Pastor’s Page

Gift and Challenge

About a year ago, folks from our Synod joined several Christian friends for a service of Evening Prayer at the Cathedral of St. James to celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. A display of unity like this, after centuries of division in the Christian church, is testimony to the resiliency, grace, and healing power of God’s Holy Spirit.

In his homily at the service, Peter Sartain, Archbishop of the Seattle Diocese, observed “Christian unity is both gift and challenge.” The statement rings true. How do Christians work and pray and share ministry together? How do we heal the wounds caused by division? While questions such as these are without easy answers, Christ gives us ways to live into the gift and the challenge.

We do well to notice where Christians are exercising the gift of unity. A wonderful example is the Taizé community in France. Taizé is often described as a “parable of ecumenism.” (Ecumenism is the word we use to describe ways Christians draw closer to one another) Taizé is composed of Protestants and Roman Catholics and enjoys a rich relationship with the Eastern Orthodox. Brother Roger, founder of the community, was passionate about reconciliation and unity among all Christians. These things are central to their rule of life:

If communion is a gift from God, then ecumenism cannot be primarily a human effort to harmonize different traditions. It must situate us within the truth of the redemption of Christ, who prayed: “My wish is that where I am, they too may be with me.” The first ecumenical effort is to seek to live in communion with God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Churches sometimes show different paths to achieving this communion with Christ. However, the more deeply each one belongs to Christ, the more they are enabled to see the others correctly, seeing them as sisters and brothers … this requires a conversion undertaken over and over again in a church continually in need of reformation.

– Brother Alois

I have always been supportive of the suggestion that Reformation Day be recast as Reformation/Reconciliation Day. While Reformation Sunday honors the witness of Martin Luther and those who labored for renewal in the church’s past, the day may also serve as a time to pray for the unity of all Christians, to confess the ways we have failed to live as brothers and sisters, to pray for healing where the church remains divided, and plead with the Spirit to deepen our love of each other and our union with Christ.

Our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America enjoys a full communion relationship with many other Christians. This year, on Reformation/Reconciliation Sunday, we begin the practice of inviting the preacher to be someone from one of these traditions. Rody Rowe, a pastor in the United Methodist church and a member of PRLC, will preach the sermon on Reformation Sunday.

God alone brings the gift of unity to Christ’s body. The continual prayer of the church includes praying for the grace to recognize this unity and to dwell in the gift. Join me on Reformation/Reconciliation Sunday to especially pray, as Jesus did, that his followers be one. Amen. Come, Holy Spirit.

Peace,
Pastor Hansen

Pastor’s Page

Every Day Is a New Beginning

Sis Dakan, longtime saint of Phinney, died in early August.  Before breathing her last Sis said, “Every day is a new beginning.”  Sis’ s last words are now permanently imprinted on my heart and mind.  While none of us can explain what happens after death, we trust that God will make of it a new beginning.  The funeral preface for Holy Communion in the Book of Common Prayer says it this way: “For your faithful people, Lord, life has changed, not ended…”

Maybe Sis’s last words can function as a kind of mantra for living as well as dying.  Martin Luther advised we begin each day by making the sign of the cross to remember our baptism.  By such a gesture we embrace each day as a new beginning.  A daily ritual like making the sign of the cross isn’t all that different from commending our beloved dead to God’s eternal care.  Both are gestures of surrender and trust.  For Christians, new beginnings aren’t declarations of “getting it right” or resolutions to try harder.  Beginning anew is rather a gesture of prayer, trusting God to do a new thing.  And God has an uncanny knack for bringing newness through the forgiveness of sins, the healing of relationships, and renewing love.

One of the things I’ve noted about the journey of grief, be it grieving our beloved dead or grieving loss in our relationships, is that God, who weeps with us, also works to bring life from death, especially when enemies becomes friends, the estranged are reconciled, and when we give up control.  Life changes, it doesn’t end.

Sis’s mantra might serve us well as we launch into autumn and the beginning of a new program year.  It’s back-to-school time, and it’s that time of the year when a host of parish activities reemerge – BFJ, the WAY, Sunday school, circles, choirs and much more.   In many instances, God’s work will be cloaked in new wineskins: new staff members, a new vicar, and a few new approaches to forming disciples young and old.  Yet, even with the “tried and true,” God always seems to be up to something new and life-giving and life-changing.

