Pastoral letter to the People of Saint Luke Lutheran Church

Where is God? God is where the hurting and broken and the forces of death are. How do we know this? Because that is where the resurrection occurs. Always.

In the aftermath of the most deadly mass shooting in the history of the United States, all of us are filled with thoughts and feelings that span the gamut of human experience. Horror, Rage, Fear, Compassion, a deep desire to help and yet also a deep sense of helplessness…and the list goes on.

As people of faith we abhor the reckless disregard for the sanctity of human life.
As people of faith we will not tolerate hate of any group of people as acceptable.
As people of faith we are desperate to help the nation find the solution, the guarantee that this cannot happen again.
As people of faith we know that when our hearts are broken and our capacities frustrated, God’s promise to be with us is sure.

Today, the voices of Americans and our neighbors around the world are all raised to lift up the questions that need to be raised in this moment. Questions of how we choose to live together in this nation. Questions of easy access to assault weaponry, questions of how law enforcement and other systems work together to identify those who have a history of violent behavior or hostile extremist perspectives. We ask ourselves as a nation, how well do we provide mental health care? How effective are we in refusing to tolerate homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia?… and the list goes on.

As people of faith we are engaged in these dialogues in meaningful ways.
As people of faith we stand alongside all who are hurting, sharing their pain, even from a distance; hearts reaching out to hearts with compassion.
As people of faith we are praying for all who are living through what is truly an unthinkable nightmare.

We pray for God to sustain the grieving, moment-by-moment, day-by-day.
We pray for the kind of comfort that enables people in shock and horror to keep breathing, even when nothing makes sense.
We pray for the nation, that we will face our brokenness and finally resolve to do whatever it takes to put an end to the scourge of gun violence that plagues, sickens, terrorizes and denigrates us all.

At times like this some people forget that prayer IS DOING SOMETHING. We pray knowing that God is at work in us and in the world and we remember that even Jesus prayed when the help he needed was beyond his to manage.

All of this is necessary, but it is not enough.

At times like this some people who pray forget the truth of the scripture that says, “faith, without works, is dead”. Prayers without the actions, which embody the very essence and heart of our faith, are meaningless, pointless, an exercise in privileged isolation.

At times like this, people of faith pray and act to give witness to God’s values, love, respect, compassion, justice, forgiveness, inclusive welcome for all.

We do this to clearly stand with Jesus in his teaching and demand for honoring life and each other.
We do this because we have been given the responsibility to steward this exquisite world; we have to safeguard it by striving to end the forces of destruction that violate God’s ways.

People of Saint Luke Lutheran Church, friends, family members, neighbors, sisters and brothers of this nation, all this matters, BUT IT IS NOT ENOUGH TO HIDE BEHIND WORDS THAT ALONE CANNOT AND WILL NOT PREVENT THIS FROM HAPPENING AGAIN. There is no excuse for the gratuitous slaughtering that persists day in and day out. WE MUST ACT TO END THIS. It will take collective social actions, it will take changes in legislation, it will take a shift in the collective consciousness of the nation that finally chooses to err on the side of protecting innocent human lives. There is no one perfect magic wand, but with every kind of effort and the strength of our collective voices and prayers we CAN PUT AN END TO THIS CARNAGE.

I CALL ON ALL THE MEMBERS OF ST. LUKE to take your part, as people of “a more excellent way”. We may not be able to put an end to all evils, or all killings even, but we CAN stop making it EASY for the slaughtering to continue. We CAN make it extremely difficult for people with troubled histories who evidence unstable behavior to obtain automatic and semi-automatic weapons. Other countries have managed to do it. In fact, no other country around the world turns a blind eye to the inherent danger of these weapons, in the hands of civilians, in the ways that we do in the United States.

I urge you to take action today to connect your faith and your pain with a solution that is achievable. Do what you know is consistent with your understanding of God’s design for this world. Do something. Today. This week. And each month until our people are safe from this peril.

The agencies and opportunities below may be a resource for your next steps as people of God, in response to the devastation we all feel. You may have others to share, as well, via social media or word of mouth. Together we can put an end to the horrific loss of innocent lives.

Where is God in all this? God is – where the hurting and broken and forces of death are at work. And that is where we need to be as well: God’s work, our hands. That is where the resurrection occurs. Always.

