Jesus: The Living Water

Samaritan Woman Pic

The coronavirus has created a world-wide crisis.

The shelves in grocery stores are empty, and schools and businesses are closed. People have stockpiled hand sanitizers and toilet paper. It’s nearly impossible to find sanitizing wipes and isopropyl alcohol. Pastors are communicating with the faithful people they serve using new and previously unexplored technologies. And, of course, we’re all being told to wash our hands both thoroughly and frequently.

People in the United States don’t usually worry about having enough water.

We simply turn a knob when we want water and the water magically appears. Many of us wash laundry whenever we want, and even water lawns and flowers in the summer. I once listened to a group of teenagers complain about the fact that they need to get up early every morning, so that they can beat their siblings to the shower; because, if they don’t win the race to the shower, there’s not going to be any hot water left.

But it isn’t that way everywhere.

I had a well when I lived in a rural community and I needed to carefully space loads of laundry during dry spells. I remember talking with one of my friends from Africa who was simply horrified that Americans wash their cars with water that they can drink. In some places, even today, people have to walk long distances to get fresh water. And that’s what we see in a story about an encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman at the Well of Jacob (John 4:5-42) – which, by the way, contains the longest conversation that Jesus has with another person in the entire Bible.

Picture a woman who is parched after a long journey in the hottest part of the day.

Here, we find a woman who was coming to the Well of Jacob because she was looking for something that she needed to survive. When things like water are scarce, there’s a very human part of us that tells us that we need to look out for ourselves first. The Samaritan woman needed water; and yet, she was being asked to give what she thought she needed to survive to someone else (Jesus).  Have you collected so much hand sanitizer that other people can’t get any? Are you one of the people who has been hoarding sterilizing wipes and toilet paper? Do you have boxes of masks to put over your face (that are desperately needed by other people) to protect yourself from the coronavirus?

Our survival instinct tells us that we need to get as much of whatever we think we are going to need quickly – even if it means that other people won’t be able to get any of it.

And yet, when the parched Samaritan woman comes to the Well of Jacob, Jesus offers her something different: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). Here, Jesus reminds us that we can find an abundance of God’s love and mercy and forgiveness. Jesus reminds us, in this short passage, that He’s come into the world to offer us an abundance of God’s welcome and goodness and peace and strength. And, if you think about it, isn’t that what we’re all trying to find?

We begin the Season of Lent, on Ash Wednesday, by remembering that we are dust and that, one day, we’re going to be dust again. We admit that we’re mortal. We admit that none of us are going to be around forever. In fact, as hard as it is for us to admit, we are all going to die at some point – and it doesn’t matter if it’s because of the coronavirus or because of something else. That might sound harsh. But it’s true.

And in Jesus – The Living Water – God provides a solution that gives us faith and strength as we journey through scary times. In Jesus – The Living Water – we can find the courage to continue to live well with each other even in a time when our fear is calling forth our worst human instincts. All will be well. In fact, even when we’re tempted to think that all will not be well, all will be well because we’re safe in the hands of God and because God has already shown us – in Jesus – that no matter what we face, in life or even in death, we are already far more than conquerors (Romans 8:37).

And so, as you journey through scary times, live your life with faith and courage.

Even though there’s a deep human instinct that’s telling us to look out for ourselves, we need each other and must learn how to continue to live well with other people. We can’t allow fear to drive us into uncontrollable panic and we can’t afford to allow ourselves to allow our imaginations to just run wild.

We need to somehow continue to find ways to live well in these challenging times, and we need to continue to search for ways to care for each other and to treat each other in kind and loving ways.

Right after Jesus offered the Samaritan woman “living water,” she said, “Sir, give me this water” (John 4:15); and she, immediately, ran to all of her friends and told them about what she had discovered in the midst of her own time of desperate need.

How can your faith carry you through these times of challenge and uncertainty?

How can your faith help you to calm those around you who are allowing fear to bring out the worst in them?

In every crisis, there’s an opportunity. And, perhaps, this crisis provides a chance for all of us to bear witness to our faith and our trust in God in new and exciting ways?

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Salt Shakers and Bright Lights

Salt shaker with spilled salt on a black background

I met an unusual man when I was a student at Penn State.

Bro Cope stood on the steps of the Electrical Engineering building every morning (with a Bible in his hand) challenging students to repent and to change their sinful and horrible ways. His always-faithful disciples heckled Hare Krishna-s when they passed and bullied women whose dresses were too short (according to Bro). Bro told us that we were going straight to Hell, and his message was always the same….

You’re all gonna be dead a lot longer than you’re all gonna be alive!

