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