Feeding the Soul

Amazing Grace

More than ten years ago my husband Morley and I were visiting our son Christopher in New Orleans. Since it was the American Thanksgiving weekend, there were many events planned. One of them was a Home and Garden tour of some of the historic and beautiful mansions in the Garden District. These massive, stately homes had been built for the wealthy plantation owners.

Both of us wanted to go and see these homes, which had been decorated for the Christmas season. However, the price seemed prohibitive. We were still thinking about purchasing tickets on the morning of the tour. Since our 35th anniversary was less than a month away, we decided that the house tour was the perfect way to celebreate.

We got up bright and early, ate a quick breakfast and walked to the office to buy our tickets. Just as we approached the gate a woman approached us and asked if we had our tickets yet. When we said no she offered us her two tickets. Her friend who had planned to join her had the flu and this lady did not want to go on the tour by herself. We tried to pay her. However, she just smiled at us and said,"No thanks. Just enjoy!"

Her free gracious gift reminds me of God's bountiful grace. We certainly don't deserve the gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. We cannot earn them. Yet, day after day God surprises us with His gifts of grace. He says,"Go and enjoy!" All we have to do is to say "thank you".

Dianne Yungblut

You are reading a series of Women's Faith Stories.

Peace Be with You

When we say "Peace be with you" we are wishing the blessing of the fullness of peace upon the person to whom we are speaking. We are vocalizing a prayer to God that every good thing might come to that person. 
 
In my home office I have a mounted sheet of wrapping paper that I purchased at Ten Thousand Villages. It is in the color of Advent blue with international words for peace written on it including kalinaw, pax, hoa binh, peace, nabad, dawa, amani, and a variety of words written in global characters that spell out shalom, salam...  These words don't simply mean the absence of war or fighting (armistice), but the fullfillment of perfect peace - health, healing, wholeness in body, mind, spirit, relationships, community, ecological harmony, total restoration and love.  In our Christian tradition we better understand the concept of this fullness of peace by resting ever deeper in Christ's perfect love perfecting us and all creation across time and space. 
 
By grace (in relationship, baptism, communion...) the view of Jesus as prince of armistice fades.  Through the lens of faith, the view of Jesus the Prince of Peace becomes clearer.
 
To learn more, search for how and where the word peace is used throughout the Bible using a resource called a lexicon such as at http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/hebrew/kjv/shalam.html.  You can see by the hyperlink that I have looked up the Hebrew word "shalam" (peace) in the King James Version (kjv) lexicon. The King James Version uses the English language in a different way than the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible. Use this internet site to explore a variety of Bible translations and texts to gain new insights.  This kind of word searching is "spirited discipleship." Thanks be to God. 

Pr. Karen Kuhnert

…for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5b)

Pastor I don’t want to live anymore.  Why does God leave me here?  Does God hate me?  I am no good to anyone anymore – look at me I am all alone, no family, no friends – I am an old, old, woman.

This is the way many of my visits begin with the elderly in my community.  In their younger years they were use to being very active in their homes, communities and church, but now they are in senior’s homes, nursing homes or hospitals.  They use to coordinate big lunches and dinners; they use to organize bake sales and yard sales; they use to be on the altar guild and some were lay readers.  Some are not even able to hold an intelligent conversation with you anymore.  Whoever said that growing old was not for sissies knew what they were talking about.  Now they are not even able to go to church. Church comes to them in the form of the pastor with a small communion kit.

What bright and loving things can we say to the elderly in such situations to make their day more hopeful?  We can’t make promises we can keep.  Saying God has a plan for their life may still be true but at their stage in life it doesn’t seem helpful to say that to them any more.

Usually I find myself with my arm around them saying that God loves them, that they are special to God and that God promised “never to leave them or forsake them.”  I assure them that they are never really alone.  My mother, who lives in a nursing home, says it is always helpful if the pastor who visits has a good sense of humour.  She says that there is very little for them to laugh about any more.  So once my parishioners are calmer I always try to tell them a few jokes and get a few laughs. After the laughs, I assure them that God is in the present with them and for them not to worry about the past and not to be concerned about the future – just to enjoy the presence of the Lord in their present day and that they are never alone.

