Sept 24 Healing service: Healing our selves and our world

I called on your name, O Lord,
from the depths of the pit; 
you heard my plea, ‘Do not close your ear
to my cry for help, but give me relief!’ 
You came near when I called on you;
you said, ‘Do not fear!’ 
You have taken up my cause, O Lord,
you have redeemed my life.
(Lamentations 3:55-58)

The world is so broken. Our friends and family are sick. Relationships end in fighting and divorce. Our nation is divided. World conflict is everywhere you look. Even Mother Earth seems to be attacking us.

What would we do without our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who came to heal the nations, and heal us personally. Join us for a service of prayer in which we will pray for the healing of our own brokenness and pain, that of our loved ones, and of this world. It will be a brief service, less than an hour, with some readings, simple songs, and plenty of space for meditation and reflection, and also the opportunity to receive the ancient healing practice of anointing. Please invite anyone you think would benefit from such a service.

Sunday, September 24, 4:30pm
St. Martin Lutheran Church
813 Bay Rd.

God’s Work, Our Hands Day, Oct.1: Project description

Each year, St. Martin, Bethlehem, and Immanuel Lutheran Churches (all the Webster Lutherans) join forces in a service project to serve our communities. This year, our day of service will be Oct. 1.

We have a couple of exciting projects in store! As usual, there is one indoor project, and one outdoor project:

Outdoor: There is a house in the village of Webster that is in need of paint. It belongs to a single handicapped woman who cannot do the work herself. We are working with Rotary on this: we will scrap the house and prime it, and Rotary will paint it. If there’s time, we may do some yard work, too.

Indoor:  We have watched in horror as Texas, Florida, and islands off the Florida coast have been bombarded by hurricanes this season. Working with Church World Services, we will be assembling flood clean-up buckets and hygiene kits to help victims with the recovery effort. We are collecting items through September, and will purchase the rest of what is needed. On Oct. 1, we plan to assembly 30 buckets and as many hygiene kits as possible to ship down south.

Plan to join us for these projects! We all are one in mission…

Sermon: Facing our racism (Aug. 20, 2017)

Pentecost 11A
August 20, 2017
Matthew 15:10-28

Tomorrow, as you likely know, we will have the chance to witness a once-in-a-lifetime event: a total eclipse of the sun. Well, not quite here in New York, where it will only be partial, but in parts of our country, the moon will entirely cover the sun in the middle of the day, bringing darkness over the land for as long as two and a half minutes. It’s an extraordinary event, and a reminder of just how magnificent are the cosmos that our God has created.

But I also can’t help but notice the irony – that this moon-shadow that will be cast upon our country corresponds with the shadow already cast by a resurgence of some of the most hateful history of our nation. After what happened in Charlottesville last weekend, it already seems like there is a shadow cast upon this land. Like many of you, I looked at images of the event – hundreds of white men (and some women) carrying torches, weapons and shields, and chanting about their superiority over anyone who doesn’t look or believe like them – and I felt sick to my stomach. I didn’t know, or at least wasn’t willing to believe, that such people still existed in this country in such large numbers, and that they were willing to make themselves known. Even in the Klan meetings of yesteryear, members wore hoods over their faces – but these men in Charlottesville were emboldened to spew hate right out in the open! When faced with counter-protesters, things turned violent, even resulting in injury and death. It was a stark realization that the sin of racism did not die in America with the Civil War, or the end of Jim Crow laws, or the election of a black president. It is still very much a reality that can no longer be ignored.

I couldn’t help but think of those white nationalists, spewing hateful words, as I read today’s Gospel lesson. “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person,” Jesus says, “but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles it.” Well yeah, here was a pretty stark example of defiling things coming out of mouths! I think Jesus’ observation makes a lot sense, to be honest! But then the disciples tell Jesus, “Hey, Jesus, just so you know, what you said back there offended the Pharisees.” Ah, the Pharisees. The Pharisees, you may remember, are teachers of Jewish law. They are respected, and they are educated, and they really know their stuff. But they are often called out by Jesus, because in their hard-nosed following of the law, they often lost sight of the big picture, and especially the imperative to love their neighbor. Today is one example of that: the Pharisees are on people’s case about properly washing hands before eating. A good practice, to be sure, but their insistence on it has blinded them to the larger concern of how people are speaking to and about one another. So Jesus calls them out on it. And, the Pharisees are offended.

Why so offended, you ask? Well, because they had some deeply held and well-informed convictions about how things should be (and they were good, faithful people, so their opinion about how things should be was really, pretty valid). But then Jesus comes along and says, in essence, “You’re wrong. This thing that you hold so dear – it’s totally off mark. In fact, it doesn’t matter at all.” Now, I don’t care much about hand-washing, aside from its obvious health benefits, but I do know how it feels to believe passionately about something, or even just to hold it as a truth, and be told – even by Jesus – that I am off the mark, that my viewpoint needs to change. There are times when I read something Jesus says that challenges my belief or my way or life, and I think, “But… but… but… I don’t want to change my views about that! My view makes me feel safer, or it is fun, or it is more convenient for me.” In fact, sometimes when this happens to me, I’m inclined to feel offended by what Jesus says – just like the Pharisees.

