When Elijah was fleeing from the wrath of Jezebel, he did not know what was in store for him, but God did. God sent an angel to Elijah when he was at the point of giving up, and that angel brought him food and water. That angel brought him bread for his journey. “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” – 1 Kings 19:4-9
There are times in our lives when we can also feel as if the journey is going to be too long, and we want to give up or give in. Even though we may not know where that journey is leading, God does, and God sends messengers and angels to us to give us bread for our journey.
Enough that Sustains
That bread is Jesus and the Word of God. Are you eating enough to sustain you? Are you drinking in God’s Word enough to fulfill you?
We are standing at the start of a brand new journey together…
We are standing at the start of a brand new journey together and we don’t know where this road is leading, but God does. I want you to make sure that you are being filled by God’s Word. We have several adult Bible study options here at Grace as well as our children and youth Christian Education. I invite you to find a way to attend. Find a way to come and eat and drink and gain strength for our journey.
Some of you may remember from my introduction letter that many years ago, my wife, Sharon and I took a trip to Muir Woods. Muir Woods is a wonderful national park outside San Francisco where the majestic redwoods grow. When I saw these beautiful enormous trees for the first time, I was struck with a feeling of awe. I was amazed by their strength, their size, and their age. I was also amazed to learn that even though the redwoods are so tall and strong, each tree actually has a very short root system. Each individual tree has a root that is approximately ten feet long.
How Can That Be?
Think about it for a moment… a tree anywhere from a hundred to three hundred feet tall is supported only by a ten foot long root! How could that be? It doesn’t seem possible. In fact, what we learned is that it is not possible. If a redwood grew by itself, its root could not support the weight and height of the tree. Left alone, the tree would eventually pull up its own root, topple over, and die.
That is why redwoods never grow alone. They always grow in community. They grow in tree clusters. Each tree is surrounded by other trees. They are so close to one another that their roots interconnect by stretching out horizontally rather than vertically. This creates a literal web of roots so strong that it can support a whole community of trees, even ones that tower hundreds of feet above the earth.
We Grow Together in Christ
As I enter into the community here at Grace, I am very aware of two things:
- In a very profound way we (you and I) have always been a part of the same community. In baptism, we have been rooted together in Christ Jesus and therefore are part of the same body.
- Yet, at the same time, I am new to this cluster and need your support, prayers, and welcome as I begin to intertwine my roots with yours.
Perhaps the tension between one and two is an example of the tension in which we live as disciples of Christ. We are constantly living in the tension between building loving relationships with those who are already here and reaching out to invite new people to join the community. As a new person here, I look forward to meeting you all and beginning to build those connections. I look forward to hearing your stories and sharing mine.
A Cluster of Support
I am excited about our partnership in ministry together as we honor the past as well as look to the future. I pray that our ministry will be faithful to both our calling to love and care for the present body and our call to increase the body by reaching out to those who stand alone in need of a cluster to love, support, and pray with them.
Yours in Christ,
A large bouquet of balloons! Every now and then someone is trying to transport multiple balloons in their car. It’s quite a sight. Taking 25 large helium balloons and stuffing them into a small cab can be an exercise in frustration.
A tip of a hat, a wave, a wink—these are gestures. They carry much freight. Gestures can shape our living. A Mom and Dad’s good night kiss brings assurance of parental love. When a kiss is absent or withheld from the bedtime ritual children may wonder about that love.
Gestures Carry Much Meaning
Those of us who lived during the Vietnam War may remember a picture of American POWs sent by their captors. In this photo several soldiers held up a raised middle finger. Their captors did not understand the gesture. We did. That picture conveyed great assurance of the unbroken imprisoned.
Take note of the gesture of the third base coach. With rapid motion that coach’s arms communicate clearly to the batter. These same gestures disguise a message intended to throw off the opposing team. In no other sport is the art of gesturing so perfected.
Sharing God’s Peace
Of singular importance in Christian worship is the gesture of sharing the peace. Before we come to receive the peace of Christ through communion, we first reach out to each other in peace.
This gesture is always significant and more so when we have lived with tension or discord towards another person. Peace carries the hope of a new, different future.
The peace of the Lord be with you always…
In an increasingly casual culture gesturing is diminished. We who bear the mark of Christ are encouraged to retrieve it for the sake of Christ. When on those occasions I mark the foreheads of young children at communion with a cross, I ask if they can feel that cross on them. It is a gesture.
It is a mark of life.
May our gestures convey our heart.
Come to the table, for all is now ready…
Grace Lutheran Church welcomed a number of our youngest members to the Lord’s table this past week.
