November 2019 – Thoughts On Gratitude And Grace

November is the time of year where we reflect upon those

things for which we are grateful. It begins with the celebration

of All Saints, a day when we celebrate and express our gratitude

for all the faithful saints who have come before us, those who

dwell among us, and those who will follow. In particular,

we remember and give thanks for those members of

our congregation, our family and friends who have died in the

faith during this past year. We offer this prayer:

Almighty God, you have knit your people together in one communion in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you…                                                                                                                                              [ELW, p. 59]

Towards the end of November, we celebrate Thanksgiving. On that day, we give thanks for the abundant of blessings our Creator God has freely given to us. We offer this prayer:

Almighty God our Father, your generous goodness comes to us new every day. By the work of your spirit lead us to acknowledge your goodness, give thanks for your benefits, and serve you in willing obedience…                                                                                                                  [ELW, p. 61]

Author Henry Nouwen offered these words about gratitude as a spiritual discipline:

Gratitude…claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.                                                         [Institute for Biblical Worship – September 20, 2017]

New Testament scholar Davis Lose offered this observation about choosing to live with gratitude:

Gratitude…becomes easier to choose as we practice it. Gratitude, like faith and hope and love and commitment, are not inborn traits that some have and others don’t, but rather gratitude is more like a muscle that can be strengthened over time. And as you practice giving thanks and more frequently share your gratitude, you not only grow in gratitude but create an example for others.   

More than that, you create a climate in which it is easier to be grateful and encourage those around you to see the blessings all around us.                                              

David Lose then goes on to ask the question,

What if…we asked folks to start practicing their gratitude and develop greater thanksgiving-oriented “muscle memory” by responding for the rest of this month to the question, “How are you,” with the simple but powerful reply, “I’m grateful.” There’s more we could do, of course…But for now, perhaps just the challenge and encouragement to say “I’m grateful” is enough.                                                                         [In the Meantime, post for October 3, 2016]

Who wants to give this challenge a try? Who will join with me, during this month of November, find ways to express our gratitude? It could be just as simple as responding to the question, “How are you?” with the words, “I am grateful?”

With Gratitude,

Pastor Dennis Kelly

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Clarification from Bishop Miller Concerning the ELCA as a “Sanctuary Church Body”

On August 5 – 10, the ELCA held its Church wide Assembly in Milwaukee, WI. The Assembly meets every three years. It is the highest decision-making body in the ELCA and is akin to a council. It is made up of voting members elected by each of the ELCA’s 65 Synods. A complete list of the duties of the

ELCA Church wide Assembly can be found on the
ELCA’s website at: https://www.elca.org/About/Leadership/Churchwide-Assembly

One of the recommendations and resolutions decided upon by this year’s assembly one has made the national news media. It is a resolution approved overwhelmingly that declares the ELCA to a “Sanctuary Church Body.” This resolution has created significant controversy as a result of news coverage.

I am forwarding to you a communication that Bishop Wayne Miller sent out in response to the controversy. I encourage you to read it. I welcome conversation with any of you who may have questions or concerns about statement. PK

Clarification from Bishop Miller Concerning the ELCA as a “Sanctuary Church Body”

As many of you know, last week the Church wide Assembly of the ELCA passed an amended resolution which, among other things, declared the ELCA to be a “Sanctuary Church Body.”

This is a highly ambiguous self-designation which is proving to be encouraging for some, disturbing for others, and confusing for almost everyone. Included here are two documents which I hope will be
helpful. The first is a set of “talking points” generated within the ELCA, attempting to explain what we mean when we use the word “sanctuary.” The second is an essay published by the ACLU, which I sent to the roster two years ago, to help clarify the legal implications of declaring oneself to be a place of sanctuary.

As you review these documents, I would like to offer a few interpretive remarks

that may help you in communicating this decision to members of your congregation:

The self-declaration of the ELCA as a “sanctuary church body” is, in its effect, a symbolic declaration. It is the emphatic assertion of a long-held value in North American Lutheranism; namely, that churches should be places of welcome, care, compassion, and healing for all people regardless of their race, nationality, age, gender, or place of origin. Historically, we ourselves are an immigrant church, and we believe in the virtue and obligation of sharing with others the hospitality we have received. We continue to advocate for the humane treatment of families and, particularly, vulnerable children, as reflected in the ELCA AMMPARO initiative. None of this is

new. This is who we are and who we have always been as a church body.

“Sanctuary” is a term that means different things to different people. For some it is an ethical stance of hospitality–for others it is a legal category that involves the civil disobedience of refusing to comply with what is believed to be an unjust law, and then enduring the legal consequences for that disobedience. The ELCA decision clearly and unequivocally falls into the first understanding of “sanctuary.” We mean it as an ethical position, not as a legal category, or as a prescription for breaking the law.

