Though she had watched many years go by in her long journey of life, she possessed a gentle and joyous spirit. The wrinkles and creases of age in her face framed normally sparkling eyes and a quick laugh. She was one of the saints. She exhibited the “fruits of the Spirit” Paul talked about (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. - Galatians 5:22-23) as naturally as anyone I knew. Yet, in this visit, she appeared troubled. When I asked why, she looked at me and asked, with great sincerity, “Pastor, am I saved? I mean, will God let me into heaven?” I answered, “Without a doubt. God loves you.”
This week we will celebrate the Festival of Pentecost, the culmination of the season of resurrection which began on Easter Sunday. Some think of Pentecost as the “birthday of the Church.” Luke the Evangelist, writer of the gospel that bears his name and of a sequel, the Book of Acts, certainly helps that along a bit. The prayers, expectations, and announcements of the first chapter of Luke and the first chapter of Acts set the scene for God to break into human history. First, in the birth of the Messiah, fulfilling the prophecies of Jewish scripture. Then in the events of Pentecost which are the fulfillment of the prophet Joel’s vision.
When I left college and started a career (the first one), life seemed full. I had my job. As I was back in my hometown, I had family. I had friends. I was still an active musician and often had a band to play with on a lot of weekends. Life was full. As life became more complicated, I found my way back to church. It seemed a worthwhile extracurricular activity, something to fit in the spaces - when there were spaces. I thought I would meet new friends, or maybe even a cute young woman (that happened later and is a story for another day).
In last Sunday’s gospel lesson, Jesus asks Simon Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Each time, Simon Peter says, “Yes, I love you.” Then Jesus commands him to “feed my sheep” and “tend my sheep.” This lesson is often used at the ordination of a pastor to drive home the charge to tend or care for the flock – the congregation, the people of God.
This week we started an adult learning series on Christian mysticism. If you are like most of us, the first question might be either, “Why?” or, “What the heck is that?” When we use words like “mystic” or “mystical,” it generally makes us think of things “other-worldly” or mysterious. In a sense, this
would be true. “Mystery” shares its root with “mystic.” As people who think of ourselves as “real,” firmly planted in the “real world,” we may not think ourselves to be mystics by any means. Mysticism, we think, is the realm of monks, nuns, hermits, and those who have visions and weird dreams.
Pastor Pam Schroeder has officially ended her ministry at Holy Trinity. Easter Sunday was her last official act. On Passion Sunday we bid her farewell and released her from her service in worship. As I write, I think she is on her way to the Netherlands for a well-deserved vacation. Her office is empty, and her emails are flowing into my mailbox!
Lillian Daniel and Martin Copenhauer authored a book several years ago entitled This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Lives of Two Ministers. I think of this book as I reflect on my years in ministry. Ordained ministry is a wonderous calling. Over the past 30 years I have served in a variety of churches and as a hospice chaplain. There were joys and challenges throughout the journey. Each congregation and setting had its own personality. All have been on a journey to be faithful to their mission. I am blessed to have walked along with them.
Secularization is a big word used to describe a long-term trend in our culture. It refers to the simple fact that all sense of the Holy has been drained out of our existence. When everything and everyone becomes an object useful only for my enjoyment or my purchase, nothing is sacred or holy anymore. The only subject that matters is me because everything is about me. There is nothing bigger than me, beyond what I can consume or enjoy. Life becomes watered down to a simple hedonism – “Eat. Drink. Be merry (not happy or joyous). For tomorrow we die."
One of the results of the long night of the Covid-19 pandemic is the way it has accelerated trends that have afflicted our society for a long time. In the church, for instance, any reluctance to embrace technology that connected people virtually was swept away by the necessity to connect when we could not gather. The long-term trend of waning involvement in religious life went into high gear as the pandemic offered the perfect motivation to end the habit of weekly worship or other involvement in the congregation.
As lots of you know, I like to cook. When I find a recipe that works, that produces some tasty delight, many might say that the next time I make the dish, I should follow the cultural advice, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I think this is bad advice. There is always room for improvement. Next time I make the same dish, I experiment. Maybe it is because I was once an aspiring jazz musician who lived to improvise. Maybe it is a faith thing – we worship a God who says, “I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5