A Word from Pastor Linda
“For by grace you have been saved by faith, and this is not your own doing, but the gift of God.” —Ephesians 2:8
At the end of June, I traveled with ten of our high school kids and one other awesome and adventurous adult leader (Yay Cathy Johnson!) to the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston. This is an event that happens every three years when more than 30,000 high school aged kids and their adult leaders get together for five days of worship and learning , service and Bible study, and faith formation. The theme for this year’s Gathering was “This Changes Everything,” and the theme verse was Ephesians 2:8 – “For by grace you have been saved by faith, and this is not your own doing, but the gift of God.”
I have been to three previous Youth Gatherings (1997, 2000 and 2006) and my older two daughters each attended one of the last two (2012 and 2015). In the twelve years since I had attended a Gathering, the format and feel of the event has changed significantly. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, the ELCA had already been working on planning the 2009 Gathering there. Rather than pulling out after the hurricane, the Gathering staff and the larger church made the decision to keep the Gathering in New Orleans as a way to support and bring business to the city.
At the same time, the Gathering became more focused on service, with every participant engaged in a day of service during the time of the Gathering. At the earlier Gatherings I had attended, a service project was optional, but I still remember a day of house painting in New Orleans, along with a group from Hutchinson, Kansas, back in 1997 (when I was seven months pregnant) that was as hot and humid as it was rewarding.
These days, the Youth Gathering experience is divided into three days – a Synod Day (with activities and worship with the Bishop and all the groups from your Synod), a Service Day (where 10,000 people clad in bright Orange t-shirts fan out to give back to the city that hosts us), and an Interactive Learning Day (with a huge range of activities, including my favorites this year – the Acolyte Olympics, a wheelchair obstacle course, and a spontaneous singing of Holden Evening Prayer).
While our days were filled with these various activities, our evenings were spent in the NRG Stadium for Mass Gatherings. These are hard to describe but imagine some cross between a concert of Contemporary Christian Music, a slate of amazing and inspirational speakers, and a giant dance party.
My last Gathering was in 2006, and while I had plenty of experience with teenagers in my early adult life (as a high school teacher and coach and church youth director), for most of the years since 2006, I have been living with teenage girls. As both a parent and a pastor, what I really appreciated about this Gathering was that the speakers weren’t all old, white pastors imparting wisdom from on high to “the youth,” as though they were Moses bearing the Ten Commandments. And it wasn’t all happy, clappy, “Yay Jesus,” Up with People stuff, that ignored the fact that lots of us (on all sides) feel like the world is going to hell in a handbasket.
The speakers we heard in Houston were a diverse mix of folks who were unafraid to talk about the brokenness in themselves and the world, but who also saw themselves as followers of a God big enough to take on and redeem the mess and the hurt and the chaos and despair.
The Youth Gathering didn’t answer all the questions and doubts about faith that our kids brought with them. More importantly, it modelled for them ways to faithfully wrestle with those questions, and helped them to know that whoever they are and whatever they are dealing with, in the words of one speaker, “There’s grace for that.” What our teenagers need from the church, more than contemporary music or exciting trips or platitudes about how they are the “future of the church,” is the space to be their authentic, genuine selves and still be loved and affirmed and reminded that they are beloved children of God, rescued by Jesus. In fact, I think that’s what we all need.
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Blessings to you in this Easter season.
During the season of Lent, at our midweek Lenten services and in small discussion groups, we explored the idea of Spiritual Practices or Spiritual Disciplines.
We Lutherans have traditionally been uncomfortable talking about spiritual practices because of our emphasis on grace. We do need to remember that we are saved by God’s grace and our spiritual practices do not earn us God’s love or forgiveness. However, Jesus does not then command us to do nothing, but rather he invites us to follow him. Spiritual practices or disciplines are how we follow Jesus in response to God’s unconditional love.
Here is one definition of Spiritual Disciplines:
“Spiritual disciplines…are simply behaviors that all Christians should practice regularly as part of their Christian faith. These habits of the Christian faith help us focus our attention on God and on being his disciples.”
The languages of “disciplines” reminds us that in our busy world full of distractions, it does take discipline and commitment to follow Jesus. I personally prefer the term practices since it reminds me that none of us will ever master any of these. Plus, a discipline seems more like something one does out of obligation, while a practice implies a sincere desire to learn and to grow in the faith.
Thanks to Michelle Hinojosa, Emily Rott, Pastor Art Puotinen, Pastor Paul Uhl, and Mike Gehring for their willingness to share their experience and wisdom about these various spiritual practices at our midweek Lenten services.
We explored five different practices and looked at some concrete ways that we can incorporate them into our daily lives.
- Encouraging – Try to follow Luther’s instruction in his explanation of the 8th Commandment to “interpret everything our neighbor does in the best possible light.”
