Monday, December 20, 2010


Christmas has changed over the years as our nation and its people have changed. We have become a much more prosperous nation in the last 50 years or so. These days we expect to have and do things that would have been luxuries back then - things like having a 32 inch, flat screen TV (or larger), eating out several times a week, owning enough clothes to over-run a good sized closet.

Long ago most children received only a stocking with things like a new pair of socks, a couple oranges and some candy at Christmas. When I was young we often got clothes for Christmas in addition to a few toys. The clothes were as exciting as the toys because we only received new clothes a few times a year -- Christmas, birthday, and back to school. Otherwise we kept wearing what we already had. But things have changed. Most of us buy new clothes when we need them (or want them). Most children already own lots of toys and games making it hard for parents and grandparents to find their kids that special gift at Christmas. We have plenty to eat all year round so nobody today wants to receive an orange and a few hard candies for the holidays.

What are the best gifts? For some families this year the best gift will be having a son or a daughter home on leave from the military. For others a great holiday would be having a clean bill of health. Two families in our community were able to move into an apartment in recent weeks - for them, having a home makes this Christmas special.

When we read the story in Luke 2 of Jesus' birth we remember that our Savior was born in a stable. His people were among those who worked every day to put food on the table; they had no luxuries. What toys he had as a child were probably made from scraps of wood by his father. Matthew's gospel tells us that shortly after Jesus was born the family had to flee to Egypt for safety. During his early years, then, Jesus and his family were refugees. At Christmas we celebrate Jesus' birth. What gifts are appropriate for us to exchange in honor of this baby?

Each Christmas my parents give a donation to charity in my honor. That is one of my favorite gifts; it doesn't fill up my closet or demand space on a wall and I feel great that someone's needs are being met. Here at Shepherd King we've been gathering furnishings for those two families who've just gotten an apartment - sheets, dishes, pillows, towels, mattresses. This kind of contribution can be made in someone's name as a "gift." Do you know someone who lost a loved one this year - a spouse or a child or a parent? Spending time with that person over the holidays would be a great gift to them and to yourself. Our quilters here at Shepherd King sold enough quilts this year to buy a cow, a sheep, several flocks of chickens and a goat for people in developing countries through ELCA good gifts. Wow - what a fantastic gift to give in honor of Jesus' birth!

The best gifts I have this year are a home in San Antonio with my husband and close proximity to my parents and siblings in Austin; I'll be able to spend Christmas with them and my nieces and nephews this year. The favorite gift I gave this year was to go Christmas caroling with people from the congregation last night to some of our elderly members who are confined to home. The singing is our gift to them; their smiles and kind words are a gift to us.

May you also give and receive some of these 'greater gifts' this year. After all, God started this tradition of gift-giving by sending God's Son who brought us peace, joy, love, hope and life.

Merry Christmas,

Pastor Kris

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Great Day

Wow! Wow, oh wow! We had a terrific day this past Sunday. Wow! On December 12th Shepherd King celebrated its 50th anniversary and what a tremendous party we had!

First of all, everything looked beautiful. So many people came out to help clean inside and out, plant new flowers, decorate, and set up tables for the lunch that the whole place was radiant. White roses on the altar and on each of the tables only made things more glorious. There were picture albums placed on the long, conference table for people to see; a harpist accompanied our meal. It couldn't possibly have been better.

Bishop Ray Tieman of the Southwestern Texas synod was our guest preacher (and he gave a fine sermon). He also led a Sunday school forum talking about some of the wonderful ministries in the ELCA. The nave was full of people as the service began with the handbell choir playing Vivaldi's "Gloria". Then we baptized the grandson of the first child baptized at Shepherd King 50 years ago and Peyton, the little one, was adorable. A dozen or more children came forward for the children's sermon and Pastor Braulick's grandchildren knew all the answers (imagine that).

The catered lunch was delicious! People had ample time to visit with one another and then we moved back to the sanctuary for the program. Council President Shirley Kearns introduced charter members, former council presidents and former pastors. Then we watched a wonderful slide show DVD of pictures from the past (thanks, Stephanie) which had people "ooo-ing," "ahhh-ing," and laughing. Pastor Huth, Shepherd King's founding pastor, spoke first sharing memories of the early days and provoking us to laughter many times. Then Pastor Braulick spoke, Pastor Kerns, and Pastor Jus. We sang hymns and heard stories of the good old days. Even when everything was over people lingered as though they couldn't bear to leave.

My thanks to everyone who worked so hard to put together this lovely 50th Anniversary celebration for the congregation. As we reviewed Shepherd King's history we were reminded that God is so good. When Pastor Huth arrived here in 1960 there was nothing but grass and some scraggly trees. Shepherd King originally met in a community hall at North Star Mall (which the mall manager, a Roman Catholic, arranged for us to use free of charge). From that small beginning God established a strong and faithful community of people where the gospel has been proclaimed, children have been raised in the faith, God has been glorified in music and prayer, the hungry have been fed, the poor have been clothed, and we have seen the grace of Jesus Christ alive in the world. What a wonderful day! Praise God for this fine group of people and for the life God gives to us all.

Pastor Kris

Monday, December 6, 2010

Advent and Anniversary

"O Lord how shall I meet thee, how welcome thee aright?" the old Advent hymn asks. During these four weeks before Christmas, the Church focuses on preparation. The world around us focuses on preparation, too, but secular preparation is mostly buying things, decorating, planning and fixing meals, and hosting parties. In the Church we ponder how to prepare ourselves for God's coming to earth. We take stock of how we are living and recommit ourselves to loving our neighbors as ourselves. We examine our hearts hoping to root out selfishness, pride, greed, envy, anger and embody God's kindness and graciousness instead. Each year this is our Advent project, making ourselves ready for the arrival of Jesus.

This year at Shepherd King the season of Advent includes a special event: our 50th Anniversary as a congregation. On Sunday, December 12, we will rejoice in 50 years of worship, learning, and service. The bishop of our local synod will be preaching, we will have a baptism, and after worship there will be a catered dinner followed by a program. The program will include a slide show of memories from years past, recollections from previous pastors, and hymns to sing. Shepherd King has been planning this observance for several years and soon the day will finally be here.

Along with our Advent preparations, then, we have been preparing for our 50th anniversary celebration. Last year we completely renovated the kitchen; last week we purchased new chairs for the fellowship hall. A committee has organized a "cross wall" on which crosses donated by members will hang. Others have spent hours going through pictures, transferring them to computer and adding appropriate music. New banners have been created to express our joy in God's goodness. With "company" coming this Sunday, members have come out to clean and decorate. New flowers were bought and planted in the front garden; floors and surfaces were scrubbed and cleaned; the sanctuary and fellowship hall were decorated for Christmas. We have been busy, busy, busy getting ready for the big day.

