Reformation Sunday, October 28, 2018
We are up to 501! 501years since the reformation! Long time for sure. 501 years based on a simple concept and simple idea. We could talk about the political climate of Europe or the technological advances in the printing press that triggered the reformation. All true. We could talk about human institutions that were being abused. We could talk about a variety of things that got us to where we are 501 years after a German monk posted 95 discussion points on a church door.
But what I want to focus on is that Martin Luther read his bible, and the holy spirit working in him let him see how grace allows us to be free!! Grace is freedom. Freedom to be in relationship with a loving, caring God through Christ Jesus. Freedom to be in relationship with our neighbors in a new and powerful way. Freedom to look outward beyond ourselves to God and to others.
Luther read his Bible and the world changed.
Now Luther did not invent grace. Nor do I think that the Lutheran church has the market cornered on grace. The concept of God’s grace was around for 1500 years prior in the Christian church. God’s grace can be found all through the Hebrew Scriptures.
In order to understand the Reformation though, it is always important to understand what was being reformed. I am going to use a football field analogy. Let’s suppose that the End Zone is heaven. Our goal as a football team is to move the ball across the field through passing and running into the end zone. In Luther’s day, the church was the keepers of the field and they set the rules of play. You moved our football through doing things like going to mass, confessing, taking communion, giving alms to the poor, praying. All this good stuff. All the rituals of church life helped move the ball down the field. The people did the work. The priests prayed for the people. In tandem, this moved the ball down to the field. Then as you got on the goal line to heaven, you died, God’s grace gave you the final push into the end zone. We did as much as we can. God’s grace does the rest.
This concept of Grace and humans working together helped create concepts like purgatory, something we as Lutheran don’t practice, was created out of a place of love not punishment. Priests were wrestling with the ideas of childhood deaths. What do we do when a child dies early? Have they done enough to get down the field? The bubonic plague of the middle ages heightened this concern. So many people were dying, some many kids were dying. What do we do? Purgatory came out of a response to untimely death and the concern for everyone’s soul. It came from a place of love.
But there was some human greed that became attached to the idea of Purgatory. Prayers were being sold. The idea of trying to free our loved ones from purgatory became corrupted. Luther struggled with his own salvation, was he doing enough to be worthy of the grace that was going to push him into heaven.
But then one day, Luther was reading his bible, reading Romans in fact and he saw grace in an entirely new light.
What Luther saw though, is that we are already in the end zone. Right here. Right now. We don’t even have to play the game. It’s already been played and won, football spiked, Gatorade dumped. That is the grace that is discovered in Romans. That is the powerful wonderful crazy grace that Paul is writing about in our passage this morning from Romans. There are no works to be done to earn Grace.
“For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,”
St Paul goes on to say “28 For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.”
Luther read his Bible and the world changed.
The temptations of Reformation day is to waive our flags, sing ‘Our God is a Mighty Fortress’ and take a victory lap around the day. It is a temptation to thinking we got it right and everyone else, come on now, don’t you see how good this is. You don’t see this grace, you got it all wrong.
Another pastor I know, talks about this temptation. He likened it to the locker room of a game 7 team in the World Series. I am sure most of you have seen one of those celebrations. The lockers get draped with plastic. The wheelbarrows of champagne are rolled in. The cameras always show this locker room waiting and ready for the victory celebration. Then the winning team comes in and there is laughter, cheers, hugging and champagne sprayed everywhere. Our temptation is to think that we are that winning team but what if we are in the wrong locker room.
What if we are in the locker room of the team that hasn’t won? We are in the locker room of the unused champagne and the plastic that is quickly being taken down, not needed. What if the victory hasn’t quite happened yet? There is still brokenness; there is still division in the church. Forget the greater church; there is still great division among Lutherans in America. Think about any great issue in the church, sexuality, who can be married, who can be a pastor, who can come to receive the Lord ’s Supper and on and on. We are divided there. We are in the locker room taking down the plastic that isn’t needed because there is no champagne being sprayed.
The Reformation can’t be about dividing us. The Reformation, if it created more divisions, was not a success. I urge us not to fall into the temptation of flag raising. I urge us not to fall into the temptation of “victory lap Sunday”. The Reformation speaks to the heart of unity but our humanness still falls trap to things that divide us.
The work of the Reformation must continue. We live in scary times. Bombs are being sent in the mail. Radical hatred seems to be louder than it has in decades. There was a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh yesterday. Armed soldiers are being sent south. Fear of the other, fear of the different is getting strong and stronger.
Be not afraid.
The work of the Reformation must continue and the world is a need of the church to be a beacon of hope and unity.
The world probably needs a reformation, but that is out of my hands. But what I can do is remind people not be afraid because of the cross.
We can remind people to not be afraid because of the cross.
An event happened at the cross; it was beyond an innocent man being crushed by violence. Because the event that occurred was the resurrection and the cross and the tomb are empty. The resurrection points to this abundant grace that is poured down to us. And Jesus returns risen from the dead, forgiving, grace abundant, grace, and teaches us to leave behind the old idea of violence and punishment. God dives into the violence to turn the world inside out. God took this unjust punishment and by the resurrection of Jesus created a peaceful reversal of the punishment to flood the world with hope.
