic faith-building experience.

So, as you enjoy your breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Saturday, spare a thought and a prayer for those of us who are fasting, as we will also be giving thanks for you!
~Pastor Sarah

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Things they don't teach you in seminary...

#489: When you are imposing ashes in a carpeted church in a dry winter in Minnesota, there will be static electricity. A lot of it. I lost track of the number of times I shocked someone last night.

There were a few mishaps (aren't there always), but we had a lovely Ash Wednesday service last night nonetheless. It just goes to show that really, the pastor standing up in the front is just the tip of the iceberg--any number of other people from the congregation do all sorts of work in the background to make it happen, from setting up for communion to turning the microphones on to reminding the pastor when she forgets the offering (oops). Even though I am often the one standing in front, worship is not something I can do alone--it takes a whole community.

All in all, not a bad way to start Lent, as we explore together what it means for us to be the baptized family of God.
~Pastor Sarah

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The ashes are ready (almost)

I managed to track down some palm ash and I've even found instructions for using it (after all my searching, it turns out that the ELCA worship FAQs had about the best explanation--who knew?). I have my little pottery container that was given to me at the end of my internship (I was told at the time that it was meant for ashes, so I am going to use it for ashes). I have a washcloth which will be hidden behind the pulpit so I can wipe my fingers off afterward (I am sure I will not be able to keep the ashes restricted to my thumb). I even practiced last night, mixing a small amount of olive oil with a small amount of ashes and wearing it for three hours to make sure there were no adverse effects. All that remains is to pour the ashes into the bowl, add a little bit of olive oil, stir it up a bit, and wash my hands (I am sure I will need to wash my hands).

If you aren't familiar with it, what happens is that worshippers are invited to come forward, kneel or stand, and have the sign of the cross marked on their foreheads with ashes. It's a wonderfully dramatic ritual gesture, involving more of the senses in worship, especially touch. The shape of the cross recalls the cross marked on our foreheads when we are baptized. Ashes, like water, have more than one use--they can be a sign of repentance and of death, but they can also be a sign of cleansing.
"Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Not exactly the most uplifting thing to hear, is it? A little depressing, you would think. When you wear the ashes on your forehead, you are saying, "yes, I will die". You are admitting to being mortal, and fallen.

But because the ashes form the shape of the cross, you are also claiming that sin and death do not have the last word. Even death is defeated! So we are even bold enough to look death right in the face, and wear it on our brows, as if to say, "Yes, we will die. So what?" Or, as the apostle Paul once put it:
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
(Romans 6:4)
~Pastor Sarah

Monday, February 23, 2009

Prayers: Seminaries

One of the things I have learned from moving around to different parts of the country is that most Lutherans are only aware of the seminary that is closest to them (if any). Did you know that there are actually eight ELCA seminaries? How many can you list? One or two? As many as four? All eight?

Another thing I have learned--from working closely with students from several different seminaries--is that they all are training good people to be faithful stewards of the gospel. I know this to be true for the ones I have worked with, so on faith (and knowing that this is really in God's hands) I take it to be true of them all. Sometimes there are differences in approach, and each seminary has its strengths and weaknesses. But really, we can be proud to support and pray for all of them, as well as for their students, and all of those who are discerning a call to ministry in our church.

That said, Seminary Days at Southern Seminary are March 22-24, and it's only fair to point out that it will actually be spring in South Carolina at that time, something no other ELCA seminary can claim. There will even be flowers, and it is absolutely not going to snow.
~Pastor Sarah

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Today is Martin Luther day!

No, not Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, although it's an easy mistake. After all, Martin Luther and Martin Luther King, Jr. had a lot in common--both were Christian pastors who sought to reform their societies. (And, of course, the more recent "Martin Luther" was named after "our" Martin Luther.)

Today, however, really is the day for the commemoration of Martin Luther, because this day marks the anniversary of his death. This is an excellent opportunity to brush up on your Lutheran history, as remembered from Sunday School or Confirmation. Since one of Luther's chief concerns was the study of the Word, this is also a great day for Bible reading, as we give thanks for the gift of the Scriptures translated into our own language.
~Pastor Sarah

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lent is coming...

Ash Wednesday is fast approaching, and I am thinking about the imposition of ashes. Apparently this hasn't been done at Fron the last few years, although there is a history before that. This means that, among other things...I don't know where to get the ashes. Often they come from last year's palm branches, but I'm pretty sure we don't have a collection of those back in the sacristy. What to do? I'm working on it.