In some ways the preparations for our Anniversary mirror our preparations for Jesus' arrival. There is an aspect of thoroughness in each, of making ourselves spotless and beautiful for the grand occasion. There is humility in each - scrubbing bathroom floors on our knees and searching within for our own failings. Both are full of excitement and anticipation as the time approaches. And in each case we prepare with hope - hope for another 50 years of involvement in the ministry of Jesus, hope for genuine peace and wellbeing with Jesus' arrival. Indeed, our daily lives with their various occupations and responsibilities are intertwined with the story of God coming to earth as a little child. Jesus comes here, where we live, in the middle of our busy distractions, bringing us new life and everlasting love.

"O come, O come, Emmanuel," we sing during Advent, "and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear." The time is near, the time to "rejoice, rejoice." The holy child is coming; let us prepare to receive our friend and savior.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanks and Pie

Thanksgiving has come and gone - I hope you had a wonderful holiday. We celebrated in grand style at Shepherd King with worship on Wednesday night, Thanksgiving eve. Last year I started a new tradition here. Members are asked to bring a pie (preferably freshly baked) to Thanksgiving Eve worship. After the service we gather in the fellowship fall to sample each other's pies and enjoy fellowship. There were some delicious pies this year - in addition to my own home made pecan pie there were several apple, several pumpkin, a wonderful buttermilk chess pie (still warm), a chocolate pie, and a cherry pie. What a way to kick off the Thanksgiving weekend - with a pie fest! (And mother always told you not to eat your dessert first - hah!)

Gratitude ends up being our final act of worship in the liturgical church year. The Sunday after Thanksgiving is usually the first Sunday in Advent, and Advent begins a new church year. As children we are taught to say "thank you" and "please." Good manners go a long way to creating harmony in society. It's okay if our "thank yous" are mostly a habit, a response we make without much thought. But because saying "thank you" is something of a reflex it's good to have a day set aside for giving more thoughtful thanks.

We have so much for which to be grateful. We are a mobile society, able to travel a great distance in a short time which allows us to visit family and loved ones for a day or a long weekend. We have ample ways to stay in touch with those who live far from us. Most of us have plenty to eat, safe and comfortable homes, friends, freedom to pursue goals that are important to us, work to do, and time to rest. The world itself is a marvel in its scientific makeup and in its beauty. What a privilege to live as part of this wondrous creation. Do we say "thank you" often enough to the God who has blessed us with life?

On Thanksgiving Eve the people in worship had opportunity to voice their specific thanks. A blank sheet of paper was included in the bulletin and worshippers were asked to write a brief prayer of personal thanksgiving. The prayers were collected with the offering and read at the altar as the evening's prayers of the people. Here is a sample of those prayers: "I'm thankful for Jesus, toys, mice, my kitty, pumpkins, family, teachers..." "I'm very thankful for God being with me at all times..." "for the peace of God in the midst of trials and tribulatons..." "for a healthy family..." "for the hours and days spent with my grandchildren..." "for our nation..." "for my best friend..." "for the people of this congregation." There is always more to say, but with these words we tried to express our deep and abiding gratitude to God.

Thanks be to God for Jesus who redeems us and for people who walk with us. Thanks be to God for a past full of memories and a future full of hope. Thanks be to God for love and kindness, for justice and truth, for light in the darkness. Thanks be to God!

Pastor Kris

Monday, November 15, 2010

Beggars and Thieves

This Sunday is Christ the King, a day when the church proclaims that Jesus alone is ruler of heaven and earth. You would think that for such a grand celebration our gospel reading would be one of triumph. It is not. From Luke 23:33-43 it is a scene from Jesus' crucifixion. That seems like an odd place from which to celebrate the King of all creation - at his embarrassing and painful death. Yet this day and this text remind us that God is revealed in perplexing ways, God comes in unexpected forms. It reminds us, also, that we do not and cannot know the Word of God once and for all, not in human form (Jesus) or in written form (scripture).

At his deathbed Martin Luther wrote "we are beggars, it is true." The phrase is frequently quoted so it might not strike life-long Lutherans as offensive. But think about it. Beggars? What did Luther mean? We are very different from common beggars. We bathe regularly, brush our teeth each day, wear fashionable clothes, sleep in a comfortable bed, and have enough (more than enough?) to eat. We earn our living; we don't sit on a street corner asking people for handouts. We don't sleep under a bridge or dig in dumpsters for our supper. How, exactly, are we beggars?

We are so used to paying our own way, to working hard for any raises or promotions we might receive that it is easy for us to forget... God owes us nothing. We do not have God or the Bible "in our back pocket" - to pull out at the moment we need them, to have them handy to give us what we want whenever we ask. Our understanding of scripture, of the good news of Jesus, is a gift from God. Even if we've studied and read the Bible for 20, 50, 100 years we have not mastered it, but need God to open the message for us. Scripture is not something we can learn like a mathematical table and then have its truth tucked away in our brains. We hear and understand scripture only through God's constant giving.

Likewise, faith is not something we work for and achieve ourselves; we receive it from God. Forgiveness and life are not prizes that we attain through good behavior or by virtue of our place in society, our citizenship in the "right" nation. We don't barter with God or manage God; we are beggars. The blessings we receive come from God's generosity, not because we have earned them. Our relationship with God is not like our life in the world where we have a job that pays us a salary, we act responsibly to pay our bills, our house and car note, and thus we have things because we have worked for them. No, everything we have from God (our health, our ability to think and work, our loved ones, air to breathe, challenges, hope, joy...) is given us by God because God is gracious.

On Christ the King Sunday there is a model of how our relationship with Jesus works. As Jesus hangs on the middle cross, a man on the cross next to him asks: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." That man is a convicted thief, being executed for his crimes. He himself admits that his punishment is deserved. As he dies, this thief asks a favor of Jesus. He has no "brownie points" to bargain with; he cannot say "I've always been a good person, so please accept me." The man knows he is a thief, that he has nothing to offer, but still he asks "remember me when you come into your kingdom." And Jesus says "today you will be with me in Paradise."

Beggars and thieves - that's who we are in relation to God. And God gladly receives us, embraces us with love, fills us with life. God welcomes all of us beggars and thieves, whatever our history, whatever our present condition. For God's love is greater than our successes or our failures, and God's mercy bids everyone to come and be blessed.

Rejoicing in Christ the King,

Pastor Kris

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Breathing Together

The end of the year with all its festivities just wouldn't feel right without a special concert or two. The anticipation of Advent, when we wait with hope for Jesus to come, and the joy of Christmas when Christ is born are expressed most beautifully in the songs of the season.

