Prayer

If there is one thing so central to Christianity that, should it go missing, it would cause at least a double take, that thing would be prayer.  Though certainly not something exclusive to Christianity, prayer for the followers of Christ  has been the center point of worship and personal devotion since the words of Jesus were first recorded by the gospel writers.  And prayer has been one of those things that many in the pews have wrestled with time and time again.  Mary Oliver, in her poem Praying, gives voice to that struggle – the human desire to do things just right, to find the perfect inspiration and the exceptional words.  Instead, Oliver writes, we should just “pay attention” to whatever is in front of us, and then “patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate.”

The point of prayer is to get on with the praying, as Paul says in his letter to the Thessalonians, to “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:16).  Or as Martin Luther put it, “nothing is so necessary as to call on God incessantly and to drum into God’s ears our prayer that God may give, preserve, and increase in us faith.”1  If we think about God as a relational God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit intertwining and intermingling – then prayer is a way to enter into relationship with that God.  And as we speak our hearts into prayer, we open a space for a response.  This point is beautifully illustrated by Oliver at the end of her poem:

this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak

South African conceptual artist James Webb has taken on this central element of faith in his installation James Webb:  Prayer on display at the Art Institute of Chicago.  The piece, which had its premier in 2000 when apartheid was abolished in South Africa, is now in its tenth iteration and the Chicago presentation is both the largest and the first in the United States.  The installation process begins with Webb recording people at prayer in a specific community, in this case metro Chicago.  The recordings are then played back via speakers placed on a red carpet in the gallery.  In order to listen to the recordings, visitors must first remove their shoes, and then bend over or kneel on the carpet to get close to the speakers – in poses that resemble those common in praying.

For the practitioner or the observer, Webb’s work asks the viewer to consider the meaning and significance of prayer by getting up close and personal with it.  I wonder, in our life together, what we might do to take a second look at how we pray?  

1.  Luther, Martin.  “The Large Catechism of Dr. Martin Luther.”  In The Annotated Luther Vol 1:  Word and Faith.  Edited by Kirsi I. Stjerna.  Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2015.  366.

Yet Another Genesis

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.   Isaiah 43:19

Just a week ago, I was driving along interstate 84 on day two of my journey toward New England and the place I would call my physical and vocational home for the next year.  Every so often on the trek across the entire state of Pennsylvania, the highway would bring me to a peak in the road and I could see stretched out across my field of vision the rolling hills of the Appalachian mountains.  At one point I slowed way down in the right-hand lane and, when the area was clear, was able to snap a quick picture with my phone.  It is probably the worst picture ever – think back to the days, for those who will remember, of the kinds of not-so-fabulous photographs inevitably taken with those Kodak disposable cameras.  Blurriness and bad composition notwithstanding, I was able to capture in the frame two layers of tree-covered mountains in the far distance that establish a false horizon.  And in the middle is the road, ever so clear in the foreground but curving to the left to disappear into a density of still-green foliage.

road for web

This picture invokes a feeling I had as I moved eastward toward Massachusetts – a feeling I have had many times before.  There is a sense of familiarity that relates to other moves and many miles driven on other interstates with different mountains and trees.  And with each journey there is the anticipation – both exciting and apprehensive – of a new beginning.  Where will this trip take me? Who will I meet?  What joys and sorrows lie ahead?

That uncertain and obscured turn in the road eventually brought me here to St. Paul, and revealed in the clearing were generous and friendly folk – you – who have welcomed me with kind words, with encouragement, and with much, much grace.  I’ve already heard some of your joys and some of your sorrow, and I am grateful that those whom I have already met have offered the kind of unbridled hospitality that ensures new beginnings are also good ones.

As church, we know much about new beginnings, one of which is upon us this week as we begin our 2018-2019 program year.  Young people embark on deeper learning about their Christian and Lutheran heritage, hard-working committees put into action creative visions dreamed about in prior seasons, and new goals are revealed that will continue the work that we are called to do as a community.  And sooner than we can even imagine it will be December, and Advent, and the beginning of yet another church year where we can travel the road, together, to the manger, on to Calvary, and beyond to the sure and present hope of the resurrection.

At the beginning it may be too soon to think about the end, but I can already imagine flipping to that blurry photograph taken on the highway in Pennsylvania and remember that as the road turned to the left there you were with God’s love and God’s grace in your welcome and open arms.  For those I have already met - Thank you!  And to those I will get to know, I’m excited to meet you and learn from you.  Here’s to our new beginning!

Peace, 
Christephor

Farewell and Godspeed

This week's song of the summer [the ultimate offering from Vicar Andrew's playlist this summer] is perhaps the greatest song about leave-taking ever written. "To Live is to Fly" by Townes Van Zandt is suffused with melancholy and gratitude. 

