Abandonment

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, …

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27:45-46

We can imagine how Jesus must have felt – he had plenty of
reason to feel forsaken and abandoned:abandonment cross1

  1. a time of darkness which we usually associate with fear of the unknown, what we can’t see, or control;
  2. the extreme pain of a gruesome death – beatings, crucifixion;
  3. being alone in the midst of all this – nearly everyone had fled, and certainly no one was there to help. Jesus had been left completely and utterly alone,
    and based on the evidence that included God.

So, we can understand how Jesus would feel forsaken and abandoned.


Last summer we were in Rome with a group of 19 people. One morning we all went to the Colosseum. Imagine The Tacoma Dome without a roof and 19 people wandering around on two levels with several hundred of your closest strangers. After a couple of hours my wife couldn’t find any of the rest of us and decided that we had left, going next door to the Forum, and left her behind.

In her own words, she was afraid we had left her there by herself. She didn’t trust that we would not do that, and so she left the Colosseum to look for us. When we rounded up the group to leave, all were present except for my wife. I looked around some more but could not find her anywhere. We decided the rest of the group should go on ahead to the Forum and I would stay behind to continue searching, with an agreed time to meet.

I continued my search, but of course with no luck. Finally I left the Colosseum to go over to the Forum at the agreed time. And, what do you know, there was my wife with the rest of the group.

The point of this story is we too know what it feels like to be forsaken and abandoned. And certainly Jesus had every reason to feel this way. But the truth is He was not. Even though He felt that way – despite darkness, pain, alone, God was with Him, had never left Him. And the proof is the resurrection. God did not abandon Jesus to death and the grave as Peter says in Acts 2, but has raised Him to new life.

It is the same for us – despite times when we feel forsaken or abandoned we are not. It may seem that way, we may feel all alone in the world; we may be experiencing a ‘dark night of the soul,’ or life may be falling apart around us. But come what may – the death of loved one, the breakup of a relationship, or loss of job, sickness, even death – that is not the case, God does not forsake or abandon us. God is always there.

abandonment banner1The point is – certainty and confidence, hope and trust are not found in or based in our feelings, or what we can see or touch, but in the promise of another – the promise of God. In Hebrews (13:5-6), God says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” And so we can say with confidence, “‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’”

The proof for us too is in Christ’s resurrection. He is the first fruits. And we have the same hope in God’s promise, that we too will be raised to new life just as Jesus was.

Just as Jesus could feel forsaken & abandoned, so we can too. But God’s promise, delivered to us in the person of Jesus, is that will never happen.

Relationship

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother,

“Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!”

relationship.bannerAnd from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. John 19:26-27


Jesus’ entrusts his mother to the care of the “beloved disciple,” following Jewish practice in which a son was expected to provide for his mother who would otherwise remain alone. But why was this not the duty of Jesus’ own brothers? They were brothers by blood, but not by faith. Jesus therefore creates a new community, a new family, based on faith. Mary and the “beloved disciple” are representative of this new community.

This new community was the ‘fruit’ of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the new covenant given & received through the cross. And the cross shapes the ‘life together’ of this new community.

The community of faith – faith lived out in this community as:
1. “love one another, as I have loved you”;
2. the willingness to lay down your life for another;
3. “take up your cross and follow me.”

If we in this faith community are to love one another as ‘I have loved you,’ Craig Koester says, then we must love one another with a love that derives from and is shaped by Jesus’ gift of his life on the cross. If the fullness of God is revealed in the incarnation and the crucifixion brings the work of the incarnation to fulfillment, then for Jesus’ followers to love as he loves means to embrace the cross.”

But who would want to do this, or who even could?

Barbara Brown Taylor talks about how the crowds around Jesus vanished once it became clear where he was headed. He had twelve disciples the night he was arrested; three days later, only one was left. Where did the others go? To save their lives as best they could.

Most of us are more concerned with saving our life than giving it away.

This is not a choice most of us can or will make. In the end though, it’s not a choice after-all. But this is where Jesus saves us – from death to life. The call is to turn to him and believe this is true; and as we believe, to care for others in the ordinary relationships of life, and especially those who need most to be cared for and loved – therelationship.cross1 widow, the orphan, the poor, and the alien.

Where do we find the strength for this kind of life, or even the desire to pursue it? Faith. Faith that Jesus gives life. Faith is the only way, because of the road to life, or else few would take it.