We can be a beacon of hope and a beacon reminding people, ‘Do not be afraid.’ We can be the beacon of hope shining our light to others. We can be the candle in the darkness and reflect God’s grace to others.
What if our faith in Jesus is not an idea, but rather an experience to God’s love?
I will say that again, because I want that to sink in,
What if our faith in Jesus is not an idea, but rather an experience to God’s love?
We all have these experiences. Perhaps it an experience of finding joy after grief, a freedom from addiction, the birth of a new baby, the celebration of life’s milestones, the experience of community, the tangible aspect of taking communion every Sunday. These are but a few. I know you have more.
We can use our faith to be witness to that experience of Jesus’s love filled power. We move faith from being passive voice in our lives to an active voice in our lives. When we witness to and talk to our experience of faith, it becomes active.
The gospel lesson points to that experience. The crisp action in the Gospel lesson strikes out at me today. The blind beggar, Bartimaeus, cries out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He cries out refusing to be silent. Jesus hears the cry, “Call him here.” And the disciples bring him over with the command “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” The man throws of his cloak comes to Jesus and asks to see. Transformed, he follows Jesus.
Take courage, get up, God is calling you.
Be brave, stand up, Jesus is calling you.
Throw off your cloak, let go of your old life, let the experience of Christ transform you.
The work of the Reformation is not finished. God’s work is not finished. Our hands are still needed. As long as oppressive systems exist, our hands are needed. As long as victims are told to be quiet, our voices are needed.
As long as hatred exists, disharmony reigns, violence occurs we need to stand up.
Take courage, get up, God is calling you.
Have nerve, have daring, have audacity, God has chosen you.
God has chosen you to be a beacon of light and hope and examples of the abundant grace that has showered been down up on. Be the light of grace. Be the beacon of hope. Be the candle in the darkness. We have been freed by grace to love. Our salvation is taken care off, it was handled two thousand years go.
So, go forth and shine. Sin boldly. Love boldly. Be bold. God is with you.
Thanks, be to God.
Church of the Savior-Lutheran is happy announce the calling our new Pastor, Rev. Paul Miller, September 2018
I am humbled, honored and excited to begin serving as the Pastor of Church of the Savior-Lutheran, Paramus New Jersey. I am a second career Pastor who grew up in Westchester County, New York. I have worked for nearly twenty years in corporate America in various roles from finance to project management to first line management. I am the proud father of two wonderful daughters.
I believe that that we are called to love God and to love each other and shares the following.
As a minister of Word and Sacrament, I will walk side by side with people on their journey of faith; through listening and guiding, I envision helping them to identify the gifts and talents they possess and can use to serve God. We are not all called to be priests or pastors, but we are called to love each other. We have been freed by Christ to love each other. God’s presence is always there, regardless of our roles or our circumstances, and as Christians, we have the opportunity to be the presence of God’s love for all people. As we sit with, listen to, and walk beside others, we can be “little Christs”. This is our response to Christ’s deep love and Grace – that God’s grace is endless and is open for all people.”
I was first drawn to The Church of The Savior – Lutheran by the congregation’s wonderful hospitality and welcome. I consistently saw and felt the Congregation’s deep love for their community and for all people. Their joy was evidenced when, through song and praise, they worship each Sunday. The faculty and staff of Savior’s preschool, with deep passion for their students and God, also drew me in to serve at Savior.
“Politics” and Church
President Trump’s executive order on churches and politics is actually a fraud, as it changes nothing in the law and – in some rare cases – only removes the possibility of government sanctions against a church, sanctions that are virtually never employed.
It is nothing more than a symbolic gesture as an attempt to sooth certain segments of the populace who believe – incorrectly – that their right to fully speak about their faith has been muzzled.
As tax-exempt organizations, religious institutions are forbidden by law from supporting candidates or parties, the penalty for doing so being the loss of their tax-exempt status. The president’s recent executive order attempts to lift the possibility of sanctions against churches that violate that law.
In truth, the law is quite often violated, as candidates are invited to the pulpits of some churches or the pastor speaks favorably about a candidate or invites the candidate to church and then puts his arm around the candidate in front of all the people.
In 50 years of preaching, I have avoided preaching “politics” from the pulpit, and using whatever clout I may have as a pastor to influence an election. In a small way, I recently departed from my long-standing policy as I feared that the election of Donald Trump would do damage to many things that protect and support our neighbors.
“Politics,” in this kind of discussion, means campaigning for a candidate or a party; it does not mean discussing legislation or social issues, both of which are “political” concerns.
This latter I have done many times, guided by the social statements of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I will continue to do so. That is because God’s command to “love your neighbor” means that I must be concerned when laws or policies do harm to my neighbor or prevent Christians from fully expressing God’s love to our neighbors.
