Wings

A few years ago on Canon Beach an onshore wind was blowing,  a friend was feeding gulls and I was playing with light and perspective amidst a raucous cacophony of seagull sounds. It was a holy moment that reaches forward and forms how I think about wind and wings.

A few weeks ago. I flew to San Antonio and heard Barbara Brown Taylor read a poem by David Swanger that talks about how God moves through our lives and wings connect us to God's movement.

Wings come in many forms, friends, family, pastor, church community, events momentous and mundane, and even tragedy can inspire and lift. The people of Family of Grace are giving me a set of wings for the summer, sending me out to fly on the winds of the spirit. I hope to gather some practical honing of administrative skill at a mini MBA for pastors course. I hope to gather (write) some melodies and words for worship that we can use in the fall. I hope to wander in the spirit, resting, relaxing and reconnecting to God's love for me in Christ that will reach forward and form how I think about the mission and ministry that we are about here on Lea Hill.

Thank God for Wings,
Peace,
Pastor Mark

No Fun At Church


What do you get when Santa,  Kung Fu Panda, and clowns in gowns show up with "Timothy play-by-play " at your dodge ball tournament?

What do you get when you mix Mariachis, margaritas, Mexican food and lots and lots of baskets, paintings and a custom wooden toilette seat at a fun raiser for the Grace Care fund?

What makes disciples run back from Emaus to Jerusalem on the same day they first trudged the other way?

Joy.

The deep sense that things are much better than expected.

Knowing that beyond reason and what has always been,  that Christ is Risen, Christ is with us and Christ is also...
             ...having fun.

Whoever said church couldn't be fun
has not experienced resurrection joy at Family of Grace.

Christ is Risen!
Pastor Mark

Luke has been messing with me....

Image by Daniel Bonnell
Luke has been messing with me. Learn grace from my enemy the Samaritian, as he is the only one who stops to help? Learn what feels like to be one of the good flock of ninety nine sheep that don't wander that loose our shepherd to one wanderer? Learn about the imperative to celebrate when the lost is found, even when we all know how much its going to cost? And what if Zaccheus was already generous and Jesus just acknowledged him and broke the crowds prejudgement about wealth? Luke keeps challenging me to just breath and receive Jesus' gifts and parables and give up on justifying myself.

It turns out I have recurring tendency to fight grace, to argue with generosity and to discount my need for being saved. (I can do this myself, thank you very much!) The good news is that God sees through the lies I tell myself and saves me in spite of my rebellious self serving and preserving tendencies. My task here is to spread the word: we are saved by GRACE and this is not our own doing or even within the realm of our imagination.

We receive this gift and have no other thought than to leap for joy.
Peace (and undeserved joy) on your lenten journey to the foot of the cross,
Pastor Mark

Fast, Fast and Fast


Fast is found in every language. Humanity is attracted to speed. Faster, farther more, is a well worn path into a fleeting and fickle future, into which we are blown and rushed with no rest.

Hold fast we say, so the winds of change don't sweep us away. Fasten yourselves to what you love and hold on tight!


When we fast for forty days in Lent  we slow profoundly and leave familiars behind. In the absence of the need for faster, farther more; letting go of habits we have be clinging to, we open ourselves to the wind and direction of the Holy Spirit.

I invite you to pick up a 40 Days of Fasting booklet at the entrance to the church or download it here and move with the community of faith at Family of Grace through at time of slowing down and letting go. It is my pray that as we open our selves to change the Holy Spirit will set our sails on a course to renewed and deeper relationships with one another, with creation and with God.

Peace to you as you slow down and let go.
Pastor Mark

Gutenberg & Facebook & Snapchat

Last week I was at a conference with other Lutheran Pastors listening to a Luther Scholar help us understand the world in which Luther proclaimed the Gospel. 16th century Europe was a time of tumultuous change in all the areas a society can change. Into that comes Martin, pointing at Jesus, helping us read and understand God's love for the world in our native languages and using the latest technology of the day (Gutenberg's printing press) to bring his ideas to lots and lots of people.