When I was growing up in Austin - many years ago - the University of Texas had an annual free Christmas concert for the community. It was held outside on the mall right in the center of campus. The concert was in the evening and most years it was rather cold so that folks would bundle up in jackets and scarves. My family always attended those wonderful events. Several University choirs and the concert band would be lined up in different spots in front of the U.T. tower. Their performances of holiday music were interspersed with carols where everyone was invited to sing. That concert was one of the highlights of my Christmas, even when I was only 8 or 10 years old - the crowd, the beautiful music, the singing, stamping your feet to keep warm.

At some point the University discontinued those concerts for obvious reasons - it is a state funded school and those concerts were religious in nature. My father was pastor of First English Lutheran church at the time, which is located very near campus. He tried to arranged things so the same event could be held at the church rather than on campus. That effort evolved into a new Christmas tradition - the New Texas Music Works featuring choirs from the University and singing familiar carols at the church. Eventually the New Texas Music Works became an independent and nationally renowned choral group, Conspirare, created and directed by Craig Hella Johnson. Their Christmas concerts, which are sold out each year in Austin, are known as Christmas at the Carillon and they are wonderful. (A phenomenal group, Conspirare has twice been nominated for a Grammy award.)

This year Conspirare will be offering their Christmas at the Carillon concert here in San Antonio as well as in Austin. My husband and I purchased tickets months ago. The concert will be at Laurel Heights United Methodist Church on Friday, December 3rd at 7pm. For more information you can visit Conspirare's website: There are other options for Christmas music in San Antonio, including the 106th annual German Christmas Candlelight Celebration featuring the Beethoven men's choir, December 12 at the chapel at Trinity University.

Don't let the holy season pass by without taking some time to indulge yourself in an atmosphere of reflection and renewal. Plan ahead to participate in a special holiday celebration that will lift your spirits and fill you with Christmas peace.

Pastor Kris

Monday, November 1, 2010

"Soul" Music

I was so tired last night, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. Two members from Shepherd King died from cancer last week. Being with their families and sharing in their grief left me feeling sad and drained. Not only that, but my husband has been trying to find a job for such a long time - we think he might get hired soon, but we're not sure. As the months go by and he remains jobless I worry about his self esteem; it is such a discouraging process for him. Of course I have prayed for each of these things and will continue praying about them, but last night I just felt numb and weary.

A few weeks ago we were driving through Austin with the radio on and a certain song caught my attention. I didn't hear the name of the song or the band, but I've been thinking about it ever since. I kept meaning to track it down from the few words I remembered and then either buy the CD or download the song. Last night I finally did that; after just a little searching I discovered the song is called "Kandi" and is sung by One Eskimo. I went to Amazon and downloaded it onto my ipod.

Of course then I had to listen to it a few times. And since the ipod was plugged in and playing, I let it continue through a cycle of music that included some of my favorites: "Heavenly Day" by Patti Griffin, "Goodbye to Old Missoula" by Willis Alan Ramsey, "What's Been Going On" by Amos Lee, "When I Was Drinking" by Hem. Listening to the music - singing along - I was lifted out of my funk and up into another realm. My whole being felt lighter, less burdened. The restorative power of music had given me release.

Martin Luther said "when we sing, we pray twice." That is absolutely true. I assume Luther was referring to sacred music since its words and melodies are intended to guide our worship. Several hymns have been running through my mind lately - "Blessing and Honor and Glory and Power," and "Crown Him with Many Crowns" - each of which has turned my thoughts away from worry to the strength and goodness of God. Sacred music of all kinds can guide our hearts and spirits from sorrow to peace.

But it isn't only sacred music that helps us communicate with God. Secular music can also be like "prayer" when it articulates, truthfully, our own experiences. Music becomes a channel for us to lay our hearts open to God, expressing our frustrations, our hopes, our sorrows. Even if the subject matter of the song differs from our present struggles, the desire or the pathos in the music speaks for us in our troubles. And relief comes because we have voiced our grief or our fear or our enthusiasm with genuine emotion.

God hears us when we pray, and that includes when our deepest yearnings are expressed in song - sacred or secular. Music lets us convey what is in our hearts, and it carries us to the heart of God. What a blessed communion when we reveal ourselves and find, in turn, that God's welcome and love have embraced us.


Pastor Kris

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Short Time

He stood by her bed, a gentle look on his face. "You know," he said, "fifty-seven years is a short time."

I have comforted many people as their loved one dies. Often, if I don't know the person well, I have asked "how long were you married" and when the reply is something like "forty years" or "fifty years" I say, "that's a long time." It sounds long -- anything nearing forty years and certainly over fifty years spent with one person, making a home together, raising a family, facing life's daily challenges and pleasures by each other's sides. So it caught me off guard a little when he said "fifty-seven years is a short time."

What probably felt much longer was the five or six years his dying wife had struggled with cancer. He had mentioned the beginning, a spot on her colon which doctors said was nothing to worry about, yet three years later they determined it was cancerous. The initial operation was successful, but within a year or two the cancer had returned, this time in her abdomen. Those cancerous cells were removed and she underwent more rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Although the odds had not been particularly good, his wife was such a fighter that she recovered quite well at that stage. However, a few months later she suddenly began to fall a lot and tumors were found in her brain. Before long she decided she had had enough and it was time to let go.

Her husband was with her every day at the rehabilitation facility. Hospice was brought in. Because she could not do it, her husband made sure someone fed her at mealtime until the day she would not eat anymore. Then he sat with her, quietly for the most part, waiting, remembering those many years together, that "short time."

Death comes unexpectedly even when we wait for it. What else could it be but a surprise? We have never died before and do not know, personally, what it is like. Nor do we know what life without a beloved partner might be until she is gone. Death confounds us even when we are familiar with it. Where does our loved one go? Where will we go or what will we be (or not "be") when we die? We wrestle with these and other questions in the face of death. Maybe most of all we wonder about God. Is God real? Are God's promises genuine?

We have no proof of life after death. Faith is totally different from proof - something that can be "proved" with data does not need "faith" from us, only reason to understand. But faith holds fast to what we cannot see. Faith trusts a God we know, not by sight, but by relationship with a Word and how that Word gets embodied in other people. We believe in the life everlasting, not because we have visual evidence, but because the message of God's love has touched us, the strength of God's presence has supported us, the truth of God's promise has moved us to trust it with all our heart. When death comes we rely on the faith we have known over a lifetime, a faith that has grown and matured until we can die trusting in the love of the Creator.

"Fifty-seven years is a short time," he said. It is a short time, but it is not the end. Through God's eternal love there is more life, deeper life, unending life beyond the grave.

In God's peace,

Pastor Kris

Monday, October 18, 2010

Little Ones

Lions, tigers and bears - oh my!! And not on the Wizard of Oz, but in our fellowship hall here at Shepherd King last Monday night there were lions, tigers and bears! Well... maybe not lions, but tigers and bears -- all of them cubs. We extend a warm welcome to Cub Scout Troop 510, now meeting at Shepherd King several times a month. This is the Harmony Hills Scout Troop and we are glad to have them!!

