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,
Summer is supposed to be a time for us to rest and recover from our hectic work schedules. A time when many of us take vacations and head away with family and friends to clear our minds and restore our spirits.
How are you doing with that?
In the lesson for today, Jesus’ disciples have just returned from their first Mission trip. They had been sent out among the people and they had healed and cured and cast out demons. They had experienced ministry in a new and very exciting way, and they couldn’t wait to share this wonderful news with Jesus. But Jesus knew that they were tired and worn out. He could see that they needed a break, so he sent them away by themselves to refresh, recharge, and re-energize.
In the creation story, we learn that God made this world in 6 days and on the 7th day God rested. It is important for us to remember that we need to take some time, and learn to breath, and restore our spirits and our bodies and our souls.
Step Up and Join us on this Journey
This is especially important for us here at Grace. Because we are about to start a journey together. We stand at the beginning of some new and very exciting ministry and we want to make sure that we are well rested at the start. I have already seen some of the joy and the enthusiasm that is present at Grace, and I can hardly wait for what is to come next.
But I will, because I want you to rest up, so that you will be ready. Ready to step in and step up and step out into this wonderfully exciting world of God’s. So enjoy your vacation, take some time to nap or read or write or play, and then come back to Grace and let’s get this party started.
A Word From Pastor Sloop – One Last Time
There are a few poems I like to keep handy, actually deposit them in the back of my calendar. That way they are close by. Sometimes I intentionally seek out a verse, and the fresh rereading is pure gift, again. Sometimes I go looking for something else and find this jewel, this exquisite word picture (the pearl of great price?) again. I’m in heaven.
Some of the poems I keep close
Sweeney’s by Brian Doyle
It’s about a shirt from a bar by that name. Doyle needs that shirt. Why? Because his older brother, whose dead, gave it to Brian when a boy. Every time he pulls out that shirt he’s back there, a boy receiving that coveted shirt.
“….I’ll always have his shirt in a drawer. If I touch it, here he
Is in the room with me, smiling at how a shirt can make a kid
speechless with astonishing joy, even forty years later. Isn’t that
amazing?……A snatch of song, a scent, a battered collar, a ratty
old pub jersey. So many time machines. Yes, time wins. My
brother withered and vanished. Yet here he sits on the edge of
the bed snickering at me as the shirt hangs way down past my
knees. No religion owns resurrection.”
I cry or come close to doing so. Those of us who’ve lost a sibling or anyone close, we can relate.
To Be of Use by Marge Piercy
With directness Piercy wages war on sloth. She praises common, useful work.
“…I want to be with people who submerge in the task, who
go into the fields to harvest and work in a row and pass the bags
along, who are not parlor generals and field deserters but move in
common rhythm when the food must come in or the fire be put
out…..Greek amphoras for wine or oil, Hopi vases that held corn,
are put in museums but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is
Thank you Grace Lutheran Church for giving this retiree ‘work that is real.’ I hope at some level my time as your interim pastor has been helpful to you. For certain it has been helpful to me. To come out of retirement and to ply the pastoral calling one more time submerged me in the task I love. Thank you! These 16 months afforded me much joy in the Lord through you! I will miss you!
You have a great staff! You have a great new pastor! You have great facilities and location! You have great, willing servants! You have a great future under a great Lord!
When I pull out that God’s Work, Our Hands tee shirt with Grace Lutheran on the back side, man alive, I’m right back here at 5010 Six Forks Road—a church seeking the fullness of life in Christ for all people.
May You Go in Peace and Continue to Love & Serve the Lord,
Pastor David Sloop, Almost Re-Retired
Churches need balconies. Balconies are a way for certain people to be present and not be ‘too’ present. Youth. Youth in the balcony have opportunity to be ‘there’ without being ‘there’. A balcony becomes an excellent way to distant yourself from the older set.
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.
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
For several years a large sign by 1-85 near Hillsborough advertised the opportunity to purchase SHELL gasoline. This one word sign towered over nearby trees. However, the S was missing, so the sign read HELL.
I once came by that intersection at night and from a distance could see this illuminated announcement. One wonders how first time travelers responded:
“Do you know something I don’t know?”
“See, I told you Hell was near Chapel Hill and Durham!”
All Joking Aside
All joking aside, we might benefit from such a sign above our community. Imagine the impact on us if high above Grace Church was the sign HEAVEN, illuminated day and night. Wanting to live up to this claim just might enlarge our living!
In what sense will people see heaven through seeing us?