I went to that conference a day after our church leadership decided that our focus for the upcoming year needed to be on communicating God's love by whatever means available, "broadcasting on all channels" (to use a early T.V. metaphor). As we explore what this means together, I invite your collective experience in exactly what this looks like. What media finds its way into your life? How can Family of Grace share the love of Christ in community using that media?

Social media is a new name for a universally human experience. Connecting with purpose. We are invited into the same long conversation that has been happening throughout history, and invited to share our good news. How will you proclaim Christ in inviting and engaging ways this week? Start by liking Family of Grace Lutheran on FaceBook and inviting your FaceBook Friends to do the same.......

Peace,
Pastor Mark


Imagination Management

Imagine they are strings of lights....

I just got in from wandering around the church imagining all the sounds and sights these walls have seen. I wandered into the sanctuary and turned on the Christmas tree lights and imagined folks gathering around lights this coming Christmas Eve. I closed my eyes and saw faces and remembered Christmas conversations in other places. Some days I love living in my imagination.

Other days I imagine all the things I could have done better, all the pain I have caused, all the opportunities I have missed, all the people I am estranged from, all the things I fear. Those days my imagination is my worst enemy.

In the reality of God's creative and creating love we are sent a savior. God with us. God for us. Imagine that!

Not the Kindom of God


Dan Erlander's drawing of the land God's people escaped.
I recently read an article questioning Christianity's support of power and politics. A couple of days later  I was working on a reformation sermon and thinking about Luther's search for a gracious God that  lead him out of institutional church structures and back into scripture. Those two thoughts pointed me even further back to Jesus and Elijah and Moses and Manna. 

It seems that when we move away from trusting God for daily bread we trade our freedom in Christ for bondage to a system that looks like the one on the left. Fear is at the heart of this trade. Fear that we won't have enough. Fear that things won't go as we imagine or expect. Fear that we will lose.

I've also been to four of the five cottage meetings and listened to thirty stories of how God is working in people's lives. There is an abundance to God's daily bread that I had never imagined. These stories  answer our fears with trust and give me a great sense of peace.

Give thanks that God is with us. Give thanks that the kindom of God is coming. And remember it does NOT look like the picture! 
Peace, Pastor Mark

Stewardship and Abundance


The first September of seminary was my family's first fall on the mainland. On Kaua'i pumpkins were scarce, imported and expensive. Our family had always only had one. In Iowa a mystery plant showed up in our front yard in the middle of summer and produced pumpkins for each of us and a few friends. We were surprised and delighted by such abundance.

I look around and think of all the things Family of Grace is and has been a part of as a community and I have the the same sense of surprise and delight. As stewards, people of faith are charged with tending and keeping all that God's abundance provides. As we gather in October for cottage meetings to tell our stories, I encourage you to expand your definition of stewardship to include time, talents, resources, skills, and gifts. As we stop and ponder and tell our stories we will be lead into thanksgiving, and from thanksgiving into praise and from praise into fearless generosity. We will be surprised and delighted by what God is doing in our hearts and in our community.

Such abundance.

Peace,
Pastor Mark

Newness

New Lutheran Campus Ministry Staff from around the United States

Middle row, stage left, that's me, with a crazy assortment of new friends. They are ordained, lay, diaconal, young, old, male, female, gay, straight, married, divorced, widowed, rich, poor, intellectual, average, thin, fat, bald or bearded people, however you might think to categorize and describe us. All of us feel called by God into ministry with students as they journey through the life-changing years of higher education.

This ministry is new to me, and yet not new to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The ELCA  has been on college campuses for over a hundred years. At Family of Grace, we have been ministering to students at Green River [Community] College in a hit and miss, see who shows up on Sunday morning way, for all of our years as a congregation. In addition we have been involved with international students, hosting and supporting language development. This September we are raising the bar and doing a new thing.

On the first Monday of classes September 19th and every Monday morning of the quarter, campus ministry will happen in a tent by our parking lot (used by commuter students), offering coffee, chocolate, tea and conversation from 7-10.  On Tuesday nights from 4:30-6:30 we will offer a meal, activity and conversation calling it a party with a purpose. And we will continue our Friday night international events, hosting 5 of them throughout the quarter.

