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