Congratulations to all of our first communicant families!
It’s not a bad idea to have a few pseudonyms. One of my favorites is Rotsap Pools (Pastor Sloop backwards). I turn to it during times I mess up. Self talk goes something like this, “Well that was a real Rotsap Pools move!”
When our daughter Elizabeth passed through the teen years at times we would address her as “Complainabeth.” Needless to say, while descriptive of her mood, this name served only to amplify complaining.
Neither identifiers is particularly positive. Over time they would begin to wear, and not comfortably. Hopefully a voice would emerge, perhaps an internal voice, protesting.
What’s In a Name?
One of the most critical times for our spiritual ancestors was their exile in Babylon. They had no reason to speak of themselves in the affirmative. Many were complaining, many were pointing the finger at each other. Given their lot they would have answered to the name Hopeless or Powerless or Worthless. A bully would not have made them feel lower. They were already there.
Along came a voice from within their community. Someone home grown. This voice refused to allow the present to define. Up on tiptoes this strong presence offered a counter-identity. Not one that had any substance based on circumstances.
Rather a strange and potent message: You Are Oaks of Righteousness
Sturdy • Tall • Expansive • Unmoved • Reliable • Worthwhile
This imaginative voice is Isaiah, specifically Isaiah of Jerusalem. His words, poetic words, are preserved as scripture. He spoke for God.
I dare you to speak as did Isaiah
To turn to another, to someone languishing in self-disgust or lamenting a former life, a failure that holds sway and say directly to them you are an oak of righteousness.’
And mean it. To do so is to live toward the fullness of life in Christ.
So Great a Love,
David A. Sloop, Interim Pastor
I was once accused of robbing the Walmart on Glenwood Avenue. That day I was casually walking toward the store from my car when suddenly people flooded out of Walmart’s main entrance. They were all pointing and shouting,
“They are over there! There they go!!”
I looked where this crowd pointed and saw two men on foot, holding a large package, running toward the Glenwood Avenue Chick-Fil-A.
Here’s where I come in
A Raleigh Police Cruiser came next to the two men (the actual robbers), and they, instead of sticking up their hands, point the officers to me!! Then the police came speeding across the parking lot…after me!!
“Officer,” I shouted, “turn around! Those two men are the ones who robbed Walmart!” And they high tailed it after the real robbers.
I admit to being dumbfounded by those robbers. Who in their right mind would steal a large package in broad daylight, in a large parking lot, flee on foot and expect to get away? Apparently, running away was not their intended plan. They had a getaway car. Only problem, when most needed, the car failed to start!
A True Lenten Experience
This parking lot fiasco has touch points to Lent. A true Lenten experience won’t let us say, “The real problem is over there, running away.”
What can sting with these 40 days is the freight of complicity. What holds us is the firm recognition that every getaway car gets us nowhere. We participate.
The opening salvo from our mouths as Lent begins:
“We have not loved you with our whole heart, and mind and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others as we have been forgiven.”
That’s Lent. Recognizing again our carrying off a package, and the burden it brings, what it exposes.
The older I become, the more I want of Lent
To welcome Lent is not to wallow in self-hatred. To live a good Lent is not to be dour and despairing. To embrace this season with passion is not about full time remorse. Rather it’s more about staying alive, about receiving and recognizing grace, about openness to the ongoing promise of Christ amidst the tragic realities of life.
Lord, have mercy,
Pastor David Sloop, Grace Interim Pastor
P.S. This year Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on Valentine’s Day
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
According to the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) about 40% of college freshmen will attend a campus ministry at least once. By junior year only about 20% of college Christians are participating in campus ministry. Why the drop in participation? The top reason is that many students see themselves as spiritual but not religious. They can live their faith without being part of a faith community. They may want God, just not the church.
Do You have a Faith Community?
Living without a faith community is not just a campus phenomenon. It’s in the very air we breathe. Much has been made of the consumerism which pervades our living. Wherein the operative question can become What did I get out of that?” From such a perspective being in a faith community must service some felt need. Couple this perspective with those siblings of individualism and anti-institutionalism and you have a recipe for persons devoid of established community. Here’s one example which may seem counter-intuitive: people approaching the church for a baptism but finding no reason to grow that child’s faith through a church home.
This context, which I am overstating, presents the church with a great opportunity. Our Lord Jesus was born in a family, among a specific people. He lived and grew up as part of a particular community. Our Lord Jesus chose disciples whom he formed into a community. He stuck by this band in spite of their insolence, their egos, their quirks. He chose them.