In ELCA constitutional polity, congregations, synods, and the churchwide organization are all independently incorporated entities with discreet boards of directors (councils), who carry fiduciary responsibility for that corporation only. Simply put, neither the ELCA Churchwide Organization nor the Metropolitan Chicago Synod has standing or authority to impose mandatory policies and practices for another expression of this church. We can only require that synods and congregations operate from approved ELCA constitutions. Congregations are categorically NOT bound to change anything in their attitudes or their behaviors as a result of this

declaration. It is a congregational decision.

Because of the values implied or stated by this resolution, I whole-heartedly recommend that congregations use this action by the Churchwide Assembly as an invitation for your congregation to enter a time of prayer, study, conversation, and discernment about what Holy Scripture and Lutheran tradition have taught concerning hospitality to strangers, and the proper Christian response to how the church takes part in

society. Regardless of whether or not this leads you to assume a public

role as a “sanctuary congregation,” the time of study and discernment will enrich your spiritual growth as a child of God and as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

We live in a time when both the news establishment and social media thrive on raising public anxiety to the highest possible level and then using that anxiety to manipulate our behavior. I am hopeful that our congregations will be able to resist these forces of manipulation and come to fair, thoughtful, and faithful decisions about how the Spirit is calling us forward in this challenging season.

In Christ, Bishop Wayne N. Miller— Metropolitan Chicago Synod, ELCA

Posted in Pastors Message

Breathe In Us As We Pray

Breathe In Us As We Pray

On Sunday the 9th of June, we will join together with Christian churches throughout the world to celebrate the Day of Pentecost. The word Pentecost means “fiftieth.” The day of Pentecost is fifty days after the celebration of the resurrection on Easter. Our scriptures for Pentecost Sunday tell of God’s Spirit being given to the disciples and other followers of Jesus. This Spirit empowers them to continue to share the message and ministry of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the story of Pentecost is considered to be the story of the birth of the church that gathers in the name of Jesus Christ.

The Hebrew word for spirit in the Old Testament is Ruah, which can be translated as “wind” and “breath.” The New Testament Greek word for Spirit is Pneuma, which can also be translated as “breath,” or “life force.” It is clear that when we speak of the Holy Spirit, we speak of the breath of God and the sacred life force given to us.

Many of the hymns sung on Pentecost speak of wind and breath and life. One of my favorites it the hymn Spirit of Gentleness, found on page #396 in our hymnal. The hymn begins with these words:

Spirit, Spirit of gentleness, blow through the wilderness calling and free;

Spirit, spirit of restlessness, stir me from placidness, wind, wind on the sea.

Another favorite is the hymn: O Living Breath of God, page #407 in our hymnal. The words of the first verse are:

O living Breath of God, wind at the beginning upon the waters;

O living Breath of God, bearing the creation to wondrous birth:

Come now, and fill our spirits; pour out your gifts abundant,

O living Breath of God, Holy Spirit, breathe in us we pray.

We pray for the living Breath of God throughout our lives. We invoke the Breath of God in every baptism and in every affirmation of baptism. We invoke the Breath of God whenever we call a new pastor, or when we take on positions of leadership in the church. We invoke the Breath of God when we have difficult decisions to make in the church or in our lives. We invoke the Breath of God each and every time we pray.

On Pentecost Sunday, we will celebrate the giving the Breath of God at the birth of the Christian church in the following ways:

  • WEAR RED! Red is the color of Pentecost. The sanctuary will be decorated with a sea of red in our paraments and vestments. Similarly, we encourage members to wear red to church on Pentecost Sunday.
  • SPEAK IN DIFFERENT LANGUAGES! The language of Pentecost is multicultural and diverse. We will try to capture the essence of the experience of Pentecost, with a simultaneous reading of Acts 2:1-21 in a variety of languages. At present time we will hear those words spoken in English, French, Swahili, Italian, Russian, Spanish, and of course Finnish.

Come celebrate the creative breath of God with all yours friends and family on this festival day!

Dennis Kelly, interim pastor

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Living In The Resurrection

What a glorious Easter Sunday it was at St. Mark’s!  The sanctuary was filled with people, young and old, who came to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Members commented how good it felt to see so many men, women and children gathered to worship and to give praise to God.

While Easter Sunday has come and gone, the Easter season continues on through Pentecost Sunday, which is on June 9th this year. As we gather together to worship from Easter Sunday to Pentecost, our scriptures will help us explore the impact of the resurrection of Jesus in the lives of his followers and on the growth of the Christian Church.