In love, we are woven together in God’s grace,

Pastor Janet

If you would like to express your concerns to your elected officials, call the U.S. Capitol Hotline at (202) 224-3121 and ask to speak to your U.S. Representative and your two U.S. Senators. You may want to:

Inquire about legislation that they support to put an end to gun violence.
Ask them about repealing the ban on gun violence research by the CDC.
Ask them what is holding up the process of enacting sensible gun violence protections?
Ask them about the proposed legislation to which Pres. Obama referred last week in his public Q & A on this issue. (Some examples are:

S. 551/ H.R. 1076, which would prevent individuals on the Terrorist Watch List from purchasing and owning firearms.
S. 2934/H.R. 3411, which would require that background checks be conducted on all private sales of firearms.
H.R. 4269, which would renew and strengthen the federal Assault Weapons Ban, which was in place from 1994-2004.)

Lutheran and other Advocacy Organizations:

Southwest California Synod Joint (Lutheran / Episcopal) TaskForce on Gun Violence Prevention: Facebook Page:
Joint Episcopalian/Lutheran Gun Violence Prevention Task
Force – sign up for notifications and ways to become involved.

Coalition to Stop Gun Violence in America –sign petitions, stay informed, contact legislators, IMAGINE A FUTURE FREE FROM GUN VIOLENCE

Set up by Equality the state’s largest LBGT advocacy group. 100% of alldonations will go directly to victims’ families.

Vote for candidates who take seriously the need for sensible gun violence prevention measures. Ask the candidates you like what they will do to keep assault weapons out of the hands of dangerous people.
Attend our Candlelight Prayer

Vigil/Neighborhood Call to Action
This Thursday, 7pm – June 16, 2016
@ St. Luke Lutheran Church

One more from Pastor Bernt Hillesland …

The people of St Luke are entering into a new time of transition. My wife, the Rev. Katherine Marshall and I are taking a new call to serve as co-pastors of First Lutheran Church of Palo Alto, to begin in late June. So this will be my last time writing as the pastor of St Luke!  What to say? Make some suggestions for your future? Apologies? Just now I was preparing for my sermon Sunday and read what Paul says to the Christians in Ephesus: “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the holy ones, so I don’t cease giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” I like that.  I’ve lived with your faith and your love, and I have been blessed!

So, now, a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the people and ministry of St Luke.

I thank God that I got to meet you! You flew me down from Washington State to meet with your call committee: Judy Platts, Lisa Curtis, David Schilder, Mindy Melnik, Mary Ann Hausner, Brian Jessen. With the help of your interim pastor, Rev. Elizabeth Steele, you had been getting through a time of congregational conflict. There was new energy at St Luke. The call committee said that you wanted to see “redevelopment” as a congregation, and not just because you wanted to survive as a congregation. You sensed a purpose for survival: God needed your gifts for mission.

You called me to be your pastor, and we had some further conversations. Church consultant Dr. Jim Pence facilitated your work in crafting a mission statement: “We are a Christian community extending God’s love and compassion, welcoming all to share the joy of faith in Jesus Christ.” I don’t know how long this statement will be helpful. But I do give thanks for that experience of diverse people spending all day together in one room, listening, arguing, laughing their way into an experience of deep clarity and unity.  You were “sharing the joy of faith in Jesus Christ!”  I give thanks for the profound ways you have lived into the mission you identified.

participants in the day long workshop in identifying a mission statement.

participants in the day long workshop in identifying a mission statement.

Aftewards, we kept talking and praying and sharing. Now what? Some conversations went on for hours, and we didn’t seem to get anywhere. Sometimes there was sudden inspiration for new ministries of faith, compassion and welcome. When the recession hit, creative energy surged and you provided free resume, legal and other counselling. You became a leading supporter of our local food pantry through joyful concerts, whether bluegrass or celtic. There was a new ministry of free lunch to the homeless in Van Nuys, bible studies and lectures on art history.

Food pantry fundraiser concert with Wimberly Bluegrass Band

Food pantry fundraiser concert with Wimberly Bluegrass Band

We tried things that didn’t always work as we hoped but still opened new doors. We took out the front pews so people at the 10:45 service could sit facing each other in chairs.  It didn’t catch on so well. But we were finding a new sense of community.  We shared personal thanksgivings at the communion table.  Later on, in a different way, we found new community in a combined worship experience. I give thanks for the ways you welcome one another with your gifts, needs, ideas and life stories.

