The Church in Waiting

What happened between the Ascension and Pentecost?

If you read Acts 1-2, apparently not much. At a recent leadership event I attended, my friend and colleague Pastor Rob Myallis of Zion’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jonestown, PA put it this way:

“The disciples had followed Jesus for years, thinking he was the Messiah. They saw Jesus perform miracles, heal the sick and teach about his kingdom.  Then they saw him arrested and executed, as they ran away afraid. Jesus rose from the dead and came to them, had them touch him, as he blessed them and ate with them. Then it was time for him to go and Jesus promised them that the power of the Holy Spirit will come upon them and they will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.  But what was the first thing they did? They filled a vacant spot on a committee. How is that for boldness?”

That sounds like something the church would do, right? We church folk do love our committees. It is how we reassure ourselves that we can do the work set before us.

They sat in the silence.

Acts 1:3 tells us that the Ascension took place forty days after Easter. Pentecost (fifty days) was ten days later. What did the disciples do for ten days? I would like to think that as they waited for the promised Spirit to come the disciples were praying and reading scripture, catching up on the latest Pew research data, doing a demographic study of their neighborhood, and crafting a clear and achievable strategic plan. Maybe they were preparing sermons or learning the skills of community organizing and asset mapping. Perhaps they were busy out in the city talking with people, building up their social networks, seeking potential partners, and taking in the latest “best practices” of other faith communities and non-profit groups. They might have even canvassed local businesses, entrepreneurs and proven marketing techniques for ideas. They certainly could have been doing lots of things. All we know is they filled Judas’ missing spot on the committee of apostles. That way they knew they could do the work.

There is probably good reason they sat in silence. Fear is most likely that reason. Fear causes us to stop, hide, hold back, and refrain from following through on what we are supposed to do. No matter how reassuring the promise sounds, we are afraid the promise is too good to be true. Fear gets the better of us. Fear kept them talking as a committee rather than being the witnesses they were called to be. Fear kept the church inside around a conference table rather than on the streets engaged in the local community. Yet I’m sure they talked about what they were supposed to do. Maybe they planned. Maybe they thought about the logistics. Maybe they reminded one another of what Jesus told them and in the silence of ten days remained faithful.

Then the Spirit came and blew locked doors wide open.

Here we are twenty-one centuries later, and the church in many cases still sits behind our doors. We sit at our own tables, doing our ministry together. At times we might be a little fearful about going outside but we are working on it. We are trying to do the things I hoped the disciples were doing all those years ago: praying, reading scripture, catching up on the data, crafting strategic plans, engaging in community organizing, growing social networks, seeking partners, learning “best practices” and canvasing the business world for ideas.  We try to fill our committees, even if sometimes we think that committees are the goal not the means to achieve them. I am grateful the church continues to work hard and remain faithful, knowing our only hope is to rest in God’s mercy and grace.

It is time for us to wait on the Spirit again.

When the Spirit comes the doors will blow open and we will never be the same. The disciples experienced tongues of fire and the ability to communicate with the world around them once the Spirit came. Should we expect anything less?

We are the church in waiting. We are the church of now but not yet. We are the church that hopes for the promise as we do our work silently in the meantime.

What are we waiting for?

Keep praying, “Come Holy Spirit. Come.”

PGS

___

‘So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us- one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.’ So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles. When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 1:21-2:4)

 

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“There is no ‘up'” sermon on Luke 24:44-53 & Acts 1:1-11

0 st.paul.275/17/2015
Easter 7 / Ascension
Sermon on Luke 24:44-53                        & Acts 11:1-11
“There is no ‘up'”

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

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Pew Forum, Religious Decline and Asking Questions (or Learning Mission from our Young People, Part 2)

A recent Pew Forum study revealed a decrease of 3.4% in participation by (roughly 5 Million) adults in Mainline Protestant congregations from 2007-2014, while during the same period an 6.7% increase in the unaffiliated from 16.1% to 22.8% of the population. We are now close enough to say that roughly 1 in 4 American adults are not connected to a faith community. As for worship attendance, a recent article in the Hartford Courant reported that in Connecticut (the state where I live) 1 in 4 participate in the life of a congregation in a given week. (Stephen Busemeyer and Kelly Glista, “How Often Do we Go to Church? In New England, Not That Much.” Hartford Courant, February 22, 2015. Online Available: http://www.courant.com/data-desk/hc-church-attendance-rates-low-in-new-england-20150219-htmlstory.html.)