Bro would scream: “You’re all gonna be dead a lot longer than you’re all gonna be alive!” as students walked past him without looking up. And, quite frankly, even as a student who was involved in the Penn State Lutheran Campus Ministry, I was turned away by Bro’s message every time that I listened to him speak.

Have you ever heard that you are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world”?

Jesus tells us that we’ve been set apart by God for a special purpose (Matthew 5:13-20). As the “salt of the earth,” we carry the message of Jesus Christ to other people, and we bear a message can bring healing and bind-up the broken-hearted and even send people away much stronger than when we first met them. As the “light of the world,” we carry the lamp of Christ’s love, and bring light to people who think that they’ve been forgotten and bring hope to people who believe that they’re trapped in darkness. As the “salt of the earth,” we bear a message that can challenge and purify what’s less than what God made it to be, and that can preserve what’s pure and holy and good. As the “light of the world,” we’re beacons of hope who shine in the darkest corners of our world and who remind people that God is always near to them.

As I prayed about salt and light last week, my eyes were opened to something new.

Salt can be used to season food, to heal wounds and to keep things from spoiling; but, Roman soldiers also used salt to poison wells and fertile soil, so that farming would be impossible for many years. Light can be helpful at night and can even be used (in the top of a lighthouse) to guide ships in dark and foggy nights; but, think for a moment about what it’s like when you’re driving on a dark road and an approaching car has its high beams on. That doesn’t feel so good, does it?

Bro Cope taught me that we need to remember that, when we’re trying to share our faith with other people, there really can be too much of a good thing.

Many people go after the “un-saved” with vigor and energy shining their high beams into the darkest places in people’s lives. Many good and faithful Christians are determined to get people to change their ways to avoid the raging fires of an eternal Hell…. And, almost every time people come on too strong, the top comes off of the salt shaker and what they are trying to season is ruined. Almost every time people shine their bright spotlights into dark corners in other people’s lives (in an effort to do something really good), they cause people to flinch and shrink back and run away. And what they’re trying to do (or what they think they’re trying to do) fails. And, why? Because, when we give people too much of what we think is a good thing, the love of Jesus can simply disappear!

Some of us are really good at sharing our faith with other people, and some of us would rather walk across a bed of hot coals than talk with another person about God.

But, this week, I’d like to challenge you to think about something. Some of us share our faith with others by talking about God. Others share their faith by doing acts of love and kindness. We all tell people what we believe about God when we speak to them in kind and generous ways. We all tell people what we believe about God when we extend fiery judgment and condemnation. And, as we share what we believe about God (however we choose to do it), we either season and preserve, or poison the well. We either shine with the love of Jesus, or we burn other people’s eyes with our high beams.

You are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” You are an important part of what God’s doing in the world today, and what you do really matters.

And this week, as you’re doing all of those things, please remember that you can scream at the sinners, or use your salt and light with love and care. You can drive people away in horror by igniting the fires of raging Hell beneath their feet, or you can tell them a story about God’s love in gentle, Christ-filled and loving ways.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Bigger Than Me

Ordinary People

We live in an Age of rugged individualism.

We have been told that we need to go out into the world and pull ourselves up by the bootstraps (whatever that means). We have been told that people who are struggling and who can’t feed their own children just need to work harder. We’re told that there are two things in life that we should never talk about: religion and politics. And, as we’ve heard those confusing messages, our faith and our thoughts about God have been changing.

Many people believe that religion is something deeply personal.

Maybe we believe that because we think that faith is only about “Jesus and me,” and that our spiritual journey is only about finding our way into a paradise that we call Heaven. Maybe we say that our faith is a personal thing because we never learned how to talk about God with other people and don’t feel comfortable praying in front of others. Many of us say that a person’s religion is something deeply personal; and yet, for some reason, we keep talking about the fact that we need to get prayer back into public schools. Maybe we don’t think we should talk about our faith because we know that we live in a diverse country where people believe many different things about God and we don’t want to get into debates (even fights) with other people.

In my Christian faith tradition, God clearly speaks against rugged individualism. In fact, when God was creating the heavens and the earth, the first thing that God saw that was NOT good is pointed-out in Genesis 2:18. God clearly says, “It is NOT good for the person that I have created to be alone.” Wow!

In my last few posts, I’ve been reminding you that you are dearly loved by God and that God has placed you on the earth to do a very special thing. I’ve also lifted up the fact that, as people of faith, it’s important for us to remind each other that the things we’re doing with our lives are important. God created us to encourage each other and to build each other up. God created us pray for each other and to spur each other on. But, we can’t do that as individuals who are not connected to each other in some way. And that’s why, as people who are dearly loved by God, Christ brings us together in the Church.

