We Are Beggars, All of Us

The Pastor’s Page

The Pacific Northwest is often described as the “None Zone” because most persons, when asked to state a religious preference, mark the box that says “none.” In this corner of the world, the church is just one entrée in a vast smorgasbord of religious diversity and pluralism.

I rather enjoy this minority status.  When enjoying a position of dominance in the culture, the church can get too infatuated with itself.  I think this so-called “post-Christian” era is a good time to be church. As our institutional moorings shift or, in some cases erode, we are given opportunity to share the good news in fruitful conversation with the culture even while critiquing it, and lean ever more deeply into God’s Spirit for direction and purpose. It gives us a chance to consider who we truly are.

Here’s an example. One of the more popular mantras in Seattle is the phrase, “I’m spiritual, not religious.” When elected Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton famously remarked, “I’m religious, not spiritual.” Now, I’m not sure what is meant by either phrase, but being back in the Northwest has given me pause to reflect on these things.  I have wondered what Christians might mean by these terms and have wondered, too, about the unique witness of the Gospel in our time and place.

I’ve come to observe that in our culture “spirituality” often goes hand in hand with individualism.  The spiritual person may be the person who is known by their good deeds or the person with a rich inner life quite apart from the church or commitment to any kind of community.  Spirituality in a culture celebrating the autonomous individual can mean whatever we want it to mean.

Christians understand life in the Spirit quite differently. How is it then that we may speak of the spiritual life?

I deeply resonate with the reflections of Gordon Lathrop in his book, The Pastor: A Spirituality:

I have long found deep comfort in the words that Martin Luther wrote on a note found by his bedside when he himself was found dead in 1546 … “I say we are all beggars; this is true.” Having learned about “growth in grace” when I was a boy, studying my catechism, I often wondered if I was really making any progress. I thought probably not. But Luther helped me to see that growth in grace might really mean growth in need, growth in identification with a needy world and with other needy folk, growth in becoming more and more profoundly a beggar myself, waiting upon God. Spirituality is finally “one beggar telling another beggar where there is bread.”

This is a radical point of departure in a culture that tends to reward achievement or promote self-sufficiency, especially when we speak of our need for God or take to heart Jesus’ wish that we “lose our lives in order that we may find them.”

In a recent Sunday Gospel reading we heard Jesus say, “Come to me, all of you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

I believe that a spirituality that rests in Jesus promises freedom. We are free to relinquish control, free to be honest about our real need, free to love others, and free to be radically and fully human.

How does this sort of spirituality describe our parish and our witness in the world? I ask that you pray and ponder the question. Here is one small suggestion: perhaps one week the PRLC sign on Greenwood would read: “We are beggars, all of us. This is true.”

Peace,
Pastor Hansen

 

Pastor’s Page

The Forgotten Luther

Britt and I are excited to join several PRLC folks for a tour in Germany celebrating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. We will visit Wittenberg and other sites where the Lutheran movement took root. This will be my first visit and I trust it will be a great blessing.

I find myself in a place of gratitude during this 500th Anniversary year. For one, I am grateful for the witness of Christian unity. The way I read the history, the Augsburg Confession of 1530 was a document proposing the renewal and reform of the church in the interest of retaining its unity. Breaking away from the church was never Luther’s intent. Now, 500 years after the breach left by the Reformation, there is a remarkable sense of unity among Christians. The ELCA enjoys full communion relationships with several Christian traditions. In addition, Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue is now blossoming into ventures of shared ministry and prayer.

I am grateful, too, that this Reformation celebration gives us opportunity to look upon the past as instructive for today and the future. We rightly laud Luther’s remarkable theological contributions including the message of Christian freedom and the theology of the Cross.  Sometimes, though, we have forgotten other aspects of Luther’s reform flowing from the Gospel that affected society and economics.

Dr. Samuel Torvend, Professor of Religion at PLU, visited Phinney in early May to speak on this very topic. Dr. Torvend taught us about the “Common Chest” established by Luther in Wittenberg in 1522. Food and money and other goods were collected for the chest to serve the homeless, the poor, widows and orphans, the sick and unemployed, students and migrant workers. Here a vital link was made between Holy Communion and the call to justice. The equitable distribution of food and drink in the Eucharist (everyone is fed the same at the Communion Table) translated into equitable distribution for all in the neighborhood.