For example, if laws or policies harm the immigrant or refugee, we Christians, speaking from the foundation of our faith, must address those issues. If some of our neighbors suffer discrimination or persecution because of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or economic status, we must address those issues.
Sometimes we may support “solutions” that seem to be on the Democrat side of the political aisle, at other times the solutions may be on the other side. Or Christians may disagree as to which solutions are best. But we can still be fully engaged in the “political” activities involved in seeking solutions to the problems that hurt our neighbors, whether those neighbors are next door or in another state, or – since we are a global community – in another country.
I think that in the last 50 years I have written at least four, perhaps five articles for The Lutheran magazine explaining how our church, our congregations, synods and national church body engage social issues “politically.” The most recent article was last October and I include a link to it at the bottom of this message.
This kind of “advocacy” and “political” action is not easy and can be controversial; but not to engage in it would be to abandon the part of our society which makes decisions affecting us and our neighbors and how we serve them.
I recently encountered an interesting quote from Benjamin Franklin. He said “Serving God is doing good to man, but praying is thought an easier service and therefore more generally chosen. That is, I believe, a sly dig from Franklin at those who think that faith is prayer and spirituality, those things admittedly “easier service” than engaging in society and its troubles.
ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has also addressed the president’s executive order. A link to her letter to us is at the bottom of this message.
We do pray for our leaders and our nation. But our churches also work within the structures of our land to see that our laws and policies are fair and just and serve our neighbors, especially those most vulnerable to society abuse.
See you in church,
Bishop Eaton’s letter:
My article in “Living Lutheran” on Political Advocacy
Repent in Lent? Yes, but …
The major theme of Lent has been repentance, as we look at our sins, consider our faults and ask God’s forgiveness. Pastors this month write newsletter articles on this theme, and the somber call to repent will echo through the sermons in the coming weeks.
I would do that, too, but here’s why I’m not going to do that.
There are two reasons.
First, I know that you already consider your sins and understand the need for repentance. I know that you turn to God, humbly seeking forgiveness. We will have confession and absolution at the beginning of each Lenten eucharist, and I know that you understand what this means. I trust your faith and your understanding of the need for repentance; so I don’t need to spend the next six weeks exhorting you to do what I know you are already doing.
The second reason is “social” or even “secular.”
These are difficult times for the world. We have seen the horrors of the war in Syria, the suffering of tens of thousands of refugees from many parts of the world, the killings in our country, most by violent criminals, some by police. We have friends and neighbors struggling with health problems, sometimes without adequate insurance or access to proper medical care.
Our nation still reels from the divisive presidential campaign and the wounds we afflicted on one another continue to bleed. We may (or may not) be facing a radical change in how our country does things at home and abroad and we aren’t sure exactly what those changes will be or how they will affect us.
The world and its problems are very much with us and can be very disturbing.
We need some “up” times, some “up” themes. We need to have our spirits raised, lest we become overwhelmed by the dank swampiness of the world around us. So I am declaring that “grace and possibility” rather than “sin and repentance” will be our theme this Lent. (The doctrinal and liturgical purists who read this can report me to the bishop if they wish.)
You will understand (because you know these things) that the grace and possibility we celebrate is all because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; his call to us and our response in repentance, dedication and service. That will be Lent for us this year.
See you in church,
Spirituality online; some good things; some bad things, some recommendations
The Internet! Ah, the Internet!
It is good, bad, wonderful, troublesome, blessing, bane, a nifty tool or a dangerous obsession.
It seems that the Internet is a bit of all those things. There are wonderful meditations on the faith and on the Bible online. And there are dangerous “spiritual” pages. There are good sources of news and places where propagandists will try to sell you snake oil ideas.
I love finding out about things and the Internet makes it easier to do so. I like keeping in touch with people and email helps me do that. I am not a great fan of Facebook, but I do spend a little time there.
In one sense, the Internet is just one gigantic “library.” In any library are good books and bad books; books that can help you and books that can distract you, (and not always in good ways.) I am a great fan of libraries, spent many hours in one as a child, and I am a fan of the Internet. It can also bring together groups of people to share information, and discuss things, even if the discussions are not always healthy.
But let us focus on the positive. Churches are all over the Internet and religion has always been big online. To keep things “local” and manageable, I’m going to recommend some sites for your consideration.
Of course there is our own church page, maintained by Brenda Moderacki. You can find it here: http://churchofthesavior-lutheran.org/
Pastor Susan Nelson-Colenari of Holy Trinity Lutheran, Hasbrouck Heights, is very skilled at crafting online video meditations and you will find that they can enhance your own meditations. They are available at: http://www.holytrinityhasbrouckheights.com/#/prayer-ministries
Our own Pastor Peter Olson, now at Trinity Lutheran in Bogota, writes some magnificent reflections on a page called “Portico” (which means “entrance”). Look at it here: https://revolsen.com/
Our international organization of Lutheran Churches from around the world is the Lutheran World Federation. You can find out about the LWF at: https://www.lutheranworld.org/. You will be thrilled and inspired by the “presence” that Lutheran churches have in so many countries.