We are called to love, “Woman, behold your son”. We are called to see (to notice & not just walk on by) the widow, the poor, the orphan, and the alien. We are called to love in Jesus’ name, just in our ordinary daily relationships.

We don’t do this alone, and by our own strength, but in the community of faith (where we strengthen, uphold, and encourage each other in this life of faith), with a love commissioned at the foot of the cross.

Salvation

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying,
“Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:39-43


This guy doesn’t deserve this, this salvation from Jesus.  So, we set out trying to fix his image, make him someone worthy of Jesus’ notice.    We first clean this guy up so Jesus can save him; make him presentable, make him one of “us” – or at least how we see ourselves.  We’re not so bad – sure we’ve got our faults, but we’re basically good.  I know I’m not perfect, but I’m at least trying to be a good person.

This is what we do to this thief – clean him up.  He came to Jesus, asked for repentance – sure he made some mistakes, but that’s all in the past, now he’s met Jesus and turned his life around – sure it’s the last minute and we don’t really like death bed conversions – where they get in at the last second rather than the life-long Christian who has worked so hard to get in.  But this guy made it in the end, he got his act together, finally, and now Jesus can save him.

The other thief – nope; the religious leaders, Roman soldiers, Herod, Pilate, the people calling for his crucifixion – nope.  “Father forgive them?”  Not unless they repent first.

But thinking this, we miss the scandal of grace.

It’s a shock to us, that Jesus grants this guy salvation.  If it’s not a shock, if we’ve first cleaned this guy up, domesticated him, then we miss the good news for him, and for us.  God’s grace is a scandal.

Jesus’ death is not about bad people getting better, being cured of their badness.  Instead it is good news – God’s grace – for bad people unable to fix what they have done, who they are, or have become.

The Bible is the story of the good news of God to a broken world with broken people living broken lives – not loving God, not loving each other.  Look around, it’s obvious.  But Jesus Christ comes in love to redeem and make whole … to make all things new … to make us new.

When dealing with addiction, the view is someone has to hit rock bottom before they can begin to turn their life around.  Until rock bottom, they always think they can figure this out somehow.  But with our broken world there is no way out of this.  There is no turning the corner, hitting rock bottom, and turning our lives around.

salvation.crossJesus meets this guy at the worst point in his life.  He’s hanging on a cross – judged, condemned, dying; there’s no escape, this is it.  And it’s right here, when there is no hope, that Jesus meets him and saves him.

And this is good news for us, because we are this guy.  Instead of making him one of us, we would do better to make us one of him.

No, I’m not a thief, at least not like this guy; or an insurrectionist; murderer; or whatever his crime is.  But to claim that I’m somehow better and more deserving of salvation completely misses the reality of my unworthiness and God’s grace.

“Today you will be with me.”  This is about God’s grace; God come to us, not us to God.

Ready, Set, Grow

By Pastor Steve Schumacher

This is a quote I found online. It is from 2007, but still applies today:

“Willow Creek Community Church located in suburban Chicago has become one of the most influential evangelical churches in America. Giving birth to the “seeker-sensitive” church model with its emphasis on attracting large numbers… Willow Creek has also been the recipient of much criticism from many fellow evangelical leaders. Critics argue that this “seeker-sensitive” approach has produced the proverbial church that is “a mile wide and inch deep,” referring to its lack of spiritual and theological depth.”

As I remember Bill Hybels himself, pastor of Willow Creek, confessed this about his own church—that they had created something a mile wide, but only an inch deep, in terms of the depth of faith and discipleship.

Coming out of our semi-annual congregational meeting a month ago, there is energy and motivation toward growing our church. By the time you will have read this there will already have been a meeting of interested persons seeking to address the question of how will we work to grow as a church. I applaud the enthusiasm and energy and the desire to grow.

We are a part of Christ’s body—the Church in the world, and the desire is to grow and expand Pilgrim’s part of this body. In recent years, we have lost some members for a variety of reasons, some moving, others seeking a worshipping community that is a better fit for them. That is the nature of a community, change happens.

At the congregational meeting, several people spoke up, recognizing the need for replacing those folks with new people and hopefully adding more, to continue the work of the Church—that is, proclaiming Christ’s good news. And so this committee was born from that meeting and that desire.

I don’t know if “spiritual and theological depth,” as stated in the quote above, is really the end goal for a church; but that this depth should lead to lives as disciples of Jesus who witness to his good news.