A lot of people don’t want to have anything to do with the Church these days; and, quite frankly, I can sometimes understand why they remain distant. People are sometimes like porcupines on a cold winter night. We need each other to stay warm. We, perhaps, even need each other to survive in a world where God says that it’s not good for us to be all alone. But, sometimes, when we get close to each other, we prick each other with our quills, don’t we? Sometimes WE prick other people with OUR quills. Sometimes we get pricked by the quills that other people have. And it can hurt. It can make us want to run away. Some of you may have decided that you don’t want to have anything to do with the Church because you are sick and tired of being hurt by people that you think should be nicer, or more friendly, or less belligerent, or even more forgiving. One of the things that I’ve learned about the Church is that the Church is filled with people. And, if I require the people in the Church to be more perfect than I am, I’m bound to be disappointed.

Saint Paul talks about the Church in 1 Corinthians 1:10-18. He clearly reminds us that the Church consists of many different gatherings in many different places. Saint Paul even acknowledges that people in one community of faith can feel separated from folks in other communities of faith. Have you ever been afraid to work with another group of Christians in a different faith community to meet the needs of young people because you think that “other” congregations want to “steal” the young people in your congregation? Have you ever secretly gloated when you heard that another faith community was going through a time of struggle? Have you ever been afraid that the newly-installed and very charismatic preacher down the street is going to draw “your” people away? We’re very good at talking about the fact that we are all Christians together and that we shouldn’t feel that we’re in competition with each other, but….

What would the ministry of the Church look like if we all reached out to each other and tried to form partnerships? Maybe we could do things together that we’re having trouble doing all by ourselves? Maybe, if we set aside some of our feelings of competition, we could re-discover the fact that the Church is one Body – not just a bunch of individually working body parts? Maybe we could all thrive and become more healthy together by remaining connected to each other in times when the Church is going through a lot of scary changes? Maybe we could even begin to see Christ do some incredibly new things with all of us if we could just begin to see ourselves as more than individuals – or as individual communities of faith – and started working together and acting like the one Body that we are?

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Thank! Encourage! Build-up!

Encourage

Do you have somebody in your life who encourages you and who cheers you on?

In my last post, we learned a little bit about the baptism of Jesus. We remembered the day when Jesus was baptized, when the Holy Spirit touched Him and when God called Jesus “beloved.” We reflected upon our own baptisms remembering the fact that God has touched us in the very same way. We are loved. We are precious. God has created US and has sent US into the world to make it a better place.

And now, as we read John 1:29-42, we find another interesting story.

We read that Jesus was walking along a road one day and that John the Baptizer shouted, “Look! This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” and, after that, John talked about what happened on the day of Jesus’ baptism. And then, John does the same thing again! It’s almost as if John the Baptizer is trying to tell people that Jesus is doing something important. John is announcing to the entire world that Jesus has been filled with the Holy Spirit, and that Jesus has been sent into the world with a special mission and purpose to fulfill.

Now let’s stop right there and think about what’s happening….

I suspect that Jesus didn’t really need John’s affirmations as He moved forward in life and ministry, but I don’t really know that. But I do know that, as WE travel through life, we all need people who thank us, who encourage us and who remind us that we’re doing God’s work. We are doing something important that’s changing lives….

You might be serving in a position of leadership at a church, or you might be helping to pack boxes at a food pantry. You might be a teacher. You might be an engineer. You may be a stay-at-home mother or father. Or, you may be one of those people who is always at work behind the curtain, so that things run smoothly in front of the curtain. You may be a parent, or a grandparent or another type of caregiver who is helping a young person to grow toward adulthood or an older person who’s slowly approaching death. You may be a musician. You may be an administrator. You may be…. You get the point.

God is at work in your life, but what God calls us to do can sometimes be both exhausting and discouraging. We’re all human, right…? We may even have times in our lives when we experience something called “compassion fatigue” that can deeply affect how we feel, and how we think about life and about what we’re doing. And that’s why we need people who thank us and encourage us and build us up as we continue to do what we’re doing.

We all like to be thanked when we’ve done something, don’t we? We all have times in our lives when we need to be reminded that we’re doing something important. We all have times in life and ministry when we need to be reminded that what we’re doing is God’s work with our very own hands.

And so, here’s what I’d like you to carry with you this week….

