Pastoral Letter regarding Charlottesville

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

At the very core of Christian teaching is the imperative to “love your neighbor as yourself.” In the Gospel of Luke, when someone asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ response is the famous parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a Samaritan – whose race and faith are that of the hated “other” – helps an ailing Jew, at great risk to himself.

My friends, the events we have watched unfold in Charlottesville since last Friday are entirely contrary to this central message of our faith. White supremacy, racism, neo-Nazism, anti-Semitism, white nationalism – call it what you will, but as Christians who proclaim Christ crucified and risen, who abide by Christ’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” we must call it what it is: an evil that is contrary to the Gospel.

This is not a partisan or political issue, and it is destructive to point fingers at the “other side.” This is a human issue, and it is certainly a faith issue. People who proclaim Christ cannot stand by silently while our neighbors, fellow humans created in the image of God, are degraded, dehumanized, attacked, and killed, simply for differing in race or creed. As Luther says in the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, we must not call evil good and good evil, but we must call a thing what it is. And racism, whether overt as angry, torch-carrying white supremacists, or covert in our daily life, is a sin. As a pastor of Christ’s Church, I condemn the racist oppression and violence we saw in Charlottesville last weekend, and that which we see around the world on a daily basis, and I hope you will do the same.

But quick as we may be to call racism the sin of others, we must also be willing to confess our own part in it. This October, we will remember that 500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg door. The first thesis states, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt. 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” With this in mind, I have been praying for God to help me use this week’s events as a mirror, helping me to look into what darkness lies in my own heart.

So in addition to denouncing hatred and bigotry and embracing love and diversity, I hope you will also join me in a time of prayerful repentance. Pray that God would open your eyes to times you have fallen short of defending your neighbor of a different race or creed, times you have found yourself making judgments of someone (even unconsciously) based on their skin color, or times you simply remained silent, ignoring or avoiding the racism and bigotry around you. Silence is complicity, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said regarding the resistance to Hitler and the Nazis: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Let us speak and act, brothers and sisters, out of love for our neighbor. Let us listen to the stories of those most affected. Let us repent of our role, however big or small, and change our ways accordingly. Let us pray, for victims, perpetrators, leaders, and for ourselves. If you would like to talk, pray, confess, or cry with me, I welcome you. My door is open.

In faith and hope,

Pastor Johanna

 

Note:

If you would like to talk in person about the events of last weekend, please join me at Bethlehem at 9:30 on Aug 20, this Sunday morning. We have our joint worship and potluck at 11am on that day, so I will be available for conversation prior to that.

If you would like to do further exploration of systemic racism, including personal reflection, or see our Lutheran church body’s perspective on systemic racism, please check out the ELCA’s Social Statement on the topic: Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity and Culture. This 8-page document can be read individually, but is well-used as a study resource with a group. If you are interested in such a study, I would be very interested in having a group engage in this important topic in this way. The statement can be found here: http://www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Race-Ethnicity-and-Culture

Pastoral Response to Charlottesville

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

At the very core of Christian teaching is the imperative to “love your neighbor as yourself.” In the Gospel of Luke, when someone asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ response is the famous parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a Samaritan – whose race and faith are that of the hated “other” – helps an ailing Jew, at great risk to himself.

My friends, the events we have watched unfold in Charlottesville since last Friday are entirely contrary to this central message of our faith. White supremacy, racism, neo-Nazism, anti-Semitism, white nationalism – call it what you will, but as Christians who proclaim Christ crucified and risen, who abide by Christ’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” we must call it what it is: an evil that is contrary to the Gospel.

This is not a partisan or political issue, and it is destructive to point fingers at the “other side.” This is a human issue, and it is certainly a faith issue. People who proclaim Christ cannot stand by silently while our neighbors, fellow humans created in the image of God, are degraded, dehumanized, attacked, and killed, simply for differing in race or creed. As Luther says in the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, we must not call evil good and good evil, but we must call a thing what it is. And racism, whether overt as angry, torch-carrying white supremacists, or covert in our daily life, is a sin. As a pastor of Christ’s Church, I condemn the racist oppression and violence we saw in Charlottesville last weekend, and that which we see around the world on a daily basis, and I hope you will do the same.

But quick as we may be to call racism the sin of others, we must also be willing to confess our own part in it. This October, we will remember that 500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg door. The first thesis states, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt. 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” With this in mind, I have been praying for God to help me use this week’s events as a mirror, helping me to look into what darkness lies in my own heart.