Living as a Christian – Four Pillars
Roland Rolheiser suggests that four pillars are essential to living as a Christian: personal prayer; concern for justice; joy filled living; and a concrete community. Of the concrete community Rolheiser writes:
“The grounding, earthiness, and necessary pain that only real involvement with a concrete community is what a parish family can give. In parishes we don’t get to pick who we will be standing beside as we worship. A parish family is a hand of cards that is randomly dealt to us… and will include persons of every temperament, ideology, virtue and fault. Church involvement does not leave us the option to walk away whenever something happens that we do not like. It is a covenant community, like a marriage, and binds us together for better or worse.”
Keep Hold of the Christ Child
Everyone snuggles up to the Christ child. Today this snuggling pictures families adoring Jesus. Missing from the picture are the very real, concrete people, beyond our own family, who populate the church. Could it be that part of the true meaning of Christ coming in flesh is that through the very en-fleshed reality known as church he comes?
Don’t miss out.
Together in Christ,
Pastor David Sloop, Grace Interim Pastor
Years ago I attached a welcome home sign on the exterior siding outside our kitchen door. I intended the sign to be a singular event. The sign expressed our glee that our son was returning home from Boston for Thanksgiving.
Now some 15 years later every visiting family member looks for a welcome home sign.
Several attendant rituals have emerged:
- The sign includes some loving jab at the new arrival
- They pretend not to read it
- I have to ask if it’s been read
- They begrudgingly acknowledge
Where is MY Sign?
I once decided to break ranks and didn’t create the usual sign. All I heard was, “Where is my sign!”
This family ritual has had great staying power… with one change: I no longer pen the intended message onto the exterior wooden surface. Why? That board is now so peppered with pen holes you’d think a wood pecker has attacked it. (Those messages now are gently taped to the window sill.)
I love seeing that holed board. Its dotted surface bends my heart. At times I’m even overcome beholding the breadth, length, and depth of loving connections represented there. If I ever move away that board comes along. Well, at least the tradition it embodies.
The Church With A Welcome!
All Are Welcome Here!
Find A Loving Welcome Inside!
What is Grace’s Church Slogan?
Church Slogans: Attempts to define the shape and substance of engaging the new.
Let’s hope that Grace Church is a community like that hole riddled board. That we never ever tire of welcoming those God is sending to us/we are reaching. Someone once defined church as ‘Grace Space.’ Therein, the shape of the community is so welcoming that people are set free; an expansive, burgeoning with love-and-grace-spirit pervades.
Imagine the quality and character of our welcome mirroring the very one we worship. Where I’d gladly want to become a signpost — my heart a hole peppered board!
Hoping to Be a Living Welcome,
Some years ago, with the help of the younger generation, I secured a Facebook account. I didn’t use it. Never opened Facebook. If during that time people unfriended me, I was blissfully unaware. When I retired in 2013, I began to check out Facebook. About all I knew to do was press like. Even then I wasn’t sure where like was going in cyber space. Such timidity limited my being social on that medium.
Through art, we are able to break bread with the dead, and without communion with the dead a fully human life is impossible.
A Moment in Time
What draws me to stay on Facebook are pictures. I welcome seeing folks together, observing where they are, peering in on what they are doing. One day I opened Facebook and there to my surprise was a wonderful picture of someone celebrating another birthday. I was jolted. Although the individual was radiant, smiling, and effervescent, this person had died several years before. Unless someone intervenes, as long as Facebook exists, that picture, frozen in time, will show up each year, acknowledging another birthday—a birthday for someone who has ceased with birthdays. It’s happened several times now. May it continue!
Here is yet another way to connect with the communion of saints … on Facebook. Who would you like to show up on your Facebook page? Wouldn’t it be glorious to gaze upon a long gone loved one? To just one more time capture the gleam in their eyes, the color of their hair, the particular features which made them … them? And why stop there? Scroll back through the years, well before you and I were around.
We Lutherans observe the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation this year. Let’s go back to Wittenberg and study there Martin, Katie, Phillip, the Princes and the Popes. “We have this cloud of witnesses around us,” declared the writer of Hebrews. We are surrounded by them. We are strengthened by them; bereft without them.
Cloud of Witnesses
Let’s be intentional about those deep, abiding spiritual witnesses. What fun it would be in worship, right in front of our brothers/sisters in Christ, to address such questions as these:
- Who from the cloud of witnesses helped you answer the call to love Jesus?
- Who in the cloud of witnesses is still encouraging you to run the race of
- What obstacles have you had in running the race of faith?
- Who might one day name you as part of the cloud of witnesses who encouraged
To answer such questions, is for us in the body of Christ, a real way to be … social.