  1. Listen to me…. Thank you! I know that life can be challenging, but I want you to know that, even if nobody else is saying it, you’re doing something important. God wants you to know that you’re loved and that you’re precious. And God also wants you to know that, when you do what you believe you’re being called to do by God, you are doing something that’s changing lives and helping our world to be a much better place for us all. Thank you!
  2.  And now watch this…. Other people are experiencing exactly what you experience. They’re fighting on the front line beside you. They’re trying their best to live and to do what they believe God wants them to be doing in a crazy world. And, sometimes, they also need to hear the very same words that I just addressed to you…

Be like John the Baptizer in the coming days. Look for the face of Jesus in the people who are around you and examine the many ways that people are doing what they think God wants them to do. Thank them. Encourage them. Build them up, and help them see that they’re doing something important as they invest their time and lives in other people.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

 

Is Your Congregation Struggling to Survive?

Crucifixion Picture

Many congregations are moving through challenging times these days.

Immediately after World War II, the “builders” got to work; and church buildings, some of them quite large, popped up everywhere. Many church buildings were filled to capacity in the 1950’s and some congregations even needed to put chairs in the aisles on special occasions. But, as we moved into the 1960’s and 1970’s, things began to change. People became suspicious of institutions of every kind. But, even in the 1980’s and 1990’s, many church buildings were still almost full because the “builders” kept coming to worship and were incredibly faithful in both their attendance and financial support.

But things continued to change. The “builders” began to age and even die. Congregations began to see worship attendance falling and budget deficits rising. And congregations began to respond to that change in two different ways: (1) Some congregations turned inward and chopped away at their ministry to save money, and (2) Other congregations turned to God in prayer, sought spiritual renewal, and searched for new and exciting ways to engage in mission and ministry.

In the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, we meet two very different men.

One of the men hanging on a cross beside Jesus cried out in desperation saying: “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.” This was a cry for survival. Maybe the man on the cross was asking for one more day to make amends with those he had hurt. Maybe he wanted to live for another month, another year, or even another decade. But, what we do know is that this man’s desperate plea for survival wasn’t answered. He didn’t get what he wanted; and, perhaps, he even died in sad desperation. But, this shouldn’t really be a surprise. Didn’t Jesus once say that those who try to save their own lives are going to lose them? (Matthew 16:25)

But, the other man who was hanging on the cross beside Jesus did something very different. He began by confessing that he had gotten himself into a pickle; and that, in some ways, he was only reaping what he had sowed. And then, in a moment of faith, he turned to Jesus and said, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” Here, we have a man of faith. This man, who cried out to Jesus in the same desperate situation said, “Jesus, please take me wherever You want to take me.” He entrusted everything to Jesus alone. And, in that moment of faith, he heard a promise: “I will remember you,” Jesus says, “and you will be with me in Paradise.” And those words shouldn’t surprise us either. Didn’t Jesus tells us that those who give up their life for His sake and who trust in Him alone are going to find it? (Matthew 10:39) Didn’t Jesus also tell us that He was going to build the Church and that even the gates of Hell would not prevail against it? (Matthew 16:17-19)

Moses once told the people of Israel: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.” (Deuteronomy 30:15) And the story of Jesus’ crucifixion does the very same thing.

Congregations that turn inward and try to “survive” by chopping away at their ministries to save money are choosing a perilous path that often leads to death. Congregations that seek renewal through prayer and daily devotion and that entrust their futures to Jesus, in difficult times, often find new life and exciting opportunities to share the love of Jesus with others because renewal often brings a deeper sense of God’s guiding hand in life and in the ministry of the Church.

Jesus has clearly told us that He has something special planned for us, and that He’s going to carry us into better days and into a future that’s going to be far better than any of us can imagine in our wildest dreams.

And that leaves us, our congregations, and even the whole Church with a question that needs to be answered: Do we want to fight to survive for another year or even another decade, or do we want to follow Jesus into a future where our ministry will continue to grow and thrive even in challenging times? The choice is ours.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Holy Moments – Holy Lives

End of World

Our lives consist of many moments when ordinary life and the sacred connect.

Many Christians live their lives awaiting the return of Jesus Christ. We see nations rising against nations. We hear about earthquakes and famines and fatal illnesses and disease. This morning, I learned that the government of China has begun to arrest Muslims and remove them from society. We hear about children shooting each other in our schools. We see world leaders rattling their sabers in an effort in intimidate each other. I’ve even noticed that every time something happens, like a “Blood Moon,” people start saying that this is yet another “sign” that the End is near. And it all simply wears me out….

John the Baptizer proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is near to us. Reza Aslan, who wrote the book Zealot got it right when he said that the message of John the Baptizer was carried forward by a much more famous man named Jesus. In a world that’s filled with nations rising against nations, the Kingdom of God is near. In a world filled with bad news about earthquakes, famines, diseases and school shootings, the Kingdom of God is near. When your life is filled with abundant blessings, the Kingdom of God is near. And, the Kingdom of God is near when you climb out of bed, when you kiss someone that you love, when you’re afraid that you’re going to flunk a test, or when you lose someone who was dear to you.