Our hope is to come alongside students and support them on their journey, helping them know God's mercy and love are with them. Our hope is to be a place where commuter students and international students and the members of this congregation can walk together and play together and learn from one another. Our hope is to lift the voice of a grace filled theology of the cross to be recognizable alongside all the other voices they will hear. We have high hopes for this new thing.

You can be part of this new mission by taking some time to walk with students or by supporting this ministry financially or with your other gifts. The calling and mission of Family of Grace Lutheran Church is to "Share the love and grace of Christ in community." Come, let us do this new thing together.

Capitol Capital Cap it All

Visited D.C. for the second time in my life last week.
I spent the week where wealth and power meet to maintain the status quo. I was there to study campus ministry with Lutheran Campus Pastors from across the country. We worked hard to network together a voluntary system to replace the recently defunded ELCA system. I'm told money is tight in the non-profit sector. In the afternoon I walked the National Mall thinking about the trillions of dollars that change hands in this country each year.

On the way home my shuttle driver was from Sierra Leone. When I got in the van he was listening to a preacher in another language. He saw the sign on the church where he picked me up and asked about Lutherans. When he was a child Lutherans had helped at his refugee camp and he remembered. He said if he had not been Muslim he would have become Lutheran. I asked him about the Koran. He could not read it but he intoned a prayer that he had learned by rote. It was beautiful. He said it was like our Lord's Prayer, praying for God's will to be done and for daily bread. He wanted to connect. He wanted me to know that he thought that God had saved his life back in Sierra Leone. He said thank God for Lutherans.

Lutheran World Relief showed two faithful people a way to find common ground in a city that thrives on dividing, name-calling and polarizing. Priceless.

Fresh

Owen got baptized this week. 
His head is wet. His eyes are bright. His friends and family are gathered to share God's joy.
We've all made promises to help raise him to know God and God's love for the world. 
We've all been swept up in a moment of shared grace, remembering our own baptism.

Owen leaves tomorrow. 
Back to his home and his growing life somewhere else. 
Lots of times love means letting go. 
There is rhythm to life as we come together, connect, share and go. 
We do the same as we gather for college, for work, for worship 
or to be God's people in this place and time. 
Change is constant. Love is constant. Mercy and Grace are constant. 
Tears flow freely as we say hello and goodbye 
over and over, almost in the same breath.

I give thanks for these fresh moments God gives, in worship, in working with students, in working with God's beloved ones young and old as we come together as God's family.
There are fresh faces in worship, fresh faces heading towards us for VBS and campus ministry. 
Remember what if feels like when our heads are wet, 
our eyes are bright and we gather with God's family to share God's joy.
We are baptized. We are loved. We are children of God.

Faith Hope Love & Death

She came back for him at first light, while mist still hung in wisps on the placid stretch of river. Her intense gaze scoured the near and far banks. Her mournful wail cut through the morning stillness, calling her missing son's name.This is hope, I told myself as I fought back the tears.

I brought communion to four women as they visited a friend in rehab the day after Mother's Day. As I was doing what I do, my mind was wandering away to the spring Sunday when I last shared this meal with my mother. And I thought NO, I share this meal with her each time. Maybe this is faith.

My dad came to visit and we talked about mom's death. He loves to ask his grandkids "How's your love life?" with a twinkle in his eye. On Mother's Day at adult forum someone asked, "What's manna?" I went into the pastor/teacher explanation. Dad said manna is finding love after love has died. In the still room when he finished speaking I thought, love never dies.

Death deepens and sharpens life.
Through shadow comes light.
Faith hope and love abide.

What now? What next?

I've been to a coaching class lately and as a coach I get to ask this pair of questions towards the end of the coaching time. As a pastor I think they fit nicely just after Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed Alleluia!

What now!
What next!

What now? asks how the world has changed and what it looks like now.

What next? asks what the very next thing we do needs to be.