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Mae with rainbow flag when Westboro Baptist came to Glendale

One important conversation led us to write a statement of welcome: “Our welcome and Jesus’ commandment to “love one another” extends to neighbors of diverse racial or ethnic background, physical and emotional needs, sexual orientation, and gender identity. We affirm with the Apostle Paul that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female.”(Galatians 3:28) Christ has made us one.” You expressed “being made one” by voting almost unanimously (one vote away) to live by this statement, becoming a Reconciling in Christ congregation. It’s not just about good intentions. I have seen you extend and receive forgiveness, patience in love, joy in the lovely people who come your way – whether that be a person who is gay, a Korean Christian, someone who is differently-abled or a Persian young adult.

“I never cease giving thanks for you,” says Paul. Of course, the Christians in Ephesus did have their issues! Maybe I paint a rosy picture of life at St Luke. There have been struggles all along the way, and there will be more ahead. But I like how, for Paul, the gift of God for us to recognize isn’t just the faith or love that gets us through. The people are themselves God’s gifts.

An important experience for me, early on, was just growing to really like you as you were and are. (Yes – like: as – I believe – my favorite openly gay Catholic theologian, James Alison, has said, the word “love” as its used today sometimes means a begrudging “wish you well, but please keep your distance.”) Maybe if I was less happy with who you already were, I would have insisted that you make more dramatic changes quickly? But it seemed like our experiences of mutual respect and shared joy bore fruit that has been wonderful to savor.  I think of powerful moments in worship: standing outside on Palm Sunday with the brass playing, or at the Easter Vigil with everyone singing “this little light of mine” to welcome some newly baptized person – moments when I said to myself: “This is just great!”  I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” – from Ephesians 1

Christmas concert

Christmas concert

A new Sunday experience for the new year

In our ongoing work of envisioning the next years at St Luke, we’ve noticed that people are busy and our time together on Sunday becomes increasingly important.  Does our Sunday experience reflect our mission statement – that we’re a “Christian community extending God’s love and compassion, welcoming all to share the joy of faith in Jesus Christ?”

We’ve worked on enriching the Sunday experience in multiple ways: in forums about worship with guests such as a Dr. Clay Schmit, who spoke of his experiences as a Lutheran teacher at an Evangelical Seminary; and a study of Worship Matters.  

We’ve renewed our worship with new experiences such as an Easter Vigil, RIC Sunday and joint Korean-English service.  

And we’ve developed our music program: I think of the work of Lisa Curtis involving vocalists and instrumentalists of all ages, whether it’s Karl on trombone or Randy on guitar  – matched with the versatility of Bettie Ross and John Magnussen, playing the new organ, the vibes or the spoons (that’s right, straight from the kitchen – you should have seen it!).  At one point many churches only had access to two styles of music: “traditional” hymns with thees and thous, or “contemporary” Christian pop mostly borrowed from Evangelical traditions.  Our repertoire has expanded.  Now, we regularly use a folky “Lord Jesus you shall be my song” from L’arche communities, a Holy Holy from El Salvador.  When we sing Amazing Grace, it may be with irish pipes or in a gospel style.

Joint service with Grace Road

Joint service with Grace Road

Worship is also enriched by presence of people: newcomers as well as long time members.  One of the new members said at a recent dialogue that although she likes the music at both services, what’s most important to her is the presence of the community.

So now, we are planning the next step forward in our Sunday experience, which we plan to start the first Sunday in February: a new schedule with one worship service in place of two.  8:30-9:30 rehearsals.  9:30-10:30 worship.  10:30-11 coffee hour.  10:45-11:30 education.

How did this decision come about?  For the past two Summers, we’ve gone to one 9:30 service, and many people appreciated the experience.  This fall, the church council shared a proposal for a 9:30 service year round, inviting concerns and thoughts through an online survey and by hosting two dialogues.  Council members Suco, Brad, David, Linda, Megan and Sue (with Lisa’s help) did a fantastic job of listening to participants and taking careful notes.  Many members showed great sensitivity to the opinions and feelings of others.  We had a good showing of people who currently attend both 8:30 and 10:45 worship at these dialogues.  Our final poll showed that a clear majority of dialogue participants were in favor of the change.