Last Monday was a pack meeting, which meant all the dens were here at the same time and each boy brought a parent with him. The boys were awarded badges and pins for various accomplishments they had made over the summer. While waiting their turn to come forward, the boys sat coloring at a table and chatting with their friends. They were happy and excited to be together.

When a church considers having a scout troop meet in its building there are often some concerns. Members - who here have recently worked hard to update the kitchen and fellowship hall - wonder whether the boys will have enough supervision, whether they'll take good care of the property. They might spill snacks on the carpet (new carpet!), or smudge up the walls (newly painted walls!). They might get into things they are supposed to leave alone. And the scouts cannot pay us for using our building - electricity, water, furnishings. This pack is just trying to raise enough money to pay for their supplies and their awards. So it's a little risky to have them meet in our facilities. We've signed a contract and they promise to keep it clean, but you never know...

So why should a church allow scouts to use their facilities? Because kids in the neighborhood need a safe place to go and this is a service we can offer them. Because Shepherd King's mission goals for the next several years are to be involved in ministry to the community, especially families and children. Because Jesus said "let the little children come to me and do not prevent them; to such as these belongs the kingdom of God." So the building might get some wear and tear, but families in our neighborhood will be blessed by having a good environment for their children to learn and grow.

We have gifts and treasures at Shepherd King, including our building and grounds. What good are our gifts and treasures if we just keep them to ourselves? Nothing can grow - not faith, not hope, not community - unless we share, giving generously of who we are and what we possess. God has blessed us in many ways. Blessings are never meant to be horded, but always to be passed around, given away. We celebrate these gifts from God when we welcome others to enjoy them as well. Praise God that the cubs, the tigers and the bears can experience the love of God and of their neighbors here at Shepherd King.

Pastor Kris

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sex Talk

There are six young people in Shepherd King's confirmation class, ages 12-14, three girls and three boys. Last year we studied the Bible; this year we are studying Luther's Small Catechism. Yesterday was our second day with the 10 Commandments and we were looking at the second set, the ones that pertain to us and other people, numbers 4 through 10 (as Lutherans number them). "Honor your father and mother," "Do not murder" - we had some pretty good discussions about those. Then we got to number 6 "do not commit adultery" and, of course, we talked about sex.

Several years ago in North Carolina I attended an evening program at the local high school on the topic of young people and sexual activity. I'm not easily shocked, but what I learned that night was troubling. More and more kids are becoming sexually active in middle school. Presenters urged parents to begin talking about sex when their children are 10 years old. These days, many young people don't consider oral sex to be "sex" so it occurs frequently and casually. At some youth parties boys will have a contest to see how many girls they can find to give them oral sex - the boy with the highest number wins. As I said, I'm not easily shocked, but I was that night. What does this sort of behavior do to a young person's sense of self, to their view of themselves as both a bodily and a spiritual person, to their ability to give themselves in a meaningful way to a lifelong partner? And who is talking to young people about these things, about the connection between our physical self and our mental, emotional, and spiritual self, about health issues and sexual contact?

Somebody needs to be talking with young people about sexual activity and how to handle sex responsibly, about the risks and dangers of being sexually active especially at a young age. And youth need a place where they can ask questions, where they can openly express their thoughts and perspectives on sex. The Church should be this sort of place, a safe place where young people can be fully human and can learn about being a whole person - body, mind and spirit.

So yesterday we talked about sex - about the likelihood that people today will wait to have sex until they are married, about the benefits of waiting, and about the desires we all have. We talked about sexuality as a good gift from God, a wonderful thing to be both celebrated and respected. A few kids had questions, there was lots of giggling and some blushing, but through it all we had an honest conversation. I hope, more than anything, that the students realized they can bring their questions and their true feelings to our class.

These days with all the controversy about sex and the church - the scandals involving priests/pastors and young people, the issue of homosexuality - we might be inclined to avoid the whole topic. I hope we don't because young people need guidance for living well and that includes talking about sex. The 6th commandment is a place to start, but I'm hoping the conversation has just begun. I hope Shepherd King will be a place where young people can learn about being human, where they can grapple with real issues as we seek, together, to be like Jesus.

Pastor Kris

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sunday mornings...

How do you spend your Sunday mornings? Some people sleep late and enjoy a leisurely breakfast, reading the newspaper or being with family. I admit that option appeals to me. I hear Sunday mornings are good for golfing, but I don't participate in that sport so I don't know. For me, Sundays - the whole week in fact - would not seem right without worship. But for the general population, there are attractive alternatives.

I must admit, when I'm on vacation, although I attend worship somewhere I rarely go to Sunday school. In fact, I might not even go to Sunday school at Shepherd King if I did not lead the class. There's something wrong with that picture, especially because I LOVE studying scripture and talking with other people about the intersection between faith and daily life. I recently took a year to return to seminary as a fulltime student and it was wonderful!! Going to classes, reading my assignments, studying, writing papers, taking tests - was invigorating. So why is it that Sunday school does not have the same effect?

Everyone needs to learn about their faith, throughout their lives. It can be exciting to explore scripture and talk about how it applies to our lives. I remember how I loved Sunday school back when I was in high school. My friends and I would gather to discuss current issues, to grapple with real-life situations like abortion, capital punishment, pre-marital sex, war, pollution, homelessness, and drug use. God and faith really came alive for me in those Sunday school sessions.

These days I don't find Sunday school very stimulating. I try to use good materials; currently we are studying the book of Acts. In a few months we plan to read and discuss Amish Grace, a book about forgiveness in the Amish community after someone killed several girls at an Amish school. These are good topics, but attendance is sluggish and lately our sessions have not been... uh... riveting. It makes me wonder what our congregation might do differently to engage people in conversation about scripture, faith matters, and daily life. Are there other topics, or is there a different format that might encourage people to gather and reflect on God's presence in our lives? (Suggestions are welcome; either post a comment or send me one at

What gets me is this: God's Word is not dull or irrelevant. Its themes are ones we struggle with today, its stories are revealing, surprising, exciting. But often the church fails to convey the power and immediacy of scripture narratives in Sunday school classes. Reading and talking about the Bible could, actually, be the most interesting and alluring part of Church life if we could figure out how to do it well. And that's why it is so distressing to me when it fails.

We in the Church need to present better opportunities for people to wrestle with issues of daily life and scripture/faith. We need to find a way to unleash the potency of the Bible in worship and in Christian education. We need to articulate the Word of God in ways that grab the imagination of contemporary people. Otherwise folks today will likely choose from among those appealing alternatives available on Sunday mornings.

Opening my Bible...