It’s good to notice that. It’s good to recognize when God’s Word, when the words of Jesus, rub up against our beliefs or our ways of life, and show us that we still have some growing and reflecting to do. When we are willing to read God’s Word and examine our hearts, and then maybe even change our ways in response – that is what it called a life of faith and a relationship with the living God. Because I don’t know about you, but I don’t come to church each week to hear, “You’re doing it right! Keep it up!” I come to learn and grow and be changed!

This need to re-examine and grow becomes even clearer in the next part of the story. Jesus leaves that place and heads on to the next place, and a Canaanite woman approaches him, begging for help for her daughter. Canaanites are not Jewish, not a part of the house of Israel. They are “the other” – a different race. When she first starts asking for help, Jesus ignores her. The disciples ask him to send her away – she is annoying them. “She keeps shouting at us,” they say. “But she’s not even one of us. She’s different, and we don’t really care about her issues right now. She is claiming that Canaanite lives matter as much as ours, but we’d rather just focus on our needs right now. Israel’s lives matter more.” To the shock of the reader, Jesus seems to agree with them! He finally responds, saying he didn’t come to help her kind. He came to help the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But she persists. She begs him to help. “The life of my daughter matters,” she says. “Canaanite lives matter, at least enough to catch some crumbs from the table.” And finally Jesus says, “Yes, you’re right. Great is your faith!” and he heals her daughter.

Now, I don’t know if Jesus was just being a little more human here than we might prefer, and this woman helped him see he needed to broaden his mission, or if maybe he was just testing her and those watching to show the importance of persisting in faith, but either way – Jesus’ response here bothers me. Maybe it even offends me, just like he offended the Pharisees a few verses back. And here’s why: What I want from Jesus is immediate response to a person in need, no matter that she is a woman, a Canaanite, or even, as Jesus himself says, a “dog.” Jesus should care about all the people!

And that moment when Jesus doesn’t seem to care is offensive to me – because that moment leaves space for me to have to notice the times when I don’t or won’t take notice of those people who may be different from me, who are begging for help. In that moment when Jesus leaves this woman begging, I realize how often I see someone who is in need and I think, “Not my problem.” Or how I can just turn off the news when it becomes too much, because I have the privilege of not having to care, because it doesn’t affect me or my loved ones. Or how sometimes, in my most sinful moments, I convince myself, even unconsciously for a brief moment, that this person is in need by their own fault, and oh, what a shame it is.

Now, Jesus may not have been thinking any those things when he ignores and dismisses the woman, but the hard truth is: I know that I am. I know that I often ignore the needs of my neighbors who are people of color, or Jewish or Muslim, or don’t even make the effort to discover what those needs are in the first place. I know that I am able to ignore or dismiss others because their reality is not mine, and I can go about my life relatively unaffected by systemic racism or anti-Semitism. I know that as a white woman, I am afforded a lot of privileges that I did nothing to earn – things as simple as being able to find a flesh-colored band-aid that is the color of my flesh, and things more significant like being able to shop in a store without being followed or questioned, or get out of a speeding ticket when I was clearly at fault. I know that I can enjoy those privileges while others cannot, but I am willing to accept things as they are, because I benefit from it.

Brothers and sisters, sometimes a story in the Bible is offensive to us, because it shows us a great big mirror that forces us to look at our own hearts and find the sin therein. This is one of them, especially in light of the persisting reality of racism of which our country has become unequivocally aware. Even if we weren’t the ones carrying torches across the University of Virginia campus, that does not mean we don’t have a role in the system that has brought that to the fore. And it certainly doesn’t mean we can shirk our responsibility to respond to it. As God-fearing Christians who proclaim the death and resurrection of Christ, we must respond to it, somehow.

My suggestion, as I wrote in a letter to you this week, is that we begin with prayerful repentance, by looking in the mirror. We begin by examining where we have benefitted from or participated in systemic racism, by checking ourselves and our reactions in our interactions with people of color, by taking note of when we are offended by something and asking, “Why does that offend me?” and being open to the possibility that God is trying to tell you something in your reaction. We begin by listening to and taking seriously the nagging voice of the Canaanite woman, telling us that her life and her story matter. We begin by praying that God would not only reveal our sin, but also turn out hearts back toward the loving grace of Jesus Christ.

I’m hoping to catch at least a part of the eclipse tomorrow. As the sky starts to darken, around 1:30, I invite you to join me in praying for victims of racism, and for those who espouse hate. It’s appropriate that 1:30 is also the time when Heather Heyer, a peaceful counter-protester to hate, was struck and killed by a car driven by someone associated with the white supremacists, so I will be praying for her and her family. At the peak of the eclipse, the darkest moment, 2:34, let us pray that God would reveal to us our own prejudices, and ask forgiveness. And as the sky brightens again throughout the rest of the afternoon, let us give thanks, that God never leaves us in our sin, that God sent his only Son to die for us and rise again, and invited us to join him in the new life he gives. Let us pray that by God’s forgiveness, by the gift of new life that we receive in our baptism, and by the nourishment we receive in the holy sacrament, we would be equipped and empowered to work for peace and justice, to stand by our brothers and sisters of different race and creed, and to bring God’s love to all whom we meet.

Let us pray… God of all creation, open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts to the needs of those among us begging for help. Help us to see and to confess our prejudice, and turn our hearts toward you. Encourage us to participate in the pursuit of peace and justice for all. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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.