What does this mean for our congregations? 

Rather than wallowing in self-pity over the downfall of our influence in society, it is time to reassess our sense of mission. Let’s discern – how do we connect people to God’s activity already at work in the communities in which our churches are placed? I believe that being missional (or joining God’s mission) means we intentionally interact with our neighbors and work alongside them for the greater good, seek to understand our shifting contexts and our stake in them, and redirecting the trajectories of our ministries outward rather than inward, as we invite people to put their faith into action.

Will this translate to new members?

Who knows? Maybe that is the wrong question in the center of all this change.  The era of church attraction: assuming that people are looking for a church and all we have to do is provide the right combination of activities, buildings and staff members is coming to a close. Do we still need to think about what we do internally to support our people, the space to do it, and what hospitality we provide so that people do feel welcomed and connected? Absolutely. But we need a bigger vision. I agree with our New England Synod Bishop Jim Hazelwood, who reminds us that the future of congregations is to be located in their work with the community. It is not that being a Lutheran congregation in Old Saybrook, CT is a good thing, bad thing, or neutral thing. People know St. Paul because of our LEAP preschool, the Homework Club, our participation in the Shoreline Soup Kitchen, hosting a number of 12 step programs, the Old Saybrook Garden Club and our Memorial Garden, choirs, our work with the regional Crop Walk, giving away prayer shawls and holding an annual Christmas Fair. Our job is to keep looking for ways to connect to neighbors. Get the picture?

Former Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America H. George Anderson once reflected, “It is a good time to be the church.” I agree! We have both the calling and opportunity to rethink so many of our assumptions as we renew our ministry in a changing world around us.

I grew up in a Christian world. While not all of my family members were church goers, when I was a kid, all of my friends went to church. Most of my neighborhood belonged to a couple of the churches in town, and while more activities for families and children were growing and emerging outside of the church, the culture at the time reinforced the church culture that supported it. I think of my own children and most of their friends are not church people at all. Many of our churches operate under the assumption that people will seek and come to us, when the stakes have never been higher to seek them out and engage them where they are.  I wonder what world we are preparing our people to enter.  I wonder what world we think we are operating in and preparing any of our people to face in their daily lives. Pew’s findings do not frighten or surprise me at all. I think the results Pew has discovered reflect the reality that we in religious institutions have not always done a good job of connecting the dots with people as to why what we do in our faith communities matters, why they as people of faith matter, and why what we do together matters for the sake of the world. In a world that is increasingly secular, skeptical of institutions and hurting more than ever, we have work to do.

A previous blog post outlined a conversation I had with some youth while on retreat about the challenges of the world today and how our faith intersects them. (Geoff Sinibaldo, “Learning Mission from our Young People.” Online Available: https://sinibaldo.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/learning-mission-from-our-young-people).  After the retreat, I decided to ask our Sunday adult forum the same questions I asked our youth the week prior. I included the youth in the conversation, breaking the large group of adults into four groups with at least one youth per group. Just like I did in my former post, I would like to share the findings from that conversation.

Here are those questions and responses:

  1. If Jesus came back today, what challenges would he find in the world?
  • Terrorism
  • Poverty
  • Apathy
  • Stubbornness
  • Division
  • Exploitation of people and resources
  • Immorality
  • Way the world works
  • Illness
  • Communication without seeing results or reactions
  • Individual mindset
  • Discontent
  • Materialistic
  • Technology
  • Isolation
  • Not Personal in the present
  1. Who do you think Jesus would look for to help?
  • Religious leaders of all types
  • Those not in power
  • Those who accept him
  • Those who understand how the modern day works
  • Outside the box thinkers
  • Peaceful people
  • Those who believe in cause
  • Maybe “not” Americans
  • Those willing to help
  • Those who are charismatic and/or persuasive
  • Social Media
  • Common people
  • Women
  • Children
  • Each of us
  • Everyone
  • Astronauts (to get big picture/ new perspective)
  1. Who did Jesus ask to help?
  • Each of us
  • Everyone
  • Gatherers
  • Different types of people
  • People who need redemption or hope
  • Fisherman
  • Those on the side – forgotten
  • Outcasts
  • Women
  • Children
  • Sinners
  • Ordinary people who were not “awesome”
  • Seekers
  • Non-religious people
  • God!
  1. If you were the last Christian, what would you do?
  • Think as if I was the first Christian – teach, serve, find and invite others
  • Check-in with people
  • Lead by example
  • Build bridges to others (like Paul)
  • Be famous
  • Write a book
  • Write a screenplay
  • Write a blog
  • Use Social Media
  • Pray
  1. Why don’t you do those things?
  • Why do you assume I’m not doing those things? – We are!
  • Fear of rejection
  • Fear of confidence
  • Busy
  • Lazy
  • Less sense of urgency
  • Assume others are doing it
  • The stakes don’t seem as high when part of a wider network

