Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 10 Books of 2011

In no particular order:

1. The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

2. The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley

3. An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor

4. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

5. How (Not) to Speak of God by Peter Rollins

6. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

7. A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren

8. Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrar

9. Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh

10. No Man is an Island by Thomas Merton

Sunday, December 18, 2011

First Week as Pastor Lydia

Hi! I'd like to briefly share how my first week as a "real" pastor went. I began on Tuesday after Bible study (man, that was awesome to go and be able to say I've been called!). I attended a huge lunch with WHAM (Windsor/Hightstown Area Ministerium) and met a bunch of local pastors there. After that Jim and I had one of our interesting 'Let's figure out what the heck we are doing' conversations (we've had a couple over the course of the week) and then went to visit a couple, one of whom has had a string of bad health. Confirmation for the 9th graders was also that night - they are reading through The Lutheran Handbook, which is pretty cool. On Wednesday I went to the monthly cluster breakfast for the first time as a called pastor, then later attended my first ever council meeting at St. Paul, which of course went late. They were talking about two important things though - budget and how to celebrate their upcoming 75th anniversary. On Thursday I met all the choirs - from the little kids to the bigger kids to the adults - and hung out with the youth group as they painted backdrops for the Christmas play. On Friday Beau and I attended the choir Christmas party, at the choir director's house. She has only been at St. Paul for about three months now, so I am not the only newbie! She and her husband are from England, and have a splendid accent!

Today I assisted in worship and only forgot one or two things. :) Then I was back for the Christmas play with the kids and youth, which was adorable. I was a bit worried when I heard that the director had gotten the play free from the internet, but it was actually not bad, except for the fact that there was a pig among the talking animals. Somebody didn't do their Jewish sensitivity research. :)

Christmas Eve is on Saturday!! I will be there for both services that day, and will be preaching on Sunday, Christmas day!!

Jim and I are getting along well, as well as any two people who really have only gotten to know each other for the equivalent of a week and a half. But it bodes well that I get his sense of humor and think his jokes are funny (it was kind of weird that I was the only one laughing at them during confirmation that one day, but whatever). I also have figured out his biggest pet peeve and will avoid it like the plague - cell phones going off in public places, especially worship. He's already learned about me that I am good at hiding my introverted-ness. I took it as a compliment when he told me he didn't believe that I am an "I". I told him it helps to be married to an extrovert. :)

So far the kitties have not knocked down the tree. Just nibbled on a few ornaments.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My call sermon

Sunday, December 11th – Third Sunday of Advent
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen. 

Do you remember that game from a while ago, called “Guess Who?” There was a game board of faces to choose from, and the point was to guess who your partner was before they guessed who you were. You’re supposed to ask questions like “Do they have blue eyes?” or “Does he have red hair,” and by process of elimination you would come to the conclusion that your opponent was Fred, the blond-haired man with a beard, and then you would win the game.

Imagine for a moment that the first century religious leaders are playing this game, only in reverse. Before them is this character, John the Baptist, who was preaching in the desert, baptizing people, and from last week’s Gospel text we heard was wearing camel’s hair and ate bugs and honey. Now, they are trying to figure out who in the world this guy could be. So they send some priests and Levites to do a little reconnaissance.  They bombard him with questions – 

“Are you the Messiah?” – “No,” John replies.
“Are you Elijiah, who is supposed to return?” – “Nope,” he says.
“Are you the prophet?” - “No again.”
“Are you Moses? Elvis? An alien from outer space? Throw us a bone here! Who ARE you, then?”

John answered them in a way they didn’t expect: “I am the voice of the one crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord.” And later he proclaims, “Among you stand one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me.”

Who is John? John is a baptizer, a testifier, a witness, a voice, all pointing to the one who is coming after him. He came tell us about the light who was coming into the world. We, at least, know who he is talking about. John is pointing us to Jesus. Not Jesus the baby whose birth we will be celebrating in a few weeks, but Jesus the man, Jesus the grown up, at the very beginning of his three years of earthly ministry. 