The Gospel Readings for this season of Easter will come from Luke and John. These passages will share many of the stories of how the disciples discovered that Jesus, who once was dead, was now alive. They also share with us how the followers of Jesus reacted to this discovery. Both Gospels make it clear that one of the fundamentals of Christian discipleship is love; love for God and for each other.

The First Readings for the Easter season will all come from the Acts of the Apostles. These passages will share many of the stories of how Peter, Paul, and others began to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the world, taking that message to the outer edges of the Roman Empire. The passages from Acts also share how people reacted to that message and how their lives were transformed by it. Each generation of Christians has passed this message on to the next generation. That message is now shared with you and it is your responsibility to share that message with the next generation.

The Second Readings for Sunday worship will all come from the book of Revelation. These texts encourage us to look to the future. They speak of that time when Christ will come again. The book of Revelation is filled with visions of that time when Jesus will establish his reign over heaven and earth. When Christ comes again, the distinction between heaven and earth will be no more. There will be a new creation!

This Easter season is a good time to consider what it means to be a Christian congregation. It is a good time to consider the many ways that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is revealed and lived here at St. Mark’s. Moreover, it is a good time to consider the many ways that you, the members of St. Mark’s, can take the good news of Jesus Christ out into your community and thereby make a difference in the lives of others? Where is God leading you as you look to the future?

At the end of this season of Easter, we will celebrate Pentecost. We will be reminded on that Sunday of how the Spirit of God descended upon the disciples and inspired them to speak of the good news of Jesus Christ. Not only were they inspired, but they were also empowered to share this message in ways that everyone could understand it, no matter what region they came from or language that they spoke. Pentecost is the story of the birth of the Christian church that was established not only on the commandment to love but also on the radical idea of inclusiveness. It is also a great time to consider the ways that the Holy Spirit is leading St. Mark’s into the future!

Thanks be to God!

Pastor Dennis Kelly

Posted in Pastors Message

The Power that Flows Within and with All

I write this message on March 20, 2019. It is the day of the Vernal Equinox, or the first day of Spring. For six months or so, day will be longer than night.

This day comes after what has seemed to be an endless winter. Even as I write this, the sky is gray and the temperature is lower than average for this time of year. Yet, slowly and almost imperceptibly, new life is beginning to emerge. It comes with the sighting of new buds on the tree, the first shoots of spring flowers, or the appearance of the first robin of the spring.  Soon to come is the aroma of moist warm soil after a spring rain. All of this is the power of life springing forth in ways both seen and unseen. The force and energy of God’s creative power is at work.

A German language poet named Rainer Maria Rilke (1875 – 1926) wrote about this creative power in the following untitled poem:

I find you, Lord, in all Things and in all

my fellow creatures, pulsing with your life;

 as a tiny seed you sleep in what is small

and in the vast you vastly yield yourself.

The wondrous game that power plays with Things

is to move in such submission through the world:

groping in roots and growing thick in trunks

and in treetops like a rising from the dead.

Rilke, writing in the tradition of Christian mysticism, is presenting a case for the God in all things.  He sees the Lord in all things big and small. He sees the power of God manifested in the life energy of God flowing out in waves, stretching out in all things and in all directions, quietly, almost imperceptibly. It happens at its own pace and in its own time, moving in “submission through the world.” This kind of power is “like a rising from the dead.” Sounds a lot like the resurrection, doesn’t it?

The magnificence of the Grand Canyon was not created in one day. It is the result of hundreds of thousands of years of the flow of water working its way through layers of rock. The Great Lakes were formed by the force of ancient glaciers making their way south and digging into the soil. As those glaciers melted and receded, they left behind mounds of rocky soil and water to fill in the empty spaces. The great reef systems under the oceans were created not in an instant, but in layer upon layers of coral deposited over vast amounts of time. These are examples of the “wondrous game that power plays with Things, moving in submission through the world.”

As you become aware of the signs of spring, allow yourself to reflect upon life that is emerging all around you. At the same time, recognize the life of God that is at work within you. It cannot help but to change the way you view the world!

Have a Blessed Holy Week and a joyful Easter!

Pastor Dennis Kelly

Posted in Pastors Message

On Wednesday, March 6th, the season of Lent will begin.  It is a time when Christians all over the world prepare for the observance of Holy Week and the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter morning, which this year is on April 21st. There are many practices and activities that are associated with the Lenten Season. However, three primary practices or pillars of Lent are:  prayers, fasting and almsgiving.