Pastor Glenda Morrissette
St. John's Lutheran Church
South Porcupine

See also Bring Humor to Sunday Liturgy by Glenda Morrissette

A Time to Seed

It was the last day of summer and the warmth of the day are turning quickly into the coolness of the evening. The evening dew is beginning to form. One can notice the dew on the handle of the lawn rake which has been lying on the grass.

I had been vigorously raking the dead patches of grass in the back yard. The heat and dryness of this year’s summer sun has turned the once lush green lawn into areas of brown grass. It is time to re-seed. The dead grass was raked out and enriched top soil raked into those areas. I stood with an open bag of grass seed in my hand and with the other begin to toss the seed over the area. As I was tossing the grass seed, I noticed that some of the seed is falling on the top soil; other seed is falling onto bare ground, while still other seed is falling onto the already healthy lawn. 

I paused to reflect on the moment and pondered the Parable of the Sower and the Seed. Jesus used parables in his ministry to help people comprehend the message of the kingdom of God. This parable helped the disciples to understand the people of their time and it does the same for us today.

The parable sheds light on what is occurring in the world today. Individuals today respond in much the same manner to God’s word as they did centuries ago. Some hearts are like a well travelled dirt road; packed hard. These hearts are unable to respond to God’s love and grace. Some hearts are like shallow soil. They are attracted by excitement: a new pastor, a new programme. When they no longer exist, they drop out of sight. And then, there are the hearts that are choked by the riches of the world. Spiritual life begins and begins abundantly. Yet, it is the secular lifestyle of materialism that chokes them to a spiritual death. They worry about the riches of the world, choking God’s word until it becomes fruitless.

Harden, shallow, strangled hearts are present in our world. Maybe one of these hearts was you at one time in your life. Maybe, one of these hearts is you today. As Christians, we are called to toss the seed; to tell of God’s love and grace to others. We do this together.

By now, many congregations have participated in Back to Church Sunday. The program encourages us to welcome the community back to church; not for just one Sunday but on a regular basis and accepting whatever that may look like. Back to Church Sunday asks us, disciples of Jesus, to invite friends, relatives and neighbours to join us in worshiping our caring Creator. And yes, we will meet along the way: harden, shallow and strangled hearts. With the help of the Holy Spirit these hearts will be changed into ones of love, forgiveness, caring and live in peace with others.

May we have faith in God, the source of all knowledge, to toss the seed joyfully.   

 Bruce Thompson

 

How do you see your church?

Isaac Wahl Schellenberger (4) is a member of St. Mark's Kitchener. This is how Isaac perceives his church. Looking at this picture we see how colourful and bright the church is through Isaac's eyes. How do you see your church?

We Will Develop Effective Partnership

Some aspects of my personality and outlook on the world have been shaped by those little stories or quotes that appeared at the end of the articles in Readers’ Digest, which I read as a boy.  Some of them were entertaining anecdotes, but others offered deeper insight.

One of the gems I remember had to do with a father who asked his young son to remove a large stone from the backyard.  The boy, eager to please his father, dug, pried, pushed... but could not budge the rock.  When he went to his father, admitting defeat, the elder simply asked the younger if he had tried everything.  So the son went to work again, with ropes, and a lever, and the water hose, but still to no avail.  Dirty and exhausted the boy appeared before his father a second time.  Once more the father asked “Have you tried everything?”  But when the child looked at him not knowing what to do next he added, with a grin, “Have you thought of asking me to help you?” 

The myth of the self-made man or woman is vital to our culture.  Whether it’s getting an education, pursuing a vocation, creating a home and family, participating in politics, buying goods and services, or enjoying moments of leisure we are urged to learn how to do it by ourselves.  Like the two year-old child who insists on tying her shoe laces “All by myself!” we are determined to accomplish things on our own.