So in addition to denouncing hatred and bigotry and embracing love and diversity, I hope you will also join me in a time of prayerful repentance. Pray that God would open your eyes to times you have fallen short of defending your neighbor of a different race or creed, times you have found yourself making judgments of someone (even unconsciously) based on their skin color, or times you simply remained silent, ignoring or avoiding the racism and bigotry around you. Silence is complicity, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said regarding the resistance to Hitler and the Nazis: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Let us speak and act, brothers and sisters, out of love for our neighbor. Let us listen to the stories of those most affected. Let us repent of our role, however big or small, and change our ways accordingly. Let us pray, for victims, perpetrators, leaders, and for ourselves. If you would like to talk, pray, confess, or cry with me, I welcome you. My door is open.

In faith and hope,

Pastor Johanna

 

Note:

If you would like to talk in person about the events of last weekend, please join me at Bethlehem at 9:30 on Aug 20, this Sunday morning. We have our joint worship and potluck at 11am on that day, so I will be available for conversation prior to that.

If you would like to do further exploration of systemic racism, including personal reflection, or see our Lutheran church body’s perspective on systemic racism, please check out the ELCA’s Social Statement on the topic: Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity and Culture. This 8-page document can be read individually, but is well-used as a study resource with a group. If you are interested in such a study, I would be very interested in having a group engage in this important topic in this way. The statement can be found here: http://www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Statements/Race-Ethnicity-and-Culture

Joint Worship and Potluck: Aug 20 @11am

It’s time for our annual joint worship service and potluck with our partner congregation, St. Martin Lutheran Church. Sunday August 20 (that’s this week!) we will gather at 11am in the Bethlehem Pavilion for a service of Holy Communion. (This replaces our normal 8:45 worship service!) Consider bringing mosquito repellant – never know who might be out!

After worship we will have a potluck lunch. Bring a dish to pass, and consider bringing your own dishes and silverware so that we can minimize our footprint on God’s beautiful creation. If you have some fun yard games, bring those, too! Let’s all have a good time!

** In addition: many are wrestling with the events in Charlottesville last weekend. If you would like to speak about that with other concerned members, Pastor Johanna will be at Bethlehem at 9:30 for that conversation. This will be a time of conversation, prayer, and thinking about how we as Christians are called to respond to such hate in our community and world. We will be in the Prayer Room (go around to the back parking lot, in the red door, first door on the right). See you there.

VBS Safari With God a hit!

“This is our favorite VBS.” -parent

Learning about Jesus

“I’m definitely coming back next year!” -several kids
“The kids actually learn and remember things that matter.” -parent
“They were singing the songs in the pool yesterday.” -parent
“My favorite thing was just being here!” -kid
These were all things said by participants in this year’s VBS and their families at our Thursday night program, where we showcased some of what we learned during the week. It was indeed another excellent Vacation Bible School experience for the 35 kids who participated – and their families!

The kids help pastor bless the offering to be sent to Pangani Lutheran Children’s Centre

The theme was “Karibu Kenya: Safari With God,” and we learned about some stories that showed us how God is always with us on our journey – whether that journey is through Kenya, or through life. During the course of the week, we raised $300 for Pangani Lutheran Children’s Centre, an outreach ministry to girls living on the streets and in the slums of Nairobi. God is good!

A special treat of the week was having with us Mayukwa “Wala” Kashiwa, who taught us about some African customs – including how to do African drumming and dancing! All the other stations – crafts, games,

Making rainsticks

story-telling, and snack – all did their work to the beat of authentic African drums. The kids learned about how to greet someone in Africa, how to avoid getting bitten by a snake or eaten by a leopard, and how dancing can make an announcement or tell a story. Wala had all of us “dancing for God” all week long.

Many thanks to everyone who made this possible – the kids, their families, and 29 youth and adult volunteers from Bethlehem and St. Martin churches. We’re already looking forward to next year!

African dancing with Wala

Change of Worship Time, July 2: 8:45am

Please remember that starting on July 2, we will begin worship at 8:45am instead of 9am. This will allow Pastor Johanna more time to be with us following worship, before traveling safely to St. Martin for their 10:30 service. Please note, this is a TRIAL. We will get feedback from the congregation before making this a permanent change. The trial will run for 6 months, through the end of the year. Thanks for your patience as we figure out what is best for our congregation, our pastor, and our covenant with St. Martin.