A few thoughts:

1. The Pew Form Survey sampled 35,000 congregations. That sample represents a lot of people. I had two conversations; the first with 10 young people, the second with 18 adults and 5 young people.  Pew provides a macro perspective in order to see with greater clarity what is happening at the micro level. Both perspectives are helpful.  So please read the Pew Forum report. But do a little study on the congregational level too. I invite your to take the questions I’ve asked some of my folks and use them in your own context. Share what you learn.

2. My last question, “Why don’t you do those things?” is purposely slanted. One of my adult small groups called me out during the discussion, “Why do you assume we aren’t doing them?” My goal was to draw people into my own sense of urgency around the need to engage our people (particularly our young people) in renewed ways. Sometimes I think we lack the sense of urgency required to really reconsider what we are doing and why. I believe that sometimes our greatest challenge is not opposition or disinterest from people outside of the church, but apathy from within.

3. In the two conversations I had around my group of questions, both age groups were clear on what challenges we face in the world, and many of those ideas intersected. An enduring question I am left with is how (or even if) our churches help people actually engage those challenges we see in the world. Sometimes I think what our unstated goal in congregations is to retain people as long as we can, rather than help people actively put their faith to good work and send them out. Our faith matters. Your faith matters. Are we engaging your faith to help you engage your concerns?

I close with a quote from Rachel Held Evans. She recently wrote a book called Searching for Sunday (http://rachelheldevans.com/searching-for-sunday) about her journey of rediscovering her faith and connection to the church after she left the Evangelical tradition, took time off from the church and found her way into an Episcopal congregation. People have both praised or critiqued her for it. Personally I think we should let her journey be her own and speak for itself. Her story is descriptive but not necessarily prescriptive; an opportunity to listen and learn from someone who has been through some of the demographic changes we read in Pew on a personal level. I enjoy her insights.

She posted this on Facebook on Tuesday, May 12, 2015:

Rachel.Held.Ecans.05.12.2015.

These are important conversations we need to have: with each other in the church, between generations, and with our neighbors, family members and friends.

Are we ready to have them?

PGS

___

Read the Pew Forum Study here: http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/

Read more from Rachel Held Evans here: http://rachelheldevans.com/

Read the Hartford Courant Article:  Stephen Busemeyer and Kelly Glista, “How Often Do we Go to Church? In New England, Not That Much.” Hartford Courant, February 22, 2015. Online Available: http://www.courant.com/data-desk/hc-church-attendance-rates-low-in-new-england-20150219-htmlstory.html

 

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“What’s Your Story?” a sermon on John 15:12-17

cheeses5/10/2015
Easter 6
Sermon on John 15:12-17

“What’s your story?”

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

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Learning Mission from our Young People

 

calumet.2015.3.I have been considering this question:

How might we engage our young people in God’s mission?

So I thought…why not ask them?

At our confirmation retreat at Camp Calumet April 24-26, 2015, I did.

 

(Our St. Paul, Old Saybrook, CT confirmands combined with the confirmands from Bethany, Cromwell, CT during our learning sessions, giving us an opportunity for wider conversation. It was great to be with new friends! Thanks guys.)