At the Easter Vigil

So what will be the advantages of doing this?  To briefly state what was in the proposal: First, that we get to be together for worship and fellowship.  Although we are growing slowly, at this point we fit pretty easily in the sanctuary – and it’s good when we can have children, the elderly, young adults, newcomers etc. present together.  Second, since there is general openness to different styles of music, worshipers who enjoy both organ and drums, get both. Third, because when we come together there are more gifts to share – a congregation of our size is stretched thin in providing altar guild, vocalists, coffee hour, and so on for two services.  Instead of using her time to prepare and play a second service, Bettie Ross will focus on organizing and arranging instrumental ensembles for the 9:30 service. And fourth, to free up more of the Sunday morning time for other activities. This way, there’s time not just between services but both before and after worship for meetings, studies, forums, rehearsals, etc…

What will worship be like?  Similar to what we’ve experienced in the Summer.  There will be some organ and percussion at most services.  Lively and meaningful music will be chosen that brings out the theme of the scripture readings.  We might try varying the style by season (more Christmasy during Christmas, folky during Summer, etc…)

It will take some time to grow into this.  St Luke has a long history with two services, and at times the two services have been pretty different from one another.  Some may be in rapture listening to an organ prelude while others just endure it.  But it’s good to be challenged with our differences!  A wonderful scripture reading for us during this time – often heard at weddings, even though it was really written to address Christians learning to worship together  – is from 1st Corinthians: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”

This doesn’t mean we’ll stay with one service for good.  Going to the new schedule and common worship is also a way to be together as we discern God’s call for mission.  At some point it may become clear that it’s time for a new alternative worship or other experience that fits contemporary Woodland Hills: Coffee house worship around tables in the fellowship hall?  Contemplative evening prayer with meditation on scripture?  Something else?

Sanctuary repair / redesign efforts are still also underway!  We have for some time been working on plans to fix the floor and windows, to make the altar area more accessible, to improve the sound system, hide the organ speakers, and generally make that space work better for how we worship.  One good possibility we’ve been talking about is moving the altar down the stairs.  For now – in February – we’ll use the altar where it is. The process has its own blog.  You will see proposed plans soon (along the lines of what we’ve been sharing at annual meetings, etc..).

Blessings! – Pastor Hillesland

A New Chapter in the Ministry of Marriage

July brings weddings. Becca and Helmut get married this month, and many of us (Katherine & myself included) remember anniversaries. We celebrate! But how far does our ministry of marriage reach? A bride-to-be who finds St Luke by googling “church” may show little interest in our worship services, but may think the stained glass windows are lovely. “This will do,” she says, and asks to arrange a wedding in our sanctuary. Do we accommodate her? If we do, will she be moved by our generosity and become a member of the congregation, a hymn-singing Lutheran? Probably not. For this reason, the Roman Catholic priest may have already declined her request, unless she and her fiance’ happen to be active Catholics. In the Catholic Church – as I understand it – marriage is considered a sacrament, together with baptism, confirmation, communion, anointing of the sick, etc…. Marriage assumes and builds on one’s Christian faith and relationship to the church.

Lutherans basically see marriage as belonging to God’s work in creation and society rather than God’s sacramental work.  We confess: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth,” and Luther in the Small Catechism explains:

“I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.”

Did you notice the word “spouse” just after “food and drink, house and farm?” God “daily and abundantly” provides these gifts to people everywhere – even if human injustice  blocks access. Just as the people of St Luke want to see the hungry fed, we also rejoice when people find access to the public and lifelong commitment and support that marriage provides.  We’re glad to be a part of this work when we can, because we church folk also happen to be fellow human creatures called to love the neighbor as the self.

Before the supreme court rulings against DOMA/Prop 8, I received an email sent to all pastors of Reconciling in Christ congregations (see our welcome statement): “SoCalLutherans.com would like to list pastors and churches who are prepared to perform gay weddings once they are legal. Could we include you and/or your church on that list?” It was a delight to be able to say “yes,” and to have every member of church council give their “yes” as well. It’s one more opportunity to “extend God’s love and compassion,” as we say in our mission statement; to be a part of God’s “pure, fatherly and divine goodness and mercy,” as it says in our Catechism.

