Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Letter From A Mother To The Summer Staff

My daughter is going to going off to sleep away camp (Camp Calumet Lutheran in Ossipee, NH) for the first time tomorrow. My wife was asked to write a letter to the staff. She wrote this wonderful and moving letter I had to share it.

Like all of you, I have a Calumet story.  My story may have started a wee bit before your time, when I learned to walk here at Calumet as a family camper – circa 1978.  I loved family camping each summer with my church family and dreamed of when I could (like my big sister) have my turn at resident camp.  I kicked it off in girls cabin one at the age eight and was an eight year camper leading up to being a CIT, JC, SC, Waterfront Director/Swimming Department Head and finally Program Director.  That last summer I started dating my husband (he was the CIT trainer).   We were married two years later.  We have returned as family campers every summer since, even when that meant traveling from New York for our annual camping trip with our life long friends and family who are fellow Calumet alumni.  Well, that brings us to today, I have two kids and I have a new chapter to add to my Calumet story.  Tomorrow I am the mom dropping off my eight year old daughter for her first time at resident camp.  I will be on the receiving end of your smile, your firm hand shake and your assurance that it will be the “Best summer ever!”

We have been planning for this day for a long time.  We have been saving money, filling out paper work, buying the right sandals, labeling clothes with a Sharpie, the list goes on and on.  For at least eight weeks my daughter has been making her own plans.  I had to start limiting her to three camp questions a night, which are all routed in nervous excitement.  Tonight she asked, “What if I don’t make a friend?”  But some nights she asks more logistical questions like “Where will I put my wet bathing suit?” She has even fallen asleep while making her packing check lists in her journal.  Reality is hitting for me.  I am leaving my first baby with you for a week.  I have never gone a day without talking to her, and never more than 2 or 3 days without seeing her.  Ever.  I bet I am not alone either.  Lots of moms and dads are going through the same thing, and it feels like a really huge milestone.  I have been at Calumet my whole life.  It has shaped me into who I am and still, STILL I am nervous to leave my daughter.  My bet is I am not the only one nervous.  I bet you are nervous and I know she is excited, but is also nervous.

A few years back, my son had a preschool teacher who wanted to speak to me one day about his difficulty getting along with the other kids.  I was upset and embarrassed as I went to meet with her.  That day she said to me, “We all have something we are working on, and this is just his thing.”  She was right.  Each one of us has “something” we are working on.  For some kids its how to interact with a peer when they are nervous, for some kids it’s that they are afraid of fish in the lake. For some of us it is being patient enough to wait for the last kid out of the cabin when the bell already rang for breakfast without loosing our cool.  No counselor is perfect, no camper is perfect and no parent is perfect.  We all have something we are working on and we get to be teachers to each other along the way. 

I am sure you have heard the cliché “It takes a village to raise a child”.  Here’s the thing about clichés, there is usually some truth in them.  I would love to keep my daughter home with me all summer.  We could busy our days with crafts, reading, making fairy house, swimming, ice cream and baking and I could teach her all kinds of things and she would be fine.  BUT I would be kidding myself.  There comes a point when kids have to take the tools we have given them and try them out.  Away from their parents.  My daughter hears me tell her every day, “You can do it!”, “Just be yourself!”, “Just try it!” and “Do your best!”  but the truth is, until she believes it on her own they are just my words.  It is in the trying, the failing and the succeeding that she will know those words.  That is called self esteem, self respect, and self confidence.  If you knew it or not- this village includes you.  You are part of this village raising my daughter.  And it’s your turn. 

I am nervous, you may be and so is she, but it is time.  And we all have an amazing opportunity to learn and grow.  I have faith and it is deep and strong because it was nurtured right where you are.  Calumet is a powerful gift.  This week when I am missing my daughter, my eight year old who I have spoken to, hugged, kissed every day of her life….I will be okay because I will cling to knowing she is getting a gift and you are delivering it.  Thank you for loving each child, for teaching them, encouraging them when they say “I can’t”, for slowing down, bending down, looking them in the eye and telling them it is okay and tucking them in with a hug, a story, a prayer and the assurance that they are loved. 

We are nervous- that is because this is really big.  I tell my kids all the time, “It is ok to be nervous, as long as the nervousness doesn’t stop you from doing something.” So onward we will go.  You are in a very powerful position and I know that you are about to learn as much as my daughter will.  We all have something we are working on. Your lessons will be different but each child will teach you something this summer, they are unique, they have questions, they have faith, and you will learn through the listening and the teaching.  I know this because it happened to me. 

Dear God,
Thank you for summer, a time to try new things.  Watch over parents as they travel to Calumet with their most precious cargo.  Be with the staff and guide their actions and words.  Guide and comfort parents with the reassurance that their children will learn Your love by living in the Calumet community; a unique place where everyone is accepted and feels Your love in a tangible way that they haven’t ever felt before.  Lord, we are all a little bit nervous, fill us with you big, big love.  Amen

I will keep praying for you and praying that it really IS the Best summer Calumet has ever had!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sin Boldly!!!