Melancholy and gratitude...that pretty much sums up my feelings this week as I prepare to end my time at St. Paul. At first, it seems hard to believe that it's already been a year since I arrived. Then I start to I think back on all of the joys and challenges of this last year, on opportunities both grasped and unfulfilled, on what I was able to do and what I left undone...and suddenly it feels like I've been here a lifetime. This is such a testament to this community; I immediately felt welcomed and affirmed and empowered upon my arrival.  You all have high expectations of your interns, and you have enough compassion and grace to allow us to flourish. 

I've been told by numerous members of this congregation that "we mark the time we've been here by vicars," and then they'll count out the previous interns that they've spent time with over the years. I'm here to tell you this works both ways: I have been marked by my time here, in deep, formative, life-changing ways. So when Townes sings "Days, up and down they come/like rain on a conga drum/forget most, remember some/but don't throw none away," I feel it in my bones. This year has been so full of memories that I can't even begin to list them. I'm so thankful for all of the days I've gotten this year, and I will carry what I learned here long after I leave. 

I thank God for my time here and what the Spirit has called us to together. What a blessing it has been to serve here, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

In Christ,
Vicar Andrew

Adult Education Lenten Series

Lent Adult Ed

What are we doing in worship? What's central to our liturgy? How do we balance the ancient ritual tradition of the church with our current context? We'll be reflecting on and exploring these and other questions in an Adult Forum Lenten series. Vicar Andrew will be leading these discussions as part of his internship project; please join us Sundays during Lent at 9:30am!

February 18 -- What are the Essentials of Christian Worship?
February 25 -- "The Fruit and the Leaves of the Tree of Life": The Bible and the Central Things of Worship
March 4 -- The Word and the Prayers
March 11 -- The Table and the Sending
March 25 -- The Bath and the Assembly

All Saints Reflection

The saints are awesome. With such a great cloud of witnesses, it is humbling for me as an up-and-coming pastor to live up to their legacy. Whether dead or alive, whether they’re famous saints or every day saints, I revere their persistence to follow the gospel, sometimes even unto death. Paul, Ambrose, Augustine, and Peter for crying out loud! Are you kidding me? Don’t forget those every-day saints, either. Grandpas, uncles, aunts, mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers are all among us, too. Who are the saints in your life?

With all of these feelings that come with the saints: humility, gratitude, awe, I need to catch my breath and reflect on the importance of All Saints Sunday. Looking to this week, I realize that I have much to learn about the saints and their importance in my life from an unexpected source, the Catholic Church. On this All Saints Sunday, we build on the celebration we felt last week on Reformation Sunday, to opening our minds and hearts to that same wider Church from which we broke 499 years ago.

This is a time when we can embrace our Catholic sisters and brothers, so that we can learn from their ability to cherish the deep wisdom and gift that the saints offer each and every day. All Saints Sunday is a celebration and a reminder of those people who, despite their brokenness, were chosen by God to do great things in the world. All Saints Sunday is also a time for us to uplift those saints in our everyday lives who impacted us and continue to impact us in deep and meaningful ways through small, regular acts of love.

A story comes to mind when I think of commemorating and celebrating the saints every day, as the Catholics do. Once when I visited Saint Paul, Minnesota, a group of friends and I decided to take a walk through the gargantuan Cathedral of Saint Paul. As we entered through the large oak doors, I noticed that there were statues and shrines around the sanctuary. Later, I found out that these shrines were for the national patron saints of the many immigrants who settled Minnesota. To name a few: Saint Anthony of Padua (Italy), John the Baptist (French Canadians), Saint Patrick (Ireland), Saint Boniface (Germany), Saints Cyril and Methodius (Slavic Nations), and Saint Therese (protector of all missions). I was in awe of these memorials to the saints that protected those peoples on their journey to America. What a cool way to give thanks to those saints that came before us and who still watch over us!

Luther believed that all baptized people are saints. This All Saints Sunday, we get the chance to remember, celebrate, and commemorate the witness of those saints who have gone before us and who are among us here and now. We invite you to bring a picture, token, memorial of a saint in your life to church this Sunday, so that we can be reminded of the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. There will be a table at the front of the sanctuary for you to place those items and, if you chose, sign a card in their memory. The cards and writing utensils will be provided in the Narthex as you walk in. You can place the cards and tokens on the table at the front of the sanctuary before the service. Please join us on Sunday to remember, honor, and commemorate all those saints in the great cloud of witnesses. Thanks be to God!

To conclude, a quote from professor and theologian Mary Luti, "Faced with intractable fears and exhausting complexities, the world whips out the sensation, the quick fix, and the magic of celebrity. The church's ancient wisdom offers instead 'mystic sweet communion with those whose race is won.' We have the saints, and if we look carefully, we find that they are us—extraordinary signs that ordinary vulnerability, love and repentance, courage and perseverance still count. For a lot. For everything."

Happy All Saints Sunday, saints of God!

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  8:15 AM Worship 9:15am Education Hour 10:30AM Worship with Holy Communion

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