At Pilgrim, we have identified 4 areas of focus for us as a community: Vibrant Worship, Bible Centered Growth and Teaching, Nurturing Congregational Care, and Intentional Outreach and Evangelism. We have also identified 8 practices of discipleship we want to pursue: Worship & prayer, Bible study & faith conversations, fellowship & encouragement, serving & giving.

These 4 focus areas and 8 practices of discipleship are the means by which we seek to come to meet God, and to be transformed as God’s people, doing God’s work in the world.

We should use all our God-given talents and resources to further God’s kingdom and grow God’s Church in the world—the body of Christ. That includes skill in all the ways we can get the word out, invite people to join us, and work to connect with them so they stick around and share with us in our call to witness to Jesus Christ. That is the task this new committee is wrestling with.

My prayer for Pilgrim is that we are a place and a people that proclaim Jesus Christ; that people, when they come in contact with us—either here or as we meet them out there—will hear the gospel through our words and our deeds, the way we live our lives.

My prayer is that Pilgrim will grow because when people come in contact with us, they pastr32ccome in contact with Jesus Christ, and with his love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace, and they want to join with us.

My prayer is that God’s Spirit is present among us as a community and in each of our hearts; and when people come in contact with us, they come in contact with God’s Spirit, and they want to join with us.

Forgiveness

As he was being crucified, hanging on the cross:Forgiveness

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them,
they know not what they do.”
Luke 23:34

What is it to forgive?

  1. let go, send away, give up one’s spirit, cancel,
  2. cancel, remit, pardon – predominately of divine forgiveness, “to err is human; to forgive is divine.”

We recently watched a Rob Bell video – “Breathe” in his NOOMA series from a number of years ago. It seems to fit well with Ash Wednesday, and then this coming Sunday as we enter into Lent. Ash Wednesday is about, “you are dust & to dust you shall return.”

God breathes life into this dust – “Then the Lord God formed Adam from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”  (Gen. 2:7)

According to nurse Cindy, exhaling – letting your breath out, is actually the important part of breathing – the part that is most important for life.

You have to breathe out before you can breathe in – you have to get rid of the old air before you can take in new air.  Try it: take a deep breath & hold it.  You can’t breathe any more in until you first breathe out.

To forgive is to breathe out. If you refuse to forgive, it is like holding your breath and not letting it go – the bad air, the used up air, the air that does not give life.

Refusing to forgive is to refuse the breath of life.

But once you forgive … once you let that go … once you breathe out … then you have room for God’s breath of life.

Welcoming the Newcomer

By Rachelle Lessard

I recently read an article titled “20 Ways to Welcome People to Church.” The article contained the obvious (but sometimes forgotten) points—treat visitors as guests of God, smile at everyone and offer your hand, don’t let visitors sit alone—but there was one statement that really stood out to me “Loving unbelievers the way Jesus did is the most overlooked key to growing a church…” My first thought was wow, that fits right into our theme for the year, “Love as Jesus Loves.” My thoughts then went to a woman several of us have gotten to know over the last several months. When we first met her, she was living in a tent in the woods across the street. Her story is long and complicated.

In the fall I had the blessing of bringing her to church here at Pilgrim. She had grown up attending a Mormon church, but had not practiced that faith for about 30 years—as a matter of fact, she had been ex-communicated quite some time ago.

As we entered the building, I could sense her nervousness growing. Honestly, I was feeling nervous for her. I know she is not comfortable around a lot of people and I could sense she just wanted to run! How would this go? I literally had to coax her into the sanctuary—convince her that it was okay for her to enter this sacred place. And you could tell that was exactly how she regarded it—a sacred place.

As the service started, she had lots of questions. What does that mean? Why do you say that? When it came time to share the peace, I looked at her and said you’re not going to like this part! You are going to have to talk to other people! The look on her face showed her complete panic. As I left her side to share the peace with all the familiar faces I so look forward to seeing every Sunday, I thought back to when my family first came to Pilgrim and how much I honestly dreaded this part of the service—putting myself out there to people I didn’t know. It was so uncomfortable and honestly kind of scary for me. Now I love this part of the service!

As she continued to talk and ask questions throughout the service, it made me think about each piece of our worship service and why we do and say some of the things we do. Thinking about the worship service in this way really made each part more meaningful for me and honestly caused me to think about it in a way I never had.