Luther’s reformation of the Mass celebrated and invited the work of God among those gathered to worship on Sunday morning and through those gathered to worship and pray. The Spirit’s work in Holy Communion flowed over into daily life. This ministry of the common chest honored God and critiqued the inequality of the social and political order of the day.

These studies around the social and economic reforms of the Reformation have often been dubbed the “Forgotten Luther” because it doesn’t get as much press as other aspects of the reforming movement. Reclaiming something of this part of the Reformation seems wise, especially as we seek to be practitioners of justice in a world made uneven by the specter of greed. Particularly meaningful here is how justice flows out of God’s gift of the sacraments.

Where is economic injustice and other forms of injustice today? How might we be good stewards of the mystery and make a lively link between liturgy and justice? Finally, as Dr. Torvend asked during his visit – do those who struggle with economic injustice make any claim on you?

Here are wise words from Luther in a 1519 treatise on Holy Communion:

When you have partaken of this sacrament, you must in turn also share the misfortunes of the fellowship … here your heart must go out in love and learn that this sacrament is a sacrament of love. As love and support are given you, you in turn must render love and support to Christ in his needy ones. You must feel with sorrow and dishonor all the unjust suffering of the innocent, with which the world is everywhere filled to overflowing.

Peace,
Pastor Hansen

 

The Pastor’s Page

Christ Has Broken Down All Barriers

A Welcoming Statement for PRLC was announced at the Spring Annual Meeting. The statement is the result of our discernment around becoming an RIC (Reconciling in Christ) congregation. The statement reads as follows:

As people made one in the waters of baptism, we believe our lives and faith are strengthened by diversity. We strive to be a community that welcomes people of every ability, age, citizenship status, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, language, life circumstance, marital status, political perspective, race, and sexual orientation. Whether you are a believer, doubter, or seeker, we openly welcome and value you. We celebrate God’s unconditional love and respond joyfully to your presence here. All are welcome. You are welcome.

This statement was received with great enthusiasm. It is an important step to take, especially during a time of deep polarization within our nation. The witness of the Gospel counters all forms of racism, sexism, and classism.

I am not surprised that the statement begins with the acknowledgment of God’s gift of Baptism. There is a baptismal spirituality or ethos at PRLC, thanks in large measure to the WAY process and the centrality of baptism in our common life and
liturgy.

Maxwell Johnson, an ELCA Pastor who teaches at the University of Notre Dame, is fond of describing baptism as the “Great Equalizer.” He points to St. Paul’s words in Galatians, chapter 3, that in Christ there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all baptized in Christ have clothed themselves with Christ.

Building off Paul’s ancient welcoming statement, Johnson asks, “Who are the displaced in our world today if not those separated by race, by social and economic status, or by gender? Who are the displaced even, at times, in the Church if not those separated by race, by social and economic status, or by gender?” (The Rites of Christian Initiation)

Becoming an RIC congregation is an important way of saying that this parish is a safe place and a sign pointing to God’s redeeming work in the church and in the world.

The next time you see the water poured into the font or dip your hand in the waters and make the sign of the Cross, remember that Christ has broken down all human barriers. You are part of a community of love made possible by God. Tell others they are welcome. Invite others to make the journey to the font.

Christ is making all things new!

Peace,
Pastor Hansen

 

The Pastor’s Page – April 2017

Easter Overflows with the Grace of God

It is indeed right, our duty and our joy, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks and praise to you, almighty and merciful God, for the glorious resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ, the true Paschal Lamb who gave himself to take away our sin, who in dying has destroyed death, and in rising has brought us to eternal life. And so, with Mary Magdalene and Peter and all the witnesses of the resurrection, with earth and sea and all their creatures, and with angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, we praise your name and join their unending hymn …

– The Eucharistic Preface for Easter, Evangelical Lutheran Worship

The Easter preface is instructive. We are reminded that the chorus of praise to God extends well beyond the gathered church assembly. We add our songs of praise to the eternal hymn of the cosmos.

This reality sets in for me in a big way every year during the great Three Days when I get the sense that I’m caught up in something bigger than myself.

I find that to be especially true at the Easter Vigil. We ask God to bless fire, water, oil, bread, wine and God uses this stuff of creation to touch us and renew our lives. In the Easter Proclamation, we bid heaven and earth and all creation to rejoice with us. In fact, this ancient hymn of praise acknowledges the bees as God’s servants for they played a big role in producing the wax of the Paschal Candle!