Our lives consist of many moments when ordinary life and the sacred connect.

What would life look like if, instead of waiting around for Jesus to return, we went out into the world to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near? Maybe, realizing that God journeys with us each day, we could bear witness to the fact that the Kingdom of God is near by buying a child, whose family is struggling to make ends meet, a new winter coat – or maybe, we could proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near by visiting people and sending them encouraging messages when life is hard? Maybe we could proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near by not running away and hiding from people when we know that they need our help now more than ever? Maybe we could try harder to speak-out on behalf of people in our world who aren’t being heard by people who look at them as nothing more than a drain on society? Maybe, especially at the holidays approach, we could tell other people that the Kingdom of God is near by carrying light and love into dark places where people are grieving, fighting diseases, trying to escape from abusive relationships or fighting a battle with some kind of substance that’s taken over their lives?

One of the most important lessons that I’ve learned in my journey of faith is that every moment that I live is a “holy moment” when the Kingdom of God is near. And in those “holy moments,” God prepares me to go out into the world and tell other people about God’s love and to remind them that the Kingdom of God is near in every moment of their lives, too.

You see, it doesn’t really matter what day, or month, or year Jesus returns. It doesn’t matter if the End arrives before I have a chance to post this message, or if the End comes long after I’m dead and buried.

What matters is that I have the wonderful opportunity to live a life that’s full of times when God is near. What matters is that, in the “holy moments” when the Kingdom of God is near to me, God always points me back to people who believe that things are so bad in their lives that the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off.

When we realize that the Kingdom of God is near and that each moment of our lives is a “sacred time” when God is close to us, our walk of faith becomes more about learning to live faithfully in a world that can be pretty scary, rather than about waiting for some Day when Jesus will return to fix everything. When we realize that our lives are filled with “sacred moments” when the Kingdom of God is near, we have something to share with people – when their lives are going well and when their lives are falling apart.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

The Tree of Life Massacre – One Year Later

Yard Sign

It’s hard to believe that it’s been one year since the unconscionable slaughter of eleven innocent worshipers at the Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill (a part of the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). I’m reminded of my first feeble attempt to “do something” and to “take a stand” after a senseless tragedy that left me both numb and speechless each time I see the sign in the front yard of my home.

We have been challenged to think and to reflect in the last year. Many of us have grown and have been changed as we took a more honest look at ourselves in the mirror and as we’ve wrestled with what we believe about other people. Faith leaders in the Pittsburgh area have traveled for many miles – coming from churches, mosques, synagogues and temples – to join in both open and honest conversations that have helped us to better understand each other and the faith traditions that we represent. God has been at work in our communities to challenge us, to soften our hearts, to open our ears and hearts to the voices of others, and to stretch both our patterns of thinking and faith.

The last year has, also, been a time when leaders and members of spiritual communities in Southwestern Pennsylvania have worked hand-in-hand to create a Statement that we, as leaders of different faith traditions, believe expresses the principles and beliefs that we can embrace together. I am providing a copy of this newly released Statement to you, and am hoping that you will take some time to read it, to reflect upon it and even to pray about it. We, as faith leaders in Southwestern Pennsylvania, believe that our faith traditions challenge us: to recognize the dignity and worth of those around us; to speak boldly and clearly against racial supremacy, demonization of those from other cultures and religions, and the violent acts that grow from those bitter roots; to stand in solidarity with minority and marginalized communities; and to repent from our own complicity in words and deeds that have expressed individual and systemic bigotry, racial and religious supremacy, and oppression.

We have committed ourselves to building more loving communities and neighborhoods that uplift the oneness of humanity and the worth of every individual, and that bind us to one another as moral neighbors in both trying and peaceful times even as we continue to both recognize and accept the fact that we believe many different things about both God and our world because of our different faith traditions.

I am now presenting this Statement to you hoping that you will take some time to read it, to ponder it, to pray about it, and to allow it to both challenge you and lead you toward the new kind of life that God calls us to embrace in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Living Faithfully with One Another

As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to interpret and draw guidance from sacred texts and traditions.

The sacred texts of the world religions all affirm the created dignity and worth of each individual and our sacred responsibility toward those in need. As we interpret our own sacred traditions in preaching, teaching, meditation or prayer, we will lift up these values.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak and act in support of the dignity and worth of each person.