I don’t know that we’ll be overrun with wedding requests. It takes courage for a person to seek a same-sex wedding in the institution that’s been so actively opposed to this change, speaking of Christian churches in general. Christians in many places will rally to “protect the institution of marriage.” For me, the language itself gets at a fundamental disagreement. Is marriage an institution to protect from people, or an institution to serve people? I think of when Jesus’ disciples get accused of breaking the law when they pluck grain on the Sabbath day of rest, and Jesus replies: “The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.”(Mark 2)

“God made them male and female,” says Jesus in another place, referring to the story of creation. (Mark 10) But Jesus isn’t speaking against same sex marriage, he’s answering the following question: “whether it’s lawful for a man to divorce his wife,” thereby (in those times) often leaving her destitute. “No,” he says, “God made them male and female.” In other words, “you, the male, aren’t the only one in this marriage – the only one who matters. There’s another person here, a woman – created by God – who matters, who has rights.” It’s been said that this idea of mutual belonging and love in marriage – equality – originates in the teaching of Jesus and Paul (1st Corinthians 7).  In all our ministry, I hope that God opens our eyes to the other person who is there, who may be LGBT.  I pray that we can always be about the Gospel: the good news of God’s unconditional love for all people, the love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit who creates, sets free, forgives sin, binds us into one communion and makes us holy.

Worship in Korean and English

by Pastor Hillesland

Many of the congregations in our area share worship space.  For most, it just makes sense. Fifty year old facilities built for the fifties are often an awkward fit for today’s worshipers.  More and more of the people around us put  “none” on surveys asking about religious preference, while they may in fact be eager to explore spirituality and to make a difference in society.  There aren’t loads of folks from the Midwest and across the country – as there may have been once – moving into town for work and desperately longing to squeeze through the doors of the local Lutheran church.  There may, however, be people around us who speak Korean or Farsi.  There are new church starts looking for a home.  And then there are the buildings: sometimes beautiful worship spaces built in another era and expensive to maintain, spaces that may get used 2 hours per week.  It makes sense to share use and cost.grworship1

When we went through the lengthy process of agreeing to share our space with Grace Road Church, council leaders were clear that we didn’t just see this as a rental opportunity, but a chance to “welcome all to share the joy of faith in Jesus Christ,” as we say in our mission statement.  Even when congregations share worship space, they seldom  share worship.  On Sunday, May 26th we had our first joint service with Grace Road.  I say “first” because we hope it’s not our last!  It was a wonderful experience.  Sitting in the front, I got to hear and feel a full room singing beautifully together.

Youngla Jung and Seungsook Choi joined with our worship team.  Sungmie Jang played a harp solo.

Youngla Jung and Seungsook Choi joined with our worship team. Sungmie Jang played a harp solo.

We certainly know many of the same songs!  I regret perhaps that there was more English than Korean, but I suppose Grace Road does better with the former than we do with the latter.  My attempt at a couple of Korean phrases at least garnered enough recognition to make people chuckle!   An elder, IN-sub Jung, led us in a lovely opening prayer.  Pastor Jaesung (Jason) Choi and myself each preached a short sermon on Romans 5, and especially the phrase “God’s love poured into our hearts.”

personalized steins for our Korean War vets!

personalized steins for our Korean War vets!

I preached on access to God in grace, and Pastor Choi preached a funny and  elegant message on his learning about our welcome to LGBT folk, on the gospel message and he need for us to put faith into action.  The gifted Grace Road member Sungmie Jang translated both of our sermons before sitting down and playing a lovely piece on the harp!

This being Memorial Day weekend, Grace Road wanted to recognize St Luke veterans of the Korean War.  It was moving to see Bob Hood and Paul Sellin come to the front and be applauded; Cork Platts wasn’t able to be there but had me read a brief message.  Then it was lunchtime. grworship3Homemade Kim-chee!  Korean BBQ, rice, noodles, and more!  Thank you, Grace Road, for your hospitality to us!  People have come up to me over and over since then to say how meaningful this day was to them.  Thanks be to God!grworship4

Reflections on a different book …

Since our vacation was in the former (so-called) “Whaling Capital of the Pacific,” Lahaina, Maui, I – of course- had to use some this time to dive back into a favorite novel, Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Let me share a line (bad pun). Ishmael, narrator and main character, is asked by the ship’s owner why it is that he wants to spend several years on a whaling ship. He answers: “I want to see the world.”MobyHawaii

Most of us have said as much, especially around the age of 19. But would you say it in a job interview to work on an oil rig for Exxon? It was whaling ships like this that provided the (whale) oil that lit the lamps in 19th c. America. Why hire someone out to “see” the world and its whales when your mission is to cut open, extract, sell and profit?