The wonderful stories from the Hebrew Scriptures are more than a retelling of events in the past. They proclaim God’s saving work in the present. When we join the procession to the baptismal pool, pouring water from a special vessel, we join our stories to the great story of God’s redeeming love.

On this night when new Christians emerge from the baptismal waters, we welcome them not only to this faith community but to the Christian church that spans the world and transcends time and space.  And a redeemed earth and the choirs of heaven joins us in giving thanks at the table.

Easter overflows with the grace of God. The church, Christ’s very own body, made new again at font, word, and table is renewed and so joins God in God’s work of renewing the world. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Peace,
Pastor Hansen

 

 

Eucharistic Visitors Hit the Road!

Recently I visited one of our wise elders – someone who hasn’t been mobile for a long time. And while we were talking she said to me, “I haven’t been to church in a long time, but I’m so glad that church still comes to me.” This sentiment is exactly what lay Eucharistic Visitation is all about.

Beginning in April, you’ll see something new in worship about once a month. Members of our lay Eucharistic Visitor team will come forward after communion, and together we will bless and pray for them, sending them out of our assembly and into the homes of those who cannot be with us physically on Sundays. The Eucharistic Visitors will then make home visits, bringing with them conversation, prayer, scripture, and communion.

The concept of lay Eucharistic visitation is not new, and it’s not even new to PRLC. This ministry has existed on-and-off here for decades. What’s important to remember about this is that it is not done purely for practical purposes. The pastors will, in fact, continue to visit homebound members just as regularly as always. But visits by fellow congregation members serve to remind us all of the communion of saints! They remind us that we are one in Christ. By bringing communion straight off of our table and putting it into the hands of those who can’t get here, we simply extend our worship. Isn’t that a beautiful thing??

I invite you to be a part of it. If you or someone you know would like a visit from a lay Eucharistic Visitor, or if you’d like to be trained to participate in this ministry, please let me know.

Pastor Van Kley

 

The Pastor’s Page

O Blessed Spring

I recently read a little book called Light Boxes, a fantastical story about a small town experiencing a perpetual February. Tired of the winter that never ends, the townspeople conspire against February. A group known as the “Solution” tries all kinds of remedies to push back winter and all its devastating effects on the community and its way of life.

It occurred to me that the winter ethos is such that it often feels as though it will never end. Massive snowing occurred this February, and that’s something of an anomaly for Seattle. Winter always comes to an end, but we certainly may feel it is perpetual. I wonder if the little book I read was trying to say that in spite of all our resistance to winter, it’s beyond our control. The best thing to do is let it run its course.

I enjoy winter, but at some point I find myself longing for spring. Hints of springtime pop up this time of the year, when the days begin to lengthen and the flower bulbs begin to bud. Winter yields to spring and the promise that new life will emerge from death.

It is no mistake that the Christian year corresponds to the cycles, seasons and rhythms of the natural world. In the darkest part of winter, we light Advent candles and plead for the light of Christ to come. At Christmas and Epiphany, we say the darkness will not dispel the light, and now we look forward to Lent. The word for Lent comes from “the lengthening of days.” Lent is springtime.

The great thing about springtime is seeing new life burst out from all corners of creation. And it happens, too, in the Christian community. Lent is a time to experience and witness new birth and new growth. Adults and children find themselves preparing for Baptism at Easter. Many others are preparing to affirm their baptism, and all of us are called to return to the bath of baptism and the great promise that the God who provides perpetual welcome is also at work changing our lives. The way of life begun at the bath continues a lifelong pattern of dying and rising again.

Springtime carries such great promise. You can be assured of my prayers for you this Lent. May Christ shower us again with light and life.

Peace,
Pastor Hansen

 

PRLC Going RIC

RIC LogoAt the February meeting, the PRLC parish council came to consensus that our community become a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) congregation. As an RIC congregation we are officially welcoming to sisters and brothers from the LGBTQ community. This decision is the result of much discernment. The conversation and prayer around this issue has taken place for many years. In the last year alone we’ve held adult forums and hosted other venues for conversation. At our January annual meeting we took a straw poll to gage the support of the congregation. The results of the poll were overwhelmingly in support of PRLC becoming an RIC church.