A request to readers who are from the area (or who aren't!): What experiences do you have with Ash Wednesday services? What practices mean the most to you? Is the imposition of ashes a-important to you, b-completely weird and foreign, or c-indifferent?
~Pastor Sarah

Monday, February 16, 2009

Prayers: Assignment process

Right now, senior seminarians and other recently-approved candidates for ministry are waiting to find out where they will be serving. If they have spouses and/or kids, they are waiting, too. This week, they will be assigned to one of 9 geographical regions in the ELCA, which is the first big step. (After a region assignment, which can be pretty broad, you get a synod assignment, and only after that do you start thinking on the level of individual congregations and parishes.)

I went through this experience last year--for me it was pretty easy, because I was open to going anywhere, but I also felt strongly for my peers who were in different situations, all trying to be faithful to God's call. (An anonymous student from my seminary was quoted in the local paper as saying "I need a map" upon opening her assignment envelope. Yes, that was me. Yes, I knew where Minnesota was. But it didn't say "Minnesota". It said "Region 3". Would you know which synods are in Region 3?)

At Southern seminary, what happens is that the seniors all get together in the chapel to receive their envelopes. Some of them will be opened right there, while others will wait until they can be with family. It's an emotional day, full of mixed feelings--rejoicing with those who rejoice, mourning with those who mourn, and puzzling with those who are puzzled. Most students will be happy with their assignments, but there will be a few unwelcome surprises.

So, this week, I'll be taking extra time to pray for students who are waiting to be assigned and for their families and for the bishops and other folks in charge of making the assignments. The Holy Spirit really is working in this process. Sometimes this is obvious, and sometimes it is very mysterious--but it is always true.
~Pastor Sarah

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thoughts on Saint Valentine

I've done a bit of research K.I.C.K. and I thought I would share.

What he know is this: There probably was a Saint Valentine. (In fact, there were several saints of the early church by that name.) He likely died for his faith.

St. Valentine was traditionally remembered on February 14th (in the West, at least), possibly the day of his death. (Since there was more than one saint named "Valentine", there may have been other St. Valentine's days!) Typically, we remember saints and martyrs on the days of their deaths, not their births, because that is the date of their "birth to eternal life".

Saint Valentine himself was not originally associated with romantic love. That is a more recent invention. There are many lovely stories that support this idea (for example, the story that he sent his jailer's daughter a note signed "Valentine" or that he performed marriages for young Christians), but they are probably based more on imagination than on history. That doesn't mean they're not worth telling--I think it's helpful for us as Christians to have positive ways of talking about romantic love. But that's not really our primary motivation. Regardless of what else he did, the original Saint Valentine was considered a saint of the early church--and that probably means that he was concerned, above all, with God's love.

So, on Valentine's Day, you have several options. You could stress about whether you are showing enough love (i.e. buying enough presents) for your significant other. You could stress about how you don't have a significant other. Or you could start by remembering that the real source of St. Valentine's life and strength was not romantic love, but God's. And that love is not shown with cards and chocolates (not that I'm opposed to either), but by the life and death of Jesus Christ.
~Pastor Sarah

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Prayers: K.I.C.K.

For today's prayer request, I would like to lift up our parish after-school program, K.I.C.K. (It stands for "Kids in Christ's Kamp". We are not teaching spelling, okay?) Since we started up in the late fall, we have had a great group of kids each Wednesday after school. We play games and have a snack, play more games and break into groups for learning time and music. Every week, we end with a group prayer, and we pray for the kids who are there as well as for whatever concerns they have on their minds--so this week, please pray with us!
~Pastor Sarah

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Parking lot reflections

So, the parking lot is a sheet of ice, slush, and rain, but for the first time since December, I can see the lines. So instead of randomly aiming, I can actually be sure that I am parked properly (or not, depending on how badly I parked).

This reminds me of a recent discussion from Confirmation. We talked about the Lutheran emphasis on "Word Alone" (and also Faith Alone and Grace Alone, but it'll take us a few weeks to cover all three). For some things, it is easy to see what this means. As Lutherans, for instance, we only recognize two sacraments, because those were the two Luther found to be supported by Scripture. (Of course, we have other things that are a lot like sacraments, but that's another discussion.) So this is sort of like parking in a lot when the yellow lines are clearly visible--everyone can agree on whether I parked badly or not.