With sacred texts and traditions as our guides, we reject the theories and rhetoric of racial supremacy, the demonization of those of other cultures and religions, and the violent acts which grow from these bitter roots. We embrace the right of all people to worship (or not to worship) according to the dictates of their own consciences, and we expect the government to respect this freedom.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak and act in solidarity with those in need.

We turn with compassion toward those in our midst who have the greatest cause for fear and insecurity. We stand in solidarity with all marginalized and minority communities, especially those who have been targets of injustice, discrimination, prejudice, and hate. When any of us are attacked in word or deed, we promise our support, help, and protection.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to speak truth to those in positions of power.

Our voices must be spoken and heard in public discourse. We seek to bring the perspectives of sacred traditions to bear in our shared public life. We call upon and remind elected, appointed, and professional leaders throughout our community to uphold and enforce the values of justice, fairness, nondiscrimination, and dignity.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to high standards of self-reflection.

We call upon ourselves, our faith communities, and our institutions to acknowledge and repent for complicity in words and deeds that express individual or systemic bigotry, racial or religious supremacy, and oppression. We are committed to growing in wisdom and inclusivity as we learn from one another.
As leaders and members of spiritual communities, we are called to live abundantly, joyously and harmoniously with one another.

We will work resolutely to strengthen the ties that bind us to one another as moral neighbors in both trying and peaceful times. When and where we disagree in our understandings, we commit to acknowledge, listen to, and value the perspectives of others even as we respectfully present our differing opinions.

We covenant to create, expand and nurture a community of mutual support throughout Southwest Pennsylvania. Seeking Divine help and guidance, we commit to building the beloved community, a neighborhood of neighborhoods that lovingly uplifts the oneness of humanity and the worth of every individual.

October 3, 2019
Pittsburgh, PA

Do You Want to be Healed?

question mark

I suspect that we all have questions about healing.

We can all see the difference between those who appear to be healthy and those who are struggling with disease. Even little children can sense the distinction between justice and oppression. Almost all major religions try to speak a helpful word to those who struggle with human mortality and to point them to the hope of eternity. Today, we experience many gaps between where we live and experience life today and where God’s promised to take us in the future.

This week’s story is one of my favorite stories from the Bible.

Picture mighty Naaman, an “important” man who lived his life commanding others to do what he wanted them to do. Picture this same man carrying 750 pounds of silver and 150 pounds of gold across nearly 80 miles of untamed wilderness. And when Naaman gets to Elisha’s house, he expects something big to happen.

But we read that the prophet Elisha didn’t even come out of his house to meet Naaman.

And then, we hear this very human response from a man who expected the prophet to heal him. “I thought that FOR ME the prophet would surely come out!” Naaman says to those who were traveling with him. And, in those very human words, we can hear our own voices can’t we? Have you ever expected God to do something big and spectacular in your life? Have you ever asked God to ride onto the scene and heal a terminal disease, or give you something that you really wanted? Have you ever been disappointed because God didn’t do what you expected? That’s the beauty of this story.

We’re reminded, in the story of Naaman, that God doesn’t always bring healing into our lives in big and spectacular ways. God brings healing through the touch of doctors and nurses, and through the medications that we take. God sometimes brings healing into our live while we’re talking with a trusted friend, a professional counselor, or even a pastor. God fills us with strength and faith as we come to the Table to be forgiven and renewed by Bread and Wine – the Body and Blood of Jesus. God, sometimes, even helps us to bring healing into the lives of other people through the kindness, forgiveness and compassion that we extend to other people when they need it most.

At this end of this wonderful story, there’s a hidden gem!

Picture mighty Naaman, a commander of soldiers, walking down to the Jordan River to wash himself in the water. Naaman, undoubtedly, wore heavy armor. He wanted to look strong and ferocious in battle. He, also, wore his armor everywhere he went because a thick layer of armor also hides leprosy, doesn’t it? Can you imagine what would have happened if Naaman had just walked to the water – wearing armor? Can you imagine Naaman sinking like a rock as his armor dragged him to the bottom of the river?

As Naaman approached the Jordan, he needed to remove his armor didn’t he? Before Naaman could be healed, he needed to remove the armor that protected him from other soldiers in battle and from the eyes of those who would have been shocked when they saw his leprosy. And healing often begins in our lives when we do the same thing.

Sometimes, we need to remove the “masks” that we all wear before God can work in our lives to bring healing. How many times have you told people that you’re “fine” when you really weren’t? How many times have you carried burdens that you carefully concealed because you didn’t want other people to know what was happening in your life, or even in your family? Healing often begins when we become both honest and authentic with ourselves and other people. The “masks” that we wear aren’t always helpful.

Jesus once called us to come to Him when we’re heavy laden and nearly overcome. Jesus calls us gather with other Christians in a community of faith where we can be forgiven and strengthened, renewed and even healed.