Prayer: We devote more time to prayer to help center our hearts and minds on Christ Jesus. We also pray for the grace to remain faithful to our baptismal promises. We pray for others that they also may fulfill their own baptismal commitment. One of the ways we will pray here at St. Mark’s is through the Wednesday Evening Services using the Holden Evening Prayer Service. It is an opportunity for us not only to pray, but also to take a step away from the busyness of life and practice centeredness in the midst of community.

Fasting: Fasting is believed to be one of the most ancient Lenten practices. We do not make ourselves more righteous or more deserving of God’s grace by giving up something or by fasting during Lent. The purpose of fasting is to create a spiritual link between those of us who have more with those whose diets are sparse and simple. That is why congregations often have a simple meal before their Lenten midweek service. The practice of giving up something for Lent, while it may be beneficial to us, is not the goal of Lent. It is about community and the connection we create with others, especially those who are not as fortunate as we are.

Almsgiving: This practice is also about community. It is an expression of gratitude and compassion. We express our gratitude for all that God has given to us. We express compassion when we understand that charity and justice are important as we live out or baptismal faith within community. Sometimes the word “charity” is used in place of the word “almsgiving”.  Charity, as a practice is not about giving a handout, but rather creating a just environment in which others can be lifted up.

We are reminded of these spiritual practices at the very beginning of Lent as part of our Ash Wednesday service which will take place on March 6th at 7 pm. We receive the mark of the cross with palm ash accompanied by the words; “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This reminder of human mortality at the beginning of Lent stands in sharp contrast to the celebration of the resurrection and the promise of forgiveness and eternal life on Easter morning!

There will be another feature of our Lenten Midweek services. We will offer a series of dramas around the theme Convicted. The congregation will step into a court room for Ash Wednesday and the following five weeks of Lent. Each week a different Biblical person will be put on trial, accused of a 21st century crime. The prosecution and the defense will both present their cases and then the congregation will serve as the jury.

I invite you to join with me in observing the three practices of Lent and in preparing for Holy Week and Easter.

Thanks be to God,

Dennis H. Kelly, Interim Pastor

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Living a Life Filled With Awe and Amazement

On January 18, 2019, Pulitzer Prize winning poet and author Mary Oliver passed away at the age of 83. I have been a fan of her poetry for many years, drawn to the simplicity of her poems and her use of images from the natural world to speak of the experiences of human life. I did not realize, however, how many of my friends and colleagues were also drawn to her works. Facebook was filled with posts commenting on her passing and reflecting upon her life and its impact on the lives of so many others. Many posts shared their favorite Oliver poem or quotation.

One of my favorites is The Journey, published in 1986 in her collection of poems Dream Work. It speaks to me of listening to your inner voice and discovering your particular life calling.

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice –

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

 the only thing you could do –

determined to save

the only life you could save.

 

Mary Oliver was more of a mystic than a theologian. However, her observations of the most intimate and minute details of the natural world speak to a world longing for simplicity and connectivity with human community. Her words speak of living a life filled with awe and amazement. It is a message we so desperately need to hear today.

 

Peace

Pastor Kelly

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WHY

2018 is the year of Stewardship here at St. Mark’s.  For me what comes to mind for is “why?”  There have been a lot of whys asked this year.  When people as themselves “why,” aren’t they really trying to find “understanding and relevance?”  Therefore, all these “why” questions can be answered by one simple word, “purpose.”

We have all heard the questions; “Why do we need more stewardship?” “Why, what else is going to change?”  “Why should I give more money?”  “why, do they really need that much?”   “Why did he really have to go?”

The first of these questions can be answered by an excerpt of Acts 13:36 “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors …”

We now know why he was sent here.  St. Mark’s has been transformed into a multi-ethnic parish, with capacity to properly nurture, house and educate Christian theology and worship.  David was done here.

As for us, we need to look forward to what will be. This forward-looking “purpose” will answer the other questions.  The best place to start is Jeremiah 32:19, which says, “Great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds. Your eyes are open to the ways of all mankind; you reward each person according to their conduct and as their deeds deserve.”

Unmistakably, “purpose” contains deeds, or simply put doing something. Isn’t t that what Stewardship is all about. Isn’t that what we’re all about, here at St. Mark’s.  Drawing from the Holy Spirit, the spirit of Stewardship, the spirit of St. Mark’s, I call upon you, “Go do good deeds.”

Don Fontana

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Welcome to St. Marks

godsworkourhands

Faith, hope and love are the foundations of the Christian faith.  We are building a diverse community of people upon this foundation at St. Mark’s.  We welcome you to gather with us.  Come and experience a community that has learned how to find unity, without uniformity through the power of God’s love.   This website is designed to help you find that experience. We look forward to meeting you!

Rev. Jeffrey E. Koth

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