Following the call to be a Shepherd – Pastor Thoughts

Christ is Risen! Alleluia!

The 4th Sunday of Easter is the middle Sunday of the seven weeks of Easter. And for the past 50 or so years, it has been the Sunday we observe Christ, the Good Shepherd. 

Good Shepherd Sunday has a centuries-long history of being a Sunday to talk, not just about how Christ is our Shepherd, but about the call to ordained ministry, as well. 

In the ELCIC we are calling it Vocational Sunday, a Sunday to reflect on the ways in which all the Baptized are called to the ministry of God’s Kingdom. And also to lift up the particular call to ordained ministry. 

The idea of Call carries with it some sense of the holy or mysterious. I get asked quite a bit how it was that I felt called to be a pastor. I sometimes get the feeling that the expected answer is a story such as that of Martin Luther. The legend goes that Luther was out travelling in a lightning storm when a bolt struck near by. Sorely afraid for his life, he prayed to God that if he survived he would switch from law school to theological school and become a monk. Of course, many historians wonder if this might have been a story Luther concocted because he didn’t want to become a lawyer, and his father had saved money to pay for law school! 

Nevertheless, my own call story is not nearly as dramatic. I grew up in a family that already had some pastors in it. We went to church most Sundays and often to other programs during the week. My parents made sure to remind me that being a pastor was a true and viable career option. Then in university, I discovered that I really liked my history and theology courses. There were no desperate prayers to God, no voices from heaven, no signs that I should follow a certain path. 

I know that there are some with those kinds of call stories among my colleagues. But there are many others who have similarly mundane stories like mine. 

However, there is one thing that I think is often missed. Because pastors are almost always called from outside the congregation, there is a sense that we come from some special place. 

Here is the secret: We normally come from other ordinary congregations, where we were usually just ordinary people in the pews. Often those who become pastors were quite involved and leaders in their home congregations, but not always. The important thing is that pastors are raised up from the baptized, from the ordinary folks who sit in the pews, usher, sing in the choir, go to youth group (a key place!), work at bible camp, serve on council, etc…. 

But, most importantly, pastors and deacons and all clergy were most often encouraged and identified by other discerning lay folks as people with a potential call to serve. Maybe it is a confirmation student who actually takes interest in the material. Maybe it is someone who gets involved with leading music, reading the lessons, ushering or other parts of worship. Maybe it is a wise and thoughtful person who has been asked to serve on council. Maybe it is someone that there is just a hunch about (a feeling that might be from the Holy Spirit). 

As we take the time this Sunday to consider Jesus, the Good Shepherd, I encourage you to think about folks you know in our congregation and beyond who might be called to ordained ministry – and if you are comfortable, let them know. And maybe it is you!

Emmaus and Hockey Night in Canada – Pastor Thoughts

Hello Canada and Hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland.

I am not anywhere close to old enough to have heard Forster Hewitt utter that iconic phrase live, but I have heard the recordings. As many of us turn our attention to the NHL playoffs this week, (to watch the Jets, Oilers and Maple Leafs), it is easy to think back and remember stories of hockey games past and the Canadian cultural ritual that is watching hockey together on Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC).

I remember the old HNIC Theme Song – the one written by Delores Claman that ran from 1968 to 2008. (TSN owns it now, maybe you still hear it if you watch the Jets regularly). Click here to listen: Hockey Night In Canada Theme Song Original – YouTube. Those first few notes of the low brass fanfare that swells into the full band always remind me of watching Oilers’ playoff games in the 90s. (I am a little too young to remember the Gretzky dynasty years very well.) 

When I was going to the University of Alberta, I played in the Cosmopolitan Community Band. One year for a Christmas concert we played the HNIC Theme Song. It was so cool to play that iconic song and for it to sound almost exactly like it did on TV. 

Whenever I hear that song, it immediately stops me from whatever I am doing. I am transported back to Saturday nights watching hockey with family and friends. It feels like Canada’s second national anthem, or at least it did. It has the power of connecting you to all the other people humming along from wherever they are watching the game.

For a whole host of reasons, that song will always hold a special place in my heart and mind. And whenever I hear it, it will immediately bring back cherished memories and feelings. Maybe you aren’t a big hockey fan, but we all have songs or sounds, foods or smells, books or movies that, whenever we see them or hear them or taste them or smell them, transport us back to another place and another time. Memories that hold on to us as much as we hold onto them. 

This week, we hear one of my favourite stories from all Scripture, The Road to Emmaus story. The climactic moment of the story is kind of like my HNIC Theme Song moment. The disciples are pre-occupied with all that has gone on, trying to understand their new world. And then Jesus takes some bread and begins to bless it. 

For the disciples, it was as if the HNIC Theme Song started playing. A memory that held them as much as they held it. A memory that woke them up from all their preoccupations. And they were transported back to that moment when their teacher and friend was sitting with them, reminding them of who they were – who God had declared them to be. 