My favorite “Bible” site is Oremus Bible Browser, where you can look up passages (in various translations) and search for words and phrases. It is at http://bible.oremus.org/
Our Lutheran Church in Honolulu has created a wonderful site for daily prayer, with each day’s psalms and prayers present for easy reading and praying. It is at http://www.lchwelcome.org/spirit/office/office.php
You can also get daily prayers from the Church of England at http://www.oremus.org/cofe.html
Luther Seminary in St. Paul puts out studies of each week’s lessons. You can find those at http://www.workingpreacher.org/.
There are literally hundreds of “bible study” sites, but remember that you don’t really have to know anything to put up a Bible study page. One Lutheran pastor who does know the Bible is Pastor Brian Stoffregen, Faith Lutheran Church, Yuma, Arizona. His Bible studies focus on the Greek and Hebrew texts. They are at http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/index.htm
I am not very good at making web pages, so my presence online is modest and not really “spiritual.” I have a page devoted to my little book about sandcastles (https://youcanbuildasandcastle.wordpress.com/) and a page for my friends involved in “coloring for adults.” That page has my colorings and some little stories I write about them. It is https://charlescolors.wordpress.com/.
Of course, one must always be careful when wandering through Internet-land. There are weird and crazy things there, some disguised as authoritative information. Beware and check to see the real origin of sites you visit.
Oh, yes, and then there are the videos of cats doing cute things. I confess. I like looking at them.
See you in church,
The only question for Easter
This year, I want there to be only one question about Easter, the resurrection of our Lord. I would like for this question to be in our minds and hearts as we approach the solemnities of Holy Week and then celebrate the joy of Easter.
The question is not “What happened?” We know what happened.
The question is not “How did it happen?” We don’t really know and it doesn’t matter.
The question is not “Why did it happen?” We know the answer to this one.
The question is not even “What does it mean”? (Although that is part of the question.)
The question for this Easter is “What does it mean for you?”
In sermons, I must think about the whole congregation, all the people who are in the pews on a particular Sunday. People of different ages, different backgrounds, men, women, children, people of different ethnic heritage. Preaching has to have a “general,” a “for all” aspect to it.
But our personal piety is just that; it is “personal.” It is how each of us as individuals takes the message of the Gospel into our lives.
I can preach about what the text for the day “mean;” I can tell you what the church teaches; I can attempt to explain the Gospel of Jesus Christ in that larger context. You can pray about, reflect on and live under what it means for you.
The Gospel is not “personal” in the sense of being individualistic; it is for the whole world; but it becomes “personal” as we make it active within us as individual persons, as we believe, pray, worship and serve. When we distribute the sacrament of Holy Communion, the words are always “The Body of Christ, given for you,” “The Blood of Christ, shed for you.” That “for you” is important; a clear reference to the individual person – you – kneeling at the altar rail or receiving the consecrated bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ.
So the question for Easter this year is “What does this mean for you.” Jesus was crucified, died and raised from the dead….for you. He brings his message of salvation…to you. The Holy Spirit creates and guides the Church … for you. Meditate, pray on that.
Then remember that you are not alone in the faith. We are the church, in the Lutheran Church of Our Savior, in our New Jersey Synod, in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; with our ecumenical partners, and with the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church – a vast and mysterious entity composed of all believers of all time.
But it starts with our Easter question: What does this mean…for you?
See you in church,
From the ELCA: Presiding Bishop visits refugee camp in Jordan
ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton, met with Syrian refugees living in Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp in December. Eaton was with Archbishop Antje Jackelen of the Church of Sweden and Gloria Rojas Vargas, former church president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile on a visit to a camp run by The Lutheran World Federation.
“The Syrian refugees are incredibly resilient,” said Eaton. “We met a family where the father lost two of his sons in the Syrian war. He had worked 30 years to have his own farm and lost it all. A young girl was showing me images of burned bodies on her cellphone. And yet the parents are doing everything to keep their children engaged and out of trouble. Some have painted their houses, trying to bring some beauty to such a stark place. It’s incredible.”
“The suffering of the people in Syria is real,” said Eaton. “Bombs are falling on these people who just want to live their lives.”
The church leaders also met with Jordan’s prime minister, Abdullah Ensour, and several members of the Jordanian cabinet.
From Christmas/Epiphany to Lent, Reflection and Sharing
When you read this, the Christmas/Epiphany season will be fading and we will be approaching the solemn time of Lent.
Lent calls us to repentance, directs us to look at our sins and meditate on the wonder that God would send his son to die that our sins would be forgiven. In the church year, we have moved from the “outward” reach of the Gospel to the “inward” reflection on ourselves and our need for forgiveness.
But we do not completely lose the concern for reaching out to those who are not close to the faith, to the world that needs to hear the Gospel. We never lose that concern.
At Christmas we sang “Go, Tell It On the Mountain,” and—though mountains are scarce in New Jersey—we are still called to Go and to Tell.
