By the time you read these words, the season of Advent will be over, and the calendar year of 2017. The cycle of time continues to mark off the passage of opportunities. People have the choice of
regretting those missed opportunities or they can realize that more opportunities are possible in the next season or calendar period. May God’s grace relieve you of the guilt of having missed opportunities to share the message of God’s love with others. As the months in 2018 slip on by, may you recognize and act when you do have an opportunity to share with someone the difference it makes in your living to live as a disciple of Jesus the Christ. Perfect opportunities to share rarely occur and so sharing during an ordinary opportunity is the best time in 2018.
Three Expressions of the Church
People speak of the Church as if it were a specific organization and/or location. The church is where serving the needs of people occurs. Much of that caring occurs when congregations meet for worship and for small group meetings. Yet there is also the caring for others through activities of the Synod such as the financial support of Lutheran Services of Georgia. Yet again there is caring for others through activities of the ELCA such as Lutheran Disaster Response. Three different worldly expressions of the Church.
An author did a radio interview about the research she did for her new book. The subject matter was about where and with whom we are willing to place our trust. We need to trust our institutions such as food companies and government. The food produced by a company needs to be safe to eat and its contents needs to be what is on the ingredients label. Even peanut butter produced by major food companies use to be made up of only about 75% peanuts until the FDA set the standard much higher. When people stop trusting a company, people are more likely to stop being customers of that company. Would you get into the car of a total stranger? The author also wrote about some internet companies that work with the concept that their customers mostly trust not the company, but the opinions of people who are already customers of the company. As an example think of ride sharing companies. They have grown because of people trusting the opinions of others that getting into a car driven by a stranger is OK. The church as a social institution in our society is not as trusted as it once was in the past. What is therefore needed now is for members of congregations to speak about it being OK to worship in a congregation of strangers. The month of December is an opportunity for you to invite others to come and worship.
Over a period of 500 years viewpoints have changed. On Sunday, October 22 at 5 p.m. in the afternoon Roman Catholics and Lutherans in the Coastal Empire have the opportunity to gather together to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. This is not a celebration of we were right and you were wrong, but of celebrating the gospel message of God’s grace being proclaimed by Christians. It is a gathering of people to celebrate that we have all felt God’s grace in the midst of our living.
Certainly we Lutherans should celebrate our denominational birthday of 500 years, but it is also important for our witness to the communities around us that you participate in this gathering of Christians at St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Savannah on October 22. Think of it this way, this is an opportunity to show the un-churched that regardless of our differences we can gather together and accept each other as Christians. This is a special opportunity and you need to make a special effort to be a part of this specific celebration.
There will also be a special opportunity on Sunday, October 15 at 3 p.m. at St. Peter the Apostle congregation on Wilmington Island, for the final discussion about the Reformation and the relationships between Lutherans and Roman Catholics in more recent times.
It has been the trend that by the end of February the physical fitness centers have fewer people in them even though January is typically a month of increased membership and participation. After the holidays people often feel the need to exercise (get rid of those extra holiday pounds) and so they head to the fitness center. But the newness wears off faster than the pounds wear off and people choose to spend their time in other places. To be in appropriate physical shape (a healthy condition, not a pro athlete’s condition) requires one to participate regularly in physical activities. So it is also with your spiritual fitness. Regular attendance at worship along with time spent in personal and/or family devotions are positive ways to help one’s spiritual fitness. As we enter into the Lenten season on March 1 with Ash Wednesday, there will also be the opportunities to strengthen the congregational fitness by participating in those special weekday worship opportunities and the Sunday evening Lenten devotionals. Come and share faith and fellowship as we strengthen the spiritual aspect of the congregation.
Almost 40 years ago two Voyager spacecrafts were launched to explore interstellar space. Included on the spacecraft were recordings of sounds and images from Earth that other intelligent life might interpret to get an idea about humans. Recently several people were discussing if the opportunity came to create another recording of sounds and images of earth what would people want to include this time. Technology has greatly increased the capacity of recordings and so there was the possibility of many more things being included. But one person among the group suggested that more data (images and sounds) does not necessarily convey an accurate portrayal of human life. She talked about human beings as more than what we read, more than the music we listen to, or capture as photos. We are greater than the sum of activities we engage in while living.
As Christians we individually need to be able to convey a meaningful portrayal of our Christian faith. Worship is needed, but faith goes beyond worship. Christian faith goes beyond the words print- ed on paper and called the Bible. Christian faith is more than a name on a membership list. Faith is more than the sum of our activities. It is what we do because we realize that Christ has redeemed us from our sins. Faith is how we live day by day and treat other people as we are motivated by acknowledging the eternal love and grace of God.
In the vastness of space no creature may ever find the Voyager spacecraft and understand those recordings. However, your daily living will be seen by others and hopefully be interpreted so that they too will want to participate in the Christian faith because it has real meaning as revealed through you.
If our Christian faith is only active during Sunday mornings, then we have limited influence in society. As Christians we do not have answers to the many problems of society, but if we do not offer any engagement outside of Sunday mornings we certainly will not have any influence at all in helping correct some of society’s problems.
Many people believe that politics and religion do not mix, but that depends upon what you define as politics. There are partisan politics in which some folks seem to think that God is on their political party’s side and it is their way or the highway. Think of the prohibition movement that led to the changing of the Constitution of the United States and the mess that followed when alcohol became illegal. It has been a long standing saying that you cannot legislate morality, but it is possible to legislate deterrence.