Communion was coming up. She told me she would really like to take communion, but could she? I felt panic setting in—who in the world was I to tell her whether or not she could receive communion?! I asked her if she believed in Jesus Christ and if she had accepted Him as her personal savior. She told me she did and had, but that she was a sinner and not worthy of communion. I told her that we are all sinners, that everyone in this place was a sinner and that acknowledging our sin and asking for forgiveness was the important part. As we went up for communion, she held on to the back of my sweater like a little child. It hit me that she was approaching the Lord’s table the way I should each week—with awe, a sense of unworthiness, and maybe even a little fear. The emotion I was feeling at that moment was hard to contain. This was a grown woman with more burdens than most of us will ever bear holding on to my sweater for dear life. Needless to say, that worship service ended up being very emotional for me and caused me to give a lot of thought to several things.

The first thing I thought about was how comfortable church had become for me. I love this place and the people inside it. But with that sense of comfort, do I sometimes not give proper thought to what it is I am saying or doing during a worship service? Am I sometimes just going through the motions? It caused me to think back to when church wasn’t comfortable for me. I didn’t grow up going to church—why are we doing that, why are we saying this, what exactly does that mean? Are there people sitting around me that feel that way right now?

Second, how does it feel to walk into Pilgrim Lutheran Church for the first time? Are we welcoming? Does it feel safe and comfortable? I do know that while she was scared, she did feel as safe and comfortable in this place as she was capable of. I thought back to the first time my family came to Pilgrim. While I did feel a bit uncomfortable as a newcomer, I do remember how warm, friendly, and welcoming people were. Do I go out of my way to notice visitors and LoveLogothen take that next scary step to approach them? It is so important for each of us to remember the most important person for a visitor to talk to is you! Every one of us has the responsibility to make sure anyone coming through our doors feels welcome. We all need to take a minute to say hello, tell them you’re glad they’re here, introduce them to others, ask if they enjoyed the service or have any questions. Believe me; I know it isn’t always an easy thing to do! But, it is vital and important!

I guess it really does come down to “love as Jesus loves”.

 

Hospitality

By Melody Rath

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:1-2pineapple-welcome

In May, I had the privilege of working at the Synod Assembly for the second time. The theme this year was, “Hospitality: All Are Welcome.” With very little “business” to attend to, the assembly was free to explore this theme through worship, workshops, presentations, and more. And there were pineapples everywhere! (Pineapples are a symbol of hospitality dating back to Colonial times).

Bishop Rick Jaech preached and led a Bible study on the ideas of “Home” and “Road” Hospitality. Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha (Luke 10) was his definition of “Home” Hospitality. Martha truly had the spiritual gift of Hospitality—providing a warm welcome that demonstrates God’s love—while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and lavished her attention on Him (much to the chagrin of Martha!), another way to help guests feel welcome.

Here at Pilgrim, we call this kind of Hospitality “Nurturing Congregational Care:” Pilgrim members strive to model Christ’s love and nurturing care to one another. From Health Ministry to Fellowship events, there are dozens of examples of Home Hospitality going on at Pilgrim on a regular basis.

“Road” Hospitality was defined by the Bishop as “leaving home to walk with someone when they are in a difficult moment in life. Providing love, emotional support, concrete help, and needed challenge and education.” The difference between “Home” and “Road” hospitality is in “leaving home,” moving beyond the known into the unknown. The most obvious “Road” Hospitality story is the Good Samaritan. This Samaritan took pity on an injured stranger and provided “love and concrete help” to a person tradition told him was his enemy.

This, too, sounds familiar—like our Core Value of “Intentional Outreach:” ‘Pilgrims’ share with others the abundant life that they have received through faith in Christ and intentionally reach out to people of all ages with the love of Christ—beginning with South Hill, Washington, and moving outward to the ends of the earth…’ We are very good at this outreach thing; we are constantly looking for new ways to help and to serve. Here is a short list of the outreach programs here at Pilgrim: VBS, Pilgrim Lunch Club, meal-site serving at Mt. View and The Armory,  Jobs for Life, and holiday baskets, along with our benevolent giving to international and national relief organizations and, through our Love Fund, our own neighborhood. Pilgrim is well-known for our loving and giving hearts for those around us.

The point that really struck me was when Bishop Jaech said, “Jesus ministered to people on the road in both intentional (planned) and random (unexpected and in-the-moment) ways.” Every time we reach out to serve our neighbors we pray that someone will feel the love of Jesus through our work or our presence with them. We don’t always get to know the “random” ways our “intentional” actions affect those around us. It is rare for anyone to come back months or years later and tell how their life was changed by assistance they received.

