Faith journey

[Personal side note: I know I have posted a lot recently so hopefully I am not overwhelming you…it’s just that I have had lots on my heart to say.]
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This last week has been a faith journey for me (times of trial have a way of leading people on these journeys).

For me this faith journey started (of course) last week when the ELCA Churchwide assembly began debating/discussing the sexuality issues.  But I don’t want to write another post about these issues (been there, done that).  Rather I want to share with you what has been going on inside of my heart during this past week…after all…this blog is titled “The HEART of a Pastor”.

Recently I had a conversation with a person who shared with me their heart about what happened at the ELCA CWA.  When this person called me and told me they were coming in, I did not expect a conversation about “the vote”, but when this person arrived…oh boy…I saw the heart of this person that I had not seen before.  They were almost apologetic but I kept telling them “We need more people like you to open their hearts and share what they are feeling about what is going on.  I appreciate seeing and hearing your passion and faith.”  This person was not happy about the outcome of “the vote” but need to tell someone…and they felt I was the only one they could talk to.  I wish that were no so.  I wish this person felt comfortable talking to others about their feelings and faith.  I told this person “I got a feeling that there are plenty others who probably feel the same as you.  So share your faith and don’t be afraid.”  I am not sure what this person will do, but hopefully this is just the beginning.

But in another way this “beginning” kind of scares me…

…part of me doesn’t feel ready to take on this task because I am still on this faith journey.  But another part of me knows that I need to be ready to guide and lead this congregation…and because that is the case I trust that God will guide me along this journey and give me what I need to lead Salem and Belmont Lutheran Churches through these tumultuous (wow…that is kind of a big word for me to use, but I like it) waters.

Yet another part of me is somewhat concerned what people here and beyond will do.  Will churches and people up and leave the ELCA?  Will Salem want to do that?  This is just one uncertainty that plagues me and one that I need to be ready to deal with.  I need to explore my heart and test my faith to see where it leads me.  I know the question will come up so I am in constant prayer…asking God for guidance and wisdom here.  “What is your plan for me and this church, oh  God?  Where are you leading us?  How are we to be faithful witnesses to the world during this tumultuous time in the Church?  But also…I don’t want this issue of homosexuality to distract us from the Gospel.  Grant me/us wisdom oh God.”

But I am thankful that this journey is happening before the busyness of the fall season hits.  School is not in session yet; Release Time and Confirmation classes don’t start for another couple weeks and Salem’s 125th anniversary is still a couple weeks away.  I can afford some down time to pray, reflect, talk with colleagues, write, read, pray, reflect, etc… And I got a feeling I will be doing plenty of this during the week and beyond.

I don’t understand why things happened last week the way they did, but I hope and pray it causes people to reflect, pray and engage their own personal faith journeys.  Maybe the Church needed this to spur people to action; to explore their relationship with God; to get people talking and thinking; to force people to explore their faith; to get into scripture more.  Whatever God is doing I trust that the mission of Christ will continue forward and that we will continue to be faithful witnesses.

Oh God, grant me strength and wisdom.

-edh-

The Bread of Life

We are continuing in John 6 this week with verses 24 – 35.  This scene picks up where we left off last week; Jesus feeds the 5000 and then goes for a walk on the water; scaring the disciples half to death.  After calming the disciples down and climbing into their boat they head to the other side of the lake.  Once over there the people that were fed by Jesus realize Jesus and the crew are gone, so they climb into their boats in search of Jesus (looking for breakfast).  Once again, the people still have no clue who Jesus really is and what he really did for them.

Now we get some talk about Jesus being the “Bread of Life“.  The people are looking for real bread; talking about how Moses gave the Israelites manna from heaven.  But Jesus fires back and says that it’s not Moses that gives bread from heaven but God who gives the TRUE bread.  And this bread means life.

I am the Bread of Life” Jesus says.

The quote that jumps out to me (besides, of course, the Bread of Life comment) is the one Jesus says to the people when they come looking for him.  Jesus tells them that they are only there because he gave them something to eat.  Jesus then goes on to say “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”  This statement may not have shocked the people too much then, but what about today…a society that is based on “working for food that spoils“?  This verse is reminiscent of the verses that talks about storing up treasures in heaven where moth and rust can not destroy.  This is an intriguing connection.

