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.

Rhythm


A section of the North Chinese Wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness
Looking back on our summer backpacking adventure I could tick off milestones and accomplishments that might sound impressive. But they are not how the trail was lived. The daily rhythm of waking, walking, mending and tending encompassed our waking hours. We saw the grand vista in the picture on the morning of the fourth day of walking. We walked away from it after lunch and walked for five more days to get back to our transportation. Repetition and rhythm brought us home.

Repetition and rhythm are all around us at Family of Grace. Weekly worship, Sunday School, confirmation, bible study, Amazing Grace gatherings, prayer breakfast, choir practice, band practice, Stephen Ministry, and various ministry meetings, on and on and on goes the rhythm of our life together. Even in our weekly worship there is repetition and rhythm as we gather and pray, listen and sing, and come to the meal that Christ hosts. Repetition and rhythm bring us home.

Coming out of summer, we are at a point in our cycle where it is easy to come aboard, try new trails and find new rhythms for your life. Come let us be on "The Way" together.

Peace,
Pastor Mark

What You Don't See....

On the Heliotrope Ridge Trail last Friday morning.
See the beautiful flowers, the neatly packed pack, the smiling face and the semi-fit guy on the trail? It is a nicely preserved split second in time. That guy is actually a mess of wonder and worry. Weary and wrecked; hobbling in wet shoes down the gorgeous foothills of Mt. Baker. Pam and I finally got our first training overnight together. A couple of things we learned:

•Things take a lot longer than you think. (all things) We started late, crossed three raging glacial fed streams, the last by headlamp. Couldn't see the trail on the far side of the fourth. Didn't finish our planned trail day because we ran out of energy. We turned back and found the nearest place remotely resembling a place to pitch our tent and got 3 hours of restless sleep.

•One moment of forgetfulness has consequences that vary randomly in their affect on your future. We purchased a lighter to ignite our camp stove for hot meals and coffee; then forgot it in the car. Consequently we ate cold reconstituted dinner and had no coffee. Sleep deprived and coffeeless the next morning, I forgot where I was and stepped back and "pop," twisted my ankle. Consequently I hobbled down the mountain, my training opportunities are cut short by  recovery time, and my summer trip is in peril.

Sometimes church life is like this. We pause for split seconds to snap great pictures as we hobble broken, hungry and weary into church on Sunday. There we, like the many crowds Jesus faced, hear good news, have our bodies healed and our hope renewed and share a meal that feeds our bodies and souls.

The week after next we will welcome our community to share a VBS experience. My guess is that they will arrive and smile nicely for a split second as they come to play and learn stories of God's love for their lives. On the inside they are most likely a mess of wonder and worry. Weary and wrecked running through their lives looking for the trail. Our task will be to help them see the trail and follow in faith's footsteps.

We are uniquely qualified to show them the trail, because it is where we travel every day. We learn from our mistakes and their consequences in our faith and life. It makes us good guides for following faith's footsteps.

Peace,
Your Limping Pastor

Constructs and Construction

Lichfield Cathedral with only a photographer present.
I recently attended a movement sponsored by an institution. The Festival of Homiletics gathered preachers from a host of denominations and faiths in Denver for a week of preaching, teaching, collaboration and reflection. It is going to take a while to understand what all this means for me and us and the church I serve. Here's one simple to explain "take away" that has profound implications for our life together.

Institutions are established structures with rules and processes. Movements are ways of gathering people together to change and move forward and do new things. Without movements, institutions stagnate and become meaningless. Without institutions, movements grow weary and disappear as their members age out or loose interest.

Family of Grace has a history of being a movement within the institution of the Lutheran Church. It was begun in the 80's as an alternate to the more formal institutional Lutheran Churches in the area and it thrived as such. 35 years later this raises a pair questions; What parts of our life together are more institutional than they need to be? and; What parts of our life together are more movement than can be sustained?

I welcome your thoughts on this. Our life together is shaped by who we are and how we perceive God pulling us into God's future.

Peace,
Pastor Mark

Invitational Church


Last winter I received an invitation to come play music for an Amazing Grace! music event. Guitar player Chris and our band leader Kaitlin and our choir accompanist Natalie also received invitations, but I didn't know about them. I imagined myself playing solo for 45 minutes and thought, NO!, so I invited to Chris who had already been invited and we decided to collaborate. Come to discover there were many invitations. Kaitlin invited her musical mother and father to collaborate. Natalie invited Kaitlin's help. We could have called it a night of invitational music. It was a night of good music and good fun. And a good model of how God's invitation works in our lives.

There is much work that God gives, from tending creation, to building relationships, to making beautiful music to gardening and planting and cleaning and the imagination boggles to include the possibilities. But God's giving comes as invitation passed from person to person. 

We are invited into this Christ Centered community. We are inviting others to share our joy. We are surprised at who shows up and the gifts they bring. Welcome to invitational life.