What are you going to be doing this weekend? Perhaps, it’s time for you to push all of the busyness of life aside, for just a moment, and to find a precious place to rest with those who love you and who want what’s best for you? God’s calling you, right now, to set aside some time in the next few days; and to spend time with people who will strengthen, heal, renew, and help to make you whole again.

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Food for Your Soul

Bread and wine

Many people are watching what they eat these days.

Doctors tells us that we need to eat more fruits and vegetables. I suspect that most of us know that it’s not good to eat a slab of bacon every morning, or to make potato and corn chips a regular staple in our diets. But what are you feeding your soul?

A lot of people seem to be confused about what their souls need and a lot of churches are scrambling to provide what people want in larger portions. Many churches are focusing upon the marvels of technology, and they’re filling their services with flashing lights and loud music. Most pastors know that folks in their congregation want a service that lasts about an hour each week. Many pastors try to accommodate special events by trimming other parts of the service. And sadly, in an effort to provide what they think people are searching to find, many churches eliminate – or seldom celebrate – Holy Communion.

It’s easy for us to forget that we live our lives of faith from Meal to Meal to Meal.

At the Table of the Lord, God creates a space in our lives where company presidents and the people who work for them kneel beside each other. At the Table of the Lord, God creates a little “snippet in time” when people who are homeless and people who live in a mighty mansion are offered the exact same meal in the exact same portion. And then, God sends us back into a world where hundreds of people compete with each other every time a new job is posted. God sends us back into a world where people are not at all reluctant to push other people out of the way as they climb to the next rung of the corporate ladder. God sends us back into a world where people build their identity by defining life as “us versus them” – “insiders versus outsiders” – “people who are just like me versus people who simply aren’t.”

Living a life of faith isn’t easy. Living a “Kingdom Life” that bears testimony to the fact that God has given ALL of us value and worth and that lifts-up the fact that EVERYONE deserves to be honored and cherished as a Temple of the Holy Spirit isn’t easy in a world that’s built upon competition and getting ahead of other people. And that’s why the life of the Church is built around a Meal. The Bible tells us that, from the very start, the earliest Church was built around gatherings where people shared Bread and Wine.

God forgives us and renews us and strengthens us at the Table; and then, God sends us back into the world as people of faith. And, with a new set of eyes and with a heart that has been filled by the power of the Holy Spirit, God sends us into the world as people of faith who have been given a little glimpse of how the Kingdom of God really works and who are called to point other people in that direction. And when we grow weary, God brings us back to the Table to be forgiven and renewed and strengthened again. Jesus calls us to live our lives of faith from Meal to Meal to Meal.

You see, the Church is built and is sustained by the Meal. Holy Communion continues to be food for our souls in a world that’s so filled with consumerism and searching for the greener grass that many people are losing touch with what their souls are searching for in a world where life’s never easy.

Jesus continues to build His Church around a Meal that’s meant to strengthen us and give us a glimpse of God’s presence in the world. Holy Communion is a little “snippet in time” when Jesus provides a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

Let’s eat!

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Stronger Together!

something-new-graphic

I can’t think of any words that describe the last few months of our ministry at Christ’s Lutheran Church better than the words: “Stronger Together!” We’ve been devoting a lot of time to developing partnerships with other churches and organizations, and the seeds that we’ve planted have already sprouted and grown into fruit-bearing trees! God has been doing mighty things in our midst and we have some exciting stories about how God has been at work in our congregation to share with you today. So, here’s what’s been happening….

Flea Market

In June, our Social Ministry and Outreach Team sponsored yet another successful Flea Market that drew hundreds of people from our local community together. Many of our partners in ministry at Christ’s generously donated items that were sold, while other partners carefully sorted and priced the items before the “BIG DAY” arrived. We had partners who supplied baked good, other partners who cooked hot dogs and sold cold drinks. We had still other partners who worked on the day of the event collecting money from hundreds of people who arrived searching for their treasures, and yet others who packed-up what remained unsold at the end of the day. People who joined together as partners with a common cause raised more than $2,000 that will be used to support life-giving ministries throughout our community.