It is of some benefit to society that we have drunk driving laws and that the law can make people take DUI classes after their conviction for driving under the influence. Those laws came about because of politics working towards public safety, and public safety is something that Christians are to consider. It is not politics for this congregation to allow the use of its facilities as a polling place during elections. It is a service to the community much in the same way when the congregation’s facilities are used by other community groups such as the Scouts or the Farm Bureau. What is not permitted is the use of funds of the congregation in support of a specific candidate or political party.
In this time of sound bites and pseudo-reporting on the Internet, people need to consider a variety of opinions in order to make better decisions. It is true that money talks but so do ordinary voices. To help you in the area of advocacy you can visit the following website http://elca.org/our-work/Publicly-Engaged-church/ELCAvotes. If you have concerns, call me (232.6215). Pastor Dave
A note of appreciation to all the persons who participated in the Ministry Site Profile (MSP) surveys that were available after two worship services. The five MSP Task Force members combined all the opinions and have produced several summary pages. For those interested in looking at the summary pages of the raw data, they will be available on the tables at the entrance to the worship area. For those persons interested in a condensed interpretation of the data, continue reading.
There were 39 survey packets turned in with responses on at least some of the pages. There were 27 sheets of page 4 that had one or more hand written comments and another 12 sheets that contained no responses at all regarding the top priorities for the pastor to focus on for the first year of ministry and also what congregational members would do to help the new pastor focus on those ministries. At a total of 39 surveys, the packets reflect the opinions of a limited number of members in the congregation. Some of those opinions converge in agreement and others point in different directions. In other words, we will need to acknowledge that we are individuals and yet we need to work together, not for our own goals, but for the goals that will help in achieving ministry through the congregation.
The opinions of survey participants show the majority agreeing that the perceived critical tasks for the pastor during the first year are youth ministry, worship, pastoral care and visitation, and building a sense of community. There was also an interest in the pastor being an effective communicator and helping people develop their spiritual life. There is much ministry to be done, and in order to accomplish it, the members of the congregation will need to work together with each other and participate in a variety of activities.
Please be in prayer that the guidance of the Holy Spirit will be felt and will lead the decisions of all the many people that will be involved in the call process.
More than a few decades ago and across this nation on the West coast, public schools did not start until the Tuesday after Labor Day and did not get out for the summer until in June. So school starting in August and especially early in August does seem strange. Things that are not part of our experiences seem a little strange and at times foreign or even wrong just because they are different from our background.
Roman Catholic friends of ours became God parents to a baby girl some decades ago. The child grew up and recently got married in Indonesia (the homeland of her parents). Included in all the festivities was the wearing of tradition wedding apparel which was not in the style of United States apparel. The God parents were invited and traveled to Indonesia and were furnished with traditional wearing apparel. The pictures of the God parents showed them looking far different than normal, but they did it out of love for their God child. Because of our love of God, there will be times, when we will need to show our love by better understanding how people different from us are still God’s children and live different lives than we think. People receiving welfare cash assistance are not necessarily lazy slobs, but may have been laid off from their work. In fact in the 20 years since States started receiving cash welfare money in block grants, many States have used much of that federal taxpayer money for other actions. In Michigan part of the welfare money is used to fund grants to help pay for tuition at private colleges of even middle income students. People with criminal records may have made one mistake and that was being in a car with someone else when the car was stopped and drugs were found in the car. What is it like to be a police officer? What is it like to have people treat you differently simply because you are short, or over weight or your skin is a different color or any number of other “differences” that set you apart from others?
The apostles were a different group of people even as we think they were all from the same area. Simon the Zealot (a patriot of Israel) was not likely to think kind thoughts about his fellow apostle Matthew who had been collecting taxes and handing them over to the occupying Romans. Somehow with Jesus’ love they were able to work together and in their situation to even travel together to accomplish what was their ministry for their time and place. May we see not differences that separate us but the love of God that brings us together.
One of the many steps involved in calling a pastor, is completing a Ministry Site Profile (MSP). The MSP is about the ministry of the congregation and the context in which that ministry takes place. There are questions that need to be answered by members of the congregation regarding what types of ministry would seem to be the most important for the congregation as a whole to be involved in with the new pastor. The five member MSP Task Force will be announcing in the coming weeks the Sundays on which surveys will be available for members of the congregation to complete to help provide data in the MSP. Watch for announcements in the bulletin.
These surveys will ask for your impressions about the congregation and will also be asking what abilities a pastor needs to have to serve the needs of the congregation. The idea is for you to think beyond your individual perspective and preferences to think what would help the ministry of the whole congregation. Additionally, we need to realize that the society around us has changed and therefore what was needed may no longer work well. In the 1950s congregations would form by building a building. Now it takes the individual evangelism of the members inviting persons to participate in some aspect of the ministry of the congregation.
The days of summer vacation will soon be here, but some are already on their summer break, at least local students are on summer break. Some youth from Zion are going to participate in June in the Southeastern Synod’s annual Affirm event which should be fun and inspiring. Some families will take summer vacation trips that hopefully will be fun and relaxing. Summertime is a change of pace for some people and for others their routine continues on unchanged or only changed slightly.
For the congregation there will be some slight changes and there will be some significant temporary changes as in the case of providing a Vacation Bible School program for the first full week in June. The ministry of a congregation may change at times from the hectic-ness (and sometimes hectic mess) of Holy Week to a more relaxed schedule in the summertime (but only after VBS is accomplished). Yet there is always ministry to do and there is always the need for disciples supporting the ministries of the congregation with their presence, their abilities, their prayers, and their financial resources. There is no break from maintaining the facilities of a congregation even when members are absent from worship, whether it is winter or summer or at any time of year. So remember that even when you are away from worship because of vacation, work, illness, or any other reason, your congregation needs your continued financial support.