Well, as it turns out, the captain, Ahab, doesn’t care much about profit, either. He’s out to get revenge on the whale that bit off his leg in the last voyage. It’s absurd. But when something terrible happens (thinking of Boston, even) don’t we feel the need to DO something about it? Strike out? At whom? What? At the very least, get armed and install more cameras! Ahab doesn’t care to “see the world,” he wants to see through to what’s really going on. He suspects malice all around, underneath the surface. “All visible objects,” he says, “are but pasteboard (cardboard) masks … How can a prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?”

On May 19th we celebrate Pentecost: that God gives us voices and ears for praise in many languages. Who’s to say even the language of borderline atheistic novels like Moby Dick can’t speak to us on a spiritual level?* When we open the paper each day, do we expect to see malice or redemption? Another disaster, or something amazing? The Pentecost vision is of a world that’s not a prison, but the good creation. Evil persists, but praise can be heard ringing out from every corner. God doesn’t remain hidden beneath the surface pulling strings, but takes on flesh, endures our world, lives and dies right out in the open among us.

We also want to see the world – because Jesus is there! One more line: Ishmael confides to the reader that he has an “everlasting itch for things remote.” I like how that sentence starts with a spiritual word (everlasting) and then surprises us with physical words (itch, things). We come together for worship itching for things: water, bread and wine – one another present, the good gifts of our world, the risen body of our brother and Lord. “Things remote:” I think of how many of you like to travel even further than Hawaii, for vacation, but also perspective. To be remote can just mean being removed from what’s familiar, opening our eyes to what’s around us, expecting to be surprised, grateful for the amazing world we get to be a part of. These days, I think that’s a very hopeful attitude!

*Lutherans can handle their pastors discussing atheistic books; Melville fans may think it blasphemy against Moby Dick to bring it up in a church newsletter!

The surpassing value of knowing Christ

A theme for Lent, 2013

This image is from a Giotto crucifixion scene.  St Luke members were inspired by a recent visit to the Giotto exhibit at the Getty.

This image is from a Giotto crucifixion scene. St Luke members were inspired by a recent visit to the Giotto exhibit at the Getty.

“… I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him …” from Philippians 3

It may be that we’re in recovery from the “great recession,” but it sometimes seems like it’s just hit. We’re still adapting to what seems like a different world. The relevant adage is “count your blessings.” I don’t know that we need to keep score, but there may be wisdom in noticing, whatever may be happening in my life, how amazing it really is that I get to spend an afternoon with this person. Or, what a blessing it is, that as I sit here taking in the Ocean with my eyes, it’s so warm, and it’s Winter!

So to the question for Lent: do we think about faith this way? It seems to me that you do. Whether it’s a generous gift towards a new organ or showing up week after week to fold lengthy bulletins, you show how much you are committed to and value faith in Christ. Paul, writing from prison in the text above (which we’ll be hearing one Sunday this Lent) writes about “the surpassing value of knowing Christ.” God has made a connection with us so vital, so rich in blessing, that all of life is new. We are constantly finding new reasons to give thanks, and finding that what seemed important before is thrown into perspective.
The season of Lent (“Spring”) originated as a time for candidates to prepare for baptism at Easter – the bath where we die to sin and arise to eternal life. Lent is about dying to sin: saying “what was need no longer be.” I think of stories about early converts from paganism losing social acceptance and familiar gods, “suffering the loss of all things … in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.”
And what gain! I pray that Lent be a time when we discover in new ways what we gain in knowing Christ. In the Sundays to come, notice how often the assigned readings In the Sundays to come, notice how often the assigned readings invite us to consider gain and loss in the life of faith:
-Jesus refuses what the devil offers, to do the will of God for us;
-God calls to the waters and wisdom of salvation, freely given
– A prodigal son loses everything, but not the embrace of his father
-A woman squanders expensive perfume on Jesus before his death.
Also, in daily devotions and in midweek prayer, we consider the “Seven Wonders of the Word.”