What’s next? The RIC committee will be at work fashioning a “Welcoming Statement.” How might such a statement, inclusive of the LGBTQ community, welcome all people and what does it mean for us to welcome all? Please feel free to pray these questions and to offer input by contacting Tiffany Megargee, chair of the group. And know that you are always welcome to speak to Pastor Van Kley or myself with any concerns or questions you may have.

As the Body of Christ we are Jesus’ welcoming arms. May the Spirit continue to lead the way.

God’s Peace,

Pastor Hansen

A Journey Toward Easter and Baptism

BaptismThe journey of Lent is a journey toward baptism. That is made abundantly clear in the Gospel lessons this year. Taken from the Gospel of John, these stories were used to instruct catechumens in the earliest church. Still, they are used in our WAY gatherings during Lent to prepare adults for baptism and renewal of baptism at the Easter Vigil. These stories from John are descriptions of life-giving encounters with Jesus: Nicodemus, the Woman at the Well, the Healing of the Blind Man, and the Raising of Lazarus.

You can expect your pastors and vicar to focus on these texts and on some aspect of Baptism throughout Lent. The font will be front and center. The liturgy will be trimmed down to reflect the fast that precedes the Easter feast. Such a “trimming down” draws our attention to the primary symbols of bath, word and meal.

We will accompany our WAY candidates through various rites during Lent. The Rite of Enrollment occurs on the First Sunday as those preparing for baptism endorse their desire to be baptized with their signature. In addition, all of our WAY candidates will be presented with the gift of the Creed and worship book on the third and fourth Sundays in Lent.

Ash Wednesday

The Lenten journey begins on Ash Wednesday, a solemn call to fast as we begin our journey to the baptismal waters at Easter. The liturgy includes confession of sin and the imposition of ashes. With the cross of ashes on our brow, we long for the spiritual renewal that flows from the Easter feast to come. This year Ash Wednesday falls on March 1st. We will have three worship opportunities:

  • 11:15 am and 7:30 pm: Liturgies are held in the sanctuary.
  • 6:30 pm: A shorter service in the Tree of Life room, intended for families with children.

All three services include imposition of ashes.

More Worship Opportunities in Lent

We have so many excellent opportunities to worship and learn together this season. As we simplify other aspects of our life and seek spiritual depth, we can center around a practice of prayer, either alone or together.

In addition to the services offered on Ash Wednesday, we will also be having Lent Midweek services every Wednesday during Lent:

  • March 8, 15, 22, 29, and April 5. Please mark your calendar for service at 11:15 and soup lunch at 12.

These midweek services will be a chance for quiet reflection, singing the simple music of Taizé, and praying with the Psalms.

We are also expanding our adult education during Bread for the Journey in the season of Lent. There will be an adult education class at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday evenings in the Fireside Room, and we will be praying with the Psalms in a new way. It will be a time to touch our hearts and spirits rather than living in our minds.

Please come join us, and enjoy a holy Lent.

 

 

The Pastor’s Page

Sacred Listening

I stopped looking at Facebook during Advent. It’s not because Facebook is so bad. The issue is that I know myself all too well and am keenly aware that such things cause me to be distracted. When distracted, I don’t listen so well.

None of us can ever be completely free from distractions. Still, God invites us to pay attention to our lives. Listening is foundational to all our living. For Christians, such listening includes an engagement with scripture, prayer and the relationships we cultivate in the community of faith and among our family and friends. It includes listening to our deepest yearnings and paying attention to our experiences. In all of these ways God speaks to us. It is no wonder that Jesus, more than once in the Gospels, invites us to listen.

Over the past couple of years we’ve been in a discernment process here at Phinney. What began with a small group has now expanded to the parish council. Discernment is all about listening. Purposeful listening leads to making choices that are life-giving and consistent with God’s loving intentions. We want to endeavor to be such a community of faith in the very fabric of our common life and in the way we lead and move into the future.

The next step in this discernment journey is to invite all the members of PRLC into sacred listening.

During January, some items will be posted on the long wall in the fellowship hall. These are “four windows” or directions for the future of Phinney, the fruit of the parish council’s discernment. There you will be given opportunity to share your ideas, the fruit of your own listening.

You will hear more details during worship. Basically, you will be given several weeks to listen and respond. The council has listened and identified four areas for the future of PRLC – ministry in daily life, ministry to our neighborhood, ministries of justice, and ministry with other faith communities.

Where will God take us in these directions?

You are invited to explore this question with your sisters and brothers in Christ. Not a bad way to begin the new year.

Peace,
Pastor Hansen