 

Strawberry Social, Thurs, June 15

Warm weather is finally here, so it’s time for our annual Strawberry Social! Here are the details:

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When: Thursday, June 15, 4:30pm until gone.

Who: the whole family, and all your friends!

Menu: Beef BBQ dinner ($8) or hot dog dinner ($7), which includes main course, two sides/salads, and drink. Desserts (including strawberry shortcake, other cakes, ice cream…) are a la carte, and range in price from $1.50 to $4.50.

Why: For food, fellowship, and strawberries, obviously, but in addition, all proceeds from this event will go to support Mended Little Hearts. This organization helps families of kids born with congenital heart disease. Help us support this important work!

Come enjoy the food and fellowship, and while you’re at it, take a walk in our prayer garden, which is in full bloom right now! Weather is supposed to be great on Thursday – hope to see you!

The wind is blowing…

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” So Jesus tells Nicodemus in the third chapter of John.

Boy, have we experienced some wind in Rochester this year! Some are still recovering from the epic windstorm in March, which caused many to lose power, several trees to fall, and huge waves on the lake. As I listened to the wind roar outside, I was studying this text from John, and, couldn’t help but wonder: is this how the Spirit moves also in us? Not only in our physical world, moving with the power to topple trees and rip apart roofs – but also in our hearts, moving with the power to topple old ways of being and rip apart wrongly-held ideas?

I think sometimes it does. Sometimes God needs to come through our lives and shift the “way we’ve always done it,” to help us think outside of our bubbles, to view the world differently, to listen to God and the needs of our community and the world and to consider how we might respond.

That’s what “transformational ministry” is all about: listening to God and the movement of the Spirit, and responding. It’s about claiming the purpose of the church to share the Good News of Jesus in our neighborhoods and the world. Churches around the ELCA are focusing in on transformational ministry, helping congregations to engage in the Three Great Listenings: listening to God, to one another, and to the world. But it doesn’t stop there – a part of transformational ministry is also to help congregations develop skills for leading their community into a healthier, vibrant, more sustainable future, for themselves and for the Church as a whole.

Bethlehem and St. Martin are taking a leap into transformational ministry, too. You may have noticed a large tree near the entry way for the sanctuary. The tree began with bare branches, just like the trees outside our window. As we made our way through Lent and now into the Easter season – the season in which we celebrate the new life Christ has won for us in his death and resurrection – we have seen our tree bud and blossom with hopes and dreams for ministry.

But just as our trees outside continue to grow and change as spring marches on, our tree is not done growing! You are invited to continue to add leaves to the tree as you feel moved (more is better!). The light green leaves are for telling us what you are already doing to serve your community outside of church (e.g. tutor at-risk kids, or volunteer at food pantry). Here we will see where your heart already lies. The dark green leaves are for sharing your deepest concerns and passions about the world, whether or not you are doing anything about it (e.g. health of the environment, people suffering from addictions, or refugees). This will show us how the Spirit is blowing anew in our hearts.

As we see our trees grow fuller with the Spirit’s movement in our individual lives, we will get a sense of how that same Spirit might be blowing in our congregational life, and how we might respond. Your input will be the basis for our council to set goals for the coming years, as we imagine how God is moving this congregation into the future.

I’m eager to see this growth, sisters and brothers in Christ! May we listen carefully to the movement of the Spirit, as we step forward in faith and mission together.

Wipe clean my heart: Preparation for Ash Wednesday

Like most babies, my little Isaac has chubby little baby rolls on his neck. They are, of course, adorable… until that horrifying moment when he stretches his head back and you realize that, stuck in that sweet baby fat, is some of the milk that had dribbled down his chin, mixed with some of the dirt from when we played outside with sister. Because of all that cute baby fat, the tenderness of the area, and his still stiff newborn body, this space tucked deep in his fat rolls is very difficult to clean, and because it remains mostly hidden, all that gunk eventually causes irritation on his soft skin. The area can’t heal until he lifts his chin, and it can be wiped clean.