Consider making this something of a daily practice – make the sign of the cross on your forehead, chest and shoulders.  Remember you belong to God who, through the gift of baptism has set you apart to love your neighbor.  Breathe in deeply the gift of prayer and say something like “Every day is a new beginning.”

Peace,
Pastor Hansen

 

Guest Preacher and Luncheon on August 19, 2018

Pastor Robert Moore, director of the ELCA Wittenberg Center in Germany, will be preaching at PRLC on Sunday, August 19.  If you are interested in having lunch with him after the second service that day, please contact the church office and let us know.  This will be a chance to learn about the ministry of the Wittenberg Center, a place that welcomes travelers, hosts conferences, and is committed to fostering Global Lutheran Identity in the interest of spreading God’s healing and reconciling work in the world.  Lunch will be served in the fellowship hall.

 

Pastor’s Page: The Way Is Made by Walking It

In the sermon for Ascension Day I noted that our parish community is getting younger.  We suddenly have an influx of new babies.  It’s a beautiful sight.  I always marvel at the joy and mystery of new birth and signs of new life.  For me, it is a sign of God’s handiwork.   We rejoice with these new parents and families and pray for them in their times of change and transition.

Other changes are afoot as well that are not welcomed with such delight.  Some of our beloved friends in Christ have died.  Others are moving from Seattle.  There are more “Farewell and Godspeed” blessings scheduled than I care to think about.  These changes cause us to grieve.

On top of that, some staff members are moving on from their positions to new vocational adventures.  After serving for several years as Children and Family Minister, Nancy Monelli will be taking courses to become a Spiritual Director and devote more time to writing.   After 32 years at Phinney, Valerie Shields is retiring from her position as Organist and Minister of Music.  We also bid farewell to Diane Figaro, who has led our Youth and Gospel choirs over the last year.  Changes and transitions provoke joy and sorrow and are met with all kinds of feelings.  With no small amount of fear and trepidation, we worry about the future while simultaneously embracing hope for new futures.   The process of saying good-bye is a process filled with the complexity of grief.  Our feelings intensify when many changes are all happening at the same time.

And God is with us through it all.  Maybe even more importantly, God speaks in time of change.   Some of scriptures most cherished stories tell of the relationship between God and God’s people in times of change and transition.  The Bible presents them as journey stories.

Abraham and Sarah leave their home to journey toward a new promised land.  The Israelites take forty years to journey from slavery to God’s promised land.  Once they enter into the promised land, a settled life doesn’t last too long.   There’s a time of exile and return.  Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness, calls disciples to follow him, and finally turns his face toward Jerusalem and the cross.  Even after the Resurrection, Jesus returns to the places he lived before the Ascension.    Finally, Pentecost launches a new movement of the Spirit that extends beyond Jerusalem and into the world.  The church has been on a journey ever since.

In these journeys, God never abandoned God’s people and, in fact, wrestled with them and loved them through it all.  God spoke to them, blessed them, delivered them and saved them.  Most of all, God loved them and spoke to them, not as individuals, but as a people.

I think that’s the best news of all – we are not alone.  We journey together.

A few years ago, my wife Britt walked the El Camino de Santiago in Spain.  It was quite a journey, almost 500 miles over the span of some thirty days.  Along the way there were sorrow and joys, changes and chances, and more than a few surprises, but never a sense of isolation.

Those who have walked the Camino like to say, “The way is made by walking it.”  Maybe that’s a good motto for the church, especially in times of change and transition.  God’s voice isn’t as clear when things are settled.  The church is always on a journey together and the Spirit surges along the way.

Peace,
Pastor Hansen

Reclaiming Jesus

These are polarizing times in America.  As followers of Jesus, we need not deepen the polarization, but testify to the freedom of the Gospel.  Instead of contributing toward the nationalism and xenophobia that grip our nation, we are called to embrace ever more the command to love.  As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”

Please look at this statement online, released last month by several Christian leaders, calling us to abandon fear and strive toward the higher ground of love.

 

Pastor’s Page

Soli Deo Gloria!

It is not you that sings, it is the church that is singing, and you, as a member may share in its song.  Thus all singing together that is right must serve to widen our spiritual horizon, make us see our little company as a member of the great Christian church on earth, and help us willingly and gladly to join our singing, be it feeble or good, to the song of the church.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

I can honestly say that, in my more than thirty years of pastoral ministry, working with Valerie Shields has been one of the highlights.  Never have I worked with such a fine liturgical musician.  In leading the assembly in song, accompanying choirs, and mentoring persons both young and old, Valerie has brought heart and soul to her vocation.