So maybe I will “play” with this connection some more…Hmmm…

What do you think of this connection; not working for food that spoils and storing up treasures in heaven?

-edh-

The greatest miracle

I really want to tell you right now what I am doing for my sermon tomorrow, but I won’t.  I know there are a number of Salem/Belmont people who read this and I don’t want to spoil anything.

So why am I even teasing you with something I am not going to share now?  Well…part of it is to give you a heads up on what I am going to write about on Tuesday (I am taking a comp day Monday so I probably won’t post that day, but who knows).

The other part of the reason I am teasing you is that I am really excited about this.  I am still not sure how things will go tomorrow, but God is in control.  My hope is that God is glorified and that hearts are opened (not by my power but by the power of the Holy Spirit) through the greatest miracle of all.

May God be praised tomorrow and always.

-edh-

Sermon prep on a busy Thursday

Today is Thursday…

…and that means sermon prep.  But being that it is July 23 it also means day #4 of VBS…AND…wedding prep day (I have a wedding on Saturday for a couple of friends).  All in all…it will be a busy day (with any luck I will also get my lawn mowed).

In any case…back to sermon prep.  The text I am preaching on is from John 6:1-21.  This is John’s account of the Feeding of the 5000 with Jesus walking on the water to boot.  It’s almost a 2 fer today.

My plan right now is to start things out with a prayer (like I usually do) but this time I am going to use the second lesson text (which is a prayer for the Ephesians — Eph. 3:14-21).  I am going to change some “yous” to “we” and use it for us…here and now.  I thought that sounded like good way to start.  It talks about being strengthened by the Holy Spirit; being rooted and established in love; that we may know Christ; but in the end all glory and honor to God forever and ever, Amen.

Now on to the Gospel text…

…here I don’t really know where I am going yet, but that’s what the Holy Spirit is for.  With everything going on today I am trying not to get too nervous.  Normally I would leave my office at 11am and head to Coffee Choices to eat and write, but with VBS today I can’t leave here until after 12noon (that will throw off the routine).  To the naked, untrained eye this may not seem like a big deal, but routines (for some) are important.  And when I get thrown from mine I often need to focus a little harder to stay on track.

<There I go again…off track…I am supposed to be talking about John 6>

Anyway…here are some initial thoughts about John 6:1-21:
(1) A foretaste of the Feast to come.
(2) When we are “hungry” Jesus WILL feed us.
(3) Jesus can do much with what we consider little.
(4) With Jesus in our life, we will have more than enough.
(5) A defense of youth ministry — a small boy was encouraged to contribute and 5000+ people were fed.

These sound like small tag lines but sermons often start with thoughts such as these.

What do you hear in this text?

In your particular place in your life, how does this text “feed” you?

God bless you today and always.  Praise be to God!

-edh-

VBS

VBS (Vacation Bible School) is almost upon us here at Salem Lutheran Church.  Our coordinator has been hard at work for a few weeks now.   It is fun to see her excitement and energy as July 20 fast approaches.  And if you want evidence of Emily’s excitement just walk through the lower level of Salem and see the decorations…it looks like a swamp…very fun.  Right now we have 30 pre-school kids registered with more expected to just show up on Monday morning.  I am in charge of the Bible story each day which I am looking forward to with much excitement.

In the afternoons we have a VBS style program (or daycamp) going on for our K – 6 graders with Shetek Lutheran Ministries.  Salem is hosting the pre-school VBS and our ELCA neighbors down the street is hosting the daycamp program.  Daycamp has about 55 kids registered. All in all it is going to be a fun week.

My dream and goal for next year is to get most if not all the churches together in Jackson to put on a VBS program together.  There is so much we can do if we combine our resources, gifts and talents together without having to re-create the wheel (which we seem to be doing this year).  Salem, Our Savior’s and Belmont Lutheran Churches are together this year but I envision a much greater ecumenical partnership in 2010.