- Inviting – Find a gracious way to bring your faith or your commitment to church up in regular conversation with an unchurched friend or co-worker.
- Worship – Come to worship with an attitude of “holy expectancy.” Come early and spend five to ten minutes before the service begins in prayer for the leaders of worship and those around you who look like they are carrying heavy burdens.
- Prayer – Commit to finding 5-10 minutes a day for either prayer or silent meditation.
- Giving/Serving – Each day, find a simple act of service you can do for someone in your daily life.
I hope you have a chance to try some of these out and that in doing so, you deepen your walk with Christ in this Easter season.
Peace, Pastor Linda
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Mark 1:3
As I write this in early November, the Halloween displays in the stores have already been replaced by Christmas wrapping and presents. Radio stations have begun playing Christmas music and at least one of my friends on Facebook has bragged about having his shopping and wrapping completed.
What’s the hurry?
The church has traditionally done its best to resist the culture’s rush to Christmas, but it often feels like a losing battle. We can be tempted either to give in and start getting out the decorations as soon as the Halloween candy is finished or we can become the churchy versions of Scrooge – railing against all things Christmas until December 24th at the earliest.
We do have another alternative, however. The season of Advent allows us to celebrate and prepare for the coming of Christ in a way that can give us space to escape the hustle and bustle of the world’s Christmas frenzy and pause and reflect on the magnitude of God’s gift to us at Christmas.
We live in a culture of immediacy and are usually not very good at waiting. Advent, however, asks us to do just that. We may resist it, but, as with so many things in life, taking the time to wait and prepare for Jesus’ coming at Christmas makes our Christmas celebrations that much sweeter.
Here at Christus Victor, we will be waiting and preparing for Christmas in a variety of ways this Advent season:
· Our Advent study “A Not-So-Silent Night” is already underway, but it’s not too late to connect with a group.
· Pick up an Advent calendar or devotional to use with your family at home throughout the season.
· Join our Sunday School families for an afternoon movie outing to see “The Star” at the Elk Grove Cinemas on December 3rd.
· Enjoy our Children’s Christmas program at worship the weekend of December 16 and 17 and our annual Christmas concert by our musical groups on the evening of the 17th.
· Join our Confirmation students and their families in serving at Feed My Starving Children on Wednesday, December 20th.
And, of course, we encourage you to worship with us throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons. On Sunday, December 24, we will have one service in the morning at 10 to celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent. (NOTE: There will NOT be Saturday worship on December 23.) Then, we will celebrate Christmas Eve with three worship services at 4:30, 9, and 11pm. On Christmas Day, we will have one service at 10am.
You can find additional details about all these activities in this issue of The Communicator and on our website.
Have a blessed and peaceful Advent as you watch and wait for the coming of our Lord.
We spent most of our recent western vacation hiking in National Parks. During those hikes, I found myself remembering a newsletter column I had written for the congregation where I previously served after a summer vacation in Acadia National Park in Maine. Back then, my younger children were the ones who had trouble keeping up on the hikes, but this summer I was the one often lagging behind! My thoughts then still seem relevant as we begin another program year and embark on our Vision 2020 journey.
Here’s what I said back in 2008: As we trekked up and down mountains and took in the beautiful scenery, I spent some time reflecting on church and the nature of Christian community. The more I thought about it, I realized that our journeying together as a family through Acadia was a lot like the ways we journey together as a church community. So, I offer some reflections from our travels. Perhaps you will recognize these experiences from your own family vacations and ponder how they might apply to our life together as a congregation.
- No pain, no gain.
- Sometimes before you can move forward, you need to stop and look back and see how far you’ve come.
- Not everyone travels at the same pace.
- Sometimes you need to slow down and wait for those who’ve fallen behind.
- Prodding and harassment are not the best methods for getting the reluctant to move forward. Patience is better.
- There are great views all the way along, not just at the mountaintop.
- If you don’t periodically stop and check the map, you’ll lose your direction.
- Sometimes you end up where you’re supposed to be, even though you didn’t go the way you intended.
- Don’t stop the momentum when you’re heading uphill.
- Periodic nourishment makes for happier campers.
- Overcoming adversity is good for building community.
We have already begun our new program year here at Christus Victor with our Kickoff Sunday on August 20. There is lots of energy and excitement as we begin a wide variety of educational programs, musical opportunities, fellowship events, and service projects. While this is wonderful, some of us may be overwhelmed by changes and all that is going on, or simply wonder if we are trying to go in too many directions at once.
At the same time, however, we are also beginning another round of long term planning and visioning with our Vision 2020 Team leading the way. In the weeks to come, you may hear more about this and about opportunities to share your thoughts about where God is calling Christus Victor.
As we do move forward, let us remember that we do so together as a community of followers of Jesus, committed to sharing the good news of the gospel and Making Christ Known.