The same impulse exists in the church.  Pastors have often acted as lone wolves, congregational leaders have guarded their authority, congregations have operated as if the church ended at their walls or the town limit, and denominations have failed to recognise one another as partners.  We have lived as if God has some great reward set aside for the fiercely independent, those who have not called upon others for help.

But relying on the gifts and prompting of the Holy Spirit we’re being changed.  Clergy are being trained and encouraged to work more collaboratively.  Lay leaders are being asked to share authority with others.  Congregations are being invited to attend events that promote cooperation with neighbouring Lutherans.  And together, as members of the Eastern Synod, we’re actively exploring ways to work more closely with other Christians and all who might be our partners as we care for others.        

Collectively and with the Lutheran-Church Canada we offer aid and developmental assistance through Canadian Lutheran World Relief.  With the Anglican Church of Canada we are learning to trust our sisters and brothers in Christ at local, regional and national levels.  Through Kairos we’re addressing poverty and injustice across Canada in partnership with seven other denominations. 
And in hundreds of other local settings we’re discovering the benefits of working cooperatively. 


It turns out that following Jesus is not a private enterprise, but a communal exercise.

 


Rev. Jim Slack

We Will Establish a Focused Framework

My youngest daughter Rachel played flute in high school.  When we moved to a new parish we received a call from another parent that went something like this:
- Mr. Slack?
- Yes.
- I’m calling on behalf of the Band Parents.
- Okay.
- We’d like you to donate two bags of dried beans.
- Why?
- Some parents are being asked to make homemade baked-beans, and others will sell them at the mall in a few weeks, to raise funds for the school band.
- Can I give you a donation instead?
- No.  We want the beans.
- How much will you sell the beans for at the mall?
- That doesn’t matter, Mr. Slack. I called you to ask you to donate some dried beans, so that we can raise funds for the band. We’ve been doing it this way for years.
- But wouldn’t it be easier if I just gave you some money?
- No one’s ever done that before...


No doubt you’ve had such encounters.  Even in the church.


But in the Eastern Synod we’ve agreed to search for ways to make our organisational structures better reflect the ministries to which God is calling us.  From our Congregational Councils and local committees to the Bishop’s Office and Synod Council we’re open to making changes so that our goals become clearer, communication becomes simpler, and limited resources be used more effectively.  Unlike the caller from Band Parents we want to be more flexible and creative.  


Based on Christ’s style of servant-leadership we are learning how to become more concerned about each other and walking side-by-side, rather than in seizing authority and “lording it over others.”  Instead of shoring up power for ourselves we are determined to identify, recruit and mentor prospective leaders, both lay and ordained, to meet the challenges that lay ahead of us.


It’s hard to say how our organisational framework may be transformed in the months and years to come.  What’s more certain is that we’re making this venture by faith.


Pastor Jim Slack


(Photo: J.Slack)

We Will Demonstrate Compassionate Justice

I learned a strange lesson from my father watching television sports and professional wrestling. He wasn’t much of an athlete or a sports fan, but in the days of two black and white channels he taught me to cheer for the underdog.  Whether it was professional baseball, Hockey Night in Canada, or Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling my father always rooted for the team or athlete that was expected to lose.  Those whom he cheered often failed – sometimes miserably - but from time to time they beat the odds and staged an upset.

I regret that I never asked my father why he did this; whether it was just a habit, or something that grew out of his faith.  But I know that it has shaped my understanding of the Christian Gospel.

We human beings are not doing a very good job caring for the environment, relating to people on the margins of society, sharing the wealth, making our schools places that are free from abuse, or finding peaceful means to ending international conflict.  But the Eastern Synod is committed to justice.  In our homes, congregations, conferences and assemblies, and through the work of lay and ordained leaders, committees, ministry directors, the Synod Council, and the Bishop and his staff, we make note of things happening in the world, speak up about some of them, and take action on a few. 
 