What now? leads me into how we as resurrection people view what is happening in our lives. I am very aware that what we do together as a congregation changes as a result of who shows up. It is also fascinating and inspiring to me how the Holy Spirit continues to breath life into our ministries. Imagine a Minecraft VBS. Imagine international student ministries, imagine senior ministries, imagine music ministries, imagine Lutheran World Relief quilting ministries, imagine Lutheran Campus Ministries and there is much much more. Now imagine that the 60-75 folks who show up on Sundays are only a part of the folks who come to Family of Grace to benefit from our location and building. 40-50 folks show up on Sunday afternoons in 2 congregation. 40-50 folks come on Mondays for Green River Homeschool Co-Op. Cub Scouts are here on Monday nights, GRCC Voice class on Tuesdays, 4-H on Thursdays, and Narcotics Anonymous has 70-80 at their meetings Saturday nights at 9.What now leads me into a sense of gratitude and joy for all that God is doing in this place to bring God's love into the world.

What next? Can only be answered as we collectively answer God's call in our lives. What are your gifts and your calling that God is inviting you to use in this time and this place for the sake of sharing God's love for the whole world? God's abundance is already in us!

I look forward to stewarding this tree of life as it grows and blesses our community!

Peace in God's garden,
Pastor Mark

On the Way

We live somewhat tentatively into the Easter promise that Jesus is not in the tomb but meets us on the way. It is risky business. The way is long and uncertain. The women who find the tomb empty and flee in fear mirror our own first response. Then when we start looking for the path we find fog and distraction and intersecting paths. And yet the promise rings true. We are met and accompanied on our way by the risen Christ.

For 6 weeks in May and June you get to stop me and ask for direction. What I mean is that I will preach on topics you request. On May 24 we will start with Genesis and the garden and the interplay of faith, religion, politics and science. The next 5 weeks I invite you to bring questions and topics that you have wondered about. I promise not to give simplistic answers to complex questions, and to think deeply about how we are called as a community to respond.

We are on the way together, heading into a future that God is preparing for us even now. The church, the culture, and the world we live in are changing at an ever-increasing rate. Institutions and ideas come and go with breathtaking quickness. I look forward to bringing our current experience of the way things are face to face with the stories of how God has worked in the biblical story. It is risky business. The way is long and uncertain. But we are called to live into the Easter promise that Jesus in not in the tomb but meets us on the way.

Peace,
Pastor Mark

Lutheran!

Lutheran World Relief Quilts Ready for Shipment
I grew up in a Lutheran pastor's household. I am sad to say that in my very rebellious teenage mind, I missed connecting with all the stuff Lutherans do. My wife was baptized 6 months before we were married, ask her about all the stuff Lutherans do.

The theology of the cross, which locates God WITH suffering and marginalized peoples, drives us out of our comfort zones and across the planet looking for ways to connect in response to God's abundance in our lives. Abundant grace. Abundant food. Abundant almost everything, except maybe peace. The peace that comes from knowing you are making a difference.

Lent is a time to return to God. Return to grace. Re-turn towards those who suffer and are marginalized. How is God calling us as a family of grace into our identity as a people who follow Christ to the cross and into the world? Check out some responses to that question here. Maybe God is already working connections in your life that we could learn from. This Sunday, or maybe one in the near future, stand up after church and tell your story of how you connect your abundance with the world's need. And we will walk our lenten walk to the cross and a-cross the planet together.

Peace,
Pastor Mark

Time Aside

Freeze a frame in mind that marks learning to fear. Dark, friendless moments. Eyes closed tight. What brings you back?

Last week I was invited to step aside from my normal work week  to pray and connect with collegues. We re-membered who we were in new ways of praying. We re-bound ourselves together in mutual learning and worship. We were re-freshed by God's spirit unfreezing our framed fears. Time aside warmed my soul.

How do you cope with the darkness without and within? Does gathered community change you?

How good it is to have reels of live action footage with friends to thaw those frozen frames. Christ's light shines into our darkness, showing us the smiles of brothers and sisters.

Lent is here and we gather Wednesdays for refreshment without and within. Come step aside and thaw those frozen frames.