Sometimes, though, we do get to see the fruit of our outreach. One Pilgrim thought she was simply offering water to a homeless woman and inviting this woman and her friends to Wednesday night dinners (never really expecting anyone to show up…). But they did show up—a couple of times! Not only that, our “welcome” opened a door to someone in need of acceptance and companionship along with food, water, and a place to charge a cell phone. She has experienced the love of Christ through Pilgrim and a simple invitation. We pray that, even in some minute way, her life has been changed. Only time will tell.

In a newsletter article summarizing his sermon and Bible study, Bishop Jaech states that both types of hospitality—“Home” and “Road”—are natural responses to the love and mercy we receive from God through Christ. He also said that they are “crucial for our future existence as a church. Not as many people are coming through our doors on Sunday morning as they used to. Therefore, we need to go out those doors to find people wherever they are hurting and minister to them in Christ’s name.”

Maybe we can adopt a theme song for our “Intentional Outreach” ministry:

On the road again – like a band of Christians we go down the highways
to make new friends and bring the love of Jesus to the by-ways, for all days!

 

Advent Devotional 2014-Day 25

The Greatest Love Story Ever

Luke 2:1-20 (The Message)

As we near the coming of the Christ Child, ponder these words from Luke:

About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a Son, her firstborn. She wrapped Him in a blanket and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

manger2013There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a Baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please Him.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this Child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

Amen.

The Greatest Love Story Ever—Luke 2:1-20, The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Advent Devotional 2014-Day 24

Love Fights Cancer

Ruth Rhodes

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 1 Corinthians 13:4

As we approach this holiday season, my family is experiencing the sense of loss. My sister in law was diagnosed with terminal cancer on Memorial Day Weekend. Doctors only gave her two weeks to live.

Jan is one of the most dynamic people I know. Her answer to the doctors was “No, I refuse to go without a fight.” She proceeded to research the disease and fight it. She has been a force, fighting and showing strength. In and out of the hospital, ICU, chemo, and surgery—through it all, she says, “God is good.” In place of anger, she puts love of God, love of family, and faith.iStock_000002145962XSmall_hands

I have watched her friends and family show compassion and love. Her girls and husband have come to understand that this challenge was given to them to make them stronger. I have watched their family grow in their faith. The amazing thing is that their love and faith are stronger than they ever knew it was.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. Love also fights cancer, makes you stronger, keeps your faith, and strengthens family.

Lord, help us to love as You taught us to love. Amen.

Advent Devotional 2014-Day 23

He Delights in You!

Ann Schumacher

He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3: 17.delights

As a singer, I enjoy music of all kinds. I’m sure many of you do as well. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that most important events in our lives are filled with music. Weddings, graduations, funerals, even Presidential entrances. Of course, the church’s seasons are no exception. “The Old Rugged Cross” was my grandmother’s favorite during Lent. My Dad has always enjoyed, “Lo How a Rose e’er Blooming” and asked me to sing it with him at the tiny country church he served when I was about twelve. And certainly few Lutherans can make it through a Reformation Sunday without singing, “A Mighty Fortress” in full voice.

Christmas is, of course, the most obvious holiday when it comes to music. I suspect your family, like ours, has many a Christmas album. These songs become tradition and an integral part of the celebration. Our kids still ask for Harry Connick, Jr.’s Christmas album after opening presents. We know all the words to White Christmas and can recall that ‘cheesy’ photo of Bing Crosby on the cover. When you hear the quiet strains of “Silent Night,” do you picture a sanctuary darkened and full of candles?

Cathy Warr once shared with me that she sings over her granddaughter every time they meet. It all began in the delivery room and Cathy hasn’t missed an opportunity to sing since! Her granddaughter, Abby, remembers the song now and has come to expect this beautiful moment. It made my heart skip a beat to hear about this special bond between grandparent and granddaughter. It also brings to mind those words of Zephaniah.

What an amazing thought! Our love of music surely comes from God; in fact, God seems to love music as much as we do! But if that were not enough, God goes further. He REJOICES over YOU with singing. It is amazing to me that the God of the Universe would take the time not only to love me but to pause, breathe, and sing thoughtful songs over me. This act of stopping, pausing, and singing words … words which quiet… words which show great delight… reveal God’s purpose, dedication and all surpassing love. What a gift! What joy! I can only feel deep gratitude for the one who gave His Son for this world and
wishes to take the time to sing songs over me.

Dear Father, Thank you for your promise to take great delight in me, to quiet me with your love and to rejoice over me with singing. Help me to be ever grateful for your extravagant love. Amen