So here’s to VBS:  lots of energetic pre-schoolers…cool aid…games outside…crafts…singing…Bible stories…and hopefully some seeds planted.  Thank you to our volunteers, parents, and congregations for your support, time and committment.

So here’s to VBS and the Holy Spirit working in the lives of our kids.

Praise be to God!

-edh-

Preach Jesus

I have a Celebration of New Life service (a.k.a. funeral) to prepare for this week.  It takes place on Friday morning.  In my preparations I got to thinking about some other funerals that I have attended for people I know and for family.  There are two that stand out to me.  They stand out because at each service Jesus was not preached.  Actually…the name “Jesus” was not uttered…not even once.  Jesus was alluded to, but if I were an unbeliever or someone who has never even heard about this guy, Jesus, I would not have heard any Good News.  And both of those services were supposedly Christian funerals.

In seminary, my preaching professor told us that when we preach try to mention Jesus’ name at least once.  The obvious implication was to make sure that we were preaching the Good News of Jesus dying and rising for us.  For if we are not preaching about Jesus then we are just there giving a speech about some religious topic.

For me, a funeral is a golden opportunity to preach the Good News to those who normally would not step foot inside a church.  You also have people who I call CEOs (Christmas Easter Only…with the occasional wedding or funeral).  When I preach at a funeral I not only have the mourners in mind but those who don’t normally hear the Gospel.  We can’t miss these opportunities.

Jesus needs to be preached!

The best funeral preaching advise I have received came from a woman from Salem who died.  She left me detailed instructions about her funeral.  This is an excerpt of what she wrote (and how she wrote it):

DON’T TALK ABOUT ME BECAUSE IT IS NOT ABOUT ME.  THIS IS A CELEBRATION OF NEW LIFE.

And believe me…I was going to listen to her…and I still do.  To this day, this is why we call funerals “A Celebration of New Life.”

Preach Jesus…and don’t miss “golden opportunities”.  Preach Jesus and preach Life.  Preach Jesus…even if you are not ordained, preach Jesus (in words and deeds).  Preach Jesus.

[Did I mention…preach Jesus?]

-edh-

…and she sucked my thumb

One of the things I enjoy about the congregations I serve are the children.  On the Sundays when there are a number of kids in worship it can become quite a zoo, but I don’t mind.  One particular 3 year old likes to explore the sanctuary…during worship.  His mom usually has a horrified look on her face when she chases him down; thinking I am going to get mad, but I never do.  One little girl used to stand on the pew during the offering; holding a dollar bill and yell “Eric…I got your money!”  One Sunday, when I was preaching from the floor with a music stand, the little boy that likes to explore the sanctuary decided he wanted a better view.  He came down the center aisle and stood right in front of me; looking and listening (Try to stay focused during a sermon with that).

But this past Sunday a very cute moment took place for me.  We were down stairs enjoying another magnificent Salem Lutheran Church potluck.  I was sitting at a table with a friend of ours (a member at Salem) who has a six month old little girl.  She was born about 5 weeks early and I can remember being very nervous holding her after she was born.  She was so tiny.  But now Chloe is getting bigger.  Anyway…this past Sunday Chloe was in a very good mood; smiling at everyone (I hope she stays that cute).  After I finished eating I got my opportunity to hold Chloe.  In the process of holding her apparently my thumb got a little too close to her mouth.  Just then she grabbed my thumb with her two tiny hands…and she sucked my thumb.  Actually she was gumming it.  I thought that was the cutest thing ever.  I would pull my thumb away and she would grab it again and suck on it.  Everyone around laughed.  Maybe I had some left over hot dish on my thumb…I don’t know, but it was a moment I will cherish.  If I am here long enough to have Chloe in Release Time or Confirmation I look forward to embarrassing her with that story.

I know some people are annoyed when children “disrupt” worship but if there are no “disruptions” in worship then there is no children.  If there are no children…well…you do the math.  I cherish “disruptions” and thumb sucking moments with children.  It reminds me that we are to have the faith of children; freely expressing oneself without worrying about what people are thinking about you.

What if WE actually lived our faith like children…free and without worry?  Hmmm…

-edh-