Pastor Kris

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Gate

There's something about gates in New Testament stories. Most cities were walled to protect against enemies. The walls had numerous gates, with roads going in different directions. But the main gate to the city was the place where court was held, where people brought grievances, and judgment was pronounced. The prophets accuse God's people of disregarding the poor at the gate; the poor were at the gate hoping for a measure of justice or compassion. When their concerns were ignored or magnified by those who might have helped them, God was angered.

Many a story and joke has been told about another gate - the "pearly gates" we usually call them. I have a cartoon on my door that shows a man standing before St. Peter at the gates to heaven. The man looks aghast as Peter says "you had it removed? Don't you know the human soul resides in the appendix?" A third man in the picture says "relax, he's just messing with you."

There are gated communities all around the city, places where non-residents have no access to the streets or the neighborhood. Some apartment complexes have gates that have to be opened with a code before one can drive in to park. And many people's homes have a fence with a gate around them to mark their territory and discourage strangers from approaching. These kinds of gates are primarily for safety; they keep unwanted people away.

In Luke 16:19-31 most of the action takes place by a gate. The gate leads to a wealthy person's house. The wealthy person comes and goes, each day, by way of that gate. On the inside of the gate is comfort, security, plenty. We are told that the wealthy person "feasts" every day. He leads the sort of life we desire.

Lazarus sits outside the gate. He is destitute: hungry, sick, homeless. Lazarus knows that inside the gate is "the good life;" he'll never live there, but maybe someone will bring him some scraps from the table, the food that usually goes in the trash. Day after day he waits, but he gets nothing.

Lazarus dies. The wealthy person also dies. This time instead of a gate there is an unbreachable gulf between the two. Father Abraham holds Lazarus close, consoling him. The wealthy man sweats and burns in the fires of hell, but he sees Lazarus sitting in God's realm. "Send Lazarus to fetch me a drink," he calls, "I've a raging thirst down here." How ironic that the person who would not cross the gate to give Lazarus his table scraps, now expects Lazarus to bring him a drink. The story tells us that, for the wealthy man, it is too late. Whereas in life, the gate was a place of passage - a person could go from one side to the other with water or food - in death the gulf between the blessed and the cursed is permanent.

We live in the wealthiest nation in the world. 80 percent of the population sits at American's gate hoping for something to eat. Poverty is rising here in American, as well, especially among African-American and Hispanic people. (See: ) We might not think of ourselves as wealthy, but to those without work, without money, without food we are rich indeed. Wealth - even moderate wealth - is a responsibility. What will we do with those outside our gate?

There are plenty of agencies that address hunger in the world. Lutheran World Hunger Relief is an excellent organization; all donations go directly to help the hungry. Giving money to such agencies is one good response. But there are also things we can do locally. Here at Shepherd King Lutheran we are having our annual Sausage Supper on Friday, October 8th. Tickets are $6.50 and we are encouraging members when they buy a ticket for themselves to buy another for someone who needs a meal. We will gather a list of people in our community who are struggling and will bring them a sausage supper plate from the donated tickets so that when we are feasting our neighbors won't go hungry.

Open the gate. See the neighbor who sits and waits for a morsel to eat. Remember the world outside your door, outside our nation's door, and honor God by finding ways to share your wealth with "Lazarus."


Pastor Kris

Monday, September 13, 2010

Burning with Honor

Last weekend the big news came from Florida, from a pastor there who planned to hold a public burning of the Koran on the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks. He said he would cancel the book-burning when Muslims in New York City agreed to move the planned Mosque and Community center away from the World Trade Center site. (It's current site is 2 blocks from ground zero.) After dominating the headlines for several days, the Pastor called off the Koran-burning. This is the kind of publicity the Christian Church does not need. It is already difficult to convince moderate-minded, intelligent, non-churched people that we are not a bunch of wild-eyed fanatics devoted to sending the world to hell. And we're not. But proposing activities like burning the Koran makes us seem so.

Why would anyone think burning the Koran would accomplish a good end? We have all seen disturbing newsclips from around the world where people hold pieces of a burning United States flag. That is a painful image for many American citizens, those who honor the flag, those who have fought for our nation, those whose loved ones have died defending our country. Seeing other people burning our flag tends to upset us, make our blood boil. And the flag, though it is a very important symbol, is not directly related to our worship of God. No good can come from desecrating the holy symbols of other people. It only makes them angry and gives them reason to want to hurt us. Burning the Koran is both foolish and wrong.

As I was driving home on loop 410 the other evening, darkness just setting in, I saw something fluttering off to my left. It was a huge American flag. I was dismayed because daylight was gone and that flag was waving in total darkness. When an American flag is displayed it should either be taken down at night or be lighted as soon as darkness falls. It is a curious thing how quick we are to take offense when someone else burns the flag, yet we ourselves do not show it proper respect. We wear the flag as clothing - on shirts and even shorts. When I was in elementary school we learned that there were specific rules regarding the American flag. It should not be handled more than is necessary; it should never touch the ground. Why do we dismiss those guidelines and yet feel outrage at how someone else treats our flag?

In like manner, we are quick to denounce any perceived dishonor to the Bible. We disparage any decision that seems to dismiss the Christian faith. This is understandable; no one likes to see their symbols of worship, of God, treated poorly. And yet, do we honor God in our words and actions? Do we set aside a day each week (Sabbath) for rest and for communing with God and with others of our faith? Do we show our loyalty to Jesus by keeping his commandment to love others as God has loved us? Or is it only when other people seem to threaten our ideal of "Church," of "Christianity," that we protest?

If we are burning with desire to honor God we can find plenty of ways to do that. Micah says simply (6:8)"(God) has told you...what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with you God?" We can honor God by striving for justice, by being kind and humble. Deuteronomy 6:5 tells us "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" and Jesus adds "and your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:37)If we want to honor God we can do so by loving one another. No one honors God perfectly, but by concentrating our efforts on these things we can demonstrate love and devotion to God.

So let's keep ourselves busy honoring God. Let's dedicate ourselves to justice for all people. Let's work to be gracious and kind to everyone. Let's wear our love for God on our sleeve by loving the people in our lives, even those it is hardest to love. Showing honor for God with how we live is much more effective than burning books, any day.


Pastor Kris

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Stories for Life

Vacation has come and gone, now it's back to work. This is true for me and likely it is true for you reading this, as well. The office is the same as when I left. There's mail and email piled up, people to see, meetings to attend, things to do. I'm sure the wild kittens under the building have grown, but they and their mother are hiding today because it is raining. As the day proceeds, life settles into its usual rhythm and routine.

I've been reading a book by Marshall Gregory entitled Shaped by Stories: The Ethical Power of Narratives. It's an insightful study about the way stories mold us into the people we become. Gregory says that human beings crave stories, and one of the reasons we do is because they help us make sense of our lives. Reading (or hearing, or watching a movie), places us in someone else's life. The story frames that life, giving it order and bringing it to a conclusion that reveals its purpose. We don't know the conclusion of our own lives; knowing what our lives "mean" or what they are "for" is difficult to discern. When we enter someone else's stories we encounter possibilities that we can reflect on and apply to ourselves.

