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 krishill22@hotmail.com).

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