I do wonder what message we give. Our baptism sets us on a singular path all about life together around word, sacrament and community, around life together for this needy world. That’s enough for a life time, several. To live individually and collectively our Baptism is to live a well centered life.
In his Testament of Devotion Thomas Kelly writes:
“We are trying to be several selves at once, without all our selves being organized by a single, mastering Life within us. Each of us tends to be, not a single self, but a whole committee of selves. And each of our selves is in turn a rank individualist, not cooperative but shouting out his vote loudly for himself when the voting time comes. It is as if we have a chairman of our committee of selves within us who does not integrate the many into one but who merely counts the votes at each decision. We are not integrated. We feel honestly the pull of many obligations and try to fulfill them all…Life is meant to be lived for a Center, a living Center.”
May God give us the reorienting power of Advent to re-center us and all our selves.
HEAVEN is coming among us!
David A. Sloop, Grace Interim Pastor
Sally and I once ran a week long camp at Camp Agape where NC Lutheran youth gathered with adults with developmental delays who lived at Murdoch Center, near Butner, NC. Since the camp convened in August we regularly visited the camp pond each afternoon. This was before Camp Agape had a swimming pool.
A Man of Few Words
One of our guests from Murdoch, a young man named Brisker, did not express himself verbally. While we were at the lake, Brisker started walking on the dock toward deep water. When the dock ended, Brisker just kept on walking. He immediately sank beneath the pond surface. Several of our youth went in after Brisker and brought him to safety.
Upon gathering himself, Brisker finally spoke. “That’s cold!” Immediately many of us dove head first into that section of the pond. We hoped that Brisker spoke the truth. He did! Thanks to Brisker we were refreshed by cool stream of spring water!
That was a long time ago (1981). I don’t recall anything else said at that camp – just those two, well timed words from Brisker. They stuck. When you’ve been hungry for someone to speak and they finally do, their words resonate.
What Do Your Words Really Say?
They have staying quality. Our words are to have efficacy. They can cause others to dive in.
I’m sorry – I love you – I forgive you – Thank you
Some of the most important words we can utter. To speak them with proper intent, to embody with urgency and sincerity, to back them up with appropriate behaviors, carry a new and enhanced future. Portals. Portals for a new beginning. Amidst all the noise-incessant breaking news, distracting gibberish — there is the thoughtful gift of a well timed word.
As we head into Thanksgiving and prepare for Advent may we all be so alert, so aware. And my God give us space to offer that good word. It may be for you and for others like coming up for air!!
Eager for Such Opportunity,
Pastor David Sloop, Grace Interim
A litany for predominantly white spaces, against white supremacy
Here is the litany we shared at worship on Sunday August 20th.
Read the original post on Rev Elizabeth Rawling’s blog.
Gracious and loving God,
In the beginning, you created humanity and declared us very good
We were made in Africa, came out of Egypt.
Our beginnings, all of our beginnings, are rooted in dark skin.
We are all siblings. We are all related.
We are all your children.
We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all your children.
Violence entered creation through Cain and Abel.
Born of jealousy, rooted in fear of scarcity,
Brother turned against brother
The soil soaked with blood, Cain asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?
We are all siblings, we are all related, we are our brothers keeper.
When your people cried out in slavery,
You heard them. You did not ignore their suffering.
You raised up leaders who would speak truth to power
And lead your people into freedom.
Let us hear your voice; grant us the courage to answer your call.
Guide us towards justice and freedom for all people.
We are all siblings, we are all related, we all deserve to be free.
Through the prophets you told us the worship you want is for us
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke;
Yet we continue to serve our own interest,
To oppress our workers, to crush our siblings by the neck because we are afraid.
Because they don’t look like us, act like us, talk like us.
Yet, they are us. And we are them.
We are all siblings, we are all related, we are not free unless all are free
In great love you sent to us Jesus, your Son,
Born in poverty, living under the rule of a foreign empire,
Brown-skinned, dark-haired, middle-Eastern.
They called him Yeshua, your Son,
Who welcomed the unwelcome, accepted the unacceptable—
The foreigners, the radicals, the illiterate, the poor,
The agents of empire and the ones who sought to overthrow it,
The men and women who were deemed unclean because of their maladies.
We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all disciples.
The faith of Christ spread from region to region, culture to culture.
You delight in the many voices, many languages, raised to you.
You teach us that in Christ, “There is no Jew or Greek, there is no slave or free, there is no male and female.”
In Christ, we are all one.
Not in spite of our differences, but in them.
Black, brown, and white; female, non-binary, and male; citizen and immigrant,
In Christ we are all one.
We are all siblings, we are all related, we are all one in Christ.