For us as people of faith, each time we gather for worship, we are surrounded by the sights and sounds, smells and tastes, words, songs and actions that break us free from all those pre-occupations that take up our focus. Memories, symbols and images that hold us. And in those things, God reminds us who we are and who God has declared us to be. 

So as we sit down to watch hockey this week or hear the story of the Road to Emmaus, remember that God is there, finding ways to cut through the noise of our lives and break through into our hearts and minds. Breaking through and transforming us into Easter people.  

Christ is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Holy Saturday and Vigils – Pastor Thoughts

We are nearly through Holy Week. 

We have gathered at the Lord’s Table on Maundy Thursday.

We have worshipped at the foot of the cross of Good Friday.

On Holy Saturday the Church has traditionally gathered at the Great Vigil of Easter – considered the most important time of worship in the whole calendar. 

In the 20th century the Vigil fell out of favour with Lutherans, mostly for being too Roman Catholic. But the Vigil, for the better part of 2000 years, has been when Christians have gathered together to tell all the stories of faith at once. 

On the evening of Holy Saturday, the vigil begins around the new fire, where the new Paschal (or Easter) Candle is blessed for the coming year (the big candle that we have at the front of the sanctuary. The candle is blessed and the year is imprinted in wax on the side. And then a deacon sings the Exultet, the an extended litany extolling God’s praises, welcoming the assembly into the keeping of the Vigil. 

This is followed by 12 readings from across the Old Testament, with 12 accompanying psalms. The readings span from Creation, to Noah’s Ark, to the Burning Bush, to King David and the Prophets. Stories are read and sung, reminding us of how God has walked with God’s people throughout the ages. This is the part of the service that gives the Vigil its name – since it often took all night to do in the early church. Though modern Vigils are usually only one to two hours.

Once the stories of God’s people have been told, those assembly remembers their baptism (or anyone needing baptism is baptized) as the presider sprinkles water on worshippers with green boughs dipped in the font. 

Then follows the Resurrection Gospel and often the ancient Easter Sermon of St. John of Chrysostom. Then the Eucharist blends into a great feast that lasts until morning. This is where the tradition of the Easter Breakfast comes from. 

And then everyone goes home to sleep.

Easter Vigils have started making a comeback among some Lutherans, and are much more common among Anglicans and Catholics. 

But sometimes just knowing the story of the Easter Vigil is enough to understand the drama of the three days – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil. 

This year the MNO Synod is inviting anyone who wants to attend an Easter Vigil to go to the one at St. John’s College, 92 Dysart Road, University of Manitoba, at 4:30 pm on Saturday. If you haven’t experienced an Easter Vigil at least once, it is definitely worth it. 

But of course we will also be having our usual Easter Worship service on Sunday at 10:30am, where we will gather to announce the Resurrection and hear the Good News of the Empty Tomb together. 

The Long Road to Good Friday – A Good Friday Sermon

PASSION GOSPEL: John 18:1–19:42 

*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video

It has been a long road to this moment.

From the mountain of Transfiguration down into the Lenten wilderness. 
From the tempter to Nicodemus’s questions. 
From the dark night to the woman at the well in the noon day sun. 
From Jacob’s well to the blindman not knowing who had healed him. 
From a community in chaos to a community grieving at Bethany. 
From Mary, Martha and a raised Lazarus to the road to Jerusalem covered in palm branches. 
From shouts of Hosanna to the table of the Lord. 
From Betrayal at night to Golgatha by noon. 

And now from Lent to Holy Week to the bottom of it all on the cross. 

The journey to Good Friday is one that takes a lifetime to prepare for. It is one that begins long before Transfiguration, with Angels and Pregnant Virgins and picturesque mangers. 

It begins with a garden paradise and exile from Eden.

It beings with the words “Let there be Light.”

Good Friday was where this story was going since the beginning. 

And now that we are here, now that cross has been planted on Calvary, now that Jesus has been nailed to the tree, now that we have born witness to the execution of the one sent to save…

We ask why? What does it all mean? Who is at fault?

It feels like it could be our fault. Maybe it could be our mistake. 

We did choose sin in the garden. 
We did refuse to repent.
We did choose to sin again after repenting. 

We do put ourselves first.
We choose ourselves before others.  

We harm our neighbour
With our greed, and indifference, and unwillingness, and selfishness.
With our hoarding and racism and wall building and excuses.
With our celebration of power and wealth and control. 

And we harm creation
With our callousness and entitlement and refusal to care
With our destructive actions and war making and striving for more
With our consuming everything and anything that can be consumed. 

We do all of that and more.

So nailing the Messiah to the cross doesn’t feel out of the question. 

It feels like the cross is our fault, our mistake, our consequence. 

And if that was all that Good Friday was about, if Good Friday was only asking why? 

Asking how we got here from Creation and Eden, from Angels and Mangers, from Transfiguration and Lent…

Then maybe we would have our answer. 