Peace,
Pastor Mark

Christmas Spirit, Holy Spirit & Just Plain Spirits

Mom in December of 2006

At Family of Grace we encourage people to get in the Christmas Spirit by offering a a night of Christmas music,  by decorating the sanctuary, by picking up a tag off the giving tree and asking folks to buy presents for folks in need, by singing carols, reading and writing Advent devotions... There is more that won't pop into my head right now because as I was driving to church this morning I was over-whelmed by a sense of longing for the Christmas in this picture.

When dad retired from the ministry in 2000, our oldest kid was off to college and mom and dad started a tradition of traveling from Hawaii to our house at Christmas. I treasure those memories of mom noodling about our home, baking and shopping and spreading the Christmas Spirit.

This Christmas I will go to the Longest Night Service we are hosting with Messiah Lutheran and pray that the Holy Spirit comforts and consoles those for whom this is a season of loneliness and longing. And I will be one with them, knowing that the Christmas Spirit, the Holy Spirit and my mom's spirit are are alive in me.

 Merry Christmas to all of you. May the joy of knowing God is with us and connects us bring a smile through the tears, and a deep sense of peace.

Pastor Mark

Thanksgiving and Incarnation Beyond Sunday Morning

Trunk or Treat 2015 was awesome
Some of you may have noticed that we now rent a bigger trash bin. The lively stewardship of our building and grounds has led to the gradual growing of a myriad of groups and activities. On any given week we welcome and shelter hundreds of people involved in learning and supporting one another. They are not all in church on Sunday but they are all part of our mission to share the love and grace of Christ in community.  I hear the bustle and shreaks of joy in the hallways and know we are sharing the good news (evangelism) and recognizing and using the gifts of God for the sake of the world (stewardship).

And the joy continues into our coming season. On Thanksgiving Eve we will gather to sing thanks and share pies and receive gifts benefitting our Good Samaritan Fund which helps Auburn residents with utility bills, giving away four to five thousand dollars a year, seventy-five dollars at a time. On the Friday after Thanksgiving our international students will gather to celebrate the diverse places they come from with food from around the globe. Then Saturday we will dress up the sanctuary for Advent and on the following Saturday at 4pm  we are inviting the community to share in our Christmas Music Showcase. All of this beyond Sunday morning. All of this for the sake of the community. All of this to the Glory of God.

I give thanks and celebrate God with us. Christmas is early! Incarnation is already all around.

Peace,
Pastor Mark

All Saints Lineup

Mother and Daughter are precious in the present.

     Sometimes I think religion has done a disservice to God's work in the world by filling the word "saint" with iconic images of very "good" dead people. Yet my experience of the living gives me many more powerful examples of holiness. Not to detract from the summarized lives of those we remember, but those we experience in our present moments are the ones who are now changing the world.
     We stand in a long line of folks who have shared in God's work. And we are now at the front of that line. As we toll the bell for precious saints departed on Sunday, I pray that the saints present will be surrounded, and moved forward by the same Holy Spirit that they are celebrating in those they have loved and lost. We are all made holy by God's spirit moving in and through us. Thanks be to God!
Peace in your present moments,

Pastor Mark

Translating and Re-Forming our Negative Space

A powerpoint slide from TextInChurch. Notice the Negative Space
Some of you may have noticed the new slides encouraging you to text in church. Text WELCOME if you are new, text CONNECT to get connected and so forth. Funny thing is, we've had the slides for 2 weeks and no one has texted in church. I wonder why.

The purveyors of this technological marvel claim that speaking the language on the gadgets of the generation you are reaching out to is important. I agree. As we are updating our website and our FaceBook page and our entire social media presence, the ability to text reminders and messages fits nicely. I wonder if it will work.

Connecting and remaining connected requires persistence and intentionality from both parties. Technology helps and is convenient. But it is the Holy Spirit that continually brings us together. It's like the puzzle in the picture above, we create the negative space into which the other might fit and God makes our connections.

At the end of October we will celebrate "Reformation" Sunday. It's a tradition in the Lutheran tradition to sing Luther's songs and celebrate our traditions. I wonder about a church that celebrates its ability to re-form itself to the Gospel by looking back at how it used to work. This year I think we will try a singing some new songs. And as we learn new languages and technologies with which we proclaim the good news of God's love, we stop look and listen for the wind of God's Spirit fitting together our negative spaces.