Peace,
Pastor Mark

Wholly Weak

Knuckle Bump on the Bridge to the Clinic 
This Holy Week my jaundiced, first world theologian's eyes, see a high school student who lives in a culture that loves to jump Holy Week directly from Palm Sunday to Easter and skip the days of betrayal, denial, torture and death that lie between.

She is on a bridge with children in Nicaragua where the people are much closer to betrayal, denial, slow torture and early death.

We lift up both this week. Remembering that it was Jesus' closest disciples that betrayed and denied him; his religious leaders and government that arrested, tortured and killed him. Acknowledging that we are wholly weak and  have it in us to do these things and that Jesus' response to our weakness is not to save himself, but to save us.

Hope is a knuckle bump between worlds.

Nica Blessed

One of many lines....
The week before I left for Nicaragua on a Corner of Love Medical Mission I preached on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5) and how it was the people from Galilee that were following Jesus from place to place to be healed, that they were the ones Jesus was proclaiming were blessed by God. Little did I know that I would have first hand experience of being followed about by folks in need of healing. Each village we approached there was always a line, always folks in need, always babies crying, always hungry people. The sights, sounds and smells of the villages we visited are etched in my memory. When Jesus sees crowds and is moved in his gut to help them I think I now know what he felt.

There is a difference in my life between knowing there is a problem and sending money, and showing up to help. Something deep in my soul shifts into its proper place when I can touch the person I'm helping. I thank God for all of you who made it possible for Karen K.W. and I to show up. I give thanks that our lives have been changed and I will never again read texts about the poor without memories of the sights, sounds and smells of real people to go with them. I look forward to sharing more pictures and stories in the days to come. Until then join me in keeping the people of Nicaragua and the Corner of Love in prayer.

Peace,
Pastor Mark

I had a tough week. Pam's been away in Ohio with the new grandson.  I got the two week hacking cough a few days after she left. I worked on my  plans to be out of the country as soon as she returns. I will miss hearing "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return" on Ash Wednesday. I  remembered that February 3rd marked 3 years since mom died.

Then the first line of last Sunday's text stopped me in my tracks. It's Jesus' response to his cousin being beheaded by Herod. (Matthew 14:13) He withdrew.

Withdraw. It describes my deep desire last week.

And then I read on. Jesus takes all that nothing and heals and feeds and calms a storm, restoring life and creating community. Sometimes our tough days and moments of nothing are simply the canvas for God's creation of life and abundance.

And I smile at my grandson James Tadashi on FaceTime and remember to trust that God's hands are good hands. Peace, Pastor Mark

I see a tree!

What do you see?
A few days ago at Christmas I read, "See, see, what do you see?" to the child sitting on my lap. It was a wonderful moment of humor and discovery as she pointed to a monkey in a tree and turned and smiled. It brought back memories of when her mother had done the same. Yet it was new and different. I was different. She was new. The book was the same.

See, see, what do you see? Looking at this picture of the church is something some of you have done now for years. It is a wonderful place of community and sharing God's love in Christ with the world. Here are housed myriad memories, but make no mistake, we are different. Many of us are now new. God's mission of sharing the love of Christ in community is the same. I see a tree!

See, see, what do you see? It's just a building. Yet it welcomes worship on two days, and scouts, and a homeschool co-op, and a GRCC class, and bible study and confirmation and youth group and GRCC International Student Group and choir and meetings and counseling. I see a well worn tool for sharing the love of Christ in community and people who to use it well.

See, see, what do you see? We're a congregation whose average worship attendance is slowly slipping but whose vision for the mission we serve here on Lea Hill and into the world is growing. God help us in this new year to remain faithful to our mission, trusting God to provide the people essential to that mission and that as we grow in faith our security will be God's faithfulness.

See, see, what do I see? I see a tree; of life, of God's love, of growth, of hope.

Revelation 22:2 ...and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations...

Peace, Pastor Mark


Previously Preposterous Prospective Perceptions

Looking into an Early Sunset across Monastery Lake, Pecos, New Mexico
When ever Neal and I gather to write as we are this week the first thing we do is open scripture and pray on the question, "what do our congregations need to hear?" It's not an original question but it helps us focus. We go out to a new place, experience new things, see the world and our lives from a new and sometimes out of focus perspective and creativity begins to flow.

This week we checked in and out of the most inhospitable retreat center we have found in 16 years of writing. But it raised questions about the nature and function of hospitality in our congregations. It sent us into the scriptures looking at Jesus' hospitality and it lead us to a place of grace that we will be sharing in a couple of weeks. Just a teaser: it turns out that hospitality is a huge theme in Jesus' ministry and we will be playing and praying with Peter as he learns and relearns to fish for people.

Sometimes all it takes is a dip in a frozen lake to shock us awake.
Welcome to a world where Christ is making all things new.
Welcome to the adventure of advent.
Welcome to Peter's previously preposterous prospective perceptions!