And what an incredible ministry it was – Jesus fed people and healed people and taught people about who God really is – a God of love and compassion who is desperate to have a relationship with his people. People’s lives were transformed – mourning became joy, sorrow became gladness, the oppressed were made free, and the suffering healed in body, mind, and spirit.
And for all that, we know how the Powers-That-Be reacted to Jesus message of love and freedom. They killed him for his trouble, with a horrific death on an instrument of torture, the cross. 

While Jesus’ ministry and crucifixion has not yet taken place in John the Baptist’s timeline, it has already occurred for us. We have the privilege of knowing the end of the story, and it is a good one. In his resurrection, Jesus has conquered death in the most final way possible, by overcoming death with the power of life. Death has no power over us anymore – it has no sting, it has no victory, and it cannot make us afraid anymore. 

But we all know that we still live in a world where death very much holds sway. Even though we have dressed up our homes with festive lights and garlands, the chill of this fear still nips at our heels. No amount of Christmas trees or grandma’s special casserole can mask the fact that there are still scary things going on in the world – wars and earthquakes and famine and unrest. And no amount of wrapping paper or holiday music can cover up our worries about providing our families with the Christmas they deserve. 

Advent is half over; with the Christmas chaos is in full swing. I think more than a few of us are wondering if we are going to make it through this year with our sanity intact. The stresses of the holiday season can turn us into stressed and over-caffeinated versions of our former selves, and the peace and joy of Jesus coming into the world has been lost under all the Toys-R-Us ads.

Just in time, then John has come onto the scene, for not one, but two weeks of preparing our hearts and minds for the coming of Jesus, who we call the Prince of peace. Paul too, in our second reading, points us to the God of peace and joy, and invites us into a life in Christ who has come, is coming now, and will come again. He wrote to the congregation of Christians in Thessalonica: 

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.” 

Let me tell you what Paul is NOT saying here. He is not saying “look happy, pretend nothing is wrong, and never complain no matter what and everything will be fine.” That is the message you see on commercial and on advertisements. Instead, Paul is inviting his readers, including us, into a life of rejoicing. You have heard it said, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Now I say to you, Jesus is the reason for joy in ALL seasons of your life. For Paul went on to write:

“May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.”

Who are we, as the people of God gathered here today to worship? Paul is saying here that we are a people who rejoice, because God has given us a REASON to rejoice. Why should we rejoice in our God? Because the one who has called us here is faithful, continually making us holy and whole. 

God had led you, this congregation, here to this place and this time. This journey leading us here today has not been an easy one, but you have taken the time to discern and test where this path is leading you, and I can see that the working of the Holy Spirit is not going unnoticed. God has given you many gifts, and you have demonstrated your trust by looking forward, into the amazing future that God has planned, and not giving in to fear and uncertainty. 

I too believe that God has been faithful to me, over and over again, in the journey that has brought me to this time and this place. It has not always been smooth going, but God has proven to me, over and over again, that great things happen to those who trust. In most cases it’s only AFTER the fact that I can really tell that God has been at work. But in ALL cases, God has always gone beyond my hopes and expectations. God provided valuable experiences and supportive people I may not have encountered had everything gone according to “plan.” 

THAT’S why we rejoice and pray and giving thanks in all circumstances. Because God is faithful to us here and now, in the blooming of every present moment. We don’t understand everything that happens to us all the time, or even most of the time; but the good news is that God is working with us and in us, to guide us down this precious and precarious path called life.  

And while we wait for Jesus to show himself in our everyday lives, trust that he is there with you, and find comfort and joy in that. He is here with you even when that Christmas moment doesn’t feel as magical as you had hoped. He is here with you when you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, or even a bit scrouge-ish. You may meet him unexpectedly in the kindness of a stranger, or in the understanding hug of a neighbor or friend, or even in the contented gurgling of a baby. 

Rejoicing in God as a way of life is not about changing our attitude to make our lives better or easier. It’s not something you can teach yourself by researching in the self-help section. It is a gift. It is an invitation to live as who we are – people who rejoice. 

You individually are more than just your occupation or your age or your marital status. You are a child of God: so rejoice and take comfort in that. And you as a community, as the congregation of St. Paul Lutheran Church, are more than just a group of people gathering in a beautiful worship space on a particular day of the week. You are a people of joy, a people who rejoice, for the one who has called you here is faithful, and he will do all which he has promised, and much, much more. Amen.  