It occurred to me that this is a helpful metaphor as we prepare this week for Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. The penitential season of Lent always begins with this service focused on confession of sins – a confession that continues through the six weeks of Lent until Easter. The Psalm appointed for the day is always Psalm 51, with its well-known line, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

I’ve long loved this image of seeking a clean heart, but seeing what happens in those hidden spaces of my sweet little boy’s baby fat really put a picture to it – for our hearts are just the same. We may not even notice what sins are stuck in those hidden places of our hearts, may not even notice that their presence there is causing irritation. We can’t see that the longer they remain, the more irritation they cause. Eventually it starts to affect us in external ways – in our relationships, our faith, our way of being in the world.

Until, one day, we finally lift our chins, look up to heaven, and ask God to “wash me through and through… cleanse me from my sin… Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.” With our chins lifted toward God in prayer, and that dirt and sin that would irritate our tender hearts revealed, God is able, finally, to wipe us clean. After we are wiped clean, we are able, finally, to heal, to love, to serve God in newness of life.

What gunk is stuck in the tender places of your heart? What sins are irritating you and keeping you from the fullness of life that God envisions for you? What do you need wiped clean?

Join us for Ash Wednesday worship this Wednesday, 7pm at Bethlehem. We will have the imposition of ashes as well as holy communion, as we prepare for the six week journey of Lent.

Lenten Journey through the Catechism

Free Indeed graphic

This year for Lent, we have committed to working through Luther’s Small Catechism. For such a small volume, this little gem is jam packed with food for reflection. We have provided each of you with your own copy (you can also download a free version on the device of your choice – search in Google Play or iTunes store for the Augsburg Fortress version). We have also provided you with your own copy of Free Indeed, a devotional based on the Catechism.

During the 6 weeks of Lent, you could commit simply to reading these two resources. This only takes a few minutes each day (perhaps, a few minutes more than you typically devote to your spiritual life outside of Sunday morning?). Below are some additional ideas:

  • Commit to memorizing the 10 Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, if you haven’t already. These are the foundational building blocks of our faith, and should be written on all of our hearts.
  • Commit to memorizing the explanations for these texts in the Small Catechism. (Remember when this was required for confirmation? Who still remembers?) The explanations are full of helpful language for talking about faith – language that brings life to our own hearts even as it equips us to bring God’s life to the world.
  • Commit to journaling for a few minutes each day. You could reflect on the day’s Free Indeed devotion, or choose whatever part of the Catechism you choose. Ask yourself each day the question Luther repeatedly asked: what does this mean for me, today, at this time in my life?
    • If you choose to do this, here are some tips: 1) Don’t try to be perfect. Streams of consciousness are fine! 2) Don’t write what you think you are supposed to write; write what is in your heart. 3) Begin and end each writing with prayer, simply asking God to guide your thoughts, and then thanking God for speaking to you.
  • Commit to coming to midweek gatherings. This year these are offered over the lunch hour for 45 minutes (or however much you can manage!), as well as our usual evening time. Together, we will dig into the Small Catechism and ask, what does this mean for us?

However you choose to engage in Lent this year, I pray that it is a fulfilling time in which you grow closer to God. Blessings on the journey!

Lent 2017: Free Indeed!

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door, thus sparking a major shift in the Christian Church and western culture as a whole. This year, 2017, we are remembering Luther’s legacy, and all the ways he helped us understand faith and our relationship with God in new ways – how he helped us to understand that in Christ, we are “Free Indeed!”

We’ll dig into this exploration during Lent this year, by studying Luther’s Small Catechism. Each week we will focus on a different part. To aid in this exploration, we are providing everyone with a Catechism, and a devotional entitled, “Free Indeed,” which will be used by congregations all around the ELCA this year. Be sure to pick yours up in the next couple weeks!

Here is our Lenten schedule:

Ash Wednesday, March 1 – Imposition of Ashes and Holy Communion at Bethlehem Lutheran Church (1767 Plank Rd, Webster)

Midweek Services (6pm soup supper, 7pm evening prayer):
Week 1 (Mar. 8, BLC) – 10 Commandments
Week 2 (Mar. 15, BLC) – the Apostles’ Creed
Week 3 (Mar. 22, St. Martin) – the Lord’s Prayer
Week 4 (Mar. 29, St. Martin) – Baptism
Week 5 (Apr. 5, St. Martin) – Communion

Holy Week Services:

Maundy Thursday, April 13, 7pm at St. Martin (813 Bay Rd. Webster)

Good Friday, April 14, 7pm at Bethlehem

EASTER SERVICES:

8:30am at Bethlehem, breakfast to follow

10:30am at St. Martin, breakfast at 9am