As the month of June drew to a close, it was time for the young people from Christ’s and their adult sponsors to travel to Lorain, Ohio for our long-anticipated Mission Trip! We spent a week digging holes, pounding nails, pouring cement, painting walls, talking with people that we’d never met, worshipping in a church building where we’d never been, reflecting upon our own journey of faith, and learning what it’s like to be more deeply engaged in mission. We learned that people don’t have to travel to a strange land to be a missionary – because Lorain, Ohio isn’t all that different than Murrysville, Pennsylvania. We learned that people who serve as missionaries often face tight budgets and don’t always have the money that they need to do the things that they want to do. We learned that when we are willing to step out of our own “comfort-zone” we can learn things about life and other people that we’d have never known it we didn’t do that. And we learned that, sometimes, there’s a difference between what people need us to do for them and what we want to do for them (I remember a conversation with one of the women we were serving who wanted the steps on her deck to be placed in a different location, so that it would be easier for her to bring her groceries into the house – and there was a little bit of angst because the “plans” that were drawn for her deck indicated that the steps were going to be built in a different location).

Mission Trip 2

Mission Trip

We had a lot of fun. We learned a lot about life. We had many opportunities to reflect upon our faith. And again, it was all made possible because of partnerships that were forged between people who joined hands. Many of our generous partners at Christ’s contributed the money that we needed, and a few of our partners worked tirelessly to bring it all together. NextStep Ministries forged connections that we couldn’t have built by ourselves in Lorain, Ohio; gathered the tools that we needed; identified the locations where we worked, secured the necessary permits, and prepared our meals. The Avon Lake Presbyterian Church provided a place where we could leave our belongings, shower at the end of the day, gather for meals and worship, and sleep (when I wasn’t blasting Podcasts in the sleeping quarters). Once again, partnerships bring explosive results and open new doors to life-changing ministry!

And then, before we even had a chance to unpack the suitcases that we had taken to Lorain, Ohio, it was time for another adventure with Vacation Bible School. Once again, an army of partners at Christ’s was raised and rallied – and kids, from our congregation and from our local community, came out of nowhere. We sang songs and played games. We talked about the wonderful world that God has created, had a blast working on crafts, and filled our bellies with snacks every day. We even had a surprise development this year! On Monday, it took me a little bit longer than I had anticipated to get to the Fellowship Hall to say the prayer before the snack. Well, on Tuesday, the kids decided that they were not going to sit around and wait for me. And so, one of the kids stood up and said, “I’ll say the prayer today!” And every day after that, one of the children stood up and volunteered to say the prayer before the snack was served. Awesome! Another display of partnership! A great team of people coming together with a common goal and purpose – making great things happen together!

VBS

Now this story’s a bit tricky (and we can’t share a picture because of confidentiality issues), but it’s a real gem! Last Spring, our Outreach and Social Ministry Team had an idea and decided that it would like to reach-out to people in our community who are presently living their lives in the role of a “caregiver.” As you know, being a caregiver is not easy and we, at Christ’s, don’t have the resources (or the expertise) that we need to be able to offer the kinds of support that caregivers both need and deserve. And so, once again, partnership became something for us to explore. Our Outreach and Social Ministry Team contacted the Westmoreland County Area Agency on Aging and discovered that the agency offers a 6-week class for caregivers called Powerful Tools for Caregivers. And Voila…! We were ready to move forward. But, then, there was another challenge. How could we work together to enable people who are caregivers to attend the classes, particularly if they are a sole caregiver who needs to stay with their loved-one nearly 24-hours each day? And we found the solution in yet another partnership with the United Way through its Open Your Heart to a Senior program. Well, I’m happy to report that these vital partnerships (another example of our ministry bringing people and organizations together) is working well. We have 12 people enrolled in the class (the maximum number of people who can be enrolled) and we have four more people on our waiting list – ready to attend our next class!

And finally, yet another exciting partnership is blossoming at Christ’s Lutheran Church! This summer, we formed a new partnership with the Northside Common Ministries – a ministry that is supplying food to people who are facing hunger and homelessness in our area. The Northside Common Ministries is devoted to taking meals to people in our area who are homeless. Meals are packaged and delivered to the distribution site; and then, they are hand-delivered to people who are homeless by people who are committed to reaching-out to children of God who are caught in a quite difficult situation. Together, we have supplied food containers and flatware. Several of our partners in ministry have joined in the distribution of meals. And a group of our partners in ministry gathered on August 10th to prepare 66 meals that were distributed to people facing homelessness later that evening. This wonderful new partnership is yet another example of the fact that we can do far more when we join hands with other people who share the same kind of hopes and dreams that we have for a better world.

Food Packers

And so, as you can see, it’s been a busy summer! It’s been a summer where we’re stretching our wings in some new ways, where we’re exploring some new types of ministry, and where we’re seeing God work through the power of partnerships that we have formed with other groups of people in our community. Please keep your eyes open as we move into the Fall and as we continue to share the stories of other things that we’re doing. There are so many different ways that you can be a part of what God’s doing at Christ’s Lutheran Church. And there’s a special place for everyone – including you!