I’ll bet you told folks about the neat stuff you got for Christmas and the fun things you did. (You probably also told folks about the things that weren’t fun, but that’s another story.) We also need to tell about our faith and what it adds to our lives. Our hymns and prayers declare loudly that “Jesus is born!” that the Messiah has come. We need to find ways for those who do not yet hear our hymns and prayers to get that message.
Can we do that today? How should we do it today? How do we become the Bethlehem Star leading others to Christ? How does the light of Christ shine through us? Are we able to give the honor, respect and worship to Christ that the ancients gave to their kings? Can the incense of our prayers continually rise from earth to God? How does the Lord’s power to heal reach others in our ministries?
It is the mission of the Church to make the Christmas story more than a historical event. We are to let the surprise of who Jesus is come into today’s world every day, so that others – whether far from us in faith or distance or ethnicity – can have their own surprising epiphanies and meet Jesus.
Since the Bethlehem star has faded, it is important that our stars shine more brightly.
The meditative, penitential season of Lent brings the message of God’s grace and forgiveness direction into each of us personally. Then our understanding of God’s grace enables us, inspires us to share.
At the Church of the Savior, we are in an interim time, between pastors. That means more sharing of the work in this parish, more dedication to how this congregation lives and witnesses. As your interim pastor, I am here only half-time; and it is good to see how our congregational leaders step forward to get things done. Be sure to thank them and watch for opportunities to do more for our congregation, our New Jersey Synod and our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It is not only because I occasionally write for The Lutheran, that I encourage you to read the magazine of the ELCA and see the exciting things we do together.
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on Feb. 10. I will be away on a long-planned winter vacation; but Pastor Paul Nordeen will take good care of you and the Ash Wednesday services.
I say it every year. Begin your Lent with ashes, continue with prayer and meditation on our need for forgiveness, walk the Way of the Cross during Holy Week, and I guarantee that your Easter Celebration will be more joyous than you can now imagine.
See you in church,
Relax! Nobody can take away our Christmas
Almost every year, something happens that makes thought-challenged people think someone is trying to abolish Christmas or diminish the holiday. This year, a lot of nonsense was hurled at Starbucks Coffee salons because the cup they are using in December is plain red, rather than red adorned with such “Christmas” symbols as snowflakes, reindeer and bright-colored balls.
Years ago, I wrote a newspaper column that said if there is indeed a “war on Christmas,” those on the anti-Christmas side of the war have lost…big time. Christmas is still here. Tens of thousands of churches around the country plan Christmas services and expect packed pews. Choirs rehearse Christmas music; and church members take the life-size Nativity Scene figures out of storage to put on church lawns. Children costumed as kings and shepherds learn to sing “Away in the Manger.”
Christmas greetings with manger scenes speed around the country through the mail and zip through cyber-space, where internet technology means you can send friends an animated, musical “Christmas card” playing “Silent Night” and showing the Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem. Nobody is preventing this from happening. Or wants to.
Christians do worry, I said in this column, about the commercialization of Christmas and the fact that retailers, ad agencies and corporations use one of the most important Christian festivals to make more money. Well, it remains a free country and we Christians can’t take them to court for doing that. But Christmas – the celebration of the birth of Jesus – is still ours. Nobody takes it away from us. I’m not mad at Starbucks. I don’t care what’s on the cups they use in December. I really like their “holiday” flavors. Peppermint Mocha. Mmmmm!
In that column, I said we Christians got to celebrate two Christmas holidays. One is the big-time whoop-de-do holiday of shopping, Santa-at-the-Mall, Frosty the Snowman, and television specials where singers in sexy costumes croon “Blue Christmas” before covering up a bit to finish with a star-lit “O Holy Night.” That Christmas is fun, and – let’s face it – you just can’t avoid it unless you hide in a cave for the months of November and December.
Then we Christians get to celebrate “our” Christmas. We will go to church. Even those of us who don’t always go to church will go to church. We will sing Christmas carols about Jesus. We will stand in front of the manger scenes in our homes and churches and be in awe of their spiritual significance. We will not be focused on Frosty or Rudolph although we will sing about them in that “other” December holiday we celebrate.
There is no war on our Christmas. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Christmas of faith. Nothing that happens with coffee cups or malls or with people saying “Happy Holidays!” will prevent that. And for people who want to – in the words of an old slogan – “keep Christ in Christmas,” the baby Jesus will be there at our Christmas and if the shepherds stopped at a Starbucks on the way to the manger, they wouldn’t care about the color of the cups either.
On Nov. 29, the First Sunday in Advent, we will take four weeks to get ourselves ready for our Christmas.
See you in Church,
P.S. Although life is complex and schedules fluid, I am usually at the church Mondays and Tuesday afternoons. And some other times as well. The church office always knows how to get in touch with me. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone sometimes goes “beep!” when I get a message.
Coloring: But no Mickey Mouse or airplanes
I am in my home office, a colored pencil in hand, filling in the bright twisted border and shaded triangles of intricate design. Beside that paper is another, where a small rose waits for me to apply a green pencil to its leaves. A pile of coloring books is on the floor, one art deco drawings, others with varied patterns or pictures waiting for the hues of my pencils and crayons.