But for us justice is always tempered by compassion.  The Law (the Ten Commandments, other religious codes, and all of God’s expectations) tells us what is right and good.  It leads us to seek what is fair not only for ourselves but for others too.  And the Gospel reminds us that when we fall short, and when others fall short, it is God’s grace and mercy that leads to wholeness and transformation.  Instead of getting what we deserve our Saviour gives us what we need in the face of injustice and adversity.  This is a source of gratitude and thanksgiving. 

And then Jesus asks us to share our blessing with others.  As we have been loved and forgiven, we are called to care for others, not because they have earned our approval, but because they are in need and we have been given more than enough to share.


When the prophets described a coming age of justice and peace, when Mary sang her Magnificat at her son’s conception (Luke 1:46-55), and when Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah in his synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-19) we heard God promise a great reversal.  One day we hope that injustice, greed, and violence will become extinct, and we in the Eastern Synod offer our lives and all that God has given us to see it dawn.

Jim Slack Jr.

We Will Welcome Diversity

I grew up in a small town in Atlantic Canada. 
In the community of 3000 there were several mainline Protestant congregations and one small Roman Catholic congregation – no other religious groups.  There was one black family from South Africa and two East Indian families. And no one who was “out of the closet.”

But the world has changed, even in small-town Canada. 

We meet more and more people who follow a wide variety of spiritual practices, including a growing number who declare that they have no religious or spiritual beliefs at all.  New immigrants are not white folks who come to our country from Western Europe, but a whole range of beige, brown, and black peoples who have arrived on our shores from around the globe.  The international food section in our local grocery stores is growing. 

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons are no longer willing to hide in the shadows.  Some seek to worship and work with us as men and women of faith. 

And we are becoming more conscious of the widening gap between the richest and poorest among us, and the problems that such inequity causes.  We not only support our local food banks, but befriend those who have become clients.
  
As a synod we have decided not simply to tolerate or accept such changes in the make-up of our neighbourhoods, but to welcome those who see the world through a different set of cultural, linguistic, religious, sexual, and socio-economic lenses. 

We are called by our Lord Jesus to be hospitable.  We stand ready to bear witness to the Gospel through the words we speak and the lives we live “that some may know Christ.”  But we will not seek to recast those who differ from us into our own image; we know that we have been fashioned in the image of a God who celebrates diversity.


In our congregations we are looking for ways to get to know and support our neighbours.  Local, hands-on ministries are growing.    We are taking steps to welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons.  Multi-faith dialogue is becoming more common.  And the menu at our potluck suppers is getting a little spicier. 

 


Pastor Jim Slack Jr.

We will practice Spirited Discipleship

This series is based on the Vision for Mission in the Eastern Synod 2010-2012.


When I was a young adult I visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.  For the first time in my life I sat in front of an IMAX screen, and saw a movie that filled my field of view.  It was called To Fly.  Without knowing it right away I was floating above tree tops in a hot-air balloon.  Then soaring in glider, flying cross-country in a single-engine, and eventually going into orbit in a space ship.

Even now it amazes me that the shape of a wing allows flight.  When a motor of some sort pushes the wing forward its shape causes lift; the turbulence intentionally created on the top part of the wing allows the steadier air underneath to raise it skyward.

When the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada chose to chart its course with the help of five pillars the Eastern Synod decided to rearrange its Vision for Mission at the 2010 assembly, to match them.  And as we did we were aware that the adjectives are just as important as the nouns; the describing words are as vital as the things to which they refer.

In this case A Spirited reminds us that our discipleship is empowered by the third person of the Trinity.  We are lifted up into God's presence when we worship using traditional forms and some newer resources.  God's holy wind fills our wings as we study scripture and learn more about the Gospel.  We take to flight when we speak to friends, neighbours and co-workers about the faith that has been given to us, and the peace the passes understanding. 


As disciples - students, followers, apprentices - we do not rely on our own strength and wisdom, but wait for God's breath to give us life.  And the turbulence we feel from time to time is one of the things the Spirit uses to get us off the ground.             

Pastor Jim Slack

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