Pastoral Letter from Pastor Jim

Dear Beloved Community at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church,

Not too long ago we received the ashes of previous palm crosses on our foreheads in the shape of the cross, with the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. 

It turns out that was not just the standard ritual that we go through each year to begin the season of Lent. In these last few weeks the meaning of what we did on Ash Wednesday has become a very important spiritual preparation for the unprecedented matters we are all being affected by now. When we face our human limitations during Lent specifically, and throughout our lives as Christians, we are more understanding and able to live well through difficult times like these and the many others that inevitably come.

This is especially true when we know that those ashes mean that our true faith is not placed in anything other than the love of God, and God’s hope for the ongoing healing of all creation, which we celebrate in the high point of the Christian year – Easter.

It certainly is harder to celebrate that when we can’t gather like we are used to, but we can still gather our spirits in other ways like sharing this email and praying after we read it.  We will also be given the opportunity to experience our weekly Sunday worship in a different way too. We are working on a way to both offer a live-stream link to Sunday morning worship that I and Gary Roberts, our musician will lead at a time TBD (once we are sure it will work), and by visiting our website and viewing a recording of our Sunday worship. The bulletin will be emailed out so you can print it and participate along with the service. Please watch for another email tomorrow or Saturday with the final details. 

In the meantime, here are the upcoming scripture readings for Sunday so you can have the Word of God planted in your life before we share them on Sunday. Hey! What a concept! We can open our Bibles and read from them, rather than relying upon the Celebrate insert!  My comments are a result of our weekly Pastor’s Text Study where several Lutheran and Episcopal pastors gather and rotate leadership of the study, so that we can come to a deeper and more scholarly understanding of what we will be preaching on for the coming Sunday.

First Reading:  1 Samuel 16: 1-13  (Pay attention to the theme of anointing here and in John and what it means as a new way of being able to see. Also the idea of speaking the truth in a difficult situation or when it may not be welcome. Also the way God chooses leaders that people don’t expect, but have the underlying characteristics that God hopes people to have.)

Psalm:  Psalm 23 (This is chosen to be read in Lent for its “death and resurrection” themes that play out most dramatically in the approaching Holy Week. Pay attention to what the verse “for you are with me” means to you in these times. This is a theme of this years gospel, Matthew, as well as the Lenten gospels in John that we have this year.  Again the image of anointing in the ancient world had power for the direction and care of their lives – how can this happen to day for you? Also, God “Makes” the psalmist lie down in green pastures. How can you surrender to God’s moving in your life in a way that is more directive and intentional, instead of always giving in to what we think we should do and how we should live? Also, sometimes life presents situations that are beyond our control and the message in this psalm can be a comforting one when that happens. Look for ways that you can “revive your soul” in these anxious times.)

Second Reading: Ephesians 5: 8-14  (Light is used as a metaphor for a growing understanding and awareness of who Jesus is and what his message and purpose is. The context for this passage is that it is addressing the cultural battles of the day. Sound familiar? There were very diverse communities coming together in the early Christian church and sometimes that presented problems for how they were supposed to make decisions together and what they were supposed to believe when they disagreed. What are the ways we can bring this Christian heritage and message to the cultural battles of our time?)

Gospel:  John 9:1-41  (In John, sin is not really about the moral failing we often equate it with in our present day understanding. Instead, sin is really more about not being in relationship with God and receiving God’s Word as Jesus offers it. Pay attention to how Jesus corrects the wrong thinking that somehow suffering is deserved because of sin. This is an old tactic that is still heavily used today in the more fundamentalist / televangelist preaching known as the “Prosperity Gospel”, which claims that people just need to live a certain way in order to gain God’s approval and thus enjoy more material blessings. Jesus himself refutes this twisted form of belief in God. Also the theme of washing as a way to healing is a powerful baptismal reminder, which Lent is a traditional time of preparation for.)

Grace and Peace,  Pastor Jim