Here are those questions and responses:

  1. If Jesus came back today, what challenges would he find in the world?
  • People not loving each other
  • Materialistic culture
  • Pop culture dominates
  • People’s priorities and values are selfish
  • Electronics hold more attention than “real” life
  • Religious wars
  • Ongoing poverty
  • People treated unfairly
  • Prejudice
  • Racism
  • Segregation
  • Disease
  • Not caring for the environment
  1. Who do you think Jesus would look for to help?
  • Leaders
  • Peacemakers
  • Justice seekers
  • Those who believe in the mission
  • Those willing to risk for the mission
  • Those who can teach others
  • Those who can negotiate
  • Those who are honest
  • Those with charisma
  • Those who can stay focused and on point
  • Those who don’t get distracted easily
  • Those who are knowledgeable
  • Those who want to learn more
  • Those who can care for others
  • Those who are non-violent
  • Those ready to commit time and effort
  1. Who did Jesus ask to help?
  • Us!
  • Sinners
  • Doubters
  • Betrayers
  • Deniers
  • Those who were sick
  • Those who were excluded
  • Those who had little or no power
  • Those who had no money
  • Fisherman
  • Tax collectors
  • Religious zealots
  • Women (in male dominated world)
  • Family
  • Friends
  • People that didn’t follow him
  • People that rejected him
  • People afraid of what he meant to their power and status
  1. If you were the last Christian, what would you do?
  • I don’t know (probably the most honest answer!)
  • Use media / social media / mass communication to spread message
  • Do small acts of kindness
  • Form a small group with friends or family
  • Run for office
  • Use multi-prong approach
  • Engage in public demonstrations
  • Help the sick
  • Find the vulnerable
  • Find the right audience
  • Find the right support
  • PRAY! PRAY! PRAY!
  1. Why don’t you do those things?
  • I’m scared
  • I’m not sure how
  • I’m too busy
  • I have other things going on
  • I think other people should do it
  • I forget
  • I need help

0 St.Paul.26

A few observations:

  1. Even though we were asked to draw a picture of our church community as an opening large group exercise (see the above image), in our conversations NO ONE mentioned the church, saving the church, the future of the church or getting more people to church. (READ THAT AGAIN SLOWLY.)
  2. The conversation centered on living our faith in the world, looking to our neighbors, and caring for the vulnerable.
  3. These young people have a great grasp on the world’s challenges and what we could do about them.
  4. These young people want to follow Jesus and are searching for good examples how.

A few questions:

  1. Youth – What are we missing? How can the adults in your life help?

2.   Adults – are we ready to Listen? Engage? Learn? Change? Meet our kids where they need us?

3. What new thing might God be showing us?

Maybe we can figure out how to faithfully follow Jesus together.

PGS

___

“In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk – better yet, run! – on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline – not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences. You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness. But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift.” (Ephesians 4:1-7 – The Message)

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“Abide in the Vine” sermon on John 15:1-11

5/03/2015
Easter 5
Sermon on John 15:1-11
“Abide in the Vine”

St. Paul Lutheran Church
Old Saybrook, CT

https://sinibaldo.wordpress.com/2015/04/27/sneakers-for-sarah-and-our-good-shepherd-a-sermon-by-pastor-keith-anderson-sneakersforsarah/

 

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What do Nepal and Baltimore have in common?

I can’t solve the challenges in either place with a sermon or a blog post. I wish I could.

Baltimore Sun 4/28/2015

Baltimore Sun 4/28/2015

I want to be a person connected to the things happening in our world – to those who are hurting by external forces like disasters that indiscriminately destroy lives and communities, and those who are on the receiving end of injustice and intentional inequality – whether that is by race, gender, economics, orientation or whatever.

 

Sometimes I think I’m not very good at peacemaking. I can’t pretend to know all the issues and back stories that go into human suffering – but I’m pretty clear that God calls us to help those in trouble and stand in solidarity with those on the fringes. I know that’s where we’re supposed to be, even when we are not sure what to do once we get there.

What produces riots that destroy property, community centers and target police?

I’ve read conflicting reports as to what “started” the riots in Baltimore.  I was taught as a child that police were on my side and protected my interests as a law-abiding citizen. Then again I’ve always lived in communities where opportunities were accessible and I was part of the majority culture. I’ve come to enjoy the police in my current town making sure that the kids are safe on their way to school during drop-off and pick-up. Our police department keeps officers on site at school all day. I appreciate their willingness to protect and serve. I try to wave and smile when I see them. I have met a few. But like all people there are those who abuse that power. In some communities it seems like the abuses are far-reaching to the point of absurd. People die and those deaths appear to be racially motivated. Economic uncertainty and unsafe living conditions turn desperate when those who are there to protect the innocent are perceived to be part of the problem. I don’t condone violence but I wonder if the riots and backlash against the police in Baltimore, Ferguson and other communities is that simple – the police are perceived as the enemy rather than allies there to help. It’s a scary thought.