I don’t know if you know this but you are not in a church this morning.
According to Albert Mohler the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary this week in his pod cast said that the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America our congregation is a part of it.) was not a church.
In response to the ELCA calling our first openly gay Bishop in California Mohler said, “It is by this act and by many prior acts distancing itself by light years from the actual faith and conviction of Martin Luther,”
Mohler said in a Monday podcast. The ELCA has “demonstrated itself to be neither Evangelical nor Lutheran and, as G.K. Chesterton might say, not a church either. That just leaves them in America.”
In Mohler’s eyes we are sinners, not fit to be called Christians.
This morning I would say that Mohler is right.
We are sinners.
I know that I am sinner.
I make no bones about it.
I don’t deny that I don’t always do the will of God.
I don’t deny that I don’t always have all the answers.
I don’t deny that at times I question and wrestle with historical views of doctrine and practice of the Church.
I admit freely that I embrace gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, transgenders.
I admit that I am friends with and pray with people of other faiths.
I admit that I have told dirty jokes in order to make non-religious people feel more comfortable around a pastor.
I admit that I swear.
These are just the things that I do outwardly.
What about what happens in my head and heart.
I haven’t even touched on my selfish nature, my insistence on my way.
I could go on and on, but the point is that I am a sinner through and through.

But it is sinners that Jesus comes for.
“I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
It is the sinner that Jesus eats and drinks with.
It is why his opponents called him a “drunkard and glutton”.
Sinners are Jesus friends.
This woman sinner knows better than the Pharisee that Jesus is her last resort.
For this she risks public humiliation to come and wash Jesus’ feet with her tears.
Jesus knows that those who sin know of their need for forgiveness.
Know of their need for love.
Jesus is friends with sinners.
Jesus is here for sinners.
In fact, if you are not sinner than I am not sure you even need Jesus.

As for straying from the teachings of Martin Luther, I think that we are OK here.
I don’t know what Luther would have said to our particular post modern social issues.
And I don’t think that Albert Mohler could say what Luther would have thought either.
But what I do know is the gift that Martin Luther gave to the Church was the idea that we are saved not by our actions, not by being “good Christians”, but only through the grace and love of God.
Luther believed deeply that we cannot on our own live up to the standards of God’s law, and so we need Jesus to save us.
The only way one can get there is to know of our own sin.
Luther once said that we should “sin boldly.”
Luther meant that none of us is free from sin without faith in Christ.
This world is filled with sin and we cannot escape it even if we wanted to.
Writing to Philip Melanchthon Luther wrote, “If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin.
God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners.
Be a sinner and sin boldly,  but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world.”
So I am happy to be part of a church that is full of sinners.
I am happy to be part of a church that “sins boldly”.
I am even happier to be part of a church that believes in God’s grace even more boldly.

I accept Mohler’s idea that the ELCA is a sinful church.
Because it is only a sinful church that can be saved.
If you are perfect you have no need for Jesus.

Jesus knows this and he tells his guest that only those who know of their sin have love in their hearts.
The problem with the law is not only that we demand that God act in our ways, but we come to think of ourselves as superior to others.
That we are better, because we have lived up to the standards of God while others have failed.
This is always the problem with applying the law to Christian morals.
The Christian moral is simple it is only about love.
Everything else takes a back seat to love.
Jesus acts towards sinners in love, he goes out of his way to break man made laws in order to show love.
How did Christians become Pharisees?

It should be said that we are not alone in Mohler’s attacks.
The Presbyterians are also in trouble, and don’t measure up to Mohler’s standards of a good Christian.
Mohler went on to attack the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the Louisville-based Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), for his statement in the wake of historic losses in the denomination’s membership in 2012.
Parsons called for the denomination to make greater efforts to connect with the growing population of religiously unaffiliated but spiritually minded Americans. Mohler said:
“Here you have in the face of such incredible membership losses and unprecedented loss of congregations the stated clerk is saying what the church needs to do is to connect with people whose spirituality, whatever that is, isn’t even so significant that they’re members of any church or even have the slightest religious affiliation.
In other words, he appears to be calling for his denomination to define its theology down so far that the religiously unaffiliated feel absolutely at home.”
Last week was our annual synod assembly for New England.
Part of what we did together was to listen to seven people who have no religious affiliation.
I am a sinner and believe that we need to listen to the voices of those who are not coming to church.
We need to understand why and how.
We need to see ourselves through their eyes, because Jesus did not come for the religious, but the non religious.
He did not come for people that had it all together.
He came for this woman.
This lost woman.
This woman at his feet crying tears for her sins.
That is what it means to be a Lutheran.
It means that we are not about legalism, we are about grace.
I am proud to be the pastor of such a church, I am proud to be a member of such a church.
If that is not considered a church by some people’s definition that is fine with me, because I would rather not be a member of church instead be a forgiven sinner of Jesus Christ.
If Church membership is just about ascribing to one set of beliefs that were manmade back in the 14th century then I am not worried about being part of that.
But if being part of the Jesus movement is about seeing our need for God’s grace given in Jesus Christ then I am happy to be part of it.