Liturgical musicians are called not to entertain, but to lead the song of the assembly in worshiping God.  It’s a challenging task and it is a challenge Valerie has met.  It has never been about her. She is dedicated to the song of the assembly and helping the assembly sing.

Singing together in worship is a great gift.  Through liturgy and song, the diverse textures of life and faith are given expression and the mystery of God is celebrated not in one word or image or note but through many notes, chords, rhythms, and modes of speech.  We are blessed with a rich and full repertoire of hymnody and music, and with musical leadership dedicated to giving God glory.

It is such a privilege and honor to work with the talented musicians at Phinney.  Valerie has made her mark in helping us pray and praise.   Please join me this month in celebrating and giving thanks for her ministry among us.

Peace,
Pastor Hansen

The Pastor’s Page: Baptized into a New World Order

The early church baptismal liturgy was an example of social justice, of a new social order, the reign of God. By modeling a new social order, a new creation, in the catechumenate and in baptism, the early church subverted the Roman Empire from within rather than challenging it head on … Christians proclaimed in word and deed that only Jesus, who had accomplished their liberation by his death and resurrection, was the Lord. This undercut allegiance to the Roman Imperial system. It is no wonder the Roman Empire persecuted the early church ….” – Robert Brooks

During the 20th century, the church returned to large baptismal fonts that were common among our Christian ancestors. This recovery is more than aesthetic. It is supported by a renewed understanding of the large claims the gift of baptism makes on our lives.

Consider the way we greet the newly baptized by saying, “We welcome you into the body of Christ and into the mission we share: join us in giving thanks and praise to God and bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world.” (ELW, p. 231)

We are baptized into nothing less than the mission of God — participants in God’s mission to heal and reconcile all people to God’s self.  We can honestly say that we are immersed into a new and different world. The Christian community is no like-minded group, but an extraordinarily diverse community where all are welcomed and loved the same. The community exists not for its own sake but to live under the rule of Christ. Large fonts or pools hold enough water for a good bath and enough water to die in. Yes, we are cleansed but we also enter the waters to die. We die to old loyalties and old allegiances and are reborn into life under the reign of Christ.

The PRLC Discern-ment Process had led your leadership to see how our mission and ministry is inextricably tied to baptism. Within this community, the gift of baptism is ritualized in dramatic ways. In the WAY and in Confirmation, we seek to form people around the promises of baptism. The bath signals change and transformation in our lives, individually and communally, and draws us deeper and deeper into the mission of God and the way of Jesus.

Christendom has gone away. The church no longer enjoys favored status in our cultures and among our institutions. We may lament the reality that the church has shrunk, but hidden in this turn of events is, I believe, a wonderful opportunity to recover what has been lost and to discover in new and ancient ways who we are and whose we are.

Peace,
Pastor Hansen

Baptismal font at Saint Joseph Church, Pinole, California

 

The Pastor’s Page: Easter’s Fifty Days

Lutherans seem to put most of their eggs in a pre-Easter basket. During Lent we hold special services, provide opportunities for prayer and works of love, encourage spiritual disciplines, pray for catechumens, and help people discern the Spirit’s movement in their lives. This is all wonderful and important and, by the time we get to the season of Easter, we feel somewhat spent and often do little to celebrate the Great Fifty Days.

I wonder what it would be like to practice the 50 days of Easter with as much fervor as the 40 days of Lent. I wonder how we can live through the days of Easter with intention and resolve. I wonder what it looks like to hold a fifty-day feast.

I love the Easter season. Beginning on Easter Day, it extends all the way to Pentecost. As it is a time of rejoicing, we do not kneel during Easter. We stand to receive communion.  This is the posture of Resurrection that says the “feast of victory for our God” includes a meal of thanksgiving and joy. The prominence of the lighted Paschal Candle says that Christ is risen against the darkness of the world and that we have been baptized into the mystery of this holy death and resurrection. We sing or shout or say “Alleluia” many times over and greet one another with the words, “Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!”

The lectionary readings are filled with images and stories revealing the depth of the Christian journey. The lessons from Acts and the command to “love one another” from 1 John point to the unique vocation of the church as the risen body of Christ.  The Gospel readings are filled with post- resurrection stories and pictures of the Risen One. These days are filled with unmistakable joy.

How might we make the most of these great days?