But this is not all that Good Friday means. 

Humanity’s best nailing Jesus to the cross is not all there is. 
Humanity using our great power to put God to death is not the last stop of this long journey. 

We ask why? What does this mean?

And God has a different answer. 

God knew that Good Friday was coming from the beginning. 
God saw the cross in Eden. 
God knew that we would try to put Messiah to death. 
From the Angels singing of his birth
From voice speaking from the heavens at the mount of Transfiguration
God knew that Golgotha was where this long road would lead.

But God also knows that Good Friday is not the end. 

Good Friday is not the last stop of the journey. 
The cross is not the last page of the story.
On this day God is doing something new. 

The cross – the pinnacle of humanity’s sinful and death dealing ways, Will be God’s new beginning. 
Where we fail to repent, God will turn us around. 
Where put ourselves first, God will give up all Godself for our sake. 
Where we harm our neighbour and ourselves God will heal and restore that which is broken. 

Where we use our great power of death. 

God will use God’s great power. 
God’s power to keep on going even when things seem to have ended
God’s power of new beginnings when there seemed to be nothing. 
God’s power of life that will stand higher than death on a cross. 

So yes it has been a long road to this moment. 

And yes it might feel like the culmination of everything we have done that brought us here. 

But for God, Good Friday is not the end. 

For God, the cross is not the final destination. 
For the God that spoke life into being, the cross is transformed. 
Transformed into a new creation. 
A New creation for God’s people created a new. 

For God, Good Friday is the beginning. 

The Church is Beginning – A Maundy Thursday Sermon

GOSPEL: John 13:1-17, 31b-35
And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video

Tonight is the beginning. Tonight the church begins the 3 days. Tonight the church begins. 

“You will never wash my feet.”

As Jesus kneels  before Peter, towel in hand, the moment between Teacher and follower feels like a moments that we have been rehearsing in our own ways over the past few years. 

There is a part of us that wants to just tell Peter, “Stop being so stubborn, brother! If Jesus wants to wash your feet, let him do it!” 

It is the part of us that knows better, that knows that if Jesus is offering, the best we can do is open our hands, our hearts, our ears and eyes to receive. 

But there is the other part of us that has lived versions of this moment before. 

“You will never get me to do that again.” Has been a refrain during this pandemic. 

Peter’s visceral reaction is one we have felt in so many different ways. Things that we once never thought about we now have strong feelings over. 

So when Peter arrives for dinner and sees Jesus kneeling on the floor washing feet, his reaction isn’t so foreign anymore. 

4 Maundy Thursdays into the pandemic, and we are finally back around the table of the Last Supper… and how changed we are. The experiences we bring to this table maybe help us to understand Peter a little better… they maybe help to us to understand all the disciples a little better. 

We now get what it feels like to wander with uncertainty for years, following and trying to trust that Jesus will show us the way. Amazed by the miracles, but confused by where this journey might take us. 

Tonight is the first night of the Triduum, the Three Days, of Jesus Passover from death to life. The stage and setting starts small tonight, or at least it feels that way.

A small group gathered for dinner and worship, Peter and his strong feelings about having his feet washed by his teacher, and lessons on community, advice on how to live with one another given by a teacher to his followers. 

Maundy Thursday, this first night of the 3 Days is meant to draw us in. To pick us up from the Hosannas of Palm Sunday and remind us that the shouts of crucify are coming. 

And yet, we also know this table from our Sunday gatherings. We know that this table isn’t just a dinner party hidden away from the world, but something more. 

The foot washing, and the new commandment bookend the beginning of something that will grow beyond our imagination. The Lord’s table is revealed tonight, table where bread and wine are shared, the table where Body and Blood is given, the table where the Body of Christ gathers – gathers across time and space. The table that brings the Church into being. 

Because it is to the Lord’s Table, to this table tonight, to this table from the first Maundy Thursday, that the Church will continually return to, week after week after week. 

Because it is at the Lord’s table, where the assembly, where believers in faith, gathers to hear the word and to receive God’s promise given in bread and wine. 

Because it is tonight that God’s promises are given for the sake of the world, where the promises that death on Friday and life on Sunday are forever interwoven. 

Even as Peter protests having his feet washed, even as we have own strong feelings. Even as Jesus proclaims a new commandment, that we ought to love one another… and we fail to uphold and keep that commandment…

This night is still the moment that church continually returns to. The moment just before the chaos erupts into the world, a moment of respite and reprieve… the where faithful and flawed and opinionated followers find themselves at the table with Jesus… and there Jesus passes on the things of God, food that transforms us for life, a body of Christ that turns us into the Body of Christ. 

Tonight we begin these three days at the Lord’s table, and here God begins the church. The church that will go to cross tomorrow and the empty tomb on Sunday. The church that proclaims the mystery of faith each time it gathers at the table again – Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. 

Tonight is the beginning. Tonight the church begins the 3 days. Tonight the church begins.