May all of you sin boldly but believe in God’s grace even more boldly!

Monday, June 3, 2013

At The Table

Where does faith come from?
For me it started when I was a kid.
On family nights around the dinner table we would finish eating and then we read from this book.
The book contained different lessons about faith.
At the end of each story there were questions that we had to answer.
Some nights after dinner we would stop eating and play a game called aggravation.
It was there around that table playing this game and reading these stories I learned about God’s love, about Jesus, about playing by the rules.
I learned at that table to thank God for our daily bread.
I can still here my father saying, “We are lucky most people don’t have a job.”
I learned at that table to cry and laugh.
I learned to forgive.
It is often in our families that we first learn about faith.
We learn it from grandparents who pass it down from hard fought times.
Parents who learned to trust God in the most difficult of times.
It is through the pain of experience that we learn faith.
Most important it is through the Holy Spirit.
It is through a force that is so much bigger than any of us.
It is beyond us.
In this way we can never really understand faith.

This morning’s Gospel is a good example.
We have a centurion who has great faith.
Even Jesus seems surprised by this faith.
“When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him.”
I have told you my story of faith, but I have heard many others that are nothing like it.
I have heard stories of people who never grew up in a religious household who still believe in God.
That is the story of this centurion.
He didn’t learn his faith from going to synagogue.
Yes…he helped build it.
Yes…he was respected by the religious people in his town, but he wasn’t a parishioner.
He didn’t attend Hebrew school.
He didn’t recite the Ten Commandments.
But he knows something about this Jesus person that all those religious folks miss.
This spiritual but not religious centurion has faith.
This is the Holy Spirit at work.
It gives us hope in our day.
When less and less people are going to church we can be sure that God is still at work.
That there are conversations happening at dinner tables where people are sharing and learning about faith.
That there are people we are going to meet who will surprise us with their faith.
There will be people who we don’t expect who will come to faith without ever stepping foot in a church.

It would seem that this might demean the importance of what we are doing here.
I disagree.
For us to come here every week is not for us to receive faith.
It is to be reminded together of the importance of the faith already given.
To be reminded of the faith that the Holy Spirit has already poured into us.
To remember together the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The faith that is present every night around our dinner tables.

Today this is what Sam, Madeline, Ava, Elijah, and Karl are being welcomed to.
These young people already have faith.
They express that faith in different ways then you and me, but they have a faith.
They know Jesus, they believe in Jesus, the love Jesus.
I am sure that around their dinner tables faith is being taught in overt ways, but also in ways that we don’t fully recognize or understand.
Around our tables in our homes God is present, God is working.
When we come home and share our days, the good things that happen and the bad we are sharing love.
We are giving each other encouragement, challenging one another, and uplifting each other.
In those moments God is present, and faith is taught.
Hard questions are asked and answered around our tables.
How can we make it through this day?
How can I be myself?
We can do it because we believe God’s word that God loves and cares about us.

There was a woman who I met once.
Her parents never went to Church.
They never talked about God or religion.
One day a pastor moved next door to her.
She told her parents that she wanted to go to Church.
Her parents arranged it so she could go with the pastor on Sunday mornings.
When I met her she was on fire for telling others about God.
She was a great evangelist.
God was at work in her life that whole time.

I know that there are stories in our own congregation like this one.
I know there are people who never thought they would be here this morning sitting in a pew singing songs about Jesus.
But the Holy Spirit is funny that way.
It is surprising.
It shows up all the time.

What I want our young people to know this morning is that God is at the table.
God is at the tables in our homes.
God is there as we eat food created by God.
God is there as we grow.
God is most certainly here at this table.
God is here for us every week.
As we come to this table with our joys and sorrows.
God is here as we come with our sin.
God is here as we come not perfect, but on our knees hands out begging for grace.
Jesus has promised to meet us here in whatever state we find our lives.
I hope for all of us, but especially these five young people, that this will be the place we come to with our whole unvarnished selves.
I hope for them faith.
Faith like that of the centurion, who trust that Jesus only needs to say the words and it is done.
That they come here to this table to be loved here and sent here to do God’s work in the world.

Today I would like to end with a poem by the poet Joy Harjo called, “Perhaps the World Ends Here.”
The world begins at the kitchen table.
No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table.
So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens and dogs away from it.
Babies teeth at the corners.
They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human.
We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children.
They with us at our poor failing-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table.
It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror.
A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow.
We pray of suffering and remorse.
We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

Come now to this table that God has prepared for us.
Come as you are.
Frail and strong, happy and sad, sinner and saint, rich and poor, with faith and without.
Come for the table is ready let us eat every last sweet bite. Amen