Pastor Van Kley and I invite you to keep up the practice of praying the daily lectionary. The daily readings can be found here, and will continue to be published in the Sunday bulletin (which you can access online if you have to miss church that week). You are invited to see how these readings amplify the Sunday readings and to use them for daily reflection.

Easter is also a time to discern and celebrate ministry in daily life. Whereas the season of Lent invites us to “become,” the season of Easter says, “you are.” The 8th -grade confirmands take this time to explore the promises of the baptismal covenant.  In The WAY, we explore what this looks like as candidates discern their calling both in the church and in the world.  Easter, then, becomes the time to explore in greater depth what it means for us live Eucharistic lives – broken and poured out for others.

It is also a time to explore what it means to live in Christian community. Vicar Pam Gompf will lead an adult discussion at Bread for the Journey on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic book Life Together.

Easter provides rich fare and a space to live in the fullest sense of the Resurrection. I pray you will make the most of this time as a feast of faith and joy with the Risen Christ.

Peace,
Pastor Hansen

 

Pastor’s Page

The Great Three Days

Crucifixion and Resurrection together are the church’s Pasch, her passing over from being no people to being God’s people, her rescue from alienation to fellowship, her reconciliation. Only as this is enacted in the church as one event is the Cross understood. What must happen is that the ancient single service of the Triduum, “the Three Days,” the continuous enactment of the Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection, covering Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Night, be celebrated.

 These words were penned by Robert Jenson, who died last September.  Arguably the most important contemporary theologian in American Lutheranism, he asserted what many systematic theologians are reluctant to say – the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection isn’t so much explained as it is experienced.  In fact, “good theology” comes as a reflection upon the church’s experience of God.

This year, the Three Days are celebrated at the end of March.  The services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil are one liturgy extended over a three-day period.  To miss one of these services is to miss out on the entire mystery.

When my unchurched friends ask me to explain God or Jesus, I tell them that I cannot do that.  Instead, I will invite them to worship so that they themselves may get a feel for God.  Just so, the death and resurrection of Christ is less a mystery to be understood and more a mystery under which we stand.   We experience the Three Days in its entirety not as a reenactment of the past but the community’s engagement with the saving God in the present.

Do you want to “understand” the death and resurrection of Christ? Come to worship during the Three Days.

And when we journey through the Three Days, God engages us through signs and gestures and actions and symbols.  We wash feet, strip the altar area, touch the wood of the Cross, light candles, drench people in water, and anoint them lavishly.  Lighted candles drip with wax.  Water is splashed on our bodies.  We eat from a real loaf of bread and drink from a large cup.  In these ways, messy as they are, God touches the whole person: body, mind, and spirit.   We are saved from consigning God to the realm of concepts and abstractions.  When touched by God in these ways, we are touched by God’s saving love.

Please join your sisters and brothers for the Three Days.  If you’ve made other plans, cancel them.  The annual Three-Day journey is worth the trip.  It is nothing less than a journey from death to life.

Peace,
Pastor Hansen

 

Pastor’s Page

Hearts and Ashes

This year, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day. The contrast is stark!

The symbols for Valentine’s Day include hearts and Cupid. It is a day to give candy and send flowers. On the first day of Lent, we receive a smudge of ashes on our forehead and join our sisters and brothers in acknowledging the ways of sin that draw us from God.
One day invites romance. The other invites serious self-examination.

Pondering the contrast has led me to a couple of reflections.

First, Christians live in two worlds at once. Grounded in the mystery of Christ, our lives are ordered by the cycles and rhythms of the liturgical year.  We also enjoy and take part in holidays special in our culture. We are not separatists. God is present and alive in every aspect of our lives. The challenge lies in how we navigate faith in an increasingly complex and multi-textured world.

Second, it is sort of fun to imagine how Gospel themes intersect with various celebrations. Besides exchanging valentines, heart language also shows up on Ash Wednesday when we pray: “create in me a clean heart, O God.”  How are the images and themes different?  Where might they be the same?  Early Christians creatively infused Gospel meaning into customs that already existed.  (Christmas, for example, grew from the observance of Winter Solstice.)

These challenges lead to a host of questions: How do we embrace church and culture at the same time?  How does the church engage culture while maintaining the distinctiveness of the Gospel?  How do I balance commitment to Sunday worship with other activities and commitments? Do I need to sort out my priorities?

Questions like these are good to think about and pray, especially in a time like Lent when we ask God to renew our hearts and prepare with joy for the Easter feast.

Peace,
Pastor Hansen