We need stories to help us sort through the disorder of daily life, as one thing simply follows another without cohesion. I brush my teeth and drive to work; I sit at my desk; I buy groceries; I talk to my parents on the phone; I exercise or maybe nap; I play with my cats; I go to bed. Those events do not tie into one another except by the fact that I do them all. But when we watch a TV show or listen to our favorite music, there is a clear line of progress, there is harmony between the parts, there is a satisfying ending. The story gives us a way to think about day to day living; it helps us make sense of the world.

God comes to us in stories. The stories of scripture beckon us to enter them and experience along with others God's nearness, God's judgment, God's call to trust God and thereby live a rich and full life. Which are the two Sundays when most people attend worship? Christmas and Easter: the occasions on which our most vital stories are told - stories we love to hear - the birth of God's Son in Bethlehem, and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Our salvation itself is a story - the living, the dying and the rising of Christ. Because God's Word is given to us in story we can step into it ourselves, live the experience through what we hear and read, and then ponder what it means for our lives.

At Shepherd King there is a different story every Sunday. This Sunday we will hear about the lost sheep. What a pertinent topic! All of us know what it is like to feel lost and alone, shut-out. The theme of this week's proclamation, however, is not only about being lost, but about the arduous search God undertakes for us. God is not a number cruncher, content to let some remain lost because "that's just how it is." God pursues us until each of us has been found by love, by welcome, by the purposeful life God gives.

Stories change us. They shape our lives. This Sunday's story tells us we are of great value to God even when we feel forgotten. The more we hear this tale the more we know we are beloved, and our neighbor is beloved. The stories alter our perspective and our actions. Knowing we are so honored by God that God never gives up on us, we learn to honor one another with unfailing love and hope.

Open yourself to the story of God in the world, of God's love for you and for all. It will revive your spirit and lift up your heart.


Pastor Kris

Friday, August 20, 2010

School Battles

A friend took issue with my last post, the one about Shepherd King's blessing of the book bags. He recalled his own experience in school - how he was harassed, bullied and beaten up by bigger, more popular boys, the "jocks" especially. He not only went to church every Sunday, he also prayed that these boys would leave him alone, but they kept on making his life hellish. Was God asleep, he asked, or just ignoring him?

It's a good question. I've never understood people who make light of the worries that school children have. It's tough to be a student in a school with several hundred (or thousand) other youth your same age. There are people smarter than you, bigger than you, and with more influence than you. Finding where you fit in, and then staying safe from those who want to ridicule you or abuse you is challenging - challenging each day. Last year one of our kids was regularly humiliated by a teacher in front of the entire class. How is a 12 or 13 year old supposed to deal with that? Some kids bring weapons to school, or drugs; others begin experimenting with sex at a very young age. How are kids supposed to find a safe way through such dangers?

It is because of the dangers kids face at school that I like to open the school year with a communal blessing for them, asking God to go with them into those classrooms, hallways, school bathrooms and other battlefields. It is hard enough to figure out who you are and who you are becoming as a youth without having to endure pressure to drink or have sex because "everyone else is doing it," without having to suffer physical and mental abuse from other students or even teachers. And so we ask God to be present in schools, to encourage those who are weak and unsure, to guide students and teachers alike, to watch out for those who are in trouble and to teach those who are inclined to use power the wrong way.

Prayer is one way we can support young people, teachers, and administrators who are beginning a new school year. At Shepherd King we are also asking members to become mentors to students at our adopted school, Eisenhower Middle School. Mentoring gives a youth someone to talk to, someone neutral who is on his/her side, someone who cares for him/her. Mentors spend time with their assigned student and get to know what is going on in that young person's life. A mentor can ease a student's worries, suggest ways to cope with difficult situations, and talk to school officials on the student's behalf. By being mentors we are not only asking God to bless our school, we are taking steps ourselves to make schools more manageable. When we offer ourselves, God works through us to bring compassion, help, and hope to school children.

If you are interested in becoming a mentor at Eisenhower, call the church office and find out more. And whether or not you become a mentor, please pray for students, teachers, and administrators as the new school year begins.


Pastor Kris

Monday, August 16, 2010

Book bags and Blessings

The new school year is about to begin. Are you a teacher? A student? An administrator at a school? Each fall brings a rush of activity – buying new clothes and school supplies, preparing lesson plans, the excitement of the first day, seeing friends again, getting your class schedule. The busy-ness of a new year means challenges as well – learning new names, resuming (or building) study habits, discerning the class clown and grappling with getting the attention of those who already look bored, dealing with peer pressure and bullies, discovering which parents will be hard to deal with or non-existent.

Those students, teachers, and school administrators who stop by Shepherd King this coming Sunday (August 22) will receive a special blessing to kick off the new school year. We call this the “blessing of the book bags;” everyone going back to school is encouraged to bring his or her book bags to worship. During the service we’ll ask school folks to come forward with their book bags and be blessed. Even though it’s called the book bag blessing, we’re really blessing the people.

Some people love school; others endure it. But either way, a word of blessing for the new year is appropriate; it reminds us that God goes with us into our daily world. Whether you’re eating lunch with friends in the cafeteria, trying to find your locker, getting teased by someone you don’t like, working to understand a math problem, or wishing that kid in the back would settle down… God is present. God roams the corridors of your school as much as any student or principal, staying nearby to encourage, to heal, to sustain us.

The same is true, of course, if you work at a factory or a shop, have an office in a high rise, or stay home to clean and cook. God is with you. If the day is stressful, if you have an important assignment, if you’re lonely or sad - take a moment and talk to God, listen for God’s guidance. Take a moment to remember that you are a child of God and that you are loved. Remember, too, that those around you are also children of God, loved by their creator. God is not distant or unconcerned, but is near at hand to help you fulfill your calling, accomplish your work.

The new school year is about to begin and we will be blessing the book bags this Sunday. Whether or not you are involved at school, join us for worship – 8:00 or 10:30 – and be blessed.

Pastor Kris

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What is the Church for?

Throughout my twenty-plus years in ordained ministry I have frequently stepped back from the everyday work and busy-ness to ask myself "what is the church for? What is its purpose?" It is so easy to get caught up in planning and attending meetings, writing reports and preaching sermons, attending conferences, reading about the latest approach to church growth or to encourage giving that the larger purpose of the Church slips out of sight. What are we here for anyway?

The purpose of a Christian Church is to worship God and witness to Jesus Christ. By "witness to Jesus Christ" I mean teach the gospel, reach out with compassion to those around us in need, love others in our actions and our words, support each other in faith, look for opportunities to tell how faith makes a difference in our lives, and visit the sick, the lonely and the imprisoned. All those things constitute "witnessing to Jesus."