How can we fix that?

When the majority group seems to walk away without consequences as people like you are dying, frustration grows and anger kindles. We have to do better keeping people safe as well as accountable. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in a speech called, “The Other America,” “A riot is the language of the unheard.” (Gross Pointe High School, March 14, 1968. Online Available: http://www.gphistorical.org/mlk/mlkspeech/) Those of us in the majority have to listen and dare I say even spend time with those on the margins, or we will remain insulated from their experience. Too easily people can become the “other” to be feared, rather than neighbors to care for and befriend. Many of us have much to learn.

Then there is Nepal.

What should we do when we see yet another country brought to its knees by tragedy?

It it may take years or decades for the people of Nepal to recover from this earthquake. Look at Haiti. It was a poor country with lots of issues before the earthquake hit a few years ago in 2010. Even with a lot of foreign investment, aid and volunteer work, there are still few opportunities for the local population to rebuild their lives as many still lack the basics of food, water and shelter. The situation remains desperate for many people.

Sometimes it is all too overwhelming. Hikers remain on Mount Everest amidst those close to them who lost their lives and cannot leave. The death toll in and around Kathmandu climbs closer to 5000 as the city sits in rubble. What can we possibly do half a world away? In the meantime real life is happening around us here with its many pressures, we see the riots in Baltimore and have the luxury of being able to turn the news off, especially when it gets too hard to watch any longer.

I can’t solve all the world’s problems alone, and neither can you. Sometimes I get so down about all the bad things happening in the world I’m not even sure where to start.

Do you ever feel that way?

Jesus taught us that if we want to find him in the world it will be among the poor, hungry, naked, sick and imprisoned (Matt 25:31-46). We would do well amid our busy lives to remember that church isn’t just one activity among many on our over-filled calendars or a place to feel good about ourselves because it meets our needs. Church is a lifestyle – a worldview – that seeks Jesus around us wherever we are and looks for ways to meet him together. We are more than a collection of sermons, statements and pronouncements. The community called “church”  seeks Jesus. Remember where he said we could find him? We are called to go there.

Here are three things we can do:

Get involved.

Remember that there are more people who care about others too – who are working on their behalf, who could use what you have to offer. Together we serve as Christ’s hands and feet in the world. Look for those opportunities, organizations, advocacy groups, and lend a hand or contribute some resources to the effort. ELCA Disaster Response (http://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Relief-and-Development/Lutheran-Disaster-Response/) and Lutheran World Relief (http://lwr.org/nepalearthquake) are two organizations I trust. They do good work, use resources well, and often stay the longest until communities rebuild. Please help.

Be a Connector.

The old acronym I remember from sports is: Together Everyone Accomplishes More (TEAM). To be a team we need players, objectives and plays. Be a person who brings people together into the team – connecting them to the mission at hand. I heard a beautiful story of clergy across denominations and interfaith marching in solidarity through the streets of Baltimore. Who is walking through your streets? Are you? Who can you invite? What allies might you find along the way? You might be surprised. I also heard a rumor that rival gangs called a cease-fire between them to march for peace. Anything is possible.

Pray.

Our greatest strength is not our own. In our time of need, and for the needs of others, God promises to hear us. Let it flow from your heart. Here is mine:  “Dear God, help. Bring peace. Bring comfort. Bring healing. Gather what is needed. Use me. Let your kingdom come. Guide me by your Spirit.”

What do Nepal and Baltimore have in common? 

The people of Nepal, Baltimore, your community and the whole world are those created in the likeness and image of God. Your enemy, the person you mistrust, the “other” all share that commonality. All people are the ones Jesus came to love and care for, and he will be found among the least of these.

You who are afraid, distracted, and overwhelmed, be free by the One who forgives, heals, and raises the dead. He not only stands in solidarity with the suffering, he calls us to meet him there. Go. Meet Jesus. What Nepal and Baltimore have in common is they need others to stand with them. Will we? I pray that we can, and we will. Christ be with us all.

PGS

The Prayer of St. Francis

st_francis_prayer_600X888

___

There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgment – is one not yet fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love – love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first. If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. (1 John 4:18-21 – The Message)

 

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