But a lot of things are not so easy. (For example, the Bible does not actually say anything about cell phones or computers or the Internet, because they hadn't been invented yet.) Then, it's a bit more like parking on a snow-covered lot. It's harder to tell where the lines are. If you are familiar with the lot, though, you can do a pretty good job, and you can tell if you are getting it really wrong. A stranger, though, would be at a loss.

That's kind of how we are in the church. We spend time with the Scriptures, reading God's Word and being shaped by it. We spend time in Christian community, as well, and in worship, and prayer, and these things shape us into the kind of people who can discern that, well, maybe it would be a good idea to turn off your cell phone during Sunday worship (or maybe, under certain circumstances, it might not be). And when we're not sure what the answer is, maybe that's a good time to continue to be shaped and formed, by reading the Bible (not just the parts we agree with), spending time in Christian community (again, not just the parts we agree with), and worshiping God.
~Pastor Sarah

Monday, February 9, 2009

This is more like it

Today is cold and wet and dreary, which is pretty much the definition of winter back in Ohio. So I actually feel right at home. (It's slightly depressing, of course, but that's how it's supposed to feel.)

I would post the text of my mini-sermon from the service on the lake yesterday, but it was partly based on a previous post, so there it is already (almost). For all that I protest about the sheer insanity of standing on a frozen lake when the temperature isn't even freezing, it was tremendously fun. (I made up a few theories about the effect of large cracks on the way out. I can't help it. I just wonder about things like that.) I even got to stand on an area of clear ice and hear it cracking (after which I stopped doing that). I have concluded that ice fishers are either brave or crazy, but in a good way.

The ice had me pretty well distracted at first, but the service was delightful. We had a small, dedicated little group, and the weather was magnificent. Once again, I was happy to be part of this community.
~Pastor Sarah

Saturday, February 7, 2009

By this time tomorrow...

...we will already have had our worship service on the lake. Anyone who is in the area is welcome to join us--we're meeting by the Water's Edge at 3:00. I'll be the one who still seems skeptical of this whole "walking on the lake" thing.

Actually, I'm really, really looking forward to it. I know it seems just like a matter-of-fact sort of thing to most Minnesotans, but to me it feels like a first view of the ocean or a first ride on an airplane, or the first time a kid from the South sees real snow. And my family in Ohio will be tremendously impressed.
~Pastor Sarah

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tuesday update

Weather: Still cold.

This year, the Souper Bowl of Caring raised $2,754,289, all of which goes to local organizations. We chose not to participate this year, so we can stay focused on the 30 Hour Famine. Still, it's an exciting project, and a cause for giving thanks! And if you stop by their website, you will notice that the countdown is already on for next year!

Yes, I saw the Super Bowl (well, most of it--okay, okay, some of most of it). I even saw the much-vaunted all-3D commercial break, which didn't mean much to me because I didn't have 3D glasses. Even if I did have 3D glasses, it probably still wouldn't mean much to me--my eyes just don't cooperate. I can't even do those "Magic Eye" things. You know those optical illusions where you're supposed to state at something for 30 seconds and then look away? And...uhm...something is supposed to happen? I can never get those to work, either. (Although most of these are pretty good.) There is probably some biblical application here somewhere. Maybe it's how you can go about your life without seeing God anywhere...but if you look with your eyes wide open, you will inevitably see God's presence all around you.
From there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul. (Deuteronomy 4:29)

Incidentally, Psalm 147 is actually the assigned Psalm for this week, except that the lectionary only includes verses 1-11 and 20c (which is basically the ending "Alleluia"/"Praise the Lord"). Sometimes verses are omitted because they are confusing out of context or because of length, but in this case, since it was the winter weather verses that were left out, I have to wonder. Did someone, somewhere (possibly someone living in a warmer climate), think they were doing us Northerners a favor by leaving the snow and frost references out?
~Pastor Sarah

Monday, February 2, 2009

Happy February!

We had a bit of a heat wave over the weekend, which actually succeeded in melting some of the snow. It looks to be cold for the next few days, maybe a little warmer towards next weekend--just so long as the ice is solid for next Sunday's "Frozen Chosen" worship service out on the lake! (Coming from a climate where lakes that big do not freeze over very much, I am wary enough as it is.)

In my research, then, I have found a few biblical passages describing winter weather. See, for instance, Job 37:1-13--not a book we often quote, but the imagery is striking:
By the breath of God ice is given,
and the broad waters are frozen fast. (Job 37:10)
And then there is Psalm 147:
He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes.
He hurls down hail like crumbs— who can stand before his cold?
He sends out his word, and melts them;
   he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.
(Psalm 147:16-18)

~Pastor Sarah