Monday, December 12, 2011

"This will be a day long remembered..."

... as Darth Vader once said. And the reality of it is still sinking in. But it's just as true as it was yesterday - I have been called as associate pastor at St. Paul Lutheran Church in East Windsor, NJ! Here is the website if you want to check it out: St. Paul Lutheran Church. I am their first ever associate pastor, and I will be there only part-time, so there are a lot of things to figure out up front! The pastor who is there, Jim, has been just wonderful - he was just as excited as I was that this day was coming. He had been there a long time and plans on being there for a good while longer, which is a testament to the good people at this place, who have already been wonderfully welcoming.

After preaching and helping to lead worship at two services with a tour of the Sunday school classrooms in between, the congregational meeting started and I answered a few on-the-spot questions from the congregation and then they kicked me and Beau out for the vote. It was nearly unanimous, and when I walked back into the sanctuary, they all got to their feet and applauded. I was so... thrilled, beyond belief! I am starting this week, and will be part-part time until January. The tentative date for my ordination and installation, which will be a St. Paul, is Sunday January 22, but that is still sort of tentative.

This church has a GORGEOUS worship space. And I'll have my own office come January, after they move some stuff out of an existing storage room (don't worry, it has a window). It'll be snug, but in a cozy sort of way. This is a pic I found on the interwebs of someone's ordination, but it give you an idea about the sanctuary...

Monday, December 5, 2011

My own personal Advent...

... is nearly at its end, if all continues to go as well as it has. I can't be more specific, as usual, but know that the waiting is nearly over! I sometimes feel a little bad about keeping people in the dark, especially when they ask me things like - "any bites yet?" or "have you heard anything?" The answer is yes I have, but no, I can't tell you more! I am very thankful for all the support I've gotten from friends and family during the course of this process, and especially to my long-suffering husband. :)

I have also finished my novel for NaNoWriMo! It is the first time ever that I have ever finished a novel, or anything really longer than a short story. From the fourth grade I wanted to be a writer, and dreamed of what kind of book I would write. And now I know that I CAN DO IT!!! And then my wonderful husband surprised me by having a printed copy bound at Staples to make it look like a "real" book! He picked out a cover picture and everything! Isn't it beautiful?!?! This is a real place, from Tao Fong Shan in Hong Kong, where the book is based and where Beau and I went for a week in J-Term.

The end of NaNoWriMo came just in time, for now I have a sermon to work on, the most important sermon yet in my entire life so far!! No pressure.

This weekend we got our first ever real Christmas tree from a place just down the road from us. SO FAR the cats have been merely curious, but not interested in climbing it... yet. They just seem to think that it's fun to drink from the base instead of their own bowl. And last night we went to the annual Christmas/Advent gathering of Lutheran pastor, professors, and students from around the Princeton area. I am continually amazed by how many people we all know mutually - it is indeed a small Lutheran world, especially out here in the Lutheran Diaspora (this is actually what we call ourselves out here!).

Ok, people, enough chit-chat. I actually have stuff to do. :)

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Have you ever noticed that you think of everything in terms of near and far, compared to where you're at, or where you're from Like a GPS, I have realized that I have sense of "home" meaning where I am located compared to the rest of country, even the rest of the world. I have to come to realize that mine has not yet "reset" or "updated" to coordinate to where we have moved too. My internal GPS is still set on Minnesota, or the Midwest in general - I still hear every location on the news in terms of that setting. So I have often lately been surprised by thoughts like, "Penn State... oh wait, that's the next state over! We were in Pennsylvania yesterday!" and "Occupy Wall Street? Oh, yeah., that is just a hour train ride away!" or even "Where did this humidity suddenly come from? Oh, the Ocean, duh!" I have to consciously remember that I am no longer in the middle of the country, but off to one side of it. It's like my "north pole" is no longer where it used to be. Isn't that fascinating? At least I think so.

Speaking of location, I am now one step closer in my call process - things are continuing to go very well, but that's all I can say. I know, the suspense is murder, for the both of us. :)

Which is better, high or low? Both kitties prefer high, which poses a problem...