So why am I doing what I did (quite badly) 60+ years ago with pictures of Mickey Mouse and airplanes?
It started with a magazine article and a gift for my granddaughter. The article said adults found that coloring lowered stress, created good feelings, and brought relief from some of the aches of aging. My granddaughter has many electronic “toys” and we thought this would lead to some non-techie creativity.
I nonetheless sat with Isabelle when we opened the pencils and colored pens. Time passed as I colored. Then a lot of time passed.
My next session lasted an hour, as I had picked a design I wanted to complete with complementary colors, carefully staying within the lines (something I was not good at when I was doing Mickey Mouse).
That was months ago. Now I have more than 200 pencils and pens, some “color sticks,” pencil sharpeners, and a pile of books. I also have some completed projects, none of them great “art,” but most of them attractive and interesting.
Adult coloring has become a phenomenon, with hundreds of books published, groups on social media sites and clubs where people get together and color. I do it alone. When coloring, I often find myself in a “zone” where everything else fades into the deep background and all that exists is the color I put on the page.
I am reluctant to draw any “spiritual lessons” from all this, but I do note that any creative thing we do, however modest, should remind us of how, while we did not create the world – that was God’s work – we are called to create our lives. And because we are to take care of the world that God created and the lives that God gives us, we should pay attention to which colors we are using and how we are adding to (or detracting from?) God’s creation.
The adult coloring phenomenon arose because people find it relaxing and stress-relieving. There are no “demands”; I decide what kind of design I begin and I choose the colors. There are some “techniques” to learn, such as how to apply the right kind of pressure to get a deeper color, but coloring at my level doesn’t require sophisticated “artistic skill” (which I don’t have) and I’m not necessarily aiming for a “higher level.”
Coloring, like filling in your spiritual and daily life, requires some mental focus and you need to pay attention to lines and nearby colors. Sometimes you think of the whole picture, sometimes just this little shape that must be made blue.
I don’t create the pictures or designs, someone with true artistic skill does that. I choose the colors, apply them to the paper and try to make the end result satisfying and lovely to look at. Maybe that is the “spiritual” side to this gentle craft. God gives us a picture or a design for the world and for our life. We are to make it satisfying and lovely to look at.
See you in church,
P.S. You can see some of my coloring on the church bulletin board or on Flickr at flickr.com/caustin1941
Our Church at work!
Read and hear stories of our our New Jersey Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ and serving others in the name of Jesus. Visit the websites.
New Jersey Synod—http://www.njsynod.org/
and for stories of faith, go to http://www.elca.org/Resources/Stories-of-Faith-in-Action
October 18, 2015
For those of you who were eagerly awaiting the twist to last week’s sermon, but couldn’t be in church, here it is:
Jesus talked a LOT about money. But he never talked about what the poor need from us.
It’s always about the need of the Giver to GIVE. Jesus condemnations in the Gospel are directed at the self-righteous, and the stingy.
Well the theme continues.
We want to work at building ourselves up, YET before the face of God, what can we claim of deserving?
So instead there is evidence of its opposite, that humility and servanthood are God-pleasing
and that presumption of deserving and arrogance are not the answer.
The more someone builds up himself, herself, the more they remove themselves from community, and dependence and cooperation, the more isolated and less effective they become. We’re in it together, and when we fight against one another to get more than the other, when we claim we deserve more than others, we cut ourselves off from the very people whose praise we so desperately need.
The disciples want to know who’s best. Just as last week’s Gospel tells us not to trust in money, this week’s tells us not to trust in reputation. Each of us is as in need of God as every other.
The suffering servant
You have made the Lord your refuge, and the Most High your habitation. (Ps. 91:9)
Through suffering Christ becomes the source of salvation
Warnings to ambitious disciples
And the Worship Band plays.
I hope I’ll see you in church,
October 11, 2015
There is much to tell you about today.
First, I report the death of Herb Feely, member of lonnnggggg standing, whose wife Ethel died a few years back. [Herbert, the strife is o’er; the battle done.] There will be a visitation at Becker’s in Westwood on Friday evening, 6-9 p.m. and then a funeral here at church on Saturday morning, 11 am, followed by burial at George Washington Cemetery, and a repast back at the church.
We are still in need of quite a few helpers for the repast. So please get in touch with Chalagne, who’s coordinating the volunteers (thank God for you, Chalagne). Call the church office, or send an e-mail, or do both.
On Sunday morning, we will begin our worship downstairs in the Multipurpose Room to dedicate the beautiful new carpeted walls to the glory of God and in loving memory of Christopher Diaz, son of Franco and Linda Diaz. Please join us downstairs promptly at 10 am. Better yet, come for Sunday School or Faith Forum, and you’ll already be there.
Then Sunday morning worship: the appointed lessons all revolve around a theme of Stewardship. There are some real surprises in the Gospel that I’ll bet you never thought about before. So I’m going to keep them ‘under my hat’ until Sunday, to entice you to come to worship. (If you can’t be here, then my promise is that I’ll publish the surprise teaching in next week’s paragraph, so you won’t miss out).
- Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 Turn from injustice to the poor, that you may live
- Psalm 90:12-17 So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. (Ps. 90:12)
- Hebrews 4:12-16 Approach the throne of grace with boldness
- Mark 10:17-31 Teaching on wealth and reward
The hymns: Come, You Thankful People, Come
God Whose Giving Knows No Ending
Praise and Thanksgiving
God of Grace and God of Glory
AND FINALLY -yes, one more thing: There will be a coffee fellowship downstairs after worship, provided by the Church Council.
God bless you all, and see you in church!
October 4, 2015
Today’s gospel combines a saying that makes many of us uncomfortable with a story we find comforting. Jesus’ saying on divorce is another of his rejections of human legislation in favor of the original intent of God’s law. Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples who are fending off the children should challenge us as well. What does it mean to receive the kingdom of God as a child does? And then we will baptize Jahtalia Grace Feingold. Rejoice, rejoice!
Really, friends. Do not be afraid. There is a way to understand this harsh teaching in a way that it becomes good news. That’s what always happens with Jesus’s words. And I will lead you through the texts to seek this good news out.
Readings and Psalm
Genesis 2:18-24 Created for relationship
Psalm 8 You crown us with glory and honor. (Ps. 8:5)
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12 God has spoken by a Son
Mark 10:2-16 Teaching on marriage and on welcoming children
For the beauty of the earth LBW 561
All Are Welcome (ELW 641)
Beautiful Savior LBW 518
Blessed be the God of Israel WOV 725
See you in church!
First, a reminder. My e-mail is changing, not because of the move, but because of frustration. My Verizon address hasn’t worked for a long time. My Comcast address will work for a while longer, but I’m now switching to a new one.
Please make a note of it!
Now for some serious content: THE TASK OF THE CHURCH IS TO MAKE DISCIPLES OF THE “UN-CHURCHED”.
You might also say the task of the Church is to make disciples of the “churched” as well, regularly learning what it is to be a follower of Jesus.
Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
The Hymns this week are led by the Worship Band:
We Have Come Into His House
Through It All
There Is A Quiet Understanding
Here I Am, Lord
Coffee Hour and a very important Congregational meeting follows worship in the APR. Please make every effort to attend.
See you in church!
First, a practical matter. My e-mail is changing, not because of the move, but because of frustration. My Verizon address hasn’t worked for a long time. My Comcast address will work for a while longer, but I’m now switching to a new one.
Please make a note of it!
Now for some serious content: There is something special that happens to us when we give up our pretense to importance and power, and when our responsibility becomes serving and welcoming the weak.
The life of service runs so contrary to the standards of our culture that we are torn in two as Christians living in 21st century affluent culture. Strength or weakness? I have come up with a brief list of commitments that are about the Christian faith and not about the standards of this world. I will make the case for them by simply saying, “This is what Jesus asks of us. AND it is how Jesus demonstrated them with his life. Then, having asked you to think about them, I will ask that the congregation make its commitment to this way of life. I’m not calling for a radical change in who you are, but an intense change about who you think others are.
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
“What Is This Place?” (a lively little hymn that’s one of my favorites.)
“Jesus Loves Me” (I think you all know this one.)
During communion: “In Thee Is Gladness”
Recessional: “Savior, Again to Your Dear Name We Raise With One Accord our Parting Hymn of Praise”
Blessings and see you in church!
September 13, 2015
This coming Sunday IS… a lot of things.
It’s the installation of the Sunday School and Nursery School teaching staff.
It’s a Coffee Hour after church, provided by the Choir.
And it’s “God’s Work. Our Hands” Sunday in the afternoon.
The location is Christ Lutheran Church in Woodcliff Lake, NJ from 1-5 PM. And there are now two shifts to choose from: 1:00-2:30 pm or 2:30-4:00 pm.
PLEASE choose your preference and e-mail back to me when you will attend. There are now 9 congregations committed to the task of packing 10,000 meals.
Yes, that’s right.
And on Sunday morning, you will receive your very own bright yellow “God’s Word” T-shirt. This will be a GREAT photo-op to show Lutherans at work.
REMEMBER e-mail me (at email@example.com) before Sunday to say which shift you want to work.
As for the content of this Sunday morning, we are presented with the most compelling question from Jesus and all of us are asked to answer it.
First, Jesus asked the disciples what people were saying when they talked about him. “Who do people say that I am?”
But then it comes: the question of questions “WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?”
You will hear of many possibilities as we move closer and closer to the deep and important answer.
Isaiah 50:4-9a The servant is vindicated by God
Psalm 116:1-9 I will walk in the presence of the Lord. (Ps. 116:9)
James 3:1-12 Dangers of the unbridled tongue
Mark 8:27-38 Peter’s confession of faith
The hymns: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence;
Beautiful Savior (listen for the listing of the answers to the question of the sermon: Who do you say that I am? Beautiful Savior, (King of creation, Son of God, Son of Man.)