Mainline churches these days are fixated on growth. A small group of authors is getting rich selling books on "the seven steps to congregational growth" or "12 principles of effective outreach". While many of these books have great ideas, increasing the membership of a congregation is not that simple. At the heart of the matter is the question "why?" Why is this church trying to grow? Why should people attend this church? If we're trying to grow simply to stay in existence as a church, that doesn't cut it. If we don't know who we are - our strengths and our gifts - well enough to say why others should come to our congregation, clarifying our identity is a good place to start.

What is the Church for? It is to be the presence of Jesus in a given neighborhood, in the city, in the world. Every program, meeting and goal within a congregation ought to be congruent with that statement. Shepherd King is seeking to grow by gaining more young families and children. Why? Because families need the help and support of a Christian community; because children need to learn about the love of God from caring adults and with other children; because the more we grow the more we can give back to the community through ministry in Christ. Shepherd King is seeking to grow, not only for growth's sake, but as we carry out ministry and for the sake of furthering the gospel of Jesus Christ in the world.

What is the Church for? It is a Body to address the needs of a hurting world. Together we glorify God with our worship and our lives of faithfulness. A church is a place where our own faith is strengthened by fellowship and service with others. It is a place that challenges us to grow in our relationship with God and to give our time, our financial support, and our love to other people - the poor, the hungry, the neighborhood with its challenges, the elderly, single parents, people who endure violence, the unemployed, children.

Shepherd King's current goals are ministry with youth and families - especially our involvement with Eisenhower Middle School, and feeding people in both body and soul - through Angel Food, CAM collection, weekly worship and other programs.

All are welcome to be a part of our worship and our work in Christ.

Pastor Kris

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

S.O. S. - Life in the larger community.

How can a congregation be an active partner in its local community? What should a church's role be in the community in which it is located? If our aim is to witness to the love of Jesus, how can we actively do that in our particular setting?

Shepherd King's name suggests many possibilities. Scripture is full of images that portray shepherds and their role. God is depicted as the Good Shepherd; in contrast other scriptures reprimand shepherds who have neglected or abused their role (see Jeremiah 23:1-6). Psalm 23 shows the good shepherd leading us to green pastures and still waters - nourishing us, giving us refreshment, keeping us safe. In John 21:15-19 the risen Jesus urges Peter to "feed my lambs" and "tend my sheep." Jesus is Lord and King of all, but not like secular kings who often oppress and tryanize their subjects; instead Jesus is a "shepherd" king, one who watches over, provides for, and loves the flock.

Cleary, then, a congregation named "Shepherd King" is called to be involved in its community as a good shepherd who shares the lives and concerns of his neighbors. Finding ways to do this, however, can be challenging. As an expression of our care for the people in our community, our congregation has adopted a local school - Eisenhower Middle School. We call this: "Support Our School" or S.O.S. Our first project has been to gather school supplies for fall that teachers and administrators can have available for students who need them.

We will also be encouraging members to become mentors to students. Once approved for being a mentor, the volunteer will be assigned a student and then will spend time with that student - perhaps by eating lunch with him or her at the school cafeteria during the week. Middle school can be a tough time for a young person, what with study and learning, growing into their bodies and entering puberty, peer pressure and possible worries at home. Having an objective, caring adult spend time with her/him can make a tremendous difference in a student's life.

Shepherd King also plans to support our school by helping with landscaping projects -- tending flowerbeds, weeding, watering - to keep Eisenhower's property attractive and clean. We are hoping that at least 10 people from the congregation, maybe more, will become actively involved in these aspects of S.O.S. After all, this is our neighborhood and these are our children and families we are seeking to nurture and support.

If you want to be involved, call the church office 210-344-5881 and ask what you can do to Support Our School. Together we can be faithful ambassadors of the Good Shepherd, our Lord, Jesus.

Pastor Kris

Monday, July 26, 2010


Taking a Sunday off from my usual church duties I drove up to Austin to worship at my home congregation, First English Lutheran, with my Mom and Dad. How wonderful - seeing friends in faith I've had since childhood, being in that beautiful, holy space with its brick floors, plaster arches, and wood beamed ceiling. My spirit is refreshed!

Back at my folk's house I learned that one of my Aunts is growing weak. She's in her late 80s and lives far from us. Apparently she fell recently, was too weak to rise on her own and lay on the floor for a full day before help came. As a pastor I have known many people, people dear to me, who have faced similar situations. Dear Gus had a stroke and could have laid in bed for days had not his daughter come by several hours later. It hurt to hear about his suffering.

But this hit closer to home. The news went straight to my stomach like a clenched fist. It lingered in my mind as a cloud of foreboding throughout the day. What does this mean for my Aunt? Can she grow stronger, or is this a step in her progression toward death? I thought of her son and daughter, my cousins, the concern and sorrow they must feel.

Hearing about my Aunt did not just elicit my sympathy, it set me to grappling with mortality - hers, my parents, my own. A person can think about death and dying, but when its presence sweeps close by your home, your family, those thoughts invade your consciousness at a deeper level. If my Aunt has grown this frail how much longer will my own mother and father be mobile, be well, be alive? What will it be like to watch their decline, to lose them? What does this mean for my husband and I - for our bodies, our health, our future?

While I was pondering these things the memory of a hymn from morning worship was running through my head. Although its words do not address my specific concerns, it served as a counterpoint to them. Hearing the melody, the singing, in my mind, I was brought back to Sunday morning - the sense of God's presence, the people gathered in worship and those no longer living. The song seemed to wrap around everything with a word of hope, a reminder of the One we trust and of his promises.

"Christ be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness. Christ, be our light! Shine in your church gathered today." (text by Bernadette Farrell, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, hymn #715) Without that hymn playing behind my fretting, the world would have been only somber, uncertain, fearful. But from the lift of the tune and the strength of the words, announcing God's reign now and forever, sorrow was softened by the truth of God's love, God's mercy.

Praise to Christ Jesus who is with us today and always.

Pastor Kris

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Give Me Jesus

What a crazy week this has been! Each day I've been working frantically to find material on Mary, the mother of Jesus, so I will be prepared for the class I'm leading at Vacation Bible School -- "Our Lady of... studies in Mary." Since I know little about the Roman Catholic traditions of venerating Mary, I've had to search for and read lots of material before each evening's class. Whew!

This Sunday we hear the brief story of Martha and her sister Mary. Martha has invited Jesus to their home. While she works to serve her guest, Mary sits at Jesus' feet listening and learning. Martha complains to Jesus that Mary is leaving all the work to her. (That doesn't sound fair!) But Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen the better option. "Martha, Martha," he says "you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing."