My Song Is Love Unknown – during Communion; and God of Grace and God of Glory, as the closing hymn.
August 16, 2015
Let’s try something completely different. Let’s break a worship attendance record for an August Sunday: if you are in town, come to church. If you have guests visiting, so much the better; bring them along.
An elderly woman was in the bank this past week, and she asked the teller, “Do you know of a kind church where I could ask for help?” The teller answered, “Yes I do” and she was sent here! So she has many health issues which have prohibited her from functioning well in her condo nearby. It sounds like a real disaster. She would like to hire somebody to clean it for her. Also, later on, she will need a plumber for some pretty major repairs. So if you’re the one she needs, or if you know someone (let’s start with a person to clean first), please let me know and I’ll put you in touch. She’s very ashamed of the condition of her place; she needs some accepting and tender loving care.
Now for Sunday: The lesson I will focus on this Sunday is the one from Ephesians, a description of what life in community is like. That’s why I want a crowd! Other lessons, as you’ll notice, are about the feast God provides.
Invited to dine at wisdom’s feast
Those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good. (Ps. 34:10)
Filled with the Spirit, sing thanks to God
Christ the true food and drink
The hymns this week:
PROCESSIONAL: LBW546 When Morning Gilds the Skies
HYMN OF THE DAY: WOV705 As the Grains of Wheat
MUSICAL OFFERING: Cindy Day
INVITATIONAL MUSIC: Cindy Day
COMMUNION: WOV711 You Satisfy the Hungry Heart (Cindy will play)
RECESSIONAL: WOV797 O God Beyond All Praising This is probably not familiar to you, but when you hear the tune, it might be.
Andy Nagle’s the organist this week. Bill is at DisneyWorld. Can you imagine that? Fun with the grands!
Blessings to you this week.
July 5, 12, 19, 2015
Hello everyone. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ,
I have been less than diligent with these Wednesday ‘epistles’ so here’s one to correct the error of my ways. I will be away on vacation this coming Sunday and next, but you will be delighted to find Paul Nordeen here filling in. Here’s a little preview of the themes of those two weeks.
7/5 – Jesus does great deeds of power and gives his disciples authority over demons. Yet none of this power is unilateral; it must be received by faith to effect healing. Jesus asks his disciples to go without money or supplies SO THAT they will be dependent on how others receive them. When we are sent from worship to witness and to heal, we are asked to be vulnerable, to be dependent on the reception of others.
7/12 – Do you know what a plumb line is? Gravity drops a “plumb bob” and the string it’s attached to will be straight. That’s what the prophets did: held a line of God’s will to the people so they could see how they align with God’s will. John the Baptist did this and paid with his life. Is it not true that all the prophets through the ages are alive in Christ Jesus as we are handed the plumb-line and are to witness to justice as God’s will.
7/19 – I’ll be back. The Gospel of Mark tells how the crowds pressed in on Jesus with great urgency, BUT Jesus tells the disciples also to remember to get away and rest for a while. We’ve heard this since the creation story (and on the 7th day God rested) and in the giving of the Law (remember the Sabbath -7th- day to make it holy.) Have you acknowledged your own need for Sabbath rest? Have you restored yourself with weekly worship? If not, turn over a new leaf. Come away by yourself, and rest here for a while.
June 21, 2015
The Rev. Emily Olsen will preside over Holy Communion this Sunday! Come and greet her before she returns to to begin her ministry as Pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Gladwin, Michigan. God bless you, Emily!
This is a special Sunday in several ways:
First and earliest,
A young man showed up at my door on Wednesday, wanting to ask questions about the faith. We talked for a bit, but I was in the middle of something and suggested we meet for further discussion. He told me that Sundays were best, and we agreed to meet at 9 am this Sunday. And you’re invited. Here’s a young man searching and trying many different churches. He wants to hear more from us. Hurray! So if you’ve been part of a Faith Forum up to now, or if you’d just like to join in the conversation, drop by at 9 in the Multi-purpose room. This week it’s purpose will be WITNESS.
Second, and at 10 am, we will welcome Sarada Devi Karnatakam (pictured on the right), a friend from India, who is here in NJ visiting her daughter who just had a baby.
She was a member with me of the Lutheran World Federation Council. I look forward to our reunion. She will bring greetings from her church.
Do you see all the ways the Holy Spirit will bless us this week?
I’ve been working on a sermon about TRUST, from the first trusting relationships of infancy and childhood, to the breakdown of trust between teens and parents, and the inevitable twinges of distrust that we experience about God, who is utterly and absolutely trustworthy, as well as smitten with each of you. I hope (and trust) that you will be with us this week. If it’s hot out, we’re a really cool place to be.
Ezekiel 17:22-24 The sign of the cedar, planted on the mountain of Israel
Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15 The righteous shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon. (Ps. 92:12)
2 Corinthians 5:6-10 [11-13] 14-17 In Christ, a new creation
Mark 4:26-34 The parable of the mustard seed