What's going on with Martha? Is she trying to be "Martha Stewart" and rather than simply serving her guest, burdening herself with lofty expectations of how the table should be set or arranging the flowers just so? A colleague of mine who loves to entertain said more bluntly that Martha is simply being ungracious - inviting someone to her home and then complaining about having to work to serve him. Maybe Martha is run down and tired after a hectic week. But the bottom line, it seems, is that Martha is distracted by less important matters while Mary is listening to Jesus. Disciples sit at the feet of their teachers - Mary, at Jesus' feet, is trying to learn what Jesus has to teach.

We will sing a wonderful hymn this Sunday right after the sermon. I chose this hymn and it will probably be unfamiliar to most of my congregants. But I love it. In fact, I hope I don't get choked up while we sing it. It is the spiritual "Give Me Jesus." I don't know that I would even have to preach if we could simply meditate on the words of this hymn: "In the morning when I rise, in the morning when I rise, in the morning when I rise... give me Jesus. Give me Jesus, give me Jesus. You can have all the rest, give me Jesus. Dark midnight was my cry, dark midnight was my cry, dark midnight was my cry, give me Jesus... You can have all the rest, give me Jesus." (African American spiritual - Evangelical Lutheran Worship, hymn #770)

Yes, you can have all the rest - the material things, the worry, the distractions, the quarrelling, the striving for more... just give me Jesus.

Pastor Kris

Monday, July 12, 2010

Praying for hunger...

I say my prayers at night, just before bed. I've tried mornings, but my mind is too foggy to communicate anything but: "let me be a blessing today." Last night as I prayed I thought of my nieces and nephews - all very dear to me - of how grown they are getting to be. I used to write and send devotional thoughts to the older ones when they were in high school and college, but I haven't done that regularly with the two younger ones. Argh!

Life in the faith is such a treasure. How do we share that with others - share it so that they can feel, smell, taste the goodness of knowing and serving God? I teach confirmation class to young people and I work to make the material interesting, relevant to their lives. But sometimes they sit in class like bumps on a log, or they discreetly fiddle with their iphones, uninterested in the mysteries I'm trying to open up to them. And then there are my own beloved nieces and nephews - I don't see them often. How do I pass on to them the sense of joy and fulfillment I have in my life with God and with God's people in the church?

Last night I prayed for my two nieces and four nephews, asking God to reveal himself to them in their daily lives. I prayed that they would hunger, yearn for God's presence and that they would find no satisfaction except in God - the Word of scripture, the gathering of the faithful to worship and to serve, the nearness of God in prayer. Saint Augustine said "our hearts are restless O God, until we rest in thee." Yes, indeed. And I pray that God stir up that restlessness in my nieces and nephews until they must seek God and let God draw near to them. Truly, there is no peace, no joy, no contentment like that of God's presence, of learning and following God's Word, of serving the world in God's name.

May we all be so blessed. Peace

Pastor Kris

Friday, July 9, 2010

Cultural Mary

I attended a series of lectures at Oblate last month. It is a beautiful campus and the lectures - by Walter Brueggemann - were terrific. (Walter Brueggemann is one of my favorite Old Testament scholars.) One evening lecture ended earlier than expected so I wandered around the grounds of the Oblate school. They have some lovely gardens, but I was especially interested in seeing the grotto. I made my way over there and was enthralled. It is a beautiful shrine with various quiet spots to sit and meditate. There were lighted candles and, of course, statues of Mary. The Grotto is to Our Lady of Lourdes and is said to be a close replica of the one in France. It was peaceful there, a haven tucked away from the rush of the city.

After visiting the grotto I ruminated on how I don't understand all these titles for the Virgin Mary - "Our Lady of Lourdes" and "Our Lady of Fatima" and "Our Lady of Sorrows." Of course I've heard about the aparitions of Mary that people have seen and how the location then becomes a revered site. But as a Lutheran Christian, none of this makes much sense to me. Having recently arrived in San Antonio with its large Mexican-American and Roman Catholic population, it occurred to me that I want to learn about this if for no other reason to have a better understanding of my neighbors. Lutherans do not often pay much attention to Mary, the mother of Jesus, except at Christmas. But Christians in the Roman Catholic Church show tremendous devotion to Mary throughout the year. Why is that?

I decided to lead a 5 night inquiry on Mary and her various titles for our adult class in Vacation Bible School. Bible School starts next week, Monday, July 12, and the adult class will meet in the parlor from 6:30 to 8pm. We will hear the story of "Our Lady of Guadalupe" from my friend and colleague Pastor Paul Bailie on Monday night and then we will explore other titles for Mary throughout the week. We will study the role of Mary in scripture, review what Martin Luther says about the Virgin Mary and see what we think about all of this. I'm ready to learn. If you're interested, come on out to the adult VBS class. All are welcome -- please bring open minds and open hearts.

Pastor Kris

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Fourth of July

Sunday is the fourth of July. The front of our church is decorated in red, white and blue bunting to respect our nation's Independence Day. During the prayers we will give God thanks for our nation and ask God to guide the leaders of our country. Since Sunday actually falls on the fourth this year we will also sing "Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies" in honor of the day - it is in our hymnal.

The Fourth of July is an important observance in our nation's history, but is not a Church festival. Church festivals are based on significant events in the life-story of Jesus or the life of the Church. While we might acknowledge a secular date like the fourth of July or Mother's Day during our worship service, such days do not make up the theme for our whole service. That is because worship is directed to God and secular observances are about our nation or our culture. Worshiping God and honoring our nation are two separate things.

Sometimes people wonder why we do not have "Fourth of July" Sunday in the church, or "Memorial Day" Sunday. While those are worthy events to recognize, they relate to our national story, not to our faith in God. In worship we turn our hearts and minds to God as we recall how God has acted throughout history to give us life, hope, salvation. Thus we set aside days to celebrate "Christmas" when Jesus was born and Easter when Jesus rose from the dead, in our worship but not days like Labor Day or Father's Day.

This Sunday is July 4th. During worship we will give thanks to God for this land that is our home. We will ask God to guide and uphold our nation's leaders and the leaders of all countries so that people everywhere may have justice, freedom, and abundant life.

Pastor Kris

First time

Greetings friends,
John is sitting to my right, explaining to me how to "blog" - what I can write and how freeing this experience can be. Do I believe John? Well... I'll have to get back to you on that. I'm from an older generation (just barely - haha) and these technological adventures are still new to me. But I think he's on the up and up.

So, for my first blog, let me welcome you to our new, revamped Website (thanks, John). I'm excited about this website and I'm... uh... excited? curious? wondering? about this blogging stuff. However, I'm especially glad that Shepherd King has this outlet to reach new folks and to greet people.

So - greetings! Welcome! Come back and visit us again